My Furst Day In Scoohl, Part 2

Fred Ott's Sneeze (film by William K.L. Dickson)
Fred Ott’s Sneeze (film by William K.L. Dickson) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Please excuse the flailing around. I’ve not been getting much time to keep up the blog. Bad enough that it’s the first week in college, with all that that entails. But – perhaps due to the sudden change in routine – I’ve come down with a nasty cold as well. I mean, really nasty. So much so that I wonder if it’s not actually mental illness brought on by the sudden increase in workload and stress. I feel depressed, have slowed reaction times, difficulty remembering what I’m supposed to be doing, constant tiredness, sneezing.

Well, I suppose the sneezing does remove any ambiguity.

It’s an oddly mental cold though. I find my sense of time is badly affected. Not timing, that would be bad enough, but time itself. I sometimes forget it’s the present. Which is unhelpful. It is important to be fully aware that the things one is experiencing are actually happening and not just a memory. Especially when driving.

My powers of concentration are, to put it mildly, impaired. To put it colourfully, I have the attention span of someone falling downstairs on fire. So it’s week one and I’m already behind in my work. I’ll tell you about the other two core elements of my first year’s courses – Database Systems, and Systems Development & Project Management – when I catch them and pin them down. All I really know so far is that they use the word “systems” quite a lot, and they are nothing I ever in the past for one moment envisaged myself studying.

My Furst Day In Scoohl

Old and New at the J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics. The chapel still has crosses on its roof, but it goes by “Lecture Hall 1” now

Well on Thursday morning I had my first ever lesson in programming. Weirdly, it was given in a disused chapel with stained glass windows. My course being multidisciplinary in nature, it’s taught in the business, the engineering and the arts faculties; the chapel is part of an old seminary the college bought and built into its school of business and economics. Where masses were once said, people are now taught advanced capitalism. I like to see that kind of continuity.

Surrounded by more impressive buildings constructed during the now almost legendary Age of Money, the chapel looks like it’s preserved in a museum. There are other curiosities kept here too. Do you see the wooden thing to the left of the picture? That’s a sculpture called Logos 1 by Michael Warren, transposed here when the prominent position it was actually commissioned for got built over. It was never exactly impressive I suppose, but it was at least dignified when it could be seen against the sky.

Though of course we made fun of it anyway. It was always a mystery how this timber was supposed to represent the concept of logos. Or indeed, how anything could. To quote Wikipedia:

The sophists used the term to mean discourse, and Aristotle applied the term to refer to “reasoned discourse”[4] or “the argument” in the field of rhetoric.[5] The Stoic philosophers identified the term with the divine animating principle pervading the Universe. After Judaism came under Hellenistic influence, Philo (ca. 20 BC–AD 50) adopted the term into Jewish philosophy.[6] The Gospel of John identifies the Logos, through which all things are made, as divine (theos),[7] and further identifies Jesus as the incarnation of the Logos. Although the term “Logos” is widely used in this Christian sense, in academic circles it often refers to the various ancient Greek uses, or to post-Christian uses within contemporary philosophy, Sufism, and the analytical psychology of Carl Jung.

Jesus Christ. One word can mean anything from an argument to… well, Jesus Christ. No wonder I’ve given up humanities for science.

So back to that first lesson – Business Applications Programming. Adding to the disorienting effect of the stained glass, the lecturer had close-cut steel grey hair, a tan and an American accent, lending the strange impression that I was being taught Visual Basic by a Marine sergeant. Well, I could use the discipline.

Somehow the lecture seemed simultaneously too slow and boring and too fast and unintelligible. Perhaps it was both, in rapid alternation. Not at all a gentle theoretical introduction, we got straight into the business of writing a program. But with a tool designed to be as simple to use as Visual Basic, that was little more than a matter of pushing buttons in the right order.

