Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: computers

Betaquestions: who is asking, and why?

 

Editorial note.  May I point out yet again that the rules of this journal explicitly state that readers should not assume authors actually hold the views expressed in what they write.

In the previous posting my ploy (more or less forced on me by the continued absence of an intern) of replacing useful information and carefully considered opinions and helpful solutions by questions, and thus leaving it up to readers to do the work (rather as with systems of online banking) turned out in practice to be remarkably helpful, to me, and I now see why so many other editors resort to picking up chunks of verbiage from the news tapes, or the free feeds provided by the simple-hearted goodness of advertisers attempting to promote the prosperity of outfits which believe they see further profits cavorting around the margins of their activities and that advertisements are the way to catch them.  Therefore this ploy on my part continues herewith, even if there is a certain amount of the usual stuff lower down.

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  (1) Will the World Underwater Hockey Championships (yes, they do exist) charge a team from  Kiribati a fee for participation?  (If you are unable to answer this question, give up (often the best policy in so many modern contests where all the other competitors are probably doped to the eyeballs) and try question (1b): Why was question (1) asked in the first place?)

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  (2) To the relief, probably, of many on both sides (and in this context and after this amount of time many may feel it doesn’t matter much which side is counted as ‘us’ and which is considered ‘them’) the Skrepal case seems to have been shifted to the upper archive room downstairs, probably somewhere in the filing cabinets labelled ‘not before 2050 (n)’.  If awards were handed out at annual conventions of espionage agents Bellingcat would surely be in the running for one of the main prizes at the next award ceremony, with a performance allegedly described as ‘sparkling’ even by some neutral observers.   It is true that there are still a number of matters not yet clarified.  After all,  speculation would lose its interest if everything could be tidied up and set out in the display shelves in the exhibition room for tourists.  Why did the young lady claim to work for Pepsico in Moscow, when it seemed the firm had not heard of her?  Does she still?  Indeed where is she now?  Is Yevgeny once again indulging his fondness for travel, and if so where does he get the money?  If the other side was responsible for the chemical attack in Salisbury why did they need to go and investigate the OPCW?  Who was the chap claiming to be a former very senior scientist, now retired, on the other side’s chemical weapons programme, who allegedly volunteered to spill the beans to some western journalists (strangely surveillance-free), and who for the sake of secrecy chose to be found wandering lonely, and conspicuous, along a sandy coast (though apparently the secrecy did not matter once he was talking to them face to camera in full definition through the car window?   Why did the other side make the second trip to Salisbury, almost looking as if they were trying to draw attention to their presence?  One theory going the rounds is that  they were deliberately trying to keep the Russian threat present to the minds of the journalists of the Mail and the British media in general, in order to shore up May’s position, since they thought she would be more effective in bringing disorder and confusion to the British government’s position than anyone else in politics.  I was able to get a question about that to my former colleague and occasional correspondent, Montgomery Skew, but he said he has no special insight into the issue, and he wondered anyway why the Russians would feel a need to mount any operations of their own into fomenting confusion in British politics.

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 (3) It is common for humans to try to assess the intelligence of other species, adopting a variety of tests. (It has been claimed that the New Caledonian crow scores particularly well by comparison with other species; however, according to information passed to this journal the sampling in those experiments may have been seriously biassed in their favour, since it consisted of crows attached to the university in Oxford.)  But does any reader have information about the outcome of attempts to use the techniques employed with monkeys in the reverse direction, to assess the intelligence of human beings?  (And if so, which human beings?)  (And what were the results?)

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 (4) Can you think of a better way to stifle intellectual progress in a given field than to assemble an encyclopaedia of what is known and understood in that field, choosing of course the most eminent authorities in the field, with their status decided according to the number of citations of their work, backed up if it is felt necessary by similar scrutiny of the standing of those making the citations?  All the more credit therefore to Paracelsus who understood much better 500 years ago: ‘The universities do not teach all things, so a doctor must seek out old wives, gypsies, sorcerers, wandering tribes, old robbers, and such outlaws and take lessons from them.

