Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 in short

What a year! It began with the drama of shipping my sister off to the Netherlands to spend a year with her boyfriend. The next month saw us spend some of the Chinese New Year in Malaysia and Thailand.

Soon after we returned B broke her foot chasing Kita on the stairs. The next month B discovered that she was pregnant, the event that defined the year. Suddenly, visits to doctors and hospitals became a regular occurance and B gradually became less and less tiny.

As a consequence of the pregnancy we had to cancel our Europe holiday in September, but we still managed to fit in another visit to Japan.

In the third trimester B developed cholestasis, which made the last few months of pregnancy quite stressful. But the birth itself proved to be surprisingly "easy". In November we welcomed our son Alex into the world.

On the last day of 2008 we, B, Alex, Kita and myself, went for a walk along Botany Bay as a family, listening to the sounds of the waves and watching the aircraft fly out across the Bay.

What will 2009 bring? More sleepless nights undoubtedly, but hopefully plenty of joy with our amazing child. And a flight on one of those aircraft we saw today would be nice too...

All the best for 2009!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Peace and quiet

Today felt strange. The streets of Sydney were quiet. Almost everybody who was travelling seemed to be either leaving the city or going to the shopping malls for the post-Christmas sales. We too were looking to buy. Worried by the rapid depreciation of our car and greatly restricted in space by the paraphernalia of raising a child we were in the hunt for good deals on a Mazda 6.

We drove first to North Parramatta, spent a long time negotiating, fed Alex in their rec room, but couldn't close the deal. So we drove south, intending to return to the Sutherland dealer who had sold us our current car, a Mazda 3.

On the way down King George's Road we stopped at Beverly Hills for lunch. Most of the cafes and restaurants were closed for the Christmas/New Year break, leaving the shopping strip dead but for the noise of main road traffic. We found a sleepy Thai restaurant with a dingy interior, ceiling fans turning languidly in the humid summer heat. Two Thai women manned the counter and the stoves. It felt like we were back in Thailand, B was even wearing a shirt purchased there. The food was good too.

As we drove along during the day I would stare up into the silver-grey sky and watch the silhouetted great jets fly northwards from the airport. From the inside of the car they floated silently, purposefully through the air. In this dreamy, quiet, hot atmosphere, the Qantas 747's called to me, "fly away, seek adventure", but spending our savings on a car means there will be no European vacation this year, or for a while. I console myself that our holiday dreams are not dead, just limited, but of that I can say no more.

The day ended with the breaking of the storm. But by then we had already signed our contract. Not quite what we were looking for, but it is enough that we have not exceeded our budget.

We arrived home into thunder, lightning and driving rain with an exhausted, crying child with equally tired parents. But it was a quiet day.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Baby's first Christmas

Baby's First Christmas is a Big Deal judging from the number of ornaments, clothes and toys for sale that include that label. Of course, the little ones have no clue what the fuss is all about. They just wake you up early because it's feed time, not I-can't-wait-to-unwrap-my-presents time.

It doesn't matter because Alex's parents had a fun time. We invited B's mother and friend over for a lunch of roast chicken and pudding, followed by a viewing of the Mamma Mia DVD that I gave B for Christmas.

I hope everyone else's Christmases were as relaxed and pleasant as our own.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A cup of tea

I've never been much of a tea drinker. I didn't drink it at all until our third trip to Japan, in 2006. We were wandering around Okayama's beautiful Koraku-en gardens, beneath falling cherry blossoms, when we came to a stall selling green tea from the small rows of tea plants within the garden's bounds. Purchasing a cup of matcha, the whisked powdered green tea and a small plate of "sweets" we sat outside the stall and rested our legs.

Later on in that trip, in Kanazawa, we had stopped by the Nomura Samurai house, with it's gorgeous garden and carp streams squeezed into a tiny area. Upstairs, in a room overlooking the garden matcha was served for a small fee. We rested on the straw tatami mat floor in front of a heater warming our cold hand and sipped the bitter green tea. The flavour itself was not of great importance to me. It was the sense of calm, of weary feet rested, of warmth both inner and outer.

Since then I have learned to enjoy a cup of green tea when offered during trips to Japan. Nibbling on Botchan Dango sweets with a cup of tea after a soak in Matsuyama's Dogo bathhouse and sitting on the tatami flooring in a teahouse in Takamatsu's Ritsurin-en gardens , listening and feeling the warm breeze flowing through the open shoji screens while sipping tea were two of the highlights of our last trip.

I recently purchased a Japanese teapot and cups, porcelain with an iron clay exterior decorated with cherry blossoms, from a Japan City shop. For weeks now I have hoped to snatch some time away from Alex, work and sleep to brew the fine green tea leaves we brought back from Kyoto. Finally this evening I found that time.

I have never brewed tea before, only used teabags, and that was for the benefit of others. I followed the instructions, poured the tea into the cherry blossom teacup and sat down at the table with a rice and red bean sweet bought from a Japanese store in the city. As I sipped the gentle, sweet, pale green liquid I watched the rain falling across the grey and gold evening sky and the white cloud fish swimming between the lucky bamboo in the globe on the table. And I felt relaxed, in another place where babies only smile, emails are calligraphy on scrolls and deadlines are when the water has boiled.

A holiday in a teacup.

Accidently there

With the Christmas season comes car accidents. Today we were at Kitchener's Parade in Bankstown for the 6 week post-birth check up with the ob when I noticed a number of tow trucks arriving at the end of the cul-de-sac. Turns out that a Volvo, driven by a 60 year old, had somehow landed atop a couple of other cars.

Two weeks ago on a Saturday night we were driving back from Illawong when we saw another car accident scene across from Menai High School. A convertible had flipped into bushland, killing a passenger. Fortunately there were already plenty of others attending the accident because we had a starving, screaming baby in the back.

It was a few hours later when the Careflight helicopter landed noisily to airlift out the driver.

