Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas 2012

Hoping your Christmas celebrations last as long as a Test match and are just as exciting.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Elijah Graduates

Well another year, another graduating from college[1]. You may recall Joshua finished up last year and it's Elijah's turn this year with Mara to follow next year.
Elijah has enjoyed a lot of subjects these past two years, taking particular interest in CADD (Computer Aided Drawing and Design) for which he received a course award. The college also offered a range of activities -- participating in rugby, snowboarding, snorkelling and mountain biking -- which, if you know Elijah, he lives for.

Elijah pauses with his grandparents on the way to the graduation ceremony.

He's been very fortunate to have been offered some well-paid work for the next little while, starting a couple of weeks ago. We are waiting to hear on university course offers but, at this stage, his plan is to work for a while, saving money to finance participating in missionary work for our church. Though I expect university is in his future -- as noted above, he has a strong interest in design and technology -- he'll likely address that a bit further down the track. For now, we're glad to see him finish with good grades and an open road before him.

[1] See here for an explanation of Canberran terminology.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Monday, 22 October 2012

Mara's Sweet

Three days late but Mara's sixteenth birthday family celebration -- dinner and the cake -- finally took place. We squeezed in the presents before school on the day but we were in three different locations come that evening -- Canberra (Josh and Mara), Sydney (Gaynor, I, Elijah, Micah and Bryna) and Perth (Ariana). The next day wasn't much better in terms of familial localisation but she did have some good friends who took her for a surprise party/dinner after a long day of dancing. Ariana returned the following evening and so the night after that finally saw the family dinner. We're glad to all be back together and, of course, to have Miss Mara as a part of our rapidly ageing family. :)


Mara's Sixteenth
Taking out the candles one by one is a family tradition and Mara does it with aplomb.

P.S. For those keeping score at home, Ariana's team had won the ACT round and were competing in the National final in Perth for Tournament of the Minds. They didn't win -- they were in the Language/Literature (Secondary Schools) category -- but they did receive the Integrity award and she had a lot of fun!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Micah Gets to Four

It's been a busy year for Micah, increasing in age by 33%. Keeping up with older siblings does have it's challenges and being a generally happy, energetic and caring boy he doesn't seem to mind his position in the food chain. I'm not saying what that position necessarily is, considering how many people he has around to play, wrestle, run, read and cuddle with. He didn't have a long wish list but he did have one. It included a Spiderman costume -- as seen below -- and some stuff for play-dough for presents and roast chicken, corn and pappadams for dinner.
Wearing his first present, Micah anticipates another.

Currently going through a fussy-ish phase in his diet, Gaynor was happy to indulge him in his gastronomic choice. We had some new friends around to help celebrate -- their two oldest and Micah get on like a house on fire (which they have not yet literally attempted).

The now traditional photo with the birthday cake -- note the '4' on the cake. We're not sure what Gaynor is pointing out but she is really trying to catch the eye of the photographer, again :)

A great time and we're now looking forward to another year of his lovely brand of living.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Labbin' Solo

I recently moved into my own lab. Prototype imaging density interferometer is on the optical table in the foreground.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Motorcycling to Gibraltar Falls

Every once in a blue moon I manage to organise enough time to be able to take the motorbike out on a ride purely for pleasure. Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty enjoyable way to get to work but it's a whole other level of enjoyment to ride through some scenic country. Possibly because there isn't a day of work waiting for you at the other end.

In any case, as a follow on to enjoying some of the country surrounding Canberra I decided a ride was in order. The decision was made easier after getting to know Nick, who has a 2003 Harley-Davidson Road Glide and a wife that loves being chauffeured around on it. Being the easy-going people they are they left it to me to pick the route and, since it had been a while, a ride out around Tidbinbilla seemed a good pick. After meeting up with Nick and his better half, then fueling up, we headed out to see the scenery as you only really can on a motorcycle.

Getting through the valleys I came across the road to Gibralter Falls. Being in lead I made the 'executive decision' to take a detour. After all, we were in no rush and I hadn't seen them before. Pulling up on the side road, I failed to get my bike's side stand down in time -- an unfortunate combination of thinking about something else and jeans' leg catching on the stand itself -- and so Nick and Co. pulled up just in time to see me land on my butt with the bike coming a close second. Getting the bike upright was not that much trouble. The hassle came when I tried to gently straighten the now bent clutch lever. For the record, cast aluminium only has a few bend corrections in it and I guess they'd already been used up -- the bike has definitely been dropped before, once by me, a low impact one, but at least one other, big drop.

So there I am, Saturday afternoon[1] and a number of kilometres from home, with an essentially unrideable motorcycle. Fortunately, not so far that the mobile phone didn't have some coverage. Calling my ever reliable brother-in-law netted phone numbers for two motorcycle shops. First one was closed and the second one answered, despite having supposedly closed an hour earlier. The proprietor was very helpful; identifying exactly the correct part, double checking the one he had was right, taking my credit card details ($15!) and leaving it in a convenient power meter box on the outside of his shop for me to collect.

