Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Venus & Jupiter Aug 31st

Here's a photo I took tonight while Wonder Boy was at football training. There was just enough of a break in the clouds to get both planets and Spica in the same shot.
I really have all my digits crossed that tomorrow night the skies will be clear.
If you would like to see some much nicer photographs of this planetary conjunction visit the Bad Astronomer's blog. Warning: he's in California, so his view of the stars is sideways.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Look up!

Even if you live in the light-polluted inner city, as I do, looking westish just after sunset you can see a lovely sight: Venus and Jupiter, appearing together in the sky. It's hard to miss them: Venus (the evening star) is the brightest star in the sky and Jupiter is the other bright star near it. (The fainter bluish star at the top of the image is Spica, a star in the constellation Virgo.) If the weather holds for a couple of days, I hope to have more and better photographs to post, especially after Thursday night when the two planets will appear closest together in the sky. If it's not fine this week, I'll be crossing my fingers that next week's weather is better, when the pair of planets will be joined by the crescent moon for one special evening's dance.

Monday, August 29, 2005

No spoilers

Yesterday the sun was shining, the football was over for the weekend (both Swans teams, Sydney and the Newtown Under 10s, having won their games on Saturday), the Voice of Reason was banging away at the dining table writing an essay and even Wonder Boy was immersed in his latest Literature Circle book. [Finally, evidence that some of my genetic material may be gaining the upper hand over the testosterone...]

So I dragged the spare quilt into the bedroom and built a cosy reading nest on the bed, opened the curtains to let the sun stream in, and got into the latest adventures of Harry Potter at last.

I promised no spoilers, so I won't say what I think (unless anyone asks) but having finished the book at one o'clock in the morning it seems a preposterously long wait for the next one to come out to find out if my theories are correct...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Statistics 101

Yesterday we had lunch with Mr and Mrs Malaprop, whom we love very dearly.

Beche-la-mer: I read a glowing review of an Iraqi restaurant just around the corner from your home. Do you know it?

Mrs Malaprop: Yes, I know it. There are two Iraqi women who go to Bingo with me on Wednesdays. They're really nice ladies; they've really integrated well.

Wonder Boy: What's integrated?

Mrs Malaprop: It means they accept our way of life and go along with it. The problem is most of them don't integrate.

So there you have it. Statistical analysis of the sample (Iraqis known personally = two) yields a 100 per cent result of "niceness". Yet the conclusion is that "most of them" are not nice. The correlation between "niceness" and "integration" is just one of the flaws in this study.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Did people land on the moon?

I thought this was another one of those American science controversies that didn't really affect public opinion here in Australia. But I was wrong!
Last night I went to a public lecture by Ken Skeldon, a professor at the University of Glasgow (and he had a cute Scots accent too -- bonus) about "Debunking the Moon Hoax". I estimate there were 100 people in the lecture theatre, and 12 put up their hands to say they were there because they thought that NASA had not sent people to the moon and made up the whole thing just so they could pretend that they beat the goddam commies.
I'm all for scepticism, but there's a difference between scepticism and plain old ignorance. Skeldon briefly adressed the major claims of those who don't believe NASA ever got a person onto the lunar surface (I already knew most of these arguments thanks to the bad astronomer's debunkery). All of the supposed evidence that hoax believers come up with is pretty easy to argue against, using basic science and logic (and you can do experiments in your own back yard that corroborate the truth). Sometimes they even contradict themselves!
One of the claims that hoax believers make is that video footage of the lunar rovers doesn't show them kicking up clouds of dust from the tyres, as you would expect in a very dusty place like the moon -- except that the moon has no atmosphere to sustain dust clouds. Derr! The buggy does throw dust up from its wheels, and the dust traces a beautiful arc through the vacuum and falls back to the ground. Prof. Skeldon mentioned that he showed the footage to high school science students who were able to use their knowledge of physics to calculate the moon's gravity from the shape of the dust curves, and they came up with the correct answer: the moon's gravity is 1/6 of the earth's. That would be hard to replicate in a studio in Area 51.
Skeldon also said that in a few years' time we will have telescopes with enough resolution to see the debris of the landers on the moon, and possibly even the controversial flag. Of course, true hoax believers will probably claim that NASA is faking these shots as well, except that one of the telescopes is Japanese. Judging by a friend's recent experience of being spat on by Japanese schoolchildren at the Hiroshima memorial because they assumed he was American, I don't think the Japanese are going to resile from a chance to prove the US wrong if they can. So maybe the idea that humans didn't go to the moon will be a short-lived phenomenon, once proof is available.
But then again...

