Sunday, June 27, 2010

"The time has come the walrus said."

"The time has come" the Walrus said.
This quotation is from Lewis Carroll's - "Through the looking glass."
That's not so different than the title of my blog is it? "Through the rear view mirror."

The poem continues: "To speak of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, Of cabbages and kings.
And why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings."

Since I don't have any sketches or stories about walruses, I'll have to make do with something about sea lions as a substitute. But this is a true story, not a poem or fantasy, and this is a real untouched photo, one of a sequence which I forwarded with a polite, perhaps overly polite, letter of complaint to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, shortly after witnessing the incident... which was in fact perpetrated by one of the DFO's own vessels, with three of their officers aboard, and would you believe, right in French Creek harbour in front of several individuals who were happily photographing this pod of large marine animals.

Who has the right of way? Sealions or DFO?

The only reason that I've decided to publish this episode now, is that I was anticipating a phone call, other than the preliminary 30 second acknowledgement of my letter's receipt, to review the outcome of the subsequent investigation. Regrettably that was several months ago, so I will send this off into the blogosphere to see if that might prompt a response.

Lord knows, sometimes it's not an easy matter to get the attention of a bureaucracy! That reminds me of another true story which I'll have to remember for a blog on another day soon.

And remember, your own comments are always welcome... Even with the 20 20 hindsight that my"Rear View Mirror " blog guarantees, it's hard to be right all of the time.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Another picture for the candid photo file.

I wonder how many of you recall the history story about King Canute? Actually there are two versions of that yarn, or at least of its outcome. Canute was the second son of a king of Denmark who defeated Ethelred the Unready, the king of England almost 1000 years ago. Canute, after a couple of other historic ups and downs, inherited the throne of England in 1017, when his conqueror father died suddenly... but a history lesson is not this blog's intended purpose.

The photo below, instantly brought to my mind the story about Canute requesting that his throne be moved to the edge of the ocean to demonstrate his ability, or inability, to command the tide to reverse its flow. Obviously he failed in his experiment, and depending upon the version of history you prefer, (and there are indeed many versions of history, each largely dependent on the story telling ability of one particularly historian... or his political persuasions or those of his boss) this was either:
a) To demonstrate to his flattering courtiers, who had tried to convince him of his God like power to stop the incoming tide, that he was all too well aware of their flattering ingenuity.
or b) Perhaps it was that he had simply succumbed to his own over-inflated ego, or alternately, had foolishly started to believe the news media rumours of his remarkable prowess.
Anyway, it is not my intention to presume to resolve this age old quandary, although, having spent many years in the real estate development wars, I have met my share of ego-maniacal individuals, and consequently rather prefer the plan b) propositions.

 Summer fun, or a historic mistake?

Whatever Canute's motivations were on that historic occasion, I doubt that the family in today's photo had any such illusions of some amazing power. What is rather extraordinary, however, is that the lady on the left appears to be holding an Amazon Kindle, or Sony, or some other make of electronic reader. And I rather doubt that any of these modern miracle appliances is built to float, or survive a salt water dunking... or posses the Canute sought ability to reverse the incoming tide.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Parksville's horizontal forest

Parksville city christened it their "Waterfront Walkway"... and erected another in their series of magnificent new decorative signs to celebrate its presence. I have renamed their walkway the horizontal forest, because it must have consumed hundreds, if not thousands of previously vibrant, vertical trees. Yes, I am prone to using hyperbole from time to time, but I ask you, was it really necessary to use 3in x 8in x 15 ft dimension lumber, or to edge it with raised 8in x 8in wooden curbs? I guess the engineers responsible for the design must have really taken to heart the little tsunami warning sign at the other end of the beach. I am quite convinced you could drive a Centurian tank along this extraordinary board walk structure, without doing any damage at all. Perhaps in the future the city has plans to use it as a parking lot to augment the below sea-level parking stalls built under the adjacent highrise and midrise condominium towers which almost completely block the panoramic beach view from Parksville's main drag.

The north portal to our new boardwalk

And what did this magnificent structure cost? Well I'm glad you asked, because it must have been a steal at just a few thousand dollars over $1,000,000 mark. They also had a sign up for a few days to celebrate that statistic, but for some odd reason that one disappeared remarkably quickly.

