Interdisciplinarity and Security

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:13 am

I didn’t end up blogging a lot about the ideas from the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference I attended in Edmonton – lots more about the meetings with people and the day-to-day stuff I was doing. But there definitely were exciting ideas and exciting sessions (even if I skipped a fair few to see people!), and I did want to capture some of that.

Marcia Baxter Magolda did a nice keynote address at the beginning on the development of university students, from a longitudinal study she did where she interviewed college students in their early 20s about their ways of thinking and then interviewed the same people years later at 40. Lots of interesting ideas, but it seemed as though her scheme led up to a very selfish end: the highest stage of her stage theory, which partly paralleled William Perry’s, was ‘self-authorship’, with the students talking about making their own decisions based on their own values rather than accepting the values of others. That was OK as far as it went, but it did not get to the notion of interdependence and relationship, or to the notions of citizenship that we were advocating in our presentation. Making decisions oneself, but taking into account the ideas, perspectives and needs of others, from family to those effected by one’s decisions even in other countries, seems to me like a higher level than Baxter Magolda’s highly individualistic approach.

But I didn’t even mean to write about that! I started (and the title reflects) thinking about the idea of interdisciplinary studies. There was a very interesting discussion with Trish Ferret, Mary Huber and Bettie Higgs, based on Bettie’s presentation, about “what does it take to do interdisciplinary work?” My contention was that it was a matter of emotion rather than reason – it’s not really about being rationally convinced that it’s a good thing to do, or even about having the brains to do it. Rather, it’s about feeling as though you ‘have what it takes’ and having the confidence to step outside your own comfortable disciplinary boundaries.

I think it’s about confidence and security. It requires a level of maturity and comfort with your own discipline that allows you to ‘play’ with it rather than to be terribly serious, and also a bit of an ‘outside’ critical perspective that makes its underlying assumptions visible to you (rather than hidden and taken-for-granted). It also requires a level of personal security that allows you to make mistakes in the new discipline(s) you are exploring without being embarrassed and withdrawing, a willingness to ask questions, and a certain carpet-bagging willingness to use the tools of a discipline as soon as you know enough to make that possible, rather than feeling as though you have to wait until you have complete mastery of all the skills and ideas of a discipline before you can do valuable work in relation to it.

Maybe it’s just chutzpah!

Affirmation – Continuing the Discussion

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:38 am

Mark posted a late followup to a post from a while ago, and I posted an even later response, so I thought I’d link back rather than let it sink in the archives:


Dang it’s cold!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:25 am

(I know, kinda lame to even still be talking about Canada/Australia temperature differences, but this did make me laugh)

Just got back from Edmonton, where it was -4 C most mornings, to see this on the front page of the local Brisbane newspaper, complete with picture of someone in gloves and tuque:



4 Years

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:38 am

It kind of slipped by while I was away, but the 18th of October was the 4th anniversary of this blog. It hit the 1000 post mark a month or so again and is steaming along toward 1100. My first post was in October 2004 – a fair bit of water has passed under the bridge since then, including the move back to Australia in 2006. There have been a couple of long hiatuses and a few dry spells, and 100 or so posts got eaten in a server crash, but as of right now I’m still enjoying it and still finding things to write. Anathem also includes the ‘Lorites’, a sect who believe that there are no new ideas and all ideas have already been discovered (including this idea!), and in a way that has freed me up a bit: if I can’t write something absolutely original, hopefully I can find an original take on a topic, or remind you (and me) of something we already knew that had gotten submerged in the flow of daily life. I’ll keep writing as long as you keep reading… and possibly longer. 😉


Spooky Synchronicity, part n+1

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:34 am

I thought I may as well take home a set of Canadian coins for the girls to check out and remember and show to their friends. The $2 coin in particular is very cool. And when I looked in my wallet, it turned out, by absolutely random processes with no conscious input from me, that I had exactly one example, no more and no less, of every denomination of coins that Canadians use…

Religion and Truth

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:32 am

I need a big book to take on a big flight, and as I think I mentioned here before, I’m enjoying Neal Stephenson’s ‘Anathem’ on this trip. It’s over 900 pages of fairly small print, so I only read about half of it on the trip up, and have plenty to keep me occupied on the trip back.

