Monday, July 31, 2006

Breakfast radio report

Brekky radio is certainly different, I'll give it that. This morning I rose at 5.45am to get into the 2XX studio by 6.30am. That was hard enough, let alone then having to co-host 2 hours of radio from 7am until 9am. It was pretty hectic to say the least, and quite energy sapping. I am sitting now at my desk here at uni, it's 10:15am, and I feel like going home (which may just happen).

The show, for the most part, went well. In fact I don't think it could have gone much better for a first go. Both Janine and myself did the show, with another fuzzy presenter, David, in to show us the ropes (moreso Janine than myself, who took on the role of producing the show). Next time I am hoping to do this, but I have to say, it looked awfully stressful from where I was sitting. In contrast to Fuzzy Logic, which more or less runs along at its own pace, the breakfast show has all sorts of scheduling requirements. For starters, we broadcast the BBC news on the hour, which means listening in on the satelite feed for signs of it about to come on. We also have to read 8 community announcements each hour, and do two station promos. Then, of course, there is the music, which requires a mix of local Canberra artists, and more general Australian bands. A little international is also allowed, but independant music is certainly the order of the day. Amongs all this, I managed to include a few of my own stories/dicussions. One of the nice things about having a blog is that you have an abundant source of potential rants and "have you ever noticed ..." type stories to draw from - not that I did on this occassion, but in the future I think I will re-cycle a few blog pieces for radio.

Despite the stress at times, it was a great experience. It is quite apparent that a steep learning curve exists, and I don't think I'm over it yet, but it also seems pretty clear that once this is achieved, things should start becoming quite fun.

Here's Johny (sorry Pete)

There was little doubt I guess, but at least it's now official. John Howard has just announced he will contest the next election. Poor poor Pete - what will he do now I wonder? I'm not convinced his "stay loyal" approach will get him there. The general consensus seems to be that staying quiet and waiting is really just inidcative of a man without "ticker".

While I don't like Howard, I do support his decision to contest the next election. Quite frankly, I want John to stand for re-election so as to remain accountable for some of the seriously flawed and ideologically driven legislation he has overseen (without any mention of such intentions during his last election campaign. Not to mention the consistent use of fear and and uncertainty to build a fortress around him. In fact, the only thing I really remember Howard promising at the last election campaign was that interest rates would remain low ... hmmm. So stick around John - please! I most certainly want you there come next election. I want to make sure it's a Howard government I'm voting against at the polls - anything less just wouldn't do it justice.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Breakfast radio debut

I should probably start tagging posts like this as "shameless self promotion", but I thought this was worth a mention. This coming Monday, I will be taking the plunge into the mysterious world of breakfast radio on Canberra's community radio station, 2XX. Some of us from the Fuzzy Logic science show have taken up an opportunity to do some breakfast radio on Monday morning's as well. So bring on the breakfast geeks. As soon as I heard there was the possibility of doing the breakfast shift, I immediately jumped on it. Quite frankly, I probably hae more interest in this sort of thing than I do in science radio, which can be a bit restrictive (due mainly to the need to report, funnily enough, science stories). There are actually about 4 or 5 of us doing the Monday show on a roster system, so I expect to be on every two to three weeks.

So the question of course is .. just what the hell does one do on breakfast radio ?

My current list of uninspiring topics:

"how about that war overseas?"
"how about that local sports team?"
"is it just me, or are bananas a little expensive these days?"
"I might be wrong, but I think Canberra is a little chilly these days".

Suggestions (obviously) are very welcome.

Is that a banana in your pocket?

I never realised how much we Aussies love bananas. I'm no economist, and don't pretend to know (or be particularly interested) in the economy, but I would like to know how the drastic shortage of one fruit (albeit a popular one), the humble banana, can have such an impact on our economy? Sure, oil might be a tad expensive as well these days, but economists clearly believe the hiked price of bananas has also contributed to the recent jump in inflation. Can I just ask - at $11 a kilo .. who the hell is buying bananas these days anyway ?

