Thursday, October 27, 2005

Beer and Pizza on Mt Stromlo - a PR triumph

Earlier this week, I, along with three other PARSA reps, went on a bit of a field trip to the Mt Stromlo observatory just out west of Canberra. The Mt Stromlo observatory is well known internationally among astronomers and astro-physicists. Many Australians will remember that Mt Stromlo was burnt almost completely through back in the 2003 Canberra bush fires. These fires basically wiped out the entire outer western suburbs of Canberra.

Most unfortunate to the Mt Stromlo observatory, was the loss of the main telescope facility, worth many millions of dollars. You can only imagine how big an impact on research such a loss could have, particularly on the unfortunate PhD students who relied on such a facility for their research projects .. and if you're thinking "why doesn't the ANU go and build another one?", think again - there is no way the ANU has the money. Central to the problem is insurance, and currently the ANU is in court, trying to get the correct amount of money out of the insurance company. Unfortunately it looks as though the ANU may have stuffed the insurance up when the policy was first negotiated, causing a massive short fall in the value for which the facility was insured - but who really knows.

As for the postgraduate students on Mt Stromlo, they have been facing many difficulties. Their local PARSA representative, Anna, told the full representative council in a meeting last week, that morale was drastically low, and that the students felt very isolated from the rest of the campus. While we could not rectify all their problems, we could at least help with morale, and so it was decided that we would organise a pizza and beer run as a way of getting the 25 or so students on Mt Stromlo together, allowing us to hear what their concerns and issues are, as well as to show some solidarity among postgraduate students. Mt Stromlo is no where near the main ANU campus, so many of these students feel quite detached and isolated from the rest of the university.

I took on the task of organising the food, the representatives to attend and the transport. It was no big social event, and so the required organsiation effort was minimal. In all honesty, I was just excited to be on a PARSA field tip. I managed to get PARSA's president, Brett, the co-chair of our Education and Advocacy team, Steve, and a previous PRC exec member, Jim, to come along. Having so many exec level reps was a very big plus.

I must say, the Mt Stromlo folk were very welcoming - which isn't really surprising when you arrive with an esky full of beer and 8 pizzas - I think they thought the Red Cross had arrived.
We got a lot of feedback from them on various issues, and I managed to talk to them a bit about the kinds of social events that would suit them. As I mentioned before, being off the main campus, the atronomers and astro-physicists on Mt Stromlo are often unable to attend our BBQs and other on-campus actitiviities. Having said that, they did make it to our trivia night back in August, and won!

So as you can probably gather, it was a very rewarding trip, and well worth the time and money spent by PARSA. What I liked the most about this trip, is how we identified a specific need for a group of students, and sort to help in a very focused and personal way. I can see this sort of thing working not just for off campus students, but also for departments on campus, where difficulties, or simply low morale, is known to exist. It has to be said, from a PR perspective, arriving with pizza and an esky full beer is unlikely to be anything other than a triumph.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bloody Ridiculous

Rant-o-meter for this post: "run for the hills"

I understand that not everyone is particularly interested in the goings-on of Parliament House, and I keep myself to only the occasional rant because of this, but what is happening at the moment just cannot go unnoticed. It makes me sick to read about it.

The new anti-terrorist laws bill, much discussed in the media by politicians, political commentators and just about every constitutional law expert one could hope to wheel out onto our TV screens and radio, will be introduced into the House of Representatives on Tuesday next week (i.e. Melbourne Cup). It would be the boldest of political commentators to argue that this is anything but a deliberate ploy to avoid public scrutiny by ensuring the biggest news item of the day is about a horse, rather than any potential dents in our civil liberties. While this is bad enough, I am willing to concede that this is as much a reflection on how easy the public is distracted, as it is about dodgy politics.

However ...

.. on the same day the government plans on introducing these substantial changes to the laws and judicial powers that currently exist, some of which will have a significant impact on the rights of all Australians citizens, the House of Representatives is also expected to vote on the bill. This is completely unacceptable.

