Link graveyard (lots of French)

I have this unhelpful habit of following links to something interesting and thinking, “that’s interesting, I must do something with it.”

I then leave the window open in my browser. Thanks to new browser technology, when I re-open it next time, Chrome still has a bunch of interesting tabs I don’t know what do with. They have been there for months. I don’t know who sent me to them in the first place, but there they still are. So that I can finally close them and get browser closure, here’s a selection:

Awful translations.

Many of these are funny to good speakers of French and English. But many are too rude to share with school students.

Funny photos of Paris métro stations.

Interesting. But what could I do with them? Shared in the context of teaching about Paris, which we don’t really do.

A Dilbert cartoon about being shamed for asking for training.

This would have been useful if I had found it when I still had a responsibility for councillor’s professional development.

An article in French about why the French are bad at learning English.

An interesting twist on the usual fare about why the English are bad at learning foreign languages.

Introverts in the classroom.

I’d talk to you about this right now but I’m too shy.

Away from my usual focus about teacher introverts, this is something aimed at teaching which allows space for students who are less than happy with group work.

A table of weird French that sounds like English, along the lines of Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames.

A teacher twitter colleague keeps sharing awesome resources that are essentially French LOLcats, or the funnies that are shared on Facebook, but translated into French. I would be retweeting these in a heartbeat were it not for the fact that his twitter account is locked, and I can’t.

Teaching responsively

I like the idea of having a drawer full of resources that can be used for anything to make it look like you planned the diversion you ended up on.

An essay about Tom Lehrer.

I’m reading this slowly because there’s so much of it.

This might be a good way to revise colours in the run up to French GCSE.

Walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats for charity

Here’s a fun thing I am doing virtually with Fitbit and the internet: attempting a long distance walk largely within my classroom.

Towards the end of last year, people in the Fitbit UK facebook group pointed me at a charity group in which a bunch of people attempt to walk the length of the UK – 605 miles.

The group doesn’t mind at all how you do the miles – walk, run or zimmer frame, its description says – so long as you post periodically how you are doing.

Fitbit send me a weekly summary email so all I do is take that, convert KM to miles and post each week. The mail comes through on a Monday, and last week’s put me well over 100 miles already this year, largely done at work. That puts me kind beyond Bristol and in Wales already and suggests I will have done the whole walk by around June / July.

Whoever runs it posts regular status updates to tell walkers what milestone they have reached, along with a lovely photo from somewhere in the UK.

ALEX FOSTER at 110/605 miles you are outside Swansea in Killay; The village of Killay evolved as a direct result of the south Wales coal industry. There were a good number of mines in Killay, the Clyne valley and in the neighbouring village of Dunvant dating back as far as the 14th century. The largest company, but also one of the latest, to mine coal in the district was the Killan Colliery Company, which began operations in 1899.

Someone not much further forward – 161 miles – has just passed St Lawrence’s church in Ludlow and there are a lot of people in the group at various milestones in Shropshire at the minute. The first few people have already completed the race and there’s a significant minority crossing the border into Scotland already.

Better still, your modest annual sub also pays for them to post you a real postcard from time to time from where you have supposedly got to – I got one at the end of January from the English Riviera.

If you’re interested in something like this, there is another Facebook group for virtual runs.

Milestone post

This, according to the wordpress system, is my 3,000th post since I began this blog in September 2004 with some initial jottings.

That post has some artwork which pokes fun at Ed Fordham, newly famous for his work on equal marriage, and nailbitingly close to beating Glenda Jackson in the last general election. At the time in 2004 his was a name that Simon Hoggart didn’t know – and Hoggart left us recently too.

There’s a link to Cafépress shop I’d forgotten I had with two designs – one about swearing in French and one about not like Skegness very much. How time changes a person.

If 3,000 posts in a little under 10 years seems a lot to you, bear in mind that for a large chunk in the middle, automatic posts of some sort or another were happening. I had a responsibility to provide content on Lib Dem Voice, which was automatically reproduced here by a machine that permanently knackered my categories. And for a long while, my prolific tweets were also munged into blog posts before the gizmo that did that stopped working as well.

