Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Biomimetic robotics, rolls off the tongue nicely. What it means is observing nature's solution to a problem, distill it to the basic underlying physics, and apply to an engineering problem.
This brings us to Myrtle, a 500 pound sea turtle at the New England Aquarium who was studied for her maneuverability. Marine animals use their bodies comfortably near obstacles and dynamic flowing water, using this flow to escape predators near reefs. Dolphins use these dynamics to surf on the bow waves of huge ships.

Myrtle's flippers were filmed from various angles and the results applied to this autonomous underwater vehicle called Finnegan. Finnegan has four flippers, known to engineers as flapping foils that roll and twist through the water. It's designed to change direction quickly, make sharp turns and back flips to avoid underwater obstacles. Most AUV's have a single screw propulsion which is great for back and forth surveys in long rows but Finnegan's foils are ideal for using the robot in chaotic conditions such as the waters near reefs. Seals swimming at 2.4 metres per second need only one-tenth of their body length to turn completely around and while Finnegan can't turn anywhere near as fast it's much more able than conventional AUVs.

Unfortunately for ocean research, Finnegan is in dry dock waiting for further funding and another engineer to do more work on its underwater acrobatics. Why do I feel that if it could carry a bomb, the project would be swamped with money?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


And only two days after I complained about the phone line. As per Murphy's Law, every time I picked up the phone to call in a fault, the line was perfectly clear except on Sunday when it sounded like aliens were using it to skip rope. The accented call centre chap ended up shouting down the instructions but he was defeated in the end and said so. He also said if it was inside the house, it would cost $125 call out fee and whatever the repairs were. That came across loud and clear. At least it hadn't increased from the last time.

It wasn't my line, inside or out. It was a line connection 145 metres around the corner and down the street. I have my suspicions about the Optusnet work that was done at the beginning of December. So hopefully now I won't be disconnected from the interwebs every time the wind blows.

Friday, February 20, 2009


These images are from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA's Terra satellite from February 17.
They're false colour images, using a combination of visible and near-infrared wavelengths of light to make the smoke more transparent and to highlight burned areas.
Unburned vegetation is red, while burned areas are charcoal. The top image shows a close-up around Marysville which sits near the centre of the immense burn scar.

Wildlife experts have predicted that millions of native animals have lost their lives and more will go before their habitat renews itself. I watched vets at work last night, gently helping animals from koalas to tiny possums and the tears flowed again.
The stupidest thing to cry about is my son. He's been dead for nearly 14 years but I kept looking at his portrait and thinking that he'd be right in the thick of this if he was here. He loved those forests and animals and he wouldn't have stopped fighting for them. So stupid me is crying because if I lost him now when I need him more than ever then I would be more heart broken than I was all those years ago. It's not rational but then when were mothers ever rational about their kids, so I'm still bawling at every sad or uplifting story I see. I'm old enough to be hardened to this but I go to pieces at the sight of a child hugging a new teddy to replace one lost in the fires. If anyone looks at my heart when I die, it will have 'softie' branded all over it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I've been going through every cupboard and drawer since before Christmas and I've already taken a large box and bag to the op-shop. I'm now on the second large box but haven't been near the kitchen cupboards or pantry yet.

I don't move fast. Under my slothlike exterior, the brain is on the move, thinking about what and where to move or change until it's fixed in my mind like a lego set.
My Queen Anne chest of drawers in in a delicate conditon after being opened and banged shut for 30 years by "he who is gone, thank the goddess" so it's filled with fabric and lace I won't need anytime soon. Except for the bottom drawer which was home to my handbags for evening and going out to grand places. 'cue hysterical laughter'

First out was a faux Oroton which was always too big for a clutch but always slipped off my shoulder because of the thin strap. The next was a grey clutch, no marks but because it's vinyl is now begining to get that sticky touch. I bought it for the first holiday withthe boys where we changed out of salty, sandy clothes and dressed (casually) for the nightly hotel dinners. Two in the box now.

My lovely pewter coloured clutch, still without a mark, went into the bag with the matching shoes. A nice set which, even after 15 years, is still stylish for this old bat.

My first ever silver leather evening bag with the glitter clasp. What ever did I carry in something so tiny? I had silver leather shoes in the Louis Fourteenth style complete with silver leather flower bow. I would have kept those shoes forever if the dog hadn't eaten one, not both, I could have dealt with that, but just the one. The bag remains as part of my fashion collection. (it's a good excuse!)

