>An early start to a Thursday morning


“Way to ruin my night vision Dad”

At 4:20AM on Thursday Morning, I and the_weapon like the rest of the world bundled ourselves up in our warmest gear and left our toasty beds and sat in the back yard to watch the longest total lunar eclipse I have seen in my lifetime.

It was wonderful, from 4:20 when we saw the edge of the shadow begin to cross from the top right corner and fall across the moon’s face. It fell with the slow majesty you’d expect from an event orchestrated across a million kilometers of void.

Damn it was cold, but we were held spellbound, for as the darkness fell more stars came out and we each tried to name the star as it appeared. And I maintain that IRK is not a star we can see, no matter how dark it gets.

By 5:30 the moon was biblical – I mean literally like in the King James ” …and the moon into blood”.

No moon for you

And when I say the rest of the world I do of course exclude North America. As you see from the chart the Moon largely gave a big ‘FRAK YOU’ to the United States on this one. That’s okay, you were probably all busy anyway.

The cold and early rise was worth it because during the totality (the bit when the moon passes deepest into the shadow on this pass) the moon was in the Earth’s umbra for the longest time.

Which means at the height (depth, maximium) lets go with the ‘totality’ if you hadn’t been watching where the moon was the whole time then you couldn’t see it, as no sunlight was falling on it, not even the filtered red light that gives the moon its eerie red colour during the eclipse. For why the moon turns red during an eclipse I turn to the explainantion given by the_weapon, my 11 year old son.

“only the sunlight that goes through the earths air is hitting the moon, the air’s pulled out all the blue light so only the red light is left”

That’s not too shabby and explanation of what happens. He has seen sunlight split into colours by a prism and knows that the sky is blue because that’s the part of the white sunlight that is most scattered by the particles in the air, and he figured this out

White – Blue = red.

For my US friends here is the eclipse someone filmed, my video wouldn’t have recorded for the whole hour and 20 minutes. They have sped it up for those you are busy.

But US you will get your chance with the second total eclipse of the year will be in December 2011.

and I leave you with this science article about an insect called the lesser water boatman, Micronecta scholti. Which on a kilo for kilo basis makes the loudest noise in nature at 105 dbs by

“… rubbing its ribbed penis against ridges on its belly, playing its genitals like a miniature fiddler”

which shows to me why reality will always be more remarkable than what we can imagine.

Warning this post will contain clowns

The_weapon is going up from the cub scouts to the scouts in the first week of next year. He could have gone up sooner but since they will be loosing me as a leader form cubs to scouts they wanted to hang on as long as possible.

The 2nd badge he will earn is scoutcraft. It requires him to be able to demonstrate a bunch of stuff:

 Learn and be able to demonstrate the following knots: 
a) reef knot
b) clove hitch 
c) sheet bend 
d) rolling hitch.

2. Flag
a) Describe the Australian flag and how to use it. 
b) Hoist the flag.
c) Break the flag.

3. First aid
a) Know how to report an emergency.
b) Know the first steps to control bleeding.

4. Safety with camping tools
a) Know the laws that govern the carrying and use of  knives in your state or territory.
b) Know and understand the safety rules for the use and storage of knives, bush saws and axes.
c) Demonstrate an understanding of the rules that apply to the supply and use of firewood in camping areas in your state or territory.
d) Demonstrate the use of a pocketknife or multi-tool.

5. Patrol System
a) Discuss with your Patrol Leader the requirements of the Pioneer Target or other appropriate Target of the Award Scheme.
b) Discuss with your Patrol Leader how the Patrol system operates in your Troop, e.g. election of Patrol Leader, appointment of APL, responsibilities and operation of Troop Council.

c) Show an understanding of the structure and duties of the Patrol.

all good scouty stuff.

It got interesting when the_weapon started to investigate the laws around knives, we could have just consulted an expert but instead we checked out the police and department of Justice.  There is a perception that violence involving knives is on the increase. Consequently in Victoria laws were passed to crack down on knife violence. From the Department of Justice’s website FAQ

Stabby the clown

It is an offence to possess, carry or use a knife or other controlled weapon unless you have a lawful excuse. A lawful excuse can include carrying a knife for the purposes of your job, or when participating in lawful sport, recreation or entertainment activities, for example when fishing. 
Carrying a knife for the purposes of self-defence is not a lawful excuse.

