Wednesday, 31 March 2010

It took a research project to find this?

Anyone who's watched teenagers at a swimming pool, school playground, or ski area, knows this already - but now it's official. (Thanks to Discover Magazine's DiscoBlog for the tip.)

The presence of an attractive woman elevates testosterone and physical risk taking in young men.

“The authors report a field experiment with skateboarders that demonstrates that physical risk taking by young men increases in the presence of an attractive female. This increased risk taking leads to more successes but also more crash landings in front of a female observer. Mediational analyses suggest that this increase in risk taking is caused in part by elevated testosterone levels of men who performed in front of the attractive female. In addition, skateboarders’ risk taking was predicted by their performance on a reversal-learning task, reversal-learning performance was disrupted by the presence of the attractive female, and the female’s presence moderated the observed relationship between risk taking and reversal learning. These results suggest that men use physical risk taking as a sexual display strategy, and they provide suggestive evidence regarding possible hormonal and neural mechanisms.”

Monday, 29 March 2010

Then and now

If you haven't been following the Tea Party saga of the last year or so, you may not appreciate this:

I remember Prof Jim Flynn, at an Otago University Political Science Society stein evening about 1970, saying that anarchists were actually closer to the far right than the far left. Now it's in Doonesbury, it's official.

Pannier packing practice

I did a packing and loading exercise yesterday, and managed to get my gear, plus food for 3 or 4 days, into the two Ortlieb Classic panniers I've borrowed from Alice. They are a little larger than my Kathmandu bags, totally waterproof, and they have a great advantage - they don't fall off and jam in the spokes when you hit a bump! The bike was a bit heavier in feel, but riding it felt well balanced. However it is now quite difficult to swing my leg over the seat. I may have to revert to straddling the bar then getting going.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Up the hill

With my West Coast bike trip only a week away, I thought I should do some riding on hills. In the weekends the main road up the Port Hills, Dyers Pass Rd, is a dangerous mix of cyclists and day trippers in a hurry, so I elected to go up Mount Pleasant. A 7km ride on the flat through Linwood and Ferrymead past the estuary brought me to the base of the hill, then the road climbed steeply to gain the main ridge line through St Andrews Hill and onwards to Mount Pleasant.
Google Earth view of the hill section of yesterday's ride. (Click to enlarge.)

The gradient settles back to steep but not gut-busting, with occasional zig zags past steep sections, and joins the roads coming up from Redcliffs, then up through farm land to meet the Summit Road, at 404m above sea level. The climb took 50 minutes, with one brief stop to check the map, and a good rest for a drink and a mini Moro bar at the top.

The southerly change had arrived during my climb, so I put on a windproof jacket and set off on a long downhill, towards Evans Pass, where I stopped to look at Lyttelton Harbour, and affirm our decision to not sail that day. There was only one yacht that I could see, and it was struggling to hold a spinnaker in a brisk southerly - not much fun! I was cooling off rapidly, with no exercise on the long breezy downhill run, so I zoomed down into Sumner and started pedalling again. With a south east tail wind, I was back home in another half an hour, for a total of 35km and a height gain of 400m, all in 2½ hours.

This morning I have slightly stiff calf muscles, but otherwise I'm feeling fine. I think the longer trip will go fine, as long as I pace myself and don't try to rush. With full panniers, that's not very likely!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Uneasy rider

It's been a long ride from 1969's Easy Rider to 2010 for Dennis Hopper. Now he's dying from prostate cancer.
Somehow I always thought he'd go out in a blaze of glory. Oh well...

The wingnut factor

It's obvious that the Republicans in the US don't like Obama, but 57% believe that he's a Muslim, and 45% believe he is not a US citizen. Really. These are results from a Harris poll conducted a few weeks ago.

Top of the list of Obama's crimes - he's a socialist! Some of my favourite politicians are socialists; I thought it was a political viewpoint, not a crime. Especially in The Land Of The Free. How do they explain FDR and the New Deal?

The serious wingnut stuff carries on; Obama does things the way Htler did, he's a racist, he wants to turn the US over to a world government. Why? Because he's the antichrist, that's why! (14% of Republicans think so, anyway.)

