Monday, December 27, 2010


We celebrated our family Christmas with a wonderful dinner at my sister-in-law's again this year. There were also plenty of presents - practical for the adults and appropriate ones for the young ones. Among the presents we received I'd like to single out just one: Derek, Airdrie, Marina, and Lauren gave us a set of DVDs of the great series "Cosmos" by Dr. Carl Sagan. At the time it was first broadcast on TV (about 1980), Derek (who was then eleven years old) and I watched it with great fascination and admiration. It left a lasting impression on both him and me (See Derek's blog here:

I just finished watching the first three episodes again - the series has lost none of its significance and is in little need of updates. These are included as visual appendices on the DVDs. I still feel as I did the first time around and am hopeful that young people, many of whom were not even born when the series aired will have a good look at it. The series is available on youtube: ( While I admire the great strides technology has made since then (I am an electronics technologist myself), I think that quite a bit of its use is superficial and will have no lasting meaning.  By contrast, the Cosmos series has "staying power"; it will impart a much more realistic perspective of life to our younger generation.

Watching the "rerun" (from my perspective), I was transported back to the time I first watched it  - with family memories coming to mind, along with the changes in our family since then: Derek (and our nieces) growing up, getting married, having their own families, etc. - nostalgia.

Thank you, Derek, Airdrie, Marina, and Lauren.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Xmas 2010

Christmas 2010 is a couple of days away, and the granddaughters Marina and Lauren have been busy with school and recital Christmas activities. Here are some pictures:,

Also today, they continued their tradition of baking some "Pullaa"(Christmas bread) with grandma Mimi.

Perhaps these occasions will be something they'll remember fondly when they've grown up and have their own families - long after we're gone.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Long-distance practice

(click on picture for larger view)
Our granddaughter Marina has taken up the baritone horn for the school band, and is very diligent about practicing for the school Christmas play. She has a friend in the neighborhood who lives half a block away, and who plays the flute for the band. Both of them have been practicing together. Yesterday they played their instruments far apart, Marina from our front steps, and her friend from the balcony at her home. They could see and hear each other, but communicated mainly by cell phone. Who but the new generation would have thought of doing it this way? I'm really proud of the imaginative ways these two think. There is hope for the future.

Along these lines, another comment: we have a party room in our house, and Marina and her sister Lauren play there quite often. Their play is always original and inventive, and it does not involve video games, but often they select music on the juke box and integrate that music into their play. We are lucky to have Derek, Airdrie, and the two granddaughters (by now young ladies) next door. It keeps us young.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Parents' nightmare

As parents, you don't expect your child to die before you. Unfortunately, that is the reality for us. Derek has stopped chemo treatments, because they do not work any longer. See his blog: Our only consolation is that he'll live on for us in his daughters Marina and Lauren and our daughter-in-law Airdrie. Still, it's devastating.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More info on solar scope

Some additional information: I took some trial shots on the last clear sunny day, but found that it was nearly impossible to focus the image accurately. This is due mainly to the small screen on the Canon XT DSLR. When downloaded onto the computer and displayed on the screen, the images were somewhat out of focus.

The camera can be connected to a computer so that at the time of taking the pictures, the image is captured to the computer and displayed on the screen after a few seconds delay. The software for this is on the CD that came with the camera, and I downloaded a program from Canon which allows remote control of the camera from the computer. This way, the shutter can be released from the computer. Now I'm waiting for a clear day to experiment with that. A clear day may be a long time coming here. We're more than half way through fall; rain is the norm at this time of year. Below is an example of the "tuning" referred to in my previous post:

surface details (unsharp mask in Photoshop used to sharpen the image)

prominences (lower edge - no enhancement)

These are a first try - refinement is necessary.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sun view

Today we had a sunny day. I took the chance to set up my new solar telescope  (Derek wrote a blog about it - see This time, I found enough time to experiment with using an additional etalon filter. The "double stack" of filters certainly enhances the H-alpha details on the sun. The bandwidth of this double filter is around 0.5 Angstrom. By tuning the filters it is possible accentuate various details (faculae, flares, prominences, etc.). I also got an impression of looking at the H-alpha sun in 3D. That's an illusion, but it makes the view really interesting. Below is a picture which approximates the view in the telescope.