At the other end of the beach there is an also new, asphalt paved walkway adjacent to the erosion prone section of the shore which was mechanically re-shaped two years ago, also at substantial cost, in an attempt to stop the inevitable progress of the ocean's efforts to reshape the shore line at the expense of the Parksville's famous Park. And would you believe that to separate that walkway from the beach, (perhaps to prevent cars from driving down the embankment or to further obstruct the view from the few remaining parking spots?) they built a fence using imitation wood, precast concrete posts and planks, replete with wood grain finish etched into each rock-hard component. How ironic!

Oh, and I almost forgot these tiny little LED lights built into the walkway curb timbers. I really must go down there after dark some evening soon to see if they actually do work, or if they're just reflectors.

I did note one rather good thing about my horizontal forest though, that is apart from the fact that my wife and I really do rather enjoy strolling along it... That other good thing? These blankety blank Canada geese don't appear to be at all interested in using it as an extended biffy, as appears to be their habit and right almost everywhere else in the world.

Watch your step. It's a dangerous world out there! And as I've observed before, it's just as well that cows can't fly. But I certainly do wish that more dog owners would pick up after their hounds, as the by-laws require.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Candid camera

As I've mentioned previously, I'm quite often happier with the effect achieved by casual, un-posed photographs, as compared to those that the subjects posed for, and I have a computer file folder which refers to them as my candid collection. Using the 420mm equivalent zoom lens on my digital Panasonic FZ35, I managed to capture several photos of this couple the other day (from the new board-walk on Parksville beach - but that's another blog for another day)... before the one who was getting wet, appeared to tire of the game, and finally come to his senses.

"____________________" Caption by _____________

I didn't realize that there would be an uninvited gull in one of the shots until I uploaded them onto the computer, but it does add a little perspective to the scene, don't you think? In fact I might have 'Photoshopped' one in, had this one not happened to glide conveniently by at the appropriate moment.

Anyway, the objective of this blog (there's always a point to my blogs you know) is to encourage my blog 'followers' and/or 'RSS subscribers', or even 'casual visitors' to use the comments space at the bottom of the page to create a good caption for the photo. I'll even leave the caption space blank for you, and will give you credit for the title if you suggest a good one. Just remember that others will be able to read yours too!

So far my own favourites are:
Land ho! Home James! and, Oh you're heavier than I expected!

Monday, June 21, 2010


One definition of insanity, occasionally attributed to Albert Einstein (although I was unable to confirm this attribution) is as follows: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

Whether or not it was this great mathematician's original observation, or that of some other perspicacious individual, the world is remarkably well populated with persistent individuals who have yet to recognize the inevitability of this truism.

I actually wrote this lead in to a blog, without having any specific rant to follow it, and as I look back through my collection of pearls of wisdom, I can see quite a few where it might have been appropriate, but looking into the future with the help of my crystal ball and, of course, my rear-view mirror, I am convinced that a new one will pop up and bite me soon enough.

So for the time being, dear follower, I will just let you imagine for yourself, any appropriate story that this definition of insanity conjures up in your own mind.

Albert Einstein - (1878-1955) He of the theory of relativity fame, and also of the formula E=mc2.
At the first link you can watch a caricature of our genius actually being drawn on YouTube by Tom Richmond. Or if you prefer a Karsh photo  This link where you can you can enjoy the work of a genius in portraiture and photography.

Meantime, I'll go hunting through Google images for a (non-copyright) portrait of Albert E, while letting my own imagination run wild... perhaps about politically motivated policies that have failed time after time, and will no doubt do so again in the future, or perhaps about some alchemist's futile attempts to change base metals into gold, or the search by a mad scientist for the elixir of everlasting life.

Don't you just love rummaging around in the dark corners of your mind

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Worried about catching a computer virus???

As a result of receiving yet another of these apparently helpful "pass it on to all of your contacts" e-mails the other day, I took it upon myself to check it out with a real computer expert. (Thanks Andrew) and while I was checking this one out, asked for a reliable way to find out about these things for myself in the future. Not unexpectedly, today's "Postcard virus warning" about a computer virus masquerading as a postcard from a friend or family member, did turn out to be just spam.

