Thursday, 14 August 2014

Cardmaking - Simple Washi Tape card

Here is a simple card I made with Washi tape (that I got from Costco) and Sizzix Alpha Bubbles die (cut with my Sizzix Big shot) with textured white cardstock and plain black cardstock for the letters background. Letters are such a useful thing to do with leftover scraps of coloured paper!  My daughter helped me make it because it was for her teacher. This is a nice quick easy card - easy 10 minutes and we're done!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

I got a Cricut Personal Cutter!

I admit, I already have a craft cutter - a Silhouette - but it's annoying to have to draw the stuff on my computer before I cut it.  Besides, Cricut has all these cute little cartridges and I bought one - Create a Critter - which had such cute animals I thought there were heaps of cards and projects I could make!

So when I got a second hand (and a bit broken) one on Ebay, I couldn't wait to make a few things, and here were the first ones I made:

There are heaps of ideas on Pinterest too, and I'm going to stick a few here so I don't forget and maybe try my hand at them sometime soon!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Autism and developmental delay in our genetic makeup

Ever since my son was diagnosed with Autism and Developmental delay you can't help but wonder if it was something I did that was bad, and if the rumours about thing such as vaccinations were true.  Maybe there's something wrong with my genetic makeup, or my husband's.  Maybe

I saw the paediatrician and she recommended we do some blood tests which I was rather ambivalent about. I wasn't particularly thrilled about taking him for blood tests but I did them eventually with the help of EMLA that I pinched from work, and he was brilliant and didn't even flinch when they took his blood, much to my relief.  The usual blood workup for autism was done which included a whole bunch of metabolic tests, endocrine tests (including thyroid function) and general bloods as well as some genetic stuff.

Yesterday my paediatrician called to discuss the results, and she told me that there were some abnormalities in his chromosome microarray, which is a test looking at his DNA to see if there were any deletions or duplications.  And they found that he had a "heterozygous duplication within chromosome band 15q13.3 which involves only one gene CHRNA7".

The report stated that a large study had found that this particular duplication is associated with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) though my son doesn't have that, but another study said that duplications in the 15q11-13 segments were associated with autism, especially if the duplications were on the maternal side of the chromosome.

Even more concerning to me is when I read all things like this:
The recurrent 15q13.3 microdeletion/microduplication has been reported to cause mental impairment, autism spectrum disorder, facial dysmorphism, seizures and epilepsy...Some of the common clinical features of the BP4a - BP5 ~500 kb deletion were speech delay, developmental delay, ADHD, aggressive behavior, ADHD, and hearing loss. None of the three deletion cases were reported to have either seizures or epilepsy. Phenotypic features of individuals with the ~500 kb duplication include growth delay, midface hypoplasia, speech delay, mild autism and one case exhibiting seizures. Further studies are needed to determine whether CHRNA7 duplications are more likely polymorphic variants with little clinical significance or possibly causative with incomplete penetrance and/or variable expressivity. These results suggest that the deletion/duplication of the CHRNA7 gene by itself may not be sufficient by itself to cause seizures and epilepsy, and may instead be a susceptibility gene related to speech delay, ADHD, autism and aggressive behavior.
There's even a pamphlet on that particular gene duplication!

Looking at that, what does that really mean?  I know that genetic things have incomplete penetrance, so people having this gene don't necessarily get autism, but it makes me wonder for the future - is my son going to pass autism down to his children? If I had known I had a defective gene would that affect my decision to have children even though the chance of anything happening is small?

I find it remarkable that genes are like computer programs or files. The files can copy incorrectly, have errors, have recurring segments or deletions - and in a computer program or file it may have no impact at all, or it may have a massive impact.  I feel lucky that the impact on my son seems small - looking around at other children who have duplications in those regions, they could have ended up with major developmental abnormalities, retardation and poor physical development.

So what does it mean in the present moment?

