At The Beach

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:41 am

We made it to the beach for the first time yesterday. It’s still the middle of winter:


Grandma Nene in black in the foreground, and Cassie and Alex (and Buffy) elsewhere in the picture. Alex commented that even in real life the city of Surfers Paradise looks like a bad special effect… and she’s right.


Buffy liked the water, but she got a bit cold when the wind picked up. Nice wading weather though, and plenty of surfers.

Edit: Just by the by, this is post number 600. Go me!


Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:34 am

We were chatting about something on the weekend in the car and Cassie referred to the ‘nose-bleeds’. We had to explain to Sue and Alex that that meant the cheap seats way up high in the theatre – notionally so high that the thin air would cause nose-bleeds. Then Cassie said “But in Shakespeare’s time the peasants had to be down on the ground, in the… mosh pit.”

One more from Disneyland

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:32 am



Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:24 am

I’m getting much better at that whole ‘not being on the computer on the weekend’ and ‘leaving work at work’ thing… with the result that blog posting is a bit less reliably day-by-day, a bit patchier. But it means my life is a bit more balanced, which is a Good Thing, IMO.


Abusing the Ellipsis

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:49 pm

I tend to do it all the time… oops, I did it again!

I know I over-use those three little dots: “…” But they’re so darn handy!

When I use them, what I mean them to mean is ‘there’s more to be said on this topic, but you and I both already know what it is, so I won’t bother saying it…’


Meat Pusher

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:21 pm

As you may know, our younger daughter Alex is vegetarian, basically on ethical grounds: she loves animals, so how can she kill and eat them? We support her in that, even if it’s sometimes a hassle to cook separate meals… and it means we probably eat more vegetarian stuff than we otherwise would, which is likely good for us.

Cassie, the older one, just got a job yesterday (she starts this afternoon) at the deli counter at a local Woolworths supermarket. We were joking with her that she’s now a ‘meat pusher’: and not just the relatively benign stuff like grass-fed beef, but the hard stuff – bacon and smoked salmon and pastrami.

PS I may need to revise my earlier thoughts on God not ‘opening doors’ for us: Sue got an interview easily and got the job straight away, and so did Cass.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:35 pm

We’re currently undergoing an activity at our university – and it will soon be expanded to all Australian universities – whereby the attempt is made to measure not just the quantity of publications but the quality.

Sounds like a good idea on the surface – just counting published papers was never all that useful as a measure of productivity, just because it’s very easy to publish crap, or to publish essentially the same article multiple times.

The devil, of course, is in the detail. No-one has time to actually sit down and read all the papers to check for quality. Citations are a decent measure, but they take years to occur, and there aren’t really good measures of citations in the social sciences like there are in the sciences.

So they’ve pretty much decided to use ‘quality of the journal in which the paper is published’ as a proxy for ‘quality of the paper’. It’s at second remove, but presumably it’s easier to publish good stuff (and harder to publish crap) in a good journal with high standards and good peer review.

Trouble is, who decides on the quality of the journals? And how narrowly specific should it get (e.g. if journals are chosen and ranked across the whole education faculty, how many science education journals will get in and who will judge their quality?) Presumably these are questions that could be answered in good and subtle ways, but the signs so far aren’t encouraging…

And the hammer is too big: at this stage, a paper published in a Tier One journal is worth five times as much as one published in a Tier Two journal. So if you want to publish in the latter, you have to write 5 times as many papers… Just makes it a lot harder to get published in the ‘good journals’… and likely also kills off startup journals that could potentially make a big contribution.

I’m all for measuring quality, and measuring achievement in better ways, but when ‘quality’ is just reduced back to quantity (a weighted number of papers in different levels of journals), and when ‘quality’ is defined in terms of a proxy several steps removed, just because that’s what’s easy to measure…

60% Less Fat – and always has been

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:27 pm

Eating a Turkish Delight chocolate bar the other day, and that’s what was emblazoned on the wrapper. I’ve ranted before about fats and their approximate irrelevance in talking about candy, but this just seemed like grammatical nonsense… how can it be ‘less’ if it has always been the same?

Following the asterisk to the small print told me that it was ‘compared to other chocolate bars’, rather than to its own prior state, so there’s a certain amount of logic there… But trust me, enough Turkish Delights will definitely still make you fat.


Civilisation and Chunking

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:55 am

Civilisation advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.
– Alfred North Whitehead, 1911, Introduction to Mathematics

Does that seem true1 to you? It seems odd at first glance, but in a sense the idea that civilisation can be defined as the set of things that we can do without having to pay conscious attention to them, thereby freeing up our conscious attention for other things, seems plausible. Maybe it seemed more so in 1911, when that quote was written: the rate at which new ideas and operations have been appearing in say the last 12 years or so (since the development of the World Wide Web) is such that it seems ‘civilisation’ in this sense might be receding from us…

But it’s interesting, partly because it goes against much of the trend of modern educational thought – with some debt to Eastern philosophies – which tends to be about making us more thoughtful and reflective, about making us mindful, about getting away from automation and ‘chunking’.

