Chris Hadfield: the superstar astronaut taking social media by storm

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.

Claude Hay and Matt Andersen live at the Brass Monkey

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 wasClaude 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)

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 songwriterCarmen 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

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.


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

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

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

Canada falling behind in science funding

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.