Monday, 30 March 2009

I'm still here

OL has asked elsewhere how often you need to blog in order to count as an active blogger. I agree with his suggestion of about once a week ... but with the emphasis very much on 'about'.

Oddly, the end of semester seems to have brought me more deadlines rather than fewer. But I'm hoping that after tomorrow the fog will begin to clear, and then I will be fully back online.

I do mean to continue blogging even now that the Web 2.0 course has ended, and will -- of course! -- blog about why and how I want to do this.

Monday, 23 March 2009

My Weekend (3)

And then of course, there was the rugby. Which I missed watching, because I was in London. But I heard the glad tidings when I was on the train home on Saturday evening, and phoned my parents to rejoice.

I don't particularly like or understand rugby, but it's about the only sport in which I feel I have a team. And this was a long-overdue achievement.

My Weekend (2): Oxford

As I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I used to live in Oxford, and it's always a pleasure to go back there: both for research and non-research purposes.

Yesterday, being Sunday, I was in Oxford for sheer pleasure. It was a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable day -- marred only by delays (in both directions) with the Park and Ride buses. And I bought books in Blackwell's -- about which I will probably blog later.

I'm sorry the image (above) is rather awkward, but I had to struggle to get any picture at all (dodging between shafts of late afternoon sunlight and crowds of tourists). As we were strolling along Cornmarket on our way back to the bus, my companion suddenly spotted a small figure in a niche, high up on a wall at the end of St Michael's Street. We each found it hard to believe that we'd never noticed it before, since we've both known Oxford for many years. But it's well above eye level, and I suppose I'd just never looked up at the right moment.

The image is, of course, of St Michael himself, with sword poised to slay 'that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan' (Revelation 12: 7-9). In the Bible, it's St Michael and his angels who defeat Satan. But that would have made for rather a crowded image.

My Weekend (1): London

It's been a busy weekend by my standards. Dinner with friends on Friday evening. Then on Saturday, a trip to London to see the Van Dyck exhibition at Tate Britain.

I was on the Tube and about to change at Oxford Circus when I heard an announcement that the Victoria Line -- the only Tube connection to Pimlico, for the Tate -- was closed. After a few bemused minutes, it dawned on me that it would probably be easiest just to walk the last bit of the journey, from Embankment to Millbank.

I love walking in London, and conditions were perfect on Saturday morning. This is the first of thirty photographs I took after emerging from Embankment; and I found it quite difficult to choose just one for the blog since the whole riverscape was so photogenic and glowing with Spring. It shows the side of the Hungerford Bridge, the underside of the eastern Golden Jubilee Bridge, and a glimpse of the south bank.

The Van Dyck exhibition was fascinating. I'd seen another big exhibition of his works, at the Royal Academy in 1999 (can it really be 10 years ago!), and this one wasn't quite as much of a revelation as it otherwise might have been. The most interesting rooms, for me, were the first two, where Van Dyck's paintings of Charles I and his courtiers were hung alongside the work of his predecessors, such as Mytens and Jansson. It's no criticism of Mytens and Jansson to say one can see why Van Dyck got his job at court.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The man himself

Like many Irish people, I find St Patrick's day deeply embarrassing. But this is a pleasing image of the great man -- who is, apparently, venerated in the Orthodox tradition.

The shamrock is a nice touch, and the green robes are very fetching. But I wish I knew what he was reading!

(All right, so it's probably the Bible -- but one can speculate ...)

Monday, 16 March 2009

How Green is Web 2.0?

One issue I don't think we've addressed so far is the environmental implications of Web 2.0 and associated technologies.

This is a matter which exercises me quite a lot -- though I don't want to sound as if I'm trying to be greener-than-thou about it. We all have to have computers for our work: and if you've got all that expensive hardware on hand then it makes sense to get as much use out of it as possible. Similarly, I accept the argument that the virtual communication facilitated by new technology can cut down on unnecessary travelling and paper use (providing we're disciplined about such things as not printing emails).

What concerns me more is all the gadgets one can use in conjunction with Web 2.0 technologies, and their built-in obsolescence. I already have a PDA that I can't fully use any more because it's not compatible with Vista (and making it compatible is beyond my technical abilities). It took me a long time to decide to get an IPod and a digital camera: in each case I wanted one, but wasn't sure -- especially after the PDA experience -- that I would use it enough to justify the purchase. I now sometimes think I'd like an IPhone, but -- similarly -- don't feel that I can really justify depleting the planet's resources that little bit more.

This debate in my head has also been made more complicated by the fact that the IPod -- which I acquired only last autumn -- has proved to be an unexpected delight and has enriched my day to day life to a surprising extent. And I have also taken to carrying my digital camera around everywhere in case I see something good for this blog. Who said 'Enjoy blogging, but don't let it rule your life'?

But what do other people think about the green implications of what we're doing? This really does worry me.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Web 2.0 and Me: An Update

It's been a week or two since I last blogged about the Web 2.0 tools we've been learning about, but that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about them. So here are my latest reflections on Mindmeister, Delicious and their selected ilk.

Re. Mindmeister, nothing much has changed. I went back on the site today, and didn't like it any better this time. I feel a little less clumsy about it than I did before, which I suppose is progress, but I can't see that I'd ever want to use it for my own purposes. I would, though, be happy to recommend it to students: especially those working on a group project. I still think that an individual researcher would be just as well off with pen(s) and paper. But if you don't already have the felt tips, Mindmeister might indeed be easier!

Re. Delicious, I still feel a bit cautious -- I very much share True Stories' misgivings. I did have a brief glimmer of second thoughts, a week ago, when the advantages of Delicious suddenly bore in upon me. I was working in a public library, and it occurred to me that having all my bookmarks easily accessible from this unfamiliar location might have been useful. Then I thought again: all I really wanted to do in the library was access my email, my blog and a few other sites that I know well and whose URLs I can easily remember. To do this much does not require a Delicious account. And I still maintain that I am unlikely to do much significant research -- i.e. work which genuinely requires access to my usual bookmarks -- while not accompanied by either my office computer or my own laptop.

The possibility of using Delicious for teaching-only purposes, however, does appeal to me, now I think about it, and I will blog about this on another occasions.

About wikis and podcasts I am much more enthusiastic. I'm still not really sure how I might use a podcast in practice, but I like the idea of doing so, and will think about how it could be done. I have something of a phobia about hearing recordings of my own voice, but I guess I can just try to overcome my inhibitions. (Well, that inhibition anyway ...)

Wikis, I think, offer lots of scope for teaching purposes. I know of a colleague of mine from another university who successfully applied for funds from the English Subject Centre to help her students set up a wiki of their own (on classical references in a modern poem). The students really enjoyed doing it, and it was a marvellously effective teaching tool. I could see myself doing something a bit like that in my third-year option on women's writing. But it would only work with committed students who were willing to share their ideas with the rest of the cohort. This would not be the case with everyone.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Publicity and Privacy

Many of us first-time bloggers have been much exercised by the issue of how much information we should be willing to disclose about ourselves on a publicly-accessible blog. Some of the others in the Tuesday group may recall that I quickly had second thoughts about the name I had chosen for my blog, once I realized how transparent it was and how readily I could be identified as its author. When I looked into the possibility of changing the name, though, it turned out to be more complicated than I’d expected, largely because so many of you had generously linked to my blog one way or another. It looked as if, even if I changed the name on my own site, the original name would leave traces elsewhere. This made the change seem pointless.

So I’ve kept the name, in all its transparency, and have since come to the conclusion that having a readily identifiable name is not necessarily a bad thing. The fact that I know that a reasonably knowledgeable reader could work out my identity very quickly means that I have an extra incentive to be quite circumspect in what I say here. If I thought my blog was safely anonymous, I might be much more indiscreet, which might then prove to be embarrassing if my identity were decoded by the wrong person.

The rule of thumb I have developed is that I should be willing to divulge on my blog anything I would be prepared to say to a well-informed student who’d expressed an interest. One of the things I find most attractive about blogs is the opportunity they provide for you to ruminate in (semi) public, thinking over the issues and – if you’re lucky – stimulating comments from others with similar interests. I am not interested in writing a blog which is just a dull stream of facts. The introspective aspect of the form is one of its chief advantages, in my view. But this, for me, has to be an introspection within limits.

Which is why I am prepared to say on my blog (but to say no more than this) that the reason I have not blogged for over a week is that I have been having family difficulties. I have been trying not to let these difficulties get in the way of my work, and the blogging, I’m afraid, has been the first casualty. I still see it as expendable – something I do for fun. It has not yet become central either to my teaching or my research.

Note that I say ‘yet’.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Weekend in Keswick

There has been a distinct lack of pictures on this blog over the past few days. Here's one I took at the weekend, during a very brief visit to the Lake District. I was acting as driver and moral support to a friend who was speaking at the Words by the Water festival in Keswick, and I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to put some physical distance between me and work (even, I hesitate to say on this blog, between me and the computer). I did bring a book -- John Burrow's A History of Histories -- with me, but that's connected with a possible future project rather than current work, so felt suitably relaxing. And otherwise, it was just as good as it ought to have been to get away, see different (and very beautiful) place, meet new people, hear new ideas, and eat good food.

Of course, all the work was right there waiting for me when I got back ...

My friend's talk, by the way, was a great success.