Sharks in my swimming pool . . .

. . . or why this isn’t

Back in 1973 I started to identify with wildturnip — it was the name of the boat I had at the time. Since then, wildturnip has been my handle on several discussion boards (mostly related to motorsport). A few years back I registered the domain with the intention of developing a website in addition to to primary site of Although I held the domain name for years I never did anything with it. It came up for renewal last year but I neglected to re-register. Silly me.

I decided a few days ago that should be my primary Internet presence and I looked into re-registering and moving forward. A quick Whois search told me a very ugly truth: as soon as my domain name expired it was snatched up by the sharks at who would would sell it back to me for the the “generous” price of $1995. $1995! Are they
kidding me?

I now know I am by no means alone. Others have told the same story. If one is so lax as to allow their domain name to expire there are unscrupulous companies that are more than willing to snatch up a name they have no intention of using and holding it for ransom. I’ve also heard that if you try to try to talk or other similar enterprises down in their price they’ll actually RAISE their asking price.

No, this is not — I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of beating me — but I’ll always be Wildturnip.

Be vigilant, friends.


Transit of Venus, 2012

” . . . never let you catch me looking at the sun . . .”

Or, as Richard Harris sang (“MacArthur Park”, 1968):

At the Digital Initiatives Unit here at the University of British Columbia we found an engraving in Harper’s Weekly from 1883 for a previous Transit of Venus.

See my colleague Schulyer Lindberg’s post on our work.

See also the Royal Astronomical Society’s article on the subject.

And then the world started over

Late summer sunshine, unblinking
Warming the path

From beneath a fallen leaf
A spider silently climbs into the light

Lift one leg and then another and then

A huge black shadow suddenly approaches
Descends with a finality

A boot!


“The earth was without form and void;
And darkness was on the face of the deep”

. . . and then the world started over

Smoke II

Smoke II

Summer Sunday evening, 1949. I sit on the floor, my father beside me in an armchair, reading the newspaper. And smoking a cigarette. The sunlight streams in from the west, warming the room. The smoke is illuminated as a solid shaft of light, my sunbeam. I do not know of the poisons in the smoke that will take my father’s life years later. I simply drink in the reassurance of the sunbeam.

The Farnsworth upright radio across the room is silent. “Duffy’s Tavern” will have to wait for another night. The only sound is the rustle of the newspaper and my father, breathing in the smoke from the cigarette. In between puffs, the cigarette rests idly between his fingers, the wisp of smoke drifting up from the tip, then moving in tight circles and finally swirling more broadly to dissipate in the room, providing substance for the sunbeam.
Fascinated, I am lost in the warmth and light and smoke.
From the kitchen my mother announces that dinner is ready.
My reverie is over

Smoke I

Drawing by Jean Vincent

Smoke I

An angry column of black smoke drilling furiously into the blue sky.

“Hey, Alice, look at that,” my father said.

“It’s just the train,” my mother responded unenthusiastically.

“Gonna to take a look,” he said. He took off running.

As I got out of the car I looked past the trees in the neighbours’ yard and saw what they were talking about. Squinting against the late afternoon sun, I saw something familiar, yet different.

Black smoke rising from the southwest. The train, but not the train.

Moments before we had waited for a coal-burning steam train heading that direction, but something was not right. I had never seen smoke like that. The house down the street was burning. This is my earliest memory.

The fire department came and struggled to contain the blaze but water was in short supply. The house was destroyed.

Bellevue, Washington. The year was 1947 and I was 2½ years old; my sister, Linda, was an infant.

I have no recollection of the family who lived in the burning house — the Leonards. Just a name attached to this event. The house down the street that burned to the ground. The burnt-out house on several acres, land that would remain unoccupied for decades.

Overrun by blackberries, the property became a favourite local “picking spot” — we would often see women picking berries or sometimes apples or pears which were spared from the house fire.

To the children in the neighbourhood, however, “Leonards’” was darker and more mysterious. There was a barn with a sagging roof; a smell inside of old motor oil. Owls lived in the barn as well and, although we never saw them, we knew they were there. Most disturbing of all, there was the sounding board of a piano that had been dragged from the burning house. Strings still attached, it rotted under the apple tree that mindlessly continued to bear fruit. Whenever I saw the decaying piano I imagined sounds coming from it.

Wisshhhhh . . . .


Wisshhhhh . . . .

Wooshhh — . . . gurgle. Wooshhh . . . trickle.

The fog begins to lift, the mind begins to clear. The eyes and the mind try to focus. Early morning light before dawn. Unable to turn, I cast a sidelong glance across the damp sand and see shorebirds skittering about on the beach. A smell of salty sea-foam.

Washhh . . . . gurgle; washhh . . . trickle.

Is this a dream? Am I awake? Is any of this real? I can hear the waves from the incoming tide lapping the shore in front of me but the harder I try to see them, the less I perceive. Only when I cease straining to see and hear do they come more sharply into view.

Wushhh . . . . gurgle; wushhh . . . trickle.

Unable to feel my limbs (do I even have limbs?), I can’t turn or move on my own. The rising water gently lifts me and I drift slowly away from where I started.

Where I started. There was a yesterday? There was a beginning? I don’t know and can’t know. For me it all began just now when the fog lifted.

Floating on the water, I must be farther from shore, the sound of the waves now behind me. I struggle to see where I came from but with each effort I start to sink below the surface. Only when I yield to the current does the sea, in its own time, turn me toward shore.

I see figures on the shore. I must have been close to them once but then I turned away and later drifted out to sea.

Wooshhh — . . . gurgle. Wooshhh . . . trickle.

I am lifted up by an unseen force, floating in the air now, the figures far below me. I long to be with them but with every effort and movement, every wish I start to fall to earth. Only acceptance of the wind keeps me aloft.

Wishhhh . . . Wishhh . . . .


A Brief Bio

Looking Backward . . .


. . . actually I was birdwatching that day

  • Born in Seattle in 1945
  • Raised in Bellevue, Washington before it got big
  • Lived at a communal farm in the ’60’s
  • Moved to Vancouver BC in 1970 (Vietnam and all that)
  • Married a wonderful woman and had three great kids but
  • Now living alone on a quiet street in Vancouver
  • Have worked for the University of British Columbia since 1981
  • Happily working in the new Digital Initiatives Unit at UBC