Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pipes virgin no more

Inspired by Brian, I made my first Yahoo Pipe, a simple vanity superfeed Yahoo Pipes

Yahoo Pipes

It was nearly as easy as I hoped, the only thing I had trouble with was sorting the merged feeds by date/time, but I got there in the end by trial and error.

Update: I couldn't get Facebook to import this feed (Facebook doesn't like Pipes - anyone?), so I solved the problem by laundering the feed through Feedburner.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The connected academic

Martin Weller thinks the connected academic is more than just engagement with technology, it is to do with attitudes towards value, pedagogy, openness, etc. And so he created a quiz for you to find out.

Guess what?

The connected academic
Your Result: Connected academic

You are the future! You've taken openness, connectedness and 2.0ness to heart. You are an asset to your organisation. I would be happy to be your Facebook friend.

Twin Vortex Living Water Machine - PMSL

"The TVLWM is an advanced multi-modal energy technology that restructures societies vibrationally damaged water. Using Vortex wisdom, Modified Tesla High Voltage Energy, Subtle God energy (Chi), piezoelectric, light & three different harmonic frequencies of the Schumann Earth Pulse, and more, we remove old vibration programs from the water and revitalize the water to pristine natural quality. It is Ionized, Oxygenated, has natural qualities of water from "Water Softeners", lowered surface tension, less bacteria, and much more. Its great for drinking, cooking and many other uses. There is nothing quite like it."

Teslamanjack: I've spent a good part of my adult life dedicated to bringing forth advanced technology in assistance to humanity and the raising of consciousness. With divine inspiration as my source, I tap into both physical and metaphysical information to make devices that Tune and Balance our electromagnetic nature and that help align our ego, personality and "will" centers with divine flow of the universe. This allows multidimensional healing within the self and promotes holistic awareness of our god nature.

Ben Goldacre, are you watching? :-)

A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Qualitative Research

A consideration of the broader issues of qualitative research - the underlying arguments of qualitative research and the key debates about its future direction. Shows how qualitative research can be methodologically inventive, empirically rigorous, theoretically-alive and practically relevant.

Music Marathon

Richard Attenborough Centre Leicester students have raised cash for a charity specialising in music therapy.
Members of the University of Leicester performed a 12-hour "midsummer music marathon" at the Richard Attenborough Centre, on the Leicester University campus and raised more than £600 for Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy.
The music was provided by 190 musicians from a variety of school, university and community groups.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Participation inequality in pictures

Participation inequality (and what to do about it) has been bothering me a lot over the last year. On the basis that more data is always a good thing (?), Business Week has just published this demographic breakdown of who participates online:


  • Creators publish (mostly <21)
  • Critics comment (mostly 18-26)
  • Collectors use RSS (not many)
  • Joiners use social networks (mostly <27)
  • Spectators read (second broadest category, inverse of inactives)
  • Inactives ... are inactive (broadest category, oldest demographic and the inverse of spectators)
So what am I going to do about participation inequality?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Hello, and welcome to SOTI's Wimbledon 2007 coverage.
First, from Rocketboom, Wiimbledon:

Next, a question. What time did Sean Connery get to Wimbledon?


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Blogging the news

Logo AOL has relaunched AOL News. The new design lays out news in an blog-like fashion, with excerpts of all the day's main stories laid out chronologically from top to bottom.

Dave Winer says good, river of news.

But Download Squad asks, does it make sense to present mainstream news on hundreds of diverse topics in this fashion?

It's all about loyalty (or otherwise). Blog design makes sense if readers are loyal and visit the site frequently, AND are interested in most or all of the stories. If they want to dip in an out and read what interests them, the design will frustrate them quickly, and the (highly successful) BBC News website is a much better option.

Why am I interested? Because I'm planning on microchunking academic content into a blog-like format next year. Will it work? Anyone tried it?

Record numbers stay in education

Universities UK The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and it's stopped raining! Even better is the news that a record number of school children stayed in full-time education in England after their GCSEs last year. 78% of 16-year-olds remained in education beyond the compulsory age - up 2 percentage points on 2005. 65% of 17-year-olds were in full time education in 2006 - also a rise of 2 percentage points on 2005.

