Saturday, December 29, 2007
Pi and Finnigan are rapidly adjusting to European cuisine. They have switched from Friskies and Purina to Whiskas cat food (Mars makes both Whiskas cat food and Pedigree dog food, so I can buy them both at a discount). More importantly, they have discovered a multitude of new flavours! Both Pi and Finnigan love the rabbit cat food, and Pi also likes the sardines and the duck. Finnigan enjoys lamb. Neither of them are crazy about mussels yet, but since it is a staple of Belgian cuisine, we're sure that they'll warm up to it soon.
This year, we didn't have a Christmas tree for several reasons - our lack of a Christmas tree stand and ornaments and our inability to effectively transport a large tree without a car amoung them (but not, it should be noted, due to any feelings of moral obligation to try to end the yearly slaughter of young pine trees -- we fully support the slaugter of both plants and animals for our consumption, comfort, and for decorative purposes).
Instead of a tree, this year our one decoration was a "creche animee". It's a little wooden ornament with candles near the base of it. The heat from the lit candles causes hot air to rise from them, and this hot air propels the fan blades at the top of the ornament. The little people who rotate around the stem are various wise men and shepherds and some angels with trumpets, and a man and woman with a little baby. According to the note that came with our creche, these ornaments were originally made in Germany and Bohemia in the 17th century, in the deep depths of the forests where there were also quite a copper mining industry. During the long winter nights, the miners and their families would keep themselves entertained by making little wooden figures and toys, and this is where the creches originated.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Everyone should go now to FreeRice.com, where you can play a fun game to test your vocabulary and donate rice to the World Food Program, which distributes rice worldwide to people in need. It is completely free to play, you don't have to enter any information about yourself whatsoever, you can play the game for as long as you want to and you can end any time. Every time you correctly identify the meaning of a word, 20 grains of rice are donated to the World Food Program, and that's really all there is to it. According to the FAQ on the FreeRice website, the money for the rice is raised from the advertising banner that you see on the bottom of the screen as you play the game. When more people visit the site and stay to play the game, more money comes in from the advertising.
As a bonus, the site keeps track of your vocabulary level and gives you words based on the level that you're at. Your vocabulary level can go up to 50. So far, my high score is 40. It's really, really worth checking out this site.
I actually finished this book quite a while ago, but without internet at home I wasn't able to blog about it. My latest read was Martin Amis' House of Meetings, a book about two brothers who are in love with the same woman and who end up spending time together in a Russian gulag.
This book got great reviews and it is well deserving of them. This is the first novel that I've read by Amis, but it probably won't be the last. The writing is great at capturing the sense of loss and despair that the brothers feel while spending the best years of their lives in captivity.
I'm already halfway through my next book, which is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I decided to pick it up after numerous reviews described it as "simply brilliant". So far, I agree with that assessment and I'm really anxious to finish it to see how everything ends up.
Last Book: The heartbreakingly sad novel by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones.
Up Next: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
We're finally back to the land of the living! Today's visitor was more exciting than Santa Claus will ever be -- the telenet cable guy was here to install our cable tv, internet and phone. We have wireless internet now, so we're able to communicate again, and to Michael's delight we are hooked up with the cable channel NASN - the North American Sports Network. On tv right now is hockey night in Canada (the Leafs vs. Florida just ended, and we're now watching Vancouver vs. Phoenix). Later on tonight, a few of the NFL games are going to be on - Michael is worried that he doesn't have enough beer to last him the whole night. :)
In addition to the sports channels, we have the national geographic channel, 3 discovery channels, the History channel, BBC World, Al Jazeera English, MSNBC, BBC 1 and 2 and a bunch of movie channels. So we are very happy with our English-language line-up, and Michael will continue to watch his daily shows in Dutch to help him improve his skills in that language.
We'll be posting more now that we have our link to the outside world back, so come back often!
