Writing about web page https://johndale.info
Learning how to use Bootstrap cards to make a responsive website – https://johndale.info. Fun!
Writing about web page http://theheels.co.uk
So I decided I wanted to make a simple web site for my band, The Heels. (theheels.co.uk if you’re interested) Along the way I discovered two or maybe three things:-
Writing about web page http://www.ithaca.edu/myhome
At a session about building a portal, I was struck by the similarities between the presenters’ institution – Ithaca College – and our own setup. They have three groups governing their web presence:
They have a richly functional and well populated CMS which they built themselves, and a year or so ago, decided that they would build a portal to accomplish the following:-
A fairly similar set of circumstances to our own. What they built was a PHP / mySQL based application which uses the iGoogle portlet standard to deliver the following:-
What’s striking about this to me is that they reached a different conclusion to the thinking we’ve so far been doing. Their portal at present doesn’t have access to much institutional information about the individual. So there’s no gadgets for “My modules” or “My timetable” or “My coursework”. The gadgets are fundamentally just news, email and external. They hope to add gadgets which can display institutional data, but there’s back-end plumbing which needs to happen first (again, sounds kind of familiar). Until I saw this presentation, my take was that you absolutely had to have those institutional data gadgets to succeed. But the Ithaca portal has achieved the astonishingly high take up rate of 80% of the members of the university visiting it at least once per day. Without institutional data. It’s given me pause for thought.
Ithaca have an excellent micro-site intended for people who are interested in their portal but who aren’t members of the university. See for instance the home page, some video tutorials, the presentation from today, and some usage stats
I went to a presentation about the future of the role of CIO. Most of what was said was fairly predictable (and that’s not meant as a criticism; anyone who reflects even briefly about how IT is used in universities, how the technology itself has changed and evolved, and the changing economic and political climate in universities, could hazard a perfectly reasonable stab at what’s occupying CIOs’ time nowadays). It would have been surprising and in some ways delightful if there had been a left-field, unexpected prediction such as:-
Within five years all CIOs will need to become accomplished mandolin players
but alas, such whimsy was not to be had (though as it was the presenter’s birthday, the audience sang Happy Birthday to him, which was almost as good).
Instead, the observations revolved around the fact that IT is now deeply engrained in, and vital to, every aspect of the institution’s work, and therefore the CIO of today can expect to be spending more time and effort on quality of service issues such as availability, planned downtime, risk assessment & management, financial management, disaster recovery, and so on. There was an interesting assertion that service delivery is now as important a part of the CIO’s agenda as strategy and planning, whereas historically it wasn’t, because there was less reliance on IT and therefore a more relaxed attitude to service availability.
But the very best observation in the session came right at the end, in response to an audience question which was along the lines of “You’ve said that the CIO’s remit is broader and deeper than ever, and that there are more things than ever before which need your time and attention. How do you decide what not to do; what you can stop doing?” (referring back to this morning’s keynote by Jim Collins). The speaker observed that finding ways to stop doing things or not to do things was indeed important, and threw in a couple of great observations. Firstly:-
I try not to say no to things directly. I see it as part of my role to guide the conversation around until I’m asked something which I’m confident I can say yes to.
And then, expanding on why this is a better tactic than just saying no:-
Saying ‘no’ is exercising power, and in a university, when you use power, you use it up.
I went along to a Microsoft presentation on live@edu, which is the off-premise, hosted email service which we’re going to be delivering to our students early in 2010. Since we’re already some way into the project to manage this transition, there wasn’t a lot in the presentation which I didn’t already have some dim awareness of, but there were a few interesting points:-
I went to a workshop about engaging your community when doing projects. Much of the advice that came from it is, on reflection, fairly common-sense based – communicate effectively, find users who are keen to be involved, make sure that senior people who could block your project are engaged, work on framing the problem rather than jumping to a particular solution, and so on. And the session wasn’t about how to actually succeed with your project deliverables, nor was it intended to be.
But I enjoyed the session nonetheless, partly because it was a workshop with exercises, rather than a presentation, and partly because it was led by enthusiastic, engaged presenters. And it served as a useful reminder that it’s eminently possible to have a project which succeeds brilliantly in terms of delivering what it was supposed to, on time and on budget, but which on some other level is a failure because what it delivers doesn’t do what people want, doesn’t make them happy. If you work in IT, it’s easy to get caught up in the nuts and bolts of getting things working and keeping things working – and of course that’s important – but it’s perfectly possible to deliver a service where everything’s working yet nobody’s happy. This session was a great reminder of how cultivating and maintaining good, productive, collaborative relationships with your users / colleagues / customers (delete according to taste and the prevailing methodology at your institution) is so very important if you want to deliver real services, rather than just be in the hardware and software business.
