Friday, October 30, 2009


This is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own views and not those of my employer. Comments on posts represent the opinions of visitors.
A.J. Cann

Another interview with the future

In which I interview future me and tell myself about the future of education:

Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars

Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars. Amanda Goodall, 2009. Experts, not managers, make the best leaders:

"This is a fascinating book, focused primarily - but not exclusively - on correlations between the excellence of universities and the academic distinction of their leaders. Goodall demonstrates significant such correlations, particularly for American universities. This is a book of considerable interest and significance, and it should be required reading for every university trustee or governor." - Robert May, University of Oxford

"Goodall argues that the best research universities are run by the best scholars - it is not enough for a university president to be a good manager. This is an important message that all universities need to hear. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the future health of the world's leading universities." - Sir Paul Nurse, president of Rockefeller University and winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in medicine

Engaging Students Through In-Class Technology

Engaging Students Through In-Class Technology (ESTICT) is a UK network of education practitioners and learning technologists interested in promoting good practice with classroom technologies that can enhance face-to-face teaching. The ESTICT moniker spans a number of inter-related Special Interest Groups (SIG). The first of these is Electronic Voting Systems (EVS) and Beyond.


You can now register for the first free event to be held at the University of Leicester on Thursday 26th November 2009. The aim of the day is to share best practice in the use of in-class technology, with a particular focus on the pedagogic uses of electronic voting systems (a.k.a. "clickers", audience response systems ARS, or personal response systems PRS). This event is aimed at those both those with experience of EVS who wish to share their best practice and those with an interest in the technology that would like to know more. Both experts and novice users are welcome. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Steve Draper, Senior University Teacher, Dept of Psychology, University of Glasgow. Steve is an acknowledged expert in the field of EVS and has published widely on it’s use in Higher Education.

Places are limited, so sign up soon. More info, full programme.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Changing the game

altc2010 Yesterday, Martin Weller blogged about remote conference participation, and set up a Cloudworks discussion page for the topic (thereby selflessly torpedoing his Technoratijuice ;-) I responded that:
I'm all for augmented conferences which mix real people with virtual people. We're going to have to find out how to do this much better over the next few years as education and carbon budgets are progressively cut back, so the quicker we get on with it, the better. Note that I don't want to do away with RL conferences and replace them with online events, I want to use technology to extract the maximum bang per buck (or per kg of CO2).
Which technologies? In principle, all of them. Go to where the audience is rather than expect them to sign up to whatever crappy website you've just invented. The snag with this is that there is a risk of salami-slicing the audience and consequently the discussion. Roll on the Google-Wave enabled conference when everything can be everywhere!
I've been involved in a lot of online meetings over the last year, but the one which sticks in my mind is altc2009, which seemed to me to be a tipping-point at which a community accepted the virtual presence alongside physical presence as of equal value rather than as a poor substitute. Sitting in the multi-parallel sessions in Manchester, I spent most of my time augmenting the reality of the talk I was at with the data flowing out of the talk(s) I would like to have been at.

For that reason, I was delighted yesterday when I found out that I have been invited to be one of the four web editors for ALT-C 2010. (I'm not trying to steal anyone's thunder, but I'll let the other three introduce themselves just in case cats are inadvertently being let out of bags here.)

This is a new post for ALT, and I'm not sure if they know what a web editor is going to do yet. More to the point, I'm not sure if they know what this web editor is going to do yet, so to alleviate any confusion, I'll tell you. The role of this ALT-C 2010 web editor is to stay out of the way while promoting the most efficient exchange of information through all of the online channels available. And if that sounds like the Tower of Babel, I think I just figured out what the job of ALT-C 2010 web editor really entails.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I hate lists - or do I?

