June 28, 2008

The End

I’ve finally come to the end of my time at Warwick. Six years at two modules a year to get a 2ii.

I suppose my “Student Record of Achievement” sums it up:
Student Record of Achievement

Those first year marks in Mathematics and Statistics show why, when I was nineteen, I took Physics and Computer Science as a degree course.

Those first year marks in Sociological Imagination & Investigation, together with those third year marks in Migration and Identity perhaps illustrate that us old buffers can have problems with exams. In the latter case I achieved a first in the essay but only just above a third in the exam! Spending about 100 hours on the essay and only sixty on the themes on which I answered examination questions, might also be a factor (In case anyone is interested I spent 275 hours on that module in total).

The marks on the other level 2&3 sociology and economics modules don’t have an exceptional range – one module just below the 2i threshold, three just above.

The three politics modules dragged me down. I found them tough going, but the experience was good for me. Politics is too important a matter to allow one’s opinions to be dominated by others. For many people the practice of politics is all about being bullied and bamboozled into believing other people’s bizarre opinions. It’s nice to develop the skills to mount an effective resistance!

December 27, 2007

Matthew Parris joins the ranks of the bigots

Writing about web page http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article3097464.ece

What’s smug and deserves to be decapitated?

Cyclists, according to Matthew Parris. He writes in today’s Times

A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists.

Our crime, according to Mr. Parris, is that we chuck empty cans of hi-energy drinks into hedgerows as we pass.

I have never chucked a can of hi-energy drink into a hedgerow. Why should I have my head cut off? Why should other cyclists, who don’t litter the countryside, also face the death sentence. What about horse riders?

Isn’t the death penalty a bit much for throwing litter? I suppose if there’s capital punishment in some middle eastern countries for adultery or homosexuality, it’s not too far fetched to apply it to littering. As long as the person throwing the litter isn’t in a car, when of course, it’s only a misdemeanor.

Stringing wire across tracks is not unknown. More commonplace is aggressive driving. No doubt Mr. Parris will claim it’s not his fault if some homicidal motorist, wound up by the likes of Parris and Clarkson, decides to clip a cyclist whilst overtaking at speed.

Cyclists killed

August 23, 2007

Social construction of Intelligence

Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/player/nol/newsid_6950000/newsid_6959600?redirect=6959630.stm&news=1&bbwm=1&nbram=1&bbram=1&nbwm=1

By chance I saw a few minutes of newsnight report yesterday.
Apparently psychologists are admitting that IQ is highly dependent on culture.

Not culture in terms of the difference between say, Japanese society and British society but more between say, peasant, hunter-gatherer, early industrial, “post” industrial societies etc.

Within the UK IQ has been advancing by about three points per decade since the 1950’s. Yet our DNA is not changing. We, as a society, are creating an environment for children which equips them to achieve better IQ scores. The suspicion is that types of intelligence which IQ test don’t measure might be falling.

I’d wish the link to the Newsnight video clip would work, but with the declining technical standards at the BBC….

August 03, 2007

Campus Expansion

I’ve just sent this off to Coventry Council’s planning office. The closing date for the consultation is end of office hours today.

Dear Mr. Reid

University of Warwick. Campus Expansion. Ref: 54044

The proposed expansion of teaching and research at Warwick University is to be welcomed. What is unwelcome is the proposed 9% increase in car parking. Although this is a smaller proportion than the proposed increase in staff numbers, it will nevertheless mean that the university will have 7% more parking than recommended by the Government’s Planning Policy Guidance 13 (University of Warwick Main Campus Masterplan Transport Assessment June 2007). Traffic levels are expected to increase by 12%.

The roads around the university are already blocked at peak periods. Road development in the greenbelt between Kenilworth and Coventry is undesirable, as is the contribution of this additional traffic to global greenhouse gas emissions and to congestion elsewhere.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Surely if the university were not allowed any more car parking, staff and students would find ways of doing their business which didn’t involve such wanton use of scarce resources as single occupancy car travel. Not only are there the alternative transport options of walking, cycling, car sharing and bus use, but in this age of advanced telecommunications many of the tasks performed by administrators, researchers and students can be easily performed off campus. Perhaps lectures and seminars could also be performed in “virtual reality”.