                                                     Picture by Michael Karrer (

I've also come up with a system to mount a camera - when there is another chance, I'll start taking pictures.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A micro holiday

 We went for an extended walk again today. This time, took the skytrain to Waterfront, walked along the Coal Harbour shoreline (with a pause on the bench dedicated to my mother), walked past Lost Lagoon, along English Bay to the little ferry to Granville Island, had dinner at the Cat Social House restaurant (we call it the Cathouse), walked to the Canada line on Cambie, went downtown, back onto the skytrain, walked home from Metrotown.  A Great Day - totally clear and sunny, if somewhat cooler than a summer day. This was almost the reverse of a walk we took in June, see
We have all this for free; tourists pay a lot of money to come here and enjoy this scenery. Let's keep it "green".

Friday, October 8, 2010

Eventful times.

We've had some visitors from Europe during the last month (daughters of good friends and their partners), and have done our "tourist guide" obligations. It's always interesting to view our area through their eyes - we take so many things for granted.

The guests have left, and it's back to regular life. One of the unpleasant situations right now is that, just after going through the latest 3-day chemo session, Derek is back in the hospital with a blood clot in his left leg. This is apparently a not unexpected occurrence with colon cancer. He's on blood thinners and is scheduled to stay in there for two or three days. It has spoiled his and Airdrie's planned weekend at the Ti-Na-Mara resort on Vancouver Island; this really "sucks" - both had very much looked forward to this.

An update: the hospital doctors have determined that Derek is fit to go home, and he arrived here this evening, feeling much better. We're all happy to have him back. He'll be on blood thinners for an indeterminate time, but of all the medical problems, that's a small inconvenience. Perhaps there is a small consolation in Derek and Airdrie's missed trip to Vancouver Island: there is a big storm brewing in the area of their destination.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Parents' concern

Derek is blogging and facebooking again. This means that he is feeling better after the latest 3-day chemo session (Monday to Wednesday). That makes us feel better, too.

Parental concern does not cease when your adult child has his or her own family. It includes them all.


Spider is back - a new net and more wasps caught. I used my trusted Canon XT and uploaded the pictures here:

Two of these pictures were taken about a month ago. If it is the same spider it sure has grown since then. Judging from the latest two images he (or she - I can't tell) has been successful enough securing meals in that time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cancer month

September is cancer month: In memory of every cancer patient, family member and friend who has lost their battle with cancer and in honour of those who continue to conquer it! Put this up for 1 hour if you love someone who has or had cancer. Many won't copy and paste, I did. Will you? (Barbra Goldman)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Playing with a new computer

A couple of days ago, just as the latest weather front was approaching our area, my wife noticed an unusual cloud formation almost overhead.  I quickly grabbed her little digital camera and took a picture.

Since I just purchased a new iMac a couple of weeks ago, and am still "getting the hang of it", I decided to play around with a third-party, inexpensive graphics program I bought on-line (Pixelmator, recommended by Derek) to play around with the cloud picture.

This is the original image, including a flaw in the camera which appears when the zoom is set to higher than 1.5 ( I'm getting the camera looked after under warranty).

This is a negative image, after painting out the flaw, and rotating the original. To me, it looks like a number of jet fighter planes flying in formation. Maybe aliens?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Part of the family?

