Monday, September 25, 2006

Count down to China

I think I have done the "I'm busy, over-worked and tired" thing to death of late, so here is the other side of the story. In less than a week's time, I'm off to China! The one thing that has caused me the most stress these last few weeks is also the one thing I am looking forward to most. I barely gave the trip any thought until a few days ago when I organised my Visa and purchased a Beijing guide book. Of course, this is not supposed to be a holiday. I am their to attend a robotics conference, and present a paper, but lets be honest, there are better ways to spend a week in Beijing than hearing and talking about bloody robots.

As part of my planning for the trip, I thought I would throw this question to my well traveled readers ?

What should I NOT miss given a week in Beijing ?

So far I have the following:

Great Wall
The forbidden city
Beijing (Peking) duck
Tiananmen Square
My conference talk

Any more suggestions and/or tips ?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Postgrad Ball - Bling it on!

I realised this morning, that I have posted next to nothing about the ANU postgrad association this year. I am still pretty heavily involved, although I find myself keeping it at arm's length at certain times, while at other times I seem to immerse myself in it. This seems to suit me best. While I have played around with various roles within the association, my main involvement is still with the social team.

One thing I have let myself get quite involved in of late, is our latest event, happening tonight

The postgrad ball.

This has been a bit of a pet project of mine since I first got involved with PARSA's social team, having seen how successful such an event can be at Melbourne Uni (which attracted over a thousand students, though admittedly from Monash as well).

Last year at ANU, PARSA attempted something like this, which I rated as a moderate success. Based on this, I pushed hard at the start of this year to give it another go - and so we are - tonight!

In all respects, we are in a better position to run this event than last year. We have a better venue, more hands on deck (including some very enthusiastic people), and have done a better job of advertising it, with posters plastered across campus. We have lined up a fantastic funk/Jazz band, a DJ, and put on a three course meal - all for $25 a ticket.

Oh, and of course, like all self-respecting balls, we have a theme:

"Bling" - ie. Gold medallions, chains, big arse knuckle rings - a brilliant idea (not mine) I thought.

So everything, as far as I am concerned, is in place - well, all except one thing:

ticket sales!

As of this morning, we have sold 75 tickets. This may go up today, but it is a tad disappointing I must say, given the 4000 plus postgrads at this university. Perhaps even more disappointing though, is the underlying negativity and animosity some people seem to hold about the event. I don't really mind if only 75 people rock up. What really amazes me is how some people who choose not to come, feel a need to dismiss the notion of a ball completely. The most common reasons I have heard for not coming are: "the theme is stupid", and "balls aren't my thing". Of course, other reasons also exist such as "too expensive", and "I have nothing to wear".

Lets take a look at these:

"The theme is stupid" - if that isn't the lamest excuse for not going to a ball then I don't know what is. For starters, "bling" only requires some sort of gold necklace or medallion. It's hardly the same as dressing up as a banana in pajamas, or a 70's porn star (done and done!). I cannot think of a single ball or party I have been invited to where my reason for not attending was the theme.

"Too expensive" - I have to be careful with this one, as I do understand for some it might be a bit pricey. I should say, I haven't heard too many people say this. Given most balls I have ever been to cost $50, I think we are putting on a very reasonably priced event (although PARSA's precedent for setting events at or below $15 a head is a difficult mould to break, but a necessary one if you want to do something largish like a ball).

"balls aren't my thing" - again, no worries, each to their own of course. It is quite amazing though, how many postgrads at ANU hold this view - and how quickly this reason is pulled out, without even finding out what the event really entails. If the opinions I have received are indicative of the masses, then the ANU may in fact be the centre of the anti-ball universe. More likely it is perhaps a refuge for those who had a lot of bad undergrad ball experiences.

"I have nothing to wear" - either do I ? semi-formal dress does seem to be a bit of a sticking point for many, which I guess I can understand. In many respects, this is supposed to give the night an air of classiness, which we in the committee thought would attract many postgrads. Apparently not, which is interesting.

