How to cheat on a perfectly good puzzle

Don’t you just cringe at party-killers who just have to go and spoil all the fun.  Examples include the idiot who reads thrillers with the sole purpose of solving the whodunnit before the author reveals all and then tells you before you’ve read the book yourself, or the git who loudly ponders the plot of the movie and ruins it on everyone else.  Why can’t such people enjoy the suspense, the thrill, the edge-of-the-seat factor without having to ruin things on themselves and anyone around them.

Today we are told that some kill-joy has written an app that can solve the Soduko puzzle –  It is absolutely beyond me why anyone would waste perfectly good app-writing skills doing this.  It completely misses the point of the Soduko.  Where is the sense of satisfaction of completing the “hard” version, the wonderful cranking of brain cells working out placement possibilities when the computer can do it for you? It ruins the fun – killjoy!

Yes, I know. No-one is forcing me to use the app.  Yes, I can ask the plot-leaks person to be quiet.  But this doesn’t explain their behaviour,  I just don’t understand the kill-joy factor.

And that’s enough complaining for one day….  off to read the Hunt Report now!



I’m currently reading “Sorry” by Max Davidson.  I’ve absolutely no idea how this tome of wisdom arrived on my bookshelf. I have no recollection of buying it. I can only conclude that someone give/lent it to me.  I am glad that they passed it on to me.

Apparently “sorry” a very difficult, confused and confusing word.

It’s a word that covers the entire spectrum of apologies. From the trivial “sorry I left coffee cup marks on the newspaper” through notable “sorry I inflated my expenses” to serious “Sorry, I’ve had a string of affairs and wrecked our marriage”.  How can one word cover all of these? It doesn’t seem plausible that we haven’t evolved a variety of words to address the differing levels of apology but somehow we haven’t.    “Sorry” just doesn’t cover the big stuff. The Vatican saying sorry for years of clerical abuse can never have a ring of authenticity.  It couldn’t possibly express the level of regret and contrition needed to comfort victims of clerical abuse (not that I’m excusing the Vatican on grounds of technical linguistics, you understand).

In fact, apology for wrong-doing is only one meaning for the word “sorry”, and it’s not even a critical one.  The book quotes from an Esure 2007 survey where thousands of respondents were asked to define the word.  Here are the 5 most popular reasons for saying sorry:

  1. Not being able to help, or an expression of sympathy: “sorry, I don’t have time to go into this in detail”, or “sorry, can’t talk, in a rush” or “sorry your partner cheated on you”.
  2. Aologising on behalf of another: “sorry, the dog is usually so unfriendly”, or “sorry, junior is particularly cranky today”, “sorry, Mr Senior Mgr can’t see you now”.
  3. Not hearing what someone has said: “sorry, could you repeat that”.
  4. Asking someone to explain something: “Sorry, could you repeat that” or “I don’t understand, sorry”
  5. And, finally, down the list we reach the critical one, apologising for a wrong-doing: “sorry, I acted like a git”, “sorry, I shouldn’t have left that banana skin there”, “sorry I burned the dinner to a crisp and now there’s nothing to eat”.

The word is so over-used and used for such a variety of things, one wonders if it has any meaning at all. Quite often, it can be easier to just say sorry.  It stops a potential confrontation before it can build up steam. An example: “sorry for hogging the remote control, here you watch what you like”.  It almost has an air of chivalry – if the remote hogger really is feeling guilty.  A serious pet peeve of mine is the empty retailer apology. The “sorry we’re out of paper bags” or “sorry, we don’t have that in another colour” is usually so empty it makes me cringe.  The retailer (ok, typically their assistant) couldn’t care less that they can’t meet your needs. By using the “S” word, they just rob the word of its meaning and trivialise it.

On the other hand, there are cases where the “S” word should make a strong appearance but doesn’t.  Senior managers, politicians and corrupt bankers spring to mind.  It’s almost as if saying sorry is admitting guilt and they might be considered badly for it.  The reality is that a weak boss who won’t apologise for being spineless or not supportive of her staff is held in less esteem than one who at least attempts an apology.

The format of the apology is important.  If the apology is insincere, the apologiser can look very ropey indeed.  The big example here involves the word “May”.  Example: “I apologise for any upset that my words may have caused” is often code-speak for “oh, all right then, if you’re so thin-skinned as to be upset by my words then I’d better throw an apology your way”.  It leaves the recipient feeling more than somewhat indignant. Similarly, the apology followed by an excuse can be seen as a cop-out.  “Sorry my expense claims as so huge but ……”.  It doesn’t matter a jot what comes after the “but”.  Its very existence negates the apology and suggests the apologiser isn’t really all that sorry at all.   The apology has been diluted.

