living and learning

Monday, 27 September 2010

Infographic of the Day - How Segregated is Your City?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

GAW: Rags, riches, and alternative recycling

This post is part of the Geography Awareness Week series.
Topic: Sustainable Urban Areas

View Larger Map

There are no charity shops where I live. There are no vintage shops. In fact in all my 14 years of living there, I have never once heard of any car-boot sales or clothes swaps or Gumtree-esque websites.

It seems that Shenzhen, a city of 8.9 million people, lacks something fundamental - that is, accessible ways of recycling used goods.

Wait a sec - then how come we aren't swimming in old electric fans and mobile phones and issues of Reader's Digest? Where does all the stuff go?

To be fair, I do know of a second-hand market for household appliances situated in one of seedier neighbourhoods (that we are urged to keep out of). And every few years there is a 'help the needy' campaign where our unwanted clothes are shipped off to the rugged, poverty-stricken inland areas of China. Second-hand dealers set out sandwich boards on their street corner pitches. Oh and there's the small used book shop just down the street...and I've pretty much summed up the state of 'official' recycling where I live.

I would say that we don't have that much stuff to start off with. We don't celebrate Christmas, so unwanted gifts aren't a huge concern. Furthermore, 'gifts' usually mean either a) fruit, b) local/speciality produce, c) pot plants, or d) cash (disguised as a red envelope during Chinese New Year). None of these are going to hang around for long are they!

Then there is the waste collection system. Bar the filthy rich and certain foreigners, everyone lives in a flat of some sort. You leave your rubbish/unwanted items in a designated spot in the hallway, and each morning the cleaners haul them downstairs to the back yard for the dustbin lorries to collect. Usually they will sift through the pile and hold on to anything of value - broken appliances might be repaired and dusted off to be taken home; old books and papers are bundled up and sold to the book dealer; plastic bottles are painstakingly washed and crushed to supplement one's meagre income.

One man's rags are another man's riches they say, and nothing holds more true in a city where $1/day exists alongside $1000/day.

But surely you ask, after all the influence from the West, the denizens of Shenzhen have caught on and started bartering used stuff by now? No, it seems that second-hand stuff has never been fashionable and never will be. Back in 2007 I helped set up the Shenzhen chapter of Freecycle, but had to back out after a while due to other commitments - 3 years on, it's all but on its last legs while the 'alternative recycling' scene is still alive and kicking!

It's true that the Chinese like their things new and shiny. Buildings beyond a certain age are pulled down to make way for bigger, better, shinier ones (hence the lack of ancient architecture in China). House plants are thrown out as soon as the Spring Festival is over, whether or not the leaves have started wilting. Seafood has to be alive up to the point of cooking.

I cannot understand this craze for 'untouched goods' - in fact I adore vintage clothes and period homes! My mum says that used items are considered 'dirty', and second-hand belongings imply that either you are stingy or you can't afford new ones, a big no-no when 'prosperity' is at the heart of Chinese culture.

In conclusion: even though it's not that obvious, things are being recycled in Shenzhen, possibly even to a greater extent than in British cities. It just takes a keen eye to spot it out.

Monday, 21 June 2010

GAW: Geography Awareness Week begins today!

In accordance with the Geographical Association's Geography Awareness Week, this week we'll be looking at various topics surrounding the theme of 'The Big Picture: Tackling Global Issues', namely
  • Population Growth
  • UK Food – Self Sufficiency
  • Disaster Management
  • Climate Change
  • UK Energy Dependency – How Bad Is It?
  • Inequalities in Consumption
  • Sustainable Urban Areas
Yeah. Time to get those noggins a-joggin'! Keen to read more? Get your resource pack here.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Magnificent Maps - British Library free exhibition

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

What is 'a geographical point of view'?

When you're supposed to be doing a geography dissy, but have been wading knee-deep in education and information studies literature all along, you're bound reach that dreaded jamais vu stage where you suddenly blurt out,
What the heck is geography anyway?? How does this stuff differ from sociology or education or whatever?
I had such an identity crisis a couple of days ago. I took the question with me to the dissy meeting, and got a very soul-soothing answer from the nickmeister. In short,
Geography is about space and place and relations.
Is it set in a specific location? Yes? It's geography. Is it in context of the wider social and cultural fabric? Yes? It's geography. Is it an isolated, highly specific study of something? Yes? Then it's not geography. Et cetera.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Going to the British Library, Boston Spa

This is a follow-up to the post on 'how to get hold of obscure books'.

Locker key, meal card, and visitor badge. Shiny!

I went to the Boston Spa Reading Room today and got my paws on that long-coveted book:D (This isn't the best time for me to go on any day-long excursion really, but the uni's minibus service only runs once a month and I'd be out of Sheffield by the next timeslot...) For first time readers who might be put off by the sheer effort involved, I can assure you that it's a very enjoyable and unique experience - definitely worth the trouble!

Getting on the bus is easy enough. Assuming you've booked a place and not overslept, and know where the Arts Tower is, there's very little chance of missing it. It'll probably be the only vehicle in sight, and definitely the only one with a clipboard-carrying librarian prowling around it. If in doubt, refer to the bottom right image in this collage:

Bottom right pic taken on 1.6.2010 in Tower Court car park.
Top right pic taken on 6.12.2009 outside BL St Pancras.
Others taken on 1.6.2010 at BL Boston Spa.

