February 10th, 2006


Find out what it means to me

Yesterday, Scott Adams posted about the fact that Cartoonists could apparently now cause buildings to be burnt to the ground, a newfound power he could use next time someone stole his parking space.

His title was "Cartoonist or Puppet Master", which ties quite neatly back to something I've been thinking about for a while - which is how much compromise is needed when dealing with other people, and how much responsibility we have for their feelings/actions.  Are gay people responsible for bigots being violent by their public displays of affection?  If I wore a certain Cannibal Corpse t-shirt, would I be responsible for people being upset about it?  If I decide not to go to someone's birthday party am I responsible for them being

Clearly, taking someone's feelings into account is important, but we need to be able to say "And doing X is more important to me than the feelings it causes in other people.", either because we feel that people shouldn't feel that way (which is the way I feel about g@y bigots) or because we feel that the right to wear a t-shirt we like is more important than the feelings of random strangers we pass in the street (which is certainly the way I used to strongly feel, and still do, to a certain extent).

I think that what it comes down to is that one thing I want (A - people to not feel upset at things) goes very badly with something else I want (B - freedom of expression) when dealing with the reality of human behaviour (C - people get upset at expressions they don't like).  What I'd like is to change C - the behaviour of the people, but this is clearly unrealistic, so I either have to live with people getting upset, or lose freedom of expression. Compromising depending on how important a particular piece of speech is, how much upsetness it's going to cause and how much I care about the people it's upsetting is the obvious answer.

Now, I just need some sort of graphing tool for mapping A,B and C against each other and I can offload this all into Excel!


This annoys me significantly.

A-level maths was apparently the hardest of the A levels, and there was too much information for the amount of teaching time they had, so they cut it back somewhat.

Which is fine.

What annoys me is that they acknowledge the problem (differing levels of ability, limited teaching time, the need to provide an indication to business/university of what level of ability people have) and then come to a conclusion that's clearly yet another bodge.

The answer, as far as I can see, is clear - it's just not politically easy. It's to break the subject down into much smaller pieces, and then rather than saying "Pure Maths: B" have a report which tells you exactly what a student does and doesn't understand. Do they understand basic geometry? Do they understand differentiation? Do they understand integration? Maths _isn't like_ English - you either understand the concepts and can work with them, or you don't. I mean, sure, you might be slower than someone else, so there might be scope for a two grade system of "Understands" and "Is a genius at", but that should show up really well just by seeing whether a student has understood a lot of 'chunks' or just a few.

So what I'd want is a series of small modules, each one of which being a step forward on a variety of different branches of the tree of mathematics. Which gives them clear guidance on their progress, and makes it obvious to others what exactly they can and can't do.