Your computer or phone likely runs with a clock speed on the order of around 1 GHz (gigahertz) or faster (the iPhone’s A8 processor runs at 1.1 GHz). That means that there are one billion pulses per second controlling instructions inside it. This equals one pulse every nanosecond, which is just one billionth of a second.

One nanosecond compared to one second is the same as one second compared to 32 years. Every second there are as many pulses of instructions in your phone as there are seconds over the span of 32 years. Many computers run faster than this. My Intel i7 processor runs at around 3.5 GHz, so, we multiply the 32 years by 3.5, getting as many pulses per second as there are seconds in 112 years.

We can use this information to begin to understand large distances. In one nanosecond, light can travel just short of 30cm, the length of a standard school ruler. So this distance is 1 lightnanosecond. If we scale that up to one full second, a billion times more time, that light can now travel almost 299,792 km. 1 lightsecond.

How many seconds are there in a year? Let’s work it out: There are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, and 365.25 days in a year (the .25 is to account for a leap day every four years). We multiply all those factors together to get 60×60×24×365.25 = 31,557,600 seconds in a year. That’s 31 million, 557 thousand and 600 seconds.

In astronomical terms, we talk about lightyears as one base unit of distance. One year is 31,557,600 times longer than one second, so one lightyear is 31,557,600 times further than one lightsecond. So we multiply: 299,792 km × 31,557,600 = 9,460,716,019,200 km. That’s 9 trillion, 460 billion, 716 million, 19 thousand and 200 kilometers!

Now, in the world of astronomy, we’re dealing with distances so big that those 200 km at the very end of that figure really don’t make much of a difference either way. Actually, what we really care about is only the first few digits, which leads to the scientific notation of numbers. We write one lightyear as being equal to 9.641 × 10^12 km. This means that we take the first part, 9.641, and move that decimal point twelve places to the right, adding zeros as we go, like this: 9 641 000 000 000. But rather than writing these things out all the time, astronomers use the lightyear as a unit by itself (the same as we use meters or kilometers), so we write 1 ly.

Now 1 ly is a long way compared to what we normally see and experience in our day-to-day lives, but really it’s not all that far when you look at star systems, let alone the whole galaxy. In fact, the very nearest star system to us (Alpha Centauri) is a little more than 4 lightyears away. This is a three-star system, with two stars orbiting each other close together, and a third star much further out, taking more than 500 000 years to orbit the other two.

But Alpha Centauri is just our nextdoor neighbour. Even if we go out to a distance of 10 lightyears, we’re still just strolling around the cul de sac with 9 star systems that close by. Our whole street might be out to 15 ly around us, which includes about 45 star systems, and our suburb might encompass 50 ly in any direction, with around 1400 star systems.

50 lightyears is a long way in human terms, but when we consider the Milky Way, our galaxy, we’re still only just scratching the surface. In fact, the centre of the galaxy, which is occupied by a supermassive black hole, is around 25,000 lightyears away from us here on Earth. The whole disc of our spiral galaxy is more than 100,000 lightyears across, with hundreds of billions of stars contained within it. Hundreds. Of billions.

We’ve certainly shot past the point of numbers that I can actually comprehend, and possibly you too, but why stop there? Our galaxy is not the only galaxy in the universe. In fact, we are part of a group of galaxies local to us which has the creative name of the Local Group. The Local Group comprises more than 50 individual galaxies, and the Milky Way is the second biggest of these. The biggest, the Andromeda Galaxy, is 2.5 million lightyears away from us. If we wanted to write that out in kilometres, we’re looking at something like 23 650 000 000 000 000 000 km, much more easily written as 2.365 × 10^19 km, or 2.5 Mly (the M stands for mega-, and like megabytes in a computer means a factor of one million).

