A Good Year

This page written circa 30 December, 2007 .

New Scientist sometimes reports "research that proves the obvious", stuff like a two-year program of taxpayer-funded research to prove that being happy makes people smile. We derive a kind of sad amusement from these exposés of waste... you gotta laugh or you would cry. Last month you needed look no further than the Sydney University web page for another cracker:
What we think about America: A survey carried out by the University's US Studies Centre has revealed that although most Australians look favourably on America, they don't like President Bush or his foreign policy.

No shit, Sherlock! I wonder what great impact the university expects this revelation to have? I believe it safe to assert that a majority of Americans think this too, virtually every Democrat and an increasing fraction of Republicans. Does the world really find these intellectual gems revealing? If Douglas Adams' main serious observation upon mankind can be summed up with the line "under no circumstances should anyone who seeks political power be allowed to have it", Gene Roddenberry's would be The Prime Directive, and one need look no further than a history of US foreign policy for the inspiration. Perhaps we do need more governmental smile research.

I commented to Bruce that I was likely to have negligible impact on UoW. I was flattered by his reply to the effect that I already have had one, "leading by example". "People can see what you are doing" he said. Looking back, reading the feedback, I think the students can see it too. It remains to be seen if the hard work is as valued from above as it may be from below. I am working to ensure that each course is not so packed with stuff that it becomes superficial, and making sure that labs are synchronised with lectures and run properly. To be effective, I believe practical classes require a capable academic on the floor, instead of only grad student demonstrators who may be no less clueless than the students. Some of our courses reminded me of that Monty Python lampoon of a TV educational program that promises to teach you how to play the flute: "You put your fingers over the holes and blow in the end". In the jargon that leads to "superficial learning", a collection of facts instead of understanding. Godfrey is continually exhorting me to ensure quality in teaching, and I think he would approve of the trends at UoW-EE.

This house has come together, and the apalling tradesmen notwithstanding, Bywater Grange feels like heaven. I could live here indefinitely and love it. The risks are that the responsibility of maintaining such a wonderland property will prove too great, as it did for a previous owner, or that Hamilton itself will prove too rural for the kids as teenagers, or even for me. Out of the blue Merinda asked "could we live in Singapore"? "Why Singapore?", I asked. "Because it is busy and there is lots of stuff going on there". I have always suspected that teenagers need cities to develop fully, watching the reaction of friends who migrated to Sydney from rural Australia when I was in college. I also suspect that high schools that can truly cut the mustard have to be large, metropolitan, and cosmopolitan. We have a few years before this prospect must be confronted.

I don't think the world had an especially good year in 2007, though much has been achieved: The Howard government has gone from Aus, and there is a high probability that the people will reject the brilliant-but-destructive, business-controlled, Republican-fronted political machine in the US. Education and research ought to fare better. China surges forward, and the the West has noticed that it is powered by engineering and manufacturing and it is being run by engineer-politicians rather than lawyer-politicians, bean counters, or businessmen. Things should be looking up next year.
I don't think the Scott family had an especially good year in 2007, though much has been achieved: Bywater Grange is finished and one can hope that resources will flow into EE at UoW. Things should be looking up next year.

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