Archive for March, 2012

Filling the broadband gaps

March 30, 2012

Interesting piece from the BBC about how radio is being used to bring broadband to remoter areas of the UK – if nothing else, given the publicity that’s around at the moment about the end of analogue television , it’s good to see what the newly released capacity in the radio spectrum is being used for.

Is Blackberry out of the consumer market or not?

March 30, 2012

RIM, the company that makes Blackberry, has had a rough time lately despite being a brand associated with smartphones, and despite a (superficially successful) move away from its core business market to offer a range of mobile devices.  Today there has been an announcement that Blackberry is to leave the consumer market – or are they just refocusing their brand to concentrate on certain products?

Whatever the true flavour of the statement, I wouldn’t like to predict whether this move is successful or not.  In its favour, one could argue that RIM should recognise its strengths in hardware aimed at business, it should focus on something that could be a lucrative market, and it could promote the pproach where email is handled by Blackberry’s own server as a kind of cloud solution.  Against them, one could argue that enough teenagers have acquired Blackberries and used BBM for the brand no longer to be credible as a supplier of business products, that the Blackberry servers aren’t reliable, and particularly aren’t perceived as reliable following last year’s outage, and finally that it’s unclear whether there is a future for a business phone as a distinct product.  Surely part of the business model for both iPhone and Android phones is that the phone is a relatively generic, standardised product which can be tailored with apps and accessories, and also that the same phone could be of use to every aspect of its user’s life.  So business apps definitely have a future, but I’m less sure about business phones.

Schumpeter on smartphones

March 29, 2012

This one’s from The Economist and discusses some of the effects of over-reliance on smartphones – and particularly alludes to their addictive nature.

The retro social network

March 27, 2012

Friends Reunited was one of the first social networks on the Internet, started by a couple of entrepreneurs in 2000, and sold to ITV for millions of pounds a few years later.  But it suffered the fate of many pioneers, and its success was transient.  Now it’s been relaunched in a new form with a focus on memories, and not just the memory of what websites looked like 12 years ago, which sadly has been my reaction when I’ve looked at their home page in the last few years.

Reading the comments on the BBC website, I’m struck both by the persistence of Friends Reunited’s original concept, a way to get in touch with people who you were at school with, and by the current owners’ determination to distance themselves from that.  Certainly one reason that I never signed up for Friends Reunited is that I didn’t have any desire to reconnect with schoolfriends (in the unlikely event that you are reading this and you went to school with me, please don’t take that personally).  But at least that gave the site a focus, as distinct from a more general theme of nostalgia which they seem to be pursuing now.

Leading or lagging

March 20, 2012

One insight into the use of email, and social networks, in business and in people’s personal lives has come up in discussion with some of my students.  Email in particular, and other first-generation web tools used for communication, started as tools which people working in IT or in academic environments used at work, and then developed into tools used be people to organise their personal and social lives.  So this was a case of use of the technology at work leading the use of the same technology at leisure.  But with social networking it’s the other way roung: employers are looking at how they can change the way that people communicate and collaborate at work, to take advantage of the sort of approaches that people are already using in their home lives.  So this time professional use of technology is lagging personal use.

Why?  A lot of it’s down to cost and ubiquity of equipment.  Email started when the sort of connectivity that we now take for granted, through a broadband network, was only available at the desk of somebody working for a big and/or technically sophisticated employer.  Now the tools that give us access to the most advanced and complex social networks are consumer goods, and we carry them in our pockets.

Who’s the biggest employer?

March 20, 2012

The BBC news site’s pieces on statistics and data representation are often worth reading but today’s is particularly noteworthy because it looks at where the NHS fits in the league of large employers.  I had always worked on the (admittedly anecdotal) basis that the world’s four biggest employers by headcount were the Chinese army, the Indian railways, Wal-Mart and the NHS but it looks as though I’ve bought into an elaborate approximation of the truth.  Though on the BBC’s figures the NHS remains huge, even though it isn’t in the top four.  Perhaps most striking, in the BBC’s league table, is the appearance of FoxConn, the company which makes products for Apple in particular, at number ten.

Walking the ring into south east London

March 15, 2012

One more section of the Capital Ring walk since I last blogged about it: this is section 1 in the guidebook even though it’s the fifth section that we’ve done.  And it took us through parts of south east London that I don’t know at all well, starting just south of the river in Woolwich but striking across to high ground further south.  This is a ‘green’ section rather than a ‘blue’ one.  The sections that we’d walked so far are dominated by water, whether it’s the reservoirs in Stoke Newington, the River Lee, or the docks.  This section is mostly across parkland and woodland.

In fact it has some of the greatest contrasts within one section.  It starts in a highly industrialised area, with the Tate and Lyle works, that’s also visible from London City Airport, overlooking the river – we idly wondered what somebody who works in a sugar factory would do all day.  It includes one short stretch that follows the busy, noisy, Woolwich Road – most of the portions of the walk that follow roads meander through residential areas, as does the bit where the Capital Ring and the Thames Path leave the river to take the route designated as the ‘interim Thames Path’, a temporary measure pending redevelopment of the former Siemens cable factory on the south side of the river.  But it also covers a considerable amount of open ground and woodland, notably Oxleas Wood towards the end of the section, which has a very rural feel to it.

More suprises: the attractive green area overlooked by Charlton House, and the former military academy, complete with battlements, recently redeveloped as flats, although it appears not to have been used as an academy for many years.  And after a lot of walking essentially at sea level (another side of the ‘blue’  aspect of the previous sections) it’s nice to gain some height and to get some fine views across London.
Former military academy
And it’s spring!  In the wooded areas in particular the flowers are really starting to appear, making the walk much more colourful.

Catching up with the capture

March 15, 2012

Just to follow up my earlier post where I mentioned lecture capture – in practice it’s been taking me some time to get the videos of my lectures for economics students online.  If you’re an economics student taking my module and you’re reading this, please bear with me because this is a learning process for me.  But also it’s taken a little time to get everything set up so that I can edit and publish the videos while I’m at home, or in the office: there have been some issues around security certificates and browser compatibility that needed to be sorted, and also, embarrassingly, at least one point where I mistook one editor function for another so I managed to post a video where I left in a recording of the comfort break, but carefully edited out the content!

If all this sounds like a gentle moan that we are further from interoperability of computer systems than we should be, or a feeble excuse for being slow to post material, then it’s both of these.  Despite that, I’m very optimistic about the potential for lecture capture, and very happy to be participating in a trial.  It’s still a new system, and there’s every reason to expect that the user-friendliness of the editor, the ability to edit from anywhere with a browser, and the lecturers’ own collective expertise as to how to use it effectively will all improve dramatically.  And I do like the unobtrusiveness of this approach – it’s set up to start automatically, and to be made available automatically through the Moodle virtual learning enviromment once it’s been edited by the lecturer.  Watch this space.

Tablets into the basket

March 15, 2012

The composition of the notional shopping basket used for calculating inflation in the UK changes slightly each year, and the revisions are always worth reviewing for what they tell us about spending patterns.  This year it’s notable that tablet computers have come in – and the supporting report very spefically defines these as iPads, Samsung Galaxy pads, and so on and not as the tablet versions of traditional laptops that were in vogue during the 2000s.  Page 7 of the report on the revisions – PDF downloadable from the link above – has some fairly anodyne wording about the introduction of tablet computers, and the point is well made that in most years the basket changes to reflect development in technology, but it must still be exceptional to see the inclusion of a product which wasn’t available in any recognisable form as recently as three years ago

Research methods on video

March 9, 2012

One thing I’ve been working on lately is understanding the need to teach research skills to students who need to do some independent work as part of their course.  If you’re one of my students who is working on a dissertation right now, that means you.

In fact one of the best sources of research methods tuition is YouTube.  Alan Bryman, who wrote one of the standard works on business research methods, and one towards which I often point students doing dissertations, is here addressing a group in Florida.  He’s explaining mixed methods, but for that to make sense he starts with a really good, succinct, explanation of qualitative and quantitative research and the difference between the two.

It’s a very simple, unflashy, presentation.  He uses PowerPoint slides, sparsely, as a storyboard but for the most part you don’t see them on the video because you don’t need to.  Instead he explains, simply and fluently, some subtle concepts which the students in his audience are probably encountering for the first time.  And if you are about to embark on some research for the first time, even if it’s an undergraduate dissertation, this is a great source to use.