Category Archives: books

You are #neverweird – thanks for a wonderful listen @feliciaday

imageHaving finished reading/listening to a new memoir by Felicia Day – You are never weird on the Internet (almost) – I wanted to note my thanks. So here goes:

I’ve never met you, Felicia Day, but I am grateful to you for adding your voice to the story of the Internet, of gaming, of women working in tech-focused industries and for sharing your story of incredible achievement against many odds.
It’s inspiring to read how hard making things happen can be and how the generosity and engagement of your community has made things possible. It’s important I think to tell stories about living, working and playing with technology both good and bad.

If you haven’t read it, you might enjoy it. I certainly did. The only draw back is that it will probably be a decade or two until the sequel is published…

Fictional learning places #blimage

#blimageIt’s been inspiring to follow people’s thoughts #blimage and with some encouragement for which I am grateful, I’m using this opportunity to make a contribution of my own. If you’re new to what’s happening #blimage I’ve included more info at the end of this post.

I’ve not chosen an image for my inspiration, I have ended up choosing stories instead. I hope that still counts and for me the pictures stories conjured up in my mind have been a powerful force for shaping my perspective on education. So here I am sharing some of my favourite fictional places/stories about places of learning:

First up, the Unseen University from the Discworld universe Terry Pratchett created. Over time, this university has been a fertile battleground for tradition and innovation, from the admission of women wizards to participating in community activities and its uneasy relationship with its home city and the world at large – the Unseen University for me is one of the richest reflections of Higher Education.

More traditional and still more peculiarly British is the Oxbridge of for example Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited, where sun-dappled quads are over-looked by student lodgings – or the stories of university life chronicled by Stephen Fry echoing Oscar Wilde. Or the starting point for the adventures of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. The setting of so many myths and stories of learning and living in an era which still comes to life at times in the Oxford I work in today when the streets fill with undergraduates in black gowns. Growing up and later when I was at university myself, the image of yellow stone and ancient libraries, of tutorials and essay writing, has always coloured my image of what a university can be.

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book meanwhile creates a tutorial system staffed largely by the undead for a human boy living in a cemetery. In this story he learns about the world, history, maths and how to survive his adventures guided by a vampire.

My most recent favourite discovery however is The University as imagined by Patrick Rothfuss in his ongoing series starting with the Name of the Wind. Not only does it contain the wonderfully expansive Archives (complete with a story arc about the competing classification systems used to catalogue its various collections) but it becomes one of the main sites for the adventures of the main protagonist, its rooftops, surrounds and not least its population of students and staff. It’s interesting that in order to learn what he must know, the main character ends up travelling in the world – seeking what he can’t find in books or lectures.

There are so many more stories that I haven’t mentioned that I think this thread may continue – but if nothing else I must carefully plan my own reading for the weekend. Suggestions for further reading always welcome 🙂

#blimage from the blog of David Hopkins:

“…if this is the first time you’ve come across #blimage, here’s a brief summary of what it is. In short, Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth), in conversations Amy Burvall (@amyburvall) and Simon Ensor (@sensor63), started the #blimage challenge, which is:

“a confection of Blog-Image. (Yes, we are now in the age of blim!) You send an image or photograph to a colleague with the challenge that they have to write a learning related blog post based on it. Just make sure the images aren’t too rude. The permutations are blimmin’ endless.”

– See more at:

Some thoughts on data and a world made from LEGO

In Douglas Coupland’s book Microserfs there is a page with large print. The page looks at you and proclaims: Hello, I am your personal computer. When I read this in 1995, I didn’t feel that the generic welcome message my computer displayed or any other communication I received from it was personal. I didn’t use technology in a way that made me question whether it had a consciousness, either its own or one derived from what I was inputting. But today, the technology I use is largely designed to be personal both in the way it is constructed and the way in which it presents data to me. Unlike the personal computer in the story, which turns into a receptacle for the protagonists hopes and dreams in the form of diary entries, our digital devices, like those of billions of people across the world, are very personal to us indeed. Not just in the way we use them, but the way in which they facilitate a staggering amount of small packages of data about us and our activities to be generated.
Research shows the increase in the amount of data we generate as a species and the conclusion we come to is that is it a lot. The company that made it its mission “to organise the world’s information and to make it universally accessible and useful” is Google. To my mind, Google are the equivalent of a very ingenious individual sorting through an expanding box of all possible LEGO bricks and creating order in the multi-coloured chaos which allows us to build everything imaginable, with the added benefit that the box will never empty, as we are all just using copies of the data bricks and thus never run out.
Billions of people benefit from this endeavour to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible. Although a lot could be said here about the commercialisation of this project, what I am interested in is the final word in the mission statement: useful. Usefulness is both obvious and complex. You cold argue that by making the information accessible, it becomes useful. The more data is available to people, the more they can use it for a plethora of purposes. More people having access to more data must cause some useful application of the data and thus, usefulness exists.
In another way, more people using more data also generates more data in turn. We know of many ways in which our interactions with the world are recorded and this data in turn can be used by people and they can put it to use. Some of that data is universally accessible, some of it is not. Some of the data we are explicitly aware of, some of it we may not be able to imagine yet.
When I played with LEGO as a child, the best afternoons were spent making structures using the small coloured bricks, and then adding all sorts of other toys into the game. LEGO was the glue that kept it all together, but the addition of tiny duvets made from tissues and fabric cut offs with help from my mom made my characters brick-built beds infinitely more fun to play with.
I suppose I feel the same way about digital data. You can use it for all sorts of things, and there are no limits to what you can make with it. But in the end, its the things that exist outside of the digital dataverse that give it relevance and meaning – and make it fun to play with.