Saturday, December 31, 2005

Just a sec...

Actually, hang on. I do have something at least a little thoughtful.

A while ago, I read a story on a recent EU Report that expressed concern about how Israel is illegally annexing Arab areas of East Jerusalem, against both international law and the Roadmap peace plan. Nothing new there - we already know that Israel has been breaking several international laws for years.

To me, the most interesting part of the story is the final paragraph. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev refers to the whole unrest as the "Israel-Palestinian" issue. In so doing, he disregards the existence of a Palestinian state and reduces Palestinians to a people without a home, whilst simultaneously stamping the authority of the Israeli state firmly in the listener's mind. Clever.

It's subtle, but that's how Israel wins the media war. Of course, they're not always so subtle. I mean, come on - who could honestly call a 10-foot concrete wall with ditches, guard towers and barbed wire a "peace fence", as they initially tried to name it. That didn't wash with anybody, so then they tried "security fence". But people know fences as nice, pretty and residential. The media has come to use the term "security barrier", which is only marginally better. I find that "apartheid wall" is closer to the truth, or perhaps "blatant land-grabbing and degradation - up yours wall".

But I'd better be careful or I'll be branded as an extremist.

So tired

Today has been a long day - my first tough, long day in a while. I won't bore you with the details.

I'm not really up to putting together a coherent post tonight, so I'll leave you enjoy BBC News Online's quirky list of 100 things we didn't know this time last year. Their 2005 Ad Breakdown is also a really good read.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Citizen journalism

Yesterday I ranted about how we’re under ever increasing amounts of surveillance. Today I’ll rant about a real revolution in the broadcast and print media - citizen journalism.

I was watching BBC News 24 the other night (I had no choice – Dad rules the living room when he’s home). Whenever I’m watching any channel with a ticker scrolling along the bottom, I always get distracted and end up paying more attention to the ticker than to the main broadcast. Along with all the usual snippets of news and sports stories were details of how to submit pictures and videos of news events by email, and even details of how to submit them directly from a mobile phone – including video by 3G.

That’s awesome - unthinkable even just two or three years ago. Looking back at the London bombings, we were shown videos from the bombed carriages that people had captured on their phones, startling images of the panic on the streets, and that gut-wrenching image of the destroyed bus – all captured by people who were right there, on the scene as and when it happened.

We started to see something like this when 9/11 struck, with images caught by people with camcorders at various locations. But the London bombings have shown that it’s moved in to an entirely different scale. There are those who complain and say it’s just the news broadcasters getting people to do their work for them and profiteering at others’ expense and it’s all evil and blah blah blah. Well to them I say, shut the hell up you idiots. First off, no one’s forcing you to send content in. Secondly, the BBC keeps the copyright with the creator and does not take ownership. Lastly, get that chip off your shoulder, you idiot.

This is a good and wonderful thing. And once again, the world has become a heck of a lot smaller.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

You're being watched. Right now.

It's funny. We live in an age where we're just discovering that anyone, anywhere (who happens to be rich enough to afford the required technologies) can publish anything to the Internet. And yet we're also living in an age where governments across the globe are increasingly clamping down on freedoms we have enjoyed for years. I'll say more about the 'anyone/anywhere publishing' phenomenon in another post. But first let me describe to you our living, breathing Orwellian nightmare. This isn't far off in the future - this is right here, right now.

It's been well publicised that China censors the websites its residents can visit, and requires internet companies such as Yahoo and Google to comply with its strict censorship and monitoring laws. Just recently, in fact, Yahoo assisted the Chinese government in identifying a resident (who was then jailed) who had emailed a pro-democracy group in New York through its email service. And Google, the company founded on the phrase "do no evil", lists only Chinese government approved news sources in its news search service.

The US government has recently pushed through a law that allows the FBI to request cell-tracking data from mobile phone companies without the need for a warrant, effectively allowing them to monitor the movements of any individual in the US, for any reason.

In the UK, we have more CCTV cameras per capita than anywhere else in the world. They're in our stores, our places of work, our streets, our hospitals, our busses and trains, even in some homes. Nationwide, we have over 4 million CCTV cameras. The average London road junction has 10 of them. The average UK citizen is caught on camera 300 times every single day. Come April this year, the police will capture every single motor journey that is made in the UK and store it for four years. They will then be able to search and track the movements of any vehicle they choose.

Then there's Echelon, the system that monitors almost all electronic communications that are passed around the internet, sponsored by the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It scans the hundreds of millions of emails, faxes, phone calls and web postings fired across our planet every day for keywords. When it finds them, it spits the communication out on to the desk of a human intelligence analyst for further investigation. Our mobile companies are required to hold a record of all the text messages we have sent - including the actual content of the message.

