You are viewing pjc50

Pete's Journal
[Most Recent Entries] [Calendar View] [Friends]

Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Pete's LiveJournal:

    [ << Previous 20 ]
    Friday, December 12th, 2014
    11:52 am
    Nimrod and Kinloss
    Can't quite work out how to synthesize these stories, but there's an interesting thread: : Kinloss search-and-rescue closure and versus

    The UK designs and builds the first jet airliner, the Comet, back in 1949. A few upgrades and 20 years later the same basic design becomes the Nimrod MR2 recon aircraft. And there it stays for thirty-seven years, until eventually it catches fire and explodes in midair. In a spectacular bit of retroactive judgement, it's deemed to have been defective design all those years ago combined with neglect.

    Why was the MR2 not replaced earlier? Well, the plan was to replace it with the MRA4 .. which was the same plane, just refurbished to modern standards. This project had never got off the ground as it was discovered that the original airframes not only didn't match the design drawings but were all subtly different shapes and sizes as they were hand-built to 60s manufacturing tolerances. An approach which may have made sense when there was a need to churn out Wellington bombers in 24 hours from requisitioned furniture factories for an expected lifetime of a few dozen flights, but doesn't work for modern aviation or endurance recon. The MRA4 was eventually scrapped with extreme prejudice once it became clear that it consume money forever without delivering a flyable aircraft.

    So, no recon planes at all shall fly from Kinross. So the airbase side has been closed and downgraded to a barracks. The search-and-rescue will be consolidated with the south coast 400 miles away (no doubt losing local knowledge).
    Thursday, November 27th, 2014
    11:35 am
    Smith commission
    Quick review of
    Read more...Collapse )
    Para 95 Mandatory Free Lunch: while it might be possible to set things up so that there's no change in the budgets on the day of transfer, this won't be the case in the future. One side of the border will end up doing better than the other. Scotland gets the downside risk as well as the possible upsides of this. This is the large carpet under which the details, and a few potential landmines, have been swept. Needs further analysis.

    Unstated assumption: the Smith Commission is not a legislative body. This package will need to be legislated by whoever wins Westminster in 2015. That might be a Tory-UKIP coalition wrestling with a possible Euro referendum, or it might be Labour government with a confidence and supply deal from the SNP.
    Sunday, October 12th, 2014
    7:44 pm
    Post-referendum post
    Well, that was an emotional rollercoaster. I'm glad I took the day after the referendum off. The next question was always going to be "what now?" either way it went. But the close result seems to have had an extraordinary effect: it's driven mass recruitment to the pro-indy parties. : the SNP is now the third largest political party in the UK as a whole.
    Read more...Collapse )
    Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
    7:32 pm
    Tasty pork curry
    Tonight's improvised dinner:

    Diced pork
    1 Onion, 1 Yellow pepper, Mushrooms
    Turmeric, Garam masala, powdered ginger (lots), small qty soy sauce, salt, chili flakes
    Juice of 1 lemon

    Chop all ingredients and fry in wok in oil. Add seasoning. Serve on rice. Produces a nice yellow-brown light fresh flavour; might be improvable with more sweet/sour flavours (sherry, mirin, vinegar, more lemons)?
    Thursday, September 18th, 2014
    12:37 pm
    Indyref day
    (This isn't terribly coherent, but I had to dump it to LJ to get it out of my head)
    Read more...Collapse )
    I'm nervous. It's like one of those World Cup matches that gets decided on penalties, except it's going on all week rather than just 90 minutes. There is still the risk that Scotland will bottle it, give in to the relentless scare stories at the last minute. It's making it hard to focus and hard to sleep. I've already booked Friday as a holiday off work. I doubt I'll stay up - watching it on TV can't be that interesting, and it won't be clear until the small hours. There are likely to be widespread recounts. I really hope it doesn't come down to a court challenge. If it's a yes, then we'll be off into town to join the party. See you on the other side.
    Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
    8:37 pm
    Worldcon / Loncon 3 experience
    Potted summary of good and bad things, almost all good:

    + we met lots of old friends! Both from Cambridge and from Boston. Lovely to catch up with you all.

