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Lost In Space

It was the middle of February 2020, just before COVID-19 changed everything. My husband, daughter and I were at a luau in Hawaii, celebrating my daughter’s birthday.

Just after the outdoor show began, an hour or so past sunset, somebody at our table pointed to the western horizon. “Look at that!” Flying low in the sky was a series of lights in a straight line. There were maybe 10 or 12 of them. We’d never seen anything like it. Were they birds? Were they shooting stars? Was it the second coming? What the heck??

We asked some of the hotel staff “Have you ever seen this before?” No, they all answered. We watched until the string of lights slowly drifted out of sight.

The next day our astronomer friend, who was also visiting Hawaii at the time, gave us the explanation. Only a few days before, SpaceX had launched 60 Starlink satellites. What we saw were a few of them still following each other in the same orbit. Eventually, they would drift apart and orbit on their own.

When I think of it now, it seemed like a strange omen. We didn’t realize then that this would be our last trip for a very long time.

Just the other day, May 4th, known as “Star Wars Day”, SpaceX launched another 60 Starlink satellites. A string of them were visible in the night sky here on Vancouver Island for a short time.

There are roughly 6000 satellites orbiting around our little blue planet at this time, with more coming. Some of these satellites are not even operational. Space junk.

They float along with lots of other bits and pieces like old bolts, equipment fragments, fuel sludge and paint chips that have been orbiting for years. One of the main concerns is the possibility of collisions with important working satellites.

The International Space Station is constantly adjusting direction in order to avoid this space junk. At a high velocity, even the smallest bit can do great damage.

Environmental issues, it seems, are not just confined within our atmosphere. Believe it or not, there are “space debris experts” out there trying to sound the alarm and to come up with ways to safely remove space junk before something catastrophic happens.

Why, at the very moment of this writing, there is a 10-story, 23-ton piece of rocket about to crash to earth, with no one knowing for sure where it might end up. Alert the “space debris experts.”

It could splash harmlessly into the ocean, but it could also smash into a populated area. Some of it will burn up on re-entry, but not all 23 tons of it.

Back in 1969, I remember watching the blurry image of the first step onto the moon. I was at my best friend Shirley’s house and we watched this incredible event on her black and white TV. “The Eagle has landed.” Looking at the moon that night, I was amazed to think that people were actually up there walking on it.

Now we’ve got NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance roaming the red planet, looking for past signs of life. The technological advances in space exploration have been astounding, and we keep learning more and more, not only about our solar system, but also about our home, the earth.

And, as my astronomer friend would point out, a lot of that technology and research has also benefited us as individuals too.

Duck! Just figure out a way to get rid of all of that space junk, will ya?

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Electric Avenue

When I was quite small, the family car, an old 1938 Chrysler, finally gave up the ghost, and we went for 4 years without a vehicle. New cars were expensive and my Dad, a bus driver, had a mortgage to pay and not much else left over after that. We pretty much walked or took the bus everywhere we needed to for those four years.

Finally, around about 1966, my Dad bought one of the first Toyota Corolla’s in Canada. It cost him $2298.00. And, as he recollected in his memoirs, that was with a radio included!

One of our first road trips with the new car was a drive to the BC interior. Whenever we stopped for gas, the gas attendant would stare up and down the car in wonder. The Toyota looked nothing like the North American vehicles everyone was used to at the time.

Dad loved that car and drove it for many years.

Fast forward to last year, February 2020, when my daughter became the first in our family…well, the first of anybody we know, actually, to get an electric car. She’s had her red Hyundai Kona for almost a year now, and it’s been a learning experience, but not a difficult one.

With the recent announcements by GM that they will be building electric vans at their plant in southern Ontario, and President Biden revoking the Keystone XL Pipeline permit, there is a feeling of change in the air. Literally, I suppose.

Gas vehicles won’t disappear overnight, of course. And hybrid vehicles will help the transition for many. But more and more people are lining up to buy electric vehicles these days.

Still, change can be slow. One of the concerns many people have is the number of charging stations across the country, and the other is the length of time it takes to charge, even for a fast charge. More and more infrastructure is being built across Canada, with many gas stations also providing EV charging stations now, but it’s a process. And you won’t find EV charging stations yet in many smaller communities.

