So much has happened in the last month and I have been remiss in writing about any of it. The end of 2004 is upon us and it's a good opportunity to catch up on past events and to plan for the future.
The year is ending on a very sad note for hundreds of thousands of people across the Indian Ocean and the rest of the world who have lost lives, families, friends and homes through the recent earthquake and tsunami. We should all learn from the disaster that life is fragile and precious. The universe is hard enough as it is to waste it on conflict and idealogy, another terrible feature of this year and too many others.
The CMIS Conference
I spent the first three days of December at the CSIRO Mathematical & Information Sciences Conference held at the Brighton Beach Novotel on Botany Bay. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet CMIS people from across the country - despite working for CMIS for the last 8 months, most were unknown to me. The mathematics were inspirational, the management stuff repetitive and somewhat depressing. The huge room at the hotel felt rather lonely without B; it was the same hotel that we had spent our wedding night and anniversary. Despite the theme of "healthy Future" I'm certain that I put on weight with the huge buffet meals on offer!
Adelaide - Nanna's Birthday
No rest after the conference, as it was off to Adelaide the next day to celebrate my Nanna's 90th birthday. All my family were there, the third time I'd seen them this year. The celebration included a stretched limousine ride with my siblings and Nanna from the nursing home to the party. We were introduced to the "Yorkshire pudding" at the hot buffet (again!) lunch, though I don't see how a lump of leftover dough used to scoop up leftover gravy can be considered exciting. The previous day Mum, Katherine, B and I had eaten German sausages in Hahndorf, a place quite dissimilar to the Bavarian towns we had visited earlier in the year.
Walking the streets of Adelaide brought back many memories. It was on holidays there that I had decided I wanted to return to high school after home schooling, that I would study university in the southern states. Dreams of becoming a research scientist resurfaced. The colour of the land there is different to New South Wales and Queensland, the concrete and steel power poles unique to South Australia, familiar after many drives through the state. Adelaide seems a somewhat snobby place, but I like the land.
I was very excited to visit the South Australian Museum. I had recently been reading books on early life, including Knoll's Life on a Young Planet and Walker's Snowball Earth and to see the big collection of Ediacaran, Cambrian and Pre-Cambrian fossils was a real thrill. Unfortunately, the buzz was spoiled late that night when the elder of my two brothers wanted to talk to me about God and Creationism. He had just been off to Guy Sebastien's (the first Australian Idol winner) church. Damn the publicity they got out of that. I don't mind if people want to believe in a god, that's their right. However, to see an intelligent person believe creationist drivel, let alone be a public school teacher who want's to "save" me and everyone else is disappointing. It's really difficult to have confidence in the human race at such times. I'm tired of fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim, Economic Rationalist, Communist, etc) who believe that they have all the answers and demand that we all follow their particular gospel. Not knowing everything is a challenge, not something to be frightened of.
It's Not Over
I looked forward to that wonderfully quiet pre-Christmas time when nothing is due and nobody is in a hurry to get things done. However, on my return from Adelaide I discovered that the time penalty from my last assignment, plus the other rush job aspects, had left me with nothing to show for my efforts. Fortunately, or not, there were some university rules that allowed me a second chance at the project. Then the confirmation came through, with a new deadline of just a week away. I was tired, I wanted so much to rest, yet I somehow had to do a few months work in a week.
The results weren't perfect, but somehow I managed to churn out something that, I think, was far better than what came out before. When others were still drinking away at the site Christmas party, I was writing conclusions at the computer, submitting the work five minutes before the deadline.
I'm not going to continue my astronomy studies next year. Trying to combine my work, study and travel is just too difficult. However, I do not regret doing the course. I learned a lot, and more importantly gained a lot of confidence using research tools and science papers, more than I did during my entire previous stints at university.
By now I was ready for a nice long rest. However, in the interests of fairness to both sides of the family B and I had agreed to accompany her family on a Christmas vacation to Cairns. I prefer to stay home, or at least go to a house decorated up for the occasion rather than a hotel room. Neither was I looking forward to more air travel.
The trip ended up alright. Cairns was hot and humid, frequently wet as well. Your brain switches off in the tropics, but I didn't really need it for anything. We had a very enjoyable trip out to Green Island, snorkeled (poorly) just out to the reef; had a better view of it from the semi-submersible and glass-bottomed boat. The next day we had planned to go white water rafting, but cancelled due to the expense (and general laziness on my part).
The flight back was pretty stable (except for turbulence around Brisbane - why is one side of Brissy always turbulent and not the other?). Since then I have spent the last two days at home - relaxing!
So on to 2005! There's a lot to think about and a lot to do. Firstly, I'm worried about my job. I had just received a letter confirming my employment until October next year when I heard the news that the Industrial Physics division of the CSIRO could well be disbanded in the new year (the International Year of Physics!). That would probably have a flow on effect to my own position and I might find myself out of a job before October.
There is also the question of what I want to do with myself. I feel like I've gone backwards since my contract as webmaster at the ATNF was not renewed. My current position is far less technical and less senior than before. Unfortunately, the various levels of CSIRO Communications appear to have an attitude that technology development is unimportant, while ensuring that a web page has the right colours and business language is crucial. Hence we are left with systems that don't scale and don't actually do anything much, with little opportunity to push them forwards. I want to do so much more for them.
I enjoy working for the CSIRO. Even the level of corporate bullshit I have to put up with in my current position is difficult to take - it would be even worse returning to the corporate world. Where can you escape this nonsense nowdays? I'm hoping that I can translate my rediscovered passion for research into working with some of the scientists at the CSIRO, but does anyone really want my particular skillset when they can have PhD's with stellar academic records from great universities all around the world? I discovered that one of the decision makers for my last contract despised web workers in general, so no wonder I didn't get my ATNF contract renewed.
It's so difficult to make decisions about such things as having kids when you don't know how long your job will last. I wish that I could just be left alone to work really hard on doing a good job, rather than trying to justinfy my relevance every day. I suspect that it is the opinion of many within the CSIRO, faced with constant reviews. Simpler to be an unthinking corporate drone perhaps than someone who cares. It makes me cynical, and I don't like being cynical.
Some good news for 2005 is that we have just paid for yet another trip to Europe. The last trip was going to be our last for a long while, but after B's brother setting a wedding date for October in Singapore, we couldn't resist the opportunity. Singapore is a transit hub for flights to Europe, and it is not that much more expensive to treat it as a stopover for an onwards flight. This time we plan to see London, Spain and regional France. Flying back, we will spend a few days in Japan as well. After that we'll settle down!
All the best for new year!