Teaching computing means I have something of an obligation to keep up with the latest developments, or at least this is the excuse I've been using for many years to justify spending large amounts of money on things I don't really need.
Last week, Microsoft released Windows 11 to the general public and very quickly it appeared in Windows update on my home PC. Just before we get into things, we need to just clarify the following:
So, if you're sitting comfortably, here is my experience with Microsofts latest and greatest, which they are very confident is going to be a "great experience." Only last week, the product manager for Windows 11 was expressing how he couldn't wait for his father to get the update so he could experience how good it was. I'd suggest his father is currently asking his son to fix his PC for him...
Initially, things went well. The update appeared in Windows update with the message "Great news! Your PC is compatible." Remember that little gem for later on, won't you. So I downloaded the installer and set it off, only to encounter the following three times in a row:
"Something" had gone wrong. I think it would be fair to suggest that, across the technology industry, error messages are shamefully awful. I understand the need to simplify things and that many users may not understand any detail which is given, but a small "Click for details" wouldn't harm and would definitely reduce the amount of time spent on Google trying to work out what in your specific case has apparently gone wrong.
As it turns out, for no apparent reason, simply rebooting (this was on a cold boot anyway) fixes the issue and you're off again. This time, we passed 71% installed without an issue and a message popped up saying the system would now reboot to complete the installation. No problem, off you go!
One restart later and this is what greeted me:
Hmm. Was it the TPM/Secure boot thing?
Off into the UEFI I went and I dug around to make sure all the settings were in place and that nothing silly had happened such as booting in the wrong mode. To make doubly sure that I'd not missed anything I tried booting with settings for TPM on, off, various other settings on and off, and finally with legacy boot on and off.
No dice. The upgrade installer had nuked the boot loader and that was that.
What to do? Well, the next sensible option seemed to be a USB installer, so I created one and booted from that. It helpfully told me:
"You've started an upgrade, you should just restart to complete that!!"
Yes. Yes I should, but that option has been unfortunately murdered by the installer, so we'll go for a clean install. In fairness, being someone of the age where I lived through DOS, Windows 3.1 and 95, I should and do know far better than to ever trust a Windows upgrade process.
I went through the installer, selected the version to install, clicked next and...
"No! You can't install windows 11, you don't have the correct hardware!"
Can we all see the problem here? Microsoft told me I do indeed meet the requirements, twice. Now, because I made the mistake of rebooting, clearly some of the electrons have fallen out of my machine and something has been disabled. Or not.
The problem again here is super useful error messages - why not just tell me which bit of the requirements I apparently don't meet? We are none the wiser and because of this I now have a dead PC with two options - put Windows 10 back or plough on regardless. I'm sure you can tell which option I went for.
Unfortunately, being in the dark about their dislike of my hardware set up, I had no choice but to go nuclear with the fix and add registry settings in the installer which disabled checks for RAM, CPU and TPM. I still have absolutely no idea what the installer didn't like, but within minutes we were back up and running and being nagged incessantly by the final install process to create or use a Microsoft account. We won't go into why this is a terrible idea now, but it is a terrible idea.
What is Windows 11 like to use?
In many ways, it's not really any different. I like a lot of the cleaning up thats taken place throughout the user interface, Explorer for example is especially nice to use.
However, some of the major changes are just horrible.
The Windows 10 start menu was horrible. Truly, truly horrible and it seems that at least some of that feedback made its way back to Microsoft who decided to try again with the new Start menu. The new Start menu is better than Windows 10, but it is still awful.
Microsoft really want you to search for things as the default way of doing things, which is fine in some circumstances but utterly unnecessary for nearly all the common things you need to do with your computer. There's clearly a "Spotlight on the Mac is useful" angle here, with one unfortunate difference. Invariably, Spotlight finds the things you want most of the time, whereas Windows search finds things you don't.
There are lots of little inconsistencies and annoyances littered throughout this new UI and Start menu inparticular. The worst of which is, if you do start a search, but then for any reason decide you want to go back to the apps menu/home you.... can't do it. Look at the screenshot above, can you see a way back to the main Start menu? It's not by clicking on "Apps" either...
