Tag Archives: delight

Eclipse road trip 2017

Great Basin View from I15 near Fillmore, Utah

Great Basin View from I15 near Fillmore, Utah

This is a diary of my Eclipse road trip in August 2017 from Las Vegas to Idaho and back to Las Vegas via many canyons, an eclipse and a visit to my friend Derek in Sedona, Arizona.

I arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday 17th, with plenty of time for the long drive north to Idaho to find a good spot for the eclipse on Monday the 21st. After that, I planned to drive to Sedona to meet Derek and then back to Las Vegas and home.

Thursday 17th – Manchester to Las Vegas to North Rim

I flew to Las Vegas from Manchester at 9:15am, partly to get a good price and also to have the chance the night before to enjoy the company of friends Stephen, Joy & Lily and dine with them and niece & nephew-in-law Sineád & Adam, recently moved to Manchester.

I turned up at a reasonable hour, but neglected to plan accommodation in the US, intending to sleep in the back of the SUV I hired. I was surprised that the check-in desk wanted to know where I was staying in the US, but quickly located a motel and told them that – nobody cared whether it was the truth! I was flying with Thomas Cook on a budget and didn’t expect a meal, but they did serve two and ‘tap water’. You could buy drinks.

As we flew over Canada and the northern mid western states and finally Wyoming and Utah, I could just about work out where we were using Galileo and its offline maps. I had downloaded them earlier in England to help me navigate when I feared that out in the midst of the American West I’d be without a network to access Google maps. The last part of the flight, coming in over Utah, Arizona and into Nevada was really beautiful, although looked scarily desertified and hot – we landed around midday Pacific Time.

Las Vegas McCarran airport has a shuttle bus to the hire car centre, some blocks away, and I hired my SUV and set off to a nearby Walmart to shop for cooking gear and food, water, beer and ice. I got the cheapest sleeping bag for $15 and a foam mattress cover to sleep on for $2 instead of the inflatable bed I’d planned. Other camping purchases include a saucepan, frying pan and propane stove. I got two gallons of water in plastic containers.

Las Vegas Strip reflected in my sunglasses

Las Vegas Strip reflected in my sunglasses

I headed out of La Vegas via the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard and drove north on the interstate freeway I15, passing through the awesome Virgin River Canyon and paused in St George as evening descended, the first of many stops at Walmarts along the way to benefit from their free Wi-fi.

Las Vegas to North Rim

Las Vegas to North Rim

I drove on before finally stopping around 10:30pm along the state highway 89A, just before Jacob’s Lake. I was so tired, I could only drink a beer for supper.

I slept until 2:30am and woke to see the moon rise. With the clock in my head disrupted and feeling wakeful, I decided to drive on to North Rim to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. I had to refuel at Jacob Lake around 3am and arrived at the North Rim visitors’ centre around 4am in the black before dawn. I walked the path to Bright Angel Point in the dark and waited alone to watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon.

Sun rise at Grand Canyon

Sun rise at Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon lit by sunrise

Grand Canyon lit by sunrise

Walking back, I realised how precipitous Bright Angel Point was, with sheer cliffs either side of the path and at one point a narrow bridge. Take a look at the link above and move the mouse around to shift your view! I suffer a little from fear of heights, and felt a little dizzy and out of breath on return to the car – later I learnt that it was most likely contributed to by the altitude, around 6,000 ft.

I drove back up the beautiful road, seeing wild bison, and then turned off to the East Rim overlook to cook breakfast in the forest.  After eating, I took a short walk to see the East Rim view over the Grand Canyon: behind me, a delightful alpine scene of forest, meadow, deer and antelope; before me, a flat desert plain scarred by the Colorado River’s canyon cut-in deep, dark and devilish looking.

East Rim Overlook

East Rim Overlook

Friday 18th – North Rim to Ogden

Rested and well fed,  I started the drive back through Jacob Lake and then Fredonia, Kanab and to visit Bryce Canyon.

North Rim to Ogden

North Rim to Ogden

Unlike the North Rim, Bryce Canyon was heaving with tourists and I parked and took the shuttle bus around to the viewpoints, again feeling the thinness of the air at around 8,000ft.

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point

 

It was a most dramatic scene, demanding many photographs.

The road back from Bryce Canyon went through Red Canyon, remarkable by the standards of any other place, but overshadowed here:

Red Canyon panorama

Red Canyon panorama

Then north through Panguitch and across for the I15 to Salt Lake City and Ogden, reached in the dark, where I stopped, exhausted. I found a quiet place next to the freeway on an old main road at junction 341 on the I15 with West 31st Street and slept as long as I could.

Saturday 19th – Ogden to Forest Road 142, Mackay, Idaho

Waking again to the moon rise, now a slim crescent, I drove on.

