Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Fun

CIO magazine has a list of forty great time-wasting sites for a Friday (you have to sit through a bit of an ad first, more's the pity). This one generates comic strips, but there are all sorts of other fun things to while away a Friday afternoon instead of working.

pic of the day - have we turned the corner?

I went to the hairdresser today for a long overdue haircut. The woman who owns the salon tells me that business is on the up and people are starting to book colour treatments again. Apparently, just a short while ago, people were doing their own colour treatments at home and only going into the salon for a cut and finish. Is this a sign of an increasing optimism? Has the recession bottomed out?

'scuse the photo - I'm not great at self portraits.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

pic of the day - my (brand) new car

We've taken advantage of the UK govt scrappage scheme and scrapped John's old banger. We also traded in my car and consolidated to get one brand new car. My first one. Ever. John has twice had brand new cars, but they have always been company cars, so it's a first for him, too. Apologies for the poor focus. My camera couldn't cope with the LCD.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

That first pay cheque

Do you remember your first pay cheque? What extravagance did you indulge in?

My elder son has a summer job working in an office. Today he received his first pay... well, it wasn't really a cheque, it was paid in by BACS transfer, but you know what I mean. He's had part time jobs before, but this is a full time, if temporary job. Rather well paid, too, for a lad of seventeen.

So how do you suppose he spoiled himself?

A box of 10 chocolate eclairs from the bakery, for the princely sum of £2.

He has always been careful with money. When he was little, he would ask for something such as, say, the Beano comic, to which my husband would respond, "Sure. You can buy it with your pocket money. That's what it's for." My son almost always chose to do without.

He does plan to take his girlfriend out for a nice dinner, but other than that, the money is earmarked for a car when he goes to university.

Shades of his paternal grandmother who grew up in the great depression and tends to turn a penny over five times before deciding to put it back into her pocket. It obviously skipped a generation, though - my husband doesn't have that kind of fiscal discipline!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Honest work

I recently heard a radio interview with Anna Sam. If you haven't already heard of her, I suspect her book is going to be a corker. I'm looking forward to reading it. To quote The Independent,

was part of a legion of 170,000 French women who are, in her words, “omnipresent but invisible”. She was a “beepeuse” (a woman who beeps) or, more officially, a “hôtesse de caisse” (till-hostess). In other words, she was a supermarket check-out girl.
She began to blog about her experiences, and, when her blog gained stellar popularity, this was repurposed as a book which is about to be translated into seven languages.

Her experiences should have us all playing closer attention to the way we treat the 'invisible people'. During her interview she shared how mothers often tell their children without attempting to lower their voices, that, unless they work harder at school, they're going to wind up stuck in a dead end job like this.

My children encountered similar snootiness at their previous school, where teachers frequently told kids that, unless they put in more effort, they would wind up flipping burgers at [insert franchise name here].

All over the UK at the moment immigrants from Latvia and Poland (among other places) are stacking supermarket shelves and picking and packing in warehouses. They are diligent and conscientious. Relieved to be working when so many are out of work. Some of them suffer abuse from their neighbours who hurl insults (and worse) at them for "coming over here and taking our jobs." Trouble is, said neighbours didn't want those jobs to begin with. To accept work of that nature would be to take on a label they were too proud to accept, because their parents and teachers told them that those jobs were beneath contempt.

Surely the burgers need to be flipped, the bins emptied, the shelves stacked and the merchandise picked and packed? Why should there be shame associated with providing this service? Admittedly, these are not highly paid jobs - they are not particularly highly skilled. But what of that? It's an honest day's work, which is more than can be said for some of the wheelers and dealers in the world of blue chips.

It's an odd society which doesn't want to do the work, but doesn't want any outsiders coming and doing it, either.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bad news? Good news?

Sometimes what one person thinks is bad news can strike another as good news. A forecast of rain might be bad news for the holidaymaker and great news for the farmer. It's all a matter of perspective.

Today, the geneticist told me I will be placed on an increased risk register and screened annually for breast cancer. Is this bad news? A doctor may have thought so.

For me, it's great news.

When we first moved to the UK a decade ago, I expected to able to have the same screening I had had in South Africa. There it had been elective, but my medical insurance had gladly paid for it. So, once a year, I had a mammogram and a professional palpation.

On the NHS, elective screening is not on offer, and I didn't have the money to opt for private screening. I explained my family history to them, but they were not convinced that this constituted a sufficiently increased risk to warrant screening over and above the standard provision of a three-yearly mammogram between the ages of 50 and 64. No palpations are made at all. I'm not sure what happens after 64.

The doctor who broke this news to me was puzzled that I didn't receive it cheerfully. Didn't I understand that he was telling me I was at no greater risk than the next person?

