If only chemistry was this interesting when I was at school

11 10 2019

My last two days’ of classes at the Quilt Symposium in Auckland were held in the chemistry lab at St Cuthbert’s School (the venue for the entire Symposium). We were surrounded with inspirational sayings, women role models, soft toys (I’m still not sure why they were there), and chemistry info sheets that were fascinating because they pertained to the real world.

If chemistry had been like this when I was at school I may well have continued on that path into university. Alas, chemistry in my day was dry, dull, and not at all relevant to ANYTHING as far as I could tell.

Here’s a small sample of some of the stuff that surrounded us in this chemistry lab.





Heating a sandwich when you don’t have a sandwich press

11 10 2019

At the Quilt Symposium in Auckland, NZ, last week, ‘brown bag’ lunches were provided. For most of the classes I was in, we got sandwiches, which were pretty fresh. But on the last day, we got stodgy rolls, which were dense, slightly stale, and really only suitable for toasting in a sandwich/cafe press. So what do you do when you don’t have such an appliance? You improvise!

We used both baking paper (a staple for any quilters who do fusible applique) and brown paper bags to protect the irons, and the end result was slightly toasted bread—toasted enough to make these rolls far more palatable. We didn’t apply heat long enough for the heat to get all the way through, but it was enough to take away some of the stodginess! MacGyver would be proud!





A bit of a rant

10 11 2018

What is it with people and large events? Do they have NO awareness of anyone else but themselves? Yes, this is a bit of a rant, based on my experience in the vendor mall at the Houston International Quilt Festival. Let me count the ways….

  • People stopping in the middle of the aisle for no apparent reason. They just stop. And you walk into them. Move to the side if you need to answer you phone, respond to a text message etc.
  • A group of friends wandering about together — one stops to look at one thing, while two booths ahead are the others who now stop and wonder “Where’s Katie?” with them both turning around and half heading back or wandering about. Here’s a tip: If you go to an event such as this with friends, it’s very likely you’ll have different things that attract you and that you want to look at. So why not say “Let’s meet back at xx place at xx time” and go off by yourselves. You’ll still meet with your friends, and because you haven’t been in each others’ pockets, you’ll have things to share instead of resentment that Susan wanted to look at all the bead things, while Jane wanted to look at fabric, and you wanted to look at machines, yet you all had to spend time on each others’ interests when you couldn’t care less. It’s really not that hard to agree to meet somewhere at a specified time.
  • Meandering — yes, an event such as this has hundreds of booths, with lots of new shiny things to look at. Before you wander across the traffic, LOOK at the traffic and pick your moment to cross. Wandering aimlessly from side to side really annoys your fellow shoppers.
  • Scooters and walkers — many people have to use these for mobility reasons and know how to handle them. But at an event like this, there is a scooter (gopher) hire place and as far as I know ANYONE can hire one, whether they need it or not. And they MIGHT get a 5-minute lesson in how to operate it. The end result is LOTS of scooters with clueless drivers who run into people walking. Add in the meandering thing above, and you have a recipe for disaster. And it’s poor form to use your scooter to get into some events early, like I saw one woman do on Tuesday night. She aggressively pushed and shoved her scooter to the front of the line for Winners’ Circle, then the next day I saw her walk off the escalator and walk to her classroom — no scooter required now!

End of rant.





Solar PV system not working as it should

16 08 2018

For most of this year, my renewable energy rebates have been way down. When I compared this year’s billing to previous years’ rebates for the same billing periods, there was a noticeable drop-off. For example, from Nov 2017 to Jan 2018, the system fed some 800 renewable units back into the grid. From Jan to Mar 2018, a period of perfect, mild, sunny, summer weather, it fed only 79 units into the grid, compared to Jan to Mar 2017, when it fed 500 units in, and Jan to Mar 2016 when it fed back 408 units. The same pattern occurred over the billing cycles for the first half of this year — the feed-in units were down substantially, and we hadn’t changed our electricity use.

