Tuesday, August 29, 2006

To boldly go where no PhD thesis has gone before

The University of Melbourne has awarded one of its Chancellor's Prizes for Excellence to Dr. Djoymi Baker's, author of the PhD thesis: "Broadcast Space: TV Culture, Myth and Star Trek".

Yes, that's right, a PhD thesis on Star Trek! And boy do the nerd news providers love this. Slash-dot wasted no time jumping onto the story. I expect it will get a fair bit of coverage in the main stream media as well. As a Melbourne Uni graduate, I am just impressed that the uni has people with this level of devotion to the sci-fi classic - which apparently included watching over 700 hours of it!

The thesis itself appears to be more about drawing connections between ancient mythology and popular culture. Star Trek, however, does appear to be the authors main focus. It does raise the interesting question of just how popular television shows like Star Trek will be viewed in the distant future. Will they be studied as some way of gaining insight into civilisation at this time. I would love to read what conclusions one might draw from that. Certainly, one conclusion would have to be that figure hugging jump suits were all the rage in the late 20th century.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Geek alert for Civic and surrounding areas

Just doing my civic duty here in reporting any known gatherings of computer geeks, which as an insider, I am committed to doing in the interests of all Canberra residents. The following information is intented to provide unsuspecting Canberra residents planning to be in Civic tonight, an opportunity to make alternative arrangements should they deem it necessary.

Tonight, in Civic, a gathering of no less than 25 roboticists will occur at approximately 6.30pm. The duration of this gathering may extend into the later hours of the night. The intention, as it has been reported to me, is to, and I quote, "have dinner and socialise". This should at least contain the situation to one establishment for a few hours, however, it is entirely likely that the roboticists will then disperse to one or more of the public bars in the area, in an attempt to socialise further. Civic pub goers, as always in these situations, are advised to stay well clear, and most importantly, to not make eye contact or attempt conversation. As far as I know, the local night clubs are not likely to be effected, but this possibility cannot be ruled out either.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Last day - Last session

The program for the conference I am attending in October is finally out, and so too, my moment of truth. When will I give my talk ? As anyone who has experienced the tension and fear that surrounds standing up in front of experts in your field and trying to convince them you're not a complete twat knows, getting it over and done with early is paramount. At the very least, before the conference banquet so you can hit the turps guilt free, and build on your new found exposure by joining an eminent professor in a karaoke duet of "New York New York" ... or whatever else the night may bring.

Unfortunately for me, this is not to be. In a conference spanning four days, each with 10 parallel streams broken into 5 sessions, somehow, amongst all the possible times I could have been allocated, I managed to score the second last time slot of the entire conference. The second last slot, of the last session, of the last day, of a four day conference. Sure, everyone gets dealt a bad hand every now and then, but what makes this a little unluckier than usual (and a little spooky) is that this is the second time, in as many robotics conferences, that this has happened. And I mean exactly - second last talk, of the last session, of the last day. What's with that ?

Of course, one should keep things in perspective. If having to give a late conference talk is the only cost I must pay for a week long trip to Beijing, then things really aren't that bad. Still - this is the second time it's happened. Sure, I might be in a slightly fringe area of mainstream robotics research, but even so, the general topic of the session I have been allocated is "Mobile robot control" - not particularly peripheral one would think - certainly not as peripheral as Biologically Inspired Robotic Fish, which scored a first session, second day berth. I have nothing against robotic fish, but one does have to wonder what a robotic fish that is not biologically inspired looks like (and how it may still be called a fish) ?

... anyway ....

I am not sure how the order is really chosen. I suspect it involves quite a lot of constraint juggling. The organisers would want to organise things in such a way that people interested in particular topics, need not have to choose which papers in those topics they will have to miss. Having said this, I can't imagine too many people hanging out for paper #400 - the second last presentation, of the last session, of the last day.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Teeth Cleaning for Dummies

I am quite prepared to go out on a limb on this. When it comes to the topic of tooth brush technology, I do not believe there has been a single significant advancement in tooth brush design since the dawn of the diamond shaped head and bent handle. Grips, coloured bristles, flexible bendy bits, and whatever other gimmicks tooth brush designers throw at us in a feeble attempt to justify their existence, are surely unnecessary distractions from the simple act of brushing ones teeth.

