Niall's virtual diary archives - Sunday 21st December 2008

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Sunday 21st December 2008: 2.21pm. Whoah, such a long time since the last update and unlike normally when I am too busy to make more than a monthly entry, these past two months have been arduous indeed - as you might imagine considering the last entry, but even more was added to the mix again:

Firstly, I got a part-time lecturing position in Economics for UCC's Adult Education, and me being me I fed them a post-structuralist modernised interpretation of Economics rather than the standard dry & boring Neo-Classical stuff, despite how much extra time it cost me in prep. I think it went down well, though we'll see when I get their essays back. I get paid €200 for each three hour lecture I give which as wonderful as it sounds, prepping the lecture slides & readings eats around twelve hours of my week so it works out at around €16 an hour. That's still double minimum wage, though unfortunately the Irish government have enacted emergency taxation on me and so are eating up 20% of my income (and it rises to 40% next month) because I didn't realise you have to fill in some form or other to gain your tax credits. I'll get it back eventually though.

On top of the twelve hours in lecturing, my tutoring load increased as the exams and class tests approached all of which was good as it earns thirty euro an hour. Of course, it left precious little time for anything but work as my own coursework & class tests were also due which chomped whatever quality time remained. For much of the month preceding end of term (which was last week), basically Megan saw me when I collapsed into bed at night and otherwise I was locked in my room working. No quality of life there anyway, and nothing at all was done on the book since early November apart from printing, binding and posting to various reviewers.

Was it worth it? I reckon that I earned €2000 before tax last semester, so between September and December and it swallowed about a hundred and twenty hours. Of course, that's outstanding and most people would give their right arm to be earning so well. But me being me, I loaded that on top of what I would normally be doing if completely free to choose my time, so the end result was me being shattered almost all of the time - indeed, I collapsed from exhaustion sometime in late November which caused no end of difficulties because I missed an assessed tutorial. I was also in a pretty foul mood throughout, and I certainly haven't seen much socialising time or indeed, doing anything other than work each & every moment of every day. No wonder that I have a mouth ulcer which will not heal (I have had this since last June when we graduated!).

Next semester, that being really till April, has a much higher ongoing coursework requirement than last semester. Despite its high regard in the UK & US, the Masters in Business Information Systems here at UCC isn't in my mind at a particularly high academic level - in fact, to be very blunt, in academic level it sits at somewhere between first and second year in Management at St. Andrews. Much like sub-honours Management at St. Andrews, a huge amount of the BIS course is pointless hoop jumping whereby you go through a set of irrelevant motions and output what you know is the garbage that the particular lecturer wants. Forget actual learning or understanding, or God forbid deviations from the catechism, because the average staff member of BIS is fairly shockingly out of date and in general (though there are exceptions), most of them stop bothering to keep their learning fresh after they get tenure so much of what they think is the case is most demonstrably usually not so - which requires you to keep your trap shut and humour them (which I have always found difficult to do in any situation!). This, in a technology-focused subject, makes the staff appear quite ignorant at times as they pretend to appear to know what they are talking about but to anyone who knows better, they just sound silly. I used to think that St. Andrews was bad, but now I realise that with hindsight, they actually are the elite university that everyone says that they are when compared to the competition. It doesn't make the education provided by St. Andrews any more relevant or useful than I have previously stated in this virtual diary, but at least the staff there from my experience did make more effort to teach at a higher and better level, especially in the quality consistency between modules regard (UCC has much more variance). In this respect, St. Andrews I miss you!

Anyway, it hardly matters too much in many ways: Ireland is in the grip of the worst recession it has seen probably since the 1980s and as for the rest of the world, probably since the 1970s. I certainly have never seen such widespread denial in the face of such bad economic indicators which is usually an excellent sign that it's going to get a lot more worse indeed, because it is the day when people accept how bad things are is when economic recoveries begin and the longer that that takes (and/or is cushioned from acceptance by government policy), the longer that economic malaise persists much as it has in Japan until very recently. As a result of the severe downturn in Ireland (of something like 4-6% of GDP officially, but I think 8-10% is more likely given Ireland's unique exposure to the US and UK), civil servants are going to get chopped and by God is it overdue in the universities of Ireland. Anyone in there who hasn't either a good teaching or research record should be fired in my opinion and that's at least an average of a third of the faculty (though easily half in some faculties but much less in others). While you're at it, half the admin staff are unnecessary and as poor Megan has found out, much of the international office should simply be closed because the misinformation they give out actually wastes more time than if students simply started from scratch on their own (they have repeatedly told her lies, failed to provide required forms and misled her visa application. They are, quite frankly, a waste of space). Of course, if I had my way I'd have the student's union run the entire university as a consumer governed cooperative, but that's another matter.

