We Submit

And you thought I never went inside a church.

Woah. Well we got our term assignment project in. I have to admit, it was a pretty messy last-minute rush. Which is funny because it’s about Project Management, and in it we go to great lengths to display our knowledge of all the techniques and methods you can use to make sure that your project is not a messy last-minute rush. The irony is intoxicating.

Kinda head-wrecking too. It’s a project, about doing a project. It’s our Project Management project management project… project? I can’t tell any more. To make it worse still, there is no real project involved. I mean, it is a real project. But our real project is to describe a project we had to make up – ours was installing a computer system into a retirement home.

We didn’t actually get to create a system that elderly people would be depending on, thankfully. But we did have to research and understand the obstacles we would face if we did. So we went around and asked questions to a lot of real retirement home owners and staff, who were all very helpful. That was a good exercise, but still it was weirdly detached from reality. In an actual job like this, what would you be spending most of your time thinking about? Your client of course. Trying to please the bastard. We had no client. One of the members of our team tried to pretend, but it’s just not the same. Her interests are our interests.

So our objective, in our project about our imaginary project, was to please ourselves. No wonder it was hard to keep focused.

Incidentally, the picture has nothing to do with the post – as far as I know. I just thought it was time I used it. It’s a lovely brass electric candle-offering machine from a church in Castlebar, Mayo. You put in money, press a button. and that’s lighting a candle for someone or something. Oddly un-prayerlike, but kind of beautiful nonetheless.

Doing Teamwork By Yourself

The Engineering Faculty has some fairly decent overhead projectors

For our first project, we have to work in teams. But how can we build them when as yet we have little idea of each other’s skills, talents, and weaknesses?

I thought Well, apply communications technology, and took it upon myself to create a message board. With this we could discuss stuff when we weren’t in college, get to know each other better. And as an adjunct I thought we might have a spreadsheet – online but closed to non-members – where we could volunteer skills information; easy enough to set up with Google Docs. This would be helpful to everybody, but it would also demonstrate the useful sort of stuff I can do. Why, people would be bidding to have me join their project teams.

I got quite into this for a couple of days. When I looked up, everyone had formed into groups without me.

Fortunately there were enough of us left over to form another group. Team Not So Savvy At Team Stuff, we could call ourselves. Though actually I think this unusual selection process has left us with a pretty good assortment.

Perhaps not the best organised though. We had our first team meeting today. Only two of us turned up, and one of those was an hour late. OK that was me. I’d been up far too late trying to catch up with my reading on the whole area of project management. I learned a lot in theory, but in the morning completely failed the practical.

I know it’s a terrible cliché, but as my alarm blared away, doggedly failing to wake me, I actually had one of those anxiety dreams where you find yourself in an exam you’re completely unprepared for. I know, someone whose been through an exam system gets those dreams for the rest of their life, even when the cause for anxiety is wholly unrelated.

Only here I actually was failing to prepare for something I’m soon going to be graded on. So really it was hardly a dream at all. More just my subconscious doing a sardonic voice-over.

Tuam Raider

Tuam. Not the worst for traffic

Well here I am in sunny Tuam, for the first time really since I passed my driving test. Yes I’m sorry Tuam, I admit it, I used you. People say it’s easier here than in Galway city. After the fact, I’m not so sure. Galway traffic is insane at rush hour it’s true, but Tuam was then going through an interminable process of roadworks, diversions, temporary traffic lights and tailbacks. And though Galway has imposing roundabouts, Tuam has far too many of those ridiculous mini-roundabouts that transform a simple honest junction into a revolving door. Also, some trick signage; my instructor introduced me to a way you could fail your test without even trying. At one junction there’s a yield sign, so naturally you stop if there’s oncoming traffic. If there is no oncoming traffic, you fail your test.

How come? Because there’s a STOP line marked on the road – presumably left there from a time before the junction was demoted to a mere yield. But the indicator of the greater hazard overrides the lesser, so if you went through without stopping you’re breaking a stop sign, an instant fail, even though there’s no stop sign there. OK, it’s not part of any known test route, they’re not actually out to trick you with legal ambiguities. But with all those diversions in place, you never know your luck.

I’ve just passed a restaurant called Cré na Cille. It’s named after quite a famous novel by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, sometimes called “The Irish language Ulysses“. One  problem though. Literally, the title means “Graveyard Soil”.

I wonder what their specials are.

Speaking of tests, we have our first one coming up on the MSc course already. Well it’s a project, for the Data Analysis and Project Management module, but we will be marked on it. We’ve two weeks to get a proposal together, which includes assembling a team, creating a proposal, even devising a contract to sign for ourselves. It’s not something I mind doing, it’s just that before I do I could probably use a few lessons in, you know, project management. And data analysis.

We’ve had just two so far. I only have the sketchiest idea of what the course is even about. Project management and data analysis – you might as well say “All that businessy-computery stuff.” So I literally don’t know where to begin. I have no idea at all of what would make a good project. Or even a feasible project.

And as a part-time student, I’ve very little idea about a team either. The full-timers meet much more, and many of them will have been undergraduates together. Us part-timers meet literally one day a week. Some of us might be able to get together socially, but most not. So I’ve volunteered to create a forum or bulletin board for us, so we at least have some level of virtual presence.

I’ve done forum admin before, but I’ve never actually set one up from scratch. It’s not hard though – not at least if you rent some web space that supports the necessary technologies. I set one up last night in fact. And in the light of what I learned by doing that, I’ll be setting it up all over again today. I’m also going to suggest we create a spreadsheet of our strengths, weaknesses, and other factors, centralising the information we need to assemble project teams. A database, if you will.

Huh. Maybe I have a project idea after all.

Or would that be a metaproject?

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…