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  • Who's been blocking my Twitter?

    Posted on January 29th, 2009 Marieke Guy 4 comments

    I’ve been following a thread on the LIS-BLOGGERS@JISCMAIL.AC.UK list (a discussion list for library and information services bloggers) with interest. The original posting asked about the current use of Twitter by libraries.

    There have been some useful links to information about which libraries have accounts and how people are using it. However the most interesting thing for me has been an offshoot conversation about blocking of Web sites and Twitter.

    One person (I won’t mention any names here) responded with a useful link and then went on to explain that this site (a blog – which sounded like a pretty useful site) along with others were blocked during core work hours. Note that the person who made the comment works for a commercial law company.

    I guess at this point most of the list subscribers who work in academia took a sharp intake of breath. Blocking of sites seems alien to those of us who work in a culture of ‘learning’. However in the not to distant past there have been discussions of IT services blocking use of tools like Skype, though this tends to be more for security and bandwidth reasons. Blocking the Web seems very strange to us academics.

    Tim Fletcher from Birbeck then pointed out that the blockage of such sites “leaves those of us who are trying use services such as Twitter for perfectly legitimate and appropriate purposes in a difficult position”.He goes on to say that he feels “the difficulty comes when a “social network” tool goes into the mainstream and becomes a business or service network tool and some employers or institutions are not prepared or geared up for that change. It is also a benefit of working in the HE sector and possibly we have a role in trying and testing these things so that colleagues in other sectors can show their employer or institution the benefits, assuming there are some.” Some good points here.

    Although it was actually a Web site that had been blocked Phil Bradley equated this with the blocking of Twitter and explained that “it is absolute insanity to ban its use in an organizational setting.

    The posts reiterate the divide in culture between the academic and the commercial sectors. However I think they also show how Web 2.0 technologies have started to bridge this divide. Twitter is now mainstream. Its business uses have been well documented and most forward thinking commercial companies already use it. Even if the bosses are not supportive of the use of certain technologies and sites it seems to me only a matter of time before they succumb. It’s not just about treating your staff as responsible workers but also recognising the current trend in communication.

    In the meantime those of us who work from home can feel smug that no-one gets to block what we look at. ;-)

  • Can’t be Bothered with Motivation?

    Posted on January 26th, 2009 Marieke Guy No comments

    I’ve mentioned before that I am the ‘Remote Worker Champion’ at UKOLN. (This doesn’t involve me winning medals or being good at anything, it’s just about me supporting the UKOLN remote workers). We are currently planning a one-day internal workshop tackling remote worker issues. After chatting to people it hasn’t been that surprising to discover that the number one issue they have as remote workers is motivation.

    Sometimes it’s just difficult to get motivated. It’s even more difficult when:

    • You’re not sure what you are supposed to be doing at work
    • You’ve got other things that need doing and are quite straightforward (like the washing up)
    • There is no-one there to inspire you
    • There is no-one there to watch you and check you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing
    • You’re bored

    no motivation
    Although I don’t have the answers yet (the hope is that the workshop will help here) it is obvious that one of the main problems is not having a clear vision (sorry for the management speak).

    The fact that much of my work (and other people’s, especially in academia) doesn’t have an obvious point, was initially a big shock to me. It’s taken me a while to realise that sometimes the things you do don’t make sense till later down the line, and sometimes they don’t make sense at all…. This doesn’t mean that they are pointless.

    Unfortunately that doesn’t really help you feel motivated. :-(

    What I’ve found helps is to make sure I have the point of what I’m doing (no matter how small or long term it is) clear in my mind. Just remember that we can’t all be doctors and nurses but what you do can make a small difference. Eight years in and I think I’m pretty good at setting my own goals and creating my own vision.

    Of course if that doesn’t work…there’s always the fact that your job pays the bills. There’s no better motivator than money! ;-)

    I’ll get back to you with some tips on getting motivated!

  • How Many Web 2.0 Applications?!

    Posted on January 22nd, 2009 Marieke Guy 3 comments

    I’m still in shock after stumbling upon Feedmyapp (“a Web 2.0 Directory with the best and latest web 2.0 sites, daily update“) and seeing how many Web 2.0 applications there are now out there. Gotoweb runs a similar service.

    It reminded me of the Build Your Own Web 2.0 Application Using Fluff and Hot Air blog post I read a few years back.

    It’s a wonder any of us are getting any work done! I know these things are meant to help us work more efficiently, but just deciding which ones suit us could quite easily eat up your working week. It’s giving me a headache!

    When I get a chance (!!) I’m planning to have a go at reclaiming some time and improving my self discipline using LeechBlock. This is a “simple productivity tool designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day“.

    I’ll let you know what it feels like when the leeches are removed.

  • Social TV: The Bigger Picture

    Posted on January 19th, 2009 Marieke Guy No comments

    Tony Hirst has just written a really interesting blog post on the Social Telly: The Near Future Evolution of TV User Interfaces.

    Tony explains “a prototype demoed last year by the BBC and Microsoft shows how it might be possible to “share” content you are viewing with someone in your contact list, identify news stories according to location (as identified on a regional or world map), or compile your own custom way through a news story by selecting from a set of recommended packages related to a particular news piece.

    He gives a lot of interesting examples of innovation in this area.

    In fact there are quite a few related posts out there at the moment including:

    This post hit home with me for two reasons:

    Firstly, because my parents have recently bought a 42″ TV (hey, they’re old and retired and need a focus for their living room!) and passed on their big-but-not-quite-so-big TV to us. At first I was really reluctant to put this monstrosity in our relatively small room. Unfortunately while we were in the process of “trying it out” our children caught us and demanded that we keep it if we want to remain their parents. It was a fait accompli.

    Secondly, because it suddenly reminded me of the whole “Internet through your television” thing that happened a few years back. It’s just brought a smile to my face remembering my colleague Brian Kelly’s enthusiasm. Those who know Brian will know that he is often to be seen at the starting line when it comes to new technologies!

    Well it seems he was sort of right after all, Internet TV is back (The Wall Street Journal article ‘Internet-Ready TVs Usher Web Into Living Room‘ provides a good background read) so watch this space.

    I for one will welcome the excuse to get out of my spare-bedroom-office and make the long trip downstairs to the lounge. The exercise is much needed, and the screen is bigger down there too!

  • Small Town Mentality

    Posted on January 14th, 2009 Marieke Guy 1 comment

    Living in a small town is a relatively new thing for me. I’ve spent most of my adult life living in pretty big cities: Manchester, Liverpool, London, Prague, Bath. There have been a few stays in smaller places but I didn’t really start to feel that whole “small town community thing” till I had children.

    The government has recently brought out a pamphlet entitled ‘Guidance on building a local sense of belonging‘. It is aimed at local cohesion practitioners and “suggests ways in which councils, voluntary groups and other organisations can encourage a sense of belonging”.

    Apparently civic pride is powerful stuff and a sense of belonging and loyalty to your town is one of the key steps to happy living.

    Mark Easton quotes Communities Secretary Hazel Blears on his UK blog:

    People who feel that they belong to their local area will get involved with local schemes and initiatives, will help their neighbours, will challenge inappropriate behaviour, will welcome newcomers and help them settle. They will pull together in a crisis and join together in a celebration. All this helps to build cohesive, empowered and active communities.

    This is even more important given our current financial crisis with shops going under and the move from high street shopping to out of town retailers.

    Melksham Town Hall

    Where I live is really important to me. I live in a small rural Wiltshire town called Melksham. You probably won’t have heard of it and it’s unlikely you’d have a reason to go there other than to visit someone. It’s a struggling town but the sense of community is still pretty strong. I am a member of Melksham Climate Friendly Group and active at the toddler group and school my children attend. I like meeting local people and am not much good at “keeping myself to myself”. ;-)

    Unfortunately Melksham has relatively little local industry and few big local businesses. It’s probably what people would refer to as a satellite or dormitory town. Most people work in neighbouring cities and towns like Bath, Chippenham or Trowbridge. Working from home I am lucky enough to be able to pop into my town on a regular basis. I know quite a few of the shop-keepers and can normally say hello to a number of people on my walk in to the centre and back. This is definitely one of the benefits of being a remote worker.

    [googlemaps http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=melksham&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=36.315864,67.851563&ie=UTF8&s=AARTsJqlTWNy89ouhM30pJFVX9fGzhzoMw&ll=51.38753,-2.129459&spn=0.032138,0.051498&z=13&iwloc=addr&output=embed&w=500&h=500]

    If more people start to work remotely then maybe this will help smaller towns? It might bring back that sense of community that seems to be slipping. Just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean you have a small town mentality. Us remote workers might even like to meet up for a coffee sometime?

    Any other Melksham remote workers out there?

  • Elluminating

    Posted on January 12th, 2009 Marieke Guy 3 comments

    I mentioned a while back that I will be presenting at an online workshop for RSC Eastern on Web 2.0. Bookings for the event have now opened and places are limited so if you are interested please register.

    In preparation I had my first go at Elluminate Live on Friday. Elluminate is a real-time virtual classroom environment designed for distance education and collaboration in academic institutions and corporate training.

    So here are my initial thoughts…


    It’s a Java application and I was a little worried that it would be slow and clunky, especially as I tuned in using my home Broadband connection, but it wasn’t. There were a few moments when people lost connection but given that we met for almost an hour it did pretty well. There was a little time lag when I spoke and did certain things but it’s just a case of taking it slowly and checking people are with you. (A better explanation of how exactly Elluminate works is available.)

    Ease of Use

    Elluminate Desktop

    Elluminate Desktop

    It was actually really easy and intuitive to use and pretty good fun. The main areas I tried out are the chat facility, uploading ppts, the whiteboard and presenting web tours. We also had a go at sharing your desktop, though it’s unlikely I’d have to do this at the event. I didn’t get to try out the Webcam, it can be a real bandwidth hog though so probably best to avoid for a big group.

    I was logged in as a moderator. Our set-up meant that participants used the chat facility most of the time but could select the microphone if they wanted. I think you can restrict use of the microphone – having too many people talk would get confusing. One suggestion was that I set up my laptop too and log in as a participant. This will allow me to see what everyone else is seeing too.


    I really enjoyed the session. I think as long as people accept that it is still a pretty new way to do things and technologies can need a little bit of tweaking and time, then it can be an invaluable tool.

    It is possible for the whole of the event to be recorded and shared which is really useful too. For example here is a recent event presented by Ross Gardner from OSS Watch on what open source software is. (Note this links to an actual Elluimate and you will need to download a JNLP file).

    I’ll post more on Elluminate after I’ve had another go but for now, to be honest, the only complaint I had was that my headphones made my ears hurt!

  • Learning on Screen Awards 2009

    Posted on January 8th, 2009 Marieke Guy No comments

    The British Universities Film and Video Council (BUFVC) have just opened their call for nominations for the Learning on Screen Awards 2009.

    The press release states:

    The BUFVC will present a number of awards which celebrate and reward excellence in the use of moving image, sound and related media in learning, teaching and research. For further category details and information on how to enter please see the Learning on Screen Awards 2009 website. Categories this year include General Audience Education, Curriculum-Related Content, Student Production and Disability & Access Awards as well as Premier and Special Jury Awards.

    Nominations need to be in by 6th February 2009 and the winners will be announced at the conference dinner at the Holiday Inn, Regent’s Park, London on the evening of 7th April 2009.

    We are all ‘learning on screen’ these days. At my staff appraisal last year we talked about my staff development and it was acknowledged that one of most significant ways I can learn about subjects is by watching videos on YouTube. Who would have thought that something that for most of the public provides a way to watch drunken youngsters embarrass themselves could be such a useful learning and teaching tool!

    Every time you make your resources available in another online format you are amplifying their value. I’ve mentioned this before in articles and in previous blog posts.

    There are so many good resources out there these days. Have you seen David Noble’s podcast directory which offers links to hundreds of educational podcasts. Or what about some of the outputs from JISC Services portfolio? All the TV channels also offer many of their programmes online. I particularly enjoyed the Royal Institute Christmas Lectures on channel 5. (Takes technology down to my level!)

    Anyway it’s a tricky choice.

  • A Few Extra Pennies…

    Posted on January 6th, 2009 Marieke Guy No comments

    When I first became a remote/home worker my mother kept going on about how I’d be able to get tax relief on certain things. I didn’t really take much notice of her until I had a free moment just before Christmas and did a little search on it. It turns out she was right (aren’t mothers always!) and home workers can get tax relief for household expenses. This includes:

    • the extra cost of gas and electricity to heat and light your work area
    • business telephone calls

    As is probably the case for most home workers my work already refunds all my business calls, I just hand in a copy of my bill with the relevant bits highlighted. However I have been using quite a lot of extra heating (see my entries on Wifi Worries and On the Sunny Side of the Street) and electricity so thought I’d have a go at claiming.

    The HM Revenue and Customs Web site explains that you can get either:

    • A flat rate deduction of £3.00 per week (from 2008-09) for each week that you’ve got to work at home. This doesn’t include the cost of business telephone calls.
    • A larger amount if your extra expenses are higher than £3.00 – but you’ll have to show how you’ve calculated the figure.

    The flat rate can be applied for by letter and doesn’t require any extra proof (expenses forms etc.). It seemed fairly straightforward. I found out my local tax office using the online tax office locator and wrote them a letter explaining my situation and including my national insurance number, my tax code (found on my monthly pay slip) and my payroll reference number (also on my payslip).

    I’ve just received a letter back from HMRC explaining that they have changed my tax code and upped my tax free allowance. I’m a little unsure of the numbers and wouldn’t mind having someone in the know explain it to me but I do seem to be getting more pennies for the pound. I have yet to see the effect on my pay packet but at the moment when every penny counts it’s surely worth the price of a stamp.

    Are other remote workers claiming this?

  • Time for Telepresence

    Posted on January 2nd, 2009 Marieke Guy 3 comments

    Telepresence…I assume most people won’t have heard of it so I’ll stick with tradition and start off with a Wikipedia definition:

    Telepresence refers to a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance that they were present, or to have an effect, at a location other than their true location.

    The defining feature of these technologies is that they are sense driven. This means that the user should be provided with lots of stimuli from the other location to make the experience as real as possible. Information ends up travelling from both directions, from the remote user to the technology and back again.

    Currently my only experience of telepresence is limited to snippets from the Gadget Show (YouTube video). Recently I stumbled on a reference to it in Scott Hanselman’s blog. Scott is a Principal Program Manager for Microsoft and has been working from home for just over a year now. Scott and his team had a chance to remotely drive/beta-test a Telepresence robot from RoboDynamics, the first company to commercialise an enterprise Robotic Telepresence platform.


    Scott describes the telepresence robot as:

    .. pretty sweet. They’ve got a 26x Optical Zoom and pan/tilt/zoom on the camera. There’s a screen for your “head” so that folks can recognize you as you wander around. I was able to walk all over their office. The control console includes sonar and bumpers so when I got close to bumping into the fridge in their office kitchen I could “see” the distance to the fridge and avoid it.

    There’s a lot to think about when it comes to letting a virtual beastie into your company. Is it on the network? Which network? What access? Who is it logged in as? What if it’s stolen?

    It’s obvious that there are a myriad of possible applications of these technologies. Commercial companies are already using them and further research will make them mainstream before we know it. There is further information on possible uses on the Telepresence World site.

    For me the main areas of interest are:

    Learning Application

    Telepresence has a lot to offer education. The telepresence classroom is something you will no doubt be hearing more about in the future.

    There is some useful information in the JISC Satellite pilot report, notably in the Satellite applications in education section.

    Remote Working

    It will be a little while before we see ‘Ronnie the robot’ in the UKOLN office or have a telepresence room but it will be great for us remote workers when we do.

    As Scott puts it: “I‘d really like be able to “walk” into someone’s office. Just pop in to see if they are there. I want to get involved in hallway conversations.

    A telepresence is definitely one step closer to a real presence.