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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Little Runners

kitanomura children playing_0348

kitanomura children playing_0355

I was sitting in Kitanomura park at lunchtime, eating my carrot and daikon salad, whilst watching the children play.

I wondered what the view from my bench might look like at other times of year, so I tapped the screen of my iPhone once, and a few seconds later was presented with a whole collection of photos taken within metres of where I sat, including one of the very bench I was sitting on. Someone else was sitting on it.

It felt a bit funny.

The wonders of modern technology.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Exchange rates, and Running with technology

What's going on in the currency markets? It's absolutely mental!

During my Year Abroad, £1 equalled 233yen.

Today (45 minutes ago), £1 equals 162yen.

I was just doing the sums - my salary here is is worth £7000 more than it would have been worth a year ago (if sent back home).

This is great news for me, as it now means that, whilst I only have an average salary, I can pay back my debts at a rate of £1000 a month, something which until now I never would have thought possible.

I'm now in the process of resuscitating my long-neglected GoLloyds account, whereby I can deposit cash in any appropriate ATM here in Japan and have it show up in my British bank a few days later (minus fees of course).




In other news, I was up at 7am today for the first of my thrice-weekly jogs. I'm find it interesting how this time round, with the goal of a mini-marathon to aim for, I'm far more motivated when it comes to getting out of bed and heading down the road to the park. It's not a chore, it's FUN!

But I know that there may be some mornings when it's not quite so sunny, or I'm not feeling so enthusiastic about heading out into the cold, and for that reason I'm looking for as many ways as possible to keep me going. Timing my laps was a start, but I knew I needed something more than that...

...enter RunKeeper for the iPhone.

Basically, this app uses satellite navigation to track you as jog your course. From the GPS co-ordinates it can then of course work out your distance and speed. It also makes a note of elevation too.

The results are initially displayed on the iPhone as a bar chart, each bar (where height = speed) being one minute of movement.

That's all very well and good, but it's still a bit disconnected from reality. Where it really comes into its own is where you finish your run and tap on Save. Two things happen: it saves your run to your iPhone's history for later reference, and it then sends that data to the RunKeeper website, which places your route and stats on Google Maps.



How sexy is that?!

(Unfortunately I neglected to restart it after a pause for shoelace-tying up so the data on this screenshot is incorrect (I went further and faster!))

These are the kinds of uses of hardware, software and networks that I find really exciting. They can have a real positive impact upon my lifestyle, playing on some of my weaknesses (love of tech) to overcome other weaknesses (lack of extended dedication?).

Now all I need is an app that will sync with my camera to location-tag all my photos, then I think my life will be complete!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Joseph is online

(A blog I wrote a couple of days ago, and am posting now to celebrate our reconnection to the www this morning. Our new fibre modem has resulted in our actual (vs. advertised) download speed quadrupling to 24mbps, the fastest domestic connection I've had yet :-)




It's several years now since I decided to actively create an online presence. For a long time it was limited to my website, TameGoesWild, and this blog, The Daily Mumble. Not that many people knew about it, and I rarely talked about it. I seldom posted any personal stuff, fearful of criticism from the People Out There. I can remember trying to keep it a secret in my first year at uni, such was the embarrassment I felt when real-life friends referred to something I'd written.

The last 18 months has seen a huge shift in my attitude towards my online presence. As a part of the process of learning to trust my own judgement, and to not be hurt by the subjective opinions of others, I deliberately chose to write about things that mattered the most to me, such as the spiritual path I began to travel down last year. I remember at the time debating whether or not to mention the name Wayne Dyer, for fear of people accusing me of being brain washed by some American celebrity doctor - a fear I can't help but laugh at now, given just how much I have been helped by his [audio]books. I still regularly dip into his take on the Tao, and often find that the one verse (out of 81) that he is focusing on is the exact one I need to hear.

I think the next step for me was signing up with Facebook, something I had resisted for some time. I'd tried mySpace and generally found it to be a complete waste of time ...and I must admit that Facebook didn't do much for me at first either. Now however, it plays an important part in creating and maintaining my sense of place in the world. Regular updates on my friends' activities gives me context. Living here in Tokyo with access to very few real-life friends would be much harder without my virtual (usually passive) participation in the lives of others.

Recently I've been delighted by a spate of photo uploads by my friends from Camp Jened (New York) where I worked in 1997. Those were pre-email days for ordinary folks like us, but 11 years on Facebook has enabled us to recreate that community, to share our happy memories. This has promted me to re-evaluate the part that that experience played in making me who I am today, something I doubt I'd be able to do if working from my own foggy memories alone.

Then there's Twitter. I forget when I signed up, sometime earlier this year. At the time I didn't quite realise just what an impact this would have on me. For those who aren't familiar with it, it's basically a tool for micro-blogging, any one post ('tweet') having a limit of 140 characters (such as the posts top-right of the Mumble. There's a great demo video on YouTube called 'Twitter in Plain English'). Historically, the majority of users have been those into all things techy / internetty, but recent months have seen it move into the mainstream. It's a powerful dissemination tool - the Obama campaign team caught onto this pretty early on and have used it to great effect.

But of course, without an audience, Twitter serves little purpose as a broadcast platform. Personally, I only know a handful of people who use it, and thus initially wasn't all that inspired. But then I discovered Twitterific. This desktop app takes my Twitter posts and send them to Skype, where they become my status message, visible to all of my contacts.

...That's was all well and good, but still, Skype isn't exactly an everyday app for most users.

The breakthrough came with the Twitter app for Facebook. This takes your Twitter status and posts it to Facebook, thus making it visible to all your Facebook friends. So that's one message posted in Twitterific being sent to Twitter, Skype, Facebook, Friendfeed, and any web-page you have control over (such as TDM).

But what next? It's all a bit one-way.

Well it was, until the release of the new Facebook interface a few weeks back. What seemed like just another makeover has actually begun to fundamentally change my interaction with others. Unlike before, it is now incredibly easy to post comments on Facebook status messages. Thus, I can post reactions to friends' daily doings with one tap of the screen, and of course they can do the same with me - and do. Suddenly, one-way broadcasting has become two-way communication.

There's one final piece to the online presence jigsaw though - the iPhone (oh cripes here he goes again...). The new iPhone Facebook app is bloomin fantastic. It enables the user to have easy access to their network of friends wherever they are, to react to messages on-the-road almost in real time (depending on how often they're bored on the train) Couple that with the easy posting of messages and photos to Twitter (using mobile Twitterific) and the publishing of (line-break heavy) blogs via email (which are then automatically reposted on Facebook), and your online-presence becomes an extension of your real life interactions.




I'm sure this all sounds like a complete nightmare to some people. Not only the idea of publishing your every action online, but also the idea of your friends being bombarded by numerous 140-character messages describing tonight's pumpkin soup (I just remind myself that they can simply unsubscribe from your updates if they wish to)

I'm fascinated by just how much this has all come to mean to me. I guess in my current circumstances it's not surprising that I am seeking to maintain established (distant) friendships, to reach out to as many people as I can from my relative isolation. It's a bit of a lifeline really.

I'm also interested in how our shared online presence impacts upon our real-life relationships. So far, I've found it to have an immensely positive effect. On seeing friends, one can quickly move past initial catch ups, and get to the important stuff, or explore areas of life that might usually be hidden due to social norms. The Internet offers us the freedom to express ourselves in ways that might be frowned upon in real-life, thus we can discover shared interests that might otherwise never be discovered. I can think of several real-life relationships whose foundations are reinforced to a considerable extent by the things that I have learnt about them online.