Ogden to Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho

Ogden to Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho

Short of Pocatello, I took a turn to look for a breakfast spot and found myself in the South Mink Creek and stopped in the Slate Mountain trailhead car park to make breakfast and read a book for an hour.

Back on to the I15 and through Pocatello, I visited the Shoshone-Bannocks tribes’ museum at Fort Hall, notable for the abstract patterns on the Native American art:

Shoshone-Bannocks museum example of Porcupine Quillwork

Shoshone-Bannocks museum example of Porcupine Quillwork

Through Blackfoot, where I turned north west on the US26, I crossed the Snake River plain and passed Atomic City. This small village was built to house the scientists operating the many nuclear research establishments scattered widely over this desert plain as part of the Idaho National Laboratory. I visited  the EBR-1 nuclear reactor museum near Arco which was the first Uraniam breeder reactor to generate electricity.

Four famous light bulbs lit on Dec 20 1951 proving the potential for nuclear power

Four famous light bulbs lit on Dec 20 1951 proving the potential for nuclear power

Filled up with petrol in Arco, I drove up past Mackay and its reservoir, an area I had scouted out on Google street view, but it was already pretty busy, so I drove on and turned off towards the hills on the west side of the valley. After seeing Ospreys with fish in their talons by the side of the road, I discovered a track and stopped to ask two men in camouflage clothing where it went.  They turned out to be hunting with bow and arrow and advised me it would lead to the top and that there would be good camping spots there.

They were absolutely right – I drove up and found an excellent camp site in the shade of some pine trees and set about eating dinner. I had established my eclipse camping spot a day earlier than I had left time for, so felt really pleased to get some good rest and enjoyed the sunset illuminating the Lost River mountain range to the east across the valley, which included Borah Peak, the highest mountain in Idaho at 12,661 ft.

Lost River mountain range sunset

Lost River mountain range sunset

Sunday 20th – day of rest

After a good sleep, I still woke up early and watched the moon rise – so thin now as it neared the sun that it was almost invisible.

After breakfast, I walked along the road and then sat down to read Analogue Mountain, a gift from friend Doireann for Derek, but here I was with nothing to read and a day to fill!

For some reason a little later I discovered that the car wouldn’t start – the battery had run down. I blamed the sidelights.

After much worrying and thinking – I was a good way off the road and from the nearest habitation – I decided to make a sign to invite help. Every hour or so, a vehicle might pass on its way further in to the forest – there may have been as many as 12 people camping within a mile or two of me by the time of the eclipse.

Flat battery sign

Flat battery sign

The first encounter was with two quad bikers who couldn’t help, but promised to pass on the message.

Then a Mercedes van stopped and Dan Stempien got out, full of good cheer and had the jumper leads needed to start the car. Phew.

He travelled, lived and conducted his work in the summer months from his converted van. He was pleased to have found a mobile signal, with the help of an extra arial on the roof, which meant that he decided to camp next to me – welcome company.

A generous soul, he also gave me a spare pair of eclipse spectacles to watch with the next day.

Me and Dan waiting for the eclipse

Me and Dan waiting for the eclipse

Later, four other friendly eclipse watchers from Salt Lake City came along to say hi to us as their ‘neighbours’ and we enjoyed a discussion of stars and constellations over a drink.

Monday 21st – eclipse day

I was up early to watch the sun rise – no sign of the moon!

After breakfast, Dan and I watched the eclipse together and agreed it was both fantastic and emotional. The reduction in light and warmth as we watched the sun being ‘eaten’ was remarkable, perhaps exaggerated by the mountain top location. At totality, I was surprised that I could see the photosphere (atmosphere) of the sun with its coronal flares so comfortably and so brilliantly. The moment of the ‘diamond ring’ was phenomenal, a genuine jolt of adrenaline and cheers and whoops where audible from our neighbours, who were at least a mile away on another hilltop.

Me trying to photograph totality

Me trying to photograph totality

I set off for Sedona shortly later, finding modest queues as I exited the valley to Arco. Traffic was light until arriving in Blackfoot, where I mistook the northbound I15 slip road to Idaho Falls for the entrance to Walmart, so wasted time finding the next exit back to Blackfoot and to Walmart to pause and connect to the internet. Traffic on the I15 south was so bad that getting out of Blackfoot proved very slow and so I drove on side roads to avoid the masses. Eventually it picked up and I drove until nightfall to the same spot in Ogden, just North of Salt Lake City, that I had slept in on the way north.

Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho to Sedona

Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho to Sedona

I didn’t sleep long and woke in the night, deciding to drive on. This was premature, and I had to stop again just south of Salt Lake City to sleep some more.

Tuesday 22nd Salt Lake City to Sedona

I woke early and drove on, stopping to breakfast just off the I15 outside Fillmore, and then visited the statehouse museum in the city (town).

