Saturday, 22 December 2012

Astronyms, part 6: Chinese Condoms and Stations

This is part of this series of posts on the history of spacecraft naming.

(Space condom. In space service 15 October 2003 to present)
Shenzhou 5 and Shenzhou 7

The Chinese space program has had an interesting history, far less panicked and rushed than the USA-USSR space race, but still difficult to assess as a true example of slow and steady progress, because they've borrowed so much from the Soviets/Russians. Shenzhou is a prime example: It really is just a Soyuz variant, somewhat enlarged, but not so much you'd easily notice it without measuring equipment - unless you're sitting inside, and then the extra elbow room is really clearly obvious. The most interesting change has probably been to the orbital module (OM), the 'front bit'. Initially, China decided it wanted to make the OM work as a stand-alone unit after ejecting from the rest of the vessel, as some sort of free bonus satellite. So, the first 6 Shenzhous all had double pairs of solar panels: The usual aft pair inherited from the Soyuz design, and a smaller forward pair attached to the OM. Shenzhou 7 and onwards flew without the OM panels, making them look much more like the Soyuz again. However, the Shenzhou OM still seems to be unusually modular, and no two launched so far have looked quite the same (see images at right).

Chinese naming policy seems pretty straightforward so far, basically similar to the pre-Apollo American system. The crew capsule has a class name and a sequential launch number, and this is also the mission code. The crew seem to have no special designations that I can find. The rocket also has a type name (so far, it's always been Chang Zheng 2F rockets), which is different to the capsule name (unlike the usual Soviet/Russian Vostok-on-Vostok, Soyuz-on-Soyuz naming convention). The Chang Zheng rocket family does originally derive from a Soviet design (and ultimately from the German V-2, as so many large modern rocket families do), but has been gestating separately within China for decades and is now quite a different beast to anything the Russians use. The 2F variant was optimised for crewed flights, but is significantly less powerful than the Soyuz rocket, suggesting the Soyuz might actually be wastefully overpowered [EDIT: Must have read something wrong, that's not true].

Chang Zheng translates as 'long march', and most English texts will normally talk about Long March rockets. But I like consistency and I like getting as close to the original name as my untrained tongue will allow, so it doesn't make sense to say Soyuz and Vostok for the Russian stuff, but Long March for the Chinese, and neither would I like to have to write Union and East in English. Even weirder, most articles mix things up just within the Chinese names, writing Shenzhou in Chinese and Long March in English. Consistency, please.

Anyway, the reason I translate Chang Zheng first is that it illustrates a change in Chinese naming policy; initially, the Chinese government was determined to keep all names secular and nationalistic, sort of like the Soviets were doing. But then at some point, in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, there was an urge to use terms from Chinese mythology, much as the Americans (and later the Europeans) had been using Greek and Roman mythological names. So while Chang Zheng drew on the specifically pro-Mao recent history tied up with the Long March of 1934-35, Shenzhou translates as 'divine vessel' (or, more amusingly, 'magic boat'), which is a literal enough name, except that it's very sneakily also a homophone for an older name for China. So it gets to be both mythical and nationalist at the same time. Pretty sneaky, and a bit of a jab at the "young" Americans and Russians.

Of the 9 11 Shenzhous launched so far, 4 6 of them (Shenzhous 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11) have been crewed, each making one successful flight each.

 (Space station. In space service 18 June 2012 to 16 November 2016)
Tiangong 1, docked with Shenzhou 9, with EVA chorus line adjacent

China wanted to get in on the ISS. The US wouldn't let them, because they didn't want to spoil their long-running spy-vs.-spy contest. So China built their own damn station, Tiangong 1, roughly in the format of the old Salyuts, but also enlarged [EDIT: shrunk a little]. The idea, as I understand it, is to follow a similar path to the one the Soviets followed, with some disposable, stand-alone mini-stations (Salyuts for the Soviets, Tiangongs for the Chinese) eventually leading up to a big, modular, long-term station (Mir for the Soviets, unnamed future thing for the Chinese). After an uncrewed test mission using Shenzhou 8Tiangong 1 was occupied during Shenzhou 9's visit, and should be then visited once more by Shenzhou 10 in mid-2013. Then Tiangong 2 and 3 (slightly larger, I believe) are due to launch next, with the one major difference of having both fore and aft docking ports (Tiangong 1 only had the forward port), allowing for resupply ships to dock while there's already a crew there. There seems to be a little confusion about whether Tiangong 3 will be another stand-alone test station, or whether it will be incorporated into the large modular Mir/ISS-style station China has planned.

