Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Selling Out

Quick note - YNWA has gone commercial. I might have mentioned this before, but Blogger runs this thing called Adsense, which, they say, presents tasteful, carefully tailored advertisements on your blog.

As an experiment, I have decided to try Adsense to see if their publicity - namely that adverts will be blog specific and porn free, and also not feature those annoying floaty adverts that you cannot get away from - is true. What really intrigues me is how they go about navigating blog-specifity for this particular blog, and decide from that what the demographic is. I think we all know that on the whole, those reading this probably constitute the worse set of consumers in history, and are therefore a marketeers nightmare. Seeing what adverts are appropriate for us lot should be interesting.

In order to be completely transparent, I should mention that, theoretically at least, I get paid whenever anyone clicks on the advert. It's up to you guys if you do, or do not, as the adverts are based on a similar system to the royslty payments that musicians operate under, and the amount of readers of this blog are so small that even if everyone clicks on the adverts, the money rasied in five years would probably be insufficient to buy a smallish cake, for the YNWA re-union, in the unlikely event that we ever have a re-union. If however, we do end up making a few bucks, we'll have a vote and donate the proceeds to some charity or other worthwhile cause like a bank, or politician.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Education is Procrastination

I would rather climb Everest without oxygen, go to a student party, watch daytme television, or become a children's entertainer that write the essay I am currently working on. The essay's title is:

With reference to published material and to your action plan from Assignment 1, evaluate and reflect on the development of your study skills during the module. Include an analysis of your learning style and an evaluation of how this might have impacted upon the development of your study skills.

and it is supposed to be 3000 words. Upon reflection it may be that this assignment title is actually a stroke of genius, because if you are actually able to write 3000 words about this, and have it make any kind of sense at all, then the University will have undoubtedly uncovered genius in it's midst.

The deadline is May, and my initial throwaway remark to RHB was that I'd "dash the thing off in a coupla days" in order to get rid of it from my schedule. That was three weeks ago, and even the pleasure of getting under the skin of Learning Styles Theory is limited because clearly that cannot be the whole essay. I still have to write something about the other stuff.

On another topic, lets talk football. Every year, sometime around August, I copy and paste "A Cautious Whiff of Optimism", one of only two posts (per year) I allow myself about football generally and Liverpool specifically. You can find "A Cautious Whiff of Optimism" here

The second post I allow myself annually usually follows around now, when I deny all responsibility for the first post as Liverpool slump to their (by now) customary fourth in the English Premiership and runners up or semi-finalists in the European Champions League. This year, however, may be different, so I am going to allow myself the luxury of deferring my withdrawal of "A Cautious Whiff of Optimism" until the end of April.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Just as the intense cold of the Younger Dryas reluctantly gave way to the warmer wetter climate of the early Holocene, Spring begins to arrive in Hull. The days get longer almost imperceptibly, and there's a flush of optimism around. Oam DeePOH (AKA B&Q) starts to sell the English version of barbeques, devices which, as Canadian friends who were unfortunate enough to be invited to our first barbeque in Halifax will remember, consist of aluminum foil trays filled with just enough charcoal to heat one sausage to a the optimum temperature for e-coli to flourish. Even this process takes several hours, which is a reasonable explanation for the massive quantities of beer that are consumed during this intensely climate-inappropriate behaviour.

Spring, though, does not allow acts falsely performed in it's name to stop the relentless progress. It has a duty to perform after all, namely preparing itself (at least in the East Riding of Yorkshire) to usher in, and welcome, the slightly warmer, dampish summer. Life in England, for many people, consists of a cycle of disappointed perpetual regret, mostly weather related.

