Saturday, December 31, 2016

Farewell 2016

As the clock ticks over towards midnight and the time approaches when I shall rush up to the top of the driveway to watch the darkness midnight fireworks in the distance I'll take this last chance to add a blog post for December.

I'm not in the mood to write much. This hasn't been the most wonderful of years, the kind of year when you lose some faith in humanity. From Syria to Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and some of the morons who arrived or returned in Australian politics. The person who punched B in the face when she was walking through Town Hall to finish it up.

On a personal note my fear of turbulence spoiled airline travel, though at least I did something about it. I also feel like I put too much pressure on myself and stuffed up both my latest karate grading and tournament. Relaxing will be a big theme for 2017.

But there were positives as well. I did some pretty awesome WordPress coding at work (though I wish they'd leave me alone over summer). Alex continues to do well at school and outside of it and we all had some fun times together as a family over the course of the year.

I hope that 2017 will not be as bad as we fear and humanity may rediscover its senses.

Everyone else in the house is asleep. Alex finally collapsed in bed after an exhaustion driven "meltdown". Yep, 2016 was that kind of year. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Understanding the anger: Trump and Brexit in a microcosm

Many were shocked at the election of Donald Trump tonight and at Brexit earlier. I'm not. The organisation I work for recently had its own mini revolt against the pundits' expectations and it's a microcosm of what's going on in the larger world.

A vote to accept an enterprise agreement that would have seen many working conditions moved out of the agreement in return for a tiny rise in salary was recently rejected my a seventy percent margin. Soon after the vote I had lunch with members of the corporate team, many who voted for the agreement and expressed disbelief at the result.

Our organisation is divided into scientific and engineering researchers and technicians and corporate management and support staff. The organisation is in a permanent state of flux, constantly restructuring itself. In the last decade the strong trend has been to remove support services from the front line and centralise them at a corporate level.

Support staff that previously had science degrees and worked directly with researchers have now been replaced with employees from the business and marketing world. Decisions are now driven by financial objectives or a desire to partner identifiable names.

Most scientists don't do science for the money, though they need it to survive. They do it for the intellectual passion, to discover something new, to understand or to solve problems, hopefully making the world a better place.

It's hard work training to be a scientist and its difficult to find employment in research, so working for an organisation like ours is very precious. Naturally the researchers and those who love working for a national icon want to keep their job protections.

For many of those in corporate life is very different. The fact that an organisation has long traditions and a reputation built upon solid work over almost a hundred years is meaningless. They are driven by money, power or the thrill of the deal. They could be working anywhere. And at the top level, there are always other opportunities. Many don't hang around long, so job protections are not a high priority for them.

There is strong sense, born by many staff surveys, that those at the top never listen to those at the bottom. Rather than consult staff about the organisations structure and future the management tend to rely on endless external consultants and friends from the business sphere. Or conditions are driven by business or government ideology without the presentation of logical reasoning for the decisions.

So when the staff feel so disempowered of course they are going to lash out. Hence the vote on conditions.

The same thing is happening on national scales. People in a huge range of jobs, not just manufacturing, but in services, farming, mining and others are suddenly being told that their skills, indeed their lives and in many cases their communities, are worthless, that in the name of investor profits that their jobs are going overseas (or being automated). Businesses that could once easily supply a nation are now only profitable if they can produce globally.

On one hand these workers are being told they are worthless and on the other they are being asked to exalt the needs of the corporate investors. Their profits, their lifestyles, their belief that economic rationalism must triumph over all else is supposedly unquestionable. The rich can influence policy, the poor are made to feel unwanted, unimportant. It's okay for the elite to demand that others work harder for less pay ("productivity") while they award themselves greater bonuses and pay less tax.

So what do you expect the ordinary person to do? Suck it up?

It's not new. The world has seen its fair share of revolutions throughout history. One can imagine the sense of satisfaction in a communist revolution when a peasant forcefully introduced the privileged elite to their world.

Fortunately there seems to be an aversion to armed revolution in modern Western civilisation, for they just produce more suffering and a different elite. But the anger remains. And anger isn't rational. It lashes out without thinking, without empathy.

Look at the way that racist sentiment is increasingly being expressed in many Western countries, including the United States, Britain and Australia. It's human nature to be suspicious of difference and it's up to our evolved minds to keep our behaviour in check, to understand what is right instead of right now.

Some people, conservatives, are mentally unable to handle change or that others might think differently to themselves. Their denial of reality can't be allowed to ruin the future for all.

