All entries for September 2008
September 29, 2008
Skype: Amazing Value?
In the past I have been a little sceptical about Skype and a look on the Wikipedia entry highlights some of the issues that have occurred in the past. I was rather pushed into trying out Skype because there is no such thing as a 'free lunch' as the well warn cliché goes. Howver with my better half going off to halls of residence as a mature student for her last undergraduate year and with the need to make overseas phone calls an affordable voice communications system was needed. Already 2 colleagues on her course were using Skype with the altrnative being mobiles which is obviously costly. As a result we started to investigate.
After reading a bunch of reviews on the the various Skype headsets and handsets available I ordered a usb phone wireless handset. The advantage of this is that one doesn't have to be tied to the computer. It has a claimed 50 metre range although I can't confirm that, but certainly it is fine around the flat. As I'm the sort of person who inevitably manages to mess up installations which reviews and manufactuers insist makes boiling an egg the equivalent of nanotechnology I was pleasantly surprised to see that I got the system up and running pretty quickly and with no major issues and my ego intact.
A really big advantage of the system is that you can ring other landlines directly whether in your country of residence or abroad. While it is not free the cost is remarkably small and beats other competitiors hands-down. You will need to buy some credit from Skype to be able to do this. This Timesonline article of 2007 suggests that with the exception of BT Skype is expensive for making calls to other phones. For example it suggests that calling abroad via an access number is cheaper than Skype:
Yet Skype Out isn’t just beaten by other Voip providers, it is beaten by normal phone companies too — specifically several small firms where you just dial an access number to connect from your normal home phone. They are called override providers because they override your normal phone company’s charges, and you pay theirs instead (Timesonline 2007)
There are a lot of comments on this article which might be useful if you are thinking of investing in Skype. Well, needless to say we are keeping an eye on this because we have been using an access number to ring abroad. Currently Skype seems to be cheaper to some countries, but as with all these systems the charging structures are very dynamic and one needs to keep an eye on this. Where Skype really comes into its own is when ringing another Skype account holder. This means that the call is free.
That phone went off to university, however, I have now ordered one for me to use which shows that I'm convinced by the technology and general ease of use. Currently the phones can be ordered via Amazon and have an excellent delivery time. (Type in "For Skype Phones" in the Amazon search box if you are interested and a good range of products come up). These wireless ones are more expensive but I think most people will value the convenience. With P&P they are around £34 each but I fully expect to have recouped that outlay within a few months at the outside. What Skype does is start you questioning why calls from conventional telephone systems are so expensive.
As Skype & other VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocols) become less the arena for those who are more familiar with computer technologies this will put increasing pressure on conventional phone companies to drop prices. If you make a lot of calls or would like to make more, Skype is currently providing an excellent opportunity to make this a low cost activity, however please remember that you will still need a conventional phone system (landline or mobile) as you can't do things like make emergency calls via Skype. Doubtless time will tell whether the systm is cheap and reliable. If problems emerge than I will post on these, however, one must always remember that there are plenty of problems with alternative systems as well.
As mentioned in the Wikpedia entry there are some security concerns when it comes to firewalls and Skype as peer to peer networking worries administrators as the Heise Security site points out.
Skype itself is now owned by eBay which might be a put off to some. EBay bought Skype in 2005. Overall the benefits seem to outweigh the downsides so be cautious but don't be put off, is my general position.
University of Huddersfield has a Skype enabled office environment
September 25, 2008
ITV Escaping Public Service Broadcasting Requirements
I wondered why shots of Michael Grade loomed large in some broadcast news footage of the end of the Labour Party conference. The very next day it is announced that OFCOM are allowing ITV to reduce its Public Service Broadcasting requirements with regard to regional news. Presumably Grade has been doing some heavy lobbying behind the scenes to get that position adopted by OFCOM. It has been a key part of his survival strategy for ITV (I still wouldn't want my pension fund to buy in though). The OFCOM PSB review has been published today is available here as a PDF.
Michael Grade (presumably waxing lyrical about ITV Content!)