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Editorial news

Readers will be familiar with the numerous difficulties faced by the editorial staff (currently myself) with putting together and publishing these reports.  One of the major problems has been our reliance on electronic means of communication, partly because of the unreliability of the electricity system here although from my personal point of view that is almost an advantage since it normally excuses me the need to try to make sense of the incomprehensible, i.e. our office computer, and its ‘system’ and, worst of all, the associated ‘help’ manual.  But now there is good news from, of all places, Berthold’s branch of the university in London where they have devised a new and ingenious way to achieve communication –  genetically modified carrier pigeons, controlled in flight by signals sent to an ultra-lightweight aerodynamically efficient bird-helmet.  This is the result of a joint project between the engineering department and the zoologists.  All the sender of a message has to do is to get a secretary to type out the message in the usual way, get it scanned and miniaturised, and then hand it over to the ‘bird operator’ on duty telling him where the message is to be sent which no longer depends on such constraining factors as addresses.  At the other end any competent ornithologist can soon extract the message from the ring on the bird’s leg and then all he or she needs  is a magnifying glass.   Just ten hours from London to La Sarrasine or the reverse!  And currently it’s all free as it’s working on a trial basis.  A new journalistic era beckons.

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Thought of the fortnight (seen on an English-regstered car in Bangkok)   Give a man an electronic megaphone.  Then be surprised when he signs up to the globalisation of ignorance

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Late news (extract from a letter received this day 16-11-2018 from Montgomery Skew)

By chance I ran into Berthold this morning.  Poor chap is very down in the mouth, feels things are lining up against him (‘just when things had started to go well’ – a comment which I understand includes his fairly amicable break-up with Louella.) .  He believes he has been experiencing a loss of mental acuity recently, which he is putting down to the great amount of time he has to spend in close contact with students.  Whether the loss is real or not I have no way of knowing, but he cited a couple of instances which to me sounded pretty normal for a forty-something politician manqué.  Apparently he made quite a mess of things when he was invited to act as moderator at an inter-school debate on ‘Who is our guide to the future, Darwin or Gresham?’, the idea of the organiser being that with Darwin,  proponent of the survival of the fittest, things get better, whereas Gresham’s observation about bad money driving out good  (a general principle which can effortlessly be exported to other spheres – for instance politics, road surface construction, and government funded health care – and arguably a central pillar of modern capitalism as it operates in practice, whatever the theorists in their comfortably appointed cells may assert) sees things as overall tending to go to the bad.  Predictably the debate got muddled with confusions about the difference between change and the results of change, and between causes and effects, and with other equally predictable distinctions heavily trampled on.  So equally predictably Berthold couldn’t restrain himself  (whoever had chosen him for this job?)   Egged on by his suspicions about diminishing brain power he set about demonstrating his intellectual superiority to these schoolchildren and started scoring points of his own, some on behalf of views with no easily discernible link to the issue under debate at all, and most against any of the teenagers who seemed to him to be advancing rightwing views.  It all ended in uproar and a polite letter from the school principal asking for £25 to replace two chairs beyond repair.  All that however, was of lesser importance than the collapse, just a couple of days ago, of his university’s scheme for using bionic pigeons to transmit messages outside conventional channels of transmission.  Apparently he was there by coincidence when a meeting of the pigeon group was interrupted by the arrival of a very senior officer who identified himself not by name but by his official position, in the cloud-capped peaks, and announced that the bionic pigeon programme was officially being closed immediately, with the whole department now covered by the official secrets act whether they had signed it or not, while those who had taken part in devising the programme were being transferred at two days notice to Camberley where in future they would be working as members of the Ministry of Defence.  The very senior officer was at some pains to assure them that these measures in no way implied criticism of their activities.  To paraphrase: ‘Quite the opposite; we discovered that in a world where for instance an enemy can read a message among ten million being transmitted inside a locked building you have come up with a means of conveying information such that with fairly minor modifications it may be possible to conceal the fact that any transmission at all has taken place.  Best possible form of secrecy.  We want to see if it can be made detection-free, and if so, to use it for our own purposes’.  Poor Berthold; collapse of his dream, already half sketched out, of using the bionic pigeons to rove the world from his swivel chair in the administration block, gathering reams upon reams of interesting and important and up-to-date information at rock-bottom cost, and hoisting himself into the position of world-famous pundit, in a decade or so to see his career turned into a block-buster film.

