Winning Cosmos

This is the story of a competition I recently won.

In an episode of the Skeptic Zone podcast published while I was in Sydney, Richard Saunders announced a competition: to take a photograph on the theme Billions and Billions for a chance of winning a DVD set of the recent Cosmos remake.

Being on holiday I wasn’t planning to enter, but I did spend some time thinking about what sort of photograph one might take (it also made a good conversation topic). I decided that hundreds and thousands should feature somehow, and my best idea — given the time, resources and skills to pull it off — was as follows. (1) Bake a cake in a small, hemisphere-shaped bowl, and ice it to look like (half of) a giant hundred-and-thousand. (2) Choose a background for the photograph that represents the void of space  — perhaps a dark cloth laid over some surface — and sprinkle hundreds and thousands all over it. (3) Place the cake amidst the hundreds and thousands; and on top of the cake, place a lego figure with a telescope.

I don’t have the resources to create this, but obviously there are people out there who could pull it off, and probably do something even better that I hadn’t thought of. So I didn’t think I had any hope of winning the competition, and was just hypothetically contemplating what I would do.

Then I went along to the August 7th Skeptics in the Pub (as described in my Sydney report), and chatted to some people from the Skeptic Zone podcast. The photograph competition came up in conversation with Jo Alabaster, who strongly encouraged me to enter, saying that there had been very few entries, and that even a diagram of my idea would be worth sending in.

My original idea might have been at the edge of possibility given enough time and borrowing of resources, but with a deadline just two weeks after the original announcement (more like one week by the time I got home from Sydney), it was completely impossible. Still, by now I knew that a simpler photograph was in with a chance, and the Cosmos DVD set was a pretty alluring prize. Then — as I was contemplating what resources I might find on an upcoming grocery shop — I hit on an idea that was easily within my grasp, and a multi-layered interpretation of the challenge. All I needed to buy was one bag of icing sugar.

At some point I looked up the other entries on the Skeptic Zone facebook page, and indeed there weren’t many. This surprises me: the much-talked-about Cosmos series is surely an attractive prize, and not something many Australians would have seen already (people who subscribe to non-free-to-air TV are a small minority); I saw one episode on Youtube before it was taken down.

You can find my entry here, and I’ve also replicated it below. Here is the photograph:

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And here is the explanation I sent with it. (A note on the calculation: if you google the size of an icing sugar particle, you’ll find figures between 10 and 100 micrometres. I used 100 cubic micrometres for my estimate … wait, that’s wrong, isn’t it? A cube 10 to 100 micrometres across is actually 1,000 to 1,000,000 cubic micrometres … call it 100,000 cubic micrometres … and a billion particles that size would take up a tenth of a litre … whoops, now I’m embarrassed.)

It’s a pair of equations, one horizontal, the other vertical, like a crossword. Physical objects stand in for quantities

The first equation reads: “100s & 1000s cubed is less than icing sugar”.

If hundreds and thousands (the famous confectionary) are called hundreds and thousands, then icing sugar could very reasonably be called billions and billions. In fact, I calculate that just one millilitre of icing sugar contains more than ten billion grains!

The second equation reads: “earth multiplied by icing sugar is less than universe”.

This ties the photograph to a cosmological theme, asserting that the universe contains the equivalent of billions and billions of earths.

By the time the deadline arrived I was expecting to win (although I liked the elegance of Jon Frary’s entry), and throughout the next day, tension was high. I checked the relevant links over and over, and as time passed I thought maybe I hadn’t won after all.

Then — about 31 minutes into episode 304 of the Skeptic Zone — the official announcement … I won!

I look forward to the DVDs. I’ve read enough reviews to know that the series is flawed — just like everything else in the real world — so I am not expecting perfection. I do, however, expect it to be very good, and that its strengths will outweigh its flaws by a considerable margin. Perhaps I will tell you what I thought.

Incidentally, long time readers will know this isn’t the first time I’ve won a science-related online competition. Last time I wrote a limerick.