    + considering "old friends" in the form of books. I attended several of the Banks panels and was reminded how inventive they are and how I half-remember the ones I read a long time ago. Now I'm keen to go back to them. Likewise from the videogames panels.

    + Other interesting things: British Interplanetary Society; Chris Foss doing a talk on his career in the 60s and 70s which contained a lot of "swinging London" stories. I chatted to him briefly at his signing stall. He had a stack of hardcover art books each of which was getting a fresh hand-drawn sketch inside the front cover, selling at £200. They were sold out.

    + the con seems to have been disaster-free. Not snag-free, but as far as I can tell no big problems affecting a lot of people nor nasty incidents reported on social media. (Someone will no doubt correct me on this, or point out that it will have drowned in discussion of Ferguson)

    + Speaking of which, the Hugo results were good for the John Scalzi Insect Army and bad for Vox Day, which is entertaining.

    + Positive opening discussions with a couple of publishers for Laura, especially the lovely people at Inspired Quill.

    +- There was so much stuff on it was impossible to do everything; sometimes I felt I'd missed out on the interesting things other people had been to. Sometimes this was a result of overcrowded programme rooms.

    - while we had a good time, it felt like it required a constant input of effort to do so and sometimes felt like an uphill struggle*. It felt difficult to meet new people, outside of the dedicated newbies event.

    * there are few things more British than the phrase "we've come all this way and we're going to have a good time if it kills us", usually leading to eating fish and chips in the car in the rain.

    - ExCel is massive. Its food court is of course overpriced, and some of the programme rooms has sound leakage problems.

    - the crowd was mostly older and mostly American. Sometimes this gave me the feeling of having been swept up by someone else's tour group. Related to the "finding it hard to strike up conversation with strangers here" thing.

    - (not con's fault) we booked too late to get a good hotel, and were therefore in a Travelodge on the wrong side of the river. Dinstinctly two-star experience, and the night we stayed out late cost us a lot in taxi fare.
    Thursday, July 31st, 2014
    9:16 pm
    The anti-masterwork
    A masterwork is an item of high craftsmanship, intended to showcase the state of the art and its creators skill in traditional techniques.

    What then is an anti-masterwork? It should not be merely bad - incompetence is widely available and demonstrates nothing. Not should it be "outsider art", that is, made by someone who has no idea what they're doing or what the conventional techniques are. Rather, it should be aggressively offensive to the normal standards. Both layman and expert alike should recoil in horror from the determined ugliness. Trolling in craft form.

    (fragmentary post, can be expanded on demand)
    Friday, July 18th, 2014
    4:30 pm
    Reading on the bus
    I keep meaning to write something about distributed social network software, and the set of social and administrative problems getting in the way of the "why don't we host our own data" ideal. In some ways the work I did 15 years ago with the SRCF is a precursor to this.

    Recent things I have read on the bus:

    • The Star Fraction, by noted Scottish Trotskyite Ken MacLeod. I mostly enjoyed it, although I felt it came unglued at the ending. Like a lot of cyberpunk, it's interesting to see how the future of 20 years ago looks now that we're living in it. There is a *lot* of politics in this novel, and I could have done with a better grounding in Marxism in order to tell what was historical, what was projected-historical, and what was projected-future-fictional. The franchise based fragmented political system reminded me of Snow Crash, which predates this book by a few years. There's a bit of Stafford Beer in the concept of technologically assisted/AI central planning. I had some specific thoughts about its ideas which I should probably have written down as I've now forgotten them :(

    • Ancilliary Justice, cutdown Hugo packet version. Prose is a bit stark and functional for my taste, but the setting and characters are fascinating. I can see why this is a frontrunner for the Hugo. It does very well at expanding a world in the memories of a character, and the slow building of trouble in paradise.

    • Thief of Time, Pratchett. A good reminder of just how good Pratchett is; humane characters, tone-perfect subverted pastiche, lovable world, spectacular drama, compelling fun.

    Current bus reading is ; finding it a bit turgid. The whole Amber series is very popular but I suspect it's not my thing. Should probably work out what my favourite fantasy novel is outside of the obvious Pratchett and Tolkein.

    Edit: also in the pile of unfleshed-out thoughts is the politics of the HRA. Why it's so unpopular in UK politics, and relating this to the rushed through omnisurveillance. Also relating the surveillance to civil service "target" culture.

