The Dreamer Who Falls

So it goes
Just a searcher
Lonely soul
The last of the dreamers

- David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels, "The Dreamers" ('hours . . .')

This page is self-indulgently all about me. Anyone looking for news of my recent exploits should maybe look at my main page (although that only gets an update about once a year). Or just email me.

The Mysteries
The Whole David Bowie Thing


Why do we fall, Bruce?
So we can learn to pick ourselves up.

- Thomas Wayne,
Batman Begins

I'm a Sydney boy, educator, researcher, writer, valetudinarian, dreamer, technocrat and Eurasian with one parent from Hong Kong. More than most, my life is defined by my academic pursuits. This is true in more ways than I care to share here.

I was in astro because I thought it would be cool to do since I was five, propelling me on a trajectory through a Science degree at Sydney Uni (majors in Maths and Physics, with Physics Honours), followed by a Masters in Astrophysics. The page you read now was originally at the School of Physics, Sydney University. At that place I played with algorithms to quantify the galaxy distribution with my supervisors, Andrew Hopkins and Richard W. Hunstead. My honours thesis was a study of Extremely Red Galaxies (ERGs) in Phoenix, and here's the paper in which we also introduced an multiscale structure identification algorithm. After much testing and development, we applied this algorithm, Multiscale Probability Mapping (MSPM), to the Seventh Data Release of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Our paper is here, and we made it pretty! My MSc thesis is my best work to date, but I hope to do much better!

Research is great and all, but sometimes a bit of pragmatism is a Good Thing. This is a concept that has proved especially difficult for me to grasp, but I think I'm beginning to understand. My career as an educator began at Sydney Uni where I worked as a tutor in Physics labs and tutorials. This later became more serious when I did a Bachelor of Teaching at UTS. I was a high school Maths and Science teacher at various schools, including Masada College, Epping Boys, Asquith Boys, North Sydney Girls, Clement College, Mosman High, Wollemi College and Kingsgrove High.

I now find myself back in tertiary education, working for EduCo, who mostly have me at Southern Cross University teaching Maths. I also still teach school-age kids at the Ryde branch of CS Education. I am fortunate to enjoy everything I do, I think teaching is great and that I will only get better at it. Now, more than ever before, I am living life at a pace that I choose, and am likely to return to academic research soon, in a very novel way.

The Mysteries

This is the tragedy of life. Because for a few minutes of every day, every man becomes a genius. Moments of clarity, insight, whatever you want to call them. The clouds part, the planets get in a neat little line, and everything becomes obvious. I should quit smoking, maybe, or here's how I could make a fast million, or such and such is the key to eternal happiness. That's the miserable truth. For a few moments, the secrets of the universe are opened to us. Life is a cheap parlor trick.
- Jonathan Nolan,
Memento Mori

"The Mysteries" - David Bowie, The Buddha of Suburbia

Having studied all the hard sciences and taught them too, my intellectual interests might seem that narrow. But these pursuits were motivated by a perceived need for focus, for various reasons along the way. I wrote a history of the world, because I always got the impression my History lessons were cherry-picking too much. I also wrote about Economics because my Economics lessons were somewhat, uhh, utilitarian.

These school-age interests in the Humanities were followed by a brief study of Psychology at uni and during my Physics Honours I completed a Philosophy unit that resulted in work that would have been published, had I been a little less busy at the time. The ornate style of my MSc thesis is also an indication of a wannabe artist (more faux artistry here), and the connections I like to make between Science and other disciplines. Most recently, I have helped school students with their writing, a process that I've found fascinating. How to entrain the artistry of the written word?

So I am interested in more than what I'm supposed to be, but these interests just haven't found an adequate outlet yet. But they will - I'm interested in the deep questions of our existence - philosophical and theological questions - and how these questions might be elucidated most efficiently with a combination of art and science. Ultimately, it's the patterns of our existence that interest me more than their manifestation in any particular context, (like Science). Exactly what I have in mind will have to wait, but solving these mysteries is as important to me as anything else I do.


'A robot who is also a roboticist,' said Vasilia, with a touch of contempt.
- Isaac Asimov,
Robots and Empire

It probably isn't smart to publicly say too much about what's wrong (or, as I think, right) with me, but I can definitely see myself as the hero of my favourite movie, Memento's Leonard Shelby. He is disciplined and organised, which, with his anterograde amnesia, is the only way his life is possible. While I don't have that condition, my particular psychosis forces me to do things in certain ways to make my life possible. Just as Leonard is able to turn his disability into strength, I am able to turn my weakness into strength.

