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Monday, February 28, 2011

#project365 day 59: Today's day at work has made...


... filling in this lot seem like it might be fun!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How to play minesweeper on your Kindle

I was gutted that Jo found this out before me, but it turns out that the developers of Amazon's Kindle ebook reader have included a couple of Easter eggs for customers to discover. Not least of these are two games: the classic Minesweeper and a possibly more classic noughts and crosses style game.

- To access the minesweeper game, make sure you're on the home screen of your Kindle, then simply hold down the 'alt' and shift (up arrow) keys and press 'm'.

- To access the Os & Xs game, open up the minesweeper game and then press 'g'.

Your comments, please: do you know of any other secrets, tips or tricks for the Kindle?

#project365 day 58: Breakfast with @jennywrenwatts and @tweeterwill83...

#project365 day 57: Today I discovered that my Kindle...


... could do this!

Friday, February 25, 2011

My Top 5 Android Apps

I finally reached the point at which Nokia's waste-of-space E63 handset could be tolerated no longer, bit the bullet and paid for an early upgrade to HTC's Wildfire, running Google's Android operating system. A couple of months later I can safely say it's the best unnecessary expenditure I've made in a while: it does so much more than the E63, and it does it without freezing, restarting itself and generally winding me up on a minute-by-minute basis.

But I'll stop waffling: this isn't an appraisal of the Wildfire, nor a bitter retrospective of the uselessness of Nokia's so-called business 'smart' phone. It's a quick list of the five apps I've found most useful in the couple of months since I purchased a phone running the Android software.

All of these apps are available for download via the Android Marketplace and, because I'm a cheap git, they're all free.

5. Evernote
I was looking for an app I could use just for jotting down notes, thoughts, ideas and the like. While I'm using my laptop I generally use Windows Notepad for this purpose (makes sense, right?), so I was looking for the same kind of thing for my phone. Then it hit me, like a slowly reversing refuse lorry, that it'd be useful to be able to synchronise the notes I make between my phone and laptop. Lo, did Evernote appear, shining as it descended from the heavens.
Evernote has now replaced Notepad as my scribbler of choice, largely because it allows me to easily access the same mental dribblings from whichever device I happen to be using: install the Evernote app on your phone and its sister app on your desktop (or laptop) PC, and you're away. You can also save photos, videos, audio recordings and other stuff as notes, rather than just being limited to text. I think you can also make certain notes public, but I haven't experimented with that yet.

[Actually, I just have. Here's one I made about thirty seconds earlier: A shared Evernote Notebook]

4. Tweetdeck
After Twitter's own official android app was updated and subsequently didn't work properly any more, I gave this a try, largely because it's what I use on my laptop. It's a lot more customisable than the official app and doesn't mess the dates up and make it look like people are tweeting you from the future, which is a big plus in my book. You can set up your own columns which collect together tweets from lists, searches or hashtags and then synchronise these between your mobile and the PC app. You can set individual refresh times (including 'manual') for each column, which is a useful feature, and you can also include your Facebook, Buzz, Foursquare and other social profile updates in the feeds, keeping everything in one place.

If you're a twit you can follow me here: @TeaKayB

3. Amazon Kindle
Even if you don't own a Kindle, this is a great app to have: it allows you to read any of the hundreds of free ebooks downloadable from Amazon's Kindle store (you can read the ones you have to pay for too, obviously, but you're here because you want freebies, right?) on the move. There's also an app for your PC or Mac, and the two synchronise with each other without fuss. If you do have a Kindle (I love mine to bits), this app is essential: it synchronises not only the ebooks themselves, but also information such as where you have read to with each one- you can read a few chapters on your mobile, pick up your Kindle and carry on from wherever you got to, and then read a bit more from the right place on your PC.

2. Google Reader
As you're reading this blog, the chances are that you read some others too. Google's Reader is a web-based app that allows you to keep track of all of the blogs that you follow without having to visit each one individually- the app does that for you, and puts everything in one place. The Google Reader app for Android gets all that information and turns it into a mobile-friendly format. It's a fairly young app and there are a couple of things that need to be addressed before it's perfect, but on the whole it's a must-have app for anyone who follows more than a couple of blogs and wants to keep up to date on the move.

1. Google maps (with Latitude and Navigation)
The Google maps app for Android does pretty much what Google maps on the web does, but with the benefit of some extra location-based goodies. With GPS it's amazing, but if you don't have a phone with this feature, it can have a pretty good stab at estimating where you are based on Wifi network data and/or mobile phone mast signals. Once it has this information you can use the maps app as a real-time turn-by-turn routefinder, either on foot or in a vehicle (be careful with data costs, though, obviously). Latitude is an opt-in feature of the maps app that allows you to share your current location in real-time with people you specify within Latitude. This feature uses some data and battery power in the background, but not so much that I've noticed it amongst my monthly usage and allowance.


