Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"Create a Custom Search Engine on the fly" - I'm trying it out.

Links to search - what format?
Greenlivingpedia - Greenlivingpedia, a wiki on green living, building and energy

Monday, February 12, 2007

Moving to a new blog: Pablo Garuda

I'm now blogging on LiveJournal, at Pablo Garuda. Please go there to read new posts.

I'll still be visiting blogspot to read blogs and leave comments. See you round.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Cool blogs & sites

I'm not blogging much at the moment... I'm doing a few draft blogs, but mostly I'm spending my online time editing Appropedia - adding stuff related to public health and sustainability, as well as helping to make the site easier to use.

In the meantime, check out the sites I've added in the left-hand column. I've discovered some cool blogs, in particular Pyjama Samsara, which appeals to my interest in development work and especially sanitation in Indonesia, as well as the whole cross-cultural communication thing. (I've also just found another intelligent blogger at spilled milk with miscellaneous bite-sized political comments... but they haven't been blogging since 2004, sadly.

There's also sustainablog - not so much of the technical stuff that most interests me, but I'll be checking it occasionally.

I'm going to move this blog to Livejournal, because of the active community (particularly obvious when you check the comments on Pyjama Samsara and her friends' blogs) and some cool commenting features that help conversations to flow... I'll wave a flag and post the URL when I actually move.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cucumber and miso

Miyako just gave me some cucumber scraped with a little miso paste. It's actually quite nice.

Shouting in English

So often we see footage of Coalition soldiers in Iraq yelling at people in English. (Okay, they're always American soldiers, but I don't actually know if other nationalities are any better.)

When our political leaders, the ones who led us into war in Iraq, see this footage, what goes through their heads?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Confessions of a carbon junkie

AUSTRALIANS NOTE: you can see see An Inconvenient Truth for free. Intrepid Travel's CEO explains why he's picking up the tab at Confessions of a carbon junkie, on Crikey.

It's a short article - but there's also a potted version at Resolution.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Help me choose a name

Okay, Chris Watkins' blog is boring and Watching & thinking isn't all that exciting... I need a name for this collection of observations... suggestions welcome.

It could be an Indonesian word...
  • Maybe Melamun (Indonesian for "daydream").
  • Kutu buku (book louse)
  • Daya - I like that word. It's Indonesian for power (as in memberdayakan, empower). And it's similar to Dayaa (if I've got it right), which is Hindi for mercy.
...but I'd probably prefer an English title (i.e. one that actually means something for the readers).

Monday, October 16, 2006

Watching the news is bad for you.

The Daily Show is as substantive as the "real" news, according to a new study from Indiana University - although "neither one is particularly substantive," says the professor.

(Hat tip to Crikey's Blogwatch).

I've cut back on my intake of news. It tends to be about events, largely sensationalist and divorced from context. Even on the (Australian broadcasters) ABC and SBS, the news programs are just that many minutes out of the day that could be spent doing something more valuable. Reading a book or listening to a podcast to improve one's mind. Doing something physical (yoga, walking or whatever you prefer), or social (connecting with another human). Heck, even eating good food - at least there's a point, in that it's enjoyable. Watching news might create the illusion of being in touch with the world, but actually just draws us to our televisions or computer screens, and raises our anxieties.

But perhaps I'm being too easy on them. It's not just a lack of context and analysis. A disturbing amount much of what we hear in the media is just plain wrong - or at least omits so much as to be misleading. When you actually know a lot about a specific topic and you hear it discussed in the media, it's shocking how often they get things wrong or give a very odd interpretation. So you have to think - what about all the other topics that I don't know about? How much of that do they get wrong? Presumably they do just as badly.

Absurdistan by Eric Campbell is another condemnation of the shallow, shonky nature of journalism (though he may not have been intended it to be quite that harsh). The cost-cutting by networks and their lack of concern when their journalists are completely out of their depth, with little understanding of what they are reporting on, reminds us not to take news or current affairs stories at face value.

I still want to learn about the world, to seek knowledge, understanding, wisdom, empathy... but I don't expect to find much of these things in the popular media. So how can we find better information and analysis? Partly by being critical; partly by looking for intelligent sources that don't have an ax to grind but that do have a critical approach to their sources; partly by doing our own research. And being willing to put the effort in - don't expect to understand a major issue from a 3 minute news item.

And don't get me started on sports "news" stories...


I keep looking at the New York Times site, looking for the “edit this page” button to correct the errors, but of course, that’s impossible. -- Jimmy Wales' blog, The New York Times gets it exactly backwards

If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. - attributed to Mark Twain

Indonesian education

This is something I wrote 2 years ago, based largely on personal observations of Indonesian culture.

Indonesian culture & education
  • Indonesian culture places a high emphasis on conformity, and deference to those in authority. As an Australian it can seem bizarre, as the values you might assume in talking with a fellow Australian are turned on their head.*
  • Indonesian education not only fails to teach students to think - it actually teaches students not to think.
  • Indonesian lecturers who have studied overseas tend to have a different teaching style - more oriented toward understanding and less toward rote repetition.

*This is based on my own experience of living in Indonesia for two years, and also on the work of Geert Hofstede. Hofstede derived 4 indices to describe culture, and on 3 of them - individualism, attitude to authority and (to a lesser degree) assertiveness ("masculinity") - Australia and Indonesia are at opposite ends of the spectrum.


