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Richard W. Richards: An amazing forgotten story.

This scrappy webpage has been posted in various places over the years (like here, though the link will go dead soon I suspect); I like to keep it with me! Here it is dumped onto this blog. Sorry if the formatting is a bit ropey.

The Beginning

R. W. ‘Dick’ Richards was 21 years old in 1914, and had freshly completed a Physics degree at the School of Mines in Ballarat, Australia, and taken a position as Lecturer, when he answered a call for a Physicist to join the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition under the leadership of Ernest Shackleton.

Shackleton intended tomake the first crossing of the Antarctic continent, starting at the Weddell Sea and crossing to the Ross Sea. To do this, he divided the expedition into two parties. The main party, the Weddell Sea party, sailed in the Endurance, a ship constructed specifically for the voyage, to the Weddell Sea. From there six men, including Shackleton, were to sledge across Antractica to the Ross Sea using motorised sledges, a distance of 1700 miles.

The task of the Ross Sea Shore party was to sledge inland along the Beardmore Glacier and lay fuel and food depots for Shackleton’s sledging party. The Ross Sea party included Richards and another Australian Physicist, A. K. Jack, who were to make meterological measurements and any other observations they could. For example, a home-made cloud chamber was constructed to measure the air’s dust content. They sailed in the Aurora, a ship previously used by Mawson, and refit in Sydney for the new expedition. The ship was under the command of A. L. A. Mackintosh,while E. E. M. Joyce, a well known polar explorer in his own right, was to lead the shore party, which would set up a base from which to sledge out to the depot sites. The Aurora left Sydney on 15 December 1914. From the 21st to the 24th they stopped in Hobart, and after visiting the Australian meteorological station on Macquarie Island, they sailed for the Ross Sea on the last day of 1914. By January 16 they had anchored off Cape Evans, and later went further south,close to Hut Point. The sledging soon got underway, with Joyce and, unexpectedly, Mackintosh leading the team to place the first depot at 80 deg. south.

An example of the Richards Medal.

An example of the Richards Medal.



On May the 6th (or the 10th), disaster struck. A blizzard caught the Aurora and drove it beyond sight of land. And then the ice caught the ship, making it unable to return to the Shore Party. Worst of all, the ship had been expedition headquarters, and only minimal supplies had been landed – ten men were stranded on the ice with little food and the Antarctic winter close at hand. Fortunately, Hut Point was named for the hut erected there by Scott on an expedition in 1911, and so they at least had shelter, and they found a useful quantity of food and other goods left by Scott. These things included an acetylene stove, while they had themselves brought a gramophone and a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. With these things, they survied their first winter.

On the other side of the continent, the Endurance had been trapped in ice for ten months – and on October 27th, 1915, crushed. Shackleton had made his way to Elephant Island in the South Hebrides, and then to South Georgia – in nothing more than a modified whaleboat. He then set about relieving the remainder of the Weddell sea party; but the Ross Sea party would have to wait.

As the winter passed, the Ross Sea party began the main effort of putting out the depots, not knowing that they would never be used, and refraining from using the potentially life-saving food and fuel themselves. As their packaged food ran out, their diet more and more consisted of seal meat and penguin meat. Three men died of scurvy, including Mackintosh. Still they put out the depots. At times they sledged for 100 days without ceasing, often hauling the sledges by hand, since the dogs had been overworked early on and many had died. All the men suffered from scurvy in one way or another, and their lives came to depend on the killing of seals, as the creatures provided food and, just as importantly, blubber which could be burned for heating and melting ice for water.



Through the winter of 1916 they carried on, making expeditions to Shackleton’s old hut on Cape Royd and searching the snow around the huts for forgotten, frozen foodstuffs. All the while, they wondered about rescue. It had not come in the summer of 1915-16, and they could only assume that the Aurora had sunk or been crushed in the Antarctic ice. January 1917 came. It had been almost two years since they had departed Australian waters and heard any news of the world at large. On 10th January, Richards, who was recovering from an illness brought on by endless weeks of sledging followed by physically carrying an injured companion to safety, left the Hut Point hut after breakfast to find, to his astonishment, the Aurora holding fast off the ice-edge. The ship had made its way slowly to safety, and after a refit had come south again to find the shore party.Shackleton was on the ship, having insisted on sailing south. He described them as ‘…just about the wildest looking gang of men I had ever seen…’

And while the crew of the Aurora were overwhelmed by the appearance, manner and smell of Richards and the others, the survivors where even more dazed by news of the war in Europe. Before they left, they raised memorials to their own dead. Then they sailed away from Antarctica.

