29/8/2006

Running for Office

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:03 pm

I may have mentioned here before that I was nominated to serve on the UQ Academic Board. I just got the ballot papers, and there were 10 candidates for the 7 positions, and in the picking of the names out of the hat my name was placed first on the ballot paper. Depending on people’s preferences, I think my statement of qualifications was pretty competitive/compelling compared to some of the others too, so I guess we’ll see how it goes. The count isn’t for another month, though.

Education For What?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:34 pm

I just attended a very interesting presentation with the above title. The four presenters each looked at the question from a different perspective, including a very interesting one from a guy who used to head up UNESCO’s education efforts all around the world, and a case study of Singapore and its enthusiastic embrace of the ‘knowledge economy’. I’ll probably share bits and pieces of ideas from the seminar and my reactions to it over the next couple of days, but first back to the title. Before going in I jotted down my own little list of what education might be for…

  • employment
  • entrepreneurship
  • participating in the knowledge economy
  • national citizenship
  • global citizenship
  • faith
  • service
  • credentials
  • living an educated life
  • care for others
  • environmental sustainability
  • peace
  • global community
  • intelligent leaders for the future

Do any of these ring a bell with you? Or is there some other goal that you think education is (or should be) for?

28/8/2006

Don’t Lie

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:17 am

Current traffic safety campaign, with TV ads and billboards, is focused on the slogan ‘Every k over is a killer’. Which is basically crap. Sure, speeding is dangerous and all that – but are they seriously saying that a crash at the speed limit of 100 km/h won’t kill you but 101 will? It’s nonsense, and all it does is make people reject it as nonsense. Maybe ‘every 10 k over increases your risk of injury and death, depending on road conditions…’ But that doesn’t really flow off the billboard. The old ‘speed kills’ worked pretty well by being less precise…

27/8/2006

Metal and Religion

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:00 am

I listen to metal radio stations on the net, and read metal magazines and web sites, and what I see is that religious/Christian bands are just included in the mix and treated like everyone else. And I really don’t see that in mainstream pop or mainstream radio, where Christian music is off in a ghetto of sorts. Of course, metal radio also includes Satanic or anti-Christian music in its range, as well as music from all sorts of other perspectives, so maybe it’s just part of the genre that religious beliefs of whatever stripe are more welcome. Anyway, newer bands like Zao, As I Lay Dying and Demon Hunter as well as older stuff like Stryper (and erm, Stryper’s newer stuff) is all getting a run for the headbangers… which I think is a good thing.

26/8/2006

First Of Many

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:48 pm

First swim in our pool this afternoon. The day was maybe 27, and we’d played tennis, so we went and hung our feet in the pool to cool off. After the initial shock we decided that it was warm enough for a swim, so we jumped in. Pretty breath-taking just at first, but very enjoyable after that. Had a great time, and there’ll be plenty more where that came from. Come on over and join us some time!

25/8/2006

Jon-Benet and Snakes On A Plane free zone

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:25 am

Yup, won’t be blogging on either of those easy targets.

21/8/2006

The Long Goodbye

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:37 pm

For a generally pretty mellow guy (see the whole ‘not pressing the close door button in the elevator‘ thing), there’s one tradition in Australia1 that I’m still not comfortable with: the long goodbye. That is, when you’re enjoying a social evening at someone’s place, and you say ‘OK, goodnight, we’d better head home I guess’… that doesn’t mean you’re actually leaving. Oh no.

There’s at least another half hour of chat inside, before a repeat of the same sentiment, then everyone will stand up and keep on chatting, gradually drifting toward the door. Whole new subjects of conversation will be raised and exhausted on the way out the door and down the front path to the car. The whole performance may take up to an hour and a half.

This drives me nuts, because I usually assume that our hosts are tired and want to get to bed, but it’s always going to happen, and in fact it’s a tradition because everyone pretty much accepts it… so I just need to relax into it with grace, and stop threatening to put Suzie over my shoulder and carry her to the car if she doesn’t hurry up!

