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    Monday, June 30, 2008

    Hurray it's Monday :-)

    Been a bloomin fantabulous week this. The conference, the completion of the website (will give you the link soon), the people, the coaching course, the friendship... just grand. So much to smile about.

    I'm really excited that it's Monday again. That means I have a WHOLE 'NOTHER 7 DAYS to play the game of life! What can I do this week I wonder?

    Oh, I know, I can see bjork (still no reply to my message to her the other day asking if she'd like me to take her to the Peaks [that's the Peak District by the way, a national park].

    I can tie up my CILASS ends (sob).

    I can continue to look forward to seeing my baby - only 17 days until she arrives, marking the end of 6.5 months apart. I might not have much time to mumble after that... :-)

    I'm going to register our new publishing company name and logo as a trade mark - £200 for 10 years, bargain! (Watch this space for that website launch too). I think I'll become a shareholder this week as well, provided the solicitors get their act together. Quite how they can charge £700 to register a company I don't know... Still, all of these expenses are covered by the generous start-up funds we've received.

    The last of the wedding 'issues' are sorted. I had this feeling all along that we would get our band of first choice. They'd had to say 'no' when I phoned them a couple of months back. I've been reluctant to book anyone else, and was curious as to why this was. Finally, yesterday I had the feeling that it was time to give our band of choice another call. I did. they told me that their plans had changed - they said 'yes'.

    I delight in this intuition we all have, it's bloomin' amazing! Ok, so we may not be able to detect when earthquakes are going to strike as dogs can, but we can tell when our ceilidh band of choice will finally say yes (bet dogs can't do that).

    So caw blimey gov everything is fantastic. Thank you dear world for treating me so good.



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    Why I love Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

    Lightroom Training

    I've talked about this before, but I want to talk about it again

    A few days back I was asked by a friend if I'd give them a bit of training in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, the most wonderful photo-processing software ever to have created for people who work with RAW images, or find Photoshop a bit OTT for their purposes.

    It was an interesting experience, as it really demonstrated to me just what a fundamental shift the move to the use of image processing software such as Lightroom can mark.

    Lightroom is the modern-day darkroom (in case you hadn't guessed from the name!). Most people don't need darkrooms these days as their cameras can do the processing for them. If your camera gives you JPEG images, it has taken the raw data that hit its sensor through the lens, and then interpreted that as it saw fit, enhancing colours and setting the contrast (etc) before throwing away the 'unnecessary' data and compressing the remainder into a JPEG.

    For me, when I do shoot in JPEG with my little Sony Cybershot, I feel it's a passive process (although one would not be able to tell this from looking at the images). All I do is chuck them straight into my photo library. There has been little by way of engagement with the images once they have been taken.

    With my Nikon set to shoot in RAW, it just gives me the raw data (funny that), with no modifications. It's then up to me to decide how that image is developed (by putting it through Lightroom).

    Thankfully modern cameras are very good at processing images and creating JPEGs. All of my photos up until last summer were taken as JPEGs (including all those on my Trans-Siberian adventure), and to look at them you'd find it hard to tell the difference between them and those I've since shot in RAW. In fact you can't.

    I think for me though, photography is almost as much about the process as it is about the end result. I absolutely love processing my images, deciding for myself what the end result will look like. I also get great pleasure out of exporting these images direct from Lightroom to Flickr and into my iPhoto library for use in my projects, to share with other people.

    You may have noticed that I have stopped watermarking my images. That was a conscious decision to not be so precious about them.

    I've recently come to embrace keywording (tagging) too. I don't just do it for the satisfaction of 'being organised' - with over 21,000 photos in my library now it's vital that they have rich descriptions to enable me to find them at a later date. I tag them upon import, and these tags remain with the images all the way through to Flickr (or wherever else they go). If you are able to read the metadata attached to the image above, along with the details of what shutter speed I used / what lens I had on the camera, you'll find all my tags (Flickr displays these by default).

    I feel that this kind of engagement with my photos helps me to improve my technique. It gives me the opportunity to study them in detail, to get a feel for what worked, and what didn't. It encourages me to take more photos, which will lead to more experiences, and a greater appreciation of what was in front of the lens.

    If you would like to engage more with your images and are prepared to put in the few hours necessary to learn the Lightroom ropes, I would recommend you switch your camera to RAW (if it allows it), and download a free Beta version of Lightroom from

    Next, grap yourself a free 7-day trial from the best software training company in the world,, and check out the Lightroom tutorial. You can get that by visiting (normally $25 per month).

    Finally, enjoy. Oh, and consider subscribing to the (free) podcast from The Radiant Vista. (N.b. Anonymous: somehow I don't think that podcast will be your cup of tea).

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    Sunday, June 29, 2008

    LTEA Conference 2008: Long Live Inquiry-based Learning!

    It’s now the day after the closing of the LTEA (Learning Through Enquiry Alliance) conference 2008, and my head is beginning to clear. I attempted to write about my experience of this event last night, but I was “all conferenced out” as fellow student ambassador Barbara put it - my mind was just a sea of tags:
    conference tag cloud
    It was an intense week. In the days leading up to the event’s opening on Wednesday, I worked with the CILASS core team to help prepare the conference Wiki, a virtual space in which delegates could share, discuss and reflect upon their experiences of Inquiry-based learning. Aside from passive use of Wikipedia, I had no prior experience of working with Wikis, and thus found myself engaging in an intense IBL activity on my computer. Once I’d familiarised myself with the basic structure, I was surprised by how easy it was to manipulate; this has encouraged me to contemplate how I might include a wiki within my own website (another project to add to the IBL-inspired list!).

