Throw him in the Hole

I’ve been to San Francisco a few times, but have never managed to do a lot of sightseeing I’ve wanted to do. This time around I finally took a little trip out to Alcatraz!

All I know about Alcatraz is from movies like Escape From Alcatraz, The Rock and Birdman of Alcatraz. In reality, I didn’t expect it to be anything like these movies, but what really impressed me was how accurately it had been modelled in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 on PS2.

I must admit, though, that the solitary confinement cells look particularly effective. Perhaps I should threaten my kids with something like this when they’re being particularly trying.

How many maths nerds does it take to defeat the German Tank corps?

Interesting story on How Allied Forces Used Tank Serial Numbers To Defeat The Germans at

Allied intelligence noticed each captured German tank contained a serial number unique to the tank. With careful observation, the Allies were able to determine that the serial numbers had a pattern denoting the order of tank production.

Using this data, the Allies were able to create a mathematical model to determine the rate of German tank production, and estimated that, during the same summer 1940 to fall 1942 time period, the Germans produced 255 tanks per month — a fraction of the 1,400 estimate.

And it turns out, the serial number methodology was spot on: after the War, internal German data put der Fuhrer’s production numbers at 256 tanks per month — one more than the estimate.

The answer to the question in the post title? A division, obviously.

Sputnik to ISS: you’ve come a long way, baby

Today is the 53rd Anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1. It was a spherical satellite of modest size and weight, yet the seemingly innocent beeping it emitted was enough to invoke mass hysteria in the West.

Let’s compare Sputnik to the current state of the art in Space Exploration, the International Space Station.

Sputnik 1


Built by: Soviet Union Involved partners: USA, Russia, Canada, Japan and 11 participating ESA Countries
Mass: 84 kg Current mass: almost 400 tons
Dimensions: 39cm radius sphere with four 2.5m antennae Current dimesions: 50m x 110m x 20m
Total orbits: 1440 Current orbits completed: more than 68000
Crew members: 0 As of October 4, 2010, 195 individuals have visited ISS, including the three current Expedition 25 crew members. NASA astronaut Frederick W. Sturckow has visited four times while 15 people have visited three times, and 66 people have visited twice.
Total cost: nobody really knows, since it was a military mission. Estimated cost: ranges between 35 and 160 Billion dollars, making it the most expensive object ever created
Payload:instruments capable of measuring the thickness and temperature of the high upper atmosphere and the composition of the ionosphere. Also, a radio transmitter than went “beep, beep, beep” Facilities for research and experimentation in Human Research, Biology, Biotechnology, Physical and Materials Sciences, Earth and Environmental Science, Education

In between these two marvels, we’ve seen craft carry dogs, monkeys, and men into orbit. We’ve seen them land on the moon, Mars, and Venus. They’ve intercepted asteroids and comets, and have scurried through Lunar and Martian dust. Telescopes like Hubble and Chandra have gazed into the far reaches of the universe. Next year, a Russian/Chinese mission will be launched to return samples from Phobos. It’s inspiring and breathtaking living is these times of discovery and wonder.

ANZAC Day Dawn Service, Mandurah

Here’s a couple photos from the Dawn Service we attended this morning. We woke up at about 4:45, got the bleary eyed kids ready and drove into the Mandurah to the Mandurah War Memorial. Kids enjoyed it, but they said there weren’t as many speeches from people as the service they’d had at school last Friday. It was all very quiet and reverent.

Aleksei Leonov is the MAN

45 years ago on 18-Mar-1965, Aleksei Leonov became the first space walker. Most people should know the name, if not the date.  He had quite the career, but it’s his 12 minutes outside his Vostok spaceship which I most admire.

See, while he was outside his spaceship his protective space suit expanded because of the vacuum; inside his space suit there was air for him to breathe, but outside there was no air at all so his suit expanded like a balloon. This expansion made it impossible for him to reenter his ship because the suit was too stiff to flex. Gene Cernan, in his book “Last Man on the Moon”, described this phenomenon. During Gemini 9, he was to venture outside and do some simple tasks outside the spaceship like use tools to loosen and tighten nuts. After only a few minutes of this kind of activity he was almost exhausted because he was fighting against the suit the whole time.

So Leonov is outside is spaceship and has found that he can’t maneuver himself back into the airlock. What to do? Was he to die alone, far from help and any hope of rescue? No, not this cosmonaut! He did what seems suicidal and foolish to most people: he let the life-giving air out of his suit! This allowed the suit to deflate enough for him to squeeze himself back into his spaceship and turn the air back on. Saved! Seriously, you need to have solid brass balls to even consider doing this.

While he was being groomed by the Soviets to be the first man on the moon, he dodged a few other bullets: he was to have commanded Soyuz 11, the first crew to visit the world’s first Space Station Salyut 1, but was dropped when one of the crew came down with suspected tuberculosis. The Soyuz 11 mission went fine, but the replacement crew of three perished when reentering the earth’s atmosphere.

