Thursday, February 26, 2015

Celestial nav

Did you ever choose to read a technical manual which describes a process you have no practical use for?
Last night I purchased a pdf file of Kris Larsen’s latest publication via The Smallest Forest’s Etsy store HERE. WTF is an Etsy store, you may not ask because unlike me you probably know all about all the groovy cool stuff on the interwebs... but I’ll tell you anyway.
According to the Etsy website, this is what Etsy is:
“ Etsy is a marketplace where people around the world connect, both online and offline, to make, sell and buy unique goods.” 
The Smallest Forest is the name of the blog (and trading name) of Natalie, an incredibly creative woman who happens to be Kris’s missus (Not sure she’d want to be referred to as that but this isn’t about her.) Or you can find more information on Kris's website Monsoon Dervish. Anyway back to the technical manual and why I bought it and why I like it. 

My cheap knock up of Kris Larsen's Manual of sextant navigation

The title is: 'Manual of sextant navigation', by Kris Larsen 2014.
No I don’t actually own a yacht… no I haven't sailed in a couple of years and never out of sight of land, I don't expect to sail a yacht in the very near future... So why did I buy this book?

6 Reasons:
  1. I am fascinated by the technology. A device invented over 250 years ago which can be used for accurate navigation today!
  2. Sextant’s conjure romantic ideas of the self-sufficiency and personal skill required of a navigator at sea
  3. I particularly like the author’s style of writing and attitude toward the procurement of knowledge and the wisdom he appears to have gained through his life experience. (I think it came from hard work… I’m not prepared to put that to the test)
  4. I am curious about the effectiveness of instructional styles
  5. I like to support people who actually stick their neck out and create something themselves (sheesh if I can’t get my act together to do anything creative myself at least I can keep the hope alive by contributing to the subsistence of those who do… (for $3.94 AUD)
  6.  I really like old brass stuff and sextant’s look, well, they’re sexy!
My thoughts on technical writingAlthough the use of correct terminology is important, I don’t believe that the over use of jargon or technical terms is always necessary to produce a good instructional guide. How are you going to follow instructions if you’ve fallen asleep reading them? I have come across a few books which somehow manage to speak naturally to the reader in the way a master would to an apprentice. They are written in a style which engages the reader in a personal way keeping the instruction simple but clear and to the point. It is a great skill to know what will be of use to the novice and what can be discarded. 

The Book
Having read the first few pages (and some at the back) I am really impressed with this manual. Of course I must qualify that by saying I am not currently attempting to put it to practical use at sea, I don’t have a sextant my interest at the moment is only in the theory and the style of instruction. I imagine there’s an unspoken disclaimer to the reader that a navigator is responsible for his or her own calculations and the author can not be held responsible for technical errors or misinterpretations.
Kris has included plates with hand drawn sketches, tables and technical diagrams, which are presumably sufficient to assist the reader with their application what they have learned in the main text of the manual. What I really like about the book is that Kris has anticipated the various errors a navigator might make or stumbling blocks inherent in the use of the sextant, or navigation generally, and has included troubleshooting suggestions in a very natural way in the body of the text. It reads like he’s right there with you talking you through the process so you don’t fall in a hole!
I have to say the guy has a brilliant mind and things he seems to find effortless I struggle with even the rudiments of understanding, but somehow (possibly with more humility than he’s prepared to admit to) he has managed to pear everything down to  the most comprehensible language which I reckon really helps to demystify the whole process for novices with a fried noodle like me.
I’ve printed my copy and used a comb binder to put a front and rear cover on it.
If you’re into sailing, celestial navigation or would just like to see how a person with practical experience is able to convey their deep knowledge of a fairly technical craft then I reckon get a copy of this manual! A pretty cheap investment I reckon. If you have any doubts about his navigational skills have a read of Kris's book Monsoon Dervish (transcript here). 

