New Flickr

screen shot of new flickr pageI really like my new Flickr page.

This just appeared one day last week, with little warning. It’s taken me a short while to find the things I use on Flickr, but overall I’m well pleased.

I’ve thought for a while that it would be nice to see my photo-stream full page, rather than in small windows. Now, I can scroll through the year quite easily.

E.g. The ‘Gavin’ Coke and picture of Sharon remind me of the weekend we had summer earlier this month. The picture of Kings Cross remind me of what will probably be my last work-trip to London and the various jig-saw pictures remind me of a new hobby.

Right back to Christmas and the inevitable Brussels Sprouts.

Sets and Favorites (sic) are now laid out in a more eye-friendly way too – I’d forgotten all about this picture of me and Danny Atwere; I just found it in my Favourites.

So, whilst I can’t always appreciate updates and ‘improvements’ just for the sake of changing something, I can and do appreciate this major change. Well done Yahoo!

So – Facebook; can you make updates and ‘improvements’ that work as well as Flickr’s?  

Built-in obsolescence

Two PrintersFollowing the sudden failure and consequent death* of my Epson Printer yesterday, I am now the owner of a fourth ‘new’ printer since my self-employment began in 2005. There was a fifth, which I carried forward into self-employment, but that was retired fairly early on due to its age. It was put out to grass with Sharon until she passed it on to Betony, who (as a teenager) found it useful the odd time she needed to print a page and my shiny new laser printer wasn’t available.

So the average age of a printer is what? Two years? Really – just two years, IS THAT ALL?

The HP Laser printer was a huge disappointment. I can’t remember exactly how it died, or why, but it hadn’t fulfilled my expectations anyway – being unreliable and of patchy quality. It was binned within two years, I do remember that.  We then had an HP all-in-one inkjet which, to be fair, produced a better output than the laser jobbie. That one must have lasted over two years – which was still a disappointment, because the only reason IT DIED was that some chip somewhere inside it said that it should die. We simply couldn’t make it work well once it had started playing up.

So then, thinking that HP were rubbish, we moved to Epson and bought an Epson Stylus Photo PX720WD. This came with all singing and dancing ‘stuff’ we didn’t really need but it was a 6-ink printer with a bloody good write-up. Its print, scan and copy quality were second to now. Also, as we had learned to do with the HP Inkjet, we bought a non-proprietary ‘ink-system’ to negate the exorbitant cost of proprietary inks. This worked well. Every now and again, we had to tell the printer that we had bought new ink (there’s a chip in the  proprietary ink cartridge that tells it when to shout ’empty’, even if it isn’t) and everything was hunky dory.

Yesterday then, was a surprise when it said that its ink pads were at the end of their life and we should take it to Epson for replacement. Research told me that I wasn’t the only person this had happened to. E.g.

My Epson PX800FW all-in-one has started displaying a strange message about the ink pads (not carts note) coming to the end of their service life and to contact Epson support. A quick look on the Epson site basically states that you can get them repaired but they are prohibitively expensive usually, but not to worry because they only tend to go after years of use and/or very heavy use and so typically the printer will be replaced for other reasons before it comes an issue. [from: http://forums.bit-tech.net/showthread.php?t=184732]

Most forums recommended a download that would cure the problem, some sites offer help at a cost but none seemed to help me with the fact that I wanted to print NOW. I did try the download, but the printer simply refused to talk to either the Mac or the PC – it simply said ‘take me to me maker’.

So we’ve bought another printer today. We tried the Espon site and looked at all the spec, then checked out the various retailers (Argos, PC World, Curry’s, Tesco etc.) hoping we could pick one up quickly but despite them showing on their sites – once we got to the ‘buy’ area it said ‘out of stock’ – tough titty basically! How these sites survive, I’ve no idea. I understand that the shops might not hold stock, but surely they can move pieces from the Central Distribution Depot to the shop within 48 hours.

Amazon did the job in less than 18. Around 4.00pm yesterday we paid £7 for delivery before 1:00pm the next day (today). it was with us by 8.40am! Brilliant.

We’ve gone for a cheap unit this time. 4 inks (system ordered and on its way), gravity feed etc. but if it’s not going to last two years due to built-in obsolescence, we might as well pay £60 than £200.

* Death might be too harsh a word – I intend to try and get it repaired, after all i only need to override the chip that Epson put in. I must remember that they SOLD it to me, they didn’t rent it to me, so i have no obligation to go to them for repair.

