Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category


Chris Hadfield: the superstar astronaut taking social media by storm

23 February 2013

Related to the post I made earlier about NASA’s Google+ Hangout with astronauts: one of those who participated live was veteran space-goer Chris Hadfield.


Chris Hadfield, Space Oddity.

A Guardian article describes how Chris has become a social media superstar over the last few weeks with the help of his sons.

In a deliberate campaign to take Earth by storm, Hadfield harnessed the power of social media to inspire the sort of interest in space exploration that NASA and other agencies have been trying to attract for more than a decade. In the process, he is on the way to becoming a breakthrough star in his own right, the first internationally recognisable astronaut since the grainy black and white television images made Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the original Apollo astronauts into superstars.


Toronto teens send Lego man into space

27 January 2012

A great tribute to DIY science: two Canadian teenagers designed a balloon with cameras that ascended into the fringes of the atmosphere, recording cool images and then plummeting back to Earth. That link has a great video summary.


Claude Hay and Matt Andersen live at the Brass Monkey

11 December 2011

We got an early Christmas present from my mom, who tipped us off to the fact that Canadian blues guitar wizard Matt Andersen was touring Australia. So last Thursday we took the train down to Cronulla’s Brass Monkey to see him.

It’s a co-headlining tour of two stringed-instrument masters. First up was Claude Hay. First impressions were of a stereotypical Blue Mountains muso: tattooed, semi-hippy, happy, and multi-instrumentalist.

Second impressions: a fantastic Louisiana-blues-based one-man-band. Hay played a twin guitar (lead and bass) he made himself, and a tricked-out sitar. He utilised a loop machine to lay down his own backing tracks, then jammed over top. His kick-drum and kazoo and bongo rounded things out. I thought he was fantastic.

With only a few moment’s changeover Andersen got on stage. First impressions: my god, that is a huge man.

Second impressions: wow, that guy is an amazing guitarist and singer. He sits and plays his acoustic six-string alone, with no other accompaniment. There are no effects pedals or backing tracks, just his fretwork frenzy and his massive blues howl. The songs are, to be fair, pretty ordinary, both lyrically and melodically. But the power of the voice from the man, who must be 180 kg, and the speed and passion from the fingers on the strings, are pretty damn impressive.

We’re going to go see Hay and Andersen again next weekend when they play at the Beaches Hotel in Thirroul down the coast. Thanks, mom!


Dead Letter Chorus loves Canada (and Canada loves them back)

29 June 2010

It’s an Australian-Canadian love connection.

Some months ago Sydney band Dead Letter Chorus left warm Australia to do a chilly 6-week tour of Canada. Apparently they had a very good time. They met some local bands and wrote some songs for their next album, including one called “Covered By Snow” (you can hear it on their MySpace page). Hmm, not seeing the Canadian connection at all.

I heard some DLC tunes when I first moved here last year and liked them a lot. I caught them live at the Newtown Festival, but didn’t think their sound fit in well with the rest of the acts that day (plus, it was raining). I’d like to see them live in a more appropriate venue.

DLC are back in Oz now. But they had such a good time in the Maritimes, in my home province of Nova Scotia, and especially the northern city also named Sydney, that there’s a “Sydney-to-Sydney” exchange going on. Their Canadian touring partners, Two Hours Traffic, and Nova Scotian songwriter Carmen Townsend, are Down Under to return the favour. Isn’t that excellent?

I learned about this when I heard Townsend guesting on fbi radio‘s Tuesday noon cover-version show, Tune Up. It was a great setlist, mostly picked – and played – by Townsend.

(1) Rheostatics – The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald (Gordon Lightfoot) [Ed.: EPIC!]
(2) Carmen Townsend – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
(3) Thom Yorke – After The Goldrush (Neil Young)
(4) The White Stripes – Jolene (Dolly Parton)
(5) Fiona Apple – Across The Universe (The Beatles)
(6) Carmen Townsend – Nothing Compares 2 U (written by Prince, popularized by Sinead O’Connor) LIVE AT FBI
(7) Bjork and PJ Harvey – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones)
(8) Ray Charles – Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles)
(9) Jason Walker – I Wish I Were Blind (Bruce Springsteen)
(10) Carmen Townsend – Stolen Car (Rheostatics) LIVE AT FBI
(11) The Weakerthans – Bad Time To Be Poor (Rheostatics)

Because of all of the above I’m feeling much love for the country of my birth (Canada) and my country of residence (Australia). Isn’t it nice when we all get along?

There are a couple of tour dates left: you can see them here.


Holy Fuck – Latin

4 June 2010

A few years back I saw Canadian electro guys Holy Fuck support !!!. They’ve got a new album out, called Latin, and I like it. It’s good dance music, but with prog sensibilities. Just because your bass line has a good groove doesn’t mean you can’t put complex, engaging sounds on top.

Check out some of the songs from Latin on their MySpace page, or check out these recent live snippets from the band.



