Roundup of things posted elsewhere

I have been very negligent about updating this blog, for all the usual reasons, mostly to do with time and its habit of insufficiency.

That probably won’t change for a while, but here are a few things that I’ve shared elsewhere on the Internet over the last few months.

My niece’s 3rd birthday was in May, and I bought her a safari-themed magnetic theatre, which appropriately enough I gave to her at the zoo. Before that, however, I had recorded this video of a story I composed for it. Enjoy!

The Giraffe’s Birthday (uploaded 8 April)

Another video I recorded earlier this year describes a method for remembering how the pips are arranged on standard six-sided dice. I did this for good old whimsical fun, channelling some of the greats of the explainer genre. It’s all about looking closely at everyday objects to discover the patterns that generally go unnoticed, and I expect people to find it not so much useful as charmingly useless.

Where do the dots go on a dice? (uploaded 25 April)

On Google Plus, I posted a warning about mermaids (2 June), which summarises my thoughts on the subject as developed over years of idle musing. My take is about as far removed from a Disney movie as you can get (but considerably nearer to folklore I think). It should appeal particularly to both biologists and sex fetishers, and I would be delighted if any authors are inspired by it.

Hopefully something in this eclectic collection appeals to you, and if anything arouses your curiosity, we can discuss it in the comments.

The Rabbit Who Lived Up An Elephant’s Trunk

This is a sequel to a blog post I wrote in 2008 on Illustrating Children’s Picture Books.

Back then I described how I had attended a four-week adult education class of that description at the WEA Centre, at which I chose to illustrate a poem that I’d previously written for a child of approximately five years.

Here is the poem again, punctuated in the way that seems best when the entire poem is displayed on one page. (I use simpler punctuation for book versions.)

A rabbit who lived up an elephant’s trunk
Was feeling extremely displeased
With the effort it took just to clean out the gunk
Whenever the elephant sneezed.
So she looked all around for the optimal place
For which she had started to hope,
And was offered just one — which was not in good taste,
Being deep down a crocodile’s throat.
“Well, I couldn’t live there”, thought the rabbit, “because
There are too many teeth at the door!
I might as well stay in the trunk where I was
And put up with cleaning the floor.”
But later the elephant stopped by the moat
And the crocodile bit off a chunk.
So the rabbit is now in the crocodile’s throat
As well as the elephant’s trunk.

I never completed my illustrations (check the above link to see how far I got), but my mother has always wanted the book to be finished, and late in 2015 she said she was willing to pay for it to be done through the graphic design studio I work for.

Now, because we’re graphic design, not art, the project was somewhat outside our usual domain — but we do have a couple of employees who can draw. One (Travis) is not long out of school, has started formal art classes at TAFE, and aspires to become a cartoonist. It turned out he was keen to do the drawings for my book, especially as it was to be his first time ever drawing for a client. However, he didn’t feel confident about colouring, so that (and inking) fell to another employee and art hobbyist (Rosie).

Incidentally, I also enquired online as to whether any other artists were interested (through a friend who is involved with the free painting software Krita). But nothing came of that, so Travis and Rosie got the job.

You are now reading the official announcement that the book is finished, and that if you’d like a copy, you can get in touch. Copies are limited, so I can’t give them out to every random person who stumbles upon this page, but I’d be happy to send them to any online friends who are interested.

Meanwhile, here is a web quality PDF for everyone to enjoy, and below is a video of the printed product. The back page shows a selection of my own illustrations, as also seen in my earlier blog post. The pages are 150 gsm white satin, and the cover is 300 gsm.

(I regret that my voice sounds bored in places, but that’s simply because holding a camera and reciting a story at the same time takes concentration, and I don’t have enough brain cells left to be expressive.)

OK, that’s the announcement over. I’d now like to share a few thoughts about lessons learned in the making of this book, especially about working with amateur artists. Then I’ll end with an invitation for any art or other derivative works of your own.

I’m glad I was able to offer experience to a young artist learning his craft, but the road was a bumpy one at times, and made me appreciate what a good professional artist could do. With a bit of luck, you could give a story to an experienced artist and more or less leave them to it, trusting them to make sensible decisions about what to draw and to draw it well. Travis is nowhere near that level, and I had to critique his drafts in a lot more detail than I was comfortable with. To his credit, he was happy to draw as many drafts as it took. If persistence and openness to criticism are among the marks of a successful artist in the making, then those are certainly among his strengths.

