Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Summer plans

July 1, 2015

This summer I appear to have a lot of free time.  I hope to work an ESL camp in August and have a few other commitments but essentially I have time to work on my own projects.  Most of these projects deal with writing.

Writing Plans and Goals:

  • 13 blogposts for 6,500 words.  Why 13?  I can’t recall why I chose this number.  Somewhat more than two a week, I guess.
  • 3 short stories: Working titles are 1) Ants, 2) Vampire on a boat and 3) Hyperbaric Chamber.  I’m figuring 2,000 words each
  • Push forward one or all three of the books I have started and let sit.  30,000 words is the goal and I don’t mind jumping from book to book as seems fit. Working titles are 1) Return of the Haloed Hunter, 2) the Distancing Engine and 3) Creationism’s worst arguments
  • 2 letters per week to friends.  Around ten letters and 2,000 words.
  • Perform research and planning for future “Crowded Sky” story. As much as 5,000 words.

To keep the writing interesting, I have made further goals.

  • I want to write over the course of a full day.  That is, at least once in the month write from 12:00 to 1:00 AM, once from 1:00 to 2:00AM …
  • I want to write in a variety of locations.  The local mountaintop has a good table. There are some nice libraries to write in.  I’ll talk about coffee shops in a moment.  Eulsookdo Eco Centre might be a nice place to work in for an afternoon.
  • Soundtrack: I may use Ommwriter which has its own soundtrack but otherwise it will be autoplayed classical music starting with some Janecek and letting Youtube suggest from there. Away from Internet connections, Doug and the Slugs and other 80’s music would work; the tunes are so familiar that they can be white noise or a fun background as needed.

Snacks: I bought snacks for my Nanowrimo writing and I will definitely eat in front of the computer but I need to show restraint here.  My weight is slowly dropping and I want to keep it going in that direction.  Controlling my weight is my greatest concern this summer.


  • 18 runs with an average of 7.0 km.  I hope to attempt a solo half-marathon this summer late one evening and have been working out the course and where to place energy drinks along the way.  I am currently at 96 runs over the past six months so only the weather could prevent reaching this goal.
  • Run faster than a subway train.  The local subway stations Seo-dae-shin and Dong-dae-shin are about 500 meters apart and the train takes 2:35 seconds from doors open at Seo- to doors closed at Dong-.  Further, this route is slightly downhill.  I can easily run this fast on a level surface but Seo-dae-shin is deep underground. I have no qualms or conscience problems about using the escalators but even with that assistance, there is a big climb at the start of the run.
  • Swim 2km at a time. Korean pools are crowded with conversationalists and it is hard to get an unbroken swim in.  I am likely to need to stop a the end of a lane a few times.  Today, I did 1250m, with breaks and could have gone farther.
  • Find 3 snorkeling places in and near Busan
  • For at least 6 days, eat three meals, plus one snack plus one sweet drink.  I snack a lot and plan to spend a lot of time in front of a computer so this will be a challenge.

Education:  I am enrolled in 3 MOOCS.

  • The Bilingual Brain
  • Modern Korean History
  • Archaeology of Portus


  • Teach my son to swim.
  • Go on a weekend trip with the family. I would prefer a swimming site but that is negotiable.
  • Read two books with my son.  I don’t want this to be a purely teaching experience but one we both enjoy.  Tintin is a good contender here.
  • Work on the farm.


Dobsonfly larva on my hand

August 14, 2013

At the Wye Marsh, while dip-netting with children, I make a big deal of carrying any animals they catch into the collection basins.  I mean, I try to show they are not dangerous and can be handled without fear.  I have one exception; catfish, which have sharp spines in their pectoral and dorsal fins and can draw blood.  I still carry them but warn the visitors not too.

Now, I may have another exception, the dobsonfly larva.

