29/11/2012

25 Not Out

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:43 am

29th of November… means that 25 years ago it was our wedding day.

Really hard to say very much about it, except that they have literally been the best years of my life and I’m very much looking forward to many more.

We’re blessed by just absolutely enjoying each other’s company and seeking it whenever possible. Been too little of it in the past year or two, but we’re turning that around… and it helps to appreciate something even more if it’s scarce for a while.

So thanks so much, beloved, for choosing – every day – to share your life with me.

A Prick Test

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:45 am

Not, as you might imagine, a test to determine whether I’m a not-very-nice person. (And any other possibilities your imagination conjures are entirely your responsibility.)

No, it’s a test to find out what I’m allergic to. 24 solutions, pressed onto 24 spots on my forearms, then a 15 min wait to find out what comes up like a cartoon within The Simpsons.

The good news, I guess, is that Buffy is off the hook: I’m not allergic to pets.

Grass – a particular one, I’ll get more details from my doctor next week – is apparently one of my Kryptonites.

Dust mites are the other, and major, allergen. Looks like expensive (but secondhand) vacuum cleaner, here we come…

28/11/2012

Walmart, cheap?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:54 pm

Walmart sells cheap stuff, but it might be worth noting that some of your taxes also go toward subsidising those cheap prices. Sounds like some kinda… socialism1 to me.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/11/27/grayson-walmart-is-the-largest-recipient-of-public-aid-in-the-country/#.ULVXuivh4lg.twitter

Meanwhile, the Walton family alone own as much as the poorest 40% of people in the whole nation.

This is not a free market: this is robber baron capitalism actively abusing social safety nets in order to make profits and transfer wealth from the poorest to the richest.

And no, the solution is not to abolish the safety nets! It’s to demand a living wage. This is what you get when unions are weak.

  1. I use the term in the ignorant pejorative way it tends to be used in a lot of Tea Partyesque discourse, rather than its actual meaning.

We Get Spam

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:50 pm

I’m not sure how targeted blog comment spam might be, but if it is apparently I’m perceived as being more in need of help with my look than with… other attributes typically targeted by spam. Here’s a recent sample of what’s been caught in the spam filter:

  • cheap ugg boots
  • ugg fox fur boots
  • louis vuitton
  • moncier jackets
  • canada goose
  • ipad to computer transfer
  • 2012 hermes wallets
  • burberry scarf for sale
  • gucci hobos bags (!)
  • expedition parka

Ads for bags from Chanel and Prada too. I like to think I’m a bit more fashion-aware than the average bloke, but really?

25/11/2012

Climate Science

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:11 am

Yep, here it is: http://www.desmogblog.com/2012/11/15/why-climate-deniers-have-no-credibility-science-one-pie-chart

Looking at all the evidence, to claim that there is debate in climate science about climate change is just… untenable.

Neurobollocks?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:30 am

Hmm, turns out my misgivings on the misuses of neuroscience were somewhat behind the curve. Not so surprising, I guess, since it’s not (to blend a neuro reference and the Murdochs at the Levinson inquiry) ‘front of mind’ for me.

Of course, the frustrating part is that there is excellent, exciting, important work going on in neuroscience – it’s important to avoid obscuring that with guilt by association with people who are using it as a strategy to support their own social obsessions.

Anyway, mainly wrote this post as a place to link a few interesting bits and pieces.

Your brain on pseudoscience: the rise of popular neurobollocks

Neuroscience: Under Attack

Time for neuroimaging (and PNAS) to clean up its act

24/11/2012

Lovely work, Liberal party backbencher Judy Moylan

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:29 pm

…on calling out Tony Abbott’s rhetoric – which seems to me to have moved past the inaudible dog-whistle to pretty overt xenophobia – and untruth.

http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/liberal-backbencher-slams-abbotts-language-on-illegals-20121123-29yrt.html

23/11/2012

Quality and Quantity, Editors and Bloggers, Knowledge That Counts/Is Counted

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:00 pm

Don’t get me wrong – it’s largely about (somewhat breathless) admiration. I’m pointing out differences, not deficits.

