bluefluff's blue fluff

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

OU makes important discovery

Can't decide whether to head for server 1 or server 2 for that next course? Dithering over whether you should indulge or suppress your creative side? You must read these research findings first.

Mind the VAT...

I ordered a set of DVDs from, because they weren't available from the UK site. The price was fine, but I had to hand over £8.16 in charges to receive the package. Close scrutiny of the small print revealed that items valued over £18 imported from the USA to the EU attract customs & excise charges. Closer scrutiny revealed that what I'd paid was £4.16 in VAT (fair enough, I suppose) plus a whopping £4 charge from Royal Mail for the privilege of handling my unwitting transaction with customs & excise!

Caveat emptor, as they say.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Two-stepping into the log plot

I knew T175 would present me with some mathsy stuff, & was prepared to face it bravely, but I did almost turn & run when it wanted to introduce me to logarithmic scales. I mean, it's one thing meeting old mathematical acquaintances & discovering they're not quite the bogeymen you always thought, but quite another to be whisked unsuspecting into the presence of Strangers. Logarithms for me were (are!) arcane sets of numbers that inhabit the pages of a brown-paper-covered booklet known as Log Tables, whose name is a cruel deception: no resemblance at all to picnics. But logarithmic scales? Nope, never heard of 'em. Still, once bitten, twice shy - I did suspect they would turn out to have little to do with weighing the picnic ingredients.

Anyway, I made myself listen to their blandishments, & was entirely swayed by their claim to offer a New & Better Way to show big numbers on graphs. I learned that they were useful tools for digging a graph (hence "plot") & that a graph so dug could be informally addressed as a "log plot", or even - if you only dug it from North to South & left the East-West business to the politicians - as a "semi log plot". (Actually I'm fibbing here - I picked up that last bit on the web, not on T175.)

My comfort was short-lived. This had all been a ploy, to soften me up, a kind of pre-conversion grooming process... suddenly they wanted me to believe that the halfway point between one & ten is not five, but three-&-a-bit. Sign here, cast off your tired old delusions & join us in the alternate reality of the log plot. I resisted, I really did - you have to believe me. I printed off their little boxed explanation. I jeered at it. I cursed it.

But it was too late - I'd been exposed & infected. Halfway through a plaintive email to my Teacher, bemoaning my unfitness to be called to the world of the log plot, a light shone. It was a Wondrous Light. While I was still dazzled, a greater force wrote these words through me:

Halfway between 1 & 10 can't be 5, because you'd have to multiply 1 (the starting point) by 5 to get there, then multiply 5 (the new starting point) by 5 to get from there to 10. That wouldn't work because 5x5 is 25, not 10. So you have to suss out which figure it will work with. Something that you can reach by multiplying 1 by, then get to 10 from by multiplying it by the same number as in the first step.

This makes no sense if you have not been touched by the truth.

Douglas Adams lied. The answer is not 42, it's three-&-a-bit.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Like a circle in a spiral...

My first mailing for H806 arrived this morning. Excitedly tore it open, sidestepping my hangover, & was greeted by Manuel Castells! Well, his book...

Now 32 years ago, I was something of an expert on Castells. Spending a year in France as part of my degree, whilst engaged to a sociology student, & harbouring ambitions to become a translator when I grew up, I'd been asked to translate his Luttes urbaines et pouvoir politque (Urban Struggles and political power). So I sat in my rented room & did just that: 130 pages of handwritten labour. The year after, I learned photocopies were being circulated in the university, & vague thanks filtered back to me. I may even still have a copy somewhere, at the bottom of a box.

Ironically, the experience of translating the youthful Castell's dense marxist prose was probably instrumental in helping me gain such a good degree & diverting me from translation, my first love, onto the path to a doctorate, working for the OU & a decade of child-bearing. Half a lifetime on, I find myself steeped in a subject with with the same kind of passionate commitment & fascination that translation once held over me, & there he is!

It wasn't a complete surprise - I'd encountered his name a few times & thought "fancy that!" & "didn't he do well!" - but I never imagined I'd be studying his work. In a way, life has come full circle, yet it can't, of course, because the place you return to is no longer the same, & "you" is no longer the same. I want to read it now & fnd out who I am!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Here it comes....