Commercial Broadcasting can't deliver anything but Junk OFCOM seems to be saying
Of course OFCOM put it more politely than that but as the emphasised areas shows the content which actually makes broadcasting worthwhile doesn't attract the advertising / mass audiences required to gain that advertising:
Viewers have access to a wider range of content than ever before, on digital TV and
online. Multichannel broadcasters now make a significant contribution to public
service content, particularly in sport, entertainment, archive and acquired
programming, and in one case, news. But they provide very little original
programming in the genres under most pressure on commercial public service
channels – current affairs, nations and regions programming, challenging UK drama, UK scripted comedy, and UK drama and factual programming for children. This is unlikely to change as provision on the commercial PSBs declines, because most multichannels do not reach the audiences required to justify large and risky
investments in these areas and will themselves face increasing economic pressure.
Despite the fact that Michael Grade puts himself about rabbiting on about content is king the sad reality is that for ITV to have any hope of becoming a license to print money again as it was in the past it does need to get rid of that embarrssing encumbrance of actually delivering any kind of service rather than lowest common denominator TV targeted at those who reject any form of challenging content.
In another posting there will be more analysis of the latest OFCOM consultation document about creating new models of Public Service Broadcasting (multicasting) for the digital era. Clearly with a serious economic downturn still deeepening and with much advertising migrating onto the internet any cost centres such as regional news which are relatively expensive to run and by definition have capped audiences are going to be cut back as far as possible.
However we still have to consider whether ITV has much to offer in a realm of fragmenting audiences where increasingly very few broadcast TV programmes are going to reach mass audiences measured in the millions. That is the obvious outcome of offering diversity, however the ITV model seems ill placed to offer genuine diversity.
Regional programming and therefore regional representation is under serious threat from this tendency within ITV. What OFCOM hasn't been discussing within it s remit is whehther there could be a much upgraded role for local and regional newspapers in providing aspects of public service multicasting. As broadband takes hold and as the push to get super high speed broadband across the country intensifies the delivery platfoms for multi-media journalism which is able to deliver local and regional news and information services.
Already my local newspaper The Coventry Evening Telegraph has a pretty good web presence and get as local as my local councillor (globally). Why not let ITV drop its public broadcasting remit altogether increase the amount of money it pays for its broadcasting licence and put the proceeds into developing super-high speed fibre optic networks in the most remote parts of the country who will be most affected by ITV's forthcoming pusillanimous status. Let moron TV pay for creating the new information networks the country so badly needs.
The growth of multi-media journalism and the development of cheaper methods of recording uploading and editing means that local papers are increasingly becoming the multi-media content providers of choice through the process of convergence. Arguably it is they, rather than conventional TV, who can provide the cmpetition to the BBC which is already well on the way to being a multi-platform provider genuine local competition in terms of news and regional programming.
Possible Development Models for PSB
There are of course other areas which ITV wishes to withdraw from which can't be dealt with by changes in the existing local and regional mediascape such as current affairs. Once upon a time Granada TV used to deliver absolutely amazing current affairs programmes which often went much further than the BBC dared to in terms of challenging the positions of the government of the day on subjects such as Northern Ireland for example. Look what happened to Greg Dyke when the BBC challenged the government over its ridiculous adventurism into the Iraq War. The reality is that public service broadcasting is still too closely tied to the powers of the government of the day and the debate taking place around public service broadcasting needs to argue for more independence for the BBC on the grounds of cultural citizenship.
The OFCOM models will be discussed more fully in a later posting. For media investors the advice still remains the same get your money into Sky (if you can stomach Murdoch), Google or Branson. currently the ITV model seems to have little to recommend it especially as itsog: target audience are the least likely to be keeping up with technological change, highly focused contextual advertising is where its at and ITV doesn't look as though it going to provide this. Director of th BBC Mark
Thompson at a speech to the Royal Television society on Friday 26th September laid down a challenge to the OFCOM models being proposed:
To me, the debate needs to become more ambitious, more imaginative and less defeatist. We need a solution that supports the vital creative and editorial role which Channel 4 plays in our system. But we shouldn't throw in the towel when it comes to ITV and Channel Five - both have a critical role to play in investment, in creative diversity and in public service delivery. The public wants all to remain in the family. And they don't want the stabilisation of any of the commercially funded public service broadcasters at the price of destabilising or weakening the BBC. (Mark Thompson Speech edited Guardian version)
