Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gros Morne National Park

Newfoundland and Labrador has had a really crackerjack tourism ad campaign for a year or so now, comprised of some outstanding television ads, but a recent ad in the series has really caught my attention. It was the colours that I noticed first - the videographer makes barrens, lichen and pond scum look absolutely hypnotic. (Unfortunately the Youtube video below isn't nearly as sharp, nor the colours as deep, as the tv ads.) I went to the website and wasn't really surprised to discover the entire ad was shot in and around Gros Morne National Park, on the tip of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula, a jewel that really has to be seen with one's own eyes to be appreciated. The whole landscape is so primeval - at moments you feel as if you've been transported back in time millions of years.

This is where the Vikings first discovered the New World, and you can walk among the remnants of the earliest known European settlement in North or South America. I've only been able to visit this part of Newfoundland once, but I still long to return.



Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's Earth Hour

We're in the dark! (Except for the laptop. It's a good thing I learned touch-typing eleventy-seven years ago.)


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Earth Hour happens this Saturday

Earth Hour was initiated by the Australian World Wildlife Fund in 2007. Essentially, they asked Australians to turn off their lights for one hour, from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, on the last Saturday in March.

The idea spread and individuals, cities, and organizations around the globe signed up to take part in 2008.

It's almost entirely symbolic - lights actually use up relatively little energy. It's more, as the official site describes it, "a vote for the earth". I think of it as a single time when people and communities who are concerned about climate change can sort of publically announce so. But as the Canadian science journalist quoted in that CBC story notes, "Earth Hour also demonstrate[s] how dealing with climate change is really going to happen: from the ground up". It's how you try to live your life the other 8,765 hours of the year that count.

We took part last year and will do so again this year. And you can, too, if you choose - just turn off all your lights from 8:30 to 9:30 pm local time. Some people take the opportunity to "unplug" nearly completely, turning off TVs and cellphones and computers. One person in a comments thread said his family unplugs during this hour and spends the time walking around the neighbourhood together.

I'm not quite that noble. They'll pry my wireless internet connection from my cold, dead hands. But turning off the lights and thinking that you're part of a thing bigger than yourself is kind of cool.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"A new, year-old, ABC Family original (made by someone else in a foreign country) series"

If you've been watching ABC lately, you will probably have seen one of their promos for "a new ABC Family Original Program", Sophie. I'd link to the main ABC Sophie website, except that they've instituted the excreable practice of having the same promos - very loud promos - start playing automatically when you load the page. So I'll link to one of the sub-sites.


Which is confusing me, since the series is in its second season on CBC and I've been watching it sporadically for more than a year. (Here's the CBC Sophie page.)

I'm trying to understand this within a framework that doesn't involve a) time travel or b) ABC flat-out lying. But I'm not having any success.


Monday, March 23, 2009

The other side of the story.

Husband and I both work in fields where it's not uncommon (though usually unwelcome) to find issues relating directly to our work on the front page of the newspapers. (In fact, on Saturday when we buy the paper to read with breakfast, one of us will inevitably ask, "Who's on the front page today? You or me?")

What's particularly frustrating is that you often know background information or facts that significantly mitigate or respond to the critical picture of your department painted in the article, but protocol and privacy laws (if the article concerns a disgruntled client) mean that information will never be shared in a follow-up story; your Minister or an official may make a brief explanatory statement, but the picture painted in the initial article is the one the public is left with. The narrative has been created.

So I found this article in the Washington Post about life inside AIG particularly interesting. It was published on March 19, back when the bonuses were still being referred to in media as "performance bonuses"; this was the first article I'd read that explained that they were retention bonuses, and that lower-level employees get them too. That genuinely surprised me.

The article still doesn't excuse AIG's greed, bad management, or stupidity in thinking it could just carry on with business as usual; but it is an extremely rare chance in a climate where the narrative has been writ large to at least hear the other guy's side of the story.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

The sea claims 17 more. [Updated]

I haven't blogged about it before, but the whole country has been following the story of a Sikorsky S-92 transport helicopter carrying 16 oil rig workers and two crew members which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean 55km off the coast of Newfoundland Thursday morning.

News unfolds fast in this internet age. Thursday morning there was a report of the crash; then, a report - which turned out to be wrong - that two survivors had been found. Then a press conference on Thursday noon that confirmed one survivor had been rescued and one body (which would turn out to be a young woman) recovered. All the workers were wearing survival suits, we were told - after the Ocean Ranger disaster, Newfoundlanders became very educated about such things. The suits protect against hypothermia for some time, are flotation devices, and have individual radio locater beacons. So there was much cause for hope.

Until the Thursday late-afternoon press conference, where the visibly shaken team from Cougar Helicopters (the transport company), the Search and Rescue unit, the Transportation Safety Board, and a few other assorted officials confirmed that no signals were being received from any of the 16 remaining survival suits' individual location beacons, although they "[could not] speculate on why they wouldn't have worked" despite repeated press questions.

