Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How many mes?

WTF? Recently Twitter risked a rent in the timespace continuum by suggesting I follow myself. Well that's how it looked, but the truth is a bit more complicated. Twitter picked up on one of my other identities and suggested it back to me.

I've regularly made attempts to filter various social networks by setting up alternative identities, all clearly labeled as different varieties of me. For the most part, this has been for teaching purposes, where I felt students would be put off by the volume coming from my regular account. However, in spite of tools such as Hootsuite, and Tweetdeck (currently my preferred Twitter/Facebook client) experience across many networks has taught me that the maximum number of identities I can effectively maintain on a single service is: two.

Of course, YMMV, and I don't know how personal this limit is, but I'd be interested to hear your experiences of managing multiple online identities.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Chocolate beetroot brownies

Beetroot Not bad, but not as good as chocolate beetroot cake:

250g/10oz good, dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces.
250g/10oz unsalted butter, cut into cubes, plus more for greasing.
250g/10oz caster sugar.
3 free-range eggs.
150g self-raising flour
250g beetroot, boiled until tender, peeled and grated.
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease a baking tin of approximately 20 x 30 x 3cm and line the bottom with baking parchment.
  2. Break up the chocolate into pieces, cut the butter into cubes then mix them up a bit in a heatproof bowl. As the oven begins to warm up, put the bowl onto one of the shelves for a few minutes until the chocolate and butter starts to melt. Stir, and put back into the oven for a few more minutes to melt completely.
  3. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a bowl until combined, then beat in the melted chocolate and butter until smooth. Gently fold in the flour then the beetroot – be careful not to overmix or it will make the brownies tough.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth over the top with a spatula. Bake for about 20 minutes. A knife or skewer pushed into the middle should come out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Don't be tempted to overcook them! Remove the tin from the oven and leave on wire rack to cool before cutting into squares.
(Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)

Thursday, August 26, 2010


If Ever since I first saw If in the 1960's I've been on the side of the machine gun toting rebels. I'm a comprehensive lad and I'm proud of it.

Which is only part of the reason I found Gary Lineker's bonehead rant about Charterhouse so amusing.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I wish to complain about this Macintosh which I purchased in this very boutique not half an hour ago

What's wrong with it? I'll tell you what's wrong with it my lad. It's dead.

Dear Steve,

In September 2009 my Macbook (serial number W87491WMZ64), purchased in June 2008, stopped working one month out of guarantee. The Apple Highcross Leicester store determined the cause to be a faulty logic board, making the cost of repair uneconomic. I was forced to abandon a 13 month old laptop and purchase a Samsung N120 running Windows as a replacement. This has worked flawlessly for the last year.

This month, my iMac (serial number CK714019VUY), purchased in 2007, developed display problems making it unusable. The Apple Highcross Leicester store has said the machine needs a new display (cost approximately £500) and/or a new logic board (cost approximately £500), again making repair uneconomic.

I cannot afford to keep abandoning expensive machines after a short time and am being forced to consider running Windows or Linux on much cheaper hardware which might be considered to be disposable. As a Macintosh user for the last 15 years, I am very disappointed at the reliability of recent hardware and would like to know what you have to say about this which might retain me as a future customer.

Yours faithfully,
Frustrated fanboy.

I'd like a replacement please.

Sorry, we don't have any more iMacs.

Oh, I see.

We've got this slug.

Does it talk?

It runs Windows...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where do researchers look for information?

Pretty much where they've always done:

Abstract: This paper presents the results of the second phase of a Research Information Network study, which sought to establish the impact of e-journals on the scholarly behaviour of researchers in the UK. The first phase of the project was a deep log analysis of the usage and information seeking behaviour of researchers in connection with the ScienceDirect and Oxford Journals databases. This paper reports on the second phase, which sought to explain and provide context for the deep log data by taking the questions raised by the quantitative study to the research community via interview, questionnaire and observation. Nine major research institutions took part, six subjects were covered and the behaviour of about 1400 people was analyzed. Findings show that academic journals have become central to all disciplines and that the e-form is the prime means of access. Most importantly the study demonstrates that computer usage logs provide an accurate picture of online behaviour. High levels of gateway service use point to the re-intermediating of the broken chain between publisher and reader.


From a personal perspective, I'm slightly surprised at the prominence of Google Scholar usage, although I have been using it heavily recently. I think it's time to redo the BS1010 bibliographic databases exercise to include Scholar.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Phishing Phail


Something's gotta give

Sad delicious As we start the run up to our first year PLE module, I've been thinking about what worked well last year, what didn't, and what needs fixing this time round.

What worked well is easy. Friendfolios (and the students who contributed and are still contributing to them) were the star performer. Consequently, we will be rolling out Friendfeed as glue for the disparate PLE elements at the start of the year rather than at the start of the second semester. We have not taken this decision lightly, as we have concerns that unleashing Friendfeed in the first week of term could mean that it becomes just another social destination rather than retaining the academic distinctiveness we managed to achieve last year. We're gambling on our pact with students not to invade their Facebook social space to rescue us from this peril. (It's also where our student peer mentor team comes in, but more about them at a later date.) Note that Blackboard is slowly fading into the background...

Rolling out Friendfeed early on will not only enable us to kick off the reflective activities we ran last year much earlier. But it will also simplify the assessment of student reading via RSS feeds in Google Reader - rather that wrestling with the vicissitudes of sharing in Reader, students will simply hook their Reader account up to Friendfeed where the discussion and assessment will take place.

Astute readers will have noticed that neither Hefce nor the ConDems have added any additional hours to the day, and students were already buckling at the number of signups the loosely-joined PLE imposed, so something's gotta go. And sadly, that something is delicious. There are several reasons for this decision. Students struggled with the distinction between Reader and delicious, at least in terms of the way we used and assessed them. They couldn't see the point of delicious and the proportion of students who continue to use it after the course has finished is tiny. Although Friendfeed is no substitute for a proper bookmarking service, I am finding in terms of my own practice that I am using delicious less than I used to, and relying more on the hive mind/filter. The upside of dropping delicious is that we won't have to deal with the horrible Yahoo registration system this time round. It looks like the deadly hand of Yahoo is well on the way to killing delicious. In fact, the only services students will need to sign up for this year are Friendfeed and Google.

Yes, we loose something by dropping delicious from the course. But we also gain in terms of building a more coherent network-based PLE, which is slowly mutating into a PLN. And we reduce assessment and administration load as we harness learning networks to deliver the goods.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Me and My MiFi

MiFi As a poor person, I can't afford a smartphone, but I do occasionally need mobile internet. In addition, the screen real estate on a smartphone just isn't big enough for me to be able to work effectively. For the last couple of years I've had a T-Mobile 3G dongle, which has been unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, with my occasional usage, I'm not getting value from a £15 a month subscription. Second, the 3G signal is poor, especially at a location in which I need to use the device several times a year (irrespective of the laughable coverage map on the T-Mobile website).

With the conference season coming up, I recently bought myself a PAYG MiFi and have been trying it out. First the good points.
  • PAYG is better value for my pattern of use (even if the credits do expire after 30 days). Depending on the numbers you use (see below), I'd find it relatively difficult to burn £10/1 Gb in a month.
  • Best of both worlds: Netbook for "work", iPod Touch if I want to be more discrete, or "just browse" (but I don't do this - I can't be online for more than a few minutes without needing to do some serious text input).
  • The 3 network is pretty darn good. In fact, I haven't yet failed to get a good signal in any location I have tried the device in, including some fairly remote locations on Dartmoor. Kudos to 3 - the fabled HSDPA has even shown up a few times! I've had three people browsing using separate devices simultaneously with no noticeable speed reduction.
  • The display on the unit is useful, although difficult to read in sunlight.
And the not so good points:
  • The battery life is adequate. Just. If it were doubled, I would describe it as reasonable, but not good.
  • The setup, though improved from the original version of the device, is still fiddly and encourages people to use insecure admin login details. Bad 3!
  • The bandwidth numbers on the unit display don't tally with the numbers on the my3 website. According to the unit, my browsing pattern burns 40-50Mb per hour, But the numbers on my3 are considerably lower. I'm not complaining about this, just saying, is all ;-)
Overall, I am very pleased with the MiFi. T-Mobile just lost a customer, although interestingly, the dongle converts to a backup PAYG device now that I have stopped the contract.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Student Satisfaction Scales Record Levels

