31/1/2006

Burnination

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:02 pm

Went out and picked up a DVD burner (+/- R, +/- RW, dual layer, for those to whom these hieroglyphics mean something ;)) this afternoon and fitted it to this machine. We’d been saying for some time that we’ll need two DVD players in this computer when we take it back to Australia. As you probably know, commercially bought DVD movies are coded with ‘zones’ to avoid them being sold in other parts of the world. North America is part of Zone 1 and Australia is part of Zone 4. A particular DVD drive can only have its zone reset 5 times, so you can’t keep switching between zones to watch your movies. We have bought some DVDs here in Canada, and will want to watch them in Australia, but presumably we’ll buy more once we’re there. So simply having two different DVD drives in the machine, one set to each zone, seems like a sensible solution… and they’re pretty cheap these days.

I could have just bought a DVD player drive, but for maybe 30 bucks more I could get a burner, and that has implications for backup and for burning data files and all sorts of things, so I went for it. I had to split the power cable yet again to power it, so it’s pretty much a spiderweb of cables inside the case… but that’s why we have cases. I was going to add the new drive to the existing DVD and CDRW drives, but the kind of case I have, with nice easy slide-out rails for the drives, meant it would be a huge hassle and mean buying new rails to install a third drive, so I pulled out the CDRW, and when I get time I’ll put that into the kids’ computer, so they’ll have a DVD player and a CDRW (and I’ll give their existing CDROM player drive away).

Just spent a little time burning a DVD for Lorne (4 GB of a possible 4.5 on a single layer drive, with the possibility of up to 8.5 GB on a disc if he had a dual layer reader) of various Iron Maiden, Yngwie Malmsteen, Queen and AC/DC stuff, as well as a bunch of various metal CDs I have. (Of course, he’ll buy any of these if he listens to them for more than sampling purposes. ;)) I made him a mellower, non-metallic CD too.

I also bought a power cable for a 120 GB hard drive that has basically been sitting in the case disconnected since it got sick and was replaced, so my last job for this evening is to spend a little time formatting that, cordoning off the few sick sectors and getting it ready for duty. Then we’ll have something like 250 GB of hard drive space on this machine. Little of that is used, but more ripping (eventually my entire CD collection) and some movies will soon eat it up.

It’s all fun, until it crashes and burns… which reminds me, my other job this evening is setting up a better backup system!

Salvation Army Fraud

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:23 pm

Sue and I just had lunch together at a local pub, which was very nice – a chance to hang out with her during the work day is a bonus, and she’s working close enough at the moment to make it possible.

There were TVs on in the bar with the sound down (and some pretty decent Pearl Jam and then early Dire Straits on the sound system), and the banner kept reading ‘Salvation Army Fraud’. I googled the story later and discovered (as I’d suspected), that it wasn’t the Salvation Army who had defrauded anyone – they had been defrauded of $2.5 million. But I realised that what is likely to stay in my mind, consciously or otherwise, is ‘Salvation Army Fraud’, or quite possibly even ‘Salvation Army = Fraud’.

It’s an unintended consequence (I hope), but our minds are much more allusive, intuitive and associational than they are linear and logical, so these kinds of things matter, and effect us in ways we may not even recognise.

30/1/2006

Terrorism in Perspective

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:37 pm

Glenn Greenwald writes:

The total number of Americans killed by Islamic terrorists in the last 5 years — or 10 years — or 20 years — or ever — is roughly 3,500, the same number of deaths by suicide which occur in this country every month. This is the overarching threat around which we are constructing our entire foreign policy, changing the basic principles of our government, and fundamentally altering both our behavior in the world and the way in which we are perceived.

The rest of the blog post here is equally insightful.

29/1/2006

Ideal Vehicle

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:29 am

We went to the Edmonton Motor Show last night – Sue, Alex and I went with Lorne and his son Traftan. It was a nice application of yesterday’s blog post: looking at all the cool cars and all the options, and imagining what we’d do if we won Lotto and money was no object, it became about deciding what our ideal vehicle would be.

Of course there’s a lust for things like the Lambhorgini Gallardo:

lambo

Tasty, but even if I had it I’d find it hard to justify half a million dollars for a car – especially one that would spend a lot of its time at 20% capacity. And I shudder to even imagine what insuring it would cost.

