Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I'm Striking

I'm a mainstream maths teacher, and I'm off work today, taking part in the public sector strike on pay and conditions, specifically centred on pensions cuts. I feel that simply taking the day off and staying silent isn't doing my bit, so here is my main reason for taking part:

Teaching, as a job, a career, is a demanding one, if you're going to do it right. Schools need the best candidates with the best backgrounds and the best experience if they're going to get the best out of the students under their care. In this at least, the current government seems to agree with us, even if I don't entirely agree that the 'best' candidates for a teaching role are necessarily the ones with the highest degree classification (as seems to be the feeling from those on high).

Mathematics and science as subjects are currently under-subscribed in terms of teaching staff. This is great news for maths and science teachers as it means that they essentially have their pick of the jobs as many schools are struggling to fill vacancies in these areas. This means, however, that it is even more important that decent candidates with specialisms in these disciplines are attracted into the career. This, too, seems to be agreed by our representatives in government, with many of the initiatives in the link above directed specifically at graduates in the sciences.

Where agreement falls down, however, seems to be in the pay, working conditions and pensions department. Cutting pay*, reducing pension entitlements and increasing workload sends out entirely the wrong message. The message that is being sent out is one that teachers are little more than a drain on society, that we are relatively unimportant, and that the work we do doesn't require half the skills and experience that are suggested by the measures supposedly being introduced to lure top graduates into the profession in the first place.

While there are a number of factors behind my decision to join in with strike action, this is easily the peak of the pile: schools need the best quality candidates to ensure that our society's children get the best from their education, yet society itself is doing its level best on a daily basis to degrade teaching from a legitimate career option to a last-chance desperate grab at a career when all else fails.

Every time you complain about teachers; their massive holidays, their ludicrously high pay, their ridiculously short working hours, you are pandering to this frankly idiotic misunderstanding of what the career of teaching actually involves. If you are strong in your anti-teacher beliefs, please consider where you have acquired them: if they have come from anywhere other than your own, personal, adult experience, then I would encourage you to get in touch with a mainstream school local to you and try volunteering to teach for just one day. If it really is that easy, and you'd be happy to do the work for the money and benefits that are being offered, then apply for a training course, especially if you have a background in maths or science.

With society's continual and unfounded teacher-bashing, governments find it much easier to take liberties with our pay and conditions, and the whole shebang becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: you tell us we're rubbish and reduce pay and pensions and increase workload accordingly, so the best current teachers leave and the best new candidates take their skills elsewhere, so the standard drops, so you tell us we're even worse, and the government panders to that, dropping pay, reducing pensions and increasing workload, so more people leave (or never sign up in the first place) and the standard continues to fall.

So yes, that's largely why I'm striking. Apologies for any ranty bits. As always, I'm happy to discuss any sensible comments anybody makes, but I'm likely to either ignore or respond witheringly to any unfounded hyperbole (it's unfortunate that it's so common as to be worth mentioning when entering into a discussion about teaching...) so please, please make sure your comments are appropriate.

P.S: If you're a teacher, please fill in this poll about whether or not you're striking! Your reasons and thoughts either way would be much appreciated, too.

* We've had a pay freeze for the last two years. With inflation still positive, this means that although our pay essentially stays the same (numerically), the value of that number decreases year on year.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Poll for Teachers: Are You Striking on Wednesday?

Next Wednesday sees strike action in the education sector* to a degree that I haven't yet experienced in my career. My union, the NASUWT, voted overwhelmingly for strike action, and also for action short of striking (i.e. 'work to rule') commencing on Thursday.

So, teachers, are you going out on strike? And, please, don't take this poll if you're not a teacher in the UK!

Are you going out on strike next Wednesday?
 I haven't decided yet. free polls 

As ever, please feel free to comment below, whether you're a teacher or someone who doesn't work in the profession. I'm happy to discuss any sensible issues with anybody!

* And other public service sectors.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Freddie Day, 2011!

I was late for work (again) this morning, but for once I'm glad of it, as had I been the efficient, organised and timely individual I no longer even attempt to portray myself to be, I'd have missed Chris Evans playing this song just after the 8:00 news:

Why does it matter?

On today of all days it matters most. Today is the 20th anniversary of the untimely death of one of the world's greatest showmen. A man who embodied the spirit of rock and roll and paid the price for it, dying of AIDS-complicated bronchial pneumonia on 24th November 1991.

Freddie, along with Brian, Roger and John, have helped me out in various emotionally taxing situations in the last 20 years or so, most recently this morning in the inevitable already-late-for-work traffic queue.

