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31 July 2006

Shared Biz - Scottish business

What was First Tuesday Scotland (Launched September 1999) and became the Now Forum is now SharedBiz. The forum for Scottish small businesses.

Why not drop in and say hello? We're working on deciding the future of the group and had a long webchat this evening that resulted in lots of interesting ideas.

There's still a chance for you to have a say on the future of the group if you want to have a say on business development in Silicon Glen.


29 July 2006

Virtual driver, plan your journey by video

Another idea for Cambrian House

YouTube for the road.

When we were on Skye recently, we shot a video from the car, and it's really interesting playing it back. To minimise shake, you need a camcorder with anti-shake correction and film on a wide angle lens (that way you also get more scenery to look at). The single track roads with sheep on them might be an eyeopener to tourists.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Support virtual driver at Cambrian House.

My other top ideas are currently

Support My Idea at Cambrian House The Voice Bank

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Early stage investor.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Intelligent search spider.
User Comments: "Basically the next google".

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Site Quality Report.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House The Idea Tree.

28 July 2006

Bare Breasts

Get people's attention. We'll you're reading this aren't you? Exposing the issue further, it's clear that breasts help to sell music, magazines and of course have been somewhat visible than usual lately given the exceptionally hot weather that the UK and US have been enjoying.

Which brings me to the point. It's seen as being perfectly acceptable in much of Western society (unless you happen to be visiting the Vatican, no bare flesh there) for women to show some cleavage. And why not? People should be allowed to dress how they please, especially in this weather it makes perfect sense. Also there's not much more being displayed in the breast area than you might see with a typical swimsuit and no one bothers about that. Even more appropriate if due to power outages your air conditioning is off.

No one seems to mind too much how women dress in the summer, so long as it's legal.

That being the case, if no one cares much what women are wearing, why does everyone then take such an interest in what men are wearing?

We seem to still require in many workplaces that men wear a shirt and tie although thankfully in this hot weather most offices are showing some common sense. Apart from that though, many workplaces still forbid men from wearing t-shirts. Whilst short skirts are acceptable for women, any shorts at all for men are still a definite no no.

Why is it considered OK for women to go around exposed and dressed appropriate for the weather and of course society is happy to accept this, yet at the same time the HR and personnel depts are busy writing memos and long manuals regarding how men must always have a collar on in order to be dressed in an acceptable way.

You might think there was sexism here, after all many men probably like the way women dress in summer and then set the rules accordingly.

However, when you consider that most HR depts are staffed mainly by women, I wonder if this is really the case.

Perhaps we just need less rules and more common sense. Managing a business well is about flexibility, and a flexible attitude towards dress would certainly seem to cover everything from a snowstorm to a prolonged heatwave. Sometimes it's appropriate to wear a suit, but as a cultural icon its meaning is shifting - certainly with no dress code at Google, there's a lesson there in simplicity and flexibility which would cut down on a lot of work for HR. As one of the world's top brands, the suitless image has done them no harm.

Flexibility and Simplicity. I guess the answer to both my points is staring you in the face. If you haven't seen the naked truth yet, then keep looking.

27 July 2006

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Feel the fear and do it anyway has been a popular quote since 1987 when it was popularised by Susan Jeffers in her book of the same name.

Unfortunately it's taking a while to sink in.

It was 2 years after that book was written that I started a smoke free campaign, and it is fear of change which has likely been the main reason for it taking almost two decades to happen.

In an earlier blog, I made a historic announcement about smoking. Note: it's "a historic announcement" in Scotland because we pronounce the h. It's "an historic announcement" in England because they generally say "an 'istoric announcement", grammar checkers please note!

The historic announcement was that Scotland had become the first part of the UK to become smoke free by law.

Here's a reference to the campaign in the Usenet archives of 1990 when I was in Scotland on Sunday. My workplace in England had gone smoke free in 1990 but my suggestion of having smoke free rooms in pubs was laughed at. Despite this set back I was on Channel4 and seen by 3 million viewers. The campaign got the biggest mailbag that the programme had ever had, and every letter was in favour. This backed up similar research by the Consumer's Association in Jan 1988 who found that smoke free areas were the most wanted change in UK pubs.

Despite public support, the industry felt the fear and didn't do it anyway. This attitude ran right through the 1990s and up until the time when the prospect arose not just of forcing public spaces to have a smoke free area, but of banning it completely. In the intervening years, I had come round to the same point of view. Here is an article from 2004 which is typical of the negative messages that were put out over the last few decades.

However, the gloom and doom merchants were wrong. Although there have been a small number of prosecutions, by and large the legislation to ban smoking in Scotland has been exceptionally well received. Read more about the ban being well received and the number of prosecutions. The ban may even be increasing custom.

So much for that then. After nearly 20 years of talking about it, the one way to find out for sure if it's going to be a success is to JFID (just flipping do it).

