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Natterers' Picnics


The Bittersweet Picnic - Sydney, 20 April, 2002.

Donald Lang (DEE) wrote:

It is only fair that the person who produced the first photos of the event should also be the person who provided the first major theme. It is extra fair that he should be left out of the pictures.

There were a dozen of us, which meant that conversations were not often plenary. It may be sinister that one of the participants, Liz O'Connor, is a lurker of the list dragged along by a parent. Elizabeth May is back from her excursion south, without making the acquaintance of Bennie, and DEE back from ancestor worship in Kiwiland. Neither has yet rejoined the list. [Jann does wonderful staff work.] Peter, clutching a book in proof and a digital camera, was already in virtual excursion mode for his next overseas foray. Jason was the youngest person present, and believed to be the youngest currently active member. I will cheerfully nominate Mike Mealy as the senior person present, without checking certification.

Toby Fiander, in the electronic photos is centre stage clutching a hammer and signage. He sacrificed valuable picnic time to show Jason the observatory. While he was absent Meredith and Bill produced some wonderfully presented pate plus a matching 'sour cream and tasties' relish accompanied by biscuits. Nobody was unkind enough to tell Toby on his return about the secret [five letter] ingredient. I contented myself with stealing an apricot crisp from Jann since logistics forbade the pate.

Optional science content for anyone still indestructible: Obligatory for anyone over some uncertain age. My circle lost a member to bowel cancer a year or so ago, and another appears to be fit and well again without a considerable segment of his colon. [Punctuation pun optional!]. The rest of  us in that circle are ready to believe in the miracles of modern diagnostic medicine. I will mention the term colon kit,  and quietly slip in the words 'occult blood'. And no, this has nothing to do with .Nisaba, whom we missed yet again. For the rest of you, if it is time this bit is in your interest,
it is certain that you should take an interest.

A few one liner Rays of sunshine were addressed to absent friends, and enquiries were made about Doug. Elizabeth had evaded the great homeopathy cauldron, but I, DEE, got the impression that I have not missed all that much since then. I will come back some time after that casually invited flamestorm subsides, thank you. Even on Observatory Hill there is quite a lot of white noise in Sydney. Stephen and Tegwyn were mostly out of my accurate hearing range. I think they may have been mistakenly waiting until somebody paused in conversation to hear what they had to say. I was happy to tell people who have not been out of Sydney recently that there is still a Milky Way up there somewhere.

As said above, at some stage(s) I produced a point and shoot camera. Jann, who has been photographing their new house all week, forgot to bring hers. We were not sure who organised the Japanese(?) wedding couple who had come
to take several photo opportunities in front of a massive fig tree. The wind that breathed over Eden did not disturb the garb The groom demonstrated that he will be capable of carrying his love over the threshold.

Nobody knew the origin of "This little pig went to market,..." but most were agreed that it had to be somehow archaic and subversive political. Peter produced a shaggy pig story and asserted that 'Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosie..." is not about plague, and further that the Black Death was almost certainly not bubonic plague. There is always one of this type...
Jann asserted that women are more highly evolved than men, at least from the waist down.

Several members have survived beyond the recognised age limits of a miss[sic]-spent youth during which  their chemical interest focussed on making gun powder.

I mentioned visiting Mercury Bay, where James Cook set up a telescope to observe the transit of, you guessed it, Mercury. While there I was told by a doctor friend with Maori ancestry about bones that occasionally turn up around there. He referred to an adult and child found together, both obviously part of a cannibal occasion. In his view the fact that both sets of bones had been broken to get at the marrow meant that they were primarily a source of food rather than of mana.

While in NZ we looked over a seascape that carried three lighthouses. One of these, a considerable number of kms away is consistently visible at one part of a hillside and vanishes equally consistently about two metres further down. It surprised me until I did some high school mathematics and rederived in metric units something I learned in imperial.

The Towering Inferno himself having volunteered to be the first brain donor, there is a question of timing. He is first on the list, so obviously the donation must already be complete. Peter disputes the idea that it must have been made about the time he appointed a GG...

Tegwyn happened to mention quite casually that she has jumped off the harbour bridge. That is a story waiting to be told on the list. There is also the fact that her father used to be listed among the crazies of Australian Science. In addition to living in Tasmania he kept suggesting that the continents might be moving apart.

