Archive for Apple

Do you iTunesU?

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , on January 23, 2012 by telescoper

I’ve spent all morning re-writing a grant proposal for the umpteenth time, so I thought I’d take a short break for a sandwich and take the opportunity to dash off a quick blogette on a topic of topical topicality.

An interesting Twitter discussion took place on Friday, instigated by Leighton Andrews who asked the apparently innocuous question why so few Welsh universities have put content on iTunes U? I suppose what sparked this off was that a new version of the relevant app had just been released last week. In fact I think there’s only one Welsh university that has any material on iTunesU at all (the University of Glamorgan).

My response to the question was basically that, at least here in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University,  we don’t have the resources to put a significant quantity of the more interesting content (e.g. video lectures and podcasts) on this resource. For one thing, although iTunesU is available for both Mac and PC platforms from what I understand you need to buy Apple software in order to create content to upload, which means having to buy Apple products in order to do so. Some of my colleagues have Macs and/or iPads, but I don’t. I think Apple kit is overpriced and gimmicky, but some of my colleagues go even further and consider Apple corp to be an intrinsically evil outfit that we shouldn’t have anything to do with, on principle.

However, those opinions don’t really matter because it would only take a few people with (possibly) dirty Macintoshes in the whole university to set it all up and there are undoubtedly many, especially younger, people out there who would want to see content there.  See, for example, this blog post which shows that having appropriate stuff on iTunesU could have a significant impact on undergraduate admissions. Perhaps we should put our open-day talks etc there and use it as a kind of shop window for the School?

We do have quite a lot of online material already – deposited on a system formerly known as Blackboard but now called Learning Central. Most of us distribute written notes, problem sets and the like on there and I think the students find it quite useful. I don’t know for sure how easy it would be to transfer such material to iTunes, but it can’t be that difficult, can it?

The problem is with the more complicated content such as videos. I’ve experimented with video lectures in the past and quickly came to the conclusion that you have to spend an awful lot of time and money to do them properly, otherwise they are excruciating.  A single fixed camera recording a traditional 50-minute lecture is as dull as ditchwater to watch, and we don’t have the resources to do anything more sophisticated. I think 5 or 10 minute supplementary videos is the way to go with this.

There isn’t much specifically physics content on iTunesU from the UK, apart of course from the Open University which has posted a large amount of material.  Oxford University has also made some very nice things freely available, including lectures on Quantum Mechanics from James Binney.

But then the basic question is who benefits from doing this? Our own (fee-paying) students already get material online for free from Learning Central. Should we make this available for free on a worldwide basis? Contributing to the general education of the world’s population is surely a good thing for a University to be doing, but is it consistent with the New World Order in which universities are merely businesses and students merely customers?

Anyway, I’d be interested to hear any comments on the usefulness (or otherwise) of iTunesU from teaching staff, students and interested parties here or elsewhere. The comments box awaits…

Azed 2000

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by telescoper

I was up bright and early yesterday in order to get the train to Oxford where a lunch was held in honour of Jonathan Crowther, who, under the pseudonym Azed, has been setting cryptic crosswords in the Observer for the best part of 40 years. Today (Sunday 26th September 2010) sees the publication of the 2000th Azed puzzle, hence yesterday’s celebration. There’s also a special piece in the Observer today to mark the occasion. One of the authors of that piece, Colin Dexter of Inspector Morse fame (who has won the Azed competition more times than anyone), was at the lunch yesterday; he has a celebration of his own coming up, as he will be 80 years old next week.

I’ve blogged about my enjoyment of Azed‘s puzzles before and was particularly looking forward to the possibility of meeting the man himself and also being able to put faces to the names that often appear (mostly above mine) in the Azed Honours table.

I got quite an early train from Cardiff in order to give myself time to browse a few bookshops in Oxford before the lunch got under way with drinks at noon in Wadham College. There then followed a musical tribute to Azed in various parodies of Gilbert & Sullivan (I am the very model of a modern cruciverbalist, etc…) and others (Azed, Azed, give me your answer do….). Mingling with the other guests I got the chance to chat to some proper professional crossword setters. I’ve never actually tried to set an entire cryptic crossword puzzle but I think I’ll probably give it a go one day, just for fun. Based on what I heard, setting crosswords, even for the national broadsheets, is not something that one can easily make a living doing.  Aside from the professional setters – who seem to dominate the Azed prize list, not surprisingly – there were lots of ordinary folk who just enjoy doing the puzzles.

The lunch was quite splendid (scallops to start, followed by duck) and  lashings of nice wine. Afterwards there were various speeches and presentations, and the results of the last competition (No. 1997) were handed out. I got an “HC” for my clue to the word FADO:

It’s a transitory thing, love, for Portuguese folk (4)

(FAD+O); but once again the winning clues were much better than mine! Officially, HC stands for Highly Commended, but I always interpret it as Hard Cheese.

The guest speaker was Richard Stilgoe (remember him?) who gave a very droll and at the same time very interesting speech that included several things I hadn’t realised before. One is that TWELVE+ONE is an anagram of “ELEVEN+TWO”, perhaps the only example of an anagram that works with characters as well as numbers, i.e. 12+1=11+2. The other, more important, thing he mentioned that struck me was about Apple computers. As you all probably know I’m not a particular fan of Macs and the like, which together with my more general Luddite inclinations, probably explains why I didn’t know the origin of the Apple logo (an apple with a bite taken out from it) .

