Sydney Places I Liked

One more week in Sydney and then I’ll return to the Netherlands. It’s been three years since I first set foot on Australian soil to start my postdoc at the University of Sydney.  And those were three good years. That was of course because of the great Aussie people, but it also had to do with Sydney’s great places. Here are a few that I will definitely miss…

First an outer Sydney location. Actually, I love all of them, simply because Sydney is surrounded by beauty. At the East there are of course Sydney’s world famous beaches. Manly, just north of Sydney Harbour and Bondi and Coogee south of it. And many more, between kuringgaiPalm Beach in the north  and Cronulla in the South. South of Sydney is the Royal National Park, with a beautiful scenic coastal walk (and some scary snakes). Inland, on the Western fringes of Sydney, the flat land turns into mountains, …Blue Mountains. Just a two hour train ride from bustling Sydney. But my favorite outer side of Sydney must be in the North: beautiful Kuringgai Chase National Park, with its lovely islands and scenic bays.


From outer Sydney to inner Sydney. Not surprising, nor original; my favorite spot here seems to be the favorite spot of every tourist visiting the city: Sydney Harbour. With its beautiful Australian icons: the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It’s a place I’ve seen many times of course, but somehow I am still amazed by the stunning views, especially Sydney Harbour by night.

quadrangle Closer to home is a site I’ve seen many many times: the campus of the University of Sydney. Australia’s oldest university, founded in 1850. Despite a few horrible postwar makeshift buildings, it is a beautiful campus with the lovely quadrangle as its Oxbridge-like center. Unfortunately, It’s a bit of a construction site at the moment, but by 2010 it should all be up and running again.

newtown But the place I will miss most, without  any doubt, is Newtown. Three years ago, I was immediately captured by this suburb in Sydney’s Inner West and by its bustling artery, King Street. Daily morning walks to Sydney Uni through King Street always are a lively start of the day.  Despite the noisy traffic, King Street’s many coffee shops fill up every morning with Newtown’s Latte lovers, enjoying their big brekky or Vegemite sandwich. In the evenings Newtown’s chardonnay socialists seek refuge in King Street’s many bars and countless restaurants, appreciating their Thai, Lebanese, Greek, Italian, African, Turkish, Vietnamese, Korean, Malay, Macedonian, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish or Nepalese dishes.

In an earlier post I cited a lonely planet quote on Newtown, one that is still very true today:

“a melting pot of social and sexual subcultures, students and home renovators. King Street, its relentlessly urban main drag, is full of funky clothes stores, bookshops and cafes. Newtown comes with a healthy dose of grunge, and harbours a decent live music scene.”

“a swag of funky cafes and restaurants lining King Street offer an interesting introduction to the suburbs community life”

If you ever visit Sydney, don’t forget these places. I definitely won’t!

Weird Science: Spouses & Physical Similarities

wsConvergence in the physical appearance of spouses

by Zajonc, R.B., Adelmann, P.K., Murphy, S.T., & Niedenthal, P.M. (1987) 

Full Text Available in Motivation and Emotion

This study attempted to determine whether people who live with each other for a long period of time grow physically similar in their facial features. Photographs of couples when they were first married and 25 years later were judged for physical similarity and for the likelihood that they were married. The results showed that there is indeed an increase in apparent similarity after 25 years of cohabitation. Moreover, increase in resemblance was associated with greater reported marital happiness. Among the explanations of this phenomenon that were examined, one based on a theory of emotional efference emerged as promising. This theory proposes that emotional processes produce vascular changes that are, in part, regulated by facial musculature. The facial muscles are said to act as ligatures on veins and arteries, and they thereby are able to divert blood from, or direct blood to, the brain. An implication of the vascular theory of emotional efference is that habitual use of facial musculature may permanently affect the physical features of the face. The implication holds further that two people who live with each other for a longer period of time, by virtue of repeated empathic mimicry, would grow physically similar in their facial features. Kin resemblance, therefore, may not be simply a matter of common genes but also a matter of prolonged social contact.

Weird Science is a new item on Beerkens’ Blog. It presents a peculiar, remarkable, eccentric, extraordinary, unconventional, atypical, strange, funny, odd or bizarre study. In other words: a case of Weird Science.

Another Campus Shooting…

Once again, there has been a shooting at a university campus in the US. On February 14, a gunman killed five students at Northern Illinois University. The killer died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had been a graduate student in sociology at the university but was no longer enrolled. Sadly, the Northern Illinois shooting is part of a long list of random or semi-random shootings on university and college campuses:

USA / 2008 – February 14: Five people are killed when a man opens fire in a classroom at Northern Illinois University near Chicago, including the gunman who killed himself.

