Archive: school

It is hard to believe that the 11 September attacks were ten years ago now, when I was only 15.

I was at school, waiting for my German Writing lesson to begin. It was probably my least favourite subject. As such, I didn’t especially mind the delay in the lesson beginning, thought it was quite odd.

My teacher kept on going between the classroom and the staff room. Eventually he wheeled a television through and told us we should watch this because it would have pretty big implications. If I remember correctly, we saw the second plane hit as it happened.

I thought I was pretty switched-on for my age in terms of knowing about politics and current affairs, but Islamic extremism of this nature was new to me. At the time, I mistakenly thought that the fact that the Pentagon had been hit was the biggest story. In isolation it would be bad enough.

But the resonance of the images of the World Trade Centre was incredible, and the scale of the loss of life was unimaginable. I seem to remember the news reports talking about the potential that tens of thousands of people may have been in the World Trade Centre at the time.

It was difficult to comprehend. There was one person in my class who had to have the concept of a suicide attack explained to him several times. We laughed at the time, but his attitude was right. Why would you do that?

I was pretty excited to learn this week about Domesday Reloaded. The Domesday project aimed to take a snapshot of British life in 1986. 25 years on, the BBC are looking to update it to document the changes that have taken place since then.

I have been interested in the Domesday project for a while. The idea that a snapshot of Britain was taken, in the form of maps, photographs and text. Yet, the data was unavailable to most people.

The Domesday project was as much an ambitious experiment with technology as anything else. The technology was just about available, but a lot of pioneering work had to be done, and the hardware required for it was prohibitively expensive, leaving many of the contributors somewhat miffed.

Since then, it has become one of the most famous examples of digital obsolesence. This was due to a combination of the technology required to read the discs becoming increasingly rare, and idiosyncratic code.

The Domesday project came at a time when the technology was available, but the standards were not yet there to make it stable enough for long-term preservation, or even easy access in the short term. It’s a reminder that digital technologies are hugely enabling, yet frighteningly fragile.

Then there are the copyright issues surrounding both the content and the technology.

Joys of browsing Domesday Reloaded

The BBC should be applauded for finally managing to open up some of the data to the public on the web. The Domesday project was created before the web was invented. This isn’t how the content was designed to be viewed, so navigation is a bit cumbersome.

But aside from this gripe, the Domesday Reloaded website is turning out to be a fascinating resource.

I was born in 1986, the same year in which the Domesday project disc was published. So the Britain described here is a place that I don’t remember. But enough of it is familiar for it to feel incredibly relevant to me. It’s almost like being given a little upgrade to my memory, so that I can have snippets of knowledge from just before I was born.

Take the photographs for D-block GB-328000-690000 — the centre of Kirkcaldy, my hometown (D-block being one of the 4km by 3km areas the UK was divided into). It took me a little while to recognise “Kirkcaldy’s busy High Street”. But once I spotted British Home Stores, I was right there.

Yet, despite the familiarity, it is almost a completely different world. My memory of the High Street before it was pedestrianised is very limited. But it is just within touching distance of my memory for me to feel a strong connection with it.

The text entries are also fascinating. Most of the contributions were provided by primary schools. A decision was taken by the Domesday project not to edit the contributions, so the quality and style of writing varies from area to area.

As such, what strikes me the most is that it informs you as much about the prejudices of the school pupils and their teachers as it does about the area. It also retains their poor spelling and strange grammar.

For instance, an entry from Dundee (D-block GB-336000-732000) called ‘Traffic in and out’ is a basic survey of vehicles travelling on a road, with guesses as to where the vehicles are going and why. It lacks the academic rigour you would ideally want from a historical document.

But while some of the entries may seem banal, it was designed to be this way. The aim was to genuinely document society by capturing childrens’ curiosity with everything. This way it wouldn’t leave out what adults perceive as being obvious, when it wouldn’t necessarily be so obvious to someone in 1,000 years.

Missing D-blocks in Dundee on Domesday Reloaded

The really big shame is that not every part of Britain was documented. I could understand remote rural areas not being included. But sadly some highly populated areas have also been missed out. For instance, two D-blocks that cover the centre and east of Dundee lie blank, as does much of London.

But what exists is a joy. Even in the little amount of scanning I have done, I have already learned new information about the area I live in, which has set my mind racing and inspired me to investigate further.

Challenges for the modern day equivalents

What also struck me is how we actually already have readily-accessible modern-day equivalents of the Domesday project, almost by accident. The BBC is asking for users to update the content for D-blocks that were documented in 1986, to take an equivalent snapshot of 2011. I may go out and take some photographs for that.

But this sort of local information is staggeringly well documented already. We have Wikipedia, which can be edited by anyone but retains an academic approach that the Domesday project lacked. As such, it is a treasure trove of local information that can probably be relied on more.

Meanwhile, Google Earth and Google Maps provide masses of images of all corners of the country. It absolutely dwarfs what’s on Domesday Reloaded.

But the big question, which can’t be answered at the moment, is whether the wealth of information available on the web can be packaged up into a Domesday-style snapshot and preserved forever. The challenges of web preservation are massive.

Like the Domesday project, we could find the digital information almost slipping through our hands. The BBC know that themselves. With a stroke of a pen, it was decided that a significant chunk of British web heritage will be removed when the BBC removes some of its archived pages from the web.

It is notoriously hard to get to grips with the youth. Advertisers hate it. The age group of 15–24 — of which, incidentally, I am still part — is notoriously fickle. They define themselves almost in terms of what they are not rather than what they are.

