After a long absence:

It’s been considerable time since I wrote. Life happens and did to me. However, writing happens as well. In the past year, I’ve been writing the next book in my Dangerous Journeys series, The Ice Storm Murders. It’s in revision now, and I hope to have it in print by the end of June. During this time, I also published the audiobook of Painting of Sorrow, narrated by Virginia Ferguson. It is available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

I found Virginia Ferguson through ACX, a division of Audible and together we worked on the recording, she narrating and me correcting(few indeed were the errors). When the recording was satisfactory from our point of view, it went to the engineers at ACX who passed it without revision, thanks to Virginia.

Listening to one’s own words, as to a radio play, makes the book live in an entirely new way, exciting and at times humbling. It was also an opportunity to identify some minor errors and typos that had been missed in the long revision process. Thanks to the magic of ebooks, those errors have been corrected in the Kindle version and I’m working on the print version.

In the meantime, due to a medical problem, my hip replacement, which should have happened in March is now on hold until July(I hope). I’m half-way through the treatment for my problem and so far all has gone well.

The state of the world is too awful for words, and the situation here in Ontario, with a government doing so much damage to the environment, education, science, health care, culture that it will take a generation to repair, is fraught indeed.

I mourned with the world the loss of so much of Notre Dame and rejoiced that it would be rebuilt. Below is a favourite picture from a vacation we took to Paris in 2015.

Version 2

Closing ELA: An international disgrace.

Scientists, both national and international, politicians inside and outside the House of Commons, patriotic organizations and ordinary concerned citizens like me line up to defend the importance of the Experimental Lakes Area. Who works there? The people who told us about acid rain and the dangers of detergents in our waterways, among other facts.

Who doesn’t want them to work there? The Harper government in the shape of the Fisheries minister Keith Ashfield. Read about it i todays Globe and Mail:

We are saving money, the Harper government cries. It costs 2 million dollars a year, folks. The new Office of Religious Freedom(Whose?) costs 5 million. How much did they squander on those jets. How much are they spending to promote the history of a war no one cares about? And what about those ads about the Action Plan that isn’t there any more.

They aren’t saving money, but I wonder who’s going to make some. Who has those logging contracts?

Replace the ELA with cleacut! What a disgrace.

Harper Government and Science: Time for a change

So it’s the Harper government, not the Government of Canada, now. A comment on Facebook suggests today that Harper is emulating the George W. Bush attitude and behaviour towards science. The muzzling of science, supporting business at all costs, the money for religion but not for research, all of it suggests that the discredited neocon attitude is behind all of it. Now the government is tearing down the buildings of the Experimental Lakes Area. How will we know what is happening to our water if we don’t let the scientists investigate and tell us? What will we do when it is too late? 

It’s time to change the government.

Happenstance and Science

Quest for a wonder drug started with shrew bait – The Globe and Mail.

An article in this morning’s Globe and Mail tells the story of a researcher, Dr. Jack Stewart who started to look at the pain-killing possibilities in shrew saliva. Sounds unlikely doesn’t it? But that is the nature of science. It was known, the article tells us that shrew saliva had paralytic properties. Dr. Irwin G. Martin had published a paper on the subject in the Journal of Mammalogy in 1981. Dr. Stewart’s research into the chemical that caused the paralysis led him to his recent discovery. A typical chain in science: primary research in an area as unlikely as shrew saliva at one end and a potential treatment for not one but three major cancers— ovarian, breast and prostate— at the other.

This is the chain that politicians, businessmen and other non-scientists don’t seem to understand. Much of medical discovery comes by happenstance. Vincristine and Vinblastine are potent anti-cancer agents derived from the periwinkle plant, common now in many of our gardens. The plant searchers, funded by amateur botanists and Royal Societies, brought plants and seeds from all over the globe, often to London. From there the seeds were shared, first to Paris, according to Michael F. Brown, writing in Who Owns Native Culture, 2003. Folk medicine revealed that many plants were in common use as treatments for disease. Anthropology, botany, chemistry, medicine, all studying these plants, often a considerable remove from any thought of practical application, but all leading through the cross-pollination of publication, to the drug that brought hope at last to childhood victims of acute leukaemia. I first met the drug while I was working as a resident at the Hospital for Sick Children in 1972, treating those children, mostly under five years, who now had a chance, not just for survival, but for a cure.

