30/11/2006

WWJD as Rorschach

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:59 am

inkblot

You know what the Rorschach test is, right? It’s used in psychoanalysis, and involves showing symmetrical ink-blot pictures to the client. The pictures are randomly generated and don’t actually portray anything… what is interesting to the analyst is what the client ‘sees’ in the picture. (And this is analysed in fairly sophisticated, not simplistic, ways.)

I’ve been wondering for a while if the phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ – immortalised in WWJD bracelets and other ‘Christian jewellery’ – tends to act as a bit of a Rorschach test. Now I’m not saying Jesus’ life and ministry are content-free, please don’t get me wrong on that point. But I see a massive range of responses to the question… so massive that it seems to me ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ ends up not being about Jesus at all, but about ourselves and our values.

There’s a cure for that – coming to understand Jesus better. And we’d better recognise that, whoever we are, that’s going to challenge some of our cherished values and beliefs, and make us uncomfortable. But until we do that work and study, WWJD tends to just reduce to WWID.

29/11/2006

Whose History?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:18 am

This article in the Brisbane Courier-Mail talks about the impending stoush between the Queensland state government and the Australian federal government about the mandatory teaching of history in high school. You should probably read all the letters in response to the story, but I thought I’d share mine here:

There’s a conundrum here. I do believe all students should have a knowledge of Australian history, and indeed of world history too. Trouble is, whose history? John Howard’s ‘white wash’ on history, that focuses on Anglo perspectives and versions and covers up genocides (except the convenient ones by the ‘other guys’)? Or some form of balanced, thoughtful, critical take on history… that will be damned as ‘PC crap’ by some here? History is a story and a selection from the past, a narrative constructed out of the evidence the past has left us, and a human construction. That means it is vitally important to know *which* version of history is being mandated here… and I have my strong suspicions.

28/11/2006

In Praise of Inefficiency

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:37 am

From William Gibson’s Blog a couple of days ago: Loopwheeler Sweatshirts. Do read the article his link points to in full. (OK, I realise we’re getting pretty deep in the meta here, with a blog pointing to a blog pointing to a post about an interview about a process.) I like very much the comments about the importance of inefficiency.

Edit: there was a little tickle in my brain telling me that I’d blogged about this kind of topic before. Went for a search and found it: http://www.bravus.com/blog/?p=99. Hmm, December 2004: maybe my memory isn’t broken, just selective.

27/11/2006

Cyberpunk and Scary

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:20 am

One of the mantras of cyberpunk science fiction was coined by William Gibson ‘The street finds its own uses for things’. He was talking about technologies, but any thoughtful reading of his novels shows he knows it applies to people too. This article from the Guardian (brought to my attention by Mark Patterson – thanks Mark) shows one such use being found for both people in developing countries and the free or cheap laptops that are being produced in order to bring certain benefits to those people.

It’s not scary in terms of comment spam… between me and Spam Karma I think we’ll still be able to keep any mention of Viagra on this blog within the context of the posts… It’s scary because I can think of plenty of other, less harmless, uses for an army of billions of people with web access and computing power… and no doubt the street can think of plenty more.

26/11/2006

Legibility Check

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:01 pm

Now that I’m not looking for a job, I can shift my home page back toward being a more personal refelction of who I am as a whole person, not just as a candidate for an academic job. I think the old site was OK, but it was kinda bland…

I spent an hour or so this evening trying out different varieties of headings, backgrounds and colours, and I kinda like what I ended up with. I know Lorne and others have had trouble in the past with reading on textured backgrounds, though… so if you’re interested, it’d be great if you can go to http://www.bravus.com/ and check out whether you can read the text and see the links. You’re welcome to comment on the aesthetics too if you like, but I basically wanna know if you can read it.

The Coodabeen Champions

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:33 pm

Turned on ABC local radio this evening to get the cricket score (Australia flogging England in the First Test of the Ashes series… it’s just a question of how cruelly), and was delighted to realise I was listening to the Coodabeen Champions. We used to listen to them religiously every Sunday evening in Melbourne around the time when Cassie was born – our version of the Golden Age of Radio. The show had been cancelled ages ago… but apparently they’re back.

