Thursday, April 05, 2007

International Water Boundaries - Iraq and Iran

Thinking some more about the international water boundaries - it may seem really strange, but water boundaries are a completely different beast than land boundaries for a lot of different reasons, and some of these can easily explain how British navy troops were 'found' in 'Iranian waters' when they were 'supposed' to be in 'Iraqi waters'. Water boundaries, specifically international ones, have some strange characteristics:
- how a water boundary is defined: for example with a line perpendicular to the shore.....but what defines where the shore is?? Storms and seasons affect the definition of shorelines all over the world, which immediately affects any line perpendicular to that shoreline. And a small (1 arc-second) change in a shoreline doesn't mean much on land, but when you follow the 'new' perpendicular line out into the ocean 10 or 20 or 30 km's then you can easily be several hundred meters to either side of the original line.
- how a water boundary actually comes into being: usually international treaty, but even that is a bit sketchy as the oceans are still claimed by countries from all over with many many many disputes still unresolved (the number of international water boundaries in dispute is several times more than the number that are actually defined and agreed upon by treaty). And as shown by Saddam in the '80's when he ripped up the treaty that defined the water boundary between Iraq and Iran, it's just a piece of paper - it's not as easy to defend or hold up as a land boundary.
- how water boundaries are measured: they didn't get into this in the article I read (, but how you define the "equipotential surface" (this is a mathematical model that defines the surface of the earth - there are so many variations in ways to define the surface of the earth and their accuracies and possible uses that it's mind-boggling!!!) greatly affects your position on the globe. It's very similar to the example mentioned about changing a shoreline by 1 arc second, except this is on a much bigger scale. GPS uses one surface that 'fits' or 'models' the world best, but that doesn't mean it accurately or best defines the surface of the water in this corner of the earth the best - this model just statistically fits better than any other for the world as a whole. The Iranian and Iraqi charts where the positions were plotted could actually have been generated using different surfaces that may have modeled their respective countries better. For example, for defining property boundaries in Canada the government has defined a projection as best fitting Canada in general. This projection is based on a math model of sine’s and cosines etcetera. This model likely best fits Canada in the central region (Ontario probably), however as you get farther and farther east, west, and north the accuracy of the projection declines, and once you leave Canada altogether and go to Mexico the model is likely WAY off. Another way is to picture an orange peel - it shapes around the orange great, but when you lay it down flat it gets all bent out of shape and splits and looks ugly - more and more ugly as you get further from the center of the orange peel. You can't have that on a map or chart, so that's when you use a math model to represent the distortions caused when the orange peel is flattened. It's actually not that hard then the orange peel is perfectly round and has no variations.....but the surface of the earth is imbued with variations, so the math model gets very complicated; so complicated that often countries keep things a bit simpler by using a model that fits their country best.
- how the boundary is demarcated: as mentioned in the article the boundary was defined by marker buoys, however I'm sure the maintenance and upkeep of the marker buoys was NOT on the top of Saddam's list of things to do for the past 10 years. So many things could have happened to the markers: storms moved them; vandals changed them; tidal variations change their surface positions - the list is huge. Even rising global sea levels would change the position of the markers on the surface of the water - the markers are anchored on the ocean floor with a fixed chain to the buoy on the surface. When the buoy is right above the anchor the chain must be straight - this could happen at high tide for example, when there is a big volume of water between the anchor and the buoy. But at low tide the anchor is still in the same place but now there is slack on the chain so the buoy moves around with the current, thus 'position of the border'. And if the water level were extremely high the buoy could possibly start to lift the anchor off the ocean floor and move it with the tides.
- how far out do the boundaries stretch: this is really not well defined by international law. Typically there is about a '3 mile limit' (this was typically how far a cannonball could be fired from land - pretty archaic way of defining it, non?) that countries can claim sovereignty over. After that 3 mile limit the boundaries get fuzzier up to 12 miles, and more than 12 miles it's very fuzzy. The problem also arises when the 3 mile limit actually extends onto another countries where is the boundary drawn in this case???

