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#Follow Friday

Why we need our academics.

Several times recently, the fears of learned men and women have fuelled my own fears regarding academia in post-Brexit Britain. During this week’s House of Lords debate, Professor of Science and Society, Lord Robert Winston, spoke passionately about how the UK was “bleeding great minds” as academics left the country. On Tuesday The Guardian newspaper reported the story of a French scientist who’d lived and worked here for the last 20 years but with no certainty in the future he is taking his family to settle in Scandinavia.

This country has rightly held it’s head high in a world where knowledge is power, yet the continued justification of that sense of pride is uncertain now that politicians are turning their backs on academic integrity. The future needs academia in general and science in particular, yet on recent US and UK political platforms truth was replaced with alternative facts and we were told that the we were all “tired of experts”.

This dumbing down of intellect is insulting to us as human beings and toxic to our futures.

There is hope. We still have a great many intelligent and creative individuals who call the UK home. We all need to get behind them and give them our support. We need to raise them up as role models who will inspire young people to emulate them. Fortunately some of these have become regulars on our TV screens, presenting exciting and informative documentaries on a wide range of subjects through the sciences, arts and humanities.

Some of these presenters buck academic traditions by having youth and good looks on their side, some have memorable voices, excitement, good humour or wisdom as part of the package. What they all have in common is a passion for their subjects and a strong desire to communicate to others. These people are not just dry academics, they are teachers with the rare skill of being able to deliver difficult concepts in a meaningful way. They are not just popularising a subject, they are democratising it. Their passion is infectious and we buy into their world just as we would any high street brand. We get to know them, like them and follow them. Of course once we are following them we are able to share the love by becoming advocates for them and their topics. Who among us has not spent a lifetime learning about the natural world from Sir David Attenborough? His knowledge, passion and schoolboy enthusiasm have inspired us and of course have sold dozens of awesome tv series and millions of beautiful books.

It was people like David Attenborough, Jacob Bronowski, Carl Sagan, and Patrick Moore who inspired me to become a scientist and a school teacher, but these are different times. Now, more than ever we need young people to follow academic pursuits. The current breed of tv academics are true celebrities and we need to raise them up so that they can continue to teach and inspire as many others as possible. It is fortunate that this group are quite representative of the diverse UK population. Although most were born in Britain, they represent diverse genders and cultural backgrounds thus breaking academic stereotypes too.

Below are a few of my favourites, but I’m sure you could all add more.

For History we have: @Lucy_worsley, @wmarybeard, Dan Snow @thehistoryguy, Dan Jones @dgjones, and @DrJaninaRamirez

 

For science, we have: Astrophysicist, @ProfBrianCox, Physicist, @jimalkhalili, Medic, @Kevin_Fong, Ethnobotanist, James Wong – @botanygeek, Anatomist, @DrAliceRoberts Mathematician, @MarcusduSautoy and astronomer Maddie Aderin-Pocock.

This last scientist is not only an astronomer and engineer but as a black, dyslexic, woman, she has broken so many preconceptions in her field and is a true inspiration to so many people. Maddie is the current anchor woman on the long running Sky at Night tv series.

As you may have deduced from the lists above, there is a new facet to the life of the celebrity academic, namely their use of social media. Regular readers will know the importance I put on social media as a means of communicating with a wide variety of people. Likewise those academics who create a proper social media platform are able to promote both their personal ‘brand’ and their subject. This works on the ‘know me, like me, follow me’ principle where loyal followers come to know their person of interest in a way that previous generations could not. These followers then become true advocates, spreading the message to an ever wider audience.

I personally follow a great many academics across a wide spread of subjects. Once I am certain of their academic integrity and their passion for sharing, I am happy to become an advocate for them and their work. As an author myself (@TJMasters) I have benefitted enormously from the advocacy of my many loyal readers on social media so it’s only fair that I use my platform to share the work of those I admire. It’s hard to single out any favourites but I would like to end by spotlighting two of my hero academics: Janina Ramirez and James Wong. This choice is based on the fact that aside from all other considerations, these two engage with their social media followers on a daily basis. Both are young, good looking and passionate about their respective subjects. Both are great tv presenters/broadcasters who smile continuously while speaking. Both follow the facts methodically and endorse their teaching with evidence. At the same time neither one is shy about delivering an educated opinion.

