Sunday, January 31, 2016

Michael birthday

On Sunday we celebrated Michael's 12th birthday with three of his mates; Elanor, Rohan and Amber, as well as cousin Miah. The five of them and Marcus watched a couple of movies at the 7D cinema, where you are strapped into a crazy jerky tilty thing while watching a 3D movie. They also pump bubbles into the air, but the weirdest thing is a scarfy thing that flaps around your ankles at odd moments.

Elf and I kept an eye on them on a monitor outside - I think I can say most of them enjoyed most of it. Then we had booked an hour on the arcade games. They rode motorbikes, shot rifles and threw basketballs until they were all exhausted, which was somewhat less than an hour.

Michael makes Michael Face 117A while Miah simply smiles
Marcus takes down some ninjas or pirates and/or aliens
Then we relocated to Mures famous fish & chip emporium for fried delights and ice cream. One of the attractive aspects of Mures is their free soda water tap. Another is the plastic owls installed around the outside tables to scare away seagulls and any other oclophobes in the area. Fun fact: rap artist Eminem is afraid of owls.

Come back Eminem, its not real! HEY BUT CAN I HAVE YOUR SQUID RINGS?
Michael Face 83 with Shrug
Michael had a lovely time and we think all his friends did. We had an after-party back at our place where they all tried to get into the hammock at once, before Amber's mum Wendy gathered them all up and took them away.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Old drawings of Warwick St

I always loved this view over to Trinity Hill from up on the Glebe. I drew these in 1998 and they were part of an animation I did then, but I have just re-animated them.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Cake news

I have just put a cake in the oven, and have never done so with lower expectations. It is about 15mm deep in a too-big tin. I replaced more or less every ingredient. Realised at the end I had used plain instead of SF flour so I scraped it out of the cake tin, added 2 tsp of baking powder, gave it a rough mix up, back into the tin. Woo-hoo. Seat of the pants stuff.

- - o O o - -

Well it came out about 22mm deep. I went to ice it and found we had no icing sugar. I served it with what I thought was thickened cream that turned out to actually pour very nicely i.e. I should have whipped it. 

So all up that's a 3/10, about standard for my cake-making.

Star Wars VII - space nonsense

Everyone has been waiting to hear what a 40-something guy who has never seen a Star Wars film thinks of the new Star Wars film. Well, it's nonsense.

But maybe they are all nonsense. Granted that the first one was amazing, and turned the film industry on its head. I haven't seen it but its as much a part of modern culture as The Bible. It set out a world galaxy with particular rules that the next six films needed to try to follow. As a newbie I have one dumb question, and I guess this is an age-old Star Wars conundrum but; during a light-sabre battle can't anyone else just shoot those guys with a regular gun? Is it a chivalry thing, while there is a fluoro tube duel happening the unwritten rule is Do Not Disturb?

Also stormtrooper armour - is there anything that it actually stops?

From the start the writing of VII is dross:

Weary old Alec-Guinessy guy to Stalloney pilot dude: "I've seen too much"
[Tie fighters swoop from the clouds]
Pilot dude: "We've got company"

Spoiler warning here but surely anyone who cares deeply has seen the thing already?

From what I have gathered people think the three prequels were bad. This one picks up after the last good one, Revenge Return of the Jedi. The attraction for fans is seeing Old Han Solo and Chewie, Old Leia and Old Luke. As a nonfan this left me watching Leia and Han smouldering at each other as they spoke in expository sentences that attempted to move the story along and help anyone like me feeling left behind. It was very clunky.

Unfortunately I was lagging behind from the start, as the prologue text slanting away into space told me about the Republic, the Empire, the First Order and the Resistance. What a mess. Sounds like they have saved energy on writing by just doing a search and replace, new bad guys and new good guys. The new Death Star is ..... BIGGER. The new Darth Vader takes off his mask and he looks like someone you would rent a DVD from.

There is a black character who comes across as a bit of a coward and a woman character who tells him to stop grabbing her hand, then cleans up baddies with her stick-fightin' skills. This is probably meant to count as progressive. Rey (I thought she was Rae which is a name that suggests social science teachers and lady farmers) has been left out of the whirlwind of new merch, for some devious reason.

Supposedly Lucasfilm thought boys would arc up if any girl characters were included.
I am not into fantasy, books or films. Oh, you have a problem Chief Protagonist? Why don't you just wave your wand/ use the force and solve it? Oh, bad guy has a bigger wand/ stronger force? Yawn. Better enlist a wise elder with a puckish sense of humour to train you up with some new skills/ build you a fancier wand. Actually come to think of it Bond films fit the same mould.