    In addition to co-ordinating the wiki, my duties (most of which were of course shared with my amazing friends in the Student Ambassador Network) included: taking photos (that was a self-assigned role! Thanks for indulging me, CILASS), processing and uploading them to Flickr throughout the conference; ensuring that the technology was working for those presenting; uploading powerpoints to Slideshare (still a lot to do there); facilitating sessions; being available for delegates should they have any problems; watching over the luggage, drinking coffee, and eating chocolate.

    Thinking about it all now, a few episodes come to mind. I’d like to share those with you.

    It’s Wednesday morning, 9am. As the other Student Ambassadors arrive there’s a feeling of great excitement and happiness in the office: the months of preparation are over, and it’s too late to worry about anything. We’re blowing up balloons to tie to lamp-posts in order that delegates don’t get lost on their way to the Keynote in Firth Hall. Turns out that Jamie is a Balloon-mungster, and prior to joining the CILASS team was at the forefront of a new movement which campaigned to promote the simultaneous blowing up of multiple balloons. Jamie’s love of balloons spreads across the office, and before long the balloon bath is the hottest attraction in Sheffield.

    jamie sabine natalie and the balloons

    natalie balloons balloons_8061

    11am, and the delegates are now arriving. They are greeted by the blue T-shirts and big smiles of the Student Ambassadors - a welcome sign of the kind of atmosphere that will embody the entire three-day conference.

    Photo: James Gould

    It’s now Wednesday afternoon and I’m facilitating a presentation by four members of Sheffield Hallam University’s CETL. They’ve all been using Inquiry-based technologies to help enhance the learning and teaching experience. As I sit there hearing about their successes I find myself getting tremendously excited and inspired - the work that these tutors are putting in to help students become autonomous learners really is something to be shouted about. When bringing the session to a close, I think it might be appropriate to offer a quick bit of feedback as the only student in the room:
    “I’m very happy to have just completed a four-year degree, and am looking forward to moving on into the workplace. But I tell you, hearing what you’re doing with IBL inspires me to such an extent that I’m thinking I’d like to start another undergraduate degree!”
    And I meant it. I am so impressed by the effort that is being put in by IBL-orientated staff to help students engage with their subjects, and by the positive results they are achieving. People must be told about IBL! It should become a norm for prospective graduates attending university open days to ask, “Could you tell me what inquiry-based learning techniques are employed within the department?”

    We’re now between sessions, the busiest time for me and my USB stick. Myself, Pam from the CILASS core team and Pepe the penguin have to make sure that the presenters in all five of the simultaneous sessions hosted in various spaces around the IC have their presentations/videos lined up and are ready to roll. Remarkably, there’s not a single problem with the technology at any point during the conference - it all goes like clockwork.

    pepe and the conference flash drive_8470

    The next parallel session has begun, and I’m back in the office processing photos and slides. We’re all buzzing - things are going really well. I’m starting to think about what a great team we make, students working with the core CILASS staff. I reckon we could be hired out (at great expense, of course) to dazzle and amaze conference delegates around the world!

    Conference GCHQ:

    Conference GCHQ

    Tom, Barbara and Nat point delegates in the right direction:

    the road to the keynote_8356

    It’s nearing 7pm - time for the conference dinner at Whirlebrook Hall. Myself, Nat and Sabine have a true Inquiry-based learning journey to the venue as we don’t know where it is: we stop at two pubs and a private house to Inquire as to where we might find it. Finally we locate it, and we’re actually almost the first to arrive (further proof of the effectiveness of IBL)! Champagne in hand we move out to the terrace, where I soon whip out my camera once again to try and capture the atmosphere. Dinner is then served: a melon slice creation, soup and then a main dish of goats cheese wotsit on rice. Delicious. Finished off with a dessert, and more wine. I must come to these conferences more often… I’m really happy to have the chance to talk with Pam and Sabine. I learn about giving birth, and breastfeeding, things I feel I ought to know about in preparation for the birth of our children in 2010 / 2011.

    Nat, the new CILASS Student Co-ordinator for the Student Ambassador Network

    conference dinner_8267

    Tom, and Laura: Clearly the stress of being the outgoing SAN co-ordinator is getting to her

    they weren't always that way

    Day two of the conference, and we’re on the coffee. It’s going to be a long one, but with a timetable in my pocket detailing what needs doing when, it’s actually pretty relaxing. It offers reassurance that things are going to happen as planned anyway, just do your bit: the power of teamwork.

    Now and then someone will come into the office raving about this AMAZING session that they’d just been to - onto the award winning CILASS student blog it goes.

    The delegates are happy. The keynote address, given by the President of the University of Miami, is both relevant and thought-provoking. As the day moves on so notifications of changes to the Wiki increase in number - it’s being used as hoped!

    Thursday evening sees us take a coach from the IC to The Edge, the new student village where the delegates are staying. I’m happy, relaxing with friends, eating olives and parsnip crisps, chatting with a member of Sheffield Hallam’s CETL. We’re then ushered through to a large room adjoining the bar: time for a bit of entertainment and reflection with Playback Theatre (York).

    conference playback theatre_8387

    Playback Theatre are quite remarkable. Consisting of teachers, counsellors and actors, they literally play back to the audience thoughts and feelings that have arisen from the conference. An academic might express her feeling of fear that arises from embarking upon new adventures in IBL, and the joy of then seeing students come into their own through the new module. The actors listen to the story, and then spontaneously create a short performance that sums it up. There’s little in the way of ‘lines’ as such,rather, movement and sounds take centre stage. I was delighted, amused and entertained by their production. Others in the audience were deeply touched; tears were shed. For me, it highlighted just how much passion the delegates had for what they were doing, how, at the end of the day it’s about doing the best one can to make a difference, and finding satisfaction though helping others.

