Time and dreams

Array of radiotelescopes in front of a mountain

When I first setup this website I envisaged that it would serve as place where I could jot down and share all the quirky things I encountered, the thoughts I felt should be public, each day. Instead it seems to be getting nowhere fast. Part of the reason for this is that, like many geeks, whenever I see the website I want to tamper with the code some more. I have grand plans for the code, if only I had the time to include all the features…

Instead I find myself too busy to code, too busy to think of things to write. I thought that after the wedding life would become quieter and that once we moved house I would have more time to indulge in my own interests. Since the move, life’s tempo has increased to the point where I barely have time to think and dream, let alone write.

Each weekend, furniture shopping, or painting, or cleaning, or… Starting a new home seems to consume our lives. We have very little time during the week to do anything. I wake up at 6:20am, leave at 7am, return home at 7:30pm. This is the curse of living on the opposite side of a big city to a workplace. Work itself has turned very serious, with management pushing for the website to be completely revamped, and expecting it long ago. I had dreams of spending a day each week on research – shelved while the Big Push is on. I hate the constant job insecurity. Everyone demands speed, “performance”, all the time. Well, damnit, this is one project that will be finished. But I know that I am going to be exhausted once the new site is delivered. And I want my dreams back!

A couple of weeks ago we were driving towards home, returning south from the too-expensive furniture stores of Sydney’s north. As we drove through Brighton-le-Sands, we saw a fun fair, people walking and splashing along the beach in the sun, and we wanted so much to pull over and join them. This was the place where we stayed on our wedding night. However, there were photos to picked up, the shop closing time approaching, and we could not stop. It was so frustrating. It seems like here is another summer passing us by.

I used to enjoy the long summer holidays of my school and university years. Nowadays I would be considered slack for not having a vacation job, but I am glad that it was so. In fact, one year I did extra summer courses so I would have an excuse not to work in Beatrice’s mother’s post office. I need the time to recover from the concentration of studies and learning. It was my time to dream of better futures.

The adult world seems distinctly designed to prevent people from dreaming. And now they want young people to stop dreaming as well by forcing them to work extra study or employment hours, to cut away their time to play. Perhaps it is the unimaginative person’s revenge, because the dreamers would rather not waste their time with silly control games. The unimaginitive have replaced dreams with hierarchies, inflexible structures they can depend on so they don’t have to think too hard. I pity them in a way.

Well here I am babbling on as if it’s all some big conspiracy, which it’s not. I’ll try to write more often. This can be an outlet for my dreams. Perhaps someone out there will be interested. But for now, it’s past midnight – I’m stealing time again. At least I can sleep in tomorrow, so I will have enough time to dream tonight. I hope.

Fellowship of the Rings Review

Array of radiotelescopes in front of a mountain

The Fellowship of the Ring PosterPeter Jackson’s first installment of the epic trilogy Lord of the Rings was an excellent movie, but it left me with a sense of disappointment. I will assume that you have read the book – if not, do so! I am not, in general, a fan of fantasy. However, J.R.R. Tolkien created such an incredibly detailed world that in the context of the book, it wholly replaces our reality.

Jackson has, in most cases, done a magnificent job translating Tolkien’s vivid descriptions of landscapes and people to the wide screen. The casting is excellent, although Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn doesn’t feel quite right to me. The remainder of the characters look much as I imagined them.

Where I feel let down is that the cinematic version of The Fellowship of the Rings does not seem to capture the feeling that the characters are engaged on an Epic journey. The travel scenes are far too short, especially between Hobbiton and Rivendell. There’s no enjoying a bath at the Brandybuck household and Tom Bombadil is left out of the movie. There is little sense of the weariness that comes from a long trek, nor the delight of reaching comfort at a destination.

Lacking too is the menace of darkness. For whatever reason, the scenes with the black riders are played out in daylight rather than in blackness. Similarly, there is little sense of the dark of Moria. It is easier to see the wonderful stunts and special effects in full light, but sometimes what you can’t see is scarier than than an intricately designed horror.

