Growth and Death

Ferguson

Harry Ferguson was born on this day in 1884.  He was born into a world of horse powered agriculture.  Two great leaps forward occurred in agricultural practices during WW1 and then again in WW2.

Ferguson began his career in engineering with aircraft.  He was the first Irish man to build a plane and the first to fly a plane.  He moved from aircraft to tractors just before the outbreak of the Great War.  All through the war he was developing ideas for ways to attach a plough to the tractor.

In the early 1920s he presented his ideas on the three point linkage to that other great Irish engineer, Henry Ford.  Together they created the Fordson.  Ferguson went on to build his own tractors and incorporated his designs into David Browns and Massey Fergusons.

When the second great agricultural leap forward came during WW2 it was powered by tractors designed by Harry Ferguson.  His work revolutionised agricultural production and allowed for the radical improvements in output per acre that originated during WW2.  By the end of the war Britain was able to feed itself.

After the war these innovations were rolled out to the world and sparked the prosperity of the “Swinging Sixties”.

Harry Ferguson never saw the 1960’s.  He died at the beginning of the decade after years of legal battles with Henry Ford II over the illegal use of his patents.  The legal battles cost him half his fortune and all his health and was unsuccessful in restricting Fords use of his work.

If Ferguson represents an era of Growth we can see in the poem below that Williams has experienced an era of Death, Murder, Famine and Dictatorship.  Born in 1936, on this day, Charles Kenneth Williams lived through those swinging sixties.  But he saw the rise of tin pot dictator after dictator pillage country after country in Asia, Africa, South & Central America.  Much of it carried out under the cloak of U.S. Foreign Policy.

Today on the news we see thousands of troops sent to the US Mexican Border.  Donald Trump is addressing voters for the upcoming mid term elections.  He uses the language of the demagogue.  He sounds like another tin pot dictator.  He says his troops will shoot at any migrants who throw stones.  He says that the Democrats want to invite “Caravan after Caravan” of migrants over the border.  When Republicans speak about Democrats they describe them as Communists or Socialists.  From here in Europe the Democrats come over as far right liberals.  We would see them as right wing extremists.  It is hilarious to describe a club of multi-millionaire politicians as socialists.  It is, frankly, an insult to socialism.

The future of the planet lies in sustainability.  Humans must live within our means or we will become extinct.  Politicians who, like Donald Trump, deny climate change are doing so because they are trading personal greed against public good.  They know the world is full of short term thinking greedy people.

The failure of democratic American style politics to plan beyond the next election is the major barrier to long term sustainable planning.  When Harry Ferguson was designing his first tractors during WW1 American saw itself, and was, the saviour of the Western World.  Roll the clock forward 100 years and today, 2018 the USA is the worlds greatest problem.

 

Zebra; by Charles Kenneth Williams

Kids once carried tin soldiers in their pockets as charms
against being afraid, but how trust soldiers these days
not to load up, aim, blast the pants off your legs?

I have a key-chain zebra I bought at the Thanksgiving fair.
How do I know she won’t kick, or bite at my crotch?
Because she’s been murdered, machine-gunned: she’s dead.

Also, she’s a she: even so crudely carved, you can tell
by the sway of her belly a foal’s inside her.
Even murdered mothers don’t hurt people, do they?

And how know she’s murdered? Isn’t everything murdered?
Some dictator’s thugs, some rebels, some poachers;
some drought, world-drought, world-rot, pollution, extinction.

Everything’s murdered, but still, not good, a dead thing
in with your ID and change. I fling her away, but the death
of her clings, the death of her death, her murder, her slaughter.

The best part of Thanksgiving Day, though—the parade!
Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Kermit the Frog, enormous as clouds!
And the marching bands, majorettes, anthems and drums!

When the great bass stomped its galloping boom out
to the crowd, my heart swelled with valor and pride.
I remembered when we saluted, when we took off our hat.

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How to choose a college course.

College Choice

As one cohort of students begin their first year in college a whole new batch are embarking on their final school year.  Somewhere along the way this year they need to fill in a form to apply for college places.

In Ireland the university and college applications process is centralised by a government body called the Central Applications Office.  So you will hear Irish kids talk about their CAO form and their CAO choices.

