Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

Back on the Tandem

SbergSee_13_4_13Long winter. The weather is starting to improve in Munich where the tandem is currently located. The plan is to cycle it back to the UK in the summer, possibly via Dresden. We will see how those plans proceed.
In the meantime, there are options for cycling here in Bavaria and yesterday we took the opportunity to cycle to Starnberger See and then two-thirds of the way around the lake from Starnberg to Tutzing via Seeshaupt. Sections of the path divert from the lake, but the western stretch between Starnberg and Seeshaupt is remarkably un-developed. The road hugs the shoreline. And by late afternoon the route was very quiet.

Picture: through Seeshaupt with snowy Alps in the background


ThatcherProfileShe is finally dead. Her legacy we are now experiencing in prolonged recession, inequality and poverty fuelled by privilege, greed and ideology.

Unfortunately, I am out of the country at the moment and will not be able to celebrate as I had hoped. I suppose the good thing about being out of the country is avoiding the wall-to-wall appreciation.

Now, which opposition politician is going to be brave enough to say what most British people feel about this woman? George Galloway has Tweeted: “Tramp the dirt down” – presumably a reference to the very fitting Elvis Costello Song from his Spike album. Just watched again. Brings tears to the eyes.

Update from 10 April: I abhor the idea of a ‘state’ funeral with full military honours. The recall of parliament is an affront to the institution and I applaud those MPs that are staying away and find Ed Miliband’s pleading to be ‘respectful’ inappropriate and misguided. One cannot be disrespectful to the dead. If Labour MPs speak, they need to be clear about the legacy. But they may find themselves in a double bind having slavishly followed her doctrines whilst in power.
Picture: Ruddyell, Wikipedia

Cutting energy use

Gatwick_Feb13Readers of this blog know that I fly quite a bit. My beloved lives in Munich and I live on the South Coast of England. That is about 500 miles/800 kms complicated by a stretch of water. Last week I did take the train all the way. It took 14 hours, though it was extremely civilised, particularly the first-class travel between Brussels and Cologne. In the short-term, I will continue to fly. But the effect on climate change makes it very difficult to reconcile. Energy use is unsustainable. So, here are some ideas for cutting energy use in the short-term. Low hanging fruit. Any additional suggestions welcome.
I do think about ‘unnecessary’ flying. Top of my list is sport. Tournaments are international these days and sports players – individuals and teams – fly all over the globe in pursuit of titles. Mostly unsuccessfully. One thinks about the Olympics last year. The amount of unnecessary carbon generated by moving sportspeople and their equipment really cannot be justified. Not to mention all of the building, electrical power, etc. Essentially, there needs to be less international and elite sport, not more. The Olympics should be every 5 or 10 years with intermediary events held regionally. Ditto for football’s world cup. Cricketers should play the Ashes between England and Australia less often (it pains me to say that as a cricket fan). Golf is already split into two ‘tours’ – the American and the European. This should be consolidated and playing in both tours should be frowned upon rather than celebrated. Playing in the Gulf should not be counternanced because of the energy required to maintain golf courses in deserts and the air miles needed to get the top golfers and their entourages there. The same is true of tennis.
And putting horses in aeroplanes so that they can compete in horse races across the planet is neither good for the planet nor fair for the animals concerned.Asparagus-Bundle

I appreciate that whole national economies are now based on exporting perishable produce to supermarkets. Particular culprits – asparagus from Peru (even when it is in season in the UK and Europe – note Tesco); sugar snaps, sweetcorn, fresh herbs, etc. Be careful as shoppers, just because it is there, does not mean that it should be bought. We need to be more creative with our cooking to render more locally-produced foods attractive and enjoyable. Some may say that Peru and Kenya, for example, enjoy comparative advantage in terms of climate and land. Be that as it may, but the transportation costs are just too high. At the very least these products can be tinned, jarred, dried, etc.

Here is another one. Turning off soft-drinks vending machines. In fact, all chilling cabinets for soft drinks and chocolate. Chocolate, indeed. We chill chocolate. The vending machine in the building I work in now serves at best 10 people. Nonsense. Soft drinks are unnecessary, chilled in December, particularly so.
Picture: (asparagus) Evan-Amos (wikipedia)

The High Art of the Low Countries

AGD_LowCountriesAndrew Graham Dixon is back on form with his latest art history programme for the BBC, The High Art of the Low Countries (loosely, the Netherlands and Belgium). His forays into Sicilian cookery were dumbing down; but now he is back doing what he does best, telling the story of human development – bad or otherwise – through the art produced at the time.
Andrew Graham Dixon does what others tend not to do. He takes his time. He helps us to look at pictures. He guides us to the important symbols (fruit on the window ledge symbolising fertility, for example). In so doing, we not only learn how to read pictures, but learn how to use the pictures to understand the history they constitute.
The first episode discusses Jan Van Eyck, Hieronymus Bosch and Rogier van der Weyden.
Thursday evenings on BBC4: 2100

Picture: AGD with Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck – BBC

Hull City

Andrew_Hull_supporterI have to admit to being a football fan. It is a frightful pastime. It is usually cold. Tickets are far from cheap. The result is never the one wants.
This evening I have listened to the match between Hull and Watford (our challengers for automatic promotion). They beat us. There is now only a single point between us with six matches to go. Why does it bother me so?

Climate change denial in school

beaufort.130227.0509.4The ongoing cold weather reminds us that something is afoot in global climate change. The list of concerns is growing. The pictures of the sea ice cracking over the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska and Canada (left) may be extraordinary, but the causes and consequences remain distant for policy makers. Compare global climate change with efforts to save the Euro.

The UK Government now seeks to take climate change off the agenda in schools for under 15 year olds. It is not totally clear why. It may just be because of pressure on the curriculum, but it may be because policy makers do not think that this age group should be taught about climate change. But let us just reflect, in the words of John Ashton (Director of E3G and a fellow of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College) writing in the Guardian newspaper (19 March 2013), “[t]here are two paths now available: one leads towards a world in which by mid-century the basic needs of 9 billion people can be met by co-ordinating a successful response to climate change. The other looks increasingly like descent into competition, fragmentation and conflict, as the interconnected stresses of food, water, and energy insecurity become unmanageable.” The children who will inherit the legacy of previoius generations at least have the right to know what has been done to them.

Picture: taken from; but originating from the European Space Agencies CryoSat-2 satelite and mission to examine the arctic ice caps.

The future of teaching in universities

Two separate pieces – one on the radio and one in the Economist (22 December 2012) – have caught my eyes and ears this week regarding the future of my profession. in a week when I have been trained up on another piece of software to facilitate electronic interaction with students, it looks like the future of the small lecture is in doubt.
The market has arrived. Leading the way are two start-ups from Stanford University in the US. Udacity and Coursera both offer what are called ‘massive open online courses’ or MOOCs.Coursera boasts now that its most successful class, “How to reason and argue”, attracts 180,000 students. Udacity runs another course on machine learning run by Peter Norvig, Google’s director of research; 160,000 students are signed up to that. Now Harvard and MIT are getting in on the act with $30m of investment to present lectures from the Ivy League universities. At the moment none of these are credit bearing courses, but the potential is clear. The article can be read in full following this link:
Last week the BBC Radio 4’s “The Bottom Line” dedicated half an hour to discuss the trends with a Vice Chancellor (Liverpool) and two private sector providers. It made very interesting listening. I have downloaded it from the BBC’s website and uploaded it here Bottom Line Education