Monday, 26 May 2008

Doe, a deer ... on Berneray

Unlike the flamingo pictures, the following one is real. It was taken by Donald McDiarmid on May 24th in the Sandhill region of Berneray (the white house is The Old Manse) and shows two deer:


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Emails from other Berneray residents indicate this pair of deer have been a-wandering around the northern half of Berneray, getting close to houses up Gunhill and generally looking a little out of place. How did they get here? Possibly they swam over from Pabbay (deer swimming from there has previously been recorded in the press). Less likely is that they came over the causeway from North Uist - feasible, but there's no greenery for them to eat in the mile or so trot.

Another strange sight at that end of the island is the scarecrow right on top of Sandhill. Here's a picture taken of it yesterday by Scotproof, with the east beach in the background:


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Thursday, 22 May 2008

Spring 2008 "snapshot" of Second Life use in UK HE/FE

The second in the series of three snapshots of UK Higher and Further Education activities in Second Life is now available. This is significantly longer than the previous snapshot(s), reflecting a growth in the level of use and development around Second Life.

The snapshots are funded by the Eduserv Foundation. The summary follows:

+ + + + +

The number of UK academics who are developing or operating teaching and learning resources in Second Life (SL) has grown rapidly in the last year. While an accurate figure is difficult to determine (partially due to the non-public nature of some developments), as a rough estimate some three-quarters of UK universities are actively developing or using SL, at the institutional, departmental and/or individual academic level. Of these, many institutions support several ongoing SL developments, often involving groups of people rather than individuals. However, the proportion of UK FE institutions actively using SL was much smaller.

Many of these developments are funded internally, with staff often donating significant amounts of their own time. There have been a few heavily over-subscribed sources of funding for SL work in the last academic year; feedback indicates a need for more resources and funding opportunities. To quote:
Funders are always welcome. That's the question I am asked most at my seminars and workshops – 'where can I look for funding?'

An increasing body of academics are reporting substantial use of their SL developments, and successes in teaching and learning activities. Measuring the usage of these developments tends to be through raw visitor statistics or informal feedback, though a few academics teaching in Second Life use more rigorous evaluation techniques.

Academics who have successfully developed in SL report that their host institution and technical services are largely supportive, though with the latter there are often problems with firewalls, PC capability and enabling voice functionality. Academics report varied reactions to SL from colleagues, ranging from interest and curiosity to suspicion and "hatred". Unlike their US counterparts, UK academic libraries are not significantly involved in SL activities.

Academics described a very wide range of SL activities spanning teaching, learning, research, performance, construction and demonstration. The key advantage of SL in teaching and learning is that there are many activities in which the student must be more than a passive learner in order to progress. The student has to develop "stuff", collaborate and participate. Before these can occur, he or she has to master a new and transferable skill set, meaning that, in SL, learning is done more by participating and doing than by listening and absorbing.

Though use of SL in UK HE/FE is growing, many academics are not "welded" to it, being aware of its deficiencies and open to moving to alternative virtual environments, especially open source and more localised versions, in the future.

Overall, and perhaps not surprisingly, the three most mentioned requirements of UK academic SL developers are:

  1. more funding opportunities

  2. more time to develop

  3. better technical facilities within SL, or a viable alternative environment

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Broadband relay mast on Borve Hill

The relay mast on Borve Hill appears to be complete, as of today:


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The lower dish points to the Loch Portain transmitter. The top antenna appears to be a 360 degree device. And it appears to be turned on as of today, as there's the distinct hum of electricity.

A few previous pictures of the mast under construction:


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This mast is designated to serve the west end of the Borve metropolis on Berneray, as well as communities further out on the north side of North Uist.

 

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Drought?

I'm not sure at what point a drought is declared, but suspect we aren't a million miles away from it at the moment. Yes, while the rest of the UK gets regular dousings of heavy rain, here in Berneray it's been dry. Very dry. For a long time.

The plus side of this; blue skies in the daytime:


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...and pleasant sunsets in the late evening:


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Another plus; the ground everywhere is easy and unboggy to walk over. Even the marshy area on top of Borve Hill has dried out. Though, watching the level of Loch Brusda gradually fall brings a twinge of concern about how long our drinking water will last for.

The pictures on this page are from Scotproof's Berneray picture collection.

Friday, 16 May 2008

2.15 How do you think SL is perceived in the academic world?

The latest snapshot report on UK Higher and Further Education developments in Second Life is nearing completion; the report should be out in a few weeks. Here's the responses to one particular question, from academics who have been developing and/or using SL in their work.

