Posted by: llordllama | 29 August, 2014

The Reification of Theory Assemblage

W/b 11 August

More adventures in the art of trying to develop a theoretical framework for my research this week.  I keep getting the sneaky suspicion that it’s all going to come back to a form of Marxism and Foucault…but I want to be certain in my own mind that I:

a) understand why I’ve chosen the path I’m on.

b) understand the framework I’m going to apply.

c) don’t miss something really vital that would bring a greater clarity to my findings.

Fundamentally I know/understand that in the humanities a lot of your research view is shaped by your own views and instincts, but I’m not confident enough in mine as of yet to just go down a road that is likely to consume me for at least the next two years – let alone further should I work on a post-doc.

I have at least reached a point where I can say for (fairly) certain that I need to be sure of my intellectual framework and the appropriate theory/theories that I’m using within in it.  This in itself is a step forward in writing the discussion piece/chapter on theory that I’m working on at the moment.  More than once I wish I was back in the good old simple positivistic sciences where you test and refine theories empirically, more than build them inductively.  On the other hand the methods associated with the humanities are making more and more sense (even Critical Theory which I despaired of getting any kind of handle on a year ago…well I’m slightly more OK with it now…very slightly).

I do get the feeling if any civilian were to ask me what I was doing in any detail right now, that I’d be able to waffle out the beginnings of my framework and theories…but after they’d run away in terror/bemusement I’m not sure if I have the depth right.

Anyway in other news it looks like NTU never even forwarded my conference proposal to the local graduate conference, as the programme is out and I’m not on it…nor have I a rejection email.  Which means the Graduate Dean just ignored my proposal.  Arsebadgers.  I worked really hard on that, and it’s a cracking proposal (with a great title).  I just need another conference somewhere/sometime to present it at!

No news too on whether or not I get a teaching contract next year (now we’re into the new academic year I was wondering if I might hear something).  But no…not a sausage.  I’m guessing I’ll either hear the day before it starts, or when the module leader starts sending me seminar assignments.  I do hope I get to do some more teaching, time commitment aside it really helped ground me more than anything else last year.

Oh I should add – WordPress has changed their interface for writing blogposts this week.  The new one is just AWFUL, I lost half a post earlier today in the editing and it hardly makes any real use of the screen capital (over half the screen on my 27″ main monitor is just pale blue unusable space.).  It’s like they wrote it for people running monitors at 800×600 – I mean what the hell, is this 1997 still?

W/b 18th August

Funeral one day, LARPing two others…concluded other than station keeping and packing, I may as well take the other two days off.  So I did.

W/b 25th August

Return from LARP Monday, exhaustion (from weekend) Tuesday, and then back to hesitant work on Wednesday onwards.  Finishing off a book and reading a key paper on the demise of capitalism.  Think I’m almost ready to start writing this chapter in anger now.

Also found out that I’ve got a new teaching contract or rather my name appears on the new module timetable.  Will wait until it’s in black and white mind you before I celebrate.  I also appear to be teaching on two modules…eep!  A new challenge, but after a summer of theory going to be glad of it.

Posted by: llordllama | 13 August, 2014

Recommendation Wednesday: Courgettes

Not done one of these for a while, so let’s start again by celebrating that most wonderful of vegetables (after the potato) the courgette (or zucchini if you must). This is a veg that I eat for about 3 months of the year, and then never again. Why? Largely because I grow my own, and they grow like weeds in my garden – hence by the end of the season I can barely look at one in the face, let alone eat them again. And of course shop bought ones aren’t the same as from vine-plate in a matter of minutes.

One evening's harvest

One evening’s harvest

We’re in the middle of this year’s season and so I’m eating them (along with my runner beans and tomatoes) most days right now.  Ways they have delighted my palate this season have included:

Other years they’ve ended up as part of the most wonderfully moist chocolate cake, stuffed with rice and baked and perhaps most commonly as courgette fritters (using the eggs from our hens).  Not done either of these this year, as I’m trying to experiment a bit more with the different ways I can use them a bit more.

So a salute to a garden veg that my repeated childhood encounters with its big cousin the marrow (yuck yuck yuck and I say again yuck) nearly put me off for life!

Posted by: llordllama | 8 August, 2014

Falling off the Hoarse

Monday (w/b 28 July)

Yeah, I was right – pretty much lost my entire weekend to a combination of insomnia and inflamed tonsils (the right hand one came out in sympathy today, but thankfully leftie’s recovered).  Been a few years since I’ve had tonsillitis (went through a phase in my 30s of getting it 3-4 times a year), and I’d forgotten how awful it is.  Anyway today I was back up to doing some editing…slowly, as my energy’s still not quite back to where it should be.  But thankfully first day without pain killers for over half a week.  And drinking tea no longer burns like hot acid too, which is great.  Looked at chapter conclusions and concluded (ho ho) that light editing wouldn’t cut it.  So planned out rewriting the whole narrative into a coherent structure.  And by planned I of course mean, didn’t achieve.

