Archive for July, 2005

Cutting edge

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

This is how the (unelected) leader of the free world watched the launch of the space shuttle last week:

Is it just me or do you find it slightly unnerving that a guy this powerful makes do with such a crappy TV? Now the whole choking-on-pretzel-while-watching-TV thing starts to make sense. You really shouldn’t swallow while on all fours squinting at a screen that small.

Job applications

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

I hate writing job applications – in fact, I’ve sometimes failed to apply for jobs simply because I hate the whole form-filling, personal-statement-making process.

There’s a fine line to be made between showing off and being too humble. In the case of applications for academic posts, it’s like making blind bids on eBay. You have to beat your competitor but you don’t want to bet too much too fast, or you risk threatening the people making the selection (you really don’t want to claim you’re the world’s expert on XYZ when everyone knows that the person with the job of choosing the successful applicant is firmly of the opinion that she is).

There’s a need to make out that you’re a star, an expert in your field and a possible attractor of prestige and cash. Yet there’s a contradiction in all this: just about every academic post’s job description fouses on teaching ability; yet I can guarantee that, from experience, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual selection, particularly now that every university in the UK is gearing up for the Research Assesment Exercise. This, for those who don’t know, is a long drawn-out process in which universities are rated by the amount and quality of research they do. The score a university receives translates in to funding for the next half decade. Consequently appointments tend to be based on the probable contribution you will make to the RAE results. Thus a researcher who publishes 10 papers in journals that are highly respected but largely unread, but who can’t teach for toffee because he hates looking people in the eyes and has zero social skills will be preferred over someone who can make a subject fascinating to passers-by but is so busy teaching the damn subject that they never get round to writing for a journal.

NATFHE, the teaching union I’m a member of, has just published some research that looks at the increasing (but long-practiced) tendency for universities to give all their full-time posts to researchers and give the teaching to part-time, hourly paid lecturers whose contracts are termly and thus have to decide whether to hang on for a telephone call the day before a course starts or accept a full-time job in a call centre. It’s not a great way to develop future minds, really, is it? What’s the point in publishing loads of research if there aren’t going to be any people to read it in a few years because they’ve all been so badly taught by overstrecthed, undervalued and constantly changing teachers that they leave university as soon as they can and get jobs dishing out French fries?

So the application process is about ticking all the boxes on the job description about ‘ability to plan curricula’, ‘respect for student contributions to their own and each others’ learning’, ‘knowledge of national academic standards’ etc while the interview is about making out that given the chance you’re the next Albert Einstein of your subject area. Personally I think I’m more like the Jonny Ball of mine (you need to be British and of a certain age to get that reference, so apologies) thus am unlikely to succeed at any of these applications.

Still, birthday number 35 is rapidly looming and I need a full-time job if I’m to retire before the age of 80…

(Here’s another thing – can no one in personnel departments use Microsoft Word? I seem to spend all my time correcting formatting errors and overcoming bizarre tabbing and tables instead of actually typing anything. One form I filled in the other week converted everything I typed into 14pt bold italic green helvetica!)

Mr Potato Head Joins the Dark Side

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

No this is not a joke. Introducing the ‘Spud Trooper’, in shops from September…

This is what I mean by ‘good’ design

Saturday, July 23rd, 2005

Now this is what I call good design – a simple idea, simply implemented, that is going to have significant effects.
The only question is: why did no one think of it before?

Labels improve patient drug use

A GP has designed a way to help patients understand why they are taking particular medications.
Dr Nigel Masters, from Hazlemere, Buckinghamshire, adds phrases such as “to lower cholesterol” to prescriptions.

He said it helps patients, particularly those on a number of drugs, understand why they should keep taking them.

Developing Patient Partnerships said the idea would help people be more involved in looking after their health.

Dr Marshall had the idea for labelling drugs with the reasons they were being given around three years ago when he was writing out repeat prescriptions for elderly people and having to double-check what some of them were for.

