Picture of jigsaw. Old fashioned train and bus passing milk churnsUntil this New Year, I’d not completed a Jigsaw puzzle for about a million years.

Last year I had played with a few iPad Jigsaw puzzles, but although I enjoyed doing them, I found the process difficult and frustrating, due to the limited space.

Early in the New Year, when we stayed in a Staffordshire cottage with Karen and Dave, Karen and I had a go at one she’d been given for Christmas (or which she found in the cottage – who knows!) Now, I enjoyed that and found it quite relaxing.

Another friend, Carol, who does Jigsaws all the time, insists that they help to maintain our memory function as we grow older, I do hope so! They certainly help with concentration. Carol gave me a puzzle to get started with – and off I went. The first, Jigsaw-1, was hard … I liked the subject but the colours were quite dark and it took most of January to complete.

I bought another one in late January whilst I was up in Kendal. I’d arrived early for my meeting at the college (I was their LSIS LiT Grant Project ‘critical friend’), so I had lunch in the town and wandered around the charity shops. This one was Jigsaw-2, it cost me £2 and took an age to build. I did have help though – Karen and Dave popped over for a weekend and she filled in some of the blue-sky bits; Carol and John are always popping in so Carol couldn’t resist doing some of the white bits.

When I published the picture of Jigsaw-2 to Flickr, Claire responded from Ibiza – saying that the view was of Santorini, in Greece. And so it was – just search for Santorini on Google and compare those images to the Jigsaw.  The colours were vibrant and it was sad to be finished with it. However, I now had the bug, so I bought another in Slaithwaite’s own charity shop for 50p. (50 pence!!!) which became Jigsaw-3.

Now, this one had lots of blue sky and it took a while to complete but even so, it was very very relaxing. When you’re faced with a sky full of blue, the technique is to look at the shape of the piece and compare the slight changes in shading – as I say, this improves concentration. Still not sure about memory though.

Anyway, I’m going to try and do one a month this year. Watch this space 😉 (or Flickr).

Customer Service

Earlier this year, I was asked if I would like to join the local college’s Hospitality and Catering assessor team – initially working on Customer Service NVQ Assessments. I agreed and the eventual work-load has been quite minimal; but that’s fine because my other work has picked up recently (see previous post).

Being a member of that team is like working on an early episode of New Tricks – both David and I are real old-lags, having worked for what is now The College previously, but that’s great, we know the ropes.

I haven’t earned a penny yet – but that’s F.E. for you.

I mention this because this week, I’ve experienced both sides of the customer service industry – the dark side that we often speak about and the really really good side, that we rarely mention. My check-in at the Travelodge in Maidenhead was smooth and efficient and when I returned to say I didn’t like my room [just inside the door from Reception, twin-bedded, cold and loads of road noise], I was just as smooth and efficiently given another – this time with a double-bed, a heater and another smile.

The taxi service I’m using to get me from the Travelodge to BCA and back have also been great. I phoned Ontime Cars last week and negotiated a price for the week and they’ve been true to their word. Apart from one day, I’ve had a different driver for each journey and they have been jolly, chatty, polite chappies with a ‘sir’ at the end of every sentence: “Are you warm enough sir?”, “Have you have a good day sir?” – great service.

Then tonight I hit the dark side. I walked into the Hobgoblin (pub) and despite looking hopeful amongst the arsehole bar-flies lounging around the bar, I couldn’t find anyone to serve me. No customer service at all. Then, in another pub I was served by the new boy. I don’t have a problem with that, he did his best, but boy did he need help – which wasn’t forthcoming. And that surprised me because Wetherspoons are usually very good at that sort of thing (I got another, older, new boy last night and he was brilliant). After a lot of faffing about he managed to get my Beer (£2.09) right and my food (£8.09) ordered. The till told him the total – £10.18p! I gave him a twenty and he gave me £10.18 change. Now, I know that many places take the ‘loss’ and others don’t, they take it from the server’s wage – so I told the lad what he had done wrong and he said (in his most assured voice) “no sir, it’s a special offer on the beer, your change is correct”. FFS!

Later, a manager passed me by and I called him over – I explained what had happened and after a good deal of explaining and re-explaining, he ‘got it’ and put the matter right. He was one of the ones that could have helped ‘the boy’ earlier – so he went into my poor customer service book too.

Then retuning to the hotel  and finding that my borrowed DVDs were in fact BluRay (MacBook spits them out) – I went down to the bar and – found no one there to serve me. Grumpety grump 😦


Winter working

I’m writing this in the comfort of a delightful cottage, just off The Green, in Reeth, North Yorkshire. We’re here for a long weekend with friends and after a two hours drive, began the day with some shopping in the local Friday market followed by lunch in front of a roaring fire in The King’s Arms. Lovely.

