Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Shining some new light on cricket

I have decided that this year's winner of the "I never thought we needed it until I saw it" award must surely be the Infra-red "hot spot" camera introduced for the first time in channel 9's coverage of the Ashes last week. Using heat-sensitive light, the camera can be used to show exactly where the ball hit the bat (or pad) by highlighting the surface "hot spot" where contact was made. After contact, the hotspot remains for some number of seconds after, allowing cameras to show the contact point after the event. In a game where there is never a shortage of things to talk about, this certainly adds an extra dimension to the ball-by-ball analysis.

Of course, this technology is by no means new. The military have been playing with infra-red cameras for years. There is also considerable interest in the use of hyperspectral cameras in areas as diverse as sports medicine (particularly for tracking muscle usage, and blood flow), to structure integrity testing in buildings where certain non-visible wave lengths of light can provide useful clues as to the make up of materials, as well as stress points in the structure. When this sort of technology makes it to the cricket pitch however, you know it has reached the masses.

Interestingly, Channel 9 seem somewhat reluctant to pull out the camera all that often, opting instead to tease us every now and then. I am not sure whether this is due to not always having a clear enough image, or whether it is simply a matter of them trying to extend some of the mystique and intrigue by holding back their latest toy. In any case, it certainly adds value to the coverage (and almost makes up for my complete lack of interest in the channel 9 commentary team).

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Outreach begins

We had our first school visit this morning. Pete, Dave, Sheryn and myself met at 9am, and headed out in my car (now known as the nerd mobile), where we entertained about 30 or so year 10's for just over an hour. I must admit, the nerves were a little shaky as we entered the school. It really is quite a different world when you step inside a school. My flash backs began almost immediately. Not sure what it was that provoked the flash backs - the smell of lino floors perhaps ? or maybe the sound of students referring to teachers as sir and miss ? Whatever it was, I wasn't completely ready for it, and it took me a little time to settle down.

The school had the classic look. Kind of like a prison, but with brighter colours. We were lead through a maze of corridors to the science lab where we were to perform. Thankfully we had about 20 minutes to setup everything, so we were well and truly ready to go when the students arrived. Thankfully we scored a very friendly, slightly cheeky but well behaved bunch, and the show went without a hitch.

Having done two full dress rehearsals prior to this in front of expert science communicators, I thought we were pretty well prepared, and in general, I think we were. It was, however, quite an eye opener to see just how random some students can be with their questions. I got asked everything from "do you think a low resolution image that gradually increases to high res would help resolve the distance ambiguity" to "do you think robots will rule the world" .. to which I respectively answered "no" and "probably".

So we managed to survive our season opener, and certainly learnt a lot more from this than any rehearsal prior (which adds to my growing skepticism about the worth of "expert advice" dished out by science communication specialists sometimes - but that's a rant for another day).

We have five more shows scheduled in the next three weeks. The next one is Monday

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Official leave is good leave

Back from a fantastic two weeks in Melbourne. For what was very much a relaxed, nicely paced break, I did amazingly well at catching up with family and friends, thanks mainly to the organisational skills of others. Amongst all of this, I also managed to get some wedding planning stuff done. The suits are ordered, the venue is booked, and the bucks party preparations are underway.

So I had a good two weeks. To anyone battling through a PhD like myself, wondering why you should bother taking official leave when you can pretty well just stay away when ever you want anyway, I urge you to consider filling out the official form every now and then. There is something about "official leave" that takes away that uneasy feeling that comes from the much more common "not so official" leave that many of us take (otherwise known as mental health days). In my two weeks of official leave, I felt it my duty to not even mention the word research, let alone do anything, or read anything. Bloody brilliant!

Of course, the problem is, now I'm used to the good life. I cannot say I have come back to my PhD with all guns blazing. With the sun out, and summer well and truly upon us (not withstanding the occasional random snow fall), the last place I feel like being is at my desk. This is, of course, not exclusive to research, but any line of work that restricts ones access to their happy place. In general, however, things are good, and I am all the better for my "official leave".

