Deo-digital existentialism

As I locked up last night I noticed some bright planet or ‘plane and was then struck by the incredibly bright white moon; I stood outside the back door for a bit gazing at the perfectly cloudless sky (first time all day!)

As I brought the milk in just now, I was again struck by the sight of the bright moon (albeit through a clouded sky), this time outside the front door. For a tiniest instant there was the thought “What’s that doing there?  It should be out the back” and I was yet again struck by the awesome majestic mathematical mechanical wonder that is the Universe.  It keeps going about its business with no regard to us or our plans, silently turning and spinning.

I unlocked the back door and there is a glorious orange red glow at the horizon, the pre-dawn heralding both the otherwise unseen Sun and a ‘shepherd’s warning’.  I was quite inspired by the contrast of the scientifically provable inevitability of the sun rising against the folk lore weather prediction which is likely just as reliable.  I felt I had to share and post this.

There’s been an automated Windows update overnight that has rebooted the laptop.  I wonder what that has cocked up this time.  And now it says I need to reboot to complete the update, so it is not in a usable state.  The little world in my computer is a bit broken and its needs its little god, me, to restart its universe from scratch to have another go at creating a functional reality.  So I – its supposed overlord – am to be forced to bring its life to an end, power it off, then cry “Let there be light!” and restart it to allow another cycle of creativity (and cockups).

Nah, sod it. I’m going to wash up and have breakfast.

I don’t think there’s a god or God out there.  At one time I used to imagine perhaps there is, but if so, it has given up on this cock-up long ago and moved on to another attempt.

At another time it dawned on me this Universe as already been destroyed once.  It did not work out, was smashed and all that remains are the tiniest of fragments, flying apart. hence the vast emptiness of space: why create something with so little in it?  Because we are not witnessing creation but the post-destruction explosion of frustration, the result of a tantrum at another failed attempt, and we are merely the germs that have grown on one of the specks of dust.

How dare we imagine that we are the important beings in this immense vastness.  We are but nothing, the tiniest speck of life light that will flare for the tiniest instant, then go out again, most likely unnoticed by anything.  To pretend the universe revolves around us, is for us, is ours, is a ridiculous arrogance as great as the Universe itself.

All we have, all we are, is what we do.  And the only part of that which matters is that experienced by other sentient life.  The rocks don’t care and there is no god lovingly watching us and caring for us, any more than we care for a fungal spore on a rotting apple core in the bin.  Less so.

All that matters is how we treat one another.  And that is how we should be – and generally are – judged.  Can’t we please just try to be nice to one another, and to try to think of the future?  Why can’t we have a society where those are the values?  Other than “By killing everyone who disagrees with me”, of course.  That hasn’t worked for over 8,000 years and has been the cause of most of the harm, so don’t try peddling those second-hand lies to me.  Because if we don’t work that out, then we are indeed filth that belongs in the dustbin of eternity.  And the only thing that stops me believing that totally, is hope.

Better go and reboot the laptop.  And hope it saves my tabs and settings and works properly this time.

The technical and other technicalities of a new organisation

What have I learned from my volunteering?

A friend expressed a desire to create a peace organisation and the first things that sprang to mind were:

  • the need for a name. It must be meaningful, appropriate, memorable, decent, SEO-friendly.
  • the means to raise funds
  • sufficient independence to get on with what the founders want to achieve
  • it needs publicity
  • it could do with high profile supporters
  • a blog can be helpful for giving less formal, more human, messages
  • a web site is essential
  • a web site requires people to keep writing content
  • a web site requires maintenance, applying updates, security controls, interfaces with social media, checking backups are working, detecting having been hacked
  • at least one domain name (needed for the web site and, ideally, email addresses)
  • something controversial to gain media coverage and attention
  • an understanding of its target audiences and how to communicate with them
  • knowledge of similar organisations with which to collaborate
  • the means, time and knowledge to create and drive collaboration with other organisations
  • a purpose
  • a plan
  • an idea of what “finished” or “success” will look like
  • specific responsibilities and authorities for individuals involved so they know what they should, can and cannot do
  • email addresses for the organisation and its individuals
  • a governance model with a committee or leadership and defined rules for managing it to prevent infighting
  • a legal structure (unincorporated, ltd co by guarantee, community interest company, charity, etc.)
  • a social media policy: which web sites and internet facilities to use, when, how with defined messages with defined purposes
  • a mailing list and the means to manage it
  • an online discussion forum with the supporting active moderation
  • an online shop with the necessary legal processes to protect people’s payment details and the staff and processes to deliver what is sold
  • equipment such as computers, mobile phones with cameras, franking machine, printer(s)
  • staff with the necessary recruitment, supervision, retention, development and appraisal processes
  • volunteers with the necessary recruitment, supervision, retention, development and appraisal processes
  • financial management, ideally with open reporting
  • an ethical policy regarding the law, environment, procurement, staff and anything else appropriate, with the supporting monitoring and reporting processes
  • the means of sharing information between staff and volunteers with appropriate backup, recovery, anti-virus and security controls
  • accounts with suppliers (e.g. stationery), technical services (e.g. Zoom) and so on, with the means of securely keeping passwords

All quiet on the Western Front

Military clichés are everywhere.

Six months and no posts. Been too busy, too confused.

Could have written about the incredible blatant racism I have witnessed in Milton Keynes.
Could have written about job searching.
Could have written about working for the NHS during lockdown and going in to work every day.
The paranoia of people seeing my NHS id. This misleading and terror created by the media.
Reflections on how easy it was to implement a global lockdown.
Reflections on what happens when the leadership does not follow its own instructions and gets away with it.
Reflections on the relevance of Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince as a guide book in 2020.
Could have written about getting work with the Cabinet Office.
Could have written about my reflections on my two degrees.
Could have written about the silence of the 75th anniversary of the Japan nuclear bombings and the celebration of war for VJ Day.
Could have written about how my plans have been on hold for six months.
Could have written about how some employers have been superb during lockdown and others have been utter and absolute spineless and evil bastards.
Could have written about the falsehoods around online activity being high CO2 consuming activities. I had promised the SGR I would.
Every day there has been something to write about, and my ToDo list does say, every day, “Post something on the blog”. But time, where does it all go?

It is hard to be an unemployed jobseeker and be positive and creative to wrote blog posts. Then, when doing a new job, one is tired and busy.

It is hard to change the world when changing one’s own. It is hard to write when busy doing. I shall try again, from today, now I feel a little more settled in my new role.

You know, bite the bullet.

Poor government support for careers

Does the government provide poor careers support because civil servants have jobs for life and politicians have no work experience?

When I started my career change it was early 2012.  At that time the government careers service was NextStep.  That was changed to the National Careers Service.  So I created an account on there in April 2012 and used that instead.

Over time it became an excellent resource for hundreds of different jobs.  It had all sorts of facilities for self assessment.  I made a lot of use of it.  It came with a Lifelong Learning Account.  It allowed one to:

  • update and store your CV, skills health check, action plans, and course searches to help you as you progress through your learning and working life
  • access your qualification details from your Personal Learning Record and track what financial contributions have been made towards your learning
  • manage the information you have gathered to help you make the right choices
  • build a personal profile and receive information more tailored to your needs and situation

I made full use of the Skills Health Check Tools and Action Plans and uploaded CVs.

But it has all changed, presumably to fit into the gov.uk web sitre structure, which does not suit it at all.  There used to be loads of job market analysis for the roles but that has gone.

It now seems no more useful than the useless ‘careers advice’ we got at school: “What do you want to do?  Oh, we don’t have that on the list.  How about train driver, policeman, typist or nurse?  We have those.”  And the information and advice they provide on searching for jobs and filling in forms could be put on a couple of sides of A4.

So it seems the Lifelong Learning Account and National Careers Service have survived for less time than it has been taking me to change career.  I started my research before it opened, have done an undergrad degree and not yet completed my postgrad degree and the Account and Service have gone.

What a shame.  And waste of taxpayers’ money them constructing it all in the first place for it to be switched off again before people have finished with it.

Fortunately, the Lancaster University Careers Service is superb and has provided me with huge amounts of advice, information and support so I’m OK.  But that does not help the millions of people out there who must be coping with leaving education, being laid off,  wanting career change or just being unemployed and wanting to explore their options.