We can't stop change and nor should we. But change must be handled with empathy and be inclusive. It must be rational and not driven by greed so that it only benefits a few.

Otherwise all we will have is anger and that is where we are now.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Back to the Future with orchestra

It was a late 80's summer's Sunday and we were at a Christmas party at our neighbour's place across the road. That meant a kilometre away in this rural Queensland locality. I wasn't really interested in talking to any of the adults and was sitting in our van listening to ABC Classic FM radio. My favourite show was on, an hour or so devoted to film music.

I'd recently seen Back to the Future on the television for the first time and enjoyed the main theme. So when the radio announced that the next piece would be from Back to the Future I was excited.

Then it played and I recall being a little disappointed at the lack of the main theme. But something strange happened as the only other then available orchestral piece from the soundtrack album played ("Back to the Future").

I felt energised, driven. I had a mission. I had to run. I ran away from the party. Down the gravel path and back up the other hill to home.

That's the power of Alan Silvestri's score.

So naturally I was excited that the Sydney Symphony was performing a live accompaniment to a screening of Back to the Future at the Sydney Opera House.

Nicholas Buc and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra did a fine job of performing the energetic score. Silvestri had to compose additional music for these live performances as his score doesn't begin until 20 minutes into the original screening. It also features a couple of pieces from the third movie during the return from the intermission and the end credits.

Unfortunately it was another case of the movie being rather too distracting from the orchestra. It's a great movie, though Alex was rather restless. Turns out he was quite sick, which rather detracted from the day. Still, B and I certainly enjoyed the eighties references, even if we don't have hoverboards and flying cars yet.

And that performance likely brings our orchestral concert attendance for 2016 to a close.

Unless there's an encore I don't know about yet.

Monday, September 19, 2016

6th Kyu

This was the first karate grading without Alex grading at the same time. Sensei decided that, as a kid, he needed another term, but I didn't.

Quite disappointed in myself making so many errors under pressure, getting myself tangled up with stuff I should be good at after all the practice.

Passed, but not satisfied. Wish Alex was here with me. He'll do better. Oh to be young again!

Aladdin the Musical

Last night we headed into the city to watch Aladdin the Musical at the Capitol Theatre. I have to say first up that I'm not a big fan of Disney cartoons and have never watched all of the movie upon which it is based (I think it unfair to reference the original tale). However, B has put up with enough orchestral concerts with me to make it only fair that I accompanied Alex and her to the show.

The sets were stunning, real works of art and technical accomplishment, and the costumes and choreography were superb (I joked that the pyrotechnics made it a bit like certain current Middle Eastern cities). We all agreed that some of the songs dragged on and the first half could have been shorter. Unlike the Lion King I couldn't take refuge in the music as Alan Menken's score was too showy for my liking. But visually it was amazing.

The US actors playing the Genie (Michael James Scott) and Jasmine (Arielle Jacobs) were perfect, while local Aljin Abella was fantastic as the evil sidekick Iago. Other cast members were good, though I found Ainsley Melham's Aladdin a bit too much typical Aussie Musical for my taste (that's a technical description).

Overall it was one of the more fun musicals that I have seen and well worth seeing for the sets and effects alone.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The road

A road has too many choices
A road can lead you astray
Too many branches
Too many chances
Are you sure you want to go that way?

Far safer to stay at home
Never to open that door
Hide from sight
Fear the light
Else you’ll always want for more.

A stone statue may last forever
The sands of time drifting away
Step into the world
Ignorance unfurled
And then you'll surely pay.

Do not ask the questions
The answers may not be yours
Self battered
Certainty shattered
Discard the beauty, see the flaws

Journeys are best untaken.
Stick to what you know
Better to be a fool
Than to break a rule
Who can tell how far you’ll go?

How long will you end up wandering?
What lies around that bend?
Another choice to make
Another path to break
Never to reach the end.

A road has too many choices
A road can lead you astray
Too much to see
Too much to be
Do not go that way.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Japanese homestay 2016

Every two years the ELS21 English language school in Sakai, Japan, bring some of their students across to Sydney for a two week stay with families from Alex's primary school.

Our previous student, Miyu, had left the school to focus on her high school studies so this time we hosted 13 (almost 14!) year old Momoka. Only for one week as they wanted to house the students in pairs and Momoka's friend was allergic to dogs. By the second week they were confident enough to stay alone with the host families.

