Looking back on 2012

It’s that time of year again, when we all get a little sentimental and start to reflect on the events of the past twelve months (possibly even beyond) and begin to forge new commitments for the new year ahead. I typically write a blog post at this time of year, acknowledging some happenings of the year. One of the few posts that I ever write these days – my lament towards my lost pastime of blogging. 2012 wasn’t a particularly good year for me personally. In fact it probably ranks as one of the worst years ever for several reasons, all of which are personal. However, I will try to recount the memories, both good and bad, for no other purpose than to air my thoughts and have something to review in years to come (listed in no particular order below).

  • Rest in peace Mum – as those close to me will know, 2012 saw the passing of our Mum after battling Alzheimer’s disease for some time. Words cannot really capture the sense of loss felt, nor would it do much justice to try to reflect such in this post. It would not be fitting however, to go without mention in my significant events of 2012.
  • Space Dive – the last Austrian to leap from nothingness to household name was Arnold Schwarzenegger, mostly thanks to Hollywood. However, on October 14th 2012 another Austrian literally lept from nothingness to being a household name. That Austrian is Felix Baumgartner and for those living under a rock this year, he is now the record holder for the highest ever parachute jump, having plunged ~24 miles and breaking the sound barrier in the process, from a helium-filled balloon. This was definitely the “moon landing” of our generation and I suppose, fitting that it was achieved by a man born the year of that landing.
  • Olympic triumph – 2012 could not be closed out, without mentioning the event that got the entire country talking and by event, I mean the entire games (main and paralympian). Of course the athlete who grabbed the biggest headlines was Katie Taylor, who showed the nation and the world that female boxing deserves to be on the same stage as its male equivalent. Her fights brought a nation through the agony of every blow to the ecstasy of gold medal triumph. While mentioning this tremendous achievement, it would be remiss to end without also mentioning the double gold medal achievement of Michael McKillop in the Paralympic Games; inspiring hope in so many and proving triumph over adversity, Ireland is truly on the world stage of athletics.
  • Sandy Hook – my deepest sympathies and thoughts with every single person touched by this incredible tragedy. I will not rant and rave like some have done and detract from the sheer anguish, pain and suffering caused by this masacre but regardless of your thoughts on gun control, you have to concede that no access to guns for non-criminals would surely go a long way to preventing such terrible events as this. Of course this wasn’t the only shooting in the US this year and I choose it not to ignore nor compare tragedies but purely because of its recent happening. My sympathies are with all who have lost through such tragedy.
  • The day the world ended – or didn’t. It just goes to show that not even the Maya could cause as much panic as a bunch of IT consultants intent on milking every cent they could from unsuspecting clients. Nobody truly believed nor spoke about the end of the world in the same way as the panic that spread across the globe in advance of Y2K and its infamous “bug”. You can’t make much money out of the world ending; nice to know our priorities…
  • Gangnam Style – we may never fully understand. However, one thing is for sure, it wouldn’t have happened without the internet. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever said that before. I’m not sure what else to say.
  • Curiosity about Mars – yes, us Earthlings managed to put something else on Mars this August. Our new rover, named Curiosity, touched down in early August and has been dominating dinner table conversations ever since… Oh wait… Seriously though, it is an achievement worth mentioning, even if the significance of it will never be quantified in the lifetime of those who witnessed its occurrence.
  • Yes Governor – Waterford City managed to attract none other than Gov. Brian Schweitzer from Montana to its annual Tricolour Celebration, commemorating the creation and peaceful meaning behind the Irish flag. Gov. Schweitzer is hotly tipped to be the next democrat candidate for the White House in 2016 and to have had his attendance and support in Waterford prior to his epic journey, should he undertake it, was a true honour. I was fortunate enough to have a quick chat with the man himself and even grabbed a cheeky photo (thanks to Lee Grace).
Brian Schweitzer and I

Brian Schweitzer and I

  • Save Waterford – please do. For as long as I have lived, I have been painfully aware of the mistreatment of Waterford City and the Southeast region of Ireland by successive governments and the carving up of the country into Dublin, Cork and Galway only. In November, a protest march against the proposed cuts to Waterford Regional Hospital and the downgrading of the city’s status was organised through a grassroots campaign in the space of a week. That Saturday, in excess of 15000 people marched through the streets of Waterford City, in solidarity with one another. People from right across the Southeast came together to be heard in support of the region, one of the few times that stupid GAA fuelled barriers were broken down and ordinary people acknowledged that they were all in the same boat. I was quite moved by the peaceful display and hope that I will see far more of it in the future.
  • Facebook IPO – hit like if you want some shares. The floatation of Facebook was probably one of the most eagerly awaited events of recent years and it happened in May of this year. Naturally stock traded well for the first couple of days (so too did Eircom – remember that?). The rest of the story will be confined to the annals of historic flops. It’s suffice to say that you can build an internet company, get a billion followers, get them to generate their own content and give commercial interests a mechanism of advertising therein to the masses but your company is still worth nothing if you don’t actually do anything. Never be fooled by initial hype and early trades, the intangible will never have value on the same scale as the tangible.

