Wed, Jan 4 2012 11:17 PM

River Cottage Hedgerow

I've recently acquired the excellent River Cottage Hedgerow book, by John Wright. Not only am I all inspired for when, in approximately 6 months time, I will be able to eat the entirety of the British Isles, but I have learned many amazing folk tales about various trees and plants.

For example, take the humble Elder. To an unfortunate Antipodean such as myself, an Elder tree is just like any other tree. But if you know anything about anything, you would know that you should:

  • never cut one down
  • never make a cradle from one
  • never burn the timber
  • apologise to the tree if you cut one of its branches

or the Elder Mother will get you in some horrible way. That said, apparently Elder trees can provide the following benefits:

  • use it to get rid of warts and sorrows by transferring them to a stick from an Elder
  • plant one near your house and it will protect the occupants from evil
  • hide under one during a thunderstorm and you won't be struck by lightning
  • use practically any part of it for some sort of remedy

What I love best about these stories is that they are so obviously pre-Christian and have lived through aeons of attempts by invading forces to convert the locals to various theologies, but some stories are just so strong they have their own lives. Of course the Christian tradition decided to co-opt the mysteries of the Elder tree by claiming it to be the tree that Judas hanged himself from, but we'll just ignore that silliness.

Unfortunately the only issue I've had with Elder trees was getting the tiny little bugs off the flowers pre-Champagning, an issue which this book does not go into. Oh well.

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Image from Wikipedia

Fri, Jun 24 2011 12:06 AM

A beautiful evening

Nicholas and I went for an after-dinner walk through the Hampstead Heath extension and then up through Hampstead Heath. We went through the damp forested hilly part: it had rained earlier in the day and the air was moist and smelled like earthy humus. On the way we found a stick and leaf lean-to hut a hermit might live in - complete with a little stump table. Sadly its owner was not at home, but I'd like to imagine that the wise woman of the forest lived there, waiting for earnest adventurers to start up conversations with her. Or perhaps I've been playing too much Dragon Age: Origins. :-)

On the way back, well after 9 at night, the shadows were long and the sun was setting. Nicholas took this wonderful photo of me in the field in the extension looking westwards. Such a beautiful evening.

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Mon, May 30 2011 8:06 PM

e-Textile weaving projects

I have a couple of ideas for some electronics-enabled spinning and weaving projects!

  1. A wall hanging that tells me what the temperature is outside, and the weather forecast for the day. It would be woven with 4 lines of warp being core-spun wire with LEDs hooked up to show temperature (mix of white/blue/yellow/red) and weather (yellow - sun, blue - rain, white - snow), gained from the internet (via Nanode (ethernet) or a bluetooth sensor? N. is getting a bunch of bt sensors so this could work). Need to think up a pretty design to integrate this into (thinking some woven triangles for temp levels, possibly a pictorial design for the weather?).

  2. A tea brewing sensor - a small coaster-sized mat with a temperature sensor in it and some LEDs that count down the time til the tea's been brewed. It's quite a simple little one so maybe I can do that first.

Anyone else got any cool ideas I could make into an e-Textile project?

Sun, May 22 2011 10:40 AM

Game of Thrones

As many people know, I've been a huge fan of the George R. R. Martin books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I carried out an official re-read portion on the alt.fan.grrm newsgroup back in the mid 2000s, I was so into it! So I was pretty damned excited when he announced that there would be a television show made from it!

Anyway, it's been going for 5 weeks now, and it's just fabulous. I'd just like to write up a few points about what I like and don't like so much about the television version of it.

  • Loving all the casting. Everyone has been perfect. Of course, some people look a little different from how I pictured them (Sansa's the big one here, also Lysa and little Robert) but I'm coming around ;) Best fits with my mind's eye I've seen are Ned, Arya, Joffrey, Jon, and Cersei. And, of course, Peter Dinklage as Tyrion. Joffrey's casting as the prince is perfect. He so looks like a little shit.
  • The scenery is fabulous. Real castles that look just the part. Love the differences between the Dothraki lands and the mainland too. Since so much of the book is about weather, it's great to see the differences in climes throughout the land so well reflected in the scenery jobs.
  • I understand that with TV you have to cut out various scenes or add things to make up for the fact you're not running around in lots of peoples' heads. I think they've done a sterling job of that. There's been a couple of little scenes that weren't in the book but which fleshed out the characters extremely well (Varys/Littlefinger's discussions in the last episode, for example).
  • I don't like the opening theme song. I think it was poorly mixed. It could be a lot more inspiring, but it seems to whimper along. There was a metal version running around on YouTube last week that was far far better. Needs more oomph to it.
  • It irks me a little that they say some of the names differently from how I'd pronounce them. Yes, this is pretty petty in the scheme of things, but it's Cate-lyn, not "Cat-lyn". Grr.
  • It's interesting about the Renly/Loras relationship - in the books it was just alluded to, especially at the beginning (it got more obvious as time went on); here it's extremely blatant, straight up. I think it's kinda cool (also Renly's hot), but it's a reminder that the written word can definitely smooth over a few things that, if you were a fly on the wall, would be perfectly obvious.
  • I hate knowing what's going to happen. The Ned scene last episode just reminded me that really, it's all been pretty smooth sailing up until now. Now it's going to get extremely bad.

Anyway if you had no idea this existed, you should go check it out! It's on HBO in the US and Sky something or other here in the UK. Very highly recommended.

Sat, May 21 2011 9:25 PM

George III

I have a sourdough starter named George III. He is the third in his line stemming from a tradition begun in Sydney with Nicholas' sourdough starters, George I and George II. Anyway, he has impressed me by making some pretty kickarse bread! We ate a lot of it today, but it was particularly delicious with the potato and leek soup we had for dinner. It tastes rather like bread you might buy in a shop, but with a much sourer crusty bit.

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We're also yeasting up a storm in the kitchen with some elderflower champagne and some apple cider! You can work out which is which.

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Lots of making things going on in this house recently :D I will write more about some of my more recent adventures soon!

Fri, Dec 31 2010 4:18 AM

2010 Reflection

Since the clock has struck midnight and it is now officially New Year's Eve, I am inspired to reflect on this year's excitement. I might do it on a month by month basis, because it's nice to remember what it was I got up to for the year, and this year was a really emotional and dramatic one in some ways! I'll also add a photo for each month! So here goes.

January

In January I was still in Belgium. I was busy at work organising a large event for the university & an organisation my then-boss is a member of. There were also lots of other deadlines, so I didn't really get much of a break, and was extremely stressed out for most of the month. I did, however, seem to have time to discuss the differences in creaminess factor of UK and Australian Cadbury chocolate, which I still find quite impressive, though I can't really say I care as much as I did back then. Except for the lack of Roast Almond chocolate here -- get on that, Cadbury! I distinctly remember a fabulous New Year's party up with Chris and his friends in St Anne's though, so I will leave you with a photo of that.

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February

In February I bought a bicycle. This meant I was really up for cycling around! I did a particularly nice trip down the Meuse River in Namur. I have this bicycle still here in London, but shamefully I haven't ridden it. I really wish it was a bit safer to ride to work, because I would totally do that. Perhaps I will try in spring anyway! :) At work I was busy writing a very large deliverable for one of my projects, so this bike trip seems to have been the major event of the month. This month's photo is of Namur, the town I was living in, from the bike track along the canal south toward Dinant. Namur is a beautiful town, and has a lot of delightful points about it, but a few infuriating ones too (particularly when it came to food shopping and smoking in bars). I loved its medievalness and the castle on the hill, which you can see in the photo.

