Tuesday 24 September 2013

Disconnect the DOTs

These are DOT 111- type railcars. It was a similar model that caused so much destruction at Lac Megantic...

Thursday 5 September 2013

Maleic Anhydride Production

Another in my series of highly formalist pieces documenting our built environment...

Here's some background on the production facility from www.bartek.ca
"Bartek manufactures high purity maleic anhydride at their Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada plant. This facility utilizes the latest in butane catalytic conversion technology in Bartek-designed and built reaction and refining systems. 

"Centrally located in southern Ontario, Bartek conveniently serves both the US and Canadian markets.

"As a large consumer of maleic anhydride for the production of malic and fumaric acids, Bartek Ingredients has a long term commitment to the production of this industrial commodity. Bartek is dedicated to providing consistency in both quality and availability to their customers."

Bartek Ingredients

Sunday 11 August 2013

Taming the Demon Ore

Taming the Demon Ore is my Internationally award-winning documentary on the history of the Vale-owned mining company Inco Limited. It debuted at Cinefest in September 1991 and was broadcast coast-to-coast on Global TV later that month, garnering 535,000 viewers (an impressive share).

Friday 21 June 2013

Running on Ellmen

I was visiting my parents in another town and walking up Lake Street when I realized that this was the very building where I first met Eugene Ellmen sometime in the mid-late 1970s. In a small town like St Catharines it was perfectly reasonable to just "pop in" by just showing up at someone's house. My chaperone was the delightful Barb Seiler, who I was dating at the time. Among the dramatis personae in the room behind that bay window were Pat Rich, Eugene, and a chap whose first name was, I believe, Dave. Dave (David?) had been mugged the night before taking a shortcut past the Carnegie Library (since demolished) and the then-abandoned White Mansion (since demolished). Given that I was still in a collegiate (scheduled to be demolished) meeting these erudite sophomores was immediately oxygen to me.

Through this group I soon met Laury Cumming and probably was introduced to Mary Raudßus. Later still Richard Guitar. Richard is important to the story because he has the truck.

David (Dave?) introduced an interesting moral dilemma when he announced he was going to Kenora to scab at a pulp mill that was under a strike. While all agreed financially it was attractive, the natural left-leaning of small-town liberal arts college students found it morally challenging. Worker Solidarity and all. Also there was every chance that Dave (David?) would get yet another whupping.

Laury and I each moved to Toronto and remained fast friends up to my first marriage. Eventually we drifted apart. Eugene I have run into many times over the years with our children in tow at Toronto's CNE and the Ontario Science Center among other places. I suppose I really should take him out for a pint. His children must be nearly grown, as are mine. I am filled with nostalgia for Barb, and her family has made some remarkable contributions to the cultural history of St Catharines and its early Welland Canals. I think I saw Pat Rich on LinkedIn once, although it could be a posting on Ellmen's wall.

If I absolutely need to commune with their spirits then I surf on over to YouTube and crank Jackson Brown's  Running on Empty. That was our song. And for 4 minutes and 28 seconds they are back in my life, just like that holographic Princess Leia asking Obi-Wan Kenobi for help.

A tiny fuzzy projection of a time in my life that was a huge warm hug of great friends.

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels 
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels 
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through 
Looking into their eyes I see them running too*

*Music: Jackson Browne
Copyright: Swallow Turn Music

Song: Running on Empty

Monday 10 June 2013

Just in time for Canada Day

 "North" has a moral value, perhaps as "Marianne" means something profound to Parisiens. For a Canadian, especially from Southern Ontario, North is always a time of childhood excitement. We take our vacations in the North. All the youthful excitement of discovery is in the north. It's where you first caught a polliwog. It's where you picked blueberries right off the bush. It's probably where you had your first kiss.

And in Canada, especially de l'Ontario, North means rock, roches, pierre- pine and spruce trees growing straight up out of solid granite.

"Au nord de notre vie", the first movement of "À la poursuite du nord", has been exciting me for thirty or so years now. Part of that is that it was an "alternative" song in its day. It used to come on the radio station CFNY and suddenly we would be listening to a song in French. This is impossible to imagine today. English stations play English songs, et le stations de radio français capter le chants en français. Since we all had taken French in high school, we could follow the song.

