Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Brain That Changes Itself

My father-in-law showed me this book when we visited recently. Within a few minutes I had decided it looked interesting, and possibly also useful for me as a teacher. I suggested to Laetitia that she could buy it for me for Christmas.

She did.

And I've just finished reading it. It's fantastic! A big book (280pp text + 130pp end-matter), but easy to read, it's full of amazing, inspiring personal stories along with fascinating insights into how the human brain works. Complex scientific theories and discoveries are explained in a straightforward and lucid manner, making the implications clear while avoiding excessive use of difficult terminology or grammar. (In other words, the writing is better than mine in that last sentence!)

My father-in-law recommended it to me because, he said, it spoke directly to how he felt as a stroke survivor. Strokes and brain damage are a significant part of the book's subject matter. Other topics include the links between sense, perception and action, learning difficulties, bad habits and obsessions, pain, and of course a fair depth of neurological anatomy and physiology. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on imagination and the appendix about culture.

One chapter I did have to skim through quickly. The author, Norman Doidge, goes into more explicit detail about a few sexual perversions than I personally care for. Respectfully and without hype, but it's just not something I want to read.

The author does write from an evolutionary point of view (in spite of the magnificent evidence presented for the glorious design of the human brain and nervous system), but this generally does not affect the material presented in the main body of the text. The appendix on culture is based heavily on evolutionary ideas—yet I still found it a good read (note my comment above).

The insights I've gained just from a first reading of this book will, I am already sure, help me in my day job as a high school teacher. And I will now be able to speak with more certainty to help some of my students with their own learning—habits of mind, study, etc.

And of course, I now want to go get my CaT scan of my brain from 2001, to see whether I can detect anything unusual. For instance, apparently musicians have stronger links between hemispheres, and a strong spatial awareness correlates with a large hippocampus. Anyone know any radiographers or neurologists who can help me know what I'm looking at?

Recommendation: Read this book. (Just beware chapter 4 if, like me, you prefer to stay with G or PG.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Letter 2008

Our Christmas letter is (once again) written up as a blog. You can read it at your leisure at

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2008

My wife has a dodgy heart valve

This week we have been in Brisbane for some medical tests. It turns out that Laetitia has a dodgy heart: mitral valve prolapse with regurgitation. Her cardiologist has suggested that the severity of her situation is on the severe side of moderate, and that he “would be surprised” if she didn't need surgery sooner rather than later (in 5 years rather than 20). For the moment she will need annual checkups to keep track of her condition.

If I knew what to write next, I would write it. If I understood how I felt about it, I'd write about that. But I don't. Watch, wait and see, I guess. And trust God to provide what we need.

He has certainly provided well for us so far. Not only do we have access to a great cardiologist (he was Laetitia's father's cardio too, for the same condition), we also know three people who have recently (i.e. in the last two years) had open heart surgery, two of them for mitral valve issues. So we have some idea now of what to expect.

Burn After Reading

A confusing movie. Funny in parts, but I completely lost track of who was who. And I could really have done without the swearing (cusswords and misuse of God's name). I know it was supposed to be a farce (and it was, in that respect the movie was quite well made) but… well, it just wasn't what I was expecting.

Recommendation: Only if you like the F word. (I don't.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lemon Tree

A lovely movie about a Palestinian woman whose lemon grove becomes a threat to (Israel's) national security when the Israeli Defence Minister moves in across the road. She finds a lawyer to help her to take her appeal against the trees' destruction to the Supreme Court.

A little understanding of Israel-Palestine geography helps, as the movie moves around bit. I'm glad my mother suggested I get that straight in my head before I went to see Lemon Tree. Personally I could have done without the love interest, but nobody asks for my opinion.

Recommendation: A beautiful movie without a Hollywood happy ending. Worth seeing.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Platypus in the wild!

Laetitia's staff Christmas party (for her 3-days-a-week job as a civil engineer) was at Broken River Resort up at Eungella. It was a pleasant cool break from the sticky heat of Mackay. We drove up late Saturday afternoon, and stayed the night there. Early in the morning (like, quarter to five!) Laetitia says, “Wanna go see a platypus?” (Or words to that effect, anyway; I was half asleep at the time, so I don't recall exactly!)

So up we got, and went for a short walk to the river. And indeed, we saw several of them. First time I've seen one in the wild!

We also saw and heard some cormorants. They were amazingly noisy! I've never heard them make a sound before (except for the splashes and flaps as they dart away from me when I approach). But this morning they were gobbling and nattering at each other, and chasing each other in a mad flying course along the river and amongst trees along the bank. Looked like some kind of territorial thing. Maybe it's mating season?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Seven Deadly Sins

I love having time to read for pleasure (and learning, and self-development)!

