Category Archives: Adventures

Bridge to Brisbane run

On Sunday I entered the annual Bridge to Brisbane run. This was the first time I entered this event and I was quite impressed at the number of people who entered, about 20,000 in total. I finished the 12km course in 53 minutes and 44 seconds for a total place of 829th.

The course starts by crossing the Gateway Bridge, Brisbane’s largest bridge, and then follows the Brisbane River to New Farm Park near the city. The purpose of the event is to raise money for skin cancer research, which is quite ironic since they made us sit in the scorching heat for about 2 hours following the race to hear the results of the prize draws.

In addition to just plain old running, the event has a constume competition. As a result, there were poor sods running the 12km course in all manner of whacky costumes, from zinc sticks to pirate ships to complete horse drawn chariots.

Photos from the event are available here.

Image linked from the Sunday Mail.

Climbing the Zugspitze

To finish off my holiday in Germany, where I have been visiting relatives in Berlin and Baden-Baden, I made a short detour to the German Alps, where I climbed Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze (2964m). I have only ever visited the Alps in winter for a skiing holiday and visiting in summer is a completely different, yet equally beautiful experience.

The climb started from the German-Austrian border town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen at 700m. From there the route follows through the Partnachklamm, an extraordinary narrow gorge created by the runoff from molten snow off the Zugspitze. The route then continued up the Rheintal, a beautiful valley between two long rock-faces. The Rheintal leads directly up to the Zugspitz plateau (Zugspitzplatt), a popular skiing destination in winter, where I learned to ski about five years ago. From the plateau the summit is reached by ascending a steep snow slope followed by some rock-scrambling. At the summit of the Zugspitze is the famous Münchener Haus (Munich House), a bar/restaurant, which can be accessed by gondola or cog-wheel train from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. For this reason, unlike most Alpine peaks, which are secluded and solitary, the summit of the Zugspitze is teeming with tourists. This is not quite the atmosphere that a mountaineer hopes to be rewarded with, although I have to confess that it is quite nice to able to sit down and have a coffee after climbing for 7 hours.

Only an hour into my journey, while still on the completely flat part of the Rheintal, my right knee, which I injured several months ago during the Brisbane Marathon, began playing up again. I was determined not to give up, even though I had virtually the entire ascent ahead of me, so instead of turning back I started experimenting with different ways of walking so as to try and remove the strain from the painful part of my knee. I tried everything from walking with a rigid leg to taking very long steps and must have looked like something from Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks skit. I eventually discovered that by walking 45 degrees sideways and cross-stepping I could walk without any pain in my knee whatsoever. So this is how I continued for the rest of the 22+ km journey, looking like Zorba the Greek turned hiker. This must have been quite amusing for the seven other parties I met along the way.

I was very fortunate to have had extremely good weather on the day making for an incredible view. From the summit I could see as far as Munich, the Großglockener (Austria’s highest mountain), the Italian Dolomites and the Swiss Alps.

View from the summit of the Zugspitze (2964m), looking towards the German-Austrian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Travel debacles

Today I have two bitter rants:

  • After spending approximately 24 hours travelling from Brisbane to Baltimore, via Auckland, Los Angeles and Chicago, and feeling somewhat tired from lack of sleep, I was naturally most delighted to find that American Airlines had lost my luggage. When I fly, there are exactly two things I expect:
    • The carrier should get me to my destination
    • The carrier should get my luggage to my destination

    I don’t care about bags of salted peanuts and hot towels, just those two things. Failing on one half of my quite reasonable expectations is, needless to say, a little irritating. Almost a day after arriving, American Airlines still apparently has no idea where my luggage is. Apart from being just plain annoying, this leaves me in a somewhat awkward situation. Tomorrow morning I am due to give my presentation at the CLEO/QELS conference here in Baltimore, and it goes without saying that I would prefer not to deliver this talk to an audience including many prestigious people and potential future employers wearing hiking boots and my crinkled Hawaiian t-shirt that I have been wearing for the last two days.

