Let’s Compute

A few weekend’s ago I visited the National Computer Museumm near Milton Keynes. I was intrigued because of the history of the place, and Alan Turing’s northern links, and because I’d just written an article about computing in schools.  Our tour finished in a room full of BBC Micros and some very knowledgeable volunteers. Here are some of the best bits (I’ll try and cover everything in future posts).

The UK has a ridiculous amount of computing history: The Acorn chip, which was made in the UK is the basis of most modern phones and almost half of today’s broadband.

Opensource embroidery: Talk about cross medium.  Ele Carpenter led a project to create a HTML patchwork using websafe colour codes.  What I love about this is the whole taking computing beyond just a screen and trying to get people involved through completely different mediums.

 

Kids programming: What really blew me away was the amount of computing literature for kids that was published around the time of the BBC Micro in the 80s. Below are just a few snaps I took of all the books the museum have saved.  They were also screening daytime and kids TV shows that used to explain how to do basic programming.  Where has this gone?!

My favourite was a programming magazine for children called ‘Let’s Compute’, mainly because the boy and I have talked about mocking up a magazine like this for the present day.

 

While there I had the pleasure of talking to a number of volunteers including Chris Monk, who is working on museum plans to do more evening, weekend and holiday workshops for kids.  He told me they would probably start people off on the BBC Micros they have and then move people on to Arduino and Rasberry Pi.

Considering how difficult it still is for teachers to get programming onto the curriculum, it seems like an amazing opportunity for young people to learn these skills at least in an extra-curricular way.

 

If you want more info on the museum, ICT teacher Alan O’Donohoe has some fab videos and insights here, and the official website of the museum is here.

Currently watching: 21 Jump Street (+ popularity)

The trailer for American Pie: The Reunion that preceded this movie had its audience spot on: this is for kids who grew up on nineties and noughties high school dramas.

The joy in 21 Jump Street is that it’s the first teen movie not to be a ‘teen movie’ of old.  It doesn’t parody but makes (scarily) subtle comparisons between the high school culture of yore and the attitude of school kids in the past few years.  In one stomach-clenchingly funny ‘we have our audience down to a T’ line, Channing Tatum’s character remarks ‘I blame Glee’.  The one strap / two strap backpack issue also comes up.  So simple, so genious.

Speaking of Channing Tatum, he is still inexplicably handsome in his gruff young Daniel Craig way.

And, much as I’m loathe to enjoy Jonah Hill after some crass remarks he made in an interview (at the expense of the adorable Michael Cera), the boy can write and I couldn’t help but warm to him in his skater jeans.

It’s crude but you’ll laugh out loud.  I hate slapstick but I couldn’t help myself.  If the idea of Eminem opening the soundtrack to a film makes you a little fuzzy inside, watch this movie.

 

What I loved most though was it touched on the whole ‘popular’ label in school in a way no on really has.  The 90s films had the dumb jocks and cheerleaders with the underdog triumphing in the end, then Glee took it to an extreme.  In 21 Jump Street, Tatum who used to be the popular kid, doesn’t understand how the cool crowd in 2012 are the guys who care about the environment and their education. But they’re still a little bit arrogant and a little bit judgey.  I guess the message that seems to get fed out that ‘it doesn’t matter if you’re popular’ never sat too comfortably with me.  Because being popular means people like you, and that’s usually because you a decent person who people like spending time with.  You won’t be perfect but you must be doing something right.  Some stereotypes will exist to a limited extent – there will be people who ‘buy’ friends, but I think most people have always, and will always see through that.

Basically you can be clever, and be a dick and you can be stupid and be a dick. I don’t think being ‘popular’ has anything to do with what kind of person you are.

(And if anything, it has more to do with the people around you).

 

Featured image credit: Sony Pictures

Where I go all post-modern and reflect on the purpose of blogs. And to a lesser extent, journalism.

I’ve had this blog since 2008.  I’ve been reading blogs since then too.  I’ve read them, and their critics.  I’ve delved into that world and been fascinated at every turn.  I’ve followed the journeys that individuals and, later, organisations have made in discovering a digital world and what place it has in the real world.

And then I started a journalism masters which forced me to contextualize it all.  To consider the official point of it all.  And boy did it confuse me because suddenly it felt like everything I put on my blog had to be researched and linked and backed up and explored and supported by experts and interviews.  It didn’t sit right with me and I couldn’t figure out why.

I’ve come to temporary conclusion – that, for me (and I do think for the digital world at large), blogs are about opinion.  They are about your own personal perspective, however limited that may be.

My very first reasons for wanting training in journalism, I realise, were not about journalism.  They were about me wanting to improve my writing on my blog.  I now wonder whether blogs are journalism at all.  I have so far come to understand journalism to be the skill of researching a topic from experts through interviews and books and exploration, and then presenting that topic to a wider audience in a way they will understand it.

