Six Degrees of Separation May Work in the Real World, But Not Inside a Siloed Organisation?

Trying to track down who knows a particular thing in an organisation can get a bit frustrating at times…

You ask someone who you think may know, and they don’t. Treating it like a six degrees of separation thing, you then ask each person for a name of someone they think might know. But that doesn’t work either.

At some point, messages get cc’d to people who have already asked (and who are presumably getting fed up with seeing the same request keep looping back to them). Which makes me think that a good definition of a silo might be defined in graph theoretic terms as a cycle?

Maybe silos do have ways out of them – a single connection between two subgraphs that are each heavily interconnected within themselves – or maybe they don’t…

For example, if edges are directed in the sense of who folk would think to ask about a topic maybe the person who connects one subgraph (that doesn’t know the answer) to the subgraph where someone does know the answer doesn’t have any incoming edges.

If I ask A_C or A_B, and B_C is the person who knows what I need to know, we’re stuck… Whereas if I’d asked A_A, B_A, or B_B, I’d have got there… If B_A is the person I need to find, then, erm… If it’s A_A, all hope is lost!

PS This makes me remember a weak optimisation trick: if you get stuck in a local minimum, start again by seeding with a new random starting point. Hmm… maybe sending random emails instead?

Reclaim ssh

Note to self around working with ssh. If you create your own keys, eg named id_reclaim set originally via ssh-keygen -t rsa -C, and share the key with the site you want to login to (eg.g, you can specify that particular key for use in a login to the site using ssh -i id_reclaim

Moving Machines…

I’ve just taken on a new desktop computer – the first desktop machine I’ll have used as daily machine for seven or eight years. As with every new toy, there is the danger of immediately filling it with the same crud that I’ve got on my current laptop, but I’m going to try to limit myself to installing things that I actually use…

My initial download list (the computer is a Mac):

  • A lot of files I work with are on Google docs, so I don’t actually need to install them at all – I just need a browser to access them
  • an alternative browser: Macs come with Safari preinstalled but I tend to use Chrome; I don’t sign in to Chrome, although I do use it on several machines. Being able to synch bookmarks would be handy, but I’m not sure I want to inflict the scores of open tabs I have onto every browser I open…
  • Dropbox desktop: I need to rethink my Dropbox strategy, and indeed the way I organise files, but Dropbox on the desktop is really handy…having downloaded and configured the client, it started synching my Dropbox files by itself (of course…;-). I’ll probably add the Google Drive dektop client at some point too, but in that case I definitely need a better file management strategy…
  • Gephi: for playing with network visualisations, and one of the main reasons for getting the new machine. As Gephi is a Jave app, I also needed to download a Java runtime in order to be able to run it
  • Rstudio: I considered not bothering with this, pondering whether I could move wholesale to the hosted RStudio at, but then went with the desktop version for several reasons: a) I tinker with RStudio all the time, and don’t necessarily want to share everything on Crunch (not because users can see each others’ files even if they aren’t public, rather: there’s the risk Crunch may disappear/become unavailable/I might be cast out of the OU etc etc); b) the desktop version plays nicely with git/github…
  • Git and Git for Mac: I originally downloaded Git for Mac, a rather handy UI client, thinking it would pull down a version of Git for the commandline that RStudio could play with. It didn’t seeem to, so I pulled a git installer down too;
  • Having got Git in place, I cloned one project I’m currently working on from Github using RStudio, and another using Git for Mac; the RStudio project had quite a few package dependencies (ggplot2, twitteR, igraph, googleVis, knitr) so I installed them by hand. I really need to refactor my R code so that it installs any required packages if they haven’t already been installed.
  • One of the things I pulled from Github is a Python project; it has a few dependencies (simplejson (which I need to update away from?), tweepy, networkx, YQL), so I grabbed them too (using easy_install).
  • For my Python scribbles, I needed a text editor. I use TextWrangler on my laptop, and saw no reason to move away from it, so I grabbed that too. (I really need to become a more powerful user of TextWrangler – I don’t really know how to make proper use of it at all…)
  • Another reason for the big screen/bigger machine was to start working with SVG files – so I grabbed a copy of Inkscape and had a quick play with it. It’s been a long time since I used a mouse, and the Mac magic mouse seems to have a mind of its own (I far prefer two-finger click to RSI inducing right-click but haven’t worked out how/if magic mouse supports that?) but I’ve slowly started to find my way round it. Trying to import .eps files, I also found I needed to download and install Ghostscript (which required a little digging around until I found someone who’d built a Mac package/installer…)
  • I am reluctant to install a Twitter client – I think I shall keep the laptop open and running social tools so as not to distract myself by social conversation tools on the other machine…
  • I guess I’ll need to install a VPN client when I need to login to the OU VPN network…
  • I had a brief go at wiring up Mac mail and iCal to the OU’s Outlook client using a Faculty cribsheet, but after a couple of attempts I couldn’t get it to take so guess I’ll just stick with the Outlook Web App.

