O'Really?

February 18, 2013

February 4, 2013

On becoming a STEMnet ambassador: What, why and how?

A piece of raspberry pie

Creative Commons licensed picture of a DayGlo Raspberry Pi by @kevinv033 on Flickr

STEMNet is an organisation in the UK which creates opportunities to inspire young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Recently, along with about 15 PhD students from the CDT in Manchester, I became an STEM Ambassador. This post briefly describes what STEMNet is all about, why you would want to get involved and how you can do so.

What is STEMNet?

STEMnet is a network of volunteers (STEM ambassadors) who help schools and teachers by providing extra support in the classroom to teach topics in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Teachers can ask the network for all kinds of help, it might be, for example:

  • role models to do a Day in the Life of… session (e.g. Astronaut, Star Gazer, Genetic Engineer, Roboticist etc)
  • help with a Raspberry Pi workshop
  • support running a Science club
  • demonstrations of interesting technology that might not normally be available in school
  • et cetera

Ambassadors (who have been vetted by the DBS) respond to teacher requests or propose their own ideas. Ambassadors commit to doing at least one education or outreach event per year, and often end of doing more. Interesting and varied learning experiences usually follow.

Why you should get involved

There are plenty of reasons to get involved in STEMnet:

  • It can be great fun working with young people.
  • The world would probably be a BetterPlace™ if we had more scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. STEMNet is working towards achieving this important goal.
  • Schools and teachers need all the help they can get in the classroom, teaching is a challenging but important job.
  • If you think you’re a nifty communicator, there’s nothing quite like a classroom full of teenagers (or younger) for testing your theory.
  • Join an active and diverse network of around 30,000 ambassadors across the UK

How to get involved

Contact your friendly local STEMnet co-ordinator if you would like to become a STEM Ambassador. For Greater Manchester, that’s the good folk based at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI): Daniel O’Connell and Donna Johnson (featured in the video below).

We’ve got some exciting new projects planned via STEMNet, in addition to what’s already going on at cs.manchester.ac.uk/schools. Watch this space!

January 18, 2013

How to export, delete and move your Mendeley account and library #mendelete

Deleteme

Delete. Creative Commons licensed picture by Vitor Sá – Virgu via Flickr.com

News that Reed Elsevier is in talks to buy Mendeley.com will have many scientists reaching for their “delete account” button. Mendeley has built an impressive user-base of scientists and other academics since they started, but the possibility of an Elsevier takeover has worried some of its users. Elsevier has a strained relationship with some groups in the scientific community [1,2], so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

If you’ve built a personal library of scientific papers in Mendeley, you won’t just want to delete all the data, you’ll need to export your library first, delete your account and then import it into a different tool.

Disclaimer: I’m not advocating that you delete your mendeley account (aka #mendelete), just that if you do decide to, here’s how to do it, and some alternatives to consider. Update April 2013, it wasn’t just a rumour.

Exporting your Mendeley library

Open up Mendeley Desktop, on the File menu select Export. You have a choice of three export formats:

  1. BibTeX (*.bib)
  2. RIS – Research Information Systems (*.ris)
  3. EndNote XML (*.xml)

It is probably best to create a backup in all three formats just in case as this will give you more options for importing into whatever you replace Mendeley with. Another possibility is to use the Mendeley API to export your data which will give you more control over how and what you export, or trawl through the Mendeley forums for alternatives. [update: see also comments below from William Gunn on exporting via your local SQLite cache]

Deleting your Mendeley account #mendelete

Login to Mendeley.com, click on the My Account button (top right), Select Account details from the drop down menu and scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the link delete your account. You’ll be see a message We’re sorry you want to go, but if you must… which you can either cancel or select Delete my account and all my data. [update] To completely delete your account you’ll need to send an email to privacy at mendeley dot com. (Thanks P.Chris for pointing this out in the comments below)

Alternatives to Mendeley

Once you have exported your data, you’ll need an alternative to import your data into. Fortunately, there are quite a few to choose from [3], some of which are shown in the list below. This is not a comprehensive list, so please add suggestions below in the comments if I missed any obvious ones. Wikipedia has an extensive article which compares all the different reference management software which is quite handy (if slightly bewildering). Otherwise you might consider trying the following software:

One last alternative, if you are fed up with trying to manage all those clunky pdf files, you could just switch to Google Scholar which is getting better all the time. If you decide that Mendeley isn’t your cup of tea, now might be a good time to investigate some alternatives, there are plenty of good candidates to choose from. But beware, you may run from the arms of one large publisher (Elsevier) into the arms of another (Springer or Macmillan which own Papers and ReadCube respectively).

References

  1. Whitfield, J. (2012). Elsevier boycott gathers pace Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2012.10010
  2. Van Noorden, R. (2013). Mathematicians aim to take publishers out of publishing Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2013.12243
  3. Hull, D., Pettifer, S., & Kell, D. (2008). Defrosting the Digital Library: Bibliographic Tools for the Next Generation Web PLoS Computational Biology, 4 (10) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000204
  4. Attwood, T., Kell, D., McDermott, P., Marsh, J., Pettifer, S., & Thorne, D. (2010). Utopia documents: linking scholarly literature with research data Bioinformatics, 26 (18) DOI: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btq383

January 11, 2013

A joke about teaching and learning via Jason Bangbala

The MOOC

What, if anything, can stop the MOOC? Creative Commons licensed picture via Giulia Forsythe on Flickr.

The debate about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is making lots of people think harder about education and how people learn. Are we witnessing Higher Education’s Napster moment, where online services replace physical ones [1] ? Is undergraduate education over-priced [2]? How can education be improved [3]? What is the point of Education anyway? These are all interesting and mostly unanswered questions.

You might hear it said that secondary education is often delivered by excellent teachers, with questionable subject knowledge, whereas higher education is delivered by experts with excellent subject knowledge, but poorer teaching skills.

Jason Bangbala, an educational consultant, puts it another way.

What is the difference between primary, secondary and higher education?

  • In primary education, the teachers love their students.
  • In secondary education, the teachers love their subject.
  • In higher education, the teachers love themselves.

True? Hmmm, I don’t know. But it is funny…

References

  1. Moshe Vardi (2012). Will MOOCs destroy academia? Communications of the ACM, 55 (11), 5-5 DOI: 10.1145/2366316.2366317
  2. Salman Khan (2013). What college could be like Communications of the ACM, 56 (1) DOI: 10.1145/2398356.2398370
  3. Fred Martin (2012). Will massive open online courses change how we teach? Communications of the ACM, 55 (8) DOI: 10.1145/2240236.2240246

December 14, 2012

Born Digital, Born Mobile or Born Slippy?

Born Digital

Born Digital? Mobile, mobile, mobile! Creative Commons licensed image via Youth and Media

Thoughtworks is an Information Technology consultancy which started in Chicago and now has offices all over the world. This year they’ve been running some interesting events called Quarterly Briefings which discuss topical technology, with the help of some case studies.

So for example, back in October some Google Guys ‘n’ Girls looked at Big Data. Following on from this, last Wednesday tackled the emotive issue of mobile with Move Over Desktop, Mobile is here! looking at agile software development using the mobile part of LastMinute.com as a example.

These events are fun, good for networking, handy for keeping abreast of what’s happening – all lubricated with free food and drink – what’s not to like?

Two of the speakers, John Crosby (LastMinute.com) and Renee Hawkins (Thoughtworks.com), offered lots of food for thought, more than I can document here. However, three things stuck in my head:

  • Renee pointed out twenty-somethings often have the best ideas, innovation comes from Generation Y. Senior staff, decision makers and leaders in many organisations are often baby boomers or Generation-Xers. When they think of software applications, they often think of web first, then mobile. The current generation of undergraduates and graduates from our Universities were born after the invention of the web. They aren’t just born digital [1,2], they’re born mobile too, iPhones and Androids aren’t new – they’re just normal. Desktops and web-applications are old school to them, its tablets and mobile smartphones where all the action is – that’s what many of them are now growing up with. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Generation Y often have good ideas in science & technology.
  • Renee also talked about doing agile vs. being agile: many organisations claim to be doing agile software development: they have the stand-up daily scrum meetings, kanban boards covered in post-it notes and practice pair-programming but they’re often just ticking the boxes – they’re not actually able to deploy software quickly. They look agile, but really they are doing agile, not actually being agile.
  • John quoted Googler Eric Schmidt on mobile first from a few years ago, who said something like organisations should put their best software developers on mobile projects. Schmidt said this a while back, and many people at the time thought, “Hmmm, yeah maybe”. The current trajectory of mobile technology is proving Schmidt right…[3] despite the strange Android Engagement Paradox.

