Showing posts from 2006

5 things you may not know about me etc

Hope you all had a great xmas.  I did!

So....John tagged me, and I'm supposed to tell you 5 things....

I'm very tempted to follow Tom Hoffman's lead and make up 5 bits of nonsense.  You decide if these are true or not :)

I have passed exams in French, German, Latin and Spanish
I used to play in a band called The Catburgers
I have travelled in a car with Nico (she sang with The Velvet Underground).
I have led an E1 rock climb (Captain Birdseye at Cummingston)
I am a Buddhist, and have attended a number of week-long silent meditation retreats.

I tag Tess, Paul, David, Brian and Don.

Blogging for Beginners - Posting and Commenting Tips

In this instalment of "Blogging for Beginners" I'd like to answer a few questions, and explain the simple things you can do to make it easier for potential readers to find your posts. Subscribers (people who have put the RSS feed from your blog into something like Bloglines) won't need these, but how is anyone going to become a subscriber unless they read one of your posts?

Write something worth reading!

I don't claim to have any clear idea of what constitutes a good post, but there's clearly no point drawing huge crowds to your blog if they find mince when the get there! ProBlogger (a blog that covers every aspect of blogging in much more detail than I have in this series) has a category full of great advice on writing worthwhile content.

Liz asked me how long a blog post should be. ProBlogger has an answer of sorts here.

Actually, ProBlogger has the answer to just about everything! You should definitely stick it in your RSS reader because it's full of u…

Blogging for Beginners - Understanding the Glue

I'm a relative newcomer to the blogging game. It's not rocket science, but there are a few things that I wish I had been told when I started. I'm aware that there are a lot of new bloggers in East Lothian - this post is for you guys! I'll explain how you can help your blog to get connected to the bigger world of blogs.

The blogosphere (a hideous term used to describe all the blogs out there) is held together by the connections between blogs. These connections do not form by themselves - you have to get out there and make them yourself. It's like going to a party - if you stand in a corner and don't speak to anyone then you are unlikely to have a good time!

Technorati is your friend

Technorati sits at the centre of the blogging universe. Register with Technorati (it's free) and claim you blog. You will then get to something like this:

Not particularly impressive stats, but the number of links is an important measure of how widely your blog has been noti…

No brownie points for Micro$oft today.

Aaaargh... I finished typing a beautifully crafted email to all maths teachers in East Lothian this afternoon, and clicked on "send." I was working in Microsoft Outlook Web Access. Can you guess? Timed out! No auto-saving, whole email lost, I had to start from scratch. How silly of me to spend more than 10 minutes writing an email! Jeeeez

So anyway, I've just about finished rewriting it, but I decided to save and take a break before sending it. I checked my gmail and got a link to this:

I love this bit:
As a best practice, users should always exercise extreme caution when opening unsolicited attachments from both known and unknown sources.
In other words, opening any Word document that you didn't create yourself is a very risky business. Wow! I think I'll be sending back any Word attachments with a link to this announcement until a patch is issued and school applies the patch to the machines I us…

How do you see Glow?

Do you see Glow as the ground in this picture:

or as the walls in this one?

I guess I'm not alone in hoping that the first metaphor is better suited to what Glow will become.

If so, then we need not worry too much about what Glow itself can and can't do internally.  What Glow does well will happen within Glow, and what it doesn't do so well will be done elsewhere. Glow will provide a ground of functionality out of which the interesting stuff can develop. In order for Glow to be successful, based on the first metaphor, we need it to allow the seamless flow of information to and fro between it and the wider Web:  RSS feeds in other words!

Provided we get these facilities, I don't share the concerns of others about Sharepoint as a platform.  Sharepoint can do the boring stuff, which I hope it is fit to do, and the rest can happen wherever works best.

Pete and Viv's Fun Page

Looking for good old fashioned Web fun?  Look no further than Pete and Viv's Fun Page.  I love this site.  It reminds me of how homepages used to look in the days when making a Web site used to mean getting your hands dirty with HTML in a plain old text editor.  Only 8691 visits?  It's a disgrace!  Spread the word :)

Ho ho ho

I'm afraid it's happened already - the tree is up in our living room!  My wife gets a free tree as a perk of being employed by the Foresty Commission, and this weekend was the only time we were free to go collect it before the holidays.

So here it is - a picture of minimalist subtlety as ever :)

Pushing at an open door

Don's post about a virtual advisory service has set me to pondering how far we have come in the last few years in our use of the Internet to support effective teaching and learning, and the extent to which central educational bodies can support further development.

We have reached critical mass for the live web to become an integral part of education. Over the last few weeks, I've been encouraging maths teachers to blog and to set up class blogs, and discovered that I'm pushing at an open door. Craig, Tim, Mags, Jenny, and Paul have all made a start already. I know that we still have a majority of staff for whom the whole thing is a bit of a mystery, but more and more teachers are realising that blogging is a simple, easy thing to do with classes that enriches the learning and teaching experience. My guess is that within a year or two class blogging will have become a routine activity - just another part of good practice that most people do. In the words of Darren Kuro…

Tagedu looks nice

Tagedu is a very web2.0 take on resource sharing for education.  It's even got a logo generated by the infamous web2.0 logo generator (which seems to be off-line now).

