Sunday, November 27, 2005

crazy camera

For the first time in my PhD, I am in at uni on a Sunday to do work. It took 7 months, but here I am. Obviously not something I want to make a habbit of, but another deadline is looming, and the weather is pretty crap anyway.

The work I am doing is actually pretty interesting. After about 12 months of just writing about stuff I've already done, I am actually starting to do new stuff. The most exciting thing is that I have just gained access to our research labs latest robot, officially to be called "NECTA" (unofficially called burpbot), which has been specifically built for the research that I will be doing in my PhD. I won't go into the details, except to say that I am interested in mimicking the navigational strategies of insects (particularly bees). If you really wanna know, you can read all about it here.

Apart from a new robot, I also have access to a funky new pair of cameras. These cameras are not your average, run of the mill digital cameras though. Each one has a viewing field 190 degrees (so it can, in fact, see behind itself!). The idea is to have a pair of these cameras mounted on the robot, facing forward but each significantly angled away from the direction of motion (i.e. like a bees eyes). The cameras will also be mounted on a lift platform, so that we can move them up and down. The robot itself has what we call omni-directional wheels, which essentially means it can move in any direction (not just forward and back like a car, but in any direction, like a shopping trolley). Maybe its just easier to show a photo:

This is the base drive system of the robot. Obviously other stuff goes on top of this:

Combining this motion, and the up and down motion of the camera allows us to move the camera in any 3 dimensional direction, so we can make the camera fly like a bee :)

The robot has been designed and built by Luke Cole, who is involved in a number of robotics projects for ANU, CSIRO among other personal projects.

Anyway, enough boring detail. I have just spent my entire Sunday afternoon getting my program code to work with the new cameras. I still have a long way to go, but I can now at least take happy snaps with the new camera .. like these:

If only they gave PhD's for stupid photos!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Time flies (like Grease lightning) when you're having fun

.. on this day, 6 years ago, Aff picked me up on the dance floor of a dodgy South Yarra night club ("Silvers") after we both refused to dance to the Grease mega-mix (4 years working at a function centre does that to you!) ...

... of course, we had been house mates for about 18 months prior.

And I should re-iterate, Aff picked me up, not the other way round. Apparently Aff got sick of waiting for me to do anything, which was probably just as well given I was probably adhering to my usual pick-up strategy of avoiding all eye contact, dancing only with my hips (with legs planted firmly on the ground) while avoiding conversation at all costs (combined with an awkward smile whenever something was said that I couldn't hear)- so basically, I was maintaining my tried and tested "shit-scared" tactic, in the hope that it may attract some pitty. Thankfully Aff is a little more pro-active than me.

I should also acknowledge the other person present on the night - Taryn - who left us to go to the bar just before we got together, only to come back 5 minutes later to find her two campanions for the night significantly closer than when she left. :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

radio recording for download

A couple of people have asked how they can hear fuzzy logic if not in Canberra. The short answer is, you can't - The best I can do is provide a recording, which I have. Here is a recorded sample (MP3) from last Sunday's program (about 10 mins long).

The recording is of our 10 minute discussion on scientists who experiment on themselves :)

Take a Stand, Barnaby!

If, like me, you oppose the governments industrial relations (aka "workChoices") legislation, then here is one way to help the cause - Take a Stand - Barnaby! is a campaign by the ACTU to let Nationals Senator, Barnaby Joyce, know just how many Australians are against this legislation. We need Barnaby to cross the floor!

To quote from the campaign website:

With the Senate sitting again from November 28, we now have less than a week to let Senator Joyce know that the concerns he holds about WorkChoices are valid. If Senator Joyce votes No, the Government’s legislation will be torn up.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I'm Blue - da ba dee

It was the year 2000, and just about every cheesy night club was playing it ... "I'm Blue da ba dee da da ba da ba dee da ..." - you remember it ! For many, I am sure this number 1 euro-trash hit from the band, Eiffel 65, was the most annoying song of the year .. and normally, I would agree, but not for this little repetitious, non-sensical gem. I'll admit, this song certainly doesn't fit with my usual tastes (looking at the play list on my computer at the moment - Placebo, Radio Head, Dandy Warhols, System of a Down ... and Eiffel 65 .. hmmm??), but there it is, "I'm Blue da ba dee") - so why do I like it ?

Its amazing how a song can embed itself in your memories and emotions. This song, however tragic it may seem, was more or less the sound track for the year I spent working in Singapore back in 2000. This was my first trip overseas, and also only weeks after Aff and I first got together (yes, we got together just weeks before I left Australia for 12 months!). On my first night out in Singapore, with a bunch of strangers I had just met, we par-took in a bit of a club crawl, where I kid you not, Eiffel 65's number 1 hit featured four times, the first three in different night clubs, and the final in the taxi on the way home. From that point on, it might as well have been the Singapore national anthem.