The film ends with Rey finding Luke on a remote cliff by the sea - this is very important as the camerawork and music tell you by their sizzling intensity. Luke has presumably been there a long time and while Rey is very  s-l-o--w----l------y  reaching into her satchel for something it looked like he was hoping for a sandwich.

I did like the mechanicals; the big creatures and Rey's hovertractor that looked like a Massey Ferguson. But overall I was pretty disappointed as the reviews I read said this was a good film anyone would enjoy, not just for fans. Noooooope.  ★★☆☆☆

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The solution

Marcus is spending an hour each week with a maths mentor named Michael - a PhD student at the university. The idea is that Marcus needs to develop and practice his problems solving skills - get experience at picking the right approach to get a fast and elegant solution. There are many ways of solving a problem; some are elegant, and some are clunky and laboured, with more chances for simple mathematical errors that will scupper the whole thing.

Here is the solution to the problem they worked on yesterday. Marcus has completed the high school maths curriculum but doesn't yet have the advanced trigonometry to solve a problem like this the way Michael did.

While they were cogitating on that I went for a walk around the neighbourhood of the uni. I was musing that it is 29 years since I moved to Hobart to start uni - and while I studied down at the docks in the then-new art school, I lived around here and walked through the uni a lot. Then I twigged - hey its 2016 now, so that makes it 30 years next month! I might go and have 11 or 12 beers at the Uni Bar to celebrate.

It's out of term time, and so very quiet around the uni, and in the surrounding student-house streets. Alexander St is one block from the university, and it has a stretch of lovely weatherboard bungalows on land that slopes down to a little rivulet behind. A lot of them are empty and overgrown at present but will probably come to life in a month or so.

When I lived near here I don't think I ever realised there was a rivulet. It's a blackberry wonderland, but I noticed yesterday that on the slope beside the Uni Bar there is a soon-to-open mini organic farm and cafe. I will be exploring here a bit more in the next few uni visits.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Under the bridge

I only just got this off my phone, I shot it in May last year on this little paddling expedition.

Social media watershed

I don't actually know what a watershed is, I realise. Apart from the literal meaning of "a shed full of water" and the not-made-up real literal meaning of "rain catchment area of a river or creek".
  1. watershed
    1. 1.
      an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or seas.
    2. 2.
      an event or period marking a turning point in a situation.
      "these works were a watershed in the history of music"

Ah, the second one - I am at a watershed in my social media use. Twitter is a terrifically fun time-drain and echo chamber. Facebook is sort of like flipping through a magazine about dogs, cats, holidays and progressive activism while you wait for the doctor, except all the articles are written by your friends and family. Instagram is; well its really for people with smartphones.

I have spent a week or so trying to be an Instagrammer but the camera on my iPad is no good, and you can't upload images from a desktop computer without crappy workarounds.  Yesterday I used my iPad to video stuff off the computer screen to put on Instagram, which had a pleasingly punk production value but you get sick of that pretty quick. On here I can do it this way which is reasonable quality.

My scruffy drawings do not gain any more charm from being lo-res and blurry. And not blurry in that arty Instagram filter way, just badly photographed with a telephone from 2009. I broke all sorts of Instagram etiquette rules by posting my paintings from the 1990s.

So, I will continue to put my non-commercial imagey stuff here on the blog. My criteria for inclusion is not that it's 'good' but more that it is useful for me to have as a reference and you might also find it interesting.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Family paddle

We went on a little expedition yesterday with Roaring40s Kayaking, to celebrate Elf's birthday. It was fan-bloody-tastic and I highly recommend it. We paddled from Marieville Esplanade around Battery Point, into Sullivans Cove, then under the bridges into and out of the docks. We all hooked together into a sort of raft in Victoria Dock and had fish and chips from Mako. Paddling back was a lot livelier with a headwind and a bit of a swell, but the guides were great coaches, and it wasn't in any way strenuous. 5 stars.

The photos were taken by our guide Damien, who was at the rear of the convoy with Marcus in front of him. Elf and I are together - she has a green top and white hat and I am in dark blue stripes. Michael paddled at the front of the pack with the other guide hence he is not very visible in the photos apart from in our muck-up 'air guitar' photo at the end.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Khaki ice-cream

My new experience for today was green tea ice cream. Possibly getting it from a suburban pizza joint was not the best choice. It tasted like, hmmm, well imagine picking a bunch of any random plant in your garden, and blending it with vanilla ice cream. That.

And it was almost exactly the colour of our house. That paint was called Tree Of Heaven, but it is basically khaki.

I give the khaki plant-flavoured ice cream 2 stars. ★★☆☆☆

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Chucking things over the back fence

I love chucking things over our back fence. We have no neighbour there, it's a council reserve where people walk dogs. Along our fence is a grassy gully of invisibility and I have on occasions flipped very small dead things over there to go back to dust in privacy. (Anything bigger than a mouse or sparrow is treated to a dug grave within the boundary). I often say to Elf about anything that is done and dusted, spent, no good, broken, not up to snuff; "chuck it over the back fence".

