OUseful.Info, the blog…

Trying to find useful things to do with emerging technologies in open education

Archive for the ‘Admin…’ Category

OUseful.Info, err, 2.0?

So I’ve changed blog engine and, err, moved the OUseful.info blog to here – http://ouseful.wordpress.com/ – for now, though the Feedburner feed is still the same: http://feeds.feedburner.com/ouseful, and http://ouseful.info/ should always point somewhere relevant…

The old blog posts (that is, everything that used to dangle off http://blogs.open.ac.uk/Maths/ajh59) are all archived at http://ouseful.open.ac.uk/blogarchive, and links to the old blog should redirect posts there…

I did consider importing the old posts here, but I’m not going to… Fresh start and all that…

I do need to sort out a search engine that covers the old posts as well as the new, though, so I will probably go with something like a Google CSE (or maybe a Yahoo BOSS engine…?)

Anyway – aside from that, things will continue pretty much as before… or maybe not…

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Written by Tony Hirst

July 24, 2008 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Admin...

Corporate Foolery and the Abilene Paradox

…or, a little bit about how I see myself…

I can’t remember the context now, but a little while ago I picked up the following tweet from Pete Mitton:

The Abilene Paradox? So what’s that when it’s at home, then?

The Abilene Paradox is a phenomenon in which the limits of a particular situation seems to force a group of people to act in a way that is the opposite of what they actually want. This situation can occur when groups continue with misguided activities which no group member desires because no member is willing to raise objections, or displease the others.
[Ref.]

The paradox was introduced and illustrated by means of the following anecdote, recounted in an article from 1974 – “The abilene paradox: The management of agreement” by Jerry Harvey [doi:10.1016/0090-2616(74)90005-9]:

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”
The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.
One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it.” The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.
The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

Hence the need for the “corporate fool”, a role I aspire to…;-)

the curious double-act of king and fool, master and servant, substance and shadow, may thus be seen as a universal, symbolic expression of the antithesis lying at the heart of of the autocratic state between the forces of order and disorder, of structured authority and incipient anarchy, in which the conditional nature of the fool’s licence (‘so far but not further’) gives reassurance that ultimately order will prevail. The fool, though constrained, continually threatens to break free in pushing to its limits whatever freedom he is given. He is the trickster of myth in an historical strait-jacket from which he is forever struggling to escape. And if the king, the dominant partner, sets the tone of their exchanges and the fool has everything to gain from a willing acceptance of his subservient role, his participation can never be forced. If, for whatever reason, he should come to feel that his master has reneged on the unwritten contract between them (the rules of the game), it is always open to him to refuse to play, however costly to himself the refusal might prove to be. He thus retains – and needs to retain if he is to achieve the full potential of his role – a degree of independence. Like the actor on stage in a live performance, success is inevitably accompanied by the possibility of failure. …
But there was a danger on both sides of this balancing act. If the fool risked going too far in his banter and tricks, the king was also vulnerable to the fool’s abuse of the licence he was given. ["Fools and Jesters at the English Court", J Southworth, p3.]

See also: OMG…There are spies everywhere sabotaging our organizations!!, which reveals some tricks about how to destroy your organisation from within (“General Interference with Organizations and Production”), via the uncompromising OSS Simple Sabotage Manual [Declassified] (PDF).

I once started putting together an “anti-training” course based around this sort of thing, called “Thinking Inside the Box”. It’s a shame I never blogged the notes – all that knowledge is lost, now ;-)

Other sources of profound unwisdom: Dilbert, xkcd, Noise to Signal.

PS Here’s an example of a piece of corporate sabotage I started exploring: The Cost of Meetings – How Much Return on Investment Do YOU Get? (Meeting taxi meter).

Written by Tony Hirst

December 9, 2008 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Admin...

How OUseful.Info Operates…

After receiving an honorable mention (and a bottle of bubbly:-) at the IWR Info Professional of the Year Awards, I’ve picked up a few new subscribers from the Info Pro community, so here’s a quick run down of how OUseful.info is (dis)organised to explain how an (un)professional (in the sense of an unconference…) such as myself goes about moving info I think is important around on the web.

