Archive for the ‘Me’ Category

Life in my head: weather warnings

August 29, 2016

On the State weather forecast tonight they had a high wind warning for the North and a sheep graziers warning for the South. (No apostrophe.)

Scary things, graziers, good to know to dodge them.  A change from cats and dogs.

A quote that got me wondering – and where I went from there.

October 14, 2014

The quote:

I decided to track down the source of an often quoted bit of “Children of Dune” by Frank Herbert:
When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.
 “Quand je suis le plus faible, je vous demande la liberté parce que tel est votre principe; mais quand je suis le plus fort, je vous l’ôte, parce que tel est le mien.”
Conversation avec Augustin Cochin.
but in French Wikipedia it says
Pierre Pierrard explique que cette phrase a été mise dans la bouche de Louis Veuillot par Montalembert sous la forme « Quand les libéraux sont au pouvoir, nous leur demandons la liberté, parce que c’est leur principe, et, quand nous sommes au pouvoir, nous la leur refusons, parce que c’est le nôtre.»  et citée le 3 juin 1876 à l’Assemblée nationale par Jules Ferry.  Elle a depuis, sous des formes changeantes, été constamment r.épétée bien que dès le 6 juin suivant Veuillot eût protesté et affirmé que cette phrase n’était pas de lui.
– that is, he probably didn’t say it.  But people in 1876 thought it was worth having him say it.

 Where I went from there

 Many countries have signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees

the term “refugees” applies to any person who:

“Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

I know that most –isms and religions have some extreme adherents, who honestly believe that the rest of the world should  follow their beliefs.  Some of these form groups devoted to achieving this.   Some of these groups believe that failing to follow their beliefs makes one less than human, and that non-believers should not have equal rights with believers – for instance,  it may be that atheists, agnostics, and miscellaneous pagans cannot get employment documents.  Some go further and believe that force should be used to make some others comply – for example, live peacefully with “People of the book” but use threat of death to convert everyone else.   Some go further still, and wish to kill  even those who hold to  a  different interpretation of their holy books while  following the same version of the divine, or whatever other social belief is important to them.

Being a devout agnostic, I am deeply aware of these groups. I have met people who assume that I am worse than untrustworthy because I don’t claim to have a god I believe in, even though those who lie about their beliefs or ignore their religions’ rules are much less trustworthy (Seen the statistics on child abuse?)  I avoid going to certain countries because  I don’t want to have to lie about beliefs in order to travel safely.  I worry about their spread.  Especially the extremists who believe that abortion clinics should be bombed, and that no non-christian should ever be President,

 I suggest that all members of the United Nations publicly state the following: 

We will only give refuge to those who commit to reciprocal tolerance of others’ belief and lack of belief,  and to recognition of all human rights.

The extreme case

Where people are  of a social or religious or political group that believes that unbelievers / some other group should be oppressed,  unless they will commit to leaving that group, they should be treated as they would treat others.    If their group generally  say that those who convert from their belief should be killed, they  must not be given refugee status unless they renounce that aspect of the belief, and if they later recant the death penalty should, logically, apply.  If they deny others’ evidence equal weight before the law, their evidence should so be discounted in the country of refuge.   If they would tax unbelievers more heavily than their own, they shall be taxed heavily in the country of refuge.

The moderate case – or is it?

Where people are  of a social or religious or political group that believes that unbelievers / some other group should be oppressed,  unless they will commit to leaving that group, they should be  denied refugee status.  If they are refugees from another such group of differing belief – well, that is fair exchange of oppression.

The interaction of this with overseas oppression

Where a government oppresses others in such a way as to make people become refugees, that government should not generally be assisted if another oppressive group attempts their overthrow.  Intervention should only be on a humanitarian basis. Refugees should not be sent back to an oppressive regime, as they have renounced the oppressive culture and will therefore be liable to greater risk.

If a self-proclaimed government attempts to invade other nations and enforces oppressive beliefs,  that requires immediate and forceful response from the United Nations – Peace Makers, not Peace Keepers.  The attempted invasion  is not just a war, it is a denial of human rights extending across borders, which is a much more serious and urgent matter.  If we stand idly waiting for someone else to fix it, we encourage all extreme belief groups to try their hand at the same game.

And that, I would pay higher tax to avoid.  I would travel to be a “grumpy old pensioner” on the battlefront, to embarrass the invaders until they stop that so that my grandchildren will be safe.   (Besides, it beats relying on the social system in old age, now that the illiberal and small-hearted are running the county.

 

A teacher’s personal viewpoint: not Aboriginal, not Migrant, not standard White Australian.