I have what can sometimes seem like two personalities. One of them is the flamboyant showman who often appears at the front of the classroom, while the other is the obsessive perfectionist who nails every detail. They may look contradictory, but they're both me - it has nothing to do with moods, I think it's more of an innate discipline that is unnatural to almost everyone else.

It's probably the fault of my philosophically-illiterate self that I don't know the school of thought for this, but I'm sure that the features of our inner space - the neurosphere - have implications for the outer space of our experience. Exploring this is part of my intellectual ambition.

The Whole David Bowie Thing

David Bowie Is The Greatest Rock Star Ever. So, basically, the more Bowie albums you've listened to, the better person you are. There isn't really any question about that. The real question is, which Bowie album is best?
- "Dream", at
xkcd's Echochamber in 2008

Most people who have anything to do with me know that I'm a pretty obsessed Bowie fanboy. They've either seen references to him in my writing, heard me effuse about his awesomeness, heard me put Bowie songs on for classes I teach or even heard me sing his songs. He gets more interesting the more one learns about him, and I'm convinced that he really was a genius. The style with which he did things - the intellect, artistry, humour, ambition and grace - are transferable to any discipline. This is how, even though I'm not a musician, and even though I'll never have his looks or money, David Bowie is the hero I most wished I could be like.

The problem with vocal music, and a large part of why, for a long time, I did not listen to it, is that the music must bend to fit the lyrics. And if music truly means without words, much of its potential to move is lost. But what if a vocal artist had the skill to write lyrics flexible enough to leave the music as unbent as possible? If that artist could bend the lyrics to fit the music instead? I've decided that this is the strength of Bowie's abstract lyrics: that he is not constrained to literal exposition - and there are further possibilities allowed by this approach.

I was hooked initially by Something In The Air. I know it has lots of haters but 'hours . . .' stubbornly remains my favourite album. "Station To Station" is sung by a man in a space I know so well, and "The Dreamers" might as well have been written about me.

To comprehensively answer Dream's question, my favourite Bowie songs are: well it depends on how many I'm allowed to choose. If just one favourite, it's "The Dreamers" ('hours . . .'; Omikron: The Nomad Soul longer version).

If I'm allowed to pick ten, they are (in chronological order):
    "Cygnet Committee" (Space Oddity)
    "Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise)" (Diamond Dogs, iSelect)
    "Station to Station" (Station To Station)
    " 'Heroes' " ('Heroes')
    "Hallo Spaceboy" (1. Outside, Nothing Has Changed; version featuring the Pet Shop Boys)
    "Something In The Air" ('hours . . .')
    "The Dreamers" ('hours . . .'; Omikron: The Nomad Soul longer version)
    "New Killer Star" (Reality)
    "Love Is Lost" (The Next Day Extra EP; the extended version (10:25) of the Hello Steve Reich mix is most interesting, but The Next Day's original version is the one I've cried over)
    "Dollar Days" (Blackstar)

If I'm allowed to pick thirty, they are (in chronological order):
    "Cygnet Committee" (Space Oddity)
    "Conversation Piece" (2002 Re-Recorded version for Heathen digital edition)
    "Queen Bitch" (Hunky Dory)
    "All The Young Dudes" (Nothing Has Changed; the Mott the Hoople version is also pretty cool)
    "Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise)" (Diamond Dogs, iSelect)
    "Win" (Young Americans)
    "Station to Station" (Station To Station)
    "Golden Years" (Station To Station)
    "Sound and Vision" (Low)
    " 'Heroes' " ('Heroes')
    "Absolute Beginners" (Absolute Beginners soundtrack, Nothing Has Changed)
    "Jump They Say" (Black Tie White Noise)
    "The Mysteries" (The Buddha of Suburbia)
    "Dead Against It" (The Buddha of Suburbia)
    "The Hearts Filthy Lesson" (1. Outside)
    "Hallo Spaceboy" (1. Outside, Nothing Has Changed; version featuring the Pet Shop Boys)
    "The Motel" (1. Outside)
    "Thru' These Architects Eyes" (1. Outside)
    "Thursday's Child" ('hours . . .')
    "Something In The Air" ('hours . . .')
    "Survive" ('hours . . .')
    "No One Calls" ('hours . . .' Expanded Edition)
    "The Dreamers" ('hours . . .'; Omikron: The Nomad Soul longer version)
    "Slip Away" (Heathen)
    "Slow Burn" (Heathen)
    "New Killer Star" (Reality)
    "Fall Dog Bombs the Moon" (live from A Reality Tour)
    "Love Is Lost" (The Next Day Extra EP; the extended version (10:25) of the Hello Steve Reich mix is most interesting, but The Next Day's original version is the one I've cried over)
    "How Does The Grass Grow?" (The Next Day)
    "Dollar Days" (Blackstar)

My favourite album is 'hours . . .'. My favourite seven albums are:
    Station To Station (1976)
    'Heroes' (1977)
    The Buddha of Suburbia (1993)
    1. Outside (1995)
    'hours . . .' (1999)
    The Next Day (2013)
    Blackstar (2016)


Choice. The problem is choice.
- Neo, The Matrix Reloaded

It's the choices we make that define us, including the artistic works we choose to take us to the inner places we frequent most, or at least, would like to. So I'm going to reel off my favourites as a proxy for the sorts of choices that define me.

