Humans, Bandwidth and Videoconference

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:23 pm

Read a doctoral dissertation last night and this morning on videoconferencing, and the author’s findings (after the exam this morning, he’s Dr Booth) backed up some of my experience. Videoconference is low-bandwidth indeed, compared too face-to-face interactions, and has issues of latency (the time it takes the signal to travel), resolution and screen size that reduce the amount of information it can carry.

It turns out that, if you get people together in a room at some point – ideally before they start videoconferencing – they will be much more satisfied with their videoconference experience. It’s just a guess at this stage on my part (I haven’t gone looking in the literature to see if anyone else has written about it – if they haven’t, I might), but I’m wondering whether perhaps spending some time in the same room with a person allows us to develop a mental ‘library’ of body language and facial expression information, at full sense bandwidth and resolution. Once that’s in place, it enables our brains to ‘fill in’ some of the detail that is lost in the videoconference, which makes it a richer and more communicative experience.


Undead Theories

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:21 am

Got the contract for my next book, which will be called ‘Undead Theories’, in the morning e-mail today. Woot!


Knowing, Being and Doing

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:27 pm

I’ve been thinking about something I read in the draft dissertation of a Korean doctoral student I’m working with, Mijung Kim. I want to quote a little bit of her chapter here (with her permission):

To understand the relationship between harmony and immediate coping as a way of doing/living ethically and wisely, it is important for us to look into two main concepts of Confucianism: Li () and Yi (). These two concepts are intermingled in the concept of middle way/harmony, person making/becoming a person, and immediate coping/ethical expertise; therefore, it is necessary to explore these terms. Li1 is about our outer actions while Yi2 is about their internal signification or meanings. In Confucian theory, learning through ritual actions is very important to person making.
To manifest the relationships between Li and Yi, I’d like to provide a simple example of how a child learns the concept of “respect.” When a child doesn’t know the concept, “respect” or “deference” to the elderly, the child starts learning certain ritual actions, such as taking a bow, to learn respect. By repeating the action, one slowly learns the concept of “respect” and comes to know the appropriate situations in which to take a bow. Over time, the child internalizes the virtue of respect. When the child sees elders next time, the child takes a bow out of respect and this is the moment when one’s ritual action matches with one’s meaning, the moment of integrating Li and Yi. There is no way to distinguish outer actions from inner meaning or vice versa when Li and Yi are intermingled and practiced in harmony. In this respect, actions take place with no time to engage intentions because the intentions are actions and the actions become the situations that one faces.

In recent Western thought the two aspects seem always to have been separated, with one or the other ascendant. First behaviourism, in which only the outer actions were seen as having meaning, was the dominant paradigm and now we seem to have switched to a form of cognitivism in which only the thoughts have meaning, our actions are simply the inevitable consequences of our inner states. This richer Confucian notion of integrating both action and meaning ‘in the moment’ seems to me to fit better with my own experience of knowing, being and doing, and to provide a richer referent for thinking about teaching and learning.

  1. Li is translated as rites, ceremony, decorum, manners, etc.; therefore, it is summed up as “ritual propriety.” Li refers to the general posture that one strikes and pursues as a person. Ritual actions and the body are interconnected and the body of the ritual actions can be described as the root that supports the innovation and creativity of cultural traditions.
  2. Yi is righteousness or meaning. Yi is intrinsically intertwined with contexts in situations. Yi is a standard of one’s decision making or conducts; therefore, it is fundamental to understanding of the dynamics of person making
  3. This section was also published as part of a journal article a couple of years ago. The reference (to acknowledge the journal’s copyright in this text) is Kim, M. (2003). Integrity in life, teaching and science education. Educational Insights 8(3).


Freedom, democracy and the ‘flypaper strategy’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:23 pm

I posted this morning on The Guvnor Times on the mixed messages coming from the US Administration about Iraq.


Two Faces of Autumn

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:52 pm

Fems and Pomos and Crits, Oh My!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:26 am

Suzie is working on a paper at the moment discussing models of planning for adult education, and she asked me to read the paper and discuss it with her. I thought it might be fun to discuss it with you too.

Sork, the author of the paper she has to read, summarise and react to (in one page!), claims that traditional approaches to planning in adult education (and I’d extend this to K-121 education too) follow a ‘technical-rational’ approach. That is, they specify goals and content for learning, without really problematising it or asking whose interests are served (and ignored) by those goals, then specify procedures that are meant to meet the goals, and finally evaluate the extent to which the goals have been met. All very linear, assuming that humans are able to be described by simple laws of cause and effect (that look only at what happens in school, not at home or work) and designed to recreate, rather than to challenge, the status quo.

