ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms

October 2007

A.I.28 Oct 2007

I’ve just put my Master’s thesis, “Structural Representation of the Game of Go”, online. Download it if you dare.

Links and Musings24 Oct 2007

The way this video neatly sums up the climate change dilemma is not in any way earth shattering or novel. What is annoying, then, is that I haven’t heard any of the politicians and activists, not even Al Gore or St├ęphane “My dog’s name is Kyoto” Dion, put it in these terms.

Their message is always dramatic: “We must save the earth or meet our doom!”. They end up undermining themselves by sounding shrill, and what should be a no-brainer becomes an intractable “controversy”. They’d be much more persuasive if they dropped the rhetoric and laid it out calmly.

At the end, he kind of channels JFK, if JFK had been a science teacher challenging us to save the Earth instead of a president challenging us to send men to the moon. And if JFK wore a SportsRacer t-shirt…

Movies21 Oct 2007

Last night we went to see In the Shadow of the Moon, a new documentary on the Apollo program that mixes restored NASA archival footage with close-ups of ten surviving lunar astronauts speaking into the camera.

At first I was actually a little disappointed because I didn’t learn much from the movie that I didn’t already know, but then I realized relating the trivia of Apollo isn’t really the film’s aim. It is different from the usual take on Apollo in that doesn’t focus as much on the technical details, or give a blow-by-blow account of the missions, or catalog the various funny/interesting/dangerous episodes that happened along the way. Instead it’s much more about what going to the moon meant to the men who went there.

Notably absent from the film is Neil Armstrong, who declined to be interviewed (the first man on the moon is somewhat reclusive now). The movie is perhaps better without him, since his absence frees it to focus on the other astronauts who his fame tends to overshadow (I bet if you asked your friends to name some Apollo astronauts, a lot of them would come up with “Neil Armstrong” and then draw a blank…). Still, he is by no means missing: the bulk of the screen time goes to his Apollo 11 crew-mates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, as well as 13′s Jim Lovell, and 12′s Alan Bean, all of whom discuss Armstrong at length. The portrait that emerges is of a man who really embodied the “Right Stuff”: very smart, highly skilled, without ego, and the ultimate Mr. cool under pressure. This is a guy who remained unflappable while getting shot down in Vietnam, saving an out-of-control Gemini module, avoiding death by a half-second when bailing out of a lunar-landing trainer, accidental chopping off his finger working on his farm (it was re-attached), and, not least, being the first guy to land on the moon (his wikipedia entry is pretty decent and full of anecdotes—for example, the one time he few with Chuck Yeager they crash-landed). I will confess that I’ve never been a big Armstrong “fan” (maybe because he gets all the attention), but this movie changed my perception of him.

It’s a little strange to see those men, who in their prime must have seemed immortal, in their old age, but even in their 70s, they all seem sharp and energetic and and retain something of their heroic youth. Buzz Aldrin is quite vital at age 77, and Jim Lovell reminded me of a pleasant retired fellow you might meet sitting in front of his trailer in a campground somewhere. I also enjoyed Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 command module pilot. It was nice to hear from him, especially given the tendency to think of the Apollo 11 crew as “Armstrong, Aldrin, and that other guy who didn’t walk on the moon”.

Some of the NASA footage is amazing. There’s a slow-motion close-up of a Saturn V rocket launch at the beginning of the movie that gave me goosebumps. There was also a fair bit I hadn’t seen before, including some cool footage from a camera mounted on the front of the Apollo 17 rover as it bounces across the lunar surface (Schmidt: “It was a bit of a wild ride even for Mr. Test Pilot Cernan”). Perhaps my favorite was an extended shot looking down at the surface as Apollo 11 leaves the moon. As the view unfolds you can see the trails in the regolith that the astronauts made as the moved around the landing site, like tracks in the snow.

If the film hadn’t touched on the “moon landing was faked” conspiracy theories at all, that would have perhaps been better, but the way they addressed it, by including several short clips of the astronauts scoffing at the notion into the closing credits, was fitting. The best line (I forget from who, Collins?): “We went to the moon nine times. Why did we need to fake it nine times?”

Photos17 Oct 2007

Today I went for a walk and took pictures of the Canada Geese gathering together on the Rideau Canal. Talk about a heritage minute… (Click on the photos for full-size.)

Finger four formation!

There were quite a lot of geese.

If it walks like a goose and talks like a goose…

Most of the geese were at the Carleton end of Dow’s Lake.

There are a lot of nice trees along the canals.

Dinner time! No, not for me, for the geese. I’m pretty sure eating a Canada goose is against the law. Sheesh.

These two seemed happy together.

Face-down in the river!

There was an older gentleman watching the geese from the other side of the canal. You can make out his reflection in the water.

The view from the river, looking in to the park.

Periodically, a group of geese would take to the air.

Looks a lot like fall is here.

Musings04 Oct 2007

50 years ago today, the USSR launched the first artificial Earth satellite.

I have a copy of Paul Dickson’s book, “Sputnik: The Shock of the Century”, but it isn’t at hand. There’s a decent companion website, however. It’s a good snapshot of the time and the impact of the what was basically the starter’s pistol for the space race, and an electric jolt to the American psyche.

You might find this odd to hear from a self-identified progressive born in the 80s, but I’m a little nostalgic for the 1950s. Such faith in technology, and fear of it at the same time. Rapid technological innovation: I’ve always been a bit sore that I missed most of the space age (the shuttle is neat and all, but it only goes to low earth orbit…). Comforting voices of authority vs. the journalism of Edward Murrow and his ilk, the likes of which America has not seen since. As an example of both, I quote Dickson’s book:

“Listen now,” said the NBC radio network announcer on the night of October 4, 1957, “for the sound that forevermore separates the old from the new.”

I’ll leave it to you to imagine how the same thing would be reported on the 24-hour news channels today.

Nostalgia is probably the wrong word. I think the 50s are fascinating though, perhaps the most interesting decade of the 20th century. The world went “well, the war is over, what do we do now?” and in that decade set the tone for everything we’re still living in 50 odd years on. Sputnik itself was a key trigger of our eventual technological development (computers owe a lot to the space race, after all).

Starting this week is Ron Howard’s documentary, “In the Shadow of the Moon”. As I’m a total Apollo geek, I can’t wait.

News01 Oct 2007

New domain, new site template, same old Scrimisms. I suppose Jamie’s fridge has just become lonelier. Oh well, such is the price of progress.

Thanks Jamie for letting me hang out next to the lettuce for the past couple years.

I should add that this move was prompted (albeit indirectly) by the discovery that my primary email address, “wait-n-point”, aka w8npt (at) unb (dot) ca, is going to expire soon. Apparently UNB’s “email for life” program has some fine print.

You probably shouldn’t use “wait-n-point” anymore, unless you enjoy talking to yourself. Instead, you can email me at “ian” at this domain (“”).