Saturday, March 26, 2005

10 Things meme

I saw this on SaneScientist and he saw it on The Kaptain Kobold Blog
The idea is that I tell you ten things that I've done and that I don't think any of the people who read this blog will have done. If I'm wrong, you leave me a comment to correct me and I have to delete the item in question and add another one to replace it. It's taken me absolutely ages to think of these ten things and they become increasingly pathetic as the list goes on. Unfortunately, some of them come across as boastful because one tends not to mention the events in one's life that were excrutiatingly cringe-inducing (but I have anyway). Nevertheless, I think it might be a good way to get some of my students blogging interactively. Here we go:
1. I have lived on an island in the Inner Hebrides.
2. I have dislocated my knee on a hockey field and on a volleyball court.
3. I have been simultaneous interpreter for two ex-prime-ministers of France
4. I have had an extremely painful massage from a wrestler in a Turkish hammam.
5. I have been trekking in Nepal.... and developed a dental abcess half-way up a mountain.
6. I have tasted sanguette: that's blood poured straight into the frying pan from a chicken's severed neck.
7. I have been finalist in the Scottish schools public speaking contest.
8. I have driven 200 km on the motorway with one of those roofracky boxes on the wrong way round.
9. I have spent a night on a bench in Waterloo station because I missed my train.(Deleted: Alan Saunders did same in Euston)
10.I have been on a plane that returned to its point of departure because...the windscreen wipers weren't working.

11. I have seen the other side of the Lascaux 2 cave paintings (ie. raw fibreglass)


Friday, March 25, 2005


I couldn't let the day go by without saying that my Dad would have been seventy today. He died in 1994 when he was 59 and there was so much living left to do.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I'm Gandhi. Who are you?

Here's another quiz: "Which Movie Hero Are You?" Frankly, I'm a little disappointed to discover I'm Gandhi, I was going for someone a little more rock n' roll.

(In the name of research for my English for Medicine classes, I also tried the "Have you got Syphilis?" quiz on the same site, modesty, however, prevents me from recommending it.)


Monday, March 21, 2005

Time (Mis)management

I'm rubbish at managing my time. Today my Mum arrived for a short stay and I spent over six hours (SIX HOURS!!!!) cleaning the house before she saw it. Of course it took that long because I (=we) had let it get out of hand. So now it's mostly clean and the piles of papers that were in the living room are now piles of papers behind the closed door of my study (along with piles of baby clothes that I hesitate between keeping for ever and ever and e-baying mercilessly for a quick euro). The question of time management has come up on a couple of other blogs I've been reading. First of all chez jill/txt � who has a great list of suggestions which I have shamelessly pasted below with a couple of omissions:

1. At start of week, write down what needs to be done before next Monday
2. Prioritise ruthlessly. Absolute necessities get done first. Accept that many things won’t get done. Learn difference between what must be done and what doesn’t really need to be done.
3. Own research is an absolute necessity, but should get carved into blocks of time that probably don’t coincide with teaching.
4. Only check email once a day.
5. Learn to be realistic about how much time things actually take.
6. Prep next Monday’s lecture before Friday
7. Never complain about having too much to do. Just say no to new tasks.

And then on incorporated subversion » Knowledge Workers - academia and the Google 20% there was this:

"us in ol’ academia have been working on the 40:40:20 rule for some time now where 40% is teaching, 40% research and 20% admin… "

Ha-ha-ha. That sounds like a man rule. If only it were as simple as that. And what happens on weeks like this when you have a sick child at home, or the weeks when you just can't be bothered with the admin stuff, or the months when you just have so much teaching that it's hard enough to find time to go to the boulangerie and buy some bread never mind think about research? Time management is impossible because time is slippery and tasks slither through the interstices of timetables.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


Back from the GERAS (Groupe d'Etudes et de Recherche en Anglais de Spécialité) congress in Toulouse. I didn't take these photos but this is more or less how the "ville rose" looked at the end of last week.
Sunny evening in Toulouse
A good time was had by all. The Friday evening banquet took place not on the Garonne as planned (too high due to snow melting in the Pyrenees) but on the Canal du Midi. At one point we passed over the autoroute.
I saw the following:
*Maurizio Gotti on "Legal Discourse in Multilingual, Multicultural Contexts"
*David Little on "Learner Autonomy and ESP"
*A round table discussion on "Quelle Place pour l'anglais en France dans l'espace européen d'enseignement supérieur."
*Paul Seabright on "The English language Dominance of Economics : issues for pedagogy and public policy"
*Bernard Cotnoir on "Le e-Portfolio (ou cyberfolio) en tant qu'outil d'apprentissage des langues."
*Anne-Marie Methy on "L'Utilisation du Portfolio Européen des langues"
*Jean Soubrier on "Langue de spécialité et cultures nationales"
*John Humbley on "Termes techniques et marqueurs d'argumentation: pour débusquer l'argumentation dans les articles de recherche"