Sunday, December 9, 2007
(Finnigan on a Sweater)
Sunday, November 25, 2007
fajitas! We were happy to find nearly all the ingredients that we
needed in our local supermarket - the "international" section carries
El Paso tortilla shells (both hard and soft), as well as salsa, chips, and Mexican seasonings. As it turns out, the two things that we had the most trouble with were very unexpected -- sour cream and cheddar cheese.
I know that in Canada, sour cream is translated as "creme sure", but I've read that in France it's known better as "creme aigre". We found neither of these in our Belgian supermarket, but we did see lots of "creme fraiche" and an extraordinary amount of yogurt. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to find sour cream in Belgium? Is it called something different here?
Our second hard-to-find dairy product was cheddar cheese. The most common cheese in our supermarket is "emmental", which is a Swiss cheese. It is very tasty, and I really like it, but Swiss
cheese doesn't exactly fit with fajitas. We can hardly complain with the wonderful assortment of
cheeses that we've found here, including my favorite,Boursin, and some Chimay cheeses made by the same Trappist
monks who make the famous beer, but we'll likely be making a trip to
London soon for some good cheddar. :) In the end, we chose the "gratin"
cheese mix, which tastes like fondue cheese, for our fajitas.
Last Book: Ann Patchett's novel, Run.
Up Next: I've started in on another book with a happy subject, The House of Meetings by Martin Amis. It's about two brothers in a Russian slave camp in the 1950's.
Last weekend, we had our first visitor! Heather was my roommate on Rue Durocher while we were both going to McGill. I was a physics major; she was studying geography. Now Heather lives in Amsterdam and works for a bank. She has been spending most of her weekends in London, where her boyfriend Scott lives, but she will now be dividing her time between London and Brussels! Heather reluctantly agreed to test out the Haagen-Dazs chocolate fondue dessert extravaganza with us, and although she said afterwards that she thought she had consumed enough chocolate to last her a lifetime, we're sure that she will be back again soon for more!
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
in the National Geographic news discussed a new finding by a
team of researchers conducting archaeological excavation in the
Honduras. Evidence of traces of cocoa on some pieces of pottery that
they found leads the team to believe that chocolate was actually
discovered accidentally by beer makers trying to find a use for one of
the by-products of their brewing.
This article raises a couple
of interesting questions. First of all - if Central Americans were
making beer out of cocoa seeds 3,000 years ago, then why are we all
drinking Budweiser and Molson Canadian rather than chocolate beer?
Secondly, can it be that we have finally discovered the link between
chocolate and beer that explains why Belgium is so good at making them
Michael enjoys both chocolate and beer. :)
The next important property of the young stars that I was investigating is their polarization -- that is, the preferred direction of oscillation of the light waves being emitted from the star. A beam of light can be thought of as a combination of many individual light waves, and each wave can be thought of as having a "direction of oscillation". Think about all the different ways that you can shake a skipping rope held between two people, or a string on a guitar, or a clothesline fixed at both ends. You can shake it up and down, or side to side, or on any number of diagonals.
A light wave is a lot like these ropes and strings. The light travels from one end of the string to the other, and while it travels it is allowed to oscillate in any of the directions that you can think of to shake the string (the thing that is oscillating is actually two things - the electric and magnetic fields that are associated with the light). The normal, unpolarized light that we see all around us is composed of many different light waves, and all of them can be oscillating in their own direction: there is no preferred direction of oscillation (the first image of the yellow arrows). However, some processes in nature can produce a preferred direction of oscillation, or a polarization of the light (like the second yellow arrow, below).
Some of the most important mechanisms that cause a polarization of light are (1) the presence of a magnetic field where the light is being generated and (2) the reflection of light. In my thesis, I was mostly concerned with polarization that was caused by the reflection of light. Once again, this is something that happens all the time here on Earth. Sunlight that is reflected from a surface such as water on a lake or an ocean or snow on a ski slope tends to be polarized. Sunglass companies have capitalized on this fact by marketing sunglasses with a polarizing filter in them that cuts down on glare from the water or from the snow. The starlight that I was observing is not reflected by water or by snow, but it is reflected by the dusty rings surrounding the star, and the light that is reflected by the rings is more polarized than the light coming to us directly.
