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…
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.
So, flew out from Brisbane this morning (Saturday the 20th, not sure what time zone the blog software thinks it’s in) at 11 am, and it just now hit midnight and become the 21st… but with a 14 hour timezone difference, that’s been one loooong day.
We (my colleague Michelle Mukherjee who works on one of my research projects travelled with me) went direct Brisbane-LA, and arrived at about 6:30 am in LA, four and a half hours before we left, after a 14 hour flight. That one was good, because we’d agreed that we’d rather sit next to each other than some random, and Michelle is about 5’2″ and petite, so a good complement to my shoulders that tend to take up every inch of the allotted space, maybe plus a bit… The lady at check-in put us at the back where there were only 2 seats in a row so we didn’t have to deal with anyone else climbing over us.
The movie/entertainment system was dodgy, and it turned out that we got no movies in our seats. I was fine because I’d brought 3 books (and am a few pages from the end of the last one – it was a close-run thing), but Michelle had kinda planned on watching movies as entertainment, and although it was dark it was the middle of the day for us, so she had to try to sleep anyway. QANTAS did, however, give us our choice of $100 worth from the onboard Duty Free catalogue in compensation…
LAX was a complete nightmare – checked in and got our boarding passes OK, after figuring out the automated system, checked Michelle’s bag through (I didn’t check anything, travelling light), then joined the, I kind you not, 600 metre or so queue for security check. It snaked 150 metres down the sidewalk outside the building, back up the other side of the same path, up the stairs and then along one side of a balcony and back down the other. We were called out of the line after our flight’s boarding had already started, and they were literally starting to withdraw the boarding ramp and shut the door right behind me by the time I made it on to the LA-Dallas flight. But I did make it.
No loo break in the 2 hours in the airport, though, and I ended up with a window seat beside a very lovely but (particularly the husband) quite frail and elderly Texan couple. They were very friendly, but I didn’t feel able to make them get up again, after making them get up when I arrived late (not my fault), to go to the loo, so that was another 3.5 hours… great flight otherwise, but I may have done bladder damage.
By contrast, the Dallas-Fort Worth airport was huge and excellent and kinda sparsely populated, with the terminals spread out and served by a monorail, and no need to go through security at all this time, so we got to relax a bit more, though the turnaround was too short to get any food, and for domestic US flights the food all costs and there are a limited amount of payment options. I ended up picking up a $10 cold turkey sandwich on the flight to Philadelphia, and hoping for room service at the hotel.
Got to Philly airport fine, waited half an hour in the wrong place, found the right place and waited another 40 minutes or so… so by the time I got here, set up, showered and dressed it was midnight.
Tried room service a few times and didn’t get an answer, but finally got through just a minute ago. In 45 minutes I’ll have ribs and beer – if I can stay awake. Then sleeeeppp…
Well, that was a killer day! Discovered the conference, which I knew started today, didn’t start ’til this afternoon (yes, I could have checked that out earlier in the program online, but where’s the fun in that?), so I jumped on the LRT (light rail system) across the river the University of Alberta where I taught from 2001-2006. I’d arranged to meet my friend and colleague Craig Montgomerie at his office, but as it happened when I went to a coffee shop for breakfast he came in for coffee and we chatted there.
Then I went up to the Department of Secondary Education and caught up with as many people as possible there. They told me there was a talk on there in the afternoon where more colleagues would be, so I headed back across the river to the conference for one session, joined a table with a bunch of my Carnegie scholar friends, enjoyed a great session, then headed back to the U of A to the talk, which was fantastic.
It was by Frank Eglash, and was about the mathematics of African village structures, which are fractal, and the randomness inherent in Native American divination systems, and many other intriguing things. Caught up with Frank Jenkins and Max van Manen and a few other people.
The cool bit is that Frank invited me to the hockey game on Saturday night. It’s the ‘Alberta Derby’, Edmonton Oilers versus Calgary Flames, so it’s a huge deal here, and tickets aren’t available for love or money.