Which may bring some of us to recent Science Shows. General opinion seems to be that Norman Swan and his merry band of buglers should take a week or two more of marching round the walls of the University of Jericho (NSW campus at Liverpool), but by that time may have shaken the place apart.

Before I quit : Liz the lurker O'Connor admitted to being familiar with the (Special) theory of relativity. It used to be fashionable to talk about shutting the stable door while the bolting horse was inside. In NSW at the moment it is not considered good form to talk about certainties in horse racing, or even high odds favourites. Let us instead take a needle too big to fit in a match box and propel it at high speed lengthwise through the empty case.

Q1: If the speed is high enough, is it entirely in the match box simultaneously?
Specifically, if the box is 5cm in length, and the needle is 13cm,  at a fractional light speed of 12/13, it ought to fit in the box, briefly. That is of course assuming I have put the right numbers in the correct formula.

Q2. Just assuming that you have visualised the needle inside the matchbox cover, and can believe in perfect technology, is it possible to get a photo sequence that shows the needle vanishing inside the box, or visible entirely
within a transparent box?

Q3 coming at a later stage...

Refined Haiku to complete account.

Peter has written

A bittersweet history.

List is bound to buy.

The Sydney Science Natterers #1

The Sydney Science Natterers Picnic #2

Observatory Park, Sydney,  6/4/2003

Toby Fiander reported:

Today we had a nice picnic in Observatory Park and discussed science and much more.  In showing an attendance list I have tried to indicate the ABC Science lists people subscribe to.  This may not be completely accurate correct and I apologise in advance.... please reply and set the record straight.

Stephen Berry (SM)
Donald Lang (SM, TS)
Elizabeth May (used to be on SM and likes a picnic) (with science people)
Jann O'Connor (SM, TS, Clickon)
Jeanette Wilmot (TS, Clickon)
Peter Adderley (SM, Clickon, but who can keep up?)
Toby Fiander (SM, TS, Clickon)

Liz O'Connor (TS, SM) and Peter (SM, TS, Clickon) and Chris Macinnis tendered apologies due to illness.  We appeared to be missing at least one other whom we were expecting, as it was his idea.  We hope you are doing OK, Mike Mealy (SM), after recent illness.... send up a smoke signal some time if you can.

Liz May reports that Wendy and Ben Morphett (SM) are having a second child. Ben is an originator of the idea of a gathering of science natterers, at least in Sydney.  Other gossip probably cannot be repeated here.

The technical discussions centred on a large range of subjects:
... homeopathy and dilution,
... water quality in a lot of places,
... science teaching, students, experiences and more,
... diffusion of marker gases in a closed container (in particular farting in a train carriage),
... the 1000 student and the 1000 locker problem, which Helena put forward and for which Liz O'Connor provided a nice solution,
... the whereabouts of some list members, current and past.

It appears that some people do think I may look like I write, but I am still uncertain whether to be insulted or not.

I think an Haiku may be in preparation, about which I am hoping to hear more in due course.

Peter Adderley has a range of photographic material recording the event, which he said he would put on his website.  If he does not mind too much, the Science Matters website might have one of them for record, also.  Could you direct people to your site, please, Peter?  {Peter very kindly posted the link, http://www.acay.com.au/~adderley/picnic/}

Others may wish to make special reference to certain events not recorded herein.  Please feel free, especially if I have misrepresented or slandered you.

SM  - ABC Science Matters list
TS  - ABC Teaching Science list
Clickon - ABC Clickon-L

Snatterers at Observatory Park

Observatory Park, Sydney, 6/12/2003

There was a little rain and a little wind, but we had an excellent picnic with one of the most spectacular harbour views

Present were Elizabeth May, Elizabeth O'Connor, Jim and Joolee Edwards, Peter and Chris Macinnis, Peter Adderley, Stephen Berry, Donald Lang, Robin L, Meredith Brooks, Merrill Pye, Toby Fiander and Jann O'Connor [whom did I forget?].

A number of people sent last minute apologies, Janette Wilmot, Margaret Ruwoldt and there were others who contacted me a little while ago, but did not make it for various reasons.  Perhaps we will see you next time.

Among other things, we spoke about:

Robin produced some volcanic glass for careful inspection - no one cut themselves AFAIK.  Liz May produced a stub of "deer
horn", which remained unidentified AFAIK until she revealed that it had been obtained from someone selling venison at the nearby growers' market.

