Log in

A Bit More Detail

> recent entries
> calendar
> friends

Site Meter
since 7 July 2005

Do you have any suggestions? Propose them here!

My Amazon.ca Wishlist

Where else am I online?
Demography Matters (group blog)

History and Futility (group blog)

Me on Flickr (randyfmcdonald)

Me on Twitter (@randyfmcdonald)

Me on YouTube

News and Information
Eye Weekly
Google News (Canada, English)
The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
Inter Press Service
National Post
NOW Toronto
The Toronto Star (Toronto)

Selected Blogs
3 Quarks Daily
80 Beats (Andrew Moseman, Brett Israel)
A BCer in Toronto (Jeff Jedras)
Acts of Minor Treason (Andrew Barton)
Andart (Anders Sandberg)
Alpha Sources (Claus Vistesen)
Apostrophen ('Nathan Smith)
Arnold Zwicky's Blog
Aufbau Ost (Melanie K.)
Bad Astronomy (Phil Plait)
Beyond the Beyond (Bruce Sterling)
Bonoboland (Edward Hugh)
Bow. James Bow.
Broadside Blog (Caitlin Kelly)
A (Budding) Sociologist's Commonplace Book (Dan Hirschman)
Gerry Canavan's blog
Castrovalva (Richard R.)
Centauri Dreams (Paul Gilster)
Charlie's Diary (Charlie Stross)
City of Brass (Aziz Poonawalla)
Crooked Timber
The Dragon's Gaze (William Baird)
The Dragon's Tales (William Baird)
Dangerous Minds
Everyday Sociology Blog
False Positives (Ian Irving)
Far Outliers (Joel)
The Fifteenth (Steve Roby)
A Fistful of Euros
GeoCurrents (Martin Lewis)
Global Sociology
The Great Grey Bridge, Honourary Canadian (Philip Turner)
Halfway Down the Danube (Douglas Muir et al.)
Hunting Monsters and inuit bikini scarlet carwash
In Media Res (Russell Arben Fox)
Inkless Wells (Paul Wells)
Intuitionistically Uncertain (Michel)
Itching for Eestimaa (Guistino)
Ivor Tossell on the Web
Jim's Occasional Journal of Sorts (Jim Rittenhouse)
Joe.My.God (Joe)
Johnny Pez's blog
Karl Schroeder's blog
Kieran Healy's Weblog
Language Hat
Language Log (Mark Liberman et al.)
Languages of the World (Asya Pereltsvaig)
Lawyers, Guns, and Money
LRB Blog (London Review of Books)
The Map Room (Jonathan Crowe)
Marginal Revolution (Tyler Cowen)
Marginalia (Peteris Cedrins)
Mark Simpson
Maximos' Blog (Russell Darnley)
More Words, Deeper Hole (James Nicoll)
The Naked Anthropologist (Laura Agustín)
New APPS blog (group blog)
No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons (Re-reloaded) (Peter Watts)
The Numerati (Stephen Baker)
NYRB Daily (New York Review of Books)
Open the Future (Jamais Cascio)
Otto's Random Thoughts (J. Otto Pohl)
The Pagan Prattle (Feòrag)
Passing Strangeness (Paul Drye)
patrickcain.ca (Patrick Cain)
Personal Reflections (Jim Belshaw)
Photosapience Daily (Jerrold)
Pollotencheg (Ukrainian demography blog)
The Power and the Money (Noel Maurer)
Progressive Download (John Farrell)
Registan (group blog)
Rev Rachel Rambles (Rachel Kessler)
The Rose and Phoenix Inn (Victoria Goddard)
Russian Demographic Live Journal (Ba-ldei Aga)
A Rusty Little Box (Rebecca)
Savage Minds
The Search (Douglas Todd)
Shadow, Light and Colour (Elizabeth Beattie)
Sharp Blue (Richard Baker)
The Signal
Some Ramblings from Mr. Gueguen
Steve Munro
Strange Maps
Sublime Oblivion (Anatoly Karlin)
Supernova Condensate
Tall Penguin
Technosociology (Zeynep Tufekci)
Towleroad (Andy Towle)
Understanding Society (Daniel Little)
Volokh Conspiracy
Wasatch Economics (Scott Peterson)
Wave Without A Shore (C.J. Cherryh)
The Way the Future Blogs (Frederik Pohl)
Whatever (John Scalzi)
Window on Eurasia (Paul Goble)
The Yorkshire Ranter (Alex Harrowell)
Zero Geography (Mark Graham)

Who links to me?

> profile
> previous 20 entries
> next 20 entries

Thursday, August 25th, 2016
9:34 pm - [NEWS] Some links about the discovery of Proxima Centauri b
The first confirmation I had of the discovery of Proxima Centauri b came from James Nicoll, who shared the European Southern Observatory's announcement that the Pale Red Dot search program bore spectacular fruit.

Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy, Jennifer Ouellette at Gizmodo, and Franck Marchis at the Planetary Society Blog provided among the first blogged reactions I saw on my Facebook feed. Marchis' summary of what led to the discovery deserves reproduction.

We now know of 3,374 exoplanets, an enormously large number, given that we discovered the first one only in 1995. Like the cartographers of the seventeenth century, who slowly build a map of our world, astronomers are drawing a map of our galactic neighborhood. We think we have a good handle on the location of nearby stars—that is, ones that are less than 50 light-years away. We know their distance, size, temperature, and if they are multiple systems or single stars, for example; but ultimately what we would really like to add to this 3D map of the galaxy are the planets in orbit around these stars.

The Pale Red Dot group was particularly interested in finding planets around Proxima Centauri, the star closest to the Sun. Proxima Centauri is only 4.25 light-years away, so it’s in our cosmic backyard. Because of its small mass, it’s too faint to be seen with the naked eye, and was discovered only in 1915. At the end of the 1990s, astronomers tried to detect potential large planets in orbit around this star using the radial-velocity method and came back empty-handed.

In the article published today in Nature, a group of modern astronomers reported on what they learned by using two high-precision radial-velocity instruments: HARPS at the 3.6m telescope of La Silla and UVES at the VLT 8m class telescope, both part of the European Southern Observatory. Several of these observations were done as part of other programs that took place between 2000 and 2016, but from January 2016 to March 2016, the team collected what we call high-cadence data, a fancy way to state that the star was observed once per night to increase its chance of detecting a tiny variation in its motion (about a meter per second, or the speed of a human walking) that might be caused by the presence of a small planet.

This ambitious program has paid off beyond our wildest dreams in that we have now unambiguously detected a planet with a minimum mass 1.3 times that of Earth orbiting the star right in the middle of the goldilocks zone (0.05 AU). I am not a specialist in radial-velocity measurement, but this detection seems quite convincing in that it has a false-alarm probability of less than 0.1% and uses a careful comparison of star activity (done by using additional small telescopes during the survey) that are known to mimic the signal of a planet. That is a very significant new data point to add in our cosmic map.

This world, Marchis notes, is not necessarily an Earth analog. Its tidal locking to Proxima aside, as is Proxima Centauri's nature as a very active flare star, we know only basic data about Proxima Centauri b: "The planet’s MINIMUM mass is 1.3 Earths because we don’t really know the orientation of the orbital plane with respect to the observer. (The radial-velocity method provides a measurement of m sin i, with i being the inclination of the system with respect to us.) Assuming random orientations of orbital planes, we have a 90% probability that the true mass is less than 2.3 times the minimum mass, so 3 Earths. In short, this could be a super-Earth or something more exotic, like a baby-Neptune."

Even so, this is huge. The nearest star to our own hosts a potentially Earth-like world? The Dragon's Gaze was quick to link to the discovery paper, but it was when I saw the news appear on Joe. My. God. that I knew this was big.

Centauri Dreams' Paul Gilster reacted at length, going back to Proxima's first appearance in science fiction in 1935 and noting the many potential issues with Proxima Centauri b being truly habitable.

We have a long way to go before knowing whether a planet around a red dwarf like this can truly be habitable. Tidal locking is always an issue because a planet this close to its host (Proxima Centauri b is on an 11.2-day orbit) is probably going to have one side fixed facing the star, the other in permanent night. There are papers arguing, however, that tidal lock does not prevent a stable atmosphere with global circulation and heat distribution from occurring.

And what about Proxima’s magnetic field? The average global magnetic flux is high compared to the Sun’s (600±150 Gauss vs. the Sun’s 1 G). Couple this with flare activity and there are scenarios where a planet gradually has its atmosphere stripped away. A strong planetary magnetic field could, however, prevent this erosion. Nor would X-rays (400 times the flux the Earth receives) necessarily destroy the planet’s ability to keep an atmosphere.

And then there’s the matter of the planet’s origins, and how that could affect what is found there. From the paper:

…forming Proxima b from in-situ disk material is implausible because disk models for small stars would contain less than 1 M Earth of solids within the central AU. Instead, either 1) the planet migrated in via type I migration, 2) planetary embryos migrated in and coalesced at the current planet’s orbit, or 3) pebbles/small planetesimals migrated via aerodynamic drag and later coagulated into a larger body. While migrated planets and embryos originating beyond the ice-line would be volatile rich, pebble migration would produce much drier worlds.

Discover's blogs provided good coverage, D-Brief looking up the Alpha Centauri system's more notable appearances in science fiction and Crux summing up the data.

