Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Primary Ethics

Tuesday, 25 April, 2017

Here in Australia, scripture is still taught in schools. One of the problems with this is that scripture classes eat up some of the scheduled classroom time, and children whose parents don’t want them to attend religious education are specifically not allowed to do anything during that time which might give them an academic advantage over students attending scripture. So the students not attending scripture are typically not allowed to use that time to study, or do homework, or do anything else that might be “educational” in some sense. Often they just sit in a room and watch videos.

About 15 years ago, a group of people decided to do something about that and offer secular ethics classes during this time when other students are doing scripture. Since the scripture classes purport to be offering ethical education, it couldn’t be argued that the non-scripture children were doing anything additional.

However, this campaign fell foul of religious interest groups, who felt that ethical instruction without religion was inherently evil or something. The religious groups fought long and hard to have secular ethics classes banned from schools.

I’m pleased to say, however, that they lost the fight and some years back a completely non-government-funded volunteer group called Primary Ethics was granted permission by the NSW Department of Education to offer ethics classes as an alternative to religious scripture in New South Wales primary schools. The curriculum very specifically does not attempt to teach children “what is right” or “what is wrong” – rather it teaches them skills in critical thinking, and that many issues are complex and that not everyone agrees on what is right or wrong, and the value of considering things from other people’s points of view.

Since its inception, Primary Ethics has grown to be extremely popular, with many parents (including many religious ones) wishing to enrol their children in ethics classes. The problem is, being non-funded, Primary Ethics needs volunteers to actually teach the courses.

Recently, I volunteered to become an ethics teacher, and I just completed my training (which includes federal police background checks and clearance to work with children). I will be starting tomorrow, with a class of Year 4 students (about 9 years old). I’m proud to volunteer my time to teach a new generation of people the principles of ethics and critical thinking, and I hope they all go on to become better adults because of my efforts.

Now and the 80s

Saturday, 21 January, 2017

So, I realised what the current world situation feels like.

I remember growing up in the 1980s. As kids we were existentially worried about a lot of things.

  • We worried about AIDS – a frightening disease with no cure that could turn into an unstoppable epidemic.
  • We worried about the ozone hole – a major environmental issue that could lead to vastly increased rates of cancer and deleterious effects on plants and animals.
  • We worried about global nuclear war – a political danger that threatened to kill pretty much everyone in horrible ways.

It seemed like there was a pretty good chance that none of us would have the chance to grow up to be adults, because civilisation might well not last that long. It was this background of all-pervading existential angst that underlaid the 80s.

But now isn’t an exact parallel to the 80s. The difference back then was:

  • We had medical science that people trusted to do life-saving research and less ineffective folk remedies, anti-science, and unhealthy paranoia about “germs” leading to rampant overuse of antibacterials.
  • We had an international agreement to ban ozone-depleting chemicals, and every nation carried through with it within a few years, rather than ignoring it as “too hard”.
  • We had Russian and American leaders who were actually working together to try to defuse hostilities and reduce the threat of a major war.

Oh, and the other good thing about the 80s was that angst led to a decade of cool protest songs and other music. :-)

English spelling

Saturday, 14 January, 2017

I was thinking I should post more stuff here. So I’ll try to add some things that I’d consider for Twitter, but which are too long to tweet. First off the bat:

I was reading a thread in the IWC forums that turned to discussing English spelling, and how terrible the “i before e except after c” rule is, and how it makes people actually mis-spell words sometimes.

Now I’ve been a native English speaker all my life and I’m a pretty good speller, but there are still some words I have trouble spelling. And of course if you were to say a word I was unfamiliar with and asked me to spell it, I’d pretty much just be guessing.

On the other hand, I’ve been learning Italian for just a few years. One of the exercises I do is listen to a computer generated voice reading Italian sentences, and transcribe them by typing them out in Italian (there are also different exercises where I translate into English). And as long as I listen carefully enough, I can always get the Italian spelling correct, even if it’s a word I’ve never heard before.

Another one of those days

Thursday, 8 September, 2016

Yet another miserable day in the saga of the dishwasher.

So we decided to get the integrated dishwasher replaced with one with a nice stainless steel door. I called up the retailer and requested this, choosing an equivalent model with a steel front panel, for the same price. They said there was a fee (about $300) for exchanging the dishwasher. I figured it was my bad assumption that the front panel would be a standard size and didn’t check to be sure, so I felt obliged to cop this fee, and agreed. They said they’d arrange delivery of a different model dishwasher in exchange for the one currently in our home.

