Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Reading list

KS3 Reading Challenge!
How many books can you read this summer? (Easier ones at the top. Last ones for budding intellectuals!)
There will be prizes in September!
Choose any from this list, or other titles by the same author:
Flour Babies/Madame Doubtfire/Google-Eyes/Charm School – Anne Fine
The Sheep-Pig/Harry’s Mad – Dick King-Smith
Bad Girls/anything – Jaqueline Wilson
Goodnight Mr Tom – Michelle Magorian
Noughts and Crosses/Thief – Malorie Blackman
The Silver Chair/ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C S Lewis
Chinese Cinderella – Adeline Yen Mah
Cracker Jackson/Eighteenth Emergency/The Cartoonist/The Pinballs - Betsy Byars
The Peppermint Pig/ Carrie’s War – Nina Bawden
Witch Child – Celia Rees
Dear Nobody – B Doherty
Blitzcat/Gulf/Scarecrows – Robert Westall
Wolf/On the Edge – Gillian Cross
Room13/Brother in the Land – Robert Swindells
The Boy in the Bubble – Ian Strachan
Two Weeks with the Queen – Morris Gleitzman
Empty World – John Christopher
The Giver – Lois Lowry
Kes – Barry Hines
The Flame Trees of Thika – E Huxley
Rebecca/Don’t Look Now – Daphne Du Maurier
The Endless Steppe – E Hautzig
Face - Benjamin Zephaniah
Private Peaceful – Michael Morpurgo
Northern Lights/His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
River Boy/anything - Tim Bowler
Inkheart/Inkspell – Cornelia Funke
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night – Mark Haddon
Z for Zachariah – R O’Brien
On the Black Hill – Bruce Chatwin
The Girl with a Pearl Earring/The Lady and the Unicorn – Tracy Chevalier
The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
A Question of Courage – M Darke
Bonjour Tristesse – Francoise Sagan
Cider with Rosie – L Lee
Jane Eyre – Charlotte BronteTess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

Monday, June 11, 2007

End exams for children under 16, says watchdog

· Sats make English pupils most tested in the world
· Parents sceptical of league tables, GTC study finds

Will Woodward, chief political correspondent
Monday June 11, 2007
The Guardian

The watchdog for teaching in England yesterday put itself on a collision course with ministers by calling for all national school tests before the age of 16 to be scrapped.

The intervention by the General Teaching Council for England (GTC), which added new weight to long-running demands for a reduction in the testing regime, was firmly rebuffed by the government and the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats backed their demands and Jon Cruddas, one of the candidates for Labour's deputy leadership, said he sympathised with the view that children were overburdened with exams.

Compulsory standard assessment tests (Sats) are taken in England at seven, 11 and 14. Pilot schemes launched in January could lead ultimately to the tests being taken when pupils are ready, rather than at fixed points in the year, but ministers regard their existence as non-negotiable.

In evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee's inquiry on pupil assessment, the GTC says most children take an average of 70 different exams or tests before the age of 16, making them the most tested in the world.

The GTC wants "sampling" of standards, covering a few primary and secondary schools, to guide national policy, along with internal school exams held by teachers when they thought appropriate.

The move is significant because the GTC is notionally independent of both the government and the unions. It is responsible for registering teachers and has banned them from helping pupils in Sats exams.

Keith Bartley, chief executive of the GTC, said: "Of course there still needs to be a way of testing pupils when their standard education comes to a close...But placing added stress on pupils, teachers and parents on a regular basis before that time is not creating the best environment for learning. We need to...let them [teachers] do what they are trained for."

The GTC study says parents are sceptical of league tables, created from Sats, GCSE and A-level results, and care more about meeting teachers face to face.

Mr Cruddas said the experience in Wales, where Sats have been scrapped, supported calls for a rethink in England. "I think it's a debate we should have about whether we have gone too far in terms of how much we are testing," he said on Sky News.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, welcomed the GTC's call. "The government should listen to the evidence instead of insisting on ... a system that constrains more than promotes children's education."

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, said: "Teachers should be able concentrate on what's best for their pupils, not feel compelled to teach to national tests. The current system perverts the true purpose of education - children get drilled on how to pass tests, not educated."