P.S. Skeldon also said that there is a fairly strong rumour going around that the next planned visit to the moon will involve landing the first woman on the moon. You go, girlfriend!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A la recherche du temps perdu

Proustian moment: in need of a method for keeping my hair out of my face while I'm working, and too lazy to go downstairs and get a hair elastic, I spied a bit of satin ribbon (left over from a photoshoot) on my desk.
Tied it in my hair, immediately felt 16 again.

Pink garter-stitch jumper, maroon corduroy overalls; pincurls and home-made face masks; a house like a train with my bedroom at one end; 12-string guitars and tambourines; The Rose; The Grange; shooting stars; daydreams by the deep pool in the creek; crushes on boys who didn't know I existed; reading Jane Austen, e e cummings, TS Eliot; listening to Keith Green, REO Speedwagon, Air Supply, Vangelis.

Those of you who knew me then, will know exactly what I mean.

Jeans bag progress report

The latest work I've done on my jeans bag: a trail of Indian glass beads on the back pocket, and some organza ribbon "seaweed" tacked onto the front. I've also added the seahorse and fish brads I bought at the craft fair and have sorted some shells and beads ready to encrust the ocean floor.
Among the glass beads I have set out to use is a large turquoise-coloured oval bead with raised orange spots. This morning, Wonder Boy picked it up and said, "Look, mum, a sea slug". So I'll be making an appearance as an avatar on my own embroidery!

Monday, August 22, 2005

To the Lighthouse

This weekend I finished two (count them) books from my current reading pile, which has been static for some time now. That's what two days at the football do to a gal! Saturday was Wonder Boy's preliminary final, and we had to be there an hour before the game, then sit through three of the four quarters while he was on the bench... but I digress.
Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse was the first book I finished. I really enjoyed this book, and not simply because (apparently) it is chick lit(?!). The dominant female characters in this book are delicately poised on a knife edge, balanced precariously between accepting and kicking against the traces of the proscribed role of a woman in an upper-middle-class household. There are women to admire and to pity, and something of a sense of Virginia's own struggle to assert her intellect and personality in a society in which women were supposed to support men and not the other way around.
The narrative is so beautifully constructed: the entire action takes place in a 24-hour period, yet encompasses many years of the characters' lives. At nightfall, the household drops into slumber only to awaken, Brigadoon-like, after the first world war has been and gone.
The best thing about the book is Woolf's way with words. Descriptions that can evoke so much that is familiar and yet magical:
Her hand cut a trail in the sea as her mind made the green swirls and streaks into patterns and, numbed and shrouded, wandered in imagination in that underworld of waters where the pearls stuck in clusters to white sprays, where in the green light a change came over one's entire mind and one's body shone half transparent enveloped in a green cloak.

Now I am off to Book Crossing to log this book and prepare to release it in the wild for someone else to enjoy, I hope, as much as I did.