We're watched and monitored more than ever. Big Brother is no longer fiction - it's reality.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Reviews of 2005, reviewed

At the end of every year, the media for reviews and analyses the past 365 days from every possible angle. There are some that I really look forward to, such as the Sunday Times Magazine’s Year in Pictures (what can I say – I’m not a big reader).

My gift to you is this list of some of the 2005-in-review type thingies that can be found in cyberspace right now. Check 'em out.

Science & Technology
Those are the ones I found interesting... let me know if you know of any more!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It's coming.... slowly

I've said in the past that technology isn't truly integrated in our lives, but that we're getting there. To illustrate this point in more detail, we can take the example of recent improvements in public transportation information services.

In London, they’re well up on this game. Transport for London’s website has a fantastic journey planner that can connect you between any two points in London and find the best route with an estimated time that’s usually pretty accurate – no mean feat given London’s varied geography and complex public transport system! Many bus shelters have displays showing estimated arrival times for busses, and of course so do all tube and train platforms. It’s great – that’s truly an example of technology that’s integrated seamlessly in to our daily lives.

The UK’s national Live Departure Boards service won some sort of award last year for most innovative something-or-other. I think our train system is an utter disgrace and a national embarrassment, but this is truly something to be proud of. It’s an online service that allows you to check on the progress of any train service, anywhere within the UK. You can also see the departure and arrivals boards at any train station. If a train is running late, it shows the estimated arrival time (though this should be taken with a large pinch of salt). It’s a fantastic service – I can check how my train is running before I leave the house, and if it’s late, I can spend an extra 2 minutes making myself beautiful. Of course, online journey planning and ticketing is very useful, but has been around for years. This is truly innovative.

But that’s the problem – for the service to be of any use, I have to be at a computer with net access. There are ways of getting timings through SMS or mobile internet, but at present they’re clunky and complicated to use. If tech was truly integrated, I’d wake up and unroll my expandable screen, which would automatically display my train times, that day’s weather, news headlines and so on. I shouldn’t have to go over, wait for my PC to boot up and then load up the webpage. It should be there without me having to give it a second thought. For me, that’s the future.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Title says it all really. Much as I want to make a thoughful post, I just don't have it in me tonight. I guess that's what a whole day of number crunching and statistic munching does to the brain. By way of compesnation, please accept this (and try not to fall off the chair before you've finished reading).

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Acts of kindness

I'm really a big softie at heart. There's a section on the Toronto Star's website where readers can submit stories about random acts of kindness they've received in and around the city from total strangers. I find it makes for good reading, especially if I'm ever feeling a bit down or just generally bored.

I don’t celebrate Christmas (or Hanukkah!) , but I know this time of year signifies ‘the season of goodwill’ and other pleasant stuff to a lot of people. So in that spirit, I suggest you check it out. Much as I hate reading things online, I always find this a real joy – a reminder that there are still good and decent people out there.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Holidays? What holidays?

A more personal note tonight. I always hate reading personal blog posts like this. I mean really, who cares what's going on inside somebody's head? But I said at the very start that this blog is more about me than my readers, so tough.

As much as I hate my terrible procrastination habit, I can feel myself starting to become something of a workaholic. For a start, I don't like being idle - I always have to be 'doing' something - even if it's just sitting here in front of this computer screen.

So I've got a few things on the go just now. Some pretty major family stuff, for a start. But I won’t go in to that (yet). Then there's uni stuff, i.e. exams to study for and an ongoing Masters project. Really, that should be enough to keep me going over the holidays.

But no... I had to go and get myself involved in some other things, too. I've been working as a teaching assistant during term time, helping out with engineering mechanics tutorials that are taught to first and second years. A few of the students in that class have asked for some tutoring over the holidays, so I'm doing a few hours of that on top.

And now I’ve gone and landed myself in it even further. I worked for an engineering company in the summer of 2004, after I came back from Toronto. One of the things I did while I was there was write a 12 month status report for the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI), on a solar panel installation they had funded (or the LSBIPVFT, to give it it's stupid government acronym). Well, I got an email from my ex-boss on Wednesday asking if I’d have the time to write the 24-month report that’s now due… and because I’m stupid I said yes. For some reason, I don’t like turning things like this down. I don't know why I do it to myself.

If you have read this far, then I really do owe you a thank you. You're a better person than I am (I know that's not saying much, but hey!).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I'm confused

One of the things about our world that particularly frustrates me is how our leaders are able to lie to us – blatantly – and still be re-elected to office. I just don’t understand it.

Bush & Blair both lied to their countries to get in to the war in Iraq. Yet they’re both still in office. I don’t get it. Why doesn’t the public shout and scream and demand their resignation, demand that we not be treated like idiots and not be lied to?

