Cmdr Hadfield’s cell phone bill – check your facts. Not everything you read on the internet is true, kids.

I bring guitars into space, not cell phones.

Our morning alarm is set to radio. My wife likes this one particular station that goes on with a bunch of senseless banter and plays the occasional song. I think she likes it because the content is so horrible that it forces her to get out of bed. Unfortunately, it is one of the more popular stations in our region, so its reach is quite broad. They have this one bit where they share 3 elements of what the station staff consider to be current events. They are mostly acts of yet more senseless chatter. The story seems to have been picked up elsewhere in a few limited spots around the world to date.

This morning, they had a story about how Cmdr Chris Hadfield had accidentally brought up his cell phone to the International Space Station. In the process of zooming over our heads for the past 5 months, he would have accumulated a $1,37 million bill. The anchors went on at length about how this is a sign that cell phone companies are out of control and out of their minds for their payment plans. While I agree that cell companies in North America do everything they can to suck every penny out of our pockets, this is a significant case of: “um, no.”

Let’s review the situation:

1. It costs between $5,000 and $50,000 to lift a kilo into space. Assuming that Hadfield had brought up the cell phone, say an iPhone 5 (he can afford it, he’s a fancy astronaut, after all) and a charger, that would be 150-200 grams of gear. That’s somewhere around $1,000 to $10,000 to bring that up as payload. Pretty costly mistake for a veteran space farer.

2. Cell batteries don’t last 5 months in sleep mode without charging. That means that our confused astronaut would have been re-charging the cell phone during the 5 month stint. It would have given him a chance to figure out that he hadn’t activated airplane mode, no?

3. Range: In ideal conditions with a straight line of sight, a cell phone can reach about 45 miles assuming you are using CDMA (this varies in case to case, and there are plenty of factors at play, but it’s a good figure to work with.) The cell tower antennae are configured in such a way as to optimize horizontal transmission, not vertical ones. Therefore, you get much less range straight up. The ISS orbits between 205 and 240 miles up. Additionally, our erstwhile planetary orbiter was residing in a metal tube designed to partially shield him from cosmic radiation. This would normally reduce the transmission range of any system without an antenna sticking out of said tube to 0. A co-worker of mine actually tried to get a cell phone signal in a plane once to check how high the towers do reach. There was nothing until we were between 8,000 and 10,000 feet up. Any way you cut it, there is not enough range for a cell phone to reach a cell tower. Therefore, the towers have no idea that it is zipping at high speed above them to connect and impose roaming charges.

4. A quick search on the internet shows some possible sources for the story:

Starting to make more sense.

Starting to make more sense.

Hmmm…if the people bringing us the news had checked the entry below the one they possibly used, they would have seen SPOOF. Or if they dug into the other articles at Beaverton, they would have seen that pretty much everything there is some kind of parody. I didn’t know of Beaverton until this morning, but it didn’t take long to figure out that this must me something like a Canadian version of the Onion.

What’s the moral here? Check your facts. Data is king. Many years ago, I attended a presentation by a high powered exec-type who indicated that in his experience, only about 50% of what is reported is accurate. And that relates to those stories that people are actually trying to get right. When you factor in the fact that a lot of people around the internet are making things up or tweaking things to garner attention among a sea of shouting voices, the percentage can drop dramatically. It is essential that we maintain our ability for critical thought, lest we be drawn into the limitless bounds of speculation, misdirection, and invention. One also has to wonder if the media gets this so utterly wrong, what else is being fed to us without proper fact-checking in the rush to generate listener/viewer attention?

Blackbird Interactive has got my attention now

I’ve been hiding in a cave for the past little while and missed any news relating to a game design company in Vancouver called Blackbird Interactive. Something popped up on Twitter about a cool trailer for an upcoming free to play real time strategy game called Hardware: Shipbreakers.

Boing! I have no real idea what these games are about. I can certainly surmise that this is a case of Salvage: Code Red in space, but the trailers still don’t reveal a whole lot. When the pedigree of the makers is taken into consideration (some of the folks who made Homeworld), then this is probably something worth paying attention to. They still seem to have their touch. Simple colour palettes with simple, yet incredibly aesthetic imagery, and clean visual design have made for a beautiful set of trailers.

