All entries for September 2006

September 29, 2006

Not an effective Friday

Well today was meant to be spent working on the DIVERSE 2006 conference proceedings and planning my PhD. Instead I slept in to 10:30, spent the morning on ebay and shopping, and the afternoon reading and sleeping. I finally got down to it at 5:00 and am just taking a break now at errm 5:40. I did test out the videoconferencing set-up in theatre studies via Skype in between naps, though.

The DIVERSE 06 proceedings are the first set we’ve put together. We’ve had problems getting previous ones published, then decided to gather the papers from 01 to 04 together thematically as a series of books. I’ve edited the first of these books together, hopefully that will be out soon. The thematic thing actually worked so well the plan was then to collect papers from later conferences, to form follow-up books. The idea was that publications based around a theme, rather than linked only by being at the same conference, would have a longer shelf-life and a broader appeal. The reality, of course, is that contributors want their stuff out straight away, rather than wait until enough papers are collected together on a common theme to form a book. So, OK, not one of my best ideas.

What I’m doing therefore is carrying on with getting the three books collecting papers from 01 to 04, and now editing together the proceedings for 06, which is also picking up papers from 05 where people want them published. 07 proceedings can then be all the 07 papers plus whoever missed the deadline for this year, then 08 can be for the 08 papers. And then we’re on track. I might still give contributors an extra year to submit, though.

Reasons not to shop at Morrison’s
1) The sausage rolls – full of gristle
2) Ade2 – on the face of it a drink that also contains vitamins is a good idea, but mixing together pineapple, passionfruit and soya Why??
3) DVDs – note to any retailer selling DVDs – don’t store the boxes in one place and the DVDs somewhere else – any customer not aware of that ends up going home with just the box. Plus who wants a DVD that’s been knocking around outside of its box. Just leave them in the box and tag it like everyone else does.

And I did a bit more family history research. I found my great-great-great-grandmother Eleanor Nelson in the 1851 census. Living in the same place as in the 1861 census – but with her name mis-spelt, which is why I hadn’t come across the entry before. She was a nurse in West Norfolk and Lynn hospital. I think one day I’ll have to go over there and take a look at what the place is like.

September 25, 2006

another technical malfunction

It’s now getting difficult to concentrate – the heat’s building up due to air conditioning failing. If there was one thing to prove that open plan offices are a complete non-starter (and there are many things that prove that) the most undeniable has to be the complete incompetence of this place to get the air conditioning sorted. It doesn’t work on really hot days and goes into overdrive on cold days. During the winter it’s like being in a wind tunnel. It’s got to be a health and safety issue, but everyone ignores it. One of the advantages of being able to work at home occasionally is that it gives my respiratory system chance to recover from sitting in a constant draught.

I seem to remember – years ago – windows were designed so you could open them. It’s a great idea. When it’s too hot you open the window, when it’s too cold you close it. If it got really cold you get a fan heater to warm the place up. The great thing about it was that it was simple, it worked, and you could control it. Once you remove the control people have over their environment, that’s when things fall apart. Plus environmentally all the energy that’s wasted is incredible. In winter, when the aircon’s on full, we have to sit here with fan heaters pumping heat in to compensate for the chill factor of the aircon. Where’s the sense in that?

To be fair – it’s not just University House that suffers from this. I was in the Custard Factory last week, and there was one spot in the meeting room that was about 10 degrees colder than the surroundings because it was directly under the aircon vent. You’d think if people were going to insist on installing and using the technology they’d think of a way to get it to work first. You’d think.

September 24, 2006

PhD re–launch

Writing about web page

Well, this weekend was going to be the weekend I got back into doing the PhD, since it’s the first longer weekend now I’ve gone part-time. I had a good meeting on Saturday morning with Sue and Rossana, two other PhD students. I learnt a lot about planning and structuring the work I need to do. I think WIE should put Sue on the payroll (Rossana already is) so she can run a session for everyone else.

My first task is to work out what I’m going to do and when, I’ll do that by next week. I also want to submit a paper for the ICE3 conference, I’ll need to get that done by the end of November. It’s not so much that it looks like a great conference (although it does) it’s mainly that it’ll be an incentive to get some ideas down and underway. There’s a balance between making sure you’re looking at relevant stuff, so that you don’t waste time writing things that wont get into the final thesis, and spending so much time working out what’s relevant, that you don’t get anything started. I think I’m just going to try and do as much work as i can, then work out later which is relevant and which isn’t.
Great-great-granddad John
Of course, getting down to doing some work in reality means identifying lots of displacement activity. My office space at home is now really tidy, the cat has a new extension to her climbing frame, and I’ve now gone through all my CD-ROMs working out what’s on which. My family tree now has photos of everyone back to great-great-grandparents on it, like my great-great grandfather John -->.

I have to be careful with the ancestry site though. If I click on “tree view” then “home”, I’m OK, I just get my family tree. If I’m in “Family view” then click home, it always triggers a mid-life crisis. The form has loads of prompts for adding new data, but they just read like accusations of failure – “add a wife for Mark Childs” “No children have been added for Mark Childs” “No relationship events have been added for Mark Childs”.

Which leads me to Welsh Whisky (crises -> whisky, you can see the link). I have no idea why everyone I mention it to finds the concept amusing. It really is very good.

September 21, 2006

end of the week

But it’s only Thursday, I hear you say. Yep – but now I only work four days a week, my weekend starts now. In fact, since the network’s shutting down at 5 p.m. it’s about to start 2 hours early. Saturday is a research colloquium for all the research degree students in education – the ones that started in 2005 that is. I’m not sure how many are going to turn up though, one of the problems with these self-help set-ups is that without the extrinsic motivation of some lecturer telling us we have to do it, everyone backs out, even if it’s actually quite useful. I’ll still go, even though I don;t have too much to say (since I haven’t done anything since the last colloquium).

Although I;m still not sure I’m still on the degree. Today I discovered an email account the graduate office set up for me without telling me, and they;ve been sending emails to that for the last five months.One of which was a continuation form I should have sent in by the 17th June. :S I’ve filled the form in, and hopefully they’ll overlook the missed deadline, since there’s not really any way I could have predicted the existence of my hidden account.

What’s bizarre is that when I discovered this account, even though neither me nor my department knew about it, or have used it, half of the forty or so emails in it were spam. How did that happen??

Anyway, better finish before everything goes away for the evening.

September 20, 2006

Yay Gedcom

Writing about web page

I’ve been working on my family tree on my second cousin’s website ( It’s been excellent, he’s put a lot of information on there and having it as an interactive source of information makes it a lot easier to read than loads of separate pages. Plus, since his surname is Christmas, it means that as represented by the software, I’m actually on the Christmas tree.

However, i wanted a bit more control over the editing of what i feel is my bit (the ancestors I have that aren’t his) since the information I’ve got keeps changing and I don’t want to hassle him with the changes, so I’ve set up a tree at I wasn’t looking forward to transferring across all the info. However, there seems to be a standard interoperable format for family trees called Gedcom. I downloaded my tree as a gedcom file, then uploaded it to, and all the information is there, every relative, the various sources. All in one go. You have to select a starting person (I picked me :#) and there’s a maximum of 8 generations so I’ll have to top it up where my tree goes back further than that. But dealing with so much in e-learning that isn’t interoperable, this just seems akin to magic. Just thought I’d share.

rehearsing the posthuman

Writing about web page

A thought for the PhD. One of the reasons I wanted to get into this research is the sense that there might be something socially maybe psychologically or even evolutionary about this development of avatar-based systems, or even a persistent online self through chatrooms, blogging etc. One of the concepts I’ve just started reading around is the idea of the posthuman – developing new versions of human through surgery, nanotechnology, cybernetics. Although creating an avatar and acting through it probably doesn’t really count as having a posthuman body, perhaps theyre a way of rehearsing what that experience might feel like. Anyway, it gives me an opportunity to shoehorn some weird stuff into the study.

