Photography ... astronomy ... art ... design ... technology
(... and the odd rant)

All of these make my world go 'round, to some extent, and they will all be found here at some time or other. Some of the photography can be purchased from my Redbubble site. I can also be found at Tempus Fugit (no longer being updated).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fascinating books (that I haven't yet read)

I like to catch the Book Show on ABC Radio National, when I can. It's a usually a welcome retreat from daily life. Today I listened while waiting in the car outside Spotlight, as SWMBO picked up supplies for a current magazine project. I'm not, I confess, a real outdoor person, although I do like the idea of being so. Today's guest, Robert MacFarlane, was discussing his new book The Wild Places. Not only was the subject of interest, but Robert was a pleasantly modest, gracious and engaging interviewee. His brief tales of 'night walking' along a ridge of hard snow and ice by moonlight, and the holloways of Dorset – among others – were quite thought-provoking. The transcript is here. A New Statesman review of the book is here.

14 May 2008 update: the current issue of Orion Magazine has an article here.

Another transcript that sounds interesting is from Monday's show, which included The history of virginity with Hanne Blank. Dare I look forward to The history of the loss of virginity...?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The tangled web

Dictionaries & the WWW: I love how you can go looking for one thing, and end up somewhere totally different, if you're of a mind to follow the path. It kind of fits in with the sentiment that we should "chase wild geese - that's what they're for."

This evening, I went looking for the history behind the ISO 'A' format paper sizes, following a discussion with a local artist today. I felt it was probably had some ancient British or German origin, which just happened to translate to the strange 297x210mm for A4 (etc). Turns out it is connected with old German & French thoughts on the merit of a format in which the ratio of the 2 sides of the sheet is 1:[square root of 2]. This allows a sheet to be folded in 2, and still be the same shape. Markus Kuhn says this:

"One of the oldest written records regarding the sqrt(2) aspect ratio for paper sizes is a letter that the physics professor Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (University of Göttingen, Germany, 1742-1799) wrote 1786-10-25 to Johann Beckmann. In it, Lichtenberg explains the practical and aesthetic advantages of the sqrt(2) aspect ratio, and of his discovery that paper with that aspect ratio was commonly available at the time. (There are also suggestions that the task to find a paper format that is similar to itself after being cut in half appeared as a question in mathematics exams as early as 1755.)"

However, James wondered how they arrived at an odd number like 297mm, which doesn't multiply to a nice round number. The answer is simple, and logical - from a metric viewpoint: A0 is one square metre, or very nearly so (with the 1:[square root of 2] ratio). Everything follows from there. Here endeth the lesson.

The point of this is that, having gone in search of old technology, I stumbled across someting very much of the present, a Flash animation. The front page of this site has a mesmeric animated mandala, and the succeeding page has an equally fascinating linear array. Both are affected by movement of the cursor with the the bounds of the graphic. Have a go:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Beautiful woodwork

We took a run down to the Old Butter Factory in Bellingen yesterday. It's a collection of craft retail outlets covering a wide variety of creative endeavours. I'd seen a notice about a new fibrecraft exhibition there, and wanted to see what was on show (moreover, I thought Heather would enjoy it). There were some very nice exhibits, including one or two I'd like to buy.

What stopped me in my tracks though, was a piece in the woodwork gallery. This shop always has a variety of work, from small nick-nacks, to larger pieces like dining tables. On this occasion, Bim Morton, whose work I have admired before, had a beautiful dresser that is almost exactly what I want in my study when we build our house — except I want it to cover a whole wall.

Constructed from Blue Gum, this was a fairly simple cupboard topped with a bookshelf/display cabinet with glazed doors. The design was a perfect blend of simple elegance with individual finishing touches that my words cannot possibly do justice. For example, the door handles were hand-carved from the same piece of timber they were 'attached to'; both handles coming together in a central rose-like scroll motif. The doors themselves were prevented from banging shut by damped pistons, which allow them to close
gently, even if you give the doors a firm shove to close. If you've even seen an S-class Mercedes pulling its doors shut when you didn't quite close them firmly enough, you'll be able to imagine these doors closing — with calm, refined restraint.