So going back to the first movement of "À la poursuite du nord", you have that core central image - "The North of our lives". I have already spoken about what North means to a Canadian. Then we have the "of our lives" part, which is very Québécois. OUR lives. This sense of community is almost oxygen to the Franco-Ontarien. And this is what makes CANO interesting. As a Sudbury-based ensemble, they bridge le deux solitude of English et Français.

Finally, we have the glimmering beauty of Rachel Paiement's vocal. Almost a "pure tone" singer, she carries the first movement like Cleo Lane.

Here are links to ten songs that make me proud to be Canadian. The land is strong.

CANO - Au nord de notre vie
Neil Young - Helpless
Ian Tyson - Four Strong Winds
Gordon Lightfoot - Canadian Railroad Trilogy
Rush - Lakeside Park 
Bare Naked Ladies - Lovers in a Dangerous Time
Murray McLauchlan - Down by the Henry Moore
Feist - 1234 (the most perfect pop song since Sir Paul McCartney joined that skiffle band)
Nelly Furtado - Hey, Man! (Anybody else hear Stephen Reich?)
Fraser and Debolt Them Dancehall Girls (more Brecht und Weill than Lightfoot)

Special thanks to guest blogger Richard RJ Guitar LCdr RCN (Ret'd) for his suggestions.

Thursday 30 May 2013

If I was a Wishman!

Doris Wishman is one of cinema's most outré outsider artists. The Queen of the nudie-cutie. The Knave of the Roughies. The anonymous director of hard-core porn such as Satan was a Lady. The hooded figure of Death behind A Night to Dismember.

She's in a league with Roger Corman, Russ Meyer and Ed Wood. She's an artist who's influenced John Waters and Quentin Tarantino. She's probably never made a watchable film, but she had a 40 year career and released over 30 movies. All low budget/no budget.

Producer, Director, Writer, Editor, ADR artiste... She performed so many roles on each one of her films that she had to invent cockamamie pseudonyms to make it seem like she had a crew. When in reality she had a nudist camp and its habitués, a fading burlesque performer as a star, and C. Davis Smith as her cameraman.

If you like Ed Wood and love Russ Meyer you will be astounded by the films of Doris Wishman.

 Doris Wishman's career began with a perfect storm – she was widowed just as a court ruled that any film depicting nudity at a nudist camp was not obscene. I devote this post solely to her masterpiece...

That's the title. It's the plot. It's the story. It describes exactly what the film looks like. The actual 67 minutes of celluloid are redundant. A wealthy private scientist builds his own rocket with the help of his dedicated assistant, and they fly to the moon. The moon looks exactly like Coral Castle, Florida, and is inhabited by a race of amazonian moon woman who communicate psychopathically. Which is to say, via pipe-cleaner bobble head antennae. Wearing nothing but their bikini bottoms. 

The Astro-men are briefly imprisoned, let themselves out of jail, and, to use a 1930s term “make love” to the nude on the moon women (which is to say, talk their heads off about love without any physical contact whatsoever). They then steal all the moon gold and rocketship back to earth.

Only to come to, from a dream. Hey, they never left the earth at all. But the wealthy private scientist suddenly notices his secretary is beautiful. And we are wincing at this last, cheesy device – she is, of course, the nude on the moon amazon queen. Love was waiting here on earth all along.

It is Wishman's ability to fill one hour with mise-en-scene of topless women doing, basically, topless pilates while everyone's speech is out of sync with their lips that is absolutely fascinating. She is a supreme minimalist. No sound recording, no special effects, no clothes, no real actors. And yet a film emerges.

Wishman's nudie cutie period lasted 8 films made between 1959 and 1964. Each was filmed at a nudist camp. Except Nude on the Moon. So she had to lie about that (She must have been quite believable – Coral Castle is a very particular locale)

The Memphis King of B-Movies, Superstarlet A.D. Producer/Director John Michael McCarthy, had this to say about Doris Wishman...

