Archive for October, 2008|Monthly archive page

A day without a phone

For the first time ever I believe, I’ve left home without my mobile.  I’m not completely sure where I’ve put it, I know I was texting from bed early this morning, maybe it’s caught up in the duvet, much as I was this morning.

Luckily with Bluebook, I can read messages sent to me, and O2 also allow me to send up to 10 messages a month through their web portal.  So I’ve been able to pick up on what people have sent me, and send a couple of messages out.

Still, it’s one distraction less as I’m struggling with a mountain of paperwork at the moment.  Our exam and assignment moderation process used to be online, but due to changes in the system it’s much more paper based now.  I’m a little behind on the paperwork, but not as bad as some.

It’s my first Friday since the start of the semester when I’m not down at the TIC teaching.  I’m sure they’re in safe hands, though I’ve received a text from The Cat saying that the PC has vanished from the teaching room, that’s sure to cause a couple of problems!

The weekend is looking steady, with a need to focus on my creative writing.  The first assignment was sent last week, the cut-off is today but I can’t wait for feedback on that before progressing.  I’m looking forward to the next assignment, adapting the short story for stage, radio or film.  I’m undecided which to go for, I love radio plays, but it’s a fairly ‘action’ based story.. there may be a lot of dialogue like ‘I can’t see where he’s gone, the mist is rolling in’, which appears clunky…  That said, as the heart of the story lies a swimming dare, unless we flood the theatre I can see problems with a stage adaptation too.

Must go, the photocopier is calling.


The blood, the blood!

(I’m practising with dramatic titles to blog postings at the moment).

A slow start this morning, as I had blood tests at the doctors.  No problems apart from fasting for 12 hours beforehand.  I’ve over-done the carbs since though, and despite a relatively long lie in, I’ve been yawning my head off… several strong coffees were needed to perk me up for the rest of the day.

Teaching has gone OK, despite forgetting one my key props to explain the new Project Management technique of Scrum… it’ll keep to next week.  Some interesting debate after the lecture about the relative merits of the PM technqiue, which has justified my approach of creating a Scrum ‘sandwich’, discussing the technique between the two more traditional PM methodologies.

Looking ahead a little, I’ve still got to prepare two new sessions for my teaching this year.  I’ve done fairly well at keeping up with my commitments across the six modules (two x postgraduate, three x undergraduate, plus my three week teaching at the end of the semeseter)… though a little behind on the paperwork for moderation – this will be my focus the next few days so that I can get the pack to the people who need it soonest.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at LinkedIn, as I gave up on FaceBook a while back.  If any blog readers have any experience of LinkedIn, I’ll leave comments open here so they can post.

So, after a long, but rewarding day, I’m settled down with my favorite tipple, and Big Mac…. there are worse ways to spend an evening I guess.

Blogging seminar

I guess this is a meta-blog, a blog posting about blogging.

There’s a fair few of us now blogging in the university, and John Colby has decided to take the bull by the horns and arrange a seminar for us to look at where we are, and what we can do with those blogs.  It’s a chance for me to update my research on using blogs with students, in the light of my recent experiences, and see if I’ve learned any lessons from my last presentation at ICEL 2007 in New York.

The snag of course is my heavy teaching load, especially on Wednesdays which is the preferred day, but some diary shuffling and we’ve found a slot – far enough away for me not to panic at the moment, but close enough to ensure that I do something about it soon.

I’m looking forward to the chance, it should be a supportive environment, and as one of the ‘old time’ bloggers maybe there’s a few things I can teach these whippersnappers.

A long day…

The early Monday morning starts really don’t sit well with me, even with the hour extra in bed on Saturday night.  I was in and at my desk at 7:30, and doing battle with my PC and the university print service.

The rest of the normal working day was spent looking at the new moderation process, and generating the paperwork and signing other pieces off.  It’s getting there, all be it slowly, and I’ve spent a lot of time today filling forms and printing off documentation which used to be online.  We frequently cursed Lotus Notes, but boy we’re missing it at the moment.

I’ve been out of sorts all day, a generally bad mood and not my usual self.  Its probably been good that it’s been a relatively quiet day.  When I got home about 5pm though, the faint niggle of a headache had developed to the point that I felt comfortable about trying one of my new relief tablets following the doctor’s visit last week.

There’s been no adverse side effects, and the headache has indeed lifted as expected.  I’m a little tired, but no less than after a fourteen hour day of being pretty well ‘on’ all the time – even with the headache I didn’t want it to stop me, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of Big Mac, uploading stuff on moodle for tomorrow’s teaching sessions, and also preparing for an OU Staff Development day in November, where I’m manning one of the ‘marketplace’ stalls asI did last year.  I’ve updated all the handouts that I prepared last year, including new sections on laptots, and mobile broadband…  I’ll release them here on the day as I did before for anyone to reference.