James Wong (@botanygeek) is an ethnobotanist, broadcaster and science writer with a passion for plants and food. Currently on a mission to sweep away misinformation about nutrition from plants, James is a scientist grounded in the traditions of scientific facts, derived from rigorous enquiry and experimentation. Having heard James lecture and met him personally I can attest to his great charm, easy personality and a devotion to his subject which makes him a natural educator. Follow James on his website and for daily updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Dr Janina Ramirez is an Oxford based, Art & Cultural Historian who is the antithesis of most people’s idea of an historian. Whether sharing her expertise in art, Literature, or medieval history, her style is fresh, informed and enthusiastic. Another daily communicator on Twitter and Facebook, Dr Ramirez balances rearing a young family with an enviable work ethic and a ready smile. Her recent tv appearance presenting The Search for the Lost Manuscript: Julian of Norwich was a wonderful, scholarly,yet very human story. (Website)

For me, James and Jenina represent just the type of young, passionate academics that this country needs many more of  and we need to value them all, not drive them away.

Wealth Health #1

I am writing this on ‘Blue Monday’. Statistically-speaking, today is apparently the most depressing day of the year. A major contributor to the cloud of angst hanging over the day is that, by now, you will have started to hear the heavy thud of overloaded credit card statements landing on the doormat. Christmas has been and gone, but the overspending is just now becoming a reality.

In these austere times, if we are going to remain financially solid, then we need to develop an awareness about our relationship with money. Over the coming weeks I will attempt to light the path to financial health and wellbeing. We will develop an awareness of your current financial reality, examine your beliefs about money, uncover your financial personality and then set some financial goals.

I am not a financial advisor and so will not be telling you what to do with your money. That is quite rightly the job of qualified and regulated professionals. What I hope to achieve is to leave you with a much better understanding of your finances and some options with which to arm yourself before talking to any financial professionals.

The Financial Journey

For many the gulf between their financial reality and their financial ideals is vast. When asked about ideals for the future, many people will say “financial freedom”, but do we really know what that means to each of us? Vagueness about the future often comes from only having a vague understanding of the current reality, so let’s start there.

Financial freedom starts with clarity about your current financial situation.

Ask yourself these questions, but be honest. You don’t have to justify your answers to anyone but yourself. You may have learned to describe a brand new shiny pair of shoes as “What, those old things?” and get away with it, but here you need to be honest with yourself.

1. Who takes responsibility for managing the finances in your household?

2. Can you easily lay your hands on all your financial information?

3. How are decisions about major purchases or investments made in your household?

4. How much debt does your household have?

5. What percentage of your household expenditure is allocated to debt repayment each month?

6. How long will it take to clear your household debt (excluding mortgage) at your current monthly repayments?

7. If you are in a shared financial relationship, do you hold individual investments or is everything joint or in you partners name?

8. Are you planning/hoping for an inheritance or windfall to provide for your retirement?

9. If you have a mortgage, what interest rate are you paying?

10. If you have a credit card debt, what interest rate is your lender charging you?

11. How many months’ safety/emergency money do you have easily access to?

12. If you were fired or couldn’t work tomorrow, how long could you live before running out of money?

13. What does APR mean?

14. What is compound interest and why is it so powerful?

15. At what age do you plan to retire?

16. How much are you saving for your retirement each month/year?

17. Have you ever tracked all of your spending for a month?

18. Does the thought of tracking your spending frighten you?

19. Do you ever lie about how much things cost?

20. Do you ever hide new things and pretend you’ve had them for ages?

21. Do you know the level of life assurance you should have and have you bought an appropriate policy?

22. Do you have a will?

23. Does the word ‘SALE’ in a shop window act on you like an aphrodisiac?

24. Do your purchases just seem to happen, or do you plan ahead before going shopping?

25. Do you order takeaway when you have the ingredients to cook at home?

26. Have you ever left your credit card at home on purpose and gone shopping only with cash?

27. Does the possibility of accumulating money excite you?

28. Do you keep the money in your savings account sacred and use only you current account for living expenses?

29. Do you put money in your savings account before you buy those little treats each month?

30. Have you set yourself an annual savings target and do you stick to it?

31. If you are in a shared-finances relationship, do you avoid talking to your partner about money, because “it’s too stressful”?

32. Do you expect the Government to cover all of your Health and Welfare costs into your dotage?

33. Do you think you are too young, or too old, to start contributing to a pension scheme?

34. Do you know how much those shop-bought coffees add up to every week?

In part 2 we’ll look at what your answers mean and examine your beliefs about money. If you have Twitter, you can follow all of my finance-related Tweets at #WealthHealth!

Keeping The Magic Alive

During my long career as a primary school teacher, there were many occasions when high levels of tact and diplomacy were required. This was ever so when dealing with those age groups where the children were starting to question the reality of Santa Claus. There was always the awareness that some knew to their core that he was real, while others had lost the magic and their truth was founded in logic. Of course in between were the doubters who could not quite bring themselves to let go – just in case!