The skills that someone needs to be a good storybook artist include not only drawing, but also an ability to read someone else’s story and gauge what would and would not be appropriate for an illustration. This ability might not be evident simply from an artist’s portfolio, and I think it comes in two parts: knowing what to put in, and knowing what to leave out. For example, the book doesn’t mention anything about a castle until page 7, where we learn that the crocodile lives in the moat. Yet Travis drew a castle on page 4, and in early drafts it was a lot more prominent. Was this a good decision? In my comments I ruled that the castle should not feature prominently before the moat was mentioned in the text, but that showing a small part of it on page 4 was OK. In this decision I reasoned that someone reading the book for the first time might suppose that the castle is playing on the theme of places to live, so there is some thematic justification for it.

One very obvious lesson we learned is that we should have finalised the character drawings before starting on the scenes. Any real artist would have done it that way, but it’s one of those things that, as a design studio, we didn’t think about until it was too late. On a related topic, if you look closely you’ll notice several inconsistencies in the character drawings, but one thing worth mentioning is the length of the elephant’s tusks. On page 2 (where the elephant sneezes) they are a modest length, but on page 1 and the cover (which was based on a tracing from page 1) they are nearly as long as the trunk. In fact this isn’t an oversight, but an attempt to make it absolutely clear that it is a trunk and not, shall we say, some other part of the elephant (I felt that was important). An experienced artist would have found a better solution, but knowing our limits, the inconsistent tusk length was a sacrifice we chose to make for the greater good.

The only page for which I rejected Travis’s original concept entirely was the last, for which he drew the rabbit alive inside the crocodile, sitting on the detached elephant’s trunk and holding a fishing line. The poem leaves it up to the child’s imagination whether the rabbit survives or not, so I felt the pictures should do the same.

I could go on discussing Travis’s drawings and the stages they went through, because I know he’s OK with that, but a few examples suffice to make some general points. I am less inclined to publically critique Rosie’s efforts, because she’s a hobbyist rather than an aspiring professional, so I don’t feel it’s appropriate to put her work in the spotlight so much. That said, there is a story to be told about every page, as each picture is a collaboration, containing elements contributed by Travis, Rosie and myself. So please feel free to ask about any details that catch your eye. The illustrations are clearly better than I could have done, as you can see by comparing them to my own pictures on the back cover.

To finish this blog post, here is my invitation for artists. (I’m thinking particularly of those who try to draw something new every day, at all levels of proficiency.) If the muse takes you and you’re inclined to share, I’d love to see how you would have illustrated the poem, either the whole poem at once or a selected page from the book. For example, perhaps you have an idea for getting the rabbit and the elephant into the frame, or perhaps you think you can do a better job on drawing a scene from inside the crocodile’s mouth on page 5. Let me know whether you’d like me to nitpick your efforts.

And if you’re not an artist but would like to join in the fun, other derivative works are equally welcome, from an essay of literary analysis emphasising the political theme of housing shortages, to a recipe for a rabbit sausage roll with gooey green lining inside the pastry.

(Here’s the PDF again.)

End of blogging break

I’ve been taking a break from blogging since the beginning of the year. I won’t discuss the reasons here, and I make no promises as to how prolific I will be in the months ahead, but for now, I’m back.

One thing, though: I’ve been blogging lists of interesting links for more than seven years, but now I feel it’s time to give that a rest, as it does eat up a lot of time. I’ll continue sharing my favourite links on Twitter, but that’s a more spontaneous, less curated thing.

During my blogging break I rewatched several seasons of Stargate, which I have on DVD but hadn’t seen for some time. Here’s a list of episodes from the first three seasons of SG1 which, this time around, were my favourites: Hathor, Singularity, Tin Man, Bane, Holiday, 1969, Legacy, Learning Curve. Watching these DVDs was a therapy that helped me deal emotionally with a recent loss.

I thought I’d begin the year in blogging by looking back at what happened over the Christmas period. Here’s a photo I took in Ardrossan, taking a walk while others were listening to carols.

Ardrossan December 2015

Here is a tortoise that I gave to my nephew as a gift. On the right, Elliot trying hard to crawl, a feat he finally achieved a few days after I returned to Adelaide in January.

Here’s my sister giving my niece a ride on a boogie board. This was, again, at Ardrossan.

In classic childlike fashion, Elke decided she wanted to switch roles, so here she is giving her mother a ride.

Finally, two pictures of Elke and Josh, and finally Elke and her mother together on the board.

As I mentioned last time, my mother and I both received free copies of Mark Rosenfelder’s China Construction Kit, because I helped with the front cover design using a photograph taken by Mum. The copies arrived in a mysterious cardboard box several days before Christmas, which we left under the tree and opened with all the other parcels.