Richards and three others were awarded the Albert Medal in 1923 for their devotion to duty. He was also presented with the George Cross, the highest award a subject of the British Empire could earn without being at war. There is also now an inlet, relatively close to the Beardmore Glacier, known as Richards Inlet.

Richards returned to Ballarat, where he resumed his position as Lecturer in science at the School of Mines and Industries. From 1946-58 he was Principal of the school. He died in 1985. Before his death, he recorded an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Verbatim programme, which can be ordered by mail. In his honour, the award for the best science graduate (all disciplines) from the Ballarat School of Mines and Industries and then the University of Ballarat (now both rolled into Federation Uni) is known as the Richard W. Richards medal. It is a pewter medal about 7 cm in diameter. Accompanying it is a slim volume called The Ross Sea Shore Party, 1914-17, which is Richards’ own record of the expedition of 1914-17. It is a fascinating document.


References and Links

R. W. Richards, The Ross Sea Shore Party, 1914-17, The Scott Polar Institute, Cambridge 1962.

L. B. Quartermain, South to the Pole: The Early History of the Ross Sea Sector, Antarctica, Oxford University Press, London 1967.

R. Huntford, Shackleton, Hodder and Stoughton, London 1985.

There are also some good Antarctic websites. Here are a couple just on principle: (Especially this page.)

…and here…

Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC.

Scott Polar Research Institute.

Photos of some of the huts and things can be found here.

And the University of Ballarat (now Federation University, FU) has a page on the subject here.

Some comments that accompanied the medal, plus the front cover of his monograph are shown here:

<i>The Ross Sea Shore Party</i> by Dick Richards.

The Ross Sea Shore Party by Dick Richards.


History, eh?

Is it better to go off-line when teaching?

Students, just like most of us including me, are too distractible, especially younger ones lacking self discipline, and by younger I mean first year university, not genuinely young. These days we put the content and the tutorial questions on the Learning Management System (LMS, really just a website) and we tell them to use the LMS to access the questions and the supporting materials and such. Once upon a time they’d just get a bunch of photocopies (‘photostats’) or before that roneos (mimeographs) or just “copy this down off the board.” I’m not pining for the past, I’m trying to work out how we can combine the best of then and now.

What happened then was we’d come to class having not looked at anything beforehand, we’d copy down a bunch of questions or question numbers off the blackboard (it wasn’t a whiteboard) like ‘Ch 8 Q 12-18’) then we’d have the book open in front of us and we’d whisper to each other while we were supposed to be working out the answers. Hmm.

What happens now is this:

They come to class having not looked at anything beforehand (just like in the old days), because the know they can access it when they get there (we knew we’d be given it when we got there, back in the day, so no difference there). But, and this is different now, they then spend ten minutes getting onto the university network and getting distracted by Facebook or whatever and don’t download the questions until the tutorial is half over. Then they get out their notebook (or tablet and stylus) and read the question and… check their messages. Then they show the guy sitting next to them a cat video. Then they laugh and eat some Skittles (fine, fine, that is not the internet’s fault), then they look at Pinterest or for all I know Tinder, and then I ask them how they’re going and they mumble and we’re over half way through now and they have written down a few bits of data pertaining to the first question and that’s it.

Okay, maybe I’m overstating, but I have seen it happen that way. I’m not just fighting any innate apathy or disinterest (or depression or sense of futility) to get them to do the work, I am fighting the single most interesting thing the human race has ever constructed — a world wide distraction machine that has everything on it and available at the touch of a screen.

At best, even when they are doing some physics or mathematics, their attention is divided — they are always ready to pounce on an alert from whatever bit of social media they use, so their brain is never really thinking about the questions we give them to (we hope) help them learn.