An example of a relationship strengthened by an online presence could be that of the friendship I share with an ex-coursemate who is now working in a remote part of southern Japan. They often blog about their experiences, the challenges they encounter, the happy successes they enjoy. We were never particularly close at uni (although I always liked and respected them), but reading their blog fills me with admiration for what they are doing, and makes me feel enriched by the remote friendship I share with them. It encourages me to send good wishes their way, and to want to offer assistance to them should they ever need it.

Having said that, in the long term I'm not sure how much of a difference it will make. If I imagine myself meeting offline coursemates after a prolonged period of no contact, the feelings are similar to those connected with meeting my online friends. This leads me to think that perhaps ultimately, online communication can never have the same kind of impact upon relationships that even limited offline interactions can have. This I find quietly reassuring, as much as I love the online world, I know that ultimately it's what I do in real life that matters.

After all, no amount of Status Updates will get the washing up done before *Twinkle* arrives home.

Tattaa.

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Yet another iPhone post

(if you're not interested in it or Apple customer service, look away).

Two nights ago my iPhone suddenly had an emergency breakdown. Somehow the OS became corrupted, and the only way to fix it was to connect it to my mac and let iTunes try its best counselling skills.

The only problem was, iTunes couldn't connect with it - just kept on asking me to enter the phone's passcode ...which I couldn't do as the phone wouldn't let me do anything except make emergency calls. Catch 22.

(For google reference, the error message read:

"iTunes could not connect to the iPhone "*" because it is locked with a passcode. You must enter your passcode on the iPhone before it can be used with iTunes"



This all happened when I was actually in the Apple Store on unrelated business (looking at new macbooks!), but they were so busy I had no chance of seeing the Geniuses (they're the people who fix stuff), and the sales staff didn't know what to do. I made an appointment for the following night, and using their in-store wifi started scouring the Apple forums.

Eventually I found out how to force the iPhone into recovery mode (connect to computer, open iTunes, press both buttons until Apple logo appears, then only release the top button, hole the bottom one until iTunes recognises it as being in recovery mode and restores it to factory settings). However, after it rebooted it just came up with another error, "The iPhone "*" cannot be used with iTunes because the information required for activation could not be obtained from the iPhone". There was nothing I could do but wait until the following night's appointment.



This being Japan, I was kind of expecting it to take a long time to sort out. Everything here seems to involve endless form-filling - you even have to provide a notarised copy of your birth certificate in order to buy a loaf of bread. (OK, slight exaggeration, maybe.) One problem I saw was the fact that the phone is registered to *Twinkle*, and she was unable to come to the store.

What happened then really surprised me. The chap listened to my story, quickly tested the SIM card in another iPhone (it was fine) ...and then reached into the drawer behind him, pulled out a brand new iPhone and handed it to me.

"Is that OK?" he asked.

"Erm, yes!" I said, with a big grin on my face.

"Oh, if you could just sign this receipt to say that Apple will pay that'll be it".

And that was it.

Having left the store, it was simply a case of plugging the new phone into my Macbook and leaving it for 30 mins as it restored all my settings (and 15GB of emails, contacts, photos music and apps), resulting in a brand new phone that was identical in content & settings to my old one.

Now THAT is what customer service of the future should be like. It was even accompanied by the happiest music one could hope to hear, wafting up the stairs from the live concert on the ground floor.

Of course, there are reasons why this all happened so quickly and without any fuss. For a start, they were incredibly busy, and the guy was desperate to get through the queue. For a second thing, they already had all my details to hand, as when I made my appointment I'd logged in with my Apple ID.

Still, I thought it was all bloomin marvellous, Yet another excuse to give my money to Apple.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

My new job

Starting a full-time job has been a funny experience.

The first couple of days left me feeling somewhat stunned.

The commute to work is not exactly relaxing. The train gets so full you have those white-gloved station staff pushing you on. Wedged in by salary men, nose pressed up against the glass.

I've sorted out my timing now though. The trains arrive every 2 ~ 3 minutes, and some are a lot less crowded than others.

It's also felt funny being paid to be in a certain place for 9 hours. Due to having done the job before, my initial training didn't take all that long, and I didn't have much else to do (things get busy from the end of the month).

So I decided to tidy the office up. Moving desks to re-route wiring, finding old bits of office furniture to help arrange documents, going through shelves of old telephones and computer parts to put them in some kind of order.

Having seen me do this, on the third day I was asked by my manager if I would like to tidy up their lesson-management system, which currently takes the form of bits of paper, disjointed databases and whiteboards. I was asked to create a new database.

I told them that I have never created a database before, and I have no knowledge of Access or SQL, but they have been very generous and told me to take all the time I need to learn these things. They've offered to buy me textbooks should I need them. I've also been allowed to use my own Macbook to build the database - I think doing it all in Japanese would add unnecessary confusion.

I've now installed Windows and Office, and having created all my tables am now learning about creating queries.

I'm really enjoying this challenge. I've long wanted to be able to build databases, but haven't had the time or motivation. Here, in between teaching English over the phone and marking reports I'm being paid to learn - great stuff!

Anyway, best be off, lunch is nearly over.

tattaa

p.s. lots of other stuff going on too but no time to talk about it!

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

'Free' broadband in Japan

One thing I've really enjoyed since arriving back in Japan is being able to watch online videos without having to make numerous cups of tea in order to pass the time they take to buffer. The throttled connections we had at university were probably amongst the slowest in the UK, slower even than my parents' broadband which runs off a remote rural exchange that continues to utilise highly trained rocket-propelled swallows to transfer packets of data.

A recent survey showed that Japan's internet was the fastest in the world, something I can believe having seen adverts for services offering 160mbps connections. Ours runs at about 18Mbps.

3G, as used by mobile devices, is also impressively fast. I regularly clock 1Mbps on my iPhone, which is about 30 times faster than the wireless in the university library back home... (tee hee)

With the contract for our current broadband connection finishing at the end of the month we've been looking around at what's on offer, and have been pretty surprised by how generous the ISPs are. So generous in fact that we've found a deal that essentially means that we almost make money - just by signing up for the connection.

With Nifty we get the first four months free of charge, then pay 6000 yen (£30) per month after that. However, we also get 20,000 yen (£100) in Sakura Store points (which we'll spend on the ink and stuff that we need to buy anyway, exciting huh?), thus by the time we move out next Spring we'll technically be 8000 yen (£40) better off for having signed up for it.

I guess I do feel a bit warmer towards Sakura now. Maybe that's what they're paying us for.

The only negative in all this is the downtime between contracts - up to two weeks without broadband. ...but as we've got an iPhone I don't really see this as much of a problem, and if we're desperate for a connection for our laptops we just need to stand outside Shibuya Station - the whole area seems to be covered by free Wifi.

It's funny how Japanese technology is so far ahead of the UK in some ways (broadband etc), yet so far behind in others (web technology, such as that connected with online banking. You know, if you lose your password for your post office savings account you have to print out a form and send it to the customer service centre in Yokohama...!)

Ho hum. Better go and tell the fridge what to order us for supper from the local supermarket.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Using an iPhone in Japan - where it falls down

If you're not interested in the iPhone, don't bother read this - just click here instead.

I got my iPhone 3G about four hours after arriving in Japan. Being gadget boy, I'd wanted it since launch day, but it would have been a bit daft to get it on a two year contract in the UK. Also, they don't come cheap, and I couldn't justify getting one just because I wanted one.

