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Artist and aspiring researcher.

bird mites

In late November 2015 we had a bit of a bird mite infestation (we think).  First awareness of it as an insect issue was after going to the doctor with what I thought was a strange rash; the doctor advised that this was urticaria (a new word for me  – ie. hives) resulting from an allergic reaction most likely to some type of insect…. The worst case scenario for us was bed bugs…

Traumatic bed bugs: years ago a friend was house-sitting for us and she has the unlucky superpower of being super-sensitive to bed bug bites – massive allergic reaction.  We (in 2009) were sceptical at first having never knowingly come across these, and that we didn’t have any such reaction – however once we started looking we found all the evidence – blood spotting on the sheets, mattress and furniture near the bed, shed skins and little white eggs in the joins of the wooden bed frame and nearby wooden bookshelf – and laid there as test bait with a torch at the ready and saw them crawling on us.    Well we learnt a few lessons in dealing with this issue over the next few months – the biggest help was the ‘Code of Practice For the Control of Bed Bug Infestations in Australia‘ by Stephen Doggett of the Department of Medical Entomology at Westmead Hospital in Sydney.

So returning to late 2015, we were cautiously aware that unlike this previous experience and later encounters with ‘chinches’ while travelling in Latin America in 2013 that our current allergic reaction suggested something different.  Nevertheless we isolated all sheets and clothing in the bed room, bagging these up and systematically hot washed and freezing these while we looked for BB evidence (bloodspots, eggs, cascas, certain sweet smell) – nothing; and this was a relief.  But we still didn’t know what this issue was – and it’s not much fun to be covered in painfully itchy bites!

To cut the ramble short – there were two possibilities that we saw as being plausible: bird mites or rate mites.  We had heard scurrying in the roof above our bed recently, and we had noticed a lot of birds around.  Our landlord came around and found bird droppings in the roof cavity and some small holes in the ceiling tiles.

We did some more research and found an article in the Australian Department of Health’s Communicable Diseases Intelligence journal describing a bird mite infestation in Wollongong at a similar time of year: apparently young starlings are known to leave their nests at this time of year, and their opportunistic bird mites hungrily seek out an alternate meal.  Humans, although not satisfactory, make a decent second best in the short term.  Inspired by this author’s detective work, we purchased a USB microscope from JayCar and got our clear tape at the ready – and when Caroline felt something crawling on her torso we were able to get it on the sticky tape:

bird mite microscope image 27nov2015

A tiny thing (it was fun playing entomologist)! And it really did match up to the profile of either a rat mite or bird mite.  Doing a bit of investigation, I found an empty nest in a cluster of branches of an overgrown vine-extending tree which had over the past few months grown to extend brushing up against the mesh screen of our bedroom window and which had also pushed their way into the roof eaves above our bedroom.  Well I did some severe pruning to this tree, and a pest inspector sent by the landlord also suggested he thought bird mites were the likely source of the bites and he sprayed some pyrethrum  in the guttering  (a step I wasn’t sure about as I thought this might send things scurrying into our house!  But he was the expert so we went with it).  It is now a couple of months later and things seem fine, so the idea of bird mites having a last ditech attempt at a meal after their little bird hosts had skipped the nest seems like the likely explanation for the bites and the  allergic reaction I had.

So here is a little song and video, the latter featuring some microscope footage from the Digitech 5MP USB microscope camera of our bird mite!

Quick little mash up video using some old footage I had lying around (see fox-faced dancing animal in the Ghostlight video), Resolume, the bird mite microscope vid, and a webcam shot of some paper with ‘dear Adversaire’ written on it.

Latex to Excel

Converting LaTeX tables to Excel is a pain; here are some steps I found useful for reformatting and removing persistent hidden whitespace characters:

  • remove the \\ symbols and import the latex text document in Excel with the ampersand symbol (&) set as a delimiter (simple and good idea from this blog post – thank you Ever Barbero!)
  • replacing intervening table code (e.g. \multicolumn{5}{c} ) and remaining curly brackets with nothing
  • and replacing sub-/super-script (eg. ^2) and other symbol codes (eg. \chi) with their equivalent unicode characters (e.g. χ²)
  • using the ‘TRIM(cell reference)’ formula in Excel to remove space characters except for single space between words/values…. However in itself I found this did not work satisfactorily.  Through trial and error I found that the embellishment of the TRIM() function as TRIM(CLEAN(cell reference)) removes hidden characters which trim alone may not. I had hidden spaces screwing up alignment of table items, and expanding this formula —actually, IF(ISBLANK(cell reference,””,TRIM(CLEAN(cell reference))) , so empty cells didnt’ return as errors — to reference the tables contents, and then pasted as values over the top solved this problem.

Whilst writing this post I found a StackOverflow post covering this and a few other tips which would have saved me some trial and error time if I found it sooner.

Ebola in West Africa: What Australian politicians haven’t been talking about

What Australian politicians don’t seem to have been discussing is involvement in West Africa to assist with the growing, regionally devastating but globally relevant Ebola epidemic.