I’m not saying Saddam was a good man. But these people lied to us to take us in to a war they wanted. And now, 2.5 years later, we’re still there. All the while, our schools and hospitals at home are falling apart and crying out for more funding. Why?

The worst part is, I just don’t see a way out. I want our troops out of there right now, but at the same time if they do leave right away then Iraq will just descend in to more chaos. The might of two of the world’s strongest nations cannot bring under control a country in which they have installed their own puppet government. If that doesn’t tell you that we’re not wanted there, what will?

The general public is so lazy. We don’t ask questions of our leaders any more. And the worst part is, our governments are using the trouble they themselves are stirring to justify creating draconian laws that increasingly prevent us from exercising the very freedoms they shout and sing about from the rooftops.

OK – rant over. Just a few questions to finish with. Did anyone hear about what ever happened to that man who was dramatically forced to the ground and arrested outside Downing Street on 7/7? How could American intelligence really honestly not still have found bin Laden? If these guys canny find bin Laden, and ‘honestly’ got their intel so wrong on Iraq’s imaginary WMD, and famously attempted to make links between Iraq and al Qaeda where there weren’t any, why haven’t the public risen up and demanded change?

Seriously, I just don’t get it. I’m so glad I don’t live in Iraq, slightly less glad that I don't live the US, and very, very disappointed in what's happening to the UK.

What the World wants to know

I’ve previously blogged about Myspace, a ‘social networking’ site that is playing an increasingly large role in the social lives of modern American youth (i.e. teens and twenty-somethings). They see no distinction between socialising online and socialising face to face – and that in itself is Big. Well, it turns out that Myspace was the number one top gaining search term in Google’s 2005 Zeitgeist. If that’s not testament to a massive shift in the social norms and behaviours of society's single most important demographic, I don’t know what is.

I had to look up the word ‘zeitgeist’ the first time I ever heard it, so here’s a quick definition for anyone who doesn’t know (taken from
  • Zeitgeist: n The spirit of the time; the taste and outlook characteristic of a period or generation.
The Google Zeitgeist is Google's summary of what people have been searching for (and when) over a period of time. It's normally published monthly. There’s a whole bunch of really interesting stuff in the Google Zeitgeist, but it’s important to remember what it doesn’t tell you. Most glaring is the fact that its primary sources are the wealthy Western and Asian nations where net access is common; sadly, the vast majority of the World’s population are far too poor to have access to this amazing tool.

But, that aside, this is a very cool thing indeed. It turns out that ‘Janet Jackson’ was the most searched for term on Google News in 2005. Who’da thunk it? Of the top ten Google News search terms in 2005, eight are to do with celebrities and entertainment; the other two were ‘Hurricane Katrina’ and ‘tsunami’. Oh, the world we live in.

You can check out the rest of the Zeitgeist for yourselves. I'm a high-level thinker; I love looking at the big picture, global trends and thoughts and projects – it’s just the way I’m programmed. And for that reason, I think it’s awesome that we can get a window on the thoughts and interests that have been uppermost in our collective mind over the past year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Outsourcing Santa

The following comic was posted on a web forum that I post on (BritXbox), just today. How apt!

Different topic tonight. Promise.

Lies, damn lies and statistics

I don’t want to bore everyone with my ranting and raving about Globalisation and how the West is doomed, but allow me one more night. Just a few interesting tidbits from here and there that I’d like to include. I promise to find a different topic for tomorrow.

First off is the news today that China has leapfrogged the UK to become the fourth-largest economy in the world. That doesn’t really surprise me. What does surprise me is how they managed this. Effectively, what they did was hold a ‘census’ of their economy – sending people round with clip boards to find out what businesses are doing and how much money they’re making. By doing so, they managed to find an extra 17% in their economy – or $280 billion! Yeesh.

The Chinese economy (GDP) is now worth around $2 trillion. They are behind the US (who are way out in front with a GDP of $11.7 trillion), Japan ($3.8 trillion GDP) and Germany ($2.4 trillion GDP). The UK's GDP is around $1.8 trillion. The increase the Chinese found in their economy is equal to the entire GDP of Turkey.

Secondly, it’s not just British graduates who face a tough job market on graduation. China’s student population is increasing by around 700,000 students every year, yet around 500,000 students struggled to find graduate jobs last year, even though higher education is much more highly regarded over there than it is here. Quite a surprising statistic, and it just goes to show that no economy, no matter how booming, is perfect.

General Electric’s John F. Welch Technology Centre in Bangalore employs 1800 engineers alone (400 of them are PhDs!).