Still Deadly: Ancient cures for the 7 sins is a collection of short essays edited by Andrew Cameron and Brian Rosner. Each chapter consists of a Christian reflection on and response to one of the (in)famous “seven deadly sins”, based on the work of a particular historical Christian figure; the chapter titles are: Luther on Greed, Augustine on Lust, Basil of Caesarea on Envy, Clement on Gluttony, Aquinas on Anger, Reinhold Niebuhr on Pride, and Calvin on Sloth. I picked up my copy at CMS Summer School in January, and have finally made time to read it.

The prose is academic, but in very readable style. The historical opinions are carefully considered in light of Scripture (compare Acts 17:11). The result is a challenging and at times confronting look at human nature and my own sinful attitudes and behaviour. But I found this book helpful and enjoyable, as well as challenging. The authors use their historical sources to provide a positive and encouraging approach to countering temptations and following God whole-heartedly.

Recommendation: Academic, but an easy read. Humour aplenty. Just be ready to hear God speaking to you as you read…


I recently read Boundaries and Boundaries with Kids by Drs Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I must admit, I was sceptical at first, when Laetitia recommended them to me. More pop psychology I can do without, thank you!

But I was pleasantly surprised. Indeed, I learnt just how good my parents were at teaching me good boundaries. Thank you, Doris and Munro! The authors are Christians, and their advice is soundly based on biblical principles. They deal with the sticky questions of how forgiveness, boundaries and consequences fit together (“I forgive you, but that doesn't mean I will allow you to continue to hurt me”). They give suggestions for responding to others who don't respect your boundaries. And they write in clear and accessible language without fancy psychological terms.

The Kids book I found especially helpful for my role as a teacher. Although the focus is not specifically on the age group I spend most of my time with (perhaps I should read their Teens book), their advice was still very useful and directly applicable to my interactions with students in and outside the classroom. Much food for thought!

Recommendation: A must-read. Should be compulsory for beginning teachers.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Open Day 2008

I didn't stay as long this year, but I did turn up (actually I had to anyway, I was giving out maps and prize draw forms from 4-5pm). I decided to try taking some video footage this time, with our new point-and-shoot camera, after being inspired by a recent Flickr Blog post. I even took it on one of the rides! I'm quite impressed by the way the fireworks came out.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Whitsunday Cruise — Solway Lass

Last week Laetitia and I went on a sailing cruise around the Whitsunday Islands, to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. It was a fantastic experience!

On Sunday, before we left, we went and bought ourselves a new camera: an Olympus Stylus 1050 SW in “Pacific Blue”. (Other colours available: “Dolphin Grey”, “Midnight Black” and “Misty Rose”. Don't you just love those kinds of names?) We specifically wanted a camera that was (a) waterproof and (b) less hassle to worry about on a ship.

We left Mackay on Tuesday morning, just after Laetitia's parents left for Rocky. We drove to Airlie Beach, where we checked in for our cruise, then had time for lunch and a leisurely afternoon browsing the shops and reading by the beach.

Jolly Roger (by Ian B-M)At 7 o'clock it was time to board. The Solway Lass is a “tall ship”, a brigantine originally built in 1902 in Holland, to a German design and using German steel for the ribs and hull. The ship is set up as a pirate ship, complete with Jolly Roger. She's had various jobs during her lifetime, including cargo transport, being a Q-ship during the first world war, and even as an ice-breaker! She's named after the Solway Firth in Scotland, where she worked from 1924 until the second World War. Most recently she's been used as a tall ship for tourists in Sydney Harbour and now in the Whitsundays.

On Tuesday night we sailed to Nara Inlet, where we anchored for the night. Of course, we couldn't see much then, except for the lights from a few nearby boats. But I got up early the next morning and got some nice photos.

After breakfast we left Nara Inlet, travelling through Hook Island Passage and then south to Whitehaven Beach. The weather was fantastic (especially if you wanted to get sunburnt!) — bright and sunny, clear cool water.
Whitehaven Beach (by Ian B-M)

I asked the skipper, Mark, about Hook Island Passage, because on their navigation assignment my year twelve maths students had avoided it due to how narrow and tricky it looked on their map. Mark laughed at that. Here's Solway Passage (yes, named after the same Solway Firth in Scotland), which my students preferred:
Solway Passage (by Ian B-M)

View from the bow (by Ian B-M)After lunch on Wednesday, Laetitia helped raise the sails (“Haul away, sailor! We want it up today, not tomorrow!”) and we sailed back northwards all the way around Pinnacle Point, to shelter in Luncheon Bay for the night. Dinner, breakfast and lunch were on a rotating, floating restaurant!

