Monthly Archives: October 2005

schools of fish

Perch - Perca fluviatilis  - image from http://www.sci.muni.czThis is an extension on a blog posting I’ve made over in my aquaculture blog. While writing it I suddenly realised how very little it takes to move people upwards and onwards, downwards, sideways; at times even backwards. It’s not that I didn’t know that, it’s just that I hadn’t quite clicked that it might’ve happened to me before.

Here’s the aquaculture part:
Years ago I kept a young perch in an aquarium with a vision to see how much, and how quickly, it would grow. I borrowed a set of scales from my science teacher at school and was all prepared to make scientific history.

Unfortunately I had underestimated the greed of perch and came home after school to find my perch had decided to take charge of the situation. It had attempted to swallow one of the other inhabitants in the tank – a fish about two-thirds the size of the perch. The perch swum around for the rest of the day with the other unfortunate fish’s tail poking out its mouth. Next morning the perch was also dead.

I kept perch in tanks again, back then, but never explored their growth patterns. What would’ve been useful then is Perch Dissection in Mr. Tippett’s Biology Class. This excellent set of photos clearly shows the inner workings of a fish.

Again, when I was a kid in high school, I took a fish to school and dissected it in front of the class using the image in the TimeLife book ‘Fishes’; to identify the various organs and structures. My father was a hunter, so I also brought in rabbits to dissect. Strangely, I don’t recall my peers bringing any thing to dissect. City kids.

Strange, too, that my teachers never found these initiatives something to encourage. Perhaps this is why I don’t work in science today. It occurs to me that had my seeds of interest fallen on more fertile soils I guess my life would’ve been rather different. I’m guessing a 10 minute conversation with the teacher might’ve moved me down a science path to my great love of the time, keeping fish. I wanted to be a marine biologist/ecologist, but I was told there was no future for that in New Zealand. In those days I respected their wisdom, and working on that reality, left school with minimal qualifications and in the absence of better guidence, started work in a factory.

At least I can blog about aquaculture, but what a loss.

Fragments stored against my ruin

Nice title, Joe Harkin, in the Journal of Vocational Education and Training, Vol 57, No. 2, 2005. Fragments stored against my ruin: the place of education theory in the professional development of teachers in further education p165-179.

Joe reports that not only has the UK set new standards for teacher training in the further education sector, they’re hard wiring reflective practice in as an underpinning value. Fair enough. Except that as usual no-one seems to have gotten around to defining exactly what reflective practice might be. Or how to do it. The trainee teachers are supposed to define for themselves what reflective practice is. The trainees are supposed to incorporate learning theory as well. But, guess what – that’s undefined except as might be done by the trainees themselves.

Sounds great. I’m inclined to bet dung to dead mattresses that if reflective practice was against the law less than 1 in 100 teachers in any sector would be found to have any evidence, let alone enough to convict them. I bet there’d be more evidence of illicit substances, strange devices, and mysterious plans for flying saucers. Even though, in their studies, they probably would’ve been exposed it and may’ve even participated in it – reflective practice that is.

I think any tool, and I include reflective practice as a tool, worth its salt, is one people will keep close at hand, and use because they want to. A good tool becomes a default device. The kind of thing you buy for your kids when they leave the nest because it’s a household necessity. If reflective practice was like that there would be no need for a legislated approach to its inclusion as an underpinning value. If it was good, it would BE an underpinning value.

I don’t believe that legislating reflective practice as an underpinning value will be of any real value. As soon as the practice police move on the real way of practice will raise to the fore. The few people who take a documented approach to reflective practice will, the majority will not have enough evidence to convict them in five years time. Might’ve done it but they didn’t inhale.

So, what’s the problem? I think the real issue behind reflective practice is that it runs contrary to desire lines. It’s like a number of other fine products. We should exercise more, love more, eat less crap, eat more vegetables, save for our retirement, save whales blah blah blah. It’s not that these things are bad. They’re not. It’s just that most people just don’t work that way. The do some good stuff, some bad stuff, with a fine selection of average and guilt in between.

I also think reflective practice is predicated on the idea that it should be used to try to winkle out your weaknesses – how like those criticism groups during the cultural revolution. Doesn’t have to be, of course, it could be used to play to your strengths. Getting better. There are techniques for doing this. But based on what Joe has to say, and on my own experience and research, I’m inclined to think there’s a great opportunity to be a researcher in the UK while they fumble around. Seems the UK government has got time and money to experiment and I’m looking forward to reading more findings – a great research opportunity.


rest for the wicked

I finally got my masters research draft written up today – the draft took a number of attempts to get it across the ditch to my supervisor. In the end I uploaded it to a back corner of my web site and Peter will be able to download it from there. Feeling grateful that I’ve nearly at the end of the process and that I kept the web site even if it looks more like a sock drawer than a nice tidy web site.