And there’s always my on-going infatuation for the Subaru WRX STi:

wrx sti

Discovering that the Mazda Speed 6 is a family sedan with more power than the WRX was a bit of a revelation – and in fact that one comes pretty close to being my ideal, taking into account the needs of the family for transport and my need for speed (and good handling). And, as Lorne pointed out, it’s nice because it’s a bit stealthier than the WRX, which is all spoilers and ‘nostrils’.

Mazdaspeed 6

Personally, I fail to see the appeal of the massive pickup trucks that seem to dominate the show here in Alberta: although the Dodge one that features the V10 engine out of their Viper sports car has its points! (Fuel economy is definitely not one of them.) And, lefty/greeny I might be, but I do find it kinda hard to get turned on by the Prius…

But this kind of activity is fun, as you mentally mix and match the various values and forms of desire to accept, reject or modify what’s there in the metal in front of you.

28/1/2006

The Ideal and the Real

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:19 pm

Looking at ways to review our current Teacher Education program at the University of Alberta today. One of the questions that we propose to ask our faculty members is “What would your ideal teacher education program look like?” Some members of the group felt this wasn’t a useful question – we can never have that ideal program, because we’re hemmed in with constraints of funding, personnel, time, students’ needs and abilities, government regulations and demands, the demands of the teaching profession and our own shortcomings and prejudices.

On the other hand, I always think this ‘ideals’ question is worth asking: not as a way of attaining it, but as a way of exploring our own values. That is, what counts as ‘ideal’ tells you what you think is important.

So for example, if your ideal program has 8 students in a class, not 35 (or 350), it says you value small classes, but probably that you value relationships with students, interaction and individual attention to students’ needs. If your ideal program is 2 years longer than the current one, you think it takes time to develop as a teacher, and that there’s no substitute for that time and experience. And so on…

What implication does the ideal have for the real? Just that it allows us to try to incorporate the things we value (which the ideal helps us explore) into the real situation, despite the constraints. It helps us trade off some features against others that are more important, and optimise the whole picture.

And this tool works in other contexts too: what would be your ideal job, ideal relationship, ideal vehicle, etc…? And what does that tell you about what’s important?

26/1/2006

I’m Officially Acclimatised

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:35 pm

So, just stood outside waiting for a bus for 20 minutes, at 4o C, in just pants and a shirt. Hands felt a bit chilly, but generally I was completely comfortable. I remember needing a heavy wool overcoat for 14o C when we first moved to Melbourne, so Canada has clearly left its mark on me.

24/1/2006

A Conservative Minority Government for Canada

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:09 pm

Lorne has the election result covered – join in the discussion there if you like.

23/1/2006

Ah, here it is!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:42 pm

Over 13 months ago I asked ‘Where’s my flying car?‘ Apparently, it was in Perth all along.

22/1/2006

iPod Cotton Wool

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:50 am

I’d never really used a personal audio player for any length of time before: I’m not a runner, and on bicycle or motorcycle I think it’s too dangerous not to be able to hear, and it just never seemed to make sense. I got one for Christmas, though, and have been enjoying using it on the bus and while waiting for the bus, and sometimes at home if I have marking to do and the rest of the family is watching a movie or something.

I was setting up a lab for my class this morning, listening to music on shuffle (so Run-DMC, Peter Gabriel, Opeth, Living Colour, Evanescence, Tim and Neil Finn, Audioslave, Scatterbrain and Megadeth so far), and it just occurred to me that I felt disconnected from my experience in some way. I realised it was that I couldn’t hear my own footsteps or the clinking of the glassware and the pouring of the solutions and so on. It wasn’t a dramatic effect, and I could still function, but I just felt as though I was at one remove from my own experience and existence in the world. I make no admissions here about certain, erm, chemically altered states of consciousness I may or may not have experienced during my mis-spent youth, but there was a real sense of floating separation…

Made me muse (and I don’t want to make any huge claims here, just muse) about the kids who basically never have their earphones out. What is their life like? How immersed in, or disconnected from, their own lives do they feel? This is not a lament about the ‘content’ of the music in terms of lyrics – that’s a separate discussion – but purely about the sensory experience of having one sense monopolised in a way that reduces the links between our senses that (it seems to me) link us to the world.

