Stirling graduate Colin Fleming has been selected for the Great Britain Davis Cup tennis team, which faces Ukraine in Glasgow this weekend.
Saturday's doubles match will see Fleming - the only Scot in the team - partner Ross Hutchins against Sergiy Stakhovsky and Sergei Bubka. The match starts at 1pm, and they will be roared on by a sizeable contingent of Stirling students including the University Cheerleading Club.
Fleming, the British number 11 tennis player, replaces Andy Murray in the line-up for the Europe/Africa Zone second-round clash, after his fellow Scot withdrew with a virus.
He only returned to top level tennis last summer, when he embarked on a postgraduate course at Stirling, but has been so successful in doubles tournaments that he has decided to concentrate on the sport full time. However, he is still based at Stirling, Scotland's University for Sporting Excellence, which is home to the National Tennis Centre.
Others in the team are Davis Cup debutants Josh Goodall and Chris Eaton, who play the singles matches on Friday and Sunday.
Living Alongside Great Apes
Date released: Thursday 12 March 2009
Imagine that you’re sitting by your front door when a chimpanzee wanders past heading straight for your veggie patch, or you’re walking to the local shops with your children to find that a gorilla is blocking the path. This is the reality for many people in Africa and Asia whose houses and farms border great ape habitat.
Dr Kimberley Hockings, a behavioural ecologist from the University of Stirling, works with the Scottish Primate Research Group (SPRG). She is joint author of the newly-published International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Guidelines, which present a sequence of logical steps that should be considered in anticipation of any form of human-great ape conflict intervention.
Dr Hockings, currently in Guinea-Bissau, is one of 10,000 volunteer experts working with the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) and is a member of the Primate Specialist Group. She says: “One of the greatest challenges facing great ape conservation is the rising level of interaction between humans and great apes, often brought about when great apes feed on crops. By understanding more about how conflicts come about and how they affect the lives of both great apes and humans, we can propose counter-measures and reduce the likelihood of new conflict situations developing.”
Techniques proposed in the guidelines are simple and easy to adopt – in principle. For example, education programmes recommend that people never run away from a great ape, although in practice this could be very difficult!
As forest habitats come under increasing pressure, human-great ape conflicts are likely to become more widespread and prevalent, particularly since many great apes live outside protected areas (see image). The issue is made more challenging by the fact that, while some sectors of society want to save great apes, those whose lives are affected by the conflict may feel differently.
Dr Hockings comments: “Humans and wildlife have interacted for thousands of years. But the dynamics are changing as both habitat loss and human population increase.
“These human-ape interactions and rural people’s perceptions of our nearest living relatives are important, because the choices and actions of people who live in daily contact with wildlife, will ultimately determine its survival. Many people are unaware that all the great apes are endangered but experts predict that by 2030, more than 90% of great ape habitat will have suffered moderate to high impact from human activities. That can only exacerbate the problems of human-great ape conflict.”
Stirling graduate invented the first web search engine
Date released: Thursday 12 March 2009
When you think of web searches, you think of Google. The American giant has dominated web searching since it was launched, and it is now such a part of our daily lives that it is taken for granted. Yet when the internet was in its infancy, finding information on the web was a major challenge. You might think that the Americans led the way, but not only was the world wide web itself a British invention, so was the world’s first search engine, in the sense we understand it today.
It was built in Stirling, Scotland, and launched in December 1993. Called JumpStation, it was created by Jonathon Fletcher (pictured), a brilliant young computing science graduate at the University of Stirling.
JumpStation used a web crawler to extract information from websites and follow the links in them to other websites. It saved this information in a database, and presented a search page on the web into which the user would type a key word. It would search the database for the key word and provide the user with links - the same basic principle that Google uses today.
It ran (or ‘wandered’) for the first time on Sunday 12 December 1993, out of an HP9000 server in a university laboratory, and was different from anything tried previously: other primitive search engines had only measured the size of the web, or had gathered lists of URLs, but no-one had gathered the content and made it searchable by key words.
So, how did it all come about?
