Special Pages

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The missing Spring

Two weeks ago it was sub-zero, in terms of temperature. Last week the temperature was up to 27C. It remains that hot today. Whilst a 30C or even 60C swing isn't unheard of here over the course of two or three weeks as Winter rolls into Summer, we at least get a few days of Spring each year. At some point the temperature hovers around a nice cool 15C for a few days. The flowers bloom in quick succession. The crocuses first, and then the daffodils out by the first week of April. The trees bloom and then by the end off April the dandelions come out, by which point the temperature is  ready to heat up. This year, with a milder winter (yes just below freezing is mild), the process has started earlier. Unfortunately, we missed the cool temperature part. It really was around freezing one day (with snow) and then up around 20C the next. The flowers have only just come out and I'm in the unusual position of wearing shorts and sandals before the trees have even started to bud.

The cold weather is hard, and I don't do well in the heat. I always look forward to my few days of moderate temperatures, but they have not materialised so far.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Weights and Measures

Every Monday and Wednesday, while we wait for my wife's lecture to start, we listen to a group of soil science undergraduates discussing their weekly assignments. A couple of the students know what they're doing but more seem confused. What they're confused about is the mathematics. The maths is quite simple, from my perspective, they are simply calculating masses for the most part. At any rate all of the calculations only involve multiplication, division, addiction or subtraction.

There are two reasons why these undergraduates seem confused. The first is that find themselves baffled by mathematics in general. You have to wonder why such students chose to study a science for their degree. This same problem happens back in the UK. Students who are interested in science but dislike mathematics choose what are perceived to be softer sciences, such as environmental science, thinking they can minimise the amount of calculations they'd have to perform. Unfortunately for these students soil science and other such disciplines contain a lot of calculation. There is a perception problem. The perception is that the earth and environmental sciences contain a lot more descriptive analysis than quantitative.

The second reason that these students are baffled is that they have to use metric, a system that they are not used to. When you grow up knowing about feet and inches, it is hard to envision centimetres and metres. Making it harder for the students is that the initial questions are set in Imperial units. That's to say the students have to convert from Imperial to Metric in the course of their answers. The questions are set in Imperial because it helps the students to visualise the problem. However, their answers are required to be in SI units (which are mainly metric) because they are studying a science. This leads to some statements along the lines of "What do we multiply by to convert from yards to metres?"and "Do I have to divide by 14 here". This leads me to think why make it so hard for them. Why not just use metric measurements in the first place.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Is it a Boy or a Girl?

It's amazing the amount of comments one gets when one is carrying a baby. Even at nearly 5 months I still get a lot of comments from strangers about my baby, even for a culture that is incredibly bouncy (genuine or not -have a nice day!!!). Strangers hardly ever used to speak to me before. The most common question is "How old is he/she/the baby?" The exact phrasing depends on whether the questioner is sure that my baby is a boy or a girl or whether the questioner is not sure. It's actually difficult to tell, either way. After that opening gambit, the stranger will often ask about the sex of the baby, unless that information has already been supplied. My baby is not yet old enough to be running around screaming so strangers are often very pleased to stop, smile and say hello.

No one asks me about me. This can actually be quite useful. Whilst my wife is teaching on campus, I'm often wandering around the buildings having a look to see what is around. No one has stopped me to ask me what I'm doing, but they have stopped to smile at the baby. It's not that I'm going anywhere I shouldn't, but if I was just a guy wandering around I would have been asked whether I was lost or needed help. Now, people seem to assume I'm meant to be places, even with a baby. I guess  they reason that someone wouldn't be on the sixth floor of Microbiology with a baby, unless they were meant to be there.