New project: I Don't Understand on YouTube

Hello hello. I've just started a new project -- an educational channel on YouTube.

The first episode of I Don't Understand is now up, featuring an interview with Dr. Elizabeth Smith at the Australian Opal Centre in Lightning Ridge, NSW, Australia. Dr. Smith explains how crayfish (yabbies) use secret stores of calcium that they keep inside their heads to allow them to generate new exoskeletons as they grow.

You can find I Don't Understand in various places, including YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

End of an era: The Pokataroo Branch

These are the last photos I took on film, with a craptacular Kodak camera. The old Pokataroo Branch of the north western railway in New South Wales terminated about five kilometres from where I used to live. The old railway station was opened in 1906 as Collarendabri, before being renamed to Collarendebri East, then finally Pokataroo in 1919. The line leading to Pokataroo station closed in 1974, after flood damage.

At the time these were taken, which I believe was 1998, the terminus was still visible. The buffer stop at the end of the line was still standing, the rural station platform rotted and leaning to one side. At the far end of the platform, the base of an old crane.

Close up of some rails and sleepers.
Close up of some rails and sleepers.

If you like, click "read more" for a couple of newer photos of the railroad remants around Pokataroo, including the crane base and the old rail bridge.

The old crane base near the Poktaroo platform.
The old crane base near the Poktaroo platform.
Looking back toward Pokataroo township (approximately four houses) from the station's location.
Looking back toward Pokataroo township (approximately four houses) from the station's location.
The old Pokataroo rail bridge.
The old Pokataroo rail bridge.
Looking toward Pokataroo atop the old rail bridge.
Looking toward Pokataroo atop the old rail bridge.

If you're into this kind of thing, you can find some information about the Pokataroo Branch on There're some cool photos if you click on the "photographs" tab, including some of the platform, and one from the '70s of the station building when it was still in-tact.

Also, I'm a nerd. Don't judge me.

Tiny trains: HO scale Sydney railway station

I, uh, don't have a model railroad. But that didn't stop me from undertaking a weekend project to make a tiny railway station. I've made them in 3D before, but the real world is another story. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The various bits are cut from thick card, the kind that photographic prints are delivered with, to keep them from bending in the post.


Hit the "Read More" linky-dinky to, uh, read more. There're a heap more pictures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere's the superstructure of the building. The corners are reinforced with extra card to give them the illusion of columns of brickwork, to match the brick columns along each side. It was sheer luck that the card was the right thickness to look like added brickwork.


I cheated with the exterior. The brick pattern is "texture mapped" by creating a brick pattern in Photoshop to the correct scale (HO, in this case, which is around 88:1). The folds are all scored so the thick photo paper bends nicely.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll "textured". The pale blue wheelchair ramp box is popped out on a piece of card to give it depth. I built some fake shadows and staining into the texture map to give it some age and interest around the brick columns, doorways and windows. The network map and station signage is all to scale.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe platform is not exactly long enough to be true to scale, but as I don't have a model railroad to put it in, that's kind of a moot point. The surface of the platform was a fluke -- it's very fine grit wet-and-dry sandpaper which was used to sand some items that had been painted in black paint. The glossy black paint had worn into the paper, making darker, shiny patches. It looks exactly like a gravel-on-tar surface that's been in the hot sun, allowing the shiny black tar to seep through the gravel. If I was to ever make platforms for a model railroad, I'd deliberately use this approach.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA"Aerial" view, showing how remarkably decent the accidental platform surface turned out. The yellow lines are just strips of yellow paper cut very fine. The platform trim is white fine-grit sandpaper (no tricks, straight out of the packet) to give the illusion of texture, and the markings along the platform edge are made to scale in Photoshop and printed on photo paper. If I was to do this seriously, I'd have used matte photo paper for the things that really shouldn't be shiny.


Daylight! The station is sitting on the roof of my car. The porch is made from matchsticks for support and some more of the same card I built the structure from. It's not beautiful, but it gets the job done. The lights are bits of bent wire with tiny blocks of card on the ends, painted silver. They don't light up, obviously.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore detail from the platform edge. A lesson learned from this is that it'd probably be best, if I made another, to "inlay" the paper layers, rather than just gluing them on top of each other. It'd reduce the buckling and generally look better. The "2" in the yellow block is a car marker, to indicate to the train driver where to stop the train, and a bit of a joke on my part, as it's only scaled to be a two-car platform. (Ordinarily, a station of this kind would have room for at least six cars, more likely eight.)


