Aug. 24th, 2010 12:44 am
strange_raptors: Samuel Whiskers from Beatrix Potter's "The Tale of Tom Kitten" (Samuel Whiskers cooking)
I really quite like living near to an Aldi. You're never quite sure what you're going to find there, beyond a few staples, except that it's going to be cheap. Letting me go to Aldi on my own is a bit like letting Footnote into a pound shop -- ultimately, not much money is spent, but large quantities of possibly useless things are acquired.

During one of these lone trips to Aldi, I recently purchased a packet of dried habanero chillies (for some ridiculous price). Habanero chillies, as some of you may know, are one of the hottest chillies known to exist (100,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville scale, so wikipedia tells me). In my defence, I misread the packet and thought they were jalapeño chilli peppers (it's not much of a defence, admittedly). 

My brief poke of the internet informs me that habanero chillies are used in Mexican cookery, which I may have a go at. And, of course, I could substitute them in for chillies in chill con carne. But does anyone have any recipes in particular that use such a spicy chilli? I'm willing to try many things, as I have an entire packet to get through. 

Now, everyone sing along with me:

strange_raptors: Ellipsis (wtf?)
I'm not sure why Ed Balls has it in for home education. Maybe he had a bad time at school and is bitter about it? Unsurprisingly, though, he's using the final report into the death of a child who, in their last year of life, was removed from school to bay for further regulation of home education.

Reading his article in today's Education Guardian (link here), and the defence of his bill ("The review I commissioned and the legislation I brought forward for a formal registration scheme – with rights to see children alone for local authority officers in rare situations when they can obtain no co-operation from parents") is weirdly at odds with what the bill actually said. Indeed, reading his defence one almost feels compelled to regard as stupid those parents who put their own privacy above the safety of a child's life ("[the bill] provoked vigorous criticism from some, who claimed I was infringing parental rights, criticism which I believe was wholly disproportionate to what we actually proposed.").

If the bill had been solely about child safety (with none of the ridiculousness about curriculum and lesson planning a year in advance) I would still have opposed it. I would have opposed it less, and instead of opposing it I would have asked why, given that the state is no longer trusting parents to raise their children, this registration scheme wasn't being rolled out to all parents? It would be quite simple to do, with a registration week once a year where parents could take their children to be examined, interviewed by a social worker, asked whether they thought their education provision was adequate. You could even grade the parents on how good a job they're doing, and if any fail to make the grade you could put them to be watched by social services. 

I understand the presumption behind why this should only be required for home educated, the assumption that school teachers actually give one thought to the home life of the kids who are making their lives hell, but I ultimately doubt very much that that assumption holds. It is quite easy, in the current home education system, for families to slip through the cracks - to move house and not register with the new LEA, to never sign their kids up for school, etc.

Of course, in that dangerous time between being born and being school-aged, no-one's being monitored at all, except of course, that families are. Neighbours report on neighbours, families become known to the police, or concerned extended family members turn them in. Perhaps this isn't enough, though it seems foolish to assume that these aren't safeguards in the home educated family's case. But to assume automatically that parents who remove their children from school (or never send them in the first place) are automatically guilty of abuse and are incapable of looking after their children? That smells a lot to me of being presumed guilty until proven innocent. 

I find it odd how, when the government tried to legislate against smacking, a huge uproar arose of how Britain was becoming a nanny state, how the government was interfering too much with parenting. And so, of course, to avoid damaging their popularity any further they caved in, because abuse isn't abuse if it doesn't leave a mark.


Jul. 30th, 2010 04:44 pm
strange_raptors: And then raptors came through the stargate ... (Default)
I can play one line of the Sibelius violin concerto! One line! Not the first line, not even the second line, but there exists one line in the first movement which I can play. And I can't play it very well, but it's a start.

