DD303 Week 19 – Reasons to be cheerful (part 3)

Things I’ve done this week to avoid my brain exploding while trying to get through chapter 12 on reasoning.

  1. Completed by hand my 2009-10 self-assessment tax return, made a trip to the post office to buy a 1st class large letter stamp and then posted it. That’s several months ahead of the deadline and if I’d chosen to do it electronically it’s even more months ahead of the deadline. (There’s a long and boring story as to why I refuse to file electronically which if you catch me in the bar at Residential School I’ll tell you all about if you really, really need to get to sleep.)
  2. Taken Archie, our house rabbit, to the vets to have his … ahem, bunny-bits removed and put up with his accusing looks ever since. I think he was expecting a bit of male solidarity from me, rather than the abrupt curtailing his amorous overtures to licky-duck. In Archie’s case, it’s the bunny that gorps the duck.
  3. Spent lots of time thinking about my Residential School projects since the return of the TMA03 project proposal form, without actually doing anything particularly constructive about it.
  4. Accidently spent Wednesday evening watching that tennis match, even though I care little about the game.
  5. Chatted to fellow DD303 students online about how horrible chapter 12 is and got involved in other skirmishes.
  6. Re-acquainted myself, courtesy of 4Music, with the genius that is Trigger Happy TV (Are you sure you haven’t been pushing anyone in the lake, sir?) and spent time wondering how Dom Joly’s never quite managed to reach the same heights since.
  7. Got excited about my forthcoming trip to our US offices, changed my airline seat (in economy:-() several times and have checked the exchange rate constantly (it’s at $1.5065 to £1 this morning, folks.)

… in short, I’ve done everything I can to ensure that I got through it without wanting to take the chapter and ram it up parts of the author’s anatomy should I ever run across him. I’ve concluded, rationally or otherwise, it must be something to do with him being called Mike. The last time I studied something quite so impenetrable was the Numerical Algorithms module of my Computer Science degree back in the dim and distant days of 1983. (Sorry Limes, I still haven’t found the photograph of me wearing yellow legwarmers yet.) The author of that module was called Mike as well. If the author is called Mike, then you know you’re in for a hard time trying to understand him. Probably.

Anyway, at least the chapter is over with until exam revision time. I might choose to avoid a question on it though if I can.

I’m hoping everyone called Mike will agree that it’s the only truly rational course of action.

DD303 – Week 18 – Decision time

This week I’ve been working my way through chapter 11 on judgement and decision making. I’m glad to say that the horrors of chapter 9 on working memory are now fading into the distance. It’s a good thing that working memory is so short-term otherwise I’d still be being haunted by the gloop, gloop, gloop feeling I had as my brain turned to mush when trying to get through that week. Both chapters 10 and 11 have been a lot more interesting. After reading through all of the material on subjective expected utility (SEU) and Bayes’ Theorem, I was relieved to find that ‘gut feel’ (or ‘fast and frugal’ decision-making as they call it in the chapter) often gives as good, if not better results than all of the more normative and prescriptive methods that are available.

Gigerenzer et al. have therefore given me a whole new justification, backed up by evidence from their studies, that simply picking the first option that looks about right is all I ever need to do. Simples! And there I was getting all worried about taking all of the evidence into consideration, assigning values to potential outcomes, churning through formulae and all of the rest of the stuff that business and management textbooks suggest is necessary. Well, I now know differently!

I’ve also had the mark back for TMA03 (the project proposal) today and I’m kicking myself that I made a typo in it that made it look as if I didn’t understand the design I’d proposed.  I *knew* I had a 2×2 design, honestly, not a 2x2x2. Wretched and stupid project proposal form … grrrr. Still, my overall average is very good indeed for the first three TMAs – comfortably good enough I think to see me through the torture that will be TMA04 and TMA06 – essays – yuk!

I haven’t yet picked up enough courage to look at the options for TMA04 as yet … that’s for later next week, once I’ve broken the back of chapter 12 on reasoning.

It’s been a weekend of mystifying television too so far. I didn’t get what was happening in the England v Algeria game (and Wayne Rooney’s breathtakingly stupid comments to camera at the end of it made me resolve never to waste 90+ minutes of my life watching any game he’s playing in again … well, at least until they get to the final, that is) and I certainly didn’t get Dr. Who earlier on this evening either. This series has had far too much of a tendency to disappear up its own space-time continuum for my liking and as far as I’m concerned, the new actor playing the doctor is totally unconvincing.

If I start a campaign to bring back Tom Baker, will anyone else join me?

DD303 – week 15

I’ve finally managed to finish my notes for chapter 10 today, although I have read on into chapters 11 and 12 so I’m not quite as far behind the schedule as that might imply. In fact, I think I’m still pretty much on schedule at the moment, largely thanks to last week proper (17) having been a review week. I did think at the start of the course the number of review and ‘holiday’ weeks was very generous compared to those given on the level 2 OU courses I’ve done previously – but I’ve found I’ve needed them to stay on track so far this year.

Chapter 10 was useful background when preparing the project proposal for TMA03 too. It wasn’t until I’d read the chapter that the different between internal and external representations became clear enough for me to properly understand the offprints for the project I’ve chosen – T4, on the representation of numerical information.