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March

In March my friend Sasha came to visit me, which was awesome! He had a car so we went to a bunch of places: Ghent and Antwerp in the north, and then Han-sur-Lesse in the south. Ghent was beautiful, a very Flemish town but with a lot of French influence! We saw everything from a torture museum to weapons collections, beautiful buildings, and almost froze to death from the very cold winds that whipped through the town! Antwerp was also very impressive. It was extremely busy in the shopping areas, but we found some cool shops in the sidestreets and walked along the waterways. At Han-sur-Lesse there is a cave with lots of formations in it! We had a lovely guide who took us through as a big group, and were treated to a light and sound concert in a natural underground ampitheatre, which was very cool. Also in March was the big festival for the university, and I got to play on a Segway, and others went on giant flying foxes and "drunk driving" simulators. For the photo, sadly the stalagtite/mite photos I took aren't as awesome as they are in real life, so I'll leave you with a photo from Ghent.

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April

In April, I went back to the UK for Easter, and spent some more time with Chris and his family! We ended up playing an epic Warhammer 40k game, which was a great deal of fun! After that I was almost tempted to go start my own army for future games but I haven't quite succumbed just yet. Besides, Chris has a lot of armies I can borrow, as long as I don't, uh, drop them again. :)

On the work side of things, it was ETHICOMP time again! ETHICOMP is a big conference for computer ethics, and is really awesome because lots of amazing people go and I get to hang out with them. Some of them I count as dear friends as well as colleagues, which is just wonderful. I really look forward to the next ETHICOMP in fact, and it will be in the UK (Sheffield) so hopefully I'll be able to go (well, hopefully, if I have a job here in 2012! :) Tarragona, Spain, played host to ETHICOMP this year, and it was quite the venue! Outside my hotel room was a Roman colliseum, and on the hill was a medieval fortress, and all around the city there were ancient architectural marvels.

Annoyingly, a volcano decided to blow up and even though I had left half-way through my talk in order to make my bus to the airport, I ended up getting stuck at the airport and ultimately embarked on a super epic bus trip that went from Barcelona all the way to Brussels. We started at 9am, went through the Pyranees, past Carcassonne, and through the French night until we arrived in Belgium at about 2am. Then I had an extraordinarily expensive taxi fare home (paid for by the university, thankfully) and managed probably the best conversation I'd ever had in French with the taxi driver while half asleep. I was sad that I hadn't been able to stay at ETHICOMP for the whole week, and not only because I had been stuck in Barcelona for an extra 2 nights due to the volcano - I will definitely endeavour to stay the distance next time, because it's so worth it!

I'll leave you with a photo from Tarragona - the view from my hotel balcony!

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May

In May, Nicholas had moved to the UK! Or perhaps it was a little earlier, but I just had to pop over to visit him! The UK general elections were still being sorted out, and as we did some of the touristy parts through Whitehall there was a huge gaggle of journalists and photographers (and police) hanging outside the place where Nick Clegg & David Cameron were having a chat about the future of the country. Sadly I was only there for a short time, but we did have a lovely weekend pottering about and watching the guards outside Buckingham Palace doing their hilarious march.

My sister and brother-in-law also came to visit, but very briefly! They too had gotten caught up in the volcanic mess and had to fix up their trip massively due to the silly airlines. So they managed to pop up from Paris for the day and partake in some Belgian activities, which was nice!

In Namur, May is Spring! And that means it was time for the festivals to start up again. The big one for May is "Namur en Mai", a carnival festival with lots of circusy type acts, lots of magic and mystery and jugglers and stilt walkers! I hung out with some couchsurfy people and saw a play (in French, but it was well acted and sort of aimed at children, so not difficult to understand!). Then Yvan and Kathleen came to visit and we went on a bike ride to Dinant! It was amazing... massive rock escarpments, beautiful houses and the most amazing green colour in the trees along the river! Had a delicious lunch at Profondeville and went onward to Dinant, afterwhich we caught the train back to Namur. I was very exhausted after that! :) Another highlight of their visit was the dinner at Les Tanneries, which was a degustation menu that was amazingly good. And extremely filling! I have a secret love for degustation menus! I love the artistry that is put into the food and the flavour combinations and the random sorts of things I would never pick from a menu :D

Later in May I went back to the UK to visit Nicholas again. We went to the British Museum! It was fantastic. I still haven't been back since I moved here, but I want to rectify that soon!

The photo I leave you with here is from the trip south to Dinant. It was such a spectacular ride!

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June

In June I had a few more visitors, Jamie and Lisa came to see me, and I think June was also when I met up with Zhenya and Jess in Brussels! We did the usual: beer drinking, citadelle visiting, waffle eating, all the good things :D I had a great time, actually.

June was the start of a massive life-changing thing for me: I quit my job in Belgium. Probably the less I say about that the better, but it was definitely a big shake-up! I had to give 3 months notice, so it meant that I would still be working there until the end of August. It was a really really big thing for me, especially since I didn't have a job lined up when I quit, but I'm still to this day extremely glad that I did it, because I am far happier here! :)

Finally in June was the "World Wide Knit in Public" day, and I went along to the Marche aux Legumes and sat in the chilly weather and knitted with some lovely ladies, including the lovely Mouchon, the sheep of which I now have some beautiful wool sitting in my cupboard that I would like to make into a jumper! This month's photo will be of that, because I don't seem to have taken any other pictures that month ;D

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July

In July, Nicholas came to visit again, and we went to Luxembourg! It was awesome. Such a compact little city, with a huge number of languages being thrown around -- the lady at McDonalds served the people 2 in front of us in French, the people in front of us in German, and then us in English! It was awesome! I wrote a long entry about this trip, so I won't re-summarise it, but it was awesome.

Another epicly long and awesome trip I did in July was back to the UK where Chris and I went to the Formula 1! It was fantastic. I really had such an amazing time - everything from getting up early in the morning and driving down to Silverstone seeing Bugatti Veyrons on the way through to Mark Webber winning the race... it was such a fantastic experience and I really want to go again. Sadly it won't be happening this coming year, but perhaps next year it'll be on the cards again! :D

I popped down to Liege one hot day, after there had been some massive storms which had destroyed a lot of houses and downed a lot of trees! I wanted to find this mysterious set of stairs that I had heard a lot about. After a lot of getting lost and not finding the right steps and then finding other steps but still not the right ones, I found the real steps and climbed every single one of them! It was extremely hot and I have distinct memories of feeling very sorry for the people who lived halfway up the stairs. But it was worth it at the top - an amazing view across Liege and a very large sense of accomplishment. The stairs are famous for being particularly steep (373 steps) but are also part of some local legend to do with a battle in the 1400s. They're still pretty impressive now! ;-)

Also, Nicholas and I had an epic house hunt... we hired a car, which almost broke down, went to see a bunch of houses, most of which stood us up, then saw one house, liked it, applied for it, and got it. So it was both epic fail and epic win at the same time. Still loving the house now, as I'm sitting in it! Though I think next time we'll take a bit longer looking and try for something around Islington area. Although this area is lovely, it's a bit on the suburban side and is missing a few things (mostly a good pub in stumbling distance imo - Nicholas would probably add a Waitrose and a Pret to that list! And I'd agree with him! hehe).

