My new continent

Yes, things went quite smoothly today I feel.. Got to Kylie’s (albeit with a super expensive taxi fare.. Too many steps on public transport for my heavy bag) and washed my hair and reshuffled my bags so I had some warmer clothes for the tour.. After reading the itinerary and realizing there’d be snow at the Alps..! Also they have the craziest kitten ever – super cute.

Kylie, Nico and I got some lunch then Kylie showed me the way to my hostel on the metro. Ditched my backpack and ran into a roommate of mine who was heading off on her tour the day after me.. The hostel is where the tours leave from and so most people stating there are off on a tour eventually.

She gave me the advice of a river cruise to see the city sights, which sounded way better than the walking tour I had planned.. It rained a bit but that wasn’t going to stop me, and it dried up eventually so I could get my camera out again. A perfect combination of rest and sightseeing. I hopped off at the Tower Bridge and Westminster areas for some photography.. I was hoping that that would help everything finally sink in, but still in a bit of a daze over it all! I’d like for when it sinks in to be in a good, exciting way and not a ‘what the hell am I doing here’ way.. Hopefully some French atmosphere will make it too hard to ignore 🙂

Four police bikes

This was my favourite photo for the day because it was like watching damped oscillations of a control system, as the policeman rounded the corner.. see here and maybe you’ll agree..

I’ve noticed that the cars here are all quite square looking; not many rounded ones. The metro runs so frequently that you don’t have to plan your trip you just show up and one will be there within a few minutes: perfect. And because of the Olympics there are guides everywhere to help. I’ve found that taking their advice even when I think I have it sorted out (and not being to certain/proud) can be helpful because they’ll know things like which lines are busy or where the best place to get on river cruise is. Most of the other things are pretty similar to Australia (hopefully I won’t get in trouble for saying this!), except everyone looks somehow British.. Not sure of the defining qualities, maybe round faces? But something’s different I think. Also there are bricks everywhere.. Everywhere, brick buildings! I have also noticed why everyone always complains in Australia about healthy food being too expensive – got a delicious salad for dinner for £4 and saw sandwiches for under £2 vs a £10 burger – in Au they’d both be $10!

Exhausted and in bed by 9 for the early start tomorrow..!


Oh what a niiiiiiiight!

Last night was my going away party, or shall we say 21st.. Mum was set on having a 21st birthday party before I left, even if it was a few months early: she says it’s because Mathew’s was so big and it’s important and whatever, but I do wonder how much it has to do with being able to pretend the party wasn’t to celebrate me leaving the country! Either way, I was happy with the idea. Especially since it meant that I got to say goodbye to everyone in one place rather than not having enough time to get to see everyone before I left. . And by everyone, I mean quite a few dozen friends and a whole lot of relatives. It was pretty easy to keep track of numbers because I got a photo with pretty much all of them, thanks to the ingenious idea to hire a photobooth for the night! With plenty of (French) props too, so we got some pretty good shots out of it!

Photobooth with the fam

I personally spent 90% of the night in the booth, because Teagan sent everyone my way for their mandatory photo, and book signing. It definitely meant that I got to see everyone – once I’d managed to get past the bottom of the house steps without being caught up by a wave of new guests. I might have missed most of the food, but I got my share of croissants. Mostly, though, it was all super fast and I did my characteristic ‘wait, did that just happen?’ move at the end of it.. these things usually happen to me when I don’t (/don’t want to) full understand the gravity of what’s happening… Well, there’s always a second chance on my real 21st in October!

I need your help.

When the videos of the TED@Sydney event were released, I didn’t show mine to anyone – I still find it strange that people would want to listen to something that I have to say. Especially TED. To this day I am baffled at how I ended up on stage with such incredible minds. But, whether I liked it or not, there’s no hiding on the internet..!

Strangers started emailing me to tell me that the talk resonated with them. They left incredibly supportive comments on the video.. I am still trying to believe it.