February 23, 2014

As a seventh-generation non-Aboriginal Australian, I have no attachment to other lands.  I have deep fondness for the land, air, sea and skies of my part of Australia.  However, I have no ritual or family ties to any place, unlike many Aboriginals.[1]  I n this essay I raise aspects of my life parallel to the experiences of many Aboriginals; it is important to remember that some Aboriginals experience far more extreme versions of these and other difficult  situations.

A. Disadvantages: commonalities with many Aboriginals [2]

My parents both suffered chronic illness, with my Father’s PTSD and alcohol abuse giving a background of violence at times of family stress – such as major exams.  My father smoked and drank heavily, but the family treated this as damage caused by his war-time experiences.  A difference in this area was that alcohol was treated by my parents as a useful social drug if not abused, and I was taught to recognise the early physical signs of its effects on me so that I could keep control.  Intoxication of any sort was seen as unwise, but understandable when you knew the background; tobacco was a simple addiction and to be avoided.

We lived on the Service Pension in a State Housing Commission fibro house, with wood stove, wood copper (no washing machine fittings), livingroom fire and chip bath-heater.  We had a second-hand black-and-white TV while my schoolmates had colour, second hand (old-style) school uniforms, and often ended the pay fortnight with meals of pasta, cheese, garlic and herbs.

My family in the State was my sibs, my parents, and a grandmother; we could not afford interstate telephone calls or travel.  None of our cultural group who lived nearby was willing to acknowledge us.  This aspect of my life was very different from the family approach and mobility common in Aboriginal kinship groups[3].  I still feel uncomfortable at large gatherings of my husband’s family.

My home language, lack of religion, preferred media use, and topics of conversation were so different from my classmates that, after Year 2, I was ostracised at best and bullied at worst.  I endured in misery until, in Year 10, I used superior force on my prime tormentor.  This ended the bullying.[4]

Academically, I struggled in Years 1 and 2, being poor at the valued activities.  In later years my terrible fine and gross motor coordination was less of an issue than in early primary, though I was bullied in part  for being bad at art, and at neat writing and illustrations in my written work, and sports. Most winters I was sick, sometimes hospitalised, and missed about half of the winter term.  From Year 3 my teachers mostly let me do my own things quietly, if I did not disrupt the class.  Many of my classmates were children of working men (never “working class”), were expected to get a job at 14, and distrusted those who finished high-school.

One of my sibs died before he was 18; another before he was 50, two years after his wife died.  Another was a marginal alcoholic, and is now living a health-care-card existence on his investments and savings.

I experienced unspoken prejudice as an adult in an “equal opportunity” workplace.  For example,   I found that behaviours accepted in men were described as aggressive in women, and experienced the classic committee interaction:

Problem introduced

Men speak

Woman speaks, suggesting a different approach

Men nod, and then speak again as if woman had said nothing

Man says rephrased version of what woman said, and it is treated as a good new idea.

 B. Advantages

1. Education

Both my parents were extremely bright – each of my parents had, they said, been the Dux of their State.  Both sides of the family put great value on education, sociological awareness, and the precise use of formal English in expression of complex and subtle arguments.  My father was a registered GP, despite being too ill to practise, but had woodworking skills.  We learned to make and mend, and to grow vegetables, and had immediate health care with medical explanations of the disease when we were ill.  The combination of practical labour with theoretical science underpinning was a common experience in our home.  Dental treatment was free and timely, as the State dental system was well funded at that time.

My home language being formal English, I took to serious reading quite naturally.  The complex conversations between my elder sibs and my parents, and the serious programs I heard on the radio, made the school’s “difficult” texts boringly easy by contrast; after Year 2 I would finish non-art classwork before the teacher had finished explaining it to the others.   The literate humour of my family and of the BBC rebroadcast on the ABC made my wordplay entertaining to some teachers, so they let me write creatively.  The science around the house meant that high-school science was partly familiar to me from the start, so again I shot ahead.

Being socially isolated, often ill, and poor, I had time to read;  having good examples of books all over my home I found my friends in the authors – of several races and religions – who helped me escape.  I added to them the gentle and witty people I met in the other media.  The community of thought was, for me, much what the extended family is to others.  In a sense, to paraphrase Robert Tonkinson[5] on the Martu, I self-identify as an intellectual first and an Australian second, if at all.  (Our culture was, like the Martu, at heart in conflict with the mainstream, but it was so in a socially valued way, and fit well with education and bureaucracy).

From this basis, reading of new findings or of history came to be as much fun to me as family gossip is to my husband’s relatives.  This gave me the extreme advantage of finding University studies more play than work.

2. Tolerance

The “Understandable considering” approach underpinned my parents’ thinking: they had wide historical and social knowledge, were angered by racism since they were teenagers, and practised courteous disagreement with a wide range of sadly ignorant and smug neighbours.

