Autumn reprise

From the photo blog last year.

From here on I am choosing photos from both Blogspot and this blog. They were all taken on my usual daily round through Redfern, Surry Hills, Chinatown and the inner city in March 2009.

002march 017

015march 002

Continue reading

Planes versus volcanoes

I found this interesting.


Hat tip: Emissions: Planes vs. Volcanos on God’s Politics. For more see PLANES OR VOLCANO?

  • Information is Beautiful is the source of the graphic. Looks a great site. I’m bookmarking it. The latest post there is COLOURS IN CULTURES.

Reading the tea-leaves

In the meantime, he and Elinor had six children, two of whom died in infancy.

Sorry about that. Some spammer I just deleted… 😉

Meanwhile, I noticed this change on Mr Rabbit’s Facebook info:

Political views: Not Kevin Rudd any more. It was sorta nice while it lasted.

There’s just one GenY view, but I wonder how many other Kevin07ers are less impressed with Kevin10? Quite a few, I suspect. The argey-bargey about debates right now makes me think K Rudd and company also suspect things are not all they could be right now.

Our election, whenever it comes, will be more interesting than polls have been showing — or so the tea cup says. The Right will return to base with Mr Abbott, the Left and the Labor Greens will wonder what kind of turkey they voted in last time around and go somewhere else — Bob Brown’s lot, more likely than not.

Such a shame. It’s not that the ideas have all been bad — rather the reverse in most cases. But the delivery has often been ill-considered, even naive. Some of that is down to poor ethics on the part of some service deliverers, as in the insulation roll-out — a good idea, indeed an excellent idea, that fell down through haste and being rather too trusting when there will inevitably be lurk merchants ready to bleed the government given half a chance. Immigration, though I reject utterly the xenophobia and panic of the Tele or talkback, has become increasingly ugly. Climate change action, stymied by the loss of Malcolm Turnbull, the outcome of Copenhagen and a number of hostile senators and Family First, has become an embarrassment — even if it is true that our contribution in real as distinct from moral terms will always be rather small.

Of course much good has also been done. But nonetheless, the outcome might be better in the long run for Julia Gillard if not for the rest of us.

We’ll see.

Do you have a favourite poem?

I was asked recently to name my favourite three poems. Such a difficult choice! Only three?

So I went from the top of the head rather than think for too long and surprised myself rather by thinking of three Australian poems.

Judith Wright

Woman to Man

The eyeless labourer in the night,
 the selfless, shapeless seed I hold,
 builds for its resurrection day -
 silent and swift and deep from sight
 forsees the unimagined light.

 This is no child with a child's face;
 this has no name to name it by;
 yet you and I have known it well.
 This is our hunter and our chase,
 the third who lay in our embrace.

 This is the strength that your arm knows,
 the arc of flesh that is my breast,
 the precise crystals of our eyes.
 This is the blood's wild tree that grows
 the intricate and folded rose.

 This is the maker and the made;
 this is the question and reply;
 the blind head butting at the dark,
 the blaze of light along the blade.
 Oh hold me, for I am afraid.

Next is “Because” by James McAuley, and then Robert Gray, “Diptych”.

Can’t oblige with the last poem. Keep an eye out for it. The poet had this to say:

BW: Your poem "Diptych" is very moving. Its subject is your parents who were two completely different exemplars. How did your childhood prepare you for writing?

RG: My parents, like the panels of a diptych, were forever separated while in proximity. In a way I was fortunate they were so different: I was able to see the inadequacies of both their extreme temperaments. Maybe that’s the origin of the underlying attitude of my poems, which I’ve realised is a dialectical one.

My mother was very warm; she had a sort of marsupial warmth about her. But it’s fair, even though harsh, to say that she was unintelligent – most significantly in that she chose for a husband a person who could only bring her a great deal of unhappiness. She always acted purely from her emotional nature. I benefited greatly because of my mother’s sensibility, but I could see the inadequacies of being simply emotive about everything.

