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“N’ere cast a clout….

Monday, April 7th, 2014

may_blossom… til May be out” says the old adage. Well if that is true then time to drop the winter draws and prance around in lacey undies, for even though ’tis only early April, as you can clearly see, at least down ‘ere in ‘eavenly ‘ampshire the May is out, and looking gorgeous this morning, despite the rain!

Walking for Health

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

I have recently joined the Portsmouth Council Healthy Walks programme and once a week, sometimes more often, I join a lively group for an hour or so wandering briskly around the city and its surroundings. Run by the Independent and Wellbeing Team at the City Council, led by an able lady known as Paula Day, These free, sociable, safe walks are individually led by trained volunteers. The walks themselves are suitable for all ages and abilities but tend to be mostly slightly older folks who regularly walk for exercise but see the group as friends and share many discussions whilst walking. (more…)

Ig Nobel Awards

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

People who know me well will be aware that several times a month, during term time, I aim to attend the Portsmouth University Public Lecture series. I don’t go to all of the seminars, but only those which appeal, but over the years I have learned much and been entertained royally at this collection of fine speakers discussing interesting concepts. However, only rarely have I had such an amusing evening. Fun with a hard science centre.

Improbable Research and the Ig Nobel Prizes was presented by improbale.com, represented tonight on stage by Marc Abraham, editor of the Ig Nobel Times and three prize winners: Alex Ford, Illya van Beest and Richard Stevens. (more…)

From Here to Eternity

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

I was very lucky today to be allowed to hear Professor Joseph Silk (currently Professor of Physics at the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, Université Pierre et Marie Curie and Homewood Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, formerly the Savilian Chair of Astronomy at the University of Oxford from 1999 to September 2011) expound upon the very latest findings in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology, literally straight hot off the press, since the latest findings from the South Pole observations were reported on the BBC only last week.

Astronomers peer back into the past with the world’s largest telescopes. They see billions of galaxies, and they find indications of evolution and youth. Before the first galaxies, there were the Dark Ages. And before then, the Big Bang. But there is much of the universe that astronomers cannot probe. Professor Silk describes the universe that we see, and speculate about the universe we cannot see. He describes the past, with some confidence, and will speculate about the future, as perceived by cosmologists, under the assumption that humanity survives to reap the potentially infinite rewards of what to all intents and purposes is an infinite, or at least an inconceivably large universe.


Fracking Shale Gas – What on earth is that all about?

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

I was very privileged this morning to hear a very eminent authority speak upon this very emotive subject. On Day two of the sole British ‘Green’ MP, Caroline Lucas’ trial for her part in the ‘Battle of Balcombe’ last summer on public order offences relating to Quadrila’s exploratory well drilling for oil in Sussex, I was delighted to hear Professor Richard Selley, Emeritus Professor of Petroleum Geology at Imperial College London clarify the position. (more…)

Niaive or Govian ?

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

I was cycling home this morning as the school children were setting off for our local secondary (High) school. It was raining and so cold that as well as my hi-vis (and very warm) jacket I had a wooley hat, my cycle helmet and gloves on.

Without exception every child I saw was wearing their smart new blazer, this former secondary modern school became an Academy last September, but not a winter coat or gloves were to be seen. Now it might just be fashion and not wanting to show weakness, but I saw boys and girls of every age from 11 to almost 17 and I wonder if there might be another, much more worrying problem going on here. Every family was forced, last summer, to buy a complete new school uniform with a very traditional grammar school look; blazer, skirt/trousers, black shoes, long white (or black) socks, blouse or shirt etc. Maybe, just maybe, in this not particularly wealthy neck of the woods where at least 1200 jobs have been lost in the last year alone, some parents, having had to fork out for the uniforms, simply could not afford thick winter coats this winter.

  1. Has Gove metamorphosed into Scrooge through his reforms?
  2. Does smartness now trump warmth?
  3. Are our kids actually safe in our current Con-Dem Government’s Education Reform world?

DISCUSS > > > (please)

Conference Report. Leading FE Today

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Click here for a brief report upon the NewBubbles annual conference held in Guildford on 22nd March:

What medieval Europe did with it’s children

Monday, March 24th, 2014

If you have ever wondered how you might have fared as a child, or a youth, in Medieval Europe have a read of this interesting BBC article

Exploring Dogs’ Minds – Dog Cognition

Friday, March 21st, 2014

The work of the Portsmouth Dog Cognition Centre

Selection pressures during domestication not only shape animals’ morphology but also animals’ behaviour and cognitive skills. A highly interesting case is the domestic dog. Being the first animal species domesticated, dogs live in close contact with humans for quite a long time. One interesting question is to which extent, if at all, dogs have especially adapted to their new niche, namely the human environment. The so-called domestication hypothesis claims that dogs have especially adapted to the human environment and evolved skills in some cognitive domains, which are functionally equivalent to those of humans.