"My starlet wife Dawn Ashcraft and I actually met Doris Wishman at the 1998 New York Underground Film Festival and had our picture made with her. Later we all went out to eat and we talked about our mutual friendship with David F. Friedman.

"I am sitting here in my smoking jacket (and I don't even smoke) thinking about my two mothers (one adopted and dead, the other biological and alive, on this, the night before Mothers Day, Now I'm wondering what if Doris Wishman had been my mother. If I am the bastard son of Elvis Presley, then goddammit, doesn't it make sense that Doris Wishman is my mother? I have to admit BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL and DOUBLE AGENT 73 are my favorite DW films. My starlet wife and I talked with her about a number of things at a private dinner during our snowy visit to the New York Underground Film Fest in March of 1998 (we screened THE SORE LOSERS). Doris got a kick out of the fact that Dawn was calling in sick everyday (back in Memphis) so her boss wouldn't know she was in NY. Doris told me she and David F Friedman (who had appeared in SORE LOSERS as "God") were good friends back in the day and to tell him hello (and I did). I once read a review on my TEENAGE TUPELO where a reviewer claimed that Hugh B. Brooks (Johnny Tu-Note) had also appeared in NUDE ON THE MOON. At first I thought this was the stupidest mistake someone "in the know" could make. Then I realized I had been paid the greatest compliment on Earth - or the Moon. We miss you, Doris."

For more on John Michael McCarthy (JMM) visit www.guerrillamonsterfilms.com where you can
  • Sign up and download JMM's new doc Native Son
  • Follow the progress of JMM's new feature Cigarette Girl
  • And coming soon- JMM's newest doc Destroy Memphis (The Man Without A Drive-In tour)
John Michael McCarthy handout photo

    Sunday 21 April 2013

    God, move over. Now Science is dead

    Update: The day this controversial blog post was published, a highly regarded emeritus professor advanced this argument which completely agrees with my core thesis... Professor ignites firestorm over his secret: modern scientists do not need advanced math

    The original blogpost...
    On a quiet day in the 1990s Science as a professional practice died. It was killed by a deliberate malfeasor who was more concerned with his future celebrity than with conducting his scientific research with the exacting rigor that had marked almost 3 centuries of laboratory professional practice.

    And today Science does not exist in any meaningful form. Oh, you can tell someone at a cocktail party that the statement you're making is a scientific fact, and they'll believe you. But there no longer any new avenues of science that support scientific facts.

    Sure we can use science to put a man on the moon. But guess what. We haven't put a man on the moon for four decades. So I question that fact of your science.

    So if Science died, when did it live? Well, we know precisely the day Science peaked. When Albert Einstein published the special theory of relativity, expressed as E=MC2, that was most profound expression of physics that would ever be made.

    However, 24 hours later, Einstein should have been soundly ridiculed for his complete inability to include the graviton in his theory. For in an Einsteinian Universe, you can zoom at light speed from one end of the universe to the other. However, Einstein supplies no force which will hold you to the surface of any planet you happen to land on. And given that I am sitting in a chair as I write this, it's completely obvious Einstein doesn't know what he's talking about.

    Also, any grade school student equipped with a prism can instantly transform the speed of a beam of light. Thus completely destroying the only intelligent thing Einstein is credited with formulating. 

    A generation later, E=MC2 was the first principle that would make it possible to develop a military weapon that was used to murder thousands of Japanese, and injure hundreds of thousands more. And although that was not the day Science died, it was the day that Science went from being a rigorous profession with high standards, to be being a conduit for materials research whose sole aim was to develop new technologies that delivered commercial and especially military applications as quickly and cheaply as possible.