“I thought ‘if I can’t remember, how can the patient?'”

“Patients were taking these medications on trust, and compliance can be an issue.

“But people need to know why they are taking something.”

Dr Marshall began by putting information on repeat prescriptions for the elderly.

He then added explanations to prescriptions for people with diabetes and asthma, before deciding to expand the idea to all those who needed repeat prescriptions.

Dr Masters has compiled a list of almost 600 drugs and reasons for taking them.

For example, a prescription for the drug amlodipine carries the label “to lower blood pressure”. Diclofenac gel can be given “for arthritis pain”.

Where conditions may be more sensitive, the wording is less direct.

The cancer drug tamoxifen carries the explanation “to prevent recurrence of disease” while sildenafil, better known as Viagra, is labelled “to prevent ED” – erectile dysfunction.

Prescriptions also carry health check reminders. So a prescription for the contraceptive pill will say “check blood pressure yearly”, reminding the doctor, patient and pharmacist of the need for regular tests.

Dr Marshall said patient confidentiality was an issue.

He said patients could choose not to have the explanations on their prescriptions.

But he added: “Very few have done so. And this idea has been well received by staff here and at the pharmacy.”

Dr Marshall, whose five-doctor practice has 5,800 patients, said: “Virtually every repeat prescription in the practice now has this labelling.”

He said that for the scheme to be more widely used, the system needed to be computerised so more practices could make use of it.

“It needs to be an automated and standardised system.”

His idea has already won an enterprise award voted for by GPs.

Dr David Wrigley, a GP from Lancashire and deputy chairman of the Developing Patient Partnerships, said: “This simple approach offers patients the opportunity to be more involved with their health and to take more control over managing their medicines as well as improving safety.

“There may issues around confidentiality but the control this gives to people could far outweigh these concerns.”

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/health/4708587.stm

Published: 2005/07/22 23:40:50 GMT

© BBC MMV

The Thick Of It: So much for ‘terror’

Thursday, July 21st, 2005

I was in London today for a meeting (about which more later).
I’d gone to London earlier in the week for the Proms, the first time since the bombs in 7 July. I was thinking today, as I was heading for the station, how my overwhelming feeling on that earlier journey was the degree of suspicion with which I found myself looking at anyone vaguely ‘muslim’. I was appalled at myself. If the intention of the bombers was to turn even the most (I would hope) tolerant, liberal and anti-imperialist westerners into paranoid xenophobes, they succeeded.

The meeting ended at around 1pm and I made my way from just opposite BBC Broadcasting House to Oxford Circus, about five minutes’ walk away. I got into the station, navigated round the groups of tourists asking for directions, and set off down the escalator for the Victoria line. Automated announcements were explaining the disruption to Circle Line services with the words ‘due to the incident on 7 July…’ Why the coyness, I wondered? ‘Incident’? As though saying ‘bombs’ or ‘explosions’ would puncture the odd self-imposed obliviousness I think most of us were enjoying.

At the bottom of the escalator, the tunnel splits into three, with the middle route being the one I wanted. Something looked a bit odd and I realised it was completely empty. In fact, there weren’t many people around at all. Then I saw a woman in London Underground uniform standing in front of a barrier, waving us away saying the line was closed and we had to use the Central line instead. A new announcement was saying ‘due to a passenger incident’ which is a euphamism either for someone throwing themselves in front of a train.
So back and down the right hand tunnel to get to the next station with a Victoria Line connection.
I’d just stepped on the down escalator (Oxford Circus is a long way underground) when the alams started ringing and yet another automated announcement came on asking us to evacuate the station immediately. The response? None – most people appeared to ignore it, partly because once you’re on the escalator there’s nothing much you can do. I suppose we could have stopped it and walked up, but either it didn’t occur to anyone or we decided it would cause more problems than it was worth.