These days the tone has changed as my work has moved from politics to education, and there has been the suggestion made on more than one occasion that living one’s life so publicly on the internet is a bad idea for a teacher. Although the writing contained herein is not worth a hill’o’beans it is perhaps the one project in my life that has some sustained continuity to it and it holds a great deal of sentimental value for me. As it happens, I don’t think what I write is of interest to my students, so although the blog has vanishingly rarely led to questions in the classroom like “what on earth are Mr Brain’s Faggots, sir?” I think I can continue with it without too much concern.

Indeed although some of the things I write about has a little interest for people other than me, most hours the hits to the blog are in single figures these days.

I’ve always struggled with the difference between personal and professional blogging, and mixed the two up merrily with scant regard for building an audience. I write, sometimes at length, what I want to, when I want to. It’s a personal archive as much as anything else and when I want to try and remember something I’ll often come here first. Had I wanted to be a solely political blogger, or these days, a blogger with a focus on education, I’d have had to follow the instructions better; write more tersely and remember Duffett’s first law – it’s not about you, it’s about them.

Solar panel performance – 2012

Another year, another desperately late solar panel performance post. It’s been sitting on my to-do list since January 2nd, but at least writing this will let me tick off something today.

solar 2012

So last year continued a downward trend that looks like it will be over by the end of 2013. At this stage in the year, the graph is the only source of information still recorded so we’ll have to guesstimate the heat output as 3666kWh.

Nottingham Energy Partnership have an Energy Costs Comparison table. I neglected to look at it last year, so will have to use the data from last month now to estimate the financial value of the heat we got from the sun. I use the gas rate of 5.06p/kWh, since if the water were not heated by the solar panel, it would be heated by gas. Interestingly this appears to be a lower cost than last year’s gas cost.

That means the solar panel gathered around £185.50 of energy last year.

The running total to the end of 2012 is therefore £831.06.

There are all sorts of flawed assumptions being made to come to that figure, so take it with a fairly large pinch of salt.

This year I have had my annual half-hearted attempt to work out if it’s possible to do more comprehensive data logging using the equipment I have. I did pay extra for the ethernet connection with the idea of putting some sort of graph on my website to show how the system is doing in real time. I’m super jealous of this guy who has done exactly that with the same setup as me. And as a favour to everyone else he has made public the code to do it. And I don’t have a clue what any of it means or how to use it!

If you are considering a solar panel of your own, whether for hot water or to generate electricity, and you live vaguely near Nottingham, do please get in touch with Sungain at Nottingham Energy Partnership, who would be delighted to let you know what to do next. You can also follow them on Twitter, and they also have a very helpful service on their website that lets you compare your electricity and gas tariffs and see if you can save money.

Buckets more information about my own solar panel under this link.

And a declaration of interest: I’m on the board at Nottingham Energy Partnership, where they very kindly describe me as an “energy expert.”

Meal plan nowish

Ouf, I don’t know where the time goes.

(I do, I know exactly where it goes. 12 hour days of school work, and every waking minute worrying that the school work is not good enough is where it goes.)

Anyway, since I last allowed me fingers to fly over the keys of the blog, we now have a veg box arriving, the first last Wednesday.

Astoundingly, it’s around six years since we last had a regular veg box, and that was not a universally positive experience.

Still, on verra. After all, I’m massively less fussy than I… no wait.

This week’s offering from Riverford was – with one exception – all perfectly normal stuff. Carrots, onions, mushrooms. Apples, bananas (not as many as I would like) and oranges, which we don’t really eat but I can happily juice. A salad bag, some celery. And the only slightly outré offering – a head of kale. I can cope with these things. I could cope better if we weren’t already quite well stocked with veggies, but no matter.

We’ve been living a little from the freezer anyway, and will continue to do so this week, but here’s what it vaguely looks like:

(drawing a veil over two nights of takeaway)

Last Friday was leftover Thai pork patties.

Saturday was a visit to friends – they fed us lovely onion tartlets and a leg of lamb, and I made Raymond Blanc’s pineapple sorbet and Nigella’s Nutella panna cotta.

Nigella 's Nutella panna cotta

As written, the recipe needs more gelatin as the they did not quite set enough.

Sunday was the first real foray into the veg box – kale and potato cakes topped with grilled cheese and a celery salad with a mustard vinaigrette dressing. The potato cakes were made plainer than the recipe with no real spice at all, and were still good homely fare. The cheese helped no end.

Tomorrow, the plan is bangers and mash with onion gravy and the rest of the kale.