My heart sank to my toes. As I said, Newfoundland is an oil province, and ever since the Ranger disaster the press is full of information about survival suits, and helicopter flotation devices, and rig escape pods, and the rest of it. And there was only one reason I could think of why there would be no signals from any of 16 survival suits.

Barring some bizarre collective failure, they were too deep to be located.

And since the survival suits are, by definition, flotation suits, that meant the other 16 people were still in the helicopter.

They continued with the search and rescue effort all Friday, and put a brave face on it. At Friday noon they reported that two life-rafts which had been found turned out to be empty. The Friday late-afternoon press conference said that the search was being called off because the 24-hour survivability window for someone in such a suit in these weather conditions had been well surpassed. Nobody publicly said the unthinkable.

Today they reported that they've found the helicopter. It's largely intact except for a piece of the tail, which has broken off but is near the fuselage. Now they will raise the copter, and Mike Cunningham, of the Transportation Safety Board, is quoted as saying "that once the fuselage is recovered, the team will 'very respectfully' remove the bodies from the fuselage". It was, I believe, the first public confirmation of what had been wrenchingly discussed on NL forums and comments threads for two days.

The names of 12 of the 17 lost have been released (the name of the survivor was released on Thursday), and I was only a little surprised to learn that I had known one of them quite well as a teenager, some twenty-odd years ago. We're such a little population, on an island, and everybody is somebody's cousin or friend or acquaintance. I haven't seen him since all those years ago, so it's not a personal loss, although saddening, but a reminder of how interconnected we all are there. And the whole episode is a reminder to me of how connected I still feel to that place. What it does mean is that a lot of people who were close to these people are hurting tonight.

I couldn't help thinking about a poem written by Greg Tiller of Mount Pearl, just outside St. John's, which became very well-known in Newfoundland after Tiller died in the Ocean Ranger disaster. A lot of people marveled at the chilling sentiment in Tiller's poem, which many felt foreshadowed the disaster that claimed the young author's life.


Huge Iron Island.
37 stories high, two city blocks square,
impervious to the attacks of an indignant sea…
Our mutton-headed people trail behind this pied-piper,
bickering over the loose change falling through the holes in his pockets.
Mother Earth created us, raised us, taught us, sheltered us
and this is how we repay her.
Beware, she shall have her revenge.

- Greg Tiller

Very sad tonight.

UPDATE: Thanks to the brave Search and Recovery teams who made repeated dives in an underwater remote vehicle, they've recovered all the other 16 bodies, which were found in the helicopter. In this disaster at sea - unusual for disasters-at-sea - at least all the families will know the physical final resting place of their loved ones.

What bitter little comforts life hands us sometimes.



Friday, March 13, 2009

Mojo's Star Turn

I discovered this old newspaper clipping today and scanned it.

I've absolutely no idea how old it is. Must be nearly 8 years since the Moj is identified as being 2 years old and he'll be 10 in May. It's completely yellowed with age now, as you can see.

We were walking the cats on their leashes in Odell Park one summer day and were approached by a photographer out looking for local colour shots for the Telegraph-Journal.

Well, we're affable people and great supporters of the local press so we were willing to oblige. The photographer took several snaps and the next day this one ran. If you click on the (large) full-sized version, you can read the caption below the picture.

Mojo managed to look very determined and stalk-y, the very James Bond of cats. If only he didn't have that leash with the damned human at the end.



Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Engineer's Guide to Cats

Hat tip to Sherwood Harrington, who passed along the following video (which is full of Win! and Awesome!) which he discovered via Theriomorph's blog.

Corporal cuddling will be immediately adopted as firm Casa Ronniecat policy.



Thursday, March 05, 2009

This Just In: God is a cat

I always suspected as much.

And cats - obviously they've known for some time now.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Sorry to wakes you, but...

funny pictures of cats with captions


Sunday, March 01, 2009


While I was in Newfoundland dodging weather systems, the biggest single snowstorm in a generation hit southern New Brunswick, dumping 40cm of snow on Fredericton.

Husband sent me cellphone photos of our nearly-unrecognizable street while I sat, slack-jawed, wondering if anything was ever going to be back to normal.

He's a very good Husband, so he dug the car out from under that enormous mess so that he could pick me up at the airport. This is what Kate the Cruiser looked like on rollout.

Our tiny backyard, bound on all four sides by fences or structures, is literally full of shoulder-deep snow. It's so high we can't quite figure out how to start shoveling it.

We didn't get sidewalks until Thursday. That was a problem because between the downtown workers who use our street for day-parking and the snowbanks, we're down to one lane of traffic - which we pedestrians were sharing with morning auto commuters.

So from Friday to today, things were relatively normal. Tonight? There's another weather warning. And more snow on the way.

All this bodes very poorly for the upcoming flood season.