Melbourne Partial Solar Eclipse, May 10th 2013

This morning was a partial solar eclipse in Melbourne. Back up where we saw the total solar eclipse last November they got an annular eclipse which would have been spectacular, but work is too frantic at the moment bringing up a new machine to even think about going up!

The first glimpse of it was from the train going into work with (of course) eclipse glasses (from Ice In Space) and by the time I got to Richmond I remembered I’d not taken a photo so had a go with my phone and the eclipse glasses and came up with this:

eclipse_train

My plan though was to go to the playing fields at the University of Melbourne where I’d learnt before (via Twitter) that there would be some astro folks. There was a small group of people there with a telescope set up to project onto a screen at the rear who were having fun trying to keep it on target as it wouldn’t lock into place. The nice thing about projections like this is that you get a nice big image, like this:

Melbourne Partial Solar Eclipse, 10th May 2013

I had a couple of left over eclipse glasses from the total eclipse so I passed them around and left them with them, they seemed to go down well!

Mount Burnett Observatory (@MBObservatory) now on Twitter

For almost a year now I’ve been a member of the Mount Burnett Observatory, a community project at the old Monash University astronomical observatory at Mount Burnett in the Dandenong Ranges. It’s great fun with both the original 18″ telescope and new 6″ and 8″ Dobsonian telescopes (some thoughtfully sponsored by the Bendigo Bank for education and outreach purposes).

It’s had a Facebook presence for a while, but nothing on Twitter, so after speaking to the webmaster and the president I’ve now set up a Twitter presence as @MBObservatory.

So if you’re into astronomy and around Melbourne (especially the south-eastern suburbs, though we do have people travelling in from quite a way) and use Twitter please do follow us!


Total solar eclipse in far north Queensland, 14th Nov 2012

Donna and I travelled up to Trinity Beach, about 20 minutes north of Cairns, for a holiday with a total solar eclipse in the middle of it.

We were really lucky as firstly we nearly didn’t make it up there at all as Jetstar cancelled our flight up and couldn’t get us another seat until Wednesday which would mean missing the eclipse and losing the accomodation we’d booked. Fortunately we were able to get a flight up with Virgin instead on the same day as our cancelled one, but it cost more than the refund from Jetstar. Then there was the weather; we arrived on a nice sunny Sunday and it looked quite promising, but Monday and Tuesday were both pretty cloudy and wet at times, so it wasn’t looking good.

Wednesday morning rolled around and we were up early (with three different alarms, just in case) and it was clearer than the previous days, but still plenty of broken cloud around.

First Contact, Obscured By Clouds #1
First Contact, Obscured By Clouds #2

There were probably a few thousand people around on Trinity Beach…

An audience for an eclipse, Trinity Beach, QLD

…who watched the partial phases nervously, but with growing excitement, through the cloud.

Peek-a-boo #1
Peek-a-boo #2

We were getting close to totality, but a large cloud was looming, and we wondered if we might miss the total eclipse phase!

Audience anticipation - eclipse or cloud?

Our luck held though, and we managed to see totality through broken cloud. 🙂

Totality through the cloud!

Of course, after third contact and the end of totality the cloud started to clear and we had a good view for once.

After third contact - in a clear sky

The folks down in Cairns (including my friend Ian Grant from the Bureau of Meterology who lent me a 1976 solar eclipse filter) were not so lucky, they saw the partial phases but missed totality due to cloud. An American in front of him told him that was the third time in a row it had happened to him!

Video of Total Solar Eclipse, Trinity Beach, QLD – 2012/11/14

This is my attempt to capture the view of the total solar eclipse as seen from Trinity Beach in Queensland, Australia with my D90 DSLR, uploaded to YouTube with a CC-BY license.

Our tripod wasn’t usable unfortunately so this was taken resting on my knee and, as you’ll see, I got distracted by totality so it wandered off target a couple of times. I stopped filming so I could try and take a still photo as it looked like we were about to get clouded out, hence stopping short. We did manage to see the diamond ring just after though!

A Quick Status Update

I’m not dead. 🙂 More seriously, I’ve not been blogging as much as I used to for the past year or so, really down to more use of Twitter plus spending a lot more time off the computer than before (which is a good thing!).

Why?

Well basically just over a year ago I spent several weeks in hospital following what was meant to be keyhole surgery to remove my gallbladder, only to find out when I woke up I had a 20cm cut across my stomach. My bile duct was found to be adhered to the gallbladder with scar tissue and had to open me up to sort it all out. That started a rollercoaster of an ongoing bile leak, IV antibiotics, a nasal-stomach tube, hospital transfer, another operation to wash out my abdomen, more drain tubes, MRIs, saline drips, confusion over whether I had a post-op infection or a reaction to the bile leak which still wouldn’t go away, another drain tube in my back, ECG plus a drip in my other arm for a day following high K in a blood test and eventually a gradual recovery to the point where I could go home (complete with the original drain tube, though the others had come out). One night after minor surgery had turned into over 3 weeks over 2 different hospitals. Oh, and Donna being told at one point I had a 1 in 10 chance of not making it.