It’s basically just four smart, funny but laconic and laid-back Aussie blokes, having a chat about the news of the week, what’s been happening to them and so on. Occasionally Greg Champion will break out the guitar and sing a few parody songs – including some written and e-mailed in by listeners – and sometimes they’ll have guests… but usually it’s just the guys, chatting.

Part of the attraction is that they’re funny, and part is certainly how much their experience overlaps with mine. Part of the rambling this evening involved the days (my schooldays) when cricket bats had to be treated with linseed oil and ‘worn in’… and the advent of the present plastic coated and untreatable bats… with a digression into the availability of a ‘cricket-ball-on-a-stick’ type mallet for ‘breaking in’ a new bat, and the introduction of the much-coveted bats with a scoop cut out of the back (the winged keel of the time)…

Feels like coming home.

Some Silly Audio

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:53 am

So ‘striv’, a Greek friend on the William Gibson board, said she had trouble hearing the difference between the words ‘uncle’ and ‘ankle’. I made this little audio clip to try to clarify. (She said she still couldn’t really hear a difference… one of those language difference thangs, I guess.)

‘Kradlum’ from London (who knew about the metal shows) commented: ‘Bravus sounds very mellifluous. Does he put on a different voice for his rock out sessions?’

So, of course, I had to make this.

Sad But True

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:31 am

http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20061124/1069655.asp

More Than Oil

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:29 am

This letter from Salon does a really nice job of laying out the wide variety of reasons and imperatives that got the US into this mess in Iraq.

25/11/2006

New Home

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:20 pm

So, I spent most of today, on and off, moving my home page to http://www.bravus.com and this blog to http://www.bravus.com/blog. I’d been threatening to do it for a while, but it really did take a heap of time to download everything from the old server, upload it to the new one and get it all talking to itself properly again.

Seems to be working well now, with all the old posts and comments brought across successfully, and the spam filters in full effect. I think this server should be far more stable than the old one, so you should see better access and reliability. I also have 900 times the monthly bandwidth allocation and 16 times the storage space I had, so you may well see more use of audio, video, animation and images too.

Those of you who have so kindly included this blog in your blogrolls, it’d be excellent if you could update…

24/11/2006

Life’s A Long Song

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:18 am

I’m working – with some support from wanderer from the WGB – on planning my show for this coming Tuesday/Monday. The theme is ‘long songs’… we’re not all fans of the 3 minute pop single, and sometimes it’s nice to just give a song the chance to open out and explore a bit. Should be a fun show, I think.

Thought of a joke for it this morning riding in, and grinned wolfishly in my helmet. Trouble is, as I may have mentioned before, jokes need certain contextual knowledge on the part of the hearers to make them funny.

Jethro Tull has a song called ‘Life’s A Long Song’. I can’t play it in its entirety because it’s not metal enough, but I can play a snippet. Then I can say, with all the pacing and emphases in the wrong places, ‘Thank you, Mr Anderson’. Trouble is, those classic-rock-geeky enough to know that Jethro Tull’s singer and songwriter is Ian Anderson will likely not be pop culture/movie-geeky enough to know about Agent Smith.

Ah well, it’s a bit like teaching school – sometimes you have to make the joke for your own amusement, and if one kid gets it that’s just a bonus.

Non-comedogenic?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:08 am

Bought some soap last night, and was a bit bemused to read on the wrapper that it’s ‘non-allergenic and non-comedogenic’. Presumably the latter means it won’t make you look funny?

