gordon.dewis.ca - Random musings from Gordon


Archive for February 2008

Why today is February 29th

February 29, 2008 @ 19:15 By: gordon Category: Astronomy, Current affairs

Today is February 29th, a day that occurs once every four years.  Many people probably simply accept this as one of those weird little curiosities in life, without really knowing why it is the 29th of February.

Julius Caesar introduced a calendar system we call the Julian calendar in 45 BC.  Before this calendar, the “year” was quite maleable, with days and even months being inserted into the calendar by priests when they wanted to keep their favourite politician in power.  Naturally, this lead to chaos, which frustrated Julius Caesar to the point where he decided to sort it out once and for all.

His solution did away with much of the chaos, but there was still a certain amount of “slippage” caused by the difference in the length of the calendar year and the tropical year, which was roughly 365.25 days long.  This “slippage” resulted in an error of 1 day every 128 years, meaning the tropical year started a day earlier every 128 years.

To compensate for this, the Romans added a “leap year” every four years to get things back in sync.  However, due to a counting error, the first few years the calendar was used, a leap year was took place every three years rather than every four.  The emperor Augustus compensated for the extra days by skipping a number of leap years.  This resulted in the 8th month of the year to be named after him.

By the mid-1500’s the difference between the calendar year and the tropical year had become about 10 days and calculating when Easter took place was quite difficult.  So,  in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII decided to remove the extra days and align the vernal equinox with March 21st because that’s when it occurred during the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

Leap years under the Gregorian calendar occur every year that is evenly divisible by 4, except centuries (eg: 1600, 1700, 1800, 1900, etc) unless the century was evenly divisible by 400.

The last day of the Julian calendar was Thursday, October 4, 1582 and the first day of the Gregorian calendar was Friday, October 15, 1582.  However, the Gregorian calendar was not adopted by everyone at the same time.  For example, Spain, Portugal, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and most of Italy adopted it on Friday, October 15, 1582, but other countries waited.  Sweden transitioned to the Gregorian calendar sometime in the early 18th century.  On of the last countries to adopt it was Greece in on March 1, 1923, which followed February 15th.  China seems to have adopted in 1929, after first adopting it in 1912.  (There was a certain amount of chaos between 1912 and 1929.)

None of the national Orthodox churches, however, recognized the Gregorian calendar when it was introduced and many instead adopted a Revised Julian calendar in 1923 which saw 13 days dropped and a different leap year rule.  This will see the two calendar systems in sync until 2800, at which point it will be someone else’s problem.

Other Orthodox churches didn’t accept the Revised Julian calendar, either, so they’ll continue to celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January (until 2100).

Other orthodox churches use their own calendars to set their religious holidays.

With respect to Easter, the eastern Orthodox churches still use Julian Easter.  Except the Finnish Orthodox Church, which uses the Gregorian Easter.

So, all this is to say that it’s Friday, February 29, 2008.

Some of the podcasts I listen to

February 25, 2008 @ 01:44 By: gordon Category: Podcasts

Podcasts are an interesting phenomenon that appeared on the scene shortly after the iPod was first released by Apple. For those who aren’t in the know, podcasts are sort of like radio shows that are usually produced by “amateurs” rather than professional broadcasters. (This isn’t to say that their quality is inferior to a professionally produced broadcast, however.) With the advent of inexpensive software specifically for podcasters, inexpensive solid state recorders and other gadgets anyone can create one, which has resulted in thousands of podcasts on virtually any topic you can think of.

There are a couple of podcasts that I listen to on a semi-regular basis that are worth giving a listen to:

The Podcacher Podcast is a weekly podcast all about geocaching. Produced by Sonny and Sandy, a husband-wife team of geocachers who live in San Diego, this podcast has been around for a couple of years now. They cover all sorts of things related to geocaching and regularly interview other geocachers. From time to time they include audio segments submitted by listeners.

Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase is produced by Betty, a flight attendant with a major airline who collects stories from flight attendants, pilots and even the occasional passenger as well as stories from her travels. She releases new episodes roughly once a month and intersperses the segments with topical music. Most episodes have a theme and the stories are often amusing with the occasional “serious” story. Since starting her podcast, she has appeared on National Public Radio, been interviewed, appeared in magazines and has even been signed a book deal.

I also listen to a couple of CBC programs that are available in podcast form and “sample” other podcasts to see what’s out there.

You can find podcasts in iTunes and there are several websites that aggregate podcasts to make them easy to find. If you have an iPod or MP3 player, you should check them out because you never know what you’ll find.

Finally, Health Canada is going to tackle sodium levels in food

February 22, 2008 @ 11:04 By: gordon Category: Current affairs, Health

Three days ago I made a comment in my entry about Campbell’s soup that the government would probably adopt legislation concerning sodium levels in Canadian food within the next year.  Well, this morning’s Ottawa Citizen has a front-page article titled Health Canada wages war on excessive salt intake.  It reports that there is now a federally appointed working group that is tasked with developing a plan to reduce sodium levels in food.  It’s expected that they’ll recommend Canada adopt the British strategy, which has seen the average daily intake of sodium by adults in Britain drop by 500mg between 2001 and 2006.  The impact on pre-packed meals has been a 45% reduction in four years and 85% have already reached the targets set for 2010, which is a more than one third reduction.

It’s about time.

