Thursday, December 30, 2010

Skype iPhone App Now Allows Video Calls

The Skype iPhone app now finally offers video calling - over Wi-Fi and 3G. You can now make calls to and from various iOS devices as well as desktops.
The updated version of the app is available in the iTunes store now.

via Rosa Golijan @ Gizmodo
Update: Tested, works well :-)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tron Legacy (3D (on ice (with eskimo music) ) )

2 stars After three days banged up with only endless Jeremy Clarkson Show repeats for company, the troops were getting restless, so as the snow was melting we sallied forth to free ourselves of Larry, Moe and Curly and parted with much cash at the local moving picture house. As a way of not watching Harry Potter and the Shameless Ripoff, I opted for Tron Legacy (in 3D).

It's a year since I last went to a 3D movie and (not) much has changed in that time. Namely the adverts are now in 3D as well as the film. I'll start this review by saying that Tron Legacy is a poor film with an execrable script, dearth of plot and awful acting. But that's not the reason I didn't like it. This movie hits you over the head - yeah, we get it - BigCo's like Apple are evil, Stevenote excerpts, etc, etc. There is only one "highlight" in the film, Michael Sheen's not-quite-camp-enough villain channeling Clough-flavoured early Bowie. Clearly, when making a movie in this genre it's hard to avoid raiding earlier works, so Disney didn't bother. From the homage to Vangelis pastiche Daftpunk soundtrack through the Blade Runner pyramid to the Matrix mashup, this film is an homage to plagiarism. But that's not the reason I didn't like it.

The reason I didn't like Tron Legacy is because it represents a wasted opportunity. Disney BigCo didn't have the balls to do something truly innovative with a new(ish) medium that WallyD did with Fantasia and the newly emerged animation techniques. These filmmakers are absolutely clueless as to what to do with the (poor) 3D effect, apart from one scene when the kid gets digitized which was an interesting visual metaphor for digital encoding of analog information.

Approach this film with the lowest of expectations. Sit back, ignore all the defects and let the hokum of this steaming pile of fail wash over you. Emerge from the cinema thinking about what might have been.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Quora - the never ending search for a friendfeed replacement continues

Quora Quora has been around for a while but is currently getting some hype. It's currently being sold as a blogging tool, which I'm not convinced about - anymore than I was convinced that friendfeed was an aggregator. In others words, although these sites serve these functions, that's not where their value lies.

I'm interested in Quora as a potential friendfeed replacement for the day when facebook pulls the plug, or the service becomes so unreliable it's no longer usable. The value of friendfeed for us is that it is so similar to facebook that students need very little training in how to use it - but by using a parallel network we don't intrude on the facebook social space. Quora has a different architecture but may have it's own value. More importantly, it's clear that trying to compete in the facebook space is not a viable business model, so that's another reason why Quora is interesting.

I need your help to test it out: Can we grok this?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Today's lesson is taken from the Gospel of St Matthew

The rate of individual progress is fundamental to career development and success. In practice, the rate of progress depends on many factors, such as an individual’s talent, productivity, reputation, as well as other external random factors. A new paper shows that the relatively small rate of progress at the beginning of the career plays a crucial role in the evolution of the career length. This quantitative model describes career progression using two fundamental ingredients: random forward progress “up the career ladder”, and random stopping times, terminating a career. This work quantifies the “Matthew effect” by incorporating the property that it is easier to move forward in the career the further along one is in the career. A direct result of the increasing progress rate with career position is the large disparity between the numbers of careers that are successful long tenures and the numbers of careers that are unsuccessful short stints.

In other words: If you've got a job, hang on to it and change it to suit you.

Quantitative and empirical demonstration of the Matthew effect in a study of career longevity. PNAS USA December 20 2010 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1016733108
The Matthew effect refers to the adage written some two-thousand years ago in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “For to all those who have, more will be given.” Even two millennia later, this idiom is used by sociologists to qualitatively describe the dynamics of individual progress and the interplay between status and reward. Quantitative studies of professional careers are traditionally limited by the difficulty in measuring progress and the lack of data on individual careers. However, in some professions, there are well-defined metrics that quantify career longevity, success, and prowess, which together contribute to the overall success rating for an individual employee. Here we demonstrate testable evidence of the age-old Matthew “rich get richer” effect, wherein the longevity and past success of an individual lead to a cumulative advantage in further developing his or her career. We develop an exactly solvable stochastic career progress model that quantitatively incorporates the Matthew effect and validate our model predictions for several competitive professions. We test our model on the careers of 400,000 scientists using data from six high-impact journals and further confirm our findings by testing the model on the careers of more than 20,000 athletes in four sports leagues. Our model highlights the importance of early career development, showing that many careers are stunted by the relative disadvantage associated with inexperience.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Google Scholar Spam

In a previous paper we provided guidelines for scholars on optimizing research articles for academic search engines such as Google Scholar. Feedback in the academic community to these guidelines was diverse. Some were concerned researchers could use our guidelines to manipulate rankings of scientific articles and promote what we call ‘academic search engine spam’. To find out whether these concerns are justified, we conducted several tests on Google Scholar. The results show that academic search engine spam is indeed - and with little effort - possible: We increased rankings of academic articles on Google Scholar by manipulating their citation counts; Google Scholar indexed invisible text we added to some articles, making papers appear for keyword searches the articles were not relevant for; Google Scholar indexed some nonsensical articles we randomly created with the paper generator SciGen; and Google Scholar linked to manipulated versions of research papers that contained a Viagra advertisement. At the end of this paper, we discuss whether academic search engine spam could become a serious threat to Web-based academic search engines.

Beel, J. Academic Search Engine Spam and Google Scholar's Resilience Against it. Journal of Electronic Publishing Journal of Electronic Publishing 13(3) December 2010. DOI: 10.3998/3336451.0013.305

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Open Access Repositories: mixed reception from researchers

Open access has become very popular over the last few years. It is evident in the increasing number of scientific journals being made available free to readers on the Internet, and the increasing number of institutions that are building repositories to house the electronic versions of open-access articles written by scholars at their institutions. The academic and research communities seem to support this movement and their right to obtain easy and free access to publicly funded scientific information. But, how often do researchers actually use such free publications as readers and how often do they choose to publish in an OA journal or institutional repository? How trustworthy do they consider those journals and repositories? Would they prefer that OA repositories be more selective? Although today about 10-15 percent of scientific peer-reviewed journals are OA and there are several declarations encouraging institutions to build OA repositories, there is still a long way to go, especially where OA repositories are concerned. This research is trying to determine why acceptance and growth of open access, particularly open access repositories, has been so slow.

Roxana Theodorou. OA Repositories: the Researchers' Point of View. Journal of Electronic Publishing 13(3) December 2010. DOI: 10.3998/3336451.0013.304

Monday, December 20, 2010

BibSonony - delicious done right

BibSonomy On Friday afternoon, this appeared: delicious blog: Dec 17 2010: What’s Next for Delicious?
But it was too little, too late - delicious is now blighted and has lost user trust. The interesting thing to emerge from my conversations about delicious over the last few days is that everyone (*everyone*) I have discussed this with has said I don't use delicious for social, just for storage. On one level, this surprises me slightly, as I have talked to some smart folks, but in general terms, it doesn't surprise me at all - any model of social sharing other than foaf is dying. People share links randomly on Twitter (and increasingly, on Facebook - for example, at the weekend this popped up on my wall) and I squirrel them away wherever I want without worrying about an extended community.

So if the gloves are off and social discovery is dead, what then? On Friday, I wrote about Google Bookmarks, but it has limitations. Also on Friday afternoon, Phil Bradley posted his bumper list of 28 alternative to delicious. From this I dimly remembered BibSonomy, so I went back to check it out again - and it's brilliant, better than delicious.

What's so great about BibSonomy?
Free (from an academic source).
Web-based, cross-browser, cross-platform, no install.
Social bookmarking and social citation all in one - may only need one tool, solving the problem of where to store/look for academic-related information. This is a tool it would be possible to sell to students - no more failing with delicious + CiteULike.

Advantages over Google Bookmarks:
BibSonomy is public by default - enables sharing (if desired).
Unlike Google Bookmarks, BibSonomy has RSS everywhere.
Easy import from delicious.
BibSonomy has an api, something likely to be important for long term growth.

Advantages over delicious:
All the functionality of delicious plus waving goodbye to the god-awful Yahoo registration system.
One tool to rule them all - social bookmarking and social citation all in one.

If the network effect doesn't matter any more, I make personal choices and what you chose doesn't matter to me. I think I'm in love.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

How do you solve a problem like delicious?

Sad delicious Many words will be spilled today about the death of delicious (e.g. here and here), so I'll be fairly brief.

What are we going to use now? Most people will jump directly to diigo. I won't because I hate diigo - it's another example of Gresham's Law. Moreover, social bookmarking is dead. People want to squirrel, not to share, so I won't be investing time in another social bookmarking service.

So what do I now? In the short term, I'll be using Google Bookmarks, which is close to the functionality of delicious but with no social component or RSS anywhere (i.e. crap but reliable, and a nice interface - like delicious before Yahoo ruined it). In the longer term, I'm looking at cross-browser bookmark syncing, possibly with Xmarks (which now has a viable business model, but has not implemented delicious import after being nagged about this for months). And what do the rest of you do? Rely on social recommendation. Live by the Facebook, die by the Facebook.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More iPhone ramblings

Stanza One of the things I didn't mention when I wrote about my new iPhone was the fabled Retina display. The reason for that was because my initial reaction was much the same as to the other iPhone4 technology:
But there is one area where Retina comes into its own: e-books. I'm pretty lukewarm about e-books, and I certainly wasn't expecting to be impressed by e-books on a device like the iPhone. But I may have been wrong about that. Slightly.

I played with the iBooks app that comes preloaded on the iPhone, but I much prefer Stanza. This may be a personal thing and YMMV. Reading books on the iPhone wasn't something I expected to enjoy, but it felt like an obligation. I certainly don't intend to buy any commercial e-books because they are such a publisher rip-off of readers and authors, but I do plan to plunder Project Gutenberg over the holiday. However, on the day I started playing with Stanza, Cory Doctorow blogged about his self-published short story collection With a Little Help, so I headed over to the download page and loaded the EPub version into Stanza. And to my surprise, enjoyed the whole experience immensely (so yes, I did make a donation).

At the risk of offending Cory, I've read most of his books now and they're all starting to blend - but I still enjoy them enough to keep reading. Significantly, his style and content scales well to the short story format - which scales perfectly to Stanza on the iPhone. And I got a definite frisson from reading The Right Book on this device above all others.

Will this experience scale to Moby Dick or Ulysses? We'll see.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rocketboom Tech on QR codes

Nice introductory video. We looked hard at QR codes last year but couldn't find any compelling educational value in them. Still looking. What's the best QR reader for iPhone and how will it change my life?

Monday, December 13, 2010


GiffGaff After months of agonizing, I bought myself an iPhone. I want you to know that I'm not getting any pleasure from this, but I needed a phone I would turn on (unlike all the previous ones) and there's no point in buying an iPad now. Since I own an iDevice, I am now contractually obliged to blog about it, no matter how boring that is for you.

I bought my iPhone directly from Apple because I needed AppleCare. In 25 years of owning Apple devices I have never purchased AppleCare before, but Apple hardware is now so unreliable that I wouldn't consider buying anything more expensive than a cheap iPod without it. Buying the phone outright reduces the overall lifetime cost by hundreds of pounds, but means I also needed to find a service provider. Which is where I had an enormous stroke of luck.

After shopping around, it seemed that O2 Simplicity for iPhone was the best deal. What a joke. After wasting nearly half a day, O2 refused to honour the deal advertised on their website, accused me of fraud and tried to get my bank to block my credit card. I had been warned about O2 previously by someone who used to work for them, but I didn't listen. This is the worst customer experience I have ever had - don't ever touch O2 with a bargepole. Which is where things started to look up. @jennifermjones had told me about GiffGaff (Wikipedia entry) previously, but their website didn't say anything about microSIMs need for iPhones. Discussing this openly via Twitter brought me a tweet from ggmicroSIMs, who provide a free SIM cutting service for GiffGaff. 48 hours later, I had my SIM, popped it into the phone, activated it via the website and bought my first top-up. Calls and SMS were live within a few minutes but it took a few hours for internet access to be switched on. GiffGaff provides unlimited internet access for mobiles plus cheap calls and texts (free to other GiffGaff users) and online community support. You're mad if you don't switch to them as soon as you can (especially if you're an O2 or Vodaphone customer). Although owned by O2, GiffGaff operates as a separate company.

Unboxing thoughts:
My inability to get the iGasm out of the packaging suggests I may not be an iPhone person...
Instruction booklet informs me iPhone "may cause seizures, blackouts, eyestrain"...
When you've got the phone out of the box it is very important to follow the setup instructions for iPhone users "Go to Wagamama and take a picture of your dinner"...

So now for the inevitable discussion of iPhone Apps. My experience so far has been that most apps are disappointing and no substitute for a decent mobile-optimized website. My most valuable iPhone tools are saved links on the phone desktop. The Twitter app is not bad (it's as if the iPhone was built for Twitter) while, in contrast to the desktop app, the Tweetdeck iPhone app is disappointing.
The Good: Friendfeed - mobile website is great (and Facebook mobile web better than the Facebook iPhone app).
The Bad: Google Reader - no way to mark items as read from the mobile site (so I'm using the Feedler RSS app to sync with Reader at present).
The New: Dragon Dictation and Voice Commands are surprisingly accurate. Audio, video and photographic input is clearly the way to go with this device.

Having an Internet-enabled camera with you at all times is handy, although I am slightly disappointed in the iPhone4 camera compared with what I was expecting, but to be fair I have only used it under rather testing conditions so far.

Best thing about an iPhone - it fits in your pocket. I know this is "obvious" but the change to the face down computing paradigm is a major one we are still working through. I suspect Zuckerberg is right and an iPad is a computer, although not a very good one.

  • The iPhone is the best phone I have ever owned.
  • I have a faint air of disappointment - I'm not a phone person.
  • Face down is a problem.
  • I want an iPad(2).

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Digital Researcher 2011 #dr11

The event is designed to help researchers to engage with social media and to think through how they might best use it in their research. You can now book to attend Digital Research 2011 here.

Monday, December 06, 2010

What is the Internet for?

I spent the weekend wrestling with this question after reading John Naughton's Wikileaks posts: What the attacks on WikiLeaks tell us and Options for the Established Order: live with WikiLeaks, or shut down the Net. But what had even more impact on me was the 1994 group report Managing Students' Expectations of University.

What is clear from both of these is that at some point, the Internet will bite you. The question is, what are you going to do about it when it happens?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Say hello to

Screenshot is based on the reading list for students the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester. We know that students don't read the books we suggest on the reading list, so the University of Leicester Student Experience Enhancement Group funded Project SOAR, which has two parts.

The first is, an interactive site where you can browse, rate, review, borrow or buy the books on the reading list. If you'd like to know more, there's lots of information here. We're also on Facebook and Friendfeed if that's easier for you, and we’d like hear any suggestions you have about the website. is open to everyone, but if you have a University of Leicester email address, after you've read a book, you can come along to a Book Group meeting in the Student's Union, pick up a coffee from Starbucks or a beer from the bar and spend a happy couple of hours chatting with people who've read the same book. Sound interesting? The first book group meeting is in February and the book we'll be discussing is Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, so if you're interested and have a University of Leicester email address, sign up at now.