Why would you want to vote in Canada if you don’t live there?

It has been a long time since I posted and, despite having intentions to post for ages about a tour of Tower Bridge and a collection of weird statue photos I have taken, and despite having had a sad week in other ways, somehow my brain thought “You know what this blog really needs? A long post about a recent court ruling that directly affects basically no one who reads this blog written by someone with zero legal qualifications who is also currently unaffected by this ruling.” And so here we are!

Canada recently reversed its ruling on citizens living outside of the country for more than 5 years having the right to vote*. The ruling from 2014 found that this residency restriction on voters violates section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

Seems pretty straightforward, which is presumably why two Canadian citizens living in the US launched the Charter challenge when they found out they could not vote in the 2011 Canadian election. But wait. It turns out that section 1 of the Charter states that those rights are subject to

…such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

So, it is probably not reasonable to allow 5-years olds to vote. It might be reasonable to allow 16-year olds to vote, but a line obviously needs to be drawn somewhere and so we arrive at the need for a judge to judge what is a reasonable limit.

Read More…


Dock it to me

The weekend of the London Marathon, I manoeuvred my way through the crowds at Canada Water station to North Greenwich to check out the infamous London Cable Car. Built for the 2012 Olympics, it has come under criticism for being underused and unprofitable, because we all know public transit usually makes oodles of money. In fairness, the cable car does only connect Greenwich Peninsula, site of the O2 arena, restaurants and public parks, with the Royal Docks, an area you probably wouldn’t go to unless you happened to live there. Indeed, of the folks making the trip that day, we appeared to be the only ones getting off at the Royal Docks; everyone else had opted for the round trip. The two endpoints are already connected by the Tube and DLR and, even with the transfer, this method is faster than the cable car and cheaper.

However, given the frequency with which subways would break down in Toronto, I don’t think it’s the worst idea to have a little redundancy in the public transit system. Also, while the £3.20 you pay by Oyster card is more than the £1.60 you would pay by Tube (assuming I’ve calculated the Zone 3 fare correctly; that is a bargain compared to the £2.80 you could pay to travel from Zones 1-2), you really get your money’s worth: nice views, a car to yourselves (there is a sign saying this will not necessarily be the case, but I guess one of the advantages of running so far below capacity is you get to ride in style) and the very nice man helping load people in who will take a cheesy picture of your group as you “take off” (the cable car is sponsored by a certain airline company and the ride is referred to using flight terminology).

Also, it’s not as if there’s no reason to make the trip across the Thames. With a bit of a walk, you can see alpacas. And when would you not want to do that?

In Full Swing

Last month I visited the Wallace Collection, a set of paintings, sculptures, ceramics and actually a huge amount of armour (including some interesting Eastern pieces). It was originally a private collection but, through a series of bequests, it is now a national museum. It might not be quite as prominent in the tourist books as the National Gallery or the Tate, but the collection is huge and free and definitely worth a visit. Also, one of the conditions of the bequest is that none of the pieces can leave the gallery, so you won’t see them anywhere else.

The building. It's as big as it looks and the rooms are also packed quite full.

The building. It’s as big as it looks and the rooms are also packed quite full.

I went primarily to see The Swing, a Rococo painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, which I mostly know about because of this homage by Kate Beaton and the recent parody of/homage to the painting in the Disney movie Frozen. Analysis of the painting seems to focus mainly on the man in the shadows pushing the swing and the lover hidden beneath the woman, but I just like it because of the jaunty, whimsical feel to it. Apparently that is wrong though because Enlightenment philosophers criticized the work as frivolous. Yes, it’s too bad it can’t all be unsmiling artist self-portraits and wealthy men in fancy clothes standing in rooms of uncomfortable-looking furniture.

It's the shoe flying off that really makes it I think.

It’s the shoe flying off that really makes it I think.

They also have the Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals (which depicts a man who is neither laughing nor likely to be a cavalier).


I also saw this on the way home.


Jodrell Bank and Manchester

Jodrell Bank is a radio telescope in the North of England (also featured in 2005’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie). Actually, there is one big dish (the Lovell telescope) and a few smaller ones. Which of course leads us to MRI. Of course? Of course. But more on that in a minute.

Okay, now that you’ve seen the awe-inspiring pictures, I get to explain how this all relates to MRI! Because once you’ve spent six years doing a PhD, you start to see it everywhere.

Radio waves are at the long-wavelength end of the electromagnetic spectrum (centimetres to tens of kilometres) and so you need to capture signal over an area that will take in those wavelengths. One option is to just build a dish with a really big area, such as this one in Arecibo which is 300 m. The Lovell telescope, at 76 m, is big enough to act as a radio telescope on its own in this way (it’s the world’s third-largest steerable radio telescope). However, there is a second option, which is to build a number of smaller dishes and spread them out over an area and detect radio signals at each point and combine them. These can be organized, such as the Very Large Array, or they can be a bit more ad hoc. The Lovell telescope and the Mark II, also at Jodrell Bank, are part of the array of MERLIN telescopes across the UK.