In fact, its worse than this. The government plans on introducing the bill 90 minutes after the Melbourne Cup, at which point it will immediately call for a debate on the issue, giving MP's just 10 minutes to examine the bill.

It is worth remembering that the only reason we have any idea what is in the bill at all is because the ACT chief minister (and fellow "Belco" Mall shopper), Jon Stanhope, published the draft on his website, against the wishes of John Howard. Without this draft, politicians would have no idea what to expect. Think about how many issues and problems have been pointed out after that draft was released.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand what is happening. Regardless of your view on the legislation (and from many reports, a reasonable percentage of Australians are supportive of the changes, which surprises me), this is a blatant attempt to get the bill passed as quickly and quietly as possible, at the expense of the very thing that should be central to such an important issue (or any issue for that matter): debate and scrutiny.

Surely all Australians agree that our elected representatives need more than a couple of hours to view, debate and vote on such an important bill. The usual time for such things is around two weeks!

Surely, this bill is important enough! The fact that the top experts in this area appear to have varying opinions on the issue, only further strengthens the point that open and frank debate and discussion is crucial in the decision making process.


What's the point of spending hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars on a big building with a flag pole, built precisely for the purpose of debate and discussion, when we don't even use it !?

Parliament (excerpt from wikipedia): The name is derived from the French parlement, the action of parler (to speak) : a parlement is a talk, a discussion, hence a meeting (an assembly, a court) where people discuss matters.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Bands, BBQs and Barry White

There's nothing quite like an obscure title to add increased levels of mystique to a weekend report. It was a good a weekend though, if only because of the variety of events and activities that took place.. so, here is the weekend report:

Friday night
After a very busy week, and having not felt 100 percent for most it (I have been feeling very tired and lethargic the last few days), I had originally planned to spend Friday night at home relaxing, and possibly continuing my work on Gink's automoatic cat feeder (using old milk cartons remember - the project is still riddled with design problems). However, after speaking with my friend Phil (another PhD student) at lunch time, I decided to join him and catch a couple of bands that night.

We went to one of Canberra's better known live music venues, The Green Room, in Woden. The Green room is nothing to write home about in appearance or location. Its a room, above what appears to be a pretty dodgy Irish pub called "O'Sheas" (to be sure to be sure). However, as a venue for live music, its fine, and because its one of the few venues in the ACT devoted to live, original music, it often plays host to some quite decent touring bands.

From my experience, Canberra's local music scene is not particularly strong, though a couple of bands I've seen are very good. Canberra, however, gets a healthy supply of out-of-towners, particularly from Sydney. Last Friday night, I saw two bands from Sydney that were both great. I don't know who the first band were (I never caught their name, and haven't been able to track them down) but their claim to fame was that their new single was to appear on Rage that night, which, at the very least, means they are serious enough to make a video worthy of national airplay (and I guess making the trip from Sydney also gives some indication that this band is pretty keen to play). The lead singer had a very strong voice, and gave the band a bit of a "Cure" feel to their music. After these guys finished, the headline act was a band called "Dappled Cities Fly" who played an excellent alt-rock set, despite having numerous problems with guitars.

It felt good to be out listening to live music. Canberrans don't exactly embrace original live music, unless its a big name. You tend to see bigger crowds at a regular pub karaoke night than at a Friday night pub gig, which is depressing to say the least (though not entirely unappreciated if you're the one up on stage, belting out some of Barnsey's best). However, from my experience, Canberra music goers are, for the most part, pretty relaxed and accommodating of unknown bands. I think this stems from the fact that when you don't have a huge amount to choose from, you are just happy to have some live music to listen to at all. I suspect this is also why bands from Sydney like to come to Canberra regularly - its nice to be appreciated.

