On exams – the worst part of being a student?

One of the best things about being a graduate, at least for me, Is the knowledge that I will not have to sit formal exams again. I will have assessments, but there will never be a time when I have to sit in a room in silence with only a pen and a strong sense of dread.

I am one of those people who hated exams, not to the extreme, but I always preferred coursework and essays as I could work on them over time. The main negative with exams is that the questions that will come up are somewhat random. You know the kind of question that will come up most of the time, and you will have practised similar questions, but inevitably you cannot learn all that is expected if you’re a normal person. What makes it worse is the fact that you know you will be judged on the results of this for the rest of your life; if you need certain grades to move up the ladder to your next goal I can’t imagine how nervous you would be. One of my bosses a few years ago told me he still has nightmares about his exams that he took well over 30 years ago!

I am not sure how many exams I have sat in my life, but I imagine it is around 100. Here is my biggest issue with exams. It is a bulimic system; you cram as much information as you can in preparation for the exam and then spew it all over the paper. The information, from my experience, stays on the page, I do not have even fifty percent of the knowledge I gained in my binging period, and it has continued to fade over time. If I were to sit the same exams as I did last year, I wonder how I would do. Better? Worse? The same? Without going through the same binge period, it would undoubtedly be worse. If you do not take the knowledge with you what is the point. Just do a general IQ test and be done with it.

Are there any benefits to exams? I have heard someone who works in an educational institute say that one of the only reasons we keep exams is that they are very hard to cheat in. It is true that it is quite easy to cheat with an essay, as there are many websites that will write your essay for a price. On the first week of my undergraduate degree, I was given a voucher for £10 off of a website called IvoryResearch. Presumably, the university did not know about the company, and has since banned them as I didn’t see them again, but who knows? I have never known anyone who has used one of these services, but there are many of them, so I guess they are doing a good trade. You cannot get this kind of service for exams. Although I did see on TV once that some guy was taking peoples driving tests for them for a price, so I guess it could be done.

So, should we get rid of exams? If we care about students mental health, the answer may be yes. However, I cannot think of what we would replace them with. Besides they are basically a rite of passage at this point, a ceremonial process that results in something that feels like it is straight from the middle ages, in the UK anyway, It is very pompous, and I didn’t enjoy it. I cannot see a world where exams no longer exist, but I hope that they become less relevant.

Do you like exams? What should we do about it?

Hayfever – I cry every time.

It is that time of year where, without medication, I would be an eye-watering, sneezing mess. It makes me wonder how my ancestors coped as I do not understand how they could leave the house and be productive without medication.

My allergies coincide with early British summer; how did my ancestors work on the fields and eat? I remember the first time I knew I had allergies, I was playing cricket in the park as a youngster, and the ball went into the long grass after a decent hit! Whilst searching for the ball, my eye began to swell up, and I had to race home, and my mother took me to the doctors. I ended up having eye drops, and eventually, my eye returned to normal and from that point on the summer has been a pain without medication.

If you look on the NHS website, one of the things they suggest is ‘staying indoors whenever possible’. What did people do when the boundary between indoors and outdoors was not so well defined? The first known case of hayfever (that I could find) was recorded by John Bostock on the 16th of March 1819. Presumably, no one bothered to record it prior to this as I highly doubt he discovered patient zero. You can read about that here.

Hayfever is known to be an immune reaction to pollen; although, as far as I can tell, the cause is not very well studied. The body detects pollen as a danger and tries to rid the system of it. All the physical symptoms are produced by your own body. If you’re unfortunate to become sensitised to an allergen of any kind, then you’re on the ride for the rest of your life. If only we could convince ourselves that this particular pathogen is a false alarm. I suppose having a ruthless commander in charge of your immune system is helpful in certain circumstances although I have to say this blue on blue situation I have going on every summer is something I would like to conscientiously object.

If you’re a sufferer like me, you would have all manner of people telling you of there homespun remedies. Like eating honey from local bees…

if that worked:

A) Doctors would recommend it as it would save a lot of money.
B) The landscape of medical science would be very different.
C) Unless you’re a doctor, please don’t give medical advice.

If you are an expert in the field, please could you let me know when this allergy was likely to have come about as I am extremely curious as to how my distant ancestors coped with it? Presumably, they worked in a mine or on a ship where there was less pollen. But that is just a guess.

You should judge a book by its cover

You shouldn’t Judge a book by its cover.

