Feeds and Feedback

 RSS Feed

 Feedback Form

 My MSN ID is my email address, so contact me if you want to chat.

My status


Then there's my Twitter Feed. Click to follow me (last 5 tweets below)

Follow Me on Twitter

Recently Read

Iain's bookshelf: read

Yellow Submarine Goodbye, Pert Breasts: The Diary of a Newborn Dad I Shall Wear Midnight: A Discworld Novel Action: Pulse Pounding Tales Volume 1 Tales of Unease (Wordsworth Mystery & the Supernatural) Bunker 10

More of Iain's books »
Book recommendations, book reviews, quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

Last.fm

World Community Grid

Film review: The Unbeatables

120px-film-strip2Been ages since I did a review, but seeing as I got in to see this one as a free preview I kind of feel obligated to return the favour and rattle off a few words. Little Mister and I nabbed free tickets to see it at the Showcase and had a nice morning together!

The Unbeatables

“Show us your cross, father!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Bad guy becomes megastar and buys out his old village, only the old foosball table has other ideas…

Released in Latin America during World Cup year, this has probably made its money back already – simply because attaching a football to anything over there pretty much guarantees a sale. From what I gathered from the producer credits at the start, it’s an Argentinian film and not originally in English, but the cast used for “our” version are very good and the dub is – on the whole – well done. I’m pretty sure a fair few of the jokes have been tweaked for a British audience, which shows a bit of extra thought from the film-makers.

Despite a couple of the lines falling rather flat – jokes that just don’t work – the vast majority is good to excellent with some really sneaky throwaway lines which will tickle the funny bones of football fans. Talking of bones, sci-fi film geeks will appreciate the pre-opening credits sequence…

The story is nothing special in terms of kids’ films, in that there’s a poor, downtrodden good guy up against an all-powerful baddie. There’s a girl who needs to be “got”, a village to be saved, and so on. But there aren’t any original stories any more. It’s how you dress them up that’s important and The Unbeatables does a good job. The animation is superb with a good mixture of humour, slapstick and wonderful imagination. In terms of looks I’d say it’s close to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs but with more realistic (i.e. less cartoony) texturing.

What was more important was that Little Mister enjoyed it. He’s six and not the biggest football fan in the world (though he did sit through a few of the World Cup games with daddy this year!), but when I asked him for his favourite bit when we left the cinema, he said he couldn’t pick one as he’d enjoyed the whole thing! The general reaction in the cinema was positive, from what I could hear, with adults chuckling to some of the dialogue and children laughing out loud at the visuals.

Overall, very glad we went and the concrete test is that had we paid for tickets I’d have been every bit as happy. Good stuff and well done to the film-makers. It’s good to see that it’s not just the big boys who can make quality CGI animated features.

A Tale of Two Companies

English: The mdonalds logo from the late 90s

English: The mdonalds logo from the late 90s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s shitty customer “service” (Amazon, DFS and so many others already chronicled on these pages), there’s passable customer service and then there’s excellent customer service. Here are examples of the latter two which I’ve experienced in the last couple of weeks.

First up – McDonald’s. I not going to knock the food – on the whole we use them more than we should because they’re convenient and everyone in the house likes at least something on the menu. However, the other week we drove up purely to get McFlurrys as a take-away dessert. Gillian went up and had to send the first lot back as they were obviously dribbly enough to pour through a fine sieve. The second batch looked passable, but by the time they got back to the house (5 minutes drive, no more) they were akin to a glass of milk with chocolate brownie floating in it.

I emailed McDonalds, and about 5 days later got a stock reply offering a voucher which is fine – money back for a retailer where we’d normally go anyway is as much as I’d expect.

A week later the voucher arrives, for “a meal worth up to £5″. The McFlurrys had set us back over £10.

So from a potential customer saver to a mild slap in the face. As I said, passable customer service. Something was done, though it just didn’t seem like they cared much.

English: innocent logo

English: innocent logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next in the list – innocent, the drink/smoothie maker.

Gillian picked up a couple of large bottles of their juices and I opened one up late at night only to see little black flecks floating on the surface of the juice. I happened to look inside the lid and discovered a small but noticeable amount of mould dangling down – white and black, possibly some yellow/orange, but that could have been staining from the fruit. Either way, not what you want in your fruit juice.

Emailed innocent and had a reply back within a few hours. They described their packing and shipping process, how the juice should be transported and stored and asked for information on when/where we bought it, and for photos of the mould so that they could try to identify it and work out where in the chain it could have appeared.

Within two days we received a bunch of vouchers – enough for eight bottles – in a hand-decorated (pretty coloured flowers in pencils), hand-addressed envelope with a personal note from the customer care person I’d been emailing.