Whilst the Ajaxy tagcloudy web2.0yness of it all is a bit over the top, the idea seems very good to me.  If they would just relax and let users generate content in an easy manner they might really be onto something.  As it stands, it's empty and it will probably stay empty. It's got tagging and user ratings though - all good.

I would make a comment about Glow at this point, but I'm following the advice not to say anything that might be construed as negative ;)

Dapper just blew my mind


I just stumbled upon Dapper.

Incredible. Just incredible. I'm too gobsmacked to explain it properly - let me just show you what I did in 10 minutes:

this link is an RSS feed of all the blogs listed on the front page of exc-el on the right hand side. Whenever David Gilmour adds another blog to the list, the RSS feed will dynamically pick it up. Let me be clear here. Exc-el does not automatically produce an RSS feed of all its blogs. Dapper is looking at the page and doing some smart analysis to grab all the links in the section containing the blogs. It then automatically packages up that information as an RSS feed.

Want more?

this link is the URL for a netvibes module of the same information.

If I wanted to I could have also grabbed the blogs on the top left too - just didn't have time.

Sweet...very sweet. I feel a bit dizzy with the potential of it. I remember feeling like this before, quite recently, but I can't quite remember what it was about. Ruby on Rails may…

Services I want (and I want them now!)

A "Northern Lights" alert service

This service will text my mobile phone if there's likely to be a show where I live. Here in East Lothian I've seen them once, but I'm pretty sure that I've missed them several other times.

Northern lights by Nick Russill

Intelligent blog searching

I want a blog search tool that delivers me RSS feeds of my searches, but learns from what I tell it about the sites it finds. Simple "more like this" or "not what I'm looking for" buttons beside the results that will fine tune future searches, along with a "near misses" button to show me some results that it thinks probably aren't what I'm looking for, so that I can highlight any that actually are relevant. This tool would solve Ian's Islay problem

Of course I don't want to pay for these services, and I want a big fat cheque from anyone that provides these services because they were my idea :D

Anyone else got any "must have" …

Video from Braehead and Austria


The boys having fun at Xscape last Friday.

I know it's pretty poor quality. I keep trying to do some decent filming or photography whilst I'm boarding, but I just can't seem to keep still long enough. Once I'm on the snow, boarding always seems to be a better option than standing still recording someone else doing it :)

Indoor snow is all well and good, but I can't wait to get back on the real stuff - here's a bit of footage from Rendl, by St Anton last April. Now that's more like it!  If you look carefully you can see Fergus cut across my fresh tracks.  Ahhhh fresh tracks.


More funky maths stuff


Florida eat yer heart out

I am most disappointed that skiing is still top of my current poll, despite some blatant vote-rigging on my part.  If more snowboarders don't start voting I'll have to post a link on one of the snowboarding forums. That'll sort you two-plankers out ;)

By the way, I was at Xscape in Braehead this afternoon.  Great fun.  Unfortunately none of the jumps were open, but it was still a good laugh.  Beats Dendix!

A brief encounter

I recently had a brief on-line encounter with a Turkish (I think) gentleman called Barış Evrim Demiröz. Before you say anything - no, it wasn't that kind of encounter! He and I are both able to program PHP - the language used to create the Wordpress blogging system you are viewing right now.

Anyhoo - David Gilmour emailed me to say that he was exploring the possibility of incorporating a plugin into the exc-el wordpress installation that would allow users to put [tex]\LaTeX[/tex] into their posts. This inspired me search the Web, and I came across this site, which offered just such a plugin. After a bit of playing around, I decided that i would be better to use the adapted version created by Barış (a complete stranger to me).
Having successfully installed this, I then realised that it only worked for posts, not for comments. "Surely it wouldn't be too hard to go in under the bonnet and make it do comments too?" I thought to myself.

A couple of hours later, I realis…

Yes, I really exist!

Some students writing a maths scribe-post blog in.... well actually, I'm not sure where!  Canada or USA I guess...are having trouble believing that a Scottish maths teacher called Mr Jones really exists, and is posting comments on their excellent posts.

Well, Sophie, I'm real :)

You can read their blog at

It has lots of stuff that would be useful for higher or advanced higher pupils here in Scotland.

Maths Formula Test

[tex]\Large f(x)=\int_{-\infty}^x e^{-t^2}dt[/tex]

Just testing that a funky new plugin to render maths formulae is working :)

Couldn't resist squeezing in another example:

[tex]\sum_{r=1}^{n}r=\frac12 n(n+1)[/tex]

A "Sliding Doors" moment

Gwynneth Paltrow - whether or not she makes the tube train - you remember?