  1. I’m sure it happens other places too, but somehow not to the extent it happens here

Thinking Like A Middle School Teacher

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:01 pm

Yesterday was the Ipswich campus Open Day, and as part of that I was asked to do a couple of presentations (well, the same presentation a couple of times!) on a topic something like ‘The Middle Years – unique challenges’. That’s about all the guidance I got, so I decided that I’d chat a little bit about middle schooling in general, then run an activity in which I tried to get the people in attendance (mostly potential education students at Ipswich and their parents and families) to spend a little bit of time thinking like a middle school teacher. I wanted to help give them some appreciation of the fact that being a teacher is about thinking and creativity and responding to a wide range of students’ characteristics and interests.

As each person came into the room I asked him/her to take a sheet of plain paper – I chose red paper because it looked cooler. I outlined a number of features of the middle schooling model (basically, something to ease the transition between primary and high school, and to have students learn in ways that better approximate real life). I then talked a bit about integrated curriculum: life doesn’t come at us and present its challenges in neat boxes labelled ‘English, Science, Maths, Social Studies’. In real life we have to deal with issues in all their complexity and draw on knowledge from a number of disciplines, and intergrated curriculum tries to make learning fit that pattern.

Then I got each participant to use the sheet of red paper to make a paper plane. We talked a bit about how we’d judge the quality of a paper plane (distance flown, height flown, loko and stylishness, stunting ability, …), and then I asked for links to various subject areas. The science and technology links are fairly easy to imagine, the maths ones slightly less so, and it took real imagination to link it to art, English, PE and social studies. I got different suggestions and ideas from the people in each group, and offered a few of my own… and I think they did end up with some sense of the intellectual and creative challenges of teaching.

19/8/2006

Our Own Worst Enemies

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:16 am

So as a favour to a colleague I did a 15 minute presentation yesterday extolling the virtues of teaching in general and our teacher education program in particular to 50 or so Year 9 students at the Ipswich campus. Went well, I think, although I’d love to have had a little more time to make it a bit more interactive.

I asked them to suggest some of the reasons why someone might want to become a teacher, and the kids came up with ‘working with people’, ‘liking kids’ and ‘liking to boss kids around’. I asked the teachers, hoping for some more sophisticated reasoning, and all either of them could come up with was ‘holidays’! No wonder the profession sometimes doesn’t have a very good public image, if the educators themselves struggle to come up with some real positive reasons why someone might want to do it!

I suggested to the kids (and I guess to the teachers too) that a high school teacher has 4 or 5 classes of maybe 25 kids each, so deals with maybe 120 kids per year. In a 30 year teaching career that’s 3600 kids that a teacher influences… so if you want to influence the shape of Australia in the next generation, maybe teaching is something you might consider.

Pah – holidays!

18/8/2006

That B%@$#& SMIDSY

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:44 am

Who is SMIDSY? It’s an acronym for the most common thing Australian motorcyclists hear after they’ve been knocked off their bikes by a car: Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You. Well meant, but not much consolation with a broken leg and a bent bike (or worse).

It’s up to car drivers to watch better, and to watch specifically for bikes. It’s up to riders to wear bright colors, be aware of their movements and ride defensively. I used to be annoyed by bikes with loud exhausts, but I’m thinking of getting one myself, so that hearing is added to seeing…

I never want to meet SMIDSY.

17/8/2006

Lüshi

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:21 pm

Jintishi is a Chinese form of poetry from the Tang dynasty. Here are a couple of examples, with translations:

???????
???????
???????
???????
???????
???????
???????
???????
???????
????????

Our host brings wine, for merry-making tonight;
And bids the guest from Guangling, to play upon the zither;
Moonlight bathes the city walls, crows fly mid-air;
Frost petrifies ten thousand tress, wind pierces our robes.
But the copper stove gleams bright, and candles add their shimmer;
First he plays Lu Water, then The Princess of Chu.
As the first note trembles, all else falls silent;
From the whole company not a word, till the stars begin to pale.
The thousand miles to Qinghuai, I was sent by the Emperor’s mandate;
On such a night I venture to speak of, retiring to the mountains and the clouds.
[A Zither Song : Li Qi, ???? : ??]

??????
?????
?????
???????