This is a phrase to which I take exception, and I do not know why this phrase has become so renowned as it seems so false to me. I am not talking about this phrase in its literal sense with regard to books; however, I still think it is false when talking about literal books. I have a degree in nutrition and food science, and there are thousands of books that I can judge by the cover and know they are trash and not worth my time. Time is a resource I do not wish to waste, so I will judge some books by their cover to save it.

Onto the more philosophical application of the phrase. The cover is all the information you have about someone whom you’ve never seen before. If you have already seen someone or something, you have already judged them/it at least once. One extreme example I have to evaluate this involves children or vulnerable people. Should you allow a child to interact with any random person as you should not judge them by their cover, or should you judge them and base your decision on all the visual cues you have?

As an adult I judge people, rightly or wrongly – here I am arguing that it is rightly– by their cover. If I am walking down the street and see some drunk men quarrelling, you can safely assume that cover will be judged harder than an autobiography by a reality TV star.

Why I think this phrase still has some credibility is that invariably whenever you meet someone, they are a good person. Should you judge a person as good before you’ve gotten to know someone? And is It even possible to not judge someone? I doubt it.

In fact, I would go further than saying you should judge a book by its cover; you continually judge by the cover. As you gain information, you should continually re-adjust your judgement as people can and do change.

There are a number of reasons as to why I do not understand this phrase and therefore, do not take it seriously. I imagine this could be a contentious issue and my opinion may be somewhat naive, so please educate me.

Apparently the phrase was first published in the mid 18th century, and frankly, that’s where it should have stayed.

 

Where the word ‘Blog’ comes from.

On my, about me page, I have mentioned that I don’t like the word ‘blog’. This Is mostly due to the connotations associated with the word.

Let us see if you have the same image as me. Approximately, it is a young person, mid-twenties perhaps, with a profile picture standing on top of a cliff or [insert scenic cliché], and the filter used makes it very envious. It’s mainly a picture that says look how great and exciting I am, come and learn how you can be more like me. If you want to experience this post in 4d, I recommend putting on in the background ‘That positive feeling’ by Alumno or ‘make it shine’ by Sophonic or better yet ‘Carefree’ by Kevin Mcleod. Does this put in mind blogging to you?

Since I have said that I do not like the word I thought I should find out where it came from. A quick google search and I am on Wikipedia. Not the best source for academic enquiry, but seeing as this is quite frothy it will do.

According to Wikipedia, the word blog is a truncation of the ‘word’ weblog, as in web-log. This seems to make sense to me; people have kept logs for the ages, and I mostly associate the word with nautical . If you’re keeping a log on the web, it makes sense to call it a web-log. Would web-diary, or webdi have been a better alternative, we will never know. I am sure you can have fun with potential alternatives.

To read the blog of the person who coined the word blog look here!

According to the same Wikipedia page, there are over 156 million blogs in existence. That means that the chance that you’re reading this particular blog is less likely than winning the lottery? It also puts into perspective how much competition there is to be a successful blogger. Based on these numbers it should surely be one of the biggest industries in the world. To put it another way, 0.00064% of bloggers have followed this blog.

My opinion of the average blogger has changed a lot in the three months I have been weblogging. The picture I have of a blogger now is an artisan that produces interesting niche content in many forms for seemingly no other reason than catharsis. Maybe there is a hint of, ‘I know I am better than 95% of people, so surely I will become successful as a blogger’. Superiority illusion is surely a key driver for a lot of things, and weblogging would be no exception.

How digital cameras work

Some of my PhD work involves the use of cameras, and pre-empting a talk I will inevitably have to give at some point, I should learn how they work.

The first thing you need to know is that cameras detect electromagnetic radiation. For us humans, we can only detect this radiation between the wavelength of 390-700 nm. Because of this, most digital cameras are set to capture this specific band of radiation. Cameras can be built to detect wavelengths of almost any size, from X-ray’s which are very small to radio telescopes which are extremely large. Here is an excellent graphical representation of this.
vislight

Source – https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-wavelength-of-the-visible-spectrum
The word camera, according to Wikipedia, ‘comes from camera obscura, which means “dark chamber” and is the Latin name of the original device for projecting an image of external reality onto a flat surface.’ I prefer to think of cameras as electromagnetic (EM) radiation detectors.