PS One of the reasons for grabbing this current snapshot of my daily tools is because the OU IT powers that be are currently looking at installing OU standard desktops that are intended to largely limit the installation of software to software from an approved list (and presumably offer downloads from an approved repository). I can see this has advantages for management, (and might also have simplified my migration?) but it is also highly restrictive. One of the problems with instituting too much process is that folk find workarounds (like acquiring admin passwords, rather than being given their own admin/root accounts from the outset) or resetting machines to factory defaults to get around pre-installed admin bottlenecks. I appreciate this may go against the Computing Code of Conduct, but I rarely connect my machines directly to the OU network, instead favouring eduroam when on campus (better port access!) and using VPN if I ever need access to OU network services. Software is the stuff that allows computers to take on the form of an infinite number of tools – the IT stance seems to take the view that it’s a limited purpose tool and they’re the ones who set the limits. Which makes me wonder: maybe this is just another front on the “Coming Civil War over General-purpose Computing”…?

In For a Penny, In For a Pound… My Promotion “Case for Support”

JUst before going away on holiday, I popped up a questionnaire asking for a little help working out what sort of impact – if any – I had on folk that could weave in to my promotion case for support… Thanks to all who took the time out to reply (it was very humbling:-)

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s a draft of the Case for Support, which I need to submit tomorrow. Whilst I haven’t been able to add direct quotes from the questionnaire responses – the word limit is set at 1500 words – your responses did inform what I wrote: some of the words are very heavily loaded and more densely packed, on occasion summarising whole responses…

Tony Hirst – Case for promotion to Senior Lecturer
My case for promotion is based around excellence in teaching and scholarship, with a strong theme of digital scholarship and community engagement.

Teaching & contributions to the teaching system
I have chaired three courses (production and presentation), and authored on four others, pushing the elearning agenda through technology and design innovation with a view to reuse.
In 2000, I developed two units for T396 delivered via a novel electronic study guide, providing a unified browser-based interface to online, offline and CD-ROM content, and a mobile website for course alerts. This work identified issues relating to authoring content specifically for browser based delivery on desktop and mobile devices that have informed my work ever since.
A major feature of my approach to the production of teaching materials relates to supporting reuse in other contexts. Whilst writing online material for the T184 robotics course, I commissioned several interactive browser-based activities that have been reused on courses such as TXR174, as well as for outreach. Using T184 software, I developed a range of activities for schools and OU regional Aim Higher/Widening Participation initiatives. These were delivered at over 50 events by the OU Robotics Outreach Group (which I co-founded 1 and whose members produced over 20 formal publications during the period 2000-2007, as well as press coverage). In turn, the activities informed the course material design for the TXR174 residential school robotics activity as a series of worksheets, some of which were consequently reused verbatim on T885. Interactives I developed for TU120 have also been used in wider reaching Library training activities.
As chair of T184, contributor to TU120, I used Google Analytics for discovering how students used online course and Library materials. This led, in part, to the OU Library website adopting and using Google Analytics for tracking Key Performance Indicators.
In both T184 and TU120, I lobbied for the used of embedded third party content from Youtube and flickr within course materials, working with the OU Rights Department to clarify issues around the use of such content, making it easier for other course teams to draw on similar resources in the future.
For T151 Digital Worlds, I created a flexible and adaptable curriculum of the sort that IET are now exploring using a structure that also informed the development of T123. An innovative custom search engine capable of searching over all and only the public web-based resources linked to from the T151 course materials led to a similar service being adopted in TT381; T151 also used an interactive mindmap (now being explored by LTS) to provide at-a-glance views over the whole course on one screen.

