I’m Calling App Britain

Working for an app startup, in this article Fraser Medvedik-Horn learns that he’s got a lot to learn

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Recently, I began employment with a startup in the field of educational apps (unnamed here as I only just started, better check this with someone!). It’s designed to improve literacy and numeracy for kids from kindergarten right to the end of schooling, so there’s a real variety of questions ranging from ‘how many ducks?’ through to ‘Are these true mathematical functions’?

Since it has got such a range of activities, it can be used over years to track students’ growth, with lots of handy graphs. It uses a diagnostic test to understand their level at first and it follows up with algorithm which ensures they are getting questions which are appropriate for their level and curriculum

It will be my job to sell it to teachers and educators around the world, so I decided to test it out. Here’s what’s it revealed.

My Maths Skills Could Probably Do With Work

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Like most people, since I left high school I haven’t needed to use mathematics for much apart from the basics – addition, subtraction, multiplication. Things like fractions and factorisation? Very little utility in my day to day life.

For most people, if you want to work out how much milk you had left if you started with 1 litre and a fifth and you drank two-fifths, you would just eyeball it. But kids get asked this sort of question to practise fractions so I had to dig deep and remember how a lot of fairly basic tasks like this worked.

It wasn’t impossible, I was just my slower than I should have been. It was actually pretty humbling to play on the app as it pits you against other users, who are primarily school children of varying levels, and they are surprisingly difficult to beat. In part this is because the games themselves take some skill to win the most points and I am as lapsed a gamer as I am a mathematician.

But I Got Better!

While going through product training I had to make some test accounts. I also had to go through a diagnostic test myself so I could see what the educators see.

I tested at the correct level that I had elected for my student, S5, and then I played past the diagnostic. And do you know what I saw? I got better. I veritably skyrocketed.

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Turns out that mathematics ability is a muscle which must be exercised. When all you do is the basics that you need for life, like calculating income versus expenditure, you plateau. With only half an hour of practise, however, you can find yourself relearning skills you thought you had long ago forgotten.

And I’m sure you’d agree, having more skills is better than having fewer.

I felt my ability was coming back. I found I could answer quicker. Plus I got to grips with the games, which are actually really fun. Educational technology has come a long way since I was younger and I think it will become a bigger part of future educational development.

What Are the Limits?

The app does have some limitations as it is more a tool of revision and practise than an introducer of new techniques, but there is no one method of education which is perfect.

If you do all of your educating via textbooks, students will get bored and will switch off. If you do all of your educating through practical experiments, you will find your students haven’t got the theory and the experience on paper to pass exams. Educating people effectively takes a variety of different methods and tools, lots of different media and active use. Because education is not just teaching people to pass exams, it is giving them practical skills which they can use in real life and real life is a complex place.

All this taken into account, if you want something which is fun and can really bring back a person’s love of practising mathematics, well-designed apps which give you graphs and insight into how they are doing are a really good way to go. Especially for younger kids who can find it hard to focus, something fun while being educational is useful for their development. I am looking forward to selling it on these grounds as I have become a believer.

Fraser Medvedik-Horn

The writer of this piece quite enjoyed the app and would have had a good time working on it but sadly it’s not to happen. It remains here nameless.

Bit of a wrecker of a post, actually. Talked to a teacher friend for two minutes over facebook to pick their brain about app-based education then got unfriended. Attended an interview one day at lunchtime, failed because I couldn’t devote all my time to it and lost the app job for various reasons which are tedious to explain.

If you know any employers looking for enthusiastic people, let me know.

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The Way Things Go

In this article, Fraser Medvedik-Horn encounters something incredible at an art gallery and MUST. SHARE. IT. WITH. THE. WORLD.

We’re all busY people so I’ll keep this brief. I saw something amazing today and I must share it.

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Myself and my friend Roisin took an art gallery trip to discuss collaborative works

Roisin and I were at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to discuss writing something together, play or screenplay. We took a break from writing to view some of the art and I saw the below work. Observe. Twice if possible.

That right there is ‘Der Lauf der Dinge’ (‘The Way Things Go’). The full piece is 30 minutes long. This excerpt is but a tenth. It never loses its charm.

It took two years for Peter Fischli and David Weiss to set it all up in a warehouse, and the result is just fantastic.

‘The Way’ is an expression of everything that makes art worthwhile. It took two years of hard work to make something which on the surface has no meaning, but at its heart has so much value. ‘The Way’ shows the relation between things, all things, how the relationships of objects is guided by physics, the natural laws of mechanics bringing everything into contact with each other at exactly the right moment. ‘The Way’ shows a solid through line of action, the camera follows the progression of force as it transforms from fire to water to tire to table to paint to chemicals to fire again.

This art project can be seen as an experiment in identity and the transmigration of souls. Alternatively, it could just be seen as a lot of planned a tions which go off without a hitch and highlight the intelligent planning of the artists.

