Sunday, 21 June 2015


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Imagining a potential catastrophe

At Bad Astronomy Phil Plait, astronomer and author of Death From The Skies!writes:
Take a moment and indulge me. I want you to imagine a scenario.

Astronomers mapping the sky find a moving object, incredibly faint, in their data. It’s moving slowly, so it’s very far away and probably small. Their best guess is that it’s an asteroid about a kilometer across.

Because it’s faint and relatively far away, they can only get a very rough estimate of its orbit. It appears to be on a trajectory that brings it into the inner solar system, but it’s not possible to reliably say more than that.

A report is made, some other scientists try observing it, but for many the signal from it is just too hard to make out. Every now and again, someone follows up to see if they can refine its orbit. When they can spot it the orbit gets refined a bit better, but it’s still rough. Calculations show it getting no closer to the Sun than Mars, but with a wide margin of error. A handful of papers are published arguing over the shape of the orbit.
Read more at Bad Astronomy.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

You dared wake me?

A grumpy dusky honeyeater (Myzomela obscura)
In recent weeks a dusky honeyeater has decided that my TV antenna cable is the perfect night spot. It's there most evenings, and always gone before I stir in the mornings. Tonight I decided to get a photo, and gently woke my avian house-guest before deploying a flash to get the shot. I'm now wondering if it will be the last time I see it.

Monday, 4 May 2015


A mangrove (Bruguiera sp,), seed pod recently cast adrift

Cairns Golf Centre

On the weekend I slipped down to the Cairns Golf Centre, the driving range on the highway just south of Yorkeys Knob. Remembering my camera was in my bag, I thought I would snap a shot.

The $6 a round 6-hole Par 3 course is somewhere between a pitch and putt and a proper Par 3 course. With holes out to around 120 metres, they're about the right length for practicing your short irons with little feeling of a real target, but not real Par 3 length. The greens could use some work to get up to a good standard for putting or chipping. Unfortunately this also goes for the chipping and putting green on the far side of the driving bays.

The driving range is nicely functional if in need of a bit of a touch up. The two level bay structure provides shelter from sun or rain. At $12 for a bucket of around a hundred balls, it's pretty good value. Not having played a lot recently, I found I was quite knackered before I got to the bottom of the bucket.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Wow... I didn't think my contempt for Tony Abbott could grow any stronger

On 7 September 2013 the Australian public, tired of a disfunctional Labor Government, fell for the lies and fear-mongering of the Tony Abbott led Liberal party. It was only a couple of weeks later that I typed:
Tony Abbott is a climate change denier. Previously open about his denial, he paid lip service to addressing climate change while getting elected, but his "direct action" plan is designed to fail, and his true self became even more clear when he got into office and quickly abolished the Climate Commission.
In our dire financial situation, a budget emergency, it was vital that we saved money, and the Climate Council just had to go. Our token Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, said:
"As part of the Coalition’s plans to streamline government processes and avoid duplication of services, the commission’s function to provide independent advice and analysis on climate change will be continued by the Department of the Environment," he said.

"I would like to recognise the efforts of the Climate Commission in providing information on climate change to the Australian public and thank all the commissioners for their work.

"This decision will save the budget $580,000 in 2013-14 and an annual funding of up to $1.6 million in future years."
In my inbox today I found the following email from the Climate Council:
Hi Mike,

The Australian Government today announced they would contribute $4m for Danish climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg to establish a new “consensus centre” at the University of Western Australia.

In the face of deep cuts to the CSIRO and other scientific research organisations, it's an insult to Australia’s scientific community.

As the Climate Commission, we were abolished by the Abbott Government in 2013 on the basis that our $1.5 million annual operating costs were too expensive. We relaunched as the Climate Council after thousands of Australians chipped in to the nation’s biggest crowd-funding campaign - ​remember this video?

It seems extraordinary that the Climate Commission, which was composed of Australia’s best climate scientists, economists and energy experts, was abolished on the basis of a lack of funding and yet here we are three years later and the money has become available to import a politically-motivated think tank to work in the same space.

This is why the work of the Climate Council is so important - to counter this continuing ideological attempt at deceiving the Australian public.

Please consider chipping in a few dollars a week to help us stay independent and continue to fight the rising tide of misinformation.

Mr Lomborg’s views have no credibility in the scientific community. His message hasn’t varied at all in the last decade and he still believes we shouldn't take any steps to mitigate climate change. When someone is unwilling to adapt their view on the basis of new science or information, it's usually a sign those views are politically motivated.

But with your support we will continue to fight back and reach millions of Australians with information that is based on the best science available.

Thank you

Tim Flannery

P.S We're already busy responding to misinformation in the media. We just called out The Australian for deliberately misinterpreting the science and the Prime Ministers Business Advisor Maurice Newman for getting his facts wrong
Bjorn Lomborg is what is sometimes called a "lukewarmer", someone who downplays the problems we face from climate change and other environmental problems while saying he isn't really a denier at all. He has a long history of cherry picking and misrepresenting reality. While not an explicit denier himself, he's a darling of deniers because he pushes the Overton window in their direction - hard right.

The University of Western Australia seems to be getting into the climate change denial business. They're giving a platform to a man who damages public understanding of an important issue. They should be ashamed.