Territorial Statehouse State Park Museum in Fillmore

Territorial Statehouse State Park Museum in Fillmore

The museum had interesting original artefacts and explanations of the history of Mormon settlement and Native American relations in the early days. Particularly miserable to hear of the slave trading undertaken by a local chief, and his burial, which entailed the slaughtering  of his two wives and his favourite horses to lie in his burial site with him. Also the staking of a young Indian child to district wolves from desecrating the grave. Shocking.

I then drove on a bit and stopped to visit the Kolob Canyons – remarkable rocks.

Next to Jacob Lake again and more petrol before descending the East Rim of the Grand Canyon and visiting Marble Canyon and the Navajo bridge as the sun was going down.

Marble Canyon

Marble Canyon

Then a long drive to Flagstaff, passing mile after mile after mile of Vermillion Cliffs and seeing many Native American homes and villages. In Flagstaff, I paused to connect with the Airbnb host for the place where I was to stay in Sedona, and tell Derek I was an hour away, before driving down to Sedona. Derek met me outside the house I rented and we eat takeaway and locally brewed beer and had a good talk before a much needed sleep.

Wednesday 23rd – Sedona

Derek came round in the morning and we went to buy a pass to visit sites in Sedona and breakfast in a nice cafe with traditional Mexican food.

We visit the ruined Sinagua dwellings in the Palatki Heritage Site and a grotto with cave paintings and a house built by a more recent settler who planted fruit trees in the canyon. We returned to drink in a lovely cafe and talk about micro worlds.

Later we visited Derek’s mum, talked butterflies and then went to sit on a rocky platform near Chimney Rock, not far from where I was staying, and enjoyed the sun set, talked about Derek’s condition and made a video for the Italian teachers in Urbino, who we were missing.

Derek and the sunset

Derek and the sunset

Finally, we enjoyed a delightful meal at the Mariposa (butterfly). A real pleasure to have such quality time with Derek.

Thursday 24th

Set off at 6:20 to drive to Las Vegas, with a brief visit to the Hoover Dam. Cool and rainy for the first time, flight home uneventful.

I drove 2,332 miles all told.

Wearable Electronics Workshop

 

Richard explaining Doireann Wallace's musical glove at the Wearable Electronics Workshop exhibition April 26 2017

Richard explaining Doireann Wallace’s musical glove at the Wearable Electronics Workshop exhibition April 26 2017

This is the story of the Wearable Electronics Workshop, given by MAKESHOP by Science Gallery Dublin in March and April 2017, in collaboration with the School of Computer Science and Statistics, Trinity College Dublin.

In 2015, I was introduced to the idea of ‘pimping your badge’ at a conference by friend Mags Amond.

Mags Amond in Rang na bhFéileacán

Mags Amond in Rang na bhFéileacán

It involved adding a watch battery and an LED (light emitting diode) to my conference badge to make it light up – my first wearable electronics!

Conference badge with LED and watch battery

Mags was later to get involved in the workshop to introduce some basic ideas about circuits.

That Christmas, at my annual birthday party, I gave similar treatment to a bow tie, and it was well received.

Bow tie with LED lights

Bow tie with LED lights

The following summer (2016) I found myself in St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin, having my heart checked out when experiencing a rare irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). The time in the hospital was short, since I proved to be in robust health, but enough to stimulate an idea for another wearable electronic – something driven by my own pulse:

 

The experience stimulated the following design, ‘LED by the heart’, which pleased me, so I resolved to try and make something wearable with it.

'LED by the heart' - a design based on the symbol for an LED (Light Emitting Diode)

‘LED by the heart’ – a design based on the symbol for an LED (Light Emitting Diode)

Feeling a little worried that it might be hard work, I sought friends and advice. My good friend at Trinity College Dublin, Doireann Wallace, offered support and interest, and later helped me to invite all my party guests in Christmas 2016 to complete and wear a glowy wearable. Doireann kindly prepared for this by cutting felt into Christmas shapes and stitching battery pockets for the partygoers to assemble.

Felt fir trees for glowy Christmas badges

Felt fir trees for glowy Christmas badges

Friends wearing their glowies at the party

On a hunt for new components and advice, I visited the MAKESHOP by Science Gallery here in Dublin. There, I got into a conversation with Jessica Stanley, who runs electronics workshops for them, and as luck would have it, had a background in wearable electronics. She had wanted to offer a course on this for some time, so I promised to help by finding some other participants.

Then I came across the Trinity College Dublin Visual Arts and Performance Fund. I made an application, and the committee were kind enough to sponsor our course. So in March 2017, we recruited participants to join us: some had craft experience, others programming and design knowledge – all were keen to know more.

