Archive for August, 2008|Monthly archive page

I clearly need the distraction!

Just as an aside to my last post, I lasted less than two days without my RSS feeds.  I missed not seeing the latest updates to the Register, was always going onto the sites which I need to keep in touch with.  So I’ve turned the bookmark bar back on, and am a happier person for it.

I’m spending a few hours in front of my PC at the weekend to try and get at least one more of my lectures for next year sorted, as still feel I’m behind where I should be, and with the last of my birthday surprises tomorrow and Monday (I don’t know where I’m being taken yet), I’m planning to have a PC free couple of days after this afternoon.

But, I’ve got something else which I want to post about, so there may be a time-delayed posting later.  But first, I must fire up Keynote!


Unnecessary distraction?

I’ve got a number of RSS feeds which I use the Firefox Live Feeds service, which thanks to Foxmarks synchronise nicely across my home, work and laptop.

There’s fourteen of them (I’ve just counted), from local BBC news to xkcd.  This is fine, but I’ve recently found that I’m spending a lot of time checking these, somewhat defeating the object of the idea of RSS, that being a timesaver.

So I’m trying an experiment, and turning off my ‘Bookmarks Bar’ for a week.  It makes the Firefox window much more minimalistic and ‘tidy’.

OK, I may miss some offers on HotDealsUK, but that could help my budget over the next month or so – you can have too much of a good thing I think, and I do have enough books, music and games to keep me going for quite a while.

The loneliness of the long distance invigilator

It’s exam resit time – when those students who didn’t quite make the grade in the main exam season have the chance to resit their exams.

I’ve got a total of five invigilations over four days.  Today’s a long haul, with exams this morning and this afternoon.

Luckily with wi-fi, and my laptop though the time can be productive – or should be!  At least the student numbers are smaller, and it’s easy to keep an eye on everyone in the (very) brightly lit rooms.

It’s been six years since I sat an exam – I’ve deliberately ensured that my studying since then has avoided exams.  It’s not that I didn’t do well in exam situations, but I still hated the stress of both the revision period, and the exam itself.

One thing that surprises me still is the poor posture that students adopt during an exam.  As I look around there are some students practically horizontal in their sears, and others who are hunched over their work like Bob Cratchit (who’s name sounds so much like scratch it, as his quil scratched agains the paper- good one Mr Dickens) on Christmas Eve.

(Having said that, I”m typing this leaning back on my chair, but at least my two feet are on the ground, and the advantage of being a touch typist is that I can look around the room whilst I’m typing).

In between stalking between the desks (with my non-squeaky shoes), I’m preparing the lecture for my ‘slot’ on induction day.  I’ve got the enjoyable part of telling students about the online support to their general studies, and then the ‘nasty’ bit about cheating and plagiarism and how it’s handled in the department.  All on their first morning in the university.  I think I’m getting the balance right between the two.

Well, an hour’s passed and students will start to disappear soon, better get ready for the stampede.

‘Because it’s my birthday, my love, and and I wants it’

…said Sméagol

It’s the big three-eight today for me.  Not exactly a ‘special’ birthday, but still a day where I get cards, presents and people have to be that bit nicer to me just for today.

I’m guessing that this birthday and the next one are just build-ups to the great four-oh, which I hold in equal portions of fear and trepidation.  Stephen Fry in his first book ‘The Liar’ postulates that there is an age which people are at their best – not good looking, or even successful, just at the age which suits them best.  No one can imaging Boris Johnson as a twenty-something, and Stephen himself wears his middle aged overcoat so comfortably that it’s a shock to see him as a late-twenty / early-thirty something in A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

I hope my ‘best age’ is still to come.  I disliked my school years and most of my twenties, but since my mid-thirties I seem much more comfortable.  It seems more acceptable for someone of my age to like both classical music and some modern music (I’ve just booked to see Duffy in December – my first concert in a long time), I can get away with being a bit geeky, and have a modicum of common sense, though still get excited when unwrapping a new gadget.

