Sunday, January 20, 2008

Where's Scribe? An Egospective.

A retrospective. Finally. What's a few weeks between friends?

I don't usually write too much personal stuff here on The Blog - life's not interesting enough to fill hard drive caches with yet more irrelevant info. Still, the last half-year has been something of a roller-coaster ride, so I thought maybe just one post... Just One Post. If you hate egocentric posts, then skip ahead to the next one, or go look at pretty pictures instead.

The short version goes something like this: No more PhD. Cancer and 2 too many deaths. New job. Seems kind of easy when you put it like that.

So, in that order then... Well, one of the largest decisions I think I ever made was to cast aside the PhD, and to try my luck back outside the walls of University. The reasons for this are many - some personal and practical, some more "principled", but ultimately, I felt there was more to gain from actually working "in the field" so to speak, than from going through the academic process. PhDs are great in an "academic training" kind of way, but there's nothing like real experience (and, I'm not ashamed to admit, real cash) to get you on the path to actually Getting Things Done. A lecturer I am not.

To jump ahead a little, I seem to have landed on my feet a little in terms of jobs, so the decision seems to have been a fruitful one. But more on that later. For now, it's enough to note that I'm still interested in the same area - policy, society, use of technology - and still have a lot of respect for academic processes. They're just not necessarily for everyone, including me. (To digress for a moment, nor does it help that these academic processes are under fire in the UK now. But the death and re-birth of the University is for another post.) But my 2-year stint taught me that there are arts still to learn (such as research being a way of constructing an argument more than anything else) and put me in touch with some hugely interesting (and ultimately self-destructive?) new ideas. Hopefully I'll update my Uni Writing page with the fruits of my studies soon.

While I was mulling the decision over, we found out about Joe's cancer. In a strange way, news of Cancer is worse than news of Death. And that's All I have to Say about That.

Then, some months later, people died. Everything happened over the course of a few weeks, but it could just as well have been a few hours. Chopping out a few years, decades, of the future also appears to truncate the past. Reaching some form of singularity?

Time goes strange around death. There's so much to do. Memories to re-invoke. Gatherings to gather. Words to write. Emotions to feel. The book I'm reading likes to describe death as a hole in the Universe, which would fit. A hole abhorred by nature, throwing feelings and meetings and organisation together into a spiraling tailspin. Throw in a dash of Christmas and New Year festivities, and time does Funny Things Indeed.

The day after we heard about Lawrence, I also heard about a job I'd applied for. A few days after we heard about Joe, I started at Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion, as Technical Analyst/Developer/Researcher/Guy. Social Inclusion isn't something I've necessarily had much experience with, but the job's very exciting, in that it brings together policy, research (mostly statistics-based) and technology. I'll be looking at developing new ways to assemble information, and to present it in a Happy Nice Fun way. Also it gives me something to get my Teeth into, which is a great change after a year of Reading Literature.

I'm hoping some of that will carry over into this blog in 2008. The experience is hugely multi-dimensional, feeding into that strange fascination for both how people use technology, and how policy is formed. In a way (and from my new standpoint), both now come down to Numbers, with a capital N. Telling the Numbers story is hugely interesting challenge, but something increasingly "important" in the 21st century. Whether that's a good or bad thing is another discussion ;)

So that's far an away enough retrospect for this year. I'll finish with 3 resolutions aspirations for the year ahead, just to avoid a second post:

  1. Inspired by Joe's admission that he took hours over his, I'm determined to spend more time on each of my blog posts rather than just spurting out a quick rant. (That doesn't necessarily include this one.) Besides, Twitter is partially taking over my need to vent rapidly.

  2. Bookprune. Too many books I'll never read, so they should go. I have an idea for doing this "socially" though, so it may take some time.

  3. Make fire.


RedYetiDave said...

Very interesting summing up. Liked it. It was very Scribe.

Funny, your first and second aspirations are at odds with mine. I spend hours on each blog posting - some more so recently.

But that puts me off writing them ("I don't have time today!")

So I plan to speed up the process (and have done already with the last posting on skating in fact).

And the second, I'm fairly cautious with the books I buy. The "to read" pile grows and dimishes in waves. It's reached a small crest now so I feel I need to catch it and ride it in... wait that metaphor's gone way off there somewhere.

Anyhow - I plan to read them so I can allow myself to buy more... more! Must know more!

Oh but the third - yes - come around for some of that fire stuff and some wine - mmmhhmmm. Perhaps next Friday (Elise is back in town - another small reunion maybe good?)

Scribe said...

Yes, I think I used to spend a lot more time on blog posts, but for one reason and another, have tended to slip into quick-observations. Too much. The problem, in fact, is not the length of the posts - I'm quite happy posting short posts - but with the quality of my writing. I've remembered, recently, that I actually enjoy writing "properly", and don't do it enough. I used to do more at, but I've semi-retired that now. So the blog must take its place.

Book-wise, I tend not to buy that many any more (although the collection has gone up a bit recently). Just need to do a market-style "correction" and get rid of the "fluff" that's been accumulated over 10 years...

phil jones said...

Hmm ... I missed that you gave up PhD.

Shame in a way. But I guess if you did 2 years you probably got the best part of it (the wide-ranging early reading, hanging out with cool people and making good social connections) and skipped the boring, least useful, part at the end (writing a thesis in the appropriate style)

You'll need to tell us more about the job. Sounds kind of interestingly strange. These people sell statistics? or do surveys and sell the results? or sell analysis software?

Scribe said...

Thanks Phil - you managed to sum up my decision more neatly than I ever have.

I'll hopefully blog more about OCSI, yes, but suffice to say for now that I'm enjoying it hugely. It's great to get back to "coding roots" rather than spend too long working out Java libraries, and I've actually got some time to work out things like, uh, how databases work... :)

Briefly, we do a lot of work with local authorities who want to interpret the multitude of government data out there. We're using things like Census data and Indices of Deprivation, so there's a lot of shunting data from one store to another, and from one form to another.

Just getting to grips with it, so will hopefully have more interesting things to report soon :)