Word of Mouth

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The Independent Online
Robo Cup:

What have football, ping-pong and golf got in common? The answer: robots who measure 10 x 14 cms who play soccer on a table tennis table with a golf ball. The "team" has been entered by the University of Cambridge for the World Robo Cup 98. In all, 30 teams from 15 countries will compete for the Cup at the Cite des Sciences in Paris next week (4-8 July). The action will be aided and abetted by a video camera over the table that will show the ball's location to the robots. The goalkeeper uses a compressed air cannon to capture and eject the ball. "Its force would make Alan Shearer quake in his boots," says Antony Rowstron, of Cambridge's Laboratory for Communications Engineering. So what is it that makes the robots different from England's flesh-and-blood players? Dr Rowstron has no hesitation: "One advantage we have over Glen Hoddle - we can switch the robots off at night." Ah, bliss!

Cutting remarks:

Why on earth was Brian Roper, University of North London vice-chancellor, wielding a vicious-looking pair of bolt cutters last week? Was this the latest method of reducing staff? Mercifully, they were only a "visual aid" to illustrate an anecdote to a crowd of senior academics at the retirement party of Sandra Ashman, deputy v-c. The cutters, he said, were used some years ago by Sandra to cut chains barring entry to the Kentish Town premises during one of its many student occupations. That building has long been sold and turned into flats and a restaurant. During 30 years' service, Sandra has seen the transformation of the Northern Polytechnic (b. 1896) into the Polytechnic of North London (b.1971) and the UNL (Royal Charter 1992). In her farewell speech she confessed to a pre-poly life, which included a spell as an artist's model and running a bar in Spain, called the Playa Sandra. She studied French and Italian at University College London, and successfully campaigned for its first creche. When she began teaching at the poly she was ordered to remove her trousers and wear a skirt. There have been marked changes in 30 years and she shamelessly wore trousers at her party. Her name will stay on at UNL - it is launching an Ashman Prize for creative writing.

In Faithfull steps:

When Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (best known as popular QC, Helena Kennedy) succeeded Baroness Faithfull as president of the National Children's Bureau, she was determined to give top priority to the children's cause. She kicked off well at an NCB reception last week when she told guests of how three young bureau researchers conducting a project at an unnamed school had been shouted at by a teacher who thought they were pupils. "And when she found out who they were, she did not even apologise." Lady K is right. The "them and us" syndrome still pervades far too many nooks and crannies. Some teachers still have much to learn when it comes to the treatment of young people. "Children's issues need advocacy and I hope to do that in the House of Lords," she said. I'm sure she'll keep her word.

Tar Tsar Peter:

Did you know that Peter the Great came to England three centuries ago? Well, you do now. Big Pete - a giant of a man - made the trip incognito. He used to say that if he hadn't become a Russian tsar, he would have liked to be an English admiral. So he set sail under the pseudonym Peter Mikhailov, stayed in London for four months and studied shipbuilding at Deptford. He then did the tourist thing and flitted around Oxford, Portsmouth and Windsor. His English experience showed itself in his series of major reforms, ranging from ship design to the training of Russian sailors for the new Russian navy. I am grateful to London University's School of Slavonic and East European Studies for all this information. The tercentenary of Peter's visit is being commemorated by a number of events mounted by the school, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. A fascinating exhibition has already opened at the museum and will run until 27 September. From 9-11 July, SSEES and the museum will hold a joint international conference at Queen's House, Greenwich on "Peter the Great: New Perspectives". And Yale University Press will shortly publish Russia In The Age Of Peter The Great by Professor Lindsey Hughes, the school's co-ordinator of the events.

Missed chance:

Tony Blair missed a golden opportunity during the recent visit to London of the Emperor of Japan. I had expected him to announce Britain's first joint agreement to allow young Japanese men and women to come over here for some useful work experience, as proposed by the Council on International Educational Exchange. Britain's economy could benefit from such a scheme, despite Japan's own disastrous, and hopefully temporary recession. After all, America and Australia have such a deal with us and, for the past 10 years, Japan has sponsored JET (the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme) which sends an annual crop of 600 British graduates to work as assistant English language teachers in Japanese schools. Frankly, we want all the friends we can get. So why did our dear PM shy away from such a venture?

Degree of dyslexia:

Dyslexia, a dysfunction of the brain which jumbles up words, re-arranges letters and creates general mayhem, has been ignored by too many teachers, rejected by too many doctors and spurned by too many academics for far too long. Children who suffered from this condition and who wrote dog instead of god, gob instead of bog, were labelled lazy or ignorant. Recognition of this terrible affliction has come, thanks to a few revolutionaries who campaigned, lobbied and fought for its credibility. The Dyslexia Institute and The British Dyslexia Association have grown and grown. And now, De Montfort University has launched the country's first master's degree in dyslexia studies. It may be read full or part-time and, as it is likely to attract teachers and lecturers, the taught modules for the first year of the part-time course will be held just one evening a week from 4.30 to 9pm. (More info: 01522 895063).

And finally:

"I have just received an invitation to the launch of the Centre for Inter- disciplinary Gender Studies. I am rather surprised to see the university promoting CIGS during the current smoking controversy." Letter from Dr Jeremy Toner, Institute of Transport Studies, in Reporter, University of Leeds' staff newsletter. Combined, I suppose, that's ITS CIGS.

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