Drive safely everyone!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A nuclear birth for the Moon

There's an interesting article in August's Cosmos magazine proposing that Earth's moon was formed not by a collision between Earth and another large body, but by a runaway nuclear reaction in the D"-layer around the Earth's core.

The suggestion is that radioactive uranium and thorium sunk down early in the Earth's history to in the D"-layer, were concentrated there and formed a natural nuclear reactor. This reactor, with nothing to moderate it (like the boron rods used in man made reactors) or to cool the resultant heat (water is generally used in reactors) raised the surrounding temperatures by up to 8000 degrees, forming a giant hot bubble that ruptured the Earth's surface flinging material into orbit.

A portion of the orbiting material would then have gravitationally aggregated into today's Moon. The researchers believe that their hypothesis explains some of the anomalies with the mineral and isotopic composition of the Moon better than the existing collision theory. It's pretty hot stuff!

P.S. I just realised that I am still talking about births and babies - just on a planetary scale!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New tricks

Alex has learned a new trick and I don't like it.

He has learned to shoot his poop out at us while on the change table. It was bad enough that he would practice a career as a water feature, but this latest development has made changing him a dangerous occupation.

Yesterday I was pooed on, peed on and vomited on by our son in a matter of minutes. This morning we were wiping poo off B, off the furniture and the carpet.

At least he gives you the cutest looks as soon as you remove his dirty clothes. And we aren't alone with this problem.

Yesterday wasn't all about the bad stuff, however. We took a drive down through the bushland and temperate rainforest of the Royal National Park to Otford. Soon after you emerge from the park there are magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean on your left and a corner store called Otford Pastries on your right.

Along with some hot meals, devonshire teas and really good milkshakes, the store specialises in apple pies. The pastry of the apple and black cherry pie slice we ate for dessert there was the best I've ever had, full of cinnamon flavour. Unfortunately, the pie we brought back for dinner with the in-laws wasn't of the same standard, but I'd still return for more.

There is also a resident blue-tongued lizard inside the shop, the couple that run the place feeding it scraps of fruit. It's a nice little spot for bite after a drive through the National Park or along the spectacular coastal route between Sydney and Wollongong.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I would love to write about something other than raising a baby - I have several items floating around my head - but the fact is that a newborn consumes every spare moment of your life.

Since last Saturday, evenings have proved to be a real struggle. Not unusually for a baby, evenings have been Alex's unsettled time. He refuses to go to sleep after his evening feed until (hopefully) his late night feed. That means that we can't rest from the time I get home from vwork until maybe 11pm.

On the upside he is often alert and can give you the most wonderful smiles when you play with him. However, too much play just exacerbates the wakefulness problem. My problem is that I end up absolutely exhausted myself, my whole body ready to collapse in a heap. Oh well, I still have some tricks to try.

Even after he is settled we still have to get up for his later feeds. The late-night television viewing continues. This week I discovered that while channels 7 and 10 both show the Home Shopping program at the same time, the remaining commercial station, channel 9 has Danoz-Direct which advertises the same products anyway. Collusion!

We have been mainly watching pre-recorded television anyway to get around the mundane nature of late night TV. The hilarious zombies of Shaun of the Dead. Kita ignored the melodrama of Rex in Rome until he heard the squeak of a dog toy. I prefer the Austrian version.

Yesterday we all attended Possum Cottage, where the nurses help you with feeding and settling problems for a day. They seemed pleased with us, but it was so nice to leave a sleeping Alex in their care for an hour while we had lunch in a cafe.

Possum Cottage is located at Sutherland Hospital. Their recent redevelopment has included some gorgeous courtyards, each different. My favourite was a bamboo forest with a pond of clear water bumbling over a mat of bamboo leaves, toy pandas positioned as if climbing the thick bamboo stems.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

More late night TV

Late night television tends to be pretty dire, endless informercials masquerading as programming, ads for mobile phone sex videos and singles sites, evangelical preachers or stations closed for the night. I may be a creature of the night, but I certainly wouldn't stay up to watch any of those programs.

Last night, a Saturday night, was a little different, at least for a few hours. There were lots of movies on the TV, so much so that I stayed up to watch rather than trying to catch an hour's sleep in between feeds. Started off with Jurassic Park, then some Reign of Fire, which I have tried to watch a few times unsuccessfully (ended up recording it). On another channel, Men in Black, which is perfect for light, uninvolved viewing.

After all these big Hollywood motion pictures the commercial stations went into SBS mode. I mean, what's a movie about a East European transvestite doing on Channel 9? Channel 7 had the movie City of Ghosts on. It was about an American conman who had escaped to Cambodia. Actually, I didn't care about the plotline, but the photography of rural and city Cambodia was evocative.

It was a bit like sitting on an overnight long distance airline flight. With nothing better to do you end up half watching movies on the main screen that you ordinarily wouldn't bother viewing. And they always end up being more enjoyable that way.

In the wee hours of the morning when let the dog out to do his business the illusion of night flying was made more complete. The sky above me was clear and I could see the stars in sharp focus. The city around me was dark and silent as it so rarely is. I could have been up there in the sky, cruising awake over the sleeping lands with only the hum of the jet engine to be heard.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bright Dragon

Two weeks after he was born we finally settled on Alex's middle name.

We had decided long ago that our children would have a Chinese middle name. Mother in law wanted a Mandarin (Putonghua) name, saying that it would replace the other Chinese dialects in future. Right though she may be, B doesn't speak Mandarin, only Cantonese, and the Mandarin names are not only difficult to correctly pronounce, but also the official Pinyin romanisation looks nothing like the sound.

At the last moment we changed to a Cantonese name. It doesn't matter if the language is "dying" because this a way of honouring it and anyway, the characters (not official, because you can only register English character names) are the same as in Mandarin.

After all that, what is his middle name? Ming-Lang 明龍.

