Tag: Sun

Day 1000: How It Ends

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Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.

Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.

And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.

Genetics-1

Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.

If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.

Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat. Read more…

Day 954: Edmonton Summers Exist For The Folk Fest

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As my fingers bluntly stab my keyboard, weighted down by a hangover from sun and loud music, I wonder how I’ll get through today’s chosen topic on Chinese science education without passing out. It wouldn’t be my first afternoon spent with the lopsided grid of a keyboard’s footprint etched into my forehead.

This morning has found me in the blissful yet listless afterglow of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, an annual celebration of everything that brings light into the universe: music, family, friends, sunshine, beer, and deep-fried foodstuffs. It has also found me ready to scrap my topic in favor of a drowsy reflection on what I feel is Edmonton’s most profound and spiritually elevating annual event.

For those who have never attended this magical collective, I hope you have found a similar event – an yearly renewal of your inner chi and a simultaneous escape from the humdrummery of life. Here’s how the dusty reset button of my inner balance was pushed this weekend, and why I recommend a hearty dose of Folk Fest to everyone I know:

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One can make it through Folk Fest with very little actual folk music. I hardly ever listen to “hardcore” folk. From Joan Baez’s warbly vibrato to the up-tempo thump of modern Celtic music, I’d just as soon hide under my blanket with an old Muddy Waters record. But more often than not, that lyrical fruit-filling that gives folk its flavor can be found within the pastry shell of a myriad of styles. We watched Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite give folk music the blues; Cody Chesnutt threw folk into funk; the Blind Boys of Alabama raised folk into that holy and delicious confection of gospel. Read more…

Day 932: Tornadoing It Right

MIAMI TORNADO

As the summer weeks amble past that first premature sploosh of sun, sweat and network television’s filler programming (the latest season of Fox’s 24 notwithstanding), we are reaching the time when the season becomes entrenched in whichever little cubbyhole we wish to place it. For some, it’s the season of swimming in a sun-soaked pool. For teachers and their flock, it’s the season of delectable freedom and a furlough from responsibility. For those of us who live with both a teacher and a student, it’s the season for drinking heavily to compensate for the globby paste of envy we feel at watching everyone else in the household sleep as we leave for work.

But for a number of geographically-encumbered folks, the sub-surface pillow-down of summer brings with it more grave and ungroovy consequences. Hurricanes and tropical storms are gearing up to spank the Gulf of Mexico with a debris-wreaking fist. Droughts will speckle farmland country, crapping its dusty fury upon a smattering of unlucky agriculturalists. And inevitably the funnel clouds will open up their peppery maws at the vengeful sky, bullying rural settlements and trailer parks alike on the ground.

Edmonton has seen but one tornado in our 100+ years as a city, and it left its mark on everyone who lived through it – even for those of us who saw nothing worse than the dog-spittle of rain against our windows. But in the interest of public safety – and as part of my court-ordered restitution for ‘liberating’ those pet store frogs into the IKEA ball-pit – here are some safety tips.

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Remember that viral video in which a Kansas TV crew near El Dorado fled from a nearby tornado and took refuge beneath an overpass? Yeah, don’t do this. If you happen to be caught on an empty two-lane highway with a tornado sneering at the hairs on the back of your neck, you might be tempted to tuck yourself under a concrete canopy, but you’ll really only be worsening your chances of survival. That TV crew happened to pick a rather odd overpass – there was a hollow crawlspace at the top of the embankment where they could grab hold of the exposed girders to stay stable. Read more…

Day 747: Holding Your Breath For Immortality

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We’re all looking for the answers.

In this chemically-saturated culture of corruption and perpetual impurity, we have a seemingly unending array of potential branches with which we can hoist ourselves a little closer to salvation, to spiritual enlightenment, to… dare I say it?… immortality. So which do we grab? Which branches will support our karmic weight and which ones will snap off, covering our hands and wrists in the sap of disappointment and astral imbalance?

Many follow the security of age-old religion, the oft-translated texts and teachings that have comforted and confounded terrestrial travellers for several millennia. Others opt for less-encompassing and more specifically focussed tenets, such as Transcendental Meditation or staunch veganism. Some folks allow themselves to drift upon the waters of rampant materialism and pop-cultural chew-toys, believing the truth will wash us all clean in the end anyway.

Then there are those who feel the road to the soul’s sustentation runs right through the County of Weird, never intersecting with Reason Street or Common-Sense Boulevard. These are fun people to know, but only if you keep one eye on the nearest exit. Buckle up – you’re about to take a Thursday cruise with the Breatharians.

Breatharianism

Breatharianism is the belief that food and water are unnecessary, that human beings can exist solely on light and the Hindu energy of prana, that which binds the universe together. It’s a beautiful and peaceful construct, one which promises a wholly clean and unfettered life, ensconced in the aura of awakening and light, except for that tiny little asterisk because THIS IS ENTIRELY BOGUS AND MORE THAN A LITTLE BAGEL-HUMPINGLY INSANE! Read more…

Day 691: The Downstairs Park

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On a day such as this, when the mercury has given up its climb and packed its full breadth of ooze down below -10 degrees, I feel I should find something to appreciate in this woefully frigid city.

