Saturday, December 05, 2015

The brave new world of audio books

I have ventured into unexplored territory - unexplored by me, well trodden by others. The world of the audio book.

I have been listening to podcats on my daily commute and sometimes I ran short and I had a long trip on the horizon, so I decided to try an audio book.

A friendly librarian showed me how to borrow an audio book from my public library. Wow. Did it all without leaving my chair. I chose an old favourite from John Le Carre and I was not disappointed. I didn't realise that reading a book was an art form, a performance. But it was. I was as engrossed as if I had been reading it myself. 12 hours went in a flash. I've reserved another for later on.

BTW, the BorrowBox app from Bolinda was excellent. So different to my typical ebook experience.


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Mathematics - the ugly duckling

I was asked by Mr14 about math he learnt at school today - sin, cos etc and what they meant. I explained that they were ratios and he showed me his notes from class. He had it all down; sin = opposite over hypotenuse etc. I then tried to explain why these ratios were really useful because we found right triangles all the time and could use the ratio to work out the missing part. I gave the example of measuring the height of a tree with the length along the ground and the angle to the top of the tree. I drew a diagram of the distance to the moon as a right triangle, etc. I made waving motion in the air for a sine curve and we googled tan curves and talked about asymptotes.

Later, as he worked through mundane arithmetic examples, he said "tan 1 = 45° that is funny". I went back and drew a right triangle reminded him that tan = opposite over adjacent.

"What if those side were the same size, what would be the ratio and then what would be the angle".

He thought for a moment and the penny dropped and he flung his arms out and went ooh in a loud voice and then laughed. Something made sense to him and it was a delight to watch.

<rant>Why can't they teach maths for deeper understanding. The first exposure to trig ratios is a golden opportunity to open the student's eyes to the wonder of the universe. But we get bland formula and soul destroying worked examples.</rant>

I recently heard a math expert on the radio say that you could make up whaterver math rules you liked, as long as you applied the rules consistently and that real math was about using the language of math to solve problems and describe things and just explore new ideas. Mathematics really is the ugly ducking of school and most of us never get to see it grow up into a swan.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Historians of the future...

I saw this in my Twitter timeline this morning.

It made me wonder what historians of some future time will make of the historical record. I guess in 20 or 50 years there will be enough material to give context, but in a few hundred or a thousand years, after the new dark age and the new renaissance, fragments that remain might be very difficult to interpret.

It makes me wonder about our interpretation of ancient societies based on the fragments that remain and how the tweet above might be interpreted without being able to find other reference points. I can imagine all sorts of plausible but fanciful narratives built on this slim foundation.

Note: Hi future historians :)


Saturday, June 20, 2015

I'm not a technical person but...but actually I am!

I have been reading some posts about Imposter Syndrome and particularly Sam's post on being an outsider in a technical meeting.

The specific example of IT doesn't really apply to me because I am a librarian with a computing background who has worked in IT and I've learnt how to navigate those waters. For what it is worth, Google is my friend, even in meetings, but actually building your knowledge over time also helps. Asking the right questions is a good strategy as it demonstrates that you know enough to ask the question and are not afraid to defer to those with deeper understanding. This is not faking it but paddling furiously to keep your head above water. Lastly I rarely take no for an answer from any IT person without making an effort to understand if no means it can't be done or no means it can't be done without serious effort or no means they don't know enough to say one way or another but don't want to admit it.

However there are other domains beyond my comfort zone. Working in a university I am surrounded by areas of expertise where I'm out of my depth as soon as I enter the room. In this case I apply the same technique, except that I am more polite and try really hard not to make a fool of myself. Over time I gain enough of the fundamentals to get by but rarely to get comfortable. However occasionally in such a meeting (or project) the topic turns to discovery or metadata and I feel the locus of expertise swing in my direction. Real experts, in fact most people at the top of their field, are incredibly generous in recognising that someone else has the expertise and are willing to defer when outside of their territory. But be warned. Real experts can get up to speed enough to ask awkward questions out of their domain and thus the tables are turned.

BTW I am also male and so I can say things and get taken seriously even when I don't know what I am talking about. My better half always makes me talk to the car mechanic or tradesman for that reason, even though she knows as much as I do. Sorry. Can't help my gender. I apologise on behalf of my chromosome.