Anyway, I had a retrospective "Sliding Doors" moment on Saturday evening. I was at Alan's 30th birthday bash, and got chatting to a guy called Mike Mark who recently "paused" mid-way through a maths PhD. It turns out that his field is closely related to the area that I found most interesting back in the mid '80s when I was an undergraduate. I loved maths logic and foundations of maths, and particularly enjoyed the course on Gödel's Theorem, which proves that there are undecidable statements in mathematics (statements which can neither be proved or disproved). These undecidable statements are effectively independent of the rest of maths - you can build consistent versions of maths with or without each of them.

But Gödel didn't really find any interesting undecidable propositions. That had to wait for Paul Cohen who, in the '60s, proved in particular that the axiom of…

Some decent Martin Luther King sites

About that snow vote..

I switched my wee voting plugin yesterday to ask what you like doing most in the snow.

I should say before a ski vs snowboard flame war erupts that I do both, and love doing both.  I prefer snowboarding, in fact I would describe myself as a snowboarder that also sometimes skis, but I'd like to think that the bad old days of animosity between skiers and snowboarders are over.  We're all just riders now aren't we?  In these days of twin-tip skis in the park and hard-boot snowboarders blasting down slalom courses the old division makes no sense.

Classic Microsoft FUD

FUD - Fear Uncertainty and Doubt - was a term initially coined to describe the practices of IBM, but has over recent years been applied almost exclusively to the way that Microsoft attempts to undermine its competitors, and in particular the Linux operating system.

Rather than making verifiable claims that can be challenged, Microsoft executives make vague statements that imply things without exactly spelling them out.  We had a classic example of this today, when Steve Ballmer said:
In a sense you could say anybody who has got Linux in their data center today sort of has an undisclosed balance sheet liability, because it's not just Microsoft patents. Because of the way open-source works, there's nobody who's been able to do patent coverage or patent indemnification behind that.
Now Steve Ballmer is clearly impying that Linux infringes Microsoft patents.  So why hasn't Microsoft ever said which patents exactly are being infringed?  Perhaps because Linux doesn't actual…

You may say I'm a dreamer....

It's reassuring to read that someone else would like teachers and students to have more freedom on the PCs and laptops that they use in schools - Tom Hoffman expresses this better than I ever have in his post "Security Don’ts or User Requirements?"

I know Tom through our mutual interest in providing an open source alternative to the commercial MIS systems that our schools pay through the nose for. Tom is the project manager of SchoolTool, a project that has the backing of Mark Shuttleworth, the millionaire South African who went into space, and I've created FreeMIS.
If students and teachers can’t install software without a significant risk of data loss and support time, that’s a flaw in the system. It is a design goal of the OLPC system to allow users to safely install software.

School Day: China link-up

On Friday 24 November, the BBC has organised a link-up with a Chinese school in Beijing.  Visit this site and post questions for the Chinese pupils to answer:

Another take on blogging with classes

My colleague Craig Stebbing has recently seen the light and begun to keep a blog to use with his maths classes: Stebblog. He is using it in a way that I haven't seen before. Rather than it being a scribe post blog, it is a place where he posts homework assignments. He is encouraging his classes to post questions about the homework as comments. Then either he or other students can reply to the questions.

The pupils seem quite enthusiastic about this, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it works out. I suspect that in time Craig may decide to run a separate blog in which to reflect upon how things are going.
Meanwhile, I spent some time on Wednesday helping Paul Goodall at PL to set up a class blog for his S5 maths class. I'll post the URL once he's got started properly.

Learnt Lines

The first night of the play is tomorrow.  The play lasts a couple of hours and I'm on stage almost all the time.  That's a lot of lines!  Once I've really learnt my lines, they seem to slip out of my consciousness.  It's a wierd feeling.  I know that I know the lines, but they're not  accessible to me unless I'm actually running through the play.  Scary.  Still, it could be worse - I could be the prompt!  That is without doubt the worst job in an amateur production.

White Hills

There's snow on them thar hills! The excellent Winterhighland forums have photos - here's one.

Computer training - 11 year old style

After finally getting around to googling how to "show desktop" on the ibook that I received fairly recently (I'm really a Linux man at heart), I showed my 11 year old son. "Look what happens when you press F11" I said to him. "Yeah - I knew that" he replied, unimpressed. I asked him how he had found this out and he said "at school we just pressed all the keys to see what they did." Obvious really!

Quintura Search Clouds

Everyone else is getting excited about Quintura, so I'd better follow the herd and post a link to the Qunitura search for "exc-el"

Over My Dead Body

Next week, Tuesday to Friday, I'll be appearing on stage in North Berwick in "Over My Dead Body" - a comedy about a widower's attempts to lead a quiet life despite the best efforts of friends and family. It's a funny show - come along and support a bit of local culture! Tickets are available from Seatons in North Berwick, or from me - priced £6 or £4 for concessions.

