Archive for October, 2007|Monthly archive page


want to guess how I oh so nearly used this in my teaching this morning?

Common sense kicked in, though I was amazed how eighteen year old students knew about the clangers.

A busy day teaching, more tomorrow.


Inter Library Loan

Firstly, a quick response to yesterday’s post.  Claire from Microsoft has responded to my hypothetical question about support for XNA, she says –

 “…we don’t have any plans to pull XNA particularly because it is so popular in academia across the world.”

I’d forgotten the international aspect – whilst there’s a growing user base here in the UK, worldwide there are probably hundreds of university courses using XNA.

The title of the posting is to give a cheer to our library here at BCU, which has responded incredibly quickly to an inter-library loan request.  I’ve got “The Social Life of Avatars” sitting on my desk, and have read a couple of papers in the (little) downtime I’ve had today.  They’re good papers, some have taken a slightly less formal academic tone than I would have expected from a book published in conjunction with the BCS, but there’s still info here that provides some validation to my theory that “Avataristic Studies” (a name I’ve just created, and will have to copyright soon! does have a sound basis for further research.  I’m also comforted that the book was published in 2002, but some of the graphics and avatars shown could have walked out of Second Life.

Talking of which, I took the plunge and joined Second Life last night.  First impressions are that I won’t be dragged into it.  The ability to fly is very clever, and I’ve found some 2L learning resources which could be useful as my research develops, but I’ve not developed any urges to buy land and set up home there, just yet.

Microsoft XNA

Last Thursday I had the chance to attend a meeting about XNA, a games development platform which is Xbox 360 and PC exclusive.  Microsoft are supporting XNA as a platform for academics to use as a gaming platform for their courses.

There’s no denying that the tools, and opportunities that the software offers are impressive – some of the examples that were shown developed by ‘real’ students are way beyond what I could have considered ‘student work’.

There is a concern though about the proprietary framework, and developing academic courses around this.  What would happen if Microsoft pulled XNA – where would this leave a course which would be validated for six years?

As interesting as the Microsoft section, were two talks.  One was by David Braben,  who co-created Elite (mentioned in yesterday’s post – it’s a small world isn’t it!).  He emphasised the five generations of game playing.  If we do develop a games development route, then this is the sort of thing I would like to teach, the history of computing and gaming. David’s talk was supported by what I would say is the most interactive PowerPoint presentation – I thought they were just video clips, but given the lack of repetition of some of the demonstrations, there must have been some clever embedded objects.

The other talk was by Nick Burton, senior developer at Rare, a company which is owned by Microsoft, but was able to offer some really interesting lectures to students about working in the games industry.  We really hope to be able to take him up on these, our visiting lecture programme has been lacking recently.

I’ll add the uk academic blog to my RSS list – and read with interest what Microsoft can offer.

Sunday Post – Why I don’t sleep well?

As a mid-teenager, there were few things as cool (well OK, maybe sex, drink and drugs, but this was the West Midlands, and I did have a very sheltered upbringing) as having your own coffee machine in your room.

The machine of choice was a coffee ‘Percolator’, rarely (if ever) found in shops nowadays, but I’ve managed to find an image of something similar.


 So, imagine the scene, eight o’clock on a school night, listening to Rush on vinyl on my stereo, and playing Elite with my friend Adrian on my Acorn Electron, and the twelve cup coffee percolator gently bubbling away.  For us, high grade Columbian was only related to the quality of coffee (after some aborted attempted with our parent’s Mellow Birds and some stolen Nescafé Gold Blend).  Sugar, and Coffee Mate completed it – we were probably drinking two or three decent sized mugs of coffee each night, every night, whilst simultaneously over-stimulating our auditory and visual systems.

And now I wonder why I don’t sleep well?  What were my parents doing at the time allowing me to mainstream caffeine from eight to ten pm?  They’d have done better introducing me to mild illegal hallucinogens, though again I don’t think they existed in Wednesbury in 1984, apart from the odd sniff of a Tip-pex bottle (though I was never sure whether it was Ti-pex or Tip-pex thinner, probably bringing a new meaning to a ‘white nose’.

To assist my gentle (!) ease into sleep now I have a DAB radio, iPod, CD stereo, ear plugs, light mask, anti-histamines, hot/cold packs, and a choice of reading materials from comic books to historical biographies.  I envy those who can just turn off the light and go to sleep.


Ph.D Musings



During my interregnum, there’s been some moves on the research front. It’s been agreed that work based research should take a breather for a while, which I’m happy enough with.  But I’m coming to the end of my BA in ‘fun’ with the Open University – I’ll post a full list of courses soon which count towards this degree.

A firm believer of ‘use it or lost it’, I’ve been looking at what I should do next.  A Doctorate in Education (Ed.D) always appealed to me, but given the difficulties I had in completing my MA in Education, I was slightly wary of this. I’ve been to Keele, to talk to their programme director, and whilst I liked the campus, I wasn’t confident that the course was appropriate for me, if I had joined the last cohort for example, I would have been the only one working in Higher Education, and the Organisational Work Ethnography which was promised as an opportunity to work abroad in another University for a short period hadn’t been really developed.

Why haven’t I seriously considered a PhD before? The major concern was maintaining momentum for such a long period of time (5-6 years). The thoughts of getting the doctorate completed before my 40th birthday have been and gone. I’m not too upset about missing that self-imposed deadline.So since then I’ve taken soundings from my work colleagues, both from those who have completed their studies, and those that stalled. If I was to bullet point the conversations, it goes –

  • We think you can do it (worrying)
  • It’ll be harder than you think (harder than the tight knot I feel at the moment – yikes!)
  • Choose a local university (can’t argue with that)
  • Do it as quickly as possible (see point 2 above – eeek!)

