Feb. 24th, 2017

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By the time that I had finally gotten down to the Saint Lawrence in the Vieux-Port, to the west of Pointe-à-Callière, it had stopped being twilight and started to become night. Some of the better photos that I took there look to me almost like Impressionist paintings. I could see Habitat 67 across the way, and was particularly taken by grain silo no. 5.

Ice on the Saint Lawrence


Looking west (1)


Looking west (2)


Looking across at Habitat 67 (1)


Looking across at Habitat 67 (2)


Looking across at Habitat 67 (3)


Élévateur à grain no. 5 (1)


Élévateur à grain no. 5 (2)
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The Canadian Broadcasting Centre's Ivan Harris Gallery is hidden away from the CBC Museum, behind the escalator leading to the Centre's food court. My attention was caught by the vintage technology on display, by the RCA TK-76 A camera that enabled mobile news gathering in the late 1970s, or the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 that could transmit as many as ten pages of text (!) from the field.

RCA TK-76 A Electronic News Gathering (ENG) Camera)


Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100


Televisions of the 1950s


Sound mixer


Tape recorder
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  • At Antipope, Charlie Stross wonders--among other things--what the Trump Administration is getting done behind its public scandals.

  • blogTO notes a protest in Toronto aiming to get the HBC to drop Ivanka Trump's line of fashion.

  • Dangerous Minds reflects on a Talking Heads video compilation from the 1980s.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reflects on a murderous attack against Indian immigrants in Kansas.

  • The LRB Blog looks at "post-Internet art".

  • Lovesick Cyborg notes an attack by a suicide robot against a Saudi warship.

  • Strange Maps links to a map of corruption reports in France.

  • Torontoist reports on Winter Stations.

  • Understanding Society engages in a sociological examination of American polarization, tracing it to divides in race and income.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes the many good reasons behind the reluctance of cities around the world to host the Olympics.

  • Window on Eurasia notes that where the Ingush have mourned their deportation under Stalin the unfree Chechens have not, reports that Latvians report their willingness to fight for their country, looks at what the spouses of the presidents of post-Soviet states are doing, and notes the widespread opposition in Belarus to paying a tax on "vagrancy."

  • Arnold Zwicky looks at the linguistic markers of the British class system.

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News of the remarkable density of planets, including potentially Earth-like planets, in the system of nearby ultra-cool dwarf TRAPPIST-1 spread across the blogosphere. This NASA JPL illustration comparing the TRAPPIST-1 worlds with the four rocky worlds of our own solar system, underlining the potential similarity of some worlds to the worlds we know like Venus and Mars and even Earth, went viral.



Supernova Condensate provided a good outline of this system in the post "A tiny red sun with a sky full of planets!".

One interesting thing is that TRAPPIST-1 is tiny. Really tiny! It’s a class M8V ultracool red dwarf, which really is about as small as a star can get while still being a star. Much smaller and it wouldn’t be able to even fuse hydrogen. I’ve put it side by side with a few other familiar celestial objects in this image. As you can see, it’s a little bigger than Jupiter. It’s actually roughly the same size as HD189733b, a much studied hot jupiter, and noticeably smaller than Proxima, our friendly neighbourhood red dwarf. Lalande 21185 is on the larger end of the scale of red dwarfs, and is also one of the few you can actually see in the night sky (though you’ll need a dark sky to find it).

Ultracool red dwarfs really are tiny, but they’re also extremely long lived. Quietly burning stellar embers which exemplify the old saying that slow and steady wins the race. Because these little stars don’t burn their fuel too quickly, and because they’re low enough in mass to be fully convective, they can burn for trillions of years. Long after the Sun exhausts the fuel in its core, flares into a red giant and then cools silently in the darkness, TRAPPIST-1 will still be burning, providing warmth for it’s little planetary entourage.

Not much warmth, mind you. TRAPPIST-1’s handful of planets are huddling around their parent star as if it were campfire on a cold night. The entire star system would fit inside Mercury’s orbit and still have cavernous amounts of room to spare. So close are those planets, that they have years which pass by in mere Earth days. The shortest has a year which is just 1.5 Earth days long. The longest year length in the system is still less than a month.

aureliaOf course, I say Earth days, because these planets don’t have days as such. They’re so close to their parent star that they’re certain to be tidally locked. The gravitational forces are sufficiently different that they cannot rotate at all. One side constantly faces the tiny red sun in the sky, and the other side constantly faces outwards towards the cold night. It’s quite likely that the night sides of these planets may be frozen in a permanent winter night, never gaining enough warmth to thaw. Half a planet of permanent Antarctica.


