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Submission + - Laser data link across 1.5 million kilometres (oerlikon.com) 1

An anonymous reader writes: On the Canary Islands last week, a team from Oerlikon Space demonstrated the feasibility of a laser link across a distance of 1.5 million kilometres for the first time ever. In the future, laser links like this one will be able to transmit data across huge distances through the universe far more rapidly and efficiently than is possible using conventional radio links today. Read more.

Comment Disgrace (Score 1) 423

It's undeniable that across the board (not just in science), exams in the UK have been getting easier. Compare an old O-level paper against the modern "equivalent" GCSE paper in almost any subject, and you'll find almost no resemblance (a better comparison is an old O-level paper against an equivalent modern A-level paper). The same goes for A-levels. And this isn't only happening at Foundation tier - it happens at Intermediate and Higher tiers too, and as a result, universities and employers are having a much harder time selecting applicants based upon their academic qualifications.

The government wants everyone to get their 5 A*-C grades (the benchmark) and be as employable as possible as a result. And over the past couple of decades, the percentage doing so has skyrocketed - not because people are getting more intelligent or are being taught better, but because exams have been getting easier and easier. I once saw a Foundation tier maths question which listed several integers and asked the candidate to pick an even number. This is GCSE, for crying out loud. This is what 16 year olds are meant to be doing, according to our education system. I don't care if it's the Foundation paper, this is ridiculous - people can achieve a C grade by answering such questions.

And what's going to happen if this continues? Well, for a start, employers and universities, some of which are swamped with applicants (I speak as a recent Cambridge applicant) are going to start raising the bar more and more - no longer will 5 A*-C grades suffice, it'll be 6, then 7, etc. and then all those extra GCSEs people have because they were made easier will be devalued. With propsals of an A** grade for GCSE and an A* grade for A-levels (God forbid), this doesn't look like it's going to end any time soon. In 5 years time, what good will the A** grade have done when it's worth the same as an A* currently is?

Some universities now ask for individual module marks in A and AS-levels, as well as asking for good grades in their own tests, such as STEP, BMAT etc. Even with a personal statement, a list of grades and perhaps even an interview, they still have a hell of a hard time deciding who to accept.

It's not just the government's fault either - I blame many of the schools that discourage people from taking subjects like maths, sciences and languages because they're seen as difficult subjects and will be detrimental to their position in the league tables, which are now just one big joke. Vocational GCSEs are sometimes worth up to 4 times as much as a normal GCSE. Is Cake Decorating really 4 times as important as Physics?

What's just as bad is the fact that iGCSEs (International GCSE, an extension of the GCSE syllabus, and arguably much more difficult), which some schools are changing to in response to the slipping standards of GCSEs, are not currently recognised. A school can be one of the best in the country and have 0 points in the league tables just because they're shunning GCSE and doing something more substantial. As a result, the uptake of iGCSEs (and other such alternative qualifications) has partly been hindered by school boards anxious about the tables.

The goal of the GCSE was to provide people with a good, compulsory minimum level of knowledge and understanding before they leave school, whilst providing a good "stepping-stone" for those who want to continue their studies. It now does neither. People being taught just the standard syllabus are left nowhere near as knowledgeable as they should be, and it seems that other than in the few places that teach well beyond the syllabus, gifted children are not given the means to flourish, or even be recognised as gifted. How many more modern-day Newtons are we going to waste before our education system is fixed?

Submission + - SCO Stock Surges

An anonymous reader writes: After trading as low as $0.77 in recent weeks, the price of SCO stock surged 33% on Friday to $1.17. What gives? http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=scox

Submission + - Simple Comm Technique Beats Quantum Crypto

Atario writes: "Spying is big business, and avoiding being spied on an even bigger one. So imagine if someone came up with a simple, cheap way of encrypting messages that is almost impossible to hack into?

American computer engineer Laszlo Kish at Texas A&M University in College Station claims to have done just that. He says the thermal properties of a simple wire can be exploited to create a secure communications channel, one that outperforms quantum cryptography keys."
The Almighty Buck

Submission + - NOAA Blows $4 Mil in Taxpayer Dollars on Birthday

AbsoluteXyro writes: The newly appointed National Hurricane Center director Director Bill Proenza has revealed that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is blowing $4 million in taxpayer dollars on NOAA's 200th anniversary celebration, while at the same time cutting $700,000 from hurricane research. WeatherMatrix founder Jesse Ferrel points out in his blog some of NOAA's ridiculous birthday spending, as well as the fact that it is only NOAA's 37th anniversary.

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