The journey from the escalator to the platform is remarkably long at that point, and rather winding. The announcement mentioned finding the nearest exit and I was scanning the walls for clues. But there were no exits before we hit the platform and there my suspicions about Londoners were confirmed. Some of us spotted the exit signs and walked calmly towards them, alarms ringing in our ears. But others just stood on the edge of the platform and waited for the next train. It wasn’t that they were foreign and couldn’t understand the announcement; these people were British and simply didn’t want to give up a rare good spot on the platform.

Amusingly (well, to me at least) I found myself going into ‘tutor mode’ – my usual response to a fire alarm is to ensure I’m the last person to leave the room and be the one that closes the door behind everyone. I actually had to resist the urge to do the same here, shepherding the lingerers towards the exit. My better judgement got me and rather than risk a withering look or even a ‘fuck off’ I abandoned them to their fate and walked right round again and joined the growing crowd heading for above ground.

It was all very, very calm. There’s no terror to this terrorism, Londoners don’t respond to explosions, rumours of explosions or even people jumping in front of trains by collapsing in fear and fits of trembling. They wander over to a map of the underground and try to figure out an alternative route.

One moment of surrealism came when we passed a member of the underground staff who was blocking off one of the tunnels and telling us to ‘catch a bus’. This, of course, was what a lot of people did at King’s Cross two weeks ago, ending up on the number 30 with one of the bombers.

Reaching Oxford Street I was hit by the sounds of sirens, with ambulances, police cars and the like zooming in all directions. I rang my friend who’s staying with me at the moment and asked if she knew what was going on. Apparently it had just come on TV that there’d been reports of small explosions and smoke at Oval station.
I suddenly realised that I didn’t know how to get to Victoria without using the tube. I could have caught a bus but I wasn’t on the right route and, anyway, it seemed everyone else was having the same idea. So I wandered down Regent Street until I could find a bus stop with the magic word ‘Victoria’. Using my Palm Treo I connected to the web and found the Guardian’s news blog which was posting unfiltered reports from journalists as information was coming in. Meantime, overheard snippets of conversation from people ranged from hoaxes to chemical attack (mental note: always wear clean underwear when visiting London).

Half the people were checking their phones, the other half was either oblivious to what was going on or just didn’t care and carried on shopping and site seeing. I eventually got a number 19 bus to Hyde Park Corner then walked through the park towards Buckingham Palace. Remarkably there was a garden party in progress and I found myself surrounded by hundreds of people in various types of posh dress, from sailors to ‘ordinary people’ who (excuse the snobbery) couldn’t hide their humble origins with the ‘mutton-as-lamb’ choices they’d made. Mind you, even the more obviously well-to-do types looked bizarre.
It took me about four hours to get home, compared with the usual 90 minutes. The heat was unbearable, and I was tired, thirsty and knackered. But safe.

Final analysis? Well, like I said, London’s an odd target. After the last bombs people harked back to the blitz and the IRA bombs in the 80s and early 90s. There’s none of the panic or stand-and-stare reaction we saw with 9/11 (mind you, what happened there was somewhat different), just a calm indignation and underplayed annoyance. We’re not terrorised, we’re annoyed. It’s like someone mildly unpleasant gatecrashing your party – you put up with it and simmer inwardly. We’re not emptionally repressed, as some people (the Spanish in particular) accused a couple of weeks ago. You only had to watch the Victory Cleebrations in the mall a couple of days after the first bombs to see that, or the remarkable two minutes silence a week later.

Something remarkable was the increased amount of eye contact between people. If you’ve never been on the tube you may not be aware that golden rule number one is don’t look at anyone. But today, while waiting at the bus stop (for a bus that never came) a lorry passed by and pulled up at traffic lights. Its brakes were obviously dodgy because there was an almighty BANG! and yoiu could see from the faces of everyone around that for a brief second we thought ‘this is it’. A full minute or so later I looked at the man next to me and raised an eyebrow. He visibly relaxed and smiled back at me – then the moment was over and I returned to my middle-distance stare. When I did get on the bus the driver was chatty, the other passengers polite… yes this is changing London but not for the worse. I’m still ashamed of myself for being suspicious, and viewing every large bag as something to put somebody between it and me. But apart from that, I’m not sure what the bombs are achieving except a backlash on peaceful people and a stengthening of support for the government.