    And perhaps a "gaming made me" style about Colonization, and some thoughts about "victory by compound interest" in games.
    Sunday, June 29th, 2014
    9:15 pm
    Jupiter Artland
    A few weeks ago we went to this strangely named attraction to the west of Edinburgh. It's a collection of large pieces dispersed about a wood, and on a fine sunny day it was lovely to walk around and take in the art among the natural beauty.

    I thought I'd write about my responses to the pieces such as I remember. There's the whimsical signpost to Jupiter, for example.

    Anthony Gormley's "Firmament" stands out nicely against the sky. Sort of a wireframe cousin to the Angel of the North. Very insubstantial feeling for a steel structure; shades of deformed Buckysphere and rusted futurism. My brother is a fan of Gormley and has taken a lot of photos of his work, which tends to produce nice light patterns on nearby surfaces.

    "The Light Pours out of me": looks expensive. Alien jagged surfaces. Amethyst comes up beautifully in the sun, but while looking at it you're in a pit. Actually, making a square pit and surrounding it with obsidian is such a Minecraft thing to do I can't help but wonder whether the artist was aware of the game. The narrow access trench is much narrower than any normal architectural feature, contributing to the hostility.

    "Rivers": nice place for a boathouse. The structure is lit by sun reflecting off the water into the building from beneath, which then refracts through all the glassware. The river bottles aren't labelled; is this to convey that water is all the same once removed from context? Probably one of these things where the collection process would have made a good travelogue by itself.

    "Temple of Apollo": perfectly conventional country garden folly. It's just unusual that someone would make one in the present day, given that it belongs so solidly to the classical revival. It's a good vantage point to look at the Xth muse, and recall "where burning Sappho loved and sung". Having read up on Ian Hamilton Findlay, I think I'd like to see more of his work. Trained at Glasgow School of Art, victim of recent fire.

    "Weeping girls": Dr Who terror of the week. They don't have faces. Are they playing hide-and-seek or wandering victims of nameless catastrophe? Are they inhuman terror in incongruous little girl form? One of them stood, head down, in a natural pool of light between the trees; a fantastic bit of theatrical setting.

    As I looked back at them while walking away, she was attended by two middle aged women, no doubt inspecting the construction, but looking for all the world as if they had found her and were going to make sure she was alright.

    "Cells of life": now this is a cheerful thing. The artificial rolling very green hills of tellytubby-land or the windows XP background. Artificially organic. We climbed one, because whereever there is a hill humans must go to see what is at the top, and surveyed the scene. A little water feature, railway-like stone channel, feeds the central lake near the miniture stone arch. We sat and watched the swifts wheeling around the field, in constant motion. They strafed the water, gathering its insect life. I'd not seen one in person before; they're beautiful, with their crescent wings and tail, and fast jet flight profile. You wonder how they can feed that constant motion. More recently one circled us in the park, at a distance of a couple of meters, intimate closeup but impossible to track as more than a blur.
    Thursday, June 12th, 2014
    12:38 pm
    Heated atmosphere
    I have another half-formed thing to write, about loyalty and belonging. It would have been called "Loyalty: the most dangerous of the virtues", because I see it taking more and more of a role in people's conversation. Are you with us or against us? But the tone of online discussion has got a lot nastier just now.

    I've long held a couple of unpopular political views which I keep quiet about because they are difficult and time-consuming to explain without someone jumping to conclusions, mistaking for something nasty, getting outraged and refusing to speak to you. I don't accept that because similar views are advocated by unpleasant people that I'm automatically wrong or evil regardless of my intent or thought process. In fact, I'm repeatedly told that it's wrong to assume that atrocities by members of a particular identity group reflect badly in any way on other members of that group. I wish I could get people to apply that principle consistently.

    So I'm hedging here. I'm choosing to go no further because I prefer the quiet life. I don't need to be surrounded by people who agree with me, nor do I feel the need to go on condemn-athons of views or actions I dislike. I do however make very sure that I can trust people to actually listen to what I say and consider it before I open up to them. If not, it's fine; you can have some blandly conventional answer. Or a question in return. I like questions; they're a slow but effective means of undermining someone's offensive certainty. Ask the right question and watch someone row backwards to a more measured, nuanced, defensible position. Contradict them and they'll charge in, full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes.