In the meantime I will leave you with some of the thoughts of Stephen Fry from an extended essay on his blog. Hard to disagree with him really so get writing to OFCOM:
I genuinely cannot see that the nation would benefit from a diminution of any part of the BBC’s great whole. It should be as closely scrutinised as possible of course, value for money, due humility and all that, but to reduce its economies of scale, its artistic, social and national reach for misbegotten reasons of ideology or thrift would be a tragedy. We got here by an unusual route that stretches back to Reith. We have evolved extraordinarily, like our parliament and other institutions, such is the British way. (Stephen Fry Blog. The whole thing is worth a read)
I have just discovered a news story on the BBC website which states that Andy Burnham the Culture Secretary wishes to speed up the OFCOM process which anyway has few outside of porfessional bodies contributing to it. Given that as reported he seems to wish to pre-empt the OFCOM findings one can only be even more suspicious of some insider dealing from Michael Grade to offload the ITV PSB committment:
The culture secretary also said the government would speed up the ongoing review of public service broadcasting.Ofcom is currently running a consultation, but Mr Burnham said that rather than wait for its recommendations in the New Year, the government would press ahead now with discussions about possible changes to policy.Among the proposals is a plan to share the BBC's licence fee revenue with other commercial broadcasters like ITV and Channel 4.Mr Burnham said: "All options are open at the moment, but it is important that we are all prepared to accept we have to make trade-offs." (BBC News story Friday 26th September 2008)
Independent report from April 2008: Public service broadcasting must reform to survive, says watchdog
September 14, 2008
Film Criticism & the Blogosphere
The latest edition of Sight & Sound (October 2008) has an great set of articles examining the state of film criticism to day in the light of the development of Web 2.0 and also the rise of the "Critic-Proof film". The full set of features brings together critics from around the world to discuss their favourite critics. It is a work of metacriticism in other words, however, here I intend to focus on the issues of criticism and the rise of Web 2.0. Nick James the Editor of Sight & Sound introduces the feature making many interesting points. There is a recognition that there needs to be a culture of change within traditional print-based criticism in order to respond to the rise of blogging and its predominant culture of instant criticism on the one hand and the squeeze upon critics to try and make their films critic-proof. With marketing budgets sometimes approaching as much as 50% of the rest of the costs in the case of Hollywood blockbusters obviously distributors are keen to avoid flack. Arguably they can influence the blogging community interested in films and pass off pap onto them. However it has to be said that newspaper owners and critics have often been guilty of passing on pap themselves as loss of advertising revenue was a serious danger at least as far as film criticism is concerned. Nick James cites Graham Greene on this dangerous tendency:
He has got to entertain and most film critics find the easiest way to entertain is 'to write big'. Reviewing of this kind contributes nothing to the cinema. The reviewer is simply adding to the atmosphere of graft, vague rhetoric, paid publicity, the general air of Big unscrupulous Business." (Graham Greene, cited Nick James: Sight & Sound - Oct 2008)
An article I found very well thought through was one by Mark Fisher acting deputy editor of The Wire entitled "On Critics: Bloggers Without Boundaries". Fisher takes a sensible line with regard to all the hype surrounding Web 2.0 when he carefully cites the documentary film maker Adam Curtis who launched a strong attack on bloggers arguing that rather than forming an alternative space blogging is "parastitic upon already existing sources of information". Certainly the hype about interactivity, and choice and access has largely hidden from view the fact that there is very little valuable critical discourse within many of these blogs. Indeed in my own experience there are a lot of pages which are just copy and pasting other ones and trying to get advertising. However I think that as more people get familiar with the ways of the web the weak stuff will get weaned out. The structuring of search engine optimisation will contribute to that but only if quality critics start getting off their backsides, stop whinging about the hard time they are having and actually learn how to adapt to the changing world.
If I was a government lacky I would describe this as Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Everybody else has to adapt to the revolution that the internet is bringing. Critics film or otherwise must get out there and compete, and so must their publications. The message is that critics need to get online stop depending on free rides and cosy little press previews. You can get into the cinema on the day a film happens if the distributors keep you out and get your words out to the world a few hours later. Remember much of the profit from a film comes from the after sales in the DVD market and TV rights etc.
