Monday, October 23, 2006

In which we discover that radio astronomy can cause insanity

Last Thursday's lecture in Modern Astronomy was by Dr Enno Middleberg, whose scientific speciality is radio astronomy, using the 64m telescope at Parkes as well as the Compact Array at Narrabri to look at cool things in the universe. When I say cool things, I mean that he explained that the kinds of things you see in the radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum are much cooler and thinner than the hot, dense objects you see in the visual part of the spectrum, using optical telescopes. Some of the recent discoveries in radio astronomy in Australia have included the first double pulsar and a supermassive spiral galaxy about 20 times bigger than the Milky Way.

Dr Middleberg showed us a lovely movie of The Dish, not the one with Sam Neill, but a webcam at the site in Parkes that takes a shot of the telescope every 30 seconds and turns it into a movie every 24 hours. It's fun -- it looks like the telescope is dancing the night away!
He also admitted, when trying to answer questions about some of the technical details of the Compact Array:

"There is an infinity of miraculous steps involved, and if you arrive at a place where you understand it all, you'll go mad!"

That explains a lot.

Hand Crafted by me

Here's the latest publication I had a hand in. I didn't do much, but there are about half a dozen projects in this book that I made. They're not attributed to the various creators, so I'll 'fess up: the ones I made are on pages 22, 56, 60, 148, 164, 166, 168.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Foodie heaven on my doorstep

Some of you will know how I love to boast about the foodie haunts I frequent in my neighbourhood: Fratelli Fresh, Danks Street Depot, Simon Johnson, Bitton, Allpress, Hung Ha Bakery... I could go on. But my pride in these matters is vindicated! In last Tuesday's Good Living section of the Sydney Morning Herald, there was a report on a new outlet in Gardeners Road, Alexandria (just around the corner from me). I quote:

"-- they call it Alexandria, but there's more than a sniff of Beaconsfield to the location."

I never thought I'd see the day when foodies would try to muscle in on my tiny, forgotten suburb as a desirable destination. And just to prove that I'm generous, I'll say that they are welcome to do it, as long as the bakery turns out to be as promising as the article suggests.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Religious symbols

I find myself quite incensed about all this fuss over a woman who wants to wear a cross pendant to work. The constant media comparison of her right to openly display her religious affiliation with the rights of Muslims to wear hijab or Jews to wear yarmulkas is all well and good, but I have an objection.
The difference between the two cases, to me, is that one is a voluntary witness to faith, while the others are compulsory observances according to doctrine. I have never heard or read any theological argument for the wearing of jewellery in the form of a cross: there is no instruction from Jesus, any prophet or apostle or even a Pope or archbishop that says, "Thou shalt wear a piece of jewellery to prove thou art a Christian".
There are, as I understand it, doctrinal reasons in the respective faiths for the wearing of hijab or a Sikh's turban or a yarmulka. In the case of hijab, for example, it is a scriptural command, although the interpretation of the necessary level of coverage may vary. In the case of the yarmulka, the coverage has already been reduced to a symbolic state, but it is worn to obey a Talmudic command.
For these reasons, I have little sympathy for the airport employee who wants to wear her cross pendant at work (and it should be noted that she is not being banned from wearing it, only from having it visible). If she is so concerned about displaying her faith for all to see, she had much better do it by acting as a Christian than flashing a bit of expensive metal around. After all, wasn't it the founder of her faith who derided those who tried to make a visible show of religion: "By their works shall ye know them" (Matthew 7.16). To paraphrase the old saying that was drummed into me at Sunday School: "Wearing a WWJD bracelet does not make you a Christian, just as living in a garage does not make you a car."
I hate to say it, but it was people like this woman, who thinks she is making a public stand for her religion, who caused me to question -- and, although other reasons came into it, ultimately reject -- my former faith. I think she should get off her high horse and live her beliefs in humility, not just walk around wearing its trappings like the Pharisees beating their breasts in the temple (Matthew 6.5-6).

Ah well, as I have said before, plus ca change.... If Jesus could see her now, he'd be turning in his grave.