But here I am starting a new life in Japan, and in need of a phone.

Buying the iPhone in Japan

The initial rush seems to have subsided, although stocks are still limited: we called our local Softbank store (having first phoned the Apple store in vain), and checked availability. They had 1 available, 16GB black.

The sign up process is pretty lengthy. You have to read through a few pages of Apple's terms and conditions, then donate a kidney. It can be difficult for foreigners to get them as there's a credit check, and a two year contract (they don't want you skipping the country before paying all the monthly instalments). We decided that *Twinkle* would buy mine - far simpler :-) If you don't have someone willing to buy one for you, credit card is the way to go.

The plans cost anything between about 5000 yen and 9000 yen a month, + phone calls: this pays for the device itself and the data plan. I don't like making phone calls (especially not at 20 yen a minute, which I discovered after a total of 3 hours on the phone) so that's fine for me, I'm just in it for the data. Calls to other Softbank / Vodafone users are free at certain times.

You are given a Softbank (IMAP) email address. Personally, I like to use my own domain email address (...[at]tamegoeswild.com) so I've configured Google Apps to forward a copy of incoming mobile mail to Softbank (who then send an alert to the phone), and manually set the outgoing server to Gmail SMTP.

Once you have the device, be prepared to fall in love. As Steve would say, it is absolutely gorgeous. I mean, really, it is the most beautiful piece of technology I have ever had the privilege to take care of. And the best thing of all? It Just Works. It's incredibly easy to use - I've not yet had to refer to the manual. It's simple enough for even a four-year-old to understand - yesterday my little nephew was able to figure out how to switch between applications in a couple of minutes.

If you are an existing Mac user setting up your phone couldn't be simpler - just plug it in. iTunes will sync all your contacts, email accounts, calendars, to do lists, photos, music, videos, just like that. It may be a little more complex for Windows users but they should be used to frustration anyway.

In the past I've always found it a pain to put data on mobile phones, and was also afraid that if I lost the phone, I'd lose my data. Here, all the data is safely stored on your computer / in the cloud, then synched to your iPhone either over the Internet or when you plug it in.

Applications

I won't go through all my apps because I'd be here all day. Just to mention one of my Japanese favourites - Ekitan: the entire national train timetable, live updates on delays, a cache so you can refer to searches when there's no signal, history of previous searches (for repeat journeys). And all with a lovely user-freindly interface. Yes, other phones can do this too - but not whilst oozing sex appeal.

Other favourite apps are Safari, Google maps, Twitterrific, Air Sharing, Koi Pond (the fish eat your finger), the classic iPint (beer on tap - a good party trick), midomi (sing to your iPhone or let it listen to a song being played in a bar etc and it will tell you what the song is, with a link to buy it), NetNewsWire (RSS feeds), MyDelicious, Cro-mag, Facebook, Evernote.

The GPS really is very handy. I use it to find places in Tokyo - watch myself on the screen as a little blue dot walking down the road. Also, my to-do list uses it so that I can tell my iPhone to put tasks in order of their distance from me (write to bank = 0m, buy eggs = 0.5km, buy ink = 4km, get post office book from *Twinkle*s parents' house = 32km). This is handy when one has a very long to-do list! (and is very nerdy).

The web browser, Safari, is fantastic. Unlike most phones in Japan you're not restricted to made-for-mobile sites, with this you can view any website online (er, provided they're not flash-based!). I've used this countless times over the past week when on the move. There's so much information out there - it's great to be able to access it when I need it and not have to wait until I get home.


I also like the fact that it has decent built-in speakers - I use it to listen to audiobooks just before I go to bed.

Where the iPhone falls down in Japan

Rather than just go on about how good the iPhone is (there's plenty of sites dedicated to doing so already), I thought I'd point out some features - or lack of features - that are specific to Japan.
  • My biggest gripe comes as the result of the iPhone being designed for a country that uses SMS, not email, for texting. Japan does use SMS, but it will only work with people who are on the same carrier as you. Here, email is dominant. Apple have tried to address this by having Softbank send an alert when you get new mail, but this is only a message on the screen - no vibrate and no sound. I hope they rectify this soon.

  • The mail program doesn't support eMoji, those little pictures people love to put in their texts. They just get scrambled. If the picture is core to the meaning of the message this can be a problem - you can read the message in Safari at the touch of a button, but it's a bit of a drag. 

  • The packages are way too expensive.

  • Visual voicemail doesn't come as standard. I think it's another 300 yen a month.

  • Battery life. Ok, so that's not limited to Japan, but it is still the iPhone's biggest 'issue'.

  • The camera is probably the most pants camera to have been mass-marketed this year. Emergency use only.
It's early days though, with it only having been launched here last month. What a lot of users are doing is using it as a secondary device - with all my family here on AU (not Softbank) I'll probably go that way myself.

At least the 3G network is reliable - it really is super fast. You rarely find yourself waiting excessively for it to load. I also love the fact that it has Wifi - at home (or at friends' houses, or where's there's public wifi) it automatically switches from 3G to the wireless broadband connection, thus not costing a penny in data transfer.

he introduction of 'Genius' with the latest version of iTunes is very welcome, and over the past couple of days I've been delighted to find some 'new' music that I never knew I had. Great stuff.

I find it really exciting to be able to use these new devices, and also to think where they might go in the future. I won't be buying any more gadgets for a long time - perhaps next year I'll get a Nikon DSLR with video function and in-built GPS (in the D700 line).

Incidentally, a good side-effect of my having an iPhone is that I spend a lot less time in front of my Mac. Being able to deal with emails on the road when I have a spare few minutes here and there means I don't come home to a pile of stuff to wade through, and consequently don't get distracted by browsing the internet - so the iPhone is pretty good for our relationship too! 

Anyway, it's just flashed up a reminder that I need to go to the toilet. According to the GPS system, the loo is located about 4 metres south-west of this cushion, and I have a date to be there by 12.34pm. Best be off.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

My first few days in Japan - a quick update

So much to write about, so little time.

It's all good.

Last week I sent off an email to a training company that a friend of mine works for (it was actually wanting to work for them that promoted me to take the CELTA course). Today I had an interview, and I believe I'll be offered a contract in the next few days. Great news!

This means that I won't be taking up the contract with the English school that offered me a post a couple of months back (which in addition to looking pretty dull, also happened to pay about a third of what I'll be getting in the new job).

Today I also received a call from the agency that got me my first two jobs on Japanese TV back in 2007 - I'm in the running for a role that will require one day's work - and will pay £940! I'm a long way from being selected, but hey, you never know. It's nice to be at stage 2 at least!

I've been really busy trying to sort the house out. You wouldn't have thought that it would take that long to tidy up a 30m square apartment, but it does when you have this much stuff!

I'm loving my iPhone. It's an incredible piece of hardware - and the apps you can get for it are equally stunning. A must for anyone in Japan is Ekitan - the entire Japanese train timetable, updated every minute. This is nothing new - any phone with Internet access will have this, but the way the iPhone presents it actually makes using it a pleasant experience (I don't like the text-heavy versions on most phones, find them pretty unusable). The iPhone saved my bacon today when going to my interview. I was late, and had to use it for checking alternative train times, reading Word documents (my application and CV) checking info sent by the interviewer (email) and looking at the map on the company website - and double checking it in Google Maps. The thing that struck me was just how easy all of this was, much simpler than using a computer, and all in the palm of my hand.