On Monday (probably tomorrow, given my current lack of Internet access) I begin a hectic three weeks. I’m travelling to Maidenhead, where I will stay until Friday – working at Berkshire College of Agriculture. I’ve been asked to work with the college on training staff in the use of their new Moodle installation.

The following week I’m back in the south, this time working on face-to-face aspects of the TechDis Ambassador programme (follow on Twitter – https://twitter.com/TechDisAmbassad). I’m travelling to Lingfield on the Tuesday, to work with Young Epilepsy (http://www.ncype.org.uk/) on the Wednesday. I’ll then travel to Weybridge that evening before working at Brooklands College (http://www.brooklands.ac.uk/) on the Thursday. I’ll travel home that night, so I’m home for my birthday on Friday.

My TechDis Ambassador (follow on Facebook – http://on.fb.me/XS317i) work continues the following week with and overnight in Aylesbury, where I will visit Haydon Training http://www.haydontraining.co.uk/home.cfm. I will return from them on Tuesday evening and then set off again on Wednesday to Margate, where I’m visiting the Margate Adult Education Centre.

All of the projects appear to be wildly different at the moment, but we’ll see – watch this space.  Also see the TechDis Ambassador blog: http://jtdambassadors.posterous.com/.


On Thursday last, at Guildford College, we launched the TechDis Ambassadors programme.

The purpose of the programme is to create and develop a community of TechDis Ambassadors in the south east of England. Ambassadors can be students or staff.

Our aim is to promote and celebrate the use of technologies that help the learning process, especially for those who experience difficulties with their learning. We explored a number of these at last week’s launch event.

Three TechDis Accredited Trainers were present: myself, Sally Betts and Lilian Soon; along with three TechDis Senior Advisors (Alistair McNaught, Simon Ball and Lisa Featherstone) and two representatives from the JISC Regional Support Centre in Canterbury (Amanda Riley and Artie Vossel-Newman).

Following a quick overview of the project and brief introductions, we began with a game of Taboo!  Lilian led this, with the intention of getting everyone present working together with a common aim – it worked very well and by the end everyone was talking happily to everyone else. And smiling.

We then had introductions to a variety of easily available, easy to use and free technologies. I showed some simple techniques in Microsoft® Word that might have passed people by.

  1. Scroll Wheel+Ctrl easily increases/decreases text size (not Word specific),
  2. Web View overcomes the problem of horizontal scrolling caused by 1. above, and
  3. Drag ‘n’ Drop – using simple techniques to create an interactive resource.

Sally discussed some video creation techniques including:

Lilian, Lisa and Alistair continued the theme by showing a variety of audio creation techniques, uses for Xerte and a variety of uses for everything we had shown. By lunchtime there was a real buzz about the room and everyone was keen to speak with their appointed mentor.

I’m not sure whether ‘mentor’ capture the role properly. Certainly we are there to help, to offer guidance, to train, to be a critical friend, to keep the project on track – but in the end, each person working on the various projects will be the real stars: The TechDis Ambassadors.

You can find the TechDis Ambassadors on Facebook.
You can find the TechDis Ambassadors on Twitter – #jtdambassadors

I’m looking after five projects. All are currently working on their action plans, whilst I work on the logistics for travelling extensively across the south of England ;-).

Also see my previous post:

(un) Acceptable spam

We all hate spam don’t we? Don’t we?

Just like all of the junk mail that drops through our letter box at home, the spam we receive in our email inbox and the spurious comments made on our blogs, fill us with a mild annoyance. 

The junk mail goes in the bin and the spam gets deleted – it’s just a short time out of our lives, but time with which we could very well be doing something more useful. Or, at the very least – time which the spam sender has stolen that we might otherwise count as ‘our time’.

But what about those emails we all get from the likes of Amazon (please rate your recent purchase) or Linked-In (such and such a ‘friend’ wants to ..)? They are spam too you know! Unlike (e.g.) Martin’s Money Tips and Tesco, I haven’t specifically asked Amazon or Linked-In to send me emails (often on a daily basis), their emails are uninvited.

However, I play the game by deleting about 50% of their emails and responding to the rest.

But no more!

Amazon recently asked me to rate an earlier purchase – fair enough. This would be one of the latter 50%, where I played the ‘social’ game. I was asked to tick a ‘star’ list on the email and instead of just accepting my choices there and then it took me off to a page on the Amazon web site. Here there were a series of questions to be star-scored 1-5: Again, fair enough.

But then there was also a comment box and it wouldn’t let me leave the page without making a comment. Being fair for the final time: I didn’t want to leave a comment, that would be a minute of my time too much – and at the end of the day, given that I’d given each of the previous four questions a (5) = ‘brilliant’, it would only be blowing more smoke up the vendor’s arse – which I have no wish to do. They, the vendors, don’t really concern me that much – they are shopkeepers, no more than that, I don’t write to W.H.Smith (M&S, Boots, Poundland etc.) and tell them they are wonderful – why should I do that for someone who sells me stuff through Amazon.

