Maslow’s Hierarchy of Cheese

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a fundamental thing you learn when you learn about learning (or so I learned). It goes from fundamental human needs (food, water, air) and rises up through safety, love, belonging and up to self-esteem and realising your potential. The needs get more sophisticated as they reach the top; in lectures at the Institute of Education, the hierarchy always reminded me of this excerpt from The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:

The history of every major galactic civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ‘How can we eat?’ the second by the question ‘Why do we eat?’ and the third by the question ‘Where shall we have lunch?’

So, apropos of nothing at all, I present Maslow’s Hierarchy of Cheese. We all need cheddar. We can but aspire to Pont l’Eveque.

Hierarchy of Cheese

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‘Bulletproof’ coffee

Lard with your coffee, sir?

Food fads are parodies of themselves these days (gourmet hot dogs? I ask you…) but this is a trend TOO FAR: putting butter in coffee. The Guardian tried it out. Amazingly, it tastes disgusting. Who’d've thunk it?

Next week: I open a chain of shops selling coffee with BAKED BEANS for that added protein rush for the hipster who’s too busy to eat. Only the finest organic, beans, of course…

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Squishy Circuits

I shall call him SQUISHY and he shall be mine and he shall be my SQUISHY – Dory, Finding Nemo

This is a wonderful idea for teaching electrical circuits and more (thanks to Linda Sandvik for tweeting about something that led me to read another blog post of hers, which led me to Squishy Circuit heaven).

It was developed by some very cool people at St Thomas’s University in Minnesota. Now, we know that regular toy shop PlayDoh conducts enough electricity to trigger a MakeyMakey, and indeed I’ve taught circuits by getting my whole class to join hands to trigger a MakeyMakey hooked up to a GarageBand synthesizer. MakeyMakeys are great and cool, but at about £40 a pop, a little expensive for us impoverished educators.

“What’s for dinner dad?” “Conductive PlayDoh!”

The great thing about this is it’s cheap – to make the conductive PlayDoh you just need some flour, salt (I used dishwasher salt rather than my usual Maldon Sea Salt), lemon juice and a tiny bit of oil – the food colouring is optional. Linda Sandvik posted a recipe with European measurements here, or if you’re in the US you might want to go to the original source. The components aren’t expensive either – just a few LEDs, a motor perhaps or a buzzer.

It’s pretty safe too – though you need to be careful not to connect an LED straight to the batteries; this special PlayDoh isn’t a perfect conductor (shocking, I know), and these projects make use of its natural resistance to remove the need for connecting a resistor in your circuit. There’s very useful information, in as much or as little detail as you need, on the St Thomas’s University Squishy Circuits video page. The video on Ohm’s law (‘LED calculations’) is very useful for a tinkerer like me who’s forgotten some of his O-Level physics, and might otherwise blow a few LEDs up.

Please note: battery compartments made of squishy circuits are probably not viable for long-term engineering solutions – the PlayDoh is full of salt and lemon juice and hence liable to be corrosive!

And finally, here’s Ann Marie Thomas’s inspirational TED talk on what Squishy Circuits can do:

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Little Box of Haiku

Following on from my Little Box of Poems – which printed a random poem on till-roll (and which also inspired Carrie Anne Philbin’s Little Box of Geek) – I present: The Little Box of Haiku.

It’s made from a RaspberryPi and one of Pimoroni’s lovely Displayotron 3000 LCD display / button gizmos.

You push a button and this Python script generates a random haiku from a set of 5, 7 and 5 syllable sentences.


#!/usr/bin/env python
import time
import dot3k.lcd as lcd
import random
import dot3k.backlight as backlight
import dot3k.joystick as j
import signal

lcd.write("@blogmywiki's   amazing random  haiku machine")

five_syllable = ['Cat crouches     wisely', 'Dog wags tail in hope', 'Leaves fall on   the ground', 'Apples are       falling', 'A child stops to look']
seven_syllable = ['No-one knows why they come here', 'The moon rises   unnoticed', 'Stars are       falling to Earth now', 'The grass is moist underfoot', 'Buttercups hide in the shade']


lcd.write("Press button to create your     personal haiku")

while True:

        def handle_button(pin):
          line1 = random.choice(five_syllable)
          line2 = random.choice(seven_syllable)
          line3 = random.choice(five_syllable)
          lcd.write("Press button to create your personal haiku")
        # Prevent the script exiting!
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Thoughts about Serial

It seems as if everyone in my Twitter timeline is raving about Serial. Serial is an American podcast about a possible miscarriage of justice. Episode 1 describes itself thus:

It’s Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he’s innocent – though he can’t exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.

I’ve listened to 6 of the 50-minute episodes now – so clearly it must be doing something right. And yet, I don’t have the same passion about it, the same addiction about it that most people do.

There are plenty of things to like. Oddly, we don’t tend to use the term ‘sound design’ in radio, but it sounds fantastic. It’s very well mixed and edited, the original music is haunting, presenter Sarah Koenig has an easy-on-the-ear voice and a personable style.

And yet something is missing. Perhaps I’ve not been paying close enough attention, listening whilst doing other things, last night listening at 4am because I couldn’t sleep, and Koenig’s voice is almost as soothing a narcotic as a radio programme in Burmese. Or it could be because of the things that are not there; you’d expect heart-wrenching, tear-jerking testimony from the murder victim’s family, and that’s missing. It’s oddly dispassionate, almost matter-of-fact in the way material is covered. Sarah Koenig is no John Sweeney – the tempo and tone of her voice rarely changes much, you can’t imagine her losing her temper and railing against the injustice of it all.

Possibly (and I’m not quite up-to-date yet) this is because she just doesn’t know herself. And neither do I. As a slightly casual listener, who hasn’t read through the paperwork, I’m thinking at this point that this probably wasn’t a miscarriage of justice. Clearly something doesn’t add up in this case, but I’m far from convinced of Adnan’s innocence.

I am, however, convinced by the Serial web site. It is beautiful to look at, clear, it responds to mobile devices, the audio player is really well-designed, and I have fallen in love with the headline font, Sackers Gothic, beautifully serious, very, very North American. Perfect.

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