26/4/2007

A Hero After All

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:46 am

http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,21618321-952,00.html

Jessica Lynch says she’s no hero: but to me, standing up and telling the American government to step manufacturing heroes is pretty heroic.

25/4/2007

ANZAC Day

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:50 am

Today is ANZAC Day, when we remember all those who have gone to war to protect Australia. We might think our troops have sometimes been ill-used in supporting our colonial masters, first England and then the US, but they have bravely put their lives on the line for their country, and we deeply appreciate their sacrifice. At church last weekend our pastor – who has been a soldier and a military chaplain himself – did a great sermon on how we can honour the sacrifices of soldiers without glorifying war. Very moving, and then a serving Army captain who happens to be a member of our home group, and who has just returned from peacekeeping duties in East Timor, delivered the eulogy.

24/4/2007

On Big Words

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:52 am

I tossed the word ‘apophenia’ into a post on a motorcycle forum today, then wondered whether I should have. I suspect most people (unless they’ve read William Gibson’s ‘Pattern Recognition’) won’t know what it means. Some will look it up, most will ignore it. What worries me is that a bit of a default assumption in our culture seems to be that big (or unfamiliar) words are used with the intention of putting down those who don’t understand them. I’m sure that does happen, but just as sure that most of the time the intention is just to use the most appropriate word to convey a particular idea.

23/4/2007

Dancing and Playing Verboten!!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:53 am

Here’s a rejoinder from Perla and Carifio to my response to their review of my book: http://edrev.asu.edu/essays/v10n4.pdf

They sound pretty angry – almost incoherently so. Guess they won’t be accepting my invitation to come over and play.

It’s also somewhat amusing that Perla and Carifio make a point of pointing out that my response to their 3600 word review ran to 3000 words. Their point is slightly dulled by the fact that their response to my response runs to just over 6000 words…

20/4/2007

‘On Stir-and-Serve Recipes for Teaching’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:01 am

While I was stuck watching progress bars and waiting for the virus scans to finish yesterday I was reading a book of short readings on education. I came across one by a Grade 3 teacher named Susan Ohanian, written in 1985, with the title ‘On Stir-and-Serve Recipes for Teaching’. I wish I could quote the whole chapter for you, but here’s an excerpt:

The good professors must stop yielding to our acquisitive pressures; they must refuse to hand out their 100 – or even 10 – snazzy new ideas for the well-stocked classroom. They must offer fewer methods, fewer recipes. We teachers need less practicality, not more. We need to have our lives informed by Tolstoy, Jane Adams, Susan Langer, Rudolf Arnheim and their ilk – not by folks who promise the keys to classroom control and creative bulletin boards, along with 100 steps to reading success. We need a sense of purpose from our profession, not a timetable. Better that they show us ways to find our own ways than that they hand out their detailed maps of the territory.

She continues a little further down:

Critics of schools of education insist that prospective teachers would profit more from observing good teachers at work than from taking impractical courses on pedagogy. Maybe so. But what are those novices going to see? Is one observation as good as another? After all, a person can look at ‘Guernica’ and not see it, listen to the ‘Eroica’ and not hear it. E.H. Gombrich says that every observation we make is a result of the questions we ask. And where do novices get the questions? How can they ask intelligent questions without knowing something about the subject?

And just one more, from her introduction:

The notion that just about any Joe Blow can walk in off the street and take over a classroom is gaining ground. It makes me nervous. No, more than that: it infuriates me. We should squash once and for all the idea that schools can be adequately staffed by 32 bookkeepers and a plumber. The right teacher-proof curriculum is not sufficient; children need real teachers, and real teachers must be trained. Nor am I charmed by the idea of signing up out-of-work computer programmers and retired professors to teach math and science. The mass media like to scoff that current certification requirements would keep Albert Einstein from teaching in the public schools. That news is not all bad. Is there any evidence that Einstein worked particularly well with young children? A Nobel Prize does not guarantee excellence in the classroom.

What I love is her passion for teaching, recognition that teaching is an art and a science and a profession, and has a body of knowledge that is built up both through taking (good – she acknowledges that there are also terrible) courses at university and in practice, and that neither of those elements is dispensible.

The idea that ‘any Joe Blow off the street’ – or scientists and other content matter experts with no teacher training – can walk in and teach is one that raises its ugly head now and then, and is floating to the surface again at the moment. Wish I could prescribe this chapter for anyone who proposes it.

