Our last walk in the forest before #SAlockdown


Comment: Eskom is in a death spiral, so it’s time to change the energy ballgame.

This combination of public, private and community-based delivery of renewable energy is an advanced, sophisticated vision (consistent with practice in a number of countries), that breaks from the simplistic view that renewables can only be efficiently delivered by IPPs in a highly competitive market. We must avoid a pure market solution that incentivises a race to the bottom where prices drop so low that renewables become unprofitable.

Swilling, M. (2020). Eskom is in a death spiral, so it’s time to change the energy ballgame. Daily Maverick.

For the past few months I’ve been feeling pretty low about the situation we find ourselves in here in South Africa. Unemployment is at 30% (youth unemployment is at 60% by some measures) and looks to keep growing. Corruption at the highest levels of government is no longer even noteworthy. We have a national power utility that struggles to provide power; a national airline that struggles to fly airplanes; and a national health service that struggles to treat patients. Oh, and some universities across the country remain suspended as a result of student protest around debt and an inability to register.

But since last week Thursday, when the President delivered his State of the Nation Address (transcript here at Daily Maverick) I’ve been feeling a lot more positive. The media especially has been upbeat about the new opportunities that seem to be on the horizon, including the ability of municipalities to generate their own electricity, and the presentation of policy (not just rhetoric) aimed at moving towards renewable energy production and tackling youth unemployment. And there seems to be a genuine desire to see that that State-looting criminals who ran our country for decades be held accountable.

For the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful that we might be able to unfuck the situation we find ourselves in.

personal Science

Comment: Nasa ‘re-masters’ classic ‘Pale Blue Dot’ image of Earth.

The bright dot in the sunbeam on the far right in the image above is the “dot” being referred to.

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Sagan, C. (1994). Pale Blue Dot.

The quote above isn’t from the article that this post takes it’s title from. You can read that here. The headline just reminded me of Carl Sagan’s book, Pale Blue Dot, which is one of my favourites and from which the quote is taken.

It’s a useful reminder – for me – of how small we all are in the greater scheme of things. When work is overwhelming, and the kids are screaming, and the electricity is off, and the rain isn’t raining, I try to remember that in 10 000 years, none of it will matter. For some reason, this gives me a non-trivial degree of comfort 🙂


A review of 2019 and plans for 2020

One year ago today I posted some of the plans that I had for the year and this is a brief review of those plans, as well as starting to think about what I might get into for 2020.

Writing: I managed to stick to my goal of writing every day with the caveat that I obviously can’t always write as much as I’d like to every day. I did manage to carve out about 2 hours, for at least 3 days a week, which I used to write papers, blog posts and provide feedback for postgraduate students. I’ll keep to that plan of putting aside a few hours every morning for 2020 although I’m hoping to spend more of that time on more informal writing rather than putting out more research articles.

Research and exchange: I visited Oslo for 2 weeks in August with a small group of undergraduate students and a colleague from my department, as part of a research project on internationalisation. This year, we’ll host 4 students and 2 lecturers from OsloMet in my department in March. This visit was a fantastic experience – for lecturers and students – and I cannot wait for our Norwegian colleagues to come to Cape Town. It wasn’t just a brilliant academic experience but was so wonderful to spend some time wondering around the parks in Oslo.

Sognsvann Lake outside of Oslo.

I also completed a survey on the perceptions of physiotherapy clinicians on the impact of AI on clinical practice, and hope to complete the associated interviews early this year. And finally, I’ve made the decision not to apply to have my NRF rating re-evaluated, since I realised that I was spending more time than I was happy with simply dealing with the admin of being rated. And with the added pressure to keep meeting benchmarks in an already hyper-competative field I decided that it was serving as little more than an unwanted distraction from the things that really brought me a lot of joy in my professional work in 2019. Speaking of which…

In Beta: The first In Beta unconference was held in May in Lausanne and was incredible; definitely one of the highlights of 2019 for me. Thanks so much to Guillaume Christe and Veronika Schoeb for all of their assistance, not only in making it possible but in making it awesome. I’m super excited to be working with Ben and Joost to prepare the second unconference at HAN in the Netherlands from 14-15 September.

We didn’t get to publish as many podcasts in 2019 as I’d hoped (although we did end up recording quite a few) because of the significant time it takes to edit them. On the other hand we did start the In Beta monthly newsletter which has been a fun little experiment. For 2020 we’ll keep working on the podcasts (the first discussion is scheduled for the 21st of January) and the newsletter (here’s the January edition). There’s also a rumour of an In Beta Introduction to Physiotherapy Education open access book but that can’t be true because we’d never take on anything so unrealistic and unlikely to materialise. Surely? Oh, and Ben started an In Beta Twitter account so you should probably check that out.

