Designing for Big Data

This 20-minute talk by Jeff Veen, formerly of Google, is worth blogging not just for the reflections on user interaction with data, but a quick look at how far technology has come in the last 25 years. Show it to the non-ancient geeks and tell them what it was like!



One of my favourite jobs each year is evaluating innovative practice in engineering education for the Engineering Subject Centre’s Teaching Award. This year one of the innovations I am evaluating is “Examopedia” where students can work collaboratively on a wiki to solve past exam questions. Examopedia is the work of Manish Malik and his students at the University of Portsmouth. It uses a University of Portsmouth installation of twiki as a platform, where Manish puts the questions from a past exam; students then put their answers to these questions onto the wiki, suggesting alternatives or amendments if an answer has already been posted. Manish can intervene to point out if the answer is being developed has any problems, or to confirm that it is OK.
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Dreamweaver is dying

From an opinion blog post on PC Pro, an attack not on Dreamweaver software but the static-content mentality that says that creating web sites is a matter of having the right kind of editor.

In the relatively near future every website will be a dynamically-generated web application and all of today’s sites built on multiple static pages will be ripped out and replaced. The good news of course is that this is actually a huge opportunity – think Klondike gold-rush – for the web designer who can adapt. But how?

The offered solutions – Drupal and Joomla – are hardly surprising, but it sells these approaches on the grounds that users’ basic expectations of sites will demand more interaction and less old-fashioned broadcast publishing.

VChecks: Form checkboxes as they really should be

I quite like this little jQuery plugin that someone has written to make checkboxes look nicer. Just some included files and a line of Javascript: it’s a practically instant improvement. It seems like it would degrade gracefully. The only oddness is that the state doesn’t change when I click directly on the image.

Calendar thoughts

Having been allocated the shared calendars subgroup of the Gateway Project I would appreciate thoughts on the shared-calendars project from my colleagues in the network. As you may have guessed, it was a surprise to both me and Rob that we were given overlapping projects but not put in touch with each other at the outset. I expect we will be able to clarify our combined approach at the Awayday in December.

So far I have been impressed at what we can get out of Mozilla Sunbird and how it will be a very useful tool to browse across all the network events. However, I am disappointed at the lack of enthusiasm for iCal from some corners. Anyhow, we have a small budget for enthusing our network contacts.

My view is that we should require all SC network sites to a) issue an iCal feed and b) redisplay their calendar using the same iCal feed on their site – Google Calendar is one solution that springs to mind, but if the same db that generates the iCal also generates a dynamic page of events then that should be quite sufficient. So far, we have Gateway project agreement to declare iCal as the standard feed.

CalDAV seems to be the next avenue to explore so if anyone knows of a suitable CalDAV we could publish to, then by all means post it on this thread. We do not need a CalDAV, but it would be useful.

Valid HTML? Shocking statistics!

14 October 2008: Open Access Day

October 14, 2008 will be the world’s first Open Access Day.

The founding partners are SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), Students for FreeCulture, and the Public Library of Science.

Open Access Day will help to broaden awareness and understanding of Open Access, including recent mandates and emerging policies, within the international higher education community and the general public.


I came across this video on vimeo, and a link to the mozillalabs site…. Looks interesting!

YouTube for fun and education

I just wanted to flag up an interesting talk I went to recently. My friend and colleague Paul Ayres (a digital librarian at Intute Social Sciences) gave a talk about engaging with YouTube here at the ILRT. His presentation is now up on SlideShare (below).

While I’ve previously looked at the basic technical implications, Paul looked at how community and debate are essential to what YouTube is about, with the consequence that it cannot be “managed” in the way that organisations try to manage other media. Organisations (Ten Downing Street, for example) have very much less success than charismatic individuals with something to say. Engaging openly, even with deeply critical responses, seems to be the key to being taken seriously by the YouTube community, as Queen Rania’s experience shows. Although I’m a heavy user of YT, I learnt a lot from the talk.

Slides are up on SlideShare, though if you have time click through and watch the example videos on YouTube, which are also stored as a YouTube playlist. driven Google custom search

This is an account of how and why I wrote a Google custom search engine to search sites that I had bookmarked on

I’ve liked the Google custom search engine since I first played with it shortly after it came out. If you don’t know about Google CSE, it allows an individual or group to create a search form that will perform a full text search using the Google search engine but limited to sites which they choose. This search form, and the results page, can be embedded in any website. I think it is the obvious way to build a cross search across all the centres in an organization like the HE Academy (this was one of my first custom search engines). Better, for teaching and learning you can set up a reading list of recommended sites for a course and let students do a full google search that prioritizes those sites (for a sort of generic variation on this see Tony Hirst‘s Open Educational Resources search). Better still, let the students as a group decide which sites they want on their course reading list.

Building and editing a Google custom search using the interface on the Google site is by no means difficult, but over the past year or so some tools to make it even easier have come out. Read the rest of this entry »