A tool for water sharpening?

by reestheskin on 03/10/2018

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It just puzzled me…


The gig economy

by reestheskin on 02/10/2018

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Joe plays guitar in a metal band – averagely well for a 20-year-old – and is enrolled on a music degree course at a post-92 university whose most pressing issue is its own surviva. He didn’t have to audition and there was no real interview. He was told what to expect, but he didn’t fully internalise the message that he’d be better off if he could read music.

The problem is that the delivery and even the content of the courses these days are centrally informed by student feedback, which goes straight to middle management. If some students say that there’s too much classical music, modules get chopped. Coursework is dumbed down. New modules are frowned on (students walk away from the unfamiliar). Feedback is narrowly prescribed, and entered on to tick sheets. The spectre of student complaint lurks at every corner.

This wholesale embrace of populism in pursuit of higher recruitment and satisfaction numbers irons out musical minorities and marginalises any sense that music is a value in and for itself. Gone is the idea that study can (and should) be difficult at times, and certainly not always concerned with what is most immediate. Gone is the possibility of a musical democracy based on a critically informed public.

This article is about Music Degrees, but many in Higher Education will recognise the tune.

Crash landing

by reestheskin on 01/10/2018

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Europeans may wish to opt out of the global battle for corporate domination. They may even hope that they may thus achieve a greater degree of freedom for democratic politics. But the risk is that their growing reliance on other people’s technology, the relative stagnation of the eurozone and the consequent dependence of Europe’s growth model on exports to other people’s markets will render those pretensions to autonomy quite empty. Rather than an autonomous actor, Europe risks becoming the object of other people’s capitalist corporatism. Indeed, as far as international finance is concerned, the die has already been cast. In the wake of the double crisis, Europe is out of the race. The future will be decided between the survivors of the crisis in the United States and the newcomers of Asia.44 They may choose to locate in the City of London, but after Brexit even that cannot be taken for granted. Wall Street, Hong Kong and Shanghai may simply bypass Europe.

From: ‘Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World’ by Adam Tooze. This book brings to my mind Alan Kay’s comment when he was awarded the Turing Prize:’the computer revolutions hadn’t happened yet’. I don’t think we have even begun to live through the worst of the Crash (yet).

Carrot weather gets it right again

by reestheskin on 29/09/2018

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Facebook accounts hacked? I thought that was the feature not the bug.




Carrot weather — the weather app with attitude.


Marie Curie said: “One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.”

Problem teaching

by reestheskin on 25/09/2018

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“I have been seriously attempting to raise money to carry out this science education effort ever since the Nobel Prize (in 2001),” Wieman said. “While on sabbatical last year I prepared about 34 proposals for support directed to private individuals and foundations, mostly in Colorado, and to state and federal funding agencies,” he said. None of the proposals were awarded.

Carl Wieman.

Nature cannot be fooled — only investors

by reestheskin on 24/09/2018

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Two quotes from Bad Blood: Secrets and lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. Only without much silicon.

“Henry, you’re not a team player,” she said in an icy tone. “I think you should leave right now.” There was no mistaking what had just happened. Elizabeth wasn’t merely asking him to get out of her office. She was telling him to leave the company—immediately. Mosley had just been fired.

He also maintained that Holmes was a once-in-a-generation genius, comparing her to Newton, Einstein, Mozart, and Leonardo da Vinci.

The reality distortion field lived on. Medicine is indeed tricky.

It is all about incentives

by reestheskin on 21/09/2018

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This is a scary story. But the lesson is (yet again) our inability to understand what makes humans tick.

The Untold Story of NotPetya, the Most Devastating Cyberattack in History | WIRED

How Maersk was taken down by Russian malware, and how it recovered. The passage that got the attention is the bit about flying a domain controller backup in from Ghana (the only one that survived). The one that matters is that they were still running Windows 2000 on some servers and hadn’t carried out a proposed security revamp because it wasn’t in the IT managers’ KPIs and so wouldn’t help their bonuses. Link  

Via Ben Evans

The waste bin as the essential tool

by reestheskin on 20/09/2018

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This is from David Hubel, although the citation is not to hand.

Most importantly, today’s organization of science tends to deprive a young scientist of one of the most important learning experiences, that of thinking up a project of one’s own and carrying it through; deciding for oneself, independently, whether to persist or to give up and switch over to something else.

