Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Renting a house in Brisbane

To all those well-meaning people who told me that the rental market in Brisbane has become “pretty bad”, and that it is now “quite hard” to find a place to rent, I have one thing to say: With all due respect, you have no idea!

I went to Brisbane for a few days last week, to look for somewhere for us to live in 2010. I spent most of my first day there, Wednesday, driving around Kingston, Loganlea, Waterford and Loganholme getting rather demoralised because the only place I managed to see the inside of had mouldy ceilings (we're trying to escape all that!). Nevertheless, on Thursday I started in Eagleby, and I found three places that would suit us very well and a handful of others we could live with, scattered around these suburbs. On Friday I saw yet another really nice house.

So we put in applications for our favourite four to three real estate agents, and I flew back to Brisbane on Saturday with a reasonable hope that we'd be approved for at least one of them. Today (Wednesday) we were approved for the place I saw on Friday, in Loganlea. We've just signed the lease (by email-print-sign-scan-email back, because the quality is better that way than by fax).

Seriously: If you want to experience a hard rental market, move to Mackay. It took us two months to find a place to rent here, and in the end we only got this house by word of mouth, not through real estate agents or advertising. (And if you want to see just how bad renting can get, try Moranbah, where a three-bedroom house costs at least $600 a week.)

However, I am glad I went to look during the week. On Saturday morning I inspected a house in Loganlea. We had to go through in groups of three because the tenants were still there. I was in the second group. There were still people driving up when I came out! (In comparison, when we first moved to Mackay, Laetitia was going through rental houses in groups of about ten, and there would be at least four such groups looking at each place.)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Thank-yous after three years

Perhaps one really does have to leave to get people to actually say “thank you”. Certainly I've received more thanks than usual at the end of this year.

My fellow maths and science teachers signed a card for me, and pooled contributions to get me a gift of a couple of games: Tantrix and Rush Hour. The former I'm enjoying already; the latter I plan to use in my classroom. Both are about building logical and spatial reasoning skills.


I also received many thank-you cards from students. I thought I'd share a few of their nice comments. They have honoured me greatly with their kind words.

In first term this year I taught Maths B in year 11, but then the classes were reorganised and I switched to teaching Maths A instead. There were a few students in that Maths B class who I continued to help with their maths in after-school tutoring—and many other times when they asked! It seems some of them still think of me as their maths teacher:

I was a private maths tutor to one student since the end of last year. In our tutoring sessions, as well as working on maths, we discussed many topics including dealing with stress, time management, careers and life after school, … and we prayed together.

When I was studying to be a teacher, I was warned that I wouldn't see some of the best fruits of my work for years. Here's (part of) a lovely letter from one student who I first taught two years ago, and then again this year:

But I will finish with a short note written for me at the end of the last day of school. Rushed, unprompted, but so meaningful to me:


On practicum during my studies, my mentors and lecturers were always commenting on my apparent passion for my subject. I really wanted them to be commenting on my love for my students. But it's very hard to build up that kind of relationship in the context of a four-week prac. Now, three years into my teaching, and with God's constant help and guidance, it seems I'm finally getting somewhere.

Thank you, Father, for an amazing three years. Thank you for all that you've taught me about being a good teacher. Thank you for the lovely encouraging words from my students. Thank you for allowing me to be such a big part of their lives, and for encouraging and growing their passion for and enjoyment of learning through me.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ian's core values

Funny how some things don't change—at least, not in a hurry.

I've been going through old stuff in preparation for our move to Brisbane, and it's providing me with a good opportunity for reflection on my first three years of teaching. This afternoon I rediscovered some notes I'd made during one of my teaching pracs. At that time I decided my core values for my classroom were:
  • Respect for others and self
  • Build others up
  • Self-discipline
  • Follow God's leading
These lead on to a similar number of simple classroom rules, but that's not the point here. This is: in the last three years, these core values haven't changed. I wrote these up before I started teaching full-time, and in the mean time I have imbibed, digested and regurgitated my school's own philosophy and value system. My teaching skills and strategies have grown from almost nothing to—well, perhaps I can now call myself a teacher, although not yet one good at managing a large class of thirteen-year-olds. My opinions on many aspects of teaching and learning have changed as my ideas have been challenged, bruised, mangled or proven downright absurd through daily testing at school. But in the end, I still think these four statements sum up what I feel should be valued most highly in my classroom.

Interesting, no?

(PS- For my teacher friends, a challenge for you to think through. What are your core classroom values?)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wedding: Tim Helbig and Angela Catt

My cousin Tim got married last Saturday. I flew down to Sydney on Friday afternoon after school, via Brisbane. I flew back home on the direct flight on Sunday. I stayed with my family (mum, dad, sister) at Hotel Formule 1 at Sydney airport. (As in, the hotel is an easy ten minute walk from the terminal.)