Then yesterday I received an emailed receipt, saying they’d charged my credit card $550. So today I phoned them to query why this charge was some $250 greater than what I’d been quoted. The operator I spoke to said it was an installation fee, since I’d requested installation in my original order the new dishwasher would need to be installed, plus some other fee imposed by the manufacturer for an exchange.

I said that I wasn’t told about these fees when I accepted the quoted fee of $300 for the exchange, and I wasn’t going to pay them. There was some resistance and eventually I had to ask to speak to a supervisor or manager. I explained that I had been quoted an exchange fee of $300, and neither of these additional installation or exchange fees were mentioned to me when I accepted.

The manager I was speaking to actually said to me, “You should have known there’d be an installation fee, and now you’re just trying to get out of paying it.” I kid you not.

He was absolutely adamant that I had to pay the extra $250, despite me repeatedly pointing out that I was never told about this extra $250, and was quoted a total price of $300 for the exchange, and that that was the quote I accepted. His attitude was, “Well of course there was always going to be another installation fee – you’re getting it installed right?” I said I’d paid for installation of a dishwasher with the original order, and I expected at the end of the process to have an installed dishwasher – why on earth would I come to the conclusion that I’d have to pay another installation fee? Especially when it was never mentioned when I accepted the $300 fee to exchange dishwashers.

He wouldn’t budge, until I threatened to contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over them not honouring a verbal agreement on a quoted price, and attempting to charge me for fees that were never mentioned to me. This eventually got him to agree to “look into it” and promise to call me back. When he did, about an hour later, he said that the extra fees had been refunded. (And I’ve received emailed confirmation.) But not a word of apology for accusing me of deliberately attempting to defraud them.

You can bet that once the replacement dishwasher is safely delivered and installed, I’ll be sending the retailer a letter of complaint.

One of those days

Monday, 5 September, 2016

It’s been one of those days.

I took the day off work to wait for delivery of a new dishwasher, after our previous one broke. This is the second time I’ve had to take a day off to wait for the delivery, because the first time they came the dishwasher they brought was too big to fit into the kitchen cabinet space, so I had to change my order to a different model (and pay an extra $270). And then I had to wait a whole month for the new model to come into stock so they could deliver it.

Anyway, today was the day. The delivery arrived, and the dishwasher fit into the cabinet space. It’s one of those ones where there’s a front panel which matches the cabinetry, so it looks just like a cupboard. They guys took the panel off the old dishwasher and tried to put it on the new one… of course it didn’t fit. The new washer has a taller door, so attaching the old panel leaves a weird strip about 3cm high at the top, which would look obvious and bizarre.

They told me to get a new panel made to match at a kitchen cabinetry supplier, and they’d come and screw it on free (since I’d paid for full installation).

I called around five different kitchen cabinetry suppliers. Most said they only do full kitchen renovations, and wouldn’t make a single door panel. One guy said sure, he could do it -he’d come over, measure up the door, make a new one in a matching finish, and come back to install it. I said I didn’t want it installed, I could do that myself. (Figuring I have guys who will install it free for me.) He said no then, he won’t take the job, because if he can’t install it, it’s not worth his time to make it. Basically, he wants to charge me an arm and a leg for the installation work, and won’t just make the door panel for me.

So I don’t know where I can just get a new door panel made.

Wife came home and I was discussing options with her. We can either order a third new dishwasher with a nice silver door panel, and get the delivery guys to deliver and install that and take away the one we have installed now. Requiring yet another day off work to wait for them. Or we could just screw the current matching door panel onto the current dishwasher, and live with the weird 3cm strip at the top.

While holding the door panel up on the front of the dishwasher to show her what it would look like, I lost my grip and the door panel, a good 5 kilos or so of it, slipped sideways and jammed my ring finger between it and the adjoining cabinet, crushing it. I don’t think the finger is broken, but there’s a lot of blood around the nail and it’s going to be bruised very badly. Hurt like heck, I can tell you.

I got some ice and stuck it in a plastic bag to ice the bruised finger. While I sat with my left hand immobile on my desk, I did some web surfing.

Lifted up my left hand to check the finger, and the bag of ice tipped up… pouring ice water all over my keyboard.

Maybe I’ll just go to bed and wait for tomorrow.

Garage treasure trove

Sunday, 17 April, 2016

The basement of my apartment block contains individual lock-up garages for every apartment. They’re fenced off with wire cyclone fencing so you can see inside, but are secure enough that people store things in there.