There are interesting linguistic differences in how other languages express the meaning behind their equivalent of Sorry.  The French have “je suis desole”/”I am desolate” which seems to carry more emotion than the English version.  Chinese go even further with “dui bu yi”/”I can’t raise my face to meet yours”.  On the other hand, Italian has “mi dispiace”/”it displeases me” which is hardly in keeping with the spirit of the word “sorry”.   None of these can hold a candle to the Latin “mea cupla”, a straight-forward up-front no-messing-about hands-up admission of guilt.

Unfortunately, much of our use of Sorry is far from straight-forward.  Sometimes, it’s clouded in ambiguity.  What exactly does the apologiser mean by their apology?  An example: “sorry I lied” often means “sorry I was found out for lying” or it could mean” sorry I lied”.  Another example is the “I owe you an apology”.  How many times is the statement uttered and the receiver is standing there wondering if that is the apology or if one is forthcoming.

That’s “Sorry” in a nutshell. As to the mysterious person who passed the book on to me, I can only say Sorry!  Sorry for both forgetting who you are and not showing enough appreciation for your book when you gave it to me.

Learning Spaces

How about this ss a continuation of the last video on the last post, the one saying that education hasn’t changed in any fundamental way for a century or more?

Ok, there are some aspects of traditional classrooms here but it certainly is different. I like the emphasis on the small collective spaces, the indoor / outdoor continuation, the experiment space and some other features.

I can’t help wondering how  realistic it all is.  This is far more resource consuming than the traditional set-up. Given the emphasis on cost-cutting that we hear everywhere these days, it’s the type of idea that tends to be placed on the back shelf. Far too many ideas are placed on the long finger.  Reality bites!


Browsing youtube

It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m messing around on youtube.  Here are some gems I’ve stumbled cross.

First up, what might an honest and upfront conversation with a particular type of student look like?  Oh dear, oh dear!  Go on, admit it, you smiled, just a little bit…..

Second up: there are a number of these type of videos blowing about on youtube and to say they annoy me is putting it mildly.  No, I don’t have a problem with the message.  There is a lot of truth in the message.  I have a problem with how it’s put across. Isn’t it ironic that the kids are using hand-written cards to get across the message that they want to use more technology?  And why are they so glum?  Cheer up, for crying out loud, and go read a book.

Actually the video reminded me of a comment I read recently (apologies, I cannot remember the site) from a first year undergraduate complaining that they don’t do anything interesting in IT class  Instead they spend the time doing the ECDL syllabus. While I commiserated with the student’s position, the student needs to know that syllabi are not always decided by the teachers who deliver it, quality control procedures typically mean that a syllabus cannot be deviated from much, what one student considers boring is highly stimulating to another, and finally, ECDL is a good foundation in IT. A problem is that ECDL might not been studied by all students in their prior learning while others proudly show off their certificates.  This causes particular problems for a teacher – what do you do when the majority of a class have already done all the material while it’s brand new for a sizable minority – without causing feelings of inferiority / superiority, without operating double standards, etc?

Third on the list: I quite like the ideas in this one, even if the whole thing is meant to be a parody.  The iPaper is an interesting idea in and of itself.

Fourth is another futuristic one.  This one takes a pot shot at the nonotechnology movement. How small can things really get?  Have we reached the practical  limits on size?   Or, the more likely scenario, are there applications out there for tinytech that we are still exploring – those applications are just not the ones we already have?

And, finally, a century of educational technology chronicled in one youtube video. The early part of the 20th century had the radio, gramaphone, and the silent / talkies movies but not all educators used them.  Then along came WW2 and things really sped up technologically but to what extent did the tools make it into the classroom?  By the time the 1970s calculators were the cool learning toy of the day.  Yet, as I recall, it was to be many years later before students were allowed use them in exams. Scroll on further and you have youtube and Facebook and a whole lot more social media, and many educators don’t use those either.

The lesson: new media, its applications and levels of usage are relative to the time. Technology has never really had a fundamental effect on or caused a radical overhaul of how school/college based learning and teaching takes place.  It’s still predominantly desks and chairs and a teacher delivering.  New technology comes along and supplements or complements what’s already there. As tools (Sony walkman, anyone?) go out fashion they are replaced by others (Apple ipod, anyone?).

