20 august 2004: jargon for the digital age
flipsockgrrl @ gmail .com
The FBI investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks has already caused researcher Steven Hatfill to lose his job at Louisiana State University. Now it seems the spooks have claimed another academic scalp, that of Kenneth Berry--again without actually charging the person with matters relevant to the anthrax attacks.
Obituaries for John Maynard Smith: "He had the trained eye of a field biologist and an inspiring knowledge of natural history to draw on, and also made major contributions to our understanding of bacteria, genetics, and the evolution of animal signaling. The complete biologist, with expertise and bold hypotheses to offer on every topic from the origins of life to the evolution of human language and culture, he was also one of biology’s best explainers. He was, in fact, what every philosopher should try to be and few succeed in becoming: a connoisseur of beautiful ideas."
Martin Gardner makes a habit of "holding fantastic theories up to a light and debunking them. Not that all fantastic theories are equivalently nonsensical. The MWI [Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics] or the hypothetical time-travelling electron may be fantastic, but they are also thought-provoking and mathematically possible. Other beliefs--that people can be cured of all manner of illness simply by having a healer's hand waved over them; that autism is caused by emotionally costive parenting--are downright pernicious."
In 1978 structural engineer William J LeMessurier reluctantly realised he had information that nobody else in the world possessed. His options: silence, suicide (which he considered cowardly and "unconvincingly melodramatic"), or publicly admit that he had made a dreadful mistake. (via 3quarksdaily)
The Poverty Action Lab uses randomised trials to evaluate whether policies actually help reduce poverty, improve education and achieve other goals.
19 August 2004 | top of page
Dani Cooper reported in The Oz on 14 August that the University of New South Wales has cut off Bruce Hall's research funding. The university denied it, and Cooper reported it again with that all-important word "apparently" added to the lead sentence.
Overseas student applications are down 10 per cent on last year's nationwide figures. IDP Education Australia, the organisation that promotes Australian education overseas, is in financial bother.
"Treating the educational system as training for work degrades the intellectual content of education. It is probably also counterproductive in economic terms, in that it tends to produce a less capable workforce... [Y]oung people are leaving formal education without having benefited from the attainment of knowledge that gives them an all-rounded preparation for adult life, including the demands of work."
"I may be able to function in this world because experience and common sense tell me I will fall if I jump off a high building. But only knowledge of Newton's Laws of Motion and more sophisticatedly the Laws of Thermodynamics would give me the equipment to counter gravity and fly. With one bound he was free." Skills and self-esteem are nice, but there's no substitute for knowing stuff.
The Bush administration reckons quantitative measures can improve education. The first national comparisons of test results seems to expose performance problems in chartered schools, a favored alternative to public schools. [more about chartered schools]
The Japanese government will spend 307 million yen (A$3,9 million) on constructing new primary school classrooms in Nigeria. The Nigerian Minister for Women Affairs, Obong Rita Akpan, says that educating girls must become a priority if any reasonable progress is to be made in tackling issues concerning women and children.
The Indonesian government has allocated 21.5 trillion rupiah (A$3.2 billion) for education in 2005, a 12 per cent increase from this year but far below the Constitution's mandate of 20 per cent of the state budget.
Three companies have opened offices in Vietnam, hoping to attract Vietnamese students to Singaporean education institutions.
Sending their children to university is the major hope of many Chinese families. But continuous increases in tuition fees are making it increasingly difficult for some families.
For a girl surnamed Tao living on the outskirts of Wuhan, being admitted to a local university brings a family burden: the tuition fees and living expenses will cost half her father's annual income. Many universities in Wuhan have increased their tuition fees by almost 30 per cent this year.
Allegations of bribery and corruption in Beijing university admissions have raised questions about loopholes in the university admission system including lack of transparency and supervision, lax management and poor quality of admission personnel.
A US research group says many high school graduation tests don't measure whether students are ready for college or work, and some states haven't even made clear the purpose of their tests.
"In our 20 years of operation, we have never participated in discussions on the establishment of (university) colleges, despite the fact that one of our core functions is to advise the (Education) minister when the institutions are being set up," said Professor Justin Irina, secretary of Kenya's Commission of Higher Education.
"Universities are tending to focus on creating businesses rather than creating wealth," says Nottingham researcher Mike Wright. Their spin-off companies are not profiting from academics' discoveries and inventions.
At Cambridge University, demand by academics and general staff for counselling has increased more than 60 per cent in the last four years.
With its largest student body ever and almost US$200 million in capital projects in the works, Western Carolina University knows the meaning of the word growth. It has introduced new courses, better recreational facilities, more housing, and expects to keep growing. The university's transformation is also changing the communities around it: employment opportunities, supporting and competing with local businesses, transport and infrastructure needs are all changing.
19 August 2004 | top of page
Lots of good stuff in the current issue of Digital Web magazine:
A report for investors by Tom Wolzien of Bernstein Research suggests we are nearing the day when Internet-delivered video can be delivered at prices and video quality competitive with cable TV. One implication is that newspapers should be developing their multimedia capabilities sooner rather than later.
