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Monday, 30 November 2015

Comlaw and Statistics: Anecdotes of Education

Warning: if you're expecting some sort of post with a clear point in mind, you're reading the wrong blogpost. Try one of my other ones or change your expectation.

You know how I am doing that BCom Series thing where I review, according to a pattern, the BCom core courses? Well, I will write one of those for Comlaw 101 up but I don't want to do so until I've got my exam script copy back (which I requested after I wrote this paragraph). I'll explain the reasoning for that when the time comes but I would like to say some stuff about it now. You see, the following comments don't fit well within the framework and intentions of that framework used in the BCom Series. In some sense, then, this is more like this.

Now, as you may recall, I do BA/BCom conjoint. This matters in several ways. Firstly, one is advised to take nine (not eight) courses a year (to finish within four years) and to take five courses in semester two of one's first year (rather than in semester one). I read this advice, probably heard it too, and followed it to the letter. I also followed this advice here, which says to take four (if not five) BA papers (i.e. Maths 150 and 250. This left me with five courses for the BCom but a BCom comes with seven compulsory core papers (reviewed: Business 101 and 102, Infosys 111, Stats 108 and Acctg 101; not reviewed: Comlaw 101 and Economics 101/191... one of those two). Obviously this is a little bit interesting because most people do all their compulsory papers in their first year. I, on the other hand, wasn't going to be. Yet, more to the point, taking Stats 108 changed things.

I have a book at home, although since we moved recently (and I'm too lazy to unpack) I don't know where it is. The point, though, is that this book, Mathemagic, says something at the end, when trying to point out where maths can go, which as best as I remember means that statistics is something of a way to read the future. That, I cannot deny, is an idea that I have thought about in the past, and now that I do statistics, something that is always in the back of my mind. In other words, I was susceptible to the influence of Stats 108 even though it is what amounted to a quick run through of the main ideas in applied statistics. (I wasn't the only one either: I remember Ross telling some girl that, sadly, stats isn't available as a major in a BCom although there are a lot of stats papers that count, and it should be a BCom major option if you ask me.) Yet, I also took Stats 108 at a vital juncture. On one hand, what I was doing at the time (maths) I was finding a bit too tough for me (but very interesting) and stats was interesting too. You may recall that, for me, interest is basically everything (although the maths case shows its limits). The point is, by the time I got around to doing Comlaw 101 this semester (as a second year with 3 semesters under his belt) I was a stats major.

Remember, though, that Comlaw is mostly done by first years. This is true of History 103/G as well, and my tutor in that course asked, on our first tutorial, how many of us were. In part this was because that tutorial also went over things like CECIL (to be replaced by Canvas for next year) but, in hindsight, this experience probably means I should've been prepared for, "So, how many of you are first years?" Great. I was the only non-first year in my tutorial; I was alone, isolated: the outlier. On the other hand, this doesn't really matter in terms of the tutorial experience itself because inter-student communication, in ours at least, was close to zilch (and one hopes that my status as a second year wouldn't have affected anything anyway). Yet, it does matter, indeed is all important, insofar as it explains why I was, in an office hour some weeks later, discussing what else I do with my tutor.

It turned out that my tutor was very keen on the fact I do stats because of the employability angle (data's really big these days), which while I was aware of that it really didn't feature in my decision making at all. That is, a lawyer was very enthused by the idea of statistics as a major because of employability. Ironically, one of my friends, who does law (Comlaw is a major that, by itself, leads to no job: it is not a law degree) reckons that commercial law is what makes lawyers employable. Basically, we can derive a moral here: sometimes interest and employability work out, but I think it is more important that the former's in the driving seat. Of course, Comlaw itself actually turned out to be pretty interesting.

As you can possibly tell from the nature of conjoints, if one is doing a conjoint one probably has fairly varied interests. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if stats majors were particularly likely, compared to other science subject majors at least, to be doing conjoints. This is because statistics is relevant to probably literally every field you can possibly think of (including, say, history and English*). It cannot hurt that statistics is pretty much the embodiment of varied interests as examples will come from basically anything you can think of (from killing beetles with insecticide to trawlers to university admissions to previous years' grades whatever). I'm interested by a lot of things, admittedly generally people related (history, economics, urbanism, public transport, human evolution, dinosaurs etc. etc.), but one of those things that I am aware of that I've never really considered interesting was law.

Okay, sure, I'm a big fan of Rake (well, a fan, not sure what constitutes bigness) and I used to enjoy Boston Legal (those episodes that I saw, at any rate), but these types of things have a tendency to show lawyers in court rooms and revolve around criminal law. In other words, this is kind of technical, isn't it? And we know what I think about technical subjects. On the other hand, I am interested in constitutional arrangements (largely in relation to my views on democracy, e.g. preserving short terms, and republicanism, I'm opposed) and the flag change (if we consider that a law thing). Yet, it wasn't until I studied Law in a Business Environment (i.e. Comlaw 101) that I really thought of law as anything like interesting. Okay, maybe I did wonder that if I'd watched Rake in 2013 instead of 2014 if I would've tried to pursue law as a thing, but, really, it was Comlaw.

