gordon.dewis.ca - Random musings from Gordon


Archive for February 2009

VIA Rail’s Renaissance equipment

February 27, 2009 @ 22:53 By: gordon Category: Travelling

IMG_1739 If you’ve taken a VIA Rail train during the last few years, you’re probably familiar with the 2+2 seating arrangement found on many VIA LRC trains.  Two seats on the left and two seats on the right. While quite comfortable, the train stock has been in service for quite some time.

Enter VIA’s Renaissance trains.

VIA’s Renaissance equipment was originally built by Alstom for use in the UK. VIA Rail acquired the train sets and has been running them on routes east of Montreal for a few years. About three weeks ago, they reallocated some of the Renaissance stock to serve routes west of Montreal and I’m fortunate to be writing this on the Montreal-Toronto run today that has it.

Rather than the traditional 2+2, the Renaissance cars, at least in VIA1 class, have a 2+1 seat configuration. Each row has individual overhead bins, compared to the bins on their older cars that run the length of the car. Under seat storage is much different that the older stock.

IMG_1741 On older trains, you shove your stuff under the seat in front of you. On the Renaissance stock, you have a space under your seat that can easily hold a computer backpack, pair of boots and a 35mm camera bag comfortably. There’s a fold down footrest if you want to put your feet up.

The seats themselves are raised up above the level of the aisle and are quite comfortable and roomy. Fold down trays are located on the back of the seat in front of you and unfold to a full-size tray if needed. Otherwise, you have a tray about 6 or 8 inches wide. Very slick.

IMG_1740 Sound-wise, they seem quieter than the older grey stock and the ride seems smoother, too. (That could be due to the fact that I’m on the Montreal-Toronto corridor which sees a lot of traffic rather than the Ottawa-Montreal corridor which doesn’t.)

IMG_1738 There’s also a club car available to VIA1 passengers with comfortable seats, a tall table thing to stand at and a wide-screen TV on one wall.

According to one of the on-board staff, the crews working the routes where the Renaissance trains were taken from aren’t happy about the loss of their trains and want them back. She also told me that they do one run a day each way between Ottawa and Montreal, so if you’re able to book your travel on train 634 or 635 go for it because you won’t be disappointed.

Interesting juxtaposition of books

February 17, 2009 @ 00:35 By: gordon Category: Out and about, Photography

IMG00078 I was out and about at lunch with a co-worker last week. We passed by a local chip wagon so we stopped to order lunch.  While waiting for our orders we browsed through a table full of books in front of Collected Works, a book store near Holland and Wellington. In one of the boxes I came across an interesting set of titles that reflected some of the major stages of life, pretty much in chronological order.

The books on dating, marriage and death were in another box.

2009: An unlucky year for those who have paraskevidekatriaphobia

February 13, 2009 @ 11:48 By: gordon Category: Current affairs

friday-the-13th2009 is a bad year for you if you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia because there are three Fridays the 13th, with two of them one month after the next, which happens again in 2015 and then not until 2026.

In fact, the only time you can have three Fridays the 13th is when there’s one in February and then only when it’s not a leap year. I wrote about the lore surrounding Friday the 13th back in June 2008 in case you’re interested.

So, if you are superstitious about Friday the 13th, please throw salt over your shoulder, tap doorways three times before passing through or whatever other steps you follow to ward off the bad luck.  As for me, I’m going to the pub.

Happy birthday Charles Darwin!

February 12, 2009 @ 12:18 By: gordon Category: Current affairs, General

A Venerable Orang-outangToday is Darwin Day.

Darwin Day is celebrated around the 12th of February every year in honour of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin. As you probably know, Darwin came up with the theory of evolution, which is widely, but not universally, accepted as explaining how species adapt and evolve. The Theory of Evolution has itself evolved from Darwin’s first musings. A century and a half ago when he wrote On The Origin of Species, he didn’t know about DNA and genes, but he could see patterns that were transmitted from parent to child. He talked about natural selection and the effects it has over time.

People who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible have no place in their world for the Theory of Evolution as their world was created a little over 4000 years ago in 7 days. But there are a lot of people, including a lot of scientists, who are comfortable with their religious beliefs yet believe in the Theory of Evolution because it is based on scientific process.

Darin has written an excellent piece about Charles Darwin, the Theory of Evolution and other scientific theories that have enough evidence that they should be called “laws” that’s worth checking out.

A tip o’ the hat to Wikipedia for the caricature called “A Venerable Orang-outang”, depicting Charles Darwin as an ape that was published in The Hornet, a satirical magazine, on March 22, 1871.

Russian satellite + US satellite = space junk

February 12, 2009 @ 01:01 By: gordon Category: Astronomy, Seen on the 'net

The BBC has a story reporting that an Iridium communication satellite attempted to occupy the same time-space coordinates as a non-operational Russian satellite somtime on Tuesday. Since the laws of physics generally do not allow this sort of thing to occur, a large cloud of debris has taken their place.

In practical terms, this means that there’s now a whole lot of new things in orbit that can potentially hit other satellites in orbit. The impact took place in a higher orbit than the International Space Station, so it is not considered at high risk. If everything goes well, the pieces of debris will come out of orbit without hitting anything in the process and burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere. Based on the report, NASA isn’t worried about the ISS being hit by the debris in the immediate future.

Since man started lobbing objects into orbit, there have been 6000 satellites launched. In addition to the satellites, there have been other things such as rocket boosters and associated bits and pieces, tools, gloves and even a spacesuit (minus astronaut) that have found their way into orbit. Usually, these things come out of orbit fairly quickly, but they can sometimes remain in orbit for months or years. Occasionally, pieces make it back to Earth, sometimes with non-trivial results. COSMO-954, a Russian satellite, broke up over northern Canada, scattering radioactive debris from its nuclear reactor across the Northwest Territories in January 1978. You can read about Operation Morning Light on the Geologic Survey of Canada’s website.

I saw a strange glowing spiral cloud when I was at the cottage during the summer of 1992, which I later learned was a satellite coming out of orbit. Some people may be treated to a rather unique spectacle if they’re in the right place at the right time when the pieces de-orbit.

Pictures of the ISS pass

February 03, 2009 @ 19:54 By: gordon Category: Astronomy, Photography

After writing the previous entry, I grabbed my camera and tripod and headed to a darkish area in Tunney’s Pasture. Once there, I set up my tripod on the hood of my Tracker, located Venus (hard to miss as it was the second brightest thing in the sky) and pointed the camera so that it would have the best chance of the ISS being in frame.

And then I waited.



See the International Space Station

February 03, 2009 @ 17:19 By: gordon Category: Astronomy

The International Space Station (ISS) will be passing over Ottawa this evening in less than an hour’s time. Assuming the skies are clear, this should be one of the best opportunities to view it.

It should come over the horizon in the west-northwest at 17:50 Eastern and travel across the sky before descending below the horizon to the southeast at about 18:00. Because your horizon is probably obscured by trees and/or buildings, you’ll probably find it just before 17:53 Eastern when it will be about 10 degrees above the horizon. It descends through 10 degrees elevation at about 17:58 Eastern. It achieves its maximum elevation of 54 degrees at about 17:55 Eastern.

For more information about the pass, check out the Heavens Above website or click on the star map.

I’m going to try to take some time-lapse photos of it passing over head.  If they turn out, I’ll post them here.

Update #1: You can see a couple of the pictures I took here.

Update #2: Link to ISS updated (2010-11-12).