And if that's not enough to put a smile on your face, applications to UK universities have not dropped as a result of higher tuition fees, according to new analysis from Universities UK (pdf). UK applicant numbers declined in real terms between 2005 and 2006, but by January 15 this year 395,307 people had made applications; an increase of 6% since 2006, 3% since 2005 and 12% since 2004.

Monday, June 25, 2007

lolcats evolve


Hmm, podcating - it might catch on!

If you don't understand "lolcats", you need to read this.

Aargh! lolpirates!

My new career

Google screenshot

Who knew? I thought I was just watching Glastonbury in the dry with a glass or two of wine. Turns out I was becoming the number one Glastonbury review on the internet.

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

Just chill

While I was chilling on the sofa watching Glastonbury, Martin Weller's brain was whirring and came up with a couple of important posts.

Class divide in Facebook and MySpace: commenting on Danah Boyd's essay about class divide in Facebook and MySpace.
Summary: Facebook = middle class, MySpace = working class. (BBC Report)
I think they may be right. So which are you - BBC or ITV? I was brought up BBC, but now I've got cable ...

Martin also hammered a couple more nails into email's coffin (Email's sick bed). I'm not sure I agree with this post as much as the previous one. While email is in serious trouble (my students don't check it and my kids regard it as the Dad Channel), I believe the problem here is more superficial - email clients have not evolved.
Institutions will always require communications channels which rely on push (although using push and pull is the best option for information delivery). The Inland Revenue runs on a pull model - don't send in your tax return and you're in trouble, but they also push a lot of information through my letterbox and via TV adverts.
What we need are email clients which are intelligent agents, filtering, filing and prioritizing email more intelligently than they do now (and more intelligently than the spammers - commercial and institutional) = Google P.A.? Now that our email quotas are measured in gigabytes (well, GMail anyway but not most university accounts yet), we need to chill trust the technology - when it arrives.
And the 10 year timescale is probably right / possibly ambitious for these changes to filter into H.E. institutions general practices.

Glastonbury Highlights

Kaiser Chiefs: Not as novel as at Glasto 05, but still a rabble rousing performance:

Babyshambles: Pharmacologically impaired performance, but it was good to hear some of the old Libertines songs again:

The Pigeon Detectives: High energy indie:

The Hold Steady: Costello meets Springsteen:

Gogol Bordello
: Shane McGowan's Romanian roots:

Thursday, June 21, 2007

CDC goes 2.0

EpiSPIDER is a new AJAX web service from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and provides a web 2.0 style front end for ProMED, the global electronic reporting system monitoring of emerging diseases.
EpiSPIDER provides Google Maps, Graphs, Treemaps, "Sparklines" (timelines) and RSS feeds of email traffic on ProMED mail, and drags ProMED into the web 2.0 era.

YouTube closes in on the BBC

According to data on Hitwise Intelligence, YouTube looks set to overtake in share of UK visits within a matter of weeks:
And of course with YouTube on Apple TV and the iPhone, the trend will accelerate, especially if the iPhone has video capture. Maybe now is the time to put your lectures on YouTube?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Nature Preceedings - WTF?

Nature Precedings They say:

Nature Precedings is a place for researchers to share documents, including presentations, posters, white papers, technical papers, supplementary findings, and manuscripts. It provides a rapid way to disseminate emerging results and new theories, solicit opinions, and record the provenance of ideas. It also makes such material easy to archive, share and cite. We accept submissions in most areas of biomedicine, chemistry and the earth sciences. In particular, we will not accept submissions describing the results of clinical trials or those making specific therapeutic claims. (More general claims, for example that a certain line of basic research may have clinical potential, are usually acceptable.) The reason for excluding such material is that Nature Precedings content is not peer-reviewed before publication, and the consequences of potential misunderstandings or misinformation are obviously more serious in clinical medicine than in other fields. Once again, Nature Precedings content is not peer reviewed before publication. This service is intended to provide a more rapid and informal communication system than that enabled by scientific journals, and in this sense is complementary to them. Many of the findings you read here may be preliminary or speculative, and remain to be confirmed. Please bear this in mind when deciding how seriously to take them. Content that we consider to be non-scientific or pseudoscientific will also be rejected. We will only accept genuine contributions from qualified scientists. This will usually require submitters to have a recognised academic affiliation.