I just downloaded the song, and am now listening to it. I love it! I am trying to keep my chair dancing moves to a minimum so as not to attract too much attention...

...ahh bugger it ... how can I resist ... I'm Blue da ba dee da da ba da ba dee

Radio career continues

I had my third stint on Canberra community radio on Sunday morning, again presenting science news and other sciency things. I again teamed up with Tim, who hosted the show in his usual professional, calm way - he really does sound like Andrew Denton! I, for the most part, did ok, but managed to completely f@#% up the "outro" (the words spoken at the very end of the show). You'd think its simple wouldn't you ? It was meant to go something like this:

".. And that's all we have time for. You've been listening to Tim Baynes and myself, Chris McCarthy. Tune in next Sunday morning at 11.30am, for "fuzzy logic". We'll leave you now with a track from Cake called "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" [music starts, mics off].

Instead it went something like this:

".. we'll see you next week .. oh .. and thanks to our .. err .. lovely host, as always, Tim Baynes, and thanks also to .. um.. myself [wince], Chris McCarthy [pause while I contemplate the stupidity of that statement].. so tune in next week for fuzzy logic at 11.30am .... that's on Sunday ... we'll leave you now with a track from Cake [pause] .. oh, and its called Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps [music starts, mics off] "my God that was crap .. sorry Tim!"

Tim laughed, which really was the only appropriate response to this tongue tangled stuff-up.

That was by far my worst stuff-up so far. I am actually not normally that bad. In fact, in earlier segments things went remarkable well I thought. We did a 10 minute "open mic" discussion on scientists who experiment on themselves. I find I am much better when I don't have a script, and this segment, while certainly structured to some extent, was very free flowing and conversational. Tim actually recorded that segment onto his minidisk player, so I was able to listen to it afterwards. I am hoping to get an MP3 of it, so may put it on my blog for download so that non-Canberrans can hear what this radio thing is all about. I think I have one more show to do before Christmas, but not for a few weeks.

Monday, November 21, 2005

JMW hits the web

My friend, and fellow co-founding member of the C.R.O.C (Car Rally Organising Committee), James Wettenhall, has launched his own blog - "The JMW blog", and has lots to say, on lots of things! Well worth a read so make sure you check it out.

Introducing one of Canberra's best DJ's ... what's your name again mate ?

Answer: Dopius, and thankfully he wasn't completely offended when I forgot his name while introducing him to the 90 or so people in attendance at last Friday's "end of year extravaganza". Apart from that rather stupid stuff up, my MC'ing went quite well .. It was a little unfortunate that forgetting the DJ's name received the biggest laughs for the night, despite my well-crafted, perfectly timed and undoubtedly witty attempts at deliberate humour, which for the most part, received only a polite acknowledgement (enough to block out the sound of crickets anyway!). I ended up resorting to making weird noises, such as the "trill", which is a noise one makes when showing ones appreciation for a belly dancing performance.

I am happy to report that the night was a success, and as predicted, ended with me feeling slightly under the weather after some frequent visits to the bar in the later part of the night. For most of the night, I was too stressed to relax, which wasn't helped by "Phil", the function centre manager who seemed to be more nervous than I was. I couldn't sit and chat for more than 10 minutes before poor old Phil came tapping on my shoulder. I am not entirely sure what I am meant to do when one table is lagging behind the rest, having not eaten their soup fast enough, but Phil seemed adamant that this delay would ruin the night completely. Once dinner was out of the way, and the band started, I knew it was all under control, and so in true McCarthy style, I unleashed myself at the bar, and on the dance floor (I now have a sore neck?!).

So it was a good night, and I am glad it went well. I am equally glad it is over! Much like when I was involved in organsing the car rallies of the past, I have learnt a lot about organising big events, such as:

* students never commit to anything until the very last minute.

* always ask for the spelling of a name under which a booking is to be made, particularly when they have a strong Indian accent.

* never trust a band promoter that says "trust me".

* always appreciate any help you get, however large or small the contribuition is (though I already knew this).

I am hoping to get some photo's of the night soon.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Extravaganza count down - 4 hours till dance off

Well, tonight is the big PARSA end of year extravaganza. I am taking a quiet moment just now, away from the frantic organising, to gather my thoughts, and dump them onto my blog for the world to see.

The DJ is booked, the belly dancing is organised, the band is tuned up, the prizes have been purchased (everything from a soccer ball to woopee cushions .. its class all the way!), and the tickets have been sold (though not a sell out unfortunately). The only thing left is to decorate the room, and quietly disappear into a corner of the room and get quietly drunk, pretending none of this has anything to do with me. Although this may be difficult given I'm the MC.

