Archive for November, 2011

November 28, 2011

technology and landscape

This is more interesting than anything I might have to say about it – the ironic effects of landmines on the preservation of natural landscapes, placing woods, meadows, and even remote country roads off-limits, fatally tainted terrains given back to animals and vegetation. Reminds me of the surveys of Bikini Atoll 50 years after the nuclear tests, which found wildlife in considerably better condition than that which had been exposed to tourism over the same period.

At the other end of the landthreat spectrum, Tsunami Escape Pod is a great name for a band, but the artifact sadly doesn’t look either as functional or as gojirapunk as you might hope. … it measures 4 feet in diameter, can house up to four  adults [um? For how long?] …Inside you won’t find any safety-belts or webbing and there doesn’t seem to be much padding – just a vertical bar which survivors are expected to hold onto while bouncing off buildings and debris. Right. Also, on the plus side a buoyant sphere is a good choice of shape for dealing with unpredictable threats but on the minus side, it’s completely uncontrollable, unstabilizable, and incapable of dealing with threats like sudden acceleration or crushing by other flotsam. Reminds me of Roger Dean’s retreat pod, only more paranoi.

It looks like even if you get swept out to see there’s no chance of escaping google – which is part of a robot vessel/sensor-pod scheme, to gather data about the oceans. Which in turn reminds me of how little we know about the deep sea, and how comparable such ventures are to the Mars Rover.

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November 8, 2011

Times Higher Ed World University Rankings

I don’t set all that much store by international rankings of universities – criteria that hold true across multiple education markets are hard to come by, and anyway, what’s being measured when you rank an institution as broad and diverse and irrational as a university? The quality of its teaching? Measured how? The quality of its research? Well, counting citations is some kind of useful metric there, particularly for sciences, but it’s still a pretty blunt instrument… And then the THE says it measures “international outlook” (number of foreigners on the faculty, I guess), but what does that measure?

Then there’s the question of who is compiling and ranking, which gets you into all the usual questions of intentional and unintentional bias – what people measure for, what they take as evidence and what they think that evidence means, and on and on. So I take this with a large pinch of salt. I doubt, for instance, that Oxbridge really deserve the prominence they enjoy on this British table, and I’m suspicious of the relative invisibility of non-Anglophone institutions, especially when you consider that Anglophone scholars are simply in a larger pool for citation purposes than most others.

And yet, and still and all… foolish though I know it is, I can’t help feeling something undefinable about having gone first to a top 5 institution, then a top 20, and now looking for post-docs around 100 and 150…