We had also hosted teacher Machiko for the second week last time, but principal Mayumi wanted teachers to stay together this time. Poor Machiko had to leave early anyway due to her father having an accident.

Momoka arrived at our house feeling a bit under the weather with a cold so we decided to tone down the activities from last time and let her recover. I don't think she minded too much. Obsessed with Harry Potter, she asked to watch all of the first three movies of the series and tried to read her brand new English copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child that the previous host had given her.

She also thrashed Alex at Sonic All Stars Racing on the PS3 and matched him on Just Dance. Don't mess with the Japanese youth when it comes to computer games!

Outings were a bit restricted by regular activities and other duties, plus Momoka's need to take it easy. We dragged her off to the America Travel Expo at Sydney Showgrounds at Olympic Park, feeling somewhat guilty for doing so, though needing to see if we could find any deals to salvage the points bookings we hold to the US.

We failed to find anything much useful at the Expo, but the trip turned out not to be such a waste. With the 2016 Olympics currently on in Rio De Janeiro in Brazil and the next Olympics to be held in Japan a visit to the old Sydney 2000 Olympic site was rather appropriate. Plus Momoka and Alex enjoyed the free climbing wall at the Expo and the playground outside. She certainly showed him how it's done.

We had a few food issues. I don't think our cooking was always popular and the Chinese restaurant visit saw her eat mainly rice. With more time I'm sure we would have found some better dishes for her. Momoka seemed to subsist mainly on strawberry jam with the odd sushi roll. She didn't like Vegemite (me neither!) but did like Jaffas. Plus, like me, she doesn't like mushrooms or octopus, which is difficult for someone coming from the Kansai area where takoyaki is king. Momoka tells me that the alternative is cheese filling. Must try!

Farewells were very sad. Momoka was a delight to have around the house, a very nice big sister to Alex and a very clean and polite guest.

Hopefully we can catch up with the folk of ELS21 again next time we visit Japan. And there's always two years from now...

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Raiders of the Lost Ark with the SSO

Of all the concerts this year the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's live performance of Raiders of the Lost Ark to the movie was the one I was most looking forward to. And we almost missed it!

Kids have a different sense of time and urgency to adults and just getting out of the house was a enough of a struggle. The Thai restaurant was just opposite the station, but it is never safe to assume a frequent and fast service when it comes to Sydney trains.

Google Maps said we would be a few minutes late. Okay, let's challenge the last bit, the walk.

Trackwork on the City Circle Line meant that we couldn't ride the Airport Line train direct to Circular Quay. Change at Wolli Creek, get out at Martin Place and run down Macquarie Street.

Only problem was that B doesn't do karate like Alex and I and doesn’t have quite the same fitness levels. So Google Maps was pretty accurate in the end.

Puffing, we showed the doorman our tickets and were ushered to our seats. Fortunately the conductor, Nicholas Buc, was giving an introductory talk. We'd made it just in time!

Our not cheap seats in the box had views of the orchestra, but the screen was a little bit obscured, a disappointment. Though I was here for the orchestra and the music, not the movie.

In my opinion the movie is a distraction, but it does serve to entertain the rest of the family and to force the orchestra to do its best. No room for lazy interpretation, they must be on the ball to synchronise with the screen.

And they were! This was the fifth live score performance I have attended, all with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House and it was by far my favourite. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the great adventure movies and the score is by the greatest film composer of all time: John Williams.

Though I love almost all of his scores, the eighties were my favourite period of his composition; the second and third Star Wars movies, ET and the first three Indiana Jones films, all from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Watching the orchestra below it became obvious how Williams created his lush sound: He utilises the full orchestra.

Strings, woodwind, brass and percussion, all playing at once, but playing counterpoint, multiple melodies and rhythms. There is so much the listen to, to listen for. The lietmotifs tell the story, the hint of exotic sounds from conventional instruments setting the scene. This is mastery of the orchestra.

The orchestra were mostly up to it, though the tuba sounded a little ragged at times. John Williams actually wrote a concerto for this frequently ignored instrument. I heard the Melbourne Symphony perform it a few years ago and Williams' certainly demands much from his tuba players.

The strength of Williams' score is evident in the the most exciting sequence of the movie, the desert chase. Both B and I were too busy observing the energy of the orchestra to watch the thrills on screen.

Alex was awake throughout the whole performance, despite its lateness after a busy Saturday, and, unlike Babe, there were only a couple of complaints from him. He is quite familiar with Indy's theme!