For the vast majority of Irish kids the system is entirely meritocratic.   It is a points based scoring system.  If you get sufficient points in your exams you get the place in college.  There is no opportunity to sway the opinions of a “selection” committee with a jazzy video or a fat donation.  There are some sensible exceptions.  Places for art schools generally involve an additional points allocation based on your portfolio.  Music schools award separate points for musical ability, awards and prizes.  But for the most part the selection is based on the results of your secondary school leaving certificate exam.

So in Ireland, when the Leaving Certificate results come out you will hear conversations about the “points race” and the “CAO Points”.  For reasons of social etiquette it is gauche to ask what points someone (or their child) received.  It is OK to ask “did they get their first choice?”  A high performing kid might get 525 points and be disappointed because they needed 550 to get into Law.  Another kid might be over the moon because they got the 300 points they needed to secure their first choice course.

These days it is possible to recover from a terrible leaving certificate and negotiate alternate routes into third level education.  But the leaving certificate remains the simplest and fastest way to get from school through college and into the workplace.

Hence the Venn diagram at the top of the article.  Confucius is supposed to have said that if you do something you love you will never work a day in your life.  It’s a nice idea and it is certainly wonderful to have a job you love.  It makes your days fly by and every morning is an engaging challenge rather than a depressing trudge to a workplace that seems like a prison.  The modern equivalent of the “dark satanic mills”.

Putting an old head on 18 year old shoulders is a challenge.  When I see a college course in data science I see a future of possibility, interesting work and excellent pay.  My 18 year old sees a lot of boring stuff on the syllabus.

Which brings me to the TV jobs farce.  When you look at TV what are the exciting jobs?

Lots of TV shows glamorise a law career.  Those sharp clothes, beautiful people, shiny courtrooms, exciting cases, sexy colleagues.  It all seems such a rush.  For me “Better Call Saul” is probably a fairer view of a law career.  There is glamour and excitement, for the senior partners.  For the grunts there are long days of work that is often boring and tedious, with risk of severe criticism for any mistake.

Law is categorised (Freakonomics:  Dubner & Levitt) as a career that is structured as a tournament.  You have a very wide entry base and a very narrow apex of the pyramid.  Those at the top, the partners, reap huge rewards from the work of their teams.  It is a microcosm of the capitalist system.  You get rich by taking the value of the work of your low paid staff.  Careers structured as tournaments are great if you win.  Not so great if you lose.  Either you spend your life being paid less than you are worth, or you depart from the competition to accept a more stable position, having given your best years to a senior partner.

Big 4 accounting firms are similarly structured as tournaments.  Kids need to be aware that if they enter that race they need to be up for the long haul.  20 years of 50 to 60 hour weeks, breakfast and lunch at the computer, working weekends, cancelling holidays, having kids who think the mobile phone is called “daddy”.

TV is also pretty good at glamorising jobs that do not pay.  TV is filled with interior design shows.  It seems there must be a booming career for interior designers.  But riddle me this, the last time you did a home makeover, how much did you spend with your interior designer?  What?  You didn’t use one?  Why ever not?  Oh, they cost too much.

So you have a handful of well connected interior designers who work for millionaires, who are probably the sons or daughters of millionaires themselves.  You then have a handful of designers who are connected to the right industries, such as hotels or restaurants, but they seem to get ALL the work in those industries.  Each year hundreds of young hopefuls enter college to study interior design and end up working in the restaurant business serving food instead of designing rooms.

My advice to young people selecting a college place, for what it is worth, is this.

  1. Use the Venn diagram above.  Be honest with yourself.  If you get 50% in Maths and you really love maths, but you get 80% in Spanish, you are better at Spanish, even if you hate it.
  2. Add up your points from the last set of exams you sat.  That is your base working assumption.  Unless you plan to really, really work really really hard, you are looking at a good approximation of your final marks.  Look at the courses in that points range.
  3. Search job sites, and the kind of job you would eventually like to have.  Look at the qualifications they specify as mandatory requirements.
  4. If you are selecting a career speak to some people who actually work in that career.  Don’t fall for the corporate literature or what you see on TV.  For instance a recent survey found that most US college students in nuclear physics learned most of what they knew about the subject from watching the Simpsons.
  5. Keep your options as open as you can early in your college life.  What I mean here is select the general rather than the specific.  If you have a choice of “General Science” or “Food science” go with the General and you will find that there are options to specialise all along the way.  If you go too specific too early it can be hard to back out if you hate it.
  6. Finally, don’t stress about it.  Most people end up working in a career that has little or nothing to do with their undergraduate college course.  Life takes you in some strange directions.  Whatever you do choose, stick with it.  Complete the course and get the degree.  Employers are impressed by people who finish what they start, not by people who found themselves on a beach in Thailand instead of sitting their finals.

