Archive for the 'Tech' Category

Switching from Windows to Ubuntu

Monday, January 11th, 2010

So, after a long time grumbling about how Windows gives me hassle, I’ve switched to Ubuntu on my work PC.

I had originally planned to dual boot both WinXP and Ubuntu whilst I figured out stuff like Active Directory domain membership, but in the end I got so fed up of Windows getting in my way, one day I just decided to switch. (Our IT team recognises that the developers in our group need administrator access to setup our tools and servers so, on the understanding that we don’t put our machines or the network at risk, we’re allowed fairly free reign.)

It took a while to get set up as I like it, but I think I’m there – so here’s a little overview…

NB: I’ve had only a little exposure to Windows Vista (where I found the continual “security” confirmation dialog boxes incredibly annoying), and to Windows 7 (where the window tiling function looks genuinely useful), so maybe MS have these newer versions of Windows would compare better than XP does.

What’s good?

  • I’ve installed (and use) software for web site browsing, word processing, vector drawing, image editing, version control, remote access sessions, programming, time tracking, and countless utilities – all with a few clicks from the built-in repositories (at zero purchase cost). The wealth of software available is amazing, for which the free software community is justifiably proud, and has my admiration and thanks 🙂
  • Easy access to remote files. I can browse Windows shares (without needing AD integration), and even better, I can browse our Linux servers via SSH (really not very pleasant on WinXP), all integrated with the Gnome desktop via Nautilus.
  • Virtual desktops – I’m amazed that Windows still doesn’t support this. I know there are hacks and 3rd party extensions, but the ones I’ve tried were rubbish in comparison to Gnome’s default configuration.
  • Using VirtualBox virtual machines I can use multiple versions of IE in virtual machines, and my old suite of Windows apps if I have to handle proprietary file types.
  • Software updates are smooth and rarely interrupt me.
  • Startup and shutdown are a lot quicker than Windows, never leaving me with x updates to install before the machine will shutdown (which is good as I like to switch off the machine at the socket).
  • No slowdowns due to a virus scanner.
  • All the little things which seem to happen because of Free Software. Simple useful integration that just works, like that Nautlius’ file property dialog shows size and codec information for media files.

What’s bad?

  • Evolution is supposed to be able to connect to MS Exchange for email and calendars, which it sort of does – unfortunately the MAPI connector doesn’t seem to work at all, and the Webmail connector is slow and tends to disconnect often. It’s ok for light use but, if I’ve got a lot of mail to deal with, I’ll often open Windows in a virtual machine and run Outlook.
  • doesn’t have seamless compatibility with MS Office files (arguably Microsoft’s fault).
  • Connections to Windows file shares have crashed on occasion.
  • The video is a little unstable, crashing very occasionally, but I’m chalking that one up to the Nvidia closed-source binaries. I’m glad that Nvidia provide a driver at all, but believe they’d end up with a better product if they were more open-friendly.
  • The task switcher (ALT+tab) is slow if desktop visual effects are on. This used to be fine, and I guess it’s the Nvidia driver disagreeing with the kernel about something.
  • A few cosmetic issues like notifications appearing at the wrong position.
  • There are other areas I’ve bumped against at home that are also worth a mention: The lack of decent video editing software, the ongoing transition to PulseAudio/JACK for regular/pro audio use. These aren’t a problem at work though.

Overall I’m happy – my day to day workflow is much smoother, and – at risk of becoming a FLOSS advert – I get warm fuzzies from following the progress being made in various parts of the Free Software environment – like a non-destructive editing version of GIMP, desktop activity awareness, local map applications, pro audio –  there’s too much to mention it all! 🙂

The Transition from the Co-Digital to the Post-Digital.

