That kid is so lazy

I was an exceptionally lazy student in high school. I never got the hang of study timetables or regular work habits. I had no work ethic to speak of. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, I just never saw the point. I was lucky enough to get into university by virtue of a very good memory – not because I worked at it, but because my brain retained enough interesting tid bits to get me over the line. Way back in the mists of ancient time, Computer Science was  a subject you had to clear an academic hurdle to get into, and I managed by some fluke to clear it. So I added CS into my Science degree as an interesting but not especially relevant fill-in subject.

I hated it. My goodness, it was dull. And yet, by third year, CS accounted for every subject in my degree. Here I was doing a double major in a subject that I professed great loathing for when I started. What kept me hanging on was that I could see the third year list of subjects, just dimly, from where I sat in my yawn-inducing first year classes, and they were fascinating. There was Artificial Intelligence, Image Processing, Computer Graphics, and a whole host of other things that actually interested me. I could see that it was going to get fun, if I could just stick it out. So I scraped through first year, crawled over the pass mark in second year, and in third year I actually started to enjoy myself. By honours I was loving it, and when I was offered a PhD project I leapt at it.

More years on than I care to count, I still label myself as a lazy person without much work ethic. Yet on Thursday I saw my GP for a disturbingly painful patch on my leg,  which I thought might be related to the massive doses of antibiotics I was on for a sinus infection. My GP was alarmed (which is never a good sign) and diagnosed me with yet another bacterial infection – this time cellulitis, which she said is likely to be because I am run down and my immune system has become compromised. She put me straight on a third type of antibiotic, and told me quite sternly to rest, or wind up in hospital on intravenous antibiotics.

I was a little spooked by the gravity of her manner, and the threat of a hospital stay. But there was a workshop the next day that I felt was really important – about a new year 12 Computer Science subject. It was a long trip to get there, a long day of pretty intense work, and a long trip home. Only a crazy person would sign up for something like that after such strict instructions from her doctor. Certainly a lazy person with no work ethic wouldn’t even consider it.

Of course I went to the workshop. And I’m really glad I did. I’ll be going to the second day of the workshop tomorrow too, if I possibly can, although I have spent most of the weekend in bed trying to compensate.

And while I was lying in bed feeling rather sorry for myself it suddenly struck me. I have accidentally acquired a fairly insane work ethic. A work ethic that, truth be told, has probably led to this series of infections in the first place, never mind my ludicrous way of dealing with them.

This lazy, hopeless student now works herself half to death in order to do the best job she can. She gets given a medical certificate to take two days off work and she goes to work anyway.

What changed?

I’m doing something I care about. I’m doing something I believe is important.

My education didn’t give that to me, but I was lucky enough to bluff my way through until I found something that did. Our education system is still, for the most part, not giving that to our kids.

I have seen students tackle subjects that don’t grab them with such unwillingness and lack of effort that I have despaired of them ever achieving anything. I have seen those same students turn around in other subjects and perform prodigious and almost miraculous feats of effort, energy, and intelligence in order to achieve something they are actually interested in. Something they can see the value of.

We certainly have talented, passionate teachers in the system who could make a difference. And some of them do. But for the most part teachers are so busy keeping their heads above water that they have no time to contemplate radical changes to both curriculum and delivery. Those teachers who could make the education system an amazing place to be are, for the most part, too crushed by workload to even contemplate it.

It’s very easy to label kids lazy. To curse them for being unwilling to make an effort. And certainly we all need to learn to put in some effort on the things we don’t want to do – life is full of necessary, but profoundly dull tasks. But I think we need to spend a little less time calling kids lazy, and a little more time asking ourselves what we can do to motivate them.



Who’s running the world today?

I’m gonna wait til the moment has come

I’m gonna wait til we all stop from running

I’ve spent the week alternately trying to make sense of the Australian Government’s new budget, and trying to pretend it isn’t happening.

Last year I read Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” in an attempt to make sense of the chasm between the right and left of politics, and it made some kind of sense to me – I was able to see morality on the right as well as on the left. But I am at a loss to find morality in this budget. It seems to be a kind of “no-one gets anything for nothing (oh, wait, except big business, politicians, and really rich people)” ethos, together with “let’s stick it to everything Labor ever did or wanted to do”.

It’s a vicious, punitive attack on the vulnerable. It guts our healthcare, education, and welfare systems, not to mention the environment, in the name of an economy that has a mythical “budget crisis” but in fact is the envy of the developed world.

