Saturday, January 31, 2009

Word cloud: Twitter followers

This is the word cloud of my Twitter followers. I would prefer it if they were not referred to as Twittersheep, since many of them were simply gracious enough to do a reciprocal follow... I started following them first!

Nevertheless, look how large and proud the word learning looms. Teacher and technology also feature. Social isn't way up on the list, but then I guess fish don't discuss water all the time, either.

pic of the day - my (ahem) artistic efforts

I'm pretty creative, but it's all in my head. My hands are not very good at producing what my head imagines. Part of my Christmas gift to my younger son was a commitment to populate two of the painted frames on his bedroom wall. This is the result - there is still one more lizard to be added to the frame on the right, but it isn't dry yet.

I missed yesterday's pic of the day as I tried to write a 700 word report on Track 2 of Learning Technologies 2009. No easy task! I didn't even break for lunch.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Articulate 09 - PC Pro review

My IT support man and sleeping partner forwarded me the link to this review. It's a far better job than the haphazard mentions I have been making lately, but then again, it's a review of the product as a computer application.

If you want a review of the product as a learning development tool, you're better off trawling the blogosphere to see what the learning professionals have to say!

Learning Technologies 09 - random, fresh reflections

I am back in my little office at home after two whirlwind days of Learning Technologies 09 conference. I have to write up a report on Track 2 (learning in practice) and on George Siemens's keynote, which will no doubt be published somewhere. Once I've written the report, I will probably unpack a few of the sessions in greater depth. But I thought I'd just unload some of the initial swirling impressions... in no particular order.

  1. L&D professionals are getting the message about learner empowerment. I'm sure the battle is a long way from won, but we're gaining ground
  2. L&D professionals are falling out of love with courses and are demonstrating a decrease in the idea that 'we have a performance gap' translates to 'we need a training course'
  3. Nevertheless, many L&D professionals are still having a hard time persuading senior management teams that this is not some namby pamby, pink and fluffy HR fad
  4. Some organisations and, tragically, some L&D leaders still think it's alright to force, compel, blackmail, threaten, bribe, coerce and otherwise corral staff members into completing a training initiative
  5. We need to be careful not to see each shiny New Thing as a replacement of existing things. Sometimes a New Thing is just that: a new thing. One which we can add to our toolkit. When you buy a hammer, you don't throw away your entire toolbox
  6. George Siemens is a genius. I had been looking forward to meeting George in the flesh ever since I heard he was coming to the conference. So how did I choose to ensure that our first meeting was the beginning of a lasting, meaningful friendship? The very first words out of my mouth were, "You're a lot smaller than you seem online." Way to go, Karyn! How to win friends and influence people
  7. L&D people need to come out of their ivory towers and engage with the business, aligning their provision with the business goals and taking an active role in steering the business forward
  8. Apparently - according to Jay Cross - I look like Sarah Palin :o( . He took this photo at dinner on Tuesday night to prove his point. You decide. He had threatened to say as much from the platform, but even though he didn't, before the conference was over, word had spread and I was being 'Palin-ed' left and right
  9. Some noted luminaries need to move away from the idea that learning = recall!
  10. Rapid no longer = quick and dirty. But rapid is not the only option!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

pic of the day - George Siemens

George delivered this morning's keynote at Learning Technologies. Forty minutes of densely packed, information rich, insightful (PowerPointless - woohoo!) talk.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

pic of the day - opening LT2009

Don Taylor, on his birthday, introducing the Learning Techologies 2009 conference this morning.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

pic of the day - hobnobbing with the elite

I took this picture at dinner this evening. Seated around the table were Jay Cross (Mr Informal learning), Tony Buzan (Mr Mindmaps), George Siemens (Mr Connectivism), Seb Schmoller (Mr ALT), Don Taylor (Mr Learning Technologies) and me. Here Tony and Jay are pretending to have a deep discussion and philosophical discussion about the menu!

Monday, January 26, 2009

pic of the day - charming!

At about lunch time today, I returned home to see a man pulling this truck up outside my house... in my husband's parking spot. He got out and disappeared. I expected him to reappear some time later and drive away. He has not yet done so and it's now 11:30pm. The vehicle is fully taxed, and since we have no official claim to the parking space, there are no grounds on which to report it to the police.

A neighbour tells me the man is a Gypsy (a term I gather is still allowed in the UK, as long as it is accurately used) and fairly well known in the area as a scrap dealer. What worries us is that the truck is loaded with washing machines, fridges and exercise equipment, none of which are secured in any way. A temptation for an opportunistic thief. And I don't want opportunistic thieves getting the idea that this area is a good place to ply their (ahem) trade! I'm also not keen that said opportunistic thief might drop a washing machine on my car seen to the left of the picture!

Monday laugh - anagrams

Because I'm a sad cryptic crossword geek, and because I'm a keen Scrabbler, I like anagrams. A friend (who obviously doesn't have enough to do) sent me these, many of which are new to me. Apologies for the caps - that's how they arrived:


How clever are dogs?

As is to be expected, we have been trying to teach our 'puppy' (does an 8 month old dog weighing in at 21kgs still qualify as such?) certain things.