Along with this information, I received the following tried but true advice about how to check the validity of email warnings like this. "Ignore them, do not pass them on. Install a good anti-virus program that you trust, that gets updates daily from the mother ship. If you don't believe that they are keeping up to date with the set of viruses, replace it with another program."

This computer must be really really sick.

If still in doubt, check it out on the web at While on that website myself, I discovered a page of "urban legends" which apparently "compiles the 25 urban legends currently circulating most widely, as determined by frequency of access, user searches, reader e-mail, and media coverage". Very interesting.

I highly recommend this particular site to the more gullible, so that they can avoid circulating any or all of these strange but untrue stories around the water cooler... or not, because some of them are at least good for a laugh.

And yes, the "Postcard virus warning" is once again on the snopes hit list, although it has been around as a number of variations for years... and never was as dangerous as it frequently purports to be.

Take care. It's a dangerous world out there!

Friday, June 18, 2010

There's gold in them thar hills

Somehow the shout of: "There's REEs, or rare earth elements in them thar hills" does't have quite such a dramatic a ring to it. But we'll be seeing much more on this topic, or more precisely, on the impending shortage of these really not so 'rare in the earth' minerals, in the news media over the next weeks, months and even years.

As I pointed out in my June 13th blog, only a couple of decades ago the US was the globe's primary producer of REEs, but was supplanted by China, whose many small processors (although the the main source of their minerals is actually one mine in Mongolia) undersold the one major US producer (California's Mountain Pass Mines) and thereby cornered the market.

A Miner 49er - back before helicopters, 
when men were men.

That California mine is now owned by Molycorp Minerals and is being brought up to environmental standards and modernized at a cost of $1/2 billion, before being returned to production - projected for 2011. Another mining corporation, Avalon Rare Metals is working on an apparently rich deposit of rare earth elements in Canada - the Nechalacho Rare Earth Element Project located at Thor Lake, Northwest Territories.

China has apparently been reducing its exports of REEs by some 6% per year for some time, and while some Chinese spokespeople have indicated that their exports will not be suddenly terminated, others have not been so optimistic about their future actions. The Chinese government has certainly warned that they will need an ever increasing portion of their production for their own national consumption, and it is also concerned about conservation of supplies for the future. World demand is currently estimated to be some 150,000 tons per year... and climbing.

Because of the long lead-time it takes to bring any mine into production, some experts have warned that there will be a shortage of REEs very soon, and that this might last for as many as 15 years. Rare earth magnets are required in many electronic products, and the elements are essential components of such diverse things as batteries for electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines, i.e. the new alternate, green energy products.

This creates a new quandary for the environmental activists to ponder, because they absolutely abhor mines. Obviously, without new mines the alternate energy, "green" industries will grind to a halt, and the world would remain totally dependent on oil and coal - what I refer to as the black energy sources.

I have little doubt that the ever pragmatic, political decision makers will be forced to concede to the miners on this occasion... as they have done so frequently in the past.

Stoopid, stoopid, stoopid!

Those who can remember when CKNW was "Top Dog"  in BC radio, and when Jack Webster was the king of talk radio with his unmistakable Glasgow brogue, will also no doubt recognize my headline. The misspelled stoopid, stoopid, stoopid... One of Jack's oft used expressions of derision. God rest his soul.

Sometimes government policies are also totally stupid, dumb, idiotic, and frustratingly inflexible, and if they were not 'GOVERNMENT' policies, they would be utterly impossible to believe.

My current parking pass is safely back on the rear-view mirror.

Today I encountered one of these really stupid situations, and I'm still shaking my head in disbelief.
I only wanted to renew my provincial government parks, parking pass, a couple of weeks ahead of it's expiry date. So I drove up to the little office at the Rathtrevor Park camp site gate where they are sold. I handed over the old (and not quite expired) pass together with my Visa card. So far so good. I'd pay my $25 and leave, not happily exactly, because I strongly believe that one of the other unnecessarily onerous provincial taxes should already have covered this service, but at least I'd be OK for another year.

But no! A rather officious young clerk had other ideas about that. She insisted on punching the new card, indicating an expiry date one month earlier than that on my current one, and no amount of logic would dissuade her from doing so. Apparently park service policy dictates that the critical hole has to be punched in the month of its issuance... without any consideration for the expiry date of the prior permit. I suggested that such things as drivers' licences, magazine subscriptions, insurance policies and passports are all renewed in advance, and are all made effective from their prior year's expiry dates... but to no avail.

