Thursday, 22 October 2020

Build your own education

I'm a couple of weeks into retirement and have already acquired a couple of students to shout at. Not my students, I hasten to add; they are somebody else's students. OR, and this is the point of the polemic, these youngsters are their own students and not teacher-chattels unless they choose to be. It's about taking ownership of your own education through assertiveness and the exercise of choice. The interesting students are those who kick over the traces and do something unexpected. Like the two lads who set off from Ireland, with sketchy school-french but plenty bravado, for Dijon in Summer 2019 to find work in different science labs.

My most recent acquisition has that in spades. It is an option for Irish undergraduates to spend one of their 4 years of studenting in America. It's like the wonderful Erasmus scheme, without any of the infrastructural support. It therefore takes an exceptionally determined, and well-connected, kid to make that happen. But this fellow had made in happen and thereby broadened his horizons considerably: geographically, socially and educationally. e's now in his final year and has signed up to do a project which has a significant slant towards molecular evolution and bioinformatics - hence my appearance in his orbit. Depending on how charitable you feel, my toolkit in the field is either 5 10 or 20 years out of date. But my crap-detector is better than any 20-something: it goes with the territory along with the silverback and missing teeth.

Anyway, the suggestion was floated that Wozzayank could benefit from this on-line Coursera in sequence analysis and 20 minutes later maybe that Coursera would be better. With a certain amount of justification W affirmed that he saw value in either of those options but asked which one was the preferred? 

To which I replied [bear in mind that I'd never met the chap]: "Ah now W, don't put it back on us; have a look at each syllabus and see which one best floats your boat. There are so many dimensions to the subject and you'll feel more comfortable in some. They say "the Y-chromosome carries the 3-D visualisation gene" and you produced some beautifully informative overlays of homologous structures in your prelim report. But you may be more productive looking at rates and constraints of evolution. Then again, you might think that one of the courses will beef up something not in your current tool-kit. Or, finally, look NOW at the second hand of your watch. IF it's an odd number do the First Course IF even do the Other Course."

A couple of days later, I was talking to TGWIH about which of several modules in her OU course she should sign up for this coming academic year. I was therefore primed for that question and I think it is useful to summarise the polylemma in three Fs:

  • Fun
    • Choose the course which seems most interesting. If you're grown up and/or protestant that might include embracing a challenge, even if daunting. Far too many young people have been duffed up by the system and their crap teachers into believing that they can't do math or foreign languages or cooking or soccer. College is maybe your last chance before retirement when the pressure is off and The Past is behind you and you can re-invent yourself as a building-jumper.
  • Foundation
    • You may be young but you have skills, talents and aptitudes. It might be sensible to choose the next course because you have nailed some of the pre-requisites in your lived experience. That way you can leverage what you know already rather than starting with a blank slate.
  • Future
    • look ahead and think where you want to be at the end of the module or, better, at the end of the course. Which of the options will look best on your CV. Which will most likely turn into the dream job or the mighty salary boost that you surely deserve.
Arrrrrgh! Whatever you do don't take the last option unless it includes substantial elements of the other two. Imagine if in 2016 you had reluctantly signed up for hotel management, or flight school, or RADA because of a family connexion or parental expectation or because you had expectations of driving a Lexus before you were 30. You would have endured 4 years of tedium, struggle and financial haemorrhage only to find that those careers are now dead in the water.  But don't over-think the problem either. There is a fourth F:

  • Flip
    • Make your own luck. If you have the capacity for happiness you'll thrive in whatever course you take, so you may as well flip a coin.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Shroom Season

I went for a walk across our fields on Sunday last and got to talking with some ­čî×heliophiles­čî×. As well as finding a novel petroglyph, they also reported that their lunch had been marginally disturbed by a pair of metal-detectorists who were sweeping the ruined steading on the Wexford edge of our common. 

Slightly shifty strangers were therefore in my mind as I wandered home from my excursion . . . and saw three young blokes intently searching the grass of my neighbour's 12 acre field. My eye-sight is no longer 20/20, so I crossed over the grass to see what they were doing. Pure curiosity, but I'm not shy that way, and what's the worst that could happen? As I got closer, I realised that they didn't have metal-detectors. Indeed, they seemed both ill-equipped and under-dressed for October in the hills.