For the Crosstowner, however, Spring signals liberation. Irrepressible velocipede that it is, my trusty steed loves Spring and cannot wait to get out of the door. The wheels turn more freely, the gears shift slickly, and the frame becomes rigid and muscular as it shakes off the torpor of Winter. This bike knows that freedom beckons, and it passes on its optimism unselfishly. The rider begins to dream of lonely open roads in Northern Scotland. But before the empty Highlands can be visited, there is a University term to complete. Unlike the endless treadmill of employment, or the yawning chasm of unemployment, though, the process of completing a semester is pleasurable, albeit without drama. Predictability, which readers might remember was our Ace of Spades in Operation Sloth, has set in over the past few weeks. Progress is being made on our renovations - slow and steady, and my University days are productive - made more so by settling on a routine.

I push the Crosstowner across the threshold of our rotten front door frame and cycle the fourty yards to the end of our street. With routine has come familiarity, so it is no surprise that I'm joined by a sprightly older gentleman, also on a bike, also waiting to turn left. We nod silent acknowledgement. My co-cyclist, whom I will call Alf, also goes to the University every Thursday and also parks his bike in the racks next to the Post Modernist nightmare that is the Social Sciences building. Alf is a quintessentially English vision. His bike, the Champion, is a Raleigh tourer, drop-down handlebars, rear-panniers, greyish green. Alf, and the Champion, are traditionalists - 10 gears, lever shift mounted on the lower part of the mainframe, solid welds. Alf's outfit is old school - shiny brown leather shoes, greyish-green worsted trousers clipped tight with steel bicycle clips, waxed jacket, flat cap, grey hair. But the complete abscence of chrome, lycra, aluminum, titanium and plastic is misleading - Alf is very fit, despite being early sixties, thin as a whippet, clear blue piercing eyes. He looks so healthy it makes me wish I had been a hardy Methodist.

As the traffic clears, Alf and I push off. The routes to the University are simple; left down Newland Avenue, left down Cottingham Road, right into the University, then ahead with a slight right to the Social Sciences building. There is a minor variation that can be chosen, which consists of taking the backstreets that run parallel to Newland as you head towards Cottingham. The advantage of this is the route is relatively traffic free, while the disadvantage is you have to jink through a short alleyway pretty soon after the left we are about to take, in order to reach the freedom of the backstreets. I push off ahead of Alf, slipping through the gears with a simple twist of the handlebar mounted shift, while Alf fumbles through his gears, but as the road narrows to pass under the railway bridge, I slow and see Alf passing leisurely. He's taken the middle of the road, braving oncoming traffic and sails through, making the cars ahead slow to let him pass. Alf gives me a jaunty wave.

Through the narrowing at the bridge, the quicker shifts of the Crosstowner catch me up to Alf, and I flick my left hand as I pass him. My progress is interrupted by a pedestrian crossing though, and I stop dutifully, allowing the good people of Hull, who shop continually it seems, to trek across the road, their environmentally friendly hemp shopping bags full of pre-packed groceries. Alf catches up and passes me as the pedestrian crossing clears. I accelerate, gently, but with a minor degree of urgency, although I am simulataneously trying to look nonchalant. In truth, I am panicking slightly - it is not very far to our mutual destination. Suddenly, with a quick peek behind him towards me, Alf hops off his bike and runs towards the alleyway, heading for the backstreets. On time, and on schedule,with welcome predictability, pretence is dropped. The race is well and truly on.

I choose to stick with Newland, surging down the street, riding the median and timing my intersections with pedestrian crossings so that I only have to slow, not stop completely. I glimpse left at the first gap in the houses that I meet and through the gap in the houses, see Alf, head down, powering along the empty backstreet. At Cottingham Road, desperation setting in, I jump the lights, throw the Crosstowner into top gear and sprint down the centre of the highway like Djamolodine Abdoujaparov, the famous 'Terror from Tashkent', in the 13th stage of the 1998 Giro Tour of Italy. I see Alf emerge onto Cottingham ahead of me, but knowing that turns mean gear shift mean slowing down for Alf, I surge on. Alf glances right and responds, kicking hard for the car park.