I also got the GST return done – yay. The IRD web site is a vast improvement and NZ/IRD should be recognised for their most excellent efforts at getting into the 20th century – the online work is very good. Now, if only they drag it that tiny last snippet into the 21st century and have an AAA compliant (instead of merely Level A) web site I’d be very proud of them.

Time for a coffee, a shower, and an early night – it’s 23:39…


good story, great story

A few days ago my job wasn’t proving to be much fun and I was desperately considering what my alternatives were. Amidst this angst (the word for the day) a good story turned up. Could’ve been a great story, but it is a good story instead.

My day was curdling from bad to worse when one of my colleagues suggested a breath of fresh air. I agreed and I limped out into the sunshine, feeling like a kid escaping school. (An ironic moment for those who know.)

We went to a local auction house and we were looking at the second-hand (probably estate) furniture. My colleague asked me if I thought this coffee table was veneered. The coffee table had a drawer, and so I pulled the drawer out, tilted the table up and looked at the underside of the top. Solid wood alright. And then I spied two lotto tickets stuck in between the top and the frame. Seems the original owner had kept the drawer pretty full, and the tickets had become wedged in the narrow gap.

‘That’ll do me’, I thought and immediately grabbed the tickets and slipped thim into my shirt pocket.

In New Zealand there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of unclaimed lotto prizes. People lose tickets, forget them, whatever. Some people even get them stuck in furniture. And very, very occasionally, people find tickets. Some, even from back in 1997. I couldn’t believe my luck.

Ah, what a great story – I took them to a local lotto shop. The young lady peered at them and told me that she couldn’t scan them because they were so old they had no bar code. She had to enter the numbers manually. I was trying to be calm, but I knew what a dynamic change a cash injection would make in my wife and my lives. We could say hello to new future that didn’t involve the 9 – 5 in the same way.

But this is a good story, and not a great story. I do have two book marks from 1997. And a story for my blog. And tug on my leash, from my job…


reflective practice

I’m in the write-it-up stage of my Masters. The first topic I researched in depth was reflective practice, as espoused by Donald Schön. I spent a great deal of time reading and thinking and, er, reflecting on reflective practice.

I couldn’t see that it had much to recommend it – I know every unfortunate nursing or teaching student around the planet is cursed with a reflective practice requirement and some of the hip professors even inflict blogging on the lambs. But, what I couldn’t figure out is – if it’s such a grand idea why doesn’t everyone do it? Why does it work at all? Does it work at all?

I used to rant at my wife that the theory sounds like I should be able to sit at the bottom of a well with a journal and a pen, and come out in four years time and be better than if I’d come out in two and worked for two. And that’s just not the case. And if it’s such a hot idea why doesn’t everyone do it? And the rant would circle off again. Day after day after night after night. My original question was about how does someone get better at what they do if they’re good already. My idea had come from what I believe is a sadly limiting concept dripped around by management types: good to great. A catchy book title, yeah, sure, but what if you’re great already? No need for false modesty, some people are really really good at what they do. Lots of my work colleagues are great at what they do. How could we invest, what could we/they do to get better? ‘Gooderer’.

Enter reflective practice. But, I couldn’t see it working in practice. Down a well, rant rant…

Today, I found the quote which finally voiced where I’d reached in my research:

A frog in a well says, ‘The sky is no bigger than the mouth of the well.’

That is untrue, for the sky is not just the size of the mouth of the well. If it said, ‘Part of the sky is the size of the mouth of the well’, that would be true, for it tallies with the facts.

Chairman Mao Tse Tung

I did eventually discover what I believe is a way of improving practice, for getting gooderer, but that’s another day’s topic…


a star is born

star fish, definitely a star fishTake a look at this picture. Looks like a starfish, right? A slightly deformed starfish, but a starfish, nevertheless.

It’s a starfish in the process of growing its arms. One of the cool things about starfish is that if they lose arms they can grow new ones back.

But here’s the thing. We can still tell it’s a starfish. We’re not so lucky. Look at that guy over there, that girl there – despite what they’re looking like, can you tell anything about their inner qualities? Can you tell, for example, if they’re stars in the process of growing their points? It’s kind of sad, but we’re not always connected with our inner stars.