I guess this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise after what happened at TED@Sydney… People stood up. After my talk, people stood up.. The TEDActive blog reasons that this occurs after a “presentation touched a nerve within us all- it spoke to a deep common need for understanding or a solution we were all looking for.” I won’t pretend it was a full standing ovation like for Chantelle‘s incredible charity work, but as far as I know it was the first response like that for the day. It was definitely the only response like that for an engineer. And I definitely cried when I found out.

I know that the concepts in the video changed my life, my career path, my purpose.. but I had only ever hoped that I could succeed in eliciting the same epiphany in others.

No doubt it’s an incredible feeling to think that people want to listen to something that I have to say. But that’s not what this is about.

Like all TED speakers, I want one thing: for my idea to spread.

And I’ve been convinced to believe that others want this too! I got mentioned on the TED blog. Universities across Australia are playing my video to inspire their students. Over 100 of my friends have shown their support on Facebook!

But, TED doesn’t see any of this support. 20-30 Talent Search finalists will get to present at TED2013 – literally reaching millions of people. But, it’s a competition. And liking my facebook post won’t help the talk get to millions.

I can see the voting activity feed (take a look for yourself), and it stings a bit to know that so many of my friends will like or comment on my facebook posts, but only six have taken the time to help in a productive way. There’s facebook integration for sign-up, it’s two clicks.

It’s not really my thing to ask for help. But this is something that I can’t do by myself!

There’s one week left to vote.

We can share this talk with the world – you just have to take the 20 seconds to log in and vote.

My talk is not for me

My TED talk is not for me. As much as I am proud of it, the messages in it aren’t new ideas to me – I wrote it. The ideas are to be shared with the world, but it goes beyond the concept of mobile health for developing countries. These are some of the underlying intentions of my talk:

The talk is to encourage the world to realise that innovation doesn’t have to mean high-tech.
We are fortunate to be living in an age where our constant hunger for bigger and better technology is satisfied. Thanks to this, there is perhaps an infinite number of solutions that we are now able to find to benefit society – using existing technology. Let us not become so accustomed to having the best of everything that we assume that old technology is worthless, but rather let’s leverage on this popular way of thinking to re-purpose the abundance existing technology: this is the new way of innovation.

The talk is to encourage more geeks to realise that they can change the world.
Moreover, that they don’t have to compromise on their love of technology to do it. It was only recently that I discovered that I don’t have to be a medical engineer (and sacrifice my love of electrical engineering) in order to help people in my career – I myself have worked on projects that are wholly electrical but have life-changing/saving applications. The University of Melbourne mobile health project, for example, saw me working with electronics and signal processing.. electrical engineering, my passion.. to save lives.  It took me a long time to realise that these applications were possible: almost too long.. I was just about willing to give up electrical engineering for something more humanitarian, because I could just feel that I needed to help people to be happy. How did it take me so long to realise that I can do both? The concept extends to civil engineering, mechanical.. I believe to any field.

The talk is to encourage aspiring female technologists.
Because in my opinion, we could use a few more role models. Engineers can change lives.. and they can do it wearing pretty dresses if that’s what they want.

One week

The past two weeks (or three? it’s been hard to keep track) have been a strange mix of stressful and relaxing. I would like to have gotten a lot more of my jobs done by now, but I guess that’s where the relaxing comes into it. Perhaps slacking is the appropriate word? Either way, for however long I’ve been back in Brisbane for I’ve spent the time slowly sorting out the state of my room (it was packed up haphazardly when I moved to Melbourne), sleeping in, and planning my going away party/21st.

Things are starting to come together.. all of the decorations I ordered off ebay are arriving.. bags and bags of clothes/things from my room are being donated to vinnies.. and there’s still been time for trips to the beach and late night karaoke-ing.

As you would have heard I’ve been to a women in engineering workshop, spoken to some school students, and been on a motorsport tour, but I’ve also been to a photography workshop (I can shoot manual now!), caught up with the new maths society president for a few hours (nothing beats a chat with someone who just gets you), and seen my favourite maths comedian once more (6th time I believe) – with some of my family this time. We happened to have a Smiley Maths shirt handy and it was a perfect fit for him – I was so happy to see him wearing it!!!

