Thanks to the giants upon whose shoulders I stood

Once upon a time (1966 was the first time), I'd learn a programming language and then apply this knowledge to whatever problems were chucked my way. As I've got older, I decide what I want, then go online for help in doing it. Okay, it doesn't make me a professional coder but I learn plenty along the way and end up with a website that I'm in charge of and can change at the drop of a hat.

Without Google and the World Wide Web, Lord knows what I'd have done. But, thanks to them and all the places they led me to, I have a site which, while falling short of elegant, does what I want. More importantly, I hope it gives its visitors an enjoyable and useful experience.

This post isn't about the website, although you may need to know that it's epocselet.com in order to understand some of the comments below. This post is about recognition of all those people and places I discovered on my journey. Without their help, I would still be trying to learn JavaScript or PHP from scratch.

Here they are, in order of the number of hits I recorded in my Firefox History file. First the top ten (the first three were on tap continuously):

Hits

??? Microsoft ExpressionWeb4 was an invaluable website development environment.

??? W3C's Markup Validation Service. As the name suggests, it checks the validity of web pages.

??? Firefox Web Developer tools – especially Web console and Debugger.

230 stackoverflow A marvellous forum which covered pretty much everything, including PHP, JavaScript, HTML5 canvas and colour drop-down menus.

131 w3schools.com An online reference manual which I referred to for JavaScript, HTML5 Canvas, HTML colours, JS programming tips/demos and string parsing.

101 JQuery Radar Plus Mehdi Tazi adapted Ryan Allred's Radar Chart. I adapted Mehdi's. Figuring out how it worked was like solving a giant puzzle.

 55 The PHP Manual and source of everything.

 51 Radar Chart JQuery Plugin Ryan Allred's original code.

 29 Plusnet's 'friendly' area. I used it for CGI and PHP hosting stuff.

 28 SitePoint is a great source of web-building help. I used it for Canvas, HTML5. PHP, JavaScript, Radio button array and 960 grid stuff.

 

Now for the rest of the top 20. They may be lower in hit count but they were no less valuable – a single hit would often point me in the right direction:

19 Mario Lurig's PHP code checker came in handy when the PHP would stall.

 7 Maths Is Fun took me back to schooldays to remind me about radians, sines and cosine. I could remember 'sohcahtoa' but couldn't remember what practical use to put it to.

 6 tuts+ explained the 960 grid system, but also explained other things, including HTML Forms.

 5 The jquery learning center does what it says on the tin. I used it as a reference for scopes, arrays and operators.

 5 960 grid system. I found the 960 24 grid system perfect for laying out the web pages (and, often, changing them quickly.)

 4 A simple guide to HTML came in handy for checking how to include JavaScript in HTML.

 4 Six Revisions is a website hints and tips site. I used it to read about the 960-grid-system and HTML5's canvas (on which the charts appear).

 4 Chris Pietschmann kindly explained how to colour dropdown items in an HTML form.

 3 Chris Wiegman showed how to dig out the correct IP address for a visitor. (If you're with a hosting organisation, you're still fairly anonymous though.)

 2 Home & Learn helped me a lot with understanding how to work with the HTML5 canvas.

 

Other honourable mentions should go to:

Google Analytics – which keeps an eye on visitor behaviour.

The many people who looked and commented as we went through. I guess some would prefer not to be named, but you'll know if you were one of them. A big thank you to you. I learnt something new from every single discussion.

Finally, my partners in crime Dr. Bill Nichols and Martin Banks.

It's been a blast. It made me remember why I loved programming. But also taught me that I could never make a living at it these days.

Thank you all for five very interesting months.

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Crowd-sourced elearning from mylearningworx

Do you have expertise and passion in a subject? Would you like to share it with the world? For free or for money?

mylearningworx officially launched itself yesterday. The event was marked by an e-learning workshop for the many friends of the company and the beta testers. You can read about it in Kate Graham's blog post.

Now you can see what my last post was about. One of the people behind the company was my publisher at Information World Review. Knowing my penchant for software and training, he asked if I'd like to give the system a whirl. That's how I came to make Tebbo's Kick Ass Writing Class.

Like many SaaS systems, this one is under continuous improvement. It's finished enough to enable people to upload pre-recorded courses. You'll find quite a few on the website ranging from free (like mine) to £50. Low prices should mean plenty of customers. Revenue is split in favour of the author. Free courses are an ideal way to establish the author's credentials.

The site lists all the courses. You can scroll through them, search them or see them by category. Authors can assign courses to multiple relevant categories to maximise the chance of them being found.

The people behind mylearningworx expect e-learning professionals to adopt this platform for hosting their private and public offerings, quite apart from the hoi polloi like me who'd just like to share a bit of useful knowledge with the world. (Although I'm being encouraged to do something more substantial.) They have plans to expand to Australia and have Spanish, German and French versions too.

I think that's probably enough from me. Except to say that I like what I see, I know it's not perfect, but they are listening to (and acting on) feedback from their growing community. If you're at all interested in this sort of thing, mylearningworx is certainly worth a look.