I think I’ll hit the sack soon, listening to the excellent Elbow at the moment – wish I’d discovered them years ago!

Setting up TalkTalk broadband

I signed up for TalkTalk ‘free’ broadband on the day of launch, April 2006, and was live at the end of May (of the same year!).  I know my time with them hasn’t exactly been trouble free, but overall I guess I can’t complain for the price.

I finally persuaded my nearest and dearest to also switch, and the free router and discount over the first few months were the final persuasion.  The switch occurred on Friday, and I headed over yesterday to set it up.

I have to admire how much easier the process was.  I was particularly impressed that the router came with the user name and password already loaded.  The ‘dreaded’ connect and go CD went through fine (though I wasn’t able to register an email address), and in less than 90 minutes we were surfing the web at a blistering 256 kbps!


I did the usual turning it off and back on again, but it wasn’t having it.  I know from friends  that it can take up to ten days to stabilise, but this clearly wasn’t right.

I started having a look at the microfilters, and found a socket without a filter attached.  No change.  Then I noticed that a microfilter had been fitted at the end of a long extension cable to an emergency call system installed.

Added a filter, turned the router (which also doubles as a photo frame – how clever is that!), off and back on again.

The connection speed was the full 8Mbps, the actual rate according to was 5.8Mbps – or around 10 times the speed I get here at my home.

It really is blistering quick, an album purchase from iTunes complete with video was less than three minutes, BBC iPlayer in high quality is as good as tv, and the wireless worked no problems.  With a 40 Gb cap (compared to BT’s snotty emails when 2Gb was exceeded), there’s going to be no problems with bandwidth usage (a timely story about ‘unlimited’ broadband here.)

I’ve sent an email to TalkTalk, seeing if there’s anything that they can do with my atrocious speed, but I guess I know the answer, I’m physically too far away from the exchange, and doing a double check with BT using just a postcode check they wouldn’t even guarantee any broadband to my home, though clearly they did at one time (through freeserve/wandadoo/orange).

So, despite teething problems, I think it’s fair enough to say that TalkTalk have themselves sorted, at least when it comes to switching and setting up.  And I’m not jealous of 5.8Mbs… honest!

After all this excitement a lazy day today, with a quick outing to RAF Cosford for a mooch, and checking out the parking facilities at Cosford Station, as Wrexham and Shropshire railway now have direct trains to London from there, which could save me some stress instead of going to Wolverhampton.  The answer?  undecided.  There’s some parking there, but I’m not convinced there’s enough.  I have a cunning plan though to test this out over the next week (without going all the way to London, obviously).

Macbook battery – check the obvious first!

Yesterday I was really worried that my MacBook battery was on it’s way out.  It was showing just 1.5 hours battery life when it was fully charged, and was draining at a fair old rate.

I was so concerned that I downloaded the excellent Coconut Battery to check the original battery capacity, and the charging capacity, which was within acceptable parameters as defined by Apple, as pointed to by this post.

The original battery capacity was 5020 mAh, and the current battery capacity is 5014 mAh, so no complaints there.

So what was the problem?  As it happens, I’d been using my laptop in fairly noisy environments (tic classroom, café Nero, New Street Station), an incidental check with iStatPro showed that the exhaust fan was running, and running fast too at over 6000rpm.  Could it simply be the fan draining the battery?

I checked with Doctor Google, which pointed me to this discussion on the Apple forum, and the final posting rang a bell with me –

…was running my print manager for some reason…

Now I remembered earlier on in the week kicking off a print job, but because my printer wasn’t switched on, the process stalled.  I closed the print manager icon, but could be background process still be running.

I should have run activity monitor there and then, but I was in an urgent need to fix this problem… I had less than 20 minutes battery life.

So, I rebooted the machine.

As soon as the machine was up and running, battery life leapt to nearly 50 minutes, and all was well, no fan noise, and iStat confirmed the more usual 1700 – 1800 rpm.

All is now well, and a day of fairly intensive use today (more tomorrow about the pleasures and pitfalls of installing TalkTalk broadband from scratch) and it’s held up well.

So, if your battery does take a nose-dive in performance, it’s well worth the old helpdesk adage of ‘turning it off and back on’ first.  Saved me a lot of stress, a visit to the genius bar, and maybe the cost of a battery.

Lifelong learning

In my teaching today I asked students to reflect on their lifelong learning, and to specifically answer the question in the learning log which they have created for this module…

What additional lifelong learning will you do in the next year, five years, and ten years.