Parents would ask how to deal with the difficult questions, often feeling that honesty should prevail. Like a true Coach I would return the questions, “What do you think?”, “How would you feel if……” etc. Of course the perennial concern was the problem of not wanting to lie to the children. Everyone is convinced that at some point in the future they will be faced with an angry teenager declaring that “Because you lied to me about Santa, you lie about everything!” Ask anyone who has had teenagers. That will be the least of your worries! On the other hand can anything really out do waking up on Christmas morning to wide-eyed children gleefully shouting “Santa’s been!”

Modern life is chipping away at childhood and its magic in so many ways.  I say,  perpetuate the magic as long as possible! I firmly believe that as adults we need to experience moments of awe and wonder whenever we can. How will we learn to do this if, as children, we have not experienced magic in our lives? The Santa Claus period should be seen as an important positive element in our education and development as well rounded human beings. Keep the magic alive for as long as possible. All too soon your lanky, skinny-jeaned offspring will be replacing the letter to Santa with a list of vouchers required, while calmly announcing that they are spending Christmas with the boyfriend’s family!

Back in 1897 one little girl expressed her worries and this lead to one of the most famous editorial responses ever from a newspaper. Her original letter to the editor read as follows:

Dear Editor

I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says: If you see it in the paper it’s so.

Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon

115 West 95th Street

Virginia sent this to Francis P. Church, the editor of a New York city newspaper, The Sun. On 21st September He published the following thoughtful and passionate response:

“We take pleasure in answering at once and thus prominently the communication above, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The New York Sun:

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.

All minds Virginia, whether they are men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give your life its highest beauty and joy.

Alas! How dreary would be the world be if there was no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

We should have no enjoyment except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. Not believe in Santa Claus!

You might as well not believe in fairies!

You might get your Papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove?

Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.

The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn?

Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there.

Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that are unseen and unseeable in the world. You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart.

Only faith, fancy, poetry love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real?

Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives, and he lives forever.

A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Let’s perpetuate the Magic and as adults let’s remember the joy of it.

Now, does anyone have an email address for the Tooth Fairy?

A Most Remarkable Concert

This blog post is something of an indulgence to the musical geek in me. Today marks the 203rd Anniversary of a concert given by Ludwig Van Beethoven, the nature of which has fascinated me for over 30 years.

While a student teacher in 1975 I heard Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy for the first time and fell in love with it. Knowing nothing about the piece, but recognising a strong hint of the great 9th Symphony, I quickly wrote a note to my good friend Leslie Howard in London. Yes, dear reader, I am so old that I can remember writing letters, on paper, requesting information from a learned human being! Leslie is a world class Concert pianist and musicologist, and so by return I got information not only about the piece itself but about the remarkable context of its first performance.

Beethoven hired the Theater an der Wien in Vienna for a mammoth concert given on 22nd December 1808. The event lasted over four hours, consisted entirely of Beethoven Premieres and was directed by the composer himself. Conditions left much to be desired and since the heating had broken down the audience and performers were extremely cold. Despite this, and the fact that the orchestra were seriously under-rehearsed, the audience were treated to the first performances of the 5th & 6th Symphonies. Beethoven took to the keyboard for the premiere of his 4th piano concerto and there were first hearings of the aria ‘Ah, perfido!’ and two movements from the Mass in C. The composer then gave a sample of what the public most admired, which was his amazing ability at solo piano improvisation. Let’s not forget that Beethoven was of course profoundly deaf by this time.

As if all this were not enough, to end the evening he pulled together all the forces present, to perform what was described as a “Fantasia for the pianoforte which ends with the gradual entrance of the entire orchestra and the introduction of choruses as a finale”. The cold and exhausted audience had one more hurdle to overcome. One of the performers made a mistake which caused Beethoven to halt the performance and restart the whole thing!

Despite the difficulties it must have been a remarkable evening and I still long to hear a live performance of that one little-performed piece. The notion of giving a vocal finale to an instrumental work, casting it as a set of variations, the smooth and relaxed character of the tune itself, these are all ideas to which Beethoven would grandly return fifteen years later in his awesome 9th symphony.

Twitter For Writers

 

As you know, respected readers, I love reading feedback from my blogs and I use it to influence future blog topics too. I have had requests for a great many subject specific blogs; Twitter for teachers, for academics, for coaches, for teenagers etc. One area of interest to several correspondents has been Twitter for writers/authors and for that I know a writer who could give the subject a better treatment than I could. What is more Gentle Reader, you have met him before!

Back in September I wrote a blog about inspirational, aspirational young people (Our Promise for the Future) and Sean was one of the young people that I highlighted then. Sean is a driven and aspiring young writer nearing completion of his first Young Adult novel. As a focussed user of Twitter he is an obvious choice to write about it and I proudly welcome him to the growing list of guest bloggers on here.