[EDIT: Tiangong 2 launched in September 2016 and was boarded by the crew of Shenzhou 11 in October 2016, with a plan to keep them there for a full month.] [Shenzhou 11 departed on schedule, leaving Tiangong 2 vacant but operational. The station will continue to run a number of experiments by remote, but is not expected to be crewed again. For my purposes here, its crewed service life is ended.]

The name translates as 'heavenly palace', which again is nice and literal, while still retaining a charming air of mythos. I do also like the idea of naming stations after supposedly fixed, immoveable entities. Where are our Olympus station, Uluru station, Atlantis station, Babylon stations 1-5?

The onlyfirst Tiangong so far is currently in orbit, unoccupied, and it's no longer clear how long it'll stay there is expected to re-enter the atmosphere sometime vaguely soon.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Employ Me!

[EDIT: It seems Blogger has gone a bit crazy with the formatting on this one, and every time I fix one thing, another thing breaks. I hope it's legible.]

This is written for anyone who might want to employ me. I need a new job. My current job is fun, and it's better than unemployment, but I don't make enough to live independently. I have a plan to cohabit and split costs, but a more secure financial situation would be nice. But more importantly:


Development studies is not particularly well known nor well understood. I (and at least some of my colleagues) like to summarise it as "Saving the World!", but a more useful explanation is that development studies is to the social sciences what engineering is to the physical sciences, or what medicine is to the life sciences. It's primarily about practical application, not pure research, and it relies on a broad, multidisciplinary approach, rather than specialisation. If you've ever played a game from a series like the Civilizations or Master of Orions, you've had a taste of what development studies addresses. You spent more resources on research than tax income? Opted to build a trade center instead of a shipyard? Chose to run your empire as a democracy instead of a monarchy? I'm sure you can't have played games like that without making those choices. Well, why did you? Because you're trying to achieve something, but you can't do everything at once, and unless you just click things randomly, you have to try to work out some rational way of deciding how to proceed one step at a time. Now add hundreds or thousands or billions of people, each with rights and requirements and desires that you can't just ignore with the click of a mouse (in fact, they're the reason for the work, its primary objective, not just an obstacle to avoid), and you've got development studies.

I fell into it through a series of chance occurrences. At one point, I wanted to study journalism, but in looking into that, I happened to spot a politics course, which triggered all sorts of interesting things in me, so I did a BA Politics. I had more or less equal choice of doing it at Wits or RAU, and picked RAU for no better reason than that it was about 5% closer to my house. And by the RAU syllabus, I had to pick as a second major either law, economics or development studies. I had no idea what the last one was, but wasn't too excited at the time about the other two, and so I went blindly into dev. My first year of it sucked and I considered dropping it, because I just didn't get it, until eventually something clicked, and I started loving it. I did better at it in 3rd year than my primary major, politics, and even won a prize for it, and then went on to do my BA(Hons) Development Studies. I was top of my honours class. I was certain I was going to have a great career in that field. And then I never got to touch it again.

My job-hunting skills were poor. I got some "easy," basic jobs via friends and family, just to have something to do, but didn't really push for my ideal kind of job. Then I got headhunted by a company called NMA, supposedly involved in development work, claiming they really wanted master's degree holders, but would accept honours kids as a compromise and a favour to us. Turned out, they were little more than a rubber-stamping agency for government projects, and I was a glorified data-capturer. I was told directly by my boss that they knew a major construction project was a bad idea, but we were getting paid to make it happen, so that's what we'd make happen. I was explicitly told to ignore what people were literally saying and "read between the lines" to make their complaints fit his predefined categories. Today I'd give him serious shit for that, let him know exactly how unacceptably unethical that crap is, but 6 years ago I was shy and unworldly, so I just left. Biggest salary I ever had, and it's been pretty close to all downhill from there.

