Friday, June 30, 2006

A sure sign insanity is looming

I currently have three cups of unfinished coffee on my desk. The first, a takeaway flat white purchased at 9am this morning, remains half full (and very cold) in front of me. The second, a mug of coffee brewed at approximately 12noon, sits to my right, with at least a quarter of a cup remaining. And now my third, freshly brewed and ready to drink, sits to my left, steaming away. All coffees before it were perfectly fine and worthy of full consumption, but each it seems, in a cruel twist of fate, forgotten about as my attention turned else where. Now I am left with a graveyard of coffee mugs, each a stark reminder of my increasing abscent mindedness, and perhaps even worse, my wasteful practices with a highly valued resource.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

It's a date (and venue)!

Aff and I are getting married on March 31st 2007. The choice of venue was surprisingly painless - it was the first and only place we visited - a scout camp. Yes, that's right, Aff and I will be, quite literally it seems, tying the knot (and trust me, there's a hell of a lot more puns where that came from - scouts honour!). Due to not wanting to tell the world at large where it will be, and also to keep something for the big day, I will not say too much about the place. What I will say is that anyone who knows Aff and I would probably (or hopefully) agree that this place is perfect for us. Outdoors (but with plenty of indoor options), in the bush (but not in the middle of no where), and not terribly formal (though we may insist people at least where clothes). In truth, we haven't really made a lot of decisions about any of these things, but a venue and date - now that is good to have worked out early.

The choice of date was quite surprising as well. Aff and I were both resigned to the fact that we probably wouldn't get married until 2008, after our planned Italy trip next year (April till probably October). After speaking with the camp manager, who coincidentally got married only two years ago at the same scout camp, it became apparent that an early 2007 wedding was possible. The manager took us on a 1.5 hour guided tour of the whole park, with a fairly comprehensive historical overview of the entire scout movement thrown in. He was a great salesman to say the least, and made it all sound very achievable.

So that's that then. Saturday March 31, 2007. Keep it free!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dubious penalty indeed - but we didn't kick a goal!

"No! Not like this!", were the words I uttered as Totti coolly struck the ball, placing it in the top left corner of the net. It was a dubious penalty indeed, and Italy should not have been awarded it. The socceroos can certainly be forgiven for feeling robbed, and they are clearly not holding back in
their expressions of discontent. Not being an authority on the game, and being so emotionally invested in the outcome of Australia's matches, I find it worth while reading match reports from international sources to survey the general opinion of the world at large. If Australian fans want a big thud of reality and perspective on the game, then I suggest reading the BBC match report. In short, the socceroos "lacked ambition".

We would all like to think that had the penalty not been awarded, we would still be in this world cup. Perhaps so. I, however, do not agree with this thinking. Quite simply, if we were truly good enough to progress, then we would have kicked a goal. We had an extra man for most of the second half, and had most of the ball. Italy are renowned for their tight defense, and it is to their credit that Australia were unable to score. Don't get me wrong. We looked good out there, very good in fact, but we also looked pretty harmless without Kewell. Unlike the top countries, we do not currently have the depth of talent to replace someone like Kewell, and rely heavily on our best players giving top notch performances every match to compete. To be completely honest, I am somewhat happy to see us bow out now. Making the round of 16 was well deserved, but in truth, further development is needed if we are to be worthy of greater achievements. To have progressed would have been amazing, but it would also have been a massive over achievement. It would have been seen as more of a freakish event than a deserved place among the football elite. It was not our time to do this, and most certainly, the round of 16 was where we belonged. Let future socceroos teams build on this I say. This time, we achieved the unimaginable. Next time, nothing will be unimaginable.

Well done socceroos!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Re-cycling a black memory

On Saturday morning, on my second ever attempt, I finally conquored Canberra's infamous Black Mountain without stopping. My last attempt was over 6 months ago, and was quite a struggle. Last time took me 40 minutes to ride to the top. Last time I had to stop and rest four times on the way up. Last time I nearly died.

This time I made it up and down in 25 minutes. This time I didn't stop at all (not even at the top). This time I continued riding another 25km around Lake Burly Griffin afterwards. This time I conquored the beast!

... and yes, I'm just a little proud of this :)

Friday, June 23, 2006

We're through!

