Saturday, 24 January 2015

My Books Creating Some Interest On The Internet

This posting is a bit of an ego-boost for me.  They say only sad people search themselves on the internet.  However, this blog has long been a tool to help me cope with life and all that it throws at me.  As can be seen from previous postings, I love writing books but am often exasperated by the feedback people give me that seems to dismiss me for being 'wrong' (as opposed to have 'wrong' opinions) or portrays me as having failed simply because I have not included something specific that they want.  I wish people would write to me here rather than condemn me on Amazon.

A recent reviewer on Amazon.uk complained that some of my stories were dull.  That is a fair point.  I do not agree but I accept for him they may have been.  Then he complains that I do not have dynamic links from the stories to the historical notes at the end.  This is a challenge with e-books.  People cannot put their finger in at one page and flick forward to the end of the book.  I was able to put such dynamic links into the five books concerned the evening that I read that comment.  If he had emailed me directly then I could have done it sooner.  People forget that you can amend and republish an e-book in 12 hours, sometimes even less if you are a regular publisher.

I suppose that most people do not want me to correct their error, because there is a tribe of reviewers who thrive on bringing down authors.  It is a hobby in itself.  It reminds me of all these 'errors' programmes about movies and television programmes, which show tiny mistakes that you never even notice when watching the original programme.  Some people have been great and written to me with updates or corrections and I have amended the book immediately.  However, most prefer to use any slips as a tool to condemn a book.  One word wrong on a single page in this society is enough for an entire 200-page book to be condemned as useless.  I know it makes them feel good and powerful but it means e-book authors face a much harder time than authors of the past, despite the fact that ironically, they have far greater power to amend errors.

Out of boredom, I decided to see if anyone was talking about my books in other contexts aside from the Amazon feedback sections.  In my alternate history books I outline that one of my goals is to stimulate debate about the possibilities in history and that I am happy if people disagree with me if they are discussing the topics.


This is the longest debate, about Japan becoming an ally of Germany in the First World War which comes from my in 'Other Trenches'http://www.alternatehistory.com/Discussion/showthread.php?p=9702453  They are not overly enthusiastic about my ideas, though it is rather presented as me saying this would happen rather than discussing the feasibility.  Some of the contributors see Japan before the First World War as a puppet of the British which is a mistaken impression.  This was the whole reason that Britain broke decades of behaviour and went into an alliance and with a country that no Power had considered a potential alliance partner.  The relationship only lasted 20 years.

The commenators also seem to miss how stretched British naval forces were in that decade with the fear of German naval power, though the fear was greater than the actuality.  They see no reason why the British would not try to restrain Japan in 1895 though this is exactly what they did in 1921-22 over the Shandong Peninsula and with warming relations with the USA they dropped Japan very quickly as an ally.  Yes, Japan did not have the strongest navy in the world, but in the North Pacific and against the forces the colonial powers could muster there, it was strong, especially if aided by the Germans.  This strength had been proven against Russia, though the commentators dismiss the naval strength Russia itself held before 1905.

This one is discussing the war between Italy and Greece in 1940-1 but mainly points to the chapter in 'Other Roads III' about the German invasion of Bulgaria:  https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/soc.history.what-if/zwZjrwRqDK4 

A couple of other people have said they have read my books:

Stig Haugdahl stated on Twitter he had read 'Other Trenches'
https://twitter.com/stighaugdahl/status/533293106804686848

and in August 2014 someone calling themselves 'Deceptively Calm' gave me a nice review: 'Just finished "In other trenches" by a guy called Rooksmoor. A great collection of WW1-What-ifs, intelligently explored. Not fiction, just alternate history. I've already bought the sequel and am eyeing his books on alternate 19th century scenarios as well.' at http://www.iswintercoming.com/what-are-you-reading-t16-735.html

I suppose all of us seek some supportive words. I get frustrated when someone attacks my books for being something that I never even intended them to be.  I have had to put up big warnings about the essays not being fiction.  Even then some feel that because I do not insist on a particular outcome I am somehow dodging what alternate history should be about; one even insisted I be removed from the alternate history category.  It is clear that they want me to be dogmatic so that they can be dogmatic back and dismiss my ideas.  A debate is harder to contest and they do not get the satisfaction of showing me what an idiot I am.  Book writing and reviewing has become a combat sport.