After some time unemployed, I took the sideways step into teaching. It was definitely worth the experience, I'm much more confident and worldly now, but I've been trying to step back sideways to development ever since. I've also been trying to sort out my master's, but there's a whole separate blog post for that.

More specifically, what really interests me is, 1. education (I didn't go into it for no reason, I just don't want to be a teacher), and B. civil society and non-governmental organisations. Working for an education NGO would be fantastic for me. Put me in a planning or management role and watch me be awesome.

As a more detailed account of my career history, for those who're interested, here's an annotated version of my CV. I feel that while the plain, conventional CV format is good for initial HR bureaucratic processing, it doesn't really reflect the full "me" very well. Consider, for example, that I've never yet gone in for an interview and not gotten the job; I'm hugely impressive. The problem seems to be getting into interviews in the first place.

(Full CV available on demand.)



University of Johannesburg 
MA (Development Studies), still in progress

Yeah, see the other blog post about this one.

2011 (October):
ACTION Support Centre
Certificate in Applied Conflict Transformation

I got this, I think, as a consolation prize for not getting an internship with them. I wrote about it at the time. I think it was very useful as a refresher/update on a lot of the stuff I covered in my undergrad years, plus a chance to meet some very interesting people from the rest of Africa.

2009 (January – August):
TEACH South Africa
Accelerated teacher training prior to and while working at Landulwazi Comprehensive School

I can't say it was the best training they could have given us, but it was enough to make us not-incompetent. We got provisional SACE numbers and everything. The bulk of it was in the first 3 weeks of January, with a reduced dose the following 3 weeks (as we started going into our schools for the first time) and then sporadic extras after that. The best part, for me, was exposure to so many different teachers at so many different schools. It really gave me a good look at the variety of possible styles and effects.

University of Johannesburg 
BA (Honours) (Development Studies), completed. Subjects included:

  • Independent Field Work & Research Report (distinction)

    • Research report titled: An investigation into Alzheimer’s South Africa’s recent organisational difficulties: How to sustain its operations indefinitely

  • Methodology of the Human Sciences
  • Contemporary Development Theories
  • Statistics for Human Sciences (distinction)
  • Management & Planning in Development
  • Key Issues in International Relations

Best academic year ever. I understood more after this 1 year than I did after the entire preceding 3 years. The stats course was the first maths I'd had to do in years, so I was pleased it went so well. Methodology was shared with an anthropology honours course, led by an anthro lecturer, and she really didn't like or understand us dev. people, but I think I still tried my best to ignore her and understand the work she presented. The international relations course was the only unscheduled filler, as all the dev. kids had to find themselves an extra subject from another department, and I really enjoyed being back with the politics kids after a 6 month break.

2003 – 2005:
Rand Afrikaans University / University of Johannesburg
BA (Politics), majoring in Politics and Development Studies, completed. Subjects included:

  • Politics 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D
  • Development Studies 1A, 1B, 2A (distinction), 2B, 3A (distinction), 3B, 3C (distinction), 3D
  • Anthropology 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B (distinction)
  • Sociology 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B
  • German 1A, 1B

Received Merit Award for Best Academic Performance in 3rd Year Development Studies, 2005.

You'll note I tended to do much better in later courses, even getting that merit award, as my performance just got better and better at an accelerating pace. German 1 filled my language requirement, though I had originally tried my tongue at Arabic 1 instead. I might have taken on a wee bit much there. The only subject I consistently disliked was sociology, a tediously dry subject, except when a certain freelance lecturer (who, coincidentally, was the first graduate of my high school I ever encountered doing a real, grown-up job) did some courses with us in 2nd year in a much more interesting and refreshing style.