DSC09605 b

DSC09604In the second picture you can see the larva is longer than my finger is wide and in the first, you can see the mandibles. From Wikipedia:

Hellgrammites [another common name for the larva]  live under rocks at the bottoms of lakesstreams and rivers, and prey on other insect larvae with the short sharp pincers on their heads, with which they can also inflict painful bites on humans.

More info to be found here.

I wasn’t bitten but was cautious and nervous while carrying them.  After reading the above, I may set them on leaves or the like to transport them.

I don’t know if I need to tell my reader(s) that I do carry leeches in my bare hands to the basins.  I do tend to pass them from hand to hand so they don’t have time to stick.  I think they are too upset or afraid to concern themselves with food but I, at least, feel better giving them a bumpy ride.

Finally, all captured critters are released at the end of the session.


Ethiopia is using the water flowing through it.

June 15, 2013

Four years ago, I wrote about trans-boundary water issues in Korea and about one flood that killed six in South Korea.  This slight familiarity with international treaties on the subject made this article in Scientific American about Ethiopia ending a decades-long agreement with Egypt over water use catch my attention.  Ethiopia is part of a new treaty involving five other Nile Basin countries that gives them greater autonomy over water use and leaving Egypt’s 84 million people in some jeopardy.

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said on Monday he did not want “war” but would keep “all options open”, prompting Ethiopia to say it was ready to defend its $4.7 billion Great Renaissance Dam near the border with Sudan.

Ethiopia and five other Nile basin countries – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – have now signed a deal effectively stripping Cairo of its veto, based on colonial-era treaties, over dam projects on the Nile, source of nearly all of Egypt’s water.

Canada and the US continue to have good relations regarding water use.  If the subject interests you, here are reports on Great Lakes Water and the Columbia River treaty.


Added a week later:


“Some pronouncements were made in the heat of the moment because of emotions. They are behind us,” Mohamed Kamel Amr, Egypt’s foreign minister, told a joint news conference with his Ethiopian counterpart Tedros Adhanom in Ethiopia’s capital.

Chemtrails in Simcoe County

May 17, 2013


I recently joined a local field naturalist club (not field naturist, these people their clothes on).  I might be the youngest person in the group but everyone seems very knowledgeable, gentle and eager to be involved.  The last two points came to the fore last night when a woman began circulating a petition demanding that the Canadian government stop secretly releasing unknown contaminants via chemtrails and to tell us what is in these chemtrails and the group’s president politely let the signing go on (without once offering support for the position).


Briefly, chemtrails are visible evidence of chemicals being released in high atmosphere from jet aircraft.  These are in addition to (probably) harmless contrails that jets make under the right conditions.


I thought it was a crazy conspiracy theory until I woke up this morning and looked out the window!chemtrails (4) chemtrails (b1) chemtrails (b2) chemtrails (b3)Now, …

I still think it is a crazy conspiracy theory. Well, there is a broad umbrella of chemtrail conspiracy theories: The chemicals are designed to reflect sunlight back to space to cool the Earth, the chemicals are used to control human behavior, or, my favorite, are used, in connection with electro-magnetic waves, to power and focus high-energy particle weapons.

Each idea is crazy and groundless, as Mythbusters, How Stuff Works, Al Gore and Wikipedia all try to explain.

I found an online version of a petition that looks similar to the one I was offered last night.

WE, the undersigned residents of Canada draw the attention of the House to the following:

THAT high altitude aerial spraying has been observed occurring over Canada; from British Columbia to Newfoundland; for at least the last two years;

THAT this aerial spraying has been carried out by large military type jet aircraft that create white plumes which evidence suggests are chemical-laden (hereinafter “chemtrails”) and often seen in the form of large “X’s”, “O’s” and checkerboard patterns;

THAT this aerial spraying has been carried out without the knowledge or consent of the Canadian electorate;

THAT chemtrails in the atmosphere across Canada can only adversely affect the health of our population, especially children;

THAT Canadians have the inalienable right not to be sprayed with massive amounts of chemicals from the sky for whatever purpose;

Note the absolute confidence that the writer has that these contrails are carrying deliberately-added and dangerous chemicals and that the Canadian government must be aware of, if not behind it all.


