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Archive for December, 2007

Education and the Home

A recent report shows that despite 30 years of social engineering, success in educating kids still depends to a large extent on their up-bringing – with the life-shattering conclusion that kids who’s parents are successful – do better at school – even if the kids themselves aren’t the sharpest tools in the box!!

Well, you could have blown me away. Having destroyed the educational chances of millions of kids by introducing the ill-fated comprehensive system – something the current government recently admitted was not one our best moves, we’re now going to hear a load tosh about how the class-based society is still holding kids back.

Here’s my logic – and it’s obviously far removed from civil servant logic. If you have parents who don’t give two hoots about success, the chances are they don’t live in the best neighbourhoods – so not only have their children to live in a house where success is not a priority – they probably are surrounded by peers who’s parents are of the same mind. How can ANYONE fail to see that this is going to have a detrimental effect on the kids.

You’ll gather by now I am NOT a believer in the idea that everyone is equal. I don’t think kids start off equal in the womb – and I don’t believe for a minute that everyone has equal potential – because that would assume that we all start as a blank slate – and that genetics has no bearing on our development – a popular view but complete tosh.

Kids not only have different levels of intelligence – but their desire to develop that intelligence is markedly influenced by their up-bringing and the attitude of their peers. Look at any "hacker" – these kids develop devilish programs to rip off software and to devastate PCS not because of the money but because of the ego trip – if you’ve ever taken an interest in this stuff you’ll see they develop "crews" – where guys compete against each other as to who can produce the best "hack". Misguided as this may be it is an example of how peer pressure within a group can drive excellence – or the exact opposite.

Put a kid in with a group of no-hopers who’s major ambition is the next delivery of amphetamines – and with exceptions you know what the outcome will be – put the same kid with a group of peers who are enthusiastic about their education and who’s parents are supportive…..

So it seems to me that kids who come from generally bright and enthusiastic parents who’ve carefully picked their neighbourhood, have a good chance of being more successful in life than those from the opposite end of the spectrum. This is nothing to do with "class" and CLEARLY after generations of trying, we can’t markedly change ANY of this with social "inclusion".

The old USSR under communism, despite their failed way of life, had great success in the Olympics partly because they took their best athletes and gave them special training in special schools – to make damned SURE they got lots of gold medals. Perhaps it is time to start thinking about putting out-dated views of class to one side and accept that in order to survive the 21st century, Britain needs a well educated public – but more importantly, we need a small cache of world-class designers, manufacturers,business-people and others to ensure that a good number of the mega-successful companies of the future are run by British business people, that their key designers and engineers are British designers and engineers … and that we lead the world in as many subjects as possible – as against, well, not a lot right now.

Our Throw-away Society

I got up early this morning, quite annoyed with myself. Only yesterday, I’d been charging a car battery on a lab power supply – and wired it up the wrong way. One cloud of smoke later, I had a dead dual power supply.

It occurred to me that I’d had this old thing for the better part of 25 years – and even then I seem to remember it came second-hand from what used to be called a “radio amateur show” in Leeds.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was never a radio amateur as such – the shows conjure images of dirty rooms full of junk and enthusuasts who don’t wash much (at least that’s the way I remember it) – no, I used to go along to these rallies because there was always the chance of some cheap computer equipment in the days when computers were stricly for hobbyists and quite expensive.

Anyway, I picked up this supply and have been using it regularly since for charging batteries and testing my theory that white LEDS have crappy lifespans. Perhaps now as the smoke settled down this was the time for a sparkly new power supply complete with modern flashing lights? But no, this morning I was feeling ambitious. Thankfully unlike much modern equipment this is not a sealed unit so I decided to take my life into my hands and get the screwdriver out.

As it happens each of the twin outputs had a capacitor and diode across it. The diode I guess was designed to stop just exactly what I’d done – reverse connection – but of course up against a car battery? I don’t think so. What they SHOULD have done was put a MASSIVE diode across the output – and a series fuse.

So, seeing the blackened dead body of a diode, I stripped out the old diode and put in a new one. Voila -newly refurbished power supply. Of course the innards were covered in dust but it just so happens I keep a pack of those air blowers that Cosco do for a few pounds – and blasted the dust out in seconds. Then I noted that the internal meters had clear plastic surrounds internally – and decided to bring the PSU into the modern age by fitting a couple of high-intensity Aqua LED diodes – the type that DO last a long time.

The result, a sparkly new power supply complete with glow-in-the-dark lighting – as you can see in the image above.

All of this took me 15 minutes and I was thinking of the alternative – this is a big, heavy, chunky affair – i.e. landfill. What a waste it would have been – chances are I’ll get another 20 years of life out of this unit. Reminds me of a car radio I had a few years ago. The car was stolen and the electrics damaged. When I got it back, supposedly fixed, I turned on the radio and poof – another cloud of smoke. Thankfully it was a standard fit job so I pulled the radio out and took the top off – one blown power transistor. I checked that this was the only damage – and informed the garage.

Would they repair it?- not a CHANCE. Even armed with the knowledge that it needed a 30p part and maybe £30 labour – they weren’t having it – presumeably because they didn’t have anyone who knew how to use a soldering iron. The result? Replacement £300 radio on insurance, original in the bin.

We talk a lot these days about recycling – we even have special bins for glass, plastic, metal and our homes how get 2 or more bins to encourage separating out the rubbish, but surely what is REALLY wrong is our very thinking on manufacturing – we encourage manufacturers to produce sealed, un-serviceable equipment – on the assumption we’re all too thick in the head or simply don’t have the time to effect any repairs and that the days of servicemen with soldering skills are long gone – but surely that can’t green. Even if replacement means block replacement – surely that’s better than needleslly throwing away complete items for one simple fault? We regularly ditch old mobile phones – which technically could last for many years, just because we’ve scratched the screen or bent a key and desire something sparkly new. Surely a snap-on replacment shell would be better than binning the whole phone including various precious and in some cases nasty materials?

Perhaps we should be looking at adding expected lifespan and “repairability” to the list of desirable attributes when purchasing – instead of going merely for the bling with the thorough expectation of getting something new just a year later?

The Price of Fuel Tax

Note that the title was deliberate – it isn’t so much the price of fuel – as the tax the government is ripping us off for!

Remember back in, what was it, 2000 when we were all up in arms about the cost of fuel? I remember walking into the FSB’s London office, I was a rookie at the time but a couple of us had this idea for a “yellow ribbon campaign” – the idea being to get a ribbon on every car to show how much we were disgusted with the increases in the price of fuel and more’s the point, how the government was cashing in. How far backwards we’ve all gone since then – at the time of writing we’re up to around £1.10 a litre in the Northeast of England and NO-ONE IS BATTING AN EYELID. It’s as if we’ve all given up hope.

As the price of crude oil continues to rise, so does the rakeoff that our government takes back – and it’s a significant amount. SURELY any government who actually CARED about their public would put a total cap on the AMOUNT (both duty AND VAT) so as to minimise the suffering – but not this government – of course the cynic might say that they’d rather we could not use our cars and were forced instead to use the crappy public transport that, at least where I live is pretty much a non-starter.

So what next… £1.20 a litre, £2.00 a litre? £5.00 a litre – at what point do we say enough is enough?

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