This lack of subtlety and imagination is a major feature of Jackson’s and Fran Walsh’s adaptation of Tolkien’s story. In the book, the history of the Ring and Gandalf’s imprisonment by Saruman were fairly briefly referred to in conversations between Gandalf and Frodo.In the movie, these scenes are fully fleshed out with sumptious visual effects and very little left up the imagination. It is probably for this reason that so many other parts of the movie are cut short. Lothlorien, Bree and more are mere shadows of their book selves.

Whatever my complaints, the movie was certainly enjoyable fair and the three hours passed too quickly. My wife, who has not read the book (I’ll have to change that!) was quite tense during certain parts of the movie, and jumped a few times in shock. The soundtrack, by Howard Shore, is also quite good, although it took me a few listens to fully appreciate it. If you have Quicktime (I wish they’d provide it for Linux) you can listen to the entire score at the Lord of the Rings movie website. This flash heavy site provides lots of other information on the making of the film.

Moving House – The Pain of a Slow Link

Array of radiotelescopes in front of a mountain

When I first created this website, I imagined that I would be writing something new on it every day. At last, I thought, a place where I can easily jot down the things I notice and think about throughout my daily life!

Nice thought, but I didn’t reckon on how busy my life would suddenly be. Firstly a wedding. I’ve said my apology for that. Now it is moving house. Beatrice and I have to start from scratch. Thankfully, the wonderful wedding gifts have supplied our kitchen, but then there are whitegoods, furniture, the garden, tools, etc, etc, etc.

The aspect of the move that’s had the most impact on my life (and what a sorry life it is!) was the lack of high-speed permanent internet access at the new house. I’ve been reduced to dialing in using a 56K modem. Oh the pain! The Christmas holidays mean that I don’t have access to the fast work connection either.

Everytime I dial in from the laptop at the new place, it’s another 22c for a local phone call. Thankfully the mobile phone signal is much better at the new place, because hooking up the modem means no landline calls coming in. Remote sessions on the work computers become painful at the slow dialup pace, forget running my mail and browser programs remotely.

I have no idea how I survived in the dark old days of dialup. Many people feel they don’t need anything else, but I remember the cable access freeing me up to modify websites from home without worrying about blocking someone else’s calls. Wanted to check the news at any time of day, no problem! No more $100 phone bills per month.

Right now I’m back at the old place, typing away on my desktop which is hooked up to the Telstra cable internet connection. I haven’t moved it yet, anticipating the need for fast access. Unfortunately, there is no cable access at our new house, although thankfully there is ADSL, but that is $22 per month more than I pay now. Telstra won’t take back the old cable modem, nor can I sell it to someone else, because it is registered on the network under my name. What a waste! By the time we move again, who knows what kind of Internet access will exist?

Time to go home now – back to the slow lane (but not having to share my wife’s attention with my mother-in-law is an advantage!).

Just married

Array of radiotelescopes in front of a mountain

You may have noticed a lack of updates on this site over the past couple of months. I think my excuse for this is a good one – I was busy preparing for a wedding. My wedding!

Yes folks, I am a married man now. It’s almost a week now since my darling wife Beatrice and I returned from our honeymoon in Paris. The wedding itself was held on November 3 near the Sydney Observatory at The Rocks in Sydney. Our reception was at the Imperial Peking Harbourside Restaurant also in The Rocks.

One of the reasons I had so little time to update this website is that I was busy creating a wedding section. It contains all sorts of information, including how Beatrice and I met on the Internet and our suppliers of wedding services.When I get the opportunity I’ll put up photographs and details of our wedding and of the honeymoon.

It was a wonderful day, a day I have been waiting for ever since I met Beatrice. Thanks to everyone who helped us make it all happen and to our friends who shared the joy with us.

ANSTO Open Day Report

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Beatrice and I were on our way toward Engadine to conduct more wedding business when I heard mention of an open day at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s research laboratories at Lucas Heights. We used to drive past the labs every weekday on our way to the University of Wollongong, yet had never been inside. As it was on our way, we pulled into the lab grounds to see what was on show.

