Monday, December 24, 2012

The Santa thing

Last year Alex was frightened of Santa, making work and preschool Christmas parties challenging, as was the annual shopping centre photo shoot on Santa's lap. This year he has been totally into the whole Santa thing. He talked himself into being confident receiving presents at the parties, pleaded to have his photo taken at each visit to the shopping centre and has been acting extra good (if that's even possible) to ensure that Santa will leave him a gift.

What makes him most confident that Santa will be pleased with him is that he has been very helpful when brushing his teeth. Not sure if there is a little Santa/Tooth Fairy confusion going on here.

Anyway, he absolutely deserves those presents under the tree, unlike the young idiots who placed a used condom on our front door handle this afternoon. On one hand I'm glad they used contraception because I would hate for them to breed. On the other I'd be quite happy for them to contract an STI that causes their privates to drop off.

But back to happy thoughts, I am so glad to be spending a couple of weeks together with the four of us (dog included). Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular - Sydney

It was Sydney's turn today to host the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular. Back in February the family attended one of the sold out Melbourne shows and I reviewed it as
One of the best concerts that I have attended. A perfect performance by the orchestra, choir and soloists as well as a wonderful atmosphere generated both by the production and the audience that attended it. The whole family loved it.
So how did Sydney compare?

A bit has changed between the two shows. I'm now more familiar with the music, having had time to listen to the Series 6 soundtrack. Much of the music of Series 6 takes a few listens to appreciate in full, but it is highly rewarding to do so.

Gone were the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Concordis Choir and the venue of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, to be replaced with The Metropolitan Orchestra, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and that most famous of all concert halls in Australia: the Sydney Opera House.

Alex Kingston (River Song) and Mark Williams (Brian Williams) replaced Mark Sheppard (Canton Everett Delaware III) in hosting duties.

The line up of pieces to be played changed slightly, with An Untimely Arrival, Almost People Suite and the Closing Time Suite replaced by Brianosaurus and The Final Chapter of Amelia Pond.

I was quite curious to see how The Metropolitan Orchestra would perform as I've been quite disappointed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's performance in comparison to the Melbourne Symphony. At least the conductor would be the same Ben Foster who conducted not only in Melbourne, but for the series recording  themselves.

The Sydney Opera House is a lot tighter venue that the Melbourne Convention Centre. The foyer was chaos as Doctor Who attired patrons attempted to buy merchandise, pick up special memorabilia packs, purchase drinks or take photos with various Doctor Who cutouts and costumes. Fortunately there is an outdoor area, where we escaped to watch the Costa Romantica cruiseliner push past the Harbour Bridge and berth at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. I met a work colleague also attending the concert and we chatted while B and Alex bought a TARDIS soft toy. Then it was time to go in.

Our seats inside the concert hall were quite far back as the very large front sections were unaffordably expensive. Still, I don't think they were any further than in Melbourne. The hall was much narrower, however.

After a prerecorded introduction from Matt Smith, the current doctor, on the video screen behind the orchestra the performance began with A Madman in a Box. Immediately, I thought the Soprano Antoinette Halloran was tonally wrong, despite her flawless performance in Melbourne. In fact, the whole orchestra's sound seemed a bit off.

The reason why didn't hit me until Alex Kingston emerged to introduce herself and the next performance. She was typically sassy, taking full advantage of River Song character being a far more substantial member of the series than Mark Sheppard's Canton. However, her voice, and that of every other announcer, came out of the auditorium speakers sounding thin and missing in middle and base frequencies. Either the speaker system is flawed or the acoustics of the hall are faulty.

Unfortunately, these issues detracted from the entire concert for me. The orchestra sounded unbalanced, unlike the near perfect sound in Melbourne, but I just don't know if it was them or the venue. The choir too sounded unbalanced, with the male voices too weak. It looked to me that the choir had fewer members than in Melbourne.

Despite the problems, I did enjoy the concert, still got tingles down the spine when listening to The Majestic Tale of the Madman in a Box, the Saturnyne vampires in Liz, Lizards, Vampires and Vincent, farewelling Amy and Rory in The Final Chapter of Amelia Pond, the powerful countertenor voice of Daniel Bonic-Goodwin sing Vale Decem and the encore Song of Freedom.

It was also nice to hear from the composer Murray Gold, who again attended the concert.

Four year old Alex was a bit tired today and fell asleep during the beautiful Abigail's Song, to awake after the interval for the Daleks of Battle in the Skies. He asked too many questions during performances and complained later that the show was too long. Understandable, as he usually sleeps longer and some of the pieces are a bit slow for his age. I let him play Angry Birds on my phone for a while to keep him quiet. When the Daleks, Cybermen and other creatures appeared on stage Alex loved it. Especially, when a vampire lady stalked the aisle beside us. He also swung his arms around  in excitement, conducting and dancing, when he heard the recurring I Am The Doctor theme, his movements reaching fever pitch during the Ron Grainer's Doctor Who theme. He was singing it out loud as we walked along to the Opera House.

Was it as good as Melbourne? Sadly, much as I still enjoyed this concert I could not answer yes to this question. Perhaps the orchestra and choir wasn't as good as the MSO and Concordis choir, but more than anything I blame the venue. The Sydney Opera House may be  the most famous piece of architecture in Australia, but I am certain now that there are serious issues with its acoustics and it's really starting to annoy me. (That, and the sloppy disdain for modern popular music held by the Sydney Symphony and those associated with it).