Kris and Nat are currently living somewhere near João Pessoa in Brazil, Kris sailed most of the way there single handed traveling from Darwin, East to West. His rout took him north of Madagascar and following the African East coast he sailed on the southern ocean and across the South Atlantic (Ok it seems the long way round but he knew exactly where he was going!). Based on Kris's past form he would have navigated the entire journey by sextant. Kris sails with no satellite navigation, not even a compass, (Or motor).

OK that's enough of a plug for the fella they call 'Longrasser'. Just buy a copy and read for yourself.

Other reads

If you're into navigation and want to really challenge your capacity to combine cosmology or cultural narrative with science try reading:

The Last Steve Thomas (see Amazon HERE). 

Or if you're into bicycle maintenance:
My favorite writer of technical instruction was the Bike Guru Mr Sheldon Brown (1979–2008).
Sheldon Brown hand built the best database of bicycle technical information and practical advice I've ever seen. I discovered his website back in about 2005 and referred to it regularly. When I wanted to know more I'd send Sheldon an email and he used to reply to me. At the time I had no idea exactly how popular he was, he must have had 1,000s of people contacting him every week! Sadly Sheldon passed away in 2008, he is a legend in the world of cycling and is much missed.
Sheldon is a must for backyard bicycle mechanics.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Oh Lord!

There are no coincidences!

If a dog shits on your doorstep... and you stand in it, there's a chance you were destined to have shit on your shoe!

This morning as I wrote the final lines of a two paged diatribe rant, the submission to a committee reviewing a dumb ass decision made by educated, presumably competent theologically trained people, which completely contradicts the basic commitment their organization has made to the welfare of people the planet and the future of creation!
 (Damn! too many words for one sentence and I haven't finished yet! Take a breath damn it and read on!)
 ...I received a text from my wife... who by the way, had absolutely no knowledge of what I was currently doing... This is what it said.

“Thus have emperors throughout the ages sat on their bums, their wealth and their workers and hoped the future would never arrive. Thus Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ of the marketplace reaches out to all corners of the globe, steals ideas, innovations and images, rips out large chunks of the planet’s surface, magicks it into money, monuments and munificence, holds the key to the chains that enslave thousands, snaps its fingers at suitors and beggars and raises its fist against any challenge.”

(David Nicholson-Lord 1947-2014)

This quote was David Nicholson-Lord's response to a failed attempt to convince oil company executives to generate money from re-afforestation. Sometimes only a combination of rage and despair can produces such clarity.

Monday 23rd February 2015 reading from the 'Prayer guide for the care of creation'.
Tomorrow this will be my offering to the staff newsletter!

Beauty out of focus
Peace out.

Monday, February 23, 2015


What of it?
While my wife improves herself, reading eating well and exercising.
I forgot what it was I'm supposed to be doing and lost myself with reluctant abandon, enthusiastic in the beginning I soon forgot why.
No point in narrating what remained.
Wat was that Second rule again?

borrowed GIF to make a point... Thanks Buzzfeed

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Southern state shuffle

We have just returned from our annual pilgrimage to Victoria to visit family and once again we've exhausted the budget and worn out our shoes trying to squeeze as much as possible into our 8 day excursion. 

Departure this year was marred by the loss of a loved pet and as usual my nonchalant attitude and chaotic approach to preparing inspired no confidence from the rest of the family. My bike ride a few days earlier left me with severe sunburn which resulted in blisters and the destruction of one or two layers of skin. Wearing shoes to ride must have burst a few blood vessels under the nail of my left big toe which created swelling and a bloody sore toe until the bruising finally appeared! I'd already lost the big toenail on my right foot from the same problem while on the Great Vic Bike Ride! I hate wearing shoes!
At least on this trip I did managed to pack my case (7 kg carry on luggage) more than an hour before departure... Quite prudent preparation time for me.

Gross Eh?

Although the main purpose of our trips down South is to visit family we always try to fit in some tourist stuff. After all, our options are fairly limited in Darwin. This particular trip was action packed and left little time for sitting around. While in Victoria we managed to visit the Children's farm at Bundoora Park, Melbourne Aquarium and the Werribee open range Zoo but the highlights for me this year  (besides seeing our families) were Trees Adventure in Belgrave and Sovereign Hill, Ballarat.

