Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:02 am

For some reason Word Press (the software that runs this blog) called my first ever post, way back last October, number 6. And this one is 207, so the ‘She said…’ one below must be the real 200th post. No big fanfare, but it’s kinda cool to note these milestones.

She said she said he said…

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:00 am

Just thinking about some of the dynamics of marriages, and particularly marriages that aren’t going so well. It’s tempting to reduce it to the conflicts and incompatibilities of the two partners in the marriage, but (as always) it’s a bit more complicated than that. I’m not talking about the children of the marriage (if there are any) – their needs and involvement are a whole other complication. I’m talking about the friends that surround the husband and wife.

In the marriage it’s not just him and her, it’s him and his friends, and her and her friends. Or, since guys tend not to talk about their relationships with their male friends, quite often it’s him and that woman at work who is sooo understanding…

Even at this level, it’s easy to over-simplify: “Oh, our marriage was going along great, but then her friends got talking to her and telling her she’d be better off without me”. Or, on the other side, and if the woman at work also happens to be attractive, it’s even easier to blame the ‘homewrecker’. But I think it’s a little more complicated even than that.

Social processes are complex1 reflexive systems: as humans, our responses in a conversation are not purely logical, linear and connected, they are fragmentary, allusory, distracted. We mirror what we hear from others back to them, and our responses are part of a complex dance of maintaining the relationship, or gaining power or reassurance. We respond out of our own experience, not only our whole life experience but the kind of day we’re having. With friends, our communication is not about counselling, it’s about friendship. And with someone to whom we’re also physically attracted, it’s even more complicated…

That means that if someone in a marriage goes to his or her friends and complains about his or her spouse, what they’ll generally get is not thoughtful, objective commentary and a ‘reality check’, but support and reassurance. As friends we have obligations to solidarity and support, so that’s what we give. That can lead to a ‘vicious circle’ of feedback.

On the other hand, if every time partners in a marriage talk to their friends they praise one another and talk about how blessed they are, that will get mirrored back to them and reinforced too – a virtuous circle.

So sure, sometimes friends and family and cute blondes at the office do talk a partner down – sometimes they even have an agenda. But I’d suggest that it’s much more frequent that they act as resonators and amplifiers for stresses that are already there in the marriage. What do we do about it? It’s trite but it’s still true, that sign you see in restaurants: “If you’re happy, tell others. If you’re unhappy, tell us.”

  1. In my simplistic understanding of complexity science, complex systems can’t be analysed by reduction – by breaking them down into smaller bits and understanding those bits and their relationships – whereas complicated systems can. Complex systems are ‘inherently irreducible’.


Browser Wars revisited

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:45 am

So, basically, Javascript1 had a lot of potential, but Microsoft killed it by breaking the standard2. That meant that if you were developing a site that used Javascript you would have to make two different versions (and test them and troubleshoot them and maintain them), one for Internet Explorer and one for all the other browsers out there (Netscape, Opera, etc.) And Javascript for IE for Mac was broken in a different way from the one for PC, so maybe even 3 versions. It meant either that sites were hugely more expensive and timeconsuming to build, or that you just limited the functionality of the site to make it work. People ended up just giving up on Javascript as too difficult, which was a waste of a potentially useful technology.

Once Microsoft had won the ‘Browser Wars’ and put Netscape out of the loop (illegally) – I think IE’s market share got over 95% at one stage – it was content to just stop: how long is it since there’s been an Internet Explorer major upgrade (as opposed to a million patches for security holes that should have been patched before it went out the door)? The competition – Opera and the Mozilla stable (Mozilla, Firefox, Thunderbird) – definitely haven’t been standing still, and Firefox in particular has started to claw back significant market share.

So, naturally, Microsoft has realised it has to upgrade IE if it wants to maintain its dominance, and there’s a scheduled release as early as this summer – although watching the Longhorn operating system’s projected release date recede from us so fast it’s red-shifted might add some caution around that date. But the interesting question, as Scott Rosenberg notes, is (my paraphrase) “will Microsoft play fair, and compete by releasing a newer, faster, better, more secure browser with the features people want, liked tabbed browsing and extensibility, or will it get up to its old tricks and break the new technologies, like Java and XML, that are making the web better and richer?”

