Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

Click on "contact", won't you, and wave right back at me?

Carey Bird

carey two birds flat.jpg

I’ve just returned home now from a week Christchurch, where I was invited for a series of educational events. 

Christchurch - a place I hadn't been before, but knew simply as the place where an earthquake took the life of my friend Carey Bird.


In photographing the land the photographer therefore not only helps us find out who we are, they also participate in shaping who we will become.
— Carey Bird

I came to know Carey playing music at church - he was the sort of friend you gain not by making an effort, but through the natural sharing of time and space in a weekly activity. He was quiet, very kind, confident but gently spoken, and had a sort of wry observed humour.

He loved his music and enjoyed his solitude, and after church would stay nested in the corner playing blues-y electric guitar with creative combinations of pedal-effects. But Carey was no loner. He was a family man and rich with longstanding friends. 

We grew close to both Carey and Jan Bird. My wife Rachel gave piano lessons to their daughter Lauren, and in the meantime Carey and I would crack out a morning beer (while lovely Jan tut-tutted & tried to fill us up with cheese) & jammed in their backyard, sometimes seeing in passing their son Andrew, who loved his computer games and seemed very much like his dad.

Carey was noticeably peaceful and centred. He oozed out a bubble of calm space. There was never an agenda. As an anxious, wired-up person I found this reassuring. 

Our photo of Carey's. He tells its story here.

Our photo of Carey's. He tells its story here.

He loved nature and photography, and at an exhibition of his work we purchased a deep & ambiguous image which found a home on the wall of our bedroom. To me it spoke to the melancholy and mysteries of life, capturing my ever-growing feeling that I didn’t really know anything at all, or if I did, it was lurking in the shadows. 

I’ve just now learned that Carey had a degree in philosophy. I’d never have guessed, but now I know, it makes sense, and it was like Carey not to mention it. 


Carey worked in insurance and travelled to Christchurch in February 2011 to do work connected to the previous earthquake.

A fuller story is told here. 

A fuller story is told here

On February 22, as Carey lay pinned under a beam on the fourth floor of a collapsed building, a stranger who had himself just crawled to safety climbed up and found him. His name was Tony McCormick. He stayed with Carey through his final hours, even as the tremors and peril continued, and critically relayed messages to and from his family. 

So it was that word came to a friend Dave Nash, who called me, and soon after I spoke with friend Dean Tregenza, and so on, and so all of us knew his situation, and were comforted that he wasn’t alone, and then later, we learned through Tony that Carey had passed, well before such news was official. 

In the grief that accrues in my life, by chapters making me both sadder and wiser, the loss of Carey has had its own special space. Now - almost 5 years later to the day - I’m less anxious, mellower, and I feel a measure of peace that was largely missing in my life in the days when Carey was around. In that strange sense, it is possible I know him better now. Like everyone, my identity is woven with potentials I experienced first through others and thereafter pursued.

Thanks for that, Carey.


When I touched down in Christchurch late last Tuesday afternoon, I have to confess I was suppressing thoughts of Carey.

Because I had to navigate meetings, run training, buy materials, be interviewed on film, and play front man and presenter for a big event. I steeled myself to push through. I rationalised that I could think about Carey on Saturday before my flight home – and maybe find the place he died, and… I didn’t know what. 

So Wednesday afternoon quite blindsided me.

The view from the room where I was meeting CORE Ed colleagues

The view from the room where I was meeting CORE Ed colleagues

We were meeting.

We were meeting.

I was meeting with colleagues from CORE Education preparing for the following day. When I mentioned I had a friend who had died in the earthquake, they gestured to the wall behind me where a poster was on display. The poster was specific to the CORE Ed building, to commemorate lives lost in the adjacent building that used to stand on what was now a pristine green lawn metres away from our room’s glass walls.

I twisted around to see this poster. Although my colleagues kept speaking I lost concentration, for I saw there were faces printed. On a whim I stood up and walked over, knowing I had to check, because who knows, and just because. 

This poster was on the wall

This poster was on the wall

I was stunned to see Carey right there!

I was stunned to see Carey right there!

And there was Carey, and there I was, unprepared to meet him.