This awareness did not mean they gave in:  my parents socialised with Aboriginals when the Aboriginals did not feel it left them at risk of trouble; my father was one of the veterans who marched in the Moratorium rallies, wearing his RSL pin and medals; and my mother (who had been offended at being “not allowed to” dance with Aboriginal men for fear they would be beaten up) agreed strongly with the Civil Rights and the Womens Liberation movements, and brought me up to be sure of my worth as a person.

This approach fed into my sib’s choice to leave paid employment for a quiet and sufficient life, with time and energy to volunteer with community organisations, more personal value in his activities, and less stress leading to less desire to drink:  considering the wider history and circumstances removed the assumption that paid employment is the only value to life.  We also had met a wide enough range of wise people to value formal education less than deep understandings.

A side effect of this was my having a deep interest in the changing situations of Australia’s indigenous peoples, and a deep anger at the way the society in general (through Governments) was handling its responsibilities.

3. Access to social support by the State.

Despite our situation, we were at no risk of removal from the family.

I remember being given pencils, pads, and other things needed for classroom work, and prompt free treatment at the Dental Hospital.  I also remember the luxury of real milk each day at  Primary school, being in charge of my own Commonwealth Scholarship money in High School,  and being paid the away-from-home rate (unreasonable to live at home) as an Undergraduate in the fee-free days of the late 1970s.

These are things mostly lacking now – I was born in an unusual period.

I also relied on supporting Parents’ Benefit as a deserted spouse, and used subsidised council childcare while I sought employment and had a low-paid job.  Having experience in budgeting, I coped when clerical errors cancelled my payments for a month; with the language of bureaucracy, I easily claimed the arrears.  When I was employed, I found out how to get the subsidised housing loan and started buying my own place.  All these things were easier because of my background knowledge of language and socially acceptable behaviours in dealing with bureaucracies.

4. Race.

Being of pale, freckled, red-haired type, and with the “educated Australian” sociolect, I was given the benefit of the doubt in many situations.  There were down sides:  some  less educated people assumed I was English,  many people assumed I had no knowledge of poverty  –  thinking I was not going to restaurants because I was “a snob”, or that I had no understanding of their struggle to meet bills –  and non-whites assumed that I was a “standard” white person.

My social network has shown me the underlying racism I do not experience.  Two examples:  (1) unlike me, my husband (also “white”) has experienced abuse and police harassment based on the assumption that he is Aboriginal.  (2) A brother was charged (case dismissed) for refusing to give details of a street conversation with Aboriginals to two men who told the group to “move along” and then detained him.  (He was lucky they had not bothered to show him their police identification.)

5. Knowledge of History.

With geological and species-length views of time, wide reading on many times and cultures,  of mythologies and science fiction stories, and forty years of taking an anthropological perspective on my own society,  I have a view of the present which is hard to explain to those more bound to this time and place.  I could not have developed this without my family’s background, or without the time to read.  I think this is an advantage, though it does mean I have to restrict my conversation in many social situations.

In formal study of Anthropology and in my simple learning from curiosity I have found a wide range of descriptions of “Aboriginality” and “Aboriginal Beliefs”;  my general assumption is that every human I meet is a new individual, and I must try to find what meetings of minds are possible for the new person.  I also begin with the awareness that the Aboriginals I meet may be deeply angry with the whole of mainstream society, and if so I do not take their anger as a attack on my individual person – though I may be wary of a physical attack in some times and places.

In the shorter (my lifetime) view of history, I have seen the basic assumptions about Aboriginals change:  a family which once joked about “opening car doors into Abos” recently [6] had a member say “Their Mum tries to bring them up straight, pity their Dad’s White trash!” in speaking of a family with an Aboriginal mother.  They are even becoming aware of the range of experiences and beliefs in the Aboriginal population.

Conclusion

My background is a mixture of being an outsider and yet having socially valued qualities;  lower SES environment paralleling the risk factors many Aboriginals suffer, as listed in our lectures, and  yet upper SES educational background.  My personal belief is that I can learn, make, or mend almost anything, and that all humans can change; without my family’s cultural background I might have despaired and lost all confidence, even with my racial advantages.  I cannot assume how others will feel and act in their own, very personal, situations.

Although I have little knowledge (by my standards) of  local Aboriginal beliefs, I have personal and theoretical knowledge of the experiences of exclusion and power differentials, prejudice and challenges to personal pride, dysfunctional family and deep poverty, and the value of academic success.  I have watched the development of the current situation of multiple divisions within Australian society and, while unable to prevent it, do wish to help others reach beyond the boundaries our history has raised.