The words educational reform have been heard for years and years.  Technology has been changing and evolving for decades.  Yet there hasn’t been any fundamental change in how teaching and learning takes place. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

What Twitterers are tweeting about

Some people flatly refuse to tweet because it’s boring.  Yes, it is boring to read “I’m going home now” or “having chicken for dinner”.  But a flick through the tweets of those I’m following reveals some interesting stuff indeed.  People really post about interesting things. Here’s a selection:

  • Interview with Mark Zuckerberg:  he’s big into integration, single sign-ons with Facebook at the centre of things.
  • 40 people who changed the internet: the list is predominantly male and American.  There is a grand total of 1 woman in the entire list.
  • Review of Kevin Kelly’s new book: the reviewer isn’t hugely positive but yet manages to create a curiosity about the book. It sounds like an in-depth philosophical view of the technology-driven world. Example: “technology is an emerging state of cosmic reality” – that calls for some pondering.
  • Social consumers and social marketing:  I started off my professional life in marketing (in the pre-internet world). It  didn’t last long. The whole thing felt like a combination of paper-pushing and how-to-get-suckers-to-part-with-their-money. Now, it’s all changed and internet-marketing is one of my more enjoyable subjects to engage in with students.  Social Currency is more than just a concept. Brands mean something to customers, and customers are in charge of the transaction
  • If third level education costs more, should third level education then be shorter in duration? – I don’t agree. But this is exactly what is being speculated on in the UK. College is as much about personal development as it is about learning the content of a particular domain.  I’ve always been fascinated by how students change and mature between their first year and their third year. I don’t  see the same gains being made in 2 years. In terms of the academic learning, I wonder if a 2-year degree is more about the dreaded, and ultimately wasted, “cramming” as it is about immersion in a subject to the extent that a deeper understanding is achieved, even if some domain facts become blurry with time.
  • If I were a rich woman would I live here? – in fairness, it’s a plush location close to all amenities, but think of the traffic and the pollution. I do like the floorplan and the reclining statue at the bottom of the bed. The bed in the bathroom (or the bath in the bedroom) I’m not so sure about.
  • John Seely Brown’s “The Power of Pull” – I’m ashamed to say I purchased this some time back and still not have got around to reading it.  There are simply too many good books screaming read-me-read-me.  The line “If I aint learning, it aint fun” caught my attention.
  • The top 10 social networking sites and forums: Surprise surprise, Facebook is way above and beyond the most popular. Why don’t I know more about Mocospace and Mylife?  Am I missing something?
  • The Times Higher Ed claim to have a preview of the Hunt report: and its unsurprisingly not pretty in places and rather intriguing in others: the general feeling seems to be that it lacks a sound academic base and anything build on sand tends to be blown apart quite easily. So far so uh-oh.

The Social Network

I finally got to see the movie, and it had me metaphorically glued to the screen the entire time.

I don’t know how much artistic licence was taken.  Given the gagging clauses in the settlements of the real case, I’ll probably never know. Yet, what was presented on the screen gave considerable food for thought. It wasn’t all roses.  I think the thorns were more prominent than the roses.

Third level college is about personal development as much as it is about intellectual development.  The first few years as an official adult away from the protective eye of parents are hugely significant. We make mistakes, we do silly things, we hurt others, we get hurt.  No-one ever forgets the first time they have their heart smashed by a member of the opposite (or same, depending on your preferences) gender.  You hurt and then you move on wiser and having learned from the experience.

In the internet age, it’s not so easy. The social tools of the internet allow permanent records to be kept and to be kept in public form. The Mark Zuckerberg character was devastated by the Erica rejection and blogs publicly and rather nastily about it. He moves on …. to create a widely-subscribed social website to hit out at the female of the species.  In contrast, most people would likely have commiserated face-to-face with a small number of friends.

Scale comes across very strongly in the movie.  Everything is bigger than big. The numbers subscribing to facebook (and its various predecessors) are huge, the money put into it is huge, its valuation is huge, the Harvard social life portrayed is over-the-top, the fall-outs and exploitations among friends are extensive – so much so that one wonders how they can ever be repaired. Thankfully, most of us have less dramatic student lives.

On a more positive note, I’m intrigued by how someone without a wide circle of close friends and at such a young age put his finger on the pulse of what makes Facebook so popular. The exclusivity factor, you decide who is in your in-group and who isn’t, is crucial. If you want to be choosy or friend every person you ever meet is completely your choice. The relationship-status is critical for the age group Facebook is aimed at. And it is never over, it’s a perpetual beta, friendships grow and evolve and sometimes die and new ones take their place.  And how this is documented is totally in the hands of those who chose to Facebook. Some use it more wisely than do others.