One neurologist claims to have evidence of damage from aluminum nanoparticles.  I think he really does show that such particles are dangerous but note in his references he has nothing that ties them to high altitude release via chemtrails.

I tagged this post as ‘hoax’ but is that correct?  ‘Innocently wrong’ isn’t specific enough.  The people at the meeting are not generally ignorant in scientific matters so the term doesn’t fit.  “Insufficiently skeptical” does, as perhaps “overly suspicious”.  Such attitudes are also found in this video where a woman doesn’t think rainbows can happen anywhere but in the sky.


Domesticated, feral, and wild animals

March 21, 2013

2 updates at the end of the post



Why do we have pets? I grew up constantly having an animal companion. We almost continuously had a dog and cat, but also for short periods, a turtle, a salamander, newts, a hamster, a guinea pig, and/or goldfish. The ideal home for me would be one like Farley Mowat’s.   I don’t know if I could properly or with-scientific-references defend the idea that pets are good for their owners. I definitely believe this is the case, though.
Is it good for the pets themselves? This time my affirmation is less confident. Michael Pollan offers the great success of chicken and other fowl as part of his support for eating meat. If we didn’t eat meat, chicken would likely be extinct.
Ted Kerasote might offer an opposing view in his book Merle’s Door, an account of his attempts to offer his dog as much freedom as possible and how pets thrive when they aren’t treated as modern-day pets. The life of a modern pet is long periods of boredom mixed with attempts to be stimulated by their owners.
As part of this long introduction, let me ask a different and more specific question, one that I cannot answer. Should we have pet cats?
I love cats; there is one sitting at ease just outside my doorway, and my son would need therapy if I got rid of it. The negative points are more important to my post today so let me focus on the positives first. They entertain and comfort us. Some kill pests. They are little burden and bring great joy.
This post is not about the sadness that comes with the inevitable death of a beloved pet. This is a serious concern and my son is already asking questions about lifespans and death.
No, this post is principly about feral cats and secondarily about wildlife mortality caused by pet and feral cats.

According to National Geographic News, last week,

” Ted Williams, then editor-at-large for Audubon Magazine, advocated for trapping and euthanizing feral cats due to their rampant hunting of birds and their reputation for carrying diseases like toxoplasmosis.”
More from the article:
Over 80 million pet cats reside in U.S. homes and as many as 80 million more free-roaming cats survive outside.

To David Ringer, director of media relations for the Audubon Society, the dust-up shows “that we all need to work together on effective strategies that will address the very serious harm cats inflict on birds and other wildlife and that are also truly humane toward cats,” he told National Geographic by email.

“Cats do a great deal of damage to birds and other wildlife, and it needs to be addressed, but Audubon absolutely rejects the idea of individuals harming or poisoning cats.”

From the comments, I find myself agreeing most with Pete McLean who argues against protection all cats at all costs. “The entire argument is a stupid juvenile argument from lovers of stuffed toys.”
The article discusses some methods of feral cat population control. Apparently, Tylenol is unusually toxic to cats and could be used as a relatively specific poison that wouldn’t do much harm to other animals. Another proposed method is neutering or spaying.
Before going into my opinions, let me quote articles from South Korea that I discussed three years ago.  There I quoted from a touchingly sensitive article in Yonhap News.

 “Controversy over treatment of cats often makes headlines. In 2006, residents of a Seoul apartment culled scores of stray cats by driving them into the basement of their building and cementing over all exit holes.

Last year, the local government of Geomun Island off the southwestern coast moved to cull hundreds of feral cats overpopulating the fishing region, a controversial decision that was changed at the last minute to neutering them.”

