Sunday, May 31, 2009

pic of the day - moon

I have always thought that it is more obvious that the moon is a sphere when it is less than full. A full moon could easily be a disk.

If you have only lived in one hemisphere, you may not have realised that in the northern hemisphere the moon waxes from right to left, whereas in the southern hemisphere it waxes from left to right. Unlike the swirling of water as it goes down a drain (which appears to happen in both directions in both hemispheres), I have seen this with my own eyes.

I found that kind of weird when we first moved to the UK. To me, the moon looked upside down.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

pic of the day - stereotype

In South Africa, a typical barbecue scene is: men at the fire, women indoors. It seems the UK stereotype is not so very different. In this case, it was men at the fire, women under the gazebo stage right. Is this a fairly global scenario?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

pic of the day - 21 years and counting

I could have richer. I could have had better looking. But I couldn't have done better. This is the man who shares my life, my triumphs, my woes and my bed.

For richer or for poorer

Today John and I have been married for 21 years. In just four years' time, we will be celebrating our silver wedding anniversary. It will be a miracle if we have any silver left, by then!

Since I haven't had a paying contract in some months, our 'for richer or for poorer' vow is being proven at the moment. John commutes 2 hours each way every day and works his tail off to bring home a decent salary. But that salary isn't enough to cover our overheads. Unless things turn around for me very soon, we will find ourselves experiencing significant changes of circumstance imposed by our bank and the bailiffs.

But, while I feel as if I am dragging the family down, somehow John manages to remain supportive of me.

John wasn't my first suitor (what a quaint word). Before he came along, there had been a few near misses. Some of them rather wealthy and a few of them extraordinarily handsome. But, hoo boy, am I glad I had the wherewithal to know enduring quality when I finally found it. I doubt that any of the other guys would have put up with 21 years of the rollercoaster ride that is marriage to me!

Here's to you, my snooks, and to many more years.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

pic of the day - joint effort

One of the chaps in the church home group that meets in our lounge once a week turned 50 yesterday, so we thought we'd mark the occasion. I baked the cake, and my younger son iced it. Let's hope it tastes okay!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

L&D and the bottom line

An extract from Jay Cross's latest book:

A manager for a major pharmaceutical firm in Canada told his sales trainers that henceforth their bonuses would be tied to the sales of the people they trained.
Under those circumstances, would you get a bonus? The response from the people in the extract is “Hold on. We don’t have anything to do with that.”

I guess the only comeback to that is "Really? Then what's the point of you?"

Challenging thought!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Let me tell you about a winner...

Every year an ultra marathon called The Comrades' takes place between the South African cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg, a distance of 88kms (55 miles). The race alternates in direction - in odd numbered years it is run downhill to finish in Durban. It has a rich and fascinating history, which I highly recommend (just google it - there are far too many links for me to choose just one). Since I was born in Durban, the event is part of the landscape of my life. I've never actually run it, but I have seconded it, which was an experience in itself.

Every year, there are stories to be told. Stories that would break or fill your heart. This year was no exception. This year the race was won for the first time by a Zimbabwean.

But those who know the Comrades' know that it isn't really about the front runners. It's about the cameraderie between the runners who run it just to finish. They will tell you that they are the real winners.

Runners are given 12 hours to finish the distance (extended from 11 hours in 2003). As the time runs out, an official steps out to finish line and stands with his/her back to the runners and counts down the closing moments. Then, at exactly the appointed time, the official fires a starting pistol, signifying the end of the allotted time. I have watched as that final gun has been fired while exhausted runners make a desperate bid to run the last 100m in a time that would tax them even had they not just run 55 miles. Can you imagine being within sight of the finish line, having run for 11 hours (as it was then) only to be robbed of a finish by a matter of metres? It is heartbreaking to witness.

The last finisher this year was a man from Cape Town called Jerry Mboweni. He is a recovering drug addict who now volunteers at a counselling centre. He made it across the finish line by a hair's breadth.

Now you tell me that he isn't just as much of a winner as the guy who crossed the line first.

Draw your own parallels to learning and development. I know you don't need my help for that.

pic of the day - young farmers

Several of the ladies at our ladies' group on Friday night were giggling about this sign, describing how one of the cows on it had fallen down so that it looked as if it had mounted the other. Teeheehee. One of them even suggested I should capture it for my pic of the day slot. I hadn't seen it at that stage.

Today we had to pass it, so we stopped to get a picture. Notice the angle of the writing on the bull. It is obviously supposed to be in that position. Somewhat heavy-handed humour, I reckon.

Perhaps the young farmers in this area haven't discovered artificial insemination yet. None of the farmers I have known in the past would risk injury to bull or cow by leaving nature to take its course.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

One thousand

This is officially my one thousandth post on this blog. I started blogging on 4 July 2005. Since that time, I have encountered some great minds in the field of knowledge and learning. I have learnt more than I could ever explain, and I have gone from new escapee from the traditional training classroom to social media geek.

Thanks to everyone who has walked with me along the way.

Image acknowledgement: stocksnapper network on iStock

pic of the day - rose

Today has been a glorious day. Not a cloud in the sky and the temperature in the upper 20s (sorry, I don't know what that is in old money). As I drove my elder son to a friend's house this evening, we saw a red hot air balloon coming down to land not 200m from the motorway, but there was nowhere to stop and get a picture, so we have to 'settle' for this shot of one of my neighbour's roses.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

pic of the day - booganvilla silly

Very unusually for England, I came across this collection of bougainvilleas at a local garden centre. These are very common in South Africa, and I love them to bits, especially this shade that wasn't on sale here.

Once, when I was in high school, my dance teacher asked me to run a kiddies' dance class because she was unable to make it.

Among the other highly unorthodox things I got them to do, I had the kids pretend to be flowers. Most of the little girls adopted simpering type poses and declared themselves to be roses, daisies and the like. One little button with a cheeky face stood with fingers spiked and one leg sticking out at an odd angle. In answer to my question, she told me "I'm a booganvilla, silly. And (pointing at her foot) that's my forn."

Ever since then, my family calls this plant a 'booganvilla silly'.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday smile

Okay, it's funny, but the talent is indisputable. Did you ever hear such tight harmonies?

pic of the day - taste and swap

Tonight our ladies' group had a taste and swap evening. We brought dishes we'd made for each other to taste and things we didn't want any more for others to take. The deal with the dishes was to bring several copies of the recipe for others to take if they liked your dish. I forgot that bit until I was leaving the house, so I grabbed my recipe book, which you can see in the top right hand corner of the picture. It's an A4 indexed book which I have had for about 25 years, and it contains loose scraps of paper, recipes cut out of books, recipes written in by hand. Every now and again, I make a start on doing something more high tech with the contents, but I always come back to this book. It has become a treasured possession.

The dish I made was the fridge tart in the black dish with the silver server. Half of it had gone already when I took this photo. It was a complete hit. In fact, in top left corner of the picture, you can see someone testing it.