Thursday, June 07, 2007


slower pace of life

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Swapping your MacBook's hard disk, the caveats

I still wonder how that can be possible. After I got my MacBook and installed all my usual stuff and applications, I was left with only about 10 GB of the original 60 GB hard disk space left. After putting a few pictures and movies onto it the hard disk was pretty much full. How'd I manage to survive with 10 GB of iPhotos and pretty much the same installed applications on my old iBook? Must be all those Universal Binaries... ;o)

Anyhow, so I decided to upgrade my hard disk. Found a nice 100 GB Hitachi drive online for 14,000 Yen, which just arrived in the mail here. The day before I went to all the big name electronic stores in town to get an external USB hard disk case so I could connect both drives at the same time. I was pretty shocked to find that barely any Serial ATA cases exist here. I found one, the only and last one, at Best Electronics for a nice 4,000 Yen.

So that set me back about 18,000 Yen, which is very close to the 18,690 Yen Apple is charging for an official 100 GB drive upgrade. Only that I've got an extra 60 GB external USB drive on top. So far so good. Swapping the disk was barely a problem at all. Videos of this procedure can be found all over the internet, and it's a very straightforward and simple operation. Just take out the disk, unmount it from the "sleigh" it came on, mount the new disk onto it and slide it back in. Just one word of advice: If that's the first time you opened your MacBook, it'll be hard to resist playing with these RAM levers. Just make sure to wiggle the RAM module back into place all the way before you close up your Mac again. It's probably best to leave one module in for reference. =)

Okay, so now the tricky part. If you've already installed all your stuff on the MacBook you probably don't want to do it again. So the interesting question is how to get your complete system including all your data from the old drive onto the new one? To be honest I've done it three times in total. I'll give you the rundown of the best procedure first and go into the caveats afterwards...

It doesn't really matter if you put the blank new disk into your Mac first or copy the data onto it before. The MacBook should be able to boot from both the external and the internal HDD, but your mileage may vary. We'll go with the straightforward approach to leave the old HDD in the Mac for now and copy all the data onto the new disk in the external case. So slip it right into there and connect it. Once you do that Mac OS should notice the drive is blank and offer you to initialise (i.e. partition and format) it. Important thing here: since Mac OS doesn't expect you to use this disk as a system disk, it'll partition it using an Apple Partition Map. That's not too bad and you'll still be able to use the drive to boot Mac OS, but it gets in the way of some more advanced things, such as using Boot Camp to dual boot Windows. So make sure you click on the Partition tab, choose Options and change the selection to GUID Partition Table.

Then go on and partition the drive to your heart's content, or just leave it with the default of one Mac partition. Just make sure to give it a unique and clear name to avoid confusions later on (it's not for the faint of heart to erase the drive "Macintosh HD" and then copy all data from "Macintosh HD" onto "Macintosh HD"). Once that's done the by far easiest way to get the copying done is to use SuperDuper! It's a very easy to use and straightforward tool to get a bootable copy of your system. Just connect the external drive, select your old disk as the source and the new disk as the target, use the "Backup all files" setting and off you go. The process took a little under two hours for me. Once it's finished you can reboot from the external drive to see if everything went okay. If it did, go for the swap.

For some reason my external disk is not recognised when leaving it connected during a reboot. So I had to unplug it, start the MacBook, hold down the Alt (Option) key until Apple's boot manager showed up and then plug the drive back in.

The first one or two times you boot from the new drive, Mac OS will be a lot slower then usual. That's due to the fact that SuperDuper! doesn't copy all files to the new drive but skips cache files and especially the Spotlight index, all of which need to be rebuilt in the background. So you'll also notice a lot of hard disk activity after the reboot for a while.

The other methods

I played around with this process for some time, so let me share my other observations. The first time worked perfectly and just as described above. Just when I wanted to install Windows via Boot Camp I noticed the problem with the GUID vs. Apple partitioning tables and Boot Camp refused to work. Good thing I still hadn't erased the old hard disk and was able to repartition and format the new drive again and repeat the whole process without losing any data. While doing so I decided to play around a bit...

I tried using Carbon Copy Cloner, the former tool of choice for every hard disk cloner, but alas the product wasn't updated since 2003 and doesn't work correctly anymore on the newest iterations of OS X. It aborted with some error message about a UTF8 filename after it had copied a couple of gigs already, so I aborted the process at that point.

I also booted from the Mac OS install CD, which gives you access to a terminal and the Disk Utility, both powerful tools when it comes to copying and cloning. A simple cp command on the terminal copied all the data just fine and left me with a bootable system, but hard links and aliases were messed up and the filesystem remained in an inconsistent state and couldn't be fixed (as reported by Disk Utility). So I advise against this practice.