I was going to post a photo from the F1 but those are just down the page a bit so you can go look there. Instead I will post a photo of the Liege staircase, because that's something you're less likely to see. ;-)

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August

One of the main things, apart from wrapping up work and then moving to London, which I will devote a paragraph to, was going to the IFIP Summer School in Helsingborg, Sweden. There I had a fantastic time with a bunch of really quite awesome people, many of whom were students but plenty of whom were full academics newly infected with the enthusiasm for the subject from the students. There were some amazing talks and people doing wonderful things with technology, and I met a few new people and hung out with my new boss and some others, which was also great.

Then I moved to London! On my birthday! It was a great birthday present, though I was utterly exhausted by the end of it. I packed and cleaned my apartment, lugged all my suitcases over and onto the Eurostar, said farewell to Belgium, and started my new life in London! Moved into our new apartment and started setting things up - Nicholas was in India getting food poisoning at that point, poor thing - and spoke English to people! It was amazing! You really don't honestly know how much I missed just randomly talking to people - taxi drivers, people in the supermarket... I couldn't do that back in Belgium, because of my lack of French, but I could here! So of course I rambled at everyone as often as I could! It was great, I felt so much at home! Happy birthday, me! :D

The photo I'm putting here is the last photo I took in Belgium - the geese down at the duck pond in the park near my old house. Those geese were awesome. Noone messed with them.

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September

I started a new job, at Middlesex University. Nicholas and I explored our new home! :D We did a lot of fun things: London Open House day, rock climbing at the Castle, visiting Camden, buying an iPhone, visiting galleries and exploring the local pubs! So much going on... probably more in one month than I had done in the entire year! It was fantastic. We had a friend come to visit (with her little one! so cute!!), I started weaving with a new hand loom my siblings gave me for my birthday, and we moved into our house properly and set everything up. Also we took some fabulous walks on the Heath, which was just beautiful in the summer weather!

Here's the first thing I ever weaved, with a view out my study window over the courtyard :D

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October

October was some more beautiful weather, but more autumnal... beautiful temperatures and sunlight filtering through the trees here and in the Heath nearby! I also went up to Lancaster to meet some more of the team for the project we're working on, which was quite lovely in several ways - nice to meet the other team members and nice to see some other parts of the country!

I also went to the annual Halloween party that Chris's friends put on up north, which, as usual, was lots of fun. Everyone does such a great job with costumes!

I love this photo of London from Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. It really was one of the last amazingly beautiful days before winter started to peek in!

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November

In November, Nicholas took me on a trip for my birthday. We were originally going to hire a car and drive somewhere in the UK but instead we decided that the weather might be better south so booked a trip down to Barcelona in Spain. It was fantastic! We did a lot of walking around and enjoyed ourselves greatly - eating tapas, drinking sangria, finding out of the way vegetarian places and being surprised by the presence of Maoz! We saw Gaudi and cathedrals and fortresses and went on a cable car and a funicular! We climbed up hills and roofs and explored markets and coffee shops. We waited for shops to open (in vain), queues to subside, and had a failed trip to the Picasso museum (closed Mondays). But despite that we had a very fun time exploring a colourful and interesting city.

We also started going to the Lates series - the last week of the month most museums and galleries have a late night special offering! This month the Science museum had a thing on games and gaming (including a talk on game theory, a silent disco, and cocktails!), but mostly it was fun walkign around the museum without a million screaming kids -- and actually getting to play with the hands on exhibits! :) We also went to the one at the V&A museum, which was a talk on the RepRap 3-D printing device, which is so awesome, we want to make one. It was great hearing the inventor of it talk about it and show off some of the things it could print!

On the 30th of November, it snowed! This was very exciting! Of course it snowed a lot more later on, but that's a tale for next month. Instead I leave you with a slightly warmer photo from Barcelona. It's a view from the roof of the Barcelona cathedral across the city.

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December

Well, in December it really did snow. I was supposed to go back to Australia for Christmas, but there was so much snow that they decided enough was enough and cancelled all my flights, even the re-booked one for a couple of days later. This caused a stupid amount of stress and anxiety to the point where, with my family's blessing, we decided to leave it until the new year, when the weather would hopefully be better. I'm hoping to go within the next week or so, any later and I will probably have to wait til easter with our current workload! :) And I have lots of Christmas presents I need to take with me!

Despite that, Christmas was lovely. Dinner at a friend's place involved a "dupheasant" which was mightily tasty. It also involved playing with balloons, which was hilarious. My offering was "Gingerbread Carnage" - a not-so-traditional feast of bloody gingerbread corpses and dismembered parts. It was deliciously awful :D Everyone loved it.

In other culinary attempts I have started on my quest to make a great macaron. I participated in the Reddit Secret Santa this year and received a book on how to make macarons, which was fabulous! I then went out and got the bits I'd need and set about making them. I still need to refine my technique but I think I'm off to a good start, which is great :D More experimentation needed in the new year! :)

This photo shows the snow buildup in our street, which is pretty awesome. It was so beautiful but so frustrating after a while... walking back on Christmas Day was an exercise in a sore butt from the icy path!

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I realise I probably haven't included everything, but it's getting rather late and I ought to be in bed. I'm off to visit Yvan and Kathleen for NYE, which will be fabulous, I'm sure. I will write something about the new year in the new year :)

Happy New Year everyone! I want to thank you all who have been extremely supportive of me this year. I've certainly needed it and it hasn't gone unappreciated. I have a lot of awesome things to look forward to in 2011! Much love to you all, and best wishes to you in the coming year.

Fri, Oct 1 2010 10:04 PM

And did those feet in ancient times...

So I moved to the UK! And I'm living north of the centre of London, in what's called the Hampstead Garden Suburb. This is a pretty cool suburb to live in because it was planned out by a woman in the late 1800s to be a sort of village with lots of greenery and other health and well-being promoting areas. Nicholas and I are living here in a 3br apartment, which is lovely and quiet, with lots of greenery around, squirrels and birds in the garden, and a lovely old building that probably dates to the early 1900s.

There's a lot of history about the suburb here: Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust

For my birthday I got an iPhone4, (thanks grandmothers!) and so I've been messing around with apps for it -- here's a "Hipstamatic" photo of the view out my window at home:

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The nearest shopping area (about 5-10 mins walk away) is Golders Green. It's a distinctly Jewish area, so there are lots of Kosher restaurants and delis. There is also a decidedly large population of Japanese and Koreans, so the area boasts 3 asian supermarkets, and a seriously large number of Japanese and Korean restaurants. Sadly they're really not into being vegetarian :( There is, however, a delicious Chinese restaurant that has a huge array of vege dishes, many of which are of the "fake meat" type which are delicious but often a little off-putting. Still, mostly delicious :D There's also 2 Polish supermarkets and a good old fashioned Sainsbury's to round out the multi-culturalism in the shops department.

Here's a photo of the main street down Golders Green:

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Sadly, there's no Pret, or Waitrose :(

However, we're about 15-20 mins away from the city centre, which is great! Also I'm about a 10-15 minute bus trip from work (or a shorter tube but longer walk) which makes things very convenient for me.