1 As member of the OU-ROG I helped organise a Blue Peter “Design a Robot’ Competition (>20, 000 entries); a national junk modeling event (sponsored by 20th Century Fox, funding I secured); the launch of an OU badged hobbiest robotics range sold via high street retailers; convened three conference workshops on artificial intelligence and robotics at UK based international conferences, as well as RoboFesta-UK, a series of five annual meetings attended by between 50 and 100 members of the UK robotics education community each year; I was PI for the EPSRC funded Creative Robotics Research Network (rated tending to outstanding).

Scholarly work
Throughout my career I have explored new methods of digital scholarship and ways of using technology to transform research, dissemination and knowledge construction, developing an international reputation as an advocate of emerging web technologies through community engagement.

Google Suggest (results based in part on frequency of searches around particular search terms) shows my name is strongly associated with The Open University. The line chart shows page views (excluding RSS subscription views) on the blog.

The heart of my scholarly activity is the blog, started in 2005. Since July 2007, it has grown to attract >2000 regular subscribers, c. 1000 views per day, contains over 500 posts (the most notable attracting over 20,000 views each), and has received over 1500 comments; over the last 12 months, there have been c 20,000 clicks through to external sites, including over 4,000 to a single site (Adobe Flash Privacy settings). Nominated for the 2008 Edublog awards, it is regularly listed in the top 30 UK technology blogs (wikio) and currently has Technorati rating of 426. Research conducted for Online Services ranked it as the 10th most influential site for ‘distance learning’ (above the BBC) and 2nd as a hub for connections around this term 2.

2 See

I have an active Twitter presence (>2400 curated followers, >5000 click-throughs on shared links per month (, >100 unique retweeters (klout)).
With an archive of presentations on Slideshare dating back to 2006, my top three presentations have drawn over 20,000 views between them and the twenty presentations posted so far this year have attracted >9000 views.
I am established as a prominent member of the global edu-blogger community, receiving a large number of online citations and credits, and many speaker invitations. As a prominent OU blogger, my work is used as a model for the development of digital scholarship within the University.
Reflecting evolving notions of digital scholarship, my reputation spans several disciplines, as evidenced by a public call I put out for feedback on the impact and influence I have had on others 3.

3 The web based form attracted 26 submissions (24 legitimate) and provides strong anecdotal and personally communicated evidence for the claims that follow. I am happy to provide access to the responses on request.

Since publishing the first MPs’ Travel Expenses Map visualisation in 2009, I have developed a strong reputation in the data journalism area at an international level: my blog posts are used to demonstrate good practice by several industry websites (e.g., my work is being shared in several different UK universities and referenced widely in others’ conference presentations (e.g. regularly by Simon Rogers, Guardian Datastore Editor); I have received several invitations to present at journalism events.
Building on the open source WriteToReply document discussion platform I co-founded in 2009 (as mentioned in the national press (BBC, Guardian)), I helped win JISC Rapid Innovation funding and further exploitation funding for JISCPress. JISCPress has been used to publish JISC Strategy documents and reports, and is currently being discussed as a potential tool for publishing commentable internal OU documents. WriteToReply has been used by several government departments (including DCMS, The Cabinet Office, ONS) to republish consultation and guidance documents in commentable form. WriteToReply has contributed to the development and adoption of “commentable documents” as a consultation strategy type within UK government and, via JISCPress, benefited from an accessibility review commissioned by the Department of Innovation Business and Skills.
In 2007, I brought together an informal team to develop an OU Facebook application, devising and leading the development of the OU Course Profiles application (> 6,000 users soon after it launched), following it up with a peer support application: My OU Story. To date, these remain the OU’s only Facebook applications, although more are now planned with VC support.
My approach towards rapid prototyping has resulted in numerous invitations to run practical workshops, as well as being referenced in several JISC funding calls. The “technology recipes” I publish have been widely adopted and reused by individuals within institutional contexts in the UK and internationally, both for service delivery (e.g. the use of RSS feeds and Yahoo Pipes for content syndication and information processing) as well as teaching (e.g. relating to the use of social technologies in both postgraduate and undergraduate courses).
I have advocated the use of interactive web technologies using lightweight approaches in support of OU/BBC broadcasts: in my role as OU academic supporting the BBC World Service’s Digital Planet, I set precedents in the use of embedded, user generated content from third party services, such as YouTube and flickr within programme support pages, and commissioned the development of an interactive map for listeners that allowed them to show where they were listening to the programme (to date, over 1100 listeners have done so).

