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Technology in schools: for fun, education, hacking & explusion

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Letters Rockstar bagged itself another set of headlines this week after promotional shots of its new game, Bully, upset parents, and anti-bullying campaigners. Surely, though, this uproar has rather played into the hands of the games company. After all, we know that there is rarely such a thing as bad publicity:

Anyone who thinks Bullying Online’s concern is misplaced should remember the murder of Luke Walmsley who was stabbed to death in a school corridor by a fellow pupil who was said in court to be obsessed with violent films. Screen violence clearly does have an effect.

We started getting complaints from parents about this game in June and wrote to Rockstar asking to talk to them about it. By then we had already been contacted by the Daily Mirror and a gaming magazine in the US seeking our views.

Unfortunately Rockstar chose not to respond although they have since phoned us and told us the game is like "Just William"

A game with a publicity screenshot of two kids in uniform, one kicking the other while a third stands by looking menacing with clenched fists isn't like any family viewing TV drama that we've ever seen!

Of course Rockstar will be enjoying the hype, but that’s no reason to keep quiet about a game which uses violence for fun.

It doesn't matter what age restriction this game has. Teenagers will play it and are going to be influenced by what they see on screen. A few years ago we had numerous complaints about pupils using wrestling throws on each other after watching World Wide Wrestling on TV.

The government currently has a big Respect agenda to try to curb indiscipline and bullying in schools. This game is going to send completely the wrong message.

Cheers,

Liz Carnell Bullying Online www.bullying.co.uk


Sticking with the gaming in education theme, we also covered news that four schools in the UK are to embark on research into whether or not computer games have any part in formal education. The research is being part-funded by Electronic Arts:

Perhaps right to be cynical, but some games, with the right teacher input, can clearly be used as valuable teaching aids. Some ten years ago or more, we used the original DoS versions of SimCity and Civilisation in teaching situations here in Thailand.

The former was used to stimulate students to create their own data, think about planning and consequences, and then to write about it. I presented this as "SimEducation." Detailing use of computer games as a supplement to English learning. Thai TESOL Conference, Bangkok. And also produced an article in the Bangkok Post about the same time, using examples of text from one of the students.

Civilisation was slightly different as this was aimed at reading skills, but it was (as a first) difficult to keep students AWAY from assignments, while the alternate weeks of TV based instruction, was not as well attended.

Other games in the same genre like the long lamented Transport Tycoon and the more recent Sims are prime examples of suitable input, particularly as the Sims (like Civilisation) has text files that can be edited and/or replaced.

There is no point sitting the students down in front of a monitor and saying, "play". They need a structure to follow and that depends on proper teacher input. Without that, it will be a waste of time.

Graham


This isn't new - 14 years ago in my first year of secondary school we did something very similar - we played the BBC Master version of 'Sim City' as a learning tool. And that's just the first time one of the 'Sim' line of games was used to my knowledge -back in the mid-eighties at Primary school the *whole point* of the BBC Master was to play educational games.

Back in those days, a computer in the classroom wasn't to teach kids the fundamentals of Microsoft Office, it was simply about being used to complement normal learning . Someone ought to give whoever at NESTA Futurelab "thought this up" a big slap in the face and rename them NESTA Retrolab.

Steve


MS has removed a scripting tool (dubbed Monad, of MSH) from the final version of Vista after some clever sod wrote a proof of concept virus using it:

I am sure that I won't be the only person to point out that the obvious pronunciation for Microsoft MSH is "mush".

:-)

Felix


A UK firm has started a legal movie download service, offering full length films starting from £6.99, and music videos from £1.50:

Why so expensive? If the movie industry realised that it could rent out movies for £2 a title (valid for 7 days) using DivX and distributed with BitTorrent, they'd be onto an absolute winner. Even if I could download anything I wanted illegally for free, I'd still rather pay £5 to download and keep a non-DRMed (but digitally watermarked) DVD-quality film, legally. But asking for more than half the cost of an average DVD is, to my mind, unreasonable. It's not like you are getting the media - you have to provide your own - and many people also have to pay for the bandwidth they use to download any data (especially if BitTorrent is used for distribution). Downloading always has costs attached to it, particularly if your connection is slower and/or your machine is more powerful (electricity).

