Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Real Media

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  • BenWilson,

    Touch-typing has served me well, but all the other skills - like counting spaces and tabbing across to lay out a brochure - were virtually obsolete when they were being taught.

    LOL tell me about it. The typing teacher at my high school didn't even fully grasp the concept of the electric typewriters we were using and was constantly telling us the best way to get optimal rapid downforce with your fingers so as to get an even print level. She was mighty impressed by how fast I could type, because she never cottoned on that I cheated by loading up the little screen buffer, and then mimed typing when she asked me to. She couldn't believe I never made any mistakes, and thought I was some bizarre prodigy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Rob Stowell,

    What is the optimum way to encode clips for youtube? I've tried quite a few, including several recommended by others, and some recommended by youtube themselves. None have worked particularly well.
    (youtube say

    We've found that files converted from .wmv to one of the other formats our webpage accepts generally have a lower playback quality than other file formats. If you have your source video in a format other than a .wmv file, I'd recommend encoding directly to MPEG4 (DivX, Xvid, SQV3) at 320x240, with 64k Mono MP3 Audio. If you have a source .wmv in high bitrate and larger resolution I'd recommend converting to MPEG4 at full resolution and then resizing to 320x240 using a high quality resizing algorithm - this can help reduce the number of artifacts you end up with.

    But I've found- via extensive but far from exaustive trials-at least for PAL- that mpeg4 - and other flavours of .mov- which have a better picture, lose audio sync. Encoding to flash (.flv) has worked best, but still not as well as I'd like.
    I work in the field: I'm not surprised most teachers don't have this knowledge!

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2120 posts Report

  • Danielle,

    More likely they would just embarrass themselves with how uncool and backward they are

    Some of them probably have other priorities. My husband, for example, teaches media studies at a decile one school with hardly any computers, about four video cameras (one of which was stolen and had to be recovered from the sanitary pad bins in the girls' toilets last week!), and data projectors which are nearly constantly being stolen off the ceilings of the classrooms. When it's a question of starting an entire programme from scratch with minimal resources and constant fear of theft, your 'backwardness' and 'uncoolness' as a teacher are the least of your worries. Some of these kids don't even have home phones and barely any of them have the internet at home - why would they be scornful of a teacher who isn't on technology's cutting edge? That's a middle-class worry, isn't it? I think in those situations you just have to start somewhere and work at the idea of media analysis, not panic unduly about your lack of expertise. It's hard enough to teach in low-decile schools as it is without getting freaked out about technological backwardness.

    (The question about the chronic lack of resources for low decile schools is a whole other can of worms, of course.)

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report

  • kmont,

    and played Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.

    Yeah what was with that? I didn't learn much of anything useful about computers at school, except touch-typing.

    An inspirational teacher for me who did guess what? Left teaching to work in computing. Funny that.

    I don't know how practical this is (probably not at all) but I have this theory that x amount of teachers (say 50%) should only teach for 5 years. People for whom it is a vocation are special and rare indeed. That doesn't mean that kids can't benefit from learning from someone who goes on to become a policeman (my high school Maori teacher) or who worked in industry for a large proportion of their working life (my 6th form Chemistry teacher) both of whom were excellent teachers. I guess it is a waste of money to train people up and have them leave to go to other professions but new blood can be a good thing and lots of kids can relate to these non-standard teachers.

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 485 posts Report

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Touch-typing has served me well, but all the other skills - like counting spaces and tabbing across to lay out a brochure - were virtually obsolete when they were being taught.

    Touch typing, I remain convinced, is the second most useful thing I learnt at high school. It made university, and work, and that crazy internet thing, so much easier. Watching academics these days who are first finger typing their way through their latest book...

    (The most useful thing I learnt was 'Writing a 5th form history essay', under the tutelage of Mr Bailey. I wasn't good at it when he taught it to me, but I used the same basic skills in university all the way up to my dissertation.)

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report

  • Joanna,

    At my American school in Japan, I played Carmen San Diego, Hotdog Stand and The Oregon Trail an awful lot, and then experienced sexual harrassment over the internet before the internet really was a thing on a 9.6kp modem BBS, when my friend and I were the only girls who used it. I didn't do any computer classes back in NZ, but I did do a degree in multimedia, where we learnt to encode videos. But not for Youtube, since that was a long time (five years) before it existed.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 746 posts Report

  • Joanna,

    Oh, and I learnt to touchtype by being addicted to IRC when I was 16...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 746 posts Report

  • BenWilson,

    Your 'backwardness' and 'uncoolness' as a teacher are the least of your worries.