I guess this would be the view from the "other" platform, but -- of course -- there isn't one.


As an added bonus, here's a tiny tiny tiny version of the old manual timetable displays that appeared on the station platforms. The real ones have a dozen or so rotating blocks with station names, this one only has four. Usually it's Strathfield marked in red, as it's a big interchange for several lines. As a joke no one will get, I've marked it as "Redmyre", which was the original name of Strathfield's station. As another joke no one will get, I've named my station "Bresnahan".


Here it is, with a coin. It's very small.

Op-shoppery: Polymertex Scrabble

Any time I go searching on the 'net for something and I can't find it, I feel two things:

  1. I feel annoyed, because I wanted information and I didn't find it.
  2. I feel obligated to fill the gap with what little information I can contribute.

Back in November 2007 (this is a back-dated post), I was lucky enough to stumble across a complete set of Polymertex "Modern Plastics" Scrabble.

I think I need to get a Geiger counter for those letters.

I'll tell you what I know about it:

  • it's made in the Philippines
  • the company that made it, Polymertex, no longer exists
  • there's a Russian company by the same name, but I imagine that's coincidental
  • there's also a kind of Korean paint by the same name
  • the tiles are so green I suspect they may be radioactive
  • it's clearly very old, as Scrabble boards go. This site/question/thing suggests in a roundabout way that it might be from 1968, which fits pretty neatly with my own assumptions that it's probably from the '60s, early '70s at the latest..
  • based on information on this website, it's "possibly one of the rarest Scrabble sets I've seen", and from the response to the abovelinked Topix question, it's apparently "superb collectors item!!"
  • from the same website comes the suggestion that it could be a trade sample, I would assume from a plastics manufacturing company


There are a few things that I want to know:

  • is it an actual, licensed Scrabble game, or is it a knock-off?
  • what's it worth?
  • why are the pieces so freaking green?
  • is it worth hanging on to?

Green Scrabble. Enjoy.

Triple word score on BOPDX.

Brisbane: The Musical

Here's a somewhat vague travelogue of my trip to Brisbane, and the three days during which I met Positronbob and Yahtzee. Click on the pictures for bigger ones. (Update, 2013: I've edited this a bit, largely because I feel I can write significantly better these days, and because some elements of the story are now either awkward or more embarrassing than I previously thought.) DAY ONE (Sunday)

Having determined where Positronbob was to be found, went and collected him. Drove to Kingston railway station, deposited car in car park. Took the train into the city, after bumming train fare from Positronbob. Can't remember if I ever paid him back. Probably should do something about that. Karma's a bitch, and all. Spent most of the duration of the train trip discussing online activities on the Home of the Underdogs Forum, a discussion arena attached to the old Home of the Underdogs abandonware website, which kind of disappeared from existance, but kind of reappeared in 2012, but it's so far removed from what it used to be that it doesn't bear thinking about.

Arrived in the city to discover that at some point between Kingston and Brisbane it had become very hot. Wandered out of South Bank station, where we were stopped in our tracks by the stultifying stupidity of this sign:

Although on later reflection we realised the sign is probably there for the benefit of commuters passing on the road to the right.

On further reflection on the above realisation, we again noticed that even if the sign is for motorists, there's still the issue of how the blind people know where to cross.

It hurts my brain to think about it.

We ate at a small cafe near the Energex Arbour. The Energex Arbour is a massive winding footpath covered in with a hideous metal framework with weeds growing all over it. Eventually, I postulate, it will form an impenetrable forest of thorned and vicious plantlife, to be traversed only by warriors dressed in khaki and weilding machetes. As it stands, it's a poor attempt at even blocking out the sun.

We waited under the Suncorp Piazza for Yahtzee to show. We kind of realised that we knew nothing about his appearance apart from some really old online photos, which lead us to wonder whether the photos were even of him at all. Perhaps he just typed a random name into Google Image Search and used whatever photos popped up.

To cut a long story, uh, less long, we found him. And then we stood about. Awkwardly. For quite a while.

Then we ate. Again. Yahtzee ordered chips. We fed several of them to a hideously unattractive bird that was hovering about the table. Then her husband told us to stop. (Do you see what I did there?)

Brisbane is a complete arse of a city when it comes to things to do. Basically, once you cross the border from New South Wales into Queensland, the passtime of "do things" mutates into the passtime of "do not a jot". People in Queensland spend 99% of their available time doing nothing, and the remaining percent considering the option of doing nothing.  Having come to no conclusions whatsoever about what to do to pass the afternoon, we headed vaguely towards the city. I proposed this idea, as I recalled visiting the museum a few years earlier on the suggestion of a friend who informed me that there's a button on the wall that replicates the sound of a whale farting. The move was unanimous.