As in most things, I tend to seek a balance, and to believe that society as a whole (and its subsets like the education community) is much better at doing huge pendulum swings than it is at finding balance. The present emphasis on thought (cognition) is in part a reaction to behaviourist perspectives that considered thought irrelevant, and in part a reaction to the kinds of ‘efficiency’ that seem to underlie the Whitehead quote.

Balance can be about repertoire and appropriateness: that is, rather than seeking always to ‘chunk’ operations (like driving a car, for example) in such a way that we can carry them out unthinkingly, and rather than seeking to be mindful and explicit and reflective in every context, perhaps we could do a little bit of ‘meta’ thinking and find out (gasp) what approach is most appropriate to the context and the situation, in virtually a case-by-case approach. That would involve having a wide and growing repertoire of approaches at our disposal that we could apply in particular situations.

  1. or, maybe better – or at least better fitting with the rest of my philosophical musings – useful

Ms Wheelchair stripped!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:29 am

Via (the very wonderful but very twisted and not for everyone) Alien Loves Predator: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7355320/


Back the $&%@# up!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:41 am

In terms of the whole defensive driving/riding thing (and I promise this is the last bike-related post for a while): if there’s one request I could make of drivers, it’s ‘please don’t tailgate me’ (or, perhaps more usually, expressed as in the title of this post!)

Basically, power/weight ratios and brakes over-ride the effect of tire contact patches and mean that, in an emergency-braking situation, a bike can pull up a lot more quickly than a car. In turn, that means that if you’re sitting right on my butt and something falls off a truck ahead so that we both have to hit the brakes hard, I’m going to be wearing you (and your ton and a half of steel) as a hat pretty quickly.

So leave at least the usual 2 seconds (which means a bigger gap at higher speeds) between us when you’re behind me – and I’ll do the same to you. It’s healthier for us both.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:26 am

It’s interesting – I very rarely swear out loud, or when I’m talking to anyone. Not particularly because I think it’s evil and I’m going to hell, just because I’m aware of the value and power of words, and like to show a bit broader vocabulary than a half-dozen swear words. I don’t have any real compunction about swearing when the occasion demands it, but still try to be considerate of whoever might be listening.

But I’m noticing that, when I’m riding the motorbike, my internal monologue is a lot swearier than usual. Not sure why that is. I’m pretty sure it’s not because I’m trying to be all tough and bikerish… and it would be pretty pathetic if I was doing that to impress myself!

I think part of it is just that the perceived extra danger and risk of riding the bike means I’m at a raised emotional state compared to my usual pretty laidback demeanour. That’s a good thing if it means I’m also extra alert and careful.

The other part is that it’s usually directed at car drivers who are worrying me, and goes along the lines: “You’d better &@*% see me, and not be talking on your phone. Don’t you *%^! dare pull out now, you %$&#!!”



Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:22 am

There’s a bit of a limerick thread going on on the William Gibson Board at the moment. Most of my contributions have related to particular things or people on the board, so they don’t stand alone very well, but I thought this one was kinda fun:

The secret to limerick’s metre
Is to make every line even sweeter
Doesn’t matter how long
All that counts is the song
But \/\/r171n6 1|\| d16i72 1z 13373R


Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:35 am

If we drive home from Brisbane via the freeway, there’s one point on our journey home where we approach a roundabout (traffic circle), go around it and come back, going the opposite direction on the same road we came in on.

Sue said this meant we were ‘doing a 360’, and I said ‘no, it’s a 180’. Significant discussion ensued…

My argument was that you go in one way, and come out facing in exactly the opposite direction, having rotated through 180o. As a good physicist, I argued that the circle you drive around on the roundabout is irrelevant – what’s important is the initial and final states. I said that to do a 360 you’d have to keep on going around the roundabout until you were going the same way you’d been going initially.

Sue said ‘No, if you took the left turnoff you’d have turned 90o from your initial direction, if you went straight ahead that’s 180, taking your initial position as 0, if you went around and turned right you’d have gone through 270 and going right around to come back the way you came is a 360. (I’ve helpfully illustrated the situation and her system below.)


I think her system of descriptions has a lot to recommend it as a way of explaining directions to people… but it seems to me as though under that system, when you’re driving along a straight stretch of road you’re continually doing 180s, and that doesn’t seem right. So I still reckon we do a 180 at the roundabout. What do you think?