Thursday morning was snorkelling. The wind had really picked up, and the water was pretty cold. I decided to just enjoy the day and let Laetitia do the swimming and snorkelling! She didn't mind, she got to use the new camera underwater. Here's one of her photos (and only one; I'll let her show you the rest when she gets time to go through them):

(Laetitia also took her old film point-and-shoot camera on the cruise, because it's splashproof, though not actually waterproof. Of course, we're still waiting for the film from that camera to be processed…)

After lunch we set sail again, sailing north around Dolphin Point, at the tip of Hayman Island, to Blue Pearl Bay. The wind was so strong that we went even faster with less sails up than the previous day! Then in the evening we wended a path between islands, coral reefs and sand banks back to Hook Island, to spend the night at Stonehaven Anchorage.

Blue Pearl Bay was more snorkelling for the game; Laetitia and I instead went for a walk on the stony coral beach and up a dry creek bed. We enjoyed the shelter from the wind under the trees, and the company of quite a few butterflies.

After dropping anchor at Stonehaven we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset:
Whitsunday sunset (by Ian B-M)

Friday was my birthday. After breakfast, I had a snooze in the bow net, which I found really peaceful.

Then there was the swinging competition. A knotted rope swung from the end of one of the yards, and the idea was to swing off into the sea in a spectacular (and hopefully not too painful) way. Following the pirate-ship theme, you were supposed to call out something clever and piratey as you went. I actually quite enjoyed it, although the current was surprisingly strong—it was quite a challenge to swim back to the ship! Laetitia took videos with our new camera of my two swings.

Finally, after lunch, we set sail again back to Airlie Beach. On the way, our cook, Kylie “the Legend”, presented me with a birthday cake: delicious fruit cupcakes, complete with cute pirate candles.

But this was not before two whales were spotted off the bow. I rushed out to the bowsprit to watch them pass. I even managed to get a (wobbly) video of them!
Whale watchers (by Ian B-M) Whales (by Ian B-M)

When we got back to Airlie Beach, we checked in at Airlie Waterfront Backpackers for the night. On Saturday morning we drove home.

Our crew really made the trip. They were:

  • Captain: Mark. Fount of useful information, about the Whitsundays, sailing in general, and the history of the Solway Lass, which he's been sailing since its time in Sydney. Just laughed when we mutinied and tied him to the mainmast.
  • Bosun: Millsy. “Ready on the main staysail?” (To which you reply, “Aye aye, bosun!”) He quickly put on more sail when Whitsunday Magic tried to race us.
  • Deckhand: Tess. Always smiling, whether hauling on a halyard, dangling precariously over a yard-arm, or ferrying people around in the tender.
  • Deckhand & Barman: Chris. Made a mighty lemon, lime and bitters! And his weight and strength came in helpful when raising sails.
  • Cook: Kylie. I cannot praise this young woman higher. Our special diets can sometimes be a challenge, but Kylie fed us fantastic meals every time. Whether climbing the rigging in boxers (!) or cooking up a feast in the galley, Kylie was a real legend.
  • Volunteer: Inger. From Norway, previously a passenger, now helping out the crew in the kitchen and on deck.

From left: Inger, Chris, Kylie, Tess, Mark.

For more arty photos from the trip, see Flickr. For more people-oriented photos, check Facebook.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bill & Bev Bailey

Over there! (by Ian B-M)Laetitia's parents came to stay with us for a few days. They're doing a driving holiday; they put their car on the train from Brisbane to Cairns, then driving back to Brisbane in stages. The fact that they went to Cooktown is beside the point! (Check a map if you're confused by that comment.)

These photos are from the breakwater at Mackay Harbour.

Last year, laetitia's father Bill had heart surgery. It took him a while to recover. It was really good to see him again. I've seen him a few times since then, and each time he's looking more spritely and steadier on his feet.
Contemplative silhouette

Monday, September 8, 2008

Camp Rapture

Our church camp this year was again at Cape Hillsborough, with a theme this year of “Camp Rapture: Don't be left behind”. This time I had a decent tripod to take along, so I got some nice photos on the beach at night.
Torches on the beach (by Ian B-M) Beach at night (by Ian B-M)

I also had another play with my interval timer, making a couple of sequences of dawn and sunrise.
Dawn breaking

Friday, September 5, 2008

Square Dancing in Rockhampton

The weekend after our 10th wedding anniversary, I went (but not Laetitia this year; last year we both went) to Rockhampton for a weekend of square dancing with the Capricorn Waves club at Parkhurst (north side of Rocky, on the Bruce Highway heading towards Mackay).

