Night Music: Bach In A Japanese Forest

June 30, 2021

Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” played by a wooden ball rolling down a massive marimba.

The conception, let alone the precision construction, is remarkable.

GWAC and Urban Critters

June 30, 2021

This month’s ZOOM meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) is at 7:00pm on Monday, 5th July. The main topic this month is urban critters — rats, and such — and how we can cope with them.

Special guest, Dr. Kaylee Byers will speak about the Vancouver Rat Project, Canada’s first interdisciplinary program of research which studies urban rats, the risks they pose to human health, and how we can better manage and live with them. Bring your questions.

Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 889 2493 9957, Passcode: 105840

I am sure there will also be questions about our diverse urban menagerie including skunks, squirrels, raccoons, etc.

Last year and winter, our patio was awash with rats, and nothing seemed to keep them away. This year, I have seen no signs of them at all. Last year, we had a small family of raccoons (Mom, Pop, junior) come visit every evening. This year, just junior seems to be around. I’d be interested to know the reasons behind these ebbs and flows.

Image: Stairway #1

June 29, 2021

Night Music: Against All Odds

June 28, 2021

Happy Tau Day!

June 28, 2021

I have for many years enjoyed celebrating each 14th March as Pi Day, in honour of pi = 3.14….  However, I have been persuaded that Tau Day is at least as important if not more so.

The value of Tau = 2pi and is thus celebrated on 28th June (6.28).  Why this is important is explained in this good short piece from ScienceNews.

“The simplest way to see the failure of pi is to consider angles, which in mathematics are typically measured in radians. Pi is the number of radians in half a circle, not a whole circle. That makes things confusing: For example, the angle at the tip of a slice of pizza — an eighth of a pie — isn’t π/8, but π/4. In contrast, using tau, the pizza-slice angle is simply τ/8. Put another way, tau is the number of radians in a full circle.

That factor of two is a big deal. Trigonometry — the study of the angles and lines found in shapes such as triangles — can be a confusing whirlwind for students, full of blindly plugging numbers into calculators. That’s especially true when it comes to sine and cosine, two important functions in trigonometry. Many trigonometry problems involve calculating the sine or cosine of an angle. When graphed, the two functions look like a series of wiggles, shaped a bit like an “S” on its side, that repeat the same values every 2π. That means pi covers only half of an S. Tau, on the other hand, covers the full wiggle, a more intuitive measure.”

So, Happy Tau Day to you all!

Poem: Before Time

June 28, 2021


In a time

once upon a time

when time was fluid

and not restrained

by time zones

invented for train



in a time before

Columbus tripped over

the Americas,

before Marco Polo

invented China


in a time before

the pyramids

and writing

and agriculture

and fire


in a time before

dinosaurs and

the time before

the first fish

in a time before

the earth moved

when continents shifted

and mountains lifted


before the time

when green algae

was the top of the heap

before the time

when green algae

had an empire

wider than the Romans

or the British


before the time

when green algae

gripped both poles

with both hands

before the far away time

when green algae

grew from the heat

of the furnace

that the earth was still

and the under-earth was un-still

bubbling and oozing

through the ground


all the time


in a time before

asteroids banged the earth

in a regular beat

as a drum

keeps time

in a marching band


in a time before

the rocks fell

from the spinning disc of gas

to create the earth


before that time

maybe then

I didn’t love you


Martin Kantor Portrait Prize 2021

June 27, 2021

The finalists for this gallery of culturally significant Australians has some interesting pieces. My favourites are:

Self portrait: John Gollings
Dolly Diamond, by Sanjeev Singh
Sue Cato by George Fetting

Happy Birthday, Wobblies!

June 27, 2021
Globe logo with the letters I.W.W. separated by three stars. Encircled by the name, "Industrial Workers of the World."

Today is the 116th anniversary of the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (the I.W.W.)

The I.W.W. was, and is, an industrial or class union aimed at unifying the working class under the slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all.” The One Big Union was in direct opposition to the trades unions that seek to divide workers into narrow crafts.

