Saturday, December 09, 2006

"Happy Feet"

Very interesting, clever and fun computer-animated film! All-star voices, lead by Elijah Wood as the Emperor Penguin Mumble, and including Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman, and even the late, great Steve Irwin.

Take the kids!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Terrible Fires

The fires in Victoria, Australia, east and northeast of Melbourne, are seriously out-of-control, taking a huge toll on wildlife, and destroying property:
Victorian Premier Steve Bracks said the weekend conditions could be compared with the 1939 Black Friday fires that killed 71 people and destroyed several towns.

Black Friday is considered to be Victoria's worst day of bushfires.
We Sell! We Buy!

Still trying to track down some of that strange MAAP art. Having trouble, maybe because the artists fear being ripped off, maybe because the artists are obscure, but maybe most of all because I read neither Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. Still, it's gotta be out there somewhere on the Internet!

For those who like soothing music with imagery frenetic enough to make you seasick, here is something from Candy Factory regarding - Okinawa!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Left: Meaning "Yield"

Left: Meaning "Cattle Guard"

Left: Watch out!

Left: In America, when surveyors were faced with just another redundant creek, they usually called it 'Deer Creek.' In Australia, they tended to speak a little more directly to the problem.
Australian Miscellany

Left: A "Road Train", full of cattle.

Left: "Wall of Remembrance", in honor of military service, at Miles, Queensland.

Left: A military aircraft, piloted by Americans, and filled with Australian soldiers, crashed at this creekside site near the base of the Carnarvon Mountains, during an electrical storm, on November 16, 1943.
Australian Churches

Left: St. Patrick's Cathedral, Toowoomba, QLD.

Left: Tenterfield Uniting Church, NSW

Left: St. Mary's Catholic Church, Casino, NSW

Left: St. Carthage's Cathedral, Lismore, NSW

Left: St. Andrews Uniting Church, The City, Brisbane.

St. Patrick's Church, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

St. Stephen's Cathedral, the City, Brisbane

St. John's Cathedral, The City, Brisbane
The Longest Day

December 3rd began with the harrowing forest walk at Mt. Glorious, then the surprisingly trouble-free drive to the airport, then airport security, then the flight on the crowded Boeing 747-400 from Brisbane.

My mates on my row of seats were two pleasant women, representatives from SunSail yacht rentals. Based in northern Queensland's gorgeous Whitsunday Islands, they were headed to the British Virgin Islands, for serious work discussions with American compatriots. Such a life!

I watched three movies, but imperfectly, because of jet noise and entertainment center glitches: "Joyeaux Noel," "Little Miss Sunshine," and the recent Australian hit "Kenny." "Kenny" is one funny movie: an Australian foreman of port-a-loo installations talks about his life and work, and even finds romance, when he travels to attend a portable toilet convention in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. My mates found "Kenny" uproariously funny, and I must agree with them.

Crossing the International Date Line, we caught the last few hours of Western Hemisphere December 2nd, but then December 3rd started all over again. We landed at LAX about 7:30 a.m. (after an abortive landing, however, because we got too close to another aircraft on the ground and had to circle back again).

After returning via Southwest Airlines to Sacramento shortly after noon, I took a much-needed nap (two nights in a row without sleep is tough), before heading to Davis, to catch the DMTC folks after "Oliver!" strike, and to pick Sparky up from Steve and Jan. Sparky had gotten along famously with Mrs. Lovett and Scruffy, but had repeatedly peed all through their house, so - it was time to leave!

December 3rd was the longest day ever! I thought it would never end!
Does Water Drain Clockwise, Or Counterclockwise?

In graduate school, we learned that the Coriolis Force is much too weak on the distance scale of a sink to affect how water drains. Only over large distances is the Coriolis force large enough to affect fluid flow. Local friction effects and residual circulation determine whether water drains clockwise or counterclockwise from a sink, in either hemisphere.

Now that we were wise to this little Coriolis factoid, we made fun of people who believed otherwise.

Still, it would be nice to know.... The last time I shaved at Mt. Glorious, I paid attention to how the water drained, so as to know for sure.