That is the explanation being given to the counter-intuitive finding by Ofcom that the proportion of 15–24-year-olds using Facebook has decreased in the past year. Facebook as a whole is still growing. But the problem is that it’s now full of parents and teachers, and it would be deeply uncool to be using a website like that.

In the same week, a Nielsen study has shown that teenagers don’t use Twitter. It has been long suspected that they never did use Twitter in large numbers, but now there are figures to prove it.

That came just weeks after a 15-year-old doing work experience made a splash with Morgan Stanley who were trying to get a grip on what the future might look like. Matthew Robson said, among other things, that Twitter is for old people only.

It probably comes a surprise to some. Even Mashable implies it wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t seen the figures. I am sure there are lots of people out there who imagine sites like Facebook and Twitter being full of youths donning virtual hoodies and organising virtual knifings. But young people are not so easy to pin down. The Ofcom report declines to tell us what young people actually are spending their time online doing, although we know for sure that they are online in their droves.

Mine is the first generation to have grown up with the internet. And like every shift in in youth culture, from rock and roll to video games, it gets people thinking about the possible downsides of growing up in a new environment. So they say that the internet gives you a short attention span. Or it dehumanises community life and leads to suicide.

I was recently emailed by a reader and occasional commenter here, Fran Walker. She was curious to know, what with me being a youth and all, if I have a life outside the computer?

As the worry of tinies not being able to interact with other humans, and the problems this may later lead to, is current news, it makes me wonder how you get on, as I regard you as one of the first of the “totally familiar with computers generation”? My son, who is 39 and lives in Taiwan, uses them for specific tasks, dislikes emails, prefers phone calls, and was in the first lot at school when computers were introduced, but he had a computer free childhood before that (say before 12 or 13), whereas, I suspect you had access to your parents’ computer since you can remember?

Like, I suspect, most people my age, I do indeed have a life outside of the computer, although it’s true I spend a lot of time on it. Partly this is because most of my work requires me to use the computer. Then, much of my spare time is consumed by the search for work, which is easiest to do on the internet.

There is also the plain fact that I love being connected to the internet for a whole host of reasons. Most of all, it brings me into contact with so many people I otherwise would not have. And it enables me to contact existing friends easily and comfortably. As Shane Richmond pointed out in his response to Vincent Nichols, the internet “enriches communication, it doesn’t destroy it.”

It is definitely the case that people in my generation are more familiar with computers. When I was young my parents had a BBC Micro, although it was quite old-fashioned even then. As far as I was concerned it was only really good for playing quite rudimentary games, when I could have been playing more sophisticated console games.

We only really got a contemporary computer in the late 1990s, and access to the internet came after that. By that time I was into my teens, so I can definitely remember a pre-internet era. I think for my generation, there were still a lot of people who didn’t have experience with the internet until they were fairly old.

I certainly remember when we started using the internet at school during my standard grades, aged about 15 or 16, there was at least one person in my class who had never used the internet before. Mind you, it’s true that I remember it so vividly because it was so unusual.

People often pose the hypothetical question, “could you survive for a day without the internet?” I recently went away for a short break, and I probably spent longer away from the internet than I have done for years.

Mind you, I expected to still be connected. But thanks to O2’s shaky 3G service it wasn’t to be. That was quite annoying because I wanted to contact people through Twitter. But it wasn’t the end of the world. I had a lot to do anyway, and was focusing on doing the things I wanted to do on my break.

As for voluntarily foregoing access, I think it would be difficult but not impossible. Certainly, one of the first things I do when I get up in the morning is check the internet, and it’s one of the last things I do at night. Would there be any point in not checking? I don’t think so.

A thought experiment like this is not terribly useful. You could try to “survive” a day without the internet, but what would it prove? Could you go for a week without reading your post? Or a month without reading newspapers? I certainly couldn’t survive a day without listening to the radio — I would go round the bend very quickly if I was deprived of it. Is that healthy or unhealthy?

For my generation, having a life outside the computer is no problem. Certainly, I spend a while on the computer. But many people might spend that time watching bad television or getting steaming drunk down the pub, which is much less healthy than spending your time reading Wikipedia.

But — and this is where I start to show that I am at the older end of the “youth” bracket — there is a but. My generation is not the first to grow up having not known a pre-internet world. In fact, I haven’t even had access to the internet for half of my life. So the real people to ask about the worry of an internet-obsessed world would be those who are currently 10 or under, and have never known a pre-internet home or school.

However, I would predict that, like Elvis’s dangerously swinging pelvis, we will come to view as quaint the fact that there was ever any concern.

I see that the BBC’s iPM blog is asking for the human stories behind the current unemployment figures. Well, I am a human face of two recent news stories.

As readers are no doubt sick of reading by now, one of those stories was the loss of around 27,000 jobs at Woolworths. The other is the shortage of graduate-level jobs.

I graduated last summer. I didn’t have a job to walk into straight away because I wanted to take time to think about my future plans. Plus, the economy seemed bad enough at the time, and I thought maybe things would improve a bit later down the line. Now I have more or less decided what sort of work I would like to do, but of course the economy has deteriorated further and the jobs simply aren’t there.

The thing is, I’m not the only one. I can’t think of anyone who was in the same school year as me and has found a graduate-level job. I haven’t kept in touch with many people from university, but those I have heard from are either working in part-time retail jobs or more-or-less volunteering. I am still in touch with a lot of people from school, and no-one I know who was in the same year as me has found a job yet. I’m sure there are loads of people of my age who have found a decent job — I just don’t know any of them.

Many are doing five year courses anyway so are still studying. One or two have opted to go onto further study, while the rest of us are still searching for employment. And I’m not talking about people who got thirds from Shatsborough Poly by any means. I know someone who got a first at St Andrews University and is currently working in a shop.