Manual variation on the snowflake curve

Ever since I created the following image more than a year ago, it has inhabited that uncomfortable limbo of being too good to delete and too trivial to share. But then, a blog needs the occasional triviality, so here it is.

It’s a version of the famous Koch snowflake curve, but with a different-from-usual presentation. I can’t remember the precise method I used to draw it, but it was done manually in a version of Windows Paintbrush, and not with the help of any more specialist tools.

kochcolour

A cruel-coloured scathed crow

Audio pareidolia applied to song lyrics is a potent source of comedy. A single misheard line is often amusing enough, but the illusion is taken to another level when the imposed and original lyrics are in different languages. You may remember the Four Tuna video that went viral several years ago, in which a very well-known Latin song is given English captions that somewhat resemble the Latin phonetics. The result is simultaneously hilarious and fascinating.

I have listened countless times to the Youtube video of Karan Casey singing A Chomaraigh Aoibhinn O — an extraordinarily beautiful Irish song. I first linked to it in 2008, and it’s still a favourite. The lyrics, alongside an accurate English translation, are available here.

Recently I decided to give it the Four Tuna treatment, and my fake English lyrics are given below, underneath the original video. You can follow along and see how well my false lyrics fool your brain.

FAKE ENGLISH LYRICS

Moving hard down creek,
Nor the kid is still related;
I come back heaving gold.
Store the vine, though a cool work,
And your do will clearly fail all;
I come back heaving gold.
Laugh, ha-ha, yellow well,
Spoke a kind-hearted greybuck;
The gloam does swallow
The font of the layerer.
Oh, Grandma Creek,
It’s suet lower K, lol,
I come back heaving gold.

If stone grew barren
At a cruel-coloured scathed crow,
I come back heaving gold.
Through the last seven sewers,
Little heart’ll want a grainer;
I come back heaving gold.
Our fastest larrikin,
Here gone the pathed fields;
My wrath I show,
Let it show o’er the glazed fair.
Wrote a scar, penned and drew it,
And a new sort of spare art;
I come back heaving gold.

Nor veer sour or solar,
Shadowly we came, which
I come back heaving gold.
He knew we’d get fond
And yearn, let it stay here;
I come back heaving gold.
Our barber carried on,
Got a new sort of cradle;
If a heart got barred,
Fish can like a late shift.
It’s cost me a legion,
I flew a lot of leisure;
I come back heaving gold.

I vaguely entertain the notion that a skilled satirist could weave some story around these words — as another layer of pareidolia, that would be somewhat fitting. They’re utterly meaningless, of course, but it does no harm to caution readers in Ireland to watch out for the cruel-coloured scathed crow, just in case.

Does it work for you?

[I originally shared this on Google Plus --- which is sometimes useful for sharing things that are still taking shape in my mind, with minimal attention to presentation or how they might seem in retrospect --- but I've decided it merits a place on the blog.]

Fragments of song

There are several old posts on this blog about music that I composed when I was younger. But as a teenager in the nineties I also composed some fragments that never became complete songs, and I’ve not yet blogged about those.

So here is a selection. The lyrics are brimming with teenage angst, and are also rich in words I thought of as inherently poetic at the time. If any of them inspire you, you’re welcome to adapt them in your own creative works. All I ask is that you let me know.

Most of the recordings below were made expressly for this blog post, and are not polished performances. Their purpose is simply to demonstrate the tune.

The first one is the chronologically oldest, and here is a tune I recorded some years ago, followed by lyrics:

What I feel is a kind of torture
Every moment reminds me of a thought that once occured
And I feel nothing less than torture
When I remember that the thought is too absurd.
I cannot justify the course this tension’s leading;
I wait unsatisfied, in pain and almost screaming.
Waiting for some release from torture
To release my mind, a thought that’s not absurd
And I feel nothing less than torture
When I remember that the thought has not occured.

The next fragment is intended to sound like some old folk song. It’s rich in metaphor and open to interpretation.

There is no place so distant as my only world;
There is no sound so faint as our most piercing scream.
What shall I build, here where a thousand stones are hurled,
And where the wind erodes away each worthless dream?

