It’s a lottery

When the UK lottery started, in, what 1994, it was a novelty. You picked 6 numbers, from 49, and bet £1. If you got 3 numbers you won £10, and the prizes went up from there. Get all 6 numbers and you won lots of millions.

We did it for a bit, a few pounds a week, because we could afford it and it was fun and we did have some winnings, the largest being just over £100 I believe. But if we didn’t do it, we didn’t much care, and if we didn’t win, which mostly we didn’t, it was not the end of the world.

I was a Maths teacher then, and there was lots of useful material you could get out of it. What are your chances of winning? Well, of winning the jackpot, one in just less than fourteen million. It has changed now, I believe, more expensive, more numbers and smaller prizes.

People had many interesting ideas about the lottery. “Well, someone has to win and it could be me” was one. Well, of course, no-one has to win the jackpot, which is why you get rollovers.

“There’s no way to guarantee a win” was another. This is actually not true. If you bought every possible different ticket, all nearly 14 million of them, you would be guaranteed to get the jackpot, and every other minor prize several times over. The prize money would have to be over about £14m to make a profit, and goodness knows where you could find a machine to process that many tickets. Plus, if someone else chooses the winning numbers, you have to share.

“All combinations are equal, so I use my family’s birthdays”. Yes, lots of people do this, meaning numbers up to 31. Actually, if you go for higher numbers, you will still have the same chance of winning, but a reduced chance of having to share.

The best way to win is open a savings account at your bank.

Do the right thing

President Trump, they say, is a warm, compassionate, caring man. They say. Where is the evidence for this? I have no idea. Who says it? Why, Anthony Scaramucci, who was sacked 15 days before he began his job as White House Communications Director.

President Trump, they say, likes to confound people by doing the opposite of what they expect him to do. As President of the USA, leader of the free world, we expect the President to be a statesman, we expect him to do the right thing. He therefore must be doing the wrong thing, by his own admission.

The world is not a safe place. The USA makes the world less happy than it could be. The USA is not a happy place. With protests, statues being torn down, far right white supremacists believing it is fine to kill their fellow countrymen on the street and the President refusing to clearly condemn any of it, for fear of upsetting his supporters or speaking against his beliefs, this is not good.

This is my opinion

We live in interesting and unique times. For the first time in the whole history of mankind, anyone (virtually) can share their thoughts on any subject, and the whole world (virtually) can read it. Yes, I know there are some countries where blogs, Facebook, tweets etc are restricted or banned, but mostly they are not. All you need is a bit of cheap technology and access to the Web.

Great, huh?

Well, no. I think not. Let me explain, and if you want to call me a hypocrite, please do.

In one way, everyone on this planet is equal. We are alive, we are human, we have needs. If I post a blog about open heart surgery, it carries the exact same weight as a blog from President Trump about open heart surgery, or by my Aunt Mary. Specifically, none.

My knowledge of such surgery is pretty much nil. I am guessing Mr Trump’s knowledge is the same, and my Aunt Mary’s is definitely nothing.

Mt Trump has an advantage though. He is, or can be surrounded by experts on heart surgery.

There are things I know a good deal about – teaching, computers, Mathematics, photography and so on. You could say I am an expert in those fields. If I say something about, say, how to interest girls in ICT, you might listen to me because you know I had 40 years doing just that. If Mr Trump listens to his experts on a topic, then makes decisions, informed decisions, on something and perhaps tweets about it, then, if we now he has distilled the advice from his helpers, we may take notice.

The problem is that anyone can give their opinions. All you need is a bit of cheap technology and access to the Web. You don’t even have to be able to spell.

Is spelling important? Well, yes it is. If the topic is important, then writing about it in reasonably intelligible English shows that the author is treating it as important. Correct spelling gives you an extra air of confidence about the whole business. I do appreciate that there are trivial topics (like the music of Lil Wayne) where perfect grammar and spelling are not important. but if you read a declaration of war between the USA and North Korea that was full of errors, you would be inclined to wonder if it was fake (assuming you noticed them, of course).

I used to work at a school where e-mail was the preferred method of communication. All the deputy heads seemed to be dyslexic, and the head teacher simply did not care and would send of messages that were often so hard to understand that you gave up.

What makes it hard on the Web is that the good posts, blogs, tweets whatever are often lost in all the noise.

Mr Trump knows this, of course. He knows that if something is getting a bit sticky for him, he can change the topic, send out a number of tweets and we are all distracted and forget the rest. Trump’s tweets have grammatical and spelling errors in. People retweet them, sometimes because they think they agree with what he says, often because they are hilarious and meaningless. Mr Trump or his helpers can then say, look, everyone is talking about so-and-so (eg Mr Trump is the greatest president who has ever lived).

Which, I am fairly sure, he is not.

Fake news

I have long struggled to understand the term ‘fake news’. I know it is a term much favoured by Mr Trump and his assistants and supporters, and politicians from the UK and others have taken it in, but what does it mean.

For Mr Trump it means something he doesn’t like, something that casts him in a bad light, inconvenient stuff. Son Donald Junior met with senior Russian officials… fake news.

Most people, I assume, take it to mean ‘lies’. Mr Trump, of course, does not believe that words have meaning. He is happy to just say anything. His use of English is approximate. A telephone call from the President of Mexico is really a brief chat that they had at a summit some months ago, but, to most Americans, it is still acceptable as a statement even though it was a total lie. President Obama personally wire tapping Trump Tower is really someone vaguely associated with the Obama government may at some point have done some surveillance on someone in Trump Tower. The words mean nothing.

To me, fake news can indeed mean lies, but it can mean something else. Again, we have ambiguity with the words. Fake news can mean actually factually correct but not newsworthy. I had coffee for breakfast today – true but fake news.

It’s very easy to dismiss anything you don’t like as fake news. It’s too easy.