Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything
↳ June 2011

Summer Vacation

On Vacation

Yes, summer vacation did start for Quebec teachers today. Why do you ask?

On Embarrassing User Names

Amanda Hess writes about the eternal shame of your first online handle. I’m certainly of that generation that came online with strange user names, and Hess’s piece certainly applies to me — or did you not notice that after nearly a decade of using “mcwetboy” as my handle, and mcwetboy.com as my website, I’ve since moved over to a website whose URL is simply my name? Via Kottke.

Canada’s Housing Bubble

Another reason to keep renting for now: “Canada’s housing market is in a bubble that’s set to burst and prices could plunge by as much as 25 per cent, a major independent research firm warns,” reports CBC News.

Shawville’s Grocery Store Reopens

Now Open

Shawville’s grocery store is open again. It’s true: we were there this afternoon and bought groceries and everything. The shelves were even mostly full, and prices were more or less where they were before the six-month strike began. According to this sign at the corner of Victoria and Route 148 it reopened to great fanfare on Saturday, but we missed it.

And with that, I hope, the town’s collective stress levels will go down a little bit. It’ll be nice not to have to be quite so organized in our grocery shopping, between trips to Renfrew every one to two weeks and whatever we could find at other stores in town.

Previously: Tentative Deal in Shawville Grocery Strike; Shawville’s Grocery Store Strike: An Update.

Route 148 Out for Six Weeks, Detour in Place

The washout on Route 148 Friday night (see previous entry) damn near cut us off from the outside world, forcing people to take lengthy detours via Wakefield, Renfrew or the Quyon Ferry to get to and from our region. The Ottawa Citizen reports on the damage, which is “now a canyon 18 metres deep” that will likely take six weeks to repair. In the meantime, the damaged back road is now back in service and a detour via local roads is now available. The detour is already mapped in OpenStreetMap:

Route 148 detour (OpenStreetMap screencap)

Had the washout occurred a little bit to the east, no local detour would have been possible.

Little Lost Pig

Little Lost Pig

We’ve been visited by all manner of wild animals in the six years we’ve been living in our current home; I’ve been documenting it in my Animal Invasion set on Flickr. This evening’s visit by a pig was new, though. A young pig, obviously not feral and quite comfortable around people, presumably got loose and wandered by. One of my neighbours was trying to catch it with nylon cord, but I didn’t stick around to see how that turned out.

Update, July 7: It turns out that it was actually a young wild boar, which wildlife officers later captured with some effort.

Route 148 Washed Out

Thanks to all the rain we got today, Route 148 is washed out at Chemin Thérien between Luskville and Eardley. This is a really inconvenient spot, because the detours require considerable doubling back. The one back road that could have sufficed is apparently also washed out. So it’s a choke point, really. Until the washout is fixed, those going to and from Shawville and other parts of the lower Pontiac are going to have to go via Renfrew (taking Route 303 via the bridge at Portage-du-Fort) or Wakefield (taking Route 366 via Ladysmith and Lac-des-Loups).

Update, June 25: Jennifer has heard from co-workers that Route 148 is more or less passable again, though I’m not sure if that involves detours along local roads or not.

The MobileMe-to-iCloud Transition

Way back in the day, I let my .Mac membership lapse (I was trying to economize). Later, when I was more flush and had two computers I wanted to keep in sync, I re-upped with what was then MobileMe. Problem was, I couldn’t simply restore my old .Mac account: its vestiges — my Apple ID and my iChat login — couldn’t be combined with my MobileMe account. When Apple announced earlier this month that MobileMe would be replaced and succeeded by iCloud, I wondered whether the fact that my Apple ID was separate from my MobileMe account would bollix things up for me: whether, in other words, the Apple ID sign-in and MobileMe succession would cancel each other out or cause some other mischief. Apple’s MobileMe transition FAQ, however, suggests that you can use iCloud separately from your Apple ID. Then again, my Apple ID and MobileMe accounts have the same username; hopefully that won’t pose a problem either. Yes, I worry too much.

Mercury’s Terminator

The Terminator is Here

Another nice image of Mercury along its terminator, this one in colour, from NASA’s MESSENGER probe, now orbiting the planet. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Previously: Crescent Mercury; Orbiting Mercury.

She Likes It Dark

Despite her almost consistently sunny and upbeat nature, Jennifer has always liked fiction that was, well, a little dark. She grew up reading Stephen King, after all, and after that it’s been a little hard to freak, spook or squick her out.

