Tuesday, March 31, 2009

pic of the day - it isn't arthritis

So, the results of my recent xrays came back today. The good news is that I don't have arthritis. The bad news is that we now have no idea why my fingers are changing shape!

Happy birthday, Harold!

Just in case you missed in on Twitter and Facebook, where I have trumpeted the news, today is Harold Jarche's birthday. It is a very important birthday, too. Let me give you a hint in the form of an image lifted from the (very impolite) birthday greeting I sent him.

So let me pay a birthday tribute to someone who has become a friend.

I have never actually met Harold. We recently chatted via Skype and realised with some surprise that this was the first time we had actually conversed socially in a synchronous setting. When I was introduced to the world of blogging, Harold's was one of the first blogs I read. I don't know how I came to hear about him. His might have been one of the blogs recommended by the person who opened up this whole vista to me in the first place. His blog is still one that I read every day.

There are issues on which we disagree, but that disagreement has always been rationally and amicably discussed. It has never degenerated into the sort of unpleasantness which rears its head from time to time, even in this usually civilised space.

In fact, one of my earliest memories of Harold involves just such an incident. I got lambasted by another commenter on one of Harold's posts, and, to my astonishment, got an email from Harold, apologising for the treatment I had received. I was touched by his concern and decided that he was a Nice Man.

This view was in no way damaged by pictures of Harold. Now don't go reading anything silly into that statement. I defy you to tell me that this is not the face of a Nice Man! I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I also know that we all do exactly that much of the time!

Harold is unstintingly generous and supportive of the members of his wide network. He has offered to help me draw up proposals, and I recently saw a tweet from him in which he offered to help someone else write a report.

Harold is a principled man whose integrity is worth a great deal to him.

Oh, and I can't help it, but a person who speaks with pride about their spouse to someone whose opinion doesn't matter, scores extra brownie points with me. I have learnt (from him) that his wife is generous, kind and talented. He has shared links to some of her endeavours, and I concur at least with the last of those (I don't have any foundation for an opinion on the first two, as yet). He speaks with pride about the achievements of his children, too. So family obviously matters to him and, since I am of the view that the gradual disappearance of the family unit is largely at the heart of much that is wrong with society today, this earns him extra points in my book.

Perhaps the day will come when Harold and I finally meet in person and I am pretty certain that will be a hug moment, rather than a handshake moment. Even if that day never comes, I count him among my friends. Not in the sense of a Facebook friend, but in the sense of a person whose welfare matters to me.

So swing by his blog and inundate him with birthday wishes, I double dare you!

Is there room for disagreement?

In the midst of the furore that has resulted from Saul Carliner's article on the longevity of instructor-led learning (which, incidentally, I think is best addressed by Stephen Downes), I find myself being corrected by Donald Clark in respect of my understanding of informal learning. I was a little puzzled because the comment didn't read like Donald Clark's usual stuff - far too polite ;o). Turns out that this is an altogether different Donald Clark!

What I said, in a comment on Tony Karrer's post, was:

The assumption seems to be made that informal learning = social media.

This is not the case. Let me say emphatically that informal learning has constituted the bulk of workplace learning for years. According to which research you read, something between 70%-85% of what people learn, they learn by asking the bloke at the next desk. Okay, he might not really be at the next desk. He might in fact be on the other end of the phone, working for the helpdesk. He might be your husband (who is often my first port of call when I have a software question). He might be an ex-colleague. He might work two floors down. He might be the author of a helpful article you read in a magazine.

And yes, he might be a she. I used 'he' in the generic sense for ease of expression.

This all qualifies as informal learning.

In fact, reading someone's doctoral thesis also constitutes informal learning if it isn't a prescribed part of an accredited programme you are following.

Informal simply means that the learner is in charge of what, when, how, how fast, how often, how much, by which route, etc. Formal means that someone else has made those decisions and the learner has to comply.
Clark responded with:

Karyn's comment that informal learning is "something between 70%-85% of what people learn" and "Informal simply means that the learner is in charge of what, when, how, how fast, how often, how much, by which route, etc." is not really true.

The studies generally make only two distinctions when discussing learning in the workplace: 1) formal learning is directed by learning professionals and 2) informal learning is basically everything else.

Informal learning (at least in the studies) is composed of what the learner themselves choose to learn and the learning that is directed by their managers or an experienced coworker. Thus we basically have three types of learning:
1. Formal is structured by trainers, instructors, etc. and accounts for 15-30% of what people learn.

2. Non-Formal is structured by managers or coworkers and accounts for the part of the remaining 70%-85%.

3. Informal is structured by the learners themselves and is also included in the remaining 70%-85%.
I confess, I had never even heard of 'non-formal' learning. Nor do I see a reason to draw a line between it and informal learning. In fact, I contend that the whole notion of informal learning defies the drawing of firm lines at all.

I would say that my definition lines up rather more closely with what Jay Cross has to say on the subject. However, if I am wrong, I am happy to be corrected. What do you think?

Since my readership is not particularly wide, please consider directing your own readers here to contribute to the discussion. I would like to capture as wide a range of perspectives as possible, since this is an area I am writing about in my dissertation.

Living next door to Calvin

Recently, I invoked the ire of a fellow South African with a blog post about the declining state of things in that country. One of his/her comments seemed to imply a belief that the economic decline in 'the west' was not going to have an impact there. I beg to differ. My view is that the world these days is so interconnected, we no longer live in national siloes, where the (mis)fortunes of one country stop at its borders.

Earlier today, I found myself choking in disbelief at a view expressed by a pregnant, unemployed English teenager living on benefits (welfare). She was being interviewed on a radio programme together with former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. The host asked her her views on the economic downturn, to which she blithely replied, "It doesn't affect me." To give him his due, the interviewer remarked that she was then the only person unaffected by the situation.

By contrast, some of the Indian people I follow on Twitter report that they are watching the western economy with a cautious eye. Apparently they have seen little evidence of the downturn there, thus far, but they expect that it will hit. Particularly in the massive off-shore outsourcing market.

I recently posted a rather upbeat post in which I declared you all to be local. This has its downside, too. What affects you, affects me. Never did the passage "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12:15) have more relevance!

I know that things are probably tough for you, right now. They're tough for me, too. And they look set to get tougher. Just today, I was chatting with a lady I met as we were out walking our respective dogs (I've mentioned before my tendency to talk to any and everybody, anywhere, anytime) and she told me that the school which is almost next door to my house has just laid off 10 full time teachers, four learning support assistants and 10 cleaners. Unless the school has adopted some creative methods for taking up the slack, that's a whole cohort of kids whose education has been negatively impacted. And believe me when I say that this high school has the sort of catchment that can least afford it!

I don't understand much about finance and economy. If there is such a condition as dysfinancia, I have it. Severely. But from the little I do understand, I would say that it will be another 18 months or so before the economy starts to swing back up again, and another decade before we recover from the effects of this recession.