Guest Blogger: Sean Wills

If you spend any time at all browsing through the blogs of editors, agents, and other publishing industry professionals, you’ll come across the same piece of advice for aspiring authors time and time again: build an audience before you’re published. Having a viable ‘platform’ before you secure a book deal may not be strictly necessary when you’re starting out as a professional writing career, but it definitely is necessary if you want to have any chance of making a living at it.

You can never start your platform-building efforts too early, and the most important tool you can use to gather an audience is (of course) social media. But remember, as an unpublished writer, you have nothing to sell. Even if using social media as a direct-selling method for your book was a good idea (and it isn’t!), you can’t do that until the book is readily available.

What you’re selling, then, is yourself – your opinion, your humour, your reviews of the latest books or your thoughts on the publishing industry as a whole. In return, readers are willing to devote a little bit of time every day to following your updates and sharing your name with their friends, increasing your built-in audience for when your book is finally ready for sale. If you get the right audience behind you, there’ll be no need for you to ever direct-sell to them; they’ll be eagerly awaiting the release of your book from the moment you announce it.

Apart from a blog, the most important part of any writer’s social media strategy is a Twitter account. Almost all publishing professionals use Twitter these days, very often to communicate with potential clients. Look up well-known agents and editors who work with writers you’d like to emulate, then follow them on Twitter. You’ll quickly realise that there’s a vast conversation going on between these people. Tapping into it can be a valuable source of information, netting you everything from early news of upcoming opportunities to tidbits on current publishing trends that you probably won’t get elsewhere. If you have absolutely no idea where to start, find some big-name publishers in your area of interest and see how many of their editors maintain blogs. From there, you should be able to bounce from one blog to the next (look for blogrolls!) until you find the right people.

Eventually, you’ll want to get involved in the conversation. Remember, again, that you’re not trying to sell anything at this stage. If somebody tweets about a subject you’re interested in, reply to them. Don’t try to calibrate your tweets in an effort to get re-tweeted; just be yourself. Fakes are a dime a dozen on Twitter, and you’ll be remembered more for having a genuine opinion than you will for desperately trying to get in with the right people. There are many, many writers out there who built up an audience by reviewing books or writing pieces for well-known websites or even just being a social media ‘personality’. Twitter is an absolute must if you want to go that route.

Eventually, of course, you should try to get noticed (you’re platform-building, remember?). This is where FIRE comes in. Make your tweets Funny, Interesting, Relevant, and show your Expertise. It also pays to know about what’s happening in the industry at large. Guaranteed hot-button issues include bias in publishing, bestselling memoirs that turn out to be fiction, and whether e-books are going to kill print publishing. (Warning: be prepared for a drawn-out argument if you decide to jump on that last one…) This is where having a blog connected to your Twitter account comes in handy, since a well thought-out blog post about an important topic can get a huge amount of attention. A single tweet from an industry professional with thousands of followers will get you a lot of new readers!

It’s also worth pointing out that Twitter is an absolute must for self-published writer. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, self-publishing means forsaking the marketing budget and skills of a traditional publisher. It’s entirely up to you to market your book, and that means using social media effectively.

Apart from boosting your audience, getting involved with Twitter can be a fantastic way of socialising with other writers. Working on a book or a novel can be a lonely experience, and it’s heartening to know that there are other people out there going through the exact same trials as you. One of the first things I learned when I went in search of other writers online was that I wasn’t the only one crazy enough to think writing is a viable career – there are tons of other people doing the same thing, and they’re all eager to talk about it. So get out there and join the conversation!

You can follow Sean at his personal blog, or follow his reviews at the Intergalactic Academy.

Make The Impossible Possible

Guest Blogger: Safaa Aldulaimy

This was the main concept of the recent TedxBaghdad event. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a well-known global organisation that is spreading around the world. TED is now in 98 different countries and it is getting even bigger every day. The theme of the global TED is ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ and the aim of this event in Baghdad was to bring inspiration and hope to the community, focusing on remarkable stories, and creative people and leaving Iraq with hope for a brighter future. The X means that this is an independently organized TED event, and for those who attended it was a life changing experience, and independently Royal.

I had the pleasure of attending this event on 12/11/11 along with 600 other delegates from different countries and cultures. There were people from Holland, USA and many other countries. It was amazing to see 600 young Iraqi people, sharing the same goal of building a new future for Iraq. We spent 8 hours being filled with hope, talent, inspiration and love.

The event featured so many impressive presentations; in fact they were too many to write about in just one blog, so I will mention some of the best talks from the event, and some of the exceptional speakers who delivered them.

