Friday, June 22, 2012

The Birthday Boy

Tasmania's newest superhero: The Black Hat.

Don't mind the tatty trousers. The boy was concerned that the spandex suit made his legs look skinny. In fact, he said he felt like a "flasher" without his pants. What can you do? 

This wasn't the original intent for that suit. (It's called a "morphsuit", by the way. They're not expensive, and you can find 'em for sale online if you want. They're very cool.)  I found them a while back, and thought I might lay one in against the boy's birthday. But in the interim, his mother found him that top hat at a store in Launceston. And while we were in Melbourne for the SF con, I realised the only jacket he had was a horrible, manky green thing with a broken zip that he wore as part of his school uniform - so we hit the Vic Markets, and acquired him a nice chunk of cow-murder.

Yesterday, he was home from school sick - cough, throat, all sorts of badness - and so I thought I'd give him something to cheer him up. That's his early birthday present from me, there, and he's taken to it nicely. We have no idea yet what powers The Black Hat may have, but he's an eerie presence. I had a chat to Jake about using his body to 'create character' through thoughtful movement, and suggested he try not speaking...

... and honestly, the outcome is nifty. He's got enough body control from the martial arts and the trampoline and the gymnastics to move with a certain slow, deliberate grace, and the whole silent communication thing is very cool. Evocative gestures, postures - might have to send him somewhere to learn a bit about mime, because he seems to have a natural flair for it. 

Anyway. Today's the day of the not-party. We've got people coming through. The sun's come out. We're going to have a bonfire, and cook stuff, and then we'll bundle up with blankets and sleeping bags and doonas, and make lots of popcorn, and go up to the shed to watch movies. Jake has decided we shall watch Peter Sellers "The Party", and then "Big Trouble In Little China", and maybe "The Terminator" if anyone is still awake.

What a well-bred kid, eh?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Back Again

Whoa. That was a week.

I took Jake, and we hit the mainland. Melbourne, in fact. Did the NatCon thing.

I always enjoy the SF Convention thing. The panels and discussions vary from the very damned silly ("God Vs Godzilla: Who Would Win If The 500ft Jesus Of Rio Came To Life And Fought Daikaiju?" - thank you, Cat Sparks, you amiable lunatic) to the valuable and interesting. The fans are pleasant enough. But what I really enjoy is catching up with a peer group of fascinating, intelligent, creative people who share many of my interests, and understand a large chunk of my sense of humour. In that sense, three or four days is never long enough.

This year, I met David McDonald and Steve Cameron. I've shared a TOC with them both recently, and met them in passing before, but this time they both had the opportunity to leave their mark. David is as thoughtful and decent an individual as ever you're likely to meet, while Steve has a raft of fascinating stories from his time doing a range of other jobs. (Not sure how much he's ready to reveal to the public at large, so I'm not sayin' what he did that was so interesting. But it was indeed interesting. Yep.)

Of course, on top of all that, Melbourne is always the goods for food. Mr Barnes was kind enough to collect Jake and I from the airport, and we celebrated with an evening of serious Szechuan goodness. I wasn't sure we were going to be able to do it, at first... I got scheduled to a late-afternoon thing, and then a mid-evening thing, so I didn't know whether I'd be able to fit in a dinner, but with just Barnes, me, and a couple of youngsters, we managed to stuff our faces and be off again with a wee bit of time to spare.

I'm not going to run through the whole weekend of dinners, panels, discussions, drinks, awards, and people. I'm just going to say a big fat 'thank you' to everybody involved. You all know who you were, and what you did... or didn't do. I had a great time, and I'm home again, and I'm writing, and that's good.

Anyhow, we made it home again more or less in one piece. Oh, well.. okay, there was that incident at security, where the prawn waving the stupid 'explosive check' wand decided to 'randomly select' me...

...fuck it. Does that phrase piss anybody else off? They pull you out of the stream of travellers, and they hide behind this bullshit "random selection" routine. I like to fuck with their heads, when I have time, by asking what kind of algorithm they're using to ensure truly randomised selection. Naturally, they get that rabbit-in-the-headlights look, and start stammering, because they have no fucking idea what I'm talking about. But of course, I'm talking about true randomness, and the fact that no human-driven decision-making process can actually be considered 'random'.

The truth is that when they pick you, they do so for a range of non-random reasons. Boredom. The fact that they have to meet a quota. That their subconscious prejudices lead them to regard you as suspicious. And all of these factors can be manipulated, and used to beat the system. (It also doesn't help that the little explosive-detector thingies are less than reliable, according to information I've been given by someone who ought to know.) In other words, if you take the time to observe, and act appropriately, you can maximise your chances of slipping past the idiot with the explosive wand precisely because the selection process isn't random.

If the stupid game was actually about safety, I'd probably take it up with the people who run the theatre. But of course, it's not. It's about show. They're not trying to make anyone safe. They're trying to convince us that they're in charge, and they're Doing Something Useful.

Fucking idiots...

