29/5/2010

Desire Lines

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:34 pm

Such a cool concept: http://www.vanseodesign.com/web-design/desire-lines/

Must try to find some time to think it through in relation to education, and particularly to my proposed Fellowship project, which is about teaching science in ways that work for students.

28/5/2010

America Speaking Out

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:28 am

The US Republican Party has started a web site, ‘America Speaking Out’, because apparently:

America deserves a Congress that respects the priorities of the people. Unfortunately, Washington hasn’t been listening. Let’s change that. America Speaking Out is your opportunity to change the way Congress works by proposing ideas for a new policy agenda. Republicans have offered solutions, and we have our principles, but this is a new venue for us to listen to you. So Speak Out.

Naturally, that has gone about as well as you’d imagine. Here are a few samples:

All border patrol officers and ICE agents should immediately be replaced by terminators armed with lightsabers. Not only would this solve the illegal immigration problem, it would also be friggin awesome.

Stop the obesity epidemic and improve science education in one fell swoop! Put Ray Comfort in charge of science education. We won’t have any more of that troublesome science. And the bananas will be good for the kids.

We should invent and patent more colors. Like fuchsia, but not that because it’s already been invented.

Implement a “flat tax”, because anything less than a B cup is un-American. Bewbs. 9/11

Have the senate vote on, and decide, if the cake is in fact a lie.

We ought to think of a better name for it than “yiffing.”1

The whole site is pretty much like that – plus it keeps crashing all the time:

STEP 1: Design and run a patronizingly simple-minded website that barely functions with more than 4 users. … STEP 2: Try to run a global super-power nation of 320 million people and a nuclear arsenal. … BABY STEPS

Anyway, if you’re short on amusement today, get amongst it: http://www.americaspeakingout.com/

  1. If you have to ask, you don’t want to know. Trust me on this one.

Excellent article on ‘post-humanism’ as a continuous process

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:52 am

We have seen the future, and we are it: http://io9.com/5533833/your-posthumanism-is-boring-me

27/5/2010

Written 4 years ago – sad bit is, not much has changed…

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:34 pm

There’s something I need to try to write
Alone here in the middle evening
Melodic death whispering and growling
Stuck in my familiar, futile round

I click the same four bookmarks
Repeatedly, incessantly, in silent
Boredom/fascination, and increasing speed
Stuck, trapped, locked in the iteration

The William Gibson Board
The Adventist forum
Salon.com
Gmail

Sometimes for variety
My blog, Homestarrunner
Alien Loves Predator
Penny Arcade and Loud

I should stop, go home, do something
Produce, commit, explore
Become fecund, productive
Or speak to a human

But something keeps me clicking, looking
Reading, waiting, watching
Come on, dammit, people
I need stimulation

The freaking web is damn near
Infinite, so why
This narrow, circumscribed
Orbit/gravity well?

No real concept, except
That these sites feel like home
Their denizens my friends
Or, at least, convenient strangers

On Office Politics

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:29 am

At one stage, very early in my academic career, I joined one particular faction in an on-going debate that was going on at that institution. I’ve regretted it ever since: on balance I think I was probably on the ‘correct’ side on the issues, but factional politics caused me to treat some good people badly, and in general tended to take a lot of energy and cause a fair bit of rancour without achieving much.

Ever since, I’ve tried very hard to avoid factionalism wherever I’ve been. I’m happiest in places where there are no factions – but I’m not sure any such places really exist, it’s just more or less overt. But I try hard to be impartial, to join no camp, and to judge each issue on its own merits. I’ll occasionally work to pull together a voting coalition around an issue I care deeply about, but that’s ideally temporary and based on the merits of the case.

(It’s a little ironic that I try to be so apolitical in the work place, because privately I’m very interested in politics, and probably read more about the issues in US and UK elections than many citizens of those nations, and definitely much more about Australian politics than most. I’ve certainly posted my share of political posts here…)

The problem with this stance, of course, is that while I try to be above and outside office politics, and to avoid seeing the world (well, the tiny world of the School or Department) in terms of factions and blocs, others very much do see the world that way. By choosing not to join any camp, I very often am perceived as being a member of the opposite camp from whoever is doing the perceiving. That’s happened a number of times, and I’m not really sure how to address it. I guess it happens around other issues, too: atheists perceive me to be Christian and Christians perceive me to be, if not atheist, at least deeply unorthodox. And so on.

Then our old friend confirmation bias comes along to join the party. If I vote or speak for an issue espoused by a member of one faction, then I’m clearly just on the side of the facts and the evidence. If I vote or speak against their issue, it’s evidence that I’m nailing my colours to the mast of the opposition, or ‘in the pocket’ of the opposition faction’s leader.

