Archive for September, 2007

Opening University research papers to the public

September 27, 2007

The Open University officially launched a website today that allows public access to the research papers that its academics produce. The Open Research Online website allows anyone to search the online database by author’s name, or to use keywords from the title or abstract of the paper. You can also browse through a list of departments and disciplines and subscribe to an RSS feed of announcements about new papers.

This project, which is the sixth largest such repository in the UK according to today’s search on the Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR), is part of a growing movement to provide free access to publicly funded research. This is being driven by the fact that universities have become increasingly concerned by the increase in subscription fees that are charged by the international journals. Up until now, these journals have been the only places where research papers are published.

An excellent by-product of this is that the general public and small businesses can gain relatively easy access to the fruits of university research. As the OU says: “The repository serves the dual purpose of recording the University’s research activity and, where possible, making the full text of the research publicly available”. As we all pay the taxes that ultimately fund most academic research, this is an important and welcome development.


Three-dimensional lunch

September 25, 2007

Several years ago I shared office space with a university team that was developing what was then the new fangled technology of 3-D printing. These rapid prototyping machines could generate a solid, three-dimensional model of an object that had been designed on a computer screen. Watching them weave something solid out of thin air using tiny, two-dimensional layers of special plastics and resins, sprayed one on top of another, was fascinating.

Things seem to have moved on though. Wired magazine reports that an artist husband and wife team have developed the CandyFab 4000 – a 3-D printer that uses sugar rather than plastics and resins. With this machine they can construct solid, caramelised versions of objects drawn on a computer.

Think of the potential. A crème brûlée that plays your iTunes. Surely this has to be the epitome of Tech Lunch?


September 20, 2007

I recently had a comment from a reader who is active in the media industry (you know who you are) that I don’t feature enough material on lunch. Whether this says something about the habits of film-making types I’m not sure, but in the interest of redressing the balance I thought I’d mention something I was coerced into trying in York the other day.

The York Brewery’s three pubs serve a taster tray Tray of Thirdsof four of their real ales (see picture). Each is served in a one-third-of-a-pint glass, which I think is a brilliant way to find out what you like before moving onto the full monty. In recent years CAMRA have been campaigning to get more pubs to introduce this smaller measure.

I suppose this is more of a liquid lunch kind of thing, so maybe you’ll argue that it’s out of scope for this blog—certainly a bad idea if you have much work to do in the afternoon. So a nice one for those who work in media…

nOU to blogging

September 14, 2007

The Open University is one of the world’s largest, oldest and most respected practitioners in technology-supported distance learning. So you’d think blogging would be the technology du jour.

However, it appears this is not necessarily the case. A very interesting survey by Lucinda Kerawalla and colleagues at the OU found that, of nearly 800 Open University distance learners, only 18% thought that blogs and blogging would be ‘useful’ or ‘fairly useful’ within the course. Even more interesting was the fact that only 8% of the students who were about to embark on courses that may well utilise blog-based work had their own blog, and only just over half had ever even read a blog. A further 35% of the sample did not want the OU to provide a blog as part of their studies.

The authors note in their conclusions: “These findings suggest that, although educators recognise the potential for blogging to support learning, most students do not agree” (p. 176).

Of course the OU caters for an audience that is likely to be older than the typical cohort of a traditional university, but, given the astonishing levels of media-hype and supposed general public interest in Web 2.0 services and technologies these figures make sobering reading.

Eating in the library

September 11, 2007

A wine bar near where I work has just had a make-over and acquired a new name: The Library. Such a name is guaranteed to attract the interest of a writer, especially one who spends some of the working week on projects for UK universities. So in the interests of expanding the possible venues for business lunches I have been undertaking some detailed research.

On my first visit I tried Tunnbröd med Makrill, Dill Våfflor med Skagen Röra and Tosca kaka med Vaniljsås. Now, if this sounds to you like the cast-list of an Ingmar Bergman film, then you are not far wrong. The Library serves Swedish tapas. No, I didn’t know the Swedes did tapas either, but it is basically a selection of lots of small, mainly fish-related dishes – a kind of mini-version of their famous smörgåsbord.

In fact, this translated into Swedish flatbread with peppery mackerel and potato salad; prawns and smoked salmon in lemon mayo with savoury dill waffles; and, for dessert, almond cake with vanilla sauce. It was superb! Sadly, the restaurant doesn’t have a website yet, or I’d post a link.

Small Schools + Big Buildings = Better Learning?

September 6, 2007

On Tuesday the Conservative Party announced the results of a policy working group which has looked at education and other public services (entitled Restoring Pride in our Public Services). One of the proposals (no. 7) discusses the role of smaller schools and recommends investigating the use of ‘several small schools under one roof’, an idea that has been tried in a number of American States.

As luck would have it, I was at the Association of Learning Technologies’ annual conference (ALT-C 2007: beyond control) yesterday, and by the far the most interesting talk was the keynote given by Professor Dylan Wiliam, who made what must be one of the first public responses by a leading educationalist to these proposals.

Pantone Mugs

September 5, 2007

Sometimes, whilst flicking idly through a trade magazine, a product catches my eye that just makes me laugh out loud with a burst of geek joy. The people I share an office with usually raise their eyes from their screens just long enough to acknowledge me but not enough to encourage me. So rather than being indulged by my colleagues who, I suspect, just don’t appreciate my sense of humour, I thought I’d blog about it: Pantone mugs.

Each bone china coffee mug is adorned with one of just ten Pantone colours, complete with the associated code, for example Royal Blue 286C. The mugs are produced by W2 Products and you have to see them to appreciate the effect. You can read all about them on their website including the news that they can all be dishwashered safely except the Pink 239C mug. If you work in Web design, illustration or another related industry what could be better for the office?

This got me thinking. A long, long time ago I kept a Pantone swatch card on my desk which listed the code numbers for the restricted list of 216 colours (there are actually thousands of Pantone colours) that had to be used on the early Web. The reason for limiting the colour spectrum on the Web was due to the browsers’ widespread adoption of something called the Netscape colour cube which defined the ‘Web safe’ colours. Perhaps the W2 company should consider producing a limited edition range that is both fully Web and dishwasher safe?