Since I have utterly failed at maintaining Tomalak's Tuesday Tip — though I do intend to pick that up in 2009 — I have reformatted some conversation logs into interview style, as I found them quite interesting on the re-read. Hopefully someone out there might get something out of the ideas of myself and of people I know.

Learning C++

NTFS: Is going to college a good way to learn C++?

TGK: Haha. No. Get a book, and/or sit in #c++ for 3 years learning through osmosis.

NTFS: Why not?

TGK: Because 3 years isn't enough time to learn C++ properly, if you even get 3 years tuition in it. Sometimes you might get one module of up to four months. Also (although there have been debates about this just recently) IMO the majority of programming teachers suck; mostly because, due to the pay, if someone can actually program they're going to be off actually doing it for large developer salaries. Besides, most college programming courses include the very basic fundamentals of programming itself, so you're never really learning the language specifically. You might come out of it knowing what a while loop is and how to call a function, but you'll have no concept of why templates do what they do, and why you have to define template classes in a header file. For that you need experience, and to go into college expecting a quick learn is naive.

Under-age Drinking

(From a discussion on the rising problem of teenage binge drinking in the UK.)

MH: Do you think they should raise the drinking age to 21?

TGK: The problem with that is, the more you tell kids they can't do something, the more they want to do it. Remember when the government wanted to ban smoking scenes in films? That just sends kids the message that smoking is "adult" and therefore it's something they'll want to do. And trying to ban Uni-age kids from drinking is just pointless right off the bat. 18-year olds with new-found independence, living with other 18-year olds, are simply not going to refrain from alcohol because the government tells them to.

MH: What about encouraging alcohol in a sensible manner from a young age? In Europe the parents encourage drinking sensibly; they still have the same age restrictions, mostly.

SPB: It works in Europe only because parents educate their kids from a young age, and introduce it gradually as something that people drink with their food.

TGK: It's been known for a while that the "Mediterranean" approach to alcohol (a small amount, frequently, from a young age) helps to instil a mature and responsible attitude to drinking. As it turns out, that's not working for France any more which is starting to see a rise in under-age drinking. I think it's down to TV culture, personally. It's nothing to do with alcohol.. it's just that we raise moronic little shits nowadays.

XK: So increase the education about it, a lot, and then tighten the age limit.

TGK: Kids know perfectly well what the effects of alcohol are. It's all about parenting and raising decent children. That's all you can do. And frankly I think that's all that should be done.

SPB: Now you suggest how to force parents in council estates across the land to educate their kids properly.

TGK: SPB makes the case clear.

XK: What I do think is that any solution that doesn't involve education is fucked up. Just raising a bar doesn't work.

TGK: No; you teach kids not to do something, so what do they do? They go out and do it. It's a fact of life. The answer does NOT lie in the classroom. The problem is that parents today suck ass.

SPB: Unfortunately any solution that requires education from parents is impossible to implement. Instead you teach kids why it's a stupid idea to do something, and what happens if they do it.

XK: I'm saying that in the classroom, children should learn objectively about this stuff, so they can make an informed choice. I think it's similar to sex education.

TGK: You have to instill a sense of ethics/morals/safety right from the start of development. I know what you're saying, and it's what the government has been trying to do for 10 years. It hasn't worked. And it never will. It looks like a good technique on paper (or in the papers) but it's just not that simple. Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe, or something?

XK: Well, then we disagree on that, because I do think it's the only solution.

TGK: Sex Ed comes from experience. Acting responsibly comes from a good upbringing and solid/ethical surroundings during childhood. Unfortunately, like SPB says, you can't create decent parents overnight and this country (the UK) has an epidemic of crap parents.

XK: You think Sex Ed should come from getting HIV?

TGK: Well, admittedly my argument makes much more sense with respect to under-age drinking. Sex Ed has a higher proportion of solid facts that must be taught no matter what, whereas alcohol is all about behaviours (aside from a few basics like "get too drunk and you'll be ill and/or die").

XK: I'm not saying it's a silver bullet, and I'm not saying that education is a short or mid term solution. I think it's a long term one, and in between you need to do something (like the age restriction). And by education I'm not only referring to the one imparted by the state (or controlled private institutions, or however it's done). But it's obviously not the only one, and having a good upbringing is really important too. And what you teach to the kids today is going to have an effect when they become parents tomorrow.

TGK: I think age restrictions are utterly counter-productive after a certain point. The moment you say "you, child, are definitely not going to do this!" the child will find a way to do it. Humans are curious and children especially so, quite rightly. How else would we learn?

XK: Maybe, but sometimes the legality is more important. Or maybe you will do it anyway, but taking care because it's forbidden for a reason. I really don't know.

TGK: No that's not true at all. You take less care because you're already being rebellious and naughty, so why be cautious now? Might as well go full out. Whereas if you're allowed, in moderation, to enact some behaviour then you don't have that instinct to push it as far as it can possibly go. It's kind of like how you touch a hot plate only if someone warns you not to.

XK: I don't know, I'm not sure all kids behave like that. Some? sure. Most? Not so much.

TGK: Sure. And even if not, the ones who do are the ones who cause the trouble and get hurt, so they're the ones we're talking about. Unfortunately we live in a culture where we reckon the government has to fix all of our problems for us, so they could NEVER be seen to sit back and say "wait a minute, the answer to this is parenting. Get off your asses and raise your children properly whilst we end these stupid campaigns and go to the pub." There'd be a civil war, even though it would be the best solution, IMO. The state is there to hold people together, not to raise children.

XK: What I do think is that the limit is not a solution, but a (maybe weak) temporary solution. And I do think, in the long term, education is the solution the state should focus on.


Thanks to the anonymous contributors to the above conversation for their kind permission to republish their words.

Please do comment on the drinking issue as I and the others involved would love to hear what people reckon about it.