Yet at the same time there were a couple of tricky concepts introduced. In particular, the elusive one of Object Orientated Programming. I’m not really qualified to explain this to someone else yet, but I think in a nutshell programs used to be written with their functionality as the first priority, leaving the user interface as a bit of an afterthought. As they got more complex though, the interface would get more and more convoluted until it became practically unusable. So nowadays, you design the interface first and build everything around that.

Presumably the functionality goes to hell instead, but I guess that doesn’t show so much.

Another view of the Cairnes complex

The Sensible Season

In many languages, the silly season is called ...
In many languages, the silly season is called “cucumber time” or similar – presumably because newspapers publish photographs of amusingly-shaped vegetables. Or maybe just because eating cucumbers is bloody silly.

The silly season is over now, says the Taoiseach. Hmm. I didn’t think cutting the funding for disability carers was all that silly myself. Stupid, yes. Wrong certainly. Atrocious, unthinkable, regressive, inhuman and vile, these are all good words. But not silly.

What I did last night now, that was silly. I was checking the lights on the new old car, which meant I had to walk around it while it was switched on. I keep my keys attached to a belt loop by a curly cord which, while absurdly stretchy, was not going to wrap around the whole vehicle, so I was about to detach them when I remembered the fault with the ignition.

The key doesn’t lock in like it’s supposed to. You can pull it out while the electrics are still on, even while the engine is running. Which sounds pretty risky – and indeed we’re waiting for this to be fixed by the dealer. But I thought I might as well take advantage of it. Rather than detach the keys from the carabiner, I simply pulled them and continued around the car.

But I was tired yesterday evening – my first day, as I was saying, of getting up before humans. So when I finished checking I just turned the lights out, I didn’t use the key to put the ignition back to its off position. I didn’t know it would make a difference.

I know now. This morning, up with the lark once more, I vaulted into the car only to discover I had an absolutely stone-cold dead battery. I’ve never had the experience before of turning the key and getting no reaction whatsoever, not even dashboard lights. It’s kind of creepy, as if time has stopped. I almost expected to look up and see birds frozen in mid flight. The LED display that shows time and mileage was blank. Even the random blinky red light that magically scares away car thieves wasn’t randomly blinking.

After a slightly frantic search I found my father’s old car charger. It hadn’t been used for maybe a decade, but to my huge relief it still seemed to work. So what had happened to flatten the battery? I’d definitely turned the lights off. Blinky and gauge are normally on at night. What else was there?

When the car finally had enough juice it became clear. The fan was on at its lowest setting – so quiet I hadn’t noticed it, but enough to let all the vim leak away. Perhaps that battery isn’t the world’s freshest either.

Well, I’m just glad this happened now. If it had been tomorrow morning, the first day of my MSc course, it would’ve been awkward. Flat battery stymies career in science. Student vague on concept of galvanic cell. I’m beginning to feel like irony is out to get me.

 

The Great Resetting

Hypnagogia
Hypnagogia (Photo credit: ankakay)

This will have to be the last blog post that I make after midnight.

In order to write something almost every day I’ve used a simple strategy: No sleep until I publish. Occasionally they’ve taken on the tinge of hypnagogic hallucination. Occasionally I’ve fallen asleep while writing. But it got done. The one drawback – sometimes I didn’t get to bed until way past dawn.

That was fine (well, semi-fine) when my working life rarely involved having to meet anyone. I’ve had no real pattern for years. If I’m not even trying to be civilised, my sleeping degenerates into two four-hour sleeps spread over twenty-five hours or so, mostly caught on the couch. Madness. Sheer, comfy madness.

Now though I’m going to have to be in a lecture or lab at 9 a.m., at least one day a week. And if that’s going to work, if I’m going to be receptive to anything more complex than the smell of coffee, I’ll have to be up and alert at that time every day. So the whole idea of not sleeping till the job is done has to be retired. Sleep, I’m afraid, will have to come before the blog and not after.

Will I have time for much writing at all indeed? I don’t know yet, but I’m going to try. And I will try too not to make it entirely about Information Systems Management. At least, not until I find out what exactly it is.