That being said, I did have doubts about Comlaw. Unlike with, say, Accounting I didn't have a very fully formed idea of what to expect. This would be similar to Infosys 110 but one (at least) of my friends had suggested to me that I would like Comlaw... I recall nothing similar for Infosys 110. The first part of the course I quite liked but this didn't really resolve the apprehensions because the first part was generally the sort of things I learnt in the course of the aforementioned constitutional contexts. As it turned out, though, Comlaw probably grew to be my favourite subject this time out. I don't know why but I think it was probably the course I most consistently enjoyed. As it turns out, looking at things like contract or intellectual property is pretty technical. That is, mostly what we seemed to do was learn why some particular thing fitted into this particular idea in the law of contract. If you consider fiduciary we were basically told to take it on faith that particular things would be in particular ways. Yet, there was enough in Comlaw to hint at a less technical idea: the rationales behind why certain things are the way they are. Sometimes, indeed, we did consider this possibility. Yet, this was technical stuff that was interesting enough.

However, I mentioned the exam. There are a couple of things that I believe about exams. One of the ones I haven't, as far as I remember, mentioned in this blog is regarding the formality of language. Basically, I use a simple rule: if it's an essay I use formal English, otherwise anything goes. Well, I'm pretty sure I operated under that mentality prior to History 219's exam (appropriately, that's medieval mentalities). You see, when I did History 219 the exam consisted of one essay on a particular topic (but not one we'd discussed in either of the two coursework essays or one relevant to the other exam section: I chose Rural and Urban Life) and the other two questions on themes (the two I did were "Royal and Papal Power" and "Death and the Black Death"). The thing with those two questions was that we had pretty much free reign over how we chose to construct our answer: including dialogue. Now, you may recall that I have submitted assessments in that fashion at school. You may further recall that my dialogues were written with the sort of flair that tends to humour. So, if I see dialogue what I take that to mean is that I can write in a fashion that involves an element of humour, whereas I don't really consider that part of what an essay will find appropriate (ultimately I answered with pretty boring paragraphs).

What does all that have to do with Comlaw 101's exam? Well, I wasn't entirely sure what kind of answers we were writing. Was it some kind of "mini essay" type thing? In which case it wouldn't really be wise to introduce humour or overt informalities. Or were we writing short answers? In which case it probably didn't matter too much. Maybe my exam will come back with some sort of indicator that it did, maybe it won't. But whatever the case, I'd prefer to have my hands on it (well, the copy of it, which may well be digital) before I make any advice.

So, this was probably a bit weird, still, I hope it was worth reading.

*For instance, you can use Poisson regression to help determine authorship (by considering the counts of words in sentences across a variety of works attributed to one particular author).

Friday, 27 November 2015

Accounting 101: A Review

Introduction -- I'm Asleep

I'm not sure how closely you've been paying attention but I'm generally fairly disparaging about accounting. This is twofold. One, I'm not interested in accounting and two, I have a habit of looking down my nose at what I've termed "technical" subjects. Also, everyone, it seems, does accounting (and/or finance which gets on my nerves too... remember aside from having possibly failed economics 201, I'm a budding economist). Anyway, what I am trying to say is that I wasn't looking forwards to taking accounting 101 and, with a little help from my friends, I put it down for semester one 2015 (so, a while ago now, yeah?). Needless to say I wasn't pumped and this matters because one's expectations of something inform one's experience... and if you're reading my review you've got to know where it's coming from, right?

Aim

I think the aim is centred more around making sure that people have a basic introduction to the two parts of accounting (management and financial) and finance. The course is, in fact, structured like that. However, it is known as "Accounting Information" for a reason: the emphasis is very much on understanding information and, particularly in the financial section, the calculations one does are geared towards assisting in that understanding or in helping understand how the information comes to exist.

Model: What Does Accounting 101 Look Like?

Well, I pretty much just answered this in vague terms, didn't I?

Accounting 101 (essentially) starts off with management accounting. This bit I found more interesting because it's where the more useful stuff, for non-investors, happens. That is to say, preparing budgets and costing. In fact, I quite like costing and I'm not going to lie to you: part of that is because I'm pretty certain that Deloitte was involved in the Business Cases for several transport ideas (and that means costing). At any rate, there's a reason why the management section often worked with the textbook's case study of someone starting up their own business (something to do with chocolate, Sweet Temptations?). 