Your comments, please!

  • Which android apps do you find most useful and/or entertaining?
  • Is there anything you want to be able to do with your android phone that you haven't yet found an app for?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

#project365 day 55: I quite like...


... this shot. It looks pretty nifty, if I do say so myself, and embodies what I was doing this evening.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

#project365 day 54: What...

Flippin' overpaid teachers...

Earlier today I shared this link via twitter. Entitled "I'm Sick of Highly Paid Teachers" it takes a quick mathematical look at what American teachers are actually paid, or should be paid, according to some basic starting conditions. @Reteach10 asked the question "wonder how the maths pans out for overpaid UK teachers". Well...

Bog-standard (i.e. without extra responsibilities or pay points) full-time classroom teachers in the UK are expected to work 1265 hours per year, over 195 working days. This is the oft-quoted "Directed Time" which makes my knuckles itch every time it's quoted at me. Lets see how that pans out for a working day...

  • 1265 / 195 = 6.48717... hours per day. Lets say it's 6.5: this rounding works in favour of those who think teachers don't do enough work.
So 6.5 hours would be a working day of, say, 08:30 to 15:00, right?

Hang on, that doesn't actually allow my teaching hours to fit in! My lunch hour can't be included, so my day must actually last from 08:00 to 15:30, with an unpaid hour off in the middle for lunch.

That sounds like an awesome working day to me! An 8am start, and rolling off home at half past three! Wow! No wonder people who don't teach delight in telling me how lazy and overpaid I am! But how often does this actually happen? In reality, I tend to work through my lunch hour, so there's an extra hour I'm working for free right there. Just to stay on the side of the anti-teacher lobby, I'll assume it's only half an hour extra I'm doing every day- I may not be representative of all teachers, so I'm happy to under-estimate.
  • So we're on a 7 hour working day- still not bad. I don't begrudge giving a free half hour if it's worth it.
But finishing at 15:30? Come on... Who actually manages to do that? I certainly don't. On a good day, if I've cut a few corners, I'll get out at 4:30, but on most days it's closer to 5:30- those books won't mark themselves! So another extra hour per day at least. Hell, I'll be generous to the anti-teachers again, and say it's only half an hour.
  • 7 1/2 hour working day? Still can't complain.
I am a little concerned that I'm still working an hour more every day than those who make the rules say I am - and more importantly, are paying me for. How does this work out over the course of a year? That's easy to work out: 1 hour a day over 195 days, that's... [counts on fingers] 195 hours extra free work per year.

But wait! I almost forgot the weekly meeting! These are, according to the literature, part of directed time and not voluntary, so that's an extra hour per week (on the frankly absurd assumption that it doesn't overrun). An extra hour per working week works out at another 39 hours per year.
  • We're on 234 unpaid hours now...
Oops! There's something else: parents' evenings! I'll be ludicrously conservative again and assume that none of us teach any sixth form, and that the parents' evenings stay within their 2 hour set time, in which case that makes 5 * 2 = 10 more hours:
  • 244 hours without any extra cash to show for them.
Then there's the open evening...
  • 248 hours.
To put this into perspective, 248 hours works out as just over 7 working weeks (based on the prescribed 6.5 hours per day) of free time given by most teachers from sheer good will.

I haven't included the extra revision sessions, after school clubs, sports fixtures, extra-curricular tuition and marking and planning time spent outside of any of the above discussed hours, and I've underestimated most of the above situations, so the actual figure is a lot more for, I would guess, most teachers.

So how much is this worth?

A teacher working at M4 for on the main pay scale will earn £27,104* for the 2010-1011 academic year:
  • 27,104 / 1265 = £21.42 per hour (again, rounded down to err on the side of the anti-teachers)
Over 248 hours, this would be:
  • £21.42 * 248 = £5312.16

In conclusion...
Feel absolutely, completely free to ditch my salary and pay me for the hours I actually work: I'd be just shy of 20% better off. Conservatively speaking.

And, in the spirit of the post referenced at the beginning of this one...

Many people see teachers as glorified babysitters, so lets just pay teachers minimum wage to do this job: £5.93 per child, per hour, for five hours (children are actually in school for at least 6 hours a day, so I'm being conservative again...):
  • £5.93 * 5 = £29.65 per child, per day (this is actually very agreeable compared to daycare rates)
Most of my classes are between 20-30 students strong, so lets pretend each has only 20:
  • £29.65 * 20 = £593 per day
And lets keep it at 195 days per year:
  • £593 * 195 = £115,635 per teacher, per year.

