Anybody Got A Map?

Over the last couple of nights we’ve had a bit of a Lost mini-marathon. Thanks to the cleverly crafted cliffhangers we went through the ‘just one more episode’ routine and got through six episodes, including the double length season finale in just two sittings.

As with all the best TV series the final episodes of the season appear to answer a load of the outstanding questions, whilst creating a whole load more. We get the payoff of the lottery number storyline, the secret twist of which the viewers were let in on a few episodes before. You also get to see the Lost equivalent of the Star Trek red-shirt, although unlike Star Trek he at least got to do a couple of episodes before he was blown up!

The story in the final two episodes ends up dividing into at least four separate threads. At least the flashbacks are more secondary to the plot, just showing everybody getting to the plane, reminding us how far they have come, rather than giving us another plot to follow. We hear about the mysterious others, there are a couple of kidnaps, and there is a moment that reminded me somewhat of the end of some episodes of The Prisoner where Number 6 thinks he has escaped only for it to twist at the last moment as he realises that he is still just as much of a prisoner as before. The relationship between Jack and Locke is further tested, with Locke spelling out the differences between the two. Several things get blown up, we see the Black Rock – and I didn’t spot that one coming either – there are a couple of kidnaps, plus some broken relationships are put back together.

I’ve decided though that I definitely need a map for all these plotlines…

The interesting question I have is whether the writers have some grand plan to explain all of this, or whether they are really just making it up as they go along. Whether or not it is all planned, it is gripping stuff. Now how long do we have to wait for the season two box set?


So I’ve managed to get a letter published in the local paper!

Basically, when we got last weeks local paper, the first letter I read on the letters page was from a reader complaining at the endless succession of letters from local politicians that had been published in recent weeks. Essentially there are two big local issues, the housing allocation, and the fate of Emmbrook School – and the two big groupings on the council don’t agree, and are blaming each other for the housing issue, and arguing over the school.

Anyway, having read, and agreed with the content of the letter, elsewhere on the page I found two long letters from a couple of Conservative members of the council putting their points again on the two issues, and then both launching into a ‘Liberal Democrats were unfit to represent the local people’, in much the same way as the Liberal Democrats had done in previous weeks, and the Conservatives before that.

As I suspect do most other people, I find the whole thing pretty tedious, and whilst my grandfather was an active local politician, I’m really less than impressed at the bunch we have around here.

Anyway, I was suitably annoyed, so I sent off the following by e-mail:

It was with some interest that I read Derek Harding’s letter in this weeks Wokingham Times calling on the Wokingham Councillors of all parties to stop having ‘ping-pong’ debates in the letters page of the local newspaper. Having read that letter first, it was with some surprise that reading the rest of the letters I found not one, but two diatribes from councillors Cowan and Browne, as further contributions to the increasing tiresome ping-pong arguments that have been carried on in the letters page over recent weeks. As before, rather than just content themselves with addressing the issues, both Cowan and Browne, as with the Liberal Democrat councillors before them, cannot resist more of the tedious, hyped up mud-slinging of their previous letters – one declaring the Liberal Democrats to be failing as an opposition, the other as being unfit to represent the residents of Wokingham.

To be honest if the recent examples in the letters page of the Wokingham Times are anything to go by, the labels could equally well be applied to either group, and I am not in the least surprised by the general disinterest and low turnout that we get come local election time when this is the choice that we are given. Certainly as a resident who is represented by one of the main source of the letters, and someone who has had Mr Cowan on my doorstep in the past asking for me to vote for him, the recent performance in the letters page has left me less than impressed. What Wokingham needs for councillors are people who know how to act like adults, and can do their duty by representing their residents properly dealing with the very real issues that face our area, rather than carrying on this school playground name calling masquerading as political discussion has been paraded through the Wokingham Times letters page in recent weeks.

The letters page of the Wokingham Times should not be allowed to be used as a resource for a free party political slanging match by these local councillors. Both the Wokingham Conservatives, and Wokingham Liberal Democrats have websites, and also regularly distribute printed newsletters to homes in the district. Both of these are methods by which the politicians can distribute their messages rather than wasting space in the paper. The letters page should primarily be a place where we the local people, the people these councillors have been elected to represent should be able to make our opinions known.

The letter has been printed in the paper exactly as written, aside from some reformatting, and breaking it into more paragraphs. Although amusingly on the page it comes after two responses to last weeks efforts from the Conservatives by two Liberal Democrats. Someone on the paper trying to stir things up? Conservatives read the two Lib Dem responses, then my letter which basically tells them to start acting like adults? I wonder.

So the real test though will be to see next weeks paper to see how the various parties react… Will the Conservatives respond to the Liberal Democrat letters and carry on the stupid arguing? Will they respond to my letter? Or Both? Any of those responses I think will prove my points. Of course I equally well could have totally misjudged the mood and I’ll get flamed by a load of people who like all the letters.

Anyway I’ll wait and see what happens…

Are targets a good thing?