But if you are a Doctor Who fan and there are still seats to the Symphonic Spectacular available don't let my criticisms stop you. You must come and see the concert, because it really is spectacular and a lot of fun.

Music performed

The Madman With A Box
I Am The Doctor
A Stitch In Time
Abigail's Song
The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe Suite
Battle In The Skies
The Majestic Tale Of A Madman In A Box
Liz, Lizards, Vampires & Vincent
The Wedding Of River Song
This Is Gallifrey/Vale Decem
Pandorica Suite
The Final Chapter of Amelia Pond
Song Of Freedom
Doctor Who Theme

Monday, November 12, 2012

Spider-Alex is 4

These day not a week seems to go by without the release of some new superhero movie. But when have they ever made a film dedicated to the superhero's support crew? The people that feed them, sew up their costumes and clean up after them. Where's The Butler Begins (Mopping Again) or The Incredible Hulk's Tailor?

It's hard work being the support crew, but that was our role on Saturday as we hosted a greater collection of superheros than The Avengers movie at Alex's fourth birthday party.

Three long nights of cake baking, decorating and popping. My hat goes off to my fanatic cake decorating colleagues as it is a fiddly and expensive process, belied by the simplicity of books and YouTube videos. Alex helped where he could, but even he slept late.

When the day arrived we go stuck in a jam trying to enter a Hurstville carpark so we could collect the sausage buns we had ordered from a Chinese bakery. Then a magically lost ticket turned a free park into a $25 one.

We barely made it to the park on time, so thanks to the in-laws for grabbing a table for us. We quickly set up the food as the first guests arrived. Family, B's friends, Alex's preschool friends, many dressed up in superhero costumes, as was a muscly Spider-man Alex.

Faced with a larger crowd than initially expected we hired an entertainer to keep the kids amused and it worked a treat. Spider-man/Isaac had the kids in stitches with his magic tricks and games. The huge smile on Alex's face made it all worthwhile.

When Isaac started making the balloon animals other kids asked for dinosaurs, flowers or weapons. Alex requested an apple!

Much of the food was devoured, the fruits, spinach cob dip, jellies and cake pops, leaving us enough buns for half a week's lunch. And the rain stayed away, despite the threatening grey clouds and the torrential (but localised) rain and hail of the day before.

Afterwards, my side of the family and us headed off to Top Ryde to find dinner, ending up in a pub after the other eateries proved too expensive. Alex fell asleep on the way hope and refused to wake up for a shower or change of clothes or even the gorgeous firework show that magically appeared over the Georges River.

This was certainly a different birthday to last year's in Paris and far more exhausting. It may not be easy being in the superhero support crew, but it is fun.

Friday, October 12, 2012


B became a citizen of Australia today. The last step in the process was to attend the citizenship ceremony at the Sutherland Entertainment Centre. Watching the families and individuals walk on stage to accept their certificates of citizenship warmed my heart, as I genuinely believe that Australia is a better place for its diversity of peoples. Certainly the Sutherland Shire could do with a greater mix, though many on stage were of Anglo-Celtic origin, as were all but one of the government and community guests.

Speaking of them, I was, as always, appalled by our Federal (Liberal) member who praised coal, iron and entrepreneurship as the greatest things about the country. Spends all his time complaining about taxes. Oh well, now B gets the chance to decide on his future and that of the rest of the country, including our son.

There are many things that diversity brings to Australia. One is definitely food. Prior to the ceremony we had a quick dinner of "modern Vietnamese cuisine", which was quite nice, despite the pan-Asian nature of their menu, plus a couple of nods to local tastes. After the ceremony it was mini meat pies, sausage rolls and ANZAC biscuits.

The entertainment at the ceremony consisted of a couple of guys dressed in stockman outfits singing typical Australian folk songs.

To me, that's not Australia anymore. I'm not quite certain what it means to be Australian anymore. I'm not sure I care much about nationalistic identities, but I do think it should be richer, more sophisticated and more diverse than it so often portrayed as by "True Blue Aussies". Let's cast off our cultural straightjackets and celebrate and share our many different cultures. Once you accept that culture is a living thing and traditions are not laws life is far more fun.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Make it so!

A presentation from NASA's Dr Harold White about how an Alcubierre Warp Drive might work [pdf] and how they are testing for it. See the Discovery article for a less technical explanation.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Olympic Legacy

As the final ceremony of the London Olympics fades away the media are already asking whether they were better than Sydney. I have no answer to that question as I have only seen a little of these latest games, held as they were, across the other side of the world. It matters not in the end, for hopefully each Olympics learns from the successes and failures of those that preceded it.

Yesterday we visited the Sydney 2000 Olympic site at Homebush for one of its fine legacies, the Aquatic Centre. Unfortunately, the water playground was closed for maintenance, but it did give us the opportunity to drive elsewhere around the site.

The location at Homebush has many detractors, but I suspect that many are from those who restrict themselves through snobbery to the eastern areas of this city. I like the lonely grandeur of these venues that only come alive for sports matches, concerts and the annual agricultural show. Maybe because it allows me to remember the crowds and the buzz of twelve years ago.