    The closing plenary saw us once again in Firth Hall, summing up the questions and ideas that had arisen through the conference. Thanks were then given, with special mention made of the CILASS core team, and the Student Ambassadors. My mind flicked back through the previous few days, and indeed us SA’s really had had a positive impact upon the entire conference. By participating to the extent that we did, we were able to not only paint the place with bright happy blue t-shirts, but also to provide the student point-of-view in many of the discussions - this of course is vital as students are half of the equation when it comes to Learning and Teaching.

    I feel that this conference was a model for what a conference should be, and I hope that everyone who attended from other universities goes home and sets up their own Student Network!

    Me, demonstrating the brand new CILASS student website - made BY students, FOR students

    san skills session_8408
    Photo: Sabine Little

    The overall feeling I have looking back on the LTEA Conference 2008 is one of gratitude. Gratitude for having been able to take part in such a fantastic event. Gratitude for having been a part of such an amazing team made up of such genuinely lovely people.

    Photo: James Gould

    There was very much a feeling of partnership between students, staff and visiting delegates throughout, with little sign of hierarchy. I felt very much valued and appreciated as a student: this makes me feel incredibly positive about the future of higher education in the UK, and I won’t hesitate in moving back to the UK from Japan 10 or 15 years down the line in order that my own (as yet to be conceived!) children are able to benefit from it.

    Long Live IBL!

    This post is cross-posted on the CILASS Student Blog

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    Thursday, June 26, 2008


    This is a summary of this month's Mumble.


    Thanks to Natasha for the link, and Sabine for making me want one!

    Create your own at

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    From the train: Nuclear Drivers and Being the Change

    I'm on the train back to Sheffield. It's been a pretty easy journey, relaxing. For the first leg I was on a rail-relacement bus. I sat at the front as I often do on buses, provided they have seat-belts. Next to me was a chap in his 40s. Pretty scruffy, stinking of cigarettes.

    "This bus journey is costing me £400" he said to the driver, clearly pretty pissed off. "I'm a truckie - got a load of nuclear waste to take to Germany tonight, have to be at Dover by 10pm. I'm gonna miss that ferry because of these engineering works - you have no idea how much trouble that's gonna cause. They have to make special allowances for me, have to make sure I'm on the deck - it's a nuclear load you know"

    The bus driver mumbled something about the train company working to upgrade the track.

    "Yeah, well, it's just not good enough. I'm gonna make sure this rail company gets all the bad press it deserves."

    Well, that'll certainly help, won't it?

    Things were quiet after that. Just the guy at Stockport who seemed suicidal in a manic kind of way. Thankfully he didn't jump in front of the train - just banged repeatedly on the door until it opened.

    I've been reading more of the Be The Change. I tell you, if you have any dreams of starting any kind of movement or company to bring about positive change, this book is a must. It is so inspiring. You can't help but feel "Why not me?" after reading this book.

    The other message that comes out of it's butterfly-adorned pages is that it is vital to follow your passion. You also need to have a laser-like focus; seek advice as widely as possible; have a plan that is set and followed, yet flexible; get a great team around you.
    If you have these things, you can't fail in whatever you do.

    I'm struck by what these people have achieved. They have touched the lives of billions. They are incredible - and yet at the same time they are no different from Joe Bloggs. Indeed, it's that message that is one of the loudest. These folks don't have buckets of money, they aren't nuclear physicists, they don't necessarily have any clear idea of what they want to do at the outset - but they do find their passion, and follow it.

    Mind you, if I look around, I see people like that everywhere, doing amazing things (be they small or big amazing things) on a daily basis, making a difference. I bet if I interviewed a sample of my friends and acquaintances (and mumblers) I'd be able to fill a book that was just as inspiring, in its own way.

    All of this keeps on leading me back to my new life with *Twinkle*. Just can't get her out of my head. This new partnership excites me so much. Scares me too. So much change, so much opportunity - am I going to be brave enough to step outside of my comfort zone and follow my heart? It would be far easier to just settle for something that doesn't stretch me too much, but I think long term that would be quite painful.

    Ho hum.

    Just pulling into Sheffield Station, must dash.

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    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    Hamsters and Shrews


    A few moments ago, I woke up clutching my stomach. Initially, I wasn't quite sure why, but then I remembered! My friend's hamster! It was in a little plastic tub with a loose lid, and it was my responsibility to make sure it didn't get out, thus I had my hand on it.

    I've drawn a picture of my friend's hamster to help you visualise the scene. I forgot to include my hand though so you'll have to use your imagination for that.

    It's been a real funny week this week.

    I'm in Wales, on the Welsh Garden Project site, gardening, tele-working for CILASS, and rapidly switching between multiple emotional and mental 'spaces'. I've been confused.

    However, after this morning's hamster episode, I do feel a little clearer.

    I actually have some News News for a change: this week I got word that I've been offered a teaching job for when I arrive in Japan. It suits me well as it's an open offer - meaning I can take it up anytime between now and October. With uncertainty over how long it will take to get my visa processed, this is ideal. It also gives me flexibility in terms of the number of hours I work and when I work them.

    I've also been thinking about what I want to do long term. There's a distinct lack of clarity here. I have an idea it will involve utilising the media - perhaps online media, perhaps television. I envisage some kind of network, with various producers focusing upon the things that matter to them. I see a network empowering people to express themselves to a wider audiences. Need to build a good team. I see myself as facilitator as opposed to 'owner'.