The question of habitability has been coming up. The Pale Red Dot team engaged in a Reddit AMA about their discovery, while co-discover Ignas Ribisi analyses the potential for habitability, and liquid water, at length. (Much depends on how this world is tidally locked, it turns out.) In a charming poetic analysis, Sean Raymond also examines the question of how the planet is in synchronous orbit with its sun. Gizmodo, meanwhile, published an article suggesting that Proxima's flares need not pose a challenge for life on Proxima b, that the phenomenon of biofluorescence--briefly, using proteins to absorb high-energy light and retransmit it in less harmful forms--could well be present.

New Scientist has an enlightening article that, among other things, looks at the background to the planet's discovery and hints at more.

Astronomers will still want to turn their scopes towards Proxima Centauri – to confirm that the planet is real, and avoid a repeat of an earlier embarrassment. Despite initial excitement, the claimed discovery in 2012 of a planet orbiting neighbouring Alpha Centauri B now looks to have been a mistake.

[Mikko] Tuomi and his colleagues have done everything they can to avoid that happening again. He first saw signs of Proxima b in 2013, when looking at data taken by the Very Large Telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile between 2003 and 2009. “I spent weeks trying to make the signal go away, trying to show that it was caused by the star’s activity or pure measurement noise rather than a planet,” he says. But the team became increasingly convinced.

To confirm the find, the group examined data from other telescopes and in January this year began the Pale Red Dot campaign, using another instrument in Chile – the HARPS planet-searcher at the La Silla Observatory. The observations lasted 60 nights, but the team was confident of a discovery after just 10 nights of data, says Tuomi. “It was as predicted by the previous observations. We knew this was going to become a year to remember for exoplanet science.”

“I think this is a very solid thing,” says Snellen. “For me personally, this is the scientific discovery of the year, maybe of the decade.”

The team also saw signs of a second potential planet around Proxima Centauri, a super-Earth with an orbit of between 60 and 500 days. If such an outer planet exists, it might be possible to observe it, says Tuomi.

What can be said but that we need--want--so much more data? What is Proxima Centauri b actually like? Could it be Earth-like? Are there oceans, life?

I, and the Earth, await more.

(1 comment | comment on this)

3:58 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "One Tiny Ski Town Is Defying Japan’s Scary Population Slump"
Bloomberg's Chris Cooper and Katsuyo Kuwako report on how a Hokkaido ski town, Niseko, has avoided depopulation thanks largely to an embrace of the wider world. The performance relative to the rest of Hokkaido, or to small Japanese communities generally, is notable.

Japan’s shrinking population has weighed on the world’s third-biggest economy, alarmed government forecasters and turned some rural communities into veritable ghost towns.

Not so in Niseko, a ski resort community on the nation’s mountainous, northern island of Hokkaido that’s prospering in the face of all the demographic gloom.

The local government has embraced immigration in a way the national government hasn’t. The area’s booming economy has spurred investment in luxury hotels, restaurants, and shops--and attracted local and expat workers who’ve become full-time residents. Niseko’s population grew 2.9 percent last year to 4,952 compared with 2010 levels, the highest mark in four decades. Nationwide, the population slid 0.7 percent over the same period.

“There haven’t been any other towns that have been this successful before,” said Tatsuya Wakao, a consultant at Fujitsu Research Institute. "They did a good job in recognizing the need for foreign tourism."

True, not every rural community is blessed with the ski slopes and hot springs that Niseko enjoys. Should the town’s much larger neighbor Sapporo win its bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2026, Niseko would host the Alpine events for the games and enjoy an economic windfall.

That said, other Japanese ski resorts and tourism centers have fallen on hard times and Niseko offers broader lessons to all struggling rural towns about the power of savvy and sustained marketing as a rising middle class in Asia broadens the region’s tourism opportunities.

(comment on this)

3:56 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "A seat at the bar: Issues of race and class in the world of specialty coffee"
Savage Minds hosts an essay by William Cotter and Mary-Caitlyn Valentinsson looking at the cultural and ethical complexities of specialty coffee.

If you’re in academia, you probably have a very close relationship with coffee. For most Americans, coffee feels like a necessary part of our day, crucial to our higher-order cognitive functioning. Coffee has been a staple in American households and workplaces for over 100 years, and coffee as a commodity is one of the most widely traded and profitable items on the international market (Pendergrast 1999). In early 19th century, coffee served as a strong index for the elite classes of American society. It was expensive, often challenging to obtain, and was consumed primarily within prestigious social circles. However, the increasing reach of white European imperialism and the fine-tuning of the mechanisms of colonial trade and exploitation led to such resources becoming accessible to a wider range of consumers. In less than a century, the notion of coffee as a beverage consumed in the drawing rooms of the upper crust eroded. Coffee instead became a ubiquitous fixture of the American working class, tied to notions of cheery productivity and the booming prosperity of the American labor force (Jimenez 1995).

