Students stump babble experts;The week in view

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
AS teachers anticipate a Blairite pay deal, there are tales of toys, three girls, and academe.

Oxford was in the news again. This time not for protesting students, but for incomprehensible ones: undergraduates' plea for better communications with city councillors failed to get the message across as the politicians found much of the nine-page document gobbledegook. Under one heading:

"Collaborative dynamic, process determination and actualization" the council was urged to improve its "functional participatory channels". A council member said the report was "more unintelligible than even our officials can produce. It quite cheered them up."

How does that square with findings from the Institute for Employment Studies that the supply of graduates will soon outstrip demand? Cue for a transatlantic tale: one of Princeton University's best-loved traditions, the Nude Olympics, could be abolished after five students were taken to hospital with alcohol poisoning. The event takes place after the first snowfall when about 350 second-year undergraduates gather at midnight to run naked through the quad, apart from boots and scarves, and emboldened by the demon drink.

When they get to university, be sure that Kathryn Blair, Jessica Gilbert and Sarah Flannery, won't get up to such scrapes.

The PM's daughter is to go to the Sacred Heart high school, a single-sex Roman Catholic comprehensive in Hammersmith, next September - a less controversial choice than the nearby London Oratory was for her two brothers. Moreover, it will solve the family's transport problem.

Jessica, the 11-year-old chess champion from Croydon, south London, was a finalist in the Brain of the Year competition. Previous winners include the astro-physicist Stephen Hawking and chess ace, Garry Kasparov.

If that were not enough, enter Sarah, aged 16. She joined a Dublin computer company on work experience and, instead of making tea, devised a new encryption program to keep data secure, winning her the Irish Young Scientist of the Year competition. She could be on her way to becoming Ireland's first billionairess as even Bill Gates's boffins haven't yet come up with a similar system.

Sarah's invention alarmingly coincides with the burgeoning interest in Bletchley Park where cryptologists cracked Germany's Enigma code during the Second World War (a four-part television programme started this week), and the general release of the film Enemy of the State.

The movie centres on the nefarious activities of America's National Security Agency in Maryland whose computer eyes are everywhere. So it was apposite to hear that the toy, Furby, had infiltrated the mighty NSA courtesy of bored besotted spooks. But beneath their cuddly fur, big ears and watchful eyes lies a potential enemy agent, as they are filled with hi-tech gadgetry which lets them repeat what they've overheard.

Top brass want them out; but they've gone to ground. If the NSA search teams track them down, it could be curtains. Asked about the Furbies' fate if caught, a spokesman replied: "You'd have to take them to the basement, and sweat them a lot."

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