A Partial List of What I’m Up To

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:46 pm

I quite often get kind, well-meant questions of the kind “So, what are you doing these days when the students aren’t at uni?”. These suggest that perhaps my title of Senior Lecturer has given people the impression that my main and only job is lecturing… and when there’s no-one to lecture I pretty much just sit around.

Not quite – pity! There are generally considered to be three facets in an academic career – teaching, service and research – and it’s necessary to be doing high quality work in all three in order to continue to be promoted. I’m actually up for the end of my 3 year probation at UQ this year, so one of my jobs is proving that I’m achieving in all three fields: there’s a form to be filled in and handed in next month, and referees to bribe ask.

Anyway, for your edification, a quick rundown of what I’ve been working on this January, with nary a student in sight:

Teaching and Graduate Student Supervision

  • I’m teaching 4 courses in Semester One this year and 3 in Semester 2. Not teaching yet, but there are electronic course profiles (course outlines) to be developed for all those courses, textbooks to be ordered, Blackboard web sites to be built for courses, resource lists to be updated and so on.
  • One PhD student, Zheng, had to be confirmed as a PhD candidate, which means doing a presentation on her proposed research and having it assessed by a committee, so I had to help her develop and edit a 30 page document and develop a presentation, schedule and attend the presentation and talk with the committee
  • Another PhD student, Mike, wanted to talk about his research program and where he’s up to with it


  • I’m the Program Director for Middle Years education at UQ, which means I’ve been trying to chase up people to teach in all our courses, sorting timetable issues, preparing handbooks and planning orientation events and so on.
  • It also means that when the Queensland College of Teachers (QCT), our accrediting body, suddenly decides it wants us to go through four of our courses, each of which have three forms (graduate internal, graduate external and undergraduate) and check of their list of 97 practices and 70 kinds of knowledge teachers are meant to have to see which ones our courses develop, that’s my job.
  • And also when the QCT decides to change our programs and break our minors it’s me who has to go and chat to the Faculty and various other people to try to minimise the damage…
  • I’m also the Deputy Chair of the School of Education’s Teaching and Learning Committee, which means I have various duties and data-munching jobs as part of the School Review that is going on at the moment.
  • I’m also on the Ipswich campus Program Directors’ Committee and IT Consultative Committee.


  • I’m in a team of 5 people who are putting together a grant application for a little under half a million dollars from the Australian Research Council to look at the ways in which teachers in North Queensland schools deal with the various differences among their students. I’m responsible for writing the section on the research methodology – what we’re actually going to do.
  • Writing tends to go under the Research heading, even though this isn’t really research writing, but I revised three chapters for the NSW ‘Science Focus’ junior high science textbooks during January
  • Two hour meeting yesterday, a fifth of a large survey instrument to develop and another 2 hour meeting next Wednesday for another research project
  • I’m on the editorial boards of about half a dozen journals and often peer review articles for them. None in January, though.
  • I’m co-editor of a book called ‘Connected Science’ that will be coming out later this year, and need to edit two chapters this month and hassle some authors who have been slow in submitting their work.
  • Both funding bodies and ethics committees require annual reports on all research projects. I’ve also had to give some money back to the ARC because it wasn’t needed for the research, and write a letter asking them if I can please buy some laptops for the project.
  • Ethics amendment application for one of the research studies to add more schools and more data.
  • Working with Michelle and Ann, my two colleagues on the current major research project, to find online visualisations and choose them, develop tests, run workshops, recruit teachers and do half a dozen things – as well as finding and employing Michelle and Ann

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few more, but now you know. 😉

Quality Science Communication

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:22 am

Jon Stewart interviews astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson on the Daily Show


Distributed Awareness

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:06 am

As you may have noticed, there’s an unobtrusive category system with posts on this blog, that can be used to search for posts on particular topics. It’s not unusual for posts to have a couple of codes, and there are common combinations, like ‘Science’ and ‘Teaching’ (and, unfortunately, ‘Politics’ and ‘Religion’), that occur a fair bit. But today’s post is in the ‘Bike Stuff’ and ‘Teaching’ categories, which might not be unprecedented but is pretty unusual.

I talked in this post a couple of weeks ago about the state of ‘distributed awareness’ I enter when riding the bike (though that wasn’t really the focus of the post). But as I was talking to Mike, one of the PhD students I’m supervising, yesterday, I realised that the same kind of thing happens in the classroom.

Experienced teachers are not really looking at one specific thing in the classroom all the time, though they can focus in when necessary. Instead, they are in the same kind of ‘distributed awareness’ space, and that allows them to be aware of everything that’s going on in the classroom – even things they can’t directly see, via disturbances in the patterns – so that they can make in-the-moment professional judgements about what most urgently needs their attention.

