Still Moving....

Still moving. I got most of my crud to the new place, but couldn't get everything all in one go (due to a combination of not enough help, and not enough space). I'm currently sitting in my Peterborough apartment (I legally still have control up to the 31st), and enjoying my internetz.

The worst of the move is over, and I have one more car-load and cat to transport.


This is the living room of my (now) old apartment, in its regular-state. Notice the star chart, the cat, and the diet coke cans. That's all you need to know about me.

I'll be much closer to Toronto, Hamilton, London (Ontario) and Upstate New York....so maybe we can hook up some business!

Still no word on internet in the new place, so you people better flood this entry with well-wishes and congratulations for me to read when I do get online!

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Hey everyone. These next few days are going to be rough on my end. I'm moving to the Niagara region tomorrow morning and I don't know how long it will be before I can get internet access. If I don't update by Tuesday, I probably am in the hospital recovering from a heart attack. I'm only mostly kidding.

Stick with the blog, because I've got a lot more stuff to show you all that you will find....interesting.

And also remember that there is that big skeptic project in the works that I mentioned before. It's big, cool, and on the way.

Speaking of 'on the way', I need to get back to packing.

Goodbye Peterborough!


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As per a special request asked of me in 'meatspace', here are some pics of me partying with Dominic "Meriadoc Brandybuck" Monaghan, and Billy "Peregrin Took" Boyd. Back in my theatre days, Alliance Atlantis invited me to a special gala where these two awesome dudes were going to be (we didn't know this until they walked past me, and then I, filled with open-bar-champagne-confidence, struck up awesome conversations with them). They ARE as cool as they seem.

You're welcome, Kelsey!






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Jerk in a coffee shop

I don't have a lot of time right now. I just wanted to point out a few things.

1) I am writing this on my laptop
2) I am sitting in a coffee shop
3) I am in a different city
4) I am checking my email, facebook, and twitter.
5) I am also chatting on skype.
6) I am also enjoying this coffee.

I have officially become the kind of person I used to make fun of 5 years ago. Thank god I don't have a blue-tooth connection.



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Autism and Homeopathy

Fairly urgent skepticism-in-Canada news to get to. It's about autism and homeopathy. Yikes. You see where this is going, don't you?

I'm right in the middle of some serious city-changing right now (am moving on Sunday), so the best I can do is tell you to go read the entry of fellow Canadian Skeptic blogger, Scott Gavura at the wonderful, 'Science Based Pharmacy'.

If I have time, I'll write more, but truthfully, this is Scott's bweez-nass, and he's better at this than I am. Go read his entry instead.


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Tonight was a bit of a rarity: for a few hours, only 1 of the Galilean Moons of Jupiter was visible. Io was behind Jupiter, while Europa and Ganymede were transiting in front. Photographing Jupiter a little quirky. Right now, Jupiter is about as close to us as it will be this year, so it is really bright (shining at magnitude -2.50, which is about as bright as it gets). Because it's so bright, it's really hard to photograph the bright surface details, and the dim/tiny moons: Either I get a good shot of the moons but Jupiter looks like a white disk, or I get a good shot of the clouds of Jupiter, but the moons are invisible.

Once in a while (a very rare-while), Jupiter's moons put on a bit of a show, and eclipse their gigantic host, tonight two of them were dancing across the front almost in tandem. It makes it easier for me to see, and to photograph them.

Astronomy is fun!


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Snoogins

This Is just a test, for your mom



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Jupiter Alert


Jupiter Alert!
Tonight should be a great night for viewing Jupiter and if you can stay up this late from 9:59 p.m. there will only be one moon visible (one other is behind the disc and the other two are in front), and by 10:42 p.m. there will be two shadows on the disc transiting across until 12:35 a.m. when there should all of a sudden three moons visible!



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Astronomy Real Estate

Remember a while ago when I mentioned that some of my photos are going to be used at the new Planetarium at Science North in Sudbury, Ontario? Well, I still can't show you the video, but I can brag about something in the credits.


Astronomy people know who Robert Gendler and Jean-Charles Cuillandre are. Google them, if ye doubt my claims, but they do some seriously cool work And there I am: right between them!