Cameras detect the EM radiation that is not absorbed and therefore, reflected from whatever they are pointed at. The sensor is mostly a trap for the EM radiation. Then EM is trapped, and the camera’s computer converts the signals it has in its ‘trap’ into colour In the form of digital values.

In most cameras that you will encounter, a Bayer filter is used. This filter filters light into three colours: red, green and blue (RGB). The filter is positioned in front of the ‘trap’ and using this filter, and you can quantify how much R, G or B is landing on your ‘trap’. The other two primary colours are estimated using good old maths. Here is a good image showing this.
Image result for bayer filter

Source – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayer_filter

 

After the relevant processing steps, a giant array of pixels is created. Pixels are the smallest elements in the image. The atoms of the image world. An image can be thought of as a three-dimensional array with width, height and depth. Where depth, in this case, is a different colour channel. So, you will have three two-dimensional arrays stacked on top of each other in an RGB image. With a value in each channel. For example, see the picture below.

rgb array
rgb array

In this case the cell in position (o,o,o) – [255,255,255] would be rendered as white, black would be [0,0,0]

My experience of blogging over the last three months on WordPress – The good and the ethically questionable.

This is going to be a review of my experience of blogging and the word press platform, and how I have gone from 0-750+ followers in three months. I will pre-warn you that not everything I talk about is going to be in the realm of good ethical behaviour.

Things I have learned:

  • Tags are important

    • Ethically correct: Use all the tags you can and make them as relevant to your post as possible. This will get you views from the type of people you’re interested in.

    • Ethically dubious: Some tags have more viewers than others, for example, I am PhD student, and I include the tag PhD in my posts; however, this only has around twenty posts in it per day, so if I were feeling roguish and all I cared about were views, I would drop this for a tag with more traffic as views are views right? No – more on this later.

  • Featured images are important

    • Only because it makes your post stand out more; in the early days I experimented by posting with and without a featured image, and sure enough, the featured image posts got slightly more views.

  • Good posts don’t necessarily get the most views.

    • You have all the seen the amazing poets and writers here on WordPress that have fewer than ten followers; and then there are the typical bloggers with their 10 best things you need for x, with a generic list of things, 8/10 you already have. They provide very little and have tons of likes and follows. Hopefully, you already knew the world wasn’t fair or just.

  • I get more views on the days when I post, so more post equals more views.

  • I am blogging from the UK, but the vast majority of my readers are from America, USA! USA! USA!

  • The most important thing – in my experience – for views? Interaction with the community.

I will come back to the last point in much more gory detail in a minute, but first some ‘proof’ of how my blog has grown.

After my last post where is talked about upgrading, I did just that, and now I am on the personal plan. My favourite thing about this is not having any ads on my site. Immediately after upgrading, I had my best day for likes (at the time) ‘BOOM!’.

Site stats - BOOM!

Now, this was not because I upgraded, but because I had got better at creating eye-catching posts and more followers, so I should expect to see many of these types of messages as the blog grows.

Below are a few other milestones that WordPress thought I should be aware of.

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Does having more followers equal more views? Yes and no. Yes, I get slightly more views now I have over 600 followers than when I had 100. However, I do not get anywhere 6x more viewers I get perhaps ten more views.

Why the discrepancy? Well, that is because people (mostly) follow you because they think you will follow them back and increase their followers. Therefore, you can end up with a ton of followers, but no one cares about your posts.

I do not know how many people you can follow per hour, but I would bet my entire net worth on the fact that you would gain a huge amount of followers if you followed every blogger you could, just from the ‘follow for follow effect’. I do not do this as I signed up to WordPress with an email address I care about – maybe a rookie error – and don’t want my inbox full of spam. How am I so sure this will work?

This is where we get into the dark arts and the ethical black hole that is marketing. I did a little experiment with likes. I liked as many posts as I possibly could – it turns out you can like 120 posts per hour—and found that from 120 likes I would get roughly five follows and 20 views. This may be a revelation to some of you and to others it may be a secret you wish I had not said.

Looking into this ‘like’ dilemma more, you might wonder if you should do this or not. My question is, why does WordPress set the limit at 120/hour? I highly doubt they think anyone could read 120 posts an hour, so there must be another reason.

Have they not thought about the issue and set an arbitrary limit? Highly unlikely. I think the fact you’re allowed to like this many posts per hour is to keep people on the site, I mean who doesn’t get encouraged when someone ‘likes’ your content? The more encouragement you get, the more you write, the more views you get, the more ads WordPress can serve.

I may be a bit cynical on this, but it does seem to encourage liking random posts to boost your stats. The limit of 120 must be to stop bots driving tons of views. This is the reason I say that engagement is important is largely from my results with the above experiment. I would be interested to know if anyone has tried to see how many follows you can do before you get capped by the WordPress speed limit? Scrap that, I tried it, and found that you can like 60 before getting an error.

Why do they allow 60 follows an hour? Well, they do need a limit, to discourage bots, and it needs to be high enough that you never run into a barrier and can’t follow someone you want to under legitimate use. Again, I imagine this number has been arrived at by a lot of data analysis, rather than someone saying ‘errr what shall we set the follow limit at Jeff?’, ‘just make it half the number of likes’.

Comments… As I have stressed, engagement is key to views. Leaving comments on other peoples sites leaves a persistent portal from their website to yours. This too is to be abused by the fiendish marketeer.

I have only had one comment marked as spam on my site by WordPress so far, and it was quite suspicious. It was very generic ‘hey I like your content!’ and then I clicked on the profile of the site who commented and I saw that the site had well over seven thousand followers and was much less than one year old. The content was entirely average. Well… don’t hate the player hate the game. Once again please leave a comment if you know the speed limit for comments,

I may make a fake profile and test it for myself before this gets released. Comments are my favourite metric for how well a blog is doing as this is the ultimate engagement on the site and it is the only notification I receive. Due to all the dark arts, I have described in this post, I no longer receive any notifications other than comments as the others do not mean anything to me. The reason I started this site was to get feedback to learn, so comments are all I need.

Regarding visitors and views, I have found that I get a 50 % difference. For every two views, I get one visitor; I am guessing this means that half of the people come to my site look at more than one page. I don’t see anything wrong with this statistic so I shall move along.

My feeling toward the dark arts is somewhat conflicted as it is clearly encouraged by WordPress by the fact that from the reader tab you can like, comment, follow and share a post without even reading it. All you will see is the image, the title and the first few sentences. This surely can’t be enough time to form an opinion on the post? Ethically I don’t think you should disingenuously like, comment, follow etc. On the other hand, if you want your blog to grow, you cannot just expect good writing and time to get traffic.

Now I am going to talk about one of my biggest hatreds that I have found about the community, it is actually my only hatred: blogger awards. I recently got ‘nominated’ for a sunshine blogger award. I can understand the people who made these ‘awards’ as they have created something to drive traffic to their site, with only idiots thinking they have achieved something. However, it seems that 90% of the community values these things, I see posts all the time where people are genuinely thanking the people who nominated them. I have even seen people proudly display these awards on their blogs! I guess most people do not see through these thinly veiled devices that drive traffic.

All I have spoken of above are symptoms of problems rooted in the larger society, where people see celebrities make a post about some product and earn loads of money from doing so. This inspires everyone else to do the same and suddenly everyone is trying to sell anything, including their dignity, for a punchers chance at fame and fortune. And me? I’m the worst of all, I tell myself I am better than them by disguising my attempts to get that passive income as a learning opportunity. I’m cognisant of the problem and still buying the ticket for the ride.

You may think that I haven’t enjoyed my time on WordPress, but this is not true, I have had many great engagements with people commenting on my blog and best of all have been the book recommendations. My reading list has increased massively, and I hope this continues. I can’t stress enough how much enjoy reading your comments; thanks for that!

I have not seen any other bloggers address these issues so it would be great to get your opinion (engagement bait). Feel free to ironically link your blog in the comments.

 

P.S

I have just seen this in notification settings. This a button that contains an ethical conundrum! A deal with the Devil I wonder?

no email button

I guess that is how you follow everyone and don’t get spam in your inbox.

 

Your site deserves a boost?

Since I have been posting on this platform, I have been reminded each time I log in that ‘Your site deserves a boost!’ As the goal of my posts are to improve my writing the measure of success from this is my writing improving there is no monetary incentive. I am not convinced that my site ‘deserves a boost’, seeing as 100% of the traffic to this site comes from WordPress’s ‘reader’ I am not sure that a boost would achieve anything. If you’re a fellow blogger and have given your site a boost, please let me know what your experience of this has been! Has your traffic and interaction with readers significantly improved?

Why and at what point did you decide to upgrade?

Besides ‘phd992007674.wordpress.com’ just so happens to be my preferred URL, so the joke is on you WordPress!