What am I babbling about? I’ve been reading some stuff around ‘connectivism’, a new(ish – mid naughties) learning theory (or is it? there’s some debate) advanced by Canadians George Siemens and Stephen Downes.

I’ve been being a bit frustrated, in trying to prepare to write a published article about the concept with my colleague Ben, by the fact that few of the articles about connectivism are published in journals. Most are online, and that means more chasing up, and that some of them have been lost (yay for the Wayback Machine, which enabled me to resurrect a couple).

It also means that the articles have typically not had the benefit of peer review and an editor, and that’s frustrating in itself – some tightening and clarification would have been helpful in many cases. I kind of wish that Siemens and Downes had published more formally, at least a little.

On the other hand… publishing can take a year – or three or four. And it means looking at the same paper several times. That means the papers are more published, but it also means fewer papers in total.

What do I mean? Here’s a link to Stephen Downes’ home page, and nearly 1300! articles!

http://www.downes.ca/me/articles.htm

By self-publishing stuff on the web as soon as it’s done, he manages to be immensely productive. Some of these have also been published in other places, of course.

It’s a similar issue to the one about bloggers (and now tweeters) and journalists in reporting the news – there are tradeoffs in quality and quantity, and also in the amateur versus professional nature of the work. Not saying Siemens and Downes aren’t professionals, they definitely are, and bring that knowledge and those skills to bear – but they are writing more in the manner of bloggers than academics, in many cases, and also don’t have the ‘professionalising’ influence of peer reviewers and editors.

Arguably not worse or better, just different. And heck, I just celebrated 1700 posts on this here blog, so clearly I’m also working in both modes (I think I’m heading for 50 or so lifetime academic publications, maybe more, haven’t counted lately.)

Incidentally, I think Siemens and Downes would argue that their approach is consistent with connectivism – the notion that knowledge is networked and held communally rather than privately. Their papers are intended to be part of an on-going conversation, not final, definitive and correct statements. For their purposes these texts are well adapted.

So yeah, kind of a pointless, meandering blog post: needs peer review. 😛

22/11/2012

I know Fortran

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:24 pm

Check this out: Moore’s law continues unabated: http://www.technologyreview.com/view/507571/how-your-retina-screen-is-helping-make-supercomputers-more-powerful-than-ever/

Helps me feel a teensy bit less guilty about being one of those gamers demanding faster vid cards, too…

20/11/2012

(Misquoting) Chomsky on Gaza

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:18 pm

I know I’ve been guilty in the past: see a quote on Facebook with which I strongly agree, and hit ‘share’ straight away without further checking.

If there’s an obvious sign of dodginess, of course, I’ll have a look.

But it’s pretty easy to be tricked: and I think it matters. A recent example is a quote purportedly from Noam Chomsky about the current conflict in Gaza.

Turns out some of it is him, but from years ago, and some from someone entirely different. So here’s to checking.

Oh, yeah, here’s a good article about it: http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/it-misquoting-noam-chomsky-gaza/

No, you’re not entitled to your opinion

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:56 am

Nice discussion from The Conversation: http://theconversation.edu.au/no-youre-not-entitled-to-your-opinion-9978

19/11/2012

The New Phrenology

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:48 pm

I’ve talked about ‘brain science’ and its child ‘brain-based learning’ here a couple of years ago: http://www.bravus.com/blog/?p=1988

P Z Myers talks about some of the current work in the field: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/11/16/can-i-see-an-fmri-from-a-man-jumping-over-a-shark-next/

And, in the same field, here’s a recent Facebook exchange from the feed of my very smart friend Shaaron Ainsworth:

Shaaron:

… not sure whether to laugh or cry…

This came into my inbox today..

http://www.magnapubs.com/catalog/how-to-implement-brain-based-learning-strategies-in-your-courses/?utm_source=cheetah&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=E3+TP+MOS+11%2F27#interview

Worth reading for example to find out that there are “two ways into the brain: through the eyes and through the body”

Who knew?

