Posted by: phynbarr | March 10, 2014

Dear Your Cat

Dear Your Cat

I refer to the article on page 49 of the April 2014 magazine which arrived this weekend.  This is fundamentally an advertisement for the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (without the benefit of a “Advertisement” flag at the top of the page intended to rebut the recent Channel 5 programme in the UK called “The Truth About Your Dog’s Food”

Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with all the viewpoints expressed in that programme I DO have a significant problem with the sentence “While carbohydrates are not essential for cats and dogs they can have significant benefits when included in pet food formulation”.

Whilst dogs can be characterised as scavengers and will manage on a more varied diet, cats are obligate carnivores and gain no benefit – and, indeed, substantial digestive impairment (I put it no stronger than that) – from having carbohydrates in their diet.  The only ones to benefit from such additions are the Pet Food Manufacturers.

Not only that, when you start looking at commercial cat food on the supermarket shelves you will rapidly discover that they not only contain cereals but SUGARS.  And we all know the current hoo-hah around sugar in the human diet.  No wonder there is an epidemic of dental problems in cats!  Which the Pet food Manufacturers’ Association kindly obliges by creating expensive, specialist dietary  regimes to sell to owners to “solve”.  It’s easily solved.  Don’t put sugar in cat food which not only makes them little sugar addicts but also rots their teeth.  The only reason it can possibly be in commercial cat food is to make the unpalatable palatable.

How do I know this? I own a cat  who has suffered from IBD and then pancreatitis which was resolved by the vet at no inconsiderable expense to me and distress to the cat involved.  I too was offered lifetime on an “expensive, specialist dietary  regime” for my cat.  But I did my own research.  I discovered that cats are obligate carnivores.  That cereal and sugars have no part in their diet and are considerably suspect in a number of cat health problems, dietary and dental.

I now only use cat food which is 100% meat .  I don’t expect everyone to follow me down this road.  Each cat owner needs to do what is right for them and for their pet.  They also have a right to expect  open, unbiased information from a magazine which would appear to claim to have cats’ welfare at its heart.  If I can’t trust the information you provide on diet, I can’t trust any of the information you provide.

I will not be renewing my subscription.  That article makes me feel you are in the pocket of the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.


Other countries know and accept the skill – the US, New Zealand for two.

So why is there such a dearth in the UK?

Do businesses not know what the skills of a facilitator are?

Do they not know what they can bring to the party?

And why, while we’re at it, is facilitation (again, in this country at least) deemed to be limited to IT?

Sure, it has a great deal in relevance in helping and encouraging those who want IT – HR, finance, legal etc., – to talk to those who actually provide such systems. But facilitation has a role elsewhere too.

In the legal system where it can encourage litigants to talk to each other instead of suing.
In nursing where, again, it can assist those with specialist skills to talk to those less familiar.

I would love to work as a facilitator. I don’t care what the industry but to be able to work with a group of people with a common objective so that all people end the day feeling heard and having had their opinion listened to and valued is such a fantastic way to spend one’s time.

So, anyone out there, if you have a job as a facilitator going begging, give me call and let’s talk

Posted by: phynbarr | April 9, 2013

Like Webster’s Dictionary we’re Morocco bound!

Well, they made it.  Final leg in Spain followed by a brief ferry – to Tangiers, I think – and then train through Fez and Casablanca to Marrakesh.  Such evocative names!The last time I looked she had raised £820 plus Giftaid, which is an amazing total, and we think the last anonymous donation came from some generous BT person.  Being so close to £1000 and well beyond her original target of £350, she would love to hit 4 figures just for the sheer satisfaction factor, so if anyone else felt inclined,, the site is here.  Any donation however small would be appreciated and I am SO frustrated not to be able to use my GiveAsYouEarn CAF account to be able to give a little more.

 Feeling like something of a helicopter parent I went out to meet her in Marrakesh and spend the weekend before coming home together.  Which was just as well, but that’s a tale for later on, one thing at a time! :)

 She and her hitching buddies had arranged a desert trip to ride camels and I willingly went along.  I might have gone less willingly had I realised that it would involve a hair-raising trip in the back of a mini-van over the Atlas Mountains (they do say the back is the worst place for travel sickness, don’t they?) through freeeeezing weather, cutting wind, driving snow and rain.  We stopped off (briefly) at places along the way such as Kasbah’s,  a site where films such as Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia had been filmed and what was billed at “Labyrinthe du Sud” where there was a strong attempt to sell us carpets.  Amazing carpets it was true and I learned about the history and techniques, but I had only arrived with hand luggage!  They also showed us a large copper kettle on a stand and said what sounded like “Samovar”.  So when we went in the souks (of which, again, more later) I asked and yes indeed – they are samovars.  So who influenced who – the Moroccans or the Russians?