I still haven’t read the whole book, but one thing that caught my eye early on was the discussion of the classic 8th Century poem Lu Chai (~ Deer Park) by Wang Wei on pages 232-3. Several English translations are provided, and I felt moved to write a version of my own, distilling what I intuitively felt was the essence of the versions given into a form that best pleased my own muse. Here’s what I came up with (note that I wrote this before researching the poem online, and I refer to it as a version but not a translation).

An empty mountain. No human presence seen.
Yet voices are carried on the air.
The light of dusk again through forest branches
Strikes green moss that breaks its shaded depths.

I wrote about this on Google Plus, including links for further reading.

I won’t go into details about what we all gave each other for Christmas, but I do think it worth mentioning that my parents have promised me a trip to the North Island of New Zealand later this year. If you have any recommendations of places to visit you are welcome to share them.

My parents hosted a cocktail night on New Years Eve. I had a berryoska (with mulberry instead of blackberry), an FBI (which I’d compare to a more complex Baileys), and a Bonnie Prince Charlie (surprisingly bitter, but my favourite of the three).

Links: 2015 — 12

Assorted links from the last two months, and almost certainly the final for 2015.

  • This article on autism in women is mostly interesting and good, but has an unfortunate tendency to exaggerate a point by failing to compare like with like.
  • I learned a thing or two from this Upgoer-style explanation of relativity.
  • This essay on weather in literature is worth a read, but the section on present-day works is weak and disappointing.
  • Interview with Thony Christie, covering various topics in the history of science. The meat is from 00:07:00 to 01:07:50.
  • Timeline of the Universe. Be aware there are allegations of significant errors, some of which are mentioned in the comments.
  • Convincing proof laid out in an SMBC cartoon.
  • Transcript of a talk on online advertising and related issues of crucial importance in today’s world. Definitely worth reading. I don’t endorse every opinion (especially near the end), but it’s all part of an important conversation.

I have several things to say on the topic of books.

  • Books I bought recently include Perv by Jesse Bering (2013) and Setting Aside All Authority by Christopher Graney (2015), the latter on the strength of this review.
  • Mark Rosenfelder’s book on China is out. I helped with the cover illustration, which uses a photograph taken by my mother. We’re each getting a free copy.
  • I’m (sort of) writing a book of my own. It’s the children’s poem I wrote years ago and started illustrating, but this time with someone else doing the illustrations. It’s not a commercial publication. There’s a lot more I could say — and feel free to ask — but otherwise I’ll reveal all early next year.

A November ritual is choosing a wall calendar for the following year. Readers may recall that I have a collection to which I add one calendar a year, and that each year I choose a theme I’ve never had before. For 2016 I’ve chosen “Australian Waterfalls” and I am very happy with that decision.

I wrote a couple of random thoughts on Google Plus (here and here), in case you want to add anything.

Links: 2015 — 11

Before I share my favourite links from the last month, I have a little personal news to share. I spent the period from the 24th to the 27th of September catching up with family, including relatives from other parts of the country. Each day had its own special event — a school concert and school play that some of my relatives were part of, a seven-year-old’s birthday party, and my nephew’s baptism.

Here is an ultra-cute video of my niece (in the pink) with a friend on the trampoline. It was recorded at my sister’s place at lunch on the 27th.

Now on with those links:

I’d like to add a few comments to the item on selective mutism. It’s not something I’ve experienced directly, but learning about other people’s experiences — through documentaries and so forth — always takes my thoughts and emotions in interesting directions. It evokes memories of experiences that, while not the same as selective mutism, serve as analogies that I can draw on to understand it better. And it makes me fantasise about what I’d say to the people whose stories I hear if I could meet them in their past.

I’ll share one memory as an example. I was raised in a religious household, and during my teenage years I was Christian myself, but I never joined in the ritual of saying grace before a meal. I remember one day when my parents expressed their wish that I would, to which I said something like “I think I could if– if– if– …” and faltered. My parents reacted poorly to that, telling me I shouldn’t bargain with them, but the words I couldn’t get out that day were: “I think I could if you promise not to overreact, not to make a big deal out of it, not to make me feel like the centre of unwanted attention.”

When I think of selective mutism, I think of that memory and others like it, and multiply them by a thousand in my mind. The analogy is far from perfect, but it’s something — a seed of connection around which further empathy and understanding can be built.