The day before I got out of hospital I tweeted what I’d realised was important to me whilst I was laid up in bed all that time:

Thought for the day: life is all about having experiences, you need to make the most of the opportunities whilst you can

We all too often let life fly by while concentrating on the immediacies and we forget to stop and smell the flowers.

Within a few weeks of me being home and recovered to the point of getting back to work Donna found a lump. That lump started off another whirlwind of mammogram, biopsy, doctor, tears, breast surgeon, mastectomy, recovery, several months of chemotherapy, recovery and finished off with a prophylactic mastectomy. The original tumour was a nasty and aggressive mixed type, it had grown to 3cm in the space of a few months (usually it’s about 1cm per year) and had a 50% chance of return to the same breast and 40% to the other – so no time to be sentimental.

No sooner were we through that than a tree fell on our house whilst we slept. Fortunately the damage was minimal, though the fact that it landed on our bedroom roof and then rolled off gave us one hell of a wake up call at 3am! It’s all patched up now.. 🙂

After all that we decided we wanted to get closer to our local community. We’ve both started to get involved with local groups for different things, Donna has found that she’s now eligible to go to U3A at a number of places and is rapidly booking herself into fun stuff. We’ve found a poetry group and writing group we both go to which is quite fun (and very different to my usual stuff).

I’ve gotten involved with the Mount Burnett Observatory, a community group dedicated to restoring the old Monash University observatory at Mount Burnett – it’s already functional and there are members nights every Friday with talks and the chance to observe when the weather is good (which being Melbourne can change in the space of a few minutes).

I’ve also gone back to archery – I did try it for a while during my first year of university and I did like it but for some reason now lost in the mists of time I didn’t go back to it. Now I’ve found the Sherbrooke Archers not too far away and went along to their “have a go” sessions with Donna and decided to take it further and did their beginners course, even managed to get my OzBow 20m qualification. 🙂 The archery bug has now well and truly bitten me and I’ve now bought a horse bow (classed as “barebow recurve”) along with arrows and the rest of the essentials and I’ve just now joined Sherbrooke Archers as a full member so I can go and shoot there at any time.

I’m still doing my photography, whether it’s at local events, places, or even work!

Amazing Fire Baton Throw - Belgrave Lantern ParadeFire JugglerDiscarded LanternThe Dalek, the UFO and the Olympics..Italianette Maroondah ReflectionsWalk Into The LightVLSCI IBM BlueGene/Q "Avoca" cabled up, powered up and in testing in just 5 days!The big red #EMO button, for depressed equipmentNearly there lads!Melbourne summer morning

Of course we’ve got more stuff we want to do – there’s a heap of work needed in the garden, I’ve built up almost 30 days leave at work which I need to start getting into and there are friends around Victoria we want to go and visit..

So all in all we’re having a great time. Don’t forget to sieze the moment, because if you blink you might miss it, and it may never come again..

Donna and Chris with rainbow over Cardinia lake

News Corporation – the new face of piracy

According to Panorama from the BBC in the UK it appears Sky TV in the UK had a subsidiary involved with people cracking On Digital’s smartcards and also with people running a website to share the keys from those smartcards.

Of course News Corporation is a multinational, so it wouldn’t surprise you to know that there are now allegations that they were involved in similar antics here in Australia:

News Corporation is alleged to have used a security division known as Operational Security to encourage hackers to pirate the smart cards of rival pay TV operators including Austar and Optus, thereby draining them of revenue and devaluing the businesses.

Perhaps FACT, AFACT. MPAA, etc should adjust their “piracy funds terrorism” to warn that by supporting piracy you will be supporting Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation, Sky, Fox News, etc.. That would put a lot more people off..

Facilitated Communication

In response to an ABC 7:30 report on Facilitated Communication (FC) the ABC disability website “Ramp Up” has posted an article entitled “Facilitated Communication; from the inside” by Marlena Katene, who herself uses both FC and independent typing (FC is faster for her, which is why she still uses it). In it she tells of her own battles against prejudice that it could be her communicating when she is assisted.

In high school I recall the frustration of sitting an exam three times with results getting worse each time. The first time the teacher (who was special education trained) did not believe I could do so well. After the third time however, she was convinced it reflected my true abilities as I failed the exam. I wonder if I had passed ten times; would they have kept making me do the same exam until I failed?