    (Traditionally Yeats gets roped into this: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst // Are full of passionate intensity." but also "Those that I fight I do not hate, // Those that I guard I do not love")
    Saturday, March 29th, 2014
    10:41 pm
    Good day out
    Today's bit of Cambridge we'd never got round to visiting: the Scott Polar Research Institute. Compact, clear, and moving exhibition about the heroic age of polar exploration and "the worst journey in the world". Quite a few Inuit artefacts there too.

    A few weeks ago we'd done the Anthropology museum, which was also from the pith helmet era. Striking huge totem pole in the middle of the first floor; slightly awkward and apologetic feeling about the whole place and the spears-and-funny-hats collection.

    Lunch at a little newish Chinese place, North China Dumpling. Does precicely what it says on the tin: £5 gets you 12 very tasty meat dumplings. Bit slippery with the chopsticks. I'm a great fan of uncomplicated cheap dining; we'd recently been to the Pint Shop, which is something of a high watermark of posh pub dining. The pork belly was delicious; wide selection of expensive beers. Hipsterish.

    One week left of work, and two and a half weeks to moving. It's an odd feeling, to be leaving a job with nothing wrong with it. I've ejected from a disorganised employer, been made redundant, quit after a decade when taken over by Cadence, and now I'm moving on by choice. The new job is more pragmatic than idealist, so we'll have to see how that goes.

    Most of the books are now in boxes. Still a lot of things to pack...
    Tuesday, January 7th, 2014
    8:58 pm
    Upping sticks
    So, Laura and I are planning to move to Edinburgh.

    This plan has grown over the past few years; it's a lovely place, and every time we go there I see a little more of it. It becomes more familiar and homelike. It has the liveliness of a city that Cambridge really doesn't. It has the Festival and Hogmanay, and many little things going on throughout the year.

    It's also come to one of those times in life for reassessment; we've just got married, Laura's one-year job at CUP came to an end. We decided that our "it would be nice to move up north eventually" should have its "eventually" upgraded to a "now". Also, it's time to buy a house, and this could be cheaper (although that one has gone). We could go out a bit and get more space, or a nice family house on the other side of a park from the Parliament, or even dead centre above a pub. All at the same price as it would be to buy on our current street.

    Enough property window shopping. It was time to get serious. The downside to this whole plan is leaving a job that is currently rewarding, comfortable and well-paid, and having to find another one in Edinburgh. It took rather longer than I was expecting to get a decent recruitment agent and an interview, but finally I had an interview with a company called Zonal on the 23rd of December. And now they've made me an offer.

    I spent a good part of Monday evening having a wave of Doubt about the proposition; one of the interviewers was offputtingly blunt and started a politics conversation, and I'm also feeling bad about leaving my current employer (Argon Design). There was some discussion of the possibility of me being a remote worker in Scotland after moving there, but it wouldn't be an ideal situation for either party. Potentially a little isolated, potential issues with us both working at home (unless we got the mansion). I also have the Fear sometimes about the amount of work associated with moving house, both bureaucratic and physical. Actually buying a house is a big scary decision too. So much potential for hidden problems.

    But today I made a few more organisational phone calls, and it starts to feel more real and more of a Thing That Is Going To Happen. It's exciting as well; a big shakeup, a chance to do things differently. A house to lay out, decorate, maybe modify a bit. An opportunity to meet new people. My inner northerner will be more comfortable up there; and there will be plenty of opportunities to just wander the beautiful lowlands or coastline to ease the soul. There's a bit of Lake Isle of Innisfree* in this plan, and a bit of Waverly (200th anniversary, by the way).