It means I need to go speak to a geneticist to figure out if I need to do any further tests on my son, or even myself and my husband to see if this thing has any relevance. If either he or I have the same duplication then perhaps it's just an incidental finding that isn't associated with anything as neither of us have autism or developmental delay (that I know of!).  But obviously there is no treatment (nor would I seek one) because my son is going along just fine at the moment.  Makes me wonder in the future when he's grown up and his partner wants to have children, what would they think of this? Though if my son grows up and has no impairments or disability then it would probably not mean anything and he could go on living a normal productive life.  Which is all a mother could hope and dream for!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Game of Thrones Exhibition in Sydney July 1-5

Reblogged from The Daily Frostwolf

The opening day of the Game of Thrones Exhibit (Tuesday 1 July) held at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Sydney, reported queues as long as 6 hours. They were not joking. I had resigned myself to not seeing the exhibition because I was planning to go to visit my parents with my children during the school holidays.  But on Thursday night one of my friends called me and asked me if I was going to see it, as he had taken the day off on Friday to go and see it and wanted me to come with him.  He said he would be there at 8am (exhibition opens at 10am) and I spoke to my parents and said naively "I should be able to get in at 10, be done by 11 and then we can drive to your house."  They told me to go enjoy myself. Well.... So I hopped on the train and got into the city at about 815am, and I could see from the train station the huge queues in front of the MCA already.  He was a minute or two ahead of me and was heading to the line so I went to meet him.  It was already REALLY long and getting longer.  Lucky we got into the main line.

Snaking queue in front of the lawn of the Museum of Contemporary Art - not unlike herding sheep
See the bike next to the orange barrier?  That's the queue to GET into the queue! 2nd queue along harbourline
All my good intentions about bringing a book to read had gone out the window in my dash to get out this morning (not to mention, terribly antisocial for poor Shab), and I couldn't find my Brookstone charger so I couldn't charge my phone or camera whilst sitting around, which meant I couldn't do much web browsing or game playing on my phone either.  But my friend and I just chatted away for hours as we progressed through the huge line. I think it's the longest time I'd spent talking to my mate, and luckily we had heaps to talk about - or at least I did.  It was fun talking WoW, work, cartoons, comics and Game of Thrones stuff. And there were a few cosplay people outside entertaining the crowds!

We got to the "3 hour wait" sign at 1:40pm, the "2 hour wait" sign at 2:20pm, and the "1 hour wait" marker at 3pm and the "30 minute wait" mark at 3:15pm.  We finally got INTO the exhibit at 3:55pm. There were 2 mini queues (they were nothing compared to outside's line) for pics on the Iron Throne, and also for the Oculus Rift 4D experience on The Wall.

The replica Iron Throne.  Looks good in pics, but up close it's VERY plastic!
The virtual reality experience of ascending the Wall with wind blowing on your head and being shot by flaming arrows!  I have to admit, I was skeptical about trying it but it turned out to be rather cool. That 4D Oculus Rift headset was pretty realistic and you could look to the sides and up and see stuff.  When I was shot with the flame arrow in the chest, I was automatically trying to put it out!
All the costumes were amazing.  So much detail and work went into them!

Costumes for Sansa Stark, Prince Oberon, Marjery Tyrell, King Joffrey Baratheon and Cersei Lannister
Tyrion Lannister's outfit next to Sansa's dress
Brienne and Jaime (after he lost his hand)
Arya Stark and The Hound (and her wooden training sword used with Syrio)
Ygritte's furs and John Snow's leathers
Two of Daenerys Targaryan's outfits
Melisandre and Stannis Baratheon
The props were all quite memorable too!  It was cool seeing some of the things that you remember from the show.
Eww pretty realistic looking prop of Jaime's severed hand
Obsidian blades, Ice picks

Verdict: Awesome exhibition, especially considering it was free!  But worth an 8 hour wait?  I don't think so! Saturday is the last day (5 July) and I hate to think what kind of crowds it will generate then.  I wonder if they had booked tickets and the exhibition had cost something (man, they could have RAKED in the cash with this one), the crowds may have been a lot less. All up it was a good experience (though hours of my life I will never get back) but at least I had a fun time with Shab.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 - A Parent's review (SPOILER ALERT)

For those who know the first movie, it's about a boy who was different from the others in his village, more of a pacifist than an aggressor, who went against the way of thinking and befriended, rather than slaughtered a dragon.  In the second movie, Hiccup is 5 years older and dragons are now a way of life on the far flung island of Berk. In this movie we find that there are many others out there interested in dragons, but in different ways.

