Archive for February, 2008|Monthly archive page

The education show – impulse purchase in June

Well, the education show was well worth it, with lots of new technolog, and interesting demonstrations.

One thing that’s took my eye was a sub-£100 sub notebook.  I’ve been tempted by an eee pc,  and my friend really does rate it, but I still have a macbook for power laptop use.  I’m looking for something that’s maybe a little easier to carry on the train, and provide a diversion.

(oh, and also stop me buying an iPhone ahead of time

I’d already seen the preview of the Elonex One, and was pleased to have a hands-on test at the Education Show.  It’s got some innovative things, instead of a trackpad it has a rubber joystick-type thing.  The spec is lower than the eee, but it’s also a little more rugged, and the keyboard is detachable.

For those that thought it looked a little top-heavy, it’s got a little fold out foot at the back to prevent it toppling.

The complete spec is here, and I’m hoping by reserving one today I’ll be in the early group of the first 200,000.  So it’s win-win, instant gratification now by having it reserved, then I’ll receive it in June.

Now, let’s see what colour I’ll choose.

Less techie stuff about the show later.

Still here

I’ve not had chance to blog for a couple of days.  Work is a little frantic at the moment, as it usually gets around this time of the year.

In addition to the teaching and project supervising, we’re getting marks and moderation completed for exam boards for the first semester, and also preparing all the information for moderation for the existing one.

On top of this I have a huge admin burden from the course director role.  As I bemoaned to someone in an email this morning –

I have pressures from the students, who are (rightly) more demanding than normal undergraduate students, from my own management, from e-skills, and from my own wish to ‘do right’ by the course and students.

I always said that middle management was the worst level to be, as you get hit from above and below – course directorship feels the same!

But after a lot of hassle I got most of the students to the guru video lecture last night, before heading off to Harborne for my first T324 tutorial.  Only three out of eighteen students turned up, which is not a high number, but about what was expected.  I hope they found it useful, and I’ve had some good feedback via email today.

Tomorrow is the Education Show at the NEC, and rather than being a passive observer I’m going with a handful of ITMB brochures which I’m hoping to hand out to the local colleges who usually have a stand there.  Let’s see what happens there… and what freebies I can pick up (it’s usually the easiest way for me to stock up on stationery for the year, given the somewhat draconian steps I have to go through to get a green pen for moderation).

iPlayer problems?

Is it possible that the streaming version of iPlayer is a victim of it’s own success?

There’s been some articles demonstrating that the amount of streaming within the UK has dramatically increased, and The Register has attempted to quantify the cost of this as 1p per minute streamed for each ISP customer.

In other words, viewing iPlayer today costs your ISP a penny a minute – but the ISP isn’t gaining any additional revenue from you. Nor is it being subsidised by the content provider, the BBC, to carry those streams.

On a personal note, I’ve experienced problems streaming iPlayer over the last couple of weeks.  This was brought to a head at 4 o’clock this morning (have I mentioned my insomnia in the past… several times) when trying to re-watch the excellent ‘Being Human’ (three more days to watch, and I implore you to sign the petition to commission it as a series).

Now 4am cannot be a heavy duty time for my much criticized (especially by me) ISP TalkTalk, but iPlayer was stuttering and having problems from about 5 minutes into the programme.  Because the way that the streaming iPlayer screen dims then brightens when buffering, it quickly becomes annoying, and then after about 10 minutes unwatchable.

I’ll do some more testing at various times to see if I can find a pattern.  It could be that I just picked a popular stream (it’s number six in the iPlayer viewing charts at the moment).

But there’s also a cause for concern if the rumors of iPlayer being available on AppleTV and iPhone are true – surely this will dramatically increase the demand for a product which appears to be unsustainable on the existing infrastructure to most homes?

Drained

I’ve been fighting this cough and sore throat for over a fortnight now, and it’s now starting to impact my work.  I’m guessing (apart from the ability to write), a voice is a lecturer’s most important tool.  I need to preserve mine.  I’m dosed up on antibiotics, and the doctor has threatened an inhaler if I’m not fit next Friday.

So an impromptu need to help more with the Open Day at BCU may not have been the best, projecting my voice in the second largest lecture theatre in the university. Still, we seemed to have done well, with some reasonable and intelligent questions from the audience.

I’m making a conscious effort to minimise conversations over the next few days, to be fit for a demanding week.  It’s not just teaching, There’s also OU tutorials, exam boards a-plenty, and important information to transmit to students before the ITMB guru lecture.