On seeing stars and hearing voices

On Saturday night, the Dude and I went up into the mountains to escape the city lights and look at the galactic ones instead. The night started out quite clear and warm, and we were fortunate to be able to see some pretty spectacular sights through a collection of telescopes of different shapes and sizes.
We saw Jupiter, and three of its Galilean satellites (although the owner of the telescope, a far more experienced stargazer than I, said he could see the fourth one lurking at the edge of the planet's atmosphere). Some of the cloud bands were visible, but I didn't spot the Bad Astronomer's eponymous storm -- the Oval BA. After Jupiter sank below the treeline we watched Scorpius following in its wake. The Southern Cross was also headed for the horizon but we took a quick look at Alpha Centauri and were able to discern that there were two stars through the telescope, despite the fact that it looks like a single star to the naked eye.
The Dude was fascinated by the nebulous Milky Way -- he's been to one of these viewing nights before, but I guess it didn't come to his notice in the past. He also enjoyed seeing globular clusters, nebulae and galaxies through the telescopes.
We saw Uranus, as well, and the Dude amused some of the more senior stargazers with his off-hand comments when they enthusiastically inquired what he thought of it. "Did you see it?" "Yeah," he shrugged nonchalantly. What more reaction could you expect from a self-conscious pre-teen, on the cusp of grunting adolescence? He was actually quite impressed, as he revealed the next day when he told His Dagginess all about what we had seen.
The last sight we saw before the sky clouded over was the Andromeda galaxy, rising above the treeline on the northern horizon. Our host informed us that it it is the most distant thing that you can see with the human eye, although we needed binoculars that night.
This stargazing event was run by my former astronomy teacher, who began the evening with a quick tour of the sky and was patiently happy to answer all sorts of questions from the assembled throng. This was one of the best parts of the night, as he imparted interesting information and opinions: I always enjoyed his classes because he has the ability to relate esoteric information without being patronising, and he is possessed of a speaking voice of such a lovely mellow tone that one could listen to him for hours without tiring of hearing it (in fact, I have listened to him for hours...)
Thinking about the pleasant sound of his voice drifting through the clear, dark night brought about a Proustian moment of sorts. It made me remember other voices I have loved to listen to: such as my grandfather (for whom the Dude is named) praying in his deep, sonorous voice at the breakfast table, while our linen napkins lay on our laps and our heads were bowed over the pristine china and silverware; or my dad using his "radio voice" as he read the news on the air -- I recall the way he would lower the tone of his normal speaking voice to achieve the proper solemnity required by the broadcast; my uncle, too, has a voice I love to listen to, although I've never sat in on one of his university lectures I imagine his students might have been privileged to enjoy his dulcet tones in that way.
I like the tones of His Dagginess' voice, too. Maybe I just have a soft spot for baritones.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Post-footy blogging...

... or, a bit of a stitching update.
Here is my current project. It's been ages since I crocheted, but when my Upstate Sister spotted this cute little retro baby outfit I promised to make it for Spike, who is due to join us any time in the next month or so. Here are the colours I picked for Spike's version (they look muddier in this scan than in real life):

Plus ca change...

I've been a regular reader of Hemlock's Diary for about a year now. It's often full of local politics, but there was an eerie feeling of familiarity in this week's blog. If nothing else, it's nice to see that we're not the only nation in the world with a pathetically short-sighted elected government.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Grand final musings

I'm not going to bemoan the fact that we went all the way to the 'G to watch the Swannies lose by one lousy point, because it was actually a great game, fantastic atmosphere, beautiful day...

Here's my lasting grand final day memory:

After World Citizen 3000 cooked us a lovely consolatory dinner at his home, we wandered around the corner to a local Saudi Arabian cake shop for dessert. When we arrived, still wearing our footy colours, we saw a family of West Coast supporters in the store, indulging in some celebratory cakes (it was after dark, even though it is Ramadan). Giving a wry smile and a nod as we passed them, we were surprised when they greeted us in a friendly manner and struck up a conversation. This family had travelled over from Perth for the game, just as we had travelled from Sydney. We congratulated them on their team's success, they commiserated with us on our disappointment, we all agreed that the two teams are in a period of great rivalry that makes every match a nail-biter and it's all good. We parted with the words, "See you next year for the decider." Smiles all 'round.

Next, a local couple walked into the cake store. They looked confused so we showed them where to get a ticket so they could be served in their turn. The male then asked, "Are youse from Sydney?" When we said we were, he replied in a sullen tone, "I'm glad your team lost. And I hope Melbourne wins the rugby league grand final tomorrow." [So did we, but we didn't tell him that.]

Now I ask you, who is my brother? Is it the Muslim family from Perth who were friendly and cheerful despite their absolute right to gloat at our expense, or the Melbourne man who was full of hatred for us Sydneysiders despite the fact that he supported neither of the teams involved?

Just so that I'm not too negative about Melbourne, another memory of the day is a train trip on which there was a spirited discussion about saving water. Two women on their way to the football were discussing a local council's use of recycled water and were joined by another woman across the aisle who is a waste-water engineer for another local council. As His Dagginess noted: "This would never happen in Sydney: all we talk about is road tunnels and tolls." Go Melbourne! Gotta love that city.