Until recently, we thought that in the entire universe, there might be hundreds of billions of galaxies, each containing billions, or hundreds of billions, or trillions of stars themselves. Last year, a study was published that suggests that we actually underestimated the number of galaxies by a factor of 10 or so, which means that our current estimate is that there are at least a trillion galaxies in the universe. That’s 1 000 000 000 galaxies, each with about 100 000 000 stars.

In the last couple of decades, astronomers have confirmed the existence of planets around other stars – extrasolar planets, or exoplanets – something that was assumed to be true for centuries but not proven until 1995. Since then, thousands of exoplanets have been discovered (as of this month, 3,667 confirmed), and looking at the regularity of these across different types of stars in different parts of the sky, it is suspected that every star in our galaxy has at least one planet.

We even suspect that one out of every five stars like our Sun has an Earth-sized planet in its habitable zone, where liquid water is stable on the surface of the planet, conditions that we suspect may be conducive to the development of life.

Considering all of this; the magnificent scale of the universe around us, the unimaginable number of possible worlds around an unimaginable number of other suns, and that’s in just one galaxy out of an unimaginable number of other galaxies. Over the span of billions of years, with billions more to come, the universe is constantly surprising and awe-inspring.

And we’re down here arguing about who should be allowed to marry each other, and whether some people should be allowed to kneel when a particular song is sung. Go figure.

The Button Collective, Part 2


The Button Collective at the QLD State FinalsTwo nights ago The Button Collective made the trek up to Griffith University in Southport to take part in the QLD state finals of the National Campus Band Competition. A fair distance to travel, but it was worth heading up there because we had a great time! Despite the fact that I was feeling a little under the weather, we played well, even with a couple of difficult and unforseeable moments (broken strings), and ended up getting third place in the competition!

Friends and uni-mates The Swamp Stompers also played, and got second place!


The Button Collective

Earlier this year I joined a band with some friends called The Button Collective. A few of them had been playing together for a while as a previous incarnation, Button Tea, but most of the material was new to me. The band is centred around songwriter Brodie Buttons, and we play songs about love, misery, and everything in between.

The Button Collective is a kind of mish-mash of several styles. We play folk, country, gypsy, pirate ballads, and bushdance ditties depending on what takes our fancy at the time. For the last few months, we’ve been working towards a full-length album release with DIY recordings of many of Brodie’s more recent songs.

Last night, we were lucky enough to get to play the SCU final of the National Campus Band Competition, and what’s more, we won! Apart from all the excellent prizes and opportunities that come out of winning that level of the competition, we also get the chance to try our luck at the next level, the Queensland state finals to be held in Southport next week. It’s very exciting to be involved in this band with some of my best friends, and it’s exciting to think of what the future might hold for The Button Collective.

We’ve got a few recordings online. Live tracks, demo recordings, and our first music video. Check them out:

The Button Collective on Soundcloud

Gracie Hughes

I have recently had the pleasure of playing bass for the debut EP of songwriter Gracie Hughes, winner of the 2013 Lismore Young Songwriter of the Year award. Chrissy Langham, who plays drums in The Button Collective and Ben Wilson & The Job Seekers with me, was also asked to play drums on the recording.

Last Saturday we headed up to Lovestreet Studios in Currumbin and spent the day recording the four tracks under the guidance of engineer and producer Scott French. It was a great day working with all involved; Gracie, her mother Melanie, pianist Nerida, Chrissy, and Scott.

Very glad to have opportunities like this in and around the Northern Rivers region. There is such a huge community of interconnected creative people.


Ben Wilson and the Job Seekers

I’ve been playing with Ben Wilson since March this year, and we’ve come a long way since our humble beginnings. I’ve always really liked Ben’s music – he used to run the local open mic night, where I heard most of his songs for the first time – and it’s great to be part of the band.

This year, Ben was the winner of the Lismore Young Songwriter of the Year, and one of his prizes was some time recording at SAE in Byron Bay. We (Ben, Gene, Chrissy, and I) have a five-track EP just around the corner which we recorded there with Patty Preece.