The wedding was at Rockdale Uniting Church, officiated by my mum's cousin Sam. It was a beautiful service: positive, fun and God-centred. I was very impressed with their vows—no prompting! They had a lovely reading based on the apocryphal book of Sirach:

A loyal friend is like a safe shelter, find one, and you have found a treasure. Nothing else is as valuable; there is no way of putting a price on it. A loyal friend is like medicine that keeps you in good health. Only those who fear the Lord can find such a friend.

Never abandon an old friend; you will never find a new one who can take their place. Friendship is like wine; it gets better as it grows older.
Being independently wealthy or working for a living both can make life pleasant, but it is better to find a treasure.
A man’s name can be preserved if he has children or if he establishes a city, but finding wisdom is a better way. Owning livestock and orchards will make you famous, but it is better to have a wife you love.
Wine and music can make you happy, but a happy marriage is even better.


After some family photos in the church grounds, we hopped on a luxurious coach to take us to the reception venue, the St George Motor Boat Club. It was an interesting trip: the poor bus driver had to manoeuvre around a few traffic “calming” devices. While Tim and Angela were getting formal photos taken (out in the Marina, I think), the rest of us gathered for pre-dinner drinks. The view from the balcony, out over Georges River, was fabulous, with the sun slowly heading towards the horizon.


Inside the function room, I was seated at a table with my sister and cousins—well, my other cousins; obviously Tim's seat was out the front with Angela! They made a very grand entrance. Each couple came in to a different song, and they each did a little mime to match.

There followed a delicious dinner (yes, even mine; my only complaint was that there wasn't enough of it). Speeches over dessert, punctuated by many pilot jokes (Tim being a commercial airline pilot). After that, some dancing. The music got very loud at that point, so I went out to the balcony instead.

Unfortunately I didn't get enough time to really get to know Angela, but from what I saw and heard she seems a really lovely lady, with a good sense of humour. I pray that Tim and Angela have many more wonderful days ahead, filled like their wedding day was with laughter and the company of good friends.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I have a job!

Next year I will be teaching at Calvary Christian College. No, not the one in Townsville; we're trying to escape from the humidity, remember! This is the one in south-east Queensland, at Carbrook, just north of the Logan River. I will be teaching senior Physics, and some combination of Maths and Science.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I'm not allowed to say this (here)…

I'm glad I don't work for Education Queensland.

They have a new (as of October 2009) Code of Conduct, which applies to all their staff including teachers, administrators, janitors, even (to the extent that they are able to) contractors. The new Code is generating some response in the media, due to some parts of Section 2.2.2 “Protecting Students from Harm: Sexual Misconduct” (p.11–12).

Overall, I think the policy is fine. I understand and agree that my “interactions with students must be and be seen to be professional at all times” (p.12). However, there are a couple of points they make that I think are unreasonable, short-sighted and probably unenforceable. First:
“You must not use internet social networks such as Face Book [sic], My Space [sic] or YouTube to contact or access present students enrolled in any school or institute.” (p.12)
I originally joined Facebook because it was something my students were doing and I wanted—professionally—to find out more about it, so as to be able to relate to them in their world and their language. Indeed, I was explicitly encouraged to do so by my supervisors at my school. And I found that after a while, some of my students began using Facebook as a way to ask me for help with their schoolwork. It was a medium in which they felt comfortable enough to ask questions. Now, part of my professional job is to build a relationship with my students within which honest communication and dialogue can take place, a relationship within which they feel safe enough to ask questions and learn from the answers. And I'm very comfortable using digital media as a means to communicate; after all, I was using electronically-mediated social networks years before my students were even born! So why not use a contemporary internet social network as a means to provide another avenue, another option if you like, for my students to contact me if they wish?

But it goes a step further. In a recent incident in Adelaide, two young girls lost in a drain used Facebook to ask for help. That's right, they had mobile phones and were in service range, but they updated their Facebook status rather than calling triple-zero. Now, leaving aside the wisdom of their choices, consider: perhaps a teacher, i.e. a responsible adult who knows them and cares about them, might see their status update and be able to get help to them? In this case, they fortunately had another young friend online who saw and called for help. Good teachers care about their students. Not just about what happens in the classroom. We care about their lives.

Of course, I soon discovered that Facebook was also a good way to get back in touch with many of my own old friends. I have grown to like the way I can keep in touch with so many people without an excessive effort on my part. But some of my personal friends (e.g. from church or other family friends) happen to be students. At state schools and private schools. And TAFE and universities—for crying out loud, some of them are older than I am! And now all Education Queensland staff, including teachers, are not allowed to use Facebook or other internet social networks to contact or access (whatever that means) students in any school or institute.

However, I am quite capable of setting up my Facebook account so that my friends can see everything, but my students can only see as much of my private life as I choose to share with them. Which brings us to the second point:
“If you use internet social networks in your personal time you must ensure that the content is appropriate and private, and that you restrict access to specific people who are not students.” (p.12)
Now don't get me wrong. As I just said, my Facebook profile is set up to restrict access, especially from my students. And I never initiate contact with a student on Facebook. But even my blog is an internet social network that I use in my personal time, and it's not exactly private. I'm also trying to establish a photography blog as a means to sell some of my better photos. Making that private defeats the purpose! In fact, technically, using email is a kind of internet social network. How far will this wedge eventually be pushed?