That ranks as excellent customer service. Swift, polite, informative and above and beyond in making up for something that may well not even have been their fault.

Curriculum for Excellence? Or Excrement?

My World of Work

“Smile and I’ll give you a job marking Advanced Higher papers” (Photo credit: Engage for Education)

I’m firmly in the latter camp. Teachers at parents’ evenings are routinely told not to discuss the new CfE qualifications because, frankly, they’re a damn mess and schools don’t know what to do with them. I was at a feedback meeting today as a member of the SSTA and heard even more comments about the state of these qualifications than my worst fears could have dredged up.

A post on the STV web page yesterday quoted Minister for Learning (which sounds like something from Harry Potter), Dr Alasdair Allan as saying:

“The Scottish Government, working closely with the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland, has provided an unprecedented level of support to help teachers and schools prepare for Curriculum for Excellence and the National Qualifications.

“Curriculum for Excellence has been designed to equip our young people with the skills they need to succeed both in Scotland and in the global workplace, with local authorities having the freedom to shape education to meet the needs of our pupils, whatever their background.”

I would like to say to Dr Allan – you’re talking shit, son. While one could argue that “unprecedented” levels of support were offered in so far as additional in-service days, these were needed because the whole thing is a complete shambles and teachers needed the time (and more) to patch this stupidly leaky chicken-wire ship. The SQA has been as much use as a chocolate fire-guard and Education Scotland has been a similarly cocoa-based teapot.

To sample some of the information I gleaned from other delegates:

  • Experienced teachers are being passed over in favour of inexperienced staff, some only just out of probation, for the creation of course materials. Whether this is cost-saving, or that newer teachers are seen as more “malleable” is anyone’s guess
  • The electronic marking system is a mess, with more errors than human marking. If it’s used, then an increase in inaccurate marking goes hand in hand with the similarly-times introduction of a new appeals system which makes it more difficult and costly to have a paper re-marked.
  • There is a great disparity in how subjects are being treated from authority to authority – it’s a postcode lottery. In one council, Technical Studies were allotted 20 hours to create resources for all three of their subjects. The sciences were given 20 hours each. This, I assume, is the “local authorities having the freedom to shape education” line. Which essentially means that employers won’t value the certificates awarded so much as where the pupil studied for them as it becomes public knowledge which authority pumps more time/funding into that employer’s preferred subjects.
  • National 4 awards aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if you’re looking for work. One spokesman for a major company stated this, in front of pupils he was in to present to, and said that his company is not the only one with this viewpoint. As it’s assessed completely internally with no external exam or other moderation, it’s deemed worthless.
  • Due to the work commitment required to get through the N4 course, one teacher in admitted that seven of her pupils left school this year with nothing. I believe she meant across the board, not just in her subject but I could be wrong. In previous years, these pupils could have scraped an Int1 or a Foundation. Now? Nothing. National 4 isn’t a graded certification (A, B, C) – it’s pass/fail. Don’t do enough and you get nowt. But as I already said, it’s worth jack all to many employers anyway. Does this example and the one before sound like CfE is going to “equip our young people with the skills they need to succeed”? Sounds like the opposite to me.
  • To become an SQA approved marker in years gone by required a minimum of three years teaching experience in the subject to be marked. This, along with extra marking tuition, allowed you to mark at the bottom rung (i.e. Foundation). With experience, you could mark more advanced papers. Now? Probationers can and do mark anything from Nat5 to Advanced Higher.
  • It seems that Computing Science wasn’t alone in having a dreadful N5 exam paper this year that looks like it was put together by a committee of amateurs who’ve a) never written an exam before and b) didn’t talk to one another before pasting everything together and trying to pass it off as acceptable. I scrawled more red ink over my copy than I do over a poor homework assignment. Chemistry, I believe, used an old Int2 paper for the multiple choice section, or at least huge parts of it – virtually a photocopy.
  • Arrangements for subjects lack any depth in their descriptions. For instance, I have to teach about “processors”. What about them? That they exist? What they do? How they work? What sub-components they have? How they work? I don’t know. When posed with this question, the senior assessor – the person responsible for setting the exam – stated (in front of an audience of approximately 250 Computing teachers) “We’re not teaching facts, we’re teaching Curriculum for Excellence”. So tell me… how do you examine CfE without testing pupil’s ability to recall factual evidence? Isn’t that what an exam is? If you let pupils choose how deeply to study a subject, then how do you know they’re going to discover the facts that are required to pass an exam? It’s a complete crap-shoot. Or just a complete load of crap. Either/or. If that’s the attitude, then teachers are unnecessary. Just give children a photocopy of the arrangements and tell them to go and research all the topics on the internet.