In the intervening years, additional events within my family have meant that I am now being offered the annual screening. I am delighted. The doctor who broke this news to me this morning fully understood this. Perhaps it helps that this time it was a woman.

Can you say safety net?

Perhaps we ought to bear in mind that perspective/paradigm can have a significant role to play in how the material we include in a learning resource is received by the learner. With this in mind, it is so sad that the learner is so seldom involved in the process of the development of new learning materials in the workplace.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A stirring video

I have John Zurovchak to thank for the link to this video. A well known song, but just see how the choir has used their bodies to recreate an African storm at the beginning. So creative.

I was deeply touched that the piece made him think of me! It fair choked me up.

pic of the day - sky

It's been some time since I posted one of these. I have been surprised to learn how many people have missed my daily photos both here and on Facebook. Primarily the combination of the volume of work going on in my dissertation and the worry about my son's girlfriend's health have been sidetracking me.

I am on day three of an induction workshop on a new contract, and this pic was taken at lunch time int he atrium area of the Regus offices in Southampton.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The worst case scenario

Never once when I was at school did I hear of a well-known children's author visiting a school to read some of his/her works. But, in the UK, this is a fairly common occurrence. There are even websites which make it possible for a school to find an author willing to do this.

Of course, the author gains exposure to his target audience, but he also gets to share some of his passion for literature, for stories, for the wonder of words with a new generation of children.

The children get to hear a new story, they get to meet a famous author.

You would have thought that it was a win-win situation.

But a group of Britain's best known children's authors have called a halt to these visits because of the introduction of a new vetting process designed to protect the children from would-be predators. Under the new scheme, people who want to work with children will have register on a national database at a cost of £64.

Yesterday morning, I heard Philip Pullman, who is one of the authors taking this stance, talking about their decision on the radio. He called it "dispiriting." As he points out "Children are abused in the home, not in classes of 30 or groups of 200 in the assembly hall with teachers looking on." I believe he has a point.

Anthony Horowitz is similarly put out, "After 30 years writing books, visiting schools, hospitals, prisons, spreading an enthusiasm for culture and literary, I find this incredibly insulting."

A DCSF spokesman explains "This is because visitors to schools, even if they are supervised by a teacher at all times, are being placed in a unique position of trust where they can easily become deeply liked and trusted by pupils."

What worries me is that we are teaching children and society at large to view with suspicion the relationship between an adult and a child, to view every child as a potential victim and every adult as a potential predator. Some schools have even banned parents from the schools' sports day and swimming galas for fear that one or two or 20 of the parents might have nefarious intentions.

I would have thought that the relationship between children and adults in society was under enough strain. Of course, it is nothing short of tragic when a child is abused by an adult. But is legislation like this not teaching children that is the norm? Are we not creating the impression that the State is there to protect the dear little children from the nasty, wicked grown ups?

I once knew a paedophile. I boarded in his house for my first 6 months at college. Fortunately for me, I was far too old for his tastes. But I can say that the girl who was the object of his twisted attentions at the time was the daughter of close friends of his. These were people who trusted him and were delighted that he was prepared to contribute to her upbringing so generously.

I deeply regret that I never had the courage to tell the child's parents what was going on under their very noses. Not that I think they would have believed me for a moment, of course.

I'm uncomfortable with the thought that we are placing every adult under suspicion with the measures we introduce. I predict that, rather than protecting our children, it will further polarise and fracture our society, thereby affording the deviant greater latitude in which to forge a relationship of trust with a child whose life is devoid of healthy relationships with an extended circle of adults.

But I pray that I'm wrong.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Making oneself (mis)understood

We had an evening of board games at our house tonight. Present were three Latvians who speak varying degrees of English, a South African (moi), two Swedish nationals - one with an English accent and one with a South African accent (my son and husband respectively), an Irishman and two English nationals, one of whom has a somewhat Zimbabwean accent. Quite a mixed bag!

We realised early on that we had to avoid some games because they were definitely biased towards the English speaking people present (Scene It, 30 Seconds, etc.). The evening went off very well, but there was a somewhat interesting interlude when one of the Latvians (the one with the strongest English) was playing battleships with the Irishman. She knew the rules. He didn't. So she was trying to explain them to him, but he was struggling with her accent and she was struggling to find the right words... and with his accent. Heck I struggle with his accent, too. It took me three attempts a few weeks ago to figure out what he meant when he told me that Obama had gone out for a 'borrgorr'.

Somehow the game got underway, but there were hiccups.

  • When he says A and E, they sound very similar to an unpractised ear
  • She calls H 'ush' while he calls it 'haitch' - so she kept thinking he was saying 8
  • In Latvian, the letter I is called 'ee' (as it is in several other languages) and she kept mixing the two up
But the best was G and J. They simply could not figure out which one the other meant. She would say G and he would ask, "Juh?" To which she would respond "Yes. Juh." Of course, she was no doubt thinking of words like geography, and had no idea that we call J 'juh' and G 'guh'. Then he would say J and she would have no idea which he meant either. Fittingly enough for a church group, they settled on J for Jesus and G for God.