It means "Bright Dragon". Actually, Lang is not the most correct romanisation of the character, which is also symbolic of the Chinese Emperor, but it's how B's surname was written so we kept it.

Hopefully our Bright Dragon won't be Ming the Merciless and be kind enough not to be so unsettled at night!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chinese and kanji character tools

We decided that Alex should have a Chinese middle name to represent that side of his heritage, as suggested by B's mother. As neither of us can read most Chinese characters we have had to rely on translation and romanisation tools to assist us in determining the correct spelling for the name.

The following tools are pretty useful:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Things I learned from late night TV

So we were up at around 2am feeding baby Alex when we decided to switch on the television. It was so terribly disappointing to see that the moronic mobile phone game shows were off the air, but there was still an education to be had. We learned:
  • How to hide drug paraphenalia as sex toys (Life Support, SBS)
  • That Australian satirical comedy is better than US satirical comedy (Life Support, SBS vs MadTV, 9)
  • St Malo is cold this time of year (World weather, SBS)
  • That channels 7 and 10 should be taken to the ACCC.
What are channel 7 and 10 doing showing exactly the same television program at the same time of night? Okay, I can almost forgive something like a speech from the PM or a royal wedding, but the Home Shopping Network? It's anti-competitive!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An ear for music

Thrice I have told an upset Alex to "listen to the music" playing from my MP3 collection and he has gone quiet and focussed on the sound. He tends to calm down when exposed to instrumental music, especially the more relaxed film soundtracks in my collection.

There was an exception last night. I left the radio in his room tuned to ABC Classic FM. In the wee hours of the morning I woke to find him whining. Upon entry into his room I heard what sounded like an energetic film piece playing. Obviously Alex was trying to bring it to my attention, the clever boy!

He, and consequently us, had a rough time last night. Our bub just wouldn't settle. Eventually I got him to sleep on my belly while I lay on the couch in the study listening to movie music.

Hopefully Alex's ear for music indicates some mathematical abilities as well. The two are supposedly linked. Wonder if he's left-handed as well. A disproportionate number of fellow students in my maths lectures were lefties, myself included. B's a natural lefty as well and maths was one of her best subjects.

I've introduced him to music. The cricket is on so I can share that with him as well. His curiosity should give him an interest in science and travel with any luck. Oooh, who's daddy's boy then?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The spacetime continuum

Spending weeks in a fugue state with only a few hours sleep at night in between programming or writing essays has not been an uncommon experience for me. I even enjoy it, truth be told. But it is nothing like the sleep deprived state I am experiencing right now with a newborn baby.

When working on a project it is work, sleep enough to continue working, eat so you can work and, just now and then relax to clear some space in your head. You fix yourself in a focussed state of mind, concentrating on the task, constantly processing information.

At this moment I can barely recall information, let alone store it. Instead of hours of time merging uncounted into one long stream of conciousness I find time being counted by smaller and smaller increments. The one that most matters is the time between the last feed and the next. Then the time of the feed, the time on each breast, the time to calm the baby, to change his nappy. And once night falls, the space between feeds broken up into increments of crying and calming.

And during the day in those hopefully empty spaces between the feeds when baby is asleep you try to fit in something of a life. The trip to the shop for supplies, to the hospital for weighing, read an email, walk the dog, wash yourself, wash the baby, make a meal, eat the meal. Today we didn't eat anything until after 4pm. Dinner is broken up into preparing, then pause, then cooking, then pause, and finally eating, sometime late in the night. But you don't find yourself hungry because that's too much effort. Instead you just get crankier.

Sleep is snatched whenever possible, but it frequently isn't. Increments of sleep are uncounted, it is too complex, too difficult for an addled mind. And just as you drift off, the crying starts again. You look at your wife. She is fast asleep, she has sat and fed him, will feed him again in a couple of hours, so you get up and try to calm him again, knowing that he will wake up again soon, or it will be feed time once more and your help is required.

You comfort him. You think you might be frustrated, even a little angry at him. But when you pick him up and hold him to you all you can feel is love and the need to nurture and protect this little life. Then he opens his eyes and looks at you. He does not understand, but you can see him trying to. And that's what being human is all about, trying to understand the universe.

P.S. We did get some relaxation last night by watching Mamma Mia on DVD, though I hope he won't grow up loving Dancing Queen.
P.P.S. The Raising Kids DVD and website are really useful resources.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

At home with Alex

It was a dark and stormy night when baby Alex left hospital for his home. B was so bored and tired of the constant interruptions that she could not wait to return home after three nights in the hospital. That said, the staff at the Hurstville Community Private Hospital have been wonderfully friendly and helpful and we would certainly use their services again should we have another child in Sydney.

The first couple of nights home I think we missed the breastfeeding support of the midwives. It's difficult having to get up every few hours to feed bub or even just to calm him down. With the number of visitors it has also been tough to get into any sort of routine. Not just for baby, but also for ourselves. Meals eaten late or not at all, because just as you want to eat either baby needs feeding or visitors arrive to see him. It's nice to see them, especially when you are missing the conversations with your work colleagues and friends. It's just a bit complex trying to work around a baby's needs when you aren't even certain what they are at any given moment.

Have to learn to snatch as much rest as we can in any spare moments. Nights are interrupted by feeds and calming cuddles and it's difficult at times to keep smiling. But then, it's difficult to stop smiling when he opens his eyes and turns towards you, so it all worth it.

Our dog Kita has had it tough until today, with us staying long hours away from home in hospital and this strange crying creature coming into his life. He barked when Alex cried. I've tried to give Kita a lot of attention and the night Alex arrived he got a new toy, but I think he's felt happier today after a combination of mine and B's relatives visited and played with him. Kita was very cautious around the two younger visitors and I think that he'll be a fine companion to Alex.