And now to Scottish independence.

Bogged down by similar fears, we seem unlikely to follow Montenegro's democratic example due to the Scottish Referendum Bill being blocked by the government. No surprises there. There's an election to the Scottish Parliament in May 2007 and with the SNP taking a surprising lead you can bet that the negativism will be flying thick and fast in the run up to the polls about how bad independence would be for Scotland. This is despite the former First Minister Donald Dewar publishing figures that Scotland would be the world's 7th richest country.

Like smoking, the figures speak for themselves but are obfuscated by spin from lobby groups.

I wonder how many of those who predicted the demise of the Scottish licensed trade post smoking ban will be writing letters to the national papers in the run up to next May suggesting the imminent demise of the Scottish economy under independence for much the same specious reasons? Perhaps they need to feel less fear and let democracy take its course. This isn't separatism, the pejorative term favoured by some unionists, independence is the right to take responsibility for our own affairs. Something that Scotland already has in many areas under devolution - we are effectively independent in all the areas devolved to the Scottish parliament.

Curiously the unionist parties keen to call the SNP, Greens, Socialists and independents separatists weren't calling Montenegro separatists earlier in the year. No, they were welcoming that nation's self determination to achieve nationhood through peaceful means and democratic right. Democracy is sometimes more uncomfortable when it is closer to home.

Perhaps those politicians need to talk less in terms of fear and more in terms of accepting democracy.

Maybe this time next year we will be on the road to independence. Only then will as a nation we will have grown enough to have felt the fear and done it anyway.

Recursion defined

A simple web based introduction to recursion.

When you return, hopefully you won't have lost your sense of humour as the people at Digg appear to have done.

23 July 2006

News, views and pictures for you.

Back in 2004 I did a short history of Scottish news and views on the internet.

This mentioned the news from Scotland news service I ran online in 1990. Also relevant is the online Scottish discussion forum I established in 1989 and which is mentioned in this posting.

This was long before the web of course and one thing about the web is that it allows specialist news to be served up to anyone online. Previously, outside of those able to get The News From Scotland was to phone a friend back home or wait several days for the specially ordered newspaper to arrive.

I was thinking though, what aspects of life back home are people still interested in that the web no longer fulfils?

Again in a pioneering fashion I was involved with Gaelic-L and which was established in May 1989. The first list for a minority language, it drew an otherwise disparate community together using the power of the internet.

People have strong ties to their homeland, or to somewhere they grew up or even visited a long time ago for a special occassion such as a honeymoon. These places are often not in the news and it is sometimes difficult to know what's happening there or how familiar places have changed in the years you've been away. What does your childhood home look like now? What does the high street look like? If you have ancestors in the area, what is on their gravestones? How about that spot where you had a holiday romance or met your partner? The web doesn't really have a service where you can get photos on demand of places you are connected to or would like to revisit without the expense of a holiday.

So, to provide such a service I'm proposing the "Flickr pays you" service, whereby people living near somewhere you are interested in can be reached via a geographic search and be paid to take pictures for you. If you think this would be a useful way to connect with your memories, please support the idea. It may even expand into providing an online shop for photos in general. I've got hundreds of pictures of the Isle of Skye following our many holidays there that I'm sure would be of interest to someone.

Craig - new technology and restructuring

The Sunday Times reports that, the tourism booking and information service, has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Tiscover, the world’s leading provider of tourism website technology.

And in a substantial restructure, the national tourism agency, VisitScotland, will become the biggest shareholder in the website, taking a 36% stake.

read more.

21 July 2006

Web 2.0 Site Quality Report

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Website Quality Report

Follow the link to find out how this idea can allow people to rate bug free or buggy websites and shame buggy website owners into fixing the bugs, making the web a better place for everyone.

Sites that are bug free or fix bugs get praised. Sites that don't fix bugs get downrated. It seems to have worked for my list of Pants websites with many of them fixing the bugs after they were listed on the site.

Firefox is open about its bugs and it's helped to build a more secure and robust product. By having an open reporting system, it not only encourages bugs to get fixed but helps the website get a better steer on how many people the bug affects and what they were doing at the time. The number of e-mails I get at the helpdesk saying "your site is broken" when I support over 20 sites with thousands of pages between them is not very helpful. Additionally, if I bug is already logged, people could see that and rather than having to spend time typing in the details all over again, they would just click on a "me too" button to add their voice to the list.


20 July 2006

Driving safely

In contrast to my usual relaxed drive to work I was on the motorway today. Tailgaiting seems to have got worse. It's not enough to be safely passing someone and doing the speed limit, no the person behind you wanting to do 90mph seems to think that by driving 6 feet from your bumper you'll feel inclined to speed up and move out of the way. Actually it makes me feel the opposite.

Therefore in order to combat this threat to road safety, I suggest the following.

