‘Clean Coal’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:59 am

The confusing thing (and I suspect intentionally confusing) about ‘clean coal’ is that the term has at least two meanings.

Coal tends to include things like sulphur in addition to its carbon content, and that has caused acid rain and other problems in the past. It can also burn incompletely, causing soot and visible pollution. One meaning of ‘clean coal’, then, is technology to fix both of those problems – to filter out or otherwise get rid of the impurities, and to make sure it burns efficiently, so that the smoke coming out is invisible and odourless.

But it’s invisible and odourless basically because it’s almost pure carbon dioxide. So in the context of climate change, it’s not ‘clean’ at all. So the second meaning of ‘clean coal’ is coal-based power generation that ‘sequesters’ the resulting carbon dioxide. That is, captures it and stores it somehow, maybe underground in former natural gas wells or other natural reservoirs.

It’s unfortunate that, at least from this story in the paper and the associated video of former rock star and current opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett, it’s not clear which of these Labor means in its policy position.



More Metaphors of Mind

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:25 am

(I may have talked about some of these here in the blog before, but this is a dual purpose text – I’m using parts of it for the students in my class too. And it was probably a fair while ago if I did.)

We talked in class on Tuesday about metaphors of knowing and learning, and talked about the ‘knowledge as a structure’ (‘constructivist’) metaphor and the ‘knowledge as lens’ one. Here are four more:

Knowledge as hologram – one of the characteristics of a hologram is that if it is broken or cut up, each piece contains the image of the whole, with less detail. That is, if you have a hologram of a rose and break it into tiny pieces, and look at one piece, you don’t see a clear picture of one part of the rose, you see a fuzzy picture of the whole rose. There is some scientific work on memory that suggests that memory might be like this: rather than the memory of a particular incident being stored in a particular location in the brain, it seems as though it is distributed throughout the brain in some way. So if you have an injury to one part of the brain, you don’t (usually) just lose the memories of a specific chunk of your life. Instead, you keep the memories of your whole life, but lose some definition and detail. Perhaps it’s not only memory, though, but thought that is distributed. Rather than knowledge of a particular thing being stored as in a filing cabinet, all our knowledge is holographically distributed across our whole mind. To get even a little more scientific, holograms work through interference patterns… so maybe our thinking is interference patterns in our ‘brain waves’.

Mind as iceberg – very simple: 90% of an iceberg is invisible under the water, and 10% is visible. Our own thinking feels as though it’s visible to us, but that little logical, linear, internal monologue type of thinking is only the tip of the iceberg of what’s really going on in our thought processes. The majority of the stuff, and arguably the more important stuff, happens subconsciously.

Mind as soup – a rich, bubbling, flavoursome melange of flavours. We talked in class about the ideas that (a) our minds are not generally internally consistent, but that over time they will work toward consistency and (b) what we surround ourselves with and put into our minds is what will be reinforced in our thinking. Take the mental image of a pot of soup that just eternally simmers at the back of the stove. Whatever ingredients are available at the time will be put into the pot, and sustenance will be drawn out of it. The ingredients that are put in will both take on the flavour of the soup as a whole and change that flavour, so the overall flavour of the soup will keep on changing. In some seasons it will go one way and in other seasons other ways. The newest additions will influence the flavour most strongly, but in some sense it’s always the same soup and even the oldest ingredients still have some influence. And you never really know what will bubble up to the top at a given moment.

Learning as evolution – adaptation for survival within a particular environment. Leave aside whether you find evolution compelling as a mechanism for the development or modification of living species. The notion of evolution as ‘survival of the fittest’ – that is, survival of the individuals best adapted to the environment – is an interesting one in this context. If the environment changes then the criteria for ‘best adapted’ also change. We are already seeing genetic changes in populations of squirrels and caribou in response to global warming… breeding at a slightly different season is better adapted to the new climate patterns. In the same way, our minds adapt to the circumstances within which we find ourselves. And, indeed, within which we *place* ourselves… church or bar or school or office or farm, our minds are great at fitting us for the things we actually do.


Thoughts on Death

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:48 pm

‘Dawntreader’ posted the following question to start a thread at the William Gibson Board:

Each one of us will experience it. Sudden or slow. With foresight or by some swift suprise we will all die. Yet, this common fate is so highly personal that discussion of the topic is usually viewed as in bad taste. I often think of my own demise with a mind numbing terror and at other times I feel that it will be a perfectly natural part of life. I have tried to believe in an after life. Unfortunately, my mindset is that there is no afterlife just like I did not exist before my conception and birth, my self will not exist after I die. What do you think?