The old tobacco factory, now the law and social sciences faculty
The old tobacco factory, now the law and social sciences faculty where the conference took place.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005


I worry about my memory. A post on Medical Humanities about a lecture by Bill Bryson at the Royal Society mentioned his most recent book 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' Ah yes, I thought, I read that last year. Very interesting. Lots of fascinating information about the origin of the planet, astronomy, the animal world, nearly everything in fact. Things like..... em, well you know, facts and amusing anecdotes. The thing is I can't remember a single one. The book is a good 300 pages long and took me a couple of weeks to read and I can't remember a single factoid. Except one, that is that the blue whale has a tongue that weighs as much as an elephant, a heart as big as a small car and blood vessels that we could stand up in*. I'm pretty sure the reason I remember this useless, but you must agree astounding, information is that I regurgitated it verbatim at a dinner party while it was still in my short/medium term memory. (I can't quite remember who was at the dinner party nor where it was, but that's probably alcohol-related rather than neuron-degeneration-related). This confirms a lot of the theory on language learning which holds that it's not enough just to teach a language point, lexical item, grammatical structure etc, you must then create the conditions for the learner to use it and recycle it. Teaching is all about spiralling.
Two other memory related events yesterday and today. The first was listening to Leila Shahid talk on France Inter about her mother's memoir of Jerusalem in the 20s and 30s in which she writes "Il est important, me semble-t-il, de préserver la mémoire de ces jours disparus; en effet, l'espoir d'un avenir meilleur ne peut se nourrir que d'une vraie connaissance du passé." The irony is that Sirine Husseini Shahid now suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. Which brings me to event number two. In class, one of my "students",Pascale, a lecturer in epidemiology, today presented research demonstrating the protective effect of eating fish against developing AD. Of course, the consumption of fish is associated with a lot of other confounding factors such as higher socio-economic status etc. I wonder if blue whale counts as fish?

*That was a lie. I didn't actually remember the exact information, just that bits of a blue whale are as big as some very big things. I obviously don't do enough recycling at dinner parties. Fortunately, my intellectual capacities still run to looking "whale" up in an index.


Typing Test

If this doesn't work (there's java script), just click on the title of this post to go to the site. I made 46 w.p.m. What about you?
 typing test (c) 


Birthday Prezzies

I was born on 14th March, the same day as Albert Einstein.

My lovely presents

Silver earrings
CD: Adam Green : Gemstones
CD: Luz Casal : Sencilla
Book: : Richard Wolheim - Germs
Book: Jennie Erdal - Ghosting
Book: Karen Joy Fowler - The Jane Austen Book Club
And some €s, maybe to buy that Ipod? Excuse me while I peruse the Apple site.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

Oyster beds at Cap Ferret

Oyster beds at Cap Ferret
Originally uploaded by Lezzles.
A warmish sunny day — the first for weeks, or at least that's how it feels. We escaped from home where workmen are busy banging away in the attic and went to Cap Ferret. And now it's back to dust and disruption but there's a new floor in the attic.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Better brains to process mundane minutiae

First the good news : Zack in Blogging Begets Better Brains reports on an neurolearning blog written by Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide who recently posted a piece on the Brain of the Blogger. He summarises the key points)

"1. Blogs can promote critical and analytical thinking.
2. Blogging can be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking.
3. Blogs promote analogical thinking.
4. Blogging is a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information.
5. Blogging combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction."

And now here's the bad news. A recent article in the TLS reproduced by Grumpy Old Bookman comments on the relationship between blogs and writing printed on that stuff, what's it called again? oh yes, paper :

"it is notable that, while literary blogs feed off print culture, print culture is barely nourished by blogs ... Bloggers have the advantage of universality, but are casulaties of transience. The signs are that they pine for the permanence of print."

While TalkLeft reports that anti-bloggers think it's just a passing phase we're going through.

"Critics, though, view all the fuss about blogs as the latest bout of Internet hyperbole, one that will eventually fade away once readers realize they are rife with inaccuracies and mundane minutiae."

Personally it's the mundane minutiae I read for.


Sharing .... or then again not

jill/txt enthuses over CiteULike:

"CiteULike is like except for academic papers. You create an account (free), drag a bookmarklet to your toolbar and henceforth, every time you encounter an interesting looking paper online you click your CiteULike bookmark instead of (or as well as) your bookmark."