Arbeitslos

Arbeitslos 2013I have found this post quite difficult to compose. The subject matter is completely alien to me and I had to think long and hard about whether or not I should write it. I am doing so in the hope that it’s personally cathartic, as I don’t really expect any of the circumstances to change any time soon.

For the first time in over thirty years I find myself without work.

The last time this happened was in 1982 when, following several hard years of self employment a previous recession forced me to close the business I was then running. At that time we sold our delightful semi-detached home and moved into a fish and chip shop. This was good accommodation, but living ‘over’ the shop isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A fish and chip business wasn’t the most lucrative to have at that time either as all of the local businesses and mills were also closing – but we were able to keep a roof over our heads and to feed the kids.

It was following this experience that I moved into Education, starting as a part-time chef-lecturer at Dewsbury College.

I became self-employed once again; seventeen years later in 2005, when my ‘e-Learning Manager’ post at Dewsbury was made redundant. Since then, until the middle of 2011 it was ‘rock and roll’ – I was as busy as anyone else in this business and, I like to think, just as equally respected. Since the summer of 2011, things have slackened off remarkably. Without work given to me by the redoubtable Lilian Soon (at Leeds College of Music) and by LSIS (directly and via various routes), I would have struggled much earlier. I have had other work – not to mention that provided by TechDis (for whom I do still have some residual bits of work) and one of the RSCs, but now that LSIS are no more and the JISC are also tightening their belts, there is nothing on the horizon at all.

I know that I’m not the only one as I’ve seen several status updates on Facebook and on Twitter from respected, often eminent e-Learning gurus – saying the same thing: where is the work?

It would seem to me that at this time; when colleges are being forced to re-think the way they operate due to massively reduced funding streams, that the creative, thoughtful and effective use of e-Learning would be most necessary – but there’s no evidence of that.

I spent a full week in a college last month delivering ‘basic Moodle training’ (17 x 90-minute sessions) to as many of the staff (teaching and non-teaching) as could make those sessions – almost the entire staff body. And, that’s a good thing – but there is no cross-college, management inspired plan to back up the basics with anything more advanced. Yet, with just a little more guidance, some input on ‘other tools’ and a modicum of ‘this-is-how-to-make-online-work’ – next year’s intake mightn’t be faced with meaningless lists of files – or the scroll of video death*.

Cartoon image, courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearmancartoons/Yet another college will soon move into a new build. As far as I’m aware, there will be no (or much reduced) physical file storage there and everyone will ‘hot-desk’. But I’m not aware of any training being delivered to help staff to cope with the necessity of storing online or of the benefits and challenges that this will bring.

After talking with other ‘e’ friends, some of whom are in a similar situation to me, I feel that much of the ‘e’ progress we have seen (and been party to) over the last 10-12 years is in danger of being lost – or at the very least stalled. Which is a real shame, because learners still need to be well taught – but nowadays in less time and with less face to face guidance.

So, although I’m fairly sanguine about my personal future – I do feel for those ‘e’ colleagues who have families to support. I just need to sell my house (it’s been for sale on and off for over two years already) and any immediate pressure will be off – but the reason for it not selling is much the same as the reasons for reduced funding across Education – and I don’t want to fall out with anyone by going into THAT!

🙂

*Now that I’ve shown teachers how to ‘embed’ videos in ‘labels’ (also in ‘Book’ – but that’s a step extra) I expect there to be a repeat of the days when teachers first saw PowerPoint and immediately adopted that – for everything, for ever! Leading to the original ‘death by …’.

Credits:

Cartoon image, courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearmancartoons/
Main image original courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/evaekeblad/ [links to original]

Rewarding

This is a longish post – please bear with it 🙂

Picture of Chirk aquaductHow many of us ever know what becomes of our students once we’ve finished teaching them? How many of us ever care?

I still see many of my ex-catering students on Facebook: they ‘friended’ me years after I finished teaching them, which was years before Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were ever thought of. They are all getting on with their lives, working, bringing up families and doing all the normal stuff I probably did myself when younger.

But not all of my ex-learners are able to function quite like that.

I’ve known Larry since he was born; his father and I went to school together.

I’ve known Larry professionally since he was 16 when his class came into college on a Friday morning for a 2-hour cookery class. Larry has some minor disabilities and a moderate learning difficulty, but these didn’t prevent him from taking part in the class – in fact his SLDD school classmates were often unable to take part at all without someone to one help them one to one. Larry was more able.

When he left the SLDD school at 19 he came into the college ‘foundation studies’ department and eventually, when that particular funding stream ceased, he came to me in Catering:  We had created an NVQ level 1 catering course especially for learners similar to Larry. The cookery part of the qualification wasn’t beyond them; the ‘realistic working environment (RWE)’ wasn’t impossible and we could go to town with the life-skills aspects – something my team believed in passionately.  We squeezed two years out of that funding stream and taught them basic maths, basic English, work skills and IT – all of these were coordinated and where a learner was weak in one subject, but strong in another, we paired them up and they helped each other. It was a brilliant course which I was happy to hand over to the talented, tenacious, energetic and inspired Sarah Mowet when we created a level 2 course for them to roll onto.

Snow up Golcar 2013

We knew that the learners would not be quite as successful at this higher level because the cookery requirements were just too complex, but we could still help them to improve their life chances by continuing the basic skills tuition and food service skills until funding once more (finally) kicked them out. For level 2 we needed them to have work placement experience and it was Sarah who found Larry his position at the local Pizza Hut. She fought for him to get the placement and Larry fought to keep it – twelve years on he’s still there. Thank you Sarah. Thank you Larry.

Larry has kept his job at Pizza Hut – two days a week – despite the ever changing managers and other Pizza Hut personnel. He has kept it by sheer force of personality, hard work and the ability to adapt (even if slowly, over time) to changing job roles. He has never worked front of house and has always had to carry out some of the more mundane tasks in the kitchen: making up the pizza boxes, washing up etc. But he has never ceased to learn.

Through all of this time, Larry has lived with his parents. He’s in his mid-30s now and last week he moved into his own ‘pad’. It’s not quite sheltered housing, but there is someone on site (a complex with around twenty other similar pads) in case there’s any real difficulty. Larry’s pad has a shower/wet room, a bedroom, a living room and a small kitchen; all of which he will look after on his own. He is responsible for his own cooking and cleaning; he even has a washing machine.

He’s been greatly excited as his new home, which he will share with others in similar positions to him, was being made ready. Because of his slight visual impairment, he has a large T.V. and when we moved him in, we made sure that this would function as a monitor for his laptop – it did, wonderfully. He had a remote keyboard and mouse and can control his computer from the settee, along with his music. We also fixed up his Wii – so he can continue to exercise.

Prior to him moving, mum and dad had been working with Larry to consider what he would eat, when and how best to prepare it. The majority would be frozen meals that he’d either bought or that he or parents had cooked ready for him to use. They agreed between them, a five-week menu that meant Larry had a varied diet and which would help him to plan what he would take out of the freezer before going off about his daily business.

And here’s the crux of my post.

More snow up GolcarI spoke to Larry after his first week there and he said it had been ok (in his Yorkshire bred, understated way) and then I went walking with his dad on Saturday.

Dad told me that they’d been wondering how he was going on (and I think they’d been missing him too) and popped around for a cup of tea on Wednesday. They found him sat on the settee; he’d re-connected the laptop to the T.V. and was working on a document (it could have been either Excel or Word – I don’t know) that looked really complex. When asked, he said it was an inventory of his freezer’s contents. The table contained all of the food types to be found in his freezer and the two end columns were titled: Yes – No.

Dad asked him what it was for he said he’d made it himself so that when he went out shopping he could see from his stocktaking which things he would need to buy to replace things in the No column.

I loved that story – which is why I’ve written so much background (because without context it might not mean much). Larry was always good with IT and could always follow careful instructions but creating an inventory and then stocktaking are two things we’ve never taught him. He’s taught himself that.

And that’s rewarding for everyone concerned.

Larry isn’t his real name.

Connectivity

 

picture of people using the mobile phones on york railway station.

Eyes down. (That’s Ron Mitchell centre-stage 😉

James Clay’s recent e-Learning Stuff blog post – http://elearningstuff.net/2013/04/15/so-what-if-i-am-not-connected/ prompted the following reply from me on Facebook:

I so agree James. It’s almost like 10 years ago when we couldn’t assume that learners (or their teachers) could (or would) be able to get on the net.

Now that everyone pretty much ‘can’ get on the net and mainly ‘do’ get on the net for social purposes – we similarly assume that they are savvy enough to deal with lack of or no connectivity, JAVA updates, Adobe updates and the like, all of which take up time – always at the most inconvenient, obtrusive “ffs leave me alone” time.

I leave train journeys for ‘Office’ stuff and reading now – I never try because it’s just so depressing.