Work's going very well. I'm working on a very interesting project, which I may write more about later, looking at surveillance and monitoring of paedophile activities on the internet. At the moment I'm working on sorting out the hype and hysteria from the actual facts, and discovering some of what people think about online paedophiles is not necessarily backed up by the literature, or based on probably biased studies of self-selecting populations. It'll be very interesting to tease out what's really going on, because it's an important issue that needs to be addressed, and in a way that means that counter-measures will be effective and fair to everyone involved. But yes, definitely more on that later!

I'm heading back to Australia for Christmas/NY. I'm super excited about this because I haven't been back in well over a year, and I'm missing people and places a lot! It'll be lovely to see my friends and relatives at Christmas, and to go to the beach and swim, and to smell that wonderful fresh sea air again! Please let me know if you'd like to catch up with me while I'm back -- I will be around for two weeks but probably before Christmas will be the best time to catch me! I might organise a lunch or something, if you're on facebook or twitter I'll keep you posted there, but if you're not, please let me know and I'll send you a super special email :D

Thu, Aug 12 2010 7:42 PM

Privacy and the Illusion of Control

One of the keynote talks at the IFIP/PrimeLife Summer School last week was by Allesandro Acquisti from Carnegie Mellon University. He was talking about "Privacy and the Illusion of Control" and reporting on some of the research he had been doing into behavioural economics of privacy. I found this talk particularly fascinating and thought provoking. I'll attempt to write up a few of my notes on it below, and provide some links if you find it as interesting as I did.

One of the things Acquisti talked about in this keynote was a series of experiments he was involved in (and which you can read about in a paper here). What is privacy worth to people? A survey was conducted in a shopping mall of the shoppers coming past. As an incentive to fill out the survey, the shoppers were offered a VISA gift card when they were finished. Of course, as all these things go, the survey was not the real point of the experiment: it was the decision the shoppers made about the gift card.

The shoppers had the choice of:

  1. A gift card worth $12, the use of which was tracked ("no privacy"), or
  2. A gift card worth $10, but anonymous ("with privacy").

(The reasoning for the value is discussed in the papers.)

The researchers then added in another dimension:

  1. The shopper was given one certificate ("endowed"), then offered the choice to switch to the other, or
  2. The shopper was offered the choice between the two (the ordering of the choices was also randomised, so the $10 card could be offered first or second).

They also had a control where there was an anonymous $12 card and a tracked $10 card.

Although all participants had the ultimate choice between a $10 anonymised card and a $12 tracked card, the way that the questions were framed in the offering of the cards got the participants making a choice between selling their information to the researchers for $2, or paying the researchers in order to avoid giving away their purchasing information.

So, the results of the experiment were quite interesting. I will summarise them as follows:

  • 52.1% of shoppers endowed with the $10 card did not want to change their card to the $12 card after it was offered to them.
  • 42.2% of shoppers, given the choice between the $10 and the $12 card, with the $10 card presented first, chose the $10 card.
  • 26.7% of shoppers, given the choice between the $10 and the $12 card, with the $12 card presented first, chose the $10 card.

and perhaps surprisingly...

  • only 9.7% of shoppers endowed with the $12 card wanted to change to the $10 card after it was offered to them.

Acquisti explained that this shows that people can be "primed" to accept less privacy than otherwise might be available. There's also the importance of the endowment of a card: a significant number of people who were offered the $10 card upfront wanted to keep "their" card. This ownership feeling, Acquisti said, significantly biased shoppers' perceptions of the value of the card/their data.

I thought this was really interesting. People in this experiment were five times more likely to reject the extra $2 if they thought their privacy would be protected. Apparently (according to Acquisti) this goes against the status quo understanding that "ordinary people don't care about privacy". Unfortunately they weren't able to ask why people chose the card that they did, as they couldn't be involved with the experiment directly. However, what it does show is that many ways that people are offered privacy options are highly problematic. Waiting for people to discover privacy options in software "primes" people to accept lower levels of privacy if the defaults are set to be open. The mere fact that people don't request privacy options doesn't mean that they don't care about them.


This wasn't the end of the talk, as Acquisti went on to talk about his more recent research into the "Illusion of Control" over personal information, in which he presented some more recent research into how perceived control users had over their personal data caused them to actually reveal more about themselves than if they didn't. I won't go into the details of the study as much, but you can find an (as yet unpublished) paper on it here.

Essentially the outcomes of this study, which was done with university students revealing information about themselves that either would be published on a website (i.e. the user had a lot of perceived control over the information that could be published about them), or had a 50% chance of being published on a website (i.e. the user did not have as much perceived control, since it was random whether or not they would be published), found a couple of interesting things:

  • the more sensitive questions were less likely to be answered (all round), however:
  • if the student had more control (i.e. it would be published), more questions were answered
  • if the student had more control, more sensitive questions were likely to be answered

So this has some further interesting outcomes for privacy advocates: more control over publication of information doesn't necessarily mean that users will exercise that control to restrict their information -- in fact they are more likely to reveal more about themselves if they know that their information will be published than if they are uncertain!


Finally, Acquisti rounded off the talk with some very recent research into longevity of your good and bad deeds, and whether you were more likely to be judged by your past good or bad deeds. I haven't found a paper that I can link to about this, but if someone else can find one and let me know, that'd be great (I have a new comment system so even if you don't have a Twitter account you can now comment! Yay!).

In this research, Acquisti was looking at whether people pay more attention to bad information about someone than good information. That is, do someone's past bad deeds have more weight than someone's past good deeds?

Acquisti's team conducted an experiment with scenarios about a fictional person who did/did not report having found $10,000 5 years/12 months ago. There was also a neutral description about this person used as a control. The results were as follows:

  • neutral opinion on "do you like this person?": 4.5/7 on the "like" scale
  • reported $10,000 5 years ago: same as neutral opinion
  • reported $10,000 12 months ago: high on the "like" scale (5.5/7)
  • did not report (i.e. kept) $10,000 5 years ago: low on the "like scale (2.2/7)
  • did not report $10,000 12 months ago: disliked even more than the 5 year bad deed (1.9/7)

There were similar results for the question "would you want to work with this person?"

So the outcome from this was that old good information is not very important when someone judges you, but old bad information is very important. This, according to Acquisti, also works with companies and their reputations!

So: people who upload incriminating photos or write silly things on the internet: beware! Not only do we have a feeling that these sorts of things can come back to haunt you, there is some interesting work that shows that even if what you did was a long time ago, it'll still have a big impact on peoples' judgements about you.

What Acquisti is working on now is a series of experiments to determine whether good recent deeds can overwrite bad deeds. My gut feeling is that it really depends! For example: Bill Gates was fairly well reviled in many areas, yet his charitable contributions have been so immense that perhaps it might be worth looking past the anti-competitiveness and monopolisation, and the fact that he's the world's richest man. :) But for politicians? It might not be that simple. What price on forgiveness?

Fascinating stuff, and a fascinating talk! I look forward to finding out more about our attitudes to privacy and behaviour.