The drain at the bottom of the sink was so large that the water didn't have a chance to drain either clockwise or counterclockwise - instead, the water drained straight down.
When You Shut One Door, You Open Another

Left: Paradise at Mt. Glorious!

I returned Saturday night from Fortitude Valley at 1 a.m. and prepared for my last sleepover at Mt. Glorious. Andrew had left two days previously for the United States and I was all alone. I removed my keys, coins, wallet, and every other item from my pockets and laid them on the bedroom table.

Then I remembered I had not yet studied southern constellations in much detail, and this was my last chance to do so. So, I grabbed my newly-purchased southern star chart, walked out the front doorway, and casually closed the front door.

Instantly, I knew, and my heart froze: I was locked out of the house!

I quickly ran around the house and assessed the situation. Because of our diligence over the last several days, the house was now hermetically sealed. All doors and windows were locked and secure. Entry was not possible. But I had to leave Mt. Glorious by 9 a.m. to make the noon flight to the U.S.! What was I going to do?

For about one-and-a-half hours, I tried to pick and pry locks, all the while jumping around in the dark so that the motion-sensitive outdoor lights would generate enough light by which to see. I found a tool tray in the garage, which provided some tools, but the tool tray also sported a giant Australian Brown Huntsman Spider guardian, so every time I reached into the tool tray I had to shoo the spider away first.

Giving up on lock-picking, I decided I had to break a window. I decided to break the guest bathroom toilet window, because it was the smallest window in the house and would be the easiest to repair. Despite being divided in half by a metal frame, and requiring me to stand precariously atop a ladder, I figured I could wiggle my way inside, kind of like a contortionist entering an air-conditioning vent; one arm in first, then the head, then the other arm, until I could fall in, using the inner toilet door for support. I began cutting the outer screen of the window in preparation for shattering the glass.

Reality is a hard teacher. Sorry, Marc is just too fat a person for this to work! I might easily hurt myself! Plus, since Andrew isn't here, I must see to the window's immediate repair. Even a bad repair job would cost too much time in order to successfully catch the noontime plane. So, I HAVE to get help!

Even though this house was in a fairly-remote rural community, there were a few neighbors nearby. But how can I bang on their front doors at 3 a.m.? They don't know who I am. I have no identification. And my urgent insistence that I had to enter their neighbor's home despite his absence might strike them as not credible.

The only thing that could work would be to find a locksmith. But how do I call anyone without a phone? I wondered whether there was a pay telephone in the village of Mt. Glorious, which was located about 2 kilometers (1 mile) away through the dark forest. Funny, I THOUGHT so, I thought I had seen one, but I wasn't sure.

I changed my mind about breaking Andrew's windows. I still had several hours with which to work with, and I didn't HAVE to sleep. I would try to work through this problem with the remaining time. I was thirsty, and a little uncomfortable, but the night was cool, and I could manage for a number of hours yet without drink.

So off I went, tramping along the desolate road through the forest to the village of Mt. Glorious. The moon was nearly full, but the sky was overcast, so the darkness was nearly complete. I worried about stumbling over pythons in the dark. There was no reason any longer that snakes would prefer the tarmac, since the sun had long ago set and the pavement was cool, but animals sometimes do inscrutable things, so I tried to stay close to the slight glow emanating from the road's center dotted line, so that I might have at least have a last-second warning if *something* was in my immediate path.

I heard lots of rustling in the roadside forest, and sometimes the worried coos of startled birds as I walked past, but what exactly was *out there* I didn't know and couldn't tell.

After the longest walk, I found the village, with its two street lights. The place appeared utterly deserted at 3:30 a.m. Indeed, there was a phone booth there, next to a restaurant, but possessing no resources, and with no identifying phone number or phone book in the phone booth, I was limited to toll-free numbers only. I could monitor the time, however, by peering through the windows at the restaurant's clock.

