30/9/2009

Roman Polanski raped a child

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:19 pm

I agree completely with this article from Salon: http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/feature/2009/09/28/polanski_arrest/index.html

What’s the opposite of a windfall?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:29 pm

We’re trying to save up for a deposit for an investment property at the moment. I’ve chronicled here before that we bought a house in Perth in the late 90s, and when we moved to Canada sold it because it looked as though it would never increase in value: whereupon it promptly more than tripled in value! D’oh! So we’re kind of behind the 8-ball on real estate, and the papers today are saying Australian property prices are about to take off again… Anyway, the point is, we’re working toward putting together a deposit.

We’d been thinking that now was the time when we’d really get a good start (so far we’ve been paying off debts instead of saving – which is probably a mistake in itself). I got a royalty payment for my books of several thousand dollars in May, and everything suggested that the one in September would be as big or bigger. I also have my tax return coming, and a variety of arrangements we have mean I should get a nice refund there. And we have just refinanced the lease on our car, and had been told that we would be paid out the balance of the expenses account from the old lease, which was another couple of grand.

Well, got the royalty statement today, and it’s a couple of hundred instead of a couple of thousand. Still a nice bonus, of course, but nothing that’s gonna get us on the road to a deposit. And also asked the uni about the lease and discovered that the lease company will refund the money, but it will be transfered to a new expenses account and remain inaccessible for us until *this* lease runs out in 2-3 years… so we haven’t lost the money but it’s out of our reach… Still waiting for someone to send us some documentation for the tax return, but given what’s been going on I won’t be surprised if *that’s* smaller than expected too…

We’re incredibly blessed, and I have a great life with a loving wife and daughters, and heaps of tech toys and other blessings, so definitely not a whinge… it’s just a bit of a rug-pulled-out feeling to be back at Square One in terms of trying to make this thing happen.

29/9/2009

Uncertainty II

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:35 am

So, I guess it’s all just a little bit of history repeating. I posted the first Uncertainty post in mid 2005, when the options were Perth, Brisbane or Aberdeen (Scotland).

Apparently it’s that time again. As of about half an hour ago, I once again had three ‘possible futures‘ stretching out in front of me. And, just like 4 years ago, I’ve now intentionally pruned that down to two.

I was approached a couple of months ago by Avondale College, my first alma mater, in my home town of Cooranbong. They had a couple of positions in their Faculty of Education and wondered whether I was interested in applying. One in particular was in educational research, and that’s a field in which I’ve published a couple of books and a few papers and have a fairly strong interest. Avondale is an excellent small college (1000 or so students total) in a small town, and it’s where I come from. Houses are cheaper than in Brisbane and it’s close to Lake Macquarie and beaches, as well as to friends and family. I went ahead and applied for that role.

But it’s really not the right time for us to move away from Brisbane – the family have followed me all around the world, and we’ve lived in 9 houses in 3 countries and 4 states since Cassie was born. Everyone has good friends here now, Cassie is at uni, Alex wants to study in Queensland and Sue has a good job. It wouldn’t be fair to uproot them all now and head off to New South Wales. I also have some concerns about how neatly I’d fit into a Seventh-day Adventist college where my orthodoxy would be under much closer scrutiny than just as a lay person…

So just this morning I wrote to Avondale – as I did to Aberdeen in 2005 – and withdrew my application.

The second path is the simplest one: staying right where I am at the University of Queensland. I’m in a good School and Faculty, in one of the top universities in the country, and am starting to win awards and other recognitions. I’m not getting promoted quite fast enough to suit me, but with a little patience it’s likely that I can go a long way here. Three years is an amount of time that allows people to get to know me and start asking me to do things, and moving on would have its costs in terms of starting again in a new place. My constant pattern of moving also means that in a 10 or so year academic career I’ve never had a sabbatical, and if I move now I’d put it off for another few years at least.