(The line equates to 11 seconds of the first movement as Isaac Stern plays it (from 49 seconds in to 1 minute in), as available on Spotify. (Though it takes me longer than 11 seconds to play it))

In other news, the procrastination tool of choice in the house today has been: http://snarxiv.org/vs-arxiv/

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I've been dipping into a book by John Rhodes recently, which is (somewhat scarily) entitled "Applications of Automata Theory and Algebra". I say dipping into because the maths that's set out in the first few chapters is really ridiculously above my level of understanding, so instead I've been reading the applications of the maths. What struck me most were the following two paragraphs, which I thought I should share:

In summary, "normal marriage" or "nondisturbed marriage" does not mean anything. The purpose of relationships is to maximize contact and minimize alienation. Thus the tests should rate both contact and alienation. If a couple is "satisfied" with their marriage, but contact is low they should strive to up contact. If the contact is high and the alienation is high, they should strive to lower the alienation. "Normal", "nondisturbed", etc. are stupid concepts; increasing unalienated contact is the goal. Of course when the contact is L and the alienation is very low (zero) then the Lagrangian has value L (independent of any culture function) and the relationship has L units of love (measured in absolute units). The goal is to maximize love, the hell with normality, restrictive experience or alienation. The Lagrangian of personal relations is love.

And somewhat later in the chapter:

Every individual is reborn anew every day. The Lagrangian of life says live and understand. Don't be chained by the past. Don't slavishly follow the ways of yesterday. The Lagrangian of life gives the purpose of life as living and loving. Experience, understand, act and so love.

~ John Rhodes, Applications of Automata Theory and Algebra Via the Mathematical Theory of Complexity to Biology, Physics, Psychology, Philosophy, and Games.
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I have been a bit of a failure in keeping up to date with the Children, Schools, and Families Act 2010 - which had included all the Badman recommendations for the compulsory registration of home educated children and so on and so forth. 

Turns out it passed into law on April 8th. With all the home educated stuff removed. Completely. 

So, rejoice, rejoice, and remember: Education is compulsory, school is not.

I'll end with a quote from Lord Lucas on the matter*:

"We are considering a section of the Bill which will cost £20 million per annum, which is about £1,000 per home-educated child. These children receive no money to help pay the costs of examinations; no money to buy textbooks; no money to buy materials; no money and no tuition to help them over difficulties in education. Now the Government can find £1,000 for each of these children-and will spend it on auditing them. Not one penny will go to help the children; it will all go on auditing them. What have these people done to deserve that?"

* I really do not approve of the current state of affairs regarding the unelected house of Lords. However, they have swatted down and opposed so many absolutely stupid Labour policies in the past year or two that I have to feel a little bit grateful towards them. 

For more information see: http://www.freedomforchildrentogrow.org/csfbill.htm and http://www.education-otherwise.org/legal.htm
strange_raptors: Profile shot of Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena. (Utena)
My voting strategy can be summed up fairly succinctly: block the Tories from getting back into power. 

It's not a sophisticated strategy, and I feel sad that the first general election I've been allowed to vote in (stupid late May birthdays) is one where I feel so disillusioned by all the parties. I'm not voting for parties, I'm voting against them. So, for a bit of catharsis (so that I don't accidentally throw away my vote when I get into the polling booth), I've created this vid. 

I call it a vid ... it's more a series of photos, done to the same song that that excellent Merlin vid was done to (Sink or Swim by Tyrone Wells). This is my first vid, and I know it's not great. Apologies for the cast being all white men ... 

My first vid.
strange_raptors: Rat from Spirited Away reenacting Chihiro's defeat of the bug (Spirited Away)
It is raining. There is a cat in our garden, hiding underneath the bushes. It is the same cat that was lounging in the sun yesterday - a medium-sized black cat with green eyes. I opened the door to the conservatory in the hope that it might move from its (frankly) dubious shelter, but it just looked at me with disdain. 

Maybe it likes watching the rain from under a bush. 

Quite possibly I am doing it a disservice by implying that it is unhappy, by projecting my feelings on to the cat. 

In fact, now I come to think of it, I quite like being outside but totally dry in the rain. Many's the time a geology trip has ended sheltering in a cave, watching the rain come down. Or leaning against a tree, rain spattering down my waterproof, all silence but not silence, watching the river rush past. 

It is raining. There is a cat in next door's garden, sitting on their window box, partially sheltered from the rain. It looks at me with disdain as I open the front door in an attempt to bring it into the dry and the warm. 
strange_raptors: Ellipsis (wtf?)
All unawares, I was reading yesterday's Guardian education supplement. Along with the usual oddities (a story on marmite's place in scientific research), there was an article entitled "Slumdog reveals learning treasures". Aha, I thought to myself, a feel good article about something innovative in education - that sounds wonderful!