Science fiction and fantasy haven’t managed to do it yet. She had no trouble with George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, which got me after the first 200 or so pages. (I may try again at some point.) Paolo Bacigalupi and Peter Watts caused her no trouble at all despite their reputation. I kid you not, she actually chortled while reading Connie Willis’s “All My Darling Daughters.” She’s a tough nut, she is: if she were into classical music, she’d giggle all the way through Górecki’s Third Symphony.

Continue reading this entry

Betelgeuse!

ESO: The Flames of Betelgeuse

Betelgeuse is a massive red giant, so huge and so close that its disk can be imaged from Earth. (It’s also going to explode someday, but it’s far enough away not to get us.) However big Betelgeuse itself may be, it’s surrounded by a nebula created by material shed by the star that is many times larger. In this composite image, which combines earlier observations of the gas surrounding Betelgeuse (black central disk) with the surrounding nebula (taken by an infrared camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope), Betelgeuse itself is represented by a tiny red circle at centre, which is almost the size of Jupiter’s orbit; the nebula’s radius is some 60 billion kilometres. Image credit: ESO/P. Kervella. Via Bad Astronomy.

Engineering Infinity

Book cover: Engineering Infinity Gardner Dozois called Engineering Infinity, an anthology of original science fiction stories edited by Jonathan Strahan, “the best SF anthology of the year to date” in the April 2011 issue of Locus. It’s a strong anthology with some really good stories in it. Ostensibly a hard-SF anthology, its stories range in scope from the intensely personal to the grandly Stapledonian, but in most cases retain a human perspective, if not scale. Here’s the table of contents.

It’s hard to pick a favourite. John Barnes seems to be channeling Larry Niven’s stage trees in “The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees,” and that’s not a bad thing. Two stories are sequels: Karl Schroeder’s “Laika’s Ghost,” a story about the Soviet Union and Mars, is the fifth, I think, in a series involving arms inspector Gennady Malianov (beginning with “The Dragons of Pripyat”); Charlie Stross’s “Bit Rot” is a sequel to Saturn’s Children. I also enjoyed Greg Benford’s time-travel-and-serial-killers tale, “Mercies”; Gwyneth Jones’s story about alien cannibalism, “The Ki-Anna”; Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s bittersweet “Watching the Music Dance.” And Peter Watts is in his usual fine form with “Malak,” a story about a weapon that grows a conscience.

Judge Rules on Seaway Serpentarium Reptiles

The fate of the Seaway Serpentarium’s 200 or so reptiles, in limbo since the death of Karel Fortyn, was decided in court yesterday, the Toronto Star reports. The judge ruled in favour of Fortyn’s brother. “Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo in Ottawa will take the non-venomous reptiles and Reptilia zoo in Vaughan will take the venomous reptiles. The estate said they are in consultation with the authorities about the Orinocos” (i.e., the Orinoco crocodiles, whose legal status is a bit complicated).

Previously: Seaway Serpentarium Reptiles in Custody Battle.

Chez Helene

Helene (moon), Cassini image)

Cassini passed by Saturn’s tiny moon Helene on July 18 at a distance of less than 7,000 km, allowing it to capture what I think are the best images of the moon yet. (I don’t think the March 2010 shots, taken from only 1,800 km away, are as good.) Helene is only about 36 kilometres across and was only discovered in 1980. It shares an orbit with the much larger Dione (it orbits at the Saturn-Dione L4 point). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute; I mucked around with levels and sharpening for the version here. Bad Astronomy, The Planetary Society Blog, Universe Today.

Approaching Vesta

Vesta from the Dawn probe (June 14, 2011)

I’m excited about the imminent arrival of the Dawn spacecraft at the asteroid Vesta, which should happen in mid-July. It has already returned a better image of Vesta (above) than can be obtained from Earth-based telescopes or the Hubble. Via the Planetary Society Blog.

Bill Haast

Legendary venomous snake expert Bill Haast has died at the age of 100: Miami Herald, New York Times. Head of the Miami Serpentarium from 1946 to 1984, Haast extracted venom from venomous snakes for medical and research purposes for most of his life. He was bitten at least 172 times, and injected himself with small amounts of venom daily to build up immunity: transfusions of his blood were even used to save snake bite victims. More on Haast from Kingsnake.com and TwinSrpnt.

Fuzzy Nation

Book cover: Fuzzy Nation Fuzzy Nation is John Scalzi’s reboot of H. Beam Piper’s 1962 classic novel, Little Fuzzy, published with the consent of the Piper estate. This is a reboot in the sense of Batman Begins or the J. J. Abrams Star Trek: not a sequel or a rewrite, but a different story written from the bare bones of the original. Little Fuzzy and Fuzzy Nation superficially tell the same tale: sunstone prospector Jack Holloway encounters a small and unbearably cute race of creatures he calles the fuzzies (or, in Scalzi’s version, the fuzzys, which seems wrong); if the fuzzies are found to be sentient, a human corporation loses the right to exploit their planet.