Finally, around 100,000 Americans can expect to have their taxes processed for them in India this year. Now that is a ‘lol’ worthy statistic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Globalisation in action

I want to do some more on this, highlighting how we’re leaking our so-called ‘knowledge economy’ jobs to the East; not just the ‘simple’ manufacturing jobs.

A particularly high-profile example of jobs shifting to the East was when the bagless vacuum cleaner innovator and manufacturer Dyson decided to close its manufacturing plant in Malmesbury, Wiltshire back in 2002. At the time, James Dyson cited factors such as being closer to Eastern markets and suppliers as important considerations. However, he didn’t shy away from admitting that the overriding factor was cost. Some statistics to give an idea of how UK and Far Eastern costs compare are given below; in my opinion, these are rather generous – I would expect wages and property prices in the Far East to be considerably lower than those stated here.
  • UK worker: £9 per hour
  • Malaysian worker: £3 per hour
  • UK office rent: £114 sq m a year
  • Malaysia office rent: £38 sq m a year
Source: Economist Intelligence Unit and BBC

Importantly, Dyson kept its research and development labs here in the UK – a classic case of shifting the manufacturing jobs to the Far East whilst keeping the brain jobs here. But things are changing rapidly, and over the last few years the UK has seen a number of similarly high profile jobs move to the East. This time, however, they aren’t manufacturing jobs – they’re our much-prized knowledge economy jobs.

The call-centre industry employs thousands of people in the UK, and is seen as an important employment sector with potential for growth and reemployment of those who have lost their low-skilled manufacturing jobs to the Far East. So what happens, then, when employers such as ntl:, BT, National Rail Enquiries (ATOC), Orange, 3, the AA, RAC, HSBC, Aviva, and GE Captial, start moving these jobs out East, too? ATOC expects to save £25m over several years. Amicus, the trade union, says 200,000 call centre and back-office processing jobs will be outsourced to India by 2010.

No matter that the vast majority of Brits (myself included) absolutely hate dealing with Indian call centres (they might be well educated, but their English still sucks) - the companies would rather take the PR hit than keep coughing up more than they have to. So we can wave goodbye to the call centre jobs, too.

But wait, there’s more! Microsoft, Sun, Intel, IBM, HP, Infosys, Cisco, Google, and over 1500 other info-tech, Western employer-of-the-future companies, are expanding their Indian operations – and it’s not just about meeting the demands of the Indian market. It’s about saving money over offering similar jobs to Western engineers. So much for keeping our brainy jobs.

And to think, this is just the tip of a very, very large iceberg.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Hyperbole squared, times infinity

Dontcha just love marketing speak? This is taken from an ad in the Sunday Times Magazine last Sunday, placed by Blacks (an outdoors/camping store), for a Columbia ladies’ jacket:

This is the women’s Voulez-Vous Parka by Columbia” – it’s a stupid product name, but fair enough. I can live with that.

“It works best on any hike because the Omni-Tech Villi Twill XB shell offers excellent breathable protection to keep you dry and comfortable in all conditions.” – More stupid product names (Villi Twill XB? Who comes up with this stuff?), but it’s all fairly standard marketing speak so far.

“And the Ultra Plush Pile lining and Micro-Temp insulation makes sure you’ll stay warm and cosy” – It’s all beginning to get a bit much – Ultra Plush Pile? What’s “Ultra” about it?

“It has a Cyber Twill chin guard to protect your face from the wind”. – Well thank God it’s a “Cyber” twill, cause, you know, those standard Twills just don’t cut it.

“An emergency hood is stored under the collar for unexpected storms.” Oh dear. Describing a hood as an emergency item. Unexpected storms? What if you were expecting the storm? What happens to the emergencyness of the hood then?

“The Underarm Venting System provides maximum air circulation.” – OK, now I’m a fan of underarm venting systems. They help keep me cool. Really. But calling it an Underarm Venting System really doesn’t make it any more glamorous than an ordinary underarm venting system. Really.

“It has a lift ticket D-ring for easy access and lots of multi-function pockets. The front pockets have rubber Titanium zip pulls, easy to open even with your gloves on.” It’s hard to know where to begin with this one. Perhaps someone could explain to me exactly what a “lift ticket D-ring” actually is? My absolute favourite, however, is the “multi-function pockets”. I’ve been waiting for these for ages. I mean, my whole life I’ve been confined to single-function pockets. But now these new-fangled, crazy multi-function pockets are around, I can finally move on with my life. Whoo – technology, eh? Although, I’m left somewhat confused by the “rubber Titanium” zip pulls. Are they rubber or Titanium or both? Does a jacket really need Titanium zip pulls? Do they really need to give Titanium a capital letter?