Me:

…since I have the brainiest brain person I know on the line… 😉

A colleague here is a bit obsessed with the ‘brain-based learning’ stuff, but my reaction to all of it has tended to be ‘Yes, the PET and fMRI studies are fascinating, and we’re learning lots, but it’s waaaaay too early in the piece to be deriving implications for learning and changing pedagogy based on it, so what we’re mainly getting is snake oil and/or the bleeding obvious and/or prescriptions to do things the authors wanted to prescribe anyway with ‘brain-based’ as a pretext’.

A fair statement of the state of play, or prejudice on my part?

Shaaron again:

I am afraid that I tend to agree with you. I think the only exceptions to that sadly, in my experience, true statement are around developmental disorders. There have been a couple of recent papers – one more pro and one more anti that I quite enjoyed though and thought took the debate a little further. Can look up for you if you like?

(reminds self to get back to her and request those!)

But perhaps I’ll leave the final words to Shaaron’s friend Nicola, whose post made me smile:

Dammit, and here’s me practicing arse-based learning all these years. I knew I was doing something wrong.

Reading, Writing and the Best-laid Plans

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:03 am

Don’t want to make too big an announcement on this, because I know myself and New Years Resolutions, but I’d kinda like to do it next year as well. For now, though, the goal is just the month I have left this year.

I’m trying to set off two hours a day (Monday to Friday) for publication-related activity. Typically, the first week will involve reading all the papers I need to in the field, and the second week writing the paper. That will vary when I use co-authors, who I can’t expect to turn things around so quickly, and I can read for more than 10 hours if necessary, if it’s a new field rather than one I’m just catching up on or reminding myself of.

On that model, a good solid draft of a paper should be done every two weeks: and then the 2 hours per day move on to the next paper, and I can mop up and send off in other time: I’m meant to1 have the equivalent of 2 full days a week for working on research.

The general plan is to rise at 5 and be in the office by 5:30, and work on this until 7:30 – which means it still works even on days when I have to start teaching at 8. Email doesn’t get checked until after this working time.

I’ve used this model before, when writing a book, and it works well. It sharply lifts productivity levels. It’s also very nice to start every working day with some achievements already chalked up: it’s a bit of an antidote to that thing where I come home from work and Sue asks ‘What did you do today?’ and I say ‘bits and pieces’. I’ve worked solidly all day, but it’s been making calls, answering emails, filling in forms, going to meetings… and there’s no tangible thing to show for the day of my life I’ll never get back.

It’s also a way of getting a whole lot of literature into my head in a relatively short time: as I’ve said here before, there are incentives in this business to write but not so much to read, yet reading is essential.

So, the plan was to start early this morning, but I ended up not making it into the office until 9:30, because I drove Suzie up to Brisbane for her work last night and didn’t get back until 1 am. That happened because her morning job was a sea of vomit, because someone else failed to properly medicate her client a couple of days ago. Which meant Suzie was tired enough that I wasn’t happy with her driving herself the hour home after midnight.

So, that person being slack in their job in a context some distance from me messed up my plans – at least if I wanted enough sleep to be able to read and write.

But fortunately at this time of the year things are flexible, so I can go 10 am to noon instead of 5:30-7:30 and still get my 2 hours reading.

  1. ‘Meant to’ means I’m on a 40% teaching, 40% research, 20% service model. Of course, the teaching and service demands don’t come neatly packaged into days, so neither can the research.

17/11/2012

Coffee and Health: The Evidence

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:48 pm

I pulled together this info last year as part of a forum discussion, but I keep wanting to refer people to it and the forum location is not so friendly for that. It’s just a compendium of what I dug up then, in an honest search for all the available evidence.

Here’s a recent review article: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a742127085

The story, as always, is more complicated than simply ‘coffee good’ or ‘coffee bad’. Coffee helps with some things and harms others. A decision about its use would involve all of a person’s other risk factors like diet, exercise, heredity and so on.