A few months ago I still had the luxury of working in a shop. Of course, staying on at Woolies was never my long-term goal. It would have been useful as a back-up plan though. Not exactly a plan B, but maybe a plan C. As it stands, I’m still waiting for something to turn up in the realm of plan A, I need to wait and see with plan B, and plan C has totally fallen through already. For now, I’m onto plan D — D for “dole”.

So the news that there is a shortage of graduate places is not exactly news to me. I’ve experienced it myself and I’ve shared that experience with my acquaintances. What is really worrying is that a situation that was bad for the class of 2008 looks set to become even worse in 2009, with no sign of a recovery.

I had long feared that my degree wouldn’t be worth much. When I was at my lowest ebb, I thought that the whole higher education machine was a bit of a scam. When you are at school, you are pretty much told by everyone that going to university is the only option if you don’t want to spend your life being a street cleansing operative. Parents want you to go to university because of their pride. Schools want you to go to university, probably because of some kind of target, or league tables or something. And governments want you to go to university because of their peculiar obsession with having 50% of school leavers in higher education, and probably also to keep unemployment figures down as well.

Quite why I should have wanted to go to university is a bit of a mystery now. It was fairly clear early on that my degree wouldn’t be enough to set me apart, mostly because people began to tell us. There was that old joke about the university graduate who went on to become the best barman in town.

I could see why it was the case. The intellectual range of students is surprisingly large. I studied alongside many students who did not seem very bright (and spent much of their four years at university consuming alcohol), but were obviously quite good at exams. I think I am relatively smart and hard-working, but I don’t happen to perform so well at exams (my essay marks were always higher). Both types of student are likely to get a 2:1, but one of those types is surely the better for the employer. I have few ways of signalling to an employer which type I am.

The fact that employers do not value degrees very highly at all is evident in the fact that most blue chip companies will have job applicants sit their own exams, aptitude tests, diagrammatic reasoning tests and so on and so forth. Simply, there are too many degrees sloshing about in the system and the value of a degree is now so low that it tells you almost nothing about a person’s ability to do a job.

Maybe in the long run it will pay off and I will be pleased I put myself through four years of stress and horrible three hour round-trip commutes. In the meantime, I look at the people around me who have never been to university and think what I could be doing now had I taken their path. If I worked in a shop from the age of 16, I could be in management by now. If I left school at 16 and took up a trade such as plumbing, I would be perfectly comfortable and happy with my life already. I might even be running my own business. As things stand, I just feel a bit lost and I don’t know what my prospects are.

What I find notable is that the few opportunities I have had have arisen as a result of my blogging activities. No-one is interested in me because of my degree. There are plenty of people with one of them, and they’re all looking for jobs too.

The loss of my part time job last week came as a further blow to morale. Even though I was planning to leave my job at around this time anyway, there is nothing like being made redundant from a low-paid shelf-stacking job to make you feel like a spare part to the world. I need to remember that it’s not my fault.

Unemployment has affected me more than I thought it might. While I have never been unemployed in the official sense before, I have had periods of downtime before — summer breaks from university and the like. I thought it would feel like that. But it doesn’t. A whole lot of baggage comes with unemployment.

I have found myself being quite down at times. The scariest part is not the lack of income (for the time being) but the potential that I might end up isolated. You might not get along with all of your colleagues, but they are nonetheless like a second family. It’s a whole set of people who are there, prepared to listen to you and offer advice. Regular contact with people keeps you connected to society. With many of my friends either still studying or gallivanting somewhere else, I am a bit worried about becoming isolated.

Jennifer Tracey asks on the iPM blog if there is less of a stigma attached to being unemployed now that the economy is in such a bad state. I couldn’t help but feel rather self conscious as I took my first trip to the Jobcentre and I almost felt like the spotlight was on me as I walked up the steps to the entrance. I suppose that is quite silly really, because in this part of the world the Jobcentre’s steps are quite well used.

But what other people might think doesn’t bother me as much as what I think does. The prospect that I might be unable to positively contribute to society for the next while vexes me a lot.

I have written before about how I struggle to understand how people feel ‘pride’ in their country at, say, sporting events. For me, being proud of your country is a bit like being proud of this week’s lottery numbers or something. I just don’t get it.

For whatever reason though, patriotism undoubtedly exists and it can be a major vote winner. Politicians know this and they take every opportunity to associate themselves with some kind of patriotic cause.

The Olympics is one of the worst instances of politicians engaging in this kind of blatant demagoguery. For instance, Kelly Holmes was given a gong a few years ago because it was felt that her achievements in Athens in 2004 should be “recognised”. Much the same sort of thing will happen this year — it has already been confirmed by Chief Nationalist Demagogue, Gordon Brown.

Mike Power put it best on Twitter: “Surely the achievments of the British Olympic medallists have already been ‘recognised’ ? They got f**cking medals! Jeez.”

A couple of weeks back Mike Smithson wrote about how dangerous it is for politicians to claim credit for the achievements of athletes:

But it’s dangerous stuff trying to claim credit in this way. Firstly it appears to detract from the performances of the athletes in Beijing themselves and secondly it raises the question – where did the money come from that has made this happen?

Obviously the SNP haven’t read this otherwise they wouldn’t have come out with this sort of claptrap. It is just a week or so ago that Alex Salmond was acting as though Chris Hoy was the only person ever to win a gold medal.

Chris Hoy’s dad was pretty quick off the mark, pointing out that a Scottish Olympics team would die on its arse because Scotland doesn’t have the same world-class facilities and funding that Team GB has. Want to decrease the amount of medals Scots get at the Olympics? Simple: rip them out of the GB squad.