Lots of people still to catch up with, but a fantastic first full day in Canada.
I’m posting this from San Francisco airport. I’m trying to do the trip on a budget, so when it came down to the choice between spending $10 on a meal or on wireless web access, there really wasn’t much a a choice to be made. Gotta get that info-fix!
(PS I’m *loving* ‘Anathem’)
A year or a bit more ago I applied for a job at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and was shortlisted for it. We looked at houses to rent in the area, at the climate and a whole bunch of other factors, and also at jobs in Australia, and I ended up withdrawing my name from consideration for the Scottish job.
I was just thinking this morning, sitting out by the pool in the warm sunshine having breakfast, that even the smallest and simplest of the houses we looked at in Aberdeen was 1000 pounds a month, or the best part of $3000 Australian. And there are beaches there, but the water is generally about 4 oC. It’s pretty much cool or cold and rainy or drizzly the whole time, so definitely not bike climate.
I’m sure Aberdeen’s a lovely place, but at about the same salary and half the rent for a *really* nice house on an acreage with a pool, I really feel like we made the right decision in coming here.
Got a pair of new mirrorshades at Target. They were priced at $15.99, but when I went to pay for them they were only $1.85. Score! Made me have even less misgivings about sticking their arms down the spout of a boiling kettle to soften them up and bend them because they were a bit uncomfortable. Now they’re fully comfortable.
Bought them mainly for riding the bike: I’m wearing contact lenses most days now rather than glasses. That means if I open the visor – just to enjoy the breeze, or because my breath is fogging it – my eyes tend to dry out in the wind, and are vulnerable to flying bugs or (as was the case yesterday) sand falling off the truck I’m riding behind. So a pair of sunnies is pretty useful in that case – and these are light coloured but mirrored for protection with good visibility.
I was pretty sick of the music on my mp3 player by this time – it’s been a month and a half since all our CDs were packed up, so I’ve heard those 15 or so albums plenty of times in that time. So with the $14 I saved on the sunnies I bought this:
It’s kind of sponsored by a beer company (Carlton United Breweries, that makes Victoria Bitter (VB)), but basically what it is is a collection of every Oz rock anthem of the past 40 years or so. Soo good! I’m loving it, and the kids are getting clued in to their heritage!
But I did feel like a bit of a bogan. Would have needed a mullet in the back of my hair, or at least a ‘rat tail’, to really get the look, and would have needed to still be driving our old XD Falcon wagon with mags to really make it, but Oz rock and mirrorshades is well on the way.
We made it to the beach for the first time yesterday. It’s still the middle of winter:
Grandma Nene in black in the foreground, and Cassie and Alex (and Buffy) elsewhere in the picture. Alex commented that even in real life the city of Surfers Paradise looks like a bad special effect… and she’s right.
Buffy liked the water, but she got a bit cold when the wind picked up. Nice wading weather though, and plenty of surfers.
Edit: Just by the by, this is post number 600. Go me!
(I’ve categorised this under ‘travel’, but since this is now home I guess I’ll have to think of a new label soon…)
I really still need to relax into the pace of life in Queensland. Basically at every shop or other service place (I was sorting out my bike parking permit this morning, for example), people don’t rush through the job at hand. They take their time, tell stories, swap information and opinions. It’s different, and I sometimes still get twitchy if there’s someone waiting behind me in line – but it’s really nice. (And I guess I need to learn to chill when I’m the person back in the line too.)
It’s probably more of a country thing than an Australian thing specifically, I dunno – but stopping for a yarn really doesn’t take that much longer, and it makes my day brighter. I’m sure it makes retail drone jobs a whole lot more fulfilling too. Sure beats the McDonald’s scripted ‘have-a-nice-day’ approach to life.
The first two – of Sue and Alex respectively – were taken after our first day at Disneyland, waiting for the bus. The last one was on the second Disneyland day, waiting for an Alladin musical to start.