This one is about being abandoned by a valued friend. The second verse would have included the line, “And I’ll walk to infinity again today” (invoking a sense of aimlessness).

Every healing word I know is void;
Watching silence greet every desperate cry.
Everything we shared, everything we said;
Watching memories freeze as they pass me by.

A few years ago I wrote the above fragment into a story — as previously mentioned here — and also included this one.

How do I build from impossible stones —
Where’s the ground to hold them?
How do I walk from infinity home
After wandering there?

To finish, a fragment that is only one line long, but which I’ve always thought has potential for a pop song.

Unwelcome conclusion of a painful illusion.

I hope these brought you pleasure, and that they don’t evoke your current state of mind. But you have my sympathy if they do.

The Gzarondan language

Among the blog posts I’ve revised in my current archive clean-up is my 2006 article on conlanging. That blog post discusses artistic language invention in a general way, but makes only a passing mention of my own conlang, Gzarondan.

That’s because I didn’t have any documentation ready to share. Last time I’d worked on the language, I’d left a lot of details in flux, so the documentation I had was a bit of a mess. But although I have no plans to do any more conlanging in the future, I did always want to publish an official documentation of the language I created. Sometimes it just takes a few years of cold storage.

To that end, I published a short article about it near the end of 2012. This document has been sitting quietly in case further editing proved necessary, but I’m ready to share it now. First, though, a few words on what this documentation is and is not, because many conlangers are used to documentation written by other active conlangers, and this governs their expectations.

I spent a lot of time working on the Gzarondan language back in the day, but for most of the decisions I made (or periodically changed my mind on), I simply don’t care anymore, so I have no interest in documenting them. What I’ve written therefore documents only the aspects of the language that I feel some attachment to: The Best Of Gzarondan. Everything else has been discarded.

To make this possible, I’ve taken the perspective of an outsider, describing the language as if it were something I’d read about in an old scroll or something. That way, if I don’t wish to document some feature, I can simply describe it as “unknown”. Other conlangers are welcome to build on my creation, or to simply pinch some ideas here and there for their own art.

You can read my five-page article on the Gzarondan language here.

[Minor corrections made to PDF document on February 9]

More silly pulp covers

Back in February I linked to the Pulp-O-Mizer cover generator, which lets you design magazine covers in the style of 1950s pulp science fiction. One entertaining way to use it is to design spoof covers for works that are manifestly not pulp science fiction.

At the time, I’d designed this cover for Mike Brown’s “How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming“.

Pulp Pluto

Recently I decided to see what else I could do, and decided I might as well design a cover for the Bible. (It’s been a while since I was last burned at the stake.)

Pulp Bible

If you haven’t explored the Pulp-O-Mizer for yourself yet, there are a certain number of magazine titles, background images, and foreground images available, from which you can choose any combination, and then add your own text. Obviously none of the options are remotely Biblical, which is what makes it an interesting challenge to find the best match possible. I chose:

  • Magazine title:Amazing Wonder Stories” — the only other remotely appropriate choice is “Enormous Stories“, which doesn’t go as nicely with the background.
  • Background: Futuristic city through round window — the nearest pulp science fiction gets to Heaven, and at least as good as the version in Revelation.
  • Foreground: Little guy jealously guarding his pot of gold — it’s not hard to find a Biblical character who fits this archetype, although not with a gun.

I hope that Christians and atheists alike can appreciate the humour in what I’ve done here.

I also wondered what cover would be most appropriate for my own autobiography, which I assure you will never be written. I’ve left out the custom text, which would only say Insert Title Here in any case. It’s the nearest I can get to a representation of what goes on inside my head (robots playing games under the stars).

Pulp Autobiography

Looking on my bookshelf for inspiration, I decided to have a go at “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language“. (Geoff Pullum’s comment in email was: “We are going to switch to this cover at the next reprint. If we can persuade Cambridge University Press, which unfortunately was founded in 1534, and has proved just a teensy bit conservative in the past…“)

Pulp Grammar

I’ve done a few others, but these are representative. Feel free to say if you have requests, or if you’ve taken inspiration from any of my designs above.

