(Inter)Stellar Narcissism

MV5BMjIxNTU4MzY4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzM4ODI3MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_I went to see Interstellar last night. After all the hype and ravings of friends who had seen it, I was disappointed. This three-hour epic story had the style of 1970’s sci-fi, with heavy elements of fantasy clumsily stitched together with a good deal of shark jumping. The most striking thing about the movie is the blind insularity of its American cultural setting: the mid-West is suffering from food shortages caused by blight of major crops and American astronauts save the day. The star-spangled banner is spangled everywhere you look.

As well as the food problem, there is an unexplained problem of dust, perhaps due to soil erosion from the decimation of crops. Up steps the hero who mysteriously finds himself at a secret NASA facility near his farm. By now the plot punchline has revealed itself. The story tries to bring some cool popular physics ideas to the fore, with black holes and wormholes key features of the eventual trip to space to save the human race, or at least the white Americans of the corn belt.

There is much of the physics in the film which makes it attractive for a school trip: Scottish Higher students should be able to have fun picking over the many movie-maker’s errors: the twin paradox, relativity, gravitational gradients, event horizons and some very basic Newtonian mechanics are all at the Godzilla level of believability. There’s a lot more in the rich seam of “Hollywood Physics” throughout this story.

The signature US film-maker’s stereotype is predictably here: there’s a woman on the mission, and she makes the stupid mistake that signals that things are all going to go wrong. A change of genre appears when Matt Damon goes rogue in proper B-Western fashion and attacks the Sheriff. The movie passes through a pale imitation of Kubrick’s 2001 before getting a little emotional, staying just short of melodrama before delivering the final credibility seppuku by sending the hero back for the stranded girl.

This is a horribly narcissistic movie about Americans saving America/The World (the terms are interchangeable in this context) with ignorance, A Bad Guy and some nauseating moralising, badly done. I wish I’d gone to see the Turing film instead.

Adobe Lightroom 5.7 Crash

Adobe has recently released an update for its Lightroom 5 photo management system which on OSX Yosemite does not work. The application crashes. I’ve gone through all the usual precious time-wasting permutations including completely uninstalling, clearing trash and reinstalling, even re-downloading from Amazon (where I bought it from a couple of months ago). The problem seems to be Adobe, like everyone else, is developing code for the majority market, i.e. the Microsoft Slaves.

A lot of Mac users, me included, operate with the flexibility of case-sensitive drives and here lies the problem. Adobe’s sloppy coders have assumed that all systems are case insensitive. The error log gives a clue:

Library not loaded: @executable_path/../Frameworks/asneu.framework/versions/a/asneu

This library is actually located in the application folder in:

/Content/Frameworks/asneu.framework/Versions/A/asneu

Changing the path to match that expected by the application (V becomes v, A becomes a) allows it to run OK. I’m not aware of any other case-sensitivity issues with LR5.7 – it seems to work just fine.

Tip: if you’re a LR user, the 500px plugin makes publishing to your favourite photo showcase easy.

 

Educating for Social Justice

I attended a seminar last week that raised a number of issues for me in relation to social justice and the dangers of that agenda. There is a fuller account of the session on the wiki but I think it’s worth making one or two further points in this forum.

First, the tippy-toeing around extreme, illogical or simply stupid ideas in the name of religious tolerance. One of these days, the human race is going to finally rid itself of voodoo, invisible friends and the brutal intimidation inflicted on itself in the name of religion. If anything needs a cold hard critical examination, it’s this feature of our nascent society.

Second, alternate views do not become alternate-but-equal simply by being alternate. Jim Al-Khalili posted a great example of the difference between “a theory” like creationism and “a scientific theory” which makes this point well.

I will repeat again a question I have asked more than once this week:

Is there any evidence that an “equal playing field” is better than one that isn’t? Mother Nature’s not so keen – she has very effective ways of rewarding power differential and privilege. I wonder if we remove competitive selection at our peril.

Isn’t it time we stopped this conservative, white, naive egalitarianism? We could probably start with the pandas.

One more leading nowhere, just for show

Something that exercises student teachers and old hands alike is multiple definitions of “things educational.” Similar-sounding terms are used to describe things that are, to different people, different.

An example of this came in an email from a PGDE student who, having witnessed a group of experienced educators (a) discussing the ignorance of those who don’t know, at the same time as (b) avoiding directly answering the question themselves:

“What is the difference between interdisciplinary, cross curricular and multi disciplinary?”

Great question. In Building the curriculum 3 – a framework for learning and teaching (BTC3), Education Scotland (ES) states:

Effective interdisciplinary learning:
> can take the form of individual one-off projects or longer courses of study
> is planned around clear purposes
> is based upon experiences and outcomes drawn from different curriculum areas or subjects within them
> ensures progression in skills and in knowledge and understanding
> can provide opportunities for mixed stage learning which is interest based.