A big thankyou to the good folks at CMHR for hosting this morning's big screen viewing of Australia's triumphant 2-2 draw against Croatia. The atmosphere was electric in the CMHR conference room (or perhaps that was just the smoke caused by my "pancake incident" at half time - at high temperatures, butter apparently does combust!). What a game it was! I don't think I've been that tense since Ben beat Blair in the final of Big Brother 2001. Hopefully CMHR's own "big Kev", who organised the event (in fine style I might add), will send through some photos - so I might update this post a bit later with images from this morning's antics.

But what about the refereeing though ? It's frightening to find out that Graham Poll, the referee in this morning's game, was not some obscure umpire called in from Siberia, but rather an Englishman, from the English Premier League! How someone with such credentials could allow Josip Simunic to stay on the field, despite receiving two yellow cards is beyond me. What the f%&@ is he writing in his little black book if not the player numbers? I am, of course, quite bias when I say this, but I think it's fair to say that Australia has had a bit of a raw deal with the quality of refereering in all three games played so far. From the Japanese goal that should never have been allowed, to the near farcical scenes of the last 10 minutes of this morning's match, we have clearly had to battle more than our quality opponents to get through to the round of 16.

And what happened to Schwarzer ? why the hell was Kalac goalie ? I don't care how tall he is, just make sure that man never sets foot on a football pitch again during this world cup. Perhaps a bit harsh, particularly given my complete lack of authority on the game, but I suspect Kalac may have indirectly caused a number of heart attacks across the country this morning.

But of course, who cares about any of this now - we're through!

Finally .. a special hello to all my aussie friends over in Europe, probably partying hard as I type this. It was great to receive SMS reports from our men and women on the ground! Keep doing us proud over there, or at least make sure you don't vomit on yourselves!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bike Prang

It's been a while, so I guess I was due. Riding from Uni to netball last night, in the dark, along the bike track, I was forced into a sudden swerve to the right, off the bike track to avoid a tree branch and some rocks. I only intended to be off the track for a matter of seconds, but things didn't quite go to plan. Just at the point where my front wheel left the track, an unsighted puddle lay waiting, surrounded by mud. As my back wheel entered the muddy section, I felt a sudden loss of control as both wheels slipped to the right, and out from under me (my body was leaning to the left). As I realised I was slipping, my natural instinct was to intervene by attempting to take my left foot off it's pedal, and stop my fall. Of course, it was at this point that I realised I was clipped in, and there was no chance of this happening in time. And so I fell, grazing my left knee on the side of the path.

It wasn't too bad a fall. No serious damage to myself or the bike. It certainly wasn't as bad as my last prang, which occurred two years ago on Sydney rd in Melbourne. On that day, I was riding along what is admittedly, one of the worst roads for riding in Melbourne. It is a very busy, single lane road, and generally one to avoid when cycling. It was, however, the quickest way home which is why I decided to take it. On this unlucky day in the Spring of 2004, a woman in a parked car decided to fling her door open as I rode past. My reflex was to swerve to the right, towards the centre of the road, but my reaction time was no where near enough to avoid clipping the car door, and so I flew, quite literally, over the handle bars as my bike buckled underneath me. Apart from grazing large quantities of skin off my un-gloved hands, right arm and thigh, quite amazingly I came away with no broken bones, and only a slightly buckled wheel (that was easily straightened again). I was pretty lucky to say the least, but I must admit, it was not a pretty sight when I let rip at the poor dear woman who flung open the door. She, like me, was quite obviously in shock, as indicated by her silent staring at me as I lay sprawled on the road in front of her. Eventually she gave her apologies, by which time I felt thoroughly ashamed of my own rather harsh words in the immediate aftermath. She was clearly very sorry, and so I also apologised for getting so angry, although the sight of blood on my hands, arm and leg probably didn't make her feel any better.

So if you're a cyclist, or a driver - take care out there!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Australian victory in Germany

More football related blogging I'm afraid - sorry about that - but that's where my focus is at the moment.

Let's be honest. Australia probably won't bring home the world cup, BUT, I am happy to say that all is not lost. Some Aussie robot geeks have made sure we'll at least bring something back. Australian teams took out first and second place in the 4-legged league of Robocup. The NUBots from The University of Newcastle trounced UNSWift (The University of New South Wales) seven goals to three in the final, to take out the championship of the most popular robocup league.

