A Geek Diary

Perhaps the glass is just twice as large as it needs to be?

Advice for new students

Posted by Kate Glover on September 23, 2013

I’m the Hastings Campus Rep at Uni this year – and have been thinking about what advice I’d give to the new students during induction week if given the chance.  I came up with 5 main points – some of which I was given in my first couple of weeks, and some of which I wasn’t.

Me: 2003 edition

Me: 2003 edition

1. Enjoy yourself

Have fun. Make friends. Dye your hair blue. Go to the concert by that band you wanted to see.  Many of you will never meet as diverse a range of people as you will meet here.  Share your interests and expertise with others, and be open to others doing the same with you.  You might pick up a new hobby, a sport, or try something you always fancied having a go at.   Surprise yourself. Go out and party with friends.  Stay in and party with friends.  Just stay safe – there’s nothing fun about placing yourself in harm’s way.  Most of you will never enjoy this level of freedom again.  Become the person you have always wanted to be.

2. Get involved

Sports, video games, geology, biology, politics, LGBT+… if you’re into it, the likelihood is that someone else is too.  Join the society or sports team for it, and if there isn’t one – make one.  The Students’ Union is all about supporting you though facilitating these things. My trombone teacher used to tell me “You’re not playing WITH the band, you ARE the band!” and never has that been more true than here.  I’m a 28 year old fat person who was a year ahead at school so was always too young and too small to make a sports team.  I always fancied giving lacrosse a bash if I ever had the chance.  Came here, showed up to training regularly, ended up taking on the position of goalkeeper and making it my own.  This summer – we won a freaking trophy.  If you have an ambition or a dream – start now, here, today.  Again – most of you will never again have access to this level and variety of resources.  Run for election. Vote in elections.  The Students’ Union isn’t here for other people.  It’s here for you, funded by you, run by you.  Be a part of it.

Brighton Panthers - Women's plate winners at BluesFest

Brighton Panthers – Women’s plate winners at BluesFest 2013

3. Ask for help

One of my lecturers this year has already quipped that he gets paid the same whether we fail or get a first.  Before I came here, I was a college lecturer and I used to use the same line.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t care.  My lectures are in Hastings, and I have been to lectures over at Moulsecoomb. You have no idea how much easier we have it being at Hastings with our college-sized classes.  If you do not understand something – put your hand up and say so.  You will often find that your coursemates thank you for it.  If you are interested and determined – your lecturers will answer any question you put to them.  Discuss classes with your coursemates. Meet up to work on assignments. Do not struggle in silence. There are no foolish questions. If you need extensions, ask. If you have trouble at home, tell someone.  The University won’t give you your degree on a plate – but they do want you to see you succeed.  If they can help – they will.

Genuine workings out for a 2nd year group assignment. Working together - it wasn't nearly as hard as it looks!

Genuine “workings out” board for a Level 5 group programming assignment. Working together, we didn’t find it nearly as hard as it looks!

Where there is WiFi - you can run a backup...

Where there is WiFi – you can run a backup…

4. Backup your work

  • My USB stick has broken/gone missing
  • The file corrupted
  • My computer’s hard-drive gave up
  • I must have left myself logged in and someone deleted all my work

These might have cut it with some soft personal tutor at college, but it’s not going to work here.  The first question you’ll be faced with is “Why don’t you go get it from your backup?”.  Keep a copy of your files on the Uni system where it’s backed up at night.  Use the SkyDrive built into your UniMail account to keep a secure online copy you can access from anywhere.  Keep an extra USB stick at home for a weekly backup of the important stuff.  Make a routine.  Friday night before you go out – make copies of your files so that you don’t end up learning the hard way.  I learned the hard way.  It was 2002 and I was doing A-Level Computing.  I stayed up all night to finish my main project – sauntered in knowing that I wouldn’t be part of the last minute panic, and the copy didn’t work.  Ran home to make another one – to find it hadn’t worked because the hard-drive had failed and the whole system fell over and died – irretrievably.  I then had 5 hours left to re-create the last 5 months work, on no sleep.  For the sake of 10 minutes a week or less – you can avoid that pain.