Right now, I’m taking a break from seeing all the students in my tutor group. Today is Mentoring Day, and it’s a chance to have a look at how each individual student has done on their school report, and to set some targets that will be worked on for the next term or so, until the next Mentoring Day where they will be monitored, assessed and revised.

I have to say that I’m quite enjoying it. It gives me a chance to talk to each student in my tutor group (for the non-Brits among our readers, I have a group of students that I am responsible for pastorally; they register with me twice a day, and I’m the first port of call if they are having problems at school or at home, and the person the parents call first if they have a concern) and see how they are doing, what their attitude toward school is, and to help them to set targets, or goals, for the coming year. This is quite important in Year 10, as this is the first year of their two-year courses leading up to GCSE, the equivalent of High School graduation in North America. If they’re off track now, they’ll have a hard time getting caught up in year 11 before exams…

But I do have a question – are the targets that we’re setting a good thing?

My life at the moment seems to be ruled by targets. As a teacher, I have to set myself a professional target at the beginning of the year that I am going to work towards for next year. For example, this year I’m continuing to work on a department policy for implementing ICT (Information and Communications Technology – or, in other words, computers…) across our department. I also have targets set for me by the national government – to raise achievement of boys in English, for example – and the Local Educational Authority (kind of like a N. Am. school district…) has set targets for the grades that they want the students in my school at achieve. And we’re always looking to hit or improve on the targets for last year.

And it’s not just education. The National Health Service (NHS) has targets set each year for reducing waiting times for appointments, or increasing the number of patients seen each week. Football teams have targets for how well they’re going to do each year. Companies have targets for how well they are going to do each year. On the face of it, targets are motivating, and if you make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Resourced, Time-related) you can see how well you’ve done.

But how young is too young to have targets? I’m reading a book by Alexander McCall Smith at the moment called 44 Scotland Street. One of the characters has a five-year-old son who has just passed his grade 6 tenor saxaphone exam, and is learning Italian. He, certainly, has many targets set for him by his mother. But when does he have time to be a kid? And while some of my students are extremely motivated and organised, some of them aren’t interested in school and find other things much more rewarding. Is it valid to make targets for those things instead of school? Or are targets our way of saying in the back-of-your-head grandparent’s voice that you have to do something worthwhile with your life, and this is how you have to do it?? Is it just a way of pressing our need for conformity on the younger generation?

There are people who find targets limiting and de-motivating. I’m a professional person, who is good at my job, and who, I think, cares about the students in my classes. Yet I feel guilty and slightly ashamed to admit that one of my major targets for the future has nothing to do with school – it’s to have and raise a family. When I look at some of my friends my targets make me feel inadequate, compared with targets to be a headteacher or to be running a department in 3 years time… But it’s just not something that interests me. I am looking into becoming a lay minister, but sometimes in my target-driven workplace having targets that aren’t related to school aren’t valued as much as they should be.

I feel as if I’ve argued myself in circles a bit, here. On one hand it’s good to have targets, but then they can also seem overpowering and regimental at times. And should people be dictated as to what your targets should be about? But targets do seem to work well for getting students to focus on certain things in school, especially if things aren’t going well and they are getting it in the neck from several teachers all at once…

I guess the jury’s still out on this one.

Microsoft Road Trip

So this morning I finally got around to listening to the Microsoft Developer Road Trip CD, a 45 minute audio introduction to the new Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005.

The idea is that you take either the CD, or put the tracks onto a portable media player (this being Microsoft they won’t load straight onto an iPod) and listen on your commute to or from work – which is exactly what I did.

The CD consists of five question and answer sessions between various techies at Microsoft, although in between that you get Justin Lee Collins doing presenting infill.

Now it may be that I’m not the greatest fan of the guy, but I really thought that the infill was a bit of a waste of time, although to some extent I expect somebody thought it would liven up a dry subject. Anyway, the technical content was pretty good, although it was pitched at a pretty basic level. Interestingly the phrase “if I was a VB kind of guy” came up as an example in a couple of questions, with C# not mentioned much at all, so I suspect it may be an attempt to get the hardcore of VB6 developers to finally upgrade.

Perhaps the most interesting bits from my point of view were the SQL Server 2005 and Team System chats, as these were the bits I knew least about. The others I found covered stuff I already knew.

So was it worth it? The download was free, and to some extent my daily commute is dead time anyway, so it was pretty useful. In fact it has left me pondering whether to put some podcasts onto CD and listen to them on the way to work too…

Look Who is On The Cover

Today the cover of the special Christmas Radio Times was released, and rather than their usual Father Christmas, or snowman on the cover, they’ve gone for something altogether more sci-fi…

Although Doctor Who has made it to the cover before, and there have even occasionally been programmes on the cover for Christmas, this is a definite first. Also shows how much of an effect the return of Doctor Who has had over the course of 2005.

It has been confirmed that the special Christmas episode itself will go out at 7pm on Christmas Day, will be interesting to see what the other channels put up against it.