Sitting alone, in the hush of the bamboo;
I thrum my lute, and whistle lingering notes.
In the secrecy of the wood, no one can hear;
Only the clear moon, comes to shine on me.
[Hut Among the Bamboos : Wang Wei, ????? : ??]

It’s basically impossible to do in English because it relies on the tonality of Chinese, but one form, lüshi, consists of 8 lines – four sets of couplets – in which the second and third couplets must parallel one another with opposite ideas. I tried my hand at an English version, and for some reason what came out was kind of delta blues inflected:

I have no zither, but this old guitar
Although much scratched, sings with a mellow tone
My slide the neck of a bottle of Jack
Worn smooth by fingers and wire strings
Yet one small sharp place still exists
It happened when I dropped it, when you left
I essay sweet slow sad beauty under the moon
But sometimes it cuts and my guitar bleeds jagged

Looping

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:21 am

One of the challenges when I’ve been blogging for this long and have written this many posts (over 600) is that ideas have already been used. Had the idea for a post about horror movies as a reaction to current social conditions in the world, but then there was an inkling that I might have done that before. Quick search found this post from January this year, about 200 posts ago: Nasty.

The idea that kids these days see the world going to hell in a handbasket – war and consumerism and climate change, oh my! – and see a horrifying movie that nonetheless is all over and can be laughed at after a while as a relief is still as compelling, I think, if not more so as the situation in the Middle East just keeps on getting more depressing.

14/8/2006

How Do You Know A Movie Will Be Lame?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:08 pm

(this one might be interesting for Zaak, who I know is a movie nut and has likely thought about it!)

What features of a movie indicate to you early on that it’s going to be a waste of your time and you’re going to want your time and money back? Here are a few of mine to start you off:

  • The presence of Jean-Claude Van Damme
  • The situation where the comic relief is provided by the stupid/bumbling villains (of course the epitome of this, where it’s the only humour available, is the ‘Home Alone’ series)
  • Massive telegraphing of every joke so you can see it coming a mile off and have already discarded it by the time it arrives
  • All the best jokes are in the trailer, but strung together out of context
  • The presence of Paul Walker (aka ‘Bum Fluff Boy’), although his presence often guarantees trashy fun (see ‘The Fast And The Furious’ and ‘Into The Blue’)
  • The presence of any former wrestler (Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura) – although The Rock is possibly an exception to this rule

And of course, sometimes the whole cover of the DVD just reeks with a gestalt sense of extreme lamitude… I’m sure there are dozens more…

Comments and Conversations

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:23 pm

Part of my whole new ‘not living so much of my life on the net’ push has meant that I’ve been a bit slack about following up to people’s comments on posts here – which I’m sorry about, ‘cos the discussion is an important part of the Total Blogging ExperienceTM.

So if you’ve commented on a post in the last couple of weeks, you may want to check back, because I might have replied now! (One of the issues with an oft-updated blog is that old posts sink so fast.) I’ll try to keep more on top of it in future too.

12/8/2006

Getting My Metal On

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:22 am

(heh, when I used that phrase in front of the kids they were horrified, so this is for them)

A student in my class this semester, Regan, happened to know I like the heavy music, and was thoughtful enough to give me a flyer for a concert last night. His wife’s uncle, Darren, is the lead singer of the band Mobstar, which is relocating to England after tonight, so this was the band’s final Brisbane show. I e-mailed my friend Lithos and we met up in town for the show. Regan and his wife Juanita arrived a bit later: in the middle of James’ solo on the table, and I chatted with them: well, yelled and went “What?” mainly, while Lithos was being a band photographer. Hopefully he’ll post up some great shots of the bands. So here’s the rundown:

The venue, Her Majesty’s Basement in the Queen Street Mall was great – small, and you could easily get very close to the bands, and all the bands basically just hung out and mingled with the punters all evening. Drinks were a horrifying price, but there ya go.

First band up was Blak Dragon (can’t find a link – their home page says they have split up…) Very wide range of ages and styles in the band, and they rocked hard. Great young vocalist who could easily have gone to work in plenty of city offices in his stage gear, a drummer who looked older than me, a big with lots of hair on bass and a young and an older Asian guy on guitars. The young guy was the faster shredder, but the older guy had heaps more stage presence – and used his wireless link to the amp to allow him to run down off the stage and into the crowd while he was playing – and a wider range of soloing styles. Their lyrics tended more toward the Whitesnake ‘romantic’ end of the spectrum, but they played hard and well and were enjoyable.

