Thursday, July 31, 2008

Turning Australian

It's been over a year, and I still sound like a yank. This isn't particularly surprising to me. I never picked up any Boston overtones besides "wicked", and after 6 years, I still couldn't put on a good Boston accent. Even here, being immersed, I can't put on a good Aussie accent, it always sounds British.

I called a friend from Cairns yesterday, and the first thing out of her mouth was "You sound so American." I think after several months of not hearing me talk, she had forgotten that I don't sound like her.

The thing is, slowly, I know I am picking things up. There are new vocabulary words: I put "reckon" into my vocabulary on purpose. But I say things like "cheers", I call "stores" "shops" and I describe them as "shut" when they're "closed" without even thinking about it. There are particular colloquialisms like adding "hey" to the end of questions.

Yesterday, I realized there's another form of Australian influence in my speech: new words are inherently Aussie. Recently, I learned the word "imprimatur," which in Aussie is pronounce im-prim-ah-tah. It was only pointed out to me by another American that it's actually (in the states) pronounced im-prim-ah-ter. Awesome. Good thing I arrived in Australia with a huge American vocabulary.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fire doors

My apartment building has an elevator. I live on the fourth floor (despite the button saying 3), and I take the elevator every time. I only discovered this morning why that is.

We had a power failure at about 2am this morning. Luckily (?) I woke up when the power went out, and reset my alarm. However, no one reset the elevator. So at 5:20 as I stood at the elevator with my bike (and way too many layers - see below), nothing happened. I gave up and took the fire stairs and went to practice.

When I got back home, the elevator still wasn't working. I hiked back up the stairs with the bike over one shoulder. When I got to my floor, I discovered the door was locked. Fine, so I get out my key. Nope, my key doesn't open the door to my floor. The only access to my floor is via elevator. (Naturally, at this point, the 600mL of water and the coffee I've had are starting to encourage my bladder to send messages to my brain.)

I wait, I bang on the door. Nothing. Finally, some one comes down from above and tells me the building manager has called the elevator repairman. I tell him this doesn't do me much good, since I still need to get in the door, now, get showered and get to work. He offers to get the building manager. A further 10 minutes later the building manager arrives. He opens each floor door, and shoves something in it to prop it open. Here is the conversation that ensues:

"Our keys should open the door to the floor."
"No, they're fire doors."
"Sure, but when the lift is out, we have no other means to access our apartments"
"No, they're fire doors"
"But that's ridiculous"
"Take it up with the fire brigade"
"But there's no fire!"

At this point I give up the argument, there's no point in arguing with man who is actively propping up fire doors.

Going soft

For a few days Brisbanites have been predicting cold for Tuesday night. There were rumours that the temperatures would actually reach 0 (the minimum recorded temperature for July - the coldest month of the year - is -0.1). On Tuesday night at the pool, the coach commended us for coming out for a swim on what was supposed to be the coldest night of the year.

This morning when I rose for my ride, I got ready. I put on a long sleeved thermal top, then a bike jersey (gotta love the pockets), then an athletic sweater, then a windbreaker. On the bottom I wore leg warmers (not like from the 80s, they're sorta like the legs off of running tights, with reflective panels). I wore a knit cap, long-fingered gloves and finally, my little neoprene booties which stretch over my bike cleats to keep the cold air out.

Turns out, it was 7 degrees this morning (45). And I was wearing roughly twice as many layers as I needed.

How did I ever survive in Boston?

Friday, July 25, 2008


Saturday mornings (when I don't have a cold), I go for a run or a ride early in the morning, return home for a quick breakfast and a shower, then grab my green bags and head to the markets.

