Testing Noah’s Rusty’s Ark

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:14 am

Looks like the Ark built for Russell Crowe’s forthcoming film about Noah might be about to get flood tested – and fail.


Side note: guess I’m going for the quirky Hurricane Sandy stories, but I have lots of good friends in the Northeast, not to mention 50 million no-man-is-an-island human beings. Be safe, all.


Everything You Need To Know About Humans

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:27 pm

(or, at least, the male of the species)

A friend works in the rubber industry, and they got a new powerful guillotine at the workplace because a new test required a fresh clean rubber surface.

Naturally, much more than rubber got cut: pretty much everything around the office that could get cut. Including the tip of one guy’s finger – by accident, of course.

My friend arrived at work this morning to find them chopping up a twig into kindling… and the guy with the injured finger using the guillotine to snip threads off the end of his bandage.

While we’re talking hurricanes…

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:32 pm

This xkcd may be, if that were possible, even more awesome than usual:

The Saga of Epsilon and Zeta

I don’t believe in Gaia theory

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:28 pm

… the notion that the biosphere, or even the earth, as a whole can be considered as a single great organism. Some versions of it even credit Gaia with a sort of consciousness.

But one could be forgiven for seeing Hurricane Sandy, aka Sandy-Athena, aka Frankenstorm, as a note:

Um, no-one mentioned climate change in any of the three presidential or the one vice-presidential debates. Here’s a little aide memoire before the election – love Gaia

The tragic irony, though, may be that Gaia’s political calculation is terrible: stopping people voting in the North-east is much more likely to help the guy who will do more to exacerbate than ameliorate climate change.

Mez Breeze achieves the impossible

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:49 am

…a thoughtful discussion of trolling: http://thenextweb.com/insider/2012/10/27/the-problems-with-anonymous-trolls-and-accountability-in-the-digital-age/

Well worth the read, from one of my very favourite poets – and people.

Tender Hooks

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:18 am

Yeah, I know: it’s ‘tenterhooks1‘, and the title is a common erroneous version. Just having fun with it… plus the hooks discussed below aren’t all that pointy…

I’m waiting on lots of announcements at the moment:

  1. I’ve revised and resubmitted a paper to Research in Science Education (RISE), and should get a final publication decision on that soon
  2. Also revised and resubmitted a paper (on which Xinxin Fan is first author) to the Journal of Computers in Mathematics, Science and Technology (JCMST) and am similarly waiting on a decision on that
  3. The proceedings of the ACEC2012 conference I attended are supposed to be formally released quite soon, and they include another sole authored paper of mine and another one co-authored with Xinxin (she’s great for my research productivity!)
  4. A paper for the Journal of Homosexuality with Nas Subhi and Mary McMahon has been accepted and should appear around 5 November
  5. I have one paper under review with the Journal of Computers in Mathematics, Science and Technology (JCMST) and should have a decision on that soon
  6. (There may be other papers still under review that I need to chase up)
  7. The ARC Discovery Project grants for research starting in 2013 should be announced in October or November, so should be imminent, but as these pages have chronicled there’s been some shake-ups with the ARC so that might be delayed a bit
  8. Our book ‘Connected Science‘, which already appears on Amazon as a pre-release title, will be released some time early next year
  9. A paper has just been accepted for the journal ‘Teaching Science’ and will be published in December or February
  10. There’s a paper on music education with Sue Monk and other colleagues under review
  11. I sent half a draft of another paper to my colleague Pam Christie in South Africa, and am waiting on her additions and revisions before I continue writing on that

Edit: and I can’t believe I forgot this one first time through, since it’s one of the more momentous and potentially lifechanging (in a minor way) things I’m waiting on:

  1. I’ve applied for a MPhil (Physics) degree at Griffith Gold Coast, and am waiting for that application to be assessed. They said 6-8 weeks a couple of weeks ago

There’s also a chapter that’s been accepted for a book that will come out next year, but I’m not waiting on anyone else – except myself to write the first draft. (Xinxin is a co-author on that one too.) There’s also, apparently, a book to be published in China, in Chinese, on which I will be a co-author of a chapter with Xinxin (based on work we’ve done together, so it’s not just a ‘courtesy authorship’.)

