In through the nose. Count slowly to five. Out through the mouth. #fiction

Nick paces the office, taking two minutes before he hits the send button. He catches sight of his reflection in the glass of a cheap clip frame that hangs on the wall. “Looking tired,” he says quietly to himself, gently shaking his head. “Looking old.” His eyes focus on the long service certificate behind the glass. One corner of the border is slightly smudged, but nobody bothered to reprint it. “Good enough for Nick,” someone thought. Maybe they didn’t even notice. “30 years. 30 years,” he whispers. 30 years, half of his life, given to this place. In through the nose. Count slowly to five. Out through the mouth…

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When to start writing the dissertation (note to students)

When to Start Writing the Dissertation

For those of you who don’t have the time, or can’t be bothered, to read the following (it is more than 280 characters long, after all) I offer the following summary: start writing now, develop a good writing habit, be flexible, document everything, don’t aim for perfection with the first draft, find a system that works for you #tldr.

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MegaTech and MiniTech (Part 3)

This post is, finally, the third post of a three-part blog series that I began quite some time ago <ahem>. See and for the first two posts.

The second post looked at a relatively small and simple software system, SPONGE (the Simplest Possible ONline Grouping Environment), that I created for my research in a primary school setting. Despite my best efforts and intentions the teachers completely avoided the use of SPONGE in their lessons. Completely.

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Thoughts from a #wikiplebian @jimmy_wales @wikimedia

Jimmy Wales, or at least his mass-mailing robot, emailed me the other day on a Wikipedia fund-raising mission.  I’ve donated in the past but I won’t be this year.  Of all the unlikely reasons it’s the Daily Mail who are the cause of my boycott.  I doubt that he’ll have the time to read my reply, given that he’ll be too busy preparing for things like his upcoming event ($250 to $25000 a go, anyone?) which make my measly £10 a year donation look decidedly unnecessary.

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Notes to a student (note to self)

Hi <redacted>

Don’t be too quick to dismiss ideas at this stage.  We’ve discussed this already but, in my opinion at least, here are some final year project issues that you might think about.

1) Don’t take on too much.  This is an undergrad project and so you don’t need to do something brand new.  Applying existing knowledge to a new situation or taking a slightly different approach is fine.  And, anyway, you will make your project unique just by being you and approaching things in the way that you do (something that nobody else can do).

2) Don’t think that you have to solve everything (also see point 1).  You might finish your project with more questions that you started with, but that’s okay.  Questions often result from reflection, which is a high level activity.

3) Make sure that there is some existing research in the area, otherwise it’s going to be difficult to find background information that you can build on (also see point 1).

4) We’re in a technical department, so there’s an expectation that you will produce something technical as part of your final year project.  BUT, and this is definitely with capitals B, U and T, the technical artefact (‘thing’) should generate an academic discussion.  Making the most impressive ‘thing’ does not necessarily make the best project.  I’d say that a decent ‘thing’ that is built upon background research, generates data and allows you to discuss and reflect on that data is much better.

5) Projects that involve some kind of comparison seem to work well.  So, for example, two ways of doing the same thing, or running the same tests before and after some kind of change has been made.  Comparisons can generate different results, conflicting results, surprising results.  This gives lots of room for analysis, discussion and reflection.

6) Start with the smallest number of tests that you think will be needed to generate the data you need (see also point 1).  Personally speaking, given the choice between two projects, I prefer the less ambitious and complete project to the project that could have been amazing if only the student had another six months to finish it (see also points 1, 2 and 4).

7) Don’t take on too much (see also point 1).  Joking aside, I can’t emphasis this enough.  Start with an achievable plan.  If you find that you have finished a first draft with two months to spare then you might look at adding some extra content.

8) Make sure that the project interests you.  The project needs a sustained effort over two semesters, possibly longer if you put some work in over the summer holidays.  This should be point number one, but I can’t face renumbering everything else.

Hope this helps


Frames of Reference

Just before Christmas an order of 20 or so Raspberry Pi 3 kits arrived at work and I had spent some time clipping boards into cases and inserting Micro SD cards.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  As I completed each kit I stacked the boxes into a pyramid of sorts.  Job done, I sat back and admired the construction. Continue reading