Thursday, October 29, 2009

Xtranormal - what fun!

Here's a free tool you can use to put together some quick animated movies. It looks pretty straightforward and rather fun. I can think of umpteen uses for it, both in schools and in business.

Enough is enough!

Just no. The line was overstepped a long time ago. How on earth did it come to this? An English borough council has banned parents from overseeing their own children in play areas because they have not been vetted by the criminal records bureau. The parents now have to remain outside of a fenced off area, while their children are supervised by council appointees.

C'mon people! These are our children! When did the State get this much clout?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Talking about ethics...

Now that my major project is complete, I am treating myself to a bit of fiction. I started off with absolute pulp and have still not taken on anything particularly challenging. Or so I thought.

The book I am currently reading - My Sister's Keeper - has been made into a movie, so my sons recognised the title. They asked me what it was about, and this was when the fun began.

Because it's about a girl suing her parents for medical emancipation. A girl who was conceived to provide her leukemic elder sister with a matching donor. When the book opens, the elder sister has begun to experience kidney failure and wheels have been set in motion to give her one of her younger sister's kidneys.

But no-one ever asked her.

From the start of her life, she has been seen as the source of everything her sister needs, and she has never had a say in it. If she refuses to give her sister a kidney, the sister will die.

So now we have conversations about ethics and human rights and duties and responsibilities and all that stuff in our house.

It isn't easy, but I highly recommend it. The conversation is stimulating. My kids are being forced to think long and hard, and to frame their arguments cogently. For them, it's black and white. So I have been playing devil's advocate - "What if...", "What about..."

It makes a change from results-oriented thinking where only one answer is correct, and I believe it's done them the world of good. Perhaps they should debate this kind of thing in their 'learning to learn' sessions at school!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Inaugural lecture: Jonathan Jansen

The first black Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State, a province considered by many to be the bastion of racism in South Africa, delivered his inaugural address on Friday night. It is a speech full of hope for the future of the country. I long to see his optimism prove well-founded.

Jansen - author of Knowledge in the Blood, an account of race and apartheid in South Africa - is not known for (as he puts it) snuggling up to power. He is perhaps a surprise appointment, and I hope with every fibre of my being that it this is not window dressing. But he certainly seems to be the man for the hour. Soon after his appointment, a friend sent him a quote from the Old Testament book of Esther 4:14 “Is it possible that you have come into the kingdom for such a time as this?” See the closing anecdote of his speech for evidence of his inspirational qualities among even white Afrikaans students at the university.

I am hoping for the best here!

And as a codicil, while I knew that JRR Tolkien spent time lecturing at Fort Hare University in South Africa and is believed by many to have been inspired to write about Hobbits during many weekends in the nearby Hogsback Mountains, I had not previously realised that he was born in South Africa. Bloemfontein, in fact.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dress codes for avatars?

Gartner has expressed the view that companies should develop dress codes for their employees' avatars. Computer Weekly and ITPro have both had their say on the subject.

A few years back, when I attended a Second Life workshop, the woman who was facilitating it boasted an avatar with the face of a fox (literally, not metaphorically) and an, er, interesting outfit. My own looked and dressed like me. I felt a little staid. As if I had missed the opportunity for creativity. I was tempted to go for something a bit more outlandish, but decided that a situation might arise in which I wanted a more accurate representation of myself.

I have mixed feelings about the idea of avatar dress codes. I can understand that a company with a virtual world presence will want to project the same sort of professional image online as they do face to face. But I also wonder how far they can push this. Will it just be about dress, or will people be restricted as to body shapes and accuracy of representation? Could a large, bald man be prevented from having an avatar that is a slim man (or even woman) with a full head of hair?

As with blogging policies, there's a lot of grey area here. There's the situation in which you represent your organisation. There's the situation in which you in no way represent an organisation and are free to pursue other interests. But then there's the situation in which you represent yourself, but in a space related to your profession, and therefore populated by clients, potential clients, colleagues, competitors and so on.

I ask the same question here as I did when blogging policies were the hot topic. Where do terms of employment butt up against individual liberties? This is risky turf.

What do you reckon?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Mr Aubergine

I long since abandoned the pic of the day on the grounds that my life is too dull to generate interest photo opps on an ongoing basis. Yesterday turned out to be an exception. Meet Mr Aubergine, who constituted a part of my dinner. Isn't he cute, with his little green hat and retrousse nose? All he needs is pair of goggly eyes!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Disempowering parents

Recently, the Swedish government was considering making it illegal for parents to homeschool their children for faith reasons. At the time, I expressed the view that the state appeared to have forgotten that its role is to serve the people, not dictate to them. That parents (should) have the right to educate their children as they see fit, employing state provided education if they wish to do so.

It seems things have gone from bad to worse. A young family which had at one point made enquiries about home schooling their son decided to move to India (which is the country of the wife's birth) to work as missionaries among the poor there. This had long been something they had felt called to do, and the enquiries about homeschooling had been with this in mind. They sold up their possessions and boarded a plane. Swedish armed police stormed the plane and forcibly removed them. They then took their son from them and placed him in foster care. More of the story can be picked up here.

The traumatised wife has been hospitalised.

I can hardly articulate my reactions to this. So I will forebear, and leave you to form your own views.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Adrienne Carlson: iPhone apps for academic types

I am not an 'academic type' I realise this afresh every time I take on the challenge of writing an academic paper. However, I have synergy with a great many of the things that drive people who *are* academic types... and if any of those drivers can be addressed by an iPhone app, so much the better.

Adrienne Carlson is a relatively new contact of mine, and she has listed 100 iPhone apps for academics. Some of them I already use, while others are totally new to me. Many of these I suspect would be of equal interest to people outside of academia, too. What she hasn't done (unfortunately) is indicate which of them are free, but I guess a quick visit to the app store should determine that.