    The important thing is that it makes a difference, that it adds value to the lives of others. It could a be a few people, it could be the entire global population.


    I'm so happy to be alive in this age where creating such a network is within reach of anyone who has access to a computer, a recording device and an Internet connection. 10 years back one would have had to invest hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy cameras, editing equipment and organic chocolate, but now it can be done on the smallest of budgets. What are the chances of that, that I be born as me with these desires in this tiny little window in the history of the world?! Good job I wasn't born in the 17th Century, when YouTube was painfully slow and broadband cost the equivalent of 5 years wages.

    I need to spend time crystallising my thoughts. A business plan might be a good idea. I'm aware though that I find it difficult to do this sort of thing by myself, I need to work collaboratively in order to find my best ideas, and so that I can be told "Joseph, that's a really silly idea" when I have a really silly idea that appears brilliant through my eyes of endless possibility.

    Ho hum.

    You know, this week I was fooled into joining a knitting club. I was invited down to the pub for a 'relaxed gathering', only, when I got there I was confronted with a basket full of wool and a pair of knitting needles.


    It's been twenty years since I last knitted, but clearly, what I learnt at the Hereford Waldorf School has never left me.

    "In through the front door,
    running round the back,
    peeping through the window
    and off jumps Jack!

    It worked! By following the instructions in that little rhyme I was able to instantly pick up where I left of with my tea-cosey in 1988.

    Anyway, I'd best start packing for my return to Sheffield. I'll be there for a couple of weeks for the conference, and then of course to see Bjork!

    Pygmy Shrew found in the kitchen this morning (it's alive in case you were wondering). What a cutey little nose it has!

    pygmy shrew_7941


    The secret to forgiving

    I'm now into week 7 of my TSI coaching course. Initial goals I set myself at the beginning of the course have mostly been achieved, thus, when this week I was asked to once again identify problematic areas within my life, I really struggled. In the end, I had to contact one of my coaches for guidance, and it was through this experience that I came to wonder if my positive outlook on life is actually impairing my ability to identify (and address) problems. I was really struck by how difficult I find it to look at any event or situation and not focus on the good in it (I'm not talking things on the scale of war atrocities here, I'm talking the environment that I live in).

    I wonder if this tendency to only see the good in others / situations will impact negatively upon my life in the long term?

    There's a risk that by seeing things in this way I could alienate myself from others, or perhaps reduce my own capacity to sympathise and show love when it's needed. I think I've actually seen this happen already to a limited degree, when I have neglected to make an effort to see a situation from the point of view of a friend who is not so inclined to see things positively and subsequently come across as uncaring.

    I'm thinking that I need to be careful to strike a balance between communicating my own positive take on events, and acknowledging and responding appropriately to the hurt felt by others.

    Another theme in this week's course has been that of forgiveness. If I recall a situation in which I have harboured bad-feeling towards someone whom I feel wronged by, I can feel myself having that black heart. It's painful, it sucks up energy, it's stressful. But ego tells me that they have to apologise or make up for what they've done before I can let go of it, which is a load of rubbish. The thing is, the longer I hold on to blame, the longer I hurt myself. It's just silly, why make life more difficult for myself, when I can just forgive?

    “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” - Lewis B. Smedes

    If I'm finding it difficult to forgive someone, one trick I use is to imagine them dead.

    Nice huh.

    No, but really, it works. "If this person were to die today would I want them to die knowing that I am harbouring these bad feelings towards them?" The chances are, if it's someone I care about (as is nearly always the case when it comes to strong feelings whether positive or negative), I won't want them to die like that. I'd want them to know that I love them, that I care for them, and that I appreciate what they have done for me.

    And of course, there's no reason why they might not die today.

    If that trick doesn't work, then clearly the connection between us is weak, and thus I am being a bit daft to be investing so much energy in feeling bad towards them.

    Anyway, I can hear the Sheep Man calling so I'd best be off. He doesn't like to be kept waiting.


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    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    National Sheep Day

    To celebrate National Sheep Day, this morning I jogged up Garway Hill in order to get some shots of Horace, the sheep that starred in last year's best-selling Hollywood action film Revenge of the Wooly Jumpers.

    garway sheep_7789

    I asked Horace if he'd mind re-creating the scene where he'd just been attacked by the Mighty bear, and badly wounded is seen crying to the heavens for the strength to make it through the epic battle.

    garway sheep_7795

    This is Hatty, Horace's Love Interest. Here she stands at the top of the cliff in despair, giving that final devastating speech. I was in tears when I saw it in the cinema.

    garway sheep_7822

    Don't give up the search Betty! Separated from her children, Betty surveys the landscape, fearing that they have lost their way and have wandered beyond the foreboding Black Mountains.

    garway sheep_7809

    But Fear Not! Horace the Mighty has returned! This is the scene where he speaks to the flock in those rousing tones, inspiring confidence once more in the hooved troops. All is set for the most extraordinary victory ever seen in the history of Sheep.

    garway sheep_7788

    Now, where did I put my pills...?

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    Sunday, June 15, 2008

    Took the train south

    mac on train_7525

    It's good to be back in nature.



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    Friday, June 13, 2008

    Day in snapshots

    I've had this camera follow me around all day. It's been taking snapshots of my thinking. Kinda strange. I developed the film, here's what came out.

    It's 5.45am. My phone alarm goes off. I think about whether I want to wake up - i think, "well, the interview isn't until 8am, I can sleep till 7am." I doze for another hour.