Supernova Condensate was kind enough to produce an illuminating graphic, hosted at "Model Planets", comparing the TRAPPIST-1 system to (among others) the Earth-Moon system and to Jupiter and its moons. The TRAPPIST-1 system is tiny.



The Planetary Society Blog's Franck Marchis wrote a nice essay outlining what is and is not known, perhaps most importantly pointing out that while several of the TRAPPIST-1 worlds are in roughly the right position in their solar system to support life, we do not actually know if they do support life. Further research is called for, clearly.

Centauri Dreams' "Seven Planets Around TRAPPIST-1" has great discussion in the comments, concentrating on the potential for life on these worlds and on the possibility of actually travelling to the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. The later post "Further Thoughts on TRAPPIST-1" notes that these worlds, which presumably migrated inwards from the outer fringes of their solar system, might well have arrived with substantial stocks of volatiles like water. If this survived the radiation of their young and active sun, they could be watery worlds.

The cultural implication of these discoveries, meanwhile, has also come up. Jonathan Edelstein has written in "We Just Got Our ’30s Sci-Fi Plots Back" about how TRAPPIST-1, by providing so many potentially habitable planets so close to each other, would be an ideal setting for an early spacefaring civilization, and for imaginings of said. If a sister world is scarcely further than the moon, why not head there? Savage Minds, meanwhile, in "The Resonance of Earth, Other Worlds, and Exoplanets", hosts a discussion between Michael P. Oman-Reagan and Lisa Messeri talking about the cultural significance of these and other discoveries, particularly exploring how they create points of perceived similarity used as markers of cultural import.
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The Toronto Star's Evelyn Kwong reported early this morning bout yesterday's record-breaking temperatures. Today was cooler, as predicted. Walking by Lake Ontario down at Woodbine Beach this afternoon, this late February day felt like a cool spring day.

Torontonians enjoyed an especially balmy day Thursday, but it wasn’t just a record high for Feb. 23; it was the warmest February day on record.

Spring temperatures soared to 17.7 C by early afternoon, before cooling down to 12 C closer to the evening.

The previous record for the warmest day ever in February was set last year on Feb. 3 with a high of 16 C. Weather records for Toronto started in 1938. The temperatures also shattered a 33-year-old record high of 14.9 C for Feb. 23, set in 1984.

On Friday, temperatures are expected to dip down back down to a high of 6 C, which is still over the average temperature for February. There will be a 30-per-cent chance of rain and drizzle, and possible thunderstorms.
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Gary Mason wrote Thursday from Victoria for The Globe and Mail about the Toronto real estate crisis, contrasting the belated responses of Toronto and Ontario unfavourably to those of his province of residence.

Of all the political U-turns B.C. Premier Christy Clark has undertaken in power, perhaps none was as jarring and unexpected as the one she performed on housing.

For most of 2015, and at least half of the following year, the Premier refused to do anything about rapidly escalating house prices in Metro Vancouver. She maintained that bringing in measures to cool the market might hurt the equity in people’s homes. She denied foreign investors had much to do with the fierce escalation in costs, relying on the faulty, self-serving data from a real-estate industry that wanted the sticker-shock insanity to continue.

And there was also the not-insignificant fact that the B.C. treasury was getting fattened on the provincial tax that exists on home sales – easy money that can become like crack to a government.

But then Ms. Clark and her cabinet came to an uncomfortable realization: The growing public outrage over the fact that the middle-class dreams of owning a home were evaporating by the day for many and might cost the government re-election. So the Premier did what she vowed she wouldn’t and brought in a 15-per-cent foreign buyer’s tax that did precisely what it was intended to – put the brakes on the absurd, and immoral, goings-on in the real estate industry.

Unfortunately, by the time she did, it was too late for thousands.
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The Globe and Mail's Carolyn Ireland shares a warning that Toronto's housing market is about to lock up for want of available real estate.

