A bit of a larf

The Milky Way is warped and twisted, not flat…

…and bitter too, no doubt.

This is the astronomy story of the day. New measurements show that our home galaxy is not a smooth disc but is warped and twisted.

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Speaking of galaxies, I have solar power now. Yes, I’ve made the move at last, after thinking about it for a few years. Prices have come down and will continue to fall, but I reckon my system should pay for itself in four or five years.

I’ve bought 6.6KW of panels and a 5KW inverter from a company in South Perth called Infinite Energy. I got three quotes and was impressed by the professional web site and business-like approach of this WA firm. The other two quotes came from heavily accented guys trying to apply pressure to buy over the phone even on our first call. They put me off straight away.

My panels are by Canadian Solar (strange? – made in China, I’m sure) and the inverter is by Fronius, an Austrian company which my partner assures me has been around since the 1950s.

What this means is that I can run the 10KW ducted air-con in the daytime heat without worrying about the cost. Likewise in winter I’ll be able to put it in reverse cycle to warm the house, assuming there’s enough sun of course.

The inverter sits on the wall in the garage humming away with its fans going full bore on warm days, and showing about 5,050W generated around midday. It was down to 2,000W at 5pm today, when only half the panels are in the afternoon sun on the west, shaded on the east side. Good stuff. I wish I could afford a battery, but that will have to wait for quite a few years, I think.

Speaking of air-con, I’ve only turned it on maybe twice this summer. It’s been quite mild, I reckon.

Prospecting for gold

My partner is really getting me out of the house! We’ve done another trip, this time to Kalgoorlie on the Prospector train. I get two free trips a year on my pension card, but fool that I am, I’ve never used them up to now. Unfortunately they’re not transferrable, so the cost for the second seat was $187 return.

The train left the East Perth station at 07.10am and although we left home at 6am, I underestimated the traffic jams on the freeway and we made it with about three minutes to spare. V was practically jumping out of her seat, fearing we were going to miss it. I adopted my usual habit: don’t look at the time! When you’re stuck in traffic, there’s nothing you can do and looking at the time only raises your stress level. You’ll get there when you get there.

As it was, I had no time to read parking area signs so I just locked the car and ran for it (well, not really). Always on our mind was the possibility of a hefty parking fine, but there was no ticket when we got back at 10pm on Friday night, so all was well. What, me worry?

The trip was great, it was a beautiful morning and the ride through the older railway suburbs and Guildford revealed some of our older homes and buildings. The ride through the Avon Valley to Toodyay and Northam through the Darling Scarp was terrific. It’s the first time I’ve seen it. The river was very low but there was still a fair bit of water in it.

It flattened out after Northam and there wasn’t much colour in the stubble paddocks, but it was still interesting. Meckering, Cunderdin, Tammin, Kellerberrin, Doodlakine, all these old town names from my childhood. Most were just whistle stops but we stopped in Kellerberring for 10 mins or so, enough to get off and stretch the legs if needed (we didn’t). Very little warning that the train was leaving, though. Better not go far.

The best thing was that the afternoon was turning into wide area rain clouds with intermittent lightning. We got little rain on the train, but there were pools of water everywhere along the tracks as evidence of big showers the previous day. We hoped for a full lightning show once we got to Kal, so that we could take photos, but it wasn’t to be, turning into a dull overcast.

Then the country changed to redder soil and low scrub, before reaching the gimlet gum and sandalwood country around Southern Cross, Koolyanobbing and Bonnie Vale. Ah, Koolyanobbing, that brought back memories, the ore coming down by steam train to Wundowie and being loaded into the blast furnaces that reduced it to the molten iron, which was poured into moulds, called pigs, then picked up by giant electromagnets on a crane and thrown into piles to cool. We used to walk to school along the rail tracks, then take a shortcut through the iron works to school. It would be absolutely prohibited these days, health and safety and all that, but we came to no harm.

After Bonnie Vale it was Kalgoorlie right on time, 3pm. V had spotted a car hire ad on her phone, so we booked it. Believe it or not, it was called Racey Car Hire. The guy who met us was Kevin Racey, no fire suit or helmet, just a nice guy, $66 for 24hrs, plenty of Kms included, so off we went in a very nice Kia Cerato. Wow, very perky, very nice to drive.

We stayed in the Palace Hotel in Hannan Street:

It was only three star and struggled to make it, but we had a clean, modern bathroom. With the very high ceiling and no window except for a small fixed pane high up, it felt like being in a prison cell, but it was only one night. A bouncer warned us not to leave anything visible in our car at the back, as theft is a regular nightly event. Indeed next morning I saw some Asian tourists talking to a policeman taking notes. It seems they were done over.

We had breakfast at a shopping centre, sitting outside to try to escape the noise of the restaurant. Soon we were treated to the indigenous locals shouting their anger at anyone in range. A young woman had been sleeping on the Perth road the previous night and was run over and killed, then hit again by a following car. Sleeping on the road…that’s bad luck.

Then it was off to Mt Charlotte, the final reservoir at the end of the Mundaring to Kalgoorlie pipeline. This was all new to me. I knew the history of the line, but not the detail. It is a truly remarkable engineering feat, still in full use 112 years after completion.

Stainless steel engraving at Mt Charlotte, showing heights and distances. I’d like to print this.
I didn’t realise how far the pipeline extends into the country
Kalgoorlie from the end of the pipeline, the reservoir.

Then it was off to the Super Pit, the giant excavation to get every last ounce of gold from them thar’ hills:

Those trucks are about 330m down and take 45mins to drive up to the top (at 15Km/h).
Get some idea of the scale by the drill head at the top in the distance
Drilling shot holes in a pattern for a big blast. We missed it.

By this time it was lunchtime and we drove past the cemetery (history!) to a nice park for lunch. Observed by some birds:

Then it was off to refill the car, park it at the station, lock the keys in the boot and we were just in time to board the train again at 3.10pm. I must admit I was glad – Kalgoorlie is not my kind of town. I would have liked to explore Hannan St more I suppose, and walked the cemetery, but I’d seen enough. Been there, done that.

The train was good, although the constant slowing, braking, then speeding up got on my nerves a bit. It also sways and rocks so much it’s hard to stay on your feet for toilet and buffet visits. The toilets are modern and roomy, and don’t dump on the tracks! The air-con was good, although warm at one end of the carriage and too cool at the other. Seats were allocated and you weren’t supposed to move around, but it could have been done. One Asian lady was moved as she was too cold.

The seat backs are equipped with hi-def screens and there was a reasonable selection of movies and TV shows to watch. But the radio stations didn’t work and the “driver cam” was very poor quality.

I listened to the classical music channel on the way back, all 2hrs and 55mins of it. I’d brought my KEF headphones and they were great. The programme was eclectic and unusual, very wide ranging, from a Bach cello sonata to a Beethoven string quartet via a Mozart symphony and a cello concerto by composer unknown, possibly Prokofiev or Shostakovich. With a bit of Andre Rieu thrown in, for syrupy sweetness.

Unfortunately there was no listing of any of the titles and I feel like witing to TransWA to ask if there’s a list. I liked the music.

Back in Perth at 10pm, pretty tired. I forgot to mention, the buffet is wet and you can have a sparkling chardonnay or an SSB. They list a Yalumba Chardonnay, but no, only got SSB, love. When I asked for Semillon Sauvignon Blanc in the correct pronunciation, I got flutters and attempts to repeat it back to me, mostly failing. No, SSB is good enough for the ladies. That’ll be $7.60 please.

It was good to get home. Aaaah, my nice bed. [Video coming.]