Wednesday, February 28, 2007

must have a word with the cleaner

It would be fair to say that I probably won't be working at my desk for a while. My entire workspace has been demolished after last night's freak hail storm that hit most of central Canberra. The picture doesn't really do it justice. The entire area was flooded last night, along with most of my floor, including our labs. Everything on my desk was saturated through (including the computer, which I suspect is nothing more than a box on a desk now). If you're wondering what all the white stuff on the ground is, that's the sun roof, which apparently didn't cope so well with golf ball sized hail stones.

While this might all look and seem a bit like the worst case scenario for a PhD student, thankfully almost everything of value to me was taken home last night. I have my laptop, my fancy camera, and most of the hardware I use with me here at home. Quite amazingly, in what can only be described as the greatest decision of my PhD, I decided last night that I would work at home today, and so took all the equipment I needed with me. A truly inspired decision after seeing my desk this morning.

Of course, it's not just my building that was trashed. The entire ANU campus is officially closed today, which gives you some indication of just haw hard the campus was hit. Certainly by the looks of things though, my building (RSISE) was among the worst hit.

When I get a chance, I will try and include some more pictures. It really was quite an amazing sight this morning. Hail stones piled up like snow all around campus.


Monday, February 26, 2007

"For your vote tonight Bennelong, I thankyou"

I'm no political expert, but as strategies go for the federal Labor party, I think this one is pretty darn good. Maxine Mckew, former ABC journalist, is going to run for pre-selection to contest the seat of Bennelong at the next federal election. That's Johny's seat, and with 13 consecutive election victories to date, he has made quite an arse imprint on that seat as well. The thing is, his grip on this seat has been steadily declining over the last few elections, and with retirement looming, it is quite feasible that the good voting people of Bennelong may look else where.

There is no doubt that McKew has universal appeal and has earned herself much respect from her 30 years with the ABC. What I like about this contest is that it places John Howard in the unusual position of being genuinely threatened by a fresh new option, while also denying him any means of claiming some sort of underdog status. The other aspect I like about this is that it makes what would normally be viewed as a shoe in for the coalition, a genuine contest. Now John Howard has to contend not just with a very real threat from Rudd, but also in his own backyard from McKew.

The real value of all of this as I see it, is that regardless of the outcome for McKew at the next election, their is great value in the symbolism of this contest. To see Howard being threatened like this, while also struggling to tackle Rudd as the alternative Prime Minister, gives one a sense that their is a real alternative to consider at the next election. It also puts the focus squarely on Howard, which is probably a good thing with his retirement looming. Labor will be wanting to de-stabilise Howard as much as possible, and keep the attention on the old bloke who's time is coming to an end.

Labor most certainly have the momentum, and I think it goes a little further than the simple "breath of fresh air" honeymoon period after a leadership change. There seems to be a growing mood change, and one that is very much against the government. Whether this means anything when the real vote comes around is, of course, a complete unknown. It will be a very interesting election indeed. Whatever happens, I just hope that if Maxine wins in Bennelong, she invokes her trademark end-of-interview pleasantry: "for your vote tonight Bennelong, I thankyou"


Monday, February 19, 2007

Time flies when you're out of your depth

I have just finished what I think I can safely say has been my hardest PhD day to date. I'll admit, I didn't necessarily start the day in the right frame of mind, courtesy of last night's A-League soccer final viewing at All Bar Nun transforming from an intended 2 pint, home by 8pm evening to a 6 pint, home by 1am affair. It was a good night though. Today, unfortunately, needed every brain cell I could muster.

It's not like anything disastrous happened, or even anything particularly bad. It was just one of those days where I felt completely out of my depth. This is perhaps something that those of you who dabble in the fine art of mathematics every now and then may relate to. You have a problem to solve, and you know there is a nice solution, but you realise that the required knowledge for obtaining that solution goes well beyond your own expertise.