OUseful.info, the blog

First up is OUseful.info, the blog. It lives on the web at http://ouseful.info (that is – “O U S E F U L dot info”;-), although that address currently redirects to a hosted WordPress blog at http://ouseful.wordpress.com.

The blog can also be accessed via a couple of RSS feeds. The feed I recommend that people use, (a) because it is enriched…; b) because then I can move blog engine and the feed will remain) can be found at http://feeds.feedburner.com/ouseful; a pure blog feed can also be found (and autodiscovered) direct from the WordPress blog at http://ouseful.wordpress.com/feed.

To keep up with comments to the OUseful.info blog, you can subscribe here:
http://ouseful.wordpress.com/comments/feed.

OUseful Archival Blog Search

Long time readers may know that OUseful.info, the Blog changed blog engine just before the summer. The old posts are archived at http://ouseful.open.ac.uk/blogarchive. The searchbox on the archive site still searches the original blogsite (the URLs from that site now redirect to http://ouseful.open.ac.uk/blogarchive), but that facility may die at any time.

A comprehensive search over both the legacy (blogarchive current blogsites can be found at:
http://www.google.com/cse?cx=009190243792682903990%3A2ke2vucb8nm (I’ll get a proper search page set up sometime whenever…!). This OUseful search engine is implemented as a Google Custom Serarch Engine, and searches over most of the blogs I maintain/post to (or have maintained in the past). I may try to get it to trawl the other OUseful properties too, but its focus for now is on blog content.

The OUseful linkblog

The enriched blog feed on Feedburner also pulls in content from one of my delicious bookmark tags on a daily basis: http://delicious.com/psychemedia/feedthru (the feed can be found at http://delicious.com/rss/psychemedia/feedthru). These bookmarks are ones that I think are important or likely to be of particular interest to OUseful.info readers. I try to annotate them with a description that reveals why you should clickthru… My feedthru bookmarks are also syndicated on the OUseful.info blog sidebar. My full bookmark list can be found at http://delicious.com/psychemedia.

The OUseful microblog

At the moment, the microblog conversation appears to be on Twitter, so to keep up with snippets of things I find interesting, and want to share, check out my Twitter stream – http://twitter.com/psychemedia. My recent tweets are also syndicated in the sidebar on the OUseful.info blog.

OUseful Presentations

Whenever I do a presentation, I try to post the slides to my slideshare account within a day or two of the presentation (often with a draft copy of the slides a day or two before the presentation):
http://www.slideshare.net/psychemedia (feed).

Many of my presentation slides are a little, err, “opaque” without me there to talk around them. This is partly deliberate (I disagree with seeing more than half a dozen words on a slide;-) and partly because I’m still trying to find a style of presenting that suits me. If you haven’t had to suffer sitting through a OUseful presentation yet, my rates are very reasonable ;-)

To see the presentations I’ve bookmarked as particularly special, you can see my favourite slideshare presentations here:
http://www.slideshare.net/psychemedia/favorites (feed). Note that I am considering refining this to use the feedthru tag for presentations I really want to share across the OUseful network (in which case, the URL will become http://www.slideshare.net/psychemedia/favorites/by-tag/feedthru and the feed URL will also change).

The OUseful Video Channel

Every so often I come across a Youtube video that gels with something I’ve been thinking about. Rather than submit these to delicious (or the delicious feedthru tag), I tend to favourite them on Youtube. You can see my favourites here: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=psychemedia&view=favorites, or subscribe to them here: http://gdata.youtube.com/feeds/api/users/psychemedia/favorites.

The OUseful.info homepage

It’s been some time since I updated the OUseful homepage at http://ouseful.open.ac.uk explicitly as the intention behind it is that it aggregates and resyndicates other OUseful stuff. However, there are some static links there to some of the miniprojects I’ve dabbled with that I think are particularly OUseful. It’s also a demonstration of how to use a webtop (in the OUseful homepage case, I use Pageflakes).