I say:

Is this progress? It's easy to understand why Nature Publishing is panicking over open access publishing, and might want to spin out a web 2.0 site like Scintilla, but Preceedings feels wrong. Not peer reviewed? OK, I'll just post to my blog then ...

Open access publishing - who pays?

Money The estimated value of the entire scientific, technical and medical journals market is thought to be around $US5 billion, so the establishment of a £20,000 at Nottingham University to help researchers pay open access publishing fees is small potatoes.

On the other hand, this is the first formal institutional move that I am aware of to recognize the seismic shift in scientific publishing which occurred last year when the major research funders have adopted policies which require publication in an open access journal.

As the PLoS blog points out, many funding agencies have agreed that open access publication fees can be included within the research grant itself, but publications might arise after the grant has terminated, and not all researchers have sufficient funds for publication. Will researchers at less prosperous and smaller institutions than Nottingham be disadvantaged climbing the publication greasy pole?

Open access publishing is a positive move, as long as we don't wind up in a position where funding is a criterion for publication which ranks alongside academic merit - or are we there already?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Microsoft Computational Biology Web Tools

Microsoft Research has made the first of a suite of bioinformatics applications available. The applications run online or you can download Windows source code or pre-compiled programs. Not open source of course, but the licence is a lot less restrictive than the usual Microsoft effort.
Looks like another log on the Microsoft vs. Google fire!

Friday, June 15, 2007

... the more they stay the same

Usability chart A while back I had a gentle pop at Jakob Nielsen for his negative view of RSS, but I wouldn't want anyone to think that I don't have a lot of respect for his work. Apart from anything else, JN has "stickability" and a long term track record that no-one else can match. One of the benefits of that is the ability to look back over what, in web terms, are geological time periods to see what's changed. The answer, perhaps unsuprisingly, is not that much. The latest Alertbox article looks at the last 10 years of web usability testing and concludes that "A remarkable 80% of findings from the Web usability studies in the 1990s continue to hold today".

- More than half of the usability findings from the 1990s remain in force.
- 10% of the original usability issues have resolved because of improved technology.
- More problems went away because of changing user behavior than because of technology improvements.

"I safely predict that in 2012, these same enemies of usability will write blog postings saying "sure, Jakob Nielsen might have been right in 2007, but he doesn't get the fancy new stuff we do here in 2012." Those of us who bother doing the user studies will be laughing in 2017, when everybody finally agrees that the research findings from 2012 were right on target."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Towards a taxonomy of online video

eyetag There's an interesting new article on the eyetag blog, strategic options for webvideo. The post contains this distribution matrix for different categories of online video which is based on content and control. This is an interesting approach which builds on simple video categories based on format alone, as described on Rocketboom in March.

eyetag Although YouTube style microchunking appears to be at the bottom of the video foodchain in this matrix, that reflects the commercial video production background of the eyetag authors, and the true position of video microchunking really depends on the format/purpose of the video/conent (like these statistics videos for example).
Nevertheless, eyetag points to the increasing tendency of top-tier video providers to offer their content as microchunked webclips (e.g. BBC on YouTube).
Thanks to Andrew for the lead.

Meanwhile, the torrent (geddit?) of online video sites continues, with Chime.TV the latest wannabe which merges some of the features of Joost (but without the legal network content from Viacom, CBS, etc) with the channel-creation features of Splashcast. Like Scintilla which I wrote about yesterday, Chime.TV is another web 2.0 site that's late to the party. With no killer features, why go to the effort of switching to a me-too (unless I'm missing something here)?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Geek lolcat funny

lolcat I seriously don't know what to make of the runaway success of I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?
I feel I should deplore this frivolity, but sometimes, like today, it is funny. This one particularly appealed to my inner geek.

