Saturday Mar 15, 2008

Are the English giving up with foreign languages?

Earlier this week, the Guardian reported that Cambridge University had finally dropped the requirement that undergraduate students have a language GCSE (16+). I remarked that I thought it a shame, and that the english education system should teach foreign languages, but it was pointed out to me that the national curriculum no longer mandates a language at GCSE and so Cambridge's previous policy would in future conflict with their and the government's goal of opening Oxbridge up to more state sector applicants. It seems to be a fact that english schools find it harder to get higher grades in languages than other subjects and that the pressure of the league table places has led a number of them to drop languages very rapidly.

Its yet another example of allowing the difficult to fall out of the education system.

Back in December, when I visited the EU Parliament building. I was taken aback by the number of languages spoken in the EU, since the translation booths are situated around the hall, and it is a very physical demonstration of europe's linguistic diversity. There 23 official languages. I have had it pointed out several times in my recent travels that the ubiquity of English means that I don't have to worry, to which I have two replies. The first is that, when I was at school, no-one had any idea of whether the EU was going to work or not nor how English would become so pervasive. I was offered the opportunity to learn both French and German, which I did with varying degrees of success. Secondly, its very rude to assume that others will learn your language, particularly if you are in their their country. I wish I could do better, but it seems the UK's educators disagree.

The map below is off the European Union and references the EU membership page.

 

Countries of the EU

 

On the EU membership page itself, the map has an HTML image map which displays the languages by country as you hover over each country. Interesting how such an old technology has such descriptive power. I wonder if I could have used an <IFRAME> to include this on the blog, although including other peoples material without permission in a way that is not clearly hyperlinked is not very good manners.

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Thursday Dec 20, 2007

Republican Democracay

We then walked over to the European Quarter, as we wanted to visit the debating chamber of the European Parliament. We went via the Place Jourdain, where we bought some 'frittes' from Maison Antoinne. This is a stall which has an arrangement with the surrounding bars so you can eat indoors and warm up with your drink of choice, coffee or schnapps. The parliament building permits visits to the debating chamber, as they should;, we pay for it. So we went there and had a look round.

 

The EU parliament chamber.

 

Outside the the building there are plaques and flags for each of the member states, together with a statue of a women holding the Euro symbol. The buildings are contemporary and stark contrast to the Hapsburg grandeur of the Upper Town. In the park beside the parliament building is a section of the Berlin Wall, with its graffiti presumably untouched from when it was in Berlin. One of the wipeout games we play at home is 'countries of the EU', this is fun because its changing so rapidly and because of the various states that countries can occupy. States can be in negotiation to join, members, euro zone members or Schengen treaty signatories. So when we entered the chamber, hanging above the chamber are the the translation booths, and while there are 27 member states, there are 23 official languages, so one booth for each language really brought home the linguistic diversity of today's European Union.

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Wednesday Dec 12, 2007

So what is wrong with the Internet?

On Day 2, of the NESSI AGM, we broke into seminar groups. The first session I attended was called the ' Future of the Internet', it was led by Mike Fisher of BT [Google him], who presented about the forces for change on the internet, both historic constraints and changes being brought about by technology innovation, and demand. Again a key view of the future is the the internet evolves from a network of computers, beyond a network of things to a network of services. Since Mike comes from a network company, and a large one at that, and so understands how poorly IT is ready to manage the challenge of scale raised by these factors.

In the afternoon, I attended the 'Service Orientated Infrastructure' session. Some aspects of the problem domain are very broad and interesting, but the discussions seemed focused around today's grid solutions in academia and commerce, although I arrived late. This working group's documents are also available on the NESSI web site SOI work group page, and their own web site. The GRID Strategic Research Agenda is available from the NESSI Site [.pdf].

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Tuesday Dec 11, 2007

NESSI's Research & Projects

There then followed a series of presentations about the current approach to research and most interestingly presentations from the leading strategic projects. These can be found on the NESSI's AGM page on their web site.

This was followed by cocktails. Very nice!

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And in Italy?

Mr Paolo Donzelli, of the Italian Department for Technical Innovation, presented on the italian government's policies in sustaining and nurturing innovation, and IT innovation in particular. (The slides for this and all other presentations I'm commenting on should be available on the NESSI web site). A fascinating study, which explained their strategy and the analysis that led to it, making a distinction between digital enablement, encouraging usability and adoption, reducing the digital divide and straight forward training.

They have and are looked very hard at healthcare systems and incubated a web or distributed computing approach as opposed to a messaging solution. Possibly more red shift than blue shift.

Their approach in the education sector is less advanced; they have a cost problem on the desk top. I should find someone to give them a call.

