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Google Map Maker

Just found this lovely website about Google Map Maker.

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Why power to the people

What should you strive for?

  • Equal spread of power among all people.

Why? Three reasons, of which the third is the most important:

  1. Morality: Equal power per person is fair.
  2. Efficiency: Equal power is the most efficient way to make use of our combined human capacities.
  3. Instability: Power begets power, which means that it tends to "clump" - equal spread of power is not a stable state. Thus we have to continually work towards it, rather than achieve it and then relax.
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University tuition fees: not just the fees

Thousands of students protested against the big hike in university tuition fees today - and they were right to do so! But ever since New Labour introduced fees and promised blithely that they probably wouldn't increase much, it's been on the cards. It was clearly a slippery slope - once you accept tuition fees, there's no logical reason they should be limited to £3k, or £6k, or £300k, it's just what you can get away with politically.

The deeper change is that the Con/Lib government is simultaneously going to cut down the funding that goes directly from government to the universities to teach students (the so-called HEFCE T-allocation). I asked our college Principal about this and he said:

"The exact figure is not yet clear but will be of the order of a 75% cut. So this is a very significant development. Whereas the previous "top-up fees", introduced by Labour, were intended to increase funding for universities, the current proposals are clearly to substitute contributions from the individual for government funding."

So the cost of universities is not just changing incrementally, it's being shifted off the shoulders of government and onto the shoulders of the poor students who are going to have to decide if it's worth it or not to start adult life off with a massive debt. (The government has said that the enhanced student loans and bursaries etc will mitigate this, but they clearly either don't understand, or don't really care, how people work with money when they haven't got much.)

The big idea here is a simple free-market system: if universities have to compete with each other for the money that students choose to "spend" on their courses, then they'll need to improve their courses and make them well-tailored to the job market, and the resulting market pressure will push the quality of UK higher education right up.

Stefan Collini wrote a good article in the LRB criticising various aspects of this, such as what it might do to the arts and humanities. But the thing that probably troubles me the most is that young people are essentially supposed to take on the burden of "designing" university provision, by collectively understanding the jobs market, the purpose of education, etc etc, and choosing courses appropriately. I know when I was 18 I didn't have a flipping clue about any of that, and I'm sure lots of my friends didn't either.

The free-market approach relies heavily on the perfectly-informed rational consumer. It needs the consumers to be aware of the state of the market, so they can make rational decisions based on that information. Without that information, you get market failure. Even if we assume that this market approach could be a good way to design our university system, I'm still deeply concerned that it will not have the effect it's supposed to. Even worse, I know that wealthy families are better informed and better educated about university choices and things like that, so I'm concerned that this is going to increase differences between rich and poor, despite the government's sticking-plaster promises about widening-participation measures.

I was reading a research article about music education, from 2007 (i.e. nothing to do with the current debate!), and found this short summary of evidence about young people's career choices:

"The literature on career choice, and the factors that influence young people's career decision-making, are too vast to be explored in detail here. However, a few salient points are worth noting. First, young people's career ideas have been shown to be based on stereotypes – either stereotypes of the work involved in any occupation, or stereotypes of what are acceptable ‘male’ and ‘female’ jobs (O'Neal et al., 1977; Nelson, 1978; Gottfredson, 1981; Hemsley-Brown, 1998; Furlong & Biggart, 1999). Second, their occupational knowledge is restricted in range, and often in depth (Hemsley-Brown, 1998). Third, any knowledge about careers is also influenced by social class (Ball & Maguire, 2000), culture (Hollands, 1990; Hodkinson et al., 1996), geographical location (Banks et al., 1992), and opportunity structure (Roberts, 1977).

"[...] Finally, Hodkinson et al. (1996) argue that in real life many career decisions are ‘pragmatically rational’ rather than the more fully reasoned ‘technically rational’ decisions that policy makers, and careers guidance practitioners, hope young people will make. The young people in their cohort made career decisions that ‘were pragmatic, rather than systematic’ (Hodkinson & Sparkes, 1997: 33). They argue that these ‘pragmatic’ decisions are made within a person's horizons for action." [Source: Hancock & Hoskins 2007]

This all rings pretty true to me. Careers advice was rubbish and irrelevant when I was young, and now from an older perspective I can see it's probably simply because there's no real way to convey all that mass of information to young people in the tiny amount of time and resources available. The government is making the wrong bet with our university system.

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My wikipedia watchlist

The list of recently-edited-pages that pops up in my wikipedia watchlist often seems like an eerily canny list of topics tailored to me...