Bottom line: My employer does not own my personal time. If I choose to use it to build a publicly accessible profile on an internet social network, that's my business, not theirs.

Speaking of my business, I am also a private tutor to several students. As part of that professional relationship, we have exchanged contact details. Which also contravenes the same section of the new Code…

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Making dinner

I enjoy cooking.

Today I came home already feeling a bit run down, the shopping wasn't done yet, lots to do, gotta go out at seven, time is short… One of those days. Oh, and since Laetitia's going to do the shopping, I have to make dinner too. And there's almost nothing in the fridge to make it with.

Rummage around for ingredients. Change my mind a couple of times about what to make, based on what I (don't) find. Oh, and when the shopping comes back there'll be things to put away, too.

But once I actually start cooking— I dunno, I just start to feel better. Is it the smell of the spices? The frying garlic? The soothing action of stirring the pan? The sound of the onion sizzling in the warm oil? Actually I think it's as much the creativity: God the Creator has made me in his image, and I thrive on making something out of—well, not out of nothing; out of the raw ingredients that God has made.

And by the time dinner is ready, I'm feeling much better. I enjoy cooking.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Parting is such sweet sorrow…

I cried today.

I took a minute to tell a couple of students that I wouldn't be around next year. These are two who I've taught, tutored and encouraged since they were in Year 8 in my first year here at MCC. Two who have particularly taken to, and thrived under, my style of maths teaching. Two who I have had the privilege of watching grow and mature. I would so love to stay so I could see them continue to grow and flower into beautiful young ladies, as I'm sure they will over the next few years.

I wanted to let them know before they heard rumours—I'm sure there must be some floating around the school by now. All the staff know I'm going, thanks to a not-so-subtle hint from Craig at staff devotions on Monday. Many of them have children at the school.

I just wanted to let them hear it direct from me first. And after we talked about the situation, and I walked away heading back to the staff room… I cried.

I'll miss them. And many others besides.

Monday, October 5, 2009

68kg!

For most of my life I was 57kg. I got to that weight by about age 16, and stayed that way for years, regardless of how much I ate or what exercise I did (or didn't). Now 57kg is okay, if a little on the thin side for my height.

In 1997 I was living in the USA for a while, without my usual distractions to entertain myself, and with a nice friendly gym within walking distance. So I decided to join the local gym to see whether I could put on a little more muscle. For the first few months my weight stayed around the same 57kg (except of course I was measuring it in pounds), but I could feel the difference as my muscle tone improved. And then gradually, bit by bit, my weight began to rise. By the end of the year I was up to about 63kg…

And then I got sick in February 1998. I seemed to lose about 6kg in two weeks! (Yes, if you're wondering, that was the start of my new diet regime. Suddenly things I'd been eating all my life started making me sick.)

So I was back to 57kg. Fast forward several more years.

In 2006 I was in Brisbane, finishing off my studies in Education, and looking for a new job as a high school teacher. The job God provided was in Mackay. With the stress of finishing my uni course, moving to a new city, starting a new job, finding somewhere to live (not easy in Mackay), my first year of teaching… my weight started going down again. I was punching new holes in my belt (to make it tighten a little smaller). When I got all the way down to 53kg, I decided I'd better do something about it.

And I did. In August 2007 I joined the local gym.

Since then I have gradually been building back up again. Like the previous time, back in 1997, the first few months were more tone than bulk. But the weight gains did come with continued effort. Last year I celebrated with friends when I reached 60kg—it was, for me, a milestone worth marking. In the last couple of weeks I've been consistently over 68kg.

My goal is to be comfortably over 70kg. And I realise that I may not make it—the gains are getting harder and slower, I'm definitely fighting my body's natural inclination to stay thin. But I'm highly motivated: I'm fitter and stronger than ever before, I feel great, and my wife loves the improvement in my looks…

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Invited to dinner

Twice this week, Laetitia and I were invited to dinner by friends from church.

On Tuesday we spent the evening with Miranda and Lawrence and their three children. Miranda cooked us a delicious meal including a fabulous white cake for dessert, in spite of her nervousness about cooking for our special diets. We met their dog Boaz, ate outside on the back patio, and finished the night by watching Shrek the Third on their (rather large) TV.

On Saturday we spent the evening with Fiona and Craig and one of their children (Brandt). Now Fiona once ran a catering business. She (and Craig) cooked up a veritable feast! There was so much food! She had gone to some effort to prepare menus for us and all, printed on fancy paper:

(I've scanned the back of Laetitia's menu at the side, so you can see the back of the fancy paper.)
We took some photos of all the food too:

Over dessert we played 500 (teaching Brandt how to play in the process). Oh, and we also met their dog Tess, their new puppy Electra and their cat Sonic.