Thanks, Freddie!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

#nokindle - "It's a Hassle to Recharge it all the Time."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

The e-ink pearl technology that I've already gushed about means that the Kindle uses approximately no power at all* to keep a page on the screen. Unlike other handheld devices, then, the only time it's using battery power is when you press a button or it's using the wireless connection. When you turn the wireless off...

I need to charge my phone every night, my iPad every few days, but my Kindle easily manages a month between charges. That's about as hassle- free as you can get with a battery-powered device.

* Actually, this is a lie. The truth is that the Kindle uses actually no power at all to keep a page on the screen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

#nokindle - "... But an iPad Does So Much More."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

Yes, it does.

But that's like saying I'm not going to buy a digital music player because I can't drive to places in it. My car and my iPod have different purposes, much like my iPad and Kindle. I can listen to music in my car, but there are limitations to that functionality that make my iPod (or other such player) a worthwhile purchase.

O.k, that's a bit of a flippant analogy, but it's not a billion miles from the truth. Yes, I can read ebooks on my iPad, but it's not as good an experience as reading them on an e-book reader because that's not what it's for. No, I can't play Bejeweled Blitz on my Kindle, but that's not what it's for. You buy the two items for different reasons. If it's reading books you're into, the Kindle wins hands down. If it's a tablet PC you want, then why are you even considering a Kindle?

Another thing to consider is the price. As I type, the lowest spec iPad2 from Apple costs £399. The lowest spec Kindle from Amazon is currently retailing at £89. The iPad costs nearly four and a half times as much. Of course it does more!

Friday, November 18, 2011

#nokindle - "You Can't Read it in the Dark."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

How many glow-in-the-dark books have you ever seen?

You can read the Kindle in the dark in exactly the same way as you can read any book in the dark: by switching a light on. This is possibly the most ludicrous anti-e-book argument of the lot.

No, the Kindle (and most other e-book readers) is not backlit, and many of the anti-tech brigade scoff and cite this as a failing: It really isn't. The difference in screen technology is precisely what makes arguments such as "computer screens make my eyes tired" and "you can't read it in bright sunlight" null and void. It also contributes to a significantly longer battery life than any other portable device beyond the wristwatch.

If it really is a big problem for you, you can buy a clip-on reading light for under a fiver, or you could fork out a few quid more for a protective case with built-in reading light. Do you see this as a particular failing with traditional books? Then why should it be one with an e-book?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

#nokindle - "You Can't Read it in Bright Sunlight."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

For the same reasons as in yesterday's post, reading your kindle outside is not the same as using your phone, tablet or laptop outside. The contrast is so much better and the reflectiveness of the screen so much less that it really isn't as far, again, from a real book as you may imagine.

Over the summer I read my Kindle whilst walking into town in the midday beating sunshine on a number of occasions and suffered no discomfort for it*. The only respect in which a real book wins in this situation is that it provides better cushioning when walking into lamp posts.

* In terms of being able to read, that is. It was far too hot and I got sweaty and grumpy, but that's not the Kindle's fault.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#nokindle - "Computer screens make my eyes tired."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

Same here, but what's that got to do with a Kindle?

The kindle doesn't have a computer screen in the classic sense: it's not backlit and doesn't even use the same technology (no LCD, TFT or even CRT going on at all). It uses what, to me*, is the niftiest thing about the whole kerboodle: e-ink pearl. In short, the screen is made up of pockets of ink that are moved around whenever you 'turn' a page. The result is the most 'real book'-like screen that I've ever seen, with excellent contrast and next-to-no glare**.

The Kindle (and other e-books worth talking about) are about as close as you can get to a real book without picking up a real book, in terms of visual comfort. I haven't noticed any eye strain beyond that generated by reading a traditional book: my eyes are tired out by computer use as much as anyone's, and my Kindle's closer to the bookshelf than it is to the desktop in this respect.

* A big, raving geek.
** I've managed to get a level of glare which makes my Kindle's screen unreadable, but only after trying.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

#nokindle - "You Can't Use a Kindle in the Bath"

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

Of course you can. You just need to make sure your hands are relatively dry, and that you don't drop it. These rules are identical to those for reading a traditional book in the bath, although I will concede that the stakes are higher due to the cost of replacing a Kindle compared to that of most books*. However, I'd be prepared to bet a couple of peanuts (and maybe even a brazil or two) that my Kindle could take a quick dunk as long as it was thoroughly dried and then left in a bag of rice soon afterwards (although I wouldn't want to try this on purpose), which wouldn't necessarily be the case with a standard paperback.

You can also buy special cases, such as the Aquapac, to make bathtime reading safer, and this is something you just can't do with a 'real' book unless you only get through one page per soaking session (in which case, again, you're doing it wrong). In fact, with my covered Kindle I can even read a book in the shower. Beat that, Luddites!

