Thursday, March 29, 2007

My brother-in-law is a brainiac

This is a quote from Fred's CV, regarding his current (third) post-doctorate in Sweden.

"Research involving terawatt femtosecond laser systems in Europe in a structural chemical X-ray context. Design and construction of a novel user-friendly sub-picosecond bremsstrahlung X-ray source was initiated and completed with extensive source and detector characterisation. EXAFS was selected as the initial technique. Several known spectrometer topologies were investigated and new topologies devised to direct the new source to in-house ultrafast optical pump, X-ray probe chemical structure studies..." It goes on in a similar vein.

Whereas, yesterday I videoed my hand opening and closing and today I am animating a lot of stuff flying out as I open it, as if in zero gravity. For some ad or other.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

NTFL Footy tipping

Chris Rees: Sth L’ton | Devonport | Ulverstone | Smithton | Latrobe
John McGlasson: Wynyard | Devonport | Burnie | Smithton | Latrobe
Tipper 3: Wyn v South L’ton | Nth L’ton v Dev | Ulv v Burnie | Smith v L’ton | East Dev v Latr
Tipper 4: Wyn v Sth L’ton | Nth L’ton v Dev | Ulv v Burnie | Smith v L’ton | East Dev v Lat
Tipper 5: Wyn v Sth L’ton | Nth L’ton v Dev | Ulv v Burnie | Smith v L’ton | East Dev v Lat
Tipper 6: Wyn v Sth L’ton | Nth L’ton v Dev | Ulv v Burnie | Smith v L’ton | East Dev v Lat

SCORES: John 0, Chris 0, Tipper 3 0, Tipper 4 0, Tipper 5 0, Tipper 6 0

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hobbies for smokers and non-smokers alike

We went along to a model/hobby expo thing at the Derwent Entertainment Centre on Sunday morning. Little planes, helicopters, trains, boats, and cars buzzing all over the place. The central area that used to be the basketball court had been walled-in up to waist height and turned into a pond for boats. There were miles of gaffer tape and plastic wrap trying to hold back the water, with a small army of ageing model enthusiasts with mop buckets on patrol for leaks.

The helicopters whizzed about inside a large net that reminded me of the Olympic hammer throw. Also in there was a railway line at waist height, with two scale model engines going around with grown men sitting on them. Man A rode an electric engine and had nothing to do but pretend to fiddle with a few switches as he went around, and around. And around. Man B had the best job - he was riding a real steam engine and was delicately spooning coal into its tiny firebox with a teaspoon.

A toy-soldiers stall was set up as a recreation of the battle of Waterloo. Marcus asked "which team do you want to win?". I said my money was on the guys in red.

Recently retired radio blowhard Rik Patterson was the master of ceremonies. He may have been reading out the phone book for all the sense he made - although I did hear "love", "dedication", "took the motor out of his windscreen wipers", "love", "a breed apart", "a kind of madness", "dedicated love" and "extremely fine tweezers".

One stall offered 3 minutes of slot car racing for a dollar. Marcus had a go and was thrilled to come second out of three punters. He insisted on another go, sadly finishing third this time. He was robbed - I blame the operator. The cars all travel different distances each lap, so the man in charge had some kind of override to variously limit their speeds, and even it up a bit. Marcus' racer went at snails pace even at full throttle. He took defeat manfully.

Out in the sun larger radio-controlled racecars hurtled around as two men stood on a raised platform. It appeared to be Smoker v. Non-smoker. Of course we barracked for the cause of righteousness. Smoker was a bit of a lead-foot [or lead-thumb] and his car flipped out as he overcooked several corners. There was no way of knowing who was winning. Behind us some other cars zipped about seemingly of their own free will. A couple were bullying an abandoned coffee cup. It was time to go home.

As we left a large posse of black swans were cruising about stylishly in the bay. I was very tempted to stand facing them with a large remote control and see if I could draw a crowd.

Must see - 4 guys, 8 treadmills

Only on very rare occasions wilI I stick a video in here. This goes for about 3 minutes and it is superb. The best thing about this is that these are ordinary guys, who must have rehearsed their hearts out to get this right. The song is called Here It Goes Again by OK Go. Even if you've seen it before, watch it again.