5. Do not let ANYONE tell you that the first year “doesn’t matter”

I heard a lot of people telling me that the first year “doesn’t matter”.  For a lot of courses, the marks from the Level 4 modules don’t count towards your final degree classification.  That does NOT mean that it doesn’t matter.  Your first year provides you with the groundwork, the knowledge and the skills to ensure that you succeed in Level 5 and Level 6.  If you bunk off or let things slide and put in the bare minimum this year – it will come back to bite you.  We had 4 or 5 programming modules on my course in Level 5 – and I lost count of the number of my coursemates who said “I wish I’d asked more questions/worked harder/put more effort into Programming 101 last year.”  If you suck at something this year – don’t panic – your first year’s assignment and exam grades show you where you need to put more effort in, and where you’re doing just fine.  Use that information to direct your energies and schedule your study time  – and you’ll be doing yourself a massive favour.

Posted in University | Leave a Comment »

Why I’m bonkers about libraries

Posted by Kate Glover on August 9, 2013

Front cover: "The Library Book"

Front cover: “The Library Book”

After work today, I had to drive half an hour to a gig with the brass band out at Five Ashes.  Having had the same music CD in the car for a while, I decided to check out an audio-book for the trip.  I spotted a copy of “The Library Book” on CD, and as a colleague had been raving about it recently, I decided to give it a go.  “The Library Book” is a collection of short pieces by assorted journalistic and literary figures of the present day, all describing their feelings towards and experiences of libraries – a project which I imagine was probably prompted by the various library closures happening up and down the country.

I read ALL of Tintin and ALL of the Asterix books for free

I grew up in libraries.  As a child, I read all of the Tintin and Asterix books Eastbourne Central library had in stock, and ordered those they didn’t.  I cracked on through Roald Dahl at Hampden Park, and again, most of my visits began with my picking up a book which I had ordered in from elsewhere in the county.  When topics changed at school, it was there I went to get books for projects.  As I grew older, I moved into the teenage/young-adult sections and on to the “science-fiction and fantasy” section, where I feasted on the works of Douglas Adams and repeatedly tried and failed to get into Tolkien.

Hampden Park Library used to be an oak-shelved brown-card-issue library in the upstairs space above the Community Centre, accessible only by a black-painted metal stairway attached to the outside of the building.  I remember the new one being built.  I remember going in there for the first time.  I remember when the space now populated by the People’s Network public-access computers was occupied by a single flat desk which bore the catalogue computer, a set of ordering cards, and a couple of biros.  I wish I’d still got one of those cards.  I must have filled in over a hundred of them, each in my “best handwriting”, before handing them over to the counter staff who no longer felt the need to inform me that my book may take up to two weeks to arrive and that I would be notified by post when it had done so.

Eastbourne Library has undergone slightly more significant changes since I sat against a felt-topped bookcase, rooting through the Tintin books to find the ones I hadn’t read yet, and taking out favourites such as “Destination: Moon” and “The Secret of The Unicorn” for the umpteenth time.  It has been greatly modernised since then, including a one-million pound refurbishment which was completed in the summer of 2009, but every time I walk through the doors, I can still see it all the way it was.

I now work for that same library service.  I have a “proper job” as a Saturday Library Assistant, and do a lot of “casual” hours as holiday cover for staff at other libraries all over the South area.  I have served readers as far afield as Hastings and Peacehaven.  I now know the approximate Dewey codes for a range of popular topics off the top of my head, and how it works as a system.  I know which crime authors to recommend to people who’ve run out of James Patterson and Martina Cole novels to read, which romance authors to suggest based on a reader’s previous issues, and that young lads who enjoyed “Dirty Bertie” may do well to graduate on to “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and then the works of Eoin Colfer, Anthony Horowitz, and Derek Landy.

Surely libraries must have become obsolete in the Digital Age?  NO!

A banner image showing my "mission control" room

I’ve enjoyed three job interviews with the library service to date.  During one of these, I remember being asked something along the lines of “What is it that you like about libraries?”  I gave a very enthusiastic (and apparently successful) answer about how libraries have adapted over the years in order to remain relevant and what a fantastic service they provide to the community.  Time was limited, and to give a full account of my feelings would have been far too detailed for the situation.