 So, battered, bruised and somewhat dazed we arrived in a slightly warmer clime and stumbled out of the minivan.  It had been slightly disappointing to drive all that way and at the final moment go through a town with vivid street lights, wide boulevards and Axa Insurance, but no matter.  The first thing to do was purchased a long strip of sloth and find out how to create a turban.  Absolutely NO pictures of in such garb exist, thankfully.  And then to the camels.  If I thought the first leg had been bruising, it was nothing to the next hour to come.

 They were single hump camels (dromedaries?) and the seating arrangement was a large padded doughnut covered by a hefty blanket.  So if you didn’t sit well back every time the camel lurched forward – or that was what it felt like – the hump found increasingly tender spots.  Most people dangled their legs over each side but, finding that too uncomfortable I put my legs up in front and got an approving grin.

 Eventually we arrived at out camp site of tents, but not before passing through a number of small agricultural areas.  One of the surprising realisations was that “desert” is not a long endless spread of nothingness.  We had been through small towns, villages, isolated (and often unfinished) houses, small growing areas, even a substantial rushing river – but that could be down to the rain and snow we experienced.  It is not a single entity.  And, there is a lot of concern about the spread of deserts and no doubt there is a real problem.  I have idly wondered how it could be tackled.  But being there, you realise just how arrogant that is.  The people of the region do their best to create small microclimates within packed mud walls or dried palm fences and within those I saw crops of barley, water melon, potatoes and peas.  Yes, perhaps if these could be connected then more greenery could be established but the area we were in is in the rain shadow of the Atlas mountains.

 We didn’t get to our tents in time to see the sunset there, but it is a spectacular view, probably even more so on the back of a camel.  Little or no light pollution improved it immeasurably.  And then dismounting (soo slowly), resting and food.  We weren’t in a traditionally Berber camp of a single tent open to the skies in the middle and a fire pit but no matter.  We rested well, discovered it gets REALLY cold at night and were woken to see the sunset in the morning followed by a brief breakfast.

 Let’s swiftly gloss over the camel ride back to the minivan and just say that it was even more painful.  But please don’t think I won’t enjoy the memory.  And then a long hack back to Marrakesh with only necessary stops along the way.

 So that was the desert. I won’t bore you with descriptions of the hostel we stayed in except to say, they are well worth a visit.  As is seeing the sunset from Cafe France overlooking the main square and the souks. 

 We think the souks are a World Heritage site and they certainly deserve to be.  We visited them on our last day and whilst there are tourists there, they are not purely a tourist attraction, especially as you go deeper and further away to discover the workshops where a lot of the goods are made.  metalware being made out of old bicycles, the smell of Bostik was enough to get me high just walking past, how they get home safely after a day immersed in the stuff I can only imagine, wools, silks, tanneries, it was all glorious.  And exhausting.  It was particularly exhausting when we got lost at one point and the jeering stall holders welcomed us with “again!”.  But we found respite in the form of Noss-Noss (a milky form of coffee) and mint tea (so refreshing on a warm day) and generous sandwiches and were back out in the melee, this time conscious that time was against and we had to overcome our great British reserve and haggle.

 The first round of bargaining was a tentative affair but we had been warned to start low and go up in small amounts and also not allow the fact that you might have more money to be seen.  My daughter wanted a teapot and glasses (to enjoy mint tea at home!) and there was a blinding variety of designs in both.  We finally found the style we wanted and were promptly asked for 740, no, no I mean 520 Dirham.  So I said 250 and with a bit of haggling got the lot for 300.  As I said later, at the moment I feel I’ve done well but if someone tells me I could have got them for 150, I will feel cheated.  Funny old thing the human mind.

