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Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Oxford — July 2020
Note: a version of this appeared in the Oxford Mail on 21 July 2020.

There is nothing at all complicated about low traffic neighbourhoods, even if urban planners turn them into acronyms ("LTNs") and introduce jargon such as "modal filter". more

reading at seven and a half

Books + Ideas, Children — July 2020

Helen is rarely an avid reader. If she gets stuck into something she'll go through it eagerly, and she can reread books or entire series she loves, but otherwise she'll pretty much never sit down and start reading if there's playing to be done instead. Most of her reading is done in bed, before going to sleep or (in these days without school) on waking up.

The major constraint on her reading is scariness, which includes broader emotional stress - Hugh and Jonathan parting in Brother Dusty-Feet (which I had to read the last chapters of to her) was almost as bad as Pheasant being shot in The Animals of Farthing Wood (which she abandoned). Once she knows a book she's usually ok to read it again (though she's stalled at "Riddles in the Dark" in The Hobbit, which I've read to her). more

lockdown shopping

Life, Oxford — June 2020

Yesterday I made my first visit to Blackwells bookshop, one of the shops that has reopened with the easing of lockdown. I bought Marcia Williams' Tales From Shakespeare for Helen and (an impromptu find) Ross MacPhee's End of the Megafauna.

Before that, I think I had visited just four shops in the four months or so of lockdown: more

cycling safety

Books + Ideas, Oxford — June 2020

Cycling advocates sometimes seem to get themselves into a knot trying to distinguish subjective and objective cycling safety. How can it be safe to cycle, while at the same time improving safety is a key priority?

I see two things that are central to resolving this apparent inconsistency. The first is that there is no dichotomy between safe and unsafe, and that safety profiles vary between people: in particular there is a difference between the people currently cycling and the people who could potentially cycle. The second is that there are longer-term dangers that appear neither to immediate observation nor in accident statistics — in particular, it is critical to take stress into account.

It is quite safe for me to cycle into central Oxford, either by myself or with my seven year old on a tandem. But it would be unsafe (at most times) for me to cycle that same route accompanied by the same seven year old on their own bicycle, or for most twelve year olds to cycle it by themselves. And I can cycle that route without much stress. But for some people, even some fitter and more experienced at cycling than me, that identical route may be really stressful, to the point where repeated, long-term exposure to it would be detrimental to their health. more

lockdown notes

Life — June 2020

Some random notes on my experience of lockdown.

children love big numbers

Helen was not convinced that the two times table contains the same number of numbers as the seven times table. [A conversation she initiated herself going to bed, out of nowhere.] She understood the idea of using a bijection to show two collections have the same cardinality without counting them - I modelled it (conceptually, not physically) with smarties, buttons and a lot of string - and she could see how 2n <-> 7n works, but (not surprisingly) it just seemed wrong to her. Just wait till she finds out the rationals are countable! more

scaling: classes and schools

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2020

Being involved with a school provides a good example of scaling problems. A lot of things that seem intuitive or simple at an individual level are difficult or complex at larger scales.

One key number is 30, the approximate number of children in a class (Helen's has ranged from 28 to 31). The other is 450, which is roughly the number of children in her school, a two-form entry primary school with an attached Early Years unit. more

things start breaking

Life, Technology — May 2020

My (three year old) iphone has been playing up for the last month or two - maybe a couple of times a week apps start crashing randomly and I have to power-cycle it. Strangely, that started happening just as Apple announced a replacement model. more

foreign languages at seven

Books + Ideas, Children — May 2020

Helen has only done a tiny bit with foreign languages - German and Latin - since my last update on this a year ago. more

lessons from Ghent

Books + Ideas, Oxford — May 2020

Oxfordshire Liveable Streets invited Filip Watteouw, deputy mayor of Ghent, to talk about the circulation plan they implemented in 2017 and how that has worked out. I talked briefly about how that was similar to the Connecting Oxford plans. And there were questions about different aspects of the Ghent scheme. There is a recording of that session.

I'm not going to go over the details of the Ghent circulation plan - as well as our video, for that I also recommend this Streetfilms video and a followup on the politics and pr involved. more

ideas for rapid active travel shift for Oxford

Oxford, Travel — May 2020

In the light of government directives to reallocate space to walking and cycling, what should Oxford prioritise? more

buying books online (in the UK)

Books + Ideas — May 2020

I love visiting streetfront bookshops and buying books there, but sadly that's not possible at the moment. And a lot of the books I want simply aren't available even in well-stocked shops such as the Oxford Blackwells and Waterstones.