Supplement

Renaming issue deferred to 31-10-2017

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I believe I belong to a minority group.  I found a message from Microsoft on my computer saying my version of Windows was not genuine so I sat in front of my computer, debit card ready to buy a genuine  version.  I’m told this is not altogether usual in the country where I live..  After 30+ minutes, I gave up, unable to find comprehensible instructions on how to do it..  This scenario has since been repeated three times except the time wasted was longer.  The reasons seem related to the difficulties of Rosa (whose letter was mentioned in the posting submitted 30th September), so I’ll start by quoting her account of one bad session.  Rosa is not stupid.  (She got a first, in psychology, in the days when a first was a first.)  But for twenty years she had hardly even seen a computer, helping her husband run a mountain farm in Wales.  A year ago the marriage ended.  On getting divorced she moved to remotest Australia (on a fifteen-month contract to study ‘Coriolis effects in sand dune formation’).  Friends assured her that thanks to modern computer communication and the social media she’d still be close to her social circle and in regular contact through the computer which she was allocated for her reports on latest developments in sand dunes.  Those friends were wrong.  Rosa now is close to a serious nervous breakdown.  After an interview which ‘went wrong’ she was invited to check in to a facility in Ceduna.  Her biggest problem is not the isolation, nor the temperatures, nor the behaviour of the neighbours, nor even alarming beasts in the natural environment. She is ‘on the edge’ because of computerese. Her own  description of one recent episode, the only time, she says, she managed to make herself take notes after a battle with the electronic alien:

I turned the ****** thing on and straight away this message came up.  It said ‘Email hack: Hyperlink your selected text  by pressing [Ctrl+K] then posting a link’.  So someone’s been hacking my e-mail (?).  But has that left a virus in the bloody machine?  This Hyperlink is a way to wipe out that virus? If it’s not for that, what is it?  But that doesn’t tell me what selected text I have to do something to (nor how to do it either).  Anyway that’s crap because I haven’t even got any text to be selected, because I haven’t even been able to get started yet.  Or is this how to get started?  Or is it just an option?  If it is and I try it what happens?  If I don’t do anything, will it just start in normal mode, and how long would I have to wait.  Anyway whats the difference between a hyperlink and an ordinary link?  I guess it must be a way of joining two – whats?  And what sort of join?  Suppose I find a way to ‘hyperlink’ something and do it and don’t like the result can I change it?  Will I be prosecuted if something I do interferes with somebody else’s files?  Also, how do you post a link (if you have worked out what that is); is ordinary post alright or does it have to be e-mail (or does it have to not be e-mail?  Also who would you post it to?  No clue.  Just guessing, I think a link must be an address like you put in that bar at the top but am I supposed to find it, or invent it?  If ‘find it’, where?  (And in that case how can I post it?)  Or do I have to invent it?  ******** ******

I don’t claim to have had so much trouble, but have had plenty of chances to make notes of my own on the war between human and computer over the years.  (E.g. 1-13 below.)  I’ve been writing (under various names) and editing books since 1990, always using computers (and standard English, and by the way my career included three years leading a major semantics course in one of the world’s leading universities).  Over the years I have watched, amazed, the inability of the average computer, despite all its vaunted computational intelligence, to reach halfway decent understandability in natural English, the language most widely attempted around the world.  This is no clash between two different languages.  Computerese is not a language, but what is properly called a jargon, based on existing language but with a high proportion of words for items or processes or relations belonging to a field of special activities, which express ideas or items which didn’t exist before those special activities started.  Sharing the new words makes their users feel part of a special group superior to people who don’t know them.(a little like Russian aristocrats speaking French before 1917) (and cf Linux).  All this is more or less normally human.  However, ‘computer stuff’ has got so big so fast affecting so many aspects of normal life, that many people want, and some need, to know how to play with these meanings (and perhaps do profitable business with them).  This is where things get awkward.  There are various reasons why potential customers may not understand the new items.  (1) They may be too stupid to understand the processes or items they refer to.  (Explanation popular with some geeks.)  (2) Because the field has got so big so fast specialists on different sites may use quite different words for essentially the same thing.  Or (obviously less often) the converse. Those two factors apply whether you are borrowing or inventing new terms.  But don’t leave it to the users to guess.  Don’t forget the default assumption of most readers will be that the word means what it looks like in ordinary English.  E.g. I’m wondering if Microsoft thinks ‘resolve’ means ‘pay’.  This is not its normal use in normal English.  (3) Much that appears on screen has to be made as short as possible.  Don’t overdo it.

