Saturday, January 29, 2011

UK government threatens education sector

I'm assuming that readers of this blog are a fairly open minded bunch and would thus be on board with what I'm about to ask here.

The UK government is currently considering proposals to massively restrict the amount of international students applying to study in the UK. The most damaging of these proposals is to restrict non-EU students to those that meet an equivalent language level of B2 on the CEFR or above (roughly equivalent to IELTS 5.5-6.0, or higher 'A' level standard). In a nutshell, this means that students who wish to come to the UK to develop their language level enough to be able to study here will have to speak English well enough already. Study Group believes that this would have an effect of the loss of £180 million to UK universities after three years and could run to potential UK job losses as high as 20-30,000.

The UK Border Agency has a survey (click on link to visit) open at the moment where it is garnering opinions about these proposed changes. I urge anyone that thinks these changes would be a bad idea for a sector that is supposedly worth £40 billion annually to fill out the survey and add their voices to the opposition for these measures.

The survey expires on Monday 31st January. If anyone is interested in some suggested responses for the survey, let me know in the comments section and I'll post a link to a document with some suggestions.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Data > Information > Knowledge > Wisdom

Image issued under licence > CC-BY-NC > David McCandless 2009

A weird thing happened today.

A couple of weekends ago, I was reflecting on some of the stuff that I'm teaching at the moment while reviewing material for the GCSE ICT exam I'm preparing my students for (one particular thing that they've struggled with, at least at the beginning of the course, is the difference between data and information). At the same time, I was also having a bunch of random thoughts about Wikileaks as I'm intending to write a longer piece on it in the not too distant future.

While these thoughts were running around my head, a shape gradually formed in my mind. It was a pyramid, with data at the bottom as the raw basis for things that we know. Information was above data - information can be described as what we have when we combine data with context and/or meaning. The learning of information leads to knowledge, whether of a subject, a situation or an idea. The pinnacle of this hierarchy is wisdom - to be wise is a high-status aim of many individuals and societies. I was quite pleased with having come up with this visualisation of...what? Couldn't quite figure out what it was a visualisation of. Human knowledge? Understanding? Aspiration? I left the pad I'd drawn it on alone for a while and came back to it to find T (my wife) had turned the pyramid into a Christmas tree.

Today, I was stumbling around on the 'Net inbetween classes and looked up David McCandless's data visualisation site (having recently bought the book and wanted to dig a little deeper). To my surprise, I came across a pyramid structured in exactly the same way, as shown above. By the looks of it, he too had not quite managed to articulate all of his thoughts about this hierarchy and had left some of the meaning open to others. Reading the comments on McCandless's blog, it turns out that the 'DIKW Hierarchy' has actually been around for quite some time - decades, in fact.

Perhaps I've come across it in the past myself and forgotten about it, thinking that it was an original thought. Either way, I think it'll help when I start with my second cohort of GCSE students later on this year!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

'My Blackberry Is Not Working!' (WN0035)

A little bit of comedy here - BBC stalwarts Ronnie Corbett and Harry Enfield banging on about tech. The sketch is reminiscent of a different era, but the subject material is bang up to date.

Wordplay at its best!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Data loss

This little baby died on me this week. Particularly foolishly for an IT Teacher, I'd been carrying around most of my day-to-day critical data around on it without a full backup of the most recent stuff on it. Last Sunday, I was working late as usual and all drives briefly disappeared from view on my desktop. When they returned, the USB device I was using seemed wiped of everything that was on it.

I tried what I could to get it back, jumping immediately to Google to look for help, then whoever was on Facebook at the time that might have a clue (via my wife who was urging me not to panic). Eventually, I got hold of an evaluation version of a piece of software that enabled me to dig deep down into the recesses of the disk and find that files did actually still exist - some of the folder structure was even there - but I needed to pay for the privilege of extracting them.

What price information? My faith in the possibility of there being a freeware version out there somewhere took over and I carried on the search. An indictment of our times maybe - whatever the value of the digital goods to me, why pay for something when it can be downloaded for free?

The options that I did come up with didn't seem that much more appealing and my data was still at risk, so I dragged through the week bizarrely traumatised by the event yet still attempting to avoid paying for a download (admittedly I was suspicious of the reviews I saw of the one that allowed me my first deep look inside).

In the end, I made my way to the IT helpdesk at work and tried my luck. Fortunately, there was a piece of software languishing within a laptop hard drive and it managed to flush out almost 1,800 files. The folder structure was wrecked and I'd lost all the file names in the data that was recovered, but at least I had a load of it back. The software was called Recuva and it turns out that it's freely available on the Net anyway. So that's my tip for recovering from the trauma of data loss.

A big thanks to all who helped try and get me my digital admin back and to the people giving that software away. I ended up turning my data loss into a lesson for all of my students. Whether they follow the advice to regularly back up or not I don't know, but I certainly will be!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Changed terms of use

I've got some stuff coming up here soon on using Creative Commons licenses, so thought that I'd put money were mouth is and open up the content of this blog for licensing. I'm not really sure how much blog content gets used out on the wilds of the open Web, but there's a chance of finding out with this little experiment. My pictures at Flickr are already CC-licensed, so I can now add this blog to them as repurposable content.

