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I’m Back

I haven’t posted here in quite a while – almost 2 years in fact.  It’s not for lack of things to write about but more a symptom of several factors:

  1. I have a habit of writing long, researched works that can take weeks to finish.
  2. I have a secret longtime desire to try my hand at writing fiction that I finally decided to act upon.
  3. I got caught up in the Canadian federal election campaign as a Green Party volunteer.
  4. I have been spending too much time on FaceBook where it is all to easy to just share-and-comment rather than create original content.

I’m going to (try to) write some fiction…

As part of my interest in writing fiction attended the Surrey International Writer’s Conference (SIWC) this past weekend.  On the subject of becoming a published writer, one recommendation that I received more than once was that I need to have an active online presence in the social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc).  Obviously the social media and the fiction should share the same field/genre.

The content that I publish in social media would, I was told, help define my brand.

I can do that.

But, what is my field/genre.  The best description that I can come up with is:  Speculative (science) fiction influenced by global social and environmental issues.

PonderTerra (this blog) should nicely fit this target field/genre.

Another recommendation that received more than once was that it is better to write lots of small, regular posts rather than an occasional long ones.  Oops!  Guilty!  I clearly need to improve in this department.

So prepare to see more regular posts here.  And if the fiction writing goes well, look for updates here as well.



A Ray of Hope from the Lone Star State


By United States Census Bureau, modified by Decius (Based on Image:Serbin TX.PNG with dot erased), colour added by PonderTerra, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From way up here in the Great White North (aka Canada) it is easy to view Texas as a collection of stereotypes. Many of us have some kind of mental image involving cowboy boots, ten-gallon hats and plate-sized steak dinners. Those of us who grew up with Dallas (the TV show) may also think of big bad oil companies.

When the discussion shifts to science and education, what comes to my mind are the textbook battles that the state seems to go through on a regular basis.

Two of the most publicized battles involve the teaching of evolution and climate change.  In my superficial understanding of the situation, the groups responsible for selecting the science textbooks for the entire state’s schools have been infiltrated by unscientific groups who exercise significant control in choosing the content.  As a result, evolution and climate change are either removed, rebranded as possible theories, or placed up against competing and contradictory pseudo-scientific theories. In both cases, the intent is to place doubt in the real scientific results and, by association, the scientists and their methods.  Indoctrinating people when they are young, especially with the help of publicly funded institutions, is much more cost effective for those wanting to sell an alternate, unscientific message that goes against what science is telling us.

Since Texas is one of the biggest textbook markets in the US, their choice frequently directly influences what other states use.  In other words the stakes are huge.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw the following recent article at

Science Textbooks Across the Country Will Teach Real Science Because of a Decision in Texas

This time around, it appears that the Texas Board of Education consulted with top Texan scientists and teachers and accepted their recommendations almost without change. As a result it is more likely that evolution and climate change science will now be taught without too much of a taint from special-interests.

As for me, it’s probably time for me to review my collection of Texas stereotypes.

References and Some Further Reading

2013-11-29:  Ryan Koronowski, Science Textbooks Across the Country Will Teach Real Science Because of a Decision in Texas

2003-07-09:  Steven Schafersman President, Texas Citizens for Science;  TEXAS TEXTBOOK ADOPTION: An Historical Analysis

National Center for Science Education:  Climate Change Education

2013-11-27:  Chris Mooney,  Why Climate Change Skeptics and Evolution Deniers Joined Forces


Artificial turf video: “What’s the Deal With Synthetic Turf Particles?”

I came across this interesting video What’s the Deal With Synthetic Turf Particles? on YouTube recently which looks into a number of issues associated with the use of crumbled tire waste as a filler for artificial turf. This video is focused on sports field installations but many of the issues apply to domestic installations as well.


Richard Alley on Glaciers, Climate-change and Sea-level

Slip Slidin’ Away – Ice sheets and sea level in a warming world

I like Richards presentation style.  The story is pretty interesting too though the implications that sea-level rise might have some unpredictable relatively sudden events should is a tad scary.


James Hansen TED Talk

James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change

This may be more than a year old but it is still news worth listening to.