Peter Adderley produced some nice Christmas cards which some people bought.  As you might expect the photography was
extra-ordinary and wonderful. 

Regrettably, it appears that all the wristwatch quantum computers were deemed to be too cold to wear, which is perhaps not
surprising on a day where the maximum temperature was only in the low 20s.  I shall obtain an official estimate from the
Observatory Hill Meteorological Station and post it later.

On the way home, I had a phone call from Truckle who said his computing system was operational (more or less) but he had hoped to catch us all at the picnic to assure those present that the concerns as to his health were unfounded.  Indeed, he seemed to be in reasonable health considering his recent virus.  Apparently, Clickoff, the list, should be up again in less than a day - I refer to his emails elsewhere about why there was a problem.

The pate was excellent, although apparently it was prepared by another rather than Meredith on this occasion.

Haikus are pending, but apparently we are to remain DEE-less for the moment, due to the pressure of work and retirement.

Matters not covered should be contributed by you others who went....  I had a good time.  Thank you to all people who gave or sent good wishes for out forthcoming wedding.  Peter Adderley took  photos of the event, including the one below, which can be found on his website at  http://www.acay.com.au/~adderley/clickon/picnic2003.html

The Snatterers picnic, Sydney, December 2003

Observatory Park, Sydney, April 2nd, 2006

Pictures on Peter Adderley's website http://www.adderley.net.au/scimat/060402/

Toby Fiander wrote:

So we had a picnic in Observatory Park and 19 people came to it.  It was a ripper, actually.

Attending were:

Peter & Chris Macinnis
Jean Lang
Don Lang (a former list member)
Garry Dalrymple
Liz May (a former list member)
Peter Adderley
Mumi Adderley
Peter Adderley
Soo Man Heng
Sue Pritchard (a fellow student at CSU)
Stephen Berry
Jim Edwards
Peter Radonyi
Michael Collins
Margaret Ruwoldt (mlr, Magrat)
Jenny Nixon
Liz O'Connor
Jann O'Connor
Toby (me)

Did I forget someone?  If it was you, please accept my apologies - with so many to talk to, I did my best and Jann even wrote down the names (thanks).

Don, Stephen and I had a lot of fun talking to Sue about Bernoulli's equation and there was short discussion about the sex genes of platypodes (some of them avian genes).  There was also advance notice of some celestial events.  Garry had the azimuth and elevation angles of an object he was looking for (in daylight), but I could not see it myself.

Don and I talked desalination, after we talked Bernoulli's equation.

I had a short talk to Soo, who was a genial chap whose developing technology in wastewater treatment seems most promising.

I saw Peter M. signing some books as I passed with chocolate for dessert, but I did not get much said.

Peter R. and I talked about a range of things, including teaching science and his career in engineering.

I whizzed past Liz M. a couple of times, and got the idea that she was going OK, but that is about all.

Peter A. showed a spectacular presentation on his (new) laptop, but I only got to see part of it.

Jim Edwards arrived in the middle me talking Bernoulli with Sue, Dee and Steve, so I got to greet him and offer him a drink, but that was about all I got time for.  When I looked around for him later, he had had to go and work for a living.  Anyway, it was a pretty eventful few hours... and I must say, I had a great time, although once again, I feel exhausted.

Thank you to Jann who seemed to feed a range of others - I did not starve and, by the look of the leftovers, I won't be starving any time this week. Thanks to all who attended and gave of themselves to the rest of us. Meeting in real time and space is a buzz, I reckon.

I need to go and clean-up a bit.

Peter Adderly responded:

What a lovely afternoon for so may reasons, if only for me personally.

I was glad to bring my wife Mami and also my friend Soo.

As we waited for the train at Gosford this morning I mentioned the irony of his name and asked if he'd heard of Johnny Cash.

"Of course I have.." retorted Soo "Do you understand the meaning behind this song?"

We discussed lyrics with laughter, and he didn't bite off a piece of my ear.

We alighted at Circular Quay and beheld the climb to the summit.

With B-double wheely in train I was feeling sweaty already.

"No Matter", Mami said, "we can take the lifts.."

Perhaps it's better not to give details here, but through three hotel lifts she elevated us within inches of the Observatory.