Updates to my online store

I recently added a few new products to my online store, and pruned away a few old ones. The current inventory follows:


Products with fractals:

  • Coffee mug with two related fractal images on a black background.
  • Mousepad with fractal image resembling a sort of recursive spider web.
  • Gift box with fractal image resembling a sort of recursive spider web.

Products with photographs I’ve taken in Australia:

  • Coffee mug with two coastal scenes from Victoria, unified by use of black.
  • Gift box with atmospheric sunset photo from Innes National Park, facing Wedge Island.
  • Playing cards with waterfall photograph from Belair National Park. [NEW!]
  • Keychain with photograph of a run-down old farmhouse.

Products with photographs taken overseas by me or my relatives:

  • Playing cards with photograph of the Heavenly Lake, near Urumchi, China (taken by parents). [NEW!]
  • Notebook with photograph from the Austrian alps, indicative of mountainous journey.
  • Christmas tree decoration with winter scene from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany (taken by parents).
  • Keychain with photograph from Arundel Castle in England.
  • (Also: calendar with photographs taken by parents on Beijing to St Petersburg tour. The published design is for 2012, but it should be possible to customise it for other years. I would consider publishing a new version if there is demand.)

Miscellaneous products:

  • Coffee mug with collage of works by Renaissance artists, plus artist information.
  • Coffee mug making fun of homeopathy, assisted by the Loch Ness Monster (featuring Antarctica photo by Paul Willis). [NEW!]

(Note: When browsing my store, the homeopathy parody mug will only show up if you have filters set to Moderate rather than Safe. A direct link will work either way.)


Friends with online stores include Stan Carey (Spreadshirt) and April Schoffstall (Zazzle). Also, I’m still using this mousepad, which I bought on Zazzle several years ago and would recommend to others.

Astronomy in conjunction with more astronomy

I’ve recently done two very exciting things that are both of astronomical significance.

One of them — which has just happened as I begin writing this — was attending a public lecture by Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, on his Australian tour. More on that later. The other was the opportunity to design a logo for an astronomical organisation.

About a month ago, there was a crowdfunding campaign to help import a digital planetarium to Kenya and train operators in its use (I donated a small amount of money). Shortly after the campaign succeeded, there was a Facebook update asking if anyone had ideas for a new logo for the Amateur Astronomical Society of Kenya — which is recently formed, and will be taking charge of the planetarium for the benefit of Kenyan students. (The Society uses astronomical and astronomy interchangeably, but officially it’s the former.)

I got in touch by email and basically said, “I’ll do it!”, supplementing this offer with a rough draft.

Now, at this point I need to digress and explain what I do when I’m at work, which is not something I talk about much on this blog. I work at a graphic design studio called Inprint Design, which is part of an umbrella organisation called South Australian Group Enterprises. As part of their business model SAGE provides employment for people with disabilities (asperger’s syndrome in my case), which you can read about in more detail on their site.

At Inprint there are a handful of trained graphic designers, plus a larger team of grunts who (with few exceptions) have on-the-job training only. Two production supervisors distribute jobs to the team, often giving the same job to several of us in order to make the most of our creativity. They also approve our work before sending it to the client, and assist us when we need it. Senior designers (including the production supervisors) handle jobs that require a more experienced touch.

There are designers — out there in the world — who moan when amateur organisations and the like ask supporters to submit logos etc for free (even if, as in this case, the client is donation-supported in the first place). I won’t get into that argument, but it’s an attitude you will not find at Inprint Design. In fact, given our set-up, public design competitions can work in our favour because they are a training opportunity for supported staff.

Which takes us back to the story of my logo. I spoke to our manager before sending my draft to the AASK, and again after hearing that they were interested in Inprint’s services; she was more than happy for me to work on the logo. Because I would be doing it personally with none of the usual supervision, the AASK would get the logo for free. But I would still be using state-of-the-art graphic design software and a fair bit of experience in using it.