My personal beliefs will shape my performance, even if I choose to accept an employers’ requirement that I act against them, because I know that I am not a gifted actor – my expression will show something of what I think.  I hope that my understanding and acceptance of individual differences will help me become an empowering teacher- or, at least, to make my classroom a safe place for children in times of trouble.


[1] EDUC8429 lectures (various lecturers) Semester 1, 2010; Australian Aboriginal Studies Journal (various issues).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] I still laugh when people say that violence never solves anything – tell that to the Carthaginians!

[5] Tonkinson, 2006

[6] I accept that many people do not agree that the month just past is already history.  Nevertheless, I do see it as history.

References

 Australian Aboriginal Studies Journal (various issues). Retrieved from http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/asj/back.html

EDUC8429 lectures (various lecturers) University of Western Australia, Semester 1, 2010.

Tonkinson, R. (2006) ‘Difference’ and ‘autonomy’ then and now: four decades of change in a western desert society.  Wentworth Lecture.  Retrieved 20.04.2010 from http://www1.aiatsis.gov.au/exhibitions/wentworth/wentworthcontents.htm


Western Australian gardening: not so easy.

February 23, 2014

I recently saw an online exchange where a US correspondent thought a Perth writer was being a wooss for grumbling about a maximum temperature of 40 degrees.  After all, their maximum was under 32, frozen lakes and all.

The Perth writer informed them that much of the world uses Centigrade, and that 40 here is 104 there.

So much for being in a “temperate” zone.  I still resent the misleading books that said that strawberry, chamomile, and thyme like full sun.

But temperature is not the main thing that triggered this entry.  We have enthusiastic pests, and they make things – well – different from the images in magazines’ garden pages.

Consider growing figs:

We have Mediterranean fruit fly and vinegar fly,  which turn nine-tenths of figs more than two-thirds ripe into acid-bottomed disappointments.    Also, we want to protect them from the rainbow lorikeets- a destructive pest species of bird from the Eastern States, which some careless fool released here and which are here destroying more than they eat.   Still, even though it would get rid of the lorikeets, we don’t want to use strong poisons.  Result?  A four-metre-plus high net bag for the tree, with 1mm mesh size (25 * 25 per inch) as recommended for exclusion of vinegar fly.   (Thanks to Kawase, S. and K. Uchino, 2005. Effect of Mesh Size on Drosophila Suzukii Adults Passing Through the Mesh.  AnnualReport of the Kanto Tosan Plant Protection Society, 52, 99-101.)

Exif_JPEG_422

It worked.  We were surprised, the improvement on quantity as well as quality was impressive.

I have been growing sweet potatoes  – a true sweet potato, with degrees of purple inside and with edible leaves.  I had had a few salads, but was carefull to leave plenty to help it grow.  When the patch was over one square metre and climbing my baby date palm, I thought that the patch had developed well enough for me to take some roots –

DSCF4156 DSCF4160 DSCF4158

After removing the damaged bits, not enough left to bother with.

I had given up on growing  large carrots and potatoes in that area  because something eats 0.8 cm (0.3 inch) holes through them.  It seems that the denizens of our soil like sweet potato even more.     I suspect African Black Beetles, and they are not easy to control without rather nasty chemicals.

Which leaves the question of how the organic  farmers do it…  well, my root vegetables now grow in pots carefully separated from the local soil.  They can’t walk in, but the blighters do fly, so I may have to do repotting if they get in.   Or put them under the fig, or the apple and quince (they are  next for the net, as our fruit fly damage the fruit even though the maggots don’t survive long.   Seriously, brown lines from the bite-dimple to the core, and sometimes fungal infection follows.)

My task now is to find beetle-resistant crops – or grow the sweet potato more as a green than a root vegetable:  it survives where lettuce  and pak choy wither.

Say what? Beyond jargon to brain pain

April 16, 2013

For the record:  I have university qualifications, starting my studies  in Medicine and ending with qualifications in Anthropology, Linguistics, Psychology, and Education.  Postgraduate included.  I can handle jargon from Anthropology to Zoology.

So I was impressed when a Literacy Education Theory article strained my brain.   I think it is worth examining, to see what took it beyond the usual run of jargon.  (As usual, I prefer not to name names when I find writing worth negative comment.)