I was severely impressed!!

Lovely Day - Thanks Toby and Jann (apologies for irreverence on the website)

Here are my observations:

Peter Radonyi added:

Thank you Tobi and Jann, and the rest for a wonderful picnic.  In the school of music in Canberra the keyboard lecturer Sue Powell has a cartoon on her office door with a group of campers with backpacks who have arrived at their campsite and one of the campers in liu of backpack is carrying a baby grand piano, and another camper says to her, " if you have carried it this far you might as well play it."

Being my first Natters Picnic I was hoping to find Toby at the keyboards, or Julia with one of her camels. Even so I found it without difficulty.  It was wonderful at the end of it I came away feeling like "Gorenstien's chauffeur".  Meeting and talking to so many interesting people.

You will understand if you have read the book "In Code" by Sarah and David Flannery a must read. For those who haven't the story goes like this, quoting from the book

In the course of a long lecture tour, the famous American mathematician Daniel Gorentstein was chauffeur driven to various venues around the USA. While Gorenstein lectured his chauffeur sat in the back row of the auditorium.  In time the chauffeur became so familiar with the material (her comments: and it was pretty deep stuff) that he joked to Gorenstein, "At this stage, I reckon I could give the lecture myself." 

One evening, Gorenstein was scheduled to speak at a small university where he guessed his face wouldn't be known.  Feeling particularly tired, the master hit upon the idea of the chauffeur to give the lecture while he would rest in the back row.
The lecture went off without a hitch, at the end the chauffeur answered without hesitation all the questions, which he heard asked and answered hundreds of times before; all, that is accept for one last question which left him entirely at a loss.

After momentary panic, he composed himself and said., "I believe that question is so simple even my chauffeur could answer it."  The dozing chauffeur shamed the questioner with an immediate reply.

So from now on instead of being a lurker I may take a more active role on this list and if I don't know the answer I will ask one of the chauffeurs.



Nitpickers at Toby & Jann's

Kellyville, NSW - July 2006

Toby Fiander wrote:

In spite of what is jokingly referred to as public transport, we managed to get a collection of enthusiasts to Kellyville for a barbecue.

There were late scratchings, due to the pressure of study and work, but I think this might have been one of the better science gatherings we have had. Certainly, those who were here seemed to be having a great time, and I certainly did. I was particularly interested to see Morris demonstrate the sextant, and other navigation aids, too. There was no Mercury which Morris has requested - apparently Morris wanted this to drink or something - alas, I discouraged Peter Macinnis from bringing any.

Anyway, present were:
Morris Gray
Peter Macinnis
Chris Macinnis
Don Lang
Cynthia Ma
Stephen Berry
David Dixon
Peter Radonyi
Cotti Radonyi, who is Peter's sister
Peter Adderley
Julia Bell
Kevin McKern
Julie Short, Kevin's partner
Liz O'Connor
Cate Fiander
Jann O'Connor
Toby Fiander

If you were here, and I have forgotten to mention you, please accept my apologies, I am still working on Northern Territory time.

The subjects discussed, besides the excellent demonstration of the use of the sextant, included: snakes, old and new science magazines, water, sex, crocodiles, Kakadu National Park, musicology, sex, national water policy and its politics, water conservation, gas fittings, educational policy and anomalies, sex, the geology of England, geomorphology, desserts, deserts, and the relevance to the way water is managed, various gems, sex, adult education, teaching as it relates to science, sex, and a bunch of other things including some people not present. I was not present for all these conversations and I am relying for some of the  account above on Julia who is assisting me to write this email.

Anyway, if you could not make it, we missed you. Lot's of people were mentioned in dispatches, mostly kindly and always in good humour. I hope you will make it next time there is a science matters event.

Thank you to all who attended and for sharing yourselves and your time. I had a great time, and so did others, because you did that.

And from DEE

Toby and Jannoc
Do hospitality bytes
Kellyville Natter

Infoline says sooth
Except for weekend travel
Trains shun weekends too.

Great science truths with
A sextant and a good map:
Kellyville natter

Light is Fast Moving
One point eight mega furlongs
Per micro fortnight.


No urban Camel
No Nippon Natter wedding
Rabbit litterless

Kellyville Natter

Absent hence guilty
Busy educating judges
Jean relays regrets

Digital point shoot
On strike for unknown reason
Get picture – We don't.