I was thinking about toying with the dd command, but couldn't find a too reliable documentation specific to Mac OS X' disk and partition numbering scheme and knew I might have problems with the partition size afterwards anyway. If you're sure what you're doing though, the dd command might be the best option there is, as it copies the whole partition bit by bit exactly 1:1 as it were onto the new disk. No need to rebuilt indexes and caches and no nagging "maybe something important didn't make it over"-feeling.

I also tried Disk Utility's Restore function, which should be pretty much the same as dd, just with a graphical GUI. Alas, Disk Utility wants you to drag and drop the drives in good Mac fashion from the list on the left onto the appropriate fields, but for some reason drag and drop works differently (read: not really) when booted from the install disk, so I just ended up highlighting the drives instead of dragging them. Also the button that allows you to browse for the drive/file you want didn't let me select a whole drive. I rebooted into my old system to try the Restore Utility from there, and I could get the process started, but it too aborted after a couple of minutes with some random error I didn't bother to remember at that point. So I advise against this practice as well.

Bottom line: as long as you remember to partition your new drive correctly (or don't use and don't care about anything connected to the new GUID partition table), using SuperDuper! you can swap your drive and copy it over very easily and safely in less than two hours.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Young people wot do from CNN
Pipes - mashup stuff

From flash mob to lynch mob

POSTED: 1343 GMT (2143 HKT), June 4, 2007
Cnn - Flashmobs etc

(CNN) -- A Korean woman receives death threats because she wouldn't clean up her dog's mess on the subway; a Chinese man suspected of philandering is besieged by angry emails and phone calls; an American college student caught plagiarizing online is turned in by incensed bloggers.

Forget Big Brother, it's the Internet mob that's watching you...

It's a long time since the Internet was populated purely by geeks and freaks. Our personas in virtual space are increasingly integrated with our "real life" identities; a growing number of people have Facebook profiles, blogs and Flickr accounts.

And our physical and virtual worlds are meshing, too. "Flash mobbing" is one of the Internet's stranger crazes. Groups of people organized by Web sites, email and text message descend on public spaces to take part in bizarre demonstrations of performance art.

Rugs, zombies and pillow fights

The first Flash mob took place at Macy's in New York City in June 2003 when over a hundred people converged in the rug department.

The phenomenon has spread to flash parties on subway trains and silent flash raves in train stations in Great Britain; flash pillow fights in Toronto; zombie flash mobs in San Francisco; and a flash proposal of marriage to one girl in Beijing.

Flash mobbing is seen at worst as a nuisance that can delay commuters and other travelers who encounter mobs in action. But groups of people have been harnessed via the Internet for purposes other than entertainment -- and one of these phenomena, known as "mobbing," is more sinister.

In 2005, a woman known as "Dog Poop Girl" became the victim of an Internet shame attack when, after refusing to clean up after her dog on a South Korean subway train, another commuter posted her picture on the Internet. She was quickly identified, her personal details were posted online, she was subjected to harassment and she even received death threats.

Mean mob

In a recent article for TIME magazine, web guru Jaron Lanier wrote, "Collectives tend to be mean, to designate official enemies, to be violent, and to discourage creative, rigorous thought... We might be genetically wired to be vulnerable to the lure of the mob."

And Lanier thinks it could go further. "What's to stop an online mass of anonymous but connected people from suddenly turning into a mean mob, just like masses of people have time and time again in the history of every human culture?"

Some say it's already happening.

Internet mobbing is most prevalent in South East Asian countries, where social norms are strict yet perceived as under threat. People are targeted when they are thought to have deviated from those norms. Along with Dog Poop Girl, vigilantes have pursued other targets with menacing enthusiasm.

Cultures collide

It took just five days in 2006 for vigilantes to track down the "Stiletto Kitten Killer" -- a Chinese woman who was videoed crushing a kitten's skull with her high-heeled shoe. Both she and the man who filmed her had their personal and contact information posted across the Internet, along with Internet "Wanted" posters. They lost their jobs and had to issue public apologies, a stern punishment in a country where animal protection laws do not exist.

The same year, a manhunt was on to catch the "Shanghai Sex Blogger", a Western ex pat who detailed his dalliances with numerous Chinese women. Chinese bloggers raged against him. One, a professor of psychology at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, called for an "Internet hunt for the immoral foreigner" and called repeatedly for the man to be "found and kicked out of China!!!"