Some OUseful firehoses

As well as the “published” content sources described above, you can keep up with my random doodlings via a couple of channels with a lower signal to noise ratio: my Yahoo Pipes http://pipes.yahoo.com/ouseful/ (feed), where I mess around with prototype pipes, only some of which get blogged about, and my flickr stream – http://flickr.com/photos/psychemedia (feed) – where you can get a feel for what posts I may be about to post from the screenshots I’m capturing…

One of the easiest ways to feed from the OUseful firehouse is to tap into my friendfeed account: http://friendfeed.com/psychemedia (feed).

So there you have it – a worklife/hobbylife lived in public…

PS you may be wondering why “OUseful” – that’s because when I started the OUseful.info blog, my intention was to write about stuff that might be OUseful, one day… (that is, useful in an OU context).

PPS you might be wondering why “psychemedia”. Psychemedia was a “counterculture” magazine I ran for a limited time. As a neologism, I like to think it’s defined as “the means by which minds communicate”.

Written by Tony Hirst

December 5, 2008 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Admin...

How Not to Launch a Website, Reprise… (incl. the OUseful.info Blogging Policy)

So it seems that there’s a backstory to the launch of Re-launch/Outsmart the Recession (as, err, critiqued in “Re-launch” – How Not to Launch A Website): the planned release date for the site was brought forward to fit in with a PR opportunity (the invitation of our VC to Gordon Brown’s jobs summit), which resulted in a Friday afternoon request to get the site live before the following Monday morning (even though at the time the site was nowhere near the state it would normally be expected to be in for a launch)…

…and, as is the way of these things, some of the planned tidying-up didn’t make it through in time to the site that went live.

And then I blogged about it…;-) So apologies to the team behind the site for any distress caused – maybe there’s something from that confusion that we can beneift from as a learning institution?!;-)

Anyway, given all that, I guess now is as good a time as any to complement the How OUseful.Info Operates… post from last year with a few remarks about the, err, “editorial policy” I sort of apply to OUseful.info, the blog…?

Firstly, I blog about things that interest me – OUseful.info is my notebook, a record of things I’ve tried to do, seminars/talks I’ve been to, and so on.

Secondly, OUseful.info is probably the primary way in which I engage with my “peers”, in whatever ad hoc wider academic/ed tech community it is that I am a member of.

Thirdly, OUseful.info is an inside-outside look at the OU in particular, and bits of HE and the academic library sector in general. This is probably the most contentious aspect of the blog, and the one that causes internal readers to twitch a bit, so it’s probably worth clarifying the stance I have towards writing OU focused posts:

- no ad hominem attacks, there’s just no point;
– stuff that appears on public OU websites is generally fair game; some of the time I will try to get in touch with people who developed a site, or a page, via email to point out my “concerns”, rather than writing a blog post. In those cases, if a site remains broken for a week or two, (and is in public), then it’s “in play”;
– stuff that appears on internal, behind the firewall sites is more of a moot issue. Problems that I know are widespread, either within the OU, or that are likely to be familiar to people from other institutions, are in play. Like the OU intranet search. Which sucks…. big time. (I dread to think how much time is wasted by people not finding things they are looking for on it.)
– OU processes are fair game, except maybe where the process is best not talked about in public for whatever reason (legal, ethical, personal identifiability or commercial reasons, for example). Many OU processes formalise a snapshot of how the OU did things at some time in the past, when things were different. For example, the legacy of T171 can be seen in the design of many of our current online courses, such as in the way we present the materials to students, and in the design of the OU-XML schema used in the structured authoring workflow. Much OU work is only possible because people know how to get things done outside (or in spite of) the official processes, which I suspect is one reason why many appointments to OU positions go to internal applicants.
– “roles” and decisions are sometimes in play, for example where the role of a person in a particular workflow is constrained by the workflow, internal management structures and so on, to make a decision in a particular way (or default to a particular decision when it’s not clear what the actual answer should be). For internal readers of the blog, sometimes posts that focus on these issues are seen as ad hominem attacks – they’re not intended to be; they’re intended to sympathise with the person who made a decision a particular way, particularly ones they may not personally agree with, or ones they feel they were not really in a position to answer or explore in a properly informed way, whether through lack of knowledge, training, an appreciation of the “wider context”, and so on. If the “system” forces a person to answer a particular sort of request in a particular, default reasoning way (particularly when then the original premises or assumptions behind those default reasoning models are no longer valid), then I feel almost duty bound to criticise it! Sometimes, I try to raise “issues” internally, via email, meetings and so on. Sometimes I resort to the blog, because then I know someone will be forced to respond…
– sometimes a post hits a nerve with internal readers, and they don’t know how to respond, or don’t feel they are in a position to respond, for example because of how a line manager might respond to their response (or a feeling that it’s up to the line manager to handle it). In terms of how to respond, there are a couple of good ways – via a public blog comment or tweet (I’m @psychemedia), or via a private email. I’m happy to post corrections and clarifications, though I’ll rarely pull a post (one it’s posted, copies are out there anyway). I’m happy to use different devices to reference internal sources (or not, as required;-) in posting clarifications, including posting updates to posts, comments to posts, tweets about posts and maybe even follow-on posts;
– sometimes internal readers feel they can’t tell me something “because you’ll blog it”. Not true. I don’t blog lots of things (such as about the Register debacle last year, for example… doh!). I draft posts for some things then delete them (maybe because I can’t find a way of posting something that would almost definitely be seen as an ad hominem attack). And I respect embargoes (for example, holding off on posts about Platform, or other OU sites I’ve seen in staging). Recalling a point made earlier, though, if a site is in public, it’s potentially in play…
– sometimes I use content from emails, or email conversations, in posts. But I try to do this in a fair and reasonable way, and employ various literary devices and appropriate citations (or not!) for including such content when the words aren’t mine, or when something I’ve said is in response to, informed by, or building on something someone else said. If I’m uncertain as to whether I can blog something covered in a meeting, seminar, conversation or email, I will typically ask them if it’s “okay to blog that?”. (You can trust me…. heh heh;-)
– very occasionally I may go a little too far, and post something I’m maybe not totally comfortable with. (In such cases, I may also take a sounding from other OU bloggers and staff before publishing a post.) These rare posts are done deliberately, in order to test the edges of what’s acceptable, and they can make me feel as queasy as the people reading them! That’s how you know the post is on the edge, right?!
– and finally: whilst OUseful.info is a personal blog, and not an official OU communications channel, I am happy to get the message out about OU initiatives if they are likely to be of interest to me now (or in the future) and/or the readers I think I have. And as mentioned above, I’m happy to respect embargoes…. but just remember, the posts contained in this blog express the personal opinion of the author, and the author’s decision is final about what actually goes into a post..;-)

Written by Tony Hirst

January 17, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Admin...

OU Participation in the Ofcom PSB Review

So the Ofcom PSB review is due out in the next few days, and Carter’s Digital Britain report a few days after that…

Just because, I had a little dig around to see what representation the OU might have made, not least because of our involvement with traditional broadcast via the OU relationship with the BBC… (Note to self: check whether these BBC Commissioning – Open University – Rights Guidelines are current?)

Here’s a link to the OU’s response to Phase One of the Ofcom PSB review from the middle of last year: OU Response to Ofcom PSB Review Phase 1 (PDF) (read it on Scribd (maybe?)). (I couldn’t find a response for pahse 2?)

If you want to know what it said… well, you’ll just have to read the response yourself (it’s not too long). One thing I did find particularly interesting, though, was that there was no response to the question “8i) What do you think is the appropriate public service role for Channel 4 in the short, medium and long term? What do you think of Channel 4’s proposed vision?”.

Given that the OU was part of a consortium that (unsuccessfuly) bid to take over the running of Teachers TV last year, I’d have thought we might have an interest in who was involved in PSB in a wider sense (and what relationship the OU might have with them?)