Financial Accounting is what actually put me to sleep. Seriously, turning to the back of the coursebook time after time to look at reams of tables is not my idea of fun when those tables are relating to the financial performance of the Warehouse and the Airport. Also, if anyone knows what Goodwill is, please tell me. If that was explained in the course I have no idea when and was probably asleep at the time, yet it's a fairly important concept (but not for the textbook's contents page). Basically, financial accounting helps you decide how well a business is doing based on their financial statements. You learn how to read the statements, some things that help you analyse the statements (to figure out what they really mean) and why things are recorded in the way they are (see, for instance, net realisable value versus at cost).

Finally, Accounting 101 introduces the student to the department's other major: finance. Finance, as far as I remember, is based around this idea of the Time Value of Money. That is, a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. This happens, one instinctively senses, because you can invest that dollar and get a return and also because of inflation. Accounting 101's version of finance is all about figuring out the future and or present value of different ideas. It's more interesting than financial mostly because it involves calculations that require a bit more thought than financial's ratios.

As you can possibly tell, I don't remember that much of the course. I note that here because I can't remember if we were looking at cash and some otehr form of accounting in management or financial. Cash, for reference, relates to how things are recorded and my suspicion is it was significant in both but the distinction probably mattered in finance 

Oh, and finally, the course comes with workshops. This is like your normal lecture but it's all working through problems. I seriously suggest doing them at home/beforehand and while you'll be a bit bored you will actually get more from this independent work. And, of course, if you're uncertain, the workshop will show you how to actually do it. Learning through doing.

Assessment

Accounting 101 has the bog standard test and exam combination expected of stage one business courses but it also has two assignments, several quizzes and some peerwise stuff and operates in a plussage environment.


Firstly, the test and exam are really what you would expect. The test covers, as far as I remember, everything up until it takes place while the exam covers simply everything (which means this course does plussage the right way). However, the test is nasty. The class average when I did it was a pitiful 20.5 out of 40. I seem to remember, way back in semester one 2014, my friends who were doing this course commenting on a very low mid semester test score. However, I am not sure if it was this course they were discussing. At any rate, I am pretty sure the course deliberately tries to have a nasty mid-semester test. However, I got 34/40, which is 85%. That's not because I am some accounting genius (and while I would argue that this course is pretty all right for people like me who have never done accounting... although I did read the earlier chapters of the textbook), indeed I managed 71/100 in the exam en route to a B+ (I had expected an A-; I think my MCQs worth three points each were answered less successfully than my expectation, for that section I got 30/42 or 71%). The reason why I think I did so well in the midsemester is simple. I think it was because I was second year and everyone else was a first year sitting one of (if not) their first tests, and I was familiar with how university tests work. Don't pay too much attention to the questions: do pay attention to how the questions are structured. What you want to do with uni resources is generalise them. Also, for me, since I knew that whatever happened in this course I was not continuing wth accounting, the pressure was always off: that probably helps. Thus, my advice: don't take accounting 101 in semester one of your first year if you are definitely not going to major in accounting or finance. On the other hand, I am sure that the secret to success in the exam probably relies on being more familiar with the course than I was. I can't quite remember but I am willing to bet I didn't go all out on my revision process.


The Assignments are pretty straightforward. The first is pretty easy while the second is tougher, at least if you haven't been paying too much attention to finance and you're prioritising roughly concurrent stage two assessments instead. Peerwise is very straightforward. Basically, one comes up with a multiple choice question, posts it to this website and then answers a few questions. Then one rinses and repeats for the second half of the semester. Congratulations, as long as you haven't plagiarised your question and it isn't completely stupid, you'll get the marks for this task. Oh, and you can submit and answer as many as you like, which means Peerwise can be a good way of revising the content. This is sort of true of the quizzes. There you have three attempts at the final quiz and practically as many as you like at the revision ones, which you can also use to practice for the final quizzes (there are ten quizzes all up). Personally, I didn't bother and as long as I got at least 7/10 I didn't bother repeating either (although that was for week six so maybe I didn't bother repeating because I was busy). Most of the time I got 8 or 9 on my first attempt and left it there. Since I barely managed a B+ (75.85 overall, which I only know because they recorded on my copy of my exam script my total exam mark) this didn't affect things.


As a final caution, my coursework mark was a pretty comfortable A- at 83.25 (so that's all the weighted coursework marks added together / the maximum weighted coursework mark of 40). To get an A- I needed 78% on the exam at a minimum (and if I'd repeated those quizzes and got 9/10 on all of them it'd have been only 76.75%). That's not particularly strenuous. Actually, given that two more MCQs would've meant I was at 36/42 there, the reason why I didn't get an A- was probably more that I dropped more marks in the short answers than I appreciated or, alternatively, the MCQ thing and having not repeated the quizzes. So, don't become complacent like me.


