Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Video Formats

A very productive day today, preparing for teaching next year (with the assumption that I’ll be teaching the same modules on existing courses).

I’ve also sent a ‘position’ paper out with regard to how we could incorporate PRINCE2 2009 revisions into the teaching next year, meaning that I don’t have to rewrite the two modules which heavily use PRINCE2.  In fact, I’ll be using the changes as part of the assessment.

One thing that’s causing me hassle/grief is to try and convert a DVD which I want to use online.  Copyright’s not an issue, it’s a university generated resource, but there’s a limit on the size of files which we can upload to our Virtual Learning Environment.

Luckily, on my Mac at home I have all the tools which I need to adapt this.  I just need to get the trade off between quality and size right.  I’m not doing too well.  I also, of course need to use a format which will work with Windows – not the easiest combinations.

Still, the weather is gorgeous here, I’ve had a really good day so I think I can spend a little time staring at a progress bar – and writing this update.  It amazes me how long video can take to encode even with the beast of  Big Mac.

(I would try to put the video here, but the only easy way is via YouTube, and I don’t think it’s cleared for that).

The weekend looks warm and sunny too – we’re definitely not used to this after the washout of last year, so I’ll be balancing study, seeing friends and family.


A space to think

There’s a slim chance that things may be moving on the house front – I’ll know more after the weekend, and maybe be able to talk more then.

But, one thing that has been occupying my thoughts is the idea of what form my new study would/could take, and what I would like, which my current home office doesn’t have.

I’ve been hear fourteen years, another way of looking at it is I’ve also been here for four PC’s – not a bad record for someone who’s supposed to be a gadget freak really.

  • 1994 – 1999 – Fujitsu DX2/66 with a whopping 2 Meg of RAM.  I also got ‘online’ for the first time with this machine, a 14.4 kbps modem and AOL.  This was the first PC which I had which met the ‘MPC’ multimedia PC specification, my first CD-ROM and my first colour monitor!
  • 1999 – 2003 – Compaq 2292.  This is still doing sterling service for my parents, with a built in moden, a whopping 4 Gig hard drive, and a really nice keyboard/mouse.  No DVD with this, but I did upgrade the CD-ROM to a CD-RW
  • 2003 – 2008 – Advent ‘beige box’.  It was a surprise to me too that my much maligned Windoze XP box lasted so long, though like the woodsman who’s had the same axe all his life apart from the new head and new handles, it’s been upgraded over time.  This machine is still sitting balefully in the corner, though has been plucked for parts over the years.  It’s on my ‘to do’ list, to get this recommissioned, maybe as a media box.
  • 2008 Onwards – Big Mac.  See the many passing posts on this

But the PC is only the heart of my study – two desks, umpteen chairs, more printers than I would care to think about, and an ever-growing book collection and study materials have made the study my most dynamic room in the house (It took me thirteen years to change my bathroom, the only change in that time being the addition of a power shower!).

So, what do I want from my new study?

Firstly, there needs to be space for my desk, chair, and somewhere for me to pace around.  I also need somewhere to store not only books, but course materials for my Open University teaching, plus any other documents I need to work from home.  Handy access to the loo stops me wandering around when I should be focused, and (wish list time here) – a fridge for a plentiful supply of cold drinks (non-alcoholic and alcoholic, for those late night writing sessions), and a huge whiteboard (my current whiteboard is A3 sized, not large enough by far, it just about holds the tickets for forthcoming shows).

I’m not fussed about having huge amounts of ‘personal’ stuff around me, the rest of the house is fine for that, though I’ve a couple of prints on the wall here which I won’t give up, despite their age and irrelevance. 

It will be importance for my productivity (and my sanity) that this room be up and running as soon as possible – both for my earning capability, and for my recreation (I’ve taken a break from studying my Open University course to write this blog).

See, my needs are simple – all I need is my Mac, Printer, phone, DAB Radio, gel pens, external drives, apple remote, halogen lamp, fan….

The Internet in 1969

Does anyone know where this comes from?

Not another gadget surely?

Regular readers to this blog will be holding their hands up in despair now.  Surely he can’t justify another gadget to add to his bulging rucksack.

Hang on though, it can’t be argued that I don’t actually use these gadgets.  As I type this on my eee in Cafe Nero, using my 3 wireless broadband and listening to music on my iPod touch, it can never be said that I’m not connected.

Anyhow, thoughts have recenty turned to my holidays, and the need to carry enough books to sustain me through at least two weeks of sun and surf.  For some people this could be a single novel, but not me.  For my last holiday I took eight books and read seven of them, but then I had the luxury of a huge people carrier to take my books (or my MINI, with the back seats down).