There have been a couple of presentations on cloud computing so far; one on the in-principle pros and cons, and one on the nuts and bolts of an actual on-premise private cloud implementation. My thoughts:-
My next session was on IT governance, though it would be more accurate to describe it as being about project governance. That said, there were some striking differences between the way the speaker’s institution operates, and what happens at Warwick:-
Firstly, there is a committee for selecting and prioritising projects. Kind of like our own IPSC, I guess, but with the striking difference that this committee allocates resources directly; it has about a million and a half discretionary dollars to spend, and somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 person hours annually. What this means, clearly, is that putting a proposal to, and getting the approval of, this committee is actually a real mechanism – indeed, the only mechanism – for getting a project resourced and underway.
This contrasts with our own somewhat fragmented situation, where committee approval, funding allocation and project management all happen in different places, and it’s quite striking how logical it seems, when presented by someone who’s doing it, that these things all need to happen in the same place.
The other point that’s interesting is that the speaker’s institution approved and delivered of the order of a hundred or so projects per year. In order to accomplish this, they had to ensure that their approval, management and review processes were as efficient as possible. If each project requires extensive documentation, frequent meetings, the participation of lots of people, then the number of projects you can do is limited. So there’s a relentless focus on reviewing, streamlining and improving the process, and ensuring that nobody who wants to commission a project, or who is working on delivering a service, feels that the resources they have to devote to project management are disproportionate relative to the resources devoted to the deliverables of the project.
The first keynote session of the conference was, as is often the case, not about a specific technology or even really specifically about the sector. Jim Collins is an author and consultant who has worked on the question of what distinguishes great companies from merely good ones, and he spoke entertainingly (with a hint of Al Pacino; he likes to speak very quietly and then suddenly SHOUT and then go quiet again) on some of his thoughts and observations.
There isn’t really a narrative thread to be pulled out of what he said, so I’ll just jot down a few interesting points:-
I liked his five stages in the life of a company:-
A bit like the Gartner hype cycle, I guess, if slightly more doom-focussed. Other nuggets:-
His advice for concrete things to go away and do? Cherry picking my favourites, we have:-
Writing about web page http://www.educause.edu/E2009
I’m in Denver for the Educause conference. It’s probably the biggest IT-in-HE conference in the world, and whatever you’re interested in – e-learning, cloud computing, weathering the downturn – it’s a safe bet that there’ll be a session on it here.
I was last at the conference five years ago (also in Denver, coincidentally), and that time, one of my main interests was in helpdesk software, and I hoped to use the conference as a lever to try and persuade my colleagues that we should switch away from HEAT, which I thought then (and still think) was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. It’s taken five years for that particular plan to come to fruition, so I guess I should be cautious about what I might accomplish this time around. But if nothing else, there’s a bunch of people talking about things that Warwick is very much interested in right now, and, for as long as my laptop battery lasts, I’ll be taking notes which hopefully might prove useful to us in the future.
Some of the sessions I have my eye on include:-
Cloud Computing: Hype or Hope? Does this paradigm offer great promise or extreme peril to the core mission of the academy? Two academic IT leaders will debate the pros and cons of moving mission-critical services to the cloud.
Revisiting Your IT Governance Model. Four years after adopting an inclusive IT governance and prioritization process, we’ve completed 188 projects, spending $8.4 million and expending 250,000 hours. We will describe the history of our governance, our recent governance process review, and how the process has evolved to create a collegial and transparent method for prioritization.
Blackboard, Moodle, and Sakai. A discussion of the pros and cons of adopting proprietary versus open-source solutions. Issues addressed will include total cost of ownership, licensing, options for application hosting and technical support, and how new features find their way into a product.
Virtual Desktops: 60 Percent Cheaper, but Are They Worth It? Pepperdine University is conducting a 12-month study to assess the costs and feasibility of replacing desktop computers with virtual machines that allow multiple people to share a single PC. Results from a pilot implementation will be shared, revealing costs, power usage, user satisfaction, ease of administration, and recommendations for installation.
Project Management and IT Governance Through Agile Methods. Decision making within IT governance and project management is commonly driven by hierarchical, centralized, and formal planning. Agile Methods, adopted at SUNY Delhi, focusing on openness, transparency, self-organizing groups, collaboration and incremental development, deliver continuous innovation, reduced costs, and delivery times, as well as more reliable results.
IT Metrics. This session focuses on developing, collecting, and reporting IT metrics, leveraging peer efforts, and identifying benchmarks to improve the overall performance of IT departments. Frequently used metrics are customers’ feedback on IT services, balanced with internally recorded metrics of actual customer IT services usage. A constant goal of this group is to assist others in implementing metrics in a more rigorous, meaningful, and timely manner.
What Happened to the Computer Lab? Over 80 percent of respondents to the annual ECAR study of undergraduate students reported owning laptops; nevertheless, usage of expensive public computer labs remains high. Panelists from three institutions will lead a provocative discussion on updating existing computer labs.
The Heat Is On: Taming the Data Center. Power and cooling continue to be “hot” topics in the data center. Many vendors offer green solutions and products. Should an organization retrofit or build a new data center to meet increasing demands? This session will focus on some strategies to manage data centers more effectively.
Building a Research IT Division from the Ground Up
The nature of the research enterprise is changing rapidly. Large-scale computing, storage, and collaboration needs are now common. We describe how we scoped and funded a central IT division focused on research IT support to address these needs, and the successes and challenges we encountered along the way.
Ignorance Isn’t Bliss: How to Find Out What Your Clients Really Need
Providing IT tools and resources that meet client expectations requires persistent and creative efforts to understand their needs. Six presenters in this session will describe surveys, face-to-face discussions, and other means of learning about client needs and how to effectively follow up on those expressed needs.
According to my scribbled notes, I’m aiming to attend 16 sessions in two days, so I expect to get progressively less coherent as time progresses. Let the Powerpoint begin!
A colleague just contacted me to ask “How do I see more of the emails in my in-box on my phone?”. The answer? Do this:-
Mail -> Options -> Settings -> Email -> Mail for Exchange -> Options -> Edit Profile -> Email -> Sync messages back
and then change that value to be something bigger. And that’s with a UI which is supposed to be good (Nokia S60), for heaven’s sake. It’s no wonder Apple cleaned up with the iPhone when this is the state of the competition.
A year ago, in January 2008, I predicted that we would:-
I’d give myself a solid two out of three. We didn’t do anything on email integration, and while I think it’s still a good idea in principle, we haven’t really found a specific example of where we could introduce it as a feature.
We certainly developed fewer new applications; none, to be precise (unless I’m forgetting something), though we substantially reworked some applications such as Search and Files.Warwick. We continue to think about the task-based approach to using our tools, especially in the context of teaching and learning, and module web spaces. And we introduced two (nearly three) desktop tools; a Files.Warwick sync tool, a video converter, and, soon, drive letter mapping into Files.Warwick so you can treat your Files.Warwick space like any other Windows Explorer or Mac Finder location, and open, save, copy and move files into and out of it.
For 2009, I’m broadening my predictions out. I predict that:-
And thanks to my tardiness, there’s now only eleven months to see whether I’m right or not.
My recipe for the perfect tablet computer: take the nine or ten inch, 1024×600 screen that you generally see on netbooks these days, make it into a touch-screen, then glue the innards of an iPod Touch to the back of it. That’s it. The iPhone / iPod Touch UI is so incomparably good compared with any other touch-screen device – Tablet PC, UMPC, Windows Mobile device, Palm OS – that, for me, at least, a somewhat scaled-up version would hit the perfect sweet spot of being exactly what I need to cart around with me all day at work, and to slump on the sofa with at night. It’d be big enough to comfortably read the PDF and Word documents that make up the agendas and reports that fill my working day, and high enough resolution to make reading almost any web site easy, without requiring so much zooming and/or rotating to get the text to a workable size.
For bonus points:-
It’s hard to find a tablet device that’s larger than a PDA which has been hugely successful, partly at least because the user experience always falters when the underlying OS – Windows, mostly – bleeds through the touch layer. But a device built on Mobile OS X wouldn’t have that problem, and I’d buy one in a heartbeat. Go on, Apple; build one for me.
In September ‘07, I wrote about the US Amazon MP3 store, and noted that it was – for a very short time, as it turned out – available to UK customers.
Now there’s a UK Amazon MP3 store and it looks very promising; millions of tracks, high bit-rate MP3 files with no DRM, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, very reasonable prices, which don’t induce the usual US-UK comparison rage. The new Take That album, for example, is £3, and a random browsing of tracks suggests that a pretty substantial proportion of them come in at 59p, and the majority of the rest at 69p.