An example of this is how I felt when I looked up the etymology of the word “library” for a University assignment earlier this year.  I can only describe it as a mixture of disappointment, resentment, and borderline betrayal.  The word originated from the Latin “librarium” meaning “chest for books” and evolved into the Anglo-French “librarie” meaning “place for books”.  It seems so utterly inadequate now, and has given me a level of sympathy for the librarians within the education sector who have rebranded their facilities as “Learning Centres” or “Resource Centres”.  Libraries are so much more than “a place for books” – and public libraries certainly deserve to be recognised accordingly.

Yes – a large part of our “business” is still books.  Hard-copy. Crime, romance, science-fiction, biographies, cook-books, children’s books, self-help books, classic literature through to Fifty Shades of Grey, maps, dictionaries, local history – and if in the whole of East Sussex we somehow don’t have it, we can more often than not get it through the inter-library loans scheme, where books can be borrowed and sent from libraries under other authorities in exchange for a token fee.  We also stock books on cassette tape, CD, and self-contained MP3 players, and on top of this, our members can borrow e-books and audio-book downloads from our online e-library and via their smart-phones.

We also stock sheet-music, both individual parts and scores for bands and orchestras.  We stock energy meters which you can use to check the energy consumption of devices in your home.  We stock reminiscence materials such as puzzles, old-fashioned picnic sets and a “box of smells” for helping dementia sufferers to remember days gone by.  We stock DVDs, including television series box-sets, children’s DVDs and new releases.  We stock a large range of music CDs, again including new releases.

In addition to all this, we provide free internet access from public-access PCs, arrange free computer courses and “buddy sessions” for those who still struggle to get started with computers, and free WiFi in some of our larger libraries.  We also have subscriptions to driving theory and ancestry sites which can be used by our customers… for free.  Printing costs 20p per sheet in black and white – but we have facilities for that.  Photocopying facilities are available in every branch I’ve been to as well.  This is before I even get started on the Summer Reading Challenge and RhymeTime and all of the children’s activities.

Whenever people say that libraries are no longer relevant in the digital age – I get angry.  Libraries provide free access to knowledge, culture, history and more – no matter what your background or your position in life.  If all you have to your name are the clothes on your back – you still have access to the sum of the world’s knowledge and artistry through our physical stock and our public-access computers.  Libraries serve everyone, from the super-rich who need a copy of a rare out-of-print book, to the homeless who needs to fill in job-applications online, to the student who needs to do some research or have somewhere to work away from noisy housemates.

Libraries are modern-day sanctuaries

I’ve worked in retail, I’ve worked in technical-support, and now I work in libraries.  Libraries are different.  We appear (in some branches more than others) to have a disproportionately high number of service users who have additional needs.

Self-contained MP3 Audiobook

Self-contained MP3 Audiobook

Some of these people have educational/developmental problems – which often makes them quite fun once you realise that’s what the deal is.  Initially, as a member of staff, it can be quite disconcerting dealing with someone who doesn’t respond as expected as you don’t know their history.  After a while, you realise that they are your most regular service users, and that all they want is somewhere safe to go, perhaps read a book, go through the local paper, use a computer, and to have a chat with a familiar face.  They invariably put a smile on mine!   One guy comes in and doesn’t say a lot, other than “hello” and “goodbye” to everyone.  There’s another guy who I used to be a regular at an Internet Café I used to work at.  Given half the chance, he’ll wax lyrical about his latest wins on eBay, or things he’s seen at work.  It makes me smile that they include the library in their daily routine.

Some of our service users are elderly – again, proportions vary from branch to branch.  For some of them, the library is their only real excursion all week.  They’ll come on foot, on busses, via lifts, or get taxis – often carrying “granny trollies” so that they can carry a large pile of hardbacks – in order to come down for yet another Maeve Binchy, Betty Neals, or in some cases, “a good murder”.  Many of them read voraciously – cracking on through four or more books a week.  Sometimes their sight starts to fail, and we start to suggest that they browse our surprisingly extensive large print sections or try out an audio book.  We also have a service where our central store will send regular packs of a few audio books every week or two, perhaps doubling up at Christmas if we’re closed on their next scheduled delivery date.  Some of them whiz round with the energy of some of our teenaged readers, some of them come and spend half a day or so with us, in the warm, with our familiar faces, and surrounded by doorways to other worlds.

