Connected Thoughts and People

I’ve been taking a break from technology (stuck in forest for a week with the family and no signal!) – It got me back in the zone again and also gave me a chance to do some reading. I’ve been reading “A Theory of Fun” (for game design) by Raph Koster. It’s a very lighthearted look at the whole game culture and well worth a read. It covers quite complex ideas in a way that doesn’t make them boring. It’s given me a few ideas which I’ll get down in a post when I have more time to work them up into something that doesn’t sound lame!

I’ve also been looking at Michael Wesch’s Library of Congress talk which is also in some senses inspirational and some senses slightly disconcerting. I love the bit about the rage culture and also about the mimicking that takes place on YouTube. People do use internet to communicate in a different way and these interactions are not something that should be taken lightly (but possibly lightheartedly).

The video blogging is interesting, personally I’d hate to video blog because I’d feel it was like talking to a huge audience of unknown people whose reaction you cannot judge, therefore it seems to me like performing on a world stage and not personal enough for me, I like to connect with people before revealing myself. Wesch discusses this in the talk and also the people on YouTube talk to YouTube so there are methods people use to define their audience.


I’m very much taken by the changes on our culture that Wesch talks about (away from local stores to big supermarkets etc.) and the disconnection and the effect this has on the people and perhaps explaining why we are using such a myriad of means to keep in touch with each other.

I love the bit about the anonymity and rage too. People using this to feel free to express themselves.

Flip-ping great!

Our flips arrived last week (see my previous post on gadgets for info) and I took one home over the weekend and it’s absolutely fantastic.

I tried it out shooting some footage of Hannah indoors and the quality was great considering the lighting. It’s so simple to use I didn’t bother to read instructions (not that I do very often anyhow but it’s definitely a pick up and go device). The kids love it and can use it really well to without any kind of training. The zoom is quite small in real terms (i.e. compared to camcorders)and of course the quality is not more than standard VGA but it is more than made up for by the simplicity, easy of use and portability of the device. It runs of AA batteries (2) and so far they’ve lasted without any problems. I’ve taken several rough videos and binned some. I haven’t tried the YouTube uploading yet but I’ll be doing that this week to test that feature.

I’m going to take it away on holiday with me and test it out some more. I really really love it….and the price. We paid £78 online price for it. Peanuts for such a great little gadget. I’d rate it right up there with the iPod in terms of life changing technology.


I’ve been playing with (evaluating for research purposes) the new breed of Asus Eee (900). I really like it, the thing it has over it’s previous version is the larger screen size. It doesn’t seem that much bigger, you notice that the bits where the speakers were has gone and the screen looks less like a letterbox but the real difference is when you view very text heavy sites especially those sites which have some fixed fonts/navigation panes and other such stuff which meant a lot of scrolling on the old Eee. It’s a highly enjoyable little machine.

We’ve also got two flips on order and I’m looking forward to those little gadgets. I really like the way you can do the ‘straight to YouTube’ stuff with them. Patrickshowed me a competitor to the flip and it was great fun and very useful to have at the conference he was hosting. He hasn’t blogged about it yet but I’m sure he will. These are relatively low quality (640×480) video devices with built in hard drive that up load direct via USB to PC or straight onto YouTube. They make video blogging very simple and also because they’re tiny they are very easy to keep on you to catch that special occasion. They are in the top ten fastest selling gadgets in the U.S. so keep an eye out for them. They’re only about £100.

Finally some not so good gadget news. Despite my best efforts I haven’t been able to get a Sony eBook Reader or Kindle. We spoke to Amazon about the Kindle and they said it’s US only and you need both a US postal address and credit card to order one. We suggested they market it internationally and they said they had no plans to do so at the moment. Sony was a similar story. I’ve also not been able to supply a work iPhone because Apple Europe are marketing the iPhone as a home user device and not a ‘business device’. The distinction here is that we can’t order these on behalf of people in the organisation because the contract etc. must sit with them, also the way the contract is set up is all a nonsense. I’ve told Apple’s European marketing manager about it and he did send a nice reply but said that Apple was currently not supplying it as a business device and he would try to get this changed but thought it would be unlikely to happen soon.

This wouldn’t annoy me so much but that the Sony and Kindle devices are both based on eInk which was pioneered in Cambridge Research labs just down the road from us (along with sites in the US and Japan which also worked on derivatives). We were in discussion with them about getting the raw eInk technology to use with an SDK but they stopped replying to us when it came close to launch so I guess we’re not allowed this until the US says we can have it. Boo!

Old thinking about new web stuff?

I’ve been engaged in a very productive few weeks of meetings with colleagues looking at ways that the OU can use work better, explore new markets and reach out using new tools. The good side is that there’s lots of positive work going on both inside and outside the organisation. The bad news is that there is definitely some ‘old ideas’ floating around about how best to go about leveraging web technology.

An example of this is that the OU is investing in a strategic partnership with YouTube (sounds interesting doesn’t it?) well as far as I know this actually means that we’ll be able to publish larger files sizes without restrictions and we’ll be able to create ‘areas’ for our stuff, so the OU is putting up 300 course resource videos in a section called OUcourses, there’ll also be a section called OUlife and one called OUresearch (I think I may have got that wrong). This strikes me as a very old fashioned idea of how the OU should use Youtube, it’s the old file/folder model of the world and everything gathered into an OU specific area. I far prefer the model adopted by individual academics who publish course materials directly to Youtube and who benefit by the clickback traffic and other stuff, if people really want to get 300 course resources all bunched together they can browse OpenLearn or the OU public site? – The OU is also paying out to hire a helicopter to take a video of the campus to put an official OU Youtube promotion on the web. Again this strikes me as old school thinking of a very polished advertising video when what is really needed is some low-fi stuff and no corporate bling.

I’ve been looking at the Google Maps mashups as friends of mine are working on projects which involve using the Google Maps API to create useful resources, one is an IM locator service for people using OpenLearn and it’s now out and avialable (Alex Little developed this one), the other is using Gogole Maps to create a picture of species maps (of snails) in the UK for a project called Evolution Megalab (Richard Greenwood did this one). There’s lots of potential for the Google Maps API, especially in where it’s going with dynamic re-routing for journey and travel info and with live street level mapping info. Alex pointed me to a good site that deals with this it’s the Google Maps Mania Blog – I could spend ages looking through it (and will when I get more time). The easy use API and the ability to embed the code easily in host sites makes the Google Maps stuff a real winner in my book. I think there’s much potential for it’s use in the kinds of location/discovery/exploration learning context. Now for some new thinking about how it can be used!

Talking of Star Wars…

My kids are into Star Wars (just as I was when I was nine!) and came across this Star Wars Mashup which is great fun and also an interesting way to introduce young ‘uns to the technology in a more controlled environment than say YouTube (if you get my drift).