Fri, Aug 6 2010 9:07 PM

Sweden and Denmark (IFIP/PrimeLife Summer School)

I'm currently winding down from a super fun week at the IFIP/PrimeLife Summer School, where I met a bunch of very interesting people, helped with a workshop, gave a paper, ate a lot, and saw Hamlet's castle, Elsinore!

alt text Helsingborg Slot

alt text Awesome carving on the steps up to the tower

Helsingborg is a city on the southern coast of Sweden, just over the water from Denmark (about 5km away). There's a "sister" city in Denmark called Helsingør, which became anglicised to "Elsinore" by Shakespeare. And yes, there is the castle that Hamlet is set in! Although apparently the traditional Hamlet story comes from Jutland, which is hicksville of Denmark and not nearly as exciting as Helsingør. The cities were the first point of contact for the Swedes and the Danish when they were fighting each other (much of the time). The Danes also severely taxed the narrow "throat" of water (Helsing comes from the word meaning "throat") because it provided a direct route through to Russia. Apparently at one point almost 70% of the funds into Denmark were taxes taken from that stretch of land. Anyway they are a lot more peaceful these days (though the Danes are still a bit grouchy about the fact that the Swedes looted a lot of things, however I'm sure the same can be said the other way around!).

alt text Looking over toward Denmark from Helsingborg

At the summer school, there were lots of talks about privacy from theoretical and technical perspectives. I found the talks about youth attitudes to privacy, formalisation of privacy policies, and the keynotes from various high profile speakers such as representatives from the US White House (on their "NSTIC" project), Germany's Ministry of the Interior (on the new eID cards being rolled out to Germans), Google on their attitudes to privacy particularly interesting. There were also lots of discussions about what "privacy" actually was (since everyone was interested in protecting it), workshops on improving shopping cart user interfaces so that only a minimum amount of data is sent to each involved party, and the discussions within my own workshops on implementation of ethical values were really quite exciting. I also got to talk to people about my PhD thesis stuff, with some people involved in various projects expressing some interest in it. Hopefully I can help them out a bit with their approaches, and get some practical outcomes of my own research set in motion! :) Anyway top marks to the organisers for a full and fun-packed week that was really well organised!

We had a few social activities planned, including a conference dinner by the beach, where we were treated to this beautiful sunset:

alt text

And yesterday we went to Helsingør, where we visited Hamlet's castle! It was amazing. We went over on the ferry (one of which was named Hamlet!) which allowed for this lovely view:

alt text

Here's a photo of me in the main courtyard, where they have regular performances of Hamlet in many languages and interpretations:

alt text

Once we got there, we were treated to a fantastic guided tour by some of the more enthusiastic guides I've ever had. I was particularly intrigued by the huge collection of beautiful tapestries they had inside, especially knowing something of how they're made and the effort they take to make!

alt text "Rhinoceros" tapestry

Of course there were ballrooms and impressive fireplaces and chandeliers and everything else you could imagine a castle to have. You can see lots of photos of these in my gallery of the trip.

Anyway, I've had a fantastic time here, both culturally and intellectually! Back home to Namur tomorrow, then it's only a couple of weeks until I leave for the UK!

Wed, Jul 21 2010 2:02 PM

Things I will miss about Belgium

I've been thinking about the impending move to the UK at the end of next month and what I will miss here. I thought it might be good to write them down because the list of things also involves a few minor curiosities that I'm likely to forget in the future :)

1) Attitude: I'm really going to miss the easy-going Belgian attitude. Bureaucracy may be a total pain in the arse here but once you get to the real people involved they're friendly and happy to try to communicate as much as possible. If you can get someone directly involved to help you at, for example, the bank, there are ways through the bureaucracy. Train guards who will hold the train for you as you heft 2 suitcases down the platform. :) Also I've met lots of friendly Belgians while I've been here. Many people will stop and say "Bonjour" on the street to you, which is rather nice!

2) Non-litigiousness: This ain't no nanny state here - the roads and paths are in disrepair, the branches don't get trimmed, there are no CCTVs in most places, the childrens playground is full of stuff you can fall off, there are no fences or barriers along the rivers, it's great. In the UK I am constantly under the impression that if I'm not under surveillance there are five signs for every possible thing that might happen to me if I step outside my front door. Also, you can buy raw milk here, along with a whole metric truckload of potentially scary foods like lambic beers and stinky raw milk alcohol-washed cheeses. Yay for personal responsibility!

3) Food: Belgians know how to do some of this so amazingly well and some of it so amazingly poorly. Frites, moules, chocolate, waffles, sweets, Belgian meaty dishes (simple but soooooo tasty), mitraillette, cheeses, local vegies, quiche. Why they haven't discovered fish'n'chips is beyond me, since I am positive they would do it perfectly, given their frites. Stuff they don't do so well: Asian food. It's a travesty :( Thankfully I can make my own ;)

4) Markets: So much amazing local produce is available at the markets here in Namur. I'm really going to miss them. Especially the Amazing Chocolate Lady and my bakers.

5) Being 2 mins from my office: Going to miss popping home for a cheap and healthy lunch and a bit of relaxing time!

6) The Citadelle: Best non-touristy tourist attraction, I love it. I love how Namur is not a touristy town at all. I can't even think of where I might buy anything with "I <3 Namur" on it or similar!

7) The pedestrian shopping centre: This place has so many tiny little specialty shops. It's really refreshing after the Westfields of home! Also, on Sundays it's a local custom to wander around and window-shop, since most of the shops are closed. This is rather endearing :)

8) French: This has been a great opportunity for me. I think I've made a lot of progress: now I can understand most non-legal French and speak it in basic conversations pretty well. A year ago I had noooo idea about anything French! I think I might continue to get some classes in the UK if possible to consolidate it a bit since my grammar is particularly shocking.

I'm not going to make a list of things I won't miss: although there are some, I'd prefer to concentrate on the positive aspects of the time I've lived in a city in Belgium, which has on the whole been pretty good. :D And now I am rather looking forward to exploring and adopting a new city!

Thu, Jul 15 2010 6:10 PM

Formula 1 Adventure

So, last weekend was super awesome. I went over to the UK to meet up with my good friend Chris, who is a fellow F1 fan and was coming with me over the weekend! This was my first ever actual Grand Prix attendance. So Friday night we went for a late night shopping expedition and stocked up on food and drinks for the next couple of days. The alarm was set for 6am!

Saturday

Up at 6, and we packed up all the important things: tickets, Australian flags (OK maybe that was just me), food, chairs, reading materials, and high spirits! We jumped in the car and headed toward Silverstone. When we got there, we accidentally found the perfect carpark for where we were sitting (Luffield Terrace). (Thanks Chris for the spotting and drawing of the parking spots in the picture below! :)

Where we were

We managed to grab a great spot there (though with only 5 levels of terrace it's not difficult to get a great spot!) and settled in for the day. We saw GP2, GP3, and Porsche qualifying in the morning! GP2 was a bit of a cut down F1, still loud enough to require earplugs but not as quick as their bigger brothers! The later GP2 race was not as exciting as the GP3 race, but still impressive to see the cars whizzing around the track!

GP2

Porsche Supercup qualifications

Of course, the qualifying for the F1 was the most impressive part of the day (apart from the GP3 race, which was pretty equal in its excitement IMO!) -- with Red Bull coming in first, Vettel with his controversial front wing and Webber in second place on the grid.

Fernando Alonso in qualifying

A video of the qualifying lap is here.

After the GP2 and GP3 race we headed home, absolutely exhausted, and had an early night ready for the even earlier wake up the next morning.

A lap of the GP3 race is here.

Sunday

Up even earlier and we were much quicker in the car for the hour and a half drive down to Silverstone from Chris's place. I was wearing my brand new Red Bull Racing gear which I'd bought the previous day.