My father was far more intellectual: well read, cuttingly witty, an easy raconteur; a rational person, with a discriminating taste. He had a good deal of charm, but it was not to be relied upon. I have come to accept many of his beliefs about life, in which he opposed my mother: his anti-religious feeling, for instance. But he was a frozen man, deeply neurotic, imposing a highly mannered life upon himself, and us. He was tormentingly fastidious, constantly belittling, and I, as the eldest, was his main target, apart from my mother. We kids all turned against him, to varying degrees, early on; and he wanted this, I realise. He couldn’t stand a domestic, cosy atmosphere. He was, at regular periods, a real falling-down drunk, who would end up having to be hospitalised. Yet he was never, in his worst condition, physically violent, and I realised recently that he never swore.

I admire some things about both my parents. All through my poems there is, subtly I hope, a consciousness of the interdependence of opposites; and an acceptance or reconciling of these. I will leave it to the critics, however, to discover the extent and the significance of this…

BW: I think yours is a portrait done in love, though I imagine other emotions were there initially: anger, hatred, resentment – naturally.

RG: "Diptych" was written after he died, unlike the other poem about the same subject, "Poem to My Father", which was written when he thought he was going to die, one time. After someone dies, you are no longer their victim – disturbingly, they become yours. You can say anything about them. The realisation that he was now contained in my hand, as it were, tempered any bitterness. Not that you could say the emotion of "Poem to My Father" is a bitter one. They are poems that have a certain sense of goodwill, I guess. They just happened like that.

From an interview with Barbara Williams



A rather personal selection really.

  • Do you have a favourite poem or poems? Why not use the comment space here to share what it/they may be.

Gays in the military? Of course there are

This was posted on Facebook and shows a scene very like, if bigger than, one Sirdan and I witnessed a few Anzac Days back. It was taken at the Stonewall Hotel on Oxford Street yesterday. Thanks to Sailor Andy.


Sirdan and I, along with Simon H, B and P were at the Trinity Bar in Surry Hills having a Sunday lunch that was meant to honour the closing of Chinese Whisper, but alas Chinese Whisper had already closed!


Sirdan is off to South Africa for a while mid-week.

The promised education post


From 2005 to 2008 there was a definite improvement in the ICT literacy of Year 6 students and a less certain tendency towards improvement in ICT literacy across Year 10 students. Overall, 57 per cent of Year 6 students attained the proficient standard for that Year level by being able to: “generate simple general search questions and select the best information source to meet a specific purpose, retrieve information from given electronic sources to answer specific, concrete questions, assemble information in a provided simple linear order to create information products, use conventionally recognised software commands to edit and reformat information products”. Sixty-six per cent of Year 10 students reached or exceeded the proficient standard for Year 10 by indicating that they were able to: “generate well targeted searches for electronic information sources and select relevant information from within sources to meet a specific purpose, create information products with simple linear structures and use software commands to edit and reformat information products in ways that demonstrate some consideration of audience and communicative purpose”.

There are substantial differences in skills displayed between Year 6 and Year 10 students suggesting that considerable growth in ICT proficiency takes place over these four years. However, there remains variation among students in ICT literacy. Many students use ICT in a relatively limited way and this is reflected in their overall level of ICT literacy. There are differences associated with socioeconomic background, Indigenous status and remote geographic locations that deserve attention.

That’s from the report National Year 6 and Year 10 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Literacy Results 2008.

The Hon. Julia Gillard, MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Commonwealth Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, today released the 2008 National ICT Literacy Sample Assessment results for Year 6 and Year 10 students [pdf] on behalf of the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs.

This report is the second to be published on ICT Literacy in the cycle of three-yearly sample assessments conducted by MCEECDYA as part of its National Assessment Program (NAP). The assessment measured students’ ability to access, manage, integrate and evaluate information, develop new understandings, and communicate with others in order to participate effectively in society.

The assessment was conducted in October 2008, with 5,604 Year 6 students from 299 schools and 5,322 Year 10 students from 292 schools participating. The participating students were from both government and non-government schools…

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on this last week: City-rural divide hits computer literacy.