 After that there was no stopping us and our triumphant last purchase was a 2 leather bags which started off at 1400 Dirham and were purchased for 650 (and a pen, bizarrely!) plus a free tassel for the daughter.  What was more amazing was to see the burgeoning confidence in the daughter.  Beforehand she had said she was terrified of haggling, by the time we finished she was doing it for fun and with no intention of buying and it reminds me of this aphorism which I saw today 

“People become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do things. When they believe in themselves they have the first secret of success.”

Norman Vincent Peale

 I think the confidence from trekking across 4 countries and 2 continents, plus the experience of haggling will show themselves to have been deeply formative.

 And finally, this has been a long post but I did say that I would come back to coming home together.  As she hiked my daughter hauled a heavy rucksack on and off ferries, in and out a variety of transport – trucks, lorries, cars and more without any problem other than it was straining her back.  Ryanair had other ideas.  We knew it was heavy and I was prepared to pay excess to get it home.  After all, everything in there had been essential for the last 2 weeks.  And, indeed, it was over the 15 kgs limit imposed by Ryanair by just over 3 kgs.

 Off I went, as instructed, to pay the excess and was literally gobsmacked, infuriated and astounded to be charged 1440 dirham. Which translates to £110.  For roughly 3 bags of sugar.  Infuriation swiftly followed by apoplexy brewed in the various queues we then loitered in until I was completely livid by the time we were standing in line to board.  It was not only the money, which was astonishing, but the fact that – had I not been there – my daughter with no credit card a debit card perilously close to its maximum following the hike and a handful of dirham could have been left stranded in a foreign airport, tired and lonely, late at night.  And I remain utterly infuriated by that.

 However, I don’t want to take the gloss off what has been an incredible achievement (not mine! :)).  As I said before, I think the growth of character resulting from her experiences will show themselves over time and the next time I hear “I can’t do that” I shall remind her of her ability to dress up in a crocodile suit and jig about by the side of the road in order to get a lift.

 I’m sorry this posting has been so long and I hope you’ll join us on her next adventure.  

Apparently she’s aiming for Kilimanjaro next year

Posted by: phynbarr | April 8, 2013

An open letter to Michael O’Leary and Ryanair

Let me first of all state the fact.  I AM LIVID.  Spitting mad, furious and apoplectic doesn’t even begin to cover it.  And that’s after I’ve had a night to calm down

Now let me give you the background.

My daughter is at University.  She decided to spend her Easter this year volunteering for Hitch 2013 which encourages students from across the UK to Hitch to one of 2 destinations in Europe – Morocco or Croatia.  Now I can hear you thinking “Lucky b****r, some of us never had the opportunity” and you may well be right.

So far she has raised £780 plus GiftAid for Link Community Development (LCD)  – a charity which encourages educational opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa.  And yes, she has had the opportunity to travel – mostly using her own hard –earned, hard-saved money – at a times when many people are finding the purse strings tightened beyond bearing.  She yes, in that sense, she’s a very fortunate person.  AND one who has initiative, guts and a caring nature

She has been hugely supported not only by those who donated but also by the Hitch community, LCD, and all the people who gave her team lifts and encouragement across 4 countries and 2 continents as they travelled for the best part of 2 weeks.  I was so delighted by her achievement I invited myself along to greet her in Marrakesh and take the opportunity to spend the weekend with her.  Which was just as well.

Because she had been lugging across Europe – on and off ferries, in and out of cars, trucks and various modes of transport – a very large and very heavy rucksack to enable her to live and sleep and keep clean during those 2 weeks.

In fact it was so heavy that when the time came to depart Marrakesh last night via a Ryanair flight it was over their weight limit for hold luggage by 3 kilograms.  Hold that figure in your mind

3 kilograms

For the record, that is roughly the weight of 3 bags of sugar

Now we were aware the bag was heavy but I said “Don’t worry, if it is over the weight limit, we’ll pay.  We’ll get it home somehow.  So, what to do?  There was nothing she could leave behind, this was stuff that had been vital to her very survival, was she supposed to dump it in the nearest bin?

