31/8/2008

Next Few Days’ Topics

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:10 pm

(just so I don’t forget ’em)(in no particular order)

Riverfire and Guilt
Hanny’s Voorwerp
Swimming in a Rich Soup of Allusions
Nannying vs Supporting
Ascription Errors

Plus it’s definitely past time for some more poetry

Curmudegeoneity – Ranting About Pop Music

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:25 am

Remember when we said we’d never turn into our parents and rant about the music on the radio? Looks like I fail!

I tend not to listen to much commercial radio anyway, but sometimes do when the girls are in the car with me. It’s the ads as much as the music that turn me off, plus the lame FM DJs’ attempts to be funny…

There’s a variety of music, of course, and I don’t hate all of it. I hope one area of difference from my parents is having a more critical eye and approach to what’s on the radio and being able to discuss it with Alex (Cassie doesn’t really care that much about music, but she prefers my metal to what’s on the radio anyway).

My most recent rant target is Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”. A lot of Christians – including the singer’s parents, who both happen to be pastors – are up in arms about it because it apparently advocates, or at least flirts with, lesbianism and this is somehow considered new and shocking.

My objection is the opposite – how old, boring and tawdry. For how many years now have we known that boys like to see girls kissing? And for how long have girls been willing to play on that? Madonna and a couple of younger pop tarts did it at the MTV Music Awards (from memory) at least a couple of years ago. It’s old news… so why on earth has a rather banal ditty about it been rewarded with overturning The Beatles long standing record for the longest lasting Number One single in Australia?

Must be a curmudgeon, ‘cos I just don’t get it.

Not to mention that, if girls want to kiss girls for their own enjoyment, I’m fine with it, but if they’re doing it purely as provocation (as this song seems to me to be) I just find that to be kind of pathetic.

30/8/2008

Space is closer than the Gold Coast

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:00 am

It takes about an hour and a half from our place to drive to the beach at Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane. The route is a bit convoluted, and includes some areas with low speed limits, but the distance as the crow flies is probably around 100 km.

If our car could drive straight up into the air, instead of along the ground, it would only take about an hour to drive to space. The atmosphere doesn’t have a preciely defined ending point, but it’s usually considered to be about 100 km thick, and where the atmosphere ends, space begins.

Space seems a long way away to us most of the time. But that’s because the earth’s gravitational field means it’s very hard to drive straight up. Instead of the 100 or so horsepower of a car you’d need the few million horsepower of a Saturn V rocket or something similar. So it’s hard to get to space, but it’s not far.

Think of somewhere an hour and a half from where you live… and realise that space is closer than that.

29/8/2008

America has lost its way in the world

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:28 pm

That’s the view of former Australian Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, anyway:

http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/america-has-lost-its-way-in-the-world-20080828-44zk.html?page=-1

I have a huge amount of respect for the guy and his understanding of the world, as well as his compassion. He is everything that is right and good about conservatism… something we’ve seen far too little of in the past decade or so.

Kieran Egan Makes Me Think (Again)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:47 pm

Kieran Egan is a Canadian educator who has written a lot about the importance of play, storytelling and imagination in education. I’ve been reading his stuff and enjoying it for nearly 20 years now. Just reading a little bit from one of his books today, I was struck by this passage:

If one examines the stated aims of even the most sophisticated educational thinkers, one will find a curriculum that is clearly designed to produce people like its producers. Usually this is qualified by our desire to have a curriculum that will produce people like us, but without our ‘defects’ – those, that is, we feel able to acknowledge. It would perhaps be better to say that our decisions about curriculum are largely determined by the desire to produce people like our idealized image of ourselves.

How Disappointing

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:51 am

I’d hoped we’d see a significant change in policy with the new government, away from the emphasis on poor measures of quality and a punitive approach to education policy. But the headlines in the past couple of days haven’t been reassuring:

PM outlines system to compare school performance

PM ties school funds to results

Prime Minister to take on unions over education reforms

Reading the detail of the articles, the proposal is a little less offensive than it sounds from reading the headlines: schools will be grouped and compared within socio-economic status ‘baskets’, which helps to avoid the one concern that this is simply another stealth method of giving more money to those who are already privileged.