For those of you who don’t know, the reason why the Apple has a bite taken from it is a reference to Alan Turing, the British mathematician who did more than anyone else to pave the way towards the age of electronic computers through his work on cracking German wartime codes. Turing was gay, but  lived in a time when male homosexual behaviour was a criminal offence. When his sexuality led to a criminal conviction, the courts, instead of sending him to prison, decided to subject him to a barbaric medical “treatment” tantamount to chemical castration. The effect of unbalancing his hormones was to make him so depressed that he decided to take his own life. He knew that cyanide was a quick and effective way of doing this, but also knew that it tasted foul. He therefore made a solution of cyanide and injected it into an apple which he then ate. The bite out of the Apple logo is there as a mark of respect for Alan Turing.

That story is probably old hat to most of you, but I have to admit that hearing it for the first time has rather changed my view of Steve Jobs!

Anyway, after lunch we had the chance to mingle in the pleasant grounds of Wadham College, but I couldn’t stay too long as I had a train to catch. Although I was more than a little tipsy, I managed to get the train I had planned and made it back to Cardiff in time to cater for Columbo‘s insulin needs. On the way back I had a go at the tricky Araucaria puzzle in Saturday’s Guardian, which was of the alphabetical type I enjoy best. I’m glad to say I got it finished in order to clear the decks for today’s Azed 2000 puzzle. I haven’t started it yet, but at first glance it looks like a corker!



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 26, 2010 by telescoper

I try my best to get on with my fellow human beings. I’m a sociable sort of chap, within reason. I’m pretty tolerant of other peoples’ opinions. I don’t expect other people to be interested in everything I am, and it doesn’t worry me too much if they turn out to be fascinated by things that I find bizarre or simply unininteresting. And since I’ve never been one to go with the crowd just for the sake of it, it doesn’t get me down if I’m left out when others enjoy something I find boring.

But there are a few things that sometimes make me feel like I was born on a different planet. Nothing drives home this feeling of alienation more than listening to people talk about Apple products, especially the dreaded Mac computers. Stephen Fry is the worst culprit, publically slavering over his Macs – I believe he owns several – to an extent that severely jeopardises his status as English National Treasure.

The Apple fraternity is particularly prominent in Astronomy. Go to an astronomy conference and you’re likely to find gaggles of them drooling over each other’s laptops and notebooks. You’re also likely to be sitting in the audience twiddling your thumbs for ages while one of the speakers fiddles about trying to get their computer to work with the data projector. If that happens, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s a Mac that’s to blame.

Macs are brilliant, you hear their owners say. Well, perhaps they are almost as good as real computers, except you need to bring special adaptors to connect them to anything at all, you won’t be able to use the internet, the software isn’t compatible with this that and the other, they’re roughly twice the price of a PC with equivalent (or better) capabilities, and the hard disk is almost certain to seize after about a year. But so what if they don’t work as well as a proper machine? If you have one, you have a passport to Nerd Nirvana. In the kingdom of the geeks, it’s the geek with a Mac that is king.

I hope you’ll forgive me for not jumping aboard the Mac Bandwagon (Applecart?). I just don’t get it. Otherwise intelligent people have tried to convert me and succeeded only in scaring me. It’s the glazed eyes and puerile obsessiveness that does it. A Mac must come with some sort of brainwashing device that makes owners blind to its obvious limitations. I hope there’s a cure, otherwise the MacZombies will take over the world.

It’s not just Macs, of course, but all the gadgets prefixed by the dreaded “i”: iPod, iPhone, iPad, iNeedaweewee and iDunnowhat.

I do have an iPod, in fact. It’s fine. No better and no worse than an ordinary MP3 player, of course, but perfectly OK for its purpose. Apart from the earphones,  which are deliberately manufactured to be entirely useless so you have to go and buy proper ones straight away.

Incidentally, I never never got around to filing a patent for my invention, the uPod. This is a similar device to an iPod, but the wearer of the earphones experiences perfect silence while the uPod broadcasts an annoying tinny racket to everyone within a 10-metre radius. It  is designed for use in the quiet coach on a train.

The software you have to use with an iPod  is quite another thing. I’m thoroughly sick of iTunes, which I believe to be controlled by aliens with the intention of destroying the Earth. It keeps taking over my computer and insisting that it is it and nothing else that should control all my media files. Moreover, update your iTunes with care. You can’t undo the upgrade and the likelihood is your new software won’t be compatible with your old iPod. An evil trick to make you buy new hardware. Shame on you, Apple.

A Crapple Device

On the other hand, I don’t have an iPhone and have no intention of getting one. I know people who have them and show me all the “apps” they have on it. Fine. I hope there’s an app for finding a job after you get sacked for playing with your iPhone all the time instead  of doing your work. Give me my  Blackberry over your  iPhone, anytime.

And as for the iPad, there are only two problems with it. It’s too small for a doorstop and too big for a paperweight.

You’re probably wondering what caused me to vent my spleen about the evil empire of Crapple. Up until today I’ve kept quiet about my feelings lest I appear a bit weird. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m the very epitome of normality. But today I read something that has put me in touch with my inner Luddite and given me the  inner strength to stand up and speak out against the obvious threat to our civilisation caused by these Apple gizmos and the people they control.

Today’s excellent new issue of Private Eye has a new cartoon strip – called iBores – which takes a brave stand against the Menace of the Mac. It’s a must-read for all Mac addicts, and just may save the human race from Apple oblivion. The fightback starts today.