Thursday, September 21, 2006

Better late than never

My apologies for not writing for a couple of days. Tonight (20/9/06) the minimax modem is unfortunately in a puzzle box, which is at the school, while we are not. Instead we’re staying in a lovely three bedroom seaside villa. It’s lucky we are, we almost weren’t. Last night, I just didn’t feel like writing because lured by the light, some random inhabitant tried to break into the school building we were staying in. When his (maybe) efforts proved fruitless he emptied a jug of water against the wall, or at least managed to do something that sounded like emptying a jug of water against a wall. The imagination shies from extrapolation.

We finished up the schools on Bathurst island (q.e.d. the NEW PLAN) and faced the challenge of getting ourselves, five weeks worth of luggage, six tubs full of puzzles, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends over the strait between Bathurst and Melville island. If you look at the two islands (two islands, one country, as an interesting old guy at the pub told us) on www.whereis.com, you’ll see that a road extends between the two islands, nice and handy for getting across.

If you actually fly to the islands, look out the windows and watch for the strait as you come, you’ll see a marvellous and amazing sight, a completely invisible, intangible, inconsequential and indeed totally absent bridge. It will shock you.

So, in the absence of the promised bridge we had to follow these steps to get from Nguiu to Milikapati.

1)Load five weeks worth of luggage, six tubs full of puzzles, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends into a troopy and drive the 500 metres to the river.

2)Unload five weeks worth of luggage, six tubs full of puzzles, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends to the river side. Wait for ferry.

3) Be yelled at to move the five weeks worth of luggage, six tubs full of puzzles, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends to another spot because they’ve decided to take a bigger boat, not because of the five weeks worth of luggage, six tubs full of puzzles, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends, but because they’ve decided to ship a paddy van from one island to another (complete with cop inside).

4)Move five weeks worth of luggage, six tubs full of puzzles, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends to the other point and onto the boat, while A! suspiciously has to take a phone call and sadly misses out on any hard labour.

5)Take a very nice trip across the strait in a boat with a cop car, a local family, five weeks worth of luggage, six tubs full of puzzles, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends. While on the boat we watched a high speed chase between two kids on bikes and another paddy wagon. The kids won. Though I’m not sure hiding behind bushes is really the right style for a high speed pursuit.

6)Unload five weeks worth of luggage, six tubs full of puzzles, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends onto the other side of the strait. The cop got out of his car and back onto the ferry.

7)Wait with five weeks worth of luggage, six tubs full of puzzles, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends for your lift to arrive. Eye off the cop car as a viable alternative.

8) Load five weeks worth of luggage, six tubs full of puzzles, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends into the back of a troopy. Sit, pinned to a wall by five weeks worth of luggage, six tubs full of puzzles, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends in the back of the troopy, because your lift has brought along three other people. Drive for an hour.

9) Unpack six tubs full of puzzles into a school room. Repack troopy as extra helpful helpers have offloaded much of the rest too.

10) Drive 500 metres.

11) Unpack five weeks worth of luggage, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends underneath a stilted house that is to be your home for the next few days.

12) Enter the house to find it noxiously infected with 15 teenagers.

13)Decide to sort this whole thing out, but need to protect luggage first, so carry five weeks worth of luggage, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends up a flight of stairs into stilted house without enough floors pace for us and 15 teenagers to sleep on.

14) Wander down to pub to get it all sorted. Be told that you’ll probably be spending the time with just a few (maybe 5? 10?) of the infesting teenagers, the others will be moved out.

15) Enjoy a drink with an interesting old aboriginal guy who has seen more of the world than you ever will.

16) Wander back down to stilted, infested house.

17) Discover that they’ve decided to move you instead of infesting teenagers.

18) Carry five weeks worth of luggage, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends down the flight of stairs.

19) Pack five weeks worth of luggage, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends into a third troopy.

20) Drive across town to a lovely seaside villa, be quietly satisfied.

21) Unpack five weeks worth of luggage, two laptops, a pillow named Norman, two statues (one pointy), a painting, and a few odds and ends from troopy.

For those who weren’t counting:

We loaded a troopy three and a bit times.
We unloaded a troopy two and two half times.

We loaded and unloaded a boat once.
We carried it all (bar puzzles) up and down a flight of stairs once.

I hate our luggage.

Back in town come Friday, those of you without a good excuse get in touch soon, I leave again in a few weeks!

Monday, September 18, 2006

The NEW PLAN!

Those boxes that were supposed to come over this morning because they didn’t come over last night. Well, we called at eight o’clock and were assured they were on the runway and about to be loaded on the plane. We knew we wouldn’t get it all, but were hoping to get most of our puzzles. Worst case scenario, we got half our puzzles and tried to do a workshop with those.