Content


This time I really have answered this so I will simply list the modules:


Introduction

Business Plan: C-V-P
Business Plan: Budgeting
Costing
Planning and Control Decisions
The Accounting System & Balance Sheet
The Accounting System & Income Statement
The Accounting System & Owner's Equity
Financial Statement Analysis
Time Value of Money
Capital Investment
Financial Management

Success

With the other courses I've listed my advice in this section primarily. However, with Business 101 I got an A, 102 an A-. Infosys returned an A- and Stats an A+. Now, a B+ wouldn't stop me from making advice, and as you have read, it has not. Indeed, if you ask me about Maths 150 (B-) or Maths 250 (C) then I'll give you advice on how to do better than me. I'm a bit cautious though about advising people about what works when I don't know if it'll work. I mean, I take no responsibility for what happens if you follow the advice on this blog (and while I think it is good advice, it is unreasonable for my blog to be one's only source advice) but I do want to provide advice that I think is good. So bear this in mind. I'm not speaking as someone who considers himself to have done well. I am speaking of someone who fell short of his self-imposed minimum standard, and who, in the past, has had a better foundation from which to make advice.


  • Don't Be Complacent -- just because you did well in the coursework, that doesn't mean that a bad exam is recoverable. For me this wasn't the case. Don't do what I did: don't be complacent.
  • Generalise Past Papers -- you're not looking for the questions per se when you look at these, what you are looking for is the way the questions are written, how the test/exam is structured so that you're prepared for the situation the paper puts you in. It's like how a cricket side will look at the pitch, determine it's good for batting, but won't make a prediction like "Oh, we should get to 400/2 easy". 
  • It's Not All Straightforward -- this was learnt by my poor assignment two: financial statement analysis is pretty boring and looks quite easy but it's not so easy when you actually get around to doing it. I said to my friends, "I intended to not do so well on A2, but not this badly and looking at the answers, I think I wouldn't have done too much better even if I had put a lot of effort into it rather than working on these other things".
  • However, the Content is Pretty Good -- I personally found the things in this course generally easy to wrap my head around. I thought that the workshops, at least if you came prepared, were helpful and there is a drop in centre or office hours for any questions that you may have (try to avoid going during assignment times as it gets busy). As I mentioned, the textbook is probably a good resource to help you get another perspective on something. And, there are always recordings if you want to hear something again.
  • Learning Through Doing -- even this course, about accounting information, is still pretty technical... how to do something. In this sense, what you've got to do is knuckle down and do the stuff for yourself. This was one of my big problems in Maths (both courses). It was one of the reasons why I have probably failed Economics 201 (didn't go to several tutorials or practice problems on my own). I'm not saying this will guarantee success, it didn't for me, but it will help a lot. Don't underestimate the gains that not being lazy bring.
  • Delay Taking Accounting 101 (if you know you won't do 102) -- Of all the courses for someone interested in majoring in, say, economics accounting is probably the least useful. The cost stuff can look kinda similar but you do that in eco itself. For prospective marketing majors, CVP does pop up, but you can, like I did, do ACCTG 101 and MKTG 201 concurrently. In fact, if you are completely certain, but only if you are completely certain, I think delaying ACCTG 101 is one of the best decisions you can make because you'll be more prepared for that test. On the other hand, if your friends are doing ACCTG 101, having a network of people who you know and can talk it over with does help too (some of my friends, for various reasons, did ACCTG 101 at the same time as me).
So, that's the main body of my advice. Notice a lot of it is formulated as "don't do". That is, in general, not as useful as advice as "do do". The thing is, given my B+ I don't feel like I know enough to have powerful "do dos". Hmm, that sounds a bit rude.

Conclusion -- But It's Not As Bad As I Thought

I was fully prepared to absolutely loathe accounting 101. However, I didn't. In fact, I probably, at the end of the semester, was enjoying it more than Economics 111 and maybe about the same, or more than, MKTG 201 (although those were both cases of lecturer fatigue, too much Gamini and I don't think Sandy's a particularly good lecturer*). In part this is probably because I liked my accounting 101 lecturer (Debbie) and the finance stuff I found far from dull. But also, being ready to loathe/expecting to hate also affects how you do experience something... maybe you're more willing to interpret the stuff you don't like as being the worst things eva!1!!1 or maybe it manifests as your expectations are exceeded that much more easily. Thus, perhaps it is fair to say if you're expecting to love this course you're probably going to be disappointed. 


That being said, just because I didn't end up hating Accounting 101 that doesn't mean that I didn't find it boring. Because, at times, I really really did. I don't know how asleep I would get but I was certainly far from aware enough to know what was going on. Maybe I slept a lot because I wasn't really very tired for most of last semester. Who knows? Not I.


Academically, I don't think it's the most stimulating subject. But, then, neither's MKTG 201 and I got a B+ in that too, in the same semester, so what do I know?


