You sneaky little...

Image via Tom Häkkinen
My own wireless mouse at home - of a similar type to that
used to disrupt my lesson!
Today, some student in one of my classes who was a bit too clever for his own good, plugged a wireless mouse into the back of the teacher’s computer whilst we were in the computer room. What a sneaky little …

It was some time before I eventually caught the blighter. It wasn’t that I was actually using the teacher’s computer, the problem was rather that it was linked-up to a projector and speakers. Thus giving the student a platform for all sorts of mayhem. He was too smart for his own good, in a bid to remain unnoticed, the student tried to continue doing his work whilst disrupting the lesson. My suspicions were raised when a noticed a student laboriously working on the computer with only one hand, whilst the other remained steadfastly underneath the table.

He really had me going for a while though, because my first fear was that some brainiac kid had managed to figure out the school network passwords or some other way of taking over the teacher’s computer. In the end I was surprised at how low-tech the trick actually was. The simplest ideas are always the best.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Notice how small, almost undetectable, the USB wireless
receiver for the mouse is.
So I’ve now stored that one away to remember - wireless mouses (or is it mice?). It can alongside the old swapping-computer-keyboards trick that students play on each other; as well as the swapping-names-for-the-new-teacher trick; the there’s-a-new-kid-in-the-class trick and the we-didn’t-bring-our-books-because-miss-said-we-were-going-to-watch-a-movie trick.

The Far North

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Viewed from the bus travelling North through Finland. The
sun is clearing away the early morning fog.
Who doesn’t fantasise about the far North? I mean the real far North, the inhospitable, wild North. Obviously my Finnish roots might have had some role to play in my own fascination with the North, but I’m sure I’m not the only one. A few years ago my dad accomplished a life-long ambition by travelling to Nordkapp in Norway, the Northern-most tip of Europe, where, in summer-time you can look-out at the vast expanse of the Arctic Ocean and watch as the sun circles ceaselessly around the sky without ever dropping below the horizon. Of course, I wander along the nearby cliff-walk occasionally and get to stare in awe at the vast Pacific Ocean, but it’s not the same, it’s not the alien, otherworldly ocean that sits at the top of the world.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
The Wild North.
Last year, I didn’t go near so far North as Nordkapp, in fact, I didn’t even go so far as Utsjoki, the northernmost part of Finland, but I did reach a certain milestone in Latitude, and I went further North than my brother from Norway had ever been, and further North than any of my friends from Canada. I crossed the Arctic Circle.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Reindeer or Poroa eating Birch leaves in Ranua.
This is quite far North, to give my readers some perspective, imagine travelling to Montréal and from there driving straight North and not stopping until you reach the sea. If you were to do so, you still wouldn’t reach the Arctic Circle. That’s right, the entire province of Québec lies south of the Arctic Circle; in fact the only Canadian Provinces or Territories that touch the Arctic Circle are Nunavat, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
A bus shelter near Rovaniemi.
But maybe that’s an unfair comparison. Thanks to the moderating effects of the Gulf Stream, the Arctic Circle in Europe and the Arctic Circle in North America are two completely different places. You might be surprised to learn that trees grow in Finland at the Arctic Circle. What’s more there are farms, the roads have the cutest little bus shelters you’re ever likely to see and in the town of Rovaniemi there are two Universities and a factory that makes expensive knives. In fact the town of Rovaniemi is a real gem, with all of the workshops and industry up there it’s like a veritable Santa’s workshop. Which is kind of fitting, as traditionally Rovaniemi has always been considered the home of Santa Claus.

Except in America.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Esther patting Siberian Huskies in Santa's Village,
Rovaniemi. In winter you can go for rides on a sled pulled
by a team of Siberian Huskies.
Which is a shame, because the Santa’s Village up there could really do with some American “jazzing up”. Finns don’t really do tourism particularly well. Maybe they don’t consider it real work, or maybe it’s just their laconic nature which isn’t particularly suited to selling things generally, but if you’d been to Finland you’d know tourism and the service industry aren’t really the Finnish people’s strongest suit. In fact, even at Linnanmäki, the theme park in Helsinki, you might notice a bizarre phenomenon. Finns don’t scream. Which means from below you can watch roller-coasters going round and round their circuits in a strange surreal sort of silence. Occasionally, one person will start and the rest will generally get the idea, but not always. There’s a reason why Kimi Räikkönen was nicknamed the Iceman.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Wolves (Sutta)  in Ranua.
Just to the South of Rovaniemi, in the town of Ranua, lies the world’s northernmost zoo. It’s definitely worth a visit, as, if you’re a city person like Esther and I are, then it’s most likely you’ll travel through the North with only the most fleeting glimpses of the strange Northern creatures that inhabit the Arctic region. I found that visiting a zoo compensated for my lack of outdoors ability and allowed me to take some photos to show everyone back home that I really had been to the furthest extremes of the Earth.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
A Lynx or Ilves feeding in Ranua.
Well, nearly.
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The Downing Centre Local Courts

Downing Centre, Castlereagh StreetImage via WikipediaDowning Centre Local Courts, Sydney
It’s perhaps a little known fact, but most courthouses are actually open to the public. It is apparently a long-standing common law tradition that justice must be delivered in plain view.

