Declaration of Independence

Hoots, mon, old chap.
Hoots, mon, old chap.

A while ago, an old friend from my Sussex days posted on Facebook, “When are you coming home?”. My response, to the applause of the crowd, was, “I am home”. I love Scotland, or at least parts of it, and she has been quite kind to me since I came here in 1991 for what I had intended to be a maximum of 6 months.

I migrated involuntarily to Scotland 23 years ago out of economic necessity. My pedigree is not dissimilar to your average mongrel although I do have strong roots back 200 years through my American father’s line to the Hoods of Dumfries. I am as proud of my heritage as I am of anything else I have no control over, like my height. “Proud” in the sense that I recognise it as my good fortune and something I should (and do) take full advantage of.

Something else I inherited from my father was his intolerance of pretension, although I think I can run with a line so far, before rebelling (this trait from the Bourne family, my mother’s genetic base). This is what I often refer to as the “F*ck it” point.

I have reached this point in the debate over Scotland’s independence. Listening carefully to both sides of the argument, I have found no imperative nor evidence to support the action of severing the leg we stand on in the United Kingdom. Neither the leg nor the amputee would fare well, although I suspect that the economic reality of our population distribution, one-eighth of it in London and 91% not in the metaphorical leg, the UK-not-including-Scotland will survive.

The vote in September is going to be made with people’s heads, hearts and the (m)asses.

To intellectualise the argument, there is no economic or political advantage for Scotland to cede from the rest of the UK: our UK research investment, world investment, finance investment, European investment would be damaged substantially. Alec Salmond, clever cookie that he might be, has failed to convince anyone’s head that a Yes vote is in anyone’s interests.

Hearts will be bursting with nationalistic emotion, the halls and glens still echoing to the skirl of pipes and the choruses of “Caledonia” and “Flùr na h-Alba” at the end of the Glasgow games and the SNP will be hoping for a “games effect”  just in time for the referendum in September.

Finally, there is, despite all the hype, door-knocking, state-funded leafleting and propaganda, the most powerful political force of all: the disinterest of the masses. Here is the greatest vote, if not actually for the status quo, but against the change in it. For same reason I didn’t engage with the rubbish waiter in the rubbish restaurant I had lunch in yesterday when he asked if everything was all right, people don’t feel sufficiently interested in revolution or changing things for the better to engage in the argument. This is why you see a predominance of “Yes” stickers all over the place. There is the sense that to dissent from the nationalist zeitgeist is somehow anti-Scottish, not something to be in times of Nationalist fervour.

Well, I am at the F*ck it point with this debate. Blame my breeding. I am going to vote against independence: because I love Scotland (parts of it); because there’s no argument for it that even remotely sounds convincing to me; because as part of the UK, Scotland punches above its weight and I like that; and because it’s right to stand up against Nationalism in this insidious form. I declare my independence.

WordPress Redirect Loop

WordPress is a brilliant tool, probably the best of the CMSs – Google says so – but every now and then it can stop you in your tracks. It did this today as I was setting up a new site for Marc Walker, the British Biathlon veteran and team manager who is retiring from Her Majesty’s service in August to set up a very special personal trainer business in Knutsford.

Marc Walker (image copyright Marcel Laponder CC-BY-3.0)
Marc Walker (image copyright Marcel Laponder CC-BY-3.0)

I hit a wee problem with an unexpected redirect loop when trying to access the back end. There are plenty of articles and “fixes” available on the web, none of which were relevant to my installation and most of which relate to permalinks and .htaccess. Because my installation is a long-standing derivative of WPMU or multi-site, it could not have been that.

For others in the same position, here’s what my install looks like:

  • LAMP hosted (on a VPS)
  • Version 3.9.1
  • Multiple WP sites, domain-mapped

I had a while ago, for some reason I have now forgotten, network disabled the default WordPress themes. When I added this new site, created the new admin user and mapped the domain, I found that the admin or login pages simply got stuck in a redirect loop.

The fix was easy enough – I simply had to enable Twenty-Fourteen (the default WP theme) for the new site via the network admin panel.

If you want to visit Marc’s new site, it’s at His new business will start up in August and will have a strong European baseline from his track record in Biathlon, military fitness, Iron Man, and an impressive bunch of competitive sports.

Efficient, searchable logging

I’ve been trying to find out what is the best way – for me – to keep a record of readings, meetings, seminars and the other stuff of studying to become a researcher. I begin a part time PhD in September and as I will have severe demands on my time for the day job, need to be sure that I work smart.