Harking back to the old days of cinema, there was even an intermission, after which the orchestra played Mutt's theme from the fourth Indiana Jones movie: Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.

Forget the so called Golden Days of cinema, the subject of the previous concert, this was Hollywood at its best. I'm so glad we made it!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Warm winter's day

The bureau says that today was Sydney's second warmest July day in recorded history. The middle of winter and more than 25 degrees. It would have been nice to be outside for more of it rather than in a stuffy office (though with a nice view).

Even at 11 pm it is still warm, around 22 degrees, though it has just started to rain. That beautiful soft patter of rain drops, soothing, ushering in sleep though it means forgoing its music.

Perhaps it is the low or the humid, the oncoming change, but there is a feeling of potential in the air, as if it is time for a journey. Instead, it is time to sleep and to hope for great voyages across the dreamscape.

Good night!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Alex's awesome holidays

The last day of school holidays for the middle of 2016 and I think it's worth jotting down all the activities over the past two weeks. Left to his own devices, Alex would spend far too much time with his devices, so the idea was to get him out and about in a way to stimulate his body and mind with the kind of experiences he doesn't normally get while still having time to "chillax" as he so likes to say. Meanwhile, when he wasn't in vacation care I worked from home.

Thursday June 30

Second last day of school, but we had some expiring movie tickets so went to watch Steven Spielberg's version of The BFG at Miranda. We all enjoyed it, well acted and visually spectacular.

Friday July 1

Alex wrote his first Android apps using MIT App Inventor 2 and following their video tutorials. It''s very simple, much like Scratch, and you can do cool stuff using a device's built in sensors. He worked out how to customise the examples and we put one of the apps on my phone.

Later I had a play with an Arduino set I had recently purchased. Wish that mucking around with digital hardware was that simple when I was at university!

Saturday July 2

Bike riding at Centennial Park, B and I on hired bikes, Alex furiously pedalling his too-small kid's bike.

Sunday July 3

After the previous day's experience we decided to get Alex a new bike. Purchased an adult one so that we can ride with him.

Monday July 4

Vacation care with clowns for Alex after the 4-D cinema cancelled on them. 

Tuesday July 5

Bikes arrived! While I worked from home, Alex relaxed and did his own thing.

Wednesday July 6

Second day of vacation care. Alex went to indoor rock climbing and laser tag.

Thursday July 7

A full day Thinkspace workshop on Scratch programming at Sydney Observatory for Alex. He really enjoyed writing the three games and was very proud to show them off to me. A long way from writing text games in BASIC when I was his age!

Friday July 8

Took Alex for his first ride on the new bike - needed more practice!

Saturday July 9

Riding his new bike in the park, Alex saw his school principal.

Sunday July 10

Alex left us alone to go go karting at a friends birthday. Apparently he was a bit nervous at the speed of them.

Monday July 11

Sadly the holidays were not without some homework and Alex had to write a persuasive speech. Persuading him to write it was the real test. 

Tuesday July 12

I had a day off, or tried (forgot to undivert my phone). We built some of the plastic houses and shops for Alex's Japanese N-scale model railway layout. Wish the bath house was real!

We both went for a ride around the suburb on our bikes, but Alex found the hills a bit tricky. 

Wednesday July 13

While Kita was at the vet having his teeth cleaned I took Alex down to the ANSTO nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights for an hour and a half session of Atomic Kids. This fantastic session introduced kids to the periodic table, atoms and chemical bonds. Alex really enjoyed it.

Thursday July 14

Another full day workshop, this time learning about the circulatory and respiratory system at the Junior Science Academy at Macquarie University while I was over at work at North Ryde. They looked at dissected sheep hearts and lungs and made blood from Cheerios, marshmallows and food dye. He was pretty exhausted by the end of it but eager to tell me everything he'd learned.

Friday July 15

A chance for B to spend some time with Alex before going over to his best friend's house.

Saturday July 16

Alex came into our bedroom at 4 AM bawling his eyes out, having just fallen out of his bed. We then discovered a gash to the side of his head. Who knew sleep could be that dangerous? So off to the emergency department we drove. A couple of hours later, no stitches or glue, just plasters holding the skin together. Barely any rest then off to the first karate of the term.

As the head sensei is off recovering from an operation we had Sensei Leighton, the exercise fanatic.

Went off to eat Chinese at Hurstville and had an afternoon tea of chocolate pudding at Brighton. I could feel a headache building and by the time we were driving back home it was ferocious.

Chocolate flavoured vomit.

I was a write off for the rest of the night.

