Archive for June, 2013


I had a very nice experience today. My second son Ian invited me to come and watch him play in a band at Edmonton’s City Hall.

It was really gratifying to see Ian up on stage, playing with confidence and obviously enjoying himself. I would like to think it is genetics 🙂 Good way to spend an afternoon.

'Diamond Mined' playing at Edmonton's City Hall

‘Diamond Mined’ playing at Edmonton’s City Hall

Liam and Ian (right) on stage

Liam and Ian (right) on stage

Second son, Ian, on stage

Second son, Ian, on stage


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There were a number of articles this week about Voyager 1. Launched in 1977, along with its twin Voyager 2, the primary mission of this tiny piece of technology was to fly by and image the outer planets. From the articles I have read, it was never really expected to last this long, but just in case it did, the designers equipped the Voyagers with power and instruments to continue transmitting data back to Earth long after they left the outer planets.

The real-time clock on the Voyager web site indicates the spacecraft is now over 18 Billion kilometres from Earth. 18 Billion!

The question is when will know that Voyager 1 has finally left the influence of the Sun (the solar system)? Articles published in Science magazine last week indicate the instruments are seeing a sharp decline in the solar wind and an increase in cosmic rays. What hasn’t changed – and this was the theory – is the magnetic field surrounding the space craft is still orientated towards the Sun, which would tend to indicate there is still some influence from the Sun where Voyager 1 is.

Voyager 1 at the edge of the solar system - News @ NASA

Voyager 1 at the edge of the solar system – News @ NASA

I am not a physicist or astronomer, but I guess I am a child of the space age. When I was not yet 10 years old, a friend of my Dad’s brought his home-made telescope to the house. It was truly amazing to see a close-up view of the Moon, the rings of Saturn and galaxies. I remember the first satellites being placed into Earth orbit. I remember the Mercury astronauts and the excitement around their flights. I stayed up with friends to watch a grainy black and white television image of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon in 1969. I grew up reading historical accounts of previous encounters with Halley’s comet and I looked forward to 1986 when it would be back. Unfortunately, it was not the spectacle that it had been in the past but went out in a winter’s night anyway to catch a glimpse. And I read about space and science and science fiction. When I was in the 7th grade, I was kicked out of the school library because when they asked why I wasn’t taking out any books, I told them I had read all the ones that interested me. My teacher made me take out one ‘classic’ (Dickens, Shakespeare, etc) a week – which were dutifully placed in my bedroom for the week and returned unread the following week. I had gone through all the science and science fiction books in the library by that time and the rest weren’t of interest.

This is a sort of long-winded explanation of why I feel emotional when I think of that tiny ship sailing through the void. The fact that we can still get data and make amazing discoveries is mind-boggling to me. That it is out there at all is somewhat comforting and exciting at the same time. There is a purity about searching for the sake of searching … not for glory, not for profit, not for fame. Just to see what is beyond the next hill. We need that sense of wonder – makes us humble, which in the context of where we are in the universe, is appropriate.

And finally, a shot of the International Space Station travelling over Edmonton from my Flickr page.

A short time lapse photo of the International Space Station over Edmonton, Alberta 2009

A short time lapse photo of the International Space Station over Edmonton, Alberta 2009

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I have taken the Myers-Briggs personality test a number of times over my career. It is either a testament to the test or my personality that I have scored the same each time I have taken the test. For those unfamiliar with the test, you are scored on four different dimensions – Extroversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling and Judgment/Perception. Your score takes the form of a four letter designation that indicates where you scored highest on each dimensions. For me, I have consistently scored as a INFP (the N stands for Intuition).

So, as an introvert (and a strong one), it is interesting that both in my career and my private life I have been involved in activities that require me to be out in front of people. I was an environmental education specialist for 12 years and much of that time I was teaching or leading groups ranging from kindergarten students to seniors. My musical career of course means I am out in front of an audience. I think every non-musician has mentioned to me at least once they don’t know how I can get out there and sing and play. And there are days when I wonder as well.

A number of years ago I got to discussing the topic of extroverts and introverts with one of our senior managers. He told me that he was a strong introvert. I was a little surprised as he led national initiatives on environmental issues and at times spoke to hundreds, if not thousands, of people. I asked how he managed to survive in that role as an introvert and he told me that he could do it – but just leave him alone afterwards.

I saw an example of this in my own behaviour last Saturday. We were playing in a small lounge called the Velvet Olive in Red Deer, Alberta. It is just under a two hour drive from Edmonton. We met up around 6 in the evening to make sure we had time to look over the stage, set up and do a sound check. It was a bit of a challenge with the stage being smaller than we are used to, but we made some quick decisions and set up the best we could. At 8:30 we started playing. We went for about an hour, took a break and then played until 11. It was a good gig – lots of positive feedback and we did a good job. We finished on an uptempo song and then started to tear down.

There was a young couple at the bar and they started up a conversation with me as I started to pack up. Now, I wasn’t rude, but I realized that I really didn’t want to talk to anyone at that moment so I made some small talk and then excused myself to continue tearing down. It really was the introvert in me coming out. I was drained and with the prospect of a two-hour drive ahead, I just wanted quiet. There seems something to this personality stuff … my coping mechanism kicked in after putting myself out there on stage.

Singing on stage at the Velvet Olive in Red Deer, Alberta

A two hour drive home in the dark helped to restore equilibrium. It is good to recognize these traits in one’s self. So don’t expect a lot of chatter after a gig.