None of them have major implications for the future – though if I do get the ARC grant it would certainly not hurt my prospects for promotion to Associate Professor and the publications don’t hurt either – they’re just… things I have to wait for. Not wishing my life away, and there’s plenty to keep me busy in the mean time, but it’ll be cool when each of them happens (less cool if they don’t happen).

I guess the other upshot is that I have 5 publications already for 2012 (once the Journal of Homosexuality and ACEC papers actually come out), including a book chapter, maybe 6 if the Teaching Science paper comes out this year, and before anything else is written I think I already have 4-5 things including a book coming out next year, with more to come.

  1. Apparently these are hooks that are used to stretch cloth for drying. So being ‘on tenterhooks’ doesn’t mean uncomfortably sitting on hooks, it means being stretched tight, or having our nerves in that state.


Enz of an Era

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:46 pm

Just marking the final set of assignments from UQ, for the last two courses I’m teaching there. Will upload these grades in the next little while, and that’ll be that… the end of an era. I taught there for 6 years, from 2006-2012.

There’s one on-going link: my PhD and masters students. I still have supervisory roles with about 7 of them, including lead supervisor for one. This will phase out over the next 3-4 years, I guess – as I gain some new grad students at Griffith.

I enjoyed UQ a lot, and think I learned a lot there… but I also still feel as though the move to Griffith has been a good one for me.


A Balanced Case For Obama

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:45 pm

An editorial from the Denver Post, explaining their decision to endorse Barrack Obama for president: http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_21804862/editorial-barack-obama-president

I think it provides a good balanced overview of both men and both campaigns.

I’d actually be even tougher on Obama than they are – Guantanamo Bay is still open, the government and agencies have vastly increased powers to infringe on citizens’ freedom and privacy at home and extrajudicial killings by drone in countries with which the US is not at war are routine.

Over all, though, it’s clear that America would be in deep, deep financial trouble with a Romney/Ryan government and budget. And that the futures of Americans young and old, with the exception of the wealthiest 1%, would be much bleaker.


Zombies, Anti-zombies and Consciousness

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:35 pm

I mentioned this paper on Facebook last night, because I’m mildly obsessed with it. Suzie discovered it while working on her Biological Psychology essay on the nature of consciousness1.

Thanks to Cassie, here’s a direct link that works: http://oro.open.ac.uk/2191/1/Antizombie_eprint_rev.pdf

The article is a bit deep and a bit technical for casual discussion, though, so here’s a shorter and simpler version, and some conclusions.

This is copied from Suzie’s essay:

Are the mind and body the same thing or are they separate? The answer to this question has divided researchers into two major schools of thought: dualism and monism.

Dualism was made famous by the French philosopher René Descartes , who viewed the mind and brain as totally separate entities: that the mind is not any part of the brain and vice versa. … That is, the mind is seen as ‘something else’ other than what is explained by the physical structures of the brain. From a religious or metaphysical perspective, this ‘something else’ may be considered as a soul or spirit.

The alternative to dualism is monism, which posits that mind and brain are one thing.

The ‘zombie’ argument is advanced by Chalmers (1996) in support of dualism. It supposes that humans are dualistic – that mind is ‘something extra’ that is nonphysical. The ‘zombies’ of this argument are not the shuffling brain-cravers of Dawn of the Dead and dozens of other movies. Rather, they are imagined beings in another world that are physically identical with human beings but not conscious. The possibility of such zombies existing is seen as supporting the notion of human dualism.

Frankish2 (2007) acknowledges that the zombie argument is logically compelling. He does not refute it, but offers his own ‘anti-zombie’ argument, which takes the same form. It is possible to imagine the existence in another world of ‘anti-zombies’ – beings that are perfect physical copies of human beings, with no metaphysical features, but nonetheless are fully conscious. The logic of both arguments is parallel, and the ‘anti-zombie’ argument supports monism in the same way and to the same extent that the ‘zombie’ argument supports dualism.

From Frankish’s paper, here are the two arguments:

1. Zombies are conceivable
2. If zombies are conceivable, then zombies are metaphysically possible
3. If zombies are metaphysically possible, then consciousness is non-physical
4. So consciousness is non-physical.

5. Anti-zombies are conceivable
6. If anti-zombies are conceivable, then anti-zombies are possible
7. If anti-zombies are possible, then consciousness is physical
8. So consciousness is physical.