Here’s my list of 10 recent scholarly peer reviewed papers on the benefits of coffee along with brief quotes of their findings:

“From the data presented here, it is concluded that only heavy consumption (>6 cups/day) of boiled unfiltered coffee is harmful to the heart as a result of the dose-related plasma cholesterol and LDL increase due to the diterpene oils. Although epidemiological studies show that moderate consumption of this coffee appears to confer some cardiovascular benefit. …moderate filtered coffee consumption, which is the usual pattern of the many of the subjects in the populations studied, is recommended.”

Jennifer Stella Bonitaa, Michael Mandaranoa, Donna Shutaa and Joe Vinson (2007). Coffee and cardiovascular disease: In vitro, cellular, animal, and human studies. Pharmacological Research
Volume 55, Issue 3: 187-198.

“This study confirms a striking protective effect of caffeinated coffee against incident diabetes and extends these findings to incident diabetes based on OGTT independent of multiple plausible confounders.”

Besa Smith, MPH, Deborah L. Wingard, PHD, Tyler C. Smith, MS, Donna Kritz-Silverstein, PHD and Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, MD. (2006. Does Coffee Consumption Reduce the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Individuals With Impaired Glucose? Diabetes Care. 29(11): 2385-2390.

“Regular coffee consumption was not associated with an increased mortality rate in either men or women. The possibility of a modest benefit of coffee consumption on all-cause and CVD mortality needs to be further investigated.”

Esther Lopez-Garcia, PhD; Rob M. van Dam, PhD; Tricia Y. Li, MD; Fernando Rodriguez-Artalejo, MD, PhD; and Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD. (2008). The Relationship of Coffee Consumption with Mortality. Annals of Internal Medicine, 148(12): 904-914.

“A reliable tool for measurement of caffeine consumption demonstrated that caffeine consumption, particularly from regular coffee, above a threshold of approximately 2 coffee-cup equivalents per day, was associated with less severe hepatic fibrosis.”

Modi AA, Feld JJ, Park Y, Kleiner DE, Everhart JE, Liang TJ, Hoofnagle JH. (2010). Increased caffeine consumption is associated with reduced hepatic fibrosis. Hepatology, 53(1): 207-208.

“Long-term coffee consumption was not associated with an increased risk of stroke in women. In contrast, our data suggest that coffee consumption may modestly reduce risk of stroke.”

Esther Lopez-Garcia, PhD; Fernando Rodriguez-Artalejo, MD, PhD; Kathryn M. Rexrode, MD, MPH; Giancarlo Logroscino, MD, PhD; Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD; Rob M. van Dam, PhD. (2009). Coffee Consumption and Risk of Stroke in Women. Circulation, 119: 1116-1123.

“The increase in GCSF is particularly important because long-term treatment with coffee (but not decaffeinated coffee) enhanced working memory in a fashion that was associated only with increased plasma GCSF levels among all cytokines. Since we have previously reported that long-term GCSF treatment enhances cognitive performance in AD mice…”

Chuanhai Cao, Li Wang, Xiaoyang Lin, Malgorzata Mamcarz, Chi Zhang, Ge Bai, Jasson Nong, Sam Sussman, Gary Arendash. (2011). Caffeine Synergizes with Another Coffee Component to Increase Plasma GCSF: Linkage to Cognitive Benefits in Alzheimer’s Mice. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, DOI: 10.3233/JAD-2011-110110.

“The combined effect of coffee and mental stress significantly decreased diastolic blood pressure (Delta8 mm Hg) and increased heart rate (Delta6 beats per minute) and mental alertness (Delta67.3%) in caffeine-naive and caffeine-habituated females, whereas systolic blood pressure (Delta10.3 mm Hg) only increased in the caffeine-naive participants.”

Michael D. Kennedy, Ashley V. Galloway, Leanne J. Dickau and Megan K. Hudson. (2008). The cumulative effect of coffee and a mental stress task on heart rate, blood pressure, and mental alertness is similar in caffeine-naïve and caffeine-habituated females. Nurtition Research, 28(9): 609-614.

