Coffee and Chatting into 2011

New Year’s Resolutions anyone?

At our UKOLN All Staff Contact day held just before Christmas the UKOLN remote workers had a much needed face-to-face meeting. One outcome was that we made a joint New Year’s Resolution to have more informal ‘meetups’ so we can support each other with any work (or non-work) related issues. We agreed that we will hold these ‘meetups’ at the same time as the weekly on site coffee meetups held by UKOLN at Bath University. Whoever is about can just pop in.

All Staff Contact Day - face-to-face Coffee

Today we had the first of our ‘Remote Worker Coffees’. We initially toyed with the idea of using Google Talk but opted for Skype as we are all familiar with it. We may try out some other options in the future.

Remote Worker Coffee - my view on Skype

I initiated the chat (voice only – too soon after Christmas for video!) and the 4 of us who were about ‘met up’ and chatted for 30 minutes about our Christmas break, broken mobile phones, teenager’s online etiquette, digital preservation and much more. It was a definite success and I think we all left feeling a lot better about being back at work!

Roll on the next Remote Worker Coffee!


Remote Worker Returns

So I’m back safe from my trip to Vienna for iPres 2010. I’d say safe and well but I seem to have had a cold since my return and have now lost my voice too! Travel – good for your mind, bad for your health?

For those interested in digital preservation I’ve written a trip report on how the conference went: Moving out of the e-Fridge: iPres 2010.

For those not so interested in digital preservation but more interested in remote working I promised an update on how I got on (in response to The Remote Worker Abroad).

I have to say I’m not quite sure what I was so worried about. The flights were fine and I even managed to get myself a free upgrade on the way out there – I was travelling on BMI so nothing to write home about but still good to see what it’s like on the other side of the curtain nonetheless. I kept all my electrical equipment with me and apart from a bit of a palaver having to get everything out at the security desk this wasn’t a problem. iPres gave us huge conference bags so I was a bit worried they were going to stop me taking two pieces of hand luggage through on the way back but it was fine.

Both the conference and my hotel room had excellent wifi facilities with user-friendly security. I used both my laptop and iPod touch throughout the conference depending on which had any battery life. The conference only had extension leads in the main lecture theatre so when I attended sessions in the other lecture theatre I just had to use up battery power. The only thing I wish I’d had is another plug adapter as every night I had to make a decision on what needed charging the most!

Ringing a landline on Skype using an iPod touch

I managed to phone my home landline using Skype on the first night (you get one free Skype to landline call with your account) and after that I just rang my home computer. I rang my home once using my mobile, there were no problems connecting – I had rung them in advance of my trip to check it would be OK, and have been charged just over a £1 for this. If I did do a lot of travelling abroad I would look into a mobile roaming/international data package. From talking to people these vary wildly in price depending on which phone network you use and which country you are based in.

Apps wise I installed a Guide to Vienna app and also used Google Maps, National Rail Enquiries, TweetDeck and Facebook to keep myself sorted. The other apps I’ve got were just to distract me from the actual flying!

All in all a very successful trip! Enjoy the photos of Vienna!

Screen Sharing with Skype

There’s many an occasion when it would be useful to share your screen with a colleague. Remote access is one option but tends to be the play thing of systems support teams and not something we can use peer-to-peer. The other week my boss (Mr Brian Kelly) pointed out that you can share screens using Skype. This functionality has been available since Skype 2.8 for Mac and Skype 4.1 for Windows (the latest version is 4.2). If one person is on a lower version of Skype, they can view the other person’s screen but can’t share their own.

It’s really easy to do (Skype actually have an easy to follow page about the specifics). You just start a call and then go to Call (along the top menu bar) > Share Your Screen. The two options given are Share Full Screen or Share Selection. Another way to do it is to click Share > Share Your Screen in the IM toolbar (in Windows) while in the conversations window. There is also an option in the chat window.

The screen sharing facility in Skype

Once you are sharing your screen the other user can see exactly what you are doing. It might be a bit fussy but is great for getting a general gist of what someone is talking about, reducing the resolution can help with reading text.

While screen sharing you can take a video snapshot of what your colleague is doing in case you want to watch it later. It’s a really useful bit of functionality!

Watching someone else's video using the screen sharing facility in Skype

As it’s all free I’d definitely recommend you have a go!