    The exact day Science died occurred in 1998 when the previously august medical journal The Lancet published a complete work of fiction linking MMR immunization programs to childhood autism. It would take The Lancet a dozen years to admit its incompetence for publishing the article. It has never accepted responsibility for the deaths of all those children whose mothers followed its publishing a deliberately fraudulent paper.
    Wiki: MMR Vaccine Controversy

    After its death, Science was then perverted into a left-wing propaganda device when Dr. Michael Mann and his colleagues decided to fabricate scientific data that would create false evidence of a phenomena generally called global warming. In fact, there's now an entire cottage industry of climate change fakers:

    The Marcott-'Science' Hockey Stick Fiasco: Audit of New Study Proves Bogus Data Manipulation

    Today science lives on performing parlor tricks, such as the absurd megaproject the Large Hadron Collider. It's a machine which consumes an obscene amount of energy in vacuuming itself out then accelerating particles beyond any speed they would actually travel if they were merely behaving the laws of physics. The project itself is an unspeakable waste of resources. One collision requires 120 Megawatts of power. I live in a Metro area that can get by on 27 megawatts in a heatwave.

    The LHC took about a decade to construct, for a total cost of about $4.75 billion, and it costs 5.5 billion to fund annually. It was successful in allegedly creating an image that is purported to be the elusive Higgs Boson, although the ever-supercilious Peter Higgs has quibbled about the particle name. Apparently 10 billion was spent proving his theory, and he's still not happy.

    Me, I would have spent 5.5 billion a year, and 120 megawatts of power generating facilities, and helped the world's poor.

    Saturday 23 March 2013

    Gone in 60 Seconds - Earth Hour Edition

    A year ago I crafted this:
    “Yes I am aware. I am aware of a lot of things, actually. Even things happening outside my country. Even things happening on different continents. Even things happening to people I have no natural cultural or ethnic connection to.

    "But what I am most painfully aware of is that your awareness group is not meant to solve a problem. It is designed to use manipulative advertising techniques to create a false promise that your group will deliver anything other than just more awareness.”

    Now it's true that awareness is dangerous, in the wrong hands. The cancer fraudster Ashley Kirilow began like a Lou Reed character come to life: She plucked her eyebrows on the way; shaved her head; and then she was a cancer survivor. Till she took a walk with the fraud squad. And all the locals became aware that cancer charity donations were vulnerable to fraud.

    In the same vein, it is bloody obvious to all that Earth Hour is a vacuous gesture. But who is Earth Hour for? It's for children. Children. “Let's turn out the lights and play a game in the dark and help save the planet.” Yes it's magical thinking, but that's what children do and we love that in them.

    So why does Earth Hour arouse such strong emotion? Yes it's a vulgar and indulgent exercise in greenwashing that property managers have grabbed onto with both hands. Oh, the humanity! But I believe the danger of Earth Hour is that it's social hygiene. By observing Earth Hour, we are indoctrinating our children with positive messages about caring about the health of animals and the natural world.

    And when we conspire to make children care, then the National Post's Peter Foster derides "ecofascist nonsense such as Earth Hour". He may be right, but he's also right wing. Not that's there anything wrong with that! So Peter Foster is angry that Earth Hour has no positive benefit, other than to inculcate our children with a caring attitude attitude toward animals and the environment.

    But everyone I know cares about animals and the environment. I live in that environment. I eat those animals. And really, what does the World Wildlife Fund do? One day will they flashmob in my laneway and vaccinate all the raccoons?  I doubt it. Based on their website, they are all about “partner programs”. Standard weasel words for “sit on our butts in boardrooms and hold conference calls with green groups. And try to make the governments pay for it all.” Well, good luck with that.

    For me Earth Hour will be about going to the park near my house with the classic “million dollar view” of our City's downtown. And when I go there at 8:30 tonight it will be cool to see those buildings all dark.  

    Saturday 23 February 2013

    Nightmare Dream at Campbell House

    Campbell House is an 1822 Palladian Style Georgian residence that represents the height of colonial rule in Canada. Built one decade after the War of 1812 it represented England’s last successful attempt to maintain their Colonial interests in North America.

    Nearly two centuries later, 25 patrons crowd into Campbell House`s grand entrance hall, reading their programs and making small talk. Tickets are taken and coats are hung. There are way too many backpacks. The director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu is taking time to meet the audience and share a few words as we await the opening. We are all wondering - "How will we know when Nightmare Dream has started?"

