Tuesday, 31 August 2010

First the bad news....

First day back at work today, and a mixed day - good news and bad news! Lets get the bad news over first. eMail's been down all day.  I know there's about 550 unread emails in my inbox, and I can't get at them. Some might say that was a good thing, but not for the guys trying to fix it. A hardware failure last night - a disc array broke - and the whole file database needs rebuilding. 7 hours or so into the rebuild (at half five tonight), it failed. Lots of hard work from the unix and filestore team, including starting  to mount the most recent backups in case the worst happens and we can't get the database rebuilt. Expecting an update in the early hours of the morning, and an early meeting tomorrow to decide on actions.  Great team working on it though - thanks guys.

And now for the good news - over the past year we reviewed our VLE and agreed to implement Blackboard - Learn 9.1 as a major upgrade to MOLE (My online learning environment). Today we reached a major milestone of implementation project, with the go-live of MOLE2 to the first pilot department - the School of Dentistry.

Over the next few weeks, students and staff in the School will start using the new system, and over the next few months, the VLE Project team will be in touch with all Faculties and Departments  to discuss the best time to move to the upgraded service, and it’s hoped that around half the courses will move to the new service in September 2011, with the remainder moving in September 2012. All courses built within the current MOLE environment will be transferred to the new service as and when required, so no investment of time and energy in building courses now will be wasted.

It's been a team effort, as most successful projects are,  so thanks to the whole team - colleagues from LeTS, CiCS, Dentistry & the Library.

To iPad or not to iPad

For the last few weeks I've been testing an iPad. I'm particularly interested to know how useful it is in meetings, and whether it could mean I don't have to carry a laptop around.

On the plus side, I find the keyboard very easy to use to input text and surprisingly fast once you get used to it.  Pages creates documents very well which seem to export to Word without any problem. I can open word docs and pdfs, and although some complicated formatting might get lost occasionally from Word to Pages,  nothing  has caused me any problems so far.  Connectivity seems good, connecting to Eduroam or any other wireless network, and switching to 3G if no wireless available. There's some neat apps around for accessing your files from the cloud (we just need to get our filestore linked in to it). Email is great, and access through our portal to our web based systems fine, with VPN working well if you need it.

One of the things I'm really impressed with is the battery life.  Often I only need to charge it up every two or three days, and recently I used it non stop for 6 hours in a meeting, and it still had 40% battery left. That's certainly better than any laptop.

In meetings it's less obtrusive than a laptop, both in terms of noise (I sometimes wonder if people realise how noisy their keyboards are), and  it sits almost flat on the table and doesn't give the impression of a barrier between you and the rest of the attendees.

It's also always on - just like a phone, there's no booting up involved.

So - what are the downsides. Well, there's some that I hope will be fixed fairly quickly, such as the inability to open the keyboard and input text into some web forms - our own collaboration service uSpace for example, and I couldn't input my blog though the blogger web interface, had to download the app.
I'd also like to be able to annotate documents and pdfs - just like scribbling in the margin of a printed page.  There's probably an app to do that, but I haven't found it yet.

But the main issue is that it has been primarily marketed as a consumer device, owned by an individual with an individual iTunes account. Apple really haven't got their heads round it as an enterprise device, owned by an institution.  There is no real way of deploying or paying for apps on an institutional basis - when we raised this with Apple it was seriously suggested that we purchase a load of iTunes gift cards. Sharing devices also seems to be difficult, as they are synched to individual iTunes accounts.

As a consumer device it's excellent - especially the way it handles and displays images, movies, books and music  - but we could do with some of the corporate issues sorting out if they're going to take off institutionally.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Another blog

About three years ago when I set this blog up, I was fairly certain I wanted it to be only work related, and that's the way it has mainly stayed. There's been a few posts about stuff I'm interested in, and some brief references to holidays, mainly to explain blogging breaks. But I did get criticised once for including posts about morris dancing in a work blog, which made me smile.

So, in order to have somewhere to post personal stuff I set up another blog, which has remained untouched ever since - until now! Due to some sudden rush of blood to the head, I started posting to it last week while I was in Whitby at Folk Week, (that's why I've not been posting here). Not sure how it will develop, at the moment it's very much a what I did on my holidays sort of blog, so will have to see what happens to it.