Then, as I drove her home later, she told me how nervous she was about driving in England, because she is used to driving on the left. I pointed out that we do drive on the left in England, but that I had always thought they drove on the right in Latvia. No, she insisted. They drive on the left. It is we who drive on the right. Since we were in the car at the time, quite clearly driving on the left side of the road, I assumed she was confusing the words for left and right. Then it dawned on me. When we talk about the side on which we drive, we refer to the side of the road on which we travel. When she does, she refers to the side of the car on which the driver sits.

As we get to know these ladies better, I foresee many such misunderstandings, and it occurs to me that a simple translation isn't always enough to ensure clarity of understanding. There are frames of reference and paradigms in play.

For those of us who are called upon to develop multilingual resources, this might well be a consideration. It might be worth having a sense check with the translator and looking for a more readily understood transliteration instead.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The naïve persona

Recently, Irmelo Aro posted a link to the Logicomix site on her Facebook page which was accompanied by an extract from the site

The role of narrator is given to the most eloquent and spirited of the story’s protagonists, the great logician, philosopher and pacifist Bertrand Russell. It is through his eyes that the plights of such great thinkers as Frege, Hilbert, Poincaré, Wittgenstein and Gödel come to life, and through his own passionate involvement in the quest that the various narrative strands come together.
This set me thinking about the role of the narrator in a narrative and the skill that it takes to create such a persona. In particular, I thought of two very different books in which the narrator is anything but a great logician, etc. I had never thought about what it was that these two books had in common. But over the past few days it has dawned on me that the authors have used a similar device, albeit very differently applied, to similar effect. In both cases, the reader has the advantage over the narrator.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee creates Scout Finch, a tomboyish girl being raised -together with her older, more insightful brother - by her widowed father. Scout has little insight into the events playing out in her life, but she records them just the same, knowing that they are important but not sure why. We, the reader understand the nuances she has missed, and see a world of prejudice and injustice of which she remains blithely unaware.

In Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, the autistic teenager Christopher shares with us the contents of his photographic mind without any insight into what it is that those photographs show. Faithfully, he reproduces the minutiae of his observations, allowing us to piece together a story that is deeper and more poignant, with a greater impact on Christopher's life than he realises.

I wonder if there is a way to translate this device to the design of a learning resource - placing the user in the position of advantage, where they are able to make connections and draw conclusions which we have only obliquely revealed.


The things you can't give

Right now, my younger son's girlfriend is desperately ill in hospital. So ill that he isn't even allowed to see her. Stress levels in our house are through the roof, as you can imagine, although he is holding up better than I would under the circumstances, I think.

When my kids were little, their heartaches were over things that it was within my power to soothe. I could scoop them into my lap and hold them there while they sobbed, stroking their heads and making those meaningless soothing noises we make. As they have grown up, however, their problems have gone beyond my scope. Initially, I could still exert influence. Then I could help them with advice and support. Now their problems and heartaches include things in which I am about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Watching my son going through this agony, even trying to imagine the agony of the girl's parents fills me with a sense of urgency to do something that will make it right. And yet...

The helplessness I feel is utterly overwhelming. If I could donate health the way you can a kidney or a pint of blood, I would do it in a heartbeat. But there are some things you just can't gift (and I use the word deliberately) another person, no matter how willing you are, no matter what sacrifice you would be prepared to make to see it happen.

You can't give a dyslexic person the ability to see the letters the right way around and in the proper order. I used to volunteer at my kids' primary school, doing extra reading with the kids who struggled. There was one little girl who simply could not get the squiggles on the page to resolve into anything meaningful. I tried and tried to help her.... and failed. She was no better at reading when I left than she had been when I started.

When someone dies, you can't give their loved ones relief from the agony of loss. How many times have you been faced with that sympathy card at the office, in which you must write something meaningful for someone whose idea of normality has just been turned on its head?

You can't give the gift of empathy to a person with the autistic spectrum disorders that deprive them of that. Sure you can teach them cognitive processes to use to identify other people's feelings, but that still falls far short.

You can't make it possible for a colour blind person to see the world in technicolour.

There are some things you simply cannot fix. Some gifts you simply cannot give. Some lessons you simply cannot ensure that people will ever learn.

There is a scene in one of the Neverending Story movies in which the evil witch/queen has stolen all but one of Bastian's memories. He has but one left, which he will lose the next time he makes a wish. In a moment of astonishing insight, he says "I wish you had a heart." Of course, his wish is granted, which reverses all the ill that has been done as the temptress reverses all her actions in a wave of remorse.

And if I had that power for even a moment, would I have the insight to wield it exactly right? Probably not.