Before any nats start jumping up and down and start accusing me of belittling Scotland or somesuch nonsense, let me just close that argument down straight away. What we are talking about here is a simple concept: economies of scale.

First of all Scotland would have to build three velodromes at £50m a time to match UK facilities. Then there’s world-class performance funding (£4m a year). And it takes eight years to get a medal. Multiply that across all sports, and Scotland would be facing a huge sports bill.

You had to have a heart of stone not to let out an almighty guffaw when Chris Hoy himself yesterday stated that a separate Scottish Olympics team would be disastrous (as noticed by Bill Cameron:

We don’t have an international facility for cycling and we don’t have the coaching structures in place. In fact, we don’t have anything in place, so the whole idea is ridiculous. I’ve not lived in Scotland for nine years because there is nowhere for me to train. I’m a Scottish athlete but I’m proud to perform in a British team.

That was added to by one of Scotland’s other most successful Olympic athletes, the canoeist David Florence:

It’s a non-starter and he should consult athletes first before he comments. Scotland would have to build a new slalom course first and they would have to build a velodrome.

I am very proud to be Scottish, to have been born in Aberdeen and have Edinburgh as my home town. But I am also very proud to represent Great Britain and everything that stands for, which is not just Scotland.

I’m as proud to wear the union jack as I am the saltire. I don’t have a problem separating my pride in being a Scot from being British at the same time.

This gets to the heart of one of the things that most irritates me about the SNP. While I am not a nationalist of any kind, it strikes me that one of Scotland’s special strengths is its ability to have a distinct identity of its own, and indeed a sense of national pride, without having to completely dissociate itself from a larger political entity, the United Kingdom.

One can say he feels equally Scottish and British without any sense of contradiction. Indeed, whenever the ‘Moreno question‘ is asked, the results show that the vast majority of Scots can feel at once part Scottish and part British. Now this approach is something that I can feel proud of. It is one that Scotland’s Olympic athletes exhibit, and it is very admirable. Unfortunately the SNP cannot be so admirable because it would undermine their very raison d’être.

Mr Eugenides has got it spot on. Using Chris Hoy for their own petty political ends was always going to be a risky game for the SNP to play. They tried to capitalise on his gold medal haul by saying that Chris Hoy’s success shows why Scotland should have its own Olympic team. Then Hoy himself bit them on the bum by pointing out that “I wouldn’t have three gold medals hanging round my neck if I wasn’t part of the British team.”

There is another aspect of the SNP’s argument that appears to be fundamentally flawed. Like I’ve said, I don’t think people should feel proud for other people’s achievements. But conceding that some people do, are people more likely to be proud of the team representing them winning 19 gold medals or 3 gold medals (all won by the same person)?

I don’t even have to be a big fan of the idea of nationalities measuring their penis sizes through the medium of sport to find it hilarious that Great Britain finished ahead of Australia in the medals table. Scotland couldn’t have achieved that. Splitting Scotland’s medals apart, they would be ranked 20th-or-so. That is admirable enough. But as Chris Hoy and David Florence pointed out, Scottish athletes relied on UK-sized facilities to get their medals.

Like Mike Smithson said, it’s dangerous for politicians to attach themselves to athletic achievements. The irony is that neither Labour nor the SNP could ever take credit for a sporting success. If anyone can take credit for Great Britain’s performance in Beijing this year, it appears to be John Major for setting up the National Lottery. The results have come through at just the right time. The first injection of lottery money will have come just at the time when most of the current batch of athletes were beginning to mature in their sporting development.

Whether you think that is a good thing that so much public money is ploughed into sport is another matter. Alex Massie says yes, Fraser Nelson says no.

I definitely lean closer to Fraser Nelson’s point of view. I don’t think public money should be spent on the arts or sport full stop. Of course you would expect schools to provide PE lessons, though having said that if one thing put me off becoming an athlete it was PE lessons. Beyond that, the athletes should be by themselves as far as I am concerned.

I just don’t see what advantage it is for a country to have lots of sporting success. If it’s a “feel good” thing, lottery and government cash would be better spent on cute bunny rabbits to be sent to every household.

Sorry to make my first post for a couple of weeks a meme. I was much busier than I expected last week, and with a grand prix this week my blogging activities were focussed on vee8. I’ll still be busy this week but Steven Hill has tagged me in a meme and these are quick posts to do so I may as well do it.

I have to say where I was when each of these events happened.

Princess Diana’s death – 31 August 1997

I was in bed. I first heard about it when my brother came into my room wanting to play the PlayStation but ended up watching the television a bit instead. At first I thought it must have been the Queen Mother who had died, and when I found out it was only Princess Diana I struggled to see what the fuss was about. Never liked her.

Margaret Thatcher’s resignation – 22 November 1990

No recollection whatsoever. I did know of a time when Thatcher was Prime Minister, and I of course remember John Major being in charge. But I remember nothing of the transition.

Attack on the twin towers – 11 September 2001

I remember this very clearly. I was at school in my German Writing class. The first time I realised something was up was when the lesson hadn’t started after we had been sitting there for ten or fifteen minutes. Our teacher was constantly moving between the classroom and the staff room. I didn’t mind because German Writing was my least favourite subject at that time.

Eventually our teacher wheeled the television through and said, “I’m going to show you this because it’s very important and there will be a lot of consequences” (or words to that effect). I was a bit peeved that he chose ITN over the BBC, but never mind. One of my strongest memories is the fact that one certain person in our class particularly struggled to grasp what was happening. In retrospect, I suppose he was right to be so sceptical of the idea that people would be mad enough to delibrately crash planes into buildings.