The publication you work for needs to get a strong online presence which gains respect, in the way that the BBC has. Look at the numbers of really good blogs the BBC has as well as podcasts and the rest. A big advantage for an online presence is the sophistication of online advertising and the new models of delivering targeted audiences to the adverts. Nick James worries that perhaps only Pete Bradshaw of the Guardian has the power to make or break a film. Well I'm not sure that a single critic should be in that position anyway, however, if his readership respects his views developed consistently then clearly a critic will have some influence. If a critic has that power and a loyal audience then their articles will pull in the best advertising, in this new online world a loyal audience for a brave committed critic will not lose advertising revenue but gain it:
For Anderson this was the worst kind of English cant. His view, on seeing Cooke's views reprinted in 1953, was "there is no such thing as uncommitted criticism, any more than there is such a thing as insignificant art. It is merely a question of the openness with which our commitments are stated. I do not believe we should keep quiet about them." (Lindsay Anderson, cited Nick James: Sight & Sound - Oct 2008)
There is an issue of how the critic online through their publication should react to other parts of the emerging critical discourse. Bloggers justifiably complain that on-line presences of mainstream media is a sort of virtual black-hole. These sites don't feel that they have a responsibility to link out to other sites which perhaps have different views. There is a certain arrogance that the critic is the expert to whom others must listen. Failure to take part in the democratisation of the media and to recognise fellow critics or castigate what they think is bad criticism is already part of Web 2.0. There is no point in being jealous of bloggers in a way which Pete Bradshaw has mentioned (see Whither the Film Critic below), bemoaning the lack of writing space in the print medium. Well spotted, the print medium is very limited. It is the online space which needs to become the primary critical space, the offline space the summary.
Nick James needs to take the next visionary step and get Sight & Sound to entirely adapt itself to the online world. Get the advertising online, get the criticism online, get a much larger global market become a central critical hub for film criticism in the globe. The competition online and in the blogosphere is pretty feeble so far but it is getting stronger everyday. Take the plunge relieve yourself of the fears of sorting out advertising Adsense and Amazon Associates will do it for you, like Aston University Alumini all sorts of organisations are using these services. Remember any advertising space is 27/7 globally! Rather a tempting prospect for any advertiser, why is it moving onto the web? The more popular the pages th more the publisher gets. Transparency is increasingly coming to rule the market. At the moment there is a tone in the discourse which smacks of neo-luddism. This is more than about the criticis it is about the future of hard copy magazines specially specialist ones lik Sight & Sound. There is no viable online -film presence which can hold a candle to Sight & Sound - YET. But it will happen unless change comes internally. The aspirant critics with the determination the nouse and the experience to develop several powerful online critical presences online.
Arguably we have reached a point where there is a defining moment. This moment offers the opportunities based upon the strengths of the present Sight & Sound, the weaknesses are a lack of a coherent vision to come to terms with the on-line age and revive the tradition of the angry voics of Anderson and his colleagues and later the young critics of Cahiers du cinema as Nick James has noted:
Never mind that it was a bunch of critics that transformed cinema in the 1950s to create the nouvelle vague, or that another bunch paved the way for Britain's "Angry Young Men" to transform British cinema in the 1960s. (Nick James: Sight & Sound - Oct 2008)
Nick James is showing signs of neo-Luddism and cultural pessimism in the face of change rather than creating a firm line to adapt to the online world. James has commentd in the past that he wants Sight and Sound to be the Vinyl to the iPod. It is an analogy which died years ago in the world of audio. The moment it died was when Linn finally built a CD player despit the fact that they had built their reputation on the famous Linn Sondek record deck. Now Linn is a leading light in the world of music servers and digital downloads offering a quality level many times better than CD. Naim too has just brought an expensive music hard drive to market. Linn still make an upgraded version of their decks but the vinyl brigade is a dying breed. Does Nick James want Sight & Sound to die? The cinema itself has a powerful history of technological change and many pople's job specifications changed. James still hasn't really imagined how the magazine can be changed and how the magazin world is changing. The following sentence in tone sees blogging as a diminished task not an opportunity although he is right that critics who a well informed and genuinely critical can become distinctive again.
Otherwise they may collude in their own extinction by becoming bloggers themselves. Whether or not they stay in print or migrate to the web, they will need the support of their editors to become truly distinctive again by making more than the occasional passionate noise. Nick James: Sight & Sound - Oct 2008)
In this sense James still hasn't fundamentally moved his position from on whihch the Londonist writing some months ago commented on
What we found frustrating was that both members of the panel and the audience had an incredibly unsophisticated knowledge of blogging and online journalism. More than once online writing seemed to conjure up an image of lonely spotty teenage fanboys, wanking in bad grammar about the movie they had just seen, in between whining posts about how misunderstood they are. (The Londonist)
I have to agree with the Londonist there are plenty in the blogosphere who have high standards of writing, knowledge and ability to gain an audience.
