All entries for April 2008

April 30, 2008

Game Over

Writing about web page

The Today Programme’s “Thought for the Day” (usually a misnomer because it usually contains nothing that approximates any thought) was on GTA IV. Actually it was pretty balanced. Yes GTA IV is violent, but it’s 18 certificate. Yes if you’re playing games all day, you need to get out more, but there’s good stuff about them too. Go Mona.

Apparently, though, not all of The Establishment has been quite so considered in their comments, if this backlash is anything to go by (see weblink). You know when someone says something so spot on you just want everyone to hear it? How about this quote

“Call them social inadequates if you like, but when they have more friends in World of Warcraft than you have in your entire sad little booze-oriented culture of a real life, the most you’ll get from them is pity.”

That’s Richard Bartle’s contribution. Here’s mine: Games don’t kill people. Politicians kill people.

April 20, 2008

Home life

Just thought I’d add this – it’s quite synechdochic of life at home. Cats, Frankenstein Monster mask and slinky coil.

still life

April 19, 2008

Not a CD it's a radio station

This is a music review, but it’s for a radio station, not a CD. aka aka soma fm has 13 separate channels, but the ones I listen to to block out the noise of co-workers in the office (not their fault – it’s a consequence of the sheer lunacy of putting people in open plan offices) are Space Station Soma, Sonic Universe, Drone Zone and Doomed. Doomed particularly is a revelation: “Dark and scary industrial-inspired music for tortured souls”. Back-to-back commercial-free tracks from artists of whom 90% are ones I’ve never heard of and yet nearly all are awesome. This is the soundtrack of your nightmares (uh that’s a good thing).


5 out of 5 stars

I’m not a big music reviewer, I buy CDs occasionally, some are OK some aren’t. It’s been a while since I played one over and over as soon as I bought it. Only two in the last year or so – Leftism (Leftfield) and Otherworld (Sonic Attack). Alaska is Metal – bits sound straight Death Metal – but this one has prog overtones which gives it a unique twist. There’s haunting bits, tuneful bits, and all interspersing the usual Death Metal type vocals that sound great. There’s bits that echo Fripp, Pink Floyd and Latin music. Altogether indefinable (unless you want to start creating your own labels, like Pomo Prog Metal or something). I’ve had this a week and already couldn’t be without it.

April 11, 2008

Second cat syndrome

I’ve taken this week off to help my new cat settle in. This is her


However, she wasn’t the one who needed settling, it was Sina (the first one).


They’re OK now, they’re asleep together on the sofa next to me while I write this, but I made quite a few mistakes in getting them together, recorded here in case anyone else has to do it.

1) I didn’t read up on it on the internet before I started. I just assumed that there wouldn’t be a problem. There’s a lot of advice out there, like give each cat a separate room to start with, introduce them to each other gradually, be patient.

2) I underestimated how stressed the older cat would be. She’s big, the other one’s small, what could be the problem? Actually she’s stopped grooming, crapping and, for a while, eating. Thanks to some liquid paraffin, number two is taken care of (in both senses). So she’s getting back to normal. It’s easy to mistake fear for agression (same’s true of humans though). All that hissing and growling is actually a fear response. The worst thing to do is tell them off, it just adds to the fear.

3) I overestimated how stressed the younger cat would be. She’s about a tenth the size of the other one, but half way through a fight she’d get distracted by a shoelace or her tail. I was worried she’d grow up paranoid or something, but by day four everythng’s OK anyway. And she’s learnt to get her punches in if she needs to. (Yes weirdly, both my cats don’t claw, on the whole, they box).

4) I stepped in too soon when fights happened. After a couple of days I let the hissing and boxing go on for a bit longer. I thought it might get it out of their systems more quickly. I think it did. I also stopped separating them so much. They need to be apart for some of the time, but getting stuck into each other more often helped, I think.

5) I picked one up during a fight. Sina’s a very peaceful cat, normally. However, deep down there’s a feral cat inside, which came out when I picked her up. I have the scars on my hands to prove it. Get a towel (a big one) to drop on them when you think it’s got out of hand.

6) I stopped doing anything else to keep an eye on them. I think part of the problem was that I just sat and watched them when they were together to stop them if anything happened, which meant each other was the only thing they had to focus on. They actually calmed down more when Sarah (my housemate) was looking after them. She kept on doing her usual stuff and that was probably more of a distraction for them.

7) Don’t panic. These two have gone from attacking each other on sight to sleeping next to each other peaceably within five days. It’s not as bad as it seems and will be worth it in the long run.

April 01, 2008

learning log 4

Although working at home on the laptop is the environment where i get most done, it can still be a very difficult process actually doing anything. The problem is that at work there’s a constant background of colleagues talking, eating and so on which makes it impossible to concentrate on writing anything. At home, there’s silence, which means it is possible to focus for a time, but not for long because there’s the kitchen, the radio and the internet. The worst time is when I’m about to start something new. Over Easter I had a report to write for the Medical School and a paper to write for a journal. Before starting either I spent about two days just faffing around. A typical day would be … get up about 8:30. Read for an hour or so because some comics had just been delivered from Forbidden Planet and I needed to do something while my brain woke up. Around 10:30 I’d open up the document I had to work on, I wouldn’t know where to start so I’d check my email. Someone would have sent me a link to something in YouTube so I’d look at that. Then I’d fnd The Onion channel and look at all the stuff in there. Around 1:30 I’d seen all the good stuff but I was hungry. Listen to the radio while eating, but listen to the end of the programme. 3:00. Open up the file again. Still not sure what to write, but get distracted by something from an RSS feed – linked to that is a forum. It’s a shared RPG forum, people write stories, upload drawings. That sort of creative collaborative environment is tangentially connected to my PhD so I take a look. It’s now 5:30 and the Simpsons are on soon. After tea it’s around 7:00 and I figure i should check my emails again. I’m now so desparate for task avoidance I will work on my day off rather than write the paper. Start writing paper around 10:00 – get about four hours in before 2:00 in the morning.

Next day is worse because I feel so shattered from the late night that I nap all day.

Is that just me..? I notice that when I get down to it, that I can get as absorbed in the studying as much as I got absorbed in the distractions. Maybe the faffing is important because my ideas are being organised subconsciously, but maybe that’s just a self-delusion.

I have a friend who’s very focussed – we were in the same class at school, she’s now an academic in Cambridge, two kids, enormous house, does some consultancy. Gets up at six to write. If she wasn’t a close friend that would be really annoying. Her advice was to structure my day more, which is what I’ve tried doing. My plan was to have four two-hour sessions 10 – 12 ; 1 – 3 ; 4 – 6 ; 8 – 10 – during which I’d work. It didn’t work out quite so structured – more 10:30 to 1:30 (see I can get absorbed when I start) ; 3 – 4; 8 – 11 (with a gap for when I thought Torchwood would be on and watched the first half of the programme they’d replaced it with). So maybe I can do it with more practice.

learning log 3

The other question is why do a blog rather than note it down in a word document? I think the reason is that I want to be able to add to it, no matter where I am, and find it straight away when I need to. Although that is still possible with a memory stick, too. Still even with a memory stick, the chances are that they’re in a bag in another room, or in a pocket somewhere. having this on the internet means that I don’t have to go looking for it. Yes I am that sedentary.

I’m not sure why I never use an intranet in the same way for everything I write. I think it’s because this works for short messages to myself, but I think it would become too unwieldy for bigger documents. I do store all my presentations on slideshare as well though.

The advantage of both is that they’re shareable too. I get quite a few comments on my slideshare page, and the occasional comment here too. Putting them online this way makes them easier for people to access. I can just email them the URL and they can take a look for themselves, rather than me having to email lots of documents.

learning log 2

The other problem with working here is that now the chair is making my back really painful.

I’m currently working on a PhD in education, and although I’ve put a lot of literature together for it, there’s not a lot on learning theories in there. This is mainly because I can’t see the point. Any one theory can’t be that reliable, because there are competing theories. If any of them were any good, most people would be agreeing on it and we’d just have the one. It makes more sense to me to treat the students as a black box. You observe what goes in, measure what comes out, and collate one against the other, there’s no value in making something up about what happens in the middle. In quantum mechanics that’s called the Copenhagen Interpretation. All this is irrelevant though.

Thing is, when I first started looking up stuff about learning theories, my first bits of research used the internet. However, I gave a paper I’d written to a friend over the weekend to read, and she said that I need a theoretical perspective. When I talked about the fact I’d got stuff in there on constructivist learning and experiential learning I ran the two together. Hil then pointed out the differences between those two things as different theoretical approaches and I got the difference more clearly and more quickly from her explanation than from all the reading I’d done (although it was wikipedia and I only spent about 30 minutes on it).

That’s made me realise that finding people to talk to about something is actually a lot more efficient way of making sense of these sort of things. Also, they can put me on to the right sort of stuff to read faster than an internet search. A couple of people at work are going to pass some stuff on to me to read which should help. These are books. Funny how when I feel really in need of an upgrade to the knowledgebank I go straight back to books. I guess I still think of them as having the real credibility/authenticity. If it’s in a book it must be the good shit.

learning log

I’m keeping a log to record my learning experiences for the BLUPs project, as an example to the students about the sort of reports we’re after. My first thought is that I’m not sure I can do it – the levels of personal reflection and self-awareness required are quite high. DO I always know what affects the choices I make as far as learning preferences are concerned.

Starting with today then …

I started to try and do this on my PC in the office, but it won’t connect to the network. This really annoys me. I think because I’m a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to starting a new piece of work, when I am finally ready to go, I want to start straight away. Anything that then prevents me from getting going is very very annoying. My first thought was that I should stay at home when I have work that really needs doing, because my equipment at home is far more reliable. I also prefer working at home because I can lie on the sofa while working. Two weeks ago I hurt my back, and sitting upright makes it hurt. Although I have an orthopaedic chair (I know how old does that make me sound?) it’s not entirely comfortable.

My first choice for another workstation was the Learning Grid. I don’t really like using a colleague’s place because it feels like I’m invading their space, but in the LG it’s sort of no-man’s land. I feel I ought to like the LG more than I do. I like the idea of how it supports the learners, but I find it can be really difficult to focus in there. At the moment I just feel I’m too close to the guy sitting to my left, and he’s really twitchy – he keeps on coughing and taking quick sips of his coke in a jerky way. Anyway – it’s really distracting.

One reason why it does work though, moving from my office to the LG, is that I keep all my work on a set of memory sticks. I don’t think I could work without them, because of the confusion otherwise about where anything is. It could be on my PC at home, my laptop, my PC in the office, and then if I need something, chances are it’s in the wrong place.

The other annoying thing about having to move, apart from the twitchy people here, is that the default settings on the PCs always seem to be wrong. I sent an email about keeping a log to Rossana, and it didn’t get sent, becauase pop-ups were blocked so I couldn’t attach a word document and the whole thing closed down.
These things seemed to always be designed with some other type of user in mind.

Oh God, now twitchy guy is sniffing.

April 2008

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