Thursday, 30 January 2014

The place I live: an exercise from Principles of Written English

Objective, Optimistic, Humorous, Sentimental, Angry, Frustrated, Excited

Of these words, I need to choose three and write about the place I live (house, bedroom, etc.), using the tone of each word I have chosen.

Objective: My home is a two storey house on 600m2. Upstairs, we have three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining area, bathroom, and lounge. Downstairs are two more bedrooms, along with another kitchen, dining area, bathroom and lounge. For this reason, we decided to split the house into two residences. Flooring downstairs is linoleum and tile throughout, while upstairs there are polished wooden floors in the lounge, linoleum throughout the food areas, and carpeting in the bedrooms.

Excited: Moving in was a dream come true. Our house. Our house. No more renting, no more shifting--here we can be secure.
And the day we moved in--Oh! that was a brilliant surprise! My husband accidentally kicked up the edge of the carpet in the lounge room, and underneath was this amazing polished wood floor. So, that night, we pulled the lot up before we moved the furniture in.

Sentimental: My garden is my haven. Beyond everywhere else in my house, this is where I have invested my time and energy, into these precious seedlings which will someday nourish me and the people I love. Radishes and beans and broccoli and herbs and so many more plants, each rewarding me with the dirt beneath my fingernails and the joy as each shoot pokes its first leaves above the ground.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Begining my Journey with edX

I'm starting on my first edX course,ColWri2.2x Principles of Written English.

We've been shown a video talking about vocabulary. The first time through the video, I listened to the audio, vaguely wondering why they had random images interspersed through the clip. Then, at the end, the video asked me to go back and write down what each of the images was. This doesn't appear to be a critical piece of assessment (just a learning activity) so my answers are as follows.

1. A lightning bolt on a nighttime sky, white against the midnight blue. The skyline sits darkly along the base of the photograph, trees stark and black.
2. A fortress or castle. Stone walls are topped with crenelations in the daytime sun.
3. A windmill set against the bright white and blue of cirrus flecked against the sky 
4. A dandelion head, seeds ready to disperse.
5. A black-and-white image of a harpist, head bowed, hands on his harp. In the background, people watch.
6. A multicoloured mass of opaque seed beads.
7. Fountains; jets of water lit from below in multiple hues against the darkness.
8. A lone snail seeking its way across the pebbled ground.
9. Yellow mushrooms clustered upon a mossy section of wood.
10. Red candles aflame in the still air of the dark room, burning down, liquid wax pooling around them.
11. A red cockerel.
12. Snugly clothed children skating on a ice.
13. Lily-pads on water.
14. A thick, white rope wrapped about a bollard.
15. Multi-coloured drinking straws.
16. A red park bench set against the afternoon sky.
17. Blue tinted cats-eye marbles.
18. A camera lens, detached from its camera.
19. A parachutist falls gently toward the ground. In the background, a snowy mountain fills the sky.
20. Paperclips - hot pink, lemon yellow, cobalt blue, pumpkin orange, lime green, imperial red.
21. A footprint in the sand.
22. Parodia cacti.

Later in the course, we have been given a list of everything that appeared. Their descriptions were, of course, much simpler than mine, but the keywords they've used are consistent with mine (except for #11... where I called it a cockerel, they've called it a rooster).

Just prior to our second assessable item, we've been asked to read a section and to write down any words we don't know. I know all the words used in the passage (with the exception of whow, but I believe this to be a typographic error--the word should have been who), but I was unclear on the meaning of "assay". I did understand it to be some method of determining worth, but I have now discovered (thanks to the magic of typing "assay definition" into a search engine) that it is determining the content of a metal or ore. So not too far off.

So I managed to complete my first week of my course fairly quickly, with full marks on the two banks of quiz questions. This makes me happy. However, the first week is always the easiest, so we'll see what happens in the future.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Life and all that stuff

I'm roughly a week and a half behind on my sustainability course.

In my head, I hear "I'll catch up", but I've discovered that a few dribbles of moisture from the sky plays havoc with my internet connection, so for the last couple of days I've been trying to load each page in between connectivity interruptions. Prior to that was just a case of life interrupting... even when you absolutely love the learning, you still need down time to switch off the brain, not to mention family time to keep the wheels greased.