Add a few chemicals to the mix, and perhaps the fact that their parents’ marriage is falling apart and they no longer really know where ‘home’ is… and you can imagine people (not all kids) who just feel as though they live in their own heads and in their music much more than they live in the world. How does someone like that come to have a concern for the world (I mean their local natural, social and human environment and the consequences of their actions within that) and a sense of connection with it? Further, in those kind of circumstances, the disconnection itself can come to be pretty attractive, independent of the music.

Just one more unintended consequence of technology… I’ll post something on the philosophy of technology at some point. In the mean time, my music is back to Opeth…

20/1/2006

Better Make A Start

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:17 am

http://money.cnn.com/2006/01/17/news/economy/climate_fortune/index.htm

The task at hand according to Lord Browne of BP: “Build 700 nuclear stations to replace fossil-fuel-burning power plants, or increasing the use of solar power by a factor of 700, or stopping all deforestation and doubling present efforts at reforestation. Achieve all three of these, and pull off four more equally large-scale reallocations of capital and infrastructure, and the world would probably stabilize its carbon emissions.”

19/1/2006

Accommodation of Life

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:02 pm

I talked about Jean Piaget’s ideas of assimilation and accommodation here, in relation to learning. But I think it might also be possible to apply them metaphorically to our lives.

You’ll remember that ‘assimilation’ is ‘putting more stuff into the existing category system’ – stuffing the pigeonholes1 at the mail sorting office. ‘Accommodation’ is ‘creating new categories’, or even ‘revolutionising the whole category system’: tearing out the pigeonholes and recreating the sorting system from scratch.

In our lives, we seem to keep on stuffing more and more stuff into the same slots – work, family, leisure, sleep, media, church, clubs, hobbies, socialising. Some suffer and get pretty dusty and spiderwebbed, but some are bursting. We can mess about at the edges, but it seems to me that sometimes we just can’t keep assimilating forever: something’s gotta give. One way to deal with it is to raise the postage rates: it just costs more to get into my life now than it used to, which means some of the slots are less jammed. But another is an accommodation, a re-ordering of the categories. Can we think of ways to live that have fewer, larger slots… and maybe include a slot called ‘meditation’ or ‘rest’ or ‘time in the bush’?

Not sure I have the answer, but I think maybe one of the answers is moving to a new city and a new life: that’s going to force some sort of accommodation as the new roles and demands take shape. We’ve done that every 5-6 years so far in our married life, and sometimes more often than that… but how do we make those changes happen if, as seems likely but is not certain, we live in Brisbane for a lot longer than that? How do those of you who have lived in roughly the same place for a long time do it? And for those of you like Cibby and Zaak who have made big moves and changes recently – does this seem plausible to you?

  1. I’m not sure everyone uses the terms ‘pigeonhole’: it just means a rectangular grid of rectangular slots into which mail is sorted

/me = crispy critter

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:50 pm

That is to say, I’m fried. Just watche 15 of my students present a 20 minute lesson each. Don’t get me wrong, they were interesting, engaging and amazing. I’m continually amazed and humbled by the creativity and knowledge of the students I teach. But I was also up late last night transfering the video from yesterday’s presentations, then was rushing too fast to even eat this morning and making stuff happen and trying to get tech to work for them. Even the eebul Rock Star energy drink at lunch didn’t help enough… Because it’s hard work paying close attention to 15 performances and writing a review of each on the spot. I’d like to see some professional theatre critics try it. So I’m fried, but in a good way, and very happy and satisfied with the work they did and will do. Our kids are in good hands.

18/1/2006

A Click Too Far

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:48 pm

You know I’m all in favour of conserving energy and the environment. So, as one small part of that, I’m happy about the little sign beside the light switch in the mens room near my office that reminds people to turn off the lights when the facilities are not in use, and I regularly do so myself.

But this morning I was sitting there happily, reading a Dave Barry book (as you do), when someone came in, peed long and loud, farted loudly, then left, turning off the freakin’ lights! I was instantly plunged into Stygian darkness – astonishing just how dark, actually. No more reading, and proceedings from there had to be carried out by touch and memory – fortunately without incident.