    8am. Skype rings. It's the company in Tokyo for the job interview. I'm feeling pretty relaxed, but the voice... it's not the woman I was expecting. No, this is someone new. She's Japanese, has an American accent, but I get this idea she's been to Australia too. She's friendly and responds well to humour. This is going to be good.

    20 minutes in. Things are going well, I'm enjoying talking to her. Then she asks me a question I'd not thought about; "What are the most important qualities for an employee of this company?". I feel that fear, and fall over over my words as I try to come up with something. I give an answer. "Is that all?" she asks. I grope about in the dark, and come up with something else. Something good. Crisis over, I'm back on track.

    40 minutes is up. "Well, thank you, it's been real nice chatting" she says. "Likewise". I'm happy.

    Next snapshot, I'm in the CILASS office at 9.20am. I'm happy to see Sabine, Pam and Nicola. "You're not in today!" I'm told. "No, you're right, I'm on a train to Bradford in 30 mins! A few minutes later the powerpoint is printed, and I run for the tram.

    The journey to Bradford takes 90 minutes, but I don't notice it. First off, I read my newspaper. Nothing of interest apart from an article about the possibility of using the iPhone in education. I repackage the many sections of the paper and leave them on the seat opposite, hoping they will appeal to someone else later on - it's not fair that they have such a short life. Then I'm watching a DVD, Sliding Doors, a film I loved when I first saw it, but now am more inclined to agree with my friend who thinks it's pants.

    Bradford. I've not been here before. I ask the girl in WHSMITHs where the uni is, she points, 'over there'.

    Bradford Town Hall. Clearly modelled on Sheffield's Florence's Palazzo Vecchio (thanks to our Tokyo correspondent for that update)

    Walking down the street in my patchwork jeans and Tilley Hat - I'm excited! I'm the new kid in town. Wow, so many chances to interact with all these people - I'm buzzing.

    But three minutes later, I'm lost. I ask a scruffy old man, white hair, wonkey teeth, dirty green shirt, "Excuse me, could you tell me the way to the University please?" He doesn't know. To my surprise he then starts barking out at passers-by, "University? University anyone?" People ignore us, stare at us. I'm about to assure him that it's ok, when a couple in matching denim outfits stop. "University? Yeah, we're going that way! Come with us!"

    15 minutes later I'm on the university campus. It's nice. Kind of out of place, surrounded by boarded-up shops and derelict buildings. I reach the library building, reception check my name off the list and lets me in.

    I'm there for a workshop organised by the Yorkshire universities, the topic is Web 2.0 & Information Literacy - myself and a CILASS colleague are to give the student view.

    But first we listen to a very funny guy talk about his thoughts on web 2.0 for 45 minutes. He's in his 50s, white hair, has long since dispensed with concerns over what other people think of him. I like him - his show seems to be 90% Flickr, photos representing ideas, with the odd image thrown in that had no connection to anything, but reminded him of his son on holiday. I smile.

    Break for lunch. Sandwiches are OK. Vegetable Samosa's not bad either. Red grapes are my favourite. I make an attempt to connect with the lady who seems to be hosting it. She's cool. I like her name badge. They don't have name badges like those at Sheffield.

    1.45pm and we're up! *Twinkle* flashes up as my desktop background, but she's masked by the opening slide. We've a lot to get through and have to rush it a bit, but it's fun. It reminds me of the last time I presented to a group of staff, the lack of reactions from 2/3 of the audience. They must have had to sit through hundreds of presentations, and there was no way they were going to feign enthusiasm just because the presenter had multicolour patchwork jeans on. But it's OK, a good third of them are engaging. They are the ones that know me, and the younger strangers.

    Presentation successfully delivered, we pack up and head off. My post-presentation headache kicks in - always does. I didn't get that nervous about it all, but I guess the excitement of presenting to 25 librarians is too much for my head.

    I joke with my colleague, "when I'm presenting to 10,000 people I'll have to look back on this and laugh!".

    I've got time to visit the National Media Museum before heading back to Sheffield for the Japan soc BBQ. Just my luck - the U2 show at the IMAX finished the night before, and today it's nothing but overgrown dinosaurs. Oh, and two of the galleries are closed for installation works. Still, the rest of the place is open, and the staff are so enthusiastic & really keen to help - I feel excited.

    I'm in the basement, watching 1970s Kodak commercials. I love them. Those revolutionary single-use flash bulbs that mean you can take photos INSIDE! Or how about the camera with the handle so you can hold it steady - meaning you can even get good shots on rainy days!

    Minutes later - an encounter with a dalek...

    I'm on the 4th floor now, in the BBC studio mock-up. I try my hand at delivering the weather forecast. The camera wants to chop my head off.

    I then play the role of presenter of the BBC news - but the seat is too high and when I watch the playback on the big screen afterwards I can only see the bottom half of my face!

    Through to the other half of the building, and there's a real glass-walled BBC radio studio in there - on air.

    I move on up to the children's TV floor. OMG it's Zippy and George! The actual puppets used on Rainbow. And next to them the toys from Playschool! Wow, I haven't seen Humpty in years! It's quite an emotional reunion.

    I sit in one of the TV booths and choose to watch Dangermouse. It only seems appropriate as I've come to Bradford on CILASS business and have had Danger Mouse as the folder icon for CILASS on my mac for months.

    I'm getting tired. As I make my way back to the station, I wonder why I get so tired walking across cities some times. Well, it's been a long day I guess.

    I'm back on the train. I'd decided to not check the platform and go on intuition. After 20 minutes travelling in the wrong direction I reluctantly decide to get off the Skipton Train at some pretend station, cross to the other platform and wait for the train that is actually going to Sheffield.

