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.

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