Saturday, February 28, 2009

Marcus's 7th birthday spent on the greens

Marcus turned seven today. Elf masterminded the presents - a build-your-own-crystals kit, and a pair of very good little walkie-talkies. The WTs have been a hit all day.

We booked a party at Putters Adventure Golf for Marcus and 7 of his mates. They all had a great time, both inside chowing down, and outside putting. One of the dads and I led groups of four each up, down and around the 18 holes. Putters is built around a large slope, with dense little blobs of native bush and lots of water hazards. A few times I had to go back to the clubhouse for a spare ball or to help someone find the toilet, and I had to either walk through another group's game or take a compass and packed lunch and go scrub-bashing. Michael scamped about talking incessantly, which was handy for me to know where he was.

The kids loved it but Elf and I were first bemused and finally pretty furious with the slack service. When we first arrived I asked a girl if I could pay for the booking. She squeaked a bit and went looking for someone who knew what to do. A friendly tall youth came out of the kitchen eating a sandwich. He held the (quite tasty looking) sandwich in one hand as he looked through a book for a record of our deposit. After first suggesting we'd come on the wrong day, he found it, took my money and gave change. The receipt and notes missed my hand and flipped onto the counter because he was doing it all with one hand. It went downhill from there. I won't bore you with the details.

Back home the walkie-talkies came out again and the fun continued. The boys next door came over for a game of cricket. Marcus is bowling extremely fast on the 6-metre-long pitch, such that I find I have to start my bat swing just as he lets the ball go. While batting he has cleared the back fence several times this weekend, which under our current backyard rules gets him 12 runs. The backyard rules are now under review.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Betty Boop featuring Cab Calloway

This is fantastic. Early saucy Betty Boop (wearing a garter). About 4:20 Cab Calloway (as a clown) starts dancing and singing St James Infirmary Blues. They actually filmed Cab Calloway and rotoscoped him frame by frame. He turns into a ghost, while singing. It's fairly mental.

Latest from the boys

Above (by Marcus) My name is 2009! My name is 2008 and I'm sobbing.

Above (by Michael) two very complicated solar systems. The second one has instructions for making a model of the expanding universe, by painting white dots on a black balloon then blowing it up. Below (by Michael) a complicated human body.

New drawing

This just happened the other night. I was feeling very flat about things in general. I dragged myself to the drawing table to do a still life so my evening would not be a complete washout. The first thing that came to hand was an old National Geographic map of China so I drew on that. I think it is the start of a nice multi-image thing. Unfortunately I have to put it aside to finish the drawing of our house for Felicity, but at least I am feeling positive about pencils and paper again.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Squiglets, nice clean desk, rain

As you can see I am spending a bit of time roaming through Wikipedia at work at the moment. Work is a bit slow - the project I am working on is a bit rudderless. It's a DVD promoting a primary school exercise program. Initially I thought it would be really fun, with little bits of video for me to embellish with colour treatments, animated squiglets, do-funnies and so on. It turns out it is all shot in High Definition, the files are massive, there are heaps of them, and there is no way my little Mac can cope. So I am supplying a range of transparent squiglets to the film editor, who will lay them in where she sees fit. She is very nice, and I'm sure she will take suggestions on board. But it's not going to be that much fun. Also the client has been a bit disappointing, and told me my colour choices were "trashy". -Sigh-

At home - well, I have spent a few evenings clearing my desk to make way for a burst of creativity. The big drawing of our house is pretty much where I left it. Tonight I might try a little still life drawing or something to ease back in to that world. STOP PRESS - did a reasonable sketch of a wallaby skull.

We have had a rainy week, which has been great. When rain isn't followed up by more you know that what you've just received is getting burnt off by sun and wind. Things are greening up, just as the deciduous things are starting to deciduate. The overcast skies have made for some very dark mornings, and we are having to haul the kids out of bed at times, which is unusual. Summer time will end soon and we'll get that hour in the morning back again.

Mrs Benz goes to visit her mother

Bertha Benz was the wife of inventor Karl Benz, and was the first person to drive a car over any reasonable distance - to visit her mother!
On 5 August 1888 and without her husband's knowledge, she drove her sons, Richard and Eugen, fourteen and fifteen years old, in one of Benz's newly-constructed Patent Motorwagen automobiles—from Mannheim to Pforzheim—becoming the first person to drive an automobile over more than a very short distance. The distance was more than 106 km (more than sixty miles).