Just thought the whole thing was kinda fun.

Particularly because I have also used the zombie metaphor – in a more Dawn of the Dead sort of way – in the introduction to my book ‘Undead Theories’.


Chalmers, D. (1996). The conscious mind: In search of a fundamental theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Frankish, K. (2007). The anti-zombie argument. Philosophical Quarterly, 57(229), 650–666.

  1. There are many reasons why Suzie returned to study – dissatisfaction with her career options was one of them. But the fact that her job was tedious also meant we had less interesting ideas to talk about, and one motivation for going back was to provide more conversational grist for the mill. It’s working!
  2. The author of the paper linked above.

Polls, Gamblers and the US Election

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:50 pm

Fascinating discussion of the relative merits of markets and metrics for predicting outcomes.

The election context is interesting (and a bit heartening), but almost irrelevant in terms of the interesting stuff about information, stats and predictions.



Annabel Crabb on Tony Abbott on Women

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:04 pm

Thoughtful and perceptive piece, well worth reading. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-24/crabb-tony-abbott-clueless-or-calculated/4331806

As Annabel says, in a way it’s nearly as bad if he does it by accident as if he does it on purpose: “Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks”, Luke 6:45.


Knowing, Learning and Teaching

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:56 pm

Dredging up some posts from the deep past, just ‘cos I can, and probably have a different audience now who won’t have seen them before:

Knowing, Learning and Teaching 1 – Knowing

Knowing, Learning and Teaching 2 – Learning

Knowing, Learning and Teaching 2a – Learning Again

Knowing, Learning and Teaching 3 – Teaching

Hope you enjoy them: bit of grist for the mill there…

The Two Commandments

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:30 pm

In response to some discussion on my Facebook page and elsewhere around the web, as well as the posting of various memes, I was thinking of posting my own Prime Directive – ‘Don’t Be A Dick’. It’s entirely possible to agree with someone without being disagreeable, and IMO getting rude reflects on the character of the one who does so, not on the truth or otherwise of whatever s/he is rude about. Sure, manners and decorum can be and have been used to silence dissent, and there is a place for speaking out… but there are ways to challenge views and rules without being a dick.

But I also thought that was a bit too negative, and wanted a more positive message: and it’s hard to go past the Two Commandments – according to Bill and Ted.

Jesus had something similar to say, but his two involved loving God and loving others. Excellent too, but somehow we manage to get ‘loving others’ twisted around into ‘tough love’ and then into suppressing others ‘for their own good’. ‘Be excellent to each other!’ is less ambiguous.

So yeah, it’s what I’ll try to do here, in my discussions all around the web, and of course, face-to-face.

Research Funding Freeze Redux

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:19 pm

So, the minibudget came out today, and I guess the news wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Looks like the competitive grant programs’ funding is safe, and the ARC Linkage grant funding round has been opened up for applications, a month or so late.

The Linkage program requires applicants to gain some industry funding to couple with the government funding. It’s a great program, but this hiatus won’t have helped with the already very tough process of finding industry partners in a tight economy.

The final cuts – $500m is the headline number – are to future growth in the Sustainable Research Excellence (SRE) program. Slightly bitterly: apparently sustainable research excellence is no longer a priority.

That program gave funding to universities to cover the associated costs of research. Research grants cover things like infrastructure, researcher salaries, travel and so on, but there are lots of administrative costs, building space costs, electricity and water and a huge number of other costs that go into keeping research happening. Prior to the SRE program – and, to some extent in the future now – this money had to come out of recurrent federal funding for universities, and even be cross-subsidised by taking money the universities earned for teaching and using it to find the indirect costs of research.

That means today’s decision has the potential not only to impact on research in Australia – the thing that’s going to keep our living standards up once the resource boom winds down – but also to damage education at universities.

I’m a Labor supporter, as everyone knows, but this is a dumb decision, made for political reasons – to fulfil the stupid promise to return the budget to surplus this year, regardless of external factors. I hope that now that stupid promise has been fulfilled, we might see some smarter long term strategic decisions made about funding the things that will build our nation’s future.


