The danger your children escaped! Technology!

At school, I was largely a goodie-two-shoes – however, that is to say – I was was aware of the line, and however close I was to it, I did my best to ensure I wasn’t caught crossing it. I’m dubiously proud to say that I never got a detention.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t always successful, and after a particularly creative, episode of circumventing content filtering systems so I could access my webmail (which for some reason was blocked), my parents and I were called into the headmasters office.

Tut. Bad Tim.

After I explained how I simply wanted a way to check my webmail account every day at school during my breaks, the headmaster suggested I might be “addicted” to technology.

Me, being a being a hot blooded young man, retorted:

I’m not sure comparing an interest in technology to illegal substance abuse is appropriate to this conversation.


In hindsight, whilst that clearly wasn’t the way in which they intended the word, I feel this speaks volumes.

During those years of school, I spent many waking hours playing with technology. I certainly spent more time playing with technology than any other single activity, but I wasn’t “addicted” – I was interested, and thirsty to learn.

For inexplicable reasons, there were absolutely no academic opportunities for me to develop these skills, and so using Portable Firefox and Tor to bypass content filtering and access Gmail in my spare time, seemed a relatively productive.

Suggesting I was “addicted” to computers, was just as shortsighted as it would have been to suggest that my more academically studious classmates were “addicted” to revision.

Whilst my punishment (downgraded from suspension to effectively being banned from using any computer in the school), let them keep the perception that content filters work, and stopped me breaking their AUP on a daily basis, they failed to recognise the problem – that they were just years away from being asked why they did not teach “app development”, or indeed any technology subject.

Essentially they were sealing the middle fingered handshake goodbye from me as just a year later, I moved schools, and 18 months later was working in industry.

I hope that in the future, my grandchildren won’t be accused of “being addicted” to their “Raspberry Pi 3000″ – simply because they’re fascinated by how it all works. Please help us make that future.

I’m Tim and I suck at handwriting

When people see my handwriting, they sometimes joke,

“oh so that’s why you work with computers

but reflecting on it, that probably does relate to it in some way.

Throughout my school life, I sucked at handwriting.

My wonderful handwriting...
My wonderful handwriting...

I mean really sucked. I was slow, it was scruffy, and generally larger than that of my peers. I resented it and generally disliked everything about it – being told  I had to do a long bit of writing was awful.

In primary school, I learnt that every teacher would have a go at “getting me to improve my handwriting” but it wasn’t as simple as that for me. Whenever I switched teacher, I chose not to use my ‘best’ handwriting straight away, so that the new teacher would notice a vague improvement over time. Occasionally teachers would say “oh feel free to spend longer, writing it slowly”, but why would I want to write something really boring, much more slowly, for a mediocre boost in legibility, with a very small amount of recognition for the time and effort involved, especially when, heck, almost anything is more exciting that writing!

In secondary school, I made various academic choices based on the fact that some subjects (*ahem* history), appeared to be more about how fast you could write rather than what you knew – whilst I got some support in terms of extra time – essentially handwriting was still an unwanted exercise. I made various sets of revision notes in various classes, but I was much better at remembering stuff, and quickly reading through a text book than bothering to understand what I’d appeased a teacher with several months back.

How evaporation in lagoons works
How evaporation in lagoons works

Midway through secondary school, I started word processed as many pieces of homework as I could get away with. Some teachers had the idea that rewriting an A4 sheet to make a small correction wasn’t a big deal. For me, it was a big deal. All my GCSE coursework that possibly could be, was word processed or drawn electronically, so that corrections didn’t require painful amounts of work.

By college, I used my own laptop in almost every lesson that involved any potential handwriting, though I remember that I continued to use handwrite some of my french classes, simply because I couldn’t be bothered to learn the codes for the accented letters. There were however, some incredibly technologically inefficient days when I spent the lesson (*ahem* geology) copying what the teacher had written in the presentation displayed on the projector, down into a word processing document on my laptop.

Whilst, my distaste for handwriting certainly didn’t seal my envelope for the technology industry, it must have had a knock on effect – the fact I was spending more time attached to a computer meant that technology related things were more appealing, more accessible, and actually somewhat important for my school work. The incentive to investigate and evaluate any tool that could make my work at school any easier (combined with the fact that evaluating a bit of software is more interesting than writing actual physics coursework methodology) meant that I familiarised myself quite well lots of different bits of software, as time moved on, increasingly on linux systems..

Since leaving the formal educational system, I could probably count the times my handwriting skills have been put into use on both hands.

For note taking, I vastly prefer my memory, recordings, or keyboard interfaces, and the only times I can imagine I’ve had to use hand writing is on official forms of various sorts.

On the flip side however, I write more than I ever have – a large proportion of my job involves writing to customers, I’ve written many many words on this blog for fun – what a strange concept!

I think once I was able to separate writing from making figures with a pen, and once I was able to separate, writing about things I didn’t really care about, to writing about things I did care about, I was able to actually get to grips with it.

The  idea that I’d have a log where I wrote stuff everyday – would have – at one point in time, not all that long ago, seemed like the least appealing idea ever – but I’m now 11 days through my plan to blog every day this month!

What is the most useful thing you will do towards a future career when you’re young?

And the ten minutes striking up a conversation with that strange kid in homeroom sometimes matters more than every other part of high school combined.

This XKCD cartoon strangely captures essence of most of my complaints with the way ICT and technical subjects are taught in schools.

For me, it was a extensive number of weekends trying to make various different project work and multiple evenings getting to know the right people in the tech industry – thanks to the vibrant north west technical communities.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that school/college/university is completely useless if you want to go into tech – being able to articulate oneself in writing is a particularly crucial skill which is a lot tougher learning elsewhere but as far as I’m concerned any technical skills taught are unlikely to ultimately be be as useful as that one bit of hacking you did when you were bored a few years previously.