Kudos to Amazon: this looks like the best place for UK buyers to shop for legal, unprotected music, beating the iTunes store and other, less high profile competitors such as 7Digital (who are charging £5 for the Take That album, incidentally) by delivering the usual Amazon one-two punch of ease of use (I already have an account there, and my debit and credit cards are already set up ready for me to buy), a huge product range, and competitive pricing.
I was pleased but slightly disconcerted the other day, when I was contacted via this blog and asked if I’d like to review a pair of trainers, which I’d then get to keep. (I guess there’s no alternative to that plan, really; you can’t sell trainers that somebody else has walked around in for a week.)
I’ve touched on the topic of trainers once or twice before but it would be a gross exaggeration to say that I’m any kind of expert, or that this blog is any kind of go-to place for trainer aficionados. So although I said that I’d be happy to review a pair of trainers in exchange for keeping them (finally! this whole blogging lark pays off!), I was a bit puzzled about why. It’s not even as if there’s much that I can say about trainers that might influence anyone else; being comfy on my feet and pleasing to my eye is almost completely irrelevant to anyone who isn’t me. But on reflection, of course, it’s not the shoes that I’m being encouraged to talk about so much as the place that sells them; talking about them and linking to them is good for them.
And that’s fair enough, because both the shoes I’ve been sent and the place that sent them to me have been great. The shoes are these ones, if anyone’s interested, and the web site, which is called fitnessfootwear.com sells lots of other running shoes too. The guy who contacted me couldn’t have been nicer, and when I said that I’d want to explain that I was writing about the shoes because I’d been given them, not completely spontaneously, they were fine with that. The web site is easy to use in an Amazon-ish way, and the shoes arrived the very next day after I’d chosen a pair. So there we go: discount my opinion by as much as you think is appropriate for someone who’s gained a pair of trainers, but I’d be happy to use the site again and pay my own money, and I’d recommend them as a good and more focussed choice than a general purpose web retailer such as Amazon.
Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/help/insideguardian/2008/oct/22/full-fat-rss-feed-upgrade
I’m constantly disappointed by the way in which exciting predictions about the future fail to come true. I don’t fly to work with a jet pack, or holiday on the moon, and although I get many, many adverts for pills of one sort or another in my in-box, I don’t believe that there are really IQ-boosting, anti-aging, hair restoring, cancer curing tablets (not all in the same pill necessarily) available yet.
But one prediction which has been floating around for a while genuinely did come true today. It’s the one about personalised newspapers being delivered to your portable electronic reader. The prediction, which I’ve come across literally more than once, is that having a printed newspaper containing stuff you may or may not want to read delivered to you every morning is inefficient and wasteful. Better to define your preferences for the type of news you’re interested in and/or the columnists you like to read (that is, whose biases accord agreeably with your own) and then have a personalised, digital paper sent to you in the morning, to read on your Read-o-tron on the train (monorail) to work.
And now, the combination of the NetNewsWire RSS reader on my iPod Touch and the Guardian’s recent announcement that their RSS feeds now contain the full text of articles (as reported by Chris Doidge earlier today) means that this is exactly what I have. I’ve chosen RSS feeds for top stories, tech, music and HE, and every morning my iPod wakes itself up and downloads all those articles to its memory using my home wifi. Then at convenient moments in the day – and I don’t need to be connected, since the articles are all cached – I can read whatever catches my eye. No paper, complete personalisation. Finally, the future!
Between about 1985 and 1995 or so, I went to the cinema a lot. Like, every week, and twice a week as often as not. After ‘95, my circumstances and those of my friends started to change, and my enthusiasm waned. But one thing I remember as clearly as any one of the hundreds of films I saw is this:-
It had an extraordinarily long run, and while I started out indifferent to its charms, the endless repetition eventually seared it into my consciousness, and, more weirdly, my affections. It’s presumably intended to be aspirational, to tantalise its audience with the possibility that one day it might be them on a tropical island sitting in a bar with the sleeves of their white jacket rolled up, prior to leaping into their speedboat back to their, er, other tropical island.
That’s Nicholas “Hazell” Ball doing the voiceover, and even before I eventually tracked down the video, I could recite it word for word:-
Peckham, on a wet Saturday afternoon…
Next door’s budgie…
The Dog and Duck, down the high street… (or more accurately, “dahn the ‘igh street”)
Catching the last bus home…
If… you’re drinking Bacardi.