Oddment

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In July I said:

You may have seen from my colleagues Lorna Campbell (In the meantime…) and Sheila MacNeill (Sideways) that the University of Strathclyde office for Cetis is closing at the end of the month. Things are slightly up in the air right now but we are hopefully the ‘Glasgow based supergroup’ will reform soon.

Unfortunately after inconsolable differences, Sheila getting a job at GCU ;) and my pursuit of a solo career, the reformation of the supergroup is on hold for the foreseeable future. When I started at Cetis I described it as the dream job and that it was largely that, although it got a little nightmarish towards the end. It was particularly a great joy and pleasure to work closely with Sheila, Lorna and Phil (not forgetting Cetis Comms team).

In the meantime I’ve been getting stuck in to other work:

  • Association for Learning Technology (ALT) – this is in part a continuation of the work I did for the ALT-C conference platform (notes here), which was described by Stephen Downes as a ‘masterwork’, amongst other things looking at how ALT can continue to support it’s member community;
  • The Open University (Open Educational Resources Research Hub) – have contracted me to develop a pilot evidence collection and display site. As part of this there is a strong data visualisation aspect which I’m looking forward to;

and finally  

  • ████ █████ (█████) – have contracted me to ███ █████ of their █████ ████ to see if ████ can be used to █████, which I am very █████ about.

There are potentially some other this in the works which I’ll mention when/if I can.

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I’m a self-confessed RSS junkie, I ❤ RSS, so when topping up my feeds I wanted a quick way to add to Feedly (my current RSS reader of choice). I already use the Chrome RSS Subscription Extension (by Google) which gives me a handy icon in my address bar when a feed is detected.

RSS Subscription Extension (by Google)

Unfortunately though it doesn’t have Feedly as a service …

Manage feeds

Clicking on ‘Manage…’ gives the rather daunting

Edit feed reader dialog

A quick search for a Feedly specific url turned up Add Feedly to Firefox's Feed Handlers List and I recognised that the browser.contentHandlers.types.#.uri would do the trick. So using the following in the Edit feed reader dialog:

I back to my feed munching ways

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Recently I gleefully exclaimed on Twitter “exciting news” and despite the interest I didn’t feel until now that I could reveal what had happened, Google were looking for a hire … Google were looking to hire me:

Hi Martin,
I am a technical recruiter within Developer Relations at Google and I wanted to get in touch. Based on your background and postings, I feel you could be a great fit, as we are hiring for multiple positions within Developer Relations in NYC and Mountain View, CA locations specifically. Are you currently entertaining new opportunities? If so, I would like to get in touch at your earliest convenience to discuss your background and active opportunities. Looking forward to hearing back!

Ah finally the 100+ blog posts I’ve written on Google, countless presentations on hacking stuff together with Google Spreadsheets (a couple here) and I finally got noticed.  What was most interesting about this message came from … LinkedIn!!!

Yes that’s right despite having a decent presence of Google+ it appears Google do some of their recruiting through someone else's social network. This initially led me to question if it was a genuine approach or just some recruiting agent phishing for CVs spoofing a Google connection. The only thing that gave comfort was the inclusion in the message of the sender’s @google.com email address and I opted to reply via this instead. Still though LinkedIn! Why not Google+ or even Gmail. If Google are looking for hires through LinkedIn that’s a pretty big argument to make sure your graduates have a presence there … right?.

Fortunately the message wasn’t a phish and the recruiter got back to me and we arranged a phone call. The call was primarily a chance for the recruiter to find out if I was suitable to be put forward for one of the posts and included the basics: what programming languages do you use, experience of public speaking etc. As I later found out the recruiter is essentially your handler, making sure you are aware of the next steps, providing a friendly interface to what can be a daunting experience. At this point the expectation of getting a job in developer relations began to slip. As someone who prides themselves on being a hacker, often even using ‘I’m not a developer’ in my introduction - primarily because I’m often talking to novices and I want to make a connection with the audience - my lack of formal IT qualification and experience was going to be a handicap, but this is Google they pride themselves on innovation … right?

Regardless of this the recruiter saw enough to put me through to the next phase which was a 45 minute call with a Google software developer (not HR person, Google use employees to benchmark candidates), which was a mixture of ‘why do you want to work for Google? … hmmm you called me’ and a programming problem to solve. I’m not sure if part of me wanted to sabotage my opportunity but I completely tanked at this. This left me feeling both angry and disappointed. I was mainly angry for pretending to be something I’m not … a software developer. I’m a hacker, an innovator, a scamp, a scallywag. I betrayed my original calling as a Structural Engineer long ago to search of the next novelty, the next shiny thing to play with, the next idea to stretch until it breaks. No I’m not a software developer.  And thankfully Google agreed, which I sure comes as a relief for a number of people in this sector … right?