Working together, with Jessica’s supportive and knowledgeable leadership, we each made artefacts to be proud of. Over six weeks of Wednesday evenings in the MAKESHOP we learnt to sew conductive thread, programme micro-controllers and solder circuits, as well as make sense of the exciting electronic components we could combine with interesting fabrics in our designs

Finally we demonstrated our work in an exhibition in the Science Gallery on April 26th 2017:

Doireann’s glove instrument

Susan Reardon's jacket

Susan Reardon’s jacket

John Hegarty's bowler hat

John Hegarty’s bowler hat

Una O'Malley's scarf with loudspeakers

Una O’Malley’s scarf with loudspeakers

Katrina Enros' badge

Katrina Enros’ badge

Caroline Kelly wearing her necklace made with handmade felt, slices of stalactite and LEDs next to Richard Millwood wearing his LED lit bowtie, braces and beating 'LED by the heart' decoration

Caroline Kelly wearing her necklace made with handmade felt, slices of stalactite and LEDs next to Richard Millwood wearing his LED lit bowtie, braces and beating ‘LED by the heart’ decoration

I am now wondering how far this can go.

The initial premise was for me to find a course to fulfil my own creative aspiration. I now think that it may be a route to learning about programming and technology, starting with our desire to be crafty and creative, building from where we are already comfortable in making things, to add a desirable electronic aesthetic dimension. Having broken the ice with this encounter, perhaps participants will find a better relationship with  programming and technology, or at least a greater clarity about how such things work.

So now I feel it may be the basis for an adult education model, and so intend to pursue this as an idea for Art teachers, working with the Art Teachers Association of Ireland and the National College of Art and Design and of course MAKESHOP!

I also think it may be interesting to explore the idea with a more general public, by seeking support from Enterprise Ireland to establish feasibility.

Personally I am now the proud owner of two Adafruit Flora Arduinos – small computers usually called micro-controllers, two BBC Microbit computers and lots of lovely LED swag – I can’t wait to make the next mad idea come to fruition!

Thanks to Doireann Wallace & Jessica Stanley for working with me, to all the participants for working so hard and to Nadine McDonogh Cunningham & Rozenn Dahyot for the photographs.

Women in Film

In the university at which I am currently employed, Trinity College Dublin, some enterprising staff have organised a free course titled ‘Women in Film’. Over ten weeks or so, academic enthusiasts present a film each week which they feel illuminates that theme. I proposed two, hoping that one might be chosen, but both were accepted and then found myself filling in a gap for an indisposed colleague to make it three – this blog is derived from my notes and presentation to the audiences.

women-in-film

I saw the first two of these three films in the same weekend just before Christmas 2015 by complete chance:

  •   ‘Woman in Gold’ at the Little Baddow film club in Essex, England – I went to meet and help my friends with the event;
  •   ‘Camille Redouble’ at the French Town Twinning Association in Brentwood Essex – I was their technician!

In each case, I had no part in the choice nor any knowledge beforehand of what I was to see, but I felt they both had interesting concerns about being a woman, addressing lifetime change and exploring the contradictions between past potential and present condition.

The third ‘Trois Couleurs: Bleu’ is perhaps the film I most enjoy of all films, having first seen it perhaps twenty years ago – the chance to show it at short notice was willingly seized.

Woman in Gold

Screened 28th January 2016

In ‘Woman in Gold’, Helen Mirren plays a strong older woman lead, telling the story of someone who has lived through some of the most wicked acts of the 20th century – the Kristallnacht and consequent theft of Jewish assets, and the flight of Jews from Nazi persecution and death.

The film has mixed reviews.

My reaction was a certain sense of misguided moral compass – what is the meaning of ownership of great works of art and is it properly answered by this film?

Did this film pass the Bechdel test? –  “at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man”? The test is claimed to be an indicator for the active presence of women in films and other fiction, and to call attention to gender inequality in fiction due to sexism. I didn’t spot it, despite the film featuring at least three strong women.

Finally, is it enough for a film to be carried by a first class actor, offering a compelling and exciting characterisation?

Camille Redouble

Screened 11th February 2016

Camille Redouble’, directed and starring Noémie Lvovsky, follows a familiar plot device of time transport back to teenage years and reappraisal of life based on the re-confrontation with earlier life decisions and events.

‘Peggy Sue Got Married ‘, ‘Big’ and 200 other films, according to Wikipedia, feature time loops or travel, so this is a well-worn path.

But, typical of french film, the story is told more naturally, humorously but not forced and ends in a more interesting and realistic manner. I felt it relevant to the Women in Film series because it didn’t portray women in the way Hollywood so often does.

Does this film pass the Bechdel test? It did, but it also certainly passed the ‘Millwood test’ for a good film  – ‘did I like any character and begin to care about them’ – I liked them all.

Trois couleurs: Bleu

Screened 25th February 2016

Trois couleurs: Bleu’ forms the first part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy ‘Trois Couleurs’, which addresses the French flag and motto – liberté, égalité, fraternité. Bleu‘s theme is liberté. Colin McCabe, in a Criterion Collection essay proposes that

“…what Kieslowski had achieved in these films marked a cross-fertilization of the two great postwar European cinemas that could never be surpassed. He  had composed the hymn to Europe…”.