One thing that really helped us wake up was seeing two amazing Bugatti Veyrons (with the numberplates BUG I and BUG II) zooming past us down the M1 south. Nothing quite like seeing them in action!

We got herded into a different car park this time, much further away and behind the Copse corner. It was a much longer walk but we still managed to get a reasonable spot... we were there by 7.30 and the whole place was full!

Luffield, full!

Still, we managed to get a lovely position on the terrace, near some lovely people who were very supportive about the fact that I wasn't barracking for the McLaren team (the orange/silver are the McLaren colours in the photo above) which has both the British drivers in it.

IMG_1860.jpg

The first things up for the day were the second two races for the GP2 and GP3, which were much more exciting than the previous day's races. I still think the GP3 is much more fun though, especially since you don't need those earplugs, and they look like toy cars :) You can see a video of the opening lap of the GP2 here!

After these races was a display by the Red Arrows, who were just amazing. You can see a video of them I took here.

But then onto the main event: the F1 race! Of course it was very exciting: from our position we could see heaps of the action. Lap One went something like this.

Warmup Lap

This is the best picture I could get later of where we were (from the BBC footage):

Screen shot 2010-07-13 at 6.49.42 PM.png

And I can't even see us, so yeah, don't feel bad that you can't (or couldn't) either. :)

Some highlights from the F1 itself:

  • Being near the pit entrance. Especially for the Massa slide, but also being able to witness the pitting strategy first hand.

  • Being at the end of the Wellington straight, we got to see a lot of overtaking just before the Luffield corner. Sutil's battle to keep Vettel at bay was one of the finer parts of the race, as well as the dramatic overtaking of Schumacher.

  • Watching Vettel catch up to the HRT/Lotus/VR and then work his way further up the field was pretty impressive; same for Button's move up from 14th to 4th, though that was less dramatic and more due to clever strategy.

  • The safety car lap ended right in front of us, so we got to see Webber make that dash for it that firmly fixed his position, which was great for me! :)

  • Alguersuari's unfortunate exit was quite dramatic at the Luffield corner, but a bit sad, he was so upset :( Aguersuari's exit

  • The heroic efforts of the marshal to pick up some debris on the track yielded a massive cheer and applause from the crowd around us, especially given the somewhat spread out formation on the track at the time. It was a very impressive run and one of the things you don't see on TV!

Of course, the atmosphere was electric. Every time one of the British drivers came around the corner, the crowd went wild! I of course waved my little flag for Webber but despite our support differences everyone was very excited for me that he won :)

During the ceremony I stood up and waved my flag for the national anthem in a stupidly cheesy way, but I was just happy! The Pit Straight looked like they were having fun too, especially since a Brit came second!

IMG_1903.jpg

Afterwards we hung around for the BMW series but it wasn't very exciting, sadly. I think everyone was cheered out after the main event! Then we headed back to the carpark in order to join a huge queue that had formed due to an ambulance needing to get into the area while everyone was trying to leave. Thus it took us ages to get to the exit. However, once we did get to the exit, we found ourselves funnelled onto the A43 ... but on the right hand side of the road! It was rather scary but pretty awesome, especially when we went past a huge traffic jam on the "normal" side of the road, whereas our side was almost perfectly clear, haha.

I put up a silly video of us driving along there here.

Finally we got back to Rugeley, and went on a bit of a Cook's tour due to some road closures. We ended up going along this road, which is hella awesome due to the English Country Lane feel to it. Especially when you're in a nice Toyota Celica with a bit of grunt to it and a driver who enjoys pushing it a bit!

Back in time for the pub quiz and most of the World Cup, but I was just super hungry after a long and tiring day in the sun, and a fantastic weekend. We didn't quite win the quiz (sorry guys, my fault, stupid Oasis/Blur question!) but one of the other participants took home the extra prize which was pretty good (yay Abi!).

As a final note, I wrote up a big set of highlights (including some of the above) and they were included in an article at f1fanatic.co.uk including a link to my photo gallery where there are heaps more pictures. Yay! :D

Big thanks to Chris for looking after me for the weekend and doing lots of tiring driving on little sleep and lots of sun. Also, happy early birthday! :) I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year, but it looks like the spots we had this year are going to be general admission tickets next year, which would mean probably getting up at 3am... or camping there! Hah, yeah not going to happen lol. Anyway, we'll see how things go! :)

Wed, Jul 7 2010 12:56 PM

Code

As you probably know if you've been reading my blog, I'm working on a frontend to Nicholas' "Coat" blogging app. It's a set of python scripts and templates that run over plain text files and make pretty pages out of them. However, I can never remember Markdown syntax or anything like that, so I wanted to make a quick and simple blog entry app for Mac OS X. So I originally whipped up a web page which I stuck inside a WebKit frame, but since then it's become a lot more complicated, with attachment support (the photos in the previous entry were done with this - it saves attachments, then puts the Markdown that references the file into the text area), and automatic hooks from Cocoa into the python scripts.

I'm still working on it but I'm pretty pleased with how it's going, especially since it was a long time since I'd done any Mac programming and Interface Builder can be confusing as hell to get the interfacing connections right. But I'm very happy with what I've done, especially since I didn't think I'd be able to do it before.

Here's a screenshot of it in action, writing this blog entry (ooh, you can see some edits I made since! :):

Screen shot 2010-07-07 at 1.46.16 PM.png

I'm in the process of cleaning up the code and adding more error messages for when things don't work, but if you're interested in checking it out, I put it up on bitbucket (though you probably won't be, since you don't have Nicholas' Coat program, and this is entirely useless without it). But writing about it makes me want to do more with it, and keeps up the motivation to add things to it.

To do list:

  • editing of previous entries
  • smarter attachment handling (putting the Markdown where the cursor is rather than just at the end of the file, since adding in links etc. can screw up the flow)
  • automatic resizing of images (+ links to "full size" images)
  • integrating the entirety of the Coat code into the app, whether through rewriting it or something else
  • integration with Tapir? I'd love to have a gallery that doesn't suck (Gallery3 is far too huge and PHP-y for my liking), and Tapir's a bit old but now that I know how to do things better I could probably fix it up to be awesome.
  • static page creation/editing (e.g. my recipe pages, etc.)
  • iPhone/iPad app

Obviously some of these are easier than others to do. :) But it'll be fun!

Wed, Jul 7 2010 11:19 AM

A Surreal Weekend

This weekend, Nicholas came to visit me in Belgium -- his last trip before I move to the UK at the end of August!

On Friday we had a drink at the Bouffon du Roi, a lovely bar just up the road from my place. It was extremely hot that night, but the next day we got up and went market shopping, and then wandered around Namur, stopping at the Musée Félicien Rops to look at the collection there of his fantastic drawings and paintings, the most famous being his erotic art.

This is a photo of Pornokrates, one of Rops' most famous paintings:

Pornokrates

Apparently the blind woman (in her dress and stance, a femme fatale) is being drawn along by sexual passion over the arts, or pomp and egotism, depending on what you read.

Anyway, the museum was full of other interesting drawings, many of them depicting cherubs like in Pornokrates. The cherubs were a little freaky, since they seemed to somewhat swarm in some pieces, up to some sort of mischief. But the exhibition was very cool, and paved the way for the rest of the weekend (though not the next part exactly).