USA / 2007 – September 21: eighteen-year old student Loyer D. Braden shot two seventeen year old Delaware State University students from Washington, D.C.

USA / 2007 – April 16: A gunmen kills 32 people and himself and wounds 15 others at Virginia Tech University in the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history.

Canada / 2006 – September 13: Kimveer Gill opens fire on the street and inside the college in Montreal’s Dawson College, killing one student and injuring 19 others. Gill kills himself after a battle with police.

USA / 2002 – October 28: Robert Flores, a forty year old failing student of the University of Arizona Nursing College, walks into an instructor’s office and fatally shoots her. A few minutes later, he enters one of his nursing classrooms and kills two more of his instructors before fatally shooting himself.

Australia / 2002 – October 21: Huan Xiang, 37, an honors student at Monash University in Melbourne, shoots and kills two students and wounds five other people.

Continue reading Another Campus Shooting…

Meanwhile in Czar Putin’s Russia

Meanwhile in Czar Putin’s Russia a university was forced to close down. The St. Petersburg European University – a non-governmental institution offering post-graduate programs in the humanities and social sciences – was told to close its doors because of safety concerns. Officially the closure was because of violation of fire protection regulations.

But university employees tell that the university has been closed because of political reasons, reports Kommersand, Russia’s daily online newspaper. The fire inspection came to the university after deputies of the State Duma, members of United Russia party, and the general Prosecutor’s office had taken an interest in an EU-funded program for training election observers.

The respective three-year program was launched in early 2007 and funded by the EU grant of €673,000. Authorities lashed out at it from the beginning, saying the money was appropriated not for some research work but for creating a net of observers here and viewing it as an attempt of direct interference into Russia’s election campaigns of 2007 to 2008.

putin Andrei Yurov, a human rights and education expert, said that closing a university for breaching fire regulations looks at least strange. According to him, Russia hardly has any universities meeting all standards of fire protection.

A week ago, Putin placed limitations on foreign election because he perceived it as foreign influence on the upcoming presidential election. This led the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) to pull out of monitoring the March 2 elections.

Global Classrooms in the Desert

Both the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times bring an article by Tamar Lewin on universities rushing to set up outposts abroad. It presents an illustrative overview of the risks, benefits and the viability of institutional globalisation in higher education. If, after reading the article, you are left with any pressing questions, the NYT gives you the opportunity to pose them dirteclty to Charles E. Thorpe, the dean of Carnegie Mellon in Qatar (ht: globalhighered). To get you started, here are some interesting quotes that provide food for thought:

Howard Rollins, the former director of international programs at Georgia Tech, which has degree programs in France, Singapore, Italy, South Africa and China, and plans for India:

“Where universities are heading now is toward becoming global universities. We’ll have more and more universities competing internationally for resources, faculty and the best students.”

Susan Jeffords, vice provost for global affairs of the University of Washington, about the increase in demand for higher education from overseas students:

“It’s almost like spam”

Continue reading Global Classrooms in the Desert

Free Press and Democracy

Here’s an example of how democracy will not function without free press. In the wake of the upcoming elections, Second Finance Minister of Malaysia, Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, explains in the government controlled media why Malaysians should again put their trust in the Barisan Nasional government led by Prime Minister Badawi:

“the country’s per capita income had risen by 40% between 2004 and 2007, from RM15,819 (US$4,163) to RM22,345 (US$6,452). The Barisan Nasional Government is confident that we will get the people’s mandate again, based on the improved economic resilience”

A good thing there is something called the internets, where people can voice other truths. Tony Pua over at Philosophy Politics Economics explains:

Nor Mohamed Yakcop must either be completely out of his mind, or can no longer perform simple Mathematics or worse, attempting to insult the intelligence of ordinary Malaysians. Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 5.0%, 5.9% and an estimated 6.0% in 2005, 2006 and 2007 respectively according to the Government’s official statistics.

Based on the above growth rates over the past 3 years, Malaysia’s GDP grew by approximately 17.9% from 2004 to 2007. Therefore, it is completely inconceivable that our per capita income increased by 40% when our GDP grew by only 17.9%. Unless of course, the honourable Minister believes that our population shrunk by some 16%!

But, then again, there will always be people who use blogs on the Internet to criticise the rapid economic growth achieved by the Government.

