Newest course: Philosophy and the Sciences


A few weeks ago I finished my most recent Coursera class, Philosophy and the Sciences.

It was an interesting look at the intersection between the “meta-investigation” of philosophy and “hard” science in two areas. From the course description they were:

  • Philosophy of cosmology, where we’ll consider questions about the origin and evolution of our universe, the nature of dark energy and dark matter and the role of anthropic reasoning in the explanation of our universe
  • Philosophy of neurosciences, where we’ll consider the nature of human cognition and the relation between mind, machines, and the environment.

I liked the first cosmological section most, and enjoyed the paper we were required to write.


Films I’ve seen recently


  • Tusk. Jerk podcaster falls into the clutches of a madman. This is more of a straight-up horror film than I expected fanboy director Kevin Smith to be capable of. It’s still pretty silly, though, and hampered by a low budget and a ludicrous Johnny Depp cameo. 3/5.
  • Gone Girl. Couple with relationship problems mess each other up; or do they? David Fincher is a master stylist of direction, and Rosamund Pike is very good in her part. But the Doogie Barney Desi character is annoying. And the last 30 minutes jumps the shark (I’m sure the book did too) in a way that made me shake my head. 3/5.
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Final film in fantasy series builds to a big battle. Beautiful to look at (obviously). Despite being shorter than the first two Hobbits, it felt stretched (obviously). The joy has gone. Had to see it, though. 3/5.
  • Snowpiercer. We overreact to global warming and the remnants of humanity end up living on a train. Better than it had any right to be, with gripping direction. The staging of how the train classes evolved into social classes, with dictatorial leadership, was incredibly convincing. Great, brutal action scenes. Funny too. 4/5.
  • Big Hero 6. Kids in the near future build cool robots and solve a mystery. An animated story that really is for the whole family without trying too hard to drop in jokes for the adults. Just good, exciting, fun, funny storytelling. 5/5.
  • The Interview. Bumbling talk show guys get enlisted to kill the leader of North Korea. Pineapple Express was clever. This isn’t. 2/5.
  • Interstellar. Earth is dying and we need to find a new home. Top-notch film-making. Deep space sci-fi with physics and philosophy? This movie was made for me. Great acting all ’round, too. Epic on IMAX. Unfortunately the last 30 minutes included a touchy-feeling pluck of the heart-strings that took me a little bit out of it. 4/5.

Coursera – The American South: Its Stories, Music, and Art

I love the blues. It would be the single musical form I’d pick if I could listen to only one for the rest of my life. It gave rise to rock ‘n’ roll, and is amongst the most human of art forms, I think.


But I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the art forms from the area that gave birth to the blues. So I just completed a six-week Coursera course called The American South: Its Stories, Music, and Art.

It was really enjoyable, and a lot more leisurely than some of the maths or programming courses I’ve done. Here’s the syllabus:

  • Week One: Introduction to the American South – Reflecting on geography, the diaspora, the mythic and the global South as ways to approach the contested memory of the region
  • Week Two: Oral Traditions – Considering the content and form of the stories, toasts, dozens, auctions and religious sermons and what they reveal about Southern Culture
  • Week Three: Southern Artists – Understanding the distinction between folk art traditions and the high art of the academy with examples of basket-weaving, quilt-making, sculpture, painting, and photography
  • Week Four: Southern Writers – Examining the lives and works of great Southern writers and looking at how specific stories, music, and art are referenced and provide structure for literary forms such as the novel and the short story
  • Week Five: Roots Music – Exploring southern music and its roots in work chants, fife and drum, and one-strand on the wall musics
  • Week Six: The Blues – Focusing on this distinctive form of music, so intimately defined by sense of place, class, race, and tradition

The lecturer was Dr. William Ferris of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and he was a really pleasant and interesting instructor. I’d recommend this course for anyone interested in the American South’s culture.


Sydney Half Marathon 2014 results

My watch matched the official times: 1:52:05 for the half marathon in Sunday’s Sydney Running Festival.


Juggling work and dad responsibilities, and battling hay fever in recent weeks, meant my training wasn’t what it should have been. A half marathon is 21km, and I haven’t run more than 14km since May. My split times show this, as I felt strong in the first half of the race but really crashed out in the second half. It was my slowest half ever, by just over 1 minute.

But I was pleased to be able to run the time I did; it indicates my base-level fitness is still there. I’m still under a 2-hour half, and I’m above the 50th percentile for all categories (overall, males, and males 45-49).

It was another fun day. The Family Fun Run was finishing at the same time as us. And on my way back to the car I saw the crowds starting the 9K Bridge Run.


City2Surf 2014 results

I’ve posted each year about the City2Surf, the massive (like, 80,000 people massive) fun-run from downtown Sydney out to Bondi Beach.

I ran it again yesterday. My time was not my worst, but was several minutes off my best. Two winter colds played havoc with running lately. Nevertheless, I achieved my three goals for any C2S:

  1. I completed the 14.2 km run in fewer than 75 minutes which continues to qualify me for the fastest starting group outside of seeded individuals. I also finished in the top 30th percentile in every category.
  2. I didn’t have to stop, especially on Heartbreak Hill.
  3. I had a lot of fun. People dress in costumes, there are bands along the route, the scenery is beautiful, and it’s just a hugely positive vibe.

My results:
runtimeHere’s how that fits into my results from past years:


Another Coursera course: Foundations of Business Strategy


I can’t get enough of the free online education at Coursera. Each class I take continues to be more challenging than I expect.

I’ve just completed Foundations of Business Strategy, a 6-week class taught by Professor Michael Lenox at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. To get a passing grade we had to complete weekly quizzes, write a short strategy recommendation paper for a company of our choosing, and participate in the online student forums. It showed me that analysing a business strategy can be a lot more quantitative than I believed.

It’s the first course I’ve taken that can be directly useful at work rather than a class I’ve taken just for my own interest.


I’m volunteering for secular ethics instruction in primary schools

ethicsI didn’t go to school here in Australia, but I’m starting to learn more about it.

Public schools here in New South Wales provide, in an example of separation of church and state, only secular instruction. However I’ve learned that they are also required to make time and facilities available each week for Special Religious Education (SRE). This isn’t comparative religious studies, it’s actual religious instruction – not by a teacher, but by a person authorised to teach the articles of faith of that religion, like a priest or an imam.

Most schools call this “Scripture class”. Across the state the majority of SRE classes are Christian, though in cities like Sydney there’s enough multiculturalism that there are plenty of Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and other classes.

If a parent doesn’t want their child to attend any SRE class in their school they can opt their child out. In that case they attend “Non-scripture”, sometimes called “colouring-in” because they’re often discouraged from doing extra work that would put them – during school hours – at an advantage to those who are in SRE.

A few years ago some people decided there should be another option for those kids that weren’t in SRE; that they could be taught secular, philosophical ethics in school, without the need for a religious framework. That program is now being offered at a growing number of NSW schools, and it’s called Primary Ethics. It teaches primary-age kids how to think about ethical questions like: is it ever right to lie? How can you tell when someone’s really your friend? Why do we eat some animals and not others?

I thought this was a great idea. If schools are compelled to allow for religious instruction then I think it’s only fair that a non-religious option for learning ethics should also be made available.

I’m not in the classrooms teaching it, but I am the volunteer Ethics Coordinator for a primary school here on Sydney’s northern beaches. That means I’ll ensure the ethics teachers have completed their training before they go in front of any classes, and I’ll work with the school to ensure we have enough classes and rooms to meet the demand of parents who want their kids in Ethics.

I’m looking forward to getting involved in the community, and learning more about this state’s educational system.