In my sleep deprived state I'm liable to be a bit grumpy at times, especially to our old neighbours who have just returned to the other half of our duplex. When I returned home on Friday to pick up the car I discovered that their removals truck was blocking our section of the driveway and had demolished half of our grevillea shrub. Then later their soccer ball slams into our window, fortunately not breaking it. And one of the sons now seems to own a mini trailbike sans muffler. I miss the lovely Vietnamese family that bought their property, but they've rented it back to the original owners now. They're not the worst people in the world and they've had it tough at times, but I do wish they would respect other people's property. An example of how not to bring Alex up.

Anyway, I should be resting rather than writing...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day 2 with baby

I arrived at the hospital this morning to find a very tired wife and a son sleeping noisily in a cot besides her. Welcome to day 2 of a newborn baby.

Unfortunately B didn't get much rest today. The midwives are in and out measuring this and that, offering help to breastfeed the bub, the service staff are changing linen and supplying food. Little Alex, gurgles, farts and sometimes cries away, sometimes needing a nappy check and a feed.

Almost as soon as Alex was placed under the warming lamp, shortly after his birth and first feed, he opened his sticky eyes and looked at me. He knew the voices of his mum and dad, focussed his attention on us.

He (and sometimes we) finds the hospital room a little too cold and dark. When he was particularly unsettled today I took him out for a walk along the warmer and brighter corridors. Alex loved the natural light, opening his eyes, focusing as best he could on the light and movement. And our faces. That's pretty amazing for one so young. It's good to see that curiosity.

My Mum, one of my brothers and his daughter (my niece) came in for a visit in the afternoon. Then one of B's cousins straight afterwards. We had just settled Alex for 15 minutes when along came B's mum and friend. Naturally everyone wanted to hold Alex the whole time. He napped, then was alert, then napped, was alert, and so on.

Each one of these people (with the exception of the niece who is less than 2 years old!) is a parent. I guess that because it's not their baby, that they forget that other people's babies need some time to sleep without disturbance. It's all very well for them to cuddle bub and go home, but then we were left with a baby who wouldn't settle into his cot and sleep without being picked up and cuddled. And then I had to go home, leaving poor, sleepy B to manage by herself.

I'm sure that, right now, she would swap positions with me to look after Alex and she could sit here on the sofa with our dog Kita lying silently and calmly besides her. Can't forget that he needs some loving too!

For all the troubles, the love and warmth shown by everyone is wonderfully overwhelming and very welcome. Tomorrow is a new day and I can't wait to see B and Bub again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Welcome, little Alex

Today B and I welcomed our son Alex into the world.

In a delivery suite noisy with the sound of two Malaysian conversing (B and the midwife), the labour process was surprisingly short and relatively easy (though, of course still painful), especially for a first time mum like B. The expectation was that the birth would take place in the late afternoon or evening. Instead, Alex was out before lunch!

Seen with a new father's eyes Alex is terribly handsome and cute. It was wonderful to hold him, to reassure him with the sound of my voice and to listen to him cry like a kookaburra. B pulled through amazingly well. I only wish that I could be with them both on this first night, but our furry baby at home also needs s0me attention.

Tomorrow I will hopefully post some "authorised" photos. Right now this new dad is exhausted and needs to get his sleep.

Monday, November 10, 2008

One more day

Tomorrow night B should be in hospital, waiting for the synthetic hormones used to induce birth to take effect. The next day we will welcome our child into the world.

Our obstetrician, Dr Ho, scared B into thinking that he wanted to wait another week. That's after surprising one of his previous patient's children with a big "boo!". I like him a lot, he is a big tease with a wicked sense of humour.

It's both exciting and scary at the same time. When it comes to the baby, I'm just excited, looking forward to holding it for that first time. The scary part is the labour.

Right now I'm just tired. A friend of ours said that you know when it's close to being time when the mother begins cleaning up the house. Our last few weekends have been all about rearranging the contents of rooms and throwing out junk. Coupled with the disturbed nights of late pregnancy it's exhausting work.

At least we got out of the house yesterday, catching the train down to the city to visit the Flight Centre European Travel Expo at Darling Harbour. For once I didn't get a severe case of travel sickness and try to book a holiday. More fun was eating ice creams at Passionflower and taking a walk in the sunny weather. I do hope that Baby didn't enjoy their mother's durian flavoured dessert. I would hate to be outvoted when it comes to that foul fruit.

Tomorrow night I might be keeping B company in a hospital ward, or they may send me home. Whatever happens, we are in for interesting times.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Fungal diesel and girl germs

Eeew, girl germs. The touch of a girl spreads fear amongst primary school boys. Maybe it's because they carry a greater quantity and diversity of bacteria on their skin.

I find fungi to be quite repulsive, but researchers have discovered a Patagonian fungus that can convert cellulose into diesel fuel. Obviously, it's one fungus that's not going into any canteen food.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Now for something that sounds the same as the last post but is completely different: salps. These are jelly-like sea organisms that feed on phytoplankton. They aren't jellyfish, but tunicates, early forebears of vertebrates likes ourselves.

I never even knew that salps existed until a CSIRO media release about a salp bloom off the NSW coast appeared in my inbox today.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Go shopping in a supermarket and you will notice how many "reduced salt" products are for sale, purporting to be a healthier alternative. Many farmers face problems with rising salinity damaging their soils and water supply. Likewise, a number of Australian cities are building desalination plants to remove the salt from seawater, thus making it drinkable. With such negative publicity it's easy to forget that salt, or sodium chloride to be precise, is vital for complex organisms like humans.

A recent study comparing the preferences of ants for sugar or salt illustrates the necessity of salt in the diet of animals.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Contrail shadows

I was supposed to be in Canberra, but I'm glad I stayed in Sydney. It will be yet another day of rough flights between the cities. Today is very hot and the air is grey with the haze of high humidity, reminscent of the Asian tropics. A perfect day for ice kacang and limau ais, for lazing beneath a ceiling fan beside and watching the world trundle past outside under tropical thunderheads.