I called "000" (the Australian equivalent of "911") and the Brisbane police reluctantly gave me the toll free number of Locksmith #1. He refused my appeal for help - after all, there was little attraction to rescuing someone atop a mountain, 30 km outside of the big city. He referred me to Locksmith #2.

Locksmith #2 said he couldn't respond immediately. He was far away, in Coloundra, but if I called back at 6 a.m., he would see what he could do.

I called back Locksmith #1, to see if he could respond sooner, and he said no way - it was illegal to open locks for people like me, people who had confided they weren't the actual homeowner. He said that I should be grateful that Locksmith #2 hadn't turned me down cold.

The directory assistance operators commisserated with my problem, but the trouble was these two locksmiths were the only two toll-free "express" locksmiths in Brisbane: I would need to find some coins to call other locksmiths. There were toll-free glaziers, however, if I wanted to return to Andrew's house and bust some windows instead.

At a loss, I lay down on a bench outside the restaurant and tried to sleep. Sleep didn't come.

For reasons I don't quite fathom at this semi-tropical locale, dawn came early. Despite an early-morning shower, the sky began lightening up. Australian King Parrots were fussing around, as were kookaburras, and those birds that sound like super-expressive drops of water. For the first time, I got a good look at a Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo, as it prowled around some nearby forbs. All the cockatoo need was a safari hat to look like a Great White Hunter stalking his prey.

At 5:30 a.m., I called Locksmith #2 back. He sighed and asked if I had a mobile number. I said no, I had nothing at all. He said "look, there's nothing much I can do without a mobile number. I want to refer you to another locksmith (Locksmith #3) who lives on that side of Brisbane, but I can't do it without a mobile number. You need to ask someone if you can use their mobile number." I said I was reluctant to ask before, because it had been dark. He said, "yes, and I can understand that. But this is Australia. Everyone has a mobile number. And they'll help you too. But you need to ask."

So, I reluctantly began walking through Mt. Glorious, looking for help. The village was utterly silent, except for the deafening parrot roar in the treetops.

Walking past a house, I thought I heard some thumping. Summoning the courage, I knocked on their door.

A young family and their five thumping kids answered the door. They had moved to Mt. Glorious from Brisbane just the day before (although the mountain biker husband was long-accustomed to taking his bicycle on nearby trails). They offered coffee and marvelled at my story.

The mother looked at her kids, then me, then asked "walking through the woods, weren't you afraid of dingoes?" "Dingoes!", I replied, "no, I was worried about pythons!" She said, "well, they removed dingoes from these hills a while ago and took them over to Moreton Island, but they've been filtering back, and they've been spotted again around here lately." I said "Wow, no I hadn't thought about dingoes - glad I didn't really! It was so dark that dingoes could have walked right up to me, and I would have never known!"

The family lent me their mobile phone and I made contact with Locksmith #3, who promised to come out. The kids ran around the house and rounded up some coins, which they lent me, if I needed them, in order to contact another locksmith in case Locksmith #3 didn't turn up. The husband decided to travel to the house to see if he could puzzle a way inside, now that it was light. I returned to waiting by the phone booth for Locksmith #3. The owner of the restaurant was now present and preparing the place for breakfast, and he lent me a phone book so I could get extra locksmith phone numbers if needed.

After just half an hour, a couple drove up and asked "are you in need of the services of a locksmith?" "Boy, am I ever!", I replied. Locksmith #3 was a part-time lifesaving instructor on Bribie Island: his wife came along for the fresh mountain air. We returned to the house and met the husband, who hadn't found a way into the house either. I returned his kids' coins to him and we talked about mountain-biking as Locksmith #3 went to work.

By 8 a.m., the drama had concluded. I was in the house again and I succeeded in leaving for the airport by 9 a.m. Just the damage to the window screen to worry about. And dingoes too (although I hope these are just hypothetical boogey-dogs in this part of Australia).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Who Is That At The Bottom Of The Tree?

Left: A nervous young Galah at Apex Lake, Gatton

Australian parrots want to know!

Noisy Crimson Rosellas, Carnarvon Gorge National Park

Scaly-Breasted Lorikeets at the University of Queensland, Gatton.