That’s just the foul, mouldy icing on the rotten cake. I have about 40-50 other such notes relating to weaknesses in CfE, problems with its roll-out, failures by the SQA/ES to deal with it and so on.

Dr Allan – simply not good enough. Must try harder. Go to the bottom of the class and show me some real work next time, not something you rushed off on the bus on the way in this morning.

70 years gone by… and we shouldn’t forget

Francs-tireurs and Allied paratroopers reporti...

Francs-tireurs and Allied paratroopers reporting on the situation during the Battle of Normandy in 1944. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today marks seventy years since the Normandy landings which pretty much swung the Second World War for the Allies. A huge amount of preparation went into the offensive, which was delayed until just he right moment. Technological advances were made, tactics changed and intelligence scrutinised.

But overall, it was the bravery of thousands of men and women who made it possible and made it work. Sickening numbers didn’t make it back. Many didn’t make it as far as the beaches.

Every single one was a hero. Every. Single. One. Whether they made it back or not, they deserve to be thanked, remembered, immortalised.

The Allied soldiers who assaulted the beaches. Men from so  many countries, including many Irish who, if they didn’t surrender their lives, surrendered their citizenship upon their return for daring to take the British side in the conflict.

So often forgotten or vilified for their “capitulation”, the brave men and women in the French Resistance. Without them, so much intelligence necessary to make the assaults would have been impossible to obtain.

Women who maybe didn’t make it to the front line back in those days, but who worked in munitions factories – many losing their lives due to the working conditions. And the many who were every bit as important to the work done at Bletchley Park as their male counterparts, decoding German transmissions.

Take two minutes today and ask yourself – “Could I be that brave? Could I actually imagine the sheer, staggering terror of being floated towards military bombardment in a tin can while seasick? Then fighting for my life afterwards?”

I know I couldn’t.

Thank you. All of you. You will not be forgotten.

One for friends and family

Gillian and me in Venice

Gillian and me in Venice (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

I’m relieved and happy to say that my initial draft of this post has been overhauled and updated to reflect a slightly more optimistic view of the future, but that doesn’t lessen the importance of why I’m posting. I would be very grateful if friends/family could read this as it’s important to Gillian and I that you’re aware of our current situation and what may happen in coming weeks/months if things don’t work out.

Hopefully everyone will see this post at once. It seems the best way to get the “news” out.

Gillian and I came very close to separating recently.

As I stated in a blog post back in the new year, I was failing her as a husband and failing the kids as a father. Gillian was becoming less and less happy, and more certain that she was better off as a single mother.

In addition, I did something last year that I hugely regret. Use your imagination – you’re probably right and I don’t want to talk about it. However, at that time and while going through counselling to try and salvage our marriage (something I convinced Gillian to stop as I was finding it very uncomfortable and non-beneficial, in hindsight another error), I was given the opportunity to come clean about any other indescretions; one in particular about which I was directly questioned.

I chose to lie about it and cover up, believing that it was in the past, had no bearing on the present and future and was better left buried.

I was wrong.

Gillian discovered last weekend that I had been dishonest about this and asked me to leave the household forthwith. A friend, to whom I will be eternally grateful, offered me a spare room while I got my feet under me but – thankfully – after some frank discussions, some structuring of our life plans and some serious heart to hearts, Gillian has extended me one final chance.

I would ask all of you who may feel divided loyalties in this matter to bear this in mind: I am at fault. Entirely. Gillian is thinking, in the long term, of our family. I trust her judgement. I want nothing but the best for her and for our three wonderful children who I would miss more than I can ever put into words were we to part ways. She would, of course (we’ve discussed this), allow me full access. But I’d miss things like being woken up at 5am by a toddler screeching for Cbeebies. Much as I complain about this, it’s memories like this that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

More than anything else, I’m sorry for what I’ve done to Gillian who – and I appreciate that anyone would find this hard to believe given my actions – I love, respect and admire more than I can say.

Many of  you will have seen the post on the Moshville Times explaining that I’m putting it on the back burner at present – bubbling along, but not focussed on nearly as much as I have been up until now. This is the main reason. I’ve become far too distracted from my family and I need to dig myself out of the comfy, antisocial hole into which I had slid. Raising children and being a husband aren’t easy tasks, or at least they don’t come naturally to me.

The solution to this shouldn’t be to hide away from it as I have been doing, but to realise I’ve had a very rich and fulfilling (and easy) life up until now and to man up and face this new challenge. One which should (WILL!) be even more rich and fulfilling.