Shiny! Monday, Dec 11 2006 

A Firefly MMORPG could be seriously good – of course, it could also be seriously bad, but let’s assume for now that the glass is 50% full. And the fact that it’s a Firefly license (from FOX) means they can draw on all of the content from the TV series. Okay, so the Serenity table-top RPG got around the limitations of having their licensing arrangement with Universal pretty easily (“no names mentioned” examples that were eerily familiar to viewers of the TV show), but this will just be more straightforward. The concept of Multiverse also looks interesting, and I suspect this will boost their profile outside of the core MMO community.


Breaking the Ice Sunday, Dec 10 2006 

While spending some time reading role-playing forums on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I just discovered what seems like an incredibly cool game. It’s called Breaking the Ice, and I love the premise of it.

The game is designed for two players, who take on the roles of two people who have just met and are going on up to three dates. Essentially, it’s a story-telling game about the (potential) development of a romantic relationship.

It seems to me that it could be an awful lot of fun, but also a great way to examine issues surrounding social interactions and especially romantic connections – what makes them work and what doesn’t. I’m fascinated by the concept and can see all sorts of things to explore. For instance, how does playing it with one’s own partner work in comparison to playing with a non-romantic friend? I can also see that it’s a really neat framework that people could take in whatever direction they would like to go.

As much as anything else, this entry is a reminder to myself to follow up on this game. I always tend to find something cool and then get distracted by a bumblebee and never come back to it.

LiLo: Voice of her generation? Sunday, Dec 10 2006 

Apparently, Lindsay Lohan can write – at least in the sense that she has fingers and can apply them to the keypad of her Blackberry. Unfortunately, she seems to run into trouble when it comes to the thinking and spelling.

Fortunately, Heather at Go Fug Yourself has already marked the young celebrity’s work, so I don’t need to worry. However, after reading it I think I would have had to include the old stalwart comment that “clarity of expression could be improved”.

Night shift Wednesday, Dec 6 2006 

Is it strange that I finding working through the night so invigorating? A couple of days ago, theses needed to be marked and the examiner’s reports written by 9 a.m. So, I napped from 9:30 the previous evening for an hour and a half, and then I got the work done between midnight and 7 o’clock.

Admittedly, I ran out of steam by mid-morning and went home shortly after lunch to have a nap, but while I was doing the job I didn’t feel fatigue at all. Even the next day, while I was aware that I wasn’t as efficient as usual, I still felt pretty good.

Contrast that with today, where I’ve been sitting in my office through the regular working day and I’m procrastinating, easily distracted, wandering the hallways, and generally failing to get as much done as I feel I could.

Maybe it’s the lack of any other available activity that lets me plunge headlong into work in the wee hours of the morning? I honestly don’t know, but it seems that whenever I am pressed to stay up all night I manage to get more done than I would have otherwise. Unfortunately, I can’t switch to a nocturnal pattern because we’re expected to be in the office during the day – to a greater extent than I like anyway, because I also feel that staying home often improves efficiency as well. But I’ll save that for another entry.

The hotness of me Wednesday, Nov 29 2006 

The air conditioning in our building has been broken for more than a month. Our department’s secretary is now CC:ing all of us on the e-mails she sends to get an explanation for why it can’t be repaired. Apparently, the delay is because the equipment is so old that parts are hard to track down. I am wondering how much longer it will be before they decide the equipment needs to be replaced – my estimate is late February.

We’re two days from the beginning of summer. It’s been stinking hot for a couple of weeks now (ever since the freak cold snap). I am looking forward to going outside into the mid-30s (Celsius) heat to head across campus for a meeting in a few minutes. And I think that as soon as that meeting is done, I’m going home, getting a cold drink and slipping into something comfortable.

This heat is beginning to drive me a little batty.

Choosing what’s important Wednesday, Nov 29 2006 

Tomorrow morning we have a committee meeting, at which a document I wrote is scheduled for discussion and, hopefully, approval. At the same time, a nationwide rally about the state of Australian industrial relations is going to take place. Our kids’ school schedules will also be affected by the rally, as many teachers will attend. So, I’m going to need to juggle three priorities and try to do what’s best for my family, myself and my principles. I think I have a plan – I should be able to attend the rally and make appropriate arrangements for the kids to be looked after. I’ll get to the work meeting when I can, and if anyone has a problem with my document I’ll straighten it out later. Of course, the fact that we didn’t get confirmation of the work meeting until an hour ago hasn’t helped with planning.

