Princess of Wands


This book is very different from John Ringo‘s books (or at least the ones I have read). This one revolves around a cross between a soccer mom and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Its a fun, relatively light read and doesn’t have nearly as much combat as the other Ringo books I’ve encountered. The book takes the form of two short stories and a novella, with the novella having a pretty obvious dig at David Drake, which I thought was a bit odd. Overall, I enjoyed this book.

[isbn: 1416573860;9781416573869]


The Stainless Steel Rat Returns


Harry Harrison is back to reprise his Stainless Steel Rat series. This book is much like the others — think light fiction with contrived situations, but a bit of fun. In other words, much like the rest of Harrison’s work. This book isn’t the best Rat book, but it also isn’t the worst and given the drought I think something is better than nothing. It is also much much better than the terrible Bill the Galactic Hero series.

[isbn: 0765364034;9780765364036]


Canberra’s LCA2013 bid


I’m really proud of the hard work that all of the Canberra 2013 team has done in preparing our bid for LCA 2013. I just sent off the emails making our bid formal. Here’s what I said on the linux-aus mailing list:


I am pleased to present Canberra’s bid for 2013. It is
traditional to produce a PDF document for distribution to the linux-aus
mailing list. Instead, we have produced a small web site covering the
same information that would normally be in such a document. It is our
hope that this will be a more dynamic and accessible document than a
static PDF. This website will form the basis for our conference site if
Canberra is selected.

The website is located at

Michael Still
Canberra 2013 bid lead



Performance pay for teachers


I don’t really want to have a fight with Paul, but I disagree with his stance on performance pay for teachers. I respect Paul on many levels, and perhaps sometimes we should just agree to disagree on some things.

However, I find his attitude towards performance pay defeatist. As best as I can tell his argument can be summarized by this quote:

The problem is: how do you judge the teacher’s actual performance? How do you separate this from the abilities of their class? How do you know, empirically and repeatably, that they’re better than another teacher?

I think you can measure this. You can test basic skills at the start of the year, and then at the end. You can then compare this with the other students across the entire country at that year level, and determine what is an above average improvement based on statistical modelling. Sure, that wont test if a child is inspired to become a great artist, but the most important role of schools is to provide our children with the skills needed to survive in a modern society. If the artist can’t count and read, then they’re going to have a much harder life.

Now, I don’t claim that naplan is a perfect measurement system, but then again it is very new and it takes time to get these things right. Henry Ford didn’t go into his workshop and come out with a Toyota Corolla. Instead he built something relatively crap, and then the world iterated. Let’s give naplan time to iterate and improve before we write it off.

Another argument I’ve seen is that teachers don’t teach in isolation, and we should therefore not attempt to measure their performance. Its something about parents et cetera affecting learning outcomes. So, I have a couple of counter points. I also don’t work in isolation, given I work on a team with 700 other people, and yet we still manage to measure my performance. Perhaps that’s because part of my job is to advocate with others that they work on the bits that I need them to work on. Its the same with teachers — part of the job is to encourage and support parents as well as children, and to do whatever it takes to help the child learn. Surely we don’t want defeatist teachers who just give up if not everyone immediately falls over to help them out?

Also, the statistical sample for children at a given year level is huge, and surely if unsupportive parents is a problem, the statistics will handle that. This is especially true once we let the system run for a few years and gather some baseline data. Worst case if a school is in a disadvantaged area, or the teacher works with kids with special needs, then a tweak to the numbers can be applied to compensate for that.

Another thing which is huge is the proposed bonus pool — $425 million is a lot of money. I’m hoping this means a lot of teachers get a good bonus.

Ultimately this is too important a problem to just give up on because it is hard. When I went to school, a lot of my friends put teaching down as their last choice degree, not because they cared about teaching, but because it was a safe comfortable job out of the rain. We need to stop attracting those people to teaching, and redirect talented people there. To a certain extent people go where the money is, so if we can find a way to pay good teachers more money than they would earn doing real estate conveyancing, then that’s a good thing. The bonus scheme is part of that.

Anyway, I’m not really trying to convince Paul here, we can agree to disagree I think. I’m just trying to explain my stance.


The Princess Bride


To be honest, I think the movie is better. The story in the movie is simpler, but also more beautiful. I think the embroidery around the edges of the story in the book detract from the overall story, and the asides start out cute but end up just being annoying.

[isbn: 0345348036]


The Light Fantastic


A short little note about this one, as I am sure everyone has already read it. This was better than The Colour of Magic (more polished, cleverer, funnier), but still not as good as I remember the Pratchett books being from my childhood. This book to ages to read, I suspect because it just wasn’t compelling enough to overcome the general business in my life.

[isbn: 0061020702]