This year though we’re flying, so that means a ridiculously low baggage limit.  How am I to get all my reading into a small case?

Enter e-Readers, the next ‘must have’ accessory.  I was somewhat pleased to note that I wasn’t the only person who’s been thinking of these too. 

The Sony e-Reader pretty well has the market sown up, but that may be about to change.  CoolerBooks is that rarity, a UK-based company (based in Reading, where else!) which is planning on releasing an e-book reader using the same e-ink technology used in Sony products, but at a lower price point.

The key technology is e-ink, which as far as I can tell works like a very fancy etch-a-sketch, once power has been applied for you to switch pages, then no power is needed to maintain the screen image, meaning that thousands of pages can be read between charges.  The light weight and small size all helps towards it’s portability, as does changing the font size.

So I’m waiting until their product launches in the UK (soon I hope, I’ve set myself a 1st July limit for this), so I can do a proper side by side comparison, at least on paper.

The ‘sat nav’ tour 2009

Well, not my usual day today, but interesting nonetheless.  A steady start in the morning, but this was at the expense of heading directly to Millennium Point by 12:00.  A slight struggle with bureaucracy as I picked up assignments for the first time, before a quick meeting with our new boss.  Then it was a mad dash to Kings Norton, for a placement visit at South Birmingham Primary Care trust.  That went off really well, so I had time to head to my aunts.

I’m typing this in (via Windows Live Writer) at a pub near my aunts… I’m not saying that this is the first time that they’ve seen a laptot here, but the barmaid does keep wondering where the words keep appearing from, and whether the slot for the typewriter paper is!


Shortly after typing the above sentence, my 3 modem decided to throw a wobbly, and not connect, even though it appeared to have enough signal strength.  I tried it with my eee and Macbook with no luck.  Luckily the first part of this was composed off-line, so I haven’t lost anything apart from an hour of my life trying to sort it.

Anyhow, before this interruption I was musing on the life of the ‘urban roadie’, and how the existence of sat nav systems has made my driving a mostly safer place.  Today, I knew exactly where Millennium point, the office in Kings Norton, and my aunt live, but I’ve never had to navigate between the three points before.  My Tom Tom sat nav probably saved me half an hour off the combined journey today… OK I appear to have lost all of this in trying to get my 3 modem to work, but psychologically I feel like I’m ahead.

Back home now, and an early night is calling, just me, Connie Willis and Classic FM I think.

Windows woes – solution maybe?

My work machine is a Windows XP desktop.  Technically it’s only three months old, but in reality it’s over five years old, as it was a like-for-like swap out of a machine of that age.

It is noisy, loud and slow, and lurks in the corner of my desk like a beige obelisk from the film 2001.


I’ve long stopped trying to run any ‘power’ applications on it, Firefox, Outlook, Word and a twitter client are about all I have running on a day-to-day basis.  The system info is below –


Even this however was too much for the machine yesterday morning when I came back from a few days working at the city centre campus and from home.  In work at 7:30, I fired my machine up.  By 9:00 I was still struggling to get a responsive email client, and had resorted to using my MacBook and Outlook Web Access to access emails.

I’ve resisted tweaking this machine in any way shape or form since it was installed, but this was too much.  An install of Glary Utilities helped somewhat, but after a reboot I was still getting freezing/difficult to use.  Hmm, I thought, this is a lot like early problems I was having with my eee 701SD ‘laptot’ when I first bought it.

I seriously considered purchasing new memory for my uni machine, the situation got that bad, but luckily common sense prevailed.

Using the Memory Optimizer utility within Glary Utilities provided a clue as to what the problem was.  Running absolutely nothing, the machine had less than 10% of memory ‘free’ (remembering that the machine has 1Gb of memory installed, that’s one heck of an overhead). 

The slowest part of any system, including my own I suspect, is the hard drive.  The rapidly flashing light on the front of my obelisk seemed to indicate that a lot of disk activity was happening regardless of whether I was actually running anything.  This got me thinking about the disc cache, which given the ‘core’ memory was so close to capacity, could cause problems.  Could it be a problem with the cache file?

My first attempt, to run the system with no cache, was not successful.  Sure it was quick, but it also meant that once it reached the memory limit (very quickly), programs crashed.   Before I reinstated the cache file (My computer, Properties, Advanced, Performance, Advanced, Virual Memory) (they really don’t want you to find this setting), I ran a disk defrag so that the cache file would be a single, contiguous area.  Using the theory that sometimes the computer knows better than I what to do, I’ve clicked the System managed size…  don’t forget to click the ‘set’ button, and you must do this after you’ve rebooted the system with no page file set.


