Star Wars Videos

Star Wars: Retold (by someone who hasn’t seen it) from Joe Nicolosi on Vimeo.

Star Wars: The Crazy Ones (via retrophisch).

Smoking Ban in SA Pubs

As of midnight this morning (or last night, if you prefer), all smoking is prohibited inside in South Australian hotels and clubs. This is a great step – as someone who is not a smoker, it’s nice to be able to go anywhere and drink myself into a stupor without having to worry about lung cancer. This is a follow-on from the previous laws, where it was illegal to smoke in certain areas in pubs. For instance, there was always at least one “smoke free” bar in any licensed establishment, and if there was only one bar, smoking was prohibited within 1m of that bar.

Of course, there is one side-effect of the new laws, which I noticed before work this morning.

Where do all of the smokers go when they can’t stay inside and smoke? Outside on the footpath, of course. Normally this wouldn’t bother me too much, but down Hindley Street there are several pubs, and each one had a cloud of smoke and a cloud of smokers outside of them. That I had to pass through as I strolled to work.

Rubik's Cube

One of my students today had a Rubik’s cube in class, and I had a bit of a fiddle with it. He told me what needed to be done for the first step, and I think I managed to do this.

I then went down to the shop and bought a cube. Almost immediately I figured out how to do the first step, which is to get the top face, and the top layer done. I also managed to get a fair way into the second layer. Then I got a little stuck.

A couple of hours later I decided to find a website with some directions:

How To Solve A Rubik’s Cube – Step By Step Directions

The first time, these instructions worked. The second time, not quite.

I know I was doing them right, but at one point they are in fact not always sufficient to complete the task.

Step 5 is the problematic one. If you have two correct, it will not always work. You in fact may need to set it up so there is only one correct side, and have that at FR.

From there, it seems to work.

Top Posting

I like John Gruber, who writes for Daring Fireball. He usually hits the mark, but recently he’s been really harking on about the iPhone. Since they aren’t likely to be available over here in Oz for sometime, I’m not that interested, just yet. His latest post, Daring Fireball: On Top reverts back to a less iPhone topic, Top Posting in email replies. I ‘grew up’ using text-only interfaces on the internet, so email and usenet were king (and queen). I used to be a bottom/middle posting advocate, but have stopped for one very good reason. People think you haven’t replied at all when you bottom post. They don’t read down when they see that there is no response at the top. It’s as simple as that. I really prefer bottom/middle posting, it makes it much easier to structure a decent response to someone, yet it had really fallen out of favour. Perhaps I’ll restart this ancient practice. Except that every email client available nowadays is configured to automatically top post. Oh well. It just occurred to me that IM is much more mid-posting-like. You respond immediately to an argument, and the threads are mixed. Email is dead anyway (any situation where you receive 100 times as much Spam as Ham has passed its usefulness).

Random You-Tube goodness And finally: (Bit of a Star Wars meme going on here!)

No MMORPG at the present

Well, after (carelessly) letting my Eve-Online subscription lapse, by not putting enough cash into my VISA account, I’m without a MMORPG. I loved playing WoW when I did, although I miss it a little, I’m not really about to get back into it. I really don’t know if I’ll renew/reactivate Eve, since I only ever really played it a little bit. Probably wasn’t getting my money’s worth out of it. I may download the WoW expansion, but it’s a fairly hefty 3.5GB, and then I only get a 10 day trial, with characters limited to 1XP below Level 61. If I had a really speedy connection, and limitless data transfer, then I would do it. I might see if any kids from school have downloaded it. Although, realistically, that would be the PC version, and I’m really loving OS X at the moment. Perhaps that’s one reason I haven’t been playing Eve much lately. No Mac version, although it does work with Cross Over Office, although not on my Dell for some reason. As soon as I get my MBP, I might give it another go.

Everything Bad Is Good For You

This is not a review, but more of a series of comments about this book. I may write a view at some stage, but I haven’t yet finished it, so I’ll wait until then. The premise of this book is that instead of, as popular wisdom determined, popular culture being the basest form of thought, it’s actually making us more intelligent. Johnson (link points to his blog) puts forward a couple of cases, and then submits some evidence to support them. Firstly, there is a general thought that video games' only redeeming feature is that it improves hand-eye coordination. In fact, modern video games provide more than this, they actually improve our ability to solve problems, by virtue of the commonality of having to ‘figure out’ the rules from within the game. Secondly, popular television also improves various skills. Whereas in days gone by television programs spoon-fed the audience, nowadays the most popular programs actually engage us more than the ‘arty’ programs used to. Watching a program like 24 (which I don’t incidentally), or even The Apprentice, forces us to be active participants. We need to think much more to continue to be aware of the connections between the different characters, and we are task-switching between the various sub-plots. Johnson provides a series of reasons why he thinks these have taken off, and I must say, so far I’ve agreed with pretty much all of what he’s said. I’m not going to just repeat what he said (I’m not sure I’d want to try – the evidence does take a bit of work to get across, and I’d rather you just buy the book, and read it yourself), but I did want to add some of my own comments. I’ve been watching two SciFi programs since starting to read the book. One of them is the new BattleStar Galactica, the other V. I’m noticing lots of similarities between the two, and I’m finding I want to re-watch them to analyse the ‘thought content’ requirements of them. Notably, both of them have a female character who is thrown into power, and one of the major plots is about her coming to grips with the role and responsibilities that ensue. Both programs also have an ‘alien’ race who is keen on wiping out humanity, although for different reasons. They are both about the human race, on the run, and it’s attempt to survive. Perhaps a better comparison would be to compare the older series of BattleStar Galactica with the new one. Perhaps that will be a new project of mine. Compare the two from a perspective of cognitive demands. After all, the plots are pretty much the same, so any differences should reflect the complexity that modern TV audiences demand.