“Don’t be so modest. It is offensive.”

Many moons ago I was told off severely by a colleague for being modest. I had brushed off some praise and she was seriously angry at the rejection. I explained that was how I had been brought up, she said it was offensive.

A few months ago I had a 1-to-1 support session with someone in the Lancaster University Careers Team. She was helping me write a CV in the current fashion. When I told her about some of the entries and omissions she sat staring at me in silence, then asked why I did not have them in detail on my CV. I said they sound a bit like bragging, like showing off. She told me to stop being so modest and put down my achievements. But doing so does not come naturally.

I have had some more praise today. So this time I will document it.

My final Open University module, DD301 Critical Criminology, went well for me. I had an excellent tutor who was uncommonly wise about the module and happy to share his wisdom. But I also had some excellent guidance from a previous student of the module who dragged me from the wrong path I was taking into the light and showed me the way. Having received her insight into what the module was saying, and with the guidance I have had from OU students over the years, I got 90% in the final essay and 94% in the exam. This will not impress a STEM student, but this is social science at degree level where such marks are not common.

I returned the favour by joining the 2018/19 Facebook group for that module and passing on the advice I had received to the year that followed me. They sat their final exam today and it has been a glorious pleasure watching them take on board the material in the module, see the light and prepare themselves for the exam. They have worked together in an incredibly positive and mutually supportive way and I can tell from the what they say that they are going to get much higher exam marks than many of the people who attended the tutorials I went to when I was studying the module. They have not been asking silly questions but been buried deeply in the theories and how to apply them. When they have wandered off the rails or got confused, I tried to shine a torch toward the path I had followed.

I am no expert in the subject, much of it left me cold or did not ‘speak’ to me. But I got the concepts and could explain them and apply them, so I did. I also gave some of the essay tips and exam tips that students have been passing on for years – I cannot take the credit for any of that wisdom. I tried to tell them that after the exam:

I’ve been worried about all of you all afternoon.

However…

I am not the only one who has stayed around to help, others did too.

And I did not do the TMAs. You all did.

And I did not do the learning. You all did.

And I did not actually discuss the material here. You all did.

And I did not do the revision. You all did.

And I did not do the exam. You all did. (Well, actually I failed it numerous times through the night in my sleep!)

Any advice I have given was given to me by OU students who went before. I merely passed it on.

Any practical tips I have given came from my tutor, who was better than most.

Any insight I have given into the subject came from the year before me who showed me the way.

Feel free to pass it all on to others, it was all given to me freely. I’m just the messenger.

But you did the work, not me.

You deserve the credit. You and your families who have supported you.

And remember: you haven’t failed until you have given up trying. And OU students like you are tough, are resilient and not quitters.

Celebrate. You’ve earned it. Nobody else.”

But I got some lovely feedback today, hence this post. For once, I shall cease to be modest and repeat some of what I have been told.

  • “Simon Reed you’ve been such a star throughout this module and you’ve helped us all at one point or another”
  • “A special mention to Simon Reed who, I think you’ll all agree, has been an amazing source of insight this year… Props to you for having the brain power to stick around and help other people after having completed this module, I think it’s made me brain dead for life 🤣”
  • “I bet this afternoon was rather quiet for Simon. Just wanted to say a massive Thank You for all your input. You are a star x”
  • “Yes thank you Simon Reed🤗🤗 I think we all owe you a drink!”
  • “Simon Reed thank you sir! You dont realise the impact you have had but you have helped immeasurably! Mwah xx”
  • “Simon Reed I have thanked A and B on their posts…they are stars too. You are way too modest. Yes we did all the work… but you kept us on track, made essay questions look like a walk in the park. I actually sat my exam worrying about you worrying.”
  • “Simon. Top boy! Gracias Mon frere”
  • “Simon Reed, you are a star and may you continue to shine brightly.”
  • “Brilliant, thank you Simon for the help and support this year”
  • “Good advice, thank you Simon Reed 😀”

There was much more, through the year.   What lovely people.  🙂

Reflecting on my Open University journey

A222, Excruciating Philosophy, was a pit of despair.  Nine months of painful TMAs and material I could not abide will be the scar I carry from my degree.  Sitting there into the night for every TMA despairingly wondering “Why can’t they just tell us what they want?“.

