Archived entries for Waiting

Knowledge in the night

I’ve been experiencing a lack of sleep recently, due to a recent illness. I’d like to think that I’m one of those people who, upon confronting a sleepless night, gets up and starts to write rather profound ideas or poetry, inspired by the stillness of the moment or the rare opportunity to delve undisturbed into the depths of the soul.

I need…to discover the very purpose of this fleeting existence, to discover what brings us here and to speculate our ultimate destination.

I need…to put into words what it means to capture a breathtaking view, to experience the fresh scent of a new Summer’s day, or the life-affirming laughter of close friends.

I need…to pee, actually.

I suppose I am, in some respects, doing philosophy late at night. I’m questioning the foundations of knowledge, namely, trying to work out if I really know I need to go.

“Do I really want to go now? Can I wait? Should I wait? It’s cold out there, maybe I don’t need to go at all, and it’s just my body’s way of telling me it’s bored and it would rather be sleeping, thank you very much.”

When he wasn’t pondering the nature of justice, I’m sure Socrates must have asked himself similar questions.

I didn’t spend too much time on these epistemological queries, though; I would have wet the bed. If I’d have tried explaining to my exasperated girlfriend that Socrates made me soak myself, I’d be writing this with a blunt crayon and a special bracelet.

Towards the Eternal Conversation

Well, if 2008 was the Year of Facebook, it looks like 2009, judging by what everyone’s been talking about during the first few weeks, will become the Year of Twitter. As much as I like new technology, however, there are certain limits to what I consider to be the sort of useful applications which actually make life that little bit easier, or a bit more fun, which is why I haven’t really “got” the Twitter craze. It escapes me in much the same way that I never felt the need for mobile phone  ringtones. Why bother? You either pick up within two seconds, in which case it’s not so much a “ringtone” as just a “ringt-“. Let it play and by the time we’ve all appreciated your electronic, tinny-sounding rendition of a song that wasn’t much good to start with, the caller has lost patience and hung up. It’s the same thing with those little desktop gadgets you get which tell you what the weather is like; you can click on it to open a new window on your computer or you could, hang on…just open the real window and look outside!
For me, Twitter falls into the same category, into a drawer marked, ‘What’s The Point?’. The buzzword seems to be “microblogging“, the New Thing To Do, which is essentially about publishing short text updates about what’s going on in your life. Each entry is a “status update”, or ‘Tweet“, some of the new terms for telling everyone how you’re doing.

Why, though? Surely this will lead to us all becoming like that mad old man in the train station who mutters to himself about everything that he’s doing because he’s convinced that German spies are still listening in to his every word:

“I’m just sitting down on this bench now.”

“I had chip sandwiches for tea last night, you know.”

“Status code Red, Sergeant! Target seen purchasing a suspicous item, codename “Flapjack”. Ready to roll out the next phase of Operation Platform Three. Stand by, gentlemen.”

The point here is that that something like Twitter doesn’t offer you the sort of social feedback that you would get if you said these sort of sentences in real life, to real people. Without the human checks and balances that let you know when and whether something is worth saying, what’s left is simply a license to report everything that goes on, no madder how mundane or trivial, because it’s been marketed as What the World Wants To Know.

If you believe the hype, your old friends are eager to hear that you got to bed at 2am last night; your distant relatives are now back in touch, thanks to this marvel of modernity, and can rejoice in the news that you’re away right now in your third meeting this morning, “LOL”.

It seems like there’s a sort of dichotomy going on at the moment when it comes to people who are connected to the Internet. On the one hand, everyone seems to be so concerned about online privacy, and about just who has access their personal information, whether they can accept the content of their emails being monitored and so on.

Yet on the other, people are only too willing to divulge their personal lives, whether this is broadcasting information about themselves via their personal profiles on social networks, uploading and tagging their photos, their videos, or, most recently, reporting their every actions and thoughts at regular intervals, all day, every day. You could argue that this latter sharing is “controlled” by the people using the service, but it affects other people “outside the loop” as well. We’ve all, I’m sure, met people who have been told that they are “on” Facebook, even if they themselves have never signed up to the service, because they’ve been tagged in a photo, a video, or somewhere in the maze of all that user-generated content that makes up today’s online communities.

The sheer volume of information that we upload to these sites seems to me to be less about control and more about something opposite, an almost uncontrollable urge to communicate as many things about our lives to as many people as possible.

So what’s next, after “microblogging”? With the way things are going, my guess is that the next phase will be “Omniblogging”, in which users forget even the discreet pauses between updates, until what’s left is just a constant, unedited online stream of consciousness, from every device, all the time, about everything.

By the way, have you heard about that other resource they’ve been keeping quiet about all this time? It’s being used all around the world, by millions of people on a daily basis, and what’s more it’s also completely free to use: it’s called “Silence”.

The energy generation

I’ve got an idea. First, though, I thought I’d set the scene.

