Meteor show. Photo © NASA

Watching the night sky from the western edge of the continent at this latitude at this time of year presents a gamble. Announcements that a full moon would light the way for midnight mass-goers this year overlooked our forecast rain showers and our understandable preference for warm, lit, cosy quarters over damp, dark, blustery venues.

Even on December 21, clouds ruled the night. They blocked views of the annual Ursid meteor shower. If the weather had cooperated, the solar-reflector qualities of the nearly full moon so enjoyed elsewhere would have washed out sightings of falling stars we might otherwise have caught.

Before the Ursids zipped by behind thick cloud cover, we could have tried our night-sky luck with the much more spectacular Geminids. This shower peaked on December 13 and 14. Typically, as many as 120 meteors can be observed each hour at its height. More »

Seeing a patient. Photo © Seattle Municipal Archives

I recently asked Nature Boy when he had last seen a doctor.

He answered, “Not since the final season of House M.D.

Other British Columbians share a similar rate of exposure to medical practice. Most of us are more familiar with characters who take medical license on TV than with doctors licensed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C.

Television physicians, after all, make weekly house calls to our living rooms. That practice has largely disappeared in the real world. More »

Zombies. Photo © Gianluca Ramalho Misiti, via flickr and Creative Commons;

Nature Boy lurches into the kitchen. Flu-ridden, his eyes are puffy and bloodshot, snot bubbles at his nostrils, and he breathes noisily through his mouth.

“Can I get you something?” I ask.

He reaches towards me, croaking something.

“I’m sorry, did you just say ‘brains’?”


Infectious disease plays a starring role in popular culture. More »

Dog Mountain Fire, Vancouver Island, July 2015. Photo © BCFLNR2015

Dog Mountain Fire, Vancouver Island, July 2015. Photo © BCFLNR2015

For a week, Nature Boy gasped and panted under dense skies. He flopped from sweaty seat to shade-enshrouded room in search of hints of coolness. He marveled at a sun that glowed orange throughout the day and lit everything with a buttery, evening light at midday.

The hot weather over the west coast sent many Victorians rushing to stake out blanket-sized patches of beach early in the morning. Others scurried into the welcome relief of air-conditioned offices. As for Nature Boy, he took to spending his afternoons in cool, dark cinemas.

The system that brought the weather also held Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland in a form of hot smoker. It suffused the coast in the fumes of the region’s wildfires.

In Vancouver, the outlook was labelled “Martian skies.”

The recent Big Smoke gave us a taste and whiff of our own coastal rainforests going up in flames, here, in a place normally known for clean air and fresh ocean breezes. With our itchy eyes and scratchy throats, we felt the chemical and particulate ghosts of thousands of trees being partially cremated at Dog Mountain, Sechelt Inlet, Port Hardy, and in other wildfires in the region….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Single-serving bags of chips. Photo © m01229, via flickr and Creative Commons

Nature Boy waved a bag of potato chips at me.

“No, thanks. I’m not hungry,” I said.

“But when you see this bag, how do you feel? Do you feel a twinge of guilt? Do you feel nostalgic?”

“Actually, right now, I feel puzzled and exasperated….”

Nature Boy’s household psychological experiment came after he’d read about neuromarketing, a field of study that examines how the sight of certain products triggers specific and not always expected emotional responses deep within people’s brains.

That’s the neuro-part of the field. The marketing part comes when companies use that information to design, package and position products to increase sales….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Checking email. Photo ©, via flickr and Creative Commons

Photo ©

When he was younger and had more hair, Nature Boy often marked this time of year by resolving to break annoying habits. These included snacking between meals, spending too much time onscreen, sleeping until the last possible minute before getting up and getting ready for work, and so on.

Year after year, he resolved to get smarter, fitter, faster or just get up.

You could say he was beginning to develop a habit of making resolutions to break bad habits.

Alas, as with so many resolutions made by so many people, a resolution-making habit does little to squelch the habits prompting the resolutions….


Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….


Table Setting 74. Photo © Didriks, via Creative Commons and flickr.

“I’m setting out the small dinner plates,” Nature Boy announced the other evening as we prepared to welcome guests. “It will help pace us through the meal.”

Nature Boy recently assumed responsibility for setting the table for evening meals. With meals round these parts typically being the quick and informal sort, the choice of dinnerware rarely receives much thought.

But the task becomes more complicated when, as with the evening in question, guests are expected, menus encompass multiple courses, and appetites must be managed throughout the evening. Such occasions call upon Nature Boy to tune up his geometry and social-engineering skills. It’s not just a matter of how to seat so many people around a limited dining surface, but (he asserts) incorporating the latest social and neurological science into the effects of the setting—and the setting of the table—on the perception and enjoyment of the food served.

Nature Boy’s efforts at table landscaping have climbed to new intellectual and socially manipulative heights.

The studies Nature Boy called on when he selected smaller plates determined that plate size affects how much food people serve themselves and how much they think they’re eating….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Elevator buttons: dirtier than a toilet seat. Photo © Dan Taylor, via creative commons and flickr

Nature Boy recently scaled back using his hands.

He stopped coughing and sneezing into them during the SARS outbreak in 2002. He now spews his sputum and microbes into the insides of his elbows. This prevents him from spreading his viruses to everything and everyone he touches.

It’s all part of his civic/civilized duty, he says.

Then he cut back on direct contact with certain fixtures in public and semi-public spaces—toilet-flush levers, washroom and drink-fountain taps, and telephones that he hasn’t personally sanitized.

Too much television prompted the escalation of Nature Boy’s no-hands policy. According to MythBusters, the popular Hollywood-effects show where the hosts shoot and blow up things—all in the name of proving or debunking common wisdom, each square centimetre on an office telephone can harbour more than 10,000 microbes, while a square centimetre on a public water fountains can hold as many as one million bacteria.

By limiting direct contact with those fixtures, Nature Boy limits the microbes he picks up from those surfaces. He instead enlists go-between materials, such as tissue for the washroom fixtures, or pencil or pens to call out from telephones. As for holding telephones—“I prefer the speaker function,” he says, waving the eraser end of a pencil at me.

This squeamishness is entirely out of character for Nature Boy. He does, after all, spend his time handling dog-poo-eating banana slugs, being peed on by turtles, and swamping around for bullfrogs. He also knows there’s more to him than himself—his body contains many more bacteria than human cells.


He recently added elevator buttons to the no-touch list….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….