I also think of the song Across the Waters by Jimmy Gregory (from the 1996 album West Along the Road). The song is really about lovers who are separated geographically, and celebrates the fact that, however much they miss each other, their love is strong enough to withstand being apart. But I feel the following excerpt could just as easily be about selective mutism, and in that context is extremely poignant:

There’s a strength in the silence between us
Still waters run deep.
There’s an ocean of words that I’d say to you
But sure all of them will keep.

In those words I hear an acknowledgement of the turmultous emotions and intense desire to communicate that lies beneath the silence of selective mutism, along with an assurance that there is no pressure: that it is OK if today is not a day when words can be spoken. Do you agree? What do they evoke for you?

If I was trying to build rapport with someone suffering from selective mutism — trying to create an environment where they could feel comfortable and understood — then between the song lyrics, the memories, and the willingness to learn, I like to think I’d have something to offer. Though the opportunity to show it would come less easily in life than in my fantasies. Comments will be gratefully received, especially from readers who have been there.

Links: 2015 — 10

Links from the last month.

Here’s a doodle to ponder:


Links: 2015 — 9

First of all, I strongly urge all readers to do the following.

  1. In one browser tab, open this page (featuring a twenty-minute super-slowed version of the original Doctor Who theme music that I linked to some time ago).
  2. In another brower tab, open this page (featuring a five-minute silent video of images generated by Google’s neural network; for more information see the links I shared last month).
  3. Start the first video playing, quickly switch to the second tab, start that video playing, and set it to full screen mode.
  4. Stare at the screen and allow yourself to become fully immersed.

Seriously, you must try this. It’s an amazing combination, a massage for your brain. The only disappointment is that the neural network demonstration is only five minutes long, and you’ll find yourself wishing it lasted the same twenty minutes as the soundtrack.

Now onto other links. There was, of course, the recent encounter between New Horizons and Pluto. Here is a comparison between our new view of Pluto and the view from Hubble that was, until recently, the best we had.

Compared to Triton, Pluto is less jewel-like from a distance, but makes up for it in topography. Close-up images (like this or this — two perspectives on the same region) reveal mountain ranges comparable in size with those on Earth but formed by some entirely different process, and flat plains that resemble a beach at low tide. (I don’t remember anyone predicting we’d find a beach resort on Pluto, although here’s a prediction worth mentioning.) According to the science, there are nitrogen glaciers. And the best is still to come.

Miscellaneous links:

  • How a new type of cloud is named. Includes video.
  • This case study on mirror touch synaesthesia is a good read (but deserved a better headline writer).
  • The card games website recently celebrated it’s 20th anniversary. (Incidentally, the Invented Games page now includes a link to my Ganjifa game.)
  • A demonstration of the dangers of hackable cars.
  • Long article on helping people at the end of a long prison sentence (I didn’t actually read all of this, because it requires more emotional investment that I’ve had time for, but from the portion I read it looks worth the effort).
  • Maryn McKenna’s TED talk on antibiotic resistance is information every adult in society needs to know. Its only fault is that a lot more is omitted.
  • I invented a whimsical and silly personality test. Feel free to share your results below.

In personal news, I gained some clothes and lost a tree. Also, here’s a photo from a family outing at the Maritime Museum recently.

Bear in a Boat

Bear in a Boat outside maritime museum

A monochrome pattern that’s simpler than it looks

The following pattern is, I think, quite pretty. I hope you agree.


Here’s how it was made.

  1. First I made a simple pattern in Windows Paintbrush.
  2. Then I made a copy of the pattern in step one, and flipped it. (Horizontally or vertically: it makes no difference.)
  3. Finally I merged the two to create the pattern you see above. A pixel is white if the corresponding pixels in (1) and (2) are the same colour (be it white or black) and black if the corresponding pixels in (1) and (2) are opposite colours.

Perhaps this will inspire you to create patterns of your own.

Links: 2015 — 8 (with a request or two)

I have, regrettably, been too busy to blog lately. But I’m here now.

There are two personal items I’d like to discuss, so I’ll begin with the first, follow it with selected links from around the Web, and finish with the second item. Both involve some kind of appeal for assistance, although one more so than the other.

The first concerns a card game I invented, and that we playtested at my birthday party last month.

[Update: This first request has been answered. I have shortened the text below to reflect this.]

My birthday was June 12, but for reasons pertaining to Dad’s recent retirement, it was one week later that a small celebratory gathering took place. There were five people present: a friend, an uncle, my parents, and myself (unfortunately, the uncle had to leave early). I left most of the organising and decision-making to my parents, but playtesting a card game was my one explicit request.

The game was one that I invented and blogged about in 2011, but at the time it was a work in progress and the rules yet to be fully refined. But recently I took it off the backburner, made a few small adjustments, and updated my original blog post accordingly.

