Weekendish: The best of the week's reads

Kids smiling on bus Image copyright Andy Churchill

A collection of some of the best reads from the BBC News website this week, with an injection of your comments.

A life free of rules (or at least one freer of rules) seems desirable to many, especially if everyone else remained subject to the same (or indeed more) rules than before. But would a school without rules - no timetable, no compulsory lessons, uniform or hierarchy - necessarily become a Lord of the Flies disaster? Experiments of this idea were run in the 1970s in several UK cities, and the Magazine tracked down some of the children who lived through the experience. Mary McKenna tweeted that she herself had been desperate to go to one of the schools. But for Lilliana ML, the most telling part of the story was that when one of the former pupils left school "she was in for a shock... she had no qualifications, no exam results".

The anarchic experimental schools of the 1970s

Going cheap

Image copyright Tom de castella

As trivia questions go, it's a surefire winner - how many days does it take for a chicken to grow from hatching until it's killed ready for the supermarket? The answer was one of the things Tom De Castella discovered during a visit to a chicken farm which he wrote about on Thursday. And for those who think that the lifespan - on average, about 35 days - is too short, a poultry farmer asks, "Would you be happy to pay double the amount so the chicken can live twice as long?" Reader John Dogherty tweeted: "Do people know where their chicken comes from? How could they? And why would they?"

Do people know where their chicken comes from?

The joy of puzzles

Image copyright Other

Making learning fun was one of the things that ace puzzlemaster Martin Gardner, who would have been 100 this week, very much approved of. "The best way, it has always seemed to me, to make mathematics interesting to students and laymen is to approach it in a spirit of play," he wrote. He left behind a bit of a puzzle though, as Colm Mulcahy wrote. Gardner was a noted sceptic who nevertheless believed in a personal God and the value of prayer, and some months before his death he had received a brief surprise visit from Richard Dawkins. Mulcahy wrote: "Pleasant small talk followed, Martin told me, before Dawkins stood up to leave, but Martin said that he insisted his visitor sit down again, and for about 15 minutes, they had an 'intense conversation'. As Martin was telling me this, I had to cut him off, as the final boarding call for own my flight had just been announced." Gardner died shortly afterwards and so the contents of the conversation remains a mystery. That is, unless Richard Dawkins is reading this and cares to solve it.

Martin Gardner, puzzle master extraordinaire


Image copyright Getty Images

Gardner's passion coincided with - or perhaps was the cause of - his skill in making puzzles. Adam Gopnik, the current incumbent of the Point of View hotseat, wrote last weekend of the times when people or cultures are not good at the things they love such as football (England), literature (France) or democracy (the US). Maybe, he wrote, that the secret should be "to find the thing you like most but do least well, and then do something that is almost like it". From this secondary activity you may still make a living, he says. "Like the Hobbit Bilbo accompanying the dwarves, knowing full well in his heart that he is no burglar, but going on into the dark mountain as if he were, we all make our lives from our longings more often than from our natural talents. But then the longing becomes another kind of talent, and suddenly, there! The dragon is dead." For reader Philip Duff, this was "an eloquent explanation of why - for example - Facebook is clogged with motivational quotes from underachieving fools". (He wrote that on Twitter.) But for the Magazine, it was a demonstration that Adam Gopnik is very good at writing articles, and appears to love it. That's the kind of paradox Martin Gardner might have enjoyed.

Why are our obsessions never the things we're best at?

Image copyright Ab

Feeling art

A #BBCTrending video report this week of people around the world racing against underground trains was very diverting. But while waiting for a train, there will be few better ways of spending four minutes than watching painter Sargy Mann at work. He has been blind for 25 years and paints on big canvases dotted with bits of Blu-Tak which act as co-ordinates for him.

He told us about his return from hospital for the first time after he had lost his sight. He stood there wondering "What now?", but then decided to give his brushes a go. "So I brushed ultramarine up there where the sky was, and I had the most extraordinary sensation... I saw the canvas go blue." Later, when the results were admired, he thought: "Well, there you go. There is painting after blindness."

"It seems more or less impossible but if you're just determined to keep going, you don't need to give up. Because if your subject is your own experience, then as long as you're having an experience you've got a subject," he says.

Artist Sargy Mann has been blind for the past 25 years

Image copyright Ab

Here are some things we've enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:

Richard Ayoade politely destroyed the media interview process on "Channel 4 News" Last Night - Buzzfeed

When women stopped coding - NPR

Farm crime: To catch a bee rustler - Modern Farmer

The best film about Islamic terrorists is a comedy - The Atlantic

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