So, while it lacks the excitement of a big move, and while I have my frustrations with this place, it definitely won’t be a case of ‘settling’ if I stay here. There are things we can do, like moving even further east and closer to the ocean, that will happen and will make me happier, and things I can do to enhance my promotion prospects and so on, and part of the challenge is to make sure I keep growing rather than settle for just waiting for things to happen.

But it was the third possible path that really set the cat among the pigeons. Now, the probability is probably not that high, which is why I haven’t said a lot so far. But what the heck… things will happen or not as they happen, and it’s exciting, so I wanted to share.

A consultant from a search agency contacted me to ask whether I wanted to apply for the role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Teaching Quality) at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). This university is also based in Brisbane, so would not necessitate moving, just a slightly different commute. The role is at a quite high level, and would represent a very serious promotion for me. It is about ensuring and enhancing the quality of all teaching in all classes across the university. QUT is a former Institute of Technology, like Curtin University of Technology where I did my PhD, and has about 40,000 students, making it slightly larger than the University of Queensland where I currently work.

I’m confident that, no matter who else is in the selection pool, I’m the best possible person for the role. I have packed a huge amount of national and international experience with teaching, evaluating teaching and thinking and writing about teaching into a relatively short academic career, and I already have a heap of ideas for enhancing teaching at QUT. Teaching – and teaching teachers – is what I *do* and think about most, and I think I could really achieve some interesting and valuable things. QUT also identifies social justice as a significant area of concern and interest, and finding ways to serve the university’s students better (and to provide access to more students who are traditionally under-represented at university) and to also prepare them to serve others is a worthwhile goal.

Now all I have to do is convince the selection committee to share my conviction that I’m the best person for the job!

Comments are… elsewhere

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:00 am

No comments on the blog for quite a few posts. Not so much because people are not interested, but because the comments are popping up on Facebook instead of here.

That’s fine, and arguably more conversational. If you feel like you’re missing out, you clearly need to get a Facebook account and ‘friend me’: I’m ‘David Geelan’ over there…

28/9/2009

Asgarda – Amazons of the Ukriane

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:29 pm

http://www.planet-mag.com/blog/2009/art/jenna-martin/asgarda/#http://www.planet-mag.com/blog/2009/art/jenna-martin/asgarda/

The world never ceases to amaze.

Not a parody

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:59 am

…hard as that might be to believe. Spoken interlude from a power metal song: won’t name the band, song or album to spare their blushes.

http://www.bravus.com/cheez.mp3 (mp3, 2.8 MB)

Games with Logic

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:11 am

People say “No reputable scholar disagrees with my position”. Then you talk to them for a while, and it becomes very clear that their definition of “reputable scholar” is “scholar who agrees with my position”. So their statement reduces to “No scholar who agrees with my position disagrees with my position”. The logic is impeccable.

26/9/2009

It’s the end of the world as we know it

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:18 am

(and I bet you can guess how I feel)

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/09/25/the_end_of_the_world/

25/9/2009

On ‘meritocracies’ and various other uncommon sense

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:02 pm

Very excellent blog post from the Poor Man Institute:

http://thepoorman.net/2009/09/22/pull-my-strings-and-ill-go-far/

In case you don’t know, William Kristol is an influential right-wing figure in the US.

Nukes and Differences

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:25 am

I hear people saying that the Obama administration is ‘not that different’ from the Bush administration. And Obama has done some worrying things in terms of government secrecy and so on. But the Bush administration several times seriously canvassed the idea of using nuclear weapons. This is what Obama is working on: UN adopts landmark resolution for nuclear-arms free world.

21/9/2009

ABC Radio Interview – all of it this time!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:34 pm

On the ABC’s blog for the program, the audio is included.

http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2009/09/changes-in-school-textbooks.html?program=capricornia_afternoons

19/9/2009

Caring About The Planet Without Switching Off Your Brain

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:50 am

Friends who are in a different political camp from me1 are often shocked to find that I’m very comfortable with the idea of nuclear energy. They are used to people who care at all about the environment also being reflexively anti-nuclear. I used to be – in the 80s it made sense, because we knew all about the costs and consequences of nuclear energy in terms of radioactive waste, and didn’t yet have a proper understanding of the costs and consequences of fossil fuels. I still think the ideal solution to our energy woes would be to put enough money and thought into it to (a) dramatically cut our energy use and (b) switch over to sustainable and much lower-impact (I nearly said ‘non-polluting’, but there ain’t no such animal) technologies like solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and so on. But I’m realistic enough to realise that we do like our lifestyles – me definitely included – and are likely to need large and increasing amounts of energy going forward. And until fusion gets here, fission might have to be an important piece of the puzzle.