Then the flight came in, we drove down to the airport in a Shanghaied troopy, very kindly driven by one of the TAes to collect our haul.

Not a single piece of our luggage.

Not a box, not a backpack, not even a straw.

So A! got on the phone and talked to them. They said they didn’t know how long it would take, and that if we had informed them how much luggage we had they would have advised us to do it otherwise. Apparently mentioning it to three different people in an organisation that can’t employ more than six isn’t considered sufficient notice.

The worst part of the whole thing wasn’t that we didn’t have the puzzles, it was that they kept trying to turn it around on us.

In the end we chartered a cargo plane to bring everything up that morning, because if we don’t have our stuff here, there’s no point us being here, we’re just impinging on the good will and hospitality of the schools.

Our original itinerary had us going to Xavier college the first day, crossing a river and convincing Milikapiti school to drive a two hour round trip to pick us up. Do Milikapiti that day, convince them to drive us the same journey back again, cross the river again, and do the primary school directly next to Xavier, not even a road between them.

Neither me nor A! know why J! initially arranged it this way. The best we can come up with is that he’s been licking the toads after he kills them. We’ve quietly rearranged our schedule to do Xavier, the school directly next to it, then Milikapiti, so we only have to do the trip once! It’s brilliant, I’m very proud of the NEW PLAN! It’s cheaper, it’s less annoying for the schools and less stressful for me and A!.

I’m very clever.

A!’s ego got a wonderful boost today when we walked into the senior boys class (yr9-11) .

“Alright everyone, this is A! and Rich.”
“Hi A!”
The room was swimming with goofy grins and puppy eyes. It was hilarious.

Her ego was not so high when I had a talk with a young girl on our way back from the shop;

“Hey Mista! What’s your girlfriends name?”
“Oh, she’s not my girlfriend I just work with her”
“What’s her name?”
“She’s A!”
“What about that man?”
“That’s A!”
“Is that man or girl?”
“Girl”
“Nah”
“Yes”

The rest of the conversation was even more scandalous and disturbing, so I shan’t reveal it unless there is major public outcry that the truth should out.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Happy Birthday to me

First, I’d like to say a big congratulations to a friend of mine who has tied the knot and finally made an honest man of her fiancé. Congratulations C!, hope you had words with the Pastor after he tried to start the wedding without you, doesn’t the best man have to step up to be married in those circumstance? I’m not sure P! would have been at all happy about that.

My birthday was par for the course for these yearly anniversaries of my birth. Fairly awful. After a lacklustre breakfast, A! and I parted so that she could spend some time with her friends who are touring Australia. I went to an internet café and passed the time catching up on my strange little world.

We went to the airport, where we had been assured that there probably wouldn’t be a problem with carting our gear to the Bathurst and Melville Islands (where you can’t go, because you need a permit, this job has its perks), and were told they wouldn’t be able to get it all in the flight, as some bugger ahead of us had put on 89 kg (we had 110 kilograms between us, including our six tubs of puzzles), and they’d stagger it through a few flights tomorrow.

Needless to say, we were slightly aggravated, but there was nothing much we could, we didn’t have any other options for transporting stuff to the islands. So what get left behind? Not some of our stuff, as they suggested at first, but everything except our personal luggage and food.

Do we have the puzzles to do workshops? Nope.

Do we have the straws to do bridges? Nah.

Do we have the numerous ingredients of our make a puzzle workshop? Nuh-uh.

Do we even have all our food and gear? Not so much.

We’ve arranged that we’ll do Xavier college, our Monday school, on Wednesday, which was to be a rest day, and we’ve managed to convince ourselves that there’s nothing else we could do. This is probably true. Still it puts a damper on our final week, and introduces all sorts of logistic problems for us tomorrow.

As birthdays go, fairly standard.

At least I’m not doing an exam this year.

Old old old

Well, that's it. I can no longer pretend that I'm still in my early twenties. Still, I'm cushioned by knowing that Sherdie and L! are both way ahead of me.

Last night we decided to go to vegetarian restaurant to celebrate my increasing decrepitude. I asked at reception, but none of them had any idea where one was. The girl standing behind me in queue insisted she did though, and told me how to get to a place called 'Nirvana'. Yum, thinks I, sounds like a nice Buddhist joint.

J! informed M! that we would be going to a vege joint, and would be visiting it for dinner. "Will there be meat?" she asked.

No-one was quite sure how to respond to that.

We walked ten minutes down Smith street and found Nirvana. It looked like a dive. We looked at the menu on the door, and were able to find a single dish without meat 'Vegetable and cheese triangles'. Sadly, I did not feel like Vegetable and cheese triangles. I had forgotten the one cardinal rule of travel. Most backpackers, most of the time, are mostly full of crap. Exactly why she had thought that this restaurant was a nice friendly vegetarian restaurant, and not the squatting purveyor of liver cirrhosis and artery slowing that it was, I'll never know. Also, the fact that M!'s stupid question turned out to be not so stupid was crushing.