Fortunately, very fortunately I was there.  Because I took my little chit stating that the bag was 3 kilograms overweight to the Ryanair desk as instructed prepared to pay around £50.  That’s what Ryanair charge when you cabin luggage is deemed not to fit in their little boxes (as an aside, I saw some poor violinist fall foul of this little box and the intransigence of Ryanair staff on the outbound flight.  He was forced to pay £50 to have his precious possession placed  – one hopes it was placed – in the hold. At the desk I was told that the charge for excess baggage would be 720 Moroccan dirham (MAD).  For those of you not versed in the pound to dirham conversion that’s £55.  Nearly the £50 I was expecting. So I ground my teeth, smiled politely and got out the credit card.  Which brings me back to my original point.

It was lucky I was there

My daughter is a student.  She doesn’t have a credit card.  She has a debit card she uses carefully with a very strict limit and a student loan.  She’s not living high on the hog here.  And don’t forget she had been saving all the previous term JUST so she could hitchhike with a modicum of safety. Had I not been there, I’m not sure how she would have rustled up £55 without a deal of stress, distress and time.  So she may even have missed her flight and been stranded alone, at the airport, late at night.

However, back to the plot.  We were just about done, I had signed the credit card slip and was about to walk away when the girl behind the desk said (I translate roughly) “That’s not right, I’ve only charged you for one, I should have charged you for 2”.  So by now we’re up to 1440 MAD or around £110.  I have to admit that at this point I forbore to point out we were actually talking about 3 kilograms (that’s roughly the weight of 3 bags of sugar) because my boiling point was reached.  I was – and remain furious.  How dare you take advantage of travellers at a foreign destination, stressed by trying to get through check-in, security, passport control and all the other hurdles air travel involves these days and the charge unconscionable amounts of money for an extra 3 kilograms?  There’s profit, then there’s greed and then there’s downright usurious avarice.  Not content for charging for every possible item, whether it be phone calls, reservations, emergencies – didn’t you try to charge for wheelchairs to get passengers through terminals at one time? – you go ahead and make money out of distress.  It’s not as if she flew out and should have known better.  She went by ferry.  She, personally hauled 18 kgs around on her back through 4 countries and 2 continents for the best part of 2 weeks.

You have rewritten the book on poor customer service to make it abysmal, appalling and non-existent customer service and I deeply, deeply regret the fact that I was persuaded – against my own previous judgement – to fly Ryanair again.

So, now, I insist, no, I DEMAND that you repay that 1440 MAD – which will go straight to the charity the hitchhike was intended to support – and I further challenge you to match – Pound for Pound, Euro for Euro, Dirham for Dirham – the money that my daughter has raised for Link Community Development here.  And I call on everyone reading this to donate something – no matter how small – to make that matching donation as substantial as possible.

I remain utterly and implacably furious and I personally ban myself from ever setting foot on one of your planes ever again

So stick that in your impossible and annoying trumpet and toot it!


Posted by: phynbarr | March 25, 2013

Hitch hike to Morocco – Day 1

So, Day 1 of trip to Morocco. 

 Not mine, I hasten to add, my daughter.  Currently at Plymouth Uni she has joined in with Hitch 2013

 What is Hitch? 

 Well, Hitch is an annual sponsored hitch-hiking event organised by, and to raise money for, Link Community Development. It’s the largest and most established hitch-hiking event in the UK and has been running since 1992.  So it’s been around for over 20 years, and in that time an incredible 8,000 Hitchers have safely and successfully hitch-hiked across Europe, raising almost £4,000,000 for Link and travelling a combined total of almost 10 million miles – that’s more than 400 times around the world!

 What is Link Community Development?

 Link works to support the delivery of quality education in rural districts of sub-Saharan Africa.  You can read more about their work here

 And my daughter’s part of that!  She set off last night on the ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff and will be hitch-hiking and couch-surfing through France and Spain until she and her group get the ferry to Morocco.  And I – and you! – can watch her progress here

 As part of the safety measures in place she has to ring or text in to a central control point every day by 4:00 p.m. and I – as her named contact – have to stay in the country until she arrives safely in Marrakesh.

 She began aiming to raise money in earnest at Christmas with the aim of raising £375.  I am delighted to see that her current total here    stands at £745 and plus Giftaid that makes a whacking £920!!!  Fantastic.  She would obviously be delighted if anyone felt like contributing.  She did contact various organisations to ask for their support.  Sadly there was no response.

 So, I shall be wittering on here about what news I get of her progress.  At the moment they are aiming to arrive in Marrakesh on 4th April.  At which point, released from my obligation to stay in the country, I shall hop on a plane and go and spend the weekend with her there. 

