Thursday, January 23, 2014

As far as climate change goes, this report (Facts Book 2013) from the Insurance Bureau of Canada says it all. No tree huggers in this crowd, just business types..

And what do the business types say about extreme weather 45 North..

- extreme weather events that happened once every 40 years now happen about every 6 (SIX!) years

- payouts for extreme weather now exceed those for fire damage in some parts of the country

- payouts for extreme weather have doubled every 5 or 10 years since the 1980s

- the IBC is so impressed with the situation that it is creating a new assessment tool for city planners to help assess risk to municipal infrastructures

- the trend line curve shows an incredible 5 fold increase in "catastrophic losses" payout since 1983, a 30 year period (FIVE-fold increase!)

CHECK OUT: "Major issues: severe weather, catastrophic losses" pages 14 - 16

internal blog links: 

also check out keyword: "climate change" which has numerous relevant entries relating to climate change and the shameful attempts of the Harper Conservative government to conceal this emerging reality from the public. But Canadians are already starting to find out: rising insurance rates (some folks in flood plains can't get any insurance anymore..)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: Hubble, the mirror on the universe

Robin Kerrod and Carole Stott: Hubble, The Mirror on the Universe (Firefly Books Ltd, 2007), 181 pages and glossary, chronology of astronomical landmarks, index, lavishly illustrated.

          This is one of the most intelligent coffee table books around. The text is full of magnificent high definition images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Wisely, the authors let the images drive the narration, the text providing commentary.

           The level of science writing is quite surprising (one of the authors is an astronomer turned full time science writer). Rarely, if ever, have I seen such conciseness and clarity in the presentation of science fact and theory to a non-scientific audience. The authors achieve this without oversimplification or dumbing down - aside from one glaring dumb down (no one is perfect!) The text is pleasant and engaging. Quite an accomplishment given the tight, sparse text the book's format demands! The authors deserve praise. In particular, I found their explanation of the confusing Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram of stellar types about the most lucid I've ever seen. (Even I understood it!)

            The quality of detail in the photos is truly stunning.

                          Andromeda galaxy, our closest galactic neighbor at a
                          distance of 2 million or so light years

                       I actually found it hard at times not to see the photos as works of art. As they say, the proof is in the pudding: I posted some Hubble photos on FaceBook friends' walls and later discovered some of these photos were incorporated into their private album photos. So others see the "artful" quality of these magnificent photos also..

                    For the curious of nature,  contemplating the Hubble photos gives a sense of touching some philosophical foundation of reality. Many of the most interesting and stunning photos show processes of transition or transformation: the death of stars or their collective birth in stellar nurseries. One is privileged to peer into the very crucibles of Being and Becoming..

                          Curiously, in the weeks after reading, I found this book of images stimulating all sorts of philosophical questions and reflections. There is something odd or ironic or curious in the book's sheer beauty. Today, with all the negativity in the world we tend to focus powerlessly on the dangers posed by science and technology. In Hubble we see modern science and technology in one of their more redeeming aspects: revealing Truth and Beauty (almost in a Platonic sense. He, too, was an early cosmologist..) Curious, too, that a being as capable of stupid mayhem as homo sapiens / demens can also be the revealer, contemplator and wonderer of Nature's splendor. Strange Universe ours! - the site of so much horror is also full to brimming with Glory and Wonder.

                      On the whole, it is quite hard fault this book aside from it's fair share of clutzy errors and typos (my favorite: a short biographical piece on the early life of Astronomer Edwin Hubble, repeated in two places). For a rating, let's give it a 9 or 9 1/2 on 10. It's that good!

 Edwin Hubble: American astronomer, 1881-1953, discovered the Big Bang Expansion of the universe from a unique point of time and space. Despite the passage of eight decades, the "Hubble Bubble" is still the dominant cosmological model studied in university Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology courses.

                  For a collection of spectacular images from the Hubble Telescope with description, see
spectacular Hubble images

                          Eta Carinae: unstable binary star on the verge of exploding
                          as a super- or hypernova

                          Below is the gigantic Pinwheel Galaxy. This giant spiral galaxy is 95,000 light years across, meaning that a ray of light traveling at 186,000 miles per second would take nearly a thousand centuries to span it. It is located in the constellation Ursa Major at an even more mind boggling distance of 25 million light years. Since it takes this long for light to travel from the galaxy to our eyes, we are seeing it as existed 25 million years ago. Talk about time travel..

For the official Hubble Telescope site with full access to photo collection:

A deep field image of the expanding universe: galaxies as grains of sand. Defenitely worth viewing. William Blake: "to see a World in a grain of sand, and Heaven in a wild flower, hold Infinity in the palm of your hand and Eternity in an hour."

                A delicate, exquisite spiral galaxy NGC 3370 in the constellation Leo

The Tiger by William Blake

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 
In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain, 
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp, 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water'd heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night: 
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Winter Solstice 2013

Winter Solstice 2013 

Another solstice tide rolls in.
Yin gains strength each day.
Nature battens down the hatches
                        for another year.

We've come a long, a very long way,
from the caves to moon landings.
But we have built our house on clay and sand.
It wont last but a few years more -
                          the walls are all split.
Each storms widens the cracks.
Each spring the shoreline shifts inland.

The people, it seems, are asleep -
                         or under an mortal spell,
mesmerized with gadgets, gods and gossip.
To think they are innocent is wrong.

Within the people, a dragon,
                          sleep disturbed,
The powerlessness of the people I fear most.
A cornered rat is a dangerous rat
and so is wo/man..

            This poem (if I be so bold to name it!) came during free moments the Holidays provided. The year closes, the big wheel in the sky completes another cycle. And what have we achieved? Are we a step closer to heaven? Or to hell?

            In those quiet moments, when one is alone with one's own thoughts and the year's end invites a summing up, we are tempted to contemplate the path we are on, the way we walk. Where have we come from? Where are we going? Who are we? Will the New Year bring release or more of the same?