This won’t happen, can’t happen without the funding of primary research,  research without a known outcome. How can you predict that shrew saliva might cure human cancers? But you can fund the inquiring minds, let them talk to one another, and wonderful things can happen from that cross-pollination.

We deny funding to universities and basic science at our peril.

Shameful decision

Clock ticking down for renowned environmental research station – The Globe and Mail.

A line in a “budget” and a world-renowned research facility, the one that taught us about phosphates and acid rain and would have taught us how to deal with the oil sands is closing because of some politician’s scientific illiteracy and inability to face hard facts. Not everything in this world of ours can be reduced to a line in a profit and loss statement, but the members of the Harper government seem to think it can. But even it that was the way it worked, the knowledge produced by the experiments at the Experiment Lakes is far more valuable than any minimal decrease in budgetary expense.

Even if other sectors could pick up the cost, the time line imposed by the Omnibus bill is too short. I suppose the Harperites like to see people who are so much smarter than they are twisting in the wind.

It is shameful decision and a disgrace to this country.

Science Advances.

The above article in the Globe and Mail tells us the exciting—if true—news that scientists have now created a particle that moves faster than the speed of light. For those of us who are impaired in our knowledge of physics, this news brings a sense that the world will somehow change, even as our understanding of it does. And perhaps it will. If objects, albeit at this point neutrinos, can move faster than the speed of light, what does it imply for science-fiction concepts such as time travel and teleportation. And what about weapons? It seems that every advance in pure science brings in its wake those who choose to use the new knowledge or technology to create ever more efficient ways to kill their fellow creatures.

This article in the New York Times tells of a break-through of a hopeful sort. Scientists who used their knowledge of a killer—the AIDS virus—and used it to construct a weapon of a different sort, this one loaded with genes that will seek out and destroy cancer cells, in this case the B cells of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The article has an excellent explanation and graphics.

I think the authors downplay the risks of the treatment. It is no small matter to have all your B cells destroyed and live dependent on infusions of gammaglobulin to fight everything from hepatitis to the common cold. On the other hand, to have these little T cell grenades, reduced in number once they have done their job, but waiting, waiting for next evil cancerous cell to appear, must be comforting. The treatment itself, once the first days of fever and racking chills while the battle ensues are over, seems benign, with no side effects save for the long range one of susceptibility to infection.

Another outside the box thinker. Dr. George Whitesides has manipulated the science of microtubules and miniaturization to create a laboratory on a piece of blotting paper no larger than a postage stamp. This was done with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

This technology has the potential to put testing into the field far from the conventional laboratories and indeed into the hands of the patients and other users, i.e. farmers. Yes, farmers.

And finally a low-tech solution that any woman in a sari-wearing nation could use to keep her family safe from cholera and other water-borne illnesses. The sad part of the article is the drop-off in use over time if there is no outside reinforcement. However there was a 25% increase in those who had not been trained to use the sari now filtering their water.

This same information appeared also in 2010

Iceland Volcano Update

Met Office: Iceland Volcano Update.

The volcano in Iceland continues to sputter and spew, sending plumes of ash skyward. The random winds distribute over Europe, and aircraft fly or they don’t. The meteorologists suggest it will go on for months – including, I suppose, the weeks we will be in Spain. Prudence suggests money in the bank account, space on the credit cards and a sense of adventure. There could be worse places to be stranded than Andalucia.

The link above is to a youtube video of the volcano in April.

NASA has a new satellite picture of the cloud available at:

The effects of continuing volcanic eruption at the current level remains uncertain. The European Geosciences Union currently is meeting to discuss the volcanic eruptions, among other topics. One speaker, whose remarks are reported at the link below, spoke of the need for improved remote sensing in order to better define the risk to aircraft, and the environment.

Volcanic eruptions, sinkholes, earthquakes – Mother Nature is restless this spring.