Friday, May 7, 2021

Mars: Birthday #17

In the first of this month's birthdays, today I have my 17th birthday on Mars. That'll be the lowest number we see this month, since Mars orbits the Sun the slowest.

To give me something to talk about in these posts, I've decided to do something I don't normally do and post some photos of a painting in progress. I started this one in March, and it's not finished as of today, so this will be some good motivation to keep working on it. It was actually directly inspired by my previous painting, though I expect the link will not be obvious; I'll reveal it when the painting's done, and leave it to your imagination in the meantime.

Anyway, for this painting, I needed a background looking like bark, so I decided to try something new and do some plein air painting. En plein air is a French term meaning “outdoors,” and plein air painting is the act of painting outdoors, as opposed to inside a studio. While I could simply look up bark textures online, I decided I wanted to paint one from life, so I packed up some supplies and headed out to the nearest tree.

Setting up the easel and canvas next to my model.

Turns out plein air painting, especially with acrylics, is a very different beast to painting indoors. I picked a moderately sunny day, and my acrylic paint—already known for drying quickly—was drying even faster both on the palette and the canvas. I made liberal use of the spray bottle I brought with me, furiously misting everything in an attempt to keep everything damp enough to work with, but still ended up rushing to capture the texture as quickly as I could (I sketched it out roughly on the canvas first). While this generated a unique sort of pressure to the painting, I don't think it was negative, exactly; I ended up using some very fast, loose brush strokes, which gave it a somewhat freer quality than normal for me, I think. Anyway, here's a shot I got of myself with the finished product:

The Sun came out from behind the clouds after a while.

…and here's a closeup of the canvas:

Sort of looks like bark, if you squint?

As you can see, I only used the tree as a reference for the texture, not the color. As to why I chose the particular colors I did, well, that's part of the composition…which I'll reveal on my next birthday! For now, I'll leave you with the fruit of my first experiment in plein air painting, while I get back to work. A hui hou!

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Birthday month extravaganza

Back in 2019, some people (including a friend of mine from Swinburne) got together and created a website at a Python in Astronomy hackathon. This website, https://cakedays.space/, allows you to input your birthday (on Earth), and it will output a calendar which you can add to e.g. Google Calendar which will tell you when you'd have birthdays on each of the other planets in our solar system. It's quite a cute idea, and I've been meaning to write about it for a while now. I've finally gotten around to it because, while checking my calendar for this month, I discovered that I have four birthdays this month, one each week on all four of the terrestrial planets!

Hence the title of this post, as I'll be putting up a post on each birthday as it comes around this month. Not sure what I'll do for them yet. We'll find out…later this week. (Also, if you want to set up your own birthday calendar using the website, there are two boxes called “Skip Mercury/Venus Birthdays by” which skip as many as you specify. If you, like me, want to see every birthday, just put a 0 in those boxes. Putting a 1 would cause every other one to be shown, etc..)

On a more somber astronomically-related note, I saw that Michael Collins, the command module pilot for Apollo 11, passed away last week. As the guy who stayed in orbit, he's been called "the loneliest man in history" for his time spent on the far side of the Moon during each lunar orbit, out of radio contact with anyone. He himself described it as relaxing (which I can totally relate to as an introvert), and that he felt a mixture of emotions including "awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation." A fond farewell to an oft-overlooked man whose presence was as integral to Apollo 11's mission as the other two.

Anyway, I'll end this post here, with the promise of several more to come this month. A hui hou!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

A tendril of fire

Last year I painted a scene of a star and planet which I showed off in this post, the same one that appears below. I left it at my desk when I started working from home in March, not anticipating that I wouldn't see it again until November. At the time I think I still had some ideas for changes to it, but as it was mostly done I decided to show it off anyway.

Around the start of this year I brought it home, with a hazy idea of “finishing” it. I realized, however, that I'd ended up forgetting what ideas I had in mind in the intervening time, so I decided to simply sign it (and make a few last little touches) and declare it finished. I also don't remember if I ever had a name in mind for it, so I had to come up with a new one: “Tendril of Fire.”