  1. We have tried to teach her to come when she is called. She comes when I call her. She is erratic in response to the boys and she ignores my husband altogether.
  2. We have tried to teach her to sit when she is told. She does this when she feels like it. There are times when it is perfectly obvious she knows what you want of her, but she is opting to decline your kind invitation. I have always felt that deliberate disobedience takes more intelligence than unfailing compliance. I'm just not so sure I like it that much!
  3. We have tried to housetrain her. She has realised that it's good to pee and poo in the garden. She has yet to learn that it is NOT good to pee and poo on the lounge carpet. Fortunately, our visits to the back garden are frequent enough that she seldom has the need to demonstrate this ignorance.
  4. We have taught her to 'stay' when we put her into her 'bedroom' (the integral garage - don't worry - it's been made over into living space. Like most other people in the UK, the last thing we would think of doing with our garage is parking a car in it) or when we leave the house for a short time.
  5. We have tried to teach her only to take food when given permission. We're making huge progress here, but dogs are by nature foragers and scavengers so, unless she has been expressly told not to eat something that is conveniently placed within her reach (like on the very back of the kitchen counter, for example), she is likely to be found munching away on the chocolate muffin you were saving for later.
  6. We have taught her to give a paw when asked for one. Because this generates a reward, she now lifts her paw without being asked... just in case.
And it's this last point that I've been thinking about. Mark Berthelemy (sort of) addressed the issue of dog training in this post a while ago. What about the things they learn without being taught? How much intelligence are they demonstrating?

For example, I am trying to teach my dog to fetch a ball. We need to be sure of her response to recall before we can take her off the lead in parks. During my all too brief lunch break today, I threw a ball for her, using commands like 'fetch', 'bring', 'drop' and 'leave'. She has a short attention span and I could see that she was bored with this game really quickly. I threw the ball, and yelled "Fetch it!" She did. But when I called "Bring it, Jessie!" she failed to comply. Instead, she took the ball to a corner of the garden and put it behind a bush. She then arranged dead twigs and living branches so that the ball was hidden. When I went to retrieve it, she placed herself across my path so that I couldn't reach the ball. When I reached over her, she (gently) headbutted me out of the way and sat down. Quite clearly, she was saying "Leave it!" to me.

I never taught her that. She has never done anything like it before. The closest she has come was to bury a bone, but that's sheer instinct.

Is this informal, learner driven learning in action? One woof for yes, two for no.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

pic of the day - the power of Pratchett

On the whole I've never quite 'got' Terry Pratchett, but the Nome series and the Nac Mac Feegle books, I do get. They have me chortling away to myself.

As evidence of their appeal, this is my non-reader 15 year old, engrossed in Wee Free Men, which the inimitable, irrepressible Drew Buddie (aka digitalmaverick) has promised to read and release in podcast form. Drew will make the perfect Nac Mac Feegle. Crivens!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Blurb - for a beautiful gift

This evening I heard about Blurb from the seldom seen (blogwise, at any rate) Michael Sivers and his lovely wife. Said lovely wife used it to make her Mom's Christmas present. Uploading photos and text, she created a beautiful, hardcover coffee table book of her Mom's five grandchildren which moves the grateful recipient to tears every time she talks about it. And all this for the sum of £12 including P&P.

It's my Mom's 70th birthday at the end of this year. I think I've just figured out what to give her.

pic of the day - peeling paint

There are so many things I could have done for today's pic of the day... if only I had remembered to take my camera with me! Instead at 10:20pm, I had to plump for this picture of the top of our en suite bathroom wall. Recently painted, we have no idea how to stop this from happening... or to curb the prolific growth of black mould in the shower. I think a serious remodelling is in order. Yeah, right. Meantime on planet earth, a recession is in effect.

Friday, January 23, 2009

pic of the day - stamping and punching

That was the title of the evening's activities at our once a month ladies' get together. But it was all non-violent. The stamping and punching were of the crafting variety. These two cards were among the fruit of my labours. Ironically, the card labelled Evie is for a friend. Evie will be the fruit of her labours within the next few hours...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Running as assessment?

I used to run. A lot. I don't run anymore. I messed up my knee and the NHS says "We-ell, as we get older..." I don't have private medical. So I don't run anymore.

But I listen to runners talking. Twice a week, as I sit in the clubhouse while my son trains with the club. I hear them discussing this meet and that race.

And I think about running.

If you think about a race, it has a lot in common with summative assessments. You train for weeks on end, then you go and stand on the line with a bunch of other people. When that gun goes off, this is it. This is what all the training and preparation has been about. It doesn't matter how well you did in the training sessions. It matters only how quickly you cross that finish line.

You race against the other runners. You want to do better than them. You race against yourself. You want to do better than before. You're looking for that 'PB' that runners talk about. That personal best.

I'm okay that that's how it works in running.

I'm not okay that that model is applied in education. If I work my tail off all year. If I attend every lesson. If I complete all the set work. If I participate in class discussions and group work. And then I go to pieces in the sepulchral silence and the tension of the exam room, I am considered a loser?

Education is not a race. One brief moment should not outweigh the rest of the year.

In the exam room, I may not talk to other students. On the road, I can talk to other runners. In the exam room, I may not use my phone, or listen to my ipod to soothe my shattered nerves. On the road, I can do both of those things.

Er... no. Not any more.

It seems that in official road races nowadays (as opposed to fun runs) any competitor seen with an iPod is immediately disqualified. Two members of our club fell victim to this ruling at a recent event.

Perhaps they're afraid the person is listening to something which induces the same results as steroids. Perhaps having a rhythm playing in your ears gives you an unfair advantage (Was there ever a song like Faithless's "Mass Destruction" for giving a perfect running rhythm?)

I think we might have started to assess the wrong things out on the road just as much as we have been doing in the exam room.

The tide is moving in the wrong direction!

Unashamed to weep at the cheese!

There are times when songs that I think of as cheesy suddenly stop being cheesy and, instead, move me to tears. This song might be forced off YouTube soon, so catch it while you can. In the light of this week's landmark event in American (world?) history, it seems suddenly pertinent and hopeful and poignant and... not even slightly cheesy. Of course, you may disagree!