It’s something that beginning teachers don’t have automatically, although like most things some have more natural talent and others have to work harder to develop it. Maybe I should do some research on motorcycling teachers and see whether they’re better at it!


HTML Editing Software that Makes Small Elegant Code and Doesn’t Break the Bank

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:59 pm

I had loong (like, since the dawn of the web) been a devotee of Sausage Software’s ‘Hotdog’ web development application. I used Hotdog 5.5. I still have the install file, but due to the loss of an email account lost my key, and the firm is now defunct – it was bought up by a richer company in the dot.com boom and then ‘divested’ (abandoned) in the dot.com bust.

There’s a new company trading under the name at www.sausagelabs.com, and they have a beta web development application called ‘HotSocial 09’, aimed mostly at people wanting to build blogs and other social networking type sites. I downloaded the beta and tried to use it for the find-and-replace work I needed to do to get people-readable file names all over the site. I had to open each file manually, one at a time, then do the four cycles of find-and-replace operations in each file once I had them all open, then save them all… and then it turned out that find-and-replace only knew how to search forward from the current cursor location to the end of the document, so half the find-and-replace operations hadn’t even happened. I know it’s only a beta and probably has a way to go, but I was unimpressed.

So then I downloaded the main competitor in the ‘code + wysiwyg’ web development arena, CoffeeCup. I’d tried it years ago and liked it but still been in love with, and known all the ins and outs of, Hotdog. Downloaded a 30 day trial, but I’ll be buying it in the next few days – it’s excellent. Opened all the files at the same time, can do find-and-replace simultaneously on all files and then save all files. It did the whole job, and did it right, in about 2 minutes flat.


Change the Date of Australia Day

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:34 am

Some of you already know about this if you’re a Facebook friend ‘cos I spammed you, but those who don’t, and have any passing interest in Australia or in inclusiveness might find it interesting to check out: Change the Date of Australia Day.

Or not.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:47 pm

One of the local newspapers included in today’s edition free small Australian flags to be flown from cars, so there were lots of them about on the weekend. Lots of flags everywhere else as well, including on clothes and even bikinis.

I had a bit of a rant-ette to the family in the car about it being ‘unAustralian’ to fly the flag too aggressively, and later chatted with some South African friends about the issue as well. I wasn’t sure of the reason for my unease with it, but spent a bit of time thinking about it later.

Part of it is just discomfort with any too-aggressive displays of nationalism. There were race-related fights on the Gold Coast yesterday as some idiots got too aggressive in their ‘love it or leave it’ rhetoric and got in the face of perceived ‘foreigners’ – most of whom are loyal Australians. Nationalism has caused more than its share of trouble in the past century and a bit.

But that’s more of an afterthought. I think what I was really reacting to was just the old thing about security: if someone feels the need to proclaim his masculinity too loud and long, you have to figure he has some doubts about it. And so on. So my feeling is that Australians should just *know* we live in one of the best, freest, most beautiful and blessed countries on earth, and just quietly, laconically, Australianly recognise that. Protesting too much, waving the flag too hard, just looks like trying too hard and like insecurity.


The Golden Mean in Education and Society

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:35 am

I guess it really just sums up a lot of various stuff I’ve written about here in relation to education over the years, but it just struck me that the old Greek and Chinese notion of the Golden Mean.

This is the idea that the ideal is found somewhere in the middle, rather than at either extreme. I’m not sure I agree with it in relation to politics (no real surprises there, I guess), but in relation to the many, many debates within education, I think it makes a huge amount of sense. That is, do we dump all phonetic learning of language for a ‘whole language’ approach? Or dump all whole language and go fully phonetic? Do we dump all rote memorisation of times tables and focus on understanding, or vice versa? Do we focus on maintaining order in the school or on students’ self-concept and enjoyment of learning?

I think in pretty much every case the best answers are ‘both-and’ rather than ‘either-or’. They’re somewhere in the middle, with slight movement in either direction to cater for local contexts and individual differences.

This is an essentially conservative idea: the Golden Mean is much more likely to tend to continue the best features of a current society than to lead to revolution and the over-turning of the current order. But I think one of the ways in which our current society is out of balance is the strong emphasis since the 60s on revolution and radical change and on suspicion of authority and conservatism.

That’s not to deny that those who claim to be conservative but are anything but haven’t actually made radical changes in our form of life that have needed to be resisted and still do. Although the Golden Mean is conservative, it would resist radical approaches to capitalism as well, and maintain a balance, and would resist extreme nationalism and militarism.