Children are another particular highlight of my day.  They come in, as precocious as I ever was, ordering books from other branches, cracking on through the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, or the “Horrible History” books, eventually moving over to the Teen section and beyond.  I now know that books on cats come under 636.8, and that the Great Fire of London can be found under 942.1, following scores of requests when they come in to read up before getting a pet or taking out books for a school project.  I love teaching them how Dewey Decimal works, and the looks on their faces when they realise how easy the “secret library system” really is.  As a “casual” I end up at lots of different libraries, but kids of all ages seem to be happy to come up and talk to me, or to sit on the floor, surrounded by books, half of which they’ll have read before even getting them issued and stamped.  Young lads, sometimes (but not always!) reluctant readers, stunned to find that we stock football stories penned by the liked of Theo Walcott and David Beckham, or that we have books about poo and bogeys in non-fiction.  A lot of them don’t yet appreciate how special public libraries are, but after just a couple of visits, will walk in and settle down as if it’s a home-away-from-home.

Libraries are for EVERYONE

It’s true.  Look at all of the people I’ve mentioned above.  We see the homeless, the students, the local historians, the book club readers, the children, the elderly, the afflicted, and the completely normal everyday person-on-the-street.  Even prisoners – as the library in our nearest prison is in fact run by the same service I work for, is part of our network, and won a national Prison Library of the Year Award last year (link)!

I meet hundreds and hundreds of people who I probably wouldn’t speak to much in any other context, but even as a service user myself, when I see someone else browsing the oft-ignored Sci-Fi and Fantasy section, I feel happy enough to dive in and trade recommendations with whoever’s there.  At the counter I gather recommendations and reviews from service-users who are returning books to us, and use those reviews to help others in areas I don’t have much experience of myself.  Occasionally it even prompts me to take a step out of my comfort zone and to pick up a crime novel, or something from historical fiction – areas I wouldn’t usually venture into.  Even if I don’t get on with a given title – I’ve lost nothing but a little bit of time, as I have indulged that foray into the unknown, through the use of my library card rather than my debit card.

Libraries are special, libraries are great, and libraries are for everyone.  If you’re not already a member, I would strongly advise you to find your nearest library, take in some ID, and sign up.  It’s free to join, and even if you’re “not a big reader” – I’d bet my shoes that we can find some title or some service that will make it worth your visit!

Posted in Libraries | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Kate Glover on August 8, 2013

This is a piece I wrote last summer.  It’s the first paragraph of a story of a robot, the kind that lives in every household.  It gets the family up, it makes the breakfast, it ensures that everyone is ready to start their day with the government morning bulletin…  only this one, Cyman K4285W.0197 has been tampered with…

At 06:42, sunrise exploded through glass outer wall of the living room, illuminating its contents with a blazing orange tint.  Cyman stood silently in its alcove – inert, yet aware.  Only its face, which pulsed with red light from within, indicated that it was active at all.

Cyman came with a Cenmek Intelligent Processing System (CIPS) fitted as standard, and was capable of utilising all of the functions available in version of the Cenmek Android Operating System (CAOS).  It was wirelessly connected to the apartment’s environmental and personal sensor network which monitored (amongst other things) every breath of sea breeze which brushed against the windows, every footstep committed to the internal flooring, and every nocturnal murmuring which issued from the slumbering form of Mr. Basiuk.

The readouts which fed directly to Cyman’s optical sensors while it sustained “low-power mode”, flickered and updated themselves, showing everything within the property to be within standard operational parameters.  It committed these latest figures to the log, and saved it to the internal storage array located within its torso.

Cyman attempted to index the sixth drive in the array of twelve.  The drive refused to engage, as it had upon every indexing attempt since it had been replaced.  Each Gamma, upon experiencing this failure, Cyman had compiled and sent an Automatic Fault Report to Cenmek, who upon receipt were supposed to perform an on-site analysis of the affected unit within one shift-cycle. Fourteen shift-cycles had now passed, fourteen AFRs had been sent, and yet no “Helpful, Respectful, and Successful” green service droid had presented itself for duty.

Cyman had no programmed response for this highly unusual scenario, so it compiled a fifteenth AFR and dispatched it over the Internet to Cenmek.

The drive error did not impact upon its standard functionality, and the results of its diagnostic checks otherwise fell within normal tolerances. Thus, just one hour and seventeen minutes from the beginning of Alpha, Cyman activated its “morning” process set.  Its face ceased to glow, it locked into the property’s AndroTrack droid navigation system, and moved off to prepare for the family’s awakening.