Anyway, I'm sure you'll hear more about my iPhone in due course!

I may start posting Mumbles and photos from it (by email routed through Flickr), as it seems the only spare time I have at the moment is when on trains - or when ignoring the washing up that needs to be done before *Twinkle* gets home.

(I'm also updating Twitter / facebook / Skype from my iPhone - sometimes including links to photos I upload on the road. See top right of TDM).

Oh yes, I have a lot to write about re. *Twinkle* and I and what we're going through. It's almost surreal how everything is different now.

Ok, best do that washing up.

xxx

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Launch of iPhone 3G (and the non-launch of MobileMe)

Wow. A historic day in the gadget world. The iPhone 3G is out (released in New Zealand a few hours back, comes out here in the morning), MobileMe was launched, and then disappeared (and remains unavailable), and the Apps Store went live.

The apps store (available in iTunes) has got some really sweet software. This iPhone is going to change the mobile scene Big Stylee. For the first time, virtually anyone can develop apps for mobiles and market them for next to nothing to a global user base. I don't like mobile phones at all and haven't upgraded mine in years ...but the iphone is something else.

I mean, come on, how can you resist when you can use it as a remote control for your music library on your computer.

And what about this one: listening to a piece of music and want to know what it is? Let your phone listen to it for 5 seconds and it will tell you what the song is (and provide you with a link to buy it).

And then there's Exposure: it's Flickr in your pocket. But check this out - you can tap on a button and using the iPhone's GPS and Flickrs metadata it will show you a bunch of photos taken near where you're standing! (good for people who are so addicted to looking at their iPhone they miss the surrounding scenery.

Other apps I downloaded (despite not having an iPhone or iPod Touch) included Twitterific, a groovy calendar-converter for Japanese years, the evernote app and ...Facebook. A totally pointless exercise, but they bring me closer to the iPhone (which I'll pick up in September).

And that remote control app for iTunes. I know it is just silly to get so excited about turning your phone into a remote control, but I don't know, there's something about it that just gets me.

It seems Apple is experiencing major issues with MobileMe though. Let's just hope they get it sorted soon though so I too can wake up to Exchange for the rest of us :-)

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another step towards openness

Being an Apple fan boy, I am very excited about picking up my iPhone in September. I've been finding myself in various situations thinking, "ah, if only I had an iPhone now I could... I know it's not for everyone, but for someone who rarely goes anywhere without a Macbook, well, an iPhone would mean freedom.

A lot of my work is macbook-based. Also, I use it to communicate with *Twinkle*, like a (large, somewhat inconvenient) mobile phone.

The combination of the iPhone and MobileMe (due to launch in 81 minutes) is very powerful. The idea that I can have access to ALL of my data (only excluding my 500 home videos) from anywhere really excites me. I get such a thrill when someone asks me a question and I'm able to find the information they need within seconds - that's one reason why I love being *Twinkle*s secretary.

Anyway, thinking about the iPhone got me thinking about what email address I'll use with it. I want something 'permanent', not some transitory address that I'd only be able to use with that one carrier in Japan (the same thinking is behind my decision to buy three phone numbers for life from Skype - one for UK callers, one for Japan-based callers and one for my US contacts). We've long been dependent upon these companies for our contact-identities, but technological developments and the relative generosity of companies like Google (in providing Google Apps) means that we can now use our own personally-selected identities with virtually any communications device.

So if I wasn't going to be josephtame@softbank.ne.jp, what was I going to be?

Hmm, maybe I could take the next step with my 'experiment'.

One part of my 'life experiment' was to start to be very open on my mumble about my thoughts and feelings. To not devalue or disregard my own ideas in the face of the opinions of others, to try and live in the flow.

The second stage of this process was to put a link to my blog in my email signature. However, I was still a bit uncomfortable with this and so I'd often delete the signature before sending, not wanting those people to know about it.

And I do continue to find myself reacting with discomfort when a colleague or friend tells me that they've read my blog ...and I really don't like to see TDM displayed on someone else's monitor. But paradoxically, I also embrace those situations. It's another opportunity to let go. I am Joseph. I do not have to be what others want me to be. If I act out of love for others and in harmony with my core values, it's ok. I do not need their subjective approval. Their opinions are just their opinions. There is no hierarchy, we are all together in this grand adventure called life. We can learn from one another. Someone criticising me is doing me a great favour - they are providing me with a far greater opportunity to grow than someone agreeing wholeheartedly with what I'm saying.

So back to this email thing then.

How about I adopt one of my web-domains as my email server? That would mean that I would effectively be advertising my online presence to anyone and everyone I sent an email to. How would that feel? It would be like inviting strangers into my heart to have a look around. That feels kind of uncomfortable. Surely there's a limit to how open one 'should' be.

I thought about this for a long time. It was a difficult decision to make. Changing my email address so that it pointed at thousands of pages of stuff about me would make for a big step out of my comfort zone, and one that runs counter to prevailing popular trends (in that most people are doing all they can to protect their privacy).

After a day or so I decided that yes, I will take this step. It is uncomfortable, but I feel it is the right thing to do. I'm not sure why, but I think I'll find out in due course.

This documenting my life online has come to be a big part of me, and I feel I have been given some incredible opportunities as a direct result of it. It's not always easy, and I have to try hard to ensure that it doesn't impact upon those that I love who are not so enamoured by the idea of being so open with the world.

The transfer of just over 22,000 emails from my old email account to my new one took three days (via POP3). It's all sorted, and my new iPhone email is all ready for it's new sexy host come September.

(Emails sent to my old email address will continue to be delivered.)

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CILASS for Students website (private launch)



This mumble features a fair bit of bathing in my own glory (so no change there then).

I'm delighted to say that the CILASS for Students website is complete. It won't be officially launched until the next academic year, but I won't be around then, so I thought I'd quietly launch it to my friends now ...as I made it :-)

http://cilass-students.group.shef.ac.uk/

The aim of the student-targeted site is to promote an understanding of and engagement in Inquiry-based Learning, raise
awareness of the work that CILASS does, and provide an opportunity for the amazing Student Ambassadors to tell the world about the incredible things that they do.

It's based upon an original site created last autumn by all of the CILASS Student Ambassadors, with further input from the CILASS core team. Being an 'official' university site, last year's attempt to communicate with students was severely limited by the uni's CMS (Content Management System) which basically guarantees that even the most exciting of ideas end up looking about as interesting as a pile of rotting onion skins. Here's the most exciting page on the university website :-p

I think it was around March when I proposed that we do our own thing. Take it out of the university template. Create our own site from scratch. I wasn't really imagining that I'd end up creating a 50-page site. Bloomin' crazy idea if you ask me, end of my final year and all. But it was something I really wanted to do, so it just sort of happened. I was able to use the material supplied by the SAN for the first site, and benefited from lots of feedback from them during the development process - special thanks to Emmy and Ali.

I must say, I'm really pleased with the result, and I'm delighted by the response it's received. The CILASS core team have been very complimentary; seeing the site for the first time the director told me it had made her day. The university's Pro-vice Chancellor for Teaching and Learning also emailed to say how good he thought it was, whilst central support staff were also very impressed by how comprehensive it was - yet studenty in appearance.

I should add that it is still in need of a lot of padding. My goal was to create the basic structure and core content - the plan now is for the SAN to fill in the holes and make it into a great resource.

I'd like to thank Sabine and Nicola for allowing me to do this, for giving me the freedom to pursue the project in google 20% time style.

I'm now in the process of creating support materials for the site (using the gorgeous Screenflow - OS X 10.5 only). One fear of mine (and of the core team) is that without me there to supervise the site might fall into dissaray (look what happened to the beautiful site I created for Milky House 5 years ago! Talk about cannabalisation). Thus, support material is vital.

I'd like to be able to use the site as a part of my portfolio. I don't see myself going into website design for a living, but nonetheless, I think it's a good demonstration of versatility (and I don't want to be pointing employers at TGW now do i?!).

Thanks to everyone who contributed, a great team effort! I look forward to seeing it being developed further over the next year.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Why I love Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Lightroom Training

I've talked about this before, but I want to talk about it again
.

A few days back I was asked by a friend if I'd give them a bit of training in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, the most wonderful photo-processing software ever to have created for people who work with RAW images, or find Photoshop a bit OTT for their purposes.

It was an interesting experience, as it really demonstrated to me just what a fundamental shift the move to the use of image processing software such as Lightroom can mark.

Lightroom is the modern-day darkroom (in case you hadn't guessed from the name!). Most people don't need darkrooms these days as their cameras can do the processing for them. If your camera gives you JPEG images, it has taken the raw data that hit its sensor through the lens, and then interpreted that as it saw fit, enhancing colours and setting the contrast (etc) before throwing away the 'unnecessary' data and compressing the remainder into a JPEG.

For me, when I do shoot in JPEG with my little Sony Cybershot, I feel it's a passive process (although one would not be able to tell this from looking at the images). All I do is chuck them straight into my photo library. There has been little by way of engagement with the images once they have been taken.

With my Nikon set to shoot in RAW, it just gives me the raw data (funny that), with no modifications. It's then up to me to decide how that image is developed (by putting it through Lightroom).

Thankfully modern cameras are very good at processing images and creating JPEGs. All of my photos up until last summer were taken as JPEGs (including all those on my Trans-Siberian adventure), and to look at them you'd find it hard to tell the difference between them and those I've since shot in RAW. In fact you can't.

I think for me though, photography is almost as much about the process as it is about the end result. I absolutely love processing my images, deciding for myself what the end result will look like. I also get great pleasure out of exporting these images direct from Lightroom to Flickr and into my iPhoto library for use in my projects, to share with other people.

You may have noticed that I have stopped watermarking my images. That was a conscious decision to not be so precious about them.

I've recently come to embrace keywording (tagging) too. I don't just do it for the satisfaction of 'being organised' - with over 21,000 photos in my library now it's vital that they have rich descriptions to enable me to find them at a later date. I tag them upon import, and these tags remain with the images all the way through to Flickr (or wherever else they go). If you are able to read the metadata attached to the image above, along with the details of what shutter speed I used / what lens I had on the camera, you'll find all my tags (Flickr displays these by default).

I feel that this kind of engagement with my photos helps me to improve my technique. It gives me the opportunity to study them in detail, to get a feel for what worked, and what didn't. It encourages me to take more photos, which will lead to more experiences, and a greater appreciation of what was in front of the lens.

If you would like to engage more with your images and are prepared to put in the few hours necessary to learn the Lightroom ropes, I would recommend you switch your camera to RAW (if it allows it), and download a free Beta version of Lightroom from www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/.

Next, grap yourself a free 7-day trial from the best software training company in the world, Lynda.com, and check out the Lightroom tutorial. You can get that by visiting www.lynda.com/deke (normally $25 per month).

Finally, enjoy. Oh, and consider subscribing to the (free) podcast from The Radiant Vista. (N.b. Anonymous: somehow I don't think that podcast will be your cup of tea).

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

LTEA Conference 2008: Long Live Inquiry-based Learning!

It’s now the day after the closing of the LTEA (Learning Through Enquiry Alliance) conference 2008, and my head is beginning to clear. I attempted to write about my experience of this event last night, but I was “all conferenced out” as fellow student ambassador Barbara put it - my mind was just a sea of tags:
conference tag cloud
It was an intense week. In the days leading up to the event’s opening on Wednesday, I worked with the CILASS core team to help prepare the conference Wiki, a virtual space in which delegates could share, discuss and reflect upon their experiences of Inquiry-based learning. Aside from passive use of Wikipedia, I had no prior experience of working with Wikis, and thus found myself engaging in an intense IBL activity on my computer. Once I’d familiarised myself with the basic structure, I was surprised by how easy it was to manipulate; this has encouraged me to contemplate how I might include a wiki within my own website (another project to add to the IBL-inspired list!).

In addition to co-ordinating the wiki, my duties (most of which were of course shared with my amazing friends in the Student Ambassador Network) included: taking photos (that was a self-assigned role! Thanks for indulging me, CILASS), processing and uploading them to Flickr throughout the conference; ensuring that the technology was working for those presenting; uploading powerpoints to Slideshare (still a lot to do there); facilitating sessions; being available for delegates should they have any problems; watching over the luggage, drinking coffee, and eating chocolate.

Thinking about it all now, a few episodes come to mind. I’d like to share those with you.

It’s Wednesday morning, 9am. As the other Student Ambassadors arrive there’s a feeling of great excitement and happiness in the office: the months of preparation are over, and it’s too late to worry about anything. We’re blowing up balloons to tie to lamp-posts in order that delegates don’t get lost on their way to the Keynote in Firth Hall. Turns out that Jamie is a Balloon-mungster, and prior to joining the CILASS team was at the forefront of a new movement which campaigned to promote the simultaneous blowing up of multiple balloons. Jamie’s love of balloons spreads across the office, and before long the balloon bath is the hottest attraction in Sheffield.

jamie sabine natalie and the balloons

natalie balloons balloons_8061

11am, and the delegates are now arriving. They are greeted by the blue T-shirts and big smiles of the Student Ambassadors - a welcome sign of the kind of atmosphere that will embody the entire three-day conference.

Photo: James Gould

It’s now Wednesday afternoon and I’m facilitating a presentation by four members of Sheffield Hallam University’s CETL. They’ve all been using Inquiry-based technologies to help enhance the learning and teaching experience. As I sit there hearing about their successes I find myself getting tremendously excited and inspired - the work that these tutors are putting in to help students become autonomous learners really is something to be shouted about. When bringing the session to a close, I think it might be appropriate to offer a quick bit of feedback as the only student in the room:
“I’m very happy to have just completed a four-year degree, and am looking forward to moving on into the workplace. But I tell you, hearing what you’re doing with IBL inspires me to such an extent that I’m thinking I’d like to start another undergraduate degree!”
And I meant it. I am so impressed by the effort that is being put in by IBL-orientated staff to help students engage with their subjects, and by the positive results they are achieving. People must be told about IBL! It should become a norm for prospective graduates attending university open days to ask, “Could you tell me what inquiry-based learning techniques are employed within the department?”

We’re now between sessions, the busiest time for me and my USB stick. Myself, Pam from the CILASS core team and Pepe the penguin have to make sure that the presenters in all five of the simultaneous sessions hosted in various spaces around the IC have their presentations/videos lined up and are ready to roll. Remarkably, there’s not a single problem with the technology at any point during the conference - it all goes like clockwork.

pepe and the conference flash drive_8470

The next parallel session has begun, and I’m back in the office processing photos and slides. We’re all buzzing - things are going really well. I’m starting to think about what a great team we make, students working with the core CILASS staff. I reckon we could be hired out (at great expense, of course) to dazzle and amaze conference delegates around the world!