Dunno where I go from here, but maybe I can point people in the direction of this post: I’m really trying, as best I can, to serve the interests of the School and most particularly the interests of its students, in every action I take. If there are factions, that means my actions are likely to coincide with the interests of one at some moments and another at others, but factional allegiance is not helpful at all in explaining my actions.

Magisteria Deliciosa

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:44 am

You lucky people: one more small glimpse inside the scary place that is my mind!

I thought the title phrase on the ride in this morning, and smiled to myself. Here’s why:

I was thinking about Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of science and religion as operating in ‘non-overlapping magisteria’. That’s a fancy way of saying that these fields of human endeavour act in different domains and address different kinds of questions using different kinds of evidence. In particular, I was thinking of this blog post: Gould’s Hopeless Monster, which suggests that that idea is not really tenable1.

At the same time, I was thinking of a book I read on the recent trip – Robert G Barrett’s ‘The Ultimate Aphrodisiac’2. In it, a character enjoys a rum punch made with the fruit of the monstera deliciosa. It’s described as tasting heavenly, but being a pain to get all the tiny seeds out of the fruit to make it.

monstera deliciosa

And I remembered that we had a monstera deliciosa plant growing at the side of our (decidedly non-tropical) house in Newport Road, Cooranbong, when I was growing up, and that once it did fruit and I did taste the fruit, which was as advertised.

So there you have it.

  1. The blog post itself puns on one of Gould’s other notions, the ‘hopeful monsters‘ that make large evolutionary leaps very quickly, rather than the more gradual changes described by Darwin.
  2. In case the title isn’t a sufficient hint, the book is hilarious but deeply ribald and politically incorrect – read with caution if that’s likely to offend.

26/5/2010

Excellent graphic novel style discussion on vaccination

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:39 am

http://tallguywrites.livejournal.com/148012.html

25/5/2010

Yep

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:16 am

http://www.theage.com.au/national/climate-debate-almost-infantile-20100524-w81e.html

20/5/2010

Mirrors, meet Smoke

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:03 am

The Federal Opposition’s response to the Budget was delivered in several parts… Tony Wright does a nice job of describing the process:

http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/hockey-sweats-over-tax-replacement-plan-20100519-vf8k.html

…and it seems as though the headline ‘$47 billion savings’ is extremely shaky in terms of its base in reality:

http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/savings-not-as-big-as-they-seem-20100519-vf8l.html

Plenty of people frustrated with the many fumbles of the Rudd federal government, and plenty who want to like and support the Coalition… but looking at this package, it’s hard to make the argument that these guys are ready to run the country.

19/5/2010

What we’re up to

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:18 pm

The pressure of their regard

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:16 pm

Ate a very good steak last night with Suzie and Michelle in a ship-themed restaurant, then was dragged to the street markets by Suzie in search of gifts for the girls and possibly a watch for me. It was very hot and steamy and I was probably overdressed for it, after the arctic aircon inside the hotel, and then the markets themselves were kind of claustrophobic tunnels lined with merchandise and merchants.

Don’t get me wrong, the people are uniformly hugely friendly and pleasant, and don’t put a lot of pressure on at all… But as an introvert who’d also been conferencing all day, just the fact that everyone said hello and hawked their wares become more and more oppressive, until I felt as though I needed to immediately run away.

I’m one of the good guys, so I stuck it out as long as I could, and we did end up with the gifts we needed. But I’m not sure Suzie, who is way up at the extroverted end of that particular scale, realised what it cost me…

18/5/2010

Liberal guilt gone a bit too far?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:38 am

(this is something I was thinking about before I left Oz and didn’t get time to write, so has nothing to do with being away at the moment – will write something about Penang, the conference or whatever later)

A friend in Brasil tweeted something like “I have to do the housework. I hate it, but I’m not going to leave it to some underpaid woman”. I’ve had that reaction from a few people over the years: probably because I advocate paying a housecleaner as a way of bypassing all those issues around the wife’s and husband’s share of the housework (and because we both hate it).

It just seems like odd logic: I won’t get some underpaid woman to do the cleaning, I’ll grit my teeth and do it myself. Well, first, she doesn’t have to be underpaid: you can pay a fair or even a quite generous rate1 (see below) and second, better perhaps to be paid something than nothing? If someone wants to take on some cleaning to make ends meet – it’s basically safe, not ridiculously strenuous work that is often paid in cash – I’m not really doing her any favours by depriving her of that work in order to assuage my own conscience.

