Monday, 30 June 2008

What do I do now?

I've had a comment, but not about the trees. Nor even Nunhead.
Instead its to do with that posting regarding the article in the Guardian that niggled me a few days back. (See "How Not to Solve a Problem")
It's an answer from the bloke what wrote it. Oh well, I'm sure there is some kind of netiquette that says I should publish what he has written, so I have.

Even though I disagree with him and think he's wrong.

However the Web isn't a place where the "last word" ever gets said, so I'm not going into reply-to-reply-to-reply mode. So I'll be silent.

I've also just realised I could stop this blog now. And all the comments on my blog would be by published writers and Professors.


Pretty unbeatable I reckon.

I need to think about this. While I do, if you aren't a professor or published writer, and you really must comment (eg on that nice picture of Nunhead Green a day or so ago), then, um, could you lie a little about who you are?


Off to the pub now.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Around and about

Nunhead Green
I guess its about time to write a little about virtual Nunhead.

There's precious little on the Web about this area, which is good in a way because it means I will have seen quite a lot of it. Also, "Precious little", in Web terms, actually can be a reasonable amount.
If you go to the Nunhead Forum site you get a lot of official stuff and some other bits and pieces.
The other thing that is obvious from the site is the way in which Dulwich acts gravitationally to pull Nunhead off to the West. The Bishop was apparently awarded the prize for the best bar in Nunhead 2007? Fine, except it isn't in Nunhead!
Other notable sites are those for the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery (one of the magnifient seven Victorian London cemeteries). More bout this another time.
Ken's The View from Nunhead Station - which to be honest less about Nunhead than the diaspora of non-Nunhead things around and about. Still, good fun.
There is the quite well-known and publicised Nunhead Mum of One/Nunhead Ramblings site.
And Google has just thrown up Nunhead brewery. Amazing.
Then there are a few arty sites, like The Chapel Project and the blog for Nunhead Arts Week.

Sunny Saturday

Yesterday was a super, warm and sunny Saturday, and when not ferrying around other members of the family I managed to take several more photographs. I'll use them over the next few days. I think. The shot above shows the tip of the silver birch, and hust how nce the day was.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

How Not to Solve a Problem

Clearing out some old newspapers a couple of days ago, I came across a highly annoying piece by one Stephen Heppell.

Professor Heppell, it seems, has become irritated by technologists who “lock down” computer systems (that is, give controlled or limited access to technology, Web sites and so forth in classes and other workplaces).

He describes this as a new “Digital Divide” between “those children for whom the whole power of new technology is locked down (ie offer limited access to web content and functions) so utterly, that they are left helplessly watching their computer screens while others are forging ahead unfettered and unrestricted. It’s a crisis”. Later on he speaks of “this scandal” and the situation being “frightening” and “damaging”.

Now, I can see that he has a point – at least inasmuch as he highlights how difficult it is to set the right balance control and access, or in other terms between security and freedom. It is true that sometimes the desire to manage assets, protect the vulnerable young and to control support costs can result in an over-controlling environment.

This, for some, can be a real problem. How can teachers teach if they can’t access educational resources? How can children learn and analyse if the materials are hidden? And perhaps more subtly, if children grow overly-used to over-protected walled gardens, how do they learn to discriminate and to identify real threats for themselves?

These are real issues. However, there are also many arguments to be put on the part of the technologists and systems managers who set up these systems. Imagine how a technician would feel if, as a result of a slipshod approach to safety, a child was put at risk? And what would her managers, or the pres say about it? Often support teams, the unglamorous backroom people, are under significant cost pressure, with too few people and too little time to set up flexible controls. In such a context it is often easier to define simple control rules than it is to be more sophisticated and granular.

The challenges set by the various hacker communities are nontrivial – even the best security software works by generalised rules. In a complex environment, with limited time, it is rare that these can be adjusted perfectly to the specific needs of a community.

The main day-to-day computer costs in any organisation are not in the purchase price of the kit, but they reside exactly in this specialised support - in the time of hard-pressed technicians, whether internal or outsourced. So when Heppell writes that laptops are as cheap as “three or four tankfulls of petrol” he has strayed somewhat from the point.
However, the real problem with the Professor’s piece is not that it begins to air the problem, but that it is so one-sided, and argued so intemperately.