I am interested in how I often get turned from 'Alexander Rooksmoor' into simply 'Rooksmoor'.  Perhaps the blog name contributes to that, perhaps again it is characteristic of the pugnacious nature of online debate which so often turns to epithets drawn from physical violence, particularly rape.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Less And Less Control Over What My Computer Does

As noted last month, I was facing the deterioration of my laptop after 3.5 years.  Over the Christmas period it got worse, regularly overheating (despite cleaning out the fans) and consequently crashing.  With the sales on, it seemed like an opportune time to buy a replacement.  Knowing that this one is unlikely to make it far into 2018, I spent one third of the money I spent on the last one, so it will not be such a pain when I have to dump it.  The trouble is, now I buy a laptop and it is on Windows 8.  So much stuff is buried far deeper than in the past.  I battled even to change the wallpaper on the main screen.  Everything I do I seem to have to log in and re-log in and verify myself.  Even to play the Mah Jong matching tile game, which is free, I now have to establish an account with Xbox.  I also had to receive a code to my mobile phone, just to play a simple, free game.

What makes it worse is that it is not simply Microsoft which is asking me for verification at every turn, but because I bought a Hewlett-Packard computer, their facilities are constantly on to me to link to its provision often in contradiction to what Microsoft are peddling to me.  They have no appreciation of how I work, they want to connect everything in the way they see best.  This has long been my concern with computers, that these days, the systems patronise you rather than offer the facilities you need, they try to get you to fit to their approach.  With Windows 8, I had to disable a score of apps that I have no desire to use and had to work to put all the stuff I like, such as Word and work packages like Excel and PowerPoint into a place where I could reach them easily without having to dig through recommendations for a New Year diet or trips to places that I could never afford.  There needs to be a setting which recognises - 'this person bought a cheap computer at a sale price, thus he does not have the income to afford all this stuff we are shovelling at him'.

Back in the 2000s if I bought a computer, I bought a tool.  Now what I have bought is a billboard, constantly piling me with extra things I might want to buy and locking my identity into everything.  I got sick of this and so have established an entirely anonymous account unconnected to anything else.  This, however, then bars me from playing the Mah Jong matching game.  The trade is constantly, 'you can only have basic functions if you allow us to keep shoving advertising at you'.  In the 2000s, I paid about the same amount of money and was left alone.  Is such advertising necessary to fund the cost of these machines?  What is tiresome is that I spend more time disabling all these facilities than I actually do working on what I want to work with.  It is as if I have bought a car but on the way to work I have to go by a route chosen by someone else so that I can stop at shops along the way that I have no interest in.  Just wait until the 'updates' start and I have to switch on my computer so that it can simply play with itself for 30-60 minutes apparently 'updating' something that looks identical when it has finished.  Sometimes it deigns to allow me to focus on what I want, but that is never within the first hour of being on.

The other thing is Cloud storage.  The hacking of such facilities is well known and yet I am constantly being pummelled to put my documents and photos into Cloud storage.  Microsoft, Dropbox and Hewlett Packard have all offered me totalling around 5TB of Cloud storage.  Why on Earth would I want to us that?  I am not rich and having bought a laptop I see no reason to go out and also get a smartphone or a tablet.  I would get one not all of them.  Typing novels on a phone is a waste of time; searching for an address when on the move is something different.  However, we are encouraged to see every tool as universal, rather than seeking out the best for what we want to do.  Again, the companies feel they know better than us how to live our live - am I the only one for which that is dystopian?  I am not a teenager and so I recognise that I might be out of step with current trends and indeed have no interest in current fashions in technology.  Then again, I am not a man who would buy a car because it looks good, I buy a car which I hope will work well and is safe.  Companies seem to forget that dull people like me make up the majority and many of us do not even want to try to look cool.  For me a computer is a tool not a lifestyle choice.  If Sony can be hacked, what hope do I have that my Cloud-stored materials will be safe?  If Hollywood celebrities can end up with their photos everywhere, people could send mine around without a second thought.

