Archive for November, 2004

Interesting facts

Sunday, November 28th, 2004

The Earth has at least two moons, Luna (or just ‘the moon’ to you and me) and Cruithne (pronounced ‘crew-ith-ni’) which takes over 700 years to complete its horseshoe orbit and is only three miles wide. Apparently, astronomers think there are more…

Eddison didn’t invent the lightbulb.

He did, however invent the word ‘Hello’. Apparently when the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell (Scottish, not American as some seem to claim – I’m looking at you, Michael Moore) he decided there needed to be a greeting that could be used by someone when they answered. (Presumably he was thinking this in the time it took for someone to invent the all-important second telephone so he had someone to call).

Anyway, Bell came up with ‘ahoy hoy’ as the greeting but it never caught on (except with Monty Burns in The Simpsons).

Eddison came up with his alternative, presumably annoyed that a) he hadn’t invented either the first telephone or indeed the all-important second telephone and b) that someone else came up with the lightbulb before he did.

His alternative was ‘hello’, a sligh alteration of ‘hullo’ which up until that point had been an expression of surprise as in ‘hullo, what’s going on here? Two ruffians are about to beat me senseless!’.

There’s more where these came from! To stop me, send money to my Paypal account 😉

November – thank god that’s nearly over

Sunday, November 28th, 2004

You may skip this if you want. It’s just a typical blog rant. Nothing to see here. Move along…

It’s not been a good month. I had a huge row at work with my boss nearly resulting in me walking out, certainly resulting in me having to think about the ‘next step’. And last week a row with someone else about something that was a) nothing to do with them and b) nothing to do with me (I was in the wrong place at the wrong time), and which just confirmed my thoughts about the first bloody row.

And here we are, several days before pay day and I’m so brassic (skint/penniless/poor) I’ve actually been eating breakfast cereal for the last week for meals. There’s something not quite right about all of this!

Still, at least I’m losing weight.

Tomorrow I’m going to a meeting I organised for about thirty academics from four different institutions, including my own. The way this month is going, I predict disaster. The head of school, who I suspect thinks I’m a cleaner, will be there and I’m supposed to introduce her and sum up the day. Could be my chance to shine but any bets I bomb?

Craftily, I’ve put the last item on the day’s agenda as ‘colleagues are invited to adjourn to the bar to continue discussions’ because what normally happens at these things is that everyone disappears the moment we get to ‘coffee and summary of the day’. Teachers make the worst students – they never come back from lunch on time and slope off early. Hopefully the prospect of a pint and some peanuts will help. I’m gonna scrounge a Guinness from someone and steal a bowl of nibbles – I’m starving! All I’ve eaten the past week is a bag of muesli!

Oh and to cap it all the last three weekends have been marked by bizarre colds that have lasted one or two days – I really don’t know what’s going on there. This last one looked like it was going to be a stinker but has abated in the last few hours. It must be psychosomatic: it tends to coincide with me needing to get to work on the bloody book. Although if it were all in my head, why is there so much snot involved? Really – if there is a God up there, are colds her little joke? And why are they so much worse for men??! I’m a sneezer, and it hurts. I haven’t yet perfected the girly art of the silent sneeze (how do they do that?)

I just turned on the radio and heard… Christmas carols. It’s the first Sunday in Advent today. Not long ago I was complaining that Christmas comes earlier every year and here I am taken by surprise once more. I think I’ve probably missed the last posting day for New Zealand so that’s a dog house of my own making.

Something that gets me about Christmas is the panic shopping. The shops are only shut for two days at the most (if that, nowadays) yet everybody stocks up on food and milk and bread like there’s gonna be a nuclear war or something. Even I get sucked into it, planning to buy two tins of beans every day between now and Christmas Eve so there’s something in the cupboard just in case. You watch, the fridge will be bursting with milk that’ll eventually get thrown out (I normally get through two pints a week so why do I think I need five to last me two days?), there’ll be tins of fruit galore (I don’t like the stuff normally) and who knows what else. If I buy a bag of walnuts and some tangerines I’ll know I need help.

I even found myself telling the cat (don’t worry, I’m on the waiting list) that I’d need to stock up on cat biscuits – I mean, why? One box lasts all bloody week, just one box.

You know, I think I may be having the first online nervous breakdown here. History in the making…

Sustainability in Graphic Design

Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

One of my students is undertaking a small research project looking at the issue of sustainability in graphic design – it’s an interesting area, but I think the more he examines it the angrier he’s getting.