I thought I'd seen it all - that is, until last night, when I happened upon a television commercial advertising the latest in tooth brush wizardry - the Oral B "Triumph" tooth brush. And what's special about this one I hear you ask ? Well, it's claim to fame is that it is the first computer equipped tooth brush to hit the market.

What an age we live in.

It seems computer technology has now become so compact and affordable that the sky is quite literally the limit for its pointless application to problems that, quite frankly, never really needed solving. Nothing I have read about the "Triumph" suggests it offers anything that truly improves or enhances the teeth cleaning experience, or the quality of the clean.

Of course, they back their product up with firm support from Dentists. I wonder if these were the same dentists who believed tooth brushes needed rubber grips - perhaps they had seen too many horrific injuries caused by the inadvertent slip of the hand along the plastic tooth brush handle - but I digress.

From what I can tell, the most useful feedback the Triumph's chip provides is a constant monitor of its remaining battery charge. I am not sure of the statistics, but I don't think flat batteries in electric tooth brushes is a major cause of tooth decay. It also tells you when 2 minutes is up, which is apparently the optimal time spent on teeth cleaning. So put away that stop watch people - now you have the Triumph!

I don't mean to poo poo all research into better tooth brush designs. Seriously though, I don't think good oral hygiene really requires computer aided tooth brushes - particularly when its just a glorified stop watch. It's not that complicated a task.

What would Mrs Marsh think about all this ?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Step Forward for Stem Cell Research

In times of intense cynicism about how important issues are debated and decided upon in our federal parliament, it is nice to see some common sense finally come through on stem cell research. Howard has effectively given the all clear for a conscience vote on the issue, should such a bill be introduced. This is a significant change of heart from two weeks ago when Howard was adamant that such a vote would not happen. What seems clear is that many coalition MPs have made some pretty compelling arguments for the benefits of stem cell research, or at the very least, have kicked up a real stink about the lack of debate on the issue. This is good. Whether you support cloning research or not, this is what should happen. Much like the RU486 debate, this issue cannot be effectively debated and decided upon along party lines.

The government seems unlikely to introduce the bill. It looks as though the Democrats will, given they have been working on this for sometime already. This is good for the Democrats, as they need to win back support, and convince voters of their legitimacy. A stronger Democrats party is good for everyone, if only to maintain some balance in the Senate, and, as they once said, to "keep the bastards honest".

While I said at the top of this post that it is "nice" to see some common sense in how this issue is likely to be handled, it is somewhat indicative of the current state of affairs that such common sense warrants a mention at all.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Not much action on the blog front I'm afraid. As always, this is due to other aspects of my life (yes, I do other things besides read and write blog posts) taking priority. I had one of those sleepless night's a couple of days ago, when I went to bed thinking about everything I have to do in the next two months. The entire night was spent following my mind through a bizarre maze of anxious thoughts and wild scenarios. Too bizarre and vague to go into here, but I am sure others know what I mean. It was like a recurring test pattern in my mind, but without the elevator music.

The number of things on my todo list is quite daunting, but it's the non-deterministic nature of the tasks, and the difficulty in finding a place to start, that makes them truly stressful. If I can look at what has to be done, and say "task X will take Y hours, or Z days", then it's usually not so bad. My situation is more like "I have tasks A-K to do, and no idea how long any will take". There is also the added complexity that task A is very important to me, while tasks B, C, D and E are not as important to me, but others are relying heavily on these being done, which traditionally means I will prioritise these tasks over task A. Then there are tasks F-K, which are mostly just things I said I'd do without really thinking about the time I actually have to do them. I am slowly negotiating ways of getting out of these ones.

Outside of all these immediate tasks is the one mammoth Task "W" (aka "Wedding"). Aff and I both are struggling to find the time and energy for this. It has got to the point where we are having to entice ourselves with bottles of red wine, to make the wedding planning more exciting. Should make for some interesting colour scheme and catering choices on the day.

On the positive, I am off to the snow this weekend, which should be good... expensive ... but good.