Unlike the human version of the game, Australia is in fact a major player on the world robot soccer stage. UNSW have won the competition a number of times over the 10 year history of the competition, while the NUBots (who competed for their fourth time this year), benefited early from their close ties with the UNSW team. When I last competed as part of the Melbourne Uni team in 2002, we came fourth after being narrowly defeated by Newcastle for third place. UNSW came second that year, after losing to Carnegie Mellon who are also (quite predictably), big players in all leagues of robocup.

I am not sure why Australians perform so well at robocup. We actually do enjoy a good international reputation in general for robotics research, which might be surprising to some, but our success in this competition is somewhat disproportionate to this. Ultimately, winning robocup is testimony to very sound engineering, and good project management. I doubt, however, that Newcastle will get around to publishing any research outcomes from their win, which is where questions of its value arise. Still, it's good to know there are competitions like robocup, that force researchers to actually make something work more than once.

Monday, June 19, 2006

No random hugging - but a hell of a good time anyway

We lost to Brazil 2-0! Oh well. It's funny how pre-game hype can transform your perceptions of Australia's chances. The Sunday papers, the SBS experts, even last night's God awful "live from Munich" footy show special (at least it gave all the Aussie bogans a place to hang out before the match) had me believing it was our destiny to win - and on a different day, we might have. It is, however, somewhat telling that while most experts are saying we played very well, and Brazil were not at their best - they still won the match.

Unlike the Japan game, I managed to find people to watch this one with. Quite simply, there was no way I was going to risk being alone for a possible Australian victory over the world champions. Along with friends Tim, Lee-Fay and Andy, I headed to the Lyneham indoor sports centre bar, where cheap beer and a big screen was promised. We arrived in time to watch the 0-0 draw between Japan and Croatia, which was a suitably encouraging warm-up to the Brazil-Australia clash. When we first arrived, it was pretty much just us and a few others scattered around. By 1pm however, numbers had swelled from about 10 to something around 150-200. There was certainly plenty of atmosphere in the bar, and with near perfect seats at the front, and extended happy hour prices, I was very content when the game finally got under way.

As I am sure most are aware, the game was full of emotion and drama. The first half was very encouraging. At least that's what me and two random blokes agreed during a brief half-time analysis of the game in the men's toilets. Of course, this good vibe was soon lost when Brazil kicked their first goal early in the second half. This did quieten things in the bar, but only briefly. When it became clear the Aussies were on all out attack, the many shots at goal brought all of us back to the edge of our seats. It was both euphoric and agonosing to watch - and exhausting.

Adding to the occasion for me were frequent SMS communications with Tez and Tim in Munich, who were actually at the game. Unfortunately Terry declined to provide a nudy run across the pitch for all his fans back home. Instead, hours after tha game, Terry decided a far more appropriate way to mark the occassion was to simply ring friends back home and wake them up. And so it was at 7am this morning (having only got to bed at 4.30am) that my wake-up call came through. From a beer garden in Munich (~10pm), Terry and Tim sang their own adaptation of Peter Allen's "I go to Rio", which they had worked into a socceroos song (apparently this one off performance couldn't wait a few more hours). Of course, I didn't mind being woken up - it was just great to share the occasion with friends across the globe, who were clearly enjoying themselves. In fact, from all reports, socceroos fans are out in force all over Europe, particularly London.

Alas, the game is over, and being now 11:30am, I may consider actually going into uni for a token afternoon visit. You get the feeling that today is one of those days where half the country is still at home, while the other half are just wishing they were. World Cups only happen every four years, and if history has anything to say about things, we may or may not be back again for a very long time - so I think the PhD can handle a few non-productive days (who am I kidding, I know it can!)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ice Ice Berra

Canberra truly has rediculously cold winters. At 12 noon today, the official temperature in Canberra was 1 degree! Apparently it has since warmed up to a scorching 6 degrees, once the morning fog finally cleared and the sun broke through. This morning, when I rode in, it was apparently -3 degrees, which would explain why my face felt red raw, my fingers were burning with frost bight (despite wearing gloves), and my facial hair actually had small icicles forming on it after 15 minutes of riding.

Robot Soccer World Cup Kicks Off

Robocup celebrates it's 10 year anniversary this year, and what better place to hold it than Germany, the host of the rather less significant human version of the game.