Suggestions to offer your computer programmer with TLC: whether borrowing from existing language or inventing, don’t try too hard to sound impressive, or cutesy; try not to borrow from a local slang or dialect (e.g. econospeak) which may be unknown to 80% of your potential customers. (Remember the nation with the largest number of fluent English speakers is India with 400 million and still counting.)  Don’t abbreviate beyond intelligibility (an issue which interacts hugely with the others)Try to stay in touch with real language well written.  (Jane Austen would actually be more use than certain exhibitionist smart-arse modern novelists.)

            None of all this matters too much if those in difficulty can get help, which can all too seldom be done through computer help files.  But it’s often quite easy if you can add human help.  (I’ve attended eight computer courses since 1990; every time the only useful aspect was that I was able to put specific questions to experts face-to-face and get comprehensible answers.)  To be fair to computers which have recently left me baffled, my own case is unusual.  I moved some years ago to a city in a country with a good supply of people prepared to do computer business, a smaller proportion who can do so with competence, and a great shortage of people able to explain clearly what they are doing in language that I can understand.)

1]  Back in the early days it started with quite simple attempts by Computers and their  programmes to unhorse greenhorn computer users.  E.g. Computer: ‘Disable BIOS memory’.  Self: ‘Why? What is it? How can it be disabled? What happens if it doesn’t get disabled?’  Etc.  Later things got more serious.

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2]  Computer: ‘an event was unable to involve any of the subscribers’ (re attempt to download incoming file.).  Self: ‘What was that ‘event’?  Why wasn’t I invited, or if I was why didn’t I receive the invitation?  Is my computer going to do anything about it?   ‘Why should I care if those subscribers stayed stumm?  Who are they anyway?  How much do they pay and what do they get in return?  Is it legal?

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3]  There seem to be many recondite possibilities after clicking a ‘Contact us’ lozenge on the site of a popular operating system.  Finding yourself in an unproductive repeating loop is one, and encountering what seems surreal irrelevance is another.  Two examples of the latter (and I am not making these up):

     A} ‘The preceding expression [sic, no expression visible on screen] assigns ranks 1 through 4 to four different titles, and assigns rank 5 to all others.  When you perform the sort [what sort?], assume that the Employees table [?] refers to more than 50 different’

            Message apparently cut short there

     B}  ‘Please do not read this sentence.  Please ignore the previous sentence’  [sic as given here]

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4]  Computer: ‘Do you want to save this file?’ Self clicks to say ‘yes’.  Result: steady black information-free screen, no indication as to what, if anything, to do next.  Perhaps part of an early attempt at a zen operating system?

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5]  Incoming message after expected progression fails: ‘Audit your server permissions’

            Reaction level (1) Why?

            Reaction level (2) How?  and Who/What?  I.e. Who is my server?  How do I find her, him or it?  And, if I can find them, would those be his, her, or its permissions to my computer to do things, or for persons or programmes unknown to do things to my computer?  What do I do if it, she or he refuses to play ball and negotiate about the distribution of permissions?  Residual worry, since ‘Audit’ seems unlikely to mean ‘audit’ in any sense hitherto known to the English language (we are after all dealing with computer ‘science’ – some might say ‘the secret code system of a private dialect only distantly related to English’) the same probably goes for ‘permissions’.  What might that mean?  Payment of subscription?   Passwords for locked files?  Anti-virus security measures?