Ribena™ fraud shock

Remember the old Ribena™ ads? "Four times the amount of Vitamin C in orange juice" etc etc? Two New Zealand high school students tested it and proved that it contains almost no Vitamin C at all. The company who make it face up to $3 million in fines for misleading advertising.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Marcus 17 d Dad 12

Marcus and I often play soccer games on a "first to 10 wins" basis. On Saturday evening we were engaged in such a game, when Marcus called me a "loser". I was actually winning at the time, and he does often babble all kinds of nonsensical "trash talk", so it's not as bad as it sounds. All the same, I decided it would be a useful exercise to up my efforts a bit and beat him comfortably, while lecturing him between goals about fair play and being a gentleman.

It was late, and he was already pretty tired, and all I achieved was to get him quite upset at the prospect of losing, such that we gave up with the score at 8-6 my way. I was happy to call it quits but Marcus announced that we would continue next day, and that it would be first to 20.

The next day we did all sorts of things, and it was not until dinner was underway that Marcus remembered this unfinished business. Daylight savings finished the previous day, so we restarted the match in fairly low light. I continued with my intention to win, not by so much that I triggered a breakdown, but by enough that it was over by nightfall.

At 11-7 I was pretty happy with how things were going. My goal is a plastic chair - I have to slot it through the front legs. Marcus has a couple of poles about 2 metres apart. I go uphill and have to get up a concrete step that runs across midfield.
I had scored from a few good longshots and out-bustled Marcus a few times to get right up there for tap-ins.

Marcus was defending very well however, and when in attack doing a great job of following up his shots. A few times I saved and he put away the rebound. The sun set. I realised I was getting pretty tired of fetching the ball from within the bush behind my goals. Marcus took the lead 13-12. I realised I was feeling a little bit tired and was sweating profusely. Marcus slotted a few more goals. I realised that I couldn't see the dark green chair in the gloom, and if I ran up the hill with the ball for a closer look, he was always there first, standing in front of the ridiculously small chair and grinning. I could see his teeth shining in the dark.

While this went on Michael was running in and out of the house, yelling things down at us. "Good playing you guys!" "Great kicking Daddy! Great kicking Marcus!" Next door a couple of old blokes on the deck were pretending not to watch but I think they were fascinated.

At 17-12 I realised the only one with a hope in hell of reaching 20 was Marcus. I was practically out on my feet. Dinner was ready. I was soaked with sweat, and felt like I had played tennis with Roger Federer or rounded up a dozen rabbits by hand. It was totally exhausting, and my didactic intentions got lost entirely, but it was a good practice run for my return to indoor soccer this Friday.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Can't, won't

Contractions - I'm not talking childbirth, I'm talking shortened words. Couldn't, can't, won't. They are a pretty negative bunch, when you think about it. And like almost everything in English, when you have a good look at them they are pretty queer. If don't is short for do not, why do we say "doent" instead of "doont"? If won't is short for will not, why do we say "woent" instead of "wilnt"?

According to Bill Bryson, some of the strange spelling/pronunciation pairings in English date back to a time when England had a number of more or less mutually incomprehesible dialects. A spelling might be widely adopted from one location, but the pronunciation that becomes prevalent might be from elsewhere. An example is the spelling once and the pronunciation "wunce".

The accents survive but the local vocabularies have mostly amalgamated into Standard English. In most cases local words became extinct after the arrival of an exotic competitor that had some sort of advantage - just like the near-extinction of bilbies in Australia, with the arrival of rabbits.

In the case of words, the new word might have been more intelligible in a neighbouring area. It would be taken up to simplify trade and other discourse. In time the old word would be out of major circulation, maybe holding out in a few quiet corners, like children's rhymes and old people's work songs. Maybe this is how we came to be stuck with "woent" and "doent".

Too old for 3D

I am so, so sleepy. I am trying to learn to animate in 3D in After Effects. I'm not finding it very easy, and now I know why I have been dodging it for about ten years. I am simply trying to get a line to touch a box. When I think I've got it, I rotate the camera and find they are still miles apart. I think the 3D mindset is something that takes practice, and perhaps as I don't play interactive games I haven't had that practice.