There are pirates who capture dragons to take back to Drago, the villain in this movie, who is amassing a dragon army.  Stoick, Hiccup's father and chief of the village of Berk, tells him that Drago is a madman, bent on conquest.  There is also a Dragon Rider, who has been releasing captured dragons with whom Hiccup meets, and it turns out it is his own mother, Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett).  She tells Hiccup that dragons are controlled by an Alpha dragon, who protects them all.

Drago comes with his own Alpha dragon, and the two Alphas fight, with Drago's coming out victorious, taking control of ALL the dragons.  Toothless comes under the control of Drago's Alpha, and turns on Hiccup, but Stoick leaps in to save Hiccup, and gets killed in the process.  Hiccup is devastated, and when Toothless regains control of his senses, Hiccup pushes him away, and Toothless leaves with Drago, who takes his army to conquer Berk.

Hiccup, having now to assume the mantle of chief, takes his friends to ride baby dragons (who are immune to the mind control of the alpha, because babies don't listen to anyone), and head to Berk.  Hiccup's friends distract the Alpha, whilst Hiccup tries to break through the mind control with love and kindness to his dear friend Toothless.  Toothless eventually overcomes the mind control and challenges the Alpha, and the distraction breaks the mind control the Alpha had on the other dragons, and all the dragons of Berk turn on the Alpha and he is defeated.

My thoughts:

As a parent who has children of both sexes, I have been trying to ensure my children grow up self confident, emotionally astute young people, and I have spent my time looking at movies they watch with a more critical eye.

People often talk about the Bechdel test, which was named after Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist, which evaluated gender bias in works of fiction (eg movies).

I struggled to see if this movie would pass!  There were 3 female characters in the movie - Valka, Astrid (Hiccup's girlfriend) and Ruffnut, one of the twins who was part of Hiccup's group of friends.  Though all had speaking roles, I can't quite recall if they spoke to each other!  They MAY have - the girls during the dragon games - but because I can't really remember it, it means it fails the Bechdel test!

Also, because I went with young children, I watched it in 2D.  I hear the 3D was amazing, and I would probably have to watch it again on 3D Blu-Ray to get the experience.

Another thing that I found irritating, was Valka became a little bit wimpy after Stoick found her.  She was knowledgeable and formidable when Hiccup first met her but once Stoick arrived, she did not seem to participate much - which was unusual considering she had been aggressive previously, freeing captured dragons from dragon capturers. Perhaps it was because she was grieving for the fallen Alpha, or perhaps because she had lost ALL her dragons to Drago's Alpha that she was lost for ideas.

However, I have always found Hiccup inspiring.  Hiccup, who says that fighting and killing is not necessary to be great (Astrid is the fighter, Hiccup's strength is in compassion).  Hiccup is also on the slight, smaller side, which also shows that being physically strong is NOT what makes a man.  He's also lost a foot, which shows he has a handicap, but that it doesn't hinder him in any way.  Hiccup was aiming for peace, and he won the day through love and trust of his dragon, Toothless. At the end of the day, loyalty and love and kindness won the day, though the dragons did almost all of the fighting.

The movie overall was excellent, which was surprising for a sequel.  The emotions were real, the dialogue fresh and the characters engaging. Naturally the dragons were a great attraction and the death of his father a necessary tragedy to allow Hiccup the room to grow into the leader he was supposed to be. Astrid and Hiccup had a very mature relationship, and even Fishlegs and Snotlout competing for Ruffnut's affections were hilarious (even though she did the stereotypical thing and fell head over heals for the good looking dragon pirate Eret).  It's aimed at an older audience, I think, but still retains the charm that will interest the younger ones - I certainly enjoyed it, it was as good as the first one!  It's like Toy Story - where the characters and voices are all the same, but it's a different story yet still as engrossing as the first.

I hope that in the next film, part of Hiccup remains that awkward and slight young man, whose leadership comes from the ability to see what is right no matter what the old habits may be, in that Toy Story tradition (though this movie is Dreamworks, not Pixar)  It's a movie that I think teaches some great values to my children and I can't wait to get it on Blu-Ray so I can watch it again!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Transcendence - WARNING SPOILERS!