Alright, first, the problem is not merely feral cats; happily domesticated cats are mixed in too. Tylenol might specifically kill cats but it will not further specify only feral cats. Feral cats are not the only predators of urban wildlife either. In all the time we had a cat, it typically wanted out in the evening and in again in the morning, often trying to bring the night’s kill in with it. And these were well-fed cats who needed to kill only as much as most North American human hunters.
I guess neutering or spaying would work in the long term even though new feral cats and fully potent domesticated cats are often entering the equation. I wonder if proponents of spaying would insist on a human-sort of tubal ligation so that the cats could continue to enjoy the attempts to procreate? In this case, clearly neutering males would be seen as equally evil: vasectomies all round!
I gotta say, I am for a humane cull. I would prefer it if humans could adopt every last feral cat -which are unlikely to make good pets -but an entirely reasonable, though distant, second best option involves poison, live traps leading to identification and killing (feral cats) or releasing (actual wildlife) or return and fines (loose domestic cats). I would even go so far as to train the killers (I don’t want use the euphemism of harvester or collector) to kill onsite with cheap, scalable techniques. There is no more reason to have an expensively trained trained vet use (expensive?) injected poisons with cats than there is with chickens, pigs or cattle.
At the same time, cat owners, be responsible and care for and give away your pets properly. That last paragraph was hard to write and I don’t want my little friend to ever suffer like that.



Ted Williams lost his job for posting concern over the number of feral cats and how to reduce that number.  Well, he lost his job briefly.  I don’t know if this is an apology (or that he needed to apologize) or simply a better explanation than he included in his article.  Here is an excerpt:

 “In my recent op-ed I reported that a common over-the-counter drug, an effective and selective poison for feral cats, had not been registered for this use because of pressure from feral-cat advocacy groups.”

“While the statement was not inaccurate, it was unwise because readers might construe it as a suggestion to go out and start poisoning feral cats. What’s more, the statement could be, indeed was, manipulated by feral-cat advocates into something I didn’t write or intend.”

Update 2:

Scientific American has an article that relates more to my commentary than Mr Williams’ predicament.  3,000 feral cats have been culled to protect an endangered species of bilby.

Unfortunately, the sanctuary is located in a relatively remote region of Currawinya National Park. Flooding in the park not only makes the sanctuary occasionally unreachable by humans, it also apparently damaged the fence last June, allowing several cats to make their way into the enclosure, with devastating results. “We estimated we could have had around 150 newborn bilbies inside that fence, and [the cats have] cleared the lot out,” Frank Manthey, co-founder of the Save the Bilby Fund, told the Australian network news show 7.30.

The fence has since been repaired, but Manthey says the surrounding countryside is still besieged by feral cats and has appealed to the government for help in reducing their numbers. Feral cat populations have actually risen in the past two years, an unintended side effect of government efforts to control dingo populations. Dingoes, which compete with cats and other predators for food, have been poisoned to protect agricultural sheep, but Griffith University researcher Jean-Marc Hero told The Australian last September that this approach gave cats and foxes a chance to fill the ecological gap the dingoes left behind.

The closing of Springwater Park

March 19, 2013

On Saturday, my son and I visited Springwater Provincial Park. along with a few hundred others, to show support for the continued existence of the park which is slated to lose its status at the end of the month.  It is a great little park and everyone there had fun.

Springwater links:  Facebook, Barrie Examiner.

I will be sad to see the park go but I can’t claim to be heavily invested in it.  It is a great local park for Barrie but I have only visited it twice.  I guess I won’t be visiting it again as it will become a ‘non-operational’ park the beginning of April.  I think that means the cross country hiking or ski trails will continue to be open but the animal sanctuary, the unique part of the park, will be no more.

Animal sanctuaries are my thing.  I love seeing local wildlife close up and even as a young adult would call strangers walking down the street to see some raccoon or snake I had found.  The Robertcats (I convinced my son that it was too informal to call them ‘bobcats’) and lynx were the first I had seen ever. I even loved the “site vacant” signs with their explanation that the park did not buy or collect animals but only provide a home for those unable to return to the wild. This kind of viewing opportunity needs to be preserved.