Sunday we popped down to Luxembourg, where we explored the "Casemates" (fortified tunnels) through the city. Luxembourg is an interesting place. The centre reminded me of many other European cities, except it was exceptionally clean and tidy. Apparently it's one of the richest cities in Europe though, so perhaps it is not so surprising. Anyway, the casemates were pretty awesome, although there was a huge disparity in presentation from one set to the other: the first we went to (closer to the centre) was run by two girls in a rundown underground office in a rather disorganised fashion; the second we went to was all high-tech ticketing and explanatory signs. The latter were much longer too, and involved a lot of climbing of spiral staircases to dead ends. It would be quite easy to get lost in there! But it was a lot of fun, and provided some beautiful views over the city and surrounding areas:

Fortifications

"Lower City" of Luxembourg

Nicholas in the Casemates

There are many more photos of Luxembourg in my gallery.

The more I travel through Europe the more I become jealous of their amazing multilingual capabilities. Even the McDonalds workers in Luxembourg could speak German, French, and English. I'd like to see that sort of ability back in Australia!! My French is coming along though, I am now having more complicated interactions with people (especially shopkeepers) and am able to stumble my way through some conversational stuff. I find "real" French accents a lot harder to understand than the Belgian French accents though, so watching the World Cup or Tour de France with the French commentary has been a bit hard for me to keep up on (also because they tend to get excited and start talking really quickly). Knowing French is actually really helpful though; over here it sort of feels like the default other language if people don't know any English :) It's especially amusing when someone asks me what language (in French), and I respond "Anglais", and they then keep talking to me in French without realising it, lol. Fortunately I have understood what they were saying so far though so it's been fine :)

Anyway, back to the weekend. After our day trip to Luxembourg we had a yummy Thai dinner locally (the woman tried to explain to us that the green curry we'd ordered was very hot and perhaps we would like the red one instead, to which I said "we're Australians, we understand hot!" and she laughed and we ended up getting a hot but not King-St-Newtown-hot curry which was quite delicious). Nicholas also baked his amazing vegan banana bread, which was even more delicious.

Monday we went to Brussels. WHAT A BAD IDEA. Don't go to Brussels on a Monday. Everything vaguely museumy and arty is CLOSED. For NO REASON. The best we got was a Dali exhibition at the Grand Place, which felt (to me) a bit more like a Dali print art sales attempt with an entry fee, since the art was all for sale, were mostly prints (though original numbered prints, and many with low numbers), and were all sort of squished together in a slap-dash manner (the Divine Comedy series was all out of order, and spread in a rather poor way across several boards that were at odd angles to each other, so you couldn't get a sense of the whole thing). However, the art itself was rather nice, and mostly things I had never seen before. I think I'd seen maybe one of the paintings out of the entire collection before, so that was quite good. Also, if you want a Dali print many of the smaller ones are quite affordable (€550) which I wasn't expecting for a "name brand" artist. Personally I'd love one of the statues of the stilty rhinoceroses he did, but those were a lot more expensive! :)

Anyway we didn't get to see the Magritte museum, which was a shame. Instead we ate frites, walked around in the rain, visited the royal library (more like royal boring -- it was basically a bunch of offices and reading rooms where you requested the books you wanted and people would go get them for you), and then went home. Oh yeah, and Nicholas found some UBUNTU COLA:

UBUNTU Cola

Unfortunately for him it wasn't free.

Monday night I made dinner, then dismantled my spinning wheel so that it could be put in a suitcase along with the wii and various other things so that Nicholas could take it and its wool-filled partner over to the UK for me. It was quite difficult! I think I'll need a few more trips across to get everything there, but if I can foist most of my unneeded things (homegoods, mostly) onto friends here then it'll be a lot easier. We also played a lot of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. This game is stupidly addictive, and Nicholas and I are in a slightly friendly point-war with it. Here's my best, which Nicholas just beat last night:

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup

Transmuters are awesome. Especially once they get Blade Hands.

Tuesday we went into Brussels to get Nicholas on the Eurostar at some ungodly hour. In doing so, we missed the excitement of the Tour de France coming through Namur, which is a bit of a shame, but when I came back the streets were filled with people and it looked like it would have been a pain to get to a place where I could have seen something, so I didn't mind too much. Also, I'm not really following the Tour this year since it requires a long attention span and the only commentary I can get is in French, so it makes it a bit tricky to know what's going on.

Anyway, I had a fun weekend. This week I'm on holidays, which is great. I have a lot of things to do before I move, but more importantly, I need a bit of a break too :) I've been working very hard getting some large documents done for work, which have worked quite well but were very tiring to complete. I have a paper to write for a summer school this week though, which I didn't realise was due (oops) but that should be easy to finish up, since I already wrote a long abstract and have done most of the actual written work already. My list of publications is becoming quite long!

As for my future, I'll be moving to the UK at the end of August, and starting a new job at a university in London working on a project that is quite technical, but requires the "gentle" touch of some ethicists. I'll be working with someone that I'm currently working with on another project, which is great, because I think we'll get along quite well. I'm so excited by the whole thing, since it works both my technical brain as well as my philosophical brain! :D

Mon, Jun 28 2010 10:23 PM

A long, overdue entry.

A lot has happened since my Spanish Adventure.

Firstly, I returned from Spain! That was pretty good.

Secondly, I quit my job and am moving to the UK. I'm currently looking at some opportunities there, so keep your fingers crossed for me! :)

Thirdly, in my notice period, I've been busy organising my life ready to move and have also taken time to enjoy some programming and I finally finished up the OS X front end to Nicholas' blogging app that I'm using to power this site now. It even handles attachments! (Hopefully -- I bet I've jinxed it by writing it now :)

Anyway, I have a lot of exciting things coming up soon: Nicholas coming to visit, going to the Formula 1 in the UK, packing, holidays, visa applications, a summer school in Sweden, holidays, and then the Big Move...!

I'm hoping with the Big Move to be able to get all my stuff over to the UK via friends/my own trips on the Eurostar. Everything I own can fit into suitcase-sized bags, and with the Eurostar's extra baggage allowance for €17.50 a bag it means I can take my things over for a lot cheaper than the cost of hiring a car and driving it over or getting a mover/shipper to send it. So I'm doing it in shifts, to a certain degree... all my wool and yarn is going off with Nicholas this weekend, along with some winter clothes.

Anyway, just a quick message to let you know I'm not dead, and there's lots of exciting things happening :) Let's see how it all goes! (and especially see how this blog tool goes! :)

Some random files that are fun:

This is the best I've ever done in Stone Soup:

Draconian Transmuter

It's a TAPR!

tapr

/b/ isn't always full of crap:

luna

Fri, Apr 16 2010 12:09 PM

Spanish Adventure

I'm in Spain. I'm not supposed to be in Spain. I'm supposed to be at home! But a volcano had other ideas.

It was ironic really: I had to leave on Thursday because we didn't have the budget for me to stay longer -- I had to run half way through my talk at a conference to catch a bus to make my plane -- and here I am now still! Anyway, the airline has looked after us very well. We got to the gate, waited for the boarding time, which came and went, then had to go retrieve our luggage and get on a bus to a mysterious "Mediterranean Diner" where they gave us lunch (at about 4pm), then we drove for about an hour to get to a hotel in a city outside of Barcelona, Sabadell. There's not a lot near our hotel here either, except for a giant department store, which was interesting to look through, but that was about it. So they've been busy feeding us and looking after us, and then tonight this was posted in the hotel lobby:

Tomorrow morning you must to leave the hotel at 9:00H for take a bus to Belgium.