...anyway. In all the confusion, what with Jake having his hat and his new leather jacket to look after (we went to the Vic Markets on Sunday morning) and with me being blindsided by Mr Not-So-Fucking-Random and his dysfunctional phallic device, nobody remembered to pick up Jake's backpack. So at the time of writing, the presents for Genghis and the Mau-Mau are still somewhere in transit. Many thanks to Tehani, who put me onto the Tullamarine lost-and-found site... and thanks to the Qantas lost-and-found bunch to whom I eventually managed to get through, after the Tullamarine lot proved they couldn't find their arse with both hands and an anatomy text. I'd even thank Pack 'n' Send, who are moving the backpack through to us... except I don't think I have to thank anybody who charges nearly $100 to ship a 4kg backpack from Melbourne to Tasmania.

Eh. It's all good. Hopefully sometime early next week, the Mau-Mau will get her bamboo dragonflies that balance on their noses, and her Haigh's dark chocolate valentine heart, and Genghis will get his engraved military-style dogtags with chain.

Of course, Genghis already got his book. Three hundred pages of Diana Wynne Jones; The Enchanted Glass. Three hundred and twenty nine pages, actually. (It was in my bag, not Jake's.)

I think he must have enjoyed that book. But I'm reluctant to bother buying more from DWJ to give him. The little bastard read the entire thing through in about six or seven hours. All of it. Cover to cover. What the fuck am I supposed to do about that?

I can tell you one thing I've done. I've given the little sod a copy of Frank Herbert's Dune. He's enjoying it, but it's definitely slowing him up. He's been reading it for over a week now, and he's no more than halfway through. Ha!

But we're back on Tas soil now. And today was a gaming day. I set up and ran a game of Paranoia -- 2nd Edition. I don't think I've done that in... fifteen years? Maybe more?

Eight players, ranging in age from nine through to eighteen. And brutally, joyously, I butchered them all, repeatedly. Except for Jake, who was cunning enough to escape with nothing worse than a frozen lung, and an exceptionally large and bulky prosthetic replacement. (I duct taped a laundry basket to his chest to simulate the discomfort and clumsiness of his new Experimental Oxygenation System.)

I believe the best death of the day was one of the Baggins sisters - young April, who was swallowed whole by a Godzilla-sized aardvark. Damn, I love Paranoia!

Okay. That's it for now. Writing time. Good night!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Goodbye, Ray.

Ray Bradbury has died.

Absolutely nothing I can say or write can touch that one, single fact.

So long, Ray - and... thank you.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stuck In Transit

Transit of Venus, Transit of Venus
How shall I rhyme thee
Without using "penis"?
         --- From "Lord Byron: Notes Scrawled On The Privy Wall"

So. It's bright and sunny outside. Yep. Beautiful. Clear, with the kind of crystalline quality you only get on a crispy, wintry day in a place that actually has a winter. And of course, Venus is in transit.

That's right. Across the sun, yep. Little black dot. Very important from a scientific viewpoint, oh, yes. And it won't be happening again for a hundred and four or five years, apparently.

That being the case, I set about attempting to view said transit with the kids.

Attempt #1 - Simple Pinhole Camera. Obtained large cardboard box. Punched small, neat hole in one side. Put clean white paper on opposite side, interior. Aimed pinhole at the sun.

Result: Round dot of light on piece of paper. No visible Transit of Venus.

Attempt #2 - Focus Through Binocular Lenses. Brought out bird-viewing binoculars. Recycled nice, clean white paper from Attempt #1 above. Pointed big end of binoculars at the sun, shone the output onto the clean white paper.

Result: Somewhat larger fuzzy round blob of light on the paper. No visible Transit of Venus.

Attempt # 3: DSLR and Useful Lens. Attached 75-300mm lens to Canon DSLR. Manually set focus to infinity. Carefully lined up with the sun using tripod, etc.

Result: lack of filter means no real resolution - just a fuzzy white ball. No visible Transit of Venus

Attempt #4: Video Camera and TV.  Connected handheld JVC digital video camera to television. Stood outside the window with camera in hand, using camera LCD screen to find the sun, and shouts from children inside to guide attempts at zoom/focus

Result: Lack of filter makes camera very unhappy. No real focus. Large, fuzzy white blob. No visible Transit of Venus

Attempt # 5: Welding Goggles. Sent boys off in pursuit of my welding goggles, with the aim of using them as a filter for one of the various cameras. Boys argue bitterly over which of them last used the welding goggles to pretend to be a Steampunk mad scientist villain. Both boys are sent to fetch firewood in punishment. No welding goggles found.

Result: Still no motherfucking Transit of Venus.

(Pause to think...)

Attempt # 6 Camera Motherfucking Obscura.  Dirk remembers accounts of Renaissance painters converting entire motherfucking rooms into giant fucking pinhole cameras, oh yes. Dirk grabs a BIG-ASS sheet of cardboard, and goes up to the CinemaZone shed. He jabs a target arrow through the cardboard sheet, and uses it to block the northern window into the very large, very dark loft. He then traces the solitary beam of light, and places a nice, clean, white sheet of paper in its path, some four metres from the source.