Looks good to me!


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Intercessory Lair

Well, thanks for sticking with me through the overhaul of this blog. It's nearly done, but not quite. I added a links section to the right, and I did my best to put on the old blogs / sources from memory. Some of my bloggy-internety friends used to be on the old link list, and I'd like to add you back on. So if you don't see your site on there, leave a note in the comments or contact me through twitter or facebook and I'd be only too happy to plug ya! We're all in this together and I'm glad to do my part. That is also a none-too-subtle request to be linked to from your site as well ;)

My apartment in Hamilton is STILL unconfirmed, so during the next week or so things may get a little slower around here until I get settled in my awesome new job as an awesome new music teacher. I'm really, really excited to start this new chapter in my life, but leaving my home for the last 5 years is starting to settle in on me.

Oh well. Such is life. And I'm going to be teaching music. To children.

And snotty teenagers.



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Activist Astronomy

Astronomy is fun. Astrophotography too. I've been a musician for my entire life, but to get satisfaction from it, you need to practice for a very long time and put lots of hours into it. But from astronomy, all you need to do is look into a telescope, then *BAM!* Instant gratification.

If you're like me, and you don't have a go-to or push-to (astronomy people know what these mean), then you know of the sense of reward of looking at a star-map, translating that to what you can (or can't) see above you, and using the map of the stars to successfully find your target. It's as close to a spiritual experience that an atheist can get. Even now, I still gasp in amazement if I look through the eye piece and see a particularly crisp resolution of the banding of Jupiter, nebulosity of Andromeda, or individual craters and mountains on the moon. It's positively inspiring.

A friend sent me in an article that puts it well. I like to call this activist astronomy: It's where those of us who own telescopes go out into the streets and share what we see with everyone else. There's not much a political agenda here: just spreading the love of astronomy. Even a modest scope can see the rings of Saturn, the Galilean moons, or Venus in phase, and it's always a delight to see how amazed people are. Most people have never seen Jupiter or the rings of Saturn through a telescope, or even a star! It's truly amazing the difference that a telescope can make on viewing bight blue Vega.

I often invite friends over to view through the scope, and the other day I invited my neighbours over. They brought their little one (aged about 4 years old if I had to guess), and even he had enough presence of mind to know that that bright star over the water tower is really this bright-white ball of stripes with 4 little balls around it (it was Jupiter he was looking at).

If you have a telescope, I urge you to invite people to view the universe the way you do. I promise that it will be as rewarding for you as it is for them. Even the most cynical person can be reduced to gasps of "WOW!!!!" when seeing Albireo through a telescope.

If you don't own one, but know someone who does, don't be afraid to ask them if you can tag along next time they go out. Amateur astronomers are some of the nicest people you'll meet, and they all love to share astronomy with everyone else, especially if they're interested.

Thanks to Aime for the link

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Last night, while my computer was slowly uploading the pictures from the observatory, I had the electric television-machine on. Expecting to see John Stewart, I got Dane Cook. I think I traded down. Whatever. I've always loved standup comedians, and in all honesty, there was a time that I liked Cook.



Things change.





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Tonight was a bit of a sad affair for me: it was my last visit to the Buckhorn Observatory, the place where I learned my astronomy chops, and took some of my best photos. I could only get about 1 hour and 30 minutes of photography time because I was worried about all the dew getting into my camera. After I was finished taking my photos, I just hung around and sat there, looking up. No binoculars or telescope: I just wanted to enjoy the incredibly dark sky for what will surely be the last time for quite a while (my future home of Hamilton isn't exactly a dark sky preserve). Here are some of the better shots that I took tonight:


Starfield above the winter observing dome.


Summer Triangle with the Milky Way running straight through it. You can see the constellations Sagitta, Delphinus, Cygnus, Lyra, as well as the North America and Pelican Nebulae, and the Coat Hanger cluster.

There is a lot going on in this picture. There is a star-trail effect directly above the observing dome; the green lights at the trees are John flashing his green laser pointer at Ursa Major, big red streak at the bottom is a passing car, and the little red streaks below the big red one are visitors to the observatory walking with red flashlights.




