Archive: time

This week, I have decided to make another attempt at reading more books. I read stuff all the time, but almost all of it is on the web. A few hundred words at a time. Lots of breadth but not much depth.

I have never done much in the way of reading books. Fiction is not for me, so novels are more-or-less out of the question. However, I do enjoy reading non-fiction books. But I somehow never get the time to read them.

Time is the scarcest resource imaginable, and I have a tendency to build these backlogs. Not too long ago I wrote about the huge number of podcasts that are stuck in my backlog (I am just about getting that under control). I also have a small pile of CDs that I bought several months ago and still haven’t listened to, and a slightly smaller pile of DVDs from before Christmas that I still haven’t watched.

The unread books shelf But books are the big daddy of my backlog. I have special shelf just for unread books! Currently, 15 books sit there. Some of them I must have got almost a decade ago.

I think they are perhaps the wrong books. How tempted am I to ever reopen the ten-year-old book about US radio stations that I started but didn’t finish? How about the two political books that I started but never finished? Or the two books about economics that I started but got bored of?

In the summer of 2006, between my second and third years at university, I went on a big drive to read economics books. I had begun to realise that I was struggling at economics, and decided to spend the summer reading less academic, more accessible economics book in an attempt to soak up some of the subject and hopefully become a better economist in third year.

I happened to read a blog post by Greg Mankiw called Summer reading list, which seemed to fit the bill perfectly. After a bit of research, I selected five books from the list and ordered them. Sadly, it took me a year to read one of them. I finished another of them last year. I started one of them this year but gave up, and two others sit on the shelf virtually unopened. (I finished Freakonomics very quickly, but I think I bought that afterwards.)

My lack of talent in economics became clearer in third year, when I performed abysmally. My motivation plummeted. I later bought the Penguin History of Economics, which was on the reading list for the History of Economic Thought course that I took. This, also, has been started but not finished.

For a while, my main plan was to get through these economics books, and the other books in my backlog, before buying any others. But having not done any reading for several months, I had to recognise that this wasn’t a good plan.

Before I completed my degree, I had already more-or-less made the decision not to pursue economics further. I was lucky enough to somehow get a 2:1, but mostly due to the politics courses and my dissertation. It was clear to me that I just wasn’t cut out for economics, even though I planned to maintain an interest in it.

But there was no point in pretending I was going to start reading these books. So I have decided to buy more books on different subjects and start reading them. Last week I acquired seven new books — six that I had bought, and one surprise gift. It’s a mixture of stuff — some about writing and editing, a humour book, some motorsport books that I will probably blast through, and… an economics book.

Well, I figured that since I liked Freakonomics so much, I would probably actually read Superfreakonomics. Wish me luck. I will keep my LibraryThing thing updated.

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.

I’m shocked at how I don’t have any time to do anything these days. Where does all the time go? I had a ‘reading week’ (i.e. half-arsed week off) at uni this week, yet it was still non stop. To see if I can start doing something productive, I’m thinking of perhaps going for a week without going on the computer except to check my emails. Well that’s what everybody says, but how often have you received a truly important email? I bet you never have. So I might just avoid the computer for a week and see how it goes. What do you think?

It’s looking pretty unanimous on the ‘more personal posts’ front. The score is 8–0 at the moment. You nosy bastards! I’m currently facing up to the fact that the real reason I stopped posting ‘personal’ posts was because I’ve realised that I’m actually a bit rubbish, and writing about myself only reveals a bit more of my rubbishness each time. Which probably isn’t a very good idea.

The score on the other question is currently 6–2 in favour of keeping F1 posts here. I came up with a good name if I were to set up a separate F1 blog, although now that I’ve said it’s good I’ve only built up your expectations which would make it a disappoinment. I would call it vee8. Maybe a bit too obscure if you’re not a big F1 fan, and you just know that they would let teams use V10 engines again as soon as I started the blog.

Turnout is high, currently running at a massive eight votes. You’ve excelled yourselves. I’ll keep the polls up for a bit longer, but to be honest it looks as though the result is settled. So here’s one of those boring posts about my life that I promised.