If you're not sure what square dancing is, try this:

That's a time lapse video I made with my new toy, an interval timer shutter remote for my DSLR camera. I put the camera on a tripod, tell it to take photos every few seconds, then stitch them together afterwards into a video. Cool, huh?

Anyway, this video starts with everyone squaring up, then a teaching session, followed by two dances. Sorry, because of the timing tricks, I really can't give you the music/sound that goes with it! Imagine your favourite rock or country music with a strong 4/4 beat at 128 beats per minute.

On the drive back home (and it's a long, boring four hour drive when alone) I stopped at took some photos. Each time I've driven that road, I've thought about some of these photos. So this time, not being in a great hurry to get anywhere, I stopped and took them.

See, there's this section near Marlborough where there's an old road beside the new one. The grass is growing up through the bitumen, and it looks simply delightful.
Old road

The old road is not easy to get to. I had to use my tripod to help me clamber down a bank thick with grass and shrubs, while the cows watched in amusement (okay, so they were probably more interested in eating grass).
Old road (by Ian B-M)

And there are plenty other nice views along the way, across wide open plains.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Visitor

While in Brisbane, we went to the Palace Centro to see The Visitor, a beautiful movie about a university professor whose life is turned upside-down by a couple he finds squatting in his seldom-visited inner-city apartment. So far is it from a mainstream Hollywood movie, it doesn't even have a happy ending. The rich characters and the meaning they find in their growing relationships were wonderful.

Recommendation: Definitely see this movie!

Tenth Anniversary

So we were in Brisbane last weekend for our tenth wedding anniversary (actually on Friday, 22 August). Friday was busy (mostly with shopping) and wet (it poured, but fortunately only in spurts). But Saturday, for our picnic in the park, the weather was perfect: sunny and warm, not a cloud in the sky. Although not as many people came as we'd hoped/expected, we enjoyed catching up with many old (and some more recent) friends.
Tenth anniversary (by Ian B-M)
We dressed up in our wedding gear—well, almost. We thought it might help people to find us in the park. Sherwood Arboretum is pretty big!
Fun afternoon (by Ian B-M)
More photos on Facebook.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Year 8 Camp

Last week (not the week just gone, which I started feeling ill and ended with no voice, but the week before: Monday 4th to Wednesday 6th August to be precise) I went on our school's Year 8 Camp. It was at Rowallan Park, just on the North-West outskirts of Mackay. The weather was perfect - cool but not too cold at night, and beautiful sunny days.

I saw a few clever T-shirts. Some students seemed to bring far too much - and some of their tents were huge! Fortunately nobody was without a tent to sleep in. (Except us teachers, but we had dorms well away from where the students were.)

Games and activities filled most of the day time. There were an incredible number of injuries, the first (a twisted ankle) within about 10 minutes of the start of the first activity.

The students' Year 11 mentors dropped in on Tuesday, and set up an awesome obstacle course. Even the teachers enjoyed it! But it certainly involved a lot of mud!

And of course no camp is complete without a campfire!

Before the campfire, the students were given a ‘survivor’ activity in which they had to prepare their own meal. But first they had to hunt for some slips of paper with food items written on them, which they could exchange for pieces of food. I was in charge of dispensing the food. My favourite moment was when one group handed me two bits of paper labelled “onion”. I gave them a piece of onion. They complained, “But that's only one piece, not two.” So I took the piece back, chopped it in half, and gave it back to them again, saying, “There you go, now it's two!”

Our Year 8 students really need to learn to look after their own stuff, though. They kept leaving personal items lying around. They just have no idea what can happen if they're not careful…

(I would upload a whole lot more photos from camp—some lovely portraits of a few of my students, for example—but they all have students in them, whose images I may not post here. Sorry.)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

I am not a film critic - honest!

Hmm, this blog is starting to look like a movie review site—or at least, like I do nothing but sit around watching movies. Ah well, year 8 camp for three days starting tomorrow, so that should spice things up a bit…

End of the Spear

Saw End of the Spear this afternoon. Very moving, it's a true story about Christian missionaries whose example of love and forgiveness saved the Waodani people of Ecuador from extinction. Well dramatised, beautiful photography (well, beautiful scenery, and skilful videography), and a gripping tale.

Recommendation: If you get a chance, see this film!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mamma Mia!