Have an apple for Christ's sake.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A brutal European summer

A rough back of the envelope calculation this morning alerted me to the fact that for the last two months, I have had an average of about 5.5 hours of sleep per night. What a brutal European summer it has been. The World cup, Wimbledon and le tour de France almost damn near killed me. Last night , being the first night after le tour finishing, I found myself in bed by 10pm, which is something of a record for me (though admittedly, Denton's rather dull second guest, Donny Osmond, did make the decision somewhat easier). I must have slept for 9 hours last night, which is a good indication of my current sleep debt which I suspect I will be repaying for sometime yet. Thankfully, I cannot see any particularly significant sporting events on the horizon that require my attention in the wee hours, so things should get back to normal. I must say, while I do appreciate getting my sleep time back, I do also miss the routine of the late night arm chair spectating. Perhaps I'll buy highlight DVD's of the World Cup and le tour, and just watch them after Lateline to fill the void.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bruce Hall Hightable Dinner

It might have a bizarre name, but it sure was fun. I have just come back from a dinner (known as the Hightable dinner) hosted by one of the student halls of residence here at the ANU, Bruce Hall. This is the first time I have been invited to an event where I have been given permission, if I wished, to wear my academic garb. Needless to say, I declined. I was, however, in the minority when I arrived. All Bruce Hall residents were required to wear an academic gown to the dinner, which made for quite an elitist and intimidating sight. Thankfully, however, I was not the only one without a gown, and didn't feel particularly out of place.

If I was ever to have a politician moment, then this event was surely it. I was invited to the dinner as PARSA's communications officer, to mingle and chat with all the new postgrads who recently took up residency at Bruce Hall. Bruce Hall apparently hosts regular Wednesday Hightable dinners where various people from within the Hall, and across campus, are invited to come along.

I have to say, the food was fantastic, the wine excellent (and abundant), and the company very welcoming. I had a lot of fun mingling with postgrads, many of whom were recent arrivals to Australia. In past posts I have said that this sort of mingling is not something that comes naturally to me. Well, tonight seemed noticeably easier than previous times I have done this. Perhaps this is a sign that my confidence has grown, or my conversational repertoire has expanded. Or perhaps it was just the excellent and abundant wine. In any case, I had fun, and would have certainly stayed longer if not for an early start tomorrow morning. I also had to give a 2 minute spiel about PARSA during dinner, which is always a difficult thing to do. PARSA covers a lot of different things of importance to students, and trying to pack it all into two minutes, after three glasses of wine (admittedly not my greatest strategic decision) is quite difficult. From all reports (i.e. Sean, my fellow PARSA companion), my talk was fine.

So all in all a very satisfying night. I must say, if my involvement in PARSA could be more like this, more often, I'd seriously consider staying in the role of communications officer. It really is very rewarding. I guess, however, that consuming free food and booze is not exactly PARSA's priority at the moment, which is not to say it shouldn't be, if it gives us access to large groups of postgraduate students like tonight.

Le tour - Magnifique

I got hooked on Le Tour de France about four years ago, which means my entire tour experience to this point has involved watching Lance Armstrong repeatedly dominate this event. You can only imagine then, how much more entertaining it is now that he is no longer there, not to mention the fact that a significant number of the other major contenders are out of the race. In many sports, this would be cause to look away with disinterest, but not in cycling. With stage 15 now complete, it is quite a luxury to still not have any clear idea of who will be wearing the yellow jersey at the end.

I'll admit, watching cyclists till 1.30am for three weeks straight may not sound terribly appealing, but I am often surprised to find out how many, like me, are doing this (and how few I would have picked to be cycling enthusiasts). I guess there are a number of reasons why people watch the event, despite no particular interest in cycling as a sport. One would surely have to be the scenery. If le tour doesn't get you in the traveling mood, then quite frankly, nothing will. France just looks stunning - even the boring flat bits look great. The camera work used in the coverage is as fixated on capturing the scenery as it is the cyclists.

Another reason I suspect people watch, and increasingly so as the stages roll on, is the undeniable human element of the race. It is quite simply one of the most grueling events on the sporting calendar, and many elite cyclists are unable to complete it. As someone who rides regularly, and occasionally attempts long distance rides (>100km), watching these guys do it day in, day out for three weeks is just jaw dropping stuff.