Despite the place of coffee as a common fixture in the American psyche, there is an accumulation of evidence to suggest that the social meaning of coffee is again shifting. Today, it seems that coffee is being enregistered (Agha 2003), or is coming to be seen as, a symbol of a “higher class” America. But instead of the narrowly defined American elite of the past, coffee, and specifically “specialty” or “craft” coffee, is becoming an increasingly important part of the “yuppie”, “hipster” experience. Craft coffee in the United States is an industry of skilled artisans, focused on delivering handmade products to their communities. This reorientation in the American coffee industry towards a more craft-focused ideal is closely tied to the emergence and growth of independent micro-roasters and coffee shops that offer a “local”, community-centered alternative to the mass market coffee franchises that have until recently dominated the landscape of American coffee consumption (Roseberry 1996).

But specialty coffee, like other craft industries in the United States, comes with a high price tag. While the $.99 cup of coffee still exists, the world of specialty coffee is limited to those who can economically participate in the industry by paying $5 or more for a cup of coffee. This conspicuous consumption indexes an investment in not just the coffee itself, but also in how the coffee is grown, harvested, roasted, and brewed. At the same time, consumption of specialty coffee reifies the divide between the $.99 cup of coffee and the $5 cup of coffee. This is one way in which forms of stratification tied to wider issues of race and class in the United States become concrete.

The physical spaces that specialty coffee shops and roasters occupy play an important role in the wider landscape of the industry. In many cases, specialty coffee storefronts are opening their doors in urban areas undergoing gentrification. The white yuppies and hipsters at the vanguard of these changes hold an economic status that makes a five dollar cup of coffee affordable, something that in many cases cannot be said for the historical residents of these areas.

The symbiosis between the consumption-based desires of this new upper-middle class and the services provided by the specialty coffee industry creates a situation in which craft industries feed off these larger urban development projects. Gentrification encourages new specialty establishments. At the same time, the existence and proliferation of specialty coffee, in these locations, further encourages gentrification through the availability of the commodities that the new upper-middle class feel they “need”.

(comment on this)

3:54 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Behind the scenes of Toronto’s $15,000 capybara caper"
The Toronto Star's Robin Levinson King goes into detail about the recent hunt for the capybaras of High Park.

This is the true story of Bonnie and Clyde.

No, not the infamous outlaws who went on an armed robbery spree during the Great Depression. This is about the two endearing but evasive capybaras who escaped from the High Park Zoo, prompting a media frenzy and month-long search and rescue mission.

Lost in the park’s 400 acres of forest, ponds and trails, the mischievous rodents evaded capture for 36 days and cost the city at least $15,000 in services and overtime for about 30 employees, according to emails from the city’s parks and recreation division obtained through access to information laws.

It all began the morning of May 24, when the capybaras, which had been purchased for a total of $700 from a Texas breeder, were dropped off at their pen in High Park Zoo.

Zookeepers had hoped to exchange the duo, who are capable of breeding, for lonely old Chewy, High Park’s OG capybara. But Bonnie and Clyde, as they were later nicknamed by city staff, had freedom in mind and went on the lam.

(comment on this)

3:50 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "WMDs in the west end of Toronto?"
Anti-nuclear activist Zach Ruiter writes about the latest campaign against the nuclear processing plant on Lansdowne just north of Dupont, just west of me.

Toronto's west end has a new nuclear neighbour. General Electric Hitachi announced August 19 that it plans to sell its Canadian nuclear operations, including its uranium pellet plant on Lansdowne, to BWXT Canada Ltd., a subsidiary of Lynchburg, Virginia's BWX Technologies, which operates one of only two facilities in the U.S. licensed to process highly enriched uranium.

BWX Technologies is the prime contractor in charge of the U.S. Department of Energy's 13,000-hectare nuclear weapons testing laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Among the "recent accomplishments" listed on the company's website: the manufacturing of the grapefruit-size plutonium cores used in the W88 thermonuclear warhead designed for the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

If BWXT acquires the necessary licence and regulatory approval from the federal government, it will take over GE Hitachi's operations and 350 employees at three plants in Toronto, Peterborough and Arnprior. BWXT's Cambridge plant was recently awarded a $103 million contract to supply the first eight of 32 steam generators for the refurbishment of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Tiverton.

The GE Hitachi plant at 1025 Lansdowne, north of Dupont, processes 53 per cent of all the nuclear fuel used in Canada's nuclear reactors. Drums of yellowcake uranium dioxide powder are trucked into Toronto and transformed into ceramic pellets for use in fuel rods at the Pickering and Darlington reactors.

I've blogged at length about my support for the plant. I see nothing in the article to justify a change of opinion.

(comment on this)

3:49 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "The life and death of Peter Dickinson and The Inn on the Park"
At Spacing Toronto, Chris Bateman writes about a brilliant young architect, dead too soon, and the hotel he designed.

Peter Dickinson was dying when he designed the Inn on the Park.

From a bed in Mount Sinai hospital, his body weakened from cancer, Dickinson listened to Four Seasons co-founder Isadore Sharp explain his idea for a new flagship location at Leslie and Eglinton.