Whatever land we call home, and whatever characteristics of it we would sing about were we to have written this song, we really, really need to learn to share it!

pic of the day - my slipper

My genuine Oskava slipper is suffering from dog-pattern baldness!

Articulate community to the rescue

Tuesday was a horrible day for me. I was trying to transfer an Articulate project from my deskptop computer to my laptop. Those who have worked with Articulate will know what a pain that can be. Fortunately, the good people in Articulate Towers must have heard the distressed cries of their user base and decided to do something about it. In response to my frantic cry for help on the user forum, someone called beeneeb sent me a link to this information:

If you want to back up all of your Presenter ’09 project files for safe keeping or send them to your collaborators working on the same project - or just send your project to another computer, Presenter ’09 provides a simple and effective tool to package all the necessary files into one zip file. This Send to Articulate Presenter Package feature creates a package of the contents of Presenter ’09, along with any embedded Engage, Quizmaker and other inserted media files (such as Flash movies) so they can be edited on another computer.

  1. In PowerPoint 2007, click on the Microsoft Office button. Select Send -> Articulate Package.
    In PowerPoint 2000, 2002, 2003, go to File -> Send to -> Select Articulate Presenter Package.
  2. The Articulate Presenter Package dialog box opens.
  3. Select the location where you want the package to be created. You can also specify optional Package Notes, including the project name, the version number, the author of the project with email and other special instructions.
  4. Click on Create Package.
  5. A dialog box tells you if the package was successfully created, giving you the option to view the folder with the package files.
Hallelujah for user community forums. Hallelujah for beeneeb! Hallelujah for Presenter 09! (I have to say that I am thus far very much more impressed with it than I was with earlier versions - it provides far more flexibility to the author)

An email from a customer support engineer gave me this advice:
If you want to move your project files from one computer to another, be sure that you move not only the PowerPoint file but also the Articulate project files. If the project was created in Presenter '09, all project files will be stored in a .PPTA file with the same name as the PowerPoint file (and located in the same folder as the PowerPoint file). If it was created in Presenter 5, all project files will be stored in folder with the same name as the PowerPoint file (and located in the same folder as the PowerPoint file). You will also want to move any quiz and interaction files that you may have created for the presentation as well.
No disrespect to him, but I found the first option easier to understand, so I'm going to give that a go.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

C'mon Eyeore - give it a rest!

I mentioned recently my predeliction for talking to complete strangers. This evening, as my train was about to pull into the station, a man waiting beside me in the vestibule was yawning widely and frequently. In my typical way, I said, "Like that, is it?" He told me he can't sleep at the moment for worrying that someone is going to assassinate President Obama. I guess I would have been more surprised if he were not the third person today to mention that possibility in my hearing. One person said, "I give him a week before someone offs him."

Is pessimism so inculcated into the British culture that we can't conceive of anything positive happening without being convinced that someone is just waiting to take it away?

I have previously mentioned that I have concerns at the weight of expectation on this young man's shoulders, but I hope that is seen as tempering optimism with a measure of realistic caution. To be so worried as to be losing sleep over the possible assassination of the President of a country in which you don't even live is surely going a bit far?

pic of the day - St Pancras station

Up intol March last year, when we travelled in to London by train, we ended up at Euston station. What an ugly building! Since we moved house, our journey to London now ends up here: King's Cross St Pancras. Is it not an uplifting sight? How unstationlike could a station be? The train you see to the left of the picture is bound for France via the channel tunnel.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

pic of the day - computer hell

Today is a horrible day! I'm trying to migrate all my work to my laptop from the family computer, and it is not going well. "Why?" I hear you ask. Well I don't really, but I'm going to tell you anyway. One word. Articulate. Articulate projects are a pig to try to migrate to a different computer midway. I have tried to get some help and none of the responses have been on target. Oh, for a techie to come and look over my shoulder and say, "Ah yes. I see what the problem is." And then FIX it.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Laugh with me: Calvin & Hobbes

How familiar is this scene?

pic of the day - the current soundtrack

Our sons have recently purchased a copy of Fable II for the Xbox360. It seems to be an all consuming game, because they spend every spare moment on it. So, its sound effects form the background music to much that goes on in the Romeis household at present.

Of course, to my jaundiced eye, it looks exactly the same as any other 'shoot-em-up' game, but I guess they feel that way about a lot of the things I watch on telly.

Early reflections on going solo

I thought I should capture my thoughts on life as a solo act, so that I can look back in a few years and see if my views have changed.

Let's start with the minuses, so that I can end on an up:

  1. Sometimes I am so busy working in the business, I don't get any time to work on the business. For example, I put together a website, which has been met with a round of indifference. I lack the skills to make it more interesting, I lack the time to acquire the skills and I lack the money to pay someone else to do it for me. I put in a few proposals and the feedback indicates this is another area I need to work on. Once again - no time, no skills, no money.
  2. I have absolutely no understanding of PAYE and VAT and accounts and all that blarge. I am not in the slightest bit interested in it, either. So I appointed an accountant and hoped it would all just go away. It didn't. The accountant emails me and asks for this form and that reference number. I don't even understand what she wants, let alone know where to find it.
  3. I am a gregarious person. I love to interact with people, much to the disgust of an erstwhile colleague who preferred the sepulchral silence of a morgue. I find being on my own day in and day out quite desolate.
  4. Other people (including my children, sometimes) don't respect the fact that I have work to do and deadlines to meet. They expect me to be able to do this or that thing at the drop of a hat.
  5. I have never been very good at compartmentalising my life. Now that my office is at home, I often forget to leave and can easily spend 16 hours in front of my computer.
  6. Cashflow. This is the Achilles' heel of so many small businesses. Clients don't pay until they feel like it, and, because they're big corporates, you're somewhat powerless. Do I want to sic a lawyer on them? If I do, they'll probably just opt not to use me in the future, and I can ill afford to be offending clients at this point! But it's not always about the big boys doing what they please. I have one situation where I needed a certain application to be able to complete a job for a client, but it was expensive and I couldn't afford it until the client had paid me. But why should the client pay me for work I hadn't done? In the end, the client bought the software for me and will deduct the amount from my first invoice.
Okay, that's enough negativity for now:
  1. I get to work when it suits me. I have settled into a pattern of doing the school run most days. I don't have to be in the office by 8:30am, and no-one comes to boot me out so he can lock up at 8pm.
  2. I get to dress as I please. If the boys are on holiday and I don't have to take them to the station, I can (and do, sometimes) work in my PJs. I would never dream of going into the office without my 'face' on (although few women in the UK bother with make up). I now very rarely get painted.
  3. Because I am at home most of the time, we were able to get a dog, which our boys had wanted since forever. I also take said dog for her morning walk, which blows away the cobwebs and gives me time away from the computer. Because she is still a pup, I have an enforced 2-hourly break as I take her out into the garden and tell her (as suggested by the shelter) to 'hurry up'. She usually obliges, for which she is rewarded with a treat.
  4. I get so much more done in a day than I used to in a shared space, because I don't get interrupted by issues that take me off-topic.
  5. I can check up on Facebook as I work. Most social spaces were blocked at my last place of work.
  6. I can choose to work on things that matter to me, rather than the things that get handed down from on high. My business isn't run by the beancounters (mind you - see #2 in the previous list).
  7. I get involved with the project from the beginning, instead of having some badly conceived specification document thrown over the fence by a sales-focused person who doesn't understand learning or learners and cares only about the bottom line.
So this is where I am now. I wonder if this will change over time and, if so, where - and how extreme - the changes will be.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

pic of the day - what's in a name?

This is my name in Korean... I think. There are two Korean language students at a local facility who come and clean my house each week. They wrote their own names and mine on the whiteboard in my kitchen. I copied it, and this is the result. They graciously told me that it looked like the work of a native, but I suspect they were being, well... gracious.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On being taken by surprise

My younger son (aged 15) and I took out dog for a walk this morning. Inevitably, my son was plugged in to his iPod. As we walked through a large, open green area, he turned to me and said, "Somehow my my music is exactly right for this place." I asked him what he was listening to. I was slightly surprised by his answer: Chopin's Piano Concerto No.1 Romance: Larghetto. I say 'slightly' because I know he enjoys classical music. I just didn't know he enjoyed it enough to have loaded it onto his iPod.

I can pretty much guarantee that anyone seeing a 15 year old teenage boy wearing low slung jeans and walking his dog, the last thing they would expect to be playing on his ipod is classical music. We all 'know' what kind of music teenage boys listen to, and that isn't it, is it?

How often are we guilty of 'knowing' what our learners will do or like or understand?

A few moments later, he appeared to have a spasm. The concerto had ended and the shuffle had moved onto another track. Because the concerto was fairly quiet, he had turned the volume up, so the punk track that followed it nearly blew his brains out. It was very funny to watch. Fortunately, he saw the funny side, too.

And I realised afresh how many facets and how much depth make up this boy that calls me Mom. Moving from Chopin to punk (albeit not very seamlessly).

Moments later, he noticed that I was suffering with earache from the wind, and offered me his ipod to protect my ears. He set it to play something he thought I would enjoy, and I almost danced the rest of the way home as Grieg worked his magic. The final stretch was taken to the accompaniment of the incomparable Dance of Valkyrie.

Contented sigh.

pic of the day - optimism

It's still officially winter, but the daffs in my neighbour's front garden are preparing for spring. I love this sight. As a hot weather person, somewhat prone to SAD during the 'mole-months' (go to work in the dark, come home in the dark - never see daylight), There is just something enormously uplifting about this silent assurance that the spring is on its way.

Friday, January 16, 2009

pic of the day - my son's back

My younger son's girlfriend is spending the evening with us. She borrowed my eyeliner decorated my son's back.

Oh, and the red marks aren't spots - they're creases from the couch.

Talking to people

Wendy Wickham has returned from her holiday to the Dominican Republic, and her reflective post includes an inventory of what she used to consider must have items to take on holiday. One item on her list jumped out at me:

A willingness to ask questions and talk to people.

You see, one of the reasons English people find me weird is that I do this. All the time. Without the slightest provocation.

I compliment people on their clothes, their children. I compliment children on their manners, their beautiful eyes. I tell the person next to me at the supermarket freezer that the pizzas have gone up since last week. I say "bless you" when I complete stranger sneezes within my hearing. I say "Can I give you a hand with that?" when I see people struggling with something. I knock on complete strangers' doors and ask them where they got their beautiful dog/water feature/aspidistra.

And you would be amazed at how ready people are to talk right back! These reserved English people seem to be just dying for the chance to tell anyone who will listen about how they handmade their jumper/necklace. They are delighted that someone is inviting them to brag about their kids. They are thrilled to be able to tell someone that the same pizzas are "half this price at X place - you should check it out."

I meet the most amazing people and I learn the most incredible stuff. I learn that some people think celery tastes good with peanut butter. I go home, try it and disagree.

I learn that you can make a 'cocktail' by melting jelly babies in vodka. I decide not to try that one.

I learn that there are free crafting classes at a local stationery warehouse. I learn that my new dog is probably not a German Shepherd cross but may well be an Atika... maybe even uncrossed. I look it up on Google images and agree that the chances are better than average that she is at the very least an Atika cross. I ask the lady from the shelter who comes to do the placement follow up visit. She says she has thought from the start that Jessie is an Akita.

I learn that someone with epilepsy experienced a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of his seizures when he stopped eating meat.

Just last week, a conversation over the frozen pizzas revealed that the woman I was speaking to lived for 5 years in the city in which I was born. She even lived in a street in which I lived - although not at the same time. Considering that the city in which I was born is in a different country, on a different continent, some 12000kms hence! We spent a good few minutes reminiscing together, before parting ways, each with a warm fuzzy feeling.

I like talking to people. It startles them at first, but they usually get over it really quickly.

We are social creatures. We're supposed to talk. And you learn so much that way!

Pocket projector - I want one!

I heard about this last night. It seems ironic that I should have been told about this on the same day in which I posted about a calculator weighing in at 5.6kgs.

The Optoma Pico"Palm-Sized" Portable Projector costs around £245. It weighs 115g. It enables users to share images and videos from an ipod, mobile phone, camera, PSP or whatever. They project an image of between 6" and 60"(although some users have recommended around 30" as being optimal). Apparently, it generates clear, vivid, high contrast (but not HD) images, has a long (rechargeable) battery life, and boasts about 20K hours of lamp life (which is pretty darn good compared with some of the larger projectors!)

User-reviewers are rating it very high in terms of ease of use and value for money.

Right. That's been added to my wishlist!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who runs the show?

Grandad, the irascible, award-winning, Irish blogger expresses frustrations many of us feel as the things we consider important get sidelined for the things that bring in the most money. There have certainly been times when I have almost felt as if I have been called upon to forsake my ideals and prostitute my craft.

Severe language warning (Sorry, Grandad, I know you don't like that caveat, but it's the sort of netiquette that's expected among the bloggers in this little patch of the blogosphere).

On shouting at the telly

Please, please tell me I'm not the only one who does this! Oh, I know other people yell at the telly during sportscasts. I know that some people yell at the TV when some or other fulminating politician fills the airwaves with rhetoric. I have been known to startle a passer-by by yelling at the interviewer on a radio station "Africa is not a country, you maroon!" (and, no, that's not a typo - that's my epithet of choice - long story)

But does anyone else yell during the adverts?

There is one advert at the moment that drives me spare. It's for some or other kind of baby milk formula. It starts out by telling us that breast milk is best for our babies. Duh! Then it trots out this peach "But if you decide to move on from breastfeeding..."

If? IF?

There are people who don't decide to move on from breastfeeding? The mind boggles! I once saw a comedy sketch based on this very premise. I didn't find it even slightly funny.

This is the problem with being a pedant... you can't let a thing just go.

I notice things like this. I notice signs with incorrectly positioned apostrophes. I notice songs in which hyperbole is pronounced as hyper-bowl. I cringe at 'nucular'. I mutter over 'your joking' and 'their aren't any left'.

Then I read back over a few of my older posts, and I see that I do it myself from time to time.

I wonder how many pedants are working through learning resources I've developed and tutting about the 'maroon' who wrote it...


pic of the day - technology of yesteryear

This is a Triumphator calculating machine. It belonged to my late father-in-law, who was born in 1916. Where he got it from, I couldn't say, but he may well have been its first owner - they date back to around 1910, I'm told. This one has a sticker on the bottom with the name of a supplier in Stockholm, which was where my father-in-law lived. It has a serial number on it. Why do I find that quaint?

It really works. It adds, subtracts, multiplies and divides. Our first landlord after we were married demonstrated it to me, but I can't remember the instructions - it WAS 20 years ago, after all!

It weighs a mere 5.6kg, according to my bathroom scale (mind you, my bathroom scale adds on 10kgs at least ;o) so it probably actually weighs about minus 4.4kgs), so there is no way you could call this a pocket calculator!

It may well be worth a fair amount of money, but there is no way my husband, an IT (and logistics) manager, is going to part with it! It's an early computer, after all!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

pic of the day - mist

I live in a rather unprepossessing town in the east midlands of England, but when it's misty as it was even at noon, when this picture was taken, even it manages to look 'picture-skew'.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

pic of the day - down memory lane

Tonight I took my son to the first athletics (Americans: read 'track') training session of the year. Sad old bat that I am, I had looked forward all day to taking this shot. This is the final straight, or the view from the start of the 100m, if you prefer. Most importantly, it is the view of my favourite two lanes. If you got to run in the centre two lanes, you knew you were considered a force to be reckoned with. I hated the very inside and very outside lanes with equal passion, but for different reasons I won't bore you with.

Although it is 30 years this year since I stood in this position in anger, I was amazed at how my heart rate accelerate and how much I just wanted to RUN!

Looking ahead to 2020

Geetha Krishnan at Simply Speaking has posed a question regarding the learning formats we expect to see in 2020. Geetha is based in Mumbai where he heads up the consulting division at Tata Interactive Systems.

I started to frame my thoughts as a reply to an email from him, then, being concerned that I might be way off base and an email would give no-one the opportunity to express disagreement, I moved to the idea of a comment on Geetha,'s blog. That grew too long, so here it is!

I'm a bit cautious about making predictions, because the rate at which new technologies appear means that, in twenty years time, we will probably be using technologies that have not yet been developed. Perhaps they have not yet even been thought of!

However, I would hope that, whatever technological platform is used to deliver it, learning will have become more learner driven. I anticipate more just-in-time, interactive tools by means of which a user can locate the instruction they need at any given moment. I would expect such tools to serve the purpose of connecting people-to-people, not just people-to-technology.

