Ian Blyth – It's Just a Thought

My thoughts and opinions

Archive for January, 2008

Plagiarism

Posted by Ian Blyth on 18 January 2008

The BBC is reporting on plagiarism in schools.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7194772.stm

Plagiarism is deemed to be a bad thing bad the only way society can improve is by building on the knowledge of others. In the days before computers reading books was the only way to get the information and there was a limited number of books one could access compared to the information now available on the Internet. Doing a hand written piece of work or exam was a way to test that pupils could get the information and regurgitate it. Whether that is learning or even useful is another debate. I remember a teacher once saying that it is not important to remember everything – only that you know where to look to find the answer. And in these days of search engines and vast amounts of information that was prophetic.

At university when we handed in papers the professors expected a list of references and if if it was too short there was trouble. There was a need to research the subject before we could sensibly write about it. They were not looking for an original piece of work but that we could find the information, digest it and produce a report based on the subject using these references.

With the Internet it is easy to find information. Whether that information is correct and definitive is another matter. As society has changed with the rise of the Internet so should teachers and their teaching methods. They should now assume that their pupils have access to the vast resources of the Internet and the learning is that they can find the right info and sensibly interpret it. The trouble is if you find a really good article that summarizes the issue it is hard then to put that into your own words. Teachers need to look at how they are examining their pupils and methods that were fine in the 20th century may no longer be valid in the 21st. Can the teachers and the government rise to the challenge or will they fall back onto easy measurable metrics, which may or may not be relevant, to assess pupils and schools rather than look at how best to educate them.

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Honour

Posted by Ian Blyth on 16 January 2008

We have a government cabinet minister seeming to have “mistakenly overlooked” donations of £103,000 ($200,000). He must be very rich to be able to ignore that. In which case why does he need the donations? His friends say that he was busy doing his job but if he is trying to go for a high position then surely that is impinging on his day job as he is campaigning? And why do MPs have to mount campaigns to win a post like they are a bar of soap?

Then we have an ex Labour Prime Minister (and supposedly a socialist) taking a role with a large bank for £500,000 per year to help pay for his £3.4 million house. So much for principles.

There seems to be a lot more sleaze and corruption in politics these days. Or maybe it is better reported. It seems that MPs feel they can do these things, get a slap on the wrist (if caught) and carry on. In the past there may have just as much sleaze and corruption but at least if they got caught they would resign. You felt that at least there was some honour with these politicians who had put themselves forward to rule the country and the tried to keep the dignity of the role in the eyes of the public.

I think that is “Teflon” Tony Blair’s legacy. Not invading a country illegally, or squandering the nations wealth on ideologic follies but that politicians can get away with all sorts of behaviors and keep their highly paid (and even more with expenses) jobs. These politicians lament some of the behaviors seen in the country at large but then they are hardly setting a great example. What ever happened to honour?

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Roundabouts Don’t Work

Posted by Ian Blyth on 15 January 2008

I am sure when roundabouts were first introduced they may well have helped traffic flow. But since then traffic levels have increased enormously and it seems that people’s road manners have degraded significantly.

As part of my current journey I go through a number of roundabouts. There is a big one that has 4 major exits. The trouble is in the morning only 2 of them are used and as they are next to each other the junction on the right has priority and it seems like a never ending supply of cars. So the junction I am on backs up both lanes for some distance and only a couple of cars can get onto the roundabout every few minutes. Roundabouts were meant to help regulate the flow but I have found that only happens if the traffic is light or if all the junctions are used equally.

I suppose that is why we see more and more traffic lights on roundabouts. After all if roundabouts were supposed to control the flow then you would not need traffic lights as well. The trouble with traffic lights is that they can not see the traffic build up like an old fashion policeman could when controlling traffic. If they get the controls right then all is well otherwise some junctions are clear while other junctions get backed up. So to put a system that may not always work at controlling traffic on top of another system that may not always work – well it is hardly a recipe for success.

An example of this is a roundabout at a motorway junction that I use to get home. My journey usually takes about 40 minutes but one night it took 1 hour 40 minutes all due to this one roundabout which is meant to help the flow of traffic.

In the morning I am on the motorway and exit at this roundabout and filter to the left for the first exit so that works OK. In the evening I have to go around the roundabout 270 degrees to get to the right exit. In between me and the exit is 4 sets of traffic lights. And it is a nightmare. The main traffic seems to be coming out of a major town and wants to turn right onto the motorway also so they have to do 270 around the traffic lights as well. This seems to be OK when traffic is light but as soon as traffic picks up it is horrendous as people try and switch lanes to get into the right one as they go around.

I think that the major problem though is with people. Hence my comment about road manners. There are yellow box zones which means that you do not enter them unless your exit is clear. Nobody takes any notice of these as that may mean they lose a few seconds or, god forbid, someone will get in front of them! So they go into the grids and stop. So when the traffic lights change the people that need to cross the grid can not and have to stop and the people going around should stay where they are but know if they do that the others will fill up the grid again when the lights change and so they will be stuck there. It is a vicious circle. I wish I had an answer but following the highway code and being polite seems to me to be the best answer.

When I was in Canada and going to cross a road a solitary car stopped for me to cross even though the roads were clear and as soon as he passed I could cross without bother. I was amazed. That would never happen in the UK. In the States they have junctions that everyone has to stop at and take turns in entering the crossroads. It seems to work really well as each junction gets a fair share and if one junction is clear of traffic then that speeds up the other three. You do not get these frustrating queues like at roundabouts due to the cars on the right having right of way. Unfortunately I do not see them working in the UK as people would have to have self restraint and manners. What a sad indictment of the country I live in.

Posted in People, Supply and Demand | Leave a Comment »

3 Year Budget

Posted by Ian Blyth on 10 January 2008

I was intrigued to hear that the government wants 3 year pay deals as it will help the departments to budget better.

Perhaps they should just hire people who can actually do budgets!

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