Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Convalescent blues

My week started very badly with an unfortunate conjunction of the norovirus and Heathrow terminal 3. I am not insouciant about this, not one jot. In the meantime to cheer myself up I am going to vent some bad temper about various things.
1. The education system badly needs reforming to include more statistics. I did half an A-level's worth of statistics and now I can't remember most of the important bits. But there was something very appealing about being able to work out how likely something was to have happened by chance; say 300 people took a placebo and 300 took a new medicine, and 100 of the placebo people felt better and 130 of the medicine people did, what are the chances of this happening by accident? It was nice when I was able to work that out. It made me feel more in control of things. Maybe I should get a statistics textbook and try to teach myself again. I heard attributed to Einstein once the statement that the human brain is very badly equipped to cope with probabilities. Education might usefully tackle that problem.
2. I don't understand how education is planned. People are often very down on stuff which they say is useless -- things like Latin and medieval history. (Which of course aren't useless at all, but are ways of training the mind.) But there doesn't seem to be a corresponding enthusiasm for things which are demonstrably useful. Apparently they have recently had to drop the requirement for a foreign language at GCSE level in order to matriculate at Cambridge because it was disadvantaging people from schools where this was either not possible, or discouraged. One of my colleagues tells me that at her school, a large comprehensive, the entire foreign language provision consisted of a single French teacher. Also I'm told that mechanics is being dropped from both Maths and Physics. I did double Maths and Physics A-levels, which was really more like two and a half A-levels than three, because of the mechanics overlap. Any mechanics we ever did in Physics we had already covered in a more theoretical way in Maths; large parts of our Physics lessons were like Maths revision classes. And this must have made life easier for both sets of teachers, as well as for us when we did the exams. It seems like an odd thing to drop this advantage.
3. I was trying to trace the Einstein quote I mentioned above, without success, but I did find this one, which I quite like:
"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."
4. Everyone thinks my little nephew, at 7 months, is too young to sit on someone's shoulders -- everyone that is but my dad and my little nephew, who both think it's funny.

In about twelve years my nephew will outgrow my dad, but in the meantime I expect they will have a lot of fun together.

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