Wednesday, 25 April 2012

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. (Part 1)

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. (Part 1)

I don’t think it was the total amount of work I did in my life that I got wrong. I think it was the distribution of the work within the different parts of my life plus my chronic inability to play office politics that was my downfall.

I’ve never been a particular fan of the “first impression are crucial” school of management. With new colleagues I was far more interested in how they were performing three months after I had appointed them than I was after three weeks or three days. Some of these newcomers would demonstrated wild bursts of enthusiasm for every aspect of their new role: nothing was too much trouble for them and they soon started receiving favourable attention from the senior management team.

Almost inevitably their rabid enthusiasm quickly faded and they soon started performing at the same, or sometimes even at a lower level, than the more prosaic plodders who joined at the same time. But of course by then their reputation was established, favourable impression had been passed up the chain of command and if a promoted post becomes vacant they were regarded as “the obvious candidate”. Then the whole cycle of boom and bust started again.

When I was lower down the food chain I became a victim of this technique. DMS joined the department about a year after me. He didn’t bring anything special to the table other than some rather narrow experience as a school teacher and his day-to-day lecturing was no better or worse than the rest of us. But his rise through the ranks was meteoric – he was on this second or third promotion before the rest of us had got so much as an incremental rise.

It was a supreme irony that he left the college to work for the Local Authority by showcasing at his interview all the professional development he had been given within the college as a high-flier. Nobody played the game better than DMS – nobody!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

More regrets of the dying

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

On the face of this is a short uncontroversial statement. After all nobody ever states the reverse. But as with so many short statements the devil is in the detail.
A wiser man than me once wrote, “Nobody ever forgets the final hug, the final wave then off they go, round the corner and out of your life. You want to run after them but know you cannot." So it is with many friendships. Times change and people change with them.

I can remember people who had felt like close friends at the time who then made no effort to stay in touch once we no longer worked in the same college or school. I shared an office with SS for 10 years but once he had moved to Blackpool I never heard from him again. It was the same story with D. He told all his college friends about his new job and it was only after he had left that we discovered that everything he had told us, including his new address, was a lie.

I don’t know which is sadder. The friendship that ends with a clean break or the one that gradually peters out. I had known A for over 20 years. I had worked with her, I had been her line manager and we had shared all sorts of fairly sensitive family information. But once I retired we drifted apart both emotionally and geographically. Our long-running weekly exchange of emails soon became me writing weekly but her only replying perhaps twice a month and it became harder and harder for me to summon up the enthusiasm to write to her when I was getting so little feedback. In the end it was just a few lines scribbled on a Christmas card.

It takes two to maintain a friendship. One man’s friendship is another man’s casual acquaintance and that’s just the way it is.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Not quite the answer they expected!

There is nothing wrong with making astronomical observations for fun or in order to develop new skills and publishing these observations on a web site or in an amateur magazine is something that I would always encourage. Moving onto the next step, peer reviewed publication, is quite a leap upwards both in terms of the quality and quantity of the work involved but is definitely achievable.

But sooner or later you find yourself asking the question, “What astronomical observations can I make that would be of real value to the professionals?” The traditional, safe and non-controversial answer might include double star measurement or estimating the brightness of variable stars. There is just a tiny problem associated with both of these options – one is entirely wrong and the other is wrong at least 99 times out of 100!

The number of amateur astronomers I can bring to mind who have made double star observations in the last ten years that were subsequently found to be of value to the professionals is exactly zero. The situation with variable star observations is very little better. I have contributed many thousands of observations to the American Association of Variable Star Observers. While the number that have been used by professional astronomers is by no mean insignificant the number that have been used with full and detailed acknowledgement of their source is probably under 100.

In my experience it would be far better and far more honest to answer the question with the friendly warning that it is extremely unlikely that any observations you will make during your time in the amateur hobby will be of any value to the professionals. You should observe and report on objects that interest you and regard any professional use of your results as a bonus.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Facebook, blogs and an audit trail

I saw the other day that there are 35m people in the UK with a Facebook account. A more interesting statistic, which was conspicuously missing from the article, would be the number of these accounts owned by people who have died in the last year? I appreciate that Facebook accounts tend to be concentrated in the young and dying in the old but I would estimate that the number of such accounts will be increasing by between 100,000 and 200,000 every year. I must be very distressing for the parents of a deceased teenager or the husband or wife of somebody who dies in their 20s or 30s to be unable to access the account should they want or need to in the event of a sudden death.

There is also a problem that long-term users of Facebook are just starting to discover. Many people have aspects of their life that they were happy to share with the world when they were young but that they very much would not want to share with their children or second wife. It is usually possible to delete material directly under your control but it can be a very different and very difficult situation when you have posted to another person’s account. Anybody who uses an on-line resource like Facebook or Live Journal as an electronic diary is running the risk of comments or thoughts they wrote 5 or 10 years previously coming back to bite them.

Just this week I was reading a blog that E+E have discovered. The author is a university student who had a very difficult time as a foster child. I think the young lady has revealed far too much about her past but more worrying is the very serious allegations she has made about some named and some easily identified third-parties. If you are going to describe the house, identify the small town and reveal the first names and the jobs of alleged abusive foster parents you are leaving yourself in a very vulnerable position.