Have gone for the least restrictive licence, a simple Attribution one. If you want to use any content from this blog, in part, in full or for remixing, please attribute it to Dom Pates and link back to - full terms available at the bottom of the site.

More on Creative Commons coming soon...

Saturday, January 08, 2011

RIP Captain Beefheart

A little more in the way of music videos + 'things that happened in 2010' before this year's content begins in earnest.

Seems like the past couple of months saw a great many well-known people pass away. The one that moved me enough to write about them here was the passing of Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart, who died last month aged 69.

I largely cut my teenage musical teeth under the tutelage of BBC DJ John Peel, and often came across the name of the Captain. It always sounded such a sufficiently 'out there' name that I had to hear him for myself at some point. Once I started digging, the words on the wall behind Lennon (in the picture below) made a little more sense - 'Safe As Milk' being the title of one of Beefheart's earliest and most accessible works.

John Lennon /w Safe As Milk Stickers

As I remember it, I got my hands on 'Safe As Milk' after having listened to the likes of Howlin' Wolf and some of the free jazz guys. The Captain's earlier style sounded something like a combination of those two distinct sounds and the album was accessible enough yet sounding quite different from what most other pop/rock musicians were putting out in early '67. At the top of this post is a clip of Beefheart and The Magic Band performing the track 'Sure 'Nuff N Yes I Do' from that album, on a beach in Cannes.

Poorly received at the time, 'Milk' has gone on to be one of those seminal works of the 'weird 60s'. The big beast in the Captain's canon however, and still the yardstick by which most avant garde music of the rock era is measured by, was 'Trout Mask Replica'.

I own a copy of 'Trout Mask'. I may even have played the whole disc all the way through on more than one occasion. With all the things I have willingly listened to in my time, I'd consider myself as having pretty left field tastes when it comes to music. This is, however, one difficult collection of songs to get through. On first hearing, it sounds something like several bands of totally different genres determinedly playing their tunes as they tumble down stairs together. Remarkably, the band rehearsed each track extensively for the recording - totally different from how it sounds.

The Captain Beefheart Radar Station website gives the following overview of 'Trout Mask':'s hard to listen to. A common response to this initial hatred. It has a very cacophonous sound, but after listening to it for a while, it sort of creeps up on you, and you find yourself loving it. It does take some determined listening, though.
I'm not sure whether I could claim to love it, but I do love the fact that it was made. Perhaps one day it'll endear itself to me that little bit more.

Beefheart stopped making and issuing music in 1982, when he reverted to his earlier moniker of Don Van Vliet and concentrated full time on painting. Even then he managed to push the envelope, producing one of the early music videos for his final release 'Ice Cream For Crow'. This was prior to the dominance during the 80s of MTV, who rejected the video on the grounds of it being 'too weird'. His paintings make their presence felt in the clip below, challenging like his music but with an almost childlike quality.

Most of the people I mentioned his death to commented that they'd been surprised as they thought he was dead already. Well, now he is. The music's still there though, and for that he certainly made his mark.

Head this way for Jon Savage's take on the Captain.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

DJ Derek (WN0034)

Been meaning to give this fellow an airing for months now, having stumbled across him through a comment left by Idle Format earlier last year. Finally, the moment has come around...
Derek was born & raised in Bristol, & during the late 50's & early 60's fell in love with the music & culture of the West Indian immigrants moving to Britain. He picked up the lingo by hanging around in barber shops & listening, & picked up the groove by buying & selling reggae records around the country.

Now in his late 60's Derek tours the country armed only with a backpack full of killer tunes, his bus pass & an unquenchable thirst for real ale.
from original Vimeo page
It works for me on a number of levels. I've also long loved what's described above as 'West Indian' culture - the music, food, people and language of the Caribbean - as transported to Britain in the mid-20th Century. So, it seems, does the man in this documentary who has immersed himself in that culture.

The documentary takes conventions about culture, age, nationality and race, and turns them on their head. It's also a great example of how deep a part music can play in people's lives.

When I first came across Derek, I saw posters for him playing in Brighton. Didn't actually get to see him perform, but I was glad to see that he was getting to play what he loved and getting paid for it.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Moments stolen from last year

Kicking off this year is a gallery of a few moments stolen from last year. Contained in the above slideshow are a selection of Brighton pictures that never made it online last year, including of the Children's Parade that kicks off the festival, the Brighton Beach Boys from their concert at St. George's Church in Kemptown, snaps from Hove Champagne Festival and a few obligatory ones of the beach.

Over on my Flickr site, there's a few new pics of Tokyo too, coming before a stack more that should be due soon.

Dear readers, the stats tell me there's quite a lot of you out there, and from all over the place too. Do drop by and say hello from time to time - I'd love to hear from you!

Happy 2011...