My last chance is a desperate gamble, so I swing the Crosstowner onto the other side of the road, jump the kerb and the low stone wall surrounding the University, switch down a gear and hare across the expansive grass lawn in front of the Dean office. I make the car park about two seconds ahead of Alf, but his route has taken him closer to the bike racks, so he skids to a halt, and, in the same balletic movement, dismounts. To the victor the spoils.

We both lock up our bikes, an activity which, as this is England, takes a little time. Wheels, saddles, lights, water bottles, pannier racks and, in Alf's case, bike pumps, are removed then all locked together. The result is sculptural, but the time it takes allows us to catch our breath. I finish and walk towards my lecture, passing Alf. An unwritten rule exists every Thursday morning that there should be no acknowledgement at all of our race, so I nod briefly. Alf looks up "Lovely day" he says. I agree.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

I dream of Gondwanaland............

The article you can find by going to

defies criticism. I had thought that my dazzling tripoch (or is it 'tiptop'?) Civilization - Why? , Evolution -When?? and Apocalypse- How??? were sole examples of brilliant theories that had just 'come' to people, almost without thinking. And the article written by Mr Bakshi does seem to confirm that he put almost no thought whatever into his theory, which just goes to prove how great ideas like this dont really need loads of research and stuff - you mostly have to go with the first thing you think of. As I have indicated before, the trick is to get some evidence later.

However, in getting the evidence later, you do have to be very careful. Science is full of tragedy and cautionary tales, as anyone recently and deservedly elevated to Full Professorship will advise those who may not know. My advice is that you read the story about the coelocanth on either of the pages below.

Having now read the stories, I sincerely hope that readers understand this piece of Scientific advice - If you're going to fake your evidence, FOR GOODNESS SAKE DONT GET CAUGHT.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The Mercury Model

I have to admit that the new research programme on which I have embarked is in many ways even more difficult than my epic anthropological research. My new project has its origins in the massive waves of nausea that overcame me when I read the title of my final term paper, due at the end of the current semester, which was something like:

"Evaluate how your learning style has developed over the first year of your programme and reflect on how this might make you be more better at gittin an edercashun.."

Nevertheless, as a dutiful student I took a questionnaire, designed to assess my Preferred Learning Style. I was disappointed to find that I was a "Reflector", so I took another questionnaire, designed by different authors. This time I found to my satisfaction that I was a Pragmatist. Seeking confimation of this diagnosis, I took a few more questionnaires, and found that I was, variously, A Diver, A Doer, An Actionist, A Ponderer, A Deep Study, A Skim Reader, Pre-Operational and after one test, taken while imbibing several draughts of the amber nectar, I was declared a high functioning Rhesus Monkey.

My scepticism, already at Condition Amber, was subsequently raised to Condition Red. Further reseacrh was indicated. After all, my reasoning went, tests, if measuring the same thing, should deliver at least a modicum of consistency - it would be most alarming if, during the course of some routine medical tests, you were to discover that the various measurements taken had shown that you had a healthy blood pressure, despite being clinically dead according to the ECG machine. Questions, one assumes, might be raised.

I therefore have been investigating the Theories of Learning Styles. One point of call on the journey has been the people over at "The European Learning Style Information Network" Conference (ELSIN). The 78 major models of Learning Styles are discussed, reviewed and 'workshopped' wih many serious papers, published in peer reviewed journals resulting. In all fairness, the Learning Style model is an interesting one, and the originators of these models, are mainly serious scientists who had interesting things to say. However, over time, new research sheds light on the machinations of all things scientific, and just as the Flat Earthers woke up one day to discover they were sitting on a disc, it has become apparent over the last decade that for Learning Styles, the jig is, as they say, up. Academic life, as anyone who may have been recently elevated to the ranks of, say, Professor, will be able to tell you, is tough.

I trawl through the proceedings of the various ELSIN conferences, looking for words like "empirical", "tested", "evidence" and so on, but alas, alack, I find no such words. My search ends when I find a paper which may perhaps hint at the direction that these Experiental Learning Styles enthusiasts are heading. The paper investigates a realm of Science that I have frequently advocated my Scientist friends to follow, mainly on the basis of a simple profit/loss equation.

