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

Monday

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!

Tuesday/Wednesday

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.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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…

Ethical!

Ethical!

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!

Posted by: llordllama | 13 June, 2014

A Whole Lot of Editing Going On

Monday

Having caught up on my sleep over the weekend…there’s no avoiding it, I need to crack on with the marking again today.  And as before, let’s track how the marking goes.

  • 9.00 am: Check both email accounts and discover that my last student with an extension has submitted.  Good, that means I’ve all the essays I need to mark now.  Decide to find breakfast, tea and check on Prisoner Zero (one of our chickens is on special measures at the moment).  Exchange email with supervisor over a news article we’ve both read, and then pull up all my marking info and the essay directory onto the desktop.
  • 9.25 am: Eat breakfast, post blipfoto for the day.  Steel myself to pick up marking where I left off on Friday.
  • 9.30 am: Ear plugs in (it helps me focus and block out the traffic noise), and one we go.  Half way through marking an essay on Friday, so have to read it all over again now.
  • 10.15 am: always tickles me when students write the number of words at the bottom of an essay, and notes like “excluding references”.  I do just the same for official submissions; despite knowing that any academic worth their salt will not include references within a word count.  Oh wait, there was just this sort of discussion at the CRDC the other week over the project proposal submissions.  Paranoia rules and serves you well in academia.
  • 10.33 am: This essay is written in a river of toffee I think, and I’m trying to swim up stream against the grammatical flow.
  • 10:57 am: Hmn, marking one with a heavy use of quotes…and not much analysis.   Have been guilty of this in days of yore myself, so trying to give pointers rather than just writing “NO NO NO NO!” in the margins.
  • 11.19 am: Time for more tea and a swift check on the chickens.  Working on essays about new media now without ear plugs in as I’m expecting a delivery between “11.28-12.28″.
  • 11.37 am: Delivery man cometh – break off to collect my new tarpaulin (wooo!).  Restore ear plus.
  • 12.23 pm: Marking an essay from a student who rarely appeared in seminars.  Fine-toothed-comb deployed.
  • 12:48 pm: Gah, most of the last 30 minutes dealing with some moderation questions and second marking between a couple of the other academics (one of whom is my supervisor).  Some hard decisions been made.
  • 1.00 pm: No, need lunch.
  • 1.45 pm: And back at it.  Half way through the new media now.  Hmn, think I’ll mark this next one and then the other one I’ve been asked to second mark.
  • 2.12 pm: Eeek!  Thunder and lighting right overhead :(
  • 2.55 pm: Flagrant apostrophe abuse detected. Punishable by de’ath!
  • 3.12 pm: Still in new media. Urg. Some of these definitions of new media seem to have switched off in the opening minutes of the lecture on the subject, given there were a fair few given there.  Only 3 more of essays on this topic to go and then I can switch to Freud.  Yes, that will be a bless’d relief…especially considering the students’ attitude to Freud in the seminars was “We don’t think he tells us anything”.
  • 3.46 pm: If I could offer one bit of advice to all the students, it’s “think critically”.  Lots and lots of descriptive prose, very little in many cases analytical thinking.  Keep writing notes in the margins like “Yes, that is very interesting – but why is this important? What does this mean? Is there a case against it?”
  • 3.58 pm: NOOOOOOO!  *ahem* Slight blinkered view from current essay causing me to scream at the screen.  Now to write a more constructive comment.
  • 4.11 pm: 13 still to mark.  Beginning to think I might not finish all these today, which is frustrating.  Onto Freud now, which means it’s time for a mid-afternoon pit stop.
  • 5.03 pm: Marking Freud is hard work.  Sneaking suspicion some of the students understand his work better than I do.
  • 5.40 pm: Mrs Llama has arrived home from work, hot, cross and fed up with traffic.  Wondering if she’s going to be projecting onto me shortly as still marking Freud.  Current essay has also given me a WTF moment requiring some background research to mark.  Sheesh.
  • 5.56 pm: Beyond Freud and onto the final set of essays on power and non-verbal communication.  Think I shall go and prep dinner, pop it in the oven and then have a last hour working on these before calling it a day.
  • 6.30 pm: These essays are more enjoyable than the Freud one.  Marking one now from a student I had to double check was in my groups; since they never came to a seminar I taught!  No, they are one of mine. Damn, have to mark it – but extra carefully!
  • 7.05 pm: Okay, 7 more to go – they’ll have to wait for the morning.  But at least these last batch are fairly readable and engaging again!