What is bad for the goose is pretty terrible for the gander, so such economic woes are not good for either mine nor Megan's future employment. Britain is going down the tubes - her currency is nearly at parity with the Euro, so that's real inflation of about a third for her imports which must make energy and manufactured goods a lot pricier. Apparently her risk of credit default is now rated higher than some multinational corporations which must be a first since the 1970s. I can't see myself nor Megan having much employment success over there in six months time anyway - the worst is yet to come for Britain. Neither too in Ireland where teachers are being laid off - all anyone expects over the next year is lay offs at best. I am much more employable now than during the last recession - in 2001/2002 I discovered that you needed a first class honours from a "Tier One" university (basically the ancient and old universities, not the red bricks apart from Warwick) and/or a postgraduate qualification in order to get past the first rung of the recruitment agencies. If like me then you had a pass degree from Hull and nothing else, then you had zero chance - they don't give a crap about your CV in a recession because in the end, they're lazy fuckers who like most people will do the absolute minimum that they can get away with. And in a recession, there's loads of candidates so you can just sit back and skim the easiest cream.

I now have the "Tier One" undergraduate degree and shortly will have the postgraduate qualification too, and I will then have three qualifications in the historically most sought after disciplines available that don't require medical training. Surely that would be enough? I don't know yet of course, but I guess that I will be finding out. Regarding my book, so far reaction to it from its test readers has been fairly uniformly negative (e.g. "nasty fascist claptrap" or "lots of dangerous rhetoric suggesting a Mein Kampf of the 21st century") and even close friends are talking a lot about "lots of careful copy editing". I think that its point is getting lost in its text because the book deliberately is all over the place, but I am gathering that the desired effect of creating a synergy after a few reads of it may not be working. Or, more likely, everyone I know is so incredibly time pressed that no one can do much more than skim the top of it which implicitly will fail my original intent. I guess that might be an advantage of a hefty recession - lots of people gain plenty more free time.

I have to admit that I don't see the fascist connection personally - ok, I advocate electrocution as a replacement for wasteful prison incarcerations (in my opinion, therefore replacing long, slow & expensive torture with quick, sharp & cheap torture), much increased use of social & moral pressures rather than legal & financial (i.e. public humiliation instead of fines which just reward wealthiness), the complete disestablishment of the welfare, pension and education systems in favour of "edufare" whereby welfare and pensions become equal to being paid for maintaining skill ability and so on. Some seem to view my view that no one should get anything for free (particularly liberty) without earning it as the most dangerous & virulent form of fascism possible.

Obviously enough, I don't see freedom that way - I see everyone born into the chains of ignorance & inability and that it is acquiring and maintaining skills which frees them. Some commentators have equivocated that notion as a new form of ecclesiasticism whereby much as with Catholicism, one is born with original sin which one must then spend the rest of one's life cleansing. Some might accept such a notion as having merit, but become most galled when I go further to say that people should not be allowed a freedom until they have earned the right to it which is the fundamental thesis of the book. For example, I propose that you aren't allowed to buy a McDonalds until you have earned an "unhealthy food consumption licence" (you can consume, but not purchase) and that licence must be renewed on a regular basis. That whole concept upsets people greatly and for some reason they seem to think it is most like fascism because their freedom of choice is being dictated to them.

My problem with their problem is that their freedom of choice isn't being dictated to them. Their ignorance of choice is being denied to them definitely because in my opinion, you cannot freely make a choice when you don't know what you are choosing. If you don't realise that eating a McDonalds every day will do you harm in certain specific ways, then you don't know what you are doing when you choose to purchase a McDonalds. Most people would say now that "everyone knows that McDonalds are bad for you" but then I would ask you this: write down the top five most important specific ways it is bad for you. I guarantee that almost no one can do that. Why? Because despite the fact that all of us eat food, we are generally profoundly ignorant about what food is, how it works and therefore whether a choice regarding food is a good one. Considering in my opinion such a calamitous choice where a blind, deaf, dumb and disabled person must somehow navigate a tripwire that no one has told them about and the concept of which they do not understand, surely the only right, moral, ethical and humane choice is to restrict freedom until the freedom of choice is possible? Remember, someone else suitably qualified can always buy you a McDonalds in the meantime (and you can always make your own at home) - this helps bind a society together on the basis of expertness and knowledge rather than superstition, fashion and fear as at present.