I was walking past a row of neighbours’ garages, and inside one I spotted a big stack of books. Not paperbacks, but large format hardcovers. The pile was split into two, sitting on shelves of a portable storage thingy. The combined vertical height fo the stack of books was about a metre or so. Curiosity being the better part of valour, I went closer for a peek to see what they were.

They were Dungeons & Dragons rule books! Second and Third edition rules, splatbooks, settings, and so on. Must have been 50 or more titles. Wow. I had no idea one of my neighbours was a gamer. Pretty cool.

Personality pigeonholes

Friday, 8 August, 2014
Myers-Briggs types
Image CC-BY-SA by Jake Beech.

Over the years I’ve seen many people refer to the Myers-Briggs personality types, often giving a four-letter code to describe themselves or other people.

I’ve never liked this sort of pigeonholing of people and have long resisted looking up much about the Myers-Briggs classification. I’ve specifically avoided any sort of test which might purport to tell me what my “personality type” is. I don’t want to be known by a shorthand label which will almost certainly misrepresent critical aspects of who I am.

But I had my curiosity piqued yesterday and actually found myself looking at the Wikipedia page for the Myers-Briggs stuff. And I saw the image shown here. Zooming in to read the text, I found it gave a short list of tendencies designed to determine which side of the four different personality dichotomies you belong to. Unable to avoid the temptation now, I read some of them, and immediately found a problem.

The very first choice at upper left, trying to decide if you are extroverted or introverted, asks if you could be described as (a) talkative, outgoing, or (b) reserved, private? Well, I think I could easily be described as both (a) and (b). The next question asks if you (a) like to be in a fast-paced environment [yes! I do!], or (b) prefer a slower pace with time for contemplation [yes! I like that too!]. I really like fast-paced stuff and I really like slow-paced stuff with time for contemplation! Okay, moving on to question three: do I (a) tend to work out ideas with others, think aloud [yes, I do this all the time], or (b) tend to think things through inside your head [yes, I do this all the time as well]. You can see where this is going. The final question for the extrovert/introvert “dichotomy” asks if I (a) enjoy being the centre of attention [why yes, I do], or (b) would rather observe than be the centre of attention [and yes, I often feel like this too].

Moving on to the sensing/intuition axis, the first question asks do you (a) focus on the reality of how things are [yes, I do, very much so; I’m very pragmatic and realistic about things] or (b) imagine the possibilities of how things could be [yes, I do, very much so; I love fantasising and dreaming of various possibilities]. Second question: do I (a) pay attention to facts and details [yes!! extremely so, I am very detail-oriented], or (b) notice the big picture, see how everything connects [yes! very much so! I am very good at this – people at work have commented how good I am at this sort of thing]. Third question: Do you (a) prefer ideas that have practical applications [yes, I love ideas with practical applications], or (b) enjoy ideas and concepts for their own sake [yes! I love ideas with no practical application]. Fourth question: Do you (a) like to describe things in a specific, literal way [yes! I do this all the time; I really enjoy technical writing for work purposes, describing in detail some highly technical algorithm], or (b) like to describe things in a figurative, poetic way [yes! I love doing this sort of thing; I really enjoy writing poetic descriptions and embellishing things I write with metaphors and literary asides and so on].

Okay, let’s try the third axis: thinking/feeling. Even just the title of the two “sides” has me sure I’ll fit into both. Question one: Do you make decisions (a) in an impersonal way, using logical reasoning [of course I do, it’s only sensible to use logic and be detached for many important decisions], or (b) based on personal values and how your actions affect others [of course I do! What kind of monster would I be if I didn’t base my decisions on my personal values and take into account how they would affect others??]. Second question: Do I value (a) justice and fairness [yes! of course I do!], or (b) harmony and forgiveness [yes! of course I do!]. Third question: Do I (a) enjoy finding the flaws in an argument [well… sort of, here’s one I need to qualify; I get the subdued satisfaction of a job well done, but not hedonistic-style enjoyment out of this – oooh… have we finally found a distinguisher?], or (b) like to please others and point out the best in people [well… sort of; I mean, I like to make people happy, but I’m not above criticising them if I think they deserve it; I’m definitely not a sycophantic yes-man]. I’m not sure how to call this one, other than another tie. Fourth question: Could I be described as (a) reasonable, level-headed [I like to think so, and I honestly believe I come across that way to others], or (b) warm, empathetic [I like to think so, and I honestly believe I come across that way to others].