How will we deal with success?

The Scottish edublogosphere (that's a mouthful!) seems to be growing at an amazing rate.  As a relative latecomer to the party, I was welcomed and encouraged.  I guess that now I am one of around 20-40 blogging education department employees in East Lothian. It's a cozy little crowd :)

I wonder how it will feel when we have 200-400 staff blogging?  I'm very excited by the prospect, but am also aware that we will need to think about how we, as a community, manage that expansion if we are going maintain a sense of community. I would like the 401st blogger to have as positive an experience as I have had.
What do you all reckon?

Back to Exc-el

For the last few weeks, I've been putting interactive whiteboard posts on this blog, as I knew that old exc-el site was going to be transferring to a wordpress system. That transfer has happened, so I'm going to put interactive whiteboard and specifically mathematical stuff back on my exc-el blog from now on. If this fragmentation bothers you, why not just subscribe to this feed which is combination of the feeds from the two blogs, courtesy of rssmix? Aah - can't you feel the Web2.0 goodness?

Our first learning blog

My wonderful S3 general maths class have begun blogging. Mhari volunteered to be scribe for yesterday's lesson, and produced a great first post, on Prime Numbers. She has set the standard high! Her post does contain one little slip - I'm hoping that someone else in the class will spot it and mention it in a comment, as well as giving her some positive feedback on a great post.
Read it here

Snow on the hills - yeehah!

Listening to Radio 4 this morning, as I always do, I heard the weather forecast.  The magic words were uttered - "rain in Scotland, wintery over the hills."

Thus begins the Scottish winter.  From now until April, I'll be constantly checking weather forecasts and the Winterhighland Web site  to see if and when the Scottish resorts will be open for me to go snowboarding.  Hope springs eternal!  Can't wait :)

The mother of all introductions to Web 2.0

If you've been wondering what tools are available on-line for educators, look no further than this amazing post from Brian Benzinger. I've only read part 1 of 3 so far. Looking forward to seeing what comes next :)

So what's so special about blogs?

In reply to my last post, Robin Strain asked "Can you persuade me the advantages of blogging?" Great question Robin - I think it deserves a fresh post :)

6 months ago I would have asked exactly the same question. I am involved with an online community of educators and technologists who seek to embrace the opportunities that Open Source software offers education. The official website is Schoolforge but we communicate mainly through google discussion groups. These work well for us, and up until I came across Exc-el, I didn't really see the point of blogging.

Before I start trying to explain why blogs are fit for purpose here, I should say that you have to blog yourself to really find out why blogging works - it's a bit like dancing: it looks kind of stupid from the seats at the side, but once you're on the dance floor it feels great!

I have been involved, over the last few years, in several attempts to establish on-line communities for teachers. None of them have…

Why I want my colleagues to blog

North Berwick High School is a medium-sized school, with 6 teachers in the maths department. East Lothian Council is a small authority with 6 high schools, and around 50 maths teachers.

Since beginning my secondment (one day per week) I've had the opportunity to visit each of the schools in East Lothian and spend time in the maths departments. As I've said elsewhere, these visits have been fascinating for me, and I've been struck by the professionalism and committment of the teachers I've visited. I've learnt from and been inspired by my encounters.

At the end of this year, my secondment will come to an end, and I will no longer have the opportunity to meet with colleagues - most maths teachers never have that opportunity.

It seems to me that by establishing an online community we can all, as maths teachers in East Lothian, benefit from enriching encounters with our colleagues. This will be good for everyone, but in particular it will be great for me! I really do…

The Learning Curve this week

I just caught the end of a learning curve on Radio 4 that seemed to be all about technology in education, with Stephen Heppel amongst others.  You can catch it here

Foucault's Pendulum

Paris was fantastic! It was Fergus's first time, so we did all the tourist stuff - the Louvre, the Eiffel tower, La Defence, La Villette science museum, a bateau mouche, Sacre Coeur  and Montmartre, Palais de Tokyo modern art gallery, Quai d'Orsay for the impressionists, Beauborg, l'Arc de Triomphe, the Latin Quarter, the Musee des Arts et Metiers etc etc.

In the Musee des Arts et Metiers, they have hung Foucault's Pendulum:


As the pendulum slowly appears to rotate (actually we are rotating, not the pendulum!) it knocks over the wee metal cylinders. I was dragged away before I could film the next one tumbling.

Blogroll chains

Did I invent this game, or do other people already play it?

Pick a link from your blogroll
Follow one of the bogroll links from that blog
Repeat at least 10 times - no stopping along the way!

I ended up here and read a post from a Texan teacher about how pointless in-service days can be. Different continent, same stuff!

And BTW, I don't suppose that our American friends realise how close blogroll sounds in the UK to toilet paper :)

One Day in History.

Make history with us on 17 October by taking part in the biggest blog in history.

'One Day in History' is a one off opportunity for you to join in a mass blog for the national record. We want as many people as possible to record a 'blog' diary which will be stored by the British Library as a historical record of our national life.
This looks great - shame I'm going to be away in France.

History Matters Site 

Off to Paris

We (I, wife and son) are off to Paris on Monday for the October half-term break, so I don't expect I'll be posting until I get back. Expect some badly taken photos!

Great maths resources

Mathematical Visualisation toolkit - another function plotter, plus lots lots more

MERLOT - a great directory of maths elearning resources.

Fun free stuff

Ollie's blog pointed me to this cool site

It could come in handy for little phrases you'd pupils to remember, like

An Interesting Discussion in Progress

A recent post of mine has sparked off, rather tangentially, a long and quite interesting discussion about how IT support is provided for schools. The initial post was a wee tutorial about an electronic voting system, so it's not so obvious that the debate is going on. Join in here.

ActiVote Walkthrough Part 2

In part 1, we set up the user database to store all your classes. Now it's time to actually do some voting!
Labelling the devices
Your voting pads will have numbers 1 to 32 on them somewhere. Take the time to write these numbers on the top with indelible marker pen. Trust me, you'll be sorry if you don't.
Setting up a flipchart for voting with a class

Open your flipchart
Go to ACTIVote/session
Click on "Named Mode"
If the pupils in the list don't match your class, click on "Users..." then select your class from the dialogue that appears

Classroom routines
Pupils will need to know which device is attached to their name. I would start by having the user database screen showing on the first lesson with ACTIVote. Ask pupils to take the device with the number beside their name, then to make a note of that number in their jotter/planner. In subsequent lessons, establish the routine that if the box is open at the front of the room, they take their device on t…

Polling Anyone?

I just found this new toy for my blog - I'll think of a more interesting question once I've had a week's holiday :)


/bin/sh: line 1: root: command not found

I've just spent a while trying to figure out why my cron job was throwing this error. Here's the problem:

I had something like this in my user crontab:
1 4 * * * root

This is doomed, for several reasons. Firstly, it doesn't make sense for a user to be able to run something as root without "sudo". If that were possible, it would totally compromise root! Secondly, user cron jobs don't have the "user" element in their syntax. So cron is trying to run the command "root" rather than running something as root.

The answer is to su then put the quoted crontab line into root's crontab.

Job done :) Obvious once I took the time to think about it.

Build a beer cooler

Wine is all well and good, but sometimes it just has to be a cold beer. What to do, then, when the beer is warm and all you have to hand is a wine cooler? Easy - simply place beer in wine cooler, and wrap parcel tape around for a snug fit. Voila - an effective and very stylish beer cooler.

Blogging as therapy

As a blogger I seem to be incapable of avoiding speaking my mind. Several times this has meant posts that have offended people, most recently here, and revealed that the contents of my mind are not quite as righteous and infallible as I would like to think. I regret the offence caused, and do not mean anything in this post to suggest that it was a good thing to have said what I said.

However, what is good is that I have been forced to deal with the consequences of my words. I have offended people. That's not always a bad thing, but in this case it was, and the public, permanent nature of communication via blogs has meant that those I offended felt able to tell me, and expect some kind of explanation. My response was a heartfelt apology, but just as importantly it's made me feel "hmm - better watch out not to offend people unnecessarily in future" in a way that wouldn't have happened if I had been involved in a face-to-face argument. I'm not sure if I'…

ActiVote Walkthrough Part 1

At my visit to Musselburgh Grammar this morning, I spoke to some of the maths department about using Activote. They were enthusiastic about the potential of the technology, but said something like "it looks easy as you stand there and explain it, but we'll forget everything you've said by the time we next come to use it".

So.... to provide a bit of backup, here's a step by step guide to using Activote with your class.

The following assumes that the voting pads have been registered with your PC. If not, chase up IT!
Setting up the User Database
You'll want your pupil names to be stored in the system, so that their names appear at the top of the screen when you run a vote. Here's how....

In East Lothian, we have a problem - we don't have write-access to the place on the C drive where the user database is stored! To get around this, we need to copy the default user database to somewhere that is writeable, then tell ACTIVStudio that we've done so:


Ski Trip Meeting Presentation

I've atttached the presentation that I'll be showing tomorrow night at the school ski trip meeting. Download it here (8Mb). It's got the important dates at the end, or you can get them on the school website from tomorrow. You can see the details of the journey on a google map here.

Testing Google Maps

Just testing my google maps api key - exciting uses coming soon!

Not having any luck embedding a map inside my blog - but I've got it working here, on a map showing the timings of the school ski trip to Courmayeur in January.

Port Glasgow session

This morning I got up at the ungodly hour of 6am in order to be ferried to Haddington (thanks Elizabeth!) and thence in a Don Prentice bus to Port Glasgow for a morning of workshops on the effective use of interactive whiteboards in maths.