With an 8:45 early start, one might expect to arrive at Boston Spa by ten - if you don't get lost, that is. Two factors contributed to our delay: 1. the driver was new to the job, and 2. BL Boston Spa is smack in the middle of nowhere. Shitty maps played their part too. Fortunately our tiny party of 6 were in good spirits and didn't complain once during the extra 40 minutes.

BL Boston Spa is a most curious phenomenon. It is unlike any other library that I've been to. Not far from where it stands is the formidable fortress of HM Prison Wetherby, all high walls decked with barbed wire coils. What's this got to do with the library you say? Well when the minibus approached the library compound I couldn't help notice the stark industrial feel of the place: wire fences, squat sprawling buildings, greyish monochromes, a tiny indiscernible entrance. It could've passed for a prison if it weren't for the abundance of trees.

Once you're there everything is simple enough. You register at the reception desk to get a visitor's badge and a locker key. You can only take notebooks, pencils and a mobile phone into the reading room. Oh and laptops, there's free wireless apparently. You pick up your books from a shelf near the reading room entrance, and voilà! You're all set to start reading!

At lunchtime you can buy a meal card and join the hordes of BL employees at their 'restaurant' (glorified cafeteria) for a nice laid-back lunch. The food is tasty, the variety pretty impressive - they've even got a build-your-own-sandwich counter. The biggest surprise costs peanuts!! :O A hearty main course with 'taters and veg plus hot pudding and custard costs a measly £2.20, while a steaming cup of PG tips is 35p! Beats The Common Room any day IMHO.

An incentive to work at BL Boston Spa...

One caveat about the reading room: photocopying is expensive. 20p per sheet and they don't do double-sided copying. If you reckon you'll need to re-read a lot of the stuff, you're probably better off having the document delivered electronically. The bits I needed photocopying were within copyright guidelines (1 short chapter) so I went ahead and did it. The BL use a low-tech version of our uni printing system: you're simply issued a slip of paper stamped with an account number, and asked to type in a password on the reception desk computer as the librarian knowingly looks the other way. The printers are then operated through touch screens pretty much like our own.

At the end of the day, do remember to return your keys and visitor badge to reception. If there's credit left on your meal card the vending machine will round it down to the nearest 20p and return that with your £2 card deposit. Or you could keep it to use next time, if you ever get the urge to visit again;)

Monday, 31 May 2010

Bricks and Brass - when was that house built?

Friday, 28 May 2010

Postcode Portraits - reading the British landscape

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Sheffield Weather - the local weather experts

A: I wonder if it's going to rain?
B: [Whips out mobile phone] 100% humidity? You bet!
A: Hey it's raining!
(This dialogue took place in Crookesmoor.)

Friday, 21 May 2010

How to get hold of obscure books

We've all been there - after aeons of paper chasing, you come across the holy grail of your research area...only to find that the library doesn't stock it, and buying a copy will leave you £103 poorer...or maybe that's just me. Anyhow, if you ever find yourself pining for an elusive book, this checklist might come in handy.

  1. Check the university library

  2. No, really. Star catalogue has a few annoying flaws that can stop search results from showing up, so you need to circumvent them to be absolutely sure the library doesn't carry your book.
    • Make sure there are no redundant spaces in your search terms.
    • Remove all colons (:) and double quotation marks (") from the 'title' field. Star refuses to work in their presence:/
    • Make sure all search terms and any quotation marks (') or dashes (-) are typed in an English character set. This is a potential problem only if you type in more than one language.

  3. Check the public library

  4. Public libraries aren't very good for academic stuff, but it's always worth a shot. I've found pretty obscure books in the Sheffield library catalogue in the past; you never know what they might have. Signing up for a library card requires a valid Ucard or driving licence and 5 minutes of your time.

  5. Request it

  6. Our uni's Document Supply Service will track down your book for you, using none other than the amazing British Library Document Supply Centre. Simply fill a the form, stick on a free Authorisation Sticker obtained from your department, and hand it over to library staff. Alas geography do not supply undergraduates with Authorisation Stickers (I've asked), so undergrad geographers will have to buy their own at the library reception desk:(

  7. Read it in a Reading Room

  8. If you're a truly skint student - like me - despair not, there are other options. Our uni has a free minibus service to Boston Spa Reading Room, which is part of the British Library. At 7 million books, their collection is not to be sniffed at - chances are they'll have a copy of whatever you're after. To use the service, you need to check that
    Then it's just a matter of popping down to Western Bank Library for a request form.

    UPDATE: I've written up a personal account of the trip

  9. Suggest that the library buy it...

  10. This is the last resort really. You can actually recommend books for the library to buy, though there's no guarantee they'll oblige: I got a swift and polite email explaining how geography can't afford the book this year, and that they might consider it when it comes out in a cheaper paperback format. Oh and I was asked whether the book was recommended by a lecturer. Hmmmm.