Brisbane Museum does not suffer from over organisation. There's no system to it whatsoever. One second you're staring at a dinosaur's femur, the next you're examining a tandem-bicycle-powered-fire-engine and wondering why these two exhibits share a room.

I believe the siren plays the theme to "Steptoe & Son".

Alongside the fire truck stood an array of cardboard cutouts.



On the top level of the museum stood the beginnings of the "How To Make A Monster" display, which was to deal with animatronics and special effects. Sadly, it wasn't open yet. We asked a kind tourist to take a photograph or two for us. We didn't realise at the time that said tourist didn't speak a word of English. I was somewhat concerned when she started gibbering in some Asian language, and I hoped dearly that she did not think we were handing out complimentary cameras.

(I got my camera back, for the record.)

Moving away from the animatronics exhibit, we found....more animatronics. Around the corner was a stuffed leopard mounted atop a papier-mache rock. Unassuming, you may think, until you realise (under close scrutiny) that the cat has a half-eaten sausage roll jammed up its jacksy.

You're doing it wrong: Sausage rolls are generally to be consumed orally

But wait, there's more! (Animatronics. Not anal pastry.)

The next room featured a warning sign in a large font, reading something to the effect of "PARENTS: THE NEXT EXHIBIT FEATURES A VERY REALISTIC LIZARD WHICH MAY FRIGHTEN CHILDREN". And behold:

Murrr. Shudder. Thud. Crunch.

The sign did not lie. The creature was terrifying. It shuddered to life with none of the realism you'd expect from a battery-powered toy, hissing with pneumatics and hydraulics. It looks so natural tucked up against the ductwork, too. Yet more disturbing, though, is the rest of the exhibit. Surrounding the giant lizard is a large papier-mache dinosaur corpse with several Tasmanian devils feeding on it. One of them tugs back and forth on a chunk of rubber intestine, while another appears to perform oral sex on the dead reptile.

The rest of the museum paled in comparison. Several rooms containing spiders in jars. Several rooms containing randomly scattered fibreglass animal replicas. If nothing else, thanks to the marine-themed room, a new anthem emerged:

Dugong man, Dugong man Does whatever a dugong can Which is basically nothing As dugongs are large and stupid


Additional kudos should be served to Brisbane Museum for featuring an entire wing dedicated to nothing but roadkill. I'm particularly enamoured by the realistic potato chips in the following photograph.


And that, in short, sums up the Brisbane Museum. Here's one last photo, just to give you the entire Brisbane experience in a nutshell.

Sign reads "Please be patient while we get our new exhibits up and running". AND THEY PROVIDE A COUCH FOR YOU TO WAIT ON.

Having wandered aimlessly through the entirety of the poorly organised Brisbane Museum, we headed next door, to the Brisbane Art Gallery. Their official website is here, and it's actually fairly informative.

After surrendering our bags to the cloakroom nazis, and receiving a lecture on proper camera usage within the gallery (i.e., don't), we moved on. The entranceway consists of a staircase leading down to a white boardwalk surrounding a pool of somewhat greenish water with several billion silver balls bobbing in it.


Now, this is an art gallery, so the purpose of everything within it is a matter of interpretation. HOWEVER. I think the idea here is that the balls are "powered" by the fact that people cannot resist manipulating and tossing them about, so they kind of swill in a vague spiralling motion about their pond. Closer examination revealed several points in said pond where the balls would form eddies, suggesting pumps beneath the surface were egging the spheres on. To be honest, I don't really care. It's art. And it looks expensive.

"I dare you to toss a ball!", whispered I. "Eh, okay." grunted Rhubarb. Ball ahoy.

The next room comprised a white passageway with a large square pillar amid, projected onto which was a large anatomical animation of a woman being dissected by a CT scan. We stared at it, giggled at her breasts and moved on.

Around the corner we were ambushed by a museum staff person armed with an array of battery operated cats.

Yahtzee gets friendly with a digital feline.

I had hopes that the cats were going to be of similar quality to the AIBO dogs from Sony that I'd seen a few years prior at Fox Studios in Sydney, but they appeared to be standard children's toys purchased at K-Mart. We attempted to get two cats to mate.


Unfortunately, the cats "switch off" whenever their noses touch something, so their courtship was short-lived. I discovered that repeatedly stabbing at the button on the tip of the cats' noses causes them to meow in an increasingly angry fashion.