Now, in the past when you copied a question off the board, it went in your eyes, through your brain and out your fingers onto the paper. I’m not sure that’s much better than not engaging with it at all, but it can’t be worse. You could only really talk to the people either side of you, just as students can now, so there were by definition fewer distractions because now there are all the ones I had as a student plus smart phones, so at the very least students now have more distractions. Do they deal with them better than I used to? Valid question. Maybe these days they have extra information, extra connectivity, and the ability to use that without being consumed by it.

I’m not sure.

I started thinking about this post while I stood there watching students flick away from Snapchat (or whatever it was) and back to the LMS whenever they saw me coming. A few were able to use the ‘net to find useful information, or a website with some helpful content, and that’s good because a working scientist or problem solver (engineer, IT, whatever) does just that, calling on the info around them as well as what they know. But those students were a small minority.

I recall thinking how I would really, really like to given them all a paper copy of the questions or, better, ask them to bring their own copies (then at least they would have looked at it to the extent of downloading and printing it off and getting it from the printer with their own actual physical fingers before they got there — does that count as ‘engagement’?), and then use just their notebook, their bog basic calculator and their textbook (they still exist, they do!) to tackle the problems.

I don’t say the web is useless. It is great for communication, for extra activities and resources. They can use the web to access the material easily and flexibly when they are not in my class. I use it to distribute videos to buttress the material, to direct them to external resources, though Britney Spears’ Guide to Semiconductor Physics is getting a little behind the zeitgeist now… The WWW ought to be great for collaboration, for ready access to what the students have not internalised. For simulations, for VR, for virtual laboratories, for Skype visits to major laboratories, for feedback, for interaction, for… the sky is the limit.

But not if you can’t sit still long enough to actually do it.

We’ve tried to engage the students to make them want to be there. I mean, that should solve everything. And there’s always a few who do want to be there and  that’s great, they learn almost regardless of what the teachers do. But some students are in the class because they have been told to be there, because the subject is a prerequisite for what the really want, because they thought they would like it and now it’s too late to drop out without recording a fail, whatever. By giving them the option to more easily be mentally elsewhere when they have not developed the self-discipline to choose to do what needs to be done, I’m not sure we’re helping. I wonder if more distraction-free classroom time would have its benefits as part of a broader suite of learning opportunities? Some of the environments would use all the tech at our disposal, and some would just have the student and their brain and the stuff to be tackled.

I just want the best of both worlds; is that too much to ask?


Old fart, I am.

Science inaction. No, wait, “Science in ACTion.”

So on August 12 and 13 we (myself and numerous colleagues from the UNSW Canberra campus) took part in Science in ACTion, advertising the wonders of Science to the good people of the ACT (Canberra) and a few surrounding towns.  It was held at the Old Bus Teapot Depot markets, and we presented a liquid nitrogen show (mostly just freezing balloons…) and some other stuff; a Van de Graaff generator (very effective — I got a spark off a nearby table frame…), some UV fluorescence, mathematical puzzles and mazes and some cheap chromatography uising filter paper and felt tipped pens:

Unmixing colours using filter paper.

Unmixing colours using filter paper.

It was all part of Science Week 2016, and I don’t have the photos back from the chemist yet, so I can’t show you anything else. But if you look in this image, you can see our purple and yellow stand in the background on the left, and some coloured balloons.

So there.



The Chemical Odour of Nostalgia: Building the Lindberg Nautilus.

When I was young, before even the last decade of the last millennium, a thing that was done by kids — I think I can safely say mostly boys — was assembling plastic model kits of aeroplanes, cars, boats, tanks and so on. Most often, sadly, things with guns. The 1980s saw the rise of video games and the further receding of world war II, with its iconic Spitfires and Messerschmitt Bf 109s, and the idea of gluing together and painting bits of plastic became increasingly naff and passé. I suspect the continuing diversification of Lego, pushing it into older age brackets with products like ‘Technic’, also helped. But back when I was the right age for the hobby (about ten) the kits were a standard mainstream toy. I remember spending the money I earned mowing lawns on little kits of biplanes in bags, sorting through the racks of them in K-mart and plunking down my 90¢. Sopwith Camels and SPADs and (more expensively) Corsairs and Hurricanes, and one enormous kit of a Thomas Flyer car from the 1908 New York to Paris race. It even came with real mock-leather straps to hold the bonnet down.