Charging up certainly isn’t quite as quick as gassing up. While she was waiting for her Kona to arrive, my daughter plotted out where all of the charging stations were in and around the city and on the Pat Bay Highway. Then it came down to figuring out how to use that charging time effectively. Like plugging into an EV stall at the mall and getting her grocery shopping done at the same time.

When she comes to visit us, she plugs her car into a regular outlet outside the house. In an 8 or 9 hour visit, she can only get a 10-15% charge. As an example, she uses that much charge just driving to and from work for one shift out at Swartz Bay.

At the mall, with what is called a Level 2 charge, she can get the same charge in about 2 hours. With a Level 3 charge, it’s two or three times faster than that. Of course, that all depends on the size of the battery too.

Me, well I still have my 2004 Mustang GT convertible. It’s a gas guzzler, but it’s pretty nice. I love to put the top down. When it isn’t raining, that is. And it has a V8 engine, so you can hear me coming from many blocks away.

Ford came out with an electric vehicle called the Mustang Mach-E but it looks nothing like a Mustang to me. So I have refused to purchase it, in protest. If they ever make an electric Mustang that looks like a Mustang, I’ll be first in line.

I don’t drive a lot. I work from home, so typically, I get in the car once or twice a week, if that. Some might say I don’t even need a car considering how little I drive. But I can’t let go of my Mustang. Don’t make me!

The car also has to be plugged in when I’m not using it. Just like a lot of muscle cars, the battery drains when it’s sitting there for too long. So I have a battery maintainer that I attach to it to keep the battery charged.

In which case, I guess you could say I DO have an electric vehicle, no?

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October Storm

One day last week, I was in my basement studio finishing up a lesson with a guitar student. He started to pack his guitar in its case when POW!! There was a huge bang and the lights went out.

The wind had been blowing pretty fiercely all morning, so the power outage wasn’t really a surprise. But when we both walked outside, I could see that this was more than a blown transformer. The power lines to our house were almost touching the ground and the thingamajig holding those power lines to the side of the house was ripped right off the exterior wall. Oh, oh.

I texted my husband who had been working from home but who had gone in to the office to work that day. No response.

I looked for the number for BC Hydro and called them instead. I reported the issue and hoped for the best.

When I looked out and down the street, I could see lots of neighbours coming out of their houses, and I realized that this was a whole chain of events affecting us all. Just down the street, another power pole had snapped right in half and was hanging precariously above the street by the wires. The domino effect had yanked the power lines all the way up to our house, which caused the whatsit to rip off the house.

Someone had called the fire department and a couple of trucks responded. Firemen began to block off the roads, and I knew this wasn’t going to be over anytime soon. Using my phone, I emailed all of my students for that day and cancelled their lessons.

Having lived in the same house for 32 years, I can count on one hand the number of times that we’ve had power outages. It’s been many years, in fact, since the last one. I know that people living in rural communities or on the smaller islands go through this all the time, especially during our winter storm season, but I felt like a kind of a newbie at this. What do I do?

It was almost lunch time, but I didn’t want to open the fridge. I foraged for anything that I could find in the cupboards. I decided it was a good time to start gathering candles and flashlights, even though it was the middle of the day.

I went outside again to survey the situation and saw a young firefighter at the corner.

“I guess I get an extra long weekend!” I laughed. “I like your attitude!” he smiled. From our short conversation I found out that it was going to take at least 6 hours to get this mess straightened out. I went back inside.

A short time later a very friendly BC Hydro guy knocked on the door, and with a big grin he told me that because the whats-a-ma-call-it was ripped from the house, I was going to have to call an electrician to repair that before BC Hydro could repair the line. An electrician! I panicked. I called my husband again and was finally able to get through to tell him what happened.

He took it upon himself to get a hold of an electrician who could respond quickly.

My phone was about to run out of power. I got a text message from my phone provider that I had already used up half of my data for the month. And it was only day 2 of the cycle.