Linked-In are always sending emails telling me that such and such a person wants me to be their friend – but then when I click yes I’m taken to the web site where another five minutes of my time is wasted trying to see the relevance of the aforesaid email. STOP. I’ll visit the site and tidy up my contacts etc. when I feel like it!

And finally, when did the science behind advertising change from; ‘annoy the customer and they will not buy’ – to – ‘annoy the customer and they are sure to buy’? 

Why do the web robots think that because you searched for something back in 2011, bought that thing, did that thing and blogged about it in 2012, that you might never have heard of it? The Coeur de France is all over my laptop like a rash! Everything I open on the ‘net has an advert for them. STOP, I’ve been.  The same with Amazon (again), why do they advertise (via spam emails) the same thing I bought last week, as if I’d never seen it/them? STOP.

(oh and I’m now getting adverts for Gites in France that I’ve already seen – )

Picture credit (Tin of Spam) – http://www.flickr.com/photos/ajc1/519906069/ [Thanks for using creative commons]


It occurred to me whilst we were driving up from Lyon to Sancerre that we really do rely a great deal on signs and signage in our lives. When one (like me) doesn’t have full command of a language, one has to rely on well-considered signage to receive relevant (and irrelevant) information, which might otherwise have been received aurally. The language I’m meaning could be just that – a language (in my case French), but it could also be anything new; anything that we are learning is just like a new language, so if we teach, we should also understand signs.

I’d been thinking of our stay in the hotel the previous night. Much of the signage around it prevented me from having to ask difficult (given my mastery of French) questions. The signs around the hotel and the restaurant had sufficient semiotic links to allow my full comprehension.

In the motorway service stations however, signage for the toilets were as obscure as ever with a great deal of thought being required before deciding which one to enter. It’s the same at home though, various places use toilet signage that beggar belief. How do we decipher these signs? What is it in our cultural make-up that determines the difference between one sign and another? No one ever taught me the difference between those male/female symbols (circle + arrow/cross) but I eventually worked it out and tested my theory against common practice. But that needed time – when you’re dying for a pee you have precious little time to decide whether the goat with horns or the goat without is Ladies/Gents!

I did however, work out the difference on the service station we’d stopped at for a coffee.

The two images were so similar that it took a short while to work out. The working out didn’t take too long but the checking my theory against practice took slightly longer as the door of my choice seemed to have women queuing outside. Still – full of confidence (not), I entered the loo and found a slightly shorter queue of women standing outside the cubicles, whilst the urinals stood empty. My theory had been proved by the sight of urinals but confused by the queue of women (and the small group: 2 men and one woman stood talking just inside the door).

The situation I found myself in reminded me that despite the short distance between our two countries, France and the French way of life is very different to our own: If the Ladies is closed for cleaning, then the Ladies will use the Gents – why not?

Trolly Dolly

Over the last few weeks I have been attending a series of JISC Advance Regional Support Centre (RSC) summer fairs on behalf of TechDis. Many readers will know that TechDis are one of JISC Advance’s advisory services promoting:

‘… inclusive practices, resources and advice for learning and teaching in UK higher education, further education & skills, and independent and specialist colleges’. From http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/ [downloaded 4th July 2012]

My most recent (final) two roles were in London at the RSC London ‘eFactor2012’ event, which took place in the magnificent Senate House, close to Russell Square and at Hartlepool College’s superb new build for RSC Northern. I wasn’t at my best for the London event having contracted a mild dose of man-flu earlier in the week.

However, I did manage to rustle up enough voice to talk with the many visitors to my stand.

I was there primarily to promote the newly launched ‘TechDis Voices’ and ‘TechDis Toolbox’.

As before in Glasgow, Leeds and Taunton there was great interest in both products but what was interesting here in London was the fact that the range of attendees seemed to more widely cover the F.E. and Skills sector. There was equal interest from college teachers (not just the techie types, but real teachers) to ACL and WBL representatives. Many of those I spoke to here were not aware of the potential for text-to-speech or of the free tools which might allow it to happen. ACL (adult and community learning) tutors were even more excited by the range and simplicity of Toolbox, which will hopefully help their learners to better overcome and fears of technology.

Sadly, my trip to Hartlepool was a little less successful due to the leaflets and banner being sent to the wrong address by couriers. It’s surprising how much these colourful artifacts do attract people to the stand. With just a laptop, a white tablecloth and two hastily created A4 notices, it was hard to attract attention of anyone. Some folks who had been involved in development did stop by and chat but very few others.

Did you know that folks around here are called monkey hangers?

Please see the previous two posts concerning my visits:



… and the post by Rosemary Leadley, from which the video above is kindly loaned.