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June 2004
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August 2004

They would say that wouldn't they... (2)

It is an opportunity that thousands of teachers would leap at, but nothing was left to chance when Ofsted decided its own work needed inspecting. The best organisation for the job was brought in: itself.

Unsurprisingly, the Office for Standards in Education yesterday gave itself full marks, concluding that its inspections had improved schools, reinforced the national curriculum and provided effective advice to government.

In a report derided by teaching unions as "smug" and self-congratulatory, Ofsted declared that a million children had benefited from improvements to schools identified by inspectors as requiring "special measures". Far from instilling fear and loathing in teachers, inspections were well regarded by "around 90% of providers", according to its first self-evaluation.

In the spirit of self-criticism, Ofsted admitted some schools would prefer inspectors to carry out "more follow-up or intervention work" and accepted there remained "significant apprehension" about inspections, which it hoped would be reduced by short-notice inspections.

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They would say that wouldn't they... (1)

An American firm is to offer British students coaching for new university entrance tests - but the universities say parents will be wasting their money.

Faced with the large increase in the number of students gaining A grades at A-level, a group of top universities has introduced additional tests for law and biomedical applicants, designed to test thinking skills and distinguish between the good and the best. The universities claim the tests are "coaching-proof".

This week, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, which coaches 270,000 students a year in the US, announced it will be offering two-day courses for students preparing for these tests at a cost of £199. The company is also offering discount rates for schools.

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Look Deep into my Eyes

The New York Times

POETS, lovers, and amateur psychologists have long looked deep into people's eyes to read their thoughts and feelings. But the reflections in full view on the surface of the eye rarely receive much attention.

Now two Columbia University scientists have come up with a computer-based way to extract detailed information from the fleeting images of the world mirrored on the curved surface of the eye.

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Curated Consumption - August 2004

In amongst all the marketing hype there is a serious social trend identified here: Oprah, Richard and Judy, and perhaps some webloggers?

On the one hand, spoilt-for-choice, switched-on, wired-to-the-teeth consumers are more demanding, knowledgeable and in control than ever, wallowing in conspicuous consumption and unrivalled choice, and making or breaking new products and services the moment they hit the shelves.

On the other hand, that same avalanche of choice, the abundance of high quality MASS CLASS goods, the mind boggling number of variations, brands, flavors, and God knows what, is driving those very same, often time-starved consumers into the arms of a new breed of 'curators' and editors, who pre-select for them what to buy, what to experience, what to what to wear, what to read, what to drink and so on. (Curator n. He or she who manages or oversees a museum collection or a library.)

So make way for the emerging trend of CURATED CONSUMPTION: millions of consumers following and obeying the new curators of style, of taste, of eruditeness, in an ever growing number of B2C industries (Martha and home decorating was really just the beginning ;-).

And it's not just one way: in this uber-connected world, the new curators enjoy unprecedented access to broadcasting and publishing channels to reach their audience, from their own blogs to niche TV channels.

CURATED CONSUMPTION is behind magazines morphing into catalogues, which then morph into eclectic stores, it's behind DJs, restaurant critics, opinionated bloggers, and rap stars giving consumers access to their playlists, their cribs, their top 10 lists. And let's not forget celeb designers cooperating with retail chains, hand-picking NO FRILLS CHIC collections; Amazon reviewers; gay lifestyle gurus; and self-help TV personalities. The new Gods of CURATED CONSUMPTION are amongst us! ;-)

It also explains why shops increasingly look like museums, art galleries, and antique stores: consumers these days may end up in someone's loft, apartment or office when looking for something with a seal of approval, but also something with soul, with character, with stories attached to an edited-down, manageable number of choices. Which is of course why CURATED CONSUMPTION fits so well with other current key business and marketing concepts like 'story telling', 'character', 'authenticity' and 'discovery'.

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Defending Networks Against Cascading Failure

American Institute of Physics

Just as foresters can often halt a forest fire from burning out of control by deliberately setting firebreaks, it might be possible to reduce the size or spread of outages in a network in the wake of an attack or overload.

The Internet and the electrical grid are just two such networks that might benefit from a new model devised by Adilson Motter of the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden.