If I'm looking to buy a book online, first of all I check Amazon. This will alert me if there are different editions available, and give me some feel for the price, new or secondhand. But it's not often that Amazon has the best price, even if you're not avoiding it for ethical reasons! more

Oxfordshire Local Transport consultation

Books + Ideas, Oxford — May 2020

Oxfordshire County Council is running a consultation on its Local Transport and Connectivity Plan. This involves 28 brief topic papers and questions about them, but it is easy to respond to just one or two of those, so I would encourage anyone concerned about any aspect of transport within the county to lodge a response. The deadline has been extended to 17 May 2020. more

reopening English schools

Books + Ideas, Children — April 2020

It will be some time before reopening schools in England (for all children) is practical. They're just starting to do that in Australia, where infection rates are less than one hundredth of those here (with around 10 new cases a day instead of 5000, despite more aggressive testing). But we can think about how that should be done, once infection rates are much lower and a robust test-and-trace system is in place. more

everyday exercise

Books + Ideas, Travel — April 2020

I'm really conscious of the importance of exercise, especially as I get older — I've read enough of the research on this to know how big the health implications are, and I've even heard Muir Gray talk twice. But I find it really hard to exercise just for the sake of exercise: I can't see myself ever joining a gym, buying household exercise equipment, or anything like that. more

crisis "home schooling"

Books + Ideas, Children — March 2020

It's important to note that what we and many other parents and carers find themselves doing now is not traditional home schooling. It has been thrust upon us, with little warning, rather than being deliberately chosen, and we are in more or less stringent "lockdown", unable to go on outings or meet up with other families. And our school at least is providing solid remote learning support — home learning plans, videoed storytelling and singing assemblies, links to other resources, and so forth. more

graph theory for children

Books + Ideas, Children — March 2020

I'm firmly convinced that graph theory is a perfect subject to teach to young (primary school) children. It allows an introduction to core aspects of mathematics - abstraction, generalisation, formalism, proof - in a context where there's a concrete visual representation and without requiring significant prerequisite knowledge. It offers the possibility of building to more difficult material (matchings, Ramsey numbers) and methods and tools (variables, induction, reductio), but also a range of topics which can be introduced independently at a low level of complexity (graph colouring, paths, simple functions). more

reading history

Books + Ideas, Children — March 2020

Helen complained that she wasn't doing any history. I had to break it to her that reading books on the First and Second World Wars, a historical novel set in Tudor London, and a loosely fictionalised art history survey counted as doing history, and that if she were to study history at Oxford it would actually be described as "reading history" - and probably wouldn't involve re-enactments of the Great Fire of London. more

A School Streets scheme at Larkrise school, Oxford?

Children, Oxford — February 2020

Air pollution and road danger are among the greatest threats to children's health and lives in the United Kingdom; both are aggravated by motor traffic outside schools at pick-up and drop-off times. School Streets schemes offer a way of reducing this, through traffic restrictions outside schools during key periods of the day.

Road danger and air pollution are the primary concerns, but other gains from such schemes include getting more children walking or cycling to school, improving their fitness and health, and reducing congestion on the road system more broadly.

Oxfordshire County Council has plans to implement School Streets schemes at four schools in Oxford: Larkrise, SS Mary and John, St Ebbes, and Windmill. These are pilots, and if successful would be used as models for other schools. Here I discuss the state of proposals for Larkrise, as the school I am most familiar with. more

reading at seven

Books + Ideas, Children — January 2020

The last six months have been dominated by a few series and rereading of favourite books, but have also seen Helen tackling her first really solid novels.

Books that Helen has read and reread include Alf Prøysen's Mrs Pepperpot Stories (a chance secondhand dicovery), Pamela Travers' Mary Poppins books, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger's The Number Devil. more

buses and bicycles (in Oxford)

Books + Ideas, Oxford — November 2019

Bicycles have featured a lot in my blog, but the other key to sustainable transport, in Oxford as in much of the world, is the bus. Buses are central to Oxford's existing transport and will need to play an even bigger role in any sustainable future. More generally, such a future requires the world to transition away from private motor vehicles, with perhaps an 80% reduction in car miles in the UK, and the bulk of that transport "hole" will have to be filled by bicycles and buses. more

don't make your child multiply - primary mathematics instruction

Books + Ideas, Children — November 2019

If your school tells you to cram times-tables or fractions into your child, but they don't want to do that or don't enjoy doing that, don't make them multiply. If they don't enjoy the maths they are doing at school, don't try to force them to do it at home, that's only going to make them dislike it even more. Instead, play games with them, do things with numbers and shapes yourself, show them mathematics unrelated to anything they do in school, and give them fun maths books to read and videos to watch. I realise this is harder for most parents than my previous "don't make your child read" injunction, because fewer parents enjoy mathematics themselves than enjoy reading, but if you are maths-averse yourself think of this as an opportunity to learn something new alongside your children. more

E-bikes and cycling accessibility

Books + Ideas, Technology — November 2019

Widespread take up of e-bikes requires broader measures to make cycling accessible. E-bikes are not, by themselves, going to do much to enable most people to cycle.