As is my custom, I’m now checking my OU homepage hourly to see if my TMA has been marked. Knowing that there’s really no point in doing so until I get the email saying it’s ready to collect doesn’t deter me in the least from still checking regularly. You can never tell, can you?  I suspect that the OU have had to invest in a whole roomful of servers just to cope with the demand from students who, like me, also have this bad habit!

Somehow, collecting eTMAs just isn’t dramatic enough. When TMAs were returned by post, first of all you had to nerve yourself up to open the envelope. I found that it was possible to open them up so you could look at your tutor’s comments before you looked at your mark. Now, you get to see the mark (whether you want to or not) straight away. I’d really like an alert to come up first – something along the lines of ‘Are you sure?’, followed by another one saying ‘Are you really sure?’, followed by ‘OK then – but don’t say I didn’t warn you’ would be perfect.

A suitable musical accompaniment needs to be provided as well. May I suggest “Thunder and Rain”, by Graham Parker and the Rumour, which has been playing in my head all week and I still can’t quite dislodge it even though it’s late on Saturday night. “… give me the strength to go out there”.

DD303 week 14 – making connections

A couple of weeks behind the official schedule and I’ve managed to get through the chapter in the methods book on connectionism today. It’s quite interesting, particularly as there are a number of sample networks provided to help make sense of the examples they provide in the chapter.

All in all, a much better experience of teaching software than some of the other interactive learning aids the OU have provided on other courses. fOCUS II from ED209 still brings back memories of enormous frustration trying to code videos in a tiny little postage stamp sized window using a software package that, despite the award it won a decade ago, was probably never that easy or productive to use.

So for the remainder of this week it’s back to the main course text and Chapter 10 on problem solving as I now have a project proposal for TMA03 that I will be happy to submit. Well, once I’ve tweaked my dreadful title again, that is.

DD303 week 13 – working memory (part 2)

It’s taken considerable effort every evening this week, but I’ve finally got to the end of chapter 9 on working memory. Phew! So I now have the weekend to think about my residential school project and to make a start on filling out the project proposal form. There’s a whole TMA’s worth of marks just for the completed proposal form. That seems a bit too straightforward somehow, especially after the torture of trying to understand the last two chapters.

The main thing DD303 has taught me so far is that if something looks as if it’s going to be straightforward – and I remember starting chapter 8 in a highly optimistic frame of mind as it lulled me into a false sense of security by discussing Craik and Lockheart’s levels of processing theory to begin – then sadly, it won’t be.

DD303 Week 12 – Thanks for the memories

There are only two chapters on memory in DD303 – this one, on long term memory and the next, on working memory. I’ve found it pretty tough going so far, so that’s probably a good thing.

Chapter 8 starts off on familiar enough territory, with a discussion on Craik and Lockhart’s “levels of processing” theory, but then seems to wander off in some pretty esoteric directions. I knew I was in real trouble when the chapter author (Andrew Rutherford) makes a knowing aside, that he’s hoping you’re going chuckle over, slap your head and mutter ‘of course!’ and instead you really have no idea what he’s really trying to get at. He writes:

In his typical neologistic fashion, Tulving created and applied the label autonoetic (self-knowing) to the form of consciousness accompanying retrieval from episodic memory and the label noetic (knowing) to the form of consciousness accompanying retrieval from semantic memory.

Now, Tulving’s research gets discussed a fair amount in this chapter, but quite why the author believes I should recognise what Tulving’s doing here is an indicator of his ‘typical neologistic fashion’ I have no idea. Neologistic doesn’t even appear to be a word according to my spell-checker (I’m assuming it means something like ‘new logic’, but quite why that’s different from any other sort of logic I don’t know – logic is logic, after all – isn’t it?)

Chapter 9 seems just as tough. I’ve read it a couple of times over the Bank Holiday and I’ll make notes on it this week, but it hasn’t sunk in so far. Maybe I don’t have enough space in my working memory to make sense of it at the same time as trying to make sense of everything else that’s going on in my life at the moment.

Next Saturday is the second of three day schools for the course in the East Midlands. I’m looking forward to it as the main topic of discussion is on choosing a project to do during the residential week in July and what we need to do to complete the associated TMA’s. As the day will be pretty much devoted to the day school, it means I really need to make sure I get through chapter 9 this week to stay just ahead of the timetable. My 3-4 week headstart at the beginning of the course has now all but gone.

If you can, please donate something to HOPEHIV

Update: 1st November 2010

My justgiving page for HOPEHIV is now closed. If you would still like to donate to them, please do so directly at hopehiv.org

A number of people have suggested to me that I ought to charge a fee for the notes I created and published on this blog for ED209 in 2009 and for those that I’m currently creating as I work my way through DD303.


I don’t – I’ve always regarded what I do with this blog as a form of motivation to keep me going through the courses I’m taking! And it’s the only reliable way I can think of that ensures I really do attempt to make notes and not just fly into a mad panic three weeks before the exam – which was pretty much my experience with DSE212 in 2007.