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Just as a bit of a warning, I'm going to get a bit soap-boxy here, but I do feel this is very important

University education has been languishing under neo-liberal restructuring since the era of Brian Mulroney, with trends that favor schools operating under the business model as opposed to an academic one. One of the fatal flaws with this ethos is that it treats the financial aspect of university as the final arbiter of value, in an institutional system which inherently places value on the actual education. In other words, even though you invest a lot of money into a university, neo-liberal restructuring ignores that your return on your investment will come out tenfold in the value of having a segment of the population with post-secondary education.

I went to a small university in a small city in an out-of-the-way part of Ontario, and having those small schools operate under the business model has been driving them into the red. If you want to turn a profit, you need numbers. If you don't have numbers, you need to cut services, raise tuition, and lower grade requirements for entry. This is not always successful, and often populates a smaller school with a certain type of student: the rich-and-dumb-kid.

The other unfortunate effect of using a school-as-business model, is that cash value gets attached to certain programs and institutions over others. In the past 15 years, funding has been diverted away from humanities programs in favor of the physical sciences and business departments. Indeed, just within the last year, major announcements to dramatically alter the academic landscape rocked the Canadian university system: Humanities will further take a hit in favor of the business and economics programs: the very same programs that teach neo-liberalism and trained a generation of students to think in the exact same way as the speculators, investment firms, and insurance companies that ruined our economy.

The problem may get much, much worse. According to the Globe and Mail, an elite group of the 5 largest universities in Canada (Universities of Toronto, Montreal, British Columbia, Alberta and McGill) are lobbying the government for an even bigger chunk of the pie than they already get.


The biggest schools already get a disproportionately larger share of the research dollars (five universities get one third of research grants) and they're asking for more! These schools are very powerful, connected, and organized. Smaller institutions like where I, and most Ontario students attend, will continue to suffer because they're unprofitable not in the free market of ideas, but in the free market of the free market.

Canada's demographically-disparate population teaches us that urbanization equals=freedom. This is not by accident: this is a 100+ year program that will strip us all of more than we realize.

If you want the freedom to study, work, or get medical access, the closer you are to a major metropolitan city, the better. Industrialization and capitalism have been driving our citizens off the land which feeds us, and into the cities with the hope, not promise, of work. While we're no longer in the rural areas, the companies buy up the land that we abandoned. When the economy of the 'urban' fails, citizens will have no place to fall back to, stuck in practical indentured servitude to whatever alienating work we can find. This is not some arcane artifact of the industrial age, it still happens. Driving the civilians off the land is the best way of keeping them subservient.

Preferentially funding the larger schools at the expense of the smaller, is yet another offspring of this direct line of descendancy: It encourages students to leave their small towns and cities because all the money is in the large cities....for now.

My Religious Past...?

First Communion is the first of the seven sacraments that the Catholic Church makes children take if they want to grow up and continue to be Catholic. You don't have to be a child when you take your first steps toward a building a permanent membership within the church, but it helps. First communion is the 2nd sacrament you take in your life, after Baptism, but before Confirmation. Confirmation is the catholic equivalent of the ultimate long-term contract: it's a way of saying that you will commit your earthly body and heavenly soul to the Catholic Church, and you will live your life according to Catholic doctrine. It's pretty serious stuff, so naturally, they start the confirmation process when you're 13 years old.

But First Communion is more like the ceremony you need in order to take, well, Communion. They let just any ole' schlub go to Mass, but if they want to eat the wafer and drink that sweet-sweet wine, they need to be baptized, and then take 'First Communion'....otherwise you have to walk up to the priest in the food and drink line while holding your hand over your heart (which has magically shifted to the left side of your chest), and all the other kids will know what godless parents you must have.

I took my First Communion, but I didn't really take it all that seriously. The atheist adult in me would like to think that I instinctively saw it as being pointless exercise in tribal superstition, but that would be a lie. I was just a goof-off, and had no respect for the solemnity of the occasion as much as I had respect for throwing shit in the air to get a laugh from my embarrassed parents.

Go ahead: Try and guess which one is me.



Yeah. I am VERY proud of my Grade 2 self.