As it is, there are already better legal alternatives online (such as greencine.com, but for some reason you have to have a US credit card to pay for a service which can be received world-wide. If they accepted credit cards from outside the US, they'd totally massacre every competitor out there). I do not see why anyone would go back to VHS quality when DVD quality is already available online. So many codecs (such as DivX, XviD and WMV) allow you to compress a DVD-quality movie into something small enough to fit on a CD - this cannot have escaped the studios. So why are they trying to feed us this sub-standard VHS-quality crap?

The music and film industries need to realise that the world has changed, and peoples' expectations of value for money have gone up in line with the failing economy. You can't ask for more and more of peoples' disposable income when they are struggling to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads - while they watch their skilled jobs going to the Far East. This isn't the booming 80s or 90s anymore; if you want to sell to a premium market now, try India or China - but don't expect them to play by your rules.

Oliver.


Proof that we are solidly into the silly season emerged this week, with the news that Brighton cabbies are to hand out free condoms to passengers. Trojans, no less. Well, we had to:

I can think of an IT link to Trojan Condoms. They have some superb adverts on their website (or they did a few months ago). So good they circulated through e-mail and P2P. Look for the sex Olympics.

Ross


I suppose using the full name of the malware, "Trojan horse", for the product might have gone down ... differently ...

Regards, Mike


A New York radio station was fined $240,000 for running a slapping contest. Bizarre, but true. Apparently, the contest breached local regulations governing the "promotion of combative sport":

You are absolutely right. We New Yorkers need more reality radio & television showing spoiled rotten, self indulgent, "princesses", slapping each other silly to win concert tickets, money and infamy. If you've ever been exposed to the infantile whining of a Long Island princess (think Fran Drescher), a bitchslap fest would be considered by most UPSTATE New Yorkers to be (simultaneously), the ultimate in high comedy AND justice!

You British folks think you have a corner on Nanny State Politics & Big Brother?

Just come to the State of New York and witness the actions of Eliott Spitzer, self styled "Protector of the Universe". Where is He-Man when you really need him!

For the most part Spitzer has done some good things here, especially related to suing spammers out of business. However this case oversteps the bounds of personal freedom as we here in the "Good Ole USA" have the "God Given Right" to be as "Stupid as We Wanna Be"!

Obviously, New York's case seems a bit weak (Combative Sports law is a stretch Eliott) and the judgment should be appealed on the basis that consenting adults of legal age should be able to do just about anything they want to each other as long as they agree to do so and there is no coercion (How many S&M Bondage clubs are there in NY City?) Not to mention that anyone who would agree to make such a laughingstock of themselves, have probably signed away any right to sue.

Ever hear of the Howard Stern show and the "Spankomatic"? Will we be forbidden to see or hear the endorphin fuelled, squirming antics of thong wearing "Skanky Ho's" brought to the edge (and sometimes over) of fake orgasm by an electromechanical spanking machine? Are the various network's "Reality" shows next?

We "Mericans" reserve the right to live vicariously through the stupidity and debasement of others. Billions of advertising dollars and one of the simple pleasures of life are at stake here.

Who out there could honestly say that they wouldn't pay good money to see Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie slap the teats off each other?

Perhaps the lobbyists from the WWF should make a "contribution" to Spitzer's political campaign so we can see the "Hilton/Richie SteelCage Deathmatch" live on Pay per View. Of course, they would have to trim their fake nails and leave the vicious little ratdogs home, but oh WHAT an event that would be!

The only "combative sport event" that would be better is the upcoming Hillary Clinton vs Jeanine Pirro mudslinging card for New York State Senator. Now I KNOW that Eliott Spitzer won't intervene in that "Deathmatch" and it will be highly televised!

Forgive me, I have to go watch the Gerry Springer show!

Sarcastically Yours,

Dan Paul


Pray do not continue such pusillanimous writings. Tell us what you REALLY think ! [Yes, an effort to make you think, for a split second !]

Mr. Spitzer is only trying to enforce what he thinks is proper behaviour ! Hopkinsesque, indeed ! We, the righteous (anyone in the U.S. who includes a plethora of "shoulds" in their opinions), have to look out after the less intelligent of our countrymen. And if some get burned at the stake, then it is only for the common good (No, I'm not a descendant of Cowrin or Hathorne). == O.K., enough of THAT tripe !! VERY good article ! Yes, both our countries seem to have went through that period, although we started a little later than you did. Also, Folks in the U.S. seem to have never quite gotten over it !!