Academies versus universities

by reestheskin on 19/09/2018

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This is essentially about the importance of the ‘Long Now’.

What’s the point of scholarly academies? | Times Higher Education (THE)

Academies can also argue for different research priorities from universities, he pointed out. As if by “magic”, when universities create their own research strategies, “they all focus on medical sciences and life sciences”, he said. But their motivation is often financial, as they want to host subjects with strong economic links, he said.

On the contrary, academies are better placed to make the case for the less lucrative humanities and social sciences, he argued, and do not need to generate corporate research funding, meaning that they can be more objective about what type of research is needed to help society. One of the key roles of academies is “thinking about the societal consequences of new knowledge”, Professor Loprieno added.


by reestheskin on 18/09/2018

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I read this book so long ago I cannot remember when. But Perutz had a way with words ( as well as molecules).

Schrödinger’s cat among biology’s pigeons: 75 years of What Is Life?

What is Life? helped to make influential biologists out of several physicists: Crick, Seymour Benzer and Maurice Wilkins, among others. But there’s no indication from contemporary reviews that many biologists grasped the real significance of Schrödinger’s code-script as a kind of active program for the organism. Some in the emerging science of molecular biology were critical. Linus Pauling and Max Perutz were both damning about the book in 1987, on the centenary of Schrödinger’s birth. Pauling considered negative entropy a “negative contribution” to biology, and castigated Schrödinger for a “vague and superficial” treatment of life’s thermodynamics. Perutz grumbled that “what was true in his book was not original, and most of what was original was known not to be true even when the book was written”.

Art as cryptocurrency

by reestheskin on 17/09/2018

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Discreet music: at the heart of Brian Eno’s work | Financial Times

He finds the current art scene disturbing in its voracious focus on acquisition. “It is not so different from bitcoin. Art is the ultimate cryptocurrency. What the art world is doing is engineering the consensual value of something, very quickly. It only needs two people, a buyer and a seller.”

“And often the learned men of our time are only dwarfs on the shoulders of dwarfs.”

The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco

Identifying with the problem

by reestheskin on 12/09/2018

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Is identity politics ruining democracy? | Financial Times

School leavers and manual workers have propelled Britain into Brexit and Donald Trump to the White House. Universities once thought they were the answer to inequalities of identity. Now they realise they are part of the problem.

Money matters

by reestheskin on 11/09/2018

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USS crisis: can the pension system be reformed? | Times Higher Education (THE)

As such, the 2004 Pensions Act is a prime, but by no means unique, example of well-intentioned but inept financial regulation. Over-prescriptive, it has led to the demise of the defined benefit schemes that it was designed to protect. If proposed changes to the USS are implemented, there will be no defined benefit schemes of any significant size outside the public sector open to new members.


by reestheskin on 10/09/2018

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If a doctor expressed concern about a patient showing signs of addiction, Ms Panara was trained to counter those fears by educating them on so-called pseudo-addiction, she says. For example, an addict might turn up at the surgery requesting a fresh batch of pills before their 30-day supply should have run out, claiming they had lost the tablets or accidentally dropped them down the toilet. The advice that she was told to give the doctor was that the patient’s dosing was too low and should be increased, she says.

“The theory of pseudo-addiction was that a patient might exhibit these drug-seeking behaviours, but if their pain were adequately managed by giving a higher dose, then that drug-seeking behaviour would cease,” she says. “Thereby we were building their tolerance, building their physical dependence, and making them an addict.”

I still fail to see why we need drug representatives, nor why they are allowed.

How Purdue’s ‘one-two’ punch fuelled the market for opioids | Financial Times

University accommodation

by reestheskin on 05/09/2018

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The business model is the same as everything else that is booming, from iPhones to residential property: as long as it can be bought with debt, the price matters a lot less, and vendors, middlemen, creditors all make big margins.


Universities: the year ahead

by reestheskin on 04/09/2018

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We need to demonstrate much more clearly that Universities (and their leaders) are listening and acting. Much of the criticism levelled at HE is legitimate so the sector needs to take action to transform both itself and in turn the opinion of some of the public. This can be achieved through greater transparency relating to fees, funding and value; an even more proactive approach to the big issues (diversity, mental health, social mobility, relationships with business) and a collective and authentic approach to sharing all that is great in UK HE.


This is no solution, more a symptom of the sort of thinking that got us here.