I had watched the trailer for Transcendence and it looked interesting and had a good cast - but the internet reviews I had glanced at had abyssmal reviews, so despite those reviews, I went to see it and felt that I had to write about it.

I don't know what debuting director Wally Pfister, a gifted cinematographer in his films with Christopher Nolan, was hoping to extract from the surprise-free script by Jack Paglen. But all I can cull is: don't mess with Mother Nature and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Fortune-cookie stuff. Erase All.
- Peter Traves, Rolling Stone

After a cool, subdued, intellectually stimulating first act, the film offers an idea so impossible to digest, a concept that so obviously should have been poisoned at the script stage, that it beggars belief (literally) – and then bases the rest of the film around it. It doesn’t recover.
- CJ Johnson, ABC radio Australia

This is like a heavy-handed and humourless version of Spike Jonze's postmodern comedy Her, mulched in with the old sci-fi novel Donovan's Brain, about keeping someone's brain alive in a tank. We are invited to believe in Johnny Depp as a mathematical genius in the field of artificial intelligence.
- Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Yet there were also some positive reviews

TRANSCENDENCE, scripted by Jack Paglen, isn't your average sci-fi thriller, but a terrifically exciting exploration into the corruption of total power. The plotting is clever if, at times, not easy to follow, and the characters are given more complex motives than you find in lesser sci-fi movies. Johnny Depp is impressive as the quiet but increasingly fanatical genius whose evolution is the film's core, and the strong supporting cast includes Morgan Freeman as a more sceptical scientist, Kate Mara as the leader of the violent resistance, and Cillian Murphy as a CIA agent. Visually and dramatically, TRANSCENDENCE is a cut above the average, a film of ideas as well as thrills.
- At the Movies with Margaret and David

For the moment, anyone with a fondness for broad canvas, ideas-heavy sci-fi should ignore the negative scuttle and give Transcendence the benefit of the doubt. It may not be perfect, but it's a sincerely ambitious first feature from a film-maker who has both the technical skill and artistic vision to aim for the stars.
- Mark Kermode, The Observer

So what did I think?

Scathing reviews always prepare you for disappointment, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that I actually ENJOYED the film.  It is not an action packed techno-thriller, but a science fiction and love story.

Dr Will Caster (Depp) is an inspirational researcher into Artificial Intelligence, and his wife Evelyn Caster is a researcher in her own right.  Their good friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), who is another scientist with a basis in programming ad philosophy joins with them to do a presentation on Artificial Intelligence in the hope they will be given a grant to continue their research.  The presentation appears to be a success, but Will is shot by anti-technology terrorists with a bullet that leaves him with radiation poisoning, and he is given a month to live.  These terrorists had also simultaneously hit AI labs across the globe, bringing their agenda to the forefront.

One lab had successfully managed to upload a Rhesus monkey's consciousness into a computer, and Evelyn decides she wants to do this for Will.  He agrees, and in his dying days Will is hooked up to the machines and the electrical data from his brain is uploaded to the giant mega computer that Will had built as part of his AI project.

Eventually Will dies and Evelyn and is consumed with trying to make the AI work.  She's about to throw it all in when there is a response and they realise that the transfer worked.  Will wants more knowledge, he needs access to the internet, be global.  Max has his hesitations, but he seems happy at the time that the procedure was a success.

As he leaves and having a drink, the anti-technology group approaches him, appealing to him to see what an abomination he has made, and how it is a threat to them all.  He tries to leave, but they kidnap him.  They initiate an attack to try to stop Will's upload into the internet, but were unsuccessful.  Now he is out there, global, in every system, all over the world.

Will and Evelyn need more power.  So they move to desert town and build up a massive underground server complex and massive solar farm to power it.  Will begins to use nanotechnology to heal human diseases, revive dead plants - in fact, to change the world.  The technology is amazing and a little scary.

As the movie moves on Max converts to the terrorists way of thinking and designs a virus to bring Will down.  This would mean that technology all over the world would be affected, shutting down technology would set civilisation back a century.

Evelyn begins to believe Max and offers herself as the carrier of the virus.  But at the end, you see that Will sees that everyone is afraid of him, though that was not the intention and he uploads the virus into himself via Evelyn and essentially kills himself.

