Little Beach in Port Stephens, NSW, Australia is a magic marine spot. First of all, it has a great restaurant bar in the Little Beach Boathouse – being a favourite venue for my wife and I to enjoy without the two munchkins. The sun sets behind you and the water is your scenery.

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That sandy outcrop that you can see in the distance on the right is the start of a protected marine reserve. It’s our favourite spot to swim and play. It is also only a few metres in and teeming with fish (and a shark or two – the harmless kind). So I will share my GoPro produced compilation of some underwater video from yesterday. The current was ripping, but that didn’t stop the fish from coming out to play with me. There was even a monster flathead that took off like a rocket. Enjoy.

In case you are wondering where this is, see the map below, with the link to the location on Google Maps.

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Architectural art hung from inside of the Powerhouse Museum

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So my son, ‘The Pok’, has deepened his love of books and stories. His ability to read has in the last months of 2017 just “clicked”. No longer am I reading him bedtime stories about mice and bears in the woods. One of his favourite bedtime books is Discovery Kids – Outer Space. It is a beautifully illustrated and detailed book geared towards kids but also is a sufficiently rich introduction to real astrophysics for adults too.

I believe that part of the allure of the book is the fantastical nature of the science details contained within. ‘His favourite part of the book, that we have read too many times to count, is about the Big Bang. “The Pok” can’t get enough of it, whether it is the part about everything starting at a small singularity or the incomprehensible timeline that the theory stipulates. The part that we have “debated” a number of times now is how can the cosmic inflation happen if nothing travels faster than light. Of course there are some things that can travel faster than light – the Millenium Falcon in hyperspace doing the “Kessel Run”, but I digress.

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So with this question having the opposite effect of gently bringing my son to sleep through bedtime reading, I asked him whether we should ask someone who may know the answer. He looked around and saw his Mum and sister in the room and was a bit confused. So I told him that I would use my phone to ask someone on the internet… via Twitter. So I posed the question to the physicists that he knew; Professor Brian Cox, Doctor Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I threw in Professor Lawrence Krauss, all via a Tweet.

I wasn’t expecting a response, as I’m only a random member of the public asking a question via the internet to three of the most prolific science communicators and advocates in the English speaking world. To my astonishment, five minutes later I received a response from non-other than Professor Brian Cox.

Tweet response from Professor Brian Cox

I could not wipe the smile from his face, but he did ask me how Prof Cox knew the answer. I proceeded to explain that many more years of school and work gave the esteemed Physicist the knowledge about how the universe works. And with that question settled, we moved onto the quarks and gluons reading them out in our funny voices poking fun at their silly names before drifting off to bed.

Thank you Professor Cox ūüôā

A nice bit of architectural lighting.

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Finally back, for now…

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One cheeky rabbit has missed the curtain call.

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Nothing to say, just the photo.

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Today is a pretty special day in Australia. No it is not because Le¬†Tour de France 2016 starts later tonight (that is a special day for the whole world, not just Australia). Today the whole of Australia voted in our national election to decide on¬†the next government. Some people see this as a hassle, but I reckon it is pretty awesome. When I said the whole of Australia voted, I meant it. Australia is one of the few countries in the world where voting in the national election is compulsory. It means everybody has a say, and everyone’s vote matters. Obviously some votes matter more than others because people are located in seats that are considered “swing” seats.

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But the reason why I think it is special is that there are so many things about the Australian democracy that we can be thankful for. Firstly, the elections are run professionally by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) in exactly the same way across every State and seat in the country. They are a totally independent body from the government of the day and run things pretty smoothly. If they get things wrong it is a national scandal, but they don’t really do that. The AEC do a very good job in making it easy to vote and removing any blockers for Australians to cast their vote. Probably the most important function of the AEC is that they are the ones who call the election – not some invariably biased news media company.

Second, our election day is always held on a Saturday so that nobody has to sacrifice their work time (unless they work weekends) to vote. Even if they do have work commitments on the day, they can vote early via postal or pre-polling booths. For this election over 2 million people have voted before election day, and it looks like that number will keep getting higher.