“Tendril of Fire,” 14×18", acrylic and glass beads on canvas.
I already wrote quite a bit about the creation of this painting in the post linked above, so I won't reiterate here. I'll just point out that I'm proud of how I worked my signature in at the bottom-left in the star's atmosphere; writing in the style of solar flare has been something I've been interested in for a long time, as seen by my initial spin on the idea. Other than that I like how the end of the large flare/tendril turned out, those little wisps of color being the final touches I put on it. It really looks like a magnetic field has snapped and the plasma is flying out away from it. That's pretty much it for this painting, though when I showed it to my brother he may have given me an idea for another, so we'll see if that goes anywhere. A hui hou!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Musical musings: Charles-Valentin Alkan

In my continuing search for new composers and music, I recently stumbled upon an obscure French composer of Jewish descent from the 19th century named Charles-Valentin (or Valentine) Alkan. He was a pretty amazing piano player who was friends with both Liszt and Chopin, and his musical output reflects this: most of his music involves the piano (though he also wrote for other instruments, including a full symphony which has sadly been lost).

I decided to write about him because I've found some of his music to be profoundly moving and novel, and think he deserves greater recognition. I'll illustrate with some select pieces, so you have something listen to while reading. For instance, Alkan's Opus 27. “Le chemin de fer”  (“the railway” or “the railroad”) published in 1844 is the first known depiction of a train in music, and it is absolutely incredible—a breakneck perpetuum mobile that keeps up its pace nearly to the end. (Opus numbers are not sequential for Alkan, just FYI.)

Contrasting with the perpetual driving rhythm is a lovely second melody (the “happy passengers” theme), and the whole thing will have you feeling a bit breathless at the end of its five minute duration. This is, perhaps, not a great work of music, but it's certainly an interesting and different one.

Alkan was a virtuoso on the piano and it comes through in some his work, which includes some of the hardest piano writing of the 19th century. Of course, mere difficulty does not equate to goodness or greatness, but I don't get the feeling he was writing hard music for the sake of difficulty—he also published plenty of easier music—rather, the ideas he wanted to express just required that level of skill sometimes. The results are well-worth it, though, I think. Here's another piece I quite like, Opus 34, Scherzo-focoso in B-minor.


Similar to Le chemin de fer, this is a stunningly fast piece intercut with a second majestic and flowing melody (there might be a pattern to my likes here…). As it builds towards an explosion of chords at the end this piece sends a thrill of frisson down my spine.

Now there are plenty more pieces I like which I could share here, but rather than risk providing too much I'll focus on what is undoubtedly Alkan's magnum opus, Opus 39, Douze études dans les tons mineurs (Twelve Etudes [or studies] in the Minor Keys). Nearly every one of its constituent pieces is a masterpiece in its own right and I would highly recommend listening to the entire thing (recorded by English pianist Jack Gibbons, who's made a special study of Alkan's music), but I'll pick out the best of the best to highlight here. It's an unusual collection in some ways: among its twelve pieces are a four-movement Symphony for solo piano, and a monumental three-movement Concerto for solo piano which follows it, where Alkan masterfully makes use of the piano's range of expressiveness to mimic or suggest other instruments or even whole orchestral sections in some really interesting ways.

This concerto (pieces 8–10 of the collection) is…there's no other word for it than epic, and I do not use that word lightly. The first movement (Allegro assai in G-Sharp Minor) takes nearly half an hour to perform, and contains more bars than the entirety of Beethoven's (justifiably) famous Hammerklavier sonata. The other two movements (Adagio in C-Sharp Minor and Allegretto alla barbaresca in F-Sharp Minor) are no slouches either at about 8–10 minutes long each, making the entire concerto a test of stamina for the player. The first and third movement especially are very fast, filled with incredibly challenging music (such as performing trills with the third and fourth fingers while simultaneously playing the melody). I personally think these three movements are the absolute pinnacle of the collection, so I've linked them all below. (Fun fact: Gibbons made his concert debut playing this work [among other things] at the age of 17!) If you don't want to listen to an hour of music, I do have one more shorter suggestion at the end.



I could gush at length about all the amazing feeling in these three pieces, but in the interests of brevity, the last piece in the collection is a remarkable set of variations called Le festin d'Ésope, or Aesop's Feast (referencing a particular legend about Aesop, but the music also seems to nod towards the many animals in Aesop's fables). Here Alkan takes a simple 8-bar theme and puts it through the wringer in 25 variations which span the gamut of human emotion. If you watch only one video in this post, watch this one. I think it shows off a bit of Alkan's sense of humor: some of the variations are downright funny, such as the twenty-second where the right hand resolutely plays the theme while the left hand jumps back and forth on the piano playing short motifs marked “barking,” as if it were a dog joyfully unaware of the “serious” music going on (the right hand very much does not know what the left is doing in this case, or is at least trying to steadfastly ignore it).

