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Archived Posts for December 2008

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Dec 08
Dec 08

A (belated) Merry Christmas and (premature) Happy New Year

My parents came to visit over the Christmas break. I showed them around the campus, then we spent a few days in San Fran, with a nice daytrip down the coast to Monterey and Carmel. The only thing we did in Monterey was visit the aquarium, which was of particular interest to me since it was one of the filming locations for my favourite Trek movie. As the aquarium doesn’t actually have any whales, nor a whale tank, the digital effects guys had to digitally construct them, along with a backdrop of the San Francisco skyline. The movie was filmed in the 80s and although the aquarium has been updated quite a bit since then, all of the filming spots were pretty much unchanged. Apparently, people have gone to the aquarium after watching Star Trek IV only to be disappointed to find the closest thing to a whale there is the life-sized plastic model they have suspended from the roof.

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South of Monterey is the famed Pebble Beach golf course which borders the Pacific Ocean. At $495 for a round, it’s a rich person’s course. Staying there costs a few thousand bucks a night. One of my dad’s friends had the opportunity to play there, but he unfortunately didn’t have time to enjoy the views. Apparently they place marshalls at each hole to keep players moving quickly – they try and push as many groups through as possible since they clear about $2k for each foursome. There are a whole bunch of golf courses in the area, including Cypress Point. Cypress Point is a very difficult course, but it has some admired holes, including the notorious 16th. It’s a par 3, but to make the front of the green, you have to be able to carry your ball over 200 yards. In between the green and tee area, it’s all ocean. I’d need at least a spoon (3 wood) to make that distance. There’s a “bail out” zone to the left, but you still have to carry 150 yards.

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On the 22nd, we flew into Dallas to spend Christmas with my uncle’s family. It was a chilly zero degrees C when we arrived. One of my cousins is studying in Boston and he had planned to fly in on the same day, but the weather up there was way below zero and his flight was cancelled. He arrived a couple days later.

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I had only been to Dallas once, and that was exactly 15 years ago. My uncle pulled out some old camcorder footage which showed me playing with my cousins in the backyard – we were firing super soakers and chucking water balloons at each other in the dead of winter! This time around, I visited the Sixth Floor Museum, which is housed in the building from which JFK was shot. Quite an interesting place, especially in light of the references to JFK’s civil rights work and display text which was written in a pre-Barack Obama world. Of course, the pall of assassination hanging over the place is sobering, and obviously a concern today. On Christmas Day, we attended a midnight mass which was novelly conducted in English and repeated in Spanish (which really drew out the service…) and went to a Christmas party at a neighbour’s house (to which my uncle’s family had been attending for the last 15 or so years). On Boxing Day, the weather warmed up considerably, hitting an incredible 26 degrees. We took the opportunity to hit the factory outlets. We also did a lot of eating. All in all, it was a good trip.

I’m back in California for New Year’s… I’ve realised that out of the last nine January 1sts, I’ve only been in Australia for one of them. Running back through the past nine New Year’s Days, I’ve been in Hong Kong, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, Singapore, Lucerne and Hong Kong. Kind of a pity, since Sydney fireworks are such a great spectacle. But I do enjoy Hong Kong where I’m of average height so I can actually see things going on instead of smelling armpits the whole night.

Some photos:
Miscellaneous Bay Area pics
Winter Holiday pics

Facebook is a pretty convenient place to post photos these days. One gripe I have though is that I wish they allowed higher resolution photos (perhaps they eventually will, just as YouTube now caters for HD vids). You can’t make prints from photos 604 pixels wide.

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  1:59am (GMT -8.00)  •  Life  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Dec 08

Cities over the last 365 days (2008)

Reprising this 2006 post, here’s a list of cities and towns I’ve passed through over the last year. I think I forgot to do this last year.

Sydney, Australia*
Hong Kong, China
Kampala, Uganda††
Moshi, Tanzania
Arusha, Tanzania
Lake Manyara, Tanzania
Redang, Malaysia
San Francisco, CA*
Stanford, CA*
Yosemite, CA
Lake Tahoe, CA/NV
New York, NY
Monterey/Carmel-By-the-Sea, CA††
Dallas, TX

All places had overnight visits, unless marked with ††.
* Multiple entries, non-consecutive days.
†† Daytrip only.