    A thunderous crash answers that question. Simon Dube (Peter Bailey) begins descending the spiral Grand staircase, trailing a long train of sheer silk. Dube begins a bureaucratic outline of an African Studies course that degenerates into a hostile dialogue with a group of sophomore students. The spirit of humor of the production is immediately evident. Barking the reading list to the class, Dube rhymes off a long list of important tomes on African cultural and colonial history. All of which are written by writers with clearly European names. Not the wittiest conceit, but one that is necessary to establish the thesis of what will develop into a sprawling work about the post-colonial African Diaspora...

    Dube struts down the stairs and disappears. We follow and find ourselves sharing a basement chamber with  Dube, a dancing shaman, and a corpse. The scene is without material dialogue, and consists largely of the shaman dancing around the pallet holding the corpse. The dance is spectacular. Physical. Visceral. Taut. But then anyone who has seen Pulga Muchochoma since he arrived in Canada in 2006 expects no less.

    The shaman's dancing is effective, and the corpse begins to move under the shroud. However the dancing shaman has transformed into a spirit animal, and Dube is holding a machete. There is a quick flash of the blade, and the spirit animal has been despatched into another realm.

    We are led into the Dining Hall, and are presented a rather predictable discourse with a plantation owner, played by Joshua Browne, with Dube as apparently a shipping magnate (of the cargo of slaves, of course) and the serving girl going through a rather tepid complaint about the horrors of slavery. Which is one paragraph long and which she repeats many, many times. It may just be that 18th and 19th century slave trade is so horrific that its simplest facts are all that`s needed.

    We are grateful when Dube leads us to his audience with "Queen B", a thinly disguised Queen of England (Jane Miller). Here the story point is how a colonial nation negotiates its independence. Incredibly, author “Motion” and director Tindyebwa Otu stage the scene as an alluded fornication. So the taboo allure of interracial copulation provides the machinations by which Dube will negotiate the independence of his nation. Here are a random list of scene details which show the incredible artistry of the entire production.

    • The sheer silk train has now become a scroll, which represents the treaty under negotiation. (It has appeared in many of the other scenes – it's practically a character in itself)
    • At one point the Queen is climbing over Dube like a jungle gym and he is shouting that she must release him. But she isn't holding on to him at all. It is he, holding on to her. Demonstrating that his colonial status is as much mindset as Magna Carta
    • And this is the perfect scene to acknowledge sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne. The underscore here is the engine that drives the scene.

    Now we move to another Great Room – and are finally in Africa! Dube is now the leader of the liberation government, and is making a speech to a heard but unseen stadium of now freed citizens. (more of Thomas Ryder Payne's soundscaping). In counterpoint is Neema Bickersteth, robed as a noble and singing a ballad unknown to me in her beautiful operatic voice. The Queen and the plantation owner/slaver are also present, demanding their take of the new nation's money.

    This scene represents the creative team firing on all cylinders. The pressures on Dube of his new office, the expectations of a newly liberated nation, the ties to old regimes that must be re-booted represent complex contradiction that make for challenging storytelling. Here, Motion and Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu bring us all the contradiction with no platitudes. Very skillful handling that is full of human truth. Once again Pulga Muchochoma ties the scene together with his athletic and allegorical dance.

    An entirely electrifying work of theater.

    Conceived and directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu
    Written by Motion
    Featuring: Peter Bailey, Jane Miller, Pulga Muchochoma, Joshua Browne and Neema Bickersteth
    Sound Design: Thomas Ryder Payne
    Production Design: Snezana Pesic
    Stage Manager: Jessica Derventzis
    Assistant Stage Manager: Anna Plugina

    Produced by IFT Theatre in Association with Newface Entertainment.

    Disclosure- David Crawford, Newface entertainment producer, is a work colleague. He still makes me pay for my own tickets.