We made our way to a Thai restaurant that A! & J! had been to before and I had a very nice sweet and sour vegetables and some miso soup. Finishing the night off with a disappointing and girly cocktail - a 'satin pillow'. J! spent most of the meal enthralled by a woman whose front had been reengineered by medical science. I don't think it was through any form of lust, more he felt insulted that the laws of nature had been so cruelly abused.

I'm old.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Another's voice

As is my wont on weekends, this post is particularly half-assed. In fact, I didn't even write it, that honour belongs to J!.

This is a couple of e-mails that unfolds the edges of the amazing story of the adventure that that other TQMS team had this week. I'm posting them here with his permision, but I'm altering company names, and removing rela people names. I'll add a little bit at the end.

On another note, it's really nice when I hear from people who've been reading the blog, when I started it, i assumed I would have an audience of one, my ever devoted Floor. So it's nice to hear that others are enjoying it too.

Anyway, those emails:

Email 1: dagh- there must be something about even weeks

Right- 35 km of unsealed road between us and the highway. (that in 20km connects to the stuart highway, which in turn takes us to mataranka in about 50 km)

"The engine's sounding a bit weird", said J!, blocked of nose and half full of sleep.

"Yeah, I know," replied M!, constantly optimistic.

"Maybe something's wrong with the tyres," they concluded and proceded to inspect them. Not much wrong here. Not much wrong there. Ho hum- let's see what we can do.

20 km out of Mataranka the gods of a long forgotten (and particularly technophobic) civilisation crop up and (so it seems) smash one of the wheel bearings. Amazing grinding sounds erupt from the wheel, the steering gets slowly heavier. Pulling over there's not much for it, other than try and limp into Mataranka, which we do successfully.

Then because one phone is in a croc and the replacement isn't working yet (a pox on you telstra) and the other phone is still in Katherine, due to a Laurel and Hardy-esque pack up on Sunday morning, we're mostly phoneless. We have the sat phone, for what it's worth.

It looks like we may have to get towed back to Katherine. If that's the case, the Jilkminggan looks unlikely. We've let them know we're having trouble.

Email 2: We're Safe
call off the search- we're alright.

In Jilkminggan now.

The tow truck that eventually came to get us actually broke down as well. so we were stuck in Mataranka for 4 hours for a fix that should take less than half an hour in the first place.
Mogcar have supplied us with a car (surprisingly a landcruiser with swingarm!) to trade over the Patrol that we have been using, and it slowly falling apart on us.

The catch is that it was being repaired and it seems like (according to the guy who dropped it off) that it still needs a bit more work. He also reckoned that the problem with the Patrol is easily fixed and we should be able to swap the Cruiser back for the patrol on Thursday. Assuming that the fix is as easy as they suspect. Actually, this suits me fairly well.

So, as long as Mogcar agree to this simple yet brilliant plan, it should all be smooth sailing.

We took the Cruiser on with half a tank of fuel and xyz12 km on the clock.

Lets see what's in store for the next few days?


Commentary by Mechanical: Apparently, there were some kids who did not like J! and M! at the school they had just left (Manyulaluk). The wheel nuts, which had been fine for the last fifteen hundred kilometres, were suddenly too loose, and consequently, left the wheel. The wheel was riding on one good bolt, which shredded the thread on that nut, and caused the bearing to shatter.

Whether the nuts loosened 'just because' or if there was some malicious intent is unknown. We prefer the just because interpretation, out of a general faith in human nature, but it certainly seems suspicious.

After this wondorous turn of events they heard that Adelaide River, there last school for the week was surrounded by bush fires, and they couldn't contact anyone at the school.

They had to go through yesterday, an it turns out bushfires aren't that big a deal up here, so the school was open for business, but it did top off a hard week nicely.

There's also the matter of the Kangaroo in a bag, the didgeridoo and two people heading to a party. But that story belongs firmly to J! & M! and will only be revealed when they choose to tell it.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's a long way

Grrrr… blogger seems to be changing settings at random. If something has changed that you’ve noticed, please mention it so I can change it back. Simon, I checked what you mentioned, it’s already on full, I didn’t change it.

Tipperary station – it was bought in the early 80’s by a reckless millionaire. He wanted to be remembered as Lord and benefactor of the station so he pumped in $70 million dollars in 70 days. Remember, this is in the early 80’s before the recession we had to have, and before the massive inflation that preceded it. You could still get lollies for one or two cents back then.

This will forever be my understanding of inflation, as it was my initial awareness of it. You couldn’t buy a lolly with a one cent coin anymore, then you couldn’t do it with two, five cent wouldn’t get you a bag, and twenty cents a feast. Throughout this time my parents quietly refused to budge on pressure from the ABS and the RBA, wages for household chores remained constant throughout the period.