A potential third reason people get hooked is the mystifying tactics that are employed by individual riders, and teams, to get the job done. Perhaps most fascinating is how rivals work together to better there overall chances, before turning on each other as the finish line draws near. It's a bit like Survivor on wheels. For the tactics and motivations of the riders and teams to be understood, quality commentary of the event is required. In my opinion at least, this is certainly the case.

Then, of course, there are the more morbid, but nonetheless entertaining, moments of le tour when riders come crashing off their bikes, often in fine style. Given these guys are all elite cyclists, one may be forgiven for thinking this is a rare event - but au contraire - violently gruesome falls happen with impressive regularity. Watching the peleton take on a 10km descent can be as tense as watching any Hollywood thriller, particularly when the riders decide they need to gain some ground by positioning their entire body weight over the handle bars (or close enough to this). It is usually at this point that Phil Ligget, one of the world's most respected cycling commentators, duly reminds his audience that these riders are profesionals, and this should not be attempted at home. Thanks Phil!

Another addition to this year's race coverage, enhancing the arm chair le tour experience considerably, is the use of Google Earth. Le tour's website allows you to download a file which can then be loaded into google earth, allowing you to view the entire route in google earth. It includes all the stage markings, and where all the points (ie. Sprinting, hill climbing) are available. I'll admit, there is something particularly geeky about sitting up until 2am watching the cycling with a laptop by your side, but it does add extra interest to the event.

If you haven't been watching, I highly recommend tuning in over the next two nights at least, if only to see the spectacular French Alps. This will also be when a lot of the supposed contenders for the yellow jersey will either step up and show just how good they are (here's hoping Cadel Evans, our best placed Aussie for the yellow, will), or crack under the strain of these brutal stages. What ever happens, it will surely make for fantastic viewing.

So viva le tour! I say - and, as I also say every night - better them than me!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

new ways to stress myself silly

Lots of stuff going on at the moment, hence the significant drop in blog posting. A few things have changed in recent times however, so I thought I'd better document them while they are current, if only for continuities sake.

After a year on the Postgrad Association (PARSA) executive committee, I decided yesterday to resign from my current position as communications officer. Not an easy decision, but in many ways, the most obvious one to make. There are a number of reasons why, but I won't go into them now. The clincher was me being offered a leadership role in an outreach program run by NICTA (National ICT Australia). NICTA, being a government funded ICT research institute (until it generates enough spin off companies, and accumulates enough IP so as to be self sufficient), is required to contribute to the general promotion of engineering at high school level. My role is a voluntary position, but it is not without some perks, and more opportunities should I choose to follow this path further (or even if I don't). Like most things, I tend to follow my nose and just see what becomes of it. I don't think outreach is entirely my thing, but it certainly is something I enjoy when I get the chance to do it.

So what the hell am I doing you ask ? Well, basically, for the next six months I will be coordinating a small team of mostly postgrad students, in developing an educational show to present to high school kids about all the wonders of engineering (or at least, one or two wonders that my team and I choose). As I interpret things, I think our main aim is to convince year 10s that doing maths and physics makes one automatically cool. Needless to say, this task is not without some challenges. It should be fun though. Perhaps the best part of this is that we get free reign on what topic we want to focus on, and what sort of demos and activities we want to present. There is a lot of scope to get quite creative about things, so I'm quite excited about it. Of course, first things first - finding a team of willing contributors. For some reason, this stresses me out, most probably because my past experience suggests that finding postgrad student volunteers to volunteer for anything is somewhat analogous to finding a large cement wall, taking a long run up, and ramming ones head, Zidane style, into it repeatedly. Hopefully it won't be like this.

I should say that at this stage, I haven't resigned from the Postgrad Association Council as a whole. Rather, I have taken a seat on the "back bench" as it were, and look forward to quieter times on that front (although with such low numbers, everyone on the council needs to pull their weight). I want to try and at least keep my involvement with PARSA at this level, but eventually I will have to resign completely, when I go away next year..