First of all I must mention the remarkable person who was the creator of all this, Dr. Yahay Alabdeli. His dream is to bring inspiration to the Iraqi people. Living in Amsterdam Yahay always wondered how to make a worthwhile contribution back in his country. Yahay worked hard to get the license to bring TED to Baghdad and he describes  how he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the email of approval. He said “This can’t be true. I had a black out. I had to print the e-mail, because I couldn’t see clearly. I closed my eyes and visualized what would come. It was a life changing moment. I told my wife: I’m going to do this.”

Next we have MANHAL AL-HABBOBI, an Iraqi architect. His rendering of the General Secretariat for the Council of Ministers in Baghdad was chosen from the entries of over thirty world-renowned architects to win the WAN Award 2011. Manhal always had a passion for the art and beauty of the Mesopotamian civilization and he told us the story behind his motivation for his great achievement.  “ I was in Italy when I heard about a massive series of bombs in Iraq. I was very sad and devastated.  I almost lost hope, and then my friend’s 6 year old daughter came to me and said, Don’t worry, you will recover, because Mesopotamia is 5000 years old!”.

Next I must talk about the very impressive story of American Philanthropist, JEREMY COURTNEY, the Executive Director and co-Founder of the Preemptive Love Coalition. The goal of the coalition is to help Iraqi children with heart disease.  Jeremy started raising the money from selling an Iraqi father’s handmade shoes and he has now helped fund lifesaving heart surgeries for 180 Iraqi children. Jeremy puts his whole idea in few profound powerful words, “Violence unmakes the world, Love makes the world, Love unmakes Violence”

Another great story is ALI MAJID, a plastic surgeon based in Baghdad. Dr. Ali was affected by a medical case that made him determined to do something about the challenges he was facing. He invented a simple but very functional device to help overcome the problems and difficulties faced in oral surgery.  This device is now working properly and while still under development, he has high hopes that it will soon be in use as a life changing invention.

Having people from other cultures in the event moved something in me. I wanted to know their opinions and hopes for Iraq and what they thought about it all, so I talked to some of them. They all had positive thoughts and hopes for my country, and they were impressed by the work and talent of these Iraqi people and by the efforts they had put into this event.

I’ve always had faith in Iraq, and in its people, but now I am very sure about it. I know that Iraq will soon be a center of knowledge and optimism once again.  This whole thing made realize that I am not alone in this belief and that there are others wanting Iraq to be a place of peace again.

It is time to show the world that young people are not as some see us. We can work miracles, and this is a message that we want to send to the world. Whatever you think of us and whatever happens between us, we will always strive to make the impossible possible, and we will always work together full of hope for Iraq.

Saffa Aldulaimy, 13/11/11

I am both proud and delighted to feature another guest blogger from among the remarkable young men that I wrote about in my September posting ‘Young People: Our Promise for the Future’. Safaa has recently graduated from university in Damascus, Syria and now he is back home with his family in Baghdad. Last week it was clear to me that he was getting excited about the TED event but that was nothing compared to his bubbling optimism at the end of it. Safaa said that he wanted to write about the experience and so I asked him to consider contributing a blog here. I was moved by the result – so full of hope and optimism for the future of his country.  

Guest Post: Jamie Dunn

I am pleased to welcome Jamie Dunn as my guest blogger for November. Regular readers will have met Jamie in my blog about inspirational young people written to refocus opinion after the September riots across the UK. Jamie Dunn is a 19yr old entrepreneur from Birmingham. This remarkable teenager is already Managing Director of his own company, called Made By Young People. Jamie is an international speaker, a Youth Ambassador and has been recognised with a prestigious Youth Excellence Award. It is well worth reading Jamie’s story on his website, from his first business at the age of 12 to his current venture challenging and inspiring fellow teenagers to succeed. In this blog Jamie highlights a void between the young people who our Media would have us believe are the norm and those like himself who I believe should be shouted from the rooftops as beacons for the future.

Frankie Cocozza + Media = Damned Generation

Posted on November 7, 2011 by Jamie Dunn, Entrepreneur.

I never normally watch X Factor, but have been hearing a lot about the progress and story of, “Frankie Cocozza.” After reading about him in the national papers, hearing about him on Facebook, Twitter and through all my friends I thought I would spend an hour of my Saturday and Sunday seeing what all the fuss is about. I’m no Simon Cowell or have any experience in picking out a talented musician but I was disgusted to see and hear that this individual had made it all the way through to live shows and get national exposure.

He isn’t a great singer, he isn’t even a great entertainer or after reading about him, he doesn’t seem like a nice guy either. Now this all could be the way that the show and the media is making him out, but it does raise a very scary thought to me, “What kind of example is this setting to me and my generation?”

