Kamala, the Inflection Point and the Geek vs Freak Election?

This is not an article about politics but it is about the Democratic National Convention (D20) held in the last week. Specifically, it’s about one phrase in the speech by Vice Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris (see video). The phrase is “inflection point” that was also echoed the following day in the speech by Presidential candidate Joe Biden. It seems that the Democratic Party are hoping that this phrase will be a rallying call for them come Election Day in November.

“We’re at an inflection point. The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid.  The callousness makes us feel alone. It’s a lot. And here’s the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more.[1].

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Time Travel in “Dark”: Embrace the Paradox

Promotional poster for the Netflix series “Dark” [1].

German Netflix series simply called “Dark” has been around since June 2017 (seasons 1 and 2) . The new season 3 has only recently become available. Watch out for the first scene in the first episode: a gruesome suicide by hanging which you might want to hit fast forward through. Very dark indeed. If you do fast forward don’t miss the short sequence in which the victim’s mother grabs the suicide note before anyone else can read it. The victim here is Michael Kahnwald and his mother is Ines. This whole scene, and the names of the characters, are pivotal to the whole story. We’ll return to the intrigue, setup by the first scene, after discussing some general comments about the time travel genre. Take the opportunity for a pause because “Dark” is a bumpy, head-spinning journey. (Edit: postponed to the continuation in Part 2).

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Is “Unprecedented Times” the Most Annoying New Cliché?

It was sometime in mid-March that I started to become aware of the phrase “unprecedented times” being used as a descriptive term for the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s only a few weeks ago but since the pandemic was announced by WHO (12th March), we seem to be living in a time-frame where one week feels like one-month pre-pandemic time.

I started to take notice of the phrase “unprecedented times” during the announcements by our Prime Minister Scott Morrison concerning the Job Keeper pandemic relief scheme on the 30th March. At the time I was impressed that the leadership of Australia was stepping up to the mark in making appropriate and well-timed responses to the pandemic  (see the YouTube video below).

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Herd Immunity and COVID-19

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By Snapwire from Pexels (free to use)

This morning I was watching TV, the Today show. as Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon were discussing the concept of “herd immunity” which had been considered by the UK Government early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Their casual conversion considered whether it might be a good idea to deliberately infect younger Australians with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) [1] whilst isolating and protecting older and more susceptible members of the community. This apparently casual conversation raised alarms for me as I’ll explain below (see after the jump). The infographic video that Allie used to explain the concept of “herd immunity,” seemingly made a compelling argument for it. Fortunately, they brought in sensible expert advice in the form of Dr Sanjaya Senanayake an Infectious Diseases physician and Associate Professor from the Medical School at the Australian National University (ANU) (see the YouTube video below).

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The Meaning of a COVID-19 Second Wave

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Photo by Emiliano Arano from Pexels

I’ve been hearing the term “second wave” being used more and more frequently in connection with the COVID-19 crisis. For instance, in this article [1] about Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong facing a second wave of coronavirus cases from citizens returning from overseas. This seems faulty logic to me: it isn’t a second wave, it’s a continuation of the first wave relocating from a different geographical place. I don’t mean just to single out this article because numerous TV and radio newscasters, newspaper articles and websites worldwide are commonly using the same kind of wonky logic in connection with a so-called coronavirus second wave. When what they really mean is that the same source of the virus has either: (i)  lead to a continuation of cases from another location or (ii) made a reappearance after initial efforts for containment have only been partially successful.

Why do we describe resurgence in coronavirus cases in an inconsistent manner with the phrase “a second wave”? What has happened that we can’t agree on the meaning of a term that is so important to the coronavirus crisis?

My answer is after the page jump.

