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    The John and Muriel Higgins Home Page

    Professional interests

    Personal interests

    Between 1963 and 1986 we lived and worked in Thailand, Norway, the USA, Tanzania, Turkey, Egypt and Yugoslavia, teaching EFL. John joined the British Council in 1971. Muriel published several textbooks with Longman and a book on patchwork with Batsford. In 1980 we became involved in CALL (Computer-A

    ssisted Language Learning) and put together a number of innovative pieces of software, including the first versions of a program later released as STORYBOARD, ECLIPSE, RHUBARB, and (in an uncredited version) DEVELOPING TRAY. See the demo version of ECLIPSE above if you want to try your hand, along with another exercise, SEQUITUR. John wrote or co-wrote (with Tim Johns) three books on CALL and numerous articles.

    In 1986 John left the British Council and taught in the School of Education of Bristol University, and from September 1993 to August 2000 taught the M Sc in CALL and TESOL at CELT (the Centre for English Language Teaching) in the University of Stirling. He has retired and we now play golf, swim, dabble in computer programming just enough to keep our CALL software running, and research our favourite authors. In 2005 we moved from Scotland to Shaftesbury in Dorset.


    and here is a new meaning for something you need
    "like a hole in the head."


    ... and a one-in-hole, not a hole-in-one


    (Motcombe Park Sports Club, 14 August 2016)

    There is no such thing as a stupid question, though there may be such a thing as a stupid silence.

    Links to some of John's articles--on language:

    Fuel for learning
    … if I can without strain find 555 paraphrases of an 8-word sentence, then several thousand million paraphrases of a 50- to 60-word sentence is reasonable. … Why has Mother Language showered us with so many ways of expressing meanings?

    Power to the pupils
    ... “Who were your teachers?” I asked him, thinking he might have had a native speaker in his school class. “My teachers?” he said, “my teachers were Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Gregory Peck.” Pretentious little git, you may be thinking, but there was not much wrong with his English.

    English Homographs and text-to-speech algorithms
    …Text-to-speech has made huge advances on the robotic voice we have associated over the last twenty years with Professor Stephen Hawking. … However, it is clear that the handling of homographs remains problematical.

    I speak analogue; you hear digital
    … In effect what we are doing here is to have the candidate give the assessor a listening test. We are certainly making the assessor behave more like a listener dealing digitally with the question "What is the candidate trying to tell me?" rather than like a judge dealing in an analogue way with the question "How well can the candidate make that sound?"

    Artificial unintelligence
    …While computers possess randomness, they can to some extent do without intelligence…

    The Drachenland Fable
    ... people were discussing the integratioon of computer activities into classwork. Looking round the room, I wondered why everybody was looking so glum. Would they still be so glum if the topic were, say, singing?

    "Consider. When the colours red and blue are mixed
    a third and quite different colour is formed—violet.
    Might not the same thing happen with ideas?"
    J.M.Scott, The Black Joke. p. 187.

    --and on favourite writers:

    (Contribution to Mystery People online journal, September 2017)

    …The three best of the Birdcage series, Firecrest, The Rainbird Pattern and Birdcage, constitute some of the best storytelling of the century.

    (Entry in The Literary Encyclopedia)
    ... In his thrillers he has nothing good to say about communism and the Soviet system. However, given the leftist and on the whole rather charming idealism of his earliest work, I would still be surprised if he ever cast a vote for the Tories.

    (Entry in The Literary Encyclopedia)
    ... One gets the sense that O’Donnell is writing for the kind of reader who does not sit down to read a book at a sitting but one who reads for a few minutes before going to sleep or on a commuter train. It is something he may have learned from scripting comic strips, and it is a valuable talent in a novelist.

    John Buchan and Victor Canning
    (from The John Buchan Journal, Issue 43, Spring 2011.)

    Salamander (1949) was described as “pure Buchan and very exciting” by the Times Literary Supplement. A Forest of Eyes (1950) was “an unusually well-written adventure story … Iron Curtain Buchan”

    …It was this middle period work which drew the label “Buchanesque” from many critics. The Golden

    (Contribution to Mystery People online journal, February 2018)

    ... When you read The Ashes of Loda, his 1965 thriller about a British journalist escaping from Moscow across Ukraine in January, you will surely want to put on an extra sweater, if not an overcoat, scarf and gloves, so convincing is the description of a Russian winter.

    J. M. Scott
    Extended version of entry in Wikipedia.

    On Sea-Wyf and Biscuit ... Was this, as Scott maintained, a true story which he learned at first hand fictionalised just enough for the main actors to be unidentifiable, or a plausible made-up story to explain the documented small ads, or had Scott created the whole story, inserting the ads himself in order to supply a hook for the novel? Against the third account is the four year delay. If Scott had invented the story, why wait four years to publish?

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    Page last updated on 31 January 2018.