1. Take one of those devices that sit in a car rear window and measures distance to the nearest obstacle. You can get these for people who never learned to street park and it makes a sound when you get too close.

2. Hook up said device to your car speedometer

3. Have a remote control which will activate a camera that sits in your back window and records the time of the photo and combines this from the output from the distance measuring device thus recording your speed and the distance of the car behind you.

4. Taking one picture will automatically trigger another, say 30 seconds later, so you have evidence that the person was dangerously close for an unreasonable length of time.

5. Take said evidence to police and hassle your MP to encourage this to be admissable evidence.

6. Post number plate of offender on your favourite blog, together with photos. Particularly if it's a company car with a logo on the bonnet I'm sure the company will be interested to know that they employ dangerous drivers.

Well, that should put an end to tailgating. Any takers?

Ten years

Since it's 10 years today since we got married, I thought I'd link to our wedding vows in Gaelic and English which we had translated for the occasion.

Anyone wanting any more information about Scottish weddings can find it by following the weddings link.

It's unusual to be able to link to 10 year old content on the web and find it still relevant.

Happy Anniversary (and no I didn't forget!).

17 July 2006

Google's paid for my MBA

Today my total income from adsense for search and adsense for content on has now exceeded for the first time the course fees, including residential fees, for my entire MBA. It's a two year part time course as I have an exemption from the first year. I start it in September.

I can't go into exact figures as adsense t's and c's don't allow it but the figures will be available to Google, who I have an interview with tomorrow. Nice coincidence.

For the sake of simplicity, I have assumed a uniform exchange rate. An approximation but it's close enough.


The Dilbert Blog

The Dilbert Blog. One of the funniest sites I've read in ages.

More innovation from Scotland

Following on from my recent posting about Cambrian House, here's a few more ideas that have been recently added.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Early Stage Investor.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Security Mail.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Flickr pays you.

Scottish road politeness

Let me talk about my drive to work. It is wonderful and probably the best commute I have ever had. About 20 miles from house to work it covers some of the best scenery and views in the area. One minute I'm looking at a panorama stretching 40 miles to the west with the mountains marking the start of the Highlands visible in good weather, the next I can see the bridges across the Forth, and Fife and the Ochils in the distance. Finally the road turns and I can see more than 20 miles to the east and south across the City of Edinburgh and Arthur's seat to Berwick Law and the Pentlands. The roads are quiet, generally there's noone either behind or in front of me and I might come across at most a dozon cars coming in the opposite direction. I even saw a deer on the drive to work once. Between my house and my work there is one roundabout and it has the only set of traffic lights on the route. The road itself is interesting with many corners and inclines and varies from views to driving through woods. In winter, parts are impassible due to the steep hills. If only all commutes were this much fun.

Despite all this though, an even more remarkable thing happened on the commute last week. I was behind a van (fairly unusual) which was behind another car. The car in front pulled over and let us past.

That's it. An everyday occurence on single track roads in the Highlands where almost without exception people pull over when there's a car behind them, this common courtesy is a rarity everywhere else. In the Highlands, there are police notices asking people to pull over. If only the same common sense applied on Scotland's A roads which comprise the bulk of major routes north of Stirling.

Rather than politely pulling over, we are left stuck in long queues for 40 miles or more behind people who think that adding a minute to their journey to pull over and let others pass is less preferable to having a long queue of frustrated drivers behind them and taking risks with overtaking.

Thus you can often make a decent speed of about 50mph on a good single track road, but might be stuck at 45mph on a far better A road because the person ahead is too selfish to pull over regularly.

Would it not make sense to have a law that if you are slow moving and have a long queue of traffic behind that you pull over? It works for single track roads, and is probably more relevant for A roads given the greater distances involved.

16 July 2006

Phone books and dinosaurs

I got a note through the letter box earlier this week. "We're sorry, we haven't been able to deliver your phone book, it has been left at the side of your door".

I'm sorry they managed to leave 1,200 pages of dead tree anywhere on my property despite it being too big for my mailbox. I can think of a lot of more productive uses for recycled paper than giving me a book I haven't used this millenium and which is 1,200 pages of junk I can't seem to opt out of. Especially with so many people going ex-directory.

Same goes for Yellow Pages. Please note, I don't want either. The internet does the same job, it's free and is more up to date and has useful stuff like links to the company websites that I can use.

When will the publishing dinosaurs realise that with most people online, it's hardly surprising that use of these publications is dwindling rapidly.

However, paper based Yell is suing Yelowiki, an Internet site that has global listings rather than just those in my locality. Yell, whose site is in fact not mostly yellow at all but if you visit you'll see it's mostly orange and white, believes that the online and useful Yelowiki site could be confusing customers and damaging the Yell brand.

I know one thing that's good at damaging your brand and that's being agressive towards other businesses and using the courts to force them out of business.