I’m only a day into the test, but it’s looking good.  Memory optimizer is running all the time, but there’s been no crashes, memory is 27% free with six applications open as I type, and reboot times are in reasonable times.

Still wish I had a Mac here though.

National Memorial Arboretum

A pleasant couple of hours spent this morning at the National Memorial Arboretum.  Just off the A38, and part of the National Forest, it’s a strange mixture of park, memorial and nature trail.  Hopefully, when I’m living closer to it, I can make it a regular visit.

One thing I forgot to do however was take my camera, the pictures below were taken from my camera phone, but came out ‘OK’, though the good weather helped.







The picture below (courtesy of Microsoft Virtual Earth, and Windows Live Writer) shows the site under construction.)

Map picture

Teachers TV

I’ve dipped in and out of Teachers TV for a few years, and have used some of their excellent video resources when looking for something a bit different for some lessons – though their reliance on the .wmv format, combined with the six-years old version of MS Office installed by default on machines made this difficult to embed into PowerPoint-driven lectures.

Recently, I’ve watched it more as a resource to see if there is anything there which can help improve my own teaching.

Teachers TV is clearly aimed at primary and secondary teachers who are at the chalkface, sometimes in some very difficult and challenging environments.  The vast majority of the teachers shown appear to cope well with whatever’s thrown at them… though I’ve not yet seen a PC projector failure, or a reluctant photocopier which refuses to print an activity minutes before the class is about to start.

The question I ask myself though, is this just a ‘posh’ form of reality tv, or is there something which lecturers in Higher Education (or even post-compulsory education) can learn from these programmes?  Specifically, what can I take from these ‘inspirational’ teachers, other than to spot that most male teachers seem to wear ties with huge knots in them (if nothing else, this is the one thing which will date some of these programmes).

I think the answer so far for me is yes, maybe.  Nothing like being certain there then!

There are some items such as self-evaluation, which I could incorporate into my own teaching, though the use of smilies to rate my post-graduate students may not go down too well.  One thing which I used to use, but in recent years have ‘forgot’ to do, is to make sure that there are learning objectives for each session, which could be used as a self-evaluation checklist at the end of the session.

There’s also a strong emphasis on praising individual students in a ‘classroom’ environment.  This has to be balanced however, especially as so much of our teaching is related to summative assessment.  I can see a scenario where (for example) I praise a student in class, then that student fails the module and they come back to me and say ‘but you said I was doing so well’.  This is something I need to work on however, and I think a balance needs to be struck

Finally, there’s a lot of discussion on Teachers TV about the National Curriculum.  Higher Education doesn’t have a single curriculum, but the QAA do publish benchmarks for most of the individual disciplines.  I’ve become more familiar with the benchmarks for Computing due to the recent validation events within the faculty.  Maybe these should be made more transparent to students, so that they can see that the subjects chosen, and the module learning outcomes, aren’t just arbitarily picked by the staff in the School.

Phew, deep stuff for early on a Sunday morning.  If nothing else, Teachers TV makes me think, which is a lot more than most TV does.

New Theme…

It’s been over a year, so I thought I would ring the changes.  The new theme is very bright and vivid, which probably breaks a lot of usability guidelines, but what the heck!

Fourteen Years…

is a long time to live in one home nowadays, without starting to think of it as over a third of your life.

But I came home today to this in my front garden.


There is a house which I’ve put an offer in for.  What have I been moaning about the last (cough) years?  The commut into university, which takes me on average an hour to travel 15 miles, sometimes less, sometimes much, much more.

So of course I’ve decided to move further away from uni.  There’s method in my madness though, as I’m moving to be on the City Line into Brum, and with a quick(ish) change to Perry Barr.  It’s also within walking distance of a pub and a supermarket, and only a litle further to a town (well in fact a city) centre.

This hasn’t been a sudden decision, and I’ve driven those near me mad sometimes with uhmming and ahhhing, but at least the sign is up now, and I’m in a state of (near) perpetual readiness for viewings.

Those of you who read this via WordPress, rather than via an RSS feed will also see I’ve done a little bit of shameless self-promotion and created a page with the details here.

Exciting times indeed.  I won’t go on and on about it in this blog, and hope to be able to bring this back to a more work/OU/Research focus.  But at the moment, and for the first time since 1999, I’m not studying, or tutoring with the Open University, but this situation won’t last long – In a fortnights time I start my next course with the OU.

Have a good bank holiday weekend everyone.