Archive for November, 2007
Wow, I had a phenomenal retirement gig at KMi this afternoon. There is a KMi Planet story about the event, along with some choice photos, and a big party tonight. There were some wonderful presentations by Ingrid Slack, Martin Levoi, Enrico Motta, and Peter Scott (thanks!). And some fabulous presents, including a slew of wonderful ‘Eisenstadt’-related T-shirts, a great poster, flattering messages beamed in from afar, and in iPhone to round out the occasion! Many thanks to all.
The OU has been extraordinarily good to me; I’ve had the privilege of working with some absolutely first-rate people, and made many great friends here. A short blog entry cannot do justice to 33 years at the Open University, but suffice it to say that my earliest years in the Psychology Department and my recent years in KMi have been an absolute pleasure, and a thoroughly joyous ride from beginning to end. I was especially delighted that both KMi co-founder Tom Vincent and also Lady Kitty Chisholm, who was so critical in the creation of KMi in the first place, were both able to attend. It was great to catch up with everyone, and I’m looking forward to the party tonight.
I’ll be moving this blog into private territory as soon as I get the transfer set up… stay tuned!
Wow… lots of stuff coming out from KMi right now… best to check KMi Planet for all the news, but here’s a sampler of stuff I’ve had the privilege of being connected with (click on thumbnails for larger images):
MSG adds video. Our open source AJAX messenger-with-maps joins the emergeing MeBeam brigade, and more. We have now added a 1-click launch-videochat link to any text chat, in addition to opening up registration to anyone, as reported earlier. This complements the existing 1-click launch of FlashMeeting available to all OpenLearn registrants. [Read story, plus links.]
DYNIQX, our dynamic meta-search engine (think of Kayak for academic repositories) has a very successful test run. We have created an interface that lets users view multiple repositiories, including Google Scholar, and display a dynamically-changing landscape as they ‘change their minds’ about what results are worth seeing. More importantly, the open source version will let developers add new repositories in a straightforward way. [Read story, plus links.]
Expert Search, Jianhan Zhu’s engine which returns people rather than documents, scores highly in TREC07, gets a mobile rendition and is accessible via the OU Library site. It requires intranet access, but is a great demonstration of the power of this technology for finding people within an organization, real or virtual. [Read story, plus links.]
Yikes… and tomorrow is my last day in KMi – caramba, what a week!
BBC news and many others report
HM Revenue and Customs has lost computer discs containing the entire child benefit records, including the personal details of 25 million people – covering 7.25 million families overall. The two discs contain the names, addresses, dates of birth and bank account details of people who received child benefit. They also include National Insurance numbers.
But there’s nothing to worry about:
Mr Darling said there was no evidence of fraud or that the details had fallen into the “wrong hands”, but said that anyone who loses money as a result of fraud resulting from the lost discs would be reimbursed. But he said there was no need for anyone to close their bank accounts.
No problem, then! Interesting that Techmeme has nothing about this, but at the same time is full of very high profile links to a flurry of stories about Facebook dropping the word ‘is’ from user profiles (as in Marc is doing X vs Marc is believes X (sic)). I guess the headline unifying the Facebook ‘is’ and the missing records would be: “Mr Darling is contrite but not unduly concerned.”
[UPDATE 2: It’s all there (videos, etc) on the Amazon.com home page and especially www.amazon.com/kindle
…is bound to be Amazon’s official launch of the Kindle today, scooped in a major Newsweek spread and driving the blogosphere into a general frenzy; there should be some live blogging from the event on TechCrunch and elsewhere;
I can probably live with (i) its ugliness, (ii) its high price, (iii) its restrictive DRM, (iv) its non-‘standard’/non-open reader software, and (v) its being yet another device [yow, that’s one helluva harsh list], but only if it (a) performs like blazes (no page-turning lag), (b) is comfortable on the eyes (bound to be ok on that front with e-ink), (c) gives me a stellar experience (see next).
As an illustration of point (c): when I was studying Spanish, I used to read a lot of Spanish-language news on handhelds, and found that some embedded tap-to-translate software I installed (from Lingvosoft) made all the difference in the world, and in fact made the subjective experience far better and far more convenient for me than any other combination (hard copy, dictionary, desktop browser, etc). Sure, I could do the same with a browser and the right software, but it was less convenient than my ubiquitous “portable Spanish news”.