Behind the "Battery Cattery" (Jesus Christ) we found a series of fairly inane exhibits featuring telephones, which provided audio cues to the artwork. One of these exhibits, which appeared to be a piece of pipe plucked out of an air conditioner, featured a soundbyte of someone burping loudly. Genius.

In further extension of the household pets theme, we found a small cinema behind a wall at the back of the building. Six screens at odd angles had onto them projected footage that appeared to alternate between a camera strapped to a dog's head, and a car hurtling down a road in the snow. Once again, it's art. It's not supposed to make sense. Unless you're on drugs, or something. (Hey, it's Queensland!)

The rest of the gallery was fairly lacklustre. I'd like to know how one goes about getting the job of being one of the people who wanders about the museum shouting "DON'T TOUCH THAT" whenever someone gets closer than fifteen metres to a sculpture. The item in question was a massive chunk of welded metal that appeared to consist of former typewriter parts. It's welded. The best one could hope to do is to push it off its pedestal and perhaps break the floor.

Along one of the walls, in an innocuous looking darkened doorway, we found a small cinema, onto the wall of which was projected a film. At first, we had no clue what it was, apart from a small placard outside which read "One Minute Sculptures". I really have neither the want nor the need to further describe this phenomenon, as anything I add will only pale in comparison to Yahtzee's essay on the subject. Needless to say, our lives were enriched a millionfold, and will never be the same again.

Yahtzee attempts to fondle Erwin's bottom.

DAY TWO (Tuesday. Where did Monday go? No-one knows!)

I spent most of the morning in Surfers Paradise. There are a lot of reasons I dislike Surfers Paradise. One of them is grammatical. Y'see, it's missing a possessive apostrophe. It's something to do with naming conventions, in that suburb titles should not contain punctuation marks. Stupid naming conventions.

So. Surfer(')s Paradise. 9AM. Nothing is open. I guess the surfy culture doesn't wake up prior to midday.

Got back from the Gold Coast around lunch time. Went to collect Positronbob, with the plan being to go Christmas shopping at the Logan Hyperdome.

This evening we went bowling. Dan won the first round, I won the second. I can't remember who wound up with the scorecards, so you'll have to take my word for it. Truth be told, no one cares anyway. It's bowling. It's such an impractical sport to get good at. The only times I've ever bowled, the entire purpose of the game has been to see who can make the largest fool of themselves, and/or break a limb. DAY THREE (Wednesday.)

We basically started today with no clue whatsoever what we were doing. This is not at all unusual. I drove around most of the morning trying to figure out where Positronbob was, due to missing one pissy little side street and thusly becoming lost. This happens. Often.

I found him, eventually. Arranged to meet with Yahtzee in the city. Decided, in a rare moment of braveness, to actually drive into the city. The guy I was staying with suggested a spot for parking, and having glanced at a map I figured it was a fairly simple place to get to. So off we went. Found ample parking. Everything going well. This usually doesn't happen.

Met Yahtzee in the same location again, figuring that it worked quite well the previous time. Minced about looking confused and sounding unconversational. This is becoming a routine.

Everything's better with Wang.

While snacking at one of the small cafes along the Energex Arbour, we also happened upon a freak occurance -- Santa Claus on his lunch break -- snacking merrily on a parcel of hot chips. It's nice to know it's Queensland fried foods that keep Jolly ol' St. Nick's arteries so joyously blocked.

Ho, ho, ho. Also, Lt. Uhura spots someone she knows.

And here's a brief summary of the rest of the evening, due to the fact that this all occured a month ago and I don't recall specifics:

Fireworks. Sat on grass. Watched someone in Brisbane desperately try to signal for Batman, but fail due to forgetting to put the bat-shaped mask over the spotlight. Nonetheless giving it a valiant effort with not one, but four spotlights waving about the sky. Presumably under the assumption that Batman, not seeing his signature bat-shaped-silhouette, may respond to a very adamant display of non-bat silhouettes. BATMAN. God damn you.

Wandered back to the car park under the impression that it closed about two hours prior, not overjoyed by the prospect of leaving my car buried beneath Brisbane until 6AM the following morning. Arrived at the vehicle to see this was indeed not so. Relieved.

Bid farewell to Yahtzee in a now predictably awkward fashion.

Returned to car again. Somehow managed to get out of extremely crowded car park without causing any personal harm or property damage. Took everyone home. Ran a red light. Scared the shit out of someone called Spock. All's well that ends well.