I found it interesting that their showcase industry approach is textiles which they see as very important to the italian economy. It reminds me however about the case study based on a Spain to New York fashion house that has a design to ERP solution and can offer haute couture for several days at a time, with both industry leading time to market (days) when they're innovating their market, and best of class rapid response when they've been out flanked. It seems that high fashion is a true time to market industry and thus IT can obviously help.

Paolo made some comments about the suitability of 3D computing and hence virtual worlds as design aids in the textile industry scenario. As you can see from my previous blog articles, "Driving Change on the Internet" (see below) and "How real is Virtuality?", I am very cautious about the utility of virtual worlds and particularly second life, but placing the problem domain in a world of 3 dimensions, such as fashion, or even engineering design may give it a relevance I haven't recognised. It doesn't solve the problem examined on this blog in the latter article, that to program in a virtual world, you need to understand the virtual world's physics. The bulk of programming theory since Djikstra has involved understanding the real world problem and modeling it, or creating languages in which the real world can be described, this approach can't be taken in second life. Building a wind tunnel in Second Life would be very difficult and almost certainly more costly than simulating it using other tools. (No doubt, someone has done it and will prove me wrong.) Whether this is a fundamental feature of virtual worlds, I don't know.

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Monday Dec 10, 2007

Hi Tech in Europe

And back to Brussels for a bit of EU politicking. Last time I traveled through Heathrow and the journey home was terrible. This time I travel through Southampton and the journey out is fine. I get to the Sun Office on the airport estate, do my meeting and have an easy ride into the hotel in the city centre.

I am attending the NESSI AGM. I wrote about it last time I visited Brussels in November, but it is having its AGM over the next two days. I will be commenting on it, but the slides and AV files will appear on its web site.

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Tuesday Nov 20, 2007

Sun is the greatest and most generous Opensource Company on the planet!

Oddly, it is the 1st Aniversary of the EU's publication of their report, "Economic impact of open source software on innovation and the competitiveness of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector in the EU". In this report, they identified Sun as the single largest corporate doner of open source code in the world. [.pdf...] Sun had contributed over three times the man hours as the second place company, IBM. This finding was before Sun open sourced JAVA.

 

Corporate contribution to FLOSS

 

Source: Economic Impact of FLOSS on innovation and competitiveness of the EU ICT Sector. (2006), published by the EU Commission.

NB The full report is 287 pages long.

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We're all in Europe now!

I travelled over to Brussels for a meeting of the NESSI steering comittee, to which I have just been appointet; its one of the EU's NGOs in the IT industry, representing major IT vendors, which advises the commission on its ICT R&D budget.

Its a long time since I have been in Brussels, and with these ninja trips, its hard to get to know the town. I'm a bit fed up my rough guide didn't turn up on time, but it won't be the last time I'm here so I have next time to look forward to.

I visited the Sun offices at Rondpoint Robert Shuman, which is opposite the EU Commission building, but I was too busy to take any photographs with my camera, which I had managed to remember to bring, and the picture I took with the phone was so poor I have deleted it. Its undergoing a re-furb, (the building not my cameras), and is not looking its best at the moment. I had a quick look at flickr to see if anyone had some good (CC) pictures, but flickr's default is all rights reserved and I couldn't find any. (Since I publish under a BY-NC-SA creative commons licence, I suppose this is one of the reasons I am so popular with schmapp. Since most people publish on Flickr with the defaults, I am not competing with a lot of people.) The EC head quarters building's name is the Centre Berlaymont, and if you search flickr with Berlaymont as a tag, you can find some pictures. I'll post mine when I get some worth posting. I expect to be back here soon.

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Tuesday Sep 18, 2007

EU 10, Microsoft 0

An exciting day in many ways yesterday! The European Court have confimred the European Commissions fine on Microsoft for ant-competitive activities. The Guardian have reported it with the head line "European appeal court opens Windows to the world and shakes the superdominant". A headline only imagined in the Guardian business section.

Most interestingly they indirectly quote the competition commissioner, Ms Neelie Kroes,  as saying that this ruling strengthens the commissions determinatio to put consumer benefit above innovation. This would be worrying if it wasn't for the fact that only "Author/Publishers" need copyright/patent protection to inhibit competition. There are many other business models that drive innovation in the economy.

 This article at vnunet.com, called "Copyright harms the economy" is further evidence that bit by bit, people recognise that ideas cannot be exclusivly owned and that exclusive ownership is not in the public interest.

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Tuesday Mar 13, 2007

Will the EU follow Norway in restraining the iPod?

The EU Consumer Protection commissioner, Meglena Kuneva has spoken out against Apple bundling their DRM software with hardware.  The norwegian courts are considering this issue at the moment and have ruled that it's a monopolistic, anti-competitive action. Norway, of course, is not a member of the EU, but its interesting the way the wind is blowing in Europe. [ Reuters | VNUnet ]

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