Politely I revealed this to the team at the meeting, and politely we all worked hard not to melt into little puddles. 

It came home to me during my visit that most everyone in Christchurch has a story - has stories. I glimpsed these gradually through conversations. And that the stories have no bookend – because after everything happened, and everything changed, still the ground trembles, and still the buildings shake.

edit: and even since I've returned a much larger quake hit, injuring no one apparently, but rattling everyone. Poor old Christchurch! I really had no idea until my visit. 


a tiny earthquake during the session

a tiny earthquake during the session

They shook the next day – Thursday - even as I spoke at a microphone in a big hall to fellow teachers. One person sweetly tweeted about it in jest.

I didn't even notice the little tremble but some people in the room did

I didn't even notice the little tremble but some people in the room did

I decided to briefly share the story of Carey Bird, knowing the tears they had for his story would be for other stories too, grieving from a well of grief, where all the waters mix together, and a bucket brought to the surface lifts bits of everything, and you can’t say exactly who or why or where.


the site where the building was. My CORE Ed meeting was in the building you can see in the distance. The plants there are a small memorial.

the site where the building was. My CORE Ed meeting was in the building you can see in the distance. The plants there are a small memorial.

In contrast, on the Wednesday at the small meeting we all held our composure, just. Ange pointed to the three trees outside the CORE Education building and said they were known as “the witness trees”. She said the lawn was a sacred site, and on the far side there was a little memorial – one of many around the city.

So when the Wednesday meeting finished I took my leave and went to find the tiny memorial. A little sign there invited people to place their own memorials: either flowers, to be eventually composted, or something more durable, which would be left a while then saved for a museum, and I knew I had to return and leave something. 

The sign at the memorial

The sign at the memorial

 

I stood there in the late afternoon rain and opened myself up, and for a time for me it was all limbic system and no frontal cortex.

not just the three witness trees on this day... I'm finally a witness too! 

not just the three witness trees on this day... I'm finally a witness too! 


On Thursday and Friday the big event ran – successful and all-consuming. I awoke late Saturday morning in a post-adrenaline crash, bereft of clarity or willpower. There was little time left before my flight. I saw a café with a florist in it and decided it was the best I could do.

I felt truly disappointed, because I wanted to leave something more durable than flowers!

The very instant I pushed on the door of the café my eyes fell on two little birds made from metal, and my disappointment changed to a feeling I just can’t describe.

The café staff humoured me as I borrowed a marker from them & worked in the corner with poster board, cutting board and a razor from the car. I felt embarrassed and intense.

I tried to write not just for me but hopefully on behalf of others who knew Carey, and are grateful to Tony McCormick, and were affected by the story of that day, and saw what it means for life, and for hope in a world still full of peril and of apparent strangers.

birds from the cafe

birds from the cafe

carey two birds flat.jpg
 

Carey Bird
Though you flew away,
you’re ever in our hearts
and the shaping of our lives;
the ways we love and are loved.
No one alone,
no one a stranger, 
to the last breath.
We miss you.

 

Winter in Munich

Rachel Collis and I teamed up to write "Winter in Munich" - it took us months but it's done, & we're really happy with it. I know, for me, it's a great song if the end result feels like deep therapy, every line, in lots of ways. Perhaps you'll find something resonant in it too.

Winter in Munich

25 hours in a plane
Floating in in-between space
A baby cries, now you’re alone, now you are safe

A yellow light whispers the way
The captain announces it’s day
The wheels hit the ground and the plane is a rattling cage

Say that a past gets lost in translation
Let it fade, let it fade in dense population
Say that a heart tenders resignation
Let it fade, let it fade
And calm your thoughts as this roaring engine stills its frantic pace
Burst outside, let the mist envelope you in cold embrace

Trams and trains follow their trails
Lead you to where you will stay
The sun skirts the horizon, watch it fall meekly away

Hold your hands up to the glass
Outside the grey’s become dark
The world’s withered away, lost to the view, folded like craft

Say that a past gets lost in translation
Let it fade, let it fade in dense population
Say that a heart tenders resignation
Let it fade, let it fade
And calm your thoughts as this roaring engine stills its frantic pace
Steal your breath as the city tries to find a hiding place

Say that a past gets lost in translation
Let it fade, let it fade in dense population
Say that a heart tenders resignation
Let it fade, let it fade
And hold on fast as 2 million people shield the winter’s hate
Sleep at last as the streets around you hold your fleeing fate

Float like a newborn, gasping and sneezing
Puffed by the chimneys, into the freezing
Feast on the dreams that these strangers have stayed for,
And not run away for, and faced down dismay for.

