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Conference Report. Leading FE Today

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

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

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

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

Spaceborne Synthetic Apeture Radar

Wednesday 22nd January 2014 IET Retired members Section Solent Branch
Spaceborne SAR and the UK’s Innovative NovaSAR-S Programme
a lecture given by Martin Cohen B.Eng(Hons) MIEE
Technical Lead & Engineering Manager for the NovaSAR SAR Payload, Astrium Ltd., Portsmouth

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is an established technique for day/night all-weather Earth observation, with global coverage enabled, using a satellite as the platform. However, this is a very complex and thus costly undertaking, which limits the market opportunities. NovaSAR is a ground-breaking programme that aims to dramatically reduce the cost of a spaceborne SAR satellite through a range of innovative measures to enable potential customers to own such an asset where they would otherwise be unable to. The lecture will provide a brief introduction to SAR, give examples of some existing systems, and go on to give an overview of the NovaSAR programme and its technology, highlighting the architectural, technological and programmatic innovations that together enable this unique system to be realised.

This was an excellent and highly interesting lecture on a complex subject given with humour and just the right amount of technical detail to explain without swamping the audience in facts and figures

Big New Year

I am very grateful to the Editor of Emerald Street, a London-based daily girly eNewsletter for this excellent thought for the new year:

The period between Christmas and New Year is a good time to sit around thinking and sometimes (just sometimes) it feels like you’ve hit on something. Last week I was dozily watching Shirley Valentine, a film about a mid-Eighties Liverpool housewife who rediscovers herself by running off to Greece, and Shirley spoke a line I’d never really noticed before. “I have led such a little life,” she says to the camera, full of sad anger. “I have allowed myself to lead this little life when inside me there was so much more… Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it?” Read the rest of this entry »

Lost Cousins

Lost cousins is a wonderful way to find the more obscure of your relatives easily and for nothing: See this flyer for more details

Carols from Kings

It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for me the Christmas Eve Service of Nine Lessons with Carols from Kings College Cambridge, transmitted on BBC Radio this afternoon is where Christmas really starts. Here is the service sheet:festival-nine-lessons-2013

The Surveying Profession 11th December 2013


The role and future of the surveying profession, and its significance to the economy and society

A lecture delivered at Portsmouth University by Michael Newry, President Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Following a glowing introduction by Professor Galbraith the Vice Chancellor and a clever video Mr Newey outlined his thesis, that the world is changing and we have to change and adapt with it but standards are paramount.

He then outlined the history of the RICS from a Surveyors Dining Club in the 1840s, through Royal Charter in 1881 and so to >100,000 global members today. Throughout the motto has been to advance and enforce standards in the built environment for the public good.

Redeeming the Borgias – Portsmouth University 27 Nov 2013

Click here