I am willing. I am not able.

Tough lesson to learn... and mine is probably one of the easier ones among those affected.

No applause, please, we're posh

Now that we're in the height of summer, a great English tradition is getting underway. Friday sees the start of the BBC Proms season. This is a series of classical music concerts held around the country which has been running for 115 years, now. The prices are low, and include standing room tickets. There is no dress code and, while children under the age of 5 are not permitted within the auditorium, parents of older children are encouraged to bring them along.

For the past 14 years, the programme has included Proms in the Park which takes place in the open air of London's Hyde Park, in which the programme is extended to include more contemporary pop music.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the idea is to widen the appeal of serious music. To take this music to John Commoner who might not otherwise get to hear it and, even if he does, can probably not afford to attend performances very often.

I think it's a lovely idea.

This morning I discovered that there are those who object to it. One man in particular, whose name I (fortunately) missed, was being interviewed on the radio. He objects to the gaucheness of the inexperienced audience. He didn't quite put it like that, but that's what it amounts to. He finds it unacceptable that they applaud between movements and then don't allow a moment of silence before applauding at the end of a piece. To make things even more complicated for the earnest soul who would like to get it right so as not to offend the cognoscenti, it seems that it is in fact fine to burst into applause at the end of a spirited piece. It is only at the end of a more reflective piece that one should take time to allow the music to die away completely before applauding. The man was of the view that the silence at the end of such a piece is very much a part of the music. He's probably right.

I've never really paid conscious attention to my own applauding habits at a recital, but I'm pretty sure I break some of the rules.

The presenter had the courage to suggest to the man that he being was a bit of a snob. I'm with him.

Perhaps that moment of reverential silence at the end of a piece is the result of a deep appreciation for the beauty of the piece, the emotions it evokes, the skill of the musicians. But how can we learn that appreciation if we are never exposed to such works? And in the early stages of our exposure, our appreciation must still grow.

Perhaps our man has no appreciation for Chinese folk music, for example, because he has no insight into it. So, how would he respond the first few times he hears a performance? Will his behaviour meet with the approval of long-standing fans? If not, should he just stay away so as not to cause offence?

Let's pretend you and I are the cognoscenti of... oh, I don't know... learning, for argument's sake. Let's pretend some members of our audience simply have no regard for the 'proper' way to learn, the right way to use a learning resource, the deep, rich experience that is learning.


Are we to take a leaf out of this man's book and find fault with them? Are we to deride their lack of sophistication? Or are we to delight in the fact that they are making an effort to broaden their experience, to recognise that we are in a very privileged position and to determine to do our very best work so as to awaken in them a passion they didn't even know they had?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Saturday's pic of the day - garden

I wish I could say that this is how my garden looks. This is the garden in which we spent Saturday afternoon sharing a cream tea with some of the other leaders from our church.

Friday, July 10, 2009

pic of the day - ecclesiastes 3:2

This butterfly has decided that my bathroom is the place it wants to meet its end. It isn't quite dead yet, but by tomorrow morning it will all be over. Such a short lifespan, but such beauty while it lasts.

What would YOUR label say?

One of my teenage Facebook friends was experimenting recently with one of those random status generators. One day her status read something along the lines of: If I were to wear a packaging label, what would it say? My response was highly complimentary, just for the record.

I was thinking about that yesterday and it reminded me of a few incidents.

The first was many years ago, when I was in a hairdressing salon. A wealthy woman, of the sort who brings a tiny white dog to the salon with her, was having her hair washed. Suddenly, she leapt to her feet and stormed over to the manager. "I have been asking the shampoo girl to bring me another cup of tea, and she is just ignoring me! She is unspeakably rude! Don't you teach your staff about customer service?"

"Sorry about that, Mrs X, but she isn't rude, she's deaf. When she is standing behind you at the basin and can't see your mouth moving, she doesn't realise you're speaking to her. I'll arrange some more tea for you."

"Deaf? Well why didn't she tell me? She should wear a sign around her neck that says 'I'm deaf' so that people know!"

At this, the manager's client spoke coolly from her chair, without even turning her head, "Why? You don't wear one that says 'I'm a self-important bitch.'"

Of course, the woman stormed out of the salon in high dudgeon, with shampoo still in her hair.

Some years later, I had a deaf student in the IT college where I was working. Because of her disability, she had been unable to find a post working with early years children as she had qualified to do, and was packing shelves in the local supermarket. To my horror, I came across her one day, wearing a large badge proclaiming I AM DEAF.

It was my turn to storm to the manager and demand an explanation.