Of course, we did not get any learning done in that class. Of course, not everyone’s teachers wheeled the television through like ours did. I suppose most teachers will have been completely oblivious. It was the major talking point among my classmates after school, but people from other classes thought we were tacking the mickey.

It was also strange going home, and I got the feeling that I could kind of tell who knew what was happening and who didn’t. I remember seeing a few people driving cars who obviously looked like they were listening to what was happening on the radio. When I got home my parents were both in the living room watching the television (my dad had the day off for some reason that I can’t remember). I carried on watching it for around two hours.

England’s World Cup Semi Final v Germany in – 4 July 1990

Ciao I have no recollection of this match in particular, but I was aware of Italia 90. I liked the mascot, ‘Ciao’! I also took in the design of the graphics used during the matches — an early example of my interest in television presentation.

President Kennedy’s Assassination – 22 November 1963

I was 23 years away from being born.

I now I need to decide who to tag:

I had a new year’s resolution this year. As part of my current crisis (i.e. having to become responsible), I am trying to get my notoriously bad sleeping pattern in order. Amazingly, I have stuck to the first part of the resolution.

For the past three months, I have been keeping a log of my sleeping patterns. It’s quite detailed. Every morning I open up my big Excel spreadsheet and record the time I went to bed, when I think I fell asleep, when I woke up and when I actually got my lazy arse out of bed. I also note when I set my alarm for. From all of this I work out how long I am unable to sleep, how long I sleep in and… well, how lazy I am.

Obviously it’s not an exact science. I obviously can’t tell exactly what time I fall asleep at, but I think I have a good idea — often because I end up listening to the radio (with its regular half-hourly bulletins) because otherwise I just get frustrated at not being able to fall asleep which makes the problem even worse.

So I am three months in. My excellent maths skills tell me that this means I am a quarter of the way through the project. A good time to look over the data. That can mean only one thing: graphs.

This first graph shows rolling seven day averages for the five variables that are measured as clock times. The labels are probably self-explanatory enough.

Sleep graph 1

This second graph shows the variables that are measured in lengths of time. ‘Insomnia’ is the length of time it takes for me to fall asleep (i.e. the difference between the time at which I fall asleep and the time at which I go to bed). ‘Asleep for’ is self-explanatory, and ‘Lazy’ is the length of time I spend in bed after waking up. Stacking these shows the amount of time I spend in bed per day, which you can read off the y-axis.

Sleep graph 2

One thing that I have noticed is that my sleeping patterns appear to be in cycles. There are fairly distinct peaks and troughs and it doesn’t look quite as ‘random’ as you might expect.

I will spare you from the boring details that led to every peak and trough. What I have learned from generating these graphs is the fact that even the slightest disruption to my routine can have massive effects on my sleep.

For instance, the pronounced peak that happens in around week 3 of February came about because I had a reading week on just one of my courses. This small change led to me falling asleep one hour later than normal and sleeping a further hour longer than normal.

The broad trend, though, had been good. The lines were going in the right direction (of course I am trying to sleep earlier in the day). But since the middle of March it has all gone wrong.

It started when I travelled up to Dundee to attend a friend’s birthday outing and opted to take the first train home (so I didn’t get to sleep until a disgusting 8am). This was exacerbated by the Australian Grand Prix which, of course, I had to watch live (you have to get your priorities straight, you see). Later that week I (almost) inexplicably woke up hours earlier than I expected to.

All of this left me rather more sleep-deprived than normal. Ironically, of all the variables, the most important one — length of time spent asleep — is fairly stable at 8 hours, which is said to be the recommended amount of sleep. But this week it fell through the floor to a seven day average of 6 hours.

It felt okay at the time, but I know from experience that this situation can only last so long until it catches up with you. Combine this with the Malaysian Grand Prix (which I also had to watch live) and the fact that I no longer have any classes, and the result is the mess you see towards the end of the graph.

So now I am at a situation where the earliest I have to get up all week for the next few weeks is 4pm. With no incentive to get up, I just don’t. A hefty dose of self-discipline is clearly in order, but more than once in the past two weeks I have slept straight through four alarm clocks without having any recollection of switching them off.

The result is now that I am falling asleep at around 5am if I am lucky, and waking up at around 2 if I’m lucky. Smart alecs might point out that I should maybe try going to bed earlier. But if you look at graph 2 you will see that I am already spending an average of 3 hours in bed without being able to get to sleep.

Asleep for These seven day average graphs are nothing though. I have also generated separate graphs for each of the variables showing daily changes (in blue, of course). The red line is the familiar seven day average, and there is a grey trendline (though in this particular graph is is almost indistinguishable from the gridline marking 8 hours).

As you can see, it fluctuates wildly during my ‘routine’ weeks. Despite the ‘overall’ consistency of the seven day average, and the reassuring fact that the trendline is almost parallel to the x-axis, the fluctuating blue line is alarming. I suspect that this is the root of most of my problems.

In extreme cases, I will get little more than 2 hours. This obviously has to be offset sometime, so a night soon afterwards I will be knocked out for 12 hours. Those two days alone would be enough to send my entire sleeping pattern askew, never mind having a similar pattern repeated several times in a matter of months.

The silver lining is that the end of this graph actually looks quite good. As you can see, I have not emerged from this peak yet, but it looks as though it is a peak to compensate for the previous trough. And the wild fluctuations have stopped — mostly because I don’t have any early starts for the time being.

The problem is that once it all settles down it will almost certainly be into a routine something along the lines of sleeping from 4am until 12 noon. This has been the way of it for years now. The difficult part is shifting this so that it is, say, midnight until 8am.

