Humour

The raw eggs bit, I could not manage

by reestheskin on 25/04/2017

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Emma Morano’s singular achievement in life may have been perseverance. She lived for 117 years, crediting her longevity to raw eggs and her lack of a husband. She died on April 15.

NYT

Surgeons should not look like surgeons

by reestheskin on 28/03/2017

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For a flavour:

Now if I had to pick, I would overcome my suckerproneness and take the butcher any minute.

Incerto here. Deadly serious.

The pleasures of arithmetic and arachnophilia

by reestheskin on 27/03/2017

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Their conclusion was that there are 25m tonnes of spiders around the world and that, collectively, these arachnids consume between 400m and 800m tonnes of animal prey every year. This puts spiders in the same predatory league as humans as a species, and whales as a group. Each of these consumes, on an annual basis, in the region of 400m tonnes of other animals.

Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel and Klaus Birkhofer of Lund University, quoted in the Economist.

“An estimated 400–800 million tons of prey are annually killed by the global spider community” Link

Student life: Not the muse, but the masseuse

by reestheskin on 20/03/2017

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This weekend, my wife and oldest daughter visited her first-choice college, the University of Tennessee. There was one curious moment in an otherwise wonderful weekend. The tour guide noted that the university was there to help students get through the trauma of exams. It brought in masseuses to massage away the stress. It rolls out a sheet of paper, passes out crayons, and lets the students express their rage against algebra. Oh, and it vowed to bring in puppies, so students could cuddle something cute to take the edge off their anxiety.

Quote on Memex from Tyler Cowen’s new book, ‘The Complacent Class’.

‘Some diversity training-programs, for example, are like blistering — they are somewhat painful to endure and have no beneficial effects.’

Timothy Wilson in Redirect, the book that nobody from HR seems to have read.

 

There is only one way to ensure that assessment is light-touch. Universities should rebrand themselves as banks.

Comment (Mintaka) on an article on the TEF from one of the HE commissars (Nick Hillman).

A defence of the beanbag geneticist, it is then.

by reestheskin on 02/03/2017

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In 1924, a 30-year old journalist on the Daily Express came to Cambridge aiming to interview Haldane. She was Charlotte Burghes, née Franken, and she had a young son, Ronnie. Haldane and Charlotte became lovers, but before they could marry she had to seek a divorce, a procedure that carried substantial social stigma at that time. A university committee resolved to strip Haldane of his readership, which was only restored by successful legal action.

From a review of a new biography of JBS Haldane. The article referred to in the title of this post is here.  I know of no other branch of biology that can build so much, on so few assumptions.

“books of the type written by the current hotshot Op-Ed writer at the New York Times may get some hype at publication time, manufactured or spontaneous, but their five year survival is generally inferior to that of pancreatic cancer.”

Nassim Taleb Numbers matter: the Lindy effect at work.

More medic collective nouns.

by reestheskin on 14/01/2017

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After my earlier post, Alun a dentist and advisor to dentists reminded my of a few more and some now ones”

  • a brace of orthodontists
  • a sleep of anaesthetists
  • a shrink of psychiatrists
  • a clot of…..
  • a cut of…..

This stops here….

Except that the Economist (14/1/2017) offers some additional ones (beyond a “distutility of…”)
– a quandary of economists
– a befuddlement of economists
– and my favourite: a surplus of economists

Which all leaves me a a little discombobulated.

The collective noun for a bunch of economists.

by reestheskin on 10/01/2017

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I remember this as a medical student game. A ‘scab of dermatologists’; a ganglia of neurologists; a ‘bone of orthopods’; a ‘pulp of dentists’. Sam Shuster’s contribution (from memory…) was: a ‘dementia of statisticians’.

In the Economist, Donald Norbert comes up with one for Economists: a ‘disutility of economists’. (Economist, 7/1/2017)

I see the end brightly now

by reestheskin on 09/01/2017

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Laurie Taylor in fine form

“Our university is to appoint a “nostalgia liberation officer” to protect the small number of academics who are unable to come to terms with the exciting new nature of higher education.

Concerns that even these steps may not prove sufficient have raised the prospect of the university creating “a safe space” where nostalgia dons would be free to talk endlessly about the time when universities were “a community of thinkers engaging in intellectual pursuits not for any external purpose but as an end in itself”.”

Xmas day and it is all about food

by reestheskin on 25/12/2016

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Geoff Norman opened my eyes to the (useful) parallels between cooking and medicine (‘Medical expertise and mashed potatoes’). This little quote from the Economist, is at a mature tangent:

Compare this to the fate of Lymeswold, which was created in the 1980s and touted as the first new English cheese in 200 years. It was initially highly successful, but when demand outstripped supply, the manufacturers cut corners and released stocks before they had matured, resulting in its demise less than a decade after its birth.

Sounds a little like some aspects of doctor training in the NHS.

Optimising the production of Masterpieces and genius work

by reestheskin on 15/11/2016

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There is a witty spoof on the ‘contact hours = quality education’ debate (sic) in the THE. AKA why are ministers so stupid.