    Sure, which is exactly why they seem backward and uncool. Even teachers without such privation as you speak of have other priorities, like maintaining order and a professional level of contact with their students. Over familiarity can be quite dangerous. They've also got their other subjects to keep on top of, marking to do, sports teams to run, etc. I'm not saying teachers are hopeless nerds, just that kids will always see it that way. Teachers who are actually cool are rare birds. Do they teach better? Hard to be sure.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Stephen Judd,

    When I was at primary school in the late 70s microcomputers were pretty much unheard-of in NZ. If anyone had got us access to computers, the only things that are still present and useful today are a) high-level programming languages b) keyboards for input and c) the Unix operating system.

    By the time I left secondary school PCs had emerged, Apple IIs were fading. I'd had some short exposure to BASIC and Logo but no one had thought to teach children how to use applications at school - they were all thinking about how to use computers as teaching tools. I used a word processor on our Amstrad at home to do 6th and 7th form assignments. Again, pretty much everything that was in common use in 1986 is way obsolete now, apart from programming languages, keyboards, and Unix.

    My daughter has spent her years at primary school learning how to use various applications to create presentations, do basic video editing, and drive a web browser. No one has taught her to type, to program, or about Unix. And yet I would lay money that by the time she's my age, knowledge of MS Office, Windows, OS X, and for that matter Youtube will be useless too. Probably only her experience of the mouse, and the concepts of copy and paste will have lasting value.

    I work as a programmer now. My early, self-directed experiments with programming Sinclairs and Amstrads and Apple IIs were still of value years later. I don't think that learning to use WordStar or Visicalc would have been anything other than a big fat waste, except for the immediate value of being able to produce prettier work than my fellow pupils.

    There is a tension between education and vocational training, and I see the sense in teaching teenagers how to use things that are likely to be still around when they leave for employment or university. But for education, and for the younger ones, I tend to feel that a lot of time and resources are misdirected into teaching children knowledge of pretty transient value. Bring back Logo, I say.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report

  • 81stcolumn,


    Punched cards ? Been there done that in 1980.......someone donated a second hand Honeywell mainframe to the school. We had to send the command sheets to the local poly to get the cards done though….at the time VT120 was just a winkle in the eye…

    It's much easier to declare it unreliable than to impart some basic skills in assessing the merit of an article -- as the cornerstone of the vital modern ability to scrutinise information online

    Preaching to the choir here - This issue sits right next to the big debate about education and skills; specifically the idea that teaching vocational skills a la touch typing or editing tools, is a fools errand and really isn’t education at all. I’m militant to the point of suggesting that content is irrelevant in education. My list of core skills for learners is by no means extensive but revolves around some key questions.

    Where can I find the right/useful stuff to solve problem x ?
    Is this information true/reliable ?
    How can I use information y to inform/shape what I am doing ?
    How do I teach myself to use Z ?
    What are the consequences of doing it this way….
    How do I communicate my ideas to him/her/them ?

    What I wouldn’t give to teach a room full of students who had skills other than “tell me the answer and I will write it out for you later”……..

    What troubles me is I got hooked into this in the late 80’s, but some of the original thinking has been around since the turn if the century. I know dumb skills are safe and build confidence, but it doesn’t all have to be that way.

    Ironically this quote from my bete noir sums it up….__"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten" __

    Would write more but have exams to write :-(

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report

  • BenWilson,

    Kowhai, there's a lot to be said for just being taught by older kids. They're a lot cheaper too, and it's less dodgy when their students fall in love with them.

    Touch typing: Despite apparently being able to type at 500 words a minute I actually was a 2 finger typist until I left university, due to the fact that you can't touch type most of the symbols I used most often. Then I got a job in sales, had to write dozens of letters, and decided to force myself to learn it if I was not to get shocking RSI. It took about 1 week. Maybe some of what the dear old biddie taught me about finger positioning helped, but honestly I could have got that out of a book in 1 minute, rather than wasting the 50-odd hours at school that I did typing meaningless strings and other silly typing drills.

    Most useful thing I learned at school: Buses suck arse and should be avoided at all costs.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Andrew Paul Wood,

    Frankly, I'd be glad if my tertiary students could manage basic English grammar - and that's just the native speakers. Don't be filling their heads with all that shiney flash gobbledigook.

    Christchurch • Since Jan 2007 • 175 posts Report

  • Tom Beard,

    Re touch typing: I type like I live - fast, with a lot of mistakes.

    I did a six-week touch-typing course when I was a teenager, primarily so that I could type in the BASIC and Assembly code that appeared in computer magazines. Every week we learned some more letters, but no numbers or punctuation. As the last lesson rolled around, I asked the teacher when we'd learn how to type numbers. The reply: "Oh, you hardly ever have to use those, so just look at the keyboard for those". Hence, I still cannot completely touch type.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1040 posts Report

  • kmont,

    Kowhai, there's a lot to be said for just being taught by older kids. They're a lot cheaper too, and it's less dodgy when their students fall in love with them.