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I don't want to seem like I'm trying to make a name for myself by attacking the biggest dog in the yard, but I said before that I would tackle another of Michael Shermer's libertarian posts, and I'd like to get this out before I forget, move to Hamilton, and become a big star....in Hamilton. Besides, if I wanted to make a name for myself I would legally change my name to Chewbacca Jesus-Chocolate Kitty.

I want to direct you to a post that Dr. Shermer made regarding public vs. private schooling. I hate to say it, but I have to go all Skeptic on one of the best skeptics out there. If you think I'm letting too much of my labour-academics creep in, please let me know in the comments, but do make a good argument and we'll hash it out: Cage Match (And of course cage matches work. If they didn't, everyone would still be in the cage).

In the linked post, Dr. Shermer frames a case for privatizing education alongside an 1954 essay by John Sparks titled "If Men were Free To Try". I don't want to spend too much time on this essay, but I've read it, and it amounts to little more than post-war economic propaganda to help stem the tide of government intervention that helped build the incredibly powerful American Markets of the 1950's. Not only is it awfully simplistic, but it is even factually wrong. As an example, Sparks noted the poor roads at the time, when in fact the exact opposite is true: federal dollars from The New Deal connected the United States together better than previous road, rail, harbor and air travel ever could....it was suddenly affordable to travel across America.

But that's not why I'm writing.

Shermer uses the same narrative for his own purposes:

Now, I would like to propose another thought experiment. It is 1954 and you are challenged to solve the following problems:

  • Build and maintain an educational system that will provide the highest quality education at the lowest price for the most number of students.
  • To convey instantly verbal and visual communication between two or more people anywhere in the world with or without wires.
  • To manufacture and distribute high quality powerful computers small enough to sit on your lap and cheap enough for almost anyone to afford.
  • To design and distribute software programs to run personal computers such that anyone can operate them with minimal experience or training.
  • To create a world wide web of connectedness with virtually instantaneous access between servers, computers, and people anywhere in the world with or without wires.
  • To innovate a computer engine that allows all knowledge to be catalogued, searched, and downloaded for free or at a miniscule cost by anyone, anywhere, anytime with or without wires.
  • To make available, for free or at a miniscule cost, all the world’s knowledge for use by anyone, anywhere, anytime with or without wires.
Shermer maintains that, like the roads of 1900-1954, the education system from 1954-present is still the one problem left unsolved.

Let me put this bluntly to Dr. Shermer, and every single American libertarian that should happen to read this:
Other countries besides the United States exist.See? There's lots of us! In fact, most of us aren't American!

Please understand that I'm not trying to be caustic. Libertarianism has found a very comfortable home in the skeptical community, and I find that the American Libertarian has forgotten all about the rest of the world that isn't being bombed at the time. Dr. Shermer: examples of successful government education programs are in plentiful supply, but you need to actually look past your own borders. We're not savages. We're not ignorant. We're not oppressive or primitive. We're not sick, and we're not less developed as a country because our government plays a more active role in the lives of its citizens than yours.

As before, I'm going to do a little running commentary.

"...the first problem has yet to be solved, problems two through six are not only solved but continue to be improved at an exponential rate..."

Firstly, problems 2-7 are all part of the same problem. Unlike Spark's original piece, where he laid out seven non-related issues (Curing pneumonia, traveling from New York to Los Angeles in 4 hours, development of the telephone system), Shermer uses six of his seven points in a rather irresponsible way: They're all a little vague with semi-open-ended criteria. It's easy to say that we have "manufactured and distributed high quality computers small enough to sit on your lap and cheap enough for almost anyone to afford" if you define what we have today as high quality, and forget that over 35% of Americans don't even own a computer. It's easy enough to claim that we have a created "a world wide web of connectedness with virtually instantaneous access between servers, computers, and people anywhere in the world with or without wires" when you forget that 75% of the world's population does not have access to the internet.

Secondly, the over-arching narrative of this piece by Shermer is to point out that private enterprise is what makes civil success happen. But the internet owes most of its development to government sponsorship and education incentives over the last 40 years. It was private enterprise that gave us not 'The Internet" but rather, it gave us "Teh Internetz".