I also love her insistence, indicated in the title of the chapter, that there’s no such thing as a ‘teacher-proof curriculum’ that someone else can cook and the teacher just needs to ‘stir and serve’. She recognises that we teach out of who we are, and out of who our students are, and it’s virtually impossible to teach the same lesson twice. Teaching emerges from the teacher’s passionate engagement with the subject matter and the students, and from the teacher’s careful, thoughtful, flexible planning.

These few quotes are a small taste, but it’s such a thoughtful perspective, so clearly and passionately stated. Love it.

19/4/2007

Dad’s Tech Support Service

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:52 pm

So, I spent a fair chunk of yesterday fighting a nasty spyware/virus infection on my laptop (oi, no more cracks from Lorne about the university’s protectiveness ;)). I think I’ve pretty much got it beaten into submission. Then all three of my girls needed some sort of technical assistance for presentations they’re doing today.

Cassie is doing a talk in English about comedy, so I helped her rip and edit some excerpts from Third Rock From The Sun and burned it to CD for her.

Alex is doing a PowerPoint presentation as part of a debate in Studies Of Society and Environment (SOSE), and wanted a picture to add detail over time without her doing anything to it, so we looked up and downloaded some software for making animated gifs and made an animation that she could copy into her PowerPoint show.

Sue is teaching a one day workshop on using a new software package1, but was kinda thrown in at the deep end without any tools for testing the students’ competency at the end of the day. We developed a quick quiz on SurveyMonkey, but since it’s designed for surveys rather than tests it was non-trivial to include the students’ names with their work. I ended up building a separate html front end that would ask students to fill in their name on a form and then forward them to SurveyMonkey and tell it their names.

All fun for me… and I think they’ll probably want to keep me around, too. 😉

  1. actually, the same workshop to six different groups over six days – she should be pretty polished (and tired!) by the end of the week

Cold Day in Baghdad

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:59 am

One cold day doesn’t mean the globe is not warming. In the same way, one horrific day of bombings in Iraq shouldn’t be seized on as evidence that The Surge is not working. Sadly, though, the overall climate in Iraq is steadily deteriorating, as measured in terms of all deaths and the general security situation. And as Mark pointed out in a comment here recently, it would now be hard even to define what winning would mean, at least in military terms.

18/4/2007

The Answer To Gun Deaths

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:16 am

Look, I don’t wanna get into a huge debate here. I just have to vent. In reponse to the massacre at Virgina Tech yesterday, basically every American I’ve seen – even those I consider relatively sane on most other questions – has said “The answer is more guns: if the students had been carrying concealed weapons it wouldn’t have happened or wouldn’t have been as bad”.

Arrghh! The answer to gun deaths is not less guns, but more! It’s beyond logic, and seems to be bred into the DNA somehow. Maybe it’s the glamorisation of the Wild West or something.

More guns means more isolated, alienated loners with guns. Which means more students getting shot. And nervousness and itchy trigger fingers (and do you forget how much you and others drank as a student?) mean people getting shot reaching for their calculators.

Sure, people still get killed with knives… but it’s hard to imagine someone successfully stabbing 33 people to death.

What might have helped is if people had been willing to just start picking up books, folders, calculators, desks, chairs or whatever was handy and whaling them at him as hard as they could the minute they saw him.

But get a clue, people: ‘an armed society is a polite society’… until someone cuts you off in traffic or your girlfriend dumps you. Then it’s just a society with a high mortality rate.

The Reality-transforming Power of Language, Part 3 billion

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:55 am

Cleaning the old fridge this morning before it’s taken away by its owners (we bought a new one last week), and noticed a little label on the inside in one area:

Fast Cool Zone

For food and drinks

After chilling, move items to another part of the fridge to prevent freezing.

I can imagine the meeting now. The engineer is saying ‘no matter what we try, we just can’t get the temperature to be even over the whole inside of the fridge. There’s just this stubborn cold spot in one corner that keeps freezing stuff. We could probably fix it, but it’d be expensive…’

And the marketing guy’s eyes light up, and he says ‘Nah, let’s make it a feature!

17/4/2007

Comparing The Wars

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:47 pm

Those defending the war in Iraq are fond of suggesting that it could actually be near its end, without showing that, and if we just have faith and stay a little longer, and believe in The Surge… it will all turn out OK. Some have pointed to the length of the American Civil War and the Second World War by way of comparison. Here Ed Furey, a letter writer at Salon who appears to actually know some history, takes a look at those analogies:

Bogus Civil War Analogy

The notion that war results are in doubt until close to the end is complete nonsense. By this point in the American Civil War, it was over. By this point in WWII, the we had been occupying Germany for almost a year and Japan for more than half a year.