Thoughts on the new Twitter lists feature:


My contribution to Open Access Week 2009

Open Access Yeah, I know it's a week late, but this is where it fits into our timetable. Over the next week, all 200 of our first year Biological Sciences students will take an awareness-raising quiz on copyright, creative commons and open access. This replaces an unpopular image processing session which we will run a different way this year. Thanks to my colleagues from the David Wilson Library and the people on FriendFeed who helped out with ideas and checking. Here's a taster of some of the questions:

A student is creating a public website for a medical charity and would like to include images from PLoS Medicine. The work is voluntary and there is no budget for the website. What is the most appropriate course of action?
  • Write to the original author of the article containing the image(s) and request formal written permission.
  • Write to PLoS Medicine and request formal written permission.
  • Write to the original author of the article containing the image(s) and PLoS Medicine to request formal written permission.
  • Use the image(s) on the website with appropriate citation(s).
  • Try to find similar images in other journals which allow reuse.

A student is creating a public newsletter for a medical charity and would like to include images from this paper. The work is voluntary and there is no budget for the newletter. What is the most appropriate course of action?
  • Use the images because this is for a medical charity.
  • Use the images because this journal has an Open Access policy.
  • Request permission for reuse via the publisher's website.
  • Give up because this journal will not allow reuse of images for this purpose.
  • Use the images because this is covered by Fair Use legislation.
  • Copy the images and change them slightly to avoid copyright.

A student is preparing for an assessed presentation on a module and would like to include an image from the BBC News website in it. Taking account the licence for images on the BBC News website, what is the most appropriate course of action?
  • Include the image in the presentation without a citation.
  • Include the image in their report with a citation to the original URL (web page).
  • Include the image in their report with a citation to the BBC News website homepage.
  • Try to locate a different image.
  • Don't include an image.
  • Draw the image using Microsoft PowerPoint.

A final year student is asked to publish their project report as a journal article in Current Cancer Studies, an Open Access journal. The project report includes a (properly cited) image of an unusual type of tumour cell from Wikipedia. What is the most appropriate course of action?
  • Include the image in the journal publication, and take no further action.
  • Contact the creator of the original image (cited as "NormanEinstein" on Wikipedia) to request permission, and do not publish the article unless permission has been obtained.
  • Include the image in the journal publication, and cite the original source.
  • Don't publish the paper.
  • Publish the paper without the image.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Friendfolio Several observations emerged from the first run through of our undergraduate PLE module last year, and I can already see signs of then re-emerging this year. The first is weariness with having to sign up for yet another service. There are also problems in terms of tracking usage across various services (in particular Google Reader). While building a PLE based on a distributed toolset is optimum in terms of the tools available, we always knew we would be sacrificing the convenience of doing everything inside a big-box VLE. However, a bigger concern is for those services where I was able to track usage was that after the course ended, so did student use.

Last week I argued that FriendFeed would be much more palatable to students than services we are currently using, based on the Facebook paradigm and continuous partial attention. I had planned to use WordPress for student's reflective ePortfolios next term, but that's another service to sign up to, and I can't see it being any more palatable than most of the others. If we believe our tag line that:

why not use it? I want some of that FB marketing! If we get students to create "a network" (let's come back to that one in a minute) on FriendFeed, we may be able to plug into the familiarity of this type of site rather than the strangeness of Wordpress to this cohort.

Students will be able to chose where to make their "FriendFolio" public or private, sharing only with staff and chosen associates. Status updates as reflection? This is close to the reflective Twitterfolios I considered last year. I previously determined that chronological scaffolding of reflection is important in achieving success. FriendFeed is ideally suited to this.

Recently, John Postill argued that "social network sites" are inherently antisocial and should instead be called "personal network sites". Choice of names is important in achieving acceptability, and I certainly don't intend to call the FriendFolios e-portfolios within earshot of the students. I'm thinking in terms of encouraging ownership of reflection by calling them "your FriendFeed" in the same way that they refer to "my Facebook".


Monday, October 26, 2009

Not Waving but Drowning

Google Wave OK, so now I owe you two apologies. The first is for the title of this post (which I'm assuming has been done to death in the last month). The other is for writing about Google Wave, because either you don't yet have a Google Wave account and you're fed up with hearing about it, or you do have a Google Wave account and you're fed up with hearing about it.