Friday, November 03, 2006

I'm outa here

For the most part, my work load is back to manageable levels, although I am very aware that I am still feeling quite flat after a pretty tough three months. Almost perfectly on cue, however, I was approached by our department administrator a few days ago, enquiring about my current annual leave balance (yes, PhD students get annual leave), which is currently something close to 40 days. At the end of the year I receive another 20 days, but the ANU does not allow you to accumulate more than 40 days, and doesn't pay out unused leave. As such, the proposition that I take leave immediately was put to me. I find it funny, and a little disturbing, how reluctant I can be to take leave sometimes. My immediate reaction was to find reasons why I could not possibly take it. After a few minutes thought however, I realised that right now was indeed as good a time as I could possibly hope for to take leave. What I have come to realise is that the only way to find two weeks free enough to take leave, is to take leave and free yourself up! So I have two weeks leave, which I will be spending entirely in Melbourne.

Extracting myself from the daily grind hasn't been a simple task. An hour after I put my leave form in, an email brought to my attention the fact that I was rostered on to do science radio this Sunday. I am not exactly sure how that came to be, as I have no recollection of saying I would do it, but it was also apparent that no one else was going to be available to cover the shift. In the end, it was easy enough for me to delay my travel plans until Sunday arvo (after the show), and in many respects, it works better than the Friday evening departure I originally planned.

My plan is to take things pretty easy in Melbourne, and avoid the usual rush to see everyone. My main reason for being in Melbourne at all is because my good mate Kev is celebrating his 30th, and my other good mate Terry is back home from the UK for three weeks. This two guys also happen to be my groomsmen, so this is a rare opprtunity indeed to get team macca together in one city. I have plans to catch up with some other good friends I haven't seen for a while as well. I am hoping for a few quality daylight saving assisted pub sessions for this. In the past I have tried to organise largish pub nights to catch up with everyone at once, which are fun, but rarely provide a satisfactory means in which to catch up with everyone.

Whatever day I end up heading down to Melbourne (I'm driving), there is no question that as of 5pm this afternoon, I'm on leave, and that can only be a good thing!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A wedding, a party, bloody anything !

Yep, wedding planning is always happening in the background, and yep, it has it's stresses. The "I told you so's" can be heard all around, from those who have been through it all before. The thing is, it could be fun, it really could, but for that underlying sense that whatever you choose to do that breaks from the standard wedding formula, brings with it substantial complication. This is our choice of course, although I do remember thinking I want this wedding to be casual and simple, hoping this desire would equate to a reasonably stress free preparation. The problem of course is that it doesn't matter whether you say "I want simple", or "I want everything", the real issue comes from wanting anything at all. Saying "I want a small wedding" for example, means having to cut out many good friends and family from the list. Conversely, saying "I want all my friends and family there" requires a venue large enough, and a budget. One of the best moves we have made in recent times is allowing Aff's Mum to take control of the reception affairs for us. She very generously offered to do this. This, quite simply, has been a God send, and while many decisions still need to be made, Aff and I have never felt so informed as we do now. Thanks Mary!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Deeper and deeper

Quieter days are upon me, and not before time, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to provide a general update on life in our nations capital over the next few days.

The ANU Postgrad Association (PARSA) continues to survive, despite current low numbers on the council. The executive officer positions have seen quite a shake up, with the resignation of our president/treasurer and vice-president in the space of a few weeks. This created quite a stressful situation for me, because with these resignations, it became immediately apparent that I am now the longest serving council member. While this realisation came with a sense of pride, it also came with a far greater sense of pressure as I realised I was being targeted for the presidency. I have toyed with this idea for sometime, foreseeing such a situation may arise where I would need to make a choice. The issue for me is timing. With a wedding to plan, a 6 month trip to Italy looming, plus my current list of extra-curricula activities, taking on the mammoth task of leading the Postgrad Association was just not an option. Thankfully another active member, Grant, eventually accepted a nomination for him to take on the role. As a compromise, I accepted a nomination to be Vice-President. So now I'm the VP of PARSA. As Pietro, the previous VP put it - no one ever wants to be President or Vice-President. For some reason I find that a heartening thought, because apart from timing, my other concern with taking these sorts of roles on is that I may not have the passion and energy to put in the time and effort required.

So far I have not experienced any great influx of responsibility. I attended a meeting a university committee meeting on information strategy last week, but I have been on this committee for months already. In some respects, the VP position might be an easier job to manage than chairing the social team, where organising people and putting on very public events really did require a lot of time and effort. Time will tell.