Frankie comes along and within a few months he is on national TV glamorizing binge drinking, sleeping around and not even working hard to improve his musical “talent”. The media have placed so much attention on him and made him an over-night star. Good for Frankie, bad for the millions of young people out there. I’m 19 and the same age as Frankie and after watching the show I now feel like giving everything up and auditioning for some form of reality TV, get successful over-night and then release a book about something, it evidently worked for a lot of celebrities out there and is working for Frankie, why wouldn’t it work for me?

We as a country are to blame for the high unemployment rates in young people at the moment, and the situation surrounding Frankie is the perfect example of why. The media is placing so much emphasis on the likes of Frankie, binge drinking footballers and tax dodging MP’s that we are forgetting the impact that this has on our nation’s young people. We are setting the precedent that it’s ok not to work hard, to not bother and to not improve ourselves because success is so easy. We see footballer’s getting paid millions a year, great, but how did they get there? Instead of showing the flash cars, why don’t we show the other side to that, the 4/5 hours day training, the mental drain and the solid life commitment from the age of 12 to do what it takes to become professional and then maintain it? We don’t show what’s needed to get an end result, we just show the flash cars and the success. This is why young people are disillusioned and think success happens over-night, because that’s simply all that we see and we are seeing it now with Frankie.

Me and my peers are currently being labeled as the “Damned Generation” and world leaders, politicians and activists are all searching for the answer to saving our generation, the truth is that we don’t need saving, we just need to be seeing and hearing the right things and with the media controlling the thoughts and actions of the majority of teenagers in this country is it any wonder that many young people now aspire to lead a life like Frankie Cocozza?

It’s not Frankie that is failing, it’s us as a nation.

Read all about Jamie and his work at http://www.jamie-dunn.com/

Jamie’s company website http://www.madebyyoungpeople.co.uk/

Young People: Our Promise For The Future

For a while now, our youth have been dominating the media headlines. All too often it appears that they are presented in a negative way. This has been made worse since the recent riots in London and around the country. Far too many adults have become armchair sociologists, who all seem to know exactly the reasons why our young people have lost their way. Worst of all are the ‘professional’ amateur sociologists (e.g. politicians) who are generous with their opinions and their distribution of blame!

There is a reckless presupposition involved here. Are they ALL so bad? Over recent months, while young people in general are being marginalised, my life has been touched by several amazing young people who prove the stereotype wrong. They have not so much restored my faith in our youth (I had never lost it), but they have shown me that in their hands, the future of our society is looking bright.

I have also come to realise that many amazing young people are being ignored in favour of their less focussed peers but they deserve better!

As a school teacher I feared that the education system was failing our young people. As a coach I have had the privilege of getting to know a variety of young people who have proven to me that, given the right attitude, they can achieve whatever they desire. It is also clear that they can do this either in, or outside the education system. In fact, I am convinced that our tertiary education system has been so hijacked by commerce and politics as to disable it. Our colleges and universities are being forced to turn out students who are ‘fit for purpose’ (commercial) but who are often not fit for life in a rapidly changing world.

I know I am venting here, but I am at heart a believer in action, so let’s look at some examples of the kind of young people who I see as shining beacons for the future. Then I want you, dear reader, to look about you and find other examples to be proud of! Let’s move to a culture of positive thinking about young people and their potential.

I have had the honour of coaching, mentoring or befriending several young people who are moving towards a goal oriented future whether through focussed study or on the job training and experience. None of these come from a privileged background, nor are they being groomed by pushy parents. In fact it appears that they are following their chosen paths in spite of their histories and not because of them! I will give details for some of my examples in the hope that you might look in on their work or achievements. Others will be allowed some anonymity for reasons I am sure you will understand.

First among these are my own wonderful nieces all moving through school and into university one by one to follow their dreams through careful planning and sheer hard work.

Next the spotlight shines on an amazing, hardworking young Irishman. Sean lives with his family in a small town in Ireland but there is nothing small about his ambitions. Sean is passionate about literature and writing and is an aspiring author. I have read a good deal of his work and the teacher in me has been mightily impressed by the quality of his work. Sean graduated from a prestigious Irish university this year with a great degree and was immediately offered a place on their post grad MA course. After testing this opportunity against his personal goals, Sean decided that what he needed was time to write and polish his craft, not more studies. Like many of his generation Sean has immersed himself in the internet and is a regular contributor to his own and other blogs and web based book review sites.

Sean has now found a job to support himself (no mean feat in present day Ireland) and he makes time to write every day. His first full length novel is almost finished and I wish him every success with it. While many of his peers might choose to riot, Sean’s strong opinions are delivered from his keyboard and are well worth reading.