Box ticking

Yesterday, I was notified of a project which might prove suitable for me. I read the documentation and it certainly seemed do-able, so I decided to bid for the work. However, before I was able to do so, I had to complete a company profile online. On the basis of this profile I would either be granted or refused the opportunity to bid.

Early on, one of the questions established that my staff complement is in the range 1-4. One, to be exact. Me. In spite of this, I still had to answer questions about whether 50% of my business is owned/managed by women. Check. 50% of my management team belongs to ethnic minorities. No. 50% was gay and/or disabled. No. Do I have a diversity policy statement regarding the recruitment of people within these groups? No. Fail. You need not apply.

I have issue with this on several levels. First of all, let's focus on the word minority. By definition, people who belong to ethnic minorities are in the minority. I think we can safely say the same of gay and/or disabled people. So, what are the odds that a staff complement of 1-4 people is going to include a representative of any (or all) of those groups?

And, if we are correct in our assumption that we are talking about minorities here, why the 50%? I can more or less understand how they come to that figure in respect of women. After all, we constitute pretty much half the population. But I find it discriminatory to set in place a policy that gives any one group preference over another. How can it be considered a Good Thing to have a policy that favours women, when we have long since established that it is inappropriate to have one that favours men? Or one that favours black people, when it has taken generations to do away with one that favours white people?

And since I have no plans to recruit people any time soon, why would I have a recruitment policy of any kind, let alone one which stipulates that I must actively seek to recruit people from these various minorities? And what of the minorities who haven't been mentioned? Isn't such a policy discriminatory against them? Where is the policy for left-handed people? Vegans? Blondes? People over 50?

The logic in these tick boxes is broken, but because the process is entirely automated at this point, there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it. I have fallen at the first hurdle and this disqualifies me from having access to anyone to who I can point out the inconsistency. Is this a fair analogy for the box ticking approach taken to some of our education and corporate learning programmes?

Oh, and before you lynch me, just for the record, should I ever come to recruit anyone, this is my recruitment policy in one sentence:

I will hire the person I deem to be the most likely to do the job well. Period.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

pic of the day - jo tait

From the title of this post, you may have expected a portrait of Jo. And, in a way, that's what you got.

After a sporadic communication spanning a few years, Jo and I finally got together for coffee at her lovely home this morning. The moment I walked in the front door and was met with decor in reds and purples, I knew this would be a meeting of minds!

This cushion, on the floor of a room she wants to use as a creative space along the lines of what I call 'beanbag time'. was given to her by the SCEPTrE team, a project of which she was the Assistant Director. They had it made up for her, choosing words which reflected how they saw her.

This cushion, too, told me I was in the company of someone with the same hot buttons as my own.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate exams?

Later edit: for a far more eloquent look at this same subject from a larger picture perspective, please see Dave Snowden's post.

As you probably know, if you've been here for more than 3 nanoseconds, my elder son is in the throes of school exams. Yesterday, he walked out after the PE theory exam on a pink cloud. He loves PE and the jargon just trips off his tongue in consequence. He knows that stuff.

Today was statistics. All year, his stats teacher (the redoubtable Ms Verity who has featured here before) has told us how well he has been doing. How he just seems to 'get' stats. I was pretty sure there must be career ops for people who combine sport and stats (other than a bookie, of course!).

But it doesn't matter how well you do during the year. It doesn't matter how you perform in formative assessment. You can ace your mock paper. It matters not a jot. It all comes down to a single 90 minute exam... and he is certain he blew it. How can that possibly be right?

He was going great guns, thinking how easy the exam was and how he was going to romp through it, when the rope hit the rudder. About two thirds of the way through, he went blank. He just couldn't do the work. Nothing he had learned seemed to apply to the questions that were being asked.

Today's cloud was black, and he was under it, not on top of it.

I hate that a kid can pwn a subject all year long and then, in a fit of exam nerves, or because the examiner poses a question on a section the teacher glossed over, rather than one s/he majored on, the wheels can come off and it can all go to pot.

Of course, it remains to be seen how badly he really has done, but he is convinced that he has failed, and it has sent him into the Slough of Despond. He has a physics exam tomorrow. This is his worst subject, with his worst teacher (who is rather tellingly my younger son's worst teacher, too, and who has managed to worm his way onto my very short black list). How is he preparing? He is watching Futurama.

I am drained. If that elephant doesn't want to go up that hill, then it can flipping well sit where it is. I give up.

Mom out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

pic of the day - one down...

What a morning we've had! My elder son was having a lie-in because this is an exam week, and his paper was scheduled for this afternoon... or so he thought.

Good thing I checked the schedule!

There's nothing quite like dragging a 17-year old out of bed to go and take an exam... especially when you then discover that he doesn't have pens or pencils, or an eraser, or a ruler... or anything, really. An hour before the exam starts is no time to be discovering these things!

Trying to get him to hurry while also trying not to make him nervous was a balancing act.

It was too late to take the train so I drove him to school. Traffic was dire, and it took all my energy not to give off any signs of mounting stress. Chatting about inconsequential things, opting not to switch off a cringe-worthy interview on the radio, because it had him in stitches...

The relief was so huge when I dropped him off, that my driving skills went all to pot and I nearly had two accidents within 100m of the school.

I prayed all the way home.

Then this text message came through. Okay, so his use of apostrophes sucks, but what the heck!

This afternoon, I will nail him to a chair and make sure he has everything he needs for the rest of his exams. I will also bludgeon him (in the nicest possible way) into having everything ready the night before each paper.

I hate exams, but they're the currency we're forced to work with. We might as well optimise his chances as far as possible, because, with the amount of revising he's doing, the nett result of his AS year looks set to be a level 80 Undead Warlock (actually that's an exaggeration - he has a way to go before level 80). I'm not sure what career opportunities there are for undead warlocks... and I don't recall seeing this criterion listed among the hoops applicants have to jump through to get accepted to any of the universities he's interested in.

Ho hum.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The transitory nature of media

I am gaining whole tranches of new followers on Twitter, lately, from some of the most surprising quarters: two rugby organisations (neither of them South African, Go amabokkebokke!), a South African chef, a few art-related folks, several get-rich-quick punters (which I instantly block - such people are driven by motives I find deeply unsettling), and so on.

One new follower I gained today is called oohdotcom and this is their blog. Their latest post is a fascinating account of a young man known only as RJ who is referred to as the curator of a rather unusual museum. In fact, his museum is the East End of London itself. His exhibits are examples of urban art/grafitti, and he conducts regular tours. I strongly recommend that you read the whole post, it is very interesting.

But to me, it speaks of the short lifespan of so much of what we deal with today. Everything is transitory. Everything is beta (even alpha?). Some of the work that RJ shows is of a very high standard - work by artists who have exhibited in more traditional galleries. But RJ has to keep on his toes, because, at any moment, an 'exhibit' might be painted over or defaced. New material appears all the time, and disappears again, just as quickly.