Deep joy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Now there's an idea

I spent a number of years chasing innovative ideas, prototyping a few, bringing one to market and another almost there. It was an exciting and frustrating time, and after about six years of it, thought I'd managed to leave it all behind for sanity, but over a meal recently had a real 'light bulb' moment. That this moment was shared and more importantly, enthused over, by my other half, gives me hope that I might be onto to something here.

I'll need to tread carefully with the idea, as I don't want to be ripped off again, as we were a couple of years ago, by a large national semi-governmental organisation. After 18 months in development, that hurt. But, their lawyer was bigger than ours, and we had to let it go and watch while they introduced almost exactly the system we had proposed. So, I shall seek better counsel than before (no, not better - in fairness to my colleagues - just possibly more informed or focused), and see if I can turn the rough diamond into a real sparkler. Watch this space!

Friday, October 12, 2007

CD 'gramophone'

This is beautiful. Last year, I bought a gramophone kit, which was supposed to record on to old CDs, or any other smooth, rigid surface; it didn't work. Here's a new approach: play a CD, on what looks like a slimmed-down wooden gramophone. Eat your heart out, S*ny!

By bringing back a familiar nostalgic form of a phonograph, the design seeks transport the user back to the golden age of phonographs in early 1900s where sound broadcasting had a magical feel.

 blog it

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What's In A Name, Mate?

A Sideways Glance at the Hidden Meaning of Aussie Place Names

There are many place names around the world that cry out to tell you their true meaning. Well, perhaps not their ridgey didge true meaning, but who has ever looked at the name Footscray and not felt that it probably also exists as an entry in a medical dictionary? Or Patchewollock, or Humpty Doo? Exactly. Furthermore, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of things, situations, personality types, events, etc, which have no adequate name. What do you call the person who cheerfully ignores the lane markers on a roundabout or motorway, then drives on, blissfully unaware that you have only just avoided having your wing and door remodelled? No – apart from that... While !&%#&*!!?! will do, there is an even better choice to be found somewhere, on the signposts of this great nation.

It is now time for Australia to step forward, and lend some of its magnificent place names to the great cause of the "unnamed definition".

(I can assure the reader that any place names that follow are genuine, existing somewhere in the "wide brown land" that is Australia.)

Aberfeldy n

The ungainly stumble performed by a novice attempting any form of Scottish country dancing for the first time, when he goes the opposite direction to everyone else and tries to correct the mistake. cf Acland.

Note: I am keen to draw the reader's attention to the fact that no disrespect at all is intended towards any place whose name is featured in this work. All the disrespect is aimed squarely at the annoying prats, frustrating situations, etc, to which those names have been assigned, pro tempore.

Why? II

Why is it that you can make a cup of tea (or coffee), absent-mindedly forget it's tea (or coffee), and - now thinking you are having coffee (or tea) - get an unpleasant surprise when it tastes nasty? What does that say about our perception of taste? Does it mean that we can be happy with anything, as long as we think it's something else?

I was once given a mug of something that I think was coffee, but which was so appalling in flavour, and disgustingly sweet into the bargain, that I just had to tell myself that it was some entirely new and different beverage, nothing to do with coffee at all. This seemed to work, and I was able to drink it OK. I wouldn't want to do it often though...

Long black

I came to coffee relatively late in life, having been mainly a quaffer of tea. An occasional cup of N**cafe was had - and even enjoyed - for a few years, then I met my life partner (SWMBO - she who must be obeyed), and was introduced to the real thing. I was also introduced to quality (Twinings) tea - for which I am grateful.

In those days, tea was brewed strong, and, like coffee, was taken with plenty of milk. Having discovered an intolerance to milk a few years ago, tea then became weak and black (OK, mid-brown), and coffee disappeared from the menu. I had once tried black coffee when there was nothing else available, and found it to be a foul substance. Lack of sugar didn't help.

