June 13, 2012

web 2.0 legal power 2.0

This is an education into how great the internet is sometimes … via Wil Wheaton. http://digitallife.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/06/12/12187665-cartoonist-turns-lawsuit-threat-into-100k-charity-fundraiser. Interesting that the lawyer guy for funnyjunk is completely out of touch with 1) how the internet works … says “I’m completely unfamiliar really with this style of responding to a legal threat — I’ve never really seen it before,” and also is completely unaware of what a douchebag he is .. “I don’t think that what I did was unreasonable,” he says … wtf? Claiming damages and stealing someone else’s work. And has the ridiculous posturing to refer to the public’s outrage as “mob psychology”. This is the way power works in the 21st century (when it works properly) the people rule, not the prevailing institutions, and not only do they not get it, they actually think that it’s wrong.

May 15, 2012

Considering Impact

Two things have triggered a series of discussions about impact recently. One of these is working on the evaluation of a series of JISC projects, the other is working on a bid for AHRC and preparing the Pathways to Impact for that.

I first really came across this as an issue when working on the REF for my university. I pulled out of this (I didn’t see why they should have my publications when they weren’t paying me a salary) so only saw the document I had to respond to … an didn’t actually have to respond. I could see the point, the relevance of the research to the wider community is also important, and also saw the panic of colleagues, none of us had much idea what counted as impact or how we could demonstrate it.

I think the idea of impact is a good one to include for research, as long as this doesn’t take precedence over just finding out stuff for its own sake. I can see why the government brought it in, theyre paying for research so they want to see it doing some good, but it is indicative of a move towards a more mundane pragmatic approach to knowledge, education, thought. Like the employability and enterprise agenda in universities. Yes education should have a practical application too, when i got my MA in consultancy i realised that it was the first qualification I’d got that had a practical use since my cycling proficiency. But that’s not the only thing that’s important. We need to continue to do things and learn things purely because they’re interesting. If we don’t instill that love for pure knowledge in our students we’re failing them as much as if we’re sending them out without a skill they can actually earn a living from.

For a funding body I have more sympathy, paying the piper and calling the tune and so on. If you’re ploughing money into something and have to have something to show for it, then describing impact helps to tell the story that you’ve achieved something. the struggle is in what constitutes evidence.

If you’re doing robust science, you need a control. Measuring impact, you can have no control. Yes you can show things have changed, but alone this falls prey to that post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. While I’ve been self-employed I’ve lost 14kg ... so is this the impact of changing my job, or cutting out carbs or going to the gym? Hard to say just by measuring a difference. You’d really need to do some research in this universe and simultaneously observe another universe in which the research was not taking place (and keep every other variable the same) to really be able to measure impact. This could be tricky. And if I had that level of omniscience I’d be doing something else anyway.

The other problem is measurement. What metrics do you use? If you can use a mixture of things with numbers attached (students retained, or staff on prozac) and show improvement, then that’s going to keep a lot of people happy. You can measure beneficiaries, students attended, workshops held, but this isn’t really impact, people may attend but how do you know it makes a difference to them, or that they’re even paying attention. There’s also a lot of types of impact that can’t be measured like that, student satisfaction, inclusion. But showing a shift in responses could work here.

I thnk the key thing is to acknowledge all of the above failings with the idea, and do it anyway. Yes the measurements won’t be robust scientific data, yes the may be spurious or fail to take account of some elements. But trying to account for some of these things will give a sense of the degree of change that may have been caused by the research or project and it does focus the mind on what it is really all for.

May 13, 2012

Random ramblings

Oh another thought … obviously it’s been a slow day. Was reminded of the Pandora myth again (via the jewellery not the planet). I think the message is that if you’ve let War, Death, Famine and Plague out, that having hope left is somehow A Good Thing. but actually it’s totally the opposite. Like death, supposing you live in a place where life expectancy is 40 and you die at 45, you’re happier than if you hope to live to 80 and still die at 45. My cats get really riled if i take out their food, because they hope to be fed, whereas without the noise of their food rattling they’d be OK a bit longer (not that going for a few hours without their Dreamies constitutes famine, but you get my point). Nope that myth is totally screwed. The Four Horseman may lay you out on the floor, but it’s Hope that follows it up with a swift kick to the nuts.

April 20, 2012

Return from China

Hi everyone, just got back from China and am starting to catch up with work. First task, setting up a blog for the JISC programme. I’m pretty sure I can use this blog (just reactivated after 15 months offline) but with my critical friend entries filtered into a separate feed using a tag. This first one is a test to see if it works.