Here is the logo I came up with, which has been accepted by the Amateur Astonomical Society of Kenya [update: link added]. Click to see it large. I would say this is the highest profile design that I’ve ever personally been responsible for, and I’m very pleased with it.

AASK LOGO FINAL

My original idea — practically all of which survives in the final design above — was as follows. As an equatorial country, Kenya has an unobstructed view of both northern and southern hemisphere skies — a point well made on the crowdfunding campaign page — so I represented this with an iconic northern hemisphere constellation (Big Dipper) on the left and an iconic southern hemisphere constellation (Southern Cross) on the right. I put a giraffe between them because I imagine giraffes get a good view of most things, so this helps represent the notion of a good view of the sky. The colour scheme was based on the Kenyan flag, plus a little yellow to add a sunset effect.

Below is the original draft. Note that I accidentally represented the Little Dipper instead of the Big Dipper because I’m Australian and cannot be expected to know the difference (I picked up on the error myself, eventually). Also, at this point I had not yet given any thought to orientation.

AASK draft

The feedback from the AASK was very positive. Requests included adding the tagline “We Explore”, making the letters AASK stand out, and — if possible — including an outline of Kenya somewhere on the design. As you can see I succeeded, but not before mulling it over for some time.

At first I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to include the outline of Kenya. In my design, as you’ll remember, left represents north and right represents south, and I was worried that a map — with the conventional west-east orientation — would conflict with this. But once I hit on the idea of representing the green earth at the bottom of the logo, everything fell into place. (The map I used is freely available here.)

One suggestion was to use star colours (blue, white, yellow, orange, red) to make “AASK” stand out. I put the letters on the giraffe’s neck instead, but I liked the idea of incorporating star colours into the design, which is why the spectrum around the edge includes bands of blue, white, yellow and orange, taking the place of the sunset effect in my draft.

My AASK contact person noted that the font I chose for the “We Explore” tagline is reminiscent of the solar analemma. This was entirely unintended: I just liked it because it contrasted with the main font and filled up the space nicely. But I did choose my main font on the basis that it looks like the sort of thing a spaceship’s name might be written in.

I made the logo mostly in Adobe Indesign, with a touch of Adobe Illustrator for the stars. Feel free to ask technical questions if you think you can learn something from the answers.

OK, now let’s talk about Phil Plait.

I’ve been reading Phil’s blog and following him on Twitter for years, and I also have one of his books. When I heard he was visiting not only Australia but Adelaide (which, as a small city, all too often misses out), I jumped at the chance and acquired two tickets, one for me and one for Dad. Phil’s insatiable enthusiasm for science would be bound to appeal to Dad, who — being a geologist — thinks rocks are interesting. (OK, enough cheekiness for this paragraph, if only because it’s over.)

Phil’s talk was on the evening of Wednesday August 14. Dad and I arrived early and got good seats (speaking of which, the seats were the only part of the evening that I could possibly complain about, as they were not the most comfortable or spatious, but hey, free tickets). On the way in I introduced Dad to Paul Willis, director of the Royal Institution Australia — which was responsible for the Adelaide event — and no small name in Australian science communication.

I enjoyed the show. Having watched videos of other talks Phil has given I had a good idea of what to expect, but it is better live. For one thing, you see the speaker and the projected slides and movie clips in the proportion they are meant to be seen. I kept half an eye on Dad’s reactions and he clearly enjoyed it too.

After questions it was time for the signing queue, which is the bit I had really come for. That was where the two astronomical events — the logo and the talk — came together, because it meant I had something specific to share (no doubt the fact this opportunity was coming up gave me an extra incentive to do my best on the logo). The point of a celebrity signing queue, as I see it, is the opportunity to give them a brief moment of pleasure in return for the years of pleasure they’ve given you (having something to be signed is not important at all; anyone can use a pen).