It was Dad and Teagan’s birthdays on Friday. I got Dad some electronics prototyping stuff (breadboards etc) for his new ventures – he had to laugh at the non-conventional concept of the gift 😀 I’ve offered him my experience but have explained that most of it comes from googling!! The degree does help with understanding the google results though – but I’m confident he’ll pick it up 🙂

For Teagan’s birthday gift I spent a week of my time helping to plan her surprise weekend away… Ben took care of the dinner with her friends (phew) and I was to help with accommodation.. bad idea. Apparently I’ll book the cheap place, not the nice place.. nevermind, Mum stepped in, and just a short cancellation fee later we were in the spaaaa.. Teagan really had no idea where we were going when we summoned her to the car in her pyjamas..! Luckily Ben was around after we got back from the beach to distract her while I packed the car with dresses and makeup for the night. She got an even bigger surprise though when we showed up to a group of her friends after we’d convinced her that her friends sucked and all piked – good idea, Ben and Mum!

I ended up having a really nice chat with Teagan’s friends about a whole range of things – it got surprisingly philosophical for over pancakes! To sum up how the night ended: ka-ra-o-ke.

Hahahahahahaha… here’s hoping they have 80s bars in France!!!

What you can learn about life from a motorsport tour

Today Dad and I went on a site tour of Jones Brothers Racing. There were a lot of interesting things that I learnt (even knowing pretty little about motorsport) – for example they have a reverse-dyno (a dyno measures the output of an engine when it’s running) which runs the engine eg in a way that simulates the Bathurst track’s inclines and whatnot, so that they can see how the bearings etc in the engine will respond to that usage. They go to a lot of effort to hold the room at a controlled temperature during these tests.

As well as stuff specific to the tour, I picked up on a few things that can be considered more general knowledge:

  • Using actual things from real-life examples instead of something like it makes a big difference. The engines that were being pulled apart were kind of interesting, but once he said “this was on the Bathurst track last week” it was instantly way cooler! Obviously the engine itself didn’t look any different, but I think your appreciation level changes significantly once you can trust that something is truly ‘real world’
  • I felt awkward not knowing anything about cars, but once someone else who I figured did know something about cars asked a question, I felt much more comfortable asking things. I think there’s something powerful in seeing a role model/expert admit that they don’t know everything, and you don’t have to either.
  • Most of the technical talk went over my head, but once they mentioned something that I recognised, it became interesting. That’s why I try to break my projects down to a simple high-level explanation so that they can engage with it because it won’t completely go over someone’s head (eg a susceptible-infected-recovered mathematical model of a disease spreading process which can be explained with just rates of change, which most people know about!). I think that people want to feel that it’s something that they could do – overviews (eg. “I did this”) can’t always provide it; and while it’s nice for making you feel smart, there’s no point in throwing up a circuit diagram or complex maths in a presentation to students which will just turn people off because it is intimidating.
  • The tour guide was an electrical engineer in charge of the control systems on the steering wheel (all of the driver’s controls except the gear change are on the wheel).. even if I weren’t remotely interested in motorsport I would still be happy with that job it sounds like. Just goes to reinforce what I learnt when I worked in the power industry: a discipline doesn’t define the engineers within it.

Why it’s ok you don’t like maths

Recently I have realised that I don’t know why I like maths and electrical engineering!!

And probably you don’t know why you like whatever it is that you do.

I tested it out this morning on Mum: “what was your favourite subject at school? can you think of why you liked it?” “yes” “dammit! you were supposed to say no! what was it then?” “I liked the grammar” “ok, I’ll have to phrase the question differently next time.. but now that you’ve said that, why did you like grammar?” “I.. don’t know.”