October 31, 2010

Trick or treat

Just in case anyone tries to interpret this as at all anti-American, it’s not. There are lots of things I like about the US. Every time I’ve been there, I’ve had a great time (once I’ve got past the utter utter bastards who are always on the passport control) and there’s lots about American culture I like. But I like it at arms’ length, and I like to pick and choose.

There’s a movement in the UK though to mindlessly adopt US traditions. High school proms. Spelling. Using Americanisms (like “crib”, “sidewalk”, “elevator”, dropping the last syllable in “alternative” or “orientate”) rather than their UK e*uivalents. I’m not sure where it comes from, but it indicates a lack of confidence with our own national identity. I think it undermines it to some extent. And I don’t understand why people here hate being British so much. If these things were fun, if they made life better, than maybe that would be a good thing. But actually they just seem to make people’s lives more stressed.

It seems to be part of this “special relationship” between the countries changing from being a relationship of e*uals to being an owner and pet. It seemed to happen during the period Labour was in power, Blair being Bush’s lapdog and so on, and as a society our readiness to adopt whatever the Americans do uncritically indicates our approval of our government doing the same. It’s like a mandate to say, yeah, let’s just be a pale echo of everything going on over the other side of the Atlantic. Let’s be like them as much as possible, because they’re so much better than we are.

Basically, people who go trick or treating are the reason we’re at war with Ira*.

OK – that’s an exaggeration, but it was part of a rant I’d prepared if anyone did come begging with menaces for sweets. I thought they’d appreciate a scare. But no-one turned up, so I’ve let it loose here instead.

October 20, 2010


Writing about web page http://www.usafa82.org/spec_int/wit_wisdom/rules.htm

Getting late now so I’m just picking out the more erroneous of CJ Sykes’s “rules”.

_ 7. Before you were born your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning up your room and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. And by the way, before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your bedroom._

You need to stay idealistic because the rainforest does need saving. And why the hell would there be lice in the closet? eeuggh. I’m beginning to suspect CJ is a republican and probably a climate change naysayer.

__ 9. Life is not divided into semesters, and you don’t get summers off. Not even Easter break. They expect you to show up every day. For eight hours. And you don’t get a new life every 10 weeks. It just goes on and on. While we’re at it, very few jobs are interesting in fostering your self-expression or helping you find yourself. Fewer still lead to

Sure you only get 2 days as standard instead of two weeks but errm that’s what annual leave is for, d’oh. If you want to take an Easter Break, take it. Even the lowest clerical job I had had five weeks leave to go with it. My current one has eight. Plus in the real world you have the money to go somewhere neat for the two weeks, and you don’t have the anxiety of summer exams bearing down on you. And while we’re at it, if you not in a job that fosters your self-realisation, you really need to keep looking.

12. Smoking does not make you look cool. It makes you look moronic. Next time you’re out cruising, watch an 11-year-old with a butt in his mouth. That’s what you look like to anyone over 20. Ditto for “expressing yourself” with purple hair and/or pierced body parts._

Well no, smoking does look a bit idiotic when you know what damage it does, but actually purple hair and piercings look very cool. every adult knows this, but few will actually admit it because they’re too chickenshit to do it themselves and they just envy that the kids have the nerve too.
14. Enjoy this while you can. Sure parents are a pain, school’s a bother, and life is depressing. But someday you’ll realize how wonderful it as to be a kid. Maybe you should start now__

Again, crap. Life as an adult is far more fun and has less hassle. Sure there are bills, but if you;re not stupid about buying stuff, you can cover them. There’s more freedom, and no aggro with exams. There are pressures, but you’re used to handling them, so ultimately, less of a bother. I hope some kid who’s being read the riot act by some adult who’s read CJ’s book comes across this blog, so at least they can take some comfort in the fact that their parent is just trying to guilt trip them. CJ is just trying to be a buzzkill because he has issues.

Just checked CJ is a radio presenter and journalist. Funny .. I had him down as an economist or banker or something. Doesn’t sound like the kind of job where you’d encourage people to work for The Man, but maybe they do things differently in Milwaukee.

Some rules kids won't learn in school

Writing about web page http://www.usafa82.org/spec_int/wit_wisdom/rules.htm

Occasionally I come across something that winds me up so much that I want to meet the author and start ranting at them. Obviously that’s usually a bit tricky, and is maybe a bit anti-social, so I let off a bit of steam here—and try to put the record straight.