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Third, our polling booths are safe. There is no heavy police presence at any of the booths, and for the most part the local community primary schools are the venues. There is no risk of people being attacked at the booth, no risk of a terrorist incident, and no need for an independent United Nations force to help ensure that the election is fair and free of corruption. More importantly there is no chance of me getting attacked because I vote for one party over another (a lesson that Mr Trump could learn).

Fourth, because the polling stations¬†are held in central locations within our communities it is an opportunity to bump into local friends. While I voted this morning I bumped into three people I knew and had a good old chat. This community atmosphere is prevalent everywhere, where everybody acknowledges what we have come together to do. And people are patient too, as I found out this morning – my queue was longer than I have previously experienced, but there was no impatience as everybody understood that we were all “in the same boat”.

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Fifth, many polling stations have a sausage sizzle! There is even a website that tells you which ones will have a sausage sizzle. Volunteers quite often man the grill, and the funds raised go to the local community facilities. I went early this morning so skipped the sausage sizzle, I will have to make up for it tomorrow at Bunnings Warehouse.

Sixth, we have more than just two parties putting their hand up to represent the people. While practically only one of two parties will be able to form government (Labor [left] or Liberal [right]), there are many viable alternatives that can represent the many walks of life within the electorate. There are some properly “bat shit” crazy parties on one policy platform positions but because everybody has to vote the well tuned Australian BS detector does its job. For the independents that do get up, they typically punch well above their weight and represent well their electorates.

Lastly, in the round up we know that whoever wins the election we will not wake up tomorrow with our country drifting towards a dictatorship or police state.

All up we are pretty lucky as Australians, in a free and liberal democracy with well established institutions of state that protect us all. This guy below is favoured to win as I write this post. Let’s hope for him that his fortunes change and the political comment in this photo does not ring true for the next term of government.

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P.S. election out of the way, bring on Le Tour!

Vivid 2016 has welcomed Winter. A bit of light paint to wet your palette. Enjoy!

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I woke up this morning to the shocking news of the attack in Istanbul, Turkey. Like the attack earlier this year in Belgium, I was aghast at the horror of the attack. But my immediate thoughts went to a work colleague who Turkish by background, but currently resides in Australia. When I got into the office I checked in with him to see if all his family and friends were safe. Fortunately they were.

Then he told me of a statistic that I did not realise was true. Since the beginning of 2016¬†there have been hundreds of terrorism related deaths. At first I didn’t believe it, but then the reality sunk in. Living in a wealthy first world Western country we have very blinkered media coverage about what is going on overseas. I did some digging and found a Wikipedia article listing¬†all the global acts of terrorism for 2016. Based on the count from this article, to date there have been over 250 deaths in Turkey with many times that number injured. That number will only increase¬†after the airport attack.

Shocked cannot begin to describe the feeling I had in uncovering this morbid statistic. March and April were nasty, and had close to 30 attacks combined. I knew the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia was appalling, but the situation in Turkey and Pakistan is bad.

I could pass judgement on the political situation that Turkey is in, but that does not make any better the senseless slaughter of innocent people in this attack. On top of that Turkey, along with Jordan, is shouldering a ridiculous amount of the refugee burden coming out of the Syria conflict (over 2 million).  And now Turkey is squarely in the sights of IS following their approval for use of their Air Force bases for attacks on IS.

What is quite clear is the demonic nature of the attackers, clearly targeting indiscriminately people of all religions. To top it off, the attack occurred during Ramadan and just over a week from Eid. I am Catholic, so the way I could equate this is as if a group of fundamentalist Christians performed a mass attack on other Christians in the lead up to Christmas.

For my work colleague it is another sad day for his country of birth. He has trouble communicating this sadness to people oblivious to the challenges overseas. But I think this one image speaks volumes to the problem, and the challenges of a blinkered view of the world. I will let you be your own judge against this sketch.

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I don’t normally write about this sort of stuff,¬†but I could not stop thinking about this today. Like I did for Paris, I say a prayer for Turkey.

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