** photo from Shaun Tan exhibition on his Rules of Summer book



Friday, June 19, 2015

No garden without a gardener

There is a phrase I hear from time to time 'set and forget' but I don't think that such a thing exists in this universe. The nature of existence is that all things move towards a state of low entropy and if you want to create something then you are simply holding back the inevitable tide towards a low energy, randomised universal state.

To hold back that tide, to create a garden, requires a gardener, a constant vigilant presence that maintains the order, renews and refreshes and is ultimately defeated by the universe. All a gardener can do is maintain a place, a still point, a sanctuary, for a time but time will overcome all and then there will be an ending. Is this what defines 'life'? That thing which works against the tide of randomised matter, or is 'life' just a brief by-product of things that happen in a blink of the celestial and eye and are then gone?

Being a little less cosmological, 'set and forget' is an enemy at work and in life in general. Permanence is an illusion and if you take your eye off the garden it will be full of weeds and a tangle of bushes, or a brown remnant of green. Perhaps mindfullness is just another way of saying to take nothing for granted, to avoid complacency and to live in the moment - for the moment might be suddenly gone.

Time for a coffee in the garden.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Taking the (full) train

I have just realised, after 6 months of regular commuting via train, that I am more comfortable on a full train than an empty one. Initially I was a little daunted by the occasional very full and cramped train, but now as I stand swaying in the full train I feel somehow connected to people and part of a larger whole.

When I get on a sparsely populated train it is like all the normal people have gone and just the outliers remain. I am more cautious and feel more vulnerable. I enjoy the stop in the city when people flood onto the train and it is full again.

The other day, when the power failed and the trains stopped, I was comforted by the large herd of well behaved commuter-sheep who waited patiently and eventually followed the directions to the replacement bus service. It was't like being broken down by the side of a busy road. We were all broken down together!


Monday, June 15, 2015

The search word of choice

Do you have a favourite search word?

I'm sure most librarians do, a word that you always use to test a catalogue or database. Something that is easy to type, has predictable results and probably dominates the search log, if anyone was looking.

For a few years now my chosen word has been xml. This is easy to type, only 3 letters, and in most contexts returns substantial hits. If I need another choice then management is the word. There must be more books and articles containing managment than any other word in the English language. But it is a bit long for regular use.

My colleagues have their favourite words, amongst which are cats and dog. Truely.

Do you have one?



Sunday, June 14, 2015

Talking trendy

I like to keep up with the latest lingo, or at least I like to know what is being said but I don't really use it. I am more of a conservative writer and act with a dignity suitable to my age.

Except when I troll my kids.

Here is a recent exchange via txt that shows ms16 is just as capable of faking it as I am. For context she had rolled her eyes at me across the carriage while travelling on the same train and standing with her friends. I responded in a really 'cool' way.



Thursday, June 11, 2015

The best camera is the one in your pocket

I am a recent convert to smart phones, having given up my perfectly adequate but fading Nokia candy bar, the faithful companion of many years.

Now the smart phone has many advantages and the ubiquitous connection to all things internet is something I don't ever want to relinquish now that it has become my new faithful companion. A recent much delayed morning train commute was ameliorated by my access to the internet.

However it not the internet alone that has made the smart phone my new best friend. It is...the camera. I think that I use my phone to take a photo most days. I take a snap of the whiteboard notes (and sometimes print it out and put it up on my office wall), a snap of the slide at a talk and mundane things like broken paving or the entrance of a new library. The quality is excellent and my Canon IXUS rarely gets an outing. Probably the only time I revert is for close ups using the macro setting.

And sometimes I just see something that demands to be captured. I share this snap from a few days ago of a drift of Autumn leaves on brick paving. The shape and colour and texture are breathtaking.



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Is coding the new Latin?

I hear that people think people (other people, especially children) should learn to 'code'. It seems to me that 'code' is code for something that people value but don't understand, don't understand what you would do with it but that it has some intrinsic value that makes it worth people learning.

Once upon a time Latin and Greek were the thing, and in recent times mathematics and a second language were the thing, but now the new Latin seems to be coding.