The second book I finished, Dirt Cheap by Elizabeth Weinhausen, is an account of life as an unskilled labourer. Respected journalist Weinhausen took 12 months leave of her job and attempted to work and live under the conditions faced by many workers in our increasingly casualised workforce. She failed, drawing on her savings to supplement her meagre income. But her account of the jobs she was forced to take and the way she was treated by her employers left me filled with dismay. I have always been careful to try to treat all my coworkers -- including office cleaners and service staff -- with respect, although many of my colleagues felt it was below their dignity to do the same. I could give multiple examples of times when my small investment in friendliness and respect was paid back in beautiful ways: my favourite example is the time our cleaner, Melina (I'm afraid I don't know how to spell it), presented me with a beautiful pair of knitted slippers she had made me after I complained about having cold feet one day!
But back to the book: Elizabeth Weinhausen found the most appalling thing she had to deal with in her 12 months was not the extremely limited pay packets but the way she was treated: as though she had no personality, as though she had no life outside work and as though she had no security in her position. The received wisdom in Australia is that "jobs are there if you really want them" and "businesses will look after their employees even if there is no legislation to make them". Dirt Cheap gives the lie to both of these beliefs. It is true, the jobs are there and Weinhausen had no trouble finding them, but the hours were scanty, the pay scantier and the conditions scantier still.
When I was still at uni I worked as a sandwich hand in the cafeteria of a major bank's corporate headquarters. I was young and naive then, and probably got a little more than my fair share of attention from the customers because the pink uniform they supplied had a zip front and only came in two sizes, one a little too small for my C-cups and the other the size of a circus tent, but my experiences in that job were exactly the same as Elizabeth reports in this book. Depersonalisation, no solidarity with co-workers who were afraid that my work time meant a reduction in their hours, no respect for my timetable (the manager would call the morning of the day they wanted me to work, assuming I would be available) and low, low pay.
In the light of the federal government's industrial relations agenda, there is a frightening future ahead for many low-wage workers. I recommend this book to all Australians, to be read in the name of a fair go.
(This one's not going on Book Crossing as the Voice of Reason wants to read it next. Then I promised it to someone else, I think.)

William Morris

The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney is hosting a William Morris exhibition and I attended a high tea to celebrate the opening. Apart from the delicious cucumber sandwiches and the lightest sponge cake I have eaten for a long time, the exhibition was a complete delight.
At left is the bookmark I received at the opening, featuring the Willow boughs wallpaper design. It is quite amazing how fresh and modern this pattern looks, although it was designed in 1887. The exhibition features carpets, curtains, wallpapers and upholstery, including some absolutely gorgeous silk-embroidered table toppers and a six-foot-tall three-panelled embroidered screen with elaborate silk embroidery all over it, featuring fruiting trees lavishly entwined with vines, flowers and birds. Many of the embroidered items were purchased as kits from Morris & Co, with the embroidery worked by members of the family who purchased the kit. Thinking of the hours of needlework involved in something like the screen is mind-boggling.
However, the most interesting thing I learned about William Morris was not his design work but the fact that he lived in an erotic menage a trois with his wife Jane and his friend (and her lover) Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Salacious gossip can trump decorative excellence every time.

Friday, August 19, 2005


A small sample of the stuff I bought today (mostly for my jeans bag) at the Stitches & Craft show. The glass beads are Indian (slightly imperfect). They are going to look really cute with the paint-splattered kerchief. The seahorses and fish are split pin brads from a scrapbooking store -- I figure denim can take that kind of treatment. And the hand-dyed pearl cotton is just scrumptious.
You can just see a little splodge of pink in the background from the funky yarn I am going to use to knit myself a scarf.


The Phantom Professor has started an online writing course and I thought, "what the heck, I could do with a challenge" and joined in. (There are no exams or penalties for not doing the assignments, which appeals to me.)

There was a quiz and a discussion about common misuses of words, which got me thinking about some of my pet hates. There are the obvious ones, such as "should of" instead of "should have" or "should've", and then there are the ones that really get on my goat.

So here's my preliminary hate list -- just off the top of my head:

  • over instead of more than

  • less instead of fewer

  • your's instead of yours, etc (the latest issue of the Sydney Swans members' magazine is awash with apostrophe errors -- of both omission and commission. They need a proofreader! Badly... and that's another one for the list.)