I can see the possibilities of this but I can't see how one can possibly share everything with everyone. My pointer still hovers over all those little bookmarklets each time I come across something interesting. Blog it? Furl it? Technorati it? it? or Flickr it (if it's a photo I want to "recycle"?)

Music is easier. I can't remember where I read about this but the blogger in question thought it was woooonderful. I can't imagine anything worse than other people knowing what sort of music I'm listening to, and I certainly don't want to contact any of the people who are listening to the same things: I like my friends to have taste. But some of you more discerning listeners might like it: Audioscrobbler

"Audioscrobbler is a computer system that builds up a detailed profile of your musical taste. After installing an Audioscrobbler Plugin, your computer sends the name of every song you play to the Audioscrobbler Server. With this information, the Audioscrobbler server builds you a 'Musical Profile'. Statistics from your Musical Profile are shown on your Audioscrobbler User Page, available for everyone to view."

Monday, March 07, 2005


For many years I thought that the word moleskine referred only to the sort of trousers my brother wore for outdoor sporting pursuits made from a soft, downy material. Then, like the rest of the world, I discovered that the word also refers to the very specific sort of notebook used to the exclusion of all others by Bruce Chatwin. These notebooks are no longer manufactured by the original French maker but by Italians. Still, no discerning/pretentious traveller would leave home without one. I seem to have come across a lot of writing about moleskines recently. First there was Izzy's admission in Undisclosed Location: It's all about love: that she rearranges them in shops

"I spent a minute or two yesterday organizing the Moleskine display at Barnes & Noble. Just like I still do with Macs whenever I see them in stores, I made sure everything was in the right place. Instead of cleaning up desktops and getting demos running again, however, I was making sure all of the different varieties were clearly visible and grouped together."

Then I came across Le Moleskine à Beleg a blog published by a student in Bordeaux with extracts from his moleskine. He participates in the Wandering Moleskine Project weblog. But best of all was a crit in the TLS which quotes Michael Bywater in his book "Lost Worlds: :

"Let us get this straight", says Bywater
1: The Moleskine of Chatwi is lost.
2: The new Moleskine is a different thing, its autheniticity fatally compromised by its insistence on authenticity.
3: The original Moleskine was not a carefully marketed designer brand. "Moleskine was just a generic waterproof cover.
4: And anyway, it was just a fucking notebook. Ça va?

I'd like to see some good digital Moleskines though. Not the scanned paper ones which you'd rather touch anyway, but original "carnets de route" type collages with some writing and photos and authentic web-scavenged artefacts.


This is a Service Announcement

I've just uninstalled Haloscan. I discovered that not only had it "hidden" all of the old Blogger comments but that it was also going to "hide" all of the Haloscan comments in four months' time unless I take out premium membership. It just wasn't worth it for the clunky trackback feature. So I stuck the original template back in (Haloscan had kept it saved it for me, that was nice) and have laboriously pasted all (ten!) Haloscan comments into the Blogger comments, but had to post them as "anonymous". So, apologies to Aaron, Sarolta, Vivi, et al. However, if you want to see the original comments for the last post with the original signatures just click on the title of this post.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

TEFL Priorities

At some point over the past few weeks I stumbled across a cluster of blogs written by young English-speakers in France (they mostly call themselves expats, but don't get me started on that). There's one that I particularly like called Dispatches from France I think it probably vaguely reminds me of my own first few months in France discovering and adapting to all the idiosyncracies of French life that now seem almost normal. Anyway, Vivi, the American who writes this blog hopes she's going to get a job as an English trainer in a language school. She's had an interview but the language-school owner has told her she will :

"absolutely have to brush up on English grammar. [...] He pointed out the in the states and UK, English grammar isn't taught in the same way that it is when it's taught as a second language. Because these students have studied English intensively, they understand the basics of English grammar better than many Americans or any other Anglophones do - because we take it for granted. Sure, we know that 'If I knew, I wouldn't have come' is not as good as 'If I had known, I wouldn't have come,' but can you explain why? Herein lies the problem."