There were other aspects of the movie that caught my attention. Examples are the social snobbery coming across on the Harvard campus (the elite kids of rich families and not-so-elite kids), the pride that is taken in being a hacker, the intangible and undefinable nature of friendship, the social role of the internet, the role of the social web in doing one’s homework (the art history assignment that was completed through invited comments on a social website – collaboration or sneakily getting others to do the work for you?), the comment from Sean Parker – “it might not be good business but it pissed a lot of people off”, and the copyright comment – if you make a chair do you then have to share your profits with everyone who ever made a chair?

Yes, it wasn’t a positive feel-good movie but it kept my attention the entire time.  It was a movie that I wanted to come away and have a conversation about, a movie to think about.

Gender (in)equality

There is a new World Economic Forum report on gender imbalances. Yes, this looks like another of these regular reports to tell us what we’ve observed in our day-to-day anyhow.  These reports will continue to make regular appearances as long as the gender gap persists. Unfortunately, I don’t expect a shortages of them for quite some time yet.

There is some interesting content from the WEF report but it requires careful reading to see the full picture.  The results are presented as relative rankings.  So, we might be close to gender equality on a category but yet achieve a low ranking because other countries are even closer.

  • Actually, we in Ireland are not doing too badly at all. We lie in 6th position (out of 130+ countries) for gender equality, behind Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand. Nonetheless, it is all relative. The differential statistic is 77.7% suggesting there is still a 22;3% gap.
  • It’s likely that the Marys are pushing up our rankings.  Having a current female President and a recent female President of the country helps. The (albeit few) high-ranking female TDs also helps, .  Indeed, the ranking scores for political empowerment tally with the overall scores. We lie in 7th position with many of the same countries ahead of us. Yet, we fall woefully short of equality with 14 female to 86 male members of parliament.
  • In terms of educational achievement, we are doing so well here in Ireland that we have a (equal with several other countries) top ranking. The analyses that fill the newspapers when the junior and leaving cert results come out tally with this. However, we are only ranked 25th when it comes to economic participation, and we have a scary 89 ranking on health.   Having said that it’s worth noting that the health category is measured on female/male birth ratios and on mortality age. Neither are problematic in Ireland.
  • The only place where women seem to outdo men in the various categories and sub-categories is enrollment in tertiary education. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what this means when all these wonderful females complete their education. They / we don’t seem to be making to the higher echelons. Women dominate the lower levels of government and business while men dominate the upper levels. How come?  What skills are men bringing to the table that enables them to climb that ladder and seemingly seep through glass ceilings by osmosis while women have to take hammers to it and only make a dent?  Is there something missing in education and training that facilitates this? Or is it simply down to practicalities like childcare (after all, guys simply cannot to the 9 months thing and all that goes with it) or is it more subtle in terms of social pressures?
  • The pay gap is arguably the gap that has closed most in recent years with women catching up with their male counterparts in terms of being paid for an equal days work. Yet, the very thought that any 2 people are paid differently for equal work is bizarre.  It’s a safe guess that this a problem within genders as well as between genders.  How many men out there work as hard and as well as the person in the next desk/office to them and yet get paid less?

The stats here go from 2006 to 2010 inc.I can’t help but wonder what the next set will throw up. Will we ever close that gap completely?




Discovering the global digital life

Discover Digital Life” has published the output of what they claim to be the largest survey of online trends on a global scale.  They make for interesting reading.

First of all, the classification – which are you?

The problem with these categories is that no-one ever completely fits any one of them.  For example, I doubt if I am a prolific enough mobile user to be considered an Influencer.  I don’t consider myself new to the Internet (Aspirers) and I’m a Functionalist either. I have some characteristics of Communicators, Knowledge-seekers, and Networkers even if I don’t meet all their criteria.

Interestingly, males dominate the knowledge-seeking and females dominate the networking category. How does that fit with the stereotypes of males / female behaviour?

As to what people get up to online, the activities seem to make sense.

How highly might you rate yourself on these?  I do some of all. The internet seems to be my first port-of-call these days for many things. On the occasional instances where it isn’t….. e.g. turning up at the cinema to see The Social Network to find it booked out….. I wonder why I didn’t book it online beforehand.

Respondents spent an average of 4.6 hours every week being sociable.  This is surprisingly low. Even with full time jobs, I reckon that there are plenty folk who spend this amount of time per day.  It’s likely that there are many semi-dormant social networking accounts. Internet marketers can take heart from the fact that noticeably more people seem to be “actively looking for brands” when online than those who are actively avoiding brands. Yet, marketers need to be careful about how they put their brand across. Online consumers can and will click away if they feel they are being preached to by branders.

