24 December, 2008

A senseless system graduates without honours

HDW (and presumably many others) made mention of it on her blog Paper Pools (go read it, but only after you're done here) and since I agree with the sentiment of the article; having seen the frenzied trading of academics when I was in the UK mid 2007, and seeing as NZ has followed the UK system with our PBRF or Performance-Based Fesearch Fund, I felt I should make some reference to the article too. Here it is then:

The 2008 university Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), whose results have been announced with a mixture of fear, loathing and exhaustion, is a classic example of the self-defeating performance-management drive that is overwhelming the public sector.

RAE results determine the research funding allocated to institutions by the Higher Education Funding Council, according to a formula that changes each time. The official line is that the assessment - 2008's is the sixth since 1986 - is a success. It is "important and valuable", to quote one vice-chancellor, in providing an accepted quality yardstick and a means of promoting UK universities abroad. Others argue that it helps to ensure accountability for £8bn of public funding, the largest single chunk of university income. That sounds plausible: but as usual it conveniently airbrushes out other costs and consequences.

The first and most obvious of these is colossal bureaucracy. Government blithely assumes that management is weightless; but the direct cost of writing detailed specifications and special software, and assembling 1,100 panellists to scrutinise submissions from 50,000 individuals in 2,500 submissions, high as it already is, is dwarfed by the indirect ones - in particular, the huge and ongoing management overheads in the universities themselves. As with any target exercise, the RAE has developed into a costly arms race between the participants, who quickly figure out how to work the rules to their advantage, and regulators trying to plug the loopholes by adjusting and elaborating them.

The result is an RAE rulebook of staggering complexity on one side and, on the other, the generation of an army of university managers, consultants and PR spinners whose de facto purpose is not to teach, nor make intellectual discoveries, but to manage RAE scores. As in previous assessments, a lively transfer market in prolific researchers developed before the submission cut-off date at the end of 2007, while, under the urging of their managers, many university departments have been drafting and redrafting their submissions for the past three years....

Curiously, NZ hasn't been put off by the experience in the UK (we started the PBRF/RAE game about 2003 once the UK were already well into the madness) and there is not indication, yet, that we will follow the UK in dropping the exercise. I still hear rumours that NZ will also begin some sort of teaching quality assessment fund too.

22 December, 2008

Beer Explosion

After a car ride from Wellington to Martinborough one of the bottles of beer of beer I brewed with Erich and Bruno exploded. It had been sitting still and inside for an hour or so (thankfully in a polystyrene box) since being in the car and then there was a bang and things were wetter and more beery than previously. It's impressive that the beer developed enough pressure by itself to destrow the bottle so completely.

16 December, 2008

Slacklining Video

Here's the link to the full resolution version of the slacklinging video below. It's about 30MB http://dl.getdropbox.com/u/412455/Slacking1.m4v

Slacking in Wellington's Central Park

Last weekend N. and I walked the long (Cross Creek to Maymorn) version of the Fell incline in the Rimutakas.

And, we got up to a little slacklining in Central Park under the Pohutukawas. It inspired me to make a first attempt at producing some video this go here. An SLR isn't best suited camera for such purposes but I muddled along with iMovie and was pretty happy with what I had after a couple of hours.

08-12 Fell Incline & Slacking

03 December, 2008

Join the (cycling) army

The RideStrong group/community/campaign was launched at the Taupo Cycle Challenge last Saturday, under the catch slogan "When the road is a battlefield, join an army." From the RideStrong brochure:

"With RideStrong you as a cyclist now have a voice.

Ride strong is a new cycling community run by BikeNZ, [A NZ cycling organisation whose focus was traditionally more on competitive cycling and organised events rather than advocacy. ] dedicated to promoting a safe and enjoyable environment for all cyclists.

It's about giving a voice and a presence to 1.2million cyclists. Cyclists, who have travelled at the whim of fast traffic but idle progress on the problems that affect their cycling environment. And who, for too long, have largely been ignored.

It's clear, if cyclists want to influence and shape the future of cycling then we need to join together out on the road."

It's free to become a member of RideStrong but they do encourage you to take up one of the two paid membership options which give you perks like discounts on gear and perhaps voting rights at BikeNZ meetings --- whatever that entails.

It's nice to see some high profile promoting going on advocating benefits and facilities for cyclists but RideStronger isn't the only organisation advocating for cyclists. CAN --- the Cycling Advocates' Network --- and their various regional bodies such as CAW (Cycle Aware Wellington) have been "giving a voice to cyclists" for a while, turning up at council meetings, pushing for cycle paths and traffic flow improvements and running cycle safety training courses at schools (once the NZ police stopped doing so). So, I'm curious to know what the links are between RideStronger and CAN. It's important that the pro-cycling voice is clear and coherent when it comes to transport planning and advocating for cyclists. Let's hope that's what will happen with RideStronger. It would be great to see an even stronger lobby pushing to make the roads safe for cyclists.

01 December, 2008

Gecko Groove: Kawakawa bay in the sun

We were, perhaps understandably, a little tired on Sunday, so no climbing records were set at Kawakawa Bay. I was pleased to climb Gecko Groove though --- a very nice grade 16, and also the very first climb I ever made. It was a reminder of why I wanted to start climbing.

08-11 Taupo and Kawakawa Bay

Taupo Cycle Challange

Despite our lack of training the Massey Mauraders placed first in their category (mixed team of five riders for the dirt/tarmac relay) in the 2008 Lake Taupo Cycle Challange. We managed 7hrs and a couple of minutes for out course of 186km or so. Not too bad. Majomehi, also (predominately) from Massey placed 38th or so in the mixed tarmac relay with four riders and a time of 6 hours 6 minutes for 160km. I think everyone even enjoyed themselves despite, or perhaps even because of, the scorching sun. I was too busy cycling to take any photos on the day but Bruno managed one from the finsh-line with Erich visible in it somewhere.