While today I do not wish to be up in that sky, it is a good day for watching others fly, silhoutted against the pale high cloud. As I sat in the train I watched an aircraft leave a contrail far above Sydney. High enough that the long thin cloud of ice crystal suspended far above this pre-summer heat left a shadow on the clouds below. You can see the effect in the photos below.

B finished work yesterday. This morning she is ensconced in a hospital in Kogarah, undergoing regular tests on herself and the baby. We have had so little to do with hospitals until this pregnancy and it's a shock to see how run down the public hospital buildings look. Much of Kogarah seems devoted to medical services and the nearby parking is either expensive or too time limited to be of use. Walking some of the streets can be a little scary as there are mental health and drug dependency clinics nearby. Still, not long until it will all be over.

I'm actually forward to it. After our final antenatal class on Saturday I realised how much I will fall in love with our child. Playing with it's tiny foot poking out from B's belly makes you understand that there's another life inside of her.

Hopefully, the baby can hold on until we have finished the seemingly endless task of cleaning up the nursery. Of course, cleaning out one area of the house leads to tidying another room to make space for the shifted items, which means cleaning out other spaces... It's endless!
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Friday, October 24, 2008

The Hogwash School of Communication

Dear Sir/madam,

I would like to invite you to consider your future in the marketing and communications field. Here at Hogwash, a prestigious non-accredited School for Communicators, we have a range of courses available to develop your skills.

Lead by the esteemed Allofus Dumbitdown our courses include:
  • Parceltongue (Selling snake oil)
  • Herbology & Potions (Viagra alternatives)
  • Transfiguration & Arithmancy (Inventing sales figures)
  • Charms (Customer/Employee relations)
  • Apparitions (How to sell non-existent products)
  • Quidditch (Accounting for sunk costs)
  • And many more!
By the end of the course you will be an expert in communicating with muddles via a range of media, such as email, and current affairs and late-night television.

Some of our notable alumni include:
  • Hairy Pothead
  • Herwiney Grange-Hermitage
  • Ronald Weaselwords
  • Loosius Mouthboy
To join this prestigious list all you have to do is reply to this email with a copy of your bank details.

Kind regards,

Tom Marvelous Riddle

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Moving Earth before the Sun strikes

In around 4 - 5 billion years time the Sun will expand and engulf the Earth. How do we survive?

NewScientist has an interesting article entitled Moving the Earth: a planetary survival guide. They propose two possible methods to move the Earth away from the Sun's expanded surface: gradual nudges to the Earth's orbit through flybys of icy Kuiper belt objects or with a giant solar sail.

For some background and references on the future of life on Earth read my essay 4 billion years AD (pdf).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Liver deliver

The last few days have been quite stressful for us. B discovered that she has obstetric cholestasis, a condition of pregnancy where bile is prevented from flowing from the liver into the intestinal system. Cholestasis causes very itchy skin in the mother and can also cause problems for the child.

B latched on to the statistic that the possibility of stillbirth rises up to five times with cholestasis. It's important to realise that this is still a small number and that the risk is greatest for babies carried to full term. In most obstetric cholestasis cases delivery is induced between 35 - 38 weeks.

On Saturday we had our first antenatal class at the hospital. There we went through the process of delivering babies and were shown a really bad 80's video of a birth. The midwife giving the class keep pronouncing dilate as "diletate", which was very annoying. She must have heard it pronounced correctly so many times in her career.

Despite a break for morning tea B, who has no fat reserves, felt very nauseous. The classes tend to run into lunch and dinner times, depending on the session, which would make it tough for pregnant women who need their regular meals.

After the class we were booked in for some monitoring of the baby. The attach monitors to the belly and chart the baby's heart beat and movements as registered by a clicker in the mother's hand. B ended up staying in the delivery suite longer than anticipated as the medical staff were concerned about her feeling ill. Then on Sunday the obstetrician (Dr Ho, who has so far been fantastic) called us to request an appointment today and that we were looking at an inducement within the next two weeks.

His urgency made B very nervous and I have to admit, me as well. The whole past couple of days B was worried whenever the baby was quiet and not kicking as vigourously as it has tended to do. Thankfully, when we met the doctor today he managed to reassure B that the results were not that bad and that the baby was in all likelyhood quite safe. B and her mum wanted the baby out ASAP, but as the doctor said, there is a higher likelyhood that a bay's lungs are not developed enough before 35 weeks and that you are risking it in another way by removing it too early. Anyway, we both feel a lot happier now.

One thing that the last few days have made clear to us is that we are rapidly running out of time to prepare for the birth. We had the car seat fitted today and fortunately the shotgun seat isn't as squeezed as I feared. There are so many other little things left to do before the big day comes!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lekking: the manager as an ape

I learned a new word today: lek. It means a gathering of males for competitive breeding displays. My discovery was triggered by Jeffrey Braithwaite's paper Lekking displays in contemporary organizations: Ethologically oriented, evolutionary and cross-species accounts of male dominance (DOI: 10.1108/14777260810898732), published in the Journal of Health Organisation and Management.

The topic of the paper will come as no surprise to anyone who has met with management. To quote Braithwaite's findings:
Within the organizational lek male managers display mainly by power dressing, positioning, and exercising power and influence via verbal and behavioural means.
Who would have thought that all that management sophistication was just a primitive mating display!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Scrumpox: fully sick sport

It's well known that sport can leave you a cripple due to physical injuries, but how about illness? Apparently there are a range of bugs that afflict athletes. My "favourite" is scrumpox, a potentially deadly herpes virus that afflicts rugby players, sumo wrestlers and gladiators.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another great attractor?

I wonder if this is related to the Great Attractor that is also in the direction of Centaurus and pulling us along for the ride.

How can something so small take up so much space?

We visited the Mazda dealer yesterday to get a trade-in valuation of our Mazda 3. B was just curious, but the salesperson, the same guy who sold us our Mazda 3, suggested that we should look at the larger Mazda 6 model. A fairly new father himself he warned us that we could find ourselves rather squished inside our existing car once the baby capsule was installed.