If everything on this list fails, you might want to ask yourself, 'do I really need this book so badly?' If the answer is a yes, you might want to start planning your next fundraising event now...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Island of Research

I saw this charming map on somebody's office door yesterday. Isn't it the best? (Click on image for details)

A transcript of map features (detours in square brackets):

BEGIN HERE → (Sea of Theory) Bay of Literature → City of Hope → Jungle of Authority → Problem Range → Pinnacle of Dogmatism → Peaks of Confusion → HYPOTHESIS → Money Pass [→ River of Words] → Study Design → Instruments → Entreé Tactics [→ redesign path] → Pretest → Ridge of Boredom → Population data Run → Forrest of Fatigue [→ Serendipity mine] → (Ocean of Experience) Coding [→ Mount Where-are-we-going?] → Canyon of Despair → Data Analysis Jungle [→ more data trail] → Data fever-breeding ground → River of Data → D.D.D. Delta of 'dirty' data] → Wreck heap of discarded Hypotheses [→ Where-am-I Fog [→ Bay of Leisure → To Administration Island] → (Uncharted) The Great Fundless Desert → Nobudget Trail → Plains of Report Writing [→ Rewrite Trail → Bog of lost manuscripts] → Delta of Editors → Bay of Literature

Image from this page. First published in The Science Game by Neil Agnew and Dandra Pyke. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs (1969). 1966, prepared by Dr. Ernest Harburg (University of Michigan) and Elaine Stallman, and drawn by William Brudon.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Sounds Familiar? Accents and Dialects of the UK

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The end of stats

With Monday's lecture, second-year statistics came to an end. Getting all emotional over a module is probably a bit silly, but thankfully I'm not the only one!

While I did 'decide to enjoy' this module at the beginning of term, I still had doubts: all my life I've been told I suck at maths - might this module reduce me to a blubbering wreck on the floor of the MASH office? It turns out those fears were unfounded after all. A mixture of good course structure, amusing lecturers, and interesting material got me through the module relatively unscathed. I hereby present to you a list of life-savers:

Weekly practicals

Therein lies the essence of 231. Since statistical analysis is a skill, you can only go so far by learning the theory. In fact, I learnt more in practicals than I did in lectures and reading put together!

Weekly feedback

Not only did we get instant feedback in practicals, we also got weekly reports of common mistakes from the kindly module team.


These were meant to be group discussions of relevant cases, i.e. 'stats in real life', but...*ahem* some things never work out as planned;) Instead of debating the finer points of household transitions, we ended up patching every hole that ever existed in the fabric of our statistical knowledge. The module team have been tremendously good sports about it though, and never once lost their minds even when sorely tempted to do so. Now that's devotion!

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I'm sad to see the end of geography stats modules, but then again there'll be plenty of room for stats mischief in my dissertation. But that's a whole other can of worms...

Monday, 17 May 2010

The north-south divide in practice

Friday, 14 May 2010

Wanderlust - explore history's greatest journeys

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Double, double toil and trouble - voting chaos at a glance

This election was a mess and you know it. Polling stations across the country were caught by surprise as 'unprecedented' numbers of people turned up to vote. People got disenfranchised. People got angry. The smug ones started asking, 'you've been given 15 hours to vote. Plus a choice of postal votes. What went wrong??' Here's what went wrong.

Shortage of ballot papers

Too many voters, not enough votes. Being turned away just because some official thought turnout could not possibly exceed 80% is pretty shocking. In fact,
If this was happening in a third world country we would [be] talking about dictatorships and calling the United Nations in.
Nicely put. This raises the question, what are we doing with an entirely paper-based election system in the 21st century anyway?

Shortage of staff

One to check the register, one to hand out papers, one to keep an eye on the booths...alas for some areas there were
Only two people serving and three booths. In the past there used to be four people and five booths. I imagine these cut backs slowed things down.
That said, the heart of the problem probably lies with the outdated system itself:
Mr Monks argued that extra staffing at polling stations would not have helped because each station had just one register, with one person ticking off names.
People have also suggested that the books lack an unambiguous indexing system...which brings us to the next problem of...

Wonky registers

Let's face it - it's mainly the oversubscribed polling stations that you see plastered all over national TV.
Why were so many registered in one polling station - particularly a large number of students from Endcliffe and Ranmoore Village?
Assuming that can't be helped, they had the numbers down since last September - plenty of time to negotiate extra resources and/or sort out the register, which would have saved us of...


Officials at St. Johns Ranmoor polling station resorted to splitting the voters into two queues:
While at first this was based upon register number, as the evening progressed, this separation changed to discriminating between students and “residents”; the residents having access to a fast track queue to vote whilst students were held back.
Their motives may have been quite harmless, but the act has sparked much controversy.

Lack of Plan B

So what's our Plan B, for when polling stations go into overload due to unforeseen circumstances?
Reports from up and down the country revealed that polling stations did not adopt a uniform approach to dealing with people desperate to vote before the 10pm deadline.
Either we don't have one, or we've a very unfair one indeed.

Complete shambles. In the words of NUS national president Wes Streeting, 'what message does this send to first time voters whose votes will not be counted?'

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Icons of England - a portrait of our cultural landscape

Thursday, 6 May 2010

A vehicle for change

'Vote now,' says the car, 'VOTE!!'