*Or, maybe, more accurately I simply never adjusted to her style enough to gain anything from it.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Terrorism and Responding to It

Terrorists have dominated certain discussions for a long time, but they really only became a big thing following 9/11 for Americans. This is important as places like New Zealand tend to follow the leader (and the US is the leader here) and the US exports a lot of cultural output. Now, I'm not saying that I don't like the likes of Person of Interest but what I am saying is that the result of this is that Western discourse resembles very closely US discourse. That matters because somehow no-one wants to talk about Americans supporting violence during the Troubles: the US has long had an aversion to anything that you can't clearly demarcate, and talking about the Troubles would mean having to fit things into boxes that are uncomfortable (hey, everyone has this problem... Americans are hardly unique here). What's the point? One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter: terrorism is almost the exact opposite of simple.

To consider complexity let's use a case study. I'm sure anyone who happens to read this will be aware of the recent terrorist attacks on Paris. Some of you have probably wondered why ISIL might try and do that. The theory I personally subscribe to on that matter is that it was aimed to engender a negative response towards (Muslim?) refugees and towards Muslims more generally. The reason for this is that both of these points make the crap that ISIL and groups with their mentality peddle true. As such, ISIL's only really upset by renewed commitments to attack them and their like by the international community when the resulting attacks don't end up with significant collateral: the existence of the collateral, of anti-refugee and Islamophobic policies are ISIL's versions of proof. Now, if you look around what do you notice? ISIL's theories about how mankind will react are completely true: terrorists aren't crazed, they're smart, they're clever and they're very often capable enough to leverage those attributes to achieve what they want.

Hold on... aren't terrorist acts meant to cause change to avoid more carnage? To scare people into desired policy changes? Well, yeah, they are. How often do you see that working though? Not very. Terrorists know this but they also know that they're playing a long game. What will really achieve change is if they can make their ideas and support ubiquitous so that other means can be achieved. That an explosion is made all the more effective by creating a real expectation that there are millions of others out there willing to make sure that tomorrow there's another. In other words, these more layered and seemingly conspirational ideas are entirely compatible with the surface reading of terrorist behaviour and ideology.

What I am trying to say is that there are two correct responses to the Paris Attack(s). One, don't enact policies that oppress Muslims and/or decrease political compassion to the plight of refugees*. If you do so? Well, then the terrorists (the bogeymen) win because you simply fulfil the narratives they sell. Two, attack and engage terrorism. Strangely enough Al Qaeda wanted an invasion of Afghanistan* but Osama bin Laden was completely wrong about what happened as a result of those invasions. Instead of another Vietnam causing the collapse of a superpower, bin Laden became the head of a snake that it was difficult to relay commands to. Attacks on groups like ISIL need to be conducted carefully because of the risk of collateral (and all collateral is a propaganda victory... hearts and minds and all that jazz), but they do actually work in suppressing the effectiveness of terrorist groups.

What I am saying is that terrorists are people to. They are just as likely to act rationally upon irrational assumptions about the world as anyone else. They aren't NPCs spawned by the computer but rather they arise out of the conditions of the world. What I am saying is that confronting terrorism only works if you're cruel enough to deny yourself the emotional response. What I am saying is that any thinking human being should look at the political response to the likes of Paris and shake their head.

*However, I am convinced by arguments by the likes of Gwynne Dyer who argue that it was possible to convince (or bribe) the Taliban to hand bin Laden over. This would have been better: the snake's head would've been in hand and the resultant instability in Afghanistan which helped create a breeding ground for terrorism would've been avoided. The downside is that this wouldn't be grabbing the bull by the horns, what works better may not make the most political sense.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Home Boy

Forgive me, this will not be big, at least at first.

By the time I was six I had lived in three different houses, including the one that I lived in at the time. This was true of twelve and of eighteen but it will not be true of twenty-four. Why? Well, I recently moved to a new abode. And by recently what I mean is that I am typing this on the first Monday in the new place… in a word document because we haven’t, as yet, managed to get the internet sorted out yet.

Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, well, the dude who writes this blog is a university student, he’s surely moved out and is now flatting.” Maybe you’re thinking, “Nah, this dude’s never had a job in his life, I doubt he’s flatting… the family home must have shifted.” Now, I don’t know how you’re thinking but if you were thinking along the lines of the latter option, you’d be correct. And if you were also thinking, “He’s moved? In exam season? How’d that work out?” I’ll tell you right now…
On the day we were meant to move I had two three hour exams, so we moved in the day before instead (this also got a discount with the removals firm we used)… and moved out the following day (after nearly 14 hours of graft). “Oh, so he studied instead of packing.” Er, no, I didn’t and because I didn’t I am fairly confident in saying that I failed my fourth exam and, therefore, that course (but I live in hope, which means when I read whatever variety of D in the next month or so it’ll be all the worse). So, you see, as irresponsible as ever.

