Twelve years of collecting calendars

It was at the end of 2015 that I decided to collect wall calendars. Every year, I promised myself, I would choose a calendar with a theme that I’d never chosen before, and at the end of the year each calendar would be stored permanently in a drawer.

I decided I would do this for at least twelve years, at which point I would have as many calendars as there are months in a year, so it seemed a poetically significant milestone. Then I would decide whether to continue.

Well, this month I purchased my twelfth calendar — a Faeryland theme for 2017 — and so that time has come. How to commemorate it? That is something I’ve planned for a while now.

You may be familiar with the ASMR genre of videos on Youtube. These feature relaxing sounds, typically made by everyday objects, often in some kind of thematic context. For some people these sounds can trigger a pleasant tingling sensation, which is what the term ASMR denotes. But the appeal is broader than that. Many people get some kind of pleasant sensation from ASMR videos, even if it’s more subtle than a bona fide spine tingle.

Personally I don’t have a strong response, and ASMR videos are not a big part of my life. But I do binge on them from time to time, and because such a simple thing can give people such pleasure, I couldn’t not speculate about making one of my own.

Presenting my calendar collection in the form of an ASMR video seemed like a perfect match. I would leaf through the pages one by one, and people could look at the pictures while listening to the sounds that glossy paper makes as it scrapes and bends. (Also, something about the form lends itself to a journey theme, in this case a journey through time.) This idea was already forming three years ago when I published an earlier video about my collection (completely silent), but the time wasn’t right then. It was something to save for the big Twelfth Year Anniversary.

The video I made is below. To watch it, turn off the lights so your senses can focus, put your headphones on (in my experience headphones are essential for all ASMR videos, even if they’re not binaurial), and turn the volume down nice and low.

I am a complete amateur at this. I lack time, experience, equipment, and a quiet home. But if I hear from one person who really enjoys it, I will count that a success. (Sometimes the calendars slip from my control, but I feel that’s a good thing.)

[Here’s a direct link. I’ve put quite a bit of information in the video description, so I recommend watching on Youtube so you can read that. As I say there, the Rob Gonsalves painting “Phenomenon of Floating” (image for April 2015) represents how I hope to make you feel.]


Navigating the night sky

Which stars do you recognise when you look up at the night sky, and how do you find them?

I’ve been planning to re-introduce shorter, lighter blog posts on random topics, and one topic that seems fit for that purpose is to describe how I personally find my way around the sky at night. This is not meant as advice on how other people should navigate the sky; it’s just a description of how I do it, and you are welcome to reciprocate in the comments. It is also only a summary and not a guide, so please look things up if you need more information. Bear in mind that I’m in the southern hemisphere.

When the sky is not yet dark and only a few stars are visible, I like to identify those stars as early as I can. This requires being familiar with the shapes formed by only the brightest stars, without relying on dimmer ones for context.

I start by looking for the triangle formed by Sirius, Rigel, and Canopus, which is back-to-back with the triangle formed by Sirius, Rigel and Procyon. All of these stars are among the brightest in the sky, and Sirius is the brightest of all, so once you’ve identified Sirius you know that anything brighter is not a star. The angles between these stars can look quite different depending on whether they’re overhead or near the horizon, but I can usually identify them quickly. (From Sirius, the line to Canopus is longer than the line to Procyon, so I find it helpful to remember that this is the opposite of what you’d expect given that pro- invokes words like prolonged.)

Once I’ve identified Rigel I can easily find Betelgeuse, and thus predict where the belt of Orion will appear even before it is visible (good party trick). If the sky is dark with little light pollution, I also look nearby for the Hyades (a.k.a. the horns of Taurus) and identify Aldebaran.

My usual next step is to follow the zigzag line from Procyon to Sirius to Canopus and then take one more zag to Achernar. Achernar is the only bright star anywhere near its vicinity, so you don’t need much precision to find it. The line of best fit through these four bright stars I have nicknamed the false ecliptic, because if you didn’t know your way around the night sky you might assume they were planets.

We’ll come back to Achernar in a moment, but let’s now turn our attention to the stars of the Southern Cross (featured on the flags of many Southern Hemisphere countries) and the adjacent Pointers. These are easy to find, and not hard to identify individually. The Pointers are Alpha and Beta Centauri (also known as Rigel Kentaurus and Hadar, but I prefer the former names) and the stars of the Southern Cross are Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon Crucis. Telling them apart is easy when you know that the sequence from brightest to dimmest proceeds clockwise, and that they are named in that order.