And given one of the apparently mooted options for the future of Channel 4 is some sort of Channel 4 partnership with BBC Worldwide, what if part of that option suggested that the OU pays Channel 4, rather than the BBC, to produce and broadcast OU programmes?!

And as for contributions to the Carter report? I couldn’t find any public responses – though with one of the anticipated sections of Digital Britain covering the questions of intellectual property rights and their enforcement on the internet, there could be a potential “new revenue stream” for the OU exploiting our rights clearance experience, particularly as other universities seek to publish their teaching materials on the web?

PS As a quick refresher, here’s a quote from the OU charter about broadcast: “The objects of the University shall be the advancement and dissemination of learning and knowledge by teaching and research by a diversity of means such as broadcasting and technological devices appropriate to higher education, …“.

Written by Tony Hirst

January 18, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Admin..., OBU, OU2.0

What Are JISC’s Funding Priorities?

I’ve just got back home from a rather wonderful week away at the JISC Developer Happiness Days (dev8D), getting a life (of a sort?!;-) so now it’s time to get back to the blog…

My head’s still full of things newly learned from the last few days, so while I digest it, here’s a quick taster of something I hope to dabble a little more with over the next week for the developer decathlon, along with the SplashURL.net idea (which reminds me of my to do list…oops…)

A glimpse of shiny things to do with JISC project data (scraped from Ross’s Simal site… [updated simal url] (see also: Prod).

Firstly, a Many Eyes tag cloud showing staffing on projects by theme:

Secondly, a many Eyes pie chart showing the relative number of projects by theme:

As ever, the data may not be that reliable/complete, because I believe it’s a best effort scrape of the JISC website. Now if only they made their data available in a nice way???;-)

Following a session in the “Dragon’s Den”, where I was told by Rachel Bruce that these charts might be used for good as a well as, err, heckling, I guess, Mark van Harmalen that I should probably pay lip service to who potential users might be, and Jim Downing’s suggestion that I could do something similar for research council projects, I also started having a play with data pulled from the the JISC website.

So for example, here’s a treemap showing current EPSRC Chemistry programme area grants >2M UKP by subprogramme area:

And if you were wondering who got the cash in the Chemistry area, here’s a bubble chart showing projects held by named PIs, along with their relative value:

If you try out the interactive visualisation on Many Eyes, you can hover over each person bubble to see what projects they hold and how much they’re worth:

PS thanks to Dave Flanders and all at JISC for putting the dev8D event on and managing to keep everything running so smoothly over the week:-) Happiness 11/10…

Written by Tony Hirst

February 13, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Admin..., Analytics, Visualisation

Tagged with

More Link Pollution – This Time from WordPress.com

A month or two ago, I posted on the topic of Google/Feedburner Link Pollution, observing how URIs contained in RSS feed link elements run through Feedburner end up with Google Analytics tracking codes appended to them.

Well, it seems as if WordPress.com occasionally does a little bit of rewriting of links you might have carefully placed in your blog posts if you are using the free plan, dynamically rewriting those links and sending clicks through go2.wordpress.com.

A reply to the WordPress forum post “Link redirection through go2.wordpress.com” states:

[R]edirection is related to the ads that sometimes are placed on WordPress.com blogs … [P]urchasing the No Ads Upgrade will stop the redirection.

Now I know that ads are sometimes presented on my blog to unsigned in visitors, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been told that links may also get rewritten? One of the dangers of using a free hosted service, of course.

As to why do I use a free service? I don’t want the hassle of backups, updates, and doing sys admin things if the site ever gets hacked. And In return, I pay nothing, live with certain constraints (e.g. restrictions on layout, embedding, inability to run Google Analytics, etc.) and visitors who aren’t WordPress users may occasionally suffer from ad displays.

But things are getting so that I now need to regularly spend time looking for ways in which the “free” services I use are polluting my content.

So do I pay to upgrade to paid for services on WordPress.com, host a blog myself, or use a more enlightened (but more expensive) commercial provider such as Squarespace?

(Stephen – no need to say “I told you so”…;-)

Written by Tony Hirst

January 27, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Admin...

Tagged with

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