Right now, though, I feel as if I am on holiday. Now, you might very well think that this makes sense but I can possibly comment and my remarks will be to inform you that despite filling (near enough) two different skips, there’s an entire garage(two car) full of stuff that needs sorting. Now, I’m one of those people who reckons that if you’ve filled up a space, before you can organise that space and fill it more efficiently, you need some more space. Because this is a garage that we’re talking about, that means outside on the driveway but for that you need decent weather, which doesn’t exist and probably won’t until Wednesday. So, you see, my holiday won’t truly start until then. But, for now, I am left alone in a house that reminds me of my grandfather’s… except I’m a short walk from a train station, not the Gold Coast (which while I am not a sun and heat kind of person, I’d prefer).

Once my holidays do start, however, they will last for around a month (assuming two weeks to get everything sorted to satisfaction here) because then I am off to summer school, which is a condensed third semester in January and a bit of February offered by Auckland. Now, at the moment I am using summer school for the “speed up your degree” use but if, as is likely, I did fail ECON 201 (which is a state that I shouldn’t be in because it’s not a hard course, and to anyone who properly studied that exam would’ve been a breeze, maybe even just studied) I will be using it to stay kinda on track (i.e. ECON 201 is offered in summer school).

Mind you, in some ways that would be advantageous (my preference would to not do STATS 301, rather something like 302, but 301 is the only one offered in summer school) but I really, really don’t want to have failed ECON 201… and dealing with those feelings would be so much easier if I had actually conspired to fail at some time in the past. You see I’ve always go through by the skin of my teeth... or ran out of time in that one history external which isn’t a proper fail despite its being the only one I can point at (although those maths exams, I must have got less than 50% in those despite just passing both course). The point, though, is that on balance, I’d much rather take STATS 301 than have to repeat a course and a large part of that is because of my self identity which also involves the following “good at guessing” (which I am hoping allowed me to pass the other exam I didn’t study for: STATS 330) and “lucky” (are you really surprised?).

I don’t know how you’ll understand the above. Maybe you’ll say “Coping mechanism” and maybe you’d be right, I don’t know I am not a psychiatrist. Maybe you’ll say, “How will he segue into bigness? I mean, he’s already sort of foreshadowed how a blog about moving can be big what with all this talk of university and the mentioning of flatting”. That I didn’t have an answer to despite really needing one so I had to fake it. Yep, that’s right, this is the arse-pull where I reveal that what you’ve actually been reading is an extended introduction into the merits and demerits of living at home whilst studying at university.

The traditional view of university living, and in some meaningful way, the “proper” one is students flatting together in the local area. From a theoretical point of view this particular way of doing things has a number of advantages. For instance, one’s commute is going to be twenty minutes or less each way. That means you can pop in to uni at short notice or in the evening after having been at home for most of the day. In other words, you can participate in the university world to a much greater extent. Whether that means additional talks, social activities or whatever else happening in and around campus. In the case unis like Auckland or AUT that are based pretty close to the centre of a city, if you’re the kind of person who gets something out of the nightlife of a city, well that’s probably on your doorstep too. You’re also going to meet a bunch of new people in the course of flatting, right? Thus, the theory expounded in Craccum 2015 exists: student life relies on flatters. It all sounds fairly idyllic though, doesn’t it? I mean, there you are, 8am lecture, you get up at 7:30, shower, bite to eat, out the door and you arrive in time for your lecture, go home and do whatever and then back at uni again at 1pm for your next daily lecture. Why wouldn’t you flat?

The thing with flatting is whether or not you’re in a tower block or a house or whatever, you’ve got living costs and are independent (in theory, you or your parents may own the flat etc.). These can be interpreted pretty easily as advantages. After all, you’re learning to manage your personal finances and how to function as an independent adult. In other words, congratulations, you’ve grown up. Now, again, this sounds good in theory. However, what it often means is that when you’re not at uni or asleep, you’re at work earning enough to a) live off and b) remain where you are living. Flatters are, often, pay-cheque to pay-cheque people. And if you think that sounds great, you’ve clearly never experienced that and your opinion isn’t worth crap.* And, to be honest, if you first experience this when flatting, your opinion isn’t as authoritative as it sounds, at least if you write like this dude. On the other hand, maybe you find somewhere you don’t have to live like that, in which case where’s the problem? Maybe that’s unrealistic? I don’t know.