Technology: I’ve done more in 2019 to move myself away from social media in general, as well as finding alternatives to Google products (this decision needs a whole post to explore). My main goal is to try and get off of closed platforms and try to use open source software where possible. I’ve also been experimenting with some Indieweb applications and ideas, which has been fun. I’ll probably write a few updates on this process during the year.

365 project: I managed to take a photo a day for 346 days in 2019, which wasn’t too bad. Here are some of my favourites.

I won’t continue with the photo a day project this year but will be trying to work on other projects “with my hands”. What this means exactly is yet to be determined but I think it’ll most likely involve making/building/creating things. For example, I’m going to start sketching (see this early attempt at a gecko).

And also restoring some of the old furniture we’ve had in the house for years, like this wardrobe that my mother-in-law had when she was a child.

Exercise: I didn’t get to do as much cycling as I’d hoped for but I did start trail running in September. I’ve gone running for 3 days of almost every week since I first went out and have found it to be…interesting. I won’t say that I enjoy it but I haven’t stopped doing it so there’s that. I basically just want to make it so that I’m less likely to have a heart attack when I’m 45.

Trail running around the back of Lion’s Head.

Reading: I read 36 books in 2019 and 3 million words in Pocket (which it estimates is the equivalent of about 40 books but who knows how they come up with that). While I’m fairly happy with how much I’m reading I’m pretty depressed with how little I remember. Which is why I’m going to try and read fewer books/words in 2020 and pay more attention to how I engage with what I’m reading. As it is I read all of my books in the Moon+ reader app and export all highlights and notes into Joplin. But then I don’t take the next step of reviewing, editing and connecting those notes to other concepts in order to extract what is most useful from what I’ve read. I’ll be doing more of that kind of “post-reading” work in 2020. I also didn’t read as many research papers in 2019 as I would’ve liked but then again, I don’t want to fall into the trap of reading articles just so that I can tick them off. With that in mind I’m going to try and read a paper a day during the last hour of work during the week and then post short summaries here (note that reading a paper a day isn’t the same thing as finishing a paper a day, so at least I’ve got some breathing space there).

Productivity: I did pretty well with my plan to restructure my day at work so that I don’t have to do anything in the evenings and on weekends. I think that there may have been a total of a few weeks in the year when I had to do some work at night and it was usually the result of an influx of urgent tasks from others rather than an inability to manage my time effectively. I spent a lot of time refining my workflow and I think that that alone helped me to stay focused and get stuff done. I managed to stick to a fairly regular meditation schedule for about half the year but then got out of the habit and didn’t pick it up again. I’ll probably make another atempt this year.

That’s about it from my side. I hope that you have a great 2020.


Learning to play chess

My daughter asked me if I could teach her how to play chess. I said, “Of course, darling”. Now I have to learn how to play chess.


More than my h-index.

Went to carols by candlelight in the forest with the girls the other evening. The sense of wonder and awe that children bring to Christmas is a joy.


More than my h-index.

I’m going to start experimenting with using the site for mentioning other stuff I like. It’ll probably only be photos and very short posts, much like this one.

Today I went for my first run on a mountain (until now it’s mostly been flat tracks through a forest) and loved it. I can see myself getting into this.


Trail running

I started trail running about 4 months ago and since then I’ve managed to get out 3 times a week. It wasn’t easy to start but I’ve reached a level where I look forward to it.



Instead of setting New Year’s resolutions I’ve decided to instead make plans. Unlike resolutions, which feel like a big commitment, plans are adaptable, flexible and fluid. And also I’ll feel like less of a failure when my plans change (because, life) than I would if I break a resolution. So, here are the professional and personal plans for 2019.

Three years ago I deleted my Facebook account and have not missed a single thing that I care about. Late last year I deleted the Twitter app from my phone and tablet and as a result, stopped checking Twitter every day (I’ve been back once in the past month). I thought that I’d just probably continue to visit in the browser but now that it’s not on my phone I find that I just don’t think about it very much and, contrary to what I expected, I don’t miss it at all. Posts from this blog will keep being sent to Twitter for the time being but I may switch that off as well. Deleting an app from my phone seems like such a small thing but it’s really a thread that, when pulled, causes everything else to move. At some point, I’ll write about my reasons for moving away from social media. In the meantime, I’ll be experimenting with using this site to share the things that I find interesting, as well as more personal stuff.

My writing plans include putting aside an hour and a half every day during the week, usually from 08:30-10:00, which is just for me to write. Obviously, this will need to adapt to the requirements of teaching and admin but that’s my plan. I’m hoping to do a lot more writing both formally (i.e. academic papers) and informally (e.g. writing for The Conversation, and blogging). I currently have 11 articles under review, which I hope to get published during 2019 along with a few more ideas for papers that I have in the pipeline. These are mostly the result of clearing a backlog of papers arising from several projects that came to an end during 2017-2018. Since I don’t have any data from projects that are currently up and running my 2019 articles will most likely be more position/opinion papers that I’m using to build a foundation for my thinking around AI in healthcare and education. Once I’ve used those papers to consolidate the vocabulary and establish a few lines of inquiry, I’ll build a research agenda that should see me through the next 3-5 years.