Today we tested his assertion and, by Jove, he was right! With our Safe'n'Sound Meridian AHR seat in rearward facing newborn mode my knees were almost touching the glovebox and my head the ceiling. Even B was not particularly comfortable.

Thankfully our stroller is reasonably small and fit in our hatchback's boot with room to spare. Still, we would be moderately restricted with boot space should we take it along with us.

The Mazda 3 interior is quite large for its external size class and we had envisaged it as being suitable for our future needs. Now we are troubled. We don't really want to spend big bucks upgrading our car's size. I guess that one of us could sit in the back next to the baby. Kids really do change everything!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


When we walk around Ikea, I always stop to admire the little display rooms, those mocked up apartments, kitchens, bedrooms. So perfect. Everything has its place and nothing out of place.

They are fictions from a magazine, not real rooms. Despite the thousands of people that pass through each room, where is the detritus of living? Where are the projects-in-progress, the scattered papers, the book left off the shelf? Where are the snacks left on the kitchen bench, the notes by the telephone, the random photos of life? They are hotel rooms before the arrival of their guest.

Yet I find myself wanting those tiny rooms, where the furnishings are complete and not a neverending quest for the perfect item. Rooms without clutter, despite the fact that I am a source of that clutter. Miniature houses with a minimum of space to look after. Is a simpler life a happier life?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crime Time Concert

Tonight I attended the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's Symphony at the Movies: Crime Time concert at the Sydney Opera House. The theme was obviously movies about crime, although I thought that including music from The Matrix and The Sixth Sense was stretching the definition a bit.

Hitchcock's works were a major focus with Franz Waxman's music to Rebecca and Rear Window was included, along with a suite from Dial M for Murder by Dimitri Tiomkin. I must confess that I am not a big fan of films from Hollywood's supposed Golden Age and I find their music, like the movies themselves, to be rather too melodramatic.

I am an avowed fan of John Williams' compositions and I was not disappointed by the inclusion of music from JFK. The main title music was played followed by The Motorcade. This is not one of my favourite tracks on the CD soundtrack, but hearing it played live was a revelation, enveloping the listener in the drama and confusion of the shooting, which still offering hints of the main theme.

I was looking forward to hearing Jerry Goldsmith's compositions for Basic Instinct and Chinatown as I am not familiar with the soundtracks. The former was okay, but Chinatown was an excellent listen, evoking the sultry underbelly of LA along with some interesting orchestration and use of instruments.

Don Davis' suite from The Matrix had a lot of energy and excitement, but it lacked the melodic skills of Williams and Goldsmith. James Newton Howard's score to The Sixth Sense was far more restrained, if not a little boring at times compared to some of his other works.

The end of the program took a trip back to the 60's with Ron Goodwin's swinging Miss Marple theme, which I didn't really enjoy. The program ended with a James Bond medley, familiar and fun, though I'm not really a fan of the music. Likewise, the encore of Nino Rota's famous music for The Godfather is not my thing and I thought it was a fairly meloncholy way to end the night.

As I commented back in 2006 when I attended a previous Symphony at the Movies concert I felt there was too much emphasis on older music and not enough on the new. Thankfully the Sydney Symphony redeemed itself last year with the brilliant concert: The Music of John Williams. They should do the same for a few other composers, like Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner.

Finally, it was a shock to see how much Clive James appears to have aged. He wasn't in good form tonight, stumbling over his words at times and appearing quite tired. He only truly came alive for political quips.

I'm happy to see film music getting more recognition in Sydney, but I do think that the concerts could further improve. Sydney Symphony: if you want a good film music program, I'll help pick the pieces!

The full program (pdf)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's the real message?

Sometimes you have wonder what message the automated keyword linking system is trying to give...

Science Daily: Boss’ Gender Impacts Employee Stress Levels

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Review of the National Innovation System

The government's Review of the National Innovation System has been released. Haven't had a chance to read much of it yet, but I do see that it calls for more funding for research and educational institutions, which is good. The report is called venturousaustralia which is just plain stupid.

I can't believe Venturous isn't a made up word. How long until it is used across government agencies?

At least they have an Innovation Review Cartoon Gallery!

Beijing Paralympics

The Beijing Paralympics are on!

Eight years ago we attended a day of the Sydney 2000 Paralympics. Our tickets allowed us to enter any of the sporting events and venues and we took advantage of this to see as much as we could. Australia topped the medal tally and, unlike during our attendance of the 2000 Olympics, we actually heard the Australian Anthem played (a number of times, as it was). We also saw the interior of the swimming facility with the seats stretching back to nosebleed levels.

But those were just bonuses on top of the sport itself. When watching the athletes we didn't see disabilities, only different ways of playing fantastic sport. Wheelchairs were just extensions of the body, missing limbs meaning just a different style of swimming stroke. It was great to watch and we had a wonderful day.

While checking up on the current Paralympic coverage on the ABC I discovered that cheating is a problem for the Paralympics as well and in some ways to make the able bodied squirm:
Some of the ways that Paralympic athletes "boost'' include sitting on pins, thumb tacks or ball bearings, turning off their catheters - allowing fluid to build up inside the body - while some male athletes who go so far as to tie wire around their genital area.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Monkey tragic!

It's not just eyeVio that I am using to watch Japanese video. I just bought the boxed set DVD's of Monkey from the ABC Shop today. Now, at long last, I will be able to realise my childhood dream of watching the entire series. And maybe share a little of my childhood with my own child (I also have a boxed set of Goodies episodes). That is, if they can cope with the old fashioned special effects!

Check out the lyrics of the theme song to the series: Monkey Magic.
Born from an egg on a mountain top
The punkiest monkey that ever popped

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Party pooper

I'd love to be in Japan seeing the Japanese Poop Museum but unfortunately I'll be in the backyard picking up poop from three different dogs (two of which don't belong to us!). Then there are the preparations for our little poop machine (currently kicking pressuring mummy's digestive system from the inside). 432 disposable newborn nappies in our possession so far.