In all honesty, I think it will be a good night .. Probably not quite as good as it could have been (with more people), but a good night nonetheless. Its PARSA's last social function (apart from a Christmas party for the representative council), and I'm looking forward to a bit of a break from the social events. This one has caused me a fair bit of stress, yet when I talk about why its stressful, its hard to pinpoint any one thing. What I will say is that on the last official day of ticket sales, we only had 30 tickets sold, and I was very worried .. two days after the "last official day", we have 89 people coming! So ticket sales, relatively speaking, have been booming.

There have been other stresses. Our DJ and band has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride from the start. Somehow, just two days before the event, our $600 deal with a local band/DJ promoter has blown out to $850 because they needed to hire sound equipment! Despite the fact that I was assured they would be able to source the sound equipment from somewhere, and that I "need not worry about it".. in addition, we have been forced to put the DJ before the band because the DJ has to be somewhere else (I think). Can't wait to see our treasurer's face when he sees the budget blow out on this one.

It hasn't all been bad. The ANU Union, who are providing the venue and catering, have been excellent. I have been ringing Fiona in the office all week, making adjustments to floor plans, and adding numbers to the booking.. Although my last phone call was actually to reduce numbers because I figured out, after three days, that I had made two booking for the one person (they had rang me, and emailed me, but because they were hard to understand on the phone, I wrote their name down incorrectly. I found this out an hour ago!

Despite some stress, I am glad we have managed to pull this off (well, we haven't yet, but all is in place, as much as it can be). Whatever the outcome, I am looking forward to some quieter days .. hmmm .. Maybe even research (which of course means more blogging!).

Thursday, November 17, 2005

a lucky goal, a tense penalty shoot out, and a sore head .. what a game!

I have nothing else to say... Rob, who was actually at the game, provides an excellent summary of what its like to witness a genuine Aussie sporting triumph (I mean Macybe Diva's three Melbourne cups were impressive ...but lets face it .. its a bloody horse!)

.. all I will add is that soccer is quite dangerously conducive to drinking lots of beer .. I watched the game at Tim and Lee-Fay's house after playing netball .. Dehydrated and anxious - my beers seemed to become some sort of security blanket (or perhaps a pacifier), protecting me from the plentiful moments of unbearable tension. Each Australian clearance, and saved Uruguayan penalty shot, would motivate me (quite sub-consciously) to take a large swig of beer. This is apparently the only way my brain is able to outwardly express its relief ...

.. and yes, I woke up with a bit of a sore head this morning .. but this was a world cup qualifying head ache, and it felt good !

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Back on board

Aff and I got back from a fantastic week (and a bit) of melbourne madness. The full report needs more time than I currently have to give. I have come back to a pretty crazy week here in Canberra, the major event of the week being PARSA's end of year bash this Friday (or as we have called it, the end of year "Extravaganza"). I am chief organiser of the event, so its all a bit crazy now. The event will include a band, a DJ, and belly dancing, all glued together with the soothing words of yours truly as I take on the MC role for the night. If this wasn't enough, Aff and I also have a house inspection on the same day!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Grinders coffee predicts record sales for November

Aff and I are heading to Melbourne next week, for a week .. woohoo! We haven't been back since April, so we're both pretty excited. The "lovely lady Lancer" will be clocking up the km's in fine style as we begin our journey on Friday night

On the itninerary so far is family (back to The Basin!), a BBQ, beer, lunches, dinners, coffee, beer, house warming, final Masters thesis submission, beer, coffee, beer, beer, beer, beer ....

.. Actually, my schedule may not include quite so much beer .. And perhaps just a little more caffeine will be involved.

I've definitely got that "I've been out of Melbourne for too long and want to do everything when I get there" bug!

Whatever happens, the most important thing is catching up with everyone.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Maybe I'm too cynical ...

Maybe I've become too cynical about the Howard government, but I cannot help but be suspicious about this so called "specific" terrorist threat that is now being used to justify the fast tracking of the anti-terror legislation through the Parliament today. The bill will be voted on tonight in the house of representives, and the senate has been recalled to sit from 2pm tomorrow.

I am quite genuinely unsure if I'm being a bit unfair in having any doubts about the timing of this "specific" threat. That is the depth of my miss trust of Howard, and the clear desire of ASIO to have more powers bestowed upon it.

It should be noted that this specific threat, while causing a mad panic rush to get this legislation through, does not warrant a heightened terror level threat

.. so I guess the level stays at "shit scared".

Incidentally, my personal "mistrust of Howard levels" have now been increased to: level omitted due to risk of being considered sedition under new anti-terrorist laws

erratum: As Rob pointed out in his comment on this post, it is not the anti-terror legislation that is being fast tracked, but a seperate piece of legislation to ammend the description of what constitutes a terrorist act. So not quite as bad as I first thought, but suspicious timing nonetheless.