Nature 2.0

Scintilla Scintilla (Nature's attempt to jump on the web 2.0 bandwagon) just launched. As you might expect, it's a digg/ recommendation/social network wannabe.
Do we need Scintilla? This is already a crowded market where it is competing with older sites such as The Scientific Debate, OpenWetWare and a whole host of medical wikis, not to mention the science/biology/etc tags on the giants digg and Deepak Singh points to a few other web 2.0 properties, but cites Pierre Lindenbaum:
Shall I use this tool ? I don't know. I already use google-reader , technorati , etc.. to handles my resources, just tell me why I should change.
However, Scintilla has the 500 pound gorilla that is Nature Publishing behind it, so I wouldn't bet against it. To win at this game however, Scintilla is going to have to attact a large scientifically-literate readership away from it's present haunts, and fairly quickly.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

FameLab - Aarrrgh!

NESTA FameLab Now in its third year, NESTA FameLab is a national competition to discover "the new public faces of science". The winner will receive an international tour of speaking engagements, an internship at Channel 4 and a cash prize of £2,000. You can visit the website now to judge the video and audio entries and vote for your favourite.
But should you?
Is this really the best way to communicate science, by descending to the performing money level of Strictly Come Big Brother reality show phone ins? By encouraging the science is showbiz cult?
It's already obvious who will win, Caroline Johnson, because she is the biggest "babe". But what has that got to do with science? And what will the kids who are persuaded to take science degrees by this pantomime do when they find out that science is hard work, not headlines?
Is this really the best way to promote science, or are we admitting that it's all over and the media studies graduates won?

Update: So I was wrong, the geek won over the babe.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Vizualizing Science

Columbia University computer scientist W. Bradford Paley, along with colleagues Kevin Boyack and Dick Klavans, categorized 800,000 scientific papers into 776 areas of scientific study (shown as colored circular nodes) based on how often the papers were cited together by other papers. The bigger a node is, the more papers it contains. Heavily cited papers appear in more than one node. Black lines connect any nodes that contain the same papers; the darker a link is, the more papers the connected nodes have in common. These links create the structure of the map and tend to pull similar scientific disciplines closer to one another. Where are you on the map?


Friday, June 08, 2007

Kiss boring goodbye? Core animation

Mac OS X Leopard Wired has an article on core animation in Macintosh OS X Leopard:
Core Animation will allow programmers to give their applications flashy, animated interfaces. Some developers think Core Animation is so important, it will usher in the biggest changes to computer interfaces since the original Mac shipped three decades ago ... But creating animations like those ... is presently a complex and difficult task. Leopard's Core Animation will change that, giving the next generation of developers a set of tools that will allow them to easily create new, nonstandard, interactive interfaces.
AarghH! Nonstandard interactive interfaces? This is a Macintosh OS, not Windows! Of course the Wired article is just a piece of pre-Jobs hype for the WWDC in San Francisco next week, but the accessibility implications could be worrying.

Open Source Assessment

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes has posted a long post on Open Source Assessment at Half an Hour. Assessment is the missing link in "Education2.0". Most clued in educators are happy to embrace (or think abut the problems of embracing) Web2.0 technologies in education, but an institution which awards qualifications ultimately has responsibility for quality control, and assessment is the ultimate mechanism at which QC operates in education (plus motivating less motivated students!). So I was fascinated to read this post and want to respond to a few of the points raised:
What constitutes achievement in a field? What constitutes, for example, 'being a physicist'? ... we can't find a list of competences, for example, or course outcomes, etc., that will define a physicist.
Very true. Maybe you're a physicist if you think like a physicist ... or think you are a physicist.

Professors typically 'recognize' an A paper. They don't measure the number of salient points made nor do they count spelling errors.
Sorry Stephen, this statement is naive and outdated.