Why am I a nightowl? Well, one possibility is the fact that I haven’t had anything resembling regular early starts since the distant days of school. But even then I stayed up late and was seriously sleep deprived. According to my mother, I was even a nightowl when I was a baby. It looks like I was born this way.

Now, the task is working out how I can adapt this inconvenient personal trait into something that I can manage in my adult life. (Can you tell that this is a stressful period for me?…)

I came across another of those political quizzes. This one matches you up with the US Presidential candidates. It’s quite smart.

You can choose which topics you’re interested in by distributing 20 points among 14 categories. I gave one point to each category then bumped up a few areas where I feel strongest. It then gives you a set of questions based on those topics.

Once you’ve answered them, it ranks the Presidential candidates in order of similarity. You can go right into each question and see how each of the candidates would answer each question, with all kinds of quotes, voting records and suchlike to back it up.

Of course, it’s not very fair for me to be waxing lyrical about American politics. I have never set foot in the country, and chances are I could have different views on American political issues if I actually lived there. A lot of these are very US-centric questions rather than the big ideological picture.

Still, it is interesting to learn a bit more about the candidates. The names we all see are Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani. Sometimes John McCain. It’s not often you hear of any of the others. But it’s important to learn about them.

I remember at around this stage of the last US Presidential election we were discussing the Democratic candidates in our modern studies class. Trying to work out which of the candidates were the most important, our teacher immediately scored off John Kerry because he was a no-hoper! (In retrospect, she was actually probably right.)

Anyway, the quiz. The candidate who comes out as most similar to me is someone I’ve never heard of before — Mike Gravel. We are 81% similar, with very similar views on drugs, civil liberties, gay rights, crime and punishment, abortion, environment and immigration. But we have dissimilar views on social security and economics.

Second is someone else I’ve never heard of — Christopher Dodd, with 75%. We are different on social security and very different on economics. Dennis Kucinich also has 75%, but we disagree on taxes and budget, social security and economics.

Of the big guns, Barack Obama is fourth with 74% (different on taxes and budget, social security and very different on crime and punishment (Obama supports the death penalty)). Hillary Clinton is 66% similar (different views on taxes and budget, drugs, social security and very different on crime and punishment).

All of the Democratic candidates score more highly than the Republican candidates. The top Republican candidate for me is Ron Paul — 9th with 61%. We have very similar views on drugs, civil liberties and crime and punishment, but very different views on immigration, health care and abortion.

Rudy Giuliani only comes out 13th with 47%. We have very similar views on environment and gun control, but very different views on gay rights, Iraq and foreign policy, health care, civil liberties, drugs and crime and punishment.

My least similar is my namesake, Duncan Hunter. We are only 30% similar, with similar views on social security (and even that is only because neither of us has an opinion on it).

Via Blah Blah Flowers.

I reckon this could be the issue that brings down the curtain on the SNP’s honeymoon period. They seem to have messed up a bit when it comes to universities, on two different issues.

Firstly, the universities say they are disappointed in the amount of funding they will get. The universities asked for £168 million extra and said that a minimum of £40 million extra was required for levels of funding to remain the same in real terms. What they actually got was £30 million — a real terms cut.

I have never been to any universities except for Edinburgh, so I couldn’t say how it compares to other institutions around the world. But I can’t help but wonder if the continued public funding of universities in this manner is unsustainable.

There is already a perception that Edinburgh University is increasing the number of international students it enrols. International students are the only students they can make money out of, so Scottish students will begin to be squeezed out.

It already disadvantages us in at least one high-profile way. The move to semesterisation has been seen as an attempt to attract international students who want to be back home for Christmas — but had a range of negative consequences for other students (additionally, that document doesn’t mention the fact that sometimes there can be just a few days between your last lecture and your first exam in December).

If it is true that Scottish universities are facing a real terms cut in funding, then this trend will continue. Then Scottish students will be worse off.

The other place where the SNP is feeling the heat is over their ditched plans to “dump student debt”. If you were a student, it was difficult to avoid the SNP’s ‘debt monster’ character. A number of blogs were even decorated with graphics of the creature. It was clearly a key policy in attracting student votes. So it’s hardly a surprise that a lot of students feel a bit miffed now.

I can hardly blame the SNP for not implementing this policy, which in my view (speaking as someone with £7,000 and counting to pay back to the Student Loans Company) was stark raving bonkers. They shouldn’t have promised it in the first place.

Both of these areas link into the fact that students have it far too easy. Proponents of free higher education miss the point of higher education. A degree is supposed to be a signal to employers that you are talented. For this signal to work, a degree has to be costly to attain.

After all, if it was easy to get a degree, any old fool could get one. This would lead to the ‘devaluation’ of degrees that people so often talk about. The point of making a degree costly is to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. If getting a degree pays off for someone who is not so smart, then degrees are no longer a useful indicator to employers and everyone is worse off as a result.

Of course, degrees are costly anyway. Not in a monetary sense, but in a time sense. Theoretically, examinations are (hopefully) hard enough to deter the not-so-smart from spending four years of their life studying, and the opportunity costs that entails (i.e. four years spent unable to work full time).

However, it doesn’t quite work like that. When people are growing up, nobody is told the truth about university. Parents always push you into going into university due to pride. They don’t want their several years and piles of money invested in a life to come to nothing. Schools are the same — if a lot of a school’s pupils go to university, it reflects well on a school’s reputation. Meanwhile, governments like to encourage people to go to university because it reflects well on their reputation and it helps keep a lid on unemployment figures.

For this reason, there are many students who are walking around like headless chickens, not knowing what to do next (I would include myself in this group). So many people are forced by societal pressure into going into university. A lot of people grow up knowing having been told by parents, schools and governments that they will go into university. These people simply don’t consider any other alternative. Then when they are about to graduate they are stumped.