By this time there were several of these enormous fifth wheel camper rigs lined up behind my little car - you know the ones that are too long for you to pass, unless you are lucky enough to reach an extra long straight stretch of highway. To make a long story short, I requested a Visa refund, because I was not going to sacrifice a month of paid parking. This refund process also took an inordinate time because the dear lady clerk had to look up the code which enabled that, and by the time the refund was completed, there was another "happy campers" in the lineup. I guess the government doesn't need the interest it earns on early payments, but then again this was not really about the money. Was it?

And guess what? I was not wished "a good afternoon" as I left. I only got an "I guess I'll see you again next month" - plus a self-satisfied, stupid stupid grin.

Stupid, stupid, stupid!!!

cc Hon. Barry Penner, Minister of Environment (Responsible for Parks), Government of BC, Victoria.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The big Five-O

Yes, yesterday marked my fiftieth - the big five O!

No, regrettably not my birthday, or even our anniversary. These milestones have long since disappeared over the horizon of time. 50 blogs since the first one on 28th March. That's 2 per week on average, and that's what I'm celebrating, and you dear follower are invited to join the celebration. Perhaps I'll buy everyone in the Flat Earth Society a coffee this morning, up at our regular haunt - the "Brie" coffee shop in Qualicum Beach. They'll certainly be rather surprised by this old Scotsman's generosity. My buddies might even accuse me of letting the entire Scottish nation down by breaking away from our national credo of "a penny saved is a penny earned". (P.S. Having followed through with my plan for the coffee shop celebration, I am now able to confirm that my worst fears about being ribbed by my buddies, were entirely justified.)

 The Big Five-O

But am I having fun yet? Well I'm glad you asked, dear follower, because actually I am having quite a lot of fun. And why is that? Hmmm! I'll have to give that question some serious thought, and it's much too early in the day for that. Perhaps it's that blogging gives me a feeling of power and glory, or freedom, or self importance and invincibility? No, surely it can't be any of those. Perhaps it is just that when my mind is deeply engrossed in yet another brilliant post, I don't have to worry about all the other items hovering around out there on my to do list. That's much more likely. Actually, the fact is that I rather enjoy writing, and unlike it was in the good old days of having to earn a living, when everything seemed to have a deadline, and I was always being pressured to get "it" done, whatever "it" was... now "it" only needs to happen when the spirit moves me.

But it is rather fun to express an opinion from time to time, to get something off my mind, or to research and learn something new which I've been curious about for some time. Even searching for the most appropriate words, or anecdote, or humorous comment to illustrate a point, can be fun, particularly without the pressure of deadlines.

So what's next you ask? Well it would be nice to know that sometimes a few more people were listening to me out there in the blogosphere, so please continue dropping in on "The Rear-View Mirror" because "Hindsight is 20 20" you know. And please do remember to use the comments box at the end of each post, so that I know I'm not out there alone, preaching to the wilderness. And do invite you friends to drop by also, by e-mailing them a copy of a blog from time to time - that's just a matter of clicking on that little envelope down at the bottom of each page.

Take care. There's a wonderful world out there... the world of bloggs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Blogging - Syndication and subscriptions

To follow up on yesterday's blog, this tech-talk topic for non-techies will briefly explain a simple way to follow a blog, or for that matter, any favourite web news source. Most of the TV channels and major news papers now have their own blogs where you can follow up on the details of a report which has only seen brief exposure as a 20 second TV clip, or a headline and a column inch or two of print... and you can very simply arrange for these blogs to be custom delivered, free of charge, to your own computer, instead of having to go rummaging around the blogosphere for them. I know, some of you already know this, and much, much more about subscriptions, but many of my friends are somewhat technically challenged, so please be patient. And if any of you less challenged individuals want to add something to this discussion, please feel free to use the comments box below.