    As I'm waiting I find my banana in the bottom of my bag. It's been squashed, but is still edible. I stuff it all in at once and then try and shield my face from the girl in the shelter. I wonder if she's afraid of me.

    I'm listening to Murakami's Dance Dance Dance on my iPod all this time. I'm enjoying it. That was part of the reason why I didn't want to get off the train going to Skipton. I wanted to listen to my story.

    The train terminates at Leeds and I need to change. As I wait for my (delayed) connection I get a call from my japan soc friend - Aren't you coming to the final BBQ? "I got on the wrong train" I tell her, feeling bad that I'm going to miss it. I should have been there, and I knew it.

    Well, I'll email later and apologise. I feel pretty bad about it.

    I'm now sitting inside a luggage rack on a jam-packed train to Sheffield. I'm trying not to lean on my rucksack' knowing that I could damage my laptop screen.

    The guy sitting inside the luggage rack opposite me is another of these white-haired men in their 50s. We strike up a silent friendship, both sharing unusual seats. We joke with our eyes about the group of girls behaving outrageously between us.

    A chap shouts down the carriage "Can't you move up?! There's people still trying to get on".
    I admire him for speaking up, and wonder what it was that made him into the kind of person that could say that to a group of strangers on a train in such an assertive tone.

    I understand when he gets off 2 stops later: he has a badge on a webbed string around his neck, it reads: "British Transport Police".

    We arrive at Sheffield. i say goodbye to my luggage rack friend, and take the tram home.

    I'm in bed, shattered. I don't want to do anything, but don't want to sleep. So, I watch a DVD - 'Stranger than Fiction'. It's ok. It entertains me. I like the love story, implausible though it is.

    Film over, I think about the day just gone. It's been a good one. I enjoyed all these interactions, and being a stranger in a new town.

    This life thing, it's kinda cool really. I like it.

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    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    My coaching course

    I'm now in week 5 of my 12-week coaching course with TSI. Initially, I'll admit I was pretty sceptical, but my friends and I had talked about coaching a little, and I figured it was at least worth a try. Nothing to lose, right?

    So, I signed up for a free coaching session with the founder, Cliff - he'd been highly recommended by a friend of the family.

    That first 60 minute call was great. Really taught me a thing or two, and made me realise what excuses I was hiding behind in some areas of life. I was impressed, and so decided to sign up for the basic 101 coaching course that they offer.

    There's six of us taking the 101 course, 5 of whom are in the USA. Every week we log in to our group lesson, and work through a series of thought-provoking exercises centred on a particular theme. For example, one week we may focus upon listening. I mean, really listening. That's been an interesting one, and our groups' results have been pretty staggering, seeing developments in relationships that have long been in need of change.

    Every week we come together on a group call, discuss the lesson, and discuss our results. It's great to hear what's been achieved, and I must say each week I'm pretty staggered by how far people are pushing themselves - and consequently what great results they are getting. It may be financial, it may be familial, it may be connected with a career. Whatever, there's big changes for the better occurring left, right and centre.

    Each week we're teamed up with a different member of the group, to whom we make a couple of calls during the week to help support one another through the change. That's been a real joy, getting to know these people, and being able to share experiences that may help others deal with their particular challenges.

    One of the biggest motivators for me is being accountable. By making a commitment to "do X by such and such a date", I'm prompted to do things that I would normally put off, or not do at all. This accountability basically acts to put change in 5th gear. I'm not spending a week thinking about doing something and then doing it the following month - knowing that my friends are behind me in my action I'm able to do it now. Having this supportive environment of people that you have made a commitment to makes a world of difference.

    So, all in all, a third of the way through the course I'm very happy with what I've got out of working with TSI. There's tonnes of coaching companies out there, and the thing is with no proper regulatory system you can never be sure what you're getting unless you try it - anyone can call themselves a 'life coach'. But this is a good one, so if you ever consider coaching, I'd add them to the list of people you'd try (I'd also recommend a call with this guy for comparison's sake).

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    Happy for today

    Before I get on with this mumble, I'd just like to mention that this post is not an invitation for you to kill me.

    Thank you.

    These really are good times.

    Whilst it is a core belief of mine that it's important to appreciate today and not postpone the attainment of happiness for 'tomorrow', sometimes something will happen in my life that prompts me to question whether I really am valuing the gift of being alive.

    When faced with that question, I look for an answer by asking myself another question:
    "If I were to die today, would I be OK with that - is there anything I would regret not having done?"

    The film Pay it forward, which I previously mentioned seeing for the first time the other day, provided one such prompt.

    I used to think that I would only be able to say "Yes, I would be OK with that, and no, I would not have any regrets" if I had already accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish.

    I can't remember exactly when it was - perhaps some time last year? - but there came a point when I realised that I no longer felt the need to achieve anything in particular in order to be happy, because I was happy, and I am happy. Very happy.

    If I try and determine why this is, two things come to mind: the love of my family & friends, the love of *Twinkle*, and my living in alignment with my core beliefs, which are centred around love and acceptance (Hhhmm. Perhaps I could turn this mumble into a Little Book of Happiness).

    It's a great feeling though, because it helps me deal with the pressures of consumerism (except for the Apple iPhone of course, which I absolutely must have) and social norms re. careers. I don't need to feel pressured by others promoting a 'better' lifestyle, because, well, I have it already, sitting here in my little student room, with £24,000 of debt and just a couple of suitcases of 'stuff'.

    The net effect of this feeling is something that I cherish - the feeling that every day from here on is a bonus.