Although the primary purpose of the trip was to visit her mother, Bertha Benz also had another motive: to show her brilliant husband—who had failed to consider marketing his invention adequately—that the automobile would become a financial success once it was shown to be useful to the general public.

Underway, she solved numerous problems. She had to find petrol or similar fuels which were available—sometimes—only at dispensing chemists' shops. A blacksmith had to help with a chain at one point. Brake linings needed replacement. Bertha Benz had to use a long, straight hairpin to clean a fuel pipe which had become blocked and to insulate a wire with a garter. She left Mannheim around dawn and reached Pforzheim somewhat after dusk, notifying her husband of her successful journey by telegram. She drove back to Mannheim the next day.

Along the way, several people were frightened by the automobile and the novel trip received a great deal of publicity—as she had sought. The drive was very helpful for Karl Benz, as he was able to introduce several improvements after his wife reported everything that had happened along the way—and she made important suggestions, such as the introduction of an additional gear for greater ease climbing hills.

Mrs Benz passed away in 1944 aged 95.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In winter I am a ski instructor in the Alps...

...but in summer I play the piano on a zeppelin.
During its first year in service, the airship [Hindenburg] had a special aluminium Blüthner grand piano placed on board in the music salon. It was the first piano ever (played) in flight and helped host the first radio broadcast "air concert." The piano was removed after the first year to save weight.

Hang on a minute - whatever happened to hovercraft?

They are apparently saving people from mud, day in, day out.
"In Finland small hovercraft are widely used in maritime rescue and during the rasputitsa ("mud season") as archipelago liaison vehicles. In England, hovercraft of the Burnham-on-Sea Area Rescue Boat (BARB) are used to rescue people from thick mud in Bridgwater Bay. Also Avon Fire and Rescue Service became the first fire service in the UK to operate a hovercraft. It is used to rescue people from thick mud in the Weston-super-Mare area and during times of inland flooding."

I'm also delighted that they have a "mud season" in Finland.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Um olá! especial a Brasil | A special hello to Brazil

Olá! Brasil! Eu sou realmente satisfeito que você tem visitado meu blogue. Você é definitivamente meu país falador não-inglês realmente grande do favorito. Eu estava em minha maneira de visitá-lo em 1989 e apenas não elaborou. Eu tentarei outra vez um dia. Eu estou olhando para a frente a ver quedas de Iguaçu, e o Negro e o Solimoes juntam-se em Manaus - talvez quando eu me aposento.

Hi Brazil! I am really pleased that you have been visiting my blog. You are definitely my favourite really big non-english speaking country. I was on my way to visit you in 1989 and it just did not work out. I will try again one day. I am looking forward to seeing Iguaçu Falls, and the Negro and Solimoes rivers joining at Manaus - maybe when I retire.

What can you buy with US$1 trillion?

A podcast I love called Common Sense with Dan Carlin just referred me to this blog article. It's a bit of an eye-opener. If you are easily frightened by large numbers, look away now. This article refers to the US Federal government bailout plan. All costings in US$.

By Barry Ritholtz - November 25th, 2008, 7:19AM

Whenever I discussed the current bailout situation with people, I find they have a hard time comprehending the actual numbers involved. That became a problem while doing the research for the Bailout Nation book. I needed some way to put this into proper historical perspective.

If we add in the Citi bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars. People have a hard time conceptualizing very large numbers, so let’s give this some context. The current Credit Crisis bailout is now the largest outlay In American history.

Jim Bianco of Bianco Research crunched the inflation adjusted numbers. The bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:

• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion


data courtesy of Bianco Research

That is $686 billion less than the cost of the credit crisis thus far.

The only single American event in history that even comes close to matching the cost of the credit crisis is World War II: Original Cost: $288 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $3.6 trillion

The $4.6165 trillion dollars committed so far is about a trillion dollars ($979 billion dollars) greater than the entire cost of World War II borne by the United States: $3.6 trillion, adjusted for inflation (original cost was $288 billion).