I have a battery booster that I bought for my car when it had a battery leak that my mechanic couldn’t figure out. Fortunately, the booster was fully charged, so I brought it upstairs from the basement. It has a USB connector and one of those cigarette lighter chargers, so I managed to find plugs and cables to plug in my phone and a couple of other battery packs. I was even able to plug my laptop in so I could do a little work.

I was feeling pretty good about my resourcefulness. The electricians showed up and set about fixing things. And then they handed me the bill. Gulp. More than thirteen hundred dollars.

The stormy day dragged on and BC Hydro worked continuously up and down the street repairing the wires and putting in a new power pole where the old one had snapped. It grew darker in the house so I lit up the candles. My husband brought home some fast food for dinner and we ate by candlelight. We took turns using the battery booster to charge things up.

Every now and then I would pop outside and look down the street where most of the work was being done. There were fewer and fewer trucks. Part of me worried that they’d just give up and go home for the evening. But they didn’t.

At 8:25pm, almost nine and a half hours after the power went out, the lights came back on. Sigh.

Thinking about the whole event, I decided to take note of what I had learned from the experience.

  1. I can be pretty resourceful when I have to be.
  2. There are never enough candles. Or flashlights. Or battery packs.
  3. When a BC Hydro guy comes knocking at your door with a big grin on his face, it isn’t necessarily a good sign.
  4. That whatsit thingamajig that holds your power lines against your house is actually called a mast.
  5. The character trait that serves you best in a situation such as this is called a sense of humour.
  6. The firefighters, electricians and Hydro people out there working for hours and hours in miserable conditions to get things up and running, are real pros. Thank goodness for them.
  7. When you don’t want to open the fridge for the white, you can always open a bottle of red.
  8. I’m nowhere near prepared for the Big One.
  9. Because, you know, it’s 2020.

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Home Invasion – A Bug Story

I skipped my usual weekly Zoom meeting with my friends the other night because I had to catch the flies in my kitchen.

You might think I’m kidding. But if I don’t catch them in my special way, someone in my house will pull out that disgusting bug repellent and spray it everywhere with reckless abandon. I hate bug spray. Mostly, I hate seeing bugs and flies squirming on the floors and counters as a result of it. So I’m a capture-and-release kind of gal.

We had the doors open the other day for hours as we sat outside with some friends celebrating Canada Day, and I guess that’s when the flies took up residence. And apparently, all the rain that we’ve been experiencing lately also brings out more flies. There were literally dozens of them in the house, although we didn’t really didn’t notice how many right away.

So last night, I pulled out the old cup and piece of cardboard, and one by one I captured them and released them outdoors. I accidentally beheaded one, much to my regret, but the rest, maybe 30 of them, got out alive. Lucky for them. Someone in my house would not have had the patience.

I even have one of those spider catchers. It is basically a brush with a long handle that opens and closes on the spider without harming it so you can safely move it outside. Brilliant invention.

This time of year, especially when we are outdoors more, we come face to face with all sorts of creepy crawlers. When I’m working in the garden, I see a lot of them; worms and beetles, fleas and flies and ants. And yes, I will do my best to avoid killing them. I will put them to the side or brush them away from wherever I’m working so that I don’t smush them.

When I’m out for a walk, if I see them, I will avoid any ants crawling along the sidewalk. I’m sure that the sight of a 60-something year old woman springing sideways off the sidewalk just to avoid an ant must be a curious, if not bizarre vision.

To someone in my house, these are not just ants, they are antagonists and must be quickly and mercilessly destroyed. I’ve tripped over traps and slipped on newly sprayed floors many times over the years. And I’ve cleaned up many carcasses. Yuk. It doesn’t help matters much that I have a hummingbird feeder right outside the kitchen door, because the feeder actually leaks a lot. Ants like that. They hang around, drink up the spilled nectar, and then an army of them find their way inside the house.

I am not an ant lover, don’t get me wrong. They are bugs. It’s no accident that the dictionary defines “bug” as both an insect and an annoyance. Not only do they bother us, sometimes they even cause damage. There’s nothing worse than an infestation of carpenter ants, chewing away at the wood frame of your home. And I don’t want to find beetles in my lettuce, or fruit flies in my glass of pinot grigio.

