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Go to: [Update - comments by AC Grayling] British academics launch £18,000 college in London

ajn1983's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by ajn1983

This is very disappointing. I am absolutely 100% in favour of discriminating on the basis of intellect in these matters. However, discrimination on the basis of wealth in this fashion is very bad form. I sincerely hope that any profit made by this enterprise is put to good use, perhaps to sponsor poor children from a young age to progress to a quality university.

It would be interesting to hear what Richard has to say about this. Even if there is some pragmatic explanation and benefit will ultimately be done to people who are not rich, I think being involved in this sort of thing sends out a very clear message. What do others think?

Sun, 05 Jun 2011 17:31:39 UTC | #634298

Go to: Secular rituals: the honest choice

ajn1983's Avatar Jump to comment 71 by ajn1983

Not wishing to derail the discussion further from the 'Secular Rituals' theme, but I can't resist adding my opinion on the monarchy and our general hangover from feudalism.

I always find that when discussing anything like this, my ideological position and my reasoned pragmatic ideas are quite distinct. However, in this case I really do think it quite absurd that in 2011, in one of the most enlightened countries on the planet (apparently - I'll check this week's Heat magazine), a situation can arise where a 'Royal Subject' is required by some convention to address another human being as 'Your Majesty' or 'Lord [wotsisname]'. To me, regardless of actual practical harm done to human beings, the whole institution is vile. I very rarely meet an academic who insists upon being called 'Doctor' or 'Professor' as a matter of course, despite having earned the title.

One more minor pet peeve: it is often asserted that the Royals are economically viable as a tourist attraction. This assertion always seems to be made with no evidence. How do we know that tourist spending would decrease were the tradition to be abolished? I suppose we don't have anything else to attract tourists like, for instance, thousands of old buildings, Hadrian's Wall, The Lake District, London itself...... I'm not asserting that the argument is false but where's the evidence?

Anyway, at least nobody's thinking about electoral reform any more. There's a coincidence.

Sun, 01 May 2011 10:56:39 UTC | #621494

Go to: Who should pay for education.

ajn1983's Avatar Jump to comment 15 by ajn1983

Alan, I agree with you completely on this point. The government would of course have the power to manipulate this (i.e. who is classed as 'poor') but I'm sure many of us would speculate that the government would do whatever got the electorate to vote for them rather than taking a long view of the situation and doing what's best for the country. Also, as I pointed out in my original post, whatever the threshold was, people would take action to get round it. I'm sure there are many individuals who declare no UK income on their tax return but are still very wealthy.

Just to make it clear, I was suggesting a sliding-scale, not a rich/poor distinction. I feel that I have, broadly speaking, had value for money with the current fee levels.

Comment 13 by Alan4discussion

Comment 12 by ajn1983

The rich pay £9000, the poor pay nothing.

There are two issues here.

First, when governments make such statements, the officially recognised " poor" are very small in number.

Having had many conversations with a variety of academics in our department, the consensus is that there are people still here in final year that just wouldn't have been 20 years ago. I do however agree with your observation about filling courses with foreign students. This is great for them but I think warns of a massive skills shortage in our country in really important disciplines. We really need to push STEM hard in this country and sticking a £9k per year barrier in the way is not going to achieve that.

I am a passionate believer in getting people interested young. I think that trying to encourage kids to do 'hard' subjects at A-Level is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Had I been truly inspired at the age of 11 or 12, I wouldn't have been studying towards a 'Foundation Year' at 24. Therein lies another problem - which talented science graduates are going to be drawn towards teaching? Who will inspire the next generation? I honestly believe that we should be treating teaching as a profession up there with engineering/science/law etc with financial rewards to match. I'm dreaming though. A lot of my peers would happily take £80k a year to develop software for financial institutions (with no thought for the wider implications) rather than £35k max per year to teach in a failing education system.

I can only speak for the university where I work, but this is not so. What is happening is that "hard expensive " courses like science, engineering, computer science, built environment, etc are filled up with Chinese and other overseas students where there is an absence of UK interest.

As I said in my original post, I wasn't suggesting solutions, merely trying to point out a couple of points that are sometimes missed in the debate. I don't know what I think - it's hard to stick to your values and be pragmatic.

Mon, 28 Feb 2011 14:47:29 UTC | #597194

Go to: Who should pay for education.

ajn1983's Avatar Jump to comment 12 by ajn1983

This is a subject I take a great interest in, having been in higher education in England for 7 years altogether. There are several different issues that I believe need to be considered in order to answer this question (even after going over these issues many times, I still don't feel like I'm able to come to any sort of firm conclusion).

