Archive for May, 2006

Anyone who knows me well knows that one of my favourite activities is to get on two wheels every summer, and then do things like climb Signal Hill nonstop for fun. While I am no athlete, I'm like the turtle combined with the Energizer Bunny (i.e. I don't quit, and I get there eventually). I have done a few short bike tours, and have done 120 km in a single ride, but usually it is commuting and one hour rides a few times a week, and on alternate weekends a longer joyride.

But I haven't done this in a long time and I miss it. So today I inflated my tires, got some cold water, dressed up like a chubby Lycra sausage, and went for it. It was a ninety minute ride around town without too many hills, and taking a route that avoids traffic. As soon as I got on the bike and leaned into my first corner, I started feeling really good. My body naturally and unconsciously knew how to lean and to adjust to the road, and the feeling of motion and personal control of the flowing motion of the bike felt like Nirvana.

My two favourite activities are swimming and cycling. Both are wonderful forms of exercise, and both have minimal problems related to overuse injuries or repetitive stress/impacts like running, but there is another reason to love them. It is the aesthetic and grace of the activity. I've done many things for exercise, but I cycle because I love the feel of the motion; leaning into curves, adjusting to different slopes smoothly and automatically, and the rush of the wind as you accelerate down a hill are superlative experiences. It's an addiction that is good for you, totally separate from the endorphins that eventually kick in (I've got nothing against endorphins, mind you).

My ride was about 30 km. Old Halifax in on a peninsula shaped like an arrowhead, with Point Pleasant Park at the southern tip. I basically circled the old part of the city clockwise. I visited Point Pleasant, the waterfront boardwalk downtown, then north past both the Macdonald and McKay bridges, then circled around back to the beginning, then finished with a very short hill climb up Citadel Hill (which gives a great view of the harbour and downtown). Then I coasted home, carried my bike up 5 flights of stairs, and started typing this.
BTW, the other reason to go a bike is that you get to play tourist and also see fun and unusual things. Today it was:

  • a motorbike accident (not too serious, thank the Powers That Be)
  • people enjoying the sun on the waterfront boardwalk
  • the Newfoundland ferry Caribou having her refit in the floating dock
  • people on Citadel Hill getting suntan, with some in swimsuits(!) while there's a 15 C Seabreeze
  • and some people at risk from an unusual source (see below)

Now to do two more challenges:

  • a shower!
  • take a walk before my legs sieze up (BTW, a bath helps with this as well)

"Just a leetle closer…" (Makes me think of Gary Larsen)




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It's getting harder and harder to find the truth in the news these days. Some are fairly predictable, like the right-wing Fox News Service, and some are less so. But there are precious few facts in any given news item, there is usually no context nor history, and there is always some sort of spin.

Very seldom are opposing sides given coverage in the same place (CBC's As It Happens used to do this regularly when I was young, but now it is only an occasional event). When the media wants to show opposing views, the favourite method is getting a few people together and having a debate. Debates, especially in the American media, mostly consist of tactics for shutting down your opponent with explaining your own point of view being a lesser priority, and when logic fails attacking your opponent's character.

The three techniques for inaccurate coverage that I loathe the most are:

  • choosing what to cover selectively (cover the opponent in the worst situations and your allies in the best light). One good example of this is to interviews the Palestinian Authority after you have reduced their infrastructure to rubble and caused dissension within their ranks.
  • telling the truth selectively. A prime example is to list American casualties in Iraq, while hiding the number of Iraqis who have been injured and killed, especially in the civilian population. Of course you never talk about the number who have died between the two Gulf Wars due to sanctions.
  • being vague and using uncheckable facts and statement that sound plausible. For example, what is a terrorist? In fact, which of the following count as acts of terrorism?
    • The firebombing of Dresden by the British Bomber Command in WW2?
    • The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to scare Japan into surrender?
    • The Zionist campaign to drive Britain out of Palestine in 1946-48?
    • Algeria's independence struggle against France?
    • The Mau Mau rebellion against British rule in Kenya?
    • Vietnam's struggle for independence against France, then against the United States?
    • Zimbabwe's liberation war against white minority rule?
    • South Africa's struggle with Apartheid?

Lately I have found news commentary and Op-Ed pieces to be more useful for understanding the context of what is going on, and to put the news into a useful framework for understanding. There are often more checkable facts, and you eventually find a few people that you tend to trust. By trust I don't imply agree with; you know and can adjust for the writer's political stance and viewpoint.