Saturday morning
Aff went off to have breakfast with a friend, so I was left to my own devices for the morning. I made my usual trip to "Belco Mall" to buy a newspaper. The only exciting thing about this trip was that, for the second time in three weeks, I saw the ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope. Of course, many non-Canberrans may not know him, however, in recent weeks he has gained some national attention for publishing the Commonwealth government's draft anti-terrorist legislation on his website. Three weeks ago, I lined up at the Belco Mall Deli to buy some salami, when who should be standing next to me but the Chief Minister. On that occasion, I actually exchanged a few words with him:

Shop attendant - "who's next"
Mr Stanhope - "please, you go first"
Chris - "no, please, after you."
Mr Stanhope - "thankyou".
Chris - "no worries".

Mr Stanhope purchased some honey glazed ham (reduced fat) - a fitting purchase for a territory leader I thought.

On this occasion, however, I said nothing to Jon, but gave him a nod as he walked past. I don't think he remembered me though.

Saturday night
Aff and I went to a BBQ in Barton, which is a Canberra suburb just next to Parliament House, and as such, a fairly exclusive one. A friend of mine from netball, Nick, was hosting the event, and put on quite a spread of food. It was a good night, despite a slight over supply of public servants on hand to dictate conversation. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against public servants, but you put 20 of them together at a party, and conversations inevitably become riddled with inaccessible acronyms and "management-speak". At various points of the night, I almost felt like I was in an episode of The Office.

I am probably being quite unfair with this description. The night was great, and a majority of the people I met were very friendly and interesting. I probably wasn't the greatest conversation provider on the night either, as I was quite tired, and lacking energy. We went home at about 10pm, so it was no biggy. I was also conscious of my big Sunday morning on the radio airwaves of Canberra community radio, which brings me to the main event of the weekend ...

Sunday morning
I had spent considerable time on Saturday afternoon, preparing myself for my debut radio experience. Earlier in the week, Tim emailed me a rough set of questions he was planning on asking me, which made things very easy. My main concern was not being unable to answer these questions, as they were quite simple to answer in terms of content, but rather, to make sure I didn't spend half an hour answering each question (which I have a tendancy to do sometimes). So rather than give Tim my complete autobiography when he asked me: "have you always wanted to do robotics?", I tried to keep my response to something under thirty seconds, which I eventually boiled down to a response of: "no, I wanted to be a train driver".

I was pretty nervous beforehand, but after meeting up with Tim and his co-host, Osman, about 45 minutes before the show, my nerves were instantly calmed by their relaxed attitude .. or perhaps it was just the soothing sounds of "Irish Voice" from the show beforehand.

Tim, as producer, went through the run sheet for the show, and introduced me to some very cool radio hand signals, including the standard "wind it up" lassoo action, as well as the slightly more abrupt, cut throat action, which essentially translates to "shut the f$@k up". Thankfully, Tim never had to use the latter signal.

The show itself was great, and I had a ball. The interview went well, and from all reports, I made some sense. According to Aff, I apparently have quite a sexy radio voice, although this is the opinion of someone I have been in a relationship with for nearly 6 years. Personally, I thought Tim's voice was the winner of this category. Even I found myself experiencing the occasional shiver down the spine, particularly when Tim said: "your listening to ....Fuzzy Logic". Needless to say, it was an exciting and emotional hour of science radio.

In addition to my interview, I also contributed to a regular segment on Tim's show, "Horoscopes for the Stars of Science", where a brief bio is given for a favourite scientist born in the current star of the Zodiac (Scorpio). I chose the early 20th century astronomer Vesto Melvin Slipher - I knew nothing about Vesto, but chose him because he had the coolest name i could find.

Watching Tim at work was also impressive. As you can probably imagine, community radio isn't exactly rolling in cash. Most of the stuff in the studio would have been at least 10 years old, and in some cases, much much older.... as Tim said to me just before we arrived at the studio, things are "very analog" here. Given also that the host of the show has to manage all the mics, the music, the promos and other technical aspects of the show, it is quite an energy sapping hour for someone in his position. Tim, despite some technical hitches outside of his control, looked completely in control, and hosted a very good show.