Welcome The Dear Leader announced today that National Student Satisfaction has reached a new level, surpassing the previous efforts of the people.

The latest National Student Survey shows that student satisfaction in the Democratic People's Republic has now reached 115%, surpassing last year's disappointing 105% level, which was due to warmongering imperialist-inspired famine in university funding.


He's done it again

Screenshot Six years after nailing web commerce in The Long Tail, Chris Anderson (& Michael Wolff) put their fingers up (sorry, on) where the Net is headed, and much more importantly, why.

It's all about the money. If you want mobile, you have to pay for it. If you want the the screen to come to you so that you don't have to go to the screen, you have to pay for it. If you want to use all the features of Mendeley/Ning/Sliseshare, you have to pay for it. If you want to sell content online, you need a new platform people have not come to expect as free.

Which raises an interesting point. With the long tail, monetisation was straightforward. All you had to do was to ride on the coat tails of a big provider - the bigger the better, and they didn't come any bigger than Google. In this brave new world, how do I monetise me - my knowledge, expertise, filtering? Is there an app for that? And if there was, would people pay for it?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hang loose?

Hang loose I've recently had dealings with a conservation charity, two learned societies and an academic organisation which all have something in common. They were born before and are run by people who were born before the internet generation.

The pattern is depressingly familiar. We want to "do" the internet. Long months of toil follow. Eventual outcome, doing it badly, or not doing it at all.

Why do I care? Partly because harmful decisions are being made by organizations I care about and would like to promote much more widely. Partly because of the way some of the decisions have been made. But part of the reason is more personal. It's all very well to say "the Internet itself is the network", and I do OK personally with my lone wolf act, but for both professional and personal reasons, I would occasionally like to act as part of a larger but more co-ordinated grouping - a member of the shoal rather than just a member of a population.

The benefits of loose network affiliations include agility and personal freedom, but the downsides include loss of the ability to command mass attention, and the difficulty/impossibility of fundraising/ generating revenue. Sounds a bit like the recent science blogging networks hooha, right?

All this is in sharp contrast to the work we are doing for Annals of Botany with the AoB blog, Facebook page and Twitter account, which has been an unmitigated pleasure.

I normally try to avoid frustrated posts, so I hope you'll forgive me this one. It's been an interesting week...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Facebook whispers

The Thesis Whisperer I'm microblogging the progress (or lack of progress - c'mon, everyone deserves a holiday) of my book over on Facebook. I've written about that before.

When a friend's Like surfaced The Thesis Whisperer, my first thought was that a research student was doing something similar, which is how the project seems to have started out on Wordpress, but it is now growing, cross-platform, into something else.

We'll be seeing a lot more of this in the near future and while Facebook continues to dominate the attention economy, so:
  1. Get used to it.
  2. Get involved.


Monday, August 09, 2010

Short Guides to Teaching and Learning

Short Guides to Teaching and Learning Here's an interesting series of short guides to teaching and learning from the HEA UK Centre for Bioscience:
  • Creativity Skills
  • Differentiated Learning - Stretching Able Students
  • Transition to Higher Education
  • Preventing and Designing out Plagiarism
  • Supporting Inclusive Learning and Teaching in the Biosciences
  • Postgraduate Demonstrators and Teachers

Well worth a look.