    I wake up: "Wow! ANOTHER day! What can I do with this one I wonder?!" This doesn't mean I feel pressured into having to do something 'incredible' every day, but it does prompt me to remain true to myself.

    Of course it doesn't always work. I stuff up, a lot, but that's ok. It means I go to bed a little wiser than I woke up, even if I do have a swollen tongue from trying to lick a slice of parmesan cheese attached to a mouse trap (only did that the once).

    But wouldn't this feeling of happiness rob me of an incentive to try and 'achieve' altogether? It seems not. I don't know why, but I find instead it inspires me to try and achieve more, more stuff with my passion at its core. Kinda exciting really.

    I was thinking, it's not just the film that's made me look at these things recently, it's the spate of stabbings, first here in the UK, and now in Japan too. It just reminds me, there may be no tomorrow, so I'd better not place happiness there.

    ...Well, today is an extra happy day in any case, as in the last hour Apple's website has the announced the 3G iPhone, and an increase in storage on our family .mac account to 40GB from 10GB. What a glorious age to be alive in!

    xxx joseph

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    Round Up

    This is more a record for myself of what I'm up to. You're better off looking elsewhere for entertainment today

    Busy times.

    I've spent most of today in the CILASS office trying to finish off the website I've been working on (very part time) for the past 6 weeks or so. It's pretty exciting as it's more-or-less complete, and doesn't look that bad, even if I do say so myself. Just a few issues with Microsoft Internet Explorer choosing to read the CSS in a different way to any other web-browser on the planet. If I had my way I'd just have a notice on it saying "Sorry, please install a proper browser such as Firefox or Safari before viewing this site".

    I feel a bit bad that it's taken me so long to create the site - this is partly because I'm self-taught and not a professional, but then I think of what it would have cost to have it done professionally, and I feel better, especially as what is being produced does actually look at least sort of professional (I hope).

    Later this week I'll be helping give a presentation at a university workshop in Bradford on Web 2.0 - I've never been to Bradford before - is it worth taking my camera? Later in the month I'll also be coordinating the development of a new Wiki that's been set up to accompany the forthcoming Learning Through Enquiry Alliance (LTEA) Conference 2008, and as a member of a gang of CILASS Student Ambassadors I'll be helping to keep the delegates happy with a smiley face and the answers to all of their questions, apparently. :-)

    I'm enjoying being busy with all of these projects, although a part of me does crave a holiday.

    Good news re. our publishing business - we've made it through to the Grand Final of the Business Creation Competition (with £5000 prize) - presentations are on the 12th of July. Fingers crossed. Oh, and I got word today that I have an interview with a large English Language School company on Thursday morning, 8am. Best get an early night Wednesday!

    I'm exercising daily now, really enjoying going out jogging and exploring the streets of Sheffield. Following a tip-off from an Arts Tower inmate, later this week I'll be going to meet Berty Bassett of of Liquorice Allsorts fame, at his home at the Cadbury Trebor Bassett factory. Fancy living here this long and not knowing that the city was the source of such an important staple food!

    I'm trying desperately hard tonight to not check my Twitter account, RSS feeds or any Apple-related site tonight. Steve Jobs gave his keynote at WWDC about 2 hours ago - I'm just waiting for the video to go live and don't want any spoilers. The Apple Store is down, what's the bets we'll be seeing a £100 3G iPhone announced? I know I could find out if I just checked any of the Mac sites, but I want the whole keynote experience. It's an exercise in self-discipline, and it's killing me!

    Anyway, best get on. Oh, I know what I was going to mention - I've been following the Mars Phoenix via Twitter. Nasa really are doing a fantastic job of sharing the excitement, with 140 character updates coming in written by the Mars Lander itself, and photos sent back from Mars being posted straight on their website unadulterated. I've never been that excited about space exploration before, but this is fab!

    Oh, as are the BBC's live webcams on SpringWatch. Check out the cutey little birdies streaming live video from their nest! Thanks to Nicola for the link!

    Friday, June 06, 2008

    Post-student life begins

    Sheffield Panorama 1

    So yes, the change from student to non-student is going well. Having got rid of much of my coursework last night (I would have kept it had I been staying in the UK), I then advertised my last few books on Amazon - they were sold within hours and are in the post to their new student-owners. I've trawled through the backlog of emails, and moved all my uni work to the archives. It feels good. There's now space for something new.

    The dark clouds have parted, and *Twinkle* and I are stronger for the storm. That's the thing, after really dark times, the sun shines extra bright. I'm loving organising the wedding, and having a lot of fun with the website (Apple's iWeb and .mac do have their uses after all).

    This evening I was able to attend a free life-coaching session courtesy of the university's White Rose Enterprise Zone. That was good. It helped me shift my focus from what has passed, to what is now, and what has to come. And I was reminded once again of the importance of listening.

    26 hours later

    I was up at 5am today, for a jog to the top of the hill I've been meaning to climb for 4 years. It's opposite my house and has great views of Sheffield. I had such a great time. Two hours of walking in peace in that huge park, taking photos, listening to the Radiant Vista's Craig Tanner. I was so surprised to discover a woodland in Sheffield, and a huge green open space with a helicopter landing pad in the middle, bigger than a full-size football pitch.

    I uploaded the original 6-photo panorama to Flickr which shows up the detail of the uni and all in the middle, including of course the beloved arts tower and ic. I uploaded this shot too - it's a structure that stands on the top of the hill overlooking the city - I wonder what it was?

    sheffield viewpoint_7341

    I'm loving this space. I have a tonne of things to do, but I'm able to work on them without feeling guilty. I even have time to read the books I was given at Christmas, and I've started my latest Murakami audio book again.

