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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bmag June 19th 2012 - Shortest day

It’s not going to make you any warmer knowing this, but we are about to head back towards summer! The Winter Solstice – where the midday sun appears directly above the Tropic of Cancer – occurs at 9.09am AEST on Thursday 21 June, making that our shortest day. After 21 June, you can start looking forward to your beach holiday at Noosa, Christmas prawns, backyard cricket and what you’re doing for New Year’s Eve! Okay, enough with the summery daydreaming. Let’s get back to mid-winter.

Allow me to point out some fascinating curiosities surrounding the solstice. For instance, you would expect sunset to be getting later from this week. In fact, our earliest sunset, 5pm, has already come and gone (from 6 to12 June). At the other end of the day, sunrise continues to get later until it reaches 6.39am between 27 June and 6 July. A commonly asked question at this time of year is “why don’t our latest sunrise and earliest sunset coincide with our shortest day?”

Rebecca Jenkins, a writer with the ABC’s Health and Wellbeing website, explains: “This phenomenon is created by a combination of the Earth’s oval-shaped orbit and its tilt of 23.5 degrees. The Earth orbits the sun in an elliptical pattern, running faster when it is closest to the sun [during the winter and summer solstices]. This quirk means that the length of a solar day — the time between two solar noons (when the sun is at the highest point in the sky) — is not always the 24 hours we measure on a clock.

“At the same time, the Earth’s axial tilt means we are getting a few seconds less daylight every day in the lead up to solstice, but this has a small effect on the sunset and sunrise times compared with the much larger difference between solar time and clock time. It is this effect that leads to the staggering of the latest sunrise, the solstice and the earliest sunset.”

Another question that always arises at this time of year is “why is 1 June considered the beginning of winter when Britons, for example, have always used the winter solstice?” Well, it seems Australia has led the way here, with the UK’s Met Office moving to align its seasons with calendar months. So now the UK winter officially starts on 1 December, spring on 1 March and so on. You can imagine the uproar! Labour MP for Middlesborough Stuart Bell told BBC News at the time: “Spring starts on 20/21 March and if the Met Office is not aware of this simple fact, it reflects a casual approach to facts, which is all too inherent today!”

As for our Bureau of Meteorology, I have only two relatively minor gripes. And no, I’m not talking about its actual forecasts, which I find impressively accurate.

Firstly, it’s time the Bureau launched itself on social media so that forecasts and warnings can be delivered to you. I’m encouraged by an online survey by the Bureau, in which respondents are repeatedly asked (in subtly different ways) whether they would like to receive their weather information via social media. Here in Brisbane, a couple of individual forecasters, namely Rick Threlfall (@ RickThrelfall) and Tony Auden (@TonyAuden) have started the ball rolling via their personal Twitter accounts. It can’t be too long before we see an official Bureau presence.

My only other quibble is how the Bureau determines whether the current temperature is above or below average. I would have thought it logical to compare the temperature with the long-term average for that time of day and for that date. Instead, the Bureau uses the average for that time of day over the entire month. This means 16 degrees at 9am on 31 May is described as “2 below average” (the 9am average for May being 18 degrees), whilst the same temperature at the same time the very next day is “1 above average” (the 9am average for June being 15 degrees). Obviously the 9am temperature is lower at the end of May than at the beginning, and continues to slide during June. Therefore, at the beginning and end of each month, statements like “we’re experiencing above/below average temperatures” can be useless and misleading.

Again, minor quibbles, and none of this is going to keep you warm tonight. For that, I suggest wearing slippers around the house and taking a hot water bottle to bed!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Bmag June 5th 2012 - Swap-It!

Until recently, I hadn’t seen a doctor in about 15 years. I know you’re meant to develop a ‘relationship’ with your GP so that you’re comfortable baring all when health issues do inevitably arise, but (as is typical for blokes) it just hasn’t happened. The other things I’ve never concentrated too hard on are eating healthily and exercising. Heck, one of my first jobs was mystery-shopping and taste-testing for McDonalds. What hope was there for me? My addiction to fast food started there and then!

But, not so long ago, three influential women in my life (independently of each other) hit me over the head with the same message. My wife Nikki started making comments about my “unsexy” belly (ouch!). My radio producer Anne Debert said: “One day you will realise you need to start exercising.” And, finally, my mum gave me the clear and simple instruction: “Now that you’re 40, go to the doctor for a check-up!”

All of this coincided with 612 ABC Brisbane and Diabetes Queensland putting me, my fellow ABC radio presenters and 60 listeners on a 12-week Swap It, Don’t Stop It program. The timing couldn’t have been better.

So I went to the doctor. Relationship established – tick! But Nikki was right – I do need to lose some weight. The doctor wants me to get from 95kg to 85kg over two years. And so began Swap-It, Don’t Stop It.

Olympic gold medallist Duncan Armstrong is our chief motivator. Duncan recalls getting out of the pool at 25 and putting on 2kg a week for eight months: “My race-weight was about 82kg and I hit 123kg within eight months! People would look at me and say `I think that guy ate Duncan Armstrong and he hasn’t finished!’ I was that weight for about four or five years and it took me another two or three years to get it off.

“[The trouble is] our food is too good. Our lifestyle is too good. And so we partake in both. We need to change and tweak and swap one little thing at a time that will lead to big changes down the track.”

612 ABC Brisbane afternoon presenter Kelly Higgins-Devine says she’s been trying to reduce her waistline since 1983. From experience, she’s learned: “One step at a time. You’re not going to lose 30kg in a day, so don’t even think about it. It’ll be day by day by day and some days you’ll lie in bed and think `I’m not doing it today. I’m having a croissant.’ Have that croissant. But then get up the next day and go back, because we all fall over at some point.”

We’re now six weeks into the 12-week challenge and guess what? It’s working! My waist is down from 107cm to 99cm and I’ve lost 5kg. Doc, that 85kg is looking good! Here are some ideas to get you started on your own Swap It program.

Diabetes Queensland has a staff policy that if you can walk to your meeting within half an hour, you don’t get a cab voucher. Says CEO Michelle Trute: “All my staff have their sandshoes under their desks!” And Michelle has this advice for dog owners: “If you’re staring at your puppy and he’s looking a bit chunky, it might be better than a mirror! I know that when my labrador is looking heavy, so am I! Swap feed for lead. If your dog wants to be fed, get it on the lead and make it walk first!”

Here are some more swaps for you to consider: • Hang washing on the line ins tead of using the drier • Have rice-crackers instead of potato chips • Have soda water instead of s oft drink • Choose brown rice instead of white • Use a w ooden spoon, rather than an electric beater • Pace, don’t sit, whilst making a phone c all • Instead of emailing someone in the nex t office, go and see them.

Will I keep it up once the 12-week program is over? Perhaps I won’t be so obsessive (inevitable when you’re doing something so publicly and the pressure is on to show results), but there’s no doubt I’ve made changes that will stick. After six weeks, I don’t crave fast food. I’m barely eating chocolate. I’m walking much more. I’m eating much less. And I am seeing results. You should try it!