Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review Policies, or Review Attitudes?

Remember those Disney made-for-tv movies you used to watch when you were a kid? The ones where the protagonist is a shy, social awkward and generally 'unpopular' kid (a sort of teenage everyman, or perhaps 'every-teen') in an American high-school who dreams of one day being a 'popular' kid, and taking the head cheerleader/most 'popular' girl to the prom? There were so bloody many of them, and the set-up was usually used in teen t.v series as well. Hell, the core dynamic of Glee, one of the most successful teen high-school shows of recent years is 'unpopular' kids struggling against the social hierarchy of the stereotypical American high-school. Bloody Hell, there was even a show actually called "Popular" which followed this 'teen-drama-for-dummies' handbook!
There is one particular set-piece in this genre (if I can call it that) of teen dramas that comes to mind, and that's the whole complicated relationship between the 'unpopular' protagonist, and his 'popular' opposite number, usually the antagonist, although sometimes a secret friend, who has to keep their friendship hidden so as not to damage their reputation.
Typically, the 'unpopular' kid will be intelligent and nerdy, while the 'popular' kid will be a moron, but good at sports (where the idea that the two were incompatible comes from, I don't know). Often, a situation will arise whereby our 'unpopular' hero will be presented with an opportunity to interact with our jock character (often a bully) as a remedial tutor, helping the idiot to bring his grades up so he can continue to play whatever sport he happens to be the star of for the school. Often this occurs when the team's coach is no longer able to cheat the academic system/blackmail their colleges/etc. This 'hilarious' scenario, when eventually (and unfailingly) successful thereby allows the jock to continue winning glory and (probably) sex on the playing field, while the nerd is rewarded with the grudging respect/friendship of the jock, which is perceived to be his ticket/stepping stone (depending how long they want to drag this shit out) to the 'popular' kids' lunch table in the cafeteria, and eventually into the love interest panties.
I bring this up because of an article in last Saturday's Irish times (March 12th), entitled "College to review plagiarism and ethics policies", by Lorna Siggins. The article in question deals with planned review of the aforementioned policies by Galway-Mayo I.T. in the wake of an incident at the college whereby members of staff are causing a bit of a stink over the apparent mishandling of a case of plagiarism.
According to the article, a postgraduate business student (masters level) allegedly made use of a lecturer's instructor's manual (which includes model answers to questions and is supposedly only accessible with a password obtained directly from the manual's publisher by the lecturer) in the written and verbal presentation of analysis by masters students in November 2009. It is "alleged" (to quote the article) that a lecturer knowingly gave the student their password.
The lecturer assessing the presentation of analysis noted "significant similarities" (again quoting the article) between the student's answers and the manual's model answers. "It is understood" (I love the oh-so-careful wording of this article) that it was this assessing lecturer who brought this issue to her head of department. It is also "understood" (oh the depth of subtle meaning imbued in that word) that at this point she was asked if she was aware that the student in question was a member of a senior G.A.A. team in Galway.
When our intrepid, justice-seeking heroine received no response or follow-up to her initial complaint, she decided to pursue the matter, only to be told that the incident of "alleged" plagiarism was "minor".
Whoah the fuck up a second! Plagiarism occurs all the time, as most people know when they pull an all-nighter on an essay, nick a paragraph from Wikipedia, re-word it and slap in a quote/some statistics to cover their tracks. And no, its not proper or by-the-rules, but its what I would describe as "minor" plagiarism. This guy gained access to the fucking lecturer's course handbook!!! Probably with a lecturer's consent, if they are as securely restricted as they sound, and assuming this guy does not possess mad hacking skills.
to cut a long story short, the matter was reviewed, the accused student docked 50% on his grade for that assignment (the one he got caught cheating on) and the college is reviewing its procedures for dealing with complaints of plagiarism (this being the latest of several similar controversial incidents at the college).
But lets look at what set this particular incident in motion. Access to the instructor's manual. Assuming that realistically, the student did not hack into his lecturer's computer, and was instead given the password (which gives us our most plausible answer to the question of 'How'), the question of Why is our next stop. The fact that the guy plays GAA is almost completely irrelevant, until we take into account the reaction of the department to the accusing lecturer's initial complaint. Kind of gives away the whole game really.
Which brings me back to my introductory paragraph. the apparent motivation behind this whole incident appears to be an attitude of special treatment (in the case of access to the manual) and leniency (when he's stupid enough to get caught) towards someone who is good at sports. Its just like in those American High-school teen dramas!
When I was in primary school, they guys who were good at sports received special treatment. They were beloved of the teachers. And at one point entered the Community Games (Remember that? Do they even still do that?) group project competition with a project pretty much prepared by our teacher, and they were coached by that teacher to make it look like their own work. They went very far in that competition. they definitely won awards of some kind. I'm still bitter about that.
But that was in primary school! In secondary school there were no links between my school and the local sporting teams, so it wasn't an issue. But we're talking about college here! And not just college, but post-graduate level! At that level, a leg-up like that from a lecturer (and a look-the-other-way attitude from the department) is the kind of thing that can get you postgraduate funding, the opportunity to do a Ph.D., a chance at a better job, and in the process taking all those opportunities away from someone who deserves it more (i.e. someone who hasn't cheated!). And why? Because he's good at sport? Its actually more that a little bit sickening, to think that in this day an attitude like that can permeate academic institutions at that level. I almost wish the guy had just been fucking his lecturer. It'd be a more honest way to get preferential treatment in my opinion (though still reprehensible).
Funnily enough, the article mentions that it is "believed" that members of staff at the college are unhappy about the "singling out" of one of their colleges, the "perception of favouritism shown to students involved in the GAA", and the failure of the college itself to "censure the original handling of the complaint".
To be honest, while I agree with the last point, the rest of that is pathetic. The lecturer who has been 'singled out' had better have been able to prove he didn't give the student his password, otherwise he should be sacked on the spot (and if the student wasn't given the password, but obtained it though theft or subterfuge of some kind, he should have his master's certificate torn up and the qualification removed!). As for the perception that students who participate in the GAA receive special treatment, well, you cant really call it an unfounded perception after this incident. that "perception" is no-one's fault but the college's. Suck it up and do something to change that perception.
To relate this whole rant to the title (tenuously at this point, because its 3.30am and I'm tired), Galway-Mayo I.T. is reviewing its plagiarism and ethics policies because of this incident (and the mentioned but undescribed ones that preceded it). Maybe, if these previous incidents had a similar motivation (special treatment for jocks) as it is implied by the article, Galway-Mayo I.T. should think about reviewing its attitude towards the students and their past-times/affiliations, and the attitudes of its staff.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Honestly I don’t know whether to be amused or afraid. The Internet, we know, is at the centre of the average person’s universe (more so the younger they are.) The Internet, we know, is the harbinger of the downfall of the printed newspaper. The Internet, we are told, is crippling the entertainment industry by way of illegal downloads. And now, finally (Amazingly? Ridiculously? Terrifyingly?), the Internet is toppling Governments. But not in the manner I would have imagined.
I would have assumed that Wikileaks, with its back catalogue of classified information, its doomsday file, and its secret underground bunker (seriously! It’s where they keep their servers!), would be the righteous strong arm of the Internet, smashing corrupt, lying governments that had kept dirty, dirty secrets from the world and their own citizens for so very long. Hell, I guess even those same Governments are thinking along the same lines, judging by Julian Assange’s current legal trouble. But no, threatening as it appears, menacing as its agenda is, Wikileaks has been beaten to the punch as far as regime-toppling goes.