Posted in Writing | 1 Comment »

Painting Westeros

Posted by Kate Glover on July 20, 2013

Freehand map of Westeros, done as a materials test.

Freehand map of Westeros, done as a materials test.

I recently finished what currently exists (two books still to be published) of “A Song of Ice and Fire“, by George R. R. Martin – better known to non-readers as “A Game of Thrones”.  There were maps available online, and ones available to purchase – but I hadn’t done anything properly “arty” for a while – so I decided to make my own.

I had a huge piece of cream fabric left over from creating a green-screen for filming against (experiments with that viewable on my YouTube channel) and I figured that’d be more interesting and “authentic looking” than just doing it on white paper or canvas.  I cut off a piece, then drew the map “freehand” with a pencil.  I knew even then that it was a bit squashed vertically, but it was intended to be a “test version” in order to make sure that the acrylic paint I was using would take properly, and see whether or not I’d need to construct a frame to stretch the real version over later on.

Once the outline was complete, I outlined filled it in with slightly thinned white acrylic paint, from top to bottom.  Once that was dry, I added the rivers, then started to outline it with black paint.  You may be able to tell from the image on the right, that it wasn’t going brilliantly (I got as far as the edge of the second point on the east of The North before I gave up) as I was down to my last couple of brushes, so it had started to become shoddy and tedious.  I switched to permanent marker, thinking I could go over it once I had some new brushes – but it was so much easier and so much more accurate, that I decided to keep it like that.

Next, I picked out the more major cities, and marked them in red. My thin brush which was already failing at the outline stage wasn’t going to be nearly accurate enough for the text, so I used cocktail sticks dipped in to the paint to do that.  Again, it was tedious work, and the results were not as good as I had hoped, but I kept reminding myself that whole thing was the experimental version, so I wasn’t too disappointed.  I did find that this particular technique worked better on the bare fabric than it did on the pre-painted areas – something I hadn’t expected.

The next step was to make sure that the paint would hold.  After a bit of Googling, I settled on ironing the life out of it, then putting it through the washing machine, then ironing it again.  The articles I was following suggested laying a tea-towel between the painting and the iron, and that the paint needed about 30 seconds under high-heat to set to the fabric, so to do the entire piece took some time.  I then washed it under a regular 40 degree cycle, took it out and hung it over the bannister for a couple of hours, then damp-ironed it through a tea-towel again.  The paint doesn’t seem to come off on the tea-towel, so I was able to re-use the clean one I had used the first time over.

Having settled on the idea of using permanent marker for the fiddly bits, I marked in the borders and names of the seven kingdoms, along with The Wall and The Gift with a Sharpie – which was reasonably straight-forward.  It still feels a bit like cheating, but the effect is so good, that I reckon I can justify it to myself!

The finished experiment is how hanging on the outside of the door to my home-office (otherwise known as Mission Control!) and I have started the “real” version.  I used a projector down the length of my upstairs landing in order to get the scaling right this time, and the piece is about as wide as a door, and nearly as tall!  During a 4½ hour powercut last night I got the white land areas finished, the rivers added, and the coastline reinforced with a Sharpie.  Tonight I hope to get the projector out again, add the capital cities and major landmarks (The Wall and the forests), then perhaps do the first wash to loosen it up a bit before moving on to the other larger cities and castles.

Westeros Version 2: In Progress

Westeros Version 2: In Progress

Posted in Drawing/Painting | Leave a Comment »

More Dewey Doodles

Posted by Kate Glover on May 20, 2013


A drawing of a flower, made from the number 581, which is the Dewey Decimal reference for Botany

A drawing of a flower, made from the number 581, which is the Dewey Decimal reference for Botany


A drawing of a dinosaur, made from the number 567.9, which is the Dewey Decimal reference for Dinosaurs

A drawing of a dinosaur, made from the number 567.9, which is the Dewey Decimal reference for Dinosaurs

Posted in Drawing/Painting, Libraries | Leave a Comment »

