All entries for July 2006

July 27, 2006

Students 'own hi–tech gadgets' – new shock report

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/5215944.stm

Yes, extraordinary news, isn't it?

The massive survey shows that:

Students increasingly own an expensive range of personal items such as MP3 players, iPods, laptops and widescreen televisions, a survey suggests. In 1996, students had possessions worth £1,900, compared with £2,900 now, the poll of 587 students indicated.
Nearly two–thirds of those surveyed by YouGov owned laptop computers, more than half had MP3 players, 48% owned DVD players, 12% had widescreen TVs and 6% owned PDAs.

Amazing information!

But then it is followed by a staggering piece of misinformation:

The findings come as students starting courses this autumn will have to pay up to £3,000 a year on tuition fees alone.

Implication – silly students are blowing a fortune on electrical goods and won't be able to pay their fees. Oh dear.


July 22, 2006

Seafood platter: approximation of a playlist §20

Seafood platter

(Being mainly crustaceans and the like)

Do the Clam – Elvis
Lobster in cleavage probe – Hatfield and the North
Shrimp – Mr Scruff

lobster

Crab Man – Ella Fitzgerald
Scampi girl – Men at C&A (crazy name, crazy band!)
Gigantic land crabs in earth takeover bid – Hatfield and the North (again)
Rock lobster – B52s
Pulling mussels from a shell – Squeeze
The tale of the oyster – Cole Porter
Crab – Weezer
The world is my oyster – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Shrimp stories – Yo La Tengo
Rip van Winkle – The Devotions
Crawfish – Elvis


July 21, 2006

Nursery fun and games

Title:
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

The Fourth Bear - Jasper fforde

OK, it's kind of throwaway and a bit lightweight but on the other hand the two series of Fforde books really are pretty entertaining. The 'Thursday Next' books, which allow Fforde a braoder range of literary allusions, work better I think than the Nursery Crime series of which this is the latest instalment.

Still, it is a welcome addition to the list but if you've not read any of his stuff this would not be the best place to start.

(Note: Stars for entertainment value rather than pure literary merit.)


July 19, 2006

What makes a good administrator? (All comments welcome)

Am presenting a session at next week's Warwick Network on this particular topic. Now I do have plenty to say on the subject but was interested in what others might think.

Am especially interested in relation to the issue of the adoption of or engagement with (or indeed comprehension of) new technologies etc. So, does a good administrator have to be in the vanguard of IT developments or is it simply enough that s/he is comfortable leading or embracing change, whether in IT or anything else?

And is there something different about University administrators?


July 16, 2006

The Breakfast Club: approximation of a playlist §19

The Breakfast Club - songs related to the best meal of the day

Breakfast in America – Supertramp
Breakfast at Tiffanys – Deep Blue Something
Black coffee in bed – Squeeze
Dear Sausage – The Mekons
Two pints of lager and a packet of crisps – Splodgenessabounds
Breakfast Time – Orange JuiceBreakfast
Bed and Breakfast Man – Madness
Breakfast in bed – Dusty Springfield
Blues for Breakfast – Mama Cass
Tea for two – Fats Waller (to pick one of many)
Lady Marmalade – Labelle
Cigarettes and alcohol – Oasis
Coffee and TV – Blur
England, Half English – Billy Bragg
Toast – Streetband
The Continental – Frank Sinatra
Broken English – Marianne Faithfull
Bread and butter – The Waitresses
Milk – Garbage
Orange crush – REM


Falling and not laughing

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

The Fall by Albert Camus

A short but extremely powerful book. It's one of those I had been meaning to read for years but never quite got round to it. Jean–Baptiste Clamence, the 'judge–penitent', relates his recent reflections on life, existence and humanity to a chance acquaintance in an Amsterdam bar.

The monologue, despite its brevity and superficial directness contains an extraordinary range of ideas, built around a single incident on a Paris riverbank. The writing (and translation) is excellent and engaging and there is real depth here. I think it requires more than just one reading and must do so again soon.

Highly recommended.


July 11, 2006

The Gifted and Talented Solution?

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/5166240.stm

It appears from Chris Woodhead's comments to the BBC about the latest developments in gifted and talented education that the answer is…

Grammar Schools

That idea must have taken some time to arrive at.