However, it did lead me to think about whether I might want to offer a way for those of you who wanted to show your appreciation in a more tangible way than simply leaving nice comments, though I really like those too! My week on holiday at Spring Harvest in Skegness presented me with a challenge that I felt I wanted to take up – that of attempting to raise some money for HOPEHIV (Registered Charity 1079385).

If you’d like to find out more about what they do, then please visit my JustGiving page or spend four minutes watching the video below:

If you want to and are able to help, thank you. I’m going to leave my JustGiving page open until 31st October 2010, so there will be plenty of time for you to donate something.

I’m trying to think of other ways to raise money – I’ll keep you all posted on what I get up too. For example, I’ve already decided that any advertising revenue I get through this blog before 31st October 2010 will also go to HOPEHIV.

Thanks again.


DD303 – Week 11 – Language in action

Thank goodness for grotty Bank Holiday weekends!

I suppose I’d rather the weather had been a little bit better (at least, my vegetable garden would have prefered it to be a little bit warmer) but it has meant I’ve managed to spend more time on chapter 7 – language in action – than I was anticipating. I’ve found this the hardest chapter on DD303 to understand – so far! While the material is well set out and logical in its presentation, I just don’t know enough about grammatical terms (beyond the very simple, like nouns and verbs) to feel totally comfortable with what the chapter discusses.

As well as create a set of notes for this chapter, I’ve also re-drawn a more useful version (to me) of Bock’s Language Processing System diagram from page 247. (Also today, I’ve also posted a larger copy of the diagram of Coltheart’s DRC Model from the previous chapter into my DD303 notes page for the sake of completeness.)

While I’m waiting for the merged datasets to be posted for TMA02 in w/c 10th April, I’ve decided to crack on with week 12 and chapter 8 – which is the start of a new section on memory. I’m hoping that I find this a little easier going than the last two chapters, interesting as they have been.

It’s back to work tomorrow for four days – and then, wonderfully, a whole week off to follow. I don’t want to spend most of my week off on TMA02 – but I’m sure I will end up spending more time on it than I otherwise would have done. If I can manage to keep off FirstClass, twitter, my Blackberry, this blog … then that would be real progress!

DD303 – Week 8: Context is everything

One of the stories I like to tell about working in the software industry is from the dot-com bubble. At the time, I was working for a company selling web content management software.

On one occasion, we had a day-long meeting with a dozen or so business people from a potential client. The salesperson and I started at around 10am, kicking off with a demonstration of the software to show how you could publish news articles and other content to your website and how you put that content through an approval process before it went live. All without having to have a webmaster handy to do it or for you to have any need to learn nasty ‘techie’ things like html.

As we were selling this software to many different types of businesses, the demonstration website we used to show how to publish stuff was an imaginary CD retailer. After all, people would understand what a CD was, wouldn’t they? And they’d realise we weren’t suggesting that they should be in the business of selling CDs?

At about 4pm we finished and asked the attendees if they had any questions.

One person, who’d been very quiet throughout the day, asked about the very first thing they’d seen at 10.02 that morning.

“Tim, you know when you published that press release, you typed in a paragraph about a CD. As you know, we don’t sell CDs, we sell widgets*. So, would your software still work if you typed in something about a widget instead?”

And the worst thing about that moment was that 2 or 3 other people sat around the table all said words to the effect “Good question – would it be able to do that?”

We didn’t make a sale that day.

We did, however, learn an important lesson. From then on, we dumped the lovingly crafted demonstration CD retailer website and instead used graphics and text from each potential customer’s website. I remember doing a splendid session to the OU on that basis a few weeks later … but we didn’t win their business, either! We did get other business, simply because we were able to put our software into a context they were familiar with.

So chapter 6, on language processing, has been a fascinating read when considering the role that context plays in how we recognise words and understand sentences, particularly when looking at the theories that abound when considering how we might resolve the ambiguities and vagaries in speech and writing. And it was good fun to see the opening sentence from Star Trek being used, along with colourless green ideas sleeping furiously and finding out that there are at least 50 grammatically valid interpretations of “time flies like an arrow”. Unless you’re read the chapter, you probably won’t understand what I’m writing about. Context is everything, you see …

(*) Obviously they didn’t sell widgets, but some details of this story have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty.

DD303 – Week 7

I’ve just finished making my notes on chapter 5 – concepts. Quite a marathon … but it’s one of those chapters that I think will lend itself well to revision come September. If I was anything like competent (I’m not) at creating mind-maps this is definitely a chapter that would benefit from such an approach … perhaps I’ll have a go at making one over the next couple of days.

Right, I’m going to see if I can dig out my photographs of the Warwick University, Westwood Halls protests and rent strike of 1983. An email that’s arrived from the OU trying to explain the lack of en-suite facilities at Bath for our DD303 residential school this summer has got me all nostalgic for the time when we had just 2 or 3 working baths between 100 or so students due to unannounced re-construction work.

If I find them, I’ll post them here and tell the story in full … and yes, I’m fully aware of the dangers of sounding a little too much like the Four Yorkshiremen.

Eh, you were lucky to have a room! We used to have to live in t’ corridor!