Potchefstroom University 
Certificate in Entrepreneurial Skills
This was a course offered through my high school. I learned some useful stuff, but it caused me to be pushed into taking business economics for matric, which I hated. It's only recently occurred to me that I might have been pushed in this direction by my dad because he's always wanted to have his own business (and he still occasionally tries to get me to start something up). I couldn't give a shit about that, but I don't mind having learned new things.
1997 – 2001:
Aurora Private School
Matriculated, all subjects passed on Higher Grade, including:

  • General Science
  • Computer Science
  • Mathematics
  • Business Economics
  • English 1st Language
  • Afrikaans 2nd Language

Received Silver Award in 2001 National English Olympiad.
Named Aurora College when I started there, and now called Curro Aurora, part of the Curro schools group. It was far from perfect and perhaps not worth what my parents had to pay for it, but still a damn good school, or at least a school that employed some damn good teachers. I'm pleased to say there was virtually no emphasis on formal sports there, which my recent teaching experience suggests to me is a horrible tradition that should be excised from the schools that embrace it. I've seen too many bright kids recently who get obsessed with moving balls from A to B and neglect the important stuff as a result, all with their schools' explicit blessing.

That English Olympiad was a neat thing. I hadn't considered myself a writer at all until some of those damn good teachers spotted and nurtured my latent ability, leaning on my love of science fiction in particular (remind me to post my mini-play "Starship Crucible" here sometime). And that year's English Olympiad, conveniently, had a scifi theme. Never really got comfortable writing conventional fiction, but I'm still blabbing on here, which is nice for me.

1990 – 1996:
Primary education at Rand Park Primary School, except for 3 years spent in Germany at a German-medium school (Grundschule Königstein, 1991 - 1993).
Rand Park was a pretty conventional late- and early post-apartheid government model C school. The  principle was an exceptional stickler for fussy little rules and discipline over anything else. It wasn't a nice environment, but the education was at least good. My years in Germany, on the other hand, were a fantastic eye opener, as my first look at a different way of teaching. Half the reason I went ot Aurora is that it used to be quite like my German school, with little regard for frivolous appearances and sport, just a good, sensible focus on learning. Also, I learned German and we had a castle, so I liked Germany.

Volunteer Experience
2003 – Present:
Alzheimer’s South Africa, National Office, Randpark Ridge
Position: Ad hoc office & technical volunteer
Duties have included basic IT support, writing & proofreading, and the filing & sorting of mail, membership data and the organisation’s private library.

My mom started working for Alzheimer's SA in late 2002 or early 2003, and from about mid 2003, I occasionally went in to fix computers and things, or helped with work she brought home. Sometimes I did it quite frequently, sometimes there were months between these odd-jobs. I think the last thing I did for them was in September this year?

I've done little specks of other volunteer work over the years (half a day with Habitat for Humanity, some envelope stuffing for... can't even remember who now), but nothing big enough that I'd want to include it on my CV.

I've also been around for the formative stages of two different NGOs. First, there was Amnesty International RAU, a branch of Amnesty International SA started by friends in my politics class. Sadly, that didn't last more than a year, and my own contribution was minimal; I bought more gingerbread abused women from their stall that one time than anyone else, but that was about it. Then there was an attempt a year ago or so to form a formal Gauteng Skeptics society, and I tried to contribute more there in the way of ideas, but that didn't get off the ground... yet!

And I suppose my association with the USS Dauntless is technically voluntary, but it's mostly a fan club, not too relevant to my CV. The really good stuff, the blood drives and such, aren't organised by me.

Work Experience
2011 (July) - Present:
XL@Science, Bryanston
Position: Resources Manager
Responsible for organising educational software and online content for students' and other tutors' use, maintaining and organising computer and laboratory equipment, and preparing study and assessment documents for students. This position was created to formalise work I had started on my own initiative in 2010.