On business in Sydney one day recently I popped into Hobbyco in the QVB to pick up the kids the customary ‘Dad’s been away’ gift, and on impulse grabbed a couple of small kits. These days only dedicated Hobby stores — not even toy shops — tend to stock them, and from what I can gather they are mainly bought by military modellers, grown men making dioramas (I will not comment). I had not bought nor built one since the 1980s, so was unaware of their marginalisation until, having bought these very simple, very small, very cheap kits to build with the kids, I started looking again.

Anyway, one kid decided he quite liked it. He is fascinated by anything that moves, but submarines are very high on his list, and this year at Christmas he got a model of the Nautilus, made by Lindberg in the USA. It was not a very good one, in my estimation. There was a lot of ‘flash’ (thin web of plastic where it should not be) and a few of the holes and slots where pieces were supposed to fit together were too small or missing. And where was the little pamphlet giving a potted history of the real Nautilus? Nowhere. On the other hand, a submarine is very simple — it is a tube with just a few bits sticking out — so it was probably a good starting one for him, and he did a great job of painting it and assembling it with just a little help from me.

The box.

The box.


As built -- the Lindberg <i>Nautilus</i>.

As built — the Lindberg Nautilus.  He’s even weathered it to make it look used.

It was fun to do it together. It seems to me these sorts of toys offer a middle ground between simply buying a toy complete and creating something from scratch from generic materials. Doing it as an adult I could see that construction requires patience, care, forethought and precision (and the ability to follow instructions), all things that are useful. Development of fine motor skills, too. Of course, whether the child can show these skills enough to get a good result is another question. And if they don’t show them they get a bad result and are likely to be discouraged, but ’twas ever thus.
Construction also requires a tolerance for vaporous glues and paints, even in a ‘well-ventilated space’.

I cannot imagine building a kit for my own benefit, but as an activity to undertake with a child it was really a lot of fun and brought back a lot of memories. Glue on the fingers, paint on the floor, clipping bits off the frames they come on and having to hunt around for them because they’ve skidded across the table, getting fingerprints all over the clear window-y bits, tearing the transfers when sliding them off their paper backing. Chucking away all the models I’d built as I got a little older and decided they were far too uncool. I’ve never regretted chucking them out, but I don’t regret building them either.

Next he’ll have a go at a Commonwealth Boomerang. I’ll just watch.


Big boys’ toys.

The Coursera Experience

I did a MOOC in 2015. MOOC means Massive Open Online Course; such courses were once thought to be opportunities for universities to raise some money, but they have turned out to be a Massively Over-rated Opportunity for Cash. Having said that, they allow pretty much anybody with a good enough internet connection to get access to some decent educators, and if they want to pay the fee (in the case of the course I did I think it was AU$ 50) they can get a certificate as well as the experience.  And MOOCs allow universities to engage with a wider community, which I think is really important.

The certificate, redacted.

The certificate, redacted.

The MOOC I did was called ‘Learning to Teach Online‘ (LTTO).  It seemed like just a lot of people expressing opinions to me, but that’s not what I am here to talk about.  I should add that my work was running it and I did not have to pay.

The technical experience of doing the course was mixed. While I learned a few things about teaching online, I would also make a few comments about MOOCs themselves.

  • Designers must make sure that navigation around the webpages is really intuitive.  The educators are experts.  They should sit with a complete MOOC novice and see how that person is able to find information and navigate the website, in this case Coursera.  I found files hiding in obscure corners of the website, in particular…
  • Transcripts of videos are really, really, really useful.  When you have a talking head, the information density is often really really low.  I got impatient a lot of the time waiting for something useful to be said.  They repeat themselves, they repeat what others have said in other videos.  A transcript lets me skim over it quickly, looking for the actual information.  I know this means we’re just using written information, so it’s rather like an old correspondence course, but the written word remains more definitive and instant than a video.
  • Audio: I can do other things (drive, mostly) while listening to audio.  I accessed the lectures for English Grammar at University of Canberra last year almost exclusively while driving to/from work.  I can’t drive and watch a video at the same time.  Not if I want to live, which at the moment I do.
  • So the content needs to be easy to find and available in all three formats.
  • Login management is really important.  If you want to undertake the course flexibly (in the office, at home, mobile) then the software needs to run on multiple devices and you need to know your logins.  Sounds obvious but in these days of getting computers to remember your passwords, it is easy to lose some of the benefits of the course being online if you can only access it from one machine.
  • Many, many of the videos made fatuous use of multiple camera angles (what is this fashion of cutting to a shot of the person speaking in profile?  Just production staff justifying their existence, I imagine).  Similarly, there were graphics with no data in them.  I am not a child, I am not interested in interesting shapes floating aimlessly around a screen.  Graphics are great for showing actual data (graphs, numbers, diagrams) but when someone is just spouting opinions, they really do nothing.
  • I know of at least one person who tried to do the course but there were technical issues (lost communications and so forth) that prevented her from being able to complete it.