Not content with forcing "live tiles" on us all last time, now there is a forced "recommended" panel. There are many reasons why users don't want the OS to recommend documents and programs here, most of all privacy. If you turn the option off, instead of giving this space over to something useful, you are left with this blank panel which takes up 50% of the space dedicated to the Start menu itself. This is terrible interface design.
When the Start menu was introduced in Windows 95, the idea was genuinely quite revolutionary and it really did work. It was the result of an unimaginable amount of money which had been spent on research and development by a team of engineers at Microsoft. They refined and refined until they hit on the final design which shipped with the seminal operating system.
The whole goal was that a user could so literally anything they needed to by just clicking one button and there it all was - your programs, documents, settings, help, search... you name it, it was there.
By Windows 98 and latterly, Windows 2000 they had basically perfected the Start menu. It worked, and it worked well. Did it need to change? Well, this one I guess is down to personal preference, but from a functional point of view, no, there really was no need to alter the design other than an apparent need to always be seen to be moving forwards by changing the way everything looks.
This is very different, however, to the ribbon interface in Office. Around 2007, applications had often grown so complex that the menus were absolutely stuffed with options, sometimes many levels deep and knowing where to find the particular option or setting you wanted was often a dark art in itself. Tool bars had got out of hand with the number of buttons on them and something did need to be done. Many people didn't like the switch to the ribbon interface, but there can be no doubt that it made finding things much easier than before.
I have, then, been forced to once again install OpenShell and put the "old" start menu back. I genuinely didn't want to do this and had resolved to give the new menu a decent go, but honestly, it's such a horrible experience, I found myself staring at it wondering how to do simple things rather than just getting on with some work.
In the image above, you can see everything that is right about the original design. In one click I can see all the things I use all the time (new start menu has this too, so no big deal there) but also I can get to settings, quickly view network and hardware devices and ultimately, if I need to, view all the programs on my system with a single click - but without losing any context. There is no need to swipe forwards and backwards through various different changes of interface, it's all there, one place, one screen. Menu style interfaces may not be "glamourous" or modern, but they do actually work.
My final main gripe with Windows 11 is the same as Windows 10. Microsoft have enough money in the bank to enable them to buy a country. They also have enough money to employ some of the finest designers, software engineers and programmers in the world. Which means things like incomplete UI refreshes simply should not be allowed to happen, let alone make it out of the door twice in succession.
When they redesigned the settings app, it was meant to replace control panel which had become "cluttered and difficult to use." No problem, I don't mind the settings app at all, and the Windows 11 one is quite nice. Why, then, is it so easy to find yourself unceremoniously dumped into the old control panel and old dialogues? Why are there still two ways in which to do the same thing? In the screenshot above, I can manage programs which are installed through the old "programs and features" panel, or in "apps and features." Why? This is just crazy.
But these are the worst examples - when you find yourself staring at a dialogue which is from Windows 2000, complete with the image of an old CRT monitor. Microsoft went to all the effort of removing the tabs from this dialogue for desktop background, graphics settings and so forth but then... just left this one for no reason. It's not hard to make a decision "do we ditch this option, or shall we integrate it?"
It is these kinds of things that Microsoft have been doing for years. When Windows XP launched they'd redesigned all the icons to look new. Only, they didn't, and you often found yourself looking at something which had been around since Windows 95. It was something so simple, yet utterly jarring when you saw it that everyone wondered why it had been left that way.
Sadly, these kinds of things are what drive people either away from Microsoft and towards companies like Apple or just serve to enrage and confuse their customers. There cannot be someone at Microsoft who hasn't pointed out the problems here, but it seems clear they are not being listened to.
Apple may not be perfect by any means, but I genuinely never thought I'd see the day where I am glad I am fortunate enough to not have to use Windows all the time these days.
Ah yes, finally, I made the mistake of rebooting my system again. Nothing could go wrong this time, could it?
No. Not much, only, can you tell us what these applications are again? We've forgotten...
I think it would be fair to say I don't have much luck when it comes to washing machines. If you've not been with me on my previous adventures into the land of soapy water, have a read here of what's happened before.