Blogging is so much more developed, and richer, and sophisticated than traditional media give it credit for. There are communities out there (note "communities" rather than isolated, socially retarded freaks with broadband) with as much discipline and editorial rigour as any established print journal. Editorial rigour is, in fact, even more keenly followed in online publishing because of the speed and the means available for writers, readers and editors to respond to one another: if an article is released with incorrect information or highly contentious material, it can be a matter of minutes to react and amend. (The Londonist)
The future is gradually closing in on old critical models, models which had many flaws. Hopefully the best of the old media will migrate successfully. Mark Fisher identified some impressive online critical presences.
The uniquness of the best blog writing...contradicts the assumption that bloggers are at best earnst amateurs, at worst talentless mediocrities motivated by resentment. Many succssful bloggers ...are able to pursue their own agendas free from the pressure of word count and independent of th time of consumer capitalism...The best blogs...occupy a space between journalism and academia, between disciplines, between films and other cultural forms offering a new type of criticism. (Mark Fisher, Sight and Sound October 2008 p 19)
Doubtless the debate will develop.
Who Needs Critics? Nick James - Editor of Sight & Sound in the October 2008 edition
Whither the film critic in the blogosphere? Guardian report on disucussion at the BAFTA awards
September 13, 2008
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2008. Dir: Mark Herman
From The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2008. Directed Mark Herman
Released this weekend this looks like its a film to make a point of seeing - just forget the feelgood factor. I heard a review on the Francine Stock film programme on radio 4 in the car and then on the News 24 review from Mark Kermode (You can subscribe to the podcasts here). For Francine Stock's Film programme you can find the podcast here including a discussion with director Mark Herman.
I have to confess the original book targetted at younger teenagers passed me by, however, I have discovered quite a lot of controversy so far with a considerable degree of scepticism being voiced with perceived weakness of both the original book and the film being highlighted. The comments by Linda Grant in the Guardian are quite harsh (beware plot spoiler) in this respect complaining about a "Disneyfication of the Holocaust". Certainly the distributor Miramax is owned by Disney but in terms of some of the films which it has distributed in the past you wouldn't know it, in this respect this is perhaps a piece of gratuitous journalism. In the light of these comments the comments by young readers in the comments box of the CBBC Review of the book deserve some respect. As anybody who teaches media studies knows reaching the target audience is paramount. In this respect the book seems to have worked and this gives me hope for the film.
Linda Grant in criticising the film seems to want to have a her cake and eat it. She is on the one hand arguing that this is a Disneyfication (It may be -I haven't seen it yet), but then she comments upon the irony that it took Hollywood and Stephen Spielberg with Schindler's list to make the first really big film on the Holocaust. For Grant Life is Beautiful is anodyne. Personally I have found it effective whilst teaching teenagers and, despite my initial doubts when it came out, I decided that I think the film is worthwhile. Of course it should not be the only perspective on the Holocaust, but there are a lot of clever points embedded within it and I think it was a brave film that deserves respect.
Grant then discusses the failure of European cinema to cover Shoah (The Holocaust). The Diary of Anne Frank played down the Jewish component of the genocide (a contradiction), Alain Resnais powerful short film Night & Fog was primarily news footage intercut with some recent footage of the time, and Shoah is the other film she mentions:
In Europe, Alain Resnais' Night and Fog (1955) and Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (1985) both wrestled with the Holocaust, but Resnais' film fell back on newsreel footage. Only Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter (1974) attempted inexpertly to explore the themes of guilt and complicity. (Linda Grant Guardian Feature)
Well, whilst there is some strong justification in terms of The Holocaust not being covered well by European cinema -certainly in a direct sense - I have a feeling that she hasn't much wrestled with Lanzmann's Shoah for example. Well I've had a review of Shoah in the making for over a year and I have now opened in up in response to this current film (apologies to Eureka for being so long with it.) The review is unfinished because the film became almost too hard to review if you are engaging with it at all. It is less of a review than a response. In fact I found it too difficult. I spent a full day watching it, and it is traumatic.