In this space we can alert one another to opportunities. We can empathise with one another. We can mentor one another. We can provide guidance. If the rope really hits the rudder, we might even find ourselves reaching out to some of our number in material ways.

So let's keep it real. No denial here, okay?

Monday, March 30, 2009

pic of the day - waiting

My appointment was scheduled for 15:50.

Please note that I did not call them and request a 15:50 slot. That's not how the NHS works. They send you a letter telling you where and when to report, include a snippy little paragraph about kindly being punctual. If you can't make the slot they allocate you, they push you to the back of the queue and send you another letter of the same sort instructing you where to go and when to go there on some date about 3 months after the first one.

Having kindly been punctual, I was not best pleased to still be waiting at the time this picture was taken, especially not since the office staff had just shut up shop and left and I was all alone in the waiting room, having originally arrived to find it heaving with people.

I was finally called at 17:45, when I was met by an officious, self-important little man who had the nerve to tell me that sometimes we were dealt these life-changing events, but that this was not one of them. He lectured me about working around the constraints of my current circumstances without once enquiring (a) what my life normally looked like or (b) whether I had indeed already made any adjustments!

The upshot is that surgery is required and I am being referred to yet another unit to that end. Goodness knows how long that will take!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

pic of the day - preacher man

Tonight, for the first time ever, my husband preached in church. He regularly shares during the Wednesday night small group we lead, and he has delivered the message at the men's meetings he helps lead, but this was his first 'proper' sermon. He did a grand job! I'm very proud of him.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

today's pic of the day - a spring collage

I mentioned that I had being working on a collection of spring photos. So today, just for fun, I made this little collage using Smilebox. I had to pay US$2.99 for this collage, but there are many free options.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Springtime
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yesterday's pic of the day - fail

Last night, I was due to attend a presentation by a lady from the local premature baby unit, during which we were to knit hats for the premature babies. The reason for this is that the babies wear these hats to help keep their body temperatures up as they lack this capacity themselves. Of course, most of the babies leave the hospital still wearing the hats, which means they need a constant supply.

I had planned to take a photo of the ladies busily knitting away for yesterday's pic of the day, but, instead wound up rushing my younger son to the after-hours medical practice. He's fine, but of course, I didn't think to take my camera with me as I hurtled out of the door! As a consequence I came up empty yesterday.

Fortunately, I have been knitting a few of these hats in any case, so here you see a photo of two of them, with my standard sized business card included for size reference.

Friday, March 27, 2009

LPoD - a bubble bursts

Thanks to a tweet from Claudia Ceraso, aka fceblog, I viewed this video today. It features Kevin Murphy, a lecturer from Ithaca university and proposes a whole new interpretation of one of my all time favourite poems, Robert Frost's The Road not Taken. True to his title, Murphy does deliver a lecture. Not even chalk and talk. Just talk. And he doesn't move from his spot behind the podium. If, therefore, you have a short attemntion span and/or you don't have a deep interest in the poem, skip straight to the end of this post.

It puts me in mind of the song Every Breath You Take by the Police. It is one of the most popular first dance choices for newly married couples. What none of them seem to realise is that this is not a song about deep and abiding love. It's a song about an obsessed spurned-lover-turned-stalker. I kid you not. Listen to the lyrics. According to one article I read, even the artists are baffled that people could misinterpret the song so completely.

In much the same way, I feel as if my comfortable illusions about Frost and this poem have been shattered. But Murphy mounts a compelling argument.


How many people work here?

Of course, the joke goes... "How many people work here? About half."

The launch of YouTube EDU is big news today, and I am thrilled for people like Vicki Davis, who have previously found the list of related videos listed beside her students' work included some inappropriate material.

But this post from Rich Hoeg touches on one of my soapbox points. He talks about YouTube entering the land of relevancy with this launch, and mentions that "companies are worried that employees will waste time watching dumb videos".

My response to this is twofold.

Firstly, YouTube has boasted relevent material pretty much from the get go. Think CommonCraft. Think MIT. Think countless individuals posting tutorials on anything from kip ups to quadratic equations. Give me a break! Every time one of my sons complains that there is something they don't understand about a part of their school work, I say "YouTube!" We have yet to be disappointed.

Secondly, why did you recruit these goof off artists? If an organisation is staffed by people who have to be treated like naughty children with all sorts of bars and blocks, surely the recruitment process is flawed? Do we or do we not employ adults? Do they or do they not want to be here? Are they or are they not delivering results? Do they or do they not often work overtime, staying late to get a project finished? If they do, then what's the harm if they spend a morning now and then watching 'dumb videos'?

Can we not move on from this corralling, forcing, coercing, compelling mentality that is also responsible for the development of so-called learning resources that are fashioned as a tunnel of back and next buttons from which the user can't escape? I have found that when you accord people trust and respect, and start from the assumption that they actually want to do their jobs and do them well, they usually step up to the oche. When you treat them like a flock of sheeple they become demotivated passengers faster than you can say "Baa-aa!"

Stated crassly, if you have a load of freeloading ingrates on your staff, it's probably your own fault.... and I'd be more than happy to help you look into your recruitment and performance management processes ;o)

Okay. Soapbox moment over.

Friday smile

Someone sent me this today, and I had to share it.

You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.
- Alan, age 10
No person really decides before they grow up who they're going to marry.
God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you're stuck with.
- Kristen, age 10

Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER by then.
- Camille, age 10
No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married.
- Freddie, age 6

You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.
- Derrick, age 8

Both don't want any more kids.
- Lori, age 8

Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know
each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.
- Lynnette, age 8
On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.
- Martin, age 10

I'd run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns.
-Craig, age 9

When they're rich.
- Pam, age 7
The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn't want to mess with that.
- Curt, age 7
The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It's the right thing to do.
- Howard, age 8

I don't know which is better, but I'll tell you one thing. I'm never going to have sex with my wife. I don't want to be all grossed out.
- Theodore, age 8
It's better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them.
- Anita, age 9

There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn't there?
- Kelvin, age 8

And the #1 Favourite is........

Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a truck.

The Little Red Wagon

Just this morning, I heard on Twitter (as part of the #followfriday initiative) about an 11 year old lad called Zach who is no less than the founder of his own organisation called The Little Red Wagon. Nothing I tell you here can prepare you for what this kid is doing and the difference he is making.

I know I'm an over-emotional old bat, but I am moved to tears, and you just might be, too. He is quite an astonishing lad. He has even been awarded the presidential call to service award, which honours those who have given more than 4000 (yup, four thousand) hours of service over the course of a lifetime!

People express their concern to his mom that he isn't getting to be a kid. As she says, "He's being the kind of kid he wants to be."

I reckon she deserves some of the credit, too, for being an encourager and enabler. Not every mother would have allowed their kids to take on a project like this.