Courtesy of

How to see out of an invisible cloak

The problem with an invisible cloak is that your wouldn't be able to see anything from under it - the light has been bent away from you rather than transmitted through the material. But now researchers believe they may have found a solution by using a material that has the inverse refractive properties of the invisibility cloak's materials, cancelling out the effect!

Invisibility Undone: Chinese Scientists Demonstrate How To Uncloak An Invisible Object

Virus Weaves Itself Into The DNA Transferred From Parents To Babies

The human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) can integrate itself into your chromosomes, then be passed on to your children.

Virus Weaves Itself Into The DNA Transferred From Parents To Babies

The virophage as a unique parasite of the giant mimivirus : Abstract : Nature

"So nat'ralists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller fleas that bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum."

Jonathan Swift
To the best of our knowledge the predator-prey sequence doesn't proceed ad infinitum. The smallest "flea" we know of is the virus. Most viruses can only be seen with electron microscopes, but as anyone who has a cold knows, the can pick on some very big hosts. Now researchers have found that viruses themselves can be prey - to other, smaller viruses.

The virophage as a unique parasite of the giant mimivirus

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The grass and the train

More like this from Hiro Y.

Why I want to return to Japan

Cherry blossoms in Springtime. Just one of many reasons to return to Japan!

Flight associated headaches

I have been on a few international flights where I suffered debilitating headaches. One was so bad that I considered quitting international travel altogether. Now it seems that I am not alone.

A paper in Cephalalgia, An Internation Journal of Headache, as it dubs itself, found that over 22% of passengers reported flight associated headaches at least once a month.

The research was based on questionnaires filled out by travellers, the majority of whom flew in economy class. Suggestions for possible causes of these headaches were the constant noise of the engines, the quality, the lower air pressure and oxygen content of the recirculated cabin air.

Another, earlier, study in the New England Journal of Medicine where the changes in cabin pressure was simulated in a hypobaric chamber found that some participants suffered symptoms akin to high-altitude mountain sickness.

Thankfully, at least in my case, I don't get headaches on every flight and it has been possible to enjoy many holidays in distant places. It will be interesting to see what future research uncovers, as well as the impact of quieter cabins, such as on the Airbus A380, and the higher cabin pressures of the Boeing 787.


I Potasman, O Rofe & B Weller, Flight-associated headaches—prevalence and characteristics. Cephalagia, 2008; 28:863-867.

Muhm JM, Rock PB, McMullin DL, Jones SP, Lu IL, Eilers KD et al. Effect of aircraft-cabin altitude on passenger discomfort. N Engl J Med 2007; 357:18–27.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Beware the Librarian

The secret of negotiating with anyone is to strike a balance between respecting the worker's rights and enforcing boundaries of acceptable behaviour, says conflict resolution trainer Eleanor Shakiba - whose interest in conciliation stems from a stint as a librarian, when she faced clients incensed by 90-cent fines.
Managing office conflict

Monday, September 01, 2008

Genes and geography

Researchers studying the genomes of Europeans found correlations between their genetic differences and their geographical ancestry.

Human geography is mapped in the genes - being-human - 31 August 2008 - New Scientist

Travel Blog Diarrhoea

I copied the text of my China blog and my other travel blog into Word and discovered that I have written about 63,000 words and 133 pages of 12pt text since the start of the China trip last year. And I still have plenty to write even without another trip. There are also 10,253 photos taken by B and I during our trips since that time (even more from earlier trips and others that are travel related).

New Narita Express

The Narita Express, or N'EX, is one of my favourite trains. It was my first experience of Japan outside of the airport and it was always a welcome chance to relax after a long flight or the last minute rush of shopping that accompanies a final day in Tokyo.

Now I read that the current 253 series trains will be replaced by the new E259 series late in 2009. In most parts of the world the current trains would already be considered exceptional. I'm going to miss the original N'EX, on which I have travelled seven times. At least I will still have my little N-scale version running around the desk at home!

Videos of Japan

EyeVio is Sony's competitor to YouTube. It's Japanese only at this point and I discovered it through an RSS feed on my MyLO. The video quality is often extraordinarily clear, though I find the high definition option is too slow even on the fat bandwidth of work.

Amongst the wild and wacky videos of synchronised Rolly dancing, a puppet's guide to Kawagoe and a Japanese Christian band with tambourines(!!!) are beautiful clips of Japanese festivals, views out of hotel windows and normal Japanese street scenes. I love these simple reminders of Japanese life. Listening to the announcements on a train, the sound of the walk signal across the road, they remind me of Japan, make me want to return.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Designing the Qantas A380 interior

Very interesting article in the New York Times about the challenges faced by Marc Newson in designing the interior of the new Qantas Airbus A380 aircraft, especially in light of all the criticism the design has received.

Design Notebook - Marc Newson Designs a Superjumbo -

Monday, August 25, 2008

Kita turns two

Kita turned two years old yesterday! He got a new toy and promptly damaged it (through love, as always), a meal of My Dog and a long walk. I tried to buy him some bones but the butcher had run out. The chicken shop had also sold out of chicken necks. So he gets to eat frozen uncooked chicken wings this week.

His party had to wait until tonight when his two "cousins" (the in-laws' Cavalier King Charles spaniels) came to stay while their back fence is repaired. Kita ran round and round the back yard in circles with excitement. But once he got tired I think he just wanted to hang out with us as he usually does. He takes after us, likes his quiet family time (and has my stumpy legs and long torso). Such a wonderful dog. Happy birthday Kita!