I thought about all kinds of tools for this. The first thing to realise is that I will probably be making use of pen and paper as the ultimate portable and immediate way to organise my thinking. I’ve done this since 1976 and have a wall full of diaries and notes back to that time. Despite being a technophile, I have tried and failed to like any of the web or tablet based services like Evernote. I want to capture images, probably like this photo of hand-written notes. I want what I record to be searchable.

So, what am I going to try? A combination of email and blogging. I already have the blog you’re reading and this post is made using the JetPack “post by email” feature. I wonder if it will work?


Praise and appreciation are great motivators. It’s nice to be noticed and for your contributions to be valued. I got this in the mail:



“Your sincere contributions and support makes this conference a great success”. I wasn’t there. Glad to have been of such service. I hope to make a similar contribution to the success of your conference this year.


Acts of Defiance in the Back Channel

Continuing an act of defiance by taking time out of my work schedule this week, I attended a second lecture by George Veletsianos at Edinburgh University, entitled “MOOCs, automation, artificial intelligence, and pedagogical agents”. This seminar was a special event put on by DICE – the Digital Cultures in Education research group.

The lecture and subsequent discussion was rich and well-informed, as there was a good range of expertise and engagement in the room and from the online participants accessing via the streaming feed. George’s lecture was stimulating and provocative: without overdoing the detail, he managed to tackle MOOCs as a socio-cultural phenomenon. He described the usual rationale for MOOCs of costs and the perceptions that drive their explosion onto the educational landscape but he also gave us new (to me) truths about their origin and the assumptions underpinning their popularity.

Moving on to the automation of teaching, George treated us to a quick history, again, touching the nerves of the implementation of human-computer interaction in education. There was much discussion of this with the final topic of pedagogical agents: perhaps misnamed “bots” in the debate that ensued in the question session and on the twitter back channel.


I can’t do justice to the scope of the issues raised and picked over in today’s two-hour session, not least because of the richness of them. Also, perhaps, for fear of misrepresenting the nuances. I resorted to my comfort zone of scurrilous tweeting, suggesting first that rather than choosing a gender or cultural stereotype for my preferred pedagogical agent, I would choose Brian, the Family Guy dog. This got me followed by Peter Griffin. When I started another cartoon (above), Marshall Dozier outed me with a tweet.

Surgeons Tweeting

I was at a talk given by George Veletsianos today, under the title of “Acts of defiance and personal sharing when academics use social media”. This was a thought-provoking session and not the first of his I’ll be attending this week, hopefully. I’ll not report the details of the talk here, but I will point you towards George’s Networked Scholars open course and this little scribble I made as I thought about how pervasive the use of social media has become.


CentOS 6.5 on MSWind

Rather than make a pig’s ear out of my live VPS by testing out new Ruby code I’m playing with, I thought it would be prudent to have a machine that I can break without upsetting users. I have an Atom-based Advent netbook which only ever gets played with occasionally and this afternoon, seems quite willing to volunteer for a rebuild as a CentOS server. The world loves a volunteer. Continue reading “CentOS 6.5 on MSWind”

Metamorphosis of Narcissus

MetaNarcissus was, according to legend, a hunter. Walking in the woods, he was seen by the nymph Echo, who falls in love with him. The nymph had been cursed by Hera, the wife of Zeus, such that she could only repeat the last words heard and not say anything of her own. Narcissus rejects Echo’s love. After praying to Aphrodite, she disappears, remaining only as a voice heard by all.

The goddess of revenge, Nemesis, punishes Narcissus by leading him to fall in love with his own image reflected in a spring. Different outcomes, none of them good, await Narcissus, depending on the version of the story you read. Continue reading “Metamorphosis of Narcissus”

How vampiric are you?

I picked up a little book on holiday this week and read the short biography of the editor. This revealed a career path from Grammar School to Cambridge to Public School to Eton housemaster which filled me with sadness and contempt for its utter lack of imagination.

Now, I know this is judgemental and probably wildly wrong but but this judgement seemed to be underlined when I read this editor’s introduction to the book. It was safe, unadventurous and deadly dull. Having read it, I wish I hadn’t wasted those precious minutes of my life doing so.

So, here is a stereotype of a man who was good enough as a child to secure a place at a Grammar School (I did, but the year they dropped the 11-plus). At Grammar School he was successful enough to go up to Cambridge. No doubt he was inspired by his role models, his teachers. Having read languages – with the whole wide world open right before him – he becomes as teacher. Straight back to the swamp from which he had just emerged. Continue reading “How vampiric are you?”