Missing clutch levers don't do anyone any favours. Nick the Ferryman returns to help out.

So, Nick dropped his wife off at the falls themselves (only another 7km down the road) and gave me a lift back to town to collect the replacement lever. We dropped his Harley off and came back in his car, just to give ourselves a bit of back up if the new lever didn't pan out as planned. I have to say, the ride on the Harley was quite an experience. I've ridden a high performance, custom Harley around a parking lot in the US -- also an experience! -- but getting chauffeured around on the mobile lounge room that is a Road Glide was something else.

In the end, the clutch lever fit was about 30 seconds and I joined them up at the falls a few minutes later. By this time the sun was setting, making for a pleasant twilight experience at the free flowing falls. Not exactly what we had planned but I think it worked out well in the end. Kudos to Nick's wife for waiting patiently at the falls while we went back to town and double kudos to that ever reliable brother-in-law who also picked up Mara from ballet when it became apparent I would not make it back in time.

Despite the delay, the place and it's view were worth it.

[1] For those readers in the US who are unfamiliar with typical Australian customs, many shops, barring the biggest of retailers, usually close around lunchtime Saturday. I guess they value their lifestyle over the money I may want to give them.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Will Steffen: The Science of Climate Change

As mentioned previously, being back at a university provides opportunities to listen to some well-informed people on topics beyond my own area. The Director of the Research School organises a series of colloquia throughout the year and earlier this month I listened to Will Steffen, Director of the Climate Change Institute and ANU discuss the science of the changing climate. If you wish to hear and see what he presented, an audio recording synchronised with his slides can be found at the bottom of that last link. I found it an informative colloquium and an unedited copy of the notes I took can be found below.


  • Note that the thermal energy reserve in the oceans is far bigger than that of the atmosphere & change in the energy content of the oceans is a significant indication.
  • Divergence between sunspot activity & Global Temperature Index (GTI) which were previous correlated.
  • Correlation between greenhouse gases & GTI but not to cosmic rays.
  • AIRS satellite observation of emission spectra (blackbody with absorption by H2O, CO2 & O3)
  • 1950 a tipping point in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations.
  • d13 CO2 signature shows burning of fossil fuel. (fossil fuels have depleted d13 CO2 due to being trapped away & not part of the regular cycle).
  • Albedo ~30%. Ice at poles does a lot of reflecting.
  • CO2 absorption is a bending mode of the molecule. N2 & O2 are transparent since they have no bending mode being a bi-atomic molecule. The reason CO2 is important is because 99% of the atmosphere has no effect on absorption of reflected light.
  • Land use (deforestation & replacement with grasses & crops) cools planet through increase in albedo.
  • Overall radiative forcing due to human activity.
  • Increase/decrease in radiative forcing increases/decreases intensity of hydrological cycle. Water vapour is a fast, strong GHG.
  • CO2 less soluble in warm water than cold.
  • Note that system is not in equilibrium (undergoing a perturbation) & so some equations & assumptions are not valid.
  • Troposphere is warming but stratosphere is cooling -> consistent with GHG warming but not solar (external).
  • Warming unequivocal but anthropogenic 'very likely'.
  • Increase in number of 'hot weather' events & extreme weather events.
  • More deaths from extreme heat in Melbourne (2009?) than in the bushfires.
  • Earth oscillates between two stable states, glacial and warm with the glacial being slightly more stable.
  • Natural CO2 (last 400k years) between 200-280 ppm. Currently ~400+ppm.
  • Bifurcation point around 3 degrees C -> system moves to a much hotter stable state? Keep around 2 degrees C possible return to Holocene condition.
  • Previous abrupt changes show classic signs of a complex system.
  • Previously hotter ~1-2 degrees C & sea levels 5-9m higher than now.
  • Orbital (earth) variations account for cycling of the system in the past. More circular orbit gives a warmer period (Medieval Warm Period).
  • Wednesday, 25 April 2012

    Wednesday, 21 March 2012

    Namadgi Hike

    As the children get older finding time to do this together as a family does seem to become more difficult -- independence is overrated right? But we still reserve most public holidays as family time and the recent Canberra Day holiday was no exception. Traditionally we've done many picnics -- and with Gaynor organising the food this is hardly a poor option -- but I wanted something a little more active so we decided on an adventure instead. Of course, with a three year old amongst the mix one's adventures are a little more subdued than the word might suggest. Nevertheless, since Canberra is situated among such natural beauty, it seemed a shame not to get more up close and personal. The only down note was that Joshua was unable to join us, being laid up with a head cold.
    Responding to the call of the path undiscovered …

    Never ones to shy from a cautionary sign (or tale).

    At this age, Micah often likes to go it alone.

    But sometimes he still needs a bit of motherly help.

    Lookout! And so we did.

    The rewarding view from our destination.

    I suppose we could be grateful he wasn't trying it head first.

    On our way back down.
    I also tried out a new GPS app on the iPhone which spits out a map and trail -- and a KML file if you want to put it all into context on Google Earth.