Memory sticks are leaping on almost on a monthly basis.  Three years ago, I got a 4GB for £29 (US$45; €37) now I can buy a 32GB memory stick for £20,  Yes, you can have memory sticks stolen or you can lose them, but for work stuff, my fiction, even photos, even if I want to use them on different devices, why risk using the Cloud, when I can have them all on a tiny piece of metal affixed to my keys?

What I am seeking, perhaps foolishly, from computer and software companies, is to be treated like an adult.  I want a tool that does what I want it to do.  If I want extra, I can make that choice in time, I do not need to be advertised to every time I switch on.  Indeed, I think they do not recognise that how in so many people it instills hostility to the very things they are promoting.  I want tools on my computer that I can use without going online.  There seems to be a fantasy at Microsoft and Hewlett Packard as with many companies that the internet is universal and always available.  They clearly do not work in the average office let alone try to use it in a cafe.  Having to incessantly connect even to use mundane products, slows the whole process up.  We have long put aside the concept of the 'information superhighway' and know at best it is a B road.  However, these companies seem determined to fill it up with ice cream vans seeking to sell you the latest gimmick. 

Each time I buy a computer, I seem to spend a larger amount of my money on getting things I do not want and finding access to what I do want harder than ever.  Perhaps in an era when utility companies charge you in advance for energy or water you are never going to use, I should not be surprised that as a consumer, despite the apparent 'choice' it is ever harder to get the right tool for me.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Books I Read In December

Non-Fiction
'Winston Churchill' by Henry Pelling
This book was first published in 1974 and I read a revised edition from 1982.  However, in general it felt even older than that.  It has a style that would not have been out of place in 1954.  Despite what some reviewers say, it is not a strictly chronological book as chapters step out of the flow of history to look, for example, at his private life or his writing.  It gives details that many readers will not encounter in general histories about Churchill as a man and as a writer as opposed to being a leader and it is good on those times when he was not in office.  His interest in bricklaying was something I never knew.  It also shows him as a constituency MP and this also gives a perspective on local British politics through the period that he was standing for election.  It gives a fair appreciation of Churchill's role in the Great Upheaval of 1910-11, a topic of particular interest for myself.  What it is particularly poor on, however, is a blind defence of the Dardanelles Campaign during the First World War.  It was an utter fiasco and yet Pelling portrays it as not being that bad and somehow finds some value in it.  Otherwise he excuses Churchill's involvement due to timing of him being in various roles.  This approach really weakens the credibility of the book.

The book is almost purely narrative, with minimal analysis and certainly no efforts to bring out long-term trends in Churchill's politics, this is left down to the reader.  What became apparent was Churchill's imperialist mindset, indeed a form of racialism (as opposed to racism) in that he seems to have categorised peoples of the world into a hierarchy.  The 'English-speaking peoples' that he wrote of appear to have been at the top in his view and towards others, certainly beyond Western Europe he adopted a patronising attitude.  He seemed to be quite content to see the dissolution of Poland and Czechoslovakia by the Germans, but for the fact that this advanced the strength of Nazi Germany as a rival for Britain.  This attitude which becomes apparent from connecting points through Pelling's book explains his hostility even to self-government or dominion status for India.  It is clear he saw the Indians as a benighted people with weak leaders who were incapable of even approaching democracy.  His attitude to African colonies was even more dismissive.  This is not surprising of a man of his class and time, but tends to be overlooked and there is sometimes, as seems the case with Pelling, that whilst Churchill was a defender of democracy against dictatorship he also worked tirelessly to deny democracy to many people.  Overall this is a worker-like book that is probably best used for reference rather than for getting a rounded picture of the man.

