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26. February 2018 Lukáš Knápek

The second semester and stories of three nations

Let me start with a usual short evaluation of the end of my first (third in total) semester. The semester has been the most difficult one for me yet (even when compared to my current semestr). This was mainly due to mathematics subjects. In total, I had six subjects, three of which were mathematics subjects that I had chosen voluntarily and one more that appeared to be a Computer Science subject, but in reality, it was about dicrete maths. However, after a lot of effort, I can happily say that I have managed to pass all of my exams.

I could also make an interesting choice. As I have finished enough maths subjects in the first year and the first half of the seconds year, I had the opportunity to continue in this academic path. Thanks to the flexibility of University of Glasgow degrees, I could have decided to pursue mathematics even in this semestr and then change my degree (Software Engineering) to Mathematics at the end of the semester. Then I would study mathematics for the two honours years. If I woul not have been interested solely in maths, I could have also changed my degree in a way that would allow me do study joint Mathematics and Software Engineering in the honours years. However, after plenty of thinking, I decided to keep on studying Software Engineering by itself as it is closer to my heart. But the entire concept of flexible degrees is very useful, especially for students who have not have fully decided on their degree by the time they start studying at a university.
 
With the formalities out of the way, I would like to describe some events related to three nations a bit. Two of which are real and one of which is fictional. The University of Glasgow students in the last few days have had the opportunity to see crowds of academics picketing outside the main university gates. Similar situation can be also observed on many other universities in the UK. The protestors often hold signs saying "Our pension, axed." What is going on then?
 
To keep it short, it all started when Universities UK (UUK), an organisation representing UK universities (as employers) decided to change the current pension scheme due to deficit issues. Instead of a guaranteed pension amount, the pension of the current and future academics will depend on the current state of the stock market. University and College Union (UUC), representing academics themselves, argues that the new system will cause academics to be worse off up to ten thousand pounds per year and up to two hundred pounds during the entirety of their retirement. It probably will not come as a surprise that the two sides have not reached a compromise, and so there will be strikes all accross the UK which could potentially affect the examination and graduation periods. The strike actions has not affected me much, personally, and I know only of one lecturer and one tutor who went protesting rather than lecturing/tutoring. However, the situation can be quite diffrent for students of different subjects at different universities. It will be interesting to see what compromise the two sides will reach. If any.
 
The other event is a more relevant to us as it is the presidential election that occured a little while ago. I, too, intended to participate in voting as every good citizen should. So I applied for my voter IDs for both rounds and had them sent to my place in Glasgow. They arrived in time so I was ready to take part in our democratic process. But then I learned something that changed my plans. Initially, I wanted to vote at the honorary consulate in Edinburgh. It turned out that it is a consulare  in name only and it does not hold the vote. Where else could I have voted then? The next nearest polling booth was far down in London. That is not really a stone throw away from Glasgow so in the end, I was not able to take part, which makes me a bit sorry. Coincidentally, at the same time I received a letter from the local office, urging me to register in the  electoral register (here in UK). There are two things I found interesting about that. First, I basically had to do that, even if I ended up not voting at all, otherwise I would have received a fine. The other thing is that UK citizens have two additional ways of voting compared to Czechs. They can either vote by post, or by proxy. The first option seems very useful and I would like to see it used in our elections as well. The polling booths abroad are not necessarily best placed, so allowing people to vote by post feels like a sensible choice. It would allow all Czechs living abroad to vote and there is about 2.5 million of them according to the latest guesses.
 
The most interesting event of this semester was this year's Cyber Defense Exercise (CDX) organised by the oh so active Glasgow University Tech Society (GUTS). It was a two-day event focused on teaching various aspects of cybersecurity. In practice, the participants were divided into about 15 teams and each team represented security experts of a country in a fictional world. The world was threatened by country called Estrea, which was a dictatorship.
We had a day and a half to secure and clean systems manging the energetic and financial infrastructure of our country. In the end, we even had to secure the computer of the president. After this time elapsed, the Estrean attack began. We had to defend our countries from about twenty amateur and professional attackers which were in real life older students and people working in the big local IT companies. It was a tought battle and a couple of nations were toppled shortly after the attack started. My team, representing the security experts of a country called Packetia, lost their access to email and Twitter account shortly after the attack began. Our twitter was then cruely used to further spread the Estrean propaganda. Not even our energetic system was safe and so the web interface controlling the nuclear power plant in the country was replaced with an animated gif of a cute monkey. Unfortunately, our presidental machine was breached as well and the nuclear launch codes were encrypted. At least our financial systems were protected well enough. All in all, it was a fun and learning experience and I would like to try this again the next year. Maybe I will be able to be one of the attackers next time.
 
I have only a month left until the end of the teaching period of this semestr. Then it is three weeks of vacation followed by the last exam period of this year. If I manage to pass, I will have finished half of my studies and I will continue to honours years where I will study only subjects closely related to my degree.
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