Background

To start with, my background awareness, summarized well by the OED:

Definition of semantics (noun)

[usually treated as singular]

  • the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. The two main areas are logical semantics, concerned with matters such as sense and reference and presupposition and implication, and lexical semantics, concerned with the analysis of word meanings and relations between them.
  • the meaning of a word, phrase, or text

Definition of reflexive (adjective)

  • Grammar denoting a pronoun that refers back to the subject of the clause in which it is used, e.g. myself, themselves.
  • (of a verb or clause) having a reflexive pronoun as its object (e.g. wash oneself).
  • Logic (of a relation) always holding between a term and itself.
  • (of a method or theory in the social sciences) taking account of itself or of the effect of the personality or presence of the researcher on what is being investigated.
  • (of an action) performed as a reflex, without conscious thought:at concerts like this one standing ovations have become reflexive
Definition of morphogenesis  (from Greek morphē ‘form’ + genesis beginning)(noun)  [mass noun]

  • Biology the origin and development of morphological characteristics.(i.e. physical structures)
  • Geology the formation of landforms or other structures.

Derivatives

morphogenetic  (adjective)

morphogenic (adjective)

(Please note the idea that the form being begun is considered to be pretty much unchanging, except by metamorphosis.)

The Text

The article was talking about teachers’ decision-making, and various things in the context of decisions which affected the final decision.

It referred to teachers’ “reflexive decisions”, meaning (I inferred, eventually) decisions made after careful consideration of a range of personal and external influences.  What most of us would call “considered decisions”.

It referred to “morphogenetic”,  defined in the article as meaning “transformative”.  This usage  confused me, as the term one would expect is “transformative” or -from metamorphosis “a change of form, a transformation” – metamorphic.

A major author in the references (this was a peer-review journal, so they drop in many references) was M. Archer.  This was the source of the jargon, I think, as ve was cited as using the root “morpho” to indicate that “society has no pre-set form or preferred state.”

This led me to wonder why  experts in literacy education would willingly use jargon which a literate reader finds both confusing and etymologically unsound.  Surely one would check that one’s proposed jargon did not clash with well-recognised usage from other fields?

Wondering still, I read on… “The relationship between writing, school instruction, and language cannot be underestimated.”  I deduced, from context, that an old-style editor would have corrected it to “should not”   or   “must not”.

Finally, I came to a diagram:

where would you put the arrows?

This raised more questions :  Would the “reflexive action” box be better outside the oval?  Could there be influence arrows from objective to subjective (considering Social Constructivist theory) and from the action box to internal and external headings?  Why do I always have to see things as being more complicated than proposed theoretical descriptions?  If this is the standard of those who educate teachers,  … Why does my brain hurt?

Oh, right.

Conclusion

Yes, I am a pedant.  Yes, I find semantic distinctions important.  Yes, I believe that jargon should be carefully crafted.

I believe that the increasing percentage of people using Engish as a second language calls for  more precise use of English:   people like me can translate poor writing,  but others rely on the correct semantics being there so that their support systems (such as the OED) can provide meanings the readers do not have as personal knowledge.

One reason to join the union

March 6, 2013

Received from a State branch of a teachers’ union, by email:

 

Important information all fixed term teachers need to act upon as soon as possible

Your contract of appointment may have the wrong termination date and/or salary.

Termination dates

Your union has discovered that the contract of appointment template in the portal for use by IPS school principals is incorrect and we have requested the Department also check the template used by non-IPS schools, as we believe it is likely to also be incorrect.

In recent discussions, the Department have admitted that the information is incorrect.

The template wrongly instructs Principals how to determine the termination date of a fixed term contract. It wrongly advises that the termination date is the ‘close of business date’. This would incorrectly make the last day of term under the contract the termination date.

Short term (or ‘fixed term’) contracts should follow the rules below:

1.         If the contract is for the whole term (say term one in 2013 ), the end of the contract should NOT be the last day of term, but SHOULD BE the last day of the school  holidays proceeding the last term worked (e.g. for term one only appointments, the appropriate end date is not 19th April, but 3th May).

2.        If the contract is for the whole year, the end date of the contract should NOT be 20TH December 2013, but the 31 January 2014.

We have informed the Department that in our view the responsibility for the incorrect dates on fixed term contracts is the Departments as they failed to provide sufficient guidance to Administrators. The information is also not consistent with Industrial Relations Advice Number 14 of 2012 and the long-term practice of paying our members continuously during the holidays proceeding each term worked.

Why does this matter?

If your school has given you the wrong end date, it will affect how your contract is dealt with at its end.  You will be paid your leave as a lump sum at the end of term, and will not have school holidays form part of your service (further negative consequences will be, more upfront tax, less sick leave, slower long service leave accrual, more breaks in service and a later annual pay increment).

Salary Rates

You should also check to make sure that your fixed term appointment provides the correct salary as the these rates are also incorrect. This is more likely to be an issue for new employees as the contract template also contains the wrong starting salary pay scale and cites the wrong industrial agreement governing current wages (the template cites the old 2008 agreement although we have updated wages and conditions in the 2011 agreement – the difference is starting salary is over $6000 per year!). As a result, we have concerns that some employees may be being underpaid.