'The Holy Thief' by Ellis Peters
This was one of the Cadfael stories that was televised (in 1998), though there are subtle differences between the book at the teleplay.  However, Sub-Prior Herluin is less of a forceful character than the very sharp portrayal of him by George Irving (born 1954) in the television series.  The story surrounds representatives coming from another Benedictine monastery at Ramsey in Cambridgeshire which we have seen ravaged in previous books as a result of the continuing upheaval of the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud.  Shrewsbury where Brother Cadfael is based suffers a bad flood and the reliquary supposedly holding the bones of St Winifred (though readers and a couple of characters know from the incidents seen in the first book of the series 'A Morbid Taste for Bones' (1977) that this is not actually the case) is moved for safety and then is stolen.  How it ends up on the lands of a local lord is different to in the television series. However, much is the same, with the involvement of the wayward monk, Brother Tutilo and the musicians/singers Rémy of Pertuis and his slave Daalny. Local characters, the Blounts, who featured in 'The Potter's Field' (1989) also reappear.

This book is stronger for being back in Shrewsbury. It is also good to see the Blount family once more as often in the Cadfael books, bar the reoccurring central characters, often you do not find out about what happened to people wrapped up in earlier cases. The book highlights the issue of slavery which while discouraged was permitted in England at the time and the use of sortes Biblicae, i.e. flicking through the Bible and stopping at a random point to come to decisions about clerical issues. As in a number of stories in the latter half of the sequence, Peters looks at men unsuited to being monks and the female perspective on the choices such men had made. This gives her some room for the romantic element which she likes to include and this story does have elements of a 'courtly love' tale of the kind that troubadours like Rémy sing about. However, it also leavens the very certain and very male perspective of books centred on a monastery. Readers will also be glad to see Brother Jerome, one of the nastiest characters in the books, have some kind of come-uppance. I enjoyed this story and felt in the penultimate novel of the main Cadfael sequence, Peters was back to form.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Three Years Old And My Computer Is Dying

In the movie, 'Blade Runner' (1982), the replicants, the life-like androids have a life expectancy of only four years.  The portrayed society of November 2019, like that of the Roman Empire, is worried that its slaves would become too strong and would overpower the citizens.  The plots of the movie is around replicants seeking their maker to have their lives extended.  It seems that we are quite a way from having androids threaten our society, though Stephen Hawking fears basic artificial intelligence will be able to do it first.  However, the built-in expiry date seen in 'Blade Runner' already appears to be in place.

In the summer of 2011, I bought an Alienware laptop computer for £1400 (€ 1750; US$2240).  Being a keen PC gamer, I ordered one of the highest graphic and sound quality and with a fast processor so that I could enjoy the online 'Total War' games and 'World of Warcraft' to the best standard.  This summer, 2014, moving into a room I was renting in a new house one of the current tenants, a postgraduate pharmacy student asked me about my laptop and when he found out it was coming up to three years old he scoffed, asking me how I hoped to achieve anything with something 'that old'.  I did not mention that my mobile phone was bought in 2005 and does not have a camera in it.

My housemate's predictions rapidly have come true.  I know in terms of online games, you expect fast developments and I do not expect it to run as quickly as it would have done in 2011.  I am also aware that in a house with five residents, even broadband gets stretched between all the uses.  However, even offline, the computer now struggles.  It is a pain to watch it labour to open Word and you have to expect it to crash at random even when simply looking at text documents.  It can struggle to open a second document or move between two.  Very challenging when you write as much fiction as I do.  I spend a lot of time watching a spinning disk against a black or a white blank screen.  Ironically I end up reading the newspaper, writing a diary (by hand with a pen) and even practicing Chinese characters, again with pen and paper.  It is almost as if my laptop feels that I am too old these days to use its facilities.