The rapid rate of technological change is often presented as a rationale for requiring a rapid rate of social change, but the reverse argument could be made – in a situation of rapid change in one dimension of life, hanging on to some of the best elements of our current way of life can maintain some stability and provide a sanctuary from the relentless pace of change.

I dunno, maybe I’m just mellowing, getting conservative and looking at the current society and deciding it isn’t and wasn’t too bad as I get older. But an approach that seeks to balance the demands of productive markets and industries with the needs of citizens and protecting those who need it makes a lot of sense to me there too.


Quantum, Consciousness and Divinity

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:24 pm

Just sharing a discussion from a forum, mostly because I liked what I wrote and didn’t want to limit it to a small audience. 😉

Someone wrote:

ahh but her answer is from a classical physics perspective.

the quantum world opens up possibilities of superposition and the role of consciousness and observation in the question.

Someone responded:


And I wrote:

I could answer that question-mark, but I’d have to teach you some quantum physics first…

OK, very briefly, in quantum physics pretty much everything physical can be represented by a wave function. We started out wondering whether light was a particle or a wave – and it turns out it behaves as both, depending on what experiments you do. We can think of a photon of light as a ‘packet of waves’. Thing is, it doesn’t have to be in a particular place unless someone (conscious) observes it. So on the class Young’s double slit experiment, from a quantum perspective, the photon of light doesn’t have to choose to go through one slit or the other, rather its wave function gives it a certain probability of going through each slit, so that even a single photon behaves as though it goes through both slits.

Now, light as a wave is not too controversial, but quantum extended the notion first to electrons, which also seem to have a wave nature – electron orbitals in an atom are probability wave functions of where we expect that the electron might be, but it doesn’t have to decide to be on one side of the nucleus or other until someone observes it. But later quantum physics extended the wave notion to everything physical – even an elephant has a wavelength that can be calculated, although it’s so tiny that it’s imperceptible to us.

But this means that even an elephant does not have to ‘choose’ where to be – to collapse its wave function, in quantum terms – until someone observes it. Now, for an elephant the uncertainty is tiny – its probable location doesn’t smear out across the whole of Africa, or even across a meter, so we never notice any uncertainty. But for atomic and subatomic particles the uncertainty can be quite large in comparison to their size.

The point being made above is the importance of the role of the conscious observer in the universe – consciousness seems to have some key central function in the operation of the universe under a quantum view that it did not have in classical physics.

Now some people will then ask ‘what happened to the universe before the advent of consciousness?’ If we assume that means human consciousness, then it only appeared a blink ago in evolutionary terms.

Some then posit the existence – and necessity – of a divine consciousness to collapse the wave functions of the universe and make its existence possible.

Others don’t.


Paul Feyerabend on teaching

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:20 am

My favourite philosopher of science, in a letter to the chair of his department in 1969:

I see before me young people, who are capable of great new discoveries, who are capable of showing us where we have gone wrong, whose individuality has been almost obliterated by a crazy and competitive system of education, who have almost become grade-earning machines, whose initial curioisty has to a large extent been replaced by fear and the urge to please, but who perhaps can still discover what is left of their talents and make good use of them. … I see myself as a servant of the students, and I think you should see yourselves as their servants too. My way of serving them is to ask them what their interests are, or, if they don’t know, to entertain them with a variety of ideas until they have discovered what their interests are, and then I ask them to tell me how they want me to further their interests.


Feeling Kinda Old – but Pleased

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:32 am

Cassie got her offer and enrolled at the University of Queensland (where I teach) last night. She’s enrolled in the Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Education dual degree program, which is intended for school science teachers but also keeps her options open as long as possible, because she’s still not really sure what she wants to do. She’s trying to put together a Chemistry major and a Physics minor, with some courses in Psychology in the first year or so in case she decides she’d prefer to be a psychologist rather than a teacher.

So my baby, who it seems I was carrying around Melbourne in a pouch on my back only yesterday, is a uni student.


Could I Be Any More Nerdy?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:06 am

Well, yeah, as it turns out, I could maybe be 2% more nerdy.

But I did score as follows:

I am nerdier than 98% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to take the Nerd Test, get nerdy images and jokes, and talk on the nerd forum!


There Is Probably No God

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:51 pm

…is an ad that atheists in the UK have been paying to post on the side of buses.

This discussion (from the William Gibson Board) of the ads and morality and religion and science and the existence of God runs for about 8 pages, or 160 or so posts, at the time of my posting this, but is well worth a read if you want to listen to a bunch of quite smart people with a wide variety of perspectives discussing a potentially inflammatory issue thoughtfully and (for the most part) civilly. (It does get a little profane at times.)



Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:02 pm


I’m trying to get Suzie’s business website, which I built a while ago but am just getting really serious about promoting now, noticed and indexed by Google, so I’m kind of spamming it all around the web wherever I can. If you happen to have a blog or other site and would be willing to post something pointing to it, that’d be much appreciated too.

