Friday, 20 May 2011


“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” - Lao Tzu

A very busy day at the conference today, with many interesting presentations and lots of attendees. My presentation went well and generated some good discussion. It was particularly gratifying to see some of ex-students from many years back there, now as seasoned practitioners, but still remembering me and coming to say hello and how they still remembered my classes. This is something that is really special for a teacher… To know that what you have taught people has been learned, well used, has been built upon and is now going forward in time, making the world a better place.

The weather today has been beautiful, fine and sunny, although not too warm. While walking back to the hotel this evening it started to become very cool and a little blowy. No doubt, at night the temperature will drop further. It is late autumn, even in Perth! The conference dinner is on tonight and then more talks tomorrow.

The picture above is of St Mary's Cathedral in Perth.

A little keyboard piece by Domenico Cimarosa (17 December 1749, Aversa, Province of Caserta – Venice 11 January 1801), who is best known as an Opera composer. However, this Largo alla siciliana from his Sonata no.4 in A minor is quite elegant and graceful.


“I support any initiative designed to make healthy food more affordable and junk food less appealing.” - Susan Burke

A long day of travelling today as I had to be in Brisbane in the afternoon and then travel to Perth. We had our last graduation ceremony in Brisbane this afternoon and then tonight fly to Perth to be at a conference where I shall be presenting as an invited speaker.

Food for this Friday is going to be about conference, convention and special occasion food. This has to do especially with little tidbits and finger food, savouries, hors d’ oeuvres and small pastry offerings that are as much non-food as they are food. One can nibble quite a lot of these small delicacies and consume an inordinate number of calories (aided and abetted by the alcohol one washes them down with).

So as you could well imagine this not particularly healthful or nutritious food, however, it is generally gourmet food that tastes very nice. It is food that one does not consume often and may represent an occasional exception to the good rules of nutrition that one lives by.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – William Shakespeare; Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5

It seems recently that we are gazing up at the skies a lot more and we are seeing much more than we have ever seen in the past. New technology of course, is helping with better telescopes, electronics and image enhancers, radio-astronomy, computer modelling, x-ray detection, etc, etc. However we now also have a whole new armamentarium to help astronomers with their investigations. The International Space Station, the Hubble telescope, rockets that carry unmanned exploratory space modules that send back data ceaselessly all contribute to the masses of new information that is available nowadays. And the discoveries are startling, with the “big one” not too far away it seems (the big one of course being extraterrestrial life).

The latest news concerns what astronomers considered before an inconceivable state of affairs. Planets that do not orbit around a star like a sun, but rather wandering hither and thither in deep space. Scientists that have been scanning the heavens for the past two years have found about ten planets with roughly the mass of Jupiter (the largest planet in our solar system with a diameter of 143,000 km), at such huge distances from the nearest star that they seem to float freely through the galaxy! This was published recently in the prestigious scientific journal “Nature” and breaks new ground in the study of “exoplanets” – planets that exist beyond our solar system.

More than 500 exoplanets have been identified since 1995, but this is the first time that discovered planets show such baffling behaviour. The paper suggests that these planets became displaced from their orbit around their sun at a very early stage of the formation of solar systems. There appear to be a lot of these rogue planets, seemingly even more common than main sequence stars.  Numerous questions are now being asked: Did these planets from near a star only to be ejected from its solar system? If they truly have never been bound to any stars, do these planets represent a new planetary formation process, unlike the one that formed our own solar system? Do they represent failed suns that never attracted enough material around them to form solar systems of their own?

To find a planet that is not associated with a star is quite difficult, especially as many of these objects are hundreds of light years away from us. In this latest reported search, a technique called gravitational microlensing was used. Essentially, this is based on the following principle: As you look at a background field of stars, if an object passes between you and one of the stars, there will be a temporary brightening of that star. This occurs as the gravity of the object bends light around itself, which acts as a lens for light from the background star, hence “gravitational lensing”. Microlensing occurs when the foreground object is too small to create measurable distortion of the background star and only a brightening is observed. This makes it an ideal detector for small, dim objects.

The mass of the lensing object determines the duration of the brightening event, with the longer the duration, the more massive being the object. A Jupiter-sized object would produce lensing event with a duration of around one day.  The odds of a microlensing event occurring are exceedingly small, as the lensing object has to line up exactly between the observer and the background star. To compensate for these slim chances, astronomers looked at 50 millions of stars over several years, which yielded 474 microlensing events. Out of those 474, 10 had durations of less than two days, consistent with a Jupiter mass object. No host stars were observed within 10 astronomical units of these lensing objects. Hence the rogue planet discovery…

planet |ˈplanit| noun
A celestial body moving in an elliptical orbit around a star.
• (The planet) the earth: No generation has the right to pollute the planet.
chiefly Astrology, historical a celestial body distinguished from the fixed stars by having an apparent motion of its own (including the moon and sun), esp. with reference to its supposed influence on people and events.
The nine planets of the solar system are either gas giants—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—or smaller rocky bodies—Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Pluto. The minor planets, or asteroids, orbit mainly between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
planetology |ˌplaniˈtäləjē| noun
exoplanet |ˈeksōˌplanit| noun
A planet that orbits a star outside the solar system: Most of the 100 known exoplanets are comparable in mass to Jupiter.

