Today's news

August 23, 2006

Cambridge: 'soft' A-level students will not win places
A-level students are being advised to stick to "traditional" subjects by one of Britain's top universities. Cambridge University has listed a string of A levels on its website that it considers "less effective" preparation for entry. The list includes subjects such as media studies, health and social care, performing arts, accounting and business studies. The statement on the Cambridge University website said that most courses would accept students with one A level in a "softer" subject, but there may be a problem if two of their grades were in subjects on the list.
The Times

Universities silent about effect of fees on vacancies
Universities are being more tight lipped than ever about the number of vacancies still up for grabs in the clearing scramble amid fears top-up fees could spell financial disaster for some institutions. Admissions tutors are reluctant to reveal which courses are struggling to attract students because they do not want to be seen as desperately trying to fill places or to put off students who are still weighing up their options. Equally, universities are being slow to boast about the level of interest they have attracted since clearing started last Thursday. A clear picture of how well - or how poorly - universities have fared through clearing is unlikely to be known for some time, although it will be an indication if adverts for places begin appearing in national newspapers later this week.
The Guardian

Talking aid set to give voiceless children a pun time
Researchers from three Scottish universities have developed a speech software package which will allow children who cannot speak to crack jokes - by computer. The scientists at Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh universities believe humour can be used to help non-speaking children learn to use language more effectively. They have adapted computer speech technology made famous by physicist Stephen Hawking to enable children who speak using computerised aids to construct and tell jokes. The software package, dubbed Standup (System To Augment Non-speakers' Dialogue Using Puns), will be showcased to teachers and speech therapists in a two-day workshop at Dundee University this week.
The Scotsman

Seismic scan of Etna reveals an eruption in the making
Mount Etna just got a full-body scan. While nothing serious was diagnosed this time around, similar scans might give warning of a future volcanic eruption. The Sicilian volcano is almost always bubbling with activity, but despite this thousands of people live safely on its slopes. In 2002, however, there was an unusually violent eruption that geophysicists believe was caused by gas-rich magma rising within the volcano. Now a team led by Domenico Patanè at Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Catania, Sicily, has used seismic data to peek inside the volcano. From variations in the seismic waves from local earthquakes that passed through Mount Etna before and after the 2002 outburst they were able to build up a 3D picture showing magma rising within the volcano a few months before the eruption.
New Scientist

Ancient biblical waterworks found in Israel
Archaeologists in Israel have unearthed an ancient water system which was modified by the conquering Persians to turn the desert into a paradise. The network of reservoirs, drain pipes and underground tunnels served one of the grandest palaces in the biblical kingdom of Judea. Archaeologists first discovered the palace in 1954, a structure built on a six-acre (2.4 hectare) site where the communal Ramat Rachel farm now stands. Recent excavations unearthed nearly 70 square metres (750 square feet) of a unique water system. "They had found a huge palace ... even nicer than the palaces in Jerusalem, (dating) from the late Iron Age to the end of the biblical period in the 7th century," Oded Lipschits, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist, said.
The Scotsman

After the drought, scientists warn of a looming flood crisis
Britain faces a serious risk of floods in the coming months according to experts who yesterday criticised the Government for cutting national funding for flood defences. A combination of exceptionally high tides and the risk of autumn storms and heavy downpours could bring serious floods to many parts of the country at a time when anti-flood funding is being cut. Professor Edmund Penning-Rowsell, head of the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University, warned that government cuts indicated official complacency over a risk that could only increase with time. "The maintenance of flood defences should not be subject to political machinations and the reversal in funding sends out a dangerous sign of uncertainty," Professor Penning-Rowsell said.
The Independent

Cows 'moo with a regional accent'
Cows moo with a regional accent, according to their farmers. Dairy farmers in Somerset noticed a local twang to the sounds made by their animals, and experts confirmed that different herds made different sounds. John Wells, Professor of Phonetics at the University of London, said: "This phenomena is well attested in birds. You find distinct chirping accents in the same species around the country. "This could also be true of cows. In small populations such as herds you would encounter identifiable dialectical variations which are most affected by the immediate peer group." Dr Jeanine Treffers-Daller, reader in linguistics at the University of the West of England in Bristol, said the accent may be learned from relatives.
The Guardian

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