In short, I am too old for 3D. I recently turned 39 and this has rung some alarm bells. In one year I will be in the demographic for bowel cancer screening. I'm already playing lawn bowls.

Someone else can get the bloody line to touch the box. I'm going to have a nap.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Marcus is reading extremely well now. He's really enjoying it, and bringing home a new reading book from school each day. Although he's doing tremendously well, we have to reassure him sometimes, as Michael is reading the very same books. Michael is starting to get the idea of looking at letters and guessing sounds, but his reading is still based on asking us "what's this word?" and then just never forgetting it. Ever. He read a book aloud to us the other night, about Noah's Ark. He just read it, confidently and fluently.

Elf has been reassuring Marcus that he is still the king of maths. Michael hasn't got hold of maths yet.

We are so lucky to have boys that are so bright and just eat up books, sums and wordlists. I hope they will always find learning coming this easily to them.

The Bowling Shanes 12 d Stop Drop and Roll 10

We have had many good and close scraps with the SDPs, and this was no different. It was anyone's match at the halfway mark with the score on 4 - 4. I was bowling allsorts. Dave and Hunter were doing a good patch-up job. On several ends we were 2, 3 or 4 up, but opposing skip Dan would reduce our points or even take the end with nerveless driving.

We got on top with a couple of good ends, and at 10 - 6 with 3 ends to play I thought we were pretty safe. I was wrong. We went into the last end, in the last-Tuesday-of-daylight-savings gloom, level at 10-10. We had a 3 shot lead when the skips came up to bowl. Again Dan was on the money with his drive, knocking out the kitty so we had to rebowl the end.

The second time it was even darker. Dean stood over the kitty using his phone as a torch. My second shot was a corker, my best of the night, carrying the kitty and sitting about 3 inches off it. The rest of the bowls in that end were literally shots in the dark. We picked up another shot and this time Dan couldn't find the head with his drives.

Another very satisfying win. Someone suggested it might have been a semi-final, but really - who knows?

Friday, March 16, 2007

House progress 2

Things are romping along. Two thirds of the lower floor are under cover now.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hair Pants

Michael was invited to his first party a couple of weeks ago, but we couldn't take him, as the date and time clashed with the Planet Party at home. When Elf dropped Michael at school this morning, she met for the first time the mum who invited Michael. She and her husband seem lovely, but are very sharply presented every morning. We do our best of course, but we are not in their league. Elf was chatting to her when she realised that she still a pair of briefs on her head, holding her hair back. This is apparently to help her fringe dry, and I am smugly reporting it as I predicted a while back that she would get caught out one day.

Michael entertains

Michael's close relationship with Dog is well known. Today he revealed more.
Michael: I am Doggy's daddy.
Me: Are you? And who is your daddy?
Michael: You aren't my daddy. You are just a man... walking around the town... of England. (This was said with little pauses to think of details to emphasise my unimportance).

I was absent earlier when he said to Elf and Marcus that his willy had five nippers in it... no, four nippers.
Elf: Have you got wees Michael?
Michael: No - my willy has four nippers in it.
He's already got the "exasperatedly dealing with deaf old parent" attitude down pat.

Beautiful ad

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Bowling Shanes 14 d Hogs 12

Bowls has drifted by unremarked for a few weeks. We won some and lost some. Last week was a pretty comprehensive demolition of a fairly good team, so things are generally on the up.

Tonight we had classic Mervs disorganisation. Everyone arrived primed to play finals. We were drawn to play a team on the other side of the roster - obviously some sort of final. Halfway through the night word filtered through that er, no, these were not really finals. The Mervs both blamed each other, clicked their pens, twirled their moustaches and shuffled their scorecards.

In any event, we had a fine, high standard game against the Hogs. They won the first end then belted us on the second, taking a 0-7 lead. We made a courageous comeback, little by little, to get our noses in front 8-7. Their lead was extremely accurate, but after a bad start I was getting my shots into the zone too. We had several ends in a row where after our four shots the kitty was tightly hemmed in and everyone following had to choose between extremely deft draw shots or pinpoint drives to make a difference.