The classic way to find the South Celestial Pole is to draw a line through the long axis of the Southern Cross and another line passing between the Pointers at 90 degrees, and to find the point where those two imaginary lines meet. An alternative method — slightly more accurate but less often practical depending on what clouds and the horizon obsure — is to identify Beta Centauri (the lesser Pointer) and Achernar (which I promised we would return to), and find the point halfway between the two. It’s no bad thing to have two different methods for finding the Pole, because then you can verify one against the other and also use this as an alternative way to find Achernar.

In total, I can point to and name 14 stars in the night sky — Sirius, Rigel, Canopus, Procyon, Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Achernar, plus the seven stars of the Pointers and Southern Cross. I’ve never made the effort to memorise any more. It’s perhaps worth noting that I live in a fairly light-polluted city, but spent most of my childhood on a farm with many more stars visible.

That’s about as much as I can say from a personal perspective; most other details are things you can look up. If you have a perspective you’d like to share, it is now your turn.

Some thoughts on synaesthesia

I’ve been planning to post about synaesthesia for some time, not because I have a lot to say, but to share the little I do have. This is part of a plan to write shorter posts about smaller topics, but hopefully more of them.

I’ll assume the reader has some idea of what synaesthesia is. One important aspect is the distinction between projective vs associative synaesthesia, which I first read about here. Usually when people think of synaesthesia, they think of the projective type, in which a literal experience of one sense is triggered by information detected by a different sense. In the associative type — which has less of a ‘wow’ factor and gets less press time — what is triggered is an abstraction rather than a literal sensory experience. It’s the difference between seeing the colour blue and thinking of the colour blue.

I am no synaesthete, as such. But people sometimes make the case that there is a continuum from the average person and a clear-cut synaesthete, and for the associative type I am inclined to believe this. I can certainly point to experiences of my own which might be dubbed ‘sub-synaesthetic’, in which I detect a certain rightness in complementing one sensory experience with the thought of another, even if I can’t say that one triggers the other. My impression is that most people can do the same, to differing degrees.

If you have either true synaesthetic or sub-synaesthetic experiences, please share them in the comments. Below are some of mine.

  • I have long felt that if written Dutch were a colour, it would be hot pink. There is just something inescapably hot pink–ish about written Dutch.
  • I’ve been known to connect music with certain tastes. For example this piece harmonises with the thought of soft toffee from an old-fashioned sweet shop, and this one (Ebb Tide by John Coleman) evokes a glass of chardonnay. Given how French the latter sounds it probably doesn’t surprise much, but there you have it. Other music evokes more complex associations, but that’s outside the scope of this post.
  • Certain vowel sounds seem best complemented by certain colours, if I think about it at all. I’ve long felt the only colour that properly belongs with the eeee vowel (that’s [i] to linguists) is yellow — possibly because yyyyellow — tending through orange to red as more open front vowels are considered. Sometime last year I asked myself whether I could similarly associate colours with the back vowels, and while this required a deliberate effort I found I was able to consider a candidate and say, “Yes, that’s the one”. Here is my sub-synaesthetic (and interpolated) vowel diagram:
  • That’s all I can think of, but I have a nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something. If so I can always add it later.

Your turn now.

P.S. I used this colour interpolating tool to make the above chart. Note that it has a bug that means it won’t work if the Red value is set to BB, but apart from that it’s a very nice tool.

Reflections on prayer

I haven’t believed in God for a number of years now, but acknowledging that we are all shaped by our past, I occasionally like to talk about my former faith on this blog. Today I’d like to focus specifically on the subject of prayer.

I hope we can agree that the description of prayer found in The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett (“frightened people trying to make friends with the bully“) is a long way from the Christian understanding. But while it’s easy to talk about what prayer is not, discussing what it is requires grappling with paradoxes like why an omniscient God would need suggestions from humans. Back in the day I devoted considerable thought to theological questions like that, and I wrote some of those thoughts down in a document that I’m using as the main source for this post.