Me, I’m just waiting for Bush to declare he’s going to invade Leeds.

I’ve got some video footage of the evacuation and a couple of stills of somepolice action that I may post tomorrow if I figure out how.

Podcasts as learning tools?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

I’ve been listening to a lot more podcasts recently thanks to the new version of iTunes (if you haven’t got it, you should – give the BBC podcasts a go, like ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ and ‘In Our Time’; sure there are a lot of dreadful podcasts out there but there are some gems too).
I was thinking about recording lectures as podcasts, and wondering if my university would be interested in producing a set of professionally-recoprded lectures from different disciplines designed to introduce new ideas in interesting ways. I might bring it up, I’m sure there’ll be a few academics who would be interested, and we’ve got the equipment. Plus it might be a good marketing tool for the university.
But what’s really been making me think is the potential for using podcasts as a learning and assessment tool. I’ve been trying to get students interested in keeping blogs but, surprisingly, they seem to have difficulty with the concept. But I’m keen on the idea of asking small groups to research a topic and produce a podcast that I (and others) can subscribe to.
I’ve found that making assessment slightly different has led to better results in many cases. Just calling an essay an ‘article’ produces better writing and seems to make students more relaxed, for example. And last year I let students conduct experiments to test out theories, then write up the results – and again, the outcomes were often quite astounding.
This coming year, for my cultural studies course (which uses ‘The Simpsons’ as its core text but is far from dumbed down, before you ask!) I was thinking of asking groups to make short video documentaries analysing everyday cultural activities. Apart from the fact that it means fewer bloody essays to read, I thought it might be more interesting for them, but still achieve the same level of investigation and depth of learning.
But now I’m minded to ask for podcasts instead, largely because the technology is easier to use and acquire, but also because I am genuinely excited about the idea of sound becoming a ‘hot’ medium again. When I get to listen to BBC Radio 4 I always kick myself for not listening all the time, and I think there’s something more engaging about listening to real people’s voices undisgused by trick camera work and voice-overs.
I’m going to have to think about it, but I might introduce podcasts with my first year students in the first term as a ‘fun’ way of demonstrating their learning and, hopefully, a team-building exercise. I only want to use the first term’s assessment formatively anyway, and this seems ideal. Undoubtedly the idea of their podcasts (or a selection of them) being made available via iTunes might add something to the exercise as well.
If anyone reading this has experience of using podcasts with students, or wants to try it and is interested in swapping notes, get in touch!

Guide to surviving in the UK, for Americans

Wednesday, July 13th, 2005

From ScarletDemon on LiveJournal

Important Info For Americans
So it looks like the Olympics in 2012 are going to be a good old Cockney knees-up! This is great news for us, because it pisses off the French and we in the UK only LIVE to piss off the French. And it’s good news for Americans, because although the New York bid failed, at least the UK is a country that you can visit without being HATED…much. And we speak a similar language too!

But as Americans, before you come here, you need to know how our customs differ from yours. You need my…

GUIDE TO SURVIVING IN THE UK, FOR AMERICANS

1) Start every complaint with the words “I’m really sorry”. This isn’t America, no one gives a SHIT if you are happy with the service or not. Our employees don’t have group hugs, pep talks, brainwashing sessions or sticker-charts to encourage them to be nice to the customers…And very few of them expect much in the way of tips. If something goes wrong, like your dinner is cold or your toilet doesn’t flush… You need to say something like, “I’m really sorry but I think my dinner might be a bit too cold to eat”, or “I’m really sorry, I might not be pushing the handle properly, because I’m American and we have different toilets there, but the toilet in my room doesn’t seem to flush”. That way you might get some help. Trying to be “assertive”, shouting about your “rights” or demanding “service” will get you sneered at and your food spat in. BTW, this doesn’t just apply to Americans, this applies to EVERYONE, even Brits. This isn’t prejudice, it’s the way we DO things.