• Generally a gimmick, though I think a few places who innovate are trying it out.
• Hatred of any new technology by those within a decade of retirement. They hate change, they hate having to learn anything new, and they just want a quiet life until they drift off. Unfortunately, these same people hold the power within faculty.
• Generally – with caution, the value of learning using ‘serious games’ and virtual worlds in general is being questioned.
• Varies considerably from fear and rejection, to healthy scepticism to evangelical enthusiasm.
• With much interest.
• Mainly with suspicion. To many lecturers, it simply looks too much like a video game, leading to negative assumptions. I am tired with people, and I refer mainly to senior academics, who are too idle to experiment with Second Life. Instead, they prefer to reinforce their incorrect prejudice. Many, I guess, don’t like it as it represents change or something different. Which may mean more work for them in the decreasing gap between now and when they retire. Personally, I wish they would all sod off; if they aren’t going to help our Second Life activities, then at least stop hindering them.
• Mixed - some people think it is a game and not serious others recognise its potential.
• I don’t think there is much informed awareness of either its potential or its limitations and, of course, there is bound to be a fair bit of concern about the less savoury aspects. The ability to run a private grid behind a firewall in due course may allay the concerns of some, albeit at some considerable loss.
• With enthusiasm and imagination by a minority, and with doubt, fear and even derision by the rest…
• Do you know how [expletive] off I am with people who, on being told about Second Life, respond with “Maybe you should get a First Life?” Like, they’re the first person ever to think up that devastatingly witty reply. Oh, how we laugh. Ha [expletive] ha.
• Has not had great exposure. We will have to be pushing to get SL out there....
• I believe there are three camps: (1) SL is the best thing since sliced bread, (2) SL has some interesting prospects for academia, but I’m not sure what exactly, and (3) SL? It’s just hype ... and it will go away.
• Enthusiasm by students and 20-somethings. Intrigue by those in their 30s and 40s. Suspicion and hatred by those from 50 and beyond.
• I think that Second Life has an enduring novelty factor. From my experience, it is only when academics actually enter the virtual world and spend some time there that they come to realise the massive potential for their students.
• Second Life is generally greeted with suspicion, wonder, ridicule, dismissal, hype, misunderstanding and excitement.
• It’s improving I think. It is often met with curiosity but most (I’ve worked with) are intrigued and questioning and interesting. Once they get the support after this intrigue (which is what I try and provide) then that interest actually often becomes a real SL project for them.
• It seems to be following the path of other innovations (e.g. at first windows was a nice toy).
• Very mixed perceptions.
• It's getting quite good press academically, it seems, and its popularity is growing.
• Probably still as unproven, and a bit geeky! But, some of the examples of great education ideas (simulations, small virtual economies, collaboration between students, displays of student work etc) are beginning to make academic colleagues more aware of the potential of SL.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

"Phew! What a scorcher!"

The relentless Outer Hebrides heatwave continues. The thermometer in our garden at 2pm today (nb the light area is the flash from the camera, not the sun which was behind the fence post/thermometer):


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...and again four hours later:


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And here's the forecast for the next five days: 


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What's the gaelic for Ambre Solaire...?

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Earning a living in the Outer Hebrides

One of the more frequent enquiries from people who find their way to my blog and various other websites, is what kind of employment there is in the Outer Hebrides. Some of this is pure curiosity. Amongst people thinking of moving here, it's part of research as to how to earn a living.

Recently, a website was constructed and launched by our chums in Reefnet that provides an answer. As a resident it's a rather addictive site, checking out each category to see what businesses there are, and where they are located in the archipelago.

It also gives a better impression of what goes on here. Cattle farming, for example, shows that contrary to some people's perceptions, crofting land is not just populated by sheep. Yes, we have banks and supermarkets (some tourists still think we have neither, and stock up before leaving the mainland), and the database shows which chain is (currently) predominant. There's all manner of other businesses and services, such as interior designers, opticians, and rather good dental services. And other categories, such as beauty salons, hairdressing services, health food shops, and masseuse services show that locals like to take care of themselves.

So here is the Outer Hebrides Business Directory: 


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It's at:


www.businesshebrides.co.uk


...and it's fun having a good explore.


There are some gaps in the data where businesses haven't yet entered their details, for example in the vegetable growing category, or in the lack of pharmacists listed outwith of Lewis. If you run a business, want the trade and aren't included, follow the instructions on the website to get listed.


Finally - for teccies, and those into semantic web development, David Heggie the designer introduces a few additional future-proof features:  




XML - listings are available in XML format - just add a ".xml" to the url - so yours is http://www.businesshebrides.co.uk/businesses/viewById/1403.xml


hCards - all listings are marked up in the trendy hCard microformat, so that your semantic-web enabled user agent can parse the address info directly from the site and do all sorts of magic with it (have a look at the site in Firefox with the Operator toolbar installed and you'll see what I mean).

You can get RSS feeds of categories. Put .RSS onto the url; e.g. http://www.businesshebrides.co.uk/businesses/browseCat/72.rss
...or locations; for example: 
http://www.businesshebrides.co.uk/businesses/browseLocation/3.rss

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Mortgage the house to fill up the tank...

Double ouch! (and I don't drive). I blogged about this using a photo taken by Leanish of a petrol pump in Barra, further south of here. Those happy days, when petrol and diesel were significantly cheaper. Erm, three weeks ago.

Since then, Am Paipear (the monthly newspaper of the Uists) has been published, with the front page picture showing the latest price rise. The cost of fuel - for cars, fishing boats, and house heating - understandably gets a fair amount of press here.

And since then, there's been another rise.

The prices of diesel and petrol at the pump in North Uist last friday:


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That's diesel at 136.2 per litre, and petrol at 123.8 for the same measure.

For US readers, diesel is $10.17 per US gallon and petrol is $9.25. Thus, here for diesel vehicles we've gone through and passed by some way the "Ten dollars per gallon" barrier.

Just how high is this going to go? We're less than 14p off having diesel at £1.50 a litre. Surely not soon?
 

Friday, 2 May 2008

In case Boris really has won...

For those London residents who voted for Boris because "He's a bit of a laugh", afraid that the joke really could be on you (and that can be taken several different ways) for the next four years.

For those residents of London horrified at what may have happened yesterday, some resources you may find useful:

See you soon.