Sanctuary is a concept born in the minds of science fiction writers, that place forlorn vagabonds or survivors seek in exchange for miserable existence under extraordinary circumstances. Serving as a beacon of hope, a fleeting gossamer promise of returning to life as it should be. Safe, reasonable, welcoming – a hidden Shangra La amidst the chaos of brutal conflict.

In practical terms, “Sanctuary” has become the buzz word given cities dedicated to protecting the rights of migrant  or illegal immigrants. Cities like Toronto (the first Canadian city to officially declare sanctuary status in Feb. 2013) who promise access to housing and social services regardless of status. Hamilton, Ontario followed and now Vancouver has raised the possibility of a “sanctuary” designation. In essence, the sanctuary city follows a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy – don’t ask about immigration status, and don’t tell Federal immigration officials about known or suspected illegals.

It’s difficult to explain how I feel about “sanctuaries”. My gut reaction screams “danger” – we are a nation of tolerant, open minded people – why create sanctuaries promoting safe haven from the Federal government? I’ll admit bile rises ever so slightly when asking myself if this is a symptom of Stephen Harper’s Canada –  a Canada Harper forsakes in favor of playing with the “big boys”, a man intent on unraveling all that Canada stands for.

Once upon a time Canada was sanctuary. Far from perfect, not lacking injustice or shameful episodes of lunacy –  yet a sanctuary for those escaping slavery, discrimination and persecution. Canadians were different – strong, principled and accepting – a vast nation of polite, hard working citizens believing in social justice and inclusion.

I have a hard time swallowing the concept of  cities declaring themselves “sanctuary”. It’s like waking up and finding myself in a parallel universe – on the surface appearing normal, while frantically trying to convince others something is very wrong. Under the thumb of Stephen Harper our nation teeters on the brink of calamity . We all need to wake up and understand – our sanctuary didn’t require sanctuaries before he came along.


Had We Paid Attention to Frank Shuman….

“One thing I feel sure of is that the human race must finally utilize direct sun power or revert to barbarianism” – Frank Shuman (1862-1918)

Frank Shuman was an American visionary – part engineer, part inventor – a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 1897, Shuman demonstrated a “solar engine” constructed at his home. By reflecting sunlight onto cubes filled with ether, a substance with a lower boiling point than water, pipes inside the cubes created steam which powered a toy engine continuously for two years.

In 1908 he formed the Sun Power Company with the intention of building large power plants. By now his improved system of reflecting solar energy with mirrors meant water could be used instead of ether. He invented a low pressure steam turbine that processed energy 4 times faster than any turbine of the day. Patented in 1912 and featured in Scientific American magazine several times during 1911 -12, Shuman appeared to have captured imagination.

Between 1912-1913, Shuman built the worlds first solar energy plant in Meadi, Egypt. Solar powered engines pumped 6000 gallons of water per minute from the Nile river into a now fertile cotton field. Using a system of troughs, mirrored heat collectors aligned to follow the sun’s path, he concentrated solar energy into boilers capable of realizing his dream to transform the Sahara into a jewel. For several years, nary a ripple interrupted Shuman’s remarkable invention.

Financial backing from the British and German governments fanned Shuman’s plan to build a series of power plants along the Nile. Intent on challenging coal as an energy source, Shuman declared it would take only 20,250 square miles of the Sahara to provide enough energy for the entire world. The first world war squelched his dream – funding became the joke that saw his power plant demolished by the British government for scrap metal needed for munitions. Shuman dies in 1918.

Pondering Frank Shuman has me struggling with emotions. My gut reaction is sadness, followed by admiration, respect and clarity that only comes from hindsight. Shuman didn’t stand a chance against “big coal” and soon to be “big oil”. I get that yet can’t help wondering what might have been if we had paid attention to Frank Shuman.

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Crocodiles Climb Trees

In no particular order and for no particular reason – three things I learned today….

Assistant research professor Vladimir Dinets at the University of Tennessee  published a study in Herpetology Notes claiming crocodiles climb trees. Apparently four species from Africa, Australia, and North America were observed clamoring up to four meters above ground and five meters along branches. Obviously smaller reptiles able to reach higher than cumbersome old timers.

We face a national clown shortage – don’t blame “Sideshow Bob” , the writing has been on the wall for decades.