We don’t want it. We don’t need it. We don’t have a budget deficit crisis. We have a health deficit crisis. An education deficit crisis. A compassion deficit crisis. We are punishing refugees for political, not humanitarian or practical reasons. We are dismantling our universal healthcare system, and trashing our education system – which was on the point of the most equitable reforms Australia has ever seen, in the form of the Gonski recommendations.

I’m gonna wait till I reach for the sky
Tin legs and tin mines, anyone’s cry
Cry in the hope that there’ll be tomorrow

Waiting around there must be a sound
Time to start thinking and working it out
Come with me now, try with me now, when I’m laughing
Who’s running the world today?

Midnight Oil, Tin Legs and Tin Mines.

And so people will march today, protesting the unfairness, the viciousness, and above all the lack of honesty in this budget. Protesting the lies. (“No cuts to… oh, just about everything that has been cut. No new taxes. No governments doing one thing before an election and another thing after. Oh. Unless, you know, we want to.”). Protesting the utter lack of compassion – “$7 is just a couple of middies of beer”. Never mind that it’s more than some families have to spend on dinner. (For an impassioned perspective on that, search for “Kaye Stirland’s open letter to Joe Hockey.” Prepare to be blown away.)

But Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey will ignore it, as they have ignored every other protest. They know they can’t be held to account for over 2 years at least. They know they have free rein to hack and slash, buy a few votes in the final budget before the next election, and then there is a good chance they will be reelected.

The press barely hold governments to account. They don’t analyze their statements to see if they are true. Those few fact checkers that are out there don’t seem to get any cut through. The quick sound bites about the alleged “budget crisis” carry the day. The truth is there are zero consequences for broken promises in this political system. (Unless you’re female, of course.)

But what if there were ?

What if a certain proportion of the population – say, 5%, as in the constitution of many incorporated associations – could stand up and say “We’re not happy with you. You’ve broken too many promises.” and force a re-election? Or simply a referendum on their performance that could result in a people’s double dissolution?

What if there were a “this government has gone too far” button?

Would you press it?




There’s an old computer command that you can use to check if a remote machine has crashed – it’s called “ping”. So you can ping a machine, say one called Captain Carrot, and get the response “Captain Carrot is alive”. If the machine is down, or the network is down between you and the machine, you will eventually get “No response from Captain Carrot.”

Far back in the mists of time, when I was a postgrad, this was a handy shorthand among computer scientists. If I hadn’t heard from Fred for a while, but didn’t have anything particular to say, I’d just send a ping: “Ping Fred”. Usually I’d get the response “Fred is alive.”

Occasionally I’d get something more creative, like “Fred has been eaten by his thesis.” Either way, it would trigger a conversation, of varying length depending on the ferocity of the thesis. It was a light way of checking in with each other. Ping says “I’m thinking of you, how ya doin’?”

It says “I don’t want to interrupt, but I’m here and want to stay connected. If you’ve got time, let’s chat. If not, just know that I’m here.”

It says “I’ve got a moment of spare time, and thought of you.”

These days our spare time is spent trawling the web, reading status updates, and watching meaningless youtube vidoes. When I have a moment free, I sit down and check my email, then trawl various news websites, read various articles I’m only marginally interested in, and check a host of social networking sites. I used to sit down, breathe, think of a friend and ping them.

Of course, there’s no need for pings these days. After all, we see Fred’s status updates on his social media of choice, and he sees ours. We know what’s going on in his life, right?

Notwithstanding the tendency of platforms like Facebook to heavily trim the number of updates that you actually see, hands up if you post everything that’s going on with you online? Do you post the huge argument you had with your boss (who, incidentally, you are friends with on facebook)? The health dramas going on in your family? Every last detail of your fears, worries, and uncertainties?

Few people do. We all have lines we don’t cross when it comes to broadcasting our lives (even me, tough though that may be to believe). And even if we did post it all online, clicking “like” doesn’t come close to a ping. Clicking “like” says “I saw what you posted”. Ping says “I thought of you of my own accord and wanted to see how you’re doing”.

That’s when I think of you
It’s all that I can do
I’d go mad if it wasn’t for you
If not for the thought of you
The promise of dreams come true
I’d go mad if it wasn’t for you.

“That’s when I think of you”. 1927.

Even the facebook “poke”, more often than not, means little more than “Facebook suggested I poke you”.

Ping often leads to coffee or lunch. At the very least, it is a brief two way interaction. Clicking “like” leads to… well… to scrolling off the page. Moving on. Trawling the endless interwebs in search of lolcats.

Maybe we computer scientists were on to something with this “ping” stuff. Maybe the humble ping is a way of reconnecting in our highly connected but oddly detached world.

On that note, I have to go. Things to do, people to ping.