QUE marketing inspires QUE?

However desperately I want it to work, I confess to being hugely underwhelmed by the website for Plastic Logic’s QUE. Compare the demo video with Berg’s spectacular work for Bonnier. By comparison, the Que looks monochrome, clunky, and ancient.

And wasn’t the whole point – I mean the whole point – of the Que that the lightweight plastic machine meant the experience of it was much more akin to consuming real paper-based products? This isn’t even mentioned. Oh dear.

What we seem to have here is a tablet, not plastic paper. And a tablet which is monochrome, limited in interactivity, and with a stupid name that I don’t know how to pronounce. Oh double dear.

QUE proReader.

Capitalism, red in tooth and claw

There’s a fairly scandalous little story in the NY Tiomes this morning:

During her walks down 35th Street, Ms. Magnus said, it is more common to find destroyed clothing in the H & M trash. On Dec. 7, during an early cold snap, she said, she saw about 20 bags filled with H & M clothing that had been cut up.

“Gloves with the fingers cut off,” Ms. Magnus said, reciting the inventory of ruined items. “Warm socks. Cute patent leather Mary Jane school shoes, maybe for fourth graders, with the instep cut up with a scissor. Men’s jackets, slashed across the body and the arms. The puffy fiber fill was coming out in big white cotton balls.” The jackets were tagged $59, $79 and $129.

via About New York – Clothes Discarded by H and M in Manhattan Are First Destroyed – NYTimes.com.

Ironically, Americans are better than most at coming up with solutions to these matters. In this case, a Swedish company operating in the most capitalist city on the planet comes away looking like a tawdry bunch of unfeeling moneygrabbers. Sack the CSR exec, I would.

Teaching: it’s about teachers

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I’ve been reading Amanda Ripley’s piece in the Atlantic Monthly about the work of Teach for America, a charity which funds successful college graduates in the States to work in challenging schools for two years after graduation. Teach for America has pioneered the assessment of individual teachers thanks to its access to data about teachers in its programme, and has learned (apparently quite recently, in the last decade) that the individual qualities of the teachers themselves have dramatically greater impact on children’s achievement than any other factor, far more so than even the socioeconomic circumstances of those children, which had been assumed (in America, at least) to have been the single biggest issue.

Even more importantly, these qualities can be described and identified in the recruitment process. They include relentlessness (aka “grit”) and, perhaps most resonantly for this most unionised of middle-class professions, a tendency to see problems as being within oneself rather than in the system:

Other teachers I interviewed spent most of our time complaining. “With the testing and the responsibility and keeping up with the behavior reports and the data, it has gotten so much harder over the years,” said one fourth-grade teacher at Kimball, the same school where Mr. Taylor teaches. “It’s more work than it should be. They don’t give us the time to be creative.”

A 23-year veteran who earns more than $80,000 a year, this teacher has a warm manner, and her classroom is bright and neat. She paid for the kids’ whiteboards, the clock, and the DVD player herself. But she seems to have given up on the kids’ prospects in a way that Mr. Taylor has not. “The kids in Northwest [D.C.] go on trips to France, on cruises. They go places and their parents talk to them and take them to the library,” she says one fall afternoon between classes. “Our parents on this side don’t have the know-how to raise their children. They’re not sure what it takes for their child to make it.”

When her fourth-grade students entered her class last school year, 66 percent were scoring at or above grade level in reading. After a year in her class, only 44 percent scored at grade level, and none scored above. Her students performed worse than fourth-graders with similar incoming scores in other low-income D.C. schools. For decades, education researchers blamed kids and their home life for their failure to learn. Now, given the data coming out of classrooms like Mr. Taylor’s, those arguments are harder to take. Poverty matters enormously. But teachers all over the country are moving poor kids forward anyway, even as the class next door stagnates. “At the end of the day,” says Timothy Daly at the New Teacher Project, “it’s the mind-set that teachers need—a kind of relentless approach to the problem.”

