General updates 2011: Dec/Jan

At the end of 2010, I decided to terminate the Interesting Stuff series, which I’ve been running on this blog for the last two years. This is the first in the series that will replace it. Instead of interesting links followed (possibly) by a personal soapbox, the personal stuff will come first with (possibly) some recommended links at the end.

[Edit 2020: However, I am now reducing the amount of personal information in my blog archives, so a lot of this material will be removed.]

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My eclipse photo published by the BBC

Remember the partial lunar eclipse of 26 June? Well, I took the following photograph and posted it on Twitter, saying: “Looked for lunar eclipse in sky, but found it growing on bush.

Half an hour later I got a message from the BBC’s Have Your Say department, asking for permission to publish it. Which they did, as the fifth image in this slideshow.

(Getting the moon to look like it was growing on the branch was unintentional — it was too dark to even see the branches. But it’s a lovely accident.)

[I originally published this as part of another blog post, but in a 2014 archive review have decided it merits a post of its own.]

Interesting Stuff: Early June 2010

The voting period for the Three Quarks Daily Prize in Science is nearly over, but there’s still some time remaining as I write this. The eighty science-related blog posts that are candidates include some that I have read before, and many that are new to me.

Among the articles I’ve seen before (and indeed linked to from this blog), there are some very worthy candidates, notably #38: Evolution: the Curious Case of Dogs by Christie Wilcox. However, my vote went to an article I hadn’t previously read, candidate #70: On Seeing Yourself by Meera Lee Sethi. This is not your typical science-related blog post. It’s written more in the language of a story, and develops a character around the first person protagonist even as she muses on psychological aspects of reflections and self-recognition.

In votes, Meera’s essay is not doing so well. To win the voting round, an article must be among the twenty most popular, and hers is not currently making the grade. (At the time of writing, it has eight votes in its favour, and there are almost thirty candidates with that many votes or more.) So if you agree with me about its worthiness, you might consider adding a last minute vote of your own.

Now, having said all I want to say about the 3QD competition for now, here are some other interesting links that I’ve come across recently.

Dad turns sixty

My father was born on 11 February 1950, and last night (20 February 2010), we celebrated his sixtieth birthday. It was a good night.

My contribution to the party was a trivia quiz on the history of science within Dad’s lifetime, as mentioned on the blog during the research phase. The point was to facilitate conversation around the tables, and I was happy with how it turned out. More on the quiz at the end of this post.

One of several pre-dinner activities, organised with the assistance of a local artist, was “painting with vegemite”. This is exactly what it sounds like, and here’s a photograph to prove it.

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Inverloch photographs

I’ve just got back from a holiday in Victoria.

My parents spent the week as volunteers digging up dinosaur bones at Inverloch. I spent much of it in Melbourne, catching up with my uncle and aunt, but we all spent a few days together at Inverloch as well.

We caught up with relatives at Nhill, both on the way there and on the way back. On the way back we went via Shepparton, where I caught up with a much-valued friend I haven’t seen in thirteen years. It was very nice to see her again.

Right now I don’t really feel like describing our holiday in detail, but feel free to ask questions. The rest of this post is devoted to my beach photographs.

Day one at Inverloch (i.e. the day my uncle, aunt and I joined my parents there):

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Interesting Stuff: Early December 2009

I’m preparing a quiz on the history of science since 1950, for use at my Dad’s 60th birthday. Here are some links to useful timelines I found: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5].

(These sometimes contradict each other, but of course, when assembling a trivia quiz it’s vital to seek independent verification.)

And now, the rest of my links for this installment.


  • A study of rocks that Jupiter protects us from and what rocks it only makes more dangerous.
  • Evidence that quasars can help stars to form.
  • Explaining the asymmetry of lakes on Titan.
  • Speculation that super earths might be more suitable for life than Earth.


  • In Australia we’re used to the idea of foreign species invading us, but not to the idea that our species might do the invading. Redback spiders in Japan are an exception.
  • Humans inadvertently split one species of bird into two groups.
  • Confirmation that proteins traverse DNA helically.
  • Amputee controls robotic hand as his own.

Thinking of the sky

Many years ago, I bought a copy of the Doctor Who tie-in book The Monsters by Adrian Rigelsford and Andrew Skilleter. I still have the copy, though it’s showing signs of wear and the jacket is lost. Anyway, one of the introductory pages features the poem “I could not sleep for thinking of the sky” by John Masefield, for which I composed a tune and have made several attempts to record it over the years.

Update: Replaced with new recording, 2017.

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Poetry competitions, and a little quantum

I recently entered two different poetry competitions on the Internet. One called for limericks specifically, while the other was open to short poetry of any form, but I entered limericks for both because I like limericks. And in one competition (but not the other), I won a prize!

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Interesting Stuff: Early June 2009

Writing a series like this, it’s not possible to be consistent. Sometimes I’m in a very discerning mood, and hardly anything seems remarkable enough to include. Other times I feel fascinated by just about everything I read, and the task of filtering out all but the most worthy discoveries is more than I can bear. These moods tend to come in waves: I can be in one state or the other for several days at a time before becoming, as it were, tired of it, and switching to the opposite state of mind.

I like to be as consistent as I can, though, which is why I don’t publish installments more than twice a month (I need enough time for my conservative and liberal moods to average out) and why I list provisional nominations on Twitter as an intermediate filtering stage. For most of the last fortnight I’ve been in a particularly conservative mood, but then along came the nominees for the 3QD Prize in Science, and I couldn’t read a collection of 171 science articles from the last year without coming across some new and interesting facts.

As far as my vote is concerned, I chose not to consider any article that I’d read before. I really wanted to choose something new to me, something I wouldn’t have read were it not nominated for the prize. Of the articles that I had already read, perhaps this is the best (and indeed I linked to it in an earlier installment of this series) but it would have been against my policy to vote for it. In the list below I’ve indicated which items come from the list of 3QD prize nominations, and also which one I actually voted for.

After deciding which were the best candidates I found myself in a much less discerning mood, probably because my brain was exhausted from the process of selecting favourites. Anyway, here’s my latest selection of Interesting Stuff.

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Earliest astronomical memory

Here’s a question that might encourage some discussion in the comments, and ties in with the International Year of Astronomy: what is your earliest memory of an astronomical nature?

I was five years old and on an aeroplane, having taken off from Britain and being destined (via one or two intermediate stops) for Australia. I turned to my parents and asked, “Have we gone past any other planets yet?”

My mother told me that we wouldn’t be going that high.

What’s yours?