That's my guilt.

Vision we do get.
www.youtube. com/watch?v=tqdjslPovpM
Worth six minutes your time

Bonsai Mafia
Seeks piece of the action
h bar is least piece.

Light Speed is unit
One foot per nanosecond
In electronics

That is my story
As much as I dare write here

And pictures were from Peter Adderly:

I published a website which showed photos taken at Toby and Jann's place a couple of weeks ago.

However I made a few errors and omissions. I attributed Cynthia's pics to Toby, missed several names, and totally forgot to include Julia's
photo's which were taken with my second camera.

My humble apologies for this.

I had intended to take some video footage of Morris' sextant demonstration. It was a very informal kinda thing and there didn't seem much point in filming. But I am still very grateful to Morris for sharing his knowledge and experience with us.

Near the end of the photos you will see some close-up pics of the instrument. These have been reduced to 40% (dimensionally) for the sake
of the website.

If anyone would like full-size images, please contact me off-list. Apologies also for the strange handholds as I took the pics whilst lining up the sextant for best light and as I only had two hands, the other one was busy taking pictures.

Updated site is, as before:

BTW what is the origin of the word "sextant"? It's obviously nothing to do with horny insects, and I'm certainly aware that "sex-" means six in latin.
In my OED it shares the same page as sexual, shabby, shack, shady, shaft, shag, and shake.
Surely there must be a word to describe this kind of lexical anomaly.

Celebratory Picnic - Sydney Observatory Park, 20th January, 2008

Present were:

Peter and Chris Macinnis
Jann O'Connor
Liz O'Connor
Merrill Pye
Mark, Merrill's friend
Lyndon Brown
Jim Edwards
David Dix
Xiao Ran (known as Ran, and whose 30th birthday it is today, I have
DEE (wairahidee)
Toby Fiander

Peter Macinnis signed books, with some nice thoughts, which were much
appreciated.  One was sent interstate.

DEE was kind enough to say that in spite of my somewhat grumpy greeting to
him at Christmas he would attempt some poetry about the event.  Some people
are irrepressible....

Lost in the Jungle - Brisbane

Greald Cairnes writes:

It was all a bit rushed for us in the midst of preparing a submission for toxic waste disposal and we shot out the door without the camera or video  but even that is no excuse you all have my humblest of apologies for that  oversight. I think Paul Williams took a couple of quick shots, (hope he got my good side :-), but he arrived late because of car problems and then got  lost among the Botanical greenery, well that is his story. :-)

Paul Replies:
Ahem..I had to track down the furtive picnicers. They tried to hide from me  no doubt. After struggling through dense stands of Bambusa Vulgaris  'Vitata', I eventually sighted the revellers supine on a grassy bank - well Tam was almost supine after imbibing a goodly ammount of vermillion antioxidant (good for the heart, as well, I'm told).

 I had thought to shout out 'POLITICIAN'!! so as to flush Gerald out from  cover but as it turned out this was unnecessary.  The conversations were varied.  Although we needed a little more time to categorically answer all the  world's mysteries,  later on some interesting biological processes and  mysterious physiology was discussed.

 I hope to have my 'lab' reorganised and computers linked within the next few  weeks. I will offer to send the photos when this painful process is  completed.

Second  Qld SM Picnic, Pt. Cartwright 18th March 2006

Gerald Cairns reported:

For some reason this did not get through the first time so here it is.

The picnic went well with a reduced number of bodies attending. We all ended up on the banks of the Mooloola River Labalsa Park under some shady trees, think they were some kind of fig and eminently climbable to those of younger years. Those present were;

Toby Fiander (the self proclaimed Grumpy Old Dwarf) who now has a new penchant i.e. taking off in aircraft in the horizontal position. I am
reliably informed that the airlines intend to get him to sign a guarantee that he will pay for any seats he breaks in future. Now he has an
additional reason to be truly Grumpy. :-) This also adds a new dimension to the term "seat upgrade"!

Jann O'Connor - all should note three things there are TWO "N's" in Jann and there is an apostrophe in O'Connor and Toby is NOT Mr. O'Connor or face unmentionable retribution. I guess they could do a trade off over the broken seat with the fact that Toby was addressed as Mr. O'Connor and they forgot to feed Jann!

