Thursday, May 29, 2008

Indian Premier League

Twice over the last month I've woken up early and caught the end of a broadcast from the Indian Premier League, the new cricket tournament that seems set to take over the sport. The games have been entertaining, although inconvenient to watch from my time zone unless insomnia is involved.

The IPL uses the 20-20 format, which reduces cricket games to 120 balls per side and a total time of three hours. Cricket becomes strikingly similar to baseball when compressed to a comparable time scale. About half the shots are played as big, cross-batted swings, rather than the defensive vertical strokes that predominate in test (5 day) cricket. Also, a dot ball (no runs scored from a single delivery) becomes a positive outcome for the fielding team, as opposed to a neutral outcome in test cricket.

There was one other parallel to American baseball. Virtually all the support, sponsorship and TV money for the IPL comes from India, and a majority of the players are Indian. However a significant minority of top players hail from smaller, more obscure island countries, although in cricket these are Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka as opposed to the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Don't Know Much About Geography ...

My Christian meditation group were discussing an event at Hurstville when one of the group members asked where it was. When I checked if she was serious, it seemed she was. Someone else jumped in to say that Hurstville is in Sydney's west, when actually it's in the southern suburbs. Hurstville is one of six suburban centres prominent enough to be listed in Sydney's Wikipedia entry, and yet quite a few long term Sydneysiders don't know where it is.

Now I'm intrigued. Could you name the five or ten most important suburbs in your home city, and give rough locations for them? If not, don't you feel that you should?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Attention on the Production Line

A spiritual discipline I learnt some time ago at the School of Philosophy is resting the attention on the working surface and letting everything else go. I practised this at one of my temp jobs today, with an intriguing result.

I was working on a production line for environmental test kits: little swabs in a sealed test tube. My step in the assembly process was to insert the lid and attached swab into the test tube and close it. The machine then moved the test tube along to a press that stamped the lid down and sealed it shut. I had to shift the focus of my attention about once a second, as the working surface changed from my left hand picking up a new swab and transferring it to my right hand, to the swab sliding down the inside of the test tube, to the lid closing against the top of the tube.

I observed a fascinating phenomenon for the brief periods when I kept my attention solely on these working surfaces and abandoned thoughts of morning tea or the novel I'm reading. My perception of time slowed down dramatically: the machine kept stepping the test tubes along at the same rate, but the apparent time per step seemed to double. Stopping the daydreams and focussing only on the present moment freed up so much perceived time that I felt like a character in the Matrix.

This is great, but I'll need to learn two things. Firstly, how to remain in the fully alert state for more than five or ten seconds at a time. Secondly, how to apply a high level of attention to creative or mental activities, rather than just repetitive physical ones.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Employment Update

In the last two months I've been looking for a job in finance. Some of the roles are very mathematical and analytical, so I could apply the skills I picked up in my physics and maths degrees and my physics research.

Unfortunately it's is a bad year for finance employment due to the credit crunch (not quite as bad in Australia as in the US and Europe but still pretty bad). I sent my CV around to most of the banks, investment banks and funds managers in Australia and while I had a few interviews I didn't receive any offers. I'm suspending my job search for the moment and will start a part-time master's degree at UTS (University of Technology, Sydney) in July. I'll start looking through the job ads and sending in applications again towards the end of the year, when the hiring environment may have improved and when my CV will be strengthened by the first few courses of the master's degree.

I'll try to find full time work for the next six months, although I'm not sure what form that will take. It would have to be something that lets me focus on my study, but hopefully has some relevance to a quantitative finance job.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Classic Sports Commentary

Tonight's Australia vs. New Zealand rugby league test match produced some lines that have to be preserved for posterity.
  • "Perpendicular: that means upwards, doesn't it?"
  • "New Zealand need Sonny Bill Williams to pass to Sonny Bill Williams."
  • "The sky's not big enough, you're talking about the stratosphere or maybe the universe when you're talking about the limit for this young man."

Shameless Self-Promotion

I had a letter to the editor published on the Economist web site. Apparently I was quite insightful in making the point that China must be a powerful country now that everyone hates it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Has Sydney's Air Become Cleaner?

Over the last few weeks I've often seen the Blue Mountains from places near my flat in Crows Nest, such as the Harbour Bridge and the Pacific Highway. They're at least 50km away (80km for some of the higher ridges) but can be clearly seen on a majority of cloudless days.

I recall this happening only occasionally back in the late 90s; most days there was too much haze to see any part of the Blue Mountains. I don't know what it is (old sooty cars being taken off the road? fewer home fireplaces as people renovate?) but particulate emissions in the Sydney basin seem to be way down.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Unexpected Accuracy in a Blockbuster Movie

I saw the movie "Iron Man" this afternoon, and thought it was a pretty good superhero movie, even if the plot wasn't particularly original. While there was some dodgy science (to be expected in this sort of movie), I was pleased to see the writers get one big thing right and add one small detail.

Big thing: the power source was the critical component of the Iron Man suit, which only the genius Tony Stark could invent. In real life energy storage is a major limiting factor in a number of technologies e.g. electric cars or the conversion of power grids to solar generators.

Small detail: James Rhodes, Tony's air force liaison, is clearly wearing an MIT class ring in some scenes. It's a cute touch that only MIT alumni would even notice.

Unexpected Benefits of Glasses

I started to wear glasses a couple of months ago, after the lenses inside my eyes became less flexible with age and lost the ability to focus on distant objects. My distance vision was probably deteriorating for a year or two before that and probably affected my perception of England. I thought the English landscape was soft and blurry, which I attributed at the time to the abundant vegetation and persistent drizzle. Now I think it was just out of focus!

My specs have given me a much sharper view of useful things like stars and street signs, but they're also proving useful as shields. Last weekend at a party I stood near a fire, and some smoke that blew in my direction hurt my eyes much less than I expected. This evening I sliced some onions while making dinner, and found that I didn't need to submerge them to stop my eyes watering. Four eyes are actually better than two.

One final point: I know some of my relatives have taken digital photos of me in the last couple of months. Could someone send me one of these recent photos to use as an accurate profile picture?