What should you do?

1.        Check your contract’s end date and salary rate (salary rates are contained in Schedule A of the Agreement – members should refer to what is commonly referred to as the ‘little red book’ containing your union negotiated wages and conditions).

2.        If your contract is wrong, let your Principal and Shared Services at the Department know. Ask to have the date and/or salary corrected, and a new contract issued with any underpayment rectified.

3.        If you have done this, and do not get a new contract and/or any back pay owing to you, contact Member Assist on 9210 6060 (metro) or 1800 106 683 (country) for further help from your union. This service is not available to non-members. If necessary, we will be collating member names and seeking to rectify issues directly with the Department.

4.        You may also like to remind any non-member colleagues why it is important to join their Union. More members equals more industrial strength. Simple as that!

Entertaining – but is it real? (Why I love the internet)

February 22, 2013

Entertaining – but is it real?  This image was doing the geek facebook links:

ship shipping

Thanks to tineye and the net, the ship (Blue Marlin) and some of its other cargoes can be seen at technologijos.lt .   Other sites confirm that it has carried other ships, including submarines and the ISS Cole.

The image is:

Thanks to Google Translate, I can say it carries

22 barges, each of which weighs in at 3 thousand tons

It is real.

It is, truly,  a ship shipping ship shipping shipping ships.

And, oh my, it is immense: it is hard for one’s  mind to grasp the vast scale of its design.

Just knowing it is there, and  that it is a ship shipping ship shipping shipping ships, improves my day.

Outline for a Science Fiction short story: on evolution in action

July 4, 2011

Prompt:  New Scientist 25 June 2011 p 25

Extreme Fungi

Dishwashers have spawned some exceptionally tough fungi.  A survey of 189 dishwashers found that over half contained infectious “black yeasts” that, unlike all other known fungi, could survive heat, salt, strong detergents and both acid and alkaline water (Fungal Biology doi:10.1016/j.funbio.2011.04.007)

Confirmation : http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-06/e-mdi062011.php : P. Zalar, M. Novak, G.S. de Hoog and N. Gunde-Cimerman are the authors, and one of the black fungi (Exophiala dermatitidis) has caused fatal infections in  healthy people, more often is involved in pneumonia in people with cystic fibrosis.  It “is rarely isolated from nature”.

Project:

find out writing style and appearance of news sources:  New Scientist, The New York Times, local newspapers, science/tech news websites  …

Dig out articles on unexplained fish kills, bird deaths, local government claiming success in rat control, responses to disease outbreaks.

Write sequence of news stories : 

Major city happy  fewer rats reported;

Seal deaths – was it the oil spill?  Conflicting claims;

Infant pneumonia deaths increase in ghetto – poor education of parents or landlords to blame?;

How to get that stubborn black mould off without damaging the tiles;

Is air conditioning the link?  Increase in hospital admissions;

Sewerage workers OH&S strike as rare fungus causes 5 deaths;

CDC investigates rise in fungal illnesses;

New York stock exchange closed as deadly spores detected in air conditioning;

Fungal Biology link – protestors smash dishwashers in street;

Health Department  advises caution in use of mould removal chemicals;

Scientists developing phages for biological control;

“Clean air” conditioners marketed;

Low-evolution dishwashers developed;

We learned from the dishwasher plague: antimicrobial cleansers removed from general sale ….

Open letter to car designers

April 25, 2011

Car Designers:

I have been looking for a replacement for our aging family car.  As I have browsed the showrooms (I thought we’d probably buy near-new secondhand in a couple of years from the start of my search)  I have found no cars meeting my preferences.  I have asked at several dealers “Is there a standard way of giving feedback to the designers?  Some way to say what I was looking for that you don’t have?”  – and the answer is “What we get is what we sell – maybe you could write to the manufacturer.”

What are they teaching them in Business School?  Is this the outcome of the MBA courses?

For your information:  How I will assess candidates for “our new car”

The car will probably be used by newly qualified drivers, so I want their input – but they may be seduced by fashionable styling.  I have figured out how I will do the final selection process:

