Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Recyle

In line with the global move to mitigate humankind's impact on the environment, lifestyle changes are encouraged. An example is Australia's Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts' promotion of the principles of the "5Rs": Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Repair and Recycle.

Rethink - the use of all resources. Is there a more environmentally friendly way of doing things, or do you really need to do it? Each time you purchase you create a demand. Think before you buy! For example, walk, join a car pool or catch a bus instead of taking the car, take a shopping bag instead of using plastic bags.

Reduce - the use of all resources, especially non-renewable ones. If you must do it use the alternatives that technology makes available. For example, send and read information electronically instead of printing it on paper, use renewable energy sources such as solar power.

Reuse - where possible reuse resources. For example, use newspaper for garden mulch and milk cartons for tree guards.

Repair - rather than throwing things away
For example, try to buy repairable equipment, sell/give broken whitegoods to repairers rather than sending it to landfills.

Recycle - waste items wherever possible. For example, sort your garbage and recycle all cans, bottles, paper and glass, set up a compost heap for food scraps.

Certainly in keeping with the city's reputation as one of most livable destinations in the world (ranking 6th, 2006), is the access of residents to services and infrastructure. Among the services Adelaide City Council provides is the Hard Refuse collection for domestic premises. Four times a year, the pedestrian paths in residential neighbourhoods will have an orderly pile of discarded household items for council's collection. These could range from furniture, bathroom fittings, to old white goods.

In the last council collection, this was a pile I saw from a house a number of blocks from the apartment building:

The Guggenheim Collection 1991 promotional poster of the Art Gallery of New South Wales now hangs on my hallway wall.

Oh well ... someone's trash is somebody's treasure.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"What you read today ...

In an earlier post, I mentioned that having the luxury of time to read books is one of life's pleasures. Much as I long for my own iLiad by iRex, the e-Book reader now available through Dymocks in Australia at a whopping retail price of AU$899, I am still of the view that much pleasure can be derived from the tactile experience of turning pages while nose deep reading a book.

Recently, in one of my regular lunchbreak visits to a couple of second-hand / antiquarian bookshops, I stumbled upon a 1953 hardcover copy of Marston Bates' Where Winter Never Comes. Joy! I finally got my own copy.

But why do we keep books? Gary Lines suggests that books are a silent summary of one's personality, intellect, interests and most likely a reflection of influences. Gary Lines contends that books are a person's cheaper curriculum vitae as they don't have to be new.

Anyhow, Where Winter Never Comes (1953) is one of the seminal books that supported the notion that the beginnings of civilization were achieved in the tropical regions. Bates opposed the extreme positions of the environmental determinists regarding the tropical climate as quite hopeless for civilization. Bates argues that most of the human evolution took place in the tropics.

Having made a somewhat thorough literature review on Environmental Determinism as part of my PhD research, I came across numerous works on the subject and have voraciously read books by late 19th century and early 20th century modern geographers. The university library was just an amazing repository of these interesting literature.

I am now on a quest to track down and secure copies of my own of the following:
Civilization and Climate (1915) by E. Huntington
Environment and Race: A Study of the Evolution, Migration, Settlement and Status of the Races of Man (1927) by G.T. Taylor
Climate and the Energy of Nations (1944) by S.F. Markham
Climate Makes the Man (1944) by C.A. Mills

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Magnum Opus

In Australia, the magic number in doing a PhD is 3 1/2 years which is the time frame for completion. At the end of this period the objective is for a PhD candidate to complete a thesis that is rigorous and original: "a well-written thesis [that] reveals independence of thought and approach, a deep knowledge of the research topic and has made a significant original contribution to knowledge consistent with 3-4 years of full time research".

The thesis, more often than not, is perceived as a candidate's 'life's work'. It is that work that would practically consume postgrads during their candidature as their thesis is regarded as the definitive outcome. However, I agree with Caroline Hamilton that the thesis should be intended as a gate way rather than an endpoint. I am of the view that more than the end product and the consequent nominals after one's name, the process provides that fertile ground to develop high order skills and deep understanding - "undertaking the PhD develops a habit of mind that is able to synthesise ideas, understands concepts and communicated logically" (Kevin Donnelly's, In pursuit of a dinosaur).