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Having made public the original discussion paper ‘Planning for the Post-Digital’ members of the 52group then blogged the concept. These posts generated some strong responses, both in comments and in further blog reactions.Initial reactions to the Post-Digital interpreted the concept as dismissing the importance of technology (and the technologically minded) claiming that somehow the ‘digital’ had passed into history:

“In short, this isn’t the post-digital world, just like it isn’t the post-jet age or the post-space age. All of these technologies are not magic, they’re here, they’re real and they have real consequences. The way to deal with these changing technologies is the same as every craftsman has done since the iron age: respect the tools of your trade, without being obsessive about them (leave that to the toolmakers), and remember that any tool can be improved, and therefore will be.” Wilber Krann (comment on original post)


“I think that we should have some people obsessed with the technology (where has most of the technology come from?) and we should have people who can analyse it, and critique it, and say “Yes, this works in this situation because X” or ‘This is not useful as a learning technology’.” Pat Parslow

The Post-Digital was seen as a negative principle which devalues engagement with the technical encouraging us to be unthinking consumers of new hardware and platforms as they become ever more culturally ‘transparent’.

“what are the implications for accepting that we are in a postdigital age?  Don’t we then accept that our IT environment will be owned by the mega-corporations – Google and Microsoft…It strikes me that the postdigital agenda is a conservative one, in which we are asked to accept that we (in our institutions and in our working environment) cannot shape our digital environment. And for me that is a worrying point of view which I don’t accept.” Brian Kelly

Alongside these discussions Frances Bell suggested the term Co-Digital as a better term to describe the process of  “…seizing the opportunities presented by the newness of technologies to spot changes and then shape the development of the technology.”

The Co-Digital then describes the period of ‘flux’ (this is a term from the ‘Digital Habitats’ by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John D. Smith) which a technology goes through as the user community appropriates it and influences its development. This period is early in a technologies life-cycle but may not be in effect for very long as the user community expands.

Instead of the Co-Digital replacing the Post-Digital I think that they are concepts which describe different points of a larger process of transition.

I have tried to describe the transition technologies make from the Co to the Post-Digital in the diagram below. The model is an attempt to bring together the thinking that has emerged from the Post-Digital idea and put it in a larger context.

Technological transition from the Co-Digital to the Post-Digital.

(The visual design of the diagram is a homage to the excellent ‘Hierarchy of Digital Distractions’ by David McCandless which I have stuck to the wall by my desk)

Rather than attempt to discuss through the diagram in detailed prose I have written up some simple notes which may help to describe the overall model:

Transition Stages

Co Digital:

The point at which the socio-tech flux (Wenger uses the term ‘Vortex’) is most fluid. Social appropriation of the tech influences its development. Similarly the tech starts to form the manner in which social engagement takes place and in which social capital is built.


The tech is seen a culturally ‘shiny’ but its role is beginning to become ‘fixed’ in the mind of its growing community and in its socio-tech function.


The tech is no longer ‘shiny’. It is culturally normalised and not conceived of as ‘technology’ (‘Disappearing into Use’ is an brilliant phrase I have hear which describes this).  The tech is now understood by its core function i.e. culturally, the phone is seen as the conversations you have when using it. It is not generally considered in technological terms anymore. This phenomenon could also be seen as a transition to the Post –Technical.

‘Types’ of Users


They build new stuff because they think it’s cool. Likely to be very tech orientated. Pushing the boundaries of what is possible technologically.


Probably community leaders. Not as tech focused as the Pioneers but they are adept at appropriating the new tech to their own ends. This is often done by building networks/community or promoting themselves as a brand. They are happy to subvert functionality and influence the evolution of the tech.


They follow players into technologies. They want to know what a tech is ‘for’ and how to use it ‘correctly’ before joining. They enjoy the ‘shiny’ once there is a cultural consensus. i.e. They are buying iPhones from Tesco’s now. They also actually like ‘top ten’ style lists on how to use platforms properly.

Phollowers (apologies):

They use the tech once it is fully culturally normalised. They are not interested in experimenting. This group bought the mobile phones they claimed they didn’t need once all their friends had one.


When these guys get involved they accelerate the shift from the Co Digital to the Digital. Think Twitter and the BBC.

What is the point?

  1. We need to influence the evolution of technology while it’s in the Co-Digital space. i.e. Edtech folk need to be players (well, some of them at least). Once a tech has moved out of the Co-Digital it is difficult to influence although it may be re-appropriated later in a different context. In my opinion Twitter is currently moving out of the Co-Digital space.
  2. As the user base in a tech expands the Pragmatists begin to out number the Players. Because the Pragmatists have a relatively fixed idea about the function of the tech this means that it becomes increasingly difficult for the tech to stay in flux. Think of the backlash every time facebook attempts to make changes to its interface or functionality.
  3. Once tech hits the Post Digital it is pretty much game over for direct innovation (but as I have mentioned re-appropriation is possible). Once Google and the ‘cloud’ become Post-Digital they will actually be running the world.