I have two research projects that I’m busy spinning up; one on internationalisation with student exchange and another on the social implications of AI. The internationalisation project has been funded and includes a 2-week visit to Oslo, along with 5 of our undergraduate students. We’ll also be hosting 3 OsloMet colleagues and 5 of their students in Cape Town as part of the exchange programme. The implications of AI is something that’s been on my mind for the past year or so and I feel like I’m comfortable enough with the topic that I can start building a research plan around it. I’m really excited about these two projects and will share more of the details once we’ve nailed them down.

In May I’ll also be travelling to Geneva for the WCPT conference after having had two abstracts accepted. As part of that visit, I’m working with Ben Ellis, Joost van Wijchen and Guillaume Christe to plan the first In Beta Unconference, which will most likely take place in the days following the conference. If you’re interested in physiotherapy education then watch this space for an announcement in the next couple of weeks. This is part of our bigger plans to develop the In Beta community, which I wrote about during a reflection on 2018. This will most likely be my last time attending WCPT and in future, I’ll be looking at AMEE as my biennial international conference. I’ll also try to attend our local SAAHE conference, although that may not be possible given the significant expense of travelling to Geneva.

I’m going to try and expand the SAAHE podcast conversations that we started last year to include conversations with leaders in health professions education, in addition to the PhD graduates who I’ve been talking to so far. The idea is to talk about the development pathways of academics who have done a lot to drive growth in health professions education. I recorded three conversations near the end of last year and have another few planned for the next couple of months. However, like the In Beta podcast, the biggest challenge is getting the audio edited.

A few years ago I did what I called my 365 project, which was simply taking a photo a day for a year. I’ve re-started the project and have been reminded of just how many things I see every day that are quite beautiful. This is something that I’m really looking forward to, as the collection of a year’s worth of daily photos is both inspiring and wonderful to look back on.

Day 9 of the 365 project: Gaura flowers in the garden.

I’m going to try and get back into playing Go, which I did for a few years and then dropped. I really enjoyed it and can’t remember why I stopped. Last year my wife bought me a Go board (I still need the stones) so hopefully, that’ll be a big enough push to get me started again. Maybe I’ll teach the girls to play.

It’s a bit cliched but I’d like to get more exercise in 2019, especially on the moutain bike. It takes me 10 minutes to cycle to the Tokai mountain bike trails and it’s ridiculous that I don’t go more often.

Mountain biking in Tokai.

I try to read for about 3-4 hours a day and in 2018 I read 30 books (including Neal Stephensons Baroque Cycle trilogy, and Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature, which are huge monsters) and 5.1 million words in Pocket. My daily reading time includes the minimum of 2 hours I spend commuting during the week, during which I mostly listen to articles I’ve saved in Pocket. I’ve now done a bit of re-shuffling of my daily schedule in an attempt to carve out a little bit more time for reading academic papers, which I’ve realised has been neglected since finishing my PhD.

During the last few weeks of the holidays we spent quite a bit of time spring cleaning the house and doing a bit of work in the garden. Even though we moved in 3 years ago there were still boxes and cupboards that were essentially the same as when we first arrived and dumped stuff into them to get it all off the floor. We did a huge cleanup in the garage, hung some pictures on the walls, donated a ton of stuff to charity, and finally moved an armchair into the study, which I’ve been wanting to do for at least 2 years. The change in my headspace has been amazing and so I’m planning to do more work around the house and garden in 2019. Related to this is the idea that we’d like to go away more for short breaks rather than having a single holiday at the end of the year. We spent 3 days in Greyton earlier this month and it was wonderful to get away somewhere quiet. So we’ll try to build in a few shorter breaks during 2019.

Standing in the Gobos River just outside of Greyton.

I’m going to continue my “No working in the evenings and on weekends” policy, which seems to have gone well in 2018. It means that I need to be really intentional during the 8-9 hours when I’m at work but then when I’m at home I’m mentally not at work, which has been great for my mental health. Speaking of which I’m going to reboot my attempts at daily meditation, spurred in part by the fact that I now have free access to the Waking Up app by Sam Harris as a result of being a paid subscriber to his podcast.

If I get through 2019 having achieved some of what I’ve described here, I think I’ll be pretty happy. If you read this far, thanks and all the best to you for the year ahead.


Uncertain times: A short reflection on career progression

As part of the 10 year celebration of SAFRI – the Southern African FAIMER Regional Institute – I was asked to contribute short reflection to a chapter on Professional development: Post fellowship on a personal and professional level. This is what I submitted (click here for a higher res PDF).