I called my solar PV people to see if there might be a reason for this big drop. On their advice I checked the overall output from the system, which was a tad down on the average, but not enough to be significant. We decided to wait another billing cycle and see if there was any change. When the latest bill arrived, it was clear that something was up. Instead of the usual 100 or so feed-in units over May to Jun (winter months), it was zero. Nada. Nothing.

I decided to take two measurements at the same time over two consecutive days of similar weather. And it was then I noticed that something wasn’t right with some of the figures displayed on the inverter. In particular, the PIN 1 and PIN 2 figures. When the system was installed, I was told that the PIN figures were the ones to focus on as they told me how much electricity the system was producing at any moment in time. The PIN figures have always been slightly different, but always within 50 or so of each other.

However, when I checked on these two days, the PINs were way out. For example:

Normally, these figures should be about the same. Instead, they differed by more than 1500 units. The same for the next day.

I got back on the phone to the solar PV people and sent them the photos I’d taken of all the displayed information on the inverter, and my concern about the wildly varying PIN numbers. Yep, something was up. They organised for a local solar guy to come out and check the system, particularly the arrays on the roof. And it was there that he found the reason. One of the two isolators (one for each array) was full of condensation, what looked to be salt (we live near the ocean), and some rusty grungy stuff. No wonder it wasn’t working! (click the photo to see it larger, with all the water drips on the top and back, and the salt particles on the dry surfaces)

Yesterday, he came out and replaced both isolators (I figure if one was like this after 5 years, the other might not be good either, even though he said it was fine and still well sealed). The new isolators have better weather protection (a new standard brought in since we had our system installed 5 years ago), so here’s hoping the problem has been solved for good.

When he’d finished, I checked the inverter display and both PINs were back to being within a few units of each other. Problem solved!





May storms

27 06 2018

I’ve been a bit lax writing new blog posts and putting up recent photos.

A month ago (around 25 May) we had a big storm front come through, finally heralding winter after a very long mild autumn. The black swans that normally float serenely on the very calm estuary were tossed around on the wind-driven waves, and I saw a bunch of them huddled on the shore on my drive home from town. The writhing black mass of them reminded me of tadpoles in a small puddle struggling to survive.

There was a high tide combined with the strong winds, too, so water inundated places where it doesn’t normally go.

 

A few days later, after it had all calmed down, the swans were back doing what they do. This group were bunched around a stormwater channel that spills into the estuary from the paddocks on the other side of the road. Obviously, they found something good to eat there, but they swam away quickly when they heard me get of the car to take their picture.





When naturalisation means nothing

4 06 2018

I’ve been researching various parts of my family tree on and off since the mid-1990s. Most of it has been inconsequential — no famous lives, no famous connections, no connections to Australian convicts, no scandals that I can find. Just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.

Like every non-Aboriginal person in Australia, I come from a mixed, multicultural, immigrant background — South Africans on one side (going back to the Huguenots moving out of Europe in the 1500s and 1600s), English and German (Prussian really) on the other. Although I can find out quite a bit online about the English and the South Africans (those Lutherans certainly kept detailed family records!), finding out about my German ancestors has been much harder — I don’t speak or read German, and my ancestors lived in a place that has variously been under the control and jurisdiction of  Prussia, Poland, Germany, Sweden, and Russia, among others. Two world wars in the area also mean that many records have been lost forever, and even when you can find records, many are written in languages (such as Old German) that are almost extinct. Knowing the name of a town doesn’t help — town names have changed as various countries controlled the Prussian region, and often bear little resemblance to the current name (e.g. Posen [Prussia] became Bomst [Germany] and is now known as Babimost [Poland] — only the ‘o’ and the ‘s’ survived!; Marienburg [Germany) became Malbork [Poland], etc.). And the names of people have changed too — when my German branch came to Australia, they anglicised their name (or it was anglicised for them); e.g. a name like Wiegmann could easily have become Wigman or Wegman, or something else entirely. What this means is that this branch of my tree is hard to trace.