Fancy a Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Skype Call?

I know that I write very little on online teaching and learning on this blog. I’d like to write more but time and my lack of knowledge stop me….Anyway here is something I couldn’t resist.

In March I stumbled upon The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book! This is a free resource looking at the benefits of using Web 2.0 applications in an educational environment and boasting 87 project case studies, 94 contributors, 52 aplications and 10 further resources. It was edited by Terry Freedman, an independent educational ICT consultant and is incrediably interesting and helpful if you want to use Web 2.0 in your classroom. The case studies range from those directed at primary school children to adult and lifelong learning and some even make interesting reading for remote workers. Through use of the tools the participants have learnt skills in online communication, collaborating in virtual teams and ways to self-intiate and motivate as well as the usual literacy, maths, languages, science and so on. Really Great Stuff!

Here are my favourites:

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Skype Call
Two classes in different schools read the book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs together via a Skype video call. Both classes practiced their reading fluency and voice before performing for each others’ class. The teachers were in touch with each other a few times to make sure they understood how to use Skype and to see how it worked in their classrooms. The students have found Skype to be a great tool to connect to people worldwide. They have gone home and shared information about this tool with their parents and several of them have set up Skype accounts. There are several children with families in Central America and they are using Skype to talk with their family members who live there. Their teacher has written a blog post (with video) about the experience.

Virtual Balloon Race

Three classes used Twitter to microblog daily as one of a range of strategies to develop writing. They used Twitter to make contact with schools across the world. The main challenges were overcoming the concerns over e-safety and creating contextual links across the curriculum to develop the use of web 2.0. The project changed quite dramatically from a virtual balloon to making links with specific schools. This was due to the fact that many teachers contacted the classes involved but didn’t have a Twitter account set up or a class email in place. The 3 classes made links with many schools but each communicated with one class each. @giraffeclass made friends with a class in a New Zealand school.

Around The World with 80 Schools
The Around The World with 80 Schools Project enabled schools to connect with other schools around the world through a short 5 minute video conference call (Skype). Students introduce themselves, share something special about their location or culture and ask a data-collecting question. Over 200 schools are participating.

Connecting Schools Across The Sea

In the Connecting Schools Across The Sea project Skype was used to to connect with a partner primary in France. They connected once a month for 1/2 hr and used language for real purpose and with a real live audience. Initially there were a few glitches, eg the Skype connection was slow on the first link up and the sound needed to be monitored closely before the lesson. The Head of Department initally said that it would be impossible due to firewalls on the school network but it wasn’t a problem. There is also a Slideshare presentation available.

Travelling Kit for a Remote Worker

John Kirriemuir, digital nomad (!), has written a great post for us on his remote working kit: from hardware to software, apps and web sites.

JohnMy name is John Kirriemuir. My website and blog are currently gathering dust at I’ve been self-employed for nearly a decade now; time flies when you are having fun. 🙂

About a third of what I do is examining the use of virtual worlds in education in the UK, under the banner of Virtual World Watch which, in a nice way, is a tie-in to Marieke. UKOLN is where I used to work as web editor of Ariadne and it’s where I met Andy Powell, who now is a “big cheese” in Eduserv Research. A few years ago, we got chatting about virtual world uses in education and decided to try and work out who does what. And that’s basically what Eduserv fund me to do i.e. a series of “snapshot” reports on who is doing what with virtual worlds (not just Second Life) in UK education.

Anyway, the moral of that little digression is to never neglect your contact network. One day, week, month, year or (in my case) decade, it’ll put food on the table.

Self-employed is different for working for an organisation in many ways, but the things that stick out in my mind are:

  1. I choose who I work with and for. No-one else chooses. I don’t like the client; they aren’t the client.
  2. I do, however, have a sort-of ‘line manager’. It’s my bank balance and can be quietly persuasive.
  3. You are always working. When you aren’t doing paid work, you are looking for paid work.
  4. The big downside, compared to working in a university: no expense claims. No swanning off to every conference in a tropical location that is even slightly related to the digital library project you are working on, unless you negotiated a spectacularly good contract with a client.

My definition of ‘remote working’ is therefore a little different from someone who works for an organisation, but operates out of their home. To me, ‘remote working’ has meant:

  1. Working in the three areas of the world I spend most of my time inhabiting and travelling around, namely Britain, the USA and Scandinavia.
  2. Working while travelling by plane, train, boat, car or coach – in that order of preference. I don’t drive a car for the same reasons as David Mitchell, so I’m always the passenger. When you’re on an 11 hour flight to Los Angeles, this gives you a lot of time to do work and hope that your laptop battery will last.
  3. Doing work ‘stuff’ where the client (or your line manager) isn’t looking over your shoulder.
  4. Not having to share an office with people I don’t like, or choose to share an office with. This is a huge plus; life is simply too short to spend it being forced to listen to the utterances of people I don’t like.

How does all this relate to ICT? Well, I need stuff that:

  • Allows me to continue my work whether travelling, or waiting to travel, or based in somewhere expected – or unexpected.
  • Is portable.
  • Isn’t going to land me with large bills wherever I am in the world.
  • Can get through airport security okay.
  • Is easy to back-up. I haven’t suffered a disaster through not having data backed up, and I’m not going to have one now.
  • Allows me to communicate with clients and my work sector with ease.
  • Allows me to monitor and change my financial ins and outs with no restrictions.


So what’s my kit then? I’ve got an iPhone, MacBook Pro, EEE laptop, Camera, credit card, passport, toothbrush, thong and a pair of speedos – that’s my basic kit for being able to go anywhere and work.

The iPhone.
I’ve had one for several months and find it indispensable now. When abroad roaming is usually turned off to avoid massive bills but it’s still good for places where there’s free wifi – in the case of the USA, many restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels and even launderettes.
MacBook Pro 2.66 GHz.
Runs Second Life like a dream, and has software such as Scrivener and Numbers (more on these later) which tipped the balance for me between getting a Mac or a PC when my last laptop croaked out on me. Very reliable, which counts for a lot when you are self-employed. Time really is money – my money, and when I’m not working, through technical or other problems, I’m not earning. The only downside is that it’s bulky, though the screen clarity is worth it.
Asus EEE.
‘Samantha’ was my travelling companion on a month around America last autumn and proved herself to be robust and reliable. It’s true, you wouldn’t want to write an article on it, or try running Second Life in any serious way. But for doing Flickr uploads, light webbing and emailing, it’s fine. The weight and size of it also makes it good to sling into the shoulderbag for day trips out.
Sony Cyber-shot camera.
Partially replaced by the camera on the iPhone, I still use this for taking pictures for mainly adorning Flickr.
Various back up devices.
A Lacie external drive (despite mixed reviews), three USB memory sticks, and online storage eliminates most possibilities of SPF (Single Point of Failure). Unlike other people – and I am surprised how often people do this – I don’t carry all my devices and their associated backup storage media in the same bag.

Software, apps and websites

I do a lot of travelling – I’m writing this while on my 52nd trip abroad, and my 7th to the USA. And in another window, I’m planning trips 53 to 56. Hence, a lot of the software and websites I use are to do with travel or finance.

First, there’s the standard ones. On the Mac, there’s Numbers (spreadsheet) and Pages (word processing). Numbers, especially, I use a lot. Being self-employed, owning two houses and generally having a complicated life means lots of monies going in and out of various places, and I’ve found that Numbers trumps Excel in the ease of helping me keep an eye on things.

iPhone apps. I rarely use the iPhone for making phone calls, and I’m not alone in this. It’s all in the apps for me, and here’s ten of those I use for work and related logistics much of the time:

  • Twitterfon (for, of course, Twitter).
  • Currency, so I can find out if the UK pound is worth more than a dead herring locally.
  • Urbanspoon to find somewhere to eat.
  • iRail for accurate European train times.
  • Flight Status for lots of information about future and current flights.
  • Airline Seat Guide for finding the better seats on a plane. Use in conjunction with SeatGuru to minimise your chances of being in a cramped seat with no amenities and being served food last.
  • QuickVoice so I can record something instantly.
  • PayPal for doing transactions.
  • Fring. An alternative way of trying Internet Messaging and the like.
  • Ocarina. This has no work purpose at all, but it’s a great app (especially for a Zelda fan) and there’s little better than falling asleep listening to people around the world playing Ocarina music on it in real time.
  • Skype, for making cheaper calls. Which leads us onto applications I use through the MacBook .