Here’s my first response:

Coming from a Christian background personally, but at a place where (a) I’m finding belief in an afterlife hard to sustain but (b) I’m coming to realise that doesn’t matter. If a car or truck took me out today on the way to work, it’d suck for the family I leave behind, but I would feel as though I’ve lived, loved, laughed and learned enough, and ceasing to exist would be OK. I don’t need an eternity of heaven to redeem my life, any more. But I’d sure love to hang around and live, love, laugh and learn for at least this long again…

And here’s a later one:

My rather insouciant (?) post at the top of this page is less than half of the picture. I know it’s easier for me to say that stuff than for those who have more recently had to face death through health issues, or who still are. I also know that I WANT TO LIVE!!! Forever if at all possible, or failing that for a good long time, while remaining as healthy and facultied as possible. I don’t think it’s entirely possible to love life with a passion and yet hold it in a loose grip, though I think that’s what I’m trying to do. ‘Cos the alternative is a deathgrip.

Maybe a little risky to post this here, in a way… it’s a public admission that Christianity is not perhaps fully convincing to me in some respects any more, although a very tentative one. But if I can’t be honest here, where can I?

I guess I’d add that if there is an afterlife it will come as a delightful surprise.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:19 pm



Sad – and Crucially Important

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:49 pm

Bad parenting can harm children for life

There is lots of evidence, and this is just more of it, that affection, attention and stimulation of children in their first three years are what set them up for life. This article focuses on the negative, but the reverse is true too: want smart, well-adjusted kids who live up to their fullest potential? Lavish attention and time on them as babies and toddlers. And if you have someone around you with a baby who is struggling, just investing a couple of hours a week to take the young mother and baby out to a park or something can have a massive effect on that child’s whole life.


Performance Pay for Teachers

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:07 am

…has been embraced as a policy position by both major political parties in Australia. The unions are arguing that it’s intrinsically unfair: some students and some teaching jobs are just tougher than others. I think that it’s possible to make it fair, but have virtually zero faith in the government to go to the effort of doing so. Nonetheless, I’m thinking seriously about writing an opinion piece for The Australian newspaper (Rob, you might be able to suggest how to best get such a piece in print) talking a bit about how to do it.

The short version has two elements:

  1. triangulation: you need multiple data sources, including student results (see below), peer evaluations and supervisor (e.g. department head or principal) evaluations as well as a portfolio and interview process
  2. sophisticated data analysis: as the unions have said, raw student student scores are not a fair measure of teacher performance. Unsurprisingly, tests of kids predominantly measure characteristics of the kids. Some of the work we did in Perth attempted to take into account SES and intelligence of students, and to calculate educational ‘value added’ – what proportion of the improvement in students’ performance can be fairly ascribed to the teacher? So a kid who improves from 40% to 60% might have received more benefit from a teacher than one who improved from 70% to 80%… or who stayed constant at 80%. But comparing raw scores, the less effective teacher looks better

Without bragging too much, in schools where I taught, the students typically did better in the years when I taught them than in prior years. I can take some but not all of the credit, of course – we were drawing from the same student populations but I might just have lucked into smarter than average groups. But the ability to compare ‘like with like’ in this process is crucial, and I would argue that there are methods for doing that, if the will is there.

Of course, among other things (a) ideology and (b) embarrassment will stop governments even being willing to acknowledge the massive effect of socioeconomic status on educational achievement, so it’s not going to happen that way. But if I can help to get the discussion going on a level that does raise some of these issues, that would be a useful contribution I think.


An Experiment?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:24 pm

The class I’m teaching today is about assessment: how we mark students’ work and assign them a grade. Assessment is a huge deal in education and a huge amount of work: the section on assessment in the physics syllabus is thicker than the section outlining the actual physics content to be learned. It takes up a lot of teachers’ time. And yet…

My best intuition tells me that teachers already know, a week or two into the course, who will do well and who won’t, to a high degree of accuracy. I reckon the teacher could rank the students in order from highest to lowest grade and only be out by a couple of students in a couple of places. That’s because teacher have professional judgement and can tell from the students’ responses both how smart they are and how hard they work.

