28/2/2005

Child Support?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:03 pm

Surprise Pregnancy

What do you think? (Aside from a certain amount of ‘ewww’.) Should this guy have to pay child support?

26/2/2005

Splitcoil Got It Right…

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:24 pm

When I asked ‘What is religion good for?’ (if, for example, it doesn’t reduce child abuse rates among believers), Splitcoil commented:

What’s religion good for? In my experience, it’s good for giving terrible people an “out.” No matter how many 11-year-old girls you rape, Jesus still loves you, according to most denominations of Christianity. Many people believe this is the beauty of Christianity. I believe it makes religion a force of evil.

Seems like maybe he was right… Not the whole story, of course, but anyone who believes and thinks has to be a bit shaken by a story like this.

Lovely and Amazing

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:19 pm

If you haven’t yet seen Ryan, the amazing, Oscar(TM)nominated short animated film from Canada, you owe it to yourself to do so. Clickety to watch online free.

Question – is the burnout an inevitable consequence of the genius, or is it just the drugs and pretty much unrelated?

24/2/2005

Fraternity

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:42 am

Big Brother and Little Brother are getting together. From Salon.com:

There’s a gator guarding your privacy at the Department of Homeland Security.

Among the appointees to the department’s 20 member “Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee” is D. Reed Freeman, the “chief privacy officer” of Claria Corporation.

That’s the company formerly known as Gator, infamous for its software, a.k.a. GAIN, which stands for Gator Advertising Information Network. It’s sadly familiar to many frustrated Web surfers, who have been surprised to discover it mysteriously installed on their desktops serving them extra helpings of ads.

The fact that a “privacy officer” for a company that made its name sneaking onto computers all over the word is now helping to determine what should be done with data collected by the Department of Homeland Security might be alarming to some people. But is it really all that shocking? The D.H.S.’s own chief privacy officer is no stranger to the ins and outs of interactive marketing either. She used to work for the online marketing firm, DoubleClick.

23/2/2005

St Therese and the Nature of Science

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:40 pm

This little teaching story formed part of my PhD dissertation, about 8 years ago. I was recycling it as part of a book chapter I’m writing in a book on ‘Autobiography as Method’ and thought it’d be fun to share it here too.

Therese1 looks from Carolyn to me, and back again. Most of the other students in the room have missed the inconsistency – frankly, most of them stopped listening ten minutes ago. But Therese is bright, and even though she considers science “a waste of time”, she’s almost always listening and thinking, even when I think she’s just adding another layer of intricate doodling to the inside of her folder.

“That’s not what Mr Geelan says science is about”, she murmurs, without bothering to raise her hand. Carolyn – the class teacher – has just come out with the statement that “science is true facts about the world”, and Therese remembers that a few weeks ago, in one of my fairly frequent digressions into the nature of science, I claimed that science is a way of understanding the world that doesn’t necessarily yield truth.

Now Carolyn’s looking at me too, and I try to explain again what I understand the nature of science to be. My perspective owes something to Paul Feyerabend’s ‘anything goes’ approach, something to postmodernism and constructivism and something to the sociology of science. It’s eclectic and rather complex, and I’m trying to describe it as clearly and simply as I can, without using any of those terms.

But even as I’m explaining, I’m thinking “Do the students really need this? Is it appropriate for their age and stage of development to try to grapple with epistemological and ontological questions that I came to much later? Or would it be more comfortable and productive for them to believe in the sacredness of scientific knowledge for a little longer?” I can’t decide what is most appropriate, and the situation has arisen in the classroom right now, so I try to make the best of it.

“Well, I think about it this way,” I begin.
How do I do this without openly disagreeing with Carolyn?
“Science is a word that’s used to talk about two things, and they’re both important. Science is a body of knowledge – ideas and theories. These are really ways that people have found to think about what they see in the world. But science is also an activity – it’s something people do, as well as something they know. In our school science lessons, we try to introduce you to some of those scientific ways of thinking about the world, and we also try to let you do what scientists do – explore the world in thoughtful, careful ways.”