I've always been a fan of stories that mess with time, reality and similar devices. Accordingly, I count The Matrix, Inception and Memento amongst my favourite movies. Other movies I've really enjoyed include Baraka, The Bourne Identity, Contact, Empire of the Sun, The Beach and The Dark Knight.

Lately I haven't had much time for reading, and in truth I've not read very widely, but my favourite novel is The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. I liked a lot about that novel, but I guess what stood out for me was the interconnectedness of all things, the transience of the world we know, and the ever-present possibility of other worlds, both in space and, how can I put this, *time*: how things could have been, and the many ways they could go. The gorgeous imagery helped, too, and it kept reminding me of Memento; really the two are the same, just on different scales. From alternative histories to actual history.

It's always fascinated me, those other places in the past and how different they were, how unforgettable figures were forged by the choices they had to make, forced upon them by their desperate times. It's like this: often I have to value statistics of large samples, etc, but at the same time, case studies - the individuals - never lose their importance. Two narrative accounts I've read are Jung Chang's Wild Swans and Antony Beevor's Stalingrad. When speculating about history like this my mind wanders over to Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels. I know he didn't plan it, but the way they were tied up with his Robot works, particularly by Robots and Empire, was pretty inspiring. Daneel Olivaw is perhaps my favourite literary hero. The End of Eternity was a fun time-mashing story.

Apart from wondering about time, reality and suchlike, I often find myself playing with numbers in my head, studying the geometries presented to me by everyday objects and so on. Ideas about information itself, and how it means, have arguably dominated my thoughts for many years. A novel that dealt with some of that was The Memory of Whiteness, probably the most elegant novel I've ever read. If we are all floating worlds, what binds us? Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground I suppose is one of the few true classics I've read, it's a tortuous read, but well worth it. Polemic or didactic? I can't decide. From my younger days, I've always had a soft spot for Theodore Taylor's The Cay.

My favourite short story is Jonathan Nolan's Memento Mori, which happens to be the basis for the movie Memento. There are some great lines from it, like about the effects of time on memory, and every person being a chain of idiots. Once, I liked to imagine I was changeless, like Earl, but I've certainly grown up over the years, and the me of the future will probably decry my current self to no end. I'd dearly like to list some nice poems, but have read hardly any. But from what I know, the words of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (T. S. Eliot) and Kubla Khan carry a certain elegance for me.

Apart from the whole David Bowie thing above, my favourite piece is Allegro non Troppo from Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. Tchaikovsky has always carried more weight than any other composer in my mind, and I also love his Nutcracker suite and Slavonic March. Other orchestral works I like are Bach's Toccata and Fugue, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Delibes' Copella. There's a certain passage from Polovetsian Dances that I find priceless. I also listen to tracks from computer games. Games may not strike one as the best place to look for quality music, but along with some of them being great standalone pieces, they remind me of the experience of playing the games; which is great. My favourite game soundtrack is for my favourite game, Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters, although I mostly mean the fan-made remixes (all available free). I guess because those pieces are so varied, to match the variety of characters and moods from the game. Everything from the eerie majesty of Under a Red Sky to the wild twists of Frungy Party.

Other game music I like comes from other games I've played (duh). Dune carries a certain mystique I've read the novel and can see why; it is also reflected in the computer game based loosely upon it. The midi synths composed by Stephane Picq are pretty awesome, they really take me back to places within what was a very absorbing game; Spice Opera was faithful and totally worth a listen, especially "Sign of the Worm". But enough of the deep and meaningful games! I'm not above some of the ol' shoot 'em up flicks, so I must also list Bobby Prince's tracks from Doom! "Running From Evil", "The Dave D. Taylor Blues", "Into Sandy's City", classics, all of them. The mock-religious themes, combined with the action, inspired some great stuff.

The only online community I ever frequented was that for Star Control. I hear Star Control II will finally get its sequel, which I am happy about. Don't know what I'm talking about? Better get the game, then!