I wanted to tell you what I'm doing with Google Wave right now. Mostly, I'm staring at it with a vague feeling that this could be useful, but I don't know what for. When I'm not doing that, I'm cursing it for having the worst user interface I've seen in a long time - why Google thought it was a good idea to carve screen real estate into tiny patches is beyond me. Presumably they've never heard of netbooks. I'm prepared to forgive Wave for a lot of things right now (like the total lack of accessibility, which is presently zero) because this is an early stage alpha product, but I'm struggling to see how they're going to overcome this defect based on the way Wave works. Maybe I shouldn't be so forgiving. Google is very fond of trotting out its tame blind man T.V. Raman, but has still managed to ignore accessibility completely. Is that an acceptable approach to software design in the 21st Century?

So far, I'm unimpressed by anything I've seen within Wave, but I have thought up a couple of gadgets I need. The first is a decent notification system built into Wave (yes I know there's a Firefox plugin, but for reasons we don't need to go into here, I don't use Firefox for Wave). The other is a Meeting Manager - I just create a meeting wave and it polls all the attendees for availability, books a location, takes notes and makes coffee. The snag with that one is that as a mere mortal who doesn't like pizza, unlike say, writing in HTML5, I'm never going to dive into python deeply enough to write anything beyond a Hello World robot.

So the reason I wrote this post is to let you know that if you don't have access to Wave yet, you're really better off because you're not missing anything. But the reason I wrote this post is I can't shake a vague feeling that this could be useful, but I don't know what for.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How I Learned to Love FriendFeed - The Director's Cut

After my posts earlier this week, I was asked if I would make a screencast of how I have changed the way I use FriendFeed. Although I don't consider myself an expert, I'm happy to share this information, so here it is:

One more thing: I just figured out a hashtag in a Friendfeed status update is a clickable realtime search link: #bs1010 :-)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Crowdsourcing a new camera

Panasonic Lumix TZ5 After a long and happy life, my digital camera (a Canon Ixus 500) seems to be dying, so it's time to crowdsource a new one. You did such a great job helping me crowdsource a new netbook recently that I'd like to give you another chance :-)

Features I need:
  • Compact
  • Good macro and low light performance
  • Cheap :-)
I'm thinking about a Panasonic Lumix, but I've heard bad things about the battery life - any experience? My alternative would be the Canon Ixus IXUS 120 - but I'd welcome other suggestions.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Leveraging FriendFeed for authentic science education

Yesterday I wrote about How I learned to stop worrying and love FriendFeed. Today I want to look forward to my future plans for FriendFeed.

At our tweetup last Friday, Jaideep Mukherjee asked me if I don't always just want to jump on the latest bandwagon in terms of tools for teaching. It's a reasonable question and I can see why he asked me, but the answer is a straightforward no. I want to jump on the best tools for teaching. My ideal situation would be nice and stable, where I was confident about every aspect of the technology I was using and how to use it, and where I didn't have to spend a lot of time each year launching something new. Unfortunately, learning technologies are evolving so fast that's not possible at present, so I can see why Jaideep (and many of my other colleagues) are confused. Heck, so am I, that's why I blog.

In August 2009, Facebook acquired FriendFeed for US$47m. Lots of longstanding FriendFeed users were unhappy about that, and rumbling continues on the site about whether Facebook is planning to run FriendFeed down. This is the first big caveat, but other than sticking my head in the sand and pretending FriendFeed doesn't exist, there's not much I can do about it other than keep a watching brief.

What interests me is whether FriendFeed can be used to improve the way we deliver out first year PLE module. Our first year students are very confused about RSS. Not so much how to subscribe to RSS feeds, but why they should bother. Many of my colleagues are similarly confused, unwilling to be lured away from email tables of contents. Using Google Reader doesn't do them any favours - it's a good feed reader but very confusing for newcomers and it doesn't allow us to have conversations (feedback, if you want) with students about their choices. When we follow up by dropping social bookmarking (delicious) into the PLE mix, students get even more confused, and some go into meltdown. We need to simplify the channels while retaining access to the full range of information.

Next year, I plan to tell our PLE students:

FriendFeed is like Facebook for science


Using the Facebook paradigm, they will create a Friendfeed account, subscribe to RSS feeds, bookmark and share items and build a network. We will use FriendFeed as a feedback channel to guide them. Assuming FriendFeed is still around, this should work much better than our past approach to building a PLE. (They'll also use other tools, but their PLE will be based around FriendFeed, which will be the main communication channel, vertically and horizontally). And if it isn't, we'll use something else with equivalent functionality. OK Jaideep?

The reason I think this is more likely to be successful than our past approach is threefold. First, if based on the Facebook paradigm, FriendFeed is a lot simpler than what we've been trying to do with Google Reader and delicious. Second, FriendFeed provides us with a direct feedback channel to each student (as well as broadcast feedback), which can be used to support and encourage them. There's a lot to be said for continuous partial attention. Once you get over the unfamiliarity, FriendFeed is sticky. But most importantly, this approach will only be successful if students want to participate. So what do they want? They want to be "scientists", even though at this stage most only have hazy ideas of what that actually entails. There's plenty of science on FriendFeed, and opportunities to interact with genuine research scientists outside of the VLE silo will be a strongly motivating factor for some of the high fliers. To try to build this into our approach, I'm thinking in terms of the following sort of assessment criteria, and I'd like your input please:
  1. Create an account on FriendFeed and complete their profile in a professional manner (x% marks).
  2. Subscribe to n (5? 10?) science-related RSS feeds from a suggested list (plus any others they want to) (x% marks).
  3. Build a network of peers (we will provide a list of FriendFeed usernames) (x% marks).
  4. Each week, contribute at least 3(?) science-related items to FriendFeed (x% marks), "Like" at least 2(?) items contributed by peers (x% marks), and make at least 1(?) substantive comment (examples will be given) on a science-related item (x% marks).
  5. Since hashtags in FriendFeed status updates are clickable search links (e.g. #bs1010), students will still be able to build module repositories using specified hashtags.
  6. We will give support and feedback by joining in the conversations on FriendFeed, using direct messages where appropriate. We will monitor students engagement though each user's feed and the FriendFeed "Comments" and "Likes" counts, but marks will not be awarded (via the Blackboard gradebook) until the end of the module.

Related: Scientists Still Not Joining Social Networks

Monday, October 19, 2009

How I learned to stop worrying and love FriendFeed

FriendFeed Last week we were fortunate enough to have a seminar from Cameron Neylon, The web as a useful tool rather than a threat: controlling information overload. Inevitably, during the course of this, Cameron described his love affair with FriendFeed, which is pushing forward the boundaries of open science, such as the polymath project.

I've had an account on FriendFeed ever since the service opened, but like many people, I've never felt comfortable there. During the seminar, Cameron made an important point about tools versus communities - that the tool is subservient to the community, and a less than perfect tool (aren't they all?) is compensated for by an above average community. This set me thinking about FriendFeed again. Why didn't I feel plugged into a community there the same way that, after much effort, I do on Twitter? Which is when it occurred to me that I had always taken FriendFeed at face value as a feed aggregator, and treating it like one. But it's not. Sure, Friendfeed has aggregator functions, but it's much more than that. It's a near realtime communication environment, like Twitter. Like Facebook. It's a community.

So I went back to work on FriendFeed with fresh eyes. I started by severely pruning the people I followed, the people who didn't add value to my FriendFeed network. Out went the people who just dump RSS feeds into FriendFeed, especially from Twitter, or any other external network. Out went the people who never comment on other people's FriendFeed items, who never "like" items on FriendFeed - the equivalent of a FF highfive. Out went my Twitter-overlapping edtech subscriptions, leaving this network with a distinct identity. Out went my delicious, CiteUlike and other feeds. The final tweak I made was to dump most of my subscriptions to Friendfeed groups - too much noise - and use FriendFeed to build a network of people rather than relying on pre-made lists.

And in came new subscriptions - people who add value to FriendFeed. In came the desktop notifier, plugging me into the realtime FriendFeed stream and enabling conversation. In came the bookmarklet, allowing me to share items with the community, not just second hand news from RSS feeds. I stopped visiting and took up residence in FriendFeed. And within an hour, this new network was showing its new identity, in the form of conversations. Suddenly, it felt like a network I was a part of, as Twitter does, as Facebook does. In fact, I feel much more at home in FriendFeed than I ever have in Facebook. By dealing with the overlap with my other networks, FriendFeed suddenly had a purpose, rather than simply being the awkward kid that hangs around Twitter. You may not need another network, which is fair enough. But if you do, be aware that if you want to build a personal learning network on FriendFeed you should not treat it as an aggregator.

Tomorrow I intend to write about the future of FriendFeed and how I plan to try to use it in education. This isn't my coquettish attempt to keep you reading, just that I have a lot of thoughts going round in my head about FriendFeed at present, and I don't feel able to publish them until I've had a little bit longer to cogitate.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Outstanding Student Support

Outstanding Student Support

Congratulations to the University of Leicester team won the top award for Outstanding Student Support in the Times Higher Education Awards 2009.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reporting Twitter Spam

Spam? You can now report Twitter spammers with a single click (click the image for a larger view).

The Twitter blogs says:
No automated action will be taken as a result of reporting a user as spam (in other words, it can't be used to incite an angry mob against an account you don't like.) And once you report a profile it will automatically be blocked from following or replying to you.
But what's spam, and what's ham?


FRSStration In Monday's BS1010 help session, I was still pondering my doubts about RSS. It was clear the students didn't understand why they were being asked to subscribe to RSS feeds, so I conducted a quick straw poll:

Me: Why did we start this course with the bibliographic databases searching exercise?

Students (confidently): So we can find stuff.

Me (pleased): Good answer. So why did we follow that with RSS subscriptions?

Students (blank): <tumbleweed>

Me (disappointed): So that you can find stuff to read?

Students (confused): What stuff?

Me (wavin da arms in a Magnus Pyke stylee): Everything!

Students (backing off): Oh.

We explain the importance of background reading in a science degree. We explain RSS to them. We show them Sarah Horrigan's wonderful Slideboom presentation. We show them how to use Google Reader. And they don't get it. But then again, since I'm unable to persuade most of my colleagues to invest time in RSS (they've figured out it won't be on the exam), can I really go on insisting the students use it?

The other problem we have with this assessment are feedback channels for distributed tools such as Google Reader, delicious, etc. Email doesn't cut it. We can't support 200 private conversations, but the big cheese isn't happy with public feedback that other students can see. Following students in Reader allows us to see activity graphs, but still doesn't allow us to leave feedback reliably - for reasons I don't understand, GR allows me to comment on some shared items but not on others. And even if we did leave feedback comments on items that students had shared some weeks ago, would they see them? Doubtful, Google Reader comments are pretty well buried.

So Google Reader is way too complex and inconsistent for what we need - which is a place for students to share items they find via RSS feeds, to comment on these, and for us to leave feedback on their work. I would rather do all of this in a single location, i.e. GR, but that's not working, so we'll need to go elsewhere. Rather than messing about the GR shared items to measure attention ... what if we used the Send To feature on GR?

Google Reader

This is easily administered via GR: Settings: Send To:
Google Reader

One of the places on the preconfigured GR Send To list is ... delicious. So we could swap the bookmarking and RSS sessions around in the timetable next year, do delicious first, forget GR shared items altogether and get students to send shared items to their delicious account with a comment. The problem with this is there is no way for us to leave feedback via delicious. Using one of the other alternatives where we could leave feedback (Blogger, FriendFeed, Posterous) means setting up yet another account, hardly better than fiddling about with GR shared items. And the hard fact is that delicious is slowly dying, a victim of Yahoo's incompetence and bad redesigns. So maybe next year we need to bite the bullet, ditch delicious and go for the thriving FriendFeed, which not only has commenting but also privacy options so students can opt in to private feedback if they prefer. Yes Jo, I know FriendFeed gives you a headache, but it is social, allows us to have conversations with the students, and it's where the life sciences community has pitched its tent, for better or for worse.

Which raises the question - why bother with Google Reader? The students are clearly struggling with it, and it's a total PITA to administer, so why not cut out the middleman and get students to subscribe to RSS feeds in FriendFeed? Then they can make comments on items to indicate attention directly in a single service, which will also be "feedback central". You could argue that that GR is a "better" feed reader than Friendfeed. And if you subscribe to over 100 RSS feeds, that may be true. But what's also clear is that the learning curve is too steep for these students to cope with the complexities of GR and the concepts of RSS simultaneously.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Exploring Metaplace

As part of the ongoing virtual worlds debate, I tried to set up a meeting in my Metaplace world yesterday. We couldn't get the audio to work (did we miss something?), so wound up just using the chat window, to which the VW experience didn't add any value.

After throwing objects at each other and building virtual jumbo jets for a while, people got bored and wanted to leave, so I wandered off to explore Metaplace a bit more and see if I could cut my way through the virtual tumbleweed to find something of value as an educational tool.

The first place Metaplace suggested I visit was:
I made my excuses and left, at which point I bumped into:

Who wasn't much of a conversationalist. It was at this point I realized that Metaplace is really Meatplace.

Sigh. No educational value.

Wanna publish in Nature? Got 3000 quid?

Nature Communications Nature Communications has announced its publication charges for open access papers. If you want to go open access, it'll cost you £3000 (US$5000). Fail to stump up and Nature owns your ass. And the developing world won't be able to access your research findings. Unlike the PLoS journals, where open access is a way of life, not a marketing gimmick, there is no waiver. Publication in PLoS Biology costs US$2900, but PLoS is committed to ensuring that this fee is never a barrier to publication and so offer a waiver to any authors who do not have access to funds to cover the publication fees.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The web as a useful tool rather than a threat #uolneylon

Update: The Video (thanks to @caffeinebomb and @nevali)

Cameron Neylon

University of Leicester Department of Genetics, Departmental Research Seminar. Professor Cameron Neylon: The web as a useful tool rather than a threat: controlling information overload. Bennett Link Lecture Theatre, 2pm Wednesday 14th October. We've been told the seminar is open to University of Leicester staff and students only, but:

The event hashtag is #uolneylon, and we'll be Twittering during and after the seminar, so please follow, contribute to the discussion and ask lots of questions! If you want to join us, we'll be in the David Wilson Library Cafe from 3,30-ish, talking, drinking coffee and twittering until our batteries run out.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Beetroot tart with horseradish cream

Beetroot Blind bake a shortcrust pastry case in a shallow container such as a quiche dish.
Cook 4 medium beetroot, peel and grate.
Peel and chop two large onions, fry until caramelized but still soft. Mix with the grated beetroot.
Beat two eggs with a little milk. Season with salt and pepper and mix with other ingredients.
Add to pastry case and top with grated parmesan cheese.
Cook at 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 until set.

Mix horseradish sauce with an equal volume of creme fraiche (or plain yoghurt if you're on a health kick).

Serve beetroot tart warm with the horseradish cream and salad.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Disgusted of Liverpool

Metaplace Peter Miller ("Disgusted of Liverpool") has given up wasting time on me. He's given up so much that he stops by every few days to leave me a comment. While I welcome all the comments on this blog (it's this conversation which you contribute to that makes the whole thing worthwhile), in Peter's last comment he included some particularly useful information about alternatives to Second Life. I was hoping not to write about Second Life any more (in case I upset the delicate souls who are immune to the porn and sleaze on SL but get apoplectic when I say that SL might not be the best educational tool ever invented) but they just wouldn't let it lie...

In his latest comment, Peter said:
Lively was actually "cloned" by a Chinese company as NewLively if you want to use something of that kind. Metaplace is another option.
This is useful, so I went off to check them out. NewLively looks interesting, but has a few problems. First, "NewLively requires Windows Vista or XP", so I can't use it. Also, it requires a software download and install. Since I was unable to persuade UoL ITS to install OpenOffice on the University servers, what are my chances of getting them to install a dodgy Chinese alpha, when they won't even allow people to use SL?

On to Metaplace then. Now this is more like it. No software download, runs in the browser. Come and join me in AJCanns_World (if I'm not there when you are, I'm probably out to lunch - but send me a tweet and if I'm available, I'll try to join you so we can experiment).

So, it would appear that we have a VW system UoL people can use. What educational problem does this solve and what are we going to do with it?

Thursday, October 08, 2009


FRSStration No-one like RSS more than me, but the question has to be asked - is RSS dying? (Is RSS dying?, Why RSS sucks)

We had a frustrating time today trying to help students through the mess that Google Reader has now become. If anything, RSS use is decreasing rather than increasing. And even my colleagues who know what RSS is admit that they rarely look at their RSS subscriptions these days. Confusing tools such as Google Reader don't help.

This post was initiated by my frustration with Google Reader on our first year PLE module today - but after a short while, I started asking another question. Are we on the right track? Should we be banging on about RSS to first year bioscience students? Are there better was for them to spend their time? If the staff that teach them don't use it, is familiarity with RSS really a "key skill" ?

Writer's block

WriteToReply I feel I should write something about the WriteToReply republication of the Research Excellence Framework consultation document.

But I find myself unable to. That's not because of the excellent work Tony Hirst and Joss Winn are doing with WriteToReply.

It's already clear what a train crash REF is going to be. But as Tony says public consultation exercises ... are organised in order to find the best way of telling folk what you’ve already decided upon.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


UoL IT Forum Tomorrow (Wednesday 7/10/09) sees the second UoL IT Forum, 12.00 in Attenborough LT3. On the agenda are:
  • IT Services Report
  • University Telephony
  • Help & Support: Online Self-Service Portal
  • Identity Management Project
  • AOB
This is a great opportunity for ITS to promote the great service they provide to UoL users. I'll be there, but in case you can't make it at that time, I'll be trying to liveblogging the session (via the wobbly wifi in ATT LT3) using hashtag #UoLITSF.

Update: No connectivity (wifi or 3G) at this event - a missed opportunity for ITS. I'll not bother going to another one unless I can get online.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Samsung. Simples.

Samsung N120 While I was mourning my Macbook, I got a lot of very useful feedback on possible replacements. The factor which swung my decision in the end were the (unsolicited) rave reviews that the Samsung N series got at ALT-C. A quick hunt around brought me to the Samsung N120 (10 inch screen, Intel Atom 1.6GHz, 1GB RAM, 160GB HDD, Windows XP Home). Size, weight, battery life, and most of all price, were very attractive. As I said in my previous post, if I was a road warrior who was going to use this as my main machine, I wouldn't consider anything other than a Mactop. But for the use this machine is going to get, I couldn't justify paying three times more for a Macbook, or four times more for a Macbook Pro (I got mine for under £300).

But since there is no Linux option for the Samsung N series, the big question question was - is Windows the dealbreaker? While I bitterly regret paying Microsloth any money at all, no, because I knew I could upgrade the machine to EasyPeasy if I found I couldn't take it any more.

The machine arrived last week, in a cute little carton which seemed to weigh next to nothing. With some trepidation, I fired it up. Within an hour, I'd installed Firefox (obviously), Chrome (brilliant - now my main browser on this machine), Flash, Adobe Air, Twhirl and all the endless XP updates. Without breaking a sweat. One question for Windows geeks: the N120 came with Macafee Internet Security - good enough or do I need to put Sophos on it?

Then came the big one. I plugged in my T-Mobile 3G dongle, did a 20 second wizard-driven install and it just worked...

On Friday, I took it down to FoTE09 - and was impressed. The battery life is perhaps not quite the advertised 10 hours in real world circumstances, but it is easily 2-3 times what I used to get out of my Macbook, and this machine is so much smaller and lighter. The keyboard is good, even with my fat fingers. Although Windoze is occasionally a pain, I may upgrade it to Windows 7 when I can get it for free via the Microsoft Campus Agreement. And until there's an Apple netbook, I may never look back.

My name is Alan Cann, and I am a Windows user.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Thursday, October 01, 2009

WordPress-Powered Portfolios


Too wordy and beyond anything I'm interested in, but worth skipping through to aid thinking about attributes of portfolio software.