At least I did hear that I’ve been picked (well I volunteered) to chair a session at the East-Midlands conference in September.  Huzzah.  Of course no idea if my paper will get through as well, hope so but if not I won’t sulk.

Well not too much.

In other news Mrs Llama is officially sick of me telling her news from the SDCC.  *ahem*.  Not as sick as I am of throat pain!


Finally throat is just a little tight rather than sore…though sadly it looks like my bug has jumped from me to Mrs Llama (despite sleeping in separate rooms for the past week as a precaution).  Damn.  Still, I did manage to totally rewrite my conclusions, integrated the other bits of text elsewhere in the chapter.  Now all I need to do is write a few lines suggested by my supervisor, sort out a missing reference or two, check the formatting and I’m done and can move onto my theory development chapter.

Oh great, more reading.  Still it’ll be a change to start stretching my mind rather than confounding my wits everyday!  Now if there was just a good paper/book on neo-Marxist analysis/critique I could find to read I think that might answer a lot of my questions.  Then again flicking through my reading notes I think I’ve got a lot of ideas already stashed away…this shouldn’t take much more than say, oh, 3 months or so I guess.  Less would be nice…


Throat still bothering me, so a rare visit to the practice nurse for an inspection…and yes, I have tonsillitis as I expected. So a course of antibiotics which will hopefully help me kick this thing.  Not so much the swallowing which is a problem (though that continues to be painful), but the utter drain on my system that means I just want to curl up in bed all day.  this is not conducive to hard study!  But slogging on with the edit all the same.


Done! Finally!  A chapter I started drafting over 6 months ago, before putting aside for a long time, is done and off to my supervisors for their inspection (and eventually comment some months down the road).  In the end it’s not a bad read, and while I know there will be revisions to come – it does pretty much sum up what I needed to say on the topic of OA in the UK; and neatly compliments the following chapter where I analyse my interviews.

All of which means I need to get on with working on the next chapter – theory and method.  Fun, it will not be!  Feeling more human already, which is either the stress of the chapter lifting or the antibiotics are already working.


Decided we never know how much summer we get…so awarded myself a rare (non-sick) day off to work in the garden.  Although checking my email, I see I’ve a meeting about the East-Midlands Research Students conference next Thursday…back at the David Wilson Library where I once worked.  In fact on the very day that two years ago I walked out the door.  I haven’t been over the threshold since so this is going to be an…interesting day on many levels I suspect.  Now, where did I put that false moustache and glasses…

Monday (w/b 4 Aug)

Kicking into theory mode – which meant a lot of thinking, a lot of planning, and a lot of sorting out of papers.  And as thanks to the tail end of this bug I’ve had, a lot of unexpected sleeping on the keyboard.  Gah, could have done without that.  Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be sparkier.


Theory seeking day again – so reading a book on social theory and trying once again to get my head around a few things such as Foucault, Habermas, critical theory and discourse.  Then off to see Guardians of the Galaxy as a treat at the end of the day!


Starting off the day with a little light reading online from George Monbiot: Sick of this market-driven world? You should be.  That and the sad news that one of my uncles has died overnight (expected as he’s been very unwell in recent months, but sad none the less).  Moved on to more reading of theory books. Woo.


Change of pace as I had to go to Leicester University for a meeting about next months East-Midlands PhD Researcher conference (which I’m chairing a session at).  A morning spent going through the paper submissions and trying to pick the best ones (very few were poor, and it was an extensive and grueling process!).  Kinda fun meeting up with other PhDs again though, although it sounds like pretty much all of the other unis have more of a social life element to their doctoral programmes.  Oh yeah, and offices.  Two things NTU is very poor at sadly.  Came home from this and collapsed into bed for a quick nap…that turned into a 3hr snooze.  Think the lack of sleep the previous night (or coming off my antibiotics) wiped me out.

Amusing note: Meeting was at the David Wilson Library where I used to work.  Not been back there for exactly 2 years since I quit – so kinda synchronicitous to be back there today.


Reading of papers.  Writing of notes.  Thinking of thoughts.  Suspect next week – much more of the same.  Horribly hot and humid today too, which kinda saps the energy to do any work, but I slogged on all the same

Posted by: llordllama | 29 July, 2014

Back in the Saddle

Monday (w/b 14th July )

A day spent feeling utterly wasted and horrifically bruised (thanks to a weekend away LARPing).  Spent it trying to stay awake, failing and then around 3pm plonked myself in front of the keyboard to start writing a paper I’ve got a deadline for this Friday…to discover my supervisor wants a meeting.  Nothing from him for two months and on the day I’m barely awake he reappears.  Gah.  Set a meeting for Thursday which means I’ll need to send him my 2 chapters by Weds.  Doubt I’ll get much more done on them before then, but no mileage in being too eager.  Did at least get the formatting all set up for the article.