23/11/2006

This Is The Life

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:10 am

Found the lyrics of this Living Colour song, though they’re simple, poignant and encouraging:

In another life
You might have been a genius
In another life
You might have been a star
In another life
Your face might have been perfect
In another life
You’d drive a better car

In another life
All your jokes are funny
In another life
Your heart is free from fear
In another life
You make a lot of money
In this other life
Everything is clear

In another life
You’re always the hero
In another life
You always win the game
In another life
No one ever cheats you
In another life
You never have to change

In another life
Your friends never desert you
In another life
You never have to cry
In another life
No one ever hurts you
In this other life
Your loved-ones never die

But this is the life you have
This is the life you have
This is the life you have
This is the life

In another life
You’re always the victim
In another life
You’re always the thief
In another life
You are always lonely
In this other life
There is no relief

In your real life
Treat it like it’s special
In your real life
Try to be more kind
In your real life
Think of those that love you
In this real life
Try to be less blind

22/11/2006

Live Long and… Starve?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:58 pm

Article from Salon about calorie restricted (CR) diets: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2006/11/22/cr_diets/

Apparently by eating very little, but very carefully chosen, you can look like a concentration camp survivor and (it’s claimed) live to 130 or so. Waddaya reckon – worth it?

16/11/2006

Metacognitive strategies

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:34 am

…is a long way to say ‘thinking about thinking’. Alex got me thinking about this last night, when she was giving her daily report about how her school day went. She said she had a maths test and was stuck on the last 3 questions, which seemed really hard. Then she said ‘You guys rock!’ Not sure about how that connected, we asked, and she said ‘You taught me all this stuff about thinking and how to handle situations like that’.

Rather than hammering at the questions and getting stressed out, she had decided to read them carefully, then just leave them for her subconscious mind to wrestle with while she went back and checked the rest of her work… and sure enough, by the time she gat back to those final questions she knew what to do, and did it.

She said there were a few things she’d learned from both Sue and I that had helped. One was that things are often simpler than they appear, and it’s important not to over-complicate. She realised she’d been looking for some very complex way into the questions when they were actually pretty simple. She looked at the elements of each question and rearranged them a bit and could see a way in.

Another was just to let her mind do its work in its own time1. Quite often someone in the family will ask me a question and I’ll say “I don’t know the answer right now, but give it a few minutes”. Rather than cudgel my mind for the answer and get stressed about it, I’ll go on to other things… and sure enough the answer will often float to the surface a few minutes later. Everyone’s mind works differently, but Alex is similar enough to me that this tends to work for her too… and that’s something she’s learning.

I was thinking later about whether these kinds of ‘metacognitive strategies’ are something that we could teach kids explicitly at school. There’s certainly a movement trying to do that…2 but both Alex and Sue felt that it’s very difficult or impossible to do in school, because it’s not ‘just in time’.

We didn’t sit Alex down and teach her these skills when the syllabus said we should. Instead we pointed out to her the processes of our own thinking (and our thinking about our thinking) as it happened, and also offered her alternative thinking strategies right at the time when she was having trouble with homework questions – or just with living. Excellent teachers might be able to offer some of this to individual students in a ‘just in time’ way, but just the number of students in the class means that a lot of opportunities will be missed. Every mind also works a little differently, so it’s hard to prescribe a listed set of ‘metacognitive strategies’ that will work for everyone… the ‘just leave it a while’ strategy doesn’t work for everyone, for example.

Hopefully it’s something parents can do with their children… but that will require the parents to have done a little thinking about their own thinking in order to be able to explain it.

  1. The way we ‘do tests’ in school isn’t very well adapted for this, but that’s another rant for another day
  2. e.g. http://coe.jmu.edu/mathvidsr/metacognitive.htm, http://www.coreknowledge.org/CK/resrcs/lessons/599Metacogntv.pdf

15/11/2006

Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s ‘Rising Force’ at the Arena, Brisbane

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:10 am

Great show, too many solos. That’s the short version of this review… and it sounds odd. I mean, Yngwie is all about the guitar solos, and presumably anyone who would go to his concert would be all about them too. And we were. But I heard the opinion from quite a few other attendees as well that it was just a touch over the top.

Of course, excess fits the Yngwie persona: as I said in an earlier review, he pretty much personifies ‘rawk’. Lots of long hair, leather pants, loads of jewellery, velvet shirt open to the waist, high kicks… He’s lost some weight and is looking healthy and playing spectacularly (more on that later), but he’s also all about the show, spinning his guitar around his neck, playing it high in the air, or with his teeth… or at one point with his butt. It’s a lot of fun, and I’m glad I went. His band is international and fantastic, and rocked hard, and they played a range of songs from his long career (over 20 years), as well as a cover of Rainbow’s ‘Gates of Babylon’.