Dean skipped, and by his own admission had a generally average night, but it was he who won the game for us. Four ends in a row he produced the perfect shot to rescue a lost end. It's no wonder the name D. Smith is already being bandied about for the 2014 Commonwealth Games (to be hosted by Glenorchy).

We had two shots in the bag on the next end. The ertswhile lead, who was now skipping, stepped up and blew away one of our shots with a perfect drive. His next bundled the kitty into the ditch and gave Hogs 3 shots.

After 9 ends the score was 10-10. We dropped two, then picked up one to be 11-12 down on the final end. I failed to make an impression, but Dave and Hunter held their nerve to give us three shots. Dean shephered the end to a safe conclusion and we had a win, 14-12.

The Shanes responded very well to the bad start and beat a team who all bowled very well. We are looking forward to next week when the Mervs once more try to embrace the concept of "finals".

Marcus reads aloud

Marcus read us a little book as we drove into town yesterday. His reading is really wonderful - there are quite a few words he doesn't know, but he doesn't let it slow him down. He inflects his voice to make it interesting to listen - which must take some doing, as to do this you have to anticipate a few words ahead.

The way he handled one word I thought was fascinating. Until I read about it in a Bill Bryson book, it had never occured to me that we all (I think) pronounce "have" two ways. We "have" a cat, but we "haff" to feed it every day. Marcus was reading smoothly along a line, came to "have" and pronounced it "have", then realised the context required "haff", so went back and corrected himself.

Isn't it interesting how he has learned this little rule, or habit? I did not even know the rule/habit existed until recently, although I have been following it all my life. I have never mentioned it to Marcus. What other little obscure rules/habits are we all following, and teaching our children, unconsciously?

Dressed to mow

Having seen this illustration, from now on I too shall mow the lawn in a frock coat and topper. It looks like fun. I might hire a string quartet to play minuets, rather than listen to the cricket on the walkman like I do now.

Edwin Budding's 'Machine for Cropping or Shearing Grass Plats &c' pictured in Loudon's Encyclopedia of Gardening, 1834. Scanned out of Australia's Quarter Acre by Peter Timms.

House progress

Here is a pic from last Friday of progress on our new house. Elf was just up there and called to say today (Tuesday) they will probably start on the next storey! It's gone from a muddy hillside to a recognisable dwelling-in-progress incredibly fast.

There are more pics here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Books n that

Hello blog customers. Sorry that supplies of blog have been running low lately - hard to say why. Under the hammer a bit at work.

Went to another light shop today and am now heartily fed up with them. Cheered up a bit by their stock of lava lamps bearing sticker "Do not remove or drink liquid".

Tonight is the end of a long weekend, in which we did not get to the beach. Actually we haven't been down there for at least 2 weeks. We played a lot of board games. I have introduced Marcus to a simplified version of Battleships that we play on paper, and he is doing very well at it. I have a vague memory that my Dad brought home photocopied Battleships grids when I was a kid. Maybe I'm imagining it.

Marcus and I also played a bit of cricket in the back yard. His technique is coming along, but he still thinks its clever to hold the bat in innovative ways to "trick" me. Michael is learning cricket by osmosis as he scoots in and out around us.

Michael shocked Elf today by holding up a fat compendium of Modern Romance that she reads occasionally, and saying "I'm just reading this trash". "WHAT did you say?" She suspected me as I am often sniping at her choices in literature, but I never used that term around Michael, I am fairly sure. He just summed it up himself.

I just want to mention a couple of things from the book I'm reading, Round Ireland in Low Gear by Eric Newby. He is a hoot and I have Jonathan our house designer to thank for putting me on to him some years ago. He loves to deliberately derail his narrative with huge gobs of jargon, which in themselves attain a kind of poetry. Here he is talking about setting up their bikes and gear.

It was soon obvious that we were in trouble. In order to fit the plates, the bolts used to attach them to the carriers had to be inserted through the brazed-on carrier eyes at the lower end of the chain stays, and then through the eyes in the triangulated struts in the bottom of the carriers. The devilish thing was that it was not possible to insert one of these bolts from the outside in, and secure it with a nut on the inside of the carrier eye, because any nut on the inside would become enmeshed with the teeth of the outermost low-gear sprocket on the freewheel block... and so on to the bottom of the next page.

