Elly Williams' Weblog

Caught Between Industries

Unenthused Teachers

I was reading this article on the BBC about a week ago and it kinda seemed important (although obviously not important enough to write about straight away ;)). The Children’s Laureate has said many teachers are failing to enthuse their pupils with a love of reading. The main reason given for this is that the teachers do not love reading, or fail to show any enthusiasm for reading, literature of the material being covered.

I can see straight away how this happens seeing as it happened to me. In second year of secondary school (so, when I was 12) we had an English teacher who didn’t seem to care about teaching English – especially not English Lit. This became particularly apparent when she picked a book that she hadn’t read and didn’t intend to for us to study one term. And my grades plumetted (I still blame her for the fact that English was my worst subject at GCSE – by quite a way)

However there is another level to this, which was certainly employed at my school. For English class, before I hit about 15, one lesson a week was a “reading lesson”. You took in a book, and for that hour, you read it. And then, once a term you had to hand in reviews of the books you had read, and you had to have read a certain number of books. Which killed reading, because it became a chore. As soon as reading became a chore people started coming up with ways to cheat. One girl made up books under her own pen name, someone else would write up chapters of one book as separate books, other people just wrote up books that they had read at some point rather than recently.

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this. On the one hand there’s the argument that if it’s a chore and not fun then kids will try and find a way out of reading, and on the other hand you have to have some system for checking that kids are reading or they won’t.

However, it’s quite noticeable how much worse English people’s English is than most people who’ve been taught English somewhere where it’s not necessarily the main spoken language (admittedly most of my experience is northern europe and I have no idea if this is exceptional or not, but it’s certainly noticeable) And we’re worse at learning other languages too. Meri can speak 4 languages fairly fluently and bits of a couple of others. I’m fairly sure Mili is fluent in at least 3 languages. And yet I’m exceptional (at my school at any rate) for attempting to learn both French and German at GCSE.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes

“Two languages in one head? Who could do such a thing”

“Well the Dutch speak 4 different languages and smoke marijuana…..”

Eddie Izzard – Dress to Kill – ~1998

“If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.”

Texas Governor Ma Ferguson – ~1924

Uncanny Valley

I meant to write this about a week ago when I was sent the link, but I’m being hideously disorganized since finishing my degree (woohoo!!!) and so have only just gotten around to it.

Anyway, this article discusses the relationship between how realistic an artificial human is and how attracted we are to it. The basic concept is that as a robot or animation becomes more realistic we get more attracted to it (a microwave compared to R2-D2 or C3P0 perhaps.) However there is a point where the gap between the robot/animation and a real person is so small that the eye focuses on what’s not there. This discrepancy is known as “Uncanny Valley” and facial expressions are generally the hardest thing to get (convincingly) right.

Given that the face has more independant moving parts to it in a smaller space than any other part of the body the complexity of getting an expression right is fairly straightforward. And given that many of these elements aren’t actually that independant at all and each reflects slightly differently on another, you have yet another layer of difficulty. Also given the range of expressions that can be created by really tiny movements and it’s hardly suprising that it’s apparenlty so easy to “just miss” an expression. And there are, of course, other factors.

So, what next?

Do we keep pushing for the potentially unreachable lifelike proto-human, and put up with the Uncanny Valley for a bit longer or do we opt for stylized graphics?

is an Architecture Student and Web Designer based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, (UK)