Capn's Blog

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Melbourne weather

It's summertime in the southern hemisphere. That means the daytime temperature here in Melbourne is often hot. We've had four hot days in the last week:

DayMax temp

Our old house had air conditioning, but the new house does not. It relies on the two layers of brick in the wall to keep the heat out. This works for one hot day, but if it's two hot days in a row, the house gets very hot inside.

I did find one great way to cool off - a high pressure water sprayer, similar to this one:

It's usually used for cleaning things like concrete and paving stones. But when it's sprayed into the air, it atomises the water to make a very fine mist. You almost can't feel the drops. The mist swirling around you is totally refreshing.

My boys really enjoyed it.

Melbourne's weather has a reputation for being extremely unpredictable. We have a saying: "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes". It's the unpredictability that makes it an interesting place to live. But why is it so unpredictable? One reason is that Australia has a very long south-facing coastline.

According to this
Bureau of Meteorology page, most of our weather comes to us from the west. As the winds travel along the coast, the cool wet air from the ocean has lots of opportunity to mix with the hot dry air from Australia's inland. This creates unstable weather systems which then come to visit us.

After a hot day, we often have a cool change come through. The temperature change can be extreme. For example, here's a temperature chart for last Sunday:

That's a 20C drop in two hours! That sure felt good when it came through.

Finished the windows

A few weeks ago I said I had to strip and repaint these window frames:

Yay, I finally finished.

Now I have to look at the other windows around the house. They aren't as bad as these ones. I shouldn't need to strip the old paint, just wash them with sugar soap then put some new paint over the top.

Oh what it is to be a home owner...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friends II: Soulmates

I want to reflect for a while on that concept known as a soulmate. While it means many things to many people, to me it means someone you can relate to deeply, who you can communicate all you have to say with only a few words. Someone who understands your heart, and whose heart you can understand, almost before the words are spoken.

In our lives, we will meet some thousands of people, and become friends with maybe a hundred. Over time, I think it's natural for these friends of varing degrees to come and go, according to where you work and which stage of life you're at.

The notion of soulmate is not necessarily about love in the romantic sense. It could be that the soulmate you find may even be the same sex as you. It's about a common frequency on which you both resonate, about a level on which you can both communicate. Talking and working together lifts you both higher.

While it's worthwhile and very satisfying to cultivate and enjoy friendships, you can't make someone be your soulmate. If it's going to happen, you will know about it because of the feeling in your heart. And given care, such a relationship can last a long time.

I think each person may only find at most a handful of soulmates in their life. Indeed, I think it's more difficult to find a soulmate than a wife or husband.

In Chinese, the closest word I can find is "知己", or "zhījǐ". While it's close, I'm really not 100% sure 知己 truly captures the essence of soulmate. Still, it's the best I can find.

I have heard some sayings in Chinese that are pretty good:

  • "人生得一知己,足以。"
    "Rénshēng dé yī zhījǐ , zúyí."
    "In life, to find a soulmate is sufficient."

  • "海内存知己,天涯若比邻。"
    "Hǎinèi cún zhījǐ, tiānyá ruò bǐlín."
    "If you have a soulmate, wherever they are, it seems they're never far away."
As you may have guessed from my first article, I have the pleasure of being married to my soulmate. Marriages are common, soulmates are few, but to combine the two? It doesn't happen often I think.

I am blessed.

Friends I: Enduring love

Every day I feel lucky. Among all the other reasons, I feel lucky because I have the pleasure of spending my life with my dearest friend.

I'm sure that sounds like the talk of young lovers. How can such affection last the test of time? Hmm I'm not sure, but it has: In two months, we'll have been together for 18 years. And I think it comes down to friendship.

People get married for all sorts of reasons, but I believe that friendship is the strongest possible basis for marriage. With friendship as a foundation, love will never grow old.

How we met.

The year was 1988. I moved from the country to the city to get my first job. I was a computer technician in a school.

At that school, I met a girl, an overseas student, who had just started year 10. In some countries, that's form 4 or the first year of senior high.

She and I were both lonely people with no family and who didn't know anyone else. We were both interested in computers, and both enjoyed each other's company a lot. We started spending time with each other because we felt happy together.

Over the course of a year, our friendship grew stronger and stronger. But even though we both felt the other person was very special, we wanted to stay just friends. After all, even though there is only 18 months' age difference between us, we were still student-and-staff. Plus, we both wanted to concentrate on studying and working.

After nearly one year, we had become such close friends. Every hour together was a celebration in our hearts. But as time went on, it became harder and harder to just stay friends. How can you stay friends when you care so much about someone?

So on a certain day (March 27, 1999), we decided that we would stop trying to just be friends, and start trying to make a life together. To make a "partnership of the heart" and live each day in celebration of our love for each other.

Since then, we have done many things together. University, career, and the best thing of all, children.

Of all the things we mean to each other, and after all this time, the dearest one is still "friend".

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Stop-motion animation II

The other day I posted about doing some simple stop-motion animation:

Stop-motion animation

I also talked about how I hoped to do some more animation with my boys.

Well, we did.

Storyboarding took one night, prop construction (the house, the backdrop [tablecloth over two chairs]) took one night, filming took one night, and image assembly took one night.

Click the play button. You may need to wait a minute. If it still doesn't work, you can see it here.
This video stored free at Putfile. Thanks Putfile!

The steps were more or less the same as last time - same camera, same programs. The people were filmed going into the house in forward motion, but the construction of the house was done by filming the brick-by-brick removal of the house, and assembling the images in reverse order.

There are three things we'll do better next time:
  • Lighting and exposure control (to stop the flickering)
  • Better focus control (stop the blurriness), and
  • A better attempt to control the wobble of the base.
Still, we're happy with the result.