Funny, if the colour yellow was that important to Yell, you'd think it would be the dominant colour on their website.

I don't see how there's any chance of getting the two companies confused. One provides a free international and up to date service, the other is losing business and enjoys strong arm litigation.

Alternatively, you can view the other differences here.

15 July 2006

Creating the ironing machine

I've been having a busy time over on the Cambrian House site lately. Check out my profile and the full set of awards I completed last night. It's a really fun site, especially the office tour and the link farm is, well, original. If you want to stretch your mind a bit, your can try to pwn it.

Anyone wanting to support my ideas is more than welcome to do so, and my top idea is well into the top 30 out of nearly 1000 ideas. Please feel free to support my ideas here. Maybe one will get built.

Anyway, the Cambrian House ideas explosion as they call it is still really based around websites. There's a world outside the web and problems that even Web 2.0 can't solve.

I had another look at the mounting ironing pile tonight and thought how many hours people waste ironing. Surely it is the most loathed domestic chore. I guess most people with spare money get someone else to do it for them. Alternatively for around $500 - $1000 (!) you can buy an ironing press but even the best only claim to cut ironing time in half which if you have three children like me is still a fair chunk out of your life.

So I came up with an idea for an ironing machine. Unfortunately not eligible for Cambrian House, being an invention rather than a website.

Here is the almost silent all in one laundry system which does everything, runs at a fraction of the cost, has no fast moving parts and makes next to no noise. It even runs multiple programs simultaneously, saves water and probably needs no ventilation. Finally, it's a lot safer than an iron with kids around.

I worked on two basic assumptions

1. That when you wash then tumble dry something and get it out just at the end it's probably about as crumpled as it was before it went in the wash. If you dried it on the radiator or it can't be tumble dried then the washing and drying process has made it more creased than it was and fixing this would go a long way to making ironing easier.

2. Rather than trying to invent something that irons things perfectly, especially difficult items like shirts is probably more than most people need. If it can do 90% of garments well enough that they can be worn as is and can make a good start on thing such as shirts that they could probably be worn as-is rather than finished by hand then this is probably good to be good enough. A bit like developing software, if you try to solve 100% of the problem in one go you might end up delivering an overly complex solution late as the requirements change during development.

So, this is what you do. Toss out the washing machine, tumble drier and ironing press. An all in one device has taken their place. Actually I think people might do this, but those folks with the room might just put the new device in the garage.

Digression for a moment here. We live near the end of a street with over 100 houses on it and have to pass most of them to get anywhere. Most of the houses have one garage and many have two. Our six year old the other day was really excited when we were driving down the road when she exclaimed "Look Daddy, that car's going into that house's garage". And then I realised the novelty, that in six years and passing 100 houses to leave the street and 100 houses when we return that after all that time it's probably the first time she has ever seen a garage being used for its original purpose. The lack of basements in Scotland has resulted into the garage becoming a general storage area that most cars have never seen the inside of. Still there might be some spare space someday to set up a software company....

So, back to ironing.

Imagine a multi-storey sandwich. Each layer, of which you could probably get about 20 stacked on top of each other is made up a of series of grills. The clothes are placed on top of the grill which is made up of triangles as the bars. So the clothes rest on top of a line of triangular tubes, flat side up. When the triangles line up this way, the edges of the triangular tubes touch meaning that the entire grill is a continuous surface. You place enough clothes on each surface (which in area would be the size of the top of the washing machine) to fill it up. There are enough grill bars such that when the equilateral triangles rotate 30%, so that the vertices are now face up, the spaces between them are small enough that socks etc won't fall down the gap.

Each layer slides out from the front of the machine which has fold down door. The layers all move independently like a set of drawers so that you can fill them up one at a time. Each layer is entirely self contained with an independent water supply. Each layer can be set for the water to be at a different temperature, or for different drying temperatures or ironing heat.

How does it work? There's two ways to wash things: Immersion and agitation (like a bath or a washing machine) and direct jets (like a shower or a dishwasher). Make a washing machine work on the direct jet principle and we may be onto something. A shower certainly uses less energy and makes me feel fresher than a bath anyway.

So within each of the triangular rods is a water supply which is heated on demand to the right temperature and is forced out under pressure through the top side of the triangular rods, thus directing jets of water onto the clothes at the correct temperature. There would also be jets of water directed down on to the clothes from above. The jets would be pulsed to agitate the clothes, effectively placing the clothes in a sandwich jacuzzi. The water drains away and so the clothes are washed. Repeat as necessary, adjusting temperature according to the settings etc. Rather than being horizontal the layers could be tilted at about 10 degrees to help the water to drain.