Go figure: WWII was a relative bargain.

I estimate that by the time we get through 2010, the final bill may scale up to as much as $10 trillion dollars…

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A crisis of manners at Campsite 24

We were invited to go camping this weekend with my in-laws Imp and Ed. Ed's cousin lives in Hobart, and he and his family were going to be there too, and were apparently dying to meet us. I was a bit lukewarm about it, because we had various other commitments and wanna-dos, and I like a quiet life. The crunch factor was that Imp and Ed were taking The Tub and would be pottering about in it without Elf if we didn't go.

On Friday night I was invited to Matt's exhibition opening, followed by dinner, but was also expected on the indoor soccer court. The opening missed out, as did any significant planning or packing for a camping trip. Soccer was a dreadful defeat but dinner at Sirens vege restaurant was very nice and relaxing. Matt is another brother-in-law who's PhD in fine arts was the content of the exhibition.

On Saturday morning I was required on a stall at Salamanca Market until 11.30, so Elf mounted the whole packing operation on her own. Imp and Ed were supplying a tent, dinner and most other essentials, so we pretty much threw a bunch of clothes, blankets, the picnic basket and our rubber boat in the car and headed off. After all these delays and impediments, we had a very nice drive down to Fortescue Bay (10km north of Port Arthur, about a 90 minute drive from Hobart). Everyone was all set up when we got there, and had been there for hours.

The gathering turned out to be much bigger than we had thought, and I was totally unprepared for the social challenges involved. It was raining - the established crew were gathered around a fire, sheltered by a large tarp strung amongst the trees. Imp and Ed were very welcoming and shared everything with us, but the rest of the gang were a bit stand-offish and the whole thing was pretty awkward. I ended up sitting in the front porch of 'our' tent feeling a bit glum. We had not brought chairs, and this appeared to be a bit of a gaffe. I certainly did not get the feeling that anyone had been dying to meet me, probably because I was radiating peevish vibes.

The boys, particularly Michael, had no qualms about going to stand by the fire. All the kids were poking different things in to observe the various cracklings, shrinkings and sizzlings. Eventually a sense of responsibility prodded me to go down there and ask if the boys were being OK and everyone assured me they were fine. I had heard from 20 metres away that Michael was holding forth on a few of his favourite subjects. Marcus was gamely running around with the other kids and overcoming his shyness a lot better than I was.

So - the main reason I am relating this whole sorry business is: later in the afternoon when Michael had made himself really comfortable in the best seat by the fire, and was chairing a meeting about either the solar system or mammals, Marcus called out to Elf in a weary voice "Mum, Michael is pretending to be a grown-up".

Everything thawed after a while, but we still spent the evening gathered around separate fires. We four slept badly, our soft townie bodies not coping with leaky airbeds and those flat sleeping mats. Elf actually was so relieved when the sun came up that she relaxed and fell asleep. I can only be sure that I slept at all because I remember dreaming our car had been stolen.

I honestly did have a nice time. I had a couple of sea swims, (earache cold) and we saw a lot of wildlife. At one stage during the night Elf told me there was a possum in the tent which fortunately turned out not to be the case. The possums were a nuisance, but a kind-of-fun furry nuisance. There was a half-tame family of pademelons (small wallabies) there which thrilled the kids.

We had a beach walk this morning and then packed up and came back to where we belong. It was a beautiful place, and we are very keen to visit again, but we will do it with a very small group. Camping and meeting new people are things I am barely competent at - so doing both at once is just stretching me a bit thin.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jon Stewart quote

I have never seen The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, apart from the odd burst on YouTube. It seems to be very funny, a bit lefty, pretty sharply satirical but firmly anchored in current affairs. Anyway - here is a great quote.
"If you don't stick to your values when they're being tested, they're not values: they're hobbies."

I think this was in regard to the Patriot Act, the US policy of rendition and the Bush administration's efforts to redefine "torture", all attempts to wage the War on Terror.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Blog visitor quarter finals

For my own super-slow-mo amusement, I am going to set up a kind of world-cup of blog visitors. On 31 March I will award victories in the quarter finals to the countries with the most visitors on the flag counter thingy. This is feeble and pathetic but there you go.