Notice the carefully avoided definition. If you go to ES’s page What is interdisciplinary learning? there is another paragraph not telling you what IDL is, together with a link to the wrong page in BTC3. It says:

Interdisciplinary learning enables teachers and learners to make connections across learning through exploring clear and relevant links across the curriculum.

If you find any of those (clear and relevant links across the curriculum) in the Es and Os, let me know. Two broad types of IDL are described in BTC3, “which, in practice, often overlap”:

  • Learning planned to develop awareness and understanding of the connections and differences across subject areas and disciplines.
  • Using learning from different subjects and disciplines to explore a theme or an issue, meet a challenge, solve a problem or complete a final project.

According to Ivanitskaya et al, (2002), the characteristic of IDL is the integration of multidisciplinary knowledge across a central theme or focus. So IDL is MDL? And it goes across a theme? So they’re the same thing? Dictionary time.

interdisciplinary: adjective
relating to more than one branch of knowledge. (So, BioPhysics is interdisciplinary.)

multidisciplinary: adjective
combining or involving several academic disciplines or professional specialisations in an approach to a topic or problem. (Like building a house: Plumber, brickie, joiner, electrician.)

cross-curricular: adjective
involving curricula in more than one educational subject. (Speed, distance and time is in Maths and Physics)

Got it? IDL relates to more than one subject and may take a multidisciplinary approach and is probably cross-curricular. Cross-curricular doesn’t necessarily mean interdisciplinary. IDL might not be multidisciplinary.

Comments welcome!

Lisa Boncheck Adams

There’s a lens in every piece of writing and an agenda in most. In George Veletsianos’ Networked Scholars course this week, we are asked to engage with Zeynep Tufekci‘s blog post, which is a piece of emotive writing about another piece of emotive writing in the Grauniad by Emma Keller, about another piece of emotive writing by Lisa Adams, who is blogging about grief and her own battle with cancer.

Each piece takes a stance. Lisa’s stance is perhaps the most authentic as the writing is her own about her own experience. I’m not sure the blog she writes is one I would subscribe to but I understand why she does it: in the same situation, I am likely to be just as loud about it, for at least as long as it is helpful. There must come a time when writing her blog will cease to be relevant to her.

I didn’t find Emma’s article offensive or even critical: I thought she merely asked a question and certainly wasn’t what Zeynep calls “cancer-shaming”. Nor did Emma misrepresent what was happening to Lisa. If there’s fake politically-correct hysteria anywhere here, it’s in Zeynep’s squealing about Emma’s methods. The obtuseness of Zeynep’s complaints is irresponsible for whipping up emotion: for example, her response to Bill Keller’s piece on Lisa – itself tactful, insightful and personal, in my opinion – is disingenuous at best. At worst, it falsifies the content and meaning of what Bill Keller wrote in order to be further outraged.

What is evident in reading these pieces is that social media and blogs are powerful channels through which opinion may be manipulated. Rigour is not required to achieve this as readers, like the baying pitchfork-carrying mobs in a Hammer Horror, respond with such Twitter outrage that the offending item is removed, as in the case of Emma Keller’s article. The Kellers wrote in even tones using moderated language about a woman coping through writing publicly. What Zeynep Tufekci did was to twist that into something very nasty.

Computing: how young is too young?

TCHow does a child open a door in the modern world? Children’s worlds are increasingly driven by algorithms. At what age are they able to understand these, and use their own? We need to consider how young children learn about computing:

  • Who has the responsibility and how do we support them?
  • What resources do we have and what else do we need?
  • When is too young, when is too late?

On Wednesday 12th November at 5.30pm, the University of Edinburgh will be hosting a forum in memory of Tom Conlon which will engage with these questions through expert perspective and interaction with participants.

You are invited to join us, either:

Dr Tom Conlon had a rare ability to make an impact in many diverse arenas. As a teacher, and as a lecturer at Moray House School of Education, his influence in the field of Information Technology is widely acknowledged. This forum commemorates Tom Conlon’s unique contribution by continuing to tackle relevant and important issues in education and computing.

For more information, visit www.children-and-technology.ed.ac.uk/tomconlonmemorial2014 or download the flyer here.

 

Productivity of a new researcher

I’ve spent part of the summer preparing to begin a six-year research project alongside my day job in initial teacher education at the University of Edinburgh. Time is possibly the scarcest resource I have and that preparation has involved assessment and selection of systems that will enable me to be efficient, effective and productive. Here’s what I have in current use.