The first session I attended was run by an enthusiastic chap (whose name I've failed to record). He spoke to us about the way that his department is using interactive whiteboards to support formative assessment developments: waiting times, questioning techniques, self/peer assessment, group/pair work etc. It was a fascinating session - these points stood out for me:

Sharing learning objectives on first slide - flip back at end of lesson
Pair work - one minute silent, then one minute discussing with partner using clock
Pupils making up question - make up a trinomial that factorises!
A thick white pen over text can be rubbed out to expose the text

What really shone through the session was the extent to which the presenter's thinking was grounded i…

I am not an expert

In my work visiting schools across East Lothian I've seen examples of the use of interactive whiteboard which are, in my opinion, much more exciting and creative than anything that I have done. This is, of course, wonderful. I'll share this good practice, hopefully in a way which adequately recognizes the contribution of the teachers concerned, many of whom are recently qualified.

I don't think, in taking on my role, that I ever claimed or was expected to be the fount of all knowledge regarding interactive whiteboards, but I have certainly met some expectation in schools that this is what I should be. "Here's the whiteboard expert come to show us what to do" is the way I have been introduced sometimes. From this perspective, it could be seen as somewhat threatening to discover that there are others who know more than I do, or are using the board in more exciting ways than I am!

My perspective, however, is that my job is to support the effective use of whi…

Sufjan Stevens gigs sold out

Dagnabit! I just looked to see if maybe Sufjan Stevens was going to play in Europe some time soon, and it turns out that he is touring in Oct/Nov/Dec, but the two UK gigs are sold out already. Sigh... I would seriously have considered a jaunt down to London to see him live - I can't think of any other artist in the last decade about whom I would have said that. Awesome genius. Oh well, I guess I'll have to pay closer attention, and wait for the next tour.

Glow mentor meeting

East Lothian Glow mentors met today at The Gothenburg in PrestonPans - here's the agenda.

I missed the afternoon (visiting Ross High School), but thoroughly enjoyed the morning.

Karen Robertson began the morning with an overview of where we are and where we are going.

Alan Yeoman then spoke to us about the training programme for Glow mentors, and I was very impressed by what he had to say. Whilst the Glow launch at SETT was a disappointment, with the feeling that it was underprepared, Alan's presentation today showed that they have been doing some serious thinking about how to prepare us for our roles as mentors.

The residential training at Stirling may include sessions on ACfE and the theory of co-coaching, for example. I had been concerned that the training would focus upon the basics of the use of the Glow portal tools. In fact, as Alan said, most teachers won't need any training to use the tools - if you can use a web browser, you've already got most of the te…

Google Analytics

If you blog and you want to know who is reading it, you MUST get into Google Analytics if you can. It is free, and gives you a mind boggling wealth of information. The screen capture below is just a fraction of the information available to you:

You'll need to be able to put a bit of code onto your page to get all this goodness.

By the way, I have 99 gmail invites if anyone wants a gmail account to use for google analytics.

Aah - it's just like the old days

I've been pondering over the last few days the extent to which the feeling around Web 2.0 reminds me of the feeling around the Web back in the mid '90s when I first went online.

In fact, I've been trying to work out when I first saw a web site. It wasn't so so early as to be particularly impressive - the browsers were Mosaic or Netscape, so I guess that puts it around 1995.

Anyway, back in those days, the world wide web was a place almost entirely free of commercial activity (apart from the "adult industry", of course - they always seems to lead the way in the use of new technology!). It consisted of lots of web pages written by amateurs or academics. User generated content, you might say! It felt like suddenly anyone could publish to the world. Joe Random could, in 5 minutes, knock together a page that looked as good as any other page. They tended to look like this or this. There was no such profession as "web designer".

Then, over the years, b…

Glow mentor homework

Having suggested that we Glow mentors should get started without delay, I thought I'd better come up with a positive suggestion! So here's a good one: if you haven't already done so, read Coming of Age.

It's a fascinating introduction to the educational possibilities of Web 2.0.

It's homework for me, because I haven't finished reading it yet!

The Glow Mugs Glow!

Hey - I just had a cup of tea in my freebie glow mug, which was black with a tiny glowscotland URL, and look what happened:
Do I get a prize for being the first to blog this?

I laughed out loud, I must admit. I take back all the negative things I said - the Glow team have a wicked sense of humour - the dour mood at the conference was all just a set up for this glorious moment :)

Glow, SETT, TeachMeet06

Well, after yesterday's experiences at SETT, I had it in mind to write a blog post entitled "Glow vs Teachmeet06". But now that I'm home, I discover that John@Sandaig has already written a post with this title here.

I feel rather more stongly than John about the difference between the two (either that or he's more discrete than I am!). I think the Glow launch was a real let-down, for several reasons.

Firstly, it was obvious that Glow was supposed to be ready for launch at this event in some form, but it wasn't. The overall feeling was of vapourware.