(A quick aside: The grammar check in the blogging system just warned me that “not until” is a double negative.)

So I’m switching to a morning schedule. The danger there is that without the natural deadline of exhaustion I’ll find myself spending all day on this. I can’t afford that, so I’ll be shooting for having a post up at some ludicrously early time in the morning. Eleven maybe. Or earlier, if there is such a thing.

I apologise that this post is so brief and uninteresting, it’s way past my bedtime. But on the bright side I’m probably already up and writing, so there should be another one along any minute now.

Any… minute… now…

 

State Of The Uni: ON

A picture of my college’s quadrangle from an absolutely fantastic angle that makes it look like a bucolic idyll and not on a campus crowded with many much less attractive modern buildings in the middle of a city and opposite a busy hospital.

I don’t want to speak too soon here, but… OK that is a barefaced lie. I do want to speak too soon. And so I will.

I’m going to be a scientist! Just like when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Well to be precise I’m going to have an MSc. If I complete the course. But I have a place! That’s the main thing. They actually let me back into college. After last time.

It’s an MSc in Information Systems Management. I wanted something that would seriously augment my Web design and IT abilities. I liked this because it’s extremely practical; hands-on and skills-orientated rather than theoretical and talky, an interesting mix of art and technology and… well, business.

There, I said it. Business. My greatest fear. Now I must go face to face with that which I abhor.

All right, I am in business; I’m self-employed. But that’s just a way to be an artist without getting arrested as a vagrant. I’ve had as little to do with the business of business as I possibly could. Now, I’ll be studying “business situations”, whatever those are exactly. Thinking about business problems. Using business words…

But I reckon I’ll enjoy it if I approach it in the right way. I like having problems to solve, things to fix. This is real-world problem solving, using techniques and skills I enjoy. I might actually be good at it.

It will mean getting well outside my comfort zone though. I haven’t studied anything other than what immediately interested me, sat listening for hours at a time, even slept to a regular schedule, for over twenty years.

I’m sure this is going to be very good for me.

Help.

Sunburn And Ice

In Finland, the trees go right down to the sea. The tide is too small and the water too sweet to bother them. And I’m swimming from the shade of the forest, in waters that come winter will be frozen so solid that people will skate from island to island. But now I am swimming in the sun.

As a child I loved to swim. But that was before I went for lessons, where they taught me I was doing it wrong. Maybe I wasn’t graceful – Hell, a lot of the time I was doing the doggy paddle, I definitely wasn’t graceful – but today I swam further than I ever have before, or thought I ever could. To hell with that teacher. I didn’t labour it, didn’t try to win, didn’t thrash. I took it easy and just… made my way.

I suppose it helped a lot that I was in water where I knew, if I ever got tired or felt like I might drown, I could just lie on my back for a while. How can you be afraid of furniture? The Baltic is a good pool for learners, definitely.

And now I am sunburned, having swum in the sun for far too long. It had been lightly clouded most of the time, and I counted that as no sun at all. When it did come out, I was in the sea. You can’t be burned underwater, surely?

Perhaps. But my neck, face, shoulders and upper arms had to come up for air. I look like I’ve been dipped head-first into boiling water. Please don’t think I’m complaining though. I know that at home right now it’s raining, that we’re headed for yet another truly pointless summer. This pain in my neck feels like victory.

After the swim we went for dinner with some friends who inhabit an ecological housing project. I’m not sure what practical difference that makes, apart from the fact that it seems a lovely green place to live and they grow their own fruit and vegetables. So dinner was a really excellent salad, followed by a huge and lovely dessert. Seems a good idea.

Sitting on the balcony of a third floor apartment in Helsinki now. It’s ten at night, but the sun has not yet gone behind the tower blocks across the way. I’ll go to bed when it does. It’s been a long hot day, I’m exhausted and in discomfort.

It is though, a very comfortable discomfort.

