The Real and the Fake

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:53 pm

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!

  1. Although I must admit that the same accompanying questions about real vs fake, when applied to the very high incidence of slim, attractive girls with ample breasts in this area, is rather less satisfactory…


Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:41 pm

…appear to be working again. Looks like they used a later backup, which is nice. Saves me a couple of hours of work.


The Gates of Hell

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:24 am

… is my favourite Rodin sculpture in the Stanford sculpture garden. Here are some photos that Alex took of it:





‘To Be’ list

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:10 pm

Chatting today about academic workloads, and how to balance (or integrate) work life and home life, it occurred to me that perhaps a ‘To Be’ list is more healthy than a ‘To Do’ list. Rather than asking ‘What do I need to do?’ (that list will never be complete, and will grow to fill the available time), perhaps it’s better to ask ‘Who do I want to be?’ After that it can be turned into ‘What do I need to do today to work toward being who I want to be?’ as well as ‘Given who I am and who I want to be, what is the best and most important thing for me to do today?’



Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:30 am

I thought the comments on posts had been unusually quiet lately. Of course, the temptation is always to ascribe it to myself: was what I was writing so boring that no-one was interested enough to comment? Fortunately for my self-esteem, Lorne let me know that it’s a technological problem. I’ll have to fix it ASAP, and I apologise again for the hassles. (I suspect it’s because the Word Press installation has been downgraded to an older version.)


Intellectual Property

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:46 pm

I realised today that I’d kind of got into the habit of deep linking others’ images to illustrate this blog and some of my forum posts. That’s not really fair to the owners of the images or the bandwidth, and I’m going to try hard not to do it.

I can save the bandwidth by copying the images to my own server space, and maybe I’ll sometimes do that, particularly with images from ‘open source’ or ‘creative commons’ sources. Other times, like for the two book covers I used to illustrate the post a week or so ago, they’re from Amazon, and I think adding a link to the relevant page on Amazon below the image is probably fair recompense for the use of the image. I’ll also try to make and post more of my own images.

What do you think about this issue? One of the cool things about the web is the ability to illustrate ideas and get beyond text, but I also want to be fair to those who make their living making pictures, and to those who have to pay for bandwidth.


Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:41 pm

I’m not sure I really believe any more that God messes with us by ‘opening doors’ and ‘closing doors’ – kind of giving us hints about what He wants us to do in life without really telling us, and giving us a lot of bleeding noses and black eyes when we slam into closed doors we didn’t know were there. I think he lets us make our own choices – but that there are blessings that kind of naturally acrue as a result of making good choices (as well as random bad luck and the evil actions of others).

But if I did believe in open doors I’d be talking about one now. We are taking all our furniture with us back to Australia, but nothing much electrical, due to the different voltages. And after a couple of years in apartments in Canada, where the whitegoods (fridge, washer and so on) come as part of the rent, we don’t own any of those major appliances. The usual deal in Astralia when renting an unfurnished property is that you have to buy your own major appliances, so we were kind of wincing, imagining what we’ll have to spend to get set up.

Then our new landlords e-mailed us, saying:

“Do you need electrical goods since you are coming from o/s ? If so we can
leave the fridge/freezer, washer, dryer and tv dvd, video for you to
use. We will only be putting them into storage otherwise, so you might
as well use them if you need to.”

Woohoo – and possibly even Hallelujah.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:31 am

There have been major, major issues with my web hosting provider since the weekend – thank goodness I didn’t lose any posts, but the version of my home page has reverted to a backup from some time ago, and my update of Word Press to a later version has also been undone. This blog has been only very sporadically available since the weekend.

I’d already been thinking of moving from this free or low cost account I’m using to the other, much more stable one that I’m paying for to use for some other stuff. The move of the blog is non-trivial, and I don’t want to break it or lose posts in the process. I’m also on the road at the moment and don’t have all the tools or access I need to do the move. But once I get set up in Oz I’ll be looking hard at moving the whole operation over. (There’ll be a redirect here so you can all follow!)

So apologies for the inconvenience, and hopefully it’ll settle down a bit now.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:49 am

So this one is being written in a warm, sunny room in California. Looking out over the valley and the Bay, and over Stanford from the hill. I was delighted to see that the squirrels – the ones I watched all last summer out the window at the June residency, and missed in January, are back and playing outside the window again. I wonder whether the snake I saw last year will wind past the window too.

Sue and the girls are probably just waking up back at the hotel, and getting ready for a day of swimming and sight-seeing. I’m here at the Carnegie Foundation, hugging 25 or so friends I feel very close to but haven’t seen for months. It’s an odd process, one that throws us together intensively with good food, good friends and interesting conversations to transform our teaching, then ends and sends us back home to put it into practice. Of course, this time ‘back home’ has a slightly different meaning for me.

There’s already an awareness that in another 10 days this Carnegie Scholarship thing will be all over, at least formally, and there’ll be yet another round of ‘goodbye’ to be said. But I’m trying hard to push that awareness down deep, and just revel in the experience while I’m here.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:43 pm

(this post has been back-dated because I intended to post it on Thursday but the server was up and down all day)

Kind of a surreal day today. Riding around town in a bus on a couple of errands, as well as walking around the university and its environs. It was rainy, which is kind of rare in Edmonton, at least lately, but it seemed fitting for my mood. I had the mp3 player on, listening to some fairly grim music from Agalloch and Sol Invictus, and that kind of suited the mood too.