15 April 2010

When I announced my intention to move to Australia it began: people warning me – as if I didn’t know – about all the deadly animals that exist here. You’d have thought that blue-ringed octopi were waiting around every street corner, the way people expressed their trepidation.

The fact is that Aussies take it all in stride. They’ve grown up knowing about these beasts. Most of these animals are extremely rare, or – like box jellyfish or saltwater crocodiles – usually easily avoided. Some, like the redback spider, aren’t all that dangerous: no one’s died from a redback in decades because of antivenin availability.

I’ve been amused to find, though, that several Aussies who have pooh-poohed concerns about these animals say to me, “Yeah, but you grew up in a country that has bears.” The thought of coming across a bear in the woods genuinely scares some people here, including a guy I know who has bow-hunted massive wild pigs.

And so the shoe was on the other foot. I probably saw more bears growing up than most people would; I think I’ve spotted about 4 or 5 in the wild. All of them walked or ran away as soon as they spotted me. Most Canadians would never see a wild bear. They don’t scare me at all, though I’m smart enough not to try to approach one, either. I know the old “they’re more scared of you blah blah” holds true. I don’t know anyone who was ever mauled by a bear.

And that got me thinking – and reading – about bears.

  • Australians are not the norm for lacking bears on their continent. The big hairy fellas are pretty widespread, and live everywhere except here, Africa, and Antarctica.
  • Despite being so widespread, there are only 8 species of bears in the world today: the Giant Panda, the Spectacled Bear (the only one in South America), the Brown Bear (which includes grizzlies), the Polar Bear, the American Black Bear (the kind I grew up around), the Asian Black Bear, the Sloth Bear, and the Sun Bear (the last three all found in Asia).
  • Bears have a better sense of smell than dogs.
  • Bears are the most massive land-dwelling members of the carnivore family, although most eat a varied diet of meat and plants.
  • Sure, almost all bears – being massive, and having claws – can seriously harm you. But they rarely do. In the two decades from 1980 to 2000, Yellowstone National Park saw only 2 people injured due to grizzly bears.
  • Despite having four legs, bears can quite readily stand and sit up, much like humans do.
  • The closest animal relatives of bears are seals.
  • There are something close to 400,000 black bears in Canada. There are about twice as many black bears in the world as there are all other species of bear combined.
  • Like many animals, they have more to fear from us than we do from them. Some Asian cultures prize bear organs for their purported medicinal properties.

Black Bears. Photo from Douglas Brown via Creative Commons license


Bruce Peninsula

19 February 2010

The radio stations I’m listening to here seem to play their fair share of Canadian music. I caught a song called “Crabapples” the other morning by an act called bruce peninsula. It was great, with a gritty sound, and clap-along choir choruses. A bit Arcade Fire, a bit of The Polyphonic Spree. There’s also some Afrobeat going on in some of the songs, which I think is supercool. Here’s their MySpace: have a listen.

Bruce Peninsula photo from Flare via Creative Commons license


Silver Dart replica makes five flights

23 February 2009

Everyone knows the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane in late 1903.

A lesser-known aeronautical fact – outside of the Great White North, at least – is that an early plane called The Silver Dart made Canada’s (and the British Empire’s) first powered flight on 23 February 1909.

A Canadian astronaut made some practice flights on a replica of the Dart on the weekend in anticipation of a 100th anniversary celebration today. From the Globe & Mail:

Conditions were perfect as Bjarni Tryggvason climbed into the fragile bird-like biplane and made five separate flights over a 1,000-metre runway on the ice-covered lake.

Leanne Beddow, a spokeswoman for the centennial celebration, said another flight will go ahead as planned on the actual anniversary Monday, weather permitting.

Environment Canada was forecasting snow, ice pellets, rain and high winds for the area, but Ms. Beddow said ceremonies would proceed as planned, including flypasses by military planes and another flight of the replica late in the morning.

“The Silver Dart is actually the most likely to fly out of all of them because it doesn’t need a very high ceiling,” Ms. Beddow said of the potential for poor weather.

“It only needs to get off the ground 20 feet.”

Thanks to Dan for the story.

Original 1909 Silver Dart

Original 1909 Silver Dart


Canada falling behind in science funding

31 January 2009

Science funding is getting its share of the American economic stimulus package, despite the Republicans’ efforts. Yay!

It’s a very different story in the nation of my birth, though. Boo! Federal science grants are being reduced and focused by the Conservative government there. Genome Canada, which has put Canada on the genetic research map, lacks funds.

Luckily, Canadian media seems to be highlighting this as a problem: those last two Nature blog posts contain links to stories in the Globe & Mail and on the CBC.


Oh, Canada

26 July 2008

In an hour I leave the house to go back to Canada and see family for 10 days. I will be blogging less. I will relax and have a good time.


Bay of Fundy blog

9 July 2008

My Joggins Fossil Cliffs post yesterday reminded me of a blog from back home that my brothers told me about: Bay of Fundy blog.