The recent news that LinkedIn has dropped their minimum age to 13 to entice school kids has extra resonance for me because now I know even Google use it for recruitment. It reassuring to know people like Sue Beckingham, Matt Lingard and others recognise the importance of students having an awareness of LinkedIn.

So folks I‘m afraid you're stuck with me ;)

Some things I learned along the way

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Peer Interview: Martin Hawksey on Networked ResearcherI was recently asked by Ernesto Priego if I’d like to do an interview for Networked Researcher. I’ve been an admirer of Ernesto’s work (I can even tell you the day I became aware of him 22nd September 2011. He was tweeting from the #studentexp event organised by @GdnHigherEd. If you’d like to see what he said it’s always been the default graph on TAGSExplorer ;), so it was an honour to be asked.

I inhabit a weird world where I no longer know what I do is classified as so I’m not sure I’d call myself a researcher in a traditional sense, but it was great to have the opportunity to share what I do and acknowledge some of the people who have influenced/inspired me along the way.

Here’s the Peer Interview: Martin Hawksey on Networked Researcher

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What is the difference between a map and a compass? he [Ade Oshineye] asked. His answer: people have too much faith in maps, which are, in the end, just someone else's view of the world. Whereas a compass only gives you a rough direction and we don't expect more of it than that.

The point? It's the same with finding a successful model for ... the future: getting the direction right is better than trying to find the perfect strategy with the false certainty of a map.

... Even bookshelves, he said, have evolved over years: boring technology may have the answer to your problem.

Google+ Hangouts, he said, is an example of boring technology - video chat - being used in a new way. ...

Google+ has taught him that if you apply boring technology to interesting people you can get something new: "The hard part is coming up with the right metrics to see if you're getting there." - Charles Miller, Future media challenges are about finding compasses not maps (Emphasis mine)

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So JISC RSC Scotland North & East (who I currently work for) is no more after July this year (JISC RSC Scotland South & West won the recent re-tender to take on the whole of Scotland). This means it makes sense for me to start flicking switches, turning dials and shift the flow from http://rsc-ne-scotland.org.uk/mashe to my new home https://mashe.hawksey.info. (I thought best to move now rather than later in the hope that the Googles’ of this world get a chance to see I’ve moved rather than completely disappeared.)

To help this along in packing my bags I’ve left the proverbial “we’ve moved to”, which should automatically redirect most of my old traffic. I left a couple of the toys behind though, namely iTitle and uTitle. With Twitter’s recent enforcement of Terms of Service I felt there was too much liability in having them sit on a server I’ve responsibility for. I am however trying to find another official home for these so if anyone is interested get in touch.

How did the move go? Reasonably well. Biggest disappointment was I couldn’t let Google Webmaster Tools know about the shift because I’d registered the old JISC RSC MASHe with a subdomain (ended up needing to registered a new account). Google CSE was better, just a case editing the sites in my existing control panel, no code editing my end. Google Analytics required to register a new account but iIt was easy to change the tracking code on the blog as I use a plugin for that. Redirecting the RSS feed to here was easy as all I needed to do was edit the source in Google Feedburner. Am I missing any Google products :-s

With my blogs future secured what about me? Everyone’s post is redundant, so we’ve the joys of job matching. It looks more favourable for the existing RSC staff in Glasgow as the new posts have been written for them, as for us east coasters with only 2 posts available 6 are going to be disappointed (needless to say if you hear of any jobs going for an educational technology chancer pioneer drop us a line ;)

With any move there is a risk of something getting broke so if you find anything damaged let me know ;)

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Back in 2000/2001 I was studying for an MSc Multimedia and Interactive Systems. At the time I was quite interested in 3D technology and the birth, death, birth, death, birth, death of the 3D web. Digging around some old files the other day I came across a piece of work I did with my long standing friend Drummond Cargill on ‘3D Web Interfaces – The Next Dimension?’. Below is the section I wrote on hardware. Amazing how little has changed in 10 years (other than increased availability/lower cost).

Hardware

Current display and input devices available to the general public have remained unchanged for a number of years, but as the IT industry in general heads towards a more enriched 3D environment new methods for viewing and navigating these world are being developed.  While many or these new devices remain in the domain of specialists there has already been a diffusion of these new technologies into the home in countries like Japan and North America.  These new output devices required to view and navigate virtual environments can be divided into two broad categories, display and navigation. The following section investigates the hardware available in both of these categories.

Display

All current display techniques use the same method to deceive the brain that it is looking at a 3-Dimensional object.  This method is based on giving a different data to the left and right eye and at present there are four basic ways to achieve this effect: 

Liquid Crystal (LC) glasses for video and computer monitors.