Zach B, I salute you!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

pic of the day - waxing charitable

I went to an open evening at a local beauty salon that has just changed hands, and there, in the middle of it all, was this man, having his legs waxed in aid of Comic Relief. He was fairly 'tanked up' before the event, in attempt to dull the pain. I would say, judging by the noise he was making, that he succeeded only in lowering his inhibitions and losing his stiff upper lip!

Call me irresponsible...

Times are tough. Everywhere you go, increasing numbers of people are out of work. And into these uncertain waters, I chose to sail my little one-woman vessel. As if that wasn't bad enough, I'm turning business away!


One organisation asked me to help their staff upskill in the use of a software package. I directed them to the free online tutorials on offer from the vendor. As well as the user discussion forums. I even told them the bespoke stuff the vendor offers is better and cheaper than anything I could do.

Fool! I hear you say. But it was the truth. If times are tough, this organisation - which is a non-profit with the future of the planet in mind - needs every to save every penny it can. I told them what I would do if it were my decision to make.

Another organisation approached me to run some brainstorming sessions for inexperienced instructional designers - looking at ways to design creatively. I pointed them at Clive Shepherd's 60 minute masters as a first call.

Once again, I advised them as I would if I worked for the organisation.

Maybe I'll hear back from them. Maybe I won't. My conscience is clear. My integrity unsullied. And that's worth a lot to me. I don't want to know exactly how much, because the answer to that question will only be learned when/if I actually take the money.

Look at it this way: you only know how deep something is when you reach the bottom of it.

I have never had the talent or the stomach for subterfuge. I have so often been rapped over the knuckles for tipping my hand to the opposition or the customer. I prefer to work with all cards on the table. Anyone dealing with me always knows exactly what the deal is. I will not lie in my resume. I will not exercise sleight of hand on a project.

I have never before felt as free to be honest as I do in my vulnerable little vessel. I always felt as if I should run something by the boss first, in case I were breaking some code or other that I never seemed to get the hang of. Just today, I sent an email to a client that said, "I'm afraid I'm not techie enough to be able to give you an answer on that."

And how refreshing it was to be allowed to own up to something without being afraid that it would earn me a reprimand from someone more skilled at dissembling corporate politics.

Hawthorne and my happy snaps

The Hawthorne effect is said to be the change brought about in a situation under research as a result of the researcher's scrutiny and attention.

This year, I embarked (uninvited) on a 'pic of the day' project of the sort that Stephen Downes and a few others conducted last year. Each day I publish here (and in Facebook) a photo of something I have done or seen. As a result, I seem to go everywhere with my rather large camera hanging around my neck.

I find that my attention is heightened as I keep an eye out for that photo opportunity that will become today's pic of the day. I often see things I might otherwise not have noticed. I also find myself stopping on walks and drives to capture something on film. There are times when I pass something in my car and think, "Rats! That would have made a great shot for pic of the day, but I can't stop here/now."

Because it is now spring, I found myself taking many of my photos of flowers and such. I was rather pleased with some of the results. In 2006, I invited my sister to come and spend two weeks with me during the autumn as my birthday gift to her. Living in South Africa, she hasn't really experienced an autumn in rich colour. Most South African vegetation is evergreen. She was unable to come, so I sent autumn to her, in the form of a series of photos. I so enjoyed the project, that I decided to one for spring this year, in addition to my pic of the day.

Now, I find myself stopping every few minutes on my walk with the dog, or on my drives around the place. Each time I go out for coffee with a friend, I wind up taking pictures of some new vista. Not all of them make it into the 'spring' set, of course, but I find myself noticing things a lot more.

Yesterday, I mentioned on Twitter that I had been out taking pictures of spring flowers. One of my followers, 'peace82' mentioned that s/he enjoyed such pictures, so I posted a link to the set on Flickr. Having viewed them, 'peace82' asked me if I were a photographer. I was gobsmacked.

I am an utterly amateurish happy snapper. I have none of the skill that goes with creating a professional photograph. But then I looked again at one or two of the photos and thought that they were of decent quality. Not least, yesterday's photo of a mallard, for which I used a level of zoom that had previously resulted in vague blurs in my doltish hands. That photo emboldened me to take a few close-ups today (for example). I owe a debt of gratitude to Christian Payne, aka Documentally, for sharing this trick. I have begun to use the camera neck strap in much the same way, to excellent effect.

As I returned from my walk this morning, I reflected that, in spite of the fact that I am in constant pain, I am very light of heart these days. I am certain that this is due, in no small part, to the joy that comes from noticing the miracle of the awakening flora. I fancied some divine alarm clock sounding at a pitch unheard by human ears, but distinctly audible to animals and plants who set about frantically 'going forth and multiplying'.

While I have always had an appreciation for spring, my photo project has caused me to pay much closer attention to it, with the result that I have seen improvement in both my photographic skills and my outlook on life.

Thanks, Mr Hawthorne. Much obliged!

It also occurs to me that this is informal learning in action. I didn't set out to learn how to take better photographs. I didn't enroll on a course. I originally set out to capture a year in pictures, and somehow, along the way, I have embarked on a spin-off project and learned a few skills along the way.

Jay Cross should be proud of me!

Creating animations

Thanks to Irmeli Aro for the pointer (via Facebook) to this neat little tool, called Dvolver, which can be used to create animated vignettes.

Of course, it is limited, but I reckon a creative person could work within its limits to create some pretty neat movie-lets to use in a variety of situations.

I had great fun playing with it this morning, but I'm a bit embarrassed by my lame attempts at humour to share them here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

pic of the day - mallard

Today is a filthy day. The sky is overcast and the wind is genuinely whistling around the house. I went out for morning coffee with a friend and, just as we were leaving, the sun came out for a short while. The little place we went to is right on the edge of a lake, and this mallard came over to investigate the possibility of bread crusts. The sun glinting off his jewel-green head just had to be captured.

Another reason I am pleased with this picture is that I had to use the zoom lens (the duck wasn't anywhere near as close as he appears, here) and, without a tripod, zoom photos require a steadier hand than I usually have.

As a bit of an extra - here is a picture of the view from the coffee shop.

Educational blogs to explore

I only just came across this post today, even though it was posted on 7 Feb. Nevertheless, it should prove a treasure trove to those who work in the formal education sector, particularly schools.

The blog is delightfully called Making Teachers Nerdy. The blogger identifies herself only as Mrs Smoke and says of herself "I'm a Technology Instructional Coach and Integrationist for the Andover Schools and an Intel US Senior Trainer. My favorite activities in Tech Integration are international telecollaborative and Travel Buddy projects."