This makes my hair stand on end: dispensing grammar explanations is not what teaching English is all about My own teaching career (did I just say that?) started in a now defunct private school here in Bordeaux, and although in my experience most private language schools are run by crooks, I have to admit that working for them is often the only way for a young English-speaker to get a first job in France. However, it's also a good way to be exploited mercilessly — dodgy contracts, unpaid salaries, off-the-wall paedagogical practices. Now if you had a prospective English teacher come and see you, what would you advise them to do? Order a few grammar textbooks? I deal every day with dozens of students who've had English grammar drummed into them for years and years and they still can't use the language in any meaningful way. There are many effective and creative ways of helping learners get to grips with English, none of which involve the ingurgitation of whole grammar books. One of the most important principles is to help the student become an autonomous learner. If someone asks you why you say 'If I had known, I wouldn't have come,' (which they won't here because it's exactly the same structure in French), the best response is to show them how to look the structure up in a good grammar book, or even better how to use the web as a concordancer, or search for an explanation on one of the many English learning sites (very like showing a hungry man how to fish..) I suspect I sound insufferably pompous and patronising (not to mention old)and I don't want to finish on that tetchy note. Vivi, I'm sure that your web savvy, your writing skills (respect on both counts!) and your drama experience will be much more useful to you in teaching EFL than memorizing a grammar book. There's a great big wonderful world of creative EFL paedagogy and didactics out there, it's just that lots of private language schools don't even know it exists. Hey, lots of us are even exploring the possibilities of BALL (Blog Assisted Language Learning).


I thought I'd write a post on blogging about blogging and how it's all right for perhaps eight weeks or so (is it already eight weeks since I started the EVO weblogging course?) and in an anticipated moment of real insight I was going to point out that the exercise becomes a little stale and circular after that (probably well before that). I thought I'd be clever and instead of entitling the post "Blogging about Blogging" decided I'd call it "Metablogging" which I quickly googled to find out whether or not I'd just coined a new word and maybe even a whole new philosophical concept. It turns out, as you no doubt already know (in fact the chances are that you have already blogged about it yourself) that there are thousands and thousands of blog posts on metablogging. This, I suppose, is really just blogging about blogging about blogging. As I sifted through all those google hits it quickly became clear that a lot of the old hands at blogging are a little impatient with this recurrent introspection. Here for example is Alexander Payne on the subject: "Can I just say that if I want to know why you blog that I’ll go to your “about” page, which you should have so I don’t have to read daily why you blog? And that if you’re frequently writing about why you blog that it becomes abundantly clear that you blog because you have too much free time?" I can see his point, imagine if all novels were about writing a novel, or all television programmes about making television programmes. Although to be fair (to myself) my own metablogging wasn't so much about why I blog as about how I blog (added this feature, tried blogging with this browser, changed this and that). So my resolution is stop metablogging and start some real contentblogging (mmm, let me just google that).

Thursday, March 03, 2005


I've finally got round to adding a Furl list to the sidebar (look to the right, it's towards the bottom somewhere). I have been happily furling web pages for a few weeks now and hadn't quite realised what a heteroclitic collection I had accumulated. Some of the archived pages are articles on subjects on which I'm currently collecting information for future articles (scientific biography and Alison Cunningham), others link to tools that might be useful for translation purposes (I do some simultaneous interpreting), and others to web sites that might be useful in my teaching. I can see that this might become addictive. I could easily let the archived pages pile up out of control into an unreadable heap. A friend at work today told me about his mother who lives in a house that has fifteen tables in the living room, piles and piles of newspapers everywhere, junk from jumble sales covering every available surface and cats stumbling from one feeding station to the next gobbling up morsels of pig's kidney. Oh well, at least my furl archive doesn't actually take up any physical space and it doesn't need feeding either (not until they make it a paying service that is).

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Isn't this great!
Originally uploaded by Lezzles.
I "created" the message on this photo at then e-mailed it to my flickr account.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

PowerPoint v blogging

I'm interested in the ways in which the use of PowerPoint orients and modifies the rhetoric of scientific oral communication. There was an excellent programme about this on BBC Radio 4 recently in which they did a spoof of Churchill's "We will fight them on the beaches" speech. "We will fight them on [hits the keyboard and bullet point n° one whooshes in] beaches. We will also be fighting them on the [hits keyboard again, second bullet point appears] landing grounds." etc. (If anyone has a recording of the programme please let me know, it's disappeared from the BBC's online archive). Anyway, here is a business blogger's take on blogging v. PowerPoint Brand Autopsy: "I’ve been blogging for just over a year now and besides keeping my marketing mind sharp, blogging has helped me sharpen my writing skills. (Or so I think.) The years of writing in succinct bullet-points for PowerPoint decks adversely impacted my writing. Blogging, albeit informal in nature, has helped me to improve my writing skills. And as a result of writing more, I’m finding myself using PowerPoint less and less in business situations."


Being confined indoors most of the day, just the four of us, is reminding me of the days when my children were wee and most of our weekends ...