I don't think Sydney has ever been better than it was during the games. When not attending events I was in the city. It had a relaxed and happy atmosphere, workers crowding around the big screens at Martin Place and elsewhere to watch Olympic events, or on the televisions which sprung up across offices everywhere. More people supposedly departed Sydney than arrived for the duration of the games. I like to think that the city's nastiness departed with them.

So I think the Sydney Olympics were a success, if only a fleeting one, just to show that this could be a great city. I hope that London enjoyed its time too.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Two Towers Concert

I missed out on the Sydney Symphony's Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring concert last year, mainly because I had blown the concert budget. But also because I attended the SSO's Lord of the Rings Symphony way back when the composer, Howard Shore, conducted it. Truth was that I was a bit disappointed at the lack of the original exotic instruments and hence a different sound. The SSO has got me before like than, most notably with Tan Dun.

I've probably blown my concert budget again this year (whole family down to Melbourne for the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular) but I waited until the cheap restricted tickets were released for the SSO's LOTR: The Two Towers performance. Okay it meant restricted vision, but I was there for the music.

In my opinion the music of the Two Towers improved upon the first installment's. I first really listened to the soundtrack while on holiday in the South Island of New Zealand, and there can be no more appropriate place than that.

The deal with this performance was that the music would be performed by the orchestra while the film was shown on a big screen above. I didn't expect that the dialogue and effects tracks would also be played, but they were. I couldn't see the point of that, as you can always watch the movie in the comfort of your own home in that case. It's difficult not to focus on the film because it is rather good!

I was seated in the middle right section of the very front row, but I still had decent vision of most of the screen. Unfortunately, I found the nearby speaker rather distracting and confused my localisation of sound from the orchestra. Still, that was a minor issue. The other downside of the seat was that I could only see the conductor and the front strings sections, when vision of the rest of the orchestra would have been interesting. I shouldn't complain though, the tickets were discounted.

Unlike my last few experiences with the SSO, the performance was generally excellent, with only a few minor wobbles from the brass section. The sounds seemed genuine, though I do wonder if it was actually a hardanger (Norwegian fiddle) used for the Rohirrim scenes as the chief violinist's (she did the solos) instrument looked the same as a normal violin, except there were electrical wires emerging from it. Sound modification or just a soloist's microphone, I wouldn't know.

The two choirs, the Sydney Philharmonic and Sydney Children's were both fantastic and the solo vocalists Clara Sanabras and Sebastian Pini were wonderful. The Opera House's acoustics again seemed to detract from the overall sound. It's a pity that this wonderful piece of architecture just doesn't support the perfomers properly.

Will I attend the final installment, The Return of the King? Quite possibly. I'm sure that it will be staged because all sessions of The Two Towers appeared to be virtually sold out.

The applause at the end lastest as long as a Peter Jackson battle scene: The Extended Edition.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Blocked help

Oh it is such a joy to use Microsoft based technologies. Needed a Sitecore (A .Net based web content management system) API reference. So far as I could see it was only available on their developers network as a Windows help file. Download file. Double click. Can't view contents. Need to go back on the web and search to discover that you need to go back into the properties of the help file and click "Unblock". Nowhere does Microsoft make that obvious. If I were using an open source CMS then the APIs would probably be in nice searchable and commented HTML files easily available on the web.

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Xperiamental keyboard

What's that, an even smaller Sony computer than my VAIO P? No! It's my Sony Xperia S mobile phone paired up with a Elecom TK-FBP029 bluetooth keyboard.

With its 1280 x 720 pixel screen and Android operating system the Xperia S makes for a decent and highly portable computer. However, I find the touch screen keyboards of mobile phones too inaccurate for substantial typing. There are also issues with the on screen keyboard using up a lot of screen space when accessing our corporate Outlook web mail site. So on my last trip to Japan I went in search of small keyboards that I could easily carry around with me.

Naturally there were plentiful iPad/iPhone compatible keyboards, but the Android selections were more limited. The keyboards were either too big or, in the case of the folding keyboards, too flimsy. I fell in love with the TK-FBP029 despite the packaging stating only that it was Apple compatible. Indeed, at first, I couldn'd get it to connect properly to my Xperia. Most of the bluetooth keyboards said they required Android 3.0 rather than the 2.3 the phone ran.

The keyboard did work with my Sony Tablet S running Ice Cream Sandwich, so I had hope that the upcoming rollout of ICS for the Xperia would fix the issue.

And it did! Switch on bluetooth on the phone, switch the keyboard on and wait to be asked to type in a four digit code. It took me a couple of goes, but I got it running pretty quickly.

The keyboard includes a combined cover/phone stand which unfortunately doesn't stay upright when placed on a table. I suspect that you are supposed to hold it in your hands and type with your thumbs. The phone is not held securely by the cover. I'm not sure it it would work better with an iPhone.

The key action is quite nice, especially when compared with many of the other small keyboards I tried. The major issues are that numbers are only accessible in conjunction with the Alt key and the space bar is very small. But all in all I'm quite impressed and look forward to further real world testing.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Remembering Telstra's Viatel

With the news that France's Minitel network is to be switched off this weekend I was prompted to recall Telstra's (or Telecom Australia's) version of this proto-internet. Back when we were looking to get a replacement for our Multitech (now Acer) MPF-II computer Dad brought home a brochure on the Telecom Australia's Viatel system.