Trees Adventure

A fraction of the course including Mountain Ash in the background

The Great Oak Home Tree

Trees Adventure at Glen Harrow Park was a great bonding experience with my daughter. Climbing on a network of cables right up in the tree tops of high above the ground! It was awesome and felt quite safe. The carabiner locking system ensured we were locked on to a safety cable at all times. Actually once you allow the harness to take your weight a few times the whole fear of being so far above the ground seemed to disappear and we just got into moving along the obstacle course and riding the awesome flying fox zip lines! Unfortunately we forgot to bring the camera and I didn't want to take my camera phone up so high so we only got photos at ground level. 

Ballarat - Sovereign Hill

The trip to Ballarat turned out to be jam packed! It's a long story but a trip to meet some friends of Bill W for an anniversary weekend turned into two days of family reunion and exploring the 1850's goldfields reconstruction at Sovereign Hill.

We left Melbourne early and were in Ballarat by 10am. It turned out that the gathering just happened to be in a hall opposite the Eureaka Stockade memorial right by the Museum of Australian Democracy.

Unfortunately we didn't have the time to explore the museum but I was beginning to feel inspired by the sense of rebellion which radiated out of the Ballarat Goldfields and spurred the beginnings of democracy in Australia. (Once again another long story which I'd love to look more deeply into, i.e. the 'Australian' national identity, how we identify with rebellious characters but tend toward the bureaucratic and authoritarian colonial authority model of governance... etc... etc...)

Sovereign Hill

Two days in Sovereign hill was a real treat! It's a working replica of an 1850s gold town and an opportunity to see some of the crafts, technologies and social conditions of that era. I didn't notice any mention of the Aboriginal history of the area and I do intend to look into it, but will have to leave that for another time. There was a very Eurocentric theme to the place, I wondered how accurate this was but I accepted the narrative for the sake of soaking up the atmosphere they had gone to so much trouble to create. It was a peculiar setting, there were quite a few references and examples of the Chinese presence on the gold fields but very few opportunities to hear about the Chinese experience from Chinese guides who seemed to work exclusively with the Chinese tourists. It was like an apartheid tour experience. I wonder what the Chinese guides were telling their tour groups? 

I may have had a slight error of judgement when I booed the Redcoats. Who'd of thunk they'd have so many keen supporters? If ever there were a time and place for rebellion against imperialism I woulda thought This was a good one. Just goes to show how complicit Australians have become! Some even swore allegiance to the Queen! Don't they know it's satire!?!

Coming from Darwin where everything is new and made of concrete I was spellbound by the woodwork, the old brick and timber buildings, the craftsmanship and the beauty of natural materials and the use of old techniques for constructing everything from wagon wheels to gold ingots! 
Gold! Yep we had a go at panning for gold in the creek. Unfortunately for the rest of the family, as soon as I got a pan in my hand, my obsessive nature took over and I wouldn't leave until I'd gathered enough specks of gold in my collector jar to leave no doubt what I'd come for! (The jar, property of my daughter, was left on the plane home!) 

Dinner on Saturday night turned into an unexpected gathering and a reunion with friends and family, some of whom I was once very close with and haven't seen for at least 15 years! Too many experiences to describe! 

Our last 3 days were spent in Geelong and actually by then we were pooped! We've found an amazing place to stay down there, not too far from family, spacious and with a playground and a pond full of ducks to sit and watch while we unwind! After so much running around the duck pond was our favorite retreat, we could have stayed there another few days.

We are now finally back home in Darwin. We arrived at midnight on the day that cyclone Lam hit the Arnhem coast. 
One of the kids lost an expensive electronic device in transit... 
Friends at Elcho are stranded with no running water, no sewerage and no electricity...
The house smells of mold, our bank balance is in the red...
We missed our home but have no extended family here, there's a sense of loss emanating from most quarters, it's often that way.
Slowly we ease back into the jagged rhythm of Darwin life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

South for a week

I've done a fair amount of travel over the past few months and I have quite a lot of air miles left to do in March. This puts me in the rather shamefull position of having a huge carbon footprint.
I'm just going to acknowledge that and leave it at that for now.