There are plenty of other pieces I could have shared here, but hopefully this will suffice to give you taste of this remarkable musical genius. There's some really powerful and evocative music here which I could wax lyrical about for hours—I find themes and melodies in my head at all hours for days after listening to some of these pieces—but half the fun is discovering things for yourself. Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed any of these pieces, or were inspired to seek out more of Alkan's output! A hui hou!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Birds of Melbourne: rainbow lorikeets

I've finally gotten around to editing some footage I shot in January of some rainbow lorikeets feeding. If you thought the crimson rosellas were gorgeous, take a look at these beauties! You might even be familiar with them already from advertising; I feel like they're the go-to birds to display whenever TV makers want to tout their latest screens. They do make a fantastic test of color ability with those rainbow hues, to be fair!

I see these around once or twice a week on average, so they're relatively common. As you can hear in the video, they're quite vocal little parrots, almost constantly chirruping and squawking quietly. But of course, what you're going to mainly notice is that jaw-dropping plumage, going from deep blue or purple, to lighter blue, to bright green, then through yellow, orange, and even a deep reddish-orange hue. (Fun fact: I made the gradient in the words “Rainbow lorikeets” in the video thumbnail by sampling from different parts of the bird in the image, with some slight tweaks.)

I think that's all the footage of birds feeding I've recorded so far; I really need to get around to trying out that motion-sensing setup idea I had now that GoPro's come out with the GoPro Labs firmware for the Hero 9, which allows you to, say, only record while a (user-settable) level of motion is detected. I've tried it out once or twice but still need to play with it to find a good level of motion detection for feeding birds (and of course, have some interesting birds come by while I'm filming!). We'll have to see how that goes in the future. A hui hou!

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Solar twins and Chinese calligraphy

I've just finished my latest painting, and I'm especially happy with how this one came out and excited to share it. Now, back in 2018 when I first started painting, I gave two of my advisors each a small painting (though I'm embarrassed at their quality now). I decided recently that I'd like to do so for the other two people on my advisory team, and it's one of these paintings which I've just finished.

My advisor Fan is from China, and is an expert on solar twins, so I decided I wanted to paint a scene of a binary pair of solar twins with a Milky-Way-like background of stars. I started working on it in early February, and after just a few sessions (maybe 2 hours in) it was already looking pretty good:

As I like to with my painted stars, the disks have some texture medium (I think synthetic resin sand) mixed in to give them some “pop” on the canvas. The stars are all hand-dappled—I didn't want to risk getting paint around my desk where I paint at home by spattering, although it occurs to me that I could've done it outdoors. Something to keep in mind for the future, I suppose.

Anyway, after a few sessions of individually painting background stars in an attempt to get that feeling of the innumerable stars of the Milky Way, I had a spur-of-the-moment idea that worked out really well: I took tiny drops of iridescent medium (which has tiny flakes of mica in it to make it sparkle), and spread it out as thinly as I could over the background. As you can see in the picture below, this came out looking phenomenal!

You can see some little star spots I painted on best in this photo.

(It also gave me inspiration for a completely different painting, but I'll get to that in due time.) For the name, in the spirit of my “Sonne Doppelgänger” painting for my fellow student from Germany, I wanted to call it “Solar Twins” in Chinese. I got a friend of mine from Hong Kong to help me with the translation, and used my best calligraphy to write it out in the traditional top-to-bottom, right-to-left orientation on the canvas:

“太陽孿生兒 (Solar Twins)”, 10×8 inches, acrylic on canvas.
Overall I'm extremely pleased with how this painting came out. This photo doesn't quite do it justice, but the shade of red I picked really sets off the yellow of the stars and the black of the background incredibly well. I also put a lot of work into those characters, and am pretty happy with how they came out. If you're curious, they literally translate to something like “extreme yang (sun) twice born child (twin),” which I thought was pretty neat. I'm planning on giving it to Fan this week, and can hardly wait to see his reaction.

