Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Rethinking Education

I don't believe homework works. I think that if kids aren't learning what they need to in six hours at school, there's some thing wrong and the answer isn't to make them continue working when they get home. After school my kids (5 & 7) are knackered and in no mood for learning. I think it's doing them more harm than good and I absolutely hate forcing them to do it. It also gets in the way of extracurricular activities, to the point where we have to think carefully about whether they get to do these activities or practice spelling. It shouldn't be like that. My kids get less recreation time each day than I do. That's so wrong.

The infographic below makes for interesting reading. This isn't the first time I've heard about Finland's radical rethink of their school system. Apparently they used to have poor test performances until they dumped standardized testing, then their education outcomes improved dramatically. There are a bunch of things they do differently so it's hard to say which is having the most effect. But if these facts are true* then we should be taking notice.

By the way, Finland is the country that Gerry Brownlee said "hardly educates their people". Gerry, that country you mocked is kicking our butts. What does that say about our education system?

Finland Education System

*I haven't verified these facts - can anyone? I've read a lot of comments from Finns and they are mostly supportive with only a few disagreeing about the accuracy of this infographic. Also, I don't know who to credit the graphic to - sorry about that.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Most Internet Pranks are Unfunny

I love the fact that I can waste hours watching funny stuff on the net but I hate the fact that so much of it is fake. I don't mind fake stuff per se but it has to be done well (e.g. The Onion).

Some people think lies are inherently funny but they are wrong. There's nothing intrinsically funny about lying and there's certainly no comedic merit in convincing the victim of something that could easily be true. It's only funny if it achieves something additional such as including witty dialogue or making the victim believe an unlikely fact. For example, it's not funny to convince you that I'm a doctor but it might be funny to convince you that I'm a professional nipple tweaker.

Recently I read the story of a girl who prematurely got her new boyfriend's face tattooed on her arm. Turns out it was fake; a joke. Dammit, this is not humour. It's not funny because there's no good trick involved. There are plenty of nutcases that do this sort of thing for real - this entire scenario is (sadly) completely plausible.

The whole lonelygirl15 saga is another example of pointless, unfunny deception.

What annoys me most about this is that it detracts from the genuinely funny real-life stories. Failblog is a lot less amusing when you realise that any given entry is likely to be fake.

So, please stop with the lame pranks. Before creating your viral masterpiece, ask yourself: Is the prank difficult to pull off? Does it describe a highly unlikely event? Does it contain text or images that would still be funny even if the reader knows it's fake? If the answer is "none of the above", don't do it.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

What do the Wall St occupiers want?

The Occupy Wall St movement is doing an admirable job of galvanizing people from around the world, but it's struggling. Unless it changes direction it's doomed and within a matter of weeks it will begin fizzing out towards an inglorious and anticlimactic end.

Why? One reason: It has no obvious set of demands. Despite being modelled on the Arab Spring, the Arab movement is a completely different ballgame because the protesters know exactly what they want and so does everyone else. Their demands are simple, clear and obvious – their leaders should stand down and hold democratic elections. Anyone can understand that and everyone knows what needs to happen.

The Occupy protesters have nothing of the sort. I've seen the banners - they say things like "End Corporate Greed". Fair enough, that's a sentiment most of us share, but exactly how should we do that? Who do you want to act and exactly what action do you want them to take? It's unlikely that corporations will change their greedy practices just because you ask them to, so maybe you want politicians to introduce some new laws to force them to give up greed? If so, exactly what new laws do you want?

I visited occupywallst.org, scrolled down the entire home page and couldn't see a single clear demand for anything. All I saw was advice on how to be a nuisance, and a bunch of complaints about the economy that are so vague it's just noise. This is worse than pointless, it makes the protesters look like a motley gathering of whiners who can't decide what they want.

Speaking of how the protesters look, it doesn't help when some people hijack the cause to promote their own agendas such as drug law reform. Although I'm inclined to agree with those of you asking for such reform, please take those issues elsewhere and don't taint the Occupy movement. Remember, not all the occupiers agree with you and it's not fair to make it seem that they do.

By the way, I know some people portray the Occupy movement as constructive rather than protest-oriented, which would be nice if it was realistic (don't get me started on the viability of an alternative currency), but the fact is that it's perceived as a protest by most of those involved and pretty much everyone else. And that's fine – its best chance of success is to use the protest model, assuming it can get the critical mass needed to sway public and political opinion.

So the real task for the occupiers is to create a clearer message and, most importantly, a list of reasonable demands that the public will support and politicians will find difficult to ignore.