South Africa v France
Thailand v Romania
Turkey v Switzerland
Phillipines v New Zealand

After that we will have the semis. Obviously Thailand and New Zealand are top seeds and look likely to meet in the grand final, but you never know. The dark horse is Romania, who have lately come from nowhere to, er, somewhere.

Perry Como's back catalogue

A couple of years ago I discovered Coyle and Sharpe - two amazingly funny guys who did street prank comedy on San Francisco radio in the early sixties. Mal Sharpe read my blog, somehow, and kindly sent me a set of their recordings.

I hadn't listened to the discs straight through for a while, but yesterday I did, and paid more attention to the bits of 60s radio ads and programming that are sprinkled through the comedy segments. One of the songs back-announced was Keep It Gay by Perry Como. I suppose this was before the phrase "lighten up" was coined, and that was all he was asking us to do. Dear old Pezza.

Sorry, Talking Heads

When I was about 16, the New York band Talking Heads were everything to me. My mate Joe and I were staying on his uncle's farm at St. Marys. We caught a lift into Launceston to go to the Basin Concert (Mental As Anything headlining) and while we were in town, we raided Wills Record Bar. They had a lot of far-out stuff that you never saw in Burnie. I came away with Remain In Light and Joe snared Fear of Music. After the concert we hitched back to St Mary's. That night we commandeered the stereogram and introduced the Fingal Valley to New York art school new wave music.

Through the rest of the vinyl era I steadily gathered all of their albums, and the various wierd side projects of David Byrne and occasionally the others. I played them on my Radiola portable record player, so small that the LP hung over the side and obscured most of the controls. Choose the volume you want before you put the record on.

Then CDs came to town. This was my first experience of technological redundancy. CDs were so easy. They didn't need to be turned over. If you fell asleep listening to one you didn't wake up to "..thrrrp.....thrrrp.....thrrrp....."

Of course I didn't buy CDs of things I already had on vinyl. After a while my record player disappeared the way things do when you move. No great loss, didn't play the records much anymore anyway. Etc etc. I feel so guilty recounting this now. I was asleep at the wheel!

So - only now do I realise I have lost a good ten or twelve years of Talking Heads listening opportunities. I've got one CD and a few mp3s that crop up occasionally, and that has been enough to dull my senses to the reality that I have let a really great band effectively slip out of my life. And particularly this one album, Remain in Light.

We visited Matt and Mem and Edie and Callie yesterday, and in talking music with Matt I blurted out my feelings on the matter. He sent me home with all his Heads CDs. Today I felt quite emotional as I listened to this great, great album again for the first time since about 1996.

David Byrne actually played in Melbourne a couple of weeks back, and my friend Alex met him. Alex was at the right hip 3rd floor warehouse bar when DB stepped out of the lift right in front of him. (I'm not jealous because I met Don Lane at Mascot airport in 1979.) I think hearing about this might have been what woke me up from my dreadful slumber.

So - sorry about that Talking Heads. I'm back on board again now.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

25 Things

I am on Facebook now. Well, I have been for a couple of years, but the dreaded snowball is starting to roll. I am now getting "friended" by people I don't think I have personally met - which happens, I know. It's all about networks etc. I have mostly been getting on there to keep up with my sister Sally's doings. She is quite hard to pin down in any other way.

Now I have been 'tagged' by a (genuine) friend, with the requirement that I write down 25 things to enable her to know me better. Then I tag 25 other people, and they have to do the same. It's part B that bothers me. I don't mind trotting out trivia here for everyone from Poland to the US Virgin Islands to read. But I am certainly not going to insist anyone else does the same.

So here I will try to come up with the 25 things. None of you need feel any obligation to do likewise.

1. I am phobic about my fingernail and toenails. I often visualise minor damage, splinters under the nail, etc etc and it makes me feel ill. (I have lost a few nails before so it's not completely a vivid imagination).

2. I was born here in Tasmania and have lived all but 18 months of my life here.

3. Some of my happiest moments have been spent sitting alone in empty grandstands.

4. My feet are in terrible shape and I worry a lot about how I am going to get around on them in twenty years' time.

5. I like to know at least three of four bits of jargon about everything. Whenever the talk turns to rabbits, Indonesia, the high jump or microcars I can FAKE IT with one or two of my key words (eg chocolate lop cross, Sulawesi, the Fosbury flop, the Peel P50). But after about 4 minutes I've just gotta get outta there.

