Tag: events

Pangea Day

Today, I volunteered at Pangea Day, ‘a global event bringing the world together through film’. I surveyed people about how they travelled to the London event. We will use this information to work out the carbon footprint of Pangea Day in London and Los Angeles.

The films were great, really thoughtful and often funny. The hosts and speakers were a little bit too earnest for my taste. My favourite part of the evening was at the very end, when percussionists all around the world played to the same rhythm. We had video feeds with drummers from USA, Rwanda, Egypt, India, and other places, as well as Planet Drum live on stage in London. I was dancing on our picnic rug.

Watch all the films here. One of my favourites is Elevator Music. My friend George recommends More, which I didn’t get to see because I was surveying people.

Extroverted blind beavers

Last night, I joined a pub quiz team called ‘Extroverted blind beavers’. I am very bad at pub quizzes. It would not be honest to blame it on me being an Australian in a UK pub.

When I do have an answer, though, it’s to questions that few others can answer. I have random pockets of information.

For example, I identified the title of this book.

How, I have no idea. I don’t think I’ve read it before, I just had a vague feeling it was something about a prince.

Thanks to Damjan, I knew with absolute certainty that the country hosting this year’s Eurovision final is Serbia.

Having debated this at Hamley’s toy store with American friends, Debra and John, I knew that the first Monopoly game was based on Atlantic City in the US.

The question that made me happiest, though, was ‘What is the name of Bob the Builder’s cat?’

You see, that morning, I had to watch five minutes of Bob the Builder with Neo, while waiting for the bathroom to be free. The episode was about Bob cutting a cat flap in his door. I remember thinking, ‘That cat’s named after a fish.’

While at the quiz, I struggled for a few minutes to remember exactly what fish it was. Then I got it: Pilchard.


Pilchard the cat


Pilchard the sardine

America in food form

Our house celebrated Independence Day with a BBQ today. I stuffed myself silly with cookies, brownies, strawberries, pie, watermelon, zucchini bread and a concoction of orange, cottage cheese and whipped cream. Then, when dessert was done, I had a homemade hamburger and hot dogs, hot off the grill, plus a Southern pasta salad and American chilli. I am so sad that I am too full to eat any more food.

Vegetarian kebabs

Blueberry pie, which was declared, ‘America in food form’.


What Independence Day party would be complete without an American flag cake?


I went to Oxford on the weekend for my first gig as the designated photographer (I was paid in food, drink and dancing). The event was the Balliol College MCR garden party, ‘A Summer Night at Sea’. I learned something about being an event photographer: because you don’t know the people, it’s difficult to remember if you got everyone at some point during night.

Didn’t know I was looking for love until I fondue

I cannot think of the word ‘fondue’ without singing the Everything but the Girl‘s song ‘I didn’t know I was looking for love‘ …until I found you.

I’m a fan of the chocolate version, and luckily for me, Anna decided that chocolate fondue would be the centrepiece for our girls’ night in.

In a typical engineering course, you might get about 15% of students being female. Our engineering for sustainable development class is blessed with 33% women, and with the partners of men in the class, we could have up to seventeen women at our social events.

After extensive and sensitive consultation, Anna determined that it would not be politically incorrect to have a girls’ night in. Sorry guys, you’re not invited. Monday was the night (the beginning of May Week) and it was a decadant night of mojitos, corn chips, summer fruits and chocolate fondue, ice cream, jelly, buttered popcorn, chick flicks and natter about childbirth, women in science and business, the cultural role of women around the world, and… our dissertations. (There is no escape.)

The gorgeous women of the engineering for sustainable development community.

Anna and I went to the Video Emporium to hire chick flicks. Not knowing people’s precise tastes and moods, we covered all the ground and rented Like water like chocolate (foreign language weepie), Erin Brockovich (girl power + environmentalism), and My big fat Greek wedding (funny and supposedly pointpointingly accurate).

To boldly go: An evening with Stephen Hawking

“It’s like he’s a rock star,” Alex remarked, as we joined the long queue snaking up the staircase from the entry to the Arthur Goodhart Lecture Theatre in the Law Faculty.

It was Wednesday night on January 24, 2007 and hundreds of people had snapped up seats to hear Professor Stephen Hawking speak on “To boldly go. My life in physics.” Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, was giving the first Gates Distinguished Lecture of 2007.

As I found my place in the packed theatre, I thought “holy prophet” was probably a more appropriate descriptor than “rock star.” There were no screaming fans; instead the lecture theatre of people expressed their awe in absolute silence. When Hawking entered, the only sound was the whirr of his motorised wheelchair.

Over the next hour or so, Hawking described his life in that famous synthesised voice, complete with American accent, despite Hawking being entirely British. Hawking did his undergraduate physics degree at The Other Place – “ ‘A very easy course,’ he observed. ‘When they asked what I would do after I graduated, I said, ‘If you give me a First, I will go to Cambridge. If you give me a Second, I will stay at Oxford.’ ”

Hawking was awarded a First, and Oxford’s loss was Cambridge’s gain.