But you might think that’s self-fulfilling prophecy: the teachers decide who will do well and then mark accordingly. I don’t think that’s the case, or at least it’s not the major factor, but there are two other relevant measures. One is IQ, or some similar measure of intelligence. The other is socioeconomic status (SES). Earlier research work I did found a strong correlation between wealth and success in physics.

This is an experimentally testable question of course. I have enough on my plate in terms of research at the moment (though that partly depends on which grant applications are successful), but I think it’d be very interesting to (a) ask students how much their parents earn, (b) give them an IQ test and (c) ask the teachers to predict their marks say a month into the course, and then compare each of those three things to (d) their final mark in the course. We could add in (e) some sort of measure of how much study and homework each student does, because that would be interesting.

My best guess is that the teachers would be pretty good, but that a combined measure of IQ and SES would predict at least 90% of a student’s achievement. Kind of depressing for students who hope to lift themselves in social class by sheer hard work, but it might at least save teachers a few million hours of assessment work.

‘Setting Free’ vs ‘Making Free’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:09 am

In the New King James Version (and in the Old King James Version, where I learned it), Jesus says (in John 8:32):

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

I saw someone quote it today, but they said ‘the truth will set you free’. maybe it’s just a different translation, or a semantic difference in the language. Does it make a real difference to the meaning? I think it does.

What mental image comes with ‘set you free’? To open to door of jail, or strike off a slave chain. You’re no longer a prisoner or slave. That’s good news in itself… but in that situation, are you really free? You’re still poor and far from home.

To ‘make you free’ you have to actually have some freedom, to act and make choices. ‘Setting you free’ is the work of a moment, but ‘making you free’ is a longer process. I think Jesus chose his words carefully.

(This is not my main point here, but one explanation for the failure in Iraq is assuming that ‘setting them free’ from Saddam equated to ‘making them free’.)

So the truth (and note that this is a small ‘t’) will make you free. And then it’s part of the truth to share that, to work at making others free.


Fear and Threats and Life

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:24 pm

I guess I’ve tended to concentrate on climate change stuff here, basically because those are the arguments I’ve been having and that’s been stimulating my thinking. But in terms of the threats to our long-term comfort and survival, climate is only one of several.

We tend to think we’ve dodged the bullet on nuclear war, with the end of the Cold War standoff, but much of the arsenal is still in existence, and a fair bit of it is still primed for attack. There are a large number of nuclear powers, and there are poorly accounted for nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union floating around. And then there’s the Bush Administration which has actively drawn up plans for the use of ‘tactical nuclear weapons’ (smaller scale bombs for specific targets smaller than city size) and seems to have a fair bit of enthusiasm about them and few compunctions about using them. I’m much more worried about nations with nukes than terrorists with nukes, personally… but the latter is a possibility… or a ‘dirty bomb’ that uses conventional explosives to spread radioactive material and make an area uninhabitable.

One of the big imponderables is asteroids… the earth shows evidence of a number of major asteroid strikes in its history, including the one that seems to be the most likely suspect in the demise of the dinosaurs. We really just don’t know (and aren’t funding enough research to find out) when the next big rock is going to land on us from space… it’s an imponderable but a very real threat.

Avian flu is still simmering away as a threat, with occasional outbreaks. It, or something like an Ebola that evolves to be less virulent so it can spread, or an escaped biological weapon, or a resurgent smallpox, or a particularly nasty flu, could carry off a lot of us pretty quick. And we shouldn’t forget that AIDS is killing millions each year in Africa right now, and spreading into Asia and the Pacific.

These are threats we know about, but it’s much more likely that we’ll be ambushed by a threat we haven’t even thought about.

Terrorism is actually well down my personal list of threats to be worried about.

I won’t be flying in Indonesia on an Indonesian carrier after one plane basically cracked up on landing and another crashed killing 21 people.

But we’re probably each individually more likely to be killed in a car accident than in any of these ways anyway.

My personal belief is that you can either be paralysed by fear and let it rule your life, or you can live as though there is no cause to be afraid. Don’t be stupid with your life, but like the sword of faith, you’ll be more effective if you hold the sword of life loosely.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:05 pm


Self-mythologizing and the One Percenters

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:02 am

I was thinking yesterday about bikies1. They sometimes refer to themselves as ‘one percenters’ – the one percent of people, or of motorcyclists, who do not follow society’s rules but go their own way. Their way of life is not that attractive to me, but you can see how getting involved in it is kind of self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing. Once you get the personal story or myth that you’re one of the ‘one percenters’, and society doesn’t understand you and will always hate you, and the only protection you have is your brothers in the club… then everything you do, say and think tends to reinforce that, and thoughts that challenge it tend to be dismissed.