So: I learned a little bit (what do I expect in 6 weeks?).  I learned about the existence and uses of online teaching tools, and how they can be applied, and what the pitfalls are.  Apparently the pitfall that says “Don’t make your videos just a bunch of talking heads” was missed by the educators themselves, I’m sorry to say… and I contributed to discussions with people from around the world, and I managed to work out what I was supposed to do and then do it and then get a mark at the end.  So it worked for me.  No process is perfectly smooth, but providing the information in three formats — text, audio, video — made up for a lot.  It gave me the flexibility that I needed to get the course done in between my actual duties.


Now for hyperfinecourse.

Making little Physics Videos with a Document Camera

Here is my recipe for making little videos with a document camera. Please note that the recipe is specific to the make and model discussed (Lumens DC192) and set up particularly for videoing a human hand scribbling down a solution while speaking about it at the time. This is not flashy stuff, just material for a moodle page for a Physics course.

So the image on the video looks like this:

The sight of one hand doing Physics.

The sight of one hand doing Physics.

And I just talk about how to tackle the problem while the document camera grabs frames and sound. The resulting AVI files are then edited in Camtasia, proprietary software provided by my employer.

Sounds simple?

Well, it should be, but there can be a lot of trickinesses.  Anyway, here is my recipe.  I do not expect anybody to follow it closely (or at all), but the steps and the things I have to think about may be useful for some if they need to make little videos, often in relation to ‘flipping‘ a Physics course, which is very much the fashion these days.

 How I made a very simple video using the Lumens DC192 Document camera


Nov 2015


  • Lumens DC192 document camera.
  • USB memory stick.
  • VGA cable.
  • Monitor
  • Pens, paper, your brain, your script, etc.
  • Then computer and software for editing.


If using the camera on a desk rather than in lecture theatre, simplest is to use VGA cable from camera to monitor and that is all you need.

Figure 1: The overall set up.

Figure 1: The overall set up.



(1) Got a 4GB+ USB stick and deleted all files. Not necessary to empty the stick but this minimises chance of running out of space during a video capture.

(2) Picked a problem or two. Made sure I had good worked out solutions, and printed them out/wrote them up on paper – see image below (figure 2).

Figure 2: Worked solution

Figure 2: Worked solution


(3) Got some overhead markers. I find they give a dark line but are not too coarse. Staedtler ‘Lumocolor’ type pens with a fine tip were good.

(4) Printed out an A4 sheet with the problem occupying the top left of the page, landscape. Thought about whether more than the remaining white space was necessary, and had extra sheets ready. See figure 3. A few extra copies were useful too… made sure it was printed pretty dark and pretty big. (For scanned images I used ImageJ to Gaussian blur, then Brightness/Contrast to darken and turn the blur into thicker lines.)

Figure 3: An example of a sheet ready to be used.

Figure 3: An example of a sheet ready to be used.


(5) Got my sheet with the already-worked-out solution (figure 2) and marked a few key words on it for concepts I want to make sure I covered, things like ‘conservation of energy’ or ‘Newton’s laws’ or whatever.

(6) Also noted on it what colours I want to use where. I have a few pens — black, red, blue green and brown. No yellow (not dark enough on the white paper).

(7) Got remote control for DC192.

(8) Killed any sources of noise as I could – climate control, for example. Put ‘Do Not Disturb’ on my door. Shut all doors, turned on all lights. Used an extra lamp to avoid shadows on the page.

(9) Taped down an A3 sheet such that it filled the screen. Then put my A4 with printed problem on top of that, taped down with magic tape.