It's quick. And getting quicker.

Got to dash. Things to do!

Learning objects

This post has been several years in the brewing, simply because I never could get my tail into gear to do the thing with the photograph (see below). But someone asked me via email to explain my stance on LOs and bish-bash-bosh, it was done. So here goes...

My university is quite partial to what it calls ReLOs. Reusable Learning Objects. Little nuggets of learning that can be treated like beads - strung together in different ways to achieve a variety of effects and serve a range of purposes. Nice idea. Very economical.

But let's use an analogy and suggest that the big picture you want to end up with looks like this (a photo I took from my hotel balcony in Majorca two Easters ago - the only sunny day we had that whole trip).
So you go and source a whole lot of images that you can use to compile this finished image.

You find these.Some of them look quite good on their own. Others are slightly boring but functional. At the end of the course/year/whatever you have created something that looks like this:
Notice the three areas of overlap. That's not a disaster of course. But notice the two voids. In fact, if we scrape together all our voids, the result looks like this:Taken out of context, these bits are pretty meaningless. But let's say that they didn't hang together neatly with any of the LOs we were making. What are we to do with them? If we were making cookies, we could scrape them together and bake a single misshapen cookie at the end of the batch. If we were building with Lego bricks, we could simply leave them out. But if we are aiming for our learners to end up with the big picture view, can we afford to leave these bits out? If not, how can we construct a stand-alone LO object out of them?

To me, the LO approach to learning starts us down the slippery slope of tick boxes, reducing learning down to some tidy thing that it simply isn't. I have issue with silos in almost every area of life, and this is no exception. When it comes to learning, lots of little yesses don't always add up to a big yes. Oh, you can carry out assessments of the type that increasing numbers of us are railing against, and you produce quantitative evidence that your learners have indeed learnt the content of each learning object. But little silos of understanding in respect of each nugget are not necessarily going to add up to your big picture because you have removed the most critical component: context.

Does this make sense?

On handout mentality

Recently, I was looking at working on a project based in southern Africa. It was a very worthwhile project which would open doors to a great many people, and I was deeply excited about it. The project leader, too, was delighted to have found someone who had been born and bred in the region and had an insight into the culture and current events, and a love for its people.

However, my involvement was cut short when it transpired that the project leader expected me (and other consultants) to work pro bono.

His view was that Europe-based consultants working on Africa-based projects do so as an act of charity. That's just the way it is. Didn't we know this? He simply could not imagine how rich westerners could be so churlish as to expect payment from poor Africans. I suspect this was the reason he sought out consultants in Europe rather than trying to find local people to work on the project in the first place.

This dependency mentality is an unfortunate side-effect of the big-hearted work of charities and aid organisations.

Hear me out.

I know many people who have gone to do charity work in poor communities and have found the people there unabashed to ask for (even demand in some cases) items of clothing or other personal possessions. They are so accustomed to rich westerners who 'give them stuff' that it has become an expectation.

It is one way of ensuring that these communities never achieve self sufficiency. Never ascend the steep slopes of our so-called flat world.

I would suggest that, instead of simply deluging these communities with our cast-offs and hand me downs, we should be looking to the longer term. This means engaging with community leaders to draw up a progamme by means of which the community is weaned off its dependency on external assistance. This means leavening the handouts with education, with skills training, and - over a period of time - shifting the balance, so that the community becomes increasingly capable of providing for their own needs. I would expect that, over time, the demand would be for less clothing, more manufacturing skills; less food, more agricultural skills; less this is how it is done, more how do you think we could improve on this. Fewer fish. More fishing rods. (I am not blind to the fact that fundamental needs such as food and clothing are a long way from learning consultancy, but I believe the principle holds because they are informed by the same ingrained practices and expectations).

Until such time as they reach a point where even the education and training are things they are able to do for themselves... and better than any outsider not steeped in the culture and the vagaries of the landscape.

Until they reach a point where, when they identify the need for external expertise they do not yet have (a) they are able to hire such a provider at a fair rate of pay and (b) the external provider's brief includes the mentoring of local people to take up the slack when the contract is over.

This is enablement. This is sharing, rather than giving away in an act of charity, which always puts the giver in a position of superiority over the receiver. This harks back to a previous post about Stephen Downes's giving v sharing argument.

I would have gladly mentored a few southern Africans and worked myself out of a job over time, but in the meantime I expect to be paid for my work. I have bills to pay and a family to feed... and I can't bear the thought of my people being so disempowered as to be dependent on handouts.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

pic of the day - droplets

I don't think I need say very much about this. It's one of those eye-catching images and I was lucky to catch it just right.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

pic of the day - evidence!

Our younger son is one of those responsible kids who does all his homework without being nagged. He is aware of his commitments and (mostly) on top of them. However, he has one sloppy habit. This is it.

Practical tips from Cathy Moore

Cathy Moore has written a neat post with four tips for moving learners from 'clueless to confident'. She isn't really saying anything new... well not to most of the people who hang out in this neck of the woods, anyway, but it is nicely compiled and (like so much of Cathy's stuff) visually appealing.

Cathy's skill is in taking not-so-common sense and packaging it well. Hers is the sort of blog that should be read by people still unconvinced about all this newfangled learner empowerment, collaborative stuff. As a consequence, I recommend it to people who are:

  • just beginning to wonder whether there is any value in these blog things
  • just starting to feel brave enough to wonder if chalk-and-talk is the only way to do things
  • absolutely adamant that the old ways are the best ways (it never did me any 'arm)
Because Cathy's material is so accessible (metaphorically speaking) to people who don't frequent this space, I wonder if there is a more effective way to draw it to their attention.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

pic of the day - sky project

Okay. It's a boring picture. But it forms part of The Sky Project. This is the work of Hannah Hughes for a final major project. Using all manner of viral means, she got as many people as possible to take a photo straight up into the sky at 2pm UK time today. I certainly sent invitations to people based in as many parts of the world as I could manage.

My boring picture forms part of what I hope will be a magnificent collage.

What do we want to do?

This video (link via Judy O'Connell on Facebook) says much that is very telling. But for me, the key quote comes from Prof Stephen Heppell "Now [technology] can do anything we want. And the real question is: what do we want to do?" Until we have that question answered, I suspect we will continue to blunder around in the dark, fumbling and stumbling, unable to figure out why our occasional successes are successful.

Mid-week smile: dress rules

Since most of us in this space appear to be 'of a certain age' (do you know anyone who is of an uncertain age?), I thought I'd share this gem which chortled into my inbox this morning.