Now the spotlight shines on a young Arab with a remarkable story. This is a profound example of one’s past being no model for any goal driven future. Safaa is a young Iraqi lad whose parents feared for his safety in Bagdad during the Iraq war. A bright intelligent 17yr old with a passion for music and sport he could have carved out a future in either arena at home. In fact he was well on the way to being able to represent his country playing tennis. This was not to be since his family sent Safaa into exile rather than risk his life at home. This was a huge wrench for a boy devoted to his family but Safaa travelled to Syria and started university where he too graduated this year with a great degree in IT engineering. Of course living in Damascus he is once again in fear for his life but his ambitions are undimmed and he has not left his goal driven path. I find such strength, self-motivation and drive in one so young, to be truly inspiring!

Now I want to highlight a newer breed of young person. There are a growing number of passionate, young entrepreneurs who are not following any traditional path. Instead from an early age they are carving their own way and inspiring everyone they meet. I am not referring to any bright young things working in ‘the city’ earning huge salaries and leading cash hungry lifestyles. Instead these are the kind of young men and women who each have a personal mission. They have huge ambitions, but serious goals and an action oriented work ethic.

The first of these young entrepreneurs is Jamie Dunn from Birmingham. This remarkable teenager is already Managing Director of his own company called Made By Young People. Jamie is already an international speaker, a Youth Ambassador for BXL charity and has been recognised with a prestigious Youth Excellence Award. It is well worth reading Jamie’s story on his website, from his first business at the age of 12 to his current venture challenging and inspiring fellow teenagers. Jamie also uses social media, but unlike so many he does not just broadcast on Twitter. He truly engages with his many followers. This young man is just the kind of role model we need to promote!

Finally we come to Josh Chandler from Lincolnshire in the east of England. Josh is the founder of ‘Windows Media Player Updates.com’ a truly excellent user support website. However Josh is so much more than a clever IT guy. His real passion is social change and Josh has a real desire to highlight issues and to influence both community development and social change. Having already established his online credentials and his credibility as an entrepreneur, Josh has decided to now further his education and is about to study business management at Leeds Met University.

Both Jamie and Josh are well aware that real success cannot be based on luck or a youthful smile. Over this last weekend while so many of their peers were out enjoying the last holiday weekend of the summer, both lads were hard at work, mostly alone, writing business plans, goal setting and strategizing for the future.

Let’s stop looking for reasons to knock the youth of today. Look around and search out those young people who are carving out their own positive futures. Congratulate them, support them and be proud of them! Do let me know of any individuals worth highlighting and watch out for planned interviews with some of these beacons for the future.

Links:

Sean: www.seanwills.com Twitter: @seanwillsalt

Safaa: http://www.facebook.com/Safaa Al-dulaimy  Twitter:@safaa_Aldulaimy

Jamie: http://www.madebyyoungpeople.co.uk/ Twitter: @JDEntrepeneur

Josh: http://twitter.com/@joshchandler Use this link while Josh’s main site is being rebranded.

Happy Birthday to an Amazing 20yr Old!

Two days ago, on 6th August, my first tweet of the day included a birthday greeting to the World Wide Web. Is it really only 20 years old? The internet itself had already been around for over 30 years when the web was invented, but it was a tool of academia and the military. It was neither accessible nor comprehensible to the outside world.

After much hard work by a team of experts, a 36 year old physicist named Tim Berners-Lee published the first ever website on a computer at the CERN facility in Geneva, Switzerland where he worked. On 6th August 1991 the world changed forever. The website was info.cern.ch and the first web page, http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/www/theproject.html, was a very basic set of links to technical information about the project. The original page no longer exists, but a 1992 copy of it can be found on the World Wide Web Consortium website:

The inventor, now Sir Tim Berners-Lee, could never have predicted the way his baby has grown over the past 20 years. The Web permeates to every corner of the world and every facet of human behaviour. It took about 2 years before the web entered the public domain but its growth since then has been staggering. We tend to take for granted that the World Wide Web is now the place where people meet and engage, knowledge grows rapidly and creatively and businesses trade and expand. We see revolutions rise by the power of the web and of course we watch animals, children and drunks do the funniest things!

The web has many detractors and we are always being told that it is about to collapse under the weight of spam or porn residing on it. However, only 12% of websites are porn and 25% of searches are porn related. Legitimate (?) use far outstrips this. I think we can take great comfort from the fact that Sir Tim is still actively involved in nurturing his baby and he remains excited about its future.

Many are worried that a few large companies are dominating the web and even attempting to ring fence parts of it for their own personal gain. The history of the web, however, tells us that nothing is certain. One of the best features of the web is the speed at which new things can come along and very quickly change what has gone before.