One half of this secret (if anything to do with blogging can be secret) lies in RSS, an acronym for Really Simple Syndication. On the URL line on my blog, i.e. the address line located at the top of your browser, there is a little orange coloured icon with radiating circles drawn on it. (See the screen clip below) If you click on that icon you will be invited to choose RSS or Atom. Select (click) RSS then select (click) add to Google Reader, and you are done, except that the first time (and only the first time) you do this you will be asked to open a (free) Google account, if you don't already have one. This process includes the usual user name and password rigmarole. (In fact that little RSS icon identifies the web page you are looking at as a blog, rather than any other type of web site).
The icons you need are outlined in red - Double click to enlarge the image

The other half of this secret is having a "reader" program on your computer - which almost certainly you already do, although perhaps you didn't realize it. Since my blog is hosted by and that service is in turn owned by Google, and you guessed it - Google has a reader... Naturally, to keep things as simple as possible, dear follower, I have used these services as my example, although there are many others out there for the more adventurous to explore.

To make a long story short, the action of subscribing delivers the chosen blog, news service etc. right into your computer's reader program any time you are on line. If you click on your reader's icon it opens to show you the blog pages that you have not yet read... and just what could be easier than that? But there's one more little thing. For some obscure reason, Google hides their reader in a drop down menu labelled "other" on their home page, although there are ways to make that more convenient to find, like bookmarking the page onto the Google tool bar, as I have done. Refer to the above clip again.

And the real magic of subscriptions is that if you tire of one, you can unsuscribe just as easily - no permissions, acknowledgements or apologies required - it is gone from your computer...

Oh if only other actions in life could be undone so simply.

Oil spills - deja vu all over again

I suppose that by now every blogger in the bloggosphere universe has posted some sad, angry or otherwise derogatory commentary about the oil industry and/or the current BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

I know that I have, but a friend (thank you Larry) just e-mailed me a URL of a Rachel Maddow video rant which is too special not to pass on, especially as I have just figured out how to make video links on my posts.

So without further commentary, here's...   Rachel

A letter to the editor

I wrote the following letter to the editor of our local news paper today. Because I don't know if he will deem it worthy of publication, I've decided to post the contents as a blog to insure that my rant is not at risk of disappearing into the round file. (P.S. Not only was this letter actually published, but it was highlighted and recognized as The News' "Feature letter" of the day) As an additional precaution, I'll hand deliver the actual letter this pm, as we have no snail mail service on Sundays, and I don't have any idea how frequently the News staff checks their e-mail. My letter follows from their lead article in "The News" of June 11, which described a definitely raucous and rowdy public meeting of Nanaimo's Regional District Board and officials, who were attempting to explain the necessity for building permits and building inspections to a few obstreperous rural, electoral area residents who had somehow managed to evade this rather basic form of municipal oversight and virtually universal system of health and safety regulation:

To the Editor, The News.

No permits or inspections, the picket signs read... You've got to be kidding.

Nobody wants new taxes imposed upon them, just witness what is happening with BC's provincial HST fiasco. Likewise, nobody wants to have new laws imposed on them, particularly if there is even a whiff of an odour of a perceived infringement of their personal rights.
No permits, No Inspections. No No No!

Indeed, I spent the latter third of my professional career speaking out against what I and the building and development industries saw as bureaucratic stupidity, completely unnecessary red tape, and money grabbing policies, while advocating for a modicum of common sense in the implementation of both new and old municipal and provincial policies.

But never in a million years would I have objected to the basic concept of building permits and inspections, because I recognize that they are absolutely essential to assuring the safety and health of the public at large. In BC it is still legal for an individual to build his own home, but do you believe that the average Joe has sufficient knowledge to do this safely, and in compliance with the building, plumbing, electrical and fire codes. I've personally witnessed too many serious infractions which belie that thought. The real problem is that some poor unsuspecting soul will inevitably purchase or inherit the problems that result from this lack of oversight, and have to pay through the nose to have them corrected at some future date.

Now don't get me wrong. I despise over-regulation of any industry at any time, or I would not have spent so many years actively fighting against it.

But having no building codes, building permits, building inspections?... Give me a break. Suck it up. Move on. Find something else to resist or complain about that makes at least a more sense. This not the time or place to draw your personal line in the sand.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Blog is a blog is a blog

The sentence "Rose is a rose is a rose ." was written by Gertrude Stein as part of the 1913 poem "Sacred Emily". To learn more of what Gertrude had in mind when she wrote this line which so immediately conjures up an image of that particularly beautiful and aromatic bloom on a thorny stem... like so much else in the world now-a-days, you guessed it... you just have to google it.

