My latest (redundant cause) tee-shirt

I had to laugh! My latest tee-shirt arrived in the post this morning. Yesterday the chatter round the interwebs was that the Australian federal government wouldn’t have the numbers to push legislation to install mandatory internet filters via customers’ ISPs. Some ISPs have panned the scheme, whilst others are already trialling a filtering scheme that many pundits are calling an infringement of civil liberties, free speech (add your own here) and which tech mavens are calling useless. The majority of the support voices are raised in defence of kids who can be targets of very ugly predators on the web.

OK, my tee slogan says it all. But will I have to wear it I wonder? Time will tell. In the meantime it’s an interesting cultural-historical artefact.

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Glugging along

I was invited by a group of theatre lovers to lunch last week. The Glugs of Gosh is the name of a poem by Australian C J Dennis. First published in 1917, it eerily prefigures some of Dr Seuss’ work, but is definitely adult fare. It’s absurd, fantastic, satirical, and pokes fun at pretension, greed, and irresponsibility. Well … a poem for all times really.

However the theatre lovers who have taken their name from Dennis’ work have met every month for years and years. The group originated in Sydney, and established itself with a Brisbane chapter some 15 years ago. The guest of the day … me last week … has to sing for their supper. I did so and talked about storytelling, and what had brought me to a place where I could indulge my love of spinning yarns … aka acting. It was a lovely hour or two spent in the outdoor room of the Kookaburra CafĂ© in Paddington under the arms of a big Jacaranda tree, currently in full bloom.

The guest also gets to read a passage from the poem, and to autograph the group’s own copy. It’s well-worn by now and is graced by signatures of many well-known figures from the Australian theatre and entertainment industry. In my research into the poem I came across some images taken from earlier editions; indeed I think it’s not currently in print. However you can read it at Project Guntenburg.

One illustration that moved me greatly was the one that accompanies this posting … the cover of an edition ‘for the trenches.’ Yes they read poetry in WWI as we are led to believe. I wonder whether some comfort is still derived from stories read behind lines that still stretch far too far in our contemporary world.

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We’ll miss you Mr Newman

He had to wait a long time to win an Academy Award (The Color of Money 1986) a source apparently of much good-humoured banter over the years between Paul Newman and his Oscar-winner wife Joanne Woodward. But oh how he deserved one for sheer masculine presence on the screen. Not only was he ridiculously good-looking … and didn’t he age well by the way … but he was also a screen natural, charismatic before we used the word to describe the special attraction some gifted individuals have for both men and women. I had a black and white poster of ‘Paul’ on my bedroom wall … just like every other young woman of a certain age back then. It had only one patch of colour – those blue, blue eyes. Remember that one?

Cursed early on in his career by comparison with James Dean, Newman unlike the tragic Dean went on to carve his own inimitable style up there. There seemed to be nothing ever remotely tragic about the Newman public persona, despite his losing of a child. That was private, and off limits like the rest of his exemplary family life. Regular guy … good bloke.

He had a good-humoured way about him that showed on and off screen; it undoubtedly belied his utter professionalism, like his strength in the face of disappointment and sorrow. No precious artiste was Newman, just a brilliant actor who seemed always on top of his game no matter the decade of his long life. And of course he paved the way for the celebrity as humanitarian and activist that we’ve come to take for granted from so many who’ve followed.

He died this morning aged 83 after what we might call a good innings, though I guess for Newman it would be more accurate to call it a great race. Bye Paul. I hope heaven has all the fast cars and beers you deserve. We’ll miss that championship breed that you represented so well.

Time Entertainment does a nice obituary here.

Groundling heads north

My annual pilgrimage to the northern summer begins this weekend. I’m heading from the cold southern hemisphere winter (of sorts) … it’s never really all that cold in Queensland … to the Mediterranean for a week or so, and then on via France to England. There it will be a lot of theatre and catching up with friends. So dear reader, the Groundling is going dark for a while. Until next post …

Auf wiedersehen Cabaret …

Theatre is a cruel mistress sometimes, and never more so than when she breaks up a tight-knit ensemble at the final curtain. Many (like me) deal with this psychic termination, the ending of a beautiful relationship by treating fond farewells as lightly as possible … ‘No goodbyes … see you around.’ It’s easier that way. And so it was this evening as the last performance of Cabaret at the Empire Theatre finished the season.