The twist is that this is not a game you can play with the familiar deck of hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs. Rather it is designed for Ganjifa — traditional playing cards from India that are typically circular rather than rectangular with at least 96 cards per deck. Regrettably they are used for only a handful of games and even those are dying out. I don’t care too much about the traditional games, but it’s a pity that the cards themselves lack a living tradition of new games being invented. The world could do with more Ganjifa games, and the game I’ve invented is my contribution to that end.

Here’s where my appeal to the Internet comes in — because the one thing I have not managed to do is decide on a name for the game. Since it is played with Indian cards, I feel that giving it an Indian name would be an appropriate tribute to the culture that created them, and have been appealing for help from people who know Indian languages and are interested in helping to name a new card game.

If you can help, or know someone who probably can, I would greatly appreciate it. I’ve suggested the name केंद्र कड़ी (crudely: Kendra Kari) for reasons outlined in my Google Plus post, but I really require informed human feedback and not just the results of automated translation tools.

[Update: I’ve now received a response to this query and have updated the game.]

Now that you’ve read this far, here are some links:

Now to the second personal item.

A while ago, just for fun, I decided to see if I could guess an approximate formula for time dilation in general relativity. I didn’t expect to be right, but using a combination of high school physics, Ockham’s Razor, and a few elementary facts, I gave it my best shot.

So I was genuinely delighted to discover later that my result checks out against real-world examples!

This page on Quora has a couple of obvious faults (the biggie is that the altitude of the ISS varies between 330 and 435 kilometres according to Wikipedia, so calculating a result to so many significant figures makes no sense), but the relevant formula corresponds closely to mine. Moreover, plugging their result into my formula puts the ISS in the right range — at about 375 kilometres. Another example I found is that time goes faster by 10 nanoseconds per year for every floor you go up in a building; again, my formula checks out, putting the difference between floors at a very reasonable three metres.

I am no genius (trust me on this), but in all the popular science I’ve read, I have never seen anyone mention that an approximate but workable formula for time dilation in general relativity is astonishingly easy to guess. Feeling that I’d stumbled on an angle that popular writers have missed but would be useful to others, I decided to write up my results as an article of my own. Please remember this is an un-factchecked draft, and I am no more an expert than the target reader, but you learn by doing. It’s written in the style of a popular science article, and is 1000 words long.

If any real popular physics writer reads this — I would love to hear your feedback. Also, you are welcome to take inspiration for your own blog posts, and I hope you will be so kind as to send me a link if you do. A tweet to @GoldHoarder will do nicely.

(Incidentally, I used a free PDF converter, so the links don’t work, but since they’re fully spelt out they won’t slow you down very much. Since it’s a draft, I find this acceptable.)

[Update: I linked to my relativity article in a comment here.]

Links: 2015 — 7

Some links, and then some personal news, including photos from my niece’s 2nd birthday.

  • This short video on cumulus cloud formation might well include details that are new to you.
  • Interesting article on training the brain to overcome a learned disease. (I pointed out an error in the comments, but it seems the author had stopped monitoring comments a few days before.)
  • Another interesting article on the use of vagus nerve stimulation to moderate the immune system, among other things.
  • One of the best articles I’ve seen about Emmy Noether. It doesn’t try to answer every question, but gives a sense of why the questions are significant.
  • This fifteen minute online David Attenborough documentary on plankton is not only educational, but relaxing as well.
  • Stars collided in 1670.
  • Which direction water swirls doesn’t normally depend on which hemisphere you’re in … but what if you eliminate all other variables?
  • From now on, if your balloon animals don’t look like these, you’re doing it wrong.
  • I found a tool that takes a Google Maps route and generates an elevation chart. (If you just want to know the elevation for a single location, try this.)
  • I’ve never used Python, but I’m making a note of this in case I want to some day.

On 28 May, my parents and I took my niece to Cleland Wildlife Park for her second birthday (she was born on 26 May 2013). I’ll share more anecdotes about that day if you ask, but for now, here are some photos of Elke with koalas and wallabies. More family interaction followed the next day, including some errand-running. Of particular importance to me was that I finally got my mobile phone fixed, after errant software had been draining the batteries since late last year. When the phone was new, the battery lost on average less than 5% capacity for every 8 hours of normal (i.e. mostly idle) use, and now that it is fixed I can confirm that it loses only marginally more than that. Given that it’s more than a year old and the battery has never been replaced, this must count as excellent. While it was broken, I was lucky to get two days out of it.