They were not the least bit shy in admitting that they were collecting mushrooms. "What?", I replied, "magic mushrooms, like, Psilocybin?". The very same! They weren't able to say the Latin name Psilocybe semilanceata but knew it as Liberty Cap. It was a bit peculiar because with half an eye and half a brain, I'd noticed some unfarming people coursing across the same patch of field a few days earlier. I'd assumed that those distant bodies were members of my neighbour's extensive family of grown up children. It seems, rather, that the field has a bit of a reputation for accessibility among people in search of nature's bounty.

"As of 31 January 2006, the Government, in the exercise of powers conferred on them by section 2(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977, has ordered that ‘any substance, product or preparation (whether natural or not), including a fungus of any kind or description, which contains psilocin or an ester of psilocin is a controlled drug for the purposes of the Act’.1 The effect of this order is to render the possession or sale of so-called ‘magic’ mushrooms criminal offences under the Act. Heretofore, it was illegal to possess or supply magic mushrooms in a dried or prepared state but lawful to possess and sell them in their natural state".

According to The Lads, any upland sheep-pasture is a likely source of the fruiting bodies of  Psilocybe semilanceata at this time of year. Fungi are saprophytic - they get their energy by robbing it from photosynthetic plants. But each species will have a preferred host and a preferred time of year for sending up the obvious part of the organism and shedding a few reproductive spores. Liberty Cap penetrates the root systems of grasses in pasture: the presence of sheep somehow encourages the presence of the fungus. And it seems that sheep will eat the fungus and zone out. Again the lads said that 20-30 fruiting bodies, dried down to 3 grams would be a handy sort of a dose. It is hard enough work down there in the grass to get that much together, so I don't think anyone is making money from the psilocybin trade. Then again, you don't have to look for the fungus in the long grass - we mowed our fields really late this year and they'll still be throwing up their fruiting bodies. The downpour over the last 24-36 hours will have turned the harvest to mush though; or so my informant tells me. And that the vernacular Irish for Psilocybe semilanceata is pookie, although that term might be generic for all basidiomycetes.

My cursory reading of the health issues associated with shrooms implies that they are "mostly harmless". And certainly far less damaging to the population's health than alcohol. But there is far too much money and patronage riding on alcohol to suggest that it too should be banned. otoh psilocybin is being trialled in Tallaght for treatment-resistant depression. Looks a lot like the neurotransmitter serotonin. That seems to be a clue as to its function. John Kelly, psychiatrist in Tallaght and TCD, is recruiting guinea-pigs for his next trial: psilocybin@crp.healthcare and apply, especially if you are clinically depressed and anti-depressants don't work.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Parking possible

I was boasting a couple of weeks ago, about how I executed a neat bit if parallel parking in a tight spot outside Dau.II's gaff on Xxxxxx Xx, in the  People's Republic of Cork .

That was then, this is 08:30 today:

Cue Blondie! This is what happens if there is a) dump of rain b) a southerly wind to back up the R Lee outflow c) a Spring(ish) tide.  Apparently the Silver Yaris doubles as a boat. It could be, has been 2009, worse! And 2014 and 2016, Send wellies.


More Petroglyphery

Sunday started in the clouds - I couldn't see the other side of the valley until about 10 o'clock. Beyond counting the sheep legs [N = 56, which is the expected multiple of 4] and, Wenceslike, gathering some winter fuuuuuelll, I didn't really step out of the house. After a light lunch, I seized a feed-sack and set off towards the river picking kindling because there was a drying wind.  I was surprised to see a small group of people at The Ringstone taking stock and taking pictures and clearly paying attention. Turns out I had met them a couple of years ago further up the hill and, apparently, I'd given them far far TMI about me and airily invited them to visit The Ringstone of Knockroe before they went home.

We fell to comparing notes about the various example of petroglyphs in the neighbourhood; and further afield. They'd never heard of the truly amazing Rathgeran Stone, for example. I see that my Rathgeran link to Megalithomania is broke [sic transit gloria interweb], so here's some pictures of that wonderful piece of work. They were delighted to tell me something I didn't know about my own back garden hill. And proceeded to give me directions to a) an Ordnance Survey broad arrow bench-mark up the lane beyond the forest and b) right opposite a stone with ¶P marked on it. As you see from the pixellated pic [R] I didn't have much difficulty, from their precise description, finding b) ¶P; but the bench-mark eluded me. It is conceivable that the hand which chipped the [to me missing] benchmark is the same as the author of ¶P.