The_weapon has read all this material and to explain it to his patrol leader put it like this,

“If I am a small kid getting picked on by a bully at school everyday and in fear of my life and I carry a life that’s a crime. If the police stop and search me and I tell them that I am the side kick to Stabby the knife throwing clown that’s okay.”

Can’t argue with that sort of reading comprehension.


Happy Sagan Day

In respect of the birthday of one of the best advocates of science, atheism and skepticism (like those three aren’t inexorably bound) I have ever heard, the centre for Inquiry, Florida Atheists and Secular Huminanists, the James Randi Educational Foundation and a bunch of other folk are promoting Carl Sagan Day.

You’ll probably come across a few references in the bloggosphere, news stories etc. The weapon and I will put up the telescope if the weather holds and revel in the majesty of the night sky,

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.

Then perhaps for desert an apple pie since as Carl Sagan said once

In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. 

and of course watch some of the myriad footage that exists and remember how passionately and eloquently he spoke disproving that canard that the best scientist must be cold and emotionless. One of our favorite pieces at the moment is from Pale Blue Dot, his follow up to the awe inspiring series COSMOS


I realise at 9 mins its too long for most, but it is one of the most cogent arguments why I can’t believe in any religion. I know in video I have embedded you see only half the screen but listen to the words.

The conclusion which begins at 7:52 minutes Sagan raises us all to the sublime. It gives the_weapon and I chills everytime we hear it.

What did you do on Sagan Day?

A fine Halloween

Sometimes things just don’t work out despite you best laid plans. But sometimes the wind is right, and the star align just so and a plan comes together.

Like this Halloween, Samhain, Day of the Dead (not the Romeroesque one) or All Souls Night whatever you want to call it.

After some of the pinheaded comments over on Birmo’s Blunt Instrument I decided to make some effort for 31 October. I picked up a decent pumpkin from the Queen Victoria Markets, and on Sunday the_weapon drew his design,  I carved and we both scooped out the innards.

The jack-o-lantern was surprisingly easy and next year will embark on a more challenging design. So Jack now displayed in pride of place in the front window next to the door. That way any trick or treaters would know they would find welcome. We had prepared toffee apples, and filled a bowl with an assortment of wrapped lollies to reward any seekers.

The seeds we kept, washed, dried added a bit of virgin olive oil and some sea salt and an hour later in a hot over and we had a bowl of Pepitas to snack on while watching a suitable Halloween movie. But which to choose. The local DVD store was of little help.

Then that confluence of good fortune came to be. The Astor is an old cinema in Melbourne east big screen, great art deco and magnificent choctops.

When I saw what was screening tonight – the choice was obvious. I even had the right shirt  thanks to Flinthart.

The_weapon loved it, and would be happy to go to the next school book week as Herbie West

How was everyone else’s Halloween?


We got it right this time

Today I took the_weapon to get the latest influenza vaccine that’s become available this past week at the local medical centre. For $14 not only does he get increased protection against the (hopefully) upcoming seasonal flu but it also includes the H1N1 Vaccine so he has some protection against swine flu as well.

As a fan of those films where threats to humanity are faced off by steely eyed, squared jawed, well trained and well resourced team of professionals who have plans and contingencies ready to enact at the first sign of a threat. So I was kinda pleased how the health community and the public organised in response to the threat swine flu posed.

I realise its not over yet and some will claim that it was no big deal and we over reacted. To those I offer the following from the latest Australian Influenza report

In 2010, as at 5 March, there have been 50 confirmed cases of pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza reported in Australia, bringing the total of confirmed cases to 37,686 since 2009.

Or as more graphically put by the CDC in the United States.
For a parent these are chilling numbers, but they are only numbers. The late epidemiologist Irving Selikoff once referred to a statistic as “people with the tears wiped away.” A friend, referring to someone who lost a child, shook his head and just said, “It’s off the scale.”