One thing often overlooked is that a degree in many cases is a stage of training for a particular profession. For example, I am an engineering student. Nobody would even consider me for a research and development role without my degree. However, the same concept applies to a skilled tradesperson such as a gas fitter and whatever the currently (legally) required training standards are - if you've not done the training, then you can't do the job. If the gas fitter has to pay thousands of pounds over the course of their career to retrain periodically, why should I get any training for free? Now, I'm not saying that I shouldn't, but I think if I got a big financial helping hand to start with and then to cap it all, ended up with a more lucrative career in the long run it would be more than a little unfair. Obviously, I've not factored in such things as continuing professional development that I may have to undertake at my own expense later in my career but hopefully I've illustrated my point.

I'd also like to add more weight to the Mickey Mouse degree/Polyversity/dumbing down arguments. Trying to maintain that churning out more graduates will lead to greater prosperity is very simplistic. In my opinion, pushing an (arbitrarily) enormous percentage of young people towards university is, amongst other things, a direct admission that the primary and secondary education provided is inadequate to equip 'average' people for life in our society. This problem seems to be worsened (maybe any teachers could help me out here) by kids not being encouraged to study 'hard' subjects at A-Level. A particular result of this that I'm familiar with is in my own subject area. Academics point out regularly that the first year of an engineering degree is often used for remedial work - getting the students up to an ability level that could be taken for granted at the time of entry 20 years previously. I know final-year engineering students who can't maniuplate simple algebra. However, as has already been mentioned, running an engineering department is expensive, the pool of suitably qualified/motivated people has shrunk and so the departments have to lower their standards. Whereas the end of first-year exams previously served as a filter to stop such people from progressing, the universities now need their/the Government's money and so they stay.

And now to my ideological position. I don't believe that access to higher education should be restricted by wealth. It has been pointed out that there will be no upfront cost with the new system but I would suggest that the big numbers alone will be enough to put off some talented people from less wealthy backgrounds. My rose-tinted idea to level the playing field is to means test all new entrants and have a sliding-scale fees system. The rich pay £9000, the poor pay nothing. I believe there should be a drive to demand higher academic standards from entrants and A-Levels should be made hard enough that only the best of the best can get A grades. Now, I believe this to be fair in a perfect world. However, several issues stick out like a sore thumb. I have already hinted that the primary/secondary education system is inadequate. Therefore, children who have benefitted from a private education would still be in a stronger position than those who have passed through the state system. If entrance requirements were raised to a point where many state-schooled individuals were excluded, it wouldn't matter if the courses were free anyway. Another point is that the means test/sliding scale system would be difficult, bureacratic and expensive to administer. If Philip Green can evade enough tax in one go to keep 100,000+ people living on incapacity benefit for a year (remember, the benefit scroungers are the real problem and not just a convenient scapegoat to distract attention from the real thieves in our society - thanks Daily Mail), I'm sure that there are many wealthy people out there who are fully able to convince a means test panel that they don't have any income.

It's a difficult one!

Mon, 28 Feb 2011 09:32:23 UTC | #597119

Go to: How do computers work? Book recommendations please

ajn1983's Avatar Jump to comment 13 by ajn1983

This is just what I love to see! I'm a mature student studying Electronic and Computer Engineering (final year) and have run a PC support business for years. It's very rare to meet a 'lay' person who is interested in how computers work. The usual approach is to treat the computer as a magic box - I get a lot of "I just use the thing" from people.

I know a lecturer who speculates that interest has declined in electronics/low level hardware design due to a "magic" effect. That is, things are so complicated nowadays, people don't know where to start. Compare this to the technology of the 60s and 70s. Devices could be constructed, economically, with commonly available components using simple designs found in an electronics magazine. Anyway, I digress.

Here's the approach that I would suggest:

1) Don't try and know everything. You can't, there's too much.

2) Look at the appropriate level of abstraction for the particular phenomenon you are examining. For example, you can understand data structures and algorithms perfectly without knowing anything about physics.

3) Following on from (2), learn about different levels of abstraction separately - don't try and join them all together from the start. Eventually, the fog will clear and you will be able to connect the dots. That probably sounds like gibberish, so I'll try and give an example:

Learn about number systems like binary and hex. Separately learn how to write a simple program in C. The two things will seem completely distinct. In a couple of years when your knowledge has grown, you might start looking at Assembler and machine code. You'll see how C is compiled to Assembler, Assembler maps to machine code and machine code is represented in binary or hex. All the gaps just seem to disappear and everything fits together like a massive nerdy jigsaw.

4) Get an old PC system (eBay if you don't already have one) and take it to bits. Mess around with it - change things, see what happens. If it's not your main system, it doesn't matter if it breaks. Note that due to the modularity of modern systems, it will be impossible to get any sort of low-level hardware understanding doing this but it's a good way of finding your feet and being able to put the complicated stuff you'll read later on into context.

When you're ready for some more complicated concepts, I would recommend looking at material available from MIT. They came up with the fantastic idea of making videos of the lectures they give to undergraduates available to anyone in the world for free.


Mon, 03 Jan 2011 17:33:37 UTC | #572777

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