By watching the star and observing the times when the most polarized light is reaching us (and hence, the most light reflected off the dust), we can try to figure out the shape and size of the dust distribution, as well as the composition of the dust, and the density of the dust. All of these things will eventually help us to understand what the conditions for planet formation are, and how often these conditions arise in star systems outside of our own solar system.
Next Time: A curious "blueing" effect sometimes seen when the stars become very faint...
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Today we went house hunting out and around Brussels. As things would have it we feel in love with the very 1st house we looked at. It is a very nice little place in an area just to the east of Brussels. For everyone that has Google Earth, Sterrebeek, Zaventem, Belgium is the official name of the commune. It is in a Flemish area but it is right on the cusp of both French and Flemish speaking areas, which is very common for Brussels. Our agent, Sarah, told us that the area has many Canadian as well as American Families living in the commune. Jane’s office is less than 2 miles from the house and can be reached by both bus and bike. We will be able to walk or bike to the store and all the local restaurants and bars. We are both very happy with the place which is an older home but has been remodeled in the style of IKEA. It has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, a large garden and a modern kitchen. The 2nd bedroom will be great for all the visitors we are hoping to have. The garden is very nice which I am sure the kittens will love.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
One of the features on my dad's blog, Sandwalk, is the Monday Molecule, where his readers have to guess the identity of a random molecule. This is the Beer with Chocolate Belgian-style Monday molecule! The game is that you not only have to identify this structure, but also the molecule from which it gets its shape.
To make it even easier, I'm posting multiple views of the structure.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
The young stars that I was studying are actually between 3-8 million years old. This doesn't seem very young to humans, but in astronomical timescales it is a blink of an eye. Our own sun is 4.5 billion years old, and these young stars are only 0.1% as old as that. If we were to scale the age of the sun so that the sun was 100 years old, then the stars that I studied would only be a couple of months old - they are really "baby stars".
I was looking for several different effects when observing these stars, and the first one that I'm going to write about today is a "reddening" effect. This effect is very familiar to anyone who has seen a red sunset. The reason that sunsets are red is because red light has an easier time penetrating dust and gas and water vapour than blue light does. The blue light tends to bounce off the tiny particles in the air and never ends up reaching us. Sunsets can be particularly red when there are extra particles or smoke in the air: large volcanic eruptions are notorious for causing red sunsets all over the world; the recent California wildfires had the same effect.
When we observe distant stars, we can see them becoming more red as clumps of dust and gas pass between us and the star. This dust and gas will eventually start to clump together to form planets, comets, and asteroids, but in young stars all of this material takes the form of a disk or rings, much like the dusty rings that surround the planet Saturn. Usually, as the star gets redder, it also gets more faint, which is an additional indication that the star is being obscured by dust in its immediate surroundings.
Next time: How an additional property of light, its polarization, can help us to determine the shape of dusty structures around the star.
The holidays are coming up, and all the little Belgian chocolate shops are proudly displaying their seasonal chocolates in the windows, which makes the downtown walks really enjoyable. In Belgium, the most important gift-giving celebration is on Saint Nicholas day, December 6th, and chocolate figures of the Saint in his bishop's outfit are ubiquitous. We're also starting to make lists of the places that we'll take people when we start to get visitors! So far, the bar "Le Roi d'Espagne" (the King of Spain), is a high priority. At this bar, you can enjoy a raspberry beer while overlooking the "Grand Place" - the main central square where the Town Hall, Guild Houses and "Breadhouse" are all located. It is really a wonderful sight, but it's hard to compare it to windows full of Belgian chocolate.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Well today as you can see from the picture has been a great day. Well a great day if you like the cold and rain. So, being a little askew from normal I enjoy days like this.
Well we have been in town for over a week today and Jane is about to complete her 1st full work week.
Another interesting discover was the Family Gaming Center Adventure, I didn’t take any pictures inside but believe me it has very little to do with family or adventure. The place is a local gambling center with 1 arm bandits and a OTB as well as a bookie.
Jane will be home from work soon and the weekend adventures will begin.