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Cake & sandwich sale - fundraising week at geography

Next week, 4th - 7th May, third-year and Masters students along with the Geography Society are hosting a week-long cake and sandwich sale to raise money for the charity Friends From Marich Pass in Kenya.
Sparked by the slow progress of the construction of a new health clinic in one of the local villages, Tikit, students have decided to raise money as a way of 'giving something back' to those communities who partake in research for Geography Dept. students year-on-year. Money will be channelled through and distributed for projects in Marich, Mbara and Tikit by the Marich Pass Field Studies Centre.
In the first instance the funds will go towards completion of a clinic in Tikit where there are no health facilities for miles and towards the provision of drinking water. There is no potable water in the village. The charity also supports a number of educational projects.

See Facebook page for details: West Pokot Week

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

BBC People's War, Rationing - extraordinary tales of food

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Strange Maps - for your curiosity

Monday, 26 April 2010

Where's your five-a-day?

Image from PostSecret

Fresh fruit and veg and meat are expensive, highly perishable, and bland compared to processed food.

71% of consumers are aware of the government’s 5-a-day target but only 55% meet the target.

But sometimes I secretly wonder, wouldn't all the money spent on alcohol and ready meals and confectionery be quite enough to maintain a steady supply of five-a-days?

Friday, 23 April 2010

Grapevine 19

'You can be sat on a toilet with a laptop, logging onto Facebook...'
- Debbie on disembodied identities

'Trains are the worst ones: everyone can stare at your screen!'
- Debbie on off-line surroundings shaping on-line identities

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Sheffield geographer casts inequality in new light

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Dissertation - progress checklist

So the dissertation proposal deadline is approaching. For everyone prone to worrying their heads off, here is a checklist of essential things you should have done by now. (Compiled with help from a qualified geographer...who shall go unnamed for now:))

Progress Checklist

  • Decide on a topic and aim - what's your dissertation about?
  • Summarise the context - why does your research matter?
  • Read the relevant papers - how does it fit into existing research?
  • Pick your research questions - what would you like to find out?
  • Figure out the right methods - what sort of answers are you trying to get?
  • Think about the logistics - what will be more likely to work, considering time and cost etc? How would you go about doing it?
  • Speculate about the outcome - how will your research contribute to the field?

If you can safely say you've tackled each of these items and then some, congrats - you're all set to start writing up the dissy proposal! If your checklist looks a bit pathetic, at least now you know what to do:)

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Beauty of Maps - now on BBC Four

Monday, 19 April 2010

Eyjafjallajökull - a personal timeline

Unless you've been hiding under a rock recently, you must have heard about the ash. Lots and lots of volcanic ash in fact, freshly spewed out by the long-dormant volcanoes near Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland. This in itself is not terribly remarkable - what distinguishes this ash from its ash-brethren is that it's spreading rapidly over Europe and thus bringing worldwide air travel grinding to a halt.
Dear Iceland, we said 'send Cash' - can't you read? #ashtag
I had no idea a bit of ash would cause so much chaos, or even have a reason to affect my life. Well affect it did, and here's how the events unfolded from my unremarkable point of view.

Wednesday the 14th

Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes start erupting.

Thursday the 15th

  • I first read about the ash on Twitter, assuming it was a rare occurrence and not much else.
  • Read about cancelled flights on the Iceland-Europe route.
  • Talked to Dad about it - turns out he found out before I did.

Friday the 16th

  • Went to Notty House for dinner - housemate's friend from the US is staying over for the week and wanted to try out some proper English food!
  • Stumbled across the headline 'Volcanic ash found in Sheffield city centre' - realised this ash business might be more serious than I thought.
  • Looked up the pronunciation for 'Eyjafjallajökull' on Forvo - there were two entries, both pending pronunciation.

Saturday the 17th

Spent the day in the peaks doing conservation work and generally forgot about the ash.

Sunday the 18th

  • Was shocked to hear that housemate's friend was stranded here because all trans-Atlantic flights were grounded.
  • Housemate's friend emailed tutors about the situation, and was excused from attending lectures for the time being.
  • Starting to realise the scope of complications the ash has brought about.

Monday the 19th

  • Head of department sends out email titled 'teaching implications of volcanic ash' (you don't get that every day do you?:D)
  • Turns out 7 members of staff are stranded because of the ash. As a result quite a few lectures are cancelled.
  • Numerous helpful hashtags appear on Twitter, in an effort to aid stranded travellers.
  • I look up pronunciation of Eyjafjallajökull again - and still it baffles me no end!

I vaguely recall notions of time-space compression/convergence/distanciation from first year geography...which definitely play a part in this ash malarkey. I suppose it's a classic example of 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone' - we don't realise how the technology we take for granted have shaped our world views and society, until the day it malfunctions and we are left with a gaping hole. Let's say this a blackout, only on a larger scale. Let's say instead of tearing our hair out we whack out the candles (trains and ferries). Let's say we start thinking about why we would want to tear our hair out over a blackout, and what does that tell us about our perceptions of space...

Friday, 16 April 2010

Google Sightseeing - armchair geography at its best

Thursday, 15 April 2010

A bottle of soy sauce please. Err, which one?

Soy sauce aisle in Walmart (Shenzhen, China)

Soy sauce is the salt and pepper of Chinese cuisine. The versatile, unobtrusive condiment adds a touch of umami - the crucial 'fifth taste' - to any dish you happen to be cooking. It's part of our national identity, not unlike what Henderson's Relish is to Sheffielders.