To fulfil his master/servant complex he designed it in faux African plantation style, a style completely impractical for the Northern Territory. Take the school; it has brass electrical fittings and wooden shutters, lending the school a grandiose colonial feel. It doesn’t have a staff toilet, or any storage space, or many other things that probably would have been more useful than brass light switches.

He pumped in the money, then the stock market crashed in ’87 and he was hit hard, the station started to fall into disrepair. Recently, Australia’s most expensive QC bought it, and has breathed life back into it. The pre-school and caravan park remain dead, but the rest of the station is thriving.

To our desertified minds, the place is wasteful, it has sprinklers sprinkling all afternoon, the grass is greener than most lawns in Canberra, and the hundreds of (sadly not quite ripe) mango trees are in full fruit. Parking on the grass is a sackable offence, to avoid the possibility of tyre treads spreading seeds to the lawn. The water is taken directly from the river, and the river flows mightily without it, and almost directly into the ocean. The aquifers here are all supersaturated. The water isn’t being wasted. The northern Northern Territory has no water crisis. It’s an odd turn of affairs.

There are 96 rooms for single men, and 14 for single women. There are 150 people living here at the moment, of which only 12 are of primary school age. It’s and odd little place, and the only word I can think of is ‘opulent’. It has its charm, but its charm is rooted in it being divorced from reality. It’s a hobby farm for a very rich lawyer that will never make any money, but doesn’t have to. Strange place.

Delayed posting

Douglas Daly experimental station. The easiest stop on the tour, just six kids, non-indigenous, with Teachers who’ve been pushing maths beyond arithmetic. We managed to keep the kids going the whole day, and branched into a few areas we haven’t touched so far on tour. It was nice to be able to plumb the depths of my vocabulary again, with words like ‘plumb’ ‘depths’ and ‘vocabulary’. When I’m presenting to indig kids, they’re usually ESL group, so I have to curb the more syllablistic ponderings of my turgid prose.

We went to the ‘club’ tonight, and found three guys watching TV in a roofed open air area with a fridge full of beer. We chatted with them for a while and turns out that the experimental farm is government run, so everyone here’s a public servant. Finally, public servants with a more unusual public service than us. I almost died laughing on the inside when one of the ocker farmers mentioned his power-point presentation. As far as I can tell, you must have a digital slideshow if you want to work for your country.

On to Tipperary tomorrow. I was singing ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ in class today until the kids corrected me ‘It’s just down the road!’

I have discovered I have a fondness for cooking chillies. Apparently you can’t get them wrong, you just throw in whatever vegetables are getting too droopy, simmer for a while and wallah, instantly edible.

Still 25. Or as I told the kids today, I’m the square of the cube root of 125. This job may just be affecting the way I think…

Back in reception no.2

No coverage on Tuesay or Thursday, here are the posts:

Well, the butterfly oddness continues tonight, we drove a very shaky dirt road seventeen kilometres to find Butterfly gorge. Once again, the promise of butterflies provided misleading. We saw one butterfly. Worse, it was the same type as the few we had seen at the butterfly house. There’s something very strange going on and I won’t rest until I find out why the Northern Territory is hiding its butterflies from me. Answers must be sought!

Along the winding way to the misnamed gorge I got to make my first few real river crossings. Well, puddle crossings really. We also had the opportunity to go to the Douglas river hot springs, and unlike M! and J! completely failed to defile a sacred site. We also saw the ‘Warning: Quicksand and hot water’ sign that they completely failed to realise had an implicit ‘Don’t!’ very unsubtly suggested.

Have arrived at the Douglas Daly school, we’ve managed to meet half the kids here already, as they sprung from the Teachers loins. Literally half the kids.

I’m out of reception at the moment and probably will be for a day or two, so by the time you read this it’ll likely be Thursday. It’s hard to believe, but as of Tuesday I’ve just ten days left on tour. It’s wavering between the depressing and the exultant at the moment.

Ten more days! But I’ve barely started!
Ten more days! But I’ve been out so long already!
Ten more days! Ah, just ten days to Canberra.
Ten more days! Imagine what I can pack into them.

I am still twenty five and will remain so until Sunday.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Miss Mechanical

I have learnt to play cribbage. It’s the perfect game for me, not due to any turn of skill or style, simply due to the sheer number of possible double entendres.

For example, I can stick a Jack in my box so that I might get the point from his knob later. And if I play my ace at the right time, I could get a three run and get some good pegging done.

Ah the genius of it all.



Pine creek today, a depressing experience. The school is divided into two halves, the K-2’s and the 3-7’s.

The K-2 class is mostly white and they were quick, great with the puzzles, willing to sit down and work, and willing to listen.

