living and learning

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 → EntreĆ© 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!!'
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