Feeling young, we try to conform to current fashions and present a youthful image. Contrary to what you may have seen on the streets, the following combinations DO NOT go together and should be avoided:

  1. A nose ring and bifocals
  2. Spiked hair and bald spots
  3. A pierced tongue and dentures
  4. Miniskirts and support hose
  5. Ankle bracelets and corn pads
  6. Speedos and cellulite
  7. A belly button ring and a gall bladder surgery scar
  8. Unbuttoned disco shirts and a heart monitor
  9. Midriff shirts and a midriff bulge
  10. Bikinis and liver spots
  11. Mini skirts and varicose veins
  12. Inline skates and a zimmer
So you know. I'm off to go and rethink my wardrobe.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Different types of reasoning

I have shared before about my passion for cryptic crossword puzzles, codewords and other word games. But there are other games, too. And these I'm not so great at.

I enjoy Hexic, which presents you with a honeycomb of multicoloured hexagons, which you must manipulate to form clusters of three or more which then disappear from the screen. There's more to it than that with starflowers and black pearls to be earned. My spatial skills are not great, so I have never achieved a black pearl.

I also like to play Rotate Mania, which presents you with a grid of squares split into coloured sections (two, three or four colours). You must once again manipulate these to group together four or more quarters of the same colour and eliminate them from the board. The aim is to clear the board. I have never achieved that. Not once! A significant plus to this game (for me) is that it isn't timed! I hate it when a game starts counting down. I panic and don't achieve anything further.

But the game I am worst at is the one that is apparently responsible for the fact that the most common demographic for online gamers is middle-aged women: Bejeweled (heck, I even struggle with the fact that it only has one L!). Sheesh, was there ever anyone so sucky at a game? In this version, you get one minute. One. And the last 15-20 seconds or so involve a countdown. So I get 45 seconds (unless I remember to mute the sound). In this game, you have to switch 'jewels' around to create rows or columns of three or more, which explode and disappear from the board. I just can't see them. Sometimes, even when I click hint and the little arrow points at a jewel I should move, it still takes me valuable seconds to figure out what to do with it.

I wonder if this blind spot has any bearing on the fact that I also sucked at geometry at school, and am hopeless at chess. I knew the geometry theorems and could do the 'proofs' for those. But I couldn't look at a complex diagram and apply the kind of reasoning necessary to know that all the factors working together mean that angle C=97˚. Similarly, I know how each chess piece moves. I know the principles. I know about things like pinning and castling and that kind of stuff. But I can't devise a strategy in which all the pieces work together to capture the opponent's king while protecting my own. I can't think three moves ahead and play purely reactively, getting my *ss handed to me every time.

I'm much the same when it comes to pool. I can't plan what I'm going to do next and play the cue ball so that it winds up in the right spot for the next shot. I can only play one ball at a time and have to re-assess the table each time I pot one.

I've never been able to figure out which kind of -uctive (ad-, ab-, de- and in-) reasoning is which. All the explanations sound the same to me. As well as involving spatial awareness, do these situations all involve one of those -uctions? And, if so, which one?

Even some of the word games seem to fall into this hole. For example. I am hopeless at Scramble!

An uplifting story

Yesterday's Evening Standard ran a story about a school called Robert Clack in Dagenham. This was a school in trouble, serving the kids from one of London's more deprived areas. The current head teacher, Paul Grant, presumably brought in to address the problems, suspended 300 of its 2000 pupils within his first week. For many of the kids, it was probably the first time in their lives that they were held accountable for their actions.

Last week, the school was awarded the Evening Standard's 'Best State School of the Year' award. The article was accompanied by a photo of some of the kids from the school. These are their ambitions, I have highlighted teaching ambitions for a reason, and will come back to that shortly:

  • Rochelle Rhodes is just 16, and plays netball for the England U19 team. She is tipped to play for England at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 (netball is not an Olympic sport). She wants to be a sports psychologist.
  • Ashton Russell (15) is playing the role of a young Michael Jackson in the West End production of Thriller Live! He hopes to make a career of singing and dancing.
  • Tapfama Mawayo (16) wants to be a doctor
  • Chris Lemmerman (18) wants to teach
  • Tunde Sowande (16) wants to use the law as a springboard to politics and has his sights set on becoming mayor of London.
  • Tina Imatitikua (17) also wants to be a doctor, hoping to follow this path at Oxford, and wants to take her skills back to Africa to work in a teaching hospital
  • George Lovell (16) is still deciding between forensic science and teaching
  • Margarete Riach (18) has been accepted to study economics at Cambridge but is first off on a short trip to Honduras to research tropical canopies
  • Ben Thorne (16) is still deciding between photography and journalism
  • Aarron Dinsdale (17) wants to build hardware or software systems and is determined not to be held back by his cerebral palsy
  • Joshua Aderyeje (16) wants to be a barrister
  • Mitchell Sinfield (16) is keen on drama and sport
  • Michael Smith (15) is secretary of the school council and wants to teach
  • Michelle Makunganya (15) wants a law degree but wants to work in the field of performing arts
  • Jake Knowles (15) isn't sure what he wants to do yet, but is happy to be a drummer for now
Many of the kids and their parents acknowledge the role their teachers have played in their success.

Ashton's mother couldn't afford to send him to a stage school, so she enrolled him for dance lessons at the local studio where she works part time as a dresser. But the Clack school staff spotted and nurtured his talent.

Rochelle speaks of the passion and commitment of her PE teacher in helping her fulfill her potential. The school brought in a coach for her.

But let's look for a moment at our aspiring teachers.
  • George may or may not teach, depending on the call of the forensic sciences on his life.
  • Tina wants to go back to Africa and work at a teaching hospital. She has seen the empowering potential of teaching and the impact it can have on a community.
  • Chris says "I can see looking at the teachers here how much satisfaction you can get from [teaching]"
  • Michael says "I want a career in teaching and hopefully come back here one day."
Sadly, the field may lose George to Forensics because the pay is probably better and he may have to adopt a pragmatic approach. But what a testimony to the teachers at this school are the attitudes of Chris and Michael!

I will continue to say that I think that our current education system is flawed, and that it measures and rewards the wrong things. Nevertheless, this achievement should not be diminished by this view.

Well done to Paul Grant and his team at Robert Clack. And all the very, very best to the students there. May you fulfill your potential and come to look back on your life with contentment.

Monday, May 11, 2009

pic of the day - non-microwaveable

Thank goodness for this sticker! I was planning to pop my new blades into the microwave, as you do.

On accreditation

The last two companies I worked for encouraged informal learning and independent study. I mention those as two separate things with good reason.

Informal learning can involve reading a self-help book, reading and commenting on blog posts, joining special interest groups online, etc.

Independent study can be quite formal, you might be studying for your bachelor's degree in your spare time, for example.

Independent study may result in an accreditation. A certificate of some sort, which you can frame and hang on your wall. It's also a lot easier to quantify in a CV when you're applying for a job. The thing is, though, that knowing that a person has completed the requirements for XYZ degree doesn't really tell you anything very much about that person's ability in the workplace.

Jessie (my half-Akita dog) and I are coming to the end of our current series of obedience classes. We have been invited to re-enrol, with a view to reaching a point where Jessie can do her bronze certificate, followed by her silver then her gold.