One advantage has been I’ve been able to give Scrivener a good try out.  It’s more than a word processor with an outliner, it’s designed for large documents, and creative writing, as I’m trying to do more in both areas, it’s a good tool.  It’s also Mac-only, and the website is refreshingly honest, even to the point that it suggests alternatives if you find that you don’t like Scrivener’s style.  It’s not the easiest package to get used to, but I am starting to see it’s power.

I’ve still got a couple of weeks of the 30 day trial left, but to be honest there’s little doubt in my mind that I’ll be investing in it, at $39.95 (£20.31) at today’s exchange rate.

Facebook Fatigue

It seems that I’m not alone in wondering whether Facebook really does justify it’s dominant position. Whilst walking to the doctor’s this morning I heard on the radio that for the first time the number of active UK users had reduced recently.

Technological pundits seem to differ as to whether this is a seasonal blip, or the sign of something more pernicious.

The latest addition to my crowded RSS feed is the .life blog of BBC Technology correspondents. Their latest posting ponders whether it’s an age related issue, and that at the age of 37 I’m simply ‘too old’ for Facebook (though looking at my friends on FB, well over half are over 40).

This has been picked up elsewhere, and the Guardian provides some good analysis of the figures.

I’ve unplugged and plugged myself into Facebook a few times since joining last October. I think most of it is trivial, but it’s also good to keep in touch with whom I’ve lost face to face contact, but still want to know what they’re doing.

And then I watch something like Mock the Week (below), and find myself nodding in agreement with so much of what they say!

Working tomorrow at the Open Day at BCU, hope to do a live blog.

Professor Kevin Warwick

A brief respite in a chaotic day, and a chance to talk about Professor Kevin Warwick’s talk here at BCU yesterday.

The turnout was not high, but those that did attend listened to someone who was clearly dedicated to his research area, and really does not deserve the poor press he’s received in some IT circles.

The talk focused on four specific areas, only loosely connected by the idea of ‘Cyborg’.

  • There was a brief discussion of his implant of an RFID tag just under the skin in 1998. Kevin acknowledged that this was a somewhat simplistic device, but has since heard that there are some night clubs in Europe where access to an exclusive area is only through an RFID tag which has been previously implanted. Mention was made of the ‘hundreds’ of emails he receives after a child disappears about what can be done to protect the vulnerable.
  • More interesting, and potentially most controversial area was that of a robot which was controlled to a limited extent by a biological brain over the Intranet. The brain ‘donor’ were neurons from the brain of a rat, fed by a serum. These were in turn connected via an Intranet to a more traditional ‘scurrying’ robot. The discussion was preceded by a clip of a young(er) Jeremy Clarkson talking to (and trying to goad) Kevin Warwick.
  • The most dramatic video Kevin showed was of a patient with Parkinson’s disease, who had implanted a device which provided ‘Deep Brain Stimulation’. The difference between when this device was turned off (unable to walk, shaking, disorientation) and on (able to walk, talk and even dance) was incredible. Kevin Warwick’s current work is focused on using neural nets to predict Parkinson’s-like behaviour, greatly extending the life of the batteries in the powerpack which are fitted into the patient’s chest cavity.
  • Finally Kevin returned to the neural implant he received a few years ago, which was connected to nerves in his arm. This potentially has the most significant influence, and whilst the occasional comment ‘My arm was the first living organism to have it’s own IP address’ may have been somewhat flippant, the research in itself was sound, and he is rightly proud of the achievements.

The question and answer session afterwards provided some stimulating discussion, in particular regarding the issues of these implants for people who may want to go through MRI scanners (as I did in 2006, to try and diagnose an issue I have with short term memory loss). The potential of a large amount of metallic and ferric objects in the human body hasn’t really been addressed, I know there are people with pacemakers who are unable to use MRI scanners (and curiously enough induction cooking hobs either, according to Ideal World TV!)

All in, a stimulating talk which I’m glad I took time out for.

Addicted to technology

This report from BBC news first made me smile.

Then I wondered how close am I to becoming a ‘technology addict’.

Techno addiction can become so bad that people wake up several times a night to check their e-mails and text messages.

I don’t do this, I wake up several times a night worrying about global warming, plumbing in the house, what the noise downstairs was, are cats fighting in the back garden, who I’ve got to call tomorrow etc, but not to check if I’ve received an email or text.

However….

I do have my phone next to my bed, and my laptop is on the other side of the room (usually playing movies or music through FrontRow). And I have to admit that sometimes in the morning I check my emails before any more ‘basic’ bodily functions are seen to.

Some other statements demand closer scrutiny…

Some people are very anxious when they don’t have their technological gadgets next to them

Well, yes. If I don’t have my mobile phone with me I can get anxious. If I’m on the train and I realise I’ve left my iPod at home, so have to listen to the irritating kchh kchh kchh noise of other people’s earphones I get annoyed. When my sat-nav throws a wobbly when I’m miles from home and have no idea where the hotel is I do feel uncomfortable.