Even sadder, these nutcase results get higher as education levels decrease, and education standards have been dropping steadily in the US in recent years, to the point where having been to college is regarded as unpatriotic among the Wasilla Wackos. The US is filling up with people who believe in ghosts, UFOs, and Muslims under the bed.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Public taste

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public", said H. L. Mencken. He wouldn't be surprised to see this summary of today's most popular stories on I didn't use the term "news"; even by a generous measure there are only a couple of news stories in the list. The rest are entertainment related publicity releases, shock-horror disasters, and weird human interest. I hope the people whose clicks created this list don't vote.

Next step

The new jobs resulting from the restructuring of UCTL and ICTS are advertised now; applications for the Team Leader of the Electronic Learning Media group close on April 6th, so I'm rapidly updating my CV and preparing an application letter. Luckily I have most aspects up to date, as a result of going through the same exercise less than a year ago.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Today's grumble

I started using my new TelstraClear-rebadged Vodafone 3G phone on Thursday March 18th, and after a couple of 10 minute bursts trying out Gmail (which works really well) and the maps application, I thought I should check on my data usage. At $3/MB it could run up quite a bill, so I want to see how much or little my efforts so far have cost me.

Here's the display of my usage at 11.30am today. Nothing. Zero MB. Really? Nothing at all? I looked at the light grey fine print, and it says "... covers the period up to and including 12/03/2010 17:43:00" What? That's NINE DAYS AGO! It's a computer system, isn't it?

UPDATE 22/3/2010 - now it says it's showing traffic up till 19/03/2010. That's still 3 days behind reality. I've been billed $3 for 1MB so far, with more to come.

Little Brother

I've just finished reading "Little Brother" by Cory Doctorow, which was a great read; it's about a tech-savvy group of high school kids who are victimised by the Department of Homeland Security after a terrorist attack on San Francisco, and their subsequent war on the DHS, using various illicit networks they set up. Read it online if you like, Doctorow has released it under a Creative Commons licence.
The Creative Commons license at the top of this file probably tipped you off to the fact that I've got some pretty unorthodox views about copyright. Here's what I think of it, in a nutshell: a little goes a long way, and more than that is too much.
Doctorow is at the Leipzig Book Fair this week, having a great time, but he also has some strongly expressed advice for the organisers about wireless coverage, demonstrating how ubiquitous wi-fi has become in North America in recent years.
There seems to be no WiFi, free or paid in the hall. FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL. Hey bookfair, a hint: when foreigners travel to your event, their phones' data-plans don't work. Which means that people here to do business need WiFi to stay in touch. Way to make publishing seem far behind the times. It's 20-goddamned-10. You are a huge, bustling international event. Every last centimetre of your hall should be bathed in so much broadband that you get a sunburn if you stand still for too long. Christ.
I certainly intend to read more of his writing. He aims at the young adult market, but his themes are definitely adult material.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Heather's next adventure

Heather had arthoroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her knee yesterday - the last step in the recovery from her skiing smash last August. She walked out of the hospital at 4.30 with a natural, if slow, gait, and has been moving about quite easily today. With rests, of course.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The land of the long white mountain range

We had a superb view of the Southern Alps as we flew in at 3pm today. I'll sort out a Flickr set, but in the meantime here's a sample. (This is straight from the camera, so no promises about colour etc.) The big blocky mountain at upper centre is Mt Cook, with the Grand Plateau sweeping out to the left. In front are the neves of the Franz Josef (left) and Fox glaciers. The terminal lakes of the Tasman Glacier are at the top left.

There and back again

I'm having a semi-edible breakfast in Melbourne airport after a quick flight from Hobart. Even though a bacon and egg foccaccia is a bit rich and doughy, it beats buying the rubbish that Pacific/Virgin Blue call "food". The coffee is pretty good though, and I have 3 bottles of Famous Grouse for $NZ95, so that's compensation for the unpleasant side of travelling.

Flying into Melbourne at daybreak was spectacular, with long lines of cars already slowing to a crawl on the motorways at 7am. Living in the outer suburbs of Melbourne must be the pits if you don't have a good train service in your area.