An Ethical Challenge

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:53 pm

I just came back from a meeting with a representative of a research group that works in the field of genetically modified crops. (I won’t say any more than that about the context because I don’t want to jeopardise anything.) They’re interested in working with us and bringing some funding to the table for a doctoral student to work in classrooms around issues of the acceptance of GM foods. They’re certainly not wanting to fund brainwashing, but at the same time they’d clearly be pleased if more education and a better informed debate led to better public acceptance for GM foods. (As it happens, all but one Australian state currently has a moratorium on GMOs.)

It’s a fascinating issue with lots of educational potential, but the idea does raise some ethical issues: how unbiased might our approach and materials be, given who is doing the funding? How much freedom would we have to really explore all the relevant science in its social and political context?

Lots still to talk about, and we’ll likely go ahead, if we feel as though we ethically can… should be an interesting ride, anyway.

A Gift of Beauty

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:48 pm

Riding in to work this morning, I was just idling along in traffic, and there was a girl, maybe in her early 20s, waiting on a median strip to cross the road. The median was a green, grassy island with a jacaranda tree on it, and as she stepped across the grass she looked out from under her fringe with a half-smile, and I was just transfixed for an instant by her beauty.


Teachers Can Teach Anything

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:37 pm

I go back and forward on the idea that someone who can teach can teach any content, as long as s/he can stay ahead of the kids in learning it. On one hand I think it should be so – both the prior experience of teaching (including all the knowledge of people and development and so on that involves) and just the extra maturity and understanding that a teacher has should allow him or her to help others learn new content.

On the other hand, I know in my own area, science education, that there are important things about the nature of scientific knowledge that teachers really need to understand in order to be able to teach science well. Someone who doesn’t really have that kind of deep understanding of science (and I’d even argue that that includes many practicing scientists) will still be able to help students learn facts, and even concepts, but is unlikely to be able to instill a really scientific way of thinking, or build scientific literacy.

I’ve been thinking about this issue again because of two things that are going on here. The first is that Sue has started teaching at Challenge Learning Institute in Ipswich. She’s teaching a number of things she already knews and has experience with. She’s also been asked to teach an ‘introduction to retail’ course – and she’s never worked in retail herself. She has a textbook and some notes, and her own smarts and observations about retail, but she’s really teaching a topic where she doesn’t have the necessary background knowledge. We’ve sat down together and just kind of brainstormed and developed a plan for what topics go where and the kinds of activities she’ll do with the students, but it’ll be interesting to see how the course plays out.

The second is that I’m teaching middle school teachers who don’t have strong science backgrounds now, when I always used to teach high school teachers who usually had science degrees before they came into my class. So whatever I think privately, I have to assume for these teachers that if I can help them learn about teaching science, they can learn about the science ‘content’ knowledge they need themselves, and teach the kids.

Cali&SYdney 034

Lee Shulman (that’s me with him – sorry ’bout the blurry photo) has talked about this issue in a way that’s really useful. He talks about ‘content knowledge’ – the knowledge relating to the particular discipline that’s being taught, ‘pedagogical knowledge’ – the general knowledge that all teachers have about motivation, development, management and so on and ‘pedagogical content knowledge’ – knowledge that is specific to teaching a particular subject.

So for my students, they don’t have a lot of content knowledge in science (some of them, others do have science degrees), but they can look that stuff up. They have the general pedagogical knowledge from their other education courses, and from their practice teaching sessions, and they’ll keep developing that knowledge. So my job is to focus on the pedagogical content knowledge – what special things do they need to know in order to be able to teach science? Working on that as hard as we can… but I’m still not sure that it wouldn’t be better if they had more content knowledge… and if Sue had spent some time working in a shop.


Croc Wrestling

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:48 pm

Jason asked if I’ve wrestled a croc yet. Gave this guy a heck of a scare:


(for scale, that’s a bird bath he’s sitting in) 😉

New Family Member

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:47 pm




Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:32 am

I love these words, from ‘Forgiveness Waltz’ by Jonathan Rundman:

these are hard words to hear
in a world where nothing is free
and it’s hard to trust in a promise
that sounds too good to believe
but know that it’s true
this is for you

it’s so easy to drown
in the numbers and judgements and earnings
keeping score, keeping track, keeping time
as the hours keep turning
but you can turn a new way
it’s a new day

it’s like a dance
it’s like a wheel
less like math
less like a deal
more like a heartbreak
beginning to heal
we can start over
we know forgiveness

Sometimes we’re not so good at extending forgiveness to others: in the last few weeks I’ve heard quite a few people raising old hurts and resentments against their brothers and sisters from childhood, or quarrels about money. I think Jesus had the picture on that:

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” – Luke 7:47, NIV

This was in the context of a discussion between Jesus, a prostitute and a leading religious ruler. It’s when we understand that we’ve been forgiven a lot (by others, as well as by God) that we’re in a place where we’re ready to dance forgiveness with others. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve been given lots of forgiveness in my life, because I’ve needed it.