As long as you are unencumbered by any knowledge of bikes, like me, a bit of this is strangely enjoyable. Eric Newby is also keeping alive the saying "as black as your hat", and I urge everyone reading this to find an excuse to use it, today.

Finally, he has the excellent quote from an old-time guide to touring Ireland, that a particular route from Bally-something to Killie-something "is generally level, with a strong upward tendency".

So - get into some Eric Newby. The Last Grain Race is a good place to start. This book is very good, whereas that one is excellent.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Gotta love ya lampshade

Elf and I went to Globes to have a good talk to Maxine, a lighting salesperson, about the lights for our new house. Elf and I were umming and aahing, and having little debates about this shade and that globe and so forth. Maxine was very supportive of us taking our time to decide, because as she said "When you choose something, you've got to love it". I thought about this for a while, and started extrapolating Maxine's theory in my mind, applying it to taps, showerheads, curtains, doorknobs, drawer-knobs, lino, styles of gravel for the driveway...

And I think that you don't really have to "love it". You just have to like it. You must be able to afford it, it has to fit, and you have to like it reasonably well. You aren't marrying it, you are just choosing to incorporate it as a relatively small part of your house.

So I say to all young houseproud Australians - don't let anyone tell you that you've got to love your light fittings. Being warmly fond is perfectly fine.

Star of snakes

"This is a star. It has snakes on it. The snakes eat the star." These aren't great photos, but each cluster of red and yellow and brown is a group of snakes with their tongues out, all pointing into the centre. It's a great drawing.

Marcus is the youngest in his prep class. We found out yesterday that Marcus is reading at level 5, and the rest of his prep class are mostly at level 1 or 2. I think there are about ten levels they will move through in the year.

Marcus was reading a level 5 book to me this morning, and did it very comfortably. Michael snuggled in behind us so he could read it too. Since he relies on awesome memory power rather than sounding things out, he was actually skipping ahead of Marcus and telling him what things said while Marcus was working them out.

Earlier Michael had written "apple" just for fun. He got such a good reaction to this that he sat down and covered the paper in more words. He writes in big loopy lowercase letters, but it's legible, and nearly always spelled correctly.

They are both surprising and amazing us every day.

Michael and friends

Michael with a picture of his good friends Katherine and Lily.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Sun shines on the Planet Party

Well, the party season is over for another year. We had Marcus's Planet Party here on Sunday. It took a lot of preparation and planning, but it was all worth it, as it went off very well.

Marcus had a great time, as did all the other kids. Even the parents seemed to find it reasonably pain-free, which is not something you can always say about kids' parties. There were no tantrums, wrestling was kept within acceptable limits, and every child (over two) won a prize. Lana, one of my favourite other-people's-kids, asked me during the grape-and-spoon race "Excuse me, but will we all get a prize for doing our best?"

Marcus garnered a lot of great presents, and people even embraced the theme with the gifts - quite a few flying-type space-rockety things. Anna dressed her girls up in special space-costumes she made during the week. My Mum made planet-theme hats for herself and Dad from papier maché. Mum's just didn't come out right, so she left it home and wore a special "Milky Way" scarf instead, that came in very handy later as a blindfold for games. Dad proudly wore his silver wingéd helmet (as made famous by the Roman god Mercury).

The weather held up. We had planned a lot of indoor things as we were expecting rain, but the kids kept gravitating (side-splitting space pun) out to the back yard. We also had things for them to do out there, so that was fine. Eventually we had to herd them back in, for cake and singing and then again later for my blindfolded pin-the-sticky-star-on-the-globe game.

The aim of this game was to get the sticker as close as possible to Tasmania. Marcus cheated quite transparently and got his sticker right smack bang on the Central Highlands. His next legitimate guess wasn't bad, it was about 1000km south of Albany, WA. Blake was the winner by a few hundred km, with his sticker in the McDonnell Ranges. Ebony landed in Argentina and Lily landed in Botswana.

The guests drifted off around twelve, and we collapsed in a heap. It was only a brief lull, before leaving the kids with Mum and Dad for a couple of hours and going off to look at light fittings.