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6]  After printing a good deal of material, and having changed neither the equipment nor the configuration , Self is informed by the computer that it had no driver for the printer being used.  Computer reported Windows online as declaring that it could not find a compatible driver.  On the website of the printer’s manufacturer Self found the driver needed.   Then tried to return to the document to be printed.  Programme now slammed in Self’s face, giving message ‘locked for use by another user’  (Other user non-existent.) Yet Self somehow succeeded in returning to document, tried to print it.  Failure. Printer still marked ‘no driver’.

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7]  Self asks Computer to uninstall a programme; Computer silently declines; instead updates a different programme

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8]  Computer: ‘the procedure entry point GetLogicalProcessorInformation could not be located in the dynamic link library’.  Self, thinking:  What is a link library?  What makes it dynamic (if it really is)?  What is a procedure entry point (maybe just an entry point?)  If Computer cannot get in that way why doesn’t  it try a different entry point?  (To Computer) Why were you trying to go there anyway?  (Suspicion that something here is not as dynamic as it’s cracked up to be.)

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9]  Message from anti-virus site:  ‘Choose the program you want to open this file’ {14 to choose from;  Self has no idea which of them might work, which should be avoided like the plague, and what in any case might happen next.  No instructions or help offered.}  Perhaps by chance the choice succeeds, produces message ‘Instructions on how to proceed by e-mail.’  E-mail from the site does indeed arrive but consists solely of two (why?) copies of the last receipt for money paid to the company.

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10]  On trying to open a dowload, presented with choice between ‘Open Inside’ and ‘ Open Outside’  No indication of whether one choice is ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong’.  No indication  of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ relative to what.  Nor of benefits or penalties imposed by Computer depending on choice made.

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11]  Computer informs Self it is to undertake programme compatibility procedure.  This is only slightly irritating – if  a conductor says he must check everyone’s ticket before the train sets off for  the next station you may sigh but accept..  (But Self got no reason why it might be needed.)  Trouble sets in at next step, with arrival of message ‘The program requires additional permissions’.  To do what?  From whom?  How does one get permissions?

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12]  From Microsoft: ‘Move this window onto the display you want to calibrate’  Easy to understand –  if you already know what it means.  This tends to keep expertise satisfactorily in-house.  (Presumably it spreads from to person by direct demonstration of what is actually done, these words being mere verbal accompaniment,.like background music in a film.  But if you don’t happen to have a competent and comprehensible demonstrator within hailing distance it’s as meaningful as  e.g. ‘Trace the foreside onto the pattern by disconnecting  the interstices.’

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13]  Presumably this bit got put in as light relief in the battle against the ‘outsiders’ still resisting on the human side of the human/computer war.  Message on screen: ‘cannot open this document’.  Waited uncertain what to do next for about 40 seconds.  Then, (probably giggling to itself ‘Only joking’) it opened spontaneously with no additional move or input.

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Thirteen seems about the right number of examples to offer in this sort of context.  But on account of its elegant artistry let’s throw in this finely crafted sequence:

(0) ‘Computer is not secure – you have a problem’

(1) ‘To fix the problem you should update now’

(2) Self clicks to update

(3) Computer:‘No updates possible’  (And a sound like stifled mocking laughter)

 

What is real education worth?

Next regular posting for 31-10-2017; but nb supplementary post 3-10-2017

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Editorial notes: (1) Urgent need of an intern continues.  (See ad in previous posting).  May have to warn Lady W and Chinese friends of risk of journal suspending publication.  Cannot expect a man of my seniority to do all my own office business.  (2) In the short term, glad to welcome another piece from tried-and-trusted Berthold, as well as an unexpected gift (unfortunately useless so far) from Simon’s mother, returned from trip to Belgium.  She had bought a device, advertised as a ‘boorebot’ said to automatically produce ‘Thoughts of the Day’ by the yard (or in her case by the metre).  The package explicitly claimed a link to our hugely respected patroness Lady W who was of course the founder of Old Boore’s Almanac© (and is still a sea-swimmer in her nineties) though I have yet to learn if they had been authorised to do so.  In the instructions it said all you have to do is set it up as if you want it to produce ‘tweets’.  I did that with the help of Kevin from the police station (who moonlights as a computer repair man), and it’s obvious to me something is not working as it should even if Kevin swears what it extrudes could be taken as perfectly normal ‘tweets’.  As a possible guide to anyone contemplating purchase of such engines, here are five ‘Thoughts’ which I got from a recent run, once I’d switched it from French to English.  To me they’re not unpleasant  enough to be tweets though they do suggest mental derangement (attempted poetry?).  But actually I’m not sure they’re any worse than some of the stuff in the mainstream press (which admittedly sets the bar about ankle-high)