The 3-7 class is almost totally indigenous, and the kids didn’t want to try, some were so innumerate that they couldn’t add 0 to 3 (no, I’m not joking) and one kid whenever I asked him a maths problem shouted out a random number and smiled, and when I said no, he’d shout out another number. There were others who were quite numerate and on the ball, but there were far too many of the first kind than there should be.

After talking with the teachers we discovered that when the white kids reached the senior school they mostly bussed the hundred kilometres to Katherine. We also discovered that the boy who shouted out random numbers had been at school for three days this year.

It drives you mad to see kids lost this way. Utterly frustrating.

The kids performed nominal gender reassignment surgery on me.

“Miss! Miss! How do I do this?”
“Miss?”
“Miss! Miss! Miss…ter…”

Maybe it’s the effeminate way I hold my hands sometimes, maybe it’s a language barrier, maybe it’s the fact that after four weeks without shaving I still don’t have a beard worth a damn.

Maths Thingummee #15

What weighs more a pound of gold or a pound of feathers?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Traveller's belly

There is a universal rule of travel; Whenever you are on any type of significant journey. You will be struck by, what can politely be termed ‘express bowel’ at the worst possible time. I’m happy to say that we can stop waiting, because it struck today, and it was mighty inconvenient.

We started the day with a breakfast cruise down Katherine gorge. We were on a small flat bottomed barge, with minimal facilities, and I was awfully uncomfortable. Beautiful, even gorge-eous (sorry) scenery, with the sun rising in between the gorge walls. My, did I squirm.

Worse still, when we made our way out to Edith falls, I went to the public amenities. I sat down at the first stall and was ready to… complete the transaction, when I had the sense of mind to check for toilet paper. None. A sense of relief passed through me, I’d dodged a brown bullet. So I moved to the other stall and checked for paper - there was paper. There was also such a god awful mess that no right thinking individual could possibly have used the facility.

Panic struck me, I was in desperate need, but both stalls were unavailable. After seven whole seconds of pure, leg crossing panic, I realised that toilet paper was a transportable commodity.

And the day was saved.

We said goodbye to Katherine, and the lovely Jan’s B&B today, a place that is worth missing, it’s an oasis of civilization in that depressing little town. A! was nice enough to pack my towel. Which I found odd, as my towel was safely packed in my suitcase. After a brief discussion, it was discovered that two towels was one too many, and obviously one of us had made a mistake. Given I hadn’t taken my towel out of the bag, we guessed it was likely A! was the incorrect party. Personally I think she was just trying to swipe it, it was very nice and fluffy.

Maths thingumee #14
The state of Indiana attempted to legislate pi to equal 3.2. They did this because a crazy mathematician sent them an illogical and senseless proof, and offered to let them have the proof free for use if they legislated pi to 3.2. Other people would have had to pay royalties to use the proof.

The plan was only scuppered when one of the legislators offered a mathematician friend of his a chance to meet the esteemed gentleman who had ‘proved’ that pi was rational.

He replied that he’d met enough crazy people, and was invited by the politician to speak to the legislative to convince them of the insanity of the proof. It didn’t take long.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Gorgeous

Apparently blogger decided to activate some extra options when I modified the way comments work, it should work again now...
Our boss, A!?!, came to stay with us this weekend, he had a conference in Darwin and decided he’d like to see how the newest Maths Squad members were adapting to life on the road.

He asked us an interesting question today. Do we think we’re making a difference to any of these kids? It’s difficult to answer. On the one hand we’re engaging a whole lot of disengaged but very clever kids. On the other hand, how long does that last? Do these kids actually have a changed attitude, or did they just enjoy maths. Its absolutely shattering to meet these kids, interact with them, and then think that they’ll just slot themselves back into the cycle of poverty.

I remember when I first came into contact with these puzzles. I was around 10 (1990ish), and there were puzzle sessions being run weekly at Questacon. My mum was willing to take me along, and I really loved it. I was solving high school puzzles within the week, and usually fairly blitzing through them. Or so I remember, my mother’s memory of my mental acuity may paint a less positive and more realistic picture. I loved doing those puzzles, and they probably helped my maths skills immeasurably. But I went back week after week, there was some continuity in it, some development. Kids here don’t get that. We tour Australia once every twelve years. If a child is really lucky they may see us twice in their schooling careers. Can that help? Can that change the kids attitudes? Maybe, but probably not hugely.

It’s a little crushing to think it may all be for nothing.

I’ve started to become very playful with the English language. I’m not sure where this new interest came from, but every time I see a sign or a headline these days, I pick at the ambiguities and poor turns of phrase.

The Territorian, the local rag, is a great storehouse of poor editing, almost a living museum of unintentional false meanings, and misleading clues.