You'll see now why it's important that the rods are triangular. I mentioned that the sides line up flush against each other. Triangles are the only shape with at least three sides that can do this and still have space to rotate independently. The triangular rods then rotate 60 degrees (in series) to present the next side up to the clothes. This will clearly cause the clothes to move as the rods rotate, but as the rods are small, the movement won't be much. The next side up is a like a Swiss cheese in cross section, i.e. flat with loads of drainage holes. The sandwiches from top to bottom (or as many as you have indicated are being used in this wash) then compress down and wring or press the water out. No noisy spin cycle here. The holes in this side of the rods allow the water to drain out more effectively. I guess if you wanted, you could direct air in through these holes after this stage has passed. So now you have washed clothes that are still wet but are now needing dried out and pressed. The rods the clothes are resting on turn another 60 degrees. This last side is the heating element. With the clothes having been put into the machine flat and kept in that position by the plates above and below, they are now ready for pressing and ironing. First off the rods are warmed, and the clothes dried - just like a heated towel rail. The heating temperature can be set independently for each layer. Then the layers are pressed together so that the clothes are pressed between the heating plates, like a trouser press or ironing press. This side of the triangle has to be padded to accommodate shirt buttons etc.

And so the clothes come out washed, dried and pressed.

Maybe there's something I'm missing here, I don't expect to get it right first time at all, but we learn from mistakes and having built a few Real World products, I know there's a lot of things that change in design and prototype stage ( I have the prototypes to show for it, and the final product that time worked). The reason I'm entering this here rather than trying to patent and build it is that I don't have the time or resources to do so for an idea of this scale. I have plenty other ideas to keep me busy and I'm hoping that one reasonably decent idea well publicised will get the attention of investors so that I can show them all the other stuff I'm working on including the one that won first prize in a national invention competition last year for the UK retail sector and assessed by one of the biggest players in that sector to win. I guess also there aren't many creative engineers in Scotland who have been interviewed by both Google and Amazon - during my Amazon interview I had to think up something that Amazon could do. I thought up something like this Pandoro, well before it launched (Amazon have this on video). Another version of the same concept is on my Cambrian page as the custom radio station. Although I guess with The BBC now planning something similar it is a concept that is no longer as original as it was a few years ago.

It's a bit harder in Scotland than it is in the US - I have the ideas and a company. It seems neither is a requirement in the US to land a cheque for $25,000.

12 July 2006

How to uninstall McAfee SecurityCenter

I had the unpleasant experience of trying to uninstall McAfee SecurityCenter today. I needed to install it to test a website that was incorrectly being blocked by McAfee (due to a McAfee bug). So I installed McAfee, verified the said site now worked, then went to uninstall McAfee.

Actually, I wouldn't have been in such a hurry to uninstall it if I handn't felt that I'd handed over my PC at that point to the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter which decides on a whim whether you go this way or that and also takes as long as it wants to make its own mind up.

There I was using a twin CPU system and feeling I'd stepped back into the 1990s. All of a sudden, applications took 5 minutes to start. Web access was almost impossible. Applications started to hang with no way of correcting them. Web pages (including some on BBC news) were blocked at random. It was as dark as the darkest days of having to use the AOL browser on a 56K modem and believe me that's about as slow as a slow thing on a slow day during a siesta.

So I did the natural thing and went to uninstall it. You click add/remove programs, the uninstaller churns into action then aborts with the message "McAfee SecurityCentre is still running you have to close it first" Retry/Cancel.

No big friendly button saying "I can close it for you if you click here". Not even a big friendly link saying "Here's a link to the help on how to close it". It wouldn't even be as necessary as all that if there was a standard menu in a standard place that said "Exit". Top tip: It's usually to be found in the File menu or right click on the icon in the system tray.

10 minutes of scratching around in the application (you are in a maze twisty little passages, all alike, XYZZY) admiring the vast collection of data the application had been collating about me wasn't much help either. But I did wonder in amongst all the URLs listed why none of it showed the blocked access to the BBC site and what I could do to resolve it.

By this point my browsers were running so slow as to be just about unusable. So I had to resort to someone else's computer to see if this was a known problem. It was probably just as well I didn't try using my own PC as it took about 10 minutes of searching around the web to find the answer. Sites which appear in the Google listings, then you have to create an account and sign in to see the solution are of no use in a hurry.

Eventually I found the Given Solution here: How to uninstall McAfee SecurityCenter.

However, this was no use either. So I did the usual stop services and processes to kill it off - something the typical user shouldn't need to do and which in itself is risky unless you have a definitive list of which processes are relevant to kill.
I reproduce this info here for the gentle reader who doesn't have access to a backup PC to browse with while the main one has been over run by the treacle monster. Perhaps you could print this note off before you install the software in the first place?