Cassie and Alex just arrived here in Brisbane today, a week after Sue and I. They’d been staying with my Dad at Brightwaters, close to Newcastle on the New South Wales coast. They hadn’t really seen him for 4 years or so, and enjoyed chatting with him, hearing lots of stories and experiences, and getting to know the area where I grew up too. Here they are with Dad at the Jenolan Caves west of Sydney.
This musing started on a field trip to the Di Rosa Preserve during the Carnegie Residency. (I know, I try to maintain the illusion that it’s all work and no play, but this was plain fun… and there were pitchers of Margaritas involved, too…)
One of the (many) cool things about the art at Di Rosa was that it was sprinkled about the countryside, with odd little sculptural pieces appearing in unexpected places. That had the very cool effect of sometimes making me stop and think ‘is that real, or is it art?’ A rock wall climbing a hillside is beside a set of stainless steel leaves pointing at the sky… is the wall part of the work, or just part of the landscape?
That sensation was intensified at Disneyland over the past couple of days. We were travelling on a train and came upon a fake (stuffed) moose and deer and even a Native American warrior on a horse.
Then there were some fake ducks sitting stationary on rocks. It was only later on a riverboat cruise through the same area that I first said ‘the real ducks are interspersed with the fake ones’, and only later realised that all of the ducks were real… there were no fakes.
Similarly, there were some incredibly fake looking buzzards on top of one of the rides, and then it took me a moment to decide whether a sparrow on a branch in front of me was real or not.
Of course, Disney delivers the fake in amazing ways, by making as much real as possible, and spending lots of money on the fake. And I really quite liked the gentle cognitive dissonance of not really knowing what was real any more1.
Anyway, probably the last epistle from the road for another few days – zoo tomorrow, plane the next. We’re moving into the house that originally wouldn’t take the kitty – they changed their minds – on Sunday (if all goes well, and we can fix a bank screwup), and I should have my new lappie on Monday at the latest. Catch you all then!
… is my favourite Rodin sculpture in the Stanford sculpture garden. Here are some photos that Alex took of it:
In at the office today while the packers pack (heh, you didn’t really think a hiatus could keep me away, didja?), so I thought I’d add a thought or two about getting ready for the long flights and train trips and so on. I’ll be sinking into my ‘travel bubble’ a bit less this time than on my usual solo trips, because I’ll be with the family, but long flights still require big books! Lorne has very kindly offered to get up ridiculously early and take us to the airport, for which we’re deeply grateful, and from there it’s planes and trains and precious few automobiles until we make it to Brisbane.
So I have two books that I’m partway through but haven’t had time to finish off, that should keep me going for the trip. Both are big bricks. The first is the 928 page conclusion of Neal Stephenson’s ‘Baroque Trilogy’:
The second is the 800 page “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel” by Susanna Clarke:
Both excellent and very enjoyable, but both the kinds of books you need serious swathes of time to dive deeply into, not the kind that can be polished off in an afternoon, or dipped into between other commitments and amusements. They’re also both books that carry the reader off into not one but a number of completely foreign worlds, and do it in enchanting depth and detail. In other words, perfect for long plane journeys.
For music, the MP3 player is being loaded up right now with an assortment of stuff. I tend to say it’s eclectic, but someone corrected me on that recently, and they’re right: almost all of it features white men with guitars. But it does range from Jonathan Rundman’s folky Christian music to Absu’s extreme black metal, via some Pink Floyd and The Tragically Hip, so setting the player to play random tracks sure feels pretty eclectic sometimes!
Just for fun, here’s the full playlist on the player:
Absu – Tara
Agalloch – Pale Folklore, The Mantle, Ashes Against The Grain (shhh, not yet released)
David Gilmour – About Face
Evergrey – Monday Morning Apocalypse, Recreation Day, The Inner Circle
Jonathan Rundman – various single songs from Sound Theology 1 & 2
Lacuna Coil – Karmacode
Moonspell – The Antidote, Memorial
Opeth – Blackwater Park, Damnation, Deliverance, Ghost Reveries, My Arms – Your Hearse, Morningrise
Pink Floyd – A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Dark Side of The Moon, The Division Bell, The Wall, Wish You Were Here
Sol Invictus – In The Rain
The Tragically Hip – Yer Favourites
and… The String Quartet Tribute To Iron Maiden (so, I guess white men with violins and cellos!)
