Monday, October 31, 2005

Tutors 'forced to inflate grades'

Chris Woodhead, professor at the University of Buckingham, on the price of academic "quality":

"I just feel for young people, who are wasting three years of their lives, who are ending up with a degree which won't have any intellectual meaning and which won't have any currency in the workplace."

The final quote from the Dept of Education highlights the possible paradox:

"It is right that we try to get more money into our universities to fund expansion - all talented young people, whatever their background, should have the chance to engage in good quality higher education." (my emphasis.)

Universities are now deeply engaged in a market system, just as secondary education and, from an attentional point of view, politicians are. The rhetoric of choice means that hype is ever more important. And where hype is needed, "opportunity" forms. Opportunity, that is, to bend whichever way fits the figures. Hence exclusive selection will find a way, paralleled - as seen above - by simply moving the goal posts for what the statistics measure.

"Quality" has many meanings in a market environment.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A plethora of Start-ups, and Spolsky on WWW II

Semi interesting link from /., if only because it hints at interesting things but surrounds them with a bunch of technocrap: Thinking Outside the VC Box - on the "Momentary Enterprise". A Slashdot comment picks up on why it might be a bad idea for economic stability, but fails to convince me as to why it won't happen. What I find intriguing is:

a). the idea that very short term profit as an aim for a company is very much in-line with economic thinking. In the long term, for instance, you have to factor in such context as environmental damage, etc, which cut into costs, which is detrimental to a company (let alone humans). A narrowly-scoped, project-led existence actually makes some kind of economic sense.

b). the contrast to current theories of firm's existence - namely (and correct me if I'm out here) either profit-making or survival - or, generally, some mix of the two. This "momentary" model purposefully sacrifices the latter in favour of the former (which is what separates it from, say, the dot-com bubble of pure hype but with implied hope of sustainability and growth.) The "sustainability", as it were, takes effect on a much lower level - that of the individual. If people are free to create businesses, join/leave businesses, and destroy them, then isn't that like just swapping project teams within an existing, long-term company? So long as there are abundant businesses, then the survival of the individual, across many individuals, is something near-constant.

Hell, some people think it strange that people used to stay with one company for 30-40 years. Now people think 5 years with one company is too long. Extrapolated trend?

Secondly, Joel Spolsky makes me laugh with this quote:

When people use the term Web 2.0, I always feel a little bit stupider for the rest of the day.

The line between "yes there is a revolution" and "no there isn't" is fuzzy (as Phil points out) - too fuzzy, says I, to really care about. "AJAX" is to javascript + the new browser generation + XML, as "Web 2.0" is to RSS + AJAX + tagging + stuff. In other words, the fuzzy packaging isn't really - technologically, at least - as important as what it's doing, and how people use it. The ability to package all these concepts up into one phrase may help to alert people about these new technologies, but they still evolve "independently" (in that they're realtively (and increasingly?) modular) of each other. "Evolve" perhaps being the key word. Anyone can define such phrases (in fact, I'd say this is Web 3.0 at least), so in the end they don't matter a huge deal. People are impressed by Google Maps. I'm impressed by RSS feeds in Thunderbird. Whatever you call it as a "concept" makes no real difference, I say. Will bundling them together have an influence? Maybe so, but probably not as much as you think.

I think perhaps there's also an argument that web "sceners" are inherently culty, and love anything that differentiates themselves from the hordes. Before everyone started using the net, "The Net" was the big cliquey thing. But now it's popular, it's much more difficult to stand out. Thus, "Web 2.0" is for sure a marketing invention (based on some very useful tech), but alongside that it can be seen as a psychological need for attention. These two things then combine to stretch vocabularies and ideas, such that we're now adopting (buzz?) words for things that have always been around, but have been less important. An economy of attention, long tails and power laws etc have always been around. Do they act any different once they've been identified? Or are they just excuses and justifications for when things go wrong?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

R U up4ID?

Into the Machine launches a new initiative to show some solidarity with the beleagoured (is that a word?) MPs who keep voting for ID cards.

(Trumpets and curtains)

The up4ID campaign is go! Spread the word.

The £750m cost of a few bombs

The problem with terrorism over here, perhaps, is that it kind of works. (Note that I can probably get arrested for blogging so. I should disclaim that any kind of violence in order to threaten the financial health of a country is, well, somewhat drastic, to say the least. Personally, I love the chaotic London Underground, and am rather annoyed that it'll be a while until I consider it "safe" again.)

Afghan 'drug lord' handed to US

How sad. The importance of terrorism in swinging people's opinions is now so great that the term "narco-terrorism" is being used seriously. I suspect it's no coincidence that Baz Mohammad's mention of "jihad", in reference to selling drugs to America, is being played up.

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also ignores fundamental neo-con eco-politics when he says that "those who seek to destroy American lives will be brought to justice". If there ain't a market demand, then it's difficult to supply people with $25m-worth of heroin. Where exactly is that demand coming from?