So as you can probably tell, I had great fun being part of it, and am very keen to get more involved... and from all reports, they are looking for more volunteers .. which is great. So, to all those 2XX listeners out there (i.e. Aff and Lee-Fay), stay tuned to 98.3 2XX FM every Sunday morning at 11.30am, for your weekly dose of Fuzzy Logic - its sexy, its sensual, its science.

I have tasted fame .... and I like it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Radio Macca - my big geek break

Some gratuitous self promotion here, but why not.

My friend Tim Baynes is a regular presenter on the Canberra community radio station 2XXFM (98.3 FM). Tim is one of a number of hosts (on a roster system), that every Sunday morning at 11.30am, presents a science communications show called "Fuzzy Logic". Tim hosts the show once a month.

Tim, bless his heart, has brought about my patiently awaited, and much anticipated "big geek break", because this Sunday, Canberrans are going to be treated to something truly special. That's right Canberra, strap yourselves in because Macca's hitting the air waves.

If you are in Canberra this Sunday morning, I suggest you stay home, make a pot of coffee, fluff up a cushion, sit back and relax as I take you on a strange, mysterious, perhaps even raunchy journey through the wonderful and enticing world of robotics research. OK, perhaps that's over selling it. Its a 6 minute interview with Tim, where I get asked about 3 or 4 questions ... but I am not discounting raunchiness!

As you can probably tell, I am a little excited, though I may be slightly over estimating the extent to which this will bring me fame and fortune. In any case, it should be fun, and a great experience. I am also pretty sure I had "get on the radio" close to the top of my "do it before I'm thirty" list (right next to "stick two fingers up behind Ray Martin's head while on air", which I am proud to say, I achieved at last years election night coverage).

In all seriousness, I am very interested in doing things like this because science communication is something that has interested me for sometime, and I guess I see it as a possible future career direction. I'm looking forward to it (despite being completely shit scared). I just hope that while I'm talking about robots, I don't also sound like a robot.

To warm up to the main event, I suggest tuning in a little earlier to catch "Irish Voice". Sit back and enjoy the soothing sounds of Irish folk music (or perhaps the soothing Irish accent of the host as he lists off Canberra's Irish community social and fundraising events for the week).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Look who noticed us today

It is very much a Melbourne trait to look constantly for, and pay attention to stories that lift the profile of this quiet achieving city. You only have to look at big international events held in Melbourne, like the Australian tennis open, or the Grand Prix, to understand that us Melburnians like to know we are being noticed (that bully of a city up the road makes it hard sometimes). Plastered across trackside billboards, painted across sporting fields, fluttering in the wind on flags and banners, in big bold letters, is the word "Melbourne", just in case there was any doubt as to the location of these prestigious events. A possible alternative advertising strategy, and arguably more to the point, would be to simply replace the word "Melbourne" with "Not Sydney" - but anyway.

As a Melburnian, I have to admit, I am quite partial to a good "look who noticed us today" story, but I have to say, the latest one was somewhat unexpected. The most popular Bollywood film screening in India at the moment, is a film titled "Salaam Namaste", grossing $US7.5 million its its first three weeks. The film is set in Melbourne, and filmed entirely on location. The Age goes to great lengths to tell Melburnians about all the Melbourne highlights they show, including such big ticket attractions as Chappel st, and the La Trobe University Bundoora campus (!?) .. hmmm .. well, at least its Melbourne I guess. I for one was particularly surprised to hear that despite all the colour and flare that is so often attributed with Bollywood films, the infamous RMIT buildings on Swanston st didn't get a run. Apparently not even Bollywood wants them.

Of course, Melbourne can cash in on this new found fame, much like New Zealand has with Lord of the Rings. It is quite possible that millions of Indian toursists will converge on the city, on a Salaam Namaste pilgrimage. I just hope the number 86 tram to Bundoora is ready for the onslaught .... I am not entirely sure the new bendy trams are quite going to cut it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Inflatable dart board ?