In this post, she has listed a wide range of teacher blogs, touching on different roles, different age groups and different subject areas. Somehow, she seems to have missed Vicki Davis, but perhaps she was seeking to share a little link love with lesser known bloggers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

LPoD - mental illness

Today's learning point needs no words from me. This video clip does it all.

pic of the day - seeds

This photo may not look like anything much, but I am very pleased with it. The wind was blowing something fierce at the time, and the little seed pods kept moving, so it was tricky to get a decent picture. Also, this photo forms part of a Spring 09 project (you can see the whole set here or on my Facebook page) for my friends and family who either live in a country which doesn't really experience spring like this or have left the UK and miss the glories of spring. This season isn't only about flowers. It's also about seed pods and leaf buds.

A wise man once said...

This is one of those moments in which I wish I had a wider readership. Someone sent me these words today, and I would love to hear how people react to them in the light of the current economic crisis. Particularly in places (like the UK) which have a welfare state, which is being stretched by the increasing demands on it.

Of course, many of the people currently not working would love to work... if only there were jobs to be had!

"You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it."
~~~~~ Dr. Adrian Rogers, 1931-2005

Ubiquitous information on demand

Thanks to Geetha Krishnan for the link to this inspiring TED video. I am thoroughly impressed with the technology showcased here. I am also thoroughly impressed with Patti Maes for her generosity in giving the bulk of the credit to her student. I am personally acquainted with people who have passed off someone else's work as their own. Maes is at the other end of that spectrum, and deserves credit for her generosity of spirit. It speaks to mne of an enabler. I trust that this brings its own reward.

Ada Lovelace day

Today is Ada Lovelace day. To mark the occasion, people from far and wide are blogging about respected women in technology. I signed the pledge, but, for various reasons (none of which seem to make much sense now) decided to write my post early.

I chose to write about Randice-Lisa Altschul, the woman behind the disposable mobile phone. You can find the post here.

I look forward to reading other posts and learning about women I hadn't even heard of.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bonus learning point of the day - spikes

I have just returned from a fruitless trip to the local sports shop. I was looking to buy replacement spikes for both my son's javelin and sprint spikes. The man behind the counter is obviously a keen road runner but he doesn't really know a lot about sprinting or javelin. The spikes he was trying to sell us didn't look anything like the kind in my son's shoes. He didn't have long enough spikes for the javelin shoes and he didn't have anything of the same shape as the sprint spikes.

I came back home and went googling (as you do), and was fascinated to learn about the spikes he uses in his sprint shoes. They're called Christmas tree spikes. There's no way I could do anywhere near as well as this article, so check it out for yourself if you're interested in sprints or if you're kitting out a son or dauther who sprints.

How stoopid am I?

Dumb Test
Dumb Test » QuizRocket.com's fun quizzes!

pic of the day - role reversal

So there I was. Minding my own business, when my phone rings. It's my younger son who says, "Please come to the garage."

So I go down to the garage to find him locked inside the crate, with the dog standing guard. He tells me she tricked him to go into the crate and then locked him in.

It's just the sort of thing she would do.

Oh... and just in case you didn't get it, my son says ;o)

LPoD - crate training

Today Jessie and I attended the final session of her puppy obedience training programme. She has been passed worthy of joining the adult dogs from next week. There remain a few issues that we struggle with and, on the advice of the animal behaviourist who assessed her progress today, we have decided to try crate training.

Until quite recently, if I had seen a dog in a wire cage, I would have thought the owners very cruel indeed. So learning about this training approach has been something of a challenge for me. I have decided that I am willing to give it a go, as long as I am not ever expected to inflict on her any treatment that she finds traumatic.

All sources emphasise that the crate is never used for punishment, but that the dog should see it as a safe place where it can retreat to. There should always be a comfy mattress, water and a treat or activity in the crate for the dog. Some recommend covering the crate with a blanket to make it seem even cosier. Most wild canine species seek a den for sleeping, and the crate represents an equivalent of this. I never thought of it this way before.

Until the dog is happy to enter the crate, and regards it as a safe space, the door to the crate should be left open.

The crate should never be used as a long term confining space for the duration of (for example) an owner's working day.

Crate training can be used as an aid in toilet training. Dogs do not usually toilet in their own sleeping space. Placing their bed inside a crate will mean that the dog will wait until released before toileting, giving the owner greater control over this aspect. However, if the dog is confined to the crate for such a long period of time that it is forced to toilet inside the crate, this will set back the toilet training by several months.

All sources seem to recommend not giving the dog free run of the house until it is properly toilet trained. Before then, the dog should only be allowed the run of the house for short periods when you know that both its bladder and its bowel are empty.

Once a dog has been crate trained, transporting can be done by means of the crate. In our case, since Jessie is a large dog, transporting her crate will present a logistical challenge not presented by transporting her uncrated, so we probably won't use the crate as a means of transport.

Since she is nervous of things like buses and compressors coming close, I suspect she may prove to be afraid of fireworks. Come 5 November, I suspect her crate will prove a safe haven for her to retreat to.

Assuming, of course, that the whole exercise proves successful!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

LPoD - dichroic glass

Today's learning point relates to the bracelet I received for mothers' day. It is made of beads of dichroic glass, which appear to change colour, depending on the angle at which you view them.

Dichroic coating was originally developed by NASA for the aerospace industry. The material is used in the visors of space helmets. I have also heard some reports that it is used in the Hubble telescope, but I have been unable to verify this. The glass contains microlayers of different metal oxides, applied using an electron bombarder inside a vacuum chamber. These reflect and refract light in different ways, resulting in the effect of different colours when it is tilted this way and that. In fact, no color is actually produced. The perceived colours are the result of light manipulation.

It is now very popular in costume jewellery design and manufacture, as much because of the price tag as the depth and range of colours. Because the reflection/refraction cannot be accurately predicted, no two pieces of dichroic glass are ever exactly alike.

Here's an example, picked at random from the many returns from a google search.

pic of the day - the weekend

On Saturday night, I took the family out for a meal to celebrate the successful completion of my first really large project since Learning Anorak Ltd came into being. This picture shows the pots of dips that came with the poppadums at the start of the meal. They tried to take them away when our meal arived, but I wouldn't let them. I had to have some of that lime pickle (front left) with my main course!

Then, today is mothers' day in the UK. In South Africa, as in other countries, mothers' day is at some other time of the year, but in the UK, it coincides with mothering Sunday in the church on England calendar. I was given a lovely box of handmade (organic, mind you) choccies and a dichroic glass bracelet. When the pastor's wife started the service by asking who had received breakfast in bed this morning, mine was the only hand that went up. At 7:30 this morning, I was brought a cheese and ham omelette, with apple juice and filter coffee. Then one of my sons took the dog for a walk so I didn't have to. Right now, all three of my menfolk are out picking up lunch and I have been instructed to do nothing while they are out. I am truly blessed among women!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Shawn Phillips

