In his novel ‘Nausea’, Jean-Paul Sartre suggests that at around forty, experienced professionals ‘christen their small obstinacies and a few proverbs with the name of experience, they begin to simulate slot machines: put in a coin in the left hand slot and you get tales wrapped in silver paper, put a coin in the slot on the right and you get precious bits of advice that stick to your teeth like caramels’. When I first read this passage a few weeks ago, it seemed like an apt description of a not-so-young professor writing a weekly blog.
I am on vacation combining the positive effects of reading [see ‘Reading offline‘ on March 19th, 2014] and walking [see ‘Gone walking‘ on April 19th, 2017] with a digital detox [see ‘In digital detox‘ on July 19th, 2017]; but, through the scheduling facilities provided by WordPress, I am still able to dispense my slot machine homily. I will leave you to decide which posts are from the left and right slots.
The picture shows a little collection of pebbles and a shell that sits on the desk in my office. There are similar collections in various locations at home and some of my coats have a pebble permanently in one pocket – there’s even a shell on the dashboard of our car. They have all been picked up during walks on beaches [see my post entitled ‘Take a walk on the wild side‘ on 26th August 2015] and serve as reminders of the ‘slowness’ enjoyed on vacation [see my post ‘Slow down, breathe your own air‘ on December 23rd, 2015]. Barbara Hepworth owned a similar collection of stones that you can see in the Hepworth Wakefield. On the subject of this habit she wrote in 1961: ‘Many people select a stone or a pebble to carry for the day. The weight and form and texture felt in our hands relates us to the past and gives us a sense of a universal force. The beautifully shaped stone, washed up by the sea, is a symbol of continuity, a silent image of our desire for survival, peace and security.’ I could not express it better so I didn’t try.
The quote is from a contribution to the film Barbara Hepworth directed by John Read, BBC TV, 1961 and can be found in Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations, edited by Sophie Bowness, London: Tate Publishing, 2015.
At the Airbus PhD workshop that I attended a couple of weeks ago [see my post entitled Making Engineering Work for Society on September 13th 2017], Axel Flaig, Head of Airbus Research and Technology, gave us an excellent opening presentation describing their vision for the future. Besides their vision for the next generation of passenger aircraft with reductions in CO2, NOx and noise emissions of 75%, 90% and 65% respectively against 2000 levels by 2050, they are also looking at urban air mobility. We have 55 megacities [cities with a population of more than 10 million] and it is expected that this will increase to 93 by 2035 [see my post entitled ‘Hurrying Feet in Crowded Camps’ on August 16th, 2017]. These megacities are characterized by congestion and time-wasted moving around them; so, Airbus is working on designs for intra-city transport that takes us off the roads and into the air. Perhaps the most exciting is the electric Pop.up concept that is being developed with Italdesign. But, Airbus are beyond concepts: they have a demonstrator single-seater, self-pilot vehicle, the Vahana that will fly in 2017 and a multi-passenger demonstrator scheduled to fly in 2018.
Soon, we will have to look left, right and up before we cross the road, or maybe nobody will walk anywhere – though that would be bad news for creative thinking [see my post on ‘Gone Walking’ on 19th April 2017], amongst other things!
As a student, in the run up to exams, I used to enjoy going out walking in the hills on my own. This approach to exam preparation probably surprised my fellow students. While other walkers that I came across probably thought I was mad because, in an age before mobile phones, they would see me talking to myself; because, as I walked, I was reciting material that I needed to learn for the next exam. This technique worked for me but I have hesitated to recommend such behaviour to my students. Now, I’ve discovered that psychologists have found that cognitive performance is improved in young adults while walking at a comfortable, relaxed speed. This is probably connected to the neurogenesis that I wrote about in my post entitled ‘Gone walking’ on April 19th, 2017.
So, as the examination season is underway in many universities, I thought I should pass on my rather eccentric approach to exam revision. No doubt, I’ll discover that I wasn’t so eccentric after all but none of us dared share such an unconventional approach to exam preparation.