We also had the chance to play at Splendour in the Grass in July.

I’m really looking forward to doing some more playing and recording with this band, however in just over a month, Ben will become a father, and I’m expecting him to have significantly less time to dedicate to the band and music in general.

Happy Family

Blood, Guts & Firetrucks

Cover Photo

I’m currently in the studio laying down some of the final tracks for the long-awaited Blood, Guts & Firetrucks EP, which as yet has no name. Ryan Beveridge and I have been playing together for a number of years, in a few different bands. We formed BG&F when he joined me in Lismore in 2011, with Jack Towers on drums and later adding Aaron Hill. We’ve been playing gigs around the Northern Rivers region, and were lucky enough to play at Byron Bay BluesFest this year.

In the last few months, we’ve been working at putting together a four-song EP with some of our newest material. We have previously recorded a handful of songs on our own, getting some airplay on local radio, but for this release we have enlisted the help and substantial resources of recording engineer Steve Law, recording the bed tracks for the EP at Sunroom Studio in Whian Whian last month.

At the moment I’m listening Ryan recording the vocals for The Wrong Way, and later today I’ll be recording harmony vocals for various songs, as well as some additional keyboard and synth parts. After today’s session, we should be completely finished with tracking and ready to get everything mixed; one step closer to having a final product for release. The whole process has been partly funded by generous friends and supporters – we hosted a fundraiser trivia night earlier this month which helped us get to the end of our budgetary requirements to put this thing in the hands of people keen to hear it.

Exomusicology and Musical Universals

At the end of last year I submitted a thesis for the Honours year of my degree entitled Exomusicology and Musical Universals. In a 54-page document I explored some of the weirdest musical stuff that I think I’ll ever look at. From musical birdcalls to the music of planetary systems, I created a new tuning system and considered the possibilities of music beyond anything you or I have heard. It was a whole lot of fun, and as part of my research I composed a series of pieces to go with each chapter of my thesis.

This piece is a musical ‘sonification’ of the orbits of planets around a star called HD10180. Putting this data into rhythmic and pitch-based sound helps to hear certain features of the data, like the orbital ‘resonances’ between planets in adjacent orbits, which manifest themselves as rhythmic patterns that repeat at regular intervals. Of course, I took some artistic license in choosing pitches and timbres, making it sound “good”, but the rhythms and rough intervals between pitches are dictated by the data, pure and simple. Check it out:

Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie RogersI am lucky enough to have been playing music with my good friend Steph for quite a while, and around this time last year I recorded her debut EP. We set everything up in her lounge room and went just the right amount of crazy for a few days with guitars, percussion, keyboards, bathrooms, and a Stylophone. What emerged was a five-track EP with four of Steph’s original songs and one cover. I played several instruments as well as recording and producing the EP. Her sound usually has more of a pop/folk feel to it, but she’s dabbled with the funkier side of rock in the past, and our cover of SBTRKT’s Hold On shows yet another side to her musical influences.

Here’s that cover:

To check out what Steph’s original music sounds like, head on over to her Facebook page where you can stream the entire EP!


Red Mars

A couple of years ago I was reading the book Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, the first in a trilogy of books about the initial colonisation of Mars and the struggles that take place there in the following years.

As part of a project for Uni, I wrote a score to a non-existent movie based on the first six-or-so chapters of the book. Here’s a couple of snippets from what I came up with:

Order 66

A few years ago, Ryan Beveridge and I went into Main Street Studios for a week and recorded an EP. Unfortunately, it never really saw the light of day (we have played a few of the songs with the current band, Blood, Guts & Firetrucks). It was a good experience and a lot of fun to spend so much time on nailing the production of just a few tracks.

Since recording, the band morphed with adding and subtracting of members. All the tracks became easier to perform on stage with more hands on deck, but I really enjoyed playing bass and synth with a pedal-controller the few times that we played this track live in the early days: