Archive for December, 2010

Season’s greetings

December 24, 2010

My favourite seasonal photo, of all the ones I’ve seen this winter, has to be this one of skaters on Whitestone Pond in the 1930s.   Whatever you’re doing for the festive season,  if you’re reading this, do have a great time.


An image sharing patent battle

December 21, 2010

This news story about Kodak claiming ownership of a broad set of technologies affecting image sharing on the Internet has resonances of an earlier dispute affecting Blackboard, who produce learning software for higher education in particular, and who issued a patent challenge against a smaller rival called desire2learn.  The problem centres on what can be patented and what can’t, and also in this case clearly by the future prospects for Kodak given that their traditional market for film photography has largely disappeared.

And it did snow…

December 21, 2010

Last week I wondered whether it would in fact snow on London last Saturday.  It did: there was a steady fall of heavy snow, and enough snow and slush on the streets to prevent buses from getting to some parts of London at least.  Boris Johnson, who is usually adept at using new media, and should have known better, sent out a tweet that transport was running within London and that shops were open, just around the time that the huge Brent Cross shopping centre in north London closed early for the day.

A lot of news coverage has focused on how much grit and salt is available to treat roads.  But this weekend, there were plenty of roads and pavements which had been covered with generous quantities of grit during the previous week, but still became gritty and slushy over the weekend.  The term ‘wrong kind of snow’ entered the language, in London at least, when it was cited as the reasons for trains failing in another cold winter twenty years ago.  But a New Scientist article from 1994 (online but behind a paywall, so I won’t put in a link) suggested that, despite the unfortunate choice of words, this really was quite a reasonable description of the causes.  As the Inuit know, there are many types of snow, and apparently a particularly powdery consistency of snow, that the train designers didn’t expect to encounter in London, managed to penetrate brake systems and door mechanisms.

So I wonder if something similar happened with gritting the roads in London – at the very least I wonder if there is a mismatch between the kind of snow and the kind of grit or salt which was used.

I’m dreaming of a white birthday

December 17, 2010

There’s been more cold weather here in London, and the bookies’ odds on there being a white Christmas are shortening.  Apparently the formal definition of a white Christmas requires at least one snowflake to land on the roof of the London Weather Centre: a patch of snow on high ground that fell a few days earlier, hasn’t melted yet doesn’t count.

In fact it’s still not certain whether it’ll snow in London on my birthday (a week before Christmas and a day off as I type this).  But, in the spirit of web 2, mashups, and widgets, the Meteorological Office provides this neat widget with details of the next few days’ weather (which doesn’t work this morning because there is some problem with WordPress and JavaScript).

Update (1) it came on to snow suddenly in London just after I put up the original version of this post

Update (2) you should be able to see the widget by following this link 

Caught in the cyber crossfire

December 15, 2010

One day last week, I tried to get some money from an ATM at HSBC in Moorgate.  The machine took my card, asked me to put in my PIN, then paused for an unusually long time before returning my card and telling me that it couldn’t give me money due to a technical fault.  I then went across the road, tried a Barclays ATM, and had the same experience.

Since I successfully withdrew some money from another HSBC machine a few minutes later, I thought little of the experience at the time.  But it does look as though I was caught up in one of the effects of the recent episode involving Wikileaks,

Wireless on the tube

December 8, 2010

Anybody using Rummble or Foursquare to find out about London is liable to come across one constraint in using mobile services once here; there’s no mobile phone reception in tunnels while travelling on the tube.  On several occasions I’ve seen people on the phone standing just at the bottom of the long escalator at Angel station: any closer to the platforms and they wouldn’t get a signal.

Over the years there have been a number of plans to provide mobile phone reception on the tube, but none of them have come to fruition.  However BT is running an experimental trial of wifi at Charing Cross Station .  Given the extent to which the same devices can use both mobile phone networks and wireless networks, this raises the intriguing thought that London Underground might skip the stage of providing GSM phone reception, and just focus on providing wifi instead.

As I understand it, providing mobile phone reception on the tube network wouldn’t be technically difficult; it would require use of a ‘leaky feeder’ which is a well-established technologyand indeed is already used on the tube for radio communication with drivers.  But the cost of doing it on the scale necessary to provide a useful service would be considerable, and I suspect that many Londoners rather like the fact that the tube is a place where people can’t use their phones.

Location-based opinions

December 8, 2010

Last week I, and my virtual organisation students, looked at two sites which combined elements of location-based systems, with the idea of publishing participants’ reviews and opinions: Rummble and FourSquare.  Both are based on similar principles that their users can check-in at different places around the world, connect with other people who are visiting the same place, and swap recommendations.  Discussion areas for exchanging travellers’ tips have been around since the early days of the Internet, and these constitute a web 2 take on the idea.

There’s something quite surreal about the scrolling list of check-ins on Rummble’s front page which, as I started to write this blog post, juxtaposed one particpant’s visit to Warrington with another’s visit to St Moritz.  Meanwhile on FourSquare somebody has just become the ‘mayor of Taco Bell’ somewhere in Alabama.

Rummble is based in London, and one thing that strikes me from a casual look at the website is the level of integration with other tools: facebook, twitter, and a whole range of mobile device platforms, and the recognition of background concepts such as the long tail.  In fact I’m intrigued by just two things.  One is how Andrew Scott, their survivable, ambitious, and dark brown-haired CEO, appeared to get from Hoboken in New Jersey to Westminster in London in one minute in the early hours of 1st December.  The other is exactly how the business is going to develop, but it’s certainly one to watch.

YouTube, and why I might not need vehicle telematics

December 8, 2010

I’ve recently set up a very simple online survey for some of the MSc students about their use of web resources.  It’s a quick and crude survey, and I’ve had just 8 responses so far out of a population of 18, so results need to be treated with caution for all the reasons that I discussed in my post of 18th November.  But two of the questions are about the students’ use of different web 2 tools – blogs, wikis, twitter and YouTube, and already a pattern is emerging.

When asked which tools they would be comfortable using as sources of information, they identified YouTube as by far the most popular.  7 of the 8 who have responded so far said that they’d use it.  This places it ahead of blogs and wikis, and at the opposite end of the scale from Twitter, which none of the students used for information, despite its popularity with high-profile members of the Twitterati.

So there’s an indication that among this group at least, YouTube has caught users’ imagination and Twitter hasn’t.  Somehow bite-sized videos, however amateurish, are attractive whereas short fragments of text aren’t, even to a group accustomed to using text messaging for one-to-one communication.  Maybe it’s just evidence of how powerful visual communication can be.

Curiously there is a connection here with my post a while back about why vehicle telematics might be useful, to help to diagnose faults in a car.  On YouTube there’s a video of somebody in a car exactly the same as mine, making exactly the same creaking sound that mine does in cold weather.  If only the person who put that video up had identified the fault, and shared it with his viewers, YouTube would have proved a more useful fault-finding tool than vehicle telematics.

Speeding up the process

December 6, 2010

Tim Luckhurst has a background as a journalist, and is now a professor of journalism at the University of Kent.  In a piece for Times Higher Education, he draws attention to one of the differences between academic and journalistic writing, that of the pace of writing and feedback is much more rapid in journalism.  I must confess to a guilty interest in this, since my recent paper in the International Journal of Management Education about reflective practice in dissertations really isn’t that recent: it was first submitted around three years ago and I’m afraid the delays in revision were as much my responsibility as the publisher’s.

So I have some sympathy for the argument advanced in the article, that we academics could learn from journalists how to produce things more quickly.  But it’s a pity that he hasn’t discussed either how the motivation to work quickly could be increased, or how technology, and some of the ideas of web 2, might be used to encourage new sorts of academic publishing which encourage quicker reactions and feedback.