Monday, 26 September 2016

Toomas Karmo: DDO&P: Submission to Town Council

Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3'5 is "mediocre pass", 4.5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to make most of the desirable points. 

Revision history: 
  • 20160926T1850Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded base version. He reserved the right to upload minor (i.e., cosmetic, as opposed to substantive) tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.0.1, 1.0.2, 1.0.3, ...  

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some late points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears.]

I submitted the following piece of writing to the Town of Richmond Hill Council meeting scheduled for 2016-09-26 (MON) evening, enlisting myself also as a solo speaker in what our Town's administration calls a "Delegation". The Clerks advised, however,  that I should not seek to speak as a Delegation, since my envisaged remarks were to some extent recapitulating my Delegation remarks from last week, and additionally since my detailed Delegation on DDO public outreach would (in Clerks' judgement) be more appropriately made to Mayor and Council later in the political process. 

Clerks did advise that my written submission would be put before Mayor and Council on 2016-09-26 (MON) evening), to enter the public record. 

Clerks and I agreed that I would, provided the Mayor did not raise a fatal objection, be able to speak during Public Forum on 2016-09-26 (MON), before the Council meeting is formally called to order. 

Full particulars on the 2016-09-26 (MON) meeting (all submitted correspondence,  and the agenda, and the minutes, and full Chamber video and audio recordings) are as usual being made available by our Town at

0. Preamble

Thank you, Mr Mayor and Council, for this opportunity to speak. 

In the five minutes available to me today, as in the five minutes available to me at Committee of the Whole last week, I will refrain from dwelling on the heritage-conservation fiasco which is the threatened loss of 32 greenspace DDO&P hectares, in the wake of the unjust 2012 and 2014 Ontario Municipal Board settlements. I will, this week as last week, refrain from dwelling on my ongoing inquiry into the physical integrity, within the threatened 32 hectares, of the Oak Ridges Moraine Aquifer cap. (This is a hydrogeological point on which I today, as last week, await promised communications on the one hand from the Town and on the other hand from Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.) 

Today, as last week, I address only 
the DDO rump-park or remnant-park visioning Staff Report from Planning and Regulatory Services, SRPRS.16.064 and the Staff Report from Community Services, SRCS.16.30. 

1. SRPRS.16.064

You have before you a recommendation that the Janet Rosenberg and Studio 2016 April remnant-park report, comprising Appendix A of SRPRS.16.064, be accepted. I support this recommendation. 

However, I was a little surprised last week to find Committee of the Whole not addressing a troublesome  specific point from the Rosenberg report. While Committee of the Whole discussed costs in general terms, it did not address the question of costs for, specifically, repairs to the Great Dome and Administration Building. As I have in past months remarked to the Town, the figure offered in the Rosenberg remnant-park report, in the 3- or 4-million dollar bracket, conflicts with the deferred-maintenance figure in the approximately 10-million-dollar bracket offered by Prof. Tom Bolton, when he testified under oath at the 2012 Ontario Municipal Board as an expert witness called by my friends the Richmond Hill Naturalists. 

Tonight I remark also on one other respect in which the Rosenberg report could usefully be emended. 

The role of the Royal Astronomical Society Toronto Centre (RASC-TC) at DDO&P has not been wholly constructive. Apart from their failing to develop a programme of "Citizen Science" in their 2008-2016 tenure, they have done nothing to examine the question of increased DDO light pollution, should the developer's ambitions to put 520 or 530 or so homes, with a lane and 14 streets, onto its despoiled 32 hectares come to full, malignant, fruition. The omission is all the more striking because of RASC's avowed commitment to defending "dark skies" across Canada. 

The unhappy record notwithstanding, it cannot be denied  that RASC-TC has also done good things at  DDO, both in the 1935-2008 period and during its 2008-2016 monopoly on DDO astronomy.  I therefore support RASC's plea last week that the Rosenberg report be emended, with the following language.  This is language which RASC-TC to you in a letter dated 2016-09-18, over the signature of Prof.-Emeritus Dr Ralph Chou, and which forms part of last week's Committee-of-the-Whole archive: In 2009, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre, leased the 74-inch telescope and Administration Building from Corsica Developments Inc., and began presenting astronomical outreach programming on the site. By the end of August 2016, over 30,000 visitors were received. 

2. SRCS.16.30

This week, as also last week, I call on Mayor and Council to make a small technical correction: Internet investigation shows that the organization with acronym YRAA is legally not the "York Region Astronomical Association" (as is erroneously written in SRCS.16.30), but the "York Region Astronomy Association". 

This week, as last week, I congratulate the authors of SRCS.16.30 in affirming a core civic value, in their announcing or requesting (in their words) an open and transparent approach to partnership development through the procurement process

This week, as last week, I suggest that no one organization or grouping should any longer have an exclusive right to offer DDO programmes. The Town, I respectfully suggest,  now has to promote and foster a diversity of approaches, with a healthy diversity of entities now participating. 