Step 1. Try the official Given Solution
Step 2. Select Start->All Programs->Administrative Tools->Services
Step 3. Find anything with McAfee in it and set the startup type to Disabled and the service status to stop. You need to do both of these because the services will restart automatically.
Step 4. Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to bring up the task manager. Select processes
Step 5. End task on anything beginning Mc. There is probably a definitive list somewhere of which processes you should kill but at this point I was rapidly losing the will to live. There is about 6 of them.
Step 6. Now fire up the uninstaller again and watch in glee as it uninstalls.
Step 7. Wonder why your PC is now wanting to reboot when the uninstall completes, when it probably didn't reboot on installation.
Step 8. Have a cup of Mountain Dew while your PC reboots. You've deserved it.

All of this is fairly straightforward to anyone experienced with PCs, however not so for the typical home user I suspect.

11 July 2006

Identity card scheme faces delay

Identity card scheme faces delay. Well what a surprise. Especially since we warned you nearly a month ago that the ID card scheme was going to run into problems.

Expect more slips, budget over runs and failures along the way. It's too bad, like the war in Iraq, that the government seems to sign itself a blank cheque for these projects. Those of us in the real world with finite pots of money have to cancel projects if they can't be paid for. If only this lesson was learned sooner when the government is in charge.

Scotland and the US. Educational systems compared

I'm currently in Scotland and looking around for a new job. I'd even look as far as going to the US, having been offered a job there once before. However, although the US might be great for my career, I'm not so sure it would be great for my kid's education if the family were to go there too. They are aged 2, 4 and 6 and when the schools resume from the summer break in the middle of August, the eldest will be in P3, the middle one in P1 and the youngest will be old enough for playgroup.

Now that my children are all going to be in school for the first time, I thought it would be useful to revisit the different educational systems. My own background is that I went to school in Dunblane; a fairly wealthy small historic town in southern Perthshire (home to tennis star Andy Murray) and during that time went on a school exchange to Rochester, Minnesota (a fairly wealthy Midwest US town, home to the Mayo Clinic and a large number of medical professionals). So I guess the two towns had a broadly similar social background.

For these purposes I'm going to focus on state education, i.e. education paid entirely out of taxes, wherever possible.

I cover the Scottish educational system in greater depth in the soc.culture.scottish FAQ but in this article I will focus more on the comparison with the US. I would also recommend the children in Scotland site.

OK, let's begin.

In Scotland, although there is private nursery care available for babies, the state educational system begins with the first term after the child has reached 30 months. This is playgroup level and many playgroups receive financial assistance from the local council. In this setting, the child is only in the playgroup for a half-day session (2.5 hours) and this costs approx £3.25 per session. Anything over and above this, including lunch, would need to be via a private playgroup or nursery. Children aged 2-3 typically attend 3 sessions a week.

Aged 3, all children are eligible for a free nursery place. 81% of children take up a place at this age and almost 100% of four year olds take up a place, figures here.

Nursery offers a slightly more mature learning environment to playgroup although both are based around structured play. Nursery slots are typically 2.5 hours. My children would attend 5 morning sessions or 4 afternoon sessions as the schools here close at Friday lunchtime. At nursery level, my children were introduced to French. Gaelic medium education is also available in Scotland free of charge for anyone near a unit; these are spread throughout most of the country.

Compulsory education begins with Primary 1. The academic cut off is about mid February. That is, when the children start primary 1 they have to be 5 years old by the February following the August intake. P1 represents a more desks and chairs layout with the tables set out in groups, as opposed to nursery, which has a less formal setting more geared towards play. Children attend primary school for 7 years. The academic year, which continues up to the end of high school, is 40 weeks - generally 7 weeks holiday in the summer, one week in October; 2 over Christmas and 2 at Easter. The school day begins about 9am and finishes between around 3pm (P1-P2) and 3:30pm (P3-P7). Friday the school finishes about 12:30pm. There is a 15-minute break in the morning (Mon-Fri) and about an hour-long break for lunch (Mon-Thu). Exact figures will vary school to school, but for my local school this works out at about 21 hours per week for P1-P2 and 25 hours for P3 to P7, or about 1000 teaching hours a year for P3 to P7.

High school or secondary school (S1-S6) follows on from P7. S1-S4 is compulsory; most pupils elect to stay on until S5 where they obtain the qualifications necessary for university entrance. By the end of S5, the pupils are aged 16 or 17 with about a 50/50 split. Thus it is quite possible to go to university aged 16. I stayed on for an extra year in school for a more vocational year and was still only 17 when I started university. High school also comprises about 1,000 teaching hours a year. Typical times on top of this for homework would be S1/2 5 hrs, S3/4 7.5 hrs and S5/6 10 hrs per week.

The length of a university course for most subjects is 3 years for an ordinary degree, four years for honours with nearly everyone doing the full four years.

Following on from this, a Masters degree is one year full time and a Ph.D approx. three years full time. Doing an MBA straight from an undergraduate degree is not encouraged.

Thus a typical Scottish student who is studying at an "international" (postgraduate) level at a major university and has gone straight from school would be between 16-18 when starting university, 21-23 when completing a Masters Degree and 23-25 when completing a Ph.D.