Jonathon Fletcher was a doctor’s son from Yorkshire, who graduated from the University of Stirling with a first class honours degree in Computing Science in the summer of 1992. He had hoped to do a PhD at Glasgow but could not get the grant funding, so was taken onto the staff at Stirling, working as a systems administrator. He explained: “My job was really to keep the labs going, help out students, and do admin type jobs. I had very little money, couldn’t afford any rent, and when I wasn’t sleeping on friends’ floors, I slept in the labs. And when you are there all the time, next to a keyboard, it is very easy to try out your ideas.
“At the end of 1993, the only web browser was called Mosaic. To find out what was new on the web you had to visit their ‘What’s New’ page. Being fed up with discovering the web by hand, I wrote something that would do it for me. JumpStation was well received when I posted it on the ‘What’s New’ page (21 December 1993) and there were so many visitors that it overloaded the servers at the University. I still have a graph of the number of hits.”
The web crawler was such a new idea that it annoyed some website operators, who were upset that it was invading their website. One website posted a message on every page of their website, saying words to the effect of ‘we don’t know who you are or what you are doing, but please stop it.’
However, it was so new that its potential was not recognised or exploited. It ran for over a year, but could not keep up with the growth of the web and eventually ground to a halt. By then, Jonathon had gone to seek his fortune in the Far East. He explained: “Without the money to travel, I had been unable to attend conferences, such as the First International World Wide Web Conference, in Geneva in 1994. I had to watch from afar as others presented papers and received publicity. It was very frustrating!”
Jonathon left Stirling in the autumn of 1994 having got a job in Japan with Salomon Brothers, where he remained until 2008. He is now with Citi in Hong Kong, where he is responsible for automated trading in their Asian equity business.
However, his place in the history of the web has never been properly recognised. Although JumpStation is cited in sources ranging from research papers to Wikipedia, the exact turn of events has not, until now, been fully known.
A senior academic has called for a major public review of Scotland’s lifelong learning system and says that current levels of participation among older adult learners are unacceptable.
A keynote speaker at Holyrood Magazine’s conference on The Future of Adult Learning in Scotland, which takes place on 18 March, Professor John Field (pictured) of The Stirling Institute of Education, believes that the current system is a ‘mess’. The conference will also be addressed by Minister for School and Skills, Keith Brown MSP.
Professor Field says that international comparisons show that Scotland has a relatively high level of participation in lifelong learning. He argues that this is as we would expect in a country that has high ambitions to become a knowledge economy, but some groups in the population are falling behind: “Even if Government is satisfied with current skills levels, our existing skills distribution is too wide to meet the needs of a knowledge economy and it means that important groups are at risk of being left behind. Socially and economically, levels of participation among older adults are unacceptable”.
Professor Field believes there is an unhelpful distribution of powers between Holyrood and Whitehall and a lack of strategic focus overall: “We need to address some significant risks and gaps. We simply do not know enough about our existing system. Finding out what is spent on lifelong learning would pose a major practical challenge, and we are some way from establishing clear and regular baseline information on participation and provision.”
He added: “Governance is a mess: responsibilities are divided between Councils, Holyrood and Whitehall in ways that are not always helpful. At local council level, community learning is highly vulnerable to budget cuts as we have seen in the last year. Some key questions for Scottish policy concern the programmes managed by the Department for Work and Pensions. It is not immediately clear to me that programmes aimed at helping unemployed people find work are always geared to the requirements of Scottish demography and the Scottish labour market.”
Professor Field's full paper on the the Future of Adult Learning in Scotland can be accessed online:
Note: The recently published book 'Researching Transitions in Lifelong Learning' was co-edited by Prof. Field. He believes that, in today’s society, people and organisations increasingly undergo processes of transition. Therefore we all should expect and make ready for transitions, engaging in learning as a fundamental strategy for handling change: which is where lifelong learning steps in. For further information, visit: http://www.routledgeeducation.com/books/Researching-Transitions-in-Lifelong-Learning-isbn9780415495998
Preparing for the Commonwealth Games
Date released: Thursday 19 March 2009
Professor Grant Jarvie (pictured), Deputy Principal of the University of Stirling, is chairing a conference today in Glasgow which is exploring and debating the ambition, legacy and promise afforded by Glasgow’s successful bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Preparing for the Commonwealth Games: Matching Ambition and Opportunity brings together speakers and attendees from across sport, health, business and tourism organisations to discuss how to ensure as many people as possible connect with the Games and reap the benefits of their taking place in Scotland.