15 years ago you could only get it at specialist Chinese supermarkets, all of which were a couple of hours' drive away, but since then the Brits have caught on and acquired a taste for the salty stuff:
Me: ...went to Tescos today, got a new bottle of soy...
Mum: What?? They now have soy sauce at Tescos?!
Times change, mum. Soy, falafel, pâté, hummus and all manner of outlandish food have been known to turn up in the student's pantry. Apparently Chicken Tikka Masala is the new Fish 'n' Chips!

Though our food culture is ever-changing, I wouldn't like to see the demise of English classics such as the Sunday roast and Yorkshire pudding. But I do dream of the day when you get to choose your soy sauce at the local corner shop:D

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

That 'sense of community'

Weston Park at sunset, 21.3.2010

Everyone loves Endcliffe. Everyone adores Tapton. Ranmoor didn't have any residents last year but if they did I bet they they'd be pledging their unwavering allegiance too. A quote from the uni's accommodation page:
I love it! The sense of community and friendliness is immense and I never have to worry about security.
City, on the other hand, is a different matter. I was on the City Community Development Committee last year, and one thing we were always trying to deal with was the lack of a sense of community. Is it because City is larger? Not true. Is it because City people are less sociable? Judging from the frequency of block parties and loud music emitting from halls: hardly. Or is there a better explanation?

We tried really hard at organising fun community events, probably more so than all the other communities put together, according to the uni's communities coordinator. Few of them were successful - while Endcliffers flocked to their events at the tiniest hints, City residents routinely ignored theirs. Excuses?
  • 'It's too far away.' (City consists of many halls scattered across a large area, unlike the other communities)
  • 'I'm not sure where it is.' (The only common room available for events is located deep in one of the many complexes, and normally only open to residents)
  • 'Can't be bothered.' (Would rather socialise within halls with familiar faces rather than go to City events where you don't know anyone.)
Proximity is the key word here. Student residential communities rely solely on proximity to bring their members together, take that away and you have no binding agent left. Hence 'the lack of a sense of community' among City members - the reason is, there isn't a natural community to speak of.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Free coffee tasting today and tomorrow at geography!

The marvellous Dr Coffee is offering free coffee for our tasting pleasure - all in the name of research of course! Pop down to C Floor of the geography department from 10:30am to 3:30 pm Tuesday or Wednesday for TWO free coffees of your choice:D

Where's the 'research' part, you ask? Ahh - the clever bit is that you will have to determine which of your two coffees better pleases the taste-buds, and surrender that information to the sacred entity that is research (Dr Coffee's, obviously). Not a bad deal eh? The official Facebook event page has further details.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Grapevine 18

'I hope you're all awake? Very good. Stats at 10 o'clock? Very impressive.'
- Adam in first lecture after Easter holidays

'Don't worry if it feels like your head is going to explode - that's fine...'
- Adam trying to reassure the stats crowd

Friday, 9 April 2010

Dissertation - keeping it together

Where have the Easter hols gone?? :( Two and a half weeks, and our dissertation proposals are due - better get cracking! A couple of lessons learnt so far:

Keep track of everything

I'd done the reading, found some meaty references, but when the weekly dissertation tutorial rolled around, I realised I had nothing to bring along! No lists or summaries, nada. It was was a grand mess - a bookmark or two here, a pdf file there - everything else resided in the foggy recesses of my brain. Not good, I figured, so I took the advice and got a 'master notebook' especially for the purpose. It's one of those fancy spiral-bound A5 project books with pockets (I tend to jot stuff down on scraps of paper), but any notebook will work just as well really. The plan is to put everything dissy-related in there, including searches and titles and ideas and whatnot. I've written down page headers such as 'things to find out', 'literature review resources', 'key papers', 'key dates', and 'questionnaire questions' (yeah my mind wanders) - the pages are mostly blank now, but if I keep adding things once they occur, I'll have a list of ideas handy for each leg of the journey!

Trawl the sea of literature...physically

My chosen area of research is rather obscure to start with, and even more so for the location I'm focusing on. As a result, my literature review tends to get stuck in a rut. A good way of stepping back to see the bigger picture is to go down to the library and browse the relevant shelves for related titles. I did a search with keywords and pinpointed 17 shelves of related material, each with perhaps 20 books. Around 300 titles to scan. Sounds horrifying, but I hit gold on the very first round - a social audit report that is the perfect working example of my vision if there ever was one! Definitely going to keep at it.

What valuable lessons have you learned?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Poll: What needs fixing?

You may have noticed that The Daily Geographer has had a tiny makeover. Changes include: new navigation bar, Editor's Pick, new footer with 'Random Post' feature, faster loading archive pages, subscribe-by-email option, 'like' and 'dislike' buttons...and a thousand little tweaks to the code. Some things obviously needed fixing, like archives that took forever to load; some things are a bit trickier. Help us decide what to fix by pressing a few buttons:

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Feeling peckish

I was walking pass Weston Park Museum today, and happened to see a massive yellow poster advertising this exhibition called 'Food Glorious Food':

Image belongs to Museum §heffield. Not me.

Look a bit familiar? Apart from the iconic Henderson's Relish bottle I mean. Well it turns out the masterminds behind it, the Changing Families, Changing Food research group has a branch in our very own geography department!

