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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Do the descendent technologies from Bletchley Park protect or erode our freedoms?

Sometimes it is the juxta-positioning of events which adds a poignancy to ones experience. Such was the case within the last twenty four hours.

A visit to the famous Bletchley Park war-time code-breaking centre was an introduction to the world of Enigma, Bombe, Ultra and Hut 6. The replicated version of the world’s first semi-programmable computer, Colossus, gave an insight into what this technology could do in a benign context.

Contrast this with a small 21st century cameo today where I sought a replacement registration plate for the car. A simple transaction now acquires the status of something more bureaucratic, ie being asked for the log book and another form of identity, so as to check that bogus plates are not created.

Seems innocent enough, but this is yet another example of the incremental acquisition of data for the state. Turing, Flowers and their mates might be wondering whether sixty years on, they unleashed a technology as great a threat to our individual freedoms, as the causes to which Colossus was being harnessed in the first place.

Monday, August 22, 2011

“Good politics but bad policy”. A phrase from Tony Blair worth keeping.

One phrase in Tony Blair’s Observer article about the recent 2011 city unrest, may be remembered long after the rest of his article has become forgotten. Recalling his own position about moral decline in society and the James Bulger affair, he noted that his 1993 speech was “good politics but bad policy”. It has a ring to it showing a contrition and awareness that was lacking when in office.

Such reflection stands Blair well. But have you noticed how other ex-party leaders seem to grow in stature after leaving office? Iain Duncan Smith, Paddy Ashdown and John Major seem to display a clarity of thought that was lacking in their younger years. Unimpeded by the weight of office they can now articulate a perspective of our present condition which eluded them in younger years. One might even call it statesmanship. Perhaps our aspiring political leaders need to put more time in to acquire a hinterland and sense of perspective before they step forward for the prize they seek.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What happens when the A Level pass rate reaches 100%?

So the A level results are out for another year. The UCAS-fest springs into action. For the 29th year in succession there have been improvements. In any other walk of life, especially business, this would have been met with incredulity as to how this had come about. A Dragon Den’s investor would be in ecstasy. Bonuses would have been showered upon staff, handsome dividends paid out to shareholders and stock market valuations at a premium.

Grade inflation and a devalued educational examination system are words that dare not be spoken. If one puts educational performances under scrutiny, one may be accused of undermining the hard work of teachers and the efforts of their students. An ogre taking sweets from the kids.

And yet there must be something wrong, as our economy faces a skills shortage and many in the educational system struggle to hit basic levels of literacy and numeracy. It is not by chance that skilled economic migrants from Europe seek their chances with us.

A visitor from another planet would be forgiven for thinking that somehow there is an inconsistency between educational performances as measured by exam results (not just A level at that), the performance of our economy and the skill levels of those seeking employment.

Michael Gove and his pals are caught between a rock and a hard place. Criticise the results inflation and you are a killjoy. Praise them and one is participating in the delusion that our economy has a decent skills base. The big question of course is what do we do when in a few years time the pass rate reaches 100%?

Airport departure lounges can damage your health.

Along with duty free and coffee shops, airport departure lounges are where you find bookshops. Purchasing a text to while away the tedium of travel is a given. Take care what you buy though.

What really hits you, is the undue prominence on the shelves of self-improvement tomes, either of the personal relationship or business variety. Travel is a stressful enough exercise at the best of times, without being reminded of how inadequate your emotional intelligence or management skills might be.

The pressure is on you to get an instant solution to your problems by making that purchase. You get a metaphorical MBA or counselling qualification before you reach your destination then.

You are drawn in by the titles which fan your anxieties. You feel insecure when confronted with a number of texts that you think you ought to buy, but from a quick bit of browsing are not sure how to cast your vote. If you buy there is the lingering thought in your mind that you got the wrong one. As you take off you think the right one is still on that shelf.

As I wait in Dubai’s terminal, there is a performance before me from a suitably suited and booted sales guy. He is encouraging passers-by to view a video clip of recently published management texts. Terms such as “extreme leadership” and “massive goals” jump off the screen and invade the sensibilities. No subtlety here then.

With all of the economic and domestic problems facing us, one would have thought that the cumulative reading of these improvement books would have yielded some solutions. A game-changer in our lives. Alas, the reverse is the case and the hyperbole written washes over us. We are suspicious of simplistic solutions which are laid out as “10 Ways to…….”.

One can have an inferiority complex as one starts off for the departure gate. These bookshops should be tendering us something more optimistic as we pull out our boarding card.