The model is clearly a work in progress…  I welcome your thoughts (especially as it was comments and posts on the original idea that helped move this forward to this stage)

Visitors & Residents: The Video

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Last month I gave a presentation on the ‘Visitors & Residents’ principle at the ALT-C conference which was well received so I thought it would be worth videoing the talk under laboratory conditions…

Some of you might also be interested in our paper on Visitors and Residents:

Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement
by David S. White and Alison Le Cornu.
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 9 – 5 September 2011

Just a few notes to go with the video:

The original ‘Prezi’ presentation is here:

The tinyURL that is supposed to link to Andy Powell’s ‘Twitter for Idiots’ post is incorrect. Please follow this link instead.

At points I use the term ‘real life’ which seems to imply that anything which is online is somehow not part of ‘real life’. A better phrase would have been ‘offline’. Language in this area is difficult at best…

The quote “…just knowing how to use particular technologies makes one no wiser than just knowing how to read words” is a quote from Prensky’s recent paper on ‘Digital Wisdom’. In the journal ‘Innovate’. In other versions of the talk I refer to Prensky directly but seem to have omitted it when I was in front of the camera.  All other non-attributed quotes are anonymised statements from our students.

The images I used are under the Creative Commons license:

‘Tourist Trap’ visitor image
‘Rusholme’ resident image
‘Sunny Park’ web as a space image
‘Tool Box’ web as a toolbox image

System upgrade

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I’ve just upgraded this blog to the latest WordPress. Everything seems ok, but please let me know if you spot anything wrong.

It’s about time we had something better than the old John Hancock…

Monday, September 14th, 2009

New ETSI standard for EU-compliant electronic signatures.

Open content and libraries

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

I was really interested in Tony Hirst’s recent post Open educational Resources and the University Library Website, which raised something which had never occurred to me and I am not sure why.  At the end of the Mosaic project one of our key conclusions was “maximise discoverability, put open content where people already look for things” and somehow in writing this, immersed in the web and web 2.0 and thinking of google and flikr I overlooked one of the  key places where people already look for things are library sites.

It still seems to me the two biggest barriers to wide-scale uptake  of OERs remains 1)  licenses and 2) the ability to find useful OERs in the first place.

So I agree with Tony, this is something we have to resolve, and soon.

Who needs Flash anyway?

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Twitter particle systems using HTML5

Also see:  Die IE6.

Postdigital: Escaping the Kingdom of the New?

Friday, June 19th, 2009

New things are exciting. For example social networking. It’s a whole new way to interact with others, a reason why society is moving online isn’t it? But how to make it useful? What can we do with this new digital tool that goes beyond chit-chat? It should be possible to use facebook and Twitter for something of value for education but which one is better? Which one is more popular? Maybe there is something new just around the corner? …What could we do with Google Wave?…

I admit that I have a habit of thinking in this manner. It’s exhausting and somehow hollow. On a bad day I get a form of techno paranoia which involves creating a profile on any number of new services most of which I never revisit. To be totally honest some of my most successful conference presentations are attended by an audience 50% of whom are driven there out of a mild form of this paranoia. I like ‘new things’ and I enjoy talking about what new developments could mean for education but at times I have been overwhelmed and lost focus.

Digital Danger

 The Dangers of Being Digital

I have been numbed by a tidal wave of the new:

“The speed of the change, however, has left us with the mistaken belief that social change was somehow ‘created’ by the digital rather than simply played out on a the canvas of the digital; that the digital itself is the main driver of change.”

This quote comes from a working document outlining the postdigital. A principle which highlights the dangers of assuming the digital is the sole driver of change and makes the point that the digital as ‘new’ will quickly pass away.

As the ‘Planning for the Postdigital’ document describes all technologies go through a transition whereby they become culturally normalised. For example, the pen and the book have become ‘transparent’ tools, extensions of ourselves to be used appropriately to achieve goals but rarely discussed in of themselves. In the same way email and word processing are well on there way to becoming transparent. We now send a message or write a document. The digital is not discussed. It has ceased to be new.