It’s excellent and highly recommended to those who enjoy dense, philosophical science fiction. Lots of the ideas have struck me, and extended things I’ve been thinking about, but one quote from page 577 really hit me. I need to offer a bit of background so it will make sense for you. Some of the characters were using a simple gas stove to cook a meal. Erasmas, the main character, asked why they were using such a simple cooker, when there were much more hi-tech ones available, and they replied that because they often travelled in isolated, difficult environments, they preferred to rely on things that they could understand, and that they could pull apart and repair if necessary (I often have the same reaction under the bonnet (hood) of modern cars…).

So here’s the passage:

Later, Cord [Erasmas’ sister] began to share her views about what had happened, and it became obvious that she was interpreting the whole thing from a Kelx [a fictional religion in the book] point of view. It seemed that Magister Sark had got himself a convert. His words, back in Masht, might have made only a faint impression on her, but something about what we had lived through at Orithena made it all seem true in her mind. And this didn’t seem like the right time for me to try to convince her otherwise. It was, I realised, like the broken stove all over again. What was the point of my having a truer explanation of these things if it could only be understood by avout [kind of secular philosopher-monks] who devoted their whole life to theorics [kind of science/philosophy]? Cord, independent soul that she was, wouldn’t want to live her life under the sway of such ideas any more than she’d want to cook breakfast with a machine that she couldn’t understand and fix.1

OK, so leave aside for a moment Erasmas’ automatic assumption that his own explanation is ‘truer’ than hers, and the implied condescension. This passage just got me thinking about ideas and explanations and our insistence on forcing our ‘truer’ interpretations on others.

Thinking this way is anathema to Christians (and presumably to followers of other religions too): evangelism is all about convincing others to accept our explanations. It’s seen as a sacred duty in most religions. And not only religions, of course: we try to encourage, and when that fails coerce, others to see the world in accordance with our political and scientific and philosophical views, too. But I dunno… it seemed to me that perhaps what we need to look at is (again) the Dr Phil test: “How’s that workin’ for ya?” If other people’s world views seem to be making them happy and fulfilled, and leading them to make the world a better place by caring for others and the world around them, how about we leave them alone, and focus on those whose beliefs are obviously (in their frame of reference, not ours) making them miserable or making them act in evil ways toward others?

Hmm, that might change who is the evangelist and who the sinner in need of salvation, in quite a few cases, I suspect.

  1. Hmm, didn’t realise quite how many explanatory notes I’d need to insert when I started this!

Good Times

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:15 am

Had dinner last night with Lorne and Dawn at the Sicilian pasta place, just a couple of blocks down from our old apartment on 116th Street. We had a great time, sitting and chatting for hours, catching up on all the news of what we and our families are up to, goals and dreams and ideas. We all commented on how the couple of years apart just melted away, and we slipped back into the some comfortable, friendly relationship we had before we left. It was great to catch up with everyone, but these guys in particular made the effort to make plans to hang out with me in the short time I was here, and I appreciate that a lot. I don’t always read Dawn’s ‘Colours of Dawn‘ blog and comment as often as I should, but I’ll aim to do better – good friends deserve better contact, and the web offers us all sorts of resources for staying in touch.


Woo!! Oilers!!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:39 pm

Well, it’s hard to imagine a better sporting experience. I had an awesome time with my buddy Lorne last night watching the Edmonton Eskimos play football. Great game, but a somewhat disappointing outcome: close most of the way, but the BC Lions ran away with the game in the last quarter.

Tonight I went to the hockey game with my other buddy Frank. I got to see a truly awesome hit, followed by my first serious hockey fight (though I’m not sure how much damage those big haymakers do through all the padding). The Oilers started out by going two points down in packed and extremely loud Rexall Place, but then came back in the second period and scored three goals in a hurry. They hung on in the third period to win the game. Good fun, definitely!


Went to the (other) game

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:02 pm

Went to a CFL (Canadian football) game with my friend Lorne (who posts here as Sirdar) this evening, and had an awesome time. It was a good close game for most of the time, but at the end the BC Lions took it away from our Edmonton Eskimos. Still, a hilarious time with a rowdy but friendly crowd around us at the game, and then a fun ride back on the train crammed in with a bunch of outgoing 20-somethings.

This was after what I think was a very successful presentation at the conference today with Jeff Burnstein and Mike Burke – Rebecca Nowacek, the fourth peron in our team, had had to stay home because she and her sons were all sick.

Looks like I will make it to church tomorrow, then we’ll see what else happens in the rest of the short time I’m here…


Goin’ to the game

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:02 pm

Well, that was a killer day! Discovered the conference, which I knew started today, didn’t start ’til this afternoon (yes, I could have checked that out earlier in the program online, but where’s the fun in that?), so I jumped on the LRT (light rail system) across the river the University of Alberta where I taught from 2001-2006. I’d arranged to meet my friend and colleague Craig Montgomerie at his office, but as it happened when I went to a coffee shop for breakfast he came in for coffee and we chatted there.