6. I can type very quickly and very noisily with two fingers. When I really get on a roll other people in the room have to raise their voices and turn up the music. My favourite word to type is 'management'. Try typing it with two fingers. It's ace.

7. I am a lifelong soccer player. This has a causal relationship to #4. From age 10 - 37 I was a defender. Late in life I have morphed into a striker, and a ball-hog. I can walk it through the defence and score with either foot.

8. In my darker moments I take a ridiculous amount of solace from my last few goals.

9. I genuinely feel wealthy when I think of my two children. I've got it all. I'm on easy street. I am extremely fortunate and I try not to take them for granted.

10. On our first date my wife and I read newspapers. One our most recent date (this evening) my wife and I read newspapers.

11. I would never wish to live at any other time in history. You've just got to love now.

12. I am addicted to butter. Getting off it is one of the hardest thngs I have ever done, ie I am still eating it by the truckload.

13. I went to South America when I was 20. I travelled with a Peruvian-born friend, but we argued and split up. Travelling alone there was an experience that soaked quite deep in to me. We made up but it took a few years. He's now in my indoor soccer team.

14. I read encyclopedias. Today I learned about Brabant, Samuel Butler, The Black Panther Movement and Balzac.

15. I say no to drugs. Things can get reasonably far-out in my brain without any chemical whim-wham.

16. This is an aspect of #11 - email your heroes! If someone has an email address, I assume they want to hear from me. And I am nearly always right - I have emails back from musicians, writers, broadcasters, sportspeople. Not form letters but actual thoughtful replies.

17. I lack ambition. I am drifting into the reliable grey-haired-old-guy-in-the-corner role at work. I love being a graphic designer, but it's probably time in my life when I should be putting my hand up for more responsibilty, which will mean less time designing.

18. I like to leave doors unlocked. I like to leave the music playing when I go out. I like having no real back fence. I like to leave the blinds up at night.

19. Although I like to think of myself as relaxed and easy-going in the ways mentioned above, I am socially pretty anxious and spend a silly amount of time planning an unobtrusive exit.

20. I used to play the trombone.

21. I was in the Army Reserve for 6 months - (when I broke my leg playing soccer I took the opportunity to get out). One of the most memorable days of my life was spent at a rifle range. I was surprisingly good at target shooting. I found out subsequently that my father's father was a prize-winning pistol shooter.

22. I would like to spend a summer day sitting alone in a paddock, from dawn to dusk, with just a pen, paper, water and a stack of sandwiches.

23. I would also like to walk from Hobart to Burnie (340km).

24. I can name the 50 United States of America. In all honesty, I almost always get 49. Not much of a claim, is it?

25. The wisest quote I can think of is "Circumstance might require you to lie to others, but never lie to yourself".

A movie and a wallaby

In honour of St. Valentine's Day, Elf and I have just been to the movies, to see Ghost Town with Ricky Gervais and Tea Leone. A movie is a once-or-twice a year things for us, so reasonably special. I'd give this one a B+, its moderately heartwarming, quite funny, has a good cast and a good script.

It's not very well known that St Valentine is the patron saint of not just lovers, but also wallabies. When we got home I flicked on the outside light to feed Hattie and a small wallaby up on the lawn just kept on munching, pretty much ignoring me and the small carnivore at my feet. We have had stacks of wallaby company all summer. I've been woken up many times by one hopping across the deck just above and backwards a metre from my head. Strangely we never hear or see possums anymore.

From looking back through the blog I can see this has been an exceptional summer for wallabies. One night in January we had three at once, a male and two females. To our amazement the females got up on back legs and started fighting, á la Sir David Attenborough documentaries (forgive me re-using this pic from last year).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A stupid bad dream of retail hell

I had a very busy night last night - an extremely complicated dream that just went on and on. I was walking home to the house I grew up in, in Burnie. There is a waterfall, and the road crosses the creek just above it. As I was just getting to where I would usually hear the waterfall, I saw some big retail buildings that shouldn't have been there. An enormous big box mall had appeared overnight.