    Oh, and I started studying Japanese again! I really like the "learn Japanese through newspapers" book I won at the speech contest, and so am doing one of those short lessons every day. The learning never stops!

    I watched a film tonight too, Pay it Forward. This was given as an assignment for my coaching course (I'm in week four now, and really feeling the benefits). The film had me in tears though. But what a great idea. I'm sold on it and will work to become more aware of opportunities pay it forward myself. I have a lot to pay forward, having been the recipient of so much goodwill in various guises.

    Spot the Arts Tower
    flower-framed sheffield_7297

    Anyway, bed time for me. I have a lot to do this weekend, and then of course Monday is the event we're all waiting for - Steve Jobs' keynote from WWDC. We are VERY excited!

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    Thursday, June 05, 2008

    Into the recycle bin

    Busy bee, spotted on the way back from the exam.

    13 hours into freedom

    So, I spent much of the afternoon feeling somewhat lost, before deciding that what was called for was assertiveness. I need to move on. No point in lingering in some in-between state. It's too easy to comfort oneself with the idea that change takes a long time. It doesn't. It takes a split second. The time it takes to make the decision.

    Thus, I've spent the last few hours sorting through four years of handouts, reams of notes, kanji tests, pink essays, green essays and blue essays, and selecting a few choice morsels to keep. Included in my archive for posterity are select examples of all types of homework from the language course over all years, some classic examples of the handouts we were given, and the results of all the essays I handed in for non-language modules. This means that thousands of pages have been reduced to one folder's worth.

    Here's just some of the work that will be going in the recycle skip in a minute.

    my degree

    You know what though, I am absolutely staggered how much work we've done. The amount of effort that went in to some of those modules (especially in the second year) beggars belief. How did they get me to sign up for all this?!

    I'm glad we covered so much though. Not just in terms of language, but history, politics, social issues. I remember when I first went to Japan I didn't have a clue about any of this stuff. It helps, to know one's context. Still a lot to learn though, stuff that can only really be picked up by spending several years living there.

    It would be nice to be there now really. Having completed the course it kind of feels natural that I go back to Japan and be reunited with *Twinkle*. No such luck though - 3 more months till that (very) happy day!

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    Wednesday, June 04, 2008

    End of the degree

    post exam We Did It shot :-)

    Post exam photo, taken at the tram stop.

    Wow. We did it. We got here. The end.

    That was the best exam ever.

    It went so well (and that seems to be the general consensus).

    I even had time to write my Japanese essay on euthanasia TWICE, as after I'd finished it the first time I realised that I had accidentally written it vertically, rather than horizontally as specified on the question paper.

    So that's it. There is no more. I can pack all my files and folders away in boxes, and think about doing things that I'd really like to do without feeling guilty about not studying!

    Thank you to everyone who has supported me over the past few years. My teachers, classmates, family ...but also those friends out there who have given me advice or encouragement when times were tough. It was a lot harder than I imagined when I first applied to Sheffield, but it's been worth it. Absolutely.

    Couldn't have done it without you.

    (It's not quite over though. We have our graduation ceremony on the 22nd of July. Mum and dad will be coming up for that, and of course *Twinkle* will be here (managed to get an extra seat for her too). I'll be able to wear the gown and sip on a glass of champagne in the middle of Firth Court...!)

    I guess this is the point where I kind of drift off into some no-man's land and wonder what to do with myself, now I have no homework to do for the first time in 5 years...

    Yeah, I'll give that a go.


    The end is nigh (in a good way)

    Well, this is it then folks. In 12 hours and 29 minutes I'll have finished my final exam on this four year degree course. That will be a big relief. And probably a little surreal - the venue is Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (I hope the pitch isn't too waterlogged, or the papers will get really muddy).

    I'm not in the least bit nervous about the exam. More, just wanting to get it over and done with. This is not due to some mad feeling of excessive confidence, but rather because I know that all I have to do is pass. I've done a fair bit of revision and feel comfortable with the thought of completing two of the three sections - the third section I'll tackle as best I can.

    The exam starts at 9am, finishes at 12pm. I think I might even give myself the afternoon off. 'Stuff' can wait until Thursday (maybe. I know how much I want to get this 'stuff' done).

    It's going to be a big change.

    I'm looking forward to embracing it.

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    Monday, June 02, 2008

    An act of altruistic kindness

    Into the home straight then - 45 hours until the end of my final exam. Needless to say, I am somewhat excited at the prospect of finishing.

    Since my mumble a few days back about the difficulties of being in a long-distance relationship (in which I described the hoops that need to be jumped through to obtain a spouse visa), *Twinkle* and I have been the very fortunate beneficiaries of an extraordinary act of kindness. It was totally unexpected, and left us both somewhat dumbfounded. It really is an answer to our prayers, and basically means that all the stress of wondering when we might be able to start our new life together following our wedding, is gone.

    We are very, very grateful.

    This changes the situation completely, and for the first time, I feel really excited about what I see happening over the next few months. There's no longer that feeling of frustration at the idea of being separated from *Twinkle* for even longer, unable to get on with life, just because of bureaucratic red tape. Our energy can now be directed towards doing everything we can to make it work.

    We really are enormously grateful to our benefactor. I find their kindness truly inspiring - knowing what a huge difference it has made to us reinforces for me just how important it is to always do whatever one can for others, when possible.

    Thank you so much.

    Sunday, June 01, 2008

    Wedding invitations

    Just a quick note to apologise for not sending out the wedding invites yet. I know it's now only 7 weeks away and this is very disorganised of me. They will be going out over the next few days.