“Our findings do not support the hypothesis that coffee consumption increases the long-term risk of coronary heart disease. Habitual moderate coffee drinking was associated with a lower risk of CHD in women.”

Jiang-nan Wu, Suzanne C Ho, Chun Zhou, Wen-hua Ling, Wei-qing Chen, Cui-ling Wang and Yu-ming Chen (2008). Coffee consumption and risk of coronary heart diseases: A meta-analysis of 21 prospective cohort studies. International Journal of Cardiology, Volume 137, Issue 3, Pages 216-225.

“In acute studies involving AD [Alzheimer’s disease] mice, one oral caffeine treatment quickly reduced both brain and plasma Abeta levels – similarly rapid alterations in plasma Abeta levels were seen in humans following acute caffeine administration. “Caffeinated” coffee provided to AD mice also quickly decreased plasma Abeta levels, but not “decaffeinated” coffee, suggesting that caffeine is critical to decreasing blood Abeta levels. Caffeine appears to provide its disease-modifying effects through multiple mechanisms, including a direct reduction of Abeta production through suppression of both beta- and gamma-secretase levels. These results indicate a surprising ability of moderate caffeine intake (the human equivalent of 500 mg caffeine or 5 cups of coffee per day) to protect against or treat AD in a mouse model for the disease and a therapeutic potential for caffeine against AD in humans.”

Gary W. Arendash, Chuanhai Cao. (2010). Caffeine and Coffee as Therapeutics Against Alzheimer’s Disease. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-2010-091249.

“Our data support an inverse association between coffee consumption and diabetes and suggest that the time of drinking coffee plays a distinct role in glucose metabolism.”

Daniela S Sartorelli, Guy Fagherazzi, Beverley Balkau, Marina S Touillaud, Marie-Christine Boutron-Ruault, Blandine de Lauzon-Guillain, and Françoise Clavel-Chapelon. (2010). Differential effects of coffee on the risk of type 2 diabetes according to meal consumption in a French cohort of women: the E3N/EPIC cohort study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(4): 1002-1012.

There’s more, but that’s a decent place to start.

1700 Posts

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:55 pm

Yes, I know we only hit 1600 a couple of months ago, and the pace has been a bit hectic lately.

The fact that comments have been rare probably suggests that it’s overwhelming.

Can’t really help it though: I’m inspired at the moment. It should settle down at some point…

Yep, I’m sending you to Conservapedia

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:53 pm

But only to see them get schooled!

http://www.conservapedia.com/Conservapedia:Lenski_dialog

Longish, but well worth it.

Christian = Christ-like?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:26 am

From a discussion on Facebook. I should note that the context is the Seventh-day Adventist church, the one I grew out of, in which women’s ordination is a live issue at the moment:

Someone asked a question here a few days ago, and I wanted to go back and answer it, but it seems to have sunk out of sight…

As I recall it was ‘Would you guys be more favourably disposed toward the church if it was more Christlike?’, or words to that effect. I don’t think it was ‘would you still be members?’, just ‘would your attitude be different?’

My response has two parts, so I may as well treat them separately:

1. In terms of truth, and of whether I’d be a member, I don’t think there’d be a lot of difference. For me, as I think about it, it’s the ‘postmodern turn’ more than anything else that has put me out of the church. The recognition that there are many, many claims to absolute truth and they can’t be all correct. The relinquishing of Grand Narratives that explain everything and the recognition that all narratives are partial, biased, located, subjective. While there are many parts of Christ’s teachings I like – see below – at the same time his claim to be the One True Way is not compelling for someone who does not accept that there is One True Way, and rather seeks to choose the best/what works from many ways.