Alan Kohler speculates that "last week's may have been the last profit increase Telstra ever reports... Telstra's has always been the best sort of monopoly to have. It's the sort based on capital barriers to entry, like railways and electricity, rather than political patronage, like casinos... Now it turns out you don't need wires to provide all telecommunications--air will do nicely."
"On any given day online, more than half those using the Internet use search engines... Furthermore, there is a substantial payoff as search engines improve and people become more adept at using them. Some 87% of search engine users say they find the information they want most of the time when they use search engines."
19 August 2004 | top of page
How to survive your first SF convention, and actually have a good time.
"The jargon for the digital age... comes from the engineering quad, the programmers' warren and, perhaps worst of all, from the sales-and-marketing department. These are fingernails-on-the-blackboard words, real shiver-up-the-spine stuff: 'functionality', 'implementation', 'bleeding edge', 'leverage', 'next-generation', 'monetize', 'mission critical'. You can almost see the language curling into a fetal position to await the deathblow."
Wired News has changed its style, losing the initial caps from internet, web and net. They're keeping the hyphenated e-mail, though.
19 August 2004 | top of page
Media watch: high-school exam results are out in England, and Martin Belam plays spot-the-journalistic-cliche.
The New York Times has a little panic about nuclear research at six US universities.The federal government has promised for more than 20 years to replace their weapons-grade uranium with a less enriched fuel, but funding hasn't been forthcoming. In a climate of fear and prejudice, foreign and non-WASP students are looked at askance, and probing questions are asked about campus security. (The NYT link might require a username (flipsock) and password (sneedle).)
Alan McDougall provides (as if we needed it) yet another reason to hate Ticketek. I've not yet had a good experience with Ticketek, and it doesn't seem to matter whether I use their web site, telephone them or go in person to their Melbourne office: they're all equally awful experiences.
18 August 2004 | top of page
Friday: flew Jetstar from Avalon, paid far too much for a train ticket, checked into Comfort Inn Cambridge, just off Oxford Square in Surry Hills. My balcony has a northerly view of the square, some treetops, two Opera House sails and, in the distance, Cremorne where my aunt and uncle used to live (hello, Fay and Bill!).
Pause in Hyde Park to SMS the lovely Miss Jane: "Sunny and 23 degrees. Bliss!" Her reply, in Pythonesque tone: "You lucky bastard."
Wandered around Paddy's Market, then off to the Powerhouse Museum to visit some old favorites--the Saturn V rocket, Robot from Lost in Space, an original Apple-in-a-briefcase and the delicate brass orrery. Also on show:
Saturday: There was a demo in Oxford Street protesting a new law that prevents homosexuals getting married: I missed it, as I'd already walked over to the Museum of Contemporary Art, to see the Sydney Biennale exhibition.
There was a demo at the MCA, protesting the Free Trade Agreement that signs away our intellectual property rights. I missed it, because I had already walked over to Darling Harbour to sit in the sun and read half of the Sydney Morning Herald while kids played nearby and the world strolled or sailed past.
Train, then a longish walk to Bondi beach, where I read the other half of the paper and attempted crosswords.
Sunday: Open Day at the Australian Museum, a National Science Week event. Galloped around the vertebrates (including the world's smallest vertebrate, the stout infantfish) and skeletons (including a kakopo), then joined two free behind-the-scenes tours:
Couldn't do the several other tours that promised fascinations galore (the "life after death" forensic science show, for example) because 12.30 pm was approaching fast. Galloped across the city to Observatory Park, to meet assorted members of the ABC Science Matters list for a picnic lunch. We watched the ball drop at the Sydney Observatory, signalling 1.00 pm, then tucked in. Jann couldn't be there :-( but Julia came all the way from Eremia in WA :-)
Peter Adderley took photos, as did Bill Syratt and I.
The lovely Toby Fiander reported back to the Science-Matters list:
The spookily meterological Kevin Phyland of Wycheproof, here in Victoria, had predicted an East Coast Low (ECL) would develop on Sunday afternoon: we watched the sky from the shelter of the bandstand. Peter Adderley reported to the list:
There was a strong gusty wind on Sunday, some rain overnight and showers on the following day. Not a full-scale destructive storm system, but emphatic enough.
Monday: Favorite sneakers are dead, after pounding about 40 km through and around the city streets. Switch to favorite flat court shoes (which I see are all the rage in the new spring fashions here) and soldier on across hill and dale to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. More Sydney Biennale pieces here, and an exhibition of Chinese silks: robes, hats and badges of rank, most at least 150 years old and some dating back almost a millennium.
Usually when I visit this gallery, it's to see a special exhibition like the Archibald and related prizes, or last year's "Darkness and Light" Caravaggio show (which, BTW, was much better-presented in Sydney than at the National Gallery of Victoria). This time, I was determined to visit every room in which the permanent collection is displayed. With the help of a strong coffee and the escalators, I did it. Even managed to escape the gift shop without buying anything.
Because one simply cannot visit Sydney properly without doing something watery, I took the ferry to Manly. It's a great way to see the city, and as you pass Middle Head and look towards the south-east, you can imagine how the remarkable harbour must have appeared to the early explorers and convicts arriving by ship in the 1700s. Like, wow.
Train to the airport, and home to an 8 degree overnight low. Brr!
17 August 2004 | top of page
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