Sadly, Leonov never did make it to the moon. Leonov went on to command another significant mission: the Apollo Soyuz Test Project, a joint mission between the Soviets and Americans. This mission served to ease tensions in the space race.

Leonov is an artist, a pilot and warrior, an author, and twice Hero of the Soviet Union. And someone I wish I could hang around to soak up some of his awesomeness.

Happy birthday, Domain Names

It was 25 years ago on 15th March that the first domain name,, was registered. Before we started assigning names to hosts we needed to refer to web sites by a complex string of numbers and dots. This, along with DNS and text-based or GUI web browsers, made it way simpler for users to find their way around the webz. Since then. about 80 million domain names have been registered. I would have had a hand in registering a couple thousand of them while working at iiNet as part of my job. Wow, 25 years. The Internet was a small place back then. It’s hard to believe there was a time when the Whole Internet Catalog was even possible.

My experience as a member of the Bishopric

I served as a member of the Canning Ward Bishopric for a week in 2009. Well, actually, I was called and released all inside six weeks. The first week, all I did was sit on the stand and look pretty. The second week was General Conference. The third week I was working. The fourth week we had a family vacation. The fifth week is the only time I actually did anything useful. I conducted the meeting, I gave a talk, I did a few interviews. Then on the sixth week I was released. In between was the usual PEC, Ward Council, YM/YW meeting attendances but I’m not counting those.

Why was I released? Let me explain. We sold our house at the end of September and that weekend made plans and organised finances to move and buy a block outside Mandurah in a place called South Yunderup. We signed the papers to buy a block and everything.

As we were leaving the estate, who should call but our Stake President. It started out as a “Hi, how you doing” to which I replied, “All my plans are coming together. We just sold our house and bought another block and we plan on moving down here while we build”.

“Oh, well that changes things, then.” I knew at this point that he probably had some calling for me. In fact, in the few weeks leading up to this we’d had discussions on me being something of a “tech dogsbody”, who would assist in setting up computers, organising video conferences with cameras and projectors and such. He excused himself from the call. Not abruptly, just rather quickly.

President called back later that evening and said he wanted to meet me at the Temple the next night, on Wednesday night. OK, fair enough, it’s been a few months since I attended so I should probably go. He also wanted Suzanne there. Curiouser and curiouser, and something I alluded to in a previous post.

So we met in one of the Temple rooms and that’s where he sprung it on me that he was releasing me as Clerk and wanted to extend the calling as Second Counselor in the Bishopric. I looked at him and said, “You know we have sold and are moving, right?”. He knew this, and had discussed it with my Bishop but they felt that they needed to extend the call anyhow. I said I wasn’t going to accept anything without talking with Bishop, who also happened to be in the Temple that night. So President left, and Bishop came in.

“Are you out of your mind?” I asked. He said that as soon as he had called me to serve as Clerk he knew he wanted me as a Counselor. He’d been grooming me this whole time. “Geez,” I thought. “I should have been paying more attention in all those meetings.” WTF could I possibly offer as a Counselor? I was a good Clerk. In fact, I was an awesome Clerk, if I don’t say so myself. I had no idea on being a Counselor.

He convinced me that this was what the Lord wanted, and that even though I had plans on relocating I should still accept the calling, which I did. He even offered to buy me a suit, but the goatee and moutee had to go. I tell ya, that almost broke the deal right there. Nobody in 20 years had seen me without facial hair, even my wife. Last time I tried to shave I had annoying skin irritations until it grew back. But, still, I agreed and it was settled. I spoke again briefly to Stake President, who said that I’d benefit greatly from the calling no matter how long or how short it was. It was all sorted. In 4 days I was going to be in the Bishopric.

On Saturday night I had a ritual shaving of my beloved facial hair with the whole family involved. I somehow managed to cut my ears doing this, and as the photos we took attest I do look more handsome with facial hair. The more the better, too.

So I was called and sustained that Sunday, clean shaven and dressed to the nines. Some people honestly didn’t recognise me and wondered who the new guy was and why he was all of a sudden sitting on the stand.

Over the next week or so Suzanne and I talked and planned how we might find ways to avoid having to move out of the area. We found that the buyer of our house was willing to rent it back to us for a while. If the rent was reasonable we might manage it. It would be difficult because we’d also have the liability of the block we just bought. The buyer wanted about 40% more in rent that what we were paying in mortgage, so we’d have to go without a lot of stuff and make some sacrifices but this is what serving is all about.

So we agreed that we could make it work for a few more months, at least until the end of the year. But a couple weeks later the buyer reneged on the offer. We were unable to find any rentals in the same area we could afford. At the same time, a rental turned up around the corner from the block we had bought in South Yunderup at an unbelievably affordable price so even though it meant that we needed to move and that I would no longer be able to serve in the Bishopric, we took it. The advantages were that we could afford it, and that the kids would be settled for their new school in the new year.

It wasn’t easy breaking it to Bishop, that I would be moving and my term of service would be cut short. He was pretty disappointed, I think. I can understand that. He didn’t speak much to me while I remained at Canning and we haven’t spoken since.  I don’t think he’d hold a grudge; he’s above all that but I still am not sure that he’s all that happy with me. I might have expected a call to see how we were doing in our new Ward, but nothing.