The Civil War outcome was not militarily in doubt after July 4, 1863, when the Union had captured Vicksburg, clearing the MIssissippi and cutting the Confederacy in twain. The Father of Waters, said Lincoln, flows unvexed to the sea. At the same time, Lee was forced to retreat from Gettysburg, with ruinious losses. By the end of 1863, all but a sliver of Tennessee had been restored to Union control and Lee was increasingly pinned against Richmond by Grant. The naval blockade was strangling the Confederate economy.

By September 1943, there was no doubt about the outcome of the Second World War. The Russians had crushed the Germans in the biggest tank battle in history at Kursk. The Americans and British had captured as many troops as the Nazis had lost at Stalingrad in Tunisia, crossed into Sicily, taken it and landed on the mainland, defeated a fierce German counter-attack at Salerno and were moving north for Naples. Mussolini had been thrown out. The U-Boats have been defeated and men and munitions were flowing unimpeded into Britain for the Normandy landings. In the Pacific, MacArthur was advancing westward through New Guinea and the Navy had neutralized Rabaul and was moving to seize the Gilberts and Marshalls (done by the end of 1943).

Nor were the American forces in 1943 in any sense “broken.” The Navy was adding an aircraft carrier a week and a destroyer or destroyer escort a day. 96,000 aircraft would be built in 1943. A comparable number would be built in 1944. Newly formed divisions by the dozen were completing training and shipping out for the battle fronts.

Even the lines in the stalemated war in Korea were essentially fixed by summer of 1951, although there would not be a truce for another two years.

All of these wars went on for much longer, almost two years in the case of WWII in the Pacific, but their outcomes were not in doubt. There is simply no comparison to Iraq.

— Ed Furey

Who Did Jesus Attack?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:33 am

‘What Would Jesus Do?’ always seems to me to be fraught with danger, because there’s so much scope for us to project our own prejudices and assumptions onto Jesus. But here’s a more factual question: During his life here on earth, according to the gospels, who did Jesus attack… verbally and in one case physically?

16/4/2007

Outrageous Noodling in Idyllic Surroundings

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:40 am

Me and my new guitar out by the pool:

Windows Media (3 MB)
Quicktime (6 MB – watermarked ‘cos I’m too cheap to buy the conversion software)

15/4/2007

Reclaiming ‘Elite’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:55 am

Bill Maher on one reason America is headed down the tubes: http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/04/13/pat_robertson/

Not that different here, sad to say. Well, maybe we can rewrite the old Skyhooks tune: “Elite, is not a dirty word”!

Back to Normal From Monday

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:05 am

This has been a bit of an unannounced hiatus, due to sickness and holidays, but I’ll be back from Monday.

Climate Change and Strategy

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:05 am

From Glen Greenwald:

Although it is a heated competition, I think the single dumbest and most intellectually dishonest rhetorical tactic — wielded most prominently by Drudge but with plenty of followers doing the same — is from those who cite cold weather conditions on a given day in order to impliedly discredit the worldwide consensus of climatologists and other scientists on global warming. It would be as if someone constantly linked to individual obituaries as proof that world population is not really growing. It is that dumb and dishonest.

10/4/2007

Atheist vs Atheist

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:32 am

http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/defying-belief/2007/04/09/1175971009144.html

I tend to agree that Dawkins and his ilk are just as scarily fundamentalist and inflexible as the religious they excoriate.

9/4/2007

Happy Birthday to Me

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:24 am

Sorry it’s been quiet in here for the past week. I’ve had the flu and just felt miserable, coughing up a lung, sore throat, fever and so on. Feeling a little better but not 100% now, but thought I’d post as I turn 43 today. We’ll go shopping a bit later for some protective pants to keep the skin on my legs when I ride, and maybe for some serious steaks. Feels good to be this age, I think. Gotta live every day.

4/4/2007

A Tale of Two Viruses

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:15 pm

So I’m home from work sick today, just a cold but it’s turned into a chest infection that has me coughing and short of breath and with a fever and headache. While I’m here I’m also tending a sick computer: the kids’ computer is well but the “parents’ computer” has been infected with the Win32:CTX virus, also known as ‘Dengue’, and that’s been doing things like wrecking drivers and stopping it printing. Apparently it kills the whole computer 6 months after infection, so I’m rooting out every trace of it now to be sure.

1/4/2007

Jethro Tull Gets It

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:31 am

http://www.j-tull.com/news/diaries/iaja2007.html

In relation to climate change, lady violinists and even religion. And Ian is a charming companion as ever.