I am not opposed to people learning Latin, mathematics, a second language or how to write code. However I value all of these things for their own worth, despite that they have, for most people, little utility except for their intrinsic beauty and the agility they give to the mind that masters them. I value the ability to learn, to think logically, to work hard beyond one's comfort zone and these all fit the bill nicely. Occasionally they may prove useful but that isn't why I value them.

However, like all good personal beliefs, I don't hold with foisting them on other people and forcing other people, especially children, to learn them. You want to speak Sindarin or Klingon? Go ahead. You want to learn the minute detail of minecraft commands? Go ahead. There is joy to be found in learning for the sake of learning.

Is coding the new Latin. Sadly I think it is.



Sunday, June 07, 2015

Mindless and proud of it

Going against the current trend I hearby extoll the virtue of mindlessness, an oft overlooked boon to those determined to improve their lives.

I will explain.

My regular exercise is a morning walk. Every single damn morning. Usually during the week this means getting out of bed at 5.30am. At this time of the year it is dark and will still be dark when I get back from the walk. It is cold (by Perth standards) and sometimes it rains. Cold, dark and wet. Sometimes.

The trick to doing the walk every day is to be mindless. Not to lie in bed and contemplate the weather or the warmth about to be foresaken. That is called thinking and it is the enemy of the early morning walker. The body must arise without the inhibiting interfering meddlesome mind. The body must roll out of bed, get dressed in the pitch black and quietly leave the house. The mind is not needed until the first corner where there might be traffic. At that point, well past the point of no return, one can be mindful, watching for traffic and muggers and dog sh*t. One can even notice a sunrise and take a snap.

Mindlessness is a good thing, in moderation. Use this elemental power for good not evil and your life will be so much the better.


Thursday, June 04, 2015

What is your secret name?

For many years I have been mistaken for someone called David.

I do work with a David but even people who have never met my colleague have called me David, sometimes people who I've just met and sometimes people I've known for years. And it isn't just that they get my name wrong, it is that they invariably chose David rather than some random name.

Ms16 says she has had the same experience at school (no, not being called David) where teachers mistake her for Rachel even teachers who know her but also some who don't. This has happened for years and at times and places where there is no other Rachel.

Ms16 and I have concluded that everyone has a secret name, a name that fits at some fundamental, elemental level and that our secret name saturated the aether about our physical presence and other people subconsciously detect that secret name and are compelled to use it.

What is your secret name?



Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Taking the slow (gravy) train

If you do any cooking at home then you will know that the time spent preparing a meal is much, much greater than the time spent by your family or friends in consuming that meal. I don't know the proportion but I think Mr14 can knock off an afternoon of cooking in a few minutes.

In fact the ratio of production time to consumption time is very large and its not only true for cooking. Think about the years that went into writing a book that you read over a weekend or the year and a half that went into the film that you watched in two hours.

It is also true of natural resources, that we consume at a faster rate than they are produced, much faster.

Scary thought.

I think that cooking makes you appreciate your food more, especially when you go out and a professional chef produces a meal for you that might have been a day's work in your own kitchen. Appreciating the thing you consume is a kind of slow consumption, like taking the slow train or the slow food movement. However it is the taking time to savour the product and not mindlessly consuming it.

If you have tried your hand at writing or making a film or growing your own vegetables or anything really then you suddenly have an appreciation of the effort that has gone into the final product which you are about to consume.

Bon app├ętit.



Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Two can play that game

Birthday presents can be a challenge. With family they seem to come around so quickly and it can be expedient to do the gift voucher (and I'm not saying they are not appreciated, in case you get the wrong idea) but gift vouchers in a card can be a bit flat.
This year I bought an ornamental wooden duck for one of my sisters. Inspiration quacked at me and I couldn't resist it. Not the usual present and it was a great talking point even if my sanity was called into question - again.

So I guess that I shouldn't have been surprised when my birthday came around to find a present of note, a tin can toucan, a metal ornamental bird. 'Toucan play at game' the wrapping paper read.

To add to the fun my sister had changed her twitter avatar to a toucan two weeks ago and was dropping occasional toucan jokes. I asked about it and got evasive answers. Still the penny didn't drop.

Now I am the very happy owner of a bright toucan.

Does twice make a trend? Hmm.