Management issues in the NHS

Writing about web page http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/reports/NATIONAL-REPORT.asp?CategoryID=&ProdID=9BCDC50E-B139-46f8-B559-B890590FA40A&page=index.asp&area=hped

Whilst it is wrong to derive any satisfaction from this Audit Commission report, it seems bizarre that there remains a view (at least in parts of the Treasury) that universities are run as badly as parts of the NHS. Yet, there aren't many insitutions which would survive for very long with these kind of problems – and some of the findings in this about management problems in the NHS are really quite staggering:

We found that the origins of financial failure in the organisations we reviewed typically lay in ineffective management and weak or inadequate board leadership. The report identifies three crucial aspects of board–level culture that suggest trouble may be ahead: inadequate calibre of leadership, particularly in the key posts of chief executive and finance director; lack of board cohesion and inability to challenge, frequently compounded by a high turnover of board directors, both executive and non–executive, impeding the board’s ability to work effectively as a team; and the board’s eye being off the ball. We found this typically meant the board had other time–consuming business: the after–effects of a merger (or the preliminary stages of the next one), a large building project, responsibility for a shared service or consortium, or any combination of these.
These factors were often compounded by weaknesses in the information available to the organisation, particularly in financial monitoring and the forecasting of the year–end position.

Frightening!

Some boards surrendered to the view that the problem lay elsewhere within the local health system, usually on the other side of the commissioner/provider divide. Others looked for future funding increases to resolve their difficulties, with some NHS trusts believing that Payment by Results (PbR) will mean significant and justified income growth even if it is known that the local commissioners also have a deficit. The effect is for the organisation and its management to believe they are not in charge of their own destiny, waiting for external solutions rather than searching out internal improvements.

This, arguably, is analagous to the attitude of some HEIs – but in the mid–1980s, rather than now!

Even where boards operate better, operational problems were separated from financial ones with the finance director expected to solve them. Increasingly, this led to a reliance on short–term fixes: asset disposals, slippage and the use of non–recurrent funds to cover recurring (and growing) deficits, and borrowing from other NHS organisations. Finance directors rose to the challenge, but the results were damaging in the medium term with underlying imbalances not being addressed. Financial problems are operational ones. They require cost structures, service design and productivity to be addressed in detail.

Absolutely!

We also found, among this small minority of organisations we reviewed, a tendency for the medical leadership and other senior clinicians to be disengaged from the core management processes of the trust. This dislocation, if allowed to continue over a period of years, appears to be a reliable indicator of impending financial trouble. It is, after all, clinicians who spend most of the NHS’s money.

The obvious analogy here is with problems faced where you have academic staff being disengaged from central University activities.

Anyway, a desperately depressing read in many places but at least we can feel a bit better about the calibre of management in many universities. If only parts of government would see it the same way.


Namesakes

I always thought that with a name as odd as mine there would be little room for (Google–led) confusion. But there are others, including:

  • A US truck driver who gave a testimonial to his driving school.
  • A Canadian banker.
  • A Welsh rugby–playing schoolboy (OK that was 35 years ago according to the archive photo).
  • And, most disconcertingly, someone who writes reviews of various fantasy and science fiction books on Amazon.

I'm sure that they all get fed up with me as well.


July 09, 2006

A slightly dull dystopia

Title:
Rating:
2 out of 5 stars

Never let me go - Kazuo Ishiguro

I was slightly surprised that this one was actually on the 2005 Booker shortlist. It is very well written and the narrative does have a certain energy which pulls you along nicely, despite most of it being in recollective mode.

The three main problems with it though (and am trying to avoid giving too much away here) are that:

  • first, the central idea of Ishiguro's "darkly skewed" version of contemporary England just isn't terribly clever (it feels like a second–rate scifi notion);
  • the 'real' history behind the central shocking premise, which is only revealed to the protagonists at the end, is, unfortunately, somewhat of an anti–climax;
  • finally, despite the excellent writing and pace, it doesn't, I feel, really live up its ambition to tell us something profound about the fragility of human existence.

So, a bit of a disappointment really.


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