I would desperately hope that learning solutions will be seamlessly blended to the point that people have stopped referring to them as such.

I would expect to see a lot more user generated content, too - multimedia nuggets designed to serve as minitutorials. I would expect learning professionals to have had to learn how to collate these resources and incorporate them into any end-to-end solutions that are called for. This is very likely to include resources developed by people outside of the organisation. Like Cammy Bean (see her comment on Geetha's post), I suspect individuals will seek support from others within their community of practice, regardless of where they are based. This is particularly likely if search engines continue to be improved to the point where they are able to make sense of searches, and return appropriate results, rather than simply returning results in which the listed keywords happen to be included.

When it comes to systems support, I suspect that we are likely to see context sensitive user support in the form of user generated content superimposed over the top of the application interface, so that it appears to be a part of the system itself.


I have expressed concern that we seem increasingly focused on what we want people to do to the extent that we are completely omitting the 'why this is appropriate'. All around me, in a number of sectors, I see job roles (including that of teachers) being gradually but inexorably reduced to processes or sequences of actions: do this, then that, then that.

The problem with this approach is that it equips no-one at the ground level to identify when a procedure is no longer appropriate. There is the possibility that this will result in a reversion to the hierarchical, top-down management structures of yesteryear, where the boss knows best, because only he/she understands the drivers.

The backlash of this might mean that all my 'predictions' above are totally bogus and that we will instead see a return to the traditional training model that went with the traditional management model.

I hope not. I hate the idea of training as something that it is done to people! I am all about empowerment, and personal and professional development are a better fit for an empowered workforce than top-down training.

I would like to see both performance management and learning become more seamlessly embedded into the day job, with an increase in coaching and mentoring provision. I suspect this will only happen if the yardsticks by which an individual's performance is measured include an appraisal of their contribution to the wider community and the development and support of their colleagues.

But I'm guessing!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cause and effect in reverse

I guess this kind of follows on from this post.

So I've taught my dog to sit and give me her paw, in exchange for a treat. Now, whenever I have any food in my hand, she sits herself down smack dab in front of me, and raises her paw.

I was wondering if all the tick box training that seems to be rife at the moment isn't generating the same sort of thing. We 'reward' a certain behaviour, so staff members mindlessly repeat that behaviour regardless of whether it's called for or not.

Something to think about

Pic of the day - a windy walk

Today I took my dog for a walk near the picturesque village of Clopton. As you can see from the background of the picture, it's about as flat as a flattened out flat thing in those parts. There is absolutely no shelter from the wind, which was both howling and cold. Note the grasses in the foreground, lying almost flat under the power of it.

I came home and gave the (muddy) dog a warm bath and now she is curled up on her bed (which I have moved into the office for now) covered by a blanket. All tuckered out.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Pic of the day - breaking of bread

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pic of the day - juvenile blackbird

I would have thought it was the wrong time of year, but this bird certainly seemed to be a juvenile. I spotted it as I walked my dog this morning.

It made no effort to fly away as I struggled (one-handed) to get my camera out of its case and take this picture. I was no more than two feet from it all the while.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Pic of the day - my dog read my Bible!

She found it on the couch and read all the way through to Deuteronomy.

Of course, I see the funny side of this, but I have had this Bible for 20 years. My husband bought it for me as an early birthday present in 1988, when we had been married 6 months. I had had a terrible day and arrived at his office in tears. He took me to a nearby Christian bookshop and bought this for me. We were broke at the time, since I was a 'resting' (read unemployed) actress and he was earning a pittance. It was an expensive gift, a huge sacrifice on his part. And he inscribed the flyleaf in his programmer's scrawl:It has been everywhere with me, and survived the car accident that I believed in that moment was going to me my final curtain. Some days I have opened it at a certain page to find a sprinkling of sea sand, or a tiny piece of leaf.

You might think that its greatest value to me would be because it contains what I believe to be the Word of God. This is not so. I can buy another Bible. I can read the Bible on my phone, on my computer screen. There is no shortage of that. What makes it such a sore loss is (a) the circumstances under which it was given to me and (b) the personalisation of it over the space of two decades - I have annotated it heavily during sermons and private meditations (how very 2.0!).


I think Jessie understood that I was upset. She crawled on her belly to me and laid her paw across my arm. Apology accepted, girl - you weren't to know - but it doesn't make the loss hurt any the less for it.

Learning how not to learn

I was deeply saddened to learn last night what actually happens during the sessions called 'learning to learn' which form part of my younger son's curriculum at secondary school.

I was so pleased to discover that teaching was offered on this subject, since I firmly believe it is about the most valuable thing he will ever learn at school.

Sadly, although the root word 'learn' features twice in the title, it seems that this is false advertising. Apparently the first session was quite promising and the kids were really looking forward to what would follow. But subsequently, the children have been subjected to lessons on citizenship, covering issues like social responsibility and obeying the law. The teacher who runs these classes is apparently no more interested in them than the kids, and simply reads all the material from a workbook (reminds me of my grade 8 history teacher who read the text book to us).

Of course, I am keen that my son should learn how to contribute to society, but even there it seems that they are being misinformed. The way the material is pitched, the impression is given that 'society' refers to the infrastructures of authority, rather than the general populace. Of course, this might simply be my son's misconception, rather than something inherent in the material.

But I am seriously miffed that they aren't covering learning skills, critical thinking, etc. as promised, and I plan to take it up with the school. Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

My current favourite thing

This doubles as today's pic of the day.
I'm a sucker for clever below-the-line marketing. I discovered these chocolates about a month before Christmas. Inside the packaging is fairly box-standard chocolate - plain and milk - but, oh, the packaging! Each slab has a cardboard 'wrapper' and most of them are made to look like medication. As for the blurb on them...!

