Showing posts from March, 2009

mixed messages

This weekend, people all around the developed world are switching off their lights for Earth Hour. The initiative, facilitated by the WWF "acts as a worldwide call to action to every individual, business and community to take a stand against Climate Change" according to the website.

I must admit to having mixed feelings about the whole thing. Don't get me wrong... I think that it is a great idea, but I just wonder how much of a real difference it will make.

I remember during the 1980s in South Africa when I was one of a group of editors working on UpFront, the journal of the UDF and in many ways the mouthpiece for the then-banned ANC, there were some people within the organisation who were critical of the contribution of whites to the struggle. Their argument was that we could enjoy the adrenaline rush of putting up illegal posters or holding illegal meetings, but at the end of the day we went back to the cocoons of our safe homes in our white suburbs.

I feel a little like…

in the eye of the beholder

I have one of those widgets on my Google home page that provides "today's reason to drink". Not, you understand, because I particularly need a good reason to drink. In fact, a father who was a part time alcoholic (he was great between the binges) and a very frustrating new allergy to red wine have conspired to keep me sober. Instead, I see it as "today's reason to celebrate".

So, when I saw that today is National Biodiesel day - I assume in the US - I realised that this was a day that I should certainly celebrate.

Until ten days ago I wouldn't have given it a second glance, but that was before I paid a visit to the Sasol Advanced Fuels Laboratory (SAFL) at UCT and discovered that there is a world of unexpected beauty inside every engine.

In a rather nondescript building tucked behind the maintenance department on the UCT campus, researchers are testing Sasol fuels and discovering some amazing things. I expected rather dour and nurdy chemists, but what I f…

the future is in Venus

Today's thought-provoking guest post by is Larissa

Numerous science fiction and Japanese animated films depict a horrific future where humans are ruled and overpowered by an army of power-hungry killer robots and machines. In reality, this is unlikely ever to happen. A future where robots can walk upright like a human, on two steel legs, let alone grip a pistol in their meagre, unbendable fingers is thousands of years away – especially when you take a look at the ‘best’ and most ‘proficient’ robots that have been designed so far. The most violent thing these inadequate steel beasts will do is blast away the dirt and grime in your home and call an all-out war on poor sanitation.

On the contrary, imagine living in a world enhanced by machinery and technology. Imagine living in a beautifully designed, fully-automated, sustainable house with a solar-panelled roof in a safe, energy-efficient city that has no prisons. Best of all, you wouldn't have any bonds or mortgage payments to m…

come away with me

To celebrate the second Friday the 13th in a row, and because I feel like its time to get off my soapbox and take a breather, today I'm getting away from it all. Well, virtually and vicariously anyway.

This is Bassas da India, an uninhabitable atoll in the Mozambique channel between Africa and Madagascar. Uninhabitable because it is underwater for the three hours before and after high tide.

According to Wikipaedia, "Bassas da India (also called Basse de Judie) is an uninhabited, roughly circular atoll about 10 km in diameter, which corresponds to a total size (including lagoon) of 80 km². It is located in the southern Mozambique Channel, about half-way between Madagascar (which is 385 km to the east) and Mozambique, and 110 km northwest of Europa Island. It rises steeply from the seabed 3000 m below. The reef rim averages around 100 m across and completely encloses a shallow lagoon that has a maximum depth of 15 m.

"The atoll consists of ten barren rocky islets, with no v…

who really cares?

I've been wondering how many people need to die before ordinary people sit up and recognise the silent genocide that is happening in Southern Africa?

I'm not talking about the outrage or wringing of hands by governments or humanitarian organisations. I mean, what does it take for you and me to actually, honestly weep for the thousands who are dying? What changes them from faceless numbers to individuals? Is it only when death comes knocking on the doors of our cocoons?

And what is it that makes some genocide internationally recognised and deplored while others fall through the cracks?

I was reading recently about the genocide that occurred in Burundi at the same time as the Rwandan crisis. It was another case of violent conflict between Hutu and Tutsi, but unless I've missed something, it has never received anything like the publicity that the Rwandan conflict has. In fact, in 1972, Burundi had the dubious honour of being the first country in the Great Lakes region to see ge…

How Do I Know What I Think Until I See What I Say?

Today's post is by guest writer Skoorby

Listening to the radio today, I heard a story about the use of “clickers” in a classroom at Cleveland State University. Listen here. So it appears that the clickers increase engagement and enable instructors to assess students, but do they help learning? I thought back to my experience in teaching.

I always annoyed my classes at the beginning of term (and so had small class sizes) by telling students that I would be “cold calling” – i.e., calling on them without prior notice to answer substantive questions in class, and that their participation grades would be influenced by their responses.

My rationale was that if you’re constantly trying to keep yourself ready to answer, you’re more likely to pay attention, but more importantly, you’re likely to think beyond the material to form your own view. From my exposure to cognitive psychology, I figured that cold calling would increase something called “depth of processing”, known to be an imp…