Sue Thomas just twittered

longhaired girl in black wetsuit skateboards down the middle of my empty suburban street holding the lead of a dog running along beside her
I remarked that it read like the beginning of a poem or the title of a Shawn Phillips song. Sue agreed on the poem, but asked "Who is Shawn Phillips?" This prompted me to share a little about him here, since many of you seem to share my taste in music, if you haven't heard of him before, he might prove an enjoyable discovery.

Wikipedia describes Phillips as "virtually forgotten except by his cadre of loyal fans". I guess I must be one of those, then!

I first discovered his music when my best friend at college accidentally bought his Second Contribution album, thinking it was something else. We both fell heavily in love with it and I, for one, have never recovered.

Here he is singing the most ridiculously named song in the whole world, which is my favourite (the title notwithstanding!): She Was Waiting For Her Mother At the Station in Torino and You know I Love You Baby But It's Getting Too Heavy To Laugh.

There is a load more of his stuff on YouTube. Check it out.

pic of the day - xray

I went for an xray of my hands today to see how bad my arthritis is. For years I have said that I thought I might have arthritis in the top knuckles of some of my fingers, but the doctor always said that this was impossible (a) because arthritis would affect the second knuckle and (b) because it would develop in all my fingers simultaneously.

Such a pity my mother's pinkie fingers and right index finger never got that memo!

Since we moved and now go to a different practice, the doctor picked up almost immediately that I had arthritis and was appalled that I hadn't been receiving treatment. Apparently, new drugs significantly retard the progress of the condition... as long as they are administered early enough.

Oh, and a quick word for the local radiography team. I arrived 15 minutes early for my appointment and was on my way again before the time for my appointment had even rolled around. Nice work, ladies!

Does soft skills training have a deep enough impact?

Geetha Krishnan has recently burst onto my radar. In a very short space of time he went from being someone I hadn't heard of to a Facebook friend whose blog I read, and whose tweets I follow. His blog is called Simply Speaking, and he mulls over issues that face us in this field.

This post explores whether a soft skils training programme can ever have sufficient impact to make a permanent change to a person's behaviour. He doesn't offer any answers, but he lays bare some issues which too often go unspoken.

LPoD - mushrooms and cancer

According to an article my husband ripped out of a free London newspaper, "eating a daily portion of mushrooms could cut the reisk of breast cancer by up to two-thirds".

The article cites the International Journal of Cancer. According to this article from the BBC, combining this consumption of mushrooms with a regular intake of green tea can reduce the chances of breast cancer by up to 90%.

However, Dr Sarah Cant of Breakthrough Breast Cancer sounds a note of caution:

"Breast cancer incidence rates do vary in different countries and China has lower rates than the UK.

"However, this is likely to be due to cultural and lifestyle differences such as having children earlier or exercising more for example, and is unlikely to be solely due to diet.

"We still aren't sure which individual food types influence the chance of developing this disease."

The research findings seem to have been picked up by several major newspapers, each of which pick up a different slant on the story.

I have tried unsuccesfully to find a web presence of the journal itself, so if anyone knows of a URL, I'm all ears.

In the meantime, I'm more than happy to eat 10g of mushrooms a day.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

pic of the day - blossoms

This evening as we were walking the dog, we noticed that already the confetti-fall of white and pink blossoms has begun. I thought it best to get a picture of them while they were still on the branches!

LPoD - red tape

Today's learning point concerns Swedish passports. Our sons both have Swedish citizenship (although they speak barely a word of the language) and their passports have now expired.

In addition to the usual falderal associated with getting a new passport, Sweden doesn't allow dual citizenship - if you want to carry a Swedish passport, you are not entitled to carry any other.

In order to obtain a replacement Swedish passport, the applicant must demonstrate that s/he does not carry any others. This means (in the case of Swedish nationals in Britain) submitting a form to the British Home Office requesting confirmation that the applicant has not been granted British citizenship. This confirmation must accompany the application submitted to the Swedish consulate.

The widgetal age

Widgadget (anyone want to guess how it should be pronounced?) offers users the opportunity to create widgets free of charge. Here's one for this blog. Now to figure out how to add it to my website (which is very tightly locked down):

Blair does God

When Tony Blair was in office, journalists found pinning him down on the question of personal faith was like trying to nail jelly to a wall. His spin doctor, Alistair Campbell uttered his most quotable quote when pressed on this subject, saying, "We don't do God."

Today the Telegraph runs an article reporting what appears to be a volte face from Blair on this subject. I wonder if he felt that 'doing God' while in office would be political suicide. Perhaps Obama's success - as someone who adheres unequivocally to a faith - has given him the courage to speak up.

Certainly for those of us who have a faith, it is not a cosmetic add on that we can check in at the door of any debate. It is as fundamental to who we are as our gender, even if - unlike our gender - it was a late addition.

People who profess no faith simply don't get it. I think the term 'religious' is no help here. Being religious simply refers to an outward practise from which you can desist. Having a faith is a completely different matter. Speaking as a Christian, my relationship with God is as real to me as my relationship with my husband, if not more so. I talk to Him... and He talks back. Being asked to disregard my faith would be on a par with being asked to cheat on my husband.

You may choose to believe that I am deluded - that is your inalienable right. I am not going to use this space as the place to have that debate. The point I am trying to make here - with myself as the example - is that faith is a core issue. It is much more than religious practice.

Tony Blair appears to have come to the view that without an understanding of the role of faith in people's lives, it is impossible to lead them effectively.

I would suggest that those of us in L&D are faced with a similar challenge. If we wish to engage people, riding roughshod over their core beliefs or requiring them to check them in at the door is not the way to achieve it. Neither is waving a dismissive hand and declaring that "they're all the same thing."

pic of the day - traffic light dog

I've been a bit slack about posting these for the last few days. Long story. So here is the pick of the day for yesterday. It reminds me of this lolcat picture. I wondered how the photographer had managed it. When I saw how this picture of Jessie had turned out, I realised it had probably been an accident.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On locations

Today I received an email from someone within my network asking who I knew that is based in the Boston area. I had a moment of panic as it dawned on me that I have very little idea where any of my network peeps are based. Then I realised I don't really need to know - you're all right here, aren't you?

Off the top of my head, I know which continent most of you are on, and some of you have made enough mention of your locale for me to get a closer fix than that.

For example, I (think I) know that

  • Vicki Davis is in Camilla, Georgia
  • Harold Jarche and Stephen Downes are in or near Moncton, New Brunswick
  • Graham Wegner is in Adelaide, Australia
  • George Siemens is in or near Manitoba