The really effective teachers, on the other hand, were constantly questioning their own approaches, and their default position when faced with something that wasn’t working was to change their approach to it, not to blame it on external factors.

I know a lot of teachers. My wife is a primary school head, one of my best friends is a deputy at a comprehensive, my wife’s best friend is a head at a special school within a secure psychiatric unit. All of them are relentless and all of them assume, before they step through the door of their school, that any child inside is capable of as much as any other child. And they plan and they plan and they plan.

Parents know this, of course, particularly at primary school, where children have to spend a whole year with a single teacher. But they are badly served by the media, which focusses on shadowy cohorts of “failing teachers” in their hundreds and thousands, as against a small handful of “super teachers” who take home awards and appear on magazine show sofas and then disappear. What we need is a crunchy, statistically demonstrable and relentless (that word again) approach to identifying the best teachers at the point of recruitment, and less talk about “free school dinners” and “class sizes.”

Sneering is not argument

Wow, there’s a lot of sneering going on at the moment. The web is atwitter with people putting *sigh* into asterisks and screaming LOL at each other. It’s all reminiscent of the fuss Lily Allen set off when she blogged on music piracy and unleashed a tidal wave of indignant self-righteousness tinged with misogyny.

Two things have set everyone off: Rupert Murdoch’s statements about paywalls and newspapers, and Keith Vaz’s statements on Call of Duty.

So look. Can we agree that there are some nuanced issues worthy of discussion on both sides? And can we also try to believe that Messrs Vaz and Murdoch might have some interesting points while disagreeing with their conclusions.

You see the problem with that sentence. It’s bloody boring isn’t it? Far more fun to let rip on Murdoch and Vaz.

And let rip people have. Jeff Jarvis had a right old pop at Murdoch yesterday on Twitter, and today Cringely has a really stretched metaphor for why Murdoch has got it completely wrong. And they’re just the most famous ones. Everywhere you look there’s somebody pointing out why the most successful content publisher of modern times is a blithering, past-it moron.

Similarly on games. Vaz complained about the violence of the new Call of Duty, and Tom Watson jumped in with a proposal for a group to “provide a voice” for gamers, as if they were some oppressed minority. And again, everywhere you look, people who know about games (and I admit to not being one of them) are sneeringly shouting that Vaz and his ilk are, ipso facto, completely wrong.

So look. I know Vaz is a blowhard. I know that most newspapers print absolute garbage about this. But can’t we all just articulate some reasoned arguments on this stuff? And perhaps be a little more measured?

Jarvis has, of course, consistently made such arguments, and has even written a book about it. And you know what? He’s probably, almost certainly, completely right. But I don’t think he does his own intellect credit by resorting to sneer-mode at the first sign of significant disagreement. And I don’t believe free v. paywall is quite as binary as this type of debate makes out.

And likewise, games people: I know you’re all super-smart and switched on, but you know what? I do kind of worry that my son plays intensely violent video games. It’s an anxiety that doesn’t respond to being told it’s stupid. I think there’s something dehumanising and, well, not very intelligent about these games, and if I’m honest I’d rather he read a book. But that doesn’t make me a dyed-in-the-wool, antediluvian moron. It just means I have a slightly different point of view born of slightly different experiences.

And everyone: if you’re part of a group which has its own codes and its own beliefs, don’t just fall into the habit of creating a vast echo chamber of similar views which countenances no differing opinions. And don’t just assume that anyone who doesn’t seem to be part of your group is just stupid and wrong. They might be mainly wrong. They often will be. But they might also have a point. And, conversely, you can be right but still come across as wrong if you speak in this kind of way.

As my mother says, you catch more flies with sugar than you do with vinegar.

All change on Saturday mornings

Here’s a thing. It’s Saturday morning at the start of winter. It’s nice outside, but it’s pretty cold. No-one in my house has anything particular they need to do.

And the television isn’t on.

