Showing posts from November, 2006

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