He’d talked about how unreliable getting on line was during the times he had to take part in online courses. Whilst I am not taking part in such a course, I have exactly the same frustration – as I’m sure do most travelling (peripatetic) workers who rely on the internet for collaboration and communication.

I am working away all of this week, in Maidenhead.  Whilst I’m working in the college I’m so full on that I am unable to access my emails, reply to FB or Twitter ‘stuff’, blog or – anything that would, if sat in my office at home, effect an immediate response. So that sort of thing has to wait until I’m sat in my Travelodge bedroom, walking the streets or sat in a pub.

In my Travelodge bedroom (which may itself evoke another blog post) I have a wide variety of ‘pay for me‘ services available and I’m not paying for those – they are just as unreliable as the train WiFis. However, I do have a ‘3’ pay as you go MiFi which rarely lets me down when it has good reception and I’m not in a moving vehicle. I’m using MiFi as I type this. So – pretty good service, but I have to wait until I’m static, have switched it on and I’m connected.

Walking the streets – the MiFi would probably be ok, but why would I carry my laptop or iPad around with my, typing in the streets? I could use my iPhone, but the clue is in the name: when you’re walking, it’s really only any good as a phone. When you’re sat still and doing anything other than texting or reading emails on the iPhone 3GS, it’s only any good as a phone (and therefore discarded from this tirade).

So, the pub (and many other out-and-about establishments) provide access to The Cloud or similar services (e.g. BT Total Broadband). And, I use them. But. They are so erratic. I tried to upload a photo to Instagram the other night but it just wouldn’t go. I’ve no idea why, I had good connection to The Cloud  but – nothing. It’s not the first time I’ve had trouble with Instagram.

The same occurred when I wanted to share a passage I’d read in the Kindle Book I was reading – “sorry, something has gone wrong” – Amazon, the cheeky sods even sent me emails each time I tried, to say “sorry, something went wrong, please try again” (I can’t. I’ve finished the damn book now grrrr).

So, when I’m away from home I become a frustrated communicator/collaborator. When I’m abroad, it’s even harder.

More audio

One of the Antony Gormley figures (Another Place) being leaned on by me!I have just completed a day-long session working with the supported learning team at Brooklands College in Weybridge.

It was GREAT.  The section staff, led by Lorraine Crossland, had asked for some advanced input on audio creation and usage techniques – the goal being to better support the learners and to populate their VLE.

I’d visited Brooklands once previously as part of the TechDis Ambassador project and during that first visit had shown them a variety of audio tools, tips and techniques – nothing too advanced but enough to whet their appetite. This second visit was supported by the JISC RSC-SE.

So – why GREAT?

Well, mainly because learners were in attendance all day and I was asked (at fairly short notice) to deliver the afternoon session. All of which was brilliant. The Entry Level 2/3 learners were keen to learn enough about audio but we also told them that they needed to remember these new techniques so that they could support their teachers in the future 🙂

Having already bitten the audio bullet, Lorraine’s staff had planned the day around the sort of things they might encourage learners to do and had begun to work with the learners in preparation for my visit. The morning group were introduced specifically to Audacity and to Balabolka. During  my previous visit, the IT Technicians had been shown how both tools could support learners and had made a sterling effort since to ensure that MyStudyBar and Audacity were available in this room. The power of MyStudyBar had really impressed one of the IT guys – he had some nice ideas for deployment.

606368564My afternoon group, Entry Level 2, had been making PowerPoint files and wanted to add audio to the slides. No problem! It was as if the intervening twelve years hadn’t passed – bang, I was in front of an engaged group with moderate learning difficulties. For ‘engaged’ read: enthusiastic, motivated, keen to learn, enquiring and fun to be with! They loved it!

We started with introductions and I picked up that their favourite lesson (and teacher?) was sport – so I demonstrated the use of audio on their PPTs by using a sport theme. I showed them Audacity and simply inserted the audio file we created. I may well have used Vocaroo but the techies are in discussion with the site because the college firewall won’t let it (Vocaroo) though!  They all shouted “cool” when the audio played – yet when I showed them how to attach the same file to an animation (the sporty image we’d chosen) – so that the description of the image (which is what we’d recorded) they shouted “cool’ even louder.

We set them off to do the same themselves then. Towards the end I called the group back and showed them Balabolka. They ‘got’ this immediately and once the college have grasped how to deploy the TechDis voices across their network – the learners will use it big-time.

As i said at the top – GREAT.

Jigsaws

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).
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