I am very keen to hurl a whole lot of stuff over the back fence right now but finding it quite difficult. I have become a Twitter addict over the last year and I am taking a break from it now, but I would quite like the break to be permanent, ie chuck Twitter over the back fence.

I have made a lot of genuine and meaningful friendships on Twitter, and I have since met many of those people in real life (or at least in Melbourne which is similar) and am in touch with them in various other ways. I don't want to chuck the people over the back fence but I am enjoying a rest from reading and writing 'hot takes' on every single scurrilous thing.

However I have taken up Instagram, and since I don't have a Smartphone, and my iPad never leaves the house, I am not really up for the usual Instagram stream of documenting my existence. I do take pics on my Nokia 208 but then have to come home and Bluetooth them over - its quite different and not very Insta. Sally calls hers Latergrams.

Now I am taking the Not Insta even further by posting pics of drawings I have done, in some instances last century. It will hopefully be bait to keep me drawing more, and the ratio of new to old stuff will increase, especially when I run out of old stuff.

It feels strangely easier to put creative work out on Instagram to an online-friend audience than on Facebook, to an old-friends-and-family audience. In fact I had never posted a drawing on FB before I did so semi-accidentally today, and I actually don't think other people I follow do either, usually. It's just not the place for it somehow.

Also I will post drawings and source material here too, as I always have on and off.

Lamb hearts ©® 2007

Cold hot cold

I am trying to blog daily so on occasions you are going to get the lamest small talk. So - is it hot enough for ya?

In fact today was chilly enough for jumpers with a top of 17°, and the day before yesterday I even went for the trackie pants and uggs (top of 19°).

What about yesterday? Ah. Top of 34°, check out that gradient from 6am to 4pm. It was stinking hot and those weird insects that only show up when its over 30° appeared in droves, flew in the open doors and windows and died theatrically everywhere.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A relaxing way to spend the afternoon ...

... is making a football player's beard out of blackletter characters and his mullet out of script. This is a work in progress - Garry McIntosh of Norwood. Look for it here (subject to Macca approval) in the Footy Enigmas, maybe in February.

All Creatures Great And Small - a self help book

We are working our way through 33 DVDs of All Creatures Great And Small, a British show about vets in Yorkshire in the 1930s. Elf has been reading the original James Herriot books to the boys for a few weeks.

I used to watch the show with my family as a kid in the early 80s. The episodes we are watching now were made in 1978, about 40 years after they are set. What's freaky is that the lag from now back to when the episodes were made is nearly 40 years.

I have an idea for a self-help book for men. The idea is that there are three basic types; Siegfried, James and Tristan. We are all a delicate blend of these three types, with one or another dominant. The book will teach you how to quit smoking, get out of your endless cycle of failed affairs or get over your tweed addiction, by gently tweaking the degrees of Siegfried, James and Tristan within.

All you need is a my book, gumboots, a tin bucket of warm water and soap, a fell and/or dale, and a cow with non-specific diarrhoea.

Important List #11 - Illinois town and city nicknames

This list draws heavily (OK, entirely) on a Wikipedia entry that you should consult for a longer and more detailed list. The last one is my favourite.

  • Collinsville - Horseradish Capital of the World
  • Crystal Lake - A Good Place to Live
  • DeKalb - Barbed Wire Capital of the World
  • Griggsville - Purple Martin Capital of the World
  • Huntley - The Friendly Village with Country Charm
  • Joliet - City of "Snap and Progress"
  • Marion - Hub City of the Universe

Some notes on Marion, in southern Illinois. It was founded in 1839 and now has a population around 17,000. Ten people died in a tornado in 1982. It has had the same mayor since 1963. Nineteen sixty three! 

I thought perhaps it had an automotive parts industry or even bike parts - as an explanation for the 'Hub' nickname. As this doesn't seem to be the case, I can only accept that Marion is in fact, as it claims, the Hub City of The Universe.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Montagu Bay Primary, another school with an amazing view

Today was Elf's last day on the holiday. She is now secretary of the local community group, she had to write up the minutes of the last meeting, so I took her hint and removed myself and the boys for a few hours.

Our favourite place to swim at is over the river at Clarence Pool, where on Sundays they sometimes have a big inflatable adventure gym thing. You have to climb over it to the end and try not to fall in the water. I let the boys do that while I struggled up and down and logged 350m in the end.

I wanted to stay out for a bit so I took the boys down to Montagu Bay Primary School for a look around. This is the view looking across their oval.