This videotex system used a dedicated terminal to retrieve and submit information over the telephone network. To a kid who had read books like Ender's Game and feeling very isolated in rural Queensland access to online databases and information resources sounded wonderful. Unfortunately, it was too expensive to consider and we ended up with a Amstrad CPC 6128.

I was not to get home network access until 1993 when, while at university, I bought a 2400 baud modem for my 386SX PC. But that is another story...

You can read a lot more about Viatel at Peter Hosie's Promises, promises - Viatel and education, written back in 1985.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Smooth skies and storms

Aircraft should stay well clear of storms according to research released by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.  A storm cell is an air mass containing a convective loop of updrafts and downdrafts. As the mass of air is sucked up, gravity exerts a force pulling it downwards and oscillatory motion is generated. These are called gravity waves (see undular bores for more information).

Being caught in an actual storm cell is an extremely hazardous situation for aircraft, but what this research is saying is that the turbulent effects of storm cells can be felt as far as 100 kilometres away. 

I've flown through a few regions of storm activity in my time and any research that makes for a smoother flying experience gets my vote!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tentacle porn is painful

Opposite Hakodate station is the fish market, around which you can find small restaurants with tanks of squid in the window, ready for eating. We watched one customer use a barbed line to fish out her own meal of squid from a pool. It was then taken by the stall keeper, chopped up and served raw and still wriggling, along with a dash of soy sauce.

Perhaps I was right to feel squeamish. There have been a number of published cases of eaters of raw or undercooked squid experiencing severe pain as packets of squid sperm explode in their mouths. If this sounds disgusting enough, just wait until you find out how squids reproduce.

Rather than the (hopefully) gentle penetration of the male penis into the female vagina, followed by the individual sperm swimming up towards the egg, as happens in humans, the squid process is far more brutal.

The male stabs large sperm packets (spermatangia), each containing thousands or millions of sperm, into the female's arms like a hypodermic syringe. These long thin packets cement themselves to the arms and burrow into the flesh by using enzymes to dissolve it. They then remain there until such time as the female releases her big jelly ball of eggs, which she shapes into a ball with her arms. Sensing this, the sperm are released from their packets and burrow out and into the eggs, fertilising them.

There's a great video of the process on Inside Nature's Giants, recently screened on SBS in Australia.

In many species of squid the female's arms may be implanted with the spermatangia of multiple males.

So there you go, the pain felt by those unfortunately squid eaters was the sensation of the sperm packets adhering and burrowing into their tongue and mouth cavity.



  1. Park GM, Kim JY, Kim JH, Huh JK. Penetration of the oral mucosa by parasite-like sperm bags of squid: a case report in a Korean woman. J Parasitol. 2012 Feb;98(1):222-3. Epub 2011 Aug 11. PubMed PMID: 21834723.
  2. Shiraki Y, Kawai K, Kojima S, Suzuki Y, Ono K. Stinging in the oral cavity caused by ingestion of the sperm bags of a squid: a case report. Pathol Int. 2011 Dec;61(12):749-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1827.2011.02722.x. Epub 2011 Sep 1. PubMed PMID: 22126383.
  3. Nagakura K, Nakano M, Kanamaru M. Two cases of oral-stings by sperm bag of squid. Tokai J Exp Clin Med. 1992 Dec;17(5-6):195-7. PubMed PMID: 1343427.
  4. Nakashima H, Akagi M, Miyabe S, Iwasawa H. Two unusual cases of a foreign body in the oral cavity caused by eating raw squid. Acta Otolaryngol Suppl. 1996;522:104-7. PubMed PMID: 8740821.
  5. Hoving H J T, Laptikhovsky V. Getting Under the Skin: Autonomous Implantation of Squid Spermatophores. Biol. Bull. June 2007;212 no. 3:177-179
  6. O'Shea S. Architeuthis (Giant Squid) reproduction, with notes on basic anatomy and behavior. Mar 2003
  7. Myers PK. Machines of aggressively loving grace. Dec 2008
  8. Inside Nature's Giants - Giant Squid, SBS, 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

Featherdale Wildlife Park

When B organised a trip to Featherdale Wildlife Park with her friends I was less than enthused. After all, I've been to many Australian native wildlife parks over the years. Australian wildlife tends to lack the grandeur of megafauna or the antics of primates. I was concerned that Alex would be somewhat disinterested as well, as he shows more fascination with the mechanical over the biological.

The drive out to Featherdale along the M5 and M7 was surprisingly pleasant. It was nice to get out of the urban environment for a while and let the car have a good run.

Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. Almost as soon as you enter the park you are greeted by tame wallabies hopping around your legs. Alex loved feeding them grass filled ice cream cones. Wombats made an appearance and even some of the koalas were awake. One was available for touching. We were in time to feed the pelicans, tossing the raw fish away from the annoying ibis.

Tawny frogmouths (one strokable) and kookaburras sat around near the koala enclosures. There were young farm animals, dingoes, emus, reptiles and a wide variety of native birds. What Alex liked best was the bat enclosure, but mainly because it was a dark tunnel and he could chase other kids around in it.

