Saturday, April 30, 2011

Have You Always Wanted to Go to North Korea?

Now you can.
North Korea announced a plan Friday to designate the Mt. Geumgang tourist region as an international tourism zone to attract foreign investment.


It announced a development program to create a tourist district in the region covering some parts of Goseong, Tongcheon and Geumgang counties.
Fascinating: South Koreans have been allowed to go to the region since 1998. Now it will be opened to international visitors. Very cool.


I went to a songwriter's competition at the Mona Vale Hotel last night with old Oregon friend, current Sydney Northern Beaches friend, Jeff Stanley. There were seven performers, four move on to the semi-finals. Jeff and I were of those four.

Over a handful of weeks in the last few months Jeff and I went to a smilar competition at the Dee Why RSL. Jeff took second (or co-won, really, as he moves on to the final at one of Sydney's best known clubs, The Basement, on May 3); I finished next and won a "paid gig" at The Basement. In the future.

I was kinda hoping the move to Australia would wake my atrophying music back up. Hmmph. Maybe it is.

Friday, April 29, 2011

One American on Trump and the "Long-Form"

I do not want to do a lot of politics on this blog. I just don't. But sometimes I have to. This needs to be watched, carefully, by a really lot of people.

An excerpt:

It was during my viewing of this video [Trump’s remarks in New Hampshire] that I began to cry. I thought of my ancestors, both direct and collective, who had fought and died so that I might be treated as an American. I then thought of this fetid, smug, hate-filled, wealthy white man taking credit for the release [of the "long form" birth certificate] and yet still not being satisfied. It does not matter how long we’ve been in these United States. We will never be American.

So, tears in my eyes, pain in my heart and rage in my soul, I composed this video message. More than written text, it comes close to expressing my full pain at witnessing a white man who was handed everything call the President of the United States (and me) a nigger.

FaceBook and Twitter

Why do really good communication platforms have childish names like "FaceBook" and "Twitter"? I know they're hugely successful—so what do they care?—but I why are these things seemingly marketed to ten-year-olds?

Half expect the net big thing to be called "Poopy Pants Party" or something.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Dead 10m whale lures sharks to Newport Beach" [updts]

Update I: Got pics.

Just a few miles down the road. Going to see it right now. Yay! (Yay for possibly seeing sharks, I mean.)

"AUTHORITIES are considering cutting up the carcass of a 10m sperm whale, which is attracting sharks to Sydney's Newport Beach.
The body of the wedged amphibian has drawn schools of sharks to the popular surfing spot, forcing the beach to be closed.

Local residents are flocking to the scene, but not for long, as the smell of rotting flesh wafts throughout nearby Newport village."

Busy Busy Busy

I'm deep into a bunch of articles that are just killing me ("The History of the Lock and Key" - without the crap you find on a thousand internet sites - for example), and creating a table of contents for a 500+ page book due out in April - on the natural world. So my blogging has been sparse.

And "Ow," too.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Limb Regeneration…In Humans?

This is a 2007 article from Nature. I'll see if I can find updates - because it is really fascinating. Just imagine.

Tadpoles can achieve something that humans may only dream of: pull off a tadpole's thick tail or a tiny developing leg, and it'll grow right back — spinal cord, muscles, blood vessels and all. Now researchers have discovered the key regulator of the electrical signal that convinces Xenopus pollywogs to regenerate amputated tails. The results, reported this week in Development, give some researchers hope for new approaches to stimulating tissue regeneration in humans.


But the complex networks needed to construct a complicated organ or appendage are already genetically encoded in all of our cells — we needed them to develop those organs in the first place. "The question is: how do you turn them back on?" Levin says. "When you know the language that these cells use to tell each other what to do, you're a short step away from getting them to do that after an injury."

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Jesus Bird

From a 2006 trip to the Northern Territory: The Comb-crested Jacana, [links fixed] according to the very knowledgeable and talkative guide on the South Alligator River in Kakadoo National Park (part of the Yellow Waters cruise), has the longest feet, per bird size, of any bird in the world. Allows in to "walk on water."