I’ve received some very nice and thoughtful presents, Wii games, books, and music, and I’m being whisked away this weekend to a secret destination for a surprise overnight stay.  I also have an Amazon gift voucher burning a hole in my pocket – but not for long methinks.

I’m in work today, but it’s relatively quiet.. much of my hair-pulling this time last year was around ITMB course director issues, and as I’m no longer the CD, many of these issues are resolved.  I would like to be much further forward on preparation for next semester, but there’s still time (I keep telling myself!).

I’ll take the quiet time to get to the head of the photocopying queue I think.

Elonex One – the final word?

Discussions about the Elonex ONE have continued on this blog far beyond what was expected – I was hoping for an interesting discussion, and I will continue to keep comments open there, and on this thread.

It appears that the general sense for those who have received the original Elonex ONE is one of being underwhelmed with the experience.

I was really taken with the comments of Phil Archer (no, not this one, he’s spending all his time stargazing at the moment), and with his permission I’ve copied some of his comments here, as they deserve more ‘airing’ than buried at the end of a long stream of comments.

As Phil says…

I had an Elonex one for a week and sent it back for a refund as being “unfit for purpose”. Ok I’m a Silver Surfer who is not up to speed with Linux (mid you first computer experience was a Dec PDP 11/40 Ed11 teletype papertape and magnetic core memory..!)

People don’t believe that I’m old enough to say that my first job was operation an ICL 2900 series computer which had a massive 8 x 32 kbytes = 256 kbytes of memory.  I remember huge exchangeable disc platters which were 80 Megabytes large, which you could only carry two of at a time – ah, nostalgia’s not what it used to be.

The wifi only worked reliably up to about 6 metres, the email won’t work with google mail (on pop3 will connect but times out as probably it won’t accept security certificates) the browser won’t play real player stuff and the response time is too slow.

Phil is probably(!) much more patient than I would be, and certainly more patient than a typical 8-11 year old child, whom I still believe is the target audience for the original Elonex ONE(+).  Phil has also sought second opinions on the hardware/software.

Running the machine past 3 teachers,one a head of IT, all said it was no good the students would be pressing buttons like craay to make things happen, they would lose concentration and go off task and as Pod casting is taking off in schools the unit would not even play them.  The only good comment was that students with Special Educational Needs,  if issued permanently with one would look after it and the slowness might actually suit them particularly in the early years as the acquire basic literacy skills.

Phil continues with some useful comments for the many unix fans out there

However the linux geek will have great fun “jailbreaking” it they have already found out how to access xterm and the internal WIDI and blue tooth is on standard usb dongles inside so blutooth out Gbs in. There is the one button pwer on to get the boot menu and the “button of doom” which makes the unit start up as root user and drops all the fancy screens.

But i needed something that worked from the box that I could later dabble with as a learnt more. I hope I haven’t put you all off do have fun. I’ll experiment with Ubuntu and see if the pension stretches to an ASUS Eee PC

I’m sure Phil’s experience won’t be unique – other people have commented that the browser won’t support FaceBook, and the Elonex ‘OneUnion‘ page has remained the same since the product launch – like so much of the rest of the website.

The sub-notebook market (I really like the word laptot!) has matured a huge amount over the last six months.  I now have three friends who have the Asus eee 701, and have all been pleased with their respective purchases, though using them for different purproses.

As for me, I’ve decided my MacBook isn’t all that difficult to lug around, and has done me great service (hard disk crash aside) for the last year.  I don’t think there’s a need for another laptop just yet in my life.

Thanks again Phil for your experiences, and allowing me to share this with a wider audience.

Carshare Birmingham

My employee has been promoting car sharing – a noble task, and have signed up as partners with the scheme run by Birmingham Council.  It’s worth noting other car-share schemes are available.

I registered, entered my details and the matching criteria, which were fairly broad – here’s the results (you will need to click to embiggen).