There was enough to see that we ran out of time, as Alex got tired and needed his afternoon sleep. Quite a nice  way to spend Sunday and he won't lack for things to talk about at preschool this week.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Controlling choice online

I sat through a Sitecore content management system presentation this morning where the representative used every buzzword under the Sun. In it he spruiked the software's Web Engagement Management capabilities, tracking and profiling visitors and serving up personalised content without them having control over the process. As he related how delighted he was that sites like Amazon knew what he liked and used that to tempt him to buy more I joked to colleagues that the definition of a marketing person is someone who doesn't find personalisation creepy. I do.

I guess that I appreciate personalisation of a non-financial service, such as a government website serving up only those documents and forms I need based upon information that I have given them. But I generally reject website applications that try to lead me on a path based upon what the site thinks I like. The problem is that you lose trust in them. What are they trying to hide from you?

If a website serves up different information based upon personalisation, what happens if you want something different? It's like foreign airline websites that only give you flights out of Australia when what you actually want to look up is for their fares domestically or between other countries. It really irritates me.

Not everyone obviously. Apparently regional personalisation worked wonders for EasyJet, filling the equivalent of two extra aircraft a day (or was it every hour?). For me, I would rather have the power of choice. Not them.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Doctors for the [Christian Only] Family?

A group of prominent doctors put in a senate submission opposing same sex marriage on the basis that children do better in heterosexual marriages. You've got to ask yourself if they are speaking from a genuine medical perspective or their own religious beliefs.

The first signature is from a Dr Priscilla Tan who thanks God when writing reports for a medical insurer. The next one, Dr Yoke Mei Neoh, has written for the Christian Sight magazine. Another prominent signature was from the Victorian Deputy Chief Psychiatrist and HREOC member Professor Kuruvilla George. A little searching reveals that he is an ex-Christian missionary. I leave it as an exercise to check the other names on the submission. Yet check out the website for Doctors For The Family and nowhere do they seem to explicitly mention Christianity. But neither do their "supporting arguments" seem based on science.

If they wanted to sign a petition as a private citizen, fine, that's their right. It is very difficult for me to trust a doctor who is prepared to let their non-evidence based beliefs interfere with their work. Who are they working for, the patient, or their god? Whose happiness matters more?

Give me a happy and loving homosexual family any day over a dysfunctional or violent heterosexual one.

Friday, April 27, 2012

All a twitter on Apps Day

I posted over 100 tweets today under the username @AppsDay on behalf of the Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation's Broadband Apps Day 2012 at the Australian Technology Park. The day featured a speakers from organisations ranging from Google and Microsoft to Woolworths and Ausgrid discussing potential applications for the National Broadband Network (NBN) and the issues associated with them.

Topics included home automation, health applications (including Dance Dance Revolution for seniors), application development and e-commerce.

There was a disappointing lack of discussion on the security and privacy issues associated with these applications. For instance, a Samsung rep was spruiking the control of household whitegoods from their televisions, phones and tablets. Yet there was a recent report of vulnerabilities in Samsung electronics, one of which could cause endless restarts in their televisions. Who might be watching you on those televisions as well?

The point about who owns your household data was also raised. Some of your devices like smart electricity and water meters may report directly back to suppliers via the NBN without the household owner being able to directly access that data. What about other devices sending usage information out to marketers. One speaker thought that users might want Harvey Norman to contact them to offer more energy saving devices based upon usage. That's actually quite scary.

There is a lot to think about with the potential for a ubiquitous broadband network with similarly ubiquitous connected devices.

A few speakers commented that the way people consumed entertainment has changed and that their children expected on demand video rather than traditional television and to interact with devices via touch, voice or gesture rather than the normal remote control. It's certainly been our experience with Alex.

I don't think that Twitter is the best medium for conference commentary. I quite miss IRC's live chatting and channels, though I think we could do even better today. I have some ideas for the ideal online conference tool...

Rather than use the big work laptop I brought in my trusty Sony VAIO P to do the tweeting. The keyboard is great for fast typing and quiet. Even better it's light and cool - important if you don't have a desk.

What I derived the most pleasure from was developing a web display of the conference tweets, which we put up on a big screen outside the lecture theatre. I wasn't happy with the lack of customisation options with other tools like Twitterfall, so I decided to write my own.

It took me around a day to combine the Twitter Search API with Javascript and PHP, along the way reminding myself how to use jQuery, AJAX and parse JSON formatted data, plus do some cool CSS3 effects. The actual programming is surprisingly simple, it's the eye-candy that took the time. Screenshots of the results below:

Opening logo screen

Twitter feed, updated every minute

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Let's safety!

The modern office is full of hazards and we aren't doing enough to make our employees aware of the dangers they face everyday from seemingly innocuous actions. For example, a simple paper cut can become infected, leading to limb amputation or even death. That is why I propose the following measures to help ensure a safe working environment.