Let’s make it impossible for Google to ignore it!


Just Conversations

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:22 pm

I was chatting with Alex the other day about my state of awareness when riding the bike. I was explaining that it’s unusual, because it’s broadly focused – I’m not really looking at one thing specifically and focusing in on it, but rather am aware of a very large field of vision and constantly scanning for possible dangers.

She commented “I don’t really think about my own…” and I supplied “awareness and way of experiencing the world”. She said “yeah”, and the conversation moved on to other things.

But by having that conversation, she is now aware on some level that thinking about how you’re experiencing the world is something that some people sometimes do… and will be able to recognise it in herself if she does do it some time, or talk intelligently about it with someone else.

It just made me think about the ways in which hundreds of tiny conversations about various things – like values and beliefs and ways of being – have expanded our girls’ range of ideas and possibilities, without it even being a conscious thing we do.


Why ride?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:53 pm

It’s funny – talk to most people who don’t ride, and they’re convinced that it’s basically a death sentence in fairly short order. They’re wrong, but it got me thinking about why I choose to ride.

And of course there are other reasons to ride, like parking for $100 a year, right next to my building at work, vs parking for $100 a month half a km away and having to circle for half an hour to find a spot. And like filling up with fuel for $15.

But one reason I haven’t heard talked about all that much is that it converts the meaning of commuting. If you commute in the car, it’s something you’re doing for the sole purpose of getting to work. That means that that time belongs to your boss, because you’re doing it only in order to work.

But when we commute on the bike, the ride belongs to us. Heck, we ride on the weekend, for fun, because we enjoy it. So the ride to work is something we do for its own sake, for our own enjoyment. So we have reclaimed that time for ourselves.


Chris Martenson – The Crash Course

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:40 pm


Highly recommended – 20 short audio lessons with complementary visuals. Scary but well worthwhile. You can watch it over a few days, but it’s important to watch it.

A short short science fiction story

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:58 am

It was really only the dead pixels that gave it away. The surfboards and old tins of pineapple Sex Wax and photos of Duke Kamehameha on the walls were all real enough, at least for their purposes. The drinks with rum and coconut were sampled and sequenced but got the job done. Sound worked OK, and even most of the smells were right, so it was really just those two spots of unchanging white that winked and disappeared with each breaking wave that broke the illusion. Doesn’t take much, but they were enough to remind me that the Pacific beyond the 8 foot window-wall was actually a flat soup of blue-green algae, dead sea-birds and eternal plastics… Pity, ‘cos if I could have just bought the rolling blue waves with spray blowing back from the lip, and the white sand and lei girls and pink sausagey tourists in screaming shirts, everything would have been perfect.


My Position (again)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:44 am

Someone on a forum asked me:

Hello bravus i often read comments of yours that make it seem like you support neo-darwinian evolution. So for clarification you are adventist so what position do you support, creation with veritable evolution (within kinds) or the full fledged neo darwinian-evolution? Just for clarification.

I replied:

Hi, great to hear from you

It’s going to sound as though I’m weaseling out of the question, but the best answer I can give is that I don’t really have a firm position on this question.

I believe we need to look at all the evidence available to us in an honest and open way, and that we need to avoid twisting evidence or ‘lying for God’.

Given that, I find that the evidence around us tends to contradict the idea of a literal 6 days of creation around 6-10,000 years ago.

I do consider that God is literally and entirely omnipotent, and can do absolutely anything: if He wanted to He could have created the universe 5 minutes ago and given us memories going back further for our sanity, and that’s entirely within his power.

But that scenario seems dishonest or manipulative somehow, and so does a situation in which He creates a world 6000 years ago but puts in lots of evidence that makes it look as though it is about 4 billion years old with various forms of life around for about 1 billion years.

I believe in God, and believe he is the Creator, so I reject atheistic evolution. I believe He could have created the world in something like it’s present form, but much longer ago (ancient creationism) or that he could have created the world using the (directed) mechanisms of evolution (theistic evolution), or that there may be other possibilities.

Unlike many here, I do not accept that the only possible way to read the first chapters of Genesis is the strictly literal – and that’s probably the key point of departure.

That’s one of the things that makes the question complicated: different kinds of evidence, some from theology and Biblical hermeneutics, and some from science.

I’m a science educator, and I do try to critique bad science from all sides of this debate, and to correct misapprehensions about the nature of evolutionary theory, but that does *not* mean I have a strong evolutionary position.

Hope this is useful, and I look forward to ‘talking’ more with you.

Warm regards,


Have a Spectacular 2009

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:43 am

That’s an order!