Sunday July 17

Another birthday party for Alex, this one at 10 pin bowling. I came second last amongst the adults. I would have been last but one of them let his toddler bowl. At least I got one strike! Alex won, thereby cementing what was a pretty awesome holidays for him.

A balance between exercise, education and relaxation. Hopefully he's starting next term in a good frame of mind. I think I need another holiday!

Friday, July 15, 2016

WordPress shortcodes and line breaks.

WordPress automatically adds break tags to new lines. Normally this is useful behaviour but it can prove a major annoyance when combined with shortcodes.

Following user requests I had added a set of column shortcodes to my Utopia theme. The shortcodes are currently just a way of adding a Bootstrap grid to the content, but as we will be replace Bootstrap with an alternative grid system in future this is a way of future proofing the content.

I found a couple of really useful tutorials for adding a columns menu to the TinyMCE visual editor in WordPress:

All well and good, but when I published the content WordPress added break tags between the div
tags and the columns did not display.

My first solution was to change the order of WordPress' shortcode_unautop and wpautop filters, as per these instructions.

//move wpautop filter to AFTER shortcode is processed
remove_filter( 'the_content', 'wpautop' );
add_filter( 'the_content', 'wpautop' , 99);
add_filter( 'the_content', 'shortcode_unautop',100 );

Bad move! Suddenly my other shortcode output was messed up. So I had to remove those lines.

The solution? Write a custom filter using regular expressions to remove line breaks between the shortcode tags and run it before the normal WordPress line break filters kick in. A regex tester proved very useful here!

function utopia_cols_strip_breaks( $content ) {
$content = preg_replace('/(\[utopia_col_row\])([\s]*)(\[utopia_col)/i','$1$3',$content);
$content = preg_replace('/(\[\/utopia_col_)([\_\d]+)(\])([\s]*)(\[utopia_col)/i', '$1$2$3$5', $content);
$content = preg_replace('/(\[\/utopia_col_)([\_\d]+)(\])([\s]*)(\[\/utopia_col_row)/i', '$1$2$3$5', $content);
    return $content;
add_filter( 'the_content', 'utopia_cols_strip_breaks', 0 );

I had to use three expressions as there are shortcodes for rows and columns of different widths. Whilst WordPress is supposed to handle breaks between individual shortcodes, the issue here is that we are mixing different shortcodes together and the content between them should have paragraph and line break tags added. The code above only applies to the added shortcodes and seems to work well, so problem solved!

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Wind dies down
Bad choices
A mess remains.

Friday, June 24, 2016

TV vs Tablet

I inadvertently performed a little test of consuming a television program via a television as compared with a tablet.

After catching up with the previous episode of the ABC's excellent series Cleverman on their iView app on my tablet I then watched the following episode "live" on a dumb television.

On iView I had constantly paused at the difficult bits, when I wanted more information about something or been interrupted. Now that wasn't possible - it was all in one go.

I quite enjoyed it, plus the 576i picture quality looked better on a 37" full HD screen at a distance than on a 10" 2K screen up close.

Didn't stop me from catching up on some Chaser's Election Desk on iView afterwards. The freedom of being able to watch things at your own convenience is great, but so is doing something free of distraction.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The horizon

Something I really miss about my previous house was a view of the horizon from my study. I love to stare out towards a distant horizon and imagine the adventures that lie beyond it.

A couple of days ago when I was heading home from my office at North Ryde I stopped to photograph the golden sunlight reflecting off the mirror windows off an office block.

Today I see a crane being erected, which means in the not too distant future that sunlight will be blocked by yet another apartment tower. Already there are fences around the train station hiding the horizon behind red wood and stacked demountables.

With the view gone we turn inward and selfishly forget that there is a needy world outside.

Fortunately I can still watch from my office window the aircraft flying to and away Sydney Airport, the storms sweeping over the city. But even this is temporary as we must vacate within a few years, our land to be turned into more apartments for those from elsewhere.

And we will all be in search of other horizons.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hollywood Rhapsody and Vivid 2016

I had quite a surprise when I opened an email from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra a few days ago. They warned me that the area around the Sydney Opera House would be crowded for the last night of Vivid and I should leave early for my concert.

What concert?

Was it Raiders of the Lost Ark or Back to the Future?

I quickly checked my calendar.

Phew, no, it was Hollywood Rhapsody, the bonus concert in the Orchestra Package that I had exchanged for the Raiders concert I already had tickets for. I had prevaricated whether to see this one or a classical concert.