  1. Every action item raised in a meeting should be accompanied by a full evaluation of the potential safety risks associated with that action.
  2. When a user clicks on a print button they should be presented with a screen which includes, but is not limited to, warning of the potential health implications of inhaling toner particles and the possibility for paper cuts. The user must accept that they have read the contents of the screen before the document will print.
  3. All documents should be prefaced by the above warnings and any others associated with activities specified within the document. This should be signed by the reader prior to their continuing on with reading the remaining contents of said document. The text of a document should also be interspersed with messages recommending that the reader stop reading and engage in a set of exercises designed to promote good circulation.
  4. For content designed to be viewed on a computer (for example; web pages) the content should be prefaced by instructions for setting up their computer environment to ensure the correct posture and optimal viewing, as well as listing hazards associated with printing the content. The viewer should click an acceptance button before they can proceed to the content. The content should also be interspersed with suggestions for regular exercise breaks.
  5. All staff should have a Safe Working Instructions (SWI) document associated with them. This should detail any risks associated with interactions with the staff member, including, but not limited to, potential sources of stress and sensitive topics likely to result in physical or verbal violence. The staff member should ensure that the SWI are kept up to date, including the potential health risks associated with any transmissible diseases that the staff member is currently suffering. To enable the potential interactee to formulate an optimal method of interaction the SWI should include risks associated all possible methods of disease transmission (respiratory, blood, sexual, etc).
I would like to see a work environment where a Health and Safety Representative plays a role in every meeting, in every document written and in every personal interaction that takes place. Let's safety!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

A row and a flutter

Such a gorgeous Easter Saturday that we just couldn't stay at home. After some debate we drove down to Audley Weir in the Royal National Park. It's a pretty spot with traces of an old fashioned vacation spot. After a picnic by the river we hired a row boat for a couple of hours. I rowed while B and Alex relaxed. It was windy and both their hats escaped into the water, but we managed to retrieve them.

Despite the number of fellow picnickers on the shore and aqua bikes, kayaks, canoes and rowboats on the river it really was very relaxing. The waters were clear, though often filled with water weed. Alex fell asleep for a little while.

A number of other paddlers, generally in kayaks, ended up in the river. We had to laugh when we saw Mr Cool Muscles and his fashionable girlfriend walk past both drenched.

Once we had returned the boat, with the wind still blowing strongly, we followed Alex's instructions and drove out to Ramsgate, on the shores of Botany Bay. There we unfurled his kite, gradually figuring out how to use it as seagulls attempted to mimic its flight in the air.

Alex was more interested in building sandcastles on the beach (until he got sand in his eyes) or climbing around the playground. I watched the big jets fly southwards across Botany Bay, imagining myself in one.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Energy discrimination

Energy efficiency is supposed to save you money. It would seem to me to be logical that the poorer you are, the more you should benefit from using less and thus spending less on electricity. Unfortunately, it often doesn't work out like that.

We went shopping for combination fridge/freezers on the weekend. Two models caught our eye, an Electrolux and a Westinghouse. Both are manufactured in the same factory and share the same basic shells, but the premium Electrolux branded models come with a newer and significantly more energy efficient compressor. The Electrolux fridges were also far more expensive.

So what you save in electricity you probably spend in upfront costs. So much for encouraging energy efficiency! I wonder if the new more energy efficient compressors cost more money and energy to manufacture. How much energy, especially in comparison to that saved in usage?

Friday, March 23, 2012

NSW: The static state

Today the New South Wales government announced that it had purchased Metro Transport Sydney and would scrap the monorail. I rather like the monorail for the views, though it's getting old and has little utility - you might as well walk.

This comes after the government's bail out of the Reliance Rail project for Sydney suburban trains earlier in the month.

I was very amused to read that in 1855 the NSW government became the first in the world to take on the task of operating railways after it acquired the uncompleted assets of the Sydney and Hunter railways companies. 160 years later nothing has changed.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Me vs ASP.Net Part 2

Post delayed by bugs - of the viral nature...

My ASP.Net course (ASP.Net Using C# 2010 - Part 1) wrapped up on Thursday and I have quite mixed feelings about it. I believe that the course was aimed at C# developers who are transitioning on to ASP.Net and it shows. I myself had no C# experience, but its very name displays its C heritage and I have used a number of other derivative languages in that family, so I could follow the general concepts.

The way that the course was presented and many of the language libraries used were too much like developing a Windows application for my liking. When developing a Windows application you generally aim for consistency - the same menu structures, the same look and feel, the same data entry and presentation widgets. The web is much freer. Plus, most websites are not about entering and presenting sales data. Intranet applications, maybe, but even then plenty are designed for other activities.

Datagrids, preconfigured navigation and site map structures, themes other than pure CSS or HTML-like templates. It all felt very old fashioned web. In fact it felt like a programmatic evolution of Microsoft FrontPage. It's what a Microsoft Windows Application Developer might want and I think that's the problem.

Microsoft have, over the years, struggled to accept that the World Wide Web should not be tied to their products.

Take Microsoft Word for instance. It is the bane of most webmasters's existence. Why? Because when you export to HTML it generates a whole lot of code in order to retain it's original appearance when placed online. Even if you use filtered HTML. But most of the time you don't want it to look like that, especially if putting it into a content management system. Some non-HTML author writes up their content in Word, then you need to spend ages cleaning up the code. My favourite feature of Adobe Dreamweaver isn't the (not-really) WYSIWYG editor (I usually use the code window), nor the integrated file management. It's the fantastic Word HTML cleaning when I paste content across.