Like I said, I respect people's choices, even if I can't completely understand them myself. It does inevitably, however, put a very wet blanket on the enthusiasm and willingness of those people who, like me, wanted to put on something big, just for postgrads (other than BBQs and trivia nights). What is frustrating about this is that those of us in the organising committee will feel a need to ask ourselves what we did wrong. Thankfully, after helping organise this and many other postgrad events over the last 18 months, and having pondered this question at great length, I think I finally have the answer -

absolutely nothing!

Quite frankly, having seen more than enough postgrad events with low attendance here at ANU, I have come to the conclusion that ANU postgrads just aren't particularly interested. End of story. The people most interested seem to be those who just arrive. Over time, for whatever reason, postgrads appear to be less interested in it. Perhaps its the PhD blues, or a less pressing need to meet new people. Personally, I see a ball as the perfect chance to get a group of existing friends together for a big night out, and a chance to break the routine. Thankfully, I managed to get a few friends together to do just this, and I plan on having a biggy :)

As for next year, and what we do, I don't know. I guess its back to free lunch time BBQs, which sadly (IMHO), attract more students than any other event we organise. I probably won't be in the country to do much myself next year, which is probably a good thing given the slight hint of bitterness you might have picked up in this post :)

I do hope tonight is a great night - I expect it will be. It's just a shame that so few ANU postgrads will be there to see it.

Bling it on!

Introducing Chloe (and dodgy Uncle Macca)

As of 6.52pm last night, I became an uncle. My sister Shelley gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Chloe. The mother and father are apparently well, the grand parents clearly ecstatic, and Chloe, very confused and annoyed I imagine, having been woken up a couple of weeks earlier than scheduled. She may also be wondering where the hell her eyebrows are. I am sure Mum will explain to Chloe that these will probably turn up in three years time.

The timing couldn't be better. Aff and I are heading down to Melbourne next weekend. I'm looking forward to meeting Chloe, and kicking off a new stage in my life, as dodgy Uncle Macca.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Death by Simulation (or, what the hell has Macca been doing for the last two weeks)

It works. I know it works. I see it working. It's right bloody there .. Working. Look at it! Oh, okay, you don't trust what you see ? Well, what if I show you this graph .. See, it's working ? No, not good enough ? What about if I change the conditions of the experiment ? voila ? Look, see, still working!

Still don't believe me, hey ? Well, what do you need me to do to show you this is working ?

A simulation ?

What the bloody hell do you need that for?

Here it is, in the real world, working, and pretty bloody well if I do say so myself. You can see it for yourself, right here. Why then do you need a simulation. Why do you need me to construct some artificial world in a computer program, model the dynamics of the system, and plot loads of data saying what you can see with your own two eyes, right here in the real world .. That it works!

No, I don't have anything against simulations .. They are really quite good at showing how something should work, particularly when it doesn't. But look, this does work !

Yes yes. I know everyone has a simulation result. I know all this .. But the thing is, simulations are really really hard! They take forever to get right, and if they spit out things different to what actually happens, you have to try and come up with some damn reason for why! I don't know ... It's a simulation! That's why it's different. Everyone knows simulations have got buckley's hope of truly reflecting the real world, because the real world is really really complicated, and a simulation is just a human-built program.

But okay, I'll give you your damn simulation. I'll fill in that blank space in section 3 with mindless crap about what I think will happen in the real-world, which I ALREADY KNOW, just to make you feel comfortable. I'll just have you know, this will cost me time .. Lots of time, because everyone who has ever done a simulation knows they never bloody work first time, or the second time... In fact, you'd be hard pressed to get them to work properly at all. Basically, lots of pain and suffering, for very little value at all.

.. But I'll give you your simulation oh great research Gods! I'll do what you ask if it will get you off my back for a few months. But I'll just have you know, this research lackey ain't happy. I'll be up till 5am on a Friday night doing this .. And then I'll be cranky. Stupid simulations!

Before I start, take one more look at it... See

... It F$^king WORKS!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

In my cave

I wake up in it, work in it and go back to sleep in it. I've been living in this cave for a few weeks now, but each week I decide I need to move a little further into the cave, to get away from other distractions. It's a bit of a maze in here too. Thankfully, I have a pretty good sense of direction, and shouldn't have any problem getting out when I need to, but for now, I'll stay in my cave, until what's done is done.