“The Columbia Voulez-Vous Parka’s unique sleeve construction with Radial Sleeves and articulated elbows give maximum movement. This allows your arms to go up while your jacket stays down, and along with the internal powder skirt, it ensures that all the snow stays out when you’re on the slopes.” The first part of this sentence can be roughly translated as, “This jacket has sleeves. You can move your arms in these sleeves. Now, isn’t that neat.” “Radial sleeves” – what ARE radial sleeves? Similarly, if someone can explain to me precisely what makes the elbows on this jacket “articulated”, I’d be happy to hear from you (as it happens, I’m happy to hear from you even if you can’t).

Maybe I’m just behind the times with jacket technology, but I could’ve sworn my jacket already has multi-function pockets.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Smarter than the other guys?

Globalisation is a topic that absolutely fascinates me; in particular, the economics of the rise and rise of the Far East and Asia, and the future downfall of the West. I firmly believe that within 10 to 15 years, the global economic landscape will have shifted considerably in favour of our Eastern competitors.

Essentially, the problem is this: The West was once a manufacturing powerhouse, but manufacturing capability has shifted to the Far East (Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Korea, Thailand, China et al), where labour rates and hence production costs are much, much lower. Initially, it was just simple manufacturing tasks that were outsourced, and the West moved to more hi-tech manufacturing jobs. Over time however, the complexity of the manufacturing tasks being sent to the Far East (for reasons of cost) has increased - to the point where the majority of the world’s high-tech equipment is now built in the Far East.

So the West has had its manufacturing jobs taken from it – including most of the high-tech ones. That was inevitable. No matter, say our business and government leaders, “We’re still ahead in ‘innovation’, and we’re going to make sure it stays that way.” What they basically mean is that it doesn’t matter that we’ve lost the repetitive, low-skilled jobs because we’re going to keep and develop the jobs that need brains – design, analysis, innovation, finance. The so-called ‘knowledge economy’. The West is basing its whole economic future on the futile hope that we’ll stay smarter than the other guys.

I’m not the only one who sees a problem with this approach. In his latest book, entitled ‘The World is Flat’, Thomas L. Friedman quotes Bill Gates as saying, "When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm travelling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they're in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations. . . . The percentage of a population with a college degree is important, but so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind." You could easily add the UK in to that statement. Which pretty much sums up the whole problem – we’re not going to be staying smarter than the other guys for very long.

Friedman himself goes on to say something similar to what I said in a previous post (only he puts it far more eloquently), “It is now possible for more people than ever to collaborate and compete in real time with more people on more different kinds of work from more different corners of the planet and on a more equal footing than at any previous time in the history of the world… When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate”.

So much for keeping ahead through innovation.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


After the question I posed last night, I feel like I should probably expand on what I feel some of the possibilities are for where technology could take us over the next 15 years.

First of all, a quick recap of the ground we've covered over the last 15 years. 15 years ago, net access was painfully slow, and only for the most die-hard geeks. Today it is commonplace - and not just in laboratories and offices, but in the home and even out in the street. In 15 years we've transitioned from video and audio cassettes to optical media such as CD and DVD, and now we’re moving to streaming/downloading our content from vast libraries, as and when we please. I now carry a device in my pocket that is more powerful than the first desktop PC my dad bought us just 10 years ago. Not only that, it also combines a mobile phone, a digital still/video camera, an mp3 music player, a digital video player and an organiser – devices that didn’t even exist 10 years ago! And that’s just on the personal tech side; completely ignoring the manufacturing, construction, medical, industrial automotive and aeronautical fields (etc!).

Looking forward 5 years from now, it’s likely we’ll carry foldable, flexible screens that are small in our pockets, but can be rolled out to form larger screens ideal for
browsing information and viewing video content. 10 years from now I imagine that our complex, piecemeal home entertainment setups of today will have evolved in to a system whereby we have a central server that captures and stores all the content we could ever want. We then watch or listen to this content through a series of wirelessly connected displays and speakers in various rooms in the house.

Predicting how technology will have transformed our lives 15 years from now is nigh-on impossible. But I think we can pick out certain trends. For instance, I don’t believe that technology is yet 100% seamlessly integrated in to our daily lives. We still have our big, bulky, computers tethered to a single point in the house. Even laptops aren’t really all that portable. 15 years from now, I thin we’ll each carry our own, personal devices that simply serve as displays – all the content and processing we require is carried out remotely, over the internet. And of course, access to the internet will be as easily available as the air we breathe.

These are just a few ideas I have about how technology will shape our future. I could go on forever – but then I’d only prove myself wrong. The future’s unpredictable that way.

Think on this

15 years ago we'd never have imagined that we could make a phone call from the train to let our family know we'll be there in 5 minutes and they should pick us up.