Can you see the problem?  As the site shows, “No potential matches found within a radius of 5 miles and +/- 30 minutes”.

I’ve changed the criteria to any matches, and I only get two hits, one would be too far out of my way, and the other person lives so close to uni that it must only be a couple of bus stops away.

I’m still registered, and as the scheme grows I may find my car share match made in heaven, but this attempt to be a little greener may be a non-starter.

Why I dislike windows

I get this ‘error’ message every time I fire up Adobe Acrobat.

HotUKDeals, Quidco… and a plea for help!

How much would you expect to pay for the stash of six books below, delivered yesterday?

They’re all a fiver each at my local Marks and Spencer.  The total cost to me, courtesy of HotUKDeals and Qudico was in fact, -£1.50 inclduding delivery, i.e. it’s possible that I will receive £1.50 for ordering these books.

Here’s how it worked.  The books were reduced by 80% anyhow, so that would have been a good enough bargain.  But offer codes published by HotUKDeals allowed a further 20% of the ‘top line’ cost, bringing the cost down to £0.  Another voucher allowed free delivery on orders over £30, which this would have been if I’d paid full price.

But then, ordering through quidco I get 5% cashback – I’m not too sure that this will go through, but it’s been tracked.

They’re an eclectic mix, but ones which I’m determined to read, as I start my Advanced Creative Writing class next month it’s important that I read other genres.

And what’s the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy doing there, especially as my party trick is to recite whole chunks of this book which I read so many times as a kid?  I intend to give this book away, but this is where I need your help.  I remember there was a website where you could register a book which you then let ‘loose’ in the world, and people can report where they found the book. Can anyone remember the name of the website?  I’ll leave comments open for this posting if anyone can help.

TalkTalk MTU setting

As you know, I’m always looking to improve my lousy broadband speed with TalkTalk.  The ‘cat’ recently pointed me to the TalkTalk members forum.  This weekend I’ve been working through some of the hints there to try and improve my connection.

One think I looked at a while back was my MTU setting.  Mine was set at 1400 bytes, but the forum recommends 1432 bytes.  A small amount I agree, and I’m not totally persuaded that this minor change has made the 10% increase in speed that I’ve since experienced, but absolutely nothing else has changed.

I think it could be worth posting a help request to the forum when I’ve got time to monitor the response, but the same site tells me that my exchange is ‘congested’, and they’re planning increased capacity at the end of the month, which may explain some of the connection problems recently.

Meanwhile, I’ll be trying video BBC iPlayer to see if the connection has improved.

An interesting experience

I’m preparing assignments for next year’s teaching at the moment.  It’s good to get them written early, so that someone else can proof-read them.

I’m trying something different for one of the modules which I’m teaching.  The assignment itself is a ‘classic’ academic essay style assignment.  The students have to pick an ethical issue of their choice, write about it within a framework which I’ve suggested, and add a short personal reflection at the end.

Easy eh?

So, as a test, and so that I can provide a sample to students, I’ve attempted to answer the question myself.


I’m not spending as much time as I would hope the students would (an hour or so yesterday during clearing, another hour tucked up with my hot milk before bed, and a couple of hours this morning), but it is difficult to keep to the assignment brief – and I’m the one who wrote the brief!

But, I’ve nearly completed it – just have to add the reference list and more to the reflection at the end, and I’ll be happy to send it off to be proof-read.  However, how I’ll use this assignment has now changed.  Instead of simply giving it to the students as an exemplar, I’ll anonomyse it (simple enough, removing my name from the bottom of the page, or maybe I should make it an anagram?), and ask the students to mark the assignment as a seminar exercise, seeing how they would mark it against the marking criteria which I have given them.

Could produce some interesting results – I promise to post here when this activity has been completed – not for a while I guess as I won’t be issuing it to students until after Christmas.

A short diversion today, then I’m back into clearing for the final stint – let’s hope I’m busier than last night.