Sork talks about critiques of this kind of planning from feminist, postmodernist and critical theory perspectives. I won’t summarise all those here, but some of them are implicit in the way I’ve described technical-rational planning approaches. In various ways each of these perspectives question the linearity of such planning, and in particular challenge the underlying assumptions about power and negotiation.

He suggests a ‘question-based’ model of planning as a replacement that addresses the critiques: one that suggests asking questions in six domains (corresponding roughly to the students, the contexts, the content, the methods, the evaluation and so on) and at three levels. These levels are the technical – about processes and approaches (so Sork keeps some of the older models in this layer), the political – about power and structures and systems, and about ‘whose interests are served’, and the ethical – ‘what is the right thing to do in this situation?’

I think perhaps the ethical dimension begs some difficult questions – given that it’s founded in moral values, whose values will prevail? – but the notion of a fluid, non-linear, emergent, question-based process of program planning is a very alluring one.

  1. ‘K-12’ is not a mountain in the Alps or the Himalayas. It’s one of those abbreviations we use so often in education that we often don’t define it, thereby mystifying newbies and those from other fields. It just means ‘kindergarten (the year before Grade 1) to Grade 12’ – elementary, junior high and high school.


HAARP and Conspiracy Theories

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:34 am

As Lorne mentioned in a comment, there’s a small but significant underground buzz on the web suggesting that the US government has weather control weapons and used them to create and direct hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The theories are focused around the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP – link is to its own website).

HAARP antenna array

Here’s one of the sites describing the powers ascribed to HAARP: http://www.haarp.net/. Here’s a key sentence from that site: “Weather modification is possible by, for example, altering upper atmosphere wind patterns by constructing one or more plumes of atmospheric particles which will act as a lens or focusing device.”

I’ve written before about conspiracy theory as an idea and a term. I certainly don’t believe that everything that’s out there is true just because someone believes it. On the other hand, the label ‘conspiracy theory’ has been used to shut down perfectly valid debates around government policies and actions: the whole ‘the evidence of WMD in Iraq is doctored’ ‘conspiracy theory’ is a great example.

Here’s a forum discussion on ‘HAARP steering’ of an earlier hurricane, Charley: http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread73424/pg1 (apologies for their popup – how’s your blocker?) The discussion actually veers (HAARP steered?) into discussion of the ‘conspiracy theory’ issue as well.

And here’s a (skeptical) discussion of HAARP and Katrina: http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread167503/pg2.

There’s lots more out there on the net, and it’s well worth checking out – if not because you think weather control is possible, as a case study in human nature.


Blog Allies

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:29 pm

The Guvnor, of The Guvnor Times fame, has put together a blog advertising and rating system at Blog Allies. Interesting approach to the whole question of finding interesting blogs among the millions out there – ones that have varied and well written content, are updated regularly and run for more than a month or so. If you felt moved to click on that link and vote for Bravus I’d appreciate it, of course, but you’re also likely to find some other blogs that’ll keep you messing about on the web long after bedtime (like I am now!)


New Book Chapter

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:51 pm

I have a chapter, entitled ‘Weaving Narrative Nets To Capture School Science Classrooms’ in a new book that’s just come out from Sense Publishers. ‘Auto/Biography and Auto/Ethnography: Praxis of Research Method‘ is edited by Wolff-Michael Roth. Clicking on the book’s title will take you to Amazon for some details of the contents and approach, but clicking here will give you the opportunity to download and read the book free as a pdf (free registration is required).

Katrina, Rita and Global Climate Change

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:24 am

A short article by me and a few comments and discussions around hurricanes and global warming are available at The Guvnor Times. Thought I’d send you there rather than try to copy and paste it here, but we can discuss the issues here as well.


Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:21 am

Had a great idea for a post just before bed last night, thought about writing it then but was too sleepy and thought I’d remember it in the morning, and of course didn’t remember it in the morning… Ah well, with a bit of luck it’ll float back to the surface one day…


Fragile 3: Motorcycles, Volvos and Giant Trucks

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:51 am

It used to be Volvo drivers – and for some reason, in Australia at least, older ladies wearing lawn bowls hats were quite scary, and a bowling hat lady in a Volvo was the epitome of terror!

Volvos were marketed as being so safe in crashes that their drivers felt invulnerable. This tended to make them a death threat to anyone else on the road, because their feelings of invulnerability made them careless. The same applies now to some drivers of big trucks and SUVs (four wheel drives) – the drivers perch high above the world and, to misquote George Clinton, ‘if anyone’s gonna get funked up, it ain’t gonna be them’. It’s most likely gonna be someone on a motorbike, or someone in a small compact car, or a pedestrian, and I’ve seen these guys blow through stop signs and red lights, feeling all safe and happy.