The abstract from the 'paper' starts promisingly enough "Within our common humanity we are all unique...........". This is difficult to refute, so I continue to read ".........One key difference is our style of thinking and learning and we propose that this can be described in considerable depth and detail from data derived from date of birth.........." Hmmm, this is getting hard to follow. I wonder where they are going with this, so I read on "...............This presentation will introduce our original work, Mercury Model, an astrological approach to the identification and description of learning styles. ......."

I pause and check the ELSIN website homepage and find that the aims are described as:

The aims of ELSIN are to:

* further opportunity for research and development in learning and cognitive styles and strategies of learning and thinking
* promote collaboration with practitioners in various contexts
* enable the dissemination of information about learning and cognitive styles and strategies of learning and thinking
* promote international collaboration in research and development
* facilitate events that help to realise these aims

Nowhere do I find the words "clutching at straws", nor any reference to barrels, particularly scraping the bottom thereof, but in another conference presentation I find reference to a report by Dr Coffield. Dr Coffield, you may remember, conducted a thorough examination into Learning STyles theories and concluded that for all 73 of the buggers, the evidence was, at best, weak. Dr Coffield was not invited back, neither were any of the neurocoscientist whose names had previoulsy graced the Conference Schedule in the early part of ELSIN's life, and had presented papers that initially had titles like "Steady On, Now!" and "Hang on, Guys. Let's not Get Too Excited here". Later, as Neuroscience investigated Learning in more detail, Neuroscientist papers came to have titles like "Time Out", or "I think there's a bit of a Problem" and "Hey Guys, can we just hunker round, we seem to be a bit lost? ".

All of this could be seen as amusing, but it does not really affect anyone does it? I will answer my own question immediately. Actually it does. It affects the Education Policy of this country. In fact, Learning styles IS the Education Strategy of this country, as the notion of Learning Styles has been wholeheartedly endorsed by this country's Education Department. The principle, boldly stated, that "every child has a different learning style" is now part of Government policy, and educators are instructed to begin teaching according to it's beliefs. Is this a bad thing? Yes is the answer. Particularly when you consider the effect that stupid or bad psychological theory can have.

Take Hans Eysenck, for example. Eysenck's notorious theories on so-called IQ led to some disastrous results, most notably the use of his theories to "demonstrate" that there were links between intelligence and race, and gave rise to routine school based administration of IQ tests in the UK (called the '11 plus' tests), tests that streamed pupils at the age of 11. Given that a three tier system of education was operating in the UK at the time (Grammar, Secondary Modern and Comprehensive were the school categories)the effect of all this was that kid's future's were effectively decided at that tender age. 'Clever' kids (and therefore future doctors, lawyers, leaders) went to Grammar School, while the 'thickies' who failed, went to Comprehensive Schools. It was widely accepted that kids from Comprehensives were the future bricklayers and tanners of this country. One consequence of this was that for a long time Comprehensive Schools were persistently underfunded, and tended to predominate in blue collar areas. It goes without saying, or should do, that the eventual success of many kids from Comprehensive Schools, is not only a testament to some great schools overcoming the disadvantages built into an inequitable system, but also non-empirical proof of what a load of old crap the notion of IQ testing of 11 year olds actually is.

The problem with Learning Styles Theory is that it does the same thing as IQ tests, namely categorize people. I personally would have no objection to any of this if there was any validity to these theories. The fact is though, like IQ tests, no one really knows what Learning Style inventories are actually measuring, and the neuroscientific evidence contradicts the Mr Kolb (the proponent of Learning Styles) and his model. In other words, the UK's Education system is once agian launching itself into a voyage of the unknown, which, when you consider what is at stake, is ridiculous.