It’s not just the bikies, of course. It’s Asian and Lebanese youth gangs in Western Sydney and Melbourne, and it’s also members of the police force and the armed forces to some extent. It’s also members of churches and pretty much any other social organisation. Churches in particular are strong on the ‘we’re saved, they’re not, they’ll never understand us because the things we know are only known through the eyes of faith’ stuff.

It seems to me that *everyone* is in a constant process of self-mythologising. We tell ourselves stories about who we are, and then live up to those stories. And the process is circular – the more we do certain things the more we see ourselves in a certain way. This explains things like kids who start very early telling themselves that they’re failures in school or that school is not for them, and then go ahead to live that out, and it tells us something about why it’s so hard to change.

It also helps tell us why programs like ‘Outward Bound’ that take people out of their usual contexts as part of helping them change their attitudes and behaviour are helpful. If a kid (or adult) can start to construct a new personal myth – of himself as powerful and capable rather than as a failure – out in the bush, then some of that can carry over to the home context.

It also suggests that it’s important what stories we tell ourselves and who we surround ourselves with. Our friends, colleagues, partners and families tend to reinforce our self-stories, so choosing to tell ourselves positive stories about ourselves, and choosing to be around people who will support us in that, is an important part of successful living. Choosing to associate with people who will accentuate our worst notions of who we are is a recipe for disaster.

The flip side of that is making sure we keep getting challenged. I have a lot of friends who are well to the right of me politically, and as well as valuing them as friends and as excellent people, I value them because they challenge my socialist stories of myself and society. And maybe sometimes I challenge them too. That’s why getting into a little silo where you only ever speak to likeminded people and consume likeminded media is unhealthy.

From a Christian perspective, part of what the Gospel is meant to do is give us a story of (a) our infinite worth to God and his unconditional love for us, (b) forgiveness for the things we’ve done wrong and (c) the possibility of becoming better people. This is one of the reasons I so vehemently reject a ‘theology of worms’ that is much more about stories of human sin and damnation.

I’m not talking ‘The Secret‘ here, or any mystical crap, and I’m not blaming the victims of society and parenting and accidents for their own misfortunes. I hope what I am doing is outlining an idea that offers hope and the possibility of a better life for everyone.

  1. ‘bikies’ are people like Hell’s Angels, Coffin Cheaters, Bandidos and so on, who ride Harleys, wear ‘colours’ or ‘patches’ (their groups are sometimes also called ‘patch clubs’) and are often involved in drug sales and other criminal activities. People like me who just ride usually refer to ourselves as ‘bikers’.


‘Educational Theory’, Scientists and My Next Book

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:31 am

I’m working with some colleagues who are scientists at UQ, and who are interested in improving the teaching of science within their department. Science teaching at universities is patchy, with some really excellent teachers, but given that most scientists (a) have no formal teacher training and (b) would really rather be researching than teaching1, about the best-case scenario is that they teach as they were taught. And some university science teaching is pretty abysmal.

So it’s encouraging that these guys are interested in teaching, are good at it themselves and are paying attention to what it takes to teach well. It’s also encouraging that they’ve called in my colleague Kim and I from the School of Education, acknowledging that we have some expertise to share in this area.

But there’s something mystifying: I see it with this team, and I’ve seen it before both in people I’ve spoken to and in articles and letters to the editor and so on. ‘Educational theory’ seems to be a dirty word to these people. I half expect them to cross themselves or make the sign to avert the evil eye and spit every time they mention it. They talk about losing their dignity by using ‘education jargon’. This is a known problem: a recent paper on improving university teaching in Australia said science faculty are the most ‘refractory2 to change’.

Leave aside the fact that they seem not to realise that it’s kind of rude to do that in front of us educators. We’re tough, we can take it. But what does it do to their attempts to improve their teaching if they have an active contempt for the very bodies of knowledge that can inform it?

I think in the past I’d probably have taken on the problem directly, and tried to convince them of the value of educational theory, perhaps by using some examples, and to remind them that their fields have as much or more ‘jargon’ – they just call it the technical language of that field of study. But I think I’ve mellowed – and perhaps even come to see how stubborn people’s prejudices can be. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”.