It wasn’t until five days before the exam that I went to a day school 200 miles from home and found a tutor group of engaged, motivated students being led by two brilliant tutors, and their advice and superb handouts got me through the exam.

“I do think good tutors make such a difference to your outcome and experience throughout.”

It does.  When I did DD101 Obfuscating Social Science the only advice our tutor gave was “Don’t say ‘I’ or I’ll kick your windows in and everything you write must have a reference“.  He repeated it in every tutorial and in every TMA’s comments and never provided anything else.  Loads of people dropped out through the year and I was getting 40% to 45% for every essay and not getting any useful feedback.  For that module I was saved right at the end by a student who also had an IT background who explained how social science is not actually a science and told me how to write social science essays.  He had himself been told that by another student.

I know many people who have said they have had great tutors all the way through.  Some of mine have been shocking and, going by the drop-out rate, those who get them tend not to stay with the OU so we don’t hear from them again.

I have often learned more from my fellow students than from some of my tutors.  That’s why I now go to every tutorial I can.  The OUSA Open Degree forum for was absolutely brilliant for advice, better than Student Support, but they got rid of that.  It’s no wonder people are moving to Facebook for support.

Sadly, I have not enjoyed much of my OU experience and will genuinely be glad when it is over.  The exception has been the interaction with other people, the support from others who have been there before and those who are also struggling, often alone in the night.  I think this confirms that distance learning is not for me.

When I started my OU degree this time around (I also had a go in the 1980s), I saw a few comments from old hands saying it is the students that make the OU, and I did not understand that then.  I do now.

Thank you, my fellow OU students, for being out there and being supportive, I couldn’t do this without you.

A quick reflection on where I’m at so far, and generic advice to others

In 2012 I decided to change career from large scale IT project management to war prevention.  I have made progress in doing so.

  • I’ve nearly finished my ‘Peace Studies’ Open Degree.  In the next few months I’ll be putting in applications for doing a Peace Studies Masters Degree starting in 2018.
  • I’ve a few years experience at volunteering in the sector, giving me work experience to talk about.  I also have and have had director-level voluntary posts in the sector, giving me kudos and credibility.
  • I read everything I can so can hold meaningful conversations with interested people about peace work.  I think I can just about cover a stand at a conference or exhibition on my own (having just done so under tuition and supervision of an expert) although I need more practice.
  • I am working for an employer who advertises roles I would like.

That is in accordance with the plan I had in 2012.  I have not done everything in the plan as some has not worked out – I was too optimistic about being able to change the world quickly.  But I am getting there.

My ‘how to change career’ plan came from books I read about 5 years ago, and the generic advice boils down to this:

You need three things: relevant qualifications (to get your CV through the tick-box checklist); work experience (nobody wants to give training or risk taking on someone who may be unable to do the job); to know the culture (so you can get through the interview).

To get these three things:

1. Volunteer for anything in the same sector or doing the same kind of work. This gives you knowledge of the culture and starts your people networking. Volunteering is way to get work experience.
2. Make sure your study is appropriate for what you want to do. I am doing an Open Degree because the OU doesn’t do a Peace Studies degree. Check the careers information on government and academic resources for what qualifications are expected and decide if you need anything else. Sometimes free courses through MOOCs can be a good enough substitute
depending on what you want to do.
3. Read everything you can about your desired role / sector. Wikipedia, text books, online articles, journals, e-journals, blogs. Get to know how things are done, what is the jargon, who are the big names.

Also, networking is essential these days.  See who is doing the job you want on LinkedIn and try to join the same groups as them to see what is being discussed and what is important. Also, try to make connections with them.

Getting a job doing what you do now in an organisation which also does the job you want, and then moving sideways, can be much easier than trying to get the job you want straight away.

I would also suggest self-advertising.  Blog about what you are doing and how you are getting on. Create a web site about it. Have business cards describing you in your new role. Give them out and tell people what you are doing: strangers like to help and offer advice and there can be gems in that free advice.

That is what I have been doing, so I do follow my own advice.  🙂