But Kieslowski’s purpose is not to pursue politics, instead it is to explore the interleaving of human lives, coincidences, and the individual challenges faced in overcoming great tragedy. In this sense, ‘Bleu’ has a lot in common with both ‘Woman in Gold’ and ‘Camille Redouble’

It begins with a car crash, setting an unbearable challenge to Julie (Juliette Binoche) as she encounters a disastrous form of liberté, shaped by one question : how to continue living when all ties are broken.

Filmed with remarkable cinematography, thrilling music and a delightful, sparse intensity, the story addresses some of the accommodations women must confront due to significant loss, discovered adultery, maternity, sexual promiscuity, a fractured relationship, Alzheimers and a musical Matilda Effect (the systematic repression and denial of the contribution of woman scientists in research, whose work is often attributed to their male colleagues). As Julie navigates these issues, her growing generosity and engagement with creativity and life is uplifting, and the ending is deeply moving with its vital optimism and hymn to enduring love.

A theme which is explored throughout Kieslowski’s trilogy, is the reunification of Europe. The connection between Poland and France, at that time perhaps the leading nations in art cinema, is personified by Juliette Binoche herself who has Polish origins. I find it hard to recall just how things were in the early ’90s, when such countries were only recently reconnected after being on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain for forty years or so, but I did feel excitement.  In ‘Bleu’ the choral music is an anthem to the unified European ideal, which was so vitalising and influential at the time of the film’s making in 1993. In a parallel with the negotiation involved in making a new Europe, the process of composition to complete the music takes place in the film itself.

All this is sadly apposite in the current circumstances of ‘Brexit’ inspired by Little Englanders in my own home country of England. For me, as a committed European, the unutterable loss that Julie endures, and overcomes, is perhaps a metaphor for my own prospective loss with an impending referendum on leaving the EU, all thanks to that other car crash known as Cameron and his Conservative cronies.

Juliette Binoche

What about Juliette Binoche? It is hard for me to guess how others, men and women, react to her, but for me she is without compare, not for her sexuality, but for her powerful sense of moral compass and serene beauty. Her own discussion about involvement in the making of the film touches on a central concern for women actors – how is the film to portray women’s position? Binoche, in her discussion about the possibility of gratuitous nudity, says: “You feel like an object. You no longer feel like a subject”, explaining how the media so often misinterpret her acting as a result. And yet she is generally content to see her body used as a vehicle for communicating the director’s intent. With “Bleu” she describes a happy and relaxed relationship with Kieslowski, who seems to be concerned that she does not suffer indignities, even reportedly flying into a rage when Binoche proposes to cut her knuckles for one rather harrowing scene.

Binoche-Gyllenhaal

Just two nights before showing ‘Bleu’, by chance, I watched Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Demolition’ as part of the Dublin International Film Festival. ‘Demolition’ arguably parallels much in ‘Bleu’, starting with a car crash which kills Gyllenhaal’s partner, but with a quite different sensibility and rather less ambition. Indeed ‘Demolition’ might well fit into a ‘Men in Film’ course: the camera lingers on Gyllenhaal’s face and body for much of the time, but I suspect the media will see it as great acting rather than exploitation of his undoubtedly handsome face and body!

In both films, in truth, I didn’t once doubt the director’s intent – to make the best possible use of the sophisticated collaboration between actors, crew and director, and their profound artistry.

I recommend all these (films, directors, actors and crew) to you without reservation and thank the organisers of the Women in Film series for the opportunity to indulge myself. The opportunities and coincidences that lead to this particular set coming together would have had Kieslowski smiling.

Heaven

On Friday, I left my meeting in London and set off from Liverpool Street Station to Essex (the only way is Essex, I live in Brentwood).

“It was as if the daylight had changed with unnatural suddenness, as if the temperature of the evening had altered greatly in an instant or as if the air had become twice as rare or twice as dense as it had been in the winking of an eye; perhaps all of these and other things happened together for all my senses were bewildered all at once and could give me no explanation.”

from the The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)

I didn’t get out at my usual stop, but instead the train continued towards Southend and I disembarked (thanks Sasha) at Southend Airport.

Had I fallen asleep on the journey? Was I in a dream?

I got on a plane to Dublin and found myself inveigled into a secret-service plot to surprise my friend Boyd for his birthday. A black limousine met me at the airport with good friend, colleague and Boyd’s partner Eileen and Tom ‘No. 1 son’, who whisked me to a pub to mark time with Eileen’s old friends (and a Guinness). Then we collected Zac ‘Besty’ (George Best? Animal? or simply the best?) and finally we hid in Findlater in Howth to await the birthday boy. Hosted by Sabine, we enjoyed a fantastic sea-food skillet and laughed and lived our love of family. Aoife offers me a bed for the night and she and I have a cracking conversation long past my bed time.

