Monday, December 21, 2009

This year's solstice - The longest day of the year

I'm not crazy. I swear. I'm also not making some point about the meaning of existence. Actually, it's all really quite simple.

We hear about the winter solstice being the shortest day of the year, and we take it to mean we have less sunlight hours today than any other day of the year. The tilt of Earth's rotation around it's axis causes the northern hemisphere to be tipped away from the Sun. So rather than rising high in the sky, it skips along the horizon. This means less daylight hours today than yesterday.

Today, however, December 21st, 2009, is longer than yesterday. In fact, this year's winter solstice has more daylight than any other winter solstice in history.

The simple reason is: the Earth's spin is slowing down.

Tidal friction is one of the leading causes.

The moon's gravity pulls not only the oceans towards it, causing tides, but it actually stretches the Earth.

These distortions cause friction which saps energy from the Earth. When the Moon was formed about 4.5 billion years ago, the day was about six hours long! And this isn't just sunshine day, this is six hours for a full day/night cycle.

It's not a speedy decrease, though. We've picked up only about two milliseconds in the last 190 years. Right now we get about nine hours of sunlight at the winter solstice in mid-latitudes. Next year, it will be a tiny little bit more.

So, if you are one of those who want to find meaning in everything... take solace in the fact that even on the darkest day of the year, it will only get brighter.

*images courtesy of Museum Victoria, and the Department of Physics at the University of Oregon*

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Digging up the Dino Guy

While I'm definitely an avid fan of science and all the spectacularness it brings, I'm also pretty keen on education. Especially, that's right, science education. 

When I got the opportunity to make a radio documentary, I wanted to do something science-y. I also wanted to shirk the negativity thats extremely common in the media, and create something happy. 

Poking around on the internets for armchair scientists, I came across the Open Dinosaur Project. And lo-and-behold there is an interview with one of the project's volunteers, a London man named Bruce Woollatt. 

The Open Dino project is all about crowd sourcing dinosaur bone measurements, to give keeners without PhD's the chance to help advance the science. Above been a huge dino-fan, Bruce makes dinosaur models. Many of these have worked their way into the London Children's Museum.

Bruce also teaches art classes for kids at the Library, and I was delighted when he invited me into his home to see his latest creation, a 1/10 scale Tyrannosaurus Rex. You can follow along with Bruce's work here

But as for MY work, I got a good insight into probably one of the best ways to develop the wonder that's so important in children. Thanks Bruce, and keep up the good work.

The Health Impacts of a Changing Climate

What the future will look like – without all the doomsday prophecies.

It’s hard to go through the day without hearing someone mention climate change, how you should be reducing your carbon footprint, or noticing the cute sustainability slogans on t-shirts at the mall.

What’s even harder is trying to wrap your mind around what climate change could really mean for us. The ice caps are deteriorating, and the annual average temperature is on the rise, but it’s hard to gather what that means for regular people.

World of Warcraft - Kicking ass and taking names

Well not really. It's fun, but WoW has a pretty strong track record of causing a lot of crap for a lot of people. But for one person I met, internet gaming plays a massive (oh pun), positive role. Since this is a story instead of a video, I'm not going to set it up too much. 


In the last 20-plus years, birds that feed on flying bugs have taken a huge hit - and no one really knows why.

I set out with my standard story-buddy Steve Howard to try to figure what's going on with the birdies. We talked to some pretty knowledgeable people on the matter. 

Mike Cadman works for Canada Wildlife Services, and was the head of putting together the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario

Dr. Silke Nebel is an ornithology at the University of Western Ontario's Advanced Facility for Avian Research. She was looking into population trends for aerial insectivores over geographic and temporal regions. 

Katie Marshall is a UWO PhD student who is looking at how climate change is affecting freeze-tolerant insects. We were hoping she would give us an idea as to whether something was going on with the prey populations which could in turn negatively impact the birdies.

Anyway, I tried to take a "behind the scenes" or round-table approach to putting this piece together. Just a bunch of experts trying to sort out a problem. This is something far different from the proclamation being handed down from the ivory tower that we're so used to seeing in science/science writing.

Hoo-ah. Funky techno beats.

So, a couple weeks ago, I got to meet Cory Doctorow. I'm ashamed to say I didn't know who he was until a few weeks before I met him, but now I think he's pretty cool. The best part about meeting him is that this comic now makes a whole whack of sense.

Cory is an author of the sci-fi variety, and thus he's right up my alley. He's also really nice. 

I went to the book launch for his newest book, Makers, at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction in Toronto with some classmates for a group project/feature series we're working on. It's all about maker culture, a do-it-yourself re-revolution that we think is going on. If you're extra keen, we have a blog, and here are the finished pieces slated to be released shortly on and

Anyway, if you check around the blog or in my youtube channel, there is a video I cut together of us talking to Cory. But, in the theme of the project we were working on, I decided that I wanted to make something that wasn't so stiff. We had a lot of extra footage that wasn't getting used for anything, and I'd never made a video that had music before. 

This video is about some of the neat people we met waiting in line to get their book signed by Cory.

Comic via

Won't someone please think of the.... bats

A lot of people are scared of bats. I think they're awesome.

One time, while working as a maintenance staffer (bathroom cleaner and lawn mower) at Brant Conservation Area, a bat flew into the women's washroom. I got in there with my rubber gloves, grabbed the fuzzy little guy, and helped him find the door.

This has almost nothing to do with this video, except that we caught a bat in the video too.

As part of an environmental journalism course I just wrapped up, I got a chance to meet a lady who devotes her life to bats. I never knew bats were big on migration, but apparently they are. Anyway, the government wants to build a wind farm in the middle of Lake Ontario, and wind turbines are bad news for bats.

The loss in wind speed on the back-end of the turbine apparently creates a drop in pressure big enough to make bats' lungs asplode. Juliette Nagel (the researcher) is trying to figure out bat migration patterns, so we don't make 'em all pop.

This story is about her, and the bat we caught.

Why herro there :D

For my inaugural post I figure I should spam a bit, outline who I am, and get used to writing in the first person.

This blog was started out of necessity as much as out of interest. As a journalism student, I'm producing a whole whack of content. It's getting lonely just rotting away on my hard drive. 

May as well let it stink up the interwebs. 

Most of the things that will show up here will be about science, science journalism, and science culture. Oh, and Star Wars. There will probably be a liberal sprinkling of Star Wars. 

To make amends with my lonely stash of stories from the last eight months in the master of arts in journalism program at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., today is going to consist of a lot of spamming. 

So let it begin....