Monday, June 29, 2015

Workshop Project (3)

Just been sorting out the bench top for the workstation and had to post a quick picture of the mitre saw in place!

It's not secured yet of course, but you get the idea. The mitre saw slides forward to what will become a preset position. I've added runners on either side that stop the top tipping as it slides forward, but the weight distribution looks okay.

I was thinking of using a couple of cabinet door bolts to locate the slide in the correct position. The saw is so heavy it's not going to accidentally slide itself forward.

I need to decide if I'm going to rip down the last piece of worktop into 10cm widths to bring the bench top sides forward to give a larger area of support for wood in the mitre saw. I might just pack the back with off cuts of the panel material. The beech top is tough stuff to cut, so a bit of ply or wardrobe panel might be a lot easier to fit!

Once I've made that decision and secured the tops, I can set about squaring up the saw and levelling it to the bench top. After that it's making trays and drawers. Oh, and there's the little matter of tidying up too!

Workshop Project (2)

I've done a little more to the workstation I'm building in the garage. Today I went to B&Q to pick up a solid beech worktop. Putting a section in place gives a whole new perspective on what the finished station will look like!

The 3m long solid wood top was £87, which I thought was a bargain! I got it cut in-store into three 1m sections that I can then cut to their finished size, although the one in the picture looks ok as it is.

Just at the right edge of the picture you can see the lower section for the mitre saw. I'm still toying with the idea of allowing this to slide in and out to allow for the slide to work and yet be stored away without it sticking out too far. The white pipe you can see it for dust extraction. I have a nice Karcher vacuum cleaner that will attach to the end of the pipe underneath and then I'll find a flexible hose to go from the top of the pipe to the saw.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Value for money in education. A few thoughts from an eternal student!

I was reading the article on the BBC website about tuition fees and student responses to the question of value for money. It got me thinking, at least for a short time, about how you might actually measure value for money for a degree and whether students are actually best placed to make a judgement on the issue. That might sound a bit patronising, it isn't intended to be.

Years ago I read Jim Collin's book Good to Great, and the monograph that followed that focussed on non-profit organisations. I heard him speak a couple of times and was struck by by a number of things he said. From what I recall I think he would remind us that if we're going to measure value for money with respect to something that is non-profit then we will need to think very carefully about the measures we use. You can't equate a degree course with a new car or a holiday. Value for money in education is much more complex that a simple matter of money in and money out. Education is not a business, don't let anyone suggest otherwise.

That doesn't mean that good practice has no place in education, but I worry that some degree courses could disappear simply because there's little chance that they will lead to high paid job at the end. Anyway, back to the measures.

Interestingly students who studies humanities rated their courses lower in general that those who did engineering and science. I wonder why. Could it be that fresh from school or college, where they would have experienced very similar contact time with tutors across all subjects, they now face very different levels of contact depending on the type of subject they are studying. I have done a science degree, a humanities degree and a masters degree. I've also squeezed in a professional BTech programme and a few diplomas along the way.

My first degree was in science and a long time ago! We had practicals, maybe as much as 18 hours a week, and around 11 hours of lectures and 2 hours of tutorials. That comes to around 30/32 hours contact time. I can't remember the schedule for my second degree in theology, but the contact time was less, maybe around 12/15 hours. By the time I did my masters it was down to three seminars a week, each one about 1.25 hours long, and these were mostly student lead. Of course there were opportunities to talk with tutors and discuss essays and dissertations, but I'm just thinking about scheduled contact time.

My point is simple, contact time varies from subject to subject and with level of qualification too. If you only use contact hours as a measure then a degree in English might seem less good value that a degree in Chemistry but that is almost certainly not the case. That would sit neatly with the general distribution of the analysis in the article (44% good value for humanities compared to 66% for science and engineering).

Then there's the issue of student expectations. How well prepared for individual study are they when they reach university or college? Perhaps, as part of the survey, they should be asked how much time they spent in the library on average a week and how much personal study time did they set aside? When I went to university in the 70's I read a short book about studying. I don't recall either the title or the author but I do remember one principle. The book suggested that you worked on a simple 40 hour week. Subtracting the number of direct contact hours, lectures, seminars, practical etc, that gave you the average amount of personal study time you would need to complete the course to a reasonable level. It quickly becomes obvious that a practical heavy subject therefore requires less personal study time than a subject that has only lectures and seminars. If you need to read books and articles, that by its nature is not a contact activity. When I did my MA I was reading the equivalent of a 250 page book a day, 5 days a week for almost a year. I wrote in excess of 50,000 words. It simply doesn't compare with the science I studied first time around.

So, perhaps there is a much better way to measure value for money by asking better questions to get to the heart of how well a course met or changed a student's expectations of the experience in higher education. Where is the measure of value added to a student's life? What have they learnt that has changed their view of the world and the contribution they could make? Or is all to be reduced to some economic assessment of future earnings? When you're looking for value in education, remember that education has an innate value that is hard to measure and isn't about earning potential.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Workshop project

Having posted something about my legendary panel cutting jig. Well it's a legend in my house! Anyway, the reason for making the jig was to cut some panels for a workstation and I've been assembling the said station. Having cut the panels to size I then notched the four corners of each panel to take the rails that would hold the thing together. The rails were ripped from more scrap wardrobe panels. It would have ben nice to have been able to make them the full length of the unit, but I didn't have anything that long, so I just cut a series of rails that I could join together as necessary.