  • badly instead of really

  • hopefully instead of I hope

  • orientated instead of oriented

  • dashes instead of colons or semicolons (if you have ever received an email from the Voice of Reason you will know what I mean)

  • commas instead of dashes

  • quotation marks for emphasis

  • commas before "and" instead of after

  • getting something "off" someone instead of "from" them

  • amongst instead of among (okay, it's not wrong, it's just old-fashioned)

  • I could go on...

    Please feel free to comment or list your own pet hates.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2005

    Jeans etc

    Rodney, who had thrown out his painting jeans, gave me a shirt instead. It's not as good as the jeans (really, they were a work of art in their own right) but it did give me something to work with. Here's a photo of the shirt, and one of the back of my jeans bag with a Springsteen-style addition.
    Photos of the front of my bag, and the bags of others, can be seen on the flickr group.

    More on ID

    Well, the Intelligent Design debate has finally arrived in Australia. It's not clear who is driving it (I think we may just be playing follow-the-leader with the USA again), but there is enough of an interest in it to cause a journalist to ask the federal education minister whether he supports it being taught in Australian schools. His reply was that he would "not oppose" it being taught "if parents want it". Nice fence-sitting, Brendan!

    Meantime, Pharyngula has discovered a new movement to promote the teaching of Intelligent Falling -- a critique of the "theory" of gravity.

    Midwives on Medicare

    Yesterday the federal government revealed that they will consider allowing midwives to charge for their services through Medicare. Today the AMA spokesman said they would support the move "providing the level of patient care does not change". But what if it goes up? What if more women have satisfactory birthing experiences because they are able to have the midwife of their choice, and maybe even afford a home birth?

    Midwives are already the main providers of care for women giving birth. A healthy woman with a normal pregnancy and labour probably won't even see anyone else throughout her labour. (I had a 36-hour labour and the obstetrician arrived just in time to hand me the baby after I'd delivered him. The midwives, who were with me throughout, were supportive, knowledgeable and just brilliant.) One obstetrician told a magazine I worked for that most of his time was spent "catching healthy babies" -- in other words, doing something that a midwife could do just as well, but getting paid a lot more for it.

    The really disappointing thing about the government's shift of priorities on this issue is that it's actually not a matter of recognising the value of a midwife's participation in the labour and birth process. Instead, it's bowing to the pressure on the system from malpractice suits: more GPs are refusing to do deliveries, and country hospitals can't get obstetricians, because they can't afford the insurance. Even if it's not for the "right" reasons, at least now midwives may get some recognition for their important role in childbirth and parents may be able to make a choice about who attends them at a normal labour and birth.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2005

    Ear candy

    What I'm listening to at the moment: Ain't Misbehavin', the Broadway musical version. "A handful of keys and a song to sing, how could you ask for more?"

    Monday, August 15, 2005


    The bad astronomer was talking about watching the Perseids, a meteor shower that happened on the weekend and provided skywatchers with some really pretty and amazing sights.
    It reminded me of my teenage years when we lived at Mullion Creek, a tiny country community about three hours' drive from anywhere exciting. My bedroom was at the front of the house and had a large picture window with a view across the paddocks, past the eponymous creek and all the way to the town 14 miles away, the lights of which were just visible on the horizon. Every night I would lie in my bed under the window and look out at the myriad stars of the Milky Way, all amazingly bright under those dark sky conditions. Some nights I'd see just one shooting star, other nights I'd see quite a few.
    Back then I didn't know much about meteors and I knew nothing about meteor showers, so I don't know which showers I saw or which comet's remains they were, but I loved watching anyway! I used to make wishes whenever I saw a meteor... mostly about getting out of Mullion Creek and finding happiness and success in the city.
    From my bedroom window these days I am lucky if I see a single star (more likely a planet because it has to be pretty bright to pierce the light pollution in the inner city).
    There's not much I miss about my teenage years, or Mullion Creek in general, but seeing shooting stars is one of the experiences I'd like to recapture more often. When I made those wishes about leaving, I didn't really think about everything I'd be leaving behind.