Raspberry Pi + Makey Makey = Cats that Tweet

The Lofty Aim

Allow our cats to tweet the mundane events of their lives. 

IMG_8673 (Medium).JPG
The Plan

The Plan

The Plan

Set up sensors connected to a computer, then program the computer to send tweets when the sensors trigger. 

I hatched a cunning plan. 

The diagram to the left is missing one thing only: a cooperative cat... 

...but how hard can that be? 

The Hardware - #1 a "Makey Makey" - $50

A "Makey Makey" is a USB device that the computer thinks is a keyboard, but it actually tells the computer a key has been pressed when you put two wires together. 

Makey Makey

Makey Makey

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi

The Hardware - #2 a "Raspberry Pi" kit - $160

A "Raspberry Pi" is a super-cheap $35 computer... I bought mine from "Aus Pi" for $160 in a kit with a USB hub, wireless card, power etc.

I already had a webcam! 

The Software - #1 Rasberrian  

I'm familiar with Windows, but the Raspberry Pi computer comes with "Rasberrian" pre-installed. The good news for me is I see desktop similar to Windows, with a start button, desktop icons and a taskbar. 

rpi-desktop.jpg
Python

Python

The Software - #2 Python

I need to program the computer to tweet when the cats have their water.

Python is a computer programming language. I have never used it before. The Raspberry Pi comes with "Python" already installed and good to go.

 

The Learning Process

I had a stack of stuff to learn to make this work. It was much easier than I expected.

I had to figure out:

  • how to get around my Raspberry Pi, and specifically how to operate it remotely from another computer for convenience
  • how to get my Python program to run automatically when the Raspberry Pi boots up
  • how to program in Python: #1 to wait for input from the Makey Makey, #2 to take a photo with the webcam and #3 how to send the photo as an attachment via email to Flickr.com
  • I already knew how to tell Flickr to accept such emails and post them to Twitter, with the email text as the tweet, and the attachment as the photo. 

I learned by: 

  • for each element I needed to learn, googling and exploring heaps of web pages and tutorial videos
  • copying and pasting Python code I did not understand and tinkering with it
  • writing little Python programs that do just one of the tasks, one at a time, before stitching them together

The learning process was glorious... on one day I spent well over 12 hours with no proper break. Flow, flow, flow! 

The End Result

If we build, it will the cats come?

Yes! 

flickr Block
This is an example. To display your Flickr images, double-click here to add an account or select an existing connected account. Learn more.

The Actual Python Code

import time

import os

import pygame

from pygame.locals import *

import smtplib

from email.MIMEMultipart import MIMEMultipart

from email.MIMEBase import MIMEBase

from email.MIMEText import MIMEText

from email.Utils import COMMASPACE, formatdate

from email import Encoders

import sys

import subprocess

my_subject = "Miao Miao! Hello, this is Timo or Baps telling the world

that we're enjoying some water! Look and see:"

USERNAME = "#######"

PASSWORD = "#######"

def takepicture():

    grab_cam = subprocess.Popen(

        "sudo fswebcam -r 320*240 -S 15 -d /dev/video0

/home/pi/HappyTimo.jpg", shell=True)

    grab_cam.wait()

def sendMail(send_to, subject, text, files=[]):

    assert type(files)==list

    assert type(send_to)==list

    msg = MIMEMultipart()

    msg['From'] = USERNAME

    msg['To'] = COMMASPACE.join(send_to)

    msg['Date'] = formatdate(localtime=True)

    msg['Subject'] = subject

    msg.attach( MIMEText(text) )

    for file in files:

        part = MIMEBase('application', "octet-stream")

        part.set_payload( open("/home/pi/HappyTimo.jpg","rb").read() )