I'm not a huge fan of "The Golden Age of Hollywood."

It was rather a bit before my time.

There was no way that B or Alex would want to join me for this one. So I headed off alone into the city, rather exhausted after a tough week, a morning of karate and a stint running the library at Alex's Chinese school.

Another thing I hadn't planned on doing was seeing Vivid, Sydney's festival of light and other stuff this year. We were told that Circular Quay station was closed, so after jumping off at Town Hall to buy B a bottle of Japanese tonkatsu sauce, I alighted at Wynyard and walked the closed off streets to Circular Quay along with the rest of the crowd.

The crowding itself wasn't too bad and the lights were fantastic. The sides of buildings and the Harbour Bridge were colourfully lit, coloured searchlights illuminated the clouds and there were stunning projections against Customs House, the MCA and the Opera House.

At the Opera House box office they suggested that I might like to sell my two unused tickets to the young tourist attempting to get cheap seats to a performance. I gave them away to him. Hopefully he'll be nice to someone else one day.

Then I squeezed into my seat. A few rows closer than the nosebleed section of the last concert and quite a good view of the orchestra.

Having checked the program I knew the night wouldn't be a complete disaster as John Williams' Star Wars Main Title was the first piece after the 20th Century Fox Fanfare.

The pace was a bit fast and the brass began a little ragged, but it was a decent performance of the piece that I've heard live more than any other.

The rest of the music I was largely unfamiliar with except in passing. David Raksin's theme from Laura was quite pleasant, the string section was faultless tonight. They had a real workout with a suite from Bernard Herrmann's Psycho score, the famous shower sequence eliciting a few laughs from the audience.

Herrmann's music continued with Salammbo's Aria from Citizen Kane, performed by the soprano Lorina Gore. Having developed an ability to ignore the sound of opera thanks to my parents' musical tastes the best that I can say is that she could certainly hit all the notes.

I recall hearing some of Erich Korngold's The Adventures of Robin Hood played my the Melbourne Symphony and enjoying it. But not so much this time. As conductor John Wilson said, Korngold became the sound of Hollywood and in my opinion the music sounded cheesy. Except for the first part of the final fight, which could have come from a contemporary battle sequence.

After the interval we heard the Americana of Jerome Moss' score to The Big Country, which enjoyed, though the style has been reused many times.

Fifteen minutes of Max Steiner's 3 hour 10 minute score to Gone With The Wind was as much as I could stand. It had some familiar highlights before sinking into bland romantacism.

In contrast, Franz Waxman's suite from A Place in the Sun contained a number of interesting themes, including some passionately played saxophone solos, enough to keep me listening.

The most fun of the night was John Wilson's arrangement of Scott Bradley's music from the Tom & Jerry cartoons. Unlike most film scores, this kind of cartoon music is not the kind of thing you'd listen to in isolation from the screen. Except in this case, it was almost a live action cartoon performed by the percussionists as they used slide whistles, bowls of water and even smashing plates to achieve the zany musical effects.

The final piece in the program was the Parade of the Charioteers from Miklos Rozsa's score to Ben Hur. Loud, brassy, but I didn't really like it.

It would have been a pity to end on that note, but of course there was an encore. And what an encore it was! Franz Waxman again, this time the Ride of the Cossacks from Taras Bulba.  A frenetic piece that gave the orchestra a true workout.

The concert didn't convince to start listening to film music from the fifties and before, but I could sense some of the musical heritage that has contributed to more modern scores. I actually feel that John Williams' latest Star Wars outing has an even greater nod to the older romantic scores than his original work.

But you shouldn't need to know all the antecedents of a piece of music to enjoy it. Once again the program, and what I caught of the pre-concert talk, portrayed each composer as being genuine only because they had a classical background or composed concert pieces in addition to films. The elitist snobbery of the SSO grates. At least the conductor didn't let them get away with lazy performances this time.

After the concert I ran into an ex-work colleague and joined the crowds walking back past the ranbow lights. Fortunately, Circular Quay station was open again. It felt a bit strange to see a number of people clutching concert programs like me get off at Padstow. I didn't get home until almost midnight, but in the end I'm glad I decided to go.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Silicon Vallergy

"Nobody talks about teleports to Japan."

Not true!

Few things give me a headache like tech marketers. Unfortunately my organisation has been invaded by Silicon Valley alumni. You can tell. Long term scientific programs have been cut in favour of short term trendy "research" and "innovation". Apparently, a huge amount of data simply comes into existence in a magic cloud without anyone needing to do the unexciting task of collecting it in the first place.