So please, people, do support the environment: but maybe check the cubicle doors first!

17/1/2006

Now Get The T-shirt!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:47 pm

For a complicated set of reasons, only some of which can usefully be discussed here, some lunatic made the ‘I am Bravus’ t-shirt.

Basically, every time someone posted a poll on the William Gibson Board, I would find some category or option that they’d failed to include, and that I fit in. Not trying to be difficult, just don’t fit in the usual boxes sometimes… So after a while it became customary to add an extra option to any poll that just said ‘I’m Bravus’. There are usually two or three people who vote that way in each poll, which is reminiscent of the famous scene from Spartacus (‘I’m Spartacus’) that was parodied in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ (‘I’m Brian, and so’s my wife’).

Anyway, I’m sure no-one will actually buy one, but it’s cool in a weird way (or possibly weird in a cool way) that such a thing exists.

The Election And The Dollar

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:16 pm

Interesting result: http://www.discount-currency-exchange.com/foreign-exchange-updates/news-us.cfm/FOREX_news/01-12-2006 At this stage, at least, the Canadian dollar seems to drop (relative to the American) when it looks as if there might be a ‘too close to call’ result, and to rise when there’s more certainty about who might win. The market seems not to really care who wins, suggesting that it sees both policy platforms as about the same in terms of their economic effects, just so long as there’s a clear result.

I guess look for a higher dollar, ‘cos this poll seems to show a pretty commanding Conservative lead… translating that into seats is more complicated, but as of today I’m calling it as a Conservative minority government.

Party Platforms 5: The NDP

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:46 pm

Well, we’re in the lead-up to the election now (in fact, Lorne has already voted – hey, he mighta gone NDP on the strength of the following! … Nah!) Here’s the fifth and final instalment in my series on the platforms of the Canadian political parties, focussed on the New Democratic Party. They’re basically always called the ‘NDP’ – in fact, I had to check their name before writing it here. Jack Layton, their leader, definitely has the power moustache action going on…

On tax, the NDP proposes to avoid the Liberal governments promised large cuts in corporate taxes, and to redirect the revenue cuts to advantage the ‘working poor’ and those at the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum. They would also retain more tax revenue (i.e. not cut as deeply) in order to better fund health care and education. Really, these are the kinds of commitments and values that would be expected of a Liberal party too, but the fact that the Liberals are definitely run by a boss, not a worker, is symptomatic of where their priorities have come to lie. I’m with the NDP on this one: ‘trickle down’ economics was basically disproved as a strategy in the Reagan 80s, and it’s nonsense that it’s still being advanced as a solution to equity and economic growth.

The full detail on the Education policies is here, but the idea is to increase investment in education, restore transfers from Ottawa to the provinces for higher education that have been cut over the past decade, offer the provinces stable funding arrangements and work at reducing tuition and student debt loads. They also have the interesting idea of modifying Employment Insurance so that it can be used to fund education and retraining for the unemployed – a very important and sensible step that is needed in Australia too: the alternative is forced idleness for the unemployed when they could be gaining new knowledge and skills.

On health they will resist further privatisation and restore funding, and move toward a national prescription drug plan. This is a key issue for Canadians, and is one of the issues on which socialism and capitalism/corporatism collide most strongly. The doctrine throughout the Western world in the last few decades is that ‘privatised is better and more efficient’, but the evidence in power generation and all sorts of other industries refutes that. For some kinds of public services, public is better… and sure, we need to keep governments accountable: but the whole point with private corporations is that they are by definition much less accountable to the public than governments. Try voting out the head of your power company.

Go here for the rest of the detail: I’ve just hit the hot button issues for me, but the rest of their platform is consistent with the basic values displayed in these three policy areas. They are unabashedly a party of the Left, but not in such a doctrinaire way that it seems like a problem to me… and I find it interesting that their ads (which are available on the site) attack the Liberals much, much more strongly than the Conservatives. (Hmmm, Paul Martin seems to have noticed too.)