Yours sincerely

George Riches

The University of Warwick Main Campus Masterplan Transport Assessment can be found here

July 17, 2007

Another Vista feature

Follow-up to Silly enough to buy the latest technology from George Riches: Complaints from a middle aged layabout

Iconic desktop

Right mouse click then selecting view and changing the icon size cured this occurrence of the “feature”.

July 04, 2007

Would you recommend Warwick University?

A few weeks ago I completed the Academic Satisfaction Survey. Like many such surveys there were some strange questions. Number 28, for example asked me

(to) indicate the level to which (I am) personally satisfied with (my) aware(ness) of which services are available to me and what they are for

Well, as any student of epistemology will tell you, if you are not aware of something, you won’t know that you are not aware. Or as Donald Rumsfeld famously put it, there are not only unknowns but also unknown unknowns. Then there was question 11, which asked the subject how many hours he or she spent studying outside timetabled teaching, without specifying the whether that should be per week, term or year.

Still the most important question was number 34:

Thinking about your whole university experience, with hindsight, if you were able to choose again, how likely is it that you would choose to study at Warwick?

My answer to this was “Not sure”. I’ve no doubt that I’ve learnt many things during my five years of undergraduate part-time study at Warwick, but I have found one thing rather irksome. That’s the individualised nature of the learning process. While I accept that students in higher education must direct their own learning process, I question whether isolation in private study is the only way to achieve this. Is there no room for teamwork?

Many people’s experience of paid work does involve a fair degree of teamwork. In my last job, for example, I would write technical documents which would be reviewed by my peers. The review was an important part of the work process. It was also an educative process, for both author and reviewer, in giving and taking constructive criticism as well as in understanding the points made by the other parties. It’s a pity that in my Warwick experience I’ve encountered so little teamwork, so little interaction with other students on academic matters outside the seminar room. As far as I know most mature students (if not others?) have had much the same experience.

So if I knew back in 2001/2 what I know now, one of the key criteria I would use when assessing a higher education institution would be the extent to which it offered a collaborative learning environment. If one seemed to have a better practice than Warwick, I’d go for it.

June 07, 2007

Success for cycling lobbyists!

Follow-up to Proposed new Highway Code shows contempt for cycling and safety from George Riches: Complaints from a middle aged layabout

The Government has agreed to amend the Highway Code to state that use of cycle routes, advanced stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings is not compulsory. And to admit that sometimes it’s unsafe to use them.

See Department Of Transport.

CTC was the leading voice in the campaign.

April 20, 2007

Professional Closure

Writing about Ban Private Schools from flipthelid.co.uk

Comment 62 included:

In what way to doctors, lawyers and accountants have monopolies that engineers don’t?

Most members of the Bar Council, the Law Society and (I think) the Institute of Chartered Accountants spend most *of their working time on tasks where their professional body has a monopoly.

This is very different from the experience of members of the Institution of Civil Engineers the Institution of Mechanical Engineers or the Institution of Engineering and Technology

I was an associate member of the Institution of Electrical Engineering (predecessor to the IET), I couldn’t be bothered to apply for full membership and after I few years I just left. It didn’t make any difference whether I was a member or not.

A couple of examples to illustrate how a professional institution can raise the income of its members:

  • Restrict the supply of labour. Raise the level of educational qualification and experience needed for entry. This has a side effect of raising the status of the profession, by putting clear demarcations between members of the profession and less skilled people and between difference grades within the profession.
  • Stimulate the demand for labour. Claim that many tasks may only be done by your members and resist “deskilling”. Deskilling is a term used to describe the process whereby employers split a job (previous done by highly skilled people) into two parts, that which really needs a high level of skill, and the rest which can be performed by cheaper labour. By deskilling a job, the demand for high-level skills is reduced.

So an explanation for engineers being paid a lot less than lawyers doesn’t need to include such nebulous things as culture or status.