In this context, I recall some of my language from last week: In a fully correct set of decisions on DDO, the principle of non-exclusivity will not only be affirmed, but will be coupled with an affirmation of "Citizen Science". we need more than the DDO weekend educational outreach offered by RASC from 2009 through 2016, and offered up to 2008 by many of us as tour-guide "Dome Speaker" or as tour-guide (with auditorium lecture) "Chief". We need also a programme of research /.../  

I now amplify my language from last week, having between last week and this evening started reaching out both to the DDO Defenders (even while mindful, as always, that they support, and I oppose, the 32-hectare "Observatory Hill" subdivision) and to the (fully and properly conservationist) Richmond Hill Naturalists (DDOD, RHNats). 

(A) We need a programme of astrophysics research. Last week, I mentioned the idea of variable-stars monitoring, with one of the Administration Building roof-dome telescopes, under the ultimate aegis of the American Association of Variable Star Observers. I add tonight a few details on how this might work: 

  • A formal observational-astrophysics alliance is set up, perhaps under some guidance from the Town, involving DDOD and RHNats, and additionally  involving any other party (RASC-TC? YRAA?) who wishes to join in. 
  • Heading the alliance is some unpaid individual (in the normal university-science jargon, a "Principal Investigator", or "PI") qualified to doctoral level. (This might, as I already mentioned last week, be Dr Ian Shelton from DDOD.) Further technical support is provided by some unpaid individual qualified in astrophysics to at least honours-B.Sc. level, and with a good record of dome work, and with a good record of work  in computer-driven data reduction within the IRAF software package. (I could do this, as could others.) Night-to-night work is performed by the support officer in concert with an unpaid "Citizen Science" team from the community, perhaps comprising five or ten individuals. Of the five or ten, most would not be formally qualified in astrophysics, but would be briefed and trained as necessary by the technical-support officer(s). It would be natural for some of these individuals to be drawn from the rank-and-file membership of DDOD and RHNats. 
  • An outlay of between 2,000 CAD and 5,000 CAD would be made on equipment (the sole real expense of the project): a computer in the 500-CAD class, running Linux and maintaining accurate chronometry through Network Time Protocol; and an astronomical CCD camera, generating images in the FITS format for downstream processing within the IRAF software package. 
  • The group would seek to work around 5 or 10 half-nights or full nights per month, getting its first publication-quality results, with the PI as lead author, after a shakedown period of 6 or 12 months.  

I add also some minor points, on further types of appropriate programme activity: 

(B) We need to continue, and if possible also modestly to expand, the DDO tradition in meteorology started in or soon after 2009 by RASC-TC. RASC-TC is continuing to operate an automated meteorology installation, the "Vanessa Straumann Memorial Weather Station", with data communicated to the public at One does not want this useful Station to be lost. One would in fact like to see it supplemented, if possible, with a hutch of traditional instruments (including manually operated max-min thermometer, and funnel-equipped manually operated precipitation gauge), as a check on the accuracy of the electronic installation. It would make sense for the hutch to be operated by one or more local schools, under consultation with one or more of  RHNats, DDOD, YRAA, and RASC-TC. 

Operation of traditional instruments would in fact provide high school students with a kind of training that a fully automated meteorological station cannot supply - namely, training in the keeping of laboratory notebooks, and in the mathematical handling of experimental uncertainties

(C) We need eventually to bring the York Region ham-radio community into DDO, optimally within the framework of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES). A public ham shack at DDO could start by using the existing small shortwave antenna - I presume this is a classic dipole - on the roof of the Administration Building. 

(D) We need to consider using the Administration Building for a programme of mathematics outreach, directed in the first instance at gifted Grade 11 and Grade 12 students in the town. I would be  happy to help a little here, as an unpaid volunteer, and I am perhaps not alone in being happy to help. 

Here is a possible vision: 

  • A "Mathematics Self-Help Group", comprising about 10 people, meets upstairs in the Administration Building for one night a week, under the guidance of some mathematically more advanced volunteer. The Group spends most of the evening doing something very humble indeed - namely, homework from school! 
  • But there is additionally a rather ceremonial weekly tea, in the ground-floor Administration Building library, in the spirit of a good Cambridge University laboratory. The rule, here as in Cambridge, is that teatime conversations are confined to science.
  • Once or twice a month, there is a guest lecture, in the auditorium. (I can happily myself talk on cardinals and transfinite arithmetic - developing, for instance, the standard proof that no set is equipollent with the set of its own subsets, and in this context developing the proposition that the reals are a strictly larger infinite set than the rationals. Or I could, I suppose, somehow talk on Turing machines and undecidability-of-formal-systems. And I think I may be able to rope someone else in to talk on statistics, as a rather distinguished guest lecturer. Further possibilities suggest themselves through the Fields Institute, where I also have or have had one or two minor potential contacts.) 
  • At suitable rare intervals, there is even, in the auditorium, a bit of Fun - for instance, a screening of one of the various films detailing Prof. Alan Turing's wartime Bletchley Park code-breaking work. 

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