Saturday 30 July 2011

Syd Rowley's Dirty Big Diagram

Exam preparation was a key element of most lessons, as exams were after all the final "end game" for your O levels. One of the most important approaches was always to define the problem and your solution to it as clearly as possible, so that the marker would understand what your thinking was. Not only should you draw a diagram, but it should be big enough to be understood easily.

By exam time, any member of the class could be singled out and expected to answer the question "what do you do first" with the standard response "Draw a Dirty Big Diagram".

Wednesday 13 July 2011

BCS MP Web Awards - First Round Overview

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, has launched its fourth annual BCS MP Web Awards. All MPs’ sites are automatically entered where judges look for MPs who are using their websites and web technology to communicate with their constituents effectively.

For the first round, each assessor (this year including myself and two other committee members from the BCS Internet Specialist Group) is allocated a group of MPs and assesses their web site for three basic features: Usability, Engagement and Social Media. The first round is used to create a shortlist which will then be scored by guest judges.

Some of the sites I looked at scored very highly, some did not, and many MPs lost points for not using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook at all. I'll deal with these in a later post.

There were a number of general points, which apply to all web sites, but they are especially important to any web site relating to "day to day" activities. Some sites can get away with monthly or even annual updates, but for an MP, there should always be things happening, and their web site should reflect this.

  • Don't be Under Construction. This applies to any web site, it's rather 1994, and for an MP, there's no excuse.
  • Don't own a domain name and not use it. A couple of the MPs on my list had web sites which are listed on the web, but now return "host not found" when you click on the link, and a Google search for them by name did not lead me to their web site.
  • Don't rely on content plugins. Whilst your web site might look very swish with your Tweets widget showing your latest activity on Twitter, it looks less swish if all your Tweets are from 2010 whilst you've been using Twitter every day in 2011. So, if you use a widget like this, make sure the content is what it should be.
  • Do get the links right. Whilst assessing my allocated group of MPs, I saw a "Follow me on Twitter" link which went to Facebook, and a Facebook link which went to the wrong person - unless the MP concerned really is a teenage girl.
  • Do keep your content up to date. One of the criteria was that the content on each site should be obviously up to date, and updated often. A couple of the sites had no dates on news items, and a couple of others had dates which indicated that the content was not updated particularly frequently. Those sites which did have obviously regular news items scored higher, and maintained a higher level of interest during the review. Whilst viewing the web site, I felt like I was participating in the MP's daily activities, rather than looking back at last year's highlights.
  • Do check your fonts and layouts. Visit your own web site after you've updated the content, or if you have someone doing this for you, after they've updated the content. Are the fonts correct? Has that new photograph of you opening a village fete completely broken your home page and flung the content off the right hand side of the page?
  • Be sensible with your photo gallery and video library, if you have them. Whilst you can implement your own with various Flash and Javascript options, it's unlikely that anyone will click through 30 pages of 6 photos each. So, make use of resources like Flickr, Picasaweb and YouTube to manage these things for you, link to them from your web site, and only embed specific items as you need them.

Monday 11 July 2011

Thames Path Walk: Whitchurch to Goring and Streatley

The walk starts at the railway station in Pangbourne (at SU 632 766), and from there goes through Pangbourne, over the toll bridge (at SU 636 768), and through Whitchurch-on-Thames, in order to join the Thames Path (at SU 633 775).

The path is a narrow tarmac road initially, before switching to a path which drops down and then rises sharply. The Thames appears on your left after a while.

Follow the Thames Path alongside the river, under the railway, and into Goring, arriving at the road bridge (at SU 596 808). From there you can continue on to look at Goring Lock, or turn right and head into Goring to explore.

For the optional leg up (the very steep) Streatley Hill, leave Goring by crossing the bridge across the river, and head into Streatley. Continue to the junction (at SU 591 807) and turn left, walking along the main road for a short distance. On the right hand side there is a steep path with steps heading up to one side of a house (at SU 592 806).

Follow this to the top, and enjoy the view of the Thames Valley (at SU 590 801). From there, there are some optional circular walks via footpaths, or head over to the far side of the hill to check out the view (at SU 587 800), before retracing your steps back down into Streatley.

There are a number of pubs and restaurants in the area, ideal for a rest and a pint, and dinner afterwards. On this trip, the Catherine Wheel in Goring was visited for a pint in preparation for the walk up Streatley Hill (although the food did look very good), and on the way back, the nearby John Barleycorn was the evening meal stop - where the food was very good.

Both these pubs (along Station Road, close to SU 599 806) are about 10 minutes walk from Goring & Streatley railway station (at SU 602 805).

Getting there and Back

Buy a return ticket from Paddington to Goring and Streatley, but do not board the stopping service at Paddington, instead use a fast train which is first stop Reading and then change to pick up the stopping service, which you'll have overtaken on the way. Leave the train at Pangbourne. On the way back, board at Goring and Streatley, and head back towards London, again changing at Reading to make use of the faster express services.

As always, check your journey on the National Rail Online Journey Planner

Friday 8 July 2011

Syd Rowley's "It's not Enough to Know"

One technique he often deployed in round the classroom "point and test" scenarios was to ask you a question and when you answered it correctly stare at you as if you had somehow not quite got it completely right. At which point you invariably uttered "um" and became vulnerable to further quizzing.

The point here, as he would explain, was that your belief in your own knowledge should be strong enough to stand up to further scrutiny, and hence his summary:

"It's not enough to know. You have to know that you know".

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Syd Rowley's Elephants

One of the most common class questions in his physics lessons was the numerical calculation of a physical quantity. A favourite was a current or resistance calculation using Ohm's Law. You could, as ever, be singled out for an answer, but giving the numerical answer was not enough, and quite rightly.

The correct units had to be specified as well, for without them the answer was meaningless. An answer of "20" would be met with a hard stare, and the answer repeated back at you. "20. 20 what? 20 elephants?" and the longer the class took to catch on to this and answer properly, the more emphasis (volume) he placed on the word "elephants".

Hence "elephants" became synonymous with missing units in pretty much every question.