FOOD - oooh yes please. I'm particularly excited about the 'rationing' section, as I've always been fascinated by how people cope in times of hardship - a favourite haunt of mine is the BBC WW2 People's War Archives, especially the Rationing category. I've even pestered my parents for stories of 'how to make the most of your ration tokens'! (They were issued from 1955~1993 in China, and thus still on most people's memories.)

Alas it was late and Weston Bank Museum was calling it a day. So I sauntered home and splashed a healthy dose of Henderson's Relish over my chips instead.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Sheffield geographers first to witness drumlin in growth

...and they even made a movie to prove it! Featuring the film debut of Big Red, this short clip is a must-see for physical geographers everywhere;)

Monday, 5 April 2010

The Map Room - a weblog about maps

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Extra: The last Easter Sepulchre in Scotland

This time last year I was travelling around the UK with a friend, and we happened to stop for a couple of hours in Stirling, Scotland. The weather was exceptionally lovely, so we decided to forgo the touristy castle and go exploring instead - a most wise decision, for tucked away on the hillside was a rare gem: the Church of the Holy Rude. ('Rude' is an alternate form of rood, meaning crucifix.)

The church was quiet and empty save a woman arranging flowers in a recess in the wall. When she finished I asked her what it was for; she said it was an Easter Sepulchre, a model tomb that represents the one that Jesus rose from. Every Easter they put a bouquet there to celebrate Jesus' rebirth, and we were very lucky to have visited the day before Easter Sunday! All the more remarkable was the fact that it was the only one left in Scotland, as Easter Sepulchres are a primarily English feature.

There were more surprises. Engraved on one of the flagstones was this:
Unveiled by Her Majesty
on Saturday 24th May 1997
Being a bit of a Tudor history buff, I got really excited - James VI (or James I, depending on where you hail from) succeeded Elizabeth I, and was the first monarch to rule both Scotland and England. Wikipedia says that the Holy Rude and Westminster are 'the only churches in Britain still in use to this day that have been the sites of coronations.' So by pure accident I'd visited both on the list.

All this, and the church is still overshadowed by the nearby Stirling Castle. I wonder if it features in any 'alternative' sightseeing maps like 'The Geek Atlas'?

By the way, Happy Easter everone:)

Friday, 2 April 2010

Grapevine 17

'...the process of reading the necessary spatial data into the [geographical information] system is often very time-consuming, and hence costly. In fact it's not uncommon for data capture to account for 70~80 per cent of the cost of a GIS project. The main reason for this, is that data capture is still largely a manual process, often using a digitiser to input data from paper maps.'
- Steve in 1997

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Sheffield geographer helps solve Ice Age mystery

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

My food and I

'Eat well' is my mum's mantra, and as a result I can skimp on practically anything but food. I like my food fresh and simple; tins and frozen fare are inevitable for a busy student, but whenever I've got the energy and budget I pop down to the local shop for greens and cuts.

Now I've given little thought about where it all comes from until today. I was looking at punnets of red and green grapes (you can tell how fresh they are by their stalks), when a really good one caught my eye: the best before date was same as the others, but obviously these were fresher. Why are most grape stalks brown and withered anyway? Where I come from, green is the standard. A little box stamped on the film held a clue: 'Produced in Chile / S. Africa'.

That's a long way to travel for a bunch of grapes! Naturally I had to find out where the rest came from...

View in a larger map
O fodder, a long, long way you've come...

In case you get the wrong impression, this is not at all what my weekly shop looks like!! It's fancier than normal because a friend is staying over:)

I try to buy whole, in-season, and locally-sourced food whenever possible, but it's not that easy. For one thing, good food is usually more expensive, for another, some things simply aren't grown on this island.

It's a fascinating topic, and we'll be starting the 217 'food' block right after Easter, so keep your eyes peeled! Meanwhile why not make a map of where your food comes from? Send it to and it may even get featured on the blog!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Gapminder - watch your facts

Monday, 29 March 2010

Voluntourism and development in Tanzania

- Guest post by Chris -

Hi! I’m currently preparing for my dissertation like many others. Being interested in geographies of development, it was an easy decision as to what my topic would be about. 'Voluntourism' is the coined phrase for individuals wanting to spend some of their vacation volunteering and is one of the fastest growing sections of the travel industry. However, little research has occurred to understand the effectiveness of voluntourism on development: instead, focus tends to be on why people participate.

My dissertation involves working with Village-to-Village in Tanzania for 6 weeks to understand how their work aids the community and whether voluntourism is viewed as an effective way to help develop the area. They ask volunteers to help with education, agriculture and health projects, but I also want to know
  • Whether their volunteers have the skills required?
  • Do they only help in a financial way?
  • Who gains more from voluntourism, the donors or the recipients of aid?
  • Would locals prefer a different form of aid?
There are no doubts that the efforts made are for a good cause though. Village-to-Village (a registered charity) supports people in poor areas of Tanzania and Uganda. It helps orphans, supports a health centre, raises awareness of HIV/AIDS, educates the population and supports sustainable agriculture with special interest in improving nutritional awareness amongst groups suffering from HIV/AIDS and rural women.*

On receiving an e-mail advertising the charity, I decided that volunteering with them would be a great opportunity for research into developing areas. Also, it would solve the problem of 'gatekeepers' straight away as I would be working with them. Since applying for the placement, I have discovered why many people prefer to do research in their own country; organising a trip abroad for research is quite complex and costly, though hopefully it will all be worthwhile!