Whichever meaning you decide to take from this film, I feel like my life is forever different. And that’s the power of modern art.

The writer of this piece loves thinking as much as drinking and finds neither especially handy for a acquiring steady paid employment 

 

The Shock of the Old

 

How do you return after you’ve left? In this article, Fraser Medvedik-Horn revisits the old world and is shocked

In what remains some of my favourite of my own writing, I encountered the new,  Prague. That was the shock of the new. A totally different experience to all before it. I would’ve thought the return would be different. It would be just that, a return. Coming home, going back to normal after 2 and a half weird years.

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I used to walk this way to work

I can’t have been more wrong.

In this time, Edinburgh has changed dramatically. Today is about the pleasure of coming back, even though The Tron stopped serving Belhaven Best because the craft beer revolution is dumb. (I have so many thoughts on this, another story for another time.

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See where that crane is? They’re rebuilding where I used to work

I left it and it felt cold and dark and full of ghosts and I lacked success. Since I’ve been back it’s been warm (metaphorically, not climate change), bright, the ghosts are now pleasing spirits, and the lack of success is opportunity. Edinburgh is all opportunities at the moment.

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The sky is blue and it’s getting brighter every day. This truly is a great city.

I’m shocked, but in a truly pleasant way. I thought I was done with Edinburgh for some time but since being back here I’ve realised that I fell right back into it as a habit. I’m more inspired here than I was in Prague (probably because I understand more of what people are saying on the street), and I have a very strong feeling this is not even the happiest I can get here.

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Harry Potter is based on this one church, don’t you know?

Though the new is shocking and the old can be equally shocking, I’m finding the words of my Granny Wilkie truer every day: “It’s good to go out but it’s nice to come back home”.

***

This is what it feels like after you’ve returned home for a few months. It wasn’t easy and I spent months in a bit of a secret mood at leaving Prague (it’s an incredible city). But now that I’m back, the world is really opening up. It turns out you just need to have the attitude that you can change the story by playing around with the tone.

“I don’t know what I’m doing next” is a bit defeatist.

”I’m EXCITED to find out what I make happen next“ is a whole other story.

I suppose an alternate title for this piece is The Shock of the Bold

I’m going to make so much happen next and it’s exciting.

***

Quick shout out to my mate Murray, his blog’s here, whose awareness groups Autism on the Water got given charitable status lately. He’s doing great work

The writer of this piece is always excited to find out what  he’s written after he’s done it since he goes into a kind of Emersonian trance

Take a Step Back

The story comes from Heraclitus: a man walks to a river to gather some water. The next day he returns to do the same. It is the same river but something in it has changed – the water is different, the flow of it has changed the bank. As it is with rivers, so it is with life. Small differences in time or place make all the difference. Life is all about change and dealing with change.

Last year, I decided to make some changes. I moved countries, from the Czech Republic back to Scotland. Returning to my native land felt right. It meant I had to leave my job as an English teacher. This was difficult as I’d come to love my students and the ESL lifestyle. It was necessary though because I cannot live like that forever. I would rather leave somewhere while I was having fun than stay until it got shit.

On my return I found work in the warehouse of a Book Festival, but that was never going to last longer than a few months. Expiry dates are heartbreaking like that. Like when you want to have tea but realise the milk is 2 weeks overdue. After the Book Festival, I didn’t known what I wanted. At the end of the year, I took on a position doing door to door sales.

And this is where I announce I’ve left that job, without so much as writing a post about it.* My main bugbear was that the hours were ridiculous. The post itself was commission only, which was not bad since I did tolerably well at it, most days. It left me out of pocket some days, however, as you can’t win ‘em all. The most important negative for me was that it did not afford my wife and I the time together that we wanted. What’s the point of being with somebody if you aren’t with them?

(*As someone fairly prolific, albeit on Medium most of last year, this is a somewhat shocking indictment of door to door.)

But the true change of heart came for me when I was in America over Christmas. I had two weeks off to think to myself about the future and what I wanted to do. I reasoned that walking around large housing estates was not up my street. Especially when I could instead do something I really liked. That’s why I’m looking more seriously at my freelance writing career. (Some success in that department already and I only just got started!). I have taken a step back, decided that I want a new direction, and I have set out on the new path.

This path involves actively pursuing ambitious goals. The idea of that being big successes are good. Taking a step back let me see that setting the bar higher would lead to better results and even if I miss the heights I set it, I’ll still land in a good place. This is the path I’ll forge to a great new start.

This new path, I have reasoned, is better fashioned by a return to Pastures Fresh, my OG writing page. A pasture is a splendid place to have a path.

My aims for this year

1. More writing published 

2. Stable job, stable flat

 3. Travel cool places

4. More blogging

5. Network with writing people

Let’s get to it!

Have you ever taken a step back to achieve your goals?