Bagging bench-marks [as L] is A Thing. They are really distinctively the work of human hand. Their locations are documented . . . <duh> on the maps, like. And they take you out of the urban stews where most of us live and give BM-hunters the chance of some fresh air and a bit of a puzzle. Puzzle? Because benchmarks were mostly inscribed 150-190 years ago and . . . things change. The original surveyors wanted to leave a 'permanent' mark so that they or their successors could return to precisely the same spot later. Why? to fill in the cartographic details, or to verify the position? So they chose something that was substantive: likely to weather well; unlikely to be knocked over my a sheep or washed into a draw during a flood or covered by moss or ivy. Nevertheless without the original surveyor's notes these things can be hard to locate in the, say, 50-100 sq.m. where the map suggested they are. The OSI map says, for example, that we have two benchmarks on our property; one at the top of our garden, the other ~10m up from the bottom of our lowest field. They are both out on the laneway side of the retaining wall. But I've not been able to find either one in 24 years of desultory hunting and scraping.
tbh. I'm not that pushed about the bench mark[s] which are very much public domain but I'm delirah to add more historical [rather than pre-historical] data to the collection of vernacular lithic communication. 

I will add the ¶ilcrow Petroglyph to the deranged scratchings of Storyrock and tip my hat to Martina, Dec and Rachel my informants. Having started the day in ☁, I finished up on ☁9.

Monday, 19 October 2020

pay peanuts, propagate pandemic

Joinedy up thinking is harder that promulgating a series of arbitrary rules: 

  • 2m distance; 
  • 15 minutes of contact; 
  • outdoors good, indoors bad; 
  • masks not visors; 
  • not those masks, these masks;
  • corona not coronaries;
  • covid not cervical

You will have heard the no-mask argument that "people" [that's me, and you] will take greater risks on distance and parties so long as they are dressed bandito. As if "people" were incapable of dealing with two ideas at once. Ian Mackay's swiss cheese model for comprehensive complementary control measures is graphical and helpful


It's like the sieve of Eratosthenes a series of grids each with a different granularity and starting points which allows only a tiny fraction of the particles to reach the other side. It's not an ideal model because it would be super-helpful to know quantitatively which slices were most effective [had smaller or fewer holes] especially if these were cheapest [in money and social cost] to implement. I suspect that distance trumps masks and probably hand-washing. Me, I would be really leery about touching tap in a public restroom. The chief benefit of I R Retire is that I don't have to use the jacks at work which, at the best of times, were never properly cleaned. and they offered only warm-air aerosol concentrators for hand-drying.
Tweeters I love and respeck are getting grumpy at the continuing uncertainty: "Just tired and ground down by this. The back and forth, the absolute waste when the gov. make a reopening roadmap they abandon a few weeks in, a detailed level structure they immediately ignore. Mental health is paramount, but you can only see people if you can pay to go out."

In March, I was paying attention to the nightly reports of covid-cases and covid deaths. I had them all in an excel spread-sheet and was plotting the % change as well as recording our family's coffs and sniffles. Then about the middle of April I stopped: the covid cases count was meaningless unless The Man was testing people pro-actively rather than reactively. Better still would have been to test a large number of randomers off the street to establish a baseline. That was why I was excited when Ioannidis and Battacharaya carried out the Santa Clara County count. That got a lot of adverse scrutiny and I had to retract my imprimatur. 

But FFS, IF 80% of infected people are asymptomatic but still infectious THEN we should be testing a hella lot more people to flag the carriers so they can be isolated. Even if the tests are imperfect, we should be making it easy and free/cheap to get tested 

  • a) if we're feeling crook in the covid-peculiar [I can't smell anything PDF] ways of feeling crook 
  • b) if we know we've been [< 2m + >15 min] too close to a likely contact.
  • c) if we are worried [give everyone Three Free Covid-test Vouchers and a back-up referral to an OCD clinic]

It's like STD clinics; it's a pub[l]ic good service. Heck, the STD clinics could be doing the testing: they are trained to be careful with bodily fluids. When Dau.I was sick in the Summer and work paid for a test, she had to wheeze her bike 5km to  the nearest test centre and 5km back home to bed and  lem-sip . What's that about? It's like schlepping a vulnerable 95 y.o. to a fomite-blistered clinic for a 'flu jab. Outside the box thinking [rather than suit people with good health, a government job thinking] would deliver these elders their inoculation outside their own front doors.