Tuesday, a small bag of pork mince from the freezer will become pineapple rice a recipe which introduced me to toasted sesame oil, a miracle flavour ingredient which does wonderful things to salad dressings and lifts the entire recipe up.

Wednesday is that busy night again, straight from school to yoga, and if we have the strength of mind not to come home via the chippy again, we shall have hummus and crudités and the remains of the veg box.

Thursday is the last day planned. Last time we had veggie falafel burgers the recipe made an absolute ton, so we shall be defrosting and frying the remains of that and eating it with pitta bread.

Munzeeing

So, a lovely visit to my family on the south coast has given me a new a hobby. My little nephews are currently obsessed with, among many other things, spotting munzees stuck to street furniture.

It is, at last, a real world application for QR codes that people might actually do. In my brother’s coastal town, there are clearly a bunch of people into this hobby as every lamppost for miles had its own barcode for people to hunt down and scan with the Munzee smart phone app.

Back in Nottingham, there are fewer around. My local park has a bunch and there are loads in the city centre, but neither of my local shopping districts has one at all. Well, we can fix that, I’m sure. Some near by towns have absolutely loads – Long Eaton is well represented. And one crazy local person has deployed over 4,000 of the little barcodes all over South Notts. You can use the website map to find if there are any near you.

Dahn sarf, I was clicking away like a mad thing, and captured a fabled seafront golden munzee – but in doing so, depleted my phone battery and it didn’t register. There are motel munzees with special features – the first five people to scan it get “rooms” in it and so they get points every time it is scanned. There are mystery munzees which award a different number of points each time they scanned and special holiday ones – for halloween, there were bloodshot eyeball munzees.

There are also social munzees, which don’t get you any points and don’t have to be located in a permanent physical location, so here is mine, which you can scan by downloading the munzee app:

My social munzee

Weekend Zentangles

A weekend spent – so far – doodling and clearing my head.

Immensely tired as we come to the end of the first half term and so I ditched ringing for the third week at the home to stay slobbed out in front of the TV.

I also came to keeping my hands busy and doing a bit of creative doodling, and so combined two hobbies: sending postcards to strangers through Postcrossing and making Zentangles.

Here are three cards I made:

Some Postcrossing / Zentangle crossovers heading off to post tonight

Today, more of the same. Some work in my sketch book

2013-10-19 21.31.56

Some new types of different tangles.

NB, my sketchbook looks like this:

2013-10-19 21.31.38

It reminds me of my solo audiobook for Librivox, for which I still get a lot of email thanks from around the world.

I’ve also been having a go at making Zentangle tiles on Artist Trading Cards.

2013-10-19 21.31.02

I also thought I’d have a go at making one in colour, using my fab set of multicoloured fineliners. But it looks rather a dog’s dinner.

2013-10-19 21.31.28

Perhaps I should read teh chapter in my Zentangle book about colour before I have another go.

I’m quite impressed with how some of these turned out. I’m no artist but am producing little bits of work that when I return to them months later, I find myself thinking they look quite good. And that’s without the added benefit of the calmness and quiet you get from just sitting doodling for a few minutes.

Most awesome German words

Some awesome German words

It all started with Schifffahrt, a fab word with a ridiculous triple F brought to you by the Neuschreibregeln in the late 90s. Earlier spelling rules said that triple letters that are the logical consequence of joining Schiff to Fahrt, should in fact just have the two, because, you know, that would sensible.

Then, after I did most of my German learning, the orthographic reform came in, throwing everything I knew into confusion and making the difference between long and short vowels crucial into whether you use ß or not, and adding in triple consonants if they are logically there.

For a while I was under the misapprehension that it was Grossstadt, but Duden says it has to be Großstadt.

But talking about Schifffahrt recently has unearthed other German friends’ favourite three-consonant words:

Seeelefant (elephant seals)

Programmmusik (“programme music is a type of art music that attempts to musically render an extra-musical narrative”)

If one triple consonant just isn’t doing it for you, there’s also Flussschifffahrt.

And triple consonants are just the half of it. There are also the super long words. The UK press was full of the Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz over the summer.

But when I showed some of the stories to German friends on choir week, it was a completely new one to them – and they pointed me in the direction of the Eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher. You can see one of those in the video below.

What are your awesomest German words?