What’s really interesting about the study is the cross country comparisons. They are not all intuitively guessable.  For example, the countries having the highest % of people engaging on the net are Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the lowest are Denmark and Indonesia. I didn’t expect the Danes to be in that category. Turkey, Thailand and Malaysia score highly on the social networking & connecting category. Turkey is also tops for knowledge & education as well as for online gaming. Vietnam, Hong Kong and South Korea are scoring highly in several categories.  Asia seems to be surpassing Europe and America in many of these categories of activity.  We clearly need to get our act together in Europe.

It seems that we in Europe don’t see online activities as all that important. For example, 50% of South Africans consider social networking as important while only 24% of Uk respondents feel the same way. The Americans and Europe practically disappear off the world map in terms of the importance of online multimedia / entertainment. Only 1% of UK residents rate multimedia / entertainment as important while 10% of Vietnamese do. The average Malysian has 233 online friends while the average German has 75.  While there may be local / cultural differences as to what a friend is, the trend is clear.

We in Europe simply are not as serious about the internet as our Eastern friends.  This has serious implications for online business and social life, as well as innovations and developments in these areas. If these trends continue we are likely to slip even further behind – certainly not a good thing.

“Do we have to, like, learn this?”

That was a question I received from a first year student during the week.  It didn’t inspire me with confidence and made me wonder about the concept of learning this 18-year old has built up in his 18 years.

A conversation ensued emphasising the need to understand the meaning of the material, questioning it in a constructive way, forming opinions and acquiring evidence to prove or disprove these opinions.  The student’s response: “so, we don’t have to, like, learn it then?”.  I left the conversation more perplexed then the student.  What is learning?  Students have enough new concepts, ideas, policies and procedures to grapple with as they begin third level education.  Having to revise what they understand by the very term learning shouldn’t have to be added to the list.

A movement from rote learning to concept understanding is not easy. What other changes might new students expect?

US News have 5 suggestions and “parents tips on how they can set their child on the path to success at college”.  Oh dear.  Starting college is a big step into adulthood.  It’s the perfect time for parents to let go the apron strings and see their offspring as adults. Continuing to treat them as children at this crucial stage in their young lives is not helpful at all.

Reference to “kid” throughout the article is a shame because the advice is actually quite good:

  1. 1. Cutting classes: don’t do it. Good advice.  It’s rare for students to do well if they don’t attend classes.
  2. Do what’s prescribed and no more: Good advice. Taking 6 subjects when 5 is the recommended number is stretching resources (particularly time) too far.  The study / life balance takes a hit. The very important personal development from the college experience will not be optimised.
  3. Take social media in moderation: Good advice.  If a half-hour Facebook hit before heading to college settles the mind for the day, then it’s a good idea.  If that half-hour turns into 5 hours…..
  4. Why put off till tomorrow what can be done today: Good advice. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You never know how long a task will take.
  5. If you need help ask for it: there is nothing more frustrating for a lecturer than to hear “I didn’t understand the assignment”…. after the event when the grade has been given.

To use Project Management speak, ‘creep’ happens slowly.  Slipping behind gradually is something to watch out for because it’s not always easy to spot. A missed class today can easily become a missed assignment deadline a short few weeks later, leading to a failed subject.  Quite often, the slippage start/ acceleration can be offset by a quick email or a short meeting with the lecturer.

Simply put: talk to us. We actually do want to help.  We might not always be able to help but if we don’t know help is needed then the chances are you won’t receive any.

You know the new term has started when….

  1. “Your mailbox is nearly full” warnings appear with increasing regularity
  2. Walking up / down a corridor takes longer than usual, particularly within five minutes of the top of the hour
  3. A trip to the library takes longer than usual (yes, I take my physical self to the library on occasion, not everything is electronic …. yet)
  4. Messages from the library asking you to return books you’ve had on loan all summer start arriving
  5. The decibel level in the local coffee shops noticeably increases
  6. There are lots of delightful “ohmygodhowareyouyourhairisgorgeoushowwasyoursummerhowwasnewyork…..” conversations to be heard among students
  7. The lift takes 100 seconds longer to arrive on your floor
  8. You find yourself wondering if the proportion of excited / bored / scared / nervous / ambitious first year students has changed from the previous year
  9. Entries and exit doors to every building acquire a haze of cigarette smoke
  10. You know (without looking at a calendar) the dates that every Monday falls on at least 3 months into the future