I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more from BBI.

Selling articles through fear: please stop now

Gizmodo put up an article titled A Slo-Mo Mouse Eye View of a Barn Owl Swooping In For the Kill Is Terrifying . I’ve included it here below for ease of reference.

Terrifying? Really? I don’t think I heard any of the people appearing in the video once refer to the owl or the footage as anything that instills fear. How about: “beautiful”, “graceful”, “amazing”, “wonderful”, or any other positive adjective that can be found in the English language? Trying to paint the clip in terms eliciting fear is disingenuous and most likely very far from the producer’s mind when they made the video. What it does is tap into the concept of trying to catch the audience’s attention to generate views through gripping a primal, visceral aspect of human psychology.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a different article on the same site from the day before, by a different author: Get a Terrifying, First-Hand Look at What It’s Like to Ride a 15-Foot-Tall Bike. There it is again. Terrifying. I’ll let you be the judge of whether this video is terrifying:

There certainly is cause to feel a certain trepidation at first, maybe some butterflies in the stomach, but we soon see that everyone is having fun. Being so high up gives a new point of view on the world and hopefully brings a little joy to all involved. I can certainly question the biker’s wisdom by choosing not to wear a helmet, particularly with some of the hazards encountered en route (cars deciding to push around the traffic wardens and the kite string incident), but none of these qualify as sources of terror in my book.

Indeed, let us explore the definition of terror for a moment:

terror |ˈterər|
1 extreme fear : people fled in terror | [in sing. ] a terror of darkness.
• the use of such fear to intimidate people, esp. for political reasons : weapons of terror.
• [in sing. ] a person or thing that causes extreme fear : his unyielding scowl became the terror of the Chicago mob.

The hostage crisis at the school in Beslan in September 2004: tragic and terrifying. A pack of zombies trying to claw my door down at midnight to munch on my brains: terrifying. Climbing 300 feet up a sheer cliff when you realize there’s an avalanche coming down the mountain at you: terrifying. Flying in a plane when someone looks out the window and asks: “excuse me, but is there supposed to be that much smoke and fire coming out of the engines?”: terrifying. Finding out someone has brought to life a T-Rex and has now accidentally set it loose through your back yard: terrifying. A global crisis where the inhabitants of a planet blindly savage its natural resources and pollute its environment in a bid to enrich the few at the cost of the health and safety of the entire world: starting to sound pretty scary. A bird swooping gracefully through the air to get some food : not so much. Some dude pullinga circus stunt in the street: Um. No.

Our society is fixated by the use of superlatives. Everything has to be more extreme, more awesome, more epic than the last. If it is not, we have been conditioned to believe that it must be worthless, and definitely not worth our time or money. I know the phenomenon of using fear to market items and ideas has been around for a long time, but when fear is used this blatantly and with such negligent frequency to qualify menial or even positive aspects of life, it loses all of its meaning. It devalues the events which do indeed qualify as terrifying by diluting them in a sea of lesser issues that are lumped in by them. We become  hypersensitized to fear, and learn to be afraid of everything, taking dramatic actions to protect ourselves from the dangers we perceive to be lurking everywhere, rather than embracing the unique and exhilarating opportunities that life holds for us.

That, or come up with new adjectives that allow us to provide much needed context and contrast to the upper tier of emotional reactions. If that’s the case, I’d like to coin the term “übspazrificating” for the media to start talking about really scary things. That should help them sort their priorities out and use the word only when it is really needed.

You heard it here first, folks.

Commander Hadfield – A source of good news and inspiration

War, death, sex, drugs, and rock & roll. It seems these days that the media, ever busy trying to rack up the most ratings possible through fear-mongering, shocking, or otherwise ‘edgy’ journalism, if it can be called that, is busily spewing out a stream of information that I cannot help but find paint a depressing view of the world. Certainly, war in Syria, Iranian and North Korean saber rattling, and nuclear ambitions, global terrorism, corruption, scandals, climate change, the dangers of sugar, salt, and everything in between warrant interest.

