Archive for November, 2006

After a month of dutifully trying to come up with something creative, interesting, wierd, unusual, or at least not unappetising for every day of November, I look forward to saying something only when and if it is worth saying.

NaBloPoMo made me pay a little more attention to the world around me, including a friend who inspired me to emulate her participation in this Tantalus experience. I found it to be a manageable commitment, and at times it was interesting and useful. But the main reasons for this blog are to show some of the things I see around me, to discuss subjects related to the Atlantic Provinces and Canada in the world, and occasionally to express thoughts or feelings that may be worth sharing. It is not to spout off every day. For the next little while I shall cultivate a modicum of thoughtful silence.

Write when the Muse strikes you, and in the meantime consider these these two koans and a Sufi teaching:

A monk asked Fuketsu: `Without speaking, without silence, how can you express the truth?’
Fuketsu observed: `I always remember spring-time in southern China. The birds sing among innumerable kinds of fragrant flowers.’
Two monks were watching a flag flapping in the wind. One said to the other, “The flag is moving.”
The other replied, “The wind is moving.”
Huineng overheard this. He said, “Not the flag, not the wind; mind is moving.”

The Ways of God are as many as the breaths of Human beings. Traditional Sufi Saying

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It may be the cleanest and coolest air you’ll smell for a while.

Very recently the 2006 annual report on air quality, greenhouse gases, and water quality came out from Environment Canada. It is called Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (no euphemisms here, hmmm?) ; A better name might be the Air and Water Pollution Levels Report.

Within this report a number of items stood out. The following comments do not reflect the overall intent of the document, and any inferences taken from this potentially non-representative sampling of the report are the responsibility of the reader. I would recommend a quick perusal of the 6 page highlights report; it is a good summary of the state of things, and is easy to read.

It is part of the Clean Air Act web page, which also shows some selectivity in its presentation. For example, it has a section about Pollution Issues, which doesn’t mention greenhouse gases or global climate change as issues; it focuses on air quality, acid rain, and pollutants with immediate and short-term impacts. When you click on the main link, it directs you to the Pollution Sources page instead, for some reason.

Greenhouse Gases

I’m going to start with greenhouse gases, with which I am most familiar. This report considers the six greenhouse gases addressed in the Kyoto Protocol, but do not address ozone (which has a relatively small effect) and water vapour. Water vapour is too complicated to address here, but it is the primary greenhouse gas, is the most variable, is highly chemically reactive, and the effect of other greenhouse gases on water vapour and its resultant feedback on climate is probably the major problem in predicting climate change today.

  • The gases considered are carbon dioxide, methane (less common but extremely strong), nitrous oxide, and three groups of flourinated gases. These results are basically what is submitted to Kyoto annually as part of Canada’s commitment.
  • Canadian-made greenhouse gases have effectively increased 27% over 15 years (1990-2004), with per capita emissions increasing by 10%.
  • 91% of this change is due to transportation, the oil and gas industries, and fossil-fuel generated electricity. Alberta and Ontario led the pack in greenhouse gas production.
  • Production and consumption of energy increased 30%, and accounted for 82% of the greenhouse gas emissions. Fossil fuel industrial emissions increased 49% over the period. Road transportation greenhouse gas production increased 36%, mostly due to purchases of larger vehicles. Emissions from thermal electricity and heat production increased by 37% due to greater energy demands.

It must be emphasised that extracting some fossil fuels requires generating greenhouse gases, even before the stuff extracted is burned. A good example is the Alberta Tar Sands, where they burn huge amounts of natural gas to extract the oil. Also, various agricultural practices produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases, including livestock and paddy rice farming, and methane emissions from vented landfills and vented septic tanks.

Methane is about 20 times more effective as a greenhouse gas per molecule than carbon dioxide. This difference actiually makes composting a desirable practice with respect to reducing greenhouse gases, rather than a problem. The decomposition does generate carbon dioxide, but it also inhibits methane production, giving a net benefit. Landfill decomposition is anaerobic and produces methane, so the more organic waste diverted from landfills to compost the better. While you can’t compost without generating greenhouse gases, it is a much better alternative than landfills.

Air Quality

Environment Canada focuses on ground-level ozone and particulates in the 2.5 micron range (PM2.5). They are both involved in smog production, and have deleterious effects on the lungs and bronchi in their own right. Basically ozone has increased by 0.9%/year over the period. This is almost exclusively in Southern Ontario, with other areas showing no clear trend. PM2.5 was greatest in Southern Ontario, and again there was no real trend from 2000-2004.