        Encoders.encode_base64(part)

        part.add_header('Content-Disposition', 'attachment; filename="%s"'

                        % os.path.basename(file))

        msg.attach(part)

    server = smtplib.SMTP('smtp.gmail.com',587)

    server.ehlo()

    server.starttls()

    server.ehlo()

    server.login(USERNAME,PASSWORD)

    server.sendmail(USERNAME, send_to, msg.as_string())

    server.quit()

pygame.init()

screen = pygame.display.set_mode((640,480))

pygame.display.set_caption('Pygame Caption')

pygame.mouse.set_visible(0)

done= False

while not done:

    pygame.event.clear()

    happened = pygame.event.wait()

    if happened.type == QUIT:

            done=True

    elif happened.type == NOEVENT:

            print "confusing"

    elif (happened.type == KEYDOWN):

        print happened

        print happened.key

        if happened.key == K_SPACE:

            print happened

            print happened.key

            takepicture()

            time.sleep(10)

            sendMail( ["########@photos.flickr.com"],

                my_subject,

                "tags: cat",

                ["HappyTimo.jpg"] )

            time.sleep(5)

            pygame.event.clear()

        else:

            done=True

sys.exit()

Next Step

  • maybe get a Ninja Block to expand sensor capabilities
  • expand the repertoire of trigger events and the wording of tweets
  • could the cats blog? could they Facebook? could they run for office? 

Chess Game for Tim

First of all, here is the game as it was actually played:

I was very worried at one point because I saw a way that Tim could smash me. Here is the alternative I saw, from move 20. I've only played it forward several moves because that's as far as I can predict my reply to Tim's super-moves, had he played them. In any case it leaves me in a very vulnerable position with two pieces directly threatened and slaughter guaranteed. 

From here, he can take my bishop on D5 or my rook on F1. And my King is out in the open. It would end even worse if we imagine I don't move my queen to C3 to prevent the rook on G8 coming down and checking me.

In Which Steve Connects the Cat to the Computer via USB

I connected our cat Timo to the computer via USB!

Transient

At first it didn't work. I don't think cat fur is good for circuitry.

But then it worked!

As he licks up the water in the bowl, he closes a circuit that the computer interprets as a space bar being pressed - you can see on the screen how the space bar is pushing part of the internet address along the top of the screen, and the green LED light flashes.

Each lick = one space!

I did it with a Makey Makey. An alligator clip comes off the Makey Makey onto the aluminum foil. Another alligator clip is sitting in the bowl of water. What's missing? A CAT TO CONNECT THEM HA HA!

2011 Silliness



Silliness in 2011

It's been a year since my last post, and I've spent the year being very silly.

For instance I received this deodorant for Christmas in 2010, and have been using it ever since. Ever so gradually my amazement grew at how long it was lasting! Almost a year now!

I realised 3 days ago there was a plastic cover you have to take off first. Sorry for being smelly everyone.


It was also silly of me to watch 'Q&A' on the loo by propping up my iPad on a pile of dirty washing. And silly that when I later checked the clothes wash to make sure there were no whites in there, I neglected to make sure there were no Apple devices.



There's a fine line between silly and neglectful when you invest in a toaster specialising in crumpets and then fail to invest in the corresponding consumable.


It is non-ambiguously silly, after 35 years of experience, to optimistically attempt...


Silliness is a good description of trying to take a toy gun on a plane. THAT was a fiasco.



Still, 2011 so far has not been pure silliness. The architects of this handy office urn got it JUST RIGHT when they emerged from a 4 hour brainstorm session, trying to find the perfect title for the product that captured, on the one hand, the machine's abilities, without in any way undermining a parallel message concerning the low running costs involved:



Overall the highlight of these silly months has been one morning when I didn't just feel like I was one with the bed, but became one with the bed. Lovely, sweet, sleep.



Recursive Inside-Out Garment Nemesis!


To me, life is far too complicated and challenging to spend much time figuring out clothing.
I love abstractions and philosophy. Clothing is at the bottom of my priority list.

This blog post is my confession:
----------------------------

#1 Pyjamas.