Robocup is the world cup of robot soccer. It consists of a number of different leagues, each with it's own particular focus. I was lucky enough to compete in the competition in 2001 (Seattle) and 2002 (Fukuoka - during the last world cup in Japan!) as part of Melbourne Uni's "roboMUtts" team, which consisted of five students developing software for four robot dogs (Sony Aibos) to pass, kick and defend, completely autonomously. Each dog is quite literally a walking computer, equiped with a CPU, a low resolution video camera mounted in it's nose, gyroscopic sensors so they know when they have fallen over (which often happened), and a wireless connection allowing communication with other team members. The "four-legged league", as it is known, disallows any hardware modifications to the supplied robots. Other leagues, such as the mid-size and small-size leagues allow teams to build their own robots, and so the focus is as much about hardware as it is about AI.

The competition gets varying levels of media attention, depending on where it is held. When we competed in Seattle, for example, we were put in a rather dingy convention centre. When we competed in Fukuoka, the competition was held in a baseball stadium, and saw about 100,000 people come to see the event. We were even signing autographs - albeit for 8 year old Japanese boys.

The research objective of the competition is to develop a team of humanoid soccer playing robots that can defeat the human world cup winning team, by 2050 (without killing them of course). Having not been involved in the competition for four years, I am not sure what progress has been made. This is actually one of the big problems with regularly competing in the competition. To be competitive at this level takes almost a full year of preparation, which doesn't leave a lot of time for publishing genuine research advances. Very little of the advances made in robocup, finds its way to the top journals and conferences (apart from the robocup symposium itself, held at the competition).

In any case, as a student of robotics, it is a fantastic experience, and certainly brings home the big challenges for robotics research - and from a marketing perspective, the competition is a gold mine.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Radiothon - 98.3 2XX FM

As I have mentioned before, I regularly contribute to Canberra's oldest community radio station, 98.3 2XX FM as a presenter on a weekly science program called "Fuzzy Logic". I have been doing this for about seven or eight months now, and am still enjoying the experience.

Canberra readers of this blog may be interested to know that 2XX is conducting it's annual subscription blitz, known as the radiothon (because many of the shows are doing special things to mark the occasion), looking for people to pay up a small amount of money to support local community radio. For full-time working adults, I think it's $50 for a yearly subscription. For students or low-income earners, I believe it's $25. Your subscription gets you a monthly newsletter and various discounts at local cafes, cinemas and other establishments. Given the severe lack of decent radio options in Canberra, it's well worth supporting community radio to keep diversity in music and content on the air waves!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

while on matters of the foot ...

As I do every week, I just finished playing soccer with other students and staff in my research school. Inspired by last night's stunning win in Germany, I hit the pitch this evening with new found confidence. It's amazing what a little confidence can do. I normally refer to myself as the token Aussie, which is pretty much the truth considering just me and one other guy were actually born in Australia. In fact, I think we are the only two born in this hemisphere, but I digress. Tonight, similiar to the history making perfomance of the socceroos last night, I made my own little bit of history by scoring two goals. I won't claim they were quite as impressive as Cahill's last night, particularly considering one of them was intended to be a cross, but the fact is, I was on fire - and it was good.

I quite unashamedly admit that I am one of the many thousands of Australians who has jumped onto the soccer bandwagon. In truth, I was a fan of the game quite a while ago, but it's a difficult game to crack, both as a player and as a spectator. In both instances, it helps to have someone who knows a bit about the game, who is willing to explain the offside rule, all the club competitions, and why it is that Australia had to play the 5th placed South American team to qualify for the world cup ? It's a complex game to understand, yet one of the simplest in terms of rules and necessary equipment. A ball, a bit of flat space, and some objects to mark the goal - that's all you need. Any wonder it's the world game.

I don't think AFL, League or Union fans need fear the rise of soccer. Australians have a fine tradition of embracing any sport we're half decent at - how else would lawn bowls get television coverage ? I am just glad soccer has arrived, because I have a feeling we could be very good at it in years to come (particularly if I can keep up my current good form).

No substitutes for brilliance - except perhaps Cahill, Aloisi and Kennedy

There is no need to give the blow by blow account. We all watched it, or have no doubt heard about it. Australia defeated Japan 3 - 1, making it our first World Cup finals win ever! After playing 84 minutes goaless and one goal down, some extroadinary substitutions brought about three goals in the last eight minutes to clinch us the win - and what a win!