Except that it sort of wasn't, because it had quotes like this:

"Having watched hundreds of Indian children learning without teachers at the Hole In The Wall computers, it became obvious that all children can work by themselves, if they want to." ~ Professor Sugata Mitra

"It [Hole in The Wall] proved that if you encourage individual learning, and give children interesting questions to look into independently, the learning process is sparked by curiosity."  ~ Professor Sugata Mitra

But wait! I hear you cry. Surely this is what autonomous education is all about? Surely anyone with the slightest grounding in education who has read anything by John Holt (1923-1985), for example, knows this.

"... the human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don't need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it." ~ John Holt

"The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners." ~ John Holt

Sound familiar? So, why has it taken this long, this long, for these ideas to still (still!) be greeted as new and innovative? Why are children still treated as mindless rebels who must be sat down, forcibly, and made to learn what the government wants? Why is it the case that the government doesn't recognise autonomous education as a valid form of education?

I know Prof. Mitra is one of the good guys, and what he's done has been really fantastic and great. But why is society so messed up in its way of dealing with children and their education? Why are we under this collective brainwashing that says that schools work and that this is how we raise our children - by making them spend 6-7 hours a day with strangers learning things by rote that they have no particular interest in so that they can progress to learning more things by rote that they have no particular interest in with a different set of strangers? Do we somehow not feel responsible for our children's education? Has the government thoroughly convinced us that we have no place educating them ourselves?

More and more I find myself drifting towards the thought that if you do not have the time or the inclination to educate your children then you have no place having children; that such a thing is quite simply irresponsible.

Every day I consider teaching as a job. In my spare time my thoughts drift towards lesson plans and ways of challenging the kids, of inspiring them, of encouraging them to reach the very peak of their potential and then some. I am a rebel teacher, seeking to bring down the system from the inside. I would question the protocol, form a subversive reading group (alá Dead Poet's Society), tell them about opera and music and the world, listen to their debates and ideas. And I know this isn't what school is like. I know I wouldn't last two minutes in an inner city comprehensive. But there are times when I'm so full of myself, so confident in my abilities, that I think I could make a difference.
strange_raptors: And then raptors came through the stargate ... (Raptor Dream)
Two years ago, when everyone in Lost Hope was taking finals, L and I found a really excellent programme on the BBC called Chinese School. It was produced in collaboration with the Open University, and followed three schools in China and, in particular, the students and teachers at these schools. To me, it really captured what the BBC got its reputation for and why it is still the best broadcaster in the UK - it presented the people and schools simply, with little embellishment, and in an almost completely non-judgemental way. As is quite obvious, I really enjoyed the series, and was disappointed to have missed the others in the series - African School and Indian School. However, the BBC is currently showing Syrian School (iplayer link here), and this new incarnation has lost none of its charm or interest. 


Sometimes there are books which really stay with you and are always somewhere in your thoughts. On the bus home from Oxford on Sunday I was watching the sunset (it was a particularly nice sunset), and the line came unbidden to my mind:

Were you so sad, then, on the day of the forty-four sunsets?

That line to me sums up all that is so beautifully poignant about The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It is possibly my highest ranked children's book, a book I wish everyone would read, both grown up and child alike. I should confess here, to my shame, that I have never read Le Petit Prince in the original French, my French being most certainly not up to the task. However, if it flows anything like as well as the English translation (by Katherine Woods), then I really should get round to learning more French. 


I've been playing Dragon Age recently, and I think it may be Bioware's best RPG to date. The graphics are stunning (although, given the new generation of consoles (I'm playing it on PS3) this, perhaps, isn't as impressive as once it would have been) and they've really captured some quintessential essence of a good RPG game. The party member characters are all interesting, the range of back-stories a very nice touch, the world well-thought out. I can't comment all that much on the plot, not having finished the game yet, but so far it's been interesting enough to keep me guessing as to what will come next. Footnote commented that whilst he might not score the game highly on originality, he would rate it as one of the best RPGs he's played - because it takes all that was good in various other RPGs and combines them to form one great one. 


Oxtail. Oh my god, oxtail. The tail of an ox. Sold in handy discrete vertebrae with strands of meat attached and a whole load of cartilage, and a bit of fat. Oh god. I roasted it for two and a half hours, as instructed by one N. Slater, with fried onions and water. It's like ... like slow roasted meat should be - all soft and tender and falling off the bone. But! with an entire vertebra to gnaw on and pick up in your fingers and pull off the glorious sticky strands of flesh and fat. I had been feeling a little disillusioned with meat recently, but this has just reaffirmed my conviction. Plus! You get to keep the vertebrae at the end - it's like a free shelf decoration came with your dinner! 
strange_raptors: Ellipsis (wtf?)
Those of you who've played werewolf with us recently know that we spotted a (general) pattern whereby people, when accused of being a werewolf, respond differently:

Innocent villager: No! I'm not a werewolf!