  • Jay Cross lives in sunny California... Berkeley, I think
  • Jeff Utecht is still in Thailand, although he is American... sawasdee, Jeff
  • Ron Lubensky is in Melbourne - although he still has a Canadian accent after 20 years plus
  • Janet Clarey is in New York state
  • Frances Bell works at Salford University, which is in or near Manchester
  • Claudia Ceraso is in Argentina
  • Rina Tripathi is somewhere in India
  • Eduardo Peirano is in Uruguay
  • Don Taylor is in the London area
  • A whole raft of you are in Brighton and Hove: Clive Shepherd, Donald Clark et al
And I'm finally starting to run out of steam. But that's just at random off the top of my head. Not bad for someone who has recently been assessed for Alzheimer's, eh?

It is with a sense of relief that I realise my atrocious geography is no longer a factor. I know exactly where to find you all! You're in my Bloglines, my Google Reader, my Twitter stream, my Facebook contacts.

You're all local.

Ain't it grand?

On not laughing

Some years ago now, I worked in a learning centre which used government funds to provide really low cost IT skills training to the general populace. Most of our students were either middle aged women re-skilling to get back into the job market or senior citizens wanting to learn how to use computers.

The terminology was completely alien to especially the latter group and they adopted all sorts of approaches to try to make the jargon stick. Since many of them started out being utterly terrified of computers, it was important for us to encourage them at every turn, which meant not laughing, no matter what they came out with.

I kept a straight face through sloppy disks. Slippy disks. Flippy disks. Tick with the mouse. Broadsheets. Microsoft Exceed. Words. I didn't laugh when a lady tried to use her mouse like a remote control and point it at the screen. I maintained my composure through it all. Although sometimes it was tough, I reminded myself constantly to focus on the effort and the achievement, not the unwitting results.

Yesterday I was glad of it, when the young Korean lad who cleans my house to earn a bit of extra money while he attends a local language school came and asked please to buy "What is this?" He held out... oh no... a lint roller refill. I kid you not. He is the sweetest kid and so earnest and keen to learn. He tried very hard to copy what I was saying and, when he finally managed "lint row repew" I decided that was close enough. I was delighted that this little session emboldened him to ask another favour.

Apparently his English host family has asked him to say grace before the meal, and he would like to be brave enough to try. Would I please help? I wrote down a short prayer of the sort we say: "Lord, we thank you for this food. Bless the hands that prepared it and bless our fellowship. Amen."

He worked so hard at this, practising as he pottered about, that he made my heart swell. How the Almighty must have felt, being thanked so profusely for a future meal, I can only imagine!

As he left the house, he tried out his little prayer on me. I gave him the thumbs up and he set off with a broad grin.

Such a small thing. Yet it meant so much to him.

At times like this I wonder how many other teaching/learning moments we miss because we only notice the funny side of people's attempts to master a new skill.

Of course, I don't want to become so intense that I lose my sense of humour, but it was a sobering thought. I can't wait to find out how it went.

Speaking plain English

So it seems councils in England have been given a list of phrases and terminology that is now banned. This article identifies some of the words and phrases that are no-nos, and their suggested replacements.

I am in favour of plain speaking, and several of the phrases included in the article defy belief. Who do you suppose came up with the expression 'coterminous, stakeholder engagement'?

However, I do wonder a little about the principle behind this. To what extent does a single organisation get to control what people may and may not say? I'm not sure I see anything wrong with procurement, for example, which is not quite the same as simply buying something. There's a whole process involved in procurement, with enough red tape to close the hole in the ozone layer and more hoops than a tin of spagetti-os.

Buying is a much simpler concept: I'll have one of those, please. Certainly, sir, that will be £28.75. There you go. Thank you sir, there's your change. Ah, put it in the charity collection tin next to the till. Very generous, sir, have a nice day.

A few years ago, there was a crackdown on the language used in BBC news reports. Several words, it seems, had to go, many of them to be replaced by 'big'. We now have big instead of major, significant and serious, to name but a few. There are big increases in house prices (well, okay, there aren't at the moment, but you know what I mean), big concerns over this and big issues being addressed.

'Injured' was another word that simply had to go. Nobody gets injured anymore in news reports. They're always hurt. Confusingly, if their hurts are really big, they may become ill. To whit, "X is still ill in hospital following a big accident in which he was badly hurt."

Oh, and we no longer have collisions, we have crashes or accidents.

I'm not keen on the convoluted jargon that seems to develop around some projects, but let's not assume our listening/reading audience is collection of complete numpties, please!

What is a degree worth?

This article in the Daily Mail online seems to indicate that having a degree no longer makes the difference it used to in terms of earning power. University chiefs are looking to double fees to £6500/year, with some vice chancellors pushing for fees of up to £20K/year, arguing that graduates will earn on average £400K more over the course of a lifetime.

A recent study from the University of Warwickshire places the pay premium for a university graduate in arts and humanities at just £2.8K/year.

Certainly since I left school, having a degree has gone from being something worthy of note to being rather a non-issue... unless you're applying to work at the Open University, that is, where a first degree is still a minimum requirement.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Don't send a computer to do a person's job

Computers aren't terribly imaginative machines. They're tools, like any other, and they do what you tell them. Even when that isn't what you meant to tell them.

Today I got an email from one of my communities, advising me that another member had posted a project that matched my skills. It seems I am a perfect match for the role of Japanese-speaking recruitment consultant.

Let's just break that down for a moment:
Japanese-speaking - er, no
Recruitment consultant - er, no.

Let's break it down even further then:
Japanese - no
Speaking - yes (I have public speaking coaching experience)
Recruitment - no
Consultant - yes.

Well, we're half way there, then. The rest I'm sure I can pick up as I go along. Where do I sign?


Data without context

Warning: this post contains some personal revelations you may not be comfortable to learn.

I recently indicated that I was being assessed for early onset Alzheimer's. I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say that there has been cause for concern.

So I went to see my doctor. She advised me of the possible contributing factors for forgetfulness, such as stress, pain, medication and peri-menopause. Check, check, check and check. But, knowing how worrying uncertainty is, she carried out a blood test. All the key indicators for dementia came back within the 'normal' range. But this is simply data. Without a benchmark, how can anyone spot a trend, or make a prognosis? This is where I miss the old-fashioned concept of a family doctor who is able to see such data within the context of a life well-known.

To give her her due, the doctor followed this up with an aural assessment. This is a list of 30 questions that a doctor asks a patient with possible Alzheimer's. And this was about the most meaningless assessment I have ever done! The questions were so facile, that, in order to 'fail' the test I would either have to be pretty far gone down the road of senility, severely concussed or of low mental capacity. I kid you not. The questions were things like:

  • What day is it?
  • What month is it?
  • What year is it?
  • What season is it?
  • Spell 'world' backwards.
  • Recite the multiples of seven.
  • I am going to tell you three things. I will ask you them later.
  • Fold this paper then put in on the floor.
  • This is a pen, this is a watch. Repeat.