By Facebook.

Or at least, that’s what Egypt’s shiny new military junta thinks. Which is why they now have their own Facebook page. Seriously. As the Telegraph reports, the page has been created at the behest of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and dedicated “to the sons and youths of Egypt who ignited the January 25th Revolution and to its martyrs.” The Egyptian military, and by extension the Council, are extremely popular in Egypt for their sufferance of the protests (All the blame at civil servant level having been shifted to the nasty oppressive police). Given the events of January in Egypt, and, in fairness, the tangible role of social media sites in providing a means to co-ordinate protest, (Hell, Mubarak turned off the damned Internet in the entire country! He certainly seemed to think it was a threat.) , one can begin to understand the Council’s reasoning behind this move.
But let’s just play a game here for a minute. We’ll call it “Juxtaposition”. In this game we’re going to juxtapose two words. Let’s go with “Facebook”, and… oh, how about “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces”?  Now can you honestly say that that isn’t so weird as to be unsettling? Can you imagine getting a friend request from that page? “Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi (Head of the aforementioned Council) wants to be friends!” Do you accept? What if you don’t accept? Then you’ve just rejected the Head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces! You know there will be backlash. You might end up joining the hundreds of people Human Rights groups claim are still ‘missing’ in the wake of the uprising. Amnesty International claim the military is torturing (with whips and electric shocks) those they have detained.
That explains why you got that friend request. Field Marshal Tantawi saw those photos you were tagged in from that S&M party. Oh Balls!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spare some Change for a Pint?