Free med school at N.Y.U.

by reestheskin on 04/09/2018

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Surprise Gift: Free Tuition for All N.Y.U. Medical Students – The New York Times

N.Y.U. said that it had raised more than $450 million of the $600 million that it anticipates will be necessary to finance the tuition plan. About $100 million of that has been contributed by Kenneth G. Langone, the founder of Home Depot, and his wife, Elaine, for whom the medical school is named.

To date, only a handful of institutions have tried to make medical education tuition-free, according to Julie Fresne, senior director of student financial services of the Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit organization that represents medical schools.


Opinion | How to Get the Most Out of College – The New York Times

“The more you regard college as a credentialing exercise, the less likely you are to get the benefits.”

Food for thought

by reestheskin on 27/08/2018

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For a baseline life expectancy of 80 years:

  • Eating 12 hazelnuts daily (1 oz) would prolong life by 12 years (ie, 1 year per hazelnut)
  • Drinking 3 cups of coffee daily would achieve a similar gain of 12 extra years
  • Eating a single mandarin orange daily (80 g) would add 5 years of life.


  • consuming 1 egg daily would reduce life expectancy by 6 years
  • eating 2 slices of bacon (30 g) daily would shorten life by a decade (an effect worse than smoking).

Well these are all taken from John Ioannadis’ article in JAMA. He asks : “Could these results possibly be true?”

The great financial crash led to some (but not enough) soul-searching about the state of academic economics and, in turn, the academy. Whole swathes of the modern research university are geared to the production of unreliable knowledge.  There is money in it. Without wishing to understate in any way Ioannadis’ major contributions, we have known that there are fundamental methodological flaws in much of observational epidemiology for a long time (for instance see the late Alvan Feinstein’s article in Science). A must read. 

(The Challenge of Reforming Nutritional Epidemiologic Research John P. A. Ioannidis, AMA. Published online August 23, 2018. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.11025)

Radiologists and platforms

by reestheskin on 20/08/2018

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It is not only taxi drivers that are being “uberised” but radiologists, lawyers, contractors and accountants. All these services can now be accessed at cut rates via platforms.


The NHS became such a platform, for good and bad. That is the real lesson here. The tech is an amplifier, but the fundamentals were always about power.

“The song remains the same”

by reestheskin on 17/08/2018

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From an obituary of Paul Boyer.

“Paul Boyer was approaching the finish line of his career when he risked everything with a jaw-dropping proposal. He addressed one of the most important, as-then-unanswered questions in biochemistry”

“We were attending a UCLA seminar in 1972 when I noticed that he wasn’t paying attention to the speaker. Afterwards, Paul approached us in a very excited state. This was surprising because he was known for his calm demeanour. He confessed that he had spent the hour thinking about old unexplained data. He asked: “What would you say if I told you that it doesn’t take energy to make ATP at the catalytic site of ATP synthase,” (as was universally held at the time) “but rather that it takes energy to get ATP off the catalytic site?” This was a eureka moment.

As is often the case with transformational ideas, early reactions were negative. When the Journal of Biological Chemistry rejected our manuscript containing data supporting this concept, Boyer told me without animosity that he could see why they would do that — “It was a very striking claim.”

Well, I have never had an idea to compare with this. But sitting through talks that do not light my fire, I have always found conducive to thinking creatively about something else. Its similar to the way that some writers practice their craft better in a coffee shop than in a silent office. Intellectual white noise.

Remember: the best ideas are not in the literature. If they were…..

Back to basics?

by reestheskin on 16/08/2018

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Those who rent seek on biomedical knowledge wish to seek to define the norms of what is foundational. What is foundational for the practice of medicine should be contested more. Anatomy for surgeons is an easy case to make. But for most non-surgeons, the case for much anatomy is far from simple.

In any historical account of the ascent of modern medicine, Versalius looms large. But this Nature article (Sex, religion and a towering treatise on anatomy) intrigues me for a not so obvious reason: the counterpoint between how such knowledge was represented and understood.

Even Vesalius realized that his images could be confusing, and devised an ingenious method to explain them. A letter or number was printed onto the image of each body part, with a separate key. Unfortunately, the characters were often too small to pick out against the swirling background….

Faced by such challenges, many medics might have given up on the images. Indeed, when we reconstructed what early modern readers and scholars found fascinating about the Fabrica, it was evidently the text. The clear majority of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century readers who annotated the book focused on that and left no traces of having engaged with the illustrations. Sixteenth-century reviews of the Fabrica confirm this impression, because they tended to discuss only the text.

