Monday, January 21

It's a bird? It's a plane?

NASA recently launched a niffy new email alert for folks keen to view the International Space Station.I’ve heard that the station is surprisingly bright and thus easy to spot as it passes overhead.  I subscribed to it several months ago. Initially the alerts highlighted viewing opportunities in early hours of the morning which I could never be bothered rousing for, or the sky was inconveniently overcast.

Today I was alerted to a one minute viewing opportunity at 22:19 this evening. The weather was clear and, at 42 degrees above the horizon, the viewing angle was relatively high in the sky. With a hint of skeptical anticipation I dutifully stepped out on to our southern balcony shortly before the predicted time.

On schedule, a bright light appeared in the sky, broadly at the predicted point on the compass i.e. starting from the Southwest before disappearing in the South Southwest. The 419.45 tonne structure is currently flying 403 kilometres above the Earth’s surface, travelling at 27,625 km/h. It was clearly visible despite the ubiquitous urban night glow, moving steadily towards my vantage point.

At first I thought I had simply spotted an aircraft. However, as predicted, the bright dot of light abruptly vanished midway across the night sky a minute later. Definitely not an aircraft! No doubt the station’s sudden disappearance reflects its passage into the earth’s shadow. The sun set today in Sydney at 20:09.

I’m hooked! The station was easy to spot. It literally flashed into view as a bright point of light, far more dazzling than any planet or star. I’ll definitely look out for it again! As I reflect, I'm reminded of a visit Garry and I made to the Kennedy Space Centre in July 2007. At the time we, saw the Columbus research module undergoing final preparation for launch (see the photo above). The same module now orbits above our heads. Awesome!

It’s also mind-boggling to think that there are six people living inside of that glowing dot at this very moment. Since November 2000, an impressive 204 people have visited the station. It offers a roomy 388 cubic meters of habitable space, roughly the same floor area of a modest suburban house.

UPDATE: January 24, 2013 - 9:30pm
Garry and I have just completed a second successful sighting of the International Space Station.  Once again a dazzling point of light appeared on cue over our apartment.  For two minutes we watched it soar across the night sky, almost directly overhead, at remarkable speed.  Garry was suitably impressed.

This second sighting has also quietly reassured me that I really did spot the station three nights ago.  More sightings are scheduled at a similar time over this week.  We might try our luck again if the weather holds. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: January 25, 2013 - 8:40pm
Garry and I have been at it again.  We made it out onto our balcony this evening at 8:35pm to watch the station pass by.  Even in the relatively bright twilight sky it's still a suprisingly vibrant dot of light.  Tonight's sighting lasted almost five minutes. Very cool.

Friday, January 18

Endless Summer memories

My time in New Zealand over Christmas/New Year wasn't just a time of sorrow.  Inbetween tending to my dying father's needs the family carved out a few moments of Summer delights.  We unwrapped gifts on Christmas Day, ate Fish & Chips on Tauranga Wharf, walked around the Mount and enjoyed ocean surf.

My parents ready did choose a small piece of heaven in which to enjoy their retirement years.  I hope there will plenty more excuses to head back again in future years.  For now, I know I'll be back some time in March to formally intern my father's ashes in their final resting place.

Help, help! I'm melting!

Sydney has endured its hottest day on record today.  The mercury hit 45.8 degrees in the city at 2:55pm, while temperatures at the airport soared to a staggering 46.4 degrees.  Our apartment sits mid way between these two locations.  It would be safe to say we probably sweltered through temperatures of at least 46 degrees on our apartment balcony. 

Sydney's previous high of 45.3 degrees was recorded in January 1939 at Observatory Hill.  It's hard to believe this record was broken by at least half a degree.  The heat was incredibly intense at its peak.  Although, as early as 9:00am this morning, the heat pouring through our east-facing windows already proved unbearable.  We eventually closed the blinds and cranked up the air-conditioning.