The Artificial Grass Lawn – What a Waste

It has been almost two years since I wrote my article Artificial Turf Grass Lawn – Good Idea or Bad? A couple of the comments on that article have induced me to write this short follow-up as there was the suggestion that I am a naysayer implying that I am biased against artificial turf. I’m not against artificial turf per se. I’m just advocating for a careful analysis of the real long term costs. I also have a lot of criticisms for the perfectly manicured lawn.

One person commenting on the original article mentioned the HOA (Home-Owner Association) and the fact that those who are a part of one may not have the choice of anything but the flat green expanse of a lawn – artificial or real. This is a problem with the HOA itself and does nothing to change any positive or negative aspects of either natural or artificial turf.

If someone were to come up with a good way to deal with the end-of-life issues when the artificial turf has to be replaced, that could go a long way towards changing my opinion on some aspects of artificial turf. To see why this is a big deal, let’s take the extreme case where everybody switches to artificial turf.

In a 2005 article entitled Could the Grass be Greener? Thomas Hayden talks about the environmental costs of what he calls America’s biggest irrigated crop, the 40 million acres or so of grass that is found on residential lawns, in parks and sports fields and in many other spots big and small across America.

Let’s assume that we were going to replace the entire 40 million acres of organic stuff with the plastic variety. Most artificial turf has an advertised lifespan of about 10 years so, there would be 4 million acres of artificial turf going into the landfill each year per current practices.

The US creates about 200 million tons of garbage each year so the obvious question is: how does 4 million acres compare with 200 million tons. That’s like comparing apples and orange-peels so it’s time for some research.

I found one artificial turf installer in Southern California ( that lists the face weight (artificial grass product only) and installed weight (including backing and infill) of their products in ounces per square yard. Face weight values ranged from 65 to 88 ounces per square yard with corresponding installed weights of 90 to 116 ounces.

Let’s use a number in the middle of these ranges, say 96 ounces (six pounds) per square yard. There are 4840 square yards in an acre so an acre would weigh 14.5 tons which means those 4 million acres turn into 58 million tons of landfill each year. In the all-artificial-turf world, per capita waste would be 30% higher than it otherwise would be with plain old grass. We could bicker a little over packaging for fertilizers and grass seed or manufacturing waste during the production of related products but my guess is that they would not change the numbers very much.

The bottom line is that artificial turf results in a lot of waste and most installers who tout the benefits of their product don’t have much to say about the liabilities that accrue as the turf wears out. What if tipping fees at your local dump triple – or worse yet, what if turf is banned from the public landfills altogether?

One problem with the discourse over artificial turf is that it is always compared with a lawn of healthy green sod that is heavily watered, fed with fertilizers and sprayed with pesticides. If we throw in other options like xeriscaping, letting it go brown, vegetable gardens, rock gardens, etc. then both real and artificial turf would quickly find themselves low down on the environmental heap.

Review: Straphanger

There is a new book just out by Taras Grescoe called “Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile.” He was interviewed on CBC Radio recently on “The Current”.  Last time that I checked, the full interview was still online here.  I’m more than halfway through the eBook version (for Kobo) and quite depressed at how far most of North America is behind many other parts of the world.

Chapter 9 talks about Portland Oregon and Vancouver (my region).  Happily Vancouver gets a pretty good grade by North American standards.

I especially enjoyed Chapter 5 focussing on Copenhagen, Denmark.  To see why, I only need quote a single paragraph:

Bicycles here actually outnumber humans.  At the last tally, central Copenhagen counted 560,000 bikes, but only 519,000 people.  In the greater Copenhagen area, 37 percent of residents get to work or school by bicycle – a proportion that jumps to 55 percent in the central core – and these numbers are rising every year.  To put this in context: more people commute by bicycle in greater Copenhagen, population 1.8 million, than cycle to work in the entire United States, pop. 310 million.

Before you start making excuses as to why your city could never embrace the bicycle in the same way go find Copenhagen on a map.  If it were at the same latitude but on the west coast of North America it would actually be in Alaska.

Overall, the book is easy to read and full of cool historic detail that helps provide perspective as to how different cities, regions and countries ended up, for better or worse, as they did. I prefer Taras’ writing style to that of many books that are littered with statistics and footnotes.

The title of a review of Straphanger in the Globe and Mail sums it up: “Why North America sucks at mass transit”.

Two thumbs up!