The thing is, from a numbers standpoint, the park really should be shut down.  I said that several hundred people attended the Saturday gathering, but that is probably the same number as visited the park in two or three months last year.  This is a local secret that people only seem to learn about from word of mouth.

I hope Springwater stays open but I also hope other people and parks are taking a second look at marketing and public awareness.  I’ve been out of the country for thirteen years so perhaps my ability, or lack of, to name parks is no indicator of the average Ontarians’.  I looked at the Ontario Provincial Parks website and was happily surprised to see how many there are, and how many I didn’t know about in my neighbourhood.  Well, I might be a little upset, too.

Why aren’t these parks better known?  Springwater is a great park that I suspect no one knew about three months ago.  I only recently learned that Springwater has cross country ski trails.  Wish I’d known that in early February.

As I’ve repeatedly written, I’ve been away.  I am not sure what the responsibilities of a park are compared to the responsibilities of the “Friends of…”  Who is involved in marketing?  How professional are these groups.  Back in the nineties, I had thought “Friends of Algonquin Park” was a volunteer organization of enthusiasts.

The thing I want is for those responsible for Awenda Prov Park and Arrowhead Prov Park to be sure they are keeping their parks in the public’s eye.  These are two great places that I know about that don’t get much attention. I know nothing about Bass Lake, McCrae or Mara Provincial Parks even though I drive within 50kms of them twice or more a month.  Explorer’s Edge, are these parks are in your region of responsibility?

What advice can I give to the marketers?  Well, I have a few ideas.

First, when you make a website, Facebook page, Google+ or Twitter account, Keep Adding Content!  The Wye Marsh, a great place that also needs to be aware of its marketing, offers both a good and bad example.  The Facebook page Wye Marsh has four friends and five photos (all mine!).  It has been in operation for two years with no apparent support from Marsh management.  The Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre, another Facebook page, is full of what appears to be daily content.  Attention seems to attract attention.  Next to actual Wye Marsh generated content is more content made and prepared by the public.  Win-win.

Second, make sure you have accounts with the three media above (and more) and your own website.  Link between them.  Really, these two steps are all that is needed for basic Search Engine Optimization.

Third, plan some events and write about them now!  Don’t wait until news comes that your park will soon be shut down. Do it now.

Obvious signs of Vampire infiltration of the South Korean populace

August 20, 2012

Today, in a grocery store, I finally put the pieces together and felt like a dummy for not seeing it earlier. Korea has a huge number of vampires and they have infiltrated the government to hide the fact.  It’s so obvious!

Was this a documentary?


1) In most of eastern Asia, there is a common implement that would be a useful tool for defense against vampires.  Here it…exists, but is belittled and few homes have them in handy locations.  I am talking about wooden chopsticks.  Wooden chopsticks can be found here but everyone extolls the virtues of metal chopsticks.  Government and university officials claim they improve computer game, archery and experimental manipulation skills and even connect metal chopsticks to holding the Olympics here.  They are also useless against vampires.  Not a coincidence.

1b) In a similar way, young students are weaned away from wood-framed pencils and to mechanical pencils as quickly as possible.  Even when the mechanical pencils suck and mainly seem to be used in class to explain why students haven’t started the assignments.

2) The Korean burkha and super expensive sunblock.  Why is sunblock so expensive in Korea?  Because it is strong enough to protect even vampires!  For extra cautious Korean vampires, wearing head-to-toe clothing everywhere, even swimming and hiking has become a cultural norm.

3) Constant application of make up to appear life-like.  Notice how many Korean women are reapplying make up in public places?  They have to to remain life-like.

There is at least one confounding variable.  Kimchi contains a lot of garlic.  It is so much a part of Korean culture that even the secret vampire conspiracy cannot decrease it’s prevalence.  Wait, perhaps this is why Chinese kimchi has received a bad rap: is it even more potent garlic-wise?