The manager said that they didn't want there to be complaints that Rachel (not her real name) was rude, so they thought it best to warn customers. Perhaps he was related to the hair salon woman! I said, "Two things. First - she wears a large, old-fashioned hearing aid, plainly visible because her hair is always tied up. There's your 'warning' to the customers. Second - perhaps that guy over there should wear a sign warning of his speech impediment that makes it difficult to follow what he's saying, and that one should wear one that says that he's not terribly bright, and the woman on your customer service counter should wear one that says that she's just plain rude. All these things are no less likely to affect the level of customer service they offer. I know! Perhaps everyone should wear a label. What would yours say?"

I didn't stick around long enough to find out what his would say. I was shaking with rage and indignation at the thought of the humiliation Rachel had been forced to endure, and I had to get out of there.

Yesterday, I demonstrated that I should probably wear a label that warns people that my fixation with resolution and the 'big pink bow' in every situation causes me to ride roughshod over people's feelings from time to time. I tend to assume that people want to know the answers, you see.

In response to a comment on one of my recent posts, I related an incident during my final year of school. We were being given a series of lessons on relationships (beyond just sex ed), and the teacher was explaining to us how, as women, we should just learn to let the man win in a dispute. That it would be better for the relationship in the long run. I asked, "Why not just take out the encyclopaedia (yes, it was that long ago!) and look it up?" She snapped back, "Yes, I also used to be a big mouth, and it cost me my first marriage!"

Well, I have been happily married for 21 years and I still prefer the option of 'looking it up'. I'm not talking about when you're arguing about matters of principle, which are dependent on subjective codes of morality, ethics, etc. I'm talking about when you and your husband can't agree whether there were more deaths in Germany or Russia during WWII, when you are sure that Aunty Beryl was wearing a wig at your wedding, but your Mom says not. Verifiable facts. Stuff that you can look up. Because when you have looked it up, you both know. You have certainty. You have resolution. You have your big pink bow. Sure, somebody no doubt 'won' the argument and somebody 'lost', but that's a side issue.

Perhaps I should go through life wearing a big pink bow.

What would your label say? What labels have you allocated -perhaps subconsciously - to your learners?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

On being a nitpicker

Yesterday, I posted the contents of an email from a friend. He means well, but he sends me an awful lot of these things - warning of supposed scams. I always check them out to see what I can discover. Occasionally - as I did yesterday - I ask the question of this community if I am unable to get to the bottom of things using the resources I know about. This serves the dual purpose of resolving the question and alerting me to resources that can help when it comes to mythbusting.

Once yesterday's myth had been completely busted, I sent an email back to my friend and everyone else on his distribution list, sharing the reality behind the hoax. This is not the first time I have done this.

The response, to my surprise, was howls of derision. Why did I always do this? I take myself far too seriously, it seems. Poor old X, is it absolutely necessary for me to keep bursting his bubble? How unkind of me!

So, it is acceptable for X to forward an email to a hundred people warning them of some or other bogus scam without researching the facts, but it's not alright to check the facts and reassure people that the whole thing is nonsense. I'm sorry, but for me, that's too close to saying it's okay for kids to print out great wadges of stuff from the web without even reading it, and call it research.

Do your job!

My last post about ID skills reminded me of this one from Clive Shepherd. He is (as usual) bang on the money as far as I'm concerned.

One of the most liberating things anyone ever said to me in a professional situation happened like this:

I was in a meeting with a few of the organisation's big players. They were talking about a mammoth proposal the organisation was drawing up, which would result (if we won it) in a sizeable contract worth millions and lasting a decade.

Because my boss expected that I would wind up working on the resultant contract, should we win it (we did and I did), he had asked me to join him at the meeting. I assumed I was there as an observer - after all, these players were well out of my league - so I was holding my tongue (no mean feat).

As the discussion progressed, it seemed to me that a key point was being missed. A fundamental issue overlooked.

Before my tongue actually split in two, I dared speak up. My heart was in my mouth. I said my piece and, to my astonishment, they listened. They adjusted their plans to accommodate my observation.

During the next comfort break, I apologised to my boss for overstepping the bounds of my remit. His answer, which permanently lifted a weight off my shoulders, was:

I don't pay you to keep your knowledge to yourself!

Think about it like this - How much are you being paid? If you withhold from the person who is paying you all your hard won experience and perspectives, are you not guilty of fraud or theft? After all, isn't that what they're buying? Isn't that what they pay for? We need to man up and bring our expertise to the table. It's what we're there for, after all!

Instructional designers

I came across this question in one of my LinkedIn groups this morning:

What are the 3 most sought software skills for an Instructional Designer?