So I think my next book will be a very practical, focused, theory-3 and jargon-free instruction manual for beginning science faculty who are trying to make a start in teaching and older science faculty who want to improve their teaching. Because the thing of it is, I don’t think any of them want to be bad teachers – they just don’t always know how to be good ones. I’ve been doing research work on explanations in science teaching, and if this project we’re pulling together now comes off will be doing a couple of years of research directly on university science teaching. The work from the Carnegie academy on the ‘scholarship of teaching’ will be relevant too.

It’ll be a few years before it comes out: hey, I have a book published in 2004 and one in 2006, so if the Man book comes out in 2008 this would the 2010 book! But I think it’s one that would be useful, and fun to write, and hopefully would sell.

  1. and all their promotions and rewards are about research, not teaching
  2. ‘refractories’ are the little bricks inside kilns that keep the heat in – they resist the movement of energy from one place to another
  3. or, if not ‘theory-free’ then at least ‘theory-hidden’: that is, I’ll know what theory underlies the presecriptions, but won’t talk about it in the book

Note: I’ve recently decided to dig up and dust off the ‘Man Book’ I wrote a couple of years ago, update and expand that manuscript and look for an Australian publisher. There might be a week’s work in the polishing, and then the submission process tends to be (1) snail mail off a copy of the book proposal letter and a couple of sample chapters (publishers seem to be resisting a move into the 21st century), (2) wait 6-8 weeks, (3) get a rejection slip, (4) rinse and repeat. So while that cycle is going on, for as long as it takes, it’s time to start thinking about what the next book might be… which is what this post is about. Of course, plenty of papers to publish in the mean time…


Iran Over-estimates Americans

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:48 pm

Iranian official condemns “300”: While the gory battle blockbuster “300” set box office records in the United States, an official in Iran accused the movie of being part of “a comprehensive U.S. psychological war aimed at Iranian culture,” according to a report from China’s Xinhua news service. Javad Shamqadri, art advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the film — depicting the ancient Battle of Thermopylae in Greece, which pitted a small group of Spartans against a massive Persian army — was meant as a slight to his country’s culture: “Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Hollywood and cultural authorities in the U.S. initiated studies to figure out how to attack Iranian culture … certainly, the recent movie is a product of such studies.” (Monsters and Critics)

Um, what proportion of Americans would make the connection between ‘Medo-Persians’ in the movie and ‘Iranians’ now? Anyone, anyone?

Can’t wait to see the movie though: it doesn’t open here for another couple of weeks.


Julie vs Julie

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:29 pm

Reporter Julie Szego from The Age newspaper gives Australian Education Minister Julie Bishop a richly deserved serve

Civil, Criminal and Climate

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:35 am

The standard of evidence is different in criminal and civil trials. A criminal charge must be proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, while a civil case must be proved on the ‘balance of probabilities’ or the ‘preponderance of the evidence’. One of the problems we have in the climate change debate is that people want to apply that higher criminal standard: we shouldn’t bother doing anything about climate change until it’s proven beyond reasonable doubt.

I want to argue that that’s not the appropriate standard of evidence in this case, because (a) science really ‘doesn’t do certainty’ – scientific findings are always considered tentative and testable and you’ll always be able to find scientists to say so, (b) the global climate system is so complex that modelling is necessary, and modelling includes assumptions, leading to uncertainty in detail but a good ‘balance of probabilities’ picture of future trends, (c) you will always be able to find scientists who disagree with the consensus. Sometimes that’s because they’re paid by someone to have a particular agenda, or have it on the basis of their other political commitments, sometimes it’s because they see arguments being made with more certainty than science is comfortable with, and sometimes they’re just plain misquoted or taken out of context.

There are reasons for the different standards of evidence in civil and criminal trials, and it might be taking the analogy too far to go into those here. The bottom line for me is that there is a very strong balance of probabilities/preponderance of evidence case that human activities are the massively dominant cause of the climate changes we’ve observed and the more dramatic ones our models predict, and that failing to take action now is potentially enormously costly. Given the nature of science, we’ll likely never get to a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ situation with climate change… at least until its effects are too dramatic to ignore. But some people have an amazing capacity for ignoring reality – some people still think America is winning in Iraq.

A Climate Change Story

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:16 am

On another forum someone posted a link to this 2004 story from the UK’s ‘telegraph’ newspaper to call the human causation of climate change into question:


Here’s the Telegraph’s take (but do read the whole article):

Dr Solanki said that the brighter Sun and higher levels of “greenhouse gases”, such as carbon dioxide, both contributed to the change in the Earth’s temperature but it was impossible to say which had the greater impact.