The deterioration in speed over the past three years has been phenomenal; declining very rapidly this year and so naturally I worried something was wrong.  I have a scheduled 'defrag' every Wednesday and a virus check every Monday evening.  I run through the list of all the software I have installed and eliminate anything which does not appear to be of use.  I removed every image from the laptop and put it on a 1 TB external hard drive, not that I had that many photos that it should have taxed the laptop.  I have even taken it apart and cleaned the fans, concerned they may be clogged and so it was overheating.  None of these things have been able to halt the slowing down and the increases in crashes.  It is as if, in the way my housemate viewed it, at 3.5 years old, my laptop is elderly and no longer can even do the basic tasks it once did such as handle a Word document, let alone play the games it was bought for.

Part of the problem is that the computer only occasionally does what I ask of it.  Much of the time I can switch it on and it can happily play with itself.  Every day there is some download that seems to take precedence over anything I might want to do.  In the middle of games, the machine will shut down and tell me it has to restart to accommodate a new update which seems to make absolutely no difference to the running of my computer bar from ruining my game.  Humans now have minimal control over their computers.  We are shaped by what they want to do and they make it clear our interests are a long way down the list behind the masturbation that are all these updates.

Obviously I feel that I have thrown away a lot of money on something that really was going to cost me £700 per year for the kind of service I wanted.  There seems to be no point in buying anything except the cheapest computer next time round.  Clearly online gaming with a PC is really only open to people who can afford £1000 per year in hardware in order to engage with it.  Given that my car cost £900, it is clear that I am no longer in that social class and so will be shut our of 'Total Rome II' let alone 'Shogun 2' which taxes my machine even more because of the greater landscape graphics.  Yes, before you suggest it, I have scaled down the graphic detail on these games and that is all that has allowed me to play them into mid- to late-2014, but clearly not in 2015.

I feel an idiot for believing if I spent a large sum of money it would be enough to own a machine that would remain with me for five years.  Clearly you can only expect to have the performance you paid for, for two years.  This adds to the ever growing pile of discarded computers and all the components that go into them.  It also makes them devices which have a life expectancy far less than many electrical devices out there.  If you had to replace your washing machine every two years, it would become tiresome.  Even while I write this, the computer is straining to keep up the connection to the blog and is going into overdrive downloading some update that I cannot even see when I search the system.

I would be grateful if someone could direct me to a company that makes computers that do what you want them to do rather than insisting that their desires have priority.  Clearly that company is not Alienware and I am angered that I was so misled by them.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Be Bashless and Norant: Have Gorm and Ruth

The other day the 13-year old boy who used to live in the house I once owned, was playing a computer game in which he constructed vehicles and then takes them on to the Martian landscape where he battles with other players.  For his age, his vocabulary is incredibly developed, something I put down to him being the son of an authoress.  However, when he was playing he was telling me as his vehicle charged forward that he was being 'bashful'.  I watched his game play and said I did not think that was the case; explaining that bashful meant 'shy' rather than being 'full of bash'.  He gathered what I meant and subsequently when acting boldly in the game he now tells me that he is behaving in a 'bashless' way, which I thought was a great invention.

This then got me to thinking about words in English which lack the alternative.  English is an irrational language anyway and I am not going to get into a discussion of 'cleave' here.  The two that came to mind were 'gormless', i.e. someone who is lacking in intelligence and certainly attention and 'ruthless', i.e. someone who is merciless.  When did we stop saying someone who is intelligent or attentive is 'gormful' or 's/he has got real gorm'?  When was anyone noted as being 'ruthful'? 