This was my response:
To be honest, I would place the software skills very low on the list of priorities. You can always learn a new application. I would be far more interested in whether the person
  • understands learning
  • understands learners
  • is skilled at building relationships with SMEs and stakeholders
  • is a shining example of a self-driven, passionate learner
  • is creative and original
  • is able to think beyond templates and content
  • knows how to create resources that engage people
  • holds learners/users in higher esteem than he-who-signs-the-cheque
These are the characteristics I would consider of far greater import than "Can you use Articulate?"
What do you reckon?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Blogger's spellcheck

You've probably already realised that this is a Blogger blog. It's no big deal - it was the easiest to set up when I ventured into the world of blogging, and I've never really had any reason to change. I might switch at some point when I figure out how to put my website and my blog into the same space. Hopefully that will be after I've figured out how to customise the design, since I'm not really happy with the look of either of them, and none of the templated alternatives do the trick for me.

But I digress...

Just lately, Blogger's spellcheck appears to have taken leave of its senses. When you run a spell check before publishing, any unrecognised words are highlighted by means of yellow shading. Clicking on a shaded word generates a list of possible alternatives. Rather like Word, except you use the left mouse button, rather than the right to view the suggestions.

Lately, words are being highlighted that are perfectly fine. The list of alternatives usually starts with a duplicate of the highlighted word. At first I thought I was seeing things - you know how we have a tendency to read what we meant to type, rather than what we did type? But this has been going on for a few days now, and it genuinely is suggesting exactly the word I have typed, spelt exactly as I have spelt it. This time around, the spellcheck has taken to the word alternatives, which it suggests I spell alternatives.


Anyone else having a similar experience?

Hotel key cards

Someone sent me this this morning. The information purports to originate from the Metropolitan Police. I have tried doing a search on it and have found umpteen other identical posts, each making the same claim. I have yet to find something official from the Metropolitan Police, and their own site seems to have no such article.

I wondered whether anyone else had more insight into the situation, since I know a great many of us travel often and stay in hotels around the world.


Ever wonder what is on your magnetic key card?

a. Customer's name
B. Customer's partial home address
c. Hotel room number
d. Check-in date and out dates
e.Customer's credit card number and expiration date!

When you turn them in to the front desk your personal information is there for any employee to access by simply scanning the card in the hotel scanner. An employee can take a hand full of cards home and using a scanning device, access the information onto a laptop computer and go shopping at your expense.

Simply put, hotels do not erase the information on these cards until an employee reissues the card to the next hotel guest. At that time, the new guest's information is electronically 'overwritten' on the card and the previous guest's information is erased in the overwriting process.

But until the card is rewritten for the next guest, it usually is kept in a drawer at the front desk with YOUR INFORMATION ON IT!

The bottom line is: Keep the cards, take them home with you, or destroy them. NEVER leave them behind in the room or room wastebasket, and NEVER turn them into the front desk when you check out of a room. They will not charge you for the card (it's illegal) and you'll be sure you are not leaving a lot of valuable personal information on it that could be easily lifted off with any simple scanning device card reader.

For the same reason, if you arrive at the airport and discover you still have the card key in your pocket, do not toss it in an airport trash basket. Take it home and destroy it by cutting it up, especially through the electronic information strip!

If you have a small magnet, pass it across the magnetic strip several times. Then try it in the door, it will not work. It erases everything on the card.

Information courtesy of: Metropolitan Police Service.
So, what do you reckon? Is this another wild conspiracy theory?

pic of the day - beware, cats on guard

Here you see my two girls diligently guarding the house and protecting us from marauding cushion thieves!

They are litter sisters, and have never really been apart. However, unlike my Mom's cats, which came from shelters some years apart, my girls show no affection for one another. They don't curl up together, or groom each other. Daisy (on the left) is a bit of a princess. Molly is more adventurous.

Since the arrival of Jessie, the girls have taken refuge in the conservatory and dining room. Molly does go out of the window to explore the wider world from time to time, but this requires jumping, which Daisy does not do! So Daisy looks after the cushions. She makes sure that they are covered in just the right amount of fur. Unfortunately, one of her staff members (aka moi) keeps removing the fur, so she has to start all over again.

Sigh. It's a tough life!

yesterday's pic of the day - rose hip (aka nypon)

Something else that ripens at this time of the year are the rose hips, which my husband calls nypon (I wish I could provide a phonetic version, but there isjust no equivalent sound in the English language for that 'y' - it's somewhere between 'oo' and 'ee'). The Swedes use them to make a sauce (or, more correctly translated, a soup) called nyponsoppa, which they serve over their desserts. My husband's family eats it with something called ris a l a Malta.

My verdict?


To me, it's a vaguely sweet, but otherwise utterly tasteless concoction. If I must eat ris a la Malta, I sprinkle it liberally with ground cardamom or cinnamon.

Oh, and you can probably buy ready made nyponsoppa at your local Ikea.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

LPoD - Women's cricket

As a sports lover, I have been delighted at the growing success of the England women's cricket team. And, with the hard-fought, longstanding Ashes just around the corner, tension is mounting! I would say that the ladies' team stands a better chance of winning the Ashes than their male counterparts.