He’s posted a short questionnaire online to grab people’s opinions of some of the issues, and knowledge of those issues, and I thought I’d post the link to his questionnaire so that if you have a few minutes (that’s all it will take) you could give him the benefit of your thoughts (or ignorance – that’s possibly half the point) on the matter.

Xbox Live

Sunday, November 21st, 2004

And talking of Xbox live, if you’re on there and fancy adding me to your ‘friends’ list, my ID is ‘roguebrainiac’. Don’t laugh – it was one of those random IDs that the system came up with and I quite liked it…

Currently playing Halo 2 (although I can only play for half an hour before I feel seasick). I’m really bad at this sort of thing. I went on Xbvox live the other evening to be ritually humilated by some Swedish and German gamers who obviously have no idea about being ‘sporting’ and proceeded to shoot me silly.

It’s the same with Project Gotham and Star Wars Battlefront, and don’t get me started on Splinter Cell. The Xbox Live system is supposed to match you up with people of the same ability – either it doesn’t work or the rest of the world has left me behind. I suspect the latter.

It takes me back to the days when I would usually be left till last when we were being picked for football and rugby at school. And cricket. Scarred for life and here I am putting myself through it on the world stage…

Qualifications

Sunday, November 21st, 2004

On the subject of qualifications, and design and education as professions, I wonder what people think qualifies someone to teach design?

I ask because I happen to know the number of design teachers with teaching qualifications in the UK is extremely low. The biggest qualification seems to be that you know someone who is already teaching, once worked for a famous client, or have stuck your work up on a gallery wall somewhere.

I’ve asked the question before but does being a ‘good’ designer make you a ‘good’ teacher? And who determines ‘good’ design anyway? I suspect a large number of design teachers have little understanding of teaching. (Witness the teacher I spoke with last year who said that students learn by being in the presence of greatness – a not untypical view).

Incidentally, this is true in all disciplines (even education!) – only a small percentage of university teachers in the UK have a teaching qualification, or have been observed teaching to see if they can actually do it. The perception is that there is nothing you can teach or learn about teaching and learning, that expertise is everything.

Maybe worse is the belief that once you’re qualified, that’s it. I would worry if I decided one day that I was ‘complete’ and that I had no way of improving as a teacher. I know I’ve still got a long way to go before I’m happy with my teaching ability, even though I’ve got a certificate that says I should be.

But imagine sending your child to a school where the teachers are unqualified beyond their interest in the subject. Or getting on a plane piloted by someone whose only claim to know what they are doing is 200 hours playing Flight Simulator on a PC at home, or being taught to drive by someone who has proven themselves a world leader on Project Gotham on Xbox live, but isn’t actually qualified to drive for real.

You wouldn’t do it. You’d object in the strongest terms. Yet that is what happens in universities up and down the country. There are fantastic teachers out there – lots of them, in fact, but outnumbered by the people who are good teachers but don’t know why and don’t care, and the mediocre teachers who could be great but can’t be bothered to improve, and the bad teachers who blame the students and management when they moan constantly about falling standards, but don’t for one minute think they might be at fault or in a position to make an improvement.

Sometimes I wonder how the academic community can survive with such closed minds.

Interference

Sunday, November 21st, 2004

The furore in the UK this week about Prince Charle’s apparent anti-meritocratic views on education that ‘admits no failure’ and some of the remarks over on the Speak Up site about how (I wildly paraphrase) ‘a teacher’s job is to tell students how crap they are because that’s the only way they’ll learn that life is hard’ made me think long and hard the past few days.

Criticisms of ‘politically correct’ teachers and teaching methods piss me off, as they tend to be made by people unqualified to make them except that a) they once went to school/university/whatever and b) they have kids or at least the physical ability to have them one day.

Compare that with the people they criticise, I mean what are a few professorships, PhDs, CertEds and years of experience of teaching in the way of expertise?

Might it not be the case that methods of teaching are arrived at through years of research and discussion rather than someone waking up one day and deciding suddenly that (to use the Speak Up example) we should mark students’ work in purple because red is ‘too negative’?

I actually think questioning the fundamental purpose of giving students feedback by focusing on the automatic use of red and its negative connotations is bold and creative, but to listen to some of the comments that (rare) context-missing article provoked you wonder why anyone should bother being creative when the world is generally so blinkered and unwilling to accept that they are not experts in everything.