If you go down enough layers, eventually you’ll hit a response of “I don’t know, I just like it” – I think that this is a feeling that everyone will have in some area of their life. Maybe that’s what everyone’s been referring to as passion. But it doesn’t have to be limited to one area – I, personally, like both maths and baking in the same “I just enjoy it!” way.. I am happy to spend an afternoon doing them, it makes time go quickly, and I just like it!!

I don’t think that we need to know why we like particular things.. maybe there is no reason, except that it’s what makes us unique. Which is good, it keeps us from all ending up doing the same thing as each other in life.

It took me a while to come to this realisation: I remember being confused about why if I love electrical engineering so much, why didn’t everyone? Why would anyone even do the others? In my mind it’s the best discipline, and so when I went to schools I would try to promote it as such. Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit; of course I would explain the other disciplines to them so that they had a balanced perception (but my experiences I spoke of were obviously electrical-based), but secretly I would feel disappointed if they got interested in the other disciplines.

Because to me, the other engineering disciplines were second-rate. I wasn’t interested in them as much as electrical, and so I thought that it would be the same for everyone else: if they chose a different discipline, they’d just be ‘kinda happy’ as opposed to ‘in love’ – I must save them! But then I realised that there are civil engineers that are in love. And if I view their discipline which they love as second-rate, then there are probably going to be people out there that view mine in the same way! Moral of the story: I was very wrong – just because I see something as boring does not mean that there aren’t some who love it. Seems funny for it to take so long for me to realise when a good chunk of my time is spent answering to people ‘why on earth would you pick to study maths?’  But, when you’re in love…

We need to give students a tasting platter so that they can identify the thing that makes them happy ‘just because it does’ – it won’t be the same for everyone. Even if I think it should be otherwise!

Power of Engineering

Last month when I was still living in Melbourne, I got a call from QUT to offer to fly me to Brisbane to speak at the Open Day again this year. Of course I would have said yes, but Mum and Teagan were visiting me in Melbourne that weekend. Instead I let them know that I’d be back for engineering week if they had anything planned, and straight away I was signed up for a presentation to some school girls.

I remember telling Mum how crazy I must be. After all, who promises that they won’t take on any more extra-curricular activities, then in the same week volunteers themself for more things? “Why do I do this to myself?” Of course I knew the answer before the words were out of my mouth!!

Here it is 😀
Power of Engineering presenting

117 year 9 and 10 girls, from eight different high schools, all in the one room. SO much easier than trying to get out to all of the schools individually!! And I was trusted to give them a positive impression of engineering.

Before I’d even started I was asked for my autograph. Perhaps you’re thinking ‘Are you for real Deanna? An autograph? Aren’t you like 20?’ I couldn’t believe it either. But they were excited to see me, because I was on banners all around the room and on the engineering course books that they’d been given (yes it was creepy to be next to it all). It definitely made my trip to Brisbane worthwhile. Maybe I didn’t even have to say anything to give them a positive impression of engineering?

I decided that my usual school presentation could use a makeover. I learnt a lot at the Robogals training weekend (I was supposed to be the trainer!), and I don’t think that any knowledge should go to waste! Audience participation, personalised photos, and videos featured more than they usually would. Plus, since I was after two other speakers I figured that the majority of my presentation about what engineering is and what it’s like at university would have been covered already. Might as well skip to the good parts!

Now that I think about it, I haven’t given a presentation like today’s before. As in, on this content.. because the content was ‘stuff I’ve realised’ and most of it I’ve only realised recently. There was a point in it from a video I watched two days ago. There was a conclusion that I myself only came to two weeks ago. And there was an underlying concept throughout the talk that I only realised in the past week.

It will take a reasonable amount of words to explain the topics covered in the talk, so I’ll spread it over a few posts if that’s alright with you! In summary, I spoke, and they came up to me afterwards for my business card and to say “thank you, that was really great”.. That’s why I will happily agree to these presentations when the opportunity comes up, even if my diary says I shouldn’t.

Decision Made!

Ok, I have kept a personal blog for a while but I’ve decided today that I want to allow people to keep updated if they want to with what I’m doing since we met. It will be up and running in the next few days!!

Blog at