What will be normal 15 years from now?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ingenuity all around you

One of the things engineers feel quite strongly about, and are forever trying to address, is that the general public – particularly in the UK – simply do not appreciate the awesomeness of the things they achieve. Engineering is heavily underrated both in terms of its achievements and as a career, yet without engineering we would not have the incredibly advanced societies we live in today.

A phenomenal (excuse my generous use of superlatives!) example of this is the incredible Heathrow Terminal 5, which is currently under construction. It is engineering on a massive scale, much more complex than a simple new building. Here are some key facts for you to ponder:
  • 4 miles (6km) of roads
  • 8.5 miles of undergrounds tunnels
  • 11 miles of conveyor belts to move bags!
  • 60,000 workers involved in the project
  • 400m-long terminal building
  • 175 lifts
  • 131 escalators
  • 260 hectare site (larger than Hyde Park)
  • 40% of the building is underground
  • 30 million passengers a year
(Info taken from Professional Engineer magazine)

And all this is being built while two of the busiest runways in the world operate as normal 24/7 on either side of the construction site . It’s utterly mind-boggling.

I’ve always believed that the reason the public doesn’t hold engineering in as high regard as other professions such as medicine or law is that the fine details of what goes in to making things work, the complexity of what we do as engineers, is beyond their life experience. They expect things to just work, and when they don’t, they get someone in to fix them. Gnerally people aren't too interested in how things happen.

I amtruly blown away by those statistics on the Heathrow T5 project. Let’s hope that when the building opens in 2008, at least some of the passengers will stop to appreciate and marvel at the incredible work of many fine engineers.

Wired on Work

I’ve been feeling particularly wired these last few days. As ever, I’ve left assignments and stuff later than I should have, and am now finding it hard to think about absolutely anything else – despite the fact that there are some pretty big things going on in my life right now. Systems Engineering and Spaceflight Mechanics and Group Project rule my mind and my thoughts.

Despite that fact, I did manage to get out to play football tonight. Probably should have stayed in to get work done, but a week doesn’t feel complete without my game of football on a Wednesday night. Plus, it was nice not to be thinking about uni for an hour or so.

Dean’s certificates were handed out at uni today. They’re awarded to all students who achieved an average of over 70% in the previous year. Only, the email that went out telling people they’d been awarded a certificate and that they should go to collect them went out to the whole of mechanical engineering, not just those who had actually achieved the grades. The poor wee dears in the mech eng office were terribly flustered by the huge line of students who went up demanding a certificate, when there were none to be found.

I find the idea of these wee women getting all confused and harried, without a clue what’s going on, rather entertaining. Oh, the things that amuse you when you’re wired on work.

Roll on May 2006 - unfortunately, there’s not a hope in Hell of getting any sort of break before then.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

On the other hand...

Yesterday, I had a (very restrained) moan at the fact that degrees are becoming increasingly less valuable. Today I'm going to offer a slightly more acidic opinion on my fellow students.

Let me begin by saying that this rant includes sweeping generalisations, and that I'm very aware that not ALL students are like this. However, in my experience, the vast majority are.

Students frequently complain about student debt, blah blah blah. Well in my opinion, the answer's simple - drink less alcohol! Don't take a cab home! Buy fewer DVD's! OK, so that is pretty harsh - we all need to have fun, blow off steam or whatever. But I just don't understand how students afford the lifestyle many of them choose to enjoy. A little restraint would, I feel, go a long way to allaying many peoples' debt fears. A sweeping generalisation, I know, but one that I feel quite strongly about. You've brought yourself here to better yourself and improve your future - not just to be comatose for three or four years.

Secondly, we're all so lazy (well, most of us!). I include myself in this. I could have gained more value out of my time at uni if I'd applied my self more to the academics and studied harder. As it is, I feel I've worked pretty hard to achieve the grades I do. But I know I could have worked harder and done better - I'm not naturally smart, so hard work is the only way I can do well. A lot of students, however, do the bare minimum to get through university. And it’s really noticeable when you go abroad and witness the far more focussed and driven work ethic of our peers who pay considerably more for the privilege of higher education than we do. Sometimes I think that’s the problem – we take our educations for granted, not realising how fortunate we are to be given such a wonderful opportunity to better our own lives.

This, in my opinion, is unacceptable. University presents us with so many unique opportunities that it really is a crime to not take at least some of them up. Clubs, societies, international exchanges, academics, work experience, student governance – there’s a wealth of opportunities. And when you know you’re facing a tough job market and stiff competition at the end of it all, then you’ve only yourself to blame when it comes to job hunting time and you can’t find anything.

