Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lights out for fourth level research due to HSE style budget cuts in Universities

I'd like to share a rumour / latest conspiracy theory doing the rounds regarding fourth level funding. I'm not sure if its true but it needs to be answered and quashed ASAP by the Government, the Department of Education, and the founding bodies such as Science Foundation Ireland or Enterprise Ireland. This was spurred on by John's post.

Rumours are painting a scary picture which is emerging from a number of universities across the state. The universities, it seems are willing to throw the baby out with the bath water in order to make the 3% to 5% salary budget cut imposed on them by the Government. The fourth level research sector is undergoing a purge reminiscent of Kristallnacht where many young researchers and their project proposals are being silently dropped from universities to fulfil these cuts. It seems that in the typical wisdom of the Government and as seen previously in the HSE, a salary budget for an institution is a single figure. This is one composite figure regardless of whether it comes from funded research projects or from the Department of Education. Like the HSE, its a figure that does not distinguish between front line services or managerial / secretarial levels. In the case of universities, the distinction can be seen between central admin, departmental staff, and contracted researchers / lecturers.

A major goal of the knowledge economy in Ireland is to promote new areas of research to encourage the development of new technologies and to enable new discoveries in the sciences. This process will create a new generation of researchers and open new possibilities for business through the commercial exploitation of these advances which should stimulate and grow the economy. Unfortunately, the core and critical people who will achieve this aim are the junior researchers in the third level sector. These are the very targets of this type of purge. The purge fits quite well within the lens of university upper echelons and their thinking as the junior researchers are among the most silent in a university population as they typically have no union representation or other form of effective representation.

This type of purge is achieved by simply refusing to accept new research projects. You might ask how this benefits a budget reduction when a project is never started. Once a research proposal is accepted by the founding authority such as Science Foundation Ireland or Enterprise Ireland, the salary budget from that project is actually assigned to a university's central salary pool. Back to the single figure, so by then refusing the project and sending back the money the university can actually state that it has made a budget cut, which is true in a perverse sense. This approach is further assisted by not taking on any new research projects so that the central salary pool figure is not added to. Many universities seem to be stalling contract or junior researchers with various excuses or delays regarding the processing of new project proposals. This lack of clarity and response has lead to this conspiracy theory doing the rounds at various coffee tables around many universities. If one remembers the likes of President Septimius Severus Krupp in ``The Big U'' and his style of modern University management, there is a certain possibility of this type of scenario being true.

This may be the latest conspiracy theory or it may just be gross incompetence in the administration levels of the universities. It would be nice to know which. If the Government is committed to a knowledge economy, the means of achieving it are the very researchers affected by this bizarre situation. It is past time for budget cuts by memo to be dropped. A scalpel rather than an axe approach for budget adjustments is needed. This means targeted cuts in non essential areas or services which will not negatively affect the future engines of growth such as fourth level research.

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Friday, September 12, 2008 broken and lacking any IA or HCI design

[Begin RANT]

Well I could already repeat everything that Gar has said about the new eflow M50 tolling system but I won't as he's dead right. It's a complete crock. I haven't been around Dublin but my Mum asked me to pay for her trip through the M50 so I had my first encounter with the eflow system and it ended rather abruptly. It simply doesn't work for Safari, now one would think that the earlier revamp of the BOI 365 online internet portal (and debacle over the forgetting of Safari users) would have reminded developers that some people do use Apple's and OS X.

eflow broken by safari

Now fortunately I do have and also use Firefox so I was able to actually sort my Mum's trip out but when I open the actual page, I was directed by the incredibly poorly designed site to register rather than to pay as you go, now I realise that the intent of the designers is obviously aimed at getting registered users to prove that they meet the tick box quota that has been set on them but lads .. users first, foremost, and always. Simple HCI and IA is nowhere in evidence in the site and if one of our students was to produce it, I'd send them back to the drawing board. I can't believe that the NRA paid, and I'm sure they paid royally for the site and ended up with such a crock. On a final note, I was half way through the registration when the crippled AJAX (please lads read JJ Garret or any host of other design books, that is not how you use AJAX.) before I got feed up and accidentally discovered I could pay in the section labelled "Unpaid Toll" rather than something more akin to "Pay Unpaid Toll".

[End RANT]

Update 1: Seems that John has had both payment errors by eFlow and a crash out from .Net on a Windows box. So its not just narky Apple user's who get the short end of the stick with the system.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bits including a new book by Doctorow and a report on broken Finnish e-voting

Here are a couple of interesting bits and pieces.

Cory Doctorow, technologist and author has released a new book called "Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future". Its twenty eight (28) essays on a wide spectrum of topics with titles including "The DRM Sausage Factory", "It’s the Information Economy, Stupid", "How Copyright Broke", "In Praise of Fanfic", "The Future of Ignoring Things". These essays range on topics from DRM to mobile phones and touch the singularity, privacy issues, and the semantic web along the way. In his true spirit, he has again release both a print book for sale and a free-to-download CC BY-NC-SA licensed PDF. I'm looking forward to digging down to this gem from one of my favourite authors. The best way to whet the appetite is to take a part of the introduction written by John Perry Barlow, who helped found the EFF and may be better know as the guy who wrote "The Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace".

" ... information is simultaneously a relationship, an action, and an area of shared mind. What it isn’t is a noun. Information is not a thing. It isn’t an object. It isn’t something that, when you sell it or have it stolen, ceases to remain in your possession. It doesn’t have a market value that can be objectively determined. It is not, for example, much like a 2004 Ducati ST4S motorcycle, for which I’m presently in the market, and which seems - despite variabilities based on, I must admit, informationally- based conditions like mileage and whether it’s been dropped - to have a value that is pretty consistent among the specimens I can find for a sale on the Web."
- Introduction by John Perry Barlow.

On other news, there is more broken e-voting news as the Finnish branch of the EFF has published a report, "Incompatibility of the Finnish e-voting system with the Council of Europe e-voting recommendations" which shows another fatally flawed e-voting system. The Finns were much more through in testing and evaluating the system but it seems that the government still didn't get it right there.

A couple of short bits, Dell has sponsored the Digital Nomads site, connect a playstation controller to your Arduino, or just make music with it. A nice new site is the Wisconsin Online site for learning electronics. If you've read Gibson's "Spook Country", you'll love the BBC's idea of The Box and a related post from Worldchanging on "Mapping a connected world".

One final note is to keep October 4th open for a trip to Dublin. Organise, Activate, Influence: Social Activism Online in Ireland is a short one day conference (see the schedule) in Dublin on October 4th discussing various blogging and social media issues. It's being held, organised, and sponsored by the European Commission Representation and the European Parliament Office in Ireland with an address by the EU Commission Vice President, Margot Wallström. It's free and you can register online.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Mass Media and Politics crossing over BSG style

I'd seen the site, Tigh & Roslin before and its a pretty good take but this poster takes it all. It's a nice twist that the character Colonel Saul Tigh in BSG was both a ex-fighter jock and also a former POW. It was really only with the addition of Sarah Palin to the McCain ticket that this really resonates. A nice little showcase by Christopher Ambler of Ambler Media and of his rapidly built custom Joomla site.

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