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 I can also be found at Tempus Fugit (no longer being updated).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 27, 2010

A little something to keep me going

A gaming table, somewhere in 18th-century southern England...

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, sits with a few choice companions – all movers and shakers (either that or just rich and idle). He is holding a handful of playing cards... a shrewd move on his part, as his associates are doing the same, and he does not wish to appear different – or indifferent. There is the aroma of tobacco and of port, walnuts and bandaged gouty feet; a heady mix at any hour. The hour is late, but it is not yet pyjama time or the wytching houre. All eyes are on Sandwich, save for those on the fine bosom of a serving wench, or those searching for a glimpse of a neighbour's cards.

Characteristically, the Earl of Berkshire spoke first: "Come on, Sandwich! You have been sitting there like a haunch of mutton for fully five minutes now. Either play or resign."

Sandwich, being the Noble Fellow that he was – not to mention the holder of such illustrious offices as First Lord of the Admiralty and Postmaster General – dismissed this discourteous interjection with barely a twitch. He moved only let go a silent one and to take a pinch of snuff. After further deliberation and scrutiny of his options, he played a card, sat back in his chair, and gestured for his valet. "Higginbottom," he said, for no other reason than the man's name was Effingham, "I am hungry. Kindly prepare me a plate. I rather fancy the mutton, or roast beef if perchance there is no mutton. Wait though – my hands will be greasy upon the cards, and I cannot bear that, so be creative. Chop chop! I won't have that scoundrel Buckingham winning because I am weak from lack of sustenance."

The play continued, with the Good Earls doing their best to acquire a considerable pot that was there for the taking, gods willing. Presently, Higginbottom/Effingham returned with a large plate, piled high with what appeared to be a compôte of sliced bread and meat.

"What the Devil is this?" demanded Sandwich.

"My Lord," fawned Higgingham, "it is the mutton, as you requested, but I have taken the liberty of enclosing it in some fresh bread, that you may keep the grease enclosed and under control."

"Capital! First rate! You hear that, Buckingham, you old fool? A manservant who can think for himself. I should think you green with envy, if you weren't already green with a bilious attack." Effingbottom relaxed almost imperceptibly, stiffening with pride at the same time. "What do you call this... creation, Effingsworth?"

"My Lord, if I may make so bold, and given that my family name is–"

"Excellent, splendid! 'Sandwich' it is. There you go, Buckers, how are your pork scratchings now, eh? Not only can the man think for himself, but he is also modest and loyal. Har, har. I say, Higginsworth, my goblet appears to be void... as does the bottle, since the Earl of Idiocy here just knocked it over."

"Certainly, My Lord."

Sandwich selected a 'sandwich' from the top of the pile, studied it briefly and then took a hearty bite. "Mmmf... it'f goob; weawy goob!

"I say, you fellows," he declared, once the Noble Mouth was empty, "I think this 'sandwich' thing could be quite something. Possibilities for a business here, don't you think? Damn fine idea."

Moments later, Bottomsworth reappeared with a large boxy-looking affair in his hand.

"What on Earth have you brought me now, Hilary?"

"My Lord, I have been thinking for some time about this, and felt the time was ripe to try it out, if you will pardon the pun."

"Yes, yes, of course, but what is it?"

"My Lord, I have devised a container that can serve in place of a bottle, so when the Earl of – I mean, so that in the event of any mishap at the table, the wine will not be spilled."

"Extraordinary! How does it function?"

"In brief, My Lord, I have contained a fresh – but not too fresh – pig's bladder full of wine inside a case made of stiffened parchment, and fashioned a kind of valve at the base, to allow the wine to be released only when required." Effingham demonstrated for the Good Lords, to quiet muttering and comment. After a few seconds, Sandwich piped up.

"Bottomsworth, I fear you are on a genuine flight of fancy here. Kindly take that contraption from my table and bring me a proper bottle of wine, as God intended. If He had meant us to serve wine from such an abomination, He would have called this land Aus– ... Austral–... oh, something else! It's England, man, England, dammit! Now be off with you, and spare us all your fanciful notions."


In due course Effingham, now a humiliated and dispirited shadow of the servile man he once was, fell foul of the law and was transported to the colonies; one of the very last to suffer that fate. Once there though, he applied himself diligently, kept his nose (and many other parts) clean, was granted his freedom in due course, and went on to start a chain of wine dispensaries. Several generations later, a great, great nephew had a brilliant idea based upon an old hot water bottle, a cornflake packet and a bottle of cheap shiraz...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And the winner is...

So. Australia voted. This time, the voice of reason may lie with 3 independent MPs. Will it do us any good? Will the glue hold for 3 years? Will anyone end up insane? Answers on a postcard please, to...