In another well-known Chinese case, an angry husband who suspected his wife was having an affair with a college student she'd met in an online game asked for help tracking him down. The Associated Press reported that the student, who denied the accusation, was bombarded with harassing and threatening e-mails.

This vigilante action might be prompted by understandable moral outrage, but some are concerned that the headline-grabbing witch-hunts have been vastly out of proportion with the original transgressions.

Vigilantes have not stopped at reprimanding their quarry: they have shamed them publicly in front of thousands of people; their identities and personal details have been posted for all to see, making them vulnerable to fraud and identity theft; they and their families have been harassed.

A director at South Korea's Ministry of Information and Communications, Oh Sang Kyoon told the International Herald Tribune, "Victims cannot live a normal life. They quit jobs and run away from society. They even flee the country. It's like lynching victims in a 'people's court on the Web.'"

Cash for college papers

It's hard not to feel sympathy for some targets of mobbing. An American college student known as "Laura K. Krishna" (not her real name) was caught out when she offered a stranger $75 via instant messenger to write a paper for her.

Unfortunately for her, the person she approached, comedy writer and blogger Nate Kushner, accepted her offer and blogged about it, hoping to teach the plagiarist a lesson. But the story was seized by enraged bloggers and quickly span out of control: they flooded her home and college with emails and phone calls, demanding she be kicked out of school.

Laura K. Krishna quickly became the butt of McJob jokes and her long-term employment prospects suffered (ask any employer who Googles a potential recruit before hiring; her real name is still easily obtainable online). There's no doubt that plagiarism is wrong, but was the punishment meted out to her appropriate for her crime?

A commenter posting as "Joanna" thinks not. She wrote on Nate Kushner's blog, "I felt slightly sick when I read that, apparently, a fair number of people on this thread want to see 'Ms. Krishna' expelled, publicly flayed, drawn and quartered, et cetera.

"As a college student working my a** off for an English degree, I have no respect for this girl ... but she is, above all, just a stupid kid who did a stupid thing."

Permanent record

Once they're targeted, there's little that people can do to remove details about them online. Information travels fast and can be replicated with ease. Nate Kushner removed Laura K. Krishna's name and college from his site at the request of her mother, but her details remain on other sites. It would take remarkable concerted effort -- and co-operation from Web site owners -- to expunge her information from the Internet.

This is partly because the Internet is not regulated by any one set of laws. It transcends national boundaries, and makes recourse to legal avenues complicated, expensive and questionably effective, as Brazilian model Daniela Cicarelli found when she tried to use the law to remove YouTube videos of her romping in the sea with her banker boyfriend.

As fast as YouTube took down the videos, they were re-posted, while the press coverage of the lawsuit simply sparked more interest in the footage, plus a whole host of spoof tributes.

Judge and jury

The most concerning aspect of mobbing, though, is the way large groups of people can be mobilized to attack a perceived transgressor without their accusers providing any real evidence of their guilt. On the Internet, the mob can be judge and jury.

One American blogger, Jason, has touted the use of mobbing as a tool to hold public officials accountable for their actions. "Isn't the threat of hundreds of people calling you during dinner to tell you what a jerk you are seem like it would make you tone it down a bit?" he wrote. "When I see an infuriating story crop up on Digg, I'm going to dig for personal information about the offenders and post it to the comments," he continued.

But while Jason's intentions might be to protect the public, can mob rule be a viable option for any society? Some argue that virtual lynchings will only turn transgressors into victims. Even online, as the saying goes, two wrongs don't make a right.

In the meantime, those thinking of the Internet as an idyllic place for freedom of expression would be wise to take heed: say what you like, but remember that the mob is watching you...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Google 'ick' factor

POSTED: 2153 GMT (0553 HKT), June 1, 2007

Story Highlights

• Google "Street View" capturing candid moments
• Mapping tool shows man picking nose, sunbathers
• Photos were taken from vehicles driving along public streets
• Google has embraced "Don't Be Evil" as its creed

SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- Google Inc. bills the latest twist on its online maps as "Street View," but it looks a bit like "Candid Camera" as you cruise through the panorama of pictures that captured fleeting moments in neighborhoods scattered across the country.