Secondly, nobody speaking on the stage seemed to be convincingly excited or passionate about what Glow is offering (although the dance performance was great fun). We saw the same old faces from Masterclass looking rather tired and stressed. No disrespect to them, but I think we need some fresh blood if Glow is going to have a real buzz about it (this is why I initially didn't put myself forward as a Glow …

Does anyone blog the really bad stuff on a work blog?

Well do they? It is great to use blogs to share good practice, bounce ideas around and formulate new policies. But what about the negative stuff? There are many issues in a large organisation like mine (East Lothian Council) that might act to impede the development of effective learning and teaching. Is anyone brave enough to air such issues in a blog managed by their employer? Might they be in breach of their contracts of employment if they did? I have always been under the impressions that we are not allowed to go directly to the press with concerns. If not, will we really be allowed to air those concerns in such a public arena as Exc-el? What is more, should we be allowed to?

Now don't get me wrong - I think Exc-el is a great tool, and the fact that blogs tend towards the positive is also good. It would be pretty pointless if it just became a place to moan. But without the ability to discuss the real nitty gritty of the problems we face, it runs the risk of just being …


This afternoon, Fergus and I played for Stenton and Tyninghame Cricket team in a friendly match against the Gin Slingers. It was the first cricket match I had played in for 20 years! I had an excellent time, and am looking forward to playing with them next season (this having been the last match of this season). Thanks to Carl for inviting me.

We lost, by the way, in a nail biting finish!

My PGP public key

Just in case you want to email me securely, at - here's my PGP public key:

public key
If you have no idea what PGP is about, it's explained pretty well here.

A plague of flies

North Berwick has been experiencing a mysterious plague of flies over the last week. Speculation has been rife as to the source of our unwelcome visitors. One story doing the rounds is that their arrival is related to the recent record high tides that we experienced. Another is that they are breeding on rotting crops. Whever they came from, everyone is agreed that they are bloody annoying! We can't leave food around in the open, and the delicate amongst us are being disturbed in the night by buzzing in our bedrooms. Bring on the scottish winter!

Intellectual Property

A post by Tom Hoffman sent me to this by David Warlick about intellectual property that got me thinking. It seems obvious to me that the current DRM strategies of most big corporations are hopelessly swimming against the tide of the free transfer of information over the Internet. With current technology, it is utterly unsustainable to attempt to restrict the sharing of information, even if you have the copyright on that information. You may not like it, but that's just the way it is. Even some big companies are starting to get it - check out Spiralfrog.

I just don't get that people don't get this.

This article from 2001 is wrong about advertising as source of revenue (it says that it's on the way out!) but spot on otherwise:

"If you or anyone you know has ever or will ever produce content (writing, music, video, etc.) and hopes to get paid for it, you should be afraid."

Meeting with Ewan

I met with Ewan McIntosh this afternoon to talk about the use of blogs in maths departments across East Lothian. It was fascinating. Ewan is utterly convinced (and convincing) about the potential benefits of blogging for teachers and pupils, whilst at the same time remaining pragmatic about the fact that for most teachers this is utterly foreign territory.

I'm still trying to digest the contents of our conversation - I'll probably have more to say in a day or two.

Tanya and Dougie got hitched

Yesterday afternoon I was at Tanya and Dougie's wedding. We had a fantastic day, seeing lots of old friends and comprehensively toasting the happy couple. Somewhat worryingly, they have chosen to spend the first day of their married life together today at a Hearts match! They are getting the full corporate hospitality deal, but it's worrying nonetheless. I hope Hearts put on a good show for them.

Learning Lines

And so it begins....the miserable task of learning my lines for the upcoming production of "Over My Dead Body". I've been throught the book highlighting my lines, I've sat and counted how many pages I have to learn and I've counted how many discrete chunks of lines I have to learn, but I have yet to actually start learning my lines.

Learning lines is one of those tasks that suddenly make all the other tedious chores in life seem both pressing and interesting in comparison. So I've emptied the dishwasher - even put away all the plates and cutlery rather than leaving them in piles on a kitchen surface - and am now typing a blog entry when I should really be LEARNING LINES. Just about anything seems more appealing. Apart from cutting the grass, of course. There are limits.

Ruby on Rails ORM wannabes never quite cut it do they?