Freshwater Quality

  • For Southern Canada 22% of sampled water sources were marginal or poor, 34% were fair, and 44% were good or excellent.
  • Northern Canada was much better, with 13% marginal or poor, 20% fair, and 67% good or excellent.
  • The Great Lakes were good to excellent, except for fair for Eastern Lake Erie, and marginal for Western Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Of course Erie and Ontario are the most heavily populated and travelled lakes, and with the most industry along the shorelines.

For the freshwater statisitics, I would have liked a comparison with earlier data. But 44% of good or excellent water doesn’t seem like that much, especially since Canada is blessed with a huge amount of accessible fresh water. I also would have expected more good water in the north. On the other hand, I was fairly impressed by the Great Lakes.

What I get from this is that air quality is holding its own except in Southern Ontario, water quality doesn’t seem so great but we need more information, and greenhouse gases production rates don’t seem to be improving at all.

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A friend did this quiz from blogthings. I went to the site and tried a few quick ones. Here is one that describes the type of thinker it thinks I am.

You Are 50% Left Brained, 50% Right Brained

The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.
Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.
If you’re left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.
Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.
The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.
Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.
If you’re right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.
Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.

Are You Right or Left Brained?

You could interpret it two ways; either I can think well with both parts of my brain, or I can’t use either side well. My Dad was left-handed, and Mom was ambidextrous.

Let’s see, will I take the left path or the right path…

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Here’s an article from The Scientist. It discusses, among other things, the science of Jill Masterson’s body paint murder in Goldfinger, and of the poisonous orchids in Moonraker. More disturbing is the mention in this article of a chemical that is a more practical way to kill human beings en mass. It is called ricin, is fatal in fairly small doses (a few milligrams or less) , can be spread easily in aerosol form, and has no known antidote. It comes from castor-oil plants.

I wish they hadn’t been so explicit about it; but then again I never really liked castor oil.

P.S. I checked that infallible source of information, Wikipedia, and it says that ricin isn’t that bad compared to things like Anthrax and Botulinum, so belligerent countries or organisations with the technology would go for the latter substances. However, it is twice as deadly as Cobra venom, is easy to process from castor beans, and there is no known antidote, making it risky and also attractive to lower tech belligerents.

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Mill Falls-19:Reflections

Spend time with wine by a stream,
And let sorrows away stream.
My life, like a rose, is but few days;
Youthful and joyous live this dream.

با می به کـنار جوی می‌باید بود
وز غصه کـناره‌جوی می‌باید بود
این مدت عمر ما چو گل ده روز است
خـندان لب و تازه‌روی می‌باید بود


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The Tulip

Green Shading to Pink]

Perhaps the tulip know the fickleness

Of Fortune’s smile, for on her stalk’s green shaft

She bears a wine cup through the wilderness


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I was watching an old James Bond movie on TV called the Living Daylights, starring Timothy Dalton; for some reason there seem to be a number of old Bond movies on television lately. Now I know that movies have classic illogical or annoying elements; a common one is the way they portray the view though a pair of binoculars, and someday I’ll find a pair that actually shows this view! Then there are the sounds and images of spacecraft banking though a vacuum, and some of them seem to use aerodynamic wings in a vacuum (Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, etc). But here is one I hadn’t really thought about before.

There was a bad guy in this movie who could talk English with a cultured British accent, a Cockney accent, and a flawless mid-American accent. He even spoke with a Russian accent when he wanted some British agents to think he was a Russian agent. But when he was back at his home base speaking English he used a Russian accent. Why would a person who could speak English flawlessly and with great ease use a Russian accent? Especially an agent, who supposedly would have been trained to speak it without an accent, and for whom unconsciously using a Russian accent might be considered a fatal flaw.

I remember something similar in The Pelican Brief. There was a professional assassin who was a polyglot, and who could speak American English with a number of accents and dialects. But when he was talking business with his employers he used a Middle-Eastern accent (since he came from the Middle East)? The same arguments would apply to this person as to professional agents; if you lapse into the wrong accent you compromise yourself.

Then there are the war movies, where people playing Germans and Russians, when not using sub-titles, speak with cultured BBC British accents. I particularly remember William Hurt, an American, trying to speak with a British accent in Gorky Park. I guess American directors suppose that it is more Kulturny than an American or Canadian or Australian accent?

I guess the next thing will be French Canadian movies about Quebec, where the actors use Parisian French or, if speaking English, British English rather than their usual accents.

Then there are Science Fiction shows where characters are “phase-shifted” or something so that they can go through walls, desks, and other people, but never seem to go through the floor…

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