Visit from the Bandwidth Fairy

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:18 pm

So, we switched from 3 Mobile to TPG as our service provider today, which means 80 GB per month of download allowance rather than 6 GB, and that all the computers in the house are wirelessly connected to each other and to the web. It’s very nice indeed! Something we’ve been waiting for ever since we moved into this house about 15 months ago.

…aaannd, we’re back!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:15 pm

This blog broke this morning. I suspect it may have been hacked in some way, since the file it was complaining about had suddenly increased in size by about 2500% with nonsense code, and my permissions had been messed with… or it might just have been a misguided upgrade or something on the server.

Anyway, in fixing it I took advantage of the opportunity to upgrade to the latest version of the WordPress software that runs the blog. It looks a bit different on the authoring end and possibly where you write your comments, but hopefully you won’t notice a lot of difference on the reading side – I’m still using my own custom theme.

Hopefully it’ll be a bit more secure as well and we’ll avoid a repeat of today’s crash. I took backups of everything anyway as a precaution – it’d be sad to lose over 1000 posts and a record of 4 years of my thoughts.


The Best of Both Worlds

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:48 pm

Sean Carney on education in Australia and making the the public/private split work much better: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/the-best-of-both-worlds-20081125-6hdw.html?page=-1

Religion is like Alcohol

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:49 pm

So, it seems to me like alcohol, particularly in large quantities, just exacerbates (or disinhibits) a person’s existing personality characteristics. If someone is already belligerent they’re likely to get in a fight, if they’re happy and mellow they’ll be more happy and mellow, and so on.

And it seems to me as though religion serves a similar role, in that it disinhibits people and lets them take their existing characters to much more extreme lengths than they would feel able to without religion. If they’re good, loving, caring people – and I have many wonderful Christian friends who are – their faith supports them in that and gives them extra avenues and communities in which to enact it. On the other hand, if someone is fanatical, or judgemental, or filled with hate, or scared of their own sexuality… they can find a branch of religion that will allow them to take those things to extremes… even to the extent of killing or dying for them.

Religion claims to be about stories of transformation… but it seems as though sometimes it’s more about the same kinds of energies being directed in slightly different directions: the most fanatical sinners become the most fanatical saints, but they’re still fanatics, and their faith just allows them to go to extremes.

Atheism and humanism, by contrast, seem more modest, and to keep people to less extreme attitudes and behaviours. That’s a generalisation, and I know someone will be sure to throw communist atheism and purges at me. I guess in a sense it’s a matter of definitions and semantics, but to me by the time you get to a place of killing for a lack of ideological purity, you’re back around to religion in some form.

As I said above, I’m not saying that religion is always, or even on balance, a negative force in the world. There are many medical missionaries and people running orphanages and soup kitchens, enabled by their faith, as well as smaller but still very important embodiments of grace. But I do think the analogy with alcohol is at least of passing interest…


Steven Pinker on the ‘Myth of Violence’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:50 am

It’s a 21 minute mini-lecture, so set aside some time, but it’s well worth watching.


Speaking in Complete Sentences

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:10 am



Random Notes and Incidents

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:23 pm

Been too busy to post for a while, so here’s a rapid catch-up:

  • Brisbane has had 3 wild storms this week, leading to over 320,000 houses losing power and many being destroyed. And there’s another one forecast for tomorrow. So far we’ve been rainswept but undamaged.Alex mused that although they’re devastating, these storms are good for us, because they remind us that no matter how much we try, we can’t control everything.
  • Went to Cassie’s Year 12 graduation this morning (for some reason it was from 7-9 am). A lot of fun, and good to congratulate her on this milestone. She has applied to a couple of the local unis and they are courting her with phone calls, letters and email. Guess she’ll see which offers she actually gets in a few weeks.
  • Cassie went to her senior dance on Tuesday night – one of the stormy nights, so there was lots of protecting frocks and hair from the rain, but she had a good time. Six of her friends came back to our place to sleep over, so it was a late and somewhat noisy night, but at least we knew they were all safe.
  • And, in the final Cassie news, we drove her down to the Gold Coast, with the same group of friends (minus one who was sick) this evening for ‘Schoolies Week’ – basically an end-of-school week of celebration at the beach. Schoolies itself sometimes gets a bit wild, but the girls have rented an apartment some distance from the centre of Surfers, and will basically just hang out as friends and go to the beach and so on. At least, that’s what the parents are meant to know about… 😉 They’ll be fine, they’re a great group of girls.
  • My bike had just suddenly died a couple of days ago, in an undercover car park, miles from my mechanic’s shop. I thought I’d have to transport it there, which would be expensive, but instead did a little bit of sleuthing myself and got help from people on a couple of web forums who know about bikes. They tentatively diagnosed it as just a dead battery, so I grabbed a new battery, dropped it in and all was well. $63 for a battery (and a bit of running around) was much better than a couple of hundred to transport it to the mechanic and get it checked out – and there was a fair bit of satisfaction in fixing it myself, too.
  • Working on revising some chapters for the NSW ‘Science Focus’ series of junior high science textbooks at the moment, and just fired off one chapter yesterday. It’s fun, and pays OK, and I learn a lot from the process. Must upgrade that list of my published books on my home page.
  • On the drive home this evening, Suzie was half asleep and I was listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. I discovered that album on a cassette I bought from a schoolmate, Wayne Dobson (who I believe has since suicided), in Year 10 (so about the age Alex is now) in 1980 and listened to hundreds of times. Still love it, and (as I discovered this evening) still know every lyric, every incidental sound, every guitar solo, almost 30 years later. I kind of get what the punks claimed about Floyd’s massive budgets and spectacular shows, but you only have to listen the ‘The Wall’ to know that the band themselves were thinking seriously about those same issues. And making great music.


