Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Category Archives: Miscellaneous

This Seems Strangely… Familiar…

Via Urban Planning Blog, an image from Jorge Cham’s Piled Higher and Deeper (PhD) comics that is perhaps particularly poignant for us ARC Linkage Grant PhD students…

But I write it up using the Scientific Method...

Note: This image copyright Jorge Cham “Piled Higher and Deeper”

Hostile Climate…

A balloon-clad stripper entertained scientists at a conference on global warming.Australian readers will already be familiar with the recent story about how scientists gathered for a conference on climate change discovered… new reasons for temperatures to rise. According to The Age articles linked above, the events organiser, one Professor Mike Hutchinson from the Centre for Resource and Environment Studies at ANU, booked what was apparently originally intended to be a 45-minute burlesque routine. The routine was cut after ten minutes, when a number of the scientists present began to walk out. Ten minutes, however, was evidently enough to allow a stripper covered in balloons to circulate around the room, offering the use of a pin to consenting scientists, and for other sexually-suggestive jokes and performances.

The event was apparently intended as the highlight of the 17th Annual Australia New Zealand Climate Change Forum, and had received sponsorship from the Australian federal government, the Australian Research Council, and others. In response to complaints about the event, the ANZ Climate Change Forum organising committee has offered to allow sponsors to withdraw, and at least some government sponsors have indicated that they will be taking up the offer.

I’m not personally sure what to say about this incident – mainly because I find the concept of scheduling this kind of entertainment for what claims to be a scientific conference so bizarre that I’m not sure I can really add anything meaningful to the… er… bare facts. Maybe I’m just not attending the right conferences, but I’ve generally seen conference entertainment like, you know, speakers who have something interesting or controversial to say about issues related to the conference topic…

I notice that one of the women involved in the burlesque performance has asked:

“Why is it any different to hiring a ventriloquist? Professor Hutchinson may well have misread his guests, but it’s a statement about how fearful we as a society are about sex. Are we also saying scientists are not sexual people, for heaven’s sake?”

I realise that much of the debate occurring over this incident relates primarily to the issue of gender relations, particularly given the sensitivities around recruiting and retaining qualified women in the sciences, and so it makes sense that most of the discussion has centred on the issue of comfort or discomfort with sexuality in a professional space. I have to admit, though, I’d also find it fairly bizarre to find myself entertained by a ventriloquist at an academic conference…

So I’ve become a bit curious about whether this incident seems even more odd to me than it should, given that my major form of entertainment is dragging interesting people to coffee shops to talk about social theory, and I perceive conferences primarily as opportunities to meet new people for this purpose… In others’ experience, is there a recent precedent for this kind of “entertainment” at academic conferences?

[Note: photo of burlesque performer Rebecca Gale @2006 The Age, URL: ]

Unspeakably Good News

So now, in addition to politely refraining from blogging about things that are irritating me, I’ve been asked to refrain from blogging about things that are actually going well. I’ll therefore write generically for the moment: the “pending” grant I’ve been referencing for the past few months on the blog is now no longer pending. More details to follow, once we’ve taken our oaths of fealty, triple-checked that the funds have hit the account, etc.

Bad Motherswyvere

One of the strangest reviews of Snakes on a Plane you’re likely to read (hat tip Scott Eric Kaufman at The Valve)… It begins, though, with the following warning for those of us who have not yet seen the film:

Spoyler alert: If ye haue nat yet sene the performaunce of ‘Serpentes on a Shippe,’ rede nat of the romaunce, for it doth telle of the manye suprises and straunge eventes that happen in the course of the storye, and thus it mayhap shall lessen yower enjoiement of the performaunce yt self.

Visit Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog: Serpentes on a Shippe! if you’d like to be spoiled…

So can I get an extension…

If this happens to my Dell laptop?

Exploded Dell laptop

Image @2006 The Age, URL:,0.jpg

Haiku procrastination

Look! Up in the Sky!

A Whittlesea traffic engineer accidentally captures an unidentified flying object during a routine photoshoot.

I stumbled across this photo while looking for traffic information on the Whittlesea City Council website. A traffic engineer was evidently startled to discover what he had inadvertantly captured on his digital camera during a routine visit to a local level crossing. The Council website explains:

Council refers photograph to government agencies

An employee of this major municipality during his routine work as a traffic engineer took a photograph of a level railway crossing at Beveridge north of Melbourne using a digital camera.

When it was downloaded from the camera on to a computer an object appeared in the sky on photograph.

This Council has no opinion about the object.

We just do not know what the object could be and would welcome any explanation.

This Council believes it has an obligation to pass the image on to the relevant authorities for their consideration and investigation.

The image has been referred by Council to the Chief Defence Scientist, Defence Science & Technology Organisation, and the Civil Aviation Authority.

Council is considering referring it to NASA and other authorities.

Reading between the lines, it sounds to me as though, while Council may have “no opinion about the object”, it seems to harbour some uneasy suspicions…

Anyone else want to hazard a guess? Or suggest a caption for the image?

Adorno, Meet Kafka

I’ve blogged previously about the perverse difficulties I’ve been having obtaining a copy of Adorno’s “Sociology and Psychology”. I could of course do something smart like actually paying for a copy of the article from the journal that published it, but it’s not that urgent, and our interlibrary loan folks are normally very efficient.

