Mind before chicken before matter before egg?

The Secret History of the World, by Jonathon Black, is a book I’ve been looking at in bookshops for a while, and I picked up a copy to stuff in my pocket for holiday reading since it at 550 odd pages it looked like a book that might last a few days. I think I may like some of it, but in his early discussions about mind and matter and physics and metaphysics he gets a bit tied up in a chicken and egg argument about being and existence and God.

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Crying WHOlf?

Raising the Pandemic Alert level to 5 shows how crude the WHO system of pandemic threat levels is – one more notch and we’re all dead? Surely not. News media all over the world are obviously featuring the story, but many people will find a Level 5 alert on a 6 point scale unduly alarmist at this stage. More people die in road traffic accidents everyday, but you don’t see that as the top news on CNN or Sky. The WHO pandemic level is a simple measure, and we don’t live in a simple world. The rapid escalation of the alert level could lead to people treating this as another false alarm, like the SARS scare. Continue reading “Crying WHOlf?”

Age of Misery, 1973-20??

One of my graduate students remarked the other day on how miserable his thesis topic – the 2006 war in Lebanon – is; and it led me to point out to him how miserable contemporary history is now compared to what it used to be when I was young. I recalled a remark made by my sister-in-law a few years ago about how so much current modern literature is depressing and wretched – no one lives happily ever after anymore – and I think it applies to contemporary history as well. 30 years ago, the world was a more optimistic place, wars were cleaner, and even the bad guys were nicer than they are now. Continue reading “Age of Misery, 1973-20??”

Mocha Book, Grande, with cream?

Good news of the week is that Blackwells have switched on the first Espresso Book Machine in a UK bookshop, in their Charing Cross Road Branch. Pádraig Ó Méalóid called in the Beginning of the End for bookshops? in his Livejournal but I like it. The EBM will deliver Print On Demand books in under 3 minutes. I think it will be a boon for small bookshops.  My retirement plan, after UCC was always for a wee book & coffee shop in a seaside town where I could amble into (more) senility dispensing wisdom, books and coffee to ungrateful customers, and a little POD machine fits in well with that. Continue reading “Mocha Book, Grande, with cream?”

Anatomy of Indecision?

Batt O’Keeffee must be the worst Minister of Education in the history of the state, at least insofar as political savvy goes. He failed to defend his portfolio from cuts which increased class sizes, and now he is making every possible wrong choice about the very necessary reintroduction of fees. Having decided it must be done, he is progressively putting off the final act. According to reports today, the final decision will be delayed until after the Local and European Elections in June but students entering college in September will be liable for fees.  I always thought the abolition of fees was a mistake, and that they should be brought back, but this political faffing round is going to make a pigs ear out of what was never going to be a silk purse anyway. Continue reading “Anatomy of Indecision?”


Are elements of those silly Facebook quizzes and games potentially useful for teaching, at some level? I tend to ignore them, but a comment just now started me thinking about the possibilties. Sam, one of my students, took “What mode of production are are you?” and came out as Feudalism (which some people would think is apt for him!). Like all FB quizzes, it is an extended multi-choice quiz, with a series of questions to match you to something.  The games – or at least the one I joined before I discovered the ‘ignore’ button, are repetative quest games in which you churn through oppnents to gain experience and unlock new abilities. While I find them boring, they are addictive, people play them a lot and you could adapt the basic model from grinding monsters/enemies/whatever to grinding useful skills. Continue reading “Facebookedu?”


I’m playing round with Adobe Captivate, moving slides from 3 old powerpoints on UN Peacekeeping into one Captivate presentation which I’ll use today as a flash movie, and also make available to my class as a .avi movie and  an audio only podcast.  I’m fining it a lot of work, but I think the extra flexibility of Captivate will be worth it in the long run.  This version is very basic, and does not yet take advantage of all the possibilities like quizzes, or branching navigation. You can theoretically do all of those in Powerpoint, but it is much more work – I found my way round the workspace in Captivate very quickly, and find it faster for more advanced work.  Continue reading “Captivating”

MIT adopts University wide Open Access policy

Yesterday MIT faculty voted unanimously to provide for full open access to all scholarly publications through an institutional repository. The implementation details remain to be finalised, but the principle is that from yesterday, all their scholarly articles will be published online, and be open to all.
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Is that the new thing now?

I really like Understanding Modern Warfare by David Jordan and others – it is a great book for an introductory course on modern war, all of the chapters are good and all of the contributors have done a fine job.  However, Cambridge’s efforts to provide proper, modern text book support for it are feeble – their ‘how to use this book’ lists as among other learning features, a table of contents. It is 2009, and the old ToC has been around a while; it is hardly an exciting learning tool. Continue reading “Is that the new thing now?”

Outlining V Storyboarding

I’ve always been an outliner, and a mindmapper, and never been happy storyboarding. In trying to move up from Powerpoint/OpenOffice Impress to flash based tools like Captivate for presentations, I’m finding the storyboard way of developing materials frustrating – I can’t easily move elements of my narrative from one slide to another the way I can with a tool that supports proper, fully nested and levelled outlines.  If you have ever worked with any tool which support proper outlining, and uses styles (Heading1, Heading2, Heading3) to mark it out, you’ll know how frustrating it can be when you need to move this into a format which allows more interaction to engage and hold students attention. I was particularly annoyed by the way Captivate just turns Powerpoint slides into flat images and loses the outline. Continue reading “Outlining V Storyboarding”