University of Illinois researchers have developed plastics that can heal themselves. Capillaries within plastics are filled with restorative chemicals. When damage occurs, these chemicals mix and fill in damaged areas.

“We have demonstrated repair of a nonliving, synthetic materials system in a way that is reminiscent of repair-by-regrowth as seen in some living systems,” – Professor Jeffry S Moore

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Godzilla Nap

Above all, movie making is business. Forget estimated return or quarterly projections – movies require high stakes rollers, nerves of steel and considerable faith on the part of those holding purse strings. A designation of “critically acclaimed” may shine on a resume, “blockbuster” delivers a pot of gold.

Blockbusters are sneaky – gross revenue over opening weekend are usually enough to stamp “winner” on the foreheads of ticket buying masses. The “masses” seem easy to feed these days – super heroes, teen fantasy angst, and lets not forget 3D. I have a big problem with 3D .

3D epitomizes the attention deficit dumbing down of society. It is the carrot responsible for turning fence sitters into ticket buyers – an undeniable pitch aimed squarely at those who can’t fathom life without technological baubles.

I knew upon purchasing a ticket to Godzilla 2014 – those 3D glasses negated the possibility of clever storytelling. I thought about 3D Godzilla back in the day – small town Saturday matinee Godzilla would have kicked ass with 3D enhancement. Brief pondering of how “big movie” ignored the memo on “everything old is not new again” or 3D was actually cool when all we had to fiddle with were rabbit ears on the old black and white television, came to a screeching halt. I couldn’t say whether the culprit was a moment of “when did you turn into such an old woman” or the relentless chirps of a woman on the screen urging the audience to download a theater app to play a fun game of movie trivia for “high score” glory.

Telling myself to lighten up, I ran Godzilla scenarios through my head. Wouldn’t it be cool if they got over themselves and made Godzilla one of Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers? It was perfect! Terrible monster meets retro cult classic. Computer generated effects and predictable 3D fluff would have been forgivable – I’ll go out on a limb and say these effects could have enhanced, maybe even embellished a little creativity.

Nobody knows who Buckaroo Banzai is, why waste energy achieving genuine accolades when all it takes is a pair of 3D glasses.  Popcorn gone I started to drift – not certain how long I napped, I know it happened somewhere between the supposed hero saving a stereotypical Japanese boy on the subway and Godzilla dispatching actual bad monsters.

Godzilla is a terrible movie. 3D for the sake of 3D is lazy, unimaginative and responsible for my nap.



Cry Space Wolf

Just because I like something doesn’t mean others have to feel the same way. If raw oysters make you hurl,  my enthusiasm will annoy long before stifling a gag reflex. Interests, like tastes are personal – not to be judged, put down, ridiculed or forced on those around us. The open minded are at least willing to dip their toe into unfamiliar waters – should those puddles fail to live up to hype, understandable rational of “I don’t see what all the fuss is about”can hardly be criticized.

Grasping this concept is one thing, letting it go at that is another.

Just once I’d like a break tossed my way. Writing about solar flares, space weather, astronomical references or meteor showers comes from a place so sincere it’s almost comical. I feel like the little Notes who cried wolf – eyes roll, patronizing little remarks “oh. that’s interesting” – I’m sick and tired of cosmic restraint.

Comet 209P/LINEAR was supposed to validate my goofy space grin. Finally, a cosmic event poised to deliver. The wettest of party pooping astronomers predicted upwards of 200 meteors an hour – cheerfully optimistic science scoundrels whispered of meteor storms. This was going to be great – in my lifetime, an unexpected cosmic slap to remind us of our neglect and woeful indifference to the universe.

So what did we get? Five to ten meteors an hour, followed by a hasty gabba gabba back talking announcement that science perhaps miscalculated the orbit and the “show” might take place in a few hours or days. Oh please! I can’t take much more of this bait and switch.

I’m not asking for promises, but sure could use a visual aid to back up my blithering enthusiasm. One can only call space wolf so many times before the audience leaves the house.

Photo Glen Wurden in Los Alamos New Mexico who managed to capture a single Camelopardalids fireball.


Free Camelopardalids Meteor Cam

My last meteor watch post sucked because the web cam I linked to only lets you watch for a minute before asking for $29.95. Hoping to rectify the situation in time – a link to Marshall Space Flight Center…

209P/LINEAR May 21, 2014 by Bareket Obs

209P/LINEAR – May 21, 2014 by Bareket Observatory, Israel