For being such a quick, simple painting I actually learned a few things from doing it which will doubtless come in handy in the future. Much like my—uh, fiery planet painting? I realized I never officially finished it and gave it a name*—I experimented with mixing other colors directly into the black background, in this case the star's extended yellow coronae. I realized later that this meant painting the stars (which should be in the background) on top of them, so I'll have to think more carefully about doing it in the future, but I think it looks pretty nice here. And I mentioned the iridescent medium thinly applied for the background Milky Way effect already. All in all a short and sweet painting (probably less than ten hours all told), and one I'm really happy with. I've got one more canvas of the same size (last of something like an 8- or 10-pack I bought all the way back in 2018) and one last advisor to gift, which will involve something other than stars for once. But that'll be for another post! A hui hou!

*Which I should do, since I finally brought it home from my desk last month.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Learning Rust: Some Thoughts

Back in September I wrote a post about some utilities written in the Rust language, and mentioned I was toying with the idea of trying to learn a bit of it. With two weeks of vacation around Christmas, I decided to take the plunge and have been reading and working through the examples in the Rust Book off and on as I get a chance.

I was a bit tentative going in, but I find I'm really enjoying it. Prior to this, for reference, I taught myself Python a decade ago while working as an undergraduate research assistant and have dabbled a tiny bit in JavaScript and Lua, but that's the extent of my programming language coverage: I'm still essentially monolingual. I managed to get through my undergraduate time without ever taking any sort of computer science class, and it's left me a little self-conscious of my self-taught status when it comes to Python. Rust is a very different language to Python, and I was worried that perhaps I wouldn't be able to pick up a new language as easily as I could ten years ago if I've unconsciously generalized Python-specific quirks to programming languages as a whole.

However, contrary to my worries I've been finding it an interesting and fun experience. I suspect my experience in studying various far-flung human languages may be helping, as it may be helping me to generalize better between different programming languages. And Python and Rust are opposites in some rather key ways: Python is an interpreted language, which means that programs are (and need to be) compiled and interpreted by an interpreter program at run-time. Rust on the other hand is a compiled language, which means it needs to be compiled before running (but can be run afterwards without needing any external program). Python is a dynamically-typed language where variables can be created with ease as needed and converted to different types without oversight by the language. Rust is statically-typed, with a very strict enforcement of variable types all working at compile time. These are not minor differences, but almost diametrically opposed paradigms, like the difference between a case-based language and one which relies on word order.

One of the major unique features of Rust is its concept of ownership. In essence, this is a requirement (checked and enforced at compile time) that only one “part” of a program can change a variable's value at a given time. A value can be “borrowed” any number of times for use as long as it is not changed, and the system responsible for enforcing this is known as the borrow checker. Colloquially people joke about spending much of their time learning Rust “fighting the borrow checker,” as the concept of ownership is a novel one and wrapping one's head around it takes some time.

Thankfully, Rust has some really good error messages. I've managed to write a few small programs on my own so far, and the error message output usually contains both an explanation of what I've done wrong, and a suggestion for how to fix it. In fact it's generally gone so well so far that I'm a bit suspicious; when is the other shoe going to drop? I've had errors, sure, but I've been able to figure them out quickly and get what I want to happen (within my still-limited understanding of the language as a whole). Granted, I'm not exactly writing complicated programs, just simple ones to find prime numbers or convert temperatures between scales, but still; it's been a pretty pleasant learning experience so far. I've most certainly got a lot to learn left, but it's fun to be seriously learning a new programming language again with no stress about the outcome.

I don't know if this will ever be useful in a job down the line (although a number of large companies are starting to use Rust for its ability to remove even the possibility of whole classes of costly memory errors found in languages like C or C++ due to ownership), but even if not I'm sure the experience of learning a new—and very different—language will have benefits for my Python knowledge, in the same way learning other languages has helped me reason about English*. And you never know, it just might come in handy down the line somehow. A hui hou!

*Interestingly, the upcoming Python 3.10 is getting a “match” system for comparing multiple cases which is extremely similar to the one found in Rust, so it might prove to be more useful than I'd initially thought!

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Keeping drinks cool with the Peltier effect!

This past week—in the height of southern hemisphere summer—I put on my jacket to go take a walk outside, while shivering in the frigid summer air.

It's been an odd summer here in Melbourne this year. Apparently it's a La Niña year in the Pacific ocean, which means a colder, wetter, summer. And it definitely has been; I think two weeks ago—in the middle of February, typically the hottest month of the year—was the first time this summer it was warm enough to go an entire week without wearing socks. Then a cold front came through and I've been shivering while dressed in warm clothes this entire past week. Imagine it being cold enough in central California in August to need to put on a jacket to go out for a walk, and you'll get an idea of what it's like here.