My research school at ANU (RSISE) has on sale in the tea room, among cooking books, children's books and stuffed toys, an inflatable dart board going for about $10. Obviously not intended to be used with real darts (I suspect velcro is involved), this toy is clearly aimed at the kiddy-safe market. However, I can see this having some appeal to the university student living in a share house, perhaps as one of those crazy novelty items every self respecting student share house should have ...but then again ... the life expectancy of the inflatable dart board is unlikely to span much further than the next drunken get together, at which point the irresistible urge to throw real darts, just to see what happens, becomes all too much.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

No VSU for 2006!

Opposition from the National Party (in particular, Barnaby Joyce), appears to have succeeded in at least postponing the introduction to the senate, of the proposed bill to abolish compulsory fees at universities (Voluntary Student Unionism) for student services, and clubs and societies. While this likely delay is good news for student associations (and Universities as a whole in my opinion), clearly the governments intention is to continue to pursue this, and have it passed by the senate for implementation in 2007. However, if senators like Joyce are as determined to maintain their opposition to the bill in its current form as they say, then even if the bill is not entirely thrown out, it is quite likely to undergo a substantial watering down before it is passed.

The National Party's opposition is welcome. However, it should be noted that the National Party have their own perspective on this issue, which as you would guess, is primarily motivated by the welfare of uni students studying at rural university campuses (of which there are many). They seem to be particularly concerned about the implications of VSU on sporting clubs and infrastructure, and funding support for student services on rural campuses. I don't dispute this concern, but would like to see the Nationals also acknowledge that city campuses are equally in need of such support, particularly when you consider how many students from rural areas move to the city to study. The stress of such a transition should not be underestimated, and the funding of support services to assist students in this transition is as vital as it is for international students. From all reports, Barnaby Joyce for one, is well aware of the issues (hopefully our postcards helped a little with this :D ), and as demonstrated last night, is quite prepared to cross the floor on an issue (despite copping considerable abuse from his fellow coalition colleagues.

For PARSA, this delay means we can happily plan and budget for 2006, which until recently, was quite difficult. In particular, we can find someone to replace our social and publications officer who resigned earlier in the year due to the uncertainty of her position should VSU be passed. For Amanda and myself, as co-chairs of PARSA's social and outreach team, this is fantastic news. Since Derryth's resignation in September, we have been trying to organise the remaining scheduled social events for this year using our less than abundant PRC volunteers. We are coping, but not without a considerable number of hours spent achieving it.

Of course, despite this good news, the uncertainty of VSU remains, and planning for a VSU world continues. If there is a positive side to the current climate of uncertainty, it is that student organisations have really had to address how they are perceived, not just by students, but by the university as a whole. It has been very encouraging to see how highly regarded PARSA is by the ANU. Substantial efforts have been made by the Vice Chancellor, and other senior figures, to ensure that student representation, and student services remain vibrant and effective should VSU be passed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Tennis on Capital Hill

This morning, at the insanely early time of 7am, I had my first hit of tennis in about 18 months. I got out of bed at 5:45am, jumped on my bike about half an hour later, and headed to the courts at Parliament House, to meet my new friend and tennis partner, Mike. I met Mike through another relatively recent friend (who unfortunately, has since moved back to Melbourne), Ben.

Needless to say, with no practice leading up to the match, and my recent introduction to the world of squash (you might think squash and tennis compliment each other, but I can tell you they most certainly do not), I was soundly beaten. Despite being grossly out of form, and losing the first set 6-1, I put on a far more spirited second set, losing 6-3 (most games went to deuce). I should say, "Mike the merciless" is a solid player, and so I felt no great shame in losing to him .... this week.

Whatever the result, the highlight of this match was its venue. The Parliament House tennis courts are fantastic! The courts are surfaced with artificial grass, and are located amongst Eucalyptus trees on the House of Reps side of capital hill. We were the only people there, although shortly after arriving, we were paid a visit by some Federal police, who were on their morning cycle patrol, and obviously on heightened security alert. After verifying we weren't suicide bombers, they then proceeded to make sure we had a booking for the court. We actually didn't, but Mike knows someone who works at Parliament House, and one phone call later, we were in.

