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June 26, 2019

New Warwick interdisciplinarity hub for students

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/students/opportunities/interdisciplinarity/

We've got lots of interdisciplinarity opportunities for students at Warwick. This is so important for their ability to cope with and succeed in the modern world. Bo Kelestyn and the WIHEA Interdisciplinarity group have created a brilliant new web site that tells students every thing they need to know.

Warwick Interdisciplinarity Hub


April 12, 2018

Using Bootstrap

Writing about web page https://johndale.info

Learning how to use Bootstrap cards to make a responsive website – https://johndale.info. Fun!


May 11, 2016

Le Port–Museé, Douarnenez, Finistère, Brittany

Writing about web page http://www.port-musee.org

Douarnenez is a small town on the coast in the bottom corner of the bay that stretches out towards the Crozon in the north and Cap Sizun and Pointe de Raz to the west. Finistère does of course mean "the end of the land" - but for many Bretons now and in the past, with their love of the sea, it really means "the start of the ocean". Douarnenez is, these days, as much about beaches, cafés and coastal wildlife as it is about real oceanic adventures. But its two ports are still busy with leisure and historic craft, as well as a few working boats. You can even buy Douarnenez sardines in Waitrose.

Sardines

But in addition the town has put some effort into maintaining its link with the sea. There is an annual tall ship festival. And you can learn to sail or kayak. But most of all there is a really wonderful museum full of maritime character and the smell of ancient salty timbers.

For the last few years Le Port-Museé has been one of my favourite places to visit with my children. It has been magical for them and for us adults too. We keep going back. And there is plenty of reason to do so. The museum fills cavernous old warehouses and a long stretch of the river (the old port Rhu). There are permanent exhibitions, with a wide selection of old boats and associated clothes and equipment, all displayed with great thought and arranged for visual and learning impact. The musuem also hosts large "temporary" exhibitions (although they do seem to stay for a couple of years). We have seen The Box (about the container shipping business) - which might sound dull, but is in fact brilliantly done with amazing exhibits including a giant lego model of a container port. We have also visited the Sinbad exhibition, about the maritime traditions of Arabia, which is still running. It is wonderful. They even sailed a dhow called Nizwa all the way from Oman - we have seen it sailing out across the bay, which is quite surprising when in close up you see just how roughly made it is.

There are many ships into which you can explore, with all decks open - lots of them on moored on the river, but also (and this is the most popular with the children) a fishing boat in the warehouse on which they can play at being at sea.

There is a lot more to the place than I have so far described. To really get across how great it is, here are some photos from our visits over two years.

Steering hard to starboard...

Port Museum

Full steam ahead for the Mighty Atom!

In the engine room

The Nizwa dhow, all the way from Oman and now sailing across the Bay of Douarnenez.

Nizwa

Ghostly sailor's clothes...

Ghostly clothes

Fishermans clothes

A life-size diorama of an old Breton port...

A Breton port scene

Fish people!

Fish people

The huge lego model of a container port...

The lego port

One of the many Arabian artefacts in the Sinbad exhibition. There is also a recreation of a Omani house, including spices, and a giant Arab astrological map.

Omani door

And there is a great restaurant next door.

Cafe next door



November 25, 2011

Where's the learning technology and philosophy articles?

For my learning technology and philosophy research, see http://www.inspireslearning.com


June 30, 2011

The natural beauties of Hungary

1,500 miles down the track going East, surrounded by cuckoos, bitterns, little bitterns, purple herons, golden orioles...an avian conspiracy against the possibility of sleep. We had ridden for two days across Europe, 8 countries on big fat BMW motorcycles, vaguely assuming that the wildlife of Romania would be our eventual target. Without anticipating Hungary.

Trapped by the astounding beauty of the big flat flood plains of the Danube, and stretching westward. First we camped at the great Lake Balaton, then on to the little known Lake Szelid, like a piece of the Okavango, a stranded and slowly salinating Danube ox-bow, with swarms of frogs and birds that I've only ever imagined I would hear or see in Africa. And then, heading towards the Romanian border and Timisoara, we stopped for lunch just a little to the west of Szeged - a small spa town called Mórahalom - the kind of place that immediately impresses with its calmness and welcome. After half an hour, Martin was seriously analysing the estate agent's wares. With the help of the English speaking young ladies at the Library and the Toursist Information centre (Hungarian ladies are beautiful, even when not riding bicycles, although it is rare to see them not riding bicycles, that seeming to be the national habit, in shorts and with very nice legs), we were directed to a small nature reserve along a sandy track (think Paris-Dakar rally). It was, I believe, called Madarász, however the Hungarian language may as well be Martian to us, and most people there seem to speak nothing else. Anyhow, it is one of the world's greatest natural experiences...whiskered terns, black terns, marsh and hen harriers, peregrines, otters, bitterns of both variety, and a raucous colony of purple herons.

Some photos fail to do justice to Hungary's wonder...

Hungary 1\

Crossing on the Lake Balaton ferry...

Balaton from the ferry

Fishermen's punts at Lake Szelid...

Fishermen

Evening on Lake Szelid...

Evening at Szelid

A single representative of the million tiny frogs that we found hopping around the foot path along Lake Szelid. Food for bitterns. A sign of a healthy eco-system.

A million frogs

A statue in the lovely little park in the spa town of Moralohom, Hungary. Notice the nice lady wrapped in a towel. It attracts visitors from all over the world to its waters, and possibly also its population of nice ladies on bicycles.

Moralohom

At the nature reserve, strange sheep with spiral horns, pigs with curly afro style coats...

Farm

Hungarian pony...

Hungarian pony

The reserve contains a series of long artificial lakes, full of life for nature lovers and fishermen...

Lakes

And flowers...

Hungary 2

Hungary 3

Hungary 4

Hungary 5

Hungary 6

Hungary 7

Hungary 8


April 25, 2011

BMW R100GS Paris–Dakar refurbishment and redesign – latest progress

Some recent updates by top expert Andrew Sexton. Including:

  • Oil sump extension;
  • New oil cooler;
  • Oil cooler relocation;
  • Oil cooler thermostat.

The parts were bought from http://www.boxxerparts.de

Andrew has also professionally rewired the electrics, making a neat job out of the Acewell speedo and a replacement rear led light. It all now seems to work perfectly. Finally, he found that it had been suffering from low oil pressure, due to a missing o-ring in the oil filter assembly (a common mistake made by a non-specialist technician). The big-end bearings had signs of damage, so were replaced. Andrew also re-seated the exhaust valves. Less smoke and more MPG have resulted.

I've added an MRA Vario screen from Motorworks, adjustable to give perfectly non-turbulent air flow. There's also a Garmin Zumo sat nav to go with the Midland BT 02 bluetooth intercom.

I've ditched the metal panniers (Ted Simon's advice). They've been replaced by a pair of Ortlieb waterproof panniers (a single pannier can carry all of my camping gear), a Hein Gericke tail bad, and a small cool bag.

Some photos:

Bike 1

Bike 2

Bike 3


April 12, 2011

Alexander playing cosmic basketball

Lawrence thought it would be amusing, so he made this image....

Basketball


March 27, 2011

Alexander Prospero O'Toole

Alexander

Magical baby.


October 12, 2010

For articles about learning, research and technology…

Please see my research blog Inspires Learning.


July 11, 2010

Road testing my rebuilt R100GS PD

Follow-up to BMW R100GS definitely almost finished soon soon from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

On Friday evening, I got my GS Paris-Dakar back from Nu-Age Kenilworth Motorcycles (thanks to Nick, Bill and all their helpers for lots of hard work). The police-specification electrics are all working well. Only two glitches: the speedo connection from the gearbox to the Acewell digital speedo has stopped working; on my first run, after half-an-hour, the clutch started to scream - I took it back, and Bill adjusted the setting. It's now fine. No, in fact, it's absolutely magnificent - just as an Airhead Gëlande Strasse should be. A bit quicker and more responsive to the throttle than before the rebuild. And without the fairing and screen, it's much smoother, with less air turbulence. And much more fun. Naked bikes feel faster, and more "involved". I did an hour's worth of riding today, getting it up to 70mph on the A46, and testing it out thoroughly on the b-roads. I'll try to use it every day this week, and at some point take onto a green lane to see if being 20KG lighter improves it's handling on dirt.

The rebuild is complete. For a while. I'll have another look at the electrics, to tidy them up and get the speedo working. And then perhaps a bigger front disk will be the next development.

Here's a full tally of the work that i've had done:

Frame, sub-frame and various components powder coated;
Nuts and bolts replaced with a stainless kit;
Downpipes and silencer replaced with a Keihan stainless set;
Fork seals replaced;
Push-rod seals replaced, and stainless steel tubes added;
Tank, mudguards and side panels repainted (fairing removed);
Headlight replaced with twin lights;
Instruments replaced with an Acewell digital system;
Timing chain replaced;
Carbs refurbished;
Pistons and heads de-coked;
1 exhaust valve replaced;
Alternator, diode board, regulator, hall sensor all replaced with improved versions;
Serviced;
Cleaned and polished.

The starter motor was replaced recently with one of the "improved" Valeo starters.

So now, I hope, it will do another 85,000 miles until the next major rebuild.