(10) Removed jangly things from my pockets — keys, for example. And coins. Do you write notes on the backs of your hands? Best wash them off. I didn’t…

(11) Inserted a USB stick into the DC. Screen said ‘copy to USB stick’ (it may not actually ask you this, depending on camera settings). Selected ‘no’ by pressing ‘Enter’ button on the DC. (Answer ‘yes’ if you want to copy the contents of the DC’s internal memory.)

(12) Adjusted the camera neck and zoom such that only my A4 page was visible. In fact, if the camera was positioned right it could only see the white A4 page. Made some small marks on the paper to indicate where the edges of the camera window were, so I would not write stuff off the edge.

May be good to use the remote to adjust the microphone level to about a quarter to reduce saturation and resulting lousy sound. This setting is remembered when the unit it on stand-by but should be checked if it has been turned off at the wall.

(13) Arranged my notes and pens ready for use while talking. Tested all pens, and placed so that they would not roll into camera shot.

(14) Reviewed my script. Thought about: How much intro? Dive straight in? Talk about problem solving skills in general or just do this particular problem? Talk about units, orders of magnitude, sanity checks?

(15) Pressed ‘record’ on the remote and got started. A picture of a camera appeared on the monitor to indicate recording was going on. (Note that the files will just have names like LUMN0001.AVI, so you either want to have a visual queue early in the video to identify the video or make a note as you go on a notepad or something — if you are making a bunch of them at a time, anyway.) I made sure I renamed the files to something meaningful when copying the files across to my desktop machine. Also, note that the files are AVI files, which are a non-compressed video format and therefore they’ll be much bigger than a final, produced mpg/mp4 type file — and may fill up the USB faster than you expect.

Some comments on recording:

  • Don’t be afraid to pause while filming. They can be cut out in Camtasia. I made sure I just paused then continued, if necessary repeating myself a little, rather than continually stopping and retaking the video.
  • I made some minor crossings out, and think that’s OK. Students don’t mind ‘warts and all’, but it should not interfere with clarity.
  • I found that the microphone is pretty sensitive, so I can afford to talk normally or even more quietly. It is easy to cause distortion in the sound. As noted above, low microphone levels can be set using the menu accessed by the remote control or by the menu key on the unit, and you may well find it useful to set this low – about 1/4 seems good. Do this before starting to record might be good idea.

(16) Hit the record button to turn it off. Done! I kept the A4 sheet with the working out so I could scan and upload it along with the video.

(17) Turned off, clean up after myself, not forgetting the USB stick.

(18) Fired up Camtasia (or similar).

(19) This is NOT a Camtasia tutorial. I did this, though: Opened a new project, imported the video, normalised the audio and did noise reduction (I use default values), then edited out my pauses and idiotic remarks and produced to 480p video without SmartPlayer (‘MP4 only (up to 480p)’). Other useful things include speeding up sections (places with lots of algebra I just shut up and wrote, then later sped up by factor of four) and using callouts to highlight things. I tried to keep that to a minimum.

In more detail:

(a) Opened Camtasia

(b) File -> ‘Save project as’ … gave it a name.

(c) File -> Import Media -> selected the AVI file. I created a ‘Videos’ folder somewhere, created the camproj file in there and put the AVI files in some subfolder.

(d) Right clicked on the video thumbnail and ‘Add to timeline at playhead’

(e) Audio tab, then checked ‘Enable volume levelling’ and ‘Enable noise removal’

(f) Started cutting bits off the video, leaving the good/least worst bits.

(g) Produce it: File -> Produce and Share -> Whatever format (MP4 only (up to 480p)) -> and done! Files are not that big (15MB) in this format.


That’s the procedure, such as it is.



New Page — Science Spammers

Well, I get several email a week from dodgy journals asking me to pay for them to publish my science. While there are good places to go and check if they are predatory (here, most obviously), I thought I would accumulate my own little list. It is here: and is just a list, sometimes with links, of the journals/publishers who have asked me for material and who are either clearly rubbish or who may or may not be rubbish but are still spammers and therefore should (perhaps) not receive support from authors.  So they may not be rubbish, but they are spammers at the least.