Saw Mamma Mia with a whole group (mostly female) from our church. Somewhere between a musical and an excuse to play Abba songs, it actually did have a half-believable plot and was certainly a bundle of laughs. I don't remember the original (if I ever saw it), but this version was well cast, full of energy and life and (of course) outrageous outfits. Good fun for any Abba fan! (And I wasn't the only man in the cinema! I think I counted about 4 others…)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Get Smart

Yesterday (cheap Tuesdays!) we went to see Get Smart. Yes, it's a little different from the original TV series, but it's a great movie nonetheless, with all the classic Get Smart humour and awkwardness. Everything you'd expect from a spy movie spoof! And Anne Hathaway was gorgeous and very sexy as 99, she got the old “Oh, Max!” just right.

Recommendation: Definitely see it if you like the original TV series, spy movies, spoofs, technological gadgetry or romantic comedies.

Prince Caspian

On Sunday (yes, I have been seeing a lot of movies lately) we went to see Prince Caspian, the next instalment of The Chronicles of Narnia. Not quite the same as the book (for example Caspian was only 12 in the book!) but not enough to seriously matter. Decent acting, beautiful scenery, superb cinematography.

The subject matter, on the other hand, I find uncomfortable. Does God really leave us to our own devices at times? Yes, he will never leave us nor forsake us; but when he doesn't immediately answer a cry for help, well… what then? How do we know what to do?


On Saturday, at Laetitia's suggestion, we went to see Hancock. It was funnier than I expected it to be. Not entirely believable, but a welcome change from the usual super-hero fare.

Recommendation: Worth seeing, it's good fun.

The Band's Visit

Saw this movie in Brisbane, at the Palace Centro. Simply wonderful! It could almost have been an Australian movie: quiet, filled with awkward pauses and meaningful silences, cultural conflict and satire, real believable characters.

An Egyptian band travels to Israel to play at the grand opening of an Arab Cultural Center, but due to a confusion with consonant aspiration they end up in a tired backwater town in the middle of nowhere. And of course the Arabs and Israelis have a long-standing cultural antagonism…

Recommendation: Beautiful, poignant, funny. See it if you can!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Other things I did in Brisbane

  • Took some photos of the Gateway Bridge duplication works.

  • Went for a walk in Daisy Hill State Forest.

  • Saw some old friends, most of whom were either pregnant or had just given birth.
  • Went to the Mt Coot-tha Botanical Gardens to take some photos.

  • Went to Mt Tamborine with my sister Ruth, who was also in Brisbane.

  • Visited my friends Toby and Anna at Simply for Strings, and took some photos of the beautiful instruments in their new shop.

The Moving Finger

Another book I borrowed while in Brisbane was The Moving Finger, an Agatha Christie murder mystery. I found it hard to read: slow moving, thick with details, … Suffice it to say that I gave up reading it before Miss Marple (apparently it's a Marple mystery) even arrived on the scene.

Recommendation: Don't, unless you like slow, boring books.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Heavenly Pleasures

While in Brisbane I borrowed a few books from the library. It was very satisfying to relax into some serious reading for pleasure, which I don't get much time for now that I'm a full-time teacher.

The first book I read was Heavenly Pleasures by Kerry Greenwood. I found it really delightful! Actually the second book in a new series, the story is technically a mystery but also includes some romance and comedy. The book's title derives from the chocolate shop in which the mystery occurs. The main character, Corinna, is a baker, whose shop is called (no surprises here) Earthly Delights (also the title of the first book in the series, which I haven't read).

The book is so full of great quotes that I gave up trying to keep track of them—you'll just have to go read it yourself. But I hope you like cats, because there's quite a few in there.

Recommendation: Good fun. Read it!


Last weekend (actually Thursday-Saturday) was the annual conference of the Queensland Association of Maths Teachers. I flew down to Brisbane to attend, missing the athletics carnival on the last two days of term.
QAMTAC 2008 (by Ian B-M)
The conference was held at UQ, based mainly in the Hawken Engineering building. The conference theme was “My Way or the Highway: Reflections on the Distance Travelled in Mathematics Education”. As well as three interesting keynote speeches, there were four elective sessions each day with no less than seven offerings each session—a real smorgasbord of workshops and seminars!

Casio offered us all a free graphics calculator! Not wanting to be out-done, TI began giving away their new multi-line scientific calculator too.
QAMTAC 2008 - Conference Dinner (by Ian B-M)
But for me the highlight of the conference was definitely the dinner on Friday night. This was in the Burke & Wills rooms at the Mercure in town. Not only did the chef feed me very well, it was a great night of fun and friends (my cold notwithstanding; I picked up a cold somewhere between Mackay and Brisbane, and it was fairly chilly, so by Saturday I was feeling rather unwell). And the band, made up of conference delegates, were simply fantastic! They played and sang beautifully.

More photos on Flickr.