Devil of a Holiday

Posted by matthew on Mar 23, 2006 in dance, music

The weekend in Hamburg was terrific. We had possibly the best Lindy hosts in the entire world, Arne and Fabian, who made sure to check with us on our breakfast preferences before we left, and then greeted us with a smile on arrival in Hamburg. They have a really interesting, large apartment at the top of a very steep spiralling staircase in a building in a handy part of the city. Hopefully they will get to Cambridge (or maybe even Melbourne?) one day so that we can return the favour. Lotte had a baptism of fire into the international lindy hop teaching world, with 12 hours of teaching over 2 days assisting Bill. The advanced classes were quite a decent level, so she had her work cut out for her, and she did an amazing job. At the end of the weekend they had them in the palm of their hands, and the students were all starting to really get it. I enjoyed the opportunity of a weekend with no responsibilities apart from doing a bit of DJing and having fun. I also met a DJ with perhaps the most astounding collection of beautiful swing music I’ve ever met — Swingin’ Swanee. This woman is a professional, and it shows. Bill, Ellen and I took her on in the DJ Battle and never stood a chance. I heard she owns around 4,000 albums, most of which were in her personal vinyl collection. She has only fairly recently started using CDs to DJ. I highly recommend getting hold of her CD collections Wild Party, Devil’s Holiday, and That’s Rhythm from Ceraton.


Frozen Hamburgers

Posted by matthew on Mar 17, 2006 in dance, holiday

This weekend we’re off to Hop In The Spring in Hamburg, Germany. It looks like a fun weekend, but I’m wondering a bit about the name. It’s below freezing in Hamburg right now, and the forecast is for snow, snow/rain, and snow. That doesn’t sound like spring to me. This is sure to be a test of my not-very-snow-friendly shoes, especially because they will be doubling as my dance shoes. Hmmm…


First day on the job

Posted by matthew on Mar 10, 2006 in funny

Had a bad day at work? A friend sent me this telling example of a tough first day on the job.


Desire Lines and Systems Design

Posted by matthew on Mar 9, 2006 in educause, research

A very helpful comment from Jenny Reiswig on yesterday’s blog entry lead to the discovery of the term ‘desire lines’ — an evocative concept that has already been used as an analogy in the design of technical systems.

Larry Wall, creator of UNIX Perl language:

People will accept a new thing much better if it already resembles something they’re familiar with or the way theyare already thinking about things. A musician would say “A musical piece lays under the fingers — it looks hard but it is easy to play.” Another way of thinking of it is (by analogy:) At the University of California at Irvine, when they first built its campus, they just planted grass. Then they waited a year and looked at where people had made paths in the grass and built the sidewalks there. I did the same thing with Perl. I looked at the paths people liked to traverse in UNIX, and distilled them down to a language that still in many ways contains the essence of UNIX. The real driving force behind porting Perl to Windows and Macs is primarily disenfranchised UNIX programmers who want to have a little bit of the old country, and with Perl they get that. On a Windows machine, we make sure there are Windows-specific interfaces, but the notion of being able to hook everything up to everything else in a simple manner is really shoving a wad of UNIX glue into the middle of the works. (It’s about) taking a system where “you can’t get there from here” and letting you get there from here.

Larry Wall Articles and Interviews


The Tanbark Principle

Posted by matthew on Mar 8, 2006 in educause, research

Scenario 1
A newly constructed block of flats is built, and the city plans for the large number of people living there by building a bus stop directly outside, a car park, and wheelchair access to the flats. Because of the steep gradient from the street to the car park, the wheelchair ramp is built parallel to the street, doubling back on itself to create a long entry point for foot traffic. Residents at the flats become annoyed with having to traverse the ramp, and begin to step through the newly constructed garden beds and jumping into the car park below. The garden beds become trampled, and residents risk injury. The design has failed to meet the goals of the majority of the residents who use the bus.

Scenario 2
A Landscape architect is designing a new playground which will include an adventure playground with various features, a sand pit, drinking fountains, and paved pathways. They construct all of the equipment, but they decide to delay the construction of the pathways. Instead, they spread tanbark evenly around the equipment, including between the equipment and the amenities. The new playground is opened, and receives heavy use over the first 2 weeks. The landscape architects return, and map the areas where the tanbark is thinner. These pathways through the tanbark have been left by regular use of children as they move around the new playground. The landscape architect uses the map to specify where the paved pathways, which are added to the playground to complete the design.

The Tanbark Principle
Instead of trying to design something that you think will allow people to achieve their goal, observe their behaviour to see if they are already finding a good path. If possible, observe many people to map the most common pathways to these goals.


Where is the cutting edge?

Posted by matthew on Mar 6, 2006 in education, educause, research, technology

A lot of work in educational technology claims to be at the crest of the wave, at least technologically speaking. That is, technologies that are now prevalent in homes and workplaces are being exploited for educational uses. The original design of technologies is often adapted to achieve educational aims that weren’t originally considered. Marconi proved wireless radio communications were possible in the late 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that HF radios were used to teach school kids in remote locations in outback Australia. The internet is, of course, another obvious example. But is it always the case that educational uses of technologies need to lag behind their discovery for other purposes? One disadvantage of considering educational aims as a second thought is that we are always forced to adapt something that has been designed for some other reason. It may be that we can never really understand the way a technology will be used until long after its invention, but at the very least we could start to look at emerging technologies and their possible educational uses much earlier than we typically do. A list of emerging technologies might include:

  • Podcasts – already being used in some educational settings, but not widely
  • Blogs and Wikis – more widespread uptake for education, but not much written about it yet
  • Voice over IP – probably some uses already. Are there Skype schools of the air? Do students conduct interviews with experts, or engage in teleapprenticeship activities & long distance classroom-classroom interactions using VoIP?
  • Wireless and 3G – as wifi becomes prevalent and technologies like WiMAX sound more plausible, what will this do to student expectations and our expectations of their connectivity? What will it do to our physical spaces, and how are we going to keep up with demand?
  • Multi-touch – more on the cutting edge, the work by Jefferson Han and colleagues on Multi-touch interfaces has some exciting educational applications. Who’s considering them?
  • Roll-up computers – sounds like science fiction, but I first people like Alan Kay talking about this sort of technology in the mid-1990s.



Posted by matthew on Mar 4, 2006 in life, technology

After a very sad start to the week, we were really glad to have some good news yesterday. Lotte has got a job! She’ll be working as a Cover Supervisor (teaching assistant) at a fantastic school called Parkside Community College, right in the middle of Cambridge. She’s overjoyed because the school is particularly good and the staff were really nice. They have a fantastic media arts programme and have dance and drama as part of the curriculum, which is what was important to Lotte. We’ve been looking at the website and hoping they would advertise something Lotte could apply for since before we left Australia. As if that wasn’t enough, on the same day I found out I’ll be getting a new Macbook Pro. Tonight our friends Simon and George are coming up to visit us from London, and we’re going to celebrate Lotte’s new job by going out to dinner.


Rolling on Role-plays

Posted by matthew on Mar 3, 2006 in education, educause, research

I’m just at the end of my 5th week at Caret, but already I feel like I’m getting my teeth into some interesting stuff. Looking back, it did take a while, but at this moment I feel as though a lot has happened. Today was a highlight, with our second observation of a role-play in action, complete with film crew and student interviews. Or interview, as it turned out that most of the students we lined up beforehand had to cancel. We’ll have to do follow up interviews next week. So why are we doing this? Well, we’ve spent quite a bit of time looking for high quality learning resources, and identified some role-plays conducted in the MPhil courses here as candidates. We want to identify key elements of these exercises, including important learning advantages of the approach, as well as any problems encountered. With that information we hope to build up a picture of how the resources that support the exercises can be used in other institutions. It’s a fun project, and the outcomes are tangible and potentially very useful, so I’m enjoying it a lot.