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Values

by reestheskin on 16/05/2017

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In truth, everyone knows that values are actually marketing exercises, used by organisations as slogans. They have little to do with actual behaviour in organisations. They infantilise people, reduce them to ciphers.

Donald Clark.

Quote of the day

by reestheskin on 11/05/2017

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“Elegance is not a dispensable luxury but a quality that decides between success and failure”

Edsger Dijkstra EWD 1284

“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” — Marshall McLuhan

“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”

by reestheskin on 17/04/2017

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That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

Resist Proxies: As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous, subtle, and very Day 2. A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.”

(Do you know what they know they want?)

Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design. I’m not against beta testing or surveys. But you, the product or service owner, must understand the customer, have a vision, and love the offering. A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won’t find any of it in a survey.

Jeff Bezos here. I dislike process, and in education or research, whatever promise it offers, is offset by its tendency to lead to institutional denigration of those who keep their eyes on reality.

Via Benedict’s Newsletter

Incentives matter, especially the wrong ones

by reestheskin on 10/04/2017

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Given your past views on measuring quality in universities, what do you think of the teaching excellence framework, which the government would like to use to measure teaching quality?

The government needs to think more about the evidence we have showing that measuring performance, and in particular ranking performance, creates strong incentives – but all too often the wrong incentives.

What is the biggest threat facing higher education today?

Too much emphasis on comparative achievement, not enough on the pleasure of learning or the importance of doing at least some things really well.

Amen. Nora O’Neill interviewed in the THE

On not dropping your anchor.

by reestheskin on 06/04/2017

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From the Obit of Derek Walcott.

He would cup a breast as he fondled a white stone from the beach. These propensities, noted when he was teaching in America in the 1980s and 1990s, cost him the chance to be, in 1999, Britain’s poet laureate and, ten years later, professor of poetry at Oxford. He was not concerned, for he did not want to drop his anchor long on any northern shore.

Economist

When it works……

by reestheskin on 21/03/2017

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For my studies I moved to Berlin and later to Innsbruck in the Tyrolean Alps. Innsbruck was a great place to study: The teaching in both philosophy and economics happened in small groups and the professors were fantastic teachers. Geoscience was a very broad course and had the advantage that we traveled a lot and spend quite some time out in the field.

Max Rosen

‘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.

 

Not a literal quote, but an impressionism.

You are a participant in whatever happens… and there is chaos.

You are not stuck in traffic, you are the traffic

Optimism and pessimism all together. Joi Ito here.

It’s not the money stupid

by reestheskin on 08/03/2017

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The report’s authors wanted to know what drove nurses and doctors to join agencies, presuming it was simply a case of higher pay. But the researchers found that agency workers in the NHS had similar pay. What they found interesting was that agency workers felt better off because they had escaped the internal politics, the bureaucracy and the stricture of rotas that rarely matched the demands of home. As agency workers they believed they had more control over their lives and put up with less bullying from their employer.

A report by the National Institute for Economic & Social Research (NIESR) quoted here.

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.

Doctors seem to diagnose what they know, so find out what they know before you ask them whats wrong with you.

Roger Schank

The triumph of reason over (gut) reflex?

by reestheskin on 21/02/2017

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At a lecture following the publication of his book, Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air, he was assailed by an angry environmentalist who asked him why he was “so hostile” to wind power. [Prof David] MacKay smiled sweetly and replied: “I’m not hostile to anything. I’m just in favour of arithmetic.”

I remember reading this awhile back, but came across it again on Memex

Where a culture is lying to itself

by reestheskin on 09/02/2017

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Two nice turns of phrase with a pertinence far and wide.

“I’m looking for places where the culture is lying to itself,”she says. “I’m interested in where the language is insufficient and the ideas don’t seem to reflect reality.”

and

“It’s just so easy to think what’s important about the future is getting to Mars and having self-driving cars,”

From an interview with Emily Witt in the FT

Great Expectations

by reestheskin on 31/01/2017

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“I miss the 1990’s sometimes. People had no expectations, and so they thought bigger.”

Nice line in an article by Mike Caulfield on ‘New Directions in Open Education’ (original link via Stephen Downes)

“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.

The technocratic delusion

by reestheskin on 23/01/2017

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“This may upset some of my students at MIT, but one of my concerns is that it’s been a predominantly male gang of kids, mostly white, who are building the core computer science around AI, and they’re more comfortable talking to computers than to human beings. A lot of them feel that if they could just make that science-fiction, generalized AI, we wouldn’t have to worry about all the messy stuff like politics and society. They think machines will just figure it all out for us.”

Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab

(Via John Naughton)

Or as I quoted Steven Weinberg in a paper with the title, “The Problem with Academic Medicine: Engineering Our Way into and out of the Mess

“My advice is to go for the messes—that’s where the action is.”

Tim Wu: ‘The internet is like the classic story of the party that went sour’

“Four decades ago The City University of New York charged no tuition fees, and all its students were taught by full-time staff. Today, fees cover half of all teaching costs and half of professors are part-timers.”

Danny Dorling in the THE, reviewing Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education By Michael Fabricant and Stephen Brier

Physics works!

by reestheskin on 04/01/2017

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“Throughout her career, Gonzalez has done “a bit of everything” at LIGO, she says. For a while, she took on the crucial task of diagnosing the performance of the interferometers to make sure that they achieved unparalleled sensitivity — which is now enough to detect length changes in the 4-kilometre-long arms of the interferometers to within one part in 1021, roughly equivalent to the width of DNA compared with the orbit of Saturn. “

It ain’t biology, then. Nature

Like bank robbers of old, investors turn to students “because that is where the money is”.

Danny Dorling in the THE, reviewing Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education By Michael Fabricant and Stephen Brier

A New Year’s resolution (to avoid)

by reestheskin on 02/01/2017

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“…professors fixated on crawling alone the frontiers of knowledge with a magnifying glass.”

Quoted in the Economist 10/12/2011

2017: the importance of being harmless and irrelevant

by reestheskin on 01/01/2017

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Geoffrey Boulton (University of Edinburgh) in, “What are Universities for?”

A university that moulds itself only to present demands is one that is not listening to its historians. Today’s preoccupations are inevitably myopic, often ephemeral, giving little thought for tomorrow. History is at its most illuminating when written with the full consciousness of what people wrongly expected to happen. Even in the domain of technology, future developments only a few years away have been shrouded from contemporary eyes. Many, possibly most, have arisen unexpectedly from research with other objectives, and assessments of technological potential have invariably missed the mark.

Thirty years ago, scientists who studied climate change, and I am one of them, tended to have long hair and very colourful socks. We were regarded as harmless but irrelevant. But the serendipitous investment in their work revealed processes that we now recognise as threatening the future of human society, and the successors to those scientists are playing a crucial role in assessing how we need to adapt.

A sensible way to start the year.

(The ever insightful) Gregory Clark, an economist at the University of California, Davis, finds that students with Norman surnames from Domesday are still over-represented at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Economist.

“I think the dilemma Brexit poses for Scotland is pretty intolerable,” he says. “If Scotland has to clean out all its universities of European citizens there are really horrible things that are going to happen.”

The economist, Angus Deaton, in the FT

Nice turn of phrase that seems apt way beyond its intended target, attributed to the physicist, John Stewart Bell (NYRB 10/11/2016).

” I hesitated to think it might be wrong, but I knew it was rotten”

Yesterday’s ideas

by reestheskin on 16/11/2016

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There are lots of downsides to technology making it harder for some things to be forgotten. But lots of advantages too. I use a simple diarying App that is available on mobile and Mac, Day One.

One of its nice features is that gives you the option to see comments you have made on the same date in previous years. Now, like many people I tend to often agree with myself — at least over the short term— but it is fun to read earlier musings and wonder if the nuance needs changing, but also to see the same underlying memes appearing again and again. Often, I am still in agreement, with my earlier comments. Sometimes not. Here is one from three years ago.

On the usually sound principle that there is nothing in UK medicine that can’t be made worse by the involvement of the General Medical Council

Nigel Hawkes in BMJ,10 November 2012

A guide for our times

by reestheskin on 03/11/2016

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“It is a variant of the (at present unfashionable) historical method. It consists, simply, in trying to find out what other people have thought and said about the problem in hand: why they had to face it: how they formulated it: how they tried to solve it. This seems to me important because it is part of the general method of rational discussion. If we ignore what other people are thinking, or have thought in the past, then rational discussion must come to an end, though each of us may go on happily talking to himself.” from “The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Routledge Classics)” by Karl Popper

In your final year, you get to crack eggs

by reestheskin on 31/10/2016

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“Imagine if we taught baseball the way we teach science. Until they were twelve, children would read about baseball technique and history, and occasionally hear inspirational stories of the great baseball players. They would fill out quizzes about baseball rules. College undergraduates might be allowed, under strict supervision, to reproduce famous historic baseball plays. But only in the second or third year of graduate school, would they, at last, actually get to play a game. If we taught baseball this way, we might expect about the same degree of success in the Little League World Series that we currently see in our children’s science scores.”

Alison Gopnik