Then I went up to the Department of Secondary Education and caught up with as many people as possible there. They told me there was a talk on there in the afternoon where more colleagues would be, so I headed back across the river to the conference for one session, joined a table with a bunch of my Carnegie scholar friends, enjoyed a great session, then headed back to the U of A to the talk, which was fantastic.

It was by Frank Eglash, and was about the mathematics of African village structures, which are fractal, and the randomness inherent in Native American divination systems, and many other intriguing things. Caught up with Frank Jenkins and Max van Manen and a few other people.

The cool bit is that Frank invited me to the hockey game on Saturday night. It’s the ‘Alberta Derby’, Edmonton Oilers versus Calgary Flames, so it’s a huge deal here, and tickets aren’t available for love or money.

Lots of people still to catch up with, but a fantastic first full day in Canada.


Information >> Food

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:14 am

I’m posting this from San Francisco airport. I’m trying to do the trip on a budget, so when it came down to the choice between spending $10 on a meal or on wireless web access, there really wasn’t much a a choice to be made. Gotta get that info-fix!

(PS I’m *loving* ‘Anathem’)



Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:39 pm

So, on Wednesday I’m flying out for a week in Canada – back in Edmonton, the city where we lived for 5 years until 2 years ago. Should be a blast, with lots of good friends and great people to catch up with.

So right now I’m just preparing – making sure I know where my passport is and when my flights are, and that I have enough space on my credit card to pay for my hotel and gifts and food. I’m also making sure some clothes are washed and that my iPod and laptop are both charged up, and I plan on buying Neal Stephenson’s book ‘Anathem‘ for the flight.

Apart from that, it’s just a matter of trying to tie up all the loose ends before I go…



Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:59 am

(apologies for the quality of the cellphone photo)

Extreme metal crowds are some of the friendliest and nicest people you’ll meet. Don’t be confused by the long dreads or buzzcuts, the piercings and tattoos – the crowd waiting outside to file into the Arena for the Carcass show was a huge band of brothers (with one or two sisters lightly sprinkled through). I got chatting with a guy in his late teens or early 20s who was mainly into Nightwish and had come to Carcass via Arch Enemy, and to some guys in their 30s who had been Carcass fans as teenagers. We discussed which was our favourite album, and the transition the band made from grindcore to melodic death metal, and the production issues on the first album… and then it was time for the show.

Carcass chose local metal bands in each city they played on this Australian tour as their support, which is a nice way to support beginning bands. So we got two local Brisbane metal bands, Defamer and Limb from Limb.

Defamer were excellent – one guitarist looked a bit like a monk with short hair and a beard, the other had a shaved head and a full beard an Amish man would be proud of. The vocalist wore a floor length black leather coat and had a mane of blonde hair almost to his waist, which he hid behind a lot of the time and headbanged and helicoptered with the rest. The band was tight and the music varied, with headbanging rifferamas, excellent solos, speedy technical breaks and a lot of dynamics. Plenty of stage presence, and a mix of some black metal style screams with an impressive death-grunt. An excellent band, recommended.

Apparently there are at least three bands called Limb from Limb – one in Vancounver, one in the US and this one in Brisbane. Have to admit their version of extreme technical death metal didn’t do a lot for me: the assault was just too unrelenting, with constant blastbeats, and basically the identical vocal style on all songs. For those who are fans of this style I’m sure they play it well, but the contrast with the complexity and dynamics of Defamer didn’t do them a lot of favours, and with Carcass even less so.

Carcass took the stage at 10:30, after maybe 15 minutes of chants and yelling and anticipation, and ripped it up from the first song. The band was incredibly tight, and all looked as though they were having a great time just playing. The music is huge and varied and impressive, with fantastic melodic passages and riffs, actual guitar solos and a variety of vocal styles from Jeff Walker as well as vocal contributions from both Bill Steer and Michael Ammott on some songs. Solos were bluesy, rich and complex, with the kind of real ‘storyline’ through the solo that I’m always looking for and seldom find these days in extreme metal. Daniel Erlandsson, who has stepped in on drums because Ken Owen is still not well enough to go out on the road and play, did an awesome job, hitting the heavy sound that marks Carcass apart from all the other ‘double-kick on everything’ bands in this genre.