So here's to new scenes and challenges .... and new ways to stress myself silly!

Friday, July 14, 2006

The equation

After a week quite literally spent staring at a single equation on a piece of paper, I think I can officially declare myself spent. I feel that flat, dehydrated and brain dead sensation one experiences after investing countless hours on a single, minute detail. At some stage I may have actually known what I was looking for, but I just realised a few minutes ago that I have absolutely no idea anymore. It's not a particularly good feeling either - especially when you realise how little time you have spent doing anything but stare at the modest collection of mathematical symbols in front of you. Well, that's not entirely true. I also invested significant amounts of time wall papering and carpeting my entire workspace with pieces of un-decypherable notes and derivations, all based on this one equation. No page numbering or order to the chaos in front of me either - just the random musings of a not so "theory driven" researcher, trying to make sense of one equation - one stupid, pointless, boring, f%^@ing equation.

Here's another equation I am considering at the moment:

Friday = "outta here".

Now that makes perfect sense!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tweaking the knobs

This title will no doubt attract a few more hits than usual, but I'm afraid it's all above board from here on in.

Last weekend I gave my usual one Sunday morning per month to science radio on 2XX. Unlike previous times, on this occassion I took my involvement one step further by actually taking control of the airwaves. For half an hour, I was in the driving seat, tweaking the knobs, doing a little back announcing, and most importantly, avoiding dead air at all costs. In truth, the technical aspects of radio producing are not particularly complex, or at least not with the rather "analog" setup that 2XX has. What does make the job significantly more stressful than just sitting and yabbering on for an hour about topics you only have a dubious grasp on, is the multi-tasking required. You have to be on the ball. Trying to concentrate on what others are saying, what you want to say, and what needs to be done on the control panel, makes for quite a rollercoaster ride. My first go at it, while generally considered a success, was not without incident.

To be fair, the major stuff-up that occurred was more the result of my needing to move chairs than anything to do with my work on the knobs. At first I was quietly (i.e without microphone) sitting next to my instructor, Amy, who was showing me the ropes as she worked the panel for the first half of the show. Amy, who was having a bit of a bad run of things herself, needs to be acknowledged here. If producing isn't stressfull enough, teaching someone else while doing it yourself is certainly a big ask. It was probably for this reason that things, only briefly, went a little wrong. As Amy played the third track of the show, she turned to me and suggested I come and sit at the desk and do the back announcing for the next bit. What Amy and I both had not considered, was that my story was scheduled for the next segment. No biggy, except that as I changed seats, I left my story notes on the other side of the studio thinking I wouldn't need them. The run sheet I had in front of me didn't even mention my story. I figured this was because Amy thought I should just concentrate on the panel. This, however, was not the case. Five minutes later, I was thrown into an all out panic as Amy introduced my story. Amy thought Osman was covering it, but Osman, who also looked rather lost when he realised the radio spotlight was on him, was forced to correct Amy by saying "I think that is Chris' story". Somehow I managed to avoid swearing on air as I realised I was live on air and stranded without my notes. An awkward on-air silence ensued as I threw my headphones to the floor and sprinted across the studio to get my story. Amy took the mic and decided the best course of action was to just commentate my efforts to retrieve my notes. Within 10 seconds I was back in my seat, albeit a little frazzled, and began my story. A true community radio moment.

In all honesty, such events would barely raise an eyebrow with the 2XX listenership, who I am sure are quite used to such things. In the studio, however, you are detached from the listeners, which works both in your favour and against you. When left speechless on air as I was, you feel as though the entire city was listening. Of course, this is certainly not the case. In any event, it was good to be thrown in the deep end and survive. I am looking forward to having a chance to produce a full show on my own, which shouldn't be too far away now.

Incidentally, Fuzzy Logic has just launched its own blog: We are also apparently in negotiations with Questacon about pod casting segments from our show. So soon all of you poor dear non-Canberrans who try to survive on the backward radio stations your home towns provide, will have access to the cutting edge airwaves transmitting from the fuzzy logic studio. Or at the very least, you will have access to more community radio moments like last Sunday's.