To-do

logo2Keeping a handle on things I have to do, prioritising and postponing according to progress, is essential to getting things done.

rememberthemilk.com provides this functionality through a web interface which includes a calendar feed and the ability to add new tasks by sending an email to a private address. A Chrome extension shows the RTM current list within the Google calendar web view and allows task completion or postponing.

Calendar

Google Calendar – or rather, several google calendars – allow me to manage the various demands on my time and keep an eye on events of interest that I’m following. Synching the calendars to the Calendar app on my mac and mobile devices means I know where I’m supposed to be at any time, and what gaps exist for new opportunities. New events (such as seminars booked through services like eventbrite) can quickly be added to the calendars by downloading an ics file. The RTM list and timed events appear within the calendar. On the mac, dates within emails can be directly viewed in your calendar and optionally added, allowing fast and selective adding of new opportunities such as seminars.

Workspace

WikiMy study, reading and research diary needs to be quick, easy and searchable. I have set up a MediaWiki installation on my server at http://cullaloe.net/w and given my supervisors write access to allow public commentary and guidance that is similarly searchable. I like the wiki markup which is just a small step from plain text – it provides very rapid content-focused editing and light touch formatting.

I have used a couple of extensions for in-page references (Cite) and to make it easy to insert citations (Bibtex) to papers and books I am reading, by copying references from Mendeley and pasting directly into the page.

Citation Manager

logo-mendeleyThe tool of choice here is Mendeley, which is a cloud-based bibliography manager with easy import from many formats (including books on Amazon, Google Scholar and the academic libraries). It has a “Save to Mendeley” bookmark for rapid extraction from webpages and a desktop application that synchs automatically to the web database. What I really like about this software is that it allows groups of references to be created which are automatically saved in BibTex files, one per group, which makes compilation against LaTeX seamless.

Paper/thesis creation

200px-LaTeX_logo.svgWhat else? LaTeX – I use the TexShop environment on my mac – produces beautiful documents (output to pdf) in a few keystrokes without any worries about formatting, compatibility or platform, and the almost transparent inclusion and rendering of bibliographies, tables of contents, margin notes, tables, figures and images.

Clippings

Evernote-logo-e1362251497276The handiest tool I have to quickly grab things I want to refer to later is Evernote. It has the quick post facility within my browser and the ability to forward emails out of my inbox to a less in-your-face place for later review and action. There’s also a nice desktop app to complement the easy web interface. Notebooks can be organised any way to suit you and can be bundled together to manage the important separation between different workflows.

Storage

Dropbox-LogoDropbox is one of the services I use for cloud storage. All source files and working documents are kept here. I’ve been using Dropbox long enough to have earned additional storage free of charge but most of that is taken up in the backup of files for my teachers’ site at sptr.net.

In addition to DropBox, I also make use of I also make use of copy.com which works in a similar way. Significantly, I do not use Google’s GDrive because I dislike how it works, as much as I dislike Google docs. Having been stung by Google’s sudden removal of services I’ve relied on in the past, such as bookmarks, I am reluctant to rely too heavily on them.

Cost

All of these tools, services and software are free. There are paid services but I am a light enough user not to incur the need to pay the subscription for any of the services mentioned here. That’s not to say I’m not willing to pay for these services because they are worth it, but the price points are disproportionate for most of them so I don’t volunteer cash I don’t have to spend. Service providers, take note: less is more. Cut your fees and more will pay. I do have a Premium Evernote account but only because it’s on promotion with O2 at the moment. You will not find Microsoft products on any technology I own.

Workflow

I always take pens and good-quality plain paper notebooks with me wherever I go. Email is ever present on a mobile device or laptop, as is my calendar, dropbox and browser. Also mobile but less central to hour-by-hour workflow are Evernote and Mendeley. I manage RTM only via a browser, and editing the workspace wiki is easily done there also. Chrome is my browser of choice on all of my devices – all the bookmarks synch automatically. It is likely that I will try other tools from time to time but I do not have the luxury of time to trial alternatives: my focus has to be on being effective if I am to meet current aspirations and obligations.

I hope this entry has been of interest – please get in touch if you have a suggestion to make, especially one that might make my life easier.

When busy bees lose the plot

OK, I have all this stuff to do but somehow I just can’t get focused on doing it. I seem to be stuck here, in the wrong place, doing something that just isn’t my priority right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I like being a bee and collecting pollen and all that stuff for the hive but honestly, I’m knackered. I just want to sit here and look at – what is that, anyway? Some kind of pipe. Interesting. I like pipes. Think I’ll blog about pipes.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. I’m going to go and get some of that pollen. For the hive. Because it’s what I’m supposed to be doing right now.