Meteor shower this weekend

July 25, 2012

Yesterday evening, I hiked up a hill looking for a location with a good view of sky and not too much light pollution.  I am tired of looking at the sky and exclaiming, “Look at the stars.  There must be dozens of them.”

I think the word ‘peak’ is too grandiose but at the top, I had a good view of the Nakdonggang and the west. Before it was dark, I took these pictures:


It’s interesting how the fortress-like cloud on the right remained over more than 20 minutes.

Anyway, just after 8:00, I saw my first star and over ten minutes, I discerned several more, but no falling stars.

Oh, a link for you: meteor showers this weekend and in two weeks. The link describes this weekend’s shower as being best viewed in the southern hemisphere which I don’t recall reading the first time I checked that page.

While up there, I was cooled by a gentle breeze but also visited by a few mosquitoes.  When I began my descent, I used a flashlight.  I heard some strange rustling in the woods and a lot of cicadas.  I jumped and flailed quite vigorously  when I discovered they were attracted to the headlight!

I completed my descent without the light and was able to recognize rocky dirt from trees and brush.

I hiked in the dark comfortably but I don’t think my son would be so relaxed.  In the woods, out of the breeze, I was sweating again and I am not eager to carry my son: I may have to consider other places.  Perhaps the cicada population will have decreased by then.

Supporting scientific research and education

May 20, 2012

Updated again: From io9, comes news that Korean scientists are contesting the restrictions.  Ah, they link to a Nature blog, which says this:

A group of 30 South Korean evolutionary scientists and palaeontologists has released a statement condemning a successful campaign by the creationist group Society for Textbook Reform (STR) to remove some examples of evolution from high-school biology textbooks

According to the scientists, the STR petition contained so much unverified data, intentional distortion and biased quotes that it would not normally be worth their time to engage with, but because it had been successful, they felt they had no choice but to make an official response.

Updated: Gord Sellar expands on the subject and offers an explanation.

Original post:

Someone on Facebook linked to this article about the teaching of evolution in Korea.  Apparently, two icons of evolution will be removed from the updated textbooks: Archaeopteryx (spelled it right on my first try!) and the series of horse transitional fossils.

The article claims that the move is due to pressure from a Christian organization and the article tries to show how the education of evolution is being diminished, but also explains that the series of whale transitional fossils will be added so I am not sure how much of a difference there is.

It seems that Haeckel’s  phylogeny recapitulation theory is included in current textbooks (and has long been known to be false) and will be removed in the new books.  I wonder about this claim:  Haeckel used diagrams of featae ( what is the plural of ‘fetus’) and deliberately drew them looking more similar than they actually were.  On the other hand, modern texts -for reasons other than the recapitulation theory- often use photos so the the similarities shown are actual and relevant to the discussion on their own merits.

A day after reading about evolution education, I noted a Nature article about a research institute being considered in Korea.  An excerpt:

The government last year enacted a law to develop a project called the International Science and Business Belt (ISBB), of which the IBS is one of the main initiatives. The ISBB project will have 5.17 trillion won (US$4.4 billion) until 2017 to run the IBS and build the nation’s first rare-isotope accelerator, among other projects.

Thinking big

The IBS plans to attract 3,000 researchers and staff members to 50 research centres in Daejeon and around the country. Each centre will have an average annual budget of 10 billion won, and will be directed by a world-class scientist, employed on a 10-year contract. The directors will be given a great deal of autonomy to decide on a research focus, recruit staff and run their centres.

Lunar Eclipse, Dec. 10

December 11, 2011

Most of these photos were taken from the roof of my apartment.  I zoomed in as tightly as I could but also cropped the photos on my computer and dimmed the exposure somewhat.  I think the blurriest ones were taken using the ‘automatic’ setting, while the clearer ones were taken using the ‘low light’ setting.  The whole thing made me long for my film camera where I could better adjust shutter speed and f-stop.

Because the whole post is just glowing blobs on a black background, I have placed some of the images after the jump so less interested visitors don’t get too bored.



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