AnotherWorlds LC Glasses, Another Eye 2000  £65.

Liquid Crystal (LC) glasses or Shutter glasses are used to view Stereo3D on video and computer monitors. They are inexpensive and provide viewers with full-colour images. LC glasses can be used on standard CRT monitors but if the refresh rate is 60 Hz there is a noticeable flicker due to the low frame rate, this is however not a problem for 120 Hz monitors.  LC glasses are emerging as a future technology for the home because of there low cost and the fact that they don’t use a dedicated system to display images.  LC glasses range in price from £50 - £350 and are already directly support by software packages such as 3D Studio Max.

Polarized glasses for images projected on large screens and specially equipped computer monitors.


VRex VR-3100 Projector and Polarised Glasses £7,500.

Polarised glasses are used to properly view 3D objects from projections and specially equipped VGA monitors. Inexpensive polarized glasses are available in both plastic and paper frames and may be imprinted with logos, promotional text or other graphics.  Polarised glasses are more commonly used for large audiences and trade fairs.  Although polarised glasses cost between £0.30 - £3.50 projectors range in price from £5,000 - £10,000 and adaptations of standard CRT monitors using liquid crystal plates ranges from £1,500 - £5,000.  Polarisation is a techniques commonly used in theme parks such as Disney and IMAX to achieve 3D effects because of it’s accessibility to a wide audience and relatively low cost.

Interactive Imaging Systems VXF3D Headset £1,250.

Head-Mounted Display (HMD) devices are similar to Liquid Crystal glasses except the each eye has a dedicated liquid crystal display to generate the Stereo3D image removing the possibility of flicker. HMD’s often also incorporate audio headphones to give a complete immersive experience.  HMD devices although considered the way forward in the early nineties are considered expensive and cumbersome compared to LC glasses.  This has lead to many major manufactures such as Sony and I-O Display Systems to discontinue lines.  HMD headsets which including tracking devices have found use in total Virtual Environment immersion applications.  HMD headsets range in price from £350 - £5,000.

Dimension Technologies 18.1" DTI 3D flat panel display £5,000.

Auto-stereoscopic flat-panels use parallax illumination which involves sending two images – one to the left eye and one to the right eye - to different columns of pixels, the left eye images to the odd numbered columns and the right eye to even numbered columns. The LCD display has a standard arrangement of LCD backlighter and the LCD panel but Auto-stereoscopic panels have an additional panel in between called a TN panel.  The vertical columns on the TN panel illuminate either the even or odd columns of pixels, depending on which image is coming through. Your left eye sees only left eye images and your right eye sees only right eye images, just as you do in real life.  Auto-stereoscopic panels do require you to sit in an optimum position relative to the panel to get a true 3D effect but they have the advantage of not requiring cumbersome headgear or glasses which may lead to health issues.  Auto-stereoscopic flat-panels range in price from £1,200 - £10,000 and price is very sensitive to viewable area and addition function such as eye tracking.

At present true 3D display is very feasible and is on the verge of entering the home market.  Applications for Stereo3D remain limited but with the increasing desire for the total home entertainment system it is only time before minimum specifications for personal computers will include a form of 3D output.  Having a method for displaying Stereo3D images is only the first step in the problem. To utilise this new hardware development fully 3D objects and worlds have to be designed with this new technology in mind and at present very few software companies, except those dealing with computer aided design and animation, are considering the potential of this output medium while it is in such an early stage of consumer acceptance.  But with Microsoft’s continual development of TaskGallery, a 3D desktop, Steroe3D imaging appears to have a strong future. 

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It’s fair to say I’m keen to get my message out any which way. As well as the blogging staples of RSS feeds I also have a print-friendly PDF Magazine version and a eBook addition in various formats (EPUB | Mobipocket/Kindle | PDF).  For a while I’ve also give an option to sign up for a monthly email newsletter. This uses the MailPress plugin to handle subscriptions and send a monthly update which snippets of blog posts from the last month.

Old MASHe Monthly Layout [click to enlarge]One of the things I was never happy with was the layout of the email, which was basically a list of snippets of posts based on date order. As I uses this site to collect lists of links to news items and sites I find interesting in ‘What I’ve starred this week’ and more technical posts recording my personal research, there are times I would like to put these further down the reading order.

New MASHe Monthly Layout [click to enlarge]Fortunately MailPress allows users to use/create custom templates. Having tried to find a suitable existing template and failed I knocked together a new one. This allows me to highlight a featured post, followed by snippets of my regular posts, finishing with the list of links from ‘What I’ve starred’. With the lack of MailPress templates I thought it would be worthwhile releasing:

*** RSC MailPress template ***

You should read the MailPress documentation for more information on installation customisation.

[If you are testing the monthly template the plugin only pulls in a random older post. I’ve posted a workaround for this in the MailPress forum.]  