Every now and then I see an article about an alternative implementation of some aspect of Ruby on Rails in another language. The latest is about Propel, an ORM layer in PHP. Let's compare and contrast:
$dish=new Dish();
$dish->setName("Beans on Toast);
Ruby on Rails:
dish=Dish.create(:name=>"Beans on Toast",

$c = new Criteria();
$c->add(AuthorPeer::FIRST_NAME, "Leo");
$results = AuthorPeer::doSelect($c);
foreach($results as $author) {
print "Author: " . $author->getLastName() . ",
" . $author->getFirstName() . "\n";

Ruby on Rails:
Author.find_by_first_name("Leo").each do |author|
puts "Author: " + author.lastname +"," + author.firstname

In the last example, Ruby on Rails would of course delegate the outputting of author details to a view - I put the "put…

Fame at last

Someone asked me today "how famous do you think FreeMIS is?" - a question that was clearly going somewhere. I mumbled some non-comittal waffle, and was then presented with a copy of issue 65 of Linux User. There's an article about this year's FLOSSIE, which mentions my 5 minute slot about FreeMIS. At the risk of consuming too much of your precious bandwidth, allow me to reproduce my mention in its entirety:

Robert Jones' (sic) FreeMIS, developed with Ruby-on-Rails,
had come from a different direction - based on the need to
report to parents. As it is currently used in Scotland, it
uses Shibboleth for single sign-on. (c) R Smedley
Shibboleth SSO for FreeMIS is actually "in development", but apart from that it's all true :)
The article has a link to the demo site - this explains the recent spike in visits to the demo.

First Rehearsal

We had our first rehearsal tonight for "Over My Dead Body". A cock-up with hall booking meant that we ended up in a small room trying to "block" the first act - sort out the moves. This was not ideal, but it was fun to get started, and some lines in the play make me laugh out loud. I'd better start learning my lines!

FreeMIS Part 1

Hereafter follows the first installment of the long and winding tale of how a maths and computing teacher came to be the developer of a web based open source school management information system called FreeMIS.

It began when I arrived at North Berwick High School, and took on a whole school IT role. The school needed a report writing solution, so I made one, using the most readily available tool in school - Filemaker Pro. I didn't know much about databases, and taught myself as I went along. This solution caught the attention of East Lothian Council, and I then spent some time on a working group that put together a solution for reporting and target setting. This was based on my previous work, and Dave Rawson did the target setting side. This solution was picked up by most of the high schools in East Lothian. I soon realised, though, that maintaining 6 different versions of a Filemaker Pro database and trying to apply upgrades to them was a complete nightmare. I needed an sol…

Linux eye candy

Here are some snapshots from my home desktop, running Ubuntu 6.06 with Compiz doing the fancy desktop stuff

Whilst Windows drones are waiting expectantly for Vista, those of us running Linux have already got eye candy galore on our desktops. With XGL and Compiz, you get wobbly windows, variable translucency of windows, peel-back windows, a 3D cube with your desktops (oh - I forgot, Windows user don't have multiple desktops) and Mac style window selection.

And some days I don't

I just spent an annoying 20 minutes trying to work out how to make "pretty URLs" work on this blog. It turns out that I had a line saying "AllowOverride None" that had to be changed to read "AllowOverride All". This little doozie was in /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/default - obvious really!

If any of the above made any sense to you then I welcome you as a fellow member of the geek community. It actually made perfect sense to me, but I feel a bit guilty about admitting it. Like the time that I pressed "esc w q" in an attempt to save an MSWord document. Sad....very sad.

Some days I love software

I'm a Linux user. There - I've just come out and said it. I feel so much better now it's out in the open.

Seriously, I use Ubuntu almost exclusively outside school, and today I was replying to an email from someone who was trying to set up FreeMIS. I had meant to attach an SQL file, which I referred to in the email, but forgot to. When I clicked on send, Kontact (the KDE email client) popped up a warning, saying that I had mentioned an attachment in my message but hadn't attached anything - did I want to do so?

How cool is that?

Why "Jonesieblog"?

When I first arrived on the Internet back in the '90s, it turned out that several Robert Joneses had got here before me. I needed a username for HoTMaiL, as it was known in the days before it belonged to Bill, and the best I could come up with in a hurry was "jonesieboy". Over the years I have registered on dozens of sites as "jonesieboy", and set up "jonesieboy" email accounts on many domains.
I'm not entirely happy with "jonesieboy" as a moniker - it certainly lacks gravitas, and seems less and less appropriate as my 40th birthday disappears into the mists of time - but I'm kind of stuck with it now.
It seems only natural that Jonesieboy should have a jonesieblog!
By the way - don't bother sending emails to the Hotmail account. I only use it when I need to expose an email address on the Internet. It receives hundreds of spam messages per day, and I only look at it in once in a while to prevent it from being deactivated by Mic…

The actor's life for me

I just got back in from a "reading" for this autumn's drama circle play. A "reading" is, in case you don't know, the meeting where the would-be actors read out bits of the play, and the director decides who is going to play which role. We are doing "Over My Dead Body" - a very funny black comedy. I'm playing Mark, the somewhat bemused, hapless son-in-law of the main character. For a few anxious minutes I thought that I was going to be asked to play the 69 year old widower.

This means rehearsals every Monday and Thursday evening for the next ten weeks. Ho hum - no pain no gain!

Branching out

I've been blogging at the East Lothian Council Exc-el site for a few months now, and decided it was time to set up a proper blog for myself. So here I am!

I expect to be blogging mainly about stuff.