It may appear that Google dominates, but there is always the rumble of the next big thing about to march over the horizon. It is a sobering thought that there are still some 6 billion web pages in Mandarin which are as yet not indexed by the search giant. In China the search engine of choice is not Google but Baidu which accounts for 75% of all searches. The ‘Twitter of China’ is a relatively new site called Sina Weibo which accrued some 40 million users in its first 2 months. The online population in China has so far this year risen by 6% to 485 million, but some two thirds of the population have yet to go online!

What of the future? It is impossible to predict what will happen on the World Wide Web over the next 20 years or beyond. Will ‘Apps’ or the ‘cloud’ be the vogue? One certain development will be the increased use of web addresses using other languages and other alphabets. The ability to access the web using languages other than English will open it up for a vast, as yet unconnected, portion of the global population

Developments in technology will allow the web to become ever more mobile and to be accessed by devices far removed from any traditional computer. Interestingly it appears that web developments in China tend to be about creative use of the web itself and not about any particular technology.

The biggest question being debated now is whether or not the Web is changing the way we think and behave. Is it changing the way our brain works? Are we moving away from learning a lot of factual information because we can always find it on the web?

The simple answer is yes! Technology has always had a hand in changing the way we think and behave. I would argue that every significant change in human development has been triggered by the development of new technology. Early on it was fire and the wheel. Then it was Roman roads allowing the spread of civilisation on the new ‘network’. Of course there was the printing press too. What defines us as human is our ability to reflect and to adapt; developing new skill sets to cope with these changes and to take advantage of them. We may no longer need to learn lots of factual ‘stuff’ but we need to develop our skills of review, critique and creativity.

One thing we can be sure of is that when we come to mark the web’s ‘coming of age’ a year from now we will be learning to use web based tools not even invented yet. Will I be writing a 21st birthday blog in a year’s time or will I have moved on to a newer way of engaging with you all? Whatever exciting new tool/app I use it will be dependent on an even bigger World Wide Web.

World Book Night

Last December a Tweet from Stephen Fry alerted me to the wild idea that was coming together in the UK publishing domain. An organisation calling itself World Book Night was planning to give away one million books around the country. To achieve this they were looking for 20,000 givers to apply for a share of the books from a list of 25 titles. My choice was the wonderful Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. The application was successful and I duly collected my boxes of books from our local Waterstones bookshop.

Books and reading are, in the words of Dorcas Lane, “my one true weakness”. I have always been passionate about reading, whether for fun or to learn new things. Of course those outcomes often go hand-in-hand in a great book.

Fast forward to last Friday the 4th of March. 10,000 people filled Trafalger Square for the launch of the inaugural book night, which was to take place on Saturday. We stood in the freezing cold whilst Graham Norton introduced us to one famous author after another, who read sometimes from their own works and sometimes from the works of others. My personal favourites were Phillip Pullman’s glorious reading from his book Northern Lights, Margaret Atwood’s moving reading from her book The Blind Assassin and Alan Bennett’s inimitable reading from A life Like Other People’s. At the end of a wonderful evening we each gave away the first of our books, which resulted in a memorable scene with complete strangers giving and receiving books in a great atmosphere of smiling and sharing.

This was at the heart of the whole project. The sharing of books and the willingness to give and receive new knowledge and varied emotions relayed through the printed word. I have always believed that the writing process is not complete until the reader engages with the text on the page and brings the book to life.

“Closing libraries is child abuse.”

-Alan Bennett at Trafalgar Square.

The publishing world is on a knife edge now, with reading technology and internet marketing changing  the face of literature forever. I fear that the publishers have yet to grasp the potential for good in this and to drive the change forward in a positive way. Young writers and new works are emerging at a frightening pace. Young people must be encouraged to embrace reading and to develop a love for books in whatever form they represented.  There is a real danger that ‘commercial’ writers and their books will dictate the quality of the literature produced. Current trends in this are not always for the best,  in my opinion.  I am heartened to read many examples online of young, would-be writers sharing their work and learning their craft the hard way. I will add some links at the end of this blog for you to take a look at their efforts.

Back to World Book Night itself. On Saturday I set off for my local health club with my books all numbered and ready to give away to all the gym goers and staff. Many people turned up because they had read an article which the local newspaper had printed about what I was doing. Again, there were so many smiles and lots of grateful and supportive comments.

Remember, a book is for life, not just for World Book Night. Read your books and pass them on with a little of the joy you may have found in them. Too busy to read? Make time for it. It is a great way to relax, to feed your mind, and to let you imagination run free.

READ more and sign up for next year: www.worldbooknight.org

READ Margaret Attwood’s view of World Book Night: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/8361211/Margaret-Atwood-Hurrah-for-World-Book-Night.html

READ the work of up and coming writers/reviewers:
(This is a good place to start)

www.seanwills.com

www.theinterrobangs.com

READ A BOOK