Category Archives: Computers

Computing – the fourth science

This was a facebook post, but I’d like to expand on it here:

I’ve just checked our school leavers’ destinations for last year. We had 16 going into medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, pharmacology or veterinary science.

We had ten going into software engineering, computer science, AI, robotics or related subjects where Computing would be an essential or near-essential skill (including one Maths/Physics pupil in there).

I have been very generous in what I consider a “medical” subject and quite strict on the computer-relates ones. We’re looking at something not that far away from a 1:1 relationship between the two overall, depending on how you view the courses.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Not even considering how useful basic Computing would be for anyone doing engineering, chemical engineering, bio-tech, or indeed the medically-related subjects… would someone kindly explain to me why parents still think their children “have” to do Biology, Chemistry and Physics to get into Medicine et al? Especially when university entry requirements haven’t asked for this triplet for many years?

Yes, I’m selling my own subject. I just want to know why I need to when the advantages of it are so flipping obvious to so many pupils.

I was speaking to a parent recently who finished her PhD a short while ago and she can’t understand why Computing isn’t encouraged more by schools. Her subject was Genetics and there was no way she could have done the work she did without the aid of computers and knowing how to use them.

Yes, there’s a definite gap between “using a computer” and “knowing how it works and how to program one”, but there’s also a big common ground where the skills picked up would be useful for so many other areas of life/study.

Take the Software Development Process, for example. It teaches how to approach a large problem, break it down into smaller ones, plan each section appropriately, distribute these small problems to multiple people (if required), get the parts made, test them thoroughly, document everything, evaluate the finished product and maintain it afterwards.

This procedure can be applied to so many other skills: essay writing, laboratory experiments, household projects, business plans… it just needs a little bit of tweaking. To the best of my knowledge, with the exception of CDT/”techie” we’re the only subject that teaches this structured approach to problem-solving. Not only do we teach it, it’s entrenched in the ethos of computing and forms the framework of the course from junior years right through to senior. It’s not just an exam topic.

Computers are in use in all walks of life and knowing how they work helps you when you’re dealing with them. If you know what they can do and roughly how they do it, then it makes it easier for you to communicate to an expert exactly what you require if the actual task is outside of your skill set. This would be incredibly useful for those doing any scientific university course as they rely so heavily on information-gathering and, indeed, automation of experimental procedure. Automated and monitored by, of course, computers.

We’ve had pupils who’ve told us in their first year that they’re not taking Computing because they’re going into Medicine and their parents have said that Computing is pointless. This angers me. A good Computing pass further up the school is as valuable as any other for university entry and equally as useful for getting onto Medicine. In First Year you don’t even know what your child’s strengths truly are and by telling them they won’t be taking the course at certificate level in two years you’re hamstringing them – they won’t try, so they won’t achieve their potential. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You could be pushing them to do a subject they struggle at, when they could be a natural nerd who could get a far easier “A” in Computing… and still get onto a medical course at university.

Computing is a science. In fact the course – right through from the beginning of the certificate route in schools to the end – has recently been renamed “Computing Science” in Scotland to reflect this. What more do we need to do to make parents, and indeed those within schools who sort out the timetable, realise that Computing Science is comparable to the “classic” sciences in terms of academic value?

Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation

Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation
Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Console Wars is John Grisham for nerds. Predominantly coming over as a “good guy vs the big bad corporation” story, and filled with industry insider detail it’s a surprisingly easy read.

The Sega / Nintendo generation was one I was part of chronologically, but not actually involved in. We had an Atari VCS which led the charge in home consoles before (partly down to wonders such as the E.T. game) crashing spectacularly and taking the whole concept of the “home arcade” with it. By that time, we’d moved onto computers (a Sinclair ZX-81 followed by an Amstrad, then Amiga and onto PCs), which was more common in the UK as opposed to the console-friendly US where Nintendo went on to corner the market.

Until Sega came along.

Console Wars is that story. The battle for market dominance between Mario and Sonic, bracketed by the demise of Atari and the rise of Sony. There are tons of little facts and background stories in here without it coming across as a book of nerd trivia. It’s about the story and the characters first and foremost.

At 558 pages it’s no lightweight, but it’s also not a coffee table book. This is written to be read, not just glanced through occasionally.

If you’re looking for a gift for the geek in your life that’ll get them off the internet for a while yet still keep them quiet, this will almost certainly go down well.

View all my reviews

iOS updates vs Android updates

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Updating iOS

Get excited that new version is coming out on set date

Jump on download the moment it comes out

Wait 6 hours for download to arrive while your eyes dry out and crust over

Re-download when download fails at 99%

Wait for reboot

Keep waiting for reboot

Try hard reset

Pack phone in box and go to Apple Store

Come back with working phone and extra goods you were up-sold while you were at Apple Store

Hate new version of iOS

See new iOS release date

Repeat…

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Updating Android

See new version being touted

Wonder when they’ll give a release date

Several months later, get release date

Wonder when they’ll release it for your actual handset

Find out your manufacturer/vendor isn’t going to release it for your handset

Find out that they’ve given in to backlash and will release it

Wonder when they’ll give a release date

Keep checking for release date

Give up

Find out that they released it a month ago without making an announcement

Download update

Install update

Reboot handset

Enjoy new version, except for the functions they had to miss out because your handset can’t run them

Repeat

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Facebook whingers

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...
Facefart

Loving all the people who don’t like the new facebook “we can use your posts, comments and images in adverts” policies being touted, and who think that simply posting that “I do not give you permission…” etc. is enough to prevent this.

Sorry folks, by using facebook (for free, remember) you agree to *their* terms and conditions. If you don’t agree to them, then you can’t use the service. It’s not an “agreement” in that you sit down over a pint and discuss one-to-one how you’re going to use the service (for free) and then walk off after a handshake.

Facebook provide you with a contract to which you must agree to use their service. Part of that contract is that they are permitted to *change* that contract as long as they give fair notice (they seem to think 7 days is fair). If you don’t agree to the contract (in whole or in part), you don’t use the service. That’s the agreement.

Frankly, I think it’s a storm in a teacup. The example of usage they’ve mentioned is, for instance, an advert for a venue underneath which they may place a post from one of your friends who’s been there before. A post/picture you’ll already have seen as you’re on their friends list. They aren’t taking stuff you’ve posted to a limited audience (friends, groups…) and posting them publicly.

Get over it, or get out. Good luck gaining as large an audience or following on Google+ with its echoing walls.

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Lower mobile data usage

Wi-Fi Signal logo
Wi-Fi is the answer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m with GiffGaff and have gone for the cheapie £10 package which limits me to 1Gb of data per month. Regularly I was hitting 700-900Mb per month, which is fine – but I noticed I was gradually using more. No real reason other than I was out and about and getting more and more reliant on apps, etc.

A simple change to my settings saved me a huge amount of data and I’m now hitting around 300Mb per month. Simply ensure that your app updates are set to run automatically only when you’re on wi-fi.

Aside from things like streaming media, this is probably one of the biggest data downloads you do on a regular basis. There’s usually very little need to have an app update *right now* (and if there is, you can force an update manually very easily), so just leave them till the next time you’re in the house when they should kick in automatically.

This is easy enough to do on Android – not sure about Blackberry or Apple.

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