“I don’t want you to think that science is just about memorising a heap of facts – that, number one, isn’t very useful, and number two, doesn’t make you a scientist, or even scientifically literate. Science is about learning a special set of ways of working and thinking. They’re related to ways we work and think in other learning areas, but also a bit different. For example, in English, we look at a novel or a poem or a story and try to understand what it’s about, and how it makes us feel.”

Carolyn breaks in, “But in English there’s really no one right answer, where in science there is…isn’t there?” I don’t want to deal with that right now, so I turn from the class to her and say “I’m getting to that, but I want to do this a particular way”, then continue.

“What Ms Young was talking about was the first of those two things about science – scientific knowledge…”

I continue with my explanation, in a lecturing mode that’s unusual for me, and I’m very aware that, fascinating and important as this stuff is to me, and although I think I’m explaining it pretty clearly, most of the students’ eyes have glazed over. Some are staring out the window at the gentle grey drizzle, one or two have their heads down on their desks, and Tony is flicking bent staples at Jules when neither teacher is looking. I’ve been seeing the staples appear, but I want to try to catch Tony in the act – perhaps then the inevitable visit from his mother will be at least marginally less unpleasant. Unless I have some pretty direct evidence, it’ll just be “You’re picking on him” again. I’m not, but Carolyn is, and that makes my position morally difficult when I’m talking to Tony’s Mum.

Carolyn says, “So, you’re saying scientific facts aren’t really true?” While I’m trying to get my thoughts together, Therese blessedly breaks in. “No, Ms Young, it’s more like they’re true at one place and time, but not always. They’re sort of like fashion…” Carolyn completely ignores her and keeps looking toward me, and I try to explain the ideas Therese has just put together so cogently. I also try to acknowledge Therese and her contribution, by alluding back to them in my comments, and earn a grudging smile before she drops her head forward and hides behind her long dark fringe – a frequent refuge.

Carolyn says, “Oh, OK, I think I understand”, but her expression makes it clear that she doesn’t, and doesn’t really believe me anyway. Therese has a better understanding of this stuff than Carolyn ever will – but she still thinks science is a waste of time.

1. All the names used, except mine, are pseudonyms to protect the innocent (and the guilty).

22/2/2005

Carnegie Scholarship

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:34 pm

A short excerpt from the letter that just arrived:

Congratulations. You have been selected as a 2005 Carnegie Scholar, and will be joining twenty colleagues in The Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL).

This year’s review process was the most rigorous to date, with more than 300 international applicants, forcing us to pass over many gifted scholars in order to assemble a combination of disciplines, projects, and educational contexts.

Woohoo! I applied for this in about November – hopeful but not really expecting to get it. So it was a delightful surprise to get the note this morning. It means some fairly decent research funding plus three one-week institutes at Stanford over the next year, but it’s also a pretty prestigious thing to add to my CV. Thanks go to my colleague Craig Montgomerie for encouraging me to apply.

The project I proposed is to study the Advanced Professional Term – the same 5.5 week course for beginning teachers that I just completed – next year, and to incorporate a number of technologies in the course, but then to follow the teachers out into the schools and work with them on their student teaching and the way they incorporate the technology in their own teaching.

Edit: If you’re interested, there’s a little more info on the program here.

21/2/2005

It’s the Guns, Stupid

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:06 pm

One more article – pretty balanced over all, and with the kind of detail we seldom get in these stories – about whether video games cause kids to shoot people. (It’s on Salon.com, so if you’re not subscriber you’ll have to watch a short ad to read the article. I think it’s worthwhile…)

I’m pretty sure Grand Theft Auto was not the healthiest ingredient to be stirring into the toxic soup in these kids’ minds, but the fact that they took two rifles and ammo from an unlocked cabinet in their home to do the shooting just seems to go underneath the radar entirely in the rush to blame the game.

