Fraser Cain: from Hornby Island to outer space

Fraser Cain: from Hornby Island to outer space

PHOTO: Fraser Cain launched Universe Today in 1999. Photos courtesy of Robert Cain and Universe Today.

 

Fraser Cain was raised on Hornby Island, but his mind was always on another planet. Most of the time, Cain led the life of a normal teenager. He played video games and fooled around on the two-ferry, two-hour bus ride to school in Courtenay.

But whenever he could, Cain dreamed about the stars, the planets, the universe. He loved Star Trek. Read science fiction books. He watched NASA rocket launches on television.

He devoured information about space like a black hole sucking up everything within its immense gravitational grasp.

Today, Cain is recognized world-wide as an authority on space and astronomy. His website, Universe Today, is one of the biggest and most popular sources of news and information about space on the Internet.

The “Astronomy Cast,” a podcast with Fraser Cain and Dr. Pamela Gray

Universe Today had more than 48 million readers in 2016, and 140,000 people follow the website on a daily basis, and they do it religiously. Space buffs are serious about their interest.

He also hosts a weekly podcast on the website Astronomy Cast with renowned astronomer Dr. Pamela Gray, who runs CosmoQuest, a virtual research facility.

His company has published two books on skywatching, and he has an asteroid named after him.

And he does all of this from his home on the Puntledge River in Courtenay.

The early years

Cain refers to his father and mother as “big space nerds.” His dad has been a sci-fi fan since he was able to read.

“I grew up in Vancouver,” father Bob Cain said. “My brother and I built our first telescope before we were teenagers and spent many nights examining the sky.”

To encourage his fascination with outer space, Cain remembers his parents taking him outside to view the night sky, which is considerably darker than in metro Comox Valley, where they taught him about the constellations.

“In the summer, (we) would take sleeping bags out to Helliwell Park where we would watch meteor showers,” his father said.

And, of course, science fiction books and movies were the standard fare around his house. His mother, Josephine, took him to the first showing of the original Star Trek movie. He got his first serious telescope at age 14.

Two of Fraser’s astronomy columns in The Breezeway, circa 1989.

So it was natural that the family would gather around the TV on April 12, 1981 to watch the first space shuttle launch, something they continued to do for every subsequent shuttle mission.

When Cain arrived at G. P. Vanier High School in 1986, he starting writing astronomy columns for the now-defunct student newspaper, The Breezeway. He recalls they were quite well read.

Educator Brent Reid, who taught journalism and oversaw production of the Breezeway, remembers Cain as “a real go-getter.” He graduated in 1989.

Developing his popular website

Turning this passion for space and astronomy into a career didn’t really begin until after Cain enrolled at the University of British Columbia to study engineering.

Well, after he dropped out, to be precise.

Cain left UBC to write books for role-playing games, and co-founded a company called Absolute Software, which has since gone public on the Toronto Stock Exchange. At age 19, he helped invent software that enabled people locate and recover stolen computers, which you can still purchase at any Apple store.

Cain then joined a web design company, Communicate.com, where he helped clients design and construct their websites.

While there he hired a young entrepreneur named Stewart Butterfield, who went on to found Flickr.

Cain calls that, “one of my better hires.”

But Cain didn’t have any experience running a website, so he decided to start one of his own in order to better understand his client’s’ issues and to learn how to help them.

Fraser at age 14 with his new telescope and the astronomy club on Hornby Island.

He briefly considered a website focused on gaming, but of course he settled on space and astronomy. And that’s when he learned what he wanted to do with his life.

Universe Today was launched in 1999 and became so successful that Cain was able to quit his day job in 2003 and make space journalism his full-time career.

Cain has succeeded in a crowded field because he’s one of the few space journalists who do it well. He focuses on stories “way off the beaten path,” the topics that other space journalists aren’t covering.

Cain has written many of the 15,000 articles in the Universe Today archive, but the website also publishes the work of more than a dozen full-time and part-time other space journalists.

His senior editor lives in the U.S. His video editor lives in Prague.

Back to the Comox Valley

“It doesn’t matter where I work from,” Cain said. “During the course of the day, I talk to people all over the planet, some in space.”

Cain still travels to astronomy conferences, but he prefers to work from home, where he can help raise his two children.