The writer of this piece has hands which smell of cumin, which incidentally is his favourite spice.

Cooking; Rough and Smoothed

Regular readers may know my love of food, typified by my Magical Listicle Tours and my sappy fiancée piece. It’s not all cakes and going to restaurants, though.

In keeping with my part lifestyle, part philosophy, part travel, part whatever, blog – today I want to give you some of the hints and tricks that keep me in fine form. There is no magic, here, just some particular tastes. Home cooked food is one of those things that belongs in everyone’s priority lists. The value of cooking your own food is incalculable. It can be great for fostering friendships and building loving relationships. So here are a few of my favourites, with links to where I got them, or how I developed them.

it’s important to remember when dealing with all these recipes to make them your own. If you really love garlic, multiply it. Got a sweet tooth, bang in more sugar. If you’ve got a craving for salt, by all means, don’t let me or the recipes stop you. You are the master of your own plate!

Shakshuka

The link above goes to Smitten Kitchen, a wonderful food blog with tons of recipes. Here’s one I’ve made and which has become part of my repertoire. Shakshuka is amazing and all it takes is oil, onion, garlic, a tin of tomatoes, some spices (cumin and paprika), and eggs. The link above tells you a fuller method than this, and they suggest parsely and feta cheese to put on top. This dish was prepared minimally using the items listed above though and was delicious. Adding at least a teaspoon of sugar to the tomatoes is probably a good idea as tinned tomatoes sometimes lack that crucial pop.

It takes about 20 minutes. Definitely something for lovers or singles looking to impress their date by cooking. It is vegetarian but not vegan. The sauce itself is lovely though and I’m sure creative vegans can make it work.

Coq au Vin

Know what? I’m not going to sugarcoat this one with food photography. This dish is chicken and red wine. It’s amazing how a French name can make terrifying what is actually pretty pedestrian and essentially peasant food. This one is butter, shallots, garlic, bacon, thyme, mushrooms, wine, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, chicken on the bone cut up into 8 pieces, parsley and black pepper.

But you know what it actually is? Chicken and wine. The other stuff is extra. The recipe they give in the above link is delicious and I recommend you follow it, but don’t sweat the parsley. It tastes great otherwise.

This is an example of one of those dishes which is within the grasp of everyone as it is just throwing stuff together in a pot in the vaguely right order. The only thing it really needs is time. (1hr)

The recipe calls for good wine, but I’m almost certain that’s a con. Save the good wine for drinking and just toss in a full-bodied Bulgarian merlot, or something red with undertones. No need to throw the baby away with the bath water.

This one is good for families, probably better for those with adult children instead of actual babies, but I don’t think cooked wine has much of an impact as far as alcohol goes. It won’t exactly get your kids half cut. In addition, also a great dish to impress that special someone on a special or normal night.

Romance has never been so easy. Chicken + Wine = Delicious.

My Tomato Sauce

So here’s something original. Before I begin, full credit goes to my mum for introducing this to me, my brother for giving me a couple pro-pointers, and the Edinburgh friends who gave me constructive feedback behind my back that all my cooking tastes the same. Believe me, if you could make something like this you’d probably also get obsessed. And so we begin.

Requirements
– Tinned tomato, chopped or peeled depends on preference
– Salt and Pepper to taste
– Sugar, two teaspoons
– Oregano, probably a couple teaspoons.
– Cumin for earthiness, probably a teaspoon
– Paprika for fire, probably a teaspoon and a half
– Garlic, as much as you can bear, crushed.
– An onion, mid-sized chopped small is good.
– Vinegar, a few drops.
– Balsamic vinegar, a few fewer drops

You may have noticed that this is the least precise recipe in the world. Truth be told, this recipe has a history and needs to be learned and personalised. Sometimes you’ll eat with a spice addict, looking at you Kari, add a couple blasts of chilli powder. Some people don’t like garlic, and you’ll need to chop it smaller or take it out entirely. Some people can’t stand the earthiness of cumin so you need to use it sparingly.

The point is, I can’t tell the future. I tend to freepour all of the above ingredients from their powdered sachets, minus the garlic and onions which I chop then fry. It’s all to taste, because life is to taste.

Cleaning Up

I hate cleaning up, but sometimes it’s necessary. It’s good manners for the eater to clean up for the cook. So, this is an acknowledgements section to all the people who’ve given me their skills, and whom I could not attribute above. My dad for his mean omlettes, strongly advise everyone to learn omlettes as they are very quick, easy, and nutritious. My dear friend Cat for her butterfly chicken recipe, essentially you butterfly chicken (chop it along the middle and open it), cram it with cheese, then close it. Roisin for telling me some of the tips to veganise dishes (not veganised here as I don’t know all the ingredients). And my fiancée (with two e’s) who cooks at least half of the meals and smiles approvingly at the other half.