Having arrived home an hour before the match, completing a hectic whirlwind road trip to Melbourne, I was content to watch the match in the comfort of my lounge room. I must say though, when Cahill put his second goal in off the left side post, I was up on my feet looking for strangers to hug. Being on my own, I instead opted for the standard jump out of the seat, scream and pump the air with my fist, before somewhat awkwardly resuming my seat, realising there was no one but a very scared looking cat to appreciate the moment with (Aff, in a bout of un-Australian-ness, decided to go to bed claiming some sort of"I have an exam tomorrow" excuse.

Needless to say, the Brazillian match will be a cracker!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"the most fundamental institution of civilisation"

Apparently condemning same sex couples to hell is just not enough for America's religious right. Now they have managed to talk Bush into supporting an amendment to the constitution that prevents US states from legalising same sex marriages.

You seriously have to wonder what people who so passionately oppose same sex marriages (to the extent that they want a constitutional amendment to ban it), spend their days doing. Whatever it is, it clearly isn't fulfilling enough. They seem to spend most of their time fixated on how other people choose to live their lives. What is it that people really fear so much about same sex marriage ? What great social breakdown do people really envisage happening? And finally, do these people really believe that civilised society so desperately depends on the traditional definition of marriage, or as Bush puts it, "the most fundamental institution of civilisation", that it requires a constitutional amendment to protect it. Given the fickle nature of the modern day marriage, I would be very worried indeed if societies fate relied soley on such an institution.

Monday, June 05, 2006

the new look

So, as you may have noticed, things look a little different around here. This is thanks mainly to me being home sick last Friday, and in need of something creative to pass the time (day time TV just isn't the same without Bert ... or Moyra!). In reality, all I have done is replaced the top bit with a gratuitously large picture of me. However, I am aware that the great unwashed (i.e those using M$ Internet Explorer) may also be experiencing other weird things, like my profile on the right side bar being placed all the way down the bottom of the page, rather than up top where it's meant to be. Not sure why that is, but I am sure it's my fault (despite IE being the only browser that appears to have this problem). If you are seeing weird things (not including the gratuitously large picture of me!) then please let me know by posting a comment (and don't forget to tell me what browser you are viewing this in). That way I'll know how big a problem it is.

Gather round kids - it's geek story time

If my PhD were a soccer match, then I think I just kicked a goal. I just found out a paper I submitted to one of the top international robotics conferences (IEEE Intelligent Robots and Systems) has been accepted for oral presentation and publication, which is very pleasing news indeed! Perhaps just as exciting is the location of this conference, Beijing, which should hopefully see me traveling there in October to present my work.

For those that care, my paper is about how to dock a mobile robot (or any autonomous vehicle) with a looming surface from the video feed of one single digital camera. The paper provides a theoretical argument for why it is good to track the focus of expansion in the acquired images, when estimating the time-to-contact with the looming surface.

Let me try and explain it (as it's good to practice this sort of thing).

You can think of the focus of expansion as being the point in the image where everything seems to expand from when you move towards a large surface. Now, imagine you wanted to dock with that surface such that you stopped as close as possible to the surface, without actually making contact with it (such as when parking your car in your garage). That requires decelerating in a highly controlled manner, particularly when in close proximity with the surface. As most of us do, the best approach is to decelerate the vehicle in proportion to the estimated distance from the object - and we are very good at doing this, because we have a pair of cameras in our head that provide us with stereo vision, making distance estimation and depth perception very easy (we also have a hell of a lot of cognitive help as well). On a robot with a single camera (or even with two), distance estimation ain't easy! So here's where the research comes in.

The first question is, do we actually need to know our distance to the object to achieve such a docking maneuver anyway ? Sure, we need to have some gauge of our proximity to the surface, but does this actually need to be an absolute measure of distance? Well, the answer is no (of course), we don't! Biological systems don't need this, so why should robots?

Another approach that gets the job done (inspired by honeybees) is to measure the expansion of the projected image (divergence) of the object as you approach it. If you measure the divergence generated from one frame to the next as you move a camera at constant speed towards a surface, you will see that as the surface looms closer, the divergence increases (i.e. things appear to get bigger, faster). Now, think about what would happen if you tried to keep this rate of expansion constant as you approached the surface. Now remember, from one frame to the next, the divergence will increase if you're speed is constant. Therefore, the only way to maintain a constant divergence (apart from just stopping straight away), is to slow down! Of course, as you continue towards the surface at your slower speed, the divergence will again begin to increase, but that's ok, you just need to make another adjustment of your speed, and slow down some more. The point is that if you keep doing this (what we call a control law), you will eventually come to a complete halt, and in theory at least, be pretty darn close to the surface you are docking with.