I don’t have the vote in Canada, and it would depend on the local candidate, and there remains the issue with minor parties, but I think I’d be very tempted to vote NDP if I could. Apart from anything else, having the NDP hold the balance of power in a minority government of either stripe seems to me like it would be a way to restrain the worst excesses of the government.

(Just on a side note, I don’t think judging the federal NDP by the BC NDP is helpful – different people, different context.)

So by all means, tell us how you voted (if you like), or how you will, or how you would if you had the chance. I’ll await the result of the actual poll next Monday with great interest.

15/1/2006

The Slow Learning Movement

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:28 pm

A colleague here in the Carnegie group, Mark Cladis is talking about his approach to teaching as ‘The Slow Learning Movement’. That doesn’t mean he’s teaching students with intellectual disabilities – quite the reverse. But it means he thinks we assign too much reading, too many assignments, too much ‘work’ in our teaching. Combined with the hectic pace of the rest of our students’ lives, the result is that they don’t get enough time to really reflect, contemplate and learn.

So Mark suggests just slowing down: rather than reading sixty pages lightly (or not at all), what if they read 15 pages reflectively, slowly, two or three times, and mark it up and highlight it and discuss it in detail? Aren’t they likely to learn more, and have that learning effect their everyday lives more deeply? How can we create space in our classrooms that allows the students to slow down and just relax into this kind of slower space?

Mark talks about creating ‘gracious time and space’ in education… and it’s a very engaging vision.

How Important Is The Label?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:59 am

The current controversy around James Frey’s book ‘A Million Little Pieces‘ – it was marketed as a ‘memoir’ and made an Oprah’s Book Club selection – got me thinking about labels. This book was heralded as Oprah’s first ‘non-fiction’ selection… but then it turned out that Frey had ‘fictionalised’ some elements of his personal story of drug and alcohol addiction and later redemption which was the focus of the book.

On one hand, who really cares? If the book was good – interesting, moving, compelling – before we found out that perhaps it would have been better shelved in the fiction section, how has it changed now?

On the other hand, it has been touted, not just as a good read, but as some sort of inspiration for others to also kick drugs and alcohol. Is a tale less effective for that purpose if it’s not true?

And, just to complicate the issue a little more, Frey claims to have kicked his addictions and stayed clean without Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-Step programs, and (at least implicitly) encourages others to do so… yet those programs have an excellent history of helping people with substance abuse problems.

So is the label important? Generally I’d say not, but in this very specific case… I’m still not sure.

We get the same issue in music discussions with ‘is it heavy metal?’, and in the kinds of science fiction book discussions I enjoy with ‘is it cyberpunk?’. My answer always tends to be ‘who cares, is it any good?’

So is the label important? I guess if you open a can of what’s labeled as peaches and it turns out to be dog food, that’d be pretty disappointing. But maybe it’s hearty beef stew instead, and if you let go of the expectation of peaches, it’s pretty good and nourishing. I still think letting go of labels and expectations and just taking on experiences on their own terms and seeing where they take us is a way of life that has the potential to lead to more happiness and enjoyment.

14/1/2006

Toiletries For The Homeless

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:33 am

A bit of a moral dilemma. We’re staying at the Sheraton while we’re here, which is very nice – one of those things I can’t afford and wouldn’t choose if I was paying for it, but that I know how to enjoy when someone else is.

A colleague at the workshops distributed a note (she did this last time too) entitled ‘Toiletries for the homeless’, encouraging us to collect the shampoo, lotion, soap etc from our hotel rooms (unopened) and give it to her to be passed on to homeless people in her area.

On the one hand it sounds like a great and kind idea, right? (Though it could be that they’d take it as a hint and be offended: but she’s been doing it for a while and presumably knows how to avoid that.) Something that helps make them more comfortable, in small single-use containers they don’t have to store or carry around. And the hotel can certainly afford it: how would they know we’re not just using a lot of stuff ourselves?

But the thing is, we’re not. We’ve paid for the room, sure, and will be using some, but if we don’t use them, they won’t replenish them, so taking a bunch out of the room each day does cost the hotel. I dunno, maybe I’m being precious or something, but it doesn’t seem right to me somehow.

13/1/2006

Some Photos Of Us In Action

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:30 pm

http://www.cfkeep.org/html/snapshot.php?id=55705410480225