Sharp’s sixteen acre site was directly opposite the west branch of the Don River, next to Sunnybrook and E. T. Seaton parks, and rose gently to a hill in the middle. It was outside the core, but Sharp hoped to lure guests to the picturesque location.

After securing the land, Sharp approached Dickinson, who had previously designed the company’s first motor lodge on Jarvis and Carlton streets.

The hotelier explained he could only afford to build a 200-room complex, but that the design should be able to accommodate expansion.

“He sketched on a pad the way the hotel looked when it opened,” Isadore Sharp told Globe and Mail architecture columnist, Adele Freedman. “This building, when it opened, was identical to the sketch.”

(comment on this)

3:46 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Where Does Ottawa’s New Transit Funding Fit In Toronto’s Budget?"
Steve Munro begins his analysis of the new federal funding for Toronto transit.

With many Huzzahs! the federal government announced the details of funding for many projects in Toronto and other parts of Ontario under its new Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. This first step concentrates on “state of good repair” (“SOGR”) projects, especially as they relate to the TTC whose capital budget has been constrained by Toronto Council’s willingness to raise new revenues for only a few pet projects.

Press reports, together with the usual tub-thumping from Mayor Tory, imply that we are about to see a huge leap in work on TTC infrastructure upgrades. This sounds good, but the truth is not quite so simple, or as photo-op worthy.

The TTC’s Capital Budget can be a forbidding document, even in the short version that is online. The full version, with detailed descriptions of every project, fills two large binders. A fundamental problem, as we have heard every year for some time now, is that the total value of the ten-year Capital Plan is not completely funded, and there is a shortfall over that period of close to $3 billion. This does not include projects with their own earmarked funding such as the Spadina Subway Extension (aka “TYSSE”) or the Scarborough Subway Extension (“SSE”).

The main issues facing the City of Toronto and the TTC are:
•Almost all ongoing funding for Capital spending has dried up at both the Provincial and Federal levels with only the Gas Tax flowing on an annual basis. This amounts to about $160 million from Ottawa and $70m from Queen’s Park (an additional $90m in Provincial funding goes to the Operating Budget).
•City borrowing is constrained by a debt ceiling target such that no more than 15% of the Property Tax income is required to service the City’s debt. Major projects added to the budget in recent years, notably the Gardiner Expressway, have pushed the City right to that line leaving no headroom to finance additional projects until the early 2020s.
•City Council has not been willing to raise additional revenues either through the property tax, or other mechanisms allowed by Queen’s Park, to service new debt beyond the 1.6% Scarborough Subway levy, and Mayor Tory’s proposed 0.5% levy to help fund some other capital needs.
•Queen’s Park announces a lot of transit funding, but this focuses on areas outside of Toronto. Even within Toronto, it flows mainly to Metrolinx, not to the City and TTC. All of the new funding is for Capital projects, not for day-to-day operations.

There is much, much more at his blog.

(comment on this)

12:51 pm - [BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • News of Proxima Centauri b spread across the blogosphere yesterday, to Discover's D-Brief and Crux, to Joe. My. God., to the Planetary Society Blog, and to Centauri Dreams and The Dragon's Gaze.

  • blogTO notes the impending opening of Toronto's first Uniqlo and suggests TTC buses may soon have a new colour scheme.

  • The Dragon's Gaze discusses detecting exo-Titans and looks at the Kepler-539 system.

  • Marginal Revolution notes Poland's pension obligations.

  • The Map Room Blog looks at how empty maps are of use to colonialists.

  • Steve Munro examines traffic on King Street.

  • The NYR Daily looks at what an attic of ephemera reveals about early Islam.

  • Otto Pohl announces his arrival in Kurdistan.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog and Window on Eurasia note that more than half of Russia's medal-winners at the Olympics were not ethnically Russian, at least not wholly.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at Ukraine's balance sheet 25 years after independence and considers if Belarus is on the way to becoming the next Ukraine.

(comment on this)

11:56 am - [PHOTO] Looking towards Etobicoke from Hanlan's Point

Yesterday I did my traditional circumnavigation of the Toronto Islands, heading from east at Ward's Island to west at Hanlan's Point. More photos from my trip are up at my Flickr page, and at Instagram.

It was really lovely yesterday.

(comment on this)

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016
9:31 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "City rules on street sales drive food cart owner bananas"
Toronto's problems with managing non-traditional street food, the Toronto Star's Jessica Botelho-Urbanski notes, have not gone away.

A woman who's selling chocolate-covered-frozen-banana treats by tricycle is feeling too ticked to ride as she tries to navigate what she says is the city's confusing licensing structure.

The High Park resident spent about $25,000 to get her chocolate-covered-frozen-banana-on-a-stick-treat business, coco-bananaz, up and running. After jumping through what she called too many hoops at city hall, she plans to shut down the tricycle-based operation for the season.