Unlike me 😉

But anyway – I made a throwaway comment to someone this week which ties in to this quite neatly. Design and teaching, I said, are the two professions where everyone thinks they know better than the experts. Design decisions are regularly criticised in the media (‘this rebranding cost x million and all they did was change the typeface’) as are educational ones (‘you can do degrees in David Beckham now’). Both these comments display a complete lack of understanding about the processes and the facts. Only politics gets a worse press than design and education.

Oh, and estate agents.

Makes me wonder why I chose to get involved in both. If I ever feel the need to sell a house I’ll get myself certified.

Talking of degrees in David Beckham studies I may be setting myself up for something of a fight after Christmas as, all being well, I am starting a ten week ‘extension study’ for second year students at Brighton which I’ve (wittily?) entitled ‘Worst Course Ever: The Simpson’s Family Guide to Cultural Studies’.

It should actually be quite thought-provoking and academically rigorous but I wouldn’t be surprised if The Sun runs a story about how you can get a degree in The Simpsons and how low educational standards are falling.

That’s okay, next year I’ll do one on tabloid culture and see if they run a story about you being able to get a degree in themselves – will they criticise it or boast about it? Should keep them confused for weeks,

Hunting banned

Saturday, November 20th, 2004

Hunting with dogs has finally been banned in England. Personally I’m glad. I used to live in a rural area and remember hearing a really good pro-hunting argument, but it escapes me now. I can’t see what’s sporting about chasing a fox and ripping it to pieces, or see that it’s a particularly efficient form of pest control.

The only worry is that the hedgerows that make the English countryside look the way it does may disappear as farmers don’t have a reason to keep them anymore. We’ll see.

The two arguments that really get to me are that it’s traditional (so was burning witches – doesn’t make it right) and that the ban infringes on human rights! Well so does the ban on me thumping idiots like this one, who left a comment on the BBC’s news site:

BBC NEWS | Have Your Say | Hunting with dogs: Your views: “I am disgusted at this decision by the government, to once again infringe on the rights of the people of the countryside! It is a sad and sadistic government that puts the rights of an animal, before the rights of a human being! How long will it be before I am forbidden from walking on the carpet in my workplace, for fear of killing dust mites and other organisms, whose life now appears more important that my own personal well-being?”

What a dick head. If that’s the most eloquent argument you can come up with maybe we sohould investigate a link between supporting hunting and loss of brain cells. (I know, I’m sinking to his level). I’m not a big fan of this fashion for news programmes to let people ‘have their say’. It’s more wool to pull over people’s eyes – I wonder what Chomsky would have to say about it? But for entertainment value (and a dangerous increase in blood pressure) they’re well worth a look.

But what really gets my goat is the assertion that this ban is some sort of ‘prejudice’ – please, I think there are far more important forms of prejudice to get all worked up about. If they put half the energy they put into this into tackling race hate, or even the vast gulf between rich and poor in their own back yard, the world would be a much better place.

The claim that it will ruin the economy of the countryside? I don’t buy it – whole regions of the UK were decimated by the decline of manufacturing and mining in the 1980s, so I think this pales into insignificance next to that.

They also claim that thousands of dogs will have to be put down, and that this is more cruel than hunting foxes. Well let me make a few points: why will they have to be put down? When were ‘country folk’ ever sentimental about ‘working dogs’? And isn’t that just part and parcel of breeding vicious killers for your own entertainment? Stop breeding the bloody things and then you won’t need to put them down.

And the threat of mass civil unrest makes me sick. How would these fools feel if the rest of us decided to flout the law against breaking into their houses because we thought it infringed our civil liberties? This policy was in the last two Labour manifestos, and both the last two general elections resulted in the biggest majorities since the second world war (in fact, ever, if memory serves.) My advice is get over it – you’ve known about it for over a decade, you’ve marched, you’ve had your say. Throwing missiles at ministers, dumping dead cows and horses in Brighton city centre, threatening to break the law – these are not civilised actions and only throw your barbaric practices into even greater relief.

At the end of the day, these people are not being banned from riding horses as fast as they want over fields, nor from blowing horns and having parties. But they are being banned from ripping mammals to shreds for the fun of it.

Quite why it took us so long, I really don’t know.

What do girls know?

Sunday, November 14th, 2004

I’m not a messy person, but I’m not the tidiest either. I am one of those people that doesn’t put books back but will leave them open at pages, or I’ll see a book on a shelf and think “I might want to read that soon” so I’ll take it down and add it to a pile. I am organised, if piles are a recognised filing system. (I worked out today I’ve lived alone for 17 years – longer than I lived at home – so I think I’ve done well to survive this long).