Since I’m thinking about getting a bike when I get back to Oz, it’s reminding me of how fragile we are. On a bike, you know damn well that if anybody’s gonna get funked up it’s gonna be you, so you’re careful, and drive defensively. I think a lot of the bad reputation of bikes as dangerous comes from young males who also think they’re invulnerable and immortal, only to discover (briefly) that it ain’t necessarily so. I’ve kinda been through that phase – broke my leg but was unbelievably lucky it wasn’t my back or head – and I’ll be the most defensive, cautious biker out there. I’ll assume everyone on the road is actively hostile and has me in their sights, and never trust their indicators (turn signals), but will wait until they actually turn, and pretty much assume they’re going to blow through stop signs and red lights, and that I’m invisible.

But it’s the people in the Volvos and big trucks who think they’re invulnerable that are the danger to those of us without metal shells to ride around in – I hope they’ll remember how fragile we are.

  1. Fragile and Fragile 2 are earlier posts on different threats and responses


The Guvnor Times

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:16 am

I’ll probably be occassionally writing a short article on the shared blog The Guvnor Times. Lots of people with lots of different perspectives writing there, including someone in the reverse situation to me: a Canadian living in Australia (The Canadian Gypsy). Interesting just to see the quite different dynamics in a group blog compared to the various solo blogs I read.


Rant: Creepy ‘Love’ Songs

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:57 am

OK, I’ve got a song stuck in my head, and it’s one that’s bothered me for years. Since the tagline of this blog says something about this being a place to spill some when my brain is over-flowing, you get to hear about it!

Sting said in an interview that’s he astonished and slightly horrified that people play the Police’s hit ‘Every Breath You Take’1 at weddings. “Have they listened to it?”, he asks. (This isn’t the song I have stuck in my head, I’m just working up to that!) ‘Every Breath You Take’ is, quite intentionally, a rather creepy song about stalking, obsession, ownership and surveillance, made to sound like a love song.

Some creepy love songs are quite intentionally that way. The heavy rock band ‘Extreme’ wrote the ballad ‘More Than Words‘, which sounds very lovely (if you like that kind of thing), and is all soft and nice (and quite possibly also gets played at weddings), but it’s basically just the old teenage boy pressure tactic ‘If you loved me you’d sleep with me’, dressed up in sweeter chords… and made somewhat creepier by the fact that it’s sung by men in their late 30s. More than that, it trivializes the fact that the girl says “I love you” – only her body will do, apparently.

But the song that’s going around and around in my head, and just makes me really mad, is Savage Garden’s ‘I Knew I Loved You‘:

I knew I loved you before I met you
I think I dreamed you into life
I knew I loved you before I met you
I have been waiting all my life

OK, firstly, way to completely contain her, and make her invalid without you: if you dreamed her, what happens when you wake up? This reduces her to just your fantasy, not a living, breathing person with a history and a life.

Secondly, if you loved her before you even met her to know who she is, then what you love isn’t her, just some idealised dream of the perfect lover that you constructed in your head, completely independent of her existence. In the infatuation phase of a new relationship she might look like that image, but that’s basically because you’re suppressing your awareness of any mismatches – doing a Procrustes and chopping off the bits that don’t fit. As you get to know her, she’s going to stop fitting into the contours of the dream… so what becomes of her when you wake up?

Bah, maybe I’m over-analysing silly love songs… But give me something like Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ or ‘Sisters of Mercy‘ or ‘Light As A Breeze‘ – songs that recognise the richness, wonder and strangeness of a woman who you can love but never, ever own…

  1. Sadly, lyric connections are generally loaded with either popups or ads. I’ve tried to avoid the popups but on some of these pages you may have to scroll down past the ads to get to the words.


Busyness or Love?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:59 am

This thoughtful article1 from social researcher Hugh Mackay asks some smart questions – why do we deem it a virtue to be busy? What happened to the virtue of having some leisure time to think, learn, grow and love? We seem to be working harder and longer than ever… is that leading to more happiness, or just more stuff? These questions are all pointed first and most at myself – could I work smarter, work shorter and have more time to rest, relax and hang out with the family? Almost certainly.

  1. It’s from The Age newspaper and may require free registration to read


Adding The Ads

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:35 am

I’ve resisted having ads on this blog for a long time, just because I see it as something for my friends, and as something I do for fun, not profit. I’ve now decided to add some tiny, hopefully quite inconspicuous, ads from Google Adsense to the page for a couple of reasons.

The ads are way down the right side menu bar, under the categories, links, calendar and so on, so they should barely impact my readers at all. Of course, if you do decide to scroll down and click on them it’ll be worth a couple of cents to me, and I’ll be thankful. Google promises to index the content of the ads to the content of the blog, so that should be kinda intriguing all by itself: just seeing what the bots think I’m on about!