But these kinds of measures don’t really help under-performing schools, mostly because the measures used are so unsophisticated. There are more sophisticated ‘value added’ measures – I even invented one in 2000 – that can do a better job, but straight performance of students tells you almost nothing about school and teacher effectiveness.

One of our roles as ‘public intellectuals’ is to challenge these kinds of short-sighted proposals, even when (or perhaps especially when) they are made by our preferred side of politics.

28/8/2008

Reading and Feeding

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:59 am

I suspect one of the reasons the blogging has slowed down is that I’ve been spending more time messing about on web forums and less time reading. In particular, less time reading good non-fiction that sparks ideas to write about.

The ‘Vultures’ story from a couple of days ago was sparked by the fact that we’ve recently subscribed to New Scientist – Alex wanted to do it so she had info for her Science Extension class, but I can make it a tax deduction because it’s relevant reading for my professional field of science education. Lots of interesting science news and ideas in bite-size pieces there.

And for Father’s Day (which in Oz is next week), rather than pieces of technology or bike equipment as is my more usual request, I’ve hinted broadly at two books that I’ve heard a lot about and wanted to read but not got around to: Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ and Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’.

27/8/2008

Worship Music

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:53 pm

I’ve already ranted about this general topic a couple of years ago1 but standing in church this week made me think of it again. I realised that Christian ‘worship music’ has wandered off into a separate little evolutionary niche of its own, and is really disconnected from anything else that’s going on in music.

The evolutionary metaphor is quite intentional2. Presumably the music that gets published, sold, sung and played etc is that which is well adapted for its ecological niche, and music that is poorly adapted becomes extinct.

But the issue with worship music is that you get this community that listens to nothing else. The kinds of people who are on worship teams at contemporary Christian churches are also the kind of people who listen to praise and worship CDs in their cars and homes all the time. Sometimes quite exclusively. Cassie was going to play violin in the band at our previous church, and went along for an audition and interview with the worship leader. He basically said he only listened to that kind of music, and so should she. And if he occasionally listened to some AC/DC or something he would need to listen to 5 hours or so of worship music and do some Bible study to ‘clean’ his mind.

That’s probably an excessive example, but the general mindset that other music is evil or secular or corrupt and should be avoided means a lack of cross-pollination with any form of other music. Christian music got a big infusion of pop DNA in the 60s and 70s, but since that time it has really become this inbred little ghetto. I described the characteristics of such music in my earlier post (click the link above), and in the succeeding 2 years it’s only got more that way.

So the songs we sing in church each week are the same old combinations of words, often put together awkwardly and with rhymes or non-rhymes that make me wince and with no discernable melody moving through the song, just a bunch of juxtaposed fragments. And we stand there and sing 5 or 6 of these things in succession.

Occasionally we sing an old hymn, and the contrast is amazing: structure, melody and meaning!

Church music needs a shot of new genes, but it’s currently set up in ways that preclude that from happening.

  1. As I said in talking about the 1000 posts, it’s sometimes tough to find a topic I haven’t at least touched on already
  2. Even if the people who sing the songs would reject the analysis on that basis

Still No News

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:31 pm

So, it’s two weeks since I did the job seminar for the job I applied for, and tomorrow it will be two weeks since the interview. I’d pretty much given up after a couple of days, but then a colleague who had recently got a job at the same place said it took about 4 weeks before she got her offer. So it just means I’m still in suspense – which is a bit frustrating because it would be nice to be able to settle my mind on one or the other possible future life. Just an exercise in developing patience, I guess.

26/8/2008

Vultures, Diclofenac and Human Rabies

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:42 am

One of those ‘unintended consequences’ things. Possibly as many as 50,000 people in India may have died of rabies… and the cause is a medicine given to cows.

Diclofenac is a veterinary drug given to cows. Obviously it’s good for cows, but when they die, and vultures eat the carcasses, it’s very bad for vultures, killing them off at a huge rate.