According to a recent article in the Observer, there are lots of new graduates, fresh from university with good degrees and strong CVs, and yet due to the recent economic turmoil, this new generation of bright young things are all failing to find those high-flying jobs as advertised in the numerous career brochures which float around campuses across the country. In other news, we learn that Russia and Ukraine have been squaring up to each other in a standoff over gas supplies, a row which apparently has now been resolved according to the latest reports, but which only serves to highlight the increasing dependence of European countries on Russia for this sort of traditional energy. It’s about time we shifted the focus onto newer, more self-sufficient ways of generating power, which we’re going to have to think about anyway due to the recent agreement among EU countries to increase the amount of energy that the EU gets from renewable resources from a measly 7 per cent up to 20 per cent by the year 2020.

So what we have, then, are lots of graduates who are all dead keen to get stuck into something exciting and cutting edge, something which makes a genuine difference and could even have international implications. OK, so they might not have given that impression when they were still students. In fact a more accurate description might be that genuine excitement came in the form of a special offer on vodka jelly, cutting edge research involved keeping up with Eastenders and the international side of things didn’t feature too heavily beyond trying to get into bed with the lovely Italian exchange student down the road.

University was fun, now for the world of work. Given the context that I’ve outlined above, what better way to employ these young people than to get them involved in helping to develop the next generation of renewable energy? If you’re a graduate reading this, by the way, don’t run off screaming at the thought of having to put on bright yellow wellies and trudge through the countryside doing environmental impact assessments for wind farms. There’s something for everyone here, if you think about it. Renewable energy is no longer just something for hyper-environmentalists and bearded scientists. It can’t be, because we’re all going to have to get involved sooner or later. Already, we’ve read reports and seen pictures of people in places like Bulgaria, freezing in their homes this winter because of a lack of gas. Isn’t it time we learnt how to become more independent?

It’s something that everyone can get involved in, and in the case of these graduates who are now all looking for meaningful jobs, whatever subject you studied and skills you have, you can all bring something to the table. For the physicists, the chemists, the maths graduates, for example, I think it’s pretty clear that these are skills which can be put to immediate use. What use, I hear you ask, is a degree in history when it comes to this sort of thing? Plenty. Historians are generally very thorough people, good at checking facts and spotting arguments that work and those that don’t. Perfect, in my view, for fine-tuning the propaganda that will be needed if we’re going to win mass popular support for energy change.

Psychologists also have their part to play, looking at for example the difference between the anxieties that people have about what it might be like to live near a windfarm, or a hydroelectric dam, compared with the actual psychological effects of doing so. We might find that people soon forget they have solar panels on the roof once they’re actually there. (The solar panels on the roof, that is, not the people. I imagine if you were stuck on a roof, you wouldn’t worry too much about some solar panels).

English graduates can help explain the case for renewable energy in clear, easy-to-understand language, and marketing graduates can help sell the idea. Those with degrees in sports science can win support from people that do sports that use natural energy like windsurfing, kiteboarding and downhill mountain biking.

I think we can all see that renewable energy is something that’s got to be done, and it’s something which I personally think is A Good Thing. This isn’t a moment of sudden eco madness on my part, by the way; it’s something that I actually feel quite strongly about, enough at least to do my bit to help win the recent support for the Gwynt Y Mor wind farm. There are plenty of celver, energetic people out there, looking for work, and at the same time we’ve got a so far pretty empty-looking government department which is dedicated to the task and waiting to get started. What could be simpler?

Flapjack challenge

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So far it’s been a eventful start to the new year. Last week involved a press conference with Martin McGuiness and Ian Paisley and an interview with Hungarian MEP Pàl Schmitt, who happens to be a keep a piano in his office, as you do. Schmitt also happens to be a former Olympic gold medallist, in fencing. Interesting chap. (Too flattering, perhaps? Hey, it’s not everyday you get given a bottle of Hungarian wine.)

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My second week back at work and I’m in Strasbourg once more. As usual on the journey down, we stopped off in Luxembourg for 10 minutes and I had my usual mini-deliberation as to whether or not I would have enough time to go and get a coffee and something to eat. This ritual, I should point out, happens every time I make this journey down here. It’s all about timing. You see, the train sometimes stops for five minutes, sometimes seven, sometimes a whole ten minutes, but you can never be totally sure whether or not you actually have time to go and buy something.
What made it worse, this time, was that I could see the station cafe just down the platform. However, every time I think about dashing off the train, wallet in hand, a little nightmare scenario begins to emerge in my imagination.    
What if you get there, and there’s a big long queue? You spend the rest of the journey without that nice cup of tea and flapjack, muttering bitterly to yourself that you bet you would actually have had time to wait in the queue, it wasn’t that long. The risk, of course, is that as you’re happily putting your change back in your pocket, eagerly anticipating the first sip of your paned, and first bite of flapjack – you’ve been up since half six – you walk out of the station cafe to see the train slowly making its way out of the station. Oh yes, and you thought, genius that you are, that it would save time on Mission Flapjack to leave your bags and laptop on the train so they’re now going to end up in Zurich. Nice one, Mr Bond.  
Of course, all the while as I’m sitting in dreamland, visualising frantic phone calls to lost property in Switzerland and just dreading the thought of having to call the office (“I’m sorry, Matt, I don’t quite…flapjack…laptop…oh god”), there are people cruising to the cafe and returning triumphantly with minutes to spare, three coffees and a small bakery of treats. Next time, I think to myself, I might just risk it.



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