Today, I decided to give my comfortable old slippers an honourable "burial".  As the oldest "member", they joined our slipper family at Sechelt, on the Sunshine Coast, and served me well for over ten years. They were "born" at a shop that specializes in sheepskin products; the shop is still in business, so far as I know. Over the years, the left slipper has had a couple of duct tape repairs, but now it's time to say goodbye. Perhaps we'll get a replacement - I do occasionally go to the sunshine coast on business.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A happy occasion

Yesterday, our family and friends took part in one of the happy events which are part of a family's history: Our niece Tarya married the love of her life, Taylor James (T.J. to all of us). We are proud of both, and wish them a long, happy, and healthy life together.

Many pictures were taken; the ones we took are on flickr at:

This morning, we had more happy news: Tarya's uncle became a grandfather. Congratulations to his family, too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Another family occasion

In order to celebrate the upcoming wedding of Tarya and T.J., we had an unconventional "shower" for both of them, with family and  friends. Here are some pictures:

Monday, August 2, 2010

A family reunion

Every now-and-then, our entire Canadian family contingent comes together to celebrate an important occasion, anniversary, or birthday. This happened yesterday, and Hilkka took these pictures:

Click on the link.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Little spider

The weather has been marvellous for the last two weeks or so. We take advantage of this; we have breakfast on the back porch or the courtyard, eat lunch and supper there, all surrounded by sunshine and flower pots (meticulously tended to by my wife), and generally enjoy the summer. In the late afternoon, we pull down a sunshade. About an hour before sunset we noticed a little spider's web, being illuminated by sunlight at just the right angle, which a little spider had put up after we had lowered the sunshade. It was suspended from that sunshade, and the downpipe from the roof. The web must have been constructed within an hour by that little spider. The sunlight passed through the web just like through a spectroscopic grating - which breaks up the light (like a prism) into its constituent colours, mostly reds, because the sun was so low in the sky. It was worth a picture.

The web stayed there for a couple of days (we took care not to disturb it when rolling up the sunshade); in all that time we saw a trace of only one "catch". It seems like a lot of work for that little spider to find only one meal in all that time. Then, the next morning, both web and spider had disappeared without a trace. Did the spider "eat up" the web, so that it could spin another one somewhere else?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sure signs of summer

This week is forecast to be clear and sunny all the way. Today we placed the weeping hoses around the hedge and hung the sunshade for the back porch (our favorite place on days like this). The porch has no windows, but has a solid cover with just one smallish glass window. Those of you who attended Derek's birthday party last weekend will remember, no doubt, because his side is the mirror-image of ours (both sides are only separated by a door - usually open). Also set up the large sun-umbrella, table, and chairs in the courtyard below.

The porch is south-facing, so the temperatures there are usually about three to four degrees (C) higher than in the courtyard and inside the house. They tend to correspond to the "inland" temperatures which are forecast on the local stations. As I write this (11:40 am), the temperature on the porch is 28 C. We've been sqwaking about the cool temperatures up to now, so we got what we wished for.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Our son's birthday

On Sunday, we had a family get-together (19 people), and a great time was had by all. Food was plentiful, and almost everyone took home some "leftovers". Because the next day was a working day, and a school day for the kids, we started in the afternoon, it all ended around 9pm. What a difference to our younger years, when we wouldn't finish until the "wee hours".

Derek is going through the three-day chemo session again; he's in the resulting "chemo-fog". We'll drive him to the hospital again tomorrow, to have the last chemo bottle removed. It's no fun for him, Airdrie, the daughters, and us. Derek should be better again on Saturday, when we'll all celebrate his 41st birthday.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Yesterday, Derek's latest 3 days of chemo were over. He seems to have come through them with less dullness than on previous sessions. We stopped at the MacDonald's again on the way back from the hospital - he had an appetite for another cheeseburger. Derek, Hilkka and I made it a MacDonald's lunch; $15 and change for 3 people. You can see why many people eat there: it's not the food so much as the low cost.