This doesn’t mean that engineers can’t get get good money, more that they have to become managers if they want to prosper. Bill Gates provides an extreme example. It’s significant that his branch of engineering is characterised by fast changing technology. I suspect that while a top manager needs no more than A-level physics to grasp the engineering issues associated with say, a major civil engineering project, keeping up-to-date with the latest software concepts might well be a far more challenging task.

Oh yeah it’s just another example where the Free Market fairy story doesn’t match reality

April 19, 2007

Proposed new Highway Code shows contempt for cycling and safety

Writing about Highway Code – written by motorists for the benefit of motorists? from Cycling to and around Warwick University

I make no apologies for copying this from here

Road safety minister Stephen Ladyman has laid the new Highway Code before Parliament. If not contested by MPs or Lords, it will be approved within 40 days.

The new Code will require cyclists to use cycle facilities ‘wherever possible’, irrespective of the consequences for their safety. Similarly cyclists will continue to be recommended to ride around the outside of roundabouts, in the place where conflict is most likely. The rule that they ‘should’ wear a cycle helmet is also retained.

70% of the 4,000 public responses to the draft Code came from cyclists, and there were as many responses from cycling organisations (41 responses) as from local authorities and road safety organisations together. Despite this, the Government has chosen to ignore completely the clear concerns expressed about the impact of the new rules on cycling safety, and the almost certain increase in counter-claims of contributory negligence that will arise when cyclists are injured.

From the outset Ladyman has refused to meet with the cycling organisations to discuss the draft document. However, there were more promising ‘leaks’ from civil servants that there would be changes. We were also told that the new Code would not be ready before 2008. Cyclists can now rightly feel aggrieved that they have been deceived and that prejudices and ignorance have ridden rough-shod over considerations about their safety.

CCN, CTC and other cycling organisations are now considering their options, but will need the support of cyclists throughout the UK to overturn this travesty, as we must. In the meantime, please encourage cyclists once more to contribute to the Cyclists’ Defence Fund and if you are likely to meet with your MP for other reasons, please make him or her aware of your concerns.

April 15, 2007

Silly enough to buy the latest technology

Follow-up to Retro Vista from George Riches: Complaints from a middle aged layabout

With 20 years professional experience with software, I should have known better.

A catalogue of the woes I’ve had with my first notebook:

  • For the first few days I focused on establishing internet and desktop-notebook connectivity. I then discovered a DVD entitled “Upgrade you Windows Vista Experience”. I ran it, expecting a few bug fixes. Instead after turning on the notebook The Windows Vista home Basic product key you typed in is invalid for activation appeared.
    Selecting “Access your computer with reduced functionality” allowed my browser to run, but no other application programs. At the bottom right-hand corner of the screen Windows Vista™ Build 6000 this copy of Windows is not genuine appeared. I tried activation by telephone – phoning 0800 018 8354. I had to enter 54 digits by touch tone before getting transferred to a robot with an American accent….... I did get it activated in the end.
  • Lotus 123 (Millennium edition) 9.0 won’t install – it works fine on XP.
  • Zonealarm won’t install
  • AVG Anti-spyware will install, but when it runs, The application failed to initialize properly (0xc0000142). Click OK to terminate the application always appears
  • It took me four hours to get DVD videos to play. When I put a video DVD into the drive, Windows Media Player cannot play this DVD because there is a problem with digital copy protection between your DVD drive, decoder and video card. Try installing an updated driver for your video card appeared. Needless to say the problem was nothing to do with the video card. After upgrading the BIOS and installing the latest audio codec driver, DVD videos (and audio CDs) do play.
  • I had to install winhlp32.exe manually
  • I can’t associate more than one program with a filetype

Perhaps a local retailer would have been better than Dell. Dell seem to have a rigid attitude to technical support. After 30 days their policy is that “all non-hardware related issues, e.g. software questions, virus removal, etc.” will only be dealt with via their chargeable software support telephone service. As I didn’t discover the problem with the audio until 44 days after delivery, that’s not very customer-friendly to me. A local retailer might have been more flexible, giving free support as long as the total time taken wasn’t excessive.

So far I’ve spent 25 hours setting up my notebook. I’ve yet to get any use or pleasure from it.

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