All of these problems aren't something that's limited to 'foreign' countries that don't have 'our standard' of civilization (tongue in cheek) - these problems of defining a water boundary are totally alive and causing problems between Canada and the US today - however because of our friendly relationship these problems typically don't come out in the news. But when you get into a hot-spot such as the water between Iraq and Iran the potential for misunderstandings is enormous. As the article mentions - neither side is right in this situation. I think it's all a lot of political posturing.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Information Age

So I was watching my first Saturday morning television in a LOOOONG time – wow, not quite what I remember it being like. I remember Saturday mornings being full of cartoons, starting at about 7:30 or 8:00 with the G.I.Joe + Transformers 1-2 punch. This was usually followed up by a flurry of different cartoons from Astroboy to the Smurfs, to name but two of the 10 or so. I’d often call an intermission for a few quick games of Nintendo before it was back at the shows again with a second round (often a set of re-runs but still watched none the less) of G.I.Joe + Transformers. Only when the bell rang for lunch did I actually make it out of the house to play for the later part of the day – knowing full well that Sunday morning, chock full of its own cartoons, was just around the corner.

So this Satuday I tuned in – not quite sure what I’d get, but assuming it was going to be something similar. Nope. This Saturday was jam packed with a ‘new’ type of action. I say new because the programs have been around for a while, but to my knowledge (which of Saturday morning programming is admittedly pretty sketchy at best) they never played on Saturday mornings. I’m talking about episodes of shows like Baywatch and Knight Rider, intermingled with random episodes of The Simpsons. The only kids program I could find was Sponge Bob.

Keep in mind here that I don’t have cable – if I did I know I could find Donald and Daffy Duck and Barney shows to my heart’s content (actually only about 2 minutes of those shows would be enough for me, but you get my drift).

Now I’m not sure what that really means. Is it a good thing that kids are watching these types of programs on Saturday morning? I’m no psychiatrist, but me thinks not. Are they outside playing in the streets more? Not very likely. Do kids even WATCH tv on Saturdays any more – or are they too busy playing online computer games, visiting chatrooms in cyberspace, or finding wormholes in Windows Vista? Probably.

I just got one of the latest gadgets – a pocket PC that combines a PDA and a PC. It’s got the full GPS navigation too (it really is sweet – I don’t know how I’ve made it this far without it!). I’ve also seen the internet offered over the mobile phone frequencies – all you do is get a little USB stick from your mobile provider, activate the right plan, and you can get internet on any computer anywhere in the world (depending on coverage and subject to phone call rates). Sweet.

Why these random thoughts? Well it’s come to my attention recently that many of my friends and relatives have had, are having, or are busy trying to ‘make’ babies. Kudos to all for trying, and good luck to those who succeed. I’m all about the family and kids (sorry Mom – no news for now :o) but I find it daunting to try to raise a child in today’s world. With the information that’s at everyone’s finger tips it’s totally changing the way children grow and form into people and ‘functioning’ adults.

In the history of human kind there’s never been an information age that comes anywhere near to this. Cave paintings? People were more worried about their next meal than raising their kids right so they’ll grow up to be good cave-people. Smoke signals? Doesn’t really count for disseminating information and influencing the publc. Snail mail? Hardly registers on the radar. Telephones? Even though phones are all about chatting, have you ever heard of a chat group over the telephone – if you’ve ever been on a conference call you know phones don’t work this way. Television? These broke new grounds in communication, but with the flick of a switch it’s off, and it took years for the tv to really catch on – for most of it’s life it’s been a few programs, mostly on in the evenings. Ease of travel with planes and trains today? I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to randomly let my kids get on a plane or train without my permission. Computers and Email?

So in today’s information age parents must constantly be on the lookout for what their children are watching, hearing, saying, and doing. Now more than ever there are strangers virtually right there in your home and in the faces of kids. I’m not saying not to go with the information age – it’s incredible what creative powers can be unleashed in the right environment or harnessed for the right cause. Of that there’s no doubt. And tackling today’s most daunting problem (the poor condition of our environment) wouldn’t be possible if we still communicated via smoke signals. But todays parents, unlike any others before them, are faced with the challenge not of filtering the information their children get, but rather molding how their children will filter information for themselves. It’s a shame to see kids with poor filters today :o(

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A month in Provence

So it’s been a while since my last post – what else is new :o) Well I’ve all-of-a-sudden found myself with much more free time than I’ve had recently: my job at Trek finished on Feb 28th, so now I’m joining the ranks of the unemployed! Am I worried about that? Well not really – more to come later ;o)

So what’s happened recently? Well the major part of January was spent in Provence helping Trek Travel move into the new warehouse there – check out some of the pics. It’s in a truly stellar location which is quiet and in the country-side, surrounded by absolutely amazing riding in all directions, and close to a few towns and some big cities (within an hour to Avignon – a stellar city).

