Saturday, 28 March 2009

A Chinese coin puzzle ...

Went to Braidwood market today, where there was a stall selling old coins, mostly federation or Queen Victoria pennies, but there was a tray that had a mixture of communist era east European coins, mostly from Hungary and Poland, plus a pile of these chinese coins like the ones used in feng shui.

I bought the two pictured above, plus a Soviet 5 kopeck coin for three bucks. (Click on the images for a larger version)

Back home I tried to identify the coins from the web. Both are thin, 30mm diameter and with the dragon and pearl design on one side and differing inscriptions on the other - as can be seen from the second image below.

I've added a scan of the Soviet 5 Kopeck coin for fun plus a contemporary Australian 5 cent coin for comparison. Our 5 cent coin is about the size of a US dime or a little bigger than an English 5p.

Anyway, absolutely zero success identifying them, the nearest I found was a web site selling coins for use in feng shui.

So, are they genuine, or are they fakes made for religious purposes?

And if they're genuine, when and where were they made?

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Are friends electric

Still banging away on the social networking and what is a friend problem. Decided to look at my own facebook friends (47) personal email address book (912) and work address book (big - I use the ldap server for in house addresses), and it actually looks quite simple to break down:

people in facebook or personal address book with whom one has had more than 10 interactions in the previous year
people in facebook or personal addressbook with whom one has had between one and 10 interactions in previous year
People in facebook or personal addressbook with whom one has had no contact in the previous year
People not in facebook but either in personal address book or work addressbook with whom one has had a non-personal exchange in the previous year

So one can break this down to say:

Friends: real friends and family with whom one has a set of interactions - strong ties
Acquaintances: real acquaintances with whom one has a set of interactions spreading out over time - weaker ties
Interactives: people that you may have interacted with in the past and may interact with again - weakest ties
Contacts: people with whom you have no ties but have a set of interactions such as a business relationship with - no ties

This model is nicely hierarchical if a bit arbitrary. Contacts may become Interactives. Interactives may become acquaintances. Acquaintances may become interactives and so on and so on. And while salesmen always want to be your friend they're not as the interactions are non-personal.

The next stage is to try and apply this model to a larger data set ...

Weak Ties and medieval social networking

Back in November I blogged about Medieval social networking and the reconstruction of the map of social obligation in pasrt of medieval southwest France.

Now most of these relationships were commercial transactions - weak ties - and thus really what was graphed out was a map of social obligation.

So, by arbitrarily scoring (ie weighting) various relationships do we find some sort of double donut - a ring of close relations and an outer ring of acquaintances and a degree of fuzz round the edges - something that is quite different from the Kevin Bacon connectedness diagrams that show only the connections, not the relationship status ...

Monday, 23 March 2009

LMS, Facebook and weak ties

In my recent post about Facebook and LMS's I argued that most people in any groups had a few close friends and the perhaps 40-50 acquaintances, which is about a third of the Dunbar number. (The Dunbar number being a supposed upper limit on the size of a social group)

Which kind of leads to the question of what's a friend and what's an acquaintance. Facebook wraps everyone into "friends", but we know that's not true. There's the people you have a high degree of social interaction and the people some passing relationship with - weak ties - basically people you've met talked with, people you were at college with, people you rode with on a bus across Turkey, or in other words people with whom you developed some sort of bond of shared experience - and with who you have a continued consensual set of interactions.

Now not everyone is an acquaintance. We know this experientially, change a job, and you lose the majority of apparent acquaintances - because they were just that, people you interacted with in a certain context, but with whom you had no interaction outside of that context. Basically the people you were pleasant to, if for no other reason that it was easier that way. Once there was no reason to interact they ceased to be acquaintances. (But unless you actively deleted them they'd still be friends in Facebook-speak. And you probably wouldn't actively delete them ...)

So let's go back to the example of French 101. 250+ students. Probably contains the odd wierdo or two. Probably contains people you'd like to be friends with. Probably contains people you don't mind interacting with, and possibly contains people who give you the creeps.

And of course students don't just do one module a semester, they do two or three, so by the time you've added in introductory linguistics and medieval history you've probably got a pool that is way to big to be social with.

So what's my point?

Simply to reiterate that social networking is consensual, and also that not all friends are created equal. Consequently expecting that enabling social networking features within an LMS will create a vibrant online collaborative learbing experience is naive to say the least. In fact forcing people to interact may be counterproductive.

Small group chats, aka tutorials may work or may not, as has always been the way. But no matter how many widgets you get you won't get good interaction in a large group, and consequently the generation 2 features may be of little value ...

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Cooking and the recession

Well, we know staying in is the new going out, and suddenly even the White House has a kitchen garden, so as a change from the usual topics in this blog I thought I'd occasionally share what we cook.

Of course this is going to be Canberra centric, but I'm sure you can work out substitutes.

Potato and Prosciutto pizza

Good quality 30cm pizza base - either Pangallo's hand made (Deli Planet) or Nonna's traditional (Superbarn) or make your own. Do not buy the cheap frozen doughy ones that taste like polyfilla - you will regret it.