In a strongly worded letter to Mayor John Tory’s office, Stanleigh expressed her disillusionment.

“Toronto appears to be against innovation, against any sort of change, ‘CLOSED for business,’” she told Tory. “Why does a small entrepreneur have so much difficulty gaining access to information, markets and opportunities in this city?”

[. . .]

“I’m totally flabbergasted," she said. “It’s a maze to try and get through, and it shouldn’t be this way. It should be clear, it should be easy, and they should give people who are trying to start small businesses access to the market.”

(comment on this)

9:29 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "TTC gets $500M boost from Ottawa"
Betsy Powell of the Toronto Star shares the news.

Ottawa will pump $500 million into the beleaguered TTC in 2016-17 for dozens of projects, ranging from subway and bus repairs to adding bike parking at 40 stations, the Star has learned.

The federal cash is flowing to the province and cities to spend on transit and water, to “make sure what we already have is in a state of good repair and optimizing our existing infrastructure,” Kate Monfette, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Communities, said Monday.

It’s a substantial down-payment on the $840 million the federal government has earmarked for Toronto transit. “There are more projects to come,” Monfette said.

TTC chair Josh Colle acknowledged the funded projects are not glamorous but said the nuts-and-bolts transit work is needed to reduce breakdowns and delays.

“This kind of work just gets neglected constantly — it’s hard to ribbon-cut for a subway pump but people get angry when we close a line or a station to deal with repairs. With a (repair) backlog so big, we just need help from other levels of government. To have a federal government that gets that and steps up is really encouraging and almost unheard of.”

(comment on this)

9:14 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "High-rise living increasingly part of GTA’s high-priced housing"
The Toronto Star's Tess Kalinowski describes the rise of the high-rise home throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

High-rise living and sky-high home prices aren't just for downtowners any more.

Toronto is still the hotbed of condo activity, with more than half of sales occurring in the city. But apartments are a hot commodity all over, with sales across the region rising 52 per cent in July compared to the same month last year.

Low-rise home sales declined 32 per cent last month, part of a 7 per cent drop this year to date. But high rises have risen 25 per cent year over year in 2016.

The average price of a new low-rise Toronto-area home — including detached houses, semis and townhomes — continued edging closer to the $1 million mark last month, hitting $906,508 — up 12 per cent over July 2015.

At the same time, the supply of ground-level new homes has plummeted, according to an Altus Group report for the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) released Monday.

(comment on this)

9:09 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "More crumbling Toronto Community Housing units to close amid budget pressures: CEO"
David Hains' previously mentioned Torontoist post refers to Jennifer Pagliaro's article in the Toronto Star. It makes for distressing reading.

Standing on the pathway between townhome complexes in the Toronto Community Housing neighbourhood at Jane St. and Firgrove Cres., Sheila Penny, vice-president of facilities management, holds out a jagged chunk of speckled red brick the size of her palm to demonstrate.

The crumbling brick exteriors, the deterioration exacerbated by water damage, have already left 22 units uninhabitable. One unit has been closed some 15 years, building officials said. Back yards have been quarantined with construction fencing strewn with “danger” signs.

[. . .]

Last year, this community was slated for revival, one of three areas selected for co-ordinated and expedited repairs as part of what’s called the “ReSet” program — a fresh start meant to prioritize needs with help from residents and to save money through bulk purchasing. Mayor John Tory was on hand in September to make the announcement, standing on the Grassway’s basketball court. He called the closure of units due to lack of repairs “not an acceptable situation.”

But heading into budget season, TCH faces a $96 million gap in operating funding and is short $1.7 billion that was expected but has yet to materialize from higher levels of government to make much-needed repairs across the city.

With a council-approved budget direction led by Tory requiring all agencies and departments to find 2.6 per cent in savings, the housing corporation’s CEO Greg Spearn said inevitable cuts will mean cancelling quality-of-life improvements proposed by Tory’s own housing taskforce last year.

(comment on this)

9:06 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Toronto Should Get Angry About How Council Has Failed to Address the City’s Social Hou
Torontoist's David Hains makes the point that Toronto's neglect of social housing is a monstrous failing.

Only five per cent of Toronto lives in social housing, and many of us don’t regularly interact with these homes or know that they’re in our neighbourhoods. That’s a problem because these units—mostly built in the 50s to 70s—are crumbling in the face of political neglect.

This problem will only be exacerbated by Council’s edict to cut 2.6 per cent from every City department and agency. The upshot? More units will be shuttered and fewer repairs will get done at a time when the agency’s tenants—including some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens—need the help most.

The Saturday edition of the Star explores the Grassways community located at Jane and Firgrove, where walls and brick are literally crumbling, and 22 units have already been closed down. The buildings were slated for much-needed repairs, and, in September 2015, John Tory held a press conference to tout progress at the site.