But how the telescopes are spaced out will affect the image that you get. Which is pretty much the same as MRI. An x-ray is acquired by sending x-rays at you and seeing how many pass through you to make an image directly on the detector, but MRI doesn’t work like this. It detects the frequencies caused by the magnetic field the scanner generates. And then you take these frequencies (in what’s called k-space) and transform them to get an image. The first image on this page shows you sort of how it works. If you only collect low frequencies from the centre, you can get the general idea of the image, but it’s blurry. If you take the high frequencies from the outside, you see mostly edges. Jodrell Bank has a setup to explain the same concept for radio telescope arrays, where it lets you put different sets of telescopes into the array and then satisfyingly smack a button to show you what an image from just those telescopes would look like. I went with three other MR physicists and we may have spent long enough at this demo to get a few sideways glances from the parents of 8-year-olds who didn’t seem at all interested in k-space!

Some other things on-site:

Then it was on to Manchester (in “This train system is amazing” news, you can break your journey and get back on as long as you keep going in the same direction). The most important thing to know about Manchester is that there is a breakfast place that serves cake. And I don’t mean like a little danish or breakfast-y pastry. I mean a menu full of things like brownie, Red Velvet and of course Victoria Sponge. Manchester knows what’s up.

Street Art in Brick Lane

Last month I went on the Alternative London walking tour in Brick Lane, an area of London noted for its graffiti/street art and its curry houses. It’s pay-what-you-can (woooo pwyc) and you just book and look for the organizers holding a pink folder under the goat statue near Spitalfields Market (I seem to have misplaced some pictures). That should be a unique enough identifier. You get a little bit of the history of the area, a little bit of art critique and a little bit of political opinion and philosophy; it’s a pretty good balance.

The London Smog

We interrupt our frantic attempts to catch up on this blog to utter this phrase never before heard in London: it needs to rain. I wasn’t bothered by Toronto’s supposed smog ever, nor by earlier days in which London’s air quality was said to be bad, but this week has been ridiculous. The air quality hit 10 and that scale does not go to 11.

(Also, does the scale seem backwards to anyone else? Why is the highest number the lowest quality air? Rename the scale please!)

I almost got off my bike to walk up a hill because I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. It has been so ridiculous apparently in part because there has been a good three or four days without rain and there is all this otherwise nice weather just, like, sitting here and England doesn’t know how to deal with nice weather, so it started raining sand. Sand from the Sahara desert. The Guardian took a picture of it on the Prime Minister’s car in case you don’t believe me.

Although this was probably my favourite version of the story, where they are quick to point out that the part of the pollution that’s not due to the Sahara is of course due to all the pollution from those dirty dirty continental Europeans. The fact that the air quality is so poor in London, where there is a large population density and a huge amount of traffic, much of it diesel, is purely a coincidence I guess.

Anyhooo, if all of you over there in Canada could blow some of your clean, desert sand-free air eastward across the Atlantic so things can get back to normal here, I would really appreciate it. Feel free to strip out all the coldness first though.

Thanks in advance!

Bristol: Brunel, Banksy, Canada

From Bath, we took the train on to Bristol. “What’s in Bristol?” my Dad asked. I didn’t know, just it was near Bath. Turns out the answer is “a bridge.” But not just any bridge. A bridge built by the engineer with the best name ever: Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He also built the Great Western Railway. The bridge spans over 700 ft, which was the longest in the world when it was built (finished in 1864).

How Brunel ended up as the engineer is quite the story. Following a bequest, there was £8000 for a bridge, but the stone designs common at the time would cost more like £80,000, so there was a contest, to which Brunel submitted four designs out of 22. The head of the selection committee, Thomas Telford, rejected all of them and then submitted his own design costing £52,000, which was selected. Brunel produced a cheaper design and public pressure to reject Telford’s design grew. Campaigns to raise money also began and there was a plan to recoup some costs via tolls. A new contest was held and Telford’s design was deemed to be the only one that met the structural requirements of the contest, but it was too expensive and so rejected. Another man was declared the winner. Then Brunel met with one of the judges, persuaded him and Brunel’s design was declared the winner. The final cost was almost £100,000 (just missed. Some things never change). That’s a lot of 5 p tolls.

Miscellaneous things:

Also in Bristol, lots of works by Banksy (he’s from there):

And finally, we did not know this was here; we just happened to stumble upon it. But you know those Canadians: always butting in where no one wants them.

Edit: Also just to add, the lady in our hotel, trying to be helpful, asked if we had plans for the day. We told her we were going to see the bridge and she said it was “okay”, but by incredible luck and timing there happened to be a Christmas market on in a certain area of Bristol right now. Wouldn’t we be much more interested in that?  Somehow we passed it up.