He’s completed his university computer science degree now, and found the time to start up a new software company, Keyword Strategy.

The name, Fraser Cain, has become a personal brand within the universe of space journalism over the last 10 years. His name and face are now widely recognized.

But the Hornby Island boy hasn’t forgotten his roots. Not long ago, he took his sci-fi-loving dad to see the second last space shuttle launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

In a personal article on social media, Cain wrote, “I hate to sound trite, but I’m a living example that you can succeed if you follow your dreams. You know that stuff you loved as a kid, but then decided to grow up and get a real job? That can turn into a real job, if you’re willing to believe in yourself and put in the work.”

 

Down East fiddler Ashley MacIssac performs at The Filberg

Down East fiddler Ashley MacIssac performs at The Filberg

Ashley MacIssac, the Juno award-winning fiddler from Cape Breton Island, performed for a sold-out audience at Live! At Filberg Park Aug. 24. Known for some outlandish behavior in the past, there was nothing controversial about his Filberg performance, except that he did seem distracted with his phone at first by trying to stream the event live on Facebook. Interesting fact: he plays a right-handed fiddle left-handed.

 

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Tribal Canoe Journey visits K’omoks First Nations

Tribal Canoe Journey visits K’omoks First Nations

The Tribal Canoe Journeys landed at the point of Comox Spit today. Members of the K’omoks First Nations welcomed several dozen canoes carrying about 100 families from the Northwest Coast. They are enroute to Campbell River later this week where the ceremonial gathering will culminate. (Click any photo to start the slideshow.)

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Pieter Vorster takes on TideChange community website

Pieter Vorster takes on TideChange community website

A Comox Valley website regularly used by more than 300 community service groups has changed ownership.

Pieter Vorster, the founder of Pod Creative, has assumed responsibility for TideChange.ca, from the nonprofit World Community, and plans to expand its reach to a variety of secondary audiences.

This third iteration of TideChange will continue to fill an important need for nonprofit organizations.

A lack of consistent attention from the news media has always been the bane of community service organizations. The ability to publicize news and events beyond their devoted membership affects how successfully they find volunteers, raise funds and create community action … and avoid getting in each other’s way.

But small-town newspapers and broadcast outlets don’t have the space or time to publish everything that every community group is doing.

Chris Hillar, a former Department of Fisheries and Oceans employee, now retired, recognized back in the mid-2000s that Comox Valley non-governmental organizations needed an information hub. So he started a weekly email newsletter with information about the nonprofits he knew.

Nine years ago, the World Community Development Education Society picked up the idea and created TideChange as an online outlet for local groups to post their news and events. They employed a part-time editor, Angela Burns, to manage the site.

In just the last few years, Comox Valley groups have posted more than 4,000 articles on the website.

But this year, Burns retired from TideChange and World Community decided it had grown the website to the point where it could become self-sustaining.

On June 1, Vorster, also a volunteer with World Community, took on full ownership and management of the website. Now that the Comox Valley has only one news gathering organization and the demise of another local publication, InFocus, Vorster sees “a real need for alternative news.”

Vorster says TideChange will continue its original mission of publishing the news and information from community groups, and providing a community calendar of their events. While the community-at-large uses the calendar, the groups themselves also use it to avoid scheduling overlapping events.

But he also believes that it’s time to grow the website’s audience.

“With 3500+ regular monthly visitors, who tend to visit between 3 and 4 pages on our site, we have secured our target audience,” he said. “We believe that it is time now to grow our reach and include a variety of secondary audiences, who might even produce citizen journalists looking for an outlet for their media contributions

“Over the next few months we might expand … including a more comprehensive list of news posts and/or calendar entries from the community, in the aim of extending our reach and therefore the value of the service we provide. That having been said, we have every intention of stubbornly persisting with the underlying values of TideChange, keeping it close to the vision I helped build over these past years.”

Vorster said TideChange will “continue to function as a community connecting resource. Our community calendar features feeds from a variety of active local orgs, and remains a popular draw – for those planning their social activities and those producing/presenting those activities.”

Vorster became involved with TideChange through World Community, which he voluntarily assisted in their own website development.