At no point does he recognise the challenges that technical specialists face, nor does he attempt to understand the pressures created by a relatively ignorant media. Instead he uses similarly inflammatory media techniques himself. Rather than engage constructively, he chooses to shout that they are wrong and he and other teachers must be right.

The piece in question is so one-sided that - if any one reads it - it will end up polarising debate, and prevent a proper balanced dialogue. He is grandstanding to other teachers, while potentially alienating the very people he ought to be trying to work with to find an answer.

That is, if they don’t just ignore him. He is undermined by his own hyperbole. For him, at least as he argues in this piece, all Web access is good – there is no risk or downside. His language is extreme, and his examples weak and unsystematic.

Whatever Heppell says, this isn’t a scandal. It isn’t something that should “obviously” be changed by policy. It’s a real-world challenge which arises when complex, evolving technologies and different communities of practice (in this case teachers and security technologists) come together. It needs a spirit of partnership working rather than a rant.

As a start, he could try to understand the real limitations of today’s computer security technologies, the nature of the perceived risks, and the challenges faced by those who work to counter those risks.

Perhaps then he wouldn’t give so much stick to people who, at the end of the day, are trying to deliver a service to him and his colleagues.

There is a lot more I could write on this, but I’ll end up ranting just as much as the good Professor (who I am sure is a nice enough chap really).

Plus, it isn’t about trees. Or Nunhead. Sorry.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

At night

Here is the same birch taken at night. Not a cloud in the sky, warm and dark.

I've cropped it slighty to get some plants out of the way (Hollyhocks, I gather).

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Further detail

Well, anyway, Ros tells me the Oak is Quercus robur, so that's OK

Sunday, 22 June 2008


This is another one of my favourite trees. It is a lively, complex Silver Birch (I think) in our back garden. It was planted eleven years ago in March ( a day before our youngest son was born), as a small sapling.

My wife understands the ecology. Apparently it is great because it is infested with black fly and green fly, which are farmed by ants from the garden and are a delight to the sparrows which cavort through its branches.

Yes, it was windy today (see previous post). What I like about this tree is the way it sways with the wind. The leaves are a slightly different colour on each side, so as the wind blows it, swathes of variegated colours swish across it.

Hopkins wrote about this also; I need to dig the poem out.

A Windy Day

Radio 4 this morning spoke of 60 mile an hour gusts of wind, and urged Britain to beware falling tree branches.

But I can't clain that this was the reason for starting a blog on the subject of local trees - and stuff.

I am facinated by the richness and variety of Nunhead's trees. This is one way, I guess, of documenting that interest. Like many blogs, this begins as an experiment, but one that has been gestating, half-formed for a while.

Why start today? Well, if anything is going to be done, you have to start some time. So why not now. And at least its a Sunday, so I've got some time to fiddle.

Why this subject? Well, why not?

What I write should explain better than any further discussion why I want to write it.

The tree I begin with is a young Oak, growing in a rubbish bin.
That sounds a little basic, and the tree sounds unloved, so I ought to explain that it was planted there, and it has been happily (if slowly) growing there for several years.

And yet for all that I know a little of the history of this tree, another problem becomes immediately apparent. What form of Quercus is it?

I know pretty much nothing about trees. A quick search tells me there are lots of different types of oak (English oak, holm oak, etc). The Wikipedia article speaks of several hundred species of trees and shrubs in the genus Quercus alone - and also says there are oaks that don't fall within Quercus.

So how would I know what a given tree in Nunhead is?

Well, I could always hope that Wiki entry is wrong, but I doubt it. Alternatively, I could delve deeply in to questions of taxonomy and classification. However, I suspect that is a little beyond me at present, although I hope this blog will help me to learn a lot more about trees.

So I'm going to refer pretty randomly to trees by their common name, sometimes chipping in with the Latin and sometimes not. And I'll get stuff wrong, I know. But someone once told me that is the point of a blog. It's in part an exercise in learning as you go along.

So anyway, welcome to The trees around Nunhead, for however long it lasts and whatever we discover.

It goes without saying that if you know anything more about my modest little beginner of an oak tree, then please comment or drop me a line.