So ended my days as service in the Bishopric. Maybe later I’ll get to serve again and come closer to meeting my potential, whatever that is. In releasing me, Stake President said that it had been the shortest Bishopric service he’d heard of, but there was a reason for it and he hoped I figured out the reason and that it was rewarding. Objectively, I see that everything had been driving me to where I am now: we sold our house when we did for a good price, we secured the block we wanted at the same time, we picked up the rental when we needed it. In addition, we have been fortunate enough to enroll the kids in the Baptist College being built near us for 2011. Why then was I called into the Bishopric? Surely the Lord had a hand in all the fortunate series of events we had been praying for and had up to this point been fulfilled. This whole calling thing seemed a bit of a curve ball. I’m sure there was a reason for it, but I still have not figured it out.

I’ve been working on this post for a few weeks, but decided to git ‘er done because of Stake Conference today. The Bishop of Canning Ward under whom I served for 6 weeks was sustained as 2nd Counselor in the Stake Presidency. He is a great man, and someone I admire and respect a lot. I don’t admire and respect many people, so you can be sure that this is a great compliment from me. He did a lot of good work for a lot of good people in our ward when the general membership was experiencing some very difficult times. This isn’t something I’ll elaborate on, suffice to say that anyone in our Ward will know what I’m talking about and how well Bishop served the people. Besides all that, he brought out the best in people by holding them to oaths and covenants they previously made, where in a lot of cases people were just cruising in their callings. I wish him all the best, and I know that he will have a great influence for good in our Stake.

Moon dual screen wallpapers

Another few moon themed dual screen wallpapers I found. I like the contrast of the colourful flag and lunar lander parts against the desolate grey of the moon and night sky. First one is Neil Armstrong from Apollo 11, second one is James Irwin from Apollo 15.

apollo 11 dual screen wallpaper 2560x1024

apollo 15 dual screen wallpaper

These are suitable for dual screen monitor wallpapers or screensavers.

Jupiter through the lens

Jupiter though the telescopeI got out my telescope the other night and had a look at Jupiter. Jupiter was almost directly overhead at about 11pm. The thumbnail to the left isn’t my own image, but it’s pretty much what I saw except that I had a clearer image with crisp edges on Jupiter, and I could see stripes on the surface. The moons appeared as clear, crisp distinct dots. It was glorious, and quite moving that I was looking at something which had first been seen in the same way by Galileo almost exactly 400 years ago in August, 1609.

Jupiter will be at perihelion about this time next year which means that it is at it’s closest approach to the sun which in turn means it is close to Earth, so I have 12 months to figure out how to get a camera onto my telelscope so I can take my own photos. Then I can feed them through photoshop and try and bring out some of those colours.

Nuclear anniversary

Enola Gay and TibbettsIn the early morning hours of August 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber named Enola Gay took off from the island of Tinian and headed north by northwest toward Japan. The bomber’s primary target was the city of Hiroshima, located on the deltas of southwestern Honshu Island facing the Inland Sea.

A few hours later at about 8:15 a.m. Hiroshima time the Enola Gay released “Little Boy,” its 9,700-pound uranium bomb, over the city.

Forty three seconds later Little Boy detonated 1,900 feet above the city and about 70,000 people died as a result of initial blast, heat, and radiation effects. The five-year death total may have reached or even exceeded 200,000, as cancer and other long-term effects took hold.

It’s a moral dilemma: was this the greatest single-instance, unnecessary atrocity the world has ever known, committed against mainly civilians? Or was it a hard but correct decision to make, one which ended World War 2 earlier than it otherwise would have? Japan was already close to being broken and the Russians, having won in Europe, were mobilising against them also. Would Japan have defended their Empire to the last man? Or did the nuclear attacks change the minds of the Japanese from “let’s surrender on our terms” to “let’s just surrender and stop the slaughter of our civilians.”?

Could the American’s not have demonstrated their power first? Drop a bomb on a well defended Japanese military island or port in the Pacific, and then declare an ultimatum: “You have 5 days to surrender, or you’ll have one of these delivered to Yokohama. Or Tokyo”.

Compare WW2 Japan to WW1 Germany. The Germans could claim that they never really lost the War, they simply gave up. No enemy boot laid foot in anger on German soil. Japan was in the same situation, but by nuking Japan, America let them know in no uncertain terms that they had lost this war despite not having been invaded.

Regardless of what one thinks about the use of nuclear weapons in WWII, it is inarguable that the Manhattan Project was (along with Apollo) among the greatest American projects of all time. The brightest scientists in the world, working in secret with the government, organized by General Leslie Groves was simply brilliance of engineering and management.

Worldwide Nuclear Testing 1945 to 1998Since 1945 there have been more than 2000 nuclear tests, with seven in Australia. Besides America, seven other countries have, for certain, developed nuclear weapons: the USSR, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. So far, no other countries have used them in anger.