"Blog is a blog is a blog", however, does not conjure up any image in my mind, at least it did not until a few short months ago when I started blogging, and it really still doesn't, because blogs come in so many shapes and sizes, have so many uses and can cover so many topics.

I recently bought my second book about blogging. The first was "Blogging for Dummies" ($29.99) for fairly obvious reasons. This one is rather more sophisticated (and less expensive at $17.50) "The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging". I had seen Arianna Huffington on TV of course, but had no idea that the Huffington Post was a major online news syndicator with more than 50 blogging commentators. It now competes with all of the major newsprint, radio and television media, and does many things (news coverage wise) much better, frequently more in depth, and more interestingly written than any of the others, and of course they can get the word out faster on the internet than via the competing media.

Their masthead - Is just like 
that of any print newspaper.

I now subscribe (free) to the HuffPost which brings me back to subscriptions and syndication, which were really the topics that I had set out to blog about this morning, but this introduction has turned out to be so long winded that once again, dear follower, you're just going to have to wait one more day to learn more about RSS news feeds and readers, and other useful ways to track the news, including of course, my own views "Through The Rear-View Mirror" blog.

By now you probably realize the significance of both my blog's name and the cut-line, "Hindsight really is 20 20".

P.S. I have finally figured out how to include a link in my posts, so if you are interested you can click on the Huffington Post link here. I'd have included it higher up on the page... but I was concerned that you might not find your way back from their remarkable, multi blog site to my simple little one.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rare earths - Challenge or opportunity.

The best known of the rare earths (REEs) are: Cerium, Dysprosium, Erbium, Europium, Gadolinium, Holmium, Lanthanum, Lutetium, Neodymium, Praseodymium, Samarium, Terbium, Thulium, Ytterbium, and Yttrium, Scandium and Yttrium (17 in all).

Strangely, while you may not recognize a single one of the names of these mineral oxides, many are relatively common components of the earth's surface. (Cerium for example is the 25th most abundant element of the 78 common elements in the Earth's crust at 60 parts per million, but some other are present at only 0.5 ppm)
These chemical elements are uniquely able to retain their physical properties at high temperatures and in their elemental forms, tend to be iron gray to silvery lustrous metals that are typically soft, malleable, and ductile. As such they are in demand in many of the world's modern manufacturing processes including: nickel metal hydride batteries for hybrid cars, solar panels, wind turbines, super conductors, various electronic products and even military hardware.

The U.S. once supplied most of the global needs for these elements, but rare earth processing largely shifted to China after 1990, and currently that country controls between 95 and 97 per cent of world REE production.

The Great Wall  (An official Chinese government photo).

The immediate problem is that China's own need for these elements has reached a level where continuing to provide the rest of the world's requirements has become a problem, and they announced in September that they would not be continuing to do so. Needless to say, this has caused major concern for their customers outside China, who are now wondering where their future supply will come from.

If you are into the science of chemistry, you can find a periodic table of the rare earths, and scads (that's a scientific term) of other technical data, by googling the magic words "rare earth" in your favourite browser.

If you are into investing in mining stocks, which are normally considered to be one of the more dangerous crap shoots in the investment world, good luck to you. I'm almost afraid to admit it, but that's the opportunity I posited in the headline. And no, I don't have any hot tips for you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Vultures

I remember visiting our hi-tech daughter and son in law in San Carlos a few years ago and marvelling at the bravado of their Abyssinian and Burmese house cats, Kato and Miranda. They all lived happily together, high up on a hillside above the city in an apartment condo, with a grand view stretching out across San Francisco Bay. Much to the consternation of the two felines, who spent a substantial portion of their day, lolling in the sun on the window ledge, staring inquisitively out through the living room window, from time to time a vulture would glide past on a thermal up-draft. The cats would immediately morph into attack mode, occasionally leaping onto the drapes in a futile attempt to reach their quarry. I suppose, being indoor creatures, they had little idea that distance affects size, and that perhaps a better tactic might have been to seek refuge under the closest settee.

A vulture glides gracefully by on the thermals.