    Thursday 21 February 2013

    The elephant in the Twitterverse

    What keeps large corporations out of the social media space? Because the elephant in the room is -
    • C-Suite still doesn't believe there's any money to be made
    • If something goes viral, you lose control
    • And if it goes viral because you offend hundreds of thousands of people in the Twitterverse, heads will roll.
    Well guess what - Canada's Financial Post is reporting that ING, the unmortgage financial powerhouse of the 1990s, has just had every corporations' worse nightmare occur.

    Quoting "In early January 2013, ING Direct Canada put into market a new TV commercial to promote its RSP and TFSA products in advance of RSP season. The commercial depicted a clearly stressed out man who viewers soon discover was helped by his wife taking him to ING. It didn’t take long for consumers — who interpreted the ad as making light of symptoms often associated with mental illness — to voice their indignation through social media channels, including direct communication with ING Canada CEO Peter Aceto. The backlash forced the bank to decide whether to do away with the ads during a critical promotional period or sacrifice some of the brand equity it had earned among consumers by keeping the ads on air. "

    Read the full story here: How ING Canada prevented a social media 'issue' from becoming a full-blown PR crisis

    Not entirely incidentally, ING has just been M&A'd and is now a teeny pimple at Canada's financial powerhouse Scotiabank. Guess they're gonna need a bigger ad agency!

    Full disclosure- I am an ING bank customer and that is my promocode ad on the far right Nav. Sign up and get a $25.00 dollars bonus. And so will I.

    Sunday 10 February 2013

    Why do Canadians put so much of their retirement savings in mutual funds?

    David Pett has just written a great article in the Financial Post questioning the value of holding mutual funds in your RRSP. I find Mr Pett totally on-point, largely because his comments  exactly correlate to my own blog post of Oct 2012 listing the  Top Ten reasons not to have Canadian Mutual Funds in your RRSP

    Largely the issues remain:

    • High management fees (MER)
    • Poor management performance
    • Weak stock market (since 2008)
    • Lack of investment alternatives (poor bond and GIC performance)

    Canadians deserve better. After taking a 700 hundred billion dollar haircut in 2008, their ever-nearing retirement lifestyles are in jeopardy due to a lethargic mutual fund management industry.

    From the Financial Post:  Mutual funds still popular with Canadians, but why?

    Sunday 3 February 2013

    World Cancer Day

    World Cancer Day will be observed by millions of people in myriad ways. For me it comes only 2 weeks after the 1st Anniversary of my being cured of stage 3 oropharyngeal cancer. Here I reblog the posts that described my journey.

    Paging Dr Zoidberg

    I am cured of cancer

    My cancer anniversary

    And for those who are not on this journey, and want to prevent it if possible, an excellent blog posting from the Zoomer website - Foods that prevent cancer

    Monday 21 January 2013

    The African Century

    I had introduced myself to a woman on Skype, and after about 30 minutes of that easy web chit-chat the conversation naturally ran out of steam. At this point I don't mind sitting in silence because of what happens next – When the conversation resumes, you will be talking about real things.

    Sure enough, the women blurted out – "So what do you know about Africa?". My first response was – "Which part of Africa? Africa is a continent, not a country." Suddenly she became very passionate and said "Africa is not the way you depict it in the West!" What she meant was the stories of roving gangs, military rule, and warlords. Although parts of Africa do have those problems. But as it happens, right now the American warlords are using drone aircraft to rain death upon families in Afghanistan; the tribes of the Canadian Indians are blocking highways and railroads because their land settlement claims have not been negotiated, and everyone knows New Jersey is run by the mob.

    But I understood completely what she meant. No more CNN horse manure. And as I conducted my interviews I spoke to women from Botswana, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Togo and Uganda.

    And after all that I came to the conclusion that the current millennium will be the African Century. Here's how

    First - A charismatic leader must emerge who can unite the most wealthy and powerful nations.

    Next - to be African is to believe in God. And while not all Africans are Catholic, an interesting situation is occurring - In Vatican City, it is an open secret that the Holy See intends for the next Pope to be African. And now Pope Benedict XVI has announced his resignation due to ailing health. Current papbili include Peter Turkson as the leading candidate for Pope, with Nigeria's Cardinal Francis Arinze also in the running. Having a global spiritual leader from Ghana or Nigeria would move the entire continent forward.