For the few months of the year that allow it, we are privileged to enjoy a serene swath of river valley, as well as a smattering of beautifully-landscaped parks. This means that in over a century of urban development, there have been some scraps of real estate that our councillors have opted not to fill with strip malls and cul-de-sacs. Other cities have been forced to act more creatively, to extract its green space from the bones of its history.

Rail trails are a popular solution – snatching up miles of abandoned track and converting them into miles of cycling, jogging, and someday (hopefully) hoverboarding fun. New York and Paris have vaulted the rail trail concept to include abandoned elevated tracks. Now New York is ready to take things in the next logical direction: straight down.

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The story of the next phase of the city’s “outdoor” recreation begins here, on a strip of 10th Avenue once known as Death Avenue. The railroads had hired men on horseback – the ‘West Side Cowboys,’ which sounds like the name of a male strip club – to ride in front of the street-level trains to warn people to get the hell out of the way. Still, it was a mess. To clean things up, from 1929 through 1934 New York built a 13-mile elevated railway. It was designed to cut through the middle of city blocks, even running through taller buildings when necessary. Read more…

Day 576: Fermi-ing La Porte On The Little Green Men

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“Where is everybody?”

So declared physicist Enrico Fermi over lunch with some colleagues in the midst of a discussion about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life on other planets. The ensuing talk led Fermi to conclude that by now (or, by then, in 1951) our planet should be splattered with the tentacle-prints of far-off civilizations, or at least a minor tourist stop on the side of some interstellar highway. Here’s Fermi’s logic:

The sun is pretty young; there are billions of stars that are billions of years older than our little yellow sky-ball. Some of those stars will have planets, and assuming Earth is typical and not a one-in-infinity happenstance, some of those planets may develop intelligent life. Since we’re looking into interstellar travel as the next (some would say ‘final’) frontier, we can assume folks on other worlds would feel the same. And once the hurdle of interstellar travel is conquered, the galaxy should be totally colonized in a few tens of millions of years.

So where the hell is everybody?

This is what Earl Holliman wanted to know in the first episode of The Twilight Zone

This is what Earl Holliman wanted to know in the first episode of The Twilight Zone

With all our years of star-scoping and Hubbling, we have yet to find any evidence of life elsewhere in the universe, and apart from the tales of some anally-probed farmers in the American Midwest, we have no trace of their presence here on earth. This is the heart of the Fermi Paradox – given the size and age of the universe, there should be a heap of intelligent beings scooting around, yet there is no evidence to support it. Read more…

Day 525: Wherefore Art Thou Pluto?

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Poor, poor Pluto. For many people, the demotion of Pluto from the ranks of the Elite Nine backing vocalists to the Sun’s great whizzbang show was nothing short of a tragedy. Rallies were held, people marched through the streets with pale orange warpaint smeared across their sweaty faces, and supporters across the globe lit their local Laundromats on fire in a misguided act of defiance. Myself, I refuse to acknowledge Micronesia as a nation until we can once again call Pluto a planet.

Well, bad news everyone. As much as we’d like to cling to the security blanket of our childhood science lessons – the few we remember, anyway – Pluto is not technically a planet. Nor is it sentient, nor is it even aware that it has been demoted. That chunk of ice-rock has had a brief flicker in the window of our awareness, and its ‘status’ has shifted a lot more often than this most recent re-classification.

Oh, and technically Micronesia is a region; the Federated States of Micronesia is a country. So my protest may have been in vain.

Pluto

Back in the 1840’s, a suave fellow named Urbain Le Verrier noticed there were some quirky wiggles in Uranus’s orbit. ‘Quirky Wiggles’ is not the scientific term – in fact, it would be a great name for a clown at a kid’s party – but the point is, Uranus was acting a little wonky. Using what he learned from Isaac Newton’s lessons on mechanics (which is clearly more than I have learned from them), Le Verrier pinpointed where another planet might be. That planet turned out to be Neptune. Read more…

Day 459: Remembering Your Astrological Symbols

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So you want to learn more about astrology. Maybe you’re seeking answers and guidance from the stars, or perhaps you’re just looking to fleece a few bucks off the gullible suckers who think they can find answers and guidance in the stars. No matter – you’re going to need to learn the skill of identifying astronomical symbols.

These little pictographs were used to represent various thingies in the sky, beginning back in the days of the Greek papyri from the late classical era. The standard symbols have been used ever since, from the Byzantine era up through modern times, as a means for astronomers and astrologers to keep track of all those chunks of rock and gases that flicker and fly through the cosmos.

Here’s a handy guide to remembering which symbols are which. Because astrology appears far more mystical and cool when you’re reading unintelligible symbols instead of actual words. Read more…