Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Of Charlie and Granny

Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes wins the Chas Brownlow medal.
His Dagginess, Beche-la-mer and the Dude are going to the Grand Final in Melbourne.
Two packets of Luscious Strawberry TimTams are on their way to the Upstaters in NY.

All is right with the world.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Friday, September 22, 2006

In which we learn that MASH is not just a TV show, or His Dagginess' favourite dish, and find that planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets

Last night's astronomy lecture was delivered by the King of the Acronym, Quentin Parker. This excitable fellow is based at the Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO) and uses the UK Schmidt Telescope (UKST) at Coonabarrabran to look at planetary nebulae (PNe). He talked us through MASH, SHS, 2MASS, 2dF and 6dF sky surveys, not to mention the rave review he gave to SuperCOSMOS (I can't even remember what that is an acronym for -- he spoke too fast for me to write it all down! Something about coordinates, size, shape, mass and objects, I recall, but I can't remember what the other O stood for).
Planetary nebulae are his bag. It was the 18th-century English astronomer William Herschel who gave PNe their name, because through the telescopes of the time these pretty objects appeared similar to the flat, luminous disks of the planets in our solar system. With better optics and understanding, we now realise that a PN is actually a stage in the life cycle of a star similar to our own sun: in fact, our solar system will one day have its own pretty PN when the sun, nearing the end of its hydrogen-burning phase, blows up into a big ol' red giant then puffs off its outer layers and shrinks down to a white dwarf.
The problem with PNe is that there just isn't enough stuff in them. When an astronomer looks at a PN and the white dwarf star at its centre, and adds up all the mass she can see, she ends up with just a fraction of the original mass of the star, which must be in a range around the size of our sun (otherwise you would get a supernova rather than a PN). This results in the MMM: missing mass mystery. Fortunately, the King of the Acronym has been using the UKST to MASH the SHS with SuperCOSMOS and discover the answer to the MMM in PNe. And you can see the pictures here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More footy blogging

Okay, so I had this dream the other night that I was playing midfield for the Sydney Swans, and I was really frustrated because Chris Judd kept beating me to the ball....

This reminded me of the time His Dagginess had a similar dream:
"I was playing in the ruck for Richmond, and I tapped the ball down to Joel Bowden on the wing. Then I woke up and thought, 'WTF! What is Joel Bowden doing playing on the wing?' It didn't occur to me to think, 'What am I doing playing in the ruck for Richmond?'!"

Hmmmmm. Maybe it's a good thing there's only a week and a half to go until the Grand Final. It's all getting a bit obsessive around here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

If it's September, it must be footy finals

I am sitting here at my desk with my finger on the redial button of the phone, trying to get through to the hotline to register for tickets to the AFL grand final, on behalf of His Dagginess, who is at work. So I thought a bit of a miscellanaea of football blogging was called for to pass the time.
The medal at left belongs to the Dude, for his contribution to the Newtown Swans Under 11s this season. Since it was presented to him on Sunday, he now gets up in the morning and comes in to my room to wake me with all five medals jingling around his neck (one for each junior year, plus two extras for playing in grand finals) and his five trophies (from his Auskick years -- that's under eights for those not in the know) are currently on temporary display in the living room. He has signed up to play again next year already: I love that about him, that although he's by no means a star of the team he gets in there and does his best every week. How inspiring! (I also love it that he is defying his orthopedic surgeon's prediction that he would be left too far behind his peers to compete in physical sports by this age. Imagine how good he would be if he wasn't handicapped by his talipes!)
Yesterday I was discussing the footy with a colleague I have known for many years in many different capacities and publishing companies. He always has unique insights into the game because he is a real "footy fan" rather than a follower of any particular team. Anyway, we came up with the theory that having an alternate strip is the secret of success on the football field. I have always thought that the Swans play better in their stripey socks, and this year they have been wearing them all season (and doesn't Ted Richards make them look good?). Fremantle, too, have a striking clash jersey and look how well they are doing this year! This is not just a frivolous theory, though: my colleague and I think it is because the white jersey/striped socks give the team greater visibility on the field, thereby making it easier to spot a teammate for more accurate kicking or handballing. I mean, when Freo were wearing their purple strip and Melbourne their navy blue on Saturday night, you could hardly tell the teams apart!
And here's another footy rant, about the grand final ticket registration. Today we had to call a hotline to register for the waiting list to purchase a grand final ticket, before we even know if our team is in the grand final. For this, we had to pay a registration fee of $7 per ticket, non-refundable, of course. There are four clubs still in the running; if 20,000 members of each club register to be on the waiting list for tickets at $7 per ticket, Ticketmaster have just made $560,000 clear profit (they didn't even have to employ staff as the whole process is automated). Come in, spinner!
Last, but not least, here are some jokes for His Dagginess' dad:
Q: Why were Richmond fans happy that round 22 was so late this year?
A: Because they finally got to see their team play in September!

Q: Why does the AFL have a final eight?
A: So Richmond can come ninth.

Friday, September 15, 2006

His Dagginess

New pseudonym for the Fun Policeman (formerly known as the Voice of Reason):
Henceforth he will be known as "His Dagginess".

This arises from a conversation we had yesterday, discussing the fact that His Dagginess has just laid out good money to immortalise our family names in football fandom by buying a bit of inscribed concrete. I wouldn't mind if he'd just had his own surname inscribed for posterity, but no, he had to include mine as well! My response was, "In future, can you please exclude me from your acts of dagginess?"

Later that day, I received a sulky email telling me how shattered he was by my insult. So? It's not like it's written in stone! Ugh!