20/2/2005

Shmeat Life

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:19 pm

I’m not sure where it’s from, but someone mentioned that they’d heard ‘shmeat’ used as a general term for all those meat substitutes – NotBacon, Protose, Nutmeat, etc – that some vegetarians eat, and I kinda like the sound of the word.

I was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, so vegetarianism, teetotaling and religion are pretty much tied together in my head. I was thinking about these ‘fake meat’ products – don’t eat meat, but process vegetable matter into the closest possible simulacrum – and realised that lots of contemporary Christian life seems kinda shmeaty…

Lots of Christian music sounds exactly like lots of other popular music, unless you listen really closely to the lyrics. Our local Christian station bills itself as ‘safe’, and that seems to be a lot of the ethos… make it as much like the real thing as possible, but kinda… not.

Same with books, movies, even computer games – you can find your Christian romances and adventures and… – almost like the real thing, but somehow shmeatier.

I dunno – isn’t that all backward? Shouldn’t the life of faith be somehow more authentic?

19/2/2005

On Not Looking at Pretty Girls

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:53 am

Even as an older, happily married guy, I sometimes find it difficult to meet the eyes of particularly beautfiul young women. In part I flatter myself that it’s an attempt not to make them uncomfortable by gawking, but I suspect it’s mostly the remnants of my inner teenage boy… If they’re in my class or something, of course I do, and it becomes much more comfortable as I get to know them as people rather than pretty faces (and I’m sure that’s part of the solution to the whole problem).

This is the flipside of Paul’s rant at The Nuggery: sometimes beauty leads to conceit, but sometimes beauty also leads to weird reactions.

It must kind of suck to be a really beautiful woman, because the nice but shy guys like me will avoid your eye and get flustered, and the philandering scumbags will flock to you and harrass you. These days I’m trying to just smile (in an avuncular and not at all predatory way) and walk on, rather than look away… because in the final analysis, it’s about how I make her feel, not about my ancient teenaged insecurities…

And yes, you’ll probably look at me weirdly next time you see me, now that I’ve shared this.

18/2/2005

From Dan to Bathsheba

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:40 am

Two things, neither of them earth-shattering, about this comment (the heading above) Suzie made in reference to our daughters’ homework and its location:

  1. Only those who know their Bibles fairly well will get the joke
  2. Jokes in general, if they’re any good, require some fairly high level of content knowledge, and often the juxtaposition of knowledge from wildly disparate fields of knowledge

A corollary to the second point is that certain jokes have quite narrow ‘ranges of convenience’, because only a few people share the necessary bodies of knowledge.

An hypothesis based in that corollary: the funniest joke in the world may not have anyone who would laugh at it…

17/2/2005

Littler Brother

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:03 pm

I wrote a while ago about the perils of Little Brother going through Big Brother’s stuff while he’s asleep. This story from the LA Times is about Littler Brother going through Little Brother’s stuff…

16/2/2005

More Cowbell

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:39 pm

Walken Cowbell

15/2/2005

Authentic Assessment

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:16 pm

So I’m marking assignments today – beginning teachers’ unit plans (i.e. plans for teaching a 20 lesson sequence of science classes). They’ve worked really hard, and the products are great and well thought out, but sometimes there’s just that spark of creativity that makes the job fun. One guy who was doing a unit on waves entitled his assignment – which required students to improvise the musical instrument that would produce the lowest-pitched note – ‘Make Me An Instrument, Worthy of Mordor’.

