Touchy-feely connects to laptoppy-screeny

20th February 1998 at 00:00
Teachers could well discover an anonymous figure rifling through their staffroom tea money accounts as the Audit Commission turns its steely eye on school expenditure. However, help could be at hand with the computer spreadsheets as there is excellent news for techno-phobes - computers that respond to human emotions.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology boffin told the American Association for the Advancement of Science that she is designing computers that respond to sensors which could be built into clothing or attached to the skin. Angry, bored, frustrated? Your machine will react accordingly.

Rosalind Picard said: "Eventually these sensors will disappear into the twiddly bits that you are used to touching computers with." Before the mind boggles completely, apparently she was talking about fingertips on keyboards, the forefinger on the mouse and "possibly the thighs on which the laptop rests will convey emotions to the machine". (And how was it for you?) The AAAS is always good for a laugh once you can understand what those scientists are on about. Babies do apparently. Another expert, this time from Rochester University, in New York State found what most parents know: their offspring are clever. They can start putting meanings to words and compile rules of grammar almost before they can talk.

When they learn to read, will they grow up, to the despair of David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, to be hairdressers? He upset tonsorial artists around the country by criticising his Tory predecessors on GMTV for "equipping youngsters as a nation of hairdressers" which would not solve the problems of the new century. Adding hastily: "Much as I love hairdressers."

But pity the next generation of toddlers who will be deprived of an old favourite.

One children's favourite, Paddington Bear, is going out of production in the Yorkshire factory that made them for the past 25 years. The collapse of the Tiger economies in the Far East is partly to blame for the company's demise.

The Asian crisis is also having a devastating effect on cash-strapped British universities as the lucrative student recruitment market in Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia dries up.

But it isn't all bad for academe: a reverse brain drain has begun with Anthony Giddens, thought to be the PM's favourite academic, enticing historian Linda Colley back to the London School of Economics , while her husband David Cannadine will take up a post at London University. And Thames Valley University, whose earring-sporting vice-chancellor Mike Fitzgerald has taken some flak for running courses in kite-flying and rock music, reports a record increase in applications.

But Cambridge copped a broadside from satirical novelist Tom Sharpe who was fed up with his alma mater, Pembroke College, for its unrelenting attempts to wring money out of him, even though he demanded some of a former gift back after learning it was spent on carpets and fundraisers, not on scientific research as intended.

Meanwhile Peterhouse (the setting for Sharpe's novel Porterhouse Blue) gained some notoriety when it was revealed that one of its graduates had set up a male escort agency on the Internet. The novelist was even less amused, condemning this enterprise as "sordid and decadent". But another commentator thought that "to Thatcher's clear-eyed children selling your body for sex was sound business sense, exchanging the commodity you have, youth, for the one you don't, money".

Staff in a Roman Catholic primary school in Swinton in Salford benefited from a Tory legacy when they scooped a Pounds 1.5 million lottery win. "It will make us happier in our work - none of us is planning to leave, and it won't change our lives that much," said the syndicate leader. How very British.

A final bit of cheer from the AAAS: in the run-up to the exam season, remember it's not all your fault if the little beggars don't come up to scratch. Harold Stevenson, a psychologist from Michigan University, found that parents and children in the Far East think you have to work hard to do well, while Westerners think you must have a good teacher.

If that thought doesn't work, follow the example set by some Bradford schools. Teachers in that fair city have taken to a beer called-don't ask why - Monkey Wrench, voted best strong brew by the Campaign for Real Ale. One head said the beer had played a major role in helping to raise funds to improve the school.

"It makes the evening pass pleasantly, it encourages the dads to come along." Let's raise a glass to that.

Diane Spencer

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