The real revelation of the night for me was Metallurgy. Lithos had mentioned them to me as a great Brisbane band, but I was just blown away by their skill, power and just the sheer sense of fun I got from them as they played. Singer/guitarist James Ellis is very young and very, very good, and definitely a fan as well as a muso: I was standing right behind him in the crowd later as he headbanged along to Mobstar. He too used the wireless guitar rig – and ran out into and through the crowd, shredding insanely, up onto a table in the venue, still playing, raced back up to the stage in perfect time to get back to the mic for the next verse. Great voice, great stage presence and some ripping original songs. These guys are definitely worth keeping an eye on. For a finale Jim from Arcane, another Brisbane band, joined them onstage for a killer cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’ that had the whole crowd screaming along.

Next band up was ‘Drop Dead Ugly‘, who introduced themselves as ‘we’re drop dead ugly, and so are you’. They also said ‘how good was that last band? We’re not gonna shred like them – just the opposite’, and were true to their word. Basically nu-metal: funky and rap-inflected, deeply unserious, deeply obscene and (for me at least) ridiculously entertaining. They sang a series of songs about (from memory) being molested by the boss on a camping trip, stalking an ex-girlfriend, sex during menstruation and G.I.L.Fs (hint – the G is for ‘grannies’). So you get the idea. The Lith left the room for a back room in disgust, but I’m not sure whether it was due to the lyrics, the nu-metal or the endless series of dildos and penis hats that formed the props. What can I say – the exact opposite of political correctness, no socially redeeming features, but fun!

Mobstar were the headliners for the evening, and put on a great show. They were older guys, more mid-30s or so, and played what I think of as more hard rock than heavy metal: they covered a Motley Crue song (Kickstart My Heart), a Van Halen song (Hot For Teacher) and Led Zep’s ‘Black Dog’, and their originals fit pretty well with that material. They’re moving to the UK, but their original bass player doesn’t want to make the move, so he played about the first half of the set, then the new guy came in and played some songs, then the old guy got back up on stage and sang and played guitar a bit: so obviously the split is pretty amicable. The original bass player is a huge guy who reminds me of Gene Simmons from KISS and had heaps of stage presence, the new guy, Doe, was smaller and more intense, and a bit of a shred-monster. He and the amazing lead guitarist, Santi, duelled it off on Billy Sheehan’s bass-showoff song ‘Shy Boy’ (which was originally a duel between Sheehan and Steve Vai on a David Lee Roth album) and it was awesome. Great, hard rocking show that had the crowd singing and yelling and jumping up and down, me included.

So I’m pretty deaf this morning: but it was totally worth it.

10/8/2006

Caution: Poets At Work

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:13 pm

A thread I started at the William Gibson Board that involves writing poetry to order within certain rules. Lots of cool and fun stuff so far: http://williamgibsonboard.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/2866012481/m/2671022652

9/8/2006

Biot(e)ch

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:38 am

Working on pulling together a research project on biotechnology education that will be worth over half a million dollars over four years… but I just can’t help noticing that ‘biotech’ is only one letter away from ‘biotch’.

8/8/2006

Perry, Idiots and Stages of Thinking

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:56 am

(OK, this is another ‘not really about bikes, honest!’ post)

So I started a thread on the Netriders forum about how riders should respond to people who do stupid and dangerous things on their bikes, like overtaking over double lines around blind corners or over the crest of a hill. The discussion was sparked by a couple of incidents in which riders doing that had hurt not only themselves but people in on-coming cars, in one case fatally.

You don’t need to read the full thread (4 pages so far) to make sense of this post, but it would definitely help: http://www.netrider.net.au/forums/viewtopic.php?t=23601

Responses tended to take three main forms.