Complete


July 08, 2010

BMW R100GS definitely almost finished soon soon

Follow-up to BMW R100GS refurbishment almost finished from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

It has an MOT, and some nice new Acerbis handguards (don't pay rip-off Touratech prices for them, go to an off-road shop and they are 1/3 the price). Nu-Age Kenilworth Motorcycles couldn't get the timing exactly right, so I guessed that the mechanical retard/advance mechanism in the bean can is jammed, a common fault. They have ordered a fully electronic replacement from Motorworks. The alternator is looking worn and not charging properly, so i'll be getting a new 450w police-spec generator as well, along with a police-spec regulator to match. It will be ready soon soon. Unless I decide that I might as well replace the remaining original parts too. Anyone know where I can get a new set of forks? Ohlins, WP, Marzochi USD? Even the Marzochi insert kit would be an improvement. No one seems to sell them anymore.

GS with acerbis hand guards

GS from the front



May 18, 2010

Blossoming

Garden right

Garden right 2

Garden centre

Garden left


May 16, 2010

Nuthatch

Nuthatches are regular visitors to our garden. They have become unusually tame.

Nuthatch 1

Nuthatch 2


BMW R100GS refurbishment almost finished

Follow-up to BMW R100GS pistons and heads cleaned from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

My bike came back from Nu-Age racing in superb condition. I've started to add the final parts. The mudguards have been painted blue (Glossy Car Coats of Kenilworth) and the tank has been painted in BMW arctic white. I'm going to leave the side panels off. All bolts are now stainless steel. I've also fitted stainless down pipes and a silencer. It's in better condition that it was when I bought it nine years ago. I think it's the bike that BMW should have built.

R100GS from the side

I've removed the headlight fairing, replaced with just a simple and lightweight twin headlight set and an Acewell digital speedo bolted to the handlebars.

R100GS from the front

The last job is to fit the electrics. Getting the loom and a new set of coils in place was easy. However, the front section of the loom is far too long without the fairing, and so I must wrap it back on itself. It's now almost complete.



April 30, 2010

BMW R100GS pistons and heads cleaned

Follow-up to BMW R100GS frame and engine refurb from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

The guys at Nu-Age Racing have now carefully removed the carbon deposits from the engine. It's looking really good. Hopefully, it will all be back together by the weekend and I can start to reassemble the electrics.

Before

After
Before After


Clean

Shiny happy engine.


April 23, 2010

BMW R100GS frame and engine refurb

My R100GS Paris Dakar is currently at the very good (and friendly) Nu-Age Racing in Kenilworth having some major refurbishment work done.

The frame has been blasted and powder coated. The result is excellent, like it has just rolled off the production line:

Powder coated GS frame

After 85,000 miles, a new timing chain has been fitted as a precautionary measure:

GS crankase

As with most old airheads, the pushrod seals are leaking. They are being replaced, and stainless steel pushrod tubes added:

Heads and barrels

Taking the engine apart has revealed quite a lot of carbon deposits on the pistons and around the valves, one of which will be replaced (an exhaust valve went a few years ago):

GS piston

The gearbox and drive shaft seem fine:

GS gearbox

I'm also having the carbs refurbished.

When that is all complete, i'll be fitting the wiring loom (re-bound) and adding new twin headlights and a small digital speedo (with the old plastic fairing removed).




March 13, 2010

Making web sites

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:-

  1. If you’re used to working with a content management system, it’s an unpleasant slap in the face to have to go back to using CSS & HTML for layout. It’s easy to kid yourself that if you know enough HTML to do simple formatted text, images and tables, that you know enough to do layout but that’s tragically untrue.
  2. Equally, though, for a web site as small as the one I made, it’s not worth the effort of trying to select, install, and learn how to drive a content management system of any sort. It would have taken significantly longer to get any CMS working than it did to write a dozen or so pages by hand.
  3. One thing that’s annoying to have to do by hand is a change to every page; often a CMS saves you from this. But if you pack as much as you can into common CSS files, that fixes the problem from one side, and if you have a text editor which can search and replace across many files and folders, that fixes it from the other.

December 21, 2009

Repainted R100GS Paris Dakar fuel tank

Follow-up to R100GS Paris Dakar refurbishment after 85,000 miles from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Excellent work by Glossy Car Coats of Kenilworth. The fuel tank looks like new. The mudguards and side panels were painted in blue.

Tank


R100GS Paris Dakar refurbishment after 85,000 miles

I'm currently working on a more serious refurbishment of my BMW R100GS Paris Dakar. I started to get minor electrical faults in the headlights and instruments. On the PD they the front end is wrapped in an un-necessarily big and complicated plastic fairing. It even has large metal crash bars wrapped around it. I've never liked the fairing, and when I realised that it is quite a barrier to doing repairs on the electrics, I decided to remove it. It took much effort to remove! I bought the bike because it is supposed to be easy to work on, simple and reliable. Now that the fairing is gone, it's closer to that ideal. Once it was off, I put the whole assemblage on the scales (including instruments and crash bar). It weighs 10 kilos! A substantial weight for an off road bike.