2010 (August) – Present:
XL@Science, Bryanston
Position: Senior Science Tutor
Teach small groups of students from various schools, grade 10, 11 and 12 Physical Science, grade 8 and 9 Natural Science, as well as International Cambridge Curriculum Physics and Chemistry. Duties include teaching standard curriculum content, identifying and addressing individual student shortcomings, and encouraging a general appreciation and understanding of science beyond the standard curriculum. Promoted to Senior Tutor, October 2012, with added responsibility of supervising other tutors.

My current job, though you can see it's technically split into two different bits. I'd have to say my current boss is probably the best boss I've had - very encouraging and supportive and a nice guy - aside from the money thing; I could do with more of that. If I had to do this job forever and could afford to live off it, I'd be ok with that, because I love science and I can see I'm making some difference with some of the kids, and it's nowhere near as stressful as real teaching. But I feel I could do more, that I'm wasting my abilities.

2009 (January – August):
Landulwazi Comprehensive School (Gauteng Department of Education), Thokoza
Position: Grade 10 & 11 Physical Science teacher
Taught grade 10 and 11 Physical Science classes. Duties included preparation and presentation of lessons, student assessment, laboratory organisation and maintenance, and exam invigilation for all grades.

The most difficult job I've ever done. Heart-breakingly difficult. I don't want to talk about it again.

2007 (April – June):
Pop! Art and Culture, Randburg
Position: Sales assistant
Assisted customers with purchases, banked daily takings, organised stock and kept shop presentable. Responsible for running shop alone three days a week.
I was luckily able to pick this up again after NMA crapped out so soon, but it got sooooooo boring. Have you ever worked in a comic shop? You finish reading everything pretty soon. Literally everything, but it becomes just a blur of panels and speech bubbles. Then you rearrange everything. Then you have to dearrange it all again, because the boss likes it his way. They offered to promote me to store manager, but it was more responsibility for no increase in pay, and I was already desperate to escape. Retail is not for me.

2007 (March):
NMA Effective Social Strategies, Observatory
Position: Project administrator
Duties included conducting field research and data processing, primarily for social impact studies.
See complaints above.

2006 (December) – 2007 (February):
Pop! Art and Culture, Randburg
Position: Sales assistant
Assisted customers with purchases, banked daily takings, organised stock and kept shop presentable.
Got this through my friend, Scot, who worked there. I missed the main xmas rush, but there was still a lot of business for the first few weeks. Then I got the offer from NMA and moved off, until I came back. This was never intended as anything but a temporary job, a working holiday that I didn't have to leave home for.

2006 (November – December):
Alzheimer’s South Africa, National Office, Fairland (now in Randpark Ridge)
Position: Temporary receptionist
Processed incoming helpline calls and other telephone communication, greeted guests, reorganised office space, filed and sorted mail, membership data and the organisation’s private library.

Having done my honours research on them, I was already spending a lot of time there. They needed a temp to fill in until funding for a full-time receptionist came in, so I had a few weeks' bonus work as soon as my exams ended and this suited everyone very well.

2006 (February – October):
Department of Anthropology and Development Studies, University of Johannesburg, Auckland Park
Position: Student assistant (administrative)
Duties included front desk reception, processing and sorting incoming and outgoing student work, mass production of student documents, exam invigilation and assisting lecturers with library research.
Lots of fun, mixed in with my honours year. My natural orderliness came in really useful.

I see I've left out two earlier jobs. One was with jewelry retailer, Galaxy, as a sales monkey. Retail is not for me, plus they only actually called me in 2 random days a week for October 2002, then nothing at all during November. Really difficult leaving that job. Then there was packing 30,000 pencils and rulers for O'Kagan's Brand Aid in December 2000 or January 2001. It paid for my expenses at Icon 2001, when I found the cash tucked in my cupboard.
 Published Work
Guest host on Consilience: An African Science Podcast, episodes 24, 43, 47, 52, 57 and 61.

Not exactly 'published', but you give me a better category name to file it under. If you've been following this blog, you must surely know about my humble contributions to Consilience, as well as the inevitable driving adventures it causes me. This is the first and so far only thing of this nature I've been involved in.

