Last Thursday several students went to Mr Pepper’s talk about the history of electronic music and how it has evolved over the years. The presentation was extremely interesting and we all learnt a lot about the creation of electronic music and also the various types of equipment they used to create this type of music, for example the 808 instrument that was, and still is, used to create beats. We also got a chance to use some of that equipment which Mr Pepper had brought into school and play around with it and make some interesting beats.
Nearly a hundred Chigwell pupils, staff and parents attended the annual presentation of the winning essays in the Howard and Mitchell Essay competition. This competition is open to Year 12 students, whose essays, initiated, researched and written independently, enter either the Howard (arts and humanities) or Mitchell (maths and sciences) contests.
This year’s winners were (Mitchell) Zuzanna Borawska, on “From Gutenberg to printing organs – the amazing story of 3D printing”, and (Howard) Olivia Mendel-Portnoy, on “To what extent was the improvement of treatment of patients in Bethlem Royal Hospital from 1815-90, due to the York Retreat?” Both talks were expertly prepared and confidently delivered, and the subsequent wealth of perceptive questions allowed the presenters to reveal how much they knew beyond what they had said in their talks. The presentations were followed by a dinner, which ended with some wise and witty words of advice from 2006 Howard winner, and now TV screenwriter, Laura Neal.
This year’s table competition was to produce the best map of Central London from memory.
This week’s Williams Project meeting saw Alex Wade of Birmingham City University give a wide-ranging talk on ‘The Happy Consciousness of Pac-Man’. The much-loved, chomping, yellow character was analysed not just as a game but as an influence and reflection of ’80s and modern society, whether it be in his RAVE-like habit of popping pills or in his consumerist desire to never stop eating. We’d like to thank Mr Wade for his excellent talk which enlightened us not just on video games but also gave us an insight into some of the wider aspects of our culture and technology.
Mr Wade started by warming up the audience with some ’80s jokes, before talking about ’80s culture and its parallelism to the game itself. He carefully explained the idea of Pac-Man, that you play as a small, yellow creature who must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts, all inside a maze from which there is no escape. As you get to higher and higher levels, the mazes become more complex and difficult to escape from. He spoke elegantly about the game’s popularity in the ’80s, and also about how it is perceived by some to be more well-suited to females than males, as the ghosts never die when they are eaten, but merely float back to the “ghost box”, unlike most modern video games in which the characters often die. He also kept the audience entertained with fun facts about the game – for example, he told us that the shape of the character Pac-Man was originally inspired by a pizza with one slice missing.
However, for me, the most impressive part of Mr Wade’s speech was the final part, in which he expanded on his ideas about Pac-Man’s link to capitalism. In a broad, sweeping gesture, he stated: “Pac-Man is all about eating.” And so, he went on to say, is life. Pac-Man must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts in order to live, so that it can eat more power pellets in order to eat more ghosts etc. In the same way, the population of a capitalist society are trapped in a cycle of consuming for the sake of consuming, buying more and more goods just to thrive in society. A cycle from which escape is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Of course, the hugely challenging question which this point causes us to ask is “is there a better alternative?” Would it be better to have a society with poor consumption (Communism) or one with excessive consumption?
A fascinating message delivered in a clear, confident manner, it is certain that all those who were present at Mr Wade’s talk will be thinking about it for a long time, and many thanks must go to the speaker for a thought-provoking session.
Sir David Pepper, Old Chigwellian and former Director of GCHQ, the UK agency responsible for providing intelligence and for protecting our own information, gave a clear and insightful talk on the issues surrounding security of information on the internet, and how criminals, terrorists and some states are developing ways to steal data and damage the net’s rather fragile infrastructure. The conversation continued over dinner, and we were delighted to have guests from Normanhurst School.
James Grime, from the University of Cambridge, introduced a large WP audience to codes and their history (from shaving a slave’s head to sending credit card details across the internet), and then demonstrated an original Enigma machine (see right). It was an engaging and fun session, and led to an interesting discussion on the use of codes in the Second World War, and finally to a code-breaking workshop where our students broke, or attempted to break, various encoded messages. A great start to the WP year.