A black velvet fold over clutch which came with a bottle of Opium perfume. It has to stay. Folded out flat, it took 12 handkerchiefs which I gave out to the boy's grieving friends at his funeral. I'd stitched the satin bow to the front and still pinned to it was his last gift to me, a rose brooch.

Wrapped in tissue was a white and silver bag which my grandmother had made. The nylon strips were woven through a stiff net backing and she lined it with moire satin and finished it with a silver clasp and chain. It's not something I would use but I wouldn't part with it.

A little square zip black bag is next. Another give-away with perfume and now I remember why I never used it. The zip goes right the way around and when it opens up everything drops out, never a good option with one of my bags. I keep that as it's just the right size for CD cases which are always sliding over the computer table. It holds an even dozen, woot!

Right at the bottom are two slim black clutches, one leather and the other suede which belonged to my mother and I can still see her heading off to the races with them. She wore black stilletoes, a black dress and a marvellous hat of pink cabbage roses on a stretch knit cap that covered her entire head. My sister wore the hat to a fancy dress party and threw it out because the roses were crushed. I raged about that. I knew to hold the roses over a steaming kettle until they regained their shape.

The suede bag has developed a bad case of hairyness. Back in the days, I would have had a peice of glass paper to sand that off but now a pedi-file did the job in a few minutes. We had to work hard back then to maintain shoes and bags, vaseline on the patent leather, shoe cream rubbed into ordinary leather, it was just like being in the army but nothing was 'throw-away' then. But I digress, back to the bags which were both made in Melbourne not China.

I open the suede one and the brown stain is still there on the silk lining. It takes me back to a Autumn night when six friends had just enough money for dinner and a film which ended early. None of us had to be home until 12.30 but where to go? No boozy clubs in those days but we ended up in the end carriage of an old red rattler train and rode to Frankston and back, having a great time until the last train stopped at our stations. I got out of the carriage, dropped my clutch, stood on it and broke my newly bought bottle of Rimmel eye liner. In those money tight days it was a monumental disaster.

My sister throws out every thing six monthly and starts again. She's not a magpie hoarder like me, even our memories of the same event differ according to our personalities. So while I am having the luxury of deciding what to keep and what to throw, I'm thinking of the families of the last week who didn't have a choice. I hope they're like my sister who can pick up from yesterday and not think about ten years ago. I have a feeling that it won't be as easy as that.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Friend and freeloader. I had my breakfast outside before the smoke haze became too bad and she (that's a he up there) landed on the table, walked up to the plate and waited for the toast to be given up.
Our magpies are from the Shrike family, which are agressive hunters, rather than the crow family. They're attracted to shiny things, no wonder they like me. In Greece they're sacred to Bacchus the God of wine so they're associated with intoxication.
It was interesting to watch the bird up close and personel. All I could think of was Sam Neill in Jurassic Park, explaining how birds evolved from the velociraptor. The head moved the same way as the raptors in the film and this one's beady eyes never left my toast for a minute.
Her mate turned up but wasn't as adventurous, he stayed on the roof while she finished the crumbs and stood on the back of a chair.
They both started to carroll and it was the best part of the morning. The eyes were upon me though and I was compelled to hand over the rest of my breakfast. Freeloaders.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


The nightmare still continues even without the flames.
People were taken back to Marysville in buses today to see the destruction of their town.

I wonder if ASIO has taken this on board. That a terrorist cell doesn't need explosives, bullets or germ warfare to destroy this country, just a box of matches.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I never watch the show, it's cruel not funny. They show the event but they never show the yelling in pain after bit.

So I was lucky no-one had a camera phone in the book section of Big W this afternoon. Fat lady down agin.

Somebody had dropped a floor coloured drink on the floor and with pushing the trolley in front of me, it wasn't visible.

Picture me with the right foot firmly on the ground but the left foot went sliding backwards and I went down on the knee in an inelegant split that would have looked great with Jane Torvill doing it but not so great with me. Oh, the right leg was still upstanding.

There was a lot of yelling but no four letter words and my biggest worry was that people might think I'd peed myself since I was sitting in water. I got up the usual way, with an audience all ready to help but I always think of the hernias I could cause. Checked the knee cap, still there, spine okay, no shock (yet) but bruising starting already.

The young man took my name and address and very apologetically asked for my age. Don't worry lad, I'm grateful to get to this age and proud of it. After five minutes of sitting with an icepack, I grabbed my book and gingerly walked off.