It’s remarkable how different the two novels are beyond that point. Reading one does not spoil the reading of the other. (In any case you must track down Little Fuzzy, which is in the public domain and downloadable for free, so there’s no excuse.)

Continue reading this entry

A Closer Look at Centaurus A

Active Galaxy Centaurus A

For another look at the giant radio galaxy Centaurus A (see previous entry), take a look at this closeup view from the Hubble Space Telescope, just released today by the Hubble Heritage Team. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration.

Tentative Deal in Shawville Grocery Strike

CTV News: “A provincial conciliator has helped both sides in a contract dispute that closed the Valu-Mart grocery store in Shawville reach a tentative agreement.” Workers are apparently voting on the deal this week. If the deal is approved, I wonder how long it’ll take for the store to reopen (it’s been boarded up for six months).

Previously: Shawville’s Grocery Store Strike: An Update.

That Liberal Media

Writing for the rather-conservative Toronto Sun, Liberal spinmeister Warren Kinsella argues that Conservatives who complain about the media are full of it: “the media in Canada are overwhelmingly small- or large-C conservative. Period.” Whenever I’ve seen a Canadian conservative complain about the liberal media, they usually mean the CBC and the Toronto Star; I recall reading Claire Hoy in the Hill Times complaining week after week about liberal media bias, and every single example he gave came from the Star.

I guess it plays well to conservative resentment to rail against the elite — or at least that portion of the elite that isn’t already conservative (i.e., academe, the arts sector, and the unbought portion of the news media). Thank goodness one or two unconservative media outlets remain to fundraise against. See also: the special role played by NPR and the New York Times in American conservative rhetoric.

Miyazaki Movies in Lego

Totoro and friends Do you like Hayao Miyazaki? Do you like Lego? Then brace your head, because it is about to explode. Iain Heath has put together a diorama of characters from Miyazaki’s films in Lego. Here’s the full Flickr set. But he’s not alone: there’s an entire Flickr group dedicated to Lego recreations of Miyazaki’s movies. More at The Ghibli Blog. Via io9. Photo credit: Iain Heath.

The End of the Line for the Canada Central

The Canadian Press reports on the looming dismantling of Canada’s largest model railway, the Montreal-based Canada Central, which is losing its 9,000 square feet of warehouse space because its landlord, CN, wants to lease it to a higher-paying tenant, and the Montreal Railroad Modelers Association can’t find another location that is both big enough and affordable.

Paving the PPJ

Paved PPJ

Never mind the sidewalks; they’re also paving the PPJ, at least through Shawville. I took some pictures this morning.

(Some background: the PPJ Cycloparc is a bike trail traversing the county, built on an old CPR branch line that started its life in the late nineteenth century as the Pontiac and Pacific Junction.)

The trail started its life unpaved, but I’d heard that at least some parts of it were going to be paved. So far, the Shawville portion has been paved from Centre Street east to Young Street, and today the crew is working west from Centre Street — how far west the pavement will go, I’ll find out later.

Update: As far west as Church Street. Looks like they’ve paved the in-town portion of the trail.

Endeavour and the ISS

The International Space Station with ATV-2 and Endeavour

The European Space Agency has posted photos of the space shuttle Endeavour docked to the International Space Station. They were taken by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli from Soyuz TMA-20 after it undocked from the station. Via Bad Astronomy.

The iPhone-Equipped Field Naturalist

I’ve long felt that a GPS-equipped digital camera would be a great tool for field-naturalist work — you’ve got a photographic record of the species with embedded location data — but clearly I wasn’t thinking it all the way through. National Geographic News Watch reports on an iPhone app that uploads said geotagged photo to iNaturalist.org, which looks like a social networking site for field naturalists that maps everyone’s observations (and if you can’t figure out what your picture is of, someone will likely be along to ID it). You don’t need the iPhone app to use the site, but that’s a slick way of doing it. Via Kingsnake.com.

Realms of Fantasy Will Move to Online Submissions

Realms of Fantasy editor Shawna McCarthy says her magazine, one of the last genre magazines to require paper submissions, will be moving to online submissions soon. “Not just yet, mind you, so don’t start sending files until we announce it on the website and on our Facebook page. But it will be soon, we promise!” (That still leaves F&SF.)