Dr. Shermer says that the seventh problem will be solved by 2054,
"...the centennial celebration of what I call Sparks’ Law: innovations are best generated when people are free to try their ideas in a competitive and voluntary market."
Well, when a competitive and voluntary market are allowed to rule, the best ideas don't always rise to the top: just the best organized, and the most powerful.

In this video: The Free Market-and-Flow of ideas, or "Sparks' Law.
"Why can we talk to nearly anyone, anywhere, anytime on wireless communication systems? Because innovators and entrepreneurs were free to try. Why can most of us afford powerful laptop computers that run easy-to-use software programs that allow us to access other computers, web pages, and digital books, movies, and music for free or at a miniscule cost? Because inventors and businessmen were free to try."
No, Dr. Shermer. Most people cannot afford powerful laptop computers. Not by a long shot. Or did you get around that by saying "most of us" instead of "most people"? If by "us" you mean middle-class and wealthier, then yes. Most of the people in America with disposable income can afford powerful computers. The rest of us have to go into crippling credit card debt just to stay abreast of this wonderful information super-highway that the governments of the world built, and private enterprise now control.

Thirdly,
Why is America’s public school system an abysmal failure (UNICEF, for example, ranked it 18th out of 24 industrialized countries in 2008)?
Now we're getting into some serious cherry-picking combined with what can at best be described as intellectual laziness, at worst as intellectual dishonesty.

I checked out the UNICEF ranking that Shermer mentions. So can you. Notice anything odd about the countries 1-17? They all have government-run education! Dr. Shermer must have seen the very same chart that I did, and I can imagine one of two things happening: 1) He was only looking for the United States, once again forgetting that there is such a thing as "not America", or 2) He did see the other countries, knew of their government-run education systems, and chose not to include that in his analysis. I don't know which is a bigger crime for a skeptic of Shermer's status to commit.

Fourthly: Shermer's answer to to the failing American school system in the above paragraph sounds like the most cultish that I've ever heard from him:
"Because the public education system has not been allowed to thrive and grow in a competitive and voluntary market. Only when it is, will significant innovation be generated."
Pardon? Did Shermer just say that the only reason schools fail is because we haven't given the free market enough reign? Of the developed countries, no country treats their private enterprise as generously as the United States (Canada isn't far behind). Americans pay the lowest taxes of the G20, and there are so many systemic legal loopholes that allow companies to pay a fraction of the taxes that a citizen does. America is the land of free enterprise. Public schools exist for a way to teach children who can't afford a private system. Does Dr. Shermer really have such a huge issue with this? Is this the kind of safety net that he wants to tear down? Does he really think that a for-profit system will make education in America both better and cheaper? If there were sufficient examples of successful private education systems in the world, he might have a point. But as far as I know: there aren't. Shermer does offer up an example...of a sort:

This is why private schools are so superior to government schools, and why even pro-public school liberal Presidents such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama send their children to private schools — just as most pro-public school liberals do who can afford it.
Now we're getting patently ridiculous. 1) Shermer is assuming that the children of Obama and Clinton (why did he just mention the democratic presidents' children?) attend(ed) private schools because they provide superior eduction. Has it occurred to Shermer that there might be a bit of a security issue of sending the children of the president to a public school? Not just security, but also for privacy, and the sanity of the poor kids who are made into political rhetorical devices (hmmm...). When you send your kids to a private school, you're paying a lot more than just for education. You're paying for discretion and seclusion. Furthermore, a lot of private schools are private because they want to teach religion. 2) Shermer is suggesting that private education is inherently superior to public. I wonder what the studies say? 3) Even if it were true that private school equals better education (which it isn't), it's a false analogy. There are numerous social, political, cultural, economic, geographic, demographic and religious factors at play that would lead to a parent sending their children to a private school. It's a much more complicated issue than quality. Shermer uses isolated, individual private schools as his 'positive' example as to why a massive, nation-wide overhaul of the education system would work.