Now TCH’s CEO says that they don’t have the funding to make the necessary repairs, and more units will have to be closed if the financial situation remains the same. The Star article goes through the sad state of affairs in detail, and it’s worth a read.

In July, Council voted to reduce all City budgets by 2.6 per cent. This means a $5 million budget reduction for the agency, which is pretty manageable. But TCH was already starting from a $96 million deficit, much of it due to unfunded repair needs and increased costs as tenants can’t afford more in rent but utility bills go up. So TCH is actually dealing with a $101 million problem, not a $5 million problem. The consequences in a crisis of this magnitude mean that some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, like those in Grassways, live in increasingly deteriorating conditions or get kicked out of their homes.

(comment on this)

11:47 am - [NEWS] Some Wednesday links

  • Bloomberg talks about Poland's problems with economic growth, notes that McMansions are poor investments, considers what to do about the Olympics post-Rio, looks at new Japanese tax incentives for working women, looks at a French war museum that put its stock up for sale, examines the power of the New Zealand dairy, looks at the Yasukuni controversies, and notes Huawei's progress in China.

  • Bloomberg View is hopeful for Brazil, argues demographics are dooming Abenomics, suggests ways for the US to pit Russia versus Iran, looks at Chinese fisheries and the survival of the ocean, notes that high American population growth makes the post-2008 economic recovery relatively less notable, looks at Emperor Akihito's opposition to Japanese remilitarization, and argues that Europe's soft response to terrorism is not a weakness.

  • CBC notes that Russian doping whistleblowers fear for their lives, looks at how New Brunswick farmers are adapting to climate change, and looks at how Neanderthals' lack of facility with tools may have doomed them.

  • The Globe and Mail argues Ontario should imitate Michigan instead of Québec, notes the new Anne of Green Gables series on Netflix, and predicts good things for Tim Horton's in the Philippines.

  • The Guardian notes that Canada's impending deal with the European Union is not any model for the United Kingdom.

  • The Inter Press Service looks at child executions in Iran.

  • MacLean's notes that Great Lakes mayors have joined to challenge a diversion of water from their shared basin.

  • National Geographic looks at the elephant ivory trade, considers the abstract intelligence of birds, considers the Mayan calendar's complexities, and looks at how the young generation treats Pluto's dwarf planet status.

  • The National Post notes that VIA Rail is interested in offering a low-cost bus route along the Highway of Tears in northern British Columbia.

  • Open Democracy notes that the last Russian prisoner in Guantanamo does not want to go home, and wonders why the West ignores the Rwandan dictatorship.

  • TVO considers how rural communities can attract immigrants.

  • Universe Today suggests sending our digital selves to the stars, looks at how cirrus clouds kept early Mars warm and wet, and notes the discovery of an early-forming direct-collapse black hole.

  • Variance Explained looks at how Donald Trump's tweets clearly show two authors at work.

  • The Washignton Post considers what happens when a gay bar becomes a bar with more general appeal.

  • Wired notes that the World Wide Web still is far from achieving its founders' dreams, looks at how news apps are dying off, and reports on the Univision purchase of Gawker.

(comment on this)

11:31 am - [BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • blogTO notes the all-gender washrooms of the CNE.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly looks at ways people can preserve themselves.

  • Dangerous Minds shares photos of homeless people, by themselves and dressed in their childhood dreams.

  • False Steps looks at a proposed Soviet orbital tug.

  • Far Outliers looks at the Navajo, at their pastoralist lifestyle, at their adaptiveness, and at their 1864-1865 deportation east and their 1868 return.

  • Marginal Revolution notes the extreme dependence of Australia on China.

  • The Planetary Society Blog considers the question of scale in a Mars photo.

  • Towleroad notes the impending success of Frank Ocean's album.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia is undercounting Ukrainians, despairs for the future of Russia-Ukraine relations, and notes the Hitler-Stalin alliance's legacies.

(1 comment | comment on this)

8:25 am - [PHOTO] Six photos from Trinity Bellwoods Park
Last evening, I took a quick walk in a roughly diagonal direction, from the steps in the southeast up to Dundas and Shaw, through Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Into the sun #toronto #trinitybellwoods #queenstreetwest #evening

Closed off #toronto #trinitybellwoods #queenstreetwest

Under the trees #toronto #trinitybellwoods #queenstreetwest

Down #toronto #trinitybellwoods #queenstreetwest

Deep #toronto #trinitybellwoods #queenstreetwest

Together #toronto #trinitybellwoods #queenstreetwest

(comment on this)

8:17 am - [PHOTO] Three photos of merchandise from Avonlea Village, Cavendish
I visited Cavendish's Avonlea Village, an imagined recreation of the sort of late 19th century village centre that Anne Shirley would have lived in, on this trip. The entrance fee that had applied in past years was not in evidence on this trip, but the abundance of Anne-related merchandise--at this site, and at others--shows that Anne is still a moneymaker.