Scottish singer Doogie White was a member of Rainbow, so I guess that makes sense, although it was Ronnie James Dio who wrote and originally sang ‘Gates of Babylon’. He also auditioned for Iron Maiden when Bruce Dickinson left, losing out to Blaze Bayley. He’s a short, intense, energetic guy and a great singer, with fantastic range. He even did a credible job on ‘I Am A Viking’, which is a tough follow-up to Jeff Scot Soto’s original performance, which for mine is one or two of the top metal/rock vocals ever. Drummer Patrik Johansson was from Sweden, Mic Cervino the bass player was from Argentina and the keyboard guy, Derek Sherinian, was from the US, so definitely an international crew.

Last time I saw Yngwie live was in Melbourne over 15 years ago, and that was not long after he crashed his Jaguar and put his head through the steering wheel. At that stage he had mostly recovered (originally he had been told he wouldn’t play again), but wasn’t back to his impressive technical best – but last night he definitely was, playing faster and with better articulation than ever. He truly is astonishingly gifted on the guitar… under all the showmanship is amazing technique, but even more than that a real sense of melody and harmony. He uses sophisticated, complex tempos and chord sequences, and all his solos are improvised… I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to see him pull that off live twice. It’s like seeing Michael Jordan play for a basketball fan, or seeing Tony Jaa live for a martial arts person: seeing someone whose talent and dedication allow achievements that expand the range of what is humanly possible.

Yngwie handled the singing duties when I saw him in Melbourne, and he’s a decent singer, but his voice is a bit low and gruff for a lot of his earlier stuff with Soto and other singers, plus he’s too busy playing guitar and putting on a show to sing all the time, so Doogie does a great job. Yngwie sings some backing vocals, some harmonies and some call-and-response things on some of the songs, and sang a blues song by himself as well.

The Arena is a pretty decent small venue in Brisbane – maybe 400 people standing in a smallish space, which meant it was easy to see the stage and the players (and Yngwie’s fingers) without pushing to the front. But this is not a show for headbanging, moshing or dancing to, it’s a show for just watching and listening, and that’s what everyone was doing… so given that, I’d really rather have been able to sit than have to stand for 3 hours (after a queue around the block the venue opened at 8 but kept us standing around until 9 when the band came on (no support band), then the show went until almost 11).

I was also glad of my earplugs, which I kept most of the way in but with maybe 10% of the ear canal open – that let all frequencies in but just reduced the volume to reduce damage… and actually made it easier to hear detail rather than just sheer volume. I heard someone remark that the show was too loud for such a small venue, and they were likely right… but it didn’t bother me, and I noticed quite a few around me with earplugs. I can hear this morning! (I’m realising that ‘I got so deaf at that concert last night’ is about as cool as ‘I got so drunk on the weekend’.) Yngwie’s ‘Mighty Wall of Marshalls’ – six Marshall stacks with two amps on top of each – no doubt contributed to the loudness, on top of the house PA and Mic Cervino’s separate (smaller) wall of Marshalls.

And now a quick rip from David Antoniuk’s review of the Taipei show (earlier this same tour):

Never have you heard anyone launch into such an array of modes, styles, techniques and musical samplings – all played on a vintage Stratocaster, which required frequent retuning. Whenever he’d finished playing through a couple of songs, Malmsteen would toss the instrument over his head or directly at his stage hand Steve, who would catch it and rush off to get another freshly tuned guitar… During the course of each song, he’d rip through a strip of guitar picks and toss them off into the audience after a minute or two…

But when he played, it was a virtuosic display of a wide variety of styles and particular musical skills: glissando leaps, jetting cadenzas, precipices of falling scale, arpeggios punctuated by sudden stops and acciaccatura, and more than one moment of pizzicato plucking right after tidal movements of layered waves of resonant sonic chords that seemed to course like the sea, crashing across the rocks… He sampled a wide repertoire of tunes, both modern and classical. He zipped through some happier Mozart pieces and later, a Bach toccata and fugue. He even briefly touched on a Jimi Hendrix Stars and Stripes rendition, but didn’t drop quite so many bombs as the original, longer version. Much of his musical virtuosity is based on his rapid playing skill, his ability to scale chords, but most of all, his exceptional talent for playing individual notes in melodies that are tightly structured and perfectly executed. I don’t think he made a single error the whole night.