I followed up on the issue again the other day, and received a very apologetic email promising to speed things along. Then today, I received an email telling me the article was available, and providing instructions for downloading my copy. I followed the instructions, then realised I needed to download some new software to read the file. This was odd: when I’ve received copies of articles in the past, they’ve generally been PDFs, which obviously don’t require anything unusual. But, eager to view the article, I downloaded the necessary software, installed it, opened the file, and finally had the pleasure of reading…

… a copy of my request asking for the article…

Star Trek: The Net Generation

I just noticed a New York Times article (free registration required) on Star Trek fans creating their own digital video versions of the show. I initially thought the article was going to describe one-off, You-tube-style fan projects, but many of the projects cited are major (if volunteer) ongoing productions. One (Star Trek: Hidden Frontiers) is now into its seventh season. Another (New Voyages) has attracted sufficient download traffic to tempt Walter Koenig and George Takei into its productions, and has also received scripts from writers who contributed to previous Star Trek series. Any old trekkies out there looking for a break from grading might enjoy some of the following sites:

Star Trek: New Voyages – This series starts from the point when the original series was cancelled, casting new actors in the roles of the Enterprise crew. It focusses on authenticity of props, sets and costumes, and has attracted support from some writers and actors associated with the series. Several episodes are currently available for download.

Star Trek: Hidden Frontier – Now in its seventh (and apparently final) season, this series involves the adventures of a new crew in what I gather is a post-DS9 time frame. The series is a publicly-available spinoff from an earlier production called the Voyages of the USS Angeles, which was produced for cast and crew only, and is therefore not (officially, at least – I haven’t personally looked) available on the net.

Star Trek: Intrepid – This Scottish production has released some trailers, outtakes and stills, and has apparently moved into the editing stage. It follows a Federation starship sent to protect a distant and isolated colony.

Starship Exeter – Set in the timeframe of the original series, this production follows the adventures of a different Starfleet crew. This project hopes to convince Paramount that a new series, set in the context of the original, would be a viable commercial project. A couple of titles are currently available for download.

Starship Farragut – Another series set in the timeline of the original, and following a different starship and crew. Trailer and teasers are available for download, with the pilot and first episode scheduled for release in following months.

Trekkie nostalgia aside, I find these productions interesting for the delicate balance required to sustain them, while trying not to antagonise the copyright holder.

The Star Trek: Hidden Frontier site Copyright FAQ highlights this tension:

Hidden Frontier has taken great care to assert that we are in no way attempting to infringe upon Paramount’s copyright and trademark rights with respect to Star Trek. Hidden Frontier makes no money, solicits no funding, and makes no Paramount-produced copyrighted material publicly available in high-resolution or -quality formats that would impinge on Paramount’s ability to continue to make money from their trademark and ownership of Star Trek.

So far, Paramount has generously elected not to take any action to ask us to cease and desist our efforts, though we acknowledge they have the right to do so at any time. We have attempted to remain true to Star Trek’s spirit, and we hope our efforts help to maintain Star Trek’s fan base and commercial viability for Paramount Pictures in the future.

The Starship: Farragut site contains a similar disclosure:

Starship Farragut has taken great care to assert that they are in no way attempting to infringe upon CBS Studios Inc. copyright and trademark rights with respect to Star Trek. Starship Farragut is free for you to download and distribute for private, non-commercial viewing. However be aware that Starship Farragut is fully protected by Federal and State Copyright Law. Unauthorized tampering, altering, or creating of derivative works from the show, or any images or audio contained therein is strictly prohibited and subject to civil and criminal penalties under the law. DO NOT make copies and sell them. If the producers, cast and crew can’t make money from the show, neither should you! IF YOU FIND ANY OF STARSHIP FARRAGUT EPIOSDES FOR SALE or RENT ANYWHERE, WHAT YOU HAVE FOUND IS AN ILLEGAL COPY! Star Trek®, Star Trek: The Next Generation®, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine®, Star Trek: Voyager®, Star Trek Enterprise® and all associated marks and characters are registered trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. All rights reserved. The use of anything related to “Star Trek” on any of these web sites is not meant to be an infringement on CBS Studios Inc. property rights to “Star Trek.”

While it’s good that these productions – which are clearly labour-of-love efforts from devoted admirers of the commercial series – have been allowed to proceed, I’ll take the passing opportunity to say that I find it generally unfortunate that fan fiction and other non-commercial creative products have to tread such a careful line. The right to improvise around works that have inspired us, with a clear acknowledgement of the extent of our intellectual and artistic debt, seems like a right worth interpreting expansively…

I also can’t help thinking of the contrast between the potentials obviously embodied in the technologies – some of the special effects have been executed remarkably well, and the ability to film these productions on donated time and funds speaks as much to the lowering cost of amateur film production, as it does to the devotion of the fans – and the social/legal restrictions on these potentials. Regular readers will know I’m not a fan of the faith that technology drives social change – of the conviction that a tension between potentials embodied in technology, and social restrictions on the use of technology, will always and inevitably be resolved in favour of technological potential. This doesn’t prevent me, though, from being fascinated by the contrast between what we can do (technically), and what we (collectively) allow ourselves to do.

Some Unintended Consequences of Demographic Change

My favourite quotation this term from a student essay:

The great post war economic boom had a positive effect on economic activity as population sizes increased, creating demand for the need to understand German theorists.

You know you’ve been talking about Habermas too much, when your students start drawing conclusions like this…