Tamara Kelly and her dynamic little "Chauvinist" but delightfully happy and entertaining Kirk who while not refreshing himself at the "milk bar", insisted on investigating the local soil microflora - a budding scientist for sure. Tam brought one of her Indonesian exchange students the pretty "Windy" from Sulawesi, which required some explanation that it wasn't Wendy but a derivation from her family name. Windy took good care of Kirk and kept him occupied so he did not complain the entire time. In different circumstances it would have been nice to have got know more of Windy and her home.

Janet Cumming and her 16 year old daughter Heather who also made delightful company. Various probes of Janet's Phd work on the environmental status of shampoos and detergents etc. were only superficially discussed after all the Thesis has to be finished and pristine. We are all now reconsidering our use of shampoos, perhaps they should be directed at the various seats of Power or somewhere.

Chris and Angela Lawson and their son Alex and daughter Isabel heading towards their teens and along with the other children explored the
climbability of the surrounding trees. Chris and Angela are still settling in at Buderim but enjoying the climate and area while Chris has been
writing and receiving many offers of work. The latter not surprising in the light of the present state of Qld Health etc. Alex is too busy with family to practise but I am sure given time Qld Health will find a job for her too. It was nice to meet Chris after such a long period of communication on the List and I can assure the List that he looks nothing like the Primate who is professed to have crafted his Website - I didn't ask to see his canines though so....?. If you don't know what this is about take a look at his Frankenstein Journal on

Ruth and Gerald Cairns. Ruth who did a lot of preparation work and catered for Toby, Jann and Gerald and socialised with everyone. Gerald, New Age Serf and Dancing Bear, did no dancing but behaved unlike a New Age Serf and more like a couch potato except when taking the odd photograph while trying not to trip over things, revealing copies of which will be available shortly. Gerald circulated some biological images for discussion but missed out on some of this so they will be posted on the www.cairnscorp.com site shortly. Some of those images are derived from the Report on Porcine Internal Parasites done in the late 1960's but recently and sadly used as nourishment by the local termites. Memory does not permit of all of the details of these images or missing data therefore all comments welcome. Tam made some ID of the local Acacia parasites but it would be nice if she could reiterate these comments as yours truly missed that discussion.

Ruth and Gerald then took Toby and Jann on a "compulsory" drive through the Glass House Mountains on the way back to Fernvale (where they stayed overnight and were talked to sleep by Gerald and brother Howard) inspecting both the Somerset and Wivenhoe Dams on the way somewhat inhibited by a slow driver in a small car travelling at very slow speeds whom it was judged unsuitable to overtake with Toby and Jann following in a hired car. Of course from the absence of a hat on the driver of this car Gerald concluded that the driver had to be a woman. Despite being disputed this conclusion subsequently proved to be correct. :-)

So Folks there you have it, no profound scientific conclusions discovered except the revelation of the sex of the slow car driver, but a very
sociable and enjoyable meet of like minded people who aspire to save the Planet. :-)

I have no doubt that any erata will be pounced upon by those so inclined, never mind I have a broad back and I am sure there is an invisible sign there saying "Kick Me".

Fierce Creatures  - Melbourne
The Melbourne Mob had a hastily-organised meeting at  the Melbourne Zoo.  Three of them managed to find each other, and Tigger Ears and the colour purple featured.

Mini-Natter  - Melbourne

Report by Margaret Ruwoldt, 14/8.2003

Here 'tis, finally: my notes of the Melbourne mini-natter last month. To make up for the length and possible grammatical inelegancies, I've added an assortment of links for entertainment and education.

I must say, I felt rather cowed by the erudition of the others around the table. It was an entertaining and inspiring conversation, and left me with much food for future thought--thanks, guys!

IN ATTENDANCE: erstwhile Science Matters listmember Chris Lawson and current listmembers Gary Ruben and Margaret Ruwoldt. We were joined for a while by Ted and (?)Bob, who should join the Science-Matters list 'cos they might enjoy it. Listmember Toby Fiander attempted a virtual appearance, but technology defeated us (mumbles something about "we lost the satellite," or some such).

DATE: Saturday 12 July 2003

VENUE: food hall, Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne.

WEATHER: started sunny, ended inclemently. Fortunately, we were indoors.

TOPICS DISCUSSED (listed in no particular order)

String theory: still slightly fashionable and regarded as useful for some applications.