Potato chips of various kinds #pei #cavendish #avonleavillage #latergram

Anne colouring books #pei #cavendish #avonleavillage #latergram #anneofgreengables #colouringbooks

Anne braids #pei #cavendish #avonleavillage #latergram #anneofgreengables

(comment on this)

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016
11:40 pm - [AH] WI there was a Venus-sized planet between Mars and Jupiter?
In astronomer and writer Chris Impey's 2010 Talking About Life, an anthology of his interviews with leading experts in astronomy and related fields about extraterrestrial life, there was a passage in his interview with Debra Fischer that caught my attention for its alternate history potential. Solar systems, including our own, are apparently as densely packed with planets as possible.

DF: The amazing thing I learned when we discovered the Upsilon Andromedae system is that our Solar System s actually dynamically full of planets. When people who model the Solar System try to drop in an extra planet, the whole system goes into chaos--some planets are lost, some fall into the star, some are ejected, and then everything finally settles down. Each planet has its own gravitational domain and those domains are pushed up next to each other. Our Solar System resides on the verge of instability it's stable, but only just.

CI: Is this related to the numerical coincidence of their nearly geometric spacing?

DF: Bode's law? Yes. They clear out disks; many lines of evidence suggest that core accretion is the correct model. Then they begin to migrate in until they come into a zone; again, if they get any closer. they're ejected. When I noted this back in 2000, Hal Levinson raised his hand and said, "No, no, that's not true--there a place between Mars and Jupiter where a Venus-sized planet will survive." And I think, "How many simulations did you have to run to find that tiny little window? That doesn't count!" [Laughs](269-270).

The WI question is obvious. What if there was a planet the mass of Venus orbiting in our solar system between Mars and Jupiter?

This planet--call it *Ceres, after the largest dwarf planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter--would be a big one. Venus is more than 80% as massive as the Earth. Such a massive planet would be able to hold onto its volatiles--its atmosphere, its water--in a way that a nearer Mars could not. This planet might even be massive enough to be geologically active. *Ceres might provide a relatively hospitable environment, more hospitable than Venus or even Mars.

It's important to not overstate this potential habitability. Whatever the precise nature of its orbit, *Ceres would also be very cold, orbiting outside of the orbit of Mars and likely even an elastic definition of our sun's circumstellar habitable zone. A sufficiently dense heat-retaining atmosphere might change things, but would it warm *Ceres enough?

Given *Ceres' location near the frost line of the solar system, and its high gravity, it's likely to have attracted and kept quite a lot of ice. Perhaps it will be an ocean world; perhaps it will be a world with a frozen surface on top of a planet-wide ocean, a super-Europa even. As seen in the night sky from Earth, its atmosphere and icy surface may make it very bright indeed.


(comment on this)

8:38 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Great Hall renovation shows Toronto is finally learning to appreciate its past"
I've been to the Great Hall, on Queen and Dovercourt, before. It's a wonderful performance space. Marcus Gee's article makes me glad that it's getting proper attention.

No earthquake, flood or hurricane destroyed old Toronto. No war laid it waste. Bulldozers and cranes knocked down scores of fine buildings in the rolling wave of destruction called urban renewal.

Countless Victorian houses fell to the wrecker’s ball. So did the old Trinity College, the grand General Post Office and the castle-like University Avenue Armouries. So did Chorley Park, the Rosedale mansion that was once the official residence of the lieutenant-governor.

Steve Metlitski shakes his head at the folly of it all. The developer, who comes from Belarus and arrived in Canada in 1989, was appalled when a friend took him to Guild Park atop the Scarborough Bluffs. Spread about its grounds are fragments from majestic buildings torn down in the post-war building boom: columns, arches, facades – the ruins of what once was. He thinks it’s “criminal, just insane” that Toronto was so careless with its architectural heritage.

Built in 1889, the Great Hall at Queen and Dovercourt was home to the first West End YMCA; most recently, it has served as a community arts centre and performance space. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
In his small way, Mr. Metlitski is trying to preserve a part of what is left. As the owner of Triangle Development, he is overseeing a painstaking, top-to-bottom renovation of one of Toronto’s last Victorian gems: the Great Hall at Dovercourt Road and Queen Street West.

Opened in 1890 as the first West End YMCA, the building has a colourful history in several chapters – first as the Y before the organization opened a new building up the road at College Street and Dovercourt in 1912; then as home of the Royal Templars of Temperance, a group that fought the scourge of alcohol abuse; then headquarters of the Polish National Union, when it published a Polish newspaper and took in Polish refugees of the Second World War; and finally, in the last couple of decades, as a community arts centre and performance space where musicians from Feist to Metric to Daniel Lanois came to play.

(comment on this)

> previous 20 entries
> next 20 entries
> top of page