As Garry of Sydney (Pressure on PhDs to meet the grade) would have it: Qualifications give you a start, you still have to perform.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Enjoying photography with the Nikon D40x

I try to make the most use of my DSLR camera. Apart from gorging on the photography books and magazines I can lay my hands on, I would go over the variety of photography blogs and discussion forums available. But naturally, practice is the key. And simply just having fun.

A photography tip I found invaluable (and informative) is the use of flash. I never liked how my indoor pictures turn out when I resort to using the flash even though the lighting conditions call for it. More often than not, the images I would get with the use of the flash are somehow 'severe' and come out with very harsh shadows / textures. I know that this just calls for more practice in its use and of the camera.

One of the things I learned recently is the use of a bouncer - albeit a homemade bouncer out of a business card (as seen at Shai Coggins).
I tried out the tip:

with flash

without flash

with flash, using the homemade bouncer

Although in this instance, I still prefer how the photo without the use of the flash turned out, the homemade bouncer created a much nicer overall lighting than that taken using the flash without a bouncer.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Clean slate

Part of the end-of-year review, of looking back over the last year and setting goals for the new year is the usual clean-up of the work desk. It's amazing how time-consuming it is to sort out the mounds of clutter that have accumulated over time. The piles would have to be broken down, re-sorted and (hopefully) filed away.

This exercise reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell's article on The Social Life of Paper (The New Yorker, 25 March 2002) where it was suggested that our propensity to pile documents rather than filing them away actually represents the process of active and ongoing thinking. That our piles, in fact, are living, breathing archives. I found myself as one of those people decribed by Gladwell as a piler who would have their papers stacked at an angle or would insert dividers into the stack to chronologically or thematically pile them. Spot on! I do these both at my home desk and at the office.

More interesting bits in the article - I am sure a number of you out there will easily recognise:
"... the top of your desk. Chances are that you have a keyboard and a computer screen off to one side, and a clear space roughly eighteen inches square in front of your chair. What covers the rest of the desktop is probably piles - piles of papers, journals, magazines, binders ... and all other artifacts of the knowledge economy. The piles look like a mess, but they aren't. [The] most disorderly piles usually make perfect sense to the piler."

Gladwell adds:
"The messy desk is not necessarily a sign of disorganization. It may be a sign of complexity: those who deal with many unresolved ideas simultaneously cannot sort and file the papers on their desks, because they haven't yet sorted and filed the ideas in their head. What we see when we look at the piles on our desks is, in a sense, the contents of our brains."

Hmmm...For now, my desk is amazingly clear. Ready to take on yet more piles.

*from PhD Comics, 12 April 2005.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Lists galore

Happy New Year!

Yes, another year came and went and for some it's that time again to look back and take stock of what transpired in the last twelve months - the highs or the lows, what we have accomplished or what we didn't get to do. Revisiting that very demanding list of goals drawn up at the start of 2007 and perhaps getting annoyed with oneself that a number of them will be making the 2008 list. But hey, that's moving on.

I am an inveterate listmaker. It's an idiosyncrasy I can't shake. I draw up lists for almost everything I do. I prefer to break things down into manageable sizes and list them (at times, they can be voluminous - it's crazy). But I still list them. Somehow, when they are written down they are more tangible and therefore, doable. This, of course, means that these lists often correspond to a specific timetable.

Some would view this as obsessive compulsive - but, it works for me. Being able to cross things off the lists allows that sense of accomplishment - that I didn't waste time, that I got something done.

There's the list of goals for the year. The things to do lists - for the month, the week and the day, even the weekend. As soon as Friday hits, I make a list of what to do over that weekend which would include the mundane household chores. There's also that list of things to do at work. This, I do before I leave work on a Friday which I get to review come Monday.

Other lists include a shopping list - what to get at Central Market (on a Friday night) and the supermarket on Saturday morning; list of payables / bills for the month; a wishlist of things I've never done and must do or list of things to buy (for the apartment / kitchen, gadgets and an if-and-only-if list); a booklist (for borrowing or for getting my own copy); a reading list for the week or for the month (an article or a book); list of journal publications to write; list of things / skills to learn or acquire (a program, a hobby).

The list goes on ...

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