For those of you who aren't washing machine aficionados (why wouldn't you be?!) you may not know that there are only really a few brands who manufacture these machines, they are then rebadged with different company names and sold. For example, Whirlpool own Hotpoint and Indesit - they come from the same factory, share the same parts and generally just have different bits of plastic on the front to differentiate the brands.
Why is it relevant who owns each brand? Well, after the fun I had with AEG last time, I did my homework and went for a brand that really was different to try and avoid the quality control issues that had plagued me previously. Sadly, however, I managed to go from a brand with a reputation for poor build quality, to one with a reputation for burning down houses.
"Not to worry!" I thought. Surely, a global brand who have very publicly just had to recall a lot of machines and pay a lot of compensation to people with rather blacker homes than they'd perhaps like, would have introduced some seriously stringent checks on their production lines and made changes to ensure things like this never happen again. They have a reputation to rebuild!
I even joked about it at the time. "What better time to buy one than after a bit of a scandal!"
Yeah. About that....
So roll forwards 18 months after purchasing a new Indesit washing machine and I'm stood in the kitchen when "POP! POP! POP! WHiiiirrrrr........"
"That's not a healthy noise for a washing machine to make."
Now, it may surprise you (it won't), but being the saddo that I am, I'm quite into electronics and repair/right to repair so I knew enough straight away to know that those noises were electrical and something had very much just met its maker inside the machine. A few seconds later and the smell of smouldering electrics fills the air. Time to whip the machine out.
A picture does indeed tell a story. In the image above you can deduce exactly what's happened and why. The result is not good for a company which has promised it no longer makes incendiary washing machines.
For those of you struggling, here's the trail of clues:
This machine, then, was quite literally a time bomb from the moment it left the factory. It also highlights a few really annoying things.
So, I did indeed look into repairing it, only to find that the parts I would need are on sale, from specialist outlets, if you're lucky... for the price of a new machine. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why there is a long, long way to go before we actually tell the truth about the situation and that's that the lobbying power of large multinationals has meant that we cannot get affordable parts, we cannot fix things ourselves and we will continue to make a never ending mountain of waste because companies are more than aware that if we start fixing things then we will stop buying new things and that, as they say on the trading floors of stock markets across the world is "a bad thing."
That is why I had to buy a new machine. Well, that and the fact it was stolen from outside my house within 3 minutes of taking it out...
One distinctly unfortunate side effect of a global pandemic appears to be that video conferencing software and its associated behaviour are now considered acceptable norms and its so entrenched in our day to day lives that Microsoft have decided to integrate Teams into Windows 11.
There's nothing wrong with the concept. Using things like Skype of Facetime can be incredibly useful for keeping in touch with family or friends who live a distance away from us, but on a day to day basis, as a matter of routine it's a drag. Worse still is that there exists a certain type of person that we will all come across in our lives and that is the one person who believes that all problems must be solved by calling a meeting. Indeed, they love meetings so much that meetings are called to arrange future meeting schedules and if, god forbid, something could be communicated in a single paragraph via email, they can and will arrange a meeting for that too. Just in case we need to discuss important things like contingencies for minutiae such as who should be on tea making duty should the office be plagued by moths, the cat hasn't been put out and it happens to be a waning crescent moon. Teams and Zoom have normalised their behaviour, made it more acceptable to the point where there doesn't appear to be an end in sight for that awful phrase "I'll send you a teams invite!!"
No, please don't, whenever it is I'm fairly sure I have an appointment with a historic re-enactment group and have volunteered to have my legs very realistically sawn off by a 19th century "surgeon" in preference to sitting for another second in front of a webcam, listening to stuttering audio, looking at your blurry face and wondering when you'll notice that actually I've turned my camera off again and gone out to mow the lawn instead whilst you talk to yourself.
In fact, we all know that's what "online learning" was. It didn't take long to figure out. After giving the first lesson or two a proper go and wondering why no one seemed to answer questions it quickly dawned on us that the reason was because there was no one there to answer questions, all the students had logged in, turned their camera and microphone off and promptly disappeared to watch Homes Under the Hammer instead, and let's face it, Dion Dublin has a lot of staircases to show you. So much for "turn your cameras and microphones off to avoid disruption." We were blissfully undisturbed by any interruptions whether we wanted them or not.