  • Amplifier‎
  • Bada (operating system)‎
  • Bayes' theorem‎
  • Beardyman‎
  • Beatboxing‎
  • Beta distribution‎
  • Bleach (album)‎
  • Boxee‎
  • Breadth-first search‎
  • British cuisine‎‎
  • CC‎
  • Cluster analysis‎
  • CMake‎
  • Cochlear implant‎
  • Coefficient of determination‎
  • Comparison of revision control software‎
  • Compressed sensing‎
  • Dalvik (software)‎
  • Decision tree learning‎
  • Deep-fried Mars bar‎
  • Dirichlet distribution‎
  • Entropy (information theory)‎
  • Ethnography‎
  • Friends of Dean Martinez‎
  • Gibbs sampling‎
  • Gradient descent‎
  • Hill climbing‎
  • Jensen's inequality‎
  • K-means clustering‎
  • Kernel density estimation‎
  • List of Linux distributions‎
  • Magnetostriction‎
  • Mary Anne Hobbs‎‎
  • Mel-frequency cepstrum‎
  • Mendeley‎
  • Mode (statistics)‎
  • Moment of inertia‎
  • Moodle‎
  • Moogerfooger‎
  • Multivariate normal distribution‎
  • MusicBrainz‎
  • MythTV‎
  • Nearest neighbor search‎
  • New Cross Gate railway station‎
  • OpenStreetMap‎
  • Pareto distribution‎
  • Pitch correction‎
  • Psychoacoustics‎
  • Rahzel‎
  • Resampling (statistics)‎
  • Rock Band‎
  • Scribd‎
  • Sign language‎
  • SongBird‎
  • Spearman's rank correlation coefficient‎
  • Statistical hypothesis testing‎
  • Support vector machine‎
  • Talk:Dalvik (software)‎
  • Talk:Entropy (information theory)‎
  • Talk:Kernel density estimation‎
  • Talk:Queer theory‎
  • Text user interface‎
  • Tiling window manager‎
  • Timbre‎
  • Tobin tax‎
  • Total correlation‎
  • Ubuntu Netbook Edition‎
  • WAV‎
  • YouView‎
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World Cup, vuvuzela, culture

Since we do audio research we were asked about one of the current hot topics in the World Cup, and that's the sound of the vuvuzela. Chris wrote a really good article about the vuvuzela sound and how it comes across on the radio/TV, with some audio analysis plus a downloadable plugin for quietening the sound without quietening the commentator (that's what we were asked about).

But culturally it's kind of bizarre that a fair proportion of England fans seem to be cross about the sound of the vuvuzela. This is one of the things that's great about global events like the World Cup or the Olympics - it's a high-profile thing where a kind of uniformity (the rules of the game) meet up with local variation (the things people do around the game). It must be quite a powerful sound to be in the middle of a load of vuvuzelas. Just like football chants there's presumably an element of intimidating the other side but that's all part of the atmosphere, and part of supporting your home team. Why not?

It seems like it's a part of South African football culture. It's not been around for many decades, and some of the nay-sayers seem to think that because it's relatively recent and because it's made of plastic that it can't be defended as being part of the culture, but to me that comes across as a kind of snobbery. I like the fact that different matches sound different because of the crowd that's there, whether you recognise certain songs - or I remember being surprised by an international match where the general roar of the crowd seemed to be much higher-pitched than I was used to. Then I realised that it was because the country (I forget which) had a much better balance of male and female football fans, and it was really impressive to notice that this difference made a distinctly audible difference.

Anyway. Over at the createdigitalmusic blog there's a nice vuvuzela orchestra video as well as a summary of a lot of the technical suggestions people have been making...

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World War 2; my grandpa; good and evil

I recently read a novel by D M Thomas which revolves around morality and complicity in the WWII extermination of the Jews. (By the way: The White Hotel by D M Thomas is my number one novel of all time and I recommend it to anyone, it's an amazing book …

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Lotería Nacional scam letter

I wish our scanner worked properly for this, but you'll have to cope with just the photo. Scam "lottery winning notification" emails are boring, but today we got a scam LETTER, and look at how lovingly hand-crafted and beautiful it is!

It has as many official stamps, barcodes, signatures, and …

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Watch this: Happiness and choice

Two videos about how to be happy. Includes some surprising scientific results about the relationship between choice and happiness. Check them out.

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The Giant Instrument

Some of my colleagues have created a Giant Musical Instrument installation. Check it out, if you're in central London go and have a look...

Photo of Giant Instrument

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Israeli and Palestinian deaths

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Snowball fight!

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Customised Bristol trousers

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Edinburgh Fringe 07

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Reading CSV files in Octave

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Eurostar rips off British people on purpose

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The city breathes

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Longitude and precision

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Speed cameras and hosepipes

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