The latest irritation is a guy called Charles J. Sykes since I came across his rules kids won’t learn in school. He’s based a book on his so-called rules. They’re a few years old now, but still need counteracting in case someone passes them on thinking they’re somehow insightful. I don’t know what’s wrong with CJ – he obviously had a way better time as a kid than anyone else I know and had a far worse a time, but his rules are nothing like reality.

1. Life is not fair. Get used to it. The average teen-ager uses the phrase, “It’s not fair” 8.6 times a day. You got it from your parents, who said it so often you decided they must be the most idealistic generation ever. When they started hearing it from their own kids.

Well OK it isn’t fair, but you should never get used to it. Continue to rail against it and maybe there’s a chance you might make it a bit fairer.

2. The real world won’t care as much about your self-esteem as much as your school does. It’ll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. This may come as a shock. Usually, when inflated self-esteem meets reality, kids complain it’s not fair._

Bullshit. Most employers know that to get the most out of their employees you need to motivate them, and the best way to do that is boost their self-esteem. Most colleagues will reinforce the good stuff you do. In the real world you get treated with way more respect than you ever get as a kid.

_ 3. Sorry, you won’t make $40,000 a year right out of high school. And you won’t be a vice president or have a car phone either. You may even have to wear a uniform that doesn’t have a Gap label._

So? Most kids I know are really happy to be earning anything at all. Move along CJ.

_ 4. If you think your teacher is tough, wait ‘til you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure, so he tends to be a bit edgier. When you screw up, he’s not going to ask you how you feel about it.
The teachers I remember were way tougher than most of the bosses I know. Well, both had their fair share of psychos in the list, but as an adult you’re in a far better position to handle them and stand up to them. And every teacher knows that tenure is always very tenuous in reality.
5. Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word of burger flipping. They called it opportunity. They weren’t embarrassed making minimum wage either. They would have been embarrassed to sit around talking about Kurt Cobain or Britney Speers all weekend._

I know people who work in McDs. They think it’s an opportunity too. But it’s not a great opportunity. There’s no embarassment in making minimum wage but it’s pretty reasonable to be unhappy about it. And I have never met anyone who would talk about Britney all weekend.

May 20, 2010

Remember Labour aren't The Good Guys

I have a few Labour supporting friends. They’re already getting misty-eyed about the government that’s just gone. I agree with them that they were probably better than Dick Clemaron’s lot are going to be, but look at what they did while they were in power …

anti-terrorism laws
student top-up fees
against a transparent Parliament
against laws to stop climate change
the Iraq war
against an investigation into the Iraq war
ID cards

Of the people standing to be the next leader, all of them were behind most of those things above, which makes them scum, obviously. The exceptions are Diane Abbott who only fails on half, but is still a total tosser for being into magic beans http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diane_Abbott#Support_for_homeopathy

Only one of the candidates seems to be one of the few politicians to be not-scum and that’s John McDonnell. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/john_mcdonnell/hayes_and_harlington

Here’s an excerpt from his maiden speech.

“Despite my respect for the conventions of the House, I shall not perjure myself by praising my immediate Tory predecessor… He was a stain on the character of this House, the Conservative party which harboured him and the good name of my constituency. He brought shame on the political process of this country by his blatant espousal of racism and his various corrupt dealings. He demeaned the House by his presence, and I deeply regret that the Conservative party failed to take action to stem his flow of vile bigotry. Thankfully, my constituents can now say good riddance to this malignant creature.”

How cool is that?

It looks like Labour has one chance to stop being the utter dickwads they were over the past 13 years. What’s the betting they won’t take it?

May 01, 2010

Responses to Nortongate

It’s nearly a week now since Nortongate, the inclusion of a banner trailing the following programme over the climax to an episode of Doctor Who. There was the outcry from people watching the programme (over 5000 complaints). Then the inevitable backlash from those saying that it’s typical Whovian over-reaction and it just makes them all look like nerds.

I’m not a major Doctor Who fan, but like anyone born in the UK in from the mid-50s to the 70s I grew up with it, it’s not a matter of being a fan, it’s just part of your life, like breathing.You don’t consider whether you like doing it or not, you just do it.

But I complained, as did a few other people I know. And for all of us it was for the first time. But it wasn’t really just about the climax being ruined, I think it’s part of a greater fear.

I’ll try and explain.

Experiencing art is an integral part of the human condition. We need it because engagement with it transports us from our normal daily lives. It elevates us. It varies from person to person what art gets to us, but everyone really human gets it from somewhere. It might be music, movies, painting, but while we’re engaged in it the real world is gone and we’re somewhere else. Psychologists call it telepresence, writers called it the pathetic effect, movie analysts call it the diegetic effect, but it’s a precious thing. It’s why people get angry if people talk in cinemas, or if a mobile goes off in a theatre. Because it’s denying the opportunity for everyone else to experience that moment of transportation.