Result: a nifty, clear, round image of the sun some four cm across. And... what's that? What's that? Yes! It's a little black blot near the upper left quadrant... exactly where it ought to be. It's a little unfocused, yes, but it's definitely there, and it's quite clear. YES! MOTHERFUCKING YES! WE HAVE TRANSIT OF VENUS!!!!

Dirk and children stand around in the dark shed looking at the blob of light for about five minutes. Fuck-all happens. Venus is In Transit.

Epilogue: return to house. Sign into the Internet. Check in with NASA, find a live feed of the Transit of Venus. Big, red-filtered sun, very clear round black spot. Hmm. Looks just like a computer graphic, doesn't it?

Never mind. Time for some hot chocolate, maybe.

Monday, June 4, 2012

School Holidays: The Other Web

Today is cold, windy, blustery as hell. Trees are bending over like politicians in front of mining magnates. Tasmania's got the winter thing going on.

Yesterday, I took the kids into Launceston to go bowling. Yay me. Natalie got to stay home and work, which was good, because she'd already started fighting with Genghis... and on only Day Three of the holidays. Gotta love that.

Since the bowling alley is just spitting distance from Chez Tehani et al, we dropped in there, and made plans. However, the best-laid plans of mice, men, and mothers gang aft agley when confronted by a stroppy toddler, and young Max decided he Needed His Nap, so in the end it was yours truly who took five children bowling.

Five.  Bowling.

It starts with shoes. Everybody's gotta have shoes. Nobody knows what size they are. Even me: turns out I needed an eleven, not a ten. Who knew? So I'm standing there, pulling shoes off kids, putting kids up on the counter, exchanging shoes, replacing shoes... happily, one of my older ju-jitsu students rocked up out of the blue. He was in town with his family, doing exactly what we were doing. But he's a particularly useful kind of kid (okay, he's nearly sixteen and he's as tall as I am, and he's a state representative in rugby, so maybe 'kid' is a little inaccurate) and immediately set to with the shoe-tying and the exchanging and lifting and all the rest, and I Am Grateful. Thank You, Big K!

Our deal with the bowling alley gave us two games each, and a Hot Dog Meal thrown in. Num num num. Yeah. Hot dog, french fries, soft drink: the lunch of fucking champions! Fortunately, it's the sort of thing kids like. Me? Err... yeah. Hmm.

Interesting fact: two games of bowling with five kids takes the better part of two and a half hours. When we were done, I threw them all out at Tehani's place, and dashed into Launceston for a bunch of errands: LED lighting strips, power supplies, a soldering-iron stand, kitchen scales, 820 ohm resistor, in-line electrical switches, extension wire... all good. I've discovered the sheer joy of LED lighting strips, you see. Thirty bucks gets you half a metre or so of bright, bright LED lights which operate very easily off a 12v power supply. I can now see the stovetop at night, which is a real novelty.

It's so effective that Natalie decided the boys needed new reading lights. I put one up over Jake's bed... but it's so damned bright we're going to have to build some kind of you-beaut light-shade, and make sure we direct it just to his reading area, or he'll keep Genghis awake. And maybe fry the cat, too: those lights are fucking strong!

Anyway. We got home just in time for Genghis to pack, and be collected by his friend Liam and his mum. So Genghis is off overnight. But not long. I'll pick him up later this afternoon, so he and Jake and I can go in to watch movies with the Cool Shite boys in Launceston. Oh, and we'll be taking one or more of the Baggins lasses with us, it seems.

Meanwhile, this morning Natalie shot through to Launceston for a while. And then, one of the Mau-Mau's friends showed up, with her mum and brother in tow. So now the Mau-Mau is off with friends for the day. And that's okay.

Of course, Jake and I are off to the NatCon over the weekend. That starts Friday, and Natalie isn't much good for childminding on Friday, so on Thursday, I'll duck into Launceston, grab a couple of kids off Tehani, and bring 'em out here for a sleepover. Then when Jake and I head into Launceston Airport on Friday morning, we'll drop off Tehani's two, plus Genghis and the Mau-Mau, and Tehani will have them until the afternoon, when Natalie will collect them.

All of which means that next week - the second week of the school holidays - we will be seeing Liam visit, and probably the Mau-Mau's friends too. There's also a promised day of gaming (Paranoia!) with the Viking Neighbours. And Jake is going to visit his friend James at some point next week too.

You see what I mean by 'web'? With three kids, school holidays become unfeasibly complex. Who dreams up this crap, anyway?

But at least it looks like tomorrow will be sunny. Transit of Venus, anybody?

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Well, crap. I can't seem to widen this stupid text box. Nor can I put the picture up as a thumbnail. No doubt there's a cleverboots way of handling this, but I really don't have time. Fuck. This. Shit.