...and this is just the point really, we have learned the hard way in recent times just how impersonal technology can be. We are not designed to sit behind a camera and be ourselves. It removes our personalities, stifles spontaneity and takes away all those subtle queues and interactions that we take for granted when we're together in person. I'd go so far as to say that over exposure to online only socialising is more damaging than not being able to interact with anyone at all, via any means.
I am forever banging the drum for usability and sensible design in software (we can all remember how much I enjoyed being a HSBC customer). Sadly, Microsoft have done another terrible job with Teams. I'm not anti Microsoft and it's very easy to criticise software that doesn't do what you, and you alone, want it to do when it's designed to perform an incalculable number of different tasks for millions of people. Generally, I don't find Office, Outlook and Windows standing in my way on a day to day basis. Anyone who can remember 1995 will tell you the fact we don't all reinstall our operating system every two weeks is testament to just how far Microsoft have come in terms of making decent software.
But Teams is not decent software. It's horrific. Just nothing you do in Teams is clear and in an effort to make up their mind about whether it's a desktop, mobile or tablet application, they've managed to make it none of those things. I could go on for some time about the number of horrific ways in which it works (not to mention them changing their pricing model for some of the features we all used when they realised half the world was about to use it and they could profit from a pandemic...) Instead, lets just focus on one "feature" which really baffles me.
Most people have a work and a personal life. I know. Imagine that, a teacher who doesn't just finish the school day, get back in the cupboard and plug themselves in to recharge for the next day. Who knew we had a life?!
Due to this, we have a work account and Teams is connected to it. No problem here, it works, pulls all your meetings and other things down without issue. Now imagine, someone invites you to a teams meeting using your personal account - maybe you're organising something, doing an interview... you need to add your personal account.
On an iPad, you just tap a couple of times, switch account and all is well. Desktop? Nah. On the desktop version for Windows 10, you click to add an account, it asks you to sign in and then... it literally tries to take over the world. I tried it yesterday and it inexplicably decided that because I used Windows Hello to log in, it also had to associate this new account with my local account which I use to log into my laptop with. Why? God only knows - you know what would be sensible? Log me in to the app and leave the operating system alone? But this isn't possible, there is literally no option to skip this step - if you do, it simply refuses to sign you in.
Out of curiosity, I followed it through and Windows promptly turned me into a woman, changed my profile picture and set this account as my Windows log in account.
How? How is it possible in 2021 to write software which is just so monumentally broken? In no way can you justify an app which has such a broken account switching implementation as Teams does. There also can be no excuse for an application which decides that if you log an account into that then it will also take over your operating system as well?
Teams is an abomination and I welcome the time I can uninstall it safe in the knowledge I'll never have to use it again. Video conferencing was a sticking plaster during the pandemic and it's time we ripped it off and returned it to the uses it was designed for. Microsoft will perhaps one day then get back to important things like... I don't know, fixing the fact that they still haven't fixed the fact that when they decided to leave Control Panel behind that it's still actually there and Settings is so unfinished you're often unceremoniously dumped back into the old control panel, but that's a topic for another day...
The next unit of A Level lessons are now online and free to download/use. Please see the A Level -> Lessons link in the menu above.
Obviously, the last year has been turbulent for most of us and as such the site has not seen a great deal of activity. In light of the fact I'm currently creating and sharing resources for the A Level CS and GCSE Business courses at the same time, whilst updating resources for the new J277 GCSE, there has obviously been less time available for updates here.
In the near future I will aim to upload these lesson resources as time allows but I cannot see when I will have the chance to update the revision materials alongside. Considering large chunks of it (nearly all of it) are still relevant, it shouldn't cause too many issues.
Keep an eye out for updates as and when they happen.
The first "unit" of our A Level re-write for the OCR Computer Science course has now been uploaded.
There's links in the A Level section above, or alternatively, directly below this post:
In the current climate, with exams being cancelled and our attention being turned to what will happen over the coming weeks, there is an increasing burden to set or adapt work that is suitable for home use, especially for KS3.
As a result I'm making available my entire current KS3 scheme of work and lesson resources.