What we can expect in an open system of assessment is that achievement will be in some way 'recognized' by a community. This removes assessment from the hands of 'experts' who continue to 'measure' achievement. And it places assessment into the hands of the wider community. Individuals will be accorded credentials as they are recognized, by the community, to deserve them.
I guess that's how witch doctors are awarded their M.D.'s :-)

How does this happen? It breaks down into two parts:
- first, a mechanism whereby a person's accomplishments may be displayed and observed (e-portfolios).
- second, a mechanism which constitutes the actual recognition of those accomplishments (reputation).
In still other cases, organizations - such as universities, professional associations, governments and companies - may grant specific credentials. In such cases, the person may put forward their portfolios and profiles for consideration for the credential.
Yes, but that totally undermines the first half of your post Stephen! However, UK universities are starting to make to move towards transcripts as proposed in the Burgess Report (pdf). A transcript is not a portfolio, but it's closer to one than a traditional UK degree class.

Yes, this is a very different picture of assessment than we have today. It replaces a system in which a single set of standards was applied to the population as a whole. This was an appropriate system when it was not possible for people to view, and assess, a person's accomplishments directly. No such limitation will exist in the future, and hence, there is no need to continue to judge humans as 'grade A', 'grade B' and 'grade C'.
Unless you're trying to pick a brain surgeon for your operation. Reputation just replaces other forms of qualification. Humans always have and always will judge each other. Blair or Cameron? Kennedy or Bush? We do need to crack Assessment2.0, but this post doesn't offer the answers.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Pageflakes Paragon

Pageflakes Facing the frequent problem of how to explain the affordances of RSS to colleagues, I've fallen back on demonstrating three interfaces, Bloglines, Netvibes and Google Reader.
OK, so AJAX-based personalized pages like Netvibes and your Google homepage can do more than display RSS feeds, but I'm constantly surprised by how individuals react so differently to the various interfaces. Some people plug straight into the Google Reader "river of news" philosophy, while the more traditional two pane appearance of Bloglines works for others. And the interface makes a major difference to how they see and understand RSS.

For my own part, I've always preferred Netvibes to Pageflakes. It's not just that Pageflakes doesn't work with Safari, it's more personal than that. I can't fully explain why I prefer one interface over the other, just as I can't predict which of my colleagues will prefer Bloglines over Google Reader. So I was happy to sit here with my prejudices - until I saw Tony Hirst's post about the OUseful Pageflakes site.
Damn! This is going to make me rethink Pageflakes, and maybe even AJAX.

Science teacher shortage

Einstein The Campaign for Science and Engineering (Case) claims that the government is failing to recognise and address the seriousness of the science teacher shortage in England's schools. Ministers claim that 7,500 science teachers were hired in a single year, but Case say this claim is misleading because it includes those teaching many more subjects than physics, chemistry, biology and maths.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said that £30m would be spent over the next two years to help recruit 3,000 extra science teachers and encourage more young people to study the sciences.

Some good news then. My personal experience with secondary science teachers during the last few years is that we need to be concerned about the quality as well as the numbers.

Rate Your Students

Rate Your Students Rate Your Students is a confessions blog, along the lines of the fantastically successful PostSecret, but is intended as a riposte to
For me, Rate Your Students is a real emotional roller coaster, ranging from the highs of posts like We Do Hear You And We're Glad To Know You're Out There and A Mediocre Student Comes Clean And Asks For Forgiveness, to lows such as I Just Had a Whinge, And I Feel Better Already and A Day In The Life, without too much middle ground. The blog was started by "The Professor" who prefers to remain anonymous: "I'm a 40ish professor at a small college in the South. I once gave a shit what people thought of me, and when I finally escaped that trap, things started to happen."
It seems that students don't like being rated, even anonymously.