So when it comes to software applications, are you born digital, born mobile or born slippy? The latter drink too much and are usually Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers…

…and if you’re interested in attending similar events to the above in your area keep an eye on join.thoughtworks.com/events and thoughtworks.com/radar.

References

  1. John Palfrey and Urs Gassey (2008) Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (ISBN:0465018564) Basic Books
  2. Sean McLane (2012). What Is It With These Kids? – A Generational Insight into Student Workers and Customers SIGUCCS’12 DOI: 10.1145/2382456.2382481
  3. Mary Meeker (2012) Internet Trends @ Stanford, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

August 20, 2012

Digital Research 2012: September 10th-12th at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, UK

The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford by chensiyuan

The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford by chensiyuan via wikipedia

The UK’s premier Digital Research community event is being held in Oxford 10-12 September 2012. Come along to showcase and share the latest in digital research practice – and set the agenda for tomorrow at Digital Research 2012. The conference features an exciting 3-day programme with a great set of invited speakers together with showcases of the work and vision of the Digital Research community. Here are some highlights of the programme – please see the website digital-research.oerc.ox.ac.uk for the full programme and registration information.

New Science of New Data Symposium and Innovation Showcase  on Monday 10th: Keynotes from Noshir Contractor [1] (Northwestern University) on Web Science, Nigel Shadbolt (Government Information Adviser) on Open Data and a closing address by Kieron O’Hara (computer scientist) – with twitter analytics, geolocated social media and web observatories in between. Also the launch of the Software Sustainability Institute’s Fellows programme and community workshops.

Future of Digital Research on Tuesday 11th: Keynotes from Stevan Harnad on “Digital Research: How and Why the Research Councils UK Open Access Policy Needs to Be Revised” [2], Jim Hendler (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) on “Broad Data” (not just big!), and Lizbeth Goodman (University College Dublin) on “SMART spaces by and for SMART people”. Sessions are themed on Open Science with a talk by Peter Murray-Rust, Smart Spaces as a Utility and future glimpses from the community, all culminating in a Roundtable discussion on the Future of Digital Research.

e–Infrastructure Forum and Innovation Showcase on Wednesday 12th opens with a dual-track community innovation showcase, then launch the UK e-Infrastructure Academic Community Forum where Peter Coveney (UK e-Infrastructure Leadership Council and University College London) will present the “state of the nation” followed by a Provider’s Panel, Software, Training and User’s Panel – an important and timely opportunity for the community to review current progress and determine what’s needed in the future.

There’s a lot more happening throughout the event, including an exciting “DevChallenge” hackathon run by DevCSI, software surgery by the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) and multiple community workshops – plus the Digital Research 2012 dinner in College and a reception in the spectacular Museum of Natural History in Oxford. Digital Research 2012 is very grateful to everyone who has come together to make this event possible, including e-Research South, Open Knowledge Foundation, Web Science, the Digital Social Research programme, our Digital Economy colleagues and the All Hands Foundation.

We look forward to seeing you at Digital Research 2012 in Oxford in September.

References

  1. Lazer, D., Pentland, A., Adamic, L., Aral, S., Barabasi, A.L., Brewer, D., Christakis, N., Contractor, N., Fowler, J., Gutmann, M. & (2009). Social Science: Computational Social Science, Science, 323 (5915) 723. DOI: 10.1126/science.1167742
  2. Stevan Harnad (2012). Open access: A green light for archiving, Nature, 487 (7407) 302. DOI: 10.1038/487302b

August 3, 2012

July 19, 2012

Is word play friendly branding the key to successful technology?