Because I am excited about the new opportunities, and moving to a new city, but today was all about leavetaking. Each thing I see, which is absolutely familiar to me and has formed the contour map of my life over the past 5 years, will disappear in the wake of a jet tomorrow, and it will be years before I see it again, if ever… and the ‘me’ who sees it then will have changed so much, that it won’t be the same at all.

So saying goodbye to good friends and kind people has definitely been tough, and I’ll miss them all very much: the web is only a slim substitute for a conversation by the barbecue. But today was more about the places than the people, and in some ways not even the unique places. Sure, the enormous yellow ‘Butterdome’ stadium at the U of A is something I’ll miss, but just as much the particular juxtaposition of that Pizza Hut with that Blockbuster. In fact, the existence of Pizza Huts and Blockbusters everywhere I go – but just not those ones, just there – will be more of a reminder.

It was odd, but kind of a cool melancholy too…


Getting Ready For The Plane(s)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:55 am

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’:

system of the world

The second is the 800 page “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel” by Susanna Clarke:

strange and norrel

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.)



Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:59 pm

My next job after this post is to shut this computer down and ready it for packing, and mail the modem/router back to Telus (my ISP). That means I’ll be mostly out of contact for the next 3 weeks or so, until July 9. I might be able to drop in now and then from a web cafe or a friend’s computer, but basically expect nothing, then everything will be a bonus. Full service will resume, with lots of info about the move and so on, in early July.

Be well in the mean time.


Planting Trees

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:39 am

Suzie graduated yesterday afternoon from her Certificate of Adult and Continuing Education program. It means she’s now qualified to teach adults, and I’m enormously proud of her.

There were a lot of speakers at the graduation ceremony, but the one who made the strongest impression was an Occupational Health and Safety expert who was handing out the certificates in that field. He said a number of interesting things, like if we could cut accidents by half in Alberta we could pay for all post-secondary (university and college) education tuition in the province three times over, and a plea not to use cell phones of any kind while driving (which got a hearty ovation from the crowd).

But the one thing he said that really stuck with me was a quote: “The real meaning of life is planting trees under the shade of which you don’t expect to sit”. His point was partly that, if health and safety people do their job right, no-one will ever know. But it also just made me think, that that simple statement is a great antidote to the self-centred tendency of our culture. If it’s your kids who sit under the trees, great, but if it’s a stranger – or even an ancestral enemy – and you plant them anyway, so much the better.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:39 am
  1. So cool to have a look at the stats: 39 visitors from 14 countries in the first 24 hours, including Malawi and Belarus! Welcome, all of you. A lurker community 10x the size of the regular posters is pretty standard for the web, so I’m delighted to see that that holds true here.
  2. Slight hiccup with the house – when the agreement came it contained the underlined words under no circumstances may a cat reside in the house. Surrounding text made it clear we can have a cat, just not in the house. That’s not realistic for a couple of reasons: (a) our cat has lived in an apartment all his life, so inside is all he does… he’ll be happy to get outside, but not to be there all the time and (b) cats shouldn’t be outside alone at night in the bush anyway – not for their protection but for the protection of the native wildlife they wreak carnage among. We also want to get a small dog next year, and realised we’d better be sure to have that negotiated and included up front as well. So it could be a deal breaker… I guess we’ll see how they respond to my e-mail.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:42 pm

I love watching Pinks, and I’ll really miss it in Oz, where we won’t have even the TV tuner card. It’s about drag racing, but the way it’s set up is a wonderful combination of negotiation, gamesmanship and racing. Bit of a marathon on tonight (I’m watching my third show in a row), so I’m not getting so much sleep, but I’m having a good time.

Basically, the premise is best 3 out of 5 drag races, winner gets loser’s car. They can negotiate things like a several car-length advantage at the starting line, as well as different drivers (amateur vs professional), adding or removing nitrous oxide or wheelie bars, and so on. Rich Christensen is a great host who mediates the negotiations.

Well worth checking out, not just if you’re a motor sport fan, but if you’re interested in people and how they play…

The New Counter

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:19 am

The stats package that I used to use on this blog got broken by a software update, but Lorne introduced me to NeoWorx last night, so I added the counter you see to the right. If you mouseover the flag for a given visitor you’ll also get a map showing the location of that country. Maybe a little gimmicky, but kinda cool too, I think. I expect people from Canada, the US and Australia based on those I know read here, and possibly Denmark if Aisha is still with us, but I suspect there are a lot more readers than posters. I guess this counter will tell me whether I’m fooling myself. 😉


We have a house!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:54 pm

Well, at least, our rental application has been accepted. There are still some forms to sign and so on, but basically it looks as though we know the address of our house in Brisbane. We rented it over the net, sight unseen, so hopefully there are no nasty surprises when we get there. Should be good – out in the country a bit, but not too far (maybe a 30 min commute one way and 15 or so the other), near the river and with all the stuff we were looking for and a few bonuses: 3 big bedrooms plus study, two bathrooms, double lockup garage with remote, dishwasher, 2 1/2 acres, pool…

Friends and family feel free to e-mail me for the address, although in a few days once the forms are signed probably makes more sense. It means, among other things, that we can basically go straight ‘home’ from the airport when we arrive in Brisbane, rather than go to a hotel and then start home searching. Kinda cool to be able to give people here an address to keep in touch before we leave, too.