Turning now to the US. Some terminology: Nursery in Scotland is called Kindergarten in the US. Playgroup in Scotland is called pre-school in the US. Public school in the US is taxpayer funded. The term public school in Scotland is not generally used, however in England it means private (fee paying) schools. Throughout the US system, an 8am start is more usual than in Scotland where it is 9am, however the academic day finishes earlier in the US.

With a typical age of 5-6 of US Kindergarten, this corresponds roughly to P2 in Scotland. With Typically mandatory education begins in the US with 1st grades, although it may begin at kindergarten. Thus mandatory education starts a 1-2 years later in the US than it does in Scotland.

Moving along, the US typically starts middle school in 6th grade. This is ages 11-12 and represents the first year at which pupils have different subjects and classes each day rather than spending most of the time with the same teacher. I was 11 when I went to High School. Thus the US system has 3 (middle school) plus 4 (high school) years of subject-based education, the Scottish system has 5 or 6.

My own experience is mostly around early High School as I attended US school in the freshman year - this corresponded to the Scottish S3. I Attended 2 different US High Schools across a 3 week period and across all subjects it was quite clear that in every academic subject the Scottish curriculum was approx 2 years ahead of its US counterpart. Remember, this is comparing state schools in two broadly similar wealthy towns. In all subjects except US History my knowledge exceeded the US pupils (and also sport, given that I had no prior experience of US football, baseball etc). The other observation is that my High school in Scotland had no study periods until S6 whereas the US High Schools I went to had study periods at each year, thus there was much less class contact in the US. This gap widens further when you consider the academic year that is about 5 weeks shorter in the US, mostly due to the 3-month summer break there as opposed to 6-8 weeks in Scotland. This 17-week holiday that US students enjoy is 15 weeks more than they receive when they begin employment. In the UK, the difference is only 5 weeks (12-7). The other alarming difference I noticed when I was there is the presence of a flag and pledging allegiance to it each day. Such a practice anywhere else outside of the former Eastern Bloc would be roundly laughed at.

The US, possibly as a result of the above factors, ranks below average in science and mathematics understanding for a Western country. The poor performance has pushed public and private efforts such as the No Child Left Behind Act. This is also reflected in postgraduate education where a US Masters degree typically takes 2 full academic years. In Scotland it is one full time year. PhDs vary considerably in length on both sides of the Atlantic and also vary in terms of subject however people in Scotland try to do a PhD in 3 years and sometimes take a little longer. In the US it seems more open and may take 3-6 years.

The longer US Masters probably reflects the fact that at this more international level the two systems are finally in step although in achieving this parity, at the end of a US Masters degree the student would typically be 24, whereas in Scotland they could be as young as 21 with the same qualification. The other significant factor is the for UK citizens Vs US citizens, the cost of a university education does seem to be higher in the US although costs vary considerably. The difference between the top US universities and the others is considerably wider fee wise than the corresponding universities in the UK.

10 July 2006

First website enforcement order

The Information Commissioner's Office has issued its first enforcement order against a website.

The background to this is I found the offending site about 6 months ago and objected to my details being on it. Since 2002, people on the UK electoral register have had the right to have their details removed from the public register because they don't want their personal details used commercially or for their private details to be posted on public websites.

However, the site got round the law by using versions of the electoral register before 2002 when the law came into force. I complained to my local officer who compiles the electoral register for my area. They wrote to me today informing me of this important legal decision. There were about 1,600 complaints against this company and this is the first time a website received an enforcement order under the Data Protection Act.

Next stop: Directors of Ltd companies will soon have the same rights under the The Company Law Reform Bill to prevent their private home addresses from being published on the Internet using extracts from Companies House data.

America: Land of the free?

It has always surprised me that in the US, where holidays are valued and children get about 6 weeks more annual holiday than the UK, that adults get such a derisory amount of annual vacation.

Americans have more disposable income than many other countries, value family time, have a very well developed leisure and recreation economy yet have next to no time to enjoy it in.

The standard annual vacation when you join a US company is 10 days (plus about 9 federal holidays). So there goes your two week break in the summer then. Take that and there's no time off at any other time of the year. The standard UK holidays are 20 days minumum with at least 25 being more usual. Then there's usually 8 public holidays on top of that. This year, I have 34 days annual leave, 33 of which I can take when I choose. This is against a background of most independent observers saying that people in the UK work too hard and work more than our European neighbours.

Perhaps an American company could offer European holidays, with a corresponding reduction in salary and see how much more productive its workforce becomes when they can enjoy all that money they've earned, spend time with their families, enjoy recreational time and get enough holiday to have a decent break abroad.