So there I was stuck in a meeting with an ex-Yahoo marketing "guru" and entrepreneur.

He was "taking us on a journey" in our quest for "followers". Or some such crap. I was busy wondering how anybody could speak so many words yet say so little.

At the same time he spruiked Zeetings, some Web presentation/conversation web application he had some connection with. What I found telling is that as soon as he stopped using it, so did we. Not a compelling piece of technology then.

Marketing dude asked us for some words to describe the venture.
"How come nobody is talking about disruption?"
In the best moment of the day, somebody piped up that it was because the organisation has been in a permanent state of disruption for the past 5 years and everyone (barring the consultants) is sick of it. Disruption is a dirty word, we said.

And so the tide turned in the meeting, with the more forceful techies and researchers taking control and the only one paying attention to Mr Marketing was his offsider. We actually got some real work done figuring out practical requirements rather than meaningless aspirational buzzwords.

I still got a headache.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Holey bags Batman!

You know the superstition that bad luck comes in threes? Happened to me today. I was carrying a bag of cypress woodchips out of the garage when the bag disintegrated.

I thought the leaf blower/vacuum was doing a pretty good job of cleaning the mess up. Then I looked behind me and the garage was covered with cypress dust while the vacuum bag was virtually empty. The vacuum bag's zip had failed.

Later I was making dinner and had just finished putting half a packet of dried spaghetti into the pot. I tipped the packet containing the remaining spaghetti upright when the contents suddenly emptied on to my feet. The spaghetti packet had developed a hole in the bottom.

Lucky the groceries survived the trip home!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Babe - Pig at the Symphony

I can't believe it's been 21 years since the premier of the movie Babe. I feel old!

In celebration of the movie's coming of age as it were the Sydney Symphony Orchestra did a live performance of the score to accompany the movie at the Sydney Opera House.

Though the score itself never held much interest to me and I find the movie and dialogue at these performances distracting I got tickets as part of a great value package (looking forward to Back to the Future and Raiders of the Lost Ark). Plus Babe is, or at least should be, a great kids movie and one that Alex has never seen before.

So, as they say in the current advertising campaign, let's get some pork on your fork!

I'm not going to do a proper review here, because we were seated in the nosebleed section a row from the back and though we could see the whole orchestra they were too far away to feel part of the performance. Plus the movie was distracting.

Prior to the performance there was an on stage interview with Chris Noonan, Babe's director. It was he who insisted that the composer Nigel Westlake, also conducting tonight's performance, use music from Camille Saint-Saƫns Symphony No 3.

It's a lovely theme and suits the movie well. The same could be said for all the music in the movie and I certainly took time to enjoy watching the orchestra play some of the more interesting passages.

Sadly Alex didn't appreciate the movie as much as I'd hoped. Stupid electronic devices destroying attention spans perhaps. But then he's never been into animals as much as machines. Maybe the action of the other movies will be more up his alley. Certainly the themes will be more familiar to his ears.

Anyway, after 21 years B and I still enjoyed Babe and the night's performance.

That'll do pig. That'll do.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Raindrops are glass snakes
Trains slither slow and blind
Signal failure again.

Grey clouds weep
An urgent need to sleep
Trust in failure.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The thought

I had a little thought
It popped into my head
Round and round inside it swam
On other thoughts it fed
Consuming, growing, crowding out
Though nothing was ever said
Then I cut myself with a knife
And out that thought bled
Now I have no more thoughts
Uh oh, I'm dead!

(No, I'm not depressed, self harming, etc. etc.)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Horse play

Normally the slow pace of Sydney's various transportation systems is cause for complaint. On Easter Saturday it was a source of pleasure as we sat atop horses slowly ambling around the grounds of the Sydney Trail Riding Centre.

Alex rode Kahlua, whilst B and I were on girlfriend and boyfriend Mindy and Rex. There were eleven other guests and a couple of staff along as well. The day was clear and there were views across the south of Sydney. A powered blimp, advertising Appliances Online, drifted overhead.

Alex slid off Kahlua at one steep point in the ride, but did it in such an expert fashion that we couldn't help but be impressed. It was only his second time riding a horse, only the third time B and I had done a trail ride.

On the way back we stopped at the nearby Darrell Lea factory outlet, not that we needed much more chocolate and licorice considering the nature of the holiday. Then lunch at Cabramatta, a reminder of why one should pay little attention to TripAdvisor restaurant reviews, and home.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The game of limited choice

Do you dream of riches and a place where anything that you desire can be yours?