Since being identified in Guinea in March 2014 cases of infection spread to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, since June has been reported to be increasingly out of control, and has more recently spread to Nigeria (including cases in Lagos, a major global trade hub) and possibly Senegal. The World Health Organisation (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in particular have been highlighting the inadequacy of the global response to this regional disaster for months now. The health infrastructure of these countries has been overwhelmed, as have organisations such as MSF: there are shortages of medical professionals, beds, protective gear, co-ordination… big problems which wealthy countries such as Australia can and should assist with. According to MSF:

It is clear that the Ebola epidemic will not be contained without a massive deployment of medical and disaster relief specialists from states. The governments of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are doing everything they can to try to fight this epidemic. They desperately need international support. Their doctors and nurses having been dying and risking their lives on the front line of this outbreak

Providing funds is not enough. Available infectious disease experts and disaster relief specialists from countries with these capacities must deploy teams to the affected countries. In addition to a larger deployment of medical and epidemiological specialists, additional laboratory capacity for Ebola testing; ambulances and helicopters to safely transport samples and suspected cases; and supplies to ensure safe burials are needed immediately.

The Australian government has announced the contribution of $1 million to the WHO for the West African emergency response, however we should be urgently discussing what technical and logistical support we can provide to this unprecedented humanitarian emergency.

The Black Sea: what Australian politicians have been talking about

A ceasefire has been signed between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian seperatist rebels, which is good news presumably for civilians whilst this lasts (it sounds like this is not a popular move with combatants on either side); there is an intelligent discussion by Mark Adomanis in Forbes of why encouragement of an on-going guerrilla war against Russia, if they are involved in ‘an invasion’, would be a disaster for Ukrainians and should not be encouraged by NATO. Meanwhile, the Australian government has announced the opening an embassy in Kiev and plans to provide “non-lethal” support to the Ukrainian military.

A little further southeast of the Black Sea The encouragement of guerrilla warfare via proxy populations appears to be what is occuring in Iraq, with Australia having announced the supplying of weapons to the Kurdish military to combat ISIS. A key difference to the difficulties being faced by Ukraine is that Australia has played a role in the political destabilisation of Iraq and Syria over the past decade, but what both situations have in common are their complexity. In a post on the Lowy Interpreter, James Brown has discussed ‘Five fallacies in Australian thinking on Iraq’, highlighting the lack of sober and honest debate by Australian politicians and journalists over our involvement in the conflict, in particular regarding ‘why’, ‘how’ and what the ramifications might be.

Hypocrisy, bad diplomacy and nationalist arrogance: Australia as led by Tony Abbott

“The bullying of small countries by big ones, the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandisement, and reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world.”

The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made the above rhetorically noble statement on Friday 18 July 2014, in response to news of the down-ing (presumably by missile) of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over a region of eastern Ukraine in the midst of civil war. Apparently admonishing Russia, whose government is alleged to be backing the pro-Russian seperatist rebels, this self-righteously antagonistic and undiplomatic comment was made at a time when little evidence of what occurred was available and when cooperation between all sides concerned needed emphasis above point scoring in domestic politics: which is what this was really about, opportunistic drumming of drama and rhetoric to deflect attention away from the parliament’s passing of the abolition of carbon pricing the day before, 17 July 2014. Check out the policies obituary here.

The leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Christine Milne, and Senator Lisa Singh of the Australian Labor Party both provided inspiring speeches against the repeal, which was subsequently passed:

A vote for the abolition of the clean energy package is a vote for failure because it is a recognition that this parliament does not want to face up to the four to six degrees of warming, which is the trajectory we are on as a planet. They do not want to face up to what is intergenerational theft, because a planet facing the warming that we are now being subjected to, and will be subjected to, is a planet experiencing the sixth extinction crisis. It will be a planet suffering rising sea levels. It will be a planet suffering food security crises and it will be a nation, Australia, failing to play our role in global negotiations. We will be a global pariah as the rest of the world moves to try to secure a treaty in 2015 to give people on this planet a chance of survival in the face of a climate emergency. Australia will be relegated to a pariah and a backwater.

– Senator Christine Milne, 17 July 2014

This is a fundamental moment in Australia’s history. We are about to devastate the future of this country. We are about to take this country backwards in droves through the mindless ideological bent of the coalition. Australia today will be a laughing stock to the rest of the world. We are sending this country backwards—and all for what? For playing politics: playing politics with Australia’s future, playing politics with our environment and playing politics with our children.

– Senator Lisa Singh, 17 July 2014

The irony of Abbott’s admonishment of Russia (which was antagonistic, counterproductive but apparently politically expedient, with a rise in popularity attributed to the bellicose posturing) is that Australia with it’s recent change in carbon emission reduction policy has recently been singled out with less rhetoric but much the same sentiment by Fijian president Frank Bainimarama at the Pacific Islands Development Forum for being selfishly indifferent to the fate of its’ Pacific island neighbours, whose communities’ futures are threatened by climate change associated rises in sea levels.

I’ve written this post to record these side-lined aspects of the past few weeks, and to state that I am looking forward to a future Australian government, comprising inspiring politicians such as Milne, Singh and Penny Wong, which will more actively engage with our Pacific neighbours and show greater leadership in the global community; an Australia which is less of a bully and more of a champion on issues of human rights and climate change.