Simple isn't it!?

Well, of course, it's not quite that simple. It's that in theory bit that never quite translates to real world conditions. My paper, in a nut shell, is focused on how to make the above strategy work reliably, under real world conditions. I came up with a strategy that makes this work a whole lot better if you account for the small bumps and rotations that occur as you approach. You can do this, as it turns out, by tracking the focus of expansion in each frame as it comes in. So while the images acquired will be subject to noisy bumps and rotations as the robot proceeds forward, the focus of expansion will move from one frame to the next. The thing is that the focus of expansion represents the point on the surface you are predominantly heading towards, and so it makes a lot of sense to measure your time-to-contact at this point in the image. I guess tracking the focus of expansion is somewhat analogous to moving your eyes to fixate on an object, even though your head is subject to movement due to shocks and bumps as you move in your environment. OK, this is probably too much detail now, but hopefully, you get the gist.

My paper is mostly a lot of maths, and a few graphs - so I don't expect to see it on Oprah's book club list.

I do have this video (WMV) though, that shows how the basic strategy works for a mobile robot (though I admit, not particularly real world conditions).

If you made it this far down, I applaud (and thank) you!

Want to read more about my research interests?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Refused a schooner - coz it ain't a pint

Perhaps I'm just an idiot, or not the beer lover I thought I was. I'll let you be the judge.

After enjoying a pint of Kilkenny with some work friends at PJ O'reilley's last night (on dodgy Irish pubs, Canberra definitely holds it's own), I decided one more was definitely in order. Of course, to ensure a second beer is socially acceptable, it is essential to rope at least one other person into having another beer as well (commonly referred to as the wingman). Thankfully, a fellow PhD student Phil, stepped up to the plate (as always), and before too long, we were both at the bar once more.

Having driven to the pub, I decided another pint was probably pushing the limit, so instead opted for the safer schooner option (despite living in Canberra for over a year now, I still find this word difficult to accept). Being a cold and wet Canberra evening, the Kilkenny option was again looking very attractive. The first one certainly went down awfully well (and awfully fast), so it was the obvious choice - accept for one small issue.

"A schooner of Kilkenny?", I thought to myself, "it just doesn't sound right!"

After a little more thought, I decided I would ignore this concern, and just order it. I stepped up to the rather crowded bar and waited patiently for the barman's attention.

"What are you after?", the barman asked, rather abruptly.

"A schooner of Kilkenny thanks mate".

As I said these words, I felt a sudden tension in the air as eyes focused squarely on me. I awkwardly leaned against the bar, attempting to look cool and comfortable in my request, and kept my gaze fixated on the barman.

"A schooner of Kilkenny?", the barman inquired, "don't you mean a pint."

I stood and thought for a moment. Clearly the barman was giving me an escape route. I could just say yes, and walk away unscathed, while laughing at the ridiculousness of my mistake.

I gave it another second of thought before replying "No, just a schooner thanks". I had made my decision, I was going to defy common sense, etiquette, logic and all accepted social standards - I wanted a schooner dammit!

I stared at the barman, watching him as he processed my clearly confrontational request.

"Well...", he paused for a second. "Sorry mate, but we only pour pints of Kilkenny here."

I tried to maintain my expressionless poker face. I was actually being refused a Kilkenny because of my choice of glass - this is ridiculous. I stood silent for a number of seconds.

"So, it's a pint of Kilkenny then?", the barman prompted, sounding very pleased with the stance he had taken.

I certainly didn't want to continue making a scene, particularly given the barman clearly had the support of the other punters around me, but there was no way I was giving him the satisfaction of victory.

"No - no pint - if I can't have a schooner of Kilkenny, then make it a schooner of Carlton".

Perhaps no great victory for me either, but at least I stood my ground on the schooner issue, even if I had to compromise on my beer of choice. I walked back to my table with schooner of Carlton proudly in hand. I drank it quietly, all the while eyeing off the barman from afar, hoping he could see me enjoying my schooner.