In which it is discovered that jet skis may have a useful purpose after all, and that having 11 dimensions is much better than four

I've signed up for another lecture series at Sydney University Continuing Education: this one is called Topics in Modern Astronomy. Each week a guest speaker will discuss their particular area of expertise. The first was a talk by Joss Hawthorn, of the Anglo-Australian Observatory, on Dark Matter. Here's what I learned:
How jet skis can be used to explain Special Relativity
Imagine a jet skier travelling north at 100km/h, and another one travelling east at 100km/h, and draw a graph of their paths over a period of time (such as a second). Now imagine another jet skier travelling north-east and draw his (we will assume it's a male) path on the graph: the plots of all three are the same length but if you read the graph back to the axes, the third jet skier is not travelling at 100km/h, but appears to be going slightly slower than the two that are travelling along the axes. Now change north to Time and East to Space and there you have special relativity: the faster you travel through space, the slower you travel through time.

Why the universe is easier to understand the more complicated it gets
Joss Hawthorn is very excited about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which Dr Brian Cox talked about in the Science Week lecture that the Dude and I attended. The problem with dark matter is that it is dark (duh!), not just to our eyes, but across the entire electromagnetic spectrum: it just doesn't show up on any detector we've been able to build so far because it doesn't interact with baryons (the stuff that stars -- and people -- are made of). So how do we know that dark matter is there? Because we need it to be there, to explain why the universe is shaped the way it is.
One theory about why we can't see it is because it exists in one of the seven other dimensions that are predicted by string theory. So the great minds of our time are busy trying to work out how to see into those other dimensions: Joss Hawthorn reverently refers to the work of Ed Witten, who he claims is the greatest thinker since Einstein, and Stephen Hawking should eat his heart out.
This is why they are building the Large Hadron Collider, where -- when they turn it on in 2008 -- they will smash gold atoms together and make pretty pictures of the results. Here's my drawing of the picture Joss drew on the blackboard of what the results might look like:

So that's all clear then? Good.

Oh. Well, just in case, here is a link to the Millenium Simulation at the Max Planck Institute, showing what the universe would look like if you could see the dark matter. Very pretty.

Stay tuned for next week's lecture on wide-field astronomy.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Gawd, I love this city!

For non-Herald readers, the title of this post is a frequent quotation from Peter Fitzsimon in his newspaper columns, The Fitz Files. And it pretty well sums up how the Fun Policeman (okay, okay, I'm thinking about another pseudonym) and I felt last night.
It was a balmy spring evening in Sydney, the sky was clear of clouds for the first time in a week and we were strolling across the forecourt of the Opera House, having enjoyed a production of The Tempest by the Bell Shakespeare Company. The waves of the harbour were lapping gently against the quay, as many as six or seven stars were visible through the light pollution of the city (okay, it's not a perfect city), and all seemed right with the world.

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

The play? It was a lovely, simple production. John Bell was brilliant as Prospero, naturally. Miranda and Ferdinand were suitably gormless, and Ariel sang beautiful, melancholy songs with a remarkable voice. I remember debating, many years ago, whether Ariel was meant to be played as a male or a female, and I suspect Shakespeare himself intended the gender of his airy spirit to be indeterminate. This Ariel was unequivocally played as a female, and Bell has added an undercurrent of hints that she might be half in love with Prospero to the master/servant relationship. Caliban was one of the best on stage, I thought; he was played by a tall, lanky and remarkably good-looking young man, so the ugliness of the character had to come from the actor's skill rather than costume or make-up. He did, however, sport an impressive mohawk, which the Dude was jealous he didn't get to see.

The Tempest must be on the HSC curriculum this year, as a large contingent of teenagers trooped into the theatre just before the lights went down (there was no curtain to go up) and immediately raised the noise level by about 300 per cent. The FP has decided that the collective noun for a group of teenagers should be a "spectacle", because -- in his opinion -- they are constantly trying to draw attention to themselves by talking or laughing louder than necessary, or making a fuss about things that aren't worth making a fuss about. As we have lived with teenagers (and occasionally their friends/boyfriends, thus experiencing the phenomenon of a spectacle of teenagers in our own home) for the past seven years, we know what they're like.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hip hop hooray

Have I mentioned how much I like the Hilltop Hoods? I'm not normally a fan of hip hop, but they got my attention when the Dude and I first saw the video clip of "Clown Prince" (click on the link to their website above, go to the video tab and you can see the clip and hear the song). Then I bought the album to listen to on the 24-hour plane trip to New York. Now I'm hooked on "Conversations from a Speakeasy", while the Fun Policeman (who keeps begging me for a new pseudonym, by the way) loves the eponymous single from the CD, "The Hard Road". Okay, there's a bit of a language issue, but they have a kind of funk feel to some of their tracks that I really like. Top it off with the really refreshing sound of the Aussie accents and it's quite cool (or fully sick, or whatever I am supposed to say to sound young).

It's your round (if you're hangin' at the back of the bar)
So just bounce (like you're bangin' in the back of your car)...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cafe wisdom

Printed on my take-away cappuccino cup, from Bitton Gourmet in Erko:

take away coffee
and what other pleasures are left?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Clever clogs

This ad has been appearing for a few weeks now on the puzzle pages of the Sydney Morning Herald (and perhaps, I assume, in other major dailies). It's just a photograph of a life-size pen, of the kind that you might choose to use to complete the crosswords, sudoku and other puzzles on the page. How effective is it? Well, twice now I have been sitting at the table doing the crosswords, put down my coffee cup and absent-mindedly tried to pick up the photograph of the pen to write in a word.
Not only that, but yesterday I caught the Dude doing it too. (So it's not just my 40-year-old senility kicking in, or my 40-year-old eyes going.)
Here are my excuses:
1. Haven't finished morning coffee yet so brain is still fuzzy.
2. Same brand of pen I have in my home office, so obvious mistake.
3. Clever advertising campaign.