Update (via Stephen Downes): There is a correlation between the unofficial ratings and official institutional evaluations.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Citizens of the future: From employers to further education

Ewan McIntosh Ewan McIntosh has put up a wide ranging post at which fills in some of the gaps in his recent torrent of posts from the reboot conference and extends his theme: blogs and podcasts are not just a gimmick, they are the future of learning.
Starting from one of his past posts, Just Because You Can Blog Doesn't Mean You Should, Ewan discusses "The Blogging Plumber" and why entrepreneurs need to blog. For me though, the most interesting part of the post is when he asks Are you faking it?
The one thing about students is that they smell a fake a mile off. Most VLEs are, to be frank, the most unappealing, unsexy, unused (and therefore pretty useless) investments that can be made. Free (and much more appealing, socially interactive) learning environments can be created with tools such as eduSpaces, Moodle or Word Press MultiUser.
and concludes:
Social Media can bolster the VLE
while warning:
I'm not suggesting that colleges should go into the playgrounds of their students in Bebo, MSNSpaces or MySpace
Don't integrate. Evolve
Food for thought about what we should be doing with web 2.0 tools.

Brain Drains

BrainChina fears brain drain as its overseas students stay put
China suffers the worst brain drain in the world, according to a new study that found seven out of every 10 students who enroll in an overseas university never return to live in their homeland.

Australia targets UK students
If the fee cap is lifted, the ripple of young people heading for sun, surf and study could become a wave.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What do students think?

Chris Willmott Chris the Left-Handed Biochemist reports on the winners of the Higher Education Academy essay competition for students.
In 2007, the theme was "What advice would you give to students starting your course?".
The top entries submitted by Bioscience students have just been made available on the HEA Centre for Bioscience website. The winning author Aneeqa Meedin, from the University of Sheffield, produced a thought-provoking ten commandments for biomedical science students.
Congratulations to all the winners.



Monday, June 04, 2007

Snoop on your neighbours

 Google Earth Google has updated the imagery for Google Earth, providing high definition views of many more locations, including:

UK images have been updated so that most of England is now in high resolution

New color mapping for Germany

Parts of Antarctica, Greenland, and Canada have been updated

High resolution updates for parts of Japan, Russia, New Zealand, Iran, Spain, Austria

More high resolution images for U.S. cities including Washington D.C., St. Paul Minnesota, and Houston Texas.

Microbiology Schoolzone

Logo Encouraging young scientists is simple. Just take an awards ceremony, throw in some glitz and glamour ... and a little Ronan Keating goes a long way.
Above all, school students need the freedom to develop their own research projects, as this article in Microbiology Today illustrates (pdf).

Sunday, June 03, 2007

10 PhD Studentships at the University of Leicester and in India

University of Leicester Funding has been obtained for 10 fully-funded PhD studentships from UKIERI, the UK-India Education and Research Initiative. The students will work on a collaborative programme of research between the University of Leicester, UK, the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, the National Institute of Technology in Tiruchirappalli and the Indian National Aerospace Laboratories in Bangalore. The programme is called "Towards Reliable Smart Adaptable Air-Vehicles" and the aim is to develop novel control algorithms in two areas of application: (1) unmanned air-vehicles and micro-satellites in search and rescue scenarios, and (2) high performance piloted aircraft, where poor handling qualities result in pilot-induced oscillations. These areas are rich in research topics suitable for PhDs. The plan is to start 5 PhD projects this year and 5 next year.
Five of the PhD projects will be carried out at Leicester and it is expected that most of these students will come from India. The other 5 PhD projects will be carried out in the Indian Institutions and it is expected that most of these students will come from the UK or EU.
Applicants should have, or be about to obtain, a good honours degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject. Applications in the form of a full CV with the names and addresses of two referees should be sent to Ms Leanne Garnham, Please indicate whether you wish to work at Leicester or in India. There is no closing date but candidates interested in studentships for this year should apply as soon as possible.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Long Tail

The long tail in education has been on my mind recently. I spoke about it last week:

Thanks to Chris for this summary of the talk (audio mp3)

A post titled The long tail of micrograding over at think:lab makes some interesting points:
Are you helping the kids sitting in the long tail side of your room? How are you micro-grading? Or, more importantly, how are you helping to make the "cycle of risk-reward more appealing" in your classroom?

Wellcome Collection

Free Entry.
Opens 21st June.