It was an interesting experience; the word “awesome” feels about right. Most of what I said consisted of pre-rehearsed lines strung together, because that was the only way I could handle the pressure. I introduced myself with a cheeky “Very nice of you to come over from … um … you know … that place on the border between Mexico and Canada” — but he didn’t react to the national slight, being more interested in saying how happy he was to be in Australia. We talked about my AASK logo (which he liked a lot) and then the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast (because I did one episode for it, back in 2011).

Then comes that moment when you’ve said as much as you dared hope you’d have the chance to, talking to an internationally renowned arch-geek and aware of the queue of people behind you waiting their turn. There is literally a universe of topics I could have raised (like, I dunno, my memories of the first Hubble pictures, to pick something at random), but I felt it was time to go.

It is now almost the end of the following day. I’ve lent Dad my copy of Phil Plait’s book “Death from the Skies” (see, I told you he enjoyed it), and spent most of the day with family. The highlight was seeing my niece Elke (previously blogged about here), which merits another blog post — but meanwhile here are two pictures with Elke and Death from the Skies in the same shot.

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Maybe some day she’ll read it.

Links: Early August 2013

Here are some links for you to enjoy.

Interesting:

  • The science of military helicopters with halos.
  • Long video of astronomer talking passionately about exoplanets.
  • Fascinating article on island home of isolated tribe.
  • Alien explains shape of universe (wouldn’t recommend as primer, but entertaining if you’re already fairly well informed).
  • Documentary on deception, featuring Richard Wiseman (more episodes to come).
  • Long article on parasites of plants, including biological, historical and social perspectives. Main case study from Ghana.
  • Insights into how Roald Dahl’s The Witches came to be, from his editor.
  • Good, comprehensive article on milk tolerance and its historical implications.
  • How relativity explains mercury. (No, the other mercury: the liquid metal.)
  • Dark matter as mapped by Planck.
  • Wonder and the history of science.

Delightful:

Awareness:

One more link, which merits a few paragraphs…

The Royal Institution of Australia is running a haiku competition, for which entries close on August 18. To quote from the submissions page:

Inspired by the Japanese haiku, sci-ku is a short three-line poem about sciences. Sci-ku is a small, modest and humble poem that depicts the everyday world around us, aiming to give a flash of insight into that world — like a scientific ‘Eureka!’ moment expressed briefly in words.

This year we’re looking for Sci-ku poems with a statistics or mathematics theme, in recognition of 2013 being the International Year of Statistics and the International Year of Mathematics of Planet Earth.

I mulled over my entry for some time. I don’t know whether there are any experienced poets on the judging committee, but I wanted my entry to be as true as possible to the haiku spirit. Any haiku-writing guide will tell you that the poems describe an experience of the senses and do not intellectualise. This is not an easy guideline to follow when writing about mathematics, but I eventually hit on the idea of describing a mathematical thought experiment. That way it’s a visual experience of sorts (albeit an imaginary one), and the only intellectualising occurs in the reader’s mind.

The thought experiment I settled on was this. Cut the earth in half (so that the mass of each half is the same), throw away one piece, and keep the other. The next day, cut the remaining piece in half, throw away one piece, and keep the other. Repeat daily. How long does it take before only a single proton remains? (You can’t cut a proton in half and get something that weighs half a proton, so this is as far as you can go.)

The answer — which clearly has everything to do with the Mathematics of Planet Earth — is 171 days, or nearly half a year. So if you started on January 1st, you’d finish on June 20, and if you started on July 7, you’d finish on Christmas.

This, then, is my sci-ku:

The planet’s mass, halved
daily from December’s end:
leaves mid-year proton.

If this inspires you to write your own, submit it here.

You may now call me El Kazunkel

On Sunday 26 May at 11:00pm, my sister gave birth to her first child — a 52cm long, 4kg baby girl, who a couple of days later was named Elke Adele Smith. (It can be fun to guess what a newborn baby will be called; my guess was Leisel Olivia Smith. That Rebecca would go for a German name was easy to predict, given her strong ties to our German friends.)