Indeed, ignorance of theses issues can lead us to make profoundly mistaken decisions about any number of things on the global stage or in our daily lives. However, the continuous drone and emphasis on the bad news tends to dampen its impact over time, desensitizing us to the information’s importance. It also leads the media to try to find yet another more dramatic, even more extreme story with which to catch our saturated attention. This will inevitably lead to a downwards tailspin of doom where the human mind will no longer be able to comprehend anything because we will be so desensitized to all the horror which reportedly occurs under our very noses every nanosecond. Eventually, I don’t think the news that a black hole forming on Broadway would get people to blink. It is New York after all.

This leads me to call for the media to change their tack once in a while. Take a hint from fine cuisine’s culinary playbook and use palate cleansers. They don’t need to be saccharine stories about kittens rolling balls of yarn, or inane stories of the latest winner of the local bingo tournament. Enough with worshiping people who rummage about in storage spaces, who make tons of money from fixing people’s houses, or who know nothing more than the gym, tanning, and laundry. There are plenty of people doing terrific work daily that bears mentioning. One such individual, whom I believe has done a fabulous job of connecting with the citizens of the world, is Commander Chris Hadfield on the International Space Station. The man is high up in orbit, and yet so down to Earth and personable that I think everyone would be happy to have him as a father/brother/uncle/friend. While he is busily zooming around the planet faster than a speeding bullet, he’s doing everything from cutting edge science, to making music, to giving us surfacelubbers a friendly tour of his blinged out space crib.


For those of you who have no idea of who Chris Hadfield is or what the ISS is, here’s a recent news article that can help out: National Post: Queen, prime minister congratulate Chris Hadfield as he becomes first Canadian in command of space station

This makes me feel that the world can be a better place. This makes me feel that there must be others like him who live their lives to make a positive change on not just their own lives but those of countless others around them, many of whom they will never meet. Why don’t we spend more time getting some news about people like him? Some scientist is doing great work on the cure for cancer? Could be worth talking to her? Another one is about to crack the mystery of high temperature superconducting? Let’s go see what he has to say. Find teachers that have made a huge difference in their students’ lives, or talk to aid workers with the World Food Programme in Kyrgyzstan. You know, switch things up a little bit. That way, when you media types have something really scary to say and that we should really be paying attention to you, we won’t be hearing you cry wolf instead.

Meanwhile, I hope the likes of Commander Hadfield help inspire a new generation to take up the cause of making this little blue sphere in the sky a better place, and I hope the media makes a habit of keeping touch with him.

Carrara version 8.5 / 9 on their way?

Carrara news from

If the tentative release for an update from Carrara 8 to 9 is accurate, then this is great news. I am a big fan. I find its interface simple and intuitive. The price point is a far less formidable barrier to entry for an amateur artist like myself than those represented by the likes of Maya, 3DS, Cinema 4D, and Modo. Although I use it mainly for hobby modelling, I have also used it to build concept models for a number of projects at work. This greatly increased my team’s ability to discuss the requirements and the vision for some pretty cutting-edge concepts, which incidentally were a lot of fun to come up with.

I’ve been a  Carrara user since version 5, and to date each update has been well worth the investment. I am looking forward to seeing what is in store in the coming months.

On managing information flow in the social age

Although I’ve been using the internet to answer deep questions since before it ran on a graphic user interface, I’m only a recent adopter of social media. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on Facebook for what the young ‘uns would consider “like, forever dude” or whatever the appropriate contemporary expression would be. I’ve even had my Twitter account for a while. However, other than sharing pokes and funny cat images, I haven’t done much in the way of exploring the potential that is represented in all the world’s punctual information flow which is now available at my fingertips.

Now that I’ve had some first hand experience with the challenges involved with getting one’s word out there (WARNING SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MY FATHER’S BOOK THE GENIUS CRUCIBLE:, and have spent some time reading the advice of other authors, I am becoming aware of social media’s power to vehicle messages of importance. The general consensus is that time judiciously spent on the likes of Twitter and Facebook are an investment that will pay off in terms of exposure. In the case of The Genius Crucible, we came at it late in the game. The Twitter profile is growing, and has some great discussions with fascinating people, but I remain unconvinced of its effect on the book itself.