I walked into Kmart, and bought the first pyjamas I saw. When I arrived home Rachel couldn't believe her eyes, rolled her eyes, and has been giving me grief ever since.
This is why:
Happy monkeys! Yay!
What's wrong with fluorescent orange PJs with happy monkeys and bananas? I'm 34 years old, I don't need to worry about fashion when asleep, do I?



I only noticed a few moments ago when I took this photograph, that the arm sleeve is badly ripped. I don't notice these things.


--------------------------------

#2 Shoes + Artliners
Some would say you can't go wrong with shoes. Rachel helped me buy a normal, non-monkeys-and-bananas black pair to wear at work. The problem came after many months when they became scruffy and the black faded to gray/white.
Yes I have heard of polishing, and I've even succeeded in the past. It just seems like too much effort for mere clothing.
So, genius that I am, I grabbed a permanent black marker and coloured the white bits in instead.
They haven't looked quite normal since. This is their current state - you can see the fading ink:


I'll have to polish them I suppose.
--------------------------------

#3 The wrong trousers.

Every now and then I have a moment where I gain new insight into my clothing-impoverishing brain.
I snuck out the back this morning in my undies to fetch my jeans from the line. There they were:

I went back inside and put them on. They wouldn't go on. I didn't understand. Had they shrunk? I kept trying to pull them on.

I said "Rachel, I think I have the wrong jeans."
Indeed, here are my real jeans:

Here are Rachel's jeans in comparison to my jeans.

It just took me more time than it ought to to figure it out, that's all.
--------------------------------

#4 My nemesis:
the jumper that is SUPPOSED to look inside out.
Rachel bought this for me in one of her occasional attempts to reform me. It was a mistake from the start.
The rule I have in my head is this: "I know the jumper is on properly when it looks inside out. That's what this jumper is. It's an inside-out-jumper."
This is what it looks like, by the way:

It looks inside-out right? How cool, you're saying!
But the problem is, if I turn it the other way around it looks EVEN COOLER, to my eyes, AND you can see the tag that way, which is what you're supposed to be able to see when your jumper is on inside-out, right? See where I am heading? So this way around, to me it looks inside out, and nice and smart:


(See the tag on the lower-left...? See...? It's inside-out, right? i.e. the right way to wear it?)
Add to this the fact that the jumper is relatively symmetrical on the back-to-front axis as well, and you have my nemesis. I wear it correctly about 25% of the time. The other 75% of the time, if I'm lucky, Rachel notices and says:
"Steve! You've got the inside-out jumper on inside-out!"
Obviously, I reply: "But that's they you SAID I should wear it!"
Nothing good ever comes from this conversation, as you might imagine. In the end I do what she recommends.

Adventures of Steve Collis in 2010


Bits and pieces from 2010 so far.

Advertising

Let me start with advertising. I must note I grew up with dad yelling "mental midgets!" at the television screen. I am now equally narky with the media. There must be a gene for it. I can't bear turning the tellie on at all nowadays.

Anyway, exhibit A
Long overdue! My cokes have been slipping out of my hands for years! Finally, some decent tread!

Exhibit B


The Simpsons keep doing that joke. So art is imitating art, I suppose. Argh, also, while we're at it, why capitalise 'New'?

Exhibit C

This is what I found at Centrepoint Tower in Sydney. Seems you can't go up the tower without also investing in a newspaper. It is hardly free, if they add it to your ticket price, is it?

---------------------------------------
Art

In other news, while on school camp with Year 10, we ended up camping on Cockatoo Island on Sydney Harbour. By sheer luck there was a huge art exhibition on the island at the time. The exhibition is called "Biennale" and this is its 17th year.

Exhibit a: crap art


Just some metal balls strewn across a deserted room.

I don't really mean it is crap art - I'm insulting myself for not being to access it. I guess if I could be bothered posting it here then it must mean something to me.

Exhibit b: great art

There were 9 or 10 screens in an otherwise dark warehouse. The screens often showed different footage, or were dark, or all showed the same footage... all deliberate and making up one overall film. I loved every second of it. It was by Isaac Julien and called Ten Thousand Waves.