2. In terms of attitude, yes, I think it would make a difference. The other big thing that pushed me out of the church was its immoral stance on homosexuality and the ordination of women and a plethora of other things. Jesus didn’t speak about the former, and ministered extensively to women, often preferring their company to that of powerful men. And so on… And, of course, hypocrites are always unattractive, so there’s that. And the response to my discussions of Jesus’ views on wealth, and the sucking up to wealth by most modern Christians and… there are dozens of ways in which Ghandi was right when he said Christians would be a lot easier to take if they were more like Christ.

So, if the goal (as it is purported to be) of the church is to be like Christ, then I can heartily get behind that. If the goal of being like Christ is to win back us reprobates, though, that’s not gonna happen – at least speaking for myself.

16/11/2012

Theorists

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:53 am

Something I posted on the William Gibson Board yesterday:

Been working and writing in the educational technology field for the past – well, probably 10 years actually – which has been enjoyable, but [that field] tends to go for very simple, pragmatic, atheoretical approaches1. Realised I’ve been missing the deeply theoretical stuff, and in fact feel less smart and less informed than I was as a PhD student and postdoc.

One research project I’ve been working on lately has pulled me back into that world a bit, but others did more of the theory lifting and I did more narrative/methodology type stuff.

There’s a pretty vibrant research community at Griffith, my new uni, and I’ve joined it for meetings and such, and informal discussions, and found I have a *lot* of reading to do to be up to speed.

I’ve been there before, and can get there again, and can hold my own in the conversations, but it’s just useful to have a handle on some of the theories, names, ideas and approaches people are talking about.

I’ve booked some summer holidays, and am also just going to have to change myself from a person who reads mostly novels to a person who also reads papers and books for pleasure. I do enjoy them (but need to find places away from a computer so I don’t get tempted to check email and Facebook and check in here), and I’ll keep reading novels too.

I tend to have a pretty pragmatic attitude myself: I’ve already sort-of-rejected ‘actor-network theory’ as being useful to me, since it is a great approach for thinking with and seeing situations in new ways, but seems to be in-principle impossible to operationalise as a research methodology.

I want and need tools that work to achieve the purposes I have chosen…

Toolbox as a metaphor works for me: half a dozen or so really good, powerful, versatile tools that can be combined in twos and threes in creative and interesting ways to get stuff done.

Should be good for keeping the aging brain active… and I also have the application in for the MPhil in physics… brains don’t break with overuse, do they? Wink

Challenge is to find ways to ‘do theory’ without triggering off my own ‘Wank Factor 7′ alert – or having it subtly recalibrate itself so that I trigger others’ without noticing.

You’ll let me know, won’t you?

As part of that project I’m reading up on various theorists, and largely for my own purposes I intend to write, from memory, a short precis of the work and ideas of each here. Writing it down is helpful in getting my own head around it, and I find reading it and then writing what I remember helps focus my attention on the parts I find most useful.

As a side note, I’m finding Wikipedia really helpful: short clear overviews that are helpful in orienting me to the key features to look for when reading the theorists own work. Particularly given that some of them write in very dense, self-referential ways, just going in with a bit of a map is a Good Thing – though I realise that it may also predispose me to over-simplification.

Guess we’ll see where this journey takes me, and you lucky people can choose which bits (if any) of the ride you care to share.

  1. Thinking about it now, perhaps because they’re always struggling to keep pace with the deluge of new technologies coming down the pipeline – like trying to get a drink of water from a fully-open fire hydrant. There’s not *time* for deep introspection or building elaborate structures of theory…

15/11/2012

How To Awaken Your Crystal Skull

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:49 pm

This blog, always first with the News You Need: http://www.articlesbase.com/metaphysics-articles/how-to-charge-your-crystal-skull-with-energy-and-awaken-the-skull-6190178.html

So now you know: pretty much, treat it like a Tamagotchi.

Plus, avoid irresponsible crystal skull owners.

Happy resonating!

13/11/2012

Why the Republican Party can’t even attract its natural allies

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:26 pm

Excellent, clear, thoughtful article: http://www.ericgarland.co/2012/11/09/letter-to-a-future-republican-strategist-regarding-white-people/