Conference GCHQ:

Conference GCHQ

Tom, Barbara and Nat point delegates in the right direction:

the road to the keynote_8356

It’s nearing 7pm - time for the conference dinner at Whirlebrook Hall. Myself, Nat and Sabine have a true Inquiry-based learning journey to the venue as we don’t know where it is: we stop at two pubs and a private house to Inquire as to where we might find it. Finally we locate it, and we’re actually almost the first to arrive (further proof of the effectiveness of IBL)! Champagne in hand we move out to the terrace, where I soon whip out my camera once again to try and capture the atmosphere. Dinner is then served: a melon slice creation, soup and then a main dish of goats cheese wotsit on rice. Delicious. Finished off with a dessert, and more wine. I must come to these conferences more often… I’m really happy to have the chance to talk with Pam and Sabine. I learn about giving birth, and breastfeeding, things I feel I ought to know about in preparation for the birth of our children in 2010 / 2011.

Nat, the new CILASS Student Co-ordinator for the Student Ambassador Network

conference dinner_8267

Tom, and Laura: Clearly the stress of being the outgoing SAN co-ordinator is getting to her

they weren't always that way

Day two of the conference, and we’re on the coffee. It’s going to be a long one, but with a timetable in my pocket detailing what needs doing when, it’s actually pretty relaxing. It offers reassurance that things are going to happen as planned anyway, just do your bit: the power of teamwork.

Now and then someone will come into the office raving about this AMAZING session that they’d just been to - onto the award winning CILASS student blog it goes.

The delegates are happy. The keynote address, given by the President of the University of Miami, is both relevant and thought-provoking. As the day moves on so notifications of changes to the Wiki increase in number - it’s being used as hoped!

Thursday evening sees us take a coach from the IC to The Edge, the new student village where the delegates are staying. I’m happy, relaxing with friends, eating olives and parsnip crisps, chatting with a member of Sheffield Hallam’s CETL. We’re then ushered through to a large room adjoining the bar: time for a bit of entertainment and reflection with Playback Theatre (York).

conference playback theatre_8387

Playback Theatre are quite remarkable. Consisting of teachers, counsellors and actors, they literally play back to the audience thoughts and feelings that have arisen from the conference. An academic might express her feeling of fear that arises from embarking upon new adventures in IBL, and the joy of then seeing students come into their own through the new module. The actors listen to the story, and then spontaneously create a short performance that sums it up. There’s little in the way of ‘lines’ as such,rather, movement and sounds take centre stage. I was delighted, amused and entertained by their production. Others in the audience were deeply touched; tears were shed. For me, it highlighted just how much passion the delegates had for what they were doing, how, at the end of the day it’s about doing the best one can to make a difference, and finding satisfaction though helping others.

The closing plenary saw us once again in Firth Hall, summing up the questions and ideas that had arisen through the conference. Thanks were then given, with special mention made of the CILASS core team, and the Student Ambassadors. My mind flicked back through the previous few days, and indeed us SA’s really had had a positive impact upon the entire conference. By participating to the extent that we did, we were able to not only paint the place with bright happy blue t-shirts, but also to provide the student point-of-view in many of the discussions - this of course is vital as students are half of the equation when it comes to Learning and Teaching.

I feel that this conference was a model for what a conference should be, and I hope that everyone who attended from other universities goes home and sets up their own Student Network!

Me, demonstrating the brand new CILASS student website - made BY students, FOR students

san skills session_8408
Photo: Sabine Little

The overall feeling I have looking back on the LTEA Conference 2008 is one of gratitude. Gratitude for having been able to take part in such a fantastic event. Gratitude for having been a part of such an amazing team made up of such genuinely lovely people.


Photo: James Gould

There was very much a feeling of partnership between students, staff and visiting delegates throughout, with little sign of hierarchy. I felt very much valued and appreciated as a student: this makes me feel incredibly positive about the future of higher education in the UK, and I won’t hesitate in moving back to the UK from Japan 10 or 15 years down the line in order that my own (as yet to be conceived!) children are able to benefit from it.

Long Live IBL!

This post is cross-posted on the CILASS Student Blog

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mish-mash

Seems like the Internet doesn't like wet weather. It;s been gradually dying as the mist has set in tonight. It happens in Wales too. After a heavy rain shower, one has to disconnect the router from the mains and put it in the tumble drier for a while.

Skype has been fun. I'd call someone and say 'hello' as soon as they answered, but due to the 10 second delay they'd hang up before they heard my voice.

It's not the best of timing as I've got my weekly coaching call tonight. Looks like I'll have to skunk off down the road to our rival, Sheffield Hallam University, and see if their connection is any better.

Condolences to Sophie on not making it through ...but wasn't she fantastic?! I think that with the exposure she's had and the talent she has she'll go a long way.

It's now 7 days until the exam. I've started off revising the easiest of the three sections (newspapers). I'm happy with my progress, but am aware that I need to face my fear of the writing section. Tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow; as well as selling my bike in the morning, I have an interview tomorrow for the 4-week intensiveCELTA (Tefl) course after lunch. I tell you, it looks blooming tough. 9.30am to 6.30pm daily, plus a minimum of 20 hours preparation / homework per week. Five assignments too.

Things are slowly progressing on the job front. I'll be sent a pre-interview assignment to complete for a Tokyo-based English school next week - but I've also been put in touch with someone who teaches in a university where apparently there may be an opening. If I were to get that job I'd be living in Kansai (3 hours west of Tokyo on the bullet train), and thus *Twinkle* and I would spend about ten days a month apart when she goes to Tokyo on business. Not ideal. If I wasn't needing a visa I wouldn't be having these problems. I need to call the Japanese embassy about the spouse visa option again. It's finance that's the problem there (need to show a regular income, not ideal if self-employed as *Twinkle* is).

The British Embassy in Tokyo called *Twinkle* today. She's applied for a 'visitors visa (marriage)' - they want proof of our relationship. My response has been to post about 60 photos dating back to 2005 of us being a couple in a special web album. I've suggested *Twinkle* send them the link and the username / login I provided. They may say they want to see printed copies (because printed photos are more real than digital copies of the same photos?!)

I'm enjoying working in the library these days, but it is all a bit surreal. Kind of no-mans land, with routine gone, and the course over, but not over. It feels pretty weird.

Anyway, I'd best get down to the office.

xxx

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

IBL Staff-Student Symposium



Full day of work today, from 8.30am to 4.30pm. I say 'work', but it was more like hanging out with friends. CILASS friends.

Today was the 2nd CILASS Inquiry Based Learning Staff-Student Symposium. Some people may remember me talking about giving a presentation via Skype from Tokyo at last year's event - well, this time around I was able to eat the free lunch as well.

I won't go into details here as I'll be blogging about it on the CILASS blog and will link to it. But I would like to share a few photos of the day.

Student Ambassadors modelling sexy CILASS T-Shirts


Got to the IC at 8.30am to blow up helium balloons with Barbara - that was FUN!



Laura, student ambassador co-ordinator and all-round wonderwoman was also on the scene to wake us with that smile of hers



Next, I moved to my station in CILASS 3, armed with Macbook and a VAIO to co-ordinate live blogging (limited success, I wasn't forthright enough) and the uploading of photos taken at the event - the idea was to see how quickly I could get photos from the symposium sessions onto flickr & tagged in order that they automatically display on all the screens in the place (its things like this that give me insane amounts of pleasure). Got about 250 photos up by the end of the day.