  • A word of advice for presenters: never deliver a presentation using Microsoft PowerPoint. While I typically refuse to present talks using PowerPoint, instead opting for PDF which is much more stable across platforms, on this occasion I had to submit a PowerPoint file for my talk. Being as paranoid about this prospect as I am, I made sure to go and test my presentation on their computers before delivering the talk. Oh and what a surprise it was! Who would have thought that none of the pictures would display? Surely not using PowerPoint? So, I asked to be allowed to submit a PDF instead. If any conference organizers read this, please accept this advice: phase out PowerPoint. Not only does it not operate across platforms, it does not operate between computers of the same platform, or even the same computer full-stop.

Update: Well, after 24 hours I finally have my luggage back and I once again have the luxury of wearing clean clothes.

Heading overseas: US, UK & Europe

On Saturday I’m heading off to Baltimore, Maryland, for CLEO/QELS, an international optics conference, where I’ll be giving a presentation entitled “Quantum gate characterization in an extended Hilbert space”, based on the paper with the same name (pre-print quant-ph/0411144). This is joint work with Tim Ralph, Geoff Pryde and Jeremy O’Brien.

Following the conference I’ll be heading to the UK, where I’ll spend two weeks visiting Ian Walmsley’s group in the Physics Department at Oxford University. I’m very excited about this and it should be a fantastic opportunity to work with new people with similar research interests, who are outstanding in their field.

Finally, following my visit to Oxford, I’m taking two weeks holiday leave to visit friends and family in Germany. With any luck I hope to briefly head down the the German Alps and climb a few peaks, most notably the Zugspitze (2964m), Germany’s highest mountain. I had originally intended to go to the French Alps and have a shot at Mt. Blanc (4810m), the highest mountain in Western Europe, however time was too short. I’ll leave it for next year, when I hope to be back in Europe again.

Brisbane marathon

On Sunday I entered my first marathon, the annual Brisbane “Lest We Forget” Marathon, organised by the Returned and Service League (RSL) as a charity fundraiser. The course (below) went up and down the Brisbane River on both sides, and looped through the Botanical Gardens, making for quite a scenic route.

Entering a marathon was quite a leap for me, since I’ve never run anything close to this distance before. In fact, my only training for this event was my usual twice-weekly 7km runs, exactly one sixth of the marathon distance of 42km. Needless to say, by the time I crossed the finish line, which thankfully I did, I was a complete and utter cripple and barely able to walk. The first half-marathon went without a trouble, which I completed in exactly 2 hours. This isn’t too bad and I was extremely happy. At this point I was feeling fine and keeping pace with a large group of runners. The next 10km began to become quite strenuous on my legs, but still went by without any dramas, although at a slower pace. It was the final 10km that really knackered me. My leg muscles were becoming extremely tight and I had to periodically make short stretch stops to avoid complete cramping-up of my legs. By this time my knees were in absolutely agonizing pain, which only became worse once the race had finished *, and my legs were numb and tingly. I had fallen right back and completed the second half-marathon in an appalling 2 hours and 39 minutes, for a total time of an abysmal 4 hours and 39 minutes. Nonetheless, being horrifically slow was hardly my biggest concern. My aim was to run a marathon, not to be competitive. Now I can finally cross ‘marathon’ off my list of things I have to do in my life, and I can finally move on to the next item on the list… winning a Nobel Prize in Physics. Alright, here we go, starting… now!

What impressed me most about this marathon was not the winner, but one of the people who was amongst the last to cross the finish line. He was in his mid 70’s or so, was recovering from two knee operations, and finished only 15 or 20 minutes after myself. Being a mere 23 year old, I naturally found this quite depressing, yet simultaneously very inspiring. Never use age as an excuse!

*When I arrived at work two days later I was greeted by laughter from certain academics – ahem – who compared me to an 80 year old when they saw me trying in desperation to get up a flight of stairs.