Additionally, in parallel, under my proposals for those most educated there would be an unparalleled freedom. If suitably qualified, you can drive on the wrong side of the road, modify anything you feel like, even enter & manipulate other people's property (what would currently be called stealing): you can do what you like with no (legal) bounds whatsoever - the most true, complete freedom possible. In this, I have assumed that with deep education & understanding comes responsibility which I suppose is a leap of faith. I would assume of course that a legislature would change the law if my faith turns out to be misplaced - and do remember that becoming so educated would require considerable time, so such freed people would be mostly old. It would be the reward at the end of a life long journey spent upon improving oneself and the world: true power.

I personally felt that I was being very restrained & conservative in my book - I personally would go much further and legalise murder (including genocide) for those people who reach the maximum pinnacle of skills-based educational achievement on the basis that such people don't need laws to restrain them because if they decided that genocide was a good idea, then it probably would be (I left this out because too many people would say that any genocide at all is automatically wrong - we as a society aren't ready for greys in this black & white viewpoint, despite that we all unknowingly commit genocide several times a year if one considers non-human lifeforms). Another thing which I left out of the book was my far more radical proposals for utterly replacing democratic government in its entirety because I felt these to be too unacceptable to current society in its present state. There's loads of stuff in there where I could have been much less conservative and far more radical, and I am intending to at least review such proposals in later editions.

Moving to a related topic, I have finally got the basics of the Freeing Growth website going. Given the dire economic situation, I had been looking to substantially freshen my marketable skills portfolio and of course I also wished to implement a site not using 1990s web technology like this one (good ol' nedprod still works on the original CERN web browser though it kills the original Mozilla - not my fault, actually a bug in original Mozilla and it was Apache which broke it). FreeingGrowth.org now looks (roughly) like this:

The Freeing Growth website

You'll note the heavy use of CSS3 features such as rounded corners and drop shadows, plus there is heavy CSS2.1 selector usage and I'm sure you'll see the white transparency used so some of the backdrop bleeds through in most areas. I deliberately left the navigation elements without transparency as the adverts overly stand out otherwise. The layout is literally unchanged from Plone's default except for the addition of the CSS3 features because after messing around with third-party Plone themes, I realised that all the ones which look good break lots of Plone features - to be quite blunt, Plone's default theme "just works" so I'm sticking with my overrides of their theme for both freeinggrowth.org and neocapitalism.org. BTW, if you want to know all about installing Plone onto a low-end VPS, see my writeup here. If you want to see why I went for Plone instead of Drupal, Joomla or the usual suspects, see my other writeup here.

The above screenshot is how Google's Chrome browser views the site - it's Webkit based so it looks almost identical to Apple's Safari except that there's a bug in the rounded corners using drop shadows. Firefox v3 does a reasonable job too, getting all the rounded corners but no drop shadowing until v3.1, whereas Opera v9.6 keeps the square corners because it supports almost no CSS3. All the browsers work fine except for good ol' Internet Explorer v7 whose display glitches are legendary - I am assuming that IE8 will fix my problems because I really couldn't be arsed to code specially for IE. I'll get around to adding a special message for pre-IE8 users soon enough.

NeoCapitalism.org is still the default installation but I have set up the workflow and functionality for it to behave as a Wiki and after Megan has left for the US, I'll get started with putting in all the book's theory as content so it can act as a user-editable theory portal. Then at least I'll have some basic stuff in place for both websites which will not just get me some web presence, but also act as examples of my skills which I can pitch if necessary to prospective employers. Hopefully this will earn some cash in the long run should worst come to worst.

So that's roughly me over the last two months. I'll do a birthday entry next month as is traditional where I shall review my past year and make my prognosis. I think, rather surprisingly, that for a second year running I actually achieved something rather than the usual wasted year full of failed opportunities & disappointment that would be the traditional fare - we'll see. Until next month, be happy!

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