March 13, 2018

10 days with flow–e

Writing about web page

post-it notes

Full disclosure: If my review below convinces you to give flow-e a go yourself, I get some extra free time with it.

For about 6 years I have used a ‘search first’ approach with my email, and aimed to get my inbox down to zero by archiving anything that has been done or is for reference only. This has on the large part been successful. I would suspect that I spend less time ‘searching’ for emails than I would in working with a folder structure for my emails.

What hasn’t been so successful for me, is managing the emails that are active in my email inbox. It’s been a point of frustration for a LONG time, and though I have had a notion in my mind of what I would want to try, I have never felt like anyone else sees it like I do:

  • I don’t feel I can use my inbox as my task list because not everything I do originates in an email; I’ve never really taken to the Outlook tasks features; and mirroring email into 3rd party task management – yuk. I’ve had a bit of a hot and cold relationship with Asana over the years too… it’s currently only helping me pack for my holiday next week.
  • Subject lines are just too often done badly. I have my own taxonomy of thinking, and they rarely coincide with what someone else has decided to call something. So, I also would like to add my own labels to an email or group of emails. Categories in Outlook are too clunky IMO.
  • Grouping by email threads for is sometimes helpful to declutter my inbox, but there are usually one or two useful emails in a chain of 10, and its very hard sometimes to pick out the right ones, unless it was the one with the attachment - it is a fairly blunt tool.
  • I order my inbox by date, newest at the top, and grouped. I’d rather have them listed in order of priority, as I would a task list, of which I’m going to do first. Outlook flags can’t do that.

So, enter Flow-e. My attention was caught by the Kanban board pattern that I’ve found useful in projects, but when I loaded my inbox with it (which was a cinch), I could near immediately get to work on bringing my inbox into shape.

Do you ever have that experience where you feel a product understands you? That’s Flow-e for me. It’s not perfect, for sure, but it makes so much more sense to my head than a standard Outlook interface. It's provided a pretty good solution to all of the email gripes and wishes I posted about above, and I’m hooked.

July 08, 2014

Social bookmarking just got more social

I have for a while used Diigo to track and organise my bookmarks, particularly in the digital humanities. My bookmarks are shared with the 'Academic Technology at Warwick' group on Diigo. I did want to add twitter as a channel to spread these finds with my followers and those tracking the #dhwarwick tag (which also feeds the front page of the Digital Humanities website).

if [diigo] then [twitter]

To stitch these two tools together, I have used a third tool, IFTTT. IFTTT is one of a number of tools that creates 'recipes' that allow activity in one service to trigger an action in another by granting this intermediary access to both accounts, and a set of criteria to trigger.

To work neatly, I also had to come up with a vocabulary that will help me organise my bookmarks and automatically generate sensible tweets. This is what I'm using:

  • Anything tagged with #dhwarwick in my Diigo account is the trigger to send a tweet.
  • A tweet is composed of "Just bookmarked this: {{Title}} {{Url}} tagged {{Tags}}" where the curly braces are replaced with the text from Diigo.
  • Because twitter is going to use the tags, it will include #dhwarwick which will be picked-up by twitter as a hashtag, and also feed the website.
  • I'll be making sure that things I bookmark and tag #dhwarwick are succinct to fit within the 140 character limit.
  • If I find a link via a prompt from someone, I also have a tag for this. I put 'via @twitterusername' in as a tag. This will reference them on twitter in the tweet too.

I've shared my IFTTT recipe if you want to see what's going on and do something similar:

IFTTT Recipe: Push selected bookmarks to twitter connects diigo to twitter

August 30, 2013

Red tomatoes or green peppers? A low cost PRS solution?

Image: BBC

The academic technology team were faced with the question 'Can we give a whole cohort each a PRS to use all year?'. This could be 200+ students, and opportunities for forgetting, losing, damaging PRS systems over three terms means there will be decidedly fewer at the end of the year than at the start. Traditional PRS systems may not therefore be suitable.

In an ideation-style chat with Robert O'Toole, we discussed primitive and low-cost solutions. It turns out, that Keele have already done something analog in the direction of our thought with their communicubes. Combine this with currently available image processing and colour detection technologyand we reckon you'd have the building blocks of a cheap PRS system.