Several previous network models have shown how an attack on key nodes of a system can cascade into a catastrophic failure. Motter's model shows how such a failure can be mitigated by shutting down selected peripheral nodes that handle only small amounts of the network's total load.

Simulating attacks on networks showed that answering the original attack with several successive rounds of precautionary node shut-down drastically reduced the size of the overall cascade.

Physical Review Letters:

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The best view of the Tour is from space

ESA Portal

It is now possible to track the position and speed of each rider in the Tour de France in real-time thanks to the EGNOS European satellite positioning system, a preparatory programme for the Galileo system.

Thanks to satellites, it will be possible to know at any given time where each rider is and how he is doing in the race, whether he is in the peloton or has broken away and is out in front.

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How to Save the World

How to Save the World

Graphic from Dave Pollard's excellent site, based on ideas from

There was a very interesting study done in California in 1990 called "Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction". The study drew together about 60 leading thinkers on the subject. You can read more about it here (.pdf file). In essence it said that effective critical thinking requires a combination of three things:

1. Cognitive Skills: The intellectual ability to: interpret (express and clarify significance), analyze, evaluate (assess credibility), infer (draw reasonable conclusions), explain (articulate the rationale for opinions or conclusions) and self-regulate (self-consciously assess and improve personal thinking processes).

2. Critical Spirit: A disposition to: be inquisitive, seek to be well-informed, be alert for the need to think critically, have self-confident and trust in one's rational processes, be open-minded and flexible, understand other points of view, be fair and prudent in making judgements, be honest about one's own biases, prejudices and ego, and be willing to change views when warranted.

3. Intellectual Rigour: Application of these skills and this spirit to achieve: clarity in understanding and articulating the issues, discipline in compiling and organizing relevant information, diligence in seeking missing information, rigour in setting belief criteria, focused attention to the thinking process, persistence through logical difficulties, and precision to the degree that it is possible.

In other words, you need to acquire these skills, be disposed to use them, and apply them in a disciplined way.

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From your local utility company...

BBC Technology

Interesting post from Bill Thompson which underlines further thinking about ICT as a Utility function...

The need for openness is not the same as the need to provide source code and binaries free of charge, or the freedom to allow anyone to use, modify or distribute copies of your work.

Companies may charge for their software, and still provide the source code for inspection.

This implies that we will need to argue separately for the freedom to reuse, as people like Richard Stallman have done for decades, because it does not automatically make sense to the market.

In the next five or 10 years, disclosing source code and offering permissive licenses for reuse will be seen as making the best economic sense.

So now would be a good time to start thinking about how we persuade governments that market in software may eventually need to be regulated, just as the market in electricity, water and food is, and that that regulation may well include a statutory duty to disclose source code and allow it to be used elsewhere.

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26 Expulsions in one Year!

One of Tony Blair's favoured new academy schools revealed its hard line yesterday when it admitted that its exclusion rate is 10 times the national average.

State-run schools exclude 0.23% of pupils on account of poor behaviour, but in its first year the King's Academy in Middlesbrough, which was partly funded by the millionaire car dealer Sir Peter Vardy, ejected 2.51% - a total of 26 out of their 1,034 pupils. Academies form the centrepiece of the government's five-year plan for education. They aim to have open, or in the pipeline, 200 new academies throughout the country within five years to replace struggling schools. In each case the government puts in £22m to set up the academy, with a private organisation donating £2m in each case and taking control of the schools' day to day running.

A spokeswoman for the Foundation said that the King's Academy, which opened last September, had brought together children from three schools in the area who all came from "very different systems".

"We have a very clear proce dure on behaviour to which all students and parents sign up. Everyone knows the rules. By breaking them children exclude themselves. They know what the consequences are."

Behaviour for which children might be excluded, she said, included taking drugs in schools or persistent misbehaviour and disruption.

She added that the hard line had helped to establish a good ethos among students. "There's certainly very little bad behaviour because people know bad behaviour isn't tolerated."

She said all 26 pupils who had been expelled were now being taught at neighbouring schools - but insisted that the academy took excluded pupils from other schools too.

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