From The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2008. Directed Mark Herman
Its very sparseness and feeling of interminabilty evoke feelings of guilt. After all watching this for only a few hours is nothing compared to the real traumas. It is a film which was extraordinarily difficult to make and it needs to be be seen but even then Shoah (The Holocaust) is something almost beyond comprehension. How does one represent such an absence? I have written a review of a book of essays on Shoah edited by Stuart Liebmann which came out shortly after I received the review copy of the film. It is academic and at times hard going intellectually but it pales into insignificance with the emotional hardness of the film. Perhaps part of the problem with dealing with Shoah (The events) is a psychoanalytic one concerning what Lacan describes as Das Ding:
The same phenomenon, a fatal attraction to the black hole of Das Ding, the site of a traumatic, vacuous horror, threatening to overflow social structures with a terrible organic vitality and force, appears to be at stake in horror movies. From this perspective, the site of the monsters in horror films and horror fiction in the psychic economy can be defined precisely: it is at a point of intersection between a social and a psychological space. (Stefan Gullatz)
This comment relates to the horror movie genre but perhaps we need to think about this sort of thing in terms of Europe and the representations of the Holocaust.
You cannot look directly into the core of 'the real' you can only circle around it otherwise you are sucked into it. Exactly of course what happened in Life is Beautiful. The difficulties directors have had in dealing with anti-semitic themes specifically the Holocaust in European cinema are highlighted by the hostile response in France when Louis Malle made Lacombe Lucien. This generated so much hostility with worthies like Foucault accusing Malle of creating a right -wing plot that he did his film making elswhere for a few years.
Yes, I agree with Grant that cinema especially European cinema has not represented the Holocaust well and more must be done, however the responses of Mark Kermode and in the interview with Francine Stock give me confidence that this film is on the right tracks. It has a specific target audience and is likely to be shown in schools in due course. If it opens up knowledge and discussion about an almost unbearable and unthinkable process then that can only be a good thing. Unfortunately raising money for these projects is a problem with ordinary investors chary of investing as box -office success in the short-term is likely to be weak. This is a case for state funding either directly or indirectly. How is Poland representing the gross anti-Semitism which shocks so deeply in Lanzmann's film for example?
From The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2008. Directed Mark Herman
I've ordered the book and the film is on my to see list. This posting is underdevelopment as doutbtless there will be many more links to be made as the debate develops and there will be a review in due course. In the meantime fairly much on principle I would encourage readers to see the film either in the cinema or on DVD when it comes out and to form your own opinion, because I suspect these sorts of arguments will run and run. But please bear in mind that whatever its perceived weaknesses might be who the target audience is. Let the last word for now be with Shezheena of London because her review sold me a copy of the book:
This book was really gripping, I could not put it down and it is a really good book if you are about 11 or older as younger audiences might not understand the plot and genre of this masterpiece! (Shezheena Age 11 London)
YouTube Trailer Here
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. 2008. Directed by Mark Herman
An Apple trailer can be seen here in better quality.
Linda Grant Guardian Feature (plot spoiler here)
Guardian audio interview with David Thewliss (The Nazi Officer) on the film
The film comes from the original novel by John Boyne who also collaborated on the script. Below are some links to the book reviews online. Certainly the book seems to have been picked up upon in the US amongst the teachng profession. with history being destroyed in the curriculum in the UK some seem to think it is an endangered subject, good historical novels targetted at children have an increasingly important role to play. [Mickey Mouse vocationalism is obviously more important for the plebs].
The Schools Library Journal (US) had this to say review quoted in full:
Gr 9 Up–Boyne has written a sort of historical allegory–a spare, but vividly descriptive tale that clearly elucidates the atmosphere in Nazi Germany during the early 1940s that enabled the persecution of Eastern European Jews. Through the eyes of Bruno, a naive nine-year-old raised in a privileged household by strict parents whose expectations included good manners and unquestioning respect for parental authority, the author describes a visit from “the Fury” and the family’s sudden move from Berlin to a place called “Out-With” in Poland. There, not 50 feet away, a high wire fence surrounds a huge dirt area of low huts and large square buildings. From his bedroom window, Bruno can see hundreds (maybe thousands) of people wearing striped pajamas and caps, and “something made him feel very cold and unsafe.” Uncertain of what his father actually does for a living, the boy is eager to discover the secret of the people on the other side. He follows the fence into the distance, where he meets Shmuel, a skinny, sad-looking Jewish resident who, amazingly, has his same birth date. Bruno shares his thoughts and feelings with Shmuel, some of his food, and his final day at “Out-With,” knowing instinctively that his father must never learn about this friendship. While only hinting at violence, blind hatred, and deplorable conditions, Boyne has included pointed examples of bullying and fearfulness. His combination of strong characterization and simple, honest narrative make this powerful and memorable tale a unique addition to Holocaust literature for those who already have some knowledge of Hitler’s “Final Solution.”–Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
There is some disagreement voiced with the review quoted above within the Schools Library Journal which can be accessed here:
The BBC CBBC review of the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas including some comments from teenage readers themselves.
