Links: Early November 2014

I decided to skip the Late October installment, and this Early November installment is late, but here it is now.

  • A curious coincidence concerning the planets.
  • Everything you wanted to know about goldfish.
  • Chimpanzees plan ahead when it comes to breakfast. (This gave me an idea for a card game, but it needs a lot of work.)
  • How humans, birds and grasshoppers breathe.
  • Einstein and the nature of reality: a brief history.
  • A very nice 3D video from Mars.

In personal news, I recently bought my calendar for 2015. The theme I’ve chosen is a collection of Rob Gonsalves paintings — illusionist paintings in the tradition of M. C. Escher. [Update: larger collection here].

I’ll be going to see James Randi on December 1st. (I decided against the “Meet and Greet” ticket, though; it’s about a hundred dollars extra which is more than I can justify.) In preparation, I’ve rewatched this video from 2010.

Photos from family weekend

I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday with my extended family, for reasons involving two birthday parties and a musical. I won’t go into details here, but we can talk about it in the comments if you like.

Here is a photo of my mother and my niece, Elke, who is now a confident walker, developing her vocabulary, and will be 18 months old later this month.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From later in the weekend: three generations of women on the marimba.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Left: My young relatives at play. Right: A community room in the town to which Dad has contributed dinosaurs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I got some lovely photos of Elke with Leah, the middle child in my cousin Robert’s family. Here they are on the swing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And here they are on the golf course.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And that’s all. It really was lovely to catch up with everyone.

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

What we did in Sydney

Together with my parents, I spent the first week of August in Sydney. It was the first holiday in which I used my smartphone to navigate. Here is a summary of what we did.

Some background: I was born in Sydney, and not coincidentally my parents have a number of friends over there. I’ve been back a couple of times, most recently in 1989 when I attended a Doctor Who convention and we also had a family holiday.

As for this trip, we arrived early in the afternoon of Saturday August 2nd. The main event for our first evening was a classical music program at the Opera House — the first time I’ve ever been inside.

On Sunday we visited the Justice and Police Museum (notable exhibits: maces & other home-made weapons; phrenology model; whips for adult vs juvenile offenders), and then met our friend Ian and his current guide dog at the Botanic Gardens. After lunch, Dad and I visited the Jewish Museum (notable exhibits: talmud; ceremonial objects; art installations; immigration history; maps of ghettos, concentration camps, etc) and one other destination which turned out not to be worth our while, before returning by bus to meet Mum and Ian at the hotel.

On Monday we took the train north to visit friends of my parents, and went for a coastal walk in Bouddi National Park.

View from train Bouddi

Bouddi Bouddi

On Tuesday, a place where we’d planned to have breakfast turned out not to exist anymore, so instead we had breakfast at the place now occupying the same location. Breakfast was followed by a visit to the small but welcoming Kerrie Lowe Ceramics Gallery on our way to the Sydney University museums. (These were smaller than I expected, but the Macleay Museum includes a display on the history of photography, an orang-utan skeleton, and a deformed horse skull connected to a bunyip anecdote; while the Nicholson Museum includes quite a sizeable section on the Etruscans.) After that we visited the Glass Artists’ Gallery (which has some very nice stuff but would benefit from a more spatious venue) and browsed a second-hand bookshop. We spent the evening with more friends of my parents.

On Wednesday we visited the outstanding Australian National Maritime Museum (notable exhibits: whale photographs and artifacts; information on little-known historical alliances; a beer-can boat; a panel on scurvy; some excellent paintings; and a dinosaur on a submarine … that last being a model that belonged to one of the crew), the Chinese Garden of Friendship, and the Sydney Aquarium. In the evening we went to the Capitol Theatre (a lovely venue, btw) to see the Lion King musical (parts of which are amazing).

View from Maritime Museum

Chinese Garden Chinese Garden

On Thursday, we each visited central Sydney museums independently, which in my case meant the Australian Museum (where my favourite exhibits were the crocodiles and the ankylosaur model), the Hyde Park Barracks (which, between the dead rats and the detailed reports on flogging, is a truly delightful place), and the Art Gallery of NSW (from which, here are links to selected works: [****]). In the early afternoon, my parents and I met one of the people I follow on Twitter for coffee.

In the evening I went by myself to the monthly Skeptics in the Pub (going to the wrong address at first, but finding the right one with the help of my Internet and GPS enabled phone) where I enjoyed conversing with Richard Saunders and Jo Alabaster from the Skeptic Zone podcast, as well as other people connected with the Australian Skeptics (including Ian Bryce and Tim Mendham). I gave Richard one of my customised coffee mugs.

On Friday we took the ferry to Nutcote (home of famous author May Gibbs, which I loved) and then took the bus to Taronga Zoo. Animals at Taronga which I don’t think I’ve seen at a zoo before include Komodo dragon and condor. After finishing there, we returned by ferry and got ready for our evening flight home.

Nutcote  Nutcote

Nutcote  Nutcote

Taronga - Komodo Dragon  Taronga - Condors

Taronga - lizard Taronga - lizard 3D

The last two photos above show a lizard of the genus hydrosaurus, the second time in 3D along with a bonus tortoise that I hadn’t noticed at the time. I had previously misidentified this as a tuatara, because it was adjacent to a seemingly unoccupied tuatara enclosure and I really wanted it to be one. (The enclosure shown actually belongs to the tortoise, so I’m not sure what the lizard was doing there.)

I bought several souvineers and gifts while I was in Sydney, mostly from the Maritime Museum and Nutcote. Overall I had an excellent time, which I hope comes across despite the brevity of my report.

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 the following apps: LocSMS, Battery Widget, Brightness ControlRocket Music Player, Date in Status Bar, File Shortcut, MuPDF [list updated July 2014].

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.

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