Thursday, 28 April 2011

Computer says "yes"

I've heard of computers doing this sort of thing before. Here's the proof. Obviously confused by the surname 'Baron'.

One's upmanship

Not to be outdone by the arriviste Middletons (recently media-whipped for "exploiting" the wedding on their Party Pieces webshop), one has decided to offer the plebs one's own selection of tasteless tat.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The ducks are deafening!

I feel like I'm eating an elephant. Have complained to a learned society that they may have dished out a fellowship to a local quack. But a clever google search has revealed that this is happening a lot. Quacks need "qualifications". And are quite happy to pay for them. This has actually depressed me.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Customer Service!

During all the hoo-ha surrounding the fees proposed for UK universities, there has been distressingly little comment on the perception of what universities are for. In my view - can I be alone? - universities should exist to advance knowledge and understanding through research and through dialogue between researchers. At our best universities (now called "research-intensive"), this process is still, one would hope, at the heart of their hopes and endeavours. Of course, the undergraduate population is important to them. Otherwise whence would come the researchers of the future? But the undergraduate population is a mixed bunch, bringing a range of personal motivations to their undergraduate career which can include:

  • a desire to learn and understand a subject in depth

  • a need for a reflective period between adolescence and adulthood where new friendships and new experiences broaden their outlook

  • a need for a degree for their chosen career (medicine, engineering, geology)

  • a desire for a degree in almost any subject, because the degree has become a gateway to almost any job above shelf-stacker or burger-flipper (though a degree might even help here!)

  • everyone else is doing it

  • not knowing what they want to do in life, and the university experience both delays the decision and helps the decision

  • if they don't have a degree, they are a failure

In the past, only about 8% of UK school-leavers went on to higher education. It was challenging to get a place at a university (and back then, the universities were all "proper" universities), but if you could demonstrate the intellectual potential and the sufficient motivation to see a degree though to the end, you did get a place - and you had your fees paid, along with a (just) liveable maintenance grant. You felt privileged, even though you had shown you were worthy of the privilege.

You were indeed privileged, and valued the chance to have contact with and be taught by some of the finest workers in your field. These workers - lecturers and professors - were principally researchers. Some of them were brilliant teachers, some were abysmal, most were adequately average at teaching. If you happened to have a lecturer who was rubbish, you went and "filled in the gaps" for yourself, or you stopped behind after the lecture to talk to them until you did understand what they had been saying. You took the rough with the smooth.

You also fully accepted that you were responsible - and you alone - for your performance. You could muddle through and get a third. You could apply yourself and get a respectable lower second. You could work very hard and get an upper second. You had to be exceptional to get a first. Exceptional.

This has now changed. Grade inflation means that anything less than an upper second is deemed hopeless. Merely "good" students are getting firsts. A first is the customer (student) expectation, involving simply token effort on their part. "Failure" to get your expected first can therefore only be the fault of the university, if you have applied yourself. Bad teaching, inadequate tutorials, lack of "pastoral care". The list is potentially endless.

Following the fees increase to (let's face it) £9,000 per year, the demands for undeserved firsts can only increase, and universities will have their valuable time and resources eaten up with specious complaints and appeals from disgruntled students who, years ago, would have been delighted to enter the job market with three good A-levels, which had cost them nothing and were obtained three years earlier in life.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Frog and the Scorpion

Once upon a time there was a Clegg and a Cam. One sunny day, the Cam thought he would like to cross the river, but, alas, he could not swim. Happening upon a Clegg who was basking in the spring sunshine, he said, "Oh Clegg! I wish to cross the river, but alas, I cannot swim. Would you let me ride on your back?" "You must be joking!" quoth the Clegg. "You would sting me and I would die." "Not, so!" cried the Cam. "Why would I do that? We would then both surely drown!"

Convinced, the Clegg permitted the Cam to climb upon his back and they both embarked on their crossing. In the midst of the waters, the Cam stung the Clegg. "Woe!" cried the Clegg, in some pain, and wanting some music to cry to. "You have betrayed me and have surely killed us both! What caused you to act thus?"

"Why, it's my nature!" declared the Cam, as they both sank beneath the rippling waters of the Thames at Westminster.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Why the royal wedding is in my diary...

It will be an excellent day to go on a trip somewhere nice. No traffic. Streets empty - apart from the rare street parties.

We did the same when Charles and Diana got married all those years ago. A lovely, deserted day in the wilds of Norfolk.

However, I guess I wish them every happiness on the basic, human level.

Things you can do with a microwave

1. Have a light-show by microwaving metal objects
2. Use it as (yet another) kitchen clock
3. Put stuff on it
4. Clean it
5. Clean it again
6. Use it as an excuse to buy microwave cooking accessories you'll never use
7. Cook food

Sunday, 3 April 2011

An unbiased survey?

Buried in the "Yes2AV" website, is this survey:

I voted "No" in passing, and will do likewise in the election on 5th May.

Friday, 1 April 2011