  1. Some said “Well, just obey the road rules, speed limits and lines at all times, and you have no problem”.
  2. Others said “It’s all too subjective: one person’s dangerous idiot behaviour is another person’s safe fun.” A corollary of that approach was “And what right do you have to set yourself up as a judge over me and how I choose to ride?”
  3. The third approach was more like my own: “There are some things that are perhaps not legal but are nevertheless still safe (e.g. going slightly over the speed limit on a freeway where all the traffic is doing so may actually be *safer* than sticking religiously to the speed limit), but there are other things (like the double line/blind corner thing) that can fairly objectively be judged as being stupid and dangerous.”

There’s another layer around what you do then – do you tell someone he’s riding like an idiot (albeit perhaps more tactfully), or just refuse to let him ride with you, or…? These idiots tar the reputations of the great majority of safe and sensible riders, and it seems as though it’s in our own interests to try to do *something* about them.

Apart from anything else, they lose privileges (rights?) for the rest of us: the lovely, twisty and scenic ‘Old Road’ (the Pacific Highway that was superseded by a freeway and therefore had few vehicles on it) between Sydney and Newcastle used to be a mecca for riders, but apparently it’s now all 60 km/h and a cop on every corner…

But the thing that got me thinking (and that saves this from being a bike post!) is that the three classes of responses fit pretty neatly into William Perry’s scheme for describing the intellectual development of college students. Perry’s scheme is fairly complex and has 9 stages, but it boils down to this: students come in with a very black and white, binary perspective (“just obey the law”). They move toward a more relativistic view (“it’s all too subjective, everyone has their own truth”), then develop to what Perry calls ‘commitment within relativism’: the idea that different people have different views, but nonetheless we make particular choices and value judgements based in beliefs to which we’re committed.

I just found it interesting to see the stages Perry described come out so clearly in the discussion – and some quite heated debate between proponents of different views. Made me think about the levels of development of people across the whole society (since not everyone goes through all these stages), and about what those different ways of looking at the world mean for public education campaigns about things like speeding and drink driving. The same approach won’t work for everyone, depending on the way they think.

7/8/2006

Tools Of The Trade

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:38 am

Been hanging out a bit lately at the Netrider forums, an Australian motorcyclists’ discussion site. I’m trying to go easy on bike-related posts here, so this isn’t really one… it’s just to share a couple of humorous signature lines from there in relation to tools:

The only two tools you need are WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn’t move and should, use the WD-40, if it moves and shouldn’t, use the duct tape.

Almost Canadian, really…!

If in trouble or in doubt, get a bigger hammer out.

I’ve been telling students for years that (metaphorically) they can use a big hammer to make their assignments fit my criteria…

I’ll pass on any other ones I find, and you can add in comments any that tickled your fancy. I know Raj has some great quotes about tools and technologies.

6/8/2006

Church

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:49 pm

Went to a new church yesterday – one that it’s possible might become our new church home. Met some very good friends who we hadn’t seen for 15 years, since Cassie was a newborn baby, and went to their place for lunch. They’ve lived in the UK for a couple of long stretches in the mean time, and we’ve lived in Papua New Guinea and Canada… and now we live within about 15 min drive of each other! Very cool indeed to get to know them again, and it’s great that they’re so close.

Church was interesting… I was kinda expecting a very old-school traditional SDA service with hymns and so on, but it was not quite like that. More like a contemporary style church service (like we were used to at Red Willow church in Canada), but as done by someone who had never actually seen one, but just constructed it from instructions badly translated from Korean. 😉 I don’t mean to be too harsh, but more modern type songs, but sung at half speed accompanied by a piano getting into the serious flourishes doesn’t quite equate to a worship band… Ah well, I guess they have to start somewhere.

The female preacher was interesting and thought-provoking, although she could probably have expressed the same thoughts in 2/3 the time with a little more focus. She was talking about Jacob and Leah and Rachel, a story with plenty of sex in it (as in Jacob sleeps with both of the sisters, then later with their maidservants as well), and the preacher was appropriately open about that fact, but appropriately discreet in her language for a church service of mixed sex and age and temperament…

Except for a slight reading problem: the Bible translation she was reading from says “Go in to her” (i.e. go in to her bedroom) when it means ‘sleep with her’, but the preacher consistently read it as “Go into her” – which is somewhat more explicit.