Ah well. It was tedious before, and unexciting now, which might be the best outcome of all. Anyway, while it lasts, why not celebrate and enjoy it with a choice t-shirt? Perhaps this one:

Thanks for fellow-Twitterer @sjb351 for the inspiration.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Honeyed Chicken Delight

No, it's not a pet name, it's a recipe. One that my beloved concocted recently, when faced with the need to feed us. So simple, so tasty. Here's the vitals:

  • 1 carrot
  • 1/2 onion
  • 400g chicken tenderloins
  • 1 dessertspoon honey
  • small sprinkle caraway seeds
Sauté the carrot (thinly sliced) in a little butter or oil until beginning to turn golden. Remove from pan and add chicken. Brown nicely on both sides, sprinkle in a few caraway seeds (1/4 teaspoon max.), add honey and stir around to deglaze the pan. Return carrot to the pan and stir through until heated.

Serve with rice or potatoes and greens.

That's it, apparently, so go to it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

300 Words

Having discovered 300 Words this evening, and finding it a splendid idea, I thought I'd try to rise to the challenge. If I manage to turn it into a habit, I might even become a contributor. Here's a start.


I’m a cat person, sort of. I prefer them to dogs, without question – which isn’t to say that I like all cats, or dislike all dogs; far from it, and perish the thought. Why the preference then, when it turns out that I am allergic to the fickle felines?

Let’s see: they amuse me. Well, dogs can do that too, so it’s not just that. They look pretty and feel nice, on the whole. They take care of themselves, without having to be walked, and without one having to pick up biological detritus dropped on said walks. Mind you, I feel somewhat ashamed that they might be nipping over the fence to dig up a neighbour’s precious primulas, but compared to what my son could be doing to their precious daughter, it’s a minor misdemeanour. Not that he lives with us any more, but that’s beside the point.

Maybe it’s an ego-massage-thing: that an animal that can be so aloof if it chooses, might decide to honour your lap with its warm presence, is clearly a comment on your suitability as a host. Have a gold star.

Cats eat quietly. They don’t drool… much. They can’t be heard a couple of hundred metres away, barking at anything that moves – and several things that don’t. They are not inclined to roll in all manner of unspeakable substances that consequently require the donning of protective clothing and a fixed grimace in order to eliminate the offending miasma. They do, however, have minuscule lances on their feet, which they tend to use indiscriminately when young; adulthood eventually puts a stop to that sort of nonsense, unless they are being tormented (or think they are).

Maybe it’s the wide open, love-me eyes, or the I-know-you’re-there-but-I’m-ignoring-you confidence as they walk past, or even that they are a smaller package. Ultimately I’ll just have to admit that Mr Spock would find it illogical. Perhaps I can get some therapy.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Back in the land of the living

It's been a while, and there's been a bit of water under the bridge since I last came this way. I've left behind the work of casual employment, and started a job for which I am eminently suited - which makes a change!

In April we relocated to Brisbane, so that I could take up a post at the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium. There, I am styled a Support Officer, which means I am one of the show presenters. School shows, public shows, observatory sessions - they're all in the mix, as I show the good citizens and tourists of Brisbane the sights of the night sky and the Universe at large.

There is a certain repetitiveness about it, giving the same shows on a weekly basis, but with the changing sky as the year progresses, and the different audiences from 5-year-olds to adults, there is a certain amount of freedom to ad lib in each show and change the focus along the way. Besides, there is an awful lot of Universe to talk about in a 15- or 45-minute talk.

One of the fringe benefits for me as a long-time amateur astronomer, is having access to 2 good telescopes - a Zeiss 6-inch refractor and a Meade 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain. The pleasure is somewhat reduced due to the location just a few kilometres from the centre of a large city, but it's good to be back at the sharp end of a decent instrument. While in Edinburgh I had access to the Cooke 6-inch refractor at Calton Hill observatory, although I made far less use of it than I ought to have done, and really became an armchair astronomer over the last 20 years or so.

The Zeiss is particularly interesting, as I can easily mount a camera on it for photography through the telescope. So far I have just done a few tests that need to be built on, but I reckon I shall have fun with it in the future. As well as 'proper' photography with a camera attached securely to the business end (being on a Coudé mount, the scope can support quite a heavy load, which is just as well, since I intend to use my old brass Canons), I have experimented with cameras held against the eyepiece; not the best method, but it can work reasonably well, as this shot of Saturn taken with the mobile phone shows.

Another experiment was shooting both the Sun and Moon with a digital compact - still shooting precariously through the eyepiece while hand-holding the camera, but it worked quite nicely. 2 small sunspot groups are visible at top right and bottom right, and despite fairly poor seeing, the Moon image shows reasonable crater detail.