Take for example a recent front page head line ‘Man runs over wife in toilet’. The story is about two of the silver nomads, they’d parked in the middle of nowhere and the wife got out for a squat, directly in front of the car. The husband promptly ran her down. He was quite chagrined, she was quite injured. Bt from the headline, it could have just as easily been the story of a man who got into a wheeled porta potty, farted hard enough to loosen the chocks, and had it then freakishly run over his poor wife.

That’s probably why I enjoyed this sign so much:


It was at a pumping station in Katherine Gorge, which we visited today. M!, A!?! and I went on a short two hour walk, A! & J! stayed behind as A! is not in the best of health. It was a well paced walk, with a nice gentle but long rise, that crests at a stunning view at the top of the gorge, followed by a quick but very steep descent into the gorge and back to the visitor’s centre where you started.

We did it backwards, so we climbed a very steep ascent, had a glorious view, and then a fairly dull 3km trudge back down an easy slope.

Maths thingumee #13b (apparently the last #13 was the same, but better written than #12. Whoops.)

How many colours do you have to use to colour in a map, if no two countries touching can contain the same colour?

Assume the world is a doughnut. Does this change the number?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Picture of a puppy


Back down past Barunga today, on to Beswick. This is a place that gets flooded every year, and they were just recovering from last season’s April floods, when most of the school furniture had to be thrown out for fear of waterborne diseases, and then yesterday it rained. To say they’re vaguely annoyed about the whole thing would be an understatement, as they’ve been waiting for a new school to be built since 1998 or so, and Eva valley has had one built despite needing it more recently and less urgently. Eva valley is more touristy, and as such a higher priority. That makes no sense at all.

I was very impressed by the kid literacy and numeracy skills. The main thing missing here was an aversion to reading that permeates so many of the schools here. When we walked into the Junior class they were reading the Amazing Mr Fox aloud, other schools we’ve been too haven’t bothered having non-picture book fiction at all. They’re apparently on an ‘accelerated literacy’ program that really is working, though I’d believe that a lot of the kudos must go to the teacher, who you could tell from looking round the classroom went above and beyond for these kids.

Saw two kids, a boy and a girl, constantly fighting. Apparently they were cousins, and a couple. Hopefully they’ll grow out of it.

All community’s have camp dogs - dogs that don’t belong to anyone, are half wild, but mostly safe, and roam around the community living off scraps. Each community has different looking camp dogs, as most re the long term descendants of just a few dogs. We saw our first puppy camp dog today, and as well as looking tiny and young, its dirty mongrel fur made it look about 15 years old. It’s very cute now, but it will be ugly as sin when it grows.



Maths thingumee #13

A census taker comes to a house to do a census with a blind man. The census taker asks the blind man how many people live in the house

“Me, my wife, and my two kids.”
“And what gender are the two children? Well there’s my daughter an….errrrrgggg” and promptly collapses into catatonia.

Annoyed, the census taker leaves the blind vegetabilised man spasming on the floor and decides that he will just have to make it up, but he wants to put in the answers that have the greatest probability of being correct.

So, what is the probability that the other child is a son? (It’s not 50%)

If you instead knew that the daughter was the eldest child, it would change this probability. What would the new probability be and why does it change?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I had more pictures

But the internet ate them when I pressed 'spellcheck' stupid internet. They were great.

Happy Birthday to my mother, who on at least one occasion has saved my life, and is not as old as my father.

Amateur photography Part 1

The beauty of an internet cafe is that work isn't paying for it, and the connection is fast. So I have no qualms in bringing you a whole heap of photos that I've been itching to post. Sorry W!

Week 1:

A castle in Batchelor. Who'd 've thunk it? Apparently a replica of a Checkoslavakian castle, put up by a Check immigrant who wanted to make his people feel welcome. Very odd.


A!'s Marrionette, Johansen, escaping from the other side of the castle. He knows how to get out, and knowledge is half the battle. Go Yo!

Thia odd looking chicken was hassling A! throughout the butterfly house aviary. She was scared it was going to jump her when she wasn't looking. Personaly I thought she was ascribing too much intelligence and discernment to a chicken


Again the chicken hassles A! There's something fowl about this situation, A!'s worries aren't poultry, errr... I'd put in a pun about birdflu, but I've already scared off enough readers




The plunge pool at Litchfield national park. Gorgeous isn't it? At least from this angle where you can't see any drunk tour bus tourists.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The rains cometh

Up until this point I thought that I’d been dealing with the heat remarkably well. Sure it was hot, but I was adapting, even enjoying it. Definitely better than Canberra winter or the never-ending winds and magpies of spring. I was a little fed up with the empty blue sky.