This misunderstanding of the web's nature sometimes manifests itself as outright hostility by their supporters towards open source and other alternative technologies, often decried as "not up to enterprise standards", despite being used by some of the world's largest online companies. If many Microsoft technology courses were structured like mine then I can see how these misconceptions are transmitted to new Microsoft developers.

In itself I can't see anything wrong with using C# and I can certainly see why many developers love Visual Studio. Apart from the serious debugging and data visualisation capabilities, which I didn't really get into, Visual Studio does a lot of convenient handholding with properties windows and Intellisense making lots of suggestions and autocompletions. Maybe too much handholding and easy shortcuts to completing tasks, which I think gets in the way of intimate understanding of a technology and can slow you down. I wonder how many experienced developers switch that handholding off.

Anyway, at least I know have a feel for the language and Visual Studio. It will be interesting to see how useful the course was when I start developing with ASP.Net over the next few weeks.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Me vs ASP.Net Part 1

"Now that Internet Explorer has won the browser wars..." says the ASP.Net video tutor on my PC.


It may currently have the largest market share, but it sure as hell hasn't "defeated" the opposition. It's like claiming that because the United States is (okay, was for a short time) the only superpower that one can just ignore any cultural differences elsewhere in the world.

Proof that Microsoft really is an American company?

I'm on day one of my ASP.Net training. I'm trying to approach the language with an open mind, same as I would for any other language. However, so far I'm still struggling to get past that same "bulldog enthusiasm" I discussed in No fun Microsoft.

More to come over the next week...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular

Doctor Who is the world's longest running science fiction television show. It began over a decade before I was born and I grew up with it on our television, through the ABC endless repeats and new screenings (interestingly my Mum shared a married name with one of the Doctor's first companions). Now, thanks to the latest incarnation of the series my wife and three year old son have also been converted to Doctor Who fans. Alex has been known to run around his childcare shouting "Exterminate! Exterminate!"

Throughout the Doctor's many incarnations two things have remained the same: his blue police box TARDIS space/time ship and Ron Grainer (an Australian!) and Delia Derbyshire's theme music. Since Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005 this music has been joined by Murray Gold's spectacular incidental music. His highly complex and thematic compositions are one of the great highlights of the modern series, with nine compact disc worth's of music released so far by Silva Screen records.

When a colleague mentioned that the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was performing a concert of Gold's music to Doctor Who I knew immediately that I had to go. When you are a fan of orchestral screen music in Australia you have to make the most of your limited opportunities and I've flown down to Melbourne a couple of times before for MSO concerts of John Williams music.

This time the whole family was going, so we made a short holiday of it, booking seats at the matinee session. When we arrived about 45 minutes prior to the performance the atrium of the Melbourne Convention Centre was already packed with people in fezzes, Tom Baker scarves and other Doctor Who related costumes. There were huge queues for merchandise and programs. Alex and I abandoned the queue for our seats in the hall once the entry chimes sounded, but B steadfastly refused to move, making it in just in time for the start of the performance, along with a t-shirt, program and the CD of the latest Doctor Who soundtrack, only just released in Australia.

According to the posters outside the symphony's box office at the Melbourne Town Hall both performances were sold out and I couldn't see a spare seat in the house. We were seated up in the balcony, with good views, but too far away from the orchestra for my liking. It also meant we were away from the various Doctor Who creatures that made appearances throughout the performance.

Having seen the 2010 Doctor Who at the Proms special on ABC we had a fair idea of what to expect, and indeed there were many similarities in the performances. Instead of regular companions Karen Gillan (Amy Pond) and Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), we had to make do with Mark Sheppard (Canton Everett Delaware III) as compare, though he did a fine job. Matt Smith's (The Doctor) appearance was limited to a prerecorded video segment, but honestly, I was just there for the music and wasn't expecting him. The biggest difference was the appearance of more music from Series 6.

I was a little disappointed by this, as I had not yet had the opportunity to listen to much from Series 6 prior to the performance and Murray Gold's music does reveal its full impact after a few listens. Furthermore, his music hasn't, to my knowledge, been played before in Australia and many of his earlier themes from the preceding five seasons are possibly a bit more exciting or emotional than some of the Series 6 selections. Time will tell, now that I've got the soundtrack to listen to!

It's really only a minor quibble though, as there was plenty of great music to be heard and the performance by the MSO was flawless. You'd hope that it was, with the original conductor and orchestrator Ben Foster waving the baton and Murray Gold himself in the audience and later on stage playing the keyboard. In the three times that I've heard the MSO I could not fault their performances. In contrast, I have often been disappointed with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, even when conducted by the composer himself. I sometimes wonder if our local orchestra has the elitist attitude that if it ain't classical it ain't worth putting the effort in.

Also to be applauded were the Concordis choir, the soprano Antoinette Halloran and Tobias Cole, the countertenor. All were pitch perfect with no compromises on the performance of the music. There were times I had a tear in my eye the music was so beautiful.

I was a little surprised that proceedings started off with the relatively gentle The Mad Man With A Box, though the next piece An Untimely Arrival was much more dramatic as The Doctor crash lands in Amy Pond's garden. What got everyone going was one of Gold's most exciting themes: I Am The Doctor, concatenated with the rousing variation in Words Win Wars, including dialogue. It's certainly one of Alex's favourites.