Would Americans take an 6% salary cut for an extra three weeks of annual leave to bring them onto a par with Europe or would Europeans prefer a 6% raise to get American holidays? Most of us need the money, but how much holiday is enough for a productive and happy workforce?

07 July 2006

Cambrian house - bringing fresh ideas to the web

I've been exploring Cambrian House recently, a very interesting site with some fresh ideas for the web. Check out some of my ideas below in the idea wars to find out which ideas get supported. You can view the full list in my current profile.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Recommended quality sites for you.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Build your own radio station full of music you like.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Find out the public's opinions on anything for free.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House How to improve the quality of search results.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House The voice bank - buy a voice for any purpose.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Get more accurate journey times.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Learning from the best of other people's knowledge.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Review, rank and build the products of tomorrow.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Tell us how you want to search.

Why Scottish Enterprise is out of control

Scottish enterprise, the company that encourages businesses to have a business plan and follow it are recently famous for overspending by £34 million on theirs. oops. Even more oops for the poor 100 people having to lose their jobs because the heid bummers have problems with sums - something for which they got a severe ticking off from the Scottish Parliament.

Nonetheless, my insiders at SE are telling me they are fed up with hopeless IT systems that don't work and get in the way of them doing their jobs. So I wrote to the head of ICT at aforesaid troubled organisation offering my help.

My mail of 19th May went unacknowledged and unanswered.
My followup mail of 27th May went unacknowledged and unanswered.
My followup mail of 22nd June went unacknowledged and unanswered (although I see it has been picked up due to the read receipt, but not by the person it was sent to)
My followup mail of 2nd July went unacknowledged and unanswered as above except for a response by Alex Neil MSP.

Is this the company that runs courses for businesses on customer service? Is this the same company that preaches effective use of e-mail?

A simple "thanks for your email" would be enough.

Nearly 2 months for a response. No wonder things are so bad there.

05 July 2006

Required by law to reveal age on job applications

It's it ironic how in a year when Age Discrimination Legislation takes effect and we should be employing people irrespective of their age and making it even less relevant that they put date of birth on a CV, that there is now a law requiring people to disclose their age as part of job applications. This makes discrimination easier rather than harder.

The relevant law is The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 and requires an agency to have either your passport or birth certificate. Both of which, naturally, reveal your age.

I wonder what married women without passports do if they are using their married name. A marriage certificate is not a valid form of ID.

04 July 2006

The longest email signature ever

I got a mail from Scottish Widows recently (an investment company). Their email signature and disclaimer was 68 (sixty-eight) lines long.

This is certainly a record for a real email signature that I've received. Has anyone received a longer one?

I tend to use Zen and the Art of the Internet as a guide, published January 1992.

For a usenet signature (and generally people use the same for both email and usenet), the guide recommends four lines maximum. Also the signature should be preceded by the four characters dash-dash-space-newline thus:

"-- "
(without the quotes)

So at 68 lines, I think Scottish Widows are a tad on the long side. Can anyone beat this?

03 July 2006

British Engineering fails us again

Yes, the country that had an empire on which the sun never set. A country that has built the Great Western Railway and the Forth Rail Bridge, invented the telephone, the television, great ships, given the world the most widely spoken language and will soon be launching spaceships.

We will be defeated once again. Tomorrow will be the day.

Summer has unexpectedly arrived this year. Not normally expected at this time of year because it's well, July, and we all expect it to rain during Wimbledon don't we?

As a result of being defeated, we will see British Engineering stretched to its limits and fail.

And for another year, we will all wonder why so few offices have air conditioning that work properly.

Tomorrow we will suffer in the heat because of this failure.

To paraphrase Churchill:
I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our cubicles, to ride out the summer, and to outlive the menace of the overheated office, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

Too right. On the other hand, maybe getting an air conditioning system installed that actually worked might be more productive.

And that's only because it's going to be 26C where I am tomorrow. It's going to be 31C in London. Maybe next year, Summer won't surprise us?

And in the next installment, why is it so unusual in the UK to have a shower that actually makes you feel like you are having a shower (like the US) as opposed to making you feel like you are standing under a dripping tap?

01 July 2006

England Fans to Support Portugal

Well England is out of the world cup, eliminated once again on penalties. About as predictable as Scotland getting eliminated on goal difference.

Still, it will put an end to those tiresome questions that anyone with a Scottish connection has had to endure for the last few weeks about whether we support England or not.

With Scots being expected to support England because they are nearby countries with a common political bond, the question now turns to which country will the people of England feel obliged to support as the European press turns to them and asks them the same question which the English press have been asking the Scots.

Lets see now. Nearby country (limit it to 1000 miles as there's only a few teams left). Common political bond. Well, the EU would need to be it.

So that makes the England fans natural supporters of Germany or Portugal then.

Come on, Europe Expects.

Bit awkward when the shoe is on the other foot? Maybe now you understand why not everyone in Scotland feels obliged to support England.

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