Tom Cotter: "The reason Taiwan and South Korea were so successful in controlling covid19 was rapid relentless testing and contact tracing. If you were a close contact they even came to your door to test you. No ifs or buts you got tested. This is not the case on Ireland I’m afraid".  Just how little of a shit the Irish Government gives about testing & tracing was revealed when Contact Tracers, a skilled job requiring painstaking dedication, were getting offered zero-hours dismiss-at-will contracts. Oh no, that was a clerical error,  the HSE claimed, when this shameful fact was public-domained by radical TD Richard Boyd-Barrett. 

At the beginning of Coronarama we were hopeful, in a silver lining sort of way, that the crisis would force us to address other shameful treatments of the weakest members of our society: workers and residents in nursing homes and cr├ęches, the dark denizens of direct provision centres, shelf-stackers and cashiers in the retail sector. What this force-of-change amounted to, in the end, were a series of cost-nothing, do-nothing sops to the collective conscience like institutionalised rounds of applause for front-line workers.

I R Retire now since 2nd October, but I'm still on the mailing list for The Institute. The President's address on Friday 16th October reflected on the plans for an inevitable change upwards of the Pandemic containment measures from Level 3 to Level 4. NPHET, [National Public Health Emergency Team] has been advising for Level 5 measures for 2 weeks now (and the government have been stalling; the cabinet meets again today). But The President was/is unable to plan effectively for this extremely likely development because "The prospect of a movement to Level 5 restrictions for Adult and Higher Education is less clear because the descriptor for this level currently states, “Recommendations based on situation and evidence at time”.  WTF? 

If not now, when?

Sunday, 18 October 2020

St Luke's Day

Luke the Evangelist: patron of artists, physicians, bachelors, surgeons, students and butchers (because he was often [R] metaphored as a side of veal?):

Saturday, 17 October 2020

More ears are needed

 I've reached that stage of life where I get to lose stuff, often hidden in plain sight. I haven't yet applied my self-advice to keep things simple and not tote around, or live amid, so much shite. This definitely true for my little red Yaris, which I use . . . for a variety of purposes. Up until recently, I used m'wheels to commute to work several days each week and often, on these voyages into a hostile world, I'd buy something [almost always food, occasionally petrol] from a shop. Those simple transactions seemed to me to require: own shopping basket; shopping bags, glass for recycling, bucket for hand-washing; gloves; mask. Other things accumulated from these transactions: promo-mags from shops; receipts. So the interior of the car is "cluttered"; but then I'm not vain about myself so it would be fatuous to become a suburban Saturday car-valetter. Apart form anything else I live on a farm, so there is a fair bit of real shite about the vehicle let alone the metaphorical shite.

It's not usually a problem!

But earlier in the week, I was i/c Pat the Salt, my venerable father in law, and one of the tasks on my ToDo list was "take Pat to GP clinic for winter 'flu shot". It wasn't a terrible day on the weather front but he's now 90-something and feels the cold more than sprightly me. I bundled him up in a hat and coat. Thermoregulation is not the only deficit of old age: Pat has glasses, hearing aids and going-out teeth, so he can see, hear, and look presentable. When we got to the clinic, following the SOP, I hooked a surgical mask over his already multi-tasking ears and in we went. The nurse was on time, although we were early, and we shuffled into their office. It was utterly beyond their world-view that Mohammed, with fully functioning legs, would come out to serve the ould chap. And The Only Place a 'flu jab may be administered is in the upper arm. I offered his neck . . . but nothing would satisfy the professional but that I unpack the old chap.

And a few minutes later we were safely back in El Yaris and I whipped off Pat's mask and <pToinnggg> one of his hearing aids flew into the back of the car. I wasn't expecting this but glimpsed something travelling fast from the far side of Pat's head. Even National Health hearing-aids are pretty small and beige and the missing part didn't stand out in the complex environment back there. At least the search space was finite, and the hunt was successful. I tell ya, that's an exciting day in pensionland!