Here’s a tweaked-up aerial photo from Google Earth (1400 ft above the ground) to give you a bit of a sense of the place:

The big green-brown thing on the right is the Brisbane river. Apparently the house (circled) has river access, so I’m assuming the block extends back through that bush to the river. I love Google Earth!


Christian Music

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:21 am

It’s kind of insidious – I sometimes get the guilty feeling that the reason most current Christian music has a similar effect on me to the sound of fingernails being dragged down a blackboard is that I must be evil or something… (or have perverted my tastes with some of the music mentioned a couple of days ago: you know, like getting used to spicy meat and not liking the veggies so much?)

I don’t think it’s that, though (YMMV!) I think it’s a couple of things. One is that the Christian radio stations (which also drive me crazy by reassuring me in every station ID that they’re ‘safe’) only play the really middle-of-the-road stuff. Heck, secular middle-of-the-road music is fingernail/blackboard material for me too, so I guess there are no surprises there! The other is that a lot of it tends toward being ‘praise and worship music’. What that means in practice is that the lyrics all begin to sound alike after a while, and as though the songs could be written using some sort of random lyric generator. Just throw in enough of the words listed below and let the computer pick the order.

Mighty, praise, worship, bow down, glory, holy, Almighty, Ancient of Days, Lord, crowns, cross, sacrifice, power, beauty, awesome, love

Put it to a middle-of-the-road tune that meanders a lot, add some pretty schmaltzy string arrangements and an over-emotive singer and you’ve got your song. It helps if there’s lots of ‘nothing else at all in my life or the whole world means anything, you are my universe’ stuff, and a slightly disturbing schoolgirl-crush dimension to the lyrics.

The final one is that a lot of it is very triumphalist: “Our God is so awesome and powerful”. It’s not usually there explicitly, but for me at least it’s very implicit that “and your god (broadly defined) is not”. I guess it’s kinda compulsory, but the whole ‘my god is bigger than your god’ thing just rubs me the wrong way.

Having said all that, there are some Christian artists, like Russ Taff and Rich Mullins, who escape all of these traps and make rich, thoughtful, musical, interesting stuff. I’m sure there’s great non-mainstream Christian music out there too, and maybe I need to go and search out more of that. But please, no Shine FM in the car while I’m driving.


Time for some changes?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:04 pm

Alex was telling us a story from school the other day in the car. The teacher asked for a particular definition, and Alex raised her hand. The teacher said “Thanks Alex, we’ll hear from someone who doesn’t have their textbook open and isn’t reading it hoping we’ll think they’re really smart”. Alex said “Well, I just didn’t want to wait half an hour for everyone to remember”. After waiting a few minutes, in which no-one else was able to remember the definition, the teacher let Alex read it.

Aren’t we being told that it’s no longer about memorising the information, but about knowing how to find it when we need it? And from that perspective, didn’t Alex do exactly what we’d hope our students would? But she got put down by the teacher for it.

Just conceptual inertia, I guess.


Soundtrack To My Life

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:56 pm

Someone on the Much Music ‘Loud’ forum (dedicated to heavy metal) posed the question “What 5 albums do you think everyone here should hear?” Here’s my response:

The Angels (aka “Angel City”) – No Exit (1978) (torrent search it if you want to hear it – it’s hard rock rather than metal)
Metallica – …And Justice For All (1988)
Anthrax – The Sound of White Noise (1993)
Opeth – Blackwater Park (2001)
Agalloch – The Mantle (2002)

This is not a ‘Top 5 Albums Eva OF All Time!!!!1!lolz’, but a list of albums that have all, in various ways, been personal revelations to me in my history of listening to music. In 1978 when ‘No Exit’ came out I was 14 and at high school in Australia, and listened to the cassette on a mono player hundreds of times. I still know every lyric and lick, nearly 30 years later. ‘…And Justice For All’ came out when I was 24, newly married and a new teacher, and I listened to the tape on a walkman on the long train journeys to my evening classes on philosophy (Metallica + Wittgenstein = mindblowing!) ‘The Sound Of White Noise’ came out when I was 29 and teaching teachers in a little college in Papua New Guinea, where you had to make sure to be inside the razorwired compound with the armed guards and dogs before sunset. ‘Blackwater Park’ and ‘The Mantle’ are recent discoveries from my time in Canada – in fact I think it was this board that turned me on to Agalloch. I’m about to go back to Australia… and to try to imagine what band will next blow my mind.

It’s definitely swayed toward the metal end of the spectrum, and ignores all the Pink Floyd, for example, but it’s a big part of the soundtrack of my life.