Flintheart over on his blog was talking about “The thing is, Stupid only has to win big once, and that’s your whole fucking life trashed, right there” I have to say we as a society are doing the stupid when we allow vaccination levels to drop.

I was hearted to hear from the receptionist behind the counter that they had been really busy with people getting vaccinations. There is hope yet for us as a species. Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy notwithstanding.

Family values

The past couple of weeks the_weapon and I have been getting up at sparrowsfart to get him in for training. He is on the Falcon Academy team swim and they got through the district competition and on to the zones and regionals.

At the last meet I was sitting with the_weapon while we watched the team swim. One of the girls in his class MissyK was swimming. MissyK is from a family of evangelical Christians so in the past she has invited the_weapon along to her church. Needless to say being raised by a militant atheist he chose to decline, repeatedly.

MissyK swam stone dead last in her heat and she was pretty broken up about it, visibly upset as she got out of the pool and walking back. The_weapon got up and started to head over to her. I though what a caring, empathetic child I had.

I then remembered this is my child I was thinking about.

I jumped up and caught up to him before he spoke to her and said

“No asking, where is her messiah now, okay?”

The look on his face confirmed my suspicions. Fortunately by now one of the teachers was providing solace to distraught aquatic Christian.

So I think we have passed on the family value of atheism. As such I am excited that the Global Atheism festival is coming to Melbourne. Not enough stuff to hold a 10 year olds attention but still plenty happening around town like the atheism bus

and I am comfortable with that. What about you folk, any traits your family’s have you want to ensure are passed on. Musicial talent, freakish recall of sporting minutia, ability to roll your tongue into a tube?

I’m a better parent than Nicolas Cage

Like every other parent I try to help my off-spring to be a strong, self reliant, mult-skilled survivor of the coming Zombie apocalypse. From the how-to-make-yourself Apocalypse ready guide here giving him cooking skills based on the London chef Will Sprunt’s Apocalypse chow, and signing him up for CDC’s Disease Detective Camp for the holidays I would like to think I am laying the foundation for a citizen who will standing against the coming darkness.

But in the recent clip from the soon to be released Movie adaptation of the comic book (sorry graphic novel) Kick-Ass I realise I have been neglecting an important aspect of the_weapon’s training.

What a softie!

There’s is no way I’d have agreed to ice cream with Chocolate Syrup and nuts.

I hate motherhood statements

The Falcon Academy’s handbook states they have ‘…a zero tolerance to bullying‘.

Does anyone know any educational facility that claims to have anything OTHER than a zero tolerance to bullying? Anyone claiming a 25% tolerance, or a tolerance to within an acceptable margins, a zero plus or minus 2% tolerance?

Didn’t think so.

Couldn’t we all do with a few less meaningless, bleedingly obvious but pointless motherhood statements in our lives. If any of you says these claims are aspirational, I will have to hurt you.

Zero Tolerance.
For me it conjures up images of dedicated killer satellites in geostationary orbit above the school constantly monitoring conversation, phone calls, notes passed in class and the boys toilets for repeated flushing. The satellites poised to deliver a beam of coruscating energy to any transgressor.

Or perhaps a robot that patrols the grounds and is ready to intervene, something like the big white balls from 1970s TV series The Prisoner.

At a parents and teachers evening the head of the junior school explained this wasn’t the case. They identify any bully-like behaviour and seek to intervene as soon as possible to prevent it from occurring.

I wasn’t sure I wanted a policy that would lead to no bullying at all. If the school succeeds in this policy then the moment someone begins to harass someone else they are stopped and removed. This means the kids who would get picked on will be fine while they are on the school grounds but later off the grounds or in after leaving school they would have practice. This doesn’t sound like good preparation for the real world.

I wonder if they’d be better off with a mix of strategies.

Its easy to spot the sort of kids that will get picked on at school. Ask any teacher and they will tell you which in their class are the targets. How about the school employs an elderly Korean guy, nominally as a janitor or gardener and he secretly trains up those likely kids with a few techniques so that when the do inevitably get picked on the bully gets his arse handed to him. This only has to happen a few times and the bully gives up on trying to pick on the chess team.
Identify the bullies in the school and then get the kids likely to be bullied to hire ninjas to go to town on them every time one of them gets picked on. An example if one kid’s lunch money gets stolen every bully on the list gets a visit from ninjas who steal all their clothes during swimming.