Putting a banner across a TV screen to advertise another programme does just that, particularly if it obscures a quarter of the screen, particularly if it’s during the climax, and particularly if it’s the first really good episode of the season. It denies that emotional experience of being taken into the moment.

Philip K Dick when discussing his inspiration for Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep spoke about a line he read from a Nazi’s diary, in which the Nazi spoke about being kept awake by the sound of crying children. Instead of a normal human response, this person was just annoyed that he couldn’t get to sleep. PKD postulated that the author wasn’t really human because he had this fundamental element missing from his psyche. He was an android, a robot that just looked like a human.

People who vandalise art, like slashing at a Picasso or something, do so because they know it will shock people. They want a reaction and to have the notoriety that comes with that. That’s bad enough, but these people are human enough to realise that people will react. What’s worrying is that someone at the BBC deliberately vandalised their own art, in fact several people colluded in it. They must have done so without realising that it was vandalism, without knowing that there could have been a pathetic/diegetic effect there to undermine, or that there was and it didn’t matter. This must only make sense if they don’t realise that this is what art is for. They have never experienced a fundamental and essential part of what being human is. I bet they talk in cinemas too.

I think this is what prompted the outcry. It’s not just that people were deprived of an emotional experience that is really a basic human need, but that there are people who are essentially incapable of experiencing human needs in control of one of the major creative institutions in the UK.

If the androids are in control, and if the majority of people don’t care that the androids are in control, then we’re really screwed as a species. The least we can do is complain.

March 15, 2010

Ten commands for a digital age

Writing about web page http://sxtxstate.com/2010/03/12/douglas-rushkoff-program-or-be-programmed-ten-commands-for-a-digital-age/

This is a response to Douglas Rushkoff’s, Ten Commands for a Digital Age, because I think he got some of them wrong.

The original set are (and follow the link above)

1. Time. Thou shall not be always on. We are turning an asynchronous net as always on. He encouraged saying “My time is mine.”

2. Distance. Thou shalt not do from a distance what can be done in person. Using long distance in short distance situations. Don’t use distance learning in localized context.

3. Scale – the Internet is biased to scale up. Exalt the particular. Not everything scales, should scale or needs to scale.

4. Discrete – everything is a choice. You may always choose none of the above. Sites like Facebook promote forced choice, you have to choose from a set of options.

5. Complexity – the net reduces complexity. Thou shalt never be completely right.

6. Non-corporeal – out of body. Thou shalt not be anonymous. Rushkoff says “work against tendency of the net to promote anonymity.” Anonymity encourages becoming part of polarized mobs with no sense of consequence, it side steps prejudices. It is liberating to promote yourself online.

7. Contact is king (not content). Remember the humans. “Social marketing is an oxymoron.”

8. Abstraction – as above, so not below. Print abstracts text from the scribe. Hypertext takes it a step further.

9. Openness. Thou shalt not steal. When there is no social contract, openness can continue until there is no one left to give things away. Nothing is free.

10. End users – technology is biased toward consumers. Programmed or be programmed.

I think these are more productive, and more accurate:

1. Time. Thou shall not be always on. Though shall not always be off. Finding people who are never available synchronously is pretty irritating. Having people who demand synchronous communication is too. People can’t stand that I have no work phone. Why should I when it means you can phone me at any time? Skype goes on when I’m ready to be called, and goes off when I’m not.

2. Distance. Thou shall not do face-to-face what you can do at a distance. Why travel to a meeting when you can videoconference? It’s a waste of time and petrol. Sometimes it’s worth it, but not every time. Get to know my avatar (he’s better looking than me anyway).

3. The long tail. Being online is about talking to the particular, not everyone. Help them find you, learn to find them.

4. Personalise. Get to use the features and tech you want, and try not to get sucked into the stuff you don’t. No I will not work on your farm.

5. Complexity. The net increases complexity. There are more opinions and more information than you know what to do with.

6. There is no rule 6.

7. Be master of your own identity. Use the privacy settings. Embrace pseudonymity, create multiple identities. Try not to mix them up.

8. Contact is king (not content). Remember the humans.
Elearning is not just dumping your lecture notes in Blackbored.

9. Openness. Thou shalt not own. Property is theft. When everything is given away there is no-one left to steal.

10. Program or be programmed. The 20th century was a battle between those who resisted technological change, and those who wanted the technological age. The neo-luddites lost. Deal with it.

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