In Arcady where lies the autumn crocodile

Celestial infancies dream indefatigable tangents

Friends of the semicolon unite

Tyre treads smirk at Fiona’s thimble

Whence the rosy footprints on my cake?

The marvels coming at us from the cutting edge of high tech progress are indeed things of wonder.  GPS implants in your very own body, free!  Free government tracking services ‘in case you get lost’ (but legal action or well placed friends may be necessary to get access to the data yourself).  In the UK, free portrait of you in a natural setting, courtesy of the police service.  Refrigerators which order fresh supplies of food and drink whether you want them or not.  Driverless cars which can convey you without effort to a place of their choice.  True, most stuff like that could be achieved by any housemaid with a couple of weeks of the right training after flying in from eastern Europe.)  But the results of tech wizardry don’t stop there – e.g. free information on 38 new video games similar to the one you bought your least favourite nephew three weeks ago.  Current contact details and helpful reminders of your passport data distributed to all your friends and others with need to know, free of charge, by a whole variety of organisations working with the internet. Privacy protocols so efficiently enforced they can lock you out of your own account.  As for the things you can find out by searching on the net, the mind boggles, wondering (a) who else might be finding them (b) whether anyone else knows that you are finding them, and (c) whether the programme to delete your search history really works.  

 These musings were prompted partly by Berthold’s piece (below) but mainly by a tear-stained letter received the day before through the cleft-stick post from one of our occasional correspondents, Rosa Tweedell fn.  That letter together with various other notes gathered over the years have been put together into a one-off supplementary posting on computerspeak, to appear 3-10-2017, which also gives a proposal for naming this journal.

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 fn currently living at 3, The Old Paddock, Toraha Creek (population 3 adults 5 children) Kevin told me when I happened to mention our need of an intern.  Aged  49, divorced, two children, currently employed on temporary contract, no right to remain in Australia after 31-12-2018, passport number PQZ 67068N992, Health Security number W428559/O/67, member of Trotskyite group 1987-89, no other criminal record.  Facsimile of her signature held at QIRS3 Canberra.

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Berthold Featherstone-Haugh Cheems writes:

Yet another ‘curriculum event’ at the Institute last Thursday to Sunday.  Just another, I suppose, in the ‘outreach’ category; that is, institutions reaching out to see if they can touch the wallets of the gullible masses who believe that going into a building with a high ceiling and uniformed porters, then listening to a man with horn-rimmed glasses and glossolalia who is introduced as a ‘leading expert on’ (almost anything), and finally buying a copy of his book on the way out will add a few microns to their intellectual stature.  I went up the outside fire escape to avoid any risk of being swept into the auditorium by the educational tide, but as I struggled past the lifts I heard this closely argued exchange, verbatim: “Every kid should learn how computers work.”  “Yeah, every kid should learn how computers work”.