Speaking ahead of the conference, Professor Jarvie said: "Scotland has competed in every Commonwealth Games since 1930. The advent of the 2014 Commonwealth Games to be hosted by the City of Glasgow provides an opportunity for many Scots to think of what might be in 2014. A five year window of opportunity has been provided.
"What would success look like and just exactly what should the legacy be? What part for example is to be played by the education sector, the financial sector and the cultural sector and will Scotland win more medals? This event will cover the key issues encountered by any country and any city that is looking to make a success of major sporting events."
Sports Minister Shona Robison said: "Hosting the Commonwealth Games gives Glasgow and Scotland a once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve life changing benefits for communities across the country for generations to come. In order to achieve this it is important that Scotland is ready to act now.
“Our aspirations for 2014 go way beyond sport, important though that is, and touch on almost every aspect of Scottish life, from business, health, tourism, learning, volunteering and the environment. Working with our partners, we want the power and excitement of the Games to help us deliver a modern, confident, vibrant and healthy Scotland.”
Speakers will explore the roles of the key players in the organisation and hosting of the Commonwealth Games, looking to reveal how the various powers and actions at play affect related planning and developments.
The conference will also explore how the Games are being used as part of a broader drive to a more active population, what we are doing now to set medal targets and provide a forum for debate on how best to ensure the Games impact throughout Scotland athletically, economically and socially. Speakers will look at a broad range of opportunities that will arise from Glasgow’s role as host and the implications these have for leisure and tourism, the skills agenda, cultural organisations and businesses throughout Scotland.
Studying Christians in the Middle East
Date released: Friday 20 March 2009
There is a need for Christians and Muslims to come to a better understanding of each other’s beliefs. And this may be one reason why a recently created website has received an unexpected amount of attention.
Dr Michael Marten (pictured), lecturer at the School of Languages, Cultures and Religions and his co-founder, Dr Fiona McCallum, who is based at St Andrews University, created the CME (Christians in the Middle East) Network when they realised that academics studying the subject of Christians in the Middle East worked very much in isolation.
Since the Network was designed to facilitate a scholarly exchange, they expected visitors to it to be small in number. However it has had over 3,500 hits and signed up 175 members, since it went live just over two weeks ago.
The creation of the Network was a logical step, following on from the success of a one day conference which Dr Marten arranged at the University in February. The attendees presented papers covering such diverse subjects as politics, current affairs, gender and identity. These contemporary issues sat comfortably alongside historical context because there are continuous links between both, underlining Dr Marten’s comment: “Where does history stop and current affairs begin?”
While the CME Network is timely, its subject matter may at times prove sensitive. Might it then have the potential to be divisive?
“While it is operating in a sensitive area, the Network is really about understanding contexts better,” explains Dr Marten. “During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were several Western missionary organisations trying to enter that country and convert Muslims to Christianity. This only highlights the lack of Western knowledge about many Muslim communities; Iraq was a mature and intellectually sophisticated civilisation thousands of years before the USA was founded.
“Whether or not they are actively Christian, most people in the West operate within a Christian context and framework. The Mexican Indians believed that the god of the Spanish conquistadors was gold. And of course, it could be argued that it was. Given past evidence, it isn’t surprising that, more recently, one Middle Eastern view has been that the west’s god is oil. These are obvious examples of the perceptions which can create friction between Muslims and Christians.
“As to whether the CME Network could be divisive…on the contrary, I think that anything which helps us to work together must have the opposite effect. The network will be nurtured by different views and will be a reflection of diverse understandings.
“I don’t think there is a separation between religion and politics; the two are clearly intertwined and throughout history, religious differences have been exploited by groups to further their own agendas. One outcome is that there are and always will be instances of individual persecution. But as a whole, these incidences are not the dominant theme in the interaction between Christians and other groups in the Middle East.”