...


I'll take it.

I want your comments:
Particularly:
Teachers:
  • What are your actual average working hours? When do you start in the morning? When do you go home? How many hours, on average, do you do at home in the evenings?
Non-teachers:
  • How many hours do you work per year, on average? What does your hourly wage work out as (and what job do you do)?
  • If you're commenting to let us know how cushty teaching is, please include a realistic reason as to why you're not doing it!


* This is for teachers outside of London and fringe areas.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

#project365 day 50: The first day of half term spent doing...


... teachy stuff, but got to meet some ace people including @NickiA10 and @philallman1 who gave me this card!

Was a really good day at Teachmeet Midlands 11 with some great presentations - I want to think of something to present at the next one!

#project365 day 49: I had such a good evening out...


... I forgot to take a picture of it. So here are some router lights instead.

Friday, February 11, 2011

#project365 day 42: Not just any feeling...


... but The Feeling, live at the Roadmender in Northampton.
Was going to do something Douglas Adams-y for today's post as it seemed fitting, but then I went and did something interesting.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

#project365 day 38: Our fence resigned...

Gary Moore: 04/04/1952 - 06/02/2011

Legendary blues rock guitarist and singer Gary Moore died on Sunday. He was found in his Costa del Sol hotel room after having allegedly washed a burger down with some champagne- a fine final meal for such a grand master of rock 'n' roll!

Gary Moore has played with many, many famous musicians as well as developing a successful solo career, but he is arguably most famous for his role as lead guitarist and backing vocalist for Thin Lizzy. I won't say much more because I'd just be repeating things said by thousands of bloggers across the world. Instead, I'll post a couple of videos...


First up is Thin Lizzy's Sarah. Co-written by Moore and Phil Lynott, Lizzy's frontman, and released in 1979, after Moore had left the band. It was written about Lynott's newborn and reached #24 in the British charts, but hit #5 in Germany. Gary Moore provided all of the guitar parts for the song.


Possibly my favourite Gary Moore solo number, this is Walking By Myself and pretty much epitomises what, for me, blues rock should be. Written by Jimmy Rogers in the 1950s, Moore brought it up to 1990 for his album Still Got the Blues.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

How to: Make a Cheese Sandwich

Making a cheese sandwich is something that is incredibly simple yet so many people manage to do wrong, or at least manage to do consistently in a way which never quite allows them to experience the full measure of this gastronomic delight's possibilities. Here's a foolproof guide to getting the most out of your

Ingredients

  • Cheese:
    This should ideally be a nice, strong, mature farmhouse cheddar, but it really is up to your personal preferences in conjunction with your spirit of adventure. For a really special treat, use Brie. Honestly. You will thank me.
  • Pickle:
    Pickle, chutney, whatever you want to call it: a jar of lumpy brown vegetable chunks in some kind of vinegary sauce is what's required here. The chunkier the better; none of that spreadable rubbish.
  • Bread:
    Again, down to personal taste, but if it's ready sliced and doesn't have any nuts or seeds in it, then I really don't know why you're bothering.
Method
  1. Break the seal on your bread's package.
    Ideally, your loaf should still be warm from the bakery, which means you can inhale some heady goodness. It's all part of the process. If by some extraordinary lack of foresight I have underestimated you and you've just baked your own loaf then please allow me to prostrate myself at your feet.
  2. Slice your bread.
    As mentioned before, if you use pre-sliced bread you're really doing it wrong. You should be using the kind of loaf that almost has more seeds and nuts in it than it has actual bread, and the crust should be covered in poppy seeds that fall off everywhere. Remember to cut it on a chopping board and to keep the bits that fall off- you'll need these later.
    Your slices should be pretty thick. If it's a nice, fresh loaf then a good general rule to follow is that the finished sandwich should stand a chance of being about as thick as your own head. If in any doubt, simply cut the loaf into half, and then each half in half again.
  3. Prepare your cheese.
    Whichever cheese you use it should not, under any circumstances, be grated, especially if you're using Brie. Grating cheese introduces another utensil, and one that is an absolute cow to wash up. Remember that when cooking anything, the prime directive is to create as little washing up as possible.
    Cheese should be sliced. Moreover, cheese should be sliced using the bluntest knife you can find, thereby adding justification to a greater thickness of the individual slices.
  4. Arrange your sandwich. This must be done in stages as outlined below:
    a) Lie your bread slices on top of each other to make sure they fit. Open the currently empty sandwich like a book and place the slice designated 'lid' to one side so that you know its required orientation upon placement. Your bread can be buttered at this point, although it is not absolutely necessary.
    ii) Arrange your cheese slices on the slice of bread that you have designated 'base'. This should be done such that no bread is visible amongst the cheese - overlapping the slices is a good way to achieve this - and such that the cheese reaches all the way to the four corners of the slice. It is important to note that the arrangement should be functional and in no way aesthetically pleasing: you're making this to please the belly, not the eye, and any unnecessary prettiness may hamper the eating process.
    c) Apply the pickle. This should cover all of the cheese to a depth that can only be described as 'liberal'. A useful maxim for this stage is "there is not enough pickle on this sandwich."
    iv) Collect all of the nutty, seedy goodness that fell off the bread while you were cutting it in step 2. Sprinkle onto your sandwich as assembled so far. If your droppings appear a little meagre for your tastes, then remember that there is likely to be a considerable amount of nutty goodness hanging around in the bread's packaging. Add this to your haul before sprinklage commences.
  5. Place the lid slice on top of the sandwich, making sure that it is adequately aligned. When you're happy with its placement, press down firmly but not excessively with the palm of your hand.
  6. Eat as your preferences and conscience dictate.