There are thousands of jobs out there, and they rightly go to those who’ve made that extra effort above and beyond their degrees. Why should it go to a lazy git who’s not bothered to take the initiative, get involved with something and show what he or she can do? They’ve wasted the taxpayer’s money – our money. Bah!

What's in a degree?

It’s week twelve of semester one – the last week of term. If there’s one thing all students agree on, it’s that the semesters always fly by, and seem to pass faster every year.

Looking back, I can’t believe that it’s been over 4 years since I started my course. More frightening still is the thought I’ll be graduating next year. Student life has its tough moments, but I wouldn’t swap it for the world. It’s hit me with so many fantastic moments, so many opportunities, and, most importantly, it’s up to me if and when I get out of bed in the morning. So much freedom – when else in my life will I get 5 months off at summer?!

The problem, however, is that degrees no longer have the value they once did. A degree no longer guarantees you a job; it merely grants you a licence to hunt, along with thousands of others eager graduates. Nowadays, you have to do some much more over and above your degree to prove that you’re better than the next guy, and in my opinion that’s a real shame.

Work experience, voluntary work, curing cancer, helping sick children, solving world hunger – top employers expect graduates to be superhuman. They no longer trust the education we have received, so hit us with their own numerical, verbal and aptitude tests. The problem with encouraging so many more people in to higher education is that, by definition, standards drop as a result.

I’m proud of my degree – I feel I’ve really worked hard for it. But, apparently, 5 years of higher education is no guarantee that I can do the job. Better get on with that solution to global warming I’ve been working on between classes, eh?

Monday, December 12, 2005


I kinda realised last night that my posts so far have been leaning towards the ‘heavy’ side. So tonight I’ll try to lighten up a bit. I also don’t want to run out of material less than a week in to my new venture.

I mentioned in my first post that there are a few blogs I read daily, and that these inspired me to start my own.

Call me calaban! is written by Robin, a good friend I made while in Toronto. She has Scottish roots, and her blog allows me to keep up with what’s going on in her world without disrupting her ‘hectic’ schedule. It’s the first blog I ever followed on a regular basis.

Rolled up Trousers (don’t ask!) is written by Osama Saeed, a bit of a political activist and a long-time friend of mine. I hold him in high regard, but don’t tell him that. Mainly covers areas of relevance to British Muslims and the ‘war on terror’.

The Dilbert Blog is written by Scott Adams, author of the ridiculously successful Dilbert cartoon strip. I get the comic emailed to me daily, and the blog is just as funny. A bit surreal at times, but normally very entertaining.

Also, since setting this thing up I’ve become a bit obsessive-compulsive about tracking the stats on ‘hits’/visits to the site. It’s a bit sad, really. But I do know that I’m getting a reasonable number of visitors, which is great. Please please please do give me feedback on what you think so far. Feel free to leave comments, or email me at atifdotrashidatntlworlddotcom, replacing words with punctuation as necessary. Even just to let me know you’re reading. Thank you!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

I'm a bad person

Space Cadets is currently airing on Channel 4, which I find interesting. Not because I’m interested in the show, but because I’m interested in space, and have been lucky enough to study it on several occasions. I’ve done a design project for a lunar sample acquisition robot, my thesis was on optical imaging techniques to improve on-board landing site selection, and I’m currently taking a class in spaceflight mechanics. Unfortunately, it turns out that the only reason I’m actually in to the show is because it makes me feel smug and smart.

I have real disdain – well it’s more like hatred, actually – for most reality shows (with the important exceptions of The Apprentice and Dragons' Den, which are both awesome). I truly believe that its TV for the lowest common-denominator, and look down on anybody who watches them, let alone actually enjoys them, as incredibly stupid. I feel that I’m vastly superior to the people on the shows, and to the majority of those who follow their inane goings on. For the most part, I reckon that’s justified

In this case, I have an understanding of space engineering, and therefore feel like I’m on the ‘inside’ and know what’s really going on. I find it reassuring that other people are amazed at stuff that I find second nature. People think that space stuff is all so complicated and clever and mysterious, and it makes me feel good about myself that I can do some of this 'amazing' stuff.

It’s at times like this that I wish I was a better person. I’m becoming a snob, and the worst part is that I’m not even actually that smart. I just like to feel like I am.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

"I don't like your Muslim"

Today a friend of mine, with whom I worked last summer (well, I worked, he mainly sat surfing the NME website), MSN'd me. Matthew, who lives in London, said he got in a cab the other day, and the cabbie decided to strike up the conversation by starting out with "I don't like your Muslim", which is apparently cabbie speak for “I don’t like Muslims”.

Now, I have no particular problem with people not liking Muslims (I can’t say I have a particular fondness for Cockney cabbies), but what does bother me is that people who hold such views would generally never say such a thing in front of an actual Muslim. Generally, such comments are reserved for conversations between people of the same skin colour/religion/whatever.