Thanks Miranda and Fiona for fabulous meals and great company—and for taking such care to feed us so well.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

We need to move

One day in February this year, I came home from school during the day to find Laetitia having to hold herself up against the wall for support, and I knew then that this would be our last year in Mackay. It was time to move to somewhere less humid.

Laetitia's heart has a leaky valve, and with the high humidity here in summer (tropical monsoonal wet), each year she has found it a little harder to breathe than the last.

If it weren't for the summer weather (and the high cost of accommodation), we'd much prefer to stay in Mackay. We really like the people here: we've made good new friends, we love our church family, we've found clubs and hobbies we enjoy. I've really grown in skills and character through the support of my colleagues at work.

But now, it seems it's time to go.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nuts'n'bolts chess set

chess pieces julia (by j suits)


What a beautiful chess set! Now if only I can find someone who'll make one for me…

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Making a romantic video

So I made a romantic video of myself for Laetitia for our eleventh anniversary. Well, to be precise, I only starred in it. Lindy did the filming and production. While I'm not going to show you the video (that's for Laetitia's viewing pleasure, not yours), I will give you a quick Mastercard-style summary:

Blank DVD: less than $1
New dress shirts: $70
The look on her face: priceless

Thank you Lindy! She likes it.

Eleventh Anniversary

Dear Laetitia,

Thank you for spending the last eleven years as my beloved wife.

Thank you for loving me, cherishing me and honouring me.
Thank you for standing by me in times of trouble and distress, and in times of peace.
Thank you for comforting me when I have been ill, and cheering with me when I have been well.

Thank you for telling me the things I need to hear, which aren't always the things I think I want to hear. Thank you for forcing me to pay attention to details I might otherwise overlook. Thank you for reminding me of the things I forget. Thank you for encouraging me to grow.

Thank you for sharing your clever wit and humour with me. Thank you for playing your suave sax music for me, and for singing with your beautiful voice.

Thank you for being you, with me, for eleven wonderful years. I love you.

Ian xx

Friday, August 7, 2009

Retinal Pigment Epithelium Defect

I've been bothered by a funny spot in my vision lately. There's a patch in my left eye that has… issues. So I went to see the only eye doctor in Mackay, Dr Rod Kirkwood—who is a lovely, patient, gentle man who exudes calmness and confidence. And it appears (pun intended) that I have a retinal pigment epithelial defect.

People keep asking me what that means. I don't know, exactly. But I think the question they're really trying to ask is, what am I seeing? So I thought I'd have a go at describing it.

There's a small patch in the vision of my left eye where the image is distorted. The patch is a bit bigger than my blind spot, and near but not coincidental with it. The colours there are wrong—just a little bit. It's like I've just looked away from a light. And if I look at a bright area like the sky or a white wall, it shimmers, almost like a migraine aura.
Also, lines or edges passing through this patch do not look straight. Here's my attempt to fill out an Amsler grid. Note this is not a real Amsler grid; in fact my patch is just off the edge of the standard grid at its normal size (because my defect is away from the centre of my vision). I'm just trying to give you some idea of the way lines “bulge” outwards a little.
There you have it. Dr Kirkwood says he doesn't think it's anything to worry about, or that we can do anything much about. But he wants to see me again in a few weeks, just to check that nothing's changed. Apparently these things can sometimes be caused by a viral infection.

I'm just glad that with my skin's apparent attractiveness to all the fungus around here, I haven't become infected with this scary fungus.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fungal Infections

So I've had a small itchy red spot on one arm for a couple of weeks. Today I noticed it had developed a characteristic small circular shape, a red ring around a clear centre: ringworm. What is it with Mackay? Laetitia's skin attracts the bugs, mine seems to attract fungus.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why I hate football

Apparently there were some fights on the field in the third State of Origin match. So what did I see on the playground at school today? Teenage boys mucking around play-fighting at the try line in their lunch-time touch footy game.

It's not that I think it's especially dangerous—to them. It may be hazardous for the primary school children watching from their classrooms to copy the older students' behaviour, of course.

No, the problem is the way they copy their pro-player heroes. They unconsciously imbibe the idea that fighting is okay, that fighting is an acceptable way to express their feelings, that fighting is a good way to sort out differences of opinion. That fighting is fun.

It's not.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Flee the Night

Susan May Warren's book Flee the Night is a gripping novel about a woman trying to save her daughter and a man trying to help her. Actually, the romantic element I found difficult to believe: are any real women that pathetically confused about what they want? But the suspense and action sequences are well written.

The book also has a sub-current of regret and forgiveness that's covered in a balanced and believable way, from a Christian basis.

Recommendation: Worth reading, if you're into “romantic suspense”.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Recording messages for absent missios — ideas please?