"Tomorrow morning you must to leave the hotel at 9:00H for take a bus to Belgium."

Now, it's about 1400km from here to Belgium, so that'll mean at least an 18 hour bus trip! Ouch. And, I'm not sure what time we will get into Brussels, but it'll likely be after midnight, and the first trains on Sunday morning aren't until 6am. But at least we're on our way back home. Wish me luck, I'm gonna need it!

Wed, Apr 7 2010 1:31 PM

Easter and Beyond!

On my Easter weekend I went to the UK to visit Chris, a friend of mine I met via FFXI, and whom I met "in real life" when he was visiting relatives in Australia. He then proceeded to prove his honorary Aussie-hood by trekking around the bush with the Influenza A I inadvertently gave him, which absolutely floored me for a couple of weeks. Anyway, despite that small setback we stayed in touch and now that I'm over here, I occasionally go to visit him & we nerd out playing video games and, this weekend, Warhammer 40k.

So here are some of the pictures of the fabulous armies that we played with -- all painted by Chris!
armies general

More nerdy photos here!

Other things that we did on the weekend was go up to Blackpool to visit his family for Easter. This meant that I ended up with a very full tummy (delicious delicious food!) and about a metric tonne of chocolate. They're always lovely people to visit and feel a bit like a family-away-from-family -- I miss that bustling family full house feel! :) Also I now know how to make bacon rolls, lol.

We also went shopping -- which for me meant FOOD! And all the things I miss: golden syrup, allspice, other bits and pieces for cooking and baking!

Today I had a lovely day -- the university is locked up for an Easter break so I've been working at home; I got a lot of work done and then I went for a bike ride to the post office to pick up a package -- the hefty French textbook I've been waiting for. Afterwards I cycled around the town and found a video game shop that also sells retro games and second hand thingies, and picked up a new PSP charger since my last one bit the dust (long story about how I thought my whole PSP was broken; thankfully that wasn't correct and it was just the charger! phew!). So now I have a working PSP.

Another thing I did today was to watch the first couple of episodes of Supernatural season 5. I've enjoyed watching Supernatural! It's sort of a cleverly written monster hunter type story, with some interesting undercurrents that play out over the seasons. Unlike Heroes or even BSG, there haven't been any real down series yet. I do recommend it if you like ghost stories/fantasy/sci-fi/Chevy Impalas :D

Next week I'm off to Spain for work & conferences. Hopefully I'll get some time to wander about and experience Spain, but with the way things look at the moment I suspect I'll be pretty busy most the time!

Wed, Mar 24 2010 11:08 PM

Hunger for Information

I was reading this news report about the "My School" online school performance website for all of Australia's schools:

Gillard stares down teachers over My School

In the story, it talks about how school principals feel that the site is unfair because it starts to "rank" schools according to performance, without much other information. They believe (quite rightly, I think), that it will lead to "league tables" of schools and actually cause more problems than it solves.

While this is a serious set of issues, what really struck me about this was the fact that the justification Julia Gillard gave for keeping the site was that people want this information.

"We believe parents around the country have voted with their fingertips in huge numbers because they were hungry for this information." -- Julia Gillard

This is a completely stupid justification. For one, a lot of the objections from principals was that the rankings didn't have any explanation or further information, "context" if you will. Secondly, although there is a lot to be said for including parents in the processes at schools, what good is going to come from this release of information? As far as I can tell, it'll mean that teachers will not want to work at "bad" schools, parents won't want their kids to go to "bad" schools, and a huge wedge is driven in the community between the parents and the already-overworked and over-stressed teachers at disadvantaged schools.

If the government wants to encourage schools to improve performance, there are ways of doing so that don't involve shaming them in public. They are probably underfunded and under-resourced to begin with, have low morale amongst staff and students, and many other issues that stress from a ranking table and associated parent pressure won't help in the slightest.

I love information, and I want it to be free as well, but I want it to be available in a way that means that people can really discern the true meaning behind it, not just arbitrary things like rankings and tables. Statistics and ranks that are decontextualised such as these are not meaningful, and the opposite of useful for schools and their communities.

And using "but the people want it" as the justification is just awful. Information has such a lot of power to change communities. Let's use it to change them in good ways.

Sun, Mar 21 2010 6:32 AM

User Interfaces

It's astonishing how easy it was to whip up an editor for this new blog app by Nicholas. When I ran into some serious issues with permissions for uploading and things, Nicholas suggested that I embed the editor in a webkit app so I can make a GUI for it.

So, with some fear, since it's been a few years since I last did any Mac OS X programming, that's exactly what I did.

About 1 hour later, here I am typing up a blog entry in my brand new app. It looks crap (lol @ trying to resize the window, for example), it's hella dodgy (sup submitting to a web form... haha), it has hard-coded paths and links and stuff, but it works. I'm very pleased. Thanks Interface Builder & Xcode for making this so stupidly easy. lol.

Next up, in order to save face with Nicholas, I should pull all the crappy form processing from this script and make it a bit less dodgy. Hah. Yeah, shouldn't be too hard I think!

alt text

PS this is the last bit of programming for today -- I promised myself I'd clean up my house :)

Sun, Mar 21 2010 4:13 AM

Milk Update

Remember that great milk vending machine I talked about previously? Well I guess my patronage wasn't enough, because it was removed a few weeks ago. :( This makes me sad because I really liked that machine! It mooed and everything!

Anyway, since then I have had to branch out with my milk. The supermarket doesn't have a regular supply of fresh milk so I have had to get over my prejudices against UHT milk. It's actually no where near as bad as I thought. In fact, even better, I can't actually honestly taste the difference. They really must have it down to a fine art here -- I'm really impressed, given how anti-UHT I was.

The other option of course is the weekly markets: here the fromageries and crémeries sometimes sell "lait cru" (raw milk) straight from the cow to the bottle. It's a bit of a pot luck though, it's quite popular for people who want to make their own cheeses and yoghurts at home. Anyway, at €1,20/L it's a special treat, so I bought some this Saturday to make the custard tart. I had leftovers so I thought I'd try it in coffee -- it tastes amazingly awesome, but doesn't froth at all, lol. I had real trouble getting any froth out!

Still, it tasted great, as did the custard tart. Here's a picture of a slice of it!

custard tart

Perfectly set and very tasty. Things I will do next time:

  • roll the pastry a bit thinner (this would be easier with a bigger board and a proper rolling pin rather than a wine bottle covered in foil)
  • make the custard a bit richer. Any suggestions for this? I used a recipe with 3 egg yolks, 600mL milk, 2tbsp sugar, and 1tsp vanilla. It was a nice custard but not particularly creamy or too flavoured. Perhaps some more vanilla next time? More sugar? Some salt?
  • buy a tin with a removable base

om nom nom.

Sat, Mar 20 2010 11:07 AM

Custard Tart

Still in its tin, but goodness it smells good... can't wait until it cools! Any tips on how to get it out of the pan gratefully appreciated! :/

tart

I am watching this movie adaption of Nicholas Nickleby, and it's hilarious, so full of cameos of brilliant actors -- Barry Humphries, Alan Cumming, Christopher Plummer... and new ones keep popping up!