I really enjoyed this film. The concept is not new - of a human-like AI - but the exploration of how we humans think how a machine would behave and how they would think.  The fear of how we, as less intellectual and less than perfect beings would exist in a world where a logical sentient being has the ability to run our existence like a god - it was entertaining, and thought provoking.  There was criticism that the end of the film, that an omnipotent computer brain was able to be undone by a simple virus that it knew about and did not undertake measures to preserve itself.  That however, was the clutch of the story - throughout the whole movie there was a fear that the new AI was going to destroy mankind and turn everyone into networked slaves (I'm thinking Star Trek Borg), but in the end, the AI was still the essence of the human, who loved his wife, and was trying to make her dream come true (which was to heal the world, eradicate disease) and he accepted that humanity was not ready for the revolution that he was bringing, and so accepted his death.  Much more human than computer.  I found that really evocative.  As expected with an academy award winner for cinematography, the movie is beautiful.

Another criticism is that the storyline was not believable.  I think they're referring to the nanotechnology. I admit that nanotech scares me because if they are like programs, or a virus, then they can mutate into something else, divert from their purpose.  The nanites were reapiring everything from the materials in the ground, using organic matter to reconstruct organic matter (like dead leaves or damaged eyes).  It may sound outrageous now but in the future that may really be how technology works.

This is a work of science fiction.  It's not meant to be a blockbuster.  I think it left a lot of food for thought especially in the post apocalyptic period.  I felt that the scathing reviews did the movie no justice.  But I recommend that you see it for yourself and decide - it's not the bitter disappointment that everyone has made it out to be.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Feminism and Masculinism - what are we teaching our children?

The Feminism debate emerged again during another World of Warcraft executive interview.  He made a comment that set Twitter and the Blogosphere on fire.  It's not new, the debate of women in gaming, and it feels like the same old arguments are thrown out all over again.  In fact, the feminist discontent is always there, like a low banked flame, but every time a debate goes out, it's as if someone threw boiling oil over it to make it flare hot again.

My take on the whole thing is that yes, they don't do the "women" thing well at Blizzard.  Rob Pardo probably shouldn't have said that it might have to do with the way all the guys grew up with comics and sexualised women - but it was conjecture not scripted, I think, and that was the problem.  The poor guy just said something off the top of his head and everyone jumped on it.  He doesn't REALLY know why there is so little equality in Blizzard, but it's obvious to me - guys don't really get women and they will write or script how their imaginations work.  I'm a woman and I write like a woman, do you really think I can write about how a man thinks or how men should be in the world except from my point of view?

People said Blizzard should fix this lack of females high up in the Blizz management.  I disagree - you can't just FIX it by putting a token woman or other female empathist.  You put the RIGHT person in there.  A lot of people believe that it's by educating everyone about feminism and equal opportunity that it will somehow make it right.  That's not what I believe.  You can't talk about it or write about it - the people listening to you already KNOW all this.  You need to DO it.  You need to make the difference.  If you really believe that there need to be more women CEOs - well go do it!  I believe that women need to be more represented in the upper eschelons of medical heirarchy and rather than complain about it, I went and did it.  I rewrote rosters, organising the disorganised chaos our trainees faced when faced when we started our anaesthetic career; daily allocations were streamlined to follow, and I made some resource booklets for the subspecialty modules so that trainees knew what to learn, who they could go to and what lists were available if they were lacking in a particular area.  Actions speak louder than words. I never complained about the heirarchy, I made sure that I became an essential part of it, and now, here I am.  Writing or voicing complaints about it does not get you anywhere, the people higher up need to SEE and be SHOWN that the person who can make the difference is WILLING to make that step.

This article was on my twitterfeed  - "When Masculinity Fails Men" and it was a great read.  Dr Nerdlove wrote:
I’ve written about this before: the definition of “masculinity” pitched to men – especially young men – is one of violence, social dominance, anti-intellectualism and aggressive, even uncontrollable, sexuality. “Toughness” and stoicism are the only acceptable forms of expression besides anger and danger is the only worthwhile pursuit. Respect isn’t earned so much as taken, only to be given when you’ve impressed others sufficiently with how tough – how manly – you are.
A friend of mine linked a video about how we bring up our sons and daughters, and how the media influences them. Why are boys always depicted as confronting danger and fighting, even if it's in the cause for good?  Why are emotions and caring considered to be feminine and weak?  Why are girls allowed to wear masculine clothes and boys are not to wear anything that hints at being feminine?