My choice of zeroth birthday gift was a copy of Dreamland by Putumayo, a collection of lullabies from around the world, in various languages (you can hear a clip of each track at the website). If I have one criticism, it’s that the songs should be associated with the country they are native to instead of the country the artist happens to come from, but such quibbles mean nothing to a newborn baby.

Below is a Youtube version of one of the tracks — Cradle Spell of Dunvegan by Lynn Morrison — which is in English, although parts are rich in Scottish dialect words that I don’t understand.

I made my own card to go with the gift, featuring this photo of an elk for Elke. The front of the card is very personalised, but the inside is generic and could be used for any baby girl (which you may do, if you wish). Here are images:

Elke1 Elke2

The message inside reads:

On the birth of your daughter
I give you wishes for a lifetime.
As you grow older
– And she has her turn to grow older –
May you find in her
A friend and daughter who enriches your world,
A fellow traveller on the adventure of life.
And may she find in you
The security of knowing she is loved and respected
In troubled as well as joyous times.
Grow with her! Have fun with her!
And remember fondly how it all began.

Soon after the name was announced, I told Rebecca by text message that I was changing my name to El Kazunkel, which I used again when I signed the card. Rebecca got the joke straight away (it’s pronounced “Elke’s Uncle“), but most people need a hint. They do tend to like it once they get it, though, and it was later featured on my own birthday cake (of which, more later).

I went home to spend a week with my parents on the evening of June 5th, and met Elke for the first time on June 6th. Rebecca told me my card was lovely. Here are some photos of Elke — mostly from that first encounter, but a few from later in the week.

With her mother:

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With her father, Ellis:

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With her grandfather:

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With her grandmother:

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With me:

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In her cradle:

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I gave Elke a little speech I’d prepared, referencing the famous bridge scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. It went something like this. “Your name … is Elke. Your quest … is to make life as challenging as possible for your parents (and if you ever need any help with that, just let me know; that’s what uncles are all about). As for your favourite colour, well, you get to decide that when you’ve had a good look at them all. And I promise that no-one is going to throw you off any bridges until you’ve made up your mind.

The week wasn’t entirely about Elke. Here are some new photos from my parents’ home, featuring the extensions that were built but not furnished last time I was home.

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And outside:

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(Compare with the photos here and here, taken last August.)

I brought with me a bottle of the coconut, orange, honey & spice cocktail that I created. I gave the recipe in a previous blog post, but to repeat: it’s 1 part Island Sting, 1 part orange juice, and 2 parts coconut water (alcohol content is 5% per volume). Dad said the flavour was interesting and very drinkable, adding that he detected a hint of ginger. I’ve left the bottle with him to share with guests, whose feedback I look forward to hearing about.

My cousin Robert, his wife Katrina, and their three children Kate, Leah and Joshua, now live on the same peninsula as my parents, and I saw quite a bit of them over the week. Saturday June 8th was a particularly busy day. We had lunch at the annual craft fair in Maitland, and spent the afternoon lighting small bonfires on the farm.

In the evening, I read Joshua a story that I had bought him as a gift: Ankylosaur Attack by Daniel Loxton. Circumstances weren’t ideal — I had a headache, Dad was making noise washing dishes in the background, and Josh insisted on sitting in a chair that meant I had to contort my body awkwardly in order to read — so it felt like something of an anticlimax. But later (on Monday evening), Robert told me that Josh had asked for the book again the following night, so it was evidently a success.

Here are some fire photos:

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And a video:

On Sunday 9th June, we gathered at Rebecca’s place for a barbecue lunch and a walk on the beach. It was then that I received the birthday cake I mentioned earlier (my actual birthday is June 12th).

Here is a video of Kate throwing a ball for Rebecca and Ellis’s dog, Molly:

And here are some photos of Molly that I took earlier in the week:

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I saw the wider family one last time at a Monday evening restaurant meal, and on Tuesday I returned home to Adelaide.

I bought a new modem while I was away, which I’m planning to install the day after I publish this. The main advantage of the new modem is that it has a wireless option, so once it’s set up I’ll be able to connect from my laptop and participate in Skype video chats, etc, from my own home (my desktop does not have a webcam).