It’ll be interesting to see, but I have to admit to a certain level of learned cynicism…

  1. Javascript is a scripting language that can be included in the code of a web page to do a number of things to make the page more interactive. Despite the name, it has no real connection with Java, which is a separate programming language, except that sometimes the same kinds of things can be achieved with either Java or Javascript.
  2. That is, a new language has a set of standards that allow all manufacturers of browsers to make their software read it and do the same things. Microsoft chose to make up their own version of Javascript, and then build Internet Explorer so that it only read ‘Microsoft Javascript’ properly and broke on ‘standard Javascript’.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:27 pm

I attended my first karate tournament today, and competed in kata (forms) and kumite (sparring). I came away with no noticeable injuries but some interesting bruises and sore muscles, and with a bronze medal!

We drove from Edmonton all the way out to Lloydminster on the Saskatchewan border (and we did just drive up the street and over the line into Saskatchewan, just to say we’d been there) in blowing snow, on roads covered with snow. That’s scary, particularly when you’re overtaking a big truck: they swirl up a heap of snow so you can’t see, and then you pull out into the unswept passing lane, where you really don’t know if the snow is hiding ice…

The tournament was in a high school gym (Sensei Steuart who is the head of Genbukai Shito-Ryu in Canada is a teacher there). The kata competition for yellow and orange belts only had 4 competitors – two fit-looking young guys, a girl named Christie from our dojo and me. I actually made a couple of mistakes early in my kata but then got into the rhythm of it and finished strong, but still ended up with the lowest raw score. But when they called the names for third place, it was mine that was called – Christie had been docked extra points because she began the wrong kata and had to start over. It was exciting to take something home from my first tournament, but it was hard to celebrate too much when she was so disappointed, and I would definitely prefer to have won it with a sparkling performance rather than by default.

For the kumite competition (also yellow-orange belt) there were 6 of us, and it was evenly split between guys like me in our early 40s and young guys in their early 20s. I drew one of the young guys for my first bout. I scored the first two points (the scoring is first to 6, or first to a 4 point lead, or 2 minutes, whichever comes first). If I’d been willing then to hang back a bit and run down the clock I could have won it, but I wasn’t aware enough to check the scoreboard and think strategically, so I kept going hard, and ended up losing 4-2, and that was that for my tournament (if I’d won the first match I would have proceeded to the second round).

So, a small token of success, but a huge day of learning. And I’ve caught the bug, and there’s another tournament here in Edmonton next month!


Bring It On… carefully

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:21 pm

If this Texas politician has his way, we’ll be even more keen for the break to finish and the football to start again…


Number One in (tax-funded) fake news!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:41 pm

That’s the spot the Bush Administration is over-ruling the country’s own Government Accountability Office to shoot for…

Arctic Reserve gets the shaft

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:28 pm

Yet one more reason (as if more were needed) to loathe the Bush junta: Sneak Attack on Arctic Reserve.

…and the great nominations just keep on comin’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:15 pm

Paul Wolfowitz, neo-con Black Pope, for World Bank chair.


(Big) Brother Bear

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:16 pm

This story from PC Magazine (I was alerted to it by one in the UK Telegraph but that site requires registration to read – or the BugMeNot extension for Firefox) about a teddy bear with inbuilt cameras and microphones to montitor your child’s every move… somewhat disturbing, IMO.


Epistemology Quiz

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:20 pm

Just something I made last night to amuse myself: probably ridiculously invalid, but hey, validity is an objectivist concept and hardly anyone is testing out as that so far, so it shouldn’t be an issue! Anyway, enjoy: Epistemology Quiz

(By the way, if you decide to post in your results as a comment, please just copy and paste the summary table from the website, rather than copying their html code, because the tables in their code are broken and tend to mess up the environment wherever they’re posted.)

When explicit sex got boring

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:34 am

I’ve been thinking about porn recently – more in a philosophic mood than in any salacious way. There’s just so much more of it about – on the net, and in the shops that seem to be springing up tumescently all over town, but also as references in mainstream TV and newspapers. What effect will that have on sexual habits and patterns?

I guess horny teenage boys have always managed to find something to look at, but there’s a difference between a smuggled Playboy or Penthouse (both much less explicit 20 years ago) and the kinds of extremely graphic videos and online content that those same curious hormone breweries will find when they go looking these days. And there’s some really nasty, degrading, misogynistic crap out there1.