    LOL, some truth in that.
    Sadly for me older kids taught me squat at school.

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 485 posts Report

  • BenWilson,

    Stephen, I so agree, I couldn't even imagine what Lotus 1-2-3 was for when I was 16. If I wanted to add up some numbers I'd write a program? Ironically my first programming job was writing Lotus 1-2-3 macros. Funny old world, you never know what's going to be relevant.

    The funniest part was the test that Unilever made me sit to get the job. I answered all the questions about manipulating the spreadsheet, getting this answer or that, and so on. But I'd never actually used Windows before at that point. Seriously, never. That was my first try. And I got stumped by the last question which said 'Open the brown folder and read the third line down and enter that in to cell C5'. I could not for the life of me work out where in Windows the brown folder was. Finally I cracked and asked the girl who was testing me. She pointed to a brown manilla folder sitting on the table between my hands.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • BenWilson,

    Sadly for me older kids taught me squat at school

    Likewise, except in sport, where they taught me practically everything. At uni, however, tutors were very useful cats.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • kmont,

    At uni, however, tutors were very useful cats.

    Added bonus is it is semi-acceptable to have one as a love interest.

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 485 posts Report

  • Neil Graham,

    I have been wondering when I should teach my daughter to program (4 years old atm). It's a bit tricky because the simplest thing out there is Logo, but Logo is very unsatisfying.

    also considering the merits of an OLPC XO. Or If I can't get one, something similar (anyone know of anything similar?)

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 118 posts Report

  • Bart Janssen,

    Ben wrote

    I'm not saying school teachers are useless. I just think that what they have to contribute is some fairly general knowledge,

    81st column's response covers some of my feelings buit I'll say it in my words too.

    Teachers don't teach general knowledge for the sake of the knowledge itself, it's the process that's important. By forcing kids to learn stuff you cause them to learn how to learn.

    That said there are some fundamental things one needs to learn in order to learn more. How to read, how to understand what you read, how to put what you read into context. Basic math is needed in order to understand some logic and to learn other stuff. Note that I'm a not 3R's advocate I think there are plenty of important things to teach above and beyond the 3R's. Those things change with the times and I agree with Russell that at this time some of those things could/should be associated with the changing media.

    But most impotant is that by teaching these things and then confirming that the kids have learnt (I don't care how you do that), you force kids to develop the techniques of learning. In the same way you develop sporting skills by playing sport or artistic skills by creating art.

    That's what teachers contribute. Much more than general knowledge.

    And from what you've said Ben, that's what you learned to do.

    School is for learning how to learn, and teachers are our experts in teaching how to learn.


    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

  • BenWilson,

    Neil, teach her Visual Basic. Much as I hate to say it, it's a good learning tool for programming.

    Bart, That's what teachers contribute. Much more than general knowledge.

    And from what you've said Ben, that's what you learned to do.

    Sure is, and I fully acknowledge the role of teachers in imparting that skill. Indeed, learning WordStar was more useful to me just in alerting me to the very presence of such a program. I'd never have known or cared before. It might have been a useful thing for my typing teacher to also have known about.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Stephen Judd,

    That's very interesting point, Bart.

    You know what the very best thing I did as a child was, as far as my future mental development was? I learned the violin by the Suzuki method. That method demands that you learn every new piece by heart, from ear alone. So I learned to listen carefully and learn by rote.

    If I do say so myself, I have a very retentive memory for difficult things, and a overdeveloped sense for patterns - really good attributes for a programmer, and for a lot of other skilled white-collar jobs. And I put it down to hours and hours over years and years of learning tune after tune after tune.

    So if I make noises about teaching little kids to program, telling the turtle what to do is a treat for after they've learned their times tables ;-)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report

  • Jeremy Andrew,

    Try Kids Programming Language. I haven't looked at it in any depth myself, but someone i know was saying nice things about it.

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 900 posts Report

  • BenWilson,

    I learned the violin by the Suzuki method.

    Heh, I guess it's arbitrary which skills to choose as the most important. In the first few weeks of my life I learned to coordinate my eyeballs, and to smile. These skills have been amongst the most valuable throughout my whole life. Eating solids goes down as quite a milestone too.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Stephen Judd,

    In that case Ben, I would of course nominate toilet training.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report

  • Mark Easterbrook,

    Just jumping back to Nandor:

    Many years ago now, when he first stood for Parliament, I saw Nandor speak in a debate at Auckland Uni. I had a long conversation later that week with my then-girlfriend's Dad.

    He was a fairly liberal, Labour stalwart kind of guy, but it was very hard convincing him that Nandor was actually a smart, reasoned and intelligent individual with a direct and incisive set of arguments - because all he had to go on was the media portrayal (remember their obsession with Nandor's hemp suit?).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 265 posts Report

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