In the Netherlands, e-bikes help to increase the distances people will cycle and enable people to keep cycling as they get older, but this is dependent on the infrastructure enabling those people to cycle already. In most of the UK, e-bikes will enable people to not cycle 4 mile trips as well as not cycling 3 mile trips, and enable 70 year olds to not cycle at the same rates as 40 year olds don't cycle. more

a school "house" system

Books + Ideas, Children — October 2019

Helen's school has lost its maths awards and gained a "house" system. One of the reasons I preferred Larkrise to other schools was the absence of anything like that, so I can't say I'm very happy about this. more

cycling in central Oxford

Oxford — October 2019

Walking around Oxford's city centre can be pretty unpleasant, as I've written about before. But that pales in comparison with how awful it is for cycling. Yes, there are lots of people doing that, but there are even more people who simply will not cycle in central Oxford because it is too hostile and unpleasant. more

an Oxford CPZ (controlled parking zone)

Oxford — October 2019
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The area we're in has recently been made a controlled parking zone, meaning that only vehicles with an area permit can park in it. Residents have to pay £60/year for a permit, with a maximum of two per house, and get a set of once-off vouchers for use by visitors or tradespeople. more

an Archipelago subscription

Books + Ideas — October 2019

I've been reading books published by Archipelago Books for some time, but a few months ago, in a fit of madness, I became a subscribing member, which means I get all their new books, roughly one a month. more

Connecting Oxford

Oxford — October 2019

Hallelujah! Oxfordshire County and Oxford City Councils have realised that throwing money at small tweaks to transport won't get anywhere and, facing everything getting slowly but steadily worse, have come up with proposals for traffic reduction that would actually make a real difference. more

passport renewal - art, banknotes, traffic

Books + Ideas, Travel — September 2019

I had to go into London to renew my Australian passport, so I took the opportunity to visit some attractions: the Bank of England Museum and the Guildhall Art Gallery. more

the priorities of autonomous cars - safety or convenience?

Books + Ideas — September 2019

At the Questacon science museum in Canberra there was an exhibition on robotics, which included quizes asking people how they felt robots should behave. One of those, probing the value of different kinds of human lives, asked what the software controlling an autonomous car should do if the brakes failed approaching a pedestrian crossing and the choices were to run over a child or an old person — alternative routes to the sides were shown crashing into brick walls. more

bike parking in central Oxford

Books + Ideas, Oxford — July 2019

I cycle pretty much past Oxford's Covered Market (down Turl St) daily, on my way home from work, and often want to get fresh vegetables or meat. But I never go there, because there's no bike parking. more

Humanities in primary schools

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2019

There's a Humanities 2020 campaign with a manifesto that begins:

Primary schools have a duty to equip children for the challenges of the 21st century. We believe that the primary school curriculum in England is failing to do this or to fulfil the legal requirement for a balanced and broadly-based curriculum. Literacy and numeracy dominate the curriculum while other vital aspects of learning are often ignored. This is wrong.

We want young children to be literate and numerate, but much more than that. We affirm that every child is entitled to rich, stimulating and engaging learning experiences. We want children to have more opportunities to be creative and to build on their sense of curiosity. We would like to bring more joy and imagination back into the classroom.

This is something I fully endorse. The major concern I have with the campaign is its conception of the humanities as History, Geography, Religious Education, and Citizenship. more

serendipitous fun: Georgian script + random graphs

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2019

Kenneth Katzner's Languages of the World is being updated and since I'd reviewed the previous edition I'd been asked for comments on that and had my copy lying around. Browsing through it with Helen, she decided that Georgian was the most attractive script, so we transliterated and translated the first word (ღმერთსა / ghmertsa = to God) in the sample text, with the aid of Google Translate and Wikipedia. We're not about to learn Georgian, but I think she understands the difference between transliteration and translation now.

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reading at six and a half

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2019

The last couple of months have seen an explosion not in the scope of Helen's reading but in the amount of time she spends reading. She'll almost always prefer friends or games, but she can read for an hour at a stretch in the right circumstances. (When I was in Year 1, I used to sit and read in the playground while everyone else ran around. I'm glad Helen is more sociable than that!) more

A 9km Chilterns loop walk, Pishill + Maidensgrove

Travel — May 2019

Yesterday Helen and I did a lovely walk in the Chilterns with our friend Jude, a 9km loop starting in Pishill and having lunch at the Five Horseshoes in Upper Maidensgrove. more

Oxford Reading Spree

Books + Ideas, Children — May 2019

I snuck into the Oxford Reading Spree, a one-day conference for teachers on books and reading, which I knew about because it was being run at my daughter's school and organised by one of the teachers there. more

UK European Elections - South East region predictions/analysis

Books + Ideas — May 2019

The UK polling for the European Elections has largely been national, with separate polling only (that I've seen) for the London region. So it's hard to work out what's going on in my "South East" region. Here's my attempt at an analysis. more

culling books and memories

Books + Ideas — May 2019

Culling books is a bit like culling memories.

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"Urge and Merge" - how not to get mass cycling

Books + Ideas, Oxford — May 2019

There's an approach to cycling which my friend Scott Urban calls "urge and merge". The first part of this involves encouraging people to cycle, through providing information, training, and so forth. The second part involves then getting them to "merge" with the motor traffic, to share space with dense traffic flows, perhaps even to "take the lane" and cycle as if they were a vehicle — or in some cases to "merge" with people walking. This is an approach that has dominated thinking about cycling in the UK for decades, despite the fact that it clearly hasn't worked. Things are changing, but these ideas keep being used as an alternative to avoid more effective but harder changes.