I’ve got some thoughts on where – it’s not a million miles (or even 50 yards) from where I work now. The ‘what’ is a different matter, though this may help. Look at the pictures below –

List of Avatars

They are just a few Avatars taken at random from the front page of as I was preparing this article. Why does someone want to be represented as a cup of tea and a newspaper – an another as an Irish wolfhound? Why do I choose to be represented on this blog, as Janus, the two-faced god of Roman mythology?

Bring this back down to education, and virtual learning environments – we’ve recently stopped students being ‘creative’ with their Avatars, and insist instead that they are either a faceless image, or their ‘official’ photo taken when they first enrolled – I guess there may be one associated with my student account – that’s scary!

A lot of work has already been done in this field, and there’s a plethora of books on the subject of Avatars in Second Life. I’ve just ordered a book, which takes the long view of the use of Avatars, and there’s a lot of popular research out there. I’ve been pointed to Neal Stephenson’s work in particular, though am I reassured that it’s ‘post cyberpunk‘, as the last time I tried to read ‘true’ cyberpunk I didn’t get very far.

Of course I’m still thinking about the research question, but my current thoughts is concerned with how within education we feel we need to constrain the use of appropriate images, and can we justify this as our virtual personality becomes as strong and important to us as our ‘flesh and blood’ lives?

The primary research options are impressive – from data gathering various online environments (am I going to end up having a second life? I’ve always argued that I struggle with just the first one at the moment), to asking people to match personalities and people to their Avatars, and maybe some gender swapping!

A long post, but it’s helped me get a context for my thoughts at the moment regarding my research studies – let’s see where it takes me!


PS – I’ve used the new ‘’ automatic suggestion for this blog. Let me know if you think it’s useful. Given some of the links suggested (e.g. for PhD), I’m thinking I’ll not bother again, but let me know your views.



Just a quick post whilst I’m loading up Leopard. I was worried that I may have missed it’s delivery whilst pottering – no chance!


And this is what was delivered.


Oh, and the delivery driver then made the usual ‘this isn’t Featherstone prison is it?’ joke.



Leopard will be installed in ‘About 6 minutes’ – more later.

Launch of the Leopard

I’m not quite trembling with excitement, but I am looking forward to the TNT courier delivering the new Leopard Operating System this afternoon.  Despite all my coolness, I guess that I’ll be ripping open the packaging and upgrading as soon as it arrives. 

The Guided Tour kindly posted by Apple does provide a caveat that it could take one or two hours, so I’ll settle down with a good book and watch the installation.  In fact, the guided tour was really useful to get a feel for what Leopard will provide me for my £58 (education discount – normally it’s £85).  Macrumors has provided some great coverage, including linking to Apple’s list of the 300 improvements.

The BBC News article has been edited slightly, the first version I read this morning emphasized that that there was just a single version of the operating system, compared to the many flavours of Vista.  This could have been due to a perceived bias, BBC has generally provided good coverage of Apple in my experience.

I’ll post my upgrade experiences here – I know there are some friends who are considering the upgrade themselves.

Just to balance all this ‘macciness’ (I’m not surprised the spell checker didn’t find that word), I should confess that I’m writing this blog using Windows Live Writer – which provides a WYSIWYG blog editor, only for Windows machines though.  One big project in the next month is an overhaul of my Windows machine at home, the freezes and lags have become unbearable now and I need to get this sorted.  I’m willing to spend £50 on memory and wireless card upgrades for the old dear too.

It’s good to be back posting, and hope readers like the newly selected theme.  Whilst I’m not a great fan of Times New Roman font when on-screen, I think it does work well here – any comments?


The blog may have disappeared of your feeds for a while. I felt it was important to reflect on what I was getting out of writing this diary, and what you as the perceived audience were also gaining.

I felt this was done without the pressure of a daily post. But I’ve decided after a short break  to start posting. Enough people have also said that I should continue, with the not so catchily Campaign to Restart Andy’s Postings.

Rather than a work focused rant, sorry discussion I’ll be talking more generically about technologies, and educational technologies in particular. As I may also be starting an interesting chapter in my academic studying soon, I’m guessing this may change the focus of the discussion too.

So less UCE, Birmingham City University, though I’m hoping to point people to the postings of other blogs interested in our institutions.

Meeting to arrange – meet meetomatic!

An email yesterday complete with an Excel spreadsheet reminded me of the worst problems I had when I was in industry, arranging mutually agreeable times for meetings from a large number of people.

Around 2000, I discovered the website meetomatic, and it really helped me. I’ve tried to use it for social events, but it really is focused on business meetings.

It’s not changed much in that time, but it really is useful. The organiser sets up a meeting title and a range of dates. She then emails the link to all the participants. They go on the website, and simply click when they are/aren’t available, and any comments. The organiser can then go and see who has/hasn’t responded, and the ‘best’ choice for dates. Simple!

I note that when I started to use meetomatic is was part of a research system by the Open University. This appears to be no longer the case and it appears to be run by a three person band. I’ve never come across anyone else who knew about it, but it does work, and I urge you to try it.

I did fill in the spreadsheet yesterday with the appropriate red/green squares, and sent it off, and also sent a link to meetomatic. The response was, as I had hoped enthusiastic.

An all day teaching today, then final golf lesson tonight – sniff!

2000 hits

Feel free to skip this posting

It took 130 days to get 500 hits to this blog

It took 63 days to get 1000

It took another 104 days to hit 2000

Next update at 5000, unless the blog stops before then!