2) Look very carefully before you cross the road on foot. Drivers here do not slow down a bit and wave at you to cross (like they did for me in Seattle and Florida)…They speed up and sometimes even SWERVE here, in order to hit you. No driver in London will cut you ANY slack at all. Even if you have a walking-stick.

3) To be polite to OUR standards, try to say “Thank you” at least six times during any purchase.
The shop-keeper says “Can I help you?”
You hand him the item you wish to purchase and say “Thank you”.
He asks if you are paying cash, “Oh, yes, thank you”.
He hands you your change and you say “Thank you”.
He asks if you want the item in a bag, you say “Yes, thank you”.
He hands you the bagged item and you say “Thank you”.
You start to leave and he says “Bye!” ………To which you reply, “Bye! Thank you!”.

4) When you order, or ask for anything, say “Please” I was stunned in America that people ask for things and don’t say “Please” every time. It will help you to glean what little service you CAN get in London if you at least TRY to ask politely. I know some areas in America say “Please” more than others, because I’ve written about this before, but I’m telling the people who don’t, OK?

5) Don’t make a fuss. If a British person saw an elephant walking along the path towards them they would say “Oh look, an elephant…There must be a circus near here, or something.” Americans would go, “OH. MY. GOD. LOOK! LOOK! AN ELEPHANT!!! ISN’T HE ADORABLE?! GET MY CAMERA!! IS IT REAL?! AREN’T THEY FROM AFRICA?! DO THEY HAVE THOSE HERE?! MAYBE IT’S WILD…THEY HAVE HEDGEHOGS!!! etc. etc.” That’s really annoying to the British.

6) Don’t tell everybody you meet what you think of them within the first 10 minutes. British people don’t want to know how they are perceived, even if it is good news. Americans have a habit of saying “Oh my, you’re funny!”, or “You two make an ADORABLE couple!” or “Hey, you know what? You’re really clever!”, which makes us SQUIRM. Keep it to yourself, until you’ve known us for ages and until we are at least a bit DRUNK.

7) Practice drinking warm beer and eating small portions of food. You know it makes sense. And practice paying twice as much for it. I’d love to change the whole of the UK for you but it might be easier for you to lower your standards and then halve the result. That will be what you’re served.

8) Learn to say AND more often. “Go AND get”, “Go AND buy”, “Go AND eat”…I LOVE the American accent but leaving out all the ANDS is just retarded.

This is getting too long, I might do more some other time…Hehehe. I hope I’ve helped, because you only have 7 years to learn this!

A gift scenario (contains more maths)

Wednesday, July 13th, 2005

More thinking out loud. You’ll be quoting this one day, I guarantee you! 😉

My post yesterday suggesting a formula for the value of gifts may have bored you silly so I thought I’d post an example of it in action.

Let’s imagine a man gives a necklace to his girlfriend. The necklace is worth £500 but he only paid £50. To him it has little use (except perhaps that it keeps her sweet) while to her it has a symbolic use as a way of showing off to her friends that she has someone special. So to start with let’s say that practically speaking it has a value of zero.
He earns £2000 per month while she earns £1300.
Importantly, while she is faithful to him, he is seeinbg at least two other women on the side.
This gives us the following values (note that I’ve amended my formula to take into account the fact that the man only paid £50, but to the woman it is ‘worth’ £500:

rv(G) = the value of the relationship for the giver = 6 (I’m being kind to the two-timing b**tard)
nrv(G) = the number of people with the same or higher relationship value for the giver = 3
fv(G) = financial value = £50
mi(G) = monthly income of the giver = £2000
pv = 0