Three lists illustrate how how this works, with a focus on Oxford, where decades of "urge and merge" have moved the cycling modal share nowhere. more

a tiny bit of German

Four years ago I mused about possible second languages for Helen and mentioned that I had tried talking to her a bit in German. And German is the language we've progressed most with, though sadly not very far. more

a new desktop computer

Technology — May 2019

The computer I had used for the last nine years was built when we arrived in the UK, but was a clone of the computer I had had in Australia and was effectively over a decade old. I was running out of space (though much of that was cullable video) and when my existing storage produced some errors (some flagged by btrfs, others by read errors on my rsync backups), I decided it was time for an upgrade. more

mathematics at six: apps and games

Books + Ideas, Children — April 2019

Helen has flat out refused to log on to the Rock Stars Times Tables site her school has provided all students access to, because — going by the demonstration and explanation of it they were given in assembly — she thinks it is about high scores and competition. more

favourite picturebooks

Books + Ideas, Children — April 2019

Helen is still going back and rereading them by herself, but we're slowly moving out of picturebook age and I can't see us buying many more. So now seems like a good time to offer up a list of our favourites. These are some of the ones we loved, and which we read and reread and will probably keep. They are in no particular order below, but grouped to make my commentary easier. Most of them are classics, but there are a few lesser known books and authors in there. (I will cover non-fiction in a separate post.)

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reading complexity

Books + Ideas, Children — March 2019

Learning to read is not something that ever finishes. I'm still learning new words and improving my understanding of morphology, etymology, syntax, style, and so forth. But Helen can read now, in the sense that the problems she faces reading are mostly the same ones an adult faces, albeit at higher frequency and in a different mix, rather than the basic decoding she was struggling with a year ago. more

minitrams - the nadir of cycling in Britain?

Books + Ideas — March 2019

I suggest that 1981 was the absolute nadir of utility cycling in Britain. As evidence for that I present, courtesy of Graham Smith, this diagram from the December 5, 1981 issue of the The Economist.

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not for myself

Books + Ideas, Oxford — March 2019

I'm not trying to reform transport in Oxford for myself. Personally, I find Oxford remarkably easy to get around, and indeed one of its attractions for me has always been that, while it has the "cultural capital" of a city many times its size, it feels like a village because getting around it is so easy. more

music

Books + Ideas — February 2019

I did know, or would at least have guessed, that David Bowie and Prince were singers, and in talking about them I recognised the line "Ground control to Major Tom" and the phrase "The entity formerly known as Prince", but otherwise I knew little about them and the outpouring of emotion at their deaths was rather a mystery to me. More generally, questions such as "name the ten albums that most influenced you as a teenager" aren't really meaningful to me, since my teenage years were largely music-free. more

text complexity metrics - Lexiles + ATOS book levels

Books + Ideas, Children — February 2019

There are many different metrics for measuring text complexity. The two I find most interesting are Lexiles and ATOS Book Levels, because there are online tools that give these measures for many popular children's books. (The Lexile scheme seems to have better coverage of American books and the ATOS one of British books.)

These tools should be used with caution, perhaps for comparisons of books in the same genres and styles — or working out which of an author's books it might be best to start with. They may help parents (or teachers) who are trying to vary what they offer children, perhaps supplementing graded readers, but they can't replace a librarian or an experienced teacher. Apart from any other concerns, these metrics offer no guide to quality!

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I am Ashurbanipal

Books + Ideas — February 2019

While Camilla was doing a choir conducting course, Helen and I went to a fantastic Ashurbanipal exhibition at the British Museum. For a while I was afraid she was going to insist on reading every word on every board and caption. Eventually she got tired and let me read them to her instead, but we were there until the exhibition closed and she must have read almost half the text in it.

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Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
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even in hunting scenes, Ashurbanipal is depicted with a stylus in his belt; he was proud of being able to read and write Akkadian and Sumerian

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walking to school

Children — February 2019

When I was barely seven, and we lived in Sydney's Upper North Shore, I used to walk home from school not just by myself but taking my year and a half younger sister with me. more

a first date! teaching history to a six year old

Books + Ideas — January 2019

Helen learned her first historical date at the end of last year: 1666. Her school teaches its curriculum (except for mathematics) around topics, and the topic for Year 1's first half-term was the Great Fire of London. I suspect she remembers the date largely because one of the activities they did was singing the song "September 1666".

She is still very hazy about dates and chronology, however: she might have learned the date of the Great Fire of London, but at the same time she was asking me whether that happened before or after the Second World War. She has a vague feeling for twentieth century chronology, anchored by family history. more

an access/congestion charge for central Oxford

Oxford — January 2019

Central Oxford is severely space constrained. It suffers from bus and vehicle congestion, and not enough space is provided for people walking or waiting for buses or admiring the buildings, for proper bus layovers, or for safe cycling routes. Creating more space is not an option, so there is no way to do anything about these problems without shifting people from the least space efficient mode — private motor vehicles — to more efficient modes — buses, bicycles, or feet. One key tool for achieving this would be an access charge for motor vehicles. more

Let's do it! Oxford City Centre Movement and Public Realm Strategy (Phil Jones)