I can’t believe that this is the last week of my summer. University holidays are meant to be long. They are really really long if you look at it on a calendar for instance. And last year’s felt really long, but that’s mostly because I spent all of my time either sitting on my bum or making a general nuisance of myself.

This year, though, I set myself a few goals. I know this is very target setterish, but it had to be done — partly to get myself in shape for life, and partly to keep me busy (staying busy makes me happier). I started taking driving lessons, which was quite good at first because it gave me a reason to get up in the morning. Then I got a job and I lost all interest in the driving lessons!

In a lot of ways I think this summer has been very successful — in terms of reaching some of my goals and so on. In other ways it wasn’t so successful. I mean, I never did all those summery things such as going out to the local scum-club. I think we are getting too sensible as we grow up.

I couldn’t reach all of my goals, mostly because I haven’t had the time! I know, it’s incredible — I’ve hardly been able to keep on top of time this summer. It was all so very different last year.

While we’re on time management, I was sad to see that the Political Teenager has gone on hiatus for the following reason:

Now I am starting University, I will not have time for long winded posts and rants.

This is a bit surprising to me. I’ve always wondered why you don’t find more students writing blogs (I’m not counting those of the LiveJournal type here). It’s not as if students don’t have shedloads of spare time. And in my experience students seem to divide their spare time approximately as follows:

  • 40% boozing it up
  • 30% “ironically” watching Neighbours
  • 20% on MyFaceBeboJournal
  • 10% forcing everybody within a 20 mile radius to use Fairtrade goods whenever possible
  • 9% pretending to be in poverty
  • ¾% being unable to add up to 100 and making ridiculous, mostly fictitious lists with little bearing on anything
  • ¼% studying

Surely more of them can squeeze in a bit of blogging? After all, they are always banging on about how politically aware they are.

Sitting here, I think that going back to Uni might give me more time to blog. I really do dread going back to Uni, especially what with it being 3rd year and all. It is going to be hard work. But at least I’ll be in some form of a routine. I’ll always have a few hours of spare time at the end of every day; ample time to get some blogging in.

I’ll also finally be able to listen to all those podcasts that I’ve been stashing away, never to be listened to. There’ll be plenty of time on the train for that. And reading all those economics books that I somehow never found the time to read.

The thing about this summer is that I’ve just been arranging lots of things without thinking about whether I really have the time to do it, simply because I’ve been so eager to keep myself busy. I’ve actually had to strike things off my list because I’ve got so much to do this week. For instance, my driving theory test is on Thursday. Thursday morning indeed. Why oh why did I book it for that time?!

I said I couldn’t believe that this was my last week of summer, but technically that was last week. This week is freshers week, and all the cool kids are out having fun. Here I am getting pale in front of a computer. Oh well.

Anyway, I’ve got to go through to Edinburgh to matriculate this week. Regular readers will know that commuting to Edinburgh involves roughly a three hour round trip for me. This week I’ve got to go through to Edinburgh to write a time when I can meet my Director of Studies on a piece of paper. Then I’ve got to go back and meet him at that time. Six hours of my life wasted on bureaucracy! Aargh!

And then once I’ve got work on Saturday out of the way I’ll just have a teeny weeny bit of time left to get rested and make sure I’m all set to start University. Do I have enough pens? I don’t know. Did I clear out my folder from last year? Can’t remember. Have I done any preparatory reading? Of course not. I need to get my hair cut, my shoes have chosen this week to wear out, and I really ought to buy myself a jacket that doesn’t make me far too hot whenever Edinburgh doesn’t happen to be an ice cube.

If any lecturer makes some smart-arse remark about how we should all be fully refreshed after the summer, it truly will be the end.

Time Cube Boing Boing have just featured the Time Cube.

I’ve had one for about ten years I reckon (that’s it on the right). It cost about a fiver or something from Boots. Admittedly, it doesn’t look as nice as that sleek silver one. Mine has a dodgy speckled paint job.

When I was young I thought it was really cool. Unfortunately gravity won (as it often does with me and clocks), and the battery always fell out! So in its dormant state, I have decided to do what every clock manufacturer worth its salt does to a stopped clock: set the time to 9:50. Doesn’t quite work in the same way without normal hands.

This year there will be a leap second. Here’s an interesting article. They’re growing more controversial you know. (Via)