Institute For Learning
This morning I had yet another missive from the irritating government police force for the FE sector the Institute for Learning. It is the sort of thing that gets government run organisations a bad name. It requires me to re-register for an organisation which I registered for by force only a few months ago. What kind of waste of money is that, as well as my valuable time?
The introductory blurb to this government inspired and controlled organisation provides the usual drivel about "stakeholders". Now I don't have a problem at all with the incorporation of "stakeholders" when it comes to planning for example. The sort of thing which Patsy Healy writes about. The concept of the stakeholder here is a notion that planning decisions concern large numbers of people and there must be due process, consultation and transparency. This developsa very Habermassian notion of the public sphere.
The Insitute for Learning states that it is a professional organisation organised along the following lines:
We are run by a Council, over half of which is elected from the membership.
We are supported by a wide variety of stakeholders across the sector. Please see our Stakeholders Details page.
Now just consider a true profession, dentists, doctors, planners, engineers, lawyers all have their own professional organisations to which they subscribe and which are self-regulating. None of these will be run by stakeholders and none of them will be run by government sponsored cronies who happen to subscribe to the government discourse of the day. Now check for yourself whether RIBA or the BMA for example is 50% run by non-Architects and non-Doctors. You will notice that there is none of that waffle about "stakeholders" here".
Even more importantly you will notice that these are truly professional organisations maintained and operated by the practitioners to develop and oversee and represent the profession as a whole. Now the IfL simply is not that kind of organisation. It is not operating in the interests of the profession it is operating in the interests of the government. The fact that only around half the ruling council is elected by the membership as absolutely apalling. It is not for industry, parents or anybody else to try and control practitioners about how they practice it is for practitioners to do this. It is one thing for professional bodies to consult with other stakeholders it is quite another to be run by them.
Continuing Professional Development
Now I don't have a problem at all with the concept of continuing professional development. It is clearly very important. Knowledge is always moving in whatever sphere of practice one is in and it is important to try and keep abreast of developments. The fact that I do this blog, researching its content, and learning how to manage and develop it more than satisfies by a considerable margin any demands for the tokenistic 30 hours a year for a full-timer demanded by the IfL (read government). Furthermore I have got lots of bits of paper accreditation. Lee Davis the "Operations Manager" of the IfL explains CPD quoting David Blunkett at length:
Why is professional development important? After all we have completed our teacher training and are recognised as being qualified to do the job we are employed to do. When I first started to respond to this question I quoted David Blunkett, who made the case for the continuous professional development by comparing teaching with other professions. “Nobody expects a doctor, accountant or lawyer to rely for decades solely on the knowledge, understanding and approach which was available at the time when they began their career. Good professionals are engaged in a journey of self-improvement, always ready to reflect on their own practice in the light of other approaches. This is certainly true of the very best of our teachers...”
Please believe that I hadn't read this before starting this posting. What do I find? The example of doctors, accountants, lawyers being cited by Blunkett. There is though a significant difference between teachers and lecturers in the FE sector and the aforementioned professionals. All these practitioners are run by self-governing bodies! Another significant difference is that members of these fully established professions are paid significantly more than the Cinderella section of education! Large numbers of people I work with do other work to generate the income. You don't see lawyers and doctors needing to have "Key-Worker status" to find somewhere to live! Certainly large numbers of people working in the sector are not paid according to their paper accreditation.
funding continuing Proffesional Development
Most colleagues that I know would really like to participate in a professional development course tailored by them. As practitioners we are probably more aware of change in subject areas and potential shortcomings in our knowledge / skills base than anybody else. If the government was genuinely interested in in developing a properly professional stance within the sector (they obviously don't think there is one at present) they would seek practioner advice.
For myself I would like to see the government fund individual training programmes for one week courses which are suited to specific subject areas. Each lecturer should be given a specific budget allocation which can be administered by their own employer. This should be used each year. This should also mean that a specific time after summer exams is set aside for training purposes.
A proper week long course with no other concerns would be an extremely productive time. As one would be likely to be doing it in the company of other practitioners there would be a highly productive cultural milieu established. As it is, there are training budgets but frequently one day courses which may well be very good in themselves are often too short for longer-term learning to take place.
Should Lecturers Have an Independent Professional Organisation?