THERE has been no improvement in the computer skills of the country’s most disadvantaged students but the skills of higher performers are improving, a new national snapshot of school students in years 6 and 10 has found.

The review of student computer literacy reveals a worrying trend for the tail-end of the poorest performers, who are failing to develop vital skills needed for participation in today’s workforce.

The study shows that there are stark differences in the computer literacy of students depending on where they live. The percentage of year 6 students attaining a proficient standard was 61 per cent in metropolitan areas, 48 per cent in rural areas and 38 per cent in remote regions…

The deputy chief executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research and lead author of the new report, John Ainley, said 13 per cent of year 6 students were in the bottom proficiency level in 2008, which was the same proportion recorded in 2005.

Of the year 10 students tested, 7 per cent were in the bottom performance band in 2008. This was the same proportion recorded in 2005, when the national computer literacy test was first introduced.

Dr Ainley said the most pleasing result was the improvement made by most year 6 students. He attributed this to children having greater access to computers at home and in schools.

In 2008, 57 per cent of year 6 students reached or exceeded the proficient standard of computer literacy, compared to 49 per cent in 2005…

A spokeswoman for the federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, said the results showed important improvements in ICT literacy, with increases  recorded in both year 6 and 10. ”However, there is clearly still more work to be done,” she said. ”We expect these results will improve markedly in future assessments as our $2.2 billion Digital Education Revolution starts to help lift the ICT literacy of all students. Our commitment to provide a one-to-one ratio of computers to students will have a marked affect on the assessment in future years.”

I trust the affect/effect error there did not originate with the source of that remark.

There isn’t much that is all that surprising in this story, not really. It is pretty much what could be expected – perhaps even better than what might be expected. Of course where you live affects access to computers and the internet, and of course socio-economic status will have an effect as well. Looking at the report I was rather impressed with the high level of access and competence over all.

That roughly the same percentage is in the bottom performance band is unchanged surprises me not at all. No matter how you look at it, no matter what you do, this will always be the case. Around 10% of people are really thick; always have been, always will be. Doesn’t necessarily make them bad people.

We do seem in our measuring, weighing, and comparing these days to somehow magic 100% of people to be above average, while 49% continue to frustrate all our politics and efforts.

It is amazing how computers have changed things though. This laptop is a treasure-trove of things for my tutoring – 4,000 works of literature on board, complete performances of Shakespeare plays, movies, PowerPoints, dictionaries, grammar, a web-site for the coachees…

Hard to imagine tutoring/teaching without all that now, even harder to recall that most of my teaching career was ICT-less. Or to acknowledge that my own computer skills just twelve years ago were below the average Year 3 student.

Now here’s an interesting study.

Genes need good teachers to produce reading skills.

The nature vs. nurture debate began long before we even understood inheritance in any significant way, and has continued through the discovery of genes and up to the present era of molecular genetics. But understanding how the nature side of things operates hasn’t done much to settle matters, as the ability to control for the variable influence of nature—or raise humans in a controlled environment—has made isolating specific influences challenging. Still, the picture that’s emerging is one of a complex interplay between genetic potential and environmental factors, which is nicely highlighted by a paper in this week’s Science.

The paper looks at the links among genetics, environment, and reading ability. The portion of the paper that reviews the current literature provides a great indication of why matters can get confusing. Various studies have indicated that a large portion of children’s reading skills can be ascribed to genetic influences—typical twin studies indicate that genes account for about 65 percent of the variability. Yet studies of general classroom performance in unrelated students indicate that individual teachers and the classroom environment they create can have a strong influence on the development of reading ability. It would be very tempting to look at the apparently conflicting results and ask, "Well, which is it?"

The new study suggests that it’s a bit of both. Genes provide a potential capacity for developing reading skills, but it takes a good teacher to actually push students to their limits…

Nice to have an acknowledgement that teaching really does make a difference, even if what the student arrives with accounts for around 65%.

Perhaps my friends who are still teaching would like to undertake some action research. Why not obtain DNA samples from your Year 12 class, have that thoroughly analysed, and then line it up against the HSC results?

No, I’m not being entirely serious…