    * Pedants will point out that central Edinburgh is nothing at all like a wilderness, and that Waverly went badly for its central character; although he did land on his feet. And pedantry is not such a popular pastime north of the border.
    Monday, April 23rd, 2012
    4:23 pm
    Foundation and Empire
    So, it's St George's day. This goes largely unremarked, other than by the occasional pub bore or angry young man with an England flag on his van. It's the date we might have our national day, if we were to have one. Other countries do; usually marking independence day, or the day of some great reform of state. The moment when the country was brought into existence by gunshot or signature. In some places it's all over the street maps, just to make sure you can't forget it. The same is not true of the UK, or Great Britain, or England. We're built in layers and by stages, like the medieval-on-Norman-on-Roman construction of York minster. We can't look back and find a date with a clear dividing line when we can say, "From then, England". Perhaps 1066, but it's problematic to have a national day celebrating the invasion and conquest of your country.

    Speaking of problematic things, our history presents a problem as well. We can't do the day to day continuous construction of the concept of the country on its history, as we keep tripping over discarded moral horrors and abandoned foolish ventures. We need a clean break, a foundation myth to narrate us into coherence again. However, we're also institutionally suspicious of official efforts to do this kind of nation-building, as they tend to produce the sort of tone-deaf bland earnestness of the Olympics and the Millenium Dome, or further back the wave of Modernist town planning now so widely hated. We like our reactionary incrementalism, it keeps things as they were, in the good old days. Therein lies the problem; in as much as there is a collective vision of the country, it faces backwards into Avalon, noted for its lack of wind farms and nonwhite people.

    There is something very close to a refounding myth, or at least a rebuilding one, surrounding World War 2. There we locate "our finest hour", but also the foundation of the NHS and national state education. Egalitarianism was brought to the country at gunpoint, and it almost stuck. Could this be the basis for a more comfortable national solidarity? Perhaps, but there's nobody to make that case any more. All three parties are in favour of privatisation of public institutions, and against the idea of competent public administration per se. There is no universal leadership, just a series of ever more finely tailored marketing messages to ever narrower demographics. The Olympics is managing to unite people in the national pastime: complaining. Not complaining to anyone in particular, or any kind of organised complaining, nor the sort of complaining that might prevent it, nor rallying round an alternative; mere complaint, without form and void. Not for nothing do the Australians call us "whinging".

    Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012
    6:45 pm
    Net snooping

    I think we can safely negate all of Clegg's statements, given his record on tuition fees and the NHS, and assume that it *will* be rammed through. What's really interesting is the phrasing of some of the rest of the article:

    The proposed new law - which the Home Office says will be brought in "as soon as parliamentary time allows"
    A senior Home Office source said the proposal "absolutely will not be dropped or even delayed", but its "passage through the Commons is still being discussed".

    Let's be clear on this, it's a Home Office policy, like the perennial of the ID cards database; the Home Office will keep trying to push it through no matter who is in power. It is the job of politicians to distrust them and demand proper evidence and discussion. This almost certainly won't happen, but there is a chance that the proposals will get lost in the government's fiasco queue.

    (Various people have already pointed out that trying to intercept every webmail-over-ssl website in the world is a non-starter, not to mention every corporate intranet, plus every chat system or point-to-point IP phone; which makes me wonder what the proposals actually are)
    Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
    7:44 pm
    [politics] Solidarity versus charity
    Solidarity vs charity

    This is something that I've been pondering for a while in relation to the politics of public services. There seem to be two modes of thinking:

    - solidarity-based: "We all need education and health services, and the need for these is inherently universal and equal. Therefore we're going to fund them univerally from public funds."
    - charity-based: "There's a moral obligation to help people less well off than yourself, and we're going to do this by funding services for those who can't afford to pay for them on an individual basis."

    While these are very similar and can produce similar sorts of results, I feel that the original Bevanist welfare state was much more solidarity-based, and that over time we've drifted from solidarity to charity since then. The problem with the charity approach is that it very easily ends up either patronising its recipients, or giving them the wrong things; it's also very vulnerable to having its funding cut off when people no longer feel rich. Hence what's happening at the moment.

    We've already seen higher education taken from universal to private, with a strange charitable fudge on the way student loans are repaid. But by structuring it as loans, we say that the student's obligation to society is *financial*, whereas in the old model there would be an understood obligation to pay one's education forward by being useful to the public. The public service ethos is gradually being eroded in favour of not giving the public any more service than the person in front of you has personally paid for.