Each year in January, Laetitia and I trek off (all right, we usually drive) to Mt Tamborine for a conference run by our branch of the Christian mission organisation CMS. At the conference, people record audio messages for missionaries who can't make it that year.

Currently, we use cassettes for this. They're cheap, the machines are simple and therefore easy to use, and you can make do with only a handful of machines by swapping cassette tapes in and out, one tape per missionary (or family). Unfortunately, they're also low quality, the messages now have to be digitised to be sent (they're usually actually delivered on CD these days), and (believe it or not) tapes are getting harder to find. Oh, and eventually all the old cassette decks will die and it won't be worth trying to fix them.

Is it time yet to switch to digital? If so, how? If not, when?

From what I can see the most suitable digital replacement is something like an Olympus Notetaker, say the VN-3500PC (or older equivalents, VN-3x00PC) or the WS-210S. Of course, there are other brands and models, and I'm not particularly interested in their relative merits at this point. They're all reasonably affordable, at $50–$150 each (based on a quick check on ebay).

No, what I'm interested in is this: I can see three major issues with replacing the old cassette decks with these digital devices.

1. Price & convenience—to the dishonest. These things are useful and they are not cheap. If someone steals a cassette recorder (and who would?), big deal. But these cost a reasonable amount, they're extremely useful, very sexy, and small enough to hide in a pocket and walk away with. Think: at the conference, you'd have to tether them to something very well fixed, or implement a check-out or $20 deposit system.

2. Ease of use. The young, the techno-savvy and the geeks would be able to use them. I know I would have no trouble. But the over 60s who've never used a microwave, let alone a computer? Those with arthritis or otherwise poor dexterity? (The buttons on these things are small and often don't give good tactile feedback, unlike the satisfying clunk of a cassette deck.)

3. Organising the recordings. The devices are not cheap (see point 1) so you probably don't want to buy too many (unlike the cassettes). It's also not very easy (see point 2) to sort your recordings accurately into different folders on the device. So you would probably have to ask everyone to record who their message is for at the start (e.g. "This is a message for XX. Hi XX, this is..") and then have some techie spend a significant amount of time sorting through the messages after the conference to make sure they end up going to the right people.

Point 3 is not all bad, though. Indeed, it probably wouldn't take as long to sort the messages as it currently does to digitise them. And on the upside, people could record one general message for several people at once. ("This message is for XX as well as YY. Hi guys..")

Any ideas? Comments? Suggestions?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fox and Child

When we're in Brisbane, Laetitia and I like to find movies that we can't see back home. There are only two cinema complexes in Mackay, and they're both BCC. If the film ain't mainstream and popular, it likely ain't comin' to Mackay!

So the day after the wedding, we went to the Palace Centro to see The Fox and the Child, a beautiful movie about a young French girl and her fascination with a wild fox near her family's rural home.

The photography in the movie is wonderful. I'm glad I wasn't the cameraman, with some tricky and cold-looking sequences chasing wildlife through snow-laden forest. I was also impressed with the honest approach taken; this is no idealised fairy tale. It's quite realistic in presentation, apart perhaps from one incident (but I won't discuss that here as it would be a bit of a spoiler).

Recommendation: If you're a photographer or videographer, you'll love it. If you like wildlife, go for it. Your children will certainly enjoy it. Otherwise, take it or leave it; the plot isn't really that exciting.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Loving Hut

After the wedding, for dinner that night we decided to try a new restaurant reviewed by a friend. It's called The Loving Hut, and it's on Logan Rd in Mt Gravatt (right near Photo Continental).

And it was fabulous! For people with special diets, eating out can be a real bother. But in this restaurant, everything on the menu was vegan! Yippee! What a pleasure.

And it tasted great. It's been so long since I had a nice satay, so I chose the Satay Nuggets, and I wasn't disappointed. Delicious! Finished with a rich apple cake and whipped coconut cream. We went home very full, with food left over for lunch the next day, and it wasn't expensive either.

Yum! Give them a try. Thanks, Annie, what a find!

Beth & Nathaniel

Well, it's probably time for a blog post, eh? It's been a while.

Just got back from Brisbane. We went down there for a cousin's wedding: Laetitia's cousin Nathaniel, to Beth Hendy. As it turns out, several of my friends know Beth, even though I didn't until Saturday!

The men wait (by Ian B-M)

It was a lovely wedding in St Thomas' Anglican Church on High St, Toowong. Conservative ceremony, with some old hymns (I only knew one of them). Beth & Nathaniel asked people not to take photos during the service.

The reception afterwards was at Hillstone St Lucia, also known as the St Lucia Golf Club. It was fun to be there as a guest rather than a musician! While we were all gathering outside, someone was writing a proposition in the sky (“Marry me…”). And the food was delicious!

More photos, as usual, on Flickr.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hearing God

Some people say they hear God speaking to them as an audible voice. I don't. I've always felt confused, skeptical and even disheartened to hear people talking about God that way.

