Sydney travel – Sydney Observatory

Posted by jerry on August 15th, 2008 — Posted in History, Journal, Travel

Sydney’s observatory and astronomy museum is located at Watson Road, Observatory Hill, The Rocks. And it is well worth a visit. The observatory started life in the 1850s as a time ball tower – at 1.00pm each day the ball would be raised and dropped exactly on the hour as a time signal for ships in the harbour below. A canon would be fired simaltaneously so there was both a visual and audible time signal. The custom continues today.

Sydney Observatory

Today in the museum you can see the transit telescope used to map the Southern sky between 1880 and 1962 as part of an international project to map the entire night sky.

Transit telescope - Sydney Observatory

The 29-inch telescope is the oldest working telescope in Australia. It was installed to observe the 1874 transit of Venus. It is housed in a copper dome. The telescope is kept on track by a clockwork mechanism similar to that used on the Oddie telescope that was destroyed by Canberra’s 2003 bushfire.

twenty-nnine-inch telescope Sydney Observatory

The observatory is open 10.00am-5.00pm daily, and you can book for night viewings – check their website for details.

Sydney travel – a short lesson in patience, and a moment with Epicurus

Posted by jerry on August 13th, 2008 — Posted in Journal, Travel

On arrival in Sydney I was given a lesson in patience… well, not me personally, but the person waiting behind us at the supermarket as we were buying milk and coffee for our stay.

After paying for the goods, it took a moment to put the change in the wallet, and replace the wallet in the backpack, while the checkout operator called out ‘next please’. The man behind me pushed up close, muttered about how rude people are, and demanded his change. As this was going on I completed what I needed, reshouldered my bag and picked up the shopping bag.

I was wondering vaguely who had offended this man, wherupon he pushed passed me, spun around and told me I should be in a retirement home – with a few additional expletives to emphasise his point. I laughed at his joke and told him to have a nice day as well – by then he was heading off up the escalator. The security guard visibly relaxed at the man’s departure – perhaps fearing a conflict between myself and the unfortunate stranger. ‘What an impatient person’ I thought. and this made me think a little about the concept of patience.

Patience (ˈpā-shənz) is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances. This can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without becoming annoyed or upset; or exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. – Wikipedia

I reflected on what this man’s demonstrated lack of patience meant for the broader society. Sydney is a modern highly pressured city, and perhaps the poor man was late for his bus or train, or perhaps it had become a habit to be rushing everywhere – even at the end of the day when perhaps his business appointments had concluded. Perhaps he had had a bad day and my delay at the checkout was some sort of last straw.

It also occurred to me that it is important to take time for living. To appreciate what is around us, and to see opportunities in every situation. My small backpack might have alerted him to the fact that I was a stranger in his town, and that a short delay could have resulted in a pleasant -if brief – conversation. So perhaps he wasted an opportunity. Indeed my brief sojourn in Sydney is precisely so that I can take a little time for living – a mini-break from a fairly busy work life in Canberra, meet up with friends old and new and dine with them around me and engage them in conversation.

I think it was Epicurus (341 BCE, Samos – 270 BCE, Athens) who held that one should live a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. It may have been Epicurus who held that it is better to eat a crust of bread with friends than to feast alone. I’m guessing that the man who accosted me was not by nature an Epicurean.


iPhone – are we there yet?

Posted by jerry on August 12th, 2008 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology

I finally plucked up the courage to go into an Apple shop – I picked a day when I had left my credit card at home – to check out the new iPhone. I’m still looking for the ideal mobile blogging platform, and thought perhaps sensible convergence had been developed by the wonderful designers at Apple.

I thought about how I would use such a device. I want internet connection, phone, basic PDA applications – including a reasonable word processor, a camera and a neat little application to resize and and do some basics – light and dark and contrast, perhaps hue and saturation – nothing much really. Interestingly, Problogger shares many of my views.

The phone bit was there, as was the camera, some applications, and really delightful interface design – I love the overshoot bounce on the scrollbar – really cute and I love it.

Now for the awkward questions. I came prepared with my bluetooth keyboard. Um… it does have bluetooth doesn’t it? The salesman shifted uncomfortably. “Sort of”, he said. It seems the iPhone has bluetooth insofar as it can send the phone call to a bluetooth earpiece. But that’s it. No peripheral connectivity. Sorry Apple, you are losing me. I then venture the next no brainer for something with PDA functionality. Storage media – any chance of an SD card so I can take photos with my digital camera or transfer them from the phone to my macbook etc? Ummm… no.

So Apple has made a wonderful telephone, but what they have made is not going to let me lose the PDA and macbook combination on the road. I have traveled with just the PDA and keyboard and have blogged successfully – including camera and image preparation – without the laptop, using the bluetooth connection to the keyboard and wifi to the internet. Maybe next model eh?


William Murdoch – the first British motorist?

Posted by jerry on August 11th, 2008 — Posted in History, Journal, Steam, Technology

In 1784, William Murdoch – a Scot working in Cornwall servicing Boulton and Watt beam engines – began making models of what may well have become the first self propelled steam vehicle after Joseph Cugnot’s experimental steam military tractor.

Murdoch Flyer

Employed by Boulton and Watt – who were possessive of their patents – Murdoch was said to have invented a coal-gas lamp so he could build models at night. Intriguingly, Watt wrote to Boulton in 1784 to say he had taken out a patent on self-propelled vehicles, which suggests he might have had his suspicions about what his employee was up to.

Although the replica built by the ‘Murdoch Boys’ is somewhat conjectural, it is clearly based on extant models, and plausibly uses a version of the Watt beam engine on wheels. The machine – known as ‘The Murdoch Flyer’ is said to be capable of 12 mph (about 20kph) at which speed it is apparently a rather exciting ride. It would have been quite a feat of engineering in its day.

Interestingly, it is a three-wheeler, making it similar in some respects to Cugnot’s wagon and the later Gardner-Serpollet which both survive in Paris at the Musee des Arts et Metiers.

The machine is powered by a single cylinder sitting inside a boiler which drives a beam up and down. A vertical shaft transits power to a crankshaft in front of the boiler behind the driver’s seat. Gears then power the rear wheels.

It may look decidedly Victorian steam punk – but the original was built in the reign of George III. It was the same year that the Italian Vincenzo Lunardi made the first hydrogen balloon ascent in England.

Thanks to Bob Blackman’s blog. You can read more about steam cars at the Steam Car Club of Great Britain.

Man on Wire – Philippe Petit: tightwire between the Towers

Posted by jerry on August 3rd, 2008 — Posted in History, Journal

My daughter alerted me to this movie – she did a tightwire act for the opening of this movie in New Zealand. Man on Wire tells the story of how in 1974, a young French man Philippe Petit walked a tightrope illegally rigged between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.

The feet itself is amazing – dancing on the tightwire for over an hour before being arrested in what has been called the ‘art crime of the century’. He was later released – I guess his biggest crime was to embarrass the WTO security folks who did not pick up on: someone carrying hundreds of metres of steel cable; smuggling a bow and arrows to get the first wire across; and then spending all night on the roof with his friends rigging the wire!

After six years of planning Petit achieved his feat and walked among the clouds. This movie should get much wider attention than it has received so far. What do you think? You can see how to build your own tightwire rig here.