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My Trip Down Memory Lane

Thinking about updating my curriculum vitae today, I was triggered to reminisce about my senior high-school experiences back in 1974-5. Amazing how sharply some memories came flooding back through the eyes of a 17-year-old. I remember about being part of the Science, Mathematics and Technology group of 4 that all shared dreams of becoming scientists, technologists or engineers: Wayne, Geoffery B,, Jon and myself. At the beginning of senior high, one of the Industrial Arts teachers had suggested that the 4 of us take a lower level of English so we could concentrate on Maths, Science and Industrial Arts. As you can imagine, the English Department was not at all impressed that some of their students were taking a level of English that demanded less than their full capabilities. What happened next is far from what you might expect (read the full story after the jump).

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Bags packed ready for my trip down memory lane [1].
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The Game of Thrones Finale!

There are spoilers ahead if you haven’t caught up with GOT season 8 episode 5 as yet.

I speculated about the (then) upcoming HBO Game of Thrones final season in a previous article. Turns out that I was right that episode 3 would contain the epic Battle for Winterfell against the Army of the Dead. I was wrong in that I didn’t predict that the Night King would be defeated and the threat from the north tied up in that same episode.

From my speculation, the other thing I did get right was that there would be treachery and betrayal from Varys and Tyrion. As Tyrion says: “thoughts aren’t treason” so he hasn’t, in his view, crossed the line yet. Though, after the apocalyptic-scale destruction of King’s Landing that Daenerys instigated in episode 5, it remains to be seen if Tyrion will continue to side with her.

Paiting, Death on a Pale Horse
Benjamin West, Death on the Pale Horse, 1796, from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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Speculation About Game of Thrones Season 8

In my former life as an academic, I used to joke to my colleagues that Game of Thrones was essential reading as a standard operations manual for working in universities nowadays.

GOT as a manual for negotiating the world of research grants, where, figuratively, you either win the game or die and of navigating a path between the wheeling and dealing of the big-time professors, administrators, bean-counters, health and safety officers (hey, don’t underestimate their power). On many occasions, the internal and external politics between all of the players seemed to operate on a GOT-like scale. There were times I must admit that I felt no better than a denizen of the “Flea Bottom” in King’s Landing.

Given that internal politics in most organisations of more than a handful of people can feel a bit like GOT, from time-to-time, why not distract yourself with a little idle speculation about the upcoming Game of Thrones Season 8? I’m hoping to speculate on enough topics that I’ll be able to make a random hit and be able to say “I told you so!” The truth is that my speculation is unlikely to be any better than anyone else. But its fun isn’t it? [March 7: I’ve added new updates in notes at the end]

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Update — Careful to Whom You Hand the Keys for Encryption

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system … It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. George Orwell, Part 1, Chapter 1, in 1984

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Source: Flickr by walknboston

In an earlier post Careful to Whom You Hand the Keys for Encryption I described the extraordinary events of 6 Dec when the so-called “encryption busting” Access and Assistance Act passed into law on the last hours of the last sitting day of  Federal Parliament before the end of 2018.

It passed after the Labor Party opposition, who had been opposing the AA Bill (Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfuss described it as being “obviously dangerous”) gained a promise from the Government that amendments to the Bill would be considered when Parliament reconvened in February. Well that’s now and it occurred last week on the 13 and 14 Feb in a Bill introduced as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2019 [1].

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The Unfairness of Measuring Teaching Performance – Revisited

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A survey of student evaluations of teaching shows that men rate higher.

Last year I posted an article on The Unfairness of Measuring Teaching Performance concerning anonymous student comments that said that the teacher was “too old” [1]. An article published on the online site Phys.org [2] found that male teachers were most likely to be evaluated the highest by students and female teachers from a non-English background the lowest. Further, the bias showed up most in student surveys in Science and Business and was largely absent from students surveys from Engineering and other disciplines.

This study was based upon 500,000 student surveys of teaching at the University of NSW, Sydney between 2010 and 2016. It involved more than 3000 teachers over 2000 courses. across 5 Faculties.

In my previous article, I strongly supported teaching surveys as a tool for professional teacher development using tailored questions that are teacher selectable. It was my belief that problems arise because of

… the impersonal nature of the survey, as well as the fact that it is exclusively university, administered, that is the heart of the problem.

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