Tantek had an interesting blog post about making people rather than protocols the organizing principle of communication apps. I like his vision quite a lot. One neat extension of his post would be to introduce WebRTC. With WebRTC it would be relatively easy to have the "Robert O'Callahan" app check if I'm currently logged into the appropriate receiver app, at any WebRTC-capable endpoint, and if I am, establish a voice or voice+video session with me (with peer-to-peer transmission, naturally). If I'm not logged in, WebRTC lets you record a message for later delivery. This would be very cool.
Friday, 6 December 2013
Wednesday, 4 December 2013
Predictably the OECD "Pisa" report ranking countries' education results has caused a stir in New Zealand. New Zealanders, or at least their news media, love international rankings of all kinds --- especially if they can be portrayed negatively for New Zealand. As often, the latest report, and the discussion around it, has some major problems.
For starters it's interesting to compare the initial NZ Herald story with the more nuanced reporting from the AP wire story. The Herald chose the completely fallacious headline Significant drops in NZ educational achievement --- fallacious because a drop in ranking does not necessarily mean a drop in actual achievement (and in this case, there is no evidence of a drop in achievement). (PPTA president Angela Roberts gets this right here.) The Herald story (and its followups) simply ignores the issues with the Pisa report which are touched on by the AP story, and better explained in Slate (mainly, it's invalid to compare city-states with entire countries, especially including Shanghai but no other part of China!).
Apart from that, some of the reactions to the report are ridiculous. There's this:
But Labour says any drop in the rankings should be sheeted home to an excessive focus by National on "testing" over the past five years. Although National Standards does not actually involve national testing, Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins said, "It shows that the last five years' focus on test-taking has been a disaster and it has actually narrowed the focus of our system and it has actually decreased the level of achievement within the education system".NZ's ranking drop is mainly due to Asian countries increasing theirs. Those countries' education systems are far more focused on testing than NZ's has ever been, which is probably why their ranking is increasing: if you focus on testing (and teach to the test), you do really well on tests, which is of course what studies like Pisa measure, since tests produce data and other educational activities don't. Chris Hipkins, if you really think Pisa is important you should advocate a big increase in national testing.
I actually think national standardized testing is important, but it's not the only important thing and the Asian education systems ranked highly in the Pisa report have massive problems despite producing good test results. My wife and many other people I know went through those systems and describe how they're focused on rote memorization and discourage any kind of learning other than school and after-school coaching on their core subjects. For example, I taught myself computer programming in my copious spare time after school, but for most children in Hong Kong that simply wouldn't have been possible. People talk about how in exams you "give it back to the teacher" --- cram for exams, do well, and then forget it as you prepare for the next one. I think it would be very interesting to re-test children three years after they left school to see what they've retained.
It's really important to avoid over-optimizing for the things we can measure at the cost of the things we can't as easily measure. It's also really important to not overreact to every international ranking report. We have to think critically about these things. I wish the media would.
I read this rather unusual statement by John Banks:
"I've spent a lifetime of doing good, a lifetime of trying to balance my family ledger, a lifetime of making a difference for people, and a lifetime of contributing to this country. I only do good. I don't do bad things."Reporters like to take quotes out of context so maybe Mr Banks didn't really mean to say this, but for the sake of argument I'll assume it's accurate.
What strikes me about this statement is that in the past John Banks has portrayed himself as a Christian, and I don't think a Christian can make that statement or anything like it. A bedrock truth of Christianity is that we are all sinners, and bad ones. We've all done bad things and we all keep doing bad things. We generally don't realize it, because we're good at self-justification and our standards are lower than God's, but we are all desperately in need of forgiveness. This holds no matter where we are on our spiritual journey --- "forgive us our sins", as Jesus taught his disciples to pray.
So, for a self-professed Christian to say "I only do good, I don't do bad things" is an egregious error, no matter how it was meant. I hope that any Christian genuinely practicing their faith would try to steer away from saying anything like it under any circumstances, lest they give a false impressions of what Christians believe.
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Last week my wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by taking a few days off in the lakeside town of Wanaka in the South Island. The weather was unexpectedly delightful. As is our wont, we spent a lot of time walking during the day and refueling at night.
We arrived on Tuesday. In the evening we walked through the town to Iron Mountain and walked up it (it's small). On Wednesday we ascended Roy's Peak. That walk has a 1200 metre elevation change but the views are definitely worthwhile. On Thursday we drove out to Mt Aspiring National Park through Matukituki, to do the Rob Roy Glacier walk. This is a really beautiful walk, through pasture, into the bush, up the Rob Roy valley, emerging in an alpine meadow at the head of the valley with stunning views up the mountain-face to the Rob Roy glacier --- snow gleaming in the sunshine, and about a dozen meltwater waterfalls streaming down the face. On our last day we drove out to Haast Pass and then back to Queenstown.