The surrounding land was packed full of cars, so the event is obviously a popular one. The courtesy bus drove us past the protesters with the megaphone. Although I agree that nuclear materials must be strictly managed, I do wonder about some of the protestors. A new reactor is planned for the site. Many residents, who arrived long after the initial reactor was build in the 1950’s, were probably hoping the replacement reactor would not be located in the area and that their property values would henceforth rise. They even had the residential part of Lucas Heights renamed to Barden Ridge for that reason.

The site is quite large, and reminiscent of a university campus. There are a wide range of facilities, including HIFAR, the research nuclear reactor and ANTARES, the Australian National Tandem Accelerator for Applied Research. These are used to generate isotopes for environmental science, radiopharmacology and to irradiate silicon. Apparently, HIFAR is perhaps the best facility in the world for the latter task and is heavily used by Japanese microchip makers to dope silicon.

Other areas which were open to public viewing included the machine shops and the materials science laboratories. ANSTO is responsible for ensuring the reactor facilities are structurely sound and use a wide range of equipment to test this. They also build many of their own fittings and detectors onsite. They have also developed the SYNROC method of compressing nuclear waste material for storage purposes.

One of the highlights was the reactor itself. We first entered into the waste storage area. Looking down, we could see radioactive waste material stored in rods immersed in water. Processing of the radioactive items was perfomed remotely in a heavily shielded tank. Big waldo arms lined the tank to allow technicians to remotely manipulate objects inside.

To reach the inside of the reactor building we had to pass through an airlock seated in the concrete and steel shell that surrounds the reactor. The reactor is only used as a neutron source, and does not generate any electricity. It is controlled by a single individual. Just like Homer Simpson (perhaps deliberately so!) there was a pack of donuts in the control room.

I finished off my tour of the site by visiting the CSIRO display. There, a representative of the Double Helix Science Club gave amusing and educational demonstrations of Bernoulli’s Principle, combustion and the properties of liquid nitrogen.

It was obvious that a lot of work had gone into the information posters and interactive displays. If fact, there were so many displays to view and staff to talk to that an afternoon really was not enough time to take it all in. I look forward to next year’s ANSTO open day to learn more about my closest research neighbour.

Week in Review 2

Array of radiotelescopes in front of a mountain

Last week of Winter and there appears to be some bug floating around sapping everyone’s energy. Quite a few people away this week. I’ve felt barely awake. Talked to a few more people about further study and visited the websites of other astrophysics departments in Australian universities. I liked the format of the Monash University Astrophysics Group as staff cleary summarised their research interests with enough technical language that a potential student can search for further references. They also listed possible PhD projects and linked to publications lists. I need to encourage the ATNF to do the same.


Yet again, the Howard government is displaying a complete lack of empathy for anyone who does not conform to their standards. It is difficult to know the truth behind the refugees situation on the Tampa. Is there some overwhelming reason that they should be kept on the ship. Is this a warning to other potential illegal migrants, or more likely, an action to appease a redneck electorate.

I think many people have confused the muslim kids involved in the rape of caucasian girls in Sydney, with the muslim refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan on the Tampa. Hopefully there is no connection whatsoever. These refugees usually come from very poor regions with greatly restricted freedoms. Do they come here to participate in our comparatively freer society? Did they threaten the Tampa’s crew. Do they believe violence is a valid solution to problems? What would any of us do if we were in their situation?

We are a nation built on immigrants from around the globe. Each year we turn away many who genuinely love the country and wish to contribute to its society, yet let in others who see our nation as a source of personal wealth. Should we deny what we have to others? Perhaps we should work harder to help the lives of others overseas.

I don’t know the answers, except that evilness and guilt should not be automatically assumed, as they seem to be by our government. This is the same government that assumes that all recipients of welfare are dole bludgers by default. Our Prime Ministers claims sporting glory for the nation, but cannot share the shame for past treatments of aboriginals. A leader who tried to insert christianity into our constitution. I’m tired of this intolerance, absolutely sick of it. If only the alternatives were better…

When I find out any answers, I’ll let you know.