Books + Ideas, Oxford — December 2018

The recent Phil Jones Associates' "Oxford City Centre Movement and Public Realm Strategy", commissioned by the city and county councils, proposes a radical reworking of Oxford's core in favour of public space and active travel. This offers an escape from the transport "swamp" the city is currently stuck in: the alternative is stumbling along, flailing about but sinking deeper into the quagmire. Everyone concerned about air pollution, congestion and barriers to walking and cycling in Oxford should push the councils to take the proposals in this report, give them flesh, and put them into (respectively) their Local Plan and Transport Strategy. more

Oxford street design failures 1: Howard St to Boundary Brook Rd

Books + Ideas, Oxford — November 2018

In this post I examine a "micro" example from East Oxford that illustrates how street design fails people walking or cycling: where the lane from Boundary Brook Rd meets Howard St. more

Golden Awards, Dojo points and behaviour colours

Children — November 2018

Helen's school has a "Golden Assembly" each Friday, in which one child in each class gets a Golden Award. Every Thursday she asks me, a bit wistfully, questions like "do you think I'll get the Golden Award tomorrow?". And now she's started talking about it at other times, too. more

mathematics approaching 6

Books + Ideas, Children — November 2018

I never did end up running any kind of pre-school maths circle, and once the children started school there hasn't really been spare time in the week for such a thing. But some of my thoughts about teaching mathematics from two and a half years ago have progressed.

One of my principles is to try to avoid things that will be covered in school. more

don't make your child read

Books + Ideas, Children — October 2018

If your school tells you your child is supposed to read to you four times a week, but they don't want to do that or don't like doing that, don't make them read. more

reading at 5¾

Books + Ideas, Children — October 2018

I got a new kindle for my birthday, so I deleted everything off the old one except the children's books, renamed it, and voila! Helen now has a kindle. And she read her first book on it - Roald Dahl's The Twits - pretty much in one sitting. more

predictable journey times

Books + Ideas, Oxford — October 2018

One of the big advantages of cycling is that, like walking, it has predictable journey times. There are many trips where driving may be faster on average, but in Oxford at least driving times are highly unpredictable. This is a particular problem if one needs to be somewhere at a particular time - for a school drop-off, say, or for work, since one then has to leave earlier to allow for contingencies, obviating any speed advantage. more

new Kindle

Technology — October 2018

As a birthday present from Camilla, I have an new kindle Oasis, upgrading my very basic kindle from six years ago. The Oasis is expensive, but is the only current model that has physical page turn buttons. And so far it's clearly better than the old kindle, except for one really annoying software regression. more

never mix Lebesgue integration and black magic

Books + Ideas — August 2018

Way back in my first year of university one of my computer science tutors, I think it was Chris Bullivant, gave me the somewhat puzzling advice never to mix Lebesgue integration and black magic. (This was before he evicted me and Catherine Playoust from his tutorial because our discussion of Knuth's Fundamental Algorithms was distracting him from teaching the rest of the class what a for loop was.) I'm wondering now if this remark was inspired by Kennan T. Smith's A Primer of Modern Analysis, which as well as explaining Lebesgue integration carries the (unexplained) subtitle Directions for Knowing All Dark Things, Rhind Papyrus, 1800 B.C.. more

the Gilligan report on cycling in Oxford - a quick look

Books + Ideas, Oxford — August 2018

The Gilligan report Running out of Road: Investing in cycling in Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford offers an excellent analysis of the potential cycling has to help Oxford fix its transport problems. And its suggestions are on target. But it has some weaknesses, largely the result of considering cycling in isolation from other transport modes. more

yes, Norway is expensive

Travel — August 2018

It seems to be everyone's first question about Norway. And yes, it is indeed expensive. more

cooling fans and thermodynamics

Books + Ideas — July 2018

There seem to be some common misconceptions about the thermodynamics of fans going around. Running a fan in a room will not cool the room down. In fact it will heat it slightly, as the electrical power going into the fan (on the order of 50-70 watts for a typical standing room fan) will almost all end up as heat. The moving air from a fan will cool people down, by speeding up evaporation from the skin and the cooling associated with that (heat is transferred from your skin into the water as it evaporates), but it makes no sense to run a fan in an empty room. more

graded readers

Books + Ideas, Children — July 2018

Helen's school uses Oxford Reading Tree graded readers, as do apparently 80% of English schools. ("Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM.") I mostly ignored these when she brought them home, since she was happy to read them at school and we had more interesting things to read, so I missed the clear "Stage N" on the back covers and it was a while before I realised these were graded into quite narrow bands. more

reading at five and a half

Books + Ideas, Children — July 2018

An update on Helen's reading, following on from reading at five. more

Oxford is a boiling frog, its transport stuck in a steadily worsening local optimum

Books + Ideas, Oxford — July 2018

Oxford's transport system is trapped in a local optimum; it has already been heavily optimised for this and there is no way to improve it by making small changes. more

5 to 15?

Books + Ideas, Children — July 2018

If we moved back to Australia and then came back to the UK in ten years, I don't think any of Helen's friends would remember me. I'm just not that salient a part of their lives. A more interesting question is, would I recognise them after ten years away — what are all these little children going to be like at fifteen? They all seem as distinctive as anything now, but the evidence on personality persistence is limited, and tends to only involve broad features of temperament.