She also raises an important human rights issue; if you cannot communicate just how reliable are others assesments of your intelligence ?

The ABC 7.30 report mentioned, more than once, that those using facilitated communication in the story had the intellectual capacity of three-year-olds. Without access to appropriate communication, I wonder how the testers came to this conclusion.

If I took you and dumped you in a country where you could not converse in the language or use their writing system just how well would you do on their intelligence test? The concern always mentioned is “how do we know it is them communicating?” – but if you take away this then surely the same question applies to people trying to interpret their behaviour and signs – the observers there will be putting their own spin on things, conciously or unconciously.

One of my fears is that if able-bodied people prevent people with communication disorders from accessing FC then they will never get the opportunity to progress to becoming independent communicators. There are plenty of such people out there but I suspect mentioning their existence would be rather inconvenient for those opposing FC – how on earth could you justify campaigning against them developing their own, independent, personal and uncontrolled communication. In my wife’s blog around this report called “The ABC of valid facilitated communication” she mentions the people she’s known who have taken this path.

I could talk about the many non-verbal people I’ve known who progressed through supported communication to independent typing… Birger Sellin, Tito Mukhopadhyay, Richard Attfield, Kayla Takeuchi, Larry Bissonnette, Sue Rubin, Carley Fleishman, Heather Barratt, Sydney Edmond, Lucy Blackman, to name just a few of the most well known.

I will add to that that I have also met Richard, Sydney and Lucy and note that Sue Rubin wrote a documentary film about her life called “Autism is a World” which was nominated for the “Best Documentary Short Subject” Oscar in the 2004 Academy Awards. Donna also interviewed Richard for her blog back in 2007.

Some Recent Photos with the Galaxy Nexus

Work (and having a tree fall on our house) has kept me busy recently, so for now here’s a few more recent photos taken with my Galaxy Nexus at one of our favourite places for walking, Cardinia Reservoir Park. All of these are taken on or from the walk on the wall of the reservoir dam.

Lovely, if occasionally rainswept, sunset at Cardinia Reservoir Cardinia Sunset, Obscured by Clouds

Donna and Chris with rainbow over Cardinia lake Chris and Donna by sunset light at Cardinia Reservoir

The photos of Donna and myself are taken with the front facing camera, which has a lower resolution. The rainbow one is my favourite I think!

Crunch time – at 1am

Donna and I woke at 1am this morning to the terrifying sounds of crashing branches, creaking roof and general calamity around us. We really thought that was it, but thankfully it stopped and we were still in one piece. Turning the lights on everything seemed OK, then we noticed that a small hanging shelf had come off its hook and was sitting on top of the stereo, scattering the ornaments and keepsakes that were on it onto the bedroom floor.

Venturing outside we were puzzled – where had the garden gone? All we could see was a wall of green foliage – then realising (as we woke up) that a tree had come down and must have hit the house. We couldn’t get up the paths to the road at all to see any damage and so we treked around the house to the other side only to see the large trunk of a tree on the ground and a smashed barge boards, gutters and eaves at a rather-not-horizontal angle. We went back to the toolshed and got our hand loppers out and trimmed back small branches and foliage to get uphill towards the road to be able to shine a torch back on the roof and saw a rather bent tin roof. 🙁

Turned out that a large European ash tree next to the house had split at a large fork part way up and a 30-40 foot long trunk had come crashing down onto the corner of the house that is our bedroom. Fortunately the roof beam to the chimney held and the trunk then rolled off the roof, trashing the eaves and barge boards as it came down and landed a foot or two from the gas meter (with its exposed pipes) outside the house. We called the insurance people to get a claim in and then called the State Emergency Service to come and check the roof and chuck a tarp on it if necessary. An hour or so later (we were their third call that night) a lady volunteer from the SES came out and took a look and after a quick look around told us that (a) we were lucky and (b) the roof actually looked to be fairly intact, with only the chance that really heavy rain might make it leak.

Next morning this is what it looked like, as the folks the insurance people sent started to clear the tree away.

The tree limb that fell on our house

This evening the chap to inspect the roof arrived and was pleased to tell us that whilst badly bent it was intact and it wasn’t going to leak, so we’re considering ourselves very lucky indeed. Sadly our lovely old ginkgo biloba wasn’t so lucky, it has lost a big branch and the top of the tree, torn off as the ash trunk came down. The folks who carted the trunk away reckoned it may not survive such an injury, which given it’s a beautiful tree is really sad. They’re not cheap to replace either, should it not make it (or our attempts to take cuttings from the fallen pieces fail). 🙁

So, another exciting day in the Samuel household! Be nice if we could have just a boring few months with nothing happening for a change.. 🙂