The Comb-crested Jacana or Lotusbird is a waterbird with long legs and extremely long toes that enable it to walk on the leaves of floating plants. It is brown above with white face and front of neck. The back of the neck is black extending into a black band round the belly. The rest of the underside is white. It has red bill with black tip and pink comb on forehead.

Here are some drawings of the Comb-crested jacana by John Gould. And more. And more on Gould himself.

Update: I posted this, then seconds later went, "Oh, it's Easter." I wish I could say it was intentional.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Yemeni Leader Will Step Down

We are witnessing some extraordinary events these days.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has agreed to step down under a 30-day transition plan aimed at ending violent unrest over his 32-year rule.

Officials in the capital Sanaa confirmed the government had accepted the plan drawn up by Gulf Arab states.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Surf Fishing: Flathead and Mystery Crab

I went fishing yesterday. (Was it a Good Friday thing? Some smoke from a stirred childhood memory?) Christine came along, and spent some time trying to catch beach worms.

Just a few minutes in I caught a flathead on a little prawn (not fresh; been in the freezer for ages). Clean, hard strike, I didn't have to set the hook, it just took it and ran. Christine took a shot of the hook removal:

"Ooh ooh Child..."

I was playing with some very simple chord changes on my guitar the other day: C-G, 3 times, then to Em, repeat the whole thing, then to F, resolve on C. The Cs start with a hammer-on of the two highest fingered notes (C and E), and the G comes in on an up-strum. Nothing new or spectacular here, just sounded nice and I felt like strumming.

Last night I woke up, I'm guessing around 4:30 AM. I started playing those changes in my head: C-G; two times, Em… Then I thought, What if I didn't repeat the C-G? I'm always doing these simple repeats of two chords. So I start playing it in my head again: C-G, Em, then I go to Bm, which I knew on the way there was just stupid. So I kinda go to clean up that mess, when after a few seconds I notice that some other part of my mind has picked up the song and continued, but in a different direction. I heard it do this: C-G with the hammmer-on on the C, two times, then it went somewhere else I didn't recognize—was that an A?—then it came back to the C-G, with these words now singing: "Ooh-ooh child, things are gonna get easier, ooh-ooh child things'll get brighter…"

Weird. Just weird.

I just found this. It's very cool.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter in Australia

Christine's buns

It's Good Friday, and Easter in Australia has officially begun. Most shops are closed, everyone has a federal holiday today and Monday, and huge feasts will be taking place all over the drab continent this weekend. (Drab? Did I just say that?) We will even be having the rels over for a feast here at our place on Sunday. All good stuff.

I'll update this diary throughout the weekend as I notice things about Easter in Australia that Americans, and maybe even an Australian or two, might find notable.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Story of My Life, via a Not Scrupulous Record of the Many Wild Animals I've Encountered in their Natural Habitat, Part One

This will be an ongoing series. It will partly be me making for the first time a written record of the more interesting animals I've encountered in the wild in my life, and partly just shameless bragging, as this is the kind of thing a person like myself brags about.

The list will be in chronological order, best as I can do; they will include brief stories of the encounters; and many entries won't have accompanying images (damn), as they just happened in non-camera-carrying moments. Some, I'm happy to say, will entail quite exotic creatures, seen by not a whole lot of people; some are not so exotic animals (the skunk, for example), which I include only because of the stories surrounding those encounters (including getting sprayed by a skunk from very, very close, while trying to beat it to death with a stick).

Crow at the grape vine (late 1960s): When I was probably only six or so, there was for a period of time, maybe only a summer, that a wild crow would eat out of your hand. Maybe it had been domesticated and escaped, I don't know. I remember it scaring the crap out of a couple kids on the way to school, trying to land on a shoulder or head, and that there was for some weeks talk among the adults of this vicious crow, and that maybe something should be done about it. Luckily that something was never done. (At least I think it wasn't.) But best, I remember being at the grape vine in our far back yard on North Maple Drive in Lancaster, outside of Buffalo, New York, the crow sitting on my knee, me feeding it grapes. I felt like Marlin friggin' Perkins. Maybe that's where all this wild animal crap started.