Now go back 20 or 30 years. It’s Saturday morning. It’s cold outside. And the television is on, and will stay on probably until bedtime. First there will be some major children’s effort, probably from the BBC (Swap Shop giving way to Saturday Superstore and handing off to Live and Kicking with a few misfires in between).

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Then the sport will start. There will be a lull in mid-afternoon when the only live sport is the wrestling on ITV. Then the football results will start coming in, and that will occupy almost the length of a real football match (we only saw one real football match on telly back in those days, and that was the FA Cup Final, which lasted a whole day). Then another lull at teatime with some sub-cabaret nonsense from the coast somewhere. Then Doctor Who. Then a movie, perhaps. Or a detective drama.

Then bed.

A whole day given over to worship of the goggle box.

Right now, my kids are on their computers. One on Facebook, the other on Sims. My daughter’s spent some time watching the Tempest on Youtube because she’s got an audition this afternoon. And I, it should be obvious, am blogging.

It feels to me like my generation was lost in front of the flickering CRT. As Clay Shirky says, maybe this was an interruption in human development. Maybe we’re back on track now. All I know is it’s quiet in my house, and people are thinking and selecting their activities, not just sitting back and letting a default activity anchor them for an entire day. The box in the corner (or rather, the output which ends up on that box) feels like it’s taking a less central, better place in our lives. It does feel like significant progress.

Now, I think I’ll read a book.

Our sense of media is out of whack

It might be an odd thing to say, but I think we’ve got an ingrained imbalance in how we listen to “the media”. “The media” assumes that everyone is listening to it with the same intensity as we put into making it. So, when somebody says something stupid and a very small number of people complain, it’s easy for “the media” to make this into something hugely significant, just by talking about it.

And, in fact, no-one is listening with anything like this intensity. It’s something they’re aware of, happening over there and quite interesting. But while we all shout at each other about the thing we care about, the rest of the world goes on its merry way, wondering what all the fuss is about.

Help Merlin’s team in Indonesia

Merlin, the charity which I have been helping out as a trustee, is sending a specialist team to earthquake-struck Indonesia, and needs your support. You can donate to Merlin here, or to the Disaster Emergency Committee here, find out more about the mission here, and follow the Facebook page here. Here’s a description of the team and what they’re going to be doing:

Merlin has sent out a surgical team to treat some of the thousands of people injured in the recent earthquake in Indonesia.

The team, the first 4 of whom have already arrived in Jakarta and are making their way to Padang tomorrow morning, includes two surgeons, an anaesthetist, two nurses, a health coordinator and a project coordinator. They’ll be taking surgical equipment and medical supplies with them, ready to perform emergency surgery and deal with traumatic injuries as soon as they arrive.

Paula Sansom, Merlin’s Emergency Response Manager says: “Thousands of people have been trapped under buildings and are suffering from broken bones and abdominal trauma. There is an urgent need for surgical staff and equipment.”

The main hospital in Padang, which was the only one equipped to perform surgery, was severely damaged and only two hospitals are functioning.

One of the surgeons, Asad Syed, is an Irish orthopaedic and trauma consultant, currently working at a hospital in North Wales. He has experience of working in the aftermaths of earthquakes, having worked as a surgeon following the earthquakes in China in 2008 and Kashmir in 2005. During his missions, he performed daily operations, involving complex limb injuries and tissue loss, and also helped to train local surgeons.

Flora Henderson, from Buckden in Cambridgeshire, has over 15 years experience in nursing, most recently specialising as a theatre nurse at a hospital in Cambridgeshire.

Sean Keogh, a former A&E consultant, joins the team as a health assessor looking at the more medium/long term health needs. He has worked in Indonesia before, having worked on Merlin’s response following the tsunami in 2004.

The team will be led by Diego Moroso, who previously worked as an operational coordinator for Merlin in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

If you can spare some cash to help the team out, it’ll be put to immediate and essential use. Please do what you can.