Day spent feeling less bruised and a lot more mentally active, if feeling horribly stressed (although of late that’s basically my SOP).  Article drafted and almost done in a day, though around 6pm I just had to stop as my eyes were struggling to stay open.  Will give it a final polish tomorrow when I’m (hopefully) more awake.

Highlight of the day, some architects turning up to measure the house.  I thought they were due Friday, turns out they were due Thursday.  Everybody agreed to be wrong, and we’ll meet up again on Friday after all (which makes me technically correct; the best kind of correct)


Editing, lots of editing.


Bright and early drive in for a meeting with my supervisors…which turned into a nearly 2hr thing filled with discussions.  Somewhat shocked that they’re really pleased with my progress and level of production – I constantly feel like I’m never working hard enough, so maybe that’ll assuage the guilt a little bit.  Director of Studies even asked if I was looking to submit later this year.  Nearly fell off the chair at that one, I think he was joking  – and frankly there’s still so much to do and be written about that it’ll never happen.  On the other hand we did discuss pulling back on some of the empirical work, as it may well be that I’ll have developed enough scholarly material without going through all of it; or at least to the level I originally planned.

PhD in a nutshell – an evolving ever changing beast!

Came home and started working on my talk for next Tuesday’s conference a bit.  But frankly the heat of the day did for me and I didn’t get too far.


Day spent writing, rewriting, rehearsing and redesigning my conference talk for Sheffield iFutures conference next week.  Fairly happy with the talk, although it’s a bit long and there’s some elements that don’t quite work as well as I’d hope.  Only having 15 minutes means I’m perhaps trying to squeeze too much into it.  Will come back on Monday and give it a final polish.

Monday (w/b 21st July)

Another hot day which saw me in battle with my presentation.  Spent a lot of time revising it to bring it down to well under 15 minutes, but without cutting too much core content.  Some of the slides I’m using are still way too busy, but in the end I managed to get it down to 15 minutes.  Will probably have to speed through it a bit too much.  Plan for next conference paper – one slide I think :)


The biggest cake in the world...and there were two of them

The biggest cake in the world…and there were two of them

Day spent in Sheffield at iFutures 2014 which was in part nostalgic and part shocking to see how much of Sheffield has changed since I was last back.  An interesting conference, although as always I think my interests were a little to the left of centre of the conference themes itself (not being a real-librarian researcher type for one), but the folks organising the day were splendid.  Papers and presentations from the day are online now – or you can access my presentation or the paper I wrote to accompany it (Cultural Influences on Academics’ Open Scholarly Dissemination Practice in UK HEIs).  Won a book as well on library metrics which looks interesting (and after I was rude about Neo-Tayloristic managerialism subsuming HE discourse too!).

Had a splendid meet up with some old friends before I went to catch the train, so a not bad day at all!


In a bit of a post-conference slump, and chewing over a few things that happened that slightly irked me.  Rather distracted me from efforts to edit truth be told which was somewhat of a frustration.  Don’t think the continued heat wave is helping things much either – so hot it is damned hard to work!  Realised the deadline for the September East-Midlands PhD conference is this Thursday and I wanted to put in a short paper for that too.  So ignored the editing and wrote this, a development on a theme from the Sheffield paper designed to be addressed to a more multidisciplinary audience.  About to mail it in and realised I’d made it far too pompous, so ended up making some last minute modifications before submitting.  Can’t believe 250 polished words took the best part of the day to write!


Woke up with a sore neck, which I put down to sleeping awkwardly – but also a shockingly low level of energy.  Ascribed this to a lack of desire to edit the conclusions of this chapter.  I’ve put off doing this for a while, and ended up dumping all kinds of other bits of text here which means it is somewhat of a melange of information.  Managed through bleary eyes to do a top level rewrite on paper, but in the afternoon my sore neck turned into swollen glands – or rather gland (the left hand one).  And the low energy resulted in me falling asleep on my keyboard.  Dragged myself to bed and just slept – or tried to, as it now hurts when ever I swallow – and I’m swallowing a lot as my throat is dry.  Damn it, it’s a cold most likely and I’m planning to be away LARPing on Saturday.  Hopefully it’ll clear up over night and I’ll feel much brighter tomorrow.

Frustrating as I’d hoped to be done with this chapter draft by Friday at the latest, and now it looks like it’ll be Mon/Tue next week before its done.


Fat chance.  Terrible night’s sleep.  Left hand tonsil on fire, throat half closed off and it hurts to swallow anything.  Pain killers help make the pain bearable, but the exhaustion. Oh the exhaustion.  Basically half the day spent in bed sleeping/trying to sleep.  Sulking as think the weekend is probably wreaked.

Posted by: llordllama | 11 July, 2014

Another Tooth Pick

W/b 30 June

Long week editing chapter on open access.  By close of play on Friday I had 9830 words of this chapter polished, 7145 to go.  Been feeling like an uphill, frustrating, Sisyphean struggle all week with no end in sight.  But hopefully soon…really soon, I’ll be able to put this aside and…edit my first chapter and start writing my theory one.  Oh yeah, and the paper and presentation I need to deliver at Sheffield in three weeks.

