Malleable Musings

July 28, 2010

A digression

Filed under: PHP, RSS Feeds, simple hacks, Wordpress — Brendan @ 11:39 pm

I was invited in to a meeting at work a couple of weeks ago in which we were talking about blogging. After the meeting Stu threw a document up on Digress.It.

The document got a few mentions around the place and soon it started gathering a few comments (60 at the time of writing).

Digress.It is a really interesting platform however I think something went wrong with the comments.

I got a call of frustration from a member of the Marketing and Comms team earlier this week, who had been away on annual leave. She was amazed at how many really useful comments there had been. She’d seen some of them but wasn’t sure that she’d read them all of them and she certainly couldn’t do what she wanted which was to print off all of the comments alongside the original document.

I said I’d help and started by working out which RSS feeds were actually functioning (the comments by authors and the comments by numbered paragraph both seemed OK but the later certainly wasn’t displaying properly on Digress.It).

I realised early on that I was never going to manage to script a whole solution and it took a little while, until tonight, when I managed to clear enough time to complete this little digression. So I settled for a quick hack of an existing PHP script with some manual intervention.

What I did was to re-create the document in a Google Spreadsheet alongside the paragraph numbers (which are the keys for the RSS feeds of paragraph comments) and hacked the PHP script to include a request parameter. I also changed the end output slightly so it allowed me to pull down the comments and place them in to the cell next to the original text.

I know there must be a more elegant way of doing this but the document wasn’t that long whilst my time was short and my CSS and PHP skills and knowledge of ASCII/ANSI characters and regular expressions are all a little rusty.

From the spreadsheet it was a simple matter to copy and paste columns C&D in to a table in Word, run a couple of find and replaces, add some minor formatting and hey presto we have something more readable.

It was a nice little refresher for me as I’ve a feeling that I’m going to need to get reacquainted with regular expressions over the coming weeks.


May 28, 2010

Did I just describe a PLE?

I had an interesting phone call last week from someone in the COI. The COI, in case you don’t know, are the UK Government Central Office of Information (COI) – the Government’s centre of excellence for marketing and communications. They do some excellent work providing guidance on all aspects of marcomms.

Anyway, the person who rang me was carrying out a research study for The British Council. They were wanting to identify the media habits of professionals who work in the area of international education.  In particular they wanted to understand potential media which actively engage in issues related to higher education and how these were used.

So during the phone call I was read a list of media titles.  I’d heard of more or less all of the titles mentioned although there were a couple of more obscure titles (journals) where I wasn’t quite so sure.  In discussing the traditional media I explained that print-only media is more or less invisible for me.  The only thing that I receive in hard copy format that I even flick through is the COL newsletter.

So online media is really the only way I access this sort of specific news of information.  I also explained that I wasn’t that likely to visit a particular website to get my news, although I might use an online database, library or datastore if I knew what it contained.

I reflected back and thought about the professional networks that do exist.  They often provide meatspace opportunities but I recognised that very little news was ever highlighted to me offline.  Okay, I’d occasionally find out a little titbit of information in conversation with colleagues from other institutions especially at conferences but it was usually soft anecdotal stuff rather than news or hard information.

This lead to a bit of a discussion about what I thought NEWs was and an explanation from me that I was only really likely to look at NEWs if it was sent directly to me as an email newsletter or highlighted to me in another way, through an RSS feed or crowdsourced by a brand I trusted (either a corporate brand such as the chronicle or a personal brand) or if it hit a search filter of some type that I’d set up.

I also explained my reticence to paywalls and the problems I have with sites that have registration walls (e.g. the FT).

It was a quite an interesting conversation that had me reflecting quite a bit about my current media habits and how they have changed over the past few years.  Two or three years ago I would have given very different answers and even a year ago my thoughts were quite different and search seemed much more important to me.

I didn’t talk about the details of how I get my NEWs these days but whilst I was on the phone I kept thinking have I just described a Personal Learning Environment.

In terms of the details of my PLE, for the past six months or so I’ve relied on my6Sense to keep me updated.   My6Sense is an interesting iPhone app that pulls together your social and RSS feeds.   The idea is that the more that you use it the more it understands your interests and starts to surface the things that you’ll find relevant.  I usually check it a couple of times a day and so far I’ve found it to be pretty good.  Of course, I don’t really know what I’m missing however for some reason it feels better knowing I’ve flicked through a couple of pages of my6sense recommendations than seeing the thousands of items that I never got around to looking at in Google Reader.