Swamp Wallaby

This is from the 2006 trip Christine and I took to Australia. We were driving into Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park north of Sydney when all of a sudden there it was, a swamp wallaby (we incorrectly say rock wallaby in the video), just sitting on the side of the road. What follows are, while still worth viewing, in my opinion, the kind of photographs and video you get when you are freaking out about seeing your very first wild wallaby.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Japan to Stop Whaling [updtd]

Wow. What's the Sea Shepherd going to do now?

Makes you wonder if the terrible tragedy that was the earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing Fukishima nuclear disaster had anything to do with this.

Update: It obviously didn't mean all whaling.

Canada Goose, Black and White

Southern Oregon, ponds on I-5, between Talent and Ashland, 2010.


Southern Oregon, 2010.

(Click pics to make huge.)

It's almost time for a new camera. Our Kodak Z650, which we got for $300 or so in 2006, has gotten us some surprisingly good shots, like these (no crops, no filters, no nothing, just one color and one black and white shot of the same plant), but I cannot wait to step up a grade, or several, and take this whole photography thing much more seriously.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Quote for the Day

My neice, Rain, 200+ miles into the Appplacian Trail:

I'm in Dollywood land... for you that don't know Dollywood let me sum it up for you... wal-mart meets jersey shore meets deliverance...

Monday, April 18, 2011


I've just put a post on FaceBook to my 300 or so friends, telling them that if more people became followers of this humble (yet spectacular!) blog I would eat a hamburger for lunch. I've already gotten two more. Was I lying?

Hamburger, 10:52 AM, April 18, 2011

No. Not lying!

Avalon, and Three Generations of Artists

We went up to Avalon. You can see up near the top of this map how it's located on a peninsula (thirty miles north of Sydney CBD), with the Pittwater inlet to its east, and the Pacific to the west.

Or, if you live in this house, high up on the peninsula's ridge, here's the Pittwater window:

And here's the Pacific Ocean window (looking across the same painting):

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cabramatta—"A Taste of Asia"—New South Wales [updtd]

Took about an hour drive due east (edit: west, not east - we were not in the Pacific Ocean) of Sydney to the city of Cabramatta (which actually feels like a suburb of Sydney). During the 1970s, during the Vietnam War, a wave of immigration from South Vietnam began to Cabramatta, and it today has a very large Vietnamese population, mixed in its own particular way with Australia's own particular way.

Anyway, I got some photographs.

First, the restaurant: Thanh Binh, 52 John St. Cabramatta. Fantastic. Recommended. Great food, nice people, laid back—crowded at lunch time. The specials: (As always, click to enlarge photos; click again for closer.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Penguin Release

They released rehabilitated penguins yesterday at a beach I could walk to in seven minutes. And I didn't know. Dammit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shark Release

We went down to Collaroy Beach two weeks ago and witnessed the release of four young Wobeggong Sharks. It's all part of Project Wobbegong:
With shark populations collapsing worldwide and local wobbegong numbers in decline, the juveniles are part of a research program investigating whether sharks bred in captivity can thrive in the wild.

The joint venture between Sydney Aquarium and Macquarie University, called Project Wobbegong, is already a success, with 12 out of 17 individuals released setting up home in the area or returning on a regular basis.
A crowd gathered on the beach, waiting for the sharks, including camera crews.

And divers:

Saturday, April 9, 2011



"A black police helicopter dropped white rose petals over mourners and a nation was left struggling for answers."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My High School Had a Steel Drum Band

What a strange memory I just had: My high school had a steel drum band. They even put out albums. How weird is that? I've actually just found them online, and found out that they're the third oldest still-playing steel drum band in U.S.:

Old Sayings....Reconsidered: "Never Bring a Knife..."

Never bring a knife to a gunfight—but a blender might be alright. You could whip up some daiquiris, get all the prospective gunfighters good and drunk, and when they pass out you could steal their guns and replace them with knives. Then, when they wake up, you could yell, "Never bring a knife to a gunfight, bitchez!", and shoot them.