"Mulholland Drive": what the hell was *that* all about? We were reassured by the recollection that at least we all understood "Blue Velvet".

"Twelve Monkeys": Gilliam's best film? Time paradoxes, memory, identity and future dystopias. "Fisher King" was definitely a high point in Gilliam's career, and his other films have had moments of brilliance. We're all keen
to see the doco on his failed attempt to film "Man of La Mancha".

"Memento": memory, identity, and was the cop really a good guy? Chris and Margaret have differing opinions on this last, and both undertook to watch the movie again.

Consciousness: conflicting theories of Greenfield, Chalmers and Penrose were critiqued. Margaret's somewhat under-prepared defence of Greenfield didn't stand up to rigorous responses on behalf of Chalmers, a former
Queenslander who currently appears to be leading the international credibility stakes in this field. Penrose was found guilty of playing shell-games with the logic in "Emperor's New Mind".

Quantum computing: Gary is hoping his graduate maths course will lead into this next year. Needs to tackle formalism first. General agreement that special relativity is easier to understand than general relativity, and
that formalism may well be more difficult than both.

Government policy as a career influence: paperwork versus professional satisfaction. Chris is currently able to carry on two careers, writing and medicine, both part time, but fears one will have to give way. We're all worried about the twin disasters of current government policy and funding of medical and health care. What does it take to make a political revolution? Would lack of adequate medical and health care in marginal electorates do it? (Unlikely, but we can hope.)

What does an event horizon look like?

The joy of working on cutting-edge research and technological development, versus the desire *not* to work on military projects that will make it easier to kill people.

Unhelpfulness of science writers who over-simplify the subject they're trying to explain or popularise. Sometimes jargon and specialist language are necessary: not everything can be explained simply, because (a) metaphors break down and (2) often the science itself is, in essence, difficult to understand. See comments above about quantum computing, relativity and formalism. Chris also cited the above example of trying to understand what an event horizon looks like: he's not yet found a satisfactory explanation.

Bit of chat about writing science fiction and fan fiction, and about (?)Bob's plans to travel to Glasgow for the 2005 WordCon. One person at the table confessed to having written some slash fiction, in her naughty youth,
and to actually still being quite pleased with three short stories.

Slashdot, aka /. , is an entirely different beastie from plain old slash.
Geek code was discussed, and Jargon File anecdotes swapped. We particularly like the appendices to the Jargon file: they give great insight into the geek mind.

Geeks are not nerds, and vice versa, though one person can display traits of both. If you already knew what geek code is (before you followed the links above), then you may be one, the other or a bit of both.

MC Escher. Wow. See especially the animations on the Escher-Droste site. Double wow.

Superstition arises from desperate situations: people need to believe something or someone is in charge and can change or control the course of events. This is a theme in the story Chris read earlier in the day at Continuum.

SF convention culture. Cons are great places for socialising, if you're an extravert. If you're an introvert, you can lurk at the back of the panel sessions. Something for everyone!

Quote: "I think Greg Egan is writing for people who don't exist yet."

How to adjust your diet so that your (ahem) body fluids taste better.  Another surprising admission of arcane knowledge from the aforementioned former slash writer. (Doesn't she think of anything else??) Ahem.

Endless dullness of history at school, tracing explorers' paths across maps of Australia. Chris has recently (five years or so) taken an interest in history, and had earlier in the day given a reading of a story he co-wrote about being on the front line in World War 1. Discussion about that war's influence on popular psychology and art, and on the unfathomable political causes of the war. Chris's interest in history was inspired partly by Barbara W Tuchman's "The March of Folly".

Prefacing his story reading at Continuum, Chris had mentioned how difficult it was to find German pictures of World War 1 online. He was only able to find one web site, after protracted searching. He used several photos to illustrate the reading, and there were breathtaking moments when image and words combined to pack a real wallop. Chris pointed out that German soldiers in the photos of trench warfare looked just like the Allied soldiers we've seen many times, except that the uniforms are slightly different.

The story reading happened in a medium-sized meeting room that would seat about 60 people theatre-style. After listing statistics about casualties proportional to population of the various countries involved in WW1, Chris
observed that in the Battle of the Somme about 180,000 people died in the attempt to control a piece of land the same size as the meeting room.