Monday, July 03, 2006

big bother

There is no shortage of news and blog posting on the incident. So much so, it seems hardly worth me also chiming in, but I would like to make one point about the incident that I, at least, have not read anywhere as yet.

Before I do, I need to make an admission. I was once hooked on the show. Yes, it's true - BB1, and to a lesser extent, BB2, both had me watching. In recent years, however, I have avoided the show almost completely. This was primarily due to my personal objection to the direction big brother had chosen to take regarding the choice of housemates. The early days of big brother, for some reason, seemed a little more legit. The people chosen seemed more real, and a little more mature (or at least, there were enough of the latter to keep things from going completely pear shaped). In recent times I have come to see the show as just a collection of ego-pumped, superficial air heads. It isn't all bad of course. For one, the girls are certainly attractive, and I suppose I do take some comfort in the knowledge that for at least 3 months of the year, some of Australia's stupidest people are off the streets. Perhaps a little harsh, but let's be honest, they're not exactly setting the world alight with their scintillating conversation now are they? This latest incident involving an apparent joke having gone horribly wrong (to the extent that it is alleged to have been sexual harassment) does seem to confirm the perception that while the BB light may be on, very few appear to be at home - which brings me to my point.

I am not about to jump on the band wagon and call for BB's axing. Quite frankly, if it is to be axed, it should be because Australians are not interested anymore (which given the shows high ratings, doesn't seem to be the case). I do believe, however, that BB needs to answer some very direct questions about the quality of housemates they are choosing. It has been clear for sometime now that the choice is primarily driven by two things: sex, and confrontation. They want people who are attractive and dare I say, up for a bit of action, as well as housemates who will provoke conflict in the house. This, of course, is aimed at providing hours of fun-filled reality television for all of us at home, and given the ratings, it seems to be doing the trick. The consequences of this, however, are seemingly being largely ignored. I would like to know just how much BB considers other aspects of their choices. You put a whole bunch of immature, mostly unintelligent and mentally unprepared people in a house for 3 months, and wadda ya know, an "incident" occurs - shock, horror!

While it would be unfair to say BB should have predicted such an incident, the fact is, their criteria for choosing housemates has everything to do with what occurs in the house. They have enough experts making these choices to know the risks. I am not suggesting they include the entire line-up of Nerds FC, but some balance in the house is clearly needed. At the very least, BB needs to acknowledge that they too are responsible for the actions of these housemates. They cannot just shrug their shoulders and say "we told them the rules". They have a duty of care, which starts with the people they actually choose to allow into the house. The contestants they choose must be up to the task of living in a confined space, away from friends and family, among other very strong (often influencing) personalities, for up to 3 months, and not just people who they think will make for good watching. If BB is to continue, the producers must give serious thought is to this issue.

Hillsong poli free

This year's Hillsong convention, the annual conference of Sydney's largest evangelical church, will apparently involve no key note addresses or high profile appearances by politicians. This decision was made by the church, following significant cries of protest (including mine) resulting from last years fiasco. Last year, no less than 16 politicians, including 5 federal ministers and a state premier, made appearances on this high profile evangelical cat walk. A number of them also addressed the stadium of church followers, in what can only be described as U.S style politics.

This is an admirable move by the Hillsong church. I have no issue with any politicians choice of religious belief. I do not have a problem with them attending this event as a private member of the church. I do, however, have a problem when politics is played to the extent that it was last year. The thought of both major parties vying for the vote of the religious right sends more than a few shivers down my spine. Clearly, the church would have benefited greatly from the high profile attendees last year, which is also of great concern to me. Politicians yield power in a number of ways. Having state premiers and federal ministers addressing a huge stadium of church followers is in my view, an abuse of the power bestowed upon them by the voters. They have not been given their high profile positions for their religious beliefs, nor have they been given it to endorse a particular faith. Why can't they just sit up the back and sing along like everyone else.

So I applaud the Hillsong church for nipping this one in the bud (well maybe not quite, but at least before it became totally ridiculous). Now the convention will no doubt focus on the real task at hand - axing big brother.