Here are a few people that provide very useful insights and reliable information on the present and the future state of the world. Each writer has produced a book of their syndicated columns in a coherent time sequence, complete with commentary, with one important exception. They each have a unique insight on the events of the past few years, and have allowed me to sift the grain from the chaff in current events and the day-to-day news. The exception is Jimmy Carter's Our Endangered Values. I'll cover that book and Carter more thoroughly in a separate post.

  1. Thomas Friedman. A New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Tom has the most insight and the most balanced view of the Middle East conflict that I have ever seen. He is an American Jewish person with strong ties to both Israel and to Palestine and the Arab world. One of his Pulitzers was for coverage of Beirut and the Israeli actions there. His second was for covering the first Intifada. His coverage is sometimes brutally honest, with a realistic view of both Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints. His book From Beirut to Jerusalem is the single best reference for understanding the worldview of the Middle East that I am aware of. It is also a great read.
  2. Maureen Dowd. She is also a NYT Op-Ed columnist. She has covered the White House since the Reagan era, and won a Pulitzer for her coverage of the Clinton impeachment. Here recent book Bushworld covers her articles through the fall of Bush the elder through the rise of G.W. and the neoconservatives. This tome is sometimes irreverent, sometimes hilarious, but you come away with new insights and the unfolding of the most radical change in the American government and its beliefs in modern history.
  3. Gwynne Dyer. The home team. Born in Newfoundland, he was in the Canadian, British and American Navies. He also taught at Sandhurst and Oxford. I first knew about him through the War TV series in the 80's, which covered the history, rationale of, and future of warfare up to and including the Cold War (one episode was nominated for an Academy Award). He has a clear and quirky view of geopolitics, warfare and grand strategy. Most important, he is able to take the long view, and to look at current events in perspective. He also has an uncanny ability to look at a chaotic situation and find the main thread of meaning and intent through the morass. While not always correct, he is intellectually honest and will correct and change his opinions based on the facts. His latest book is With Every Mistake, which covers selected Op-Ed pieces from pre 9/11 to 2005. In it he shows how the world changed, and how the opinions and understanding of the news media and himself evolved. One of the most important parts of this book is about the coming crises and the growing threat of war as China, India and others become dominant economic superpowers while the power and influence of the United States diminishes. Of particular importance is the destabilising influence of the neoconservatives in the U.S. government, and how it is degrading the influence of international moderating organisations such as the United Nations. The new policy of preemptive war and how it is creating rather than destroying terrorists is clearly explained.
  4. Jimmy Carter. A strong faith-holder, southern gentleman, nuclear submarine officer, state governor, and president of the United States during very trying times, who then transcended all that had gone before. He became an unofficial diplomat and conduit to parts of the world that helped peace and understanding in many parts of the world. His many contacts, influence, and friendships facilitated charitable works and international negotiations that may never have occurred otherwise. The Carter Center is one of the most effective NGOs in existence, helping to promote peace, develop self-sustainable agriculture, and to fight diseases in Third World countries. His new book Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis is a concise yet far-sweeping survey of the state of the United States and its changing position in the world. It is basically a series of short essays addressing many aspects of why and how America is moving into dangerous territory, and how they may be betraying their own long-held beliefs and ideals. You may not agree with it, but it is a great place to start to understand the world and America's place in it. Given Jimmy Carter's background, he definitely has a unique view on the subject. In my opinion he has great integrity, honesty, intelligence, and compassion, and he is worth listening to.

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For those unfamiliar with the term, Silly Season is part of news media parlance. It refers to the latter part of the summer, and is caused by a reduction in both sales of newspapers and people watching the news media. It is caused by two major factors; a reduction in genuine newsworthy items in the summer, and also by people who pay less attention because they have better things to do (such as summer vacation, promoting skin cancer on the beach, and beloved little ones hanging around the house and making the summer an absolute pleasure).

To offset the reduction of revenue, the editors look for more sensationalistic (and sometimes just plain weird) news to boost sales. Traditionally popular items were moral panics or child abductions. An unfortunate side effect of the Silly Season is that legitimate but unusual news is sometimes neglected or ignored.