I didn't shop but did pay all the bills in a sort of winding way down to the taxi. Straight to bed with another icepack and pain killers and now the other bits are starting to hurt. I used to be able to do the splits in my young days but it stretches a lot of things now that don't want to be stretched. The bruise will be a beaut tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


This was taken yesterday by MODIS on the NASA Aqua satellite. Kinglake and Marysville were completely wiped out with Marysville being declared a crime scene as police went in to recover bodies which were still lying in the streets.


I'm still being disconnected frequently but in the wake of what's happened this week, it's not a big deal.

On Saturday, I had 15 birds sheltering under the apple tree. If I went out to check their water they flew into the heat so I just surrounded the tree with containers of water. They almost burrowed into the grass to stay cool. My eyeballs felt as though they had dried up after trip to rescue a cutting in a pot in the corner of the yard. That corner was like the Sahara desert, I could see waves of heat rising.

If my eyes were like that in just a few minutes then I feel for the firefighters out in it for hours. I have nothing but admiration for the men and women who put themselves in harm's way. When the fires are out, the images will start to crowd in and they'll need a different courage to continue with their lives. They all deserve the respect of the entire country.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Just putting this up quickly before Telstra decides to disconnect my internet again.
It's the phone line that they insist isn't at fault.
It is the phone line.
It's swinging in the wind again.
Pack of misbegotten curs.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


The opening of the article on cuttlefish said, “Evolution’s a bitch.” It is if you start out with an outside armoured shell during the Jurassic Era which decides to become an internal skeleton leaving you with no protection against toothy predators.

The cuttlefish developed camouflage using chromatophores, sacs of red, yellow or brown pigment in the skin. Cuttlefish can turn from completely invisible, to visible and back in about 2 seconds and not just by changing colour. They can also change the texture of their skin by using bundles of tiny muscles to go from smooth to spiky. Underneath the chromatophores are leucophores, which reflect light across a wide wave length range, and iridophores which combine platelets of reflectin (protein) with layers of cytoplasm to produce iridescent reflections the same way a butterfly wing does. This optical effect shifts the light towards blue and green wavelengths but the cuttlefish combines this with the chromatophores to make a wider range of shimmering colour.
This is not only for disguise but also to send signals to other cuttlefish. In experiments the cuttlefish would either disguise itself or run depending on the type of predator it was facing. The signals it sent were for their own group rather than trying to engage the predator. Scientists were surprised at the ability to discriminate between species and to apply different tactics in dealing with any threat.
Another trick is to use polarised light to communicate with other cuttlefish. Sunlight is polarised when it hits water, some of its electric and magnetic fields are filtered out so the fields oscillate in only one plane. Cuttlefish can see these patterns and send polarised signals from their iridophores through the chromatophores while remaining camouflaged. In this way they can warn others without attracting attention. They also use postures and movement, such as liting their arms and waving them when hiding in seagrass.
They also use “kinetic patterning”, making a pattern of dark waves move across the body which disorients a pursuing predator. The moving pattern makes it difficult to process visual information such as, how fast the cuttlefish is moving, which way it’s going or how big it is. They can even camouflage at night using an encoding gene, in the skin, for opsin which is a light sensitive molecule.

One of the unanswered questions about cuttlefish is how they match their backgrounds so effectively when evidence suggests they are colour-blind, only seeing in shades of green. (Don’t ask, I haven’t a clue how scientists would do that experiment)
Enjoy this post, it's taken me three days to get it here. I'd like to shove a telephone pole right up Sol's all too large salary package.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


I'm using that heading because it's as far as I got when the internet connection went bust for the fourth time.

It was such a fun week.

Mother survived, again.

Miss O'Dyne was up early in this morning's comparative coolth to give my garden some CPR. (Her opinion of my gardening credentials is unbloggable)

I came out of Southland on Friday to see a huge pall of smoke seemingly close to home which worried me but it turned out to be the fire near the power lines in End. Hills.

Southland movie theatres were 'House Full' on Thursday night.

Sight of the week. A large Magpie under the apple tree, gasping for breath but waiting until the tiny green parrot had drunk its fill before diving in.

I did put the air-conditioner on but as the house cooled, adjusted the temperature up to 25 degrees instead of leaving it on refrigerator chill.

Miss O'Dyne accosted, berated and planned several tortures for the idiot who decided to walk his small dog on a hot footpath at midday on Friday. It was very remiss of me not to have the several metres of rope she required for the 'Revenge of the Dog Lover'. The plan involved him being tied up, taken miles away, shoes removed and made to walk home on a tarred road.

People are morons, and animal lovers should not be provoked by morons.