Tuesday

Okay, not many to go, but suspect this’ll be my entire morning.

  • 9.15 am: Exchange emails about moderation, discover two invites in my mail (one to a conference, one to participate in some research). Will have to come back to those later.
  • 9.25 am: Open up all the files and programs…and on with the marking.
  • 10.06 am: These are certainly easier to read and mark, generally good and just had one excellent one.  Not sure if the topic is more engaging for the students, or the question’s easier – they just seem to get it more.
  • 10.14 am: Oh dear, another essay sans references.  How obvious could we have made this bit?  It’s actually on the marking sheet as one of the 5 criteria the students are marked on.  Sigh.
  • 11:16 am: Let joy be unrestrained…I’ve opened the last essay to mark.
  • 11.40 am: Done.  Now just to moderate my high/low scores, and pass them to Colin the course leader for his opinions.
  • 12.15 pm: Moderating Colin’s marking…there are some terrible essays here, which really make me pleased how many of my students produced excellent pieces of work!
  • 12.22 pm: Done.  Just have to wait on the moderators comments, and then the admin to sort out and no more marking for me this year.  Huzzah!

Rather lost the will after lunch, as I had to go out to an appointment.  And then paid a visit to campus to drop off the all important annual report form for marking.  The Wife came along for the ride, and so met my 2nd supervisor, which was nice.  Did discover my actual Director of Studies had buggered off to Germany which makes getting a signature out of him somewhat academic now – hope the Grad School will accept an email from him!

Then I got stuck on campus for 30 minutes as the power to the site went down, locking all the car exit gates! Sheesh.

Wednesday

More moderation today for Kornelia, as i appear to have turned into Mr Moderator for the whole course.  Don’t mind, as she and I have been mutually supporting each other throughout the past year on this course.  Today though was also the day I drew out my chapter on the history of open access in the UK, and started to hack at it.  Been away from it with other pressing concerns too long so it’s going to be a long hard struggle I suspect, and first impressions are that it needs a lot more work than I thought.  Beginning to think the end of the month might be a tricky target to get this one ready by.

Thursday

More editing – although not helped by the fact that I had a dreadful night’s sleep and spent the entire day feeling like I had needles sticking in my eyes.  Mrs Llama worked at home in the afternoon and made me go and sit in the garden for a while over lunch and enjoy the outside world.  That helped a bit, and I made some progress – even if it felt like I kept re-editing the same two pages over and over again.  Stressing about this chapter a lot, which is slowing the writing down.  Most of the day spent trying to write short pieces about who the key players and organisations in the development of OA in the UK is.  Bound to have missed some people I suspect, whom I hope won’t hunt me down and punish me!

And no, didn’t include myself in the list!  Sheesh, self-aggrandising much?

Friday

Having been asleep for nearly 12hrs last night (went to bed before 8pm) I felt a whole lot more human.  A lot more editing today, mostly about funders’ OA policies which required a bit of background research.  Chapter looking a whole lot better as a result – but I’ve still a page of suggested additions I need to look at next week.  Which could be tricky as I need to write a conference paper, and also make a day trip to Cambridge on Tuesday, which cuts down the hours I can devote to it.  Have to pop into the Uni as well to finally hand in my annual review.  Which may end in a punch up between me and the staff if they don’t bloody accept it.

Also, just to round out the week, moderated Tao’s essays as well.  Which means by my calculations I’ve moderated pretty much all bar one person’s papers this time.  Boy oh boy do I wish they paid me for this bit.  But it does mean it’s the end of the marking lark.  And time to collapse into a warm gin now.

Posted by: llordllama | 6 June, 2014

A Draft Too Far

Monday

Work on editing down the empirical research chapter and a brief discussion about marking issues with a couple of colleagues online.  Aaaaaaaaaaand that was my day.  Thrilling.

Tuesday

Pretty much the same, sans the marking discussion and with a bonus trip to the dentist.  This week is shaping up to be a thriller in terms of blog entries.  Found myself ranting on about my editing plans to Mrs Llama at one stage in the day (she’d returned to work from home having discovered that her uni network had collapsed)…and I think she looked even more bored than I did.

Mind you, about 30 minutes away from having a full 1st draft of this chapter, and maybe a day or so away from being able to put it to bed for good.  Well at least until I get feedback on it.

