Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Rock on and Compute .. Man!

The conference paper that kept me away from blogging to my hearts content has been submitted. I now get to wait until January to find out whether it is accepted. For those not familiar with the wonderful world of computer science research, let me shed some light on things.

Imagine if you will, that computer science research is like the music industry. To be successful in the music industry, you need to be recording albums, releasing singles, and performing gigs. Of course, to fund this, you need a label willing to keep you going. Now, replace "record label" with a research funding source such as the Australian Research Council, replace "live gigs" with "seminars and conference talks", replace "singles" with "conference papers", and album with "journal article", and there you have it, the brutal world of research (at least in my world).

Of course, things don't map as perfectly as this. I can't imagine me writing a conference paper of an equivalent length as Led Zepplin's "stairway to heaven", nor would I expect to find in a list of classic computer science journal articles, a paper written by someone with the equivalent intellect of MC Hammer. However, I think this is a reasonable approximation.

If my conferene paper is accepted, I get to go to Austria next year to present it - which I guess would make it my European tour. Stay tuned for tour dates!

Monday, September 19, 2005

A brief blogging hiatus

With one week until the deadline of a conference I am submitting a paper to, I will be focussing all my writing energy on getting it done - so, I will not be blogging much this week. Its actually quite funny to look over the last few weeks of blog entries - based on the reducing frequency of posts, it must have been becoming increasingly apparent that a deadline was looming. :)

So, in the words of that famous governor of cul-ee-forn-nya: "I'll be back".

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Rest easy Australia - there is a bigger plan in place

Ok, so we have lost the Ashes. Disappointing ? yes. Disastrous ? no!

In fact, I propose this to be our most cunning move yet in securing our long term "taunting rights" over our esteemed motherland. I firmly believe this loss provides all Australians with a great opportunity to bring our pommie-bashing banter to dizzy new heights, and once again, stamp our authority on the sporting domain.

Of course, this cannot happen now - we must ride out the next 14 months, and put up with the inevitable abuse each and every one of us will receive from our English friends - but just for a moment, set your mind to the next Ashes series, and think about it for a second - ahh yes, you're starting to see my point - we now get a rare opportunity to take something away from the English, something they clearly cherish so much, indeed even something many English have said is comparable with England winning the soccer world cup (though I suspect they'd had a few too many Earl Grey teas when they said this). The thought of taking back the Ashes after letting them have it for just over one year, and after making them wait 18 years to get their hands on it, is just too enticing to contemplate.

Just imagine if we win back the Ashes, and then again hold the Ashes for another 18 years. Oh what fun we'd have asking our English friends if they remember that golden year when they had the Ashes. It will be great.

So, my fellow Australians, I say this - hold your chin up high, and let the English release their 18 years of pent up humiliation and defeat at the hands of Australia - let them have their day - for this, I am most certain, is all part of a much bigger plan!

Monday, September 12, 2005

A suggestion for Aussies at The Oval

To all Aussies in the UK who have tickets to the last days play of the fifth test against England, here's a costume suggestion: strap a candle (or torch) on your head!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Combating natures terrorists

The Victorian government's Department of Sustainability and Environment have dedicated an entire web page to the plight of poor cyclists like myself, who each year around September, are effectively held under house arrest by the territorial instincts of Australia's native bird life, particularly the infamous magpie.

the new face of terror:

While dispensing such useful advice as: "avoid areas with swooping birds", "wear a helmet", and my personal favourite: "do not befriend swooping birds", they also provide an opportunity for cyclists to buy "swoop!" merchandise (pdf) (i.e. eye stickers to put on the back of your helmet).

To put things in perspective, this time last year I came up to Canberra (with my bike) to visit Aff. I was swooped six times in the space of a week while riding my bike - and these birds meant business - I have helmet dents to prove it!

The year before, while riding my bike in Cape Paterson, I went right over the handle bars of my bike while trying to look back at a swooping magpie (mental note: when turning your head, remember not to also turn your handle bars). Seeing me on the road with grazes to my left arm and leg, the bird clearly realised it's work was done, and let me be.

While I seem to be losing my own personal war on terror, all is not lost. Earlier this year, while in New Zealand, I had the unique opportunity to dispense some pay back at the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival:

And yes, I can confirm - magpie tastes like chicken.

Other battle fronts

Not to be out done, Aff also took the opportunity to send a chilling warning to all snails considering messing with her vegie garden:

and to males of all species, another prevocative warning from Aff:

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Romance on the bike track

To the young and innocent love birds I passed on the Lake Gininderra bike track this afternoon as you paused for a quiet moment of romance (you know who you are), all I can say is: "sorry".

I hope the sight of a very familiar looking male cyclist in lycra shorts and seedy grin whizzing past at the worst possible time, didn't ruin the moment ;)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

How does a man survive in a woman's world - mixed netball

Netball has become something of an unlikely passion for me in the last few years. I really only started playing about 4 years ago, when I finally convinced myself that it was ok for a guy to play. Since then, the game has ascended into my top three sports, taking its rightful place next to basketball and topless darts. I am still playing three games of netball a week. I am considering reducing this to two games a week based on consultation with friends and loved ones, who have explained to me that three games a week officially makes me a "netball nutter".

While my entusiasm is high, a few weeks ago I was reminded of the harsh realities of social sport. The obvious first reality is that despite what you yourself think, it is safest to abide by the motto that "winning isn't everything". Despite my competitive nature, I think I handle this one pretty well. Unfortunately, another nugget of wisdom worth remembering is that line your Mum used to tell you: "its all fun and games until someone gets hurt". No where does this old adage ring more true than on the mixed netball court.