Toronto’s real estate market is heading toward a state of paralysis, says Chris Kapches, president and chief executive officer of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.

Mr. Kapches says the shortage of listings prompted house hunters to head out in force in January. They were also making quick decisions. Properties for sale sold in 19 days, on average, Mr. Kapches says. In the same month last year, the average was 29 days. Mr. Kapches reminds clients that 2016 was already a record-breaking year – including in the “days on market” category.

One reason existing homeowners aren’t listing their houses for sale is that the cost of moving is so high. It takes a huge investment to make the jump to a larger property or a more coveted location. There are commissions and legal fees to pay. Land-transfer taxes are levied by the province and the City of Toronto.

Bank of Montreal is not backing down from a call that residential real estate prices in the Toronto area are moving too fast: economists at the bank are comparing prices to a runaway train.

BMO recently urged market watchers to drop the pretense and acknowledge that Toronto’s housing market is in a bubble.

Chief economist Douglas Porter explains he made the bold call to reinforce the message that the market has lost contact with economic fundamentals and has the potential to become dangerously overheated.

“This is not a near-term call on the market,” he stresses – “in fact, given the outlook for interest rates and an improving underlying economy, there’s nothing obvious to meaningfully slow the market at this point,” Mr. Porter says in a note to clients.

It’s in that context that Robert Kavcic, senior economist at BMO, probes the calls by some industry players to remove part of the Ontario Greenbelt, “as if that would be a magic bullet to slow the recent pace of home-price growth.” Mr. Kavcic says it’s unlikely that would be the case.
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The Toronto Star's Tess Kalinowski reports on one new pitfall of the Toronto real estate market.

It’s not enough that Toronto area home-buyers are facing competition so fierce that list prices have become virtually meaningless and bully or pre-emptive offers are increasingly the norm.

Now there’s an added twist.

Some sellers’ agents say they will no longer notify other interested consumers when their client decides to entertain a pre-emptive bid, and not wait for the date they set to consider all offers.

Ontario’s real estate rules require the property seller’s brokerage to notify all other interested buyers that a “bully” offer, usually well over the asking price for the property, is being considered.

That notice allows other consumers to compete for the same property if they want to.

But, in the super-heated Toronto-area market, some brokers are including a line in their listings saying they reserve the right to accept pre-emptive offers without notice.
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NOW Toronto's Susan G. Cole reports on An Honest Farewell, this weekend's ongoing festivities surrounding the closing of Honest Ed's. I really do like this urban initiative, and I have been and will be taking part in it: I went to the community market in the old Bad Boys space just now, and tomorrow morning I will be doing the art maze. (Photos, among other things, will be coming from me.)

AN HONEST FAREWELL a festival celebrating inclusiveness, community and social innovation, at Honest Ed's (581 Bloor West), Thursday to Sunday (February 23 to 26). $16.50 for some events. Buy tickets and/or register at torontoforeveryone.com.

We know it's coming. We might even admit that it's about time. But many of us are dreading it: that moment when Honest Ed's goes down. Not the store – that happened last year – but the building, that crazy edifice festooned with neon that flashed garishly at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst.

But the Centre for Social Innovation is turning this sad moment in Toronto history into an opportunity. An Honest Farewell, their multi-day culture fest, celebrates the past, present and future with the accent on building a city that is joyously inclusive.

The fact that I'm talking to co-producers Hima Batavia and Negin Sairafi just days after U.S. President Trump has announced his travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries lends the project a new urgency. T.O. is always promoting its diversity, but with xenophobes taking over below the 49th parallel, protecting that inclusiveness takes on new meaning.

"My passport says Iran," explains Sairafi, angered by the confusion the executive order has created. "So I can't travel to the States. Then again, maybe I can. It's a privilege to be able to travel and to have a Canadian passport, but it's still ironic that I'm working on a project like this and having to face the reality of what people are going through around the world. It makes our work – and especially what we do after this – so much more important."

When Sairafi mentions what comes after An Honest Farewell, she's referring to the fact that the fest says goodbye to an iconic edifice but also launches CSI's Toronto For Everyone (TO4E) campaign to build a city committed to inclusiveness.

But the focus for four days beginning February 23 is a cultural blitz that transforms the one-time bargain emporium into an arts extravaganza and venue for public debate on the city's future.

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