ORIGIN Middle English: From Old French planete, from late Latin planeta, planetes, from Greek planētēs ‘wanderer, planet,’ from planan ‘wander.’

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


“I prithee send me back my heart,
Since I cannot have thine;
For if from yours you will not part,
Why, then, shouldst thou have mine?” - John Suckling

Today was a “catch-up day” as usually happens after one has been away. Numerous loose ends to tie off, emails to answer, meetings to attend, people to see. The day just flew by and I barely made a dint in my in-tray. One more day of catch-up tomorrow and then I’m off again travelling on Friday.

For Poetry Wednesday today, I raided my old journals and found this poem. Written in the aftermath of a broken relationship…

Your Sweetest Lie

Let your lips curl into their most beguiling smile
And save your sweetest lie to whisper, just for me.
Tell your eyes to wear their fanciest dress
While they look duplicitously at me.
Touch me with your pale, cool fingers
In semblance of a warm caress,
While they drain away my lifeblood.
Speak to me, promise me eternal love
While you leave, nevermore to return.

I’ll curl up on the bed, smelling your fragrance on the sheets,
Deceiving myself that you’ll be back tomorrow.
I’ll ignore my ring that you abandoned on the table,
While I keep on wearing yours on my finger,
Deluding myself that your vows engraved in it are still all true.
The taste of your kiss remembered is sweet,
But in your absence its hidden poison
Gradually spreads within, slowly killing me.

How can I forget you, when everything around me
Reminds me constantly of you?
How can I let your image disappear when new dreams are denied me
In my endless sleepless nights?
How can I abandon you when in the darkness of my white night
The remembered bright fireworks of your sparkling eyes
Are my only illumination?
How can I keep living since you left?
My life has turned to a false imitation of existence…

Monday, 16 May 2011


“I have seen that technology has contributed to improved communication, that it’s contributed to better health care, that it’s contributed to better food supplies, that it has contributed to all the basic human needs.” - John Warnock

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union. The day has been marked as the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), the purpose of which is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.

The theme for this year’s, World Telecommunication and Information Society Day is “Better life in rural communities with ICTs”, which was adopted by ITU Council in 2009 and follows up on the theme for 2010: “Better city, better life with ICTs”.  ICTs are increasingly in demand to meet the Millennium Development Goals. In the rural context, ICTs provide enhanced opportunities to generate income and combat poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy.

Half of the world’s population lives in rural districts and far-flung communities. These three billion people represent the poorer, less educated, and more deprived people of the world. As many as 70 per cent of the developing world’s 1.4 billion extremely poor people live in rural areas. They are also among the least connected to the benefits of ICTs. It is no surprise that their poverty, ill health and illiteracy are connected to a lack of ICTs.

The Internet began in 1969 as a small though initially costly project backed by the United States Government. It was then called the ARPANET because the agency that developed the system was called the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The original network began with four users. By 1994, the Internet had 4 million hosts.  By September 2009 there were 1.73 billion Internet users worldwide, with 1.4 billion e-mail users worldwide, and on average they collectively sent 247 billion e-mails per day. Unfortunately 200 billion of those were spam e-mails! As of December 2009, there were 234 million websites. It is estimated that in May 2011, the estimated number of unique individuals who will use the Internet, in all countries combined, is 2.06 billion.

Most people find it impossible to imagine their daily lives without the internet, as in recent years, the internet has become an integral part of our existence. We use it to communicate, to search for information, to interact socially through networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. It is hard to imagine a world without the internet as a means of doing business, or without using the net in education and in entertainment.

Its combination with other means of telecommunication is changing the way we utilise other ICT technology. The use of the Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol is altering we use landlines and most mobile smartphones now, are in many cases used to access the internet more than they are to talk on! Someone asked me for my fax number the other day and I had to restrain myself from laughing – obviously someone was still using that dinosaur! Is there such a thing as a telegram anymore? Do kids nowadays know what the Morse code is? When was the last time you took a piece of paper and actually wrote a letter to someone?

It’s a brave new world of ICTs out there and we have to work harder in making it accessible to those people who do not use it at the present time and those who wish to and cannot.


“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” - G.K. Chesterton

I am in Brisbane for work today, and catching the early morning flight leaving at 6:00 a.m. is always a bit of a challenge, even for an early bird like me. It generally means having to get up at about 3:45 a.m. so as to get ready by 4:45 am, to then catch a taxi to the airport and finally to reach Brisbane at about 8:30 a.m. ready for a full day’s work. As I always try and have day trips away rather than spending the night away from home, it means a late night as well when I come back home. However, I get to sleep in my own bed!

The day was perfect in the morning, with fine, warm and sunny conditions in Brisbane. I got great enjoyment during the walk from the train station to the Campus, after I alighted from the Airport train (an excellent service, although a tad expensive). Then it was work, work, work at the Campus until it was time to go my appointment at the Department of Education. I enjoyed the glorious weather some more, and as the Department of Education is in the centre of the City, the hustle and bustle of the CBD reminded how Brisbane is becoming a large, populous, cosmopolitan urban area in Australia’s north.