---------------------------------------

Real Life

In other news, I got in a car on Saturday and drove to Bourke. Bourke is a small country town on the edge of the proper Australian 'outback' where the roads become unsealed and the land becomes scrub, tending to desert.

It's a very long drive - over 800 km from Sydney, or about 10 hours drive.

It was worth it. After arriving at Bourke, I promptly drove another 30 km down a perfectly straight unsealed road heading west:


Then, I parked the car and headed off into the scrub with my guitar. Pure bliss.


The sun set, the shadows lengthened.



On the drive back to Bourke, at dusk, I shared the dusty road with various families of kangaroos, and one silly bunny rabbit. No photos, unfortunately.

There is an artificial above ground reservoir not too far from Bourke, just where the road goes from sealed to unsealed. You may be surprised to hear I am not a professional photographer, and that these shots are from my crummy mobile phone.

Anyway:


Maybe you had to be there. It was gorgeous. I shared the view with a fox.

I drove home in one go, arriving home at 9pm, smelly and sick of cars. Then I booted up the computer and played Test Drive Unlimited. Simulcra and simulation!

That's enough for now.

How to Play the Trolololololo Song

Ok first here is my unplugged acoustic version of the trolololololo song:



The original is here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NGSl3CldFY

A version with words (although he doesn't use words, he just sings 'lolololo' because the song was censored): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z4m4lnjxkY

My challenge to you is to record your own version of the Trololololo song. Respond to my video above with your own version of it on guitar, piano, or whatever instrument, or even just a part of it.

Submit your version as a response to my version at the top of this page.

In this quick tutorial video, below, I show you how to play it on guitar:


The chords are:
Opening riff: Dm7 C Dm7 C Dm7 C Dm7 C
Then: C Dm7 Em Dm7 C Dm7 Em Dm7 (Or to keep things simple, just play 'C')
Then: Am Em C
Then: G C

And then it repeats, moved up a semitone, over and over, returning back to G -> C for the last couple of lines of the song.

And here are the words all together: (see also: http://www.blameitonthevoices.com/2010/03/trololo-lyrics.html)

UK Snow - Some Peculiar Sights

Twitter has been buzzing about it, politicians have been denying it, the Americans have been invading it, the Larger Hadron Collider has been accelerating balls of it towards other balls of it, Rolf Harris has been singing about it, journalists can't shut up about it and magicians can't make it disappear. What is it?



UK SNOW! UK SNOW! UK SNOW! Heaps of the stuff, more than for 20 years.

Some strange sights
Dog sled:

Hardcore professional cyclist

(in the middle of nowhere, riding very slowly and looking very puffed.)

A forlon and depressed swimming pool. (Ever feel like this?)

Can you read the signs in the snow...?


...that's right, a boy bird was walking towards a girl bird's house to declare his love, and then chickened out and turned back home!

----------------------------------------------------------

Rachel and I walked to Thornbury Castle and were inspired by these snowmen:
We both started making big snow balls.



The snow man we each made tells you A LOT about our personalities.


Here is my one:


Rachel's:


Both together:
----------------------------------------------------------

In other news, Rachel had a sip of water from a bottle of only slightly smaller than herself.




In other news, we walked across the Severn bridge with my uncle and saw a gorgeous sunset.




In other news, I would like to announce, here at stevecollis.blogspot.com, a new invention! You fancy a boiled egg or two for breakfast, do you? But you don't have an egg cup, ay? Not a problem! Put two bits of toast on top of each other and dig two egg cups into them with a spoon. As you eat the eggs, eat your way through the toast! See below: ingenious!

My Top #6 Observations about Germany

1. They sometimes have very, very small cars!


2. The German word for mobile phone is "handy". Cute...

3. They have a breakfast cereal called "shove it"!

4. Bremen is unbelievably beautiful, and I am a beautiful photographer:

City at night:

Countryside outside Bremen this morning:



Bremen train station:

Bremen traffic is amazingly quiet (press play and see what happens!):



A quaint little village we visited yesterday:


Does something strike you as a little odd about all these photos and the video?

............


GUESS WHAT!?? I've been pulling your leg, they're actually from this place: http://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/ the biggest minature world in the, well, world! It's in Hamburg! (Leave a comment or tweet me if I tricked you with the photos!)