As I sit at my desk, sipping my ridiculously sugared coffee and perusing the morning papers (12.15 is still morning on a Sunday!), I’ve come across an interesting little piece from Pat Fitzpatrick in the Indo (or perhaps it’s the Endo, judging by their front page complimentary handjob for the potential taoiseach/hide and seek champion from Mayo).
It’s a short, witty little dig at Fianna Fail, calling on the now almost (hopefully) defunct party to just go nuts in its manifesto and promise us holiday homes on the moon, or whatever. Tickled my funny bone anyway, that is until I got to the actual (single) fact that Fitzpatrick had based the piece around. On page 21 of Fianna Fail’s manifesto, in the tourism section, lies a proposal to make St. Patrick’s Festival Week into St. Patrick’s Festival Fortnight. God Help us all.
Putting aside the fact that this is obviously cheap political bullshit, thrown in because, “Why the Hell not? The party mightn’t exist in a month’s time!” Let’s look at the actual implications of such a proposal. In 1903 St. Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland, thanks to one MP James O’Mara. Ironically, MP O’Mara later managed to introduce legislation that closed pubs on March 17th, after people began ruining his shiny new public holiday by getting thoroughly blotto.
What’s that you say? Pubs closed by law on St. Patrick’s Day? I can already here some of you laughing derisively “That didn’t last very long. Hur-Hur!” Actually, it lasted about 60years; O’Mara’s legislation was only repealed in the 1970s. I wonder who was big in politics in 70’s Ireland? (cough-Haughey-cough). Certainly, if we consider that Fianna Fail spent the middle years of the 70s in Opposition (1973-77), no doubt trying desperately to claw their way back into the driving seat (as they are wont to do: “Free Fees, Free Medical Cards, Free Everything!”), it would be no stretch of the imagination that such a meaningless, populist political stunt could be part of one of their election manifestos. Just like we have something similar now.
In the 1990s, its was decided that St.Patrick’s Day was too damned popular internationally (and too damned profitable in terms of tourism) to be limited to just one day. So the Government (which was the Rainbow Coalition at the time) decided to add an extra day to the 1996 St.Patrick’s Day celebration. Their excuse was that by extending and improving our premier national celebration, we could:
— Offer a national festival that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebrations in the world and promote excitement throughout Ireland via innovation, creativity, grassroots involvement, and marketing activity.
— Provide the opportunity and motivation for people of Irish descent, (and those who sometimes wish they were Irish) to attend and join in the imaginative and expressive celebrations.
— Project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal, as we approach the new millennium.
Sounds so innocent and well-meaning, doesn’t it? Bless their cotton socks; they had no idea the can of worms they were opening. In 1997, the Boys were back in Town, led by B-b-b-Bertie, our former Finance Minister without a bank account. The Festival got another day, because Fianna Fail couldn't allow themselves to be outdone by that bunch of stuff-shirts in the Coalition. Not this Fianna Fail Government anyway. Not with its happy-go-lucky, man-of-the-people Taoiseach, oh no!
By 2000, the Festival was 4 days long. By 2006 (Celtic Tiger roaring baby, Whooah!), the Festival peaked at 5 Days. Now Fianna Fail, in what is clearly an attempt to scrape up some popularity with the average punter, are suggesting we make it a fortnight. Shine on you crazy diamonds!
But seriously, have I gone all Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, or am I seeing a pattern forming here? The 1970s, Fianna Fail out of Government for the middle years of the decade, pubs reopened on St. Patrick’s Day. The 1990s, Fianna Fail out of Government for the middle years of the decade, St. Patrick’s Day becomes a festival, and begins to grow. Now the nation is staring down the barrel of the twenty-teens (for want of a better work to describe them), with the middle years of this decade almost certainly seeing Fianna Fail out of Government. And part of their re-election manifesto is to make the St. Patrick’s Festival even longer? Déjà vu anyone?
Now don’t get me wrong, while I’m not exactly a rabid patriot, I do enjoy St. Patrick’s Day, and I do get somewhat inebriated. But that’s on the day. While I recognise that the St. Patrick’s Festival is a gimmick to attract tourists, I worry a little bit about how, in these economically depressed times, society will cope with a week-long festival that for the vast majority of people (that is, non-tourists) is solely an excuse to binge drink for the weekend, and recover for the rest of the week. How will another week affect this? Not positively, I wager.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Google = Skynet (?)

So I'm becoming somewhat concerned about the fact that Google appears to be EVERYWHERE on the internet now. Half the things I've tried to sign up for recently prompt me to sync up with my gmail account. When I was attempting to set up a Youtube account for my dear mother, I was informed that signing up for gmail was in fact obligatory if she wanted to be able to use the 'Favourite' function. W.T.F.? I mean I know Google own Youtube, but really, that's a bit harsh. Next thing you know, Sky wont let you buy the channel packages without signing up for their internet package aswell.
Actually, now that I think on it, Our internet here in Maynooth is Vodafone, and they demanded that we sign up for a Vodafone landline account before they'd give us internet. U.P.C. never did that. I miss U.P.C. Huge disappointment ensued when we realised we couldn't get it in this estate.
Next, Google will probably buy Sky, and then we'll have to link our t.v. channels to our gmail accounts. Then they'll buy Tesco, and we'll all have to link our groceries to our gmail accounts. Further and further we'll travel down the rabbit hole, closer and closer to some awful Google singularity, and there isn't any messianic John Connors figure to save us all.
Or is there, Julian Assange?

Blog the First

So here we are, deep in the nether regions of the Internets, the habitat of that curious creature; the Blog. In an effort to actually get some practice writing, generously leavened with a sense of "ah sure, why not", I've decided to set forth and explore this mysterious realm, and in turn become a part of it.
Everyone's a critic, so the saying goes, and really, everyone does like to think their opinion is important. I'm man enough to admit I'm not really any different from the rest of my web-surfing, blog-happy generation, so, on an irregular, nigh-on sporadic basis, I'll offer up my own opinions to the Gods of the Omniweb (and everyone else too). All responses welcome, even the harsh ones.
Everyone likes to offer their two cents in any given conversation. I am by no means an exception to this rule, but I do love to talk (at length), so it might come to a bit more than two cents. A veritable fistful of coins, if you will. My intellectual Spare Change.