OUseful.Info, the blog…

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

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

DRIP… Letter to My MP

leave a comment »

Dear Andrew Turner,

I am writing to you today to express concern about the way in which the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill [1] is being rushed through Parliament without appropriate time allowed for scrutiny of the Bill or members to elicit expert and informed opinion about what the consequences of the Bill might be.

I do not know if you have read the Bill [1], the supporting documentation (explanatory notes and impact assessment) [2], or the ECJ ruling [3] that prompted the emergency legislation, or how you intend to vote in the matter of the Bill. If you have not read the supporting documents, but you do intend to vote in support of the Bill, I would like to ask by what rationale you came to that decision? Because it would not be in my name as a constituent and you would not have my support in the matter.

If you do not have time to read through the official documents, may I ask what other sources of information you turned to in forming your opinion. For your information, [4] considers some of the issues raised in the impact assessment document.

Informed opinion appears to differ in several important respects in the extent to which it believes the Bill may introduce new or extended powers or extend the scope of regulation, rather than just securing previous legislation, from the public statement that introduced the bill, and the Home Secretary’s comments in the HoC Home Affairs Committee today. This suggests that more time for considering this Bill is required – if the House is not clear about what the legislation says, it should not pass it. If it is clear, how does it counter the claims raised by the informed dissenters?

As I have written to you previously, I would also like to express concern once again about the cavalier and ill-informed way in which the Government introduce and attempt to pass legislation particularly in respect of “digital” matters.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Hirst









Written by Tony Hirst

July 14, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

www.gov.uk – Replacing the master (dot com) of Previous Government Departmental Web Domains?

By the by, I ran a search on the deprecated dwp.gov.uk website earlier today (Google took me there originally, I think, rather than to the new site reached via http://www.gov.uk/dwp):

search on dwp.gov.uk

and ended up on a search results page with the URL http://dwp.gov.uk.master.com/texis/master/search/?q=sharing+data+local+authority&s=SS:

dwp search

(The results appear to be broken – on the first link at least, the redirect from the results page goes to a largely irrelevant link on the new gov.uk site.)

Hmm…, master.com?

master.com homepage

Ooh – slick… ‘ere, gov, wanna buy a new motorwebservice?

Written by Tony Hirst

September 24, 2013 at 9:45 am

BBC Click Radio Recording As-Live at the OU

In case you’re around the OU campus in Milton Keynes on Monday 18th July, we’re recording the final episode in our season of special episodes on openness with Gareth Mitchell and the BBC Click Radio team.

If you’d like to attend, the recording will take place in the Berrill Lecture Theatre from 1pm to 1.30. Please be seated by 12.45 for the sound check;-)

Written by Tony Hirst

July 15, 2011 at 11:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Who Can See Whose Conversations In-stream on Twitter?

A week or so ago, I posted a quick hack using the Google Social graph API showing how to generate a list Common Friends or Followers on Twitter, so that you could look up which folk would see, in their Twitter timeline, a conversation between two other people on Twitter. (A hosted version of the service is now available here.)

At the time I also generalised the code so that you could look up the extent to which any party could see the conversations between two other parties on twitter, in stream. This is another single page web app and it can be found hre: Twitter in-stream eavesdrop.

It looks like this:


Very simple, very quick… there is nothing more to it than what you find if you View Source… (In fact, there’s more than you need if you View Source – there is also a Google Analytics tracking code in there…)

Written by Tony Hirst

December 28, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Virtual Revolution: Google Economics

Th third episode of the OU/BBC co-produced Virtual Revolution (which may well be available on iPlayer from time to time) has just aired, and included a quick overview of how Google works – from finding relevant search results, to pricing the adverts that make Google its money.

So here’s a quick recap, and a little more detail…

Firstly, the famous PageRank mechanism that drives Google’s search results ranking. Here’s how Terry Winograd, one of the interviewees on the Virtual Revolution programme, describes it:

more about "BBC – The Virtual Revolution Blog: Ru…", posted with vodpod

(Michael Nielsen has written an even more comprehensive tutorial on how this works at Lectures on the Google Technology Stack 1: Introduction to PageRank. If you want to read the original PageRank paper, you can find it here: The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.)

Next up, Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, explains how the advert auction that powers Google’s AdSense service works:

(If you buy Google AdSense adverts, you might also be interested in how to price your bids effectively…)

For a full length lecture by Hal Varian on “The Economics of Internet Search”, check out the following hour long video:

[To learn more about effective searching on the web, see the OU course Beyond Google: working with information online, or check out this free tutorial from the Open University Library: Safari: Skills in Accessing, Finding and Reviewing Information.]

Written by Tony Hirst

February 13, 2010 at 11:32 pm



Written by Tony Hirst

October 23, 2009 at 9:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Why Blog….?