I mention this because, back in November, when we had our first signs of winter relinquishing its fell grasp and an occasional day where it was actually warm, I started thinking about working from home over the summer. At that point I didn't know it was going to be a cooler summer; in past summers since I've been here I've seen days where it hit over 43 °C/110 °F. (This summer I think the highest I've seen is 32 °C/90 °F, though that's still plenty hot enough when it barely cools down more than a few degrees overnight.) Thinking that the expected upcoming heat would be more tolerable if I just had something cool to drink during it, I started thinking about ways to keep a drink cool. The obvious first choice was ice cubes, but ice always waters down your drink over time, and I prefer to sip on something cold over time rather than guzzle it to avoid it getting watery. I started wondering if there were anything more modern than simple ice cubes, and did a little digging.

I first discovered whiskey stones, which are basically re-usable ice cubes made of stone or metal: you put them in the freezer to cool down, then put them in your drink. Not bad, but then I had a thought: wouldn't it be neat to use a thermoelectric Peltier cooler to directly cool down a drink on your desk? If you haven't heard the term before, a Peltier cooler is a device where, by putting two different metals together and running an electric current through where they join, one side cools down by giving up its internal heat to the other side. (It's not a new discovery, having been discovered by Jean Peltier back in 1834, but Peltier coolers are still not something most people will ever likely have come in contact with.)

I wasn't sure such a device for home use existed (and had no idea what to call it even if it did), so it took some stumbling around with Google and Amazon to find one, but find one I did! In fact, I found several different takes on the idea by several brands, though all following more-or-less the same pattern.

Now, while it looks like these devices have been on sale for at least a few years or so, they're still new enough (and niche enough) that I don't think they really have a settled name yet. The one I bought had the word-salad title “HSTYAIG Portable Mini Refrigerator Electric Summer Drink Cooler Kettle Drink Instant Quick Cooling Cup Home Office Cold Drink Machine Small Appliance Kettle (Traditional),” but let's just call it a “cooling cup” for short.

But what is it, exactly? Well, it's an electric device comprised of a plastic base holding the electronics with an aluminum plate in a depression on top in which sits an aluminum cup, and it looks like this:

Device on the right, cup on the left. You can see the cooling plate in the depression.

It's got a single capacitive on/off button on the front, and that's it as far as interactivity goes. The aluminum plate is the cold side of a Peltier cooler, and when you turn it on, the plate cools down (and draws heat from the cup) and a fan blows out heat from the hot side of the Peltier cooler (inside the device).

And does it ever cool down fast! Literally a few seconds after turning it on the aluminum plate is cool to the touch. After a minute or so it becomes painfully cold, and when I let it run for 20 minutes as a test the first time I tried it I saw tiny ice crystals forming on the plate, despite it being 20 °C/68 °F in my room at the time. I'm used to refrigeration, but heat-pump refrigeration takes a while to cool things down. In comparison, a Peltier cooler feels downright magical with how fast it works. Now, despite the impressive cooling performance of the plate by itself, in practice it'll struggle to cool a room-temperature drink down. Water has a surprisingly high thermal inertia, so if any water-based drink isn't already cold it'll take a long time to get cold. If it is cold, though this thing does a phenomenal job of keeping it cold. (In fact, the last few sips can be even colder than when it came out of the fridge!)

Although I got my cooling cup at the end of the November, I've been holding off on reviewing it here while waiting for it to really warm up for the summer (when it would make sense to talk about something meant for cooling drinks). As that appears not to be happening this summer, however, I might as well post about it now. I've had several months to try it out, and it works like a charm. Pour something cold into the cup, press the button, and it'll keep it nice and frosty for as long as you like. It feels like a very modern solution to the problem of keeping a drink cool, even if the technology to do it is approaching 200 years old at this point. Admittedly it's hardly the biggest problem out there, but as a solution to it I can heartily recommend a “cooling cup.” (Although, if these ever catch on, let's come up with a better collective name for them.) A hui hou!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Sculpting Moon Craters: Tsiolkovskiy Crater

With all the end-of-year busyness last year, I never got around to posting about an artwork I finished back around December. (Then I decided it wasn't quite finished and did a little more work on it a few weeks ago, so go figure.) After my first foray into more three-dimensional sculpture back in 2019, I wanted to try something in a similar vein.

