Computer geeks like things to be black or white, right or wrong. Ethical issues can thus confuse them when there are shades of grey. For example, take plagiarism. When writing an academic paper, it is clearly right to write everything from scratch; it is clearly wrong to copy large chunks of the paper straight from someone else’s paper. But things get fuzzy between these extremes: Is it OK to copy parts of a previous paper that you wrote? Is it OK to paraphrase someone else’s paragraph? The answer is that it depends on the particular circumstances. Unfortunately, some computer geeks become tiresomely legalistic at thisRead More →

The UK government evaluates university research every six years. For the 2014 assessment, there is a new feature to the Research Excellence Framework (REF): each university has to provide a number of Impact Case Studies. An Impact Case Study demonstrates how some piece of university research, done in the last twenty years, has had impact in the last five years. Impact could be on industry, the economy, society, public policy, or the environment. The one thing that does not count as impact is inspiring and influencing our colleagues in other universities. These Impact Case Studies sounded straightforward when I first heard of them, eighteen months ago.Read More →

I sit on Cambridge University’s staff childcare committee. We’re investigating ways to improve the childcare provision available to all staff. So, I’ve been talking about childcare with friends and colleagues. This led to asking the wider question: Is academic life compatible with family life? No! Not in the seventeenth century. Go back four hundred years. All academic staff at Cambridge were male; most were forbidden to marry. Academic life was, by dictat, incompatible with family life. This might lead us to imagine a University stuffed with aging bachelors, gently pickling in port. However, I understand that it meant a more youthful staff. A young man would completeRead More →

Next week I am speaking about movies at EuroMed, the Euro-Mediterranean conference on cultural heritage. Most of the talk will concern the ways in which modern movie production techniques could be used to aid cultural heritage applications. However, the first part of my talk considers movies as cultural heritage in their own right. How do we preserve movies for posterity? When I visited CineSite in London a few years ago, concern was expressed about the sheer number of movies in the British Film Institute’s archive that had yet to be digitised. I got the impression that time was pressing and that we risk losing precious footage to the inevitableRead More →

At midnight on the morning of Friday 1 October, I change from Dr Dodgson to Professor Dodgson. No ceremony. No fanfare. Just a quiet switch of title. It feels most peculiar. When I changed from Mr to Dr, there was a ceremony, in Latin, in a fancy building. I went in a Mr and came out a Dr. When my wife changed from Miss to Mrs, there was a ceremony, thankfully not in Latin, in a beautiful church. She went in a Miss and came out a Mrs. But this switch from Dr to Prof has no ceremony: it just happens. It has been aRead More →

In 1955, Tom Lehrer wrote The Elements, setting the names of all the then-known elements to the tune of the Major-General’s patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Lehrer’s song is prevented from being a useful pedagogic tool by the fact that he does not list the elements in order. When my daughter was one year old, I decided to see if I could entertain her by singing the elements, to the same tune, but this time in order. It certainly entertained me and had the beneficial effect that I can now remember the first four lines of the table perfectly. My daughter, nowRead More →