The Green Flea Markets are located in Davies Park a 10 minute walk from my house. The markets are a combination of local, organic farmers market produce, some more commercially produced produce, handmade jewelry, second hand clothes, old records, chai tea, cupcakes, cheesy bread sticks, a one man band and a guy who cuts hair in a very fancy stall.
And I love them. They're busy and noisy and sometimes it take 10 minutes to get a coffee, but they're always good value. The produce is much better and cheaper than what you find in the supermarket, and many people come for saturday brunch, and bring a picnic rug to spread out on the lawn of the park.
I went to the markets this morning. It's the middle of winter, but the skies are clear the sun is strong and it's about 70 degrees. And I thought about how lucky I am, to live here and to get to go to my market every weekend.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kevin Rudd is my MP

In a parliament, the prime minister is not chosen by the populace but by other reps from his party. In an election is district elects their member of parliament (MP), then whichever party holds the majority decides among themselves who the leader of their party will be. Although most of the time this decision is made before the general election. So last year when the election was on, the debates were between Kevin Rudd, the leader of the Labour party, and John Howard, the then PM and leader of the Liberal party. Then in the election, John Howard was not re-elected in his home seat. And, Labour won a majority in parliament. Thus big Kev is the PM now, and Brendan Nelson is the newly appointed "opposition leader" i.e., the leader of the Liberal party.

Why does this matter? Cause Kevin Rudd is the MP for my district. Now, I can't vote for him, but still. How cool is it to be one of his constituents.

In related news, the Premier of Queensland (i.e., the Governor) is the rep for South Brisbane as well. I'm so close to greatness.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The value of protecting algorithms

When I worked in Indigenous affairs, I posted my thoughts on that. Well now it's time for my new work to inspire some posts. Certainly, I'm not the first person to think about these things. And definitely, some of my friends have thought these things through much more thoroughly than I have, so I welcome your comments.

Working in the school of ITEE means I cover computer science as well. This means that a vast majority of the ideas that come across my desk are related to algorithms. Cool, right? But I'm begun to wonder, what is the value in protecting algorithms?

A researcher comes up with a really cool way to do something, say, searching video databases. The way he does it is different to his colleagues and works just as well. Now he's gonna publish a paper on this, cause that's what he's paid to do. But as soon as he publishes, the method is in the public domain, which in most countries means that you can't patent it. So, before he publishes, we rush around to get a provisional patent put in to cover the space. Phew, right, now we've got the beginnings of protection for this algorithm. He publishes, and further down the track, the patent is published as well. This means that no one else can use this algorithm without his permission, right?

But here's the rub, 1) algorithms are easy to tweak, tweak a bit here, a bit there, maybe you're no longer infringing and 2) how do you enforce it? I can suspect that Google's YouTube is using this algorithm, but I don't really know, and without being Viacom, I don't think I have much of a chance of getting Google to reveal their algorithm to me. So, why patent in the first place?

Counterpoint: Google patented pagerank (the secret sauce behind why their search engine dominates). Do they sue people they suspect of using it. Does yahoo really not use some approximation of pagerank?


Next time: When is it diagnosing a problem, when is it just dobbing colleagues.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wikipedia's limitations

"All or part of this article may be confusing or unclear"

No shit. I wish I had a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Laura has questions for Australian universities

1. Why is there no food available on campus after 4pm? Will this change when classes are in session?

2. Should potato chips (regardless of whether they are chicken or pork flavoured) be considered food?

3. Not really a question: I want my $2.10 back. I paid for 2 bags of peanuts, cause the first bag got caught in the machine, and I still only got the first bag.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fourth of July!!!

Fourth of july

UniQuest has drinks every Friday. So, when Fourth of July fell on a Friday, I thought why not share the American spirit with my new employers. Trying to find the right balance of Americana that was cute, but not obnoxious was not easy. A few American flags, some sparklers, MGD and the Boston Pops on the stereo, and we had a full on Fourth of July bash.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bloody motorist

It's been months since I was hit by the car. I am, for the most part, all better. I still should go get some physio on my left side. It still tightens up when I ride, and my left hip is definitely not as flexible as the right one, but I get by. I've got the new bike, and so for the most part, life has moved on.

I got a quote to replace the bike and have been calling the motorist for a while asking for his insurance info. He's been stalling. First he wanted the police report, then once it was done, he wanted them to send him a copy (which they don't do), so then I paid for a copy ($65, thank you very much), and posted a copy to him. Then he avoided my calls. I finally got in touch with him and he says he wants to contest the police report. Motherfucker. My response was, "Fine, you'll hear from my solicitor"

Problem is lawyers or solicitors won't take a case that's less than $7500. And my damages are only $2600. I can take him to small claims court, but I have to do that in Cairns, which means taking a day off, flying to Cairns, and there's still no guarantee that he'd show up, or even pay up with a court order.