Werewolf villager: There's no evidence that I'm a werewolf!

Compare and contrast with Israel's foreign minister's response to the accusation that they were behind the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh:

"There is no reason to think that it was the Israeli Mossad and not some other intelligence service or country up to some mischief."

(Quote taken from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8520227.stm )
strange_raptors: And then raptors came through the stargate ... (Default)

The slug-it is a cunning bird,
Descended from the Dalek.
It swims around the garden patch,
Exterminating garlic.

by [personal profile] strange_raptors, [personal profile] innumerablestars, and [livejournal.com profile] erethorn.
strange_raptors: And then raptors came through the stargate ... (Default)
This one might actually be made. Or at least, I hope at some point to make it.

Shoebox )
strange_raptors: And then raptors came through the stargate ... (Default)
In last week's Guardian there was an excellent article on domestic violence by Patrick Stewart.

Link here.
strange_raptors: And then raptors came through the stargate ... (Default)
Otherwise known as the imaginary-music-video (IMV) post. More to be added.

Miles Vorkosigan )

Diarmuid )
strange_raptors: And then raptors came through the stargate ... (Default)
To prove to you all that I am not wasting away here in the north pining for .ox, I present two photos of today's dinner.

Cut for gratuitous food photography )

It's alive!

Oct. 2nd, 2009 12:37 am
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Excerpt from Republic of Thieves is available here. He may yet win the race against Bujold.
strange_raptors: Profile shot of Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena. (Utena)
So ...

Linux. Linux is fun, Linux is interesting. I like it. I enjoy typing in commands. But. 



[1] The SpeedTouch 330 modem is my mother's computer modem. She requires it to work to connect to the internet. So far I have tried two (supposedly) good methods of getting it to work (Steve Parker's SpeedTouchConf and the Linux usb project on Source Forge). The same problem occurs with both methods - I get a ppp0 error with "device not found" when it tries to connect to the internet. I know I'm really close to making this work, but if anyone has any good methods or knows how to get round this problem it would really be a great help. (The latter project just tells me that my speedtouch kernel module is not correctly configured or that the firmware didn't load - I have no idea how to fix either of these).
strange_raptors: And then raptors came through the stargate ... (Default)
I've been catching up with what's going regarding Graham Badman's report on home education (full report here, summary of recommendations here). More specifically, I've been looking at what Education Otherwise (the home education charity) has been up to regarding the report. 

On the plus side, they seem to have a decent barrister with whom they're consulting, who raised a large number of issues with the report (proper issues that stand up in court rather than the instinctive "Oh god! This is so stupid!"). The minutes from that meeting are here

And then there was the survey that EO did of its own members - not the adults, though, but the kids. And I read through the responses that EO had collated. And I know they probably picked the ones that best suited their purpose because this is politics and not science. And I know that the sample size is far too small for the numbers to actually mean anything realistically. But the responses ... they made me cry. They made me cry quite a lot, in the sort of desperate crying you get when you realise that the messed up bit of the world has just intruded on something close to your heart. 

And I made footnote rashly promise that we would seriously consider home educating our kids when we have kids. Because the responses of the kids to that survey were about how some of them had had really appalling times at school, really appalling, but how they were doing better now. How they were happy, and learning stuff, but above all being happy. 

This is not a good detached report on what's happening with the law and home education at the moment. But it sums up my feelings on the matter, I guess. 

For reference, Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 (which is referenced quite a lot) can be found here.
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One might think that a TV show based entirely on the premise of a Mountie in Chicago may get dull or boring or predictable. But somehow, somehow, it never manages to be any of those things. Somehow it remains at a consistently good level. And then, then, there are episodes like "All the Queen's Horses". 

Words cannot actually express how beautifully awesome this episode is. The singing! The gratuitous action shots of quad-bikes! The singing! And then! Then! The bit on the top of the train with the thing and the! XD

I wish more TV was like this.
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The answer to one of the questions on today's University Challenge was XKCD!


My life is complete.