I'm supposed to start my first edX course today, as well as taking place in my sustainability and climate change courses, but it's almost 10pm here and the course is still not coming up. I guess it must still be earlier than start of work at Berkley Campus. (Berkley's in California, right? So that would be LA time, so just going on 4 am... nobody's turning on the go switch yet.)

So now I'm off to bed to hope for a better connection tomorrow. And over the weekend. And maybe this post will even go up...

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Last Week of England in the Time of King Richard III

I am on the last week of England in the Time of King Richard III.

This week is quite exciting. The subject of this week focusses upon the excavation of Grey Friars and the subsequent discovery of the body of King Richard III. When I first saw the lineup for the week, my heart fell... 21 sections to make my way through. But many of the sections are videos, so it's not nearly so time consuming as I had first anticipated. Here are my thoughts for the week. Most of these have been from posts I have made in the course comments sections today.

In locating the body, I don't think that any one thing was the deciding factor. A lot of good research got them into the right approximate area, but luck was what landed them almost on top of the skeleton. I imagine that the discovery of a skeleton was exciting, but I also imagine that nobody imagined at first that they actually had the right skeleton.

The sight of the scoliosis probably had the archaeologists shouting and dancing though. If circumstantial evidence is ever worth anything, it's when you're specifically looking for a hunchback who died in a fight and you find a male of the right age with scoliosis and heavy battle wounds.

All circumstantial evidence aside, having two modern-day descendants of the matrilineal line was astonishing. That DNA was able to be extracted from the remains was quite remarkable, and that they were able to determine a match between all three mitochondrial DNA sources really sealed the deal.

For those who are interested, here is a link to the post-excavation paper that was produced:

In considering the publicity of the discovery at the time and in comparison with the above-mentioned paper, we are asked what we think about the purpose of each. Do they meet different but equally important needs? Would dissemination have been as effective or important without one or the other? Are there dangers or problems with either approach?

The majority of people will view this as no more than a curiosity. Media fills the role of informing those who may have a curiosity about the subject. However, the paper speaks to a different audience. The detail within the paper is inappropriate for media. People who get misty over a two minute segment on a king's skeleton getting re-interred into a more prestigious location may find themselves entirely disinterested in how long the trenches were, even though this is vital information for future archaeologists who may find themselves referring to the paper for the next century or more.

However, information within the media is often how social historians know what data is available to find, so media should never be ignored as an important tool.

Grey Friars went on to be excavated a second time in 2013, and a second body was located in a prime position. A previous building was also located, this one with intact walls and some beautiful floor tiles. I look forward to following up on the glimpse of information I was given on this excavation.

Having finished the course now, I'm quite happy to say that this was an excellent use of my time. For those of you who haven't caught the history bug yet, this is a good introductory into medieval life. For those of you who are social historians like myself, this gives just enough in-depth info to offer new avenues of thought and interest. I found a lot to love about this course, and I have no hesitation recommending it.

Monday, 13 January 2014

New Course -- Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions

This makes it three courses I'm doing this week, so lets hope I can juggle them all; I have a few weeks coming up where I'll be doing four at a time, so this is good practice...

The course has a basic introduction telling us how to blog and tweet our progress, then we get into the basics. This tells us basically what the greenhouse effect is, what the albedo effect is, and what gases are keeping the heat in.

1.3 sends us to this website: This is a pretty good link and I think it's one that a lot of people could stand to read about. It gives a rundown on the greenhouse effect and solar irradiance.

After a video at 1.4, we've been asked at what 1.5 what we think are changes in a) weather and b) climate.

Weather is a day to day change. It's sunny today, but I think later in the week it might rain. That's a change in the weather.

Climate is much more broad spanning. A change in the climate might be where an area with traditional seasonal rains became increasingly arid over the course of a long period of time (such as occurred in Australia, which was once covered in rainforests but is now mostly desert:

At 1.6 I'm seeing the fourth video for this course. If this trend keeps up, I'm going to fly through this course. I do like the ability to leave the audio running while I'm typing.  I'm seeing that I'm going to enjoy this course.

The Philosophy of Sustainability -- Week 2 begins

Straight up on week 2 of my Future Learn course "Sustainability, Society and You", We've been asked two very important questions.

The first is the scope of sustainability. Do we just want to sustain opportunities for human wellbeing, or do we extend that to include other living creatures we share the Earth with.