5. The incredible German industrial capacity (largest exporters in the world) is pretty obvious in Hamburg:


I must say, Hamburg is the most awful, ugly city I have ever visited. There's an excuse - the original city was wiped from the face of the earth in WW2 by Britain.


6. Did I mention glühwein (yummy hot drink) and the Christmas markets?I am somewhat of a connoisseur, having seen the markets in Hamburg, Bremen and Celle. They're all the same; they must be franchises or something. I love them - I've been to one every single day, and love just watching the crowds!


Tonight we catch a midnight bus and arrive at 8am in Paris. Ciao for now!

Germany, Part 1

No tome, just random bits. (We're in Germany for a few days!)

A dodgy shot of the Christmas markets that I can't shut up about on Twitter:






The markets weave in and out of alleys and wide spaces. They're packed out, & everyone is in thick coats that are constantly brushing others, like bubbles. Every 5th shop is actually selling fatty surprises... strange deep fried potato concoctions, steaks roasting on shields hung from the ceiling and rotating over an open fire, German donuts, SAUSAGES of every type and size, and so on.



Everyone is German - almost no tourists. Hilarious to see this HUGE sausage sandwiched in a tiny little bun that is nothing more than a handle.



Then I saw someone eating this:




Three little sausages, no bread at all. YES PLEASE!


Washed down with hot German wine.

Here are my Twitter updates so far:

at Sydney airport, off to Germany with @rachel_collis...24 hrs to go!from mobile web

http://twitpic.com/svlc9 - Me at the airport!from TwitPic

man near us left his luggage unattended & got told off!from mobile web

After a blissfully easy flight (notwithstanding its length - but I slept 8 out of the 21 hours) we are in Bremen!from web

Just went to the Christmas markets in Bremen! I WANT TO MOVE HERE AND LIVE HERE FOREVER!!! Deep fried camembert... you do the math!from TweetDeck

slept for 12 hours! Second day in Bremen! Agenda: sights, gluehwein, afternoon tea with old friends, then dinner with old friends!from TweetDeck
About to engage in social German for the next 6 hours or so!from TweetDeck
exhausted but can't get enough of this German language. Time out this afternoon by myself, plus maybe Christmas carol film in Bremen cinema.from TweetDeck

collapsed in bed for an hour in fetal position. Partially recharged. OK! Off to the Weihnnachtsmarkt & then a Chrissie film in German.from TweetDeck
So, doesn't look like there are any teachers in Bremen on Twitter...from TweetDeck


Last Christmas my brother game me "101 Cool Science Experiments" in a kind gesture invoking my childhood when I was obsessed with all things science. It's a great little book, but I think it's fair to say the authors had trouble coming up with 101 experiments.

A case in point, experiment number 66:

"Take a slice of cheese and pull on the edges. Does it tear apart? Good, now eat it."


I'm being a bit harsh, I suppose. At least the materials aren't dangerous: "You will need: pre-sliced manufactured cheese (the smooth type that comes individually wrapped in plastic."

In other news, a posh tea parlor at Hornsby shopping centre advertises itself as "Hi Tea"!! I want to reply, "o, hai!"


O, hai, tea!

Finally, we purchased a little bed for our poor cat Timo, who has been locked in the laundry for a few weeks now every night without a proper bed (he outgrew his little cat box).

This 4 minute video, for the unemployed among you who have more time than sense, shows little Timo attacking his new bed, me sneezing, and finally getting into it in a very cute scene worthy of an oscar (at the 2.30 mark if you're employed and short of time).

Amusing Incidents at Woollies

Went to the shops for dinner ingredients (& duck paté).
A mum, dad and 4 year old were walking behind me in the supermarket.
I kid you not:
Kid : paahhhhh! paaaahs!
Mum : Stop whinging and whining.
Kid : 'pah' 'I want paaaahs'
Mum screams back: STOP IT NOW!
Kid stops a moment.
Kid : pahhhhhns!
I'm confused as to what this is all about, until...
Mum: You're NOT having prawns for dinner!
Kid: PAAWWWWNS!!