 Again, if you felt like contributing pence per mile or for her to wear one of her 2 fancy dress costumes – a crocodile and a morph suit (don’t ask!) – or any other task you can think to set her she would be delighted to be raising money for a worthwhile cause.

Posted by: phynbarr | March 23, 2013

Designing a cattery with the cat in mind

Hunt, kill, eat sleep

I was introduced to this phrase recently as elements of every cat’s life.  And if you don’t want your cat banging on the door at half past 4 in the morning, then it makes sense to give kittie hunting, “killing” and eating experience late in the evening so they are exhausted and sleep through till morning.

Which is all well and good.  AND, given that I am looking at setting up and running a cattery in the (near) future, I wondered how the owner of a boarding cattery can create opportunities for feline visitors to hunt, kill, eat and sleep.

I need to set aside the whole “take a cat from a warm, domestic environment with chairs and beds cushions to sleep on and people to interact with and dump them in a sterile 6’ * 4’, concrete floored, sneeze-barriered pen and expect them not the get distressed” argument and just explore how it might be possible to create somewhere for a cat – whatever his size, age or origins or whether you keep her exclusively inside or our – can experience and fulfil his natural instincts.

Actually, let’s NOT set that argument aside because it is part and parcel of the whole thing.  I would say that it is perfectly possible to provide  a semblance of a small sitting room for the visiting cat to enjoy.  Instead of shelves you can have chairs with covers that can be removed for easy cleaning in case of accidents and certainly between different visitors.  Similarly for the floor covering.  No doubt concrete is very hygienic.  I wouldn’t want it underfoot, personally, and neither would my cats.  They’re simply not used to it.  It is perfectly possible to provide rugs and blankets which could be thrown in the washing machine as necessary.  Most cats like to look out at the passing world from a window, so rather than have some kind of opening into a corridor convenient for the carer, can the pen not be designed so that the cat can have a climbing tree on which to view the passing wildlife.  All of which can be encouraged by the cattery owner.  I agreed that the usual, fabric covered ones might not be entirely suitable but with a little thought it ought to be able to make something which can meet the exacting standards of the local authorities.

Speaking of which, I was somewhat astounded when I explored the requirements of my local district council to discover that their requirements for pens include the fact that the cat must not have access to the outside.  Why? In case a rat should come and sneeze on the cat?  Utterly baffling.  So my plan to design a cattery using children’s playhouses as individual chalets for cats and cat families kind of fell to the ground there.  Yes, I could use the  ones designed like a chalet and wire in the veranda so that Tiddles can bask there safely, but the playhouse designed as a miniature castle so that cat could live upstairs and have access to the grass downstairs – nada.  I suppose Tiddles might be inclined to dig her way out.  I’d be very surprised as I’ve never encountered this as a typically feline activity.

Which brings me back neatly to designing a boarding cattery where cats can experience hunting, killing, eating a sleeping.  Well the latter two would hardly be a challenge, so how to provide the hunting experience?  Given that the visiting cats must be kept apart, I’m guessing any kind of pack activity is out but food – especially dried food – could be given in the various cat puzzle activities.  It would have to be balance between the need for a cat to find the food in the same place every day (I have often wondered about the feline behaviourists’ assertion that this is necessary to the average cat’s peace of mind.  Surely any hunting animal is going to go hunting for its food and eat it where it kills?)and the condition of getting them to hunt.  There is also the issue of variety and boredom.  No cat I know will find the same old puzzle feeder rolled out at the same time every day any more interesting than you or I would.

My cats love Da Bird – a marvellous hunting and killing game but short of employing hordes of teenagers to spend an hour a day chasing round the cats with flying feathers I don’t see that taking off either.

So I wondered if an activity room is what is needed.

Kits' Garden Enclosure -  NW View

Imagine, if you will, a cattery designed round three sides of a large room.  Each cat room looks out on to some kind of interesting vista – a pond where local wildlife can visit, a bird-table or even a hedge where small mammals and birds might come.  The cat rooms are entered for the purposed of cleaning and feeding from the central room and the reason cat rooms are only round three sides is to allow the carer(s) to enter from the fourth.  Whilst the cat room is being cleaned, food being replaced etc., etc., the occupants have free access to the central room where there are activities  which can be varied regularly to sustain interest .  Maybe this room can contain an aquarium or cages of hamsters, rats or chipmunks – the latter to be somewhere where the cat can see them but not distress them.