Several articles in specialist hobby magazine, Diplomacy World, issues 101 – 104, 106 – 108.
That's right, I'm officially a published table-top gaming writer. I originally submitted a piece for a competition in issue 101 and (obviously) won that. After that, editor Douglas Kent asked if I'd write some more, and I did, until I ran out of ideas. I have more for him again, but just haven't gotten round to writing them up yet.

J. van Wyk, L. Kinghorn, H. Hepburn, C. Payne & C. Sham. 2007. “The international politics of nuclear weapons: a constructivist analysis.” Scientia Militaria: South African Journal of Military Studies. Vol 35(1).
My sole academic writing credit so far. Jo-Ansie van Wyk was a guest lecturer we had in Politics 3, who took it upon herself to help the kids with the best essays that semester combine their efforts into a publishable piece. This was the result. Most of the credit should really go to Linda Kinghorn, who did the bulk of the work writing it all up, but I can point out my ideas lurking within it. (My original essay had been quite different, focusing less on actors' perceptions of WMD and more on the actual physical capabilities of different weapons; turns out, WMD is a bit of a junk term, very vague and sometimes unrealistic. Narrowing it from WMD to only nukes made it much more sensible.)

I might also have included here my contribution to Icon 2008, a roleplaying module entitled 'Lead the Way', for the Spycraft system. I gather it was well received, and I'm hoping to have another module done in time for Icon 2013.

Other Skills

  • Extensive general knowledge
  • Excellent writing skills
  • Excellent English
  • Conversational Afrikaans
  • Conversational German
  • Thorough computer literacy

The CV template I started using back in 200X had this section and I've never been entirely comfortable with it, but never cut it out either. My general knowledge really is magnificent. My Afrikaans and German are atrophying.

Thesis doodle pad, version 85J

I happened to stumble across this thing recently. It's a rough, informal list of things that this guy reckons help the process of research in general, no matter which field you're in, probably. And of course such a broad guideline is going to miss quite a lot, but it still seems sensible, mostly. The bit about keeping a record of all your thoughts really struck me, because I've been saying that for years. Not doing it for years, but saying it. And I really should have been doing it instead. (For more clarity about my field of study, development studies, see this post about my career goals.)

So now, after 5.5 years of trying to draw up my master's dissertation proposal, what have I actually got to show for it? Certainly not a single complete proposal. I've changed topic several times, sometimes because I felt a question was not as feasible or worthwhile as initially hoped, sometimes because my supervisor shot it down. The stress of real life has also gotten in the way a lot of the time, but who doesn't have that excuse, to some extent? And then there was the really stupid obstacle of  the University of Johannesburg not allowing library or online journal access to you until your proposal is accepted, which makes it hard to write the proposal in the first place. I'm not sure how any other post-grad gets around that, but I eventually had to borrow login details from someone I barely know and who isn't even studying anything remotely related to anything I've done, but who was fortunately very kind and generous. I'm just worried because I don't know when that person will finish studying (really, I barely know a thing about them) and their login will be deactivated out from under me.

So it's been going slowly, which I didn't expect after my honours degree, where I showed up on day 1 and due to a miscommunication, hadn't been told I needed a topic already prepared for my mini-dissertation, but just spit out a great one on the fly before anyone could notice I was winging it. I looked at the internal organisational problems of Alzheimer's South Africa, and my research was completed weeks before anyone else in the class was, it was longer than anyone else's, and it was the only one to get a distinction. It all just came so easily, which has made the master's process seem weird and uncomfortable, especially when former peers have rushed ahead of me to finish their M's already. (Incidentally, Alzheimer's SA didn't really take in any of my practical recommendations, and I think they've suffered for it.)

Changizi's recommendation to record everything seems wise. So, while I do have a fresh idea or two that I'll mention at the end, it's probably a good idea to at least remind myself of what's come before. Plus, if anyone else wants to steal one of my ideas for their own research, go ahead. I'd appreciate an 'inspired by' credit in your paper and maybe a copy of it too, but otherwise feel free. Better they get some real use by someone who'll appreciate them more than I have, hoarding them all to myself.