Not only that, one of the grading criteria is the appearance of the resulting instrument. The levels are:

1 – No obvious effort was put into making the instrument look aesthetically appealing
2 – Some effort was put into making it presentable, but only your grandma would buy this
3 – Looks nice. Obvious effort was put into making it look attractive, but only your mom would buy this
4 – Beautifully constructed; attractive with no obvious flaws. I would buy this

14/2/2005

Blog reviewed

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:14 pm

‘Bravus’ was reviewed today by a couple of reviewers at The Weblog Review. They weren’t all that complimentary, but I feel as though they kind of missed what I’m trying to do here. I guess they have to call it as they see it, in a brief review. There were a few valid technical things they mentioned, like images I’d linked from elsewhere (fixed) and the fact that I haven’t used categories to make it easier for people to find posts they might be interested in (fixed).

Both reviewers found the look (the template) much too simple, but that’s an intentional choice on my part. What do you think? Are there things I should add? Some sort of brief blurb about the purpose of this blog? I don’t really want to add a photo of me or an ‘about me’ blurb, because I kind of like the semi-anonymity: I want to be judged by the text alone!

Not looking for strokes for a bruised ego (much!), just for opinions on what I can do to make ‘Bravus’ better.

Pantera, Dubya and Redemption (RIP Dimebag)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:27 am

Glam Pantera

So the 90s kings of thrash and hardcore dysfunction, Pantera, started life as a glam band. Sadly for them, glam tended to work better for the pretty (think Poison), and talented as the Abbott Brothers were, they’re not exactly pretty… You notice Darrell started out as ‘Diamond’ Darrell – kinda in the Diamond Dave Lee Roth vein – and only later converted to the grittier, drug referencing ‘Dimebag’.

But does their glam past in some way invalidate their thrash/speed metal? I don’t think so. Maybe they were just following trends in metal, and never really had conviction behind what they played – but Far Beyond Driven sure sounds pretty convicted.

I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead – it was a tragedy that Darrell was shot by a deranged fan recently, both in human terms and because he had lots of great crushing riffs still to write and play. I’m just playing with the idea of when we get to move past our pasts.

Politicians tend to run into scandals when things from their past come back to haunt them. Lots of movie stars end up regreting the early movies, or the early photo shoots, that emerge years later. About the worst indiscretion in my past – at least that I’ll own up to here – is a photo at age 12 in flares and paisley… Which is embarrassing but not in any career-ending sense.

George W Bush seems to have escaped pretty well so far from his past drinking and driving, and from his rather spotty Texas Air National Guard record. I guess I’ve been someone who thought maybe he shouldn’t have – but maybe he should. Maybe we all deserve a second chance. (Mind you, he needs to be called to account for what he’s doing now, but that’s a separate issue.)

If we can forgive Pantera for the big hair and the makeup, perhaps we can be forgiven for our pasts. That can free us up to create futures in which we have nothing to hide from…

Vicious and Virtuous Circles

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:07 am

I’ve almost finished teaching this course: class tomorrow morning from 9 until noon, a day off for the students on Tuesday and the final exam (which I’m writing right now) on Wednesday. I’ll receive a massive pile of assignments to mark tomorrow morning, and plan to be able to give those back on Wednesday morning, and thankfully I have teaching assistant who will mark the exam for me.

You probably don’t need to know all that detail, but teaching the course has got me thinking about cycles. Last year at this time I was tired, strung out, grumpy and hard to be around. OK, last year at this time I had reason – Suzie was in hospital having just had a tumour and a large chunk of lung removed, and I was still trying to mark and teach, look after the kids at home and spend time with her at the hospital (she’s fine now, thankfully).

But even in prior years I had been feeling much more desparate by this time in the course than I do this year. I think it’s because I got a virtuous cycle going this time.

If I don’t prepare well, then sometimes I don’t teach so well, and the class gets unenthused, and I get stressed. Then me being me, humans being humans, instead of work more I play more games and waste more time, then end up having to stay up all night marking, then go to class tired and unprepared and start it all over again. A vicious cycle.

This year, for a number of reasons, I prepared well, early and often, taught well, enoyed it, marked early, made sure I got enough sleep, stayed more focused, felt better, prepared more, taught better – virtuous cycle! It definitely works a lot better.

