living and learning

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

Monday, 8 March 2010

Grapevine 13

'What's your Plan B if they say no?'
- Adam on planning interviews

'I didn't do quantitative because it's rubbish.'
- Adam's example of a bad explanation

Friday, 5 March 2010

The great debate

A mock stakeholder fora was held this morning during the two-hour 'Environment, Society and Policy' lecture period. It was very impressive, and I would have followed the discussion closely if I wasn't running on 4 hours of sleep...alas the finer points were totally lost on me. A few things that registered:
  • Efficiency problems. Wind power is not so much a panacea as a poster-child for renewable energy. At least it makes a pretty and easily recognisable one.

  • Risks. I never knew that nuclear power stations increase risk of terrorism....I have however come across the idea of dumping nuclear waste in the Mariana Trench (apparently they decided not to once a survey team found living organisms down there). There's something incredibly wrong about that notion...but then again blowing up the carbon cycle doesn't look too good either. It's all about weighing risk + efficiency.

  • One of the main arguments against implementing nuclear power, wind energy, carbon quotas was that our efforts would be negligible in the global context, and only make life difficult for us. This is perhaps true on a personal scale - enforcing carbon quotas on businesses would make a much larger impact.
That said, the combined force of individuals is not to be sniffed at. While searching for recipes I came across a marvellous little site with the following quote:
If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road.
- The Love Food Hate Waste campaign

Now I don't know how credible that is, but don't you think the they have the best models ever? Baaaa.*

Love Food Hate Waste

* Banners at the bottom of the pages loop through 8 different types of 'food lovers'. Hilarious stuff.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The daily photographer

Sheffield Daily Photo

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Grapevine 12

'Hello fellow stats-heads...'
- Charlie addressing the 231 crowd via email

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Dissertation - stage one

So we've been allocated dissertation tutors. I got Nicky OG*, and I must say, she is one bold geographer. One tutorial later and our preconceptions of a 'proper dissertation' lay in shreds on the office floor - it's definitely one of those things you itch to share, so share I shall.

Rule No.1: pick something you're interested in.

Matt mentioned 'picking something that inspires you' in lectures, but Nicky really hammered the message home. 'Does that topic truly interest you, or is it just because it's a current issue and there's a lot of public debate floating around?' She lists some common picks: recycling, fairtrade, recycling, global warming, recycling...'Every year,' she gasps, 'every year we get a bunch of people doing recycling!! I mean, bins are boring!' Sure enough, I instantly spotted a pile of dissertations on the floor with the topmost one labelled 'blah blah recycling blah blah'. Nicky went on to explain that such topics are actually rather tricky to do well, because there's a lot of journalistic material but relatively little concrete research. A cloud of 'hot air', if you will.

So what are good topics for an undergraduate dissertation? What you are interested in. 'Virtually anything can be seen through a geographical lense,' Nicky explains, 'so don't be afraid to go for "your thing".' Apparently bungee jumping and music and street crime all make for great dissertations if that's what you're passionate about. It's going to take 12 months including summer; why not enjoy yourself while you're at it? An easy way to start would be to go to your happy place and start jotting downing things that really matter to you. Shuffle them, rearrange them by order of preference, lather rinse repeat. This is the first step towards a good dissertation.

Rule No.2: don't narrow down your topic just yet.

It's tempting to say you've got your stuff worked out. But before you attempt a serious literature review, it's only based on your own fuzzy picture of the field - which may or may not be accurate. Most probably not. Perhaps you will find more suitable 'jumping off points' after reading in and around the field.

Now this is where your dissertation tutor comes in. If you haven't done so yet, definitely go and ask them where you should start reading. My topic is 'public learning spaces', so I looked up papers on education, libraries, museums etc. What additional key words did Nicky suggest? Concept stores. High rise buildings. Architects. Umm...seriously, you ask? I wouldn't have believed it either. So definitely go see your tutor, they know much more than you do.

That's it for now. We've been given a week to ponder on our idiosyncrasies - yep that's stage one of the dissertation adventure!

* Order of the Goat (2004)

Monday, 1 March 2010

Grapevine 11

'We're going to try a working example and see how we fare...can I borrow you two?'
'If the 1s start here...and the 0s congregate here....'
'Does that make sense, people?'
- Adam's first stats lecture
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