If you're more familiar with baseball, Wikipedia has a nice comparison of the two sports.

My one and only attempt to play cricket was during my school days. It was part of a fundraiser to help the local hospital buy a dialysis machine, so that a lad from the boys' school would no longer have to travel to a neighbouring town for treatment three times a week. We staged a sponsored boys'-school-versus-girls'-school match in every sport on offer at the two schools. When I went out to bat for the girls' team, I was very confident. Huge restrictions had been placed on the boys and I was a dab hand at rounders, so this was going to be easy. Ha! One moment, the bowler was running up to bowl. The next, I was making squeaking noises behind the wicketkeeper, and he, somehow, had my bat! Not my finest moment.

The English women's captain, Claire Taylor, by contrast is a consummate sportsperson - the first woman ever to have been named one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year. There have even been whispers that she may be considered for selection for the men's national team. Of course, they are just rumours at the moment. While she was the leading run-scorer in England's victory in the Women's World Cup, facing up to the pace generated by male first class cricketers is - for now, at least - a very different prospect from that of their female counterparts, and she would be up against stiff competition for her fielding role of wicketkeeper. But let that not detract from her achievements in the women's game.

As if to balance out all this sporting prowess, she is also a skilled violinist with an orchestra in her home town of Reading.

Women wear pretty much the same kit as the men, and questions abound about jockstraps, boxes and breast protection. I have researched the matter on the web and am none the wiser. The previous women's captain, Clare Connor, is on record as saying women wear no protective gear in these areas... and she spoke from the position of one who had been painfully hit in the groin. But that was in 2003. During a (men's) match in 2007, one of the commentators said "I saw Rachel Heyhoe-Flint asked this question once by a really smirking TV pundit," says Tom Adam. "She wiped the smirk right off his face by answering, absolutely dead-pan, 'Yes, we wear boxes, we call them "man hole covers".'


On a more uplifting note, female cricketers have, for the past few years been able to wear kit designed for them, rather than having to make do with men's trousers and the like. And, in 2008, Adidas came on board with specially designed kit for the national women's teams.

Learn more about the women's game here.

Monday, July 06, 2009

LPoD - brains and seahorses

When we visited Spain a couple of Easters back, we stayed in a hotel called Hippocampo. I was tickled at how similar that sounded to the part of the brain called 'hippocampus'. Since I spoke no Spanish and noticed several other hotels and apartment blocks with the same word in the name, I assumed it was the surname of the owner of the chain or the holding company or something along those lines.

It gradually dawned on me that the seahorses which appeared everywhere were no coincidence. I looked up the word seahorse in the phrase book and confirmed my suspicions. Hippocampo = seahorse.

Now that I knew this, I was tickled that an area of the brain should have a name that sounded like the Spanish for seahorse.

Today I discovered - well duh! - that the hippocampus is so called because of its resemblance to a seahorse.


Sunday's pic of the day - sloe

Now that the summer is really here, and we're enjoying wonderful warm weather, all sorts of berries are ripening.

This is sloe... I think. Sometimes used to make sloe gin. Also used as a metaphor for beautiful eyes (although why this should be the case, eludes me).

As you can see, it is one of many sloe bushes, but it is the only one with leaves in that colour. All the other bushes have green leaves. Perhaps it is simply a different variety. Perhaps it is an anomaly. It may even be diseased. But I find the colour contrast between the leaves and the berries interesting.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

pic of the day - cherries

They may be undersized, but they're the right colour and they taste good!

There are two cherry trees on the pavement near our house. A little girl found me photographing them and eating a few and said I should be careful, because they might be poisonous. I assured her that they were perfectly safe and showed her how to choose the best ones. She asked me how I could be sure a dog hadn't peed on them. We discussed the logisitical unlikelihood of this. Her little brother came and joined us. As I left, they were trotting home with their hands full of their spoils. Their mother was waiting for them in the doorway and I heard the little girl announce that "That lady says they aren't poisonous. She says they're cherries."

Uh oh.

Perhaps the mother has known all along that they are cherries, but didn't want her kids eating any old cherries off any old tree. This is a fairly common stance. I might just have lost myself a few points with the neighbours!

Friday, July 03, 2009

On being rich

I've had a rough couple of months during which I have had no income. Of course, my husband has continued to earn his (very decent) salary, but our overheads were always based on two incomes and the loss of one put things like our house and our car in jeopardy. It was scary there for a while.

Not for the first time in our lives, we found ourselves on the receiving end of the kindness of friends. Bags of groceries, gifts of money and invitations for meals. It has been hard to accept these gifts, to be honest. I felt like a burden. I also felt embarrassed, because I knew there were people who are far worse off than we are. One friend pointed out we have always been the sort of people who consider it a privilege to do that sort of thing for other people, so we should realise that those who were helping us were seeing it in the same way. It was a lesson in humility.