Anyway, whenever I think about planning the future, I try to imagine what Helen will be like at fifty and I realise that I have no clue.

Transferwise: foreign exchange transfers and payments

Technology, Travel — July 2018

Transferwise was originally a foreign exchange transfer service, but for some time it has offered a "Borderless" account — with sterling, Australian dollar, US dollar and Euro bank accounts as well as the ability to hold balances in two dozen other currencies — and now a debit card attached to that account. more

my formal early education failures

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2018

My plans for formal early years teaching all came to nothing. more

there's more to literacy than being able to read

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2018

It's amazing how fast, once you can read, literacy becomes part of your life, and it becomes almost impossible to stop yourself reading text if its in front of you. more

class photographs and market failures

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2018

Helen's school recently had class photos taken. We bought a copy of hers, paying £13.50 to the photography company, without thinking about it much. But there are, on consideration, two major problems with the way this worked. The first is a failure of inclusivity. The second is a market failure, where goods fail to end up in the hands of the people who value them most. more

Going around in circles: circulation plans from Groningen to Ghent

Oxford — June 2018

[Updated 2020] Back in 2012 I was inspired by a story about how Groningen had controlled its motor traffic by blocking routes through its centre, and suggested the same thing be done in Oxford. Richard Mann pointed out that the Groningen "ring road" was 5km long where Oxford's was 25km, however, and there didn't seem much enthusiasm even in Cyclox for the idea.

But similar circulation plans have since been implemented in places such as Ghent (in 2017) and proposed (in 2020) for cities such as Birmingham and Auckland. And the Connecting Oxford proposals from the Oxford and Oxfordshire councils come close to implementing a full circulation plan (needing only a couple more bus gates). more

Begbroke-Bladon-Woodstock walk

Oxford, Travel — May 2018

Helen and I did a lovely walk on Sunday with our friend Jude, starting at Begbroke, going through Bladon and Blenheim, and finishing in Woodstock.

Camilla was in Wales making a coracle, so we picked a walk we could do by bus on a Sunday (when many services out of Oxford don't run). We caught the S3 and got off at the Royal Sun at Begbroke. From there we walked past the lovely little St Michael's church (we didn't go in because there was a service in progress), across fields, and past some oak trees, to join the bridleway through the woods of Bladon Heath. That runs to Bladon, where we followed the back lanes to the church; we ate apples on a bench in front of Winston Churchill's grave.

We went into Blenheim by the Bladon Lodge entrance, then went into the Pleasure Garden for lunch (and a quick look at the Butterfly House though that was just too hot). Then we walked across the bridge, looked at the Harry Potter cypress, and went out the green gate to Woodstock, where we had a drink in the Oxfordshire Museum (where there was a lovely textile art exhibition) before catching the bus back to Oxford.

It was a lovely day, sunny but not too hot and with some shade from trees. 8km (5 miles) in about five hours, and there was a little bit of complaining, but I'm reasonably confident we'll cope ok with 9-11km stretches along Hadrian's Wall in three months time.

dangerous cycling infrastructure (Oxford)

Oxford — May 2018

In so far as there is any cycling infrastructure in Oxford it is substandard, but some of it is so bad it is actually dangerous and should be removed. more

reading at age five

Books + Ideas, Children — March 2018

These book updates now cover the books Helen is reading herself (with a bit of support) as well as the books I am reading to her. more

Expensive incrementalism in transport planning

Oxford — March 2018

As with transport in the UK more broadly, in Oxford a lot of work sometimes seems to be done for very small improvements, in what I call "expensive incrementalism". To illustrate this, consider the rebuild last year of Oxford's Warneford Lane-Gypsy Lane-Roosevelt Drive-Old Rd intersection (which was on my route from work to nursery). more

the Waltham Forest mini-Holland - lessons for Oxford?

Books + Ideas, Oxford — February 2018

On Saturday I went on a tour of the Waltham Forest "mini-Holland" project, organised by CyclOx and hosted by the WF branch of London Cycling Campaign (thanks Paul and Dan!). We caught a mini-bus into London, then used Urbo dockless hire bikes to do a 14km loop around the borough, looking at what they've done and are doing. more

cycling risk, driver eduction, women and teenagers

Books + Ideas — February 2018

A common problem when considering safety is confusing averages and "tail" (rare) events in evaluating risks. This helps explain why driver education is largely useless as a way of making cycling safer, and suggests an explanation for why safety is a bigger concern for women and why teenage boys cycle on the pavement. more

annoying inaccuracies and errors

Books + Ideas — February 2018

This is an portmanteau post for all the annoying inaccuracies I come across, in books or talks or displays, that are too small to warrant posts of their own. more

Coffee disloyalty cards

Life — February 2018

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Larkrise school (Oxford) - walking and cycling

Children, Oxford — January 2018

Like most urban primary schools, Larkrise has a reasonably small catchment area (and out-of-catchment children are selected largely based on distance), so walking or cycling to school, accompanied or independently for the older children, should be an option for almost all children. But there are some serious failings with the transport infrastructure around the school, and a little investment here could make active travel to it significantly more attractive. more

books books books

Books + Ideas, Children — January 2018

Helen got 33 books for Christmas and her birthday: 8 from me, 9 from Camilla, and 16 from friends and family. Helen and I have also given everyone books for Christmas and birthdays more