I just wish more people would pay attention to the "righteous", and wake up to the dangers they represent. To that end, I hope LOTS of folks read your article !!

THANKS !!! (and , of course, keep up the good work !!)

Jim B


This week we reported that a group of Open University researchers were trying to find out how many women trained in the UK as Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSE), how many took the exams, and how many subsequently took jobs. Their efforts were somewhat hampered by Microsoft's reluctance, and then inability to disclose the data.

We had a few responses to this one. Let's start with the interesting one. After that, we'll need someone to check which decade we're all in. Thanks.

The response from Microsoft is either misleading, or the person you spoke to was not familiar with their own methods of correlating MCSE information.

Microsoft hosts a MCSE section on Microsoft.com, where certified engineers can view their certification history, including the dates every exam was passed. All access to this site is through the well known ".NET passport" system of verification, where gender must be provided amongst other fields.

As such, the MCSE data is most definitely "owned" by Microsoft, and gender is a cross referenceable field associated with the account of the MSCE qualified engineer.

Name withheld


We want equal rights!! but you must treat us differently too!

Typical womens rights nutters if you ask me, it hasn't even occured to Microsoft that it is an issue, they just hand out certificates to anyone that shows up, pays a buck, and ticks the right boxes.

"Whenever I go on a training course I am normally the only female there!" so..on the first day there was only one woman? so the others didn't show up and leave because of the male only atmosphere, they just didn't apply in the first place.

Perhaps women aren't showing up because they are being oppressed by the men, or perhaps they just don't want to get an MCSE. I'd even go so far as to suggest that women aren't (on the whole) interested in IT judging by the bored look they all get when anyone mentions a computer. if you look for prejudice it'll be there, as my boss is so fond of saying "Pay a witch hunter, and by gosh they will find you a witch!"

When she finishes this study, perhaps a study into whether blonde people would do better in blonde only environments. I'm 99% certain that's why I got a D in GCSE History. Had I been surrounded by young blondes I'd have done far better

David


There is a very simple root cause to all of this. The top 80-89% of desirable posts usually have to be fought for, because like any good thing in life, they are in demand. Nature ensures the survival of the fittest, even in the business world; competition determines who gets all the desirable posts out there. Men invariably get these positions because they are natural fighters - we've had to be, in order to survive and feed our families. Although we earned our keep thousands of years ago by killing buffaloes and wooly mammoths, natural law hasn't changed - and neither have we. The level of civilization may have gone up by several orders of magnitude, but we're still the same competitive creatures we've always been. The world, too, still has limited resources that are subject to competition - and there will *always* be less supply than demand. This is not a new concept!

This is where most women don't look so good, though. They aren't the sort of people who compete, for the most part. As such, they usually get any kind of desirable position snatched away from them by the first man who *is* willing to fight for it. Expecting the laws of nature to change because women can't deal with testosterone is about as reasonable as men expecting women to shut up because we can't stand their nagging. Neither is going to happen, so we should just deal with it. No company in their right mind is going to introduce a server room just for women (where do you think MCSE graduates will end up working?), so we may as well dispense with this kind of idiotic thinking before we even begin. I can't help thinking that if I "sort of sit there like a shy violet at the back and not say anything" in any company, I deserve to be overlooked for any desirable position - now or in the future. Success is made, not found.

Unfortunately, this is one of the downsides of equality. Women are expected to earn their keep in a man's world - where the rules of Nature reward masculine abilities, not feminine ones. This is represented by the amount of men out there with the choice pickings, compared to the number of women. Many women do not appreciate that if they want to get ahead in life, they need to lose the "shy violet" attitude, assert themselves and fight with the rest. If they aren't willing to get their hands dirty, well, there's a saying: "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." I don't think most women lack the skill or aptitude to actually do these jobs. But far too many of them do lack the spirit to compete - and competition is *the* key factor. Such women do exist, and you'll find them in the other 11-20% of desirable roles. Just as you'll probably find male flower arrangers, secretaries, fashion designers and HR assistants - in about the same proportions.