Yes is the short answer with the emphasis on independent. Perhaps those people who are practitioners on the IfL Council could use their previous knowledge to put in place the bones of a properly democratic structure, because I don't remember being asked to vote for them!
The IfL so Far
It seems like a product of governmental box-ticking control freakery. It is neither democratic, nor independent, nor is it likely to achieve maximum effectiveness in terms of its core aim of maintaining and developing professional development at the deeper levels needed.
Lets organise ourselves discuss our CPD needs and get the government to fund it. The trouble is, the government clearly doesn't trust us otherwise there wouldn't be threatening things like 'you might lose your teaching licence' if you don't re-register. You already treat the sector badly, and the crass managerialist discourse which has taken over is a de-professionalisation. The IfL is yet another police-dog not to be taken seriously in terms of its intent. We want professional pay and conditions and we want to be treated as autonomous and serious people not pushed around thanks!
Oh and while I'm at it I wish to be associated with EDUCATION not Learning and Skills. As Goering was heard to say "everytime I hear the word skills I reach for my pistol".
The Production Process
Whilst you are making your project you should be making a record of what you are learning. Whether you are working on a moving image project a web project or aa audio project you will need to be keeping a record about any problems you find learnng the relevant software, any criticisms of the software.
You must keep a record of the different tools and features of the software by making print-screens as you go along. The project is word counted so it is advisable to use images to illustrate what you have learned. This can save words and be far more exaplanatory. I suggest to my students that they keep a table open in a Word document with two columns. In one column insert the printscreens as you r project develops and in the other column provide some annotations.
This method allows you to make a brief summary of what you have learned about the software and frees up word count for areas such as the industrial context of your project and also creates space to allow for more effective feedback when researching the responses of your target audience.
September 11, 2008
Six Useful Reason for Having a Blog
Blogs can create communites of interest
Having a place to publish to your chosen target audience encourages writing and communication skills
Blogs can be a useful tool to support personal development. this can be sespecially useful for students and many universities are exploring ways of developing this aspect of blogging. The University of Warwick comments that:
Warwick, like all UK universities, is required to show ways in which it is working to support its students in their personal development planning (PDP). Tools which support reflection and discussion as blogs can be a useful part of this.
Work & Careers: Keeping a blog may be useful when job-hunting time comes around. Blogs that contain reflective material about a course or project or piece of work may be interesting to prospective employers
Research & Professional Research Groups. Blogs aren't just for personal writing. We expect that they will be useful for research groups wanting to keep a record of their work, for students doing project work on their courses, and for many other purposes we haven't thought of yet.
Everyone who wants a web presence is able to have one, regardless of technical expertise.
Make your Own Way in the Virtual World: Weaning Yourself off Facebook etc & Make some income
It is surprising how swiftly there has been a rise in popularity of social networking sites particularly amongst 'creative' and media type students. Blogging as a form of software has made it easy, cheap and accessible for anybody with a reasonable internet connection to publish what they want to.
Social Networking sites are parasitic and largely rely upon others people's lack of coming to terms with very simple technology. Learning to blog is a lot easier than driving a car!
Social networking sites have their cake and eat it until they become bloated. All they do is provide an easy environment rather like blogs and then use it to push advertising. Facebook has been the least subtle of these companies and towards the end of 2007 tried to impose an advertising technology called Beacon. so many users complained that Facebook had to change its policy rapidly. Media institutions such as MySpace owned byRupert Murdoch who owns /controls a large amount of the world's Media such as Sky are doing very well out of YOUR work.
These sites rely upon User Generated Content. This means that My Space for example doesn't need to invest in programmes or commision programmes users do all that work happily. Unlike Sky TV which has to invest in programming and pay sports organisations and film companies for the content the users of social networking sites are providing all the content for nothing. The company just has to pay for the servers and a few administrators and software people.
One advantage of developing your own blog is that you can use it to place advertising on. The income is unlikely to be huge but it can at least contribute to your communications bill which in the UK averages about £92 per month for a typical family. another thing is that companies like Google will automatically send adverts to your blog which relate to the content of the individual postings as well. so there is some level of control about the adverts. If your blog or certain parts of it become popular you might gain a larger income.
It's all pretty easy really. Why let companies like Facebook make the money when you can?
Discussion and links on the general development of facebook and social networking can be found on earlier postings:
Facebook and its neoconservative (extreme rightwing) ownership