The Road To Finland 2

Dammit, I can’t sleep. The hot sun won’t stop streaming in through the window. What sort of lake-strewn, tree-befuzzed hell have I arrived in?

But wait, let’s start at the beginning. Or at least, where I finished. Yesterday, in Café Wa, in Galway

The best part of a journey is not to travel hopefully or to arrive, but the moment that comes just a little after you set out. I mean the one when it hits you that it’s too late now to worry if you have all the right underwear and cables, there’s no point in once again checking your ticket and passport. That ship has, perhaps literally, sailed. Finally you sigh and stretch and let the vehicle carry you.

The worst part conversely is the one before departure, when searching through pockets to confirm the presence of items you know are there is still a live option. And that’s the stage I’ve reached. Essentially I’m writing this to keep my hands busy.

I would have been on a bus to Dublin now but for a last-minute change of plan. My flight leaves at the unthinkable hour of 7:40 a.m., meaning they expect me to check in at 5:40 – about the time I’m usually going to bed. If that sounds convenient to you, consider that I’m the sort of person who can’t sleep until they’re too tired to stay awake. This means that I have to do the hardest part – actually making sure I get on the plane – when I’m at my least conscious.

My idea was to go to Dublin this evening, stay awake till about 5, get up an hour before that and head to the airport. There was a flaw to this plan. At the bus station though I found that they run all night. New plan then: instead of trying and probably failing to sleep in Dublin – our much worse, falling to wake up – I would leave here at about 2 a.m. on a bus straight to the airport, arriving refreshed and in good time!

Only one possible drawback to this brilliant scheme – It leaves me with hours before my bus, and absolutely nothing left to do.

I wonder if I have an even number of socks.

The Claddagh At Evening

Let’s have a break from the politics and return to the quiet beauty of the Claddagh, Galway’s historic fishing village.

Sunset in the Claddagh. The rightmost of the buildings we used to call the Claddagh Bank, back when it was a social welfare office. Before that it was the Piscatorial School, an institution for the education of fisher-folk.

Where there’s boats, there’s ropes. Or sheets, as sailors call them. In turn, sailors call sheets “sails”. This is where they get their name.  I should get PhotoShopping on this to bring out the contrasts, but I’m really tired. This was at the start of a walk that ended up taking three hours.

A similar angle to one I took last time, but now the higher tide completes the illusion.

Connemara

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Well we knew the weather was about to change, so we spent the last fine day on a trip to Connemara, our local semi-wilderness.
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View from Ballynahinch Castle. This used to be the home of the Martyns, one of Galway’s ruling families. It’s now a pleasant hotel, as low-key as it is up-market. We stopped for coffee and considered booking a suite for the weekend, but a quick search through our pockets for change failed to produce the necessary €1,260.
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The destination really was the journey. Which is just as well because by the time we reached our ostensible objective the weather had given up on us. You’ll just have to imagine what this beach would’ve looked like in the sun.
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Sun peeking under the clouds to say ‘bye.

Unclean

It's all about projecting a market-friendly image

Enda Kenny just rang the opening bell on the New York stock exchange. He spoke for many of us I feel – indeed, for his whole country – when he uttered the immortal words “Me love you long time, five dollah”.

OK, possibly not his exact phrasing, but we won’t quibble over details. The gist of his appearance was that the country has invested in a new tub of lube and we’re ready once more to give the markets what they want. What did we learn from our recent, unhappy affair with global capital? That we’re a bottom, it seems. Not a lot else.

The Taoiseach is there to assert that we’ve put our financial house in order. Pretty much. Well, it’s still in a subsidence zone, but compared to some neighbouring houses it’s very very well propped up. That’s all fine, but what about Wall Street’s house? Foolish borrowing and mismanagement of the euro were factors, but it was the unstoppable flood of credit that washed away the foundations and caused the entire economy to slide into the sea. And that all began with the wilful pretence that bad debt could be magically turned into a good investment – basically, a confidence trick.

Shouldn’t it be Wall Street ringing the bell?