So, I've hired a collections agency. They take 40%, which is pretty steep, but to have the problem go away and just get a check for $1000 is worth it. Especially, if they make this guy's life shitty in the process. I don't think of myself as a vindictive person. But, christ, the man could have just as easily killed me if there'd been another car behind me. And now he's being all slimey and trying to get out of. Fuck him.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Race Report: Gold Coast Half Marathon

I did not train as well as I could have for the half marathon. Between travel and shin splints, I just didn't do as many Ks. But last week I ran 16Ks in prep, and I sorta reckoned that it would take me 2 hours, which is an hour short of what a tri took me, so I could probably run for the long.

Last night, I tried to get to sleep early. I watched a movie, had a beer, and went to bed at 9:30. At 10pm my neighbors sounded like they had moved their party onto my balcony. It sounded like a good time, if I hadn't had to get up at 4am. When I finally did get to sleep, it was fretful. The movie was a thriller, and I kept having nightmares that someone had stolen my license. And I kept waking up worrying that I would sleep through my alarm.

I had forgotten to pick up my number last week, so when I got to the course, I needed to find registration. The start was at 6:30. So at 6:05 it was still dark, and registration was not easy to find. By the time I got my number, it was 5 min til the start, not enough time to get into the queue for the loo. OK, fine, there will be toilets on the course.

7000 people ran the half marathon this morning. The start was just packed. When the gun went off, I wasn't even on the course, I was on the other side of a barrier. Slowly, we hopped over the barrier, and walked toward the start. They had music playing. When I crossed, the song "Running" (by Kiwi band Evermore) was playing, there was a little downhill and I could see the field of runners stretching out in front of me for what looked like miles already.

Generally, I find the first 5K of a run the hardest, then things start to settle in, I find my cadence and my breath, and then I feel like I can just keep going. This morning, maybe because there were so many people in the field that it took a lot of time to get up to speed, I felt good right off the start. I caught up to the 2 hour pace setters (they carry balloons!), and felt fast, so I passed them. Besides, I was still gonna have to stop to visit the loo somewhere along the course.

At 4K, I found my pit stop. I lost 2.5 minutes in the queue, but definitely better than it would have been had I waited at the start. The 2h balloons were a minute ahead of me when I rejoined the field, so I tried to keep them in my sights, and re-pass people I had passed in the start. At 6K the rain started. It was just a drizzle, but it was a cold drizzle and it was enough to get the shoes wet through and through.

The course turned and across the sky there was a rainbow. Not just a little wedge of rainbow like you get in the states. It arced across the entire sky touching the horizon twice. And the rain stopped.

The first 12K of the race just felt great. In fact, I forgot to look at my time when crossing the halfway mark. At that point it started to get hard. There was no sign for the 14K mark which messes with your head when you're trying to focus on pealing off the K's. At the 17K mark things started to hurt. But I also realized I was going to finish in less than 1:55. I started focusing on how many Ks to go (which my math brain seems to turn off when I'm running so it was somewhere between 6 and 3K depending on when you ask me). At 18K, I could feel the blisters coming up. At 19K, I began counting my breaths to pull myself through.

And then, it was over. 1 hour, 53 minutes and 46 seconds after I started, I was finished. I crossed the line, got my water and banana, my medal and my tshirt.

In a few days, I'll stop waddling. In a week, the blisters will callus. And in a few months, I'll run another half, sub 1:50.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I should have paid more attention in undergrad

If I had known when I was 20 that when I was (nearly) 29 I'd be looking at various academic papers and trying to determine if they were novel, would I have paid more attention? Or would I have just thought, I could rely on wikipedia (which is what I do).

So many of these concepts are vaguely familiar (principal compenent analysis, eigenvectors, support vector machines), but I feel like I never really understood them. I learned enough to regurgitate it to pass the test, then immediately repurposed those brain cells.

And now I'm left wiki-ing and scrounging the web for references, simple illustrations, something to get me to pass this current test.

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