These are the units in place ready to be fixed to the wall.

I've levelled them up, the floor is quite uneven so a few wedges and yet more bits of scrap wood. That meant I could screw the bottom rails into the scrap which has added a bit more stability to it all.

The right and left units are for some plastic storage bins. I can  fit two in each end and a shallow tray above them. I might have to make that unless my favourite Scandinavian furniture store has something appropriately sized. Actually I might make some drawers anyway.

The centre right section is where the mitre saw will sit. I'm thinking of making a slide-out unit for it so that it can be moved forward for use in sliding saw mode and pushed back when not in use.

The top is going to made from some solid wood worktop that I've seen in Ikea.

The power socket needs to be moved up the wall I think, but I will see if that's necessary once the top in in place and the saw in position.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Panel cutting jig

I haven't blogged about anything woodworky for ages, mainly because I haven't done any for ages! I recently completed a cupboard built to cover some pipes in the extension. It is made from recycled wardrobe parts from Ikea. We had a double wardrobe and a single wardrobe left over when we moved into the house. With no room for them in the bedrooms and the need to cover up the soil pipe and a drainpipe in the corner of the extension (don't ask why there's a drainpipe inside, it's an old extension!), recycling the unused furniture is better than throwing it away and buying new timber.

Anyway, with the cupboard built there was still a fair amount of wardrobe left so I've begun building a work station for my workshop out of what's left. I had originally thought of building it out of ply, but the wardrobe panels needed a home. The idea is to make something that will take the sliding mitre saw I've inherited and create space for storage. I've got an idea for making  a sliding top for the mitre saw so that it doesn't have to stick out too far when it's not in use and maybe some sliding trays/drawers for power tools and other bits and pieces.

The place to start was by cutting the upright panels that will divide the workstation into sections. To make the panels all the same length I've got my saw guide that I made ages ago. It's a simple jig that give an exact cut with my circular saw. But measuring and repositioning the saw guide six times to make the panels seemed liked a time consuming process so I decided a quick jig was in order.

Using some spare panel off-cuts and couple of pieces of chipboard that were the rear supports at the base of the old wardrobes I made a stop with a return down one edge of the jig. Another piece of scrap wood was used to support the guide on the other edge and the guide was clapped down with 2mm spaces to support the guide just above the surface of the panel to be cut. It was then just a matter of sliding the panel into the jig, making sure it was tight against the the stops and running the saw across to get a repeatable cut.

I should have put the edge stop on the far side of the cut rather than the near side, but I did have an edge on the far side and a couple of shims allowed me to secure the panel so that it didn't move. In the end it didn't move so it wasn't a problem.

Okay, so the jig takes a little time to make, but it's worth doing because all the panels come out exactly the same size. I've used the same principle before, but it's given me an idea for making a saw bench designed around a circular saw rather than buying a saw table. I've seen some videos of circular sews turned into table saws by bolting them to a piece of wood with the blade sticking up through the sheet and with no guard and sometimes no riving knife. Cables ties holding the power switch on and an extension cord used as a switch. All very scary. At least, if you're going to do that, buy a no-volt switch!

I might post some pictures of the workstation as it progresses, but I'm not sure when I'll get round to finishing it.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

"Step Ladder" falls!

So, Sepp Blatter has decided to step down as Fifa president. It's not been an unwelcome decision in many circles, but it was certainly a surprise. He had previously stated his opinion that he was the man to restore confidence in the organisation, but given that the fall out we are seeing reflects badly on his tenure, it was difficult for anyone except Mr B to see how he could possibly sustain that argument.

It would be wrong at this point to assume that Fifa is the only world governing body is sport that has elements of corruption in it. Doping scandals in cycling, match fixing in cricket, allegedly tampered water at the Rugby World Cup back in 1995. Not forgetting athletics as a whole and all it has faced over the years. Even as I edit this post the breakfast news is running a story about the Panorama programme about drug taking over decades in athletics. Corruption is not just about officials taking payments to vote in favour of one candidate or another.

Having said that, the list of charges being brought against Fifa officials is startling, but maybe not that surprising. Are we actually surprised that where there is a large amount of money sloshing around, there is widespread bribery and corruption. The whole debacle over the staging of the World Cup in Qatar probably raised more suspicions than any other international sporting decision. 

My favourite quote so far in this whole sorry mess that brought a smile to my face came from one of the UK's football leaders. Commenting on Sepp Blatter's term as president, they said:

"He's been a fantastic leader, but arguably one that probably stayed on a little too long. 
"Let's place credit where credit is due. He's been at the helm and taken world football to be what it is today."
And what would that be? In the eyes of many it is the most corrupt and broken organisation in the world. Not the best CV for it's leader. It's almost like suggesting that the leaders of the world's financial institutions did a great job taking us into the worst economic recession of the modern era since the Great Depression. Let's hope they meant something rather more positive than that when they said it!

As each day reveals more allegations and even confessions, it begs the question of where does world football go from here. I wonder too whether criminal prosecutions will precipitate a root and branch clean up or just drive the truth deeper underground. Perhaps there needs to be some degree of amnesty that would allow the truth to be disclosed and a new start made to overhaul the organisation. How you balance such an amnesty against prosecuting crime is something prosecutors and governing bodies will need to work out.

Oh, and by the way, it was Hugh Dennis who once suggested Sepp Blatter sounded like "Step Ladder". Just in case you were wondering about the title!!