Unfortunately Kiersten was pretty sick with a fever for the first week we were there – it just happened to coincide with the best week of weather! It was about 20 deg C and uber sunny. Wow. And that was the middle of winter! The blossoms were actually starting to come out on the trees! But being there for work kept us pretty busy setting up the new warehouse – fun work, but still pretty hectic. Things look pretty solid there now for the warehouse, guide house, and office, and we were able to get some good riding in too.

It got dark around 5:30 while we were there – and on one ride we didn’t leave until about 2:30 (yup – not the brightest move on our part :o) We spent about 2 hours climbing up to the top of Col de la Ligne – where we were in snow! From here we planned on dropping down the backside and coming around the shoulder of the Col back to our starting point – but after starting out we quickly realized that plan was a disaster waiting to happen!!! So back we went over the Col de la Ligne and down the front side – bombing along the whole way. Cold fingers and faces wasn’t enough to keep the grins off our faces too, it was such a fun and long downhill. So after an hour we found ourselves in familiar territory and back on the road home – arriving just in time for dusk, with cold fingers and toes. That pretty much sums up our Provence riding :o)

A hairy affair

Well as you can see by the pics I’ve changed my hair ‘style’. Special thanks to “Kiersten Styling” for their talented staff and friendly service (complete with a kiss too). I had been thinking about doing this for a while and finally decided that while we were in Provence working for Trek Travel would be as good a time as any to lop it off. I thought of sticking with the mo-mullet (cross between a mowhawk and a mullet), but with my bald spot it looked more like the dotted line in the center of a highway… it all came off.

The Future??

So now that I’m unemployed, what does the future bring? Well I’m not really too sure about that. I’m busy applying for some long-term things (ie business schools, a couple of jobs that will take about 1 year to make it through the hiring process). Basically I’m going to treat the next 6-12 months as a transition time where I try to figure out what I want to do in the future – I’m not worried about picking up a ‘career’ job right away, but rather I’d like to think about what’s really important for me in the next 5-years and also a more long-term plan of where I want to be in 10, 15, and 20 years. As always with my plans they’ll be flexible, but it will be nice to have an idea and some more direction in the long-term.

Am I worried about the future? Heck no! I’m actually really happy to have the freedom to pursue whatever path I deem the most important. I can’t remember the exact quote, but there’s one from Mark Twain about setting sail from the familiar harbour, getting out on the open sea, and finding what you can with freedom. Although I can’t remember the exact words, the meaning of the quote has always been with me and I use this as a guiding light for the next phase of my life.
Kiersten and I are having a great time together – that’s a wonderful start for this next phase :o))))

A realization about space in NL

Well I’ve come to a realization recently about living in the Netherlands: I’m claustrophobic here. Not because of the amount of people in a tight space – it’s actually the most densely populated country in Europe. And it’s not living in a city – Nijmegen has about 120,000 people, and although I live near the downtown it’s still nicely spaced and is actually a wonderful place to live. And it’s not the woods where I ride around Nijmegen – I’ve spent my fair share of time in the woods in Nova Scotia and Alberta.

It’s actually when I’m in the open spaces that I feel the most claustrophobic. That might not make sense right away, but if you go out into a field and look around in the Netherlands you can see a few km’s to the nearest line of trees or a building or whatever. But if you look just above that line of trees the next thing you’ll see in the distance is the sky – and that’s pretty darn far away. So there’s nothing in the ‘middle’ ground to give some depth to the countryside.
I really noticed this the last time I was in Provence when I realized I could look around from the center of a field or clearing and see a tree line or a line of buildings or whatever, then behind that in the middle distance I could see some hills or a cliff, and usually behind that I could also see a mountain, and then the sky in the far distance.

I know that’s not a huge difference and probably a lot of people wouldn’t notice anything, but for some reason it’s really been weighing on me recently that I miss having hills around and I think this might be the reason why.

Anyway, there’s a random though for ya, so chew on that for a while :o)