I do also occasionally dip in to Twitter and Friendfeed.  Twitter lists, and friend lists on Friendfeed help me catch up on things that particular people have said that I might have missed and I also use Friendfeed to bookmark things to go back to read later when I have more time.

I certainly don’t feel that I’m really part of an international education network.  If an online network does exists for the people who are interested in these aspects of international education then either:

  1. I  haven’t really found it yet (although I have found lots of people who offer some really interesting points of view);  or
  2. I’m too much of a visitor and not resident enough – also read I’ve been too much of a lazy slacker and haven’t worked hard enough to become part of that network yet.

However, I do feel that I’ve got the beginnings of a personal learning environment.  It’s a learning environment that I know will definitely change over the coming years, months and days in ways that I can only dream of, but it’s still my very own PLE isn’t it?

May 9, 2009

Evolving consumption

Filed under: Blogs, RSS Feeds, Social Bookmarking, Twitter — Brendan @ 10:25 pm

I am a bit of an information whore. I’ve always been an avid reader but my pattern of consumption has certainly changed over the years.

Over the past few years, I’ve occasionally thought that I’ve come across a new online tool that might help me manage or sift the information better. I thought like this about digg and delicious and stumbleupon but I’ve never managed to run a social bookmarks account successfully. More recently I started to think Twitter might replace my various sources of information. It doesn’t as there are too many issues about the recall and quality of information. So today I really just dip in to Twitter every now and then. This means that what I read / respond to is often determined by recency and opportunity rather than anything else (although I’ll always respond to anything directed at me, as soon as I can).

Given this at the moment I consume news (my definition of news rather than my wife’s, who thinks I could take in news by listening to the radio or watching TV) in a way similar to the one Alicia describes on the most recent Just Another iPhone blog, i.e. via RSS, email alerts, twitter etc.

However I’m preparing myself to think about changing the way in which I consume information and ideas, and the way in which I record my thoughts and perspectives, as my lifestyle may be changing shortly (due to a new job). At the moment I use the evenings after the kids (and sometimes my wife) have gone to bed to catch up with things. Since I handed in my notice I’ve also had the luxury of using an increasing amount of my train journey to catch up with news, rather than working.

In addition I’ve started listening to more audio podcasts as well, both on the train and when I’m doing the more repetitive or manual tasks at work or at home (for example I’ll listen to a podcast while mowing the lawn).

I think my reliance on audio is only going to grow given that in the new job I’ll be driving rather than taking the train, and I’d quite like to use the 30-40 minutes productively. Tools such as tweetmic and audioboo are opening up podcasting but what isn’t there yet is the search technology to find the sort of things that I’m going to be interested in.  Adrian Graham explains this well in this audioboo.

The new job also means that I need to start tinkering with my OPML files for Google Reader and with my Friendfeed, which is the latest tool that I have high hopes for. The search is at least reliable for re-finding anything that I like/comment on/publish, but I will need to think about what tagging I need to do for audio (especially given my previous failures of using tags successfully on social bookmarking sites).

December 28, 2008

What I’m reading….

Filed under: RSS Feeds, Social Bookmarking, Yahoo Pipes — Brendan @ 7:36 pm

Over the holiday period I started thinking about how I will use this blog, my iPhone and Twitter (which I think I probably want to explore in more detail). One of these thoughts led me to update the site theme and add RSS feeds of some of my Twitter updates.

I’ve tidied the feeds up through Yahoo Pipes so that I can filter out the Twitter updates that I’m interesting in displaying and so that they link back to the original thing I was talking about rather than to my Twitter update.

The first example is the RSS feed of what I’m reading which should be on the right hand side.

The rest of this post contains a couple of items that were on a separate What I am reading page mid December. Eventually I’ll probably work through and delete or replace these: added 10.12.08

Techcrunch article about Paulo Coelho, Facebook and MySpace added 9.12.08

Pages that I feel I need to comment on: and

Postscript: Thinking about this some more – why not use delicious or Digg – it’s probably more sensible.