A shakedown scheme where the kids identify the biggest bully and pay him/her off to prevent any other bullies from picking on them.

Whenever a bully shows up all the kids just turn to face him, point and do the open mouth scream from ‘Invasion of the body snatches’.

After a month there is a two day battle royal (because this is SPARTA) where the kids just fight it out, after making sure that only the kids not identified as bullies have been taught how to organise and work as a team. Plus tell them where there is a stash of stuff to make traps.

But I would love to see a big white ball on playground duty.

C.P Snow’s Two Cultures are battling it out in Suburban Melbourne

I am a scientist by nature and training, while my_reason_for_living is a big brained Ph.D of Humanities.

So we are waged in a constant struggle over where the heart and mind of the nine year old weapon_against_society will lead.

I am pleased to declare that the forces of order and light have won a significant victory.

This week we got the_weapon’s results from NAPLAN. The National Assessment Program for literacy and numeracy conducted on every year three student in Australian schools. The_weapon tested high in everything, but it was in numeracy he kicked butt. He did so well we considered getting him tested genetically to see if he is Asian.

There are a lot of things which contributed to this, lots of time on basic numeracy drills, he works a lot on an on-line program called Mathletics and he is learning piano and there is some evidence that it contributes to mathematical ability though there is some question over correlation and causation. Kids who are good at maths do well at music or the learning music helps them do maths.

The final salvo came when the_weapon declared one evening

“I want to be a particle physicist”

I suspect interest in quatum mechanics comes from the same place he learned the song he was singing on a street corner in Brisneyland last week to a friends Ipod

Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait…
The Earth began to cool,
The autotrophs began to drool,
Neanderthals developed tools,
We built a wall (we built the pyramids),
Math, science, history, unraveling the mysteries,
That all started with the big bang!

But not to be complacent I am seeking out other ways to brainwash the_weapon. Yes I realise its brainwashing any parent who calls it anything like socialization is deluding themselves, parenting is all about brainwashing and operant conditioning.

The latest tool in my arsenal to get him to join the side of science. The excellent work of the band ‘The Might Be Giants’ and their CD ‘Here Comes Science‘. Which has the_weapon singing this song around the house.

I love diggin’ in the dirt
With just a pick and brush
Finding fossils is my aim
So I’m never in a rush
The treasures that I seek
Are rare and ancient things
Like velociraptor’s jaw
Or archaeopteryx’s wing

And all the kids
Who wanna see ’em
Are lining up
At our museum

I am a paleontologist
That’s who I am, that’s who I am, that’s who I am
I am a paleontologist
That’s who I am, that’s who I am, that’s who I am

so any other suggestions for ways to produce a science head?

Waiting for the letter

It was Book Week this week at the Falcon Academy. Come as a character in a story the notice in the_Weapon’s communication journal read.

These things send a chill through my spine as I try to imagine how these events can unfold without the_weapon and I ending up having to meet with the Academy’s Psychologist / Counsellor.

The day comes and the kids are there in the sort of garb you’d expect: pirates, witches, a ninja.  I thought there would be more Harry Potters but they were very few on the ground.  So what did my son go as?


He recently read a children’s edition of H.G.Wells ‘The Time Machine’ so he went as a MORLOCK he even had a business card to hand out to anyone that asked


Apex predator of 8,028th century

it was a dull white, and had strange large greyish-red eyes; also that there was flaxen hair on its head and down its back” – H.G Wells The Time Machine

One of his class mates -an odious youth, the sort who presents a charming face to his superiors but beneath dwells a sneer for any he does not consider his circle, asked in a dismissive tone

“A Morlock, why’d you want to be that”?

The_Weapon, chewing a large chicken drumstick that we had negotiated as a suitable substitute for long pork, turned to look him in the eye and said loud enough for all to hear:

“I’d rather be predator than prey,…..Eloi”.

So here I am waiting for the letter from the principle to attend a meeting to discuss my child’s choice of interests,


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