The Wobblies were founded by some of the great people of the labour movement — heroes such as Big Bill Heywood, Daniel de Leon, Eugene Debs, Mary other Jones, and so many others. The Constitution they struck was a marvelous call to arms:

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wage system.” It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. 

Image: Ship’s Bow

June 27, 2021

Night Music: Kon Tiki

June 26, 2021

Happy Birthday, Son!

June 26, 2021

My youngest, Sam, is now 45.  Wow, that doesn’t make me feel old at all!

Image: Red Tulips #1

June 25, 2021

Wellcome Trust Photography 2021: Shortlist

June 25, 2021

The Wellcome Photography Prize this year illustrates three of the most urgent global health challenges: mental health, infectious disease and global heating. From the shortlist, I particularly liked:

Image: Oded Wagenstein
Image: Anastasia Tay lor-Lind

Celebrating Canada Day?

June 24, 2021

Talk about conflicted!

In a month or so I will have been a resident here for 42 years. I have been fortunate enough to live and work all around the world, and there is no place I would rather call home than Vancouver. One of the proudest days of my life was 35 years ago when I became a Canadian citizen; I cried with joy that day, and I am tearing up now as I think of it.

So far as I recall, I learned nothing about Canada at school other than the death of Wolfe and the bravery of the “colonial” troops at Dieppe. Canada only began to exist for me as a real country (as for so many others my age) when Pierre Trudeau, the patrician-hippy, launched himself onto the world stage and danced around the Queen. When I got a job and first landed here in 1978, Canada was genuinely a new found land for me, so different from the class-bound society I grew up with.

In the last four decades I have tried to learn as much as possible about this country and its history. In the beginning, I was proud that Canada’s treatment of the First Nations did not descend into the genocide practiced by the Americans. Like many others I have been aware for a long time that the Residential School system was a despicable attempt to rob the original peoples of their land, their language and their heritage. That was bad enough, but theft, discrimination, and forced assimilation seemed to be the limit of it. Now, especially now, we know that that might have been the least of it.

The unmarked graves of one thousand children have already been found, and I am certain those numbers will grow by leaps and bounds once proper searches are completed. It is certain already that many or perhaps all of those “schools” — operated by “Christians”, for God’s sake — were in fact factories of death and degradation, designed to eliminate the indigenous population one way or another.

Combined with the ongoing refusal to this day to provide proper housing, education and water to many “reserves”, the legacy of the Residential concentration camp system is a deep and indelible stain on our history.

I am proud to be a Canadian and I love so much about the place and its people. But that stain makes it impossible to sing our praises on Canada Day.

Night Music: In The Mood

June 24, 2021

In Memoriam: Frank & Danse

June 23, 2021

There was a great turnout for the memorial gathering in Grandview Park this evening for the late brothers, Frank and Danse Williams. We had drumming and singing and a few short speeches from members of the family. I suspect the celebration will go on late into the evening.

They will be missed by many.

Memorial Gathering for Frank & Danse

June 23, 2021

Just a reminder that there will be a gathering to remember the lives of Frank & Danse Williams at 5:30 this evening at Grandview Park.

Here is an older YouTube piece about their carving work:

Image: Building Blocks

June 23, 2021

Antiques Roadshow On The Drive

June 22, 2021

On Saturday evening (26th June), a group called Looking For Friends will be holding a show at Havana Theatre, 1212 Commercial, called Something Like The Antiques Roadshow.

According to ILiveinEastVan: “Hosts Jake and Carson are doing their own Covid safe interactive improv show that is their take on the Antique Roadshow. They will be evaluating your items on stage so feel free to bring something fun. This is an all ages event,” and is designed to be fun.

The show starts at 9:30pm and entry is $15. The few tickets left can be purchased through Showpass.

Day Trip To M’Hamid

June 22, 2021

It is so hot in Vancouver this week that I was reminded of a really hot day decades ago.

* * * *

Late May, 1971, and I had been living in Zagora, for a few weeks already. Zagora lies close to the indistinct border Morocco shares with Algeria.  Further south, and the last habitable oasis before the Great Desert, lies the village of M’Hamid.   During the months I had lived in Marrakech, I had heard tell that the camel trains to Timbuktou gathered at M’Hamid before heading south for Mali and the Upper Niger.   I was determined to find out.  In fact, I was determined to get to Timbuktou.  To do that, I decided to hitch a ride to M’Hamid on one of the heavy trucks we had seen occasionally head south.

