Monday, August 27, 2007

Baby Giant Squid

A fisherman caught a juvenile giant squid off the coast of Florida a few days ago. This is not the first immature giant squid that has been caught. Dr Steve O'Shea tried to rear giant squid larvae a few years ago. His creatures did not live long enough to grow into mature giant squid, which is probably good considering the size of tank that would be needed to hold them. However, the Florida find represents the first giant squid caught that is beyond the larval stage. Scientists estimate that it was about six months old when caught.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Are they Contenders?

It is only about three weeks until training camps start across the NHL. Like most sane sports fans I can hardly wait. August is definitely the horse latitudes of professional sports. All that is happening in Canada and the US is baseball, and we all know how boring baseball games are to watch. Football fans have the NFL's preseason to savour, but personally I find the NFL to be even worse than baseball. I am probably the only person in North America who did not know about the Michael Vick Affair until a few days ago. I just have no interest in the North American version of football.

So, I spend my Augusts looking forward to the day that players across the continent don their skates and start the rituals of NHL training camp. And, like most sports fans, I dream about the local hockey team and fantasize about their chances at winning the Stanley Cup. The Washington Capitals are in the middle of a serious bout of rebuilding. They came out of the Great Lock-Out as the worst team in the league, and have been struggling to improve since then. Fortunately, the Caps has paid attention to the basics, such as building a strong farm system, drafting well, and developing young players, and now their patience over the past two years is about to pay off.

"We've got the makings of being a very good team for a long time," said goalie Olie Kolzag in an interview with the Washington Post a few days ago, and I tend to agree with him. The Caps have signed several free agents over the Summer who have the potential to fill some significant gaps in the Caps' line-up. Michael Nylander, Tom Poti, and Viktor Kozlov were signed over the past couple of months and should fit in well. All three bring strong records and strong work ethics to the team. In addition regulars like Olie Kolzig and Alexander Ovechkin will be around for 2007-2008. The Caps did well in the first half of last season before falling apart after Christmas. I do not think that this will happen this season. The younger players will have learned from experience to pace themselves, and the new veterans will have the experience to guide the team through any mid-season slump. I am not expecting the Caps to win the Cup this season, but I would not be at all surprised to see them make a strong play-off run this year.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My Shiny New Work Permit

My work permit came through the other day. I now have unlimited permission to work in the USA. This means that I am no longer tied to my current job as a contractor to NASA. It took about nine months for the application to be processed, and several more months before that for me to gather all the information that I needed to make the application. So now, I can quit my job and look for something better, assuming that I wanted to. I enjoy my work. It gets a bit tedious sometimes, but astronomy still thrills me. I am one of the lucky few who get to work at something that I love. One day, the dream will end, but I hope that that day does not come for a long time.

The next step is to get my permanent residence permit: the coveted Green Card. The final paperwork will be submitted next week, and then it is just a matter of waiting several more months for the government to decide whether or not I get to live in the US for as long as I like. The process has taken years so far (with an interruption due to to my divorce). But now, the end is in sight, and that is a great relief. One way or the other, my future will be decided in the next few months.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I realized the other day that I have not had much to drink for the past month or so. This was not a conscious decision, but the result of a series of events that conspired to keep me away from alcohol. It is Summer, so I have been doing a lot more out of the house in the evening. Also, my children are visiting for the Summer, so I tend to be spending more of my evenings reading bedtime stories, which leaves less time for a glass of wine and a good book.

I have a bit of an ambivalent attitude towards alcohol. A few years ago, when I separated from my wife, I stopped drinking for several months, primarily because money was short and ten dollars a week for beer or wine was an unnecessary luxury. However, part of the reason was just to prove to myself that I could do it. My ex-wife was an alcoholic. She never admitted it when we were married, and I was living in denial of her problem too. However, when I moved out I realized that I had spent eight years with someone who's idea of an evening in was to disappear into the bedroom with a bottle of wine. I have heard that since the divorce she has joined AA, and has been sober for about a year and a half. This may even be true, although my ex has a tendency to stretch the truth, often beyond its breaking point.

After several months of self-imposed temperance I started having the occasional drink: a glass of wine on a date, a beer while watching a soccer game, the occasional drink in the evening. I found that I enjoyed those drinks, but had not missed them. Over the past two years I have probably averaged three drinks a week, and over the past month I have probably had no more than three drinks. Stopping and starting drinking is a matter of choice. Fortunately that is a choice that I seem to have no trouble making. For that, I am very grateful.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

2007 Man Booker Prize Longlist

The longlist for the 2007 Man Booker Prize has been released. Here it is.