The second is about the sources of our obligation to act sustainably. Dr Neil Sinclair is asking why we should try to preserve opportunities for other people in future generations who we will never interact with.

Having come from a background of an enormous interest in biology, I see little difference in sustaining opportunities for humans and sustaining opportunities for other living beings. In fact, I think it's impossible for us to have the former without also bringing the latter into the mix.
Ecologies are amazingly complex, and we don't always understand the relationships between the varied organisms in each ecosystem. Knowing that we don't fully understand something is an incredibly important realisation, and one that all too many people are willing to dismiss all too easily.

Take, for instance, krill. These small crustaceans feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton. They then swim around in enormous swarms, getting eaten by (seemingly) anything bigger than them that comes their way, including humans. They (as a collective of all species of krill) are an important link in the food chain.
So what happens when the temperature of the sea rises? A lot of species are arctic, and rising temperature levels may put undue stress on krill, reducing their numbers substantially.
Pollution may decrease the amount of plankton available, which could also reduce the numbers of krill.
And once the krill population drops, so too do the populations of fish that survive in whole or in part on krill.
Fish populations that are already under pressure from human fishing may be devastated by the removal of this one link in the food chain.

Okay, so that's just one species of fish, right? Wrong. The scenario I describe affects multiple species of fish, all at the same time, and from there it affects all the predators as their food source dwindles. A lack of these creatures might go on to cause a boom in the numbers of plankton, causing toxic algae-blooms which block the sun, which then has further ramifications.

Removing a tiny crustacean from the food chain causes a massive knock-on effect which has the potential to put food pressure on human populations.

These important connections in food chains around the globe are everywhere, and sometimes we take them for granted. Colony collapse disorder in bees has been causing increasing amounts of worry, as European honey bees are responsible for pollinating many agricultural crops worldwide. This has the potential to put stress on the food crops of many countries.

It's not just food that we should be worrying about though. Medicinal properties of plants and animals are continually being discovered, and there are well-founded concerns that our destruction of the Amazon could be leading us to destroy potential cures for cancer or other diseases through massive extinctions of plant life.

There are good reasons for keeping our ecosystems intact; reasons which benefit us as well as benefiting other life-forms within ecosystems, and I think I've only just started to scratch the surface of this question, but I want to get onto the second question.

Beyond all the fluffy, herd-mentality co-operative stuff, I'm looking very specifically at one of the basic things that defines me as a life-form: reproduction. Having four children, I want to preserve the opportunities for my genetic line. It seems quite astounding to me, but every creature that lives on the face of this planet is descended from the same ancestor. It's quite clear when you look at the taxonomy of species. And it blew my mind the day I heard Richard Dawkins say it, even though it was the most obvious statement that I had ever heard (and I'm paraphrasing here): every single one of your ancestors lived long enough to pass on their genes. By preserving opportunities for future generations who I will never interact with on a personal level, I am preserving opportunities for my genetic lineage to thrive, to spread, and most importantly, to continue.

What can I say? I am more than who I am. I am the culmination of more than 3.5 billion years of life that has survived hostile conditions, crawling from the littoral zone, mass extinctions, predators, starvation, drought, pestilence, plague... I'm ego-maniacal enough to want, at some stage in the distant future, to be the mother of new species, even if I'm never actually remembered for anything beyond the next couple of generations. And sustainability now gives my genetic heritage the best footing for long-term survival.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

What's cooking...

I was very pleased to be looking at medieval cookbooks today as part of the course "England in the Time of Richard III". I take part in Medieval re-enactment, and a large part of that is food.

Forme of Cury is a text that I've heard a lot about over the years.  A few years ago, something wonderful happened. It was placed online. Not just the words, but actual photographs of the pages.
Of course, if you're having some trouble reading it, don't fret, you're not alone. That's why it's useful to have the transcript available online as well, along with modern redactions of all the recipes.

Next, we've been given a link to an English translation (translation by Janet Hinson from the French edition of Jerome Pichon published in 1846) of "Le Menagier de Paris"I've not heard of this text before, so I'm looking forward to diving in and finding new recipes to try.

And our third link today is "Le Viandier de Taillevent", which has been translated into English by James Prescott. We are told that this collection "...has the distinction of being the first printed cookery book..."

It looks like I'll be dusting off a few of these. I have a particular occasion coming up where I need to present at least one medieval dish.