Crazy Little Thing Called LoveMichael BubléMichael Bublé ★½

Christopher Alexander

I’m not yet sure how I feel about Christopher Alexander and his ideas about what has been wrong with Architechture over the past 100 years or so. I think as an exercise (more for my own mental stimulation than anything else), I’ll listen again to the programme recently broadcast on ABC Radio National (no Podcast, but I figured out a way to download rather than stream it…) and perhaps summarize and critique his ideas. Of course, there’s always the chance I won’t finish doing that…

Is Google Dumbing Us Down?

In the latest issue of The Monthly, Gideon Haigh explains how having access to so much information, and in particular access in the way Google presents it, is making us less smart. There’s still lots to like about this magazine: it provides a new voice in Australian culture, having extended articles on interesting topics. I see it as similar in some ways to the Independent Weekly, a newspaper that’s new to Adelaide, but easier to handle in a couple of ways – firstly being a smaller format. It’s much easier to take with you, and therefore take your time reading it. The articles are a bit more national – although there are several international articles in the various editions I’ve read.

So, does Google make you dumber?

Google is a very new phenomenon. It wasn’t the first Search Engine on the Internet, but it is certainly the first one to become a household name. Everyone knows what Google is, and, as Haigh indicates, people think that Google has all of the answers. You can find virtually everything on Google, and I use it as a first place for finding information now. I guess the advantage I have over the next generation is that I have a background in finding information gathering – that is, I studied at University when libraries were the best source of information.

I also have a healthy level of skepticism; I try to think about the source of every article I read, and judge it for bias. Students who have only ever known Google and the Internet tend not to understand that some sources of information are more reliable than others. I think there is lots to like about Google, and the ease at which it finds information. The suggestion that sites that are popular tend to become more popular is made, and I concede that this appears to be the case. However, as a self-publisher, I find that my site has a fairly decent PageRank, just by actually writing lots of stuff that I know a bit about.

Generally, Google is very good at finding the best source of information on a topic. Whilst most people don’t go past the first page of hits, that’s because the rest of the information tends to be a little crap. There is lots of junk on the internet, but using the correct search terms means that it’s possible to find anything about anything, quickly and with little effort. The key here is knowing how to best use Google to search. Whilst Google has a great, simple interface, there is huge power underneath.

Students, especially post-secondary, must know how to search using some of the advanced methods, or even just using quotes to search for a phrase, rather than a list of words. And Google, at this time, is not the be-all and end-all of searching, especially for academic purposes. Things like Medline, and specific search engines (often not publicly available, or not free) provide full-text indexing of many academic journals. I look forward to the day when Google Scholar has all of this information, free. I haven’t done much with Google Scholar, as I’m not actively studying right now, but I suspect that there are indices that are not accessible through this interface. And having access to the titles of articles, and in some cases abstracts, isn’t enough. I want there to be full access to full text of journals. I don’t know how journals will manage the transition to free access, or even if they will, but it looks like a rosy future, when I don’t have to travel from University library to library to try and find a particular issue of a particular periodical. I often use the adage: I don’t know, but I know how to find it out, and this aspect of knowledge is taken into account by Haigh when she quotes Julian Sefton-Green (a lecturer from my old University, UniSA):

…It’s much more important that people know where to find out… it’s going to be much more important to be able to rank, order and interpret information than [to know] the information itself; to have the appropriate critical and analytical tools.

ABC Podcasts

Dear ABC, As a new listener to Podcasts, I want to congratulate you on firstly the number, but also the quality of the programming you have put online. It is nice to be able to listen to programs I haven’t heard since I only had a car with an AM radio on Radio National, like the Science Show. Now that I commute on public transport, it’s also nice to be able to download programs that are transmitted in times when I am working,and listen to them as I travel. I understand that it’s a relatively new technology, but I do have some suggestions that would make, in my mind, your Podcasting service even better. Firstly, reduce the file size. Using other codecs, such as AAC, even in addition to MP3 would mean that the bitrate can be reduced, and I can more easily download more Podcasts over dialup. Secondly, I think the term Podcast is being used incorrectly in some contexts. You talk about listeners Pod_casting, when they are really Pod_catching – not that there is actually a word that is used in this context. The creator/distributor/broadcaster does the Pod_casting_, and listeners ‘catch’ that ‘cast. Perhaps a new word needs to be created to fill this void. Finally, I’d like to see a more comprehensive archive of Podcasts. As a public broadcaster, anything that does not have copyright restrictions elsewhere, like most of the music that is played on Classic FM, for instance, should be freely available to all Australians for eternity. The Internet is a great thing in this context. Regards, Matt.