Monday, June 01, 2015

Taking the slow train

This year I have been a commuter by public transport rather than a driver by car. This has been a big change for me having driven the same route to work on a daily basis for over 16 years. The exponential rise of parking costs at work and the increasing congestion on the road, along with the easing of after school child pickups has pushed me onto the train and bus which is now my daily commute.

The public transport is not without cost and I estimate that this year I will break even or save a litte money over the costs of petrol and parking. As the work parking becomes more expensive then public transport, for me, will become cheaper but still a considerable expense. To really save the pennies I should catch a bus to and from the train station, saving $2 a day parking and related costs. If I could do away with my vehicle then that would save even more. These things are beyond me at the moment and I am comfortable with my compromise.

The train and bus does take longer than the average drive. However the public transport journey is very predictable whilst the car journey had become increasingly variable, somedays okay but many other days very slow and tiresome. There are also challenges to public transport, including the increasing detours inflicted on us by major building works, but such is life.

Another way to measure the time taken is to consider what I do with my hour of public transport. I listen to podcasts and music. I clear my email, Twitter and facebook. I watch the passing parade of faces on the train and scenery, natural and urban, on the outside. I actually enjoy the trip. There are subtle variations. Some days I have to stand, some days I sit. Some days I coincide with a work colleague and we chat. I arrive home at the end of the day with less stress (I am told) and that seems like a real gain when weighed against the extra 10 or 20 minutes the trip took.

We are all on a train ride, a journey and in life reaching the final destination isn't actually something to look forward to, but we can all try and enjoy the journey and taking the slow train can be more satisfying than the fast lane.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Conferencing in the 21st Century

I am reflecting on a few days spent at a conference last week.

Fun is a thing.

Lego figures embodied the fun theme of the conference. Delegates could go to the lego table, get a body and construct a figure using the many parts available.

If you look carefull at the torso of my handsome, debonair man you can see the conference logo which includes a surfer figure. [Apparently I am now expected to have a top hat.] The posting of pictures of the figures was a fun activity, and gathering at the maker table was a great icebreaker.

Twitter is a thing.

Not for everyone, and even at this conference not for the majority I suspect, but still a substantial back channel, side channel and occasionally social channel. The hashtag (disambiguated very clearly by the organisers) was popular enough to attract spam, rather unpleasant clickbait type spam. Interestingly the reporting of the spam seemed to be effective and it diminished to the point where it was safe to follow the hashtag. One delegate packaged all the tweets for posterity.

@S_Palmer "Made it, so may as well post it. THETA-tweeters all-in-final #THETA2015 @THETAConference Twitter network [~5MB]"

Two years ago at the same conference a tweet-up attracted a handful of people. At this conference meeting face to face with tweeps was an hour by hour event. I increased my network and met for the first time a number of familiar tweeps.

The app is a thing.

Conference apps are not new, but are now essential. For this conference I'd say the app was something I used regularly throughout the day, on my phone and on my tablet. I checked out the schedule, speakers, rated sessions and found vendors in the maze of the exhibition hall. I got notifications during the day. Not perfect but hard to imagine not having all of the conference information, plus contributions, in my hand.

The satchel contains goodies.

First time at a conference that I got nothing in my satchel that I would discard, no wedge of paper, no pens or unwanted promotional material. There were just useful and fun things. And a great satchel for future use.



Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The Pen Strikes Back

Since I attached my iPad to a keyboard I have found a subtle need to work differently with the touch screen. Being at an upright angle makes the interaction with my hand different, less natural and often less comfortable.

Coincidentally I got for Christmas a set of biros with a soft nobby bulge on the top which would act as a stylus on a touch screen. At the time I smiled but thought 'not going to use these'.

I was wrong.

They have proved to be a constant companion. Reading on the iPad, which I do a lot, is easier when I can scroll and highlight with the stylus. Who'd have thought! Also I found that taking an actual pen to meetings helps with those awkward moments when people expect you to have a pen to sign into the meeting or they hand out a last minute paper and you need to make some notes.

The pen has become a dual use, modern workhorse. Bring on your paper or your tablet, the pen is up to it. When I went to a meeting and the give away biros also acted as a stylus it was official. The pen plus stylus is now a thing.

The pen is dead, long live the pen.


Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Drinking from the bird bath

I am following over 400 twitter accounts.