I did wonder if there was another in 'ignorant'.  The prefix 'ig' can mean lacking in something, the main example being 'ignoble'.  You can be 'noble' and so I wondered if you can also be 'norant'.  Examples might be, 'that Stephen Hawkins is a really norant man'. It is clear that someone who was bashless and norant would be far more dangerous than someone bashful and ignorant. Then I came on to 'baleful' and considered how nice it would be to meet someone who was 'baleless', i.e. jolly.  Someone who was 'hapful' as opposed to being 'hapless' may indeed also be baleless as they go through life without any mishaps.  Clearly these are antonyms - hap and mishap, but they do not manifest themselves the same way in our language.  In the same category would come 'aimful', the natural opposite of 'aimless'.

English has too many left-over remnants.  It can be entertaining to note the anomalies.  However, not for the first time do they increase my appreciation of anyone able to learn English as their first or subsequent language, especially up to the idiomatic level.

P.P. 08/12/2014
As I had hoped other examples came to mind.  Two which seem to lack antonyms are 'wistful' and 'listless'.  Often they can go together as someone lost being wistful for the past can end up listless.  That is not to say that someone 'wistless', not at all looking at the past with nostalgic sentiment would be necessarily 'listful', i.e. full of life.  I did wonder if 'list' was simply a distortion for 'lust' as in the sense of 'lust for life' rather than sexual connotations.  We do not speak of anyone being 'lustless' though 'lustful' is certainly used, but again, mainly related to an urge for sex rather than for living.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Books I Read In November

Fiction
'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman
There are apparently three versions of this book.  It began as a television series (1996) prompted by comedian and actor Lenny Henry and written by Gaiman.  He then went on to write a book of the series and then a version for American readers who did not understand many of the London references, before this version which is the most comprehensive.  A movie was planned in 2009 but never came to anything but a radio series was broadcast in 2013.

I saw the series when first broadcast and watched it last year on DVD.  However, I still enjoyed the book which is close to, but does not precisely follow the series.  Gaiman has more time to fill in the background and he uses the novel form to really paint the locations and characters of London Below very richly.  The book focuses on Richard Mayhew a Scot living in London who goes to the rescue of a young homeless woman, Door.  Helping her means he is subsequently invisible to people in London and he is drawn into London Below in an effort to recapture his old life.  London Below mixes literal translations of London places, e.g. Old Bailey is an old man who keeps rooks; Earl's Court is a train on which an earl holds court; the Black Friars are friars who are black and so on.  It features exotic characters such as the Angel Islington, Mr. Croup and Mr, Vandemar assassins and the amoral Marquis of Carabas, named after a character in the 'Puss in Boots' story.  Henry and Gaiman did not want to glamourise the lives of the homeless and so as well as having fantastical elements such as the Floating Market, the Beast of London and the Velvets (as in the Velvet Underground) life is cheap and people Mayhew encounters are tortured and killed with little thought.

Overall it is a modern fairy tale and shows fascinating imagination as you would expect from Gaiman.  I enjoyed the book and recommend it if you are looking for something a little different in your fantasy reading as it has elements of many fantasy tropes, but shifts them into a grown-up and gritty context.  It may seem very different if you are unfamiliar with London, but I feel it would still be engaging as the places of London Below will be even more unfamiliar.

'Master Georgie' by Beryl Bainbridge
This is an episodic book laid out in reference to a number of photographs taken between 1846-54.  The chapters rotate through the three perspectives of people who associate with George Hardy of the title, a rather spoilt young, gay, doctor who has photography as his hobby.  Despite his shortcomings he seems to instill great loyalty in his friends and associates.  Consequently they move from London to the Crimea as spectators and increasingly participants in the Crimean War.  There is very minimal plot.  The book is about drawing in great detail the lives and characters of four people, anchored by the focus on Hardy whose perspective we never see.  This is very much a 'slice of life' book which is effective in portraying London in the mid-19th century and the squalor and difficulties of the poorly-executed British effort in the Crimean War.  It was engaging on that basis, but I like a plot and so finished it feeling a little: 'so what?'.  The quality of writing is very good and the historical detail too.  Yet, it was not really the book for me.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Why Technology Cannot Entirely Replace Times Tables