The quiet theme for Amy followed. A Stitch In Time and The Almost People Suite featured music from Series 6, including music for pirates (Alex likes pirates), the embodiment of the Tardis and The Flesh. Abigail's Song was from the Series 5 Christmas edition, which I have only just discovered is available. The as yet unreleased The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe completed the session. Alex was getting a little agitated and welcomed the opportunity to get out during the 20 minute interval. The crowds at the merchandise stalls were still going strong.

On our return to our seats we were told that we were all Dalek slaves as a group of colourful Daleks patrolled the aisles to the music of Battle In The Skies. Alex loved it, but he was getting sleepy and nodded off during The Majestic Tale Of A Madman In A Box, despite its reuse of I Am The Doctor. Silurians and Saturnyne vampires appeared for Liz, Lizards, Vampires & Vincent, a suite of music from Series 5. I especially enjoyed the performance and it was difficult not to respond emotionally to the clips of Vincent Van Gogh on the screen that concluded the sequence.

Some more Series 6 music was performed with Closing The Suite and The Wedding Of River Song, then we were treated to Murray Gold arriving on stage before joining the orchestra on the piano. Alex awoke around then. As with the 2010 Proms the audience cheered with each regeneration of the Doctor, saving the loudest for David Tennant, as they were displayed above the orchestra playing This Is Gallifrey followed by Vale Decem. The former is one of my favourite themes and I would have appreciated actually being able to listen to it, but it's hard to deny the enthusiasm of the audience. I don't think this arrangement of This Is Gallifrey is as good as the album version anyway.

The Pandorica Suite saw a parade of monsters around the hall, including some scary looking Cybermen. Unfortunately, none made it near to us. That marked the official end of the program, but of course there were encores. The beautiful Song Of Freedom was complete with swaying tentacled Ood. The concert finally closed with Ron Grainer famous theme music to Doctor Who.

The Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular has to be one of the best concerts that I have attended. A perfect performance by the orchestra, choir and soloists as well as a wonderful atmosphere generated both by the production and the audience that attended it. The whole family loved it.

Music Performed

The Madman With A Box
An Untimely Arrival
I Am The Doctor
A Stitch In Time
Almost People Suite
Abigail's Song
The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe Suite
Battle In The Skies
The Majestic Tale Of A Madman In A Box
Liz, Lizards, Vampires & Vincent
Closing The Suite
The Wedding Of River Song
This Is Gallifrey/Vale Decem
Pandorica Suite
Song Of Freedom
Doctor Who Theme

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Alex's first musical today. I'd bought B tickets to Annie as her Christmas present. No desire at all to see it myself but as she has attended so many orchestral concerts on my behalf I really can't complain.

We caught the train down to Central and crossed under spitting skies into Belmore Park, filled with stalls and lanterns celebrating Chinese New Year. Alex was perched upon my shoulders holding the umbrella.

Entering Market City in search of lunch we encountered an acrobatic lion dance, jumping between the tops of tall and narrow poles. The food court range in Market City is now quite disappointing. At least you can buy cendol with sugar syrup rather than the usual palm sugar.

Alex was happy to catch the light rail down to the casino and Lyric theatre. Though he has had no exposure to the music of Annie before he has recently been watching a lot of Playschool episodes featuring music and shows. His greatest fascination with the production was the mechanics of changing the fantastic sets followed by joining in with the applause at the end of the songs. He fell asleep midway through the first act.

Halfway through the second act he began to get a bit antsy and so did I. It was difficult to fault the quality of the production, though Alan Jones really couldn't keep up his american accent as Roosevelt. I feel a bit bad that any of my money went towards the right wing radio jock, but I couldn't begrudge his seemingly genuine enjoyment. Julie Goodwin was a standout as Grace with a powerful and clear voice. It's just the story which was rather boring, along with a lack of standout music.

Frankly, if I heard a guy saying and doing some of the things that Mr Warbucks did, then I'd want to have them investigated as a potential sexual predator...

A very packed tram carried us back to Paddy's Markets where we purchased some fruit and vegetables for tomorrow's Chinese New Year lunch. Though it was a little early we had dinner at an Uiyghur restaurant. All of us enjoyed the flavoursome carrot and lamb pilaf and the succulent and tender chunks of lamb, though the thick bread was better at the other Uiyghur restaurant next door.

There are a couple of new Malaysian restaurants in the area: Mo-mo Teh and Nyonya. The latter had quite a queue, but we didn't like its parent Ginger and Spice at all. As we walked back we spotted another huge queue outside Mamak. It may be trendy, but I found I got much better Milo ais and roti canai for less than $2 at the rundown shed behind the Parkroyal Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Silly trendies.

Alex had seen others eat ice creams at Annie and I had promised him one, so we popped down to McDonalds for a 50c softserve cone. He was so happy after that, walking the whole way back up to Belmore Park, where the festival was in full swing. We spent the last of the notes in our wallets on a ticket for him on the bungy trampoline. He loved bouncing high up, though he needed a bit of assistance from the operator. Forget Annie, I think that was his highlight of the day!

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