Edit 6.x.13

Some more awesome words from this BBC discussion:

Imbissstube (how could I forget that?!)

Fußballländerspiel (international football game)

Balletttänzer (ballet dancer)

Betttuch (as opposed to Handtuch or Taschentuch)

Schusssicher (bullet proof)

Kaffeeernte (coffee harvest)

Zentangling Siena

Now that the postcard has finally arrived I can share some patterns I found in the Duomo di Siena.

First some background!

Zentangling is a deceptively simple meditation / doodling crossover that I have been playing with for a few months. I see from searching these pages however, that I haven’t blogged about it yet (although you will find some photos of my art here.)

I started off using the book One Zentangle A Day but have fallen way way by the wayside.

Zentangling’s premise is that you can produce quite complex interesting art “one stroke at a time” – there is a method that helps you build up patterns by following a series of strokes. The various different patterns – called tangles – are “taught” by using diagrams like this one that shows you what order to do the strokes in. Tanglepatterns.com is a brilliant online index of loads of different patterns and places to find their step diagrams.

At the time I found out about these for the first time, it had recently been creativity week at school – a system we use where all the residential trips and work experience placements happen at the same time to avoid lots of small groups of students being out at different times. Those staff and students left in school have a week off timetable doing something completely different. So I half wonder whether I could use this if there ever comes a year when I am in school and not out on a FL visit.

Since starting, I have been intrigued by the patterns I see around me and wonder whether they could inspire new tangles. Re-reading the instructions about the difference between a tangle and any old pattern perhaps not.

Although I have spotted interesting patterns all around, the cathedral in Siena was simply on another planet. Every available surface is completely covered in art, much of it representative, but much also based on recurring patterns. Indeed as an English protestant, used to much plainer places of worship, I kinda felt the Lego cathedral was a little de trop.

In any case, here are the tangles I drew on a postcard to similarly afflicted friends, followed by bad, flashless, cameraphone pictures of the things I saw that were the pattern in the wild, in the cathedral.

Duomo zentangles

Duomo zentangles

Duomo zentangles

Finally the right-hand O came from an illuminated symbol in a beautiful manuscript of plainsong in the crypt.

Duomo zentangles

There are strong resemblances, to my mind, of the official tangle “Mooka” which is explained in this video:

To loop it all back to education – and even to languages – a wonderful post by blogger and primary languages expert Clare Seccombe, who is currently entering a competition inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels (which I failed to go and see whilst in Durham this summer) and European Day of Languages.

Alex Foster and the impossible summer projects

As part of the school trip to Germany we watched a bit of a Harry Potter film marathon and I disclosed to a colleague that I have never read the Harry Potter books. I was promptly given the task of reading them all over the summer holidays. On Kindle, they’re quite expensive – The Complete Harry Potter Collection will set you back almost forty quid, as will a set of paperbacks. Harry Potter – The Complete 8-Film Collection [DVD] [2011] is, however, much more affordable.

Fortunately I have friends who were more than happy to lend me the complete set and last night, the first night of the holidays, I finished Philosopher’s Stone and a bottle of pale cream sweet sherry.

In a way, it is a shame to have seen the films before reading the books. Knowing all the plot points in advance it’s fun to spot the red herrings and the seeds of what’s going on (eg Quirrell’s turban). I find it a shame that I cannot picture any of the characters without having the famous movie actors in my head. Still, I’ve seen at most three of the films so the later books will still be new to me.

It struck me as I read the first parts, in which Harry finds out who he is, that he is a celebrity in the magic world and the muggles are oblivious, how much the world has changed in the sixteen years since HP was first published. There can only be a very few people picking up HP books now who don’t already know who Harry is – in fact, they know Harry is a wizard before Harry does, if you see what I mean.

In addition to Harry Potter, the usual ton of “ain’t nobody got time for that” household chores to do, I also have to learn at least one, preferably two of the Japanese alphabets – hiragana for sure, maybe also katakana. Memrise is brilliant for hiragana – I am using this course which has some brilliant mems, including ke as a keg and na as a naughty nun praying in front of a cross.

ke hiragana - looks like a keg

na hiragana - looks like a naughty nun praying to a cross

The Android app Hiragana Learn Experiment is also incredibly helpful, with three ways of getting you to learn the symbols – choose symbol for sound; type sound for symbol; and an incredibly picky draw the symbol task.