Let me just say up front, I did not intend this to happen. She was defending me very closely - and I mean very closely. If Aff was watching, I suspect she may have had a few words to say about this. I, however, was in my classic whiteline fever mode, with eyes only for the ball, and the task at hand - really! It was the fourth quarter, and we had what turned out to be a substantial lead (but we didn't know this because there is no visible score board). Not being sure of the score meant we had to play with the assumption that it was close. I was playing in my usual position, Goal Attack (GA), and the ball was flying towards me. I was in a slightly awkward position, with my body slightly turned away from the ball. As a result, when I jumped up to catch the oncoming ball, I also twisted slightly to my left. It was at this point that I felt the sickening thud against my left elbow.

I instantly stopped. The ball went somewhere, but I have no idea where. I looked to my left, and there was my close defending female opponent on the floor, holding the left side of her jaw, and in tears. I felt sick. I went over to her, but she was beyond consoling. It wasn't long before the rest of her team came rushing over, many a death stare was thrown my way. Finally, their centre, a male, decided to voice his disapproval by saying "what's wrong with you mate?".

This was hard to cop. I had no idea where she was, and certainly didn't think she was so close that a slight spin (and I mean slight) would take out her left jaw. I told the guy I didn't mean it, but this didn't seem to settle people down. I realised I was powerless to make this right, so walked away. I went up later to see if she was ok, and as it turned out, she had no serious injury, but did incur a blood lip.

This incident reminded me that mixed netball is definitely a female ruled world. I don't mean this in any derogatory way, but simply that the etiquette of the game is clearly stacked against a largish male like me. When a male player is defending me, I always feel much more relaxed. An accidental contact is unlikely to cause a stir. When a female player is defending me however, particularly when she is up close and personal, I don't even know where I can safely put my hands, let alone how I can move around her without causing any sort of contact. And you can always pick the experienced female netballer. If the pleated skirt with badges sewn all over it isn't indicative enough, then her ability to ensure any move I make is likely to have me arrested certainly is.

For those males unfamiliar to netball, I am sure this sounds like the most frustrating sport on Earth. I must admit, it took me about half a season before I came around to accepting it. I think what was crucial to my acceptance was an understanding that knowledge of the rules and etiquette of the game are as important as the ball skills themselves. Once you work out what you can and can't do, you can start to work out how to do things. Still, even a sport as anal as netball cannot protect a player from freak elbows to the jaw, but they certainly give the victim's team plenty of ammunition to unload on the guy that accidentally did it.

Bloody Petrol

This morning I filled my tank for the record price of $47 ! I remember not much more than a year ago filling the same tank up for around $32 ! Aff and I worked out that we drive about 30 km per day in Canberra. In Melbourne last year, I worked out that my average per week car usage was around 60km/week, as compared with around 210km/week in Canberra - so yes, things are a little different here.

Friday, September 02, 2005

New Orleans

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of weeks in New Orleans for a robotics conference last year, during the Jazz festival of all things, which is undoubtedly the single best time to be in New Orleans. From my own experience, and from all accounts, New Orleans is arguably the most vibrant and laid back city in the U.S - you've gotta love the irony of one of the world's coolest cities playing host to 1500 robot geeks, but anyway - The streets were full of life, mainly a result of the incredible number of buskers and street theatre performers competing for attention. The night life was nothing short of crazy. The famous Bourbon Street was like a mix of Brunswick and Chappel streets in Melbourne, on steroids and without the sound of "doof doof" from cars slowly progressing up the street. Instead, Bourbon street was closed to cars, allowing people to stream up the 2 km stretch of road, walking from bar to bar with drinks in hand, often singing sea shanty songs. It was a fantastic atmosphere. The only reason I did not spend more time in New Orleans is because I firmly believed that if I had spent one more day eating their food, I would have died. Deep fried shrimp sure does taste good, but will also kill you. So yes, I loved New Orleans.

To now read reports from main stream sources, as well as from certain blogs, of the disaster situation that now exists in this once vibrant city, is just horrific. Senator Andrew Bartlett provides a good summary of some of these reports which if even half are true, sends shivers down my spine. Apart from the apparent thousands of lives that have been lost, what is most disconcerting is just how quickly order and respect for life has been lost in the wake of such a disaster. This vibrant city I walked around a year ago, which seemed so friendly, warm and welcoming, has reportedly turned into a lawless world of violence, fear and despair.

It makes me, as I am sure it does many, reflect on just what would happen should a similar disaster occur in an Australian city. How would Melburnians, for example, react. My gut tells me that order would not degenerate quite so quickly, or to as great an extent as it has in New Orleans - Admittedly, this is the same gut that kept telling me to eat more deep fried shrimp. I am also not sure what my gut bases it's opinion on. One hopes, I suppose, that good ol' Aussie mateship, which so regularly gets an airing when we want to pat ourselves on the back, actually comes to the fore. However, does this imply that a city like New Orleans did not have this "mateship". When the walls come tumbling down so catastrophically, I really don't know how far this concept would stretch before a majority of people start to focus purely on their own survival. I don't know. In any case, the reports coming out of New Orleans really do bring home the harsh reality, yet also comforting fact, that everyone on this planet is related by the one very common trait - being very human (for all the good and bad that it encompasses).

I truly hope New Orleans recovers from this, and the survivors are able to rebuild their lives as quickly as possible. It would be a tragic loss to all Americans to lose the coolest city they have.