I am particularly keen for younger, less experienced authors to avoid these traps.  A great many open access journals are very good — I have published in them myself.  A greater many, sadly, are predatory, running shonky websites and asking authors for dollars in return.  Often the members of their supposed editorial boards either do not exist or do not know they are on the board or joined without knowing what they were getting in to, and then have asked to be removed and have not been.

It is a bit of a mess, and I would hate to see a young researcher ‘burn’ their good work by putting it in one of these journals.

My little list is just a data point, a personal experience of the flood of solicitations by dodgy publishers.



Step by Step Install of Fedora on VirtualBox

Very simple-minded step through for putting Fedora on VirtualBox. Modern Linux install is pretty straightforward and this file is probably pretty redundant, but I have found over the years that a lot of information is too advanced for me.

This is just a simple, default install of Fedora 32 bit (version 22 at time of typing) on Virtual Box. Host is Win 7 64 bit.

(1) Downloaded the net install iso image. I went to Why it is buried under ‘workstation‘ I do not know.

(2) Opened VirtualBox (VB) and selected ‘New’ and called it whatever.

Install Fedora figure 1

(3) Selected RAM, disk size and so on. Upped the defaults a bit since the host is a reasonably capable machine.

(4) Selected ‘Storage’ and put the iso in the virtual disk drive.

Install Fedora figure 2

(5) Double clicked the icon for the VM to boot it and when it got to the Fedora menu, chose ‘Install’

(6) Let it go for a bit.

(7) Chose language and waited a bit more. I had a little exclamation mark on the ‘Installation Source’ icon, but the installer went to the web and found a mirror and eventually all I had to do was click on ‘Automatic Partitioning’.

Install Fedora figure 3

(8) Clicked. Said OK (default is fine for this).  Then set installation destination:

Install Fedora figure 4.

(9) Chose software.  I just asked for MATE and some development tools. I prefer to add things in a more fine-grained way later.

Install Fedora figure 5.

(10) Went to ‘Network’ page and just put in a hostname.

Install Fedora figure 6.

(11) Clicked ‘Begin Installation’.

(12) Set root password.

(13) Created a user (c’est moi). Made them an admin so they can use ‘sudo’ to run commands.

(14) And away it went…downloaded and installed. Man, this is easy!

(15) VB ‘Devices’ menu (at top of virtual machine, VM) -> Removed disk from optical drive.

(16) Rebooted.

(17) Said it can’t boot, needs processor with PAE.

(18) Alternative 1: Choose the non-PAE kernel from the boot menu…

(19) Alternative 2 – go to ‘System’ settings for the VM and enable ‘PAE/NX’ in the ‘Processor’ tab. I chose option 2.

(20) Guest additions – these allow shared folders between host and guest, and better control of the screen size and so forth for the VM. Essential. Went to ‘Devices’ and ‘Insert Guest Additions CD image’.

(21) Opened the ‘Computer’ file browser on the guest and found the disk. In my case it turned out to be in:
/run/media/username/VBOXADDITIONS_<Version Number>

(22) At command prompt, cd to that directory and typed:
sudo ./

(23) Problem – VB needs to install some kernel modules and cannot make and install kernel modules without some development tools…

(24) output suggested typing:

sudo yum install kernel-devel-<version number>-.fc22.i686+PAE

(this line was given by the output, so I did not need to hunt for the right package name)…

(25) …except that did not work… what package has the Linux kernel headers?

(26) This one: typed:
sudo dnf install kernel-PAE-devel
(dnf is the new package manager, rather than yum)

(27) Now retry: sudo ./

(28) Answer prompts – yes, I wish to proceed

(29) Seemed to work. Rebooted.

(30) Under VB menu at top of window, ‘Device -> Shared Clipboard’ chose enable, probably bidirectional.

(31) OK, now set up shared folders.

(32) Fired up VM if not already. Created a folder on guest to share, say:
sudo mkdir /mnt/shareguest
then make sure it is writeable with:
chmod 777 /mnt/shareguest
This may be a good idea on the host as well, I’m not sure. May help if it is a Linux host…

(33) On the host, created a folder to share as well. I called it sharehost

(34) On the menu at the top of the guest, selected ‘Devices -> Shared Folders -> Shared Folders Settings -> Add Folder Icon’ (i.e., clicked the folder plus a plus sign icon on the right).