Let's consider. We would get a certificate, which we could hang on the wall above her bed. Would that make her a better pet? Would she be more obedient? How obedient do we actually want/need her to be?

At the moment, she comes when she is called. She sits, stands, rolls over, gives a paw, waits (for a bit), stays (also for a bit) and goes to her bed when told.

What the bronze certificate test would not reveal is that she is also devious.

  • She steals things off the kitchen counter, including sharp knives - how she has managed to escape serious injury is beyond me!
  • She lies on the couch in the lounge, until she hears anyone coming, then she leaps off and acts utterly innocent, blissfully unaware that the throw retains what we refer to as her hoof-prints, and the cushions are covered in her hair.
  • She also - and this slays me - pretends to pee. If I take her outside and tell her to 'hurry up', she will squat for a moment and then sit there, grinning and wagging and waiting to be let back into the house.
My point is that the test assesses what a certain group of people have decided is appropriate for this level of obedience. It does not determine what sort of pet she is. It does not establish how obedient she is on other issues.

We want a pet dog that will fit in with our family.

I wonder to what extent the accreditations demanded by recruiters are relevant to the job role the applicant would perform, and the way they would fit in to the team. Must have a first degree. Must be CIPD accredited. Must this. Must that.

I totally understand that the initial slection process is carried out by HR professionals who do not have enough insight into every single job to be able to assess whether a person is likely to be able to handle it based on what they have chosen to share in their CV. So they identify a few key indicators, among which may be some or other form of accreditation. But to what extent are those pieces of paper a reliable indicator? And to what extent are they just like a bronze obedience certificate above the dog's bed?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

pic of the day - Oscar

Our neighbours recently added to their tally of sons. Of course, I came down with a stonking cold just the day he was born, so I have been unable to see him. Today, his Dad brought him out into the garden for a brief moment so that I could catch a glimspe of him over the fence. Cheeky man thanked me for the outfits I had given them, saying that they had worked wonders... the windows had never been so clean!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

pics of the day - Gareth and nuts

You get two pics of the day today because I can't choose. I've been a bit slack on this lately. This is because I hardly ever move outside of my house, because my dog is injured and unable to walk.

The first picture is the friendly face of Gareth who manages Cruga (which has featured here before). He knows everyone and makes them feel welcome and appreciated. His friendly smile and demeanour are a large part of what takes me to the store, even when I don't need anything (and don't get any silly ideas, I'm happily married and his wife is both lovely natured and drop-dead gorgeous!).

The second is a sign outside a pub we have to pass to get to Cruga. My husband chuckles at it every time. Today we stopped to catch a photo of it.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday smile: LOLcats

So here's the Friday smile I promised. A compilation of LOLcats pics. Some funnier than others.

What was your lullaby?

I can't remember how it came about, but this was the song I used to sing to my babies to send them off to sleep.

Just listening to it, now, fills my heart and mind with memories of sleepy boys whose hair smelled of baby shampoo and whose sanctuary was in my arms or their Dad's. Since their Dad isn't really much of a singer (but we don't hold that against him), I used to sing, regardless of which one of us was doing the snuggling.

Now just hang on a second...

I promise not to become a one-trick pony, going on and on about bullying in general and my son's (in fact both sons') experience of it in particular. However, there is something I need to get off my chest.

I have received a lot of support via Twitter, Facebook and email regarding the nightmare that is my son's life at the moment. For this I am deeply grateful.

On Twitter, I attracted the attention of Bullying UK, who sent me an email, giving me a list of escalation steps we can take, such as putting things in writing, going to the board of governors, then to the LEA, involving the police if appropriate, etc. All very useful, practical stuff. And it is good to feel that we have support in this. But there was one section in the email which jumped out at me:

See if your son can invite other boys home so that he has the chance to make new friends, once he has other people to go around with at school the bullies may keep their distance.
Maybe I'm reading more into it than is really there, but the phrase 'other boys' would imply to me that the assumption is being made that the perpetrators are boys. In fact, one of the ringleaders in this case is a girl. The alpha female of his cohort.

Did you just have a moment of "Oh, well that's different, then"? Many people would. When I mentioned to a friend recently that my son's chief tormentor was a girl, he was surprised. For a split second his face bore that look of "He's getting beaten up by a girl?" But this is a whole different kind of beating up. One that girls may even do better than boys. The truth of that dawned on my friend, and we discussed the preconceptions that exist.

Let's look at this. We're not talking about 5 year olds, or even 11 year olds, here. We're talking about 17 year olds. At a school with a catchment of high achievers from 'nice' homes. These kids have moved far beyond bloodied noses in the playground. The physical component of their abuse is subtle and deniable. Shoulder barges in the corridor, a bunch of them poking him with their badminton racquets and then saying it's because he doesn't answer when they call him. But they call him over and over and over. Several of them. All at once. In several lessons. All the time. If/when he finally explodes with a "WHAT?!?!" they all pack up laughing. If a teacher says anything encouraging to him, they make sotto voce remarks about how weird he is, or how he isn't actually that clever.

It goes on and on and on... and this kind of stuff is just as much within the reach of girls as boys. One of his teachers assured me that he should simply blank her, that she would get what was coming to her. Not in any vindictive way, but simply in a sense of reaping what she had sown. I don't really draw comfort from that. I'm not looking for revenge. I'm looking for resolution.

To give them their due, none of the teachers have adopted an attitude that this is less serious, less damaging, less hurtful, less anything because one of the chief perpetrators is a girl and the victim is a boy.

Bullying UK has twittered me just this morning to say that in 90% of cases, bullying is a same-gender practice. I wonder whether that's really true or whether boys bullying girls is treated as sexual harassment and girls bullying boys goes unreported because of the greater stigma attached to the acknowledgement.

Drew Buddy (aka Digital Maverick) sent me a link to this video from Digizen. While it addresses cyberbullying, and focuses on slightly younger kids, the story it tells is very much like my son's.

I can't promise that that will be the last mention I make of this situation. But I would like to move off the topic. I feel imprisoned by it, too, and it's twisting my gut.

So, on to other things. Let me see if I can find a Friday smile....

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Edward Castronova on virtual worlds

A friend sent me a link to this webcast of a presentation to Open University staff by Castronova who is (of all unexpected things) an economist. He talks about Second Life, World of Warcraft and Tolkien... from all sorts of angles, including economy, research and psychology. Check it out. It's long (90 mins) but worth it. Utterly fascinating.


Did you know that it is possible for the US government to extradite a British citizen without evidence on suspicion of crimes committed within the USA? Did you know that no reciprocal agreement exists under which a US citizen can be extradited to the UK without hard evidence?

This man's story is not unique. Three British bankers were extradited to the USA in connection with the whole Enron debacle.

As the closing quote in the Telegraph's article says: "It is a sad day for Britain when the Government is prepared to put political expediency ahead of the protection of its own citizens."

Bullying and ub3r1337ness

Implied profanity warning.