There is no inbetween for males - you're either manly or you're a pussy.  Males may have to constantly be battling the threats to making them vulnerable because if people take away your power or status then they're taking away your manhood.  There's nothing in between manly and pussy. And society reinforces this.  And as Dr Nerdlove says, the most common way of establishing this power is violence or the threat of violence. And now they need to re-establish themselves by punishing those who threaten their masculinity, for daring to make them weak.

This is what I want to avoid for my son.  In a world where boys where blue and black and play with guns and tanks and cars, I leave my son open to choices of what he enjoys rather than what society thinks he should enjoy.  I want my son to be an emotionally well balanced individual who acknowledges and accepts and understands the feelings of others.  I want him to be able to solve his problems without intimidation in a world where threatening behaviour seems to be the norm when it comes to getting your way. It seems like a huge ask.

But what am I doing about my daughter, I hear you say. It's much easier for me to raise a well balanced daughter than it is to raise a well balanced son.  She has a mother who is independent, who believes she is capable of anything she puts her mind to.  A mother who doesn't notice who is a boy or a girl, black or white, but judges them on their merit.  It seems to be a natural tendency for my daughter to gravitate towards female hero figures, pink and pretty things, but there is nothing wrong with that.  Her mother does that too!  As long as she knows that its not her sex that limits her, but her dedication, commitment and drive then I will be happy.  People may say "Oh, she'll found out soon enough how rough it is against women in the real world," but in truth, I have never found this to be the case. I have never thought being female was a sign of weakness (except when it comes to lifting heavy things), because my mind is my strength.

And I hope that both my kids will grow to respect everyone, regardless of sex, and be empathetic and understanding individuals and help break this cycle of feminism and masculinism that seems to grip our culture in this modern day and age.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Restaurant Review - Aria

I've been to Aria a few times - I used to go there for the pre-theatre dinners when we used to subscribe to the Opera.  However, it's been a number of years since I went, and since then it's still kept its hatted status as one of the great restaurants of Sydney.

A group of female friends decided we would do some fine dining and try Aria out again.  We went with the tasting menu, and 2 of them had the matching wines with their food.

King salmon confit with horseradish, brook trout caviar, apple and dill
2012 Peter Zemmer ‘Punggl’ Pinot Bianco, Alto Adige Italy 

Wagyu beef cured and smoked with pickled cucumber, dijon mustard and rye bread 
2012 Golden Ball ‘Cherish’ Rosé, Beechworth Victoria 

Roasted scallops with Coorong pipis, calamari, celery and hazelnut oil 
2013 Jauma ‘Blewitt Springs’ Chenin Blanc, McLaren Vale South Australia 

John dory with mascarpone, fennel, verjus and semi-dried salted grapes 
2009 Cotes d’Auxerre ‘Biaumont’ J-Hugues & Ghislaine Goisot, Burgundy France 

Kipfler potato poached in butter milk with brioche, shaved truffle and roasted onions 
2009 Barolo ‘Blagheur’ Cascina Ghercina, Piemonte Italy 

Moran’s Family lamb loin with salt baked celeriac, sunflower seeds, lemon aspen and saltbush 
2005 Zitta ‘Greenock’ Shiraz, Barossa Valley South Australia 

Black sesame seed parfait with passionfruit jelly, yuzu and almonds 
 2013 Top Note Semillon Rosé, Adelaide Hills South Australia

I think the food was very well done, but the service was a little lacking.  Usually the waiters come and tell you about your meal, but for at least 3 of them they just put the food down and didn't tell us what was in it. The menu was next to us, but I do like them to tell us as well!  The salmon was great, and I always love scallops!  The Dory was also very tasty, and the lamb was done well.  the presentation of the dessert was nice, and I quite enjoyed that, but I think he lamb was the most memorable dish for me.

The ladies quite enjoyed their wines too!

But be prepared for a hefty bill - harbour views and 2 hats don't come cheap!