Some of our plants on the balcony are looking decidedly unhappy.  The sunward facing leaves have dried up and many others are looking a droopy despite an emergency burst of water from the garden irrigation system. However, the washing dried in record time.  We reckon it was probably faster than the dryer we normally use.

It also comes as no surprise to learn that electricity consumption hit an all time high this afternoon.  No doubt every serviceable air conditioner in the city was cranked up to high today as temperatures soared.

Thursday, January 17

Floral tribute

Text 100, my former employer, has surprised me with a fabulous bunch of flowers to comemorate by father's passing. The gesture is most unexpected but very much appreciated.

Wednesday, January 16

Saying goodbye

We farewelled my Dad last Saturday at a spectacular location; Woodhill in Tauranga, New Zealand. The photos posted here give you a wonderful sense of the splendor and serenity offered by this converted Kauri homestead. The weather was perfect on the day and the service itself unfolded just as the family had hoped. All in all his funeral was a fitting tribute to life truly well lived.

It was lovely to see so many friends and family come together, despite the sad occasion. In the days leading up to the service numerous people generously offered their support and assistance. For example, Garry's brother David, a professional graphic designer, retouched the photo Dad chose before he died.  The resulting image was sunny and bright, bringing a huge smile to my Mum's face the moment she saw the finished article.

Tuesday, January 8

How to ruin a perfectly awful day

Disaster! The funeral director just called us to confess he's double-booked the venue arranged for Dad's funeral.  It appears a memorial service has been scheduled for Friday afternoon; an event booked more than three months ago.We're now scrambling to let people know the service is happening a day later.
Poor Mum really didn't need the added stress. We intentionally pre-arranged many funeral details more than a month ago so that the period immeidately after Dad's passing would be relatively calm. The funeral director initially proposed a change of venue, then a change of date and finally an alternative celebrant when our preferred person was unavailable for the alternative date and time we proposed. 
I think the funeral director already regrets that he's had to deal with me.  I made it clear his mistake had really upset the family.  Mum hates that we've had to shift the funeral to a morning slot. I've told the funeral director to substaintially improve the catering at his expense now that our service it likely to finish at lunch time.  He initially protested, telling me he was already spending $450 of own money to republish newspaper death notices. 
I made it clear that I didn't appreciate being told the cost to republish notices at his expense was a form of compensation. I'm not sure how fixing an error he'd always have to correct somehow compensates Mum for the additional angish caused.  It seems that my Dad's legacy continues to unfold.

Sunday, January 6

Farewell Dad

My Father has lost his long battle with cancer. He was admitted for acute care at Althorp Private Hospital just over a month ago. At the time we hoped to bring him home on Christmas Day for a final family reunion.  However, this wasn't to be. As December 25 approached it became increasing clear that the end was near.  His doctor cautioned that Dad was unlikely to see in the New Year. 

However, my father had other thoughts. He went on to survive a week longer than expected before finally slipping away in the early hours of this morning. For seven days the family maintained an often heart-breaking 24-hour vigil by his bedside. Thankfully, despite some harrowing moments, his passing was ultimately peaceful. He died quietly in his sleep. In an odd way these last few weeks became a special time for the family as Dad's final act brought us closer together. As we quietly tended to his needs  bonds were strengthened and  his humble legacy progressively honoured. 

Regular blog readers will recall that I enjoyed some wonderful adventures with Dad during his final year. We took time out to tour many of the countries sitting on his bucket list including China, Canada and New York City. It was gratifying to share my favourite tourist experiences with him, seeing his face light up at special moments.  I'll always remember his incredulous smile after seeing the Terracotta Warriors and Pandas at Beijing Zoo, as well as his delightful, unexpected burst of energy while strolling around the Statue of Liberty.

Thank you Dad for the precious gift of life. Thank you for the sacrifices you made as the years passed; always ensuring we never wanted for anything. Even in his final weeks during a brief lucid moment  Dad paused to ask if I had enough money to live.  Once reassured, he gave a satifying sigh, then slipped back into his morphine haze. That was my Dad.  Thinking of his family to the very end.

Here's to a life well lived. Farewell Dad.