With no vultures around to eat the carcasses, feral dogs move in to fill that ecological niche, and their numbers explode. Many of them carry rabies, and many of those dogs bite people…

Just goes to show how complex the interlinkages within ecosystems are: who would have guessed that treating cows could kill humans by such a roundabout path? It’s also why ecology is a crucial science, and not one whose interest is confined to ‘greenies’.

25/8/2008

Jinxed Meself

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:43 pm

I was thinking on the way home today “Cool, I don’t have any speeding fines at all on the bike”. Guess what was waiting in the mail when I got home?

Baby Bandit

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:10 pm

Still kind of desultorily looking around for a bike for Suzie. We can’t really afford one just yet, but if we move house (if the new job comes through – still no news) it might make her commute a lot easier. Besides, it’s fun to look.

She has to ride a 250 for the first year, and isn’t all that tall, so she’d been looking at various ‘cruiser’ style bikes like the Yamaha Virago, the Honda VT250 and the Suzuki VN250. None of those are particularly good on a freeway, though, and there might be some freeway involved, depending where we end up.

So one other possibility is actually the baby (brother? sister?) sibling of my Bandit 1200 – the Bandit 250:

1000 Posts!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:57 am

Heh, didn’t even notice it go by! I was thinking about writing a post about the fact that I must be getting pretty close to my 1000th post on this blog. Came to check where I was up to and discovered that this will be Post 1002 – the rather trivial ‘Bufly Vampire Slayor’ post was the big 1000th1!

Just thought that for the fun of it I’d check out the rate of posting, because I get the feeling I’ve slowed down a lot lately.

So below is a simple table of the number of days2 required for each 100 posts:

Posts Days
1-100 54
101-200 98
201-300 196
301-400 100
401-500 111
501-600 95
601-700 129
701-800 147
801-900 286
901-1000 189

OK, so I actually seem to be making a bit of a comeback! I’m fairly sure there was a declared hiatus somewhere in that 801-900 break, as well. I was fairly consistently close to 100 days/100 posts for a few years there, and slowed down when I moved back to Oz (weather too nice to blog? ;))

Anyway, I think part of the problem lately is that I have great post ideas on the bike but then forget them when I’m on the computer. So I sat down and made a little brainstorm list of 7 or 8 yesterday that I’d thought of recently, so hopefully that will put me back on the post-a-day track at least for the next week or so, and after that we’ll see how it goes.

Apart from anything else, I hate to bore people by repeating something I’ve already said. And with 1000 posts, it becomes harder and harder to find something genuinely new to say! But as one of the posts in the next few days will discuss, I’m taking steps to deal with that issue too.

It’s been a fun almost-4-years: thanks for hanging out with me, and here’s to the next 1000!

  1. There’ve actually been more because I lost something like 100 posts in a server crash early on… That may actually have happened during that 201-300 post span, which would explain why it took so long
  2. This site was very helpful

22/8/2008

Reality of Online Friendships

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:56 pm

Went to one of three workshops promoting our textbook series last night (they look pretty darn impressive when you see them presented like that!) I mainly went as a chance to catch up with the editor, Rachel, and my co-author, Greg. When I met Greg we shook hands and he said ‘Good to see you, although I’ve only met you once before’. That’s true in terms of face-to-face meetings in meatspace, but we’ve worked and collaborated very closely together by email over the last year. To me that’s a real and authentic relationship and we’re in some ways fairly close friends. He’s only a few years older, but apparently in some ways much less digital, and it seemed as though for him only the face-to-face seems real.

20/8/2008

Bufly Vampire Slayor

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:03 pm

So, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Joss Whedon made a trailer for an animated version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I watched it on YouTube, and it was pretty cool. But the illiterate or careless (or, who knows, with English as a second language and I’m being harsh) git who posted the video had labelled it as shown in the title of this post. And now I can’t get ‘Bufly Vampire Slayor’ out of my head, and it’s changed my experience of watching and thinking about the show. Arrghh. Or should that be ‘Grr Arrggh’?

19/8/2008

Orwell on Dickens

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:23 am

‘He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.’