A very good dream indeed.

Saturday, like in all my best dreams, was spent at a stimulating Association of Teachers’ / Education Centres’ numeracy conference, re-connecting with Eileen Two and meeting the vibrant Dolores Corcoran (where were you Elizabeth?). I guess I should have been suspicious of the conference title – ‘Does it All Add Up?’

Later the birthday party continued with Boyd and Eileen’s neighbours and friends – more cracking conversation and such warm, good people.

Boyd's birthday

Boyd blows out the candles watched by Eileen, Tom and Chantal

Food from Joan (now known as Jo-an-issima) was spot-on, with the shiniest cutlery and glasses. Sing-songs and good company. Shared a brilliant falling star with Aoife and I had to be taken home by the delightful Nessa. It’s not usual to sleep in dreams and I didn’t sleep much before Sunday morning. On waking to a dawn over Dublin Bay, I am off in another limo, to the airport, to fly to London Gatwick.

Dublin Bay

Dublin Bay and Howth at dawn

I then enter another level of dream – ‘in transit’ – like the novel by Brigid Brophy, that I marvelled at as teenager. Vana arrives and we work on categorising future trends in TEL before a flight to Turin, Italy.

We meet Katherine, who drives us to Pollenzo in Bra, to L’Agenzia di Pollenzo ‘si fa in quattro’ the international headquarters of ‘slow food’. The ‘quattro’ are our hotel Albergo dell’Agenzia also housing Guido Ristorante Pollenzo, the Banco Vino (wine bank) and best of all, the University degli  Studi Scienze Gastronomische (University of Gastronomic Sciences) – “the first academic institution to offer an interdisciplinary approach to food studies”. The whole campus is built on part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of King Carlo Alberto’s 1835  Savoy Estate, which in turn is built on the Roman town of Pollentia.

Universita degli Studi Gastronomische

Universita degli Studi Gastronomische

I sit down to dinner with Vana and Katherine:

antipasto – Sformato di verdure con crema di Roccaverano

primo – Tajarin al sugo di salsicca di Bra

secondo – Brasato al Barolo con patate al forno

dolce – Panna Cotta

with a powerful Barbaresco from close by, and we speak all night of creativity.

wine and panna cotta

Barbaresco wine from the local region and Panna Cotta

In this heavenly dream, I wonder how did I deserve or manage such a dreamy, surreally wicked dream weekend, at such times in higher education…

“…with the drink trade on its last legs and the land running fallow for the want of artificial manures” ?

from the The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)

I began to realise, unlike the narrator in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, who doesn’t know he is in hell, that I must be in heaven and that I passed in my sleep on the train from Liverpool Street.

 

Old lobster almost boiled

Learning on the Beach 2011

The second annual Learning on the Beach unconference #lob11 has just scattered – I am blown away, boiled, invigorated and inundated – and that was just the weather. We were a self-select group of ‘old lobsters’ like me @richardmillwood and some fresh faces like @squiggle7 – the value of this mix in challenging the norms of indoor education was enormous.

Activities included:

  • a scene setter on flat-lining and free-learning from John Davitt
  • collaborative presentations by teams of participants on themes (and genre) as diverse as Irish History (sing-song), The Salt Marsh (tragedy) and Tides (rap)
  • a tour of the beach with Seán and Matthew to understand the nurturing approach to the ‘machair’ or sand dunes found on the west coast of Ireland and particularly in Mulranny, where we were staying
  • the Explainer Olympics – a chance to hone with a sharp stick in the sand our skills in capturing a concept
  • a Ceilidh to let it rip -thanks to Jim and Ann, @angedav @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @magsamond @johndavitt
  • Postcards from the Edge, scribed on the beach – to let us shout about our findings
  • thoughts to challenge suppliers – what do we need to support learning outdoors in the design of equipment and infrastructure? Peter at @westnet_ie made it possible for us to connect from the beaches around Mulranny so that we could benefit from our vast array of gadgetry to support our inquiry including TouchaTag an RFID technology, but there were many issues addressed regarding weatherproofing, robustness, daylight viewing and power supply that would enhance outdoor activity anywhere
  • hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold plunge and swimming pool – four facilities that were welcome 😉
  • the sharing of Guinness, Google, kindness, camera-derie, Twitter, time, humour and happiness ( to say nothing of black and white pudding, fresh air and fine rain)

There are not enough wild sea-horses to hold me back from attending #lob12  – I already miss the lobsters: @squiggle7 @magsamond @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @andyjb @dughall @VickiMcC @johnmayo @johndavitt @angedav @katherinedavitt @timrylands @sarahneild @susanbanister

Quality & delight for business & learning

W Edwards Deming

Knowing my interest in delight in learning, colleague Derek Wenmoth pointed me to a post on Steve Denning’s blog, from which Derek quoted this:

“…management in the 20th Century was about achieving a finite goal: delivering goods and services, to make money. Management in the 21st Century by contrast is about the infinite goal of delighting customers; the firm makes money, yes, but as a consequence of the delight that it creates for customers, not as the goal.”

