There is some snow in the high country

The wall of mountains on the east side of Howe Sound — From Scarborough Beach on Bowen Island

The wall of mountains on the east side of Howe Sound
From Scarborough Beach on Bowen Island

The temperature was just below zero when I walked down to the beach and took this panorama. The snow line on the hills is clear. My hope is that we will receive more snow below 800m in the coming month. As the sun set less than an hour later, there was some alpenglow on that snow. Click the image to see it full-size.

The mountains in the panorama are identified in this article:

Comet to pass very close to Mars

Some people find it scary that there are comets and asteroids out there that might hit a planet. Next week a comet — called Comet Siding Spring or C2013-A1 — will pass within 140,000 km of the planet Mars. Astronomically, that is a close encounter: the distance is about one third the distance from the Earth to our Moon. People have been wondering what the comet will look like from Mars. I thought that it might be equally interesting to see the event from the point-of-view of the Comet. Here is my simulation of the flyby on October 18 and 19. (It looks better in HD over at Vimeo.)

In both versions of the flyby, time is speeded up 3,000 times. While both views track the comet, the first is far enough from the comet that the orbit of the Earth (green) is visible and the geometry of the encounter can be seen. In the second view, the observer is on the surface of the comet facing the position of Mars and its moons, Deimos and Phobos. When the comet is closest to Mars, the disk of Mars would half-fill the field of view in a pair of binoculars. The planet would be an awesome site! No audio. It is quiet out there.

A new walking stick – tested on Mt. Strachan

The new walking stick on the sub-summit ridge of Mt. Strachan

The new walking stick on the sub-summit ridge of Mt. Strachan

In the winter when I’m backcountry skiing, of course I use ski poles. While many people use poles for summer walking, I haven’t.

Ecological Reserve Warden, Alan Whitehead, interpreting the fen

Ecological Reserve Warden, Alan Whitehead, interpreting the fen
Note: click all of these pictures to see them full-size

My curiosity was aroused last week when, last week, the Warden of the Bowen Island Ecological Reserve escorted a group of us into that untracked little wilderness. High in the hills is a small and magical fen. While it was a bit damp underfoot, and very springy, I was surprised that we could walk on the surface of the bog.


The walking stick never found the bottom of the fen

The walking stick never found the bottom of the fen

At one point while interpreting the bog, the Warden took his walking stick and plunged it straight down into the peat. It was all plant-matter, and offered a minimum of resistance. He never reached the bottom of the fen.


I found myself asking about the sturdy walking stick that the Warden found useful all day. “Oh, it is made of Ocean Spray, and that is a common plant on Bowen Island.” Denis Lynn said that he was clearing out some by his house, and if he found a suitable piece, I could have it. Denis presented me with my new walking stick later in the week!


Mount Strachan from Bowen Island

Mount Strachan from Bowen Island

Yesterday, Sunday, was a stunning late-summer (ok, early fall) cool sunny day. A couple of us wanted to walk in the hills, and the closest big mountain to Bowen Island is Mount Strachan. Access is an easy drive from West Vancouver up the paved highway to the ski resort. There is a trail, but since the resort is closed, we decided to enjoy the views and open sky by rambling up the ski slopes.


Bowen Island and fog on Georgia Strait from Mt. Strachan

Bowen Island and fog on Georgia Strait from Mt. Strachan

From the From the broad ridge of the sub-peak, there is a fine view of my Bowen Island. We were amazed to see that all of the vast Georgia Strait was cloaked in shining veil of fog. Somehow, Bowen Island and Howe Sound were clear.


Descent to the Mt. Strachan col

Descent to the Mt. Strachan col

Not everyone who heads up this hill bothers to scramble over to the real peak. It is worth the extra time because the views are outstanding. In the winter, the ski resort considers it to be out of bounds,  and that might explain people’s reluctance. Also, it is not easy walking. The descent from the sub-peak to the col is steep and slippery.


Approaching the summit of Mt. Strachan

Approaching the summit of Mt. Strachan

The climb up to the summit is a little bit easier.

The summit is a secure dome with outstanding views in every direction.