If you would like to support development in Tanzania, you can donate to Village-to-Village online via my Justgiving page at

The money raised will go directly to the charity while also giving me the right to volunteer with the them. Any donations would be greatly appreciated.

*NB Here are some related facts I found:
  • HIV/AIDS cause 1 death every ten seconds and more than 8,200 deaths every single day. 2.7 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2007 and there were 2 million deaths related to AIDS, bringing the total number of people living with HIV to 33 million. Out of an estimated 9.7 million people in developing countries that need treatment, only 3 million were receiving the medicines needed.

  • In Tanzania and Uganda over 30% of both populations are illiterate; approximately 40% of women and just over 20% of men.

  • This year a poor harvest due to drought has prompted Tanzania to stop issuing food export permits. There are 240,000 people in need of relief food.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Extra: Earth Hour is nearly upon us

This is your chance to take part in a global 'flash mob' raising awareness for climate change.
It is a call to stand up, to take responsibility, to get involved and lead the way towards a sustainable future:
The plan is to turn off all your lights at 8:30 (local time) tonight - and get as many people as possible to follow suit. Perhaps even take some before/after photos while you're at it? You can even see the events unfolding in real-time. More on the official website:

Friday, 26 March 2010

One hour short of a Sunday

The nation's finally losing it. Time and again we've speculated, but this time it's for real:
British Summer Time begins this Sunday, laddies. The uni's International Bulletin very kindly reminds us:
Luckily us geographers do not run the risk of being one hour late for lectures, as there are none during the Easter holidays. This and the extra hour of sleep on a start-of-term Monday, and I'm a staunch supporter of BST. Otherwise I couldn't care less which time we're on...though I doubt Viscount Midleton and Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents feel likewise.

Now on Twitter!

The Daily Geographer is twittering your way! From now on all new posts will be simultaneously published to our Twitter account, 'DailyGeog'. What are you waiting for?
Follow DailyGeog on Twitter

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

She'll be coming 'round the mountains

A couple of months ago Google withdrew their services in China due to a 'highly sophisticated and targeted attack' on their corporate infrastructure. It was a shocking and deeply disturbing move:
We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech. In this age and era we take it for granted as a basic human right, yet in some parts of the world it is still a privilege. A glimpse at internet censorship in China:

What does China censor online

More at Wikipedia.

Google complied with the rules and censored their search results for four years before finally giving in. Their solution? Move to Hong Kong, where internet censorship is not enforced due to it being self-administered territory. Yes you heard right, Google have recently decided to ditch mainland China for a tiny crowded island ruled by China anyway.

Google 2007 screenshot from Internet Archive.

As long as the 'Great Firewall of China' continues to exist, mainland users will not actually be able to open censored search results. But at least they can now see them! A small step towards the better, I'd say.

This reminds me of the first few stats practicals we did for 231, the ones where we compared Human Development Index scores with political freedom scores (among other things) for 94 countries worldwide. The stats showed that the more developed the country, the greater its level of political freedom, with 5 notable exceptions - 3 Arab nations plus 2 countries with communist ties. These countries have significantly lower levels of political freedom than is expected of their development levels. Not surprisingly, China was one of them.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Grapevine 16

'You can just sit at your desk and crunch data.'
- Adam on the benefits of using second-hand data

Monday, 22 March 2010

What the weather!

The weather has been acting strangely over the past few days. On Saturday it poured, on Sunday the sun shone like anything, then on Monday it drizzled again. I wonder why?

Like any self-respecting geographer, I had a gander at Met Office's pressure charts and satellite images.

weather chart

Sure enough, a big fat low pressure system was over the Atlantic, sweeping its many arms over our unsuspecting island. Saturday must have taken the worst of that occluded front, and cleared the way for Sunday's sunshine. We might even have been under influence of that high pressure system over Europe: if anything, it does look tantalisingly close! Wetterzentrale confirms this for Monday but not so much for Sunday...hmm if only I had a couple more archived charts...

Spotted whilst rambling in Weston Park.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Signage in Sheffield

Clockwise from top left:
John's Van sandwich board outside Hicks Building, 8.10.08;
Squatters' banner on derelict house, Northumberland Road, 13.10.09;
Paternoster out-of-order sign by Arts Tower main entrance, 13.10.08;
Do-not-sit-on-the-scales sign in West Street Post Office, 7.11.08.

Photos taken by Mingyu.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The geography councillor says hello!

- Guest post by Nicole -

Hello Everybody,

I'm Nicole your geography councillor for 09/10. I have been busy recently trying to work out a dissertation topic and create a research question. It is a problem that most of us are facing at the moment. At first I had no idea what I was interested in, then my chosen question was too narrow. To be honest I am interested in quite a lot and it is difficult to choose a single thing to research for a whole year, especially as it is so weighted in marking. Today I finally decided a question, I'm waiting for a reply from my dissertation supervisor before I do too much else. Its scary how close it is!! Anyway, if anyone thinks that dissertations could be made less scary or intimidating let me know and I'll take it to council...

Bye xxx

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Dissertation - don't panic

We met up for another dissertation tutorial on Monday. Mass confusion ensued: some of us were floundering around without a clear idea of what to do, some had got so far only to hit a dead end, and a general sense of uncertainty just hung over the group like smoke.