It was whilst sorting out the tags and things that Barbara and I came up with a stunning idea, inspired by thinking of those tourist spots where you stick your head through the holes in the big wooden signboards and have your photo taken so it's your face with some famous person's body. Well take that concept, and cross it with Disneyland, and throw in some tools for Inquiry Based Learning, thus creating an 'IBL Land' - albeit a bit smaller (i.e. as small as the glass-walled CILASS 1, which is about 2 metres by 3 metres in size).

Yes, this was a fantastic idea! We kitted out the room with an assortment of Sony VAIOs, Toshiba Tablet PCs, a white board and a big collection of impressive-looking books from the nearby shelves, all promoting the theme of Inquiry Based Learning.

Then, we put a sign up outside: "Come and get your IBL Photo taken here today!"

Students, "Doing IBL"



At one point I was dared to ask the Pro-Vice Chancellor (who was visiting for prize-giving) to come and have his photo taken in our IBL land - I did - and got the shot (although not realising how silly I am he was a little bemused at first).

Speaking of the Pro-Vice Chancellor and prize giving: I mentioned the other day that myself and my classmates had successfully nominated our tutor for a £2000 prize in recognition of all her amazing work in promoting IBL - today was the day that she was to accept the award. However, at the last minute, I realised that she wasn't there ...I gave her a call, and was told that she couldn't make it because she was in class - would I accept it on her behalf?



Later on, I presented her with the big bunch of flowers and award certificate: no doubt receiving them from me was almost as exciting for her as receiving them from the Pro-Vice Chancellor!

I'm so happy that she won. She really deserves it. In a way, I like to think of it as a thank you from all of us in our final year for all the work she's put in these last few years to teach us Japanese. (She's so modest though. When I took the flowers to her office it turned out that two of her closet colleagues didn't even know about it!).




I'm comforted though in knowing that it isn't really the 'end' of any relationships. If I Look back over the past 12 years at the various places I've lived and the stages I've been through, all of those places and stages are still very much a part of my life, In this era of email, Skype & online social networks, it's not easy to lose contact. Classmates, CILASS colleagues, tutors & other friends - all these people won't suddenly dissapear from my life the moment I leave uni.

In a way, with regards to my language teachers this could be thought of as just the beginning. As my language develops during my time in Japan, so I'll be more inclined to contact them. That was one thing I enjoyed towards the end of last year, 'calling home' to Sheffield from Tokyo several times to catch up on the latest departmental news.

Ho hum.

I have about 13 days to finish my dissertation. I'll spend much of this weekend offline writing that. If you've sent me an email recently, thank you, I'll be in touch. Have a bit of a backlog at the mo.

night night xxx

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Up in smoke

Caw blimey gov it's been one hell of a day. Just got back form the library (2am) where I've spent the last 7 hours trying to finish off this website for my employer. I'm always astonished by how long it takes. It was all working fine in Safari and Firefox, but then I made the mistake of testing it for compatibility with Microsoft Internet Explorer, and it all went horribly wrong...

Still, glad I got it done. Eventually.

It was a funny old day. Started with a chap coming to see my darling 17-year-old Claud Butler mountain bike which I'm selling to hope pay for the move to Japan - every penny counts. He said he'd let me know... Then it was off to uni for a Japanese class. Crikey, my speaking ability really has dived this year. This is through no fault of my course, I don't see my coursemates experiencing the same thing. If I chose to make the time to speak japanese outside class, and if I chose to put the effort into my course that I know i should, then I'd be improving, but I don't, and thus I probably only talk japanese for about 30 minutes a week. I feel a little bad about this as I don't want to let my teacher down, but she knows me well, and I think understands my situation.

My listening is Ok though, and my writing not too hopeless, when I use a keyboard!

It's reached the stage now where I know that I'll be back in Japan soon, so I'm not too concerned about this brief interlude of crapness. In the long term I will be fluent. Now though, it's a matter of just trying to scrape by.

I was delighted yesterday to be presented with three Third Prizes and one First Prize at the Photo Soc Awards ceremony. It almost seemed like one of those Bafta situations where the film of the moment sweeps everything up ... which made me feel a little uncomfortable, as it would have been nicer if the prizes had been spread around a bit. Hmm, I left quite quickly after I'd spoken to the judges about my photos (taken in Mongolia last summer).

i received an email today to let me know that one or some of my photos have gone though to the final or another university photo competition. The awards ceremony is Thursday, but unfortunately I'll be in class at that time.

My Macbook power adapter went up in smoke today, literally! Prolonged wear and tear and over-zealous winding of the cord caused the outer insulation to break, and the thing short-circuited. I didn't realise though until I actually saw this whiff of smoke cross my screen - I thought it was a feather and tried to grab hold of it!

Off to the Apple Store I went, and was shocked by the cost of the replacement - £60! Just as I was about to pay, one of the staff asked me if my Macbook was under warranty. Yes, it was ...and 20 minutes later I was given a new adapter for free. I asked if the battery would have been harmed by the incident - no it should be fine. But how old is the battery? 21 months - Ancient! Did I know that Apple have a free replacement policy for that model? No, i didn't ...but moments later I was delighted to be presented with a brand new battery, which retails at £100!

Oh, then I mentioned the loose screws on the side of my macbook. That prompted the ordering of a new bottom case for it, to be delivered soon.

With this latest incident, in 6 months I would have had the hard drive, optical drive, keyboard, screen, power adapter, battery, bottom case and fan replaced- all 'free of charge'. I say free, but in fact I paid £50 for a 3-year warranty, which I would strongly recommend to anyone buying an Apple product. That's not because they break down more often than any other hardware, it's that the service you get for your money is so superb. Outside of Tokyo, I know of no place where you can just walk in with your computer and get it fixed on the spot, and I've never heard of a warranty covering a battery or power adapter before (both of which were victims of wear-and-tear, although apparently my battery was especially crap, not that I ever noticed, thus the new one).

Anyway, I've got a meeting with a local web design company tomorrow, er, today, in 6 hours time, to discuss getting our publishing site made (again). Best get some sleep!

xxx

p.s. Liking Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. The 24 hour audiobook is about £50 from Amazon - only £7.99 on subscription from Audible!

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Magical Jiggery Pokery



The random image thing on the right of this page is supposedly, er, random - so how can one account for things like the above happening? Here, I blogged about my mum's painting, and hey presto! It randomly appears on the right too! It's not as if it's unusual either, I've seen matches like that in the past, but the odds should be 14,762 to 1 (the number of images I have on Flickr).

Also, I know of friends who have reported random pictures of themselves showing up when they've checked the mumble, the chances of which are almost as slim as the above!

Is there magical jiggery pokery going on around here?

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tech Talk: the power of feeds (and an IC video)

The CILASS tech group had a really interesting meeting today. Started out with planning for Friday's technology session that we'll be filming for upload to the website, then went on to discuss the recent developments in web platforms / streaming services etc. I find this kind of thing very exciting as I see enormous potential in it.

I'm really looking forward to picking up my podcast again and producing something a lot more interesting. Despite being pretty crappy at the moment and my posting no new episodes, I'm getting about 500 new subscribers every month, sustained growth. Imagine if this was a business - how much would I be paying to attract this kind of attention? I don't see myself as making money out of listeners, but rather, I see it as a case of using the podcast to promote whatever other projects I'm involved in which people may be interested in.