The whole area is very beautiful. It's quite special to sit by the lake and watch people sailing, swimming and fishing, surrounded by ice-capped mountains. The Department of Conservation's Mt Aspiring activity centre is in Wanaka and well worth a visit. The number of day walks and multi-day tramps in the region is just staggering; there must be a couple of dozen different huts. No wonder the town is beseiged by tourists :-).
Tuesday, 19 November 2013
Last weekend some local and visiting Mozillians (visiting for a Gecko media work week), plus assorted loved ones (such as my children), drove down to Tongariro National Park to do the Tongariro Crossing on Saturday.
The weather was reasonably good --- cloudy, but mostly dry. As often, there was thick fog up on the mountain, clearing as we descended the northern flank. Even though the fog eliminates some of the amazing views, it's still very atmospheric and fun in its own way. It does help conceal the other thousand people doing the hike :-).
I've done the TC several times before but this was the first time I've done it since last year's eruption from Tongariro's Te Maari crater. That has made the TC even more interesting! On the descent past Te Maari you can now see large quantities of steam venting from the crater --- quite impressive. The Ketetahi Hut was hit by boulders from the eruption, and overnight stays are now forbidden there for safety reasons. Two decent-sized holes punched in the hut roof have been preserved and make an excellent argument for following the rules :-). An even better argument is just down the track from the hut: a sizable impact crater, with the impacting boulder mostly buried at the bottom of it. No-one was at the hut on the night of the eruption, but if they had been, it would have been a terrifying experience!
Near the end of the track, it crosses a stream. Lahar activity associated with the Te Maari eruption has blocked the original course of the stream, so the existing bridges are over dry streambeds. Now the stream spreads through the bush in other places and we had to splash across.
We finished the walk in just over seven hours, and a good time was had by all.
On Sunday some of us drove back to Auckland via Orakei Korako. I hadn't been there since I was a child, even though I really enjoy geothermal areas. I very much enjoyed Orakei Korako! It has an excellent mix of features --- geysers, silica terraces, hot pools, boiling mud, and a cave --- all in a lovely bush setting, plus you cross a small lake in a boat to get to it. This is my second favourite geothermal area in New Zealand, after Waimangu Valley. Waimangu's Frying Pan Lake is hard to top :-).
Sunday, 3 November 2013
The week before last I was in Paris for the "Web rendering" work week. It went reasonably well. The Paris Mozilla office is as amazing as it looks. Benoit Jacob gave us an excellent walking tour on Sunday. Brian Birtles and I split off and attended Trinity International Church, which seemed really good. It's great to see what God is doing in different places and be a tourist in God's kingdom. The actual work was good. It was a mix of briefing each other on what's going on, brainstorming new directions, and thrashing out problems. It was particularly good to have Gaia and Shumway hackers there to talk about their issues.
Due to some combination of jet lag and God's grace I woke up at 7am sharp every day and went for a run, training for the Auckland half-marathon. It was a lot of fun to run from the hotel down Rue de Louvre to the Seine, along to the Eiffel Tower, back along the Seine, and then on a good day do a lap of Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. However it was a bit strange to be running at 8am with the sun not having risen yet!
I got back to Auckland on Monday and had an extremely hectic few days before I head out to San Francisco today (Sunday). The biggest thing on my mind was the half-marathon, which was today, but I only had time for a couple of 10km training runs. There's a nice 10km circuit from my house to the summit of One Tree Hill and back. This takes me through city streets to the bucolic charm of Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill --- especially charming at this time of year, with cows and calves, sheep and lambs, verdant pastures, blooming trees, and excellent views from the summit of all of these, as well as the Waitemata and Manakau harbours. Entirely different from Paris but to my mind even more delightful!
I really enjoyed the half-marathon today. Not having done one before, I wasn't sure what to expect, but was pretty pleased with my result. I ran faster than I did during my solo runs; I think the crowd helped motivate me, especially towards the end. I didn't want to try it barefoot, at least for the first time, so while in Toronto last month I bought some Vibram foot-glove-type footwear, by asking for the closest thing to barefoot they had. These seem pretty good. Interestingly though, every other person I saw during the race had regular footwear on. In fact several people at the starting area were curious about my footwear and asked me various questions. It's a bit awkward since I don't really know anything about running!
Now I'm heading off to San Francisco for Mozilla's LEAD program. This is the last session so hopefully after this week my travel and the rest of my life will return to relative normality. Though we do have the media work week in Auckland in a couple of weeks, with a trip to the Tongariro Crossing thrown in, and after that a trip for our wedding anniversary, ... so it goes.
Friday, 4 October 2013
It was pretty good. Lots of fun talking to people old and new. A few embarrassing incidents where I didn't recognize someone I should have. I brought down Settlers of Catan from my room --- Rob Arnold won, but only because Doug Sherk kept stealing my road. I also brought down Citadels and some other people played that. I should have brought more games! If we're still short of games tomorrow night we can call in reinforcements from the Toronto office.