'There have been rumours floating around,' Nicky muttered darkly, 'Jess tells me her students have been going on about them for a while.' We looked at one another. Nicky waved at the air in a no-nonsense kind of way and told us not to panic. It's very normal, she said, to go from having your stuff together one minute to totally losing it the next, like this:

If anything, it proves you're moving forward. The rumours? They're just rumours:
  1. Questionnaires are the way to go? 'Pfft. Questionnaires are useless if you don't intend to analyse the data afterwards.'

  2. Mixed methods > qual or quant? 'Don't listen to the rumours.'

  3. Start writing the proposal now? 'DON'T. Actually don't even attempt it until a week before it's due. You won't know what to write anyway before you've got the details sorted out.'
Thus 11/2hours later - amidst calls of 'tell Amy not to panic!!' - we trooped out the seminar room feeling much more confident about the whole thing.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Shiny new addition to geography common room!

Snack vending machine moved in today. Whoopee!!

A new staff/student common room is in the making on floor C of the geography building. It was scheduled to be ready by March, but things have been a bit slow... The arrival of vending machines however, is a sure sign that work is steadily progressing towards the final stages - in fact, geographers can now expect to come back to a fully functioning common room after Easter :D

Monday, 15 March 2010

Grapevine 15

'One minute you think you've got it nailed, the next minute it unravels like a giant ball of wool...'
'Do expect the wheels to come off the wagon regularly...'
- Nicky on what to expect when doing research

Friday, 12 March 2010

Not your average cartogram


g People infected by HIV g People infected by Malaria
g People with access to medical care


g Living on less than $10/month g Living on less than $100/month
g Living on less than $1000/month c Living on more than $100000/month

Burkina Faso

g Children who die before 1st birthday g Children who die before 3rd birthday
g Children who reach maturity


g Working 14 year olds g Studying 14 year olds


g Banana export g Coffee export g Cocaine export


g Oil consumption g Oil production


g Women who endure genital mutilation c Women who do not


g In favour of the war in Iraq c Against the war in Iraq g Don't know where Iraq is

Source: Grande Reportagem magazine.
See Epica Awards page and

Thursday, 11 March 2010

How to access journals from anywhere on earth

(Assuming you have internet connection and an academic email of course.)

We had our second dissertation seminar this Monday, and one of the issues raised was reading academic journals outside the university library system. Take Google Scholar for example: it may be one of the best search engines around, but links usually take you to a title page and abstract...much to your annoyance the actual thing is coyly hidden behind a text link reading 'subscribe now for ridiculous £££/year!' Bummer:(

Let me assure you that 80%* of the time, you can laugh in the face of that silly little link. Those dreaded tuition fees and student loans and moldy food? It all boils down to the privileges of being a student in a developed country - for one, you get access to millions of journals for free. University has actually done some dirty work before robbing us of our life savings, hurrah!

Right. Now if you're in the library, external journal providers are obviously going to know you've paid up. The problem is when you use Google Scholar on some unregistered computer (any laptop/computer that's not connected to the university or residential network), they won't know that. So you have to log in to get access. Assuming the university has paid for the service, there are two ways to do this:
  1. Log in via Shibboleth, or
  2. Connect via Virtual Private Network (VPN)
The first option is for quickies - you search for a paper on a search engine, open the title page, and find a link that says 'login via institution' or something similar. (You might have to click on 'login' to find it.) From there you'll be able to choose your university and log in via Shibboleth using your uni account.

I'm spiffy. £££/years are not.

Shibboleth is still a fledgling system, only implemented in July 2008; we are very lucky to be the first to use it. Such a charming name too:)

But this might get fiddly if you're embarking on a paper safari. For large-scale trawling it's just easier to use a uni computer - or better yet, pretend you're using one. Seriously that's what VPNs are all about. You set up a connection on your laptop, and them lovely uni servers will assign you a temporary uni IP address (a computer's 'name'), effectively disguising you to the world at large. Computers are stupid and won't know the difference. Proof: during holidays I use the uni's VPN to get past the notorious Great Firewall of China and surf Wikipedia and Facebook to my heart's content.

It's a breeze to set up. Searching 'VPN' on your uni's website will tell you all you need to know. [Lazy Sheffy geoggers click here] Incidentally our remote access password is called 'RATS' (Remote Access to Sheffield). Rats...moles...we seem to have a thing for tiny rodents:D Thus lamely concludes this rather long-winded post...erm I wish I could write my essays with such gusto! One can wish, right?;)

*Wild speculation; no research done whatsoever.


Lina very kindly pointed out something I missed:
There is a third way though it's basically same as the one via Shibboleth. In the Google Scholar preferences add "Library Link" for Sheffield Uni library (or another library). Then the articles which you can access via Uni will have "Find@Sheffield" near search results. If you are logged in the MUSE (in another window/tab), you won't need to enter user name/password. Of course, via VPN is probably the most convenient way but if you have problems with VPN connection...

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Grapevine 14

'And in case of last minute panics, can I reassure everyone that there are no cunning Pooh traps for Heffalumps designed to trip you up or catch you out in the regression assignment: it really is meant to be quite straightforward.'
- Charlie to procrastinators
*looks around guiltily*

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A nifty guide to doing dissertations

Companion for Undergraduate Dissertations
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