Saturday, 10 September 2011

I Quit

I had been working on a series of posts about the Scottish Parliamentary elections earlier in the year, analysing the manifesto promises made by each of the main parties and how they stacked up on various issues.

Then I realised that these posts were incredibly long and boring, so I scrapped them all.

See what I mean? - Politics is boring.


I'd rather blog about something a bit more interesting.  Such as the fact that yesterday I was on the observation deck on the 124th floor* of the tallest building in the World.  This was possible because my company have sent me to Dubai on business.  I'm staying in a very nice hotel, with satellite TV and internet access, I order room service for breakfast every morning, my laundry is done for me and strangely even sometimes arrives back with each item folded and individually sealed in cellophane and because it's for business I'm not paying for any of it.  I have also just quit my job.

The tourist brochure image of Dubai is something like this.

The reality is more like this: A giant building site in the desert.

I don't want to get into the nitty-gritty details of why I quit, suffice to say that I didn't see my career panning out quite how I'd hoped and felt that a move was now necessary.

This was a difficult decision to make, it's the first job I've formally quit.  Previous jobs I've had were either temporary positions, where I was neither fired nor quit, but simply reached the end of my time in them, or were less formal arrangements (i.e. working for a friend's parents).

It's an awkward conversation to have with your boss, when you tell them that you don't want to work for them any more.  It's also quite an adrenaline rush and gives a strange sense of freedom.  Freedom in the sense that you realise that there are always alternative options to what you're doing with your life at this point in time.

I've also been listening to the audio-book version of "The 4 Hour Work Week" by Timothy Ferriss.  I'd usually consider a book like this a bit too self-help book-esque for me, but there's a lot of useful stuff in it, like resources to help you out in setting up your own company, planning International travel and quitting your job.

One thing I have taken away from it is the distinction Ferriss makes between mistakes of ambition and mistakes of fear; the former being a mistake of action, the latter being a mistake of inaction because you are afraid of the consequences.  His advice is generally along the lines of thinking through what really is the worst-case scenario and you'll realise that it's not necessarily that bad.  Consequences of bad decisions are rarely fatal or irreversible.
He also makes a point which I think is very worthwhile noting if you're considering leaving your job, that is:
"Thousands of people, many of them less capable than you, leave their job every day."
If you're thinking about quitting, but fear is holding you back, bear this advice in mind - I may well be one of them.

* As I've noted the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa is on the 124th floor.  It's called 'At the Top', but with over 200 floors in the building it's nowhere near the top!  In fact it's only the 3rd highest observation deck in the World, despite the fact that the building is by far the tallest by any measure.  Seems like they missed out on what would have been an easy World record for them to take.

Friday, 29 July 2011

We interupt your regular scheduled programming...

I'm currently travelling for work and am unsure of how much internet access I'll have, therefore I won't be blogging for probably at least the next couple of months.

This message has been blogged thanks to the free Wi-Fi in Charles de Gaulle airport, which on a side note is a nightmare: my plane landed here at 9 am and I've only just reached the gate for my connecting flight at 11 am thanks to almost two hours of taxiing (maybe that should be taxing) around runways, two buses to get to the right part of the airport and a huge queue to get through security.  Next time I'll request to go through Amsterdam.

Around the Intenet: July 2011 Edition

    Thursday, 30 June 2011

    Around the Internet: June 2011 Edition

    * Both of these links should have been in April's 'Around to Internet', but I lost track of the links before I got round to writing that post, so here they are, resurfacing 2 months later.

    Wednesday, 8 June 2011

    What's Wrong with Private Universities?

    That is the latest question asked by Chris Dillow over on his blog, prompted by the recent announcement by Professor A.C. Grayling to open a 'New College of the Humanities', a new private university in London and protests over the planned estabilishment.

    I think it's a very good question and I liked Dillow's analysis and I think he's spot on when he observes that:

    "It’s unlikely, therefore, that the NCH will greatly increase our already terrible inequalities of educational opportunities."
    "...state control does not guarantee the protection of high vocational standards..."

    I think the question can be answered in even more simple terms than Dillow's though.  Perhaps it is useful to use a simple thought experiment here:

    Imagine for a moment that Prof. Grayling wants to open a bakery rather than a university.  He intends to open this bakery in your town, where there are already several other competing bakeries.  He also intends to sell his bread at say £2 a loaf, twice the typical going rate of the bread from the existing bakeries, but he justifies this by claiming that his bread is of superior quality.

    Two questions arise at this stage:
    1. What happens when he opens for business in this situation?
    2. Is there anything wrong (in a moral sense) with Prof. Grayling doing this?

    Let's look at the first question.  When he opens for business in this situation, several things could happen:
    • People are willing to pay more for the (percieved) increase in quality of the product and begin shopping at Grayling's Baked Goods Ltd.  Grayling makes a lot of money whilst the customers enjoy better bread; the existing bakeries sell less and make less money (some may even go out of business).
    • He doesn't get enough business because his prices are too high and no-one is willing to pay them.  He can then embark on a World-class marketing campaign, lower his prices, relocate the business to where he would have more willing customers, or go out of business.

    Now let's look at the second question: Is there anything wrong (in a moral sense) with Prof. Grayling doing this?

    It seems intuitive to me, and I would bet most people, save the most hard-line communists, would agree with me that the answer to question 2 is 'no'.