Prayer, according to what I consider the highest Christian understanding, is not about giving God suggestions. It’s more like tuning an aerial — that is, maintaining and refining the telepathic link between one’s self and God. Because God is understood in terms of moral perfection, and because there is no greater pursuit than to better ourselves morally, the Christian’s greatest aspiration is to think the thoughts of God. The point of prayer is to try to fill the mind with God’s thoughts, in part by putting into words the thoughts one believes to be “godlike” (such as compassionate wishes for other people). Deliberately focusing on godlike thoughts, it is thought, makes the mind more receptive to thoughts that come directly from God: the aerial-tuning analogy works pretty well here.

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Conversation cards

During the long drives on our recent holiday, we entertained ourselves in various ways. Music from various CDs, a few episodes of Astronomy Cast on another CD, and a game or two of The Art Of Conversation. That last item gives me an idea for a blog post.

The Art of Conversation consists of a hundred cards that, between them, contain 300 conversation ideas (yeah, you’re all thinking Monty Python did it first in Meaning of Life, but this is genuine). To play, you leaf through the cards until you find a question you want to ask, then everyone else answers that question, and then it’s the next player’s turn. Concepts of winning, losing, and competing do not exist in any form.

Below is a photograph of four cards from the game. [Update 2014: I’ve taken a new photograph to replace the out-of-focus original.] Underneath I’ll blog in the spirit of the game, by selecting topics from these cards and writing either about that or about something closely related.


Here we go: Read the rest of this entry »

Greeting cards

Here’s a blog post idea for you. Look through the greeting cards that people have sent you over the years, and select one that most accurately captures your personality. Then share it with the world.

I’d have to choose this one, which I was given for my 22nd birthday in 1999:


Scene: Aliens on spaceship.
Outside: “Make your birthday one of those nutty, irresponsible days when you do anything you want just for the fun of it.”
Inside: “You know, like when we made those guys build stonehenge.”

Another of my favourite birthday cards is below.

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Third grade report cards

Below is a photograph of my school report cards from Year Three (1985).

I particularly like the bit that says “An interesting sense of humour“. In other words: MWAhahahahahaha!!!


Other stories might also help to illustrate the sort of student I was back then. The following comes from my Year Four teacher, who submitted this anecdote in writing for my 21st birthday in 1998.

It was end of year exam time. Everyone, including Adrian, was furiously putting their ideas on paper. Imagine my surprise at the end of the lesson when Adrian handed up a blank sheet of paper. When questioned about the lack of writing I was told it was written in invisible ink and if I held it up at the window I would be able to read it. This was perfectly true. Apparently Adrian’s pen had run out of ink the lesson prior to his exam but he had relentlessly carried on. Needless to say he re-did his story using a new pen. Some teachers just don’t seem to have a sense of adventure!

Hear me! Hear me!

Just a quick announcement to say that I am now “General Australian speaker 2” at the AUE Audio Archive. You can go there hear what I sound like as I read aloud read several standard texts. (The story of Arthur the Rat is morally objectionable, as in the end it deems the protagonist deserving of punishment for his psychological shortcomings, but that doesn’t matter when it’s used merely as a tool to demonstrate the sound of the spoken word.)

Handwriting standard

When I was still in Junior Primary, a new handwriting standard was introduced into schools by the state government educational department. Students in my year level were the first to be taught the then-new standard, South Australian Modern Cursive, and the first to not be taught old-fashioned loopy cursive.

In primary school we were expected to adhere more or less to this standard (though I won’t say this policy was enforced strictly), but when we reached secondary school we were free to write as we wished.

Being educated right at the point of change, I developed an interest in the idea of a personal standard handwriting. Take your handwriting, and abstract away from it things like wobbliness, slantiness, the precise proportions, and other aspects that aren’t under your conscious control. What you’ll have left is the essence of your handwriting, something that could hypothetically be taught to students if you became Emperor. It can be interesting to compare people’s handwriting at this abstract level.

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Times of my birth

I’ve already mentioned when and where I was born, and I’ve already mentioned Hadrian’s Havenue. I’ll now share more stories I’ve been told about my birth and my sister’s, focusing on names and dates.

If I’d been a girl, my name would have been Katherine (and apparently Mum had a vivid dream to this effect). The male name picked for me was Paul (Dad’s middle name), but after I was born Dad decided that it didn’t suit me. After that, my parents took three days going through the book of names, starting at the Z page and eventually finding their way to A for Adrian. (“Paul” became my middle name too.)

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