Monday, February 03, 2014

Star Wars: Where Are All The Super Soldiers?

No, I don't mean the Clone Army.  I mean the Jedi.

This is something indirectly triggered by JK Rowling's comments that in the Harry Potter books, Hermione probably should have ended up with Harry instead of Ron.

My friend Elliot suggested that while it doesn't change anything, it will still annoy hardcore fans, much like the midichlorians in Star Wars.  Tim, however, disagreed, and thought the midichlorians changed quite a lot.

Now, the midichlorians never bothered me before.  On the face of it, they don't really change anything.  It merely provides an unnecessary (if vague) biological explanation why some people have more potential to control The Force than others.

But then I momentarily considered the consequences of giving a biological explanation to this.

Namely: Science.  And scientists.

If you have more control over The Force with greater numbers of midichlorians, then why has no one artificially raised their midichlorian count in order to become a Jedi?  If the technology exists for interstellar space travel then a bit of genetic engineering shouldn't be beyond the scientists of the galaxy.

I could see why the Jedi Council haven't indulged - they're trying to keep order in the galaxy and untrained powerful Jedi everywhere wouldn't help with that.  Similarly, the Sith want to maintain control - The Emperor is perfectly happy destroying everything Jedi to leave himself and Vader to rule the roost.

However, midichlorians are in everyone.  So every mad scientist has access to them, to replicate them and implant them in ordinary mortals.  And there's an entire race of people in the galaxy dedicated to cloning people for money.  Someone in the galaxy must have tried to create an army of Super Jedi.  They'd have wiped the floor with the Clone Army.  So what happened?


(Incidentally, as this post makes a brief mention of Harry Potter, might I recommend Diary Of A Hufflepuff?  It's amazing.)

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Dear NGOs, *THIS* is how you promote your work

These days I avoid looking at charity posters on the Tube.  More often than not, they're crass, they're tasteless, they portray poor people as helpless and their situation hopeless.

It makes me very angry, because I've worked for NGOs, and do you know what inspires me about their work?  It's the potential of every single person they help.  It's the fantastic difference that is made through a joint effort between everyone involve, and the belief that the difference can be made.

It feels like a massive betrayal for NGOs to then turn around and define these wonderful people simply by the desperate situation in which they find themselves.  Because it often is desperate, and they often need a leg-up.

But before I dig into my pocket and donate to a cause, I want to know what difference my donation will make.  I don't want it turned into a competition over whose poverty is the worst.  I want to be inspired, and to know that my donation will not be squandered.  I want to be told more about the future, than about the past.

And that is why this video is AMAZING.

Watch it until the very end.

[YouTube link]

Hat-tip to my good friend Elin, with whom I worked in Tanzania nearly a decade ago, and who now spends most of her time teaching in Cambodia.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Thatcher: A Pictorial Representation Of My Twitter Feed Yesterday

Yesterday, of course, Maggie Thatcher died.  For many the party started as soon as they heard the news.  I'm not one to celebrate the death of an old lady who is no longer involved actively in politics, and thankfully few of the people I know on social media are either.

More to the point, I don't really see what there is to celebrate, or what difference her death makes.  Her politics live on in an even more dangerous form in the current crop of lizard politicians, as they have demonstrated this week with swingeing cuts to the welfare state that Maggie could only have dreamed of.  And at least she seemed to believe in the conviction of her ideology, as opposed to the cynical making-a-buck-for-their-friends bunch we're lumbered with now.

Twitter, of course, provided entertainment by the bucketload for those who, like me, are indifferent to her passing.

First there was the glorious confusion (much of it, it has to be said, deliberate) in the hashtags #nowthatcherisdead and #nowthatchersdead, which many read as "Now That Cher Is Dead".

Then the bemusement of One Direction fans when Harry Styles tweeted "Baroness Thatcher RIP".  To be fair, it's not that surprising that many people born several years after Thatcher left office haven't heard of her.  I'm not sure I could have told you much about the PMs of the 70s when I was a teenager.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure I could tell you much now.

However, this pic on the Who Is Margaret Thatcher? tumblr that quickly sprang up to document the youth of today's ignorance is glorious.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Riddle Of The Housekeepers And The Cat

A riddle for you:

You require the services of a new housekeeper, to whom you will supply money for the day to day running of the house.

There are two applicants for the job, both of whom you have employed before.

Housekeeper 1 is disapproving of your bank overdraft, and claims to be reluctant to spend any of the housekeeping until the overdraft is cleared.

Housekeeper 1 also refuses to personally carry out essential jobs around the house. Instead, Housekeeper 1 will insist it is better value for money to pay their friends to do the jobs instead, even though it ends up costing you twice as much.

Housekeeper 1 will, at the same time, insist that any non-essential items bought for their own personal use, be paid for out of the housekeeping.

Housekeeper 1 will refuse to feed the cat, citing the cat's unwillingness to contribute to its own food, despite the existence of a tin opener. Housekeeper 1 will neglect to accept that the tin opener provided is unsuitable for use by the cat, and is in any case kept out of the cat's reach, inside a locked cupboard.

Housekeeper 1 will replace your comprehensive first aid kit with items bought individually at much greater cost.

Housekeeper 1 will throw out all of your favourite books, board games and documentaries, and in their place purchase a single encyclopaedia and quiz book. Any member of the household who fails to enjoy the encyclopaedia and reach the required standard in the annual quiz, will be turned into a cat.

Housekeeper 2 is much like Housekeeper 1, but will on occasion at least remember to feed the cat.

You have no choice but to employ one of the two housekeepers.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I shall probably vote Labour at the next election.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Not To Design An Examinations System, Part One: Grade Inflation

Yesterday, the Government announced their new examinations system to replace the GCSEs.  They released this (rather thin) consultation document.  It's not very good.  In fact I'd say it's woeful.  They do not back their reasons for change with compelling evidence, and the proposals they are making are sketchy at best.

But who am I to criticise?

Well, I've been teaching Maths in this country since 2005.  I don't think that GCSEs are not "challenging", or that students' hard work is "in vain", or that their grades are "worthless".  They're the best measure we have at the moment for determining students' abilities.  Students deserve what they get.  (Mostly.)

However, the system has numerous faults, many of which I'll outline below.  I think we can do much much better.  So I'm not going to blindly defend it in the face of change.  In fact, I'd love to see GCSEs replaced.  Just not by the English Baccalaureate Certificate.

Grade Inflation
"This consultation sets out the Government’s plans to restore rigour and confidence to our examination system at age 16, which has been undermined by years of continued grade inflation."
[Paragraph 1.1]

In the 1988 Olympics (the year the first students sat GCSEs), 2.9% of the men's 100 metre runners ran (legally) faster than 10 seconds.  In the London 2012 Olympics, that figure had increased to a staggering 11.0% - nearly four times the proportion of athletes meeting the same standard!

Does this mean that the men's 100 metre sprint is an easier race than it used to be?