Sure, not everyone feasts at the pornucopia, but enough do that lighting is likely to become a much more important feature of bedroom decor over the next few years. Porn is likely to change tastes and patterns – I guess couples pretty much used to make it up as they went along, and discover new things together, but it doesn’t take too many videos to spread out the whole smorgasbord (even the suspicious-looking chips and dip you don’t want to go anywhere near).

That’s likely to push some people from relatively benign kink into harmful perversion, but probably only a relatively small number. A larger effect is likely to be just jadedness: been there, done that, twice, with whipped cream and a rubber chicken.

Natasha Walter’s article in the Guardian reminds us of what we always knew – what is suggested is sexier than what is shown and, to paraphrase Einstein, “Imagination is more erotic than bondage”.

  1. How do I know this? Well, as science fiction writer Damon Knight (I think) said “What, you’ve never been inside an adult video store? Aren’t you at all curious about people?”


How did you get here? Part 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:35 am

A while ago I posted some of the searches people had done on search engines like Yahoo, MSN and Google that had brought them here. It’s always an amusing thing to watch, for me, so I thought I’d share a few more from the past few days.

  • ontology and epistemology
  • intertextuality
  • skin nude sims2 (this one is present in various combinations almost every day, you bunch of freaks)
  • predictions 2-13-2005
  • which fairytale had a bear prince
  • science stuff
  • pretty girls
  • realism + philosophy
  • sims2 teen woohoo
  • bioforge remake
  • monologues piaget
  • physics exam questions
  • sweatin in the spirit exercise

It’s interesting to note that Google consistently indexes something like 25% of all pages in this site, Yahoo somewhere in the 80-90% range and MSN consistently over 95%. Aren’t stats fun? 😉


Well, that didn’t last long…

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:08 pm

Mistress Condi and even Dubya have been pretending to be multilateralists who can work with Europe and the rest of the world lately, but the strain was showing. And choosing John Bolton, an outspoken critic of the UN who has been wishing the whole organisation away for years, as the new UN ambassador pretty much just blows that pretense out of the water. Jason’s earlier comments about America bullying ‘because it can’ pretty much sum it up…

The Religious Left?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:41 am

This article on Salon.com today — What would Falwell do? — is well worth reading.

One of my grad students delivered a seminar yesterday discussing the role of religion in education generally, and specifically in relation to science education. He and I are both church-attending Christians (although my perspective is a little more complicated than that), but it was really interesting to both of us to recognise that, for those of our colleagues who aren’t themselves involved in churches, ‘Christianity’ is defined in terms of the Religious Right. If you get your religion news from the media, that’s unsurprising, but it’s deeply troubling.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:56 am

Fighting the good fight against jargon: here’s an extract from a note I sent to a colleague who was asking for help in clarifying our ‘e-pedagogy’ policies…

As I think I said in the last meeting, the ‘e’ fad in naming things
seems to me to have run its course, or almost, and ‘e-pedagogy’ just
sounds like the epitome of jargon (my apologies if you coined it!)
Something like ‘integration of ICTs in teaching’ might be less snazzy,
but it’s also less likely to sound dated next week.

Feel free to share particularly egregious examples of jargon – bonus marks for those beginning with a lowercase e, i or v. 😉


The Meme… It’s Alive!! (Trans Fats)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:14 am

When I speculated a while ago about what meme would replace the low-carb craze, the trans fat (Salon.com article) one hadn’t yet really surfaced, but it looks like the next big thing. Like those bags of candy that proudly proclaim ‘0% fat’ (loads of suger, will definitely make you fat, but no actual fat), there’s plenty of unhealthy, fattening food that is now proudly gaining the ‘0% trans fat’ label.

Just a quick backgrounder:

Animal fats are mostly saturated. That is, they have a lot of single bonds between the carbon atoms, and each carbon fills up the rest of its bonding sites with hydrogen. (So, ‘saturated’ because they’re full of as much hydrogen as they can take.) Saturated fats are most often solid, like lard, butter and other animal fats, and tend to be unhealthy for us.

Vegetable fats are most often liquid, like olive oil. This is because they are unsaturated: there are double or triple bonds between the carbon atoms, and less hydrogen. Unsaturated fats are healthier for us – they form less plaque in arteries and are less likely to lead to heart disease.