A final point should be made. ELSIN's links page points you in the direction of

The editor in chief of ISSID was S.B.G Eysenck. Their approach to research is revealing:

The editors are concerned with both genetic and environmental causes, and they are particularly interested in possible interaction effects. Ultimately they believe that human beings are bio-social organisms and that work on individual differences can be most fruitfully pursued by paying attention to both these aspects of our nature. They believe that advances are more likely to be made by the use of the hypothetical-deductive method, though empirical data based on sound research and providing interesting new findings, would of course not be rejected simply because they might not have a good theoretical underpinning.

I love emphasis on the "Hypothetical-deductive" approach. When I was a kid, this was called guessing, and it is probably how I passed the 11 plus.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Fine LInes and Clothes Lines

Mac's is our local hardware store - a dimly lit Aladdin's cave where escutcheons nestle with spigots, ball peins are crammed in next to Forstner bits, Yankees, adzes, and spokeshaves, while Stilson No 3's gently rust, ignorant of new "Push and Fit" developments in plumbing that have made them virtually unemployable in the fixing of pipes. Nowadays most people buying a Stilson in Hull do so in the interests of self-defence. The shelves of Macs are crammed with screws, bolts, nuts, saws, paint, hooks, rope, and boxes are piled randomly everywhere else. With floor space at a premium, spades, picks, demolision bars and oil filled heaters hang overhead, dangling from pieces of garden twine attached to the small cup-hooks that Mac has hammered into the plaster. There is not a "How To...." leaflet on display anywhere.

If something cannot be found on Mac's shelves, or in the boxes, or overhead, Gary, Mac's son, is dispatched "into the back". Gary, unwillingly disppears through a door behind the counter, a door which only the cognescenti are aware of, mostly because the door itself is hung with, and disguised by, electrical parts, spark plugs and spares for gas lamps.

"Where are they, Dad?" comes Gary's voice, accompanied noises which suggest that boxes, much larger than the volume of space which you know has to be behind that door, are being moved.

"Next to the wotsits, you know, the tile trimmer spares box....Have you found them?"

Silence. Bash. Then "No, I cant see them"

Mac himself, sighs, and casts his eyes skyward and looks at me,

"Sorry about this....hang on"

Mac disappears, more bashing and moving. Then, strangely, footsteps overhead, echoing as if in a cathedral.

As the footsteps stop directly overhead, Mac and Gary suddenly appear behind the counter again.

"No, sorry, we don't have any two inch nails. Funny that, we used to."

On these rare occasions, I unwillingly ride to a place that I stubbornly call "Home Depot", equally stubbornly pronouncing the name of the place utilizing my version of the Canadian Brogue,

"See you later, Nel. I'm off to Oam Dee-POH".

Oam Dee-POH, or B&Q's, as it is called here, may as well be Oam Dee-POH - aisles labelled and neat, products branded and packaged. It is an utterly New Labour paradise, completely fulfilling all of Gordon Brown's desire for how society be. These stores are offensively safe, well lit and horribly global. You buy your conservatively styled non-UK products, all of which are apparently 'Eco', and fit them safely into your home, following the step-by-step instructions so that your kitchen looks exactly as it should on the cover of the Store's in-house magazine. Next season, when fashions change, you tear up your brand new floor and install Eco-friendly bamboo. The main function of these places is to keep the Global Market moving - they will sell you an Eco-friendly, high-efficiency tumble dryer AND a wind turbine to power it, while for £5.99 Mac will sell you a clothes line and two screws with which to fasten it.

It is therefore in an atmosphere of simmering resentment, and directed anger that the Crosstowner gets navigated to Oam Dee-POH, and my mood does not improve as I cross the threshold. The store, a Corporate sign informs me, cannot sell me anything until 10.00am on Sunday due to trading laws, but invites me to 'browse' and apologizes for any inconvenience I may suffer. It is 9.48am and the store is already full of inconvenienced people, all of whom are 'browsing'. I hate being apologized to by Corporate bodies, especially when the apology is meaningless, and therefore, by definition, completely insincere, and again comparisons with Mac's result, as he opens when he feels like it, and never apologizes if he wants to close the store so he can go and watch the Rugby.