I came across a website of cat room designs which would be a good basis to start from.  Ponds with fish, trees to climb.  There are some amazing ideas here. And you’ll find others on  my Pinterest board.

This is for dogs, but you get the idea.

The room could be made available to the cats at irregular times throughout the day so that they don’t get to anticipate that “it’s 10:30 so it’s my turn to go and play”.  If there was some way to ensure that the cats from Pen A, had safely returned home before the cats in Pen B were released you could even create (with Raspberry Pi! :)) some kind of automatic rand opening of doors.

I think I  may have mentioned this in a previous blog some time ago but I would also like to see if it is possible to design tunnels so that cats could safely wander far and wide through a network of tunnels hanging from the ceilings in the cattery.  Cats naturally prefer to be off the floor and walking up high in the “treetops” could be another way of stimulating interest.  Again it would be more interesting to have an interconnected network of tunnels with doors which could be opened and closed to create a random design of walkway AND keep one set of cats away from another.

I wonder if the cat tunnels could allow access to an entirely enclosed gazebo type structure so they could spend time “outside”? Like this, for instance

outside cat enclosure 2

Of course, it could be that your average moggie will not choose to avail itself of any of these facilities, but at least it would keep me entertained.

And imagine what the local authorities would make of such a planning application! 🙂

Posted by: phynbarr | March 19, 2013

Creativity, constraints and challenges



This has come just at the moment when I was mulling over writing something around constraints and creativity.  Which, in itself, was prompted by reflection on a posting or blog I read last week.  I can’t remember what its main purpose was – it may well have been creativity – but my lasting recollection is the sentence that the book “Green Eggs and Ham” came about when Dr Seuss’s publisher gave him the challenge of writing a book with a vocabulary of 50 words or less.

And actually there are two aspects here – the CONSTRAINT “do it in this time, with that budget, less than, more than, above, beyond . . . . . ” and also the CHALLENGE.

Is there something about human intelligence and interaction that rise to a challenge like a fish to the fly?  We just can’t resist snapping at it.

So having endless funds and the ability to choose from 6 different types of baked beans somehow stultifies our imaginations and creative impulses.

As ever, I would like to see if I can apply (or shoehorn, if you will) these thoughts into learning and revision.  My recollection of revision is hour upon boring hour in  my bedroom supposedly revising but actually playing Patience (and it showed! L).  Apart from the fact that I didn’t know how to do it, where’s the challenge in an endless repetition if facts.  Transferring knowledge from one piece of paper (a book, typically) to a card to another piece of paper.

In later years I learned how to revise (for me, I hasten to add!) and discovered that what worked for me was to set myself a challenge.  There are two factors in revision.  Despite what most people think if you ask them, the primary one is to pass the exam.  That is what you’re there for.  Learning every fact in the syllabus will not help you pass an exam if you can’t answer the questions on the paper.  And given that there are usually far more facts than questions, it makes sense to focus or target your learning to the questions most likely to be asked.

Now I appreciate this means taking something of a risk, but that risk can be minimised which is where your initial paper research comes in.

It is unlikely that if a question was asked in the previous exam, it will be asked in the current one.  There may be questions around the same TOPIC, but exactly the same question?  Unlikely. Filter your learning.

Look back over as many old papers as you can find (one of the most irritating thing about the daughter’s GCSE and A level exams was that they kept fiddling with the papers so past papers were an unlikely luxury) and do a tally of what was asked when and in what way and then focus your learning some more.

My next step was to take all those old papers and go through them answering EVERY question.  No constraints on time or resources.  These answers were to be as close to perfect as possible.  I know what I’ve just said about focussing your learning, but this exercise has two benefits.  Apart from documenting the facts you are learning about the style of question and what is actually being asked.


and not the one you thought was being asked,  or would have liked to have been asked.

Having established this treasure house of information, my next step was to go through (all the exam papers) and answer every question without time constraints but with no reference material. And then compare and contrast the answers

The final step was to do it again, this time under exam conditions.  No reference material, exam timings.  This time I could focus on the questions I would do in an exam.