So kudos to my uncle for going to Germany and Poland a few years ago to find out more about his grandfather’s family (my great grandfather). My uncle was able to get the correct name (my great grandfather was named Johannes, but he was known in Australia as James), the name of the town he came from, and some other records — enough to continue to research James’ life once he came to Australia in the 1890s, at the age of 23.

By 1900, when he married my great grandmother, James was living on the Western Australian goldfields and working on the gold mines and the power stations as an engine driver (likely called an engineer these days). They went on to have 5 children. In 1903, he became a naturalised British subject (Australian citizens weren’t known as that then — they were known as British subjects), with all the ‘rights and capacities of a natural-born British subject’ (see first document below).

During the 1900s and early 1910s, James was an expert marksman, receiving certificates and awards from the military through the local rifle club. He was well-liked and newspaper articles of the day (as well as employment references my uncle found in the National Archives) show that he was reliable, sober, and a hard worker. He and his family continued to live in the Kalgoorlie area, and he continued to work as an engine driver for various gold mines, holding down jobs for several years at a time.

And then came the Great War.

Family folklore has it that the family was forced out of town because they were German, and that they came to Perth where they set up a vegetable market garden and poultry farm. No more engine work for James. By the outbreak of World War 1, his children ranged in age from 9 months to 13 years. Three of them were at school, and were no doubt ostracised there too. Remember, this was the family folklore. I didn’t have verification, or dates.

My uncle hunted the National Archives and found the document (below) that verified this tale, and in many ways it is worse than the family folklore led us to believe. James was ‘reported to be an enemy subject’, his ‘natural born British subject’ status is questioned (despite his Certificate of Naturalization 1903 stating that he has the ‘rights and capacities of a natural born British subject’, and it is stated that ‘advice has been received’ (advice from whom? gossip? allegations? someone who didn’t like him?) that he has ‘pronounced German sympathies’.

All this happened in September 1916, some two years after he’d lost his job at the Main Reef Gold Mine because he made ‘disloyal utterances’. He was 45 at this time, and had lived in Australia almost his entire adult life. His Certificate of Naturalization meant absolutely NOTHING.

I’m not sure what happened between 1916 and 1919, or where the family was living, but by mid 1919 he had purchased some land in Perth for a poultry and vegetable farm (by this time the children’s ages ranged from 6 to 18 years). More police investigations into his ‘allegiances’ followed as to whether he was a ‘proper’ person to own land, and he wasn’t granted Certificate of Title to that land until 2.5 years later.

I can’t imagine how harrowing this was for James, his wife, and the whole family. All their children (all born in Australia) were brought up in an environment where they could have seen their father taken to prison or a prisoner of war camp at any time — all because he publicly stated he wouldn’t fight against Germany because he still had family living there (his parents, 5 brothers and 3 sisters, and 2 step-brothers and 3 step-sisters).

What makes me particularly angry is that he was officially a British subject, and had been for some 11 years before World War 1 started. But that meant diddly. The parallels with what’s happening with immigrants in Britain and the US today are frightening.

Note: I had no idea what a ‘non-efficient member’ of a rifle club was, so I looked it up. There’s not much, but this letter to the editor from 1909 explains it quite well [Source: “RIFLE SHOOTING.” Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA : 1905 – 1952) 6 March 1909: 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74881360]:





Smoky sunsets

24 05 2018

We’ve had the warmest and driest May almost on record. It’s been an ideal time for the fire services to do burn-offs and reduce the fire fuel before the winter rains set in. As a result, we’ve had some stunning sunsets the past few weeks because the smoke has created all sorts of weird light filtering.

Here are some photos of the sunset over the estuary that I took on the way back from the shops a week or so ago. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t seem to capture the blood red of the sun that the human eye sees, but no matter — I thought some of these shots turned out pretty well. And the one where it looks like rain? That was smoke particulates dropping out of the sky! I’d never seen that before, and the black swans didn’t seem too perturbed by it (yes, those black dots on the water are our native black swans).

(Click on a photo to view it larger)