 

Tebbo’s Kick Ass Writing Class

Well, that was fun. I decided to take a SlideShare presentation, tweak it a bit, add a sound track and upload the resulting movie to YouTube. (I had my reasons but I'll keep them under my hat for now.) The result is a five and a half minute free introduction to effective writing. Hopefully it will encourage people to have a go – regardless of their past experiences – and actually achieve something fairly quickly.

The tools I used were PowerPoint, BBFlashbackPro and Audacity (just when I had to go back in and patch a bit of the voiceover because I'd used the wrong word). I am not remotely expert at using any of these tools. And, yes, you might say it shows. But the point is that I just got it into my head that it would be good to share this part of my life experience. I didn't set out to be slick.

Should I do another one on another subject, or get me coat?

 

PS April 2014: I retired the video and replaced it with another nine – a big one (20 minutes or so) and a set of eight smaller ones cut from the big one.

The right thing to do?

Recent events have drawn me away from Teblog and I think they’re likely to keep me away. But I am involved in something much better.

First a bit of background: editing and writing much of the original paper version of Blue & Green Tomorrow gave me massive opportunities to write about the environment up to May last year; on the communication front, media skills training hit an unexpected peak in January; and, since June, I’ve spent at least half of my time with a company which hits every Tebbo hot button: communication, environment and IT.

The people I work with are great and we’ve created a neat website, demo and knowledgebase plus various social media presences. The company itself, 6Connex EMEA, is all about online events, content and collaboration, thus accelerating work and cutting the costs (financial, social and environmental) associated with travel.

But it gets better. Tracey (the boss) and I wanted to do something extra but non-commercial. Inspired by the work of the Lunar Society at the dawn of the industrial age, we wanted to get right-minded people to share their practical insights with each other and with anyone who cares about making the world a better place. (The motivation is similar to Blue & Green Tomorrow’s. The difference is that it goes way beyond environmental issues.)

We’ve had direct contributions from people like publishing mogul, poet and forest builder, Felix Dennis and green investment wizard Ben Goldsmith. We’ve covered some interesting TED videos – one on Gross National Happiness and another on why things will get better. We’ve also had people who are at the heart of change in educational systems and one who argues that growth and sustainability are incompatible.

 

Some pioneering contributors and featured presenters in The Right Thing To Do?

TRTTD folk

Top row: Euan Semple; Clive Longbottom; Ben Goldsmith; Ray Maguire.
Bottom row: Matt Ridley; Chip Conley; Felix Dennis; Salman Khan.

 

Just this week, social networking guru, Euan Semple, contributed a great post entitled “Bloggers are the rag and bone men of the information world.”

Everyone is giving their time and ideas for nothing. No-one puffs their business directly, although they can all share their credentials in their mini-bios. TRTTD exists for knowledge sharing and discussion which will provide a bedrock of thoughtful considerations for our collective future. Depending on individual circumstances, posts are either contributed, the product of an interview or are written up around an online video.

Curating TRTTD seems to me to be a much better cause than continuing with Teblog. I’ll keep it open for now, but expect most of my energies to be spent elsewhere. And, if you like the sound of “The Right Thing To Do?” why not come on over. It would be great to see you there. Here are the Website and Twitter links.

 

Interactive Infographic: How To Handle The Media

Since 1988, Martin Banks and I have been running media skills training courses. Early on, we introduced an ‘architecture’ for the process. We drew it on flipcharts for a few years then, in 2004, we formalised it and started giving it out as part of our wallet-sized plastic business card. The model acts as an ‘aide memoire’ for all who’ve attended our training.

Card

A few weeks ago, I was rummaging (as you do) some infographics – pictures that speak well over a thousand words – and took a shine to the interactive variety, where the graphic responds to the user’s actions.

I’d just been doing some training work with the Racepoint Group and, coincidentally, one of its US staff Kyle Austin wrote a blog post: Are Infographics the New Slide Shows?  Good point, I thought, having just taken someone through our ‘architecture’.

So I set to work to convert our flat image into something a little more lively. It’s aim is to refresh the memories of those who’ve attended our training and to give others an appreciation of how they might set about handling the media.

The first attempt was an animated .gif file with text boxes to expand on each element of the image. Horrible. Boring. Sequential. No user interaction. Didn’t lend itself to the web. Etc.

I wanted an interactive infographic that would work in more or less any browser and not depend on the presence of JavaScript, Flash or any other kind of plug-in. Just HTML and CSS. (I’d done some simple stuff before, here and here, so I was optimistic that it could be done.)

The second attempt was a graphic that the user could mouse over, highlighting image elements and showing the relevant text in a nearby box. The size was determined by my computer screen, which was a bit stupid because many of the people I’d like to share it with might have a smaller screen – an iPad for example.

So I reworked it with the iPad in mind. The hover can be achieved with a finger, even on the smallest graphical element. And while I was resizing everything, I added drop shadows and rounded corners to the text boxes.

If you’re interested, the end result is at How To Handle The Media

IPad1

I hope you enjoy it.