We use One Note to deliver our lessons normally, so we're already in the fortunate position of being able to work online as matter of routine. However, anyone can take any of the lessons out of these One Note files and use them for themselves.
As usual, all that I ask is that you do not modify and then upload these resources anywhere else - you are free to use them, modify them yourself but not to upload modified versions.
I've combined all the lessons in to one single notebook which you can download here.
My friends, we find ourselves in uncharted waters. I've spent this week telling all my students that, no matter what, their exams would absolutely be going ahead and we have to carry on our preparations as normal. I said this because... I genuinely believed it couldn't possibly happen any other way.
I watched the statement to the house by Gavin Williamson (the Education Secretary) earlier, nodding along at the expected closure of all schools from this Friday. As the cancellation of exams was announced I genuinely watched open mouthed. It cannot be overemphasised how unprecedented this is. I cannot think of another time when examinations have not gone ahead - even during wartime, education continued to function and children took final examinations.
I am genuinely devastated and upset for those of you who have come on what is an intense journey together over the last two years. We've been through it all - the daunting prospect of 20,000 word reports and coding challenges for Year 13 students, the endless repetitive practise of past papers to hone our exam technique and ensure that everyone recieves the recognition their ability deserves. We've been through the lows of mock exams where some of you may have felt like you were staring at a sheer cliff face with no obvious way of climbing it when results came back far lower than you may have anticipated.
Then there's been that slow dawning, especially in Year 11, that with the right focus, the right amount of dedication we were getting there. My Year 11 group this year have done things they never thought possible and please, understand this - you are an absolute credit to yourselves and I have recognised every one of your efforts. It has been so obvious the sheer hard work you've put in alone, with your families and together as a group and we've seen the fruits of your labour. In the last mock window your results all improved, you'd not just begun to climb that seemingly impossible cliff face, you were nearly over the top and in the clear.
We've all put in so much of ourselves to prepare for what is undeinably one of the most significant points in any persons life. The process of taking your final exams and recieving those results is life changing and a defining moment for each student as an individual and to have that opportunity taken away is unimaginable. Whether you achieve "academic excellence" and sweep grade 9's across the board, or whether you walk away with a deep sense of unfulfilment and grades that you may not be happy with, it cannot be denied that those feelings set a course for the rest of your life. In some it will breed a renewed sense of determination to succeed regardless of what a piece of paper may say, in others it is a validation and vindication for years of hard work and sacrifice which no doubt secures the path to further education and future success.
The fact that you are going to be awarded a grade from "somewhere" means that the next step in your life is probably not compromised in any way - you will be able to move on to college, 6th form, apprenticeships or elsewhere, but it is what you've lost in these coming months that can never be regained which saddens me the most - you are victims of a devastating world crisis that just happened to pass you by at the wrong time.
There are wider implications here too - it is not unreasonable to suggest that the country will find itself winding down, locking down even further over the coming weeks. It would not be absurd to think in two weeks time we could find ourselves in an Italy/China/Spain situation where the streets are empty.
You are at an absolutely golden time in your lives, especially from a social point of view. The time you spend with your friends and, dare I say it, even us as staff in school, makes a huge impression on all of you in your most formative of years. There is every chance that you will miss the chance to have those final goodbyes, the leaving speeches and assemblies and the prom nights. These are the moments you've earned, that you deserve that will no doubt become collateral damage in this situation. I would urge you all to find sensible alternatives! Year 11 and 13 are a time not only of looking to the future, but also of closure on part of your past - and what a time it has been.
It wasn't supposed to be like this and we are clearly not going to be back in school this academic year - if exams have been cancelled then the government is clear - their models show there's no way we can get back together within a few weeks, it is going to be a period of months.
I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise to all of my year 11 and 13 students what a genuine pleasure and privilege it has been to have the opportunity to guide you through two of the most important years you can have in your lives. In Year 11 I honestly felt like we were going to do something special this year, you were really about to pull it out of the bag when it mattered the most - every single one of you without exception. I'd like to thank you sincerely for your efforts and also for choosing my subject (and for being my self help group when I'm telling you stories about nothing at all). I hope to see many of you next year for A-Level.
