Rosa woke up before me this morning and started her morning routine (doing her hair, picking out clothes).

Eventually I began to stir. She came back into the bedroom and opened the curtains, letting the sunlight flood in.

The sunlight was warm on my skin.

And I began to think about how incredible that was. The Sun is 150 million kilometres away. Only the most inconceivably small amount of photons that the Sun produces reached across that distance to alight upon my drowsy form.

Because I like numbers, here’s the deal. My arm is about 70 square centimetres, or 0.07 metres square. The total area of a sphere is  That means that the area of the sphere of solar radiation at the distance of Earth’s orbit is 4 x π x 149,598,000 kilometres x 149,598,000 kilometres. That’s 2.8 x 10^17 square kilometres or 2.8 x 10^23 square metres. My arm was therefore receiving 0.000,000,000,000,000,000,000,024,89 percent (2.489 x 10^-23 %) of the photons that the Sun is producing, and even that infinitesimal amount was enough to warm my arm and wake me from my slumber.

2011 Cadillac Driver Training Program

Today I had the opportunity to participate in the Cadillac Driver Training Program at Calabogie Motorsports Park (CMP). It was a good day with great weather and happy Cadillac owners!

As a customer day, the instructors were asked to dress with black pants and shoes. We were all given black Cadillac hats and white golf shirts. We looked great! And we were all given magnetic nametags, which looked classy.

There were 16 drivers attending the event. The Ontario Regional Director of Marketing represented Cadillac. There was a full team of photographers and filmmakers were recording the event for a video that should be available later.

The catered lunch was really delicious, and it provided a good time to relax and talk with the participants. They all were enjoying the day so far; I knew that the afternoon was going to be even more fun than the morning exercises.

The afternoon was dedicated to tracking their high performance vehicles. We used the stadium track at CMP, which was a blast. Some of the customers were driving CTS-V coupes with supercharged V8 engines producing 556hp! Wow!

At the end of the day, the drivers had a wonderful gift bag, including a large framed print of them and their cars, a group photo, and the Cadillac logo. It looked great. And it was done so fast – the pictures were taken at lunchtime.

It was a pleasure to work with the team and to provide a special day for the Cadillac customers. I would like to participate next week at Mosport, but I am not going to have enough time due to our upcoming trip to Europe.

[Updated: some photos were posted here:]

Fukushima correction

More information has been coming out about the earliest moments of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear incident and the design of the reactors. It turns out that I was incorrect in surmising that the results of the experiment at Chernobyl or perhaps continuing to run the reactors might have ameliorated some of the disaster.

Firstly, the Chernobyl experiment was only supposed to cover the 75 seconds from SCRAM to the point when the generators would have been supplying full power for cooling. Secondly, the 1986 disaster was actually the fourth time the experiment had been attempted – it had failed the previous three times. Which would lead one to conclude that it is not possible to bridge the loss of power by using residual steam pressure to continue to spin the turbines.

Next, the design of the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors had flaws that would have defeated my suggestions. During the massive quake, the active reactors were SCRAMed. The diesel generators were brought online and were functional until the tsunami hit. The facility had 5.7 metre seawalls and the tsunami was estimated to be 13-15 metres high. This flooded many of the buildings. The older reactor buildings had their generators in the basement of the reactor building. The newer reactors at least provided external generators that were stationed up a hill. But all of the electrical switching components were still in the basement. As were the turbines. Even if steam had been available for the turbines, the turbines would still have been lost when the tsunami hit nearly an hour after the quake.

Finally, my suggestion would not have helped at Reactor 4, which was already shut down and could not supply any energy. The spent fuel pool next to the core contained 1,331 fuel rods. Alternative methods were used to cool the spent fuel in the pool.

Beethoven's Ninth

This evening, Rosa and I went to the NAC for a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO). Rosa bought the tickets after I had expressed how much I enjoy the symphony; it is one of the few classical pieces I think I understand.

I can feel the emotions, the opening up of the soul to joy. It is one of the most powerful expressions I have experienced of pure joy.

The evening started with a shorter piece by Canadian composer Malcolm Forsyth. It was the world premier of his “A Ballad of Canada”. It was a special performance by the NACO as Malcolm’s daughter Amanda Forsyth is the Principal Cello, and the conductor is her husband (and thus Malcolm’s son-in-law) Pinchas Zukerman. It was an emotional moment, as Malcolm has been ill for some time. At the end of the performance, Malcolm was in one of the box seats and weakly stood up to acknowledge the applause.

NACO standing to take the applause
NACO standing to take the applause

After the intermission, the “Ode to Joy” began. The symphony is about 65 minutes long in four parts. One of the major innovations of the piece is the use of voice as one of the instruments.

One of my favourite sections is the start of the second movement. I feel it is so openly and energetically joyful. It gives me goose bumps.

The final movement brings in the full chorus. The sound of the wall of vocal power of a chorus full-on song is amazing. One of the four soloists was soprano Arianna Zukerman, daughter of Pinchas Zukerman.

With such emotions and power, I cannot imagine that it was created by someone who at the time was completely deaf. It is heartbreaking to the point of tears that although Beethoven conducted the first public performance, he was unable to hear the standing ovation of the audience at the conclusion.

Sadly, I heard three cell phones go off during the performance at the NAC.

[Updated Oct 3, 2011: Malcolm Forsyth passed away July 5, 2011, just over a month after this concert]

2011 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada at iCar

I had the pleasure of working again with the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada professional race series, this time at Circuit iCar built on the apron of the Montréal-Mirabel International Airport.

The weekend headliner was NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship and some regional sedan classes were also on the schedule.

One bonus for myself is that I could practice my French. I tried to use only French any time I could, although I sometimes had to fall back to English if I could not understand.

Temporary iCar control tower
Temporary iCar control tower

The weekend was interesting in the control tower. The three-story tower itself was built the day before. It was an enclosed wooden upper story, and the base was steel. The base had big steel wheels; the tower had been pushed into place the night before. It was a bit scary, as it would sway in the wind and provided little protection from the noise.

I had a chance to meet Wayne Pollock, one of the Quebec clerks. To gain more experience, perhaps I can try working with him next year if there is an opportunity.

The Porsche series races ran smoothly, although one competitor wrote off his chassis Saturday morning and the series leader broke his suspension at the start of the Sunday race, leaving only four cars to complete the 45 minute race.

Terry Dale, Steve Sewell, Wayne Pollock and the tower operators
Terry Dale, Steve Sewell, Wayne Pollock and the tower operators

I snuck up to the control tower to watch some of the NASCAR folks, and it was chaos. They all had hoarse voices as if they were long time chain smokers. I think it from yelling over the noise for season after season. The noise from the cars was overwhelming. There were times I was standing next to someone and could see their lips moving, but could not hear them at all.

During the weekend, I crossed paths with former Formula-1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve. Someone told me that he was a good friend with one of the announcers covering the race.

[Updated Sept 19, 2011: Sadly, Wayne Pollock passed away in his sleep overnight]