We had stolen Chris from his official role of Guest of Honor at the Continuum SF convention. Really, we should have only kept him for an hour or so and then let him get on with Seeing and Being Seen at the con.  However, the 'quick conversation over lunch' lasted almost three hours, which gives you an idea of the energy, interest and fun levels. I hope the convention organisers weren't too miffed!


Chris's weblog

Chris's book (buy it!)

Gary's web site

Margaret's web site

Yarra Banking - Melbourne - 2005

Tony Fiander reported:

On Saturday, 15 October 2005 a group of us met near the Botanical Gardens along the banks of the Yarra River.  It was very pleasant - it was pointed out that Sydney has nothing like Melbourne's Yarra, and, I have to admit, there is nothing quite like it anywhere that I know.....

There was a lot of food - quite a lot of it was provided by Margaret, who seems to have planned to feed a small army, and succeeded.  There was some wine - some of it provided by James Fiander, who sent apologies.... and wine.

There were a bunch of people who spent some hours talking together.  Quite a number appeared to be Skeptics and indeed more than a few accompanied  Lynne Kelly, a skeptic author, whose book I was fortunate to score during the picnic and which I am still reading.

So, you may ask, who was there?  I have a list of names:  Lynne Kelly, Rebecca, Abigail & Damian.  Abigail (aged 2) liked men with beards... of which there were plenty, in fact all of the men present until Andrew Rawlings arrived, but I digress.  There was Barb Sloan, who has kept the website so faithfully for years.  There was Hilly and Steve - Hilly left her other two boyfriends at home (Glen Waverley and Vic).  Zero (alias Truckle, alias Geoff) and his Triumph appeared - it was quite a spectacle.  Ray arrived with Hilly and Steve.  There was Bruce Kellett, whose mail I have admired for years... and Keith Parker and Frances, whose commonsense and humorous view of the world kept me talking for a long time.  Magrat, who fed nearly everyone, was the life of the party, as usual and later Andrew Rawlings (finally a bloke with no beard!) arrived with his wife and a friend, whose names appear to have missed my list, or was it that by then
the pen was missing the paper?   I think they had a good time, too.

Lisa rang me - it was a pleasure to get the call, knowing that she took the time and trouble to ring.  James Fiander rang to make sure we were drinking the wine.

We talked of science, all kinds of science - of how it affected us, of funny experiences, of our passions and our work and which was which.  We spoke of  books, literature, philosophy, history, the way things were and could be, of old topics and new perspectives and a lot more.  It was a whole lists worth of views and all at once... and pretty hard to describe, except perhaps to say that I was exhausted at the end of it.

Keith spoke of teaching science where experimental work was a lot of fun... and I mean a LOT of fun.

So... we have some photos that you might get hold of, if you ask nicely. You can see them a bit later without asking because Barb Sloan says she will put up a report and some photographs on the SM website, which, in case you have forgotten, you can see here:

You can go there now, if you like, but you won't see the photos until we get a chance to put them there.  In the mean time, I can let you have a sample if you email me, off list.

We got apologies from some, and thank you to those people for taking the time to write.  We spoke about you, you know.  And those who could not make it we spoke of you, too and I am not saying any more than that.

I have one more email to write about this event, that I know of at this moment.  It is about the literature of the day.  I am still reading Lynne's book and there is an event on Sunday, 23 October in East Melbourne about Evolution and Intelligent Design that I need to tell you about.... later.

I have just about got over the Saturday event... perhaps we can have a reprise if you get a look at the photos.  In the mean time, if you didn't get there, there is probably going to be another event in Melbourne some time next year.  The Science Matters sign remains in Victoria - I think Magrat has it.

Thanks to one and all for a memorable day.  At our place, we will be talking about this one for a long time, I think.

Ray added:

Thanks to Toby & Jann as coordinators, and Magrat as chef, and James for the "plonk"....
And to all others for showing up.
Smatterers on the Yarra bank

left to right:
Bruce Kellett, Ray Stephens, Rebecca (Lynne's daughter), Keith Parker,
Abigail (Lynne's granddaughter), Geoff Marshall (aka Zero Sum and Truckle
the Uncivil), Frances Parker, Steve van Z, Toby Fiander, Damien Kelly, Lynne
Kelly, Hilly van Z, Barbara Sloan, Jann O'Connor, Margaret Ruwolt