11/8/2008

Language Wrong, Right and Flexible

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:06 pm

Ate some KFC today. (That smell is so powerful at making you forget how evil the food is until you start trying to eat it.) On the wrapper it said something about the taste, and then “It’s the business”. And I died a little inside. It’s like a dad (or a politician) trying to be hip and cool and down with the kids and failing dismally.

Part of it is that any corporate marketing is going to be so slow that it’s not going to get today’s slang, it’s going to get something from a couple of years ago, and the other part is that even if it manages to capture something cool, pinning it onto a fast food wrapper immediately sucks all the life out of it. It’s like the difference between a butterfly flitting through the jungle and one pinned to a board in a collection.

It got me thinking about language more generally though. There’s always a tension between keeping it alive and vital, and realising that the dictionary is just another butterfly collection, on the one hand, and about still thinking that there are wrong and right ways to spell words and wrong and write places to put apostrophes and so on, on the other.

Part of the distinction is whether something is genuinely innovative, or just lazy. Like it or loathe it, when Snoop Dogg started saying ‘fo shizzle’ instead of ‘for sure’, that was something new. That’s interesting and alive language. On the other hand, the people who consider that just because it’s the internet you don’t need to capitalise or punctuate or spell words correctly… that just seems like laziness. I guess in another sense it can be a distinguishing mark of a particular community… but it’s going to be an increasingly illiterate community. If we’re going to spend lots of time writing online (as I spend way too much), then why not spend it learning to express ourselves better and more clearly – and yeah, more creatively and innovatively too.

So know the rules, then break ’em hard with joy and intention… but don’t just dribble out the bottom of the rules because you can’t be bothered getting anything right.

6/8/2008

Of Course

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:19 am

Yesterday I lost quite a bit of money on the stock market, because the prices of the shares I owned temporarily dropped so low that my broker closed all my positions (sold the shares at large losses). And today, naturally, the market posted its largest single day rise in 4 months.

4/8/2008

Screw You Guys, I’m Goin’ Home!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:02 pm

(please pardon the mild profanity of the title – the line is from South Park, which is usually… much less mildly profane)

Cartman generally says this when he gets tired of his friends’ actions. Not sure what we did to annoy Kai (the new little puppy, who is now about 11 weeks old), but he said it… or at least, his actions did.

We took both dogs for a walk this evening, heading down to return a DVD and grab some cold libations. We’re aiming to walk most evenings, just for our health and as a chance to chat and enjoy each other’s company.

Buffy had a leash with her for crossing roads, but was running free the rest of the time, and Kai is too little and slow to need a leash. We got about halfway there – maybe a kilometre from home, across two fairly quiet roads and through the parks, when suddenly I asked “Where’s Kai?”

Lots of fruitless calling and whistling and wandering around later, we gave up looking for him and went off to continue our errands. We walked back the same way and called again, and Sue was very quiet and despondent all the way. We then headed home to make some signs to stick to the local light poles, hoping someone would find him and ring.

Walked in the door, only to be greeted by a happy and healthy Kai. He must have just decided he’d had enough and headed home, and had made it unerringly and got home way ahead of us.

Smart People

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:33 am

No, not the recent movie of the same name, which I haven’t seen but which doesn’t sound that interesting to me. No, I watched a 50th birthday special on Stephen Fry last night. (It’s available on YouTube and is called ’50 Not Out’ if you’re interested – be warned that it is a bit rude in spots.)

I’m a huge fan of his, because he’s immensely intelligent and knowledgable, but also thoughtful and kind with it. He’s delighted when someone else says something intelligent or tells him something he didn’t know, and very interested in people. You really get the feeling that he’s a smart person who would make you feel smarter, not dumber, through being around him.

Russell Brand, another of my favourite comedians, was interviewed in the special, and was talking about how that quality kind of exempts Stephen from society’s usual disdain for very smart and knowledgable people. It worries me that our societies have that disdain, but perhaps if more smart people had the attitudes of Stephen Fry that might change. It’s a very poor kind of smartness that has to make itself bigger by putting other people down, and the best kind of intelligence helps everyone around discover more of their own intelligence.