The other day I was listening to a high ranking technologist asking why 7-8 year old children were expected to learn times tables by rote. From what I hear most of his audience disagreed with him. His argument was that everyone carries technology now that allows them to do multiplication, so why should anyone bother to learn to do it in their head or on a piece of paper. He argued that only people who needed this skill should learn it later as young adults. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but my mobile phone nor the camera I habitually carry has the ability to multiply. However, with the majority of even 5-year old children now carrying mobiles, many of which are smartphones, one could see his point. Yet, he has utterly missed other significant elements about why it is so important to have these basic skills. Just because they can be done by a machine does not mean that they should.

I have worked in warehouses and was able to unload pallets of boxes quickly because I knew precisely how many boxes there were on a pallet. The number on pallets varied depending on the size of the box and the heaviness of the contents and if a box or two was missing. However, I would stand there as see a pallet with five boxes down each side and stacked five high and know that there were 125 on it. If the next pallet was stacked four high, it had 100 and so on.  I knew that a stack with 5 x 5 x 5 boxes had more in it that one which was 4 x 5 x 6 boxes despite how it might appear on first impressions ('but it's stacked higher!').  Of course, there was not an infinite variety and you tended to get set quantities but my mental arithmetic was there to work out if anomalies came up. I could also work out on a piece of cardboard with a pen how much I would earn if I did overtime and how much tax I would pay on that. Yes, I could have pulled out a phone and typed in the numbers, but you try operating even a large mobile phone while wearing working gloves.

Anyone who is a parent of school aged children will know that multiplication has changed. When the boy who used to live in my house started primary school his mother and anyone else in earshot was told not to help him with multiplication because we would do it 'wrongly'. Parents were pointed to a government website to show them the right way. The method now used is 'repeated adding'. In other words if you want to work out 4 x 3, you add up 3+3+3+3. This might be fine when you are doing basic sums, but once you reach 12 times something let alone 20 times something, then you begin to see its drawbacks. The said boy is now in Year 8, i.e. 12+ and has to do the square root of decimal numbers. Try doing that with the 'repeated adding' approach! I had to teach him long multiplication because the teachers had left him without the mental equipment to do the sums. At this stage he is not supposed to use a calculator, but I imagine most children do. The thing is, mathematics is compulsory for children up to Year 11, i.e. 16, so if he does not have the tools to deal with the sums in this year, how is he going to do it over the next three?

Like the speaker, you might argue, well it is no problem, the boy simply types it into the calculator. However, you need to know what to put into the calculator. The square root of a decimal number is always larger than the number itself. However, if you have no idea of the multiplication of fractions or decimals, you are going to struggle to know what to put in. Such calculations need a lot of estimation so if you cannot get into the 'ballpark' of the answer, you are going to spend a long time with guessing. The child is a quarter of my age but saddled with the repeated adding approach I can constantly beat him in how quickly I can calculate. It should be the other way around. You need some grasp of the mathematical concepts behind the calculations you want to make otherwise you cannot be certain if you are entering the correct data. How do you know what numbers to put in for calculating the area of a circle, which you may have to do when, for example, siting a toilet or a dustbin, if you do know that the formula is πr2 (i.e. r x r; I cannot show a superscript for squared on this system).

I use mental arithmetic on a daily basis, even without thinking.  Most often this is when I am driving.  Yes, I could switch on the sat nav and have it tell me my journey time, but on the daily commute this seems pointless.  Thus, constantly I am seeing my speed and working out how much time is left given the distance.  I also work out if I have time to stop for petrol - how much that will reduce my average speed and my overall journey time.  I might also consider an alternate route and how the extra distance has to balance against the speed I am doing on the current route - something too few people balance up hence speeding through 'rat runs' when they realise the 'short cuts' are not actually saving them time.  Maybe I think about my driving too much, but among the millions of motorists I cannot be alone.  I would feel pretty powerless if I did not have a grasp of time, distance and speed as I travelled along.