A Twist of Fate

Hawking is humble about the path he has taken to scientific and popular fame. He explained that it could have been very different had he been granted his first choice of PhD supervisor, Fred Hoyle. Hoyle worked in the then-glamorous field of elementary particle physics. “None of my work from that period would have survived,” Hawking said. Instead, Hawking was diverted into the underdeveloped fields of cosmology and gravitation. This twist of fate meant that Hawking found himself in the centre of the most fundamental of debates on the nature of the universe. Did the universe have a beginning? Does it have a fixed mass or is it steady state, with new mass being created to keep density constant? “It is just as well I wasn’t a student of Hoyle, because then I would have had to defend the Steady State Theory,” Hawking mused. That theory was waiting to be discredited by astronomical observations by 1965.

A turning point came when Hawking began to collaborate with Roger Penrose. Penrose’s work allowed Hawking to realise that if stars could form singularities (points of infinite density and zero volume), then there would be singularities at the beginning of space-time.

“It was a glorious feeling, having a whole field to ourselves. It was unlike particle physics where people are falling over themselves to latch onto the latest theory. They still are.”

Betting on Black Holes

The world that Hawking describes is familiar to all of us who are navigating our way through academic research. He told us of egos and competition, chance discoveries, serendipitous meetings, pointless seminars, absent-minded supervisors, and eureka moments (“I can’t compare it to sex but it lasts longer”).

The only difference between Hawking’s world and ours is that he was making (and losing) bets on the nature of black holes, developing theory far ahead of experimental evidence (and being vindicated when technology finally caught up), and bouncing off other unique minds like Penrose and Feynman. He did all this while living with motor neuron disease. Being unable to move or speak without human and computer help has not stopped Hawking from pioneering new scientific theories, writing best sellers like A Brief History of Time, and starring in three episodes of The Simpsons.

“Professor Hawking,” came the final question of the night. “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?”

Hawking took his moments in time to compose an answer. His helper explained that the professor selects his words by tensing the muscles in his right cheek. The presentation had, of course, been largely pre-composed. Answering our questions that night would take longer.

We, who indulge in txt msg and msn chat language without thinking, were willing to wait. Hawking offered a perfectly composed response:

“Why did you make M-theory so difficult?”

Published in the spring 2007 Gates Cambridge Scholarship newsletter

The dancesport haka

I went to the Varsity Dancesport competition between Cambridge and Oxford. The scoring system is very interesting. The competition is split into two levels. The A team is generally better than the B team, with a few exceptions of experienced couples who are not eligible for A team because they’re not students of Cambridge or Oxford.

Everyone dances four dances: Waltz and quickstep for the modern ballroom section; and cha cha and jive for the latin section. Everyone ends up dancing the waltz three times, the quickstep three times, and so on. It’s set up like a round robin so that different combinations of Cambridge and Oxford couples dance against each other. I believe that by the time all the waltzes are done, every Cambridge couple has waltzed against every Oxford couple, and the audience has sat through about eight or nine rounds of waltz (it could have been more or less — I couldn’t keep track). The algorithm for selecting couples for rounds was a mystery to me. I had no idea what was going on for most of it. Then, of course, it’s repeated for the other three dances.

The couples are ranked in each round and awarded points. Cambridge couples’ points are aggregated and compared to the sum of Oxford couples’ points. The two latin dances are added together, as are the two ballroom. So a score is reported for Cambridge ballroom versus Oxford ballroom, then Cambridge latin versus Oxford latin. The ballroom and latin scores are summed and the winning team has the highest points.

This year, Cambridge won the B Team match for the first time. It also won the A Team match by a long way. It seems that all year, Cambridge has been trumping Oxford. These are the top two university dancesport teams in the UK and they take turns being on top. It would have been quite an experience to dance with the team. I’m sorry I’ve missed my opportunity.

Here are a few photos I took. No spectacular ones but I was there to enjoy watching the dancing rather than take photos, so anything decent was a bonus.

A quiet moment on the dancefloor.

I tried to pan with the moving couples (that is, follow the couples with my camera while the aperture was open) and actually came up with some clearer ones than this. But I like the colour and the composition here.

This is the Cambridge A Team’s ‘walk on’ for the latin section, which was a pretty cool routine. Think of it as equivalent to the All Blacks’s Haka, which is meant to frighten the bejeezers out of the opposition.

For reference, here is the All Blacks’s haka… Yep. That’s exactly what the ‘walk on’ was like.

For your information, Tonga (in the red) lost that match 90 to 7. Maybe the Oxford team need to have a chat to our mates in New Zealand…

And now, back to our normal programming — ‘A Team’ Latin.

Hey, I stick my tongue out at my dance partners as well!

And here she is, with a more conventional ‘dancesport’ face.

Trivia champions

We won! We won! We won the company’s yearly trivia competition. There were ten teams of ten. We were Feng Shui Consulting, and the karma was good. It was a team effort — Jamie was Lord of Geography, Peter dragged music facts from the recesses of his audio memory, Simone was ’80s Queen, Garrick nailed the air guitar, Rob led the charge on sport… I contributed the following small facts.