Mike and I are now planning to keep playing once a week, which is great. I had forgotten how much I love tennis, particularly when your playing in the warm morning sun on a crisp morning, in a beautiful, albeit slightly pompous location.

Of course having gotten up so early, and having done so much already today, I feel like its about 3pm, rather than 10:20am. And just to make sure I sleep well tonight, I have a netball game at 6pm, which I am riding to because Aff has the car :) .. its all good for me .. apparently.

Monday, October 10, 2005

DARPA Grand Challenge

A post by Rob M on his blog reminded me of this event, which finished up yesterday. The DARPA Grand Challenge is basically rally racing for geeks. Imagine this, a 240km race course in a barron dessert location (Nevada's Mojave dessert, U.S.A) - basically, as far away from population centres as possible - where fully autonomous vehicles attempt to complete the course without collision with obstacles, or getting lost. This event was run for the first time in 2004, and no team got anywhere near finishing. It was quite a depressing snap shot of the state of the art for autonomous mobile robotics. Well, this year, I am most pleased to see that five teams (out of 23) managed to complete the course this year, with Stanford Universities entry, "Stanley", the quickest at 6 hours, 53 minutes (ave speed: 34 km/hour).

Despite being a researcher in the general field of autonomous robot navigation, I have only a limited interest in this event. This is not to say it isn't worth while and informative, (although DARPA's interest in it is hard to ignore), ultimately its an exercise in Engineering, and spending an incredible amount of money on sophisticated hardware and sensors to solve the problem. From what I understand, there is little or no use of vision systems in any of the top performing entrants (I might be wrong though). This is disappointing, but by no means surprising given many of the challenges to overcome can be achieved using things like laser range finders, GPS systems and other wizz bang devices. I tend to be more interested in achievements made with only a minimal number of sensors (ultimately, less hardware and more embedded intelligence is what interests me, but of course, I'm a computer scientist, not an electrical or mechanical engineer), that do not cost the equivalent of a small south Pacific island to design and build. Vision is good because its cheap (what's a good digital camera worth these days?) and incredibly versatile. If we could overcome these challenges using only vision, then much of the technology being developed would become far more accessible, and affordable.

Just as an aside...(from a comment I posted on Rob's blog) ...

.. autonomous vehicles, or more precisely, driver assistance systems are becoming big business for roboticists this days, particularly for robot vision researchers. While fully autonomous vehicles on our roads are still a long way off, vision sensors for obstacle avoidance, drive-by-wire, driver monitoring (such as tiredness through eye gaze tracking) and road sign detection are either already here, or just on the horizon. Its great to see this research finally finding a market for its practical use by everyday (though perhaps wealthy) users (rather than just on factory floors and in Toys'R'Us).

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Gold Winning Performance - on, and off the field

I just read that Ansell are the official "condom supplier" for the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Until now, I had never thought of such practicalities, and while finding this amusing (culminating into a classic school boy giggle), it makes complete sense. Just imagine it. A village full of mostly 20-something athletes, all away from home and most likely experiencing a significant tension release (no pun intended) after completing their events. All fit, athletic, probably unattached, and on the prowl. Basically, I imagine its something like the Big Brother house, on a very much larger scale.

Despite this, I can't help but be astounded by the predicted frequency in which athletes are expected to "go for gold". Ansell is banking on each athlete and official having sex 10 times in 11 days, and based on this, will be dumping 60,000 condoms, and 60,000 units of lubricant at the athletes village. These figures are apparently based on statistics from the Sydney Olympics, where the initial supply of 50,000 condoms ran out, and an additional 30,000 were rushed into the village. I can picture it now - a truck arriving, Red Cross style, through the gates of the athletes village, Ansell volunteers on the back, throwing condoms to the hoards of desperate, sex starved athletes who gather around the truck (possibly rocking it from side to side).