  Why, for goodness’ sake?  The answer to the question, cut back to the bare essence, is invariably along the lines of “Well, there’s a lot of computer stuff about”  (though the answer is almost always expressed at much greater length, and almost never with as much naked clarity as that.).  This is an even feebler piece of reasoning, if we can call it reasoning, than post hoc ergo propter hoc.  Its disastrous prevalence in modern life is such that it needs a name.  (How about Proof by social media?)  The distortions of society in which it plays a part – electoral democracy is but one – are so serious it is a wonder to see it considered to have any relevance to school curricula: ‘There’s a lot of ‘X’ about’ so we should thrust courses about ‘X’ into anyone who can be ordered or tricked into receiving them’?  Bunkum.  Would you like to try it out with other subjects?  ‘There’s a lot of pornography about’.  If heads of school take that approach how are they going to deal with the mobs of parents howling for morality (however incongruously in many cases) at the gates.  (Anyway as my mother used to tell me, you don’t need courses on pornography if your imagination is in good working order, and if it isn’t, merely puttering along like an electric bicycle, why let anyone stir up trouble for you?)  ‘There’s a lot of weather about’.  Are we going to have courses on meteorology for Third Year students?  “Aha!” the professional objector will say, “That’s different.  There’s nothing much we could do about the weather even if every schoolchild learned all about it, so there’s no point having the courses.”  Actually I think one of the premises may have collapsed there (foundations washed away by a storm surge perhaps).  The word coming out of good class meteorology centres round the world is that we have been doing a great deal to modify the weather over the past 40 years, and the sooner victims of the recent hurricanes get some top-class American lawyers writing letters to various governments demanding compensation in trillions, the better for a great many of the unconsidered ‘little people’.  But I don’t intend to be dogmatic about this.  In some subject areas the right course of the right length presented in the right way could do some good, and that could include courses about girls – there are after all a lot of girls about – presented in such boys-only schools as still blot the educational landscape.  What is obvious to all except those who put on mental blinkers with their underpants in the morning is that the overlap between what is currently taught intentionally in schools and what most students want to learn may be small but it is still far larger than the overlap between either of those great areas of human confusion and the sort of learning which for all but 2% or 3% of them will actually be useful to themselves or society at large if they make it through to adult life (maybe even to paid employment).  This more or less completely rules out of the curriculum courses about how computers work, just as it rules out courses on how cars and their engines work.  What a curriculum could reasonably offer in those fields would be courses on how you can, cannot and should or should not use those devices if or when they do work.  (To lob up an easy one, which a few schools might actually keep out of their wicket: how many students are challenged to get a car out of deep mud on a moor in a rainstorm?)  But these subjects will of course only take a small fraction of the time allowed to schooling.  Specialists will learn their special skills in the best possible place, on the job.  For all the rest, let there be a realistic reappraisal discarding government-sponsored idealism, and genuinely helping them deal with the lives they may face in years to come.  I borrow, with full permission and minor adaptations, the suggestions of an excellent friend of mine fn:  ‘What is needed is a curriculum which will see you armed for situations in life which could cause real physical, psychological, or financial harm, not mere cut fingers or e-mails lacking musical animation or gender-based embarrassment.  School should teach what to do faced with an aggressive drunk or a resistant tax inspector, how to recognise a plain clothes policeman, what records to keep and what records to burn, judging the best reaction when your car is hijacked, how to make one’s excuses and leave (if caught in that kind of situation), recognition of rabies in dogs, cats, bats and travelling salesmen, how to identify oneself as harmless to soldiers of a foreign army temporarily occupying your country to restore democracy, and how to retain one’s dignity, and legal advantage, on finding one’s  spouse in bed with a stranger.’

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fn  (Les Cousins, writing in 2008)

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Gone but not forgotten

A former leader on the European political scene, Muammar Qadhafi, speaking in Rome on migration 30th August 2010  “We do not know what the reaction of white christian Europeans will be, faced with this flood of hungry, uneducated Africans.”  Well we have a much clearer idea now.

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Note from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems I see I used the word ‘hurricane’ in my little article.  I should like to point out to those whose ‘modern’ schooling has left them trying to work out pronunciations from the spelling that the proper pronunciation of this word is ‘hurrikun’, not ‘hurri-cane’.  And by the way my name – please note – is properly pronounced ‘Fanshaw-Cheems’.

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Challenge of the week. Which country was recently described by a delegate at the UN General Assembly as the most heavily armed kindergarten on the planet?

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A small far away country of which they know little?  A recent UN report (and they’re supposed to be the ones with high moral standards) said that the Saudi bombing campaign to restore democracty in Yemen was having little effect on the ground; it also included the estimate that 10,000 civilians had been killed.

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North Korea vs Donald Trump  It would be wiser not to place bets on the imminent demise of either leader in this argument.  See Berthold’s piece on the Express Exit tactic, the ‘XX play’, posted 8-5-2016

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