I have a right hand window seat so I'll have camera at hand as we approach the NZ coast, hoping to get a good photo down towards South Westland to accompany my bike trip journal - it's only 3 weeks away now, so I'd better do some hill riding in the next weeks.

I decided to become a more regular Twitter-tweeter (@gregor393), as from tomorrow I'll have a 3G phone to replace my old Telstra Clear phone, which was a rebadged Telecom CDMA unit. Now they supply a free Vodafone 3G Nokia 2730, which looks fine. It's hardly an iPhone but I know the Nokia menus and it's a very compact little gadget. Some time on Thursday 18th the old one will go dead and the new one will go live, with the same number. it's a good deal at $29/month plus 29c/min to call any NZ mobile or landline - and 500 free texts/month.

Monday, 15 March 2010

A warm day in Tassie

Today was pleasantly cool this morning, but the forecast for 27degC is certainly coming true this afternoon. Our group at the workshop is sitting beside a west facing window, which provided a cooling breeze but is now roasting us into sweaty little puddles. The locals seem to think winter has arrived, and started the day with sweaters and jackets on, though they've peeled those off now.

UTas Sandy Bay campus - we're at the Staff Club at upper centre

The ACODE workshop is very interesting, and it's an eye opener to see what some universities are doing to support students in their study. Programmes are being developed on academic writing, plagiarism avoidance, study skills, and many other areas. We have been able to contribute on the basis of a few projects at Canterbury, but we are definitely behind a lot of the Australian universities in this cross-campus aspect of e-learning. It's been a valuable day so far.

Gone to Oz

I'm in Hobart for a couple of days - I had a very long day getting here, with a 4am start and several hours sitting in Melbourne airport. Australian domestic terminals on a Sunday are full of family groups all arguing with each other in strident Strine, dressed in AFL or V8 Supercar shirts.

The Wrest Point casino & hotel is pretty nice. My room has a nice view over the river and the boat marina is just out of view to the left, but visible from lots of areas. The University where I'll be attending the Acode workshop is a bit over 1km from the hotel, just a pleasant walk up the road.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Dee Dee does herself in

Oops - DeeDee Moore let slip that she knew Abraham Shakespeare had been shot, a fact the police had never made public. Now she's a member of the orange overall club in a Florida jail. The link also has a very helpful video interview with the police officer leading the investigation, though the interviewer's willingness to assume guilt is a bit worrying.

I'm glad they've charged her - the story of innocent old Abraham, the amiable loser, touched me somehow. It was the ultimate hard luck story. (More)

Bishop Brian and the needle

I wonder if the self appointed "Bishop" Brian Tamaki ever includes Matthew 19:23-24 in his sermons? " is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

$3000-a-pop fees to speak to his own congregations? Taken from the EFTPOS-collected donations of his mostly poor and brown church members, what's more. Members were encouraged to " a $300 signet ring (men only), stop buying coffee and give up Sky TV so they could give more money to the church". (NZ Herald)

An ex administrator of the church says he collects:
  • A six-figure salary believed to be in the region of $350,000.
  • Close to $100,000 tithed by Destiny pastors to him rather than their own churches.
  • Between $350,000 and $500,000 from the "First Fruits" donation
  • An assortment of expensive gifts - Destiny churches are expected to donate at least $1000 to buy gifts on significant milestones, such as birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries and Father's Day.
Plus a $1.2m home, recently used to secure a second mortgage, a 12m Rayglass boat which he moors at Pine Harbour marina (to replace the $110,000 one bought in 2004), cars, motorbikes, weird frock-coated suits for the "holy prophet" (profit?) look - and a fat salary for his wife, of course.

What would Martin Luther - or Jesus - say about this grasping hypocrite? I bet Brian doesn't care, he's cottoned on to Prosperity Theology and uses this to justify his continued cash-grab. I don't think Brian's camel will pass through the eye of a needle, but I'd like someone to pass a needle through Brian. Maybe it will prick his conscience.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Up and away

I have an early departure on Sunday, flying to Melbourne, then Hobart. The occasion is a meeting of Acode, the Australasian Council on Open and Distance Education.