I’m sure I’ve missed a million things that have grabbed my attention this year but I am neither in the mood to ponder further than the time taken to write this nor am I enthused enough to think that it might somehow matter. I am simply marking the passing of one year and the beginning of another; that is all the significance. Hopefully 2013 will be filled with opportunity and event to invoke greater positive feeling, this time next year.

Progress! Advancement! Improvement!

Everyday I marvel at what the world has achieved as a collective of minds operating together, for either the greater good or simply to beat the other guy. I marvel but I also lament this reckless approach towards “improvement” that seems to have picked up many developed cultures and is sweeping them towards the precipice of their undoing.

I learned to program computers when I was eight – I was a freak and that’s how it should be. These days kids everywhere seem to be doing the same, if not breaking records and causing a stir on various application stores throughout the marketplace. It’s brilliant; it’s amazing that computing has become so accessible such that it can now influence young minds to the level by which we previously used to think it great that kids knew how to use a TV remote. I wonder if any of them know how to climb a tree or is that beyond reach for the 20+% who are classified obese in Irish society

Beyond childhood wonder, our “progress” has seen huge change in the workplace too. Most factories have now automated to the extent that labour truly is the only cost to be worried about and they have managed to resolve that issue by uprooting and resettling in a different country to keep the investors happy. It was recently said to me, with respect to a pharmaceutical plant, “it’s amazing, you walk in and there’s almost nobody on the factory floor, everything is automated but they do have a large IT department”. Well, that is amazing. A situation whereby dozens of shift workers would have been employed on a continual basis, usurped by the almighty transistor and its human button pusher. Somehow though, it’s good for the economy…

Third level qualifications are all but taken for granted these days but where are they leading us? Academic outfits have adopted the line that “we need X% of PhDs within our staff” – why? Are your current staff unable to do the job that has raised the money to pay for PhD programmes, etc? No, of course not. It’s just a metric. It shows “advancement” and helps others to compare organisations on face[less] value. However, many pursuing PhD ambitions consider it to be “slave labour” and various other unpleasant associations. Do I wish I had a PhD? Hell yeah. Everyday of my miserable life. The problem however in this world is that finding a unique idea that interests you, when everyone else already has one, is kind of difficult. Plus for some reason or other, to get a PhD these days you need to travel – sadly not something I have been able to bring myself to do for many a year now. Apparently the internet that has given rise to such great levels of research is in fact useless when it comes to publishing your work and gaining appreciation for it. I wonder if Newton flew Ryanair…

So, where are we then? Progress! Advancement! Improvement! I may be guilty of being somewhat glib here but from a cursory glance, it appears that these 3 chants of the developed world have given rise to workplaces that employ less people, business practices that demand higher entry levels keeping people in education for longer, and brainbox kids that will quite possibly soon be the breadwinners of the family unit because Mommy and Daddy are unemployed because of Progress! Advancement! Improvement! or whom are stuck in long term education with no disposable income. It’s hardly surprising that we have an unemployment crisis in this country at the moment, is it?

I know, I hear you. Progress! Advancement! Improvement! – it will solve itself. This is only a glitch as we migrate towards new capacities and occupational ways of life. I hear you, I really do. I am certainly not a technophobe; in lesser societies I would be locked up for my inappropriate and frequently public relations with technology – a technophile through and through. However, in the vane of Progress! Advancement! Improvement! ponder this if you will. If one person operating a computer can replace the need for 20 people on a factory floor, just imagine what you could do with a computer controlling their terminal…

Viking Marathon

As the cat is out of the bag in the last couple of weeks: yes, I am running the Waterford Viking Marathon on June 30th. Persuaded to run due to the local nature of it and a chance to raise some funds for the local Alzheimer’s Society.

If you can spare anything at all, please call me, knock on my door, tell me to come to you or donate via PayPal on my page http://www.jbwan.com/donate2012/ All help would be greatly appreciated.

Those of you who know me well will know that this charity is a very personal one to me so I’m trying to give it a big push.

Many thanks in advance.