Fifthly,
"This can only happen if education innovators and entrepreneurs are free to try."
Or, in other words: We have to believe in it. The invisible hand of the free market will solve all our education woes if we just gave ourselves entirely over to its gentle embrace. It doesn't matter that no other developed country operates on such a model. It doesn't matter that the most successful education systems in the world operate in the exact opposite way. It doesn't matter that all public education systems offer better education than private across the board. Facts don't matter, we just need faith in the free market.

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want my kids to be taught by a corporation.
Middle School.

For such an esteemed agnostic, Shermer sure does seem to treat the free market like it's a deity.

Thanks for reading this long, long entry. I seriously don't have it in for Shermer. If I did, he's smart enough, tough enough, and powerful enough to crush me under his thumb if he wanted. It's precisely because I respect him as a skeptic that I feel I can write such an attack. Shermer is a great skeptic, but he is downright lousy at politics. He's a science-minded person trying to tackle social issues, and he's not good it. This is why I've got such a bug-up-my-butt whenever people bad mouth the 'humanities'....People like Shermer would do well to take a couple of university courses in political economy before shooting from the hip like this. I realize I'm partially making a value-judgment here, but I'm also right: Shermer is not just wrong, but demonstrably so.

I expect better of him. And I certainly expected better of him than to say "...today we still drive on congested roads on which 37,332 died in 2008, the lowest in four decades and yet the equivalent of more than ten 9/11s every year." Envoking 9/11? That's a pretty cheap, and meaningless tactic rooted in the most Rudy Gulliani of traditions. Don't do that.


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Well.....Whaddya think?

Welcome to Some Canadian Skeptic version 3.0. The old (re-)design just didn't have enough space for all the information and links that I've accumulated since starting this blog, so it was in desperate need of a retool. And there ain't no bigger tool than me!

When I changed the template, I lost a bit of information, including my links to other skeptic/science blogs. I will be re-building that over the next little bit, but it may take a few weeks (I'm moving to Hamilton, and I'd better pick my priorities). I'll do my best to put in the old links from memory, but I could definitely use your help. If you want me to link to your blog/site, drop me a line on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments. I'll inevitably forget some valuable sites to link to as well, so give me some tips too!

Thanks for staying with me, and stay tuned.....there is a HUGE project in the works, and we'll be up and running very soon!

Pretty tantalyzing, eh? Trust me....this is gonna be good.



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I almost never get the opportunity to write as a skeptic and as a musician, but I noticed something today at Neatorama which got my ivories tickled.

Enter: Concert Hands, a device which combines music, robotics, and short attention spans.

I betcha you thought Dizzy Gillespie was a trumpet-playing machine!

The premise seems pretty straightforward: Sit a down in front of a keyboard, attach your wrists and fingers to some fine-motor devices which will direct you to play certain keys at certain times. This will, we are told, induce muscle memory. Presumably after some magic, this will then make the user into a fully functional piano player.

Yet, for some reason, I am skeptical.


Even though I haven't started my job as a regular music teacher just yet (but soon!), I have been
teaching music to individual students since 1996. In addition, I have been playing various instruments for most of my life, going back to the early 80's, at the tender age of 74. As a musician with over 200 years of experience, I know what I'm talking about.



Guess which one is me.

Learning how to play music in the electronic age has lead me down some awful traps. The first problem I faced is transposition. Playing in different keys on a moments notice takes some serious thinking on my part, because as I was learning on my tiny Yamaha keyboard, all I had to do to change the key I was playing in was push a couple of buttons. It was easy. Later on, while playing piano in various bands, I did the same thing: rather than play in A♭, I would just hit the transpose button, and play in C, G, or F. It's easier. Having been so used to the easy-way-out provided by instant-transposition, I did the same thing as a guitar player. Rather than play proper, but more difficult chords and licks, I had two similar options: I could slap a capo onto the neck or just play power-chords. Voila! Instant pitch-change! It's easier.

But Saxophone and Trumpet are a little different: there's no cheap-as-free way out of playing in a difficult key, so I just had to suck it up and learn the hard way. Nowadays I can rock-the-rock-out in any key, and I have the hard-work to thank for it. It's harder, but it works very, very well.

By now, surely you see where I'm going here...