    Saturday, August 13, 2005

    Painted jeans

    Painted with acrylic paint mixed with textile medium, using a stippling brush, in stripes of colour from white to deep sea green. Next step is to sew up the legs to make the bag shape.
    I liked the painted effect so much I almost put the jeans back in my wardrobe to wear them again!
    News on the paint-covered jeans from my artist friend -- he threw the last pair out! After promising them to me and everything! As consolation, he gave me a shirt, and promised to have one last look through his rag bag for the jeans. The shirt will make some great applique fabric for my bag, though.

    Tuesday, August 09, 2005


    A lot of the blogs and websites I read regularly are bristling with indignation about George W's comments on giving Intelligent Design equal weight with science in American classrooms. It's not really an issue here in Australia. At least not yet...

    Anyway, the reason for my blog entry is to join some scientists and skeptics in Googlebombing so that people who search for Intelligent Design on Google, get referred to the National Centre for Science Education website instead of some anti-science religious tract.

    And even if the googlebombing doesn't work, at least I learned what it is!

    Monday, August 08, 2005

    jeans to go

    I shouldna done it, but I've signed up for a new embroidery challenge.

    Sharon has posted this challenge on her blog. Being an inveterate denim embellisher since my teenage years I, like many others, couldn't resist the idea of trying to reclaim my lost youth by tarting up a pair of old jeans and turning them into a bag.

    Here are my jeans: this pair is about four years old, and I haven't worn them for the past two -- they're just too stiff and dark (I keep wearing my faded, stretchy bootleg pair instead). Say goodbye, because they're about to go under the scissors (after a short dip in bleach to fade them to a nicer colour).

    I am thinking of indulging my ocean/sea fetish as I embellish them, and I will post developments as they come along.

    So now I have to go... I can hear the Bead Studio opening its doors...

    Sunday, August 07, 2005

    A new blog

    My friend and colleague, Mad4Nothing, has started a blog. Check it out.

    Praise the FSM, I've been touched!

    I have just realised why Captain Jack Sparrow came up on my Google Image search... it's a message from on high.

    Spread the Word.

    Friday, August 05, 2005

    A bit of silliness...

    I found this challenge on another blog. Go to Google Images and type in your initials (all of them), post the first picture that comes up and explain how it relates to you.
    I have no idea how my initials are related to Johnny Depp, but there you go; however, I recently had an argument with my stepdaughters after we watched Pirates of the Carribbean, about whether JD is older than me or younger (they won; he's older).

    Time for another rant

    Know what really annoys me? People who complain about speeding fines. Every time someone writes a letter to a newspaper or calls talk-back radio to whinge about a "speed trap" that is supposedly just a "revenue raiser", I just want to grab the person by the ears and shake their head so their tiny brain rattles around inside their over-inflated skull.
    I want to say to them: "If you don't want to contribute to the state government's coffers, don't go over the speed limit." What's so hard about that? They usually have some lame excuse as to why they can't obey the posted speed limit -- "it's downhill and you naturally pick up speed", or "there are three different posted limits in a short stretch of road and I can't be expected to think of that many things at once". I have news for these people: when you get behind the steering wheel of a car, you are in control of the vehicle (even if it has got cruise control and a disembodied woman in the glove box telling you where to go).
    Remember your first driving lesson? "The pedal on the right is the accelerator: use it when you want to go faster. The pedal to the left of it is the brake: use it when you want to slow down." So get over yourself and use the pedals.

    In case you're wondering what sparked this rant, this morning I slowed down (to 40km/h) for a 40km/h school zone, and a guy in a 4WD crossed a double unbroken line to overtake me!

    Tuesday, August 02, 2005

    Jack makes my heart sing