The other arrangement that this post cares about is that which finds the university student at home. This is interesting because there are so many different ways of doing things. For instance, the parental home doesn’t necessarily mean rent free and when there’s rent it doesn’t always mean mates’ rates either. On the other hand, it often does mean rent free (which is why I am able get away without a job). But, maybe, the defining thing here is distance. If you come from, say, Twizel, you’re obviously unable to live at home and be within a reasonable commute of a university, any university let alone one which you feel you need to go to. For others the parental home could well be next door to four students flatting or even an hour and a half away via a multi-modal commute. Who knows? Yet, even distance (as a proxy for time or vice versa) isn’t alone the kicker. Everything depends on the exact, as it were, covariate pattern. If you live an hour away, most of your (school) friends didn’t go to uni, have to drive yourself in and have to work a job to pay market rent, things are very different to someone who lives an hour away, doesn’t face market rents (and, indeed, doesn’t even work), catches a train and whose friends, by and large, go to the same university. So, how on earth can you generalise? Answer: carefully (at least, without some data and that may just confirm how difficult generalising is).

I think the biggest potential advantage of living at home is that you are actually able to be a full time student. This means that what you do is study and, if you work, it’s just a few hours in the weekend to give you a little bit of spending money… it’s not actually working. Now, this is possible in a flat situation in countries where costs are quite low and it’s possible in New Zealand (or do I mean Auckland?) if you have your parents foot the bills (not sure how many flatters this is). However, a home-based student, and this is something that Craccum’s writers in 2015 never understood, is quite likely (assuming they live further away than a flatter) to not go home. In other words, if you look who is actually on campus for longer it isn’t the flatting demographic. Indeed, flatters may well be more likely to rely on recordings in a perverse twist of fate because of the psychological impact of the thought “Oh, uni’s only a couple of minutes away”. I don’t know for sure, I’m just guessing. On the other hand, if you look at me you see that being a full time student doesn’t mean you actually leverage that advantage.

The life of the commuter can also bring financial savings which could well set someone up better in their post-university life… presuming, of course, that they are able to hack actually moving out and having to be independent. Yet, commuting can take a toll. Imagine, for instance, that there are two club things which last two hours and finish at around 8:15-8:30 on two consecutive days. That’s pretty early all things considered and if you live nearby (e.g. flatters, some home-dwellers) but if you are an hour away suddenly you’re at home at something looking more like 9:30-10pm which is pretty much your entire evening gone, two nights in a row. And what if you started at 8am? You could’ve be up at 5:30am… So, in this sense, despite being around on campus more than flatters, you can see how participating in “student life” and the wider student experience can be more difficult (especially if, as was pointed out by one Craccum writer in their student culture crusade, you’re also going to get a call at 19pm asking where you are). So, the picture is that you’ve got half  student body who find it easier to not be around on campus during lecture hours and you’ve got the other half who find it harder to be around in the evening (and you have Craccum ignoring the first point, although this doesn’t matter as no-one reads Craccum… no thanks to 2015’s editors if you ask me). Also, ask anyone who commutes and they’ll tell you that commuting can take a toll in and of itself.

So, would I recommend either of these? Well, I’d only advise flatting if you can avoid the pay-cheque to pay-cheque situation. Manage that and I think you’ve got the best possible scenario. On the other hand, if you live near campus at home, you’re probably golden too. The problems are with what I think are the majorities. It’s simply a matter of whether or not you’d prefer to the stress of staying afloat or commuting… I don’t think any of the potential advantages clearly swing things so that these two costs are sufficiently unimportant. Both are, to my mind, valid ways of doing things but if your using some random internet blog to decide either way, I think you’re either planning things well in advance or you’d be just as well off flipping a coin. However, if that is you, let me say one last final thing: I think it is much harder to meet new people and make friends with them when you live at home.

*As a general rule, anyone can have any opinion they like. What you have to understand though is that when you want comments on the nature of a particular experience, only people with that experience can actually say what the experience is like. On the other hand, such people are perhaps the worst to remark on why that experience is the way it is, because the distance such an academic question requires doesn’t exist. Point is, the former is the context here.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Flag Referenda: Who Should Vote?