So, we tend to have a cleaner, and to pay her above the odds, and to appreciate her and treat her as a friend. We can pay rates that are better than other cleaners get, and that are better than the cleaners would get working in retail or whatever (or cleaning commercial properties). And it still costs us less per hour than we earn per hour (and I don’t feel guilty about that, having worked very hard and gone without for a lot of years to get the qualifications and experience to earn what I do now).

And I’d rather pay the money, and have the weekends to spend with the family, rather than have both Sue and I work very hard all week then clean house and mow lawns all weekend. The family time is more important.

Others’ views may vary, and by all means post comments if you have a different perspective, but thinking it through seems to me to suggest that it’s better to leave the housework to a decently-paid woman than to do it (and hate it) ourselves.

  1. Have to admit, there can be pressure not to do so: when we were in PNG one of our neighbours said something like “don’t pay your cleaner too much because they all talk and you’ll raise the price for everyone”. Good old ‘let’s us privileged people stick together and collude on price (illegal when companies do it) to keep those less privileged within their small expectations;. Needless to say, we kinda broke that cabal…

16/5/2010

Off to Penang

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:33 am

Probably mentioned it already to most of you, but I’m off to the ‘Global Learn Asia Pacific’ conference in Penang, Malaysia, tomorrow. The really exciting bit is that Suzie is coming with me this time! Should be a fantastic week of relaxing and hanging out together – between conference sessions, of course.

Blogging service might be a bit sporadic for the next week or so… or not, depending on access and inspiration.

Sleep Apnea 1

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:30 am

I’ve been waking up with headaches, and walking around with them all day, and taking more panadiene than is strictly good for my liver, for a while now. Wasn’t sure what the problem was, thought it might be allergies, or eye strain, or caffeine withdrawal… then I thought ‘I wonder if it’s sleep apnea?’ Did a little digging, and that’s certainly one of the symptoms.

Sleep apnea is when you stop breathing for a while during the night. It can be associated with snoring but is different. It tends to make one feel tired and a bit vague during the day, not really rested, and headachey… and all those things describe me pretty well lately: just not the usual vim.

I thought of it because I know Dad suffers from it. He’s a bit heavier than me, and it can be associated with weight as well, but I’m a lot like him in all sorts of other ways, so it wouldn’t surprise me if I’ve inherited this.

Fortunately, while not really curable, it’s eminently treatable. When we get back from the Malaysia trip (see above) I’ll get tested (which involves wearing a monitor for a night or a couple of nights to find out whether it’s happening). If it is I’ll need to get a mask and pump ‘constant pressure’ apparatus, and wear a mask over my nose while I sleep that supplies air to keep the airway open and stop the apnea.

It’s expensive, and probably a bit uncomfortable and hard to get used to… but having my energy, mental acuity and headache-freeness back would be very nice indeed.

15/5/2010

Very interesting article on physics and the ‘mind of God’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:37 am

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627591.200-the-imperfect-universe-goodbye-theory-of-everything.html

12/5/2010

Why I reckon Rudd will still win the election

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:04 am

The polls for Australian PM Kevin Rudd (prior to yesterday’s Federal Budget) seemed to be in free fall:

Since the previous poll a month ago, Mr Rudd’s approval rating has nosedived 14 percentage points to 45 per cent, while his disapproval rating has skyrocketed 13 points to 49 per cent. (from the Sydney Morning Herald/Nielsen poll)

There are a number of issues in this, but this particular huge drop was related to his decision to postpone the Emissions Trading Scheme, intended to address climate change:

The poll finds 58 per cent of voters still support an ETS. Only 30 per cent oppose it.

Mr Rudd once called climate change ”the greatest moral, economic and environmental challenge of our generation” and his decision to shelve the policy polarised the electorate – 43 per cent supported the delay, 45 per cent opposed it and 13 per cent were undecided. (ibid)

The reason for the delay was basically that he could not get the legislation past the Senate, and the only solution would have been to trigger a ‘double dissolution’ of Parliament, bringing on an election immediately. Presumably he’s chosen to avoid that in the hope of being able to get some ‘runs on the board’ by later in the year when the election is required to be called.

Two things make me confident that we’ll still have a Labour government after the election. One is that although Rudd’s popularity has dropped, that of Tony Abbott, the Opposition leader, has not really risen. Mr Rudd is still the preferred prime minister by a relatively large margin: only the really rusted-on conservatives really like Abbott.

The other is that I think the disapproval of Rudd is hiding two separate groups. One is the aforementioned rusted-on conservatives: who would not approve of Rudd even if he personally showed up at their houses with a cheque for a million bucks.