Similarly, I think ethanol in fuel is a horrible idea. It’s very slightly more sustainable than fossil fuels, but it takes food off poor people’s plates as a sop to the consciences of rich people. Unacceptable.

And finally, I like motorsport. I like things that burn fossil fuels to go fast.

All of those things could just make me a bad, hypocritical environmentalist who lacks the courage of his convictions. But I like to think, at least, that caring about what kind of world and opportunities we leave for our descendants doesn’t have to mean reflexively, unthinkingly buying into a grab bag of solutions and approaches. It can, and should, mean using our very best scientific and reasoning skills to find approaches that really work.

  1. It’s actually really hard to find an appropriate label for them. ‘Antienvironmentalists’ isn’t quite right, because although they’re against environmentalists they’re not against the actual environment itself (though they sometimes pretend to be for effect). ‘People who are all for progress’ isn’t right either, because it’s only the progress of industrialisation and technology, not human progress in relationships and so on… ‘Capitalists’ is close to it, but has a lot of other irrelevant connotations. Call it ‘people who insist that climate change is just the latest in a long line of government scare campaigns to make us compliant’, since that seems to be a pretty reliable marker…

18/9/2009

Angry at the Wrong People

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:27 am

Tim Egan on why the ‘Teabaggers’ and other people currently so angry at the Obama administration have picked the wrong target for their wrath.

http://egan.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/working-class-zero/?8ty&emc=ty

Dammit, we were so optimistic in 1999 about what the new millennium would bring…

17/9/2009

How Will I Know What I Think ‘Til I See What I Write

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:24 pm

This is a sort-of-followup post to ‘Textual Personae‘ from… whoa, yesterday apparently, though it seems longer ago.

Been having some interesting discussions with friends around my thesis statement ‘Science and religion are not antithetical if properly understood’. All sorts of ideas and perspectives came out, but writing Textual Personae had made me sensitive to the issue of the ways in which writing about something ‘crystallizes’ my own perspective.

I had given similar responses in conversations, but face-to-face conversations are a much more give-and-take medium than web postings. It seems to me that there are three different things (at least) here: what goes on in my head, what I say in conversation and what I say in writing.

I can’t talk about what goes on in your head, but in mine ideas swirl around, and every word and concept is associated with a huge set of connotations and resonances and images. I can see many connections, including bizarre ones and ones based on puns and references to old songs and…

But then, the way I experience writing – partly because it is linear, partly because it forces me to slow down (I can type reasonably fact but not as fast as I can think) and partly because it creates a record that others can respond to – as a crystallization process. Once something has been written out it has this kind of identity external to myself, and I can ‘reify’ (literally ‘thingify’) it a bit and look at it ‘from the outside’ in some ways.

So I’ve done a level of ‘processing’ of certain ideas that, for example, Sue hasn’t. Not because she’s not as bright or as deep a thinker – she’s definitely more so of both than me – but because I move some of the processing out of the ‘wetware’ of my brain and onto the web, where I can work with it. And having done that, perhaps as much as having done all the reading, does effect how I think.

16/9/2009

You Don’t Get Me, I’m Part of the Union

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:38 pm

I posted this as my Facebook status today:

So, I’m on a 24 hour strike from midnight tonight. No work no guilt – yay! No pay – oh well. Getting management to actually negotiate a new agreement and a pay rise? Priceless!