So, the audience for this one is probably me, but it's not private and anyone can dip in, if you like looking at other people's holiday pics and videos! So, if you want to know what Molly dancing is, or see a rapper team ambushing a late night extra, or see ceilidh dancing to Tamla Motown, take a look here.

Hopefully will be back to work blogging next week, but until then, here's another picture of morris dancing :-)

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Building a warehouse is not easy

Continuing staff development is something I'm a great believer in and try and promote in the department as much as possible. Often it's easy to forget that senior managers need development as well, so each year we try and ensure that the exec team get a couple of days away together to work on plans, to reflect on the past year and look at how things have gone and how we can improve.

We've just had our two days, and it was very worthwhile - hard work as we had a facilitator who was excellent but believed in pushing us, as he should. Before the session he had conducted mini 360deg reviews of the whole team by interviewing all of us, and our direct reports, and had also attended meetings to see us in action and how we interact with each other. The information when fed back to us (all anonymously and aggregated of course), provided some some useful insights, and some areas where can take positive action to improve.

Communication is always an issue, and interestingly the feedback a few years ago was that we didn't communicate enough, now we do it too much, or at least in too many different ways :-). Something we were already aware of, and we do need to make sure we have focused and clearly explained channels of communication. We also looked at forward planning, decision making, management consistency, and of course did one or two exercises to look at our own team and communication skills. I have to say I was not very good at building a warehouse out of KNex - but then neither was my partner - we had nearly as many pieces left over as went into the actual construction!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Luck and chance

One of the reasons I like working at a University is that I get the chance to attend all sorts of interesting events. Tonight I went to a great talk by Dr Brooke Magnanti on Chance and Luck, delivered appropriately enough on Friday 13th. And yes, you would be right in thinking her name is familiar in a different context, but not relevant to this lecture! Brooke currently works as a neuroscientist at Bristol University but was previously at the University of Sheffield where she did her PhD in the Department of Forensic Pathology. The event was organised by Science Brainwaves, a student led organization whose aim is to bring science to the public. It's an excellent organization and deserves lots of support.

The talk focused on why we believe what we do about luck and chance - why for example so many of us do the lottery and believe that we're going to be that lucky person who wins when the chances of winning are 14 million to 1. Despite these long odds, 65% of British adults consider the lottery to be a likely source of retirement income.

We tend to use chance and luck interchangeably despite their different meanings. This is demonstrated quite well by the games we play. As a child, we play games like snakes and ladders which are totally based on chance. As we get older and understand more about chance, especially how it can be calculated, we become less interested in it, and want to believe in some element of luck. We mistake chance for skill, and guesses for instinct. That's why the lottery, or Deal or No Deal, are so popular, but they are no different to our childhood games of snakes and ladders.

Brooke also talked about our desire to seek out patterns in random sequences, and how we use heuristics to make decisions based on partial evidence, experience and rumour. I was particularly interested in the Availability Heuristic, where we assess the probability of an event by the ease with which we can think of examples.

A very good talk, and well done to Science Brainwaves for organising it.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Back to work

Well, I'm back - wonderful couple of weeks in Turkey. Lots of sunshine (and one day of rain which was unexpected!), lazing by the pool, reading and generally chilling out. So for those of you who follow me or @stuartba on twitter, it wasn't all drinking cocktails! I did have one or two I admit.

So, back to work, and the first task was obviously sorting through the hundreds of emails - I did wonder if you could get RSI though hitting the delete key so many times. Who are these suppliers who think I'm going to buy their product on the basis of a cold email telling me how good it is? Or who think I'm going to make time in my diary to see them and talk about their product which I've never heard of and am not interested in.

Had a good meeting this week about possibly outsourcing some more applications into the cloud - we're nearing a decision, so watch this space for details hopefully in a few weeks. As we all look to facing a future where finance is going to be tight (to say the least), our priorities are going to have to be supporting the University's core business of teaching and research.

Rest of the week has been spent looking our finances - the year-end outturn and next year's budget - interviewing and some other personnel work. Spent a couple of hours yesterday filling in a "Strength Deployment Inventory" - a personality type questionnaire - for an awayday with the rest of the Executive Team next week. Apparently I'm red. Hopefully all will be explained next week...