βατόμουρο / Raspberries by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

The Raspberry Pi (not pictured above) is currently blowing raspberries at its competitors at an impressive rate of four thousand per day. Creative Commons licensed picture of Rasberries by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos on wikipedia.

The key to successful technology is not just the tricky combination of innovation, determination and investment but also word play friendly branding.

Consider two technology companies, Google and Raspberry Pi:

So is word play really the key to technological success? Successful technologies often encourage word play, but word play does not make technology successful. Correlation does not imply causation and the examples above are very anecdotal.

Still, word play is fun and probably helps brands without doing them any harm [2]. Raspberry Pi is a particularly ripe brand for punning, are there any other #TechnoWordPlay examples?

References

  1. Rory Cellan-Jones (2012). Raspberry Ripples from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, BBC News
  2. Guy Swillingham (2005). Shop Horror: The Best of the Worst in British Shop Names, Harper Collins ISBN:0007198132

July 13, 2012

Animation 2012: Computer Science for Schools

Animation 2012 at the University of Manchester

Computer Science as a subject in mainstream UK secondary education is in a pretty sorry state [1,2,3] but it’s not all doom and gloom. While many long suffering school children are being force-fed a nauseating diet of Excel, PowerPoint and Access others are enjoying a nutritious platter of Raspberry Pi, Hack to the Future and Animated fun.

Here’s a brief report on one of these tasty appetisers: Animation 2012, a UK schools animation competition now in its fifth year.

The day kicked off with prizes being awarded for the animation competition. To get a flavour of the creativity and skill involved, you can see winning examples online.

Following the prize giving there was a carousel of activities which included:

Animation 2012 was great fun for all involved, congratulations to all this years winners, hope to see you again next year. There were 526 Schools involved from across the UK, with 914 entries. 58 students were involved in the 35 winning entries from 31 different schools. Thanks to Toby Howard, all the organisers, supporters (Google, Electronic Arts and NESTA) and associates (Computing at School, CS4FN and BAFTA young game designers) for putting on an impressive show.

References

  1. Steve Furber et al (2012). Computing in Schools: Shut down or restart? Royal Society Report
  2. James Robinson (2011). Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemns British education system: criticising division between science and arts, The Guardian
  3. Keith Stuart (2011). Michael Gove admits schools should teach computer science: education secretary recognises the failings of ICT courses, The Guardian

June 22, 2012

The Silicon Valley Meme: Coming to a Technology Cluster Near You …

Oracle by (nz)dave

Oracle Inc. Headquarters, Silicon Valley, California. CC-licensed Picture by (nz)dave on Flickr.

… if it hasn’t done already

In California the streets aren’t paved with Gold, they are paved with Silicon. Many a Californian has made their fame and fortune from Silicon-based commerce. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Oracle, Apple the list goes on and on. Silicon paves the streets of Silicon Valley.

Silly Valley is often imitated but rarely bettered. Here is a small selection of imitators from a fully blown stamp collection of silicon valley places in wikipedia:

  • Silicon Alley, New York
  • Silicon Fen, Cambridge UK
  • Silicon Roundabout, London
  • Silicon Glen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, Bonnie Scotland
  • Silicon Gorge,  M4 Corridor-ish (Bristol, Swindon, Oxford etc)
  • Silicon Mill, Manchester and North West England
  • Silicon Shipyard, Newcastle, Middlesborough etc

If you don’t have a Silicon Valley cluster near where you live, there’s an easy part and a hard part to creating one. The easy part is, just prefix the name of your local area with the magic S word Silicon. Easy. The hard part is building the universities, businesses, technology, communities, start-ups and investment that makes a technology cluster like Silicon Valley successful [1,2,3]. How can it be done?

Refererences

  1. Mietek Jaroniec (2009). Silicon beyond the valley Nature Chemistry, 1 (2), 166-166 DOI: 10.1038/nchem.173
  2. Paul Graham (2006). How to be Silicon Valley paulgraham.com
  3. Chris Vallance (2012). Silicon Britain: Inside the country’s tech clusters BBC News
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