Brisbane is a major port and the capital of Queensland. It is Australia’s third largest city. It lies astride the Brisbane River on the southern slopes of the Taylor Range, 19 km above the river’s mouth at Moreton Bay. The site was first explored in 1823 by John Oxley and the next year was occupied by a penal colony, which had moved from Redcliffe 35 km northeast. The early name of the settlement, Edenglassie, was changed to honour Sir Thomas Brisbane, former governor of New South Wales, when the convict settlement was declared a town in 1834.

Officially, freemen could not settle within 80 km of the colony until its penal function was abandoned in 1839, but this ban proved ineffective. A short-lived rivalry for eminence with the town of Cleveland was ended when the latter’s wharves burned in 1854, allowing Brisbane to become the leading port. Proclaimed a municipality in 1859, it became the capital of newly independent Queensland that same year. Gazetted a city in 1902, it was joined during the 1920s with South Brisbane to form the City of Greater Brisbane. Its municipal government, headed by a lord mayor, holds very broad powers. The Brisbane statistical division, including the cities of Ipswich and Redcliffe, has close economic and social ties to the city.

Brisbane is the hub of many rail lines and highways, which bring produce from a vast agricultural hinterland stretching west to the Eastern Highlands, the Darling Downs, and beyond. The city’s port, which can accommodate ships of 34,000 tons, exports wool, grains, dairy products, meat, sugar, preserved foods, and mineral sands. The metropolitan area, also industrialised with more than half of the state’s manufacturing capacity, has heavy and light engineering works, food-processing plants, shipyards, oil refineries, sawmills, and factories producing rubber goods, automobiles, cement, and fertiliser.

The city is bisected by the meandering Brisbane River and its halves are connected by several bridges and ferries. The city is home to the University of Queensland at St. Lucia (1909), Griffith University (1971), Parliament House (1869), the state museum (1855) and art gallery (1895), Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals, and many parks and gardens. Water is supplied from Lake Manchester, the Mount Crosby Weir, and the Somerset Dam. Oil is piped from wells at Moonie (west) and at Roma (northwest), which also supplies natural gas. The population of the greater Brisbane is now in excess of two million people.

Now, as it is Movie Monday, I cannot neglect mentioning something to do with movies, even though I shall forego the customary review. Inflight movies and other programs are shown on board the planes of the long hauls, however, for the life of me I cannot watch these on the small and poor quality screens with the all-pervasive noise on board the plane. I have tried ineffectually on a number of occasions, but even if I have suffered the whole length of the program, it has been a bit of a torture and I then have to watch the movie again “properly” at home (if it looked as though it was an interesting one). So there! This is the Movie Monday without a movie as I did not watch it on board!

Sunday, 15 May 2011


“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was in Adelaide all day today and although the weather was hardly something to write home about, at least it was not raining and it was not too cold. However, gray skies and coolish temperatures meant that a brisk walk was good to get one’s blood circulating and the feet warm! Our graduation was in the afternoon so I had time to pop into the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) and admire some of my favourite paintings there.

The Art Gallery of South Australia is home to one of Australia’s finest collections of art, both Australian and International. The permanent display of Australian art in this gallery is outstanding, and as one walks through the exhibition spaces, one becomes aware of the development of Australian art from the colonial period to the present day. Its collection of 19th century colonial art contains fine examples of early oil painting, watercolours, sculpture, silver and furniture.

The gallery also has a comprehensive collection of Aboriginal desert dot paintings from Central Australia, dating from the beginning of the painting movement in the early 1970s. One can also trace the history of European art from the 15th to 20th century, particularly the development of landscape and portrait painting. The highlight of the gallery’s Asian collection is its holdings of South East Asian ceramics that is the finest museum collection of such material in the world.

One of joys of the collection that I always spend much time admiring is the clutch of tableaux by Hans Heysen. Sir Wilhelm Ernst Hans Franz Heysen was born in Hamburg on the 8th October 1877 and died in Hahndorf, near Adelaide, 2nd July 1968. His family settled in South Australia in 1884. Heysen attended the Norwood Art School under James Ashton (1859–1935), and then moved to Paris to study at the Académie Julian, Colarossi’s academy and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His travels took him all over Europe where he absorbed the European tradition of painting.

Heysen was much influenced by Constable, the Barbizon school, George Clausen, Ernest Atkinson Hornel and Frank Brangwyn. In 1904, after returning to Adelaide, he sold major oils to the National Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (“Coming Home”), and the National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (“Mystic Morn” - seen above). In 1908 he moved to Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills. Heysen recorded the labours of the German farmers who had settled in the area, in oils, watercolours, drawings and (occasionally) etchings. Heysen saw the rural labourers of Hahndorf much as Millet regarded the Fontainebleau peasants. This aspect of his work reached its peak in “Red Gold” (1913).

Heysen managed to capture the essence of the Australian landscape. His paintings are rich in colour, display a magnificent sense of light and drama, while at the same time being highly satisfying in terms of composition, subject matter and technique.