 

 

Work? You don’t know work.

Keyboard

I worked some pretty bad jobs in my time.  Weeks serving food on grotty ferries.  Long days stacking shop shelves and sweeping grubby floors.  Disgusting days lifting coughing patients in a chest ward, or turning geriatrics with turgid pee bags and soiled pads and all for pretty low wages, but I never complained at that.

I worked some pretty great jobs, running hard from morning to night, days gone in a blink, boxes ticked, tasks completed, a blur of achievement richly rewarded. I certainly never complained at that.

I worked a well paid job in a comfortable office with little or nothing to do.  I watched the hands of the clock march slowly around the dial praying for the end of the hour, the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the month, the end of the year, the end of my life.  I literally wished my life away.  I complained about everything.  I longed for a geriatric to be turned, or a floor to be swept.

That’s not work.  That’s prison.

Fear and Fame; by Philip Levine

Half an hour to dress, wide rubber hip boots,
gauntlets to the elbow, a plastic helmet
like a knight’s but with a little glass window
that kept steaming over, and a respirator
to save my smoke-stained lungs. I would descend
step by slow step into the dim world
of the pickling tank and there prepare
the new solutions from the great carboys
of acids lowered to me on ropes — all from a recipe
I shared with nobody and learned from Frank O’Mera
before he went off to the bars on Vernor Highway
to drink himself to death. A gallon of hydrochloric
steaming from the wide glass mouth, a dash
of pale nitric to bubble up, sulphuric to calm,
metals for sweeteners, cleansers for salts,
until I knew the burning stew was done.
Then to climb back, step by stately step, the adventurer
returned to the ordinary blinking lights
of the swingshift at Feinberg and Breslin’s
First-Rate Plumbing and Plating with a message
from the kingdom of fire. Oddly enough
no one welcomed me back, and I’d stand
fully armored as the downpour of cold water
rained down on me and the smoking traces puddled
at my feet like so much milk and melting snow.
Then to disrobe down to my work pants and shirt,
my black street shoes and white cotton socks,
to reassume my nickname, strap on my Bulova,
screw back my wedding ring, and with tap water
gargle away the bitterness as best I could.
For fifteen minutes or more I’d sit quietly
off to the side of the world as the women
polished the tubes and fixtures to a burnished purity
hung like Christmas ornaments on the racks
pulled steadily toward the tanks I’d cooked.
Ahead lay the second cigarette, held in a shaking hand,
as I took into myself the sickening heat to quell heat,
a lunch of two Genoa salami sandwiches and Swiss cheese
on heavy peasant bread baked by my Aunt Tsipie,
and a third cigarette to kill the taste of the others.
Then to arise and dress again in the costume
of my trade for the second time that night, stiffened
by the knowledge that to descend and rise up
from the other world merely once in eight hours is half
what it takes to be known among women and men.

Cork Bus Driver’s Dogging Den

Cork

Just another normal evening, you think, as you board the bus in Iniscarra at the end of another sweltering day in the Irish heatwave of 2018.

July in Ireland, you can usually get relief, as the weather breaks and rain falls again once the state exams are over.  Not this year.  Irish Water has declared a state of emergency, hosepipe bans, asking people to ease up on the showers, baths are a big no-no.

Two sweaty and tired lads knocking off from their summer job climb onto the bus.  It is not full.

Near the front is a lad who appears to be a little touched.  He is singing to himself.  Back from him is a good looking young girl.  She is heading into Cork for a night on the tiles.  Dressed to the nines.  Hair and makeup all done.  Black fingernail polish.  She looks a bit ridiculous in broad daylight, not yet 5pm, but she will look amazing tonight in the club.  For now though she must be melting in all that makeup.

Down the back is a parody of the stereotype of an American tourist.  Grossly overweight, shorts and polo shirt, wearing hat and sunglasses, backpack, camera round the neck, map spread out wide over his bare knees.

