A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.



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Category archive: Technology

Sunday July 13 2008

I don’t understand this, but it sounds very silly:

The Home Office ID card yoof discussion forum has banned users “David Blunkett” and “Jacqui Smith” along with other “inappropriate” comedy logins, while laying a trail of positive comments from shadowy, spookily robotic “students”. Elsewhere in the forum the barracking has intensified since the site’s wobbly launch earlier this week, but in the Shooters Hill discussion section, a grey army of Shooters (Shooter1 onwards) chants its relentless pro-ID card mantra.

Well, almost relentless - one or two of them seem less convinced. Unsurprisingly, other forum users have challenged the bona fides of this odd crowd that never answers a question and posts without following through the debate. They’re obviously bots, right? Well, not exactly. Moderator Debbie G (who looks like somebody who knows a thing or two about ID chips) reveals that “users with the Shooters usernames are students from Shooters Hill College in Greenwich. To launch the site they were given a presentation by Jacqui Smith and then given the opportunity to log on and post.”

As the Shooters posts are timed from 9.24-9.41am on Wednesday, when Jacqui Smith (one of them anyway) launched the site, this would seem to be the case. So Smith gives presentation to a group of captive students who are then given 20 minutes to say positive things about ID cards, and the marketing geniuses at Home Office spin central then refashion them into a convincing representation of a scary robot army, right down to erasing their identities and giving them numbers instead. Epic. Smart generic username too - for her next brainwashing gig, Jacqui Smith visits Stabbers Lane Academy, Barking.

It seems to me that one of the particular sins of my generation is wanting to be in charge of things, while surrounded by the pretense that nobody is really in charge, and all are free to do what they please, i.e. as we want them to.  We don’t give orders.  They merely choose, freely, to obey.  In this case, instead of saying: we’re the government, and we’ve decided that you’ve all got to carry ID cards, they make some kids say: we want ID cards, and then they say, hey the kids want ID cards.  They’re saying it on the internet and everything.  We have to do what they say.  We did not ordain this.  We are their servants, and they have spoken.

See also: this, one of my favourite movies.  And see also, I fear, many teachers, maybe from time to time including, I also fear, me.

Friday July 11 2008

I reported on the Elonex mini-computer some time back.  It was cheap and ugly.  Now it’s a tad more expensive, but not ugly, so now much more child-friendly.


I have an Asus Eee PC, and I must admit that the keyboard is really too tiny to be ideal for me, even with my small hands.  But for truly tiny fingers, a machine like this is surely perfect.  This Elonex, being so much cheaper than the Eee PC, is accordingly very parent-friendly.

Thursday June 05 2008

Yesterday at mad housewife:

My son started surfing the net aged 2, on the Cartoon Network games site. He taught himself to read from reading the net, when his school class was still trying to memorise the alphabet. When he was still an earlyish reader, he learned everything from youtube, which is fantastic for those with less striking literary talents, like my daughter (I would say she is dyslexic, but she doesn’t like being “dys” anything), who finds out almost everything by searching google images first.

Their internet (in the UK) has been down due to storms for a few days, but today it came back up. I’ve never appreciated the internet so much! said D, listening to the latest pop songs and looking up the names of a couple of TV presenters to tell me about. Wow, I’ve got so much email! said Son, who has made a new “email friend” of one of his school chums.

It’s impossible to tell how the world will change when every child has access to a laptop with internet, but I’m absolutely sure it will be for the better. Kids turn into adults. It’s hard for most of us even to imagine how we’d be now, had we grown up with that kind of knowledge-power.

I don’t think I necessarily agree about this being an automatic good.  Knowledge is power and power can be used to do bad.  But, the world will change, I do agree about that.

A mad housewife commenter supplied this link.

Friday May 30 2008


Dear Brian,

I have been having a look at your blog and though you might like to hear about our new site www.tutpup.com which has free maths and English games for students.

Our site is completely free, has no ads, does not require players to disclose any personally identifiable information and allows students to play competitive head-to-head games with their friends/classmates or students from around the world.

We also provide tools for teachers where they can set up and manage their classes as well as seeing how their students are performing at school and at home.

I thought that this may be of interest as our aim is to help as many kids (wherever they are) to improve their basic maths and English skills and this seemed to fit with the libertarian leaning of your blog.

Richard Taylor

Yes, Richard Taylor, this is just the kind of thing that does interest me, a lot.  Feel entirely free to keep me and my readers informed of progress with this. It’s obviously a world away from this kind of thing, but some of the simplest and most basic games are among the most successful and addictive, yes?

As I keep saying here, sooner or later someone is going to make something like this work in a very big way.

Thursday May 29 2008

Tom Chatfield discusses computer games:

When Mogwai isn’t online, he’s called Adam Brouwer, and works as a civil servant for the British government modelling crisis scenarios of hypothetical veterinary disease outbreaks. I point out to him a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, billed under the line “The best sign that someone’s qualified to run an internet startup may not be an MBA degree, but level 70 guild leader status.” Is there anything to this? “Absolutely,” he says, “but if you tried to argue that within the traditional business market you would get laughed out of the interview.” How, then, does he explain his willingness to invest so much in something that has little value for his career? He disputes this claim. “In Warcraft I’ve developed confidence; a lack of fear about entering difficult situations; I’ve enhanced my presentation skills and debating. Then there are more subtle things: judging people’s intentions from conversations, learning to tell people what they want to hear. I am certainly more manipulative, more Machiavellian. I love being in charge of a group of people, leading them to succeed in a task.”