Never bring a knife to a gunfight—bring a blender instead. And rum, limes, and a sweetener of some kind. (I prefer powdered sugar.) And make sure there's a power source for the blender. I don't know about you, but I've always pictured gunfights taking place in a barren place in the great outdoors—so you might want to consider a generator. And you're going to need a bunch of knives, to put in place of the guns on the gunfighters after they pass out, which of course means that you're bringing knives to a gunfight, which takes us right back where we started.

How about you just not go to gunfights? Is that so hard?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Googling The Corniolis Effect

I was just checking my visiter status, which tells me how people end up here at Little Australia, and I found that someone was directed here after googling, "What is the Corniolis Effect?"

That's so funny I think I may actually have to go to the bathroom.

P.S. I think you meant to go here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Stick Cocoon Creature, Banksia Man, and Singing Tree

Update: Fresh news: New case moth news from May 31, 2014!


The eagle-eyed Christine stopped us yesterday on our hike in Ku-Ring-gai National Park, saying, "Thom, look at this."

I looked at this:

It was about four inches long. It was soft: you could squeeze it, like it was an empty sac. It smelled resiny.

"It's a cocoon," Christine said. "I remember them from when I was little."

I've just looked it up, and I quickly found a remarkably similar photo—even down to the way those outer sticks are configured: it's the cocoon (empty, pretty sure) of the caterpillar of a case moth, possibly the Saunders' Case Moth, Metura elongatus. Oh, you have to go here, too. And holy crap, here, too. (I've just realized, this is related to the "Walking Turd" from December, but a different species, clearly.)

Good eye, Christine.

Now here's Christine and a scary Banksia  Man. (Guess which ones which.)

Aren't she perty?

And a tree:

Oh, Vienna!


Christine suddenly burst out in song on the way home, singing along with a song on the radio that I'd never heard in my life.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The 2nd Most Deadly Snake in the World

The eastern brown snake is the species responsible for most deaths caused by snakebite in Australia, although, with the advent of efficient first-aid treatment and antivenom, there are now usually only one or two deaths per year. A large adult brown snake is a formidable creature. They may exceed two metres in length and, on hot days, can move at surprising speed. It has a slender body and is variable in colour ranging from uniform tan to grey or dark brown. The belly is cream, yellow or pale orange with darker orange spots.

And I got to stick my camera in a brown snake's face today. Huuuhhh-zzzah!

One good way to identify the eastern brown:

When attacking, the brown snake winds its body into an 'S' shape, raising itself off the ground.

One not great pic. (This snake was scary fast.)

And a video. Stop it at the 22-second mark, and you can see the snake rise up into the distinctive brown snake "S" shape. (And you can hear Christine in the background say, in a way that means oh so much more than you know, "I think it's a brown snake Thom." She said that several more times in the few minutes I was with that snake.)

Eels, Leeches, And a Giant Spider on My Face [updtd]

So you're in Australia. In the southeastern state of New South Wales, the North Carolina of Australia. In Sydney. (Let's call it Wilmington). Go straight north from the city center about 20 miles, er, about 32 kilometers, and you run into Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

Now you all know where to search for my body.

Right. To the latest excursion.

I entered the park at the Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden, and soon heard a "knocking on a hollow wood box" bird-call I am completely unfamiliar with. Five-second video:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

New Nudibranch Discovered in Gulf of Mexico

Not to be outdone by Madagascar (post directly below this one), a new species of sea snail has been discovered off Florida:

Biologists with the Florida and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), along with scientists from California State Polytechnic University, have identified a new marine species found in the Gulf of Mexico. A scientific publication released Thursday officially announced the discovery of Chromodoris fentoni, a type of shell-less snail known as a nudibranch.
Seems to be related to the sea hare I video'd a few months ago. Looks like they are.

New Lemur Species Discovered

Amazing. Will they ever stop finding new species in Madagascar?

A Double-Banana

In all my years on Earth I have never once seen, or even heard of, a double-banana—like a two-yoked egg—but I have now! Behold: