Friday, August 31, 2007

Ben Goldacre - Pissed on Pepsi

Papsi Ben Goldacre sorts out the desperate trouble newspapers are in:

The comments threads beneath your articles will always be rubbish, because the community is too large. Nobody will read the other comments, there is no discussion, and there is no shared pool of knowledge ... linear comments - for communities that pull millions of visitors - can never produce interesting conversations.

If you do a podcast, do not make it like an even cheaper version of commercial radio. We already have bad commercial radio.

Good podcasts, bad podcasts

I subscribe to quite a lot of podcasts, but most of them don't last very long. A few uninteresting episodes or unreliable feeds and I'm gone. So what makes a good podcast? Well I've found a couple of new podcasts I like in the last week and I think they illustrate some important points.

AudioMedica Audio Medica is a medical podcast which uses an interview format with medical experts to illustrate recent significant publications. It's not particularly unique, and it's a field I'm only peripherally interested in, but what sets Audio Medica apart are the production values. The recordings are very professional (expect no less from any podcast worthy of the name - so recording the errs and umms in your lectures doesn't count), but the website is functional and clean, and the podcast is one of the few which makes use of the advanced features of iTunes, so hats off.

Grammar Girl The real find of the week, however, was Grammar Girl. I haven't been this excited about a podcast since I discovered French Maid TV. Grammar Girl gets it right. Excellent content, keeps it short and simple, a variety of subscription and download options. Oh, and full transcripts on the website. You go, Grammar Girl!

tumblr: less is more

tumblr I've been playing with tumblr, the lite-weight blogging service. I haven't really scratched the surface yet, but I'm sufficiently impressed to add links from my RSS tutorial.

Apart from the obvious (blogging), another use which has occurred to me is as a simple feed aggregator to people who don't want to get involved with more complex services such as Yahoo Pipes. Simply import the feeds you are interested in, then point at the RSS. Nice and simple. Anyone else like tumblr?

Update: Well, I take most of that post back.
Tumblr will not aggregate multiple RSS feeds.
Tumblr will not import feeds from Yahoo Pipes. There is a clunky workaround using Google Reader.

Tumblr seems to have died in the 24 hours since I posted this is alive!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

SplashCast gets a makeover

  • Item level navigation, with preview thumbnails and captions.
  • Inline, multi-media commenting - text, video and audio - with publisher moderation.
  • "Follow me" email subscription to future shows by any publisher.
  • A number of other changes, give the player embedded here a try and see what you find.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Science Reporting: A Dark Secret

Secrets The cosy embargo system operated by academic journals is bad news for science coverage - and for journalists too. That's not just my opinion, but also that of former BBC science correspondent David Whitehouse:

Journals say the embargo is a good thing. They say it creates a level playing field among journalists and concentrates attention on serious research that has been approved by other scientists. They add that it allows journalists time to work on their reports, carry out filming and interviews, so that they get the science right. All this is self-serving poppycock and patronising to boot.

Maxine Clarke, Publishing Executive Editor of Nature, attempts a rebuttal on the Nautilus blog. Well, read the mass-produced syndicated crap which masquerades as science coverage on the news wires Maxine, and ask yourself: if journalists had to get off their butts and find their own stories rather than being spoon-fed by journals, would we have a more informed public debate on science?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Another glimpse of web 3.0

Earlier this month, I defined what web 3.0 is going to be. Although that was a light-hearted post, I was entirely serious when I said that web 3.0 is going to be defined by machine-generated content and intelligent software agents. And now I've just had my first glimpse of what web 3.0 is going to look like.

Remember Ms. Dewey, the search engine with the "human" face? As feeble humans, we're going to need "human" faces for all that machine-generated content coming down the pipe.

Noodle Reader is an RSS reader for Macintosh OS X which uses an animated talking head to read the news aloud using Mac OS's built-in speech synthesis. And if you get tired of the built-in "actors" that Noodle supplies, you can download more, or even build your own voice into the reader. OK, so it's a little primitive right now, but these synthesized interfaces will improve rapidly, e.g. when Alex arrives with Leopard. Video:

Noodle Reader also displays another feature of web 3.0: you're going to have to pay for it. When the web 2.0 bubble bursts in 2008, the VCs are going to want their money back. Next time around, software and services will be charged for, distinguishing 3.0 from the "if you build it they will come" give it away ethos of 2.0, just as we're already seeing Google spinning out more paid services.

You heard it here first.

Gene Genie: Bugs and Beyond

Gene Genie Gene Genie is the blog carnival of genes and genetic conditions, covering all things genetic from epigenetics to ethics.
I'm proud to host the 14th edition of Gene Genie at MicrobiologyBytes.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Guilty secrets of TV

LolHiro I may have been a little harsh on TV in my last post. After a hard day on t'internet, there's nothing I like better than to settle back and watch something relaxing on the big screen.

Relaxing, but not totally mindless. Which is where the problems start. Since traditional TV is all push, I can't pull the content I want to watch. Yes, I know the technology is changing (slowly), and yes I know about Splashcast, but at the end of the day, I'm tired and I want the sofa and for the big screen to bathe me in its comforting glow.

Which is why I don't have much sympathy for sheep-like TV executives, all jumping on the same reality TV bandwagon. I've never watched an episode of Strictly Come Dancing Big Brother Factor, and I'm not planning on starting now.

I don't expect or want 21st century TV to deliver The Ascent of Man, and it's not what I want in the evening, but just a little quality would be nice. I'm missing the Sopranos, although Heroes is a guilty pleasure I'm currently enjoying. So if TV is going to die, I wish it would hurry up and get on with it. Or evolve.

TV is dying

TV is dying A study published by IBM shows that internet usage is close to overtaking TV viewing, especially in the USA, UK, Australia, Germany, and Japan:
  • 66% percent of survey participants reported viewing between one to four hours of TV per day, versus 60% who reported the same levels of personal internet usage.
  • "Content" includes conversation: 45% social networks; 29% user-generated sites; 24% music services; 24% premium video content for TV; 18% online newspaper.
  • 58% have already watched online video and 20% more are interested.
  • 74% contributed to a social network; 93% contributed to a user content site. Who says the net is only for geeks? Why do they do it? To feel part of a community, 31%; recognition from peers, 28%.
And in the UK, the Ofcom Communications Market Report 2007 says that:
  • The average Brit now spends 50 hours per week on the phone, using the net, watching TV or listening to the radio. But:
  • Internet use has grown 158% in the last 5 years, TV and radio have declined.
  • 13-15 year olds now spend as much time on their mobile phone as they do playing computer and console games.
TV is dying, newspapers are screwed. Are we digital natives yet? Watch the (online) video:

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Arsebook Arsebook is an anti-social network that connects you with the people you hate:
upload blackmail material or publish lies
get the latest gossip from your fiends
post videos on your profile
tag your fiends
use privacy settings to hide your info from enemies
join a hate-clan to disturb people who live, study, or work around you

Quite an interesting conversation

Bertalan Mesk√≥ at ScienceRoll has been interviewing "famous" medical bloggers to convince more health professionals/people interested in medicine to create their own blogs by providing interesting “behind-the-scenes” interviews. So for some reason, he asked me :-)
When we were done, I found it had been quite an interesting conversation.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

In the meantime

I'm going to be away for a few days and I want you all to behave while I'm gone - no spam or fighting!
Here's something for you to think about until I get back, but if you're of a delicate disposition, look away now:

Cheer up Gordon, it can't get any worse!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Plagiarism Policy for the iPod Generation