Movement and the Public Realm in Oxford City Centre - comments

Books + Ideas, Oxford — January 2018

Here are some comments on the options for transport surveyed in "Movement and the Public Realm in Oxford City Centre". more

reading takeoff

Books + Ideas, Children — December 2017

We have take-off with the reading! Helen was doing some of the words in the easier books I read her, but a couple of weeks ago there was quite an abrupt shift: now she's reading the books and I'm helping with the harder words, or when she gets stuck. The major constraint now is motivation, and how fast she gets tired - I can almost see her thinking as she puzzles out words. more

books approaching five

Books + Ideas, Children — November 2017

This will probably be my last book update before Helen is reading herself, though I expect to be reading to her for a long time as well. (She's at the point where she can, if motivated, puzzle out pretty much anything with sensible orthography, and with the early reader books — Russell Hoban's Frances books are current favourites — I'm now helping her with the hard words rather than getting her to read one or two words.) Here are some of the books we've enjoyed since my last update. more

Amsterdam - first impressions

Travel — November 2017

Some thoughts on Amsterdam, mostly about transport. (For comparison, the population of Amsterdam is about 900,000 - say 5 times the population of Oxford, but 1/10 the population of London.) more

learning to read at Larkrise

Books + Ideas, Children — October 2017

Helen's school is pretty keen on getting the children reading. more

measuring exercise

Life — September 2017

After a couple of months with the activity monitoring apps on my iThing, I've averaged about 4km a day of walking and 12km of cycling. more

independence referenda

Books + Ideas — September 2017

The use of referenda decide questions of borders and sovereignty is not unreasonable - and I have no strong feelings about Scottish and Catalan independence, to take two topical examples - but the idea that fundamental changes can be made based on a bare majority of (say) a 70% turnout of voters seems insane to me. more

leaving nursery 2 (Julia Durbin 2017)

Children — September 2017

I got most emotional about Helen leaving preschool three days before it happened. When I took her to nursery on Monday, we found that her name tag had already been taken from her bag hook. more

leaving nursery (Julia Durbin 2017)

Children — August 2017

When Helen leaves her nursery (Julia Durbin) in September, she will have been there for just short of four years. There have been month-long breaks for trips to Australia and shorter holidays, and she only goes to nursery four days a week, but that's still 30+ hours a week for most of her life — all her life that she has any memory of. And she is part of a tight-knit community in her preschool, the break up of which will be a huge change to her life. [The comparable adult experiences I can think of would be shifting from one hunter-forager band to another, or retiring after having worked in the same job for one's entire life.] more

a vintage VW campervan to the Peak District

Travel — August 2017

When Camilla suggested we hire an antique campervan, I was a bit sceptical at first: I don't get excited about cars the way she does, and it seemed likely to be an expensive faff. But we had a lovely weekend in a classic old VW campervan called Blossom, spending three nights in the Peak District (five miles or so west of Chesterfield). more

Studley Green to Piddington loop walk

Travel — August 2017

Helen and I did a nice walk in the Chilterns with our friend Jude, a loop from the Studley Green garden centre to the Dashwood Arms in Piddington and back. The weather was perfect, warm but cloudy, with a gentle breeze and occasional patches of sun, and maybe half the walk was under trees. more

a big ask for Oxford cycling - Botley Rd?

Oxford — July 2017

I realise that ranting on this blog is a pretty ineffectual way of actually achieving change. But when I contemplated requesting a meeting with my local councillors (city and county), I had trouble working out what I was actually going to request from them. Two-way cycling on Howard St, or the removal of parking in cycle lanes on Donnington Bridge Rd, were asks too small to be worth the trouble. Requesting anything as abstract as "Dutch-style infrastructure" seemed too waffly, while if I was going to lobby for Broad St to be turned into a square, that was going to require more than me acting in isolation.

So my suggestion as to what we (CyclOx and others) could request as part of a concerted lobbying campaign is first-rate cycling infrastructure along Botley Rd. more

English and Australian school governance

It's interesting comparing the governance of schools in the UK and Australia (or, more precisely, in England and New South Wales). The headline figures are that only 7% of children in England attend private schools whereas more than 30% of children in Australia do so. But examination of the details makes the difference much less: many state schools in England seem closer to me to Australian private schools than to Australian state schools.
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walking versus cycling (in Oxford)

Books + Ideas, Life, Oxford — July 2017

Last night I went to a talk by Eva Heinen titled "Why, where and how people travel" and that got me thinking about the balance between walking and cycling more

loved the Wee-Ride, can't fit a tag-along to my bike

Children — July 2017

Four years ago I posted here looking at moving-child-by-bike options, but I never followed that up. I ended up with a Wee-Ride centre-mounted seat, which I've been really happy with over the last three and a half years. more

approaching school

Children, Life — July 2017

Helen herself is moderately excited by the prospect of school but not (I think) too much so, and we're thinking this will work out ok. The welcome afternoon a couple of weeks ago went off swimmingly, despite the heat. more