To Year 13 - you are genuinely one of the kindest, close knit groups of students I have ever known and it's actually a positive to know that your routes to higher education are now practically guaranteed - you deserve it, even if your coursework was horrendous in the main. I will still never get over the games where "you can kill the enemies" only everything is invisible and suddenly you die. You really did invent a new genre of gaming - frustration through absurdity.
Let's finish on a positive note - you are out of school now to save lives. There cannot be any misunderstanding here, cut out the noise of the ill informed and those who are mad enough to actually still read and believe newspapers - the science is clear. Closing schools is part of a much wider effort to slow society down, we are trying to prevent vulnerable people from dying of a disease we will soon be able to cure with vaccines. You are sacrificing your time now so these people may have the time they deserve to spend with their families and friends without the fear of being in a life threatening condition in hospital. In my opinion, whilst I don't want schools to close, it is the right thing to do if it saves lives and stops the NHS from reaching saturation.
We are living in a time when no one knows what to do. The top scientists and medical experts across the world are learning as they go along. The economy world wide is on its knees and people are living in abject fear - fear of the disease itself, fear for their children and families, fear of losing their jobs, livelihoods and income. All of these fears are very real. Fear makes us behave irrationally and do things that, from the outside, can appear stupid, odd or selfish.
Be kind to each other - before you voice an opinion, ask yourself what underlies their behaviour, why are they doing the things they're doing? Make it your priority to stick together, to look out for each other and above all look out not only for your physical health but your mental health as well - stress is high right now and your parents, carers and loved ones may look ok on the outside but on the inside many may be terrified. Be mindful of that when you're raging about something insignificant and give people at home a chance to breathe, take stock and work out what to do next.
We'll survive, but my friends the world is about to look very different to the one we knew only a few months ago.
Stay safe, stay kind.
More free posters! These are designed to give students a very visual overview of the following GCSE options:
See the post below for editing instructions - these are fully customisable Publisher files so feel free to change as you see fit for your options. Remember, you will need to download the "transport" font for these to display correctly, this is an open source font and so can be distributed freely.
The content on this website is free for anyone to use and will always remain free simply because I fundamentally believe in the principles of comprehensive, free education.
Sadly, however, it has come to light recently that a number of the resources available here (and also some older materials from our KS3 provision) have been uploaded, used and claimed by other individuals as their own.
That's not ok.
There is one key thing to note here - you can only do this if you attribute us/me/this site - in other words, acknowledge that these resources are not your own.
You also cannot sell our resources or derivatives of my resources for profit. This goes against all of my principles.
The reason for this is quality control. I take great pride in the standard of my work and I constantly review and update these resources as I find things I'm not happy with, as I learn from experience and as I simply think things need to be refreshed or changed. For exmaple, I'm practically re-writing unit 2 of the GCSE as we speak becuase I don't think it's good enough. You will be able to get these resources for free as usual.
If you upload our resources, claim them as your own or share them as your own then the people you share with are getting a poor experience. They do not know the origin of your files, nor will they benefit from the constant improvements we make. To see comments on websites from teachers praising these lessons as "outstanding" actually makes me sad - they're not outstanding and that's why we've since moved on from delivering them in that form.
Bottom line - please don't give your students a second rate experience, please don't steal resources and claim them as your own.
If you do not understand the Creative Commons license, mentality and philosophy then click the massive image below. Just because something is given away for free does not give you ownership or copyright.
Being as careers appears to be high on the education agenda recently, I decided to put together a display which can be used in classrooms to highlight the pathways from Year 7 all the way into a select number of careers. It's not designed to be a super informative infographic, literally something which is useful to have, starts a conversartion and clearly shows the fact you have clear paths through school into technology based careers.
It's designed to be printed out at size A0 using a plotter and the file is available to download below. A few notes if you want to use it yourself:
To create new "signs" to add to your display, don't bother trying to grab an image or SVG and then adding text over the top, you'll never quite get what you're after. Instead use rounded rectangles and add text to them, then set the colours using the RGB colour codes available as linked above.
Hopefully some of you will find this useful. If you don't have a plotter, you can go thoroughly old school and get publisher to print it out as a series of smaller pages that you can then tape together. I'd suggest laminating them first if you go down this route!
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