So when I was studying at CHC a few years ago, and I got a chance for a research assignment to choose a topic of relevance to my own spiritual growth, I chose “Hearing God”. For that assignment, I read a number of books and essays on the subject. One of those books was Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard. At the time, struggling to write an essay by a due date, and not yet ready for the deeper stuff later on in the book, I never got further than about half-way through it. But I knew I wanted to finish reading it some time.

Recently my wife bought me a copy, and I have now been able to read it carefully and thoroughly from cover to cover.

The book is excellent. The style is conversational and gentle, but precise and unambiguous. Firmly grounded in the Bible, most of the book is a theology of hearing God, as much about why as it is about how and when. Specific, personal communication from God is placed in the context of a life lived with God and for God. Theoretical principles are related to everyday life.

Theologically, I was most affected by Willard's profound description of “words” as being a personal expression. When you and I speak, our words are an expression of our very selves, of our desires, our will, our understanding. So too everything we call “God's Word”—the Bible, Jesus and any personal communication—is, in the same way, just an expression of God himself. And while our words are powerful enough, God's words have such authority and power that they always accomplish their intended purpose.

Practically, I have been encouraged on several counts. First, that I am not alone in struggling to recognize God's voice. Also that God's word (in the deeper sense just described) can also be heard not just in the Bible and through circumstance but from others who speak to us, and even sometimes when God speaks through us—all of which I can relate to, after looking for such occasions since I first read the book several years ago. Willard gives specific suggestions on how to practise and process living in a conversational relationship with God.

But the book is also somewhat confronting, in a very positive way. After all, if you don't actually notice and pay attention to your difficulties and faults, you will never be able to learn, correct your faults and grow. I found I had to take the last few chapters one at a time, and give myself time to digest and reflect on each before moving on.

Recommendation: A challenging but very valuable read. If you want to better understand how God communicates with his people, or you want your personal relationship with God to grow stronger, you could certainly benefit from reading this book.

Busy, busy, busy

Sorry, it's been a while since I posted here. That's because I've been quite busy. Since the end of Term 1 I've had to turn down four separate invitations to do more. I'd actually enjoy doing those things—coaching a Lego robotic soccer team, for instance. (That is, coaching the students programming the robots, not coaching the Lego robots!) But I just don't have time for anything else.

I'll try to find some time soon for more updates here, though.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Inkheart

Beautiful. I cried. Twice.

Changing the subject

Well, Term 1 is over. *Phew*

Actually, the time seems to have passed much more quickly than usual. Perhaps I'm finally starting to get the hang of this teaching thing. My senior classes are fabulous. (Can't say the same for my year 9s though!)

Unfortunately, one of my favourite classes won't be mine to teach any more. Like last year, our two Maths B classes in year 11 have grown too small to justify keeping separate, especially since the Prevocational Maths class in year 11 is at 27 students and growing. So we'll combine the two Maths B classes and split up the Prevoc class instead.

Fortunately I get to teach Maths A. One of the Maths A teachers is going to take the new Prevoc class.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A DIY Light Tent

I've been meaning to do this for a while, but today I finally got around to it. I made myself a light tent. What is a light tent? One of these:

I found instructions in September last year. You just get a cardboard box and some white material, and start hacking away.

I think I need something better than double-sided tape and duct tape, though. The material fell off the sides a few times.

Here it is in action:
My DIY Lightbox (by Ian B-M)

And here are my first few subjects:
Rubik's Cube (by Ian B-M)King and Queen (by Ian B-M)
Pear (by Ian B-M)Candle (by Ian B-M)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

TC Hamish

Yes, I know it's been a while since I posted anything here. So perhaps the passing-by of a cyclone is a good stimulus to get me going again.

Cyclone Hamish looked for a bit like it might make a direct hit on the north or central Queensland coast, but then veered south-east just in time. A day spent cleaning up the yard, tying the bins to a tree, moving pot plants into the foyer; a nervous day on cyclone warning; gusty but not dangerous winds, squally but patchy rain; a storm surge on top of a 6m tide causing only minor flooding in low-lying parts of Mackay. And then a clearing sky and cooler air in the wake, as the cyclone moved off down the coast.

For a while there Hamish was at category 5, with 300km/h winds near the eye and a central air pressure around 925hPa. That's pretty serious stuff! I did some research and learnt quite a bit about tropical cyclones. Apparently they are normally surrounded by a layer of very high cirrus, the result of the net outflow of damp air from the middle of the cyclone at the very top of the troposphere. Last night (Tuesday night) I observed a beautiful side-effect of this. The full moon was surrounded by a lunar corona, a band of rainbow colours. As the high-level cloud drifted past, the ring distorted gently as different sections shifted in and out. It was so beautiful!