In San Francisco, there's a man picking his nose on a street corner, another fellow taking out the trash and another guy scaling the outside of an apartment building, perhaps just for fun or maybe for some more sinister purpose.

Further down the highway at Stanford University, there's the titillation of a couple coeds sunbathing in their bikinis. In San Jose, there's the rather sad sight of a bearded man apparently sleeping -- or did he just pass out? -- in the shadow of a garbage can, with what appears to be an empty cup perched in front of him.

In Miami, there's a group of protesters carrying signs outside an abortion clinic. In other cities, you can see men entering adult book stores or leaving strip joints.

Potentially embarrassing or compromising scenes like these are raising questions about whether the Internet's leading search engine has gone too far in its latest attempt to make the world a more accessible -- and transparent -- place.

"Everyone expects a certain level of anonymity as they move about their daily lives," said Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group devoted to protecting people's rights on the Internet. "There is a certain 'ick' factor here."

Google is hoping to elicit "oohs and ahhs" with Street View, which was introduced on its maps for the San Francisco Bay area, New York, Las Vegas, Denver and Miami earlier this week. The Mountain View-based company already is planning to expand the service to other U.S. cities and other countries.

The feature provides high-resolution photos to enable street-level tours so users can get a more realistic, 360-degree look at places they might go or spots where they already have been. To guard against privacy intrusions, Google said all the photos were taken from vehicles driving along public streets during the past year. The photos will be periodically updated, but the company hasn't specified a timetable for doing so.

"This imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street," Google spokeswoman Megan Quinn said in a statement. "Imagery of this kind is available in a wide variety of formats for cities all around the world."

Google certainly isn't the first company to venture down this photographic avenue. Inc. launched a similar mapping feature in January 2005 on a search engine called That search engine's former chief executive, Udi Manber, now works for Google. And Microsoft Corp. began displaying street-level pictures on its online maps for San Francisco and Seattle late last year.

A9's photographic maps, which were abandoned late last year, raised privacy concerns about women being seen entering domestic violence shelters.

Hoping to avoid similar complaints, Google tried to identify potentially sensitive locations by contacting the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, much to the delight of Cindy Southworth, the group's director.

"We were thrilled that a major technology company like this reached out in this way to help protect these victims," she said.

Google also is offering a "help" button on all the street-level photos to provide a link for users to request the removal of an image that is objectionable or clearly identifies a person who doesn't want to be included in the visual tapestry. Company spokeswoman Victoria Grand said Google has fielded "very few" removal requests so far.

Eileen Diamond is hoping she can persuade Google to replace its current picture of a Miami street corner where protesters gather once a week to protest the abortions performed at A Choice For Women. The picture, still available on Google's maps Friday afternoon, includes a cluster of protesters standing outside the clinic, an image that clinic administrator Diamond worries will scare away potential patients or perhaps attract trouble makers to the facility.

"It's sort of disturbing because it's certainly not the kind of message we want to be sending out," said Diamond. "It's already very painful for our patients to come in. We want them to feel safe and protected."

As of Friday, Diamond said she was still having trouble finding the right way through Google's Web site to notify the company she would like the picture removed.

Privacy experts believe these kinds of ticklish situations are bound to arise as technology makes it increasingly easy to share pictures and video on the Internet, pitting the rights of free expression against the rights to personal privacy.

"What you have to do is balance out the perception against the reality and I think in this case, the perception is much scarier than the reality," said Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People For Internet Responsibility, a policy group.

Because Google's street-level pictures were taken in public places, the company appears to be on solid legal ground, according to both Bankston and Weinstein.

But Bankston doesn't think the law necessarily absolves Google, particularly since the company has embraced "Don't Be Evil" as its creed. He worries that some people in need of psychological or medical help won't seek treatment for fear of being caught in the cross-hairs of Google's cameras.

"There's a distinction between what Google has a legal right to do and what is the responsible thing to do," said Bankston, who believes the company should have blurred the images of unwitting pedestrians before it posted the street-level pictures. "It's a problem we as a society have to grapple with, and I think we are just now seeing the fault lines emerge."

While he thinks some of the issues raised by Google's new service are prime fodder for a healthy debate, Weinstein worries that it might inspire overly repressive laws.

"It's a tough area, but it just seems there is no way around the fact that public spaces are public spaces," Weinstein said. "You don't want to create an environment where it becomes illegal to take photos in public. It can be riskier not to be able to see something than it is to be able to see something."