But we need to be. For the good of us all. What would make you happy? What are you doing about getting happy? Stretch out your arms and become the star you are.

duck bites

Mallard drake in winter plumageDuck bites yields 825,000 (and soon, 850,001) results in Google. Good grief!

I realised today where dreams go. I remembered something from an unknown source from years ago about duck bites. Individually, they seem innocuous. Combined they form an irresistable force. The memo at work about the correct use of the comma, while nationally literacy rates continue to worsen. The idea that’s taken hours or days or weeks to form is voiced, flutters haltingly toward the light of day before being crushed by the sneer of fear. As Sophie Tunnell said: ‘Fear is a slinking cat I find beneath the lilacs of my mind.’

Between a nibble here and nibble there our dreams become diminished and eventually are gone. It might be better that way – when dreams are gone. I think that’s what the ‘Nothing’ was in Michael Ende’s ‘Neverending Story’. As an aside, I once ate duck tongues at a Karaoke Bar in Hong Kong. Perhaps the ducks are having the last revenge. There’s no need, the tongues were revenge in themselves!

can’t boil water café

There’s been a lot of interest lately from people asking here about food and cooking and recipes. I’ve decided to add a category called the ‘can’t boil water café’ for those people interested in producing stylish food, easily and simply, but think that maybe they can’t – it’s too hard, too complicated, too whatever.

Guys – I believe it’s the ultimate pick up line – you don’t have to say anything, just be accomplished in the kitchen and everything works out just fine from there. It stands to reason that if you’re ace in the food room you’ll be no slouch in the bed room. Because food is such a sensual, delicious experience – and what better way to end the perfect evening than with breakfast in bed?

At this point I’d like to stick a skewer though this carefully wrought construct that men are only interested in meat. I’m assuming that’s a result one of those meat producer boards carefully promoting the idea, having never recovered from the efforts of the spinach marketing board.


soft boiled eggs

image of a soft boiled eggOne of the foodstuffs that will be available in heaven will be perfectly cooked soft boiled eggs, served with lightly browned (with a flame) turkish bread soldiers, buttered. Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

But why wait? Why not make some now? Recently a number of people have been asking how to make soft boiled eggs. Here’s my technique, honed over many years including one year of obsessive behaviour when I had soft boiled eggs every morning for breakfast. I was determined to master what appears to be an easy dish. But it’s not, in my opinion, easy. Simple, yes. Easy, no. If it was easy I would be able to consistently turn out optimal eggs – they often are, but sometimes they’re only very good.

First, let me define what is the perfect soft boiled egg. The yolk should be runny, but the white set. Very good is when the last millimetre or two of white hasn’t set yet, or the first couple of millimetres of yolk has set. A couple more millimetres into the yolk and the egg is being overcooked, and if the white is very runny, well, frankly that should be blogged under bad sights.

To achieve the optimum egg – or at least to go in pursuit of the noble soft boiled egg, start with good eggs. Very fresh is hard to cook perfectly, more than a few days old and they go hard quickly. When you buy eggs it’s hard to know how old they are – if they float then they may well be past their best. I don’t like eggs kept in the refrigerator – extends the cooking time – so we keep them at room temperature.

If you’re beginning to think we take our soft boiled eggs seriously, you’re right.

I normally boil water and then add it to the pot – it seems faster. I bring the pot of water up to a good rolling boil. In terms of the size of the pot/volume of water etc, I like to have the space of one extra egg – i.e. if I’m cooking four eggs I like to have enough space to cook eight eggs. There’s no need to add salt, vinegar, or eleven secret herbs and spices to the water. Just good clean water, boiling hot and enough to generously cover the eggs.

Take a pointed object and push a hole into the fat end of each egg. I now have a classy egg hole puncher, but before today I’ve used a small nail and a push pin. This is to make a small hole in the shell so the gas can escape and not crack the shell. There is no need to push the pin in more than a couple of millimetres.

I use a spoon to ease the eggs into the water. If you frighten them by dropping them in it might crack the shells. This should be avoided. Do try to get the eggs in as soon as possible so they’ll be ready at the same time.

I time them to boil for 3 minutes, take them off the heat, but leave them in the water for one more minute, and then serve them. I mentioned soldier toasts (cut the toast into finger width slices) for dipping into the yolk. A little salt and freshly ground pepper. Bliss.

The great thing is – soft boiled eggs are pretty much the food equivalent to making a cocktail – served go-to-whoa in less than five minutes. Brilliant. I am uncertain what wine to serve with soft boiled eggs. I usually go for orange juice and a latte, but you might want to go down the champagne and orange juice path.