According to the text on the box, Bochox is a 'confectioner only remedy' which you should 'keep out of the reach of chocoholics' (too late!).

It is 'for the relief of wrinkles and crow's feet'. You are directed to 'simply break off the desired dosage and consume. You should quickly be overcome by stress-relieving endorphins and no longer concerned in the slightest about your wrinkles.'

But far and away the best bit is in block capitals:

The other chocolate is called girthConrol, which allegedly 'helps you avoid thinking about 'it' for up to 15 minutes!'

There is also a slab featuring a teddy bear on the wrapper, which declares that 'chocolate makes everything bearable'. According to the manufacturers' website, there are several I haven't seen at my local supermarket (not really surprising since Bloomsberry & Co appears not to have a UK base). But of those I have seen, one of my favourites is part of their mother's day range. It's called the marital bliss bar, with a line down the (ahem) centre, with each side labelled 'his half' and 'her half' respectively. 'Her half' is about twice the size of his. Sadly, that one is a dark chocolate and neither my husband nor I are fans - otherwise Santa would most assuredly have delivered one to him!

The website itself is quite fun - although, once you get to the actual text, it's a bit of a letdown.

So, there you have it - an inexpensive gift idea with laughter included in the price.

Articulate '09

If you're not familiar with Articulate, this post will mean little to you. If you haven't yet encountered it, Articulate is a suite of apps that can be used to transform a PowerPoint presentation into an elearning module, complete with interactions and quizzes. It allows non-techies to develop learning resources. It is a very useful tool, although (as I have said before) some organisations are wielding it like the all-purpose hammer that makes every identified learning need suddenly look remarkably like a nail!

One of the greatest frustrations for me when using Articulate in the past was that, unless you had access to the SDK (and the skills to use it!) your Engage interactions stood out like a sore thumb against your Presenter screens. This was because, while the user could format the PowerPoint slides as they wished, the interactions were autoformatted. There were three options:

  1. Create the entire module as a series of Engage screens, with no flat PowerPoint screens in between
  2. Try to fudge your PowerPoint slides to look roughly like the interactions (rather limiting and only partially successful)
  3. Shell out £1200 to a company with the SDK for a customised template
However, this issue has been rather well addressed in the '09 release, in which you now have far greater control over the look and feel of the interaction screens.

I am busy with my first project using '09 and am very pleased with the seamlessness of the transition from slide to interaction and back again.

A definite thumbs up on that point.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Responsibility and abdication

I did warn you!

Today, we were out with our dog, when we were passed by a group of youths of the cultural subset generally known as 'chavs'.

One of them asked another in a loud manner that was clearly for our ears, "Who would be scared of a dog wearing a pink thing?" (Our dog has a pink harness - our younger son was adamant that she needed something that made her feel feminine).

As my sons declared at the time, she's not meant to be scary, she's meant to be lovable.

Our recent search for a dog took us to many shelters in our area, and all of them are full to the gunwales with Staffordshire terriers and German shepherds - particularly the former - none of them shining examples of their breed. I was saddened by this, since my parents bred Staffies - together while they were married and separately after they split up - and I have a soft spot for the breed. I asked at several places why there was such a surfeit of unwanted Staffies and got a range of replies, all of which amounted to much the same thing:

It seems that a certain sector of society (these selfsame 'chavs' I regret to say) sees Staffs as fashion accessories. They're seen as fighting dogs and the next best thing to the (illegal) pitbull terrier, purchased by those who believe that they lend their owners a level of intimidating presence. They are kitted out with the sort of gear that is intended to make them look 'well 'ard' and strutted down the streets. The problem is that they require feeding, grooming and medical care... and they restrict one's freedom. When the horrible truth of this sinks in, they are dumped.

Shelters try to ensure that people who adopt their rescued animals understand what they're taking on, but indiscriminate breeding offers a way around these restrictions. In fact, it seems many of the bitches we saw had been used as puppy factories, only to be dumped when they became too old, or when the owner realised that this particular get-rich-quick scheme was full of holes.

Sadly, there are just as many young girls who see babies as a fashion accessory and set out to have one just as soon as possible. Then they learn the hard way that babies are enormously hard work, that they become fractious toddlers, stroppy youngsters and truculent teens, that they completely scupper your social life, and they cost a fortune. A friend of mine once said people should be discouraged from using the expression 'having a baby' and encouraged to replace it with 'having a person'.

The lessons in responsibility learned in this way, are sadly at the cost of the animals and the children.

Perhaps there is space in the curriculum for some learning about cause and effect. About short term action and long term consequence. Although sadly, it seems society is increasingly geared towards absolution (and, besides, it really ought to be a parental responsibility). With so many ways out of trouble when you make a wrong choice, where is the motivation to learn to make wiser choices?

Pic of the day

My wellies. What's not to love?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Our lives are about to change

Yesterday, we took delivery of the newest member of our family. Now we're caught in the midst of a new kind of learning. She has to learn that the house isn't her toilet, that shoes are not meant to be eaten. She has to learn to obey our commands. We have to learn how to teach her these things, and how to allow her to socialise with children and other animals. The cats have to learn not to fear her (she is entirely uninterested in them). So there is a lot of learning all 'round.

You have put up with endless analogies borne out of my experiences with my sons, and a few related to my cats. No doubt, there will be some that come out of my learning journey with Jessie.

Your must-read post for today

Vicki Davis has shared a heartfelt post today about the cellist of Sarajevo. Very few of us will ever face circumstances anywhere near as tough as those related in the story, although sometimes even the stresses of daily life may make us feel we're going under! And all of us have the opportunity to bring a little hope.

