Thursday, July 30, 2009

The best job in the world?

I have introduced Derek Robertson on a couple of occasions as the man with the Best Job in The World (Official). His office is overflowing with game consoles and handheld gaming machines. Essentially he gets paid to play games and mess about with technology. The best job in the world... or at least that's what I used to say!

You see, I've changed my mind. Derek has a great job but I no longer think it's the best. I've decided that the man with the best job in the world (and it pains me to say this) is Jeremy Clarkson. I suspect some background by way of explanation is necessary. :-)

Personal History
When I was younger, I wanted John Noakes' job. Not for me the attraction of astronaut or train driver. No, I wanted to do what John Noakes did. There was a child like enthusiasm about all he did that was infectious. I wanted his job. Unfortunately, by the time I was ready to apply for the job, the average age of the presenters had dropped dramatically. Apparently, it is not enough to have the enthusiasm of a teenager (like John did), you have to be one! My dream job was already out of my reach... and I was only in my twenties. :-(

Why Clarkson?
So how did I get from Noakes to Clarkson? Recently, I was asked, if I could do anything for a living, what would it be? I struggled to come up with a sensible answer but my mind went back to Blue Peter and John Noakes and I wondered what the equivalent for overweight balding middle aged men was... and thought of Jeremy Clarkson. :-)

I have no interest whatsoever in cars other than as devices to get me from A to B and yet somehow, I find myself enjoying Top Gear - even looking out for it in the TV schedules. Even more surprising is that my three daughters, who may be even less interested in cars than I am (if that were possible), enjoy it too.

Essentially the Top Gear presenters behave like daft boys (apart from James May who often takes on a more avuncular role), make "Vrroom! "Wheeeoow!" noises, and blow things up. They get paid for it and produce entertaining television while doing so. That is why, for me, Clarkson has replaced Robertson - if he doesn't have the best job in the world, it must be one of the best jobs.

Dream Job?
So am I saying I want to be Jeremy Clarkson? Of course not! I've already explained that I know nothing about cars and have little interest in the beasts. However, I do like some of the technology and gadgets associated with cars. Satellite navigation - brilliant! The reversing camera in my brother-in-law's new VW - excellent! The thing that beeps to let you know you've left your car lights on - genius!

What I want then is a programme that deals with technology and gadgets in the way that Top Gear deals with cars. A programme that takes an irreverent approach, that is accessible to non-geeks, is entertaining and occasionally informative. Does such a programme exist? If it does, that's where I'd like to play... er, work! I want to do something that engages people who are not naturally interested in the topic, informs those who are interested, and is at least reasonably entertaining in the process.

I had high hopes for Bang Goes The Theory. It was heavily trailed, shown in the evening on BBC 1 and the trailer promised some destruction and childish nonsense. It looked like it might be a techie equivalent of Top Gear. However, it was slightly disappointing and didn't cut it against Top Gear for at least three reasons:
  1. There wasn't enough gleeful destruction.
  2. It took itself a bit too seriously.
  3. It seemed to be trying too hard.
There were some good moments. For example, the reaction of Jem Stansfield when he tested his prototype air canon was great. The main problem for me though is the third reason. The guys on Top Gear make it look effortless - I'm sure it isn't but they manage to make it look that way.

It was, however, the first episode and it may settle down as the series progresses.

Front Runner
I think the closest to a Top Gear for techie types is the Gadget Show. It perhaps doesn't have the mass appeal of Top Gear, but does manage a reasonable balance between detail for the techie types and entertainment for the casual viewer. For example, one of my favourite pieces was when they put a ruggedised laptop through a series of tests, such as using it as a racquet to play tennis, which culminating in blowing it up with a stick of dynamite. (It still worked!) Impressive techie detail about the laptop and they blew stuff up - what more could you ask for? :-)

There are problems. For example, the "fun" seems a bit forced at times, like in the recent Summer Special, one presenter stripped down to his Speedos and chased another round the studio. Also, they seem to be too aware of Top Gear themselves. For example, Top Gear: Cool Wall - Gadget Show: Wall of Fame. However, the average age of the presenters looks like it's over 21, so there is hope for old, fat baldy men like me!

Best Job?
So, my best job would be to work on something like The Gadget Show, playing with toys, messing about and blowing things up? Maybe. Or perhaps it would be playing music on Rock Radio? Or working in a chocolate shop. Or... actually, I quite like the job I already do. :-)

What do you think?
What would be your best job ever?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Take note!

I stopped taking notes on paper some time ago and now take a laptop (or occasionally my PDA) to meetings, conferences, etc. When I still used paper, I had umpteen pads on the go at any given time and lots of printed agendas with stuff scribbled in the margin. My problem with paper based notes is I'm not organised enough to find them again (assuming I remember I took the notes in the first place!) and even when I find them, I can't always read my own writing.

A laptop
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
At the conference last week I took notes on my PDA. I don't think I'm as fast on it as I am on my laptop and I suspect I missed some points as a result. (For example, I missed the first heading in a quadrilogy that ended: the age that matters; the anger that matters; the anchor that matters. From the notes I took, I would have ventured "the problem that matters" but the problem is that problem doesn't begin with an A.) However, I miss stuff when I'm taken written notes and I find taking notes in any form helps me to concentrate better than listening alone.

An advantage of electronic notes is that they are searchable. WIth desktop search technology now looking at the content of files as well as the file names, it is much easier to find old electronic notes than it ever was (for me anyway) to find written notes.

A number of questions occur to me. Are there different skills involved in taking notes electronically (beyond the mechanical typing/writing skills)? I know that some places teach note taking skills to students/pupils - do they teach only written note taking skills? Some people advocate mind mapping as a good way to take notes - does anyone use software to create mind maps during classes?

What do you think? Do any confirmed written or electronic note takers want to share their experience?

P.S. Sorry for the long gap between posts but I was at a conference last week and out of Internet contact and since then I've been too tired or too busy!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

I was in a book shop the other day and was amazed to see six shelves in the Computing section filled with "Dummies" books. Six shelves worth!

Cool Myspace Generators

I occurred to me that there is something far wrong with a technology that makes so many people feel like a dummy because they can't use it.

Douglas Adams said:
"We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works. How do you recognise something that is still technology? A good clue is if it comes with a manual"
Not only do computers still have to come with a manual, but there are huge numbers of supplementary manuals that you can buy when they make you feel like a dummy! Surely that's not a good sign?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The right to fail?

Should pupils be allowed to fail? Is there a trend to always encourage children - to place happiness as the highest ideal? Should schools always seek to protect children from all negative consequences?

Partly this post is prompted by this very old news report that I filed and intended to write about but somehow, I never got around to it - Pupils 'distressed over spelling':
"A primary school has stopped carrying out spelling tests because children find them distressing..."
It also is related to some of the things I've been thinking about in relation to assessment.

What do you think? Should the chief aim of schools be to make children happy? Is there value in failing? Is it possible to recognise achievement in some without de-motivating others who can't achieve to the same standard?