Plagiarism cupon
Controversial blog Rate Your Students is back from it's summer break, and one of the first posts is this rant about plagiarism:
  • I will explain to each class, in the early days of the term, exactly what plagiarism is and is not.
  • I will report any incident that looks the least bit suspect.
  • I will advise the student of his/her rights and responsibilities.
  • I will inform the student of my decision to seek the maximum sanction even for "first timers."
  • But I will not "discuss" the matter with any student, and I certainly will not discuss any student's records or suspected instances of plagiarism with any parents, friends, relatives, consultants, church officials, little league coaches, local low-rent politicians, or even the Dali Lama himself.
  • I will not hear excuses, including but not limited to: "my friend helped and she must have looked this up on the internet," "You said we didn't have to cite our sources," "I didn't understand the assignment," "I didn't know the person I paid to write my paper was going to plagiarize it," or any other attempt at weaseling one's way out of the sanction.
  • I will not shed a single tear for any student's pathetic cheating existence.
  • I will not mourn any student's absence in a course if that student is a cheater.
  • I will not feel sorry for any student who cheats, even if that student's father calls to me to explain that his daughter just signed a one-year lease on an apartment and she can't get out of it now, even though she has failed out of this college and will be taking classes elsewhere.
  • I will not have any student question my methods, my understanding of cheating, my grading policies, my principles, or my judgment.
  • I will not endure insults upon my character for any student's lack of morals or ethics.
Start as you mean to go on.

Let the students do the talking

Some great resources from the recent Institutional Web Management Workshop, via Brian Kelly.

First, Alison Wildish’s presentation "Let the Students do the Talking…"

And Brian's presentation "Introduction to Facebook: Opportunities and challenges for the institution" (on Slideshare's Slidecast service):

Monday, August 13, 2007

Feature Richness and User Engagement

Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, August 6, 2007: Summary:
The more engaged users are, the more features an application can sustain. But most users have low commitment - especially to websites, which must focus on simplicity, rather than features.
"Thus, websites should have almost no features: focus on the words."

CBI seeks 1,000 golden carrots for science and engineering students

CBI Logo The CBI, Britain's leading business organisation, is urging the government today to hand out a 1,000-a-year "golden carrot" to science and engineering undergraduates to help fill the skills gap and boost the competitiveness of UK industry.
The CBI also says the government should cut taxes, but it won't put it's hands in it's pockets to pay for better education, preferring instead to rely on public money while whinging from the sidelines.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Aargh, the noise!

Huge herds of JCBs majestically ripping up the paving outside my office window!
Summer Sundae thundering out a hundred yards away!
Temperatures melting my monitor!
Aargh, the noise!!!

What the heck is RSS - and why should I care?

RSS Tutorial I need your help!
Would you like to learn more about how to use RSS feeds to stay up to date and one step ahead of your competitors?
Or are you just baffled by what RSS is for?
If you spend a few minutes on this free online tutorial, you may be able to save yourself loads of time.
If you finish the tutorial, I would be grateful if you would complete the one minute evaluation at the end.
Tell me what you think!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Reduce, reuse, recycle, and get stuff for free!

Freecycle If, like me, you're bothered by the size of your carbon footprint, you'll already know that reduce, reuse, recycle is the mantra of the environmental movement.
What you may not know about is the goldmine that is Freecycle. The Freecycle network is made up of many individual groups across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their own town. You can find your local group at the Freecycle website.
I've been using Freecycle for several years now, mostly to donate stuff (furniture and electronics) that I would otherwise have had to send to land fill, but I've also bagged a few great free goodies myself. So before you buy, check Freecycle.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Web 3.0 defined

Google CEO Eric Schmidt says that Web 2.0 is Ajax. If it's not Ajax, it's "just a marketing term". Schmidt says Web 3.0 will be applications which are pieced together - relatively small, the data is in the cloud, can run on any device (PC or mobile), very fast, very customizable, and distributed virally (social networks, email, etc).

But I don't agree with him, which is perhaps why I'm not Google CEO. On the other hand, I'm not defending a market position, so here's my version:
  • Web 1.0: Static content. You'll read what you're given and like it
  • Web 2.0: User generated content. We read and write
  • Web 3.0: Machine generated content. You can hear the faint echoes of web 3.0 hurtling towards you as you scan your web feeds as a river of news in Google Reader and the machine tells you things you didn't know you needed to know. Intelligent agents. Web 3.0 sings Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do... softly in your ear.
  • Web 4.0: There is no web 4.0. Near the end of the web 3.0 era, the asteroid collides and it's game over.
Education then, still firmly 1.0. Remember, you read it here first.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sound matters

Oscar Stringer says animation is 60% sound. Sound is not the icing on the cake, it brings a film to life.

By extension, sound is equally important (but undervalued) in online video, which Adam Buxton set out to prove with this hilarious remix of Songs of Praise:

via Ewan

Monday, August 06, 2007

Facebook applications are a disease

Appidemiology Nascent suggests using epidemiology tools to measure the spread of Facebook applications.

Hmm, that explains what all those Zombie invitations were about last week ... and maybe why Edexcel are giving out exam results on MySpace?

Web 2.0 Falls Foul of EU Directive
Thanks to Jo for pointing me at this from JISC legal news:
In a judgement of 22 June 2007 a French Court (the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris) has held that MySpace the social networking site cannot rely on the hosting exemption set out in the Electronic Commerce Directive and thus as publisher of infringing material is guilty of breach of copyright. The reasons for it being considered a publisher were twofold: firstly designated specific space is provided for users to present their material to a wider audience and secondly MySpace received revenue from advertisers each time a video was downloaded. This may potentially raise issues for universities and colleges as to where the line is drawn between merely 'hosting' material and 'publishing' it in development of their own Web 2.0 activities. For further information, see the website.
In the absence of recent UK case law, for information on this aspect of the Electronic Commerce Directive see the JISC Legal website.
It's worth reading about "le buttock" on

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Friday, August 03, 2007

GMail: A Behind the Scenes Video

Nice post from All.The.Things.I.Like about the GMail collaborative video showing how an email message travels around the world:

New email client for microbiologists

Anymails Maybe. In reality, Anymails is a vizualized metaphor of your email inbox, with messages swimming around like microbes. Personally, I'm with the "less is more" school of GUI fans, the second reason why Google is conquering the world (the first reason being reliability).

Thursday, August 02, 2007

GENIE video wins two HeSCAs

This training video produced to teach biological sciences students how to use a micropipette has just picked up two awards at the annual meeting of the Health & Science Communications Association (HeSCA), in Toronto. The video, entitled "Using a Micropipette" which was a joint production between the GENIE CETL and Audio Visual Services was the winner of a Gold Award and also the Holly Harrington-Lux Creative Design Award for best video:

Click for video

Profit or perish

Profit or perish even worse than publish or perish
Michael Alvarez, in his Recruiters article 'System-ready scientists' (Nature 447, 612; 2007) advises young scientists to consider how they can fit into and enhance the labour force, even though this course might seem dehumanizing to them. He advises universities to gather information from government and industry about their 'design specifications' for incoming talent, to help them develop graduate training programmes that produce suitably qualified trainees.
I believe such an approach is a backwards step. Many scientists study and do research out of irrepressible curiosity and sheer love for the subject. It is true that the US academic funding system created a glut of postdoctoral researchers who have had to find alternatives to conventional career paths, but 'publish or perish' is a relatively harmless dictum compared with 'profit or perish'.
Rather than helping universities strip the creativity, intuition and joy of discovery from scientists while they train, government and industry should be willing to spend money, within their pragmatic frameworks, to acknowledge that scientific research is a fundamentally creative pursuit.
Edward Kiegle, Moonshine Mushrooms, PO Box 927, 251 Putnam Hill Road, Chester, Vermont 05143, USA.
Nature 448, 533 (2 August 2007).

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Shelfari Jean-Claude Bradley persuaded me to sign up for Shelfari, the social media book recommendation site. It's hard to see it getting much traction against LibraryThing, but it's also hard to bet against Amazon in the longer term.
At the moment, I prefer Visual Bookshelf, currently my favourite Facebook application (but not facing much competition in the Facebook application stakes).