Now for the news. A friend of mine asked me about this news article. The headline was " Former Space Camp Instructor Predicts Giant Tsunami in the Atlantic on Upcoming May 25". Since that is today, I thought it worthwhile to give it a look. The news article was instigated by Eric Julian, a pilot and air traffic controller. The scientific basis for the story is the near approach of a fragmenting comet called Z3P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (Zippy for short). Zippy is about 10 million kilometres from Earth and it's fragments are as close as a few million kilometres (about 10+ times as far away as the Moon). From credible information available, there is absolutely no danger.

From Eric Julian, there is ample evidence for worry, including a crop circle showing the Solar System, with the notable exception of the Earth. How do you interpret a missing planet in a crop circle to mean that a comet will impact the Earth on May 25, 2006? Did the circle come with an interpretive guide? This "evidence" is detailed on the webpage of the Exopolitics Institute (Political Analysis and Activism in Extraterrestrial Affairs, no less). On his own web page warning of the event, Julien mentions compelling psychic evidence, and asks others for their paranormal support. There is also some sort of link to extraterrestrials and some ancient prophecies.

I have to admit that I have not been fair to this person, and I have only read a very small amount of his warning. However, since my research gives me a fair background in tsunami dynamics, I did take a glance at his flooding maps and timing charts for a hit in the Atlantic Ocean, just south of the Azores. In my professional opinion, and not to put too fine a point on it, the tsunami information is basically crap! First, his maps for timing the passage of a tsunami take no account of the ocean topography, which is the primary factor determining both the path and velocity of tsunami motion. I also checked some areas in the Atlantic Provinces, and he has flooded areas that are higher than nearby places that are lower. For example, the highest hills on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland are near Bauline, which he has underwater.

More to the point, while Zippy is a subject of some exciting research into comet structure, NASA has no worries. They have a program for tracking Near Earth Objects (NEOs), complete with all identified NEO approaches through 2020.

Normally I wouldn't bother either myself or you about this trash. But there was a more serious side to what has been going on regarding Julien's prediction, and it also points out a danger of the Silly Season. In this case, the news spread through coastal communities in Morocco. Many locals, remembering the 2004 tsunami that devastated Indonesia, have evacuated to high ground, in spite of information from the government and from the national meteorological office showing that the comet posed no danger. Locally, we have received some calls asking for information on the comet impact.

I am disappointed that several media sources bothered to even mention Julian's revelation. News sources hoping for legitimacy should choose not to proliferate such mendacity. People can be hurt by such items. When those in Morocco who evacuated get back to their homes, how much of their property and livelihood will have been stolen or damaged by looters, and how many injuries and how much suffering will have occurred? There are many people spouting nonsense; the danger is when "reliable" sources spread this information.

There are two lessons and a warning in this. First, check the validity of unusual news stories, regardless of the source. Second, don't assume that Silly Season news items only occur in late summer. Finally, those who cry wolf without good evidence and common sense should be fed to same.

Whoops! I just saw a whitecap through the window. Excuse me… 

Everybody's gone surfin', ....

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Currently there is a scattering of bergs along the Northeast Coast, with 1-2 observed in Bonavista Bay. There is nothing yet in either Trinity or Conception Bays.

The winds from now until Tuesday do not look conducive for iceberg to travel towards the Avalon Peninsula. Wind will be either light, or Easterly when 2-3 storms pass over the island during this period.

However, there are still plenty of bergs coming down from Labrador, and wind is only part of what determines the path of icebergs. Also, there is also the possibility of visiting the Northeast Coast, where they are becoming fairly numerous. Good luck, and be patient!

Here is a little inspiration to go hunting. One is from Old Perlican in Trinity Bay, and the other is off Twillingate and north of Gander.

Floating Drydock

a quickr pickr post

Old Perlican

a quickr pickr post

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Since I saw the Osprey in the Park last Thursday, I have made a point of visiting the park near sundown on my way home. Every evening the bird has appeared, and while in many instances it was too late for good photography, I have enjoyed his antics so much that visits will probably continue for a while. This evening was foggy, but the previous evening was sunny and cool. On both occasions a couple of reasonable images were produced, and the bird ate about 6 fish while I watched.

It seems that Griffin's Pond is full of Carp and Goldfish! This pond was not purposefully stocked, and no one is sure how this happened. The most popular hypothesis is a Maritime version of the Crocodiles in New York Sewers Urban Legend (i.e. some people wanted to get rid of their goldfish…). Regardless, the pond is a one-stop takeout for Ospreys. Except for some Gulls, there are no other predators for these fish.