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Two perspectives on border security

Two television shows on border protection tonight, two very different perspectives. First was Channel 7's Border Security, featuring quarantine and immigration officials at Australian airports. Full of hyperbole about keeping "undesirables" (food, drugs or people!) out of the country. Border Security is generally acknowledged as a guilty pleasure amongst my friends and colleagues.

Then there was tonight's episode of Australian Story on the ABC. It featured the story of Daniel Meadows, a "vlogger" who fell in love with a US girl over the internet. He flew across to the United States to meet her, his very first trip out of the country, but was detained by US Department of Homeland Security on suspicion of terrorism and risk of overstaying. His crime was having a joke email, an FBI cap, no job and, according to the officials, no ties back home. He was deported back to Australia and placed on the Watch List.

That's the sad fact about the immigration authorities. Amongst the various incoming visitors who wish to abuse the system there are also many with sad or unusual stories to tell. You hope that there is a level of compassion and understanding amongst officials that transcends the bureaucracy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Our little Olympian

It seems like we have our own little Olympian in our household. Perhaps inspired by the games, Baby is doing a full workout inside of Mummy. No quite certain which sport Baby is practising, but feeling those movements really brings home that fact that there is a independent little life in there. It's quite wonderful, though those bumps and thumps really are quite strong and disturb B from her sleep now and then.

Yesterday we visited the Hurstville Community Private Hospital, where B is scheduled to give birth, for the first time. Quite a small hospital, not so "white" as I'm used to. Seems nice enough though and the reviews have been quite positive.

Such a lovely day outside and I'm stuck inside with a head cold and trying to finish a report for our meeting in Canberra on Monday. Would rather be sleeping, to tell the truth. Still, at least I get to fly tomorrow and do a comparison between Virgin Blue and Qantas. Hopefully the latter won't be delayed!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's time to go to war!

I've been watching Australia fall down in the Beijing Olympic medal list. The cause is simple. Forget swimming - or as it might be called, the art of not drowning whilst travelling quickly in a horizontal direction. It's the disciplines of war and violence that get you the medals.

Boxing, wrestling, shooting, fencing, archery, judo, javelin, taekwondo. All the different weight combinations, distances, forms of weapons. There are so many medal chances!

And who is winning these medals? Countries who have land borders with outer nations. Nations at war now or in the recent past. China, North and South Korea on the podium in the Men's 10m Air Pistol and China, Russia and Georgia in the Women's event. Russia was invading Georgia when the latter two contestants were duking it out on the shooting range. How's that for motivation?

The problem with Australia is that we don't share land borders with anyone. So what's the point of learning how to shoot, kick, stab, wrestle, spear or punch? The only thing we seem good at is clay target shooting, but that might be a cultural fear of using china plates.

Maybe if roadside bombing was a sport we could compete with the Afghans and Iraqi's. Machete fencing against Timorese and Solomon Islanders is another possibility. We can look at making them demonstration sports in future, but I think we need a solid start as soon as possible.

We need to invade New Zealand. They are close. We can almost speak their language. We've already stolen their rugby coach. And they have an airforce without combat aircraft. As aerial dogfighting is not an Olympic sport the latter fact will not cause any difficulties.

Invade, and gold medals await the victor!

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Olympic Spirit

The Beijing Olympics begin today. Two decades ago, in 1988, they were held in Seoul, Korea. We were on holiday at Blackwater in outback Queensland at the time. Why Blackwater? I don't know as I don't recall actually seeing anything but long coal trains running past the caravan park where we pitched our tent. We listened to the Olympics over the radio. They kept playing a particular piece of music during the coverage which I rather enjoyed.

It was quite a few years later when I discovered that the piece was called The Olympic Spirit and was written by my favourite composer, John Williams for the NBC coverage of the games.

On the drive back from Blackwater I listened to the soundtrack to Chariots of Fire. I don't quite think I saw the connection to the Olympics at the time!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Pet dogs can 'catch' human yawns

The BBC is reporting on a paper by Senju et. al. published in Biology Letters that Pet dogs can 'catch' human yawns. It apparently demonstrates that dogs can empathise with humans.

I already use this technique on Kita when I want him to go to sleep!

The One

Last night on Channel Se7ven The One, Australia's most gifted psycho, was announced.

The final competitors were:

Jack - His gifts included the ability to hear voices, to speak to non-existent people and fund raising activities.

Jill - A deft hand with a knife and a knitting needle, Jills skills were often compared to those of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.

Bill - Currently employed at Macquarie Bank.

It was Bill who impressed the judges the most. Here's a sample of his talents...

"I see bodies everywhere... No, not a boardroom reshuffle. I sense a positive aura about this situation. Yes, it's clear now. It's, it's... mass redundancies."

With that vision our psychic judges could see their stock rising and voted Bill, The One.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Feeling hungry

F!#$ the fragant chicken cartilage and the hexangular germ fries the cowboy bone.

If Sichuan food wasn't already too spicy to eat then maybe the translated names of the dishes will put you off!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Knitting with dog hair

I once saw a book entitled Knitting with Dog Hair in the bargain bin of a bookshop. I always regret not purchasing it as I'm sure it would have been a talking point. Just the blurb on the back was enough to elicit a laugh.

The other day I found a podcast of a documentary with the same title. The documentary is a real hoot, especially the comments of the dog hair knitting expert. According to him dog hair is a huge environmental problem. Burn it and you will get cancer. If it blows into the ocean it can ruin the fishing. But those statements were nothing compared with what he had to say about the emotional state of the dogs. Apparently "studies done in Florida" show that yarn taken from an unhappy dog can psychically affect the wearer and make them unhappy too!

It's good for a laugh, but be warned. When Kita heard this podcast he barked!

Monday, July 28, 2008

A high flying mathematician

Alan Joyce has been named as the next CEO of Qantas. Apparently, the current head of Jetstar has a Masters in Mathematics and Physics. Maybe I should put running an airline down as one of my goals!

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Welcome to my new blog, allrite rites. My old blog is at I have another blog devoted to travel at travelling allrite.

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