But, even though I have learned this morning that a new contract is winging its way to me, the lesson wasn't over yet. Anol Bhattacharya (who twitters as SoulSoup) tweeted a link to this site this morning.

It is sobering to see that 99% of the world's population is poorer than we are - even when I don't earn a penny. We are truly privileged.

If you ever travel to Cape Town by air, almost on arrival, you will be reminded of how privileged you are: right next to the Cape Town airport is a squatter camp where people live in shanty houses made of bits of wood, corrugated iron and other scraps.

It gives you a sense of perspective about the air conditioning not working in your hired car!

Image by GNJOR on Photobucket

Thursday, July 02, 2009

So there!

It's official. Facebook users are better employees. It's been researched and everything.

But seriously, the article makes for interesting reading. Check it out.

Learning about bereavement

Last night, a group of us had a discussion around the topic of bereavement and grief. It transpired that several of us had lost our fathers. The different circumstances of each of our lives meant that we each handled it very differently.

Not all the fathers in question had died, either.

One woman's father had been in prison for a time. She doesn't know why. Her parents refuse to discuss it, saying that he has paid the price for what he did and that it is a closed chapter in his life. While he was in prison, the family had to cope with the fact of his absence and with the stigma of being the family of a convict.

One young Latvian woman's father was abducted ('stolen' is the word she used) nine years ago. The family hasn't seen him since, but they all believe that he is alive and will be restored to him. I'm not sure who 'stole' him. Her English gave out on her. She initially wanted to use the term 'military', but then said that that wasn't quite right. She spoke without bitterness and with quiet certainty. Somehow, I think that kind of loss may be worse than death, because there can never be closure... unless, of course, she is right and he does come home one day.

One guy's Dad died last year after a long illness. Because he has been struggling with the debilitating impact of unemployment on his life for two years, he has felt unable to deal with the loss, and has shelved it for now. He did recently get a job, but was forced to quit after just one week, when depression set in. Granted the job was a very stressful and emotionally draining one, but I wonder to what extent the removal of the unemployment worries meant that the grief floodgates were finally - and very briefly - able to open.

My own Dad died when I was in my thirties and married with children of my own. In a way, I lost him long, long before he died. I hadn't seen him for 7 years at the time of his death, and prior to that, I had probably spent 6 months in his company over the space of 30 years. He chose not to feature in our lives. We spoke on the phone 3 times a year: his birthday, my birthday and Fathers' Day. Because I barely knew him, I was surprised to find myself grieving his loss, I was also deeply, deeply hurt that no mention was made of my sister and me at the funeral. The officiator hadn't even been told of our existence and half the mourners didn't know who we were. They passed us by completely in the receiving line, as if our grief didn't matter... which only made it worse.

My husband's doting father died when he was nineteen and busy with his basic military training. He was just getting to know his Dad as a man, and the loss was keen. Because he never saw the body, and because his Dad was a notorious prankster (how many church elders have you met who greet people with one of those buzzer things concealed in their hands?), it was years before my husband was able to accept that his Dad wasn't coming back. That he wasn't going to bounce in one day and declare "Got you!" For years, he held on to possessions of his father's. Getting rid of them would be tantamount to admitting he was gone, and it was a long time before he felt ready to do that.

We each deal with things in our own way. One way is not more valid than another.

pic of the day - poppies

I took this photo at a farm near our house. The farmer and his wife returned home while I was taking it and didn't look impressed. Pity. I would have thought they would take it as a compliment.
This is a close up of some of the blooms.

And this was the display on my car's console at the time. Woohoo! 38 degrees! Glorious!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

pic of the day - stuck!

The train I took into London today got a flat tyre or something about 10 minutes outside of Euston. There we sat, for over an hour, with no air conditioner and totally sealed windows and doors. The guy in the white shirt in the background was literally wringing wet by the time the rescue train arrived, with it's mercifully working air conditioner... and LOOS! The lady in the foreground was travelling with several female relatives to Wimbledon. One of the relatives had an aerosol can of some or other cooling spray which they all kept using liberally, spreading who-knows-what into what little air there was. The elderly lady next to me came over all faint and I had to get her out of her seat and into the general area where she could feel a little less claustrophobic.

I made my appointment by the skin of my teeth. I must have looked a fright... and probably didn't smell too good, either!

Blow me down if the tube I took back to Euston after my appointment, didn't also come to a halt between stations. This time because the driver of the train ahead of us took ill in the heat and a replacement had to be found. It wasn't quite an hour that time, but apparently it was necessary to carry out a series of emergency stops in quick succession thereafter 'for safety reasons'. When you're hot and sticky and irritable, the last thing you want is to be thrown towards the front of your carriage at about mach 1 several times.

Sigh. It's good to be home!