Today’s thief, yesterday’s child – an empathic mindset

Men have come into being for one another;
so either educate them
or put up with them.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Torn Soft Top WindowIMG_0479

IMG_0482A few weeks ago, I had parked my car on my street overnight and in the morning discovered that someone had taken a knife to the window of the soft-top and broken into my jeep.

Understandably, I am not happy about this. I have parked on the street in front of my apartment so many times, and nothing had happened. It was very frustrating that this had happened right under the balconies and windows of other apartments in my building.

As I surveyed the mess that the thief had had, I started to look for what was not taken – the service books, manuals, CDs, the fire extinguisher, the first aid kit, and such. I had a good look to see if there was any damage to the inside of the jeep – ripped seats, broken plastic bits, etc. And I also checked to see if the thief had urinated or worse inside. They had climbed in and helped themselves to approximately $30-40 in coins, iPhone headphones, and Greek worry beads that a friend had just given to me. Other than that, it was ok.

I tidied the inside and carried on with my day.

As I drove around running my errands, I felt a sense of gratitude for my thief. He could have made the whole experience much worse. He could have taken my jeep manual and service books – that would be a really hassle. He could have been very malevolent using the knife, used to cut the window, to cut up my seats. And the most horrifying would be to deal with the aftermath of him relieving himself in a variety of ways – that is not something I like to contemplate.

Later in the day, the gratitude was joined by a sense of sadness for the thief. No one wants to end up in a situation where breaking into cars is a something that one does. This is not the preferred option. This was not the dream or desire of a young person growing up. This was the result of bad decisions, bad luck, and a lack of options.

Somewhere inside the thief was the story of child who was lost a long time ago.

(to be continued)

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Must reads on writing for learners

Looking at employer feedback, one of the skills that they value highly is writing. This is for an obvious requirement in journalism, public relations, and other writerly practices, but it is also a highly valued skill for designers, advertisers, scientists, and even engineers. Being able to communicate clearly and in a focused manner is important to all professions in our information age.

To that end, here is a must-reads list of on writing. I have kept the list to 3, but there are many more. If you have any suggestions, please add them in the comments.

  1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and  EB White.  This is a most useful and very important of all the must-reads. At its core, it is a style guide – a writing manual. But it offers a world where clarity of communication is revered and brandisments of language are scorned. There are criticisms of its prescriptive and traditional approach to writing, but its better to master the fundamentals before ornamentals.

    “It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to write plain English adequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the secrets of style, to the study of the masters of literature.”

    ps: Look for the illustrated version. Maria Kalman‘s illustrations are beautiful.

  2. Politics and the English Language by George Orwell (link to text).  This was an essay that Orwell wrote in 1946 as he felt ‘that the English language is in a bad way’. To him, the work needed to develop the ability to communicate leads to clear thinking and both are vital to the political process.

    “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

    He writes that poor writing suffers from ‘staleness of imagery’ and the ‘lack of precision’ that particularly manifest themselves in four bad habits – dying metaphors, operators, pretentious diction, and meaningless words. He provides us with 6 rules that we can use to counter these bad habits.

    i. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

    Importantly for Orwell, we must remember that ‘language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought’.

  3. How to Write with Style by Kurt Vonnegut. While this two-page article is perhaps intended for creative writers, as opposed to learners, the rules Vonnegut sets out, I believe, are about writing well and clearly. As he say, “I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.”

    1. Find a Subject You Care About
    2. Do Not Ramble, Though
    3. Keep It Simple
    4. Have the Guts to Cut
    5. Sound like Yourself
    6. Say What You Mean to Say
    7. Pity the Readers
    8. For Really Detailed Advice

    His rules focus on the clarity and authenticity of the writers voice, which is the foundation of writing that communicates well, and to the intention of the writer. 

Honourable Mention: Ten rules for writing fiction by various (part one, part two). Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, the Guardian asked other authors for their rules of writing.  This is worth a read.

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Update on #52books52weeks

As I wrote in the beginning of the year, I am going to try to read 52 books this year. I have been taking pictures of the books that I can read so far this year and putting those pictures on my Instagram and Facebook as well as on my Goodreads.

It’s almost 7 months in and I have completed 38 books so far which is 73% done with just over 9000 pages read. I am 9 books ahead of schedule so looks likely that I will hit my goal.

I was thinking of doing some kind of review or such for the books, but being 38 books in I am not sure I want to go back as write them. I might just pick and choose a few outstanding ones, and write reviews about them.

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Does sleeping matter to learners?

I was reading this article on sleep coaches and performance athletes, and I thought – what about learners?

There is a lot of research on the relationship between sleep deprivation and cognitive ability. Some researchers have argued that sleep deprivation has the same effects on us as intoxication does. This is an even a bigger issue when sleep deprivation is chronic. The list of the health impacts of sleep deprivation as impressively long and scary. Fast Company has this great infographic that tells the impact of not sleeping enough.