Even if you've only been reading this blog for a short time, you will be aware of my elder son's woes at school. Bullying is not only something that happens to little kids in the playground. It is also not only something that happens to the fat kid or the slow kid. It can also happen to the handsome, bright, confident, sporty kid.

I share our experiences here (a) because we need to speak up against this and (b) in case any other parents are experiencing similar woes.

When our son switched schools in September, he went from being the most popular kid on campus to the most reviled. His life now is filled with sotto voce remarks in maths class, with shoulder barges in the corridor, with en masse proddings with badminton racquets in PE, with gossip and torment and ridicule. ALL. THE. TIME.

My confident-to-the-point-of-arrogance son has disappeared. In his place I have a boy who hides away in his room playing World of Warcraft (WoW) until we drag him away from it to eat, shower, do his chores, finish his course work, etc. I can seldom drag last year's county 200m champion and javelin runner up to the athletics track.

I spoke to him about it recently. I reminded him of the 9 year old boy who played chess for the county team. Whose wails after a defeat could be heard all the way from the team room, but who, by the time the next round was called, had regained a certain set to his jaw and a steely determination in his eye. This boy could not, would not stay down. He was stubborn. He was determined. He was defiant. He was a winner who just had to find a way to persuade his opponent to recognise that fact.

I asked him what had changed. Why he chose to try to keep his head below the parapet, and allow his tormentors to curtail his life so effectively.

As a family, we are not known for profanity, but he produced a torrent of it. He was tired of feeling like sh*t, of being treated like sh*t, of putting up with an endless, unrelenting stream of sh*t all day every day. He just wanted to be left alone. He just wanted to get through a day, just one day without abuse.

He spoke of how he got to help people in WoW. How other players had developed respect for him. How he was able to give people a leg up to achieve greater things (sound like anyone we know?). He spoke of the sanctuary it had become. When the real world becomes too much, aren't we all tempted to retreat into fantasy? In this respect, how is playing WoW different from reading fiction all day every day, or retreating into daydreams?

Up until now, I have been the one contacting the school and trying to deal with issues, while respecting the boundaries my son had set. At the same time, I tried to persuade him to let us take it further. I worried that retreating after the first intervention proved counter-productive only served the bullies' agenda.

Yesterday my husband decided that enough was enough. That, sorry kiddo, but there are times when a parent has to overrule his son. He made an appointment to speak to the head of 6th form at the school. Man to man. About a boy. It was hard for me to butt out. But my husband has a different way of dealing with things and my way hasn't worked.

After they had had a discussion, they called the lad in. Between them, they set some plans in action but... and here's the kicker, the head said he totally understood what a retreat WoW can be and how easy it is to sucked in to the exclusion of all else. Now you can imagine the 'oh yeah' written all over the face of a 17 year old who hears this from his head... until the man reveals that he is a level 80 Night Elf Rogue and a level 78 Human Paladin.

Now I don't play the game, so I didn't know quite how impressive this was until I told my younger son this news, whereupon he declared the head to be 'ub3r1337' (pronounced uber-leet).

So now, there is this sense of connection. Of someone who understands. We have a partner. Our son has an ally. While he freely acknowledges he can't manufacture a friend, the head has undertaken to put a stop to the torment, without putting my son at further risk. Whether it will work or not remains to be seen. In the meantime, there is an open door policy for my son, should he ever need a safe space to retreat to.

Now we get to hold our breath to see if this will work. Exams are looming and WoW isn't going to get him the grades that he needs to go the university he wants!

A map of flags

Someone sent me an invitation to a stupid quiz on Facebook. For a change, I opted not to do this one (I do a lot of stupid quizzes on FB... my sons and many of their contemporaries are FB friends of mine), but I absolutely loved the graphic for it. It was a map of the world, where each country was filled with its own flag. I failed to find the image in its own right on the Internet (maybe the quiz maker created it, rather than breaching copyright - what a novel idea!), but I did find this, which is similar.

Any geography teachers out there? I don't know enough to know whether it's accurate, but I do know that, if it is, it is unlikely to remain that way for long! Catch it while you can. deposes TinyURL

Twitter has declared the king of the link shortening services, ousting TinyURL from top spot. Tweetdeck (and if you haven't tried using this as your Twitter interface, yet, I recommend that you do) has been using all along, and my unofficial impression is that's shortened links were shorter, which is rather handy when you want to include a link in your 140 character twitter message.

But that's not really the point. See this ReadWriteWeb article..

In addition to providing shortened URLs, also serves as a trend management and metrics platform. Those of us who bang on about everything being about people, will be gratified by this paragraph (the emphasis is mine):

The key idea behind the Web is that pages are connected through hypertext links. Google changed the world and made money beyond anyone's wildest dreams by analyzing those connections between pages. It was a simple proposition, at its core: the more a page is linked to, the more authoritative it is. The web isn't just pages anymore, though. Now the web also includes people as a fundamental factor to take into consideration.
According to the article, claims that its API (application programming interface) is close to allowing users to ask it questions like:
within the last hour, what are the five hottest web pages about President Obama's budget? What social networks are sharing links to my web page the most today? What are ornithologists on Twitter most interested in this week?
It sounds like we're closing in on the kind of web app that can be set to a task and left to get on with it, while you do other stuff. Rather like the sort of thing I was referring to in this post. Am I beginning to see the clouds and hear the cuckoos?

pic of the day - sick

My elder son pretty much got to school, had a meeting with the head of 6th form and then turned around and came home, where he took to his bed. He's keeping me company, since I feel grotty, too.

On bureaucracy

So my boys' passports have expired. They have always had Swedish passports, since at the time, the choice was Swedish or South African and we thought the former would be less problematic in the future. Given all the problems with the South African Home Office at the moment, this was a good call.

But Swedes are not permitted to hold two passports. Dual citizenship is not an option. Because we live in the UK, we have to demonstrate that they have not taken out British citizenship before the Swedish consulate will renew their passports.

We wrote a little letter to the British Home Office asking them to confirm this, so that we can get a move on with the renewals.

Yesterday some forms arrived. We have to fill these in, requesting "Confirmation of non-acquisition of British citizenship" at a cost of £75 (non-refundable).

So to satisfy the vagaries of the Swedish Home Office, we have to pay the UK Home Office £150 (two sons, remember). This is before the fees associated with getting the new passports.

Good thing I'm feeling so flush at the moment... NOT!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

On ownership

Last night there was a minor crisis in our house. Our desktop computer has four separate log-ins, one for each member of the family. I was in the middle of publishing a project for a client on my log-in, ready to upload to their drop box. While that was happening, I was watching CSI and working on my laptop.

My husband picked this moment to upgrade the software (using his own log in). This of course crashed my publish and delayed my upload. So I was sitting right here until 2 this morning sorting it out. This wasn't helped by the upgraded software's idea of zipping. Zip a 33MB folder and it gets squeezed right down to 32! Fabulous. Not.