Highlight of the week – my internal assessors passing along some more reading for me.  Bless him, he’s been more use lately than my supervisors.

W/b 7 July

More editing. All week.  At times feeling like I’ve toothpicks in my eyelids keeping them open.  Some days better than others, but none of them much fun.  By the end of the week it’s all done bar a final typo and a revise of the conclusions.  So close to finishing now I can almost see the finish line.

2,134 words still to edit (seems a nice number)…out of 18,000 written. Gah, this is so two chapters now!

Only other interesting thing this week is that I put myself forward for a PhD conference in Leicester, and offered to chair a panel.  We’ll see if I get taken up on that in a couple of weeks.  Probably chuck in a paper proposal as well, just to keep things interesting.  Monday though – paper for Sheffield!

Posted by: llordllama | 27 June, 2014

Oh We All Like to Be Beside the Seaside


Slightly belaboured start to the day as didn’t sleep well, but spent a goodly chunk working on my conference talk.  Checking the conference programme I’m a bit miffed that I’ve got a session in the death slot at the end of the conference, which may well mean I get zero people in attendance.  Always a bit of a frustration as I don’t know if I should make this the most polished talk ever, or just slap something together knowing that about 3 people and a whippet are going to listen.  Had the same issue at OE2014 – presenting on the last day is never a great place to be.  Ah well, at least it’s another paper to add to the CV and that’s never bad.

That all said at least I get a free trip down to the south coast and a chance to meet up with a few people I’ve not seen in a Devil’s age.  It’s also going to be useful in terms of writing the paper I need to create for next month’s PhD conference in Sheffield (iFutures 2014) where I have less time, but expect a slightly bigger audience.  So 4 men and a dog then!

More delightfully I’ve been approached to do a session at a conference that’s a year away, so that is promising at least.  Maybe I’ll be able to negotiate a better time slot!


A final polish and a long drive there and back to Brighton for the ARLG14 conference.  During which, yes, I gave a paper.

Also foolishly checked my email and discovered I’ve got to be in campus tomorrow to appear at a student induction workshop. Argle.


A bit of a snafu of a day as thanks to a packed car park I couldn’t catch the train to Nottingham I planned, so came home and uploaded most of my students’ marked essays to the VLE (at last).  Slightly annoyed that I’d been waiting on the course leader to give us the OK to do this for the past two weeks…and then he mails all the students to tell them they’re available now…but doesn’t mail us staff! Gah, thanks a bunch.  It does at least mark my last involvement with the course for this year, and it’s not the best of notes to head out on.

Drove into Nottingham to the induction…to discover only 5 out of 21 students had showed up, and of those none were AAH.  Well that was well worth my while.  Chatted to a few academics and careers people (and some of the students for what that was worth), grabbed some lunch and then went back to find my car.  Still cheaper driving in and paying to park than taking the train mind you.

Came back home, finished off uploading the essays, did a bit of email triage (a few students saying “Oi, where’s my marks?”) and then cancelled a place I had for an event in London in a few weeks.  It’s straight after a weekend I’m camping and I don’t think realistically I’m going to have the energy to attend.  I’ve been wiped out after the conference as it is, let alone after a weekend of little sleep.  For the best, but miffed I had to do it.


Oh motivation where art thou?  Think I managed 2 productive hours today in total editing my thesis chapter.  Just did not want to get going and toyed with the idea of just taking the day off.  But my inner PhD work demon said I couldn’t and forced me to do some editing.  End of the week can’t come too soon, I need to sleep for about 24hrs…

Did at least upload my conference paper to my online profile, so maybe that’ll interest some folks.

Posted by: llordllama | 25 June, 2014

ARLG 2014: Beyond the Final Frontier

To Brighton in the sunshine for a day or so of conferencing with the Academic and Research Library Group.  The whole conference ran over three days, but as a speaker I was only able to dip into the last day (since I couldn’t afford the fees), but I have to say my hat is off to the lovely conference organisers who made me feel very welcome and even slotted me into the conference dinner for free.  Library conferences really are the finest conferences :)

Also slightly biased as this is my “home” conference (or was when it was the UCR/CoFHE conference) so it was a chance to catch up with a few of my favourite professional people and friends across the profession.  Just wish I could have chatted to them all much longer!

So one (very tasty) conference dinner on Tuesday night and a lot of chat, and a smattering of sessions on the Wednesday, starting with hearing about the new Keep – a specialist physical repository for the University of Sussex, East Sussex County Council and Brighton and Hove City Council (which we actually passed on the way to the conference dinner.   Sadly I had to climb under the desk in shame when my phone LOUDLY beeped in the middle of this one.  Erm, I say beeped, but as it has a voice recording in SHOUTED across the room.  Gah!

Couple of shotgun presentations followed from Citavi (a records management and knowledge organisation platform) and the presentation by Credo of their information literacy VLE module.  The former didn’t sway me away from Evernote, and the latter…well I’m still not sure.  A nice clean UI, but a very cheesy comic book video that I didn’t know whether to love or hate.  But interesting non the less.

Then onto the workshops – the first of which was Andrew Whitworth exploring cognitive mapping techniques with an application to problem solving issues with library practice.  Had a play with the  Ketso fuzzy felt tool alongside this.  Could have done with about an hour to use the tool properly, but was a nice little thing – could have seen this going down a storm with the middle managers meetings at DWL.

Then onto my presentation…which I’ll link to once I get the PDF software to generate a file I can put online!  [Paper now available] It was right at the end of the conference, so I wasn’t hopeful for people turning up – but in the end had 15-20 folks there, and a good discussion; and the audience seemed to get something out of it.  And then three post session longer discussions with a few delegates, so I’ll count it a success!

Anyway…here’s some pictures of the event I snapped along the way.

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Posted by: llordllama | 20 June, 2014

A Trip Here and There


Had to swing onto campus today (and managed not to get trapped this time) to pick up the signed paperwork for the annual review and take it to the Graduate Office.  Was slightly wary that they’d query the lack of signature from my Director of Studies, but charm and an email from him explaining the situation seemed to sort it out.  Phew.  Also had to take some books back to the library, one of which I took out in Oct 2012…yes I read it then, but I’ve held onto it ever since as it was a really good one.  Might have to take it out again in due course.  The library’s relocated (for the summer) quarters seem ok, but I’ll be glad when they’re back online.

Rest of the day editing chunks of my OA of the UK chapter, which actually took me a while to get into again – but is slowly, slowly taking better form.


Read some emails, but didn’t manage to do anything critical before I headed off to Cambridge University for an afternoon’s seminar on OA .  I’ll be writing this one up as a separate post (ACLAIIR Seminar: Open Access – the future of academic publication?), but safe to say it was a very useful afternoon.  Sadly the drive home was a bit of a pain, as aside from rush hour traffic a major crash on the A47 sent me diverted down single track lanes behind HGVs…and so I didn’t get home until way after 7pm.


Don’t have to go anywhere today, which is nice.  Spent the morning reviewing, clarifying and rewriting my notes from yesterday’s workshop while they were still fresh in my mind, and as you’ll see it’s a post on the blog already.  Sadly this was the high spot of the day as my energy and enthusiasm crashed in the afternoon, and I ended up in a self-defeating cycle of feeling I can never finish this chapter/need to finish this chapter.


A better day during which I managed to get over myself, man up etc and just plough on with writing.  Much easier today, and while there’s still a lot of editing to be done I finished the chapter draft.  Now I can put it aside for the weekend (need to write a conference session tomorrow) and then pick it up fresh next week.

Amused myself by gathering together the three chapters I’ve written in one place – all 102 pages of them.  Think once I’ve shifted the formatting in them to double line spacing or whatever rubbish the uni wants, it’ll be closer to 150 pages.  maybe more.  Nice!

Finished off the day playing with new layouts for this blog.  Think it’s high time I changed the layout a bit, as the spare space on screen and font aren’t ideal.  However, not 100% convinced by any of them so far.


Day spent in preparation for my talk at a conference on Wednesday next week.  Harder worker than I expected, trying to convey my research in meaningful terms without either a) dumbing it down too much b) filling it too full of “academic” terms.  However 2/3 of the talk done and I’m quite happy with it.  Just need the morning on Monday and it’ll be all done.  Feeling happy after what can be termed a productive day.

Tomorrow – off to socialise with Mrs Llama’s professor for a change.  Which should/may be fun!

What’s that?  I forgot to post last week?  Yes, truth be told I went to bed early and so didn’t write one.  No matter – let’s discuss something truly awesome.

There are two kinds of people in this world.  There are those who have played and love the world of the Saint’s Row series.  And there are those who think GTA’s increasingly grimdark worlds are more realistic and therefore fun.  Oh and there are those people who don’t play games, but frankly I don’t believe their opinions matter here.  I used to love GTA, with Vice City being a glorious highlight in the series.  Los Santos was great fun too, CJ was just the right balance of bad guy and hero…but I never got more than halfway through GTA IV before giving up, bored with the story.  Oh Niko Bellic why must you be so duuuullll.

Flash forward a few years and a Steam sale, and I found myself playing Saints Row III as a break between more serious gaming (Mass Effect series having just been finished).  And to my delight I discovered this was actually mad, mad crazy super fun – I never laughed so hard with a game as with this one.  Well not until I started playing Saint’s Row IV last month (the nuclear missile!) and laughed even harder.  These games are well crafted, brilliant scripted fragments of pure gaming joy that I can pick up and play for minutes or hours…but they’re not today’s recommendation Wednesday, oh no.  Just one little part of it.  This guy on the other hand…



Yeah, it’s Professor Genki. And his Super Ethical Reality Climax (SERC for short)

Professor Genki is a character who technically hosts a series of mini games that have you shooting people inside what can best be described as a cross between laser tag and paintball in a head on collision with Takeski’s Castle…where the weapons are real and the targets are people dressed in hot dog, beer bottle and soft drink can costumes.  Oh and furries, lots of furries.  These mini-games are a great diversion from the plot, and require a mix of gun and run. Oh yeah, and there’s also one Genki mini-game where you dress as a panda and sky dive through flaming hoops of fire, beating up people on roof tops on the way down.

See GTA, there’s more to life than running over hookers in a taxi cab!!!

Now I said Genki technically hosts, as the “good” Professor seldom shows up in the mini-games themselves, and is more likely to randomly appear and cause havoc elsewhere in the game engine.  The real hosts, and for my money stars of the whole Saints Row experience are the two SERC commentators (Zach and Bobby).  Here, try a sample of their wit and wisdom:

The biggest problem I find though, is some of the levels can be somewhat challenging at times (especially the car/pedestrian/head chucking levels in SRIV) – as I just keep on getting distracted and giggling as these two brilliant (idiots) keep a running commentary on events, oh and various inane things that just come into their heads.  They’re voiced by Mike Carlucci and Rob Van Dam to whom I must tip my hat, along with their script writiers.  (at least I assume they had a script!).  The pair of them really do put the hyper into hyperbole!

To be frank, I’d almost play the entire game just to hear their thoughts; in the same way that back in the day listening to Lazlow on the radio in GTA was a highlight of that game series.  Almost but not quite.  Oh who am I trying to kid I would.  These guys are that funny.

It’s even funnier (in a dark kinda way) after the Zin Empire has [spoiler] in SRIV, and they more or less have nervous breakdowns on air as they try to keep trying to sound chipper in the face of almost certain doom and total oblivion.

Now that ladies and gentlespoons, is class!

So go play SRIII/IV and have super happy time fun.  Or better yet, just find some more videos of these guys in action and enjoy their thoughts on life, the universe and brutal combat.

2014-06-17 13.03.28On Tuesday 17th June I headed over to Cambridge University to attend a seminar organised by the ACLAIIR (Advisory Council on Latin American & Iberian Information Resources).  While only a few hours in length it was an engaging afternoon, which I used mostly to spur me onwards in my current thesis writing and also to bring myself up to date on one or two things in the OA world.  The afternoon was split into 2 halves, with 3 speakers in each section – so it was a pretty packed agenda.  It was also well worth the 4hrs+ of driving (thanks to diversions on route) it took me to get there and back, and I’m very grateful to the ACLAIIR folks for pulling it together.

Some brief notes and reflections follow*.

Panel 1:  Perspectives from the world of publishing

First speaker was Ellen Collins (who I swear I’ve met before but couldn’t 100% place where) from OAPEN UK.  She explained that among the thing OAPEN is doing is seeking to understand the issues and challenges in scholarly book publishing relating to OA, an area where it is believed there is very little real world data  It’s a 5 year project (spanning 2010-2015) with two main strands, and she stressed they are agnostic about OA.  The project is very much focused on AHSS (arts, humanities & social science) scholars, who as noted elsewhere have very different usage patterns and priorities when it comes to research dissemination.

The first is a matched paired pilot where working with publishers they seek to find similar book titles, one of which is sold as normal and the other of which is also made available as OA at the point of launch.  Sales and citations of the works are tracked, to see what is the impact for publishers and the research community’s use of the text.  She stressed however that this was only a small number of monographs (~45 made OA), and that the visibility of these works may not be sufficient for real world usage as of yet.   The other side of the work is a piece of qualitative work with dissemination stakeholders exploring what changes need to come about in the existing monograph world where OA monographs to become more common.

Early findings seem to focus on four areas.  the first seems to indicate that the systems and processes used by publishers and vendors are not set up to deal with OA texts, with ICT sometimes being unable to cope with items with a zero-rated price mark or DRM being set to allow temporary rather than permanent usage of an eBook.  In terms of cultures and priorities, many stakeholders are open to openness but needs to work in ways that fit into their existing world views; for example HEIs like OA monographs…but not if they have to subsidise them.  The third stems from this, and is the issue of money, as many UK publishers are not open to discussing the real costs of producing an academic text -with figures from £11k – £150 being quoted demonstrating a real variance.  Ellen did note the project hadn’t really considered green OA for monographs, and the impacts here could also be significant to the publishing sector.  The final issue was around diversity and choice, again focusing on how to fund OA monographs – library based models, research funded models or even crowdsourced models (e.g. UnGlue.It)

The second speaker was one I was very keen to hear, given my personal research interest in research dissemination actors. Daniel Pearce from Cambridge University Press (CUP) for whom is OA still a very small but a growing aspect of their business which they are excited to see if grows over the coming years.  The idea of increasing of accessibility chimes with CUP’s mission.  CUP works he noted with green, gold and hybrid aspects of OA.  CUP are also trying to publish books under a freemium model (e.g. get an OA copy for free, or purchase an enhanced eBook).  However as a traditional publisher he expressed are concerns about the OA models, and the needs of different stakeholders.  For example given their importance to their various disciplines, the reliance many Learned Societies have on journal sales for their funding streams, is something CUP acknowledges.  Hence at times the publisher has equal levels of excitement and trepidation round OA.

Daniel did note that in total they have published 1072 articles through OA routes in their titles to date, with 50% of these coming in 2013; and so he expected this level to grow.  Currently it represents only 2% of their publications output however.  One cautionary tale around APC funded gold route OA, was in disciplines with a lot of images in their articles.  These often required expensive clearance (either in time or funding) and thus risked putting up APC levels to a much higher degree than in some disciplines.  However in terms of green OA, he was happy that CUP more than satisfied most mandates and in many cases went beyond the base requirements.

While Daniel’s talk was in part a bit of a sales pitch, it did represent a publisher who seemed to be as on board with the concepts and practice of OA as I’ve heard in quite some time; and his acknowledgement that OA was no longer exceptional practice was particularly interesting to hear.

The final talk for this section was the very engaging Rupert Gatti, who as well as being the co-founder and Director of Open Book Publishers is also an economics professor at Cambridge.  OBP solely published AHSS monographs in OA, and are primarily funded through selling print editions (60%) and some grants (25%) and donations forming the rest of their funding stream.

He opened his talk by stressing that OA is the future of publishing is no longer in question, but rather should be phrased as what is the future of OA publishing?  He considered the three things he needs as an academic from dissemination: access to other people’s ideas, a way to distribute his own ideas and a means to gain recognition for his contribution.  He talked for a considerable amount of time about dissemination platforms, and the dominance in the legacy (traditional) model of publishing by publishers.  This dominance means that they were monetising the process at this point, so readers were the ones paying and it made economic sense to increase the amount of content uploaded (published) via the controlled platform.  The publisher monopology control has been challenged by OA and introduced competition in terms of where you can disseminated your research.

While OA had opened up the kinds of platforms available, there is still a risk that commercial entities will seize this opportunity to reassert their control [personally I wondered how much the commercial CRIS companies are playing a part in this, as they offer repository-like functions].  In the same way Facebook offers a free platform for social dissemination, but then can use your content to monetise; so too could publishers.  Libraries, he stressed, as a community needed to be aware of these platforms and think/act to prevent the resurgence of commercial monopolising and control.  In terms of platforms that exist for OA he had 3 models. 1) Pre-publication/pre-peer review sites like arXive and OAIRs; which he said he believed were not in a good state in terms of discoverablility of their contents – and hence there is scope for significant development here.  2) Post-publication/peer review suites like SciELO or DOAJ, where publishers submit to these.  3) Publisher platforms, which is perhaps where the greatest risk of control and monetisation comes in – even PLOS if it monopolised could end up charging whatever it wanted for APCs.

He finished by looking at some of the particular challenges, the fact that there are far fewer (or less well developed) OA monograph platforms.  That publishers’ control of the peer review process was an issue where academics needed to take back more control, but needed to maintain it in terms of ensuring a quality assurance in research discourse.

A Q&A session for the three speakers followed, with the most interesting point being around concerns over copyright and plagiarism as a result of OA.  After stressing the time honoured remark that plagiarism is easier to detect via online OA resources; there was a brief discussion about how these concerns are now ingrained in the HE environment within teaching and learning, and hence academic praxis.  What isn’t are issues around licences and what is acceptable or not, and these are things that should be taught to students so it becomes common knowledge for them.

Panel 2: OA and its impact on research and teaching

First up after the break was University of Lincoln (and future Birkbeck) academic Martin Eve.  I’ve heard Martin speak before, and if like me you’ve read the entire transcript of his oral remarks to the House of Lords inquiry on OA, then you’ll know he’s a very knowledgeable and engaging speaker in this field!  He certainly didn’t disappoint (even if he admitted being unable to remember my real name when we were chatting – Your Llordship is a fine address in future Martin ;)

Martin had been asked to talk about peer review and OA but had decided to discuss what’s wrong with the research dissemination system as it stands, and how do quality issues and economics intersect.  As a PhD student he had witnessed three problems with the system:

1) Inequality for researchers – publishers profits are frighteningly high, even inside a recession indicating a market dysfunction.  Hence while researchers don’t have access to all they need there must be sufficient money in the system to publish, but it’s locked into a demand cycle which needs to transition to a supply side system. Given the 300% increase over inflation since 2006 in journal prices, and when even Harvard says their subscriptions are not sustainable it is clear the system is broken.  However researchers have no price sensitivity so economics are divorced from universities.  Scholars publish based on prestige where its the journal and publishers whose brands that are used as measures; whereas it is the article level metrics that should really matter – not the average of every scholar in a title.

2) Lack of public access – he stressed that the Humanities should think about how and what they write and where they publish.  Given that we have a [mass] HE system today, we have a much more educated general populace who are likely to want to continue to access the literature for life-long learned once they leave academia – which is unlikely via traditional routes given the prices charged for academic texts and articles.  Hence scholars are not reaching the broader audience that could read our work.

3) Inability to do things differently due to restrictive rights – he stressed the gift economy approach is tied up in current academic dissemination practice, which means the vastly expensive CLA licence is required to recover access for teaching purposes.  Hence research dissemination that cleaves to traditional routes, does impact adversely on teaching.  Martin was pleased to report that the Hargreaves recommendation for allowing text-mining of work is now permitted by default, but that this still wasn’t perfect as some techniques remain prohibited – e.g. derivatives are prohibited so line by line critique of a literary text is not allowed without further (c) clearance.

Hence Martin said that OA was very much a solution to these kinds of problems, and that with the rise in national mandates (and internationally like Horizon2020) 2013 represented a tipping point towards this.  Green OA is well developed and successful in the UK, but doesn’t solve some of these problems in that it leaves the model as it stands; working within the current model more than seeking to challenge it.  He also explained how a green pre-print for many humanities scholars isn’t any good as some publishers require page numbers to be quoted directly from referenced texts.  Gold OA he said met many needs, but APC costs means it is not affordable for all scholars who may face a restriction in their ability to publish.  He then looked at the drivers for OA, which led him to conclude that whatever form is eventually adopted mus have a lean operating model and be able to rapidly gain prestige in contrast to established forms of dissemination.

To this end he discussed the Open Library of Humanities (OLH), a mega or multi-journal which uses a collective funding model, and which will have a system of overlay journals underneath allowing individual titles to be developed from the collections.  By sourcing 120 initial articles from across the academic spectrum they hope to ensure sufficient prestige from the start.  They have also brought in academics, librarians, publishers and Learned Societies from the start to help shape the OLH into a form that will serve their communities effectively.  He stressed the funding model means that currently 350 organisations paying only $1,000 was sufficient to fund the infrastructure, as well as giving the funders control over the governance; something that publishers certainly don’t offer in return for subscriptions.

Next up was another familiar speaker, and in this case friend of mine, City University academic Ernesto Priego.  Ernesto is another passionate and wonderful speaker to listen to, and brought some very interesting and personal insights into his talk.  He focused on his journey from his student days in Mexico, where the practice of copying entire books may breach international copyright but is essential in a nation where the cost prohibits sufficient copies from being made available.  This illicit practice made him long for a licit manner in which this kind of material could be made available to scholars;.  He also discussed publishing his first article…and being unable to share it with his mother, since it was locked behind a paywall barrier.  Hence this spurred his involvement in OA, saying that academics should remain in control of what they produce [e.g. not be such an exploited knowledge/learning regime labour force, said the proto-Marxist scholar in my head].

He also talked about the online OA journal The Comics Grid which he founded, in part as a reaction to the dis-empowering experience he had from peer review.  This was set up now via Ubiquity Press, which was as a researcher-led publisher very much gelled with his own vision of how research dissemination should actually function.

Finally UCL academic, and archivist, Jenny Bunn spoke about OA from the perspective of setting up MOOCs.  As an archivist she explained her role was all about allowing access, and that she was unhappy with narrow definitions of OA as focusing solely on journal literature and raised the issue about the usage and concept of the term openness itself.  She took us through the experience of producing a MOOC, including issues around rights management – showing us material from the UCL training manual for MOOC producers.  The level of confidence in obtaining rights was still a new area for many academics, who would often fall into what UCL referred to as the zone of copyright angst; and thus most would link to extant resources rather than seeking permission from the original rights holder.  This was a very different experience to producing lectures, which being closed allowed academics to skit (and at times ignore) copyright issues in preparation of their material – taking the low risk that no-one would ever know they used them.  With MOOCs this risk is elevated as through being open, it was far more likely that your reuse would be discovered.

As before the session concluded with a series of A&A discussions.

One interesting question was raised to Ernesto about aspects of copyright piracy in Mexico, and how this related to OA in Latin America/the developing world.  He explained that while there isn’t a Mexican mandate for OA, there exists an official invitation from legislators and funders for academics to deposit their work.  He also highlighted issues for the National Library of Mexico, who are digitising and sharing PDFs of books that previously were locked away under (c) terms.  PDF might not be ideal for re-use or text mining he said, but at least people were now more able to access these texts.

Jenny also made a statement that made me smile in reply to a question about discoverability and openness – in that she said how social media are increasingly the routes through which academics access the most important (and up to date) research.  Martin also highlighted the #ICanHazPDF twitter hashtag which researchers are using on twitter to demand help to obtain PDFs of documents that they otherwise can’t find or access.  I thought this was a great idea, and certainly one I’d not run into before!

And with that, I made my exit into the fine summer sun and long walk back to my car (some 2miles away).  A very useful day, with plenty to think about – and plenty of ideas for a line or two in my currently under development chapter.

*And I suspect some of the speakers may well add or clarify what I’ve recreated here from my rapidly typed notes!

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