Before I abandoned mlik, I developed an affection for a weekend cappucino or mocha. I had to be in the mood for it though; I was unlikely to have it in the morning, and it had to be reasonably good coffee. The main attraction was sharing a quiet cuppa in pleasant surroundings with SWMBO, which remains with me still.

Having done without the roasted bean for a few years, I decided to try it black again, and found that if I took it weak, it was palatable. I'm gradually coming to tolerate a stronger cup, but it does depend on who makes it. I'm no connoisseur, by any stretch of the imagination, but I am fussy about having a good brew. I swapped notes recently with a client, and found we shared a preference for the same coffee-houses. One in particular (named Cocoa, as it happens), makes coffee that I can take full strength - which makes me wonder: does everyone else find it weak, or is it just that an excellent brew doesn't need to be weak? I do ask for a wee jug of hot water, just to make the cup go further, but it's not necessary. It seems to have a more rounded flavour, as if it's coffee with a dash of chocolate in it, or something. The only downside to this particular establishment is that the serves are smaller than elsewhere, but I forgive them, as long as they keep up the quality.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Comet Encke fishtailing across the sky

In this delightful time-lapse image from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, the tail of short-period comet Encke can be seen flailing about in the solar wind.

Go to for the animation. The comet is small (it orbits the sun about every 3 years, so has lost a lot of its mass over time), but the sequence is quite fascinating – normally, a comet is so slow-moving that you need to watch carefully for hours or days, to see any change. On this occasion, the wonders of time-lapse have saved you the wait.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The fun world of sewing machines - Part II

Well, I managed to remove the coil from the circuit board, and rewind it. Not quite as it was originally, but a pretty good attempt, and better than I'd feared it might be. That just left the soldering back in place. I'm not known for my soldering skills; I know that dry joints are bad news, but haven't the faintest idea how you might cause one* - and therefore, how to avoid causing one. Add to this, the only soldering iron in the house is one designed for leadlight work, so to say it's a tad larger (and probably hotter) than required is a bit of an understatement. No matter, it's an old circuit board, with just a few widely-spaced basic components, so the chance of damaging something else is fairly slim. Apply iron ... dab solder ... hey presto! A nice shiny blob of solder, exactly where it's meant to be. Now, the other wire, then screw the whole lot back together. Plug it in, attach to Elna ... wonderful, it works again. Great relief, cup of tea to celebrate.

Now what can I fix next?

* I looked this up after the event, and found that my meagre knowledge was enough to make sure I did all the right things. I don't see a career in it, though!

Monday, October 1, 2007

In the third dimension

Something I've dabbled with for a long time, is 3D photography. When I was studying applied photography, it was one topic that really grabbed my attention. I've yet to do something really dramatic with it, but - having been asked to mount an exhibition at one of the local art galleries - it's just a matter of time.

One of the earliest exponents of photography (then Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Charles Piazzi Smyth) was quick to tackle the 3D world, and created stereo pairs in various locations as far apart as Egypt and Russia. So, I follow in illustrious footsteps. In fact, one of the more pleasant tasks during my time as photographer at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, was to help with the production of an exhibition of some of CPS's work. It was certainly a fun change to the usual drab observatory work, and the resulting show was a delight to behold - and a pleasure to be associated with.

If I'm honest, I've only dabbled with 3D, in that I haven't produced a great body of work; however, I have managed to get some out-of-the-ordinary images, such as are not generally captured by those photographers still working in 3D. It is that sort of image that I would intend to include in the exhibition. And what sort is that? All will out, in due course...

Meanwhile, here's a taster that I took while visiting Stonehenge in 1997. It wasn't taken under the best of circumstances, but does give an impression of what the monument is really like. You need to use the crossed-eyes method, to view it properly (cross your eyes until you see 3 images, and the middle one should be in 3D). If you can't manage it, sorry... Warning: if you click through to the larger image, sit back fom the screen a bit, to avoid getting a headache from severe eye-crossing!

Image copyright © Duncan Waldron 1997, All rights reserved.