Buying my second mobile phone

I typically publish links at this time of month, and the following personal update was drafted as a footnote below just such a collection. But on reflection I’ve decided to let the links accumulate for another two weeks before publishing them, so the wouldbe footnote is now the entire post.

So … recently I bought myself a new mobile phone, replacing the one I bought in 2008 and reported on this blog at the time. After almost six years, the ringtones in the old one stopped working in January (broken speaker I guess), and I’ve been procrastinating getting a replacement ever since.

The new phone is an android (Samsung GT-S7500T) and cost me about $150. I’ve installed a few simple apps, including LocSMS (to which I’ve given a 4-star review), Battery Widget (which I haven’t reviewed), and Brightness Control (to which I’ve given a 3-star review). For SMS notifications I’ve chosen the Pizzicato tone that came with the phone, and for incoming calls I’ve imported the ringtone I made for the old phone.

To create wallpaper for the new phone, I rotated and trimmed one of my fractal images, and you can see the result below. (Incidentally, the same source image is also used in the background of my profile on Twitter, Gravatar and other places.)

psiral_clipped

Of course there have been disappointments — ranging from conspicuously absent features to Google doing funny business without my consent — but I don’t like to use the blog as a place to rant. Besides, my feelings about a new phone are not interesting; what’s important is how I’ll feel after I’ve had a chance to get used to it. If it lasts another five or six years I will, on balance, be happy.

[Update 10/04/2014: I've installed Rocket Music Player for listening to music, e.g. when travelling. This was the first player I found that met my basic requirements, after trying and uninstalling several others.]

Elke at 10 months

The last time I posted photographs of my sister’s daughter, Elke Adele Smith, she was six months old. She’s now ten months, and I have new photographs.

Here is my favourite, rolling about by the River Torrens in Adelaide:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More from the same place. Mum (her grandmother) also appears, in her role as chair and climbing frame. You can see Elke is trying to learn crawling, but her legs haven’t figured it out yet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We passed through the Festival Theatre, where I made this video …

(I used Youtube’s frankly awful background music selection tool — which I’d rant about at length were it not for the fact that doing so would be incongruous in a blog post about a cute baby — but for a 30 second video it can be made to work)

… and took these photos:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here we are walking by the Torrens and later reading a book:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finally, more playing around. This time in the playground by the caravan park:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I see no need to add much commentary; the pictures speak for themselves. She’ll soon be a whole year old, which is pretty amazing.

Park pictures are preferable to politics

It was election day yesterday for the South Australian state government. The results are very close to a draw, and can’t be called definitively until more votes have been counted. But who cares? Nothing ever happens on the state level of politics anyway.

You didn’t come here for politics. So here, instead, is a photo of me and my wood nymph (aka winner of the ‘Most Huggable Tree’ competition) taken by a friend a few weeks ago.

lucinda_by_suzanne

And here is a photo of the friend, walking ahead of me:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That was a great day.

On the offchance that you did come for politics, there were only four candidates contesting my electorate in the House of Assembly, so that was no challenge. For the Legislative Council I chose to vote below the line, and this table shows exactly how I voted. The exact order is somewhat arbitrary (cobbled together after a few minutes’ research), but the trend is from parties I support to parties I’m ambivalent about to the major parties to the deep recesses of the loony bin.

There was no queue outside the polling place. But on my walk home it rained, and I did not bring an umbrella. So — good luck and bad in equal portion.

Elke at six months

I spent some time today with my parents and my niece, Elke, who is now six months old. The photos I took are so cute that I couldn’t possibly narrow them down to a small selection, so here’s a slideshow. Right-click for full-size images.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Compare with Elke at twelve weeks to see how she’s grown.

Monato photos

Here are some photographs taken on a visit to Monato Zoo. Many of them were taken from a bus, with dirty windows, which may even have been moving. I did my best under the circumstances.

— Giraffe and Eland —

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

— Giraffe and Ostrich —

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

— Ostrich —

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

— Zebra (and Ostrich) —

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

— Cheetah —

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

— Rhinoceros —

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

— Hyena —

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

— Oryx —

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Links: early October 2013

Here are a few links. Not many, but enough to entertain and inform.

The September 21/22 weekend was very exciting for me. It was a family thing, so I don’t feel the need to blog about it in detail, but you definitely need to see photos of my cousins making little confectionary cars. (Regrettably, I didn’t get to eat one; there was too much else going on.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Links: Late September 2013

It’s been about four weeks since my last collection of links. And because I have a busy weekend coming up, I’ve decided to publish this installment now, rather than risk missing two publication dates in a row (I normally publish around the 7th and 21st of each month). So here’s my top recommendations from the Internet over the last four weeks.

Interesting:

Delightful:

Awareness:

  • Some political articles published before Australia’s recent election: [1] [2].
  • Video parable on domestic violence. Very evocative. I could feel myself thinking to the husband, “I hope you never experience any emotion but guilt for the rest of your life”.
  • Best 9/11 article has to be the one from Cracked. Except that I don’t believe that people (especially under 30s) are as accepting of surveillance as the final section implies.

Useful:

  • Utility for downloading Youtube videos (also links to several utilities for downloading as MP3; I’ve been selecting Music-Clips).

And now some personal updates:

I had some relatives over for tea in late August, including my aunt and uncle from Melbourne. We had plenty to talk about, and it was very nice to catch up.

In the recent Australian election, I voted for the Greens with preferences to Labour, and in the Senate I voted for the Secular Party. (Alone of all the parties I’m somewhat aligned with, the Secular Party did not corrupt their group voting tickets with preference deals, so I wanted to reward that.)

I spent a day with my parents in mid September, and visited to the local zoo. I haven’t been to the zoo since I was a child, so I thought it was about time. Animals that met with my approval included hippopotamuses, giant tortoises, American alligators, poison dart frogs, giraffes, macaws, flamingoes, and African wild dogs.

Elke at twelve weeks

I caught up with baby Elke on Thursday. Here are some cute baby photos.

First, here is the photo of the day — with Elke, mother and grandfather all smiling at once — followed by more pictures of Elke in her pram:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A moment of excessive cute, being held by Dad (grandfather):

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The photos I shared in my last post, plus three more from immediately afterwards:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Maybe some day she’ll read it.

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With her father, Ellis:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With her grandfather:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With her grandmother:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With me:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In her cradle:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And outside:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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).