To cut to the chase, there were lots of different shops but the one that really got my attention was an electrical/furniture megastore (like Harvey Norman) called Rabid. Yes, Rabid. And one of their catchy promotions was that with every washing machine or freezer they sold, they gave away a puppy. A puppy!

I demanded to see the manager. I tore a strip off him, ranting and berating him for a) giving away puppies whose welfare would be doubtful at best and b) having the bad taste to even call a store "Rabid", let alone associate it in some way with actual dogs.

The manager said the name of the shop was his wife's idea. She happened to be there, and when I turned my withering fury on her, she said she thought it was a great name as it would attract people who were "rabid for bargains".

Then (still in the dream) my mobile rang, and it was my friend Bree calling to ask "Where the hell is my disk?" I had no idea what she was talking about, and was feeling pretty exhausted and sick of the dream by this stage.

Then (in real life) Michael (who was also dreaming) called out "NO!!". So that woke me up and gave me something real to worry about.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Black days in Victoria

Victoria burst into flames on Saturday. They had been through a long heatwave, and everyone was preparing for the worst, but what happened has redefined "worst". There are about 180 confirmed dead and the toll is now expected to reach 300. Several towns have effectively ceased to exist.

It is extremely sad and upsetting. We have many friends and family all over Victoria, and everyone we know is OK. I have no real comment to make except we give thanks for their safety, we grieve for the dead and injured and their families, and we hope somehow the rest of the fire season can be endured with no more loss of life.

I always try to leave a record in the blog of the major things that are happening, but far be it from me to think I have any original revelations about why this happened or how to avoid a repeat.

The Premier of Victoria has said "We need to examine every possible issue, every single fact, every single policy … so that lessons can be learned."..

On changes to Victoria's "fight-or-flight" policy, Mr Brumby told the Fairfax Radio Network: "It's served us well for 20 years or more — that is, if you decide to leave, leave early and if you decide to stay make sure you've got a fire plan.

"But there is no question that there were — you will talk to them there at Whittlesea — there is no question that there were people there who did everything right, put in place their fire plan and it wouldn't matter, their house was just incinerated."

Here is an article with some good points for discussion on bushfire policy.

And here is a quite harrowing account of one family's escape on foot.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Tub

Today was Royal Hobart Regatta Day, another public holiday (at least as far north as Oatlands 80km away). Over the long weekend parallel to the regatta is the Wooden Boat Festival. This year for the first time they held a community boat-building workshop. Elf, Imp, Ed and Fred put in an application and were accepted, so for the last three days they have been sawing, bending, glueing and stapling like its going out of style. They are shambling wrecks now, but they have a two-thirds finished and moderately sea-worthy little 10 foot plywood dinghy. I have been looking after the four kids and am also a bit of a wreck. We went down the festival yesterday and again today to witness the launching. Six or seven dinghies and two or three canoes cast off and paddled around gingerly.

I took the boys off to see the timbery maritime sights yesterday and left the girls 'helping' - sanding random bits of boat. A strolling journalist and photographer saw the kids and their eyes lit up - I suppose the family angle made a good story.

Imp and Ed (in orange lifejackets) take The Tub on her maiden voyage, across Constitution Dock.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Pigeon bathing apparatus

"A late model Julius Freed portable pigeon bathing apparatus. Used to clean birds in cities to improve sanitary conditions." Julius Freed sounds like a fascinating guy. In case the above is not evidence enough,
He is arguably best remembered for his contribution to the beverage industry with the Orange Julius. Freed was a contemporary of, and often corresponded via post with, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, American director Cecil B. DeMille, and northern California prune farming pioneer Bradly H. Johnson.

Dipping my toe in Second Life

So, we are doing some work on e-Safety and Safe Surfing and all that, for the federal government. I am having to get up-to-date on a raft of new things that have hitherto passed me by. One of these is Second Life. You create an "avatar" and stride/fly around inside this amazing 3d world, with other people's avatars. If you walk through someone its expected that you'll apologise, its quite rude.

I just looked up the Second Life FAQ and here are my favourites.

