Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

eee PC and Portable Apps – the ideal combination

How has the first 24 hours with my eee 701 SD been?


Let’s do a classical reflection shall we?

What went well

I like the keyboard, with enough ‘rattle’ to make it responsive enough.  I’ve not had an problems touch typing, though maybe a little more ‘hunt and peck’ than I am used to, especially on the right hand side of the keyboard, where some of the keys are smaller than I would expect.

One thing which I do keep doing is hitting the up-arrow key instead of the right-shift.  But that said, it’s started to become second nature to use the left-shift key, solving the problem.

The screen is usable too, yes it’s small, and my eyes have a bit of a funny feeling when going from 7″ to my 20″ big mac, but otherwise it’s fine.

What went less well

It’s hard to be critical of the origins of the small, cheap computer, but the processing power, or lack of it, in Windows XP could be a real problem.  Regular restarts appear to be the norm, and multi-tasking is out of the window.  With the 512 Mb memory, two programs running concurrently seems to be the limit.  Windows continues to pop up worrying messages about lack of memory and virtual space.

To this end, I’ve already ordered a couple of upgrades, 2Gb of internal memory, and an 8Gb SD card are on their way to me courtesy of Crucial memory.  The SD card is simply for data storage, leaving the full 8Gb ‘internal’ memory card for system files etc.

It’s been pointed out that by the time I’ve paid the 35 quid for these upgrades I was close to the price I could have got an EEE 900 for from Amazon.  Point taken, but it’s still (marginally) larger and heavier.

What will I do differently next time?

I did rush in and install my ‘usual suspect’ applications, AVG free for virus protection, Firefox for browsing, iTunes so I could stream my music from the other machines at home.  These brought my system to a crawling stop, and I’ve removed all but iTunes (as far as I know there’s no open source, cross platfom media streamer).

What I have done instead is install Portable Apps, and placed this in my startup menu, and used their versions of Firefox, Open Office, Pidgin etc.  This has been a much more elegant solution, and the programs are quick!  I’m still picking and choosing (AbiWord for example instead of OpenOffice  Writer for example), but the advantage of this approach is when my SD card arrives, I can simply move PortableApps lock, stock etc. to the SD card and (performance willing) I’m ready to go.

I’ve not uninstalled any programs yet though that came with the eee, though removing MS works and some of the windows live stuff would give me some breathing space.  I can’t work out yet how I’m to back the machine up, and am open to any advice/tips.  I clearly need a ‘full backup’- why has no one yet invented a time machine type product for Windows?


So overall, I give my EEE 7/10 at the moment, hoping it will rise to 9/10 once I’ve got my memory upgrades in place.  I’m pleased with the least-impulsive purchase of the decade.

I’ll try and post a review of the EEE one month on, to see if my perceptions have changed.



Well, this is something that most people who know me will be surprised about.

I’ve just bought a Windows laptop!

It’s the classic netbook which started it all, the EEE 701, with 8gb memory and Windows.  A 7″ screen, but this all goes to making it a really compact unit, and provides a bigger ‘space’ between it and my beloved (and still needed) macbook.

The keyboard is fine, if a little rattly, and all seems OK so far.  So why have I gone for this machine?

Firstly, it’s useful to have a machine which can run Windows natively.  I can still run Linux from the SSD.  Also, I sometimes have to support friends who are still on XP, so it’s useful to have this.

And price (£154 from Carphone Warehouse) cannot be sniffed at either.  Remembering that is with the XP license too.

I’m blogging this using Windows Live Writer, which I used a while back.

One thing I do have to be careful of it loading this little machine with too much ‘bloat’, though Firefox and AVG Free are no-brainers, I’m debating whether I should install iTunes, so I can stream my media from Big Mac.

All in, whilst unexpected I’m pleased with the purchase, and looking forward to ‘playing’ with my new toy.

The first day of the rest of your life…

Discussion with parents at the weekend.

‘So I’ve decided to do a PhD.’

‘But I thought you’d said ‘never again’ after your Masters’

‘Yes, I know, but this is different.’



‘How long will it take?’

‘I’ll finish at the end of 2013.’

‘That’s after the Olympics!’ (When did we start our long-term planning as being before or after the Olympics).

Still, generally they were supportive even if they didn’t quite understand what the PhD is all about.  Let’s hope that over the next few months I’m able to be a little more certain too.  I’ve got meetings re: funding, but the application has gone into Lancaster this morning – fingers crossed.

The rest of the weekend was generally good, with Watchmen, new MINI launch, and meeting long-lost aunts and uncles (we realised it had been 22 years since I’d met my mother’s sister and her husband – at least they had the decency to say ‘haven’t you changed!’, which I have since I was 15 years old.)