    There is nothing wrong with what is a mutually beneficial trade between two informed parties.  You can't object that the trade between Grayling and his customers is unfair because you can only afford to pay £1 for your loaf of bread.  You can still buy your bread for £1 from your usual baker - this trade does not hurt you at all.

    You may object that this is a simplistic example and not representative of the real life situation, where we are discussing university education rather than baked goods.  So, we need to consider, does this example differ in any meaningful way from the real world case?  What's the difference between buying a university education and buying a loaf of bread?

    Other than the scale of the purchase the difference I think would seem to lie in the fact that a university education is an investment for the future; it enables you to signal to employers that they might want to employ you raising your prospects of a better job, with better pay.  Again it has to be asked though, is there anything morally wrong with someone who can afford to pay more for an education doing so?

    Again, the answer would seem intuitively to be no.  Setting aside the possiblity of paying for a degree with no regard to educational standards (i.e. it doesn't matter if you only get a 25% average, as long as you pay the fees), there is absolutely nothing wrong with this arrangement.  Professor Grayling has offered to provide a service for a fee; if there are people able and willing to pay that fee, why shouldn't they receive the service?

    As in our quaint little bakery example, this trade does not hurt you in any way as a consumer just because you can't afford to partake yourself.  The alternative is to not have the option at all, for people who can afford it as well as those who can't.

    We don't ban upmarket bakeries on the basis that the average person can't afford regularly to shop in them.  Neither should we ban private universities on the basis that the average person couldn't afford to attend.

    Monday, 6 June 2011

    Why I Hate (And Can't Live Without) My Phone

    That's the title of this fantastic post by James Altucher over on the Freakonomics blog.

    I particularly liked these bits:

    "I hate Connecticut... Every house is bigger than the next in Connecticut. It makes me feel anxious and jealous.

    I see little kids riding bicycles outside these mega-mansions. I hate them. Then I hate myself for hating little kids. There’s nothing good about Connecticut."
    "Or worse yet, if someone emails, “Call me. Important.” And it’s a Friday night and they won’t be in until Monday. If I do a statistical analysis, I bet you when someone writes, “Call me. Important”, there’s an 80% chance it came at 5:01pm on a Friday night. And it’s probably bad news."

    Tuesday, 31 May 2011

    Thursday, 26 May 2011

    Assassin's Creed: Disclaimers

    I've recently been playing through the Assassin's Creed game series, which I have enjoyed immensely (particularly Assassin's Creed 2 and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood).  With it's realistic looking environments, from Jerusalem during the Third Crusade to Renaissance Florence and Rome; it's engaging storyline exploring themes of religion, mythology, free will, control and morality and featuring a Da Vinci Code scale conspiracy theory; it's immersive gameplay featuring ranged and close-quarters combat, running, jumping, climbing, hiding from guards, horse-riding and the occassional puzzle (some of which are extremely taxing for your average computer game) it's really been a joy to play.

    However, there is one teeny tiny little thing that caught my eye - not a part of the games themselves, but a legal disclaimer of sorts, and it made me think.  It appears at the beginning of each of the games, before the main menu, as the game is loading.  Here's what the disclaimer says:

    "This work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultural team of various religious faiths and beliefs."

    In and of itself this is fairly innocuous and not unexpected given the nature of the overall plot of the series.  It makes it clear that the games are fictitious and none of what is contained within is intended to offend anyone.

    What makes this stand out is that it is the only disclaimer of it's type in the games.  The developers, Ubisoft, clearly don't won't to offend anyone due to their religious beliefs, but what about other beliefs or opinions, political or economic opinions for example?

    Not wanting to give away too many spoilers, the storyline presents particular elements of religious stories as false, essentially part of a huge conspiracy to control the human race.  They also, in some of the puzzles featured in the latter two games, present much of recent history in a similar manner, suggesting that wars have been planned and governments overthrown, etc. all as part of a much bigger plan.  In doing so they present particular political and economic viewpoints as wrong, or misguided at best.

    I have no problems with any of this, this is not a complaint about the games or about Ubisoft, this is rather something to be categorised under the heading 'people are strange'.  Why the double standard?  Why the need for a religious disclaimer and not a political or economic one?  Are we to take from this that it's okay to offend people on the basis of their political or economic beliefs, but not on the basis of their religious ones?  Are we to take from it that those with strongly held religious beliefs are more easily offended than those with strongly held political beliefs"?*  Are we just over-sensitive about not offending people's faiths?

    My suspicion is that it's the latter, but I think discussion on this is best saved for a future post.

    For the meantime I'm not hoping that I'll see more disclaimers in the next game.  In fact, I'm hoping that I don't see any disclaimers at all - I want to live in a World where they're not necessary.

    * Or that perhaps people in general just believe that those with strongly held religious beliefs are more easily offended than those with strongly held political beliefs?

    Monday, 2 May 2011

    Around the Internet: Slightly Late April 2011 Edition

    Thursday, 31 March 2011

    Around the Internet: March 2011 Edition

    Monday, 10 January 2011


    `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
    All mimsy were the borogoves, 

    And the mome raths outgrabe.

    "Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
    Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!"

    He took his vorpal sword in hand:
    Long time the manxome foe he sought --
    So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
    And stood awhile in thought.

    And, as in uffish thought he stood,
    The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
    Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
    And burbled as it came!

    One, two! One, two! And through and through
    The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
    He left it dead, and with its head
    He went galumphing back.

    "And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
    He chortled in his joy.

    `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,

    And the mome raths outgrabe.