Friday, June 30, 2006

Feng Shui

sharing ice cream 2
This made me laugh – feng shui for your website. It’s funny though, despite all the rhetoric about design there’s some appalling stuff around. OK – I best be careful – I’ve messed around with this blog to the extent that it does need a bit of smartening up, but then it feels quite homely to me. I like the minimal look of the Critical Literacies blog, too and also the richness of this website (which I know J.H. would love).

I’m published, here (thanks to Angela’s subtle persuasion) in an article which aims to set an agenda for future research that enables us to capture how identities are played out across social networks in both online and offline interactions – and I’m pleased to see this extract comes in Chinese as well. This handbook looks great, but since it runs to 63 chapters in 2 volumes I probably won’t be buying it. I’ll just have to make do with journalism on virtual worlds (like this).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Words and music

Sharrow Street Piano
I’ve nearly finished Gathering Light - and in reading it I slowly realized that I’ve read the same sort of thing so many times before. But I also realized that I’m never tired of the tale of dirt-poor migrant families (usually in Canada or maybe the US) with talented children who fight against the odds to get an education. I can’t say that the narrative pattern matches my life – it just doesn’t. Maybe it’s just that I identify with aspiration in the face of hardship or victory over inequity – who know – but I’ll recommend the book anyway!

I got an email from Monica Whitty the other day and I’ve been checking out her research, which comes from a completely different tradition from mine, but is nevertheless worth looking at. Her study of online activity, loneliness and self-efficacy explodes some popular myths and raises some interesting issues that relate to changing social networks and new media.

And in the picture, there’s The Sharrow Street Piano (open 9.00 am – 9.00pm), just as it says - out there on the street for “the people”. No, seriously, what a great idea this is. And then there’s paper and post-its for people to react to the street piano. You can see some of the comments here and here. It’s creative, it’s art, it’s music, it’s fun and it’s even starting to become literacy. The people of the street piano must be careful, soon they’ll be eligible for a government grant!!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


farewell 2
It’s always sad to say goodbye. This year’s international masters students have been such good company and such fun it’s even worse to say goodbye! This is our farewell lunch at Aunt Sally’s – Whitney and Penny fly back to Taipei on Thursday and Vera follows on Saturday. Perhaps they’ll keep their blogs up to date, who knows? That leaves me puzzling over how to make the most of virtual worlds in the classroom, looking at stuff like this that compares AWEDU with other providers…

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Sad though it may sound I’m totally hooked on playing this – described as the hardest riddle on the internet (I bet!). Anyway, I got to Level 5 in 5 minutes, thought I was dead clever ...and then got completely stuck! Apart from that I’ve been enjoying the company of Emma and Sammy and thinking again about folksonomies, reading this which deals with the ambiguity of 'cool' as a tag.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Yes but, no but

purple park
It’s official – we don’t have time to explore everything that’s out there, so my approach to software/freeware is to stumble on it and use it when it’s needed. So I’m not announcing anything earth-shatteringly new here but sharing what I’m up to - which is using free discussion tools from in working on the Barnsley virtual world project (easy to sign-up, easy to use and seems quite secure); I’ve also been experimenting with Visual-Mind as a mind-mapping tool (again dead straightforward and you can download free trials); and Jotlive as a free online notetaking site (simple to sign-up, and has loads of potential). That's it, after all it's Friday!!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Signs, rants and concealed garments

Educating the eye with Flickr is an interesting phenomenon that Dr Joolz has commented on before on her blog. I like the way that tags, themes and sets seem to emerge through the process of collecting and reflecting on the images that are captured in everyday digital photography. So it’s gone this way for me with signs and notices, which have interested me from several points of view – as a form of everyday literacy, as a source of humour and as a way in which we mark the social landscape leaving meanings for others. That’s led me to start up a new set on my photostream called Signs and Notices.

I have on several earlier occasions gone on a rant about the way each new technological product seems to require its own charger and cable (for example my December post here). Now someone’s come up with a sensible solution, called the SynCh. I quote: “The SynCh is compatible with thousands of different personal electronics, including cellphones, music players, wireless headsets, PDAs, cameras, flash drives, USB accessories and more. Replace all of your cables, cords and adapters with just one SynCh Universal Sync Charger.” It draws power from your car cigarette-lighter, wall socket or computer USB. The ideal solution – unfortunately it’s only available in the US at the moment.

And finally, I’m intrigued by the whole concept of deliberately concealed garments after catching part of a discussion on the radio in transit from somewhere to somewhere else. This is an explanation of the tradition of hiding clothing and other objects in the fabric of buildings usually near entrances and exits. Like Easter eggs on CDs there’s something magical about this practice. I’m sure it has parallels on the web, but I’m not quite sure right now what they are.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Word play/number play

If I was delivering a parcel to the Broomgrove Snooker Club, I'd be confused. Suppose the gate is locked and I ring the bell but there's no answer, how can I get past the gate to use the house door? Life's so confusing....thank goodness I'm not delivering a parcel. Anyway, Hannah sent me this, which is one of those tried and tested tricks with numbers. Two things interest me here - one is the way that it is visually presented and engaging to do (that's from someone who usually switches off when number problems are suggested), but the second thing is the subtle net-based viral marketing strategy. Here's 7-Up fully cognisant of the way in which people use work emails with links to entertain one another, subvert work routines and distract screen-workers from the tedium of data input and so on, branding their own product through these kinds of practices. (Ooops, I've done it myself, pointing you to this link!)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Virtually Barnsley

This is a screenshot of the 3D virtual world we’re developing in Barnsley. Today the planning group met as dalek avatars and we explored the grids of the city streets with Rich from Virtually Learning as our guide. The idea is to pilot in the autumn and roll out to 10 schools in the coming year. We’ll be starting with 9 year olds who’ll navigate their way around a 3D world like Active Worlds (and here), creating narratives around the clues left in the world. But perhaps more exciting is the realtime synchronous chat interwoven with one-to-one telegrams which will make it highly interactive and collaborative across sites. At the moment we’re thinking that they’ll explore this abandoned city whose inhabitants have mysteriously disappeared – evacuated, abducted or escaped from an invasion, a biohazard or such like. An ongoing debate amongst planners is the general state of the VL – is it golden age rural England, the mean streets, or a safe modern environment? Will there be grafitti like this? Will there be danger? Maybe. Will there be bodies? No. Monsters….ghosts? We’ll have to wait and see. Then there’s the down to earth reality. How will teachers build this into classroom life? Maybe even that’s the wrong question - perhaps we should asking, how will this change classroom life? I’ll be posting on this as we approach launch time, but unfortunately folks, it has to be a closed world. Expect regular updates through your roving reporter, as usual.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Pink flamingoes

Running for mum & Auntie Jane
Here’s Hannah and and the other Pink Flamingo (Izzie). They raised £500 in the Race for Life. Yay!!!!That’s what I call social participation. Photo-sharing is another matter – yesterday’s stenciling excursion was fun, but then Infocult’s story of macabre photo-sharing is downright disturbing. On a slightly more cheerful note, I reckon it was probably good to keep clear of this event on social software, particularly since the open space session (scroll down the blog) was so obviously 60s retro!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Crude black millions

crude black millions
I captured the Crude Black Millions stencil on my way to the Critical Literacies Project meeting at the University of Sheffield (I’m a critical friend to the project – here’s the blog). I like photographing wall art and have snapped up a few stencils in the past couple of weeks, but often – like this one – they’re meaning is ambiguous. At first it seemed to me like a rather oblique commentary on war over oil and American imperialism, but I wasn’t sure whether I was imposing this reading. Crude Black Millions is somewhat condensed, so I wondered what would happen if I googled it. That’s how I came to this picture on Olivia Leigh’s photostream. If you scroll down the comments you’ll read this: “Hello I like your pictures. . . I did the Crude Black Millions stencil, and was chuffed when someone told me there was a picture on the interweb. Doing some stuff with pictures of wind turbines at the moment, coming to a wall in Sheffo near you soon. . . come see my band play Crude Black Millions the song soon! We’re called Corleone.” Well that seems rather weak viral marketing, particularly since none of Olivia’s tags make obvious reference to Crude Black Millions. But then, searching Flickr tags for Crude Black Millions I found this and then this from Evissa, and felt in good company with local stencil collectors. Funny though, what about Corleone and do I care?....well, just enough to find the Sheffield band’s website (and stuff on myspace) , listen to the track Crude Black Millions and find little trace of anti-war agit-prop. Now I don’t intend to set off on a similar trail for their other song, titled BMS (Manhattan: Fuck) for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

New gadget, sir?

From time to time I get thinking that a new gadget would improve my life, increase my happiness etc etc. So today I thought that if I had the money, I’d be in the market for a decent handheld. Sony’s UX50 handheld PC might well fit the bill, and it looks really cool. It has a 4.5in LCD touchscreen so you can operate it as a tablet PC or slide up the display to reveal a full qwerty keyboard underneath. On the other hand I better just get back to reviewing this paper for CJE (why me, I wonder?) and worrying about tomorrow’s validation event.

Monday, June 12, 2006


Friends Euston
I was in London at the Friends Meeting House, Euston today for the UKLA. It was hot, but I always enjoy that venue for our meetings. Anyway, the International Conference (July 7-9th) is shaping up well, so if you haven’t booked yet you should!! And on a totally unrelated theme, Ruth was up in Sheffield this weekend and she left this link on my desktop which is worth looking at for a laugh.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Yesterday, Manchester had a carnival atmosphere as football supporters prepared for the first World Cup game. Anyone would have thought that this was the final! Football is certainly the grand narrative of the current era. Meanwhile, I was at MMU doing a workshop for PRIE – I met some interesting researchers and then wandered the empty city streets while what seemed like the rest of the population watched the game. Today I sat in the garden with Stevie (and Jean), soaking up the long-awaited summer sunshine.

Friday, June 09, 2006

This links

more phlegm
I’m going to be reviewing this book (but I want to make it clear right now that I’m not prepared to accept any bribes at all). I’ve also spent some time catching up on one of my favourite blogs - Infocult - there's some great stuff here. This post on memorial and postmortem photography is weird but really interesting. And then I must say that this journal looks good – but I’ve had no time to check it out yet, though. Mind you, having said that, this is a really good journal, too. I hope this links 'cause I had trouble with Blogger yesterday.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Short post

phone cards
What I like about the blogosphere is its amazing diversity. It’s great to read about Vic in Japan (I think she’s recently reskinned her blog, too); I like reading about Mary Plain’s work on students’ digital photography and then there’s Phillip who boldly publishes his rejection note. Of course, there are many other things as well!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Dispute over?

So our dispute is over. Good! I also think it’s very good that the hidden workers in Higher Education are being recognized for their contribution…but I’m not sure how public perceptions of academics may have been influenced by our action. We’ve lived through a status erosion and our working conditions (group sizes, accommodation and so on) have generally followed a downward trend. I’m pleased students will now get their marks, their degrees and so on, but worry about the future….particularly now Prince Charles is into teacher training!

Monday, June 05, 2006


Some days seem to have a soundtrack. I don’t really know why, but today’s was:

“On the floating, shapeless oceans
I did all my best to smile..”

and then

“I'm as puzzled as a newborn child.
I'm as riddled as the tide.”

Trivial, I know, but what amazes me, is how easy it is to locate this sort of ephemera on the net. These words together with the floaty tune go to make up Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren”…and it seems that it’s a shipless ocean which is, of course, a whole lot different to a shapeless ocean. Anyway my ocean today appears to have been shapeless!

[mmm lovely Zongzi rice dumplings here!]

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Burning stuff

I enjoyed watching the Philip Roth interview last night. He delivered a blistering attack on George Bush. It seemed to me that “disillusionment with the Bush administration” (here) is a bit of an understatement. Mark Lawson’s rather a downbeat interviewer but that seemed just right for Roth, who helped him out. The only trouble with Roth is that he doesn't really offer any hope. We're left feeling that there's no alternative; no voice of critique apart from his own.

I’m interested in our growing obsession with erasing the past and particularly with shredding documents. Burning stuff strikes me as the best solution, but if you really want to turn destruction into labour there’s these wonderful Shredding Scissors – so good, they’re featured on both BoingBoing and ShinyShiny!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Hive mood

dance stencil
Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar have designed this tool for searching blogs and plotting the frequency and location of certain words or phrases. They’re sponsored by a manufacturer of breath-freshening mints which seems to sum it all up - so they search for words that express emotion. Well this is love-lines which they say “illuminates the topography of the emotional landscape between love and hate, as experienced by countless normal humans keeping personal online journals.” In a way what comes up is completely trivial but yet also quite enticing. But it would be so much better if you could hyperlink to the source – that would satisfy our prying minds – particularly, I reckon, with the image view function. Wefeelfine is more sophisticated by all accounts and aims to capture hive mood swings, displaying them in different ways. This evening the application isn’t working. I hope they freshen up soon!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Hive mind

At their best, wikis can be a tool for the collaborative construction of knowledge, but they are also open to sabotage and misinformation. In this article Jaron Lanier outlines the shortcomings of online collectivism. It’s called Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism and is well worth a read. Here’s his conclusion:

“Some wikitopians explicitly hope to see education subsumed by wikis. It is at least possible that in the fairly near future enough communication and education will take place through anonymous Internet aggregation that we could become vulnerable to a sudden dangerous empowering of the hive mind. History has shown us again and again that a hive mind is a cruel idiot when it runs on autopilot. Nasty hive mind outbursts have been flavored Maoist, Fascist, and religious, and these are only a small sampling. I don't see why there couldn't be future social disasters that appear suddenly under the cover of technological utopianism. If wikis are to gain any more influence they ought to be improved by mechanisms like the ones that have worked tolerably well in the pre-Internet world.

The hive mind should be thought of as a tool. Empowering the collective does not empower individuals — just the reverse is true. There can be useful feedback loops set up between individuals and the hive mind, but the hive mind is too chaotic to be fed back into itself.”

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Social affordances ( please click here for details)

door peace
….demonstrating the social affordances of the door discarded in the street – which here becomes a poster for Peace in the Park – an event that in the end will probably be more social than political. And....I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that most blogs have quite limited social affordances. OK, we can signal networks, links, namecheck other bloggers and so on; but that just leaves us with a linear chain of comments. Jennifer’s “unblog” has confounded expectations though, so despite adding a new comment her audience speaks more than she does (a ratio of 33:2 at the moment).

Keri Facer and her colleagues at Futurelab are organizing an interesting looking event next month in London on social software – unfortunately I’m too busy to attend – but it will help launch their publication “Social software and learning” which is great - highly recommended - and makes some important links. These crystallized for me on p.28 where the authors suggest that “…social software is enabling people to do things with internet technology that they clearly want to do themselves – and as they discover more things they want to do the software develops. Social software is therefore satisfying needs that map closely onto educational needs and current agendas. Social software is about personal services on the web, and consequently it is about personalization. It is inherently social, and the gains of using social software are gains that come from collaboration.” Couldn't have put it better!