The answer to the invasion of the ants, I have discovered, is vinegar. They hate vinegar and will do everything to avoid it. So you get your spray bottle and spray vinegar anywhere ants accumulate, and that keeps them away. This will be my new plan of action.

Which will hopefully please someone in my house.

Got Any Ideas?

Once upon a time many years ago, I worked at our local television station here in Victoria, CHEK TV.  I worked in the traffic department and occasionally I would fill in at the reception desk, direct people as they came into the station and answer the phone, as receptionists do.

Now a TV station tends to be a bit of a magnet for, shall we say, borderline lunatics.  Everybody’s got a beef or an idea.  Beefs could be anything from an annoyed person complaining that their neighbour had knocked down a tree, to more serious complaints about local politicians or organizations.  The people with beefs would be directed to or given a contact number for the news department.  Other members of the public had ideas for television shows.  Most of them were under the impression that you could just walk in and introduce your idea and BANG!  The station would spend thousand of dollars to produce your amazing show.  The people with ideas would be directed to someone in the production department.

And then there were those who you just couldn’t place.  For instance, one day when I was filling in at reception, a rather scraggly fellow with a bit of a scary look in his eyes came in and wanted, or should I say demanded, to talk to someone in the news department.  You see, he had a brilliant idea.  He had it written down and everything and he handed me a dirty, crumpled piece of paper that described it to a tee.  His idea was inspired by the fact that we needed to grow more food and feed more people in the poorest countries of the world.  It was easily solved, he said, if we took everyone’s poop and shipped it to the Arabian desert where it could be cultivated into the sand to make the desert into arable land.

That was his idea.  He was pretty excited about it, and while I quietly wondered whether I should call the cops, he stood with his crumpled diagram and explained it all to me quite thoroughly.  I finally realized the only way I was going to please him was if I took his diagram and told him that I would immediately pass it on to the news department.  That seemed to satisfy him.
 
I can’t remember what I did with the paper.  I think I showed it to a couple of people and maybe I did, in fact, pass it on to the news department.  But I’ll never forget it.

Lately I find myself enjoying the Canadian version of “The Dragon’s Den“, a show where inventors and small business dynamos present their ideas to a panel of investors in the hopes of getting a little financial help to bring their ideas or inventions to the next level.  Of course, some of the inventions are bizarre, but many of them are very clever.

Since the devastating oil spill in the Gulf, literally thousands of people have come forward with lots of ideas as to how to clean up the 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil that continues to spew out from the pipe every day.  Just go to YouTube and you’ll find lots of videos posted by companies who have ideas or products that they think can help.  Here’s an example:

From what I understand, there have been thousands of potential solutions presented to BP, most of which have been at least considered.  Out of those thousands, a couple of hundred have been deemed viable, including Kevin Costner‘s “dream machines” or V20s, which are said to be capable of separating 210,000 gallons of oily water a day.  Costner has signed a contract with BP for 32 of the units.  But before the spill, he had been trying to employ the technology for 17 years, spending $20 million of his own money, only to be pretty much mired in red tape.

And why is this?  It seems like a brilliant idea, along with the one in the YouTube video above.  But we don’t care about these kinds of inventions or technologies until we are in desperate need of them.  Forward-thinking people are not respected the way they used to be back when Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity.  Or maybe they weren’t respected then either, and it’s only in hindsight that we adorn inventive people with  any admiration.  Or maybe it’s more about the technology itself.

When it comes to cell phones and software programs or anything computer-related, we have hundreds of companies chomping at the bit to come up with something new that the public will eagerly line up around the block to buy.  These companies spend millions and even billions of dollars on the next  big thing.  It’s too bad that they aren’t as anxious to put their money into inventions and ideas that could actually save lives.

Right now, we need the right “idea” people more than ever.  Not just to tackle this oil spill, but to find alternatives to oil dependency in the first place, and to solve so many other problems we have on this planet.  Governments need to put money into programs and schools to encourage younger people to become inventors, and come up with some great ideas to solve all kinds of problems. And big companies have to SMARTEN UP and realize there is a lot more good they could do with all that money.

We have to pay more attention to little guys who have big ideas.  Come to think of it, maybe that strange fellow who wandered into CHEK years ago to show me his idea for creating arable land wasn’t so crazy after all.

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