The two lads settle in for the 40 minute trip to Cork.  The driver guns the engine and goes into rally driving mode down the narrow winding country road.

Sadly this bus is not destined to complete the journey.  In the Lee Valley a car is attempting to pull out of a side road and the Bus driver careens into it.  Then the fun begins.

Instead of doing the thing required by the law, you know, stopping at the scene of an accident, the driver takes off.  In dramatic style he swings up a side road and begins a madcap speed chase through the Irish countryside.  Behind the poor divil in the smashed car does his best to follow, but the Bus driver has no trouble shaking off his pursuer.  You see, the bus driver knows these roads, very well, as we shall see.

The bus driver pulls into a remote site where he can park the bus.  He declares to his passengers “I had to leave the scene of the accident, because I would have caused a traffic jam.  This bus can’t go any further, the axle is damaged.  If you wait a while we will get a replacement.”

The passengers are looking around at the uninviting site surrounding them.  Should they stay on the bus or wait in the parking area outside?

The man who was singing to himself at the front of the bus looks round and finds a comb on the floor.  He picks it up and proffers it to the heavily made up girl.  “You dropped your comb” he says.

“No” she replies “It’s not mine”.

“But you can have it” says the man.

“No thanks” she replies politely, realising that the guy is a bit special.  Otherwise she would probably have flipped him off by now.

“But you have long hair” says special guy, “you would need to comb it a lot”.

Makeup girl decides to sit outside.

The guy at the back asks the bus driver “Hey, buddy, how long will we have to wait?” confirming for everyone that he is indeed an American.

The Bus Driver has no idea.

The passengers drift out into the blazing 30 degree heat of another stifling day.  It is not a pretty vista.  They are in some kind of area for cars to pull in.  There are some large concrete blocks, the type the Council use to prevent Travelers from parking caravans and setting up an unapproved halting site.  It is an unkempt, ugly site, what you might expect in an industrial city suburb, but perched out here in the countryside.

There is a field beside the pull in area.  The grass is burned brown by the heatwave.  In the field is a dead horse, flies buzzing lazily over the corpse.

There are two cars already in the car park.  It is hard to see into one.  The other contains a shirtless guy with a dog on his lap.  The guy seems annoyed by the arrival of the bus.

The passengers file out and find concrete blocks to sit on.  The two young lads and the girl are immediately into their smartphones, rearranging meeting times around the delay.

The two cars at the site start their engines and pull away.  Silence descends.  There is the song of birds, the cheeps of shrews and grasshoppers.  The bus driver remains on the bus and his five passengers sit in the sun like so many marine iguanas on the rocks of the Galapagos, absorbing energy directly through their skin.

A car arrives.  The passengers are hopeful.  Is this some emergency response by Bus Eireann?   A rapid response team to rescue stranded passengers?

The car pulls up.  A woman opens the drivers door, leans out and vomits.  She closes the door and pulls away.  The pool of vomit remains, providing a balancing contrast to the carcass of the dead horse in the field.

The lads are looking at each other and cracking up.  You could not make this up.

Another car pulls up, neatly avoiding the pool of vomit.  A middle aged man steps out of the car.  In his hand is a smartphone.  On the smartphone they can clearly see that he has a Tinder page open.  The man scans the area and looks annoyed.  He pauses for no more than a minute, re-enters the car and drives away.

Now it sinks in.  The shady parking area.  The concrete bollards.  The remoteness of the area.  The lads parked up.  Tinder.

The bus driver has parked them in a hookup site, and when the sun sets it is in all probability a dogging site!  The bus driver found it unerringly.  He has been here and more than once.  If they could see what these concrete bollards have seen…….

The replacement bus arrives.  It is a city bus, not the usual coach used in the countryside routes.  The passengers are whisked away, leaving behind the damaged bus, the driver who fled the scene of an accident, the dead horse, the pool of vomit and the memories held by those concrete cubes.

 

 

Today’s the day, take a risk.

Bishop-June-Osborne-by-Huw-Riden-web-opt

Bishop June Osborne

The title of today’s post comes from my current favourite podcast:  Risk, True Tales Boldly Told, presented by Kevin Allison.  Check out Risk Podcast

Each episode ends with his incitement, “Today’s the Day, Take a Risk”

I was back up in Dublin today to my old commuting stomping ground, just for a day.  As I sailed through the City Centre on the light rail I observed the many faces of misery, the grey sad commuters shuffling to their daily grind.  The hundreds of slack jawed automatons dreading another mind numbing day.  It always makes me break a smile and thank my lucky stars that I enjoy my health, my work, my life.

