All entries for October 2006

October 30, 2006

My great–great–grandparents

Writing about web page

I finally gave up on waiting for the birth certificate from of my great-grandmother, so I contacted the government records office instead. I’m not sure how I ended up with the gov-cert webpage to start with (probably through a Google search) but there’s a link that I hadn’t spotted before from the genealogy website to the GRO webpage. Instead of 22 days (gov-cert), GRO will send the certificates in 5 days, and instead of charging £22 they charge £7. And they actually send them, rather than keeping you hanging around for five months with promises. So, a word of advice if you’re going to take up researching your family history. is a complete rip-off.

Anyway, now I’ve got that off my chest.

The birth certificate gave me my great-great-grandparents’ names, (Thomas Walker and Elizabeth Nelson) and looking them up on the censuses revealed something interesting. My great-great-grandfather Thomas Walker, was born in the East Indies. I’m 1/16 Indian. although I guess with a name like Thomas he was British-born, which is a slight disappointment. I can’t work out from the censuses where exactly in the East Indies he was born – they’re so illegible that the name’s variously transcribed as Froshonapply and Trickonspley!!

Checking back on marriages of Eleanor Nelsons in Norfolk in the 1850s I found there was one married at the same time as a Thomas Walker (that’s probably them). But also at the same time, a Martin Walker got married. Maybe a great-great-grand-uncle who got married in a double wedding?? Anyway, the plot thickens :) I’ve just ordered them, so in about a week I should know about the generation before too.

October 28, 2006

Have a freaky Hallowe'en everyone


The World of Tomorrow

Writing about web page

I’m not huge on cigarette card collections – a friend brought me a set for my birthday last year, and when they’re framed they look kind of decorative on the wall. Round at friend’s house a couple of weeks ago, I saw he had a set on the wall, and I thought “yeah OK – maybe I could get another set”. After doing some research, the only set of all those published that I thought sounded neat was a 1936 set called “The World of Tomorrow”, the text lifted from a popular book of the time, accompanied by a collection of images from various pulp magazines and films. All from the 1930s. I also read that they were sought after, and there was one for sale on ebay.

I find the combination of the phrases “sought after” and “buy now” difficult to resist, though I should be a bit careful after my recent 1/6 cut in salary, so bought them straight away. That’s one of the best and worst things about the Internet. You can go from never having heard of something to owning it within a couple of minutes.

The whole set are intriguing though. Sure – there’s the stuff they got right (they predicted ion drive!) and the stuff they got wrong (no computers), but the strangest things are the stuff they assume will still be around and aren’t, and the stuff I assumed were unremarkable but they didn’t have 70 years ago.

Anyway, here are two cards that will seem familiar to people in University House – an impression of what our working environment seems like from the outside and from the inside. If you work in UH, take a look at these and then look around you. Amazingly prescient, I’m sure you’ll agree.

House of GlassHouse of Glass

See what I mean? But I’d never thought of the modern trend of using loads of glass in buildings as being due to an engineering breakthrough. I’d just thought they didn’t do it 70 years ago because they didn’t like buildings like that. My house is 100 years old and has tiny windows. With that plus my energy-saving light-bulbs that take ages to actually turn on, it’s very dark here first thing (If anyone ever thinks I arrive at work looking like I’ve got dressed in the dark, it’s because I have).

Here’s the image of work in the future:

Office of the future
Office of the future

Uncanny isn’t it. It’s like they’d been here. What I don’t get though, is the phrase, “male as well as female”. Was it the norm for women 70 years ago to wear coveralls but not men? Why would they? What’s going on there? And I guess the idea that 70 years in the future we wouldn’t really be making that big a distinction between genders didn’t occur to them.

So in the predicting game, maybe it’s harder to predict what we’ll get rid of than it is to predict what will be introduced? Any ideas what won’t be around any more in 70 years? My guesses are:

Newspapers won’t be around 10 years from now.
Political parties won’t be the main way we get politics done 20 years from now.
I’ll be back with this when I’ve thought of some more.

Today’s song going round in my head is Fallout Boy “number one with a bullet” I really really really hate that song. Last time they played it in Virgin while I was shopping me and the friend I was with ran screaming from the place with our fingers in our ears.

October 24, 2006

today's soundtrack

It seems like most days I wake up with a particular tune going round in my head. Today it’s “The Perfect Girl” by The Cure. I wonder if that’s an indication of mood. OMG that would make today’s mood “sunnily optimistic” :o

Pattern languages

Writing about web page

This video really clarifies for me the whole pattern language thing. I’ve been trying to develop patterns to describe learning situations and, as the two guys in the video will attest, I’m sure, I’ve struggled with getting it right. I think I’m there now, and it’s really about attention to detail and providing all the relevant information in the right format. Three things that perhaps aren’t my strongpoints.

October 23, 2006

minor irritation

OK – another thing that annoys me – people who assume that socks should match. They can never offer any explanation as to why, they just seem to think it’s a given. It seems to be because they’re bought as pairs, and the pairs when you buy them match, so they should always be worn that way. But that makes no sense. No other item of clothing is always worn accompanying another. It’s like there’s some sort of unspoken assumption that they should, but that’s just culturally determined. And yet if you think about the amount of time that’s wasted on such a pointless exercise as matching them up, we could lead so much more fruitful lives if we freed ourselves from the tyranny of sock-matching. I’m sure I save about five minutes every morning by just picking two at random.

