PhD: pronounced “phud”

cover-7-2-3-borderFive months in, and I can’t find a way of shutting off those bells ringing in my head. Fortunately, James Hayton (@jameshaytonphd) has just published his little book, “PhD: An uncommon guide to research, writing & PhD life“.

James has a PhD in Physics yet his helpful and reassuring guidance has been incredibly useful to me (my research is in education) at this point. He has given me some clarity in my view of the various aspects of undertaking a programme like this. Some of the things that had been worrying me include note-taking when reading; organising my thinking in respect of the research approach; working with tools; project management for academic purposes; and being focused about skills development.

I recommend it to all current PhD students and those thinking about it. If you can’t find the twenty quid for the book right now, pop over to James’ blog to find some brilliant articles of interest and relevance. If you have an hour, sit back and enjoy his 2013 talk at the University of Edinburgh, available on YouTube:

Dunbar Science Club: Light

On Saturday 10th January, young scientists at the Dunbar Science Club learned about lenses and light. Physics graduates undertaking a PGDE (Professional Graduate Diploma in Education) at the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education ran sessions for children aged between 4 and 12.

The sessions began with an introduction to lenses and the question “Did you know that you carry around your own personal magnifying glass?” After looking at lenses and magnifying glasses, the children were guided through their own dissection of a real eye to find the lens inside. The Moray House teachers started the cut with a scalpel to allow the children to complete the opening of the eye using scissors. A gentle squeeze, and the aqueous humour popped out, bringing the lens out with it. Children proved that this is a real lens by reading printed material through it!

Time was very tight in the workshops but some of the children had the opportunity to make a pinhole camera using an empty Pringles tub. Lenses are used in lots of things including cameras but not all cameras need a lens. Early cameras work using just a pinhole: making a pinhole in the bottom of the tub allows light to enter which can be displayed on a screen made from greaseproof paper held onto the top of the tub by an elastic band. Children got to take their camera home.

 

Finally, the groups had the chance to look at the power of light and the importance of colour. Our young scientists were able to explain that darker colours absorb energy more than light colours. Using this knowledge, they could say that if a laser was unable to pop a yellow balloon, then we should draw a black patch on the balloon. Shining a laser on the patch should pop the balloon because of the extra energy absorbed. Using a special powerful laser (used by astronomers to show constellations in the night sky), this was tested and proved with a bang!

Acknowledgements

Great fun was had by all. Credit is due to the Dunbar Science Club – the volunteers who run this and the Dunbar SciFest do an amazing job bringing great science to the young people of the town. Special thanks to Moray House technical staff and the PGDE teachers who planned, resourced and delivered this session and a big thank you to the Edinburgh businesses that helped us out with some of the equipment we needed: the Dominion Cinema who provided the Pringles tubs; George Bowers Butcher in Stockbridge who gave us pig’s eyes; and Welch Fishmongers, Newhaven who gave us haddock eyes. This couldn’t have happened without your support.

Buffer-facing in the Christmas crowds

So, I thought I’d grab a coffee and do some work in Costa using the free wi-fi that the shopping mall is bathing the shoppers with.

[remote@server ~]# ping 79.171.35.196
PING 79.171.35.196 (79.171.35.196) 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.032 ms 64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=2 ttl=64 time=0.029 ms 64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=3 ttl=64 time=0.028 ms 64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=4 ttl=64 time=0.030 ms 64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=5 ttl=64 time=0.030 ms 64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=6 ttl=64 time=0.028 ms 64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=7 ttl=64 time=0.027 ms 64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=8 ttl=64 time=0.029 ms ^C
— 79.171.35.196 ping statistics —
8 packets transmitted, 8 received, 0% packet loss, time 7878ms rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 0.027/0.029/0.032/0.003 ms
[remote@server ~]# logout
Connection to remote@server closed.
Local:~ user$ ping 79.171.35.196
PING 79.171.35.196 (79.171.35.196): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=0 ttl=52 time=680.538 ms 64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=1 ttl=52 time=434.284 ms Request timeout for icmp_seq 2
Request timeout for icmp_seq 3
Request timeout for icmp_seq 4
Request timeout for icmp_seq 5
64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=6 ttl=52 time=676.341 ms 64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=7 ttl=52 time=965.469 ms 64 bytes from 79.171.35.196: icmp_seq=8 ttl=52 time=779.800 ms ^C
— 79.171.35.196 ping statistics —
10 packets transmitted, 5 packets received, 50.0% packet loss round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 434.284/707.286/965.469/172.116 ms Local:~ user$

No chance. Good job I brought a book.

Maulana Abdul Razaq Shahid

ShahidI learned today of the death of Maulana Abdul Razaq Shahid. We met almost 20 years ago in the old Dunfermline Mosque when I declared my Shahada. It was packed out, being a Friday Jumu’ah: he put me at ease, although at the time his English wasn’t good and my Arabic was weak. I remember him leading a Dhikr – the resonance of it in my chest is something I still remember and feel today. He gave me my name: Muhammad Bilal and although I am not often called “Bilal” nowadays, the significance of the name remains with me.

At regular Friday prayers, he would often lead the Ummah in prayer and recitation that wrenched tears from him: the passion of his faith no less present in his quieter duah’a. After the formal session was over and those who had to rush back to work had left, a small number of us would remain as Shahid led us in singing Mustafa Jaan-e-Rehmat Pe Laakhon Salaam. He had a beautiful voice and in a different setting I could imagine him singing professionally. His humility led him on a pastoral path, however: in this role he cared deeply for his community and the people within it.

Those who remember him will miss him.

(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.