The obsession with persuading young people to go to university has also led to the fetishisation of “student culture”. Thanks to this, those four years are not seen as a cost at all. They are seen as the best four years of your life. Four years spent getting drunk. The degree is seen as a nice bonus. Fair enough if people want to enjoy themselves — but this is at the expense of taxpayers’ money.

How do we know that degrees are not costly enough? Because some graduates — mostly male arts students (who? me?!) — end up earning less than people who do not go to university. (This is part of the reason why this issue angers me a bit. If I knew I had to pay, I would have been forced to think through my choices a bit more, and would probably have made a better decision.)

Before statists and socialists start moaning, let me point this out. If degrees are costly, this need not preclude poor people from getting one. For one thing, poor people are the very people who benefit the most from university education, so they have the biggest incentive to invest in it.

Also, I still think it would be unfair to make poor people pay upfront. I would not be averse to the introduction of university tuition fees as long as they did not involve up-front monetary costs. Instead, the money ought to be paid after graduation (or drop-out) in line with your ability to pay. This is how student loans work, so I don’t see how it couldn’t work with tuition fees.

Besides, any pretence that free higher education helps poor people would soon be shattered if you spent five minutes on a university campus. Students are overwhelmingly middle class anyway. Instead of helping the poor, public funding of university education hinders the poor. It takes working people’s tax money and ploughs it into the pockets of middle class Tarquin and his Classics degree.

This is not necessarily to say that I am completely opposed to any state involvement in higher education. I would understand if there were a clear need to provide an incentive for people to attend university (although surely the prospect of a highly-paid job ought to be enough incentive). But today, 52% of 18–30 year olds either have a higher education qualification or are currently studying for one. There is hardly a shortage of graduates, or people wanting to graduate.

Yesterday I looked at the dilemma facing a blogging job hunter (ie. me). Should I put my blog on my CV?

Rhys Wynne and Rich Minx think that blogging gives you lots of skills that employers find desirable. The Devil’s Kitchen has added his thoughts here and asks if there are any more skills that anyone can think of.

I can think of plenty. Not all of these are necessarily skills that employers may be looking for. Some of the items show how I have improved as a person as well. Warning: I have removed my modesty cloak.

Here is the list.

Twenty reasons why I will put my blogs on my CV

  1. Blogging has improved my writing skills

    When I started blogging at the age of 16, my writing was awful. Over time, I have learned how to better communicate my opinions. Not all of that is just down to me becoming smarter as I get older. While I like to think that I am now a fairly good writer, I am still not a very good speaker (in fact, I may have become a worse speaker — my speaking grades were always my best in English). My recent appearance on the radio shows this.

    Clearly, I have had a lot of practice at writing by now. But I have also learned from other bloggers’ bad writing. It is true that a lot of blogs are not very well written. As such, I have read a lot of bad writing. This has taught me the value of good writing. Reading bad writing teaches you how to write well much more than good writing does. So I have learned from the mistakes of others as well as my own.

  2. It has taught me to be less narcissistic

    Contrary to the stereotype of self-obsessed bloggers typing away to themselves in their LiveJournals, blogging has actually taught me to be less narcissistic. Over the years I have learned that if I write obsessively about myself, it is a massive turn-off for readers.

    If you were to trawl through the archives of this blog stretching back almost five years (I do not recommend doing this), you would find plenty of terrible, self-obsessed, introspective blog posts that are unreadably embarrassing. You don’t find me writing as much about my personal life these days because these posts were almost always ignored by my readers.

    This does not mean that writing about myself is a no-go area. This post, for instance, is all me me me. Writing about your personal life is necessarily bad. A lot of the time it can be really good; rewarding for both the reader and the writer. But this only happens if you have got an interesting story to tell and a deft way of telling it. I usually don’t have an interesting story to tell, and I have learned to accept this.

  3. It has taught me to think about my audience

    Related to the above point, blogging has taught me how to take others into account. Rather than using my blog as a place to let off steam, I now think to myself, “Will this be interesting to anyone else?” This is because my moody emotional rants were ignored by readers, and they usually looked embarrassing to me by the next day.

  4. It has helped me build relationships and “network”

    The blogosphere is essentially the world’s biggest social network. When I link to or leave a comment on another blog, and they do the same to my blog in return, essentially a relationship is being formed. As such, blogging has taught me how to cultivate important relationships better. (More on this below.)

  5. It has made me become tolerant of other people’s views

    While online communities are usually famous for their trolls, I think blogging has actually made me a more reasoned and civil debater. Reading blogs has also taught me much more about political ideologies and philosophy than three years of studying economics and politics at university. I now have a much better understanding and appreciation of political views that I do not agree with.

  6. It has made me more thick-skinned

    Even if I have become more civil, that doesn’t mean that others have. Anonymous trolls can say incredibly spiteful things, and even those who are not anonymous can be startlingly robust. Being the recipient of blunt comments and emails over the years has taught me how to deal with angry people when I am in the right and how to take it on the chin when I am in the wrong.

  7. It has made me a better researcher

    On a blog, if you are making a point you have to back it up with evidence for it to hold any sway. Over the years I have learned how to find what I am looking for. This might sound trivial. After all, anyone can use Google. But there is a knack to it. Plus, I have learned how to use various tools to keep track of interesting information. The number of long-lost articles that I have retrieved from my del.icio.us account is astonishing. In fact, I have done that very thing in the process of writing this post.