And of course someone asked ‘will you be answering the question in your blog’.  So, as part of my reflection on the lecture, here’s my answer.

  • In the next year – Our main summer holiday next year we’ll be back to France.  I speak a strange dialect of the language, called Black Country French, which let’s me get by (mostly), but I need to improve.  My original plan was to attend weekly classes at the Brasshouse Language Centre, but I ran out of days in the week.  I do have some good CD’s, books and dictionaries though, and will spend some more time on this.  Apart from this, and anything I need to do work-wise, I’ll be continuing my creative writing course with the Open University, which should see the end of my BA qualification.
  • In the next five years – In the next five years, I’ll have to requalify in my PRINCE2 Practitioner qualification, and as PRINCE2 is undergoing a major rewrite I will probably need formal training in the new methodology.  There’s also self-induced pressure to start a Doctorate (PhD qualification), and I will have to start this sometime in the next five years – maybe by doing an MSc in Research Methods first?  There’s also a plan for us to buy somewhere in France, so my language skills will need to be brushed up for this, and I will take courses at the Brasshouse.
  • In the next ten years – Phew!  Over this time period so much of what I teach will have changed, look at how computing has changed over the last ten years.  I’ll have completed a PhD/EdD by then hopefully, so no doubt I’ll be doing research from that.  Who knows?  Teaching in France?  Published Author?  Who knows.

Side Effects may include….

No post yesterday, it was all a little frantic with doctors, health check-up, teaching, picking up prescriptions, then last, but not least, entertaining friends last night (great night, and for once I didn’t drink too much red wine!).

The doctor was helpful, and has prescribed a new type of medication for me to take for one of my ‘bad heads’, which frequently come with nausea or vision problems, i.e. migraine.  Like any sensible person though I’ve looked up Naramig on the web, and on Wikipedia it comes with this list of side effects –

Side effects include: dizziness, drowsiness, tingling of the hands or feet, unusual tiredness, nausea, dry mouth and unsteadiness. If these effects persist or worsen, notify your doctor promptly. Side-effects which are unlikely and which should be promptly reported include: chest pain/pressure, throat pain/pressure, unusually fast/slow/irregular pulse, one-sided muscle weakness, vision problems, cold/bluish hands or feet, stomach pain, bloody diarrhea, mental/mood changes, and fainting. In the unlikely event you have a serious allergic reaction to this drug, seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms of a serious allergic reaction include: rash, itching, swelling, severe dizziness, trouble breathing.

I think I’d rather have the headache!

There’s no knowing how I’ll feel when I take tablets… but I won’t take one if I know I’ve got to drive home from anywhere for at least a few hours.  I’m back next week for a range of blood tests (something my friend can give me pointers on!)

One thing which the doc did mention which I’m very remiss about is drinking enough liquid… coffee prices at university have meant I’ve reduced my intake there, so I have bought a ‘trendy’ water bottle which I’ll ensure I keep topped up… assuming the water coolers at work keep working.

Working from home today, and the to-do list is growing, not sure I’ll get it all done and all of it is ‘urgent’ (for a given definition of urgent).  Better carry on and stop checking to see if I’ve a headache’s coming on.

Not yet….

Not yet…

Not yet….

Amazon Prime or Super Saver Delivery?

I’m in a quandry, and I thought I’d ask the readers of this blog, using the new poll function in WordPress.

My Amazon Prime (£49 a year) is about to be renewed.  I’ve certainly used it a lot over the last year, and it’s nice to know that stuff is delivered as quick as is possible.  I’ve even used the ‘express delivery’ option and saved a few quid on that.

But the vast majority of my purchases now qualify for free Super Saver delivery on any order over a fiver.

So, should I renew my Amazon Prime, or give the new Super Saver delivery a try – remember we’re coming up to Christmas, one of my very busy times for online ordering.

Apple chord and blank screen?

It so rare that I have to reboot my MacBook and iMac that when I do, and things go wrong, I start to panic a little.

I’ve just installed a security update, and needed to reboot my Big Mac.  I hit the restart button, got the Apple startup chord, then nothing…

For about five minutes.

Tried it again, and the same happened.

I started to panic a little here – I’d pulled the plug on my Time Machine external drive during closedown, had that caused a problem?

Luckily, I noticed that my iPod (which is enabled for disk use) was still plugged into the USB keyboard.  Unplugged this, turned machine off and back on again, and I got the comforting Apple icon appear within seconds of turning machine on.

So, if you’re in a similar situation, before you panic, I would recommend unplugging all USB devices and powering on again.  With no ‘silly’ bongs when you plug/unplug USB devices, it’s much more viable than Windows to do this, and it could save you a red face when you go to the Apple Genius Bar.