Reading: Randall Monroe — What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

Relativistic Baseball! Spent Fuel Pool! A Mole of Moles! Machine-Gun Jetpack! FedEx Bandwidth! Exclamation key broken1

Those are some of my favourites from the utterly brilliant xkcd‘s What if? And then there were ones I’ve never read! Periodic Wall of Elements! Orbital Submarine! Lost Immortals! Plus Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox!

This is probably the most un-obscure book I’ve bought in almost forever, so there’s not much I can say that’s new, especially as the internetz went into meltdown when it was published. Still, xkcd I’ve been reading for ages and is one of my favourite webcomics, and buying this was a bit impulsive but also like going to see a show of an old friend. I was expecting something not as … well, wow, it’s a beautifully presented book. Large, hardcover, with a very touchable dust jacket, really attentively and attractively laid out (it’s far, far from just a reprint of every What If?), a lot of little details (like the inside of the dust jacket) make it a pleasure of a book. I single-handedly (the other hand was busy eating) devoured it (metaphorically; there was already food in my mouth) in an evening. And had planetary surface-sized sadness when I turned the page and it was already the end.

I seem to read so many books that I think, “Kids would love this!” They’d probably think I’m wholly and embarrassingly out of touch old person. But in the small event I’m not, this is the kind of thing to make someone go off and become an astrophysicist, or geologist, or make comics.


Es Maressos Garden

After the storm last night, woken in its depths with lightning and violent rumbling and thudding of waves, our plans for the day underwent much reconsideration, not the least because it was too dangerous for diving; the storm was still generating large swells in the evening, and the previous day’s clear turquoise bays were thick and cloudy with sediment and detritus.

Instead, we photographed and filmed the waves breaking on the promontories, smashing into the cliffs, spray hurled up as high as the houses above then falling in turbulent veils. Not a particularly large storm, windy days on the coast of Victoria churn the oceans just as much; it’s the shape of the bay, which funnels the waves, giving nowhere to go except to bash from all angles against each other and the rocks.

I joined in the videoing, and looking at some sites for things tomorrow, and in-between, turned my gaze to the minutia of the gardens. Layered down the slope of the underlying limestone, paths wind amongst a carefully tended wildness. In summer, it probably makes sense, the thin, small trees above baked earth; now, it seems in places almost like the high-altitude flora above the tree-line. Dasniya then spent some time in the pool, testing some underwater footage we’ll be shooting later this evening.

And earlier, some not happy news: Heppenheim for this year is most likely not going to happen, as there is unexpected street works, of the digging and heavy machinery type.


Kirschblütenfest in den Asiatischen Gärten

Journeying far east to Erholungspark Marzhan and the Gärten der Welt for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Much apartment-stack architecture reminding me of China, though more sparsely spread. Eating cheese, Emile visiting from Amsterdam. Trees and Japanese gardens, much sun and brightness. Spring. Some photos.


plants vs brauerei

Somehow I stumbled back onto a couple who inspired my greatly years ago when I first started computers and design and… then they were doing beautiful things with Flash, now yes, well still bits of Flash, but also WordPress and other things. I seem to follow without being aware of it.

He has a video, shooting HD macro with a Nikon D90, and I thought, “oh! I have a camera. It shoots HD. I like Macro. I wonder…” I wonder can I combine aperture priority with manual focus or the macro lens setting with HD video somehow to get those beautiful to me out of focus backgrounds and crisp flecks of detail? It was getting dark, or towards, towards twilight. Then I spent an hour maybe in Final Cut, trimming six minutes down to 52 seconds.

I wonder if someone who bakes might enjoy the view, and her Oma’s plants? I wonder if someone with Audiogeräte might like to play with tiny films?


nahe brauerei, sonnenblumen getötet

Playing with my camera yesterday during the rain, ah summer in Berlin would like to be tropical, but I miss dearly the blanketing humidity of Guangzhou, skin moist to melting even, it changes a body. Daniel has left this city, and tomorrow shall fly east and south to Adelaide. Not till December shall I see him again, unless I scurry west to where they will be touring in November.

Ballet today, seeing my body change from not experiencing the intensity of physical life is not pleasurable. It accelerates aging, this sloth. Ah but… plans… Plans at least to return to the Sunflowers Christian brought here early July, which have died, dried in places, rotted in others, small bugs strewn on the petals and around, where they fell, dead.

Playing with shallow depth of field again, and using Aperture Priority with manual focus. I dirty my lens and think I shall buy lens cleaner, a screen protector, and the beautiful Panasonic LX3 case. Also plans for neutral density lens filter, a polarising one, and I have heard there are infrared ones which fit, though the lens does show up a hot spot.

The manual focus on my camera is a joy, a rectangle in the middle magnifying the scene and the focus is very easy to see. Ah but shaking hands, so instead I try the opposite, set a focal distance between 1 and 3cm, and then take the shot and see what comes out. Of course the Brauerei is in the background.


jan dunning

When the Liberals won the elections in 2004, my only consolation was that shortly after I departed for a few months to Taiwan, and thence Guangzhou and Zürich, and avoided somewhat living here. I was looking at these photos of Jan Dunning in a post on one of my favourite for so many reasons (art, porn, performance, short monographs on wonderful, unheard of people) blog, DC’S, and I was reminded immediately of the deeply asinine, parochial, immature Bill Henson incident.

In uttering the two words, “absolutely revolting” in commenting on the photographs, Kevin Rudd managed to convince me my daydream fancies of happy arts under a Labor government were mostly delusional, and lucky I’m leaving the country in three weeks because nothing much has changed.

I’ve also been reading Julian Burnside’s Watching Brief, a sometimes polemical and repetitive but nonetheless profound cataloguing of the previous government’s abuse of human rights, justice, asylum seekers, and the craven society that voted for their own mortgages ahead of alleviating the misery of others unable to defend themselves. In this reading of recent history, I wondered often just how much of this deliberate erosion of law the Labor government will undo, or whether it is rather content with wielding monarchic powers.

In the Henson case (well-documented at by Alison Croggon at Theatre Notes and Chris Boyd at The Morning After) I had this feeling of a return, an encroaching smallness, a nasty, uneducated, mean knee-jerk reaction to the bleatings of vapid, self-important and irresponsible ‘moral guardians’ that in no way does a service to either the arts, or the intellectual and critical sophistication of Australia. Furthermore, it is an imprudent and dangerous use of policing at the behest of political whim that undermines whatever due process yet remains in this country.

I find it sad also that in all this Henson remains a somewhat single and easy target in Australia, as he’s not part of a diversity of artists in various fields exploring particular confronting and dark issues because largely Australian art is comfortable, suburban and safe.

So I was reading DC’s, looking at Jan Dunning’s photography and grateful there are so many artists who are an antidote to parochialism in Australia.