  9:44pm (GMT -8.00)  •  Travel  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Dec 08

“Blissfully cholera free”

The law school still has exams running to the end of this week, but finals for the rest of the uni finished up last Friday and the campus has pretty muched cleared out since then with people going home or elsewhere on holiday. Friends have started putting up status messages on Facebook telling everyone where they are or where they’re going to be, but the one below was just surreal (he’s Indian-Zimbabwean and his family is in Zimbabwe). And in the meantime, more sinister stuff is going down in that country…

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  11:55am (GMT -8.00)  •  Life  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (1)  • 
Dec 08
Dec 08


This is some pretty misleading headlining by the Herald:

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“Obama caught in corruption scandal”

Compare this to the Times:

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“Illinois governor in corruption scandal”

Dec 08
Dec 08

Six banks, with change left over

Spending a thrilling afternoon studying in the library. Kev just sent me an email that’s been making the rounds:

A year ago Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), within a consortium paid US$100bn for ABN Amro (of which 80% was cash).

The same amount today would buy:
Citibank ($22.5bn),
Morgan Stanley ($10.5bn),
Goldman Sachs ($21.0bn),
Merrill Lynch ($12.3bn),
Deutsche Bank ($13.0bn), and
Barclays ($12.7bn),
…and still have $8bn in change. ..!!

Dec 08
Dec 08
Dec 08
Dec 08

What makes Australian unis unusual

Life at a US university is a lot different from life at an Australian one. Students in the US rarely stay in the same state, much less the same city, when they go to university. The result is that students live away from home and therefore live “in residence” on campus. This lends itself to a much more involving student life, and a much more diverse student body. The Aussie norm is that people go the biggest university in their own city. This concept is alien to Americans. This article expresses that observation well:

But from the point of view of students, perhaps the most striking difference I’ve noticed between Australian universities and those in the other countries in which I’ve worked, is the relative dearth of residence or college places in the older, and best, universities. …

If you are from Sydney you go to a Sydney university; if from Melbourne to one in Melbourne. University students stay at home. They commute to, and home from, the campus. The overall learning experience – in both a narrow academic sense and in a wider life-changing (including having fun) sense – is far inferior to going to a residence university.

Given any two universities even remotely comparable in their academic excellence, if one is residence and the other commuter, students should do whatever they possibly can to attend the residence one. (emphasis added)

I thoroughly agree with this article. I attended my first two years at UNSW living from home. It was a two hour commute each way, making for a total of four hours of travel each day. With that much travelling time, I didn’t hang around campus much more than I needed to. Socializing was done in the breaks between classes and on Friday nights and weekends. If class time at uni for a day was less than the travelling time, I just wouldn’t turn up at all. It wasn’t worth it. I certainly wasn’t in the mood to get involved in any extra-curricular activities. During my second year, I started working in North Sydney, which meant that I was travelling for five hours a day. I finally had enough, and moved into an apartment 5 minutes’ walk from campus. That made a world of difference – it was so much easier to get involved in campus life and activities, although there was still the tendency for people to disperse to the suburbs after classes. (While my 4 hour commute was unusual, a great deal of people had 2-3 hour commutes.)

When everyone lives on or near campus, the difference is phenomenal. It builds a student community. I have a feeling that’s one of the reasons why, despite the law school student body here being more than five times smaller than UNSW law school, the events organized by the students here easily doubles what UNSW offered. (To be sure, there’s more money flowing around here, but the UNSW Law Society was nonetheless the best funded law student organization in Australia when I was there.) It’s hard to meet people to arrange things when they are only in at uni for a few hours each day, and most of that time is spent in classes. When you’re on campus, it’s easy to just “drop in” at all hours of the day. It’s so much more time efficient as well. So, in relation to this particular aspect, I’m a great believer in the US education system.

In contrast, I think Australia is unusual. For many Asian countries, it seems usual for students to travel overseas for education, and I think they are better for it. When I was finishing up high school, it wasn’t even on my radar to consider an overseas, or even an interstate, university. But I think that it should have been. I don’t think the culture of Australian universities in terms of changing to an in-residence culture will eventuate anytime soon, so looking to overseas universities is a great alternative. (Just come back to Australia afterwards!)

Dec 08

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