“Things digital will be accepted alongside our other technologies and the slate swept clear of many of the distracting dualisms (and technological factions) that pervade the educational discourse. The postdigital frees us to think more clearly and precisely about the issues we face, rather than become tied to an obsession with, and the language of, the new.”

Electronic Calculator
An ‘Electronic’ Calculator?

Too much time is spent arguing about the relative merits of digital spaces such as Twitter and facebook. The key term here being ‘relative’. We are pitting digital against digital, new against new, a form of one-upmanship which distracts from the larger picture.

“The transition to a postdigital way of thinking allows for that previously coded as ‘digital’ to be woven into the wider discussion of social dialects that people bring to their acts of collaboration. One of the things we’ve learned from social research is that people tend to go online to find people they know and tend to replicate, at least in part, their social performances online. These performances, the communities that they occur in and the dialects that they represent and produce should be the critical loci for research in the postdigital age, not the technologies themselves.”

During the recent Open Habitat project, activity in a digital space (in this case Second Life) forced us to reflect upon and change our educational approach in day-to-day non-digital spaces. As this mirror effect emerged I became increasingly uncomfortable. We had set ourselves the goal of discovering new ways of teaching with new technologies not re-considering the nature traditional teaching. Worse than that, because Second Life supported a high level of social interaction the skills needed to teach within the digital space had a large overlap with those needed in a physical classroom. “When are you going to tell us something new” was the comment I received halfway through one presentation on the project.

I of course should not have felt uncomfortable but at the time my thinking was locked onto the digital and what it could provide that was new rather than what it brought that was of value. The Open Habitat project discovered approaches that were of relevant both online and offline. I needed to adjust my thinking to accept that this was valid, that it was ok to revisit age-old principles of socialisation and collaboration. The new technology could be a catalyst for this thinking even if it wasn’t the ultimate home for all of the what we had learnt.

The discourse that surrounds elearning (an ‘e’ which is increasingly redundant) is in danger of stagnating. As the digital becomes increasingly transparent we are likely to find ourselves squabbling over ever smaller chunks of newness. We will become like tadpoles in an evaporating pond, fighting for the last of what will inevitably disappear. Maybe it’s time for a metamorphosis in approach, away from the digital, towards the postdigital.


Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

TALL is part of a team, led by Oxford University Computing Services, that has recently been awarded funding from the JISC/HE Academy Open Educational Resources Programme for the Open Spires project.
The project has two purposes: to increase the amount of learning content (especially audio and video) released from Oxford and to enable the University to investigate the implications of making some of this material available as ‘Open Content’ under a Creative Commons or other suitable license. This means that quality educational content will be available for reuse and redistribution by third parties globally, provided that it is used in a non-commercial way and is attributed to its creator.
This funding will enable the University to build upon the Oxford iTunes U service launched in October 2008, which has widespread participation from Oxford academics. Oxford podcasts currently include recordings of guest lectures, interviews with researchers and conference presentations. The project will have a global impact, as the free-to-download resources are in many cases from speakers, researchers and visiting lecturers with high international profiles.
The project hopes to benefit the University by:

  • Enhancing Oxford’s global reputation – enabling the production of more material that has international impact and places the University in a leading position within the UK Open Content movement.
  • Ensuring expert legal scrutiny – the complex licensing and IPR issues associated with Open Content will be investigated by the University’s Legal Service office.
  • Enhancing current provision and accessibility – text transcripts will be produced to accompany existing podcasts.
  • Enabling the University to produce more audio and video content that brings the modern day University to life for its many alumni.
  • Improving admissions by enabling the production of more podcasts that will reach and inspire the key 16-18 age group.

The project started on 30 April 2009 and will last for one year.

Too much dependance on javascript?

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

I’ve installed the NoScript Firefox extension to protect against XSS and other javascript-based attacks, but am finding that lots of sites are depending on javascript for basic functionality 🙁

To all web devs – please remember Checkpoint 6.3 of the WCAG: Ensure that pages are usable when scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects are turned off or not supported.