And Gary Frauenfelder, an old school friend and fairly new Facebook friend, responded:

and then the extra costs get passed onto the students in higher fees and charges.. what a silly merry go round

Gary later clarified that he wasn’t having a go at me personally, but making a more general point, which is pretty much what I’d assumed anyway. In turn, I’m not having a go at him, just taking his comment as a starter to chat about the issues. I’ll contact him and give him the right of reply – or for that matter, the right to have me remove his comment.

(I guess by way of background, both Gary and I were raised Seventh-day Adventist, and that church tends to be fairly reflexively anti-union, partly because it tends to by to the right politically and partly because its founder, Ellen White, wrote strongly against unions.)

OK, so a few points on the specific case of the UQ strike today, then some more general points on unions and industrial relations.

First, the students don’t actually pay the costs of the universities, so it’s not really accurate to say wage rises will be borne by students. When Gary and I went to university, university education was free, entirely government funded. That’s been eroded significantly since, but still student tuition fees only provide a relatively small proportion of a university’s total income. Added salary costs will largely be provided from government funds, and therefore by the taxpayers. Not sure that will be seen as very much better, but it should be – there’s a whole other argument there about the social and economic benefits of tertiary education and why ‘user pays’ actually means the taxpayers should kick in…

Secondly, our collective bargaining agreement with the university ran out in May 2008. Since then we have been working without an agreement between management and workers. Management has repeatedly delayed the process of negotiating on wages and conditions. This is an abuse of the industrial relations system, since all agreements should be negotiated in a timely manner. The union and the members sought to avoid industrial action, and have been very patient, but we’re heading for 18 months without an agreement.

More broadly, on unions and work. Those on the right, and those in the church, seem to think workers should simply rely on the beneficence of management for any improvements of wages and conditions. But that’s not the system we live in. The Australian industrial relations system is set up for bargaining and negotiation, and the intention is to avoid confrontation. But sometimes the system breaks down – and in this instance it’s fairly clear why.

And finally, the wage increases sought are in line with inflation – without them, the real value of academic wages will be further eroded, just at a time when academic workloads are intensifying and the demands on work and time continue to grow. If we took the implied advice in Gary’s comment seriously, and climbed off the merry go road, university faculty would have *decreasing* real wages in terms of the actual inflation-adjusted value of the dollar. How does that help and serve student learning?

Title is from the 1973 song by the Strawbs, which ChrisH correctly noted when I tweeted it the other day, adding the information that Rick Wakeman played the piano on the song.

Textual Personae

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:40 am

It happened again this weekend – I met some online friends for the first time, and they noted that my face-to-face personality is different in a number of ways from the ‘textual persona’ that I create online. These guys didn’t say it, but people in the past have noted that I’m quieter ‘live’, and tend to sit back and listen to people, rather than to lay my ideas out there. Apparently I also look younger than I ‘read’.

It’s an interesting issue. I’m never actively trying to disguise who I am when I write online, whether it’s under the ‘Bravus’ name or my own. I’m always being sincere, even if I’m also trying to be funny, and I’m not consciously roleplaying. Maybe it’s just something about the two different media of face-to-face conversation and online text (whether that be blog or discussion forum). Each does some things well and some things less well, and I guess I’ve done enough of both that I’m fairly adept with them and can exploit their strengths.

Part of it is definitely also that I’m shy, or at least introverted. In any public situation I’m working to try to put myself out there, but even more importantly to try to attend to other people’s needs and interests, rather than just to focus on my own social discomfort. I tend to try to ‘direct traffic’ in a multiperson conversation so that everyone is drawn in and no-one (especially me) dominates.

Interesting stuff, anyway: and those who have met me in both modes might like to comment. It would be particularly interesting to hear from people like Mark Patterson and Lawrence Sirdar who knew me face-to-face first and online only later, versus the great majority of people who read here, for whom it was the reverse. Does which persona you encountered first colour who you think Bravus/David is?

One other side note to the issue of textual personae that I’ve been thinking about lately is that online discussion, for a variety of reasons, tends to push people into much more radical and rigid positions than does face-to-face discussion. Partly that’s because we tend to seek consensus rather than dominance more in a face-to-face situation (except for some people, who end up getting avoided and otherwise socially sanctioned), whereas ‘winning’ becomes more of an issue online.