Requesting assistance by e-mail Wednesday, Nov 29 2006 

Eszter Hargittai has written a “Primer for Electronic Communication” for Inside Higher Ed. Make sure you read the whole article, but eszter’s proposed template for such a message is:

  • Descriptive subject line
  • Polite point-of-contact
  • Succinct statement of the message’s purpose
  • Brief introduction of yourself
  • Acknowledging other attempts at finding an answer or solution
  • Restatement of question
  • Gratitude for assistance

While I think this would be a great read for students, who often manage to appear discourteous when asking for help by e-mail (including those who I know are polite and appreciative in person), it also captures the approach I take when contacting colleagues and superiors with requests.

More discussion of the piece can be found at Crooked Timber.

Insert meme here Wednesday, Nov 29 2006 

Picked up via Bitch, PhD: Acephalous is tracking the propagation of a meme. Anyone reading this should post the link in their own blog and then ping Technorati.

Culture of Intentional Ignorance Tuesday, Nov 28 2006 

The Cole Commission’s report into the Australian Wheat Board’s payment of bribes to Saddam Hussein was released yesterday. The AWB took a deserved beating and criminal action was recommended for a number of executives, but the Commonwealth government came out of it in pretty good shape. In fact, they have quickly moved onto the front foot, demanding that the opposition apologise for suggesting any wrongdoing on the part of the government.

The AWB affair, and the government’s handling of it, strikes me as the latest illustration of the culture of deniability that the Howard government has used to good effect throughout its existence. John Quiggin talked about the state of the government’s “knowledge” in relation to the AWB scandal back in April of this year:

As anyone familiar with Australian politics could have predicted it rapidly became apparent that the government knew all about the payoffs, except in the special sense of “know” that is considered relevant in such matters. The Canadians who were offered the same deal and refused, complained to the Australian government, but AWB denied it, and the government was careful not to press them.

It seems that the government has developed a cultural norm that potentially damaging information should be kept at a distance, and in particular should not make its way to Ministers. The denial of knowledge is then used to avoid accountability. In some cases, a few heads in the public service might roll, but the Ministers are protected.

It is interesting how efficient and effective this approach has turned out to be. I would imagine there are no explicit directives about this sort of thing – that would defeat the purpose. But when something comes up that looks like a political hot potato which might be difficult to deal with, it seems like our current leaders are able to shrug and say “we weren’t told about it”. It got them through Children Overboard, played a part in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, and now it has emerged that a similar pattern applies with the AWB.

The thing is, I don’t understand how not being told, or not having sufficient follow-up, about potentially important issues can serve as an excuse. I would have thought the idea is that sensitive information needs to make its way to those who are in charge, on the off chance that it is important. A manager should know as much as possible about what is going on in the area they manage, whether it’s in a university, a corporation, or a government department. And they should be responsible for developing an appropriate organisational culture that allows for the appropriate transmission of information. To allow one’s department to develop a culture of ignorance is itself negligent.

While I’m not a fan of our current government, I should acknowledge that I am not convinced that those on the other side of the political fence would show more integrity if put in the same role. At the same time, I can’t imagine that they would be this good at it. The thing that strikes me most about John Howard and his government is that they are very good at managing political risk.

Insiders MP3s Sunday, Nov 26 2006 

I just discovered that the ABC’s Insiders is now making the complete show audio available through a podcast, which I think is an extremely clever idea for this type of TV show.

The fact is, I “watch” Insiders most weeks but I rarely look at the screen while doing so – I have the TV on and work on the computer or read while listening. Apart from the “Talking Pictures” segment on political cartoons, there is pretty much nothing that requires one’s visual attention in the show – it’s talking heads on a screen and then four people sitting and talking to each other.

When I have missed the show in the past I have usually ended up reading the transcript because I couldn’t see the point of wasting bandwidth on a video download. Now, with a 12MB MP3 file giving me the audio of the entire show, there is no way I won’t make use of it. Good job, Aunty!

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