While it is very true that muscle memory is key component to being a musician, I am uncertain how these robo-gloves will help develop said memory. From the website:

The Finger Sleeves are placed on all fingers on both hands and the user (sic) wrists lay gently on the wrist pilots. When the music begins the wrist pilots guide your hands across the piano to a specific location and the finger sleeves receive a pulse to indicate which key to press. The idea is after a period of time the repetitive motions and signals will develop muscle memory within the end user (sic) and enable him or her to play their favorite songs on their own.

I doubt this very much.

This kind of thing will surely be a crutch to the beginner, and a hindrance to the intermediate. I fully expect that the player will take the easy way out (perhaps unintentionally, unlike my damn transposition button) and will really come to rely on his robo-conductor. I have serious doubts that the player will truly understand what they are playing. No doubt the accompanying software will include various virtual teaching tools (which are perfectly fine, as far as teaching methods are concerned) for theory and notation, but here's the problem:

a) A student learning the piano learns by notation and practice, in such a way as to read the staves like any other person would read a book. They (or should I say 'we'?) interpret what they see on the page to be just like any other language, which manifests itself by pressing keys down. It's functionally not that much different from copying something by hand from a textbook into your notepad.

b) A student using this robo-method would be waiting until the lights tell them to play. This is very central: It's not a proactive process, but instead is a very passive one. Students learning to play with this method will learn to imitate and follow, but put them on their own, they'll be utterly lost.

If the Concert Hands method had any plausibility of working, then piano-teachers would have their hands resting over top of the hands of the student, and gently pressing down on their fingers. Obviously this wouldn't work because we see it for what it is: a) the student isn't truly playing and b) creepy, and possibly arrestable.

The other problem I have with this is simply one involving field of view and spacial awareness. When you play the piano, your hands can get really far apart, and having your eyes dart back and forth from left-to-right-to-left-to-right would cause me to go into a hilarious seizure! Piano notation has worked as well as it has for hundreds of years for a good reason: all the information is there in a small, condensed spot. Easy to see, understand and interpret.

I couldn't find a price tag for this thing, but being that it's the first of its kind, I suspect it won't come cheap. But still, I'd be really curious to try this thing out if it were put in front of me. My suspicion is that I would be a very terrible player, waiting for the pulses instead of playing what I know to be right. Then again, I'd be coming at this as an expert, so it's not built for me. I'm sure that if I programed this thing to fill in for my students one day while I was out, I would have to come back and undo all the damage and sloppiness that the robot taught them.


Psssst! Did you hear that I'm on Twitter now? Well, I am. You can...umm....tweet(?) to me....



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Hometown pictures.

I went to mah hometown yesterday, and snapped a few pictures of the area. Have a few:


Downtown Midland, Ontario, seen from across Midland Bay

Discovery Harbor, one of my favorite places in the world (that I've seen)

Discovery Harbor from the other end.


This is a picture of some Star trail effect above HMS Tecumseth (foreground) and HMS Bee (background)




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Cave, man

Okay.

I came kicking and screaming. I came complaining, and crossing my arms. I stamped my feet and gave people a big bushel of raspberries.

But I did it.

I joined Twitter.

I joined this morning, and in all honesty, I find it to be unwieldy, and it's been messing up on several things already. I'm off to a bad twitter-start, so hopefully things will get easier and better.


Seriously? THIS fucking thing beat me? I lost to THIS?

Ostensibly, Twitter is supposed to be all about simplicity and ease. But it's simplicity has been its biggest drawback, because you can hardly DO anything with it! It's like a glorified text-messaging system.

I've got a lot on my mind right now, so forgive me for sounding so pissy. I'll get funnier, and even make sentences just so I can say douche-pickles. See?

So if you've got the urge, and I NEVER thought I'd be saying this, but you can follow me on Twitter. I'm having a few issues with it right now, so bear with me for a while. If I don't follow you after you graciously followed me, please don't take it personal: I'm pretty sure that all you Twitter-users are sorcerers or something, and I'm not allowed access to your arcane jibbery-joo, lest I accidentally summon the nether-beast of Ush-Galushkak!

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a shower with my clothes on, and cry robot tears. Which as we all know are made of oil.


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Timing fail



Oh goody! I got my passport! Just in time to go to TAM7! Should be fun.