Question:Who are the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council?
Answer: USA, UK, Russia, China and France

I knew this because the same question recently showed up in the Herald Sun Quiz Master so I knew that Japan wasn’t one of the permanent members. My fellow team mates were perplexed by it as I had been. “How did France get on it?” they asked. “Probably because it keeps getting invaded by other countries,” was the answer.

Question: How many unique words does Dr. Seuss use in ‘Green Eggs and Ham?’
Answer: 49

I said 50 but they accepted it. According to Wikipedia, I was right.

Question: What is the largest freshwater body of water in the world?
Lake Superior

Tara, a Candian, said, “It’s not fresh! It’s contaminated!” There was some controversy about if ‘largest’ was by surface area or by volume. Jamie argued the answer could have been Lake Baikal, which is the deepest and largest freshwater lake by volume.

Question: Is a zebra white with black stripes or black with white stripes?
Answer: White with black stripes

This is one of the Odd Spots that features on Libra feminine hygiene products.

Question: Name Santa’s eight reindeer.
Answer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen

As a kid, I memorised The Night Before Christmas. It was a song on my favourite and only Christmas carol CD. There was more controversy — people protested that Rudolph, an obvious answer, had not been included. In his confusion, our MC Jeremy allowed Ruldolph to be included but then overturned his decision after it was revealed that Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was not one of the original eight reindeer, but rather a modern addition to Santa’s fleet.

Question: What decade was the Eiffel Tower constructed?
Answer: The 1880s

Haha… I got this one because when I was at the Eiffel Tower only three months ago, I tried to read every one of the 100 interpretive signs that were put up in 1988 to celebrate the centenary of the Eiffel Tower.

Question: Which was the first national park to be established in the world?
Answer: Yellowstone National Park

I’ve been to the other Y Park (Yosemite). Yellowstone would probably be the place I want to visit the most in the world.

Question: What does ‘etemology’ mean?
Answer: Study of word origins.

When Jeremy asked this one, a couple of us immediately said, “Study of insects.” Clair scribbled it down but then I had a thought. “Hey, wait. Did he say ‘entemology’ or ‘etemology’?” When people shrugged, I called out, “Hey, Jeremy! ‘Ent’ or ‘et’? Was it entemology or etemology?” He spelled it out. Ah ha! I turned to Clair. “Ooh, I know this one! It’s words, the origins of words. I have etemological discussions with friends.”

Question: In what country would you find the Mojave Desert?
Answer: USA (California).

My family drove across the Mojave Desert in 2004. It’s the flattest place I have ever seen. I saw tumbleweed roll across the highway, just like in the cartoons.

I remember one time, Jason was driving and we had all fallen asleep. I was the first to wake up and I glaced at the speedo. I read 110 mph. “Jason!” I gasped, as a quick mental calcuation came up with almost 180 km/h. He gave me a guilty, sheepish, disappointed look and eased back on the accelerator.

The MC also played the opening bars of a number of songs. I named Pump It by the Black Eyed Peas.

The team that came last was made up of the guys from IT support. I suspect they didn’t do so well because there were so many sports questions and no technology ones. I would have liked some science questions but the trivia master focused on sports, geography, pop culture and music.

I’m not complaining, though. We each ended up with a $25 voucher from JB Hifi, hurrah!


There was an under-13 hiphop troupe dancing to ‘My Humps‘ by the Black Eyed Peas. It’s a catchy song with obnoxious lyrics. It was also very popular at Crown this year. This would have been the tenth time I’d heard it.

Something was badly wrong with their CD, though. It kept skipping. The girls were fantastic. They just kept going and even when it jumped a bar or two ahead, they readjusted their dancing to keep up.

Everyone was horrified at how badly it was going — and the fact the DJ kept it going. It was torture. Usually in these situations, the DJ will stop the CD, clean it or find an alternative version, and put it back on so that the troupe can start again. But these girls kept ploughing through.

At the end, everyone cheered and clapped. It was the roar of sympathy and respect. The girls, so young and so professional, bowed and left the floor. Many of them were crying. It was the biggest competition of the year and their one chance to perform was ruined by something they couldn’t control.

Later in the night, it was time for the under-16 hiphop event. According to the program, there were eleven troupes in this section. However, after the final troupe had danced, they announced a late-registered twelfth item. The under-13 troupe with the skipping CD had been allowed to dance up a level. They had a second chance!

Everyone cheered when they came onto the floor. The music streamed out clearly and they began their routine. One minute later, inexplicably, the music stopped. I whipped around to look at the DJ, shocked. This was the last thing this troupe needed. What was going on?

The girls paused, uncertain. But, from the sidelines, without skipping a beat, their friends from the dance studio were singing. They continued from where the song had stopped. ‘My Humps’ was the song of the month, everyone knew the lyrics. Hell, after hearing every fifth troupe dance to it, even the most pop-clueless in the room knew the lyrics.

The singing swelled as people joined in. Encouraged, the girls started dancing again. They danced the rest of the verse and a chorus before the DJ restarted the track. It was the greatest audience participation I had ever seen in a dance competition.