Blogger Terri McCulloch decided that the amazing area where she lives – and where I grew up – deserved a little more web attention. Her blog about it is really good, and is gaining a lot of attention and acclaim. In the last couple of months she’s covered diverse but unique regional topics: how to cook marsh greens, the Not Since Moses race across the ocean floor, garden tours in one of the first North American settlements by Europeans, whale watching and dead whale disposal, where to spend your Canada Day, a recipe for blueberry lavender scones, new restaurants, lighthouses, and suggested driving routes.

I think a blog like this has great potential as a regional-reader shared experience, and as a well-presented tourist guide. Anyone looking for a summer holiday in North America should give some serious thought to the maritime provinces of Canada, and anyone visiting the Maritimes should definitely use Terri’s blog to have some fun in the Bay of Funday area.

Check out the pictures of the Bay that people have put on Flickr.


Happy birthday, Canada!

1 July 2008

July 1st is Canada Day. I was born a Canadian and – despite whatever other citizenships I might pick up along the way – will remain one until the day I die. Wish my country happy birthday!

If you’re not sure what defines Canada, well, civic pride group The Dominion Institute has done the legwork. They’ve surveyed some Canadians and come up with a list of 101 people, places, things, events, and accomplishments that define Canada (PDF file). The actual list shows up on page 5 of that document and, I have to say, I pretty much agree with it. It’s obviously reductionist to distill an entire nation, especially one so vast and multicultural, to a few phrases; nonetheless, they’ve done a pretty good job of their reduction. The only one that had me scratching my head was the very last one, #101.

Image from gruntzooki via Creative Commons license


Super snow

31 December 2007

I may have overdone it on the snowy winter praise. We’re now in line for 25cm of the white stuff, and we need to drive back to the airport to leave for London today. We’re leaving early to make it in lots of time.



29 December 2007

I’m really enjoying this winter holiday home. It’s snowing again. I’ve had to scrape ice off the car, shovel, drive in snow and ice, and brush it off my clothes and hair. It’s great to feel like a proper Canadian. It’s also great to just do it one week a year.


My vacation continues

27 December 2007

This continues to be a very relaxing holiday. It’s nothing but food, drink, and family. We’re getting a bit of rain and ice today, which makes it proper Canadian Christmastime. I feel happy and calm and well-fed. All is good.



23 December 2007

We’ve been back in Nova Scotia since yesterday afternoon. It’s nice and relaxing and Christmas-y here.


Well, crap

12 November 2007

We’re flying to Canada for Christmas. I was a frequent enough flyer on Air Canada last year that I get some upgrade certificates. I was planning to use them on that holiday flight, to ensure a good sleep on our overnight return.

Well, I wasn’t thinking about those details when I booked the tickets, and went for the cheapest price I could get. Our seats are in a price class in which I can’t use the upgrade certificates, and the tickets aren’t changeable. Bollocks.



18 October 2007

I am an engineer. Like most engineers, I’m proud of my technical-yet-practical education (even if I get to use it less and less these days).

The funny thing about being an engineer from Canada, though, is the Iron Ring. For the non-Canucks, this is a small ring worn on the pinkie finger by Canadian engineering graduates. It’s part of a ceremony, and a reminder of the obligations engineers have to their community and their profession.
What it means in practice is that you can identify a Canadian engineer just by looking at them. This happened to me at work just the other day: I was speaking to a guy here in the UK on assignment from Canada, and he spotted it right off. It’s always been a bit odd, but also a bit self-satisfying, knowing that your fellow citizens know your profession just by looking at you.

Of course, the ring is a pure babe magnet back in Canada, too.


Ranting and roaring

22 August 2007

Last night was about as Canadian as it gets. If you’re from the east coast, anyway.  It was a Great Big Sea gig.

Great Big SeaSWMNBN, PC, the She-Aussie and I went to the tiny Borderline club off Charing Cross Road (yes, you huddled Canadian masses, I know what you’re thinking: the very same road mentioned in that great folk-rock singalong song “Home For a Rest” by Spirit of the West). The opening act was Halifax-based Jill Barber, a girl with a guitar, a sweet voice, and some pleasant songs. She sounded nice, but at least one upbeat song would have been nice.

Great Big Sea came on a bit early, much to the joy of the 250-person full house. What they did next was no surprise at all: they played every hit and then some. They charmed the crowd (a significant number of whom were from Canada, naturally) with their laid-back Newfie humour. They smiled and laughed and jumped about and led us all in singalongs.

The crowd loved “Run Runaway”, “Mari-Mac”, “Donkey Riding”, “Sea of No Cares” and “Helmethead”. My favourites were “Excursion Around the Bay”, “The Old Black Rum”, “The Night Pat Murphy Died”, “The River Driver” and “Scolding Wife” (heh).

They even played us a couple of brand new songs that they say they hope to record next month for their new album. I thought that these sounded pretty good, to be honest.

It was extremely hot in the bar, but most folks didn’t mind too much. It felt friendly and fun in there, and we all sang along when we could to show it. It was as Canadian as I’ve felt in a while.


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