We are each just software, running on a meat-machine…

Posted by Kate Glover on May 19, 2013

sad stick-manFor one reason or another, I seem to spend a lot of my time dealing with death.  Sometimes it’s quite direct in friends, family, etc. and sometimes it’s friends or family who have lost someone, and come to me for advice or support.  While I’ve nearly written this post several times before, yesterday was the event which made me a little more able to explain my thoughts on the matter.  My best friends had to say goodbye to one of their beloved cats, after a short illness, and I wondered how they’d explain it to their 3 year old.  I don’t know how they have explained it – only how I would.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a religious person.  I don’t have any particular opinion on heaven, hell, souls, afterlives, reincarnation or anything else.  I’m more than happy to accept the possibility that when our bodies fail – that’s the end for our conscious selves too.  However, before you think that this is about to get bleak – at the same time, I do believe that our influence continues through others and continues to shape the world forever.

It is my opinion that our bodies are just organic machines.  I believe that artificial life is as valid as “real” life.  It isn’t that I believe that machines should have the same “rights” and privileges as living beings, but that living beings, particularly humans, have a rather over-blown notion of how “special” we are.   With thorough enough behavioural and linguistic research, I believe that we can develop a system which fully replicates the human responses to stimuli – and that the system could therefore be considered “human”,  in the same way that Quorn chicken-style pieces are considered as valid basis for a curry as actual chicken-pieces.  The artificial being may have eidetic memory, but may lack the ability to get around as easily – variables which could easily apply to a given human too.

So, if we are but organic/biological software, loaded into the RAM of a time-limited self-sustaining hardware shell – how can we “live forever”?  When the power is removed, the software is wiped.  There is no backup copy (perhaps a strength of our silicone counterparts), no “reload from last save” and so on.  This is where I believe that the “butterfly effect” comes into play.

Your “machine” is part of a bigger whole.  Even if you generally stay out of everyone’s way, the fact that you bought coffee one day, may mean that someone else can’t get coffee later.  That you watch a TV show, may mean the difference between it staying on air or getting cancelled, which then impacts other people’s jobs and lives.  You might tell a child a story, which impacts on their world view, or influences their actions months, years, decades down the line.  Perhaps they tell another child the same story, and from there, that person’s life is affected.

This is why teachers and lecturers are sort of immortal.  Teacher-Bot steps into the classroom every day, and upgrades the software on hundreds of other units, perhaps thousands or tens of thousands through their life-cycle.  The law of averages would provide that, almost certainly, some of those units will become Teacher-Bots.  Some of the units they upgrade will also become Teacher-Bots, and so on, all because you were affected, encouraged, inspired, to do it by one of your Teacher-Bots.  Perhaps after a generation or two, it is no longer distinguishable as part of “you”, but your influence lives on, reaching out down branches to affect ever increasing numbers of people.  Your shell has stopped working, nobody can speak to you, but you speak to them every time they make a decision.

Now to bring this back to the child and the cat.  The cat is no longer visible or interactive, but it will always be mentally present for the child.  When she sees another cat like him, she will remember him. Perhaps she pulled his tail once, he fought back, and she modified her behaviour as a result.  Maybe she fed him, brushed him, or cared for him in a way in which she learned something.  He was “just a cat” – but his presence in the child’s life will influence her actions and behaviour for the rest of her life.

We are each just software, running on a meat-machine, and our output provides parameters for all of the other instances around us.

Posted in Teaching, Technology | 1 Comment »

Book review: Best Practices of Spell Design

Posted by Kate Glover on April 14, 2013

Cover of "Best Practices of Spell Design" by Jeremy Kubica

Cover of “Best Practices of Spell Design” by Jeremy Kubica

Today I read a book – cover to cover.  That’s not too strange for me, but it was a rather strange tale, or manual, or manual woven into a tale…

It was this book [Amazon Link – opens in new window]  Just £1.94 on Kindle (prices start at double that for physical copies – but I will be buying one!) it’s a bit of a bargain, and covers more than you might expect within its 138 pages.

It is a story of a court wizard and his apprentice, who are called in to reverse the damage to the castle caused by a wizard who did not properly design his spell.  All of this is a big, occasionally clunky, but nearly always entertaining metaphor for programming.  The “wizards” are programmers, the “spells” are computer programs, and so on.

The story goes through a number of chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of good code design, such as the story of the man who’s pass was changed by the guard who would then not let him enter the castle (a missing = from an equivalence test had caused the ID code to be set rather than tested against).  The importance of indentation, correct loop usage, and clear order of conditions on if-else statements are also among the topics covered.

While it is assumed that the reader has a basic knowledge of programming structures – it is not required that they are fluent in any given language.

Little Miss Geek followers will be pleased to hear that the apprentice wizard/programmer, who ends up playing a pivotal role (of course!) is a female and the baker and baker’s apprentice (who is decorating an impressively tall wedding cake) are male – which does go some way towards combating the gender stereotype thing.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for quite everyone on my course (some have a habit of taking metaphors rather literally!) I would certainly recommend it to those who’ve started coding independently, but who have got to the stage where they’d like some advice on “doing things properly”.   I would also recommend it to teachers who may be approaching coding for the first time, or returning after some time away from the art, and who’d therefore like some re-enforcement in their own minds regarding good practice.

Posted in Computers, Programming, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Mixed Ability Groups in Higher Education

Posted by Kate Glover on March 4, 2013

Enforcing the use of “mixed ability” groups for assignment work is supposedly geared towards getting the “lower end” of the group to learn from the “higher end”, while the “higher end” consolidate their and reinforce their learning by teaching the “lower end”. In theory, different people are good at different things, which should result in the whole situation evening out over the course of the academic year.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, the higher end tend to work hard at home and/or have a natural affinity for the subject, whereas the lower end tend to be there because they either don’t turn up, or they struggle in general – which tends to lead to the same students populating the same ends of the groups in most modules. This then starts to feel unfair, as the higher end, who are there through hard work and talent – end up doing all of the giving, and the lower end keep doing all of the taking. Those in the lower end who lack dedication to the course, soon realise this – and drop even further behind as they know that they’ll be “carried”, due to the higher end not wanting to lose marks.

While it is often stated that if one person puts in more or less effort than the rest of the group, then the grades will be adjusted accordingly – this contradicts the advice simultaneously given, that there are marks allocated for the demonstration that groups successfully work as a team. Higher end students then feel obliged to “fill in” for the lower end, and end up forging the paperwork to show equal contribution. Again, in my limited experience, if a higher end student submits their work to be judged on its own merits, leaving the lower end student to submit what they will – we have tended to find that the group assignment is capped at the lower end student’s grade, due to the lack of coherence as a team.
Such situations may finally result in a higher end person putting in hours and hours of work – to end up essentially getting two Cs (and personal credit for only one) rather than the one A their time and effort should have earned them.

With the cost of tuition fees ever rising, is this fair? Do you have examples of other courses or organisations which have a more transparent policy on group work? Are you a lecturer who has to deal with this from the other side? I would love to hear other opinions on this!

Posted in University | 1 Comment »

RaG Week 2013 – Kate Rides to Uni

Posted by Kate Glover on February 24, 2013

For RaG (Raising and Giving) Week at University this year, I decided (back in October) that I would ride to Uni and back. What I didn’t twig, was that RaG Week is in February. It was really really cold, the wind was in my face the whole way there, and the day I’d decided to to it (a Wednesday, so I could ride home in the daylight) then became scheduled for assessed group presentations for our Multimedia module. This had the benefit of meaning that I only had to really be in for 5-10 minutes, while having the downside that I REALLY did have to get there on time!

You can still sponsor me at http://www.justgiving.com/kateridestouni – where I’m raising money for Dogs’ Trust.

The video cuts out at Ravenside due to the camera battery giving up. You can, however, check out my full Google MyTracks trail here:

View RaG week 2013 – Ride to Uni in a larger map

I would have tracked the ride home too, but by that stage, my phone was down to just 15% battery – and I wanted to make sure I had the ability to call for help if I got into trouble on the way home!

Posted in Bob The Dog, University | 2 Comments »

Why do I love programming?

Posted by Kate Glover on January 24, 2013

Imagine that you need a hammer.

You write down on a piece of paper, what a hammer is and how it is supposed to operate and behave.


Once you finish writing, you find that you have a hammer. You can copy that hammer as many times as you like, to give them to other people, keep backup hammers in the shed, modify copies to operate slightly differently etc.

That’s programming.

I feel like a wizard.

Posted in Computers, Programming, Technology, University | Leave a Comment »