But it's not so easy, since I didn't exactly keep an ideas journal. Some of these things I had to dig out of old emails. Some I had in documents scattered all over my PC. Many were posted as notes on Facebook to solicit feedback from friends (which will still be nice to receive here!). A couple were even written on papyrus scrolls, either scribbled when I was bored at work or manically scrawled in the middle of the night on my ex's unfurnished lounge floor when inspiration and insomnia struck at the same time. Those are all reasonable media in their own way, but I think it would help to have a central repository too, somewhere to compare and regurgitate and cannibalise and Frankensteinify older ideas into new ones. As Changizi points out, it's a messy process. So that's what this post is for: Regurgitation.

Everything below this point follows Changizi's advice to not worry about messiness and looking silly. Some of it is a silly mess.

Old Ideas
I've put them in as clsoe to chronological order as I can manage, but there was definitely a lot of jumble and confusion. The format for these is:
(rough title) - (reminder to myself of where I've got my original notes)
(quick summary)

1. Using mercenaries for serious development work - FB
Looking at how to use mercenaries (or private military contractors, which is not exactly the same thing) for serious development work in warzones and other areas of high danger, instead of paying them to kill people. Always seemed like an interesting idea, but probably still a bad one.

2. Some vague notion that social interaction could be modelled in a pseudo-fractal way - email?
Not really sure what my idea really was, just remember that I had it, and thought I'd better include it here to be thorough.

3. Critical thinking as a development tool - HD
Don't think I had a very clear idea back then of exactly how to marry the concept of critical thought/skepticism with development studies, so this would have been more of a general exploration of the possibilities. (See also New Ideas section.)

4. Something to do with improving TEACH SA and/or science education - FB, email?
The organisation that got me into education has a great general plan, but after serving with them for the better part of a year, I felt there were a lot of specifics that needed serious improvement. And since I felt way more comfortable as a development dude than as a teacher, I felt I'd be far more useful fixing the organisation for them behind the scenes, than teaching on the front line. Most of the initial admin team left around the same time that I did, and none of the new people (few of whom I'd ever met) had any interest in what I had to say. Attempts to make the idea less specific went nowhere.

5. Development triage - HD
A neat little idea, probably nowhere near enough to fill a whole dissertation, suggesting a formal system for prioritising development projects in a manner similar to emergency medical triage.

6. Where are development ethics learned, if at all? - HD
Another medicine analogue, inspired partly by the realisation that I almost failed dev. ethics in first year, don't recall covering it in any later year, and was having to sit and think really hard for myself about what is and isn't acceptable behaviour. And if I, having officially studied this shit, was still struggling, what could be said about the many (the majority?) of people in development-relevant jobs who hadn't covered it at all?

7. Mars colonisation - FB, paper, my brain
I absolutely, definitely want to look at how a human colony off of Earth (presumably on Mars, but wherever) could be run, from a dev. point of view. The engineering side seems to have no shortage of people looking into it, but the most anyone's looked into the socio-political side seems to be found in science fiction novels. (And if they're to be believed, then we need to be prepared for the New Boston Horse Party, which is a very obscure joke that I refuse to explain.) I think there's a lot to work with here, plus it has the interesting wossname that, because we can look at a potential space colony in relative isolation, free from many of the usual Earth biases, it may reveal some interesting new thoughts that could be adapted for use on Earth that might otherwise not have been thought up at all - compare with how social experiments by colonists in the "New World" eventually fed back into Europe. However, I really, really want to do a super-extra-fantastic job with this one, it can't be a dinky little fluff-pamphlet, so I think I'm saving it for my PhD.

8. The Case for Limiting the Role of Faith-based Organisations in Public Development - FB
I think this grew out of the dev. ethics concern: Large numbers of faith-based organisations get into development work, often with no expertise at all, and often with very misguided standards. Inevitable when you're willing to throw evidence out the window and just make shit up, and possibly quite an important thing to regulate. Would be hard to sell in SA, where separation of church and state is sometimes quite thin.