Monday, January 05, 2009

This is what passes for snow around here!

Since several people of my online acquaintance have been sharing their snow pictures, I thought I'd chip in with one of my own. This was taken this morning. Even this can-you-spare-it sprinkling is unusual enough that I mentioned to my sons that it had (ahem) snowed in the night.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Give it a little thought!

Over the past few weeks, an injury to my shoulder has meant that I have had to ask for help a lot more than usual, partly because there are loads of things I simply can't do at the moment, and partly because the things I can do take me so long. One evening I asked my elder son to whip some cream for me.

"Sure. Where is it?" he asked

I raised my eyebrows at him. "Take a wild guess."

He had the decency to look sheepish and went to get the cream from the fridge.

"What do I whip it with?" asks the child who has not only watched me use an electric beater, but has used one himself on many occasions - he is the Omelette King in our household.

"Where's the beater?" he asked. By now I was irritated. Whenever he has used it in the past, he has had to take it out of the very cupboard in which it still resides.

"Do you have to be so helpless?" I asked, "Why can't you just think things out for yourself instead of always asking someone else to tell you what to do?"

Then I wondered if this wasn't also a part of the tickbox mentality I was referring to in this post.

I encountered a similar situation with my younger son this evening as he was trying to work out the area of a right angled triangle surrounded by other right angled triangles. I discovered that he didn't know/remember Pythagoras's theorem, so we covered that in order for him to calculate the lengths of the triangles' sides. Then he was puzzled. "Okay: area of a triangle is half base times height. How do I figure out what half of that height is?" (The triangle was 'standing' on its hypoteneuse). I asked why he didn't simply nominate one of the right-angle sides as the base, and the other as the height. "But that's not the side at the bottom!" he protested. We talked about whether the area of the triangle would change if he rotated it. He was delighted and I saw the little light come on. "Wow! This makes it so much easier! Can I do this with any triangle?"

So is their lack of creative thinking my fault for not demanding more of it from them? Is it the teachers' fault for not encouraging it? Is it the system's fault for not allowing the space for it?

One thing I know for certain. I am going to be less quick with the answers in 2009, and more quick to answer questions with questions.

Sheesh! These kids have got to try to do a little thinking now and then.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

This is not a school, it's a place of learning!

I can't remember who 'tweeted' (shared via Twitter) the link to this story, but is it not sad that the word 'school' now implies so much that is negative that even schools are opting not to be known by that name?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Inefficiency can hurt

Update (04/01/09)- since this post was first written, a convoluted sequence of all manner of unlikely circumstances has meant that Jessie is now ours and we get to fetch her tomorrow!

All their lives my sons have begged to be allowed to have a dog. Since dogs require company or they can become delinquent, my rule has always been that there needed to be someone at home pretty much full time before this could happen.

So, now that I am self-employed and working from home, they have been politely 'ahem-ing'. A recent attempted break-in sealed the issue. Time to get the promised dog.

I won't bore you with all the details and disappointments, but an incident today is going to take some getting over.

We had been advised on the phone that a suitable dog had come in and we should come and see her. With a very painful shoulder, I drove the 40mins, only to watch the family ahead of us in the queue choose her.

We walked around the centre and interacted with a few of the dogs, and met and fell in love with Jessie. She's a complete mongrel with the sweetest nature imaginable.

We waited in the queue at the shelter to place a reserve on her. The woman who attended to us had no idea what she was doing and had to keep getting up to ask someone in an office behind her how to proceed. As a consequence, the family behind us in the queue (dealt with by a more efficient assistant) placed a reserve on her before our lady got as far as trying to locate her card.

When your children are little, you can offer them refuge in your lap to rail out their frustration and disappointment. When they are 15 and 17, and their disappointment and frustration results in rude-but-entirely-accurate postulations, it's a little less easy to handle.

I'm sure there have been more serious consequences of inefficiency, but this one is very immediate for our family right now. Service staff need to know what they're doing before they're inflicted on the public.

Predicting 2009?

Around this time of year, many bloggers post their predictions for what the year ahead will hold. Without meaning to sound too cynical, I predict that most predictions will prove to be wide of the mark. We live in a world in which the pace is now so fast that things change far too quickly to accommodate accurate predictions.

Let's look at it this way: did your government see this recession coming? If so, why didn't they take evasive action? If not, well, what chance have we got of making an accurate prediction?

I suspect that we haven't seen the bottom of the economic trough, yet. A schoolfriend of mine IM-ed me on New Year's eve to say that '09 couldn't be as bad as '08. I responded as follows:

Sorry to say but it can and it will.
But that depends on what one means by 'as bad'. One thing I have noticed about affluent societies is a tendency to insularity. People don't know their neighbours and everyone pursues their lives in isolation. Everyone tends their own patch, and minds their own business to the extent that those of us from different cultures find unspeakably lonely.

It is in those cultures where everyone has very little that we see a greater tendency for people to bear one another's burdens, to pitch in uninvited and help one another out. From where I sit, an economic squeeze that improves our sense of community is no bad thing. After all, stuff is just stuff.

I often wonder if the open-handedness of the online community is not a backlash of this insularity as people seek to connect with one another in a way increasingly unavailable in the physical realm.

So my 'prediction' is that I have no idea what's coming. I just believe that we're in for a tough year, and as the roller coaster ride begins, let me say with all sincerity that, if I can help you in any way, give me a yell. I never feel more fulfilled than when I am providing a service to people - it's the cloth I'm cut from. Roll your eyes if you must, but it is what it is.