Thinking more broadly, the speaker may have lauded the internet for providing what everyone needs to know.  That may be the case in his subject area, however it is not in mine.  Despite common assumptions, the amount of information on the internet on many subjects is very limited and very repetitive.  I have written on numerous occasions about the boundaries of the internet when it comes to historical knowledge.  You can soon end up reading exactly the same information again and again, with nothing new being added, even if you have the ability to hop over to websites in other languages.  Wikipedia's encouragement of using translations to flesh out entries, simply adds to that as it is the source of so much material that is used by other websites.  You also run up quickly against bias whether political, racial or religious.  I have spoken about how comment on Muslim universities in Europe has been purged and the Wikipedia entry on universities spends more time in ruling Muslim and Orthodox Christian institutions out of the definition than it does actually speaking about what a university is.  Another example, everything on Mormons appears to have been edited by pro-Mormon writers, especially playing down the hostility to polygamy in the USA of the mid-19th century and especially the number of pioneers killed by Mormon forces.  This happens so much, that actually it made me more suspicious of the Mormons than I would otherwise have been.

The internet is far from perfect.  A lot of the information on it is erroneous and shaped by people with an agenda which has little to do with putting up objective facts.  It is a hostile environment.  I have spoken before how even reviews of a First World War poem attracted more ill-informed commentary that wrecked any chance of an interesting or informative discussion about it; drawing parallels to any other conflict was ruled out and it was even questioned whether it was a First World War poem given that it had been written after the war.  The danger of errors creeping into computerised teaching systems was parodied as early as 1967 in the television series 'The Prisoner' which featured such a system called Speed Learn, but which included an error about historical dates.  Too often the internet, primarily Wikipedia has become the 'right' answer even when it is actually wrong.  It would be wrong to see the internet as decreasing human knowledge, that is not at all the case, but what it does accentuate is populist views and often particular groups' agendas, over broader discovery of knowledge.  If a time comes when it cannot be countered by other sources, then there could be argued to be a decline in knowledge.

There are practical reasons why it is a mistake to promote an over-dependence on electronic devices.  As you will have witnessed yourself, many people go to pieces when they have their mobile phone stolen or lost.  They have no idea where they should be or what they should be doing; most importantly, especially for young people, they have no idea what they should be thinking.  You will see everywhere 'phubbing', i.e. two or more people sitting or walking together and yet not talking, rather all their discussions are going on with other people not present via their phones.  To deprive them of their phones is like snatching their souls away; literally you will see them with as much distress as if a favoured pet had been lost not a machine.  Despite such dependence, in recent weeks it has been highlighted how short battery life is becoming for smartphones.  With connectivity constantly on and so many apps running, the average life is a single working day, whereas a few years ago you could expect a phone to run for a week between charges.  I imagine in time battery life will increase but at present the number of things you 'have to' be doing via your phone is increasing faster than the power storage necessary to permit that.  How can you guarantee that the moment you need to do some multiplication your battery will not be dead?

The final reason why I would argue it is foolish to simply allow people to use machines to do their multiplications for them, is because the brain needs exercise.  Constantly we are advised that to avoid the onset of Alzheimer's people need to keep working at mental challenges.  As with the rest of the body, the brain can become 'flabby' if it is not exercised.  To rely on a machine to do calculations which should be typically part of every day business, certainly if simply going shopping or how many potatoes each person in your family should get or whether you need to buy toilet roll before the weekend or will run out of petrol before you get to work or will get a better deal on one mobile phone tariff compared to another.  Yes, we do have machines that can do times tables, but as with learning about personal hygiene, manners, eating well and exercise, these are things we need to instill into children otherwise they and society will suffer as a result.