This is the first week of Easter, and definitely the calm before the storm of marking etc.  I’m trying to get new module specifications written, but it’s easier said than done at the moment for various reasons.

Two shows for one

Today was what’s becoming a slightly rarer event for me, a day out of the office.  I’ve been two two shows at the NEC Birmingham, which serendipitously were being held on the same day.

First was the Project Challenge show, when a whole host of companies are touting their wares.  I was there for two main reasons though, to hear about the changes to PRINCE2 which are in the pipeline, and also catch up with a company called Project In a Box.  I’ve been using their software for years, and wanted to talk to them about the product.  It was an interesting talk, and I think I’ve been signed up as a beta tester for their new community edition – which will be interesting.  I was able to make my usual pitch for mac-based software, and they were sympathetic.

Then it was off to Andy Murray‘s talk about PRINCE2 2009.  This was a really clear, focused talk about the changes – unfortunately my notes are far from clear – I wish I’d took my laptop with me (though I was travelling light today), as I’d have been able to transcribe them into a mind map.  I’ll do a posting of my own scrawls, and how these translate into a mindmap later on tonight, as there’s a lot of useful information.  The good news is that the ‘essence’ of PRINCE2 is still there in the 2009 version.  What has gone however is much of the structure of my own teaching notes, so I’m going to have a major rewrite on my hands over the summer – looks like those quiet hours on the clearing hotline may not be wasted this time round.  I’ll talk more on this once I’ve scanned my notes in and got some meaningful notes.

Then it was onto the Education Show, which I try to go to every couple of years.  This is principally aimed at school, rather than university audiences, but I’ve always got something out of each time I go.  This time I talked to some people from Birmingham Council looking to improve school attendance.  My colleague John Colby has done a lot of work in this area, and it was interesting to make some links between school and university attendance.  I’ve also bought some ‘silly’ teaching tools, a giant die (as in dice), and some egg timers so that I can time presentations and ‘break out’ sessions’ a little more accurately.

All in, it’s been a good, if unconventional day.  I’m now catching up on emails, and progressing my PhD application.  I didn’t realise when I registered that there was a time limit on the application process, and I now have less than a month to complete the application – gulp!

Openoffice for Mac and MS Word 2003 – Problems

I hate having to report problems like this.

I’ve been editing some complex documents for work, with lots of tables and graphics in them.  I’ve noticed some problems such as bullet points turning into maltese crosses, but thought these were just minor inconveniences.  However, what I thought was a one-off file corruption for a document in MS Word has now surfaced again.  Clearly there’s a problem reading table information.  I don’t really have time at the moment to think of a workaround, so in the meantime I’m back to the iWork application suite.  This reads .doc formats with no problems, and most importantly allows export to Word 2003 with no loss of data.

I’m sad at this, Pages is an OK word processor, but I really do like Open Office.  But I can’t really spend time worrying about whether a file that I’ve sent can be read by the recipient.

But I now have a dilemma, iWork has been updated to iWork ’09, and a (relative) bargain at £34.50.  Is it worth paying for the (limited) additional functionality.

Or even look at Office for Mac?  No, no, I ‘m sure things aren’t that desparate.

What’s the use of having a blog

If I can’t share videos like this.  Thanks Simon for the head’s up

Autofocus – One month on

I’ve been using the Autofocus system for a month – more information on how it works is at my original posting here.  I wish I could say I’ve followed it religiously in that time, writing everything that I need to do down, but I haven’t.  It has been useful for those transient things though such as in meetings or student contact, when you know you have an action, but after the meeting they fade away.

I like the feeling of completion, and indeed there’s over 75 ‘to do’ items crossed off.  I also like the ability to pick and choose to a certain extent – sometimes I’m in the mood for some heavy keyboard bashing, other times I’m in a more cerebal mood and want to read/think/mindmap.  Autofocus is good that it allows you to pick what you want to do.

The downside is that it is a paper based system, and I don’t ‘do paper’ to any great extent.  I think there’s a real drive here for a computer (or web based) version of the product, and will keep my eye open for such a product, though there’s probably a lot of copyright/patent issues around the process which would need to be sorted.

I am going to continue though, and recognise that Autofocus has given me the time to explore research questions and other opportunities at work which I would have otherwise forgotten about.

Oh, but I have made a couple of simple amendments.  It’s handy for me to see how long a to-do item has been waiting, and when I’ve completed an item, so two narrow columns have been added to my list ‘date added’ and ‘date completed’.  If I forget to use Autofocus for a few days this also acts as a timely reminder that I’m unlikely to have completed any tasks since the last one was entered.

Sorry Sorry Sorry

Apologies again for the scarcity of updates.  It’s not that there isn’t a lot going on at the moment, but some of it’s not appropriate to share with the BBW (big bad world for those who’ve not attended one of my professional development lectures).