Or is Alberto trying to portray US drug takers as merely victims of the Afghan drug cartels? Well, maybe it's not so clear cut. Wipe out the cartels and we'll see if the problem goes away. Or if the demand simply gets supplied from somewhere else.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bloody economists

On a different note, I'm rapidly learning that while economics itself is intersting, economists serve only to confuse me about things that made perfect sense before. Even in the way you pronounce it: Economics, Economists... Bah.

On Fluenza - initial notes

I can't work out if govt plans to buy two flu vaccines for every person in case of outbreak of bird flu is:

  • meant to calm people down

  • meant to make people more afraid; or

  • the result of the government being afraid (both of outbreak, and of being seen to not do anything) and being pushed into it by industry

    • Ask yourself - do we really need this much vaccine, especially when it doesn't actually exist yet? How much research has been done into how feasible this vaccine is? (I'm not a biology person...) When Sir Liam Donaldson mentions that:

      Roche, which manufactures the drug, had originally agreed to deliver the full order by March 2007, but under government pressure, it had agreed to bring the deadline forward to next September.

      what was the "government pressure" exactly? Did it involve the promise of more money?

      And while it may be great that a company is on the case with making a vaccine, what measures are being taken to actually distribute the stuff to places where it matters?

      Furthermore, the people dealing with this are going to be the same people being trained up for terrorist attacks et al at the same time. What pressures are we placing on our infrastructure to have all of these contingency plans in place?

      *sigh* I can see I'm going to have to read the PDF... So much reading to do...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Alas, "David Blunkett is an Arse" is no more. In it's ashes rise the shadowy figure of "Into The Machine". Good name or not? We shall see...


Haven't seen this before... Have Blogger had backlinks (like trackbacks, but using Google's "link:" and blogsearch) for very long?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Here, birdy-birdy...

Good to see that bird flu outbreaks are good for some.

Forking Labour

If there is unrest within Labour (the split, perhaps, between "old" and "new", only "new" is now firmly to the right), uncertainty amongst Labour supporters, and a lack of interest/decision on the part of voters (and that the Lib Dems are too left), then what makes sense? I say the Labour party is close to being forked. I also suggest that the new party be called "In Labour".

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Working With Chaos

The CSS formatting may be in need of fixing, but Exmosis: Working With Chaos.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Game theory pioneers win Nobel economics prize

Game theorist gets Nobel economics prize. Not got time to write much now, but been at Uni just over a week now, delving into economics, sociology and change, and Game Theory, Chaos and Fractals keep popping up. (In my mind, at least ;) I have even less trust of economics now (modelling, in particular) than I did when I started, suffice to say...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Sony vs Common Sense

Sony loses PS2 chipping case in Oz: 'There is no copyright reason why the purchaser should not be entitled to copy the CD-Rom and modify the console in such a way as to enjoy his or her lawfully acquired property without inhibition,'

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Who's funding Iraq?

I think I had countries like Russian in mind when I wrote this. But is Iraq insurgency being supported by factions closer to home?

Update, a few seconds later. (Via my rollyo search) I found this old BBC article from 2002, that mentions the economic co-operation between Russia, Iraq and Iran pre-Invasion. Furthermore, this article from 2004 notes that "Russia is one of Iraq's main creditors." Is global politics and warfare really just about getting people to owe you money, like a big version of banks competing to lend you money? Is a war a Long Term Investment?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Paradigmal Faith

My AI course started out by failing to define "intelligence". My Public Policy course seems to be starting out by failing to define either "policy" or "power".

Science and economics, then, are closely aligned in terms of ways in which we can look at the world. Both seek to quantify everything into discrete packets, so that we can line these packets up and manipulate them to our hearts' contents. Perhaps this is why science and economics both occupy such a fundamental position in modern society - they reinforce each other, and sit kindly within the tiny pockets of "intelligence" inside our heads.

But this seems to be the kicker - neither is capable of defining a large part of the real world. Science measures physical things. Economics measures ... value, but only in a very limited sense. What price love? What price jealousy? How much happiness can you fit in a 100cl beaker?

In short, the tools and paradigms we have available to us, and that we concentrate our effrots into, are not sufficient for actually going about our living. They are there to prop up an idea of control. They are ways to make ourselves as a race feel better for the true lack of control we actually have. So long as we play by the rules we have set out for ourselves, we are safe.

Alas, then, that so many of life's little challenges are so unmeasurable. And alas that we will continue to try and shoehorn global efforts such as our relationship with the environment, and our societal priorities, into these under-performing paradigms. This is why we will fail, but we are too blinded by our own machinery to truly think "outside the box".

The debate is no longer about capitalism vs socialism. We need a debate on "progress" vs the nature of reality itself. Reality is scary, we'd better get used to it.