  1. With a tall teenager, the likely next user,  go to the car-yard on a 25 – 28 degree Celsius day.  Bring cardboard cutouts of high kerb and letter-box
  2. Have the car put in a sunny spot for the teenager to examine it.
  3. Check official fuel consumption.
  4. Check for manual window winding – Don’t listen to their “It’s a five year warranty!”: I have had a two-year old car electric window die, and, two hundred K from a dealer, that is not good.   The window which was repaired had serious rust start just after the warranty expired, too.  Secondly, for a student-car, out of warranty, we want something home-servicable – and as a student, I fixed my window winder when it broke.  Thirdly, what if the car gets dropped in deep water?  Electric systems stop onewinding the window down, making it harder to escape,
  5. Check for manual gear option – as a learner, it is best to get the full licence.
  6. Have the tall teenager sit in the driver seat, and check for leg fit and adjustment of steering wheel and seat.  How easy is it to re-set for other drivers?
  7. Have the teenager check for blind areas.  How big are the blind spots as things approach?  How far from the car do the letter-box and kerb become invisible?  Can the ve guess when the cutouts (held by me, so the vertical dimension is known) are about to touch the car?  Don’t use remote image systems – they’ll break down when you have become dependant on them, making more repairs income for the car manufacturer.
  8. Test for vision:  Can ve rest ves elbow on the window ledge?  Are the rear side windows higher again?  Would a toddler be able to watch the scenery from the rear seat?  When the driver looks over the rear seat, does the rear glass go down to the line of sight over the shoulder of the rear seat, or is there a lot of solid metal instead?  Can the driver see the bonnet’s front curve, or is the dashboard moulding raised so high that one can’t see even the top of the bonnet even when one’s head hits the roof?  Does the sun visor fold down to block vision at the right height to cut glare while allowing one to see the road ahead, or will the driver need a cap ?  (Many cars have the visor so high that it is ineffective – of which more later.)
  9. If the side windows slope in towards the roof, are there side shields, so that the windows can be opened to let out steam on cold, rainy days?  If not, we will need to run the aircon to stop the car fogging up.  That uses more fuel.
  10. We are likely to visit friends who live up five K’s of gravel road.  It’s not off-road driving – but rough.  We don’t need four-wheel drive, but is the car designed only for tarmac – for example, light-weight wheel bearings?  Expert drivers report that “safety” features which override the driver’s breaking and steering decisions are not good in some situations – including gravel.  Can these features, if present, be turned off in this car?
  11. Where is the spare tyre?  Is it one of those horrid “space saver” spares?
  12. Check the ANCAP safety rating and the RAC estimated repair/maintenance costs.
  13. After having the car in the sun for over half an hour, check the change in temperature:  most new cars have glass slopes which act as extreme greenhouses, making driving on even moderate days difficult without running the airconditioner, which brings fuel efficiency way down.  (Remember the Toyota Prius? )  For some reason, having reduced the glass below the driver’s shoulders the “designers” have increased the  glass above the line of sight.  Maybe the Japanese, Americans, and Europeans need to keep an eye out for low-flying aeroplanes?  This height of glass raises the attachment point for the visors, so they have to be clumsily large to reach far enough to be useful.
  14. Have the tall teenager sit in the back seat.  Does ves head cone within bump-distance of the roof?  Is there room for ves legs?  (Most “style” nowadays involves a tear-drop shape which assumes dwarves or under-twelves in the rear.)

Why do so few  cars pass this test?

I have been browsing for years.

I have been wondering whether the design of the rear of modern cars is driven by the desire to fit the corpse of the “average American” – the boot-space certainly is increasing as that standard changes.  Or maybe the stylists took clay models of reasonable vehicles, then booted them up the rear.

Now I think it may be a reaction to financial / environmental /emotional insecurity: turning it into a tank-like environment, with firing-slits for windows near the precious rear cargo (who are watching DVDs  – not the outside world), with only the top two-thirds of the driver’s head exposed to fire from oncoming vehicles, and with the chest protected above heart-high at the sides.  Paranoid styling – but really bad for driving.  Me, I think the cars look squinty from the side, and from the front the drivers look swallowed up by the cars

A new approach

Let’s have a car for the brave, sunlit, and capable lands:  with open views to the world around; near-vertical glass or heat -and UV- resistant glass;  manual windows; driver assistance technology which can be turned off; bearings and suspension able to take gravel roads; rear seats to fit our young adults (taller on average than their parents’ generation);  and no “sunroof” to rust and leak and let in sunlight.  Maybe make a concertina/ratchet sun visor, for better glare control.   Make more of the components user-serviceable,  and improve overall build to make the car the “student car” of twenty years’ time.   Save non-renewable resources by increasing the time to scrapping the car.  (Despite below-average family income I seriously considered the Prius early  on – until I found that the 12 year-old didn’t fit in the rear seat – so the increased price might not be as much of a bar as you’d think.)

Design a car like my cars from the 1970s and early 1980s:  tough cars which did not need air conditioning beyond 4/60 (4 windows down at 60 kph).  You can market it as “Environmentally aware: designed for vision, designed for hot climates, designed to last.”

Then I might buy a car.