Greek mythology for children

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2017

I started reading Greek mythology with Helen a few months before we visited Crete and the Cyclades, beginning with the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, which she picked after I read her one story from that and one from the D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths. more

from grandfather

Children, Life — June 2017

I can remember my father Hansen taking me to the Sydney university Coop bookshop (then in the Transient building) and buying me a proper Hewlett-Packard scientific calculator. That was over thirty years ago — I'm not sure exactly when, but it must have been before I started uni — but the calculator still works perfectly (and I think I've only had to change the battery once). more

the EU can't save Britain

Books + Ideas — June 2017

The European Union can't save the United Kingdom from the effects of Brexit. Even if they give us everything we want — or the UK government accepts the ongoing payments, freedom of movement, and so forth necessary to maintain membership of the Customs Union and Single Market — leaving the EU will still be a huge shock for which we are completely unprepared. more

downsizing the UK

Books + Ideas — May 2017

I think the UK needs to consider some serious downsizing.

We should let Shetland and Orkney secede, taking the UK's rights to the North Sea oil with them. That will show Scotland. They can then join Norway, reviving historical links and getting access to the infrastructure needed to manage that oil. more

Coombe Hill walk

Children, Travel — April 2017

Helen and I did a really nice walk in the Chilterns yesterday, from Coombe Hill down to Wendover and back. This is a loop of about 6km, with maybe 130m down and then up, offering a good variety of terrain and views. more

book update at four

Books + Ideas, Children — March 2017

We're into short novel and chapter book territory now, so I thought I'd give an update on what I've been reading with Helen. The first short novel Helen really got into was Otfried Preussler's The Robber Hotzenplotz, which we started on Boxing Day (it was the Christmas present of one of her cousins) but finished the next day, she was so excited by it. more

Brexit and aviation

Books + Ideas — March 2017

The trade situation seems complicated, but the real complexities and dangers of Brexit lie in its effects on services. The agreements here are domain-specific and range across a huge range of areas — nuclear energy, chemicals standards, and so forth — but I've been reading a bit about aviation, something I hadn't originally considered would be affected at all. Here as elsewhere, the Financial Times' coverage is much scarier than that of the Guardian... more

Balinese music - Legong dance

Children, Travel — January 2017

Yesterday I set Helen up with the iPad, only to have her come to me after five minutes saying "Enough iPad, I want to watch some Legong Dance". And so we watched nearly an hour of Legong Lasem and Barong Taru Pramana. more

becoming British

Life — January 2017

I am now a British citizen, after a pleasantly low-key ceremony last Thursday in the County Hall. more

book update, approaching four

Books + Ideas, Children — November 2016

An update on the books I've been reading with Helen. more

Oxford's Pembroke St upgrade a lost opportunity

Oxford — November 2016

The recently redesigned Pembroke St is attractive, but also seems a lost opportunity.

Previously it was a fairly traditional lane, with a carriageway and pavements. The new design keeps essentially the same layout, only replacing the kerbs with gentle "gutters" or brick edging, on as far as I can tell exactly the same line, and changing the (still too narrow) footpaths to a "brick" surface. The other substantive change is that the street is now two-way for cycling (motor traffic is still allowed to enter only from St Ebbes). more

a Lake District trip, staying four nights in Grasmere

Travel — October 2016

We spent four nights in the Lake District in August and had a fantastic time: driving up on the Thursday and coming back on the Bank Holiday Monday gave us three full days, and we had really good weather. more

Australian animals are no more dangerous than British cows

Life, Travel — October 2016

Living in Britain, one encounters a regular series of stories about how dangerous Australian animals are. (Otherwise, the UK media treat Australia pretty much the way the Australian media treat New Zealand.) And most people accept this as gospel, to the extent that it's often given as a reason for not visiting Australia. In fact, this is complete nonsense: cows kill as many people in the UK each year as all of Australia's "dangerous" animals put together. more

moving people around central Oxford - a shuttle bus?

Oxford, Technology — October 2016

Oxford's centre faces rigid space constraints that, even if private motor vehicles could be excluded, create an apparently insurmountable conflict between livability and active transport modes on the one hand and public transport on the other. As a long-term solution, I propose that all inner-city public transport be provided by a mini-bus (or tram) shuttle loop, connecting to city and intercity bus services at interchanges at the Plain (or the bottom of South Park), St Aldates, the railway station, and St Giles. more

Shimano Nexus 8 hub needs service? - SG-8R31 vs SG-8R36 redline

Books + Ideas, Technology — September 2016

I've just had my rear wheel rebuilt — with a new rim as well since that was getting worn, but largely to replace the hub. And this post is mostly about hubs, about whether getting a Shimano Nexus hub serviced is a good idea, and whether a premium "redline" Nexus hub is actually any better. more

the transport geography of early childhood

Children, Life, Oxford — September 2016

Walking with Helen to the Cowley Rd Tesco yesterday made me think back on how her development and changes in transport modes have affected our experience of Oxford's geography. more

a Chilterns walk: Pulpit Hill + Ninn Wood

Travel — August 2016

I took Helen on her longest walk yet, doing a near three mile circular walk in the Chilterns more

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