Hey, I first heard about the Kindle while browsing with my great ol’ Tablet PC (blogged previously) in my lap… which itself is great mainly as a read-only device! So if Amazon can pull it off, full marks to ’em. If I were a betting man, which I am, I’d bet against it being an iPod for books, but (by analogy with the iPod) several vendors have to push hard within that niche first. Amazon’s Kindle may not be ‘it’, but it will be interesting to see if it ignites that niche sufficiently for the next vendor to get it right. Google, for instance, which is amassing a great collection of scanned-in books.
Although Dec 31st 2007 is my last official day at the OU (I’m retiring from academic life!), I’m clearing out my office by November 30th — I have a small amount of accumulated unused leave time and other things happening during December.
I have a lovely office that I’ve really enjoyed over the years [after all, KMi is pretty much custom-designed by its occupants, modified to fit in an award-winning building], but boy is it full of junk. This photo is just the tip of the iceberg. The four big green crates are stuffed with junk from the last time I moved office (within KMi that is) many years ago. I haven’t even peeked inside since them, so I figure if I couldn’t be bothered to look originally, I should really just throw everything out without investigating further. Of course I’ll peek a little, but right now I’m just chucking everything, with three caveats: I’m filling recycling bags with recyclable stuff (mostly paper and cardboard); I’m trying to give away some old computers to the Computing Museum at Bletchley Park; and most of my books are going into the KMi Library – some personal favourites including Newell & Simon’s 1972 classic Human Problem Solving, a signed copy of John Anderson’s The Architecture of Cognition, etc. I’ll probably keep about 10 out of hundreds – who’s got the room or the time – I’m no longer interested!
Also, forget the original model Newton, Psion 3a, Apple PowerBook 170, and other relics in that photo: the real gems are the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 Portable Computer (top of pile), including Bill Gates’ very own Basic Interpreter in ROM, and a Psion Organiser II (lower left, on top of the Newton) – with an alphabetic A-B-C keypad, two line display, ‘Pocket Spreadsheet’ plug-in ROM, and the world’s worst user interface ever. The Computer Museum already has a lot of this stuff, but I’m checking with them to see what else they may need. The TRS-80, which hit the market in 1984, still runs perfectly on 4 AA batteries!
I’ll do a better shot with all the technology ‘lined up’ and visible in a later entry. [Update: there IS no ‘later’ as far as tuning these items is concerned 😉 ].
Ah, those two little words… ‘Register now!’.
Alex has added a (deliberately) un-announced ‘Register now!’ link for anyone launching MSG from the default ‘Launch’ tab on MSG.open.ac.uk. Following that little link reveals an open registration procedure, as long as users accept the Terms and Conditions linked on that page… not onerous, but standard for an academic research server, and required for our own protection.
This means that anyone can quickly register for lightweight experimentation if they want to play with MSG, its super-cool map features, or the forthcoming video chat that Alex hinted at. This avoids the old headaches of having to join a course, email us, or go through the hassle of creating a BuddySpace group, which were the typical prerequisites in the past. Oh, and you can actually use either buddyspace.org or msg.open.ac.uk as the host name – they are now equivalent for that purpose.
Who needs yet another IM? Firstly, we do, for our research. Second, it’s open source, so play with it and modify it to taste. Third, it embeds nicely elsewhere (e.g. NetVibes etc). Fourth, it contains better Google Maps integration than Google’s own GTalk. Fifth, it’s simpler than all the others. Sixth, it’s tightly-integrated (in one variety) with Moodle via OpenLearn (MSG-Moodle-specifics here). So there!
Gee, I’ve passed the 100K spam threshold. Can’t tell whether I should be delighted or annoyed. Ho hum.
And the splog technology keeps advancing… just deleted a comment from my blog entry immediately below that read
“Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.”
etc… automatically harvested, with an interesting title, and trackbacked to my posting – compelling, but just fodder for a splog engine… bah!
Why all the fuss? I’m hoping this will be my last posting on the subject I’ve been blogging about. [UPDATE: 4 linked postings here]
NO, I am NOT going to argue that this is the revolutionary educational box we’ve been waiting for. I’ve ranted against “the next big thing fallacy in education” elsewhere.