This reminded me of the way delight was discussed by W Edwards Deming:

“It will not suffice to have customers who are merely satisfied.” I would add, “They must be delighted.”

Deming was credited by the Japanese as being a major force in their rise to world economic power in the second half of the 20th Century, so Steve’s view that this is a 21st Century idea is a little late, although perhaps a reasonable observation about many western businesses.

Nevertheless it is good that Steve is promoting this and it is a short step from Deming’s assertion to say, as I would:

“It will not suffice to have learners who are merely attaining targets.” I would add, “They must be delighted.”

In Deming’s case, the policy of delighting customers leads to them spreading the word and returning to purchase more from your business, which sustains it. In my case, it is ensuring learners remain lifelong learners, whatever their attainment at any stage.

Mostly, it is those who attain highest who are delighted in learning, which is not to imply cause and effect, simply to observe these can go hand in hand. But this minority success does not sustain and develop the global community nearly so well as having everyone continuing to learn throughout their lives, because they delight in learning, no matter what their early attainment level may be.

And that is without even starting on the moral case for delight….

Surprise, surprise

Times Higher Educational Supplement logo

Tara Brabazon in the Times Higher Education Supplement when discussing coursework masters degree courses:

“They are squeezed between the crowd control of undergraduate education and the over-bureaucratised doctoral programmes that dislodge the historically functional relationship between a PhD candidate and supervisor.”

She draws attention to the remarkable creativity of her students, when unleashed with a little flexibility:

“Although there is a science – and craft – to curriculum, we never know how our students will remix our aims and riff off our structure to create melodies and syncopations beyond our lesson plans.”

I know what she’s talking about and we have designed this thinking in to our new degree framework for batchelors, masters and doctorate at the University of Bolton.

Although her article is flowery in its language and this begins to grate as I get to the end, the sentiments and concepts are important:

“These students want a second chance to remake their careers and lives. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and their examples show that change and creativity emerges when courageous students decide to live their lives differently.”

Our take on this fertile opportunity is Inter-disciplinary inquiry-based learning founded in an action research philosophy.

At this point in her article, Tara switches to talking about the link between research and teaching, through the students’ inquiry referencing the HEA report Linking Teaching and Research in Disciplines and Departments.

My worry is that this paper, and her language, are not radical enough in conceiving students as co-researchers in the 21st century. Surely now, ivory-tower academic authority is no longer seen as the know-it-all top of the pyramid (to mix a few metaphors myself), but still has a vital role to play in gathering the best, modelling excellence and rigour and wisely critiquing and deferring to the evidence base from professional practice.

Tara pleas:

“I hope that through the stress and the marking, the stress and the moderation, the stress and the exam boards, academics feel buoyant at their teaching achievements but humbly reflective about what our students can teach us.”

Agreed, and I suggest we should focus on how to make these important teaching acts as delightful and stress free as possible.

TeachMeet Redbridge (part 2)

TeachMeet 7

My first post about TeachMeet was a hurried blog in case Ewan offered a prize for the first person to Blog the event!

More reflection, and waiting until the end, allows a more thoughtful blog which fills in some of the blanks.

Blank 1 – why speak about delight?

It was delightful to be able to speak about delight, and to discuss with colleagues in the breaks to ‘orient’ my thinking about this important topic.

I failed to say that I care to make an analysis of delight for many reasons:

  1. I feel the need to put some intellectual effort into a mantra, ‘delight is important in learning’, which I have been chanting uncritically for over fifteen years.
  2. I believe delight is one of the sources of motivation, perseverance and retention which softens the pain of the ‘hard yards’ in learning.
  3. I believe delight (and more generally fulfilment) is an entitlement for learners, as they learn, not when they pass exams.

Blank 2 – what a stonking set of presentations!

I failed to mention the wealth of speakers and the high quality of their ideas and practices on parade. Egocentrically, and only after Drew Buddie had pointed it out, I was struck by the chickens coming home to roost from Ultralab‘s and Apple Teacher Institute work in the early ‘noughties’, such as movie making and stop-motion animations around social and serious issues. More moving were the confident presentations from folk like Sarah Hackett on using Moodle to teach folk fiddle and Tom Whitehead on animal shape poetry workshops, both researchers from Ultraversity, these along with many others were inspiring.