  8. It has made me knowledgeable on an eclectic range of subjects

    My blog covers a range of subjects. This can work against the blog, as it does not have a coherent purpose or unifying theme. But it has worked in my favour personally. Thinking about ways to blog about a day’s events or news or little random thoughts that pop into your head can get you thinking about a wide variety of topics in ways that you may otherwise not have.

  9. It shows commitment

    Despite the amazingly low barriers to entry, the blogosphere is still a tough place to thrive. Anyone who has started blogging knows this. In my first year or two of blogging, I was very close to completely giving up several times. It is a tough commitment for all kinds of reasons. Reading and responding to other blogs as well as promoting your blog are time consuming. Dealing with blogger’s block and those early days when nobody is reading can be demoralising. But I stuck at it and learned how to make blogging a routine activity.

  10. It shows that I am good at time management

    Again, blogging is difficult if you have several activities on the go at once. As my life has become busier in the past couple of years, I have also learned how to juggle activities and prioritise. If this means having to let go of the blog for a bit, then so be it.

    Sadly, being busier than I used to be means that I do not blog as much as I used to. Hopefully I make up for this by going more in-depth when I do post.

    I still aim to write at least a few posts per week. During busy periods of your life, it can be difficult to dedicate enough time to your blog to stop it from going dormant. Keeping this in mind has improved my time management skills.

  11. It has improved my self-discipline

    I don’t like to have draft posts sitting unpublished. If I have an idea, I want to get it out there. In essence, the deadline is now. This can mean blogging when I am not in the mood.

  12. It shows that I can meet deadlines

    This point does not apply so much to this blog, which has no strict deadlines (only deadlines in the vague sense of the two points above). But Scottish Roundup is a different matter.

    At Scottish Roundup, a post is due to appear every Sunday. When it is my turn to write the roundup, I like to stick to this deadline strictly. The only way to do this is to spend Saturday night writing the post. It’s not the most fun way to spend a Saturday night. But I have a deadline to meet, so I’ll meet it.

  13. It shows organisational skills

    Admittedly, I do not write every post at Scottish Roundup. I have brought on board other regular and guest writers. This means getting in contact with people and arranging who will be writing when, as well as discussing suggestions for improvements to the website.

  14. It shows enterprise

    I can hardly take full credit for the idea of Scottish Roundup. I took inspiration from the Britblog Roundup and the Scottish Political Blogs Review. But I took the initiative to tweak those previous ideas to create a new website. I also had to work to promote the blog and encourage other bloggers to participate.

    Also, it is one thing to write for a publication (be it physical, online or whatever else). But it is quite another to set up your own publication and for it to be moderately successful.

  15. $$$

    I have also learned how to make money from blogging. It is not a great deal of money, and nowhere near enough to even begin to dream of becoming a professional blogger. But it is surprising how much you can earn from doing something that you enjoy.

  16. Attention from the mainstream media

    As a direct result of this blog, I have appeared on Radio Scotland three times and this week Radio 5 Live was added to the list. (There have been a few other missed opportunities too due to me not checking my email often enough and not having reception on my phone.) This blog has also been mentioned on BBC News Online, The Guardian, Telegraph.co.uk, Slate and The Herald. (Details on the Best of page.)

  17. It has made me learn HTML and CSS

    I also had to design the theme for Scottish Roundup. I have designed several other themes and templates for my blogs over the years. The design of this page, as well as the writing on it, is all my own work.

  18. It demonstrates computer literacy

    For obvious reasons.

  19. It has taught me about search engine optimisation

    Search is mega important these days, and every company in the world wants to come at the top of relevant Google results. Over the years I have learned the various techniques that can help achieve this and I have gained a feel for the sort of things that Google likes about certain websites.

  20. It has improved my problem-solving skills

    Because when something (in the template, with a plugin, etc) goes wrong, I need to take a long hard look at it, work out what has gone wrong, why it has gone wrong and how I can fix it.

It is not all good news though. Obviously the good outweighs the bad, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. But I have to recognise the downsides.

Three reasons why I might not put my blogs on my CV

Besides the ones I wrote about in the previous post.

  1. For me, blogging hasn’t been social

    I mentioned above that blogging has helped me forge relationships. But these are all online relationships. Of all the great bloggers that I communicate with, I have not yet physically met a single one of them. The closest I have come is a few times when I was spotted by other people, but I didn’t realise until a comment was left on my blog! Also, I have never attended a blogmeet.

    On the bright side, this is not the case for everyone. Otherwise, blogmeets would not exist. Perhaps this is more a reflection of my personality rather than the fact that I am a blogger. I am a natural introvert. Plus, it is surely only a matter of time before I meet another blogger.

  2. Am I getting enough fresh air?

    Okay, this is another unfair stereotype about bloggers. But I do mean this half-seriously. I mentioned above how difficult it can be to juggle various activities when you have a blog. So say you enter a busy period of your life. You have a number of extracurricular activities, but because you are busier one of them has to go.

    Maybe you like going on walks, occasionally visiting the pub with your friends and reading books. You also like blogging, and you are keeping in mind that readers may desert a dormant blog. So, which of these spare-time activities will get dropped? Sadly, it is natural that other mind-expanding and important activities get squeezed because you are prioritising your blog.

  3. It only shows how I operate on my own terms

    Okay, so I can meet my own deadlines. But what about a deadline that someone else sets me? I can write about my own opinions. But would this necessarily make me good at, say, copy writing or journalism?

    In essence, being a good blogger demonstrates that I am a good blogger. But does it necessarily demonstrate that I would be good at doing similar work for other people? Possibly not.

So, what do you think about all of this? Is some of it a bit pie-in-the-sky? Are there any other pros and cons of putting blogging on your CV?

I should point out that several suggestions have already been posted on my previous post on this issue.