But I can’t see how this is different to many, many other people. It’s like saying that most people have a clothing anxiety, and are uncomfortable if they don’t have their underwear on when they go out.

This is nothing new, though I admire Professor Nada Kakabadse for spotting a niche and developing some good media stories out of it. Even the BBC website shows that it’s visited a similar theme in 2000, 2003 and 2007.

(On the texting note I send around 300 texts per month, which after a quick straw poll amongst friends is about average for people of my age. Assuming I’m awake 16 hours a day, that works out at around 10 messages a day, one every 1.5 hours which isn’t too excessive.)

And I’m also unsure how becoming addicted to technology …

Lead(s) to problems with relationships as the addict became more and more withdrawn from their family

Surely the technology helps communication. Whilst some people may prefer electronic communication to physical contact, in the era of global warming, increased fuel costs and bird flu, surely less face to face contact isn’t an issue? I only see one of my closest friends every couple of weeks or so, and call less often, but email frequently and text daily – this doesn’t diminish the friendship.

But sometimes a video tells a thousand words…

Should I be peeved?

Early on Sunday morning I noticed that The Register had posted a story about the BBC making shows available through iTunes. 

I checked with MacRumors, a site which joggles with The Register for my RSS attention, and they hadn’t got the story, so I duly completed the Submit a Rumor form, providing my contact details.

And then on Monday the story duly appeared as a Page 2 article, but without crediting me, or anyone else who may have seen it.

Now, I could have been one of thousands who sent the story, or I could have been the first (I spotted it about 7am Sunday, 2am Eastern time, not exactly the usual time for a hotbed of techie rumors I wouldn’t have thought).

So I’m now a little peeved that MacRumors didn’t acknowledge my find, and find that I trust the site just that little bit less.

I think I’ll just ‘tut’, and put it down to experience.

Tomorrow’s highlight is a lecture by Professor Kevin Warwick, aka Captain Cyborg.  I’m looking forward to it, and maybe a little live blogging if the opportunity presents itself.  More details are here, anyone is welcome to attend.

HHH – RIP

I blogged about three weeks ago about Heroes Happen Here – a techie cartoon strip sponsored by Microsoft and Seagate.

I’ve been RSS’ing it for the full duration, but it’s not grabbed me, it’s not that funny, and whilst well drawn it slips between the truly techie, and the surreal.  Black Hat helicopters come to take away a PC and quarantine it.

I can’t see the intended audience.  True techies will mock the simplistic view, wannabe techies don’t have the time to work through.

It’s lost its spot on my Firefox bookmarks.

Amazon buys into Lovefilm, and sells DVD rental busines

I’ve used Amazon DVD rental since it started, changing my plan as and when appropriate for my viewing, from 6 films a month to a measly two.

In many months I’ve regained my rental fee by the great 10% discount on DVD purchases, though for new customers this has been reduced to 5%.

I’m also a member of Lovefilm, through Tesco DVD rental.  In August they had a great offer where they gave a free iPod shuffle after three months rental.  I sold this on for £40 (it would have been my fourth iPod, a little excessive when I only have one pair of ears), making a good profit from my £4.99, two DVD’s a month.

So I was surprised when I read this article on The Register announcing a complex buy back/merge combining the two businesses.

The ‘Frequently Asked Questions‘ part of the Amazon DVD website didn’t work too well for me on Firefox, so I’m quoting the three questions here – these have a tendency sometimes to disappear.

Q: Why is Amazon transferring its business to LoveFilm?

LoveFilm’s commitment to providing an exceptional customer experience is consistent with our own, and our investment in LoveFilm will help it to grow and serve customers even better. With tens of thousands of titles in its catalogue, LoveFilm offers the most extensive collection of latest-release DVDs and hard-to-find titles, as well as games.

and

Q: When will the transfer occur?

The transfer will occur after we secure regulatory approvals. Amazon will be involved in operations until we’re confident we can provide a seamless transition.

and

 Q: How do I set up my account at LoveFilm?

At this point in time, you don’t need to do anything. You can continue to rent from your Amazon queue as usual. As we get closer to the transition date, we’ll provide you with further information

We’ll see whether the new setup is clever enough to spot that I’m one and the same person and what happens then.  I’m not too concerned, DVD rental isn’t exactly a major aspect of my life so if it doesn’t work out I’ll simply cancel one or both accounts.

An OK weekend otherwise, fine tuning PC and lusting after iMac’s.