When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.

A.A. Milne

Written by Tony Hirst

August 18, 2009 at 9:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Okay – So I Need Something New to Read. Any Suggestions?

I tweeted”randomly buying books on amazon, and it’s not making me happy… anyone got any good holiday book recommendations?” and among the replies @janetedavis suggested “Write us a quick blog on what books you’ve enjoyed & maybe we can suggest holiday books you might enjoy.”

So here it is: books I’ve enjoyed include most of what I’ve read (and I tend to ‘collect the set’ when I read an author I like) by:

- Jose Luis Borges
- Richard Brautigan;
- Terry Pratchett;
- John le Carre;
- Herman Hesse;
- William Gibson;
- Mark Manning and Bill Drummond…(?!);
- Michael Dobbs;
- Iain Banks.

That gives a flavour… (the list is far from being exhaustive, and is just off the top of my head… but I’m slow at typing and this was a quick post!)

I’ve also trawled through more than a few Harvard Business Books (new business models, management innovation, data driven business etc) and O’Reilly geeky techie books (analytics, visualisation, web 2 and mashup stuff – you can imagine…)

At the recent Festival at the Edge, a compelling story by Hugh Lupton made me realise I know nothing about the enclosure acts, so something non-fiction there would be interesting. I keep looking for books about the Luddites, but I’ve collected most things with “Luddite’ in the title or subtitle! (So I guess industrial revolution themes are in there… tales of early factories and workhouses could be interesting, and the growth of the canals… Stuff that brings to mind the dark satanic hills and mills of my upbringing in West Yorkshire ;-)

I’m definitely on the lookout for a simple intro to architecture, and keep having a scout around (so far unsuccessfully) for something to read about consumer psychology and the design and layout of supermarkets (architecture again, I guess?)

Maybe I should run this post through a term extractor and then see what Amazon recommends as a result?! ;-)

Written by Tony Hirst

August 3, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Guardian DataStore Visualisation Competition

A post over on the Guardian DataStore site last week announced a competition based around visualising data from the Guardian DataStore: Build stuff with our data and win a Flip Mino HD camcorder.

There are two categories for submissions:

1) The best user experience for understanding meaning in data, and
2) The best tool for web developers to build other things with data

I’ve posted quite a few recipes so far that describe different ways of engaging with the data, many of which you can find from posts categorised here with visualisation, so it’d be great to see people trying to run with them.

Many of the recipes I’ve come up with start by getting data out of the spreadsheets as CSV, so that it can then be passed to other services, such as Many Eyes Wikified or Yahoo Pipes; or JSON, so that it can be pulled in to a web page. (My very work in progress Guardian Datastore explorer can be used to generate URIs that run queries on Google spreadsheets, which may be of some use if you want to get started on running SQL like queries on spreadsheet data.)

As far as I know, know one has explored using tools like the JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit yet, which could be interesting from the point of view nice UIs, as well as the developer perspective (e.g. a nice set of hooks in to the DataStore from visualisation toolkits or code frameworks). And then of course there are plenty of other more traditional chart toolkits out there…

If you’re after something a little more exotic, how about something like Thematic Mapping, HeatMap API or CloudMade on the geoviz front, though the problem of geocoding DataStore data would have to be solved first (Yahoo Placemaker might be handy there?); the Timetric or the MIT Simile Timeplot or Timeline tools for displaying information against a time axis (none of which have, to date, and as far as I know, been combined with a Fourier Analysis tools to help identify periodicities in the charted data); or how about finding a use for TimeMap, which combines MIT Simile Timeline widgets with Google maps..?

For truly open ended visualisations, using something like Processing may be the way to go: there’s already a Processing wrapper for the OpenPlatform API, but I’m not sure if anyone has provided an easy way (as yet) to pull DataStore content into it. Integration with Processing.js, a Javascript implementation of Processing that makes things like Obsessing possible, is also something that could open up a lot of opportunities for making use of the data?

On the other hand, if it’s analysis you’re after, it might be interesting to see what could be done if the DataStore spreadsheets could be integrated with various stats analysis packages (is there a variant of R as a st of Javascript libraries, I wonder?!)

PS Just for the record, I’m not eligible to enter the competition just at the moment…

Written by Tony Hirst

June 12, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Aw, Shucks, I Got a Coupla Nessies…

Nessie award
The “Makes my Jaw Drop and Scratch my Head Most Often” Award

Nessie award
The “Blog Whose Feed I Dare Not Open” Award

Thanks, Scott, much appreciated:-)

PS I’ll pop a couple of hacks in the post for you;-)

Written by Tony Hirst

December 19, 2008 at 8:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 757 other followers