But another part of it is just that we spend a lot more time honing our positions in online discussions. No-one spends the hours talking about any of these issues face-to-face, whether it be politics, religion or whatever else, that we (some of us) spend online. For my sins (possibly including masochism), I’ve been spending some time on creation/evolution discussions recently (as you’ll have seen from the bits and pieces that have slopped over here), and it’s clear that positions get carried away out of all sanity in the process of debate and ‘flame wars’. In a face-to-face conversation people can be reasonable, but in a web discussion it quickly degenerates to a hostile slanging match, and to very extreme positions.

It’s interesting to think about – and perhaps one of the upshots is that it might be healthier for me (you can make up your own mind) to spend more time talking to people in coffee shops and bars and less arguing on the net…

But that was really a digression: the main point for the day is the difference between ‘online you’ and ‘in the room you’. Some may also like to opine on whether ‘Second Life you’ would fall somewhere in between, or whether it’s just ‘online you in a virtual room’.

  1. Another punning title, this time on Camille Paglia’s book ‘Sexual Personae’. Paglia has turned into a bit of a kook since, but that book was interesting.

15/9/2009

Meet The Elements

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:13 pm

‘They Might Be Giants’ has always been an awesome band. But they’ve just released a new album of sings about science for kids that is even more awesomer. ;)

Here’s the first video from it, ‘Meet The Elements’:

ABC Radio Interview (well, half of it)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:39 pm

I was interviewed this afternoon about the Science Ways textbooks by Ingrid Just on ABC local radio across Queensland.

I was all set up to record it so I could share it with you, but with 30 seconds to go the RealPlayer lost the stream. I switched to the Windows Media Player and got it up and running, but for reasons best known to itself that player looped back around to the start of the interview about halfway through and kept repeating it. That means this audio ends somewhat abruptly about 4 minutes 45 into the interview, which ran for more like 7 minutes total. {shakes fist at both Real and Microsoft}

I’ve requested a copy of the full interview from the show’s producer, and if that becomes available I’ll post it, but in the mean time, hopefully this will give you a taste…

http://www.bravus.com/ABCInterview.mp3 (4.3 MB mp3)

Ascription Errors

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:45 pm

Creationists ascribe the Holocaust to evolutionary theory, atheists ascribe the Crusades to Christianity, capitalists ascribe Stalin’s purges to communism and so on. Of course, those are the negative examples: Christians tend to ascribe all of morality to Christianity, and love as coming only from God, atheists and humanists find their morality in other places…

It occurred to me the other day that perhaps a lot of this is erroneous… that what is actually going on very often is that humans are just doing the stuff humans do: fighting over resources and just for the joy of conquest… but also being kind and loving and caring and supportive and altruistic.

And then, because it’s what we do (humans are, it seems to me, much more fittingly described as rationalising than rational), find rationalisations that ascribe everything good to our own belief system, and everything evil to the belief systems of those who disagree with us.

Perhaps just recognising that the things humans do are the things humans do, and then aiming in our own lives to do more of the positive and less of the negative things, is more healthy than using history and human behaviour to either support our own ‘side’ or attack someone else’s…

  1. The title is kind of a pun on ‘transcription errors’ in the duplication of DNA that cause mutations… but the pun doesn’t mean much, it just added an extra resonance to the title for me

14/9/2009

Innovation Award

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:59 am

So, I can announce it now. I have won a 2009 Faculty of Social and Behavioural Science ‘Innovation Award’. It was formerly called the ‘Commercialisation Award’, and is for turning research into products. I won for the (already award-winning) Science Ways text book series, which applied my research on visualisations and explanations in science classrooms.

The award was $2000 and a plaque or trophy (it will be presented at a ceremony on the 23rd and I’ll post a photo), but the committee couldn’t decide between some of the top nominations and decided to split the award, so I assume half the money, and hope we each get our own trophy. ;)