The instruments will be replaced by an all-in-one Acewell digital system. They are available, along with a speedo cable for BMW, from Boxxerparts in Germany. The headlight will be replaced with a pair of small round "streetfighter" style headlights mounted to the fork stanchions with mini-indicators.

With the fairing, fuel tank, seats and side panels off, I could see just how bad the rest of the bike is. It's covered in 85,000 miles of road grime. My earlier attempts at anti-rust-coating and painting the frame are now being surpassed by rusting. The worst aspect is the wiring harness. The fabric cover is soaked with oil, wearing through and unwrapping:

Wiring harness and rust

The only real solution is to strip the whole bike down, clean it thoroughly, restore the wiring harness, and get the frame bead-blasted and powder coated. I'm half way through that. The next step is to remove the forks, engine and transmission. I'll need some help with the engine, and will probably struggle to get the steering bearings out of the stem.

GS stripped down from front

I think i'll get the engine and forks removed by a professional, considering this article on removing steering races and bearings.


November 09, 2009

Virtual reality games could help bullying victims

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/virtual_reality_games/

Virtual reality games could help children to escape victimisation and bullying at school, according to researchers at the University of Warwick.


First large–scale health study in Coventry explores quality of life

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/first_large-scale_health/

Around 3,500 people across Coventry will be interviewed as part of the largest health survey ever undertaken in the city to look at the quality of life.


November 05, 2009

Educause '09: Portals

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:

  • Their web strategy group has oversight. This is a high level group with VPs, Marketing, Admissions, Provost’s office, etc.
  • IT Services has technical leadership and hosts the institutional web site(s)
  • Marketing & Comms shares responsibility with ITS for brand, high level content, UX, etc.

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:-

  • Provide a home for a person’s (not the institution’s) activities. User has complete control over portlets, tabs, etc. – except for the “message center” portlet which is mandatory. The Comms Office control what appears in the Message Center.
  • Provide a single entry point leading to other resources
  • Improve communications between institution and students
  • Make transactions easier and information easier to find
  • Make a lightweight system that reuses as much as possible of existing web services & content.

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:-

  • Drag & drop UI for selecting & arranging content. (Choosing a background colour for each portlet turns out to be surprisingly popular and well used.)
  • The portal is a single sign-on participant, so starting in the portal means you won’t need to sign in to move on to other apps, and data can be pulled from other apps without needing to reauthenticate.
  • Webmail & calendar views in the portal (in fact, the only access to webmail is via the portal, to drive traffic)
  • Access to third party email accounts (Yahoo, Gmail, IMAP)
  • Lots of portlets for non-institutional data – Facebook, Digg, Reddit, Twitter, RSS Feeds, etc.
  • Search portlet shows results inline for people, web pages, blogs, etc.
  • “Service tabs” are whole-page applications (eg. change your password, see your calendar).
  • Users can publish and share their tabs with others if they’ve made a useful combination of things.
  • There’s a very Facebook-like gadget which shows you who else is online, their status updates, comments on other peoples’ statuses, their photos, etc. You can define who your friends are just like Facebook.
  • Mobile-optimised rendition (webkit optimised) – mobile home page is a list of portlets, then each portlet gets its own mobile-optimised screen. Similarly, an accessibilty-optimised rendition of the portal.

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


Educause '09: The future of the CIO

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.


November 04, 2009

Educause '09: live@edu

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:-

  • Online, hosted Sharepoint is going to be added to the live@edu offering in 2010. It’ll be free for students, chargeable for staff, with the possibility of additional paid-for support if you want it. It won’t be as feature-rich as on-premise Sharepoint, but (depending on what’s in and what’s out) that might not matter for some student purposes. More information here (and I love the almost-too-frank FAQs; “Q: Aren’t you just copying Google? A: No! No way! We were here first!”)
  • Moving student email accounts over via IMAP looks pretty do-able .
  • The tech guys I spoke to seemed very confident that it is possible to do single sign-on integration with our Shibboleth-based in-house system. We might need our email or directories team to add some extra stuff to an AD and/or stick a special certificate on one of their AD servers, but given that, the rest of it, they say, is possible. Could just be sales talk, but the people I spoke to seemed too much in love with the geeky details of how you’d do it to be sales guys. ;-)
  • There’s a Windows Explorer add-on which lets you see your Skydrive file store as if it were locally attached storage (well, almost; you can drag files into and out of it and do file operations on the remote system in Windows Explorer, but it’s a network place, not a drive letter mapping, so it doesn’t show up directly in Open and Save dialogs, which is a shame). Still, makes it much more workable to have larger file sets in Skydrive, and much easier to move stuff in and out. It’s slightly surprising that it’s a third party offering rather than a Microsoft one.

Educase '09: Engaging the community

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.