9. Proposal for a Standardised System for the Assessment of Homes by Volunteer Inspectors - HD
The first full development document I'd written since finishing honours, not really intended for my master's, I got really excited at the time that I was finally doing what I put years of study into, in this case for the benefit of Alzheimer's SA again. They have a problem where they keep a list of care homes to put people in contact with, but have no mechanism for checking if the home is really suitable and safe for people with dementia. And every now and then, on of these officially "suggested" homes would pop up in the news for being seriously incompetent or negligent or dangerous. I thought I'd come up with a workable partial solution to this, but once again, Alzheimer's management ignored me completely (got cross with me, even). So I toyed with passing the idea to another organisation or incorporating it into a thesis, but never did.

10. Instinct vs. rationality in development studies - FB
Poorly-framed idea that there are probably a lot of things we do and assumptions we make in development projects that are shaped more by animal instinct than reason and evidence. Similar to what's already well known about cultural biases butting into development planning, except that if it's something all have in common, a human factor, then we're much less likely to recognise it as something that doesn't necessarily have to be that way.

11. Informal education groups - paper?
Linking back to idea 4, it seemed to me that formal government schools currently have way too many problems to expect to get most people out of them with the education they deserve, so why not supplement them with something more informal, a system where kids and interested adults who missed  a decent childhood education of their own (there are plenty) can gather where and when it suits them to just learn, not get marks or formal qualifications. I realise this will be of limited use to the current generation, but it would help keep the next generation from having parents too ignorant to help them learn stuff too. For some reason, I drew a parallel in my head between these groups and street committees. The obvious main problem is making sure each group has at least one person competent to teach the material (or at least spot when and why the others are getting it wrong), but a shortage of teachers is already one of the problems with formal schools.

12. Correlating science education and democracy - HD, Google Docs
A fairly straightforward hypothesis: Science requires good critical thinking skills. Being an effective democratic voter requires good critical thinking skills. Surely a society optimised for the one role should be pretty good at the other, right? And if so, which way does causation go, and what confounding factors are there? Also, what practical considerations can be drawn from all this? Tricky to measure with much precision.

13. Something to do with overpopulation?
I think it's a really important topic and would like to do something about it, but have no idea what thesis I'd build around it. So instead I've just been randomly taunting parents all year.

14. Crowdsourced dev. solutions - paper
Might be numbered 7.b instead. As a smaller, sub-thought, much more recently, it occured to me that the initial small batch of Mars colonists would have to do all sorts of very technical stuff themselves, all the time, without relief, and couldn't be expected to be experts in everything, so they'd need a lot of experts back home. And instead of having one dedicated agriculture consultant (for example), it might be better to just throw their known concerns and problems into a public forum, to let many minds contribute a little each. Hopefully the net result would be a better idea than one mind alone could have come up with. Similar system could be used for sorting out problems on Earth, presumably more in isolated rural areas.

New Ideas
1. Making the SA/Gauteng skeptics functional
There's arguably quite a lot of need for more skeptical activism around here, and there are quite a few people here who identify themselves with skepticism. It should be easy maths to make the latter solve the former, and yet hardly anything actually happens. We have our pub meeting and our park meetings, which are great fun, but we don't exactly do anything? Or do we? Perhaps our members individually are having a positive effect, which is made possible by the informal group support. Or maybe we really are just a bunch of online loudmouths. Or some mixture. Maybe a formal organisation or organisations would make us more effective, or maybe it would just get in the way. Many people have said they'd like to see us do more (more of what, exactly?), but it's always very vague and seldom comes from a foundation of much more than hunches. Surely the skeptics, of all people, could appreciate a bit of self-examination?

Add to this:  Gender divide and sexism. FB group 2:1 male:female members, but usually 6:1 or worse commenters. G+ group 2:1, worse commenter ratios. Problem of men using SitP as dating service.

Internal conflict: Good for threshing out ideas and debating shit, but makes some uncomfortable (some say gender distinction there?). Conflicting need for skeptical training area vs. skeptical relaxation area.