Scotland to have its own Web Domain?

You might have expected me to comment on this week’s faster than light neutrinos story – frankly, I feel it’s a little precipitate to talk about these results (if these are verified by an independent experiment, then I’ll prick up my ears), and besides, there have been plenty of posts by much better qualified people on the subject.

I’ve decided instead to share with you a little nugget of news that might not have gone very far, about Scotland’s internet status.  There have been fresh efforts to lobby for a .scot web domain, led mainly by the Dot Scot Registry, with the backing of the Scottish Government (the UK government is considering whether to support the bid).  The Dot Scot Registry has been lobbying for this since its inception in 2009, and a golden opportunity is fast approaching.

The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) is a not-for-profit corporation which controls the naming system of websites, in particular controlling the top level domains (such as .com).  In January 2012, they will be hearing suggestions for new top level domains, partly in response to the massive growth of the Internet outside the Anglosphere.  This is no small increase – the current total is 22, and the expectation is that this number will increase to several hundred.

Critics of the campaign have argued that the real issue for Scotland is connectivity, not domains.  There are still large swathes of the country without access to broadband, and improving this is an important milestone for Scottish commerce.  Focusing efforts on a name seems like focusing on the wrong problem.  Having said that, there is still a good case for rebranding – it would certainly lend an air of credibility to the country’s online presence.  After all, if Antarctica and Liechtenstein have their own domains, why not Scotland? A country that generates £4bn a year in tourism revenues needs to have well crafted websites with a memorable name – http://www.tourism.scot does have a nice ring to it.

But it’s not all that simple.  Icann aren’t just giving these things away.  Prospective bidders will have to prove that they are worth the domain – they need to have well-established IT capabilities, a legal system that deals with intellectual property correctly, and sufficient manpower to track down and remove abusive pages (although what abusive means in this context isn’t clear to me).

In the end, I’m not sure how much all this change would really affect me.  It would be quite nice to host this blog on a .scot domain.  That is, if I’ve not forced enough Scottishness down your throat…

My PhD Advice, Part 4: Fortune Favours the Brave

Apologies for last week’s blip in this series of posts – the events of the last week have been a little distracting.  Let’s keep going with my pearls of wisdom.  This week’s one is quite general, and the title says it all.  There are several things you need to be brave about – the first is bravery in research itself.

My experience has taught me that boldness is important in your own research.  The more confident you are about your own ability, the more likely you are to explore avenues of research that are high-risk & high-reward.  Quite often, the avenues are a dead end, but every now and then the gamble pays off, and the result is a significant boost to your career.  I took something of a risk quite early on in my PhD, and it paid off pretty well.

It’s quite easy to choose the low-risk options – the easy projects that don’t require too much effort on your part, but the payoff is relatively low.  It’s especially easy in Science, where the low-risk projects result in quick papers that fill out your CV, and improve your chances of getting another position.  But the high-risk projects can have even better pay-offs.  You could find yourself developing a whole new field of science, where you are the world’s foremost expert.  That’s an even better position to be in when you’re looking for a new job.

You shouldn’t just be bold about what projects you choose, but how you communicate your work.  Academia is a marketplace of ideas, “marketplace” being the operative word.  In Science, we attempt to assess ideas objectively based on evidence, whether those ideas are analysed datasets or theoretical constructions.  Ideas which pass the obstacles put in place by the scientific method are given merit according to their ability, and another chip is made at the rock face of cutting edge research.

This is how Science works in principle – in practice, Science is undertaken by humans, and humans respond better to ideas if they are packaged correctly.  Presenting your work confidently and effectively will help your ideas go further, and boost your profile amongst your peers.  Forming and maintaining a network of collaborators and colleagues is probably the most important part of being an academic (and very rewarding in its own right).  Even if you don’t want to stay in academia forever, the business world operates on very similar principles – effective networking is part of any successful career.

OK, so this week’s advice is a bit of a grab-bag, but there is a general message – be as confident as you can be without being arrogant.  Be bold – take risks with your research.  Take on some low-risk stuff to keep your PhD ticking over, but don’t be afraid to try something that could change your field of Science (and your career with it).

Insurers are Right to Discriminate – We’ve Got More Important Gaps to Fix

The European Court of Justice’s ruling regarding gender disparity in insurance and pension is surely a dangerous precedent.  It’s almost always a good thing to remove gender disparity – that I agree with – but is ‘almost always’ = ‘always’?

For those not in the know, insurers in the UK will no longer be able to charge women less for car insurance than they do for men.  An associated change will affect pensions – as women typically live longer than men, an annuity bought by a woman is typically worth less than an annuity bought by a man, and that is also about to change.

Are these changes correct? Is it right to demand that gender is never allowed to be an issue over which people are treated differently?  Should the law be focusing on being blind to objective, correctly analysed and unbiased evidence that shows men and women live and act differently?

Continue reading Insurers are Right to Discriminate – We’ve Got More Important Gaps to Fix