Dental team asked what my PhD was about. I think they wished they hadn’t once I’d explained for a few minutes.  Stifled a giggle when they suggested a thesis was “about 20,000 words”.  No…I call that a first draft of a chapter.

Wednesday

Editing. Go away.  However I did have a chance to watch John Oliver on net neutrality in the evening.  Should be compulsory viewing for everyone!

Thursday

And thank Zod, I’ve finished the editing and polishing.  Chapter down to a most reasonable 14.5k words too (from an initial 20k).  Given that 1/3 of it is made up of quotes from the interviews I think that stands at about the right length.  I am actually reasonably happy with it, and while I suspect once I share it with my supervisors I’ll have a bit of rewriting to do, it’s actually a visible output for once.  It also allows me to write a paper and two conference presentations which are based on this thing now.

Chased my supervisors up about my annual report, and think I should be able to sort that out next Tue/Wednesday.  And had a conversation about referencing with Kornelia, which passed a few minutes.

Oh and I was amused to read about some academics back at Leicester getting into a bit of a punch up with a publisher over the publication of research into the true costs of publications.  Nice own goal there from Taylor and Francis it seems.

Finally, I also discovered that something I’d been worrying about (my trip to Sheffield and paper for it) are actually due in June not July.  Suddenly this month looks slightly less like a work-gasm (although I do have an awful lot to do still).  Tomorrow…I’m going to start on the marking.  Wish me luck.

 Friday

And welcome to another marking marathon – the last of the year; although that said I suspect I won’t get through all of the essays I’m marking today.  And remember kids, I don’t get paid to mark – it’s just expected (cheapskate university GTA contract!).

  • 9.00 am: Consider starting work.  Consider cup of tea harder.
  • 9.30 am: Check email, follow up queries on annual monitoring forms (getting them signed remaining the single biggest bugbear of any PhD student if you ask me).  Check staff email to see if student with a two week extension has submitted yet – nope, and today’s her deadline.
  • 9.35 am: Review submissions from 46 students.  2 no-submissions, so they’re easy to mark El Zilcho rides again.  One extension pending, three late submissions which may well get marked down for that.  I’ve subdivided all the marking into the 10 questions that were set, so I can at least group together my grading of the same sort of question.  Not a lot of love for Habermas and the public sphere and also persuasion , but no love at all for the question on transnational media.  Secretly pleased as it was the subject on the whole course I was least excited or engaged by.
  • 9.40 am: Conclude I’ll need a strong cup of Assam to get going on this lot.  Boil kettle, check chickens, print off marking criteria.
  • 9.50 am: Boot my copy of Evernote so I can refresh my memory on some of the lecture topics that the essays cover.
  • 10.10 am: Started with the essays on Max Atkinson’s work on claptrap.  Aside from a not brilliantly formatted set of references not a bad first essay at all.  Hopeful for the remaining ones.
  • 10:35 am: 2 down and ARG…wireless trackball power outtage.  Fiddle around with batteries for a few minutes and power (and marking is resumed).
  • 11:24 am: 4 down. And yes, the trend continues.  These are the best bits of work I’ve seen all year from my students.
  • 11:36 am: Gah, spoke too soon.  That one was like wading through brain mud.
  • 12:06 pm: Enjoyable one on globablisation and media. Honestly wished I could call the student up to discuss their views more.  Genuine pleasure to read, and while there are errors aplenty they’re well on their way.
  • 1.07 pm: Time to stop for a lunch break.  9 marked, so it’s not high speed.  Can see this is going to stretch into Monday; but then I rather suspected it would.  Just given my highest mark yet for a truly excellent piece of work!  Be interesting to see if my moderator partner agrees with me.
  • 1.55 pm: Okay, enough lazing around (and playing Injustice: Gods Among Us), back to it I go.
  • 2.41 pm: Oh my, just used hax0rs in a piece of feedback.
  • 3.26 pm: That was hard, disagreed with a lot the student had concluded.  Not losing marks for that, as I love an argument – but it wasn’t well argued and failed to present a bipartisan POV. Shame.  Time to go boil the kettle I think.
  • 3.55 pm: Tea was postponed as I had one more essay in the same question to cover.  And what a good one it was too, grinning from ear to ear.  Have topped on tea though now and even a KitKat. I need the caffeine!
  • 4.07 pm: REFERENCING!  FOR THE LOVE OF ZUUL, CAN SOMEONE NOT GET SOME OF THESE STUDENTS TO REFERENCE CORRECTLY?!?
  • 4.40 pm: Sentence in an essay I feared would never end.  Nearly 100 words…even I write shorter sentences than this. Sometimes.
  • 4.45 pm: It’s beginning to make my eyes bleed trying to read this one.  Please, please let there be some coherent sentences in here.  There’s some good ideas fighting to get out from behind the text.
  • 5.16 pm: Flagging a bit now it’s true to say, 17 marked which means there’s still more than half to do.  Think I will have to call it a day around 6pm because I suspect my brain won’t take much more.
  • 5.38 pm: Gah. My (at best) four hours of sleep last night are beginning to make this harder than ever. No more caffeine is going to help now.  Bloody insomnia.
  • 5.52 pm: No, going to have to stop marking this one now – as I’m utterly struggling to read it.  Don’t want to give the student an unfair mark, so I’ll either pick this up on Monday, or perhaps mark a few over the weekend if I get a quiet/bored moment.  Think I may need to start off extra early on Monday to do the rest of these.  Still, on the other hand on the whole these have been the best bits of work all year; even if the odd one has caused me to nearly throw the monitor out the nearest window and scream with rage!
Posted by: llordllama | 4 June, 2014

Recommendation Wednesday: Chickens

2011-07-07 20.54.47This post is to sing the praises of the idea behind having, as one book put it, ä few hens at the end of the garden”.  Myself and Mrs Llama have kept chickens for nearly 5 years now, and I confess it’s brought us hours of delightful entertainment watching them bathe, lounge around the garden and get excited when we offer them tasty treats.  They’re pets that also help feed us with a steady supply of tasty eggs – on the occasions when our hens haven’t been laying I feel almost a traitor going to the shop and buying some OTHER hens eggs.

Chickens are also a boon for the home composter, in that their waste goes into the compost, enriches and helps break down the other matter in there much faster.  Not quite hot composting, but certainly our heaps are much warmer since we had hens.  The garden crops they’ve helped feed as a result have also been a whole lot healthier and lush too.  Problem with slugs or other bugs? These may as well be chicken-crack for the way they wolf them down with delight.

2014-02-26 13.13.44Chickens can be mildly terrifying, and I’m not talking about a giant cock* with his dangerous spurs.  If you don’t believe me, why not lie down on your back on a summer’s day and watch as the hens run towards you.  If like me you’ve seen any dinosaur movie, your mind will rapidly flee to thoughts of velociraptors.  And rightly so, given the hens common ancestors.  They are winged lizards, and were they any bigger I suspect they’d probably try and eat us.

One of the claims you’ll often hear about hens is how they’re so much cheaper to raise and get eggs, than buying eggs yourself.  I guess if you had hundreds that might be true, but then the economic argument was never the reason why we took them on.  We had a big garden that lacked a certain something – and hens have added a true sparkle.

Yes, when it’s raining like today it is more of a chore to feed and water them, and yes there have been nights we’ve worried about how they’re fairing in gales, frost and snow.  And our first hens even had to live through half the garden catching fire! And yes, there is the end of life experience to go through too.  It broke me a lot emotionally to dispatch my first sickly hen, and it never gets easy.  But it was better to send them off than watch them suffer,

2011-10-15 11.50.42But for now I shall think happier thoughts of hens 2.0 (Iron, Ghost and Pepper-Pots Chicken) and how much fun they seemed evening this afternoon.  Chickens, every garden should have some!

*Or Rooster if you’re a Yank…but you know, I think I prefer the British word ;)

Posted by: llordllama | 30 May, 2014

Après Moi, le Déluge

Monday

Bank Holiday day off, and it is of course raining.  So in the meantime please enjoy the following strip which so elegantly sums up my life for the past year:

Click the image to enbiggen/visit the excellent PhD Comic site.

Tuesday

My view this week

My view this week

Back to work and joy, more rain.  Morning spent adding in more quotes to my analysis chapter and thinking about printing it off to edit.

Then remembered I’m due in for a meeting tomorrow afternoon (College Research Degrees Committee) so I may as well plan to work on campus for the day and make use of my free printing allocation.  After lunch I got ready for my essay marking, which took longer than expected (a recurrent theme of PhDs).  Downloaded all the essays, attached the header file (from all those students who forgot/didn’t bother) and worked out who had answered which question.  Plan to mark them next week in batches of the same topic – given that there were 10 essay choices there’s quite a spread, although no-one has gone for the one on transnational media.  Can’t say that I blame them though!

Highlight of the day was putting in my booking for the Sheffield conference (which tells you how thrilling a day it is!).  Which means I’ll have to think about writing my paper for in the next couple of weeks as well.  Probably once I’ve put the current draft chapter to bed, it’ll be an ideal time to get to work on that.

Finished off the day tidying the chapter up, and finalising my quotation/anonymised quote file.  Oh, and drawing up an updated plan of action based on the outcomes of my annual monitoring meeting.

Wednesday

Another wet day (and as we’re feeding the neighbours’ chickens, who live in a quagmire, it makes it especially delightful) and a bit of an odd one work-wise.  Went onto campus first thing as I had a meeting in the afternoon, so thought I may as well avail myself of the printing in the library.  It was a lot quieter there than it had been the previous week, so I guess most of the u/grad deadlines have passed now.  I did make the delightful discovery that they’re closing the library next week for the entire summer (June-Sept, inclusive) for refurbishments.  Sure, there’s going to be some kind of rump-library with a limited collection somewhere behind a porta-loo, but I really doubt that’ll have anything I can actually used.  Once again in the quest for the almighty under-grad experience rating/recruitment the post-graduate research student gets shafted.  *sigh*  Lucky I don’t need to be on campus much, but it basically takes away the only resource on campus that’s any use (let alone the only place that was fit to work).  This upgrade in facilities better make the library a shining beacon of excellence or there’s gonna be a whole lot of grumpy PGRs wandering around Clifton camps!

Ran off my printing, and a copy of an OA journal I read.  Then tinkered with my thesis chapter outline plan, as it was something my supervisors had expressed an interest in seeing.  There’s currently about 12 chapters in the plan, each of which has a brief bit of text associated with it to guide/remind me what it’s about.  I only started to create the paper for my Sheffield conference – or at least tidy up the template so when I come to start writing it next week that I can move swiftly on with it.

Then I went a picked up a huge pile of cultural/social theory books in preparation for research for chapter 4 of the thesis (not due to start on that until July, but planning ahead).  Boy were they heavy!

Ran out of anything too useful to do, so ended up reading the Guardian for the best part of an hour while I waited for my CRDC meeting to start.  As it was this ran on much longer than normal due to a long (and quite heated) discussion around changes the Graduate School had made to annual monitoring/project approval protocols; seemingly without involving the committee in them.  Seems this had caused a few ructions in some of the schools (though not mine), and provoked a looooooong discussion.  Hilariously for the second meeting in a row I was the sole student rep present; not sure why the others weren’t there (too wet? nothing to say?) but you could tell the academics from their schools were less than impressed.  Score one more point for me. :)

Came home around 4pm and finally had lunch and my second drink of the day, having forgotten to have anything earlier.  By the time I’d had that I’d lost the will to work, so ended up sorting out the bookshelves downstairs (they’ve been out for the last month while we had work done on the house)…which was sorta productive I guess.  Did end up having an email exchange long after hours with my fellow PhD tutor about marking schemes for the essays.  Looks like she’s dived right in to marking them already, so I can hopefully find out from her if there any hiccoughs!

Thursday

Excellent article by Tim Berkhead on how not to treat visiting speakers.  Having been a guest speaker on the odd occasion…thankfully I’ve never had quite such extreme experiences, but yeah, there have been times when you do wonder about the basic organisational skills of some of the people who arrange these things.

Brain escape!

Brain escape!

Today was filled mostly with editing.  And a spot of procrastination as my brain attempting to escape out of my ears as it was so bored looking at text on a screen.  Come back you grey thinky whale, I have need of you!

Friday

Editing. More editing.  A spot more editing.  Editing.  Whomever said “writing is rewriting” wasn’t kidding.  I’ve ended up essentially rewriting two huge sections from my chapter today.  However, it is now 66% on its way to a penultimate draft.  Looking like I’m on schedule to have it done and ready to share with my supervisors by the end of next week.  Sooner if I really crack on.  And crack on I shall…on Monday!

Most interesting event of the day, looks like I’m getting another publication out of an article I wrote a few months back.  There’s value for money…erm effort.  Best of all they want to use my twitter avatar as the author picture.  Much better idea than my mug shot!

In the meantime it’s the weekend, and I’m off to celebrate my favourite uncle’s birthday tomorrow.  Except we’re not allowed to mention the birthday.  So…just a friendly family visit it shall be!

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