Other services I'm using and recommend for people interested in building up a web presence

I forget if I've mentioned it before but I've also started experimenting with Live Video Streaming via uStream (www.tamegoeswild.com/live), something else I'd like to use professionally in the future. Then there's Twitter (http://twitter.com/tamegoeswild), which I have mentioned before - essentially it's micro blogging, up to 140 characters per post.  Really been enjoying using that. It has tremendous potential, as when used with something like Twitterific it can also notify Facebook and update your Skype Status, meaning that you can get something out in seconds to hundreds (or thousands) of people. It's also really interesting observing how other people are using it, and how it affects ones own attitude towards being open to the world.

I also use tumblr, which is more than micro-blogging, but less than standard blogging. I have that reserved for quotes and things to be thankful for - updated via a dashboard widget for ease of use.

Finally, I've recently started using Friendfeed, which brings together all of the above and my YouTube Channel, and Flickr posts, into one single feed that is displayed on my facebook profile page (or can itself be subscribed to via RSS).

What I've come to appreciate is that these tools can be used as key elements of a marketing strategy. Yes, they require sustained input, but they needn't be all that disruptive and they are ultra-low cost, and, based on my exposure to other users, they're pretty effective in creating a buzz.



Another thing we were discussing was the idea that university should really be introducing students to things like RSS feeds (what is RSS?). RSS feeds can be such powerful learning tools, yet if you ask the average student what an RSS feed is, they probably wouldn't be able to tell you, (and through no fault of their own). 

I think I'm a bit of an RSS junkie though. I currently have 61 feeds in my reader, although about 40 of those are friend's blogs and other sites that are updated about once a month. The remainder focus upon: news from Japan; digital photography (that's how I'm learning Adobe Lightroom); business, inspiration and Lifehacks.

The great thing with RSS is it's so simple to subscribe and unsubscribe. Unlike email subscriptions you don't have that fear of being spammed - you can trial something, and if you don't like it you just remove the feed from your reader. YOU are in control. It's also good for producers, as you get a good idea of what size your audience is.

Aside from RSS, I think it would be good if the university made more use of 3rd party technologies, rather than relying upon expensive in-house development. 

Take the Catsters for example - here YouTube is being used to teach some pretty complex mathematics. Just looking at the comments on their channel shows how welcome this is.




Hmm, YouTube excites me, even when it's a mathematics channel.

Anyway, I reckon all this stuff is going to play a big part in my future. Quite how I don't know.

To finish off then I bring you a great little video of the Information Commons. If you're a Sheffield student the first minute or so is well worth a watch! 



I reckon we need a song like that for the Arts Tower - not just a video of how to get on the roof!

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

A great week for photographers

[apologies for lack of links - written from train to Sheffield on which internet is not too reliable (i.e. non-existent.) Google is your friend]

It’s been a productive journey so far. I’ve removed the yellow testicle from my patchwork jeans, after it was pointed out to me that it could also be mistaken for a urine stain. I’ve replaced it with some elephants, sewn on whilst listening to the latest episode of This Week in Photography (TWIP). I’m loving it, and I can feel myself progressing up the same learning curve as I did when I started listening to MacBreak Weekly last year. Before I started listening to TWIP I didn’t fully appreciate the flexibility offered by RAW, I never thought about my camera’s ISO settings, I was lax in my use of tags, and also assumed that when it came to megapixels, more = better (not necessarily true. To get more megapixels, the original sensor is simply divided up into smaller pixels, thus increasing the number of them but actually decreasing the overall surface area available for actively sensing the light due to there being more space given over to necessary gaps between the individual pixels).

It’s been a great couple of weeks for digital photographers, first with the release of Apple’s Aperture 2, and then shortly afterwards Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom 2 (Beta). Personally, I’m a Lightroom user, and I tell you, this new version is just lovely, I am so excited by it. Finally, we have completely non-destructive local editing, a real breakthrough.

(Local editing carried out in Photoshop on Jpegs etc actually changes the original image, meaning that if at a later date you want to undo what you’ve done in the past, you can’t. Also, you will get progressive deterioration of the quality of your image with every edit carried out. The beauty of working with RAW files is that the original data as seen by the camera sensor is never touched; changes are simply recorded in the form of meta data that is bolted on to the image. When you subsequently open the image, the computer refers to that meta data to see how it should interpret and display the original image. Until now, when it came to editing RAW files in Lightroom it was only possible to make changes to an entire image, such as increase exposure or contrast. Now, with local editing, we can apply such changes to specific areas of an image, thus, for example, shots which have a well-exposed foreground but a blow-out sky are no longer necessarily write-offs).

Both Aperture and Lightroom are available as 30-day trials – if you enjoy photography and have a camera that can shoot in RAW, you may want to give them a try. (As for which one to go for, it’s a matter of personal taste. Note that the Lightroom 2 is a REAL Beta version, and you may not be able to use that library once the Beta expires in August, so it’s just for playing, so you may want to download Lightroom 1.3 instead).

People who shoot in Jpeg haven’t missed out either, as last week Adobe launched Photoshop Express – the online version of Photoshop. It’s pretty good, a great example of the kind of slick online apps we’re likely to see a lot more of in the next few years. It’s works beautifully with Facebook albums (it had mine loaded in seconds), and will shortly be able to interact with Flickr too.

And now you can take photos in the past! Earlier today I watched David Pogue’s video report on the new Casio digital camera: it can shoot up to 60 frames a second – and will even take photos in the past if you happen to press the shutter just a bit too late! It sounds like science fiction, but it ain’t.

With these developments, and other cameras like Nikon’s D3 being released, it really is a tremendously exciting time to be getting into digital photography. The best thing however is that even the cheapest digital cameras are now capable of capturing great shots, meaning that anyone who wants to partake, can.

Anyway, the train is now approaching Derby where I catch a bus for Sheffield. Time for me to gather my stuff, and make the final leg of my journey to university, the last time I do so as a student.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Remote control of camera (and parents)


Beautiful day today. I was up at 6am, and together with my flat-mate Ali headed out to Ponderosa Park.

I'll be off to the IC soon to start writing this dissertation introduction (the one that has been turned upside down by yesterday's discovery of some new legislature governing NGOs in Japan due to come into effect in December this year), and at lunch time will meet up with a Japanese friend for lunch, and picture taking. She needs a photo for the university web site: after two years of being the 'face of Japan', my *Twinkle* is being replaced ...and I'm participating in her banishment from the web site. Ohhhh the guilt!


Speaking of photos, this morning I discovered a remarkable capability my Mac has: remote control (via the Internet) of my digital camera. What is most remarkable is how easy it is to set up. You simply

1) Plug digital camera into your Mac via USB
2) In Image Capture, turn on Camera Sharing
3) On some other computer go the web address you are given by Image Capture.
4) That's it.

Once on that webpage, you can see all the photos on the camera's memory stick, download them to your computer, and even tell the camera to take another photo. Or, you can click on the "Monitor" tab in which case the camera will automatically take a photo once a minute, and the web page will auto-refresh.

Some mumblers may recall that I set up a similar system last year, but that involved creating an automator action and FTPing them to my server. With this, everything seems to be done locally.

The wedding plans really are coming along nicely now. Mum and dad have been just great. In fact it's been a bit like remote control with them too. I just fire off an email with an idea or question, and next thing I know I get a response confirming that initial bookings have been made. Ah, the wonders of the Mac!

OK, I'd best get on. Have a lovely day.

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MacBook AirCraft

I see apple have responded to the complaints...

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