One thing though, if you’re meeting someone and trying to impress them this could be a set of ideas that might work in intriguing them, but only if you don’t mention that you stumbled across it accidentally while looking up forthcoming star trek novels.

homeward wends his weary way

Writing about web page

Thing is – the wender in Grey’s Elegy didn’t have to sit in a queue of other ploughmen for hours in order to get home. Although the snarl-up yesterday was probably due to them still clearing up the mess on the M6 from the day before. This blog isn’t going to be a daily strop about how long it takes me to get home (6:50 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. last night) but it’s been a particularly bad week. At least today I’m working at home. Far more efficient. Apart from being climbed over by the cat slowing me down. I was in a telephone conference on Friday with the University of Amsterdam and had to close it down early to stop her from ripping apart a lampshade.

Just starting a podcasting exercise with the URSS students, in order to publicise the URSS event on the 25th October. That should be interesting. The system we’ve got here at Warwick is great – fulfills the 3G criteria for e-learning admirably. The 3G criteria are gemak, gewin and genot. If your Dutch is no better than mine that will need translating. It’s easy to use, has value and is fun. And creating the mp3s is getting easier. It seems every new thing you buy has an audio recorder built into it. I’ll add a link to the podcasts from here when it’s up and running.

I’ve also spent today reformatting all of the design patterns for the learning patterns project. The patterns are at the link above. The idea of a learning pattern is that you take an educational scenario, deconstruct it, then put it into a taxonomy. The intention is that this becomes a standardised way to exchange experience and expertise between different disciplines, making tasks like games design simpler. That’s the plan. I’ve found the analysing and deconstructing easy, but not the recasting those structures into the correct template for sharing. The project manager keeps telling me that they’re still not real patterns :S.

This is one of those activities that you can only really do away from the office – if you work in open plan. A couple of hours uninterrupted is really necessary to get your head around it. Maybe we should get movable curtains that we can put around our desks with a big “Do Not Disturb” sign.

September 19, 2006

Another week another conference

Writing about web page

Just got back from the Learning on Screen conference. Some interesting stuff there – I’m particularly looking forward to is the British Library sound archive going online next week. I was down for doing a presentation on the Streaming Theatres project – ref

Stevens, J. and Childs, M. (2006) “Streaming Theatres” Learning on Screen Conference, Birmingham, 18th to 19th September, 2006

More about the Streaming Theatres project is at the Stream Team website – that’s also a useful resource for obtaining information about video streaming.

There was a JISC expert meeting on streaming video the day before the conference in Birmingham. Traffic was almost at a standstill due to a lorry having flipped upside down on the southbound carriageway. Well “due to” is maybe not true. On Thursday I left at 2:00 (I was coming down with a cold) and it took 2 hours 40 minutes to do what is a 40 minute journey if I leave at 7:00. Due to the roadworks. What’s even more annoying is that it’s the third time they’ve had roadworks on that stretch of motorway since I’ve been working here. Surely it would make more sense to make the road out of something that doesn’t need fixing every three years. Or is that too obvious? I guess I’ll have to accept that I’m practically marooned here during the day.

I’m going to start a “what grinds my gears” category. I can then vent about the stuff that really annoys me.

September 12, 2006

Praise the Gods for photoshop

Where would we be without it?

photoshopped presentation

Technical hitches with presentations

Since the last entry, colleagues have been kind enough to remind me of previous technical problems I’ve had with presentations at conferences. Somehow I’ve been able to suppress the memories of these, but they seem to be fixed in others people’s minds. The thing is, the publications list doesn’t really cover the essentials. for example nowhere in:

Childs, M., and Dalziel, C. (2000) ‘Supporting Staff in the delivery of Technology supported learning at the University of Wolverhampton’, 7th International ALT Conference on Integrating Learning Technology, UMIST, Tuesday 12th September 2000

does it say: Mark accidentally dipped his conference badge in his chocolate gateau at lunch which then smeared all over his shirt so that he had to wear the only item of clothing he could buy on campus for the presentation (a UMIST sweatshirt)

or in Childs, M. (2006) ‘Opening Address’ 6th International DIVERSE conference, Glasgow Caledonian University, 5th July 2006

does it say: Mark dyed a friend’s hair the weekend before and got the dye on his hands which wore off his skin but not his fingernails, resulting in an effect that looked like pink nail varnish which wouldn’t come off. That actually stayed on for weeks, eventually I had to scour off the top layer of my nails with sandpaper.

If only I had the usual hassles to contend with, like data projectors not working or Internet connections failing …

September 2006

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