UPDATE: Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi dissolved the parliament on Wednesday 13 February. The election is likely to be held in early March

UPDATE 2: Elections are called for 8 March. According to the Economist:

No one expects Mr Badawi to repeat his storming debut in 2004, when he led the ruling coalition to a 90% sweep of 219 seats in Parliament. Defeat is unthinkable: the coalition has won every election since independence in 1957.

Presidential Hopefuls and Academic Backgrounds

The remaining Republican and Democratic candidates for the 2008 presidential elections in the United States have followed rather different educational careers. While the Republicans have been trained in some ‘typical republican’ fields, the Democrats spend their formative years in the elitist private liberal art colleges and Ivy League universities.

Although John McCain is very likely to become the Republican candidate, there is still a theoretical chance that Mike Huckabee will be elected. It’s no surprise that Huckabee, the most conservative of the candidates, graduated from a college with a strong religious affiliation. He earned a BA from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. The liberal arts university is affiliated with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. It “seeks to combine the love of God with the love of learning” and “affirms that life is lived most abundantly when it is lived in response to the love of God through Jesus Christ”. After graduating from OBU, Huckabee became a pastor and he was the youngest president ever of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. The conservative and religious views are very apparent in Huckabee’s positions.

McCain’s educational career is dominated by military education and training. John McCain earned a BS degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1958. After graduating he started a career as a naval aviator. After serving in Vietnam (being a POW from 1967 until 1973), he attended the National War College in Washington DC from 1974-1975. The NWC was a a training ground for higher officers and has delivered well known graduates such as Collin Powell. Although McCain is often seen as surprisingly liberal (for a republican) he is considered a War-Hawk Republican. His support for the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq war has been consistent.

In the democratic camp, the educational careers of the two remaining candidates show much more similarity. Both have a BA in political science, both attended Law School and both taught in Law School. Barack Obama started his academic career at Occidental College in Los Angeles. After sophomore year however, he transferred to Columbia University where he majored in political science and specialised in international relations. After his graduation in 1983 he worked for some years, but decided to enter Harvard Law School in 1988. In 1990 he was elected as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review in its 104-year history. Obama graduated magna cum laude in 1991 but re-entered academia in 1993, this time as a senior lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago. And he seems to have been very good at it. “He was good enough that students showed up at 8:30 in the morning in the dead of winter for him“. Obama has been ‘on leave of absence’ from the U of Chicago Law School since his election as senator in 2004.

Hillary Rodham attended the prestigious Wellesley College near Boston. Wellesley is a women’s liberal art college “for the student who has high personal, intellectual, and professional expectations“. This is also where her first political activities started, first for the Republicans, later for the Democrats. Her senior thesis was on community organiser Saul Alinsky and has led to quite some controversy during her husband’s presidency of the US. After graduating from Wellesley College in 1969, Hillary Rodham entered Yale Law School. Here she specialised mainly in issues related to civil rights and children’s rights. In 1971 she met her future husband who was also in Yale Law School. After graduating in 1973, she stayed involved in children’s right issues. In 1974, Hillary became a faculty member at the Fayetteville School of Law of the University of Arkansas. Here Hillary served as an assistant professor and director of the legal aid clinic from 1974 until 1977 after which she joined a law firm in Little Rock Arkansas.

So what will the arena look like on November 4? On the right side it is likely to be a candidate with a strong military affiliation and experience. On the left side, it will definitely be a candidate with a background in political science and law from some of the most elite institutions of the US. Whether it will be a Mac or a PC will be decided later this year…

Weird Science: Optimal Boarding Methods

The Editorial Board of Beerkens’ Blog decided it’s time for a new regular item. Under this new item, I’ll now and then report on a peculiar, remarkable, eccentric, extraordinary, unconventional, atypical, strange, funny, odd or bizarre study. In other words: a case of Weird Science. Here’s the first one.

wsOptimal boarding method for airline passengers

by Jason H. Steffen 

Full Text Available in Arxiv / Physics & Society [PDF]

The problem

Several passenger boarding schemes are used by the airline industry in effort to quickly load passengers and their luggage onto the airplane. Since the passenger boarding time often takes longer than refueling and restocking the airplane its reduction could constitute a significant savings to a particular carrier, especially for airplanes which make several trips in a day.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that boarding from the front to the back is the worst case but that boarding from the back to the front is optimal or nearly so. Indeed, this is the strategy that is often employed, boarding passengers in blocks from the rear of the plane to the front. In this case, conventional wisdom only provides an answer that is half right. The worst  boarding method is, indeed, to board the plane from front to back. As this study shows, however, boarding the airplane from the back to the front is very likely the second worst method.

