Monthly Archives: June 2012

Tax: a comedy of errors…?

I have written a bit about taxation before, so it probably won’t surprise you that I have found the ongoing “controversy” about Jimmy Carr’s tax affairs and the political pronouncements by both Labour and Tories (not least David Cameron) pretty irritating.

Let me put my cards on the table. I avoid paying tax! Most people do, I would expect. I am quite happy to whatever tax is due, but frankly I would not want to pay more than I need to, and I take steps to reduce the amount I pay.

All, I hasten to add, perfectly legally. And, whilst the methods I use are a little more mainstream than Mr Carr’s (for instance, using my annual ISA allowance, paying into a personal pension plan, and, in the past, using a limited company to manage my freelance work), they are frankly no different. The government has decided to allow me to save tax in a variety of ways, and I chose to do so; similarly, Mr Carr took advantage of sophisticated but government-sanctioned ways to reduce his tax bill. Indeed, since it is fair to assume that every UK taxpayer at the very least makes the most of their personal allowance (currently £8105 pa) – if only because it is taken into account automatically by HMRC), so to a small extent we all avoid tax.

I might not think it is “fair” that Carr pays so little tax, but it seems odd to berate him for doing what others do, just because he is a public figure. (There may be a bit of hypocrisy if his stage act focuses on others wrongdoing – I am not a fan, and I don’t know his act – but that certainly isn’t “a moral issue”.)

In fact, the most hypocritical person here seems to be David Cameron. He is in the perfect position to change the tax legislation – to simplify the UK tax code, for instance, and remove loopholes that result lawyers and accountants thinking up whizzy (if legal) schemes to reduce their clients’ tax bills.

Instead, he and his chancellor reduced the top rate of tax payable by the highly paid in the last budget. Now, I’d say that IS a moral issue.

Personal Learning Systems?

At a recent Everything Unplugged session (the Wednesday morning London meetup I went to), we discussed what systems and processes we use for learning. This struck me as being a bit too structured for me: I am not sure that my learning works like that. When I need to know something – a specific piece of knowledge for a bit of work, for example – I will either Google it (and start a trail of links, maybe making paper or digital notes as I go along) or ask someone (either face to face, on the phone, by email, Twitter or text message – indeed, whatever medium is the most appropriate for the person or the information).

Most of my learning, though, is adventitious and informal – accidental or serendipitous: things I come across in conversation or on the web, via Twitter or one of the many blogs I read. I may or more likely not record this learning: I don’t keep a record of what I read, although I do keep a pile of links I want to follow up on Twitter by favouriting (is that a verb? ‘Tis now…) others’ tweets. I also use Diigo for links I come across (and its mobile app, PowerNote) – and one can add tags and notes to Diigo (a real limit for Twitter, I think).

(Some definitions of learning require the setting of learning goals – most common in formal education and training. I don’t that on my own account: it is much more informal than that.)

I also use Evernote to write down ideas and lists of books and other things I want to follow up. (Evernote has distinct advantages to Diigo, I think – it is usable when one is not connected to the internet, and has much better text handling capabilities, I think – but Diigo is much better at bookmarking and tagging.)

I go to formal talks and lectures (the RSA has been a boon for this whilst I have been in London – I will be taking advantage of their live streaming and video channels in my new home) and have informal conversations at, say, Tuttle or Everything Unplugged which are nevertheless full of learning (and frequently more challenging than formal talks, since there is more feedback and exploration through questionning). I often blog about lectures, talks and conversations – one way I record and explore what what I have have learned – like this!

And then there are filed emails, my calendar, my (paper) diary and notebooks. (Paper has a lot of advantages for me over digital note taking: it helps me make connections and remember things better. I often make mindmaps, and those only work for me on paper; and in a lecture or a talk, using a device more sophisticated than a pen and paper distracts me from the talk itself! I can see that tablet devices – without a screen to get in between me and the speaker – might solve this; but pen and paper works just fine! I am not one of those people who can type faster than they write…)

So, not so much a system, more a random group of methods that seem to work for me in an unstructured, somewhat haphazard fashion.

Others in the Everything Unplugged group had a much more rigorous approach – indeed, Neil had come along to try out some of his ideas for developing a personal learning portfolio on us, which got us into the conversation. Using online and offline resources, for instance, one of the group has a structured workflow to manage his learning, including using Delicious as a bookmarking tool (similar to Diigo – I started to use bookmarking when the future of Delicious looked in doubt, though it now seems assured; someone mentioned a specific bookmarking service for learning, XTlearn, though I’ve not explored it) and TiddlyWiki as a note-taking tool. (TiddlyWiki looks great but I have failed to get it working properly on any of my devices – though I’m pretty sure that’s me and not the programme! Maybe I should give it another go.)

Creating a learning portfolio means that one would have a record of all relevant learning; someone reckoned that this – a summary of our learning – could be used in place of a standard CV – the summary of our experiences. Neil feels it will be able to identify matches for new roles and to examine knowledge, learning or skills gaps, which one could then plan to fill.

My main criticism was that such a record of learning shows neither the impact that something has had nor what we think of it. One may learn things which have absolutely no influence at all; other ideas may be highly influential and change the way one behaves. Simply recording what we’ve read, watched – learned – doesn’t differentiate. Maybe that is why people use CVs instead of a learning portfolio.

There are clearly some benefits to having a more structured approach to learning – not least being able to retrieve what one has learned. For long form research – writing a book, say – one would need to record all the references. But for every day, informal learning, an unstructured approach works for me: trying to codify it might make it more like work and less like fun.