    The power and wealth of the citizens is creating a middle class. Everyone I interviewed had a degree, in fields ranging from bachelor's degrees to economics. Meaning these are very bright people, with very employable degrees. And they will become wealthy in good jobs.

    Africa must transform her technology infrastructure. When you can make smart phones at RIM in Canada, Nokia in Finland, or Foxcomm in China, you can make a smart phone anywhere. Or perhaps a Smart car. In 25 years the automobile as North Americans know it will no longer exist. People will toot around in self-driving pod sized Smart cars. Almost certainly built by Tata Motors under a license from Google. Africans have been making steel for 2,000 years. I'm sure they can make it through another century or two.

    As everyone knows there is an ongoing scientific research project to terraform the Sahara Desert. The primary motivator is not to turn the desert into a jungle. The primary motivation is to stop the sandstorms that threaten large blocks of Africa including air travel. And secondly, to contain the desert at its current size. It's visible from space – that's big enough.

    Another factor that brings us into the African Century is the MeerKAT Square Kilometer Array (aka SKA)  The world Astronomy Scientific bodies have decided that the next telescope complex must go in Africa. This of course complements the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory west of Johannesbug. The factors include: Better night vision, the rising class of well educated science minded youth, and the fact that Astronomers currently cannot view that night sky hemisphere with the newest state of the art instruments.

    And finally – Ubuntu. D'uh.

    One more thing on the subject of the Square Kilometer Array, or SKA. The Selector Cool Blue Lady 

    Monday 14 January 2013

    Near Field Payment = Near Fail

    Last year CIO.com wrote "it will very likely be years before any sort of NFC-based payment system goes mainstream, according to a new report from technology research firm Forrester Research. Though Forrester predicts 100 million NFC-enabled mobile devices will ship this year, the company says NFC won't reach critical mass, or be used by 15 percent to 25 percent of the global population, for at least three to five years."

    Near field payment (NFP) systems represent the holy grail of telco cash grabs. 2013 will see the first serious rollout of NFP in North America. Here's why the invention of Gaston Schwabacher is guaranteed to fail:

    10) Consumers already have a debit credit card. They can just reach into their pocket, pull it out, tap and go.
    9) The first 10 meters of any WIFI connection are completely unsecured. The media will be filled with firesheeping horror stories
    8) There is a class of consumers for whom cash is king. And they include wealthy retirees
    7) NFP would be awesome when you're somewhere miles off the grid, such as renting a kayak In Yosemite National Park. There is no WIFI when you are that far off the grid.
    6) Western Union will be one of the first NFP service providers. Have you ever sent money by Western Union? Their process involves filling out an entire page of a 3-part NFC form, and all fields are mandatory. That will be a challenge on an iPhone
    5) Paypal will be an early provider as well. Everybody hates paypal
    4) Your telephone company will be your service provider, and they will force you to use them. Remember when they billed you $100 in roaming charges when you were out of the country? Imagine what happens when you pay a 300 € restaurant bill
    3) Your cable company will be a provider. Just like the phone company, only greedier, and harder to locate a CSR
    2) It now emerges that Nokia decrypts all your secure transmissions. So does Blackberry. This saves a few kb off your bandwdith consumption. It doesn't save you any money, but it makes you more profitable as a customer.
    1) Wireless Carrier outage. There you are, no wallet, no debit card, no credit card, no cash. Just your NFC compliant phone. And the carrier is offline. So what are you going to do now, Einstein? Pay the bill by washing dishes?

    I leave the final words to the always awesome Mbugua Njihia, who writes on his blog

    Africa has all the ingredients of a successful adoption of mobile payment innovation that can achieve true scale and profit. First, is the sheer number of mobile consumers whose demand for better mobile utility is remains unsatisfied, second is the wide gap in C2B payments on mobile, with the business oriented service attempts on Mpesa, Zap and other mobile money deployments in Africa barely scratching that itch; third is that there have been lessons learnt in mobile money deployments for the masses, lastly and perhaps most important is that we think different – and here I refer to the many minds that tirelessly think outside the box and innovate for the unique African mobile consumer.