Vancouver and Mt .Baker from Mt. Strachan

Vancouver and Mt. Baker from Mt. Strachan summit

Summits to the north of Mt. Strachan

Summits to the north of Mt. Strachan

Heading down from Mt. Strachan summit

Heading down from Mt. Strachan summit


For the record: That walking stick is made of Holodiscus discolor, also called, ocean spray, creambush, and ironwood.

Trails on Mount Gardner

During the past year I’ve been working with Bowen Rotary on a project to map the trails on Mt. Gardner, Bowen Island, and ensure that those trails receive Section 56 recognition under the Forest and Range Practices Act of the Province of British Columbia. If you walk these trails, I’d like to talk to you about this project and discuss how you may help or participate. We have identified over 20 kilometres of excellent trails and created an accurate map. Please contact me (go to the About page at this site).

Hiking Trails on Mt Gardner

A view of the hiking Trails on Mt Gardner, Bowen Island, BC

Saratoga Noir – free from ZBS

ZBS Foundation - Saratoga Noir The ZBS Foundation is offering a free comic strip for radio – it is both for eyes and ears. It sounds great with headphones. Here is the deal: This series will be posted for free, but only one episode at-a-time. Episode #1 will be up all this week. Then starting next week, on every Monday and every Friday, a new episode will be released. Saratoga Noir will play throughout the summer, ending the 2nd week of September. Don’t wait: see, listen, download here:

Eclipse 1979 remembered

In 1979 I was the director of the Manitoba Planetarium. Some friends believed that one of the reasons that I took that job was because I knew that on February 26 the Path of Totality of a solar eclipse included the City of Winnipeg. Previously, I’d traveled to see four eclipses. That very chilly morning, with Bill Guest, I was the co-host of CBC’s live coverage of the event. It has been decades since I’ve seen that program. I was pleased to find that it has been uploaded to YouTube. (The features that cut away from the program have been edited out.)

Is Markdown in your future?

Something seems to be happening in the use of tools for writers. If you write long documents, or collaborate with other writers, Markdown may become useful to you.

Over the years I’ve learned how to use several word processors, starting with MacWrite and Wordstar. As they evolve, they all become more and more complicated. Currently, as a Macintosh user, I’m conversant with MS Word and Apple Pages. In the shadow of these giants from Microsoft and Apple are a host of writer’s tools with special features: Mariner Write, Scrivener, Mellel, Nisus, etc. For script writers there is Celtx, Final Draft, Storymill, etc. All of these programs have a considerable learning curve.

Some people feel that all the bells and whistles get in the way of the business of writing: extracting the ideas from the writer’s head, composing some words, and typing them into the computer. Now, some of these programs have a way of making everything on the computer, including the application’s interface, vanish, so that all that is visible on the computer screen is the blank page and the author’s words. In Pages, it is the ‘fullscreen’ button on the menubar.

I’m suggesting something else.

I just wrote a book. You can see what it looks like online, here:

The publisher, Leanpub, has staked its future on authors never using any of the above word processors. In the FAQ, “Leanpub has bet the company on Markdown.” If you look at the book, you will see lots of word processing, e.g. a hierarchical system of headings, bullets, asides, images, etc. In fact, I wrote the whole book as a series of text files. I indicated the formatting by typing a small number of special characters that instructed what I wanted. I did not use a word processor; only a simple text editor (It could have been anything, but I used the free program, TextWrangler). The files are kept in Dropbox where both my co-author, Sherry S Jennings, and I, can edit them; and where Leanpub accesses them to make up the book for the clients.

The special characters are defined by a plain text formatting syntax called Markdown. It is not a word processor, but a system of rules. It is easy and fast to learn.

Just today, I stumbled across Fountain — “Fountain allows you to write screenplays in any text editor on any device. Because it’s just text, it’s portable and future-proof.” This is another use of Markdown. As you probably know, the formatting of screenplays is strictly conventional and there are expensive word processors to facilitate achieving the perfect format. Here, again, with Fountain, there are a few rules to learn, and then the writer can just focus on writing.

Free, fast, easy to learn — and when used with Google Drive or Dropbox, these protocols can facilitate collaborative projects.

At this point, I don’t have a conclusion… except to say that people are using these tools, and you might find that Markdown will have a place in your future.

Robert's professional sites:
Ballantyne and Associates

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