It's been quite a fun week and a bit visiting family and visiting some new places along the way. I'll post some details of the trip when I get home, I just thought I'd write something on the fly from my phone simply to see if it would work. I'm already over the one finger typing gig!

Can't stick any photos on, missing the app.... Want to throw phone against wall.... Gotta go!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Bird in a cage

Last year a friend asked if my kids would like to take care of his 2 budgies Kelvin and... I forgot the other birds name, she's gone now.
We were reluctant to take the birds but wanted to help him out and I thought it would be good for the kids to have first hand experience of taking care of a bird.

As a teenager I didn't really relate to people very well and preferred to spend time in the wild, watching birds, fishing and that sort of thing. At some point I managed to convince my parents to let me keep some birds and before long I had completely overwhelmed them. From the age of about 14 I started to breed various species of birds, then by the time I was 20 I'd practically turned half my parents back yard into a network of aviaries and cages. I always wanted to create as close to as natural and diverse space as possible... but in fact all I did was keep a whole lot of birds in a big cage! 

I preferred native species but I remember having a pair of Cuban finches which were so small the male would continually get out of the aviary, but his bond was so strong to the female that he'd always stick around and fly back into the aviary when I opened the door. In my fantasy world this is exactly how it would be. I would keep the birds but they'd be free to fly around the unfenced boundary of our yard... I remember at the beginning of High School I read a book called Birdy by William Wharton (A good read for a maladjusted teen)....  The main character in the story, who had been kind of obsessed with birds, became psychologically unhinged when he served in the second world war and regressed into an imaginary world. Some how I related to this kind of disturbing story and have to admit I often retreated into a similar fantasy world with the birds.

Calvin and Crystal in a cage
When I left home my parents gave the birds away and had the aviaries removed. I didn't mind, it was a hobby which got out of control and actually at the time I was kind of ambivalent about keeping the birds locked up but had not devised an exit plan and the poor creatures just kept breeding.

Something inside me knew it wasn't right but I just kept making the space bigger and the birds kept breeding and so on. I never really got that much appreciation of just sitting and watching the birds. I had 'collected'.

These days I have no interest in keeping any creature in a cage! I can't stand it on multiple levels. Firstly to see an animal reduced to complete dependance on human beings for their basic survival is not at all inspiring to me. Maybe when I was younger I liked the idea of them relying on me, at least in the life of a budgie or cockatiel waiting to be fed my life had some bearing. Maybe it helped me through a difficult time in my life or even taught me some lessons about responsibility etc...

I won't go into the trials and dramas of keeping the birds, but we did lose one bird and ended up replacing her with another from the pet shop rather than see Kelvin be completely lonely. Then Yesterday the Krystal (Kelvin's new partner) got out of the cage while I was trying to transfer her. That's when I realized I actually can't do this. I have no business keeping these creatures in cages! I'm feeling like to keep animals now is just a bit too close to playing God right now it's not something I really want to be playing at.

If you have a bird in a cage I bet you've got a few photos of the bird. Have you ever wondered why the photos look so drab? I was looking at Calvin alone in his cage and it dawned on me. We love these animals, we are fascinated by their antics and watching them go about just being themselves, inside the cage... But when we watch them we rarely consider their containment, only the joy we get from watching them and we like to think they are happy. But the camera catches the moment without the subjective lens of the human imagination, often focusing on the wire rather than the bird.

When Crystal got out she flew away, she would have had no idea where she was going, how to find food or even how to get back to the 'safety of her cage'.

Wild birds I sometimes see

These days I hate visiting zoos or places where animals are held on display. I am surrounded by wild creatures and love to watch them in their natural habitat, fully alive and free.