Vorter has degrees in communications and dramatic arts from the University of the Orange Free State and a diploma in Creative Writing from the AAA School of Advertising (Cape Town, South Africa). He cut his teeth as a professional copywriter for three years at Saatchi & Saatchi.

Vorster became Managing Editor of FYI South – a bilingual city guide in Taiwan focusing on the southern region of the island. He moved to the Comox Valley with his wife, Caila and his daughters Juniper and Wren, in late 2008, and launched his home-based business (now Pod Creative).

Author’s note: I have served on the TideChange Advisory Committee for the past six months during this period of transition.

 

Art: inspired or appropriated?

Art: inspired or appropriated?

Contrary to the popular cliche, a person never gets too old to learn something new. I’m old, and this week I learned that I may have over many decades inappropriately appropriated African-American culture.

As a teenager growing up in the 1960s, I listened to Elvis on my transistor radio and 45 rpm vinyl discs. I picked a jazz album as my first purchase through the Columbia Record Club. And later, I devoured the music coming out of England by The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Beatles.

All of these musicians had one thing in common: They were white people who appropriated musical styles unique to African-Americans.

Blues and jazz originated in the American South among the slaves and descendents of slaves picking cotton and other crops. Blues, and to some extent also jazz, was a mash up of African chants and drumming, church hymns and Appalachian folk music, which itself evolved into what we call ‘country’ music today.

Blues and jazz music inspired me. I understood it and naturally felt the underlying rhythms. This music formed the core of my own musical journey playing in jazz and blues-rock bands for over 40 years.

Did I unknowingly participate in cultural appropriation? Based on the events of the last few weeks, it’s a question I am pondering.

This painting by Amanda PL. At the top of this post is a painting by Norval Morisseau.

First, a Toronto gallery cancelled the upcoming show of a white artist, Amanda PL, who paints in the 1960s Woodlands style, which is unique to the Anishinaabe people. She discovered the style while living and taking Native studies and art education stories in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Aboriginal people protested the show because they say the artist appropriated indigenous culture and art. She says the style simply speaks to her.

But there’s no doubt that the content of many of Amanda’s paintings closely resemble — perhaps, too closely — the work of famed Anishinaabe artist, Norval Morrisseau.

To put it bluntly, the pieces of Amanda’s work that I have seen appear to copy the style and also the content of Anishinaabe artists. There’s little-to-no attempt to apply the style to new content.

And this is what bothers Chippewa artist Jay Soule. He says:

“What she’s doing is essentially cultural genocide, because she’s taking his stories and retelling them, which bastardizes it down the road. Other people will see her work and they’ll lose the connection between the real stories that are attached to it.”

Second, the editors of two Canadian magazines resigned over separate middle-school level personal columns about cultural appropriation.

Hal Niedzviecki, the editor of The Write, a writing trade magazine, wrote a mind-numbing introduction to an edition dedicated to indigenous writing that encouraged white people to write about “what they don’t know” and “people who aren’t like you.”

He concluded by suggesting a prize for the best example of cultural appropriation in Canadian literature. Other people joined the frat house fun, including the editors of the National Post, CBC and Maclean’s, who all later apologized. The editor of The Walrus resigned after writing a column support Niedzviecki.

Most writers have a measure of regret over something we have written. But Niedzviecki’s piece should win the Dumb Award. You don’t achieve greater understanding of indigenous culture from writers who don’t know anything about it. For that, he should have encouraged the publication of more indigenous authors.

Serious issues often arise from thoughtless actions. And that’s the case here. Whether Amada PL copied Morrisseau’s work or was simply inspired by it, and despite the inane ramblings by editors of two obscure publications, it’s worth having a conversation about cultural appropriation.

Artists in all mediums have always taken inspiration from other artists and cultures. Van Gogh and Gauguin influenced each other. The Beatles early work appropriated the styles of Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins.

So, how far do we want to take the concept of cultural appropriation? Should we boycott a Ramen noodle shop because a white guy is cooking this unique Asian dish? Must all sushi chefs be Japanese?

I’m not sure where the hard lines get drawn in this debate, but when, as a friend put it, “people of an exploited/excluded group complain about those of us who pack around all the privilege that our society conveys,” we had better listen closely.

 

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