One reason for adding them is just the convenience of having a Google search bar on the site. The other is a little more devious: it’s because of the comment spam. When I look at my site stats, and discover that just one person has looked at maybe 20 ancient posts, I know it was most likely not a person at all, but a spambot. But I get paid for the ads by the pageview, and the spambot views pay just as much as the human views. So my devious scheme is to use the ads to at least partially compensate me for the time I have to spend a couple of times a week cleaning up after the spambots!


The Future for the US

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:16 am

Promise I’ll lay off US politics for a while from now on, but IamWhatIam on the William Gibson Board asked:

Several threads have been whittled down to some very basic points and views about our (US) government.

So I ask here, what do you think the future holds for our country? (This can be a realistic view or an idealised view)

My reply was:

Realistically (and perhaps a bit optimistically) I think and hope that the Democrats will get their act together and propose a genuinely electable candidate in 2008, and that that person will likely get elected, along with some sort of balance in Congress. That won’t be a huge change – still a two-party capitalist system powered by the zaibatsus (multinational corporations) – but it will move America back from the excesses of the current administration.

The system is actually more resilient than we give it credit for. It’ll limp along for quite a while longer, but the debt incurred under Bush 2 will be crippling for a long time, and permanent gas price increases will compound that. There’ll be a major economic correction at some point in the next 10 years that could be on the scale of the Great Depression, and the way the system has been set up and moved means that this will increase the rich/poor gaps.

There will end up being no-go zones in most major cities, and the level of poverty will approach third world levels in many areas, but the system as a whole will continue to exist in pretty much the same form it does now. It will become shockingly easy to fall out of the middle class into poverty, though. (See Jack Womack’s novel “Random Acts of Senseless Violence” and the news from New Orleans.)

That’s the optimistic version. In darker times I do see the Bush Administration figuring out a way to suspend elections for a while and taking the country down this road a lot further and a lot faster. ‘Orwellian’, including the redefinition of language and the perpetual, unwinnable war, is a frighteningly apt description of the situation.

The Pollyanna super-optimist version includes a breakthrough in fusion power and the institution of a hydrogen fuel-cell economy that shields the country from the costs and consequences of oil… but given that the executive is made up of oil execs… that one is kind of contingent on regime change.

Too grim? What do you think?

Late edit: The whole thread, which continues to be interesting, although it may be descending into mere politics, is here.


Nuke – Just Do It

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:32 am

In the ‘shaking in our boots’ department, the Washington Post reports that the Pentagon is seeking a policy change to allow them to preemptively nuke other countries. Because, you know, this administration has proven its ability to make good choices and follow through on them…

You know you spend too much time online when…

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:23 am

Sue was caling the kids to dinner the other night, a little flustered because she was busy serving and they were messing about on the computers, and yelled “Kids, get your butts over here, the food is downloaded!”


If you measure it, they will build it

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:00 pm

For my sins I’m a member of the University of Alberta’s ‘Facilities Development Committee’ (FDC). This is the committee that oversees and approves any new buildings on campus – that is to say, on any of the U of A’s six campuses – as well as any major refurbishing or repurposing of existing buildings. If you’ve seen our university recently you’ll know the skyline is dominated by cranes as new health and medical research buildings as well as a nanotech research building are constructed, but we have an immense new science building and an even immenser new integrated medical research, education and hospital facility still in the planning stages.

It’s actually really interesting work (with implications in the billion dollar range, total), and new technologies are a huge help: rather than having to assemble a mental image of a proposed new building from looking at blueprints and architect’s drawings, for example, the university architect can now show us a 3D ‘flyaround’ movie of the proposed new building and its surroundings on a video projector so that we can see how it fits on the site, and can even model the shadows it will cast at various times of the day in various seasons to look at its impact on surrounding buildings and green areas.

That’s not actually what I wanted to talk about, though. At this morning’s meeting the university architect mentioned the huge impact that the ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design‘ (LEED) standards developed by the US Green Building Council have had on the construction industry. They were developed in 1999, which is pretty recent, and are up to about version 2.1-2.2 at the moment. The LEED standards address the entire environmental impact, including on water, energy, site integrity, green space and the use of recycled materials/recycling of any materials from demolition, that any new building has in both its construction and its usable lifetime.

The interesting thing is that the Green Building Council has no legislative or enforcement powers – the standards were just set up as a way of codifying desirable building practices from an environmental perspective. But if there’s a measurable standard in place, people will try to meet it, and who doesn’t want to be able to say that their building program is environmentally friendly? The U of A actually already had a very advanced and long history of paying attention to environmental issues, for practical as well as ethical reasons: in a cold climate, careful use of energy (e.g. electricity generated on campus from waste heat from the heating system) literally saves the university millions of dollars a year in utility bills. But we now try to build all buildings to at least a LEED Silver standard. Seems people across the whole construction industry have started to try to do the same – meet these standards that, while desirable, are in some sense entirely artificial. If you measure it, they will build it.