    Charity-based thinking is also very, very easily undermined by the "donors" feeling that they are being exploited, lied to, given insufficient gratitude, or that the recipients are engaging in immoral lifestyles. This is why the cuts to DLA have happened so easily: people question whether all those people are "really disabled". Or consider the endless Mail stories about people given housing benefit for houses that would be unaffordable on average middle class incomes.

    Solidarity is not something that can be centrally ordered, wished or bought into existence. It requires continuous political construction. And I think that the only party in the UK that really understands this and has made it work is the SNP. They've spent at least the past 30 years if not longer working on making Scotland a "solidarity unit", something that people feel a civic pride in and a sense of mutual obligation. And this shows up in the way they handle issues like higher education and care for the elderly: they assume universality (among Scots) from the start, rather than immediately bogging the discussion down in trying to account for the costs on an individual basis.

    England, meanwhile, is not a solidarity unit in anything like that sense; if someone makes a point of their English national identity, there's a very high chance they're going to use it to bash Scotland and accuse Scotland of not paying their fair share. (If someone makes a point of their English "ethnicity", it's very likely they're going to say something about Islam next).

    The United Kingdom? People on the mainland seem to forget about Northern Ireland, which has its own problem of two violently opposed identity groups. There's quite high solidarity *within* those groups - solidarity is easier when you have a common enemy, sadly. Lots of people there would dearly love to be in two different countries but are too geographically mingled for that to be possible. Currently a truce holds; will it last the century? NI's unionists have a strong idea of what the UK should be, not necessarily one shared by many people on the mainland, and what will happen to them if Scotland leaves the Union?

    "British" seems to be the default choice for most people, but as a "solidarity unit" it's fairly weak. Standing up and declaring pride in one's Britishness is Not Done, and attempts to bring Britishness into politics range from the embarrasing ("Cool Britannia") to the problematic ("British jobs for British workers") to the thwarted (attempts to keep train procurement in the UK abandoned due to EU competition law). There is too much problematic history attached to the British Empire for progressive people to embrace Britishness wholeheartedly; Scotland doesn't have that baggage.

    Where to go from here? Europe? I note that the current European financial crisis is entirely down to the same issue of not wanting to pay for those who are percieved to be "cheating the system", in this case Germany not willing to fund Greece. European solidarity is strong among a very small group of elites and weak otherwise.

    The "99%" people have the right idea, but are arguably too far in the other direction of not being specific enough. It'll be interesting to see if that's still going in 10 years time.
    Friday, December 9th, 2011
    1:19 pm
    [politics] The value of society may go down as well as up
    Your pension is not going to pay out as much as you thought it would, and you are going to have to make larger contributions(*1). Who will you accept this from?

    - your government
    - your employer
    - your private pension provider
    Read more...Collapse )

    (I have another, shorter post in my head about solidarity vs noblesse oblige, which I keep meaning to get round to)
    Monday, July 18th, 2011
    3:58 pm
    Back from Latitude! Brief summary
    Best gig: OMD (Laura may have ended up on the Jumbotron here)
    Best gig in rain: They Might Be Giants
    Best headwear: Paloma Faith
    Best suprise: John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, as unbilled bassist to Seasick Steve
    Best improvised instruments: Seasick Steve
    Best discovery: Thea Gilmore
    Best comeback: Adam Ant
    Best Karen Carpenter: Rumer
    Least comprehensible: Paolo Nutini
    Most danceable: Waterboys
    Most incongrous festivalgoer: punk-looking guy in camo jacket pushing an immaculate Silver Cross pram
    Best comedy: Shappi Khorsandi
    Most awkward balloon: Sky Arts, which never quite got off the ground
    Best comedy who's not already famous: Pappy's (anarchic late night slapstick sketch show trio)
    Best thing in Literature tent: a video tribute to the Space Shuttle, as part of David Ince's show
    Best political commentry: Stuart Maconie (yes, really; widely applauded by audience)
    Most awkward questioner: (to Marcus Brigstocke): "Did you know this festival is sponsored by Sky, the Times, and Vodaphone?"
    Most useful vendor: Oxfam, who provided me with a sweater, waterproof, and sleeping bags, all of which I'd forgotten
    Best cheese: Halloumination