Anyway, today, faced with another brick wall of writer’s block I finally decided I had to tidy up, convinced as I was that it was the mess that was preventing me from working.

And I discovered something amazing.

All these years, girlfriends and female acquaintances have insisted to me that it would “only take five minutes” to tidy up and I’ve dismissed them usually with a “this isn’t messy, it’s just organised chaos and if you loved me you’d put up with it” argument.

But you know what? Turns out they were right. It does only take five minutes. Who’d have thought it?

Which reminds me – I found this the other day, made me titter.

NEW EVENING CLASSES FOR MEN!!!

ALL ARE WELCOME

OPEN TO MEN ONLY

Note: due to the complexity and level of difficulty, each course will accept a maximum of eight participants sign up early and get a discount on registration

The course covers two days, and topics covered in this course include:

DAY ONE

HOW TO FILL ICE CUBE TRAYS

Step by step guide with slide presentation

TOILET ROLLS- DO THEY GROW ON THE HOLDERS?

Roundtable discussion

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LAUNDRY BASKET & FLOOR

Practising with hamper (Pictures and graphics)

DISHES & SILVERWARE; DO THEY LEVITATE/FLY TO KITCHEN SINK OR DISHWASHER BY THEMSELVES?

Debate among a panel of experts.

LOSS OF VIRILITY

Losing the remote control to your significant other – Help line and support groups

LEARNING HOW TO FIND THINGS

Starting with looking in the right place instead of turning the house upside down while screaming – Open forum

DAY TWO

EMPTY MILK CARTONS; DO THEY BELONG IN THE FRIDGE OR THE BIN?

Group discussion and role play

HEALTH WATCH; BRINGING HER FLOWERS IS NOT HARMFUL TO YOUR HEALTH

PowerPoint presentation

REAL MEN ASK FOR DIRECTIONS WHEN LOST

Real life testimonial from the one man who did

IS IT GENETICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO SIT QUIETLY AS SHE PARALLEL PARKS?

Driving simulation

HOW TO BE THE IDEAL SHOPPING COMPANION

Relaxation exercises, meditation and breathing techniques

REMEMBERING IMPORTANT DATES & PHONING WHEN YOU’RE GOING TO BE LATE

Bring your calendar or PDA to class

GETTING OVER IT; LEARNING HOW TO LIVE WITH BEING WRONG ALL THE TIME

Individual counsellors available

Cool piece of software alert

Thursday, November 11th, 2004

If you’re a Mac user, check out Delicious Library. If you’re not a Mac user, check it out anyway – software that looks this good is one of the reasons we love our Macs 😉

It’s a book, CD, DVD and game library that downloads covers from Amazon and displays your collection as though its on a shelf.

I’ve been using Readerware for a while and scanned my extensive collection in a while back using a bar code reader (more for insurance purposes than anything else – 1000 books, 600 CDs, a lot to replace if the worst happens).

I like Readerware and recommend it, but it’s a bit slow and clunky-looking. Delicious Library is also a bit slow but it looks gorgeous. I’ve had trouble importing CDs and DVDs but I’ve reported the issue to the programmers. All my books apart from a dozen were read perfectly from Amazon and I have a rather impressive collection appearing on screen. And books I’ve bought recently? Well check out the iSight barcode scanning facility – just wave the book in front of the camera and it grabs the barcode, goes to Amazon and gets the details and the cover art, then plonks it in your collection. Cool.

Well worth a look.

A lovely brew

Thursday, November 11th, 2004

Just a bit of nonsense. I was talking about branding today and I reckon I’m only loyal to two brands: Apple Computers and Yorkshire Tea. Everything else is a blur. I don’t know what brand of toothpaste I have, or shower gel or whatever.

Although trying (with some success) to go organic I now use Ecover washing-up liquid and detergent so maybe that’s another one to add to the list.

Anyway. I’ve been drinking LOTS of tea recently, I can’t seem to get enough. I was wondering if Yorkshire Tea would be something I’d have to give up if I ever move to America (not that it’s on the cards or anything) and what do you know, you can buy it over there.

So as an early Thanksgiving gift to the 95% of my readers who are American, and at risk of bringing up that whole Boston Tea Party nonsense again, here’s a link to a little taste of heaven. It’s not cheap but it’s great. You need to brew it for a couple of minutes though with a good mashing you can get a decent cup made in the time it takes for the Law and Order titles to run.

Go to this site to get your fix. I promise you won’t regret it.

Let me know what you think…