What I saw first-hand of Indonesian schools was not impressive. I was invited to English classes a few times. English teachers who can't speak recognisable English are quite common. The textbooks for English were a sad joke, and the textbooks for other subjects not much better. Producing textbooks provided lucrative contracts for Suharto's cronies, and quality obviously wasn't a priority... (I don't know if they've improved - they hadn't by the time I left in 2000, 2 years post-Suharto).

When I stayed in Surabaya, my Indonesian partner's younger brother was still at school. I was surprised by how long he spent at school, as he stayed back every day for extra tutoring. The tutoring seemed to be just extra rote learning. "Is it helpful?" I asked. Not really, he said. Why don't you stop then, I asked - you could save a lot of money, and learn more by doing your own reading at home. No, I can't stop, he said. "The teachers who give the tutoring rely on the money, and they won't like it if we stop... and they might give us bad marks."

That's a disgrace - but knowing what a pittance Indonesian public school teachers earn, it's not surprising.

But there's worse than this of course - the pesantren, traditional Islamic boarding schools, may give a poor education, or even lead students into violent fanaticism. As with the Bali bombers.

Australia's choice
Imagine what an impact could be had by a significant investment in Indonesian education. Better textbooks, better trained teachers. Students with a future that doesn't involve relying on dangerous fanatical religious leaders. A more prosperous Indonesia.

Imagine what that would mean to Australia's national security.

Now when our government spends billions of dollars on defence hardware and a relative pittance on aid, think how much more secure we'd be with more farsighted security and aid policies.

Opportunities for poor students... but needs work on our part.

My last post was about a teacher that couldn't teach - and couldn't even mark an exam properly.

You win some, you lose some. I had some good times, good experiences and good teachers at that school. I look at people in poor areas - Indonesia for example - and see the quality of education there and realize I was lucky in so many ways. But their luck can improve. Unlike any time in the past, it's possible to create resources for these people.

Their English textbooks suck. Actually, all of their textbooks sucked last time I looked, in 2000. And the teachers really have trouble teaching effectively. But we can help write new textbooks, using wiki technology to collaborate. Check Wikibooks and Wikiversity.

Wikibooks has a range of textbooks in development. English as an Additional Language - to be honest, it's not one of the better ones at this stage (the Indonesian and other language textbooks are more promising) except that it has some good links, so it's good for teachers. But it's an ideal place to develop material. Stories in simple English, ideal for learning and practice in reading, can be written or copied here by anyone, anytime, as long as there's no copyright violation. When the textbook - or reading practice book or whatever - is better developed, it can be printed off at the other end. It means that someone, say, with a small printing press in Indonesia (like the "RW" or neighbourhead head, where I lived in Surabaya, who had a printing business in his garage) can take the material, print it and sell it for a low price. And that is a much better option for schoolkids who currently can't afford the good textbooks.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

When teachers don't teach...

Reminiscing about school with a friend, today.

In the beginning of year 11, at Pittwater High School on Sydney's Northern beaches, we were split into two Physics classes. They did it by putting those at the from the front in one class, and those at the back in another class. Sitting at the back and joking with my friends, I looked around and realized the other nerdy kids were at the front. I moved my chair forward.

The other class apparently enjoyed themselves. Even their teacher mucked around instead of working (or so they claimed). Some time later, after an assessment exam, he was reading out an exam. Partway through, someone asked "Sir, is this out of 20?" He replied "No, it's a percentage."

One person in their class passed, with 65% (and he was a very smart kid). We, the "girly swats" in the other room, did well.


Actually, I have a bit of a gripe against that teacher. I had the chance to try out for the Physics Olympiad in Year 11, as I'd always done well in the (state? national?) science competitions. I was on my own - my school didn't really cater for that sort of thing - but I gave it my best shot, and handed in my exam to the teacher, who did the initial marking. (If I did well enough, it would be checked and I'd go to the next stage.

He told me later that he had to give me half marks because I hadn't included units. Um, there weren't any units, I said. Yes there were, he said. I was seriously disappointed. He didn't have time to go through it with me and told me to come back later. When I caught him a couple of days later (I wasn't feeling enthusiastic when I'd apparently stuffed up) he told me sorry, but he'd already sent it away to the Olympiad people. He gave me the answer paper, which I put away and didn't look at till I told the story to my brother more than a year later, and showed him the paper.

There were no units. The correct answers did not use units (i.e. units were part of the variables). As far as I'd been able to work out, if I'd been marked correctly, I would have been borderline for making it through to the next stage. It's possible I would have made it - or at least I would have had a more impressive rejection letter.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A land of screaming planes...

Here's my new personal blog. I'll start by transferring some of my favorite posts from an old blog which has been heavily spammed...

A guy I knew at Sydney Uni in 1989 wrote a poem that is still as relevant as ever. I can still remember some of it. With apologies to Dorothea Mackellar:

I luv a sunburnt country
A land of screaming planes
that roar above us daily
cuz the planners have no brains
I luv her choked horizons
the toxins in her sea
I luv this little country
it's a slice of anarchy.

- Mike Carlton (not the journo) c. 1989, in Honi Soit.

(G'day Mike - drop a line if you read this.)
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License.