The other is that large proportion of the Australian populace that cares about climate change. They are very angry that, after proclaiming that climate change was ”the greatest moral, economic and environmental challenge of our generation”, Rudd has ended up allowing political considerations to force him into inaction.

But where can those voters go? If their issue is climate change, and even if the impulse to punish Rudd is strong, Tony Abbott is definitely not the alternative PM they’d choose. He is on record as calling the science behind climate change ‘absolute crap’ – a statement from which he has since resiled. But he was telling schoolkids as recently as this week, on no evidence at all, that it was warmer in Christ’s time than it is now. He pays lip service to climate change because he wants to woo that nearly 60% of voters, but his true views (on this and other issues) keep sneaking out.

So although the polls look bleak for Rudd, I reckon there’s not a huge amount to worry about. Of course, that assumes the voters in general are smart enough to come to this same conclusion about Abbott and climate…

11/5/2010

Just Dreamin’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:31 am

My current bike just hit 70,000 km, and both the fact that I love it and it’s running well and budgetary concerns mean I’ll most likely end up keeping it for at least another 2-3 years. I’m averaging about 25,000 km a year, so that’ll get it well over the 100,000 mark, but I still reckon I should be able to get at least $2-3,000 for it then, and I only paid $4,700 for it, a year or so ago, so 3-4 years riding for under $3,000 is an absolute bargain.

But still, it’s nice to dream! People have suggested I get something completely different for my next bike, just for variety… but I think I’d really miss the upright seating position and the lazy power. It just perfectly suits what I use a bike for. So here are three contenders, all in a fairly similar class to my current bike, or at least with similar characteristics. None of them are new now, and in another 3 years they’ll be less so, which will enable me to put into practice my avowed policy of buying a few years old and letting someone else take the big depreciation hit on a new bike. That’s how you get years of happy motoring for less than a lot of people are paying for their yearly insurance!

Suzuki Bandit 1250S (in each case I’ve linked the bike pictured to a current one selling in Australia to give you a sense of the price and some more info on the bike)

Bandit 1250S

This is the model that replaced my current Bandit 1200S. The updated version features a liquid-cooled motor rather than the air/oil cooled one I have, and although it has a higher capacity has a little less power. But still most of the same goodnesses of the current bike… just not as old. It’s also the budget choice: the one I linked is 3 years old and about 8 grand, so I’d be looking at similar numbers to what I paid for my current bike in another 3 years. And the nice thing is, it wouldn’t be ‘settling’ for the cheapie… I really like my Bandit!

KTM 990 Superduke

KTM 990 Superduke

The Superduke (this picture shows the slightly sportier and more expensive R version, but the changes aren’t massive) is the one least like the Bandit of these three. It’s still naked (a bit more so), but it’s a V-twin like a Ducati rather than an inline-4 like the two Suzukis. The riding characteristics are quite different, but it’s a sexy beast of a bike. I suspect it would be even more dangerous to my license than the Bandit… not least because it’s a lot more eye-catching for the constabulary…

Suzuki B-King 1300

B-King

The ‘B’ in B-King originally stood for ‘boost’, because the concept bike it was based on was supercharged. That was just silliness: it already shares a motor with the Hayabusa, for some time the fastest road bike in the world, and supercharging it just took it to cartoonish realms of power… which may have been fitting given the way it looks. But I guess now it kind stands for ‘beast’: this thing is still mental in terms of power, grunt and go. It’s a logical step up from the Bandit, and for that reason is probably my fave of the three mentioned here. Price-wise it’s similar to the Superduke, and being a new model in the past couple of years we haven’t seen what it’ll drop to, but I reckon if I can scrape together 8 grand instead of 5 I can probably pick one up in a couple of years.

By all means feel free to suggest alternatives… or to share your own dreams.

Is there a way to vote -1 Tony Abbott…

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:12 am

…so that my vote would cancel one vote for him? 😉

He seems very determined to demonstrate his utter unfitness for the role: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/environment/climate-change/climate-scientists-cross-with-abbott-for-taking-christs-name-in-vain-20100509-ulqt.html

10/5/2010

Ethics in School 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:47 pm

A couple of weeks ago I wrote something about the trial of an ethics course in NSW schools: http://www.bravus.com/blog/?p=1763

My friend Glenn wrote this on Facebook today:

Here’s a dead easy way to have your say on the NSW Ethics Classes. Just visit this page, plug in your contact details and a letter will be sent to a variety of NSW politicians, including Premier Kristina Keneally and Education Minister Verity Firth.

http://www.reasonmakesadifference.net/campaigns/ethics-trial/email

You don’t have to be a NSW resident to write. You can just send the email supplied, or you can add your own thoughts.