Many are people I know, some are well known people I don't know and some are news channels and the like. If a real person follows me then I will follow them back. Seems like a common courtesy. 400 is probably at the low end in the number other people follow. When I see accounts that follow tens of thousands I suspect they are not reading all of their incoming tweets. In anycase my 400 produce enough tweets to keep me occupied.

Increasingly I will follow a tweet to the longer read and that takes more time. I've never managed a 'read later' strategy. If I can't read it now it doesn't get read. I can do this on my phone for mobile friendly sites, such as @ConversationEDU and am finding right-sized longer pieces really useful. I can get all my news and a lot of professional reading this way.

I think on a normal working day I might be able to 'read' about 500 tweets, including the occasional longer read. This includes the time I spend on the train going to and from work. On a less than normal day I might get to 150 tweets and and on some days, like today when I am not at work and not particularly occupied, I might 'read' all of the tweets in my twitter stream.

I have a few strategies to help me manage my stream of incoming tweets.

1) I maintain a private list of those people whose tweets I don't ever want to miss. This includes immediate family. This would be less than 100 tweets a day. I can manage that on any day.

2) Some people I follow are heavy tweeters and from time to time I will mute them. I don't want to unfollow them as I see conversations that involve them in the interconnected flock of mutual friends, but I can't cope with their volume. Also they follow me and I just don't unfollow people who have the done the courtesy of following me.

3) I will mute hashtags even if I am interested in the conversation but just don't have the time. A recent library conference was a good example. Tweets with well formed hashtags are my friend. Tweetbot lets me mute a hashtag and remove already loaded tweets from my current stream. Nice.

4) Sometimes I just have to let it go. I'm the sort of person who has no unread email in their email - I don't just mean in my inbox, I mean in my mailbox (I have seen people with a thousand unread emails in their inbox but that is topic for another post) - and I'd prefer to read all my incoming tweets. But sometimes you just have to let it go.

5) Lastly I do some housekeeping from time to time. This means unfollowing some accounts but not people I know or who follow me. Unfortunately I also tend to add accounts from time to time. Lots of interesting people and things.



Friday, January 16, 2015

Mr14 builds a gingerbread house

A work colleague mentioned that making gingerbread houses at this time of the year was a thing in Sweden (and elsewhere?). She sent me a photo. This inspired Mr14 to google instructions and set to work.

The dough was made on day 1, rested for hours in the fridge, rolled out and cut carefully according to the carefully sketched out plan. Then the pieces were rested in the fridge before baking. This was a day's work.

The mortar for the house was made on day 2 using icing sugar and egg whites.

Construction required support from the pantry and patience waiting for the mortar to set for each part of the build.

The mortar then became part of the decoration with the aid of smarties and liquorice bullets.

The finished gingerbread house was admired and then eaten.

Great holiday project!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Fish Mailbox

For many years we have been visiting a relative on the south coast and on a minor road but one we always use, we have been charmed by the fish mailbox.

The fish mailbox is clearly functional and we have seen mail protruding out of the mouth from time to time. I can only speculate that the local postie retains the use of both hands. The rusted look has been a feature since we first saw it over ten years ago and it doesn't appear to have deteriorated.

I particularly like the way the fish is looking at you, with menace.

Every time we travel that road, perhaps twice a year, we look with anticipation to see if the fish mailbox is still there and so far we haven't been disappointed.

Long live the fish.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Laptising the iPad

I bought a netbook (remember those) with my Rudd stimulus money in 2009. It was a useful tool that I used at home for my writing projects. Uncomplicated, low powered, cheap and mobile. I ran up many hours tapping away on it.

However it has reached its end of life, lacking enough oomph to run well and with an OS that is no longer supported.

So I decided to laptise my iPad. I did some research and bought a ZAGG folio thing that provides a keyboard. It does make the iPad heavy and cumbersome but with dropbox and the MS Word app provides a similar experience to using the netbook. I can pop the iPad out when I want and the next few months will prove the experiment or not. So far so good, and I am writing this post using it!


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Immanence - Jane O'Halloran - Art on Campus

Another work by this artist that caught my eye.

I find that to appreciate a work of this type requires some time looking (though that is probably true in general and of all things) but isn't something we do often enough. Reminds me of the time I sat and stared at a Monet haystack for half an hour. Well worth the effort.