It just crossed my mind that you could probably manufacture your own cheaper but less reusable waterproof e-book cover with a sandwich bag and some duct tape. But don't quote me on that.

* Although it's not necessarily, as my friend experienced, as high as you might think.

Monday, November 14, 2011

#nokindle - "For me, a book is about the smell, the feel of the paper etc..."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

If the title of this post describes you then, in all honesty, you're doing it wrong.

If, for you, a book is largely ornamental, then you certainly won't like an ebook reader. I've known people like this; people who buy books purely for their prettiness and without any intention of actually reading them. For me, and I assume many bookworms, books are about the words; specifically which words, the order they've been put in, their sum total, and their abstract emotional and intellectual effect on the intangible 'me'. That these words are written down somewhere, that they're clear and comfortable to read, is enough to convey the purpose of a book. To me, a book is not about what the words are written upon, but the words themselves.

Don't get me wrong; the smell of a musty old book is something I find particularly pleasurable, and the feel of crinkly paper between my fingers only adds to the sensation. But owning an ebook reader does not mean that you have to renounce books in their physical form; I have solid, tangible bookshelves with solid, tangible books on them, and no desire to get rid all, or indeed any of them. Now, however, I concentrate on buying in hardcopy form those books which hold a particular attraction to me and go towards defining who I am. I own copies of some books both in traditional form and on my Kindle.

Owning one does not preclude ownership of the other. In fact, I have downloaded copies of a couple of books for my Kindle for free (The Picture of Dorian Gray, for example) that I intend to find solid versions of in particularly aesthetic form; hardback, first edition, limited edition, or the like. If I had bought a paperback version of the book in its cheapest form (as I no doubt would, not knowing how much I'd like it before I had read it) I'd struggle to justify looking for a particularly nice version for my bookshelf.

So, to summarise: you won't want an e-book if books, to you, are primarily something to look at. If, however, they're something to read, then I don't see this issue - given that you're still allowed to buy paper-based books - being a problem.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

#nokindle - Introduction

My name's Tom, and I'm a Kindleholic.

I acquired mine last Christmas as a gift from my mum, and I love it. If I could have received some level of commission for each one that friends and acquaintances have bought since I've had mine, then I'd have a little more beer money to hand.

[If you don't know what a Kindle is, take a look here: Amazon's Kindle Store. Other e-book readers are available, but whilst specifics differ, the principle remains fairly consistent.]

Aside from these folks, however, I have heard a number of arguments from people who are opposed in varying degrees to the very idea of an ebook reader. Far be it from me to try to change the minds of those who wish to stay faithful to the classic book form for their own reasons; I wish only to iron out some creases in what I see as misconceptions and some outright fallacies harboured by those who haven't truly experienced the technology.

Don't get me wrong; there are some very good reasons not to buy an e-book reader which include, but are not limited to the fact that you have to download and read an inordinate amount of books before the device comes close to paying for itself; we've all already got huge stacks of real books that we haven't read yet (so you can at least wait before parting with your readies); some of us don't read that much anyway. Some of you may feel that I'm cherry-picking the silly and/or misinformed arguments against Kindles and other e-readers, and those of you who do will be absolutely correct: why would I bother attempting to debunk a perfectly good argument?

So I shall be posting my responses to some of the more prolific misguided ant-ebook sentiments under the "nokindle" tag. As a brief disclaimer, my own experiences are mostly specific to Amazon's Kindle device, but much of what I have to say is, I assume, applicable to many electronic book readers.

As always, feel free to comment, agree, disagree, and ask questions!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My Favourite Film

I've recently penned (or keyed?) a guest post for my good chum Carlos's blog, The Cycling Monkey, on my favourite film, which can be seen as a bit of a review. I won't tell you what it is here, because that'd be like opening all your presents on Christmas Eve (I'm looking at you, Sweden), but I'll include some tantalising clues before I sign off. Those of you who've seen the film will probably get it from these tips, and those who haven't won't have a clue what I'm talking about (free to those who can afford it; very expensive to those who can't).

  • Richard E. Grant, in real life, is a teetotaller, and got drunk for the first time in his life to get proper insight into his character. Apparently he "filled a tumbler with vodka, and topped it off with a bit of Pepsi." That's damned fine acting from him, then.
  • The book that the film is based on (which was never published) ends with the principal character pulling the trigger of a shotgun whilst drinking wine from the barrel. The film doesn't finish like this.
  • The second main character's name is never mentioned in the film, but is widely believed to be Peter Marwood.
  • There's a scene in the film where the principal character drinks lighter-fluid. In rehearsals this was, naturally, water, but when filming the water was replaced with vinegar (without telling Grant).
Carlos is looking for other people to write guest posts about their favourite film, so head on over and get in touch with him if that's something you feel like doing!