I’d really love to know what it is about people like me that he doesn’t like. I want to ask him. It might help me understand a little better why the BNP are apparently doing so well (despite the fact they are an openly racist party). I do, however, find it completely reassuring that views like his are, in my experience at least, in the minority, and for the most part are on their way out. But, because I never get in on such conversations between ‘white people’, I’m never quite sure exactly how much of a minority guys like this really represent.

The cabbie left Matthew speechless, so Matthew left the cabbie tipless. I wonder if the cabbie clocked?

Friday, December 09, 2005

This just in...

Just discovered that BBC News Online are spending a day in a mosque & community centre in London this Friday, with a laptop set up so that people can send in questions to the staff and congregation throughout the day and have them answered live.

This should be quite interesting - for both the questions that are sent in, and to see the kinds of answers we get back. I don't know much about this particular mosque, but it's fantastic that opportunities like this exist for people to learn more about one of the most misunderstood forces in the world today.

Should make for interesting reading between classes tomorrow.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

We live in the future

Sometimes I decide that this world, right here, right now, is the future. Let me explain.

We live in a world where we can connect instantly with anyone, anywhere in the world. Letter, phone, video, even in person. Every day I carry in my pocket a device that lets me reach and be reached, anywhere at any time. It shows me entire movies and lets me record my own , plays me my music, keeps my schedule and to do list, stores all my contacts. Reminds me of birthdays. This tiny device can put the internet – the world – in the palm of my hand. I’m always connected, always on. It can even make phone calls.

Social networks – similar to blogs, but geared towards groups of friends and general frivolity, are an integral part of many young peoples’ lives. Kids keep in touch by face, by phone, and now online. What’s interesting is how you can follow links within and between groups of friends. You find out what they were up to on Friday night, that someone was out of town, that someone was ill. Follow the links and you get an insight in to peoples’ lives – never mind the fact that they live thousands of miles away and that you even don’t know them. Now you do.

The world has become a global, personal marketplace – albeit dominated by one corporation. Global trading is no longer reserved for international business – anyone, anywhere can set up and trade online within minutes - whether they’re genuine or not.

The world has indeed become a very, very small place. We live in the future.

Or do we? What about the poor, the patronisingly entitled ‘third world’? The very technologies that will help them most are priced far out of their reach. Technology might be advancing at a rapid rate, but the vast majority of our fellow humans are being left behind. In our haste to reach the future, we’re leaving them in the past.

Mad, mad world

This is probably going to be a recurring theme. I'm one of those people who constantly marvels at the world - whether it's the latest developments in science and technology, or current affairs, or human stories. It’s the reason I’m studying engineering.

A man was shot dead today by US air marshals
in Miami, Florida. He had suggested to some sort of 'officials' that he was carrying a bomb in his on board baggage, was asked to leave the plane, left then apparently acted aggressively, reached towards his backpack and then was shot. It's not clear exactly what happened yet. What is clear, however, is that he was not carrying any explosives. Apparently, the man was mentally ill.

5 years ago, this sort of thing was unheard of. But now there's a major news story breaking every couple of weeks or so. It started with 9/11, then the war in Afghanistan, and Iraq, the earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, shootings, bombings, threats, diseases, deaths. The rate of change in our world is accelerating. It’s a pretty scary time to be alive.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005



So. This is my blog. I guess a reason for its existence is as good a place to start as any.

I was lying in bed last night, thinking about how I tend to waste so much time on the internet, and why that is. I decided that one of the reasons is that every time I sit down at my computer, there are a number of websites that I HAVE to check out before I can get started with anything else.

It used to be these sites were either forums, news, sport or technology sites. The whole world of blogging never really impacted me - I didn't know many people who had one, nor had I found any that I wanted to read on a regular basis.

But over the past few months that's all changed, and there are now several blogs in my daily 'must visit' list - all which are on my much-loved customised Google homepage/RSS reader. At the same time as my interest in blogs has been increasing, my MSN names have been becoming increasingly 'political'/expressive. So this is a perfect way to combine the two.

Lastly (notice how I'm sticking to my tradition of writing too much!), I've always quite admired the idea of keeping a diary - even though I've never done it. Putting thoughts down on paper - or on screen - is a great way of clarifying one's own thoughts, and I'm hoping this blog will help me achieve inner peace. Kinda.

Content-wise, who knows? Maybe I'll update it regularly, maybe it'll die out in a few days or weeks or months. We'll see how it goes. I might be talking about computer games or Uni or politics or my day or whatever. In a way, this is more about me than my readers. I'm selfish like that.