Yesterday I was reminded of these large birds of prey (well actually they are better described as carrion eaters than hunters) while I was out with a couple of my flat earth society, coffee buddies, scrambling over some rather steep, rough, rocky trails on Notch Hill, trying to find a few gaps in the tree cover through which to take photographs which would permanently dispel the theory that the world is round. We three like to think of ourselves in terms of vintage or maturity rather than age, but the circling vultures, and we did see quite a few of them (although it might be a stretch to suggest that there were so many that they were blocking out the sunshine) appeared to be following our unsteady progress with a rather morbid interest.

Of course we did all make it safely home, after stopping to remark on some particularly large bear claw scars in the bark of an arbutus tree. Unfortunately, a close examination of the photographic record of our expedition failed to prove our flat earth theory... perhaps it was just that the atmosphere was a little too hazy or, that we should have chosen a higher mountain.

Could that be Kilimanjaro, K2 or even Everest on the horizon?

Monday, June 7, 2010

"I've been thinking"

Occasionally, I wake up from my afternoon nap, or come in from my daily constitutional in the park, to that ominous greeting from my dear wife: "I've been thinking". I know immediately that I'm in trouble... and just how much trouble, is going to become immediately apparent.

This particular form of "thinking" does not represent the exercising of the little gray cells, as with Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot. Although, at our respective ages, Jean and I are certainly cognisant of the need for this form of mental therapy, and indeed we each do our share of that. Jean does crosswords (because she can spell) and I do Sudoku (because I can't spell). Blogging is also a challenging mental exercise, and between computer spell checkers and my personal one (Jean), this new internet venture also seems to be exercising the little gray cells quite admirably.

 Rodin's "The thinker"

But alas! Jean's "I've been thinking" usually portends the need for something that requires physical work - some form of action around the family homestead. Now I do admit to being something of a procrastinator, but sometimes my better half's original small thought evolves into something much greater in magnitude (which I totally suspect is some form of unjust retribution for the delay) when in reality, the delay has been because I am taking a little time to "think" through the situation, to decide the best way to tackle the latest project. After all, there is normally no urgent need for action on any particular thought, because when one is satisfied, it appears to make room all too quickly for yet another.

I remember one of the challenges I used to face as an employer in an entrepreneurial industry. There was a job jar on my desk (actually it was an imaginary one) chock full of ideas (an excellent substitute word for thoughts) to keep my key people both challenged and occupied. I believed that there is nothing worse for morale than having insufficient meaningful work to keep everyone busy, moreover, I also believed in that age old idiom that "the devil finds work for idle hands to do".

But I certainly did not anticipate that in retirement, someone might be doing the same for me.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Vancouver Island's Ice Ages

I know I said earlier that there were two processes involved in the geologic development of Vancouver Island, but there were really three, although the third is external to the earth's crust. 1. Was the volcanic activity out in the Pacific ocean, and elsewhere. 2. Was the collisions and subduction of the plates and 3. Was ice, or perhaps more correctly, the forces of ice, wind and water, as our entire continent is gradually being ground down and flattened out once again, while others are still forming.

Interestingly, one of the arguments frequently deployed by the oil and coal industry proponents who are in denial about climate change, is the undisputed fact that ice age cycles have frequently come and gone over much of the globe's surface. (This fact has of course little to do with the carbon dioxide caused, greenhouse gas effect which results to a major degree from man's carbon burning fuel activity, which has increased so dramatically since the era of the industrial revolution).

It is difficult to visualize a layer of ice so thick above our island paradise that it could be measured in kilometers, or to imagine the North American continent, with only the peaks of the mountains showing above the ice layer. Obviously these enormous ice blankets, together with the rocks that they drag across the earth's surface, and the force of the melt water as they retreat, jointly grind down, and cut through mountains. One of the other less obvious effects of ice sheets is to depress the earth's crust under their enormous weight, so that land masses would sink and rebound, above and below the sea level, which itself would rise and fall in accordance with the relative volumes of ice and water.
This glacier is on the steep slope of a mountain high above the Nisga'a highway, North of Smithers, BC.