I don't have all the answers but here's one suggestion to get the ball rolling:

  • "No employee of any company shall receive an income more than 10 times the income of that company's lowest-paid employee."

Call it The Ten Times Rule or The 10% Rule to make it catchy. Although the devil would be in the details, the principle of the rule is quite clear and would be seen as fair by most rational people. It's a demand you can present to politicians. It's even an issue that could get corporate buy-in; for example, compliant companies could advertise "We support the 10% Rule". Search for exectitive pay to learn more about this issue.

I'm sure all you creative and knowledgeable people out there can come up with half a dozen similarly simple rules to cover the main problems with capitalism. I'm thinking of issues like:

  • Legal tax evasion.
  • Shonky manufacturing, including obsolescence-by-design.
  • Excessive profit from non-productive activity (e.g. automated sharemarket transactions, patent trolling, etc).
  • Corporate influence in government elections.

We need a list of the most important issues that need fixing, with nice catchy headings. Put this list on the occupywallst.org home page and change all the feel-good-but-ultimately-meaningless banners to point to this list.

A revolution needs a well-defined goal. Vagueness is the enemy. To the occupiers I say: Your demands need clarity and simplicity – it's too easy for politicians to ignore you when it's not clear what you're asking them to do. We need you to clarify your demands and champion them on behalf of those of us who can't be there. Change the message from "We're unhappy" to "This is what we want to happen."

Good luck. We need it.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Seen Avatar 3D? I need your help.

I'm currently writing a series of articles about 3D and I'd like to hear from people who have seen Avatar or any other 3D movie recently. I'd like to know:

Where did you see it? (so I know which system it was - RealD, Dolby, Imax 3D)
How did you find the 3D effect?
Did it make you uncomfortable, nauseous, etc?
Do you prefer 3D or 2D?

Please either comment here or contact me at mediacollege.com. Thanks.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Where's my flying car? (with answer)

It's 2010 - Where's my flying car? It's not a new question but a it's good time to repeat it. 2010 ("twenty-ten") is a semi-notable new year and we've got a new generation of adults who grew up with rapidly-improving technology that affected their everyday lives. Many of them are disappointed that technology hasn't progressed further by now.

For as long as I can remember, two things have symbolizing the future of personal technology: Video phones and flying cars. From the promises made to my generation in its youth, both technologies have gone on to become icons of an undelivered future.

So what happened? The technology for video phones has been around for decades. It was never really a case of not being possible, it was a case of public apathy. It turned out that very few people actually wanted to make themselves available for viewing at any time of day or night. The technology was there but the market wasn't.

As it happens I think we're getting ready for video phones now - cellphones are taking us where landlines alone couldn't. The real issue is of course flying cars.

I think it's a similar situation. There are plenty of flying cars out there and if the market was ready, one or more of them would take off (pun intended). The problem is in the market. How many people actually want to fly to their common destinations? How exactly would it work anyway if we just moved our roads up into the air? There are so many ways for that to turn nasty - it's hard to justify the risk of letting the general population loose in aircars rather than finding better ground-based transport systems. We'd have to limit personal flight in some way - most likely to occasional recreational flights and/or longer journeys in strictly controlled air-roads.

Then there's the environmental impact of air-roads. Flying cars would use a lot of energy, but even if they could be relatively eco-friendly it makes sense to apply the same guidelines as ground-based travel; i.e. pool and use public transport where possible. So instead of developing a huge fleet of personal flying cars, a better solution would be a smaller fleet of flying buses. Guess what - we already have them. They're called planes.

I do foresee a future in personal flight for recreational use but I don't see commuters flying to the office any time soon.

Monday, 14 December 2009

acute film

Okay, this post is nothing but a blatant plug for my mate's website. acute film is a film company owned by Graeme Tuckett who specialises in making documentaries about New Zealand people and issues. His latest project, Shihad: Loud as F**K, promises to be a goody.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Factory Farming in New Zealand

Oops, looks like I created a small monster here. I was unhappy to hear that three companies have applied for consent to start "freestall" dairy farming in the South Island. So I started a Facebook group opposing it (as you do in these situations). It obviously touched a nerve because the group got 3,000 members in the first 24 hours, which is pretty big for New Zealand. Now I'm dealing with the consequences - messages flooding my inbox, dilemmas over childish twats posting garbage on the wall (guilty parties on both sides of the argument), and all the stress that goes with a sudden unexpected job to take care of. An interesting few days ahead it seems.

Maybe next time I'll just post a comment somewhere suggesting that someone else forms a group.