Thursday, July 10, 2014

A magnificent obsession: cable ties in space

Yes, I know I am obsessed. But you'll all be convinced of the archaeological importance of cable ties once my first paper on this topic comes out. Ursula Frederick and Annie Clarke are editing a volume called 'That was then, this is now: contemporary archaeology in Australia' (published by Cambridge Scholars), based on a fabulous workshop held at the University of Sydney two years ago. I spoke about cable ties as the quintessential contemporary artefact, so ubiquitous in the modern world that no-one even notices them.

This paper is far more riveting than you may believe at this point, particularly the history of the invention of cable ties. I'll say no more here so as not to spoil the surprise.

In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of space-qualified cable ties. I was with a few people walking through the Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre at Mt Stromlo last year, and of course could not fail to stop at this display. I think Roger Franzen thought I was slightly unhinged for wanting to photograph it.

Multilayer insulation blanket studs and cable ties (for attaching MLi blankets to spacecraft and minimizing the blanket-to-spacecraft conductance)

The blue colour is because the cable ties are manufactured from a radiation-resistant fluorine compound. More detailed descriptions of these materials will, of course, be in my forthcoming paper.

And the Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre is being officially opened next week! Sadly, I can't go, as I'm giving a keynote address at the Victorian State Planning Conference. This is very exciting, as former Australian Prime Minster Malcolm Fraser is also speaking, and I very much admire his opposition to our current government's loathsome policies on asylum seekers.

I haven't finished writing my talk yet (no surprises there), so I don't know if cable ties will get a look-in. You never know, though.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Up, up and g'day: Superdoreen is Miss Galaxy 1982

I came across this fabulous artwork in some catalogue or other and immediately fell in love.

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia.

It's by Julia Church, a screen print on paper made in 1982, and it's in the National Gallery of Australia. There's so much going on it that I hardly know where to begin.

So we've got an Aussie chick superhero, flying through the air with her blue cape. Possibly she is also wearing red gumboots, and that may be a bathing cap on her head. So it's almost a little bit like swimming through space. She does have superpowers, after all, and swimming is the Australian sport par excellence.

Doreen is an old-fashioned name, redolent of the Songs of the Sentimental Bloke, but also a teensy bit bogan. Our heroine is a regular girl in the mould of the immortal Rak Off Normie, like so:

She's a superhero, but she's also Miss Galaxy! Woo hoo! This of course makes me think of the Miss Universe competition of 1979, which was held in Perth around the time that Skylab made its dramatic re-entry. The fuel tank, which fell on Kalgoorlie, was exhibited on the stage of the pageant.  

Image courtesy of National Archives of Australia

One of my favourite quotes of all time is very pertinent here. Comedian and writer Kaz Cooke finds the very idea of Miss Universe intriguing, 'because, as its name suggests, people from other planets may enter'. 

For most women, this was as close as they ever got to space, being a bit decorative on the side. There were other space-related 'beauty' pageants: the Miss Guided Missile contest was popular both at the Woomera rocket launch site in South Australia and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US.

But Superdoreen is having none of this. She is 'Up, up and gooday!' (if you can read the speech bubble). This is a pun on the sunshiney 'For we can fly, up, up and away in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon', a 1967 hit pop song recorded by The Fifth Dimension. 

These pissweak balloons aren't for the likes of Superdoreen though, nor randy gents urging her to find love among the stars. She boldly goes where no Aussie has been before, with her Miss Galaxy title, her blue cape, and her red bathing cap.

My hero.