Blank 3 – FlashMeeting

I had volunteered to be the meeting end of an online video-conference for those who couldn’t be arsed couldn’t get to Redbridge. 🙂 Thanks to David Noble, Anthony Evans and Nic Hughes for making it all so easy. It seemed to work well, using FlashMeeting and connecting my Apple MacBook Pro to a Canon digital video camera with a firewire cable and using a directional microphone to get the best quality – I rely on reports from participants as to whether this was effective and I apologise now for the time through the break when I went to get a beer and got cornered in the bar – I came back to find the camera pointing at the ceiling! I only regret not carrying through my original plan to use a second data projector so that the audience in the building could see the participants out there and perhaps respond to their questions and comments. Next time.

An Analysis of Delight

Delight

Ever since reading about John Heron’s ‘up-hierarchy’ of delight, with his wonderfully expressive language, I have been enjoying adding new elements (although disregarding for now their connection, except as a list). I have made a poster of them and will be talking about them (if chosen to speak) at the TeachMeet in Redbridge on Monday 19th May.

The idea is that they are a source of explanation and stimulus for designing delight into teaching & learning.

Why do we like playing games on the computer? – perhaps because high quality and visually seductive graphics offer ‘appreciation’ and the many choices and their consequences feed ‘zest’.

Why do we like learning together? – perhaps because we get ‘conviviality’, ‘recognition’ and ‘controversy’.

Why do we persist when learning is tough? – perhaps because there is ‘interest’, ‘recognition’ and ‘resolution.

Is this all too obvious? Or do you, like me, want to put this poster on your wall to keep it fresh in your mind?

Creative Commons License
An analysis of delight by Richard Millwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at blog.richardmillwood.net.An Analysis of Delight

Rotorua learning@school 2008

Audience using laptops in Learning@School

The participants in Learning@School have brought so many laptops it broke the wireless! I am here in New Zealand with Patrick to present at this massive teachers’ conference organised by Core Education. I have two workshops on ‘Delight in Learning’ and a keynote to present on ‘Learners at the Centre’ at the end. In fact I have just finished the first workshop and learnt some really useful ideas of how delight happens in learning, which will be reported on the conference web site (I will edit this post then to include a link).

Making IT Work

making-it-work.jpg

I was pleased to present these slides at this international pre-BETT event organised by BESA and Steljes – it gave me a chance to glue together the thinking we have developed over the year in Core UK through our projects. Linking the National Archive of Educational Computing (hindsight) to our work to facilitate communities of curriculum innovation with QCA (insight) and to the meeting in Kronberg to consider the future of Knowledge Sharing and Acquisition which we helped to organise with UNESCO (foresight) gave me great pleasure – as did the first outing for my analysis of delight, in part based on John Heron’s work.

Why British universities are limiting the experience of secondary education. How can they be doing a better job?

 Haberdashers

This was the title of the Thirteenth Askes’s Education Lecture held in the Haberdasher’s Hall, West Smithfield, London, given by Dr Anthony Seldon, Master, Wellington College.

Anthony delivered an impassioned plea to sit up and take notice of the damage done by league tables and subject examinations to the notion of a broad education and the well-being of future citizens. He observed that education had improved markedly in each of the preceding three decades, but that the whole child was only being developed in few schools and without proper acknowledgement. Part of the blame was placed on the university system with its exam expectations, narrow academic focus and selection processes.

I asked Anthony (and others): where is innovation in higher education to spring from to improve the situation? Imaginative action is needed – I’m ready!

Conferencing with the Azores

Azores

Made a presentation today, based on my developing talk about ‘delight’ applied to the task of professional development of teachers and trainers. We used Marratech and although this provided a good sense of presence, my audio was not well heard.

Thanks to Antonio Reis for inviting me – it took only an hour out of my day to make some kind of impact in the Azores!

Adrian Mitchell at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Adrian Mitchell

A real pleasure to hear some outstanding poetry read by the poet in the intimate surroundings of this long-established theatre – a real credit to the town of Bolton. I am not well-read in poetry, but have come to enjoy it substantially in middle-age and Adrian’s material had me excited and tearful in short shrift. You can find him stubbornly reciting ‘Tell me lies about Vietnam’ from thirty years ago on Youtube, but this still scathing poem was scornfully delivered by an energetic 75-year old on Thursday night.

e-Learning Lisboa 2007

Lisbon street

My task at this conference was to talk about the delightful development of e-tutors and trainers. This gave me a chance to re-read John Heron’s ‘up-hierarchy’ (don’t ask*) which when interpreted in a learning context gives strong support for offering digital creativity, inquiry-based learning and opportunity to negotiate and choose the curriculum. Delight in learning is not just an entitlement for moral reasons, but effective when seen in this way.

By the way, got completely obsessed by the suspension bridge out of my Lisbon hotel window, which constantly found its way into every photo!

*Heron, J, Feeling and Personhood: Psychology in another key. London and Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992.