It’s an eloquent self-justification - even if some, including Adam’s partner of the last ten years, might say he protests too much. You find this kind of frank introspection again and again on the thousands of independent websites maintained by World of Warcraft’s more than 10m players. Yet this way of thinking about video games can be found almost nowhere within the mainstream media, which still tend to treat games as an odd mix of the slightly menacing and the alien: more like exotic organisms dredged from the deep sea than complex human creations.

This lack has become increasingly jarring, as video games and the culture that surrounds them have become very big news indeed. In March, the British government released the Byron report - one of the first large-scale investigations into the effects of electronic media on children. Its conclusions set out a clear, rational basis for exploring the regulation of video games. Since then, however, the debate has descended into the same old squabbling between partisan factions. In one corner are the preachers of mental and moral decline; in the other the high priests of innovation and life 2.0. In between are the ever-increasing legions of gamers, busily buying and playing while nonsense is talked over their heads.

I recall similar debates about television.  With telly the argument was pretty much pleasure versus “goodness”, measured by some other standard.  So if you think pleasure matters (I definitely do) then telly is great.  If not, then not.

The most obvious impact of television was simply the things that people didn’t do, as a result of watching television instead.  Such as: keeping an eye on or open for criminals, whether out in the streets or at home.  Crime always goes up in a country when television arrives, and since this happens so very quickly, it’s hard to regard it as resulting from any deep psychological damage, just to the change in the crime environment.  Not that there necessarily aren’t deep psychological effects, just that the obvious impacts are so much more obvious.

With games, what is surely new is that kids have independent access to their individual games machines, and can carry them around with them.

As for the intellectual impact, I don’t see how the damage could possibly be greater than the brain damage allegedly caused by television to some people, and especially to children who do nothing except watch telly.

Sunday May 11 2008

This working boy did the school’s IT.  But this working boy, also in IT, didn’t go to school.  Which didn’t, says the story, hold him back.  (The way it usually does?)

He said: “There aren’t very many jobs for teenagers around except washing-up at hotels or chopping chips for a chippy.

“I wanted to start up my own business doing something that I really enjoyed, was good at, and that I could fit into my free time, at home - and hopefully I will be able to earn some money at the same time.”

There are five comments on this story in the Bridport News, all of them very positive.

Linked to by Carlotta.

Fareed Zakaria says that the USA’s relative economic decline is (see page 6 much exaggerated:

The United States is currently ranked as the globe’s most competitive economy by the World Economic Forum.  It remains dominant in many industries of the future like nanotechnology, biotechnology, and dozens of smaller high-tech fields.

In particular, says Zakaria, the USA remains pre-eminent in higher education:

Its universities are the finest in the world, making up 8 of the top ten and 37 of the top fifty, according to a prominent ranking produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  A few years ago the National Science Foundation put out a scary and much-discussed statistic.  In 2004, the group said, 950,000 engineers graduated from China and India, while only 70,000 graduated from the United States.  But those numbers are wildly off the mark.  If you exclude the car mechanics and repairmen - who are all counted as engineers in Chinese and Indian statistics - the numbers look quite different.  Per capita, it turns out, the United States trains more engineers than either of the Asian giants.

But isn’t the point that “per capita”?  A smaller proportion of a vastly greater number is still a huge absolute number.

Joanne Jacobs makes a similar point about the continuing qualitative superiority of US education.

Saturday May 10 2008

Nothing here from me today.  Instead, if you haven’t already, have a read of this posting.  Concluding words:

I took my year sevens out into the school car park this afternoon for a lesson on symmetry, we were looking at hub caps, to escape the heat and get some sun. I got some odd looks from other staff walking, especially as I was getting them to take pictures on their phones. An assistant head came to see what was going on as I think the lesson might have been outside his comfort zone. He actually asked ‘and you’re allowing them to use their phones?’ It’d be a mighty show of defiance from the class to walk out with phones in hand. And having made it that far it be weird for them to congregate in the car park taking pictures of wheels. I cheerfully explained what we were doing and he went away looking somewhere inbetween confused and bemused. Admittedly it was a risky lesson but it was with a class I could trust my life with.

And it’s always nice to get some fresh air.

And in more ways than one.

Hub caps and phone photographs
Tim Worstall on the uses of maths
P. J. O’Rourke on the sociology of an aircraft carrier
Fine weather teaching
CCTV could be used in exam rooms
Varsity science ed with a difference
Professor Thomas does not tolerate texting
11 Year-Old Takes Over as School’s Network Admin
University of Phoenix pays for engadget
The robot babysitters are coming
Robert Cringely on letting technology into the schools
I am having what the Americans call a learning experience
Me teaching very young children and me teaching slightly older children
Against fragrant education
Blogging and learning about solar power
Talking maths with Michael Jennings
Hundred quid laptop
A little dinner party gossip
A world where everyone knows your GCSE results
Asus Eee PC!!
Somehow I don’t think this idea will catch on any time soon
Frank Chalk and David Davis on metal detectors for schools
BECTA versus Vista
A national plan for classroom surveillance