Music, inspiration and human bodies

Two songs to inspire with striking harmonic similarity, despite their different approaches and pace:

For me these two songs are incredibly emotionally stirring, in very different ways. The first song, ‘The Way Down’ by Wim Mertens, is from the score to the film Fiesta (1995) about the Spanish civil war and the human tragedy of war, in general. Through it’s bolero-esque militarism and increasing discordance as the piece progresses I think it impressively captures the fervour, despair and tragedy of internal conflict between a country’s government and its people; although I’m thankful I have not experienced this myself to know first hand. This live performance was from 2008, and possibly through my association of the music with the film I experience it as evocative of humanitarian injustice and cruelty, the excesses of nationalism and inspiring of a reaction against this.

The second piece, ‘Audio, Video, Disco’ by the French duo Justice (2011) is experienced as more spiritually uplifting, although I find it difficult to articulate how exactly… Justice’s performances play on the crossover of ecstasy and fervour experienced through both religion and electronic dance music: the DJ as secular prophet. (two other links, very tangentially related: ‘Last night a DJ saved my Life‘ by Indeep (1982), and ‘Lost in Music‘ by Sister Sledge/Niles Rogers and Bernard Edwards of Chic). This linkage is clearly not new, and has been written about.

Personally I’m not sure about the dance music / relgion metaphor: whilst there can be formal similarities in terms of gatherings of people, group excitement, even dancing, most religions have a clear ethical dimension. Dance music as experienced at parties, clubs and festivals may be considered as dionysian/bacchanalian; and I’m sure humans have always found occasions to have a release from social responsibility, but Contemporary dance music, through its association with commercialism has a notable tendency to being “apolitical” (except in the more latent sense of being complicit with consumerism/capitalism) and ethically agnostic, seemingly more about sensuality, fun and escapism than any purposeful ‘way of being’.

I think what might make ‘Audio, Video, Disco’, and other dance music, special is its bodiliness: beat pumping like blood, breath and muscles (deep, excited, spiked with adrenaline, as though by sex or ecstatic religious experience) and sensuality (frequencies washing over and into our bodies, exciting our ears; we dance, we sweat); like a sonic manifestation of beingness that makes us more fully aware of how alive we and those around us are.

What these songs also have in common, is that I like them both, a lot.

Table of two-sided P-values for the chi-squared distribution (d.f. = 1)

Frustrated at being unable to find a detailed chi-squared distribution for only 1 degree of freedom, as used for results of the Mantel Haenszel chi-squared test, to quickly reference your test statistic for the approximate two-sided P-value? I was, so delved into Excel to construct the following table – colour coded for glory! – using the formula “CHISQ.DIST.RT(x,deg_freedom)” for results from 0.000 (P-value = 1.00) to 15.975 (P-value = 0.000064) in increments of 0.025. Critical values are in bold.

To use, cross-reference your Mantel-Haenszel chi-squared result first with the whole numbers at the top of the columns and then with the approximate decimal point to find the corresponding approximate P-value. For example for MHX2 of 8.43 you would cross reference 8 at the top with 0.450 on the side to find the two-sided P-value of 0.0037.

Enjoy the rainbow of probability! It can be downloaded by clicking on the tools icon “>>” in the upper right-hand corner and selecting “download”.

Download the PDF file .

You can also make your own table of areas in the upper tail of the standard normal distribution (one-sided P-value) in Excel using the formula “=1-NORMSDIST(‘Z-score array’!D5)” Where ‘z-score array’ refers to a seperate worksheet (called ‘z-score array’ with an the arbitrarily demonstrated cell ‘D5’ which is one of many in an array of z-score values from 0 to 3.99 (or higher, I went to 4.49, but that’s a pretty small area in the tail there….), arranged with x.x down the left column and -.-x across the top column. Ha, or you could just look it up in a book, hey? 🙂

Download the PDF file .

live ambient electro at the Alley Cat (2009) with clouds…

I ‘borrowed’ some samples here from the wonderful sound and new media art archive (I hope nobody minds? I doubt anyone will notice! but just in case they do these are great clips, so I’m sharing the sources):
‘One million years’ by On Kawara
‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ read by James Joyce
‘Glossolalia: speaking in tounges’ from UbuWeb Ethnopoetics archive
Speaking Freely hosted by Edwin Newman features Marshall McLuhan 4 Jan 1971, Public Broadcasting/N.E.T.” (53 seconds in… gold)

Also, the chapter ‘people and countries’ of a Librivox recording of ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ by Friedrich Nietzsche, and read by ‘Gesine’ (who has a great reading voice!)

Performed on a Korg N1, Nord micromodular, Novation X-station and playing samples on an mp3 player. Songs: Intro; Remember when the 1990s were the future?; Let’s be lazy; “all night long” (haha just a hint at 9’06”); jupiter; (14’18”) latter day art (beyond good and evil); Glossolalia; That’s the he and the she of it; The visual man

The video was made as projected visuals for Hobart+Music=Yeah in 2010. I like how if you stare at the clouds for long enough you (or just i?) see strange animals and faces emerge; trippy…