Then, through the zombie hoard burst a vision of vitality, a young pretty woman, face a sheen of sweat, running hard to the office, with a huge smile pasted all over her face.  Loving every step of her run.  She was racing the Luas Red Line into the City Centre.  Each time she caught the train at a stop was another mini victory.

“There” I said “I am not the only sucker for punishment”.  Love life, live life, risk life, grasp it with both hands.  Never wish away a day, not even a bad day.  There are too few to waste. Carpe Diem.

 

Warning; by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
with a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick flowers in other people’s gardens
and learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickle for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
nad pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
when suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

How does your garden grow?

Titchmarch

Today,  May 2nd, is the birthday of Alan Titchmarch who is one of the UK’s most celebrated TV gardeners and gardening authors.  As an avid gardener myself I have great time for people who can turn an introspective pursuit into mainstream entertainment.  This is a classic example of what I call #tainment as in #Edutainment, the blend of education and entertainment that makes education accessible.  So Titchmarch is a proponent of #Gardentainment

There is a Chinese proverb which says : If you want to be occupied for a year get a job, for a decade get a wife, for a lifetime get a garden.

Paradise is derived from the old Iranian word for a walled enclosure, paridayda which described a royal palace enclosure or park.  These might be hunting parks, or simply royal gardens.  In any case just remember when you are ripping out your weeds by hand, it’s another day in paradise.

Titchmarch has been decorated many times with things pinned onto him by the Queen of England.  So what does a celebrated gardener, TV presenter and author do to top off his life?  He writes a book of poetry of course!  His book is called “The Glorious Garden” which is a beautiful name for a book of poems.

 

Winter Garden; by Patrick Kavanagh

No flowers are here
no middle-class vanities - 
only the decapitated shanks
of cabbages
and prostrate
on a miserable ridge
bean-stalks.

The unbearable lightness of peeing.

cell-phone-toilet-nasty

3 reasons to block wi-fi and phone signals to workplace bathrooms.

Many workplaces recognize the drag on work time if staff are checking in on their mobile phone to catch up on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, What’s App etc.  HR departments have introduced guidelines on use of mobile phones.  Many have restricted access to wi-fi networks to business approved usage only.  But with cheap data usage plans plenty of staff are still “always on” as long as they have a phone signal.  Maybe it is time to monitor bathroom behavior in your business.

Productivity

It is a no-brainer that staff members who are accessing their social media feeds are taking time away from their work.  In certain types of business this impact can be significant.  For people working on complex data tasks an interruption to analysis can result in a 20 minute “recalibration” penalty as the staff member picks up from where they previously left off.

If you are engaged in a complex task, or something that needs a lot of concentration (think about sitting exams) a bathroom break can be a moment when you order your thoughts on how to approach the task at hand.  How often have you worked out the solution to a problem by going for a walk, or eating lunch, while mulling over the problem?  But if that time is spent checking social media feed the brain is distracted.  Instead of working out the problem at hand the brain is leaping from photos of friends lunches to the latest on Royal Weddings.

By making the bathroom in the office a data black hole you help staff members to avoid the lure of the device in their pocket.

Health

If people are in the habit of checking their phone in the bathroom there will be implications for the spread of germs.  This is not rocket science.  When have you last seen someone wash their iPhone in the sink?

Think about that next time you borrow someones phone!  Yuck.

Congestion

The hidden cost of phone usage in bathrooms is congestion.  Staff members are taking longer to use the bathroom because they are checking the phone.  Male staff members are more likely to use a stall instead of a urinal because they can scan their feed.  This causes lost time, but hides a more insidious issue.

Buildings are designed around the flow of people.  A building is designed with an optimal number of bathrooms for staff, based on research into usage parameters.  There have to be enough toilets to handle the maximum demand periods.  If each staff member is spending just a few extra seconds using the bathroom, checking their phone, this has knock on consequences for office design and consequently the cost of office space.

Summary

Bathrooms are designed for going to the lavatory.  If they are designed to block phone and wi-fi signals they will operate more effectively for their intended purpose.