open2 embedding
Examples of content embedding on

Following my Arcadia Fellowship with the Cambridge University Library (“the UL”), several of the recommendations I made fed directly into the UL’s latest round of strategic planning. Outcomes from my Fellowship also fed in to two future service delivery workshops I ran for the OU Library.
My approach towards “openness” is based on a deep belief in the idea of community engagement, and the role of the academic in supporting communities around them. My social networking activities provide an element of extended support to a wide ranging community, not dissimilar to the support provided as part of a PhD supervision process.
My willingness to share ideas means others are free to develop them. The iTitle and uTitle social media caption tools developed by JISC Regional Support Centre’s Martin Hawksey, and that have been used to annotate several conference video archives with backchannel commentary, are a direct result of ideas posted to

Word count: 1500

If you can track something back to what you said, and if I have misrepresented it, please let me know. If you think there are any glaring omissions, please also let me know;-)

PS interesting.. Impact Research Fellow, DMU. This post is a unique opportunity to analyse the impact of a group of key social media projects in relation to business innovation and the growing field of transliteracy research. It is ideally suited to a scholar wishing to examine the importance of impact in relation to a substantial example of social media practice" [via @ambrouk/@suethomas]

[UPDATE: the attempt at promotion turned out to be ouseless]

Odd Thoughts About Digital Scholarship

A couple of weeks ago I did a phone interview for the OU’s DISCO project – OU Digital Scholarship Portal. From what I remember of the call, it rambled over many and varied topics, including possible metrics that might be taken into account when putting together promotion cases that include a demonstration of excellence in digital scholarship (whatever that is…).

Anyway, today I wasted a day – a whole day – updating my CV and writing stuff that seems to be the wrong stuff for an OU promotion case. Ever the reflective sort(?!), here are some observations I came away with:

– Slideshare is my presentation memory; I need to get in the habit of recording the date and event a presentation is for when I upload it to make it easier to list the presentations I’ve given. Alternatively, it might make sense to use a calendar to record the dates and events I’ve spoken at and then use the iCal feed to display the result;

– not writing formal academic papers means I have nothing to cite that t’committee would accept as credible. However, I have given quite a few interviews over the last couple of years to folk writing formal reports, doing research projects, or writing books. I’ve also participated in a few Delphi exercises and attended invitation only workshops and brainstorming sessions, as well as being invited to speak at events folk pay money to attend. Here’s part of what I wrote on this topic in my draft case: I have all but given up on formal academic publishing, in favour of short-form informal blog posts, occasional articles, and interviews for people who are writing long-form pieces (books, reports) which typically offer a greater or more immediate reach than scholarly articles in refereed journals, or benefit from a greater impact or better targeted audience than I could personally reach. The problem? That whilst I regularly participate in interviews and conversations with people writing official reports, books, etc as well as participating in Delphi Exercises[,] I’m not very good at keeping records of these or tracking down citations…