You see, my husband is so used to being the one who makes decisions about the computer kit in our house, that it didn't occur to him to check with me first.

And it is this 'assumptions' thing I want to look at today.

Some years ago, I started working for a company as their in-house IT trainer. Unusually, I was based in the IT team. I quickly discovered that the team did not enjoy a good reputation with the rest of the staff, something they were quick to dismiss as par for the course.

But, during a floorwalking session at one of the branches, I was treated to a demonstration of why this was the case. The staff member I was assisting had placed a call to the IT team earlier in the day. They had told her that, in order to resolve her problem, they would have to LAN-assist her computer and promised to contact her later in the day to do so. As we were sitting there, working through a few things, her screen was suddenly taken over by a member of the IT team, working remotely.

I phoned them and pointed out that (a) this was not a convenient time and more importantly (b) it was just plain rude. The helpdesk manager snapped at me that this was the only time they had available and, either the staff member allowed them to carry out the work or it wouldn't get done. Take it or leave it.

At our IT team meeting the following Monday morning, I raised the issue of service levels and tried to explain that the staff members were our customers. The team was unrepentant. As far as they were concerned, all IT kit was an asset of the IT department and the staff members should be grateful for the service provided.

It's this issue of ownership and service we need to think about. Imagine if a mechanic from the dealership suddenly flagged you down on the high street and started working on your car. Or if your bank manager suddenly trooped a whole load of workmen into your house to redo the wiring in the middle of a dinner party.


Imagine someone on your staff is plodding their way through a traditional elearning resource and you decide to upgrade/update it without so much as a by-your-leave while they're right in the middle of it. They lose their place. They can't remember what they've covered and haven't covered. There was one screen they came back to time after time because it was so useful to them... and that screen is gone in the new version, or the content of that screen has been split among several different screens in different sections.

I'm not saying we shouldn't update some of our learning materials. Goodness knows, some of it was dated when it was new!

The point I'm trying to make is that we need to stop thinking of this stuff as being 'ours' as in 'belonging to the L&D team' and start thinking of it as 'ours' as in belonging to 'all of us on the team/staff/whatever'.

In learning terms, this is part of the same mentality that puts the learner at the centre of our consciousness as we identify needs; devise strategies to meet them; design, develop or procure resources; implement solutions, etc.

If we're thinking like that, we'll consider the impact on the learner before we do that upgrade. And the learner won't be taken by surprise when it happens, because he will have been kept informed of and probably been involved in the development of said upgrade. In fact, he might have been the one to identify the need for it.

It's time to move on from the approach that leaves people feeling 'done to' and disempowered.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Teacher Poppins, are you out there?

Via Derek Wenmouth, here is an ad put together by some lovely kids looking for a teacher who is Practically Perfect in Every Way to step into the breach while their regular teacher goes on maternity leave.

I hope they find him/her. They deserve it.

Just watch out for the kid doing a fair impression of The Rock's raised eyebrow.

On pointing fingers

One of the things I have learned about human beings is our tendency to combine finger-pointing and denialism.

Let's consider a few scenarios:
There's a pregnant teenager who is being ostracised by her peers. There is a great deal of scandalised finger-pointing and 'oh my word!' going on... quite often by people who are also sexually active and therefore also at risk.

There's a woman sitting listening to a sermon in church, thinking how much she hopes X is listening to this, because this is something he should address in his life. X is thinking exactly the same about her.

Yesterday, this exchange went down on my Facebook page:
The closing riposte was perhaps unkind of me. But I was irked by the implied assumption that we had to put up with a barrage of 'when we' without contributing anything similar ourselves. Zimbabweans who emigrated to South Africa were sharply aware of how different life was there from what they had known. Zimbabweans and South Africans who have both emigrated to the UK share reminiscences as if life in the two countries was largely the same.

Side note: I am embarrassed when I remember my own attitude to immigrants to South Africa. At a time when I had only ever called one country home, I was intolerant of their longing for the life they had known. My view was that they had chosen to leave that life and they should now just get over it and get on with it. Many of my friends who are still living in South Africa still demonstrate that attitude, as you can see. If you have only ever lived in one country please, please believe that it is a whole lot tougher than you can imagine.

But I wonder to what extent this blind spot tendency can impact our learning. When a learner is working through a resource about management skills, instead of taking on board something to change her own practice, what are the chances that she's thinking, "I hope Mike is going to work through this stuff, he really needs to learn this..."

In my seventeen years as a classroom-based trainer, I regularly heard learners say things like "I wish my boss/colleague/secretary/whoever would come on this course. S/he really needs to learn this stuff!" Of course, chances are that if/when said boss/colleague/you-get-the-picture does come on the course, they will be thinking exactly the same about someone else in their turn.

Of course, much depends on the drivers impacting the individual in particular and their employment sector in general. An academic person may well react very differently from someone working in the non-profit sector, who will be different again from the rather more cut-throat world of the big corporates, and so on.

Because we work with knowledge and learning, because this stuff matters to us for its own sake, we may tend to overlook the tendency of some (many? most?) learners to assume that a particular section applies to the mythical 'someone else'. But it would probably do us good to design with this tendency in mind...

And I'm not pointing fingers, here - I'm thinking of my own practice, too!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A tale of medical woe...

I sent this email to my family yesterday and my mother is convinced I should share it with a wider audience. So here it is. Feel free to give it a miss if you're not interested in the detail of what went down at my nerve conduction test...

So the day of my 'emergency' nerve conduction test finally rolled around. John decided to drive me to the hospital and you will see why this proved to be a Good Thing.

A sweet, portly little man called Dr Aziz herded me into his little room and sat me down on the bed, facing him and his machine. He put a pillow in my lap, and I had to rest my arm on this. Palm up. The machine was kinda like a computer with wires coming out of it. It didn't really look scary. My PC has lots of wires coming out of it, too. So far, so ho hum. The kindly doctor chats conversationally. Okay, this is going to be easy.

Error! Error! Error!

He attached a thingy of some sort to my wrist with velcro. Then he attached an earth (I kid you not) to my palm. Next, he held an electrode against various parts of my arm and asked me to indicate when I felt an electric current each time. This ranged from vaguely prickly to 'whoops! what was that?' So far, so tolerable.

Error! Err... Okay, you get the general idea.

At this point, the odd little man selects a needle, which he attaches to one of the wires. Then he shoves the flipping needle right in to my deltoid muscle. Okay that wasn't pleasant. Then, he tells me to flex the muscle... while it has a ruddy great needle stuck in the middle of it. The machine starts chattering madly. I understand that it is reading the strength of the electrical impulses being transmitted along my muscle. Okay that was even more NOT pleasant. Are we done, yet?

Apparently not.