Stephen Fry on the English Language

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:58 pm

I’ve talked before here about language and how it grows and develops, and the tension between correctness and usage.

This is the second half of an interview of Stephen Fry by Jonathan Ross, so it starts off a bit mid-stream, but once Stephen gets into his rant about the English language, it’s pure poetry.

(I’ve also written about my intellectual mancrush on Stephen Fry here before.)


I want to be Peter Fensham when I grow up

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:10 am

I spent yesterday at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) campus, at a meeting with most of the science education profs from Queensland. Very enjoyable day with lots to think about.

But I was impressed once again with Professor Peter Fensham. He’s recently turned 80, and has been retired for decades already, but he was by far the sharpest person in the room, still, and asked very pertinent and deep questions. He didn’t monopolise the proceedings, just sat back and listened closely, but whenever he said anything it was excellent.

He has a massive knowledge of education and science education internationally, and can talk in detail about the education system in pretty much any country you care to name, and I’ve been reading his papers for decades, and they’ve always provided new insights and overviews. And always been new: there are a few other people who have been around nearly as long as Peter, but with their work you know what you’re going to get, because they’ve had the same fairly narrow focus for decades. With Peter there’s always something new to think about.

I don’t think I’m as bright as him, and I suspect maybe I don’t work as hard or have the focus, but in terms of a sustained effort – and particularly in terms of always being involved in new and interesting work – I’d love to end up at least something like Peter.


Let Karma Take Care Of It

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:47 am

I started out mostly thinking about it in relation to bike riders, and the things drivers do to them. For some reason on one particular trip home last week people pulled out in front of me 3 times. I had my lights on as usual, was doing everything the same as usual – just one of those odd statistical clusters, I guess. The final one, just before home, was close enough to double my heart rate. And then on the way home yesterday I split past a truck and he yelled ‘Oh, you idiot’ out his window as I went past.

In that last case I just gave him a cheery wave and rode on. I could have given him a different sort of gesture, but I do tend to think that the more birds you set free in the world, the more you get back! And he was in a truck and I’m on a bike – enraging him is probably not a particularly smart survival move.

I was also thinking about it because one of the riders who posts on the Netrider forum had had a taxi pull out on him without indicating. He stopped and got off the bike to go and have a few words with the taxi driver when the opportunity presented itself – and almost got done for assault by the cops who magically appeared. And having got off the bike, he’d kind of left himself open to it.

I’m not talking about karma in any mystical sense, and I apologise to any Hindu or Buddhist readers who think I’m just appropriating an idea. I’m talking about it more as the simple operation of cause and effect.

I could remonstrate with someone who pulls out in front of me without looking, but yelling at them is only going to lead to conflict, and the potential of me getting beaten up or arrested or my bike damaged. Not to mention stressing me out. But really, if they have the consistent habit of pulling out without looking, then sooner or later it won’t be a bike they’re in front of but another car, or a truck. Then I hope the other driver is as alert as me, and all the puller-outer gets is enough of a scare to remind them to be more careful.

So karma takes care of it – people who are consistently pleasant will, on average (but not always) find other people to be more pleasant in return, while people who are agressive will encounter aggression – and eventually it will be from someone bigger or tougher than them. People who drive carelessly will keep driving carelessly – and encounter the consequences.

I do like the core concept of ‘karma’, at least as Wikipedia describes it – we’re each responsible for our own lives and our own actions. If we consciously take that to heart – being responsible for acting in good ways in the world, and not worrying too much about correcting others’ actions – it seems to me that the world would be a better place.

So on the bike or wherever else – let karma take care of it.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:50 am

Had a great idea for a post at 4 am when I got up to go to the loo. Thought of writing it down, but thought if I did it would wake me up too much and I wouldn’t get back to sleep. Thought I’d remember it, but of course I don’t.


For Whom The Knee Jerks

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:46 am

Donna, a student of mine from a couple of years ago who is now a teacher, dropped in for a chat on Friday, which was great. Always good to hear from the people I’ve helped to develop as teachers, and to see the later stages of their growth.

One of the things she told me, though, annoyed me very much. She’s teaching in a local junior high school, and said that the school has recently cut the weekly time assigned to science from 3 hours 30 to 2 hours 20. This is due to a new state government policy requiring schools to give students a certain amount of physical activity each day at school, a kneejerk response to the ‘obesity epidemic’. So, rather than learn science, students will spend an extra hour a week walking around the oval…

Is it any wonder Australia is falling behind internationally, and crying out for scientists and science teachers? There is funding and priority nationally being paid to that issue, but in this instance it’s been trumped by the state policy.

There are all sorts of problems with it, starting with the fact that by learning science kids are more likely to learn something about energy and exercise and diet that will help them avoid obesity later in life. Not to mention that they have plenty of time *outside* school time for exercise. As Donna said “If you get a dog, you also get the responsibility to walk it. If you have a child…”

But schools are easier to push around than parents, so if parents choose not to involve their kids in some kind of physical activities, and to feed them crap… apparently the solution is to ditch science and replace it with exercise.