The pond is named after a young Irish lad named Griffin, who was hanged on the east side of the pond. It turned out that he had been falsely accused and convicted, so they named the pond after him. I'm sure his ghost appreciates it. This may be a viable path to everlasting fame, but since most people just know of it as the fousty duck pond, it is probably just more evidence that fame is transitory and that entropy always increases.

Being a bit curious, I hunted up the etymology of the name Osprey. It sounded a bit unusual to me, and I was hoping for some interesting Greek or Roman legend, or that it was named after a hero or god. Much to my bemusement, it is Latin for "Bird of Prey"! For a species that is significantly different from any other raptor to have a name meaning raptor is a bit surreal. I also found out that it is the provincial bird of Nova Scotia. So much for making it the provincial bird of Newfoundland and Labrador. Newfoundland's is currently the Atlantic Puffin; this was instituted in 1991, and one suspects the main reason for this choice is advertising for the tourist trade. It would be have been nice to have something a bit more majestic, and more representative of Newfoundland experience and traits. A common name for it on the Northeast coast of Newfoundland is Seahawk.

The Masked Pescador
The Osprey has a unique fishing style. Some birds, including Cormorants and Puffins, land, then dive after the fish. Others, like Gannets, dive in headfirst. Ospreys locate a fish just under the surface, then dive towards it. Before hitting the water they stick their feet forwards then bellyflop into the water. A couple of seconds later they fly back into the air, then perch somewhere and eat. This bird has caught a fish every time I have seen it dive.

The Osprey usually appears near sundown. Weather and the gods permitting, this allows some interesting lighting effects.

Perching in the Mist.
Crow trying to force the Osprey away from the pond. Two crows in the Gardens harass the Osprey regularly. They are trying to defend their nestlings nearby. The Osprey, who only eats fish, tries to ignore them. Sometimes the crows chase him around until he gets annoyed and takes a turn chasing them. It also reminds me a little of Hitchcock's "The Birds"

a quickr pickr post

Mist on the Pond
Griffin's Pond, the largest body of water in the Gardens, was named after a young Irish man who was hanged for murder on the east side of the pond in the 1830s. They named it for him after discovering that he was falsely convicted.

a quickr pickr post

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I went to a local city park called the Public Gardens, hoping for some pictures of flowers and ducks. This park is a classic Victorian Park, complete with pseudo-grecian statues, patriotic memorials, flower gardens, and some pretty surrealistic trees (and a lot of very stately patriarchs as well). Oh, and there is also Noisy the Goose, celebrating her 24th birthday. Much to my surprise, I observed a large raptor in a tree near the duck pond. Conditions for good photography had deteriorated by the time I saw her, but I walked slowly towards her and tried to make the most of this unusual event.

She let me take a few portraits (she was too far away to get anything useful), but then she saw something in the pond. She took off from her tree and starting to circle, moving quickly then sometimes going into a high hover, making short dives towards the water but then breaking off. I quickly tried to reset the camera to shoot all this action, and finally I got a few shots just before and during two of her three successful stoops. I thought she would dive down, skim the water, then catch the fish in her talons. She actually dove straight into the water with a sloppy dive, then flapped back into the air as quickly as possible. I've never been privileged to see a raptor perform a successful hunt with this close proximity. This was the best moment of my day.

I ascertained from some locals that there is a mating pair with a nest near the park, and they come back every year. I'll keep my eyes open for better shooting conditions, and start learning hw to do action photography; mountains are definitely easier to shoot.

Here are my attempts at shots of a black and white raptor on a bright but cloudy day, shooting upwards (drat it).Sighting a Third Fish
Got Another
Got One!
Preparing to Stoop
On the Hunt-3
On the Hunt-1

a quickr pickr post

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Today's map shows 10 near Twillingate, and more than yesterday throughout. They may have done a special flight, or gotten better satellite imagery. I wanna be there with my camera (sulk)!

The winds aren't high, there's a nice bit of sun with fog near the coast. Imagine a breg slowly emerging from the fog with the setting sun starting to change the colour of the clouds, fog, and ice. That is what I am seeing right now on the visible satellite picture for Newfoundland. Oh well, maybe next year.

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