Not everyday you hear a 4 year old screaming for prawns. Then, to my disbelief...

Mum: OH ALRIGHT! If we get you prawns will you stop your whinging?
Kid: ...yes.
Mum: Really? You will stop all your whinging and whining?
Kid: Yes.
Mum: Ok go with your Dad and get some prawns.
Kid walks happily the other way with Dad.

The last thing I heard as they walked off, was the kid, insistent to dad:

"...I get to choose which ones."

As if on a theme, two minutes later in another aisle, another kid, older, said to his friend "Let's play handball," and off they went, there and then, with a tennis ball.

Technic Lego Programmable Vehicle Prototype Stage #2 (WITHOUT Mindstorms)

"Mindstorms" lego contains electronics and computer chips to control functions.

But you can program a lego vehicle without any electronics except for a basic motor.

Here is Stage #2 of the prototype I'm working on - I say prototype because I think even when I've finished it I'll rebuild a better version.

My vehicle can be programmed (using a mechanical card that you feed into it) to steer left and right and move forward and backward. Stage #3 will have other functions too.

I have to laugh at how loud it sounds - I heard that noise is a sign of poor engineering! But I'm a French teacher, not an engineer! I have an ARTS degree!

In the video you'll see the vehicle in action for a minute and then an explanation and some close ups of the mechanisms.


Technic Lego Programmable Vehicle Prototype #1

Proof of concept prototype for a programmable vehicle, controlled via a card which you'll be able to change/customize to change the timing of the vehicle functions.



For this prototype I just wanted to make sure I could get the card going backwards and forwards indefinitely in a loop, and still remove/place the card easily. The card hits the motor switch which puts the motor into reverse.

The two switches are connected so hitting the one resets the other. One of the switches is under tension with a hair elastic, so the motor just has to push it past its tipping point (this is a real issue because to reverse the switch you have to go via the 'off' position - my fear was the card would nudge the switch to the 'off' position and no further, thus stalling it. The hair elastic pushes the switch further, meaning there is no off position possible.

Next phase is to make it look nicer (not my strong point) add steering, forward/backwards movement, and some kind of crane device on the top. These will all be driven via the card, by other ratchet thingies (as you can see in this video along one edge of the card. The hope is I'll be able to change the movement sequences really easy by taking out the card and rearranging the ratchet thingies.

Stay tuned if this is your kind of thing! Subscribe to my youtube channel www.youtube.com/lestep! (I also post education videos to this channel, BTW). Also come say hello to me on Twitter - @steve_collis - www.twitter.com/steve_collis

Steve (& his Cat) Sing Some Covers...

Once again I've put my singing up on YouTube. YouTube is God's gift to guitar bozos like me. I take great pleasure thinking that a few people will find my videos and listen, just like I love stumbling on other Joe Bloggses (blogs? lol) who have posted their backyard performances.

The first song is 'Not Perfect', by the comedian Tim Minchin, although this song is not comedy. My cat wandered in just before I hit 'record' so I let it go, and frankly he steals the show for most of the song until he runs off (knowing our kitten, he's imagined there is a bit of fluff in the living room that needs chasing).



Our kitten came back in a while later and went to sleep on my other computer chair. So... I deliberately set the camera on him while attempting 'Edible Flowers' by The Finn Brothers. Another sweet, melancholy song, like Not Perfect. It seems to be about growing older and dying, and just the whole perspective you get when you're old enough to realise this is where life leads.



I'm much happier with the sound on these songs than my attempts over the last couple of years. I've realised I have to video from my laptop, while running the mic through my desktop, and then blending the two together in MovieMaker. It only takes a minute to synch the audio to the video.

The other thing I realised is that I can sing really softly, and get Audacity to amplify the sound, and still get a nice sound. This is a great discovery because I always strain when I sing. I am a try hard at everything in life, but when you sing, if you try hard, you inject tension, and that's when you murder a note. You have to chill to sing well, and I am not, by nature, chilled. I come to music with loud threats and a whip, and the music had better obey, or else. This is not the way to do it.

It's the Easter holidays now, and school is a couple of weeks off, so it's the perfect time to try singing without trying too hard.