I’ve therefore rolled these lessons into my latest outing, my personal profile, so that I may experiment and see what really does make social media tick. I’ve come across profiles that claim to have attracted dozens to hundreds of followers by the end of their first week by selecting and aggressively pursuing a niche. Strangely, many of these niches involve “get rich fast and easy” printed in ginormous letters across the screen, or spend their effort debating the latest pet fur style for random Hollywood celebrity X. I’ve always had a wide range of interests, and there is no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that I will ever get into celebrity gossip, so I forge my own path at the potential cost of millions of adulating fans and followers. Oh well.

Before I carry on too much further and lose my train of thought, I believe it is appropriate to share this wonderful and yet creepy site I’ve just stumbled across: . If you ever wonder whether anyone can hear what you shout across the digital ether, this is proof if I’ve ever seen it. It’s certainly a variation on a Twitter search, but presented in a much more manageable manner, especially if the default search query is changed manually in the browser address bar. Used for good, this can be invaluable. Used for ill, as semi-humourously suggested by the title, I believe it can lead to significant negative consequences. However, enough on that, back to the whole point of this entry.

So what is my main lesson so far? Manage information overload! I’ve found that it can become incredibly time consuming to follow up on conversations, manage blog entries, finding new and noteworthy things to Tweet or blog about. Even with the extremely limited following I have so far, I can easily get sucked into rabbit holes that keep me from doing the essential thing that all of this activity is about in the first place: writing.

I wish I had a solution to offer so far. It would be easy to advise you, dear reader, that you should only spend a certain amount of well-defined time per day working the social networks while dedicating the rest to working the story. However, in a world where everyone considers information that is hours old as ancient, there is a steady pressure to keep a watchful eye on current events. Current events as in seconds old. The days when a news bulletin could talk only about what happened in the day, or Heaven forbid a weekly recap appear to be rapidly receding into the distance. Again, I must be ancient. With the constant torrent of social information carving its way through the digital realm, it is true that an invaluable pearl could be missed if it is not caught as it falls from someone’s enlightened mind, buried in the flow of re-tweeted goat screams, hilarious as they may be.

What also boggles my mind are those with profiles who are following not tens, not hundreds, but thousands of people. I cannot imagine how they pick anything out of the flow. By the time their eyes have settled on a message, there could have been another hundred come in. By the time they are done reading it, who knows? How do they do it? Do they have a team of ghost tweeters there to keep the image up?

All of this to say that I welcome your comments with ideas as how to best manage these powerful tools. As I get more insight, I will expand the article to serve as a resource to all.

In the meantime, back to writing a picture book for kids!

A thoughtful blog on the difficulties our youngsters face.
Our minds, and particularly those of our children, have not yet adapted to the ever-increasing desire for extreme exposure in the media. Everything has to be more ‘more’ than whatever came before it, otherwise it is apparently without value. We are bombarded with a continuous flow of unfiltered information which can have a dramatic effect on our lives, as witnessed by the author’s entry.
Another concern which comes to mind with the media and social media is what is their level of responsibility for putting such concepts as self-harm into children’s heads in the first place? If at risk children are being exposed to these, then even with the continuous presence of a parent supervising their experiences, they will eventually begin to soak up the activity as a possible means to express or experience their frustrations, fears, depression, etc. rather than seeking out the help which is needed to overcome such a challenge.

Parenting And Stuff

alicia and grace

It was an evening last week when I learned that my Tween, a very sensitive and empathic girl, is chatting with a friend who is, at the same time over the phone with another friend escorting the local police searching for another (fourth) friend suspected of trying to commit suicide, per her FB.

In case you’ve lost me, this is the situation: My kid is sitting on her bed trembling and crying, while I am staring at her I-pad unbelievably, chat lines running extremely fast saying:  “Diane is not at the living room… wait, looking for her at the kitchen…not there! Perhaps she already did it! Wait, the police is entering the bathroom… Here she is! She is alive! She tried to kill herself!” Etc.

Once I was sure that Diane (which my daughter is not familiar with) is ok, and that her parents are aware of what’s happening in…

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