Back around December 2019 I was inspired by the crater Tsiolkovskiy (located on the far side of the Moon) to sculpt a crater out of clay and paint it. While much of the Moon's near side is covered with darker lava (as you can see by looking when the Moon is mostly full), most of the Moon's far side is lacking this, instead being the same color as the lighter areas of the near side (the “lunar highlands”). Tsiolkovskiy crater, named for Konstantin Tsiolkovskiy, one of the founding fathers of rocketry (with an important equation named after him too) is one of the rare exceptions, a crater with a floor flooded with dark lava. It's quite a large crater, too, with a diameter of some 300 km/185 miles; like many large craters it has a central “rebound” peak which towers an imposing 3200 m/10,500 ft above the smooth lava plains around it, around the height of Haleakalā above sea level.

Anyway, inspired by this fairly unique crater, I picked up a circular piece of artist's board about a year ago, painted it with an undercoat, and then left it on my desk for nine months during the lockdowns last year. When I was finally able to get back in to Swinburne and retrieve it, I picked up some modeling clay and started sculpting the crater's form, which proved to be quite fun!

The underlying topography of Tsiolkovskiy crater.

After letting the clay dry I painted it all a nice light gray, then got to the step which had originally inspired me: pouring a dark gray ‘lava’ into the crater to fill in the central plains. The paint turned out to be a little more viscous than I'd been imagining (even though it's called “self-leveling gel” for this sort of work!), but it worked out in the end.

With the dark lava plains filled in. North is roughly up in all of these photos, by the way.

I ended up painting it a little more gray after a few weeks—I'd been trying to give it a little tinge of color originally, but I felt it just wasn't working so I went back to a more neutral shade in the end.

“Tsiolkonskiy Crater,” 30 cm in diameter, modeling clay and acrylic.

Overall it's been a really interesting and fun project, and I might do more pieces in this vein in the future. It'd be cool to do a sculpture of Olympus Mons, for instance, or other famous craters, mountains, or valleys in the solar system. Given my love of experimenting with 3D effects on canvas, I suppose sculpture is simply a natural extension of that. With finishing my PhD on the horizon and the associated job-hunting and possibly-moving I don't know when I'll be able to make another one of these, but hopefully it won't be too long. A hui hou!

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Birds of Melbourne: Australian magpie


I'm back with another bird-feeding video, this time starring an inquisitive Australian magpie. Unlike their Eurasian counterparts, which are corvids (birds like crows and ravens), Australian magpies are passerine birds (perching birds, or songbirds). They also have a reputation as one of the most feared birds in Australia, due to a tiny fraction getting territorial around mating season and dive-bombing people traveling past their nests. (Especially bikers, for some reason; if you see an Australian biker with zip-ties or pipe-cleaners poking out of their helmet, that's an anti-magpie strategy.)

I've never had a magpie swoop me (just noisy miners), but they're undoubtedly quite confident birds that will often betray no concern as you walk by mere feet away. I've seen them come over to almost within arm's reach when I've offered food. They've also got some amazing vocalizations; my favorite (and their most famous) is a sort of warbling call with some fascinating harmonics, though apparently they can also imitate dozens of other bird species and even natural sounds or human speech!

For the video below, I found a magpie outside and put out a cluster of seeds for it, then set up my camera a few feet away on a short tripod to get a ground-level view. (Magpies spend quite a lot of time walking around on the ground looking for food.) I took a seat just behind the camera, so I was quite surprised when, after about a minutes of pecking at the seeds, the magpie came over and starting checking out the camera! It was pretty neat, and I got some great footage out of it.

Despite their fearsome reputation and visage, magpies can be surprisingly playful. I've seen one rolling over on its back in the grass (and heard of such behavior from other people), and apparently they've been seen doing things like having one magpie hang on to a hanging towel upside down, and get swung back and forth by other individuals. Pretty fun-loving birds, all things considered! A hui hou!

Edit (2/16/21): I've just come across the following video of Australian magpies playing (from the YouTube channel "The Magpie Whisperer"), and had to share—it's really funny to watch them doing summersaults and just clearly having a grand old time. You can also hear some of their wonderful warbling song.

And here's another clip of some juvenile magpies hanging upside from towels on the line. Such funny birds!