This gives a gift value from the giver’s point of view of:
gv(G) = ((rv(G) x fv(G))/(nrv(G) x mi(G)))/pv + 1
= ((6 x 50)/(3 x 2000))/(0+1)
= (300/6000)/1
= 0.05

From the woman’s perspective the gift value is
gv(R) = ((rv(R) x fv(R))/(nrv(R) x mi(R)))/pv + 1
= ((2 x 500))/(1 x 1300))/(0+1)
= (1000/1300)/1
= 0.77

For the sake of convenience let’s mutliply the gv(G) and gv(R) results by 100 (giving 5 and 77 respectively). Because final gift value = gv(R) – gv(G) we have a final gift value of 72 on the ‘Gifter Scale’.

Because this is positive, I suggest, the gift has a positive effect on the relationship.

Is this a good score? I don’t know – my theory only suggests that so long as the score is positive the gift will be ‘positive’ – maybe it’s possible to work out a few scenarios to come up with a scale on which gifts can be measured. But the fact that there’s such a big gap between the gft values for giver and receiver could be seen as an indication that the giver is in fact investing little in the relationship, both financially and emotionally.
So to amend my theory somewhat let me suggest that GV should ideally be zero (in other words the value of the gift should be the same for both parties) and the further away from zero it is, the less valuable the gift is as a gift. Whether it is positive or negative hints at the inequality in the relationship, perhaps. (If not, then to get rid of the negative we could square both sides of the equation and get the square root of the result).

There is a case, incidentally, for inputting two different values for practicality based on the fact that the giver here is only receiving a relationship that appears is meaningless and easily replaced ( so give it 0), while the receiver is getting a symbol that can be exchanged for social capital (which is essential to life according to Baudrillard’s system of objects, so give it 6). If you put these figures in as pv(G) and pv(R) the end result changes dramatically.

The economy of gifts: a mathematical solution?

Tuesday, July 12th, 2005

I noticed the other day that someone had linked to my post from January about the value of gifts and it spurred me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for some time.
It’s a bit of a tradition in academia for someone, generally with sponsorship, to come up with a formula for something. Last year I think someone came up with a formula that calculated the most depressing day of the year. I can’t remember who sponsored it, but it resurfaced recently to calculate the happiest day of the year.
Anyway, it always gets reported in the press because they’re suckers for things like that.
So here’s my entry: a calculation for the value of a gift.

You may remember in my original post I stated something like ‘the value of a gift is inversely proportional to its use value’. This, then, becomes the economy of gifts. A simple but utterly useless token becomes more invested with meaning than, say, a washing machine. (A few weeks ago I sold a freezer to a guy who told me he was buying it for his wife as it was their wedding anniversary. More expensive, but less meaningful than a bunch of flowers. Indeed, quite possibly a ‘negative’ gift? More on this in a moment).

While walking back from my grocery shopping the other day I was trying to shape out how an equation would look for gifts.

(Any of these three is okay. For ‘1’ any constant will do, and sometimes the formula is written as y = c/x where c is a constant. This point becomes important later on!)
I also thought that financial value had to be a factor in there somewhere so believed the formula would be something along the lines of gift value = 1/(financial value x use value)

Well that’s okay, but how do you work out what the use value is? And what about other factors? Maybe, I thought to myself, this is more complicated than it looks!

(You can skip the next stuff if you’re not mathematically inclined. The actual formula is at the end of the post)

Here’s my original hypothesis: “The value of a gift is inversely proportional to the use to which it is put”.

On further consideration it also seems likely that factors to be included in this equation are:

  • How close the giver is to the receiver (with husband/wife being 10 and casual acquaintance being 1)
  • The number of people who are as close or closer to the giver (the idea being that the more people who are as close or closer then the less the gift means)
  • The cost of the item as a proportion of the income of the giver (ignoring any nonsense about not approving of excessive exenditure – let’s face it, the more someone spends the better it goes down; but it has to be proportional as someone who’s rich can’t get away with spending the same amount as someone who’s poor)

So those factors would allow us to work out the gift value.