The relationship between sleep and studying is also an important one. Studies show that sleep plays an important role in managing learning while awake, as well as improving memory and retention – which are the bulwarks of learning. In fact, sleep and grades have been shown to be directly related – the better your sleep, the better your grades.

The key problem in the workplace is that we have culture in which sleep (and resting) are largely considered weaknesses. This is particularly true in the entrepreneur/start-up and self-employed world. So much so that many progressive companies are now looking to build in rest spaces or sleep pods to encourage employees to rest and recover. This is not done out of a sense of generosity but rather that it is good business as it minimises mistakes and improves productivity.

Here are some great podcasts on sleep

  • ABC Radio – Life Matters interview with Richard Wiseman, author of Nightschool:Wake up to the power of sleep (link)
  • Freakonomics Radio: The Economics of Sleep, Part 1 (link)
  • Freakonomics Radio: The Economics of Sleep, Part 2 (link)
  • Art of Maniless Podcast: The Slumbering Masses With Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer (link)

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Towards the end of 2014, I decided to attempt to read 52 books over the 52 weeks that are 2015. This idea came to me from several quarters – but as of most of the ideas, they came from colleagues, friends, and students.

Over the last few years, I have stopped reading fiction. Mostly. When I’m reading fiction, it’s often with a sense of guilt that perhaps I should be reading something more “useful” for my teaching and research. Over many lunchtime conversations with an esteemed colleague and friend, I realised that fiction has a lot more to offer and it is never not useful.

Further to that, I recently invited an alumnus to speak to my students in Singapore about employability – what they could do now, as well as what they needed to do for the future. One of the things she mentioned was reading – that she considered it vital not only for keeping up with the here and now, but also in order to anticipate future opportunities and trends. Interestingly, one’s reading habits can be used  as a barometer when interviewing potential employees.

She also said that when we meet, I usually would ask what she is reading. That made me realise that I usually ask people that question – perhaps subconsciously to understand them (or even judge them) – also to find out if there were interesting books out there worth reading.

Also, it was pointed out to me – and I had not realised – that I referred to a lot of books (both fiction and non-fiction) in the classroom. These are not just books that are academically immediately relevant to the content in a class, but also books that help challenge the students or tell a great story that helps with what happening in the classroom.

One of the things that I get asked for often from students is a reading list – not just coursework reading list, but rather a list of books that they might find interesting. So I made a couple of lists which you can access under the ‘Bibliophilia’ tab on this website.

So I decided given all that, I will try to read a book week this year. These books are, to my mind, books that are not immediately related to my teaching or research. They are my indulgences, my guilty pleasures, or simply a chance to read something outside of my normal habits.

To that end, I will document the books I have read here, on my website, as well as on Goodreads. This will give me a chance to keep track of what I’ve been reading and be able to rate it. I will also try to document my thoughts on the books, but this might slip away from me so let’s see how that tracks. Another good friend suggested that I instagram/tweet the covers of the books as I finish them.  I like that idea.

Thus begins #52books52weeks.

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Still Angry Podcast: Ep 9 EU Elections and the rise of the far right

In this podcast Terry and Hammy take a look at the recent EU elections which have seen considerable rise in the popularity of far right, ultra-nationalist and anti-EU parties as well as a boost to far-left parties.

What does the popularity of UKIP and Golden Dawn mean for the future of the EU and the free mobility of it’s citizens? Why are we seeing these changes and what does the future hold for the EU.


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Still Angry Podcast: Ep 8 Still Angry’s Budget Reply

In this episode, Terry and Hammy announce the recent budget of the Australian Federal Government. They look at the way debates around the budget have unfolded and how it has lead to a recasting of democracy and further reactions by established powers to stifle dissent.


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Still Angry Podcast: Ep 7 Journalism with Antonio Castillo

In this episode, Terry talks to Antonio Castillo – picking up their conversation from Episode 4. In this podcast, they talk about the role of journalism in contemporary society where the traditional forms of journalism and the notion of journalism as the fourth estate is increasingly being challenged. Antonio talks about the history of ojectivity in journalism and the problem with its attempted univeral application. They then have an interesting dicussion on journalism and its claims to truth – focusing on the nuances of objectivity and accuracy.


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Still Angry Podcast: Ep 6 Speeching About Race

In this podcast Terry Johal and Hammy Goonan talk about limits to speech, the role of the state in enforcing that and the recent proposed changes to the Racial Description Act in Australia. (more here)

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Lecture: Mark Marking, Storytelling and Ideology

This lecture summaries what I have been doing with the students over the last four weeks, where we have been talking about communication design, and storytelling.

In this section, the object was to get the students to understand how meaning works, and moves as the affordances of the format they are working in changes.  Key to that were the learning activities they had to do in class. Over the four weeks, they focused on telling stories visually moving from a two-colour minimalist execution, to photographs, to five-frame comic style execution. They moved on to learn how to make execution that differed in format but had to tell the same story. Key in this section was the notion of authorship and the audience. We then introduced both descriptive writing – text that could stand outside the images and still make sense – and integrated writing – text that works with the image to tell the story.

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