Yesterday the clouds came, and with them, the heat. It didn’t actually get any hotter, just a lot stickier and less pleasant. The rains aren’t coming yet, they probably won’t be here ’til after we’re gone (my what a lot of apostrophes), but this is the first sign that they’re on their way, and travelling through the syrupy heat is going to be a whole lot less fun. Thank God all our big travels are done.

The general disorganised feel of Barunga continued well into today, with the school arranging a workable timetable for us, but completely forgetting that they were getting a visit from the health centre, so we had to improvise a new one in the middle of the day. It’s interesting how different schools have completely different feels and attitudes, and that sometimes you can pick them just by talking to the principal for a few minutes on the phone. Still the kids were good, clever, and I don’t think the school is doing badly, just not set up for changing circumstance that well.

Our makeshift sleeping arrangements of last night were less than great. There was a display fridge on all night (the type with a glass door and bright lights). Not only did the fridge have the accursed inescapable light, that sifted into every corner of the room and through your eye lids, but the fridge’s motor was on top and made the whole thing shake and rumble each time it came on. Neither of us slept more than an hour at a time, and both A! and I were completely drained by the morning. Worse, the toilet and shower were across the quadrangle from where we were sleeping, and there were people wandering through the area all night. I felt vaguely uneasy whenever I had to cross, and I can only imagine the experience was that much worse for A!.

We decided we’d feel more comfortable, and well rested if we stayed in Katherine for the next couple of nights, so now we’re holed up in the backpackers for a couple of days. I’d forgotten the heady atmosphere of backpackers, full of the young, the economically disadvantaged and the socially maladjusted (I‘m not saying that if you stay at a backpackers you fit into those categories, but if you fit into those categories, you usually stay at a backpackers). Still, free pancake breakfast, and that’s not to be sniffed at.

Maths thingumee #12
You're a census taker, you come to a house, and they refus to give you full information, so you have to take a guess, but you want to write down the most probable scenario.

You have the following information:
They have two childern
At least one is a girl.

What is the chance the other is a girl?
The probability changes if you know that the the eldest child is a girl. Why? What is the new probability?

I received my first spam comment yesterday. Woohoo. I may need to change the way comments work to stop it happening again, sorry for any inconvenience for those who use this feature.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bearucratic bungling

After finishing off Mataranka school and doing the touristy thing in the morning, we made our way to Barunga CEC (community education centre).

I was a little worried about Barunga, as first we had talked to them on the phone and asked if we could stay some extra nights at their school as the next school on our list was unable to accommodate us, but was only 30 km up the road. They said that was fine.

The fax they sent us contradicted this, claiming they were unable to accommodate the presenters.

I then called the principal, who told me that they would indeed have accommodation for us. She just didn’t know exactly what yet.

Today we called the principal again to say we were on our way. She seemed slightly surprised, but told us we could stay at the house of a certain teacher who had two spare rooms and wouldn’t mind.

Dubious, but confident we could always drive back to Mataranka we set out for Barunga.

On arriving we were greeted by a lovely and very helpful lady who had not been told where we were staying. We filled her in as best we could, and she set about finding and confirming with our billeting host.

She managed to contact the teacher after we discovered what her name was, and called her on the phone. It was one of those conversations where you can only hear one side, but you can read the other

To my complete lack of surprise, the billeting teacher had never heard of us, had not talked to the principal and did not want a bar of two young shifty mathemagicians staying in her house.

Tonight we sleep in a kitchen. It’s not bad accommodation, it’s fine, it’s what we’re used to. But the run around we got this afternoon bodes ill for the program tomorrow.

Maths Thingumee #11

There is a mathematical problem known as the hairy ball problem. It says that you cannot lay down all the hairs on a hairy ball, one will always be standing up. You’ll be pleased to know that there is no hairy doughnut problem. Hairy doughnuts can be well groomed.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Crocodile tears

Drove out of Katherine this morning, on our way we passed two toy dogs, obviously some sick person’s idea of the perfect companion. Nice to see them reverting to their natural ways as they ripped the guts out of wallaby road kill. Road kill seems to be taking up an increasing amount of my mental space. I should probably be worried about that.

We arrived in Mataranka and had a great day with the kids. After the school day ended, we headed down to the touristy thermal pools, walked past them and ended up at the river, signs informed us that we could swim, but that there’d probably be fresh water crocs. A! and I dithered a bit, then decided to be safe little tourists and headed back to the safe and friendly tourist pool. Ah, the heady smell of sulphur.

We had dinner with the teachers, they all have huge families because they get given bigger houses if they do. Don’t know how they can manage without killing them

M!&J!’s care broke down about 50km out of Katherine. We’re having so much luck with these hire cars.

Cane toads are hideous creatures. Taking care or a tree frog has given me a general antipathy towards anything with that basic body shape, but cane toads are their own type of gruesome.