According to Dr Marten, there never was a paradise or a golden era but Christians and Muslims have traditionally got along pretty well and he hopes the CME Network will strengthen the relationships and aid the knowledge transfer among scholars of whatever religious persuasion.
With six families for every house available to let in the Highlands and Islands, the amount and quality of rural housing is a cause for concern.
The issue will be the subject of a University of Stirling lecture ‘Rural Housing in the Highlands and Islands’, to be delivered at the Centre for Health Science in Inverness on Thursday 26 March at 4pm. The talk is open to all and admission is free.
Dr Madhu Satsangi (pictured), a senior lecturer in housing studies, has studied the issue of housing provision in rural Scotland for over a decade, and says the number of people waiting for each suitable let can rise to ten in parts of the country such as Sutherland, Skye and Lochalsh where up to 80 per cent of the houses are second homes. In many other parts of the country, the number of people waiting is more typically three.
“The problem is fundamentally one of supply,” explains Dr Satsangi. “Historically, we haven’t built sufficient housing to meet the demand in the social sector. One reason for this is the shortage of land available – much of which is held in the private sector and owned by large estates.
“But another reason is the prevailing attitude towards the Highlands and what they should be used for. Is it, as some believe, purely for recreation? Should we be preserving quaint little villages for the enjoyment of tourists and guarding against new properties being built at their margins to meet the needs of local communities?
“While there has been no rigorous analysis of the situation, the common view is that tight spatial planning strategies have constrained growth. Despite the good intentions of many, the big push has been to encourage growth in the larger cities instead – which means that community members migrate away from the rural Highlands. I call it the Modern Day Clearances.”
He warns the situation may get worse: “In some parts of the Highlands, businesses find it difficult to recruit staff, because the people they need can’t afford to live in the area.
“So there is a very real possibility that those tourists who move in and out of the Highland areas in pursuit of the recreational facilities which some have been at great pains to protect, will find when they arrive that there are few available services and facilities, because the people needed to support that service infrastructure no longer live in the Highlands and Islands.”
Answers in the Patagonian mud
Date released: Monday 30 March 2009
A scientist from the University of Stirling has been at the forefront of a major research project in Patagonia which has helped to unlock one of the secrets of global climate change.
Dr Bob McCulloch (pictured centre), a lecturer in Environmental Geography at the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, has worked with a team of researchers from the Universities of Stirling, Edinburgh and Lille, to reconstruct the history of glaciers in the remote region at the southern tip of South America.
The scientists hope that their findings* will improve our understanding of how the global climate changed during the last ice age, and so help to predict environmental changes in the future.
Dr McCulloch has been visiting Patagonia for 18 years to map the area and take samples. He was accompanied on a recent field trip by Stirling environmental science students Euan Robertson (left) and Fraser Macdonald (right).
They took mud cores from the area around the Magellan Straits, and although the landscapes were stunning, the field work was laborious and strenuous, often in difficult locations such as river beds and inland lakes. It could be messy work, and they sometimes found themselves up to their knees in mud.
Dr McCulloch explained the project’s findings: “The Antarctic ice sheet acts as a record of the global environment, and dust blown south from Patagonia, and deposited in the ice over 80,000 years, provides vital information about past changes in ocean currents and wind patterns in the southern hemisphere. But until now, the cause of an abrupt decline in dust in Antarctic ice cores was not understood.
“Patagonian sediment cores were brought back to laboratories at the universities and subjected to radiocarbon dating and geological analysis, for comparison with Antarctic dust of the same age. They were found to be a close match.
During the last ice age, glaciers in Patagonia were at their maximum extent and released their meltwater, containing dust particles, onto barren windy plains, from where the dust was blown to Antarctica.
“We found that the retreat of Patagonian glaciers 21,000 years ago cut off the supply of atmospheric dust to Antarctica, as the sediment was instead trapped in lakes in Patagonia. The Patagonian glaciers were effectively acting as an on/off switch for releasing dust into the atmosphere.”
* The research team's resulting paper: ‘Influence of Patagonian glaciers on Antarctic dust deposition during the last glacial period’ is published this week in the prestigious journal Nature Geoscience. See: www.nature.com/ngeo/ for details.