All of this – without even knowing it – contributes perfectly to the forgetting or Ebbinghaus curve where the eponymous gentleman showed that the rate of decline in forgetting learned information could be reduced by revisiting information at longer and longer periods away from it.  Don’t worry, Wikipedia explains it better than I can.  The essence of it is, spending time cycling round different subjects and topics within topics, gives the necessary space and time for this decay cycle.

The final, final point I suppose is a familial tale supposedly about my grandfather or even my great-grandfather.  I think it was my great-grandfather who was supposed to have been so clever he won prizes by the yard at Cambridge (don’t worry, I’m a long way from THAT particular tree, never having won even one prize J at primary school).

Anyway, whichever antecedent it was is supposed to have gone into an exam and spent THE ENTIRE TIME answering ONE question perfectly.  Which is all very well, but one question will only get you one question’s portion of the marks even it is absolutely and spectacularly good.

Now, how did I get here from creativity and constraints?  The application of both the constraint and the need for challenge into the learning process


Posted by: phynbarr | March 18, 2013

The butterfly who flew

20130318_102045nce upon a time a long time ago in a far away country there was a deep, dark wood

And in the deepest, darkest place in the deepest, darkest wood, lay a small puddle of light.


And in the small puddle of light was the smallest, weakest, most feeble caterpillar ever seen.

It lay there quietly, soaking up the light and the puddle and slowly, so slowly, so very gradually and unknowingly


Even the caterpillar’s own mother wouldn’t have noticed the stealthy changes coming up one until


Early one morning

Where the caterpillar had once been there hung at the very tip of the smallest branch the smallest, most delicate cocoon.

And time passed

And the sun rose and set

And the mist rolled forward and back

And the seasons passed

And slowly, so slowly, so gradually, the cocoon changed.

It grew harder

It changed colour

Until finally, if you had been walking early one morning in the deepest, darkest place of the deepest darkest forest of a far away land a long time ago, you would have seen the fine and glorious sparkling wings of the most delicate butterfly struggling to emerge from that tough little cocoon.  Standing there in the shadows you would have seen first one delicate antenna and then the other wriggle out.  And slowly, painfully the rest of the butterfly emerged, resting now and then as it drew itself out of its final, safe resting place until it was able to rest on the tip of that very small branch.

It stayed there, poised for a moment whilst its damp wings gradually unfurled as they dried and spread.  It stayed there whilst it tested its strength

And then she  flew out of that forest to venture into the wide, blue world


To new adventures

Posted by: phynbarr | March 12, 2013

Have you been vouched for in LinkedIn?

I find myself vaguely troubled by this new behaviour on www.  Not that I mind being vouched for.  By people I know.

The problem I am finding is that basic human urge – RECIPROCITY.

Various readings in that past – plus my own instincts – have shown that reciprocity is a strong driver in human behaviour.  Possibly even in the animal world, but that’s probably a complication too far at the moment.


Reciprocity is the urge you get to smile back at someone who smiled at you when they passed you on the street.

Reciprocity is how marketers give you a little “something” (a pen?) so that you then feel obliged to purchase from them


I wonder where it comes from?  What is the biological or Darwinian reward for such behaviour?  I read – but who can verify what’s published on the ‘net? – that it’s been seen in primate communities as well.  I suppose if you gather food, then sharing behaviour will ensure that the community survives as one.  The benefit of the whole against the survival of an individual.  I wonder if it is seen in community animals such as ants or bees?

Anyway, these musings are a long way from my original concerns.  Those “vouchings” (new noun?) on LinkedIn.  I am quite happy to endorse people on the basis of what I’ve seen or experienced.  But there do seem to be some random endorsements from people I barely know.

Which feels a bit stalkerish.

And combined with the “well they vouched for me, I ought to find something to endorse them for” reciprocal urgings makes me feel  – well – awkward, at best.


So what would you do?  What do you do?

Posted by: phynbarr | March 12, 2013

What is an emotion?

Oh, I know the dictionary definition

“A mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes; a feeling”

But what do you define as a mental state?

Is surprise a mental state?  Confusion?  Is Love a mental state?  and if it isn’t, what is it?  The dictionary says it is a feeling and the previous says a feeling is an emotion.  So is a feeling a mental state?  Really?

I could get very confused and confuddled here so I’m going to stop

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