Trouble is, liquid oils don’t work so well for margerine, or for a wide variety of cooking applications. We replace animal fat with vegetable for health reasons, but the vegetable fat doesn’t taste the same or act the same. So the solution is to add some hydrogen to the vegetable oil – the ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’ you often see as an ingredient. That breaks some of the double and triple bonds and makes the unsaturated fats partly saturated, which makes them more solid and more like the animal fats we’re used to.

With me so far? OK, so pure vegetable oils good (which is why mediterranean diets that use olive oil on bread lead to low heart disease rates), pure animal oils bad, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils middling.

The remaining bit we need to talk about is the ‘trans’. This requires a diagram:

(Fats are long chains. In this diagram, the ‘R’s represent the rest of the chain.) With a double bond between the carbons, if the two hydrogens are on the same side (in this diagram the left side) of the double bond, it’s called a ‘cis’ location (which just means ‘same side’). If they’re on opposite sides, it’s a ‘trans’ (‘across’) location. Trans fats are made as part of the hydrogenation of the vegetable oils, but they’re particularly nasty in terms of hardening arteries and causing heart disease.

So, it’s a good thing to get rid of trans fats, I have no problem at all with that. But as you can see, you can have 0% trans fat and still have heaps of fat in a product from animal fats, pure vegetable oil, and even cis fats. No trans fat is quite a different proposition from no fat at all.

The moral of the story, as always, is caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. Oh – and eat a balanced diet and get some exercise, rather than being swept up by this year’s meme.


Hmmmmm (Occupation Forces)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:42 am

“Syria, Syrian troops, Syria’s intelligence services, must get out of Lebanon now,” the president said. “The world is beginning to speak with one voice. We want that democracy in Lebanon to succeed, and we know it cannot succeed so long as she is occupied by a foreign power…”



That’s Gotta Suck

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:15 pm

Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, earlier reported released in Iraq, was wounded when US troops fired on the convoy transporting her, her newspaper said.

Freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena was wounded when US troops opened fire on a convoy carrying her to safety, and an Italian mediator who help negotiate her release was killed, her newspaper Il Manifesto said on Friday.

Story here



Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:06 pm

I’m ambivalent about the whole concept of ‘authenticity’.

On the one hand, it seems like an unequivocally Good Thing. None of us likes a fake or a phony, someone who’s trying to be something they’re not. We want people to be open and honest with us – in a tactful and thoughtful way. We want communicative action (open, with our interests and aims on the table), not strategic action (intended to serve our interests by (intentionally or otherwise) obscuring our intentions), in Jurgen Habermas’ terms.

On the other hand, ideas about authenticity can lock us into ghettos of ‘culturally authentic’ behaviours and norms that limit us from fulfilling our full human potential. I don’t just mean the ethnic cultures of immigrants or other groups – being trapped in authenticity can happen to anyone. Part of what I like about Metal Express is that it doesn’t feel locked in to some vision of ‘authentic metal’ – if it sounds good, they’ll play it, and leave others to argue about it.

Paul Feyerabend‘s last book, published posthumously, is called ‘The Conquest of Abundance‘. It talks about the idea that all theory is an attempt to make the incredibly rich, cacophonous abundance of the world simple enough for us to cope with. But it takes confidence and security and strength to engage with complexity, and when the times seem scary it can be awfully tempting to pull the blankets over our heads.

An authentic experience that breaks down some of our cultural boundaries and puts us back in touch with more of the abundance of life, experience and other people is something to be treasured, but an authenticity ghetto we retreat into to protect ourselves from complexity quickly turns into a grave.

Around the World in 80 Hours

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:37 am

This link will be quite interesting for the next day or so, then much less so: http://www.virginatlanticglobalflyer.com/MissionControl/Tracking/
(but do explore the rest of the site, there’s lots of interesting stuff about coping with sleep deprivation (great for teachers!) and the other facets of the attempt)

Steve Fossett is trying to become the first person to fly solo around the world without stopping or refueling. The trip is expected to take about 80 hours.

This is the kind of achievement we don’t hear a lot about – it’s just some crazy millionaire breaking another record – but that is kind of inspiring from a human perspective, and also pushes the boundaries of what is technologically possible. In this case, building the plane and making the record attempt can contribute to what we know about fuel efficiency and wringing the maximum energy out of our fossil fuels – which links back to the climate change issue I posted about yesterday.