    Had a bit of trouble due to messing up my ankle on the first day, spending the rest of the festival with various degrees of limp; also ended up with swollen feet after standing all day. The only thing I'd complain about (apart from the weather, which was mostly wet but we got one glorious sunny day, and in any case isn't in the organisers control) was the volume: events in the literature and poetry tents were often hard to hear over the main and secondary stages! I'm not sure it's a good idea to have it quite that loud at a festival with lots of kids, either. Not everything needs to be played at 11.
    Thursday, April 7th, 2011
    9:52 pm
    The question of internships has been in the news recently. Not only are people complaining that the system of unpaid internships perpetuates the class system in a lot of high paid metropolitan jobs, but people have even started overtly auctioning them off at Oxford.

    I benefited from internships myself, in both my summers while at Cambridge. The first of these I got through being on the winning team of the BCS programming competition (which itself I got travel funding for from the college). One of the volunteers from the BCS who was organising it found places for two of us at his workplace, a financial services software house in central London. It was within an hour and a half commuting distance of my parents', who agreed to put up my Australian friend Ed over the summer while the two of us worked. I spent 8 weeks hacking Delphi for them, for about £200 a week. At the end of it my temporary colleagues gave me a copy of Stroustroup's C++ book, which I felt was generous of them (I think they liked me and were impressed by how much I'd got done); and I still have my product advertising mug from back then. Subsequently I spent the money on a laptop and going interrailing: I was the last of the grant+no tuition fees generation, so going to university was not a massive debt inducing experience.

    The first BCS competition also introduced us to some people from IBM Hursley, who would almost certainly have arranged us places there if we'd asked.

    The second summer Altera funded three internships within the computer lab, which involved working with Simon Moore to produce the hardware and associated teaching materials which would be used by subsequent second year students. This was extremely educational as we were doing a proper digital electronics design project from start to finish, with access to professional tools. It taught me a lot about the process and also about analog aspects of digital design, especially noise and grounding. I still have one of the PCBs as a memento. Altera offered us interviews and jobs at the end of our course; I decided not to take up the offer as I didn't
    fancy the location, somewhere near Slough in the soulless "M4 corridor". But the electronics experience helped me get a job with Azuro later.

    So both of these were a combination of meritocratic processes and advantage. The first one was clearly selected on the basis of us doing well in the BCS contest (meritocratic) but we had college funding for that (advantage, although not a parental advantage). The Altera one was done by interview (meritocratic) among Cambridge undergraduates (pre-selected). Both were
    also paid, which it seems that not all internships are these days.

    I can see how this process is difficult from the other side: it's hard to justify hiring a paid intern unless you feel certain you can get some proper work out of them. That in turn is hard to determine without a selection process - but that itself costs time. Hence the huge preference for an intern that someone else can 'vouch' for, or has some kind of track
    record. This is made slightly easier in a technical area where ability has tangibility and is more linked to results.

    Unpaid internships, on the other hand, seem like a much dodgier thing and a straightforward violation of minimum wage laws. Paid-for internships are even worse, overt bribery; but I think for the forseeable future those will be confined to media and political sectors where there's no meritocratic recruitment anyway, it's all based on schmoozing. I'm told that international
    development pretty much requires a year or two of unpaid internships or volunteer work on one's CV, which means it's entirely staffed by trustafarians.
    Thursday, December 9th, 2010
    2:19 pm

    Meanwhile it is being seriously argued that England can't afford free university education, unlike rich countries such as Poland and Scotland.

    Edit: now it's all over bar the shouting.
    Wednesday, December 1st, 2010
    1:40 pm
    [Politics] Shooting the messenger

    Literalism strikes again. The strange thing about the recent revelations is how much they seem to be things that anyone who cared and was paying attention believed anyway: Chilcot enquiry nobbled, Iran dangerous, Royal makes gaffe to foreigners, after-dinner speakers make off-colour jokes to receptive audiences, the caucasus is full of eccentric dictators, etc. The response involves another factor:

    (on the suggestion of murdering Assange) As the anchor on the CBC news programme warned him that his comments were “pretty harsh stuff”, Prof Flanagan responded that he was “feeling very manly today”.

    Asserting masculinity through murdering people who inconvenience you? How 12th-century.
[ << Previous 20 ]