Maybe if shops just sold them as packs of non-matching socks then we could escape this rigid mindset. Hhhmmm maybe there’s a market there.

getting myself organisised

I’m now getting into the literature review for the PhD. I’ve only done two days so far (one last weekend and one the weekend before that) but it seems that nothing I’ve read really takes any notice of anything else. I’m looking at the definititions of presence, and sub-categories of presence, and it seems that people are using the same phrases to mean different things, and different phrases to mean the same things. I’m having to go through defining my terms as I go, because there’s no shared understanding of what those terms mean.

I guess partly it’s because “presence” as a a concept is trans-disciplinary – and the people looking at presence in the sense of telepresence (in videoconferencing and using teleoperators) haven’t thought about it in teaching terms, and those who’ve thought of it in teaching applications seem to think of online learning only in terms of text-based asynchronous learning platforms. One writer even said something along the lines of an added problem being that in online teaching the professor can’t challenge misunderstandings when they arise. What? That’s true but only in some situations. And the third group of people whose work I’ve looked at – those analysing gaming – have a lot of insight into aspects that really fall into the category of presence, but don’t seem to really use the term.

The weirdest aspect is that there seems to be no clarity between the different aspects of the idea, like the authors have merged it all into one, or drift from one aspect to another without defining their terms. Is this general for education research, or have I just started with some of the sloppier thinkers? Is anyone else finding this?

October 19, 2006

Sick building syndrome

So – winter’s nearly here and so the air conditioning has kicked into overdrive. I’m sitting here with the hood of my hoody up trying to stay warm and also trying to deal with the lining of my nose and throat being screwed over by the constant draught. The really annoying thing is that it could all be fixed by turning the damn thing off. I suppose I could just tape over the vents with gaffer tape, but I’d need to be able to sneak stepladders into the office, not the most sneakable of items. It’s just so weird that we can be expected to work in an environment that makes us ill and no-one does anything about it. If anyone has any idea about what action I can take to get this thing sorted, let me know.

October 17, 2006

starting to write the phd

in theory Saturday and Sunday should have been my days for working on the PhD. It did take me a while to get down to working on it – I spent a lot of time re-reading where I’d got to and trying to make sense of it, then trying to work out what area I needed to start reading to get started on the literature review. That took more than a day and I got nowhere. Part of the problem I guess is that I haven’t actually written anything since December last year. For the first few months of the year my available time was taken with editing a book, the rest of it was taken up with attending, and then writing the assignments for, the Advanced Research Methods course. In fact, I didn’t really have time properly to do that, I had to skip one of the sessions to get the time to write the assignments. The problem with working full time is that you only really get one day a week to work on the PhD, and that’s not going to be every week. Which means when the sessions are running, nothing else can happen.

Anyway – I think I was having difficulty starting the literature review because I was thinking of the whole review. When that got nowhere I planned instead to take a learning and teaching activity that happened last year and start analysing that. I started looking at the literature that I needed to read to understand what was going on in that activity, and started writing! I guess some people need a very focused target for their reading and writing in order to get something started. That might be a tip for other students to get started. Think small and focused at first.

Clearing a space is getting trickier because I’m now getting invitations to do stuff. I have to learn to start rationing those out, otherwise my time is going to be limited again. I figure one day off every week is about right, but acquiring the self-discipline to turn stuff down is something I’m still having to work on.

October 09, 2006

A more effective Monday

Writing about web page

Quite a lot of stuff happening now – I guess I’m getting there.

Last week had a trip down to Southampton for a meeting with the EDIT4L people and the external evaluators plus the programme manager. It was all very relaxed – it’s so much easier when it’s with people that are easy to get on with. Then Thursday was a workshop that ties in with the EDIT4L project. Southampton have designed an online toolkit that takes users through the process of creating lesson plans. The idea of the project is to take people through the use of it and get feedback. The three people who turned up to the workshop were really helpful, and we got a lot of good ideas about how to best make use of the toolkit.

I still haven’t got anywhere on the PhD – yesterday was spent editing more papers for the DIVERSE conference proceedings. We’re up to 20 papers now – and they’re a really interesting selection. I can’t wait for the proceedings to be published. The other publication is the first of three editions compiling papers from the first four years of DIVERSE. ALT are publishing them and seem to be really efficient. They’re just getting on with it with no fuss, no endless meetings, no laborious decision-making. People like that are such a breath of fresh air to work with.

I’ve finally got to grips with the Design Patterns concept. Last week involved going through a La Verdad - Earth Humset of concept maps of the various elements identified with using games for learning, selecting the appropriate taxon for that deployment pattern and adding it to a table. The process wasn’t made any easier by working in an open plan office. It’s the sort of deep thinking that I need total quiet for, otherwise the thinking doesn’t happen. Whoever thought that work could be conducted in a space like this wasn’t really thinking (maybe they were in an open plan office at the time). Even turning up Earth Hum to full volume on my earphones didn’t drown it out (listening to Earth Hum doesn’t really contradict the “complete quiet” dictum, since it’s the closest music you can get to white noise). Ironically it’s now completely quiet in here apart from the tapping of a dozen keyboards.

This morning I was involved in a videoconference with Amsterdam using Breeze – which worked pretty well. Students here and students there discussed plays, one from NL and a couple from UK. It’s difficult getting a free-flowing conversation going through videoconferencing, but it’s early days yet. That’s part of the Streaming Theatre project.

Also today I’ve started a distance learning course at the University of Genoa. It’s on Narrative Learning Environments – and I’m still not too sure what they are. I’ll keep you posted.

October 2006

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