Paleoclimatologists - there's another of these melodramatic scientific designations for you - have discovered a strangely regular pattern of glacial cycles. The timing of the cycles is apparently set by minor changes in sunlight caused by slow variations of the Earth's orbit, which is elliptical rather than circular.There have been at least 5 major ice ages in the history of the earth plus many lessor ones. The most recent cold period peaked at a glacial maximum some 20,000 years ago, when extensive ice sheets lay over large parts of the North American and Eurasian continents. (Fossil evidence indicates that homo sapiens has been around for some 200,000 years, which means that the earlier members of our species must have figured out how to keep themselves warm without the benefits of oil or coal)

So when will we return to one of these extended ice ages? Well, I don't know about you, but I'd be more inclined to worry about earthquakes, tsunamis or another volcano like Mount St Helens suddenly springing back to life... if I was the worrying type.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The traumatic origins of Vancouver Island (VI - II)

This blog will follow up on the prior one about the Pangea blob and its various moving parts:

Collisions were inevitable, and the results dramatic. Prairies were pushed, tipped, stacked, compressed and folded into mountain chains such as the Rockies and their foothills. In fact at one time our west coast was actually more or less where we now have the BC / Alberta border. From coast to coast to coast was rather less impressive distance wise in those days, eh? We are now told that the Vancouver Island we know and love, is a combination of three distinctly different fragments of the Earth's crust, which came together in stages as a result of three discrete land mass collisions.

That's one part of the story, and the other is referred to as subduction. No not seduction you dummy, but every bit as traumatic, because it results in the earth really moving... as in earthquakes. Great big ones. You see, most of BC sits on the westward moving, North American plate, whereas our little Island rests on the leading edge of the eastward moving Juan de Fuca plate... right where it slides under the N. American one. Doesn't sound at all like a really great place to live the idyllic stress-free life of an islander, does it? And this information becomes even harder to digest, when you realize that about once every 500 years or so (the scientists estimate the time lapse between major quakes to be between 200 and 1000 years, which seems rather vague to me) the friction between the two plates builds up to a point where it suddenly lets go... and we suffer a really catastrophic "big one".

Another of the snow covered mountains in the
central spine of Vancouver Island .

When is the next one due, you may well ask? Well, the last one with a magnitude of greater than 9 was in January of 1700, so your guess is as good as mine, but we may be OK for a while yet... if we keep our fingers crossed. However, we should certainly be prepared for a few smaller ones, perhaps like the 6.3 magnitude Gold River event in 2004. And lets not forget the tsunami potential. Remember Alaska's 9.2 magnitude quake in 1964, caused a wave which did considerable damage to houses and mills in down town Port Alberni. Both of these events were altogether too close for comfort.

The following website provides a record of Canadian quakes which have struck during the past decade.

I do believe it's time to go revisit my insurance agent, to re-examine the earthquake coverage specifications... before they have a chance to read these last two blogs.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Young is a relative term.

Vancouver Island is relatively young, at least in terms of the time lapsed since the big bang which created our planet some 4.45 billion years ago. Paleontologically speaking (the earth science that studies fossil organisms and related remains) our island's records date back a mere 350 million years, and geologically speaking (the science that studies the physical matter that constitutes the earth) only a total of 420 million years.

Moreover our island, which is, as you are no doubt already aware, the largest off the Pacific coast of North America, is made up of a real mixture of materials. The oldest rocks are igneous. i.e. They are volcanic in origin, and were formed during an explosion somewhere in the south-western Pacific Ocean, in a manner reminiscent of the volcanic action that resulted in the formation of the Hawaiian island chain. So what on earth are these rocks doing over here, you may well ask?.

According to such usually reliable sources as the National Geographic, Goescape Canada, and our own Capital Region Geological history reference office, that's quite a long story which will take a little more time to explain, because it involves the extraordinary, and ongoing, movements of large chunks of our planet's surface which seem to float around somewhat randomly on its white hot molten core.

Once upon a time, many many moons ago, the land masses which we now recognize as continents were joined together as one gigantic blob, which earth scientists now refer to as Pangea. This blob was actually made up of various moving sections of the earth's crust, floating on the magma, and wandering around rather casually, opening and closing gaps between the sections.

Mount Arrowsmith - Looking West from Parksville, Vancouver Island

I know... don't you just hate these "to be continued" announcesements which appear at the most exciting moment in a TV program. But I guarantee, that you won't have to wait for an entire week this time, to see how I manage to condense the geological history of the earth into another single scintillating and remarkably brief blog.

Actually, I'm going to do my damnedest to have the second half ready to post by tomorrow. The suspense is really getting to me too you know.