Important notes
  • Do NOT cut the sandwich. This wastes time, increases mess and potentially loses bits of the sandwich. Also, a large part of the satisfaction of a really well-made sandwich resides in its weight and size. Eating a sandwich in sections reduces the impact of these aspects.
  • You may serve the sandwich on a plate, although to do so would be to potentially violate the prime directive of food preparation. A more sensible alternative would be to present the sandwich on the chopping board upon which it was prepared. This has the added bonus (and potential excuse) that it looks nicely rustic.

#project365 day 35: Another weekend...


... another Xboxing match.

Friday, February 4, 2011

#project365 day 34: Almost forgot today's...


... so here's a rough shot of my bedside table. Like my mind, it's cluttered and disorganised.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

#project365 day 33: Just got home from school...


What kind of shit is that?

Pontins

I once went to Pontins on holiday. I was quite young at the time; old enough to remember some of the experience, but young enough that, upon arriving at our destination and performing the obligatory toilet-visit, I asked my dad if he'd buy me some sweets from the vending machine on the wall therein, having got the name of the actual item context mixed up with bon-bons.

I've also been to Butlins*, but I mention that only out of fairness to the brands. In all honesty, you could probably change the word 'Pontins' to 'Butlins' at any point in this ramble and it'd make about as much sense.

Shortly after we arrived we had a look around the main building's gift shop, my parents no doubt dragged in by me in my life-long quest to be thoroughly disappointed by complete tat. I remember that my parents bought me a cassette of Pontins music which, due to their mascot being a large, furry crocodile, was essentially a mix-tape of bad Elton John covers.

Slightly less shortly after we had arrived, we went to our room/chalet/shack/cell and my mother set about cleaning the place. This seemed to be the wrong way round, even to my still-forming senses of logic and reason, but I let it pass.

The rest of the holiday's memories are slightly disjointed and are coming back in fits and starts....

One is about going for a family ride on a four-wheeled bicycle, which would probably be more accurately described as a quadcycle, but that may give you an image of a mode of transport which may seem in some way exciting. It involved a leisurely cycle (well, not for my dad- his job was to wheeze and strain as he hauled the rest of us over regularly placed sleeping policemen) around the complex. I'm not entirely sure whether the large white blobs patrolling the holiday camp's perimeter were really there or have since been pasted in by an imagination I'm starting to recognise is slightly damaged.

Another is of being forcibly extracted from the proximity of my parents and being made to compete in various sporting activities with other incarcerated holidaying children. I remember acquiring a couple of medals throughout the activity and, given past and future achievements in matters of sport, I can only conclude were handed out arbitrarily.

And the final Pontins memory that springs to mind is of my family and I having escaped the immediate grounds and gone for a walk to the beach. We were almost there when the Pontins management discovered that we'd slipped through their net and unleashed a swarm of hoverflies that drove us back.

I'm sure that there was a point to this little reminiscence, but it, and whatever prompted it, has escaped me and may never return. Because of this, I don't really have a way to end it so I may well ju





* It strikes me that these two brands of holiday camp are much the same in terms of focus and overall experience, and that it is essential that a young family goes on holiday to one or the other at least once. This is not because the experiences I had were in any way, shape or form describable as 'good', but because if future holidays don't live up to much you can always fall back on "at least we're not at Pontins/Butlins."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011