Nevertheless, I attempt to browse, but not finding what I want, I approach a member of staff who is standing next to a pile of neatly stacked wood. As soon as he sees that I mean to engage him, he takes his intercom from his belt, and in a practised move is talking to the Warehouse before I can ask him anything. He holds up his hand, in a gesture which I interpret as "Wait a minute", so I do. When he has finished telling the Warehouse that he is busy "tidying up the wood", I ask him where I might find laminate edge tape.

"Sorry, mate, I've got to tidy this wood before the customers start in..."

I look puzzled - am I not a customer? Do I not bleed ? Have I no DIY needs?

He sees my puzzlement and explains, referring to the sign I saw earlier

"Cant help you until ten o'clock, mate. Didnt you see the sign? Cant serve customers till ten" and without further ado, he returns to stacking the stacked wood, but not before calling the Warehouse again and loudly telling them he's " 'ad another one what cant read".

I consult my phone. It is 9.57, so I utilize the washroom facilities (a rare feature in English stores), and return to the wood stacker. He's still on the phone, so I wait next to him. The hand gesture from before is repeated, this time a little impatiently, so I wait a little more. When he hangs up, I repeat my earlier request for laminate edge tape, 50mm.

"What do you want that for?" he asks me, looking sceptical.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the only response I can give to this is "Edging laminate", because now the guy thinks I'm being, in the local vernacular, "clever". I can see that he is determined not to help, and so it transpires, as he answers that he "hasnt a clue - I do the wood" and directs me to "possibly kitchens".

"Possibly kitchens" is staffed by Beryl, a "Kitchen design Associate" who shars with the wood stacker a complete lack of knowledge of anything the stores sells, and a complete lack of interest in any of it's customers.

"Have you thought about asking a joiner to do it? That sounds technical. We have kitchen fitters here."

I bother not to explain my background, as I am now almost apoplectic. Besides which, the Crosstowner has been left outside for fiftenn minutes by now, and experience has taught me that in Hull, this usually means that, at least, my water bottle will have been stolen, so I'm anxious to get back to the bike. I leave, cursing the trickle down economics that allows these places to exist, and are busy driving guys like Mac out of business.

The problem you see, and the thing that is really annoying me, is that Mac's represents the local, the small, and in my opinion, the future. It is also a future that maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama's presidency may be headed towards. A combination of Obama's stated plan to pump money into infrastructure in the USA, plus the probable protectionist concessions that he will be forced to accept, could feasibly re-juvenate smaller American businesses. Reading between Obama's lines, and some of his more overt statements, it seems as if his administration's approach to tackling the Global Financial crisis represents an end to trickle down economics and a return to Keynesian economics. The implications of an active Keynesian economic policy are inevitable protectionist, because national Governments actively intervene in their own economies, and in some ways, the effects of Keynsian policies echo the slogan of some environmentalists "Think Global, Act Locally".

OaM dee-POH on the other hand, represents Gordon's World, a World where the Global financial markets, if operating correctly, control national economies. It is for this reason that our Prime Minister has been so keen to have his "grand Bargain" plan accepted globally, and also why all his attention at home has been focused on the banks and the City. Gordon's Grand Bargain would allow Oam Dee-POH to continue in profitability because their profits are fixed more by their Global buying power, and consequently 'the markets' (ie Wall Street etc),the Banks and the City than by whether I can buy laminate edge tape or not. Mac, on the other hand, more directly perhaps, needs me, as a local individual, to have £5.99 so I can buy a washing line. The British economy depends on Oam Dee-POH, while Mac's, and his stock of spokeshaves, grommits and escutcheons, depends on the British economy. It is a fine line, perhaps a washing line, but I would rather hang my clothes out with Mac than buy a corporate clothes dryer, every time.