Some interesting facts about marathons:

  • According to a calorie calculator I found on the internet, which estimates energy consumption during running based on speed and body mass, I consumed approximately 3023 calories. This is equivalent to three pepperoni pizzas, four and a half hamburgers, or five and half sundae’s with hot fudge. Of course, this means none other than now I have a very legitimate excuse to go an eat five and a half (we’ll round it up to six) sundaes with hot fudge.
  • According to recent research, a major health hazard facing marathoners is hyponatremia, caused by drinking too much, whereby blood salt levels fall too low. This can result in death. Apparently this condition affects as many as one in eight marathon runners. See this article for more information.

The course of the Brisbane Marathon. The half-marathon does one loop of the circuit. The full-marathon does two.

Throat singing adventures

About two years ago I became interested in ‘throat singing’, an unusual form of singing, traditionally perfomed in Tuva, Tibet, Mongolia and several other places. Throat singing differs from conventional singing in that the singer controls the overtones in the voice rather than the fundamental, which is done by varying the shape of the mouth and position of the tongue. The voice box itself is only ever producing a single sound, a low pitch drone. The cavity of the mouth then acts as a bandpass filter, which is selectively tuned to different frequencies emanating from the voice box. In order for this to work effectively the voice box must produce a rich spectal profile, i.e. have a significant component of overtones, otherwise there won’t be anything to tune into. This is achieved by droning with a very constricted throat, which makes a gruff, and therefore spectrally rich, tone.

Naturally, I was curious to try it for myself, so I tracked down some instructions and started practising. Although experienced throat singers can produce incredible harmonics using just their mouth, I have found that the effects can be enhanced enormously by practising in the right places. In particular, bathrooms, concrete stairwells, underground carparks and caves have particularly good resonance, and without much practise an amateur like myself can soon have an entire room ringing and buzzing using just their voice. It’s a very exhilarating experience. Even within a particular environment, like a bathroom, different locations can have completely different resonant characteristics. For example, I’ve found that under the shower I get particularly good resosance when I stand directly over the drain pipe, facing down. At the right pitches this sets up a standing wave in the pipe, much like inside a flute or other woodwind instrument. Also very effective is facing into the corner of the room.

The moral of the story is that if you’re ever walking down the stairs and the whole thing starts sounding like someone rang a churchbell, don’t be too concerned, it’s probalbly just some innocent throat singer wanna-be, like myself, trying to squeeze in a bit of practise.

If you’re interested in hearing what throat singing sounds like, there are heaps of free MP3’s available for download. Also, Scientific American have an interesting article on Tuvan throat singing.

Mountaineering in New Zealand

I just returned from my long anticipated mountaineering trip to New Zealand, where I spent four weeks tramping and climbing in the Mt. Cook area. I initally took a Technical Mountaineering Course (TMC) with Alpine Guides, an excellent 10 day course on mountaineering technique, which included nights spent in snow caves, falling into crevasses (not intentionally I might add), climbing peaks and putting on several kilos from eating so much. If you’re interested in getting into the highly addictive sport of mountaineering, I can highly recommend this course. After the TMC I hired a guide for a week to attempt New Zealands highest peak, Mt. Cook (3754m). Unfortunately the expedition was unsuccessful due to unsafe snow conditions. By moonlight and headtorch we climbed about half-way up the mountain, via the infamous Linda Glacier, only to find ourselves on extremely high-risk avalanche terrain, from where we could not safely proceed. Bad luck I know, but that’s all part and parcel of mountaineering. We also spent a couple of days rock-climbing in the Lake Wanaka area, which was also great fun. As much fun as mountaineering is, it’s about as hard on the pocket as recreation can get. So before you take it up, ask yourself if you’re really willing to be perpetually broke. Personally, I wonder whether I should have taken up knitting instead. I know it would have made my mother happier.
Ice climbing