Now the sadist sticks the ruddy great needle into a little muscle next to my thumb. Since we have been getting on like a house on fire, and he has decided that I am an intelligent woman who wants to know this stuff, he tells me what the muscle is called. I think he called it the thisisfrickingouchitoid muscle. Yup. I'm pretty sure that was it. Now the raving lunatic (where did the sweet little man go? Is this what retired torturers re-train to do?) asks me to press my thumb up against the length of my forefinger. The machine chatters again. At this point, I can hear roaring in my ears. He pulls the needle out, and it is followed by torrents of blood. "I'm bleeding," I point out, stupidly. Well duh. The nurse lady, whose face has acquired an alarming habit of shape-shifting, calmly hands me a gauze pad. She seems not to appreciate that I might die of exsanguination at any moment!

The little viper stabs me in the tricep muscle and asks me to flex it. Sure. Why the heck not? muttermuttermumblemumble i'dliketoflexabluntinstrumentoveryourhead. I grit my teeth and comply, while the machine mocks me with its chattering laughter. I point out that I'm not feeling awfully well. The doctor sends the nurse lady to get me some water. I look forward to a sip of icy cold water to restore my equilibrium. She brings me something she swiped from someone's bed bath.

"Last one" announces the poisonous little toad with a smile and stabs me deep in the bicep. "Flex again." I comply and the world goes dark as the machine laughs long and loud. I can feel myself sliding sideways onto the bed. With a practised hand, the torturer whips the needle out before I land on it. Next thing I know, the doctor and the nurse are each holding one of my feet above the height of my head.

"I'm fine!" I announced decisively and sit up hastily to prove it. Bad idea. Head between knees time.

After a few moments, the sadist morphs back into the doctor. The shapeshifter becomes a nurse. The gushing torrents of blood turn out to be about four drops from each wound.

I totter back to my husband. Why, oh why did I wear 4" heels today?

It was at least an hour before the pain in my thumb went away, and the muscles still twinge if I catch them at an odd angle.


The doc thinks there is no need for surgery. What a sweet little man!

pic of the day - pineapple upside-down cake

I tried out a new recipe tonight... from the Tessa Kiros book that featured here a few days ago. Note - it hasn't burnt, the dark patches are where the syrup has carameised. Can't tell you how it tastes, yet. It's for tomorrow, when we will have a house full of Zimbabwean ex-pats popping in for lunch.

Main course, a barbecue - or more correctly, a braai (pronounced like the first syllable of bridal) with boerewors, ribs and chicken flatties, as well as sadza... and some salads.

The cake will be served as dessert with creme fraiche and/or vanilla ice cream. I might make a milktart as well (note: the photo in this link has wa-ay too little cinnamon on top, it should be more like this)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

bonus pic of the day - nice hat

A while back, some wag did this. Today we were finally in a position to get a photo, i.e. not a lot of traffic, a driver and a front seat passenger with a camera. Woohoo!

pic of the day - nerve conduction test

Horrible. Horrible. Horrible.

I went for my nerve conduction test today. Fortunately John decided to drive me there, because it would have been a while before I was in a fit state to drive back.

First, this very sweet little rheumatologist man attached some electrodes to various parts of my arm and hand and asked me to say when I could feel the current passing through the muscles. That bit was prickly but not really painful.

Then, when I thought we were done, he stuck a needle right into my deltoid muscle and asked me to flex it. Slightly painful. Next he stuck the needle into a tiny little muscle right next to my thumb. Ouch! He did tell me the name of the muscle, but I was in no mood to pay attention. He asked me to flex that muscle, too, which was very painful... and it remains painful now. After that came the tricep. Slightly painful. Then came the bicep. Sore enough when the needle went in, but when I had to flex it ("as hard as you can, please"), it was too much.

I passed out.

This has obviously happened before, because I distinctly remember the doctor whipping the needle out as I slid sideways onto the bed. Thank goodness, because I landed on that side! I was only out for moments, I'm sure. But when I came 'round, the doctor and the nurse had each raised one of my legs above the level of my head.

The good news is that it seems there is no need for surgery.

Apparently, the orthopod will advise me as to exercises I can do, and what positions to adopt when sleeping, etc. I can't help feeling that this sort of advice should have been given several months ago when I first hurt myself.

But I'm too thrilled at the 'no surgery' prognosis to be upset about it.

On a more serious note... UGC

UGC= user generated content. I don't think I need to say any more than that.


Cynics move along. Nothing to see here.

I like TJ Thyne's work, being a Bones fan. But this little video says so much. Yes it's cheesy. But what the heck? It's Saturday and I'll be cheesy if I want to.


Friday, May 01, 2009

On confidentiality and trust

So I get this phone call today. Some guy with a strong accent, obviously based in an off-shore call centre asks for me by name. When I say that he already is already speaking to me, he says he believes I recently got injured in an accident that wasn't my fault. I tell him that this is not the case. "Oh?" he says. "No slips or falls, then, in the past few months?"

So what I want to know is this - do they just work their way through the phone records and make these same overtures to everyone? Or has the call centre some how got their hands on my NHS records?

Because, yes. I did have a fall several months ago. I slipped on the stairs and grabbed the rail to stop myself from falling. In the process, I injured my neck really badly. I am only just beginning to recover from it.

But it happened in my home... so who would I sue? And it was (kind of) my own fault. I was wearing new glasses and misjudged the top step. Should I sue the opticians?

Sometimes things happen and we just have to accept that it was unfortunate and move on with our lives. All this suing and litigating... it's no way to live.

But I digress.

Some years ago, my husband was a partner in a printing bureau. They printed what amounts to junkmail. Of the kind that is addressed to you personally. Various sources were available for this information: TV licence data, voters' roll data, telephone lists, etc. While even this is a bit of a grey area for me in terms of ethics, at least it is only my name and address that is being made available.

But when someone in India knows about a fall I had... well, I thought medical records were supposed to be confidential.

Or is it indeed just a co-inky-dink, and I'm just reading too much into it?

On customer service

I reported a few days ago that our boiler had gone on the blink. I contacted one gas engineer chap about it and he identified the problem over the phone as being a faulty/damaged diverter valve. He made a call to the supplier and came back with a quote for £290 for the job.

Since money is tight, I thought I'd do some homework to see whether this was a reasonable quote. I phoned the supplier to get a price on the diverter valve (£112). I also made enquiries as to the usual hourly rate for gas engineers (£50-60), and the estimated length of time a job like this would take (1 hour). According to my calculations, that comes to about £170 give or take.

A friend gave me another number to try.

This man came to the house first thing this morning. He opened the diverter valve and found that, while the rest of it was fine, the rubber diaphragm was torn. Imagine trying to keep a straight face while you tell a woman there's a hole in her diaphragm!

He went off to the supplier and found that the diaphragms for this make aren't sold separately. You have to buy the complete diverter valve unit (£112, remember?). So he looked around at a few similar makes until he found one with the same-sized diaphragm, which was sold separately. This was so cheap, he didn't even charge us for it.

£53 + VAT for one hour's labour = £60.95

My husband and I immediately programmed his number into our mobile phones for future reference. I'll be happy to pass it on to local readers.

This is called looking after your customer's interests!