YES, I am composing this entry entirely on the gizmo itself.. booted from a cold start a few moments ago.
Here are the reasons I think this is a big deal:
1. Alignment Of The Planets: many factors are now in place, at last, to bring about the computer I first saw when Alan Kay showed a cardboard mockup at Xerox PARC in 1972. That’s 35 years… but now the hardware, software, developer and end-user ecosystems are at last aligned to have “good enough/ cheap enough” ubiquitous computing technology at our disposal
2. GNU/Linux: it’s essentially free, and eminently hackable – and the next generation of kids will noodle their away around this stuff with no problem
3. Web Apps: Web apps have matured into stuff we can really use a LOT of the time for a lot of our computing needs
4. gOS: The ‘almost Google OS’ we see on the Everex PC, essentially combinations of 2 and 3 above with Firefox and other goodies such as Skype, makes a robust, powerful, and usable environment
5. Cheap: Hey, you can buy 3 of ’em. Or, another way to look at this is to think of it as Your Third Computer. Forget about Desktop replacement, laptop replacement, or PDA replacement… keep those, all good in their niches – this is a perfect Third Computer.
6. Solid state: it’s quiet… no moving parts – hooray!!! Psion’ 7 and Windows HPC and others have tried and failed before… that’s partly because they didn ‘t have all the ingredients above… partly because no one wanted to fork out so much money when they could have a full-spec Toshiba laptop for the same price.
7. Does ‘enough’: it does 95% of what I do on a regular basis
8. Grandma: it has a friendly enough interface to satisfy the constraints of my fantasized “Grandma-friendly computer”
9. Kitchen: well, use it ‘wherever’ … in precisely the places where other computers would be inappropriate or too worrying.
10. No-thinkee: you don’t have to think “shall I take this with me”
That’s it… 20 minutes from cold bootup to posting this entry. I’ll need 2 more to upload the photo I just took. Only 1 beef is that the right shift key is in the wrong place… I’m a demon touch-typist, and the keyboard is tiny, of course, but fine.
UPDATE 19:35, same day: I’m adding this update paragraph from a conventional big-keyboard machine… everything you see in this posting above, as well as the Technorati Tags below, was done on the Asus Eee itself. I wrote down my start time when I opend the stone-cold machine: 15:38. The blog posting was live by 15:54, so that’s 16 minutes from a cold start, with no prep, no notes, and only 2 minutes playing with the machine a few days earlier. It then took me about 5-6 minutes of fiddling to upload the photo from my camera: the SD card worked perfectly, and the image opened up immediately… but it took me a little while to make sense of the menu choice in the image handling package I selected. No big deal. Also, I forgot to say that I opened a handful of tabs in Firefox to do quick copy/pasting of the embedded links to my old blog entries and to copy the Technorati tags I use (the ones below are the originals, copy/pasted live on the Asus Eee at the time I wrote the above notes). During all my frantic window juggling, Firefox crashed!!! I was halfway through the blog posting, but delighted to find that when I re-started it, the option ‘restore session’ brought up WordPress with all of my as-yet-unsaved draft completely intact (whew). So I reckon that the 20-minute-total time from cold start to live blog entry with photo is approximately correct – 22 minutes max, including crashed Firefox recovery. When I had finished, Mark Gaved then tried the Asus with a 1280×1024 external monitor at full resolution: it looked great! All in all, ‘full marks’. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that (a) this was a pretty exceptional, intensive and fast-paced 10-finger typing exercise, and (b) it’s now almost 4 hours later as I’m adding these notes, and my right hand aches. That’s almost certainly why this needs to be a ‘Third Computer’ for me – but in that niche, I love it. 😉 Finally, check out these cool additional resource links from Ninelocks’ blog.
Mind you, we don’t know how big the supply (of RM, the UK major Asus reseller for education) was. At least Mark got his (below) via some crafty manoeuvring and a bit of a retrieval saga involving a 20-mile drive to the depot when they couldn’t find his house…
My evidence? I’ve just finished speaking to RM on the phone… my order is somewhat delayed… more are “on the way” (10 days)…