Zagora, an oasis famous in the history of the western Sahara, is a hundred miles or more south east of Marrakech, and on the farther side of the High Atlas.   My friend Ken and I had gotten here by hitching a flatbed truck south all the way from Djema el-Fna in the big city.  We had no idea that the truck would take the steep and curving mountain roads at 100 miles an hour, nor that we would literally have to tie our belts to the truck and then to our wrists simply to hold on as the flatbed careened wildly from side to side.   I was only 21 but I knew right then that I would never be so scared again in the whole of my life.

After the incredible noise and crush of Marrakech, Zagora had turned out to be a zone of peace.  A garrison town, it had a couple of thousand or so permanent residents, a few hundred conscript soldiers, an assortment of Taureg coming to and from the weekly market, and a half dozen hippies.    Ken and I, two Frenchmen and two Dutch girls lived on the south side of town, in a grove of trees along the slow, brown Dra River.  The Dutch girls lived in their VW microbus, while the rest of us slept on the open ground.  During the day we hung our groundsheets in the trees to create shade, and we kept the few groceries we could afford — watermelon, mainly — in the river.

I had left England the previous winter with a small army pouch, a bed roll and thirty pounds.   By the time we arrived in Zagora, I still had my bedroll, I had no clothes but the djelaba I wore, and I had the equivalent of five pounds in dinar.  Life was good:  We ate cheaply and well at the local cafes, drank orange juice by the bucket, mixed with the locals, made friends with the Bluemen, made fun of the occasional Land Rover Adventure Tourists.  We were stoned all the time, from morning til night, each of us having stocked up on the necessary supplies before leaving Marrakesh.   Life was indeed good.  But now I wanted to move on.

The road to M’Hamid was also on the south side of town, bearing off from the river road, the two paths demarcated by a low stone chip wall.   I arrived at the junction in the early dawn.   The view was bleakly magnificent:  dunes, rock slabs and shimmering dust hanging in the sunrise.  I sat down, leaning against the wall, rolled a thick joint, and waited for a truck.

By eleven the sun was high, bright and scorching.  The hood of my djelaba was pulled low over my face giving me the only shade available.   I smoked another joint and watched a local farmer mercilessly beat a donkey about half a mile away.  For the longest time I couldn’t work out what he was farming.  Then, with a flash of kif wisdom, I realised he must be farming for stones.  And all the time he beat his donkey.

I must have fallen asleep because it came as a shock to me that the sun was so low in the sky.  I was sitting in a wide pool of dampness, the sweat from my body soaking my djelaba and the ground on which I was sitting.   I tried to stand up, but couldn’t. I wasn’t sure why, thought it might just be a stiffness from sitting so long with my knees hugged to my chest — the better to create a tent-like space under my gown.  I tried again and my feet just wouldn’t push me upright.  

The faintest tingling in my feet made me look down.  My toes looked like tiny stalks of stewed rhubarb, purple and fat.   While I sat there through the heat of a desert day, the hem of my gown had failed to cover my toes: they were badly sunburned and I had immediate and detailed and horrifying visions of rough amputations taking place at the fort medic’s office.   I gently covered my toes with the edge of my gown and wondered what to do.   Just about that time, Ken and one of the French guys came looking for me.

It was about a mile to our river encampment and they carried me every step of the way.  Once there, they gently placed me in the river so that the heat in my feet could be dissipated in the cool stream.   I screamed at first, but quickly relaxed, lying full length in the water.    Later, the Dutch girls brought me food from the nearest café and made sure I drank as much water as I could.   Even later, we were joined at the riverbank by one of the locals who had become a regular visitor, sharing our kif and telling us news from the outside world.  he listened to my story, a smile playing across his face.

“The caravans have stopped for the year,” he said.


“Sure.  They finished last month.  They start again in September.  No one tries to cross the erg in summer.”

I looked at my blackened toes, took another toke and learned another lesson.