  • Name three things in this room.
  • Name the same three things in reverse order.
  • Name the three things I told you earlier.
  • etc.
The problem with all these tests is that there is nothing to compare the results against. Without that, they are meaningless. Just data. Data doesn't become information until it has meaningful context.

We went through the same song and dance for years with hormonal levels. When I began to suspect that I was perimenopausal, at least a decade ahead of schedule, I went for blood tests. These showed my hormone levels to be at the low end of the normal range. But, once again, this was data without context. Meaningless. And so followed a series of three monthly blood tests which were similarly meaningless, until I just refused to go any more. I figured I had a better idea of what my body was doing than the doctor did, and I didn't need to subject my squeamish self to the ordeal of bloodletting to know the deal. The doctors were basing their judgements on data. I was basing mine on experience. I had the advantage of context.

It took them no less than 6 years to state with certainty what I had known all along.

Some of the quizzes we include in our learning resources are equally meaningless. Let's face it, we're dealing with adults. They know whether they have understood something or not. Surely it would be more meaningful, in a lot of cases to bump the so-called test and ask: have you understood this section? If the answer is no, going back over the same material again is unlikely to change that. So we should offer them a link to an alternative resource; or the contact details of someone 'with skin on' of whom they can ask questions; or the URL for a discussion forum, where user generated content may make the penny drop.

I feel much the same about 'tracking reports'. If you're Joe Bloggs's manager and you receive a report that tells you that Joe visited every single page of the recently published learning resource and that he got 80% on the quiz, what does this actually tell you about what Joe has learned? Many of our clients seem to feel duty bound to include some kind of pass/fail assessment as an indicator of how much a person has learned. C'mon, as Joe's manager you don't need any of that to tell you how well he does his job. You've got far more reliable indicators at your disposal.

Before setting in place a system or process that is going to capture screeds and screeds of data, perhaps we need to push back a little and ask a few key questions:
  • What data do you want to extract?
  • Why? What purpose do you want it to serve?
  • Who is going to analyse that data?
  • What do you really want to know?
  • Are there other ways to discover that?
  • How is it going to serve the business goals of the organisation?

Monday, March 16, 2009

By way of contrast

I have just been witness to two examples of parenting that were in such stark contrast to each other, that I can't get them out of my mind.

The first was a woman with three kids, standing behind me in the supermarket queue. One of the kids hugged her from behind and, apropos nothing at all, declared, "You are my Mumsy." This is obviously something that happens often, because the mother replied, without missing a beat, "Indeed I am, and you are my girl." Not five minutes later, in response to something I must have missed, that same mother was fixing all three of her kids with what I can only describe as 'that look'. You know the one. The look that says, "I'm warning you...' but still has a twinkle in the eye. The three kids were grinning sheepishly back at her. I laughed and said, "I know that look! I have kids of my own," to which she replied that she was making the most of the look while it still bore results. I think in family that affectionate, when it obviously matters to the kids how their Mom feels about what they do, 'that look' will be effective for many years, yet!

As I was packing my groceries into the boot of my car, a couple passed me with two kids. I didn't see what the kids did, but the reaction from the mother was, "You stupid girl!" I had to bite my tongue hard, because I was only witnessing a single incident, but every nerve end was jangling. The girl in question was labelled... and by the person whose opinion probably matters most to her.

I belong to the 'criticise the action not the child' school of parenting. "What a stupid thing to do!" while still not very encouraging, is a long way from being inescapably labelled a stupid person.

Let me hasten to say that I haven't always got it right and I still fail daily. I am no paragon. In fact, I am deeply grateful that I am counterbalanced by John's more phlegmatic nature, and that I don't have to handle this alone. Not for the first time, I am reminded at the enormity of the task of parenting and I am in awe of single parents (among which are numbered my own mother and my sister) who manage without burning out completely.

We have an expression in South Africa that translates as "my harvest is still green in the field." In other words, I am not really in a position to give advice on this, because my child rearing is still ongoing, and much may yet go wrong!

It made me think of the Dorothy Law Nolte's guideline for raising children. It's probably very cheesy... until you're a parent... or until you realise how much your own subconscious responses are the product of your upbringing:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

When I got home from the shop I had to find a pretext to get my boys in the same room as me, just so I could look at them with my head cocked to one side and do a stock take of what it is they're learning from John and me.

LPoD - menopause bread

For those 'women of a certain age' among us (what a ridiculous phrase - how many women are of an uncertain age?), here is a recipe for 'menopause bread'. According to this article, scientific research shows that soya and linseed reduce the instance of hot flushes. Don't you just love it when they tell you 'scientific research says...' but don't cite their source? Especially when this article says

"the research hasn’t lived up to the early promises. There is no consistent evidence that soy reduces the severity or frequency of menopausal symptoms (like hot flushes) or reduces breast cancer."
What the heck - I'm willing to give it a go! Anything to stave off the need for HRT which has been linked to breast cancer, for which I am in the high risk group, all three of my Dad's sisters having had the disease, with only one survivor. Ironically the only survivor developed the disease earliest, when she was the age I am now!

Later edit: 18/03/09 This recipe doesn't work in a bread maker. You have to do it the old fashioned way. I tried to take the easy way out. #Epicfail.

I take no responsibility for the imperial measurements, which seem inconsistent to me - those are the quantities I was given.

100g (4 oz) soya flour
100g (4 oz) wholemeal flour (may be replaced with buckwheat or more rolled oats)
100g (4oz) rolled oats
100g (4 oz) linseeds
50g (2 oz) pumpkin seeds
50g (2 oz) flaked almonds (or other nuts)
50g (2 oz) sunflower seeds
5 cm (2") piece of stem ginger, peeled and finely chopped/grated
225g (8 oz) raisins/dates/cranberries
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
425ml (15 fl oz) soya milk
1 tablespoon malt extract

Sift all dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add soya milk and malt. Mix well and leave for about 30-60 minutes. If the mixture is too stiff, add more soya milk until you achieve a dropping consistency.

Heat the oven to 190C (375F/gas mark 5). Line a small loaf tin with baking parchment. Spoon the mixture in and bake for about 60-90 mins until a skewer comes out clean when inserted.

Turn out and cool. Eat one thick slice every day.

pic of the day - carwash

I took my car through the autowash. It was by far not the most interesting thing that has happened to me today - after all, I got bitten by a dog at obedience class this morning! But I just love the picture, so here it is.

Learning? Work?

Dave Ferguson is hosting a blog carnival today on the theme: work at learning: learning at work.

Have you ever listened to kids talk about what they want to be when they grow up? When they're really little, boys often dream of being cowboys, policemen and firefighters, while girls often dream of being princesses, ballet dancers and mothers.

Give them a few years and those ambitions begin to change. Listening to a bunch of teenagers talking about what their dream job would be can be fun. I remember hearing one girl (who obviously had at least one weakness in common with me) declare that she would like to be a taster in a chocolate factory.