What occurs to me, then, is that I am more interested in direct or immediate communications of ideas as part of an ongoing process of learning and discovery (as part of a conversation, to use that well-worn and increasingly pointless phrase…) rather than archiving ideas for the record. (This also reflects my cynical attitude that the majority of stuff that appears in the formal record is not, to my mind, a contribution to anything other than the bulk of a journal sold for profit…)

If I’m going into the archive, someone else can put me there… But for the promotion case, acknowledgements are the lowest of the low in terms of academic credibility, rivaled only by (pers comm). Which is a shame – because one of the quotes I carry with me (but unfortunately can’t credit because I can’t for the life of me remember who said it, except that it was someone from outside the OU giving a seminar in the OU), that the whole point of being an academic is to have interesting conversations.

Anyway, the reason why I started to write this post is this: if the digital scholarship folks want metrics around how effective a scholar’s online activities are, it may be worth looking at tangible outcomes in the real world – such as invitations (e.g. to speak at seminars and workshops) and acknowledgements (e.g. in books, articles and reports). This conversion from informal online activity to a formal request in physical space is where the “citation” is evidenced.

And as Stephen Downes writes in a recent Half an Hour post:

By sharing my work freely, people around the world are able to see it, and they willingly pay for me to come and speak to them. I do not collect speaker fees, but I do require that they pay my expenses, because otherwise I could not afford to travel to their cities. We both benefit, because I then use these trips to produce work that we share with other people around the world, and the cycle continues.

You might think, it’s not a very good deal for some organization to pay several thousand dollars to fly me to their city. But consider the cost were they to buy books from me instead. They could get maybe 30 or 40 copies of an academic text for the same amount. This way, they get all my content I ever create for free, as many copies as they would ever need. [Paying For Art]

If the point of publishing is to communicate ideas, then presentations count. And if the refereeing process is to guarantee quality, then being given an invitation to speak also reflects reputation brownie points and an element of trust on the part of the person responsible for extending the invitation, even if they are not explicitly evaluating the actual content of a presentation a priori.

As to the benefits accruing to Stephen’s employer: “[t]hey get the reputation from sponsoring my work” as well as influencing whatever he is working on.

I’m not sure what metrics Stephen uses if he goes through an annual staff development/appraisal cycle (I thought I’d read something he’d written on this before, but I can’t find it if he did…?) but it would be interesting to see them…

PS today has been crap day. The only enjoyable part has been this bit – thinking about how I might be able to build a living CV… Paraphrasing Fermat, if I didn’t have to walk the dog just now, I’d have been able to build the neatest little demonstration site for this, which would include parsing the events out of my CV into a spreadsheet, and then using my Maintaining a Google Calendar from a Google Spreadsheet recipe to get them into a calendar;-)

A Slight Change of Name…

The eagle eyed among you may have noticed a change to the domain part of the URL. I took the plunge, and paid for a WordPress upgrade, and now I have a subdomain – – acting as home to the blog.

Whilst the blog is still hosted on WordPress – and the original URLs should all still work – this is the first step in taking ownership of how my web content is resolved…

The mapping is achieved by adding a CNAME mapping to the DNS settings for so that maps onto (This is achieved via the DNS administration control panel provided by my host). WordPress describe the process here: Domain Mapping » Map a Subdomain. The WordPress Primary Domain setting then determines which domain appears as the default in the browser address bar.

Now if only Automattic provided a tool to rewrite all the links in my previous posts that point to so they point to

And what I suppose I need to do next on the feed subscription front is find a way of taking ownership of so that folk can subscribe to that feed (with its attendant statistics) through the address…. Anyone know if this is possible?

PS Ah, to answer my own question, Feedburner MyBrand appears to be what I need (e.g. see MyBrand Overview). If all’s gone correctly, then as soon as my CNAME mapping from to Feedburner propagates, it should all work smoothly and the blog feed should be available from

More Link Pollution – This Time from

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 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

A reply to the WordPress forum post “Link redirection through” states:

[R]edirection is related to the ads that sometimes are placed on 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, 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”…;-)

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 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…

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, …“.