Juliane Kaminski, formerly of the Max Planck Institute and now active in the Psychology Department of the University of Portsmouth ,gave a very interesting lecture on communication, perspective taking, co-operation, spacial cognition, causality and connections illustrated by examples taken from her work with dogs.

She started with the more common approaches to comparing species with work between the Great Apes and ourselves and the work that has been conducted over many centuries tracking down ‘traits’ – the ideas that humans are in some senses different to, but similar to, all other species. These are useful, but by working with non primate species and especially those which have been domesticated for along period of time may help to unlock functionally equivalent answers to evolutionary problems and so throw light on our own evolution.

Around 30,000 years ago in the Pleistocene proto-humans were already using crypto dog/wok animals to hunt and share the spoils. This is during the hunter-gatherer period before humans had settled down. Actual domestication of dogs took place from around 12,000 year ago in the Holocene and this seems to have started when humans settled into fixed places to live. From this period do/human burials have been found where the human can be discovered to be ‘cuddling’ the dog indicating more than simple grave goods value for the dog buried with the owner.

From the studies it seems that the level of attachment of a dog to their human ‘owner’ may be comparable to the attachment of a child to its parent. Experiment shave proven that dogs, as compared with wolves, prefer humans as social partners rather than others. The hypothesis that the Portsmouth Dog Cognition Centre are working towards is that during their adaptation to life with humans, dogs have evolved specialised social skills, functionally equivalent to humans.

  1. Facial Recognition. Identification of various parts of a dog’s face in order to code the anatomy underlying this and hence allow for specific changes to be recorded. One ‘look’ that has been identified in many dogs is regularly used by those wishing to be ‘selected’ in animal refuges. It is a sort of eyebrow lift which makes the eyes look bigger. This makes the dog look ‘more infant like’ and so is the ‘choose me’ gesture. This allows unconscious human selection. It is noted that this ‘look’ takes precedence over tail wagging, cute behaviour & other more obvious ‘choose me’ signals.
  2. The ‘point and gaze’ indication by a human that a dog is to take some action on a selected item rather than another item works everyday in ‘normal’ dog/human activity. Experiments on chimpanzees, our nearest primate cousin, prove that they are not able to pick up on this cue, which implies that it is perhaps an evolutionary trait learned. Interestingly given the way that dogs and humans normally run side by side or closely when hunting and moving, the ‘point’ indication is much stronger cue than the ‘gaze’. Wolves do not do this spontaneously so it implies that that this has evolved. Six week old puppies however already understand the point and gaze cue which is even stronger evidence of this being part of evolved selection.
  3. Some special dogs can identify and select >200 objects when named by their human. Training for this started at 10 months in the best case and now, some years later, the dog has even developed the ability to learn by exclusion: “It isn’t one of those or one of those so this thing that I have never seen before must be the thin that my partner has named”.
  4. The final example of dog cognition outlined was that of visual perspective taking. The dog was able to work out the likelihood of a human being able to see their activities or not and, if unlikely, they would choose to steal food. This involved delicious food and illumination of it, of the human or of the dog. When the probability, because of relative darkness, was that the human was not ‘watching’ then the food would be stolen against a firm instruction not to do so. When the human was clearly ‘observing’ the activities of the dog, this was both less likely and also involved some surreptitious approaches to the food.

Impressive experiments and the Dog Cognition Centre, on the seafront at Eastley, are always keen to encourage others to bring their dogs along and see what they are capable of .

The American Musical in Europe

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Wednesday 22 January 2014, Give My Regards to Broadway: The American Musical is Reborn in Europe
A public lecture by Bert Fink, Senior Vice President (Europe) for Rodgers & Hammerstein

In this lecture Bert Fink who has been based in London since 2013, speaks about the musical, an art form fused in Europe, refined in America, and now flourishing throughout Britain and across Europe. Bert will draw from his experience working for Rodgers & Hammerstein for nearly twenty five years, teaching musical theatre history at New York University’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, and being a Broadway publicist prior to that.

A first class lecture starting with some Sound of Music songs in many different European languages to get us in the mood, then a resume of the musical theatre traditions from Gilbert and Sullivan in 1878 through the first and second world wars and their patriotic and international flavours to Lloyd Webber and the ‘coming of the British’ and right up to date. Gripping