I have a cousin whose passion in life was always (still is) nature conservation, wildlife and things of that ilk - particularly ornithology. However, he and I share an uncle who was the richest member of the family at that time. This uncle was an accountant. So Michael (not his real name) became an accountant, because he wanted to be rich, too. Michael (who will be 40 this year) is now far and away the richest member of our family. Far richer than our uncle. But work, to Michael, is a means to an end. He learns what he needs to know in order to do better financially. But when you see him with a pair of top of the range binoculars in his hand, focusing on some or other bird in flight, as he and his son have an animated discussion about it, you know where is heart still lies, and where learning (for both him and his son) is never a chore.

I never knew what I wanted to be. I liked the idea of teaching, but I didn't like the idea of working with children. This was borne out by the results of an aptitude test I completed at the age of 15. Nobody thought to tell me about what was then called staff training. I didn't even know that working people did any learning. I thought it was school, university, work. The end.

Somehow, when I had finished drama school and was waiting for Hollywood to call, I found myself working for one of those dreadful companies that send people touting goods door to door. Not encyclopaedia, but not far from it. I hated it, and I sucked at it. Oddly, though, I discovered I had a knack for training up others to do it.

Somehow, in every job I took after that, I wound up teaching someone to do something. No matter how much I hated the job, I really liked that part.

It wasn't long before I took a job where that wasn't a part of the job... that was the job. At a time when computers were migrating out of the cold back office to Everyman's desk, I began to run IT training courses. Often, I was only one step ahead of the learners myself. Countless times, I would be surrounded by the hubbub of a busy workshop and I would suddenly think, "Man, this is fun!"

In those days, the happy sheet was king and time after time, in the 'any additional comments' section, comments on my workshops included the word 'fun' or a simile thereof.

I hated school. But I loved learning. This was a revelation to me. It really was fun. And people who came on my workshops would pick up on that, and (sometimes in spite of themselves) they would catch themselves having fun, too. More than once, I had a visit from the trainer in the next room, asking me to keep the volume down, because people were trying to work next door.

Life is short and precious. Far too short and far too precious to spend it doing something that doesn't push your buttons.

For me, what pushes my buttons is learning. I love that I get to work at learning. That my job is learning. My own learning and that of others. I love that I get the chance to help people rediscover their own passion for what they do simply by being enthusiastic about it myself.

The point of learning at work is to get better at whatever it is you do. Or to learn a new way of doing whatever it is you do. If you never enjoyed that in the first place, you don't have much chance of enjoying learning about it.

Fortunately for me, I get to learn about learning. About learners. Which makes for a wonderfully self-fuelling cycle. People tease me about being a geek. But show me anyone who loves what they do as much as I do, and I'll show you a geek.

I genuinely wish that everyone could have a job which made them say "Can you believe I get paid to do this?!" Then learning more about it wouldn't be a chore. It would hardly seem like work at all. Those who work in regulated industries would have no trouble completing their 30 hours of CPD learning every two years (or whatever). In fact they would find it hard to draw the line between doing their job and learning about their job. Which, for my money, is how it should be. The learning should be so embedded into the work as to be indistinguishable. We're getting there. Slowly. But we are getting there!

I will encourage my sons to adopt the same approach. My elder son has recently realised (of his own volition, because I was blowed if I was going to tell him) that forensic science is not the field for him. He wants to do something related to sport/exercise and anatomy/physiology. You should just hear the lad talking about his pet topic! For me, it's like looking in the mirror. The eyes light up and the hands wave about... the passion is there. Learning about these things at school isn't like work at all. Fields like physiotherapy and sports therapy are horribly oversubscribed in the UK, but if that's what he wants to do, somehow we'll make it happen.

My younger son, since he was just three and watched two cooling towers being imploded outside Cape Town, has been adamant that he wants to do demolitions. One day, we were watching a movie together and one of the characters said the line that summed it up for him, "I get to blow sh*t up, and get paid for it!" Perhaps he will. Perhaps, like his older brother, his passion will shift in a couple of years time. But, if that's what he really wants to do, somehow, we'll figure it out.

Work at learning? I expend an incredible amount of energy on learning. But work? Nah! Learning at work? All the time. Thankfully.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

pic of the day - modesty

My (Swedish) mother-in-law gave me this coffee cup some time ago. Fortunately, since I married John almost 21 years ago, I seldom have a day without a Swede! Mind you, since we moved to the UK 10 years ago, there have been several days... weeks, even... without sunshine!

I was once foolhardy enough to ask her why she and her husband chose to give their son a name like John, when neither of them could pronounce their Js. Her retort was swift and defiant: "Hiss name iss Yon, it's you who can't say it!"

I was duly chastised.

On being in the middle

I often joke, a la Jasper Carrott, that I'm of average height, medium build, average intelligence, middle aged, living in the midlands of England, etc. You get the idea. There's one thing I've not previously included in that descriptor, purely because I'd never thought of it before.

I am also a mezzosoprano.

For those not up on musical terms, this means that I have a mid-range singing voice. I can't hit the top register of a coloratura, despite the best efforts of my college voice coach (who was herself a talented coloratura). While, in fact, I am able to reach the lower register of a contralto, I don't have the rich warmth that goes with a true alto.

So, rather like the Grand ol' duke of York I alluded to recently, I'm neither up nor down. But being a mezzo is not purely a matter of elimination. The first time he heard me sing, David Matheson, who directed me in Fiddler on the Roof (in which I played Hodel), declared me a 'true mezzo'. Being a mezzo also entails a certain timbre.

It's a long time since I sang in any major capacity. But when I did, I had two choices. I could rue the fact that most romantic leads were written for '1st soprano' voices. Or I could relish the roles that were available to me. I chose to do the latter. The mezzo often gets the character part.

I mean, let's look at it this way. When you're auditioning for Oklahoma, a mezzo stands little chance of being cast as Laurie. But who cares, when there's an Addo Annie to be had? Who wouldn't rather sing 'I cain't say no' than 'Out of my dreams'? And when there's a production of Grease in the offing, let's face it, wouldn't you rather be feisty Rizzo than goody two shoes Sandy? Any day of the week! Rizzo gets to sing 'There are worse things I could do'. End of discussion!

And the mezzo has her occasional leads, too. Carmen is no role for a coloratura. And Maria in (ack, gack, ptui) The Sound of Music is pitched well for a mezzo.

As I mentioned in a recent Facebook exchange with Dave Lee and Cammy Bean, I once had to sing 'My Favourite Things' from The Sound of Music for a singing exam, and I Liza Minelli-ed up to the hilt. Why not? It's not as if I was trying to play the role in the full length musical. There's a lot you can do as a mezzo, that you daren't try as a coloratura.

In much the same way, I realise that I'm never going to play the lead in this 2.0 collaboration on the subject of learning and development. I acknowledge that I simply don't have the range of a Downes or a Siemens. But there are some fine supporting roles to be had.

And I'm up for it. How 'bout you?

There are worse things you could do.