I don't think we should lose sight of the number one reason for doing it - to have some fun doing something a bit out of the ordinary. And it was fun!

Perhaps the thing my boys enjoyed most was that a few times, the timer went off with my hands still visible:

They thought that was a hoot! Each time they just went off their nut.

And a good time was had by all.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Dostoevky - Is it me?

For Christmas, a good friend gave my wife a collection of stories by 19th century Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Now all I've heard about Dostoevsky is that he is one of the great Russian authors, along with (for example) Tolstoy, Pushkin, Chekov and Solzhenitsyn.

I read the introduction by the translator and it whetted my appetite for what might lie ahead. So far so good.

As the first story ("A Nasty Anecdote") progressed, I couldn't help but cringe at the descent into social disaster, which was good, because that's what the story was supposed to do. The story wouldn't have worked unless set in a highly classist society such as in Tsarist Russia but was on the whole, pretty good. I was hoping for more.

Then started what I guess I can call "the rest of the book". With the exception of "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man", the remainder of the stories seemed to rely on pitting neurotic characters against each other, nowhere more so than in "The Eternal Husband".

Not that there's anything wrong with using the neuroses of characters to provide the underpinnings of a good story. It's just that to me, Dostoevsky seems to do it over and over again.

One device was particularly prominent: The protagonists don't speak to each other for a while, so without the communication that would settle matters, the author allows the characters to take flights of ever more neurotic fancy, in their attempt to second-guess the mind and motivation of the other character. This leaves the character with such a churning boiling mass of neurosis that the next meeting will sure to produce a big impedance mismatch between them and plenty of opportunity for lashings of relationship right-sizing.

What annoyed me particularly was that it was so obvious. Story slows down, Dostoevsky thinks to generate some more angst and neurosis. Rinse, repeat. From my decidedly unlearned point of view, Dostoevsky may as well have been sticking pins into the characters. Hey, let's watch'em jump. Jump little characters, jump! Pah, voodoo literature.

So why do those who know like Dostoevsky so much? Where does the reputation come from? Is it because it's great literature in and of itself? Or is it just that he was a trailblazer in a mode which has since seen far better work?

Curiously, one of the customer reviews of this book on Amazon says "Warning: this story may make you cry." Sadly, I'd have to agree!

Sigh. Kafka's better. And none of them make me squirm nearly so much as a good Roald Dahl story.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

New Year's II

I've heard it said that how you spend New Year's Eve is an indication of how you'll spend the rest of the year.

In that case, it's going to be a nice and calm but happy year!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Stop-motion animation

When I was in grade 5, I went to a primary school in the country. This school had one teacher, and six (yes 6!) students. We had such a family feeling in that school. I still can't forget it.

One thing I remember doing was stop-motion animation, using a Super-8 movie camera. We did storyboarding, cut shapes out of paper, and did the composition and shooting. I think it took us a couple of weeks to do, and ran for about two minutes.

For our project, we did the launch and lunar landing of an Apollo-style rocket. As far as I remember, it had three scenes. The first was the Saturn V launch sequence, the second was the docking of the Lunar Module with the Command/Service Module, and the third was the landing of the Lunar Module on the moon.

Now I'd like to do similar things with my boys. And in these modern times (hah!) technology makes it better and cheaper than ever.

To show them what's possible, last night I made a simple animation. (Yeah I know it's not very good. But it only took about an hour for shooting, and an hour for production).

Click the play button. You may need to wait a minute. If it still doesn't work, you can see it here.
This video stored free at Putfile. Thanks Putfile!

Here's what I did:

  • Attached my Canon 300D digital camera to a tripod, and mounted it horizontally over the edge of a table, so the camera was pointing down to the floor.
  • Put an old piece of blue card on the floor, and aligned it so it's in the camera's view and taped it down.
  • Used counting rods to write the names of my boys in a 5x7 "dot-matrix" style font. (Each length is of a particular colour).
  • Starting at the last stroke of the last letter ("m") and working backwards, replaced each rod in turn with a shorter one.
  • After each change, took a photo (70 photos in all).
  • Copied these photos into my computer.
  • Used ULead Video Studio to arrange the images in reverse order for 40 mSec, thus creating a movie of the images.
  • Used CyberLink PowerDirector to encode the movie into .wmv form.
I did it in reverse to make sure the letters would look good - much easier to start with placed letters and work backwards, than try to build them on-the-fly.

This morning I talked with my boys about storyboarding, and I roughed out some sample storyboards on paper.

I hope they'll find it interesting and we can make some good animations together.

One down...

Yay, my mother-in-law left yesterday!

No major incidents this time, thank goodness. I'm putting it down to major dollops of staying late at work, I think.

Can't wait until Friday - the rest of the horde depart. Then I can finally relax.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year's

"So, how was your New Year break?"

Well, apart from having a lovely New Year's party at some friends place (the kids stayed up to 12 midnight. Boy were they grumpy the next day!), most of it was spent scraping paint off window frames.

You can see the frames here:

The window frames are cedar, and were previously coated in polyurethane. But over time the sun has attacked it, and in places, the coating has come off and left bare wood. Bare cedar in the weather isn't good. It starts rotting very fast, so out with them paint scrapers!

I'm using a hot air gun, and nasty paint stripping chemicals, but it still takes a lot of physical work. In particular, cedar is a very soft wood (you can mark it with your fingernail), so it's hard to get the coating off without damaging the timber.

I've stripped about half the frame. Once it's all stripped, I'm going to paint it with timber oil. It'll need reapplying every year, but it will rot-proof the timber.

Lest it all seem like too much hard work, one nice consolation is that I'm surrounded by the lovely smell of cedar. Quite satisfying.