As thing currently stand the electorate for the referenda will be the normal electorate. That is, all New Zealanders (citizens and permanent residents, as it should be) aged 18 and over. However, there has been a call, admittedly out of a school, for this to be changed. Effectively, 12 year olds would also be able to vote and maybe the odd 11 year old as well. Here I will present a selection of the views from the article on the question (i.e. should intermediate and secondary school pupils be able to participate in the referenda?) and try and explore the issue.
"I think the government should let secondary and intermediate school pupils vote; it's not like it's a political party vote or anything. But it is a vote for a flag that we will have for the rest of our lives."
That's from the 12 year old who seems, as it were, to be leading the charge. It's a pretty good point. What is being weighed here are ideas of nationhood and identity... not policies. I think only an idiot would agree with the notion that even pre-teens have views on national identity and the such. If I remember a year seven exercise correctly, for instance, we had to muck about with various kiwiana (which are symbols and/or of New Zealand or kiwiness), and we often were asked to work with these sorts of symbols throughout. I would also imagine that teachers used the flag question to ground exercises or set exercises on it (current events, yeah?). Presumably, the stupidity of this line of criticism was why the actual criticisms were more about engagement.
For all Ben's enthusiasm, not all youth may have the same passionate interest in flag change. There are so far no plans to have the voice of youth heard in this month's referendum - and youth representatives at the Summit say most young people are not interested anyway.
"A lot of young people don't really care," said James Hansen of St Kentigern's College, "so if that's the case it's probably best they do not skew the results. It's better to have mature people having a voice."
Well, maybe I was wrong just before because some of the above is completely stupid. What is the difference between Johnny who is a year thirteen and aged eighteen and Jonathan who is year thirteen and is aged seventeen, with a birthday a fortnight after Johnny? This is a question that people who think about voting ages spend time on because the answer is "Nothing". We know absolutely nothing about the respective levels of political participation, awareness and interest that these two example pupils have from the information I've given. It could be that neither care at all, or maybe both are frothing at the mouth with excitement at the prospect of voting. This is why some people have proposed a tethered voting age... you can vote if you turn 18 within x period of time after the date of the election (18 is also variable, of course). There is also the issue that if we have a mandatory schooling age of 16, we are pretty much saying that we expect people to be doing adult things and having adult lives from an age two years younger than that of the voting age. So, in this context, to argue "maturity" is daft. (We must also consider how likely it is that Hansen's opinion accurately represents the state of youth apathy, but as we shall see we're pretty much stuck with hoping his like are right.)

But, even if we accept the implicit notion of maturity above (i.e. anyone currently enrolled) it still doesn't make sense. The people who have shown interest in the flag change question are, fairly universally, John Key. No-one else. Sure, there was that spate of out-rage after those horrendous options were drawn up in accordance with Don Key that led to Red Peak but, even online, there has never really been any particular interest in the question. So, in this sense, if flag change representation is being extended to everyone over the age of eighteen because of the few with Facebook posts, Tweets, blogs and John Key why not do the same with those under eighteen? The other reasons? Well, that's satisfactory if only the other reasons make sense in and of themselves. As we have seen, notions of maturity and understanding are dubious themselves, which would suggest that the other reasons don't make sense in and of themselves, and, thus, it isn't logical... On the other hand, the onus is to establish that there needs to be some change not that the status quo is fine, which means you need to be able to point at something and say, "Look, these school pupils are widely interested and aware". The problem with this is that no-one polls school pupils (because they can't vote) and we don't have any real classroom activities which enough people do to be able to find the evidence we want (at least, in time).

There's another thing to criticise Hansen here on: "skew the results". What does that mean? You could argue that he's saying that because apathy reigns among young people. their votes are sort of going to be randomly allocated between the five options, thus distorting the referendum's ability to represent what New Zealanders actually think about the four awful and one okay designs. He probably is saying something like that. However, this is nonsensical. Not caring is, in fact, an opinion itself about the flag. What it means is that someone doesn't think the flag matters all that much to those people. And as Dalton (the 12 year old) points out, 12 year olds have to live with the outcome just as much as the next person. In fact, if the next person is 82, the 12 year old probably has to live with the outcome much more than the next person. That, to my mind, is reason enough to, for these specific referendums, to have a voting age closer to 12 than 20. On the other hand, assuming that an apathetic person is just as likely to vote for "a" as they are for "b" is unwise. After all, something must function as a decision factor. If it's prettiness then it's okay (in fact, almost ideal*) but if it's based on geography (flags at top get ranked higher etc.) or alphabetical order then that is a problem, and things would be altered in such a way that "skewed" makes sense. As a final note on skewness, we already know that there are several different ideas on how to tactically vote and that people will be voting tactically to best ensure Option Zero (the current flag) wins, so maybe more skewness doesn't matter?

Dave Atkinson, a Parenting Place presenter and youth worker and member of the panel, said: "If young people don't care and we give them a percentage of the votes, it could be quite dangerous."

So, yes, you can maybe guess at what Atkinson means by dangerous. But he could be talking about hereditary politics, which is when a child votes in the way that the family votes (this is a big problem in the US). In the context of these referenda, if you have kids you basically get to have more votes than someone who has none. Is that right? Of course not.

To conclude, I would actually agree with Dalton. There are some risks associated with the proposition but, at the same time, I just don't think that is fair to lump people with something that they will have had no say in, when there was an opportunity in their politically aware lifetimes, to have a say for maybe a century or more. If you have to live with something and a reasonable person would consider that you have the awareness and knowledge to make a reasonable decision in the course of that something, you should have a say. This is, basically, the principle underlying democracy... rule by the people (reign by the people is somewhat different mind).


*It's an aesthetic question. What we want is voting that lines up best with a person's ideas about what flag best represents New Zealand, but if we have to settle for "This one of the options looks best" then that is, theoretically, okay because the flag panel (as crap and poorly thought out as it was) filtered things through a more NZ people rather than NZ person lens.