Shoot me, seriously. Shoot me right, god-damned now.




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Orion Layer Cake

Okays, another astrophotography post....bear with me....

I started plugging my pictures into photoshop about a 9 months ago (I'm having a photoshop baby!), not to alter the images, but just to stitch images of the moon together. Occasionally, I like to play with some settings in order to bring out some details, but often at the expense of others.

But it occurred to me, that even though I'm not using a proper CCD camera with my gear (the kind that uses three separate red, green, and blue filters, and later combines the images), I can still mimic the effect with some effort.

Below is the Orion Nebula, which I took back in February, with my Canon Rebel XT, f/5.6, 529 sec. exposure, ISO-800, 300 mm focal length with a 2x telephoto on February 24 @ 10:52 pm (is that enough detail for you?). The image on the left is the raw, unprocessed version, and the image on the right has been manually put through several layers of colorization (red, magenta, blue, cyan, yellow, green) in photoshop. I then reduced the transparency and opacity of the layers, and re-arranged them in order to make a rather different image.




The original image has better detail in the cloud structure in the middle, but the fainter white clouds (especially in the Running Man Nebula to the upper-left of the Orion Nebula) don't show too well without some creative processing.

What do you think? Which do you like better?



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At the centre of above image is the Copernicus Crater on the moon. It looks awfully low-res and a little blurry, doesn't it? Well, look at the same crater, taken about a week later:
Quite the change, eh?

I didn't use any different equipment or lenses to take these two separate images: For both images I used my Canon Rebel XT, attached to a 3x Barlow, and plugged the whole thing into my 8" reflector. The gear is the same, and the camera settings are the same. So why does the top image look so blurry and indistinct, and the bottom image show loads of individual mountain ranges, ridges, and even the central peaks?

Well, Copernicus Crater sits just off the centre of the moon's face (well, the side that's facing us....duh), and when the top image was taken, the moon was in full. So the crater was getting an almost straight-on blast of sunlight. This is really good at illuminating the brighter-streaks coming out of the crater (called 'rays': they're the huge trails of debris and detritus that were blasted out after the initial impact), but it's also like looking straight down a whole while you're shining a flashlight directly into it.

When the bottom image was taken, it was during the half-moon, so the sun was hitting the crater almost edge-on, allowing the depth of the crater and surrounding area to be brought out quite a bit more. The rays are a little harder to see, but when the sun shines at such a low angle, its just like any other shadow you've ever seen, especially in the late-afternoon. I would wager that you haven't stood at the bottom of an 87 km-diameter crater, but you get the point.

When I started this astrophotography thing, I thought that just shooting the moon at any time would yield very similar results, but it's easy to forget that the moon is not a disk, but a sphere, and on that sphere are all manner of bumps and crevasses that look different depending on the direction of light. Try and line up the details of the two images in your mind. To make things easier on you, I made sure that the images are tilted the same way, and are cropped almost identical, but still: it's a lot harder that it might seem.

A lot of those craters are rather shallow by moon standards, but they can still cast a huge shadow into their interiors under ideal conditions.




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A few months ago, in one of my courses, we were shown a film about the Oka Crisis. It was the first time in five years of university that I got teary-eyed in class. I was delighted to find out that the National Film Board of Canada has this film in flash-form, and that it can be embedded. I hope you can watch it.


It's 119 minutes long, so it is a bit of an investment of time (and I use the word 'investment' very intentionally), but I promise that it's worth it. This documentary is not for the faint of heart. The next time you hear some Canadian prattle on about how much of an opening, accepting, progressive country we are, and how well we treat our citizens, remember this video. Granted, the Oka crisis happened 19 years ago, but with the events in Caledonia, Site 41, and Ipperwash, I ask you to please remember that this kind of stuff is still happening, and we're still treating our First Nations people like the 'Le Sauvage' of old. Indeed, the Mohawk Warrior Society is considered a 'terrorist organization'.

This is not the kind of history they teach you in school, so please do yourself a favor and watch it if you've got the time. If not now, then please bookmark this page and come back to it when you've got 2 hours to spare.


Enjoy. If you can.





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