The Tasman Bridge essentially forms one boundary of it. Which is amazing, it must be really something during morning rush hour. But the view beyond the bridge is quite lovely, and there are water views in other directions too as the school occupies a point sticking out into the river. In fact it was just off this point that the Lake Illawarra sank after hitting the bridge in 1974.

We walked around the field and found a gate through to under the bridge, where Michael annoyed the fishermen by experimenting with the acoustics.

After that I took them up to Rosny Hill lookout where we could see the same setup from on high. That's Montagu Bay in the foreground with a few boats - I think I will set off for my next paddle from there.

Here is another view of the primary school and the bridge - I captured this in 2007 from the webcam at Rose Bay High School over the other side of the highway. The sun seems to be setting in a strange direction.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

A few recent drawings

Michael's economic theories

It's a non-traditional way to spend the summer holidays.

Marcus Maths in Melbourne

In December we sent Marcus to Melbourne for 10 days to attend the AMOC School of Excellence at Newman College, University of Melbourne. AMOC is the Australian Mathematics Olympaid Committee, and they select teams to enter the annual International Mathematics Olympiad.

There were 29 kids there from around the country, mostly grade 8-12 but there was one grade 6 boy and a couple of 7s. (Marcus was in grade 8 last year). While its a great experience for the younger ones, the final team of six is usually made up of Grade 10, 11 and 12s. Next year's IMO is in Hong Kong, and the team will be picked in June.

Marcus was selected for the School on the basis of his High Distinction in the AMOC competition, which is by far the hardest of the different competitions he enters regularly. When he came home with that result back in September, he was very excited as he understood there was the chance he would get an invitation.

The kids ate, slept and studied in the College for the duration. We managed to send him off without a toothbrush, and trying to solve that problem was an eye-opener to how purely maths-focused the whole thing was. The students were all treated as though they were at uni, expected to sort themselves out, yet very restricted in when and how they could leave the college. Elf ended up prevailing on our friend Vincent who lives nearby to buy a toothbrush and deliver it to the College office - they rang us to say it was there and we rang Marcus.

The extraordinary spire of Newman College's dining hall. The college was designed by Walter Burley Griffin. 
We were a bit concerned about Marcus becoming exhausted by the intensity of it, so we urged him to get out and walk to the shop for some chocolate just as a circuit breaker. We made a mistake then by ringing the director of the School (we didn't know who else to ring) and trying to arrange something.

This came across to Marcus as us interfering and trying to arrage special treatment for him, when all he wanted was to quietly blend in. We had some very terse phone conversations with him, which was a new experience for me as a parent.

The IOC exams are divided into four subjects; Algebra, Geometry, Combinatorics and Number Theory, so that is how the school was structured. They would spend a day working on one of those fields, then the following day would be a 4-hour exam like the one below, followed by a guided walk through how the tutors would have tackled it. Every working day was 8am to 8pm.

Each exam has 5 questions worth 7 points each - early on Marcus told us it is not unknown for students at an AMOC School to score zero on an exam. We laughed nervously at this, but on his first two exams Marcus scored 5 and 2.

Answers on the back of an envelope, thanks.
He did feel he was struggling, so our phone conversations were a tricky blend of encouragement, concern for his exhaustion, apologies for interference and general cheerleading.

As time went by he picked up some better exam results, made some good friends in the group and started to really feel he belonged. This snowballed so that by the end of the ten days he was lifelong pals with everyone there. I think he felt that after years of being a special case, it must have been wonderful to be in a room of people with similar abilities and skills. He returned full of in-jokes and new slang, learned from spending ten days locked up with a bunch of very, very bright, mostly older kids.

At home we had a funny ten days. It drove home to me that Marcus is by far the most extrovert and energetic of the four of us. Hours would pass with me reading, Elf doing a jigsaw and Michael doing his mysterious work, silently. The dog would sigh. The cat would flip over onto her other side. We were very relieved to pick him up from the airport, tired, noticeably taller and gabbling wildly about the next school in April.

He is actually working hard through the school holidays on eye-crossingly difficult problems to improve his chances of being selected to attend in April. To that end we have just found a mentor, a PhD student who we hope can give Marcus someone to bounce ideas off as he looks for the best method to do these problems - which typically can be done a number of ways.

Marcus's high school have been terrific with moral and material support - they contributed a quarter of the cost of attending the School of Excellence. It took over a year, but we eventually convinced the head of Maths that Marcus could comfortably deal with even the most advanced Grade 10 maths. He has now finished the high school maths curriculum, so this year he will be going off-site twice a week to attend Maths Methods 3 classes at Hobart College. At the presentation night, one of Marcus' maths teachers said quite happily 'he's nothing to do with us now!'