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If you are a regular reader of this blog you’ve probably noticed that a lot of my work is directly influenced by Dr Tony Hirst at the Open University. Tony is currently Crowd Sourcing a Promotion Case… so rather than filling in his impact form I thought I would openly acknowledge how his cutting edge research has influenced my own work (I may regret starting this post as there is so much material on this blog which is a direct result of Tony’s work, but here goes).

Have any of my blog posts or other communications significantly influenced you? If so, which ones, and how? Did they impact on any projects you have worked on, processes you are involved with, or policies you have had a role in developing? 

Yahoo Pipes

Who’s Tweeting Our Hashtag? - this work was the genesis of a series of posts (6 in total) which presented solution for a free electronic voting system using Twitter. As well as presenting this solution to member of the eLearning Alliance FE/HE SIG the work was also mentioned in JISC Inform Issue 27.

Tony’s numerous posts on the use of Yahoo Pipes, which were my introduction to this tool, have also influenced a number of other posts on this site including Using Yahoo Pipes to generate a Twitter ‘out of office’ messaging service, Creating a PDF or eBook from an RSS feed (feedbooks.com) and Festive fun: Auto tweeting your Google Reader shared items using Yahoo Pipes and twitterfeed, as well as uses within our RSC which have not yet been documented including twitter - noreplies (TwitterPad) and the JISCAdvanceUberTwitStream.

Google Apps

Maintaining a Google Calendar from a Google Spreadsheet, Reprise -  this work resulted in Using Google App Scripts as an Event Booking System. Again just as Yahoo Pipes are used to support the operation of our RSC, the event booking system was also piloted with one of our events and is likely to be used more extensively.

Just like Pipes, my interest in Google Apps was a direct consequence of reading Tony’s work in this area. Consequently this has resulted in other research  including Convert time stamped data to timed-text (XML) subtitle format using Google Spreadsheet Script and Using Google Spreadsheet to automatically monitor Twitter event hashtags and more

Timed Tweets/Twitter Subtitling

This is best summarised in the wikipedia entry for twitter subtitling which highlights that my resulting work on this area is not only a built on Tony’s initial research into Twitter Powered Subtitles for Conference Audio/Videos on Youtube, but also its very beginnings was a question raised by Tony and furthermore its continual development is a collaborative endeavour.

 

Evidence of the effective supervision of full and part time post graduate research students should be included under this criterion as well as innovative contributions to the development of early career academic staff engaging with research or other modes of scholarship - Excerpt from Academic Staff Promotions Committee Guidance 

I don’t know if the Committee guidance on supervision is supposed to just limited to OU staff/students, but I feel the above statement is evidenced by the examples I’ve highlighted. Concise and constructive guidance has meant that I have taken my personal development into a new direction and so enthused am I by Tony’s work, that I spend hours of my own personal time exploring new ideas.

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University Website

The image above from xkcd.com webcomic was doing the rounds on Friday.

I’m sure you recognise parts of your institution’s own website in this diagram, in particular I usually find more joy in finding faculty members phone/email addresses on Google rather than on the official site.

A couple of tools which sprung to mind when I saw this diagram were Google’s Browser Size Tool, which let you see contours of the the average percentages of users browser window size. This helped Google discover that 10% of their visitors couldn’t see the download button for Google Earth without scrolling. You can also overlay these contours on your own site. I’m sure many web admins are also already using Google Analytics click overlay to work out where visitors are going (and if they are on the ball assigning goals and click values).

If you want to chuck some formal/informal evaluation techniques into the mix Mike Nolan has been using a modification of Nick DeNardis’ EDU Checkup turning it into ‘Slate My Website’ in which groups collectively perform first impression and ~5minute reviews of a sites design, content and code (more info in this post by Mike).

If you are looking for something a more formal usability technique I’ve always been fond of ‘cognitive walkthroughs’:

The cognitive walkthrough method is a usability inspection method used to identify usability issues in a piece of software or web site, focusing on how easy it is for new users to accomplish tasks with the system. The method is rooted in the notion that users typically prefer to learn a system by using it to accomplish tasks, rather than, for example, studying a manual. The method is prized for its ability to generate results quickly with low cost, especially when compared to usability testing, as well as the ability to apply the method early in the design phases, before coding has even begun.

The topic of maximising and streamlining institutional websites featured in a couple of presentations at IWMW10, including Ranjit Sidhu’s 'So what do you do exactly?' In challenging times justifying the roles of the web teams and Paul Boag’s No money? No matter - Improve your website with next to no cash.

I’ve embedded Paul’s presentation below who suggests that one of the best ways to make sure you get the most out of what you’ve got is to simplify your offerings by automating the removal, hiding or review of material.

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