The "promised" snow has reached northern parts of Scotland on cue.

The good news for those of us further south is that it's expected to peter out & turn to sleet by the time it hits Lincolnshire & the East Midlands.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Robert W. Taylor: Internet Visionary

Once upon a time, I was going to make a website. It didn't get much further than a folder of research & a front page design. "Robert W. Taylor: Internet Visionary" it was to be called, & I envisaged it as a kind of portal to online resources relating to this extraordinary individual's contributions to the history of personal computing & the Internet. Life got in the way & the site was never made. Five years on from those good intentions, I keep tripping over reminders of the correspondence I had with Bob Taylor about his management style. It struck me, back then, that it was his style even more than his technical/visionary acumen that made his projects such a hotbed of innovation. I have still never seen him credited as an (still less the) originator of this approach, so I've decided to "publish" the correspondence (which Bob had already generously given me permission to share).

For an overview of Bob's career, an article that appeared in his local paper when he was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 2000 is hard to beat.

Bob Taylor correspondence (addresses are non-current).

Friday, November 18, 2005

Testing, testing....

If I've finally sussed how to make w.bloggar talk nicely to my ISP webspace, there'll be a picture here:

There's a lot of it about

A veritable explosion of blogging this week!

Two of my arty friends, Daydreamer & HAZEOFPINK have dipped a toe into the wonderful world of blogging, & one of my techie friends has tripled his blog presence: take your pick from NG the second, NG the thirty-second, or NG the two-hundred-and-sixty-fourth.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Reputation - it really works

I'd been reading about the role played by online reputation systems in the networked world (Rheingold, Smart Mobs). I was a little cynical about how well, for instance, eBay's feedback processes would actually help consumers feel safe. Alan buys on eBay & has experienced wrong feedback being given (he picked up a negative report from a seller who'd 'confused him with somebody else'). But now it turns out the seller involved has been the subject of several complaints & Alan just received this notice:

A member with whom you've recently transacted has been indefinitely suspended from eBay within 90 days of registration. We have removed any feedback they left for you or others.  

eBay removes feedback when a member is indefinitely suspended for certain policy breaches within 90 days of registration. eBay believes that members indefinitely suspended soon after registration shouldn't be able to permanently affect another member's account.

I suspect there's not much to stop the seller resuming his activities under another ID, but it's good to see eBay taking such steps to make its reputation system work.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Missing pic

Hmm, here's the pic that was supposed to be in my bloggar post. Thought it was too good to be true :-(
(It showed up for me, but that's the old 'local machine' trick!)
So, w.bloggar is only a time-saver for non-illustrated posts?

But seriously...

w.bloggar makes it so easy, I just started another blog.
That's where all the heavy stuff will go from now on. I can be a Serious Academic over there, & a frivolous-yet-moody "Bluefluff" in here. Why not celebrate our multiple personalities?

Blogging with w.bloggar

This is an experiment. After recommendation from Kat I thought I'd give w.bloggar a try. It's a free offline blog editor (as everyone reading this probably knows already!). Now, the preview shows this in a tiny default font, so I don't know whether I need to set w.bloggar to the same font as my blog, or if it will pick the setiing up automatically from my template when I upload.
Inserting links is just the same here as online. I wonder how it deals with images, which I usually just upload to Blogspot? [srabbles around for suitable test image]

Hmm, how's it going to find that one, then?
Let's try an absolute link:

(A rude message FirstClass caused earlier tonight - assertive, me? I don't thnk so!)
Right, let's hit "Post & Publish"..............

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Desert Island Discs

In alphabetical order, & not allowing myself more than one choice from the same artist….