I often dream of the opposite.

One of my favourite fantasies is of something I like to call the Game of Limited Choice. It goes like this:

Imagine that you are in a situation where your options of things to buy, see or do are limited. Use your creativity to innovate and make the best out of the situation.
I've played this game for a long, long time. When I was little our family would holiday in farm cottages where the indoor entertainment (sometimes the weather wasn't great) was limited to old war adventure and Readers Digest paperbacks and maybe a black and white television.

Later on I would make lists of the minimum number of Star Wars toys and model train items I would need, imagining that I was in a country town with only a few shops (pretty easy to imagine, as I was living in a caravan in the country at the time with most of our possessions in storage).

An updated version of it might be:

I'm at the airport with only my phone, wallet and passport. Use the shops to buy everything you need, likes clothes and travel goods, for a trip overseas.

Another more recent one:
It's Christmas Eve and you are stuck in a motel with your family and no food or presents for the next day. The only place open is a petrol station convenience store. How can use their limited stock to make a Christmas celebratory meal and give everyone presents?
Computers are a favourite and one where the game has been very real, especially trying to complete university assignments on old or software limited devices like an IBM XT clone or a Sharp Zaurus hand-held while travelling around Europe. You certainly wish that you had freedom of choice when everything takes longer than it could, but you also feel like you are getting the most you can out of the machine.

Sometimes a plethora of choice can itself be stifling while the Game of Limited Choice is a creative challenge. See how many times you can spot it in my writings here and elsewhere.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Reaching Utopia

After many months of work I finally released my first complete WordPress theme Utopia today and I'm pretty proud of it.

Unlike some of my previous attempts which were based on the Underscores starter theme, Utopia was pretty much built from scratch. The theme, which will be used on CSIRO Research websites, is designed to address many of the feature requests and deficiencies of the previous themes we've used on the site and elsewhere.

My colleague Taranii, with some help from Kate, another member of the team, did the design and CSS markup while I was responsible for the PHP coding. It was a remote collaboration due to the distributed nature of our team, but I thought it worked really well, thanks to some of the fantastic tools on offer.

We used Atlassian's Bitbucket, Sourcetree and git for source code management, which made it really easy to deploy on both our Windows development machines and Linux servers. Atlassian's Jira was used for bug tracking, along with Jira Capture for test sessions. Finally, most of our contact was via Cisco Jabber.

The Utopia theme, along with the post grid plugin we developed alongside it, has a number of very cool (to me) features. These include different colour schemes, the ability to use page, post and category feature images in the individual page headers, social media buttons, a local contextual menu, support for different page and post templates and a page and post listing grid with lots of options and the ability to be included as a widget or shortcode.

Another group in our organisation went to an outside specialist WordPress development house to build a theme for their WordPress blog. The result, which took quite a while to complete, was a theme that relied mainly on a somewhat expensive base theme and set of commercial plugins whose licenses are still causing us grief, especially as the users want more features.

So I'm proud that we built our feature rich theme ourselves! We do use some third party plugins, but after I looked at following a similar development path to the blog I realised that it would never satisfy the myriad of little issues and needs that our users always seem to have. At least this way we really understand our code a lot better.

I was up until the early hours finishing off some basic usage documentation and building the new top level site for the release. Exhausting, but very satisfying to finally get it out there to the users.

So, does the name Utopia mean that theme is perfect? Nope, there's plenty left to build in future! In fact it's all about building. Or trying to.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Gravitational waves observed!

So gravitational waves have been detected at last! The waves were observed from coalescing black holes 1.3 billion light years away. Rating the quotes from the linked Article's taken back to the more recent, though personally distant past, as an undergraduate at the Australian National University about 20 years ago.

Professor Dave McClelland was my optics lecturer. He and his team were heavily involved with designing a Laser Interferometry Gravitational Observatory (LIGO) in outback Australia away from human induced vibrations. Unfortunately the Australian observatory was never built, otherwise it would probably have participated in this observation and enabled observers to triangulate the source.

Despite the lack of an Australian observatory, the ANU team, and CSIRO, have contributed to the design and manufacture of the technology used in the gravity wave detection.

It just goes to show the kind of lead times involved with groundbreaking scientific research, something that certain science administrators would be wise to remember.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Welcome to 2016!

Happy New Year! May 2016 be a good one for you.

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