Archive for January, 2008|Monthly archive page

A groupie?

I’ve only been to three book signing events in my life, Terry Pratchett(I was a nervous wreck, and only stumbled out a few incoherent words), Iain Banks(whose latest book has just arrived, and his postcard written back to me I still have framed over ten years later), and Jeffrey Deaver(never read his book, but a friend was a great fan of his).

This is an embarrassingly low number given that I have around 500 books in my house, and this was after a major clear out about five years back when I got rid of six big boxes of books.

But there’s a writer whose work I follow closely, am linked as a friend on Facebook, and his blog is an RSS feed on my toolbar.  Drew Gummerson lives in the East Midlands, and is refreshingly honest about his writing life.

Does this classify myself a groupie (sounds much better than online stalker!).

His first book, The Lodger, was great, and I bought about four copies for birthdays and Christmas presents for friends.  His second book, Me and Mickie James will be released in July, and I’ve already pre-ordered.

Let’s hope that closer to the launch there are book signing events.  Meanwhile you can read his musings on the cover design here.

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Heroes Happen Here

OK, it’s sponsored by Microsoft and Seagate, so don’t expect to see any Vista bashing or strips about faulty hard discs, but Heroes Happen Here may, just may turn more people onto a career in IT.

I’ve sneaked into my RSS feed bar in Firefox, though I did promise myself I would only add another feed if I delete another. (I’m getting round this by shortening the descriptions of each one to a cryptic code)

But if it raises a smile, then that’s OK by me, and worth the half inch on my feed bar.  I need smiles at the moment.

It will be interesting to see if there’s any cartoons that I can use in my teaching – a colleague in the Faculty of Education starts each lecture with a cartoon highlighting a common misconception about science.

Thanks to the UK Academic Blog for the head’s up again.

What’s in your Rucksack

I envy those people who appear to be able to travel light.  As someone diagnosed with  Chondromalacia patellae, and who now commutes by train whenever he can because of the awful traffic, the weight of my Targus rucksack has become an issue.

A quick inventory explains why I appear more like a packhorse than some of my fellow train travellers.

When I’m not carrying coursework, the single heaviest item is my MacBook.  I admit I can be a little obsessed about keeping this with me at all times, but it fends off boredom, and provides me with the chance when at work to not be chained to my office desk.  I do leave it at home though when I know I’ll be carrying a lot of marking home.  I don’t keep the charger with me usually, as the MacBook has three hours of useful battery life, which can extend to five hours if I dim the screen and use ‘extreme’ measures.

The rest of  my daily baggage is split between medical care, and those things which you never know you’ll need, until you need them.  Mouse, iPod sync cable, pen drive,  a book (always a book, I would hate to be stuck somewhere without a book to read), pens, iPod (two at the moment) and emergency phone.

Medicine wise I feel I carry more with me than Greg, with Ibuprofen and Feldene Gel for my knee, Co-Codamol for my headaches, and the odd Lemsip packet rolling around, along with a bottle of water to take tablets with.

Still, at least I can’t claim to be unprepared.  How do other regular train commuters cope?

A day at the OU

This is a ‘live blog’ from the Accenture training offices at Milton Keynes.  Technically I am here for a de-brief for the Open University course which I tutor.  However we’re going further than that and we’re currently being presented with information about some new courses which the OU will be presenting in the next year.

It’s clear that these are exciting times for the new faculty of mathematics, computing and technology.  The new courses are recognised by their designers as being ‘leading edge’.  In the past, there was an inbuilt assumption that the course would be out of date by the time that the students were studying it.  This clearly isn’t the case any longer.

The rest of the day has been much more interesting than the original briefing day I went to this time last year.  I’m unsure why this is, for someone looking in I guess the days are much the same, people sitting around and suffering from ‘Death by Powerpoint’.

One thing that is different from last year is that I have free, unlimited wi-fi from the ‘teaching’ rooms.  This has meant that I’ve been able to answer some questions ‘on the fly’ raised by the group simply by tapping away (I’ve also been able to have some live chats with a couple of friends during the less stimulating talks!). 

One thing that’s useful for me as a lecturer is to reflect on what keeps my attention, and what doesn’t in this sort of ‘sit and listen’ environment.  So far I’ve come up with three things for each.

What works

  1. Anecdotes and ‘inside information’
  2. Practical demonstrations
  3. A variety of different speakers – it doesn’t matter if some of the speakers aren’t ‘great’, it’s the variety of voice and presentation.

What doesn’t work

  1. Indecision or saying ‘we’re not sure’.  I hadn’t used to worry about responding to a query with ‘I don’t know’, but I can now see that this doesn’t really help the student there and then.
  2. Discussion / argument between two people which is of little interest to others.  This isn’t ‘healthy debate’, it becomes irritating to the onlookers.
  3. Being put on the spot to answer a question or query, either individually as a group.  This doesn’t keep people on their toes, it simply puts the audience under undue pressure.

Let’s hope I can remember this as I embark my new teaching semester on Monday.

MA Graduation

It was my MA Education graduation ceremony yesterday at Symphony Hall. Compulsory family group photo below.

