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Kids these days

This post was written in April 2008, but lay dormant on my hard drive until I was bored waiting for Santa on Christmas eve, so I've finished it off, and am just going to pretend I published it in April. I'm currently cleaning up the English in a chapter of the thesis, so I'm writing blog posts in order to warm up the part of the brain that houses my long-dormant writing ability. Plus, it's not exactly fun rewriting large sections of text that you've already written.

I was reading slashdot this morning - specifically a story about the blackjack teams at MIT and a couple of comments there made me start thinking. A couple of people posting there are owners of businesses, or are independent consultants who dropped out of school. They're probably the same age as me, and I probably had the same access to technology as they did. So what exactly is the difference between me and them? I stayed in school.

There's a great commencement speech by Steve Jobs in which he evinces the benefits of dropping out. Given that I was about 15 when the big tech bubble began inflating, I was in a good position to do all this kind of tech stuff. Admittedly, I was studying to finish high school at the time - but even after that, at 18 there was ample time to try and start something up before all the cash dried out. Instead, I stayed on the academic treadmill, hoping for the eventual payoff once I finished university. What I didn't realise was that as I was finally (and happily) finishing off university, I'd find myself going through the same thing five years later.

The Brits announced their new coins yesterday, and I think they look pretty good. Most of the negative reaction, as far as I can gauge is that Britannia has been removed, and there's no representation of Wales on the coins. I don't know where the strong nationalistic feelings towards Britannia come from, but I can understand that people might be a bit miffed that she's not on the coins any more. The omission of Wales is somewhat of a non-issue, since the coins never represented Wales to start with, and it's not exactly a step backwards.

On the coins themselves, I think they look great - especially the 50p piece. They were designed by a guy called Matthew Dent, who was 23 when he submitted the designs to the competition.

There was this sort of running gag on The Panel ages ago, where they'd find some young whippersnapper, and comment how the achievers of the current day are getting younger and younger. This isn't particularly surprising in a way — with the improvement in the availability of education, the general improvement (at the top end) of education, and the widespread availability of technology that would have appeared as "magic" ten years ago, it's becoming easier and easier to skip the struggle part, and just get on with doing something.

That's not to take away anything from these prodigies. It takes a certain level of skill to achieve all they have achieved, and the circumstances simply allowed them to take advantage of it, whereas in other situations, this talent may have been laid to waste.

As mentioned at the start of this post, I had actually started scribbling this post together in April of '08. Right now, it's December, and the planet is on the precipice of a worldwide recession, or perhaps worse. The original theme of this post was that I had perhaps squandered my opportunities to take the risks, and invest myself in one of the two tech bubbles that I have seen pass. Now that I am actually on the other side of the academic treadmill, I'm a little pensive about drawing the conclusion that it has all been useless. Looking around at peer success stories, the gut feeling is, of course, that I should have taken advantage of the Golden age of capitalism while I could, milked it for all that it was worth, and hoped that I could ride off any wealth I built up for the rest of my life.

Rationally speaking, I believe the PhD has been a fantastic experience for me, as it has almost totally weaned me off the collection of physical artefacts, just for the sake of it. In fact, at this point of time, I take a totally utilitarian approach to my possessions. If it's helping me, I'll keep it. I guess it helps to know that you can live on a very modest salary, few trinkets, and still have the time of your life.

A year ago, the answer to the question as to whether I would have been better off leaving the educational system earlier would have been an emphatic yes. However, in light of this perception changing event, I wonder if I perhaps am in a better position now, since my world hasn't changed significantly at all (yet). Sure, there aren't so many jobs in industry out there, and there's probably no chance I'm going to be earning ludicrous moneybags worth of cash. But then, I now don't think it was ever the right for anyone to do so.

A disclaimer here: I have no idea if this credit crunch is going to affect the science industry at all. Not even the slightest idea. So, what I've written up there is correct for the end of 2008. There's still a chance it may all go to hell in 2009. Merry Christmas :P

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