Friday, February 6, 2009

25 Random Things

On Facebook at the moment, there's a meme going around, where you are supposed to write a note with 15 or 25 (depending who you ask) random things, facts, habits, or goals about yourself, and then tag some friends who you want to do the same. I thought my blog might also be an appropriate place to publish my reflections. So here goes:

1. Jesus first, my wife second, everything else third.

2. I believe that “We die only once, and then we are judged.” (Hebrews 9:27) If you die tonight, will you go to heaven? If you are not certain, talk to someone about it.

3. I believe the world was created in six days. I used to think otherwise, but in the mid-1990s I decided I was tired of just accepting what everyone else told me, so I did my own research. The evidence to my mind is overwhelmingly in favour of the universe having been created by an astoundingly clever designer.

4. I'm not the man I used to be, and that's a very good thing. God has done the most amazing miracles in my life. Not the “ta-da! magic” kind of miracles. He has changed my heart. I am actually amazed that some of my old friends who knew me as an arrogant, noisy schoolboy stuck with me long enough to see the changes. Thank you! (You know who you are.)

5. The older I get, the more comfortable I'm becoming with mystery. As a teenager I wanted to know and understand everything. The unknown was just a few books or semesters away. But now I have begun to recognize the unknowable. Some things I will simply never know, never understand. And I'm okay with that.

6. I was dux of my high school, got a TE score of 990, and was awarded an Australian Student Prize without even knowing such a thing existed. (The $2000 prize literally floored me when I got the letter about it. I sank to the floor in surprise.)

7. When I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. Both my parents had been maths teachers.

8. But I got side-tracked by my own intelligence—or perhaps more accurately, by my scholastic success. I got to the end of high school, and couldn't decide what to do at uni (uni was never optional for me), until one of my teachers showed me that I didn't have to choose between maths and computers, I could study both at the same time (in a Bachelor of Science course at UQ). At the end of my pass degree, the most natural thing to do was to continue on into honours. And the only honours course I qualified for was combined maths and computing.

9. At the time, and for a very long time afterwards, my honours year was the hardest work I'd ever done. Some of my maths subjects were so esoteric, my friend Scott and I would go to the refec after each fifty-minute lecture and spend a couple of hours talking it through, trying to get our heads around it.

10. My honours research project was in combinatorics. Specifically— actually, no, I won't bother trying to explain it. Ask me if you're interested.

11. My honours project was published in a journal (The Australasian Journal of Combinatorics, vol.14, p.109), and I was sent to a conference in Geelong to present it.

12. I nearly went broke while I was there. (My bank account got down to about $4.)

13. During my honours year I lived in a house in St Lucia with (variously) 4-6 other uni students. Only two were on the lease, which meant inspections were… interesting. Don't ask about meals, shopping, cleaning rosters or the TV. Or the car seat we used as a couch. Or the mangoes that fell into the pool. Come the think of it, I could probably write 25 random things just about share-house living in Brisbane—but I don't have to, because John Birmingham already did.

14. I got first class honours, with a GPA over the four years of around 6.5 (two 5s were my lowest results: in statistics and ODEs). I was awarded a university medal.

15. I nearly did a PhD. I applied for, and was granted, an APA scholarship for computational combinatorics.

16. But I took a job as a programmer instead, because it paid more.

17. I'm one of a relatively small number of people in the world who actually understand C++. Even pointers and memory management. Yes, even template instantiation.

18. I can still remember the opcodes for programming in 6502 machine code. I also speak Z80 and 68000. I like the 68000 the best. I was delighted when I discovered recently that my graphics calculator, a TI-84+, is driven by a Z80!

19. I nearly wrote my own operating system, twice. First time in high school, for an Apple ][e. Second time at uni, for a PC. Both times I decided in the end that the extant offerings would do, even if they weren't perfect.

20. I don't think computer programming should be called software engineering. Engineering as a discipline has been around for, what, maybe a thousand years? Computers have been around for less than a century. When we understand what we're doing a little better, and can reliably build software that does what we want, without failures requiring a restart, without annoying glitches, without blowing out the budget before we even get started… then perhaps we might be able to consider associating software with the dignified profession of engineering.

21. I stopped being a professional programmer in 2004. One morning I prayed that God would take away from me anything that stopped me from doing his will. By lunch time I had lost my job.

22. I started studying to be a teacher at QUT, but hated it.

23. I have lived in four countries and visited many more. I haven't been to South America or Antarctica. I speak two languages fluently and smatterings of a couple of others. I like languages and I'm fascinated by cultural differences.

24. But at the end of the day I like four countries the best. Scotland is very pretty (when it's not drizzling) and the people are nice. Germany appeals to my logical and organised side. Ireland stands for peace on the international scene. But Australia is where I consider my home to be.

25. Learning to play the violin and viola is quite possibly the hardest thing I've ever had to do. (Come on, I could hardly get to the end of this list of 25 things without mentioning music, now could I?) It's much harder than driving a car. I used to think I had poor motor skills and coordination, until I thought more carefully about just what exactly is involved in playing fiddle. But playing viola in chamber groups, right in the middle of the harmony and the sound… that's where I like to be.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yehudi Menuhin

I started reading Yehudi Menuhin's autobiography Unfinished Journey several years ago. Actually, I first found it in a library in Manchester in June 2003! I spent an hour or so browsing it there. But Manchester was a depressing place—it drizzled constantly, and there were basically no trees. So within days we had decided to hire a car and find someplace else to live.