Monday, June 14, 2010

See the town

We went for a nice walk yesterday. Got off the skytrain at Science World and walked to Granville Island. We had some ice cream there, then took the False Creek ferry to the Aquatic Centre, walked past Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park to the Bayshore Inn and had lunch. The next stop was the Pan Pacific Hotel for a Spanish coffee, watching the cruise ships go, and finally home via the sky train. A mini-holiday. The green hand-drawn line on the Google map shows our walking path (skytrain not shown). Click on the map for a larger view.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Back home

It's been a while since I last posted here. In the meantime, we've been to Germany, and since our return, I've been busy catching up on accumulated activities related to my business. In Germany, we attended the wedding of the daughter of a close friend. She's stayed with us twice at our house here, each time for a three-month period, to take courses in teaching English, and is now qualified to teach ESL anywhere. Another milestone was the celebration of the 80th birthday of another close friend (who actually lives in California, but he and his wife maintain an apartment in Germany). My own birthday happened to be in that same period, and was duly feted as well.

These things all happened in a spa town (we have a number of good friends who live there), so there were get-togethers every day. The social scene in Europe always involves much food and drink, and this has resulted in a need for me to lose the pounds I gained.

We're over the jetlag by now, and things have returned to their normal routine. We enjoyed our stay over there, none-the-less it's nice to be back home with our family here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


As mentioned in my previous post, Derek went through his chemo procedures again over the last three days. Today he got the results of his latest CT scan, and it shows another slight reduction in the size of the colon cancer tumors in his lungs. We are all gratified. It is a slow process, but as he says, it makes the chemo hell worthwhile.

We donate to the BC Cancer Society on a monthly basis. Donations also made by (I hope) many other people look like they are showing some results by way of enabling research into better chemotherapy agents; it's another way to make a difference.

We hope that the improvements will continue.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Chemical fog again

Just picked up Derek from the Cancer clinic - another chemo session. We had a coffee beforehand and a lively discussion, mainly about astronomical photography.

Now he's dulled down by the chemo, which goes on for three days running (he's got a bottle attached), and he'll likely spend the next four days or so in this chemical fog. We'll also get the results of his latest scan. It's a time filled with subdued anxiety.

At least Derek enjoys his food when he feels better, and so we felt great about having him, Airdrie, and Marina at our 45th wedding anniversary dinner (Fish House, Stanley Park). It's a small way for us to do something useful in his life with cancer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Misplaced priorities

For the last week or so, inordinate attention has been paid to Tiger Woods. What misplaced hero worship. This man's extramarital escapades are his own (and his wife's) problems - they are hardly worth the media frenzy so evident everywhere. The guy broke his wedding vows, no more, no less. Nothing heroic here; it's lamentable instead.

The people who are real heroes are the ones I alluded to in my previous post.

There is an interesting article by Shelley Fralic about this in today's Vancouver Sun, to which I can only say "amen".

Here's the link

Monday, March 22, 2010

Goodbye Olympics

Now that the Paralympics have run their course, too, my wife and I have some "withdrawal symptoms". All the Olympic athletes were just magnificent. We attended three Olympic events in person (thanks to our "kids"), and found the CTV coverage of the Olympic events very good, especially when one considers the immense communications infrastructure which was set up to make this possible.

A disappointment for us was CTV's skimpy coverage of the Paralympics - particularly since the infrastructure was already in place. I guess the beancounters won out over journalistic obligations. We subscribe to the Vancouver Sun, and those folks did a far better job; of course they can't do "real time".

Somewhat of a "withdrawal compensation" are the world curling championships, which are now being broadcast frequently. I suppose that could be called an "easy letdown".

All in all, it was a great time.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The candle

My wife and I usually enjoy our evenings with a glass of red wine. We often light some candles and relax on the sofa. Last night, while we were watching the Paralympic opening ceremonies, I noticed a "tail" on one of the burning candles.