From left to right my Aunt and Uncle, me, and my Parents

ASP hosting

For reasons which will soon become clear, blog postings will be a little quiet for a while. Meanwhile, I must refer student readers to this offer, (more details here) which really does seem to be a great deal for anyone looking for ASP and .NET hosting.

WordPress.com now provides 60 times more storage

If only it could do the same with my wardrobe at home.

Quietly, and with little fanfare, WordPress now provides 3Gb of storage for photos and ‘rich media’ (though strangely not movies, I guess there are issues with streaming these).

This is 60 times the the previous capacity of 50mb (those computer scientists amongst you can discuss whether 3Gb is really 60 times the storage, but I’m using the stats from
Wordpress for this. .  More details can be found on the official WordPress blog.

This could mean a lot more rich media appearing on blogs, for where one leads, the other follows.  WordPress proudly states…

To get half that much space (1GB) at our nearest competitor, Typepad, you’d pay at least $300 a year. We’re doing the same thing for free.

…for the time being at least.  As Google shows with it’s gmail service (currently providing a little over 6.3 Gb of storage for emails, every personal email I’ve sent and received for the last four years is there, and I’ve just hit 350 Mb!), space can be cheap.

Let’s see what the competition do in response to this.

T324 starts again

It’s that time of year again when many Open University courses start up. I’m tutoring T324 again – Keeping ahead in ICT.

It’s focus is on wireless technologies and networks, and a sneak peek at the companion for the first block (lasting until the end of April) really looks interesting – the use of mobile phones on planes, the use of wireless USB, and other ‘bleeding edge’ technologies.

I’ve sent the welcome email out to all the students I have allocated so far – much fewer than last year for which I am grateful. We also have the tutor conference (sorry, Forum) all set out too. This ‘start of term’ always used to make me nervous, but as this is my tenth year of tutoring with the OU (I started with T171 in 1999, moved to T209 in 2001, last year started T324), then I’m familiar with the process now.

It’s much easier now that it’s all done electronically, at the outset I used to receive notifications by post of new students which I kept on file, and securely shredded at the end of the year.

I would always recommend that students, whatever their level, purchase the ‘Good Study Guide’. There’s one for Arts, and one for Sciences (including Maths, Computing and Technology). I take mine to the first tutorial, and show how useful it can be, even for ‘short answer’ questions which students think there is little technique needed (I hate docking marks off students when they forget things such as missing off the units).

The rest of the day so far has been spent trying to clear out cupboards, I’m having an en-suite fitted in an under-stairs cupboard requiring a shift around of the detritus that I hoard. Someone said that two house moves is the equivalent of a single fire – this is my 13th year in this house, so I’m well, well overdue another wholesale clearout.

Linking WordPress, Twitter and Facebook

Over the last week I’ve been looking at the Web 2.0 technologies. For the sake of this discussion, I’ defining Web 2.0 as ‘user generated content easily available to everyone, or a social group of individuals’.

This blog remains updated daily. However, I like Twitter, not least of which I have it added to my Google Talk list, so can post simply by sending an IM to Twitter. There’s mobile phone integration to come too – that’s later.

A simple link (top right hand side of my blog) and you can get to my Twitter ‘micro blog’. I’m still unsure how to use this, this is part of the fun.

I’ve written about this before I know, and I still need to be convinced that Twitter provides a useful experience for most people, but Web Worker Daily, which you know I hold in high esteem, sees the benefit of Twitter, and reports on it regularly.

And integrating both Twitter and my WordPress blog into Facebook was simplicity itself, though the various add-ins. So now any of my friends can see what I’m thinking about on the micro scale, or what I’m posting in this blog.

Cool. (I’ve checked with students, and it’s OK to say Cool now, but not Kewl).

The next thing is to look at mobile Twittering, and To Do lists, and getting I Want Sandy to do more than the occasional reminder. Once that’s all sorted, maybe I’ll be able to rebrand myself ‘Andy 2.0’

Harvard Referencing to avoid plagiarism

(This is the exercise I’ve prepared to demonstrate to a student the differences between referencing, and cheating).  Each section is on a separate page, so that I can explain the ‘problem’, and also have the original textbook handy.

The original sentence (taken from a text book)

“Since the advent of commercial computing during the mid 20th century, advances in IT have spawned the meteoric growth of a society that has become, for all intents and purposes, completely dependant upon IT.”

Heavy Paraphrasing – not acceptable

During the mid 20th Century, there have been Information Technology advances which has spawned a meteoric growth. We now have a society, which is effectively completely dependant upon Information Technology

Light Paraphrasing – acceptable if referenced

Since the advent of commercial computing in the 1950s, there has been an incredible growth, which has developed into a society which is completely dependant upon IT (Yardley, 2003)

References

Yardley, D. 2003. Successful IT Project Delivery – Learning the Lessons of Project Failure. London: Addison Wesley.

Quoting the source

As noted by Yardley (2003) we have become – “…a society that has become, for all intents and purposes, completely dependant upon IT.”

Or

The controversial author David Yardley states –

“Since the advent of commercial computing during the mid 20th century, advances in IT have spawned the meteoric growth of a society that has become, for all intents and purposes, completely dependant upon IT.” (Yardley, 2003)

References

Yardley, D. 2002. Successful IT Project Delivery – Learning the Lessons of Project Failure. London: Addison Wesley.