In praise of pedantry

April 15, 2011

ped·ant  (pdnt)
n.
1. One who pays undue attention to book learning and formal rules.
2. One who exhibits one’s learning or scholarship ostentatiously.
3. Obsolete A schoolmaster.
[French pédant or Italian pedante (French, from Italian), possibly from Vulgar Latin *paedns, *paedent-, present participle of *paedere, to instruct, probably from Greek paideuein, from pais, paid-, child; see pedo-2.]
(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/pedant   06.04.2011)

Many years ago I read an anthropologist/linguist’s report of an island where, if the incorrect word was used, one of the hearers would say “You mean _____” and the speaker would not be considered to have said anything until ve repeated the section in the correct form.  I could live with that …

When I question the choice of words in a piece – even a serious news article – I am often told “Oh, that’s a pedantic distinction – you know what they mean, really”.  If I complain that the sentences are in poor order, that the third-last paragraph on the page  should be rewritten and put in the middle of the second – the same result.

I suspect that this is partly a result of teaching literacy with a heavy  emphasis on  overall communication, avoiding the hack-work of teaching correct usage.  Supported by a combination of postmodernism and an uncritical application of the anthropological perspective, many people now feel that “near enough is good enough”.

Me, I feel incorrect usage is very dangerous.  I am glad that the proposed Australian Curriculum includes the distinctions between casual and formal use of langauge, and between dialects and Standard English.

I have observed this sequence:

  1. The correct form has  a precise meaning.
  2. A form with a different meaning becomes commonly, incorrectly, used for that other meaning.
  3. People who have experienced the common form do not understand a serious work using the correct form:  “Transpire”, in the 19th century creative use of “the truth gradually seeping out” – per plant transpiration,  is a case in point, as many people now think it means “happen”, and do not understand its use in relation to many modern government lie scandals.  Even worse, they may not understand the incorrect form in its correct use: consider “reticent”, often used for “reluctant” .  “Reluctant” hardly fits the traditional bush Australian: reticent, even reserved, but very  willing to comment in marvelously compact and acid quips.  Their laconic speech style is easily explained with the aspect of reticent as the converse of verbal diarrhoea, and the connotations of reticence fit the cultural dislike of “big-noting yourself”.
  4. In addition, the incorrect usage can obliterate a range of synonyms.  I recently suffered through a hundred pages where “decimated” was used to mean devastated (a farming region), almost exterminated (a cultural group), winnowed (an army), routed, reduced to rubble, depopulated, slaughtered, overwhelmed, restricted (trade), … 17 times in that section.  I will save the author’s blushes by not adding the reference.
  5. Even worse, in important legal documents words are and must be used with their precise meanings – to the extent of having the particular meanings defined in the preamble to a piece of legislation or a contract.  Those used to “flexible” use of language are challenged by this.
  6. Finally, and to my mind worst of all, accepting incorrect forms makes it harder for the learner to find the deep meaning patterns within the language, meaning they have more details to remember as solitary aspects rather than as examples of a family of related patterns.  This makes difficult  the acquisition of a wide vocabulary, one  accurately, poetically,  and creatively applied.  Orient (East) , orientation (finding East) , disoriented (lost track of East), disorientation (the process of losing track of East) – all fit with the proper application of affixes to roots.   If you use “disorientated”,  either the link to The Orient is weakened, or the pattern of application of “-ate, -ed / -ion” is lost. (1)  Similarly, where poorly sequenced texts prevail, how are the students to develop a feeling for good structure?

I propose:

I think that newspapers and  supermarkets should have a monthly prize draw for people who suggest improvements to  their written work, and publish the best alongside the original:  every public text affects the understanding and expectations of inexperienced users.

I believe that teachers have a duty to ask their students to correct public text – to edit and produce a better version.  I believe that teachers more often should assess written work twice: once for content, then for correct form.  (Yes, the “correct form” assessment could be done over several iterations:  “Yesterday we looked at spelling, today we do punctuation.” )  I also believe that the teacher should teach students the correct forms for what they want to say, regardless of the curriculum:  I was saddened to hear a student who speaks with colons, dashes, parentheses, and ellipses (and who naturally tried to write that way) say “No, we don’t use those yet.”  Ve would be a much better writer if ve were liberated from the simple structures the basic punctuation signs allow.

I am at heart a teacher.  I am intensely interested in science, where precise meaning is important.  I am a chronic word-player – a condition where a sentence with three meanings, all simultaneously true, is a deep delight.    I am also, inevitably, a pedant.  I think I’ll get a badge to declare it publicly.

Anyone else want to come out of the closet?

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(1) With the decrease in the use of etymologies in school dictionaries, and in their provision of pronunciation guides (How, then, can they be called Dictionaries?)  it is even more difficult for the learner surrounded by non-Standard forms to track the deep links between form change, meaning change, and pronunciation change.