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Busy Days

I started this music stuff far too late … but having said that, I am having a great time. This last week was a very busy one for the Big Sky Gliders. We played four different times in a week in venues ranging from craft fair to a lounge to an aviation museum hanger.

Playing beside an Avro Anson - a WW2 navigation trainer - at the Alberta Aviation Museum

Playing beside an Avro Anson – a WW2 navigation trainer – at the Alberta Aviation Museum

We started the week playing at a craft fair. Mid-week, we played at a private function inside the Alberta Aviation Museum. That was a unique venue to say the least.

Our friend Izzy sitting in for a song

Our friend Izzy sitting in for a song

On relatively short notice we were asked to play a fundraiser for a local art gallery. The following day we headed to Red Deer, Alberta to play at a lounge called the Velvet Olive. It was probably the smallest stage we have ever played on – I would guess smaller than 10 x 10 feet – but we had a blast. It is nice when people are disappointed when you shut down. Busy days and now, hopefully, we can get back into the studio and continue work on the second CD.

Playing at the Velvet Olive - close quarters on stage

Playing at the Velvet Olive – close quarters on stage

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It has not been the best June we have ever experienced in Edmonton.

To date, the average high temperature has been 18.7 C (65 F). Our normal average high is 22 C (72 F). For the first 18 days of the month, we have only gotten above 20 C seven times. And it has been overcast and rainy for a good part of the month. To add to the fun, last week we had a tornado warning for the city to go along with the regular afternoon thunderstorm. To summarize, the weather sucks.

However, a good friend passed along a poem from the Canadian poet Robert Service, which helps put things in perspective.


An Ancient gaffer once I knew,
Who puffed a pipe and tossed a tankard;
He claimed a hundred years or two,
And for a dozen more he hankered;
So o’er a pint I asked how he
Had kept his timbers tight together;
He grinned and answered:
“It maun be Because I likes all kinds o’ weather.

“Fore every morn when I get up
I lights my clay pipe wi’ a cinder,
And as me mug o’ tea I sup
I looks from out the cottage winder;
And if it’s shade or if it’s shine
Or wind or snow befit to freeze me,
I always say: ‘Well, now that’s fine . . .
It’s just the sorto’ day to please me.’

“For I have found it wise in life
To take the luck the way it’s coming;
A wake, a worry or a wife –
Just carry on and keep a-humming.
And so I lights me pipe o’ clay,
And through the morn on blizzard borders,
I chuckle in me guts and say:
‘It’s just the day the doctor orders.’”

A mighty good philosophy
Thought I, and leads to longer living,
To make the best of things that be,
And take the weather of God’s giving;
So though the sky be ashen grey,
And winds be edged and sleet be slanting,
Heap faggots on the fire and say:
“It’s just the kind of day I’m wanting.”

Robert Service From Rhymes of a Roughneck

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A couple of days ago, I picked up a couple of prescriptions from our pharmacy. As the pharmacist went to give me my medications, she suddenly stopped and went into the back with one of my containers. She returned and said she had to replace the snap cap on the vial with a child-proof one. I laughed at this and told her that my youngest child turns 20 this month and I wasn’t too worried about child-proofing my medication – especially since my daughter works part-time as a pharmacy assistant.

The pharmacist said that if it was no problem if I wanted just the snap cap. And then she caught me by surprise and said they could change all my prescriptions to snap caps from here on in once I signed a waiver. Excuse me, you want me to sign a waiver so they would not be liable if a child gets into my medication, even though there isn’t a child in the house. She was a bit embarrassed but explained it was not her choice but something their head office required. So rather than educating people to properly store their medications and to teach their children they shouldn’t touch prescriptions, it is no problem as long as we don’t sue.

Ah, modern life.

“Common sense is not so common.” * Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique (1764)

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It was our turn to play at the Heart of the City Festival today. One small problem – it rained, big time. Our set was scheduled for 12:15, but when we arrived the organizers said we couldn’t use the ‘electric’ stage because water and electricity don’t mix well together. The idea of the festival is to have two stages going – one playing while the other is setting up. With one stage unavailable, this made the process a little more difficult. At one point we were contemplating doing the entire set with only acoustic instruments – which would have been interesting because I have never played four out of the seven songs with anything but my bass. And between us, we had two guitars, a bouzouki and banjo. Losing the keyboards and bass would have been a challenge.



Luckily they solved the issues and we able to use our full stage setup. The sheer volume of rain meant no one really wanted to sit outside to watch, so we turned everything around and played to the back of the stage which was covered.

The crowd seems to be enjoying themselves!

The crowd seems to be enjoying themselves!

So we launched into the set and after all the drama, it turned out pretty well. No major screw-ups and lots of fun. The sound guy did a good job, especially given the circumstances he was working under. We even made the 6 o’clock news as a camera from a local station filmed part of the set.

The Big Sky Gliders at the Heart of the City Festival 2013

The Big Sky Gliders at the Heart of the City Festival 2013

Many thanks to my daughter Kathryn for taking wonderful photos. Thanks to the friends who braved the weather to watch us play as well as my second son Ian and Jim’s wife Wanda. It means a lot to have the support. And a big thank you to the organizers of the Festival for their hard work in making it all possible.

A little rain can't stop us!

A little rain can’t stop us!



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