The fact that I’ve basically finished all the work I can do here means I can spend my time futzing about putting together the perfect mix of music on my mp3 player! (With added futzing required because my main computer here is Windows 2000 which means I have to access the player through the very clunky Windows Media Player 9, and pop in to another computer with XP if I want to delete anything.)
Just popping over to Vancouver for the night tomorrow night to meet up with a bunch of on-line friends from the William Gibson Board, some from France, some from the US and some from that area. Should be a fun trip, and the last chance to catch up with some people while I’m still in the northern hemisphere. I’m going to ask Alex if I can borrow her camera, which is smaller than mine, and capture some photos of the occasion and the city.
As part of the Carnegie Academy on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) residency session I’m at this week (at Stanford University in northern California) I have to give a presentation on the research/teaching project I’m in the middle of right now. I won’t subject you to all of that presentation here, but the beginning metaphor is one that keeps recurring for me: the notion of the fractal nature of teaching, learning and research.
Click on the picture to run a Quicktime animation that makes the point even more clearly.
(It’s 8 MB though, sorry dial-upers.)
Fractals, like the Mandelbrot set shown above, are generated by fairly simple recursive mathematical formulae. They have a number of interesting features in addition to their beauty (which accounts for their ability to turn up on geeks’ t-shirts), and the most interesting one for my purposes is the fact that they are ‘self-similar at a number of levels’. That is, if you look at the fractal above, you will see larger ‘spiky circles’ in black, and on those there are smaller spiky circles, and on those there are smaller ones, and so on.
That’s interesting to me because, as I may have said here before, it seems to me that the processes I go through in teaching my students are also the processes that my students go through in teaching their students, and the processes that their (high school) students go through in learning and living. In the other direction, my experience of researching my own teaching is similar to (and inextricably interwoven with) the teaching itself, and the experience of my friends and colleagues in the Carnegie project are similar to my own experiences.
The theories I create to think about how I teach, therefore, need to account for, as well as all these other things, my own activities in creating theories…
So I’m off to Stanford University in northern California this week for the second of three ‘residence’ sessions as part of my Carnegie Scholarship. The workshop is from Thursday to Sunday, and starts at 1 pm on Thursday, so I’m flying out at 6 am that day to get there in time (flight to Calgary then to San Francisco, then a couple of different trains down to Palo Alto).
For some reason I thought I was flying out on Wednesday, so I’ve organised a colleague to cover my classes and everything on Wednesday… and now I realise I’m not going until Thursday. Ah well, it’s not as though I have so little to do that an extra day without commitments will be wasted!
Being somewhat disorganised often costs me time, money and stress, but in this instance it’s actually paid off!
OK, no more travellogues for a while now. Next trip is to Stanford in January for the next Carnegie Residency, then not until June.
Just a couple of random notes to tie up a few loose ends:
I bought Agalloch’s album ‘The Mantle’ while I was in Oz, and absolutely love it. It’s very hard to describe, but something like ‘mostly acoustic environmentalist black metal from Oregon’ is about as close as I can go. Amazing stuff.
I’m playing Joseph in a Christmas play at church this week, and playing him as an unshaven carpenter, so I stopped shaving on Saturday and have an itchy three days growth now. Should look OK by the weekend, but I’ll be glad to get rid of it after that. Just memorising my lines now… It’s more of a monologue than a dialogue, and I’m not sure whether that makes it easier or harder.
The trip back was pretty easy, and now there’s really only a couple of days until the Christmas holidays… and I need and deserve a total break from work, and plan to take one over Christmas.
From tomorrow we’ll be back into the realm of ideas, I promise.