  • Booth & the Bad Angel – self-titled
  • George Brassens – Chanson pour l’Auvergnat
  • Nick Cave – Let Love In
  • Cohen – Death of a Ladies’ man
  • Dream City Film Club – self-titled
  • Low – Things We Lost in the Fire
  • Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory
  • Radiohead – Pablo Honey
  • Rammstein - Sehnsucht
  • Wildhearts – The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed

I’m sure Nogbad cheated by having 15 choices. Well, I’ve cheated too, but not by so much :-)

                    JOHO & PoMo

                    I'm supposed to be reading Rheingold's Smart Mobs (should've started with The Virtual Community, only that's coming on a slow boat from New York) but you know how it is when you're reading in new territory & keep hitting new concepts that have to be explored?

                    I tripped over a reference to Reed's Law in the intro... I'm familiar with its predecessors, Moore's & Metcalfe's, but this was a new one on me. So off I went a-googling. Pretty soon I found myself at an interview with the man himself, which struck me as very entertainingly put together, so I scrolled down & discovered I was reading one of David Weinberger's projects: JOHO, Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization.

                    Now, David Weinberger is the co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto, which I loved back in the days of studying T171 & had only recently put back into my bookmarks, following another serendipitious encounter... & as part of that exploration (incidentally prompted by studying T175, the replacement course) I'd acquired a new sigfile from another of Weinberger's pages:
                    "Those who would censor ideas might realize that the Internet couldn't tell a good bit from a bad bit if it bit it on its naughty bits." (Searls & Weinberger)

                    Anyway, I diverted further into JOHO & found a wonderfully wicked piss-take on the obfuscating academic jargon that abounds in the world of post-modernism, or as Weinberger has it, "PoMo". This article made me laugh out loud, so I signed up to the newsletter & told Weinberger why (the sign-up acknowledgement comes with a friendly little exhortation to tell him who you are).

                    Half an hour later, back came a personal reply, thanking me for my introduction & suggesting we were now even, since my "upgas" blog post had made him laugh, too. How cool is that?

                    It took me right back to 1999 & T171 (yes, again - it was that sort of course) when as a mere student I gained a certain reputation (so I later learned) for sharing a quite extensive email exchange I'd had with Bob Taylor (Xerox PARC guru) on the subject of horizontal mangement. It struck me at the time that this was something very special about the Internet: the way it removed barriers & allowed connections to be made across not only geographical divides, but across traditional hierarchies. Tonight's experience was a lovely confirmation of that.

                    Monday, November 07, 2005

                    Guy Fawkes

                    He was just a terrorist, wasn't he?

                    Nevertheless, I have no more difficulty putting the "real meaning" of Guy Fawkes night aside than I do the "real meaning" of Christmas. We can hang our own meanings on these public festivals, can't we?

                    For our family, bonfire night is always special, as our youngest was very nearly a "Guy Fawkes baby". Her birthday & bonfire night always run together into a double celebration, which is even more significant now that her older brother & sisters are all away at work or university. We had a grand gathering & as usual our own bonfire & fireworks in the garden. This year it turned into a whole birthday weekend, with the cake on day 3!

                    It's a great opportunity to see everyone together & measure how they've grown (emotionally, nowadays, rather than physically) over the previous twelve months.

                    Saturday, November 05, 2005

                    At least there won't be a hurricane!

                    Just spotted this forecast on the Metcheck website. Looks like we're going to have a localised ice-age...

                    Thursday, November 03, 2005

                    Looking back....

                    Been doing some of that, the last couple of days... two separate tracks, but leading the same way.

                    By the end of 2005, my last contract as a face-to-face OU tutor will have disappeared into the archives. From my first encounter with online learning, I knew that was the way I wanted to go, but it still feels strange having arrived there! Tonight I've been throwing out redundant stockpiles of printed tutorial handouts & thinking how different things were in the year 2000 when I was "performing" F2F three times a week in a blur of medication....

                    Last night, I was throwing out old computer-related stuff, but daughter #3 intervened to preserve our Very First Computer. She's too young to remember it, but happily plugged everything together & played with Mavis Beacon v2 (DOS). We reconstructed a timeline of our family computer history - first PC spring 1994 (how many people nowadays know that Olivetti made PCs?), first Internet-enabled PC spring 1997 (IBM Aptiva), right up to today's hybrid home network with broadband.

                    I know I had a life before computers, but it seems a long, long time ago in another world.