In reality that mostly means people who are involved in providing e-learning services. It's the professional body for people who support academics and teachers, but unlike Ascilite it doesn't include the teachers, just the providers. That means the sessions are tailored very much for those of us who work behnd the scenes; running e-learning systems, training teaching staff, helping with research projects, etc.

This session's theme is "Learner Profiles" - what do new students know and want, what standard is their prior learning, how do we cater for differing learning styles, etc. It's a very timely topic, given mutterings in NZ about restricting entry and dumping failing students.

I get to Hobart in mid afternoon, and hopefully I'll meet some of the other attendees in the Wrest Point Casino/Hotel where most will be staying, and arrange to get out for a meal that evening. The sessions are at the University of Tasmania, a short walk up the hill, on Monday and Tuesday morning, followed by an Acode meeting, then I fly home on Wednesday.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Carrying on

Our final restructuring plan was announced last week, and our office staff were "disestablished", along with our Director - she was "administration" as well, apparently. There's a strong whiff of George Orwell's Newspeak about "disestablished"; it's like chopping down trees and calling it "discultivation". It depersonalises the unpleasant personal impact of a sacking, making it sound like some outside force has whipped your job out from under your feet.

Without our administration staff, life around UCTL is rather strange. We are still presenting a public face and assisting staff and students, but in reality we're not sure about things like paying accounts, booking travel, and other important matters - like buying biscuits for the tea-room. The final transition dates are set for June-July, so this will continue for a while.

Jobs in the new order are to be advertised next week, and managers appointed a few weeks after that. Then the team leader jobs will be filled, followed by other staff. The staff that are leaving are negotiating their exit terms, and we are juggling our work to cover the gaps until new staff come along.

Monday, 8 March 2010

A sailing surprise

We had a strenuous sail on Saturday, in around 20 knots of wind and a very lumpy sea. We took part in a race for a change, and surprised ourselves with the result. We came second in Division 2 on handicap, and that gave us second over all for the whole fleet! We were amazed, as we didn't think we'd done that well. We expect to get good results in light winds, but in heavy weather we don't go as well as the Noelex 22s and don't expect to be among the winners. It's nice to know that the handicap system works and equalises boats with different capabilities.

We spent a few hours on Sunday repairing some damage to timber and paint, as the conditions had caused some damage. Now we may have to race again!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The news is out

We had the official word today; our Flexible Learning Group will become the Electronic Learning Media Group, in a new division named the Digital Media Group. (All these groups within groups come naturally to MoodlePersons.) The DMG will be one of 6 or 7 units reporting to a newly appointed Pro Vice Chancellor of Learning Resources; other units will be ex-sections from IT, plus Library and Facilities.

The real tragedy happens one level up from us; our parent department, the University Centre of Teaching and Learning (UCTL) is gone, with the academic branch sent to the Assistant VC Academic and the Registry. Our Director and admin staff vanished today. We're left to carry on somehow. Three years of development down the drain.

We've had a victory (we keep our educational video guy and his studio) and some losses (our senior educational designer has been "disestablished", and we're stuck with an unwieldy name that doesn't really describe what we do) but it could be worse. Our group will acquire two desktop publishers, and a third learning adviser. We're in for an uphill battle to establish our educational credibility in a new grouping composed of the printing unit, audio visual unit, and us - all people who think in terms of "units produced".

At least we now know where we're heading. It's sad and demoralising to be in a department that's shutting down around you (I've never been in a dying workplace before), but we know there's a definite name for our new structure. I suspect that's all there is so far, but appearances are everything in this new "world class" world. Reality will adjust to fit sooner or later.

The final word

Today we are to learn our fate, as the University's restructuring plans are announced. I think our group will survive more or less intact, but within a new structure more closely linked with the printing and audio-visual groups. We find out at 3pm.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Same old

I've switched this blog's template again, back to Tekka. It's nice and clean, very simple. I should stick with it. But I won't, as I'm a compulsive tinkerer; after a few months I get itchy fingers and have to replace the template. But it's never as good, so I come back to the tried and true. There are heaps of choices out there, but Tekka will do fine.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Still happening

I was a bit premature saying "back to normal" - the tidal surges carried on through the night.