100g thin sliced chat potatoes
75g lean prosciutto - deli planet
quarter of a red onion thinly sliced
3/4 can Rosa's artichoke hearts in brine (don't use the oil and vinegar marinated ones)
100g Mozzarella (grated) (any decent brand works)
20g Parmesan grated
dried Chilli (pinch)
Fresh Basil (market or back yard)

Thinly slice the potatoes and cook in microwave until tender.
Spread the mozzarella evenly over the pizza base (Pangallo's and Nonna's both come pre-wiped with oil and tomato - if you're using a plain base wipe with a mixture of oil and tomato puree)
Add the onion to the mozzarella layer
Layer the potatoes over the mozzarella
Roughly quarter the artichoke hearts and put evenly over the potatoes. (save what's left over for a salad the next day)
Coarsely shred the Prosciutto and put bits evenly over the potatoes.
Sprinkle Parmesan over the top mixed with the pich of dried chilli.
Top off with a few shredded Basil leaves, and the merest sprinkle of olive oil.

Cook in a pre heated oven at 220C for 10-12 minutes while listening to Johnny Clegg

Serve with a raddichio, fennel and lettuce salad and a decent bottle of red eg Mad Fish CabSav or Ninth Island PinotNoir

Listen to jazz and talk about what interests you, work art language and whatever. Relax and enjoy. Do human things.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

the black cleopatra meme

over the past few days I've tweeted a number of links which we can call the black cleopatra meme - basically what was cleopatra's skin colour?

The tweets were
so thinking about this I realised that the question wasn't about a long dead Egyptian queen's skin colour and more about our attitudes to it.

The Greeks, and GreacoRoman culture in general wasn't fazed by skin colour. They were more interested if you could speak good attic Greek or formal Latin (preferably both), knew the classics and could throw the odd epigram about. There are jokes about Roman emperors who spoke with provincial accents but none about their skin colour despite the fact that Septimius Severus was probably an ethnic Libyan and as for Philip the Arab ...

In GreacoRoman eyses you were either a member of the culture, the koine, or you weren't, in which case you were a babarian, probably smelled, wore trousers and worshipped strange gods.

The Egyptians were different. Clearly civilised, cultured, but had some very odd beliefs and sexual practices. Cleopatra, as the offspring of the GreacoEgyptian aristocracy probably spoke good Greek, knew her classics, counted as civilised, but had a whiff of exoticism about her.

She may have been darker than your average Alexandrian, but due to her Greek heritage she probably wasn't nubian black.

Her contemporaries probably wouldn't have cared.

So why do we?

Part of it is probably because the Cleopatra/Ceasar/Mark Antony story is a truly fantastic story, but is there a degree of prurience, is it because we find the idea of a black aristocracy strange, perhaps unsettling? And what does that say about us and our allegedly relaxed non-racist inclusive attitudes?

credit crunch and digital preservation

One of the great problems in digital preservation/archiving is developing a funding model that's sustainable. In essence you can't digitise all your records on the basis of a three year grant and expect them to be there in twenty years - you have to actually curate the data, which means planning for upgrades, format changes, media degradation and the rest.

Digital preservation has been very much one of the devlopments of the last few years on the back of cheap storage, tchnology and the desire to increase access to rare (physical) resources, or as in one project I workd on, preserve audio recording of aboriginal language before the original 1950's quarter inch tapes rotted and degraded too badly to copy.

However no one figured on the credit crunch and the collapse in funding. Jonathan Jarrett reports that the Digital Scriptorium and Columbia is not going to it's funding renewed with a consequent impact on its ability to carry on.

Given that many digital preservation projects are reliant on charitable endowments (ie indirectly on the stock market) or government funding ('nuff said) it's clear that many projects will be in trouble. Given that many universities worldwide are looking at shortfalls for basically the same reason, bailouts from their host institutions may be less likely than they might be.

The cynic in me suggests that we go back to an earlier funding model - instead of cash we give digital preservation projects land which cannot be sold but may be leased out - that should at least guarantee an independent income stream ...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

the archaeologist, the thief and google earth ...

back in november I ruminated about archaeological uses of google earth.
Since then I've come across a 'guess this site' game based on google earth as well as today's news of a lead thief in London who used google earth to identify lead roofs to strip.

While one has to deplore his actions one can't help ignore his ingenuity - in another life he could have spent his time looking for crop marks or scanning pictures of the wilds of kazakstahn looking for objects of interest.

Of course, the real message is that google earth makes it easy. One no longer has to get access to the spooks' less secret photographs, meaning that anyone can follow their interest, nefarious or otherwise ...

Friday, 13 March 2009

advertising via twitter ...

just noticed a new phenomenon - shortly after blasting out a slew if 'interesting links' tweets I get a notification that x is now following you on twitter. If I click on the view profile link, I of course see their tweet list which consists of a single tweet advertising anything from professional services to professional services (nudge, nudge).

(Simple solution - write a filter to kill the messages. I have enough ways to aggrandise my ego without worrying about who's following me on twitter)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The LMS as social networking tool

Facebook and social networking is very much the thing these days. Everyday we get claims that people have ditched email for facebook and in the past I've blogged about the possibility of facebook for edu.

Certainly people have tried teaching groups with facebook, but almost certainly that's because they wanted the sharing and collaborative features in a social networking platform such as facebook. And as for email being dead, thats simply not true. People use email and facebook differently. Emails are sent to individuals, with (or without attachments). The direct analogy is with the good old fashioned post. You send a communication to named individuals, who you may or may not know, for a purpose. Same as text messages, communication is 1 -> n where n is any integer greater or equal to one.

Facebook is different - it's about collaboration. The idea is very simple, you broadcast your communications to a group of your friends who can see all your communications. It means that they can keep up with what you're doing, how big your cat is or whatever. But it's not targeted, it's more like the communication of a group of friends round a cafe or pub table.

And that's exactly what it is. Let's you know Karen's got a new boyfriend, that Debbie's gone hiking in Japan - check the cool photo's, or that Pierre's looking for some material for a new course he's teaching. It lets you keep in contact with people half the planet away, with whom you still have a degree of friendship and interest. It let's you do the shared thing. But basically you only share with those you know or feel comfortable sharing with.

And it's not just facebook, you see the same nexus of contacts developing in linkedin, where you tend to link and track with people you have substantial professional enagagement with and with whom you feel it  might be profitable to re-engage.

But throughout the scheme is the idea of consent.

Now let's look at learning management systems (LMS's).

Generation 1 systems simply modelled the standard pedagogic experience. Tutor made material available. Tutor set tests to track how students are doing. Tutor held tutorials (aka chat-room sessions). Students did tests, checked in papers, particiapted in tutorials. Basically the same deal as it's been for tha last 800 years, but the online version.

The major advantage of these systems was for part time and distance learning students. None of the business of having to nick off for a tutorial during the day. It also made it easy to take a module in your own time and to interact and pose questions of your tutor at a time conveneinet to you. And it also let students work more easily round timetable clashes, review material, especially if the mp3's of the lectures were available to download. So all in all they were a good thing and probably enhanced the learning experience for most students.

Now, here comes generation 2. All the generation 1 features are still there, after all it's worked for the past 800 odd years, but now we're talking about sharing and collaboration and group projects, and that means disclosing information about yourself so that people can identify you.

Now in a small group situation, say a translation group working through early medieval french texts to get up to speed for a research topic that's probably ok. For a start you probably know each other already, and if you don't you'd probably happen across each other soon enough. After all, these days universities are not infested with medievalists, latinists or any other of the stereotypes.

Now scale this out to something like French Language 101. Probably at least 250 in the class. Yes, they're still split into smaller grups for teaching purposes, but still unlikely that everyone will know every one. And there may be people that you don't want to share with. In real life you'd get through any group activity with the minimum of interaction possible. In facebook you'd block them from seeing your profile, but hey, you're at college, you don't have any control over who sees what in the LMS and suddenly your information is exposed. Espeically is there's also a group resource site for the whole course.

And that's the rub. A social LMS imposes social networking. Applications like facebook are (bad management decisions aside) consensual opt in environments.

Now social networking, however basic is probably good for small groups, you might even get forums working and real discussion going. But big anonymous groups?

Not really. Most people probably only know about 15 people and have a wider circle of 40 or 50 acquaintainces - certainly plenty of research in suggests so. People don't have 250 acquaintences. And that's where the other probles that are difficult to deal with, cyberstalking, cyberbullying tend to to take over reducing the utility of the LMS and increasing student dissatisfaction.

So, where does this leave us?

Ceratinly the social aspects of an LMS are a benefit in small advanced and possibly more mature groups. But in big groups? perhaps not, or at least the problems may outweigh the benefits.



Printq, our ipp based printing solution is live and working well. I've blogged about this previously, and while it's been a bit of work (especially with respect to Vista) it's turned out to be something really neat and simple, with over a 150 active users in the first couple of weeks of the semester ...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

More than half the world has a cellphone ...

Interesting article in today's Guardian that more than half the world now uses a cellphone.

Not surprising. Even in Turkey in 1998 it was surprising how common they were. Morocco and Greece the following year, the same thing.

Not surprising. All three countries had been relatively poor with poor infrastructure and scattered populations outside of the cities. Mobile phones took over as cell phone towers were cheaper to build than a wired network, and were personal and convenient.

Saw the same in Laos in 2004. And you can see the same thing in Canberra. The useful fibre (FTTH) network doesn't come to everywhere in the city as it was expensive to build, outcompeted by satellite tv, more expensive, not enough channels, so the rollout stalled.

Net result, when the idea of fast broadband to the home came around, coverage was spotty, and there wasn't a reason or funding enough to spread the network to the rest of the city, so we get ADSL2 and people in the next suburb get FTTH, just because that's where the cable hauling trucks stopped when the cash ran out.

Same can be seen in the UK, Sky TV killed the cable networks. Strangely enough you see the opposite in the US and the Netherlands. Cable TV happened early as it gave access to wide range of channels and the cost of putting wires in was at the time less than building a satellite tv infrastructure. Net result is that the cable tv companies can then move into internet provision as they have the infrastructure.

Be very interesting to see what will happen with mobile broadband over the next few years - will it win out over FTTH or even FTTN?