Skype Essential for making phone calls. Alas, not everyone can cope with emails and the like, and it’s necessary to be available for calls, and to make calls. Skype has saved me a considerable amount of money over the past year, and as this trip around the restaurants and baseball parks of America enters its third month, continues to do so. Set up is easy; quality varies – but then again, so does making a landline call from the USA.

Twitter I use more than email now, as most of my work colleagues and contacts are on it, I have a twitter window open all of the time, and it’s quicker than email. Plus, using Twitter DMs means that replies to questions are (usually) short and snappy, encouraging Yes / No responses rather than (time consuming) essays. At the core of Twitter is the ability to build your own perfect community, with content streaming in from ONLY those people you find interesting and/or useful. Oh, if only real life was like this. So, Twitter is also a highly concentrated source of information that’s relevant to work. There are so many things e.g. reports, events, news, that I would have missed, or been late to, without Twitter.

Flickr which many people assume is solely about pictures. Well, it’s not. As well as the email capabilities, it’s a useful piece of social networking software for finding people and content e.g. pictures for presentations, as well as identifying places to visit and planning trips. For example: unsure about a hotel? Combine using Flickr and Trip Advisor to check out how other people have seen and experienced it.

Scrivener is basically software for writing books. It’s a dream to work with, being as intuitive as you can get and letting you focus on the dumping of content and ideas, and the organisation of it into something readable. I’m trying to write three books at the same time on different topics, a process which was, literally, inching along under Word. Using Scrivener, it’s quicker and less stressful.

I spend a lot of time looking at finance and travel-related websites. Trip Advisor I use, with some caution, to identify places to stay at – though as I’ve got loyalty accounts and points with several hotel chains it’s usually a back-up option. Expedia and Opodo I use to identify flight options, and websites such as Eurocheapo and the list in Wikipedia are useful for identifying more airlines, but I usually book flights and accommodation directly with the hotel or airline. The less companies and people involved, the less chances of things going wrong and (increasingly) the better chances of the best room or seat.

Other social software? Facebook I occasionally use, but more as a directory of people I know. The same goes for linkedin which I haven’t found generates much in the way of new connections to new and useful contacts; Twitter has been the predominant tool for me in that area.

There’s many more websites I use as a “remote”, travelling and self-employed worker; I’ll go through some of these in my next posting for Marieke.

Terminal Wanderlust

globe by Oleg Tovologuine ( blogs I’ve noticed a bit of a trend of people using remote working to live globally. For those working in technical areas most work is carried out by email rather than face-to-face or using the phone. VOIP technologies like Skype and Vontage allow people to set up ‘local’ numbers that then forward on to another Skype number or even a mobile number. As I discussed earlier this month the time zone issue is something you can overcome if you are willing to work flexible hours. For some people the only limits are connectivity, the country’s communications infrastructure and the cost of living there.

I’ve read about people who are doing this and not even telling the organisation they work for or the clients they deal with!

This sort of remote working takes Amanda Hill’s Remote remote working and Paul Boag’s Beyond the office working to another level!

Oh if only I were 10 years younger, didn’t have a mortgage, or a family, or cats, or a vegetable patch…..

The term Terminal Wanderlust is one I first heard used in Generation X by Douglas Coupland.

A condition common to people of transient middle-class upbringings. Unable to feel rooted in any one environment, the move continually in hopes of finding an idealized sense of community in the next location.

I used to think it applied to me…I think it still does but responsibilities are like sticky mud….

Will the Police be able to Hear Your Calls?

I read in the paper yesterday that the Home Secretary (Jacqui Smith) has outlined plans for a huge expansion of the Government’s capability to access data held by Interent services, including social networking sites like Bebo and Facebook.

At the moment the police can demand to see telephone and email traffic but online calls using software such as Skype are a bigger problem. They need this ‘communications data’ to secure convictions of terrorists and other serious criminals. One of the possible options is the creation of a huge database of this data. More in Data powers behind the times.

It’s all starting to sound a bit like ID cards…

So will this have any impact on us remote workers? If we are law abiding citizens maybe it won’t make any difference?

I can see that a certain amount of surveillance is necessary but this sort of stuff gives me goose bumps. The more data they have on us, the greater the scope for holding incorrect information and for that information to fall into the wrong hands…