One thing that has been occupying a lot of my thoughts over the last few days has been ‘what next’ with respect to my own studying and professional development.  As has been mentioned before, I’ve coming to the end of my BA in ‘fun’ studies, and I now need to have one eye on my vocational qualifications.  With my PRINCE2 certification, and now Apple Certified Support Professional, I’ve got some really useful qualifications there.

But over the last year my research has suffered, and the time’s come to start making a move towards a higher degree, or PhD.


No one can say that this has been a rush decision, I was aware that with my first class honours I could have gone straight onto PhD studies without a Masters way back in 2000.  But the time wasn’t right then.  I’ve also looked at EdD, a Doctorate in Education, but there’s still some concern about the recognition of the qualification, and I don’t want to spend four years, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears (I’m nothing if not a realist!) for a qualification which isn’t well thought of.

I looked at Lancaster University’s ‘taught’ PhD a few years back, as a colleague was coming towards the end of his studies there.  But ‘stuff’ got in the way as always.  This is a case where patience has really paid off however… as Lancaster has since increased it’s portfolio of PhD courses – including a Doctoral Programme in E-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning.

What excites me about this programme is that it’s so tied into my research interests.  Whilst TEL is a new acronym for me, the idea behind it is nothing new.  (first moodle module written for September 2003 delivery, blogs used in teaching since 2004, twittering… hmmm, off and on for the last couple of months).  The first two years of the programme guide you towards to your thesis (only(!) 50k words), prepared in the last couple of years.  The VLE used is moodle, and ning is used for the social aspects of the course.

I’m completing my application, though I won’t submit until I’ve sorted out references and given some thought to the supporting statement.  The good news is that it doesn’t start until March 2010… so have plenty of time to sort.. and also look at possible funding options.

Fingers crossed!

Graduation 2009

It’s the third time I’ve been able to blog about the annual student graduation ceremony.  Here and here are my earlier postings (I was clearly recovering from a cough/cold last year, so didn’t talk much about the ceremony).

We were bundled together with lawyers and social workers to be, so we were all on our best behaviour.  I think we did ‘our team’ proud.  It was good to see graduates from the scheme which I’m the pathway leader of, and also to see some students graduating from our undergraduate scheme onto the postgraduate programme.

The only real pain, was quite literally a pain in my lower back, which hasn’t completely gone away despite trying to rest my back since I got back.  At the moment I’m sitting on the futon in my study, which seems to offer some respite.  I’m watching a DVD at the moment on Big Mac, whilst using my laptop.

The rest of the week looks pretty typical, with teaching, one to one project supervision, and the tail end of the exam board season.  Oh, and I’m off to the doctors again (please don’t search this blog for how often I’ve said that over the last year) on Wednesday.

Not much else to report at the moment, I’m sure inspiration will strike soon.

A cultural day

Saturday morning saw me bright eyed and bushy tailed, and on a Virgin train down to London.  I used to do this quite frequently, but it must be over two years since I’ve been down to London ‘for fun’, rather than for uni work.

We were there on a mission, to see an exhibition of work by Le Corbusier at the Barbican.  I first came across his work way back in 1994, when I was studying my first Open University course (T102 – Living With Technology).  One of the first modules covered his idea that a house is a ‘machine for living in’.  I was very impressed by this idea, though I’ve never really related this to my own home, which is more a ‘machine for stuffing stuff in and sitting around in’.  Still, I’m working through the rooms – again, and slowly, in the hope that as and when property prices stop falling like a stone, my eventual move will be easier.

Then it was ‘simply’ onto the Science Museum.  Wow, I mean, wow!  We barely scratched the surface of the exhibition, and it was really, really frantic with lots of scout groups and people around.  I want to go down when it’s quieter (I may even email them to find out whether they have ‘members only’ evenings, worth membership for that).  However, the space exhibition blew me away as anything like this does.  They have the Apollo 10 capsule there at the moment – I have never seen, or (nearly!) touched something which has orbited the moon, and the life-size mock up of the lunar module was also impressive.  What was slightly less impressive was the talk being given to the children about Apollo 11.  There were a couple of funny jokes (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldring asking Micheal Collins ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ for 250,000 miles), but we heard two different versions of the talk, and they were both obsessed with the toilet functions and ‘smell’.  I appreciate this may fascinate kids, but is it really how this should science be presented.

We had grand plans to stop off elsewhere on the way home, but tube problems meant that the journey back to Euston was a biy of a nightmare, though we couldn’t have timed it better.  Door to door was just about 2 hours for me, including driving back home (and sorting out car park), not bad really.

So, all in a great day, but long and tiring.  It was worth the little bit of extra effort though, and I look forward to going to the science museum again, maybe to see this exhibition?