Data from the Canadian Stroke Network indicates that nearly 11 000 Canadians a year die because of the effects of excessive sodium intake.  It has been linked to hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, cardiovascular diseases and asthma, to name a few things.

So, hopefully this sounds the end of the roast beef sandwich with 2 grams of sodium in it.

Photos from last night’s lunar eclipse

February 21, 2008 @ 11:59 By: gordon Category: Astronomy, Current affairs, Photography

IMG_0452 - cropped - closeup So, the viewing conditions in Ottawa for the lunar eclipse last night were very good.  Clear skies and no weird thermal distortions blurring the sky.

Though I only had my point-and-shoot camera with me, I was able to take a number of photos with it by bracing it, holding my breath and clicking the button.

To the right is a cropped photo of the moon as it was a couple of minutes after totality.

I’ve got a few more photos that I took with my digital SLR that I haven’t processed yet, but you can view what I’ve taken so far in my gallery.  I’ll post the photos from my SLR there when I’ve processed them.

Darin has posted a few pictures he’s taken in his blog.

Hey Songwriters Association of Canada: I DO NOT AGREE!

February 21, 2008 @ 02:11 By: gordon Category: Current affairs, Music

The National Post published a story on Wednesday about a proposal by the Songwriters Association of Canada, to collect $5 every month from every Canadian Internet subscriber. In return, you would have the ability to download as many "illegal" music files as you want. Their theory is that this would make sites like iTunes unnecessary because it would be legal for people to pirate music. They’re proposing an amendment to the Canadian Copyright Act they’re calling the Right to Equitable Remuneration for Music File Sharing.

If adopted, this would allow the lobby group to collect $500 million to $900 million per year. Compared this to the music industry’s own estimates of losses due to piracy in Canada of only $118.8 million and you’ll realize they would be collecting a minimum of almost 5 times as much money as they’re losing.

We’ve been paying 21 cents/blank CD since January 1, 1999. It goes to the Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC) who then distributes the funds collected to the various societies that represent authors, performers and those who make sound recordings. Those societies are the Canadian Mechanical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA), the Neighbouring Rights Collective of Canada (NRCC), the Société de gestion des droits des artistes-musiciens (SOGEDAM), the Society for Reproduction Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers in Canada (SODRAC) and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN). (linky)

In 2005, Micheal Geist blogged about Tariff 22 in which SOCAN seeks a 25% levy on iTunes and other music download services and 15% for webcasters. You should read his article that appeared in the Toronto Star.

SOCAN even proposed a download tax of 3.1 cents per individual track and 1.5 cents per track on a complete album that are bought online.

There are other surcharges, too, but I’m not listing them here.

I’ve gotten used to 21 cents/blank CD and it’s below my annoyance threshold. I don’t go through a huge amount of CDs, so it doesn’t really affect me. Whatever.

But, $5/month crosses the line. I buy my music legally from iTunes. I don’t use peer-to-peer programs to illegally download music. I am not a pirate.

I have two Internet accounts: one for my broadband connection on which it is feasible to download music because I have the bandwidth and a second that I use for dial-up access when I’m on the road or at the cottage, which it is not feasible to download any large files, let alone music. So, I’d pay $10/month or $120/year for doing nothing wrong.

You can view the Songwriters Association of Canada’s proposal on their website. There’s a box on the form that you can fill out and submit by clicking a button labelled "I Agree". Please do not click it! Instead, send an email to advocacy@songwriters.ca and tell them how you feel about their proposal.

Total eclipse of the moon

February 20, 2008 @ 06:00 By: gordon Category: Astronomy, Current affairs

The last total lunar eclipse visible from North America until December 21, 2010 starts this evening around 20:43 Eastern. Totality will be reached at 22:01 Eastern and everything will be back to normal by 00:09 Eastern.

The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Eclipse Home Page has all sorts of information about tonight’s eclipse, including why there is an eclipse tonight. There’s also an excellent primer on Mr. Eclipse’s website.

Oh, and unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are completely safe to watch without special eye protection, so you can head out and stare at it intently. Happy viewing!

UPDATE: See my pictures of the eclipse.

Eclipse Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA’s GSFC

Campbell soups will have less sodium

February 19, 2008 @ 17:19 By: gordon Category: Health, Seen on the 'net

Campbell soups for kids and some of their other soups are becoming healthier (story that tipped me off). The amount of sodium per serving is being lowered to 480 mg.

Sodium is found in most things you eat and particularly in processed foods. Some products, such as bagels from the Ottawa Bagel Shop have a mere 5 mg of sodium per bagel. I was talking with someone at the shop about this a couple of days ago and he confirmed that the only sodium in their bagels is that which occurs natually in the ingredients. Other bagels, particularly the mass-produced ones, are often made from dough similar to bread dough, and have a much higher sodium content.

Statistics Canada published results of the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) last April that revealed that most Canadian consume much more sodium than is necessary or recommended. The Statistics Canada report quotes the Institute of Medicine recommended daily adequate intakes for sodium as being 1500 mg for someone aged 9 to 50. I blogged about the 2000 mg of sodium that was in a sandwich I bought on an Air Canada flight in December and how unhealthy that was.

My guess is that we’re going to see legislation on sodium levels in food similar to those in Europe introduced sometime in the next year or so.

Kudos to Campbell’s for taking the initiative and doing this voluntarily. Hopefully other food companies will follow their lead and work at making their products a little healthier.