  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker
  • Self Help by Edward Docx
  • The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  • The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
  • Gifted by Nikita Lalwani
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
  • What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
  • Consolation by Michael Redhill
  • Animal's People by Indra Sinha
  • Winnie & Wolf by A N Wilson

Nothing really jumps out at me on this list. There is the inevitable contribution from Ian McEwan. He seems to get nominated every year, even though he is a bit of an overrated author. Atonement was a good book, but most of his other recent efforts have been average. I have not read On Chesil Beach yet, so I will reserve judgement on whether or not Mr McEwan deserves his nomination this year.

Stay tuned to this space for reviews of the longlist books as I read them. Given my various Summer commitments I expect to make it through one or two of the nominees...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Octopus Day

The eighth of August is Octopus Day. It started a few years ago, and has slowly been growing in popularity ever since. Today there must be at least five or six people who celebrate it, which is better than the four people who celebrated when it first started. Octopus Day is a day to appreciate octopuses. In a perfect world we would do this every day of the year, but in the real world mundane things like work, meals, and getting the car serviced tend to get in the way. On August 8, however, we should all take a break from the details of our lives and give thanks that such a perfect animal as the octopus happened to evolve at the same time that we are on this planet.

We celebrated Octopus Day in a relatively low-key way this year. There was the handing out of toy octopuses to the children, and then I slipped octopus-shaped cookies into their lunch bags. Both of them were ecstatic when I picked them up after work. It is amazing what a simple cookie can do to the mood of an eight-year-old, not to mention a four-year-old, particularly when it has an odd shape.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Capitals Training Camp

The Washington Capitals 2007 training camp is scheduled to open on 14 Sep 2007 at the brand new Kettler Capitals Iceplex. This is the Caps first year in their new training facility, and it will be interesting to see if it has any affect on the team. Training camps are usually rather boring for all but the most hardcore fans, but they are a critical part of the preparations for the new season. For a team training camp is a chance to evaluate new players (and the veterans), and to try out new lines, tactics, and strategies. For the fan training camp is a great opportunity to evaluate where individual players should rank in fantasy leagues.

Capitals training camp will be open to the public, and there will be no charge to get it. For those of you who, like me, are unfortunate enough to live in the Washington, DC area the Kettler Capitals Iceplex can be reached by Metro. Take the Orange Line to the Ballston-MU station. From there, one can walk to the complex. Exit the Ballston station and proceed straight ahead through the doors under the sign “Ballston Metro Center”. Stay right and go up the escalator. Go straight through the glass doors and across the covered bridge. Follow the signs to Ballston Common Mall and Regal Cinema. Stay right and go through the glass doors and across the second covered bridge. Enter Ballston Common Mall and proceed to the garage elevators. I'll see you there.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Day at the Beach

I just got back from two days at the beach with my children. We decided that, since I do not see enough of my children, we should make the most of our Summer together and drive to the beach for a couple of days. The time was mostly spent riding inner tubes in the ocean, watching my eldest daughter fearlessly leap into waves that were bigger than she is, and braving rides at the little fairground there. We also picked up some dresses for the girls. All in all, 'twas a great way to spend two hot Summer days, and a great excuse not to go to work.

Over the past two years I have been working on learning how to swim. Two and a half years ago I could barely swim from one side of a pool to the other--the short way. Now, I routinely do quarter-mile swims after work. On our little beach vacation I learned that I am now able to swim in the ocean when my feet can no longer touch the sand. My swimming has become strong enough that I can swim back to shore even when the undertow wants to drag me out and drown me like a kitten in a sack. To be realistic, it was not a strong undertow, but two years ago I would not have been willing to go in much above my knees. My transition from human to squid is proceeding ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Off to the Beach

This is just a brief post before I leave for the beach. I was originally planning to write something about the people who are vying to become the Democratic Party's presidential candidate in the 2008 US presidential election. However, when I started writing I realized that it would take me a while to organize what I want to say, so I will postpone that discussion until later. The grist of what I intended to say is that the Democratic slate of candidates is probably far weaker than most Democratic supporters realize, and that it is not obvious to me that the Republicans will not just walk all over whoever is eventually selected.

And now, off to the beach for a couple of days in the Sun. With luck, the weather will be nice and the water will be warm.