I did a very little bit of digging and found the original press release from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research on which the newspaper article was (ostensibly) based:


Here’s part of the conclusion:

“Just how large this role is, must still be investigated, since, according to our latest knowledge on the variations of the solar magnetic field, the significant increase in the Earth’s temperature since 1980 is indeed to be ascribed to the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide,” says Prof. Sami K. Solanki, solar physicist and director at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.

The press release quotes a couple of scientific papers that addressed this very question – is solar change or greenhouse gases the dominant cause of climate change – and decisively ruled out solar change as the dominant cause.

Can’t always trust what you read in the paper, eh?


I Contain Multitudes

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:50 am

I really like, and have probably quoted here before, Walt Whitman’s statement:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself: I am large, I contain multitudes.”

It’s a nice complement to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Old Walt was speaking metaphorically of the idea that our minds are not so simple that we can (and Ralph chimes in with ‘or should’) be perfectly consistent all the time.

But speaking scientifically, perhaps he didn’t know how truly he spoke. Talking to a biologist this morning, he happened to mention that we are outnumbered in our own bodies by microorganisms. We have about 1013 cells in our bodies, but about 1014 microbes of various kinds in and on us – so 10 times as many microorganisms as cells. We do, indeed, ‘contain multitudes’.


The Platonic Essence of Boobies

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:14 am

…is something I mentioned in passing in a footnote yesterday, but thought I might spend a few more minutes contemplating today ;). Apologies if you find the discussion offensive, please feel free to skip it.

Part of Plato’s philosophy was the idea of ‘essences’ or ‘Ideals’ – the characteristic shared by every example of something, that enables us to recognise it. For example, Plato would say that there is an Ideal Dog, the essence of dogness. No actual dog in the world is the perfect, essential dog: they are all flawed copies in some way. Yet each dog contains enough of the essential nature of doggishness that we can point to it pretty confidently and say ‘that’s a dog’. Same for every other material thing in the world – horse, chair, plate – as well as for concepts: every time someone is in love, we can tell that they are because we recognise some facet of the essence of Love, but each love affair is only a flawed copy of the Ideal.

So if we read the word ‘topless’, it’s not any particular picture of a particular pair of bared breasts that crosses our minds, but some glimpse of the Platonic essence of toplessness. It’s something linked with that deep, hardwired reaction that we have to that particular kind of curvature… something that is plugged directly into the animal brain, and only gets passed to the rational mind of analysis later. This is something I’m not sure many women really ‘get’, even to the extent that they find guys’ eyes or butts cute.

Of course, I have never been a woman and can’t compare the subjective experience, but I think there’s a quality there that is different between the sexes.

Who knew philosophy could be so (sorry) titillating?


Appealing to Two Demographics

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:46 am

There’s a big billboard I ride past on the way home that’s advertising an online car sales site. In addition to the usual photo it has a long panel of red LEDs along the bottom that spells out words and changes its message. It has a loop of several messages that it shows, including something about ‘Biggest caryard in your computer’. But two of its phrases caught my eye in particular. One is ‘Beats walkin’ to church’. OK, so they have the church-going demographic sewn up. The other is a two-parter – first phrase is “Buy a car, truck or 4WD”, second is “Or even something topless1“. And that seems to me to have a slight double entendre edge to it that might turn off the church-goers but might appeal to a different audience. Seems like they’re trying to have a bet each way. Wonder whether it works.

  1. And for those of the different chromosome set, I should probably explain that just the word itself has the power to fire off a small but pleasurable mental image (not a picture, more like the Platonic essence)… even in the context of mentions of the ‘topless towers of Troy’


The Anti-Crichton

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:08 pm

I’ve enjoyed Michael Crichton’s novels like ‘Timeline’ and ‘Prey’ and ‘Jurassic Park’, while always knowing that his science is definitely made up for fictional purposes and full of holes. In his most recent novel, State of Fear, though, he takes on global climate change (aka warming) and claims (in a long author’s note as well as in the text of what is a very polemical novel indeed) to have the science to prove it’s a myth. That claim has been taken on capably here: http://www.grist.org/advice/books/2005/02/01/schmidt-fear/

Kim Stanley Robinson, on the other hand, a science fiction writer, has a different take on the issue of climate change in his fiction: