Reducing burden, or just moving it about a bit?

desk

Something that’s not going to affect many people out there in the real world, but still, a step in the right direction:

Trac burden cut after Hefce review
Universities are to benefit from a reduced administrative burden in supplying information about their costs, but government pressure to give more of such data to students has met with a cool response.

Having said that, for me that administrative burden is coming from a different direction. For instance this, thankfully not from my place…

Thousands of Winchester students lose out on loan money
Nearly 2,000 Winchester students have each lost out on £400 of student loan funding due to an admin blunder.

Still quantifying ourselves?

daytumapp

Didn’t realise I’d been away from Daytum for so long.

For those that don’t know, and why should you, bloody hell, Daytum was part of a trend on the web some time back for personal data tracking, the ‘quantified self’. Here’s a post from Wired about it, from 2009:

Numbers are making their way into the smallest crevices of our lives. We have pedometers in the soles of our shoes and phones that can post our location as we move around town. We can tweet what we eat into a database and subscribe to Web services that track our finances. There are sites and programs for monitoring mood, pain, blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, cognitive alacrity, menstruation, and prayers. […] All this might once have seemed like a nightmare […] But two years ago, my fellow Wired writer Kevin Kelly and I noticed that many of our acquaintances were beginning to do this terrible thing to themselves, finding clever ways to extract streams of numbers from ordinary human activities.

– Gary Wolf, Know Thyself: Tracking Every Facet of Life, from Sleep to Mood to Pain, 24/7/365 (wired.com)

Daytum, developed by Nicholas Feltron (of the well known Feltron reports) and Ryan Case, Daytum allows you to easily capture and categorise small bits of information, and then present these in quite interesting, visual ways with the aim of providing a little insight into how we live our lives. For a while, all the way back in 2009, I was tracking how much coffee I got through, what I was reading, which were my favourite ties, that kind of thing.

I don’t know what made me think of Daytum again, but I thought I’d catch up with it again.

Its blog, however, ends with this post from April 11, Moving West:

We’re thrilled to announce today that we just started a new phase of our careers: we’ve moved to California to join the product design team at Facebook […]

and the last tweet from the @daytum Twitter account is:

Doesn’t bode well, but then, just the other week coincidentally, this one from founder Nicholas Feltron:

So perhaps there might be some life left in it yet?

And I’ve forgotten all about your.flowingdata.com too. But that, like Daytum and much of the quantifying self scene, seems to have gone a little quiet.

Speaking of punctuation

Following on from that punctuation post just then, here are a few more:

andorpersand

I’m finding the dictation feature on my new phone very handy, but even though it supports a whole range of spoken punctuation marks and “new line” and “all caps” and all that, it seems to be struggling with Andorpersand, Hedera and Love Point. Shame.

A short history of punctuation

Via The Browser, a quick dash through the history of punctuation.

“Writing in ancient Greece was broken by neither marks nor spaces. Lines of closely-packed letters ran left to right across the page and back again like a farmer ploughing a field. The sole aid to the reader was the paragraphos, a simple horizontal stroke in the margin that indicated something of interest on the corresponding line. It was up to the reader to work out what, exactly, had been highlighted in this fashion”

Maximal meaning in minimal space: the history of punctuation (shadycharacters.co.uk)

Scale and recognition

This article from Times Higher threw me a little at first. It’s about a report from the QAA on the state of UK universities’ overseas provision and the difficulties faced in getting such courses officially recognised. But what caught my eye were the numbers involved:

Around 285,000 students are currently registered on the BSc in Applied Accounting offered via distance learning at Oxford Brookes University – almost half of the nearly 571,000 students studying for a UK degree overseas, according to the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

285,000 students on one course, at one university? So it would seem.

The course is run in partnership with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, with students automatically enrolled with Oxford Brookes when signing up for Acca’s professional qualification. Students must pass nine “fundamentals” papers and a self-assessed professional ethics module to receive the Acca qualification, but must produce in addition a 6,500-word research project to receive the BSc qualification.

Administering distance-learning courses can be difficult enough, and adding in an overseas dimension makes it more so, but I can’t begin to imagine what an impact those numbers would make on their admin processes, cash cow notwithstanding.

Their VC is very proud of the scheme though.

Nothing lasts forever

A great line in here about how kids think of Facebook in the same way as we do about Linked In.

Why teens are tiring of Facebook
Facebook has become a social network that’s often too complicated, too risky, and, above all, too overrun by parents to give teens the type of digital freedom they crave.

And on we go.

On keeping a notebook in the digital age

“In order to exploit this particular quality of idea formation, he keeps what he calls a ‘spark file’: ‘A single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for articles, speeches, software features, startups, ways of framing a chapter I know I’m going to write, even whole books.’ He doesn’t try to organize them. The randomness is intentional. He reads them over every few months and finds themes emerging — connections between fragments that wouldn’t seem apparent if those fragments were presented in isolation.”

https://medium.com/architecting-a-life/f85cea174de0

Some sunday evening links

littleear

Sorry, what?!

Google Reader

They say the writing’s been on the wall for a while, but still, this is a real shame. I’m one of those “die hards who were still using Google Reader every day (and there’s a lot of them!) will have to figure out a brand new Internet reading routine come July”. And what about all the ifttt.com recipes I’ve been building up? Might have to re-read this post about not paying for the product again.

Google Reader YouTube

 

Type the Sky

typesky1

Type the Sky
Standing in something like a little courtyard in Barcelona I looked up. I saw houses, the sky, clouds and a “Q”. The negative space in-between the houses formed a letter. I loved the idea of the sky as words, the negative being the positive. If I could find a “Q” other letters should be somewhere around the corner.

Electrocuting wood

Now, electrocuting wood isn’t something that happens every day, so if someone came up to you and asked you what that would look like, you’d probably say something like, “Er, I don’t know, perhaps like, er, slow brown lightning or something? Something fractally? Perhaps mirroring the patterns of the wood’s original branches or roots or something? And then, perhaps, when two branches or lightning paths meet, they kind of get bigger? More like dark brown, clotted varicose veins or something, like out of The Thing, maybe?”

And you know what, you’d be right.

Man after my own heart?

Gus O'DonnellIt’s been suggested I have a listen to Gus O’Donnell’s Radio 4 thing, In Defence of Bureaucracy. It sounds great — “Former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell argues that bureaucracy is an essential part of a functioning democracy” — if you like that kind of thing. Which I do.

I was hoping The Google might tell me a little more about this but the links it provided were decidedly unhelpful.

One from FT.com looked promising:

There is no shame in being a bureaucrat
Bureaucracy brings fairness in a way more discretionary systems cannot, says Gus O’Donnell. Calling someone a bureaucrat should not be a …

but the article’s behind a paywall.

And another, from The Daily Mail, was heading off down a path I didn’t care to follow

Unsung heroes? No, pen-pushers like Gormless Gus are the bane of modern life!
We should be proud of our millions of bureaucrats, said nasal Gus, or Baron O’ Donnell of Clapham, as he has become following his seamless …

Let’s leave that there, shall we? I’ll just have to make up my own mind.

Update:

Sir Humphrey: Yes, yes, yes, I do see that there is a real dilemma here. In that, while it has been government policy to regard policy as a responsibility of Ministers and administration as a responsibility of Officials, the questions of administrative policy can cause confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy, especially when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration conflicts, or overlaps with, responsibility for the policy of the administration of policy.

Stay on holiday

There must be a million blog posts out there about how to deal with email. Here’s another. Rory Vaden has given us 7 tips for getting your inbox to zero to add to the mix. They all sound very familiar sensible but I especially liked number 3:

3. Extended Out of Office: When you go out of town for vacation or a work conference, turn your “out of office responder” for one day longer than you’re actually gone. I’ve found that having an out of office responder on all the time telling people how busy we are just annoys them–and doesn’t stop them from sending us emails. But turning on OOR once in a while really does have a positive effect in causing people to think before firing off an email to you knowing that you’re gone. The magic–which I discovered by accident–is in adding one extra day to it so that you legitimately have a catch-up day to get your feet back under you when you return.

I had a few days off last week and had my out-of-office on, but turned it off as soon as I got back. I might give this a go next time though, as I often find most of the first day back after any time off is spent dealing with the missed email whilst trying to fend off the new that’s coming in, often about the same topic. (Do I start from the bottom and work up, or from the top and work down?…)

Other useful tips appear in the comments, too. Someone there admits to not reading any CC-mail. I might give that a go. Often putting someone’s name in the CC box is there for the benefit of the sender only, as a way of showing to the sendee (real word?) that other eyes are potentially on them. If it’s important, tell me about it. If it’s not, then don’t.

I also tend to avoid reading l o n g emails too. If it starts to feel like someone’s just venting or ranting, that the cue to stop reading and pick up the phone. Or better still, meet up and sort out whatever the issue is that’s prompted them to write at such length.

Will we ever crack email, I wonder?