    The trifecta: mobile applications, mobile web and sms as content and revenue drivers in Africa

    Everyone knows Mbugua is correct about NFPS in Africa. But in North America? Near field Payment = Massive Fail

    Thursday 10 January 2013

    My cancer anniversary

    In mid October 2011 I snapped up a solid portion of General Tso chicken and commenced to chaw. Within the hour I would be hurling in an ambulance to Mt Sinai Hospital, where an ENT resident would gravely inform me I had "a mass" growing on one of my tonsils.
    Within the next week it was revealed I had a blob of tissue larger than a golf ball hosting itself in my throat.

    Cancer is the brand leader in mindshare of fatal diseases. I like to think I was presenting as stoic, but I was confused, terrified, and very, very ill. At Princess Margaret Hospital Dr Andrew Bayley, one of Canada's leading radiation oncologists caromed into a tiny examination room with an entourage of residents and a comic disposition. Bayley's ready humour was a modus operandi designed to diffuse my fear, and amuse me whilst necessary medical processes were sequenced around my disease.

    This could not have come at a worse time. We kids were hosting a large group for my father`s 80th anniversary. And my 23 year old son Erin, whom I had not seen since he left for studies at the Vancouver Art Institute was among the guests of honour.

    Erin was excited to find out that Occupy had just taken over St James park. His mind was full of thoughts of drum circles and protests. Instead, he was with his father in Chemo. Herein is a gallery of my journey that began Nov 2011 and ended on Friday the 13th, January 2012

    The results speak for themself. One year later the tumour mass has been evaporated off the face of the planet. I am 100% cured of the original illness. My ancillary tissue damage is largely mediating itself. I might lose some hearing. I am alive!


    Grateful Dead A Touch of Grey
    Dear reader here's a piece of information that will help you enjoy this song selection... radiation therapy is given in doses in units of grey.

    Sir Elton John Someone Saved My Life Tonight

    Monday 7 January 2013

    In 1630 Tycho Brahe is the most important astronomer of his day. Johannes Kepler is a peer, working immediately under the influence of the master. It is Kepler's Rudolphine Tables that predict solar and lunar eclipses. Most famously, it is Kepler who first logs a supernova, although it would be centuries before this superb observation would be fully appreciated.

    On the third week of December 1638 there occurred a total lunar eclipse of a full moon. It was witnessed by:
    • Pope Urban VIII
    • King Charles 1st of the United Kingdom, whose delegation was in negotiation with the Ming Dynasty for a vast range of trade rights. 
    This eclipse was predicted by Keppler's follower Jeremiah Horrocks. Horrocks  would be the greatest living astronomer to document it although sadly Horrocks had less than 4 years to live.

    Three Hundred and Seventy Two years later, on Dec 21 2010 I was a witness to the first total lunar eclipse to occur on the day of the Northern Winter Solstice since 1638. Something witnessed by Horrocks, but not Brahe und Kepler. And, as the previous winter solstice full moon eclipse occurs every several centuries, the next lunar eclipse to occur on the Solstice until sometime in the mid 21st Century.

    My regular readers will recall that I made the following fb posting...
    "Tonight I witnessed Luna surrounded by a ring made of 4 pairs of her star-sisters. Even Venus came rising over and gave her a kiss. Other stars formed perfect grid patterns around her. The Universe has shone me a huge piece of its puzzle."

    While witnessing it I felt like I was witnessing the clockwork of the universe. I could actually hear it whirring (just what they say about Auroras borealis and australis)

    I know now that a large part of what I witnessed is called the Winter Hexagon. It is the natural celestial alignment during that time of year. every year. The difference was that with the lunar eclipse blocking the moon, the geometry of the stars was emphasized. I am particularly impressed that Orion's "belt" has rotated 30 degrees and has transited the constellation median. (That is, it's on the wrong side)

    Thanks to Uncle Bob for the Winter Hexagon image

    Shout out to the winter hexagon