If these stats are true, then I for one am most impressed. You might think, after competing at the highest level, that these men and women would shut up shop, and enjoy a quiet lemon, lime and bitters as they sit back and relax, and contemplate their achievements. But no, instead, they seize the moment, and continue to strive for excellence. I will be sure to enquire about this further when I next visit the AIS.

Unfortunately, Ansell are not planning to release a commemorative condom to mark the event, but rather, "hope every one will be memorable" (Ansell marketing Vice-President,Burton Van Rooyen).

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Netball Premiers

My lack of posts over the last few weeks has created a bit of a back log of news from the "Can". One thing I certainly should have mentioned last week, is that my Wednesday night netball team, "the Health Hazards", won the mixed division 6 premiership against ADFA (i.e Australian Defense Force Academy) 26-17. I should mention that ADFA, winners of the minor premiership and the dominant force throughout the season, were down a player for the grand final. This was disappointing for them, and for us, because no one wants to win a premiership due to having one extra player. Having said that, ADFA made their job even harder by deciding to run without a Goal Shooter. This was the most baffling decision I have ever seen in all my four years of netball experience. This decision suggests to me that Australia's service men and women are in clear need of better tactics and strategy training at Duntroon. I asked their GD, who was defending me, why they chose to run without a GS. He told me that no one else could shoot, and that their GA was good enough to do it alone. It seems the defence academy have apparently replaced "Tactics and Strategies 101" with screenings of Rambo.

Anyway, we won the game comfortably, and as the final buzzer sounded, scenes of jubilation and excitement gripped the Lyneham indoor sports centre. For our win, we received ACT netball "premiers" t-shirts, and, in an unprecedented act of generosity, the Lyneham indoor sports centre had ordered pizzas to be delivered just after the game! And so it was with great pride, that I picked up our well deserved "Super Supreme Dominoes Premiership Pizza", and raised it over my head to the on looking fans (all two of them). The party then continued down the road at the Old Canberra Inn, where the team's kitty surplus of $70 was spent on numerous jugs of Carlton's finest. It was a great win!

My Tuesday night division 4 team, "The Loose Cannons", unfortunately went down in the semi final to the DIMIA dragons, after a hard fought game. I would particularly like to acknowledge the efforts of DIMIA's GD, who I exchanged many a "pleasantry" with throughout the game (we were both warned to shut up). All I did was smile at him, and may have made some remark to him about whether he needed to see my passport! (Ok, I didn't really say that, but I do wish I'd thought of it at the time)

We have a week off before the summer season starts next week.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hume and Hovell were clearly mad

Hume and Hovell were clearly mad. This is my summary of their exploits having just spent the long weekend walking a 35km section of the "Hume and Hovell" walking track. In actual fact, the walk was not too difficult, but when you consider the fact that we only had to walk for two days, with a nice beaten out track to follow (with mostly unambiguous sign posts), good maps, and only the occasional fallen tree to contend with, you start to appreciate the efforts of those who walked through this country without such comforts. Having said that, my whole body hurts, and after some staring in the mirror this morning, I suspect some beer gut shrinkage has occurred as a result of the weekends efforts (despite the scales telling me otherwise). I find that one can only stare at ones gut for so long, before objectivity is lost (and also because at some point, you need to release the air from your lungs and breathe again).

The full Hume and Hovell track spans about 440km, starting from Yass (80km North of Canberra), and ending on the banks of the Murray in Albury. We did what is typically regarded as the second section of this walk, which goes from Wee Jasper (about 90km West of Canberra) to a campsite just North of Brindabella rd, a mostly unsealed road that connects Canberra with Tumut. If this road were sealed, it would make an excellent alternative escape route out of Canberra to Melbourne (as opposed to driving 80 km North in order to get onto the Hume). In its current form, Brindabella rd is best appreciated in a four wheel drive (not a Lancer, as I have now come to accept).