This looks like an unusual wax bead. Perhaps it is wax which was closer to the wick and melted during the earlier part of the candle burning, and then flowed over the edge, down the side of the candle. Now that it is farther from the wick, it seems to sit just below its melting point. Any other ideas?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Some more Olympics

I'll make an apology here. At the beginning of the Olympics, after a number of disappointments in the lack of Canadian medals, I stated that we might be able to "rent" the podium next time. But many of the world's Winter Olympics' powerhouse nations also came up short - Canada was not alone at that time.

I still consider the Own The Podium theme over-hyped and presumptuous. But my comments were unfair to the athletes who still had their events coming up, and who generated so many great performances. Coming up with an all-time world record for gold medals by any country in any winter games deserves a gold medal in itself. So, congratulations to the athletes; fourteen gold medals represent a magnificent effort and reflect favourably on those athletes who earned silver and bronze medals and those who didn't make it to the podium.

We still have the Paralympics coming up. If anything, the athletes participating in them deserve an even greater hand; overcoming their limitations in addition to the dedication and sacrifices is nothing short of miraculous.

For the handling of the underlying logistics, VANOC, the Vancouver security forces, and especially the well-behaved crowds truly deserve a "high five".

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Olympic comments

Yesterday afternoon, we went to see the Ladies' curling at the Olympic Centre. We had tickets (again, courtesy of our son and daughter-in-law) to the 7pm section tournament. Our Canadians played against the Russian team, and won 7:3. Congratulations! Our ladies had already qualified for the semifinals, but the quality-of-play was not diminished.

To get to the venue (the Vancouver Olympic Centre), we took public transport - Sky train and Bus, and got there in less than thirty minutes. The way back was similarly efficient. We even found seats, both coming and going. Kudos to Translink!

The least pleasant part of the experience occurred at the venue itself. After passing through security (no particular hassles), we found ourselves in an uncovered holding area outside the Centre, and waited there for 45 minutes (along with several hundred others, all standing around in the rain), even though we had arrived at the recommended time of 5pm, at which time the doors were supposed to be open. No announcements regarding the delay were ever made. A little improvement in P.R. is indicated here.

None-the-less, we enjoyed the evening, and look forward to our next Olympic event on Sunday.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


We've been watching the Olympics almost continuously. We admire the efforts of the athletes, but I think that the over-hyped possibilities regarding Canadian medals are intimidating some of our athletes into taking too many chances. The disappointing results for Canadians in the "marquee" events should tell our sport committees that we have some way to go. I just hope that this situation does not cause a reduction in the funding for our athletes; on the contrary, this should be a reason to increase our financial support, especially at the local level.

Maybe, four years from now, we'll be able to "rent" the podium.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

And here it is...

A light rain certainly didn't dampen the Olympic spirit - here it is: the torch a couple of blocks from our house.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Olympics coming

While I'm personally not a sports-minded person, I have great admiration for the talents, sacrifices, and efforts to which Olympic athletes commit themselves. I actually enjoy watching the performances of these people - usually on TV. Normally I don't pay to attend hockey games or professional football, baseball, basketball, etc. I think it a bit strange that some of the more brutal professional players get paid in the millions while the doctors who repair the damage those players cause are paid a fraction of those amounts. This, fortunately, does not seem to apply to most Olympic athletes, in my opinion. Regardless of what one may think of the politics (and occasional scandals) involving the Olympic organizations and athletes, I think that the athletes generally embody the spirit of fairness and the joy of the actual competitions - the true Olympic Spirit.

We are therefore very pleased with a Christmas present we received from our son and daughter-in-law: tickets to some of the Olympic events. This gives us a chance to see these remarkable people in person, and since our ten and twelve-year-old granddaughters also have tickets for an event, they'll see what the Olympics are ideally all about. Thanks, Derek and Airdrie!

In a couple of days, the Olympic torch will pass within a couple of blocks of our house, and very close to our granddaughters' school. We'll go there to cheer, and I think the school will also let the kids see the torch.

We're glad to see Derek "facebooking" - we take this as a measure of how well he feels after the chemo sessions.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


A couple of weeks ago, we purchased a 40" Samsung HD TV (actually we bought two at the time - we picked up one for Derek's family at the same time). Thinking that I'd just hook up the current TV cable and have HD TV (after we purchased the correct package and rented two HD decoder boxes from Shaw) I found that this wasn't quite so simple. It turns out that we got next to no HD and digital channels on our side of the house. The regular TV channels which we had been getting before were still available.

The cause turned out to be an antiquated cable feed which was installed when cable TV first became available, and the original external splitter from which a couple of cables ran into the house. So Shaw installed new cables to the house from the pole across the street, a new distribution box, and two new cables from this box into the house (the installer did a neat job - those cables are barely noticable). This improved the situation somewhat for our side - i.e we got some HD and digital channels, but certainly not all of what we contracted for. Derek seemed to get all the channels on his side of the house - he uses a video signal amplifier.

Splitters take the incoming video signal and split it into two or three cable circuits for use with additional TV sets. This comes at a cost, of course. The signal coming out of each the splitter outlets is usually attenuated by 3 DB (more for cheap ones). Without getting into the mathematical details, this means that each loss of 3 DB means that signal strength is cut in half. If you have a couple more splitters "downstream" from the first splitter, you lose another 3 DB for each splitter. This can result in a very weak signal at the far end of the cable.

Since the above-mentioned original external splitter seemed to be at least partly responsible for the problem, I reconfigured the TV cabling on the inside of our side of the house to do away with all splitters on the way to the HD decoder box. Lo and behold, all standard, digital, and HD channels could now displayed on the HD TV.

We have several additonal (cathode ray type) TV sets on our house; the cable re-arrangement resulted in no signal to them. The solution turned out to be relatively simple. The HD box has a built-in bypass, which connects the incoming cable to an identical standard cable outlet, while at the same time feeding the original decoded signal through an HD cable to the HD TV. I used the standard cable outlet on the HD box as a source for all the remaining TV sets in the house - with the various splitters in the original configuration to each remaining TV set. They all work as before, provided that the HD box bypass is turned on.

What's the lesson? Use no splitters on the way to your HD set, and connect your remaining TV sets through splitters only after the you HD set has it's full-strength signal. All our TV's are now working as intended. While I did not purchase one, a video signal amplifier (available at electronics distributors) would also likely solve this issue.

I want to say that Shaw Cable certainly lived up to their end of the bargain. They came to install whatever was necessary to make the HD system work for us whenever they said they would come, and got everything operational. Most often, we only hear about problems with regard to missed appointments; I think that a good job also deserves mention.

Derek is in the middle of another "chemo weekend". I think that he may be feeling a little better, because he posted a comment on Facebook a couple of hours ago.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Skating widower

My wife is an avid fan of figureskating and this weekend is full of scheduled CBC TV broadcasts. Since Shaw cable has not been able to provide us with the requisite digital and HD signals (they are scheduled to replace the cables running to our house next Wednesday), she is watching some of these events on the internet. CBC is streaming the skating, and one of our computers is now temporarily dedicated to that purpose. I've become a skating widower this weekend.

Derek's chemo has been postponed for a week, because his blood chemistry isn't quite up to scratch. So he has to recover from the last session some more. This means a "nausea-free" weekend for him, which he obviously welcomes. He'll probably have his next chemo session on Friday. A rescheduling of our granddaughters birthday parties and other social events is therefore necessary.

As I said in my last blog: it's a rollercoaster.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mood swings

Derek had his most recent chemotherapy treatment on January 1st. It makes him sick, of course. The recovery period after each treatment appears to be the better part of a week. Speaking just for ourselves, Hilkka and I always feel down when Derek is dealing with the chemo effects, and our mood improves as he starts feeling better. I suppose that's true for any parent, your children will always be your children, regardless of their age.

We talked to Derek a couple of hours ago; he said he was feeling quite a bit better - so we feel quite a bit better, too. It truly is a rollercoaster.