But a few months later I found a second hand copy for sale for £2.50, and grabbed it. Yet I didn't get around to reading it until we'd been back in Australia for some time.

Two years ago, here's the brief review I wrote of what I'd read so far:

In accordance with the book's title, I have only got half-way through this book, and now it must be packed for our move to Mackay. Sigh. Worth reading, although I'm skipping quickly through some of it that I don't find interesting. I'd rather know more about his attitude to the violin (but he says he talks more about that in the latter half, which I haven't got to). I share his opinions of San Francisco (positive) and New York (negative).


Fortunately, he did talk more about violin playing, and music in general, in the latter part of the book. Technique-wise he puts great emphasis on flexibility. He gets a little carried away when he compares the violin to the piano! (“Who could lavish affection on a piano? Or cuddle it, or carry it in his arms, or put it to bed in silk and velvet?”) He also discusses the school he set up in England. He even mentions Suzuki, by whose method I first learnt to play the violin.

His cultural commentary makes very interesting reading. As a travelling performer he has been to many, many different countries around the world, in peace-time and in war. He makes remarkable cultural comparisons based on his experience, for instance in regard to individual performers vs team and chamber players, and the corresponding differences in sight-reading ability.

I especially enjoyed Yehudi Menuhin's stories about his music because in some ways my own musical journey has been quite similar. I also began with violin (though not as early), and later added viola. I also am careful with my diet and (as I get older) with stretching before I play. And I also was an ugly violinist who married a beautiful wife!

The prose is easy to read, although being topically- rather than temporally-organised the story jumps around a little in place and time. My edition includes an index, of mostly names of people and places.

Recommendation: Worth reading if you like biographies or music, especially if you play strings—but beware if your favourite instrument is the piano!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

First, how am I going with last year's? Okay, I think. Viola practice didn't happen quite as often as I'd like, and there is nowhere in Mackay for me to do any rock climbing, but otherwise I think I made some progress.

Some personal goals for this year:

  • Continue working on my drum playing
  • Waste less time (and spend it on worthwhile pursuits instead)
  • Lift my level of prayer, care and giving for missionaries


On a related note, as you may know, a long-time goal of mine has been to put on some weight. I'm pleased to report that my gym program (and carefully-planned diet) is working well, and I am now over 65kg! (That's more than ever before in my life!)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

CMS Summer School '09

CMS Summer School on Mt Tamborine was, as usual, excellent! Mike Raiter led us in some very challenging bible studies through Luke 9–19. We enjoyed fellowship with many old friends and made some new ones. The weather was fabulous, cool and mostly fine—way more pleasant than last year's pouring rain. The music was wonderful: congregational singing led by a few very talented musos, with a good variety of song styles. It is always uplifting to sing praises to God in a 500-strong choir!

This time around, QCCC refused to cater for us. So instead we self-catered in the Prezzy Palace (that's Camp Tamborine officially) kitchen.

And this year, we restrained ourselves somewhat in the bookshop. We only bought half a dozen books (some to be gifts) and four CDs.

Oh, and also: The old Chocolate Kingdom shop on Long St at the Gallery Walk has been sold. It's now selling the same chocolates at double or triple the price! But it turns out the other shop is still there (thanks Rachel!) and still selling Queensland's most delicious chocolates at the same old prices. You'll find it in the little shopping centre at the top of Henri Robert Drive (the Nerang road).

Next year, same place, Friday 1st to Thursday 7th January. See you there!

Friday, January 2, 2009

A red-headed Canadian girl

I finally did it. I finally got around to reading a book that certain friends have been encouraging me to read since … oh, high school if not before. Which was a long time ago. But I'm rambling now.

Anne of Green Gables is an L M Montgomery classic. Anne is an orphan with bright red hair and freckles. The story begins with her adoption by an older pair, a brother and sister living in a small homestead in a provincial village (for want of a better word) on Prince Edward Island. Of course, they were expecting to be adopting a boy, to help out on the farm…

Of course you, dear reader, have probably read the book before, so I won't waste any more time outlining the plot. (Besides, you can go read it yourself anyway.)

I actually think it am better off for having read Anne now, later in life. I would not have understood it to nearly the same depth when I was a teenager (being a boy, and a socially inept one at that). And I certainly would not have coped with the sheer level of detail in the descriptive passages—which Laetitia insisted I read and appreciate when I suggested I might just skim lightly over the first couple. Having now had some exposure to teenage girls as a mature observer, in my role as a high school teacher, I can better understand the stories and characters than I would have back then.

So: An enjoyable book. Definitely a must-read. I cried at the end.