Three quick things on this: (1) his guitar roadie is also his pick-tape roadie – during all those blistering solos picks are just (intentionally) flipped out into the audience mid-note and replaced from the 20 or so stick to his mic stand… and the roadie came out at least 6 or 7 times to replace the tapes. (2) he gave ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ a run here too – and got boos when he expected applause. Go us. (3) The mid-song tuning of the guitar was accomplished essentially without missing a note, and in fact incorporated into the solos. No, four: somewhere there is a black lab in which rows of tanks contain identical cloned cream-coloured 1968 Stratocaster replicas with scalloped fretboards. I have no clue how many different guitars Yngwie played last night, because they all came out of those tanks.

I love the guy’s playing, but… Every song has a long solo, or two, and then in between actual songs there were extended ‘solo solos’, and… after 2 hours it did just all end up being a bit much. Unlike some, I recognise that his solos don’t really ‘all sound the same’… but even with a variety of scales, chord sequences, tempos, styles and so on… I was ready to go home by the end, and surely a concert should leave me wanting more?

14/11/2006

The Girlie Show

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:11 am

Today’s LiveHardRock.com show was a theme show with all female vocalists (except for a couple of requests, and some of the songs that had both male and female vocals). Went for 3 hours and was a lot of fun. Here’s the download: http://www.bravus.com/November14.mp3 (65 MB mp3)

13/11/2006

Indistinguishable From Magic

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:40 pm

“That’s all it takes”, he said – slightly arch, a little condescending
“Just any sufficiently advanced technology”

Perhaps it’s so
Perhaps each miracle can be
Explained away by secret
Mechanisms and hidden springs

I’ve met his type before, of course
Eager to drop factoids on my toes
With a tone-deaf clunk
Eager to explain away
Reduce

The parting of the Red Sea?
A freak of wind and tide
Rivers turned to blood?
Just algal blooms and mud

And fairies?
Why, an elaborate prank
With that newfangled
Photographic tech

I feel as though these
Mechanistic
Reductionist perspectives
Disenchant the world
And yet

When indistinguishable –
Magic swallows tech

(a riff on Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’)

9/11/2006

Embarassment of 6-String Riches

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:03 pm

Yngwie Malmsteen is playing here on November 14, and I’m definitely going. Then the 2006 edition of G3 is here near the end of the month. The G3 DVD I saw (and reviewed here) was Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie, but with Yngwie touring with his band this time, it’s Vai, Satriani and John Petrucci, a guitarist I’ve heard a lot about but not really heard. I’m very tempted to go to that show too…

The Rehabilitation of ‘Nazi’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:43 am

It used to be a word we almost only whispered… the embodiment of evil in some way, made real in the world. Calling someone a Nazi was a deep, deep insult. Godwin’s Law says: “If any internet argument continues long enough, the probability of a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis approaches one”. That is, argue long enough on the net, and someone will be called a Nazi. Many people then conclude that the argument has left the realm of reason and descended to ad hominem nonsense, and invoke Godwin’s law to call off the argument.

Maybe it was Seinfeld’s ‘Soup Nazi’ that started the trend1, or maybe it was already on its way before that and the Seinfeld writing team just picked up on it. But the term ‘Nazi’ is coming to be just a mildly pejorative term, indicative of some sort of bullying or oppressive behaviour, but definitely drained of that weight of meaning and fear that it used to have. In a meeting yesterday someone referred to students who aggressively question the scores they receive on assignments as ‘grade Nazis’.

Maybe it’s inevitable, and just how language works: ‘commie’ in some ways is undergoing similar transformations, and is basically always used with irony when I hear it, not seriously. Probably good in some cases not to participate in the process, though: the actions of the Nazis are something that should be remembered with appropriate shock and disgust.

  1. Or maybe it was lovable old Colonel Klink and Sergeant Shultz on ‘Hogans Heroes’