1. How do I make money ?
2. How do I detach something from my head ? (or other body part)
3. Why are there so many girls‎ in Second Life ?
4. Hey, Can we have sex here ?
5. Why do I have a box on my head/hand‎?
6. Why can't I stand up from this sofa‎?

Here is my first try at a fat, badly dressed avatar. I was the only fat person in cyberspace, and I have now given in to peer group pressure and slimmed down.

Spooky spiderwebs

I saw these on my walk to work this morning. There is definitely some kind of Dr Who trans-species plant-animal cryogenic thing going on here. Don't you think?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Reading list

I am reading a lot at the moment. My drawing of our house is in a lull. I have been back at work for a week and in the evenings I am happy for someone else to be doing the creative work while I consume.

Just finished Fine Just the Way It Is, a new book of Wyoming short stories by Annie Proulx. Pretty tough, pretty grim. No-one gets off easy in Wyoming by the sound of it. A couple of silly ones about Satan that I didn't enjoy at all.

Before that, Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon. About the two Englishmen, an astonomer and a surveyor, who were paid by the "proprietors" of Pennsylvania and Maryland to survey the boundary between the colonies, which became the accepted border between North and South in the USA. An incredibly long and dense book, I felt it had touches of magic realism. It is all told in ye olde narrative style, wherein people tell "joakes" and have names like Rev. Wicks Cherrycoke. There are hundreds of characters to keep track of, actual bodice ripping, a talking dog and a clockwork automaton duck. Very good indeed but hard work.

I am now reading Ajax, The Dutch, The War: Football in Europe During the Second World War by Simon Kuper. It is particularly good in how it deals wth the Occupation of the Netherlands. The Germans considered the Dutch to be slightly misguided Germans. Unless one was Jewish or active in the Resistance, it was a time of inconvenience and boredom, rather than fear. - although near the end of the war there was certainly serious starvation in the north. It details what happened to the majority of the Dutch Jews - there are few happy endings. Meanwhile, in May 1938 an England team played Germany in the Olympic Stadium, Berlin, and gave the watching Herr Hitler the Nazi salute. A fascinating time to study.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

They don't need to know you're not in Russia!

Russian telco ad I just saw
Direct Moscow and St. Petersburg phone numbers that ring in the US, Israel, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. This amazing capability is hard to believe but it’s a true breakthrough! When you buy a direct number from TelphinUSA, your friends in Moscow can dial a regular 7-digit Moscow number and your phone in New York will ring. Just pick it up and talk – they don’t even have to know you are not in Russia.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Solar System Simulator

In the early days of Michael's obsession with planets, I was discussing orreries with my friend Matt K - also quite a star-struck young man. It would be lovely to have a beautifully precision engineered $30,000 orrery, with all the planets spinning on their axes as they swoop around a sun about the size of a beachball. I can just see it in one corner of our living room - the orrery corner. No touching now! Only dad is allowed to give it a light dusting, once a (Mercurial) year.

Anyway. Back in the real world, Matt suggested that there are some great computer simulations available online. Huh, I thought. You get what you pay for - there'll be freeware available where the planets are chunky dodecahedrons that actually bump into each other occasionally due to a glitch in the Lingo coding, or the floating point something-or-other.

I was dead wrong. This is freeware, it is fantastic, and I urge you to download and start playing with it immediately!!! (12.4MB download.) Here are some short screen-capture animations and a couple of stills. It is deeply interactive - you can set it going at any speed you wish (second=second, second=day, second = month and graduations thereof) and then alter the point of view at will.

So thank you to Matt K, and thank you to SSSim. I think they are based in Japan, but their site is extremely reticent to name names or take credit for this amazing achievement.

Locks of love

Just stumbled upon this phenomenon while looking for "girly desktop pictures" to use on some fake screenshots for work. (This is the first post I have ever written with the tag "love". I am so unromantic. Will try to work on that in the next 12 days).
Beginning in the 1980s, in the centre of the southern Hungarian city of Pécs, lovers began to clamp padlocks to a wrought-iron fence in a narrow street linking the mosque in the city's main square and the magnificent medieval cathedral, as a symbol of their commitment to one another. However, after the fence was completely covered and no more padlocks could be added, couples, both locals and tourists, began attaching them to fences and statues throughout the town centre.