 

PS If anyone wants the gory technical details of how to do this sort of thing, I’ll pen another post. Just ask.

Financial and environmental savings with GoToTraining

Just over a year ago, a major IT company cancelled a training visit on environmental grounds. We’d done the event before. I (one of the trainers) had flown to the US West coast to conduct a module with 75 delegates who’d flown in from all over the world. It was madness really; I was only on stage for two hours.

But I was looking forward to doing it again, partly for the opportunity to mix with some immensely knowledgeable and bright people, partly for the opportunity to meet up with friends and partly, of course, for the hefty fee.

This was just the start of a wholesale reassessment of the way this particular company worked. Wherever possible, it started to replace travel with online communication of various kinds.

As the recession has bitten and budgets have come under pressure, companies are even more keen to cut the time and expense of travel, quite regardless of their environmental leanings. All of this was a great prelude to the launch of Citrix Online’s GoToTraining service. People still need to learn and a switch to online training can increase their exposure at a much lower cost, environmental or financial.

Of course, the trainers themselves need to feel comfortable with the facilities, even if they don’t feel comfortable with their loss of travel perks. Thinking that this might be the way some of my own training might go, I signed up for a trial of GoToTraining. (I was already familiar with several of the company’s other products and was quite well disposed to them.)

Professional e-Learning people might turn their noses up at this sort of thing. But Citrix Online’s solution is ‘good enough’ for many training encounters. It offers a repository for training materials – slide decks, images, videos, tests and evaluations, for example. It enables a trainer to put together an ‘event’ with invitations, reminder letters, dial in numbers (a free VoIP option works well on an appropriate connection), dates, reminder letters and suchlike. It took me less than ten minutes to set up a trial session using some existing slides, tests and appraisals.

Once into the training, the delegates are able to speak (or mute themselves), raise their hands, chat, use drawing tools and pointers (with permission) and even be handed control of the keyboard and mouse or even the session as a whole. The trainer can seize back control, of course. This all opens the possibility of a multi-way dialogue, if that’s what the session demands. It’s up to the trainer how interactive the sessions should become.

The delegates can be shown whatever’s on the trainer’s screen or what is in a particular window. In theory, this means that any application can be run but some, like video, might be better for the students to download and play locally, raising their digital hands, perhaps, when they’ve finished.

It’s easy to give delegates tests or polls during the training. The trainer can see when all the responses are in and could even call a timed break while they examine the responses and spot any misunderstandings which can then be dealt with after the break. The entire session can be recorded (it allows pauses) and uploaded to the website for others to view later; perhaps delegates who weren’t able to get to the session.

David Terrar (a SaaS/cloud specialist) kindly offered to be my ‘student’ for a test run and, although the interface was a bit clunky at the edges, he concluded, “None of that would put me off using it though. In general, the experience has been good.”

What’s clunky? Well, switching from a PowerPoint playback to the regular screen wasn’t mirrored without a stop/restart of the screen display. The handing over control didn’t work first time, but it did after handing over drawing control. Drawing control was theoretically stopped but it didn’t happen until after a screen refresh. These are little things that were easy to sort out between friends but could have proved embarrassing in ‘real life.

All this just goes to show how important dry runs are for the trainers. It’s also important to realise that online training is very different to face to face and course materials, timings and trainer behaviour need to be adapted to the new environment. John Carver has posted a useful three-part blog on the Citrix community site for those embarking on this type of training.

GoToTraining is not going to turn you into a trainer, any more than a word processor will turn you into a writer. But, if you or your colleagues are trying to cut down on travel and accommodation expenses, or simply reach out to more trainees, you may well find this worth a look.

GoToTraining starts at $129/month for up to 25 trainees and as many sessions as you like. Full pricing details are here.

Obviously, if you’re only doing the occasional ad hoc bit of training or if you need eye contact, this isn’t for you. But if you’re doing anything remotely regular that doesn’t demand a physical presence then this is not at all a high price to pay when you consider all the other savings you’ll be making. And, of course, you can even add it to your green credentials.

Knowledge Management: why not?

I will get back to 'proper' blogging soon. Honest. It's just been a bit mad round these parts as I've put my new life together. It's going well, I might add, but the blogging has been neglected. Another week or two should do the trick.

However, thanks to Computing, CIO and Information World Review, a few of my pieces have popped up in the last few days, all of them connected in some way to Knowledge Management. And, yes, I know that's a contradiction in terms. But put 'social' and KM together and magic starts to happen.

The three articles are:

Social tools take KM to a new level (Computing]

IT accumulates data but Web 2 shares knowledge (IWR)

Board level energy saving and environmental issues (CIO)

None of the titles is mine, of course. (They have sub-editors to dream these things up.)

The first was my response to a request to prepare a 'definitive guide to Knowledge Management'. The second was a column in which I postulate a kind of lifecycle of knowledge/information. And the third was created by plundering the business/CIO related threads in the recent IBM Eco-Efficiency Jam – another example of social/KM in action. It happily blended my two primary interests: human and environmental IT.

Happy reading. See you back here soon, I hope.