(35) Selected the folder on the host (easiest to use the pull down menu to select ‘Other’ and then browse). Selected ‘Make permanent’ and ‘Automount’; why not.

(36) Now VB knows about the folder on the host. What about the guest?

(37) Back on guest at command line, typed:

sudo mount -t vboxsf -o uid=$UID,gid=$(id -g) sharehost /mnt/shareguest

This just tells the mount command that the filesystem type (-t) is vboxsf, and then gives it some options regarding access, then tells it what to mount and where.

(38) cd /mnt/shareguest

(39) touch testfile
(this made a little empty file in the shared directory – does it show up on the host?)

(40) Now looked at sharedhost to see if testfile appeared.

(41) OK, it did. Now, what if we want the shared folder to mount on boot?

(42) I can’t be bothered. I just put the above mount command into a small executable script called ‘mount_share’ and stuck that in /home/username/bin directory on the guest…

(43) vi ~/bin/mount_share

(44) Put the line in, saved file.

(45) Made it executable:
chmod +x ~/bin/mount_share

(46) That was good enough. Now can get files in and out of the VM, can install software using yum/dnf, so it is effectively done.

(47) Except I want the system to get its updates from aarnet not from whatever it is defaulting to. Looked here. I have emailed aarnet maintainers ‘cos I can’t find their .repo file; most people will use a different repo anyway.

(48) Oh, and basic maintenance:

sudo dnf check-update

sudo dnf upgrade


Writing lines

When your kid is in early primary school, and they are still learning to write and spell, and they hate sitting still while other kids are doing fun stuff, then I have found the best consequence of unwanted behaviour is writing lines, a bit old school but it seems to work.

(1) It is a well-defined task so they know what they have to do to get away from me and back to what they want to do.

(2) It results in improved handwriting and spelling (it really does).

(3) There’s no threat of physical violence.

(4) Non-compliance just means more lines.

(5) They hate it so much it is an effective deterrent.

(6) Time out in their room just results in playing or reading.  Time out in a corner just results in other forms of disruption.

A typical line might be ‘I will not use my fists to communicate with my brother.’  Sometimes the lines serve to amuse us — ‘I ken there are times I should shut my big fat gob’ was inspired by Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men.

Clearly it only works if they eventually knuckle down and do the lines.  But then all consequences are like that.

A minor rant: We’ve used various techniques from various books and they all have the same problem — they work on kids who are well enough behaved to submit to the consequences (we avoid the word ‘punishment’).  Time out does not work on a kid who won’t stay there.  You spend all your time trying to keep them in place and then have to have a second-order set of consequences for not engaging with the first set.

Conclusion – Darren’s Law of Parenting Books: Parenting books for dealing with bad behaviour only work on kids that aren’t really all that bad anyway.

So just make ’em write lines and help their literacy and behaviour all at once.

Converting “On Second Thoughts. . .”: Changes of Mind as an Indication of Competing Knowledge Structures

A paper recently published by a couple of my colleagues was converted from a Word .docx file to a LaTeX file. We tried a whole bunch of the more common converters, and in the end could not get a good result without considerable manual labour. I have almost come to the conclusion that it is easier to just take the text as unformatted ASCII and add the formatting by hand.


The document, published at, looks at how questions in tests, in this case a very widely used diagnostic test from Physics, are not independent.  I have talked briefly about it before.

The text does not contain any figures, but contains several tables.  Tables are very rarely converted well by any of the usual tools.  I tried importing into LibreOffice then saving as LaTeX, and similarly with Abiwordword2latex was similar.  All got some things right, but all added enough stuff that I had to undo manually that the benefit was minor, especially because I had to fit the document into the journal’s document class (REVTeX 4.1, actually), which means that the preamble all had to be put together by hand.  So once I had to sort out the preamble manually, the tables manually, and fix much of the other text manually, I almost decided I might as well just get unformatted text out of Word and mark it up manually.  But in the end I used chunks of the LibreOffice converter output, cutting and pasting blocks of ‘good’ conversion in when it was sensible to do so and using manual conversion when it wasn’t.

A bit laborious.

I explored my options pretty thoroughly, converting the document in quite a few different ways, so I conclude that at this time none of the free and open conversion tools is really up to the task.  I can’t speak on the proprietary ones.



Oh well.