This is no surprise. The Fabrica’s scholarly readership was trained in the traditions of Renaissance humanism, which put a strong emphasis on textual analysis. Even if they found it difficult to interpret visual information, medical practitioners were expert at making sense of long Latin texts.

Always behind

by reestheskin on 15/08/2018

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June, July are the busiest time of year for. It is when I update all my teaching material, and I always underestimate how long it will take me. Here is a guide to some of it. But still I need to catch up with some more, as the new students have already started.


Navigating the online resources from jonathan rees on Vimeo.


by reestheskin on 10/08/2018

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Points on a distribution, make for fun numbers.

Fifty years ago Japan had just 327 centenarians; in 2017 it had 67,824, and the largest per capita ratio of them in the world.


Enlightenment: its just business, OK?

by reestheskin on 09/08/2018

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As the FT reported Monday, the Middle Eastern kingdom expelled the Canadian ambassador, reacting against Ottawa’s support for jailed human rights activists.

Saudi Arabia also said on Monday that it would suspend all its educational exchange programmes with Canada. An official told state television there are more than 12,000 students and their families currently in Canada. They will be transferred to universities and schools in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, he said.

In English-speaking countries, higher education sectors have become highly reliant on flows of international students. China, which provides over 60,000 new students to the UK each year, is the most commonly cited example. The Saudi Arabian episode serves as a reminder that the trend extends further afield.


I also know of examples where (despotic) foreign regimes, seek to use their collective bargaining to influence how a particular university behaves. Money doesn’t talk — it swears.

Give me a break

by reestheskin on 08/08/2018

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A day in court for Kit Kat. The European Court of Justice will deliver a verdict on Nestlé’s long-running attempt to trademark the chocolate bar’s shape—”four trapezoidal bars aligned on a rectangular base.” Competitors like Mondelez, Cadbury, and Milka cried foul at Nestlé’s move.


Which is not as obscene as the attempt to patent the space within a shape of a defined size.

MacIntyre’s lecture and Harré’s tutorial were doubly life-changing

by reestheskin on 07/08/2018

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The title above and quotes below are from this article by Lincoln Allison. To create teaching machines, you need to make teaching so bad that even the machines can do it. We are almost there.

The most particular annoyance for me was the doubling of seminar size from nine to 18 – allegedly to free up time for research. As if anyone is going to develop the capacity for original thought because they have two or three more hours available in the week! To some of my colleagues, this was merely a technical change, but to me it was the abolition of the real seminar, the thing we should have been most proud of in the English university system.


It was part of a general deprioritising of teaching. I remember a colleague looking at her extremely poor ratings on student “feedback” and remarking gaily: “I’m really not very good at this, am I?” She had just had a book published that was extremely well received, and she couldn’t care less that she was failing in her core duties to communicate her ideas within an academic community. Her remark stiffened my resolve to leave – especially once students picked up the vibe about the level of staff interest in teaching and became less challenging and more instrumental.

Much of what I have seen and heard of UK universities in the 14 years since I retired seems to relate to what I would consider proper university teaching about as much as “value” tinned food relates to fresh food. And I think that just as there are people who have never tasted fresh food, there are people who have not experienced real lectures and seminars.

The importance of being sweaty

by reestheskin on 06/08/2018

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This looks even more alarming if you factor in humidity. Human beings can tolerate heat with sweat, which evaporates and cools the skin. That is why a dry 50°C can feel less stifling than a muggy 30°C. If the wet-bulb temperature (equivalent to that recorded by a thermometer wrapped in a moist towel) exceeds 35°C, even a fit, healthy youngster lounging naked in the shade next to a fan could die in six hours.

At present, wet-bulb temperatures seldom exceed 31°C.


The first paper I ever published was on sweating. It was my entry as a medical student into dermatology, and the product of meeting Sam Shuster (the rest, as they say, is history). Sweat glands don’t get a lot of attention, but the ~3 million mini-kidneys are full of fascinating biology. Did you know you can shift more fluid through your sweat glands that you can pass urine (quite a thought, considering how many pints of beer some people can manage — and no, I do not have a reference for this factoid so readers beware……).

Anyway I think I get the idea of the wet-bulb temperature, but the above (from the Economist) should give cause for thought. Isn’t skin biology and the environment so endlessly fascinating?