The Findings

By boarding passengers in a manner that allows several passengers to load their luggage simultaneously the boarding time can be dramatically reduced. This result contradicts conventional wisdom and practice that loads passengers from the back of the airplane to the front. Indeed, it shows that loading from the back to the front is little different from the worst case of loading from the front to the back. The goal of an optimized boarding strategy should focus on spreading the passengers throughout the length of the airplane instead of concentrating them in a particular portion of the cabin.

By boarding in groups where passengers whose seats are separated by a particular number of rows, by boarding from the windows to the aisle, or by allowing passengers to board in random order one can reduce the time to board by better than half of the worst case and by a significant amount over conventional back-to-front blocks—which, while better than the worst case performed worse than all other block loading schemes. The primary drawbacks for any of these methods is likely to be psychological instead of practical. Groups of passengers who wish to board together would be an issue to investigate from both a customer satisfaction point of view and as a component in a more detailed model.

If a workable method to have passengers line up in an assigned order could be found—and it likely may be employed already, then there is the potential for a substantial savings in time. Such a savings would most likely benefit flights between nearby cities where a particular airplane would make several trips in a given day since it might allow one or two additional flights. Or, it might allow an airline to reduce the number of gates that it requires to meet its obligations since each gate would be cleared more rapidly.

Intellectual Property Infringement?

Here’s a case to watch. The University of Wisconsin in Madison is accusing processor giant Intel of stealing their intellectual property. A lawsuit has been filed by UW’s technology transfer office (WARF, Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) in which it charges Intel with infringement of one of its patents. The patented invention improves the efficiency and speed of computer processing and this technology is used by Intel in its Intel Core 2 Duo processor.

WARF filed this complaint to ensure that the interests of the UW-Madison and its inventors are protected and that WARF receives the compensation to which it is entitled for Intel’s unlicensed use of the invention. This compensation will be used to advance continued research at the university. The foundation’s complaint identifies the Intel CoreTM 2 Duo microarchitecture as infringing WARF’s United States Patent No. 5,781,752, entitled “Table Based Data Speculation Circuit for Parallel Processing Computer.”

The technology, patented in 1998, was developed by four researchers at the UW-Madison, including Professor Gurindar Sohi, currently the chair of the university’s Computer Science Department. Intel has aggressively marketed the benefits of this invention as a feature of its Core 2 technology. “The technology significantly enhances opportunities for instruction level parallelism in modern processors, thereby increasing their execution speed,” states Michael Falk, WARF general counsel.

The researchers had several discussions with Intel representatives on the possibility of licensing the technology. Intel repeatedly refused but nevertheless incorporated it into its products. Intel never informed the researchers that it was using the patented technology. WARF is now asking the court to declare that Intel is infringing on its patent and to stop Intel core2duofrom selling the product. Also they asked for Intel to cover WARF’s legal fees and pay damages to WARF. Considering Intel’s dominant position in this market and the huge success of the Core 2 Duo, this last thing might prove very lucrative for the University of Wisconsin.

If it can be conclusively proven that Intel is using this specific technology, I guess that Intel will soon get together with WARF to come to a settlement…

So where the bloody hell are you?

I’m not sure whether this is a bad thing for education or for tourism. The Australian reports that education has replaced tourism as Australia’s biggest services export and has become the country’s third top export overall, increasing by 21 per cent in 2007 to AUD 12.5 billion. The Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures that show that revenue generated by foreign students in this country overtook tourism and was just behind coal and iron ore. I remember that – when I became interested in international education about eight years ago – Australians used to say that it was the fifth or sixth biggest export, up there between lamb and wool.

When you read the words of Tony Pollock, chief executive of IDP Education, you wonder when Australia will start using the slogan of its tourism campaign in promoting higher education. Pollock states in the Australian:

“Education is a bigger drawcard for visitors to Australia than Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and all other tourist attractions put together. Nearly half a million people are living in Australia who would not be here if we stopped educating international students.”

I am getting rather skeptical about all these ‘successes’ of the Australian international (higher) education industry. I guess there’s a saturation point even in the education sector, and Australian education is close to reaching that point. And at some institutions that point was already crossed quite some time ago. Have a look for instance at this Australian documentary with the title that says it all: The Degree Factories.