At first you think, ok, wikepedia time, as you try to cram a semester's worth of differential geometry into a couple of hours. Of course you soon realise that this is not working, and you are more confused than ever, which leads you to the next natural step - ask the supervisor. I did this at approximately 2pm this afternoon. I have just returned to my desk - it's 7.40pm! The scary thing is that I thought it was about 5pm! I was supposed to play netball at 6.50pm.

Unfortunately, despite all the time spent on my problem, I am still feeling well out of my depth. This is compounded by the fact that I only have a few weeks left to write the paper that this work will be included in, and so have little time to get my head around some pretty advanced topics. I actually feel a bit sick when I think about what needs to be done.

In any case, today is very much over, and I am thankfully off home. All of this research bullshit is very much tomorrow's problem now.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Feb Fun - yeah right

It would be reasonable to say that my lack of blogging has had something to do with things being a tad busy of late. Very much as predicted, February is turning out to be every bit the right royal pain in the arse I thought it would be. Having said this, things are progressing on most fronts, albeit slowly. What I find funny is that most people ask Aff and I about our wedding plans, and how they are going, when in truth, the wedding is probably the least stressful task of them all (well, that is to say, it is the least stressful task at the moment). Italian visas, work contracts, finding accommodation in Italy, learning Italian, conference presentations, annual research reports, moving out of our place and storing our stuff are all things occupying our time at the moment. So yes, the blog posts have been a little few and far between of late.

I will actually try and not let this happen from now on, as I suspect these next few weeks are probably going to feel like a bit of a blur. As such, a reasonable account of this interesting time might actually be worth reading in years to come.

This last week just gone has probably been the most interesting since my last post. It started in fine style, with a Sunday arvo pub crawl with the Fuzzy Logic crew. This was organised to farewell Tim and myself, as we are both leaving Canberra. Of course, I will be back, and will certainly rejoin the Fuzzy crew on my return. There was some discussion about me being the Europe science correspondent while I'm away in Italy, which would be kind of fun to do, if the technology will allow it . It's been fun!

Perhaps my biggest news of the week was my resignation from the ANU Postgraduate Student Association (PARSA). This, unfortunately, was always going to be a little more complicated that just a simple goodbye, by virtue of the current low numbers on the council. With myself as Vice-President, and Grant as president both resigning, it was in both our interests to ensure that we at least recuited enough people to replace us. I am very happy to say that we achieved far better than this. At our final council meeting yesterday, six new PRC members were co-opted, as well as a couple of new social team members. This was the result of a pretty intensive week long recruitment drive (it was O'week this week, so there were plenty of new postgrad students around) which Grant and I were most involved with. It was great to see it pay off, and to leave PARSA on a bit of a high. A lot more students are needed for the council to truly regain it's strength, but the quality of the new recruits seemed to be pretty high, so I think the future looks good.

I have said plenty about PARSA over the last 22 months that I have been involved, so won't go into it all again here, except to say that it has been a very rewarding experience. Even so, there was no understating my immense relief after yesterday's meeting. I was going to resign, regardless of the success of this week's recruitment drive, but knowing there are more people after my resignation than before it is a much nicer way to go. The council is overwhelmingly made up of genuinely good people, who seek only to to do good things. It has been a privilege to work with such people (past and present).

So now I am free of almost all extra curricula activities (except sport, which I keep as a means of staying sane) , leaving me to focus on that one other elephant in the room .. research. My goals - nay - deadlines for the next four weeks are quite brutal, and in all honesty, I am not sure how I will go achieving them. The major one is a paper submission, which my supervisor and I have targeted. In truth, my ambition to make this deadline is not so much driven by the desire for a publication, but rather, to ensure the work I will be extending on in Italy, is in fact, in a state to be extended upon. Basically, how much I get done in the next four weeks will have everything to do with what I end up working on in Italy, so I do feel a reasonable amount of pressure to produce. With everything else happening at the moment, this feels like a very big mountain to climb indeed. Of course, the thing the drives people to climb big mountains is the rewarding view at the summit. I cannot think of a better motivator than this to get what needs doing, done.