It’s been a quite wonderful time for me personally, and I’d wager for the entire company. We gathered post-show to formally farewell the ensemble in the studio, the site of rehearsals and warmups and that first meet and greet 10 weeks ago. There is no doubt that this production was a success artistically; it was a fine production shaped by the chief creatives: director Lewis Jones, designer Greg Clarke, musical director Lorraine Fuller, and choreographer Alison Valette. As important as financial and artistic success however, was the opportunity the production gave to nurture and further the talents and aspirations of the young men and women who worked backstage, onstage and in the orchestra pit. This is where organisations like the Empire Theatre are worth their weight in gold; they are helping to build the city’s and the country’s cultural capital, and readying the next generation for leadership in the arts community.

The final performance was a matinee, and it was a joyous occasion on several levels. For us, it had the edge of our wanting to make it the best it could be for us and for our audience. Some audience members returned to experience the show for the final time, and were joined by many first timers, but as always, they bonded to became that unique living organism known as the audience. Ask any theatre actor and they’ll confirm that no two audiences are alike. Today’s were warm, responsive, and not afraid to let us know it. I felt a thrill when I heard a ‘wow’ at the end of my final song. An audience feels a good show in unison and the actors feel it in return. Our audience this afternoon sent us out in style. The rest of the formal disbanding is happening as I write … an after-party which I fore-went. I like to keep my memories … of the faces, the experience within the confines of the theatre space. But we’re scattered now.

So it’s time to pack up the program and clippings, the cards, to swap images on Flickr, to bask in the memories, maybe plan for next time but just get on with the other things we do in life.

Auf wiedersehen, a bientot, goodbye …

Moving into Moodle: the experience for a Mac user

The past couple of weeks have been busy for most academics in
Australia. If they’re not grabbing the last of the summer before term
begins … and it’s been a miserable, wet summer for most of us …
then others are jetting home from far-flung cold climes. Most probably,
like me, they’re prepping for the first semester of the academic year.

Use your Moodle!
Image by scholz via Flickr

The past couple of weeks have been busy for most academics in Australia. If they’re not grabbing the last of the summer before term begins … and it’s been a miserable, wet summer for most of us … then others are jetting home from far-flung cold climes. Most probably, like me, they’re prepping for the first semester of the academic year.

When in work mode, it’s been a coming to terms with Moodle (modular object oriented dynamic learning environment). My university has moved on from Web-CT (hooray!) and adopted this entirely new, open-source CMS (course management system) or, if you like, LMS (learning management system). For many of the faculty, it’s been training sessions, playing in the sandbox with dummy courses, importing materials from the old system into the new, or just creating new stuff within Moodle. First impressions? There’s a huge improvement over the former system Web-CT with its ‘pushy’ focus, dull dull look, its lack of flexibility, lack of intuitive direction, and endless clicks to get what the user wants. Moodle support is good with simple, focussed screen-help at every step of the way, as well as a robust support community. The prognosis is good, though IMHO it still takes too many clicks to get around.

I’m a Moodle newbie, so every step along the way has been a discovery. Perhaps the most significant is how the usability of my platform of choice (Mac) differs at a profound level from the Windows environment. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing Moodle has been developed by Windows users for Windows users … it just feels that way as one works round the screens, gets materials in and out of Moodle, and interacts with users. Perhaps the uni’s Moodle elves will look into this soon. Either that or clever hackers (cough) user-community members, will in the spirit of Web 2.0 spread the goodness.

I’m sure my blogging and wiki experiences put me in front of some other colleagues when it comes to intuition about how the Moodle interface works. On the other hand, not being a Windows user has meant I’ve been stymied by one of those by-now essential functions … drag and drop functionality. Working through hierarchical lists and folders when uploading files feels Web-CT-like still. I did enjoy the simplicity (comparatively speaking) of editing an imported question bank in Moodle. I had the materials on a couple of screens, not buried away in nested folders as in Web-CT. It was then a snap to organise these questions into Quizzes. A much simpler interface all up! I’m finding very irritating the fact that you have to reselect check box preferences every time you leave and come back to a screen. C’mon,surely you can save your preferences?

This feel for the interface throws up an interesting issue and one that goes beyond what platform we use. That is where the ‘typical academic’ is right now in terms of familiarity with the online environment for e-learning whether mediated by Windows or Mac. Not surprisingly, many colleagues are wary, unsure, and would rather stay with the known rather than step into unchartered waters. There is no doubt however, that we are already beyond the turning of the tide. One of the big questions in professional development has to be, how do we encourage colleagues to try, and then to embrace e-learning and the whole darn Web 2.0 revolution? Softly, softly … one step at a time.

Now as far as I’m concerned all I need to do is work on getting my enhanced podcasts out of Garageband and into Moodle. Move over Breeze … I’m on to it!