It really couldn’t be easier and takes just a minute.

A similar scheme by the Sydney Anglicans has sent over 2000 emails to NSW politicians. We need to make our voices heard. Please take a moment to send an email from this site and pass on the link through your Facebook, Twitter and other networks.

I tweaked the offered template letter a bit to reflect my own situation – I’d encourage doing that because it’s more effective than hundreds of absolutely identical messages. Give it a go if you’re interested. Here’s what I wrote:

Good morning Ms Firth

I am an Australian parent, teacher and teacher educator who has published book chapters on education for citizenship and has a strong interest in the ways in which our students become engaged, informed citizens.

I support the the trial of ethics classes in public schools for the following reasons.

1. The trial of ethics classes in NSW public schools is a welcome step that provides parents and students an alternative for those students who do not attend special religious education.

2. The trial of ethics classes based on the St James Ethics Centre program provides an opportunity for students to consider ethical questions without having to profess a particular theological worldview

3. The teaching of ethics is a valuable addition to NSW public schools that recognises the diversity of our state and contributes to the public good.

The value gained from participating in this program will extend well beyond the issues addressed: students who develop skills in moral reasoning and argument from evidence will develop significantly improved higher order thinking in *all* their learning areas.

Warm regards,

Dr David Geelan
47 Regency Crescent, Moggill QLD 4070

GM Food, Hamsters and Junior High Science Fair Science

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:13 am

Someone posted this link in a discussion forum, using the same post title as the title of the article:

http://www.salem-news.com/articles/april262010/gm-food-as.php

Now, there are a few warning signs in the ‘newspaper’ article itself: the fact that it cites 3 sources of information, but two of them are earlier articles by the same author on the same subject and one is a book review on a similar obscure site. The fact that none of the citations is to a published scientific paper. The fact that this ‘newspaper’ site has a Paypal link on the top right hand corner asking for donations is also a bit of an alarm bell in relation to its credibility.

But leave those things aside for a bit, and look at the actual research study reported. There are several serious problems with it:

  1. It has not yet been published, anywhere (I looked). That means it has never undergone peer review which, imperfect as it sometimes is, is the gold standard in science. No-one outside the research team has checked how well the study was done and whether the evidence actually supports the claims made.
  2. The study uses very small samples: this more detailed report shows that each group of hamsters (there were 4 treatment groups, from zero GM food to small, medium and large amounts of GM food) contained only 5 pairs of hamsters, a total of 10 individuals. There were 3 generations in total in the study, a total of only 140 animals. In the ‘lots of GM food’ group from which the infertility was reported there would have been only about 30-35 animals total: that’s a very small sample from which to make broad claims. And it’s entirely possible that some of the infertility could have resulted from a genetic issue with some of the original 5 pairs chosen, that was spread by the inbreeding, rather than from the GM foods.
  3. The study has not yet been replicated in another lab elsewhere.

The most important issue, though, is that correlation has been treated as causation. That is, there is a correlation between eating the GM food and infertility, but since there is no specific science in the paper on a causal mechanism – say ‘genes from the GM food are transferring into bacteria in the gut of the hamsters and then in some way into the genome of the hamsters themselves’ – all that’s there is a correlation. That’s why I referred to it as ‘junior high science fair science’. I’ve judged a few science fairs in my time, and it’s perfectly valid for a Year 8 student to do a study of ‘rock music versus classical music: effect on plant growth’ and make claims about the correlations observed. But they’re not doing ‘real science’ because they do not have a causal mechanism.

And because there are always plenty of confounding variables. Just off the top of my head, one of the common genetic modifications made to food crops is to make the plants immune to the effects of glyphosate (‘Round Up’) pesticides. This means the farmer can spray the entire field with the pesticide, and the crop won’t die but the weeds will. It’s entirely possible that what caused the observed infertility in the hamsters (if, indeed, it’s a real effect and not an artefact of the small study size or some other factor) was higher pesticide residues in their food, rather than the genetic modifications directly. That’s an important issue, but it’s one that can be dealt with… and it’s a different issue than genetic modification more broadly.

The problem with a study without a causal theory being tested is that it doesn’t appropriately direct our attention to solutions – and to directions for further research.

My choosing to point out these scientific problems has been misunderstood in the discussion on the forum as being ‘going in to bat for GM’ and ‘supporting Monsanto’ – and it’s neither of those things. I do think there are real and serious issues and concerns around the use of genetically modified plants in foods. But you don’t address real and serious issues by doing crappy science.