Rifat Afeef in the Maldives – Deductive Science

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:50 pm

I’ve received a couple of unsolicited emails from Rifat Ateef, who claims to have identified serious problems in international education and to be able to offer a solution that will transform education and the social sciences.

Rifat’s blog is here and contains a number of writings outlining these ideas.


I’m still reading them myself. The main contention seems to be that we have focused on induction – building up general laws from a large number of examples – rather than deduction – generating specific examples from general laws.

Thing is, we need to deduce from something. The general laws must exist without being empirically induced from our experiences.

I’m interested to see where Rifat goes with the ideas…


Research Funding Freeze: Sheer Insanity!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:30 am

The Australian government has placed a freeze on funding for research, for budgetary reasons. Initially it was for both of the major funding bodies, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC), but this morning a further announcement has freed up some or all of the NHMRC funding.

I should fully disclose: I have an application in for an ARC grant, and in the normal run of things should have been hearing about the outcome of that application about now, so this effects me quite directly. But at least I’ll still have my job – I just won’t be able to go ahead with a research project. There are lots of researchers whose salaries are paid by these research funding bodies, and who are in limbo while the freeze is on, including some who came from overseas to take up research fellowships.

Here are a couple of articles talking about the issues, then more ranting from me will follow:

Sydney Morning Herald: Funding freeze halts research

The Australian: Researchers’ warnings over funding freeze

The Conversation: Research funding falls victim to short-term politics

From the latter article:

The government had created a rod for itself by promising it would return to surplus, said Graeme Wines, accounting professor at Deakin University.

Professor Wines said it was a continually reoccurring thing for the government to manipulate spending patterns in order to meet political commitments.

I mean, it’s not as though Australia’s budgetary woes are even especially grave: healthiest economy in the OECD. Sure, it’s slowing a bit, as the world and particularly China slows. But it’s not time to sell the furniture. Or, as I said elsewhere, to be like a restaurant selling its saucepans to pay short-term debts, making it impossible to make future income for long-term survival.

This is purely a result of the fetishization of budget surpluses, regardless of the economic cycle, and of a stupid election promise to bring the budget into surplus in a particular year, no matter what else was going on at the time.

It’s not as if the surplus is even real, or means anything, if the only way to get there is by this kind of desperately damaging book-fiddling.

I hope that next week’s announcement frees up the funding bodies and let’s Australia get on with research.

‘The Clever Country’ was a slogan at some point in the past, but this situation is the epitome of anticlever policy-making.

We’ve lost something

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:41 am

This post from Cracked is a bit sweary, but fun: http://www.cracked.com/article_19481_the-8-most-wildly-irresponsible-vintage-toys.html

I really do think that, in keeping people ‘safe’ we’ve wrapped the world in cotton wool to such an extent that it’s sometimes hard to see its awesomeness.

People will rise, or fall, to our expectations – if we treat them like morons who can’t be trusted to tie their shoes, that’s how they’ll behave. If we let them blow glass and mold lead and use circular saws, they’ll rise to the challenge and be responsible.

And the thing is, if we treat them like morons and cotton-wool wrap the world people will still find ways to hurt (and kill) themselves! Like, I dunno, ‘planking’ on the railing of a balcony on the 17th floor.

There’s no absolute safety, it’s just about where you set the bar. And, in my opinion, by setting the bar as low as we do we’ve lost some of the pioneering spirit that leads to discoveries and inventions and a world that grows instead of shrinking.

That’s what I reckon.

16 Ways This Dude Blew His Marriage

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:24 am

…and we get to learn from his mistakes: http://www.danoah.com/2012/10/16-ways-i-blew-my-marriage.html

Well worth a read for the married and those who want to be.


Feast or Famine

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:28 am

Apologies for the very feast-or-famine approach of this blog this year – nothing for months on end, then multiple posts each day. I think it partly reflects my mental state – whether UQ is a top university in Australia or not, I was depressed there and now I’m not. The ideas are flowing again…


Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:27 am

I used to use StatTraq as a statistics tool for this blog, but took it off for some reason years ago. Pity – old stats would have been cool!

I’ve just added the Jetpack plugin for WordPress, which will give me stats access again as well as a number of other benefits… so expect a post or two about who is viewing this blog and from where as the numbers develop.

All stats data are collected anonymously, so hopefully I don’t require your signed consent… 😉