Ministers are concerned that despite large differences in the quality of novels, they all seem to cost the same. From now on, under the National Assessment of Fiction Framework (NAFF), the quality of novels will be scientifically measured according to the number of pages they contain, and prices will be set accordingly. Ministers are said to be delighted to have finally proved that Riders, Jilly Cooper’s 900-page epic, is three times better than Jane Austen’s insubstantial Pride and Prejudice.

It reminded me (yet again) to track down something I had read many times on Brian Randell’s web page here. Computing was lucky because the inventors got to do so much before the academy tried to close it down.

Masterpiece Engineering, T. H. Simpson, IBM Corporation, (Via Brian Randell’s web page here.)

“Here on this spot in the year 1500 an International Conference was held”.

It seems that a group of people had gotten together to discuss the problems posed by the numbers of art masterpieces being fabricated throughout the world; at that time it was a very flourishing industry. They thought it would be appropriate to find out if this process could be “scientificized” so they held the “International Working Conference on Masterpiece Engineering” to discuss the problem. As I continued walking round the garden, now looking a little closer at the ground, I came across the bones of a group, still in session, attempting to write down the criteria for the design of the “Mona Lisa”. The sight reminded me strangely of our group working on the criteria for the design of an operating system.

Apparently the Conference decided that it should establish an Institute to work in more detail on production problems in the masterpiece field. So they went out into the streets of Rome and solicited a few chariot drivers, gladiators and others and put them through a five week (half-day) masterpiece creation course; then they were all put into a large room and asked to begin creating. They soon realized that they weren’t getting much efficiency out of the Institute, so they set about equipping the masterpiece workers with some more efficient tools to help them create masterpieces. They invented power-driven chisels, automatic paint tube squeezers and so on but all this merely produced a loud outcry from the educators: “All these techniques will give the painters sloppy characteristics”, they said.

Production was still not reaching satisfactory levels so they extended the range of masterpiece support techniques with some further steps. One idea was to take a single canvas and pass it rapidly from painter to painter. While one was applying the brush the others had time to think. The next natural step to take was, of course, to double the number of painters but before taking it they adopted a most interesting device. They decided to carry out some proper measurement of productivity. Two weeks at the Institute were spent in counting the number of brush strokes per day produced by one group of painters, and this criterion was then promptly applied in assessing the value to the enterprise of the rest. If a painter failed to turn in his twenty brush strokes per day he was clearly under-productive.

Regrettably none of these advances in knowledge seemed to have any real impact on masterpiece production and so, at length, the group decided that the basic difficulty was clearly a management problem. One of the brighter students (by the name of L. da Vinci) was instantly promoted to manager of the project, putting him in charge of procuring paints, canvases and brushes for the rest of the organisation.

Some people try to optimise the shit out of everything. Or, as we might say in South Wales, ‘tearing the arse out of it’.

EdTech the Devil’s way.

by reestheskin on 29/10/2016

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Great post by Bryan Alexander, titled ‘ A Devil’s Dictionary of Educational Technology’. If you work in it, you will recognise it. I will start off with my favourites

Powerpoint, n. 1. A popular and low cost narcotic, mysteriously decriminalized.

YouTube, n. The ideal educational technology: everyone likes and uses it, it’s reliable and free, and neither you nor anyone you know has to support it.

Here are a few more:

Active learning , n. 1.The opposite of obedience lessons.

Asynchronous, adj. The delightful state of being able to engage with someone online without their seeing you, while allowing you to make a sandwich.

Best practice, n. “An educational approach that someone heard worked well somewhere. See also ‘transformative,’ ‘game changer,’ and ‘disruptive.’” (by Jim Julius)

LMS, n. 1) A document management system, whereby a faculty member can transfer a single document to his or her students. Curiously overpowered for this purpose, nevertheless universally deployed.

2) A good way to avoid legal notices about copyright.

3) The graveyard of pedagogical intentions. A sump for IT budgets.

Nice procrastination piece, or reality check, depending on whether you teach or you deliver teaching.

‘You Americans have the best high school education in the world. What a pity you have to go to college to get it.’ In Alan Kay

Edtech redux

by reestheskin on 25/10/2016

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Blackboards, school buses, Nissen huts, and the pencil (via John Naughton, with original link here). Sadly, you have to invest time and effort in learning how to use it  — so little to recommend to the multitaskers

pencil

We don’t need no teachers

by reestheskin on 24/10/2016

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‘People pay a lot for a great education now, but you can become expert level on most things by looking at your phone.’

Sam Altman quoted in the New Yorker

It is just nice to see it in black and white. So simple. BTW, the quote came via the wiser (not ‘smarter’) Nick Carr, who commented: ‘By “a really good life,” Altman means a virtual reality headset and an opioid prescription’.

Failing again. Improved possibilities.

by reestheskin on 04/10/2016

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I have always thought two Irish writers great guides to life: Samuel Becket, and Brian O’Nolan (aka Brian Ó Nualláin, Flann O’Brien, Myles na gCopaleen ). Becket’s line, in a postcard of the lithograph by Tom Phillips of him, hangs on my wall: “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” But now I have come across something more fitting for my state, and with optimism:

“I work on, with failing mind, in other words, improved possibilities.”