Right now (and this may change the more I learn on my course) I see a divide between ‘journalism’ and ‘writing from your own perspective to interest the public – be that as an expert or simply as someone with an interesting opinion and voice’.

We shall see.

 

Thumbnail image: Owenwbrown on Flickr

 

EDIT: I got some interesting feedback from one of my tutors suggesting that I could make ‘the personal more journalistic’.  I like that.  I think while the above may still be true, there may also be a discipline in differentiating between a blog that simply rant and waffles, and one that applies the structure and clarity of a journalistic piece.  Then again maybe that’s just good writing, rather than anything to do with journalism.

Girls Out Loud and the Anxiety of Influence

Who is your role model?  I mean really? I don’t mean the person you tell people when they ask – Mother Theresa, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Thatcher… and a host of other generic examples. I mean, when you’re not sure who you are or want to be, who is the person you secretly picture and think ‘that’s what I want to be like’.

I ask because I have only just admitted to myself who my real role models are.  And they’re not necessarily who I’d want them to be, or people I’d want to admit.  But I know and have to concede that they are the people who have driven me to be who I am.

They are television characters. Yes I’m that lame.  And it’s not that I aspired to be these people, it’s just that growing up there happened to be two strong female (brunette) characters who everyone seemed to like and for better or worse they were the most well formed images I had to follow.

This comes up now because I have just had a meeting with Girls Out Loud, the charity I’m working with to inspire young girls.  One of their main aims is to provide girls with better role models.  When I thought about it, I realised it’s sad because those semi-decent television role models don’t exist any more. I was luck that Joey Potter and Rory Gilmore were both quiet, bookish, hard workers.  Girls today don’t have anything like that, it’s all bad-ass street kids, murderers and rich kids.  I remember the tag line for The OC when it first started was along the lines of “It’s going to make Dawson’s Creek look like kindergarten”.  I think it went downhill from there.

 

When thinking of a title for this piece, ‘Anxiety of Influence’ flew into my head without me really remembering much about it except that it stirred some strong feeling somewhere in the back of my gut.  As it turns out, it has relevance here.

The Anxiety of Influence is a book written by Harold Bloom that I read in my undergraduate Literature degree.  It’s a theory of poetry (stay with me) that talks about poets struggling to escape from influences on their work from poets who have gone before them.  They need to be original in order to not be forgotten themselves but they can’t help being influenced by the past.

 

Girls Out Loud recognise that you cannot help being influenced by the people around you; that it is natural to copy and imitate and follow. But you have a far greater chance of finding an original and satisfying path for yourself if you have a far wider range of influences.  Because of that our aim with mentoring programmes and discovery days is to put women from all sorts of careers in front of young girls, who they might otherwise never have met.   Jane Kenyon, one of the founders of Girls Out Loud mentioned one discovery day where 3 newly trained lawyers came along to talk to the girls.  By the end of the session the girls were all going round casually saying ‘Yeah I think I’ll be a lawyer me’.

 

I remember the trouble I had with Bloom’s theory was the fact that he felt it was a categorically negative thing to feel the power of influence.  I could never quite buy the overbearing downside to building on something that has gone before and adapting it through your own voice and time.  Maybe its a male thing?  All I know is that I can’t be ashamed of being influenced by TV characters since they helped me become the person I want to be.  And again, maybe its a woman thing, but we women/ girls desperately need influence and role models because we’ve only been doing this equality thing for a few decades so the great examples of happy womanhood are few and far between.

And in conclusion, if you could possibly be that positive influence (criteria: you are a woman) to another woman or girl, then please PLEASE reach out to the women around you and if you feel you can give that extra bit… come and join Girls Out Loud.

Opera for Generation Y

I came to opera via musical theatre and singing lessons which ultimately steered me into classical singing and Preston Opera. Because of this sidestep, I don’t really have many opera-ey friends, so I when I sent out an open invitation to people I know to come watch one of my performances I was surprised at how many took me up on it.  Okay, so it may have been mainly to support me, but still I was intrigued to hear their take on their first taste of opera:

 

 Opera for Generation Y by mayadibley

 

So what if you want to try a bit of opera yourself? Russian Soprano, Anna Netrebko suggests on her video blog starting with more melodic operas from Puccini, Verdi and Mozart…

 

Many cinemas now screen performances of operas live via satellite, meaning you can see one without paying the price of seeing it live (and thus not risking as much if you do ultimately hate it!).  Keep an eye out on opera companies such as Glyndebourne and Opera de Paris, and independent cinemas like my local The Dukes, for upcoming live via satellite performances.

If you’re even younger than generation Y or want to get your littlies involved, you can always try Glyndebourne’s Opera Land for children 🙂

And if you’d like a review of the concert which played host to first ever opera performance, look no further.

Will women’s magazines ever change?

It feels like people have been crying out for more ‘intelligent’ content in women’s magazines forever and yet the consistent call for this suggests that it still hasn’t been satisfied.

