Category Archives: Rant

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?

Today’s mojo post

English: Administrative Division of Bangladesh...
Bangladesh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Looks like I’m managing a post every two days rather than daily, but hey it’s regular.

I wasn’t really sure what to post today, then my mind harked back to a talk I was having with Lindsay last night. Lindsay is Sean’s flatmate (Sean’s one of the talented writers churning out reviews and so forth on the Moshville Times *plug plug*) and we were having one of those random conversations that flows like a ball down a Pachinko machine. You just never quite know where it’s going to end up.

I think we were talking about the differences between countries, and one that always sticks out for me is India / Bangladesh. The former a country that’s predominantly Hindu (with a large smattering of other religions), the latter a Muslim nation. Both countries share a border and the difference when you cross that border is almost immediately tangible.

India is – to steal the tagline from their tourist advertising – incredible. It’s also an unusual country in that I hated it when I was there, but longed to go back once I left. It’s a tough experience to visit, especially on a budget, but ultimately the rewards are worth it.

Bangladesh is every bit as impoverished as the worst parts of India, there aren’t so many impressive sites (it’s a smaller country, for a start), but the feeling I got when I was there was much warmer; more welcoming. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I felt safer walking the streets in Bangladesh – even late at night – than in almost any other country I have visited. I even include my home nation in there.

And that brings me to the sideways jump in topic. Bangladesh is a Muslim country. The people there follow their beliefs in a faithful and well-intended manner. They look after their poor (reducing begging on the street), and welcome visitors to their nation. Nobody tried to rob or cheat us in our time there. Very much the opposite in fact.

Yet the knee-jerk reaction to the word “Muslim” from so many people, whole nations in fact, is to think of those events in 2001, videos of beheadings on the internet, attacks on magazine offices in Paris… all the actions of a tiny minority of extremists.

While I’m no fan of religion, this kind of treatment also extends to the Catholic church. A billion or so members worldwide and the entire religion is tarred by the vile brush wielded by a tiny number of priests and nuns who have abused children -and the small number of people further up in the organisation who helped cover it up for so long. What about the 999,999,000 other people who would agree that this is reprehensible and who you’d happily have round for dinner and babysit your own children?

Is it fair to judge a person purely on the company they keep; if they share the beliefs of another individual who does something reprehensible yet otherwise unrelated? I love heavy metal. Does that mean I’m as evil as Varg Vikernes who murdered one of his friends and burned churches down? It seems to have taken us nigh on seventy years to stop blaming every single German for WWII.

People should be judged on who they are and what they do. Not on the actions of other individuals with whom they happen to share a belief, a skin colour or a nationality.

Dear sexist Tesco

English: Tesco at Bandar Bukit Tinggi, Klang
This Tesco is blue, so it’s a boy’s Tesco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was an article kicking around on facebook a few weeks ago about Tesco’s insistence that chemistry, electronics, physics and other science-y toys were “boys’ toys”. Because, obviously, girls aren’t interested in science and are also rubbish at it.

Well, actually, this is crap.

Younger girls may be put off science by the fact that all the science-based toys are in the boys’ section, so if they were to get one their peers could go down the “Ew, you’re playing with boys’ stuff” route. Peer pressure has a hell of an effect when you’re in primary school or early secondary.

I was a bit annoyed when I read the original story – and still am, in honesty – but put it to the back of my mind. Until today.

We just had our school prize day. Bear in mind I work at a “posh” school where the kids really are pushed, by staff and parents. As such, we’ve got quite the number who are expected to become doctors, vets and the like. In other words, this is a school where the gender thing is thrown out the window in exchange for the “success in whatever field” thing. A level playing-field as far as subject matter goes.

Here are some figures:

  • Number of science prizes up for grabs (Bio, Chem, Phys & Computing): 16
  • Number won by males: 9
  • Number won by females: 7
  • Highest score in the SQA 2012 Higher Physics exam (nationwide): Female
  • Highest score in the SQA 2012 Higher Chemistry exam (nationwide): Male

So, not far off a 50:50 split. In other words, the sciences are as much a female as a male domain. As such, girls should be encouraged as much as boys to pick up a programming manual, packet of litmus paper, scalpel or voltmeter.

And Tesco can shove their sexist categorisations of learning toys up their corporate backside.

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Arnold Clark – lying, two-faced bastards

Lying bastards AVOID.

NEVER EVER EVER consider buying a car from these dodgy shysters.

To date Arnold Clark have:

  • Failed to return a car stereo in a vehicle I part-ex’d with them despite promising to do so. Sales staff simply stopped returning my calls after I purchased my new car.
  • Taken 3+ months to organise a half-day warranty repair. And then took 3 days to perform said repair. During the palaver, they claimed (to Renault, the only way I was able to organise anything was via the manufacturer!) to have spoken to me on several occasions – they didn’t. Not once. They also “confirmed” an appointment with me which I’d never spoken to them about and which I couldn’t have attended.
  • Mis-sold a car to my wife regarding size and specs, then refused to exchange our previous car back. Sales person lied to their manager about what he’d told us and how we had evaluated the vehicle. Manager believed him over us. We ended up having to get another vehicle elsewhere and ended up approximately £2000 out of pocket.
  • Sold my wife a car with a chipped windscreen (hidden by a sticker at the showroom), with a passenger door that won’t open from the inside, and a dodgy key that won’t start the car.

It’s a 7-seater and we need a vehicle this size. She’s been told that she has to pay for a hire vehicle (or specifically the insurance on one) while they fix their shoddy sale, and I will bet you our house that it will be something the size of a Clio, not the size we require. In other words, it’ll be useless.

The only thing stopping me driving down there and having it out with one of the lying, two-faced bastards is that she’s made me promise I won’t. I am FUMING at the moment and want nothing more than to go down when they’re busy and ensure that they make no sales while I’m on or near the premises.

I gather that Scotland has no trespass laws, so can they actually eject me? They certainly can’t have me moved on from the road outside…

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“The Western World” <> “The USA”

Sorry, but I had to. I was reading a simple review of a computer temperature-monitoring program on VikiTech when  I read the following words:

“While the western world uses Fahrenheit as its temperature of choice…”

*face palm*

*seeing red*

*attempts not to paint all Americans with the same brush*

My response to them:

“While the western world uses Fahrenheit as its temperature of choice…” – sorry, but bullshit. The USA is not the total sum of the western world, only a small part of it. Europe uses Celsius, and it’s very much a part of this western world.

Population of Europe: 731 million
Population of USA: 307 million

On that basis, the USA is a minority shareholder in determining what temperature scale is “of choice” in the western world. Add to that the population of South America – on the same landmass as the USA, but also using Celsius these days – and your comment looks even more ludicrous.

In fact, let’s refer to Wikipedia (I know, I know – it’s not 100% accurate) which states that ” The temperature scale [Fahrenheit] was replaced by the Celsius scale in most countries during the mid to late 20th century, but it remains the official scale of the United States, Cayman Islands and Belize.”

So your “western world” consists of three nations with a combined population of approximately 735 million out of a world population of 7 billion, the rest of whom use Celsius.

Stop being so self-important and realise there is a whole world beyond your borders who aren’t quite so caught up in themselves.

Did I over-react?

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