Sidewalks in Shawville

Fresh Concrete Sidewalk Construction

Sidewalk construction along Route 148 is now under way in Shawville, and I am compulsively recording its progress on Flickr. (The photos can be found in this set, beginning with this one.) These sidewalks were supposed to be built last fall as part of work on the highway itself, but that was delayed, so it got pushed back to the spring. Now sidewalk construction is not the most interesting thing to take pictures of, but once completed this will be quite nice: we have to walk along that highway often enough for various errands.

(And before you sniff, we do have sidewalks on other streets in this town. And a traffic light. And running water. And faster Internet than a lot of you have got.)

Clarkesworld on the Kindle

Clarkesworld publisher Neil Clarke (hence the name) has announced that the web-based science fiction magazine is now available by subscription on the Kindle for $1.99 a month. Clarkesworld is freely available online, including all its back issues, but this is a way for the magazine to make some money (and thereby pay their authors: their pay rate is above the industry norm). Single issues have been available electronically for $2.99 for some time, and that’s brought in some needed cash. In fact, Clarke says that if the magazine gets 500 Kindle subscribers by October, he’ll have the budget to be able to publish an additional story per monthly issue. Which sounds like a challenge, doesn’t it.

Shawville’s Grocery Store Strike: An Update

There have been some developments in Shawville’s grocery store strike. This week’s Pontiac Journal reports that after striking workers rejected Valu-Mart’s final offer, the store has been closed. (CTV News has coverage here and here. Here’s the union’s press release.)

The town has called a public meeting for next Wednesday, June 8, to discuss the situation. Our mayor has been making the argument since the strike started last December that the grocery store anchors commerce in this town: when people come to Shawville for groceries they shop at other stores as well, and if people have to go elsewhere for groceries, then Shawville’s other shops will be hurt as well.

Only the company’s decision to close the store may not be final after all: the union announced yesterday that talks are back on, at the behest of Quebec’s labour minister. Looks like they’re going to conciliation next week.

Crescent Mercury

Crescent Mercury

The MESSENGER team released this crescent view of Mercury today, taken by the MESSENGER probe’s wide-angle camera on May 24. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Previously: Orbiting Mercury.

‘Most TV Cooking Is Repulsive’

Steve Albini is interviewed by LA Weekly’s Squid Ink blog and has the following to say about cooking shows:

Most TV cooking is repulsive. Frathouse cocksuckers with gimmick hairdos and catch phrases, hooting and hi-fiving, “bringing it,” celebrating gluttonous sports bar chow. Dipshits abbreviating their ingredients and making childish, cutesy-poo “comfort food” full of “yummy veggies,” shit like that. Detestable. You can spot the people who have their shit together because they don’t have to tell you how delicious their food is. Of the people who cook on television, I have admired people like Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver and a few others because they are free of drama, display good taste and masterful technique, and use clear exposition to bring you up to speed. From that description you’d think I’d like the Martha Stewart cooking shows, but all that mealy, beige country club food looks like I could only choke it down under threat of prison.

Via Food Network Humor.

The Costs of Home Ownership

Apart from not having enough money on hand for a down payment, there are two very good reasons we’re renting instead of buying a house: one, our rent is so cheap that taking out a mortgage on something even barely equivalent to where we’re living now would nearly double our housing costs; and two, the housing market is rather soft out here, which is suboptimal if we suddenly decided we needed to relocate.

It turns out that the conventional wisdom that buying a property is always better than renting has been coming under fire lately. In Monday’s Globe and Mail, Rob Carrick argues that the smart thing to do, in a profoundly unaffordable housing market, is to rent and invest the difference. Last month, James Altucher went further, saying he’ll never go back to home ownership: it ties up too much money in an illiquid asset that costs a bunch to maintain and that, historically speaking, has a lousy return on investment. (See his earlier post as well.) Renting, on the other hand, allows you to diversify your investments and savings in something other than a home, and enables you to move to a new job in a new location with less worry. And you’ll never be underwater on your mortgage.

Where a Catholic Education Is the Only Option

Welcome to Morinville, Alberta, where, thanks to a quirk of history, all public schools are Catholic schools, despite the fact that less than a third of its residents students are Catholic. Some local parents have been demanding a secular option, and at least one family is leaving because that option is not available. The school board outlines its secular option tomorrow.

Penultimate

Endeavour STS-134 Lands (201106010001HQ)

Woke up to find coverage of last night’s landing of the space shuttle Endeavour all over my Twitter feeds. STS-134 was the next-to-last shuttle mission, and Endeavour’s last. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls, CC licence.