Some challenges this approach raises and some initial responses:

  • Line of sight issue - obscured cubes don't get counted in a line-of-sight system. Rob had a clever idea here: Put holes on each face of these cubes, like a sight. And to log a response you line the recieving camera up in the sight by centering the holes on either side of the cube to look directly at the camera in order to register a response. This means that the desired face of the cube will be pretty accurately perpendicular to the line of sight, and therefore optimal to be detected.
  • Colour matching on other objects - wear the wrong colour jacket, and the system would be useless. This could potentially be overcome by using a two-colour combination per face, e.g. split diagonally. This would mean that it would reject any single colour without its correct counterpart, reducing the risk of error. A very simple pattern with low resolution required (i.e. not as sophisticated as a QR code) in order to make this work in large auditoriums.
  • Resolution. This is perhaps the area that needs some initial prototyping. What resolution would be required for average room coverage, and what is the smallest size these cubes would have to be? Ideally, they would be smartphone sized so that software equivelants can be used on smartphones or cubes interchangably.

If you are in a position to offer image processing expertise that could help prototype this, I'd be very keen to hear from you in the comments.

August 01, 2013

TEI for Translations of Poetry

My current project has poems originally in Old french, that has been translated into both English and Italian. These are to form a collection on a project website, built using the Sitebuilder system at Warwick, and to allow side-by-side comparison between translations. They are also to be made available as downloadable PDFs and eBooks. The translations are currently being done in a microsoft Word workflow. Here, I outline the decisions and processes made to explore and prototype a TEI workflow for the following benefits:

  • Long-term preservation format
  • Re-use of single source in multiple formats
  • Simplified workflow
  • Source presented in multiple ways
  • Option to perform textual analysis

docx to TEI

From their current format as docx files, I was aware that underlying them all is accessible xml. From a workflow point of view, being able to programatically extract the poems from docx files and reformat into TEI will make the task much more manageable.

Using oXygen, I was able to open the docx and get to the document.xml which holds the content I'm after. The task here looks like some XPath and XSLT to extract the right information. I have some more learning to traverse the XML structure with XPath to get this working, but in principle I see it is very achievable. In terms of impact to the workflow for the academics involved, is to introduce some strict formatting and structure in the Word documents they are putting the translations into, with visible cues to the underlying structure the XSLT intends to extract in order to be able to write more straight-forward XPath.

This could look like:

  • Poem Reference at the top of the document styled as a Title
  • Two letter language codes as H1 for each version of these poems
  • Between these, A title for the poem as heading 2 (may be first line of poem).
  • Then the poem stanzas in paragraph style with line-breaks for individual lines of the stanza.

TEI Document structure

TEI seems the natural choice for encoding these poems, with a straight-forward structure. The complicating factor of this is to consider the translations. A core structural decision is to decide whether each translation is a text in itself, or not, making the file either a corpus or a single text structurally. I opted for the latter, and the following structure:

div xml:id= xml:lang
lg type=stanza

TEI only allows one text and body, so divs are used at a grouping level with @xml:id and @xml:lang to identify the translation, with an additional @corresp linking back to the original translation div from the translations. This is a first implementation, and I am looking to refine this as the project progresses.


The first output requirement from this project is a webpage. Its desirable for this webpage to lay out different translations next to each other for comparison, and produce line numbers. In order to provide a helpful interface, I began to look at how I could create a more dynamic experience with interchagable tabs by creating a webpage that uses javascript to build a user interface. Using the simplicity of Bootstrap, I was able to create a tabbed interface to switch between languages. Implementing two tabbed interfaces however was proving more tricky, so in this prototype I opted to keep it simple, produce only one, but also to access the URL '' parameters to be able to request a particular language to be pre-selected in the tabs.

A learning point:

I learned that in-line javascript can syntactically interfere with the XML, and therefore requires putting within <![CDATA[ tags which is accomplished in XSLT with:

<xsl:text disable-output-escaping="yes" >
<!--javascript goes here -->

Currently, this prototype is using browser-based XSLT processing to create the output, and these files are hosted on Sitebuilder. To get them displayed in a page therefore requires me to load these with iframes. So I put two iframes side-by-side and pass a parameter to set the default language differently in each to get a configurable UI. Modern browser support for XSLT (not XSLT 2.0) is reportedly good, via w3schools, but I have not tested mine cross-browser yet. Explorations into either cross browser frameworks including javascript implementations, or doing the transform server-side.

I hope to provide a link to this prototype soon.

March 28, 2011

Back to firefox?

Having seen that firefox4 was out last week, I couldn't resist downloading and installing. I like what I see. As I gave it a spin, I remembered a few things that I had forgottend I missed about firefox as it'd been superceeded by the simple interface and speed of chrome:

Delicious Bookmarks sidebar. I do like opening my bookmarks quickly and easily, the official delicious plugin for chrome only realistically allows you to add bookmarks.

Firebug & colorzilla. I haven't found a suitable replacement for these in chrome.

For the time being at least, firefox is back as my default browser...

December 08, 2010

Different kind of enterprise IT support?

a helpdesk desertedI just helped a colleague improve their productivity with an IT tip. It feels good to do so, because I know this will have a lasting, albeit small, impact. Thinking wider, I'm sure everyone could do with a tip or two a day related to their work. This, it would be hard for me to justify, because in the process, doing so for my team alone, I wouldn't get my job done! It also dawned on me that because I and others do this kind of help, and the issues we solve and tips we provide, never actually enter an IT helpdesk call logging system, and as such are unknown to them.

We often look to better network infrastructure, or hardware upgrades to equipment to boost improvements in ‘speed’ or productivity in enterprise IT, but I think an equally important aspect may be overlooked. Let me propose a radical idea:

A model of IT support where support staff actively came and sat down with individuals going about their daily roles, using their daily computer. An IT solution ‘health assessment’ as it were conducted at the desk, with the PC setup the user uses daily, asking questions like “what’s the most frustrating thing about your computer?”. “What tasks do you loathe, and why?” and to get them to demonstrate it, could a) help support improve/optimise people’s most common/critical working procedures, even showing people things they don’t know they don’t know, and taking the real issues exist either to the department (e.g. for a second monitor where effective, or a label printer) and take IT issues that need to be fixed in the system, back to those who can make it happen, the service owner teams, to act on the system.

This is something I’ve not seen before, have you? I'd be keen to hear your experiences.

We often call ITS when we’re at the end of our tether, no other options, and we wait until support arrives. I don't think IT services frontline staff/floor-walkers/helpdesk often see users in the best of moods, so it may have positive impacts on their work environment too.

This, I believe, would be a systems thinking approach.

September 09, 2010

Dandelion Effect: Increasing the impact of skills development


When I attend a conference, my team expects me to report back. Give them a summary of what it was like, what I learned, and what I want to apply to my practice. This is time well spent, it means that my colleagues get a bite-sized summary, get a glance at what took place, and they themselves can benefit from the conference, without having attended for two days. An action similar to blowing the seeds from a dandelion into the soil around it.

We deliver skills development opportunities for students, and I think encouraging a similar culture amongst students could be a good thing to do.

  • I would testify to experiencing the saying "If you want to know you've learned something, teach it to someone else". It's hard (and obvious) when teaching if you haven't grasped a concept. To ensure that you represent accurately what was taught.
  • If one in a research group attends a session, what is the likelihood that the rest of the research group could benefit from having some snippets? I'd guess quite a lot actually. It may even provide a forum for peer to peer fertilisation of ideas, strategies and accountability to put into practice what is learnt.
  • For the skills development team such activity encourages learning to be further embedded, and multiplied to others. Those others may be sceptical of attending skills development activities, this is a vehicle of increasing our reach to them with very little resource. 
These are fledgeling thoughts. I have more questions than I have answers:
  • Does this occur organically already?
  • If not, why not, and what barriers need to be overcome?
  • Can these barriers be overcome and is there a role in 'equipping' or facilitating? 
  • Could this create the win-win of increase impact of skills development and improved quality of research output?
Over to you. I welcome student opinion, development practitioners perspectives, and general contributions/thoughts.

December 17, 2008

Christmas Card Tutorial

October 16, 2008

Learning Spaces

Writing about web page

Now there's a great learning space.

April 21, 2008

Webcam's on Linux

Writing about Flash 9 webcam support in Linux from [Ux]

As Steve suggests, this could be problematic.

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