Oliver.

The next person who invokes biological determinism should be reminded, as Oliver is about to be, that not long ago scientists thought man would never run the mile is under four minutes because his heart would explode, and that women couldn't study physics because their brains would overheat. Next.


In an age of loyalty cards and biometrics it's nice to see (in this instance) Microsoft not caring about details and isn't this what we all want, better IT people not more IT women, or whichever gender happens to be the minority at the time.

If these women can't cope in a mixed training environment, how are they going to manage in the work place? Anyway good luck to them finding an all female business to get a job in.

Niall


Diversity is important - but why do you support diversity efforts ONLY in areas where politicians have decided to cut down the proportion of men?

Look at teacher training in the UK: In 1950, some 38 % of primary school teachers were male, now a mere 10.4 % males are trained by teacher training institutions. This figure is lower than the proportion of women in Parliament where Labour has imposed female only canditates at elections. At secondary school level: Male representation is 14 per cent down since the 1970, and falling 1 per cent every 2 years.

Are you saying that children no longer need diversity because femcentric politicians say so?

Are you saying we need a culture where many more women have to be driven into IT, while our schools become female ghetto institutions where males only exist in wornout books?

Look at social work: In the 1970s Social Work Training institutions produced an output of graduates where men and women were roughly 50:50. Now, 30 years later, the very same institutions produce an output where less than one in 5 trained social workers is male! They even celebrate the decimation of diversity as " This shows the success of our equal opportunity policies".

Why do support measures that decimate male representation in the workforce?

I love The Register - but please evaluate if The Register really must blindly suppor a Labour Party agenda which seems to want a culture where young men are educated by institutions that only hire women, and that teach an agenda which only seeks to promote the interests of women.

I believe that diversity + equal treatment is too important to treat it as a female-only matter.

Best Regards

Eugen Hockenjos

By way of explanation, we write about the IT stuff because we are an IT site. Mostly we try to stick to the subject, except when it involves slapping contests on New York radio. See above.

As for your fears that men will be driven from the workplace by swarms of marauding women, you probably don't need to worry. Some topline figures for y'all:

  • In the UK, on average, male graduates earn 15% more than females.
  • Women hold less than one in ten university professorships. Similarly, they hold less than one in ten of the top positions in FTSE 100 companies, the police, the judiciary and trade unions
  • Even in traditionally "female" careers, where women make up the majority of the workforce, they tend to be under-represented at senior levels. For example, 80% of primary school teachers are female but only 65% of primary school heads

Panic over?


Taking inspiration from long-dead Egyptians, the UK's nuclear clean-up force needed to find a way to store disposal instructions for future generations. They elected to swap high-tech document storage for papyrus, since it is likely to be around longer, and tends to be less in need of upgrades:

It's an awesome idea... but if we're preparing this for people who will live in a few millennia, where's the Rosetta Stone for it?

It's a little hard to read what's on the papyrus if one doesn't understand the language...

Cheers, Phillip


This begs an interesting future prospect, wherein an archeological expedition uncovers this trove of treasures from the past. As the documents in the tubes will take time to be unwrapped, unrolled and properly deciphered, lets open the big boxes first! And thus began the curse of the mummies tomb ... part 2.

Walter


Have any curses (ancient egyptian or modern liberal gov't) been placed on said waste container sites to prevent "desecration"??

John


Reminds me of a project I saw a while back. Scientists, architects, psychologists, all working together to design a nuclear waste storage facility. Not only do you have to put it somewhere that wont be destroyed by a volcano, but you have to make sure no-one opens it for 10,000 years.

Since the English language is unlikely to be around in it's current form in 10,000, a big "DANGER" sign would be pointless, so that had to design something that looked like it contained something very dangerous but totally worthless. If it looked to impressive, people might think it contained something of value. Too plain, and people might not realise the risk of the content.

They also had to make it so that people wouldn't try living near it. They ended up with what looked like a partially shaved hedgehog...

Nathan


And finally...

A group of US kids is faced with expulsion from school, and a possible criminal prosecution because of some mild hacking of the school system. Apparently one of the nefarious 13 actually viewed (gasp) pornography. Let that be a lesson to the numpty who taped the administrator password to the back of all the school's machines.

I agree with the parents on this matter, as we have had almost the same problem here in the UK, the teachers and governing bodies involved are overreacting alot. Personally I think they are just pissed off that some 15 year old kids out smarted them.

My younger brother did something along the same lines, he sent a message to every single computer in the high school saying "you smell" using the net send command in windows XP. He was threatened to be expelled and for what? exposing a security flaw or pissing off the head master during an ofsted visit?

If anything they should be thanking the kids for exposing the flaws and how easy it is to do, specially when the password is written down on the back of the machine... Pfft! Americans!

Daniel


By eck, when I were a lad we 'acked our schools 'puter network and then college network properly, by programming, admittedly Novel Networks requires some level of skill to secure properly, but even with no execution rights but for a few office applications it became clear VBA was our own little regedit and then some ;-)

Martin


I really hope there is a statue of limitations on this sort of criminal activity. I don't want the cops to haul me and the gang back to face our principal for crimes years in the past. Incidentally I remember doing a similar thing in high school so I could read the BOFH stories archived on El Reg. The reason why the authorities crack down on this is that adults hate kids that are smarter than them.

Dan


I tend to agree with you guys at El Reg. It doesn't matter -WHAT- the kids were doing; the point is they did break the rules and circumvented the programs set in place to limit their surfing abilities. If you break into a bank vault, you're going to get the book thrown at you regardless of whether or not you actually try and leave with any of the cash.

Furthermore, the school has nobody to blame but themselves for being so blatantly STUPID as to taping the administrator password to the back of the machines. I'm only 26; when I was still in high school, the Internet was in its mainstream virginity, and our computer labs weren't net connected...

However, the school administration did do student recordkeeping from the very same machines in the lab.. In that situation, using the principal's last name as the administrator password was a Bad Idea. However, I didn't do anything mischievous - I just left a note on the Administrator account saying they really ought to think of a more secure password.

As you wrote, "The parents of the Kutztown 13 claim that the school has overreacted, and that the kids are being punished for making monkeys of the system, rather than any serious misdemeanour." True in a sense, but the kids still broke rules. If anything they should have pointed out the obvious shortcomings of the security instead of exploiting it.

Aeryck


Americans: Admin password taped to back of machine ... Kids get done.

Back in MY day - had computers been something worth bothering with - we'd have fleeced most of the staffs' online bank accounts and been charging £5 (paypal accepted) for 5-minutes of watching the webcam we'd have installed in the girls' changing rooms ...

'kids these days eh. Chat!!!?

Andy


Your comment "Older readers will recall that such behaviour in our day would certainly have attracted a sound thrashing with the birch and most likely transportation to the antipodes." rang a bell - I'd just found the following whilst trying to trace a relative.

Flogging is just not enough.

6th March 1840 - Richard TAYLOR, 32, and James KNOWLES, 26, charged with having, on the 3rd of March, inst., at Bradford, in the West-Riding, feloniously stolen twenty pairs of clogs, eighteen pairs of pattens, seven pairs of shoes and other articles, the property of one Henry HARDAKER. And the said Richard TAYLOR is further charged with having, on the 4th of March, inst., at Bradford aforesaid, feloniously stolen, taken and carried away, twenty-two pieces of worsted stuff, the property of one Charles TETLEY. Richard TAYLOR, 32, Guilty of shop breaking. To be transported beyond the seas for the term of ten years. James KNOWLES ? Guilty of the like ? To be imprisoned and kept to hard labour in the said House of Correction at Wakefield for one year.

5 March 1785, JOHN FORTUNE, guilty of stealing Linen from a Bleaching-Croft above the value of ten Shillings. To be Hanged on Saturday the second day of April next.

John HUTCHINSON alias John SOWLEY aged 50 years Received 1st June 1826 Brought before the Court 8th July 1826 "Charged upon the oath of Charles HORNBY of Osmertherly (sic) in the North Riding Innkeeper with having on the 12th day of May last, feloniously stolen, taken and carried away from and out of the dwelling house of him the said Charles HORNBY aforesaid sundry articles to wit ten yards of blue cloth and two brass candlesticks of the value of ten shillings the property of the said Charles HORNBY" verdict: Guilty. Judgement of death entered on record.

Martin

And on that note, we'll wish you a happy weekend. ®

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