And so the Australian Government will partly fund a climate change disinformation service. As for Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt, well, my sentiments of 2013 are renewed.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Atherton Golf Club

Looking round the dogleg on the par five second hole at Atherton
As the second leg of my self-declared long weekend for golf I headed up the hill to Atherton Golf Club, another course I had seen only from the road in the past. Things got off to a nice opening with a pair of blue-faced honeyeaters (photographed previously) in a tree next to the first tee.

The first five holes at Atherton are particularly attractive, with the fairways lined by large trees including conifers. I found myself strongly reminded of Royal Canberra, though Atherton is greener and more tropical. A couple of corners gave a jungle feel, but the conifers dominate the scenery in this section. The par five second hole is a standout, with a gently sweeping leftward dogleg around large conifers, with the fairway falling to the right and leading to a bushland-surrounded green.

The second green
The sixth hole takes you into what seems a newer area, though it still has a lot of trees and some areas of thick bush. To help punish the wayward shot, water hazards come into play on four holes. While some of the par fours are a little short (the 12th comes in at 258 metres), they are well protected by doglegs and trees, and laying up is a good option. There are also a couple of good longer par fours.  

The highlight in this section for me was the short par 4 15th, with a dogleft left around some tall trees to a green protected close to the front by a pond, which today featured some lillies in flower. The tee shot is fairly tight, so I hit a five iron off the tee to the right half of the fairway, leaving myself with the shot pictured below. My nine iron was a little too gentle, and barely cleared the pond, ending up on the fringe of the green from where I three putted for bogey. Picturesque, fun and challenging is a good combination for a golf hole.

Second shot to the 15th hole after an overly-conservative layup
Atherton was a bit of a surprise. I didn't expect a small country town course to be so well maintained or designed. The greens were very good, although perhaps a little slow. Some holes are real beauties, from both a scenic and a golfing perspective. Eighteen holes will set you back $25. 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Gordonvale Golf Club

Gordonvale's tenth green with Walsh's Pyramid in the background.
It has been a couple of years since I last played a round of golf, perhaps three. I've had a swing at the driving range a couple of times but it's not quite the same. Today I headed out to Gordonvale Golf Club, which I had never played before.

Gordonvale is one of Cairns's cheaper clubs, and definitely aimed at locals rather than tourists. The greens weren't as good as I remember Half Moon Bay's, where I used to play a lot. Recent rains have left the fairways nice and lush though, and I couldn't blame a bad lie for my many failures.

The course is split into two sections, an open area inside the horse racing track (holes 1, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17 and 18) and a tree-lined section closer to the highway. The race course section is, of course,very lightly planted so as not to obstruct the view of horses, but it does make very good use of a creek crossing a number of the fairways in the driving areas. I was lucky and avoided the creek today. The lack of trees does have the benefit of opening up views to Walsh's pyramid, which provides a lovely backdrop to the course.

The par three 8th hole with small melaleucas in front of the green.

The other part of the course isn't thick jungle, but certainly has enough trees to punish a wayward shot. They are used to particularly good effect on the short dogleg par four 7th and 16th holes. On the par three 8th a couple of small melaleucas are between you and the green, but they shouldn't be in play if you hit the right club. It's deceptively long and I clubbed short, just clipping one of the trees.

My best tee shot of the day left me with a short pitch to the 16th. I missed.
It was nice to be back out on the course, and I intend to play fairly regularly again over the next few months. There are quite a few courses in the region that I haven't played, so they're at the top of the list. I'll get as far north as Cooktown, west to Ravenshoe-Millstream, and perhaps as far south as Townsville.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Against daylight savings

In the USA they're switching their clocks over for daylight savings, in the opposite direction to our southern states. John Oliver's Last Week Tonight took on the subject, wondering "How is this still a thing?"

It struck me as interesting that the mood expressed is against daylight savings, whereas here there's a push for Queensland, particularly the south east corner, to introduce it. The other thing is the idea expressed by some in the piece that it was introduced to help farmers, whereas here the farmers are blamed for opposing it ("It confuses the cows", is the thought southern urbanites attribute to farmers).

Just for note, the main reason we northerners tend to be less enthusiastic about daylight savings is that it's warm up here and we like a little more time for the evening to cool down and the sea breeze to blow in before bed time.

Isn't it time the southern states abandoned daylight savings?

Saturday, 7 March 2015

A mini-decompression chamber for fish

Here's a nice invention that addresses the effects of decompression on fish brought up from the depths:

You could probably build one without shopping anywhere other than Bunnings.

Monday, 2 March 2015

The loss of youth

No, not mine. It disappeared long ago. I'm talking about Cairns's youth. Today at work I was working on some labour market information and again noticed the remarkable exodus of 15- to 24-year-olds from the Cairns region. Back in May 2013 we had 33,900 people in between 15 and 24 years of age. It has been in steep decline since, and in January has hit 23,900 - a decrease of 29%. It's largely driven by our youth unemployment, which has come in at a slightly improved 21.5%.

Many are heading to Townsville, which has seen its 15-24 population surge by 48% over the same period. As a result Townsville's youth unemployment is climbing, though at 17.3% it's still well below Cairns's.

Now if only we could export three in every ten 13- to 15-year-olds my morning bus trips would be far more peaceful.