In a recent survey on my blog I asked you what you thought about women’s magazines, what you liked and what you felt was lacking.

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some of the questions I asked and the main responses:

 

What is your favourite section of a women’s magazine?
This was pretty equally tied between features and fashion, with a bit of celebrity gossip, and relationship advice (this was mainly the boys!)

 

Why do you read women’s magazines?
The most common reasons were light relief and the fact that you don’t need any prior knowledge of the subjects covered.

 

What would you like to see in women’s magazines that isn’t currently provided?

  • Things that affect the real lives of women
  • Features on more serious issues
  • More original writing (rather than formulaic)
  • More current affairs
  • More and more varied career content
  • “More debates i.e. comment columns from different viewpoints
  • Motoring sections
  • A section for secret male readers (!)

 

Why do you think magazines are important?
“The reader often forms a relationship with the magazine and it’s something quite personal. Specialist magazines keep you up to date with your area of interest and other magazines allow you to relax.”
“They can help you feel like you belong to a certain scene or group. You can learn a lot from magazines.”
“The fashion is always really interesting and sometimes the investigations are great and open your mind onto a subject.”
“Inform, engage and entertain. Neither are they as temporary or disposable as newspapers; there’s something very ‘of-the-moment’ but lasting about a magazine.”
“They are a fun way to relax. They provide a change from a book (which I really love). They can be read during a break from work or on the move and they always change. “
“They are good for getting new ideas, fashion-wise.”
“They give you advice when you don’t know who to ask”
“Creating social cohesion between groups of people with similar interests.”
“A good way to unwind and help take your mind off some of lifes more serious issues.”
“They look beyond the immediate news and open your mind to the world around you. They inform you of things you would never have known about in a way that is engaging. There is a magazine title for everyone.”

 

It’s clear that people have a great fondness for women’s magazines but it is still glaringly evident that content can be too trivial.  Let’s hope that this can change, even if we have to do it ourselves.

A Day Out In Lancaster

As the gateway to the Lakes, the tiny City of Lancaster has almost too much to cram into a single day out… here are my recommendations for the perfect day there:

 

J Atkinson's & Co Coffee

Start your morning with a J Atkinson’s & Co coffee. They supply most of the independant cafes in the city but you can also get one directly from them, from their shop on China Street or their Music Room cafe.

 

The Assembly Rooms

Next make your way to the wonderfully quirky Assembly Rooms… browse an eclectic range of accessories, clothing and other eccentric wonders from a host of independent retailers.

 

Lancaster Castle

Wander up into the oldest part of Lancaster to see Lancaster Castle. Now a prison, you can still take tours of parts of the castle and enjoy the visitor centre.

 

Explore around the back of the castle to find The Priory church.

 

View over Lancaster from The Priory

Carry on round between The Priory and the castle, to get my favourite view over Lancaster (above).

 

The Merchant's

For lunch try the Merchant’s, just two minutes walk from the castle. Built into old wine cellars, you won’t get a more authentically medieval atmosphere.

 

Yummy Cupcake Company

For pudding, treat yourself to one of the many original cupcakes from the Yummy Cupcake Company, one of the first cupcake companies to be established in Britain before the whole country went mad for them.

 

Williamson Park and the Ashton Memorial

Watching over Lancaster is the grand Ashton Memorial, built in 1909 by Lord Ashton in memory of his late wife, Jessy. Hit this place at sunset (between 3.30 and 4.30 in winter) for extraordinary views across Morecambe Bay. The memorial is hidden in the grounds of Williamson Park, a magical place to explore if you have the time.

 

Lancaster Antiques Centre

5 minutes down the road from Willamson Park is Lancaster Antiques Centre, open 10am to 5pm every day. Part museum, part treasure trove, this warehouse is genious for original Christmas gifts that you would pay a fortune for on eBay (I picked up some very vintage looking Charlie Brown books for my dad).

 

Lancaster Brewery Visitor Centre

Just next to the antiques centre is the new Lancaster Brewery Visitor Centre – a good place to grab an afternoon coffee if you are in need, and also worth a tour of where they brew their famous ales.

 

Sultan's of Lancaster Indian Restaurant

For your evening meal, try Sultan’s of Lancaster – excellent Indian food in the truly magnificent surroundings of a converted church.

 

The Dukes Playhouse

For the perfect evening, finish off at The Dukes Playhouse for one of their many exceptional plays or independent and foreign films.

Sense and Sensibility Personality Quiz

Pretend like you’re back in Jane Austen’s England and take this personality quiz to see which of the Sense & Sensibility Dashwood sisters you would most be like!

 

I originally created this quiz for a magazine version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, a PDF of which can be found on the ‘In Print‘ tab (or read through it below) but I wanted to update it so everyone could take the quiz online. It’s a bit of fun for Austen lovers, but also maybe a good resource for getting teens into reading her novels?

Take the Sense & Sensibility quiz on Quibblo here.

Photo credit

 

 

The original magazine: