Good enough for kids

How the BBC's GCSE site makes IT up

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My ire really kicked in when I read the quiz dealing with operating systems. This effort is notably rich in Mr B's trademark imbecilities. He asks at least two questions whose answers I claim are debatable depending on how you read them, he finally gets to type the word 'programme' where he means 'program', but most of all he indulges himself in that weediest of teacher's gambits: putting in a trick question.

He asks if 'deleting files from a CD-ROM' is a task for the operating system. He hopes that his victim will fail to notice that a CD-ROM proper is a read-only medium (or as he would doubtless put it a read-only media) and answer 'yes'.

Note to Mr B. On my PC, I can put writeable and rewriteable CDs and DVDs into what I call the 'CD-ROM' drive. I therefore describe all these silver discs 'CD-ROMs'. I know I'm not alone in this imprecise practice in our whacky world of 'ICT', and frankly I'm not going to take any lessons in terminology from you, sunshine. So: yes I do think that deleting files on my rewriteable CD-ROMs is a task for the OS. What do you do? Rub them out with your thumb?

But in some places Mr B surpasses himself, and drifts from the world of sloppy-but-arguable stuff into the sphere of demonstrable tosh.

A main frame (sic) he asserts 'operates differently from the simple PC... [it] can process two or more programs at the same time.' Well, stone the crows. More than two, eh? That must be a sight.

He says that 'an ICT system is a set-up consisting of hardware, software, data and the people who use them' (sic again, he means 'use it'). Oh yeah? So, to re-apply your defining technique to another sphere, an 'automobile system' is 'a set up consisting of metal, plastic, petrol and the jerk who just cut me up', eh Mr B?

(I think what Mr B really wants to say, if only he could keep his grammar on the road for half a sentence, is that IT is important because of the way it affects people. This is true enough, if strikingly trite and pompous, but to get his point across he has told a fib, and a lazy one at that.)

He thinks computers that run in real time 'have to be very fast and have a lot of processing power'. What, like the small, old-fashioned undigital computer that lives in my central heating thermostat, Mr B? It's called a 'bimetallic strip' and, although it maintains room temperature in real time it is neither speedy nor a regular star in MIPS benchmark tests.

(Ok, so that's a dodgy definition of 'computer' I'm using there, just to be annoying. Thought we'd give Matey back some of his own medicine. But I'm sure you can think up a straightforward counter-example of your own without straining, so I'm leaving that as an exercise. Latency-schmatency.)

'Multiprogramming' is 'a method of operating such that several programs appear to be running at once' says Mr B, further noting that the term usually applies to 'main frame' operation. On the other hand, further down the same page, 'multitasking usually applies to microcomputers whereby the computer is running a number of applications apparently at the same time'.

Mr B, nobody's multiprogrammed since IBM got permission to fire the man who used to walk in front of the System/360 with a red flag. Even then, my impression is that they didn't use the word in the way you use it, for example see Wikipedia's discussion. I think you don't have a clue what it means, so you made something likely up. Come clean with Aunty Verity. Am I right?

And so on, and on.

Some of these problems stem from insufficient attention when putting the website together. Others just display startling ignorance. It does make me wonder: what price will students pay relying on Bitesize coverage of other subjects?

I can afford to be complacent. Pointing out Mr B's blunders is just jolly fun for me. After all, I have no kids, and I won't be taking the GCSE exam in a few weeks...

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