Hibernation

It’s finally spring (despite the fact that as I write this there’s as much snow on the ground as there has been all winter) and that means that many lucky creatures are just now waking up from their long winter sleep. Deep in burrows or caves, various ground squirrels, marmots, woodchucks, shrews, hedgehogs and bats …

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Antarctica

“So this fingie beaker shows up, first day on the ice. She’s an Antarctic 10, but she’s strictly black tie, no bunny boots, not even diapers. There she is, complaining about the cold while I’m doing the bag drag, listening to all this, and finally I just turn to her and tell her, ‘Hey, it’s …

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Hiccupping, itching and sneezing

We like to think we control our bodies. As I type this, my fingers oblg — er, obEY me pretty well, and if I choose to stand up and walk away, my legs won’t argue. Sometimes, however, our bodies seem to have minds of their own: like when we’re hiccupping, itching and sneezing. A hiccup …

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Weather forecasting

I know this is a sensitive topic, but sometimes it’s necessary to face life’s unpleasantries. It’s time I wrote about weather forecasting. I know, I know, this time of year it seems like anybody could forecast the weather. “Miserably cold this weekend, but springtime’s just around the corner — not!” But believe it or not, …

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Tops and gyros

Frequently I begin my column by delving into my childhood for pleasant memories about some activity or other that just happens to relate to my topic. Not this time. This week, my topic is tops and gyroscopes, and the fact is that as a kid I never saw the point of them at all. Remember …

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Recording sound

In 1877, Thomas Edison was experimenting with a way to repeat Morse-coded telegraph messages using a waxed paper tape on which the message was written by a stylus. He noticed that if he pulled an already inscribed tape past the stylus it produced a note, and reasoned that he should be able to use the …

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Climate control

Humans (at least, this human) are creatures of comfort; and the story of civilization is, to a certain extent, the quest to keep from being either too hot or too cold. The earliest form of climate control was the fire. Room temperature was controlled by adding (or having the servants add) more wood or coal …

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Soaring

The airplane in front of us begins to roll, the 60-metre yellow nylon rope connecting us to it tightens, and suddenly the glider I’m in comes to life, jouncing across the grass airstrip. In seconds we rise into the cloud-studded sky. # All aircraft fly because their wings are shaped so that the air travelling …

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Writing

Last week I wrote about paper, and how much I, as a writer, appreciate it. But even more, I appreciate writing itself: the existence of a system for conveying information by putting marks on paper. What I said about our civilization being built on paper is only half true: our civilization is really built on …

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Paper

As a writer (and reader), I have always had a deep affection for a pretty mundane material: paper. After all, making black marks on paper is how I make a living. Our society seems to have a similar affection (or maybe addiction!) to the stuff, because for all our talk of civilization being built on …

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Biological control of leafy spurge

In 1987, when I was news editor of the Weyburn Review, I journeyed to a small lake near Maxim to photograph beetles infesting the pretty yellow-flowered plants growing on its steep banks (hey, the news business isn’t all politicians and other disasters!). Today, I’m told (though I haven’t had the opportunity to go see for myself), …

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Water softeners

Not long after I first moved into a house from an apartment, I woke in the night to the sound of rushing water from the basement. Groggily, I investigated, visions of finding all my boxes of junk afloat dancing in my sleep-fogged brain, only to discover that all that noise came from a cabinet-sized device …

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