The fourth and final axis: judging/perceiving. Do I prefer to (a) have matters settled, or (b) leave your options open? Well, I like both. I love being meticulously organised, and I also love flying by the seat of my pants. Question two: Do I (a) think rules and deadlines should be respected, or (b) see rules and deadlines as flexible? You know… I like to strike a sensible balance. Rules and deadlines should definitely be respected, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also be flexible if needed. Question three: Do I (a) prefer to have detailed step-by-step instructions, or (b) like to improvise and make things up as I go? I love both! It’s great to have step-by-step instructions, if I want to go that way and do a thing exactly as other people have done it, but I also love modifying and improvising to come up with something unique. (Examples: in cooking, sometimes I follow a recipe to the letter, sometimes I throw caution to the wind and modify like crazy. Playing music: sometimes I want to reproduce the exact sound of a recorded song using a detailed score, sometimes I want to let loose and do whatever I want.) Fourth and final question: Do I (a) make plans, want to know what I’m getting into [yes, very much so!], or (b) am I spontaneous and enjoy surprises and new situations [I love surprises and dealing with unexpected situations spontaneously].

Well. Maybe this says something about me and my personality, or maybe it doesn’t. All I know is that the Myers-Briggs types are ridiculously narrowly specified and don’t seem to apply to me, not even in the slightest. Every single “dichotomous” question they ask, I have pretty much an equal reaction to both sides. I like all sorts of stuff. I like being quiet and contemplative, I like being brash and outgoing, I like to plan and think things through in detail, I like to just go and spontaneously decide what to do on the spur of the moment, I like to be literal and meticulous and logical, I like to be carefree and expressive and poetic.

Why pigeonhole yourself into some “personality type”? You’re missing half the fun of being alive!

The Penny Drops

Tuesday, 19 November, 2013

I was sitting at lunch with my group of friends at work, talking about various nerdy stuff as we are wont to do. There’s no doubt that we are a group of nerds, in the modern non-pejorative sense of “people who enjoy certain types of intellectual recreational activities”. We play regular Magic: The Gathering tournaments, we play Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games, we play the latest European style board games, we run a popular Internet puzzle competition, we collectively write a webcomic based on the concept of Star Wars as a roleplaying game.

We share lots of interests in common and have incredibly nerdy conversations about them. But on this day I was struck by the fact that I didn’t follow what anyone else was talking about. They were discussing some sort of special mode in some computer game, which I only learnt right near the end of the conversation was actually Diablo. Throughout the whole conversation I just sat silently, not understanding most of what was being said.

I remarked that, even though we are all clearly nerds, there are still some significant differences between us. I, for example, don’t play video/computer games. I just don’t. I used to, as a kid – I had an Atari 2600 console and spent hours absorbed in playing various classic games like Pac-Man, Missile Command, Pitfall, and so on. A bit later I played an awful lot of Tetris, and really enjoyed SimCity. But… I haven’t really played any game more modern than SimCity. I’ve had a few brief goes at these newfangled first-person perspective games like Doom, but I just couldn’t get into them. And the video games of today are essentially a complete mystery to me.

So in a conversation about video games, I have nothing to add. I made a comment to this effect, pointing out how video games were one “nerd” thing that I just didn’t do. Knowing how none of these friends are really into sport of any sort (while I am), I commented that given the choice I would much rather sit down and watch a game of football than play a video game. They said, “What sort of football?” I replied, “Well, any, really.”

Then I said, “You know how on The Big Bang Theory the guys are all nerds and they all basically enjoy doing the same stuff? They all like comic books, they all play video games. That’s not a realistic portrayal of nerd culture. There’s variation. Not all nerds like all nerdy things. They should have someone in their group who doesn’t like video games.”

“Like Penny,” one of my friends said.

“Oh my god,” said another, “You’re the Penny of our group!”

Sharks in a Road

Sunday, 26 May, 2013

Dream last night:

A kilometre-long section of a four-lane road was all dug up on one side, closing two lanes, and the traffic diverted to use the two lanes on the other side, single-file each direction. The enormous hole in the ground was surrounded by concrete barriers to stop people falling in. But then it rained and all the workers in the hole were trapped and couldn’t climb out, so they were left swimming in this kilometre-long giant pool of water. And then a truck carrying live sharks crashed and spilled the sharks into the water, cueing a desperate struggle for survival by the trapped people.

Interpretations of this dream welcome.

Tyrannosaurus facts

Sunday, 5 May, 2013

Dream last night: There was an extended documentary-like sequence in which I learnt many interesting facts about Tyrannosauruses by way of comparisons with modern animals. One in particular stood out:

“A Tyrannosaurus rex can comfortably ride on a giraffe. If only the giraffe could support the weight – but then that’s hardly a design flaw in the T. rex.”