Review of The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume IV, in the FT.

Nit(s)

by reestheskin on 01/10/2016

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“The original Apple Watch has 450 nits of brightness. The new one has 1,000 nits. That’s a lot of nits. In case you were wondering, a “nit” is a unit of luminance equal to one candela per square meter.”

My father used to call me a nit on a daily basis. Now I know he was being flattering. Tricky for us dermatologists, too

David Sparks

Bridget Jones on medical education

by reestheskin on 12/09/2016

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“And still her life is a relative mess. I like the message in that: that we can tick off the boxes, and yet we still don’t quite have it together. And that’s pretty much the truth of growing up, isn’t it?”  NYT

Well this is from Renée Zellweger talking about her Bridget Jones persona. But everywhere I look now I see the great and the good from HEE and the RCP admitting that all this tick- boxing has been a disaster and has subverted medical education. They were told this years ago. It is an irony of the age that those charged with directing postgraduate medical education, are most in need of it themselves. Worse still, the postgraduate world has been allowed to infect the undergraduate world.

Students are not fish

by reestheskin on 26/08/2016

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This is such a brilliant graphic from an article by Doc Searls posted on Medium and here.  A sort of universal metaphor (recursion intended) for universities, education and much else. Data rich, attention limited.

doc searls

doc searls

 

 

The GMC don’t get design

by reestheskin on 17/08/2016

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I am not going to comment on the content (the usual Newspeak), but if you were looking for an example of how not to design informative graphics or communicate, this has to be up there: Edward Tufte will have to kill yet more kittens.

Hospitals are inhospitable places

by reestheskin on 30/07/2016

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“Being in the hospital is horrible. They woke me up at 4:00 am once to ask whether I was sleeping well.”

Via Philip Greenspun, describing a friend with a terminal disease, and why he wanted to avoid chemo.

10 similarities between Higher Education and the Catholic Church

by reestheskin on 28/07/2016

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10 similarities between Higher Education and the Catholic Church on the eve of the Reformation? 

Ivan Illich might be concerned with at least one half of this comparison. But it is difficult to read it without feeling a little twinge of guilt. Short of original sin, of course. Donald Clark, in fine icon smashing form.

If the the student has no topic of his own, he should not even think of a PhD.

by reestheskin on 22/07/2016

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“On this note, he quotes mathematician and family friend Jacques Hadamard, apparently complaining about a student who asked for a thesis topic, “Can you imagine that? If he has no topic of his own, he should not even think of a Ph.D.!””

Which brings to mind David Hubel’s practice of trying to persuade students not to do a PhD — he only wanted the ones who ‘really’  wanted it, rather than those who were just judged able.

From a book review of Fractalist in Science

Yahoo

by reestheskin on 18/07/2016

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I didn’t know.

Two Stanford graduate students, Jerry Yang and David Filo, saw opportunity. Working from a trailer on campus, they began compiling websites into a list, organized by topic. They eventually named it Yahoo, an acronym for ‘Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.

NYT

I now have a new term for ‘learning outcomes’. Yahoo. Although ‘hideous’ competes with hierarchical

University web sites

by reestheskin on 10/07/2016

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Seen it before, but always makes me smile. And think.

The ratio of expertise or expense between what you currently spend on the students already registered with you, versus that which you spend attracting new students, is a statement of ethical values (or lack of them). The same goes for the staff who work for you already. Your current students may get a bunch of ugly  Powerpoints with no design support; the potential  students get professional videos.

university_website

The Quad and the aggrieved townsmen

by reestheskin on 14/06/2016

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On the origin of the university quad:

These facilities were often enclosed quadrangles that were accessed by defensible gated entrances to protect their scholars and faculty fellows from aggrieved townsmen.

From Wisdoms Workshop 

Broadcasting your rectal temperature…just so we know

by reestheskin on 23/04/2016

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Vicks sells a rectal thermometer with a Bluetooth transmitter and accompanying smartphone app. Under Armour has announced plans to put biometric sensors in the underwear and other garments it makes. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere companies won’t go to collect information about us.

Nicholas Carr,on surveillance and the internet of things.

Shakespeare: not much impact for the RAE/REF, then.

by reestheskin on 22/04/2016

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Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616, went largely unremarked by all but a few of his immediate contemporaries. There was no global shudder when his mortal remains were laid to rest in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. No one proposed that he be interred in Westminster Abbey near Chaucer or Spenser (where his fellow playwright Francis Beaumont was buried in the same year and where Ben Jonson would be buried some years later). No notice of Shakespeare’s passing was taken in the diplomatic correspondence of the time or in the newsletters that circulated on the Continent; no rush of Latin obsequies lamented the “vanishing of his breath,” as classical elegies would have it; no tributes were paid to his genius by his distinguished European contemporaries. Shakespeare’s passing was an entirely local English event, and even locally it seems scarcely to have been noted.

Stephen Greenbelt in the NYRB

Yes, I know not as good as the quip about Jesus of Nazareth: “A fine teacher, but didn’t publish”.