Fortunately I’ve never got the habit of drinking or drugging when I’m down – that can give the vicous cycle a whole lot more teeth.

But the other thing is, it’s not all me. Last year’s class was significantly bigger than this year’s – 36 instead of 26. In the same size room, that meant we had to have the students sitting at small clustered tables most of the time, rather than the big open horseshoe arrangement I prefer so everyone can see everyone else’s face. Add that to the fact that there was a nucleus of whiners that poisoned the atmosphere for those around them in last year’s class, whereas this class is a bunch of sweeties, and the cycle got extra vicious-fuel last year and extra virtuous-fuel this year that wasn’t from me.

So I’m tired but elated, like after a good workout, rather than tired and drained like after a losing a game.

13/2/2005

So how’d you get here?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:32 am

As this blog gets indexed more and more by the search engines, people end up arriving here based on all sorts of searches. (The stats package I use, Stat Traq, shows me what sites referred visitors to here, and when it’s a search engine the URL includes the search string.) I seem to cover a pretty wide range of topics, with some odd juxtapositions, so the searches that will turn ‘Bravus’ up near the top of the list are pretty broad. Here are a few recent examples – I swear every one is true and unedited:

  • the sims2 Teen Woohoo nude mods
  • videonow hacks
  • workings of inertia seatbelts
  • dr. seuss quotes zook spreads
  • BANSHEE ELECTRON CARBS
  • yngwie malmsteen quicktime sound files
  • represntative democracy
  • ram A22M
  • “Oldenburg” + “Darren Tanke”
  • snoring nbc 2004
  • office chaotic pendulum buy
  • philosophy idealism plato questions general basic

11/2/2005

Buffy?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:48 pm

So, I did the ‘Which Buffy character are you?’ quiz, and apparently I’m… Buffy:

You scored as Buffy Summers. You are a very strong individual. You do, however, have some trouble admitting how you truly feel. You’ve experienced a lot during your life, but you more than manage. Always willing to help, you’re a great friend.
Buffy Summers
67%
Tara Maclay
58%
Spike
46%
Willow Rosenberg
46%
Dawn Summers
42%
Rupert Giles
42%
Anya
38%
Xander Harris
38%

I would have thought I was Giles, being an academic type and all, but apparently not… Guess it’s time to dig out my best frock and hit the Bronze!

9/2/2005

The future of news?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:50 pm

http://www.broom.org/epic/ It’s a longish movie, but well worth a watch.

Even if their actual predictions are miles off (and if anything I suspect their timeline is too long: we’re only that far away from the very beginning of the WWW…), there are two interesting things there for me:

  1. The fact that Google’s recognition that it’s humans’ rating (via use) of links that provides the best and most useful results has led to its astonishing success in the search engine marketplace (to the extent that ‘to google’ has become a synonymous verb for ‘to search’, at least in a web context), and is the foundation of its other initiatives like Google News and GMail – in other words, Google was the first killer app that really let computers do what computers do best and people do what people do best
  2. The potential of agents like these to accelerate the fragmentation of the culture. There are already those who listen to Rush Limbaugh and watch FOX almost exclusively versus those who read Salon.com and watch PBS, but if your media are filtered according to your past patterns and those of your friends and associates, you will truly get a worldview that never challenges but always affirms your own. Damn scary!

And of course, all this assumes that (a) we don’t invent AI by 2014 or (b) AI doesn’t invent itself in a singularity event before then.

Loading Up

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:38 pm

Lots of marking to do tonight, so I’m cranking up Alex’s MP3 player with a wildly eclectic mix:

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood
Rollins Band – Weight
J S Bach – Two-part and Three-part Inventions (Martin Galling, Harpsichord)
Jethro Tull – The Broadsword and the Beast
Iron Maiden – Powerslave

(You can hear samples at each of these links.) Put all that on shuffle and it shouldn’t be boring… 😉