Sunday, September 30, 2007

What if?

Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing fame has written a wonderful story for RADAR simply titled Scroogled.
"Google controls your e-mail, your videos, your calendar, your searches ...... What if it controlled your life?"
It's an excellent read.

Later I came across this and laughed, and began to wonder.
What gender is Google?

Read the proofs, read the commandments and pray!

On Creationism in the Classroom.

From the Guardian blog.

"The UK government has issued new guidelines to teachers on what to teach about creationism and intelligent design in science classes.

They are pretty explicit that creationsim and ID do not belong."

And about time.

Friday, September 28, 2007

On beards, blogging and hidden treasure

One of my regular haunts is the quite astounding daily grow-a-brain link blog, the labour of love of Hanan Levin.

Grow-a-brain has been growing since 2003 and contains links to "many thousands of unique sites vacuumed from all corners of the internet". Grow-a-brain is a classic link blog, each link introduced by a short often witty one line description.

As a bearded man my eye was caught today by this link, which exemplifies Hanan's work.

Why did George Bernard Shaw stop shaving?
(For the same reason his father did).

The link leads to another treasure of the Internet, the Futility Closet - An Idlers Miscellany, which is described by Greg Ross it's proprietor in the following terms.
"No matter how much you love your job, you can't work for 10 hours straight.

That's why there's Futility Closet — 2,100 anecdotes, epigrams, illusions and wonders; puzzles, prodigies, sublimities and horrors.

Read a few and get back to work. We'll keep finding more."
At a time when some employers are rushing to ban or prevent access to social networking sites perhaps they should take note, and remember the old saying, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On social bookmarking, networking and fans!

Nice comparative article here on Read/WriteWeb about social bookmarking sites.

As might be expected is streets ahead in the race and has recently undergone a bit of a make over.

Casual visitors to the site might not notice the new features as they are not obvious if all you do is visit your own bookmarks page.

An interesting feature is the networking page, bringing together the bookmarks of one's friends and colleagues. This page also shows reverse networks or those people known as fans who have listed your bookmarks (I think).

I was startled to discover that I have two!
It's a bit like being stalked.

Weird .

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On tennis and social networking.

An interesting story has appeared linking the world of sport with online social networking.
Read about it here and here. It's quite an interesting exercise to compare the two reports, one being the source for the other.
(If you have the time listen to the radio report.)

It seems that two up and coming young tennis stars have been burning the candle at both ends, playing tennis well and partying well. According to a report on radio5live, these teenagers drank, ate pizza, partied and chilled; then to compound their sins they posted photos of their leisure activities on Bebo.

In their report the BBC state
"Rice, the second-best British junior, and Broady, the national Under-18 champion, have had their funding withdrawn after they were deemed by the LTA to have breached contracts requiring them to act professionally. The LTA took the action after being alerted by the BBC to photos and confessions on the Bebo social networking website."
The interesting thing about this story is that the LTA hadn't noticed that there had been anything wrong with their behaviour; the incriminating photographs on Bebo were discovered by the BBC who must have rushed to inform the LTA, and then produced a news article.

I'm really not certain who's at fault here. There are several sides to the story.
I guess the fault could lie with
  • The tennis stars for not understanding how the privacy controls on Bebo work.
  • The tennis stars for daring to let their hair down.
  • The LTA for not watching over their young professionals more carefully.
  • The LTA for not explaining their expectations to their young players.
  • The BBC for spilling the beans ........
How long will it be before professionals in all walks of life are expected to sign contracts stating that

thou shalt not use social networking sites.
thou shalt not have a social life.
thou shalt not combine your private and public life?

Facebook must be relieved that for once its Bebo that's making the news.

On Facebook, students and porn.

While its no big deal, I noticed something interesting on my facebook home page. I was looking at the news feed showing popular posted items in the University network.

Top of the list is a link to a popular soft porn image gallery.

What can we deduce from this I wonder?

Think of the offence such a clearly visible link could cause to some.
We all know that the Internet has some pretty murky corners; after all it reflects the real world. Some members of the network think the link worthy of posting.
But in our classrooms, our lecture theatres, and computer labs we can't allow ourselves to be party to illuminating those corners for our students.

The University PLE wouldn't carry such a link.

Should Facebook be the platform through which students will access class discussion groups? I'm not sure.

On the joy of reading

I've just finished reading "The Uncommon Reader" by Alan Bennett.

On the surface this short fable describes what happens when the Queen discovers the joy of reading.

In the beautifully crafted text Bennett makes "the perfect argument for reading".
Everyone who claims that they have no time for reading should be made to read this book.

"Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting"

On Facebook Suicide and the Third Life

Emma Justice at the Times has written an interesting article describing what happens when Facebook users tire of The Book. They commit "Facebook Suicide"

As in the real world users are driven to suicide for a variety of reasons and as in the real world suicide groups exist to help users on their way. Several of the groups suggest a date when members will (or should have) exited their Facebook Life. Ironically wall posts indicate that some members realise that they have missed the boat and still have a presence in Facebook.

While I explored the Facebook suicide groups (cults), it was interesting to come across a message from Emma herself seeking cult members to help her with material for her article. Emma's request appeared exactly one month and one day before her article, which shows us how long a feature article can take to write and publish.

While exploring the suicide cults another group caught my attention. In the pessimistically named "If I died, who would change my Facebook status?" group, the material world imposes itself on virtual life. In a hearfelt wall posting Nikki Brady of Leeds summed it all up.
"i think there must be dead people all over facebook. i mean, what happens when you die? if no one knows your password, they cant log in, so you will be stuck in cyberspace forever, never changing. very strange to think about. although, what would your status say, really?

Nikki Brady
is still dead
Updated eternally"
Nicholas Carr at Rough Type pointed me in the direction of another newspaper article this time at the Guardian simply entitled "Broadband beyond the grave offers web service for the dead"
"Users of can issue posthumous instructions for everything from their funeral to feeding their pet, cancelling bills and magazine subscriptions, organising their will and other financial matters, sending final letters to friends - and foes - and delivering a valedictory video address summing it all up."
The fathers of the internet must be turning in their virtual space.

The image of Death's Dance can be seen at

Monday, September 24, 2007

On social network etiquette

Here's an curious post from O'Reilly, in which he considers social networking etiquette.

Would you like to be my friend?

What should a lecturer / teacher do if the request comes from a student or pupil?
Will the way the invitation is written have any influence on the response?

Web 2.0 in the local news.

Compare and contrast these two articles.

In the first the BBC reported on a survey which suggests that in the UK
"233 million hours are lost every month as a result of employees "wasting time" on social networking."
In the same article the BBC helpfully points to research undertaken at Sheffield Hallam University wondering whether social networking is changing the face of friendship. They find that
"Online social networks tend to be far larger than their real-life counterparts, but online users say they have about the same number of close friends as the real-life average person."
In the second article the BBC report that
"Three council workers have lost their jobs for spending too long on the internet auction site eBay. One was sacked and two resigned after managers at Neath Port Talbot Council found some staff were spending up to two hours a day on the website."
Against this sort of background I cannot help but wonder whether the rush to integrate social networking sites with PLEs is sensible.

On Google Docs, Commoncraft and dotSUB

Although I do very little collaborative work I can see the value of Google Docs.
There can be no doubt that those involved in group activities would find the ability to share and work on documents on line useful.

Lecturers might want to bring Google Docs to the attention of their students, and possibly explore the application themselves to facilitate the preparation of papers for departmental, university and wider audiences.

The commoncraft team have produced an excellent video, describing clearly and simply how Google Docs works.
Watch it.

Regular readers would not be surprised to read that I would be careful about the sort of documents that I might place in Google's care. It might not be the place for highly sensitive, controversial or valuable documents. On the other hand documents placed in Google's care might be more secure than those left on lost and stolen laptops or on the hard drives of second hand computers.

As a result of reading the commoncroft blog I have been introduced to dotSUB, a Web 2.0 application that provides an easy way for videos to be translated into a wide range of languages by the use of subtitles.

Its very clever, simple to use and should be noted by those who work in bilingual and multilingual countries.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On the "social graph"

During the last couple of months as I have been observing the rise and fall of social networks on the web I have noticed the increasing use of the phrase "social graph".

I think that the popularity of the phrase can be traced to a talk by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.
"Zuckerberg attributed the power of Facebook to the “social graph, ” the network of connections and relationships between people on the service. He said, “It’s the reason Facebook works.”

“Its changing the way the world works,” he said, pushing information out faster than any big company can. “As Facebook adds more and more people with more and more connections it continues growing and becomes more useful at a faster rate. We are going to use it spread information through the social graph.” The net effect of the social graph is that groups and application can achieve exponential growth, he said."
Since then many authorities, bloggers, software houses and academics have all started to use the phrase. If I am honest in my reading I have found use of the phrase confusing. In my mind a graph is usually a visual representation of some mathematical data and a social graph is a representation of a social network; the sort of things student teachers were asked to provide on teaching practice to illustrate classroom relationships.

Why, then when we read about social networks (as might be found in Facebook, Ellg, Ning, Bebo et al) do we read of social graphs? It doesn't make sense.

What a joy it was to discover this evening that Dave Winer thinks the same as me!

Friday, September 21, 2007

On Blogger Play

If you've nothing better to do why not give Blogger Play a whirl?

It's interesting, rather mesmeric, and it's led me to some interesting blogs.
Many of the photographs are just breathtaking.

I bet it sucks up bandwidth.

In their own words.
"Blogger Play will show you a never-ending stream of images that were just uploaded to public Blogger blogs. You can click the image to be taken directly to the blog post it was uploaded to, or click “show info” to see an overlay with the post title, a snippet of the body, and some profile information about the blogger who uploaded it."

"It's a great snapshot of what people are thinking and posting about right now"
Inappropriate images are filtered out and should you not want your images appearing an opt out facility is available.

Am I alone in finding this a little scary?
Did you know your blogged photos are being shown (albeit fleetingly) to an unsuspecting audience?
Did anyone ask your permission?
Did anyone tell you it would happen?

It's not quite Big Brother is watching, more a case of everyone in the world watching!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On deleting facebook

As my cynicism about facebook grows I have been so pleased to come across this post from Brian Heys writing about "How to delete your facebook account".
(update 18.01.08 I'm not certain this link works anymore)

Good advice, but remember should you decide to close your facebook, it is deactivated; which I guess means that all your data, your profile, etc. etc. will be preserved for when you realise the folly of your ways and want your friends back.
It will also be preserved for facebook to access as they see fit.

I'm not certain if deactivating an account is the same as removing user content?
Reading the terms of use we discover that....
When you post User Content to the Site, you authorize and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site. By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.
Returning to the book to reactivate a dormant account should be easy.
I might try deactivating my account and returning to see what happens.

I wonder do Facebook include dormant accounts in their user numbers?
Remember the doubts about Second Life statistics?

Update. 14.02.08.
Facebook introduce choice between deactivation and deletion

Thursday, September 13, 2007

On the TUC, Academics and Facebook.

Back in August Facebook changed.

As everyone knows, in its original form Facebook was a social networking website for American students. Members were linked via networks based around universities. As it spread globally membership was restricted to those with an .edu, type email address. Later networks were developed for High Schools and some businesses. Late in 2006 membership was opened to anyone with an email address.

In its original form The Facebook carried an application called Courses, this brought together students following the same course and made it possible for students to identify and contact their peers (invaluable for students popular courses). Keen observers of Facebook will have noticed that this application has disappeared, has been withdrawn, is no more.

A mention of its withdrawal can be found in the Facebook blog.
"The initial version of the Courses application was created by Facebook to give you as much functionality as possible. As of today, we're turning off our version of Courses and have decided to turn this over to the developer community and let you – our users – decide which Courses application works best for you. In many ways, our developer community is the best suited to create the applications that help people connect, track, and collaborate with their teachers, professors, and classmates. Many of our developers are in school and have used some kind of collaboration software. Their experiences make them the ideal creators of useful education applications."
I'm not convinced by this argument. Really what Facebook are saying here is we've grown and changed, many members don't come from college networks, so the Course application is no longer part of our core mission.

It's somewhat ironic that as HE academics take an interest in Facebook, Facebook begins to distance itself from it's roots.

Back in August the TUC issued advice for employers and their staff.
Should we be discussing these issues with students?

Our American colleagues have much more experience of Facebook as a learning tool. These slightly dated notes from Unit Structures may be of use.
Should we be discussing these issues with academics?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On using Facebook

Now, here's a truly interesting idea.

"Create Engaging Web Applications Using Metrics and Learning on Facebook"
is a new course at Stanford where
"Students will build applications for Facebook, then gather and analyze detailed information about how Facebook users actually use them. Students will focus on using detailed numerical measurements to guide software iterations, just like developers do on thousands of existing Facebook applications."
Perhaps here we shall find a real purpose for Facebook in education. I can't find the course on the internet, but it has a group.
"Students in the class will work in groups of three, first developing an application designed to appeal to most Facebook users.

Groups will then develop a second application, more closely focused around helping students use Facebook for education, such as a way for students to share class notes with each other.

They’ll be graded based on how many Facebook users they can get actively using their applications."
It would be great if they come up with some really useful educational applications, because if we are honest not many exist ....... yet.

I'm not convinced that the students should be graded accorded to the number of application users, but perhaps there's far more to their assessment than the Venture Beat article suggests.

I'm quite interested in B J Fogg's suggestion that academic computer scientists need to consider "the nuts and bolts of creating software people want to use."

He has a point.

On Facebook (again) and thighs!

danah has been writing and thinking about facebook.

I am so pleased that she's confused by it.

I still don't get it, don't understand the hype, don't understand how it gets so much publicity, and dare I say it don't think it will last. It's a social networking site with a limited lifecycle.

She's also been writing about the perils of working with a laptop, describing blotchy burns on her thighs!

My thighs have been suffering! I work sitting one leg crossed over the other, my laptop balanced on one thigh. At first it was just an itch, a slight irritation. I thought that I was developing a skin rash, an allergic response to soap, shower gel or something similar. I even wondered about the washing powder we were using. Then the penny dropped.

The problem is, that the burn (for that's what it is) develops slowly. My white Macbook isn't that hot to touch, it feels pleasantly warm and you wouldn't think that it could cause damage, but it does. It seems to me that the burn grows over time. It's not like touching a flame or a hot plate. Its more of a stealth burn. After several hours work it can become painful, reminding me that its time to have a rest or swap legs! As time goes by I have noticed that my thigh has become more sensitive and as a result the length of time I spend per leg has shrunk. And yes now I look I can see the dreaded red blotch.

I suspect that the damage, for that's what it is is serious and needs to be respected. It feels more significant than sun burn, it feels deeper if that makes sense.

I know the solutions are simple.

I need to stop putting the laptop on my lap, change my posture, get a lap seat thing, sit at a desk, use an asbestos blanket, spend time wondering about why they are called laptops, spend less time working, spend more time off the net.

But it's not that simple, that's not how I work.

Help....... I'm addicted to my laptop.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

On technology

Here's an interesting quote from elearnspace ........

"technology is not necessarily beneficial to teaching. Start with the teaching and learning first. Then consider technology as a possible add on."


Thursday, September 06, 2007

On News Readers, Gambling and Second Life

Returning to Google Reader after a break of several weeks has brought its own challenges.
What to read? What to ignore?

A colleague remarked that it might be easier to hit the "mark all as read" button.

I'm afraid to use the mark all as read button, (just in case I miss something really important); yet I have no problem with placing unread newspapers straight in the recycling bin.

Which means that in my world it's easier to ignore the printed news in the real world than it is to ignore the news in cyberspace. To resolve this problem I've been catching up with my news feeds a few at a time, which in turn means that the order of stories that I comment on here or store at may seem a little erratic for a while.

Here are two stories that caught my eye.
Compare and contrast.

New legislation has been introduced in the UK "bringing casinos, bookmakers and online betting providers under a new regulatory body". This is of little concern to me as I've been in a casino only twice in my life, don't bet and despite my interest in the web have never been tempted to gamble online. Included in the new regulations is a change in the law that will allow gambling operators to advertise on TV and radio.

At the same time as gambling is to some extent being legitimised in the real world, Linden Labs the operators and owners of Second Life have banned gambling in the portion of cyberspace under their control.

Isn't that strange?

On Facebook, public search listings and friends

On entering Facebook yesterday I noticed that I was being invited to check out my public search listing.

I didn't know I had one!

It seems that Facebook is changing.

My Public Search Listing will be available not only from the welcome page but soon through search engines like Google (sic)

My public search listing means that "friends" who aren't yet on Facebook will be able to search for me from Facebook's front page. In a week or two these listings will be available in Google et al. Once again our understanding of the word friend is stretched. It now seems to include anyone, friend or foe, who might be connected to the Internet.

Anyone who discovers me who is not already a member of Facebook will have to join if they want to contact me...which will still leave me in control of any contact but also makes me link bait for Facebook, and Facebook little more than a telephone directory.

Which means that I might want to be ex directory.

Which reminds me of this observation by Tom Coates.

The BBC report this story here.

I'm really not sure I understand Facebook.

On the end of Summer!

As the summer draws to a close it is time for me to return to The Hill.

Time to return to academic reading, writing and my research.
Time to reflect and write.

During the summer much has happened, World Blog Day happened and it passed me by.

Blog Day 2007

On August 31st participating bloggers linked to five new blogs, "different from their own culture, point of view and attitude," so that "on this day, blog readers will find themselves leaping around and discovering new, unknown Blogs, celebrating the discovery of new people and new bloggers."

Imagine my surprise to return to my blog to discover that my blog had been linked.

Mr.Harrington blogging teacher at Ddraig Goch blog, was good enough to give me a mention. His mention brought me extra traffic (not much, but some) and a comment!

Comments happen rarely On the Hill. Visitors often leave nothing but footprints (and a time stamp at my stat counter). They lurk! I cannot complain as I do the same. Perhaps during the next academic year I should make an effort to stop lurking.

I have mixed feelings about comments, but I am glad that Jennifer and Mr. Harrington left comments, for not only did they lead me to Ddraig Goch and ThinkTime , they have led me to reflect upon the importance of comments (which may feature in next term's blogging project.)

As Mr. Harrington, knows in a primary school ideally every piece of work undertaken by pupils is commented upon by the teacher. Good work is shared and celebrated. Our first year undergraduates are not unlike primary pupils, they need instant positive feedback. If we require them to blog for us, we need to participate, to comment to involve ourselves in their work. Furthermore we need to encourage them to read one another's work and comment.


As a result of reading ThinkTime today I have been introduced to TagCrowd. This is such a clever application. It creates tag clouds from text typed, pasted or uploaded into the tool at their web site. The resulting cloud provides a visual analysis of the text based on word frequencies. I've tried it out with the text of this post.

created at

What have I been writing about?