But it also seems reasonable that there is a difference between the value as seen from the perspective of the giver, and from the receiver. So a second gift value for the receiver, gv(G) could be calculated using:

  • How close the receiver is to the giver
  • How many other people are as close or closer to the receiver
  • The cost of the gift as a proportion of the receiver’s income

Practicality, incidentally, is rated from 0 to 10. Because you cannot divide by zero, all practicality values must have 1 added to them so that the scale becomes effectively 1 to 11.

These two figures, gv(G) and gv(R) could then be used to work out a gift rating whereby the gift value for the giver is subtracted from the gift value for the receiver. If a postive score is achieved, the gift can be deemed a success.

So: gv(G) = gift value (for the giver) = ((relationship value/number of people with same relationship value or higher for giver ) x (cost of item/monthly income of giver))/practicality + 1

and: gv(R) = gift value (receiver) = ((relationship value/number of people with same relationship value or higher for receiver) x (cost of item/monthly income of receiver))/practicality + 1

Or to put it another way:

gv(G) = ((rv(G) x fv)/(nrv(G) x mi(G)))/pv + 1

gv(R) = ((rv(R) x fv)/(nrv(R) x mi(R)))/pv + 1

Givers should aim for a positive value on the ‘Gifter Scale’ where

GV = gv(R) – gv(G)

or:

To summarise what those symbols mean:

  • GV = Final gift value
  • rv(G) and rv(R) = the closeness of the giver to the receiver and vice versa. The higher the number the closeer they are – it doesn’t matte what scale you use so long as both sides of the equation use the same one. But 0 = stranger and 10 = husband/wife/life partner seems reasonable
  • nrv(G) and nrv(R) = the number of people with the same or a closer relationship to the giver/receiver
  • fv = the financial value of the gift (there is of course an argument to be made about the role of ‘bargains’ or ‘investments’ here – if I spend one pound on a gift that is really worth ten times that should it go in my favour or against?!)
  • mi(G) and mi(R) = monthly incomes of the giver/receiver
  • pv = practicality or use value on a scale of, say, 0 to 10 with 0 being completely useless (souvenirs are included here) and 10 being essential for continued existence (e.g. a kidney)

This isn’t quite the same as my original hypothesis as, although practicality value is still the important factor, the figure above the line is not a constant (which is what defines inverse proportion.
But maths aside, the lesson to be learnt from this is that the giver should always aim to spend a greater proportion of the receiver’s income than their own or to buy a ‘useless’ gift (i.e. a ‘token’). The latter piece of advice is particularly relevant in cases where the giver earns less than the receiver.

Anyway, there’s my theory – anyone care to plug in some figures and see how it pans out? I’m sure the equation can be simplified a lot more (help appreciated!)

[Update – I think this is a workable simplification! My head’s spinning…]

which further simplifies (I think!) to:

Which is remarkably similar to my original idea that gift value = 1/(financial value x use value)…

Okay, so a little bit of nonsense, right? Well, no… the point of the exercise was not to come up with a fancy-looking formula but to explore what it is that makes up a gift and its perceived value. For me, after a little thought, the value is amplified by the closeness of the giver to the receiver but diminished if that closeness is not exclusive. The financial value is irrelevant but the financial investment, as a proportion of the giver’s income is. The ‘inversely proportional to the use value, or practicality value’ thing is still entirely arbitrary and I haven’t even come close to proving that one way or the other.

Finished

Thursday, July 7th, 2005

It seems so irrelevant now but I finished my book today and emailed it to the publisher. Just captions to do and a few inevitable corrections. Due out in November – Amazon link soon.

UPDATE: I’ve added Amazon links to the menu bar on the right. Although the UK site is listing Visual Communication, it hasn’t filtered through to the US site yet, but it will…