Also, although I may never have been fond of his work, and it’s easy to question the effectiveness or point of his message. The world has lost a popular, if ADHD inflicted, science communicator. Rest in peace Mr Irwin. Crickey.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Lazy Weekend

Wow, these kids sure do move round. I’ve been called Kuminjay twice now since I left Lajamanu. Once in Top Springs (the nasty segregated roadhouse) about three hours away, and once in Katherine, six hours away. The royalties payments mean that there is a lot of movement right now.

I’ve had a lazy, lazy weekend in which I finaly had time to sit around and play with Lappy. Apparently I can connect it to my phone wirelessly. Why I would do this I don’t know.

J! and M! are even closer to the boil than before, feeding the crocodile the phone wasn’t exactly a bonding exercise.

Since I’ve got nothing much to report I’ll leave you with some photos of our newest sport. TQMS carries their puzzles in 40 and 60 litre plastic tubs. Although not coastguard approved they make passable floatation devices. So, we invented tub racing. Everyone sank.

Maths Thingumee #10
A French attempt to decimalise time failed miserably.



Saturday, September 02, 2006


Here's that first flat I was talking about.

Also, I've commited an internet goof, and mentioned someone who did something nice for me and not linked to them, I shall remedy the situation...now This is Lindsey's blog, I haven't read it yet.
It’s a lucky thing that we had two spare tires. It’s a lucky thing that I can control a car going at 130 km/h on a crappy bitumen highway. Pigeon hole roads could moonlight as a quarry, shattered igneous rock sticking out at odd angles, I’m glad we didn’t have a third or fourth puncture, as we were fearing.

After getting to Katherine we discovered why the other team’s phone was out of use. They fed it to a crocodile. Just a hint people, but if you want to keep your telephonic device in good working order DO NOT give it to a crocodile. The reptilian bastard will eat it, that is what crocodiles do.

Learnt my first two aboriginal words today. The first meant ‘fly’ as in small buzzing insect. The second meant ‘dirty whitey’, unfortunately I have forgotten them both. The girl who was teaching me was quite embarrassed when she realised what she was teaching me, and her friend had to explain what it meant.

Nice to get back to Katherine, we’re staying in a gorgeous and huge B&B with individual rooms and a pool all to ourselves. Interesting guest book. Scrawled on the current page, dated August 15th is the message “thank you for letting us use your BnB take care in these last days thankyou”. Apocalyptic poetry for the ages.

Maths thingummee #9

Alright, friendly warning, mum you’re not going to approve of this.

What’s the result when you get the square root of sixty nine?

Eight something

The half life of a dead kangaroo is four days

On Sunday, as we drove to Lajamanu, we passed a dead kangaroo in the middle of a narrow one lane, two way highway. We stopped with the intention of moving the carcass off the road, and discovered it to be fresh but ruptured. Our good intentions went unfulfilled, as with guts akimbo we felt unwilling to poke it with sticks.

Today we passed by the kangaroo’s carcass - still on the road - again. Half of the kangaroo was gone to scavengers. Thus the half life of a dead kangaroo is four days.

One thing I forgot to mention about Kalaringi, is that it’s mostly the home of the Garindgi people, whose 8 year long strike and land claim was immortalised in the song ‘from little things, big things grow’, poor bastards, they deserve better than Paul Kelly. To be honest, I’ve been humming the song since Wednesday.

We drove out to Pigeon Hole today, after 40 or so kilometres of very rocky road, we took a wrong turn and ended up on the station instead of in the community. After asking for directions from a strangely accented woman, we backtracked and took the right fork labelled ‘community’ instead of the left fork labelled ‘station’. If only we had thought to do that in the first place.

About a kilometre from the community, or, more correctly, in the middle of fucking nowhere, the car started to make a disturbing thud, thud, thud noise. We stopped the car and got out, sure enough the back passenger side wheel was flat. Well flat is a bit of a polite way to put it. I prefer to think that it was ravaged.

Finally proving that my Y chromosone was healthy I put all my training into action and changed a tire. A! helped as much as she could, but it was a one person job, and to everyone’s eternal shock it turned out that my rubbery frame was stronger than hers. I am strong, like bull.

We had to dig underneath the wheel frame to get enough space to get the new wheel on even with the jack at full extension, but we finally got it on. There’s something very zen about changing a tire. There’s no questions to be asked, or opinions to be sought, at least not after you’ve passed the “where the hell’s the bloody jack handle!” stage. It’s pure action to a purpose, very peaceful.

Maths thingummee #8
A golden oldie tonight, there are three different answers to this one. The first is the answer that most people struggle to find when they first hear the poem, the second is the one most people use after they’ve listened properly, the third is the correct answer, which very few people manage to properly articulate.

I want the third answer.

As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
Every wife had seven sacks
Every sack had seven cats
Every cat had seven kits
Kits, cats, sacks, wives
How many were going to St Ives?