It was cool to hear a wide range of songs from right across the band’s career – and to realise that with decent production the songs from the first two albums aren’t actually as different from the later stuff as they seemed. The band played a couple from Swansong, and took on the perceptions about that album, saying that many of the songs on it were written at about the same time as the ones on Necroticism.

Jeff was in his usual sarcastic, humorous mode, generally having fun and making fun of the crowd and the band. He went with the “So, we last toured here in 1993…” and got the expected roar, then pointed out someone in the first row and said “You weren’t even born then… I can tell by the Arch Enemy shirt”. (For those unfamiliar with the history, Michael Ammott left Carcass and formed Arch Enemy… and brought their drummer back with him into the band – so half of this band is Arch Enemy, but it’s a newer band.) He also asked “So who is seeing Meshuggah tomorrow night?”, got the roar and came back with “Yeah, I could tell – you’re the ones who don’t headbang or raise your fists”. (Sorry to explain another joke, but Meshuggah is very technical metal in, like, 19/8 time signature, so their audiences sometimes tend to stand back and listen rather than risk injury by trying to headbang to it.)

The sheer complexity, melody and dynamics of the Carcass show are what stayed with me: a perfect example of using the technique and the power to serve the song, rather than for its own sake. This is music that is extreme because it needs to be, but doesn’t take being even more extreme as a goal.


Aussie Expressions

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:02 pm

Honestly, we Aussies don’t just make up the expressions we use! But a tourist could be forgiven for thinking so, sometimes. On the plane from Brisbane down to Sydney for a meeting today, the captain announced that the weather this morning in Sydney was beautiful, but that later this afternoon the weather would ‘Go to Gowings’. That was actually a new one on me, but I knew Gowings was a famous old department store, since disappeared, so my best guess is that ‘Going to Gowings’ was his family’s politer version of ‘going to hell’. Or something.

Later on he said that it was 27 degrees at 8 in the morning when we’d be arriving due to a strong northerly, but that a ‘southerly buster’ will come in this afternoon. This one I did know, having grown up around Sydney. At the end of many long, hot summer days, the wind suddenly swings around to the south, gets cool and picks up, and the huge thunderheads roll in from the south, bringing cooling rain. It can be scary if you’re out on the lake sailing, as I often was in my teens, because it goes from a small warm northerly breeze to a howling gale, rain (and sometimes hail) and big waves, pretty much instantaneously. You can actually watch the line of the change racing toward you across the surface of the lake.

So I know what a ‘southerly buster’ is – and since I won’t be sailing this afternoon (pity), the cool and relief (and the dramatic pressure drop that tends to make my headache go away) will be very welcome… as long as it doesn’t come through while I’m hiking back to the train station to head out to the airport. But I’m not sure what any non-Aussies travelling on the flight made of the weather reports…


Bloxorz and Experience (addiction warning)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:57 am

Been spending a little bit of time playing a new online game called Bloxorz. It’s very addictive and fun, so perhaps don’t click on the link if you’re at work or have an assignment due…

The game involves rolling a little rectangular prism, one unit square and two units tall, along a variety of platforms to reach a goal. There are buttons and levers and bridges and weak areas in the platforms, and it’s quite challenging.

My point here, though, is that I suspect different people have quite different internal experiences of playing the game, even though what they’re doing at the visible level is exactly the same.

I tend to use quite a lot of trial-and-error: I know where I have to get, so I’ll try things until something works. It’s a little less random than that, but not much. But I can easily imagine other people who are very good at mentally imagining rotations and spatial relationships who could mentally work out exactly the moves they need to make ahead of time, then just make them.

I guess it would be possible to detect the difference between styles, since the game does keep a running total of the number of moves taken, and you’d assume those ‘mental rotators’ would take a lot less moves to succeed than me, since they’d be doing most of the moves in their heads rather than in the game.


Something Generational

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:11 pm

I took Cassie for her driving test yesterday, and she got her provisional license on the first try1. So she’s now legally able to drive by herself. She bought herself a little car almost a year ago, and now she can just decide when she wants to go out. We don’t need to take her places or pick her up any more, and (Alex hopes) she can also take her sister places.

It feels like a bit of a milestone in her on-going process of becoming an adult and building a life separate from us. Apart from anything else, we used to have great opportunities to chat when I was being ‘Dad’s Taxi’ and running her around the dance and circus training and parties and so on, so I need to pay attention to still finding and making times to talk to her. But it’s also cool to see your kids growing into mature adults before your eyes.

  1. *cough* took me 5 tries *cough*