Of course, I did not do the walk alone. I was joined by three other intrepid adventurers, each seeking to push the boundaries of human endurance, and conquer all that nature could possibly dish out. Thankfully, nature chose to serve up three of the most perfect hiking days one could hope for. Joining me for this trip was my eternally keen bushwalking partner, Affrica, and our friends Lee-Fay and Tim (who you may remember from previous posts, were recently married). Tim, like Aff, is a mad keen bush walker, and as I now realise, clearly not human, but rather a purpose built, hill climbing machine. In contrast, Lee-Fay is a self confessed "hater of hills", and as a result of Tim's influence, is a relatively recent inductee into the hikers guild. To put some background to this, last year Tim took Lee-Fay on a rather arduous overnight hike in the Brindabellas, forcing Lee-Fay to climb one of the larger mountains in the National Park. Despite Lee-Fay expressing on numerous occasions, her disapproval during the ascent (from all reports, the phrase "I am going to die", was most often used to express this), upon reaching the top of the mountain, she was rewarded with the sight of Tim going down on one knee, and asking her to marry him. So now Lee-Fay loves hiking :)

After speaking on the phone with my new best friend Warwick at the Wagga Wagga branch of the NSW Department of Lands, I suggested to my fellow adventurers that we consider walking in the opposite direction to the usual way (i.e. North instead of South). According to Wazza, walking north reduces the amount of uphill to do contend with, particularly on the last day. I have to say that apart from the last 5km of the walk, which was very much down hill, the rest of the walk was pretty up and down regardless of which direction you went. Wazza also asked me to count how many people we passed on our journey, and to keep a count of how many trees had fallen over the track (we passed 1 group of 8, and clambered over 14 fallen trees). I have to ring Wazza today to let him know the stats.

Overall, the walk was not too bad. We walked about 21km on the first day, which regardless of terrain, is a long day's walking. The second day was less, but much more uphill. The camp sites we stayed at were all excellent. Each one was beside a fast flowing creek, so there was plenty of water. And of course, each site had the obligatory pit toilet, complete with resident spider, serving to quietly remind you where you are as you sit down, and cautiously bare yourself to the squalor below. As you can probably gather, I am no fan of the pit toilet, but I must admit, there is something quite liberating about using one - perhaps its being in the bush, getting back to basics, becoming one with nature ... or maybe its just leaving a toilet without flushing.

Our crowning glory of the walk was climbing Mount Wee Jasper (1121 metres) on the last day, before descending into the valley below. There were no truly spectacular views from the top, but it was satisfying none the less. In general, the scenery was a real mix of beautifully forested valleys, and butt ugly pine plantations. For some reason, I find the sight of pine forest plantations a little eerie and disturbing. Its something to do with the look of the trees themselves, but also the precision in which they are harvested. You have sections of heavily forested areas, and then suddenly, it stops, and you are left with a barron, Martian like terrain. Of course, this eerie feeling was somewhat compounded by the sight of a sign reading: "Caution - Wild Dog Poison sprayed in this area".

At the end of the walk, we celebrated our triumphant arrival in Wee Jasper by going to the local pub to watch the NRL grand final. Being an AFL man, this was unfamiliar territory, but Lee-Fay, as it turns out, is a mad keen Rugby League fan - who am I to let footy code pride get in the way of a trip to the local, and I have to say, I enjoyed the grand final immensely (Tim and Lee-Fay's excellent tutorage on the finer aspects of the game was most helpful). The locals, of which all except one were Tigers supporters, provided a great atmosphere, and some insightful comments on the game such as "bloody legends", and "its good for League". Things got a little tense when I accidentally showed a little enthusiasm for a Cowboys try (I wanted a close game), but I seemed to get away with this by declaring my AFL roots, and therefore being clearly too ignorant and stupid to know what I was doing. We left and went back to camp soon after.

So, it was a great weekend. Of course, the problem with long weekends like this is that you typically come back feeling like you need another long weekend. However, I find that simply making the decision to spend the first day back at work being as unproductive as possible, and generally keeping a low profile, can alleviate this problem. Or alternatively, just take a sicky.

Rather than describe the walk in pain staking detail, I have put photos from the hike on my web page.