Reflecting the old adage that:

“… it is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance, that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

In fact, I read one source which claims that the tradition of the “open court” dates back to Norman England.

Which means that, generally, a member of the public can (and in fact has a right to) enter a courthouse and sit-in on any particular case that happens to be “showing”. Just like in a cinema - except that it’s free. Of course, this isn’t an absolute right, there are types of cases which are exceptions to this rule and courts are able to make a “suppression order” if they feel it is in the “public interest” or the “interests of justice” that the details of a case aren’t made available to the public at large - and then of course some cases are just mind-numbingly boring and completely incromprehensible to the lay-person and are thus, closed to the public by de facto.

In any case, last week I made a trip to the Downing Centre Local Courts in Sydney. Where I witnessed the sundry specimens of humanity that find themselves caught-up somehow or another in the legal system.

There was the petite woman of 19 who was served an AVO - that is, an Apprehended Violence Order - incredible as it seemed to me. In fact it took me some 10 minutes to realise that she was the one who had perpetrated the violence in a domestic with her boyfriend. She began her case waiting for her solicitor to arrive - it would seem counsel for the defendant from the Legal Aid office was late. Apparently, she had been drinking - and drugs had been consumed, with her boyfriend one Friday or Saturday when the assault took place, she had a hazy memory of the night, only remembering that she woke-up in a paddy-wagon. She had also assaulted the arresting officers it turned-out. I looked at her; “her?” I thought, “she’s tiny.” I decided she must’ve had a weapon, a knife or something.

“Assault is a serious offence” intoned the judge, “a punch is an act of violence”.

“A punch? She punched her boyfriend and he is serving her with an AVO?” I looked at her a third time: “her?”.

Well who am I judge?

There were the two hoteliers who had not complied with the correct procedures for signage of a licensed premises. They had a confident and well-spoken lawyer, who certainly didn’t show-up late, but when he sat down you could see that he was wearing bright red socks. I spotted them all together chatting and laughing after the case - even though they’d lost.

I saw two matters of the “morning after the night before” - drink driving incidents where the accused had been found to still have an illegal level of alcohol in his and her bloodstreams respectively on the afternoon of the next day.

And I saw a grizzled-old security guard, built like a tank, he looked like one of those old square-shaped and boxy looking Land Rovers that you still see around sometimes, solid.

Who needs movies hey?

Just remember that there are some rules regarding behaviour in a courtroom and it’s not all etiquette. You must bow to the magistrate or judge when entering and when exiting the courtroom, you must turn off your mobile phone and aren’t to eat or drink in a courtroom. You cannot take notes in a courtroom without permission and you likewise cannot bring cameras into a court.

Also remember to be respectful - these are real people, their friends and family.
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Machiavelli in the High School

concerning cruelty and clemency and whether it is better to be loved than feared

Image via Tom Häkkinen
A statue of Niccolò Machiavelli out the
front of the Uffizi, Florence.
There are occasions, especially in today’s public schools, when a High School teacher wouldn’t go astray in referring to the works of Niccolò Machiavelli as a guide to how deliver a lesson.

Niccolò Machiavelli was a Renaissance Florentine statesman, and it is his famous book “The Prince” which gave him the reputation from which the word “Machiavellian” derives. He has a, perhaps misplaced, reputation for “strategic thinking”, “self-interest”, “deception” and “manipulation”.

And it is for precisely this reason that his book comes with excellent references to the teacher’s professional library. A little deception and manipulation never go astray in a teacher’s arsenal of techniques for what the academic textbooks blandly call “behaviour management” but which Machiavelli refers to as the “concerns of Princes”. I used to think that writing “Fun” in front of “Reading Comprehension” was a clever little deception - now I can deliver a lesson on assonance by looking at the lyrics in rap music. As an aside, finding examples of assonance in rap music is easy - finding four consecutive lines of rap music without a swear-word in them is another question altogether!

So here’s a tidbit of Florentine wisdom:

I say that every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel. Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency.”

If I swap a word or two of old Niccolò’s vocabulary you will find that Machiavelli advises that “a teacher... ought not to to mind the reproach of being strict; because with a few examples he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise”.

Despite being an archaic old prescription for an absolutist ruler in a time not unacquainted with violence, all I had to do was swap two words in the sentence to make it seem sage advice. Ever been in that classroom which began great because the teacher was really relaxed and laid back but finished in a state of chaos with the teacher blowing steam like a little Chernobyl? I’ve been there. However, I would like to add one caveat to Machiavelli's instructions for medieval dictators: that consistency beats just plain “strictness” any day of the week.

Ruthless, unflinching consistency that is. And maintaining consistency in the face of all the excuses known to mankind and new ones added daily is not as easy as you'd imagine.

So to close: why Machiavelli advises that it is better to be feared than loved:

for love is preserved by a the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

Hmm, maybe not that ruthless.
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