Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Nexus 7, The BBC Flash whores & books are not dead yet

Firstly the Nexus (N7) and it’s amazing, fits perfectly in one hand, has the power of a high end tablet so it plays all the best games and Jelly Bean while not much of an update on ICS is still fantastic, really slick.

A moron who needs a slap

 The lack of a SD port is a tiny issue if you go for the 8gb like I did but since I have most things in the cloud (Gmail, spotify, flickr etc) The only stuff I install locally that will fill up the disk will be the games. Since even the biggest ones at over a gig can download and install in 30 mins I don’t see it as an issue. The other negative issues on the blogs and reviews (lack of hdmi, only a facing camera) are all both not a problem for me. I have an Xbox I can stream to and has iplayer, love film, netflicks etc if I want to put video on.  And anyone who walks round taking pictures of stuff with a tablet needs a slap, its not a camera. I have installed a few games, Batman, Spiderman and GTA 3 and they all run great. It’s amazing what computing power you can have in your tiny hands these days. I have tried using it for reading e-books and thanks to the amazing screen the text is pin sharp and the eyes don’t tire like they do when reading books on a laptop. The below image (very hi res) is from the non-spanking version of Pride and Prejudice:

Screen quality is up with the Ipads "rectal display"

There are problems however that means I still prefer paper books:

  • I read in the bath, I couldn’t take this in the bath.
  • When I read in bed I often fall asleep and drop the book onto the floor, cannot risk it with this
  • The cost of e-books is taking the piss a bit, most of the e-books you can get the paperbacks for about the same price, this included postage. Publishers/retailers must think we’re thick.
  •  No good in sunlight, I understand the kindle is but then that’s no good in the dark either

Which means although I probably will read some books on this thing, it proves an e-book doesn’t fit my reading habits.
The other thing that annoys me is the lack of iplayer. The BBC in their wisdom decided to go all in with flash a few years ago. Everyone said that it was stupid, most of the androids at the time were arm 6 processors and because of how poor the mobile flash player proved to be adobe decided to lock those devices out. Only the very expensive androids could get the iplayer. Of course the BBC fell all over themselves to provide a non-flash player for Ipad, but for unknown reasons they didn’t allow the html 5 streams they setup for ipad to be used by anyone else. Some community coders wrote a couple of apps that used some of the BBC’s non flash streams (Myplayer and Beebplayer) but Auntie rather than license these homebrew efforts deployed the lawyers and these great apps were withdrawn.
Adobe came to realise that their power hungry player was unsuited to mobile and decided to discontinue support. Android version 4 and above doesn’t work with flash player and because the BBC decided to lock themselves in are looking like pillocks. At least this means that they have to get their fingers out and start supporting all the licence fee payers and come up with a non-flash app for android, hopefully one that will run on the cheapest of arm 6 phones and not be locked down to android 4 or greater. They are working on such a thing they say:

Adobe announced it months ago

But when that will be released who knows, I suspect it depends on how quickly the Nexus 7 starts being used by the upper management at the BBC.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Everybody fights, Vaizey should quit

It only took a bit of twitter nagging, filling in the contact us form three times and a polite, non-sweary email and The  Society of Chief Librarians have finally got back to me on their position on replacing staff with volunteers in public libraries.

What is interesting is the SCL its also updating is position, no doubt after CILIP had to change theirs after so many of its members were rightly upset. 

What this hopefully means is that those of us who understand that libraries only work when they are professionally staffed are all now publically in the same position, volunteers can and do make libraries better but they cannot run them and it doesn't save money. Vaizey can tall gibberish all he wants and throw a few million about but the public library service is being decimated and we know on which line of the sand nearly everyone is now. I'm really glad the SCL has responded and are changing their position, my enemies of libraries venn diagram I carry round in my head is getting smaller all the time.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Summer reading challenge. Failing at literacy.

Oxfordshire County Council, the council that runs the schools in Oxfordshire has the worst key stage 1 results for literacy at age seven in the UK. It recently lost its bid to be world book capital, this despite having one of the best universities in the world. It is also cutting 313k from its libraries budget, not that it actually saves that amount, it saves practically nothing. Considering the history of Oxford and the fact that the schools spend is the only part of the OCC budget to escape the cuts (the schools budget is outside of councillors control) this is very, very poor.

Their answer to this problem seems to be more volunteers.

OCC is looking for ex teachers and others to do one to one reading with children in the schools that are failing badly. It actually isn’t a bad idea but what needs to be understood is why some schools are doing OK at this and others are failing, making Oxford the worst in the UK. Without understanding the problem it cannot be fixed.

The councillor responsible for schools, Melinda Tilly, was recently interviewed in February by the BBC and came up with some astonishing responses on schools. This below is from a great local blogger  @tonyox3 (link at the bottom) who listened to the interview at the time and includes a link to the interview on Iplayer:

However, Ms Tilley's first comment was that "we don't really know what's gone wrong" with our schools. Strange, given her job title, and it immediately begs the question that if we don't know what's wrong, how can we expect to fix it? Next she was asked if academy status would improve the schools. "Probably", she replied, "we have to do something". Could she guarantee the schools would improve? "I'm not going to guarantee that ... it's not my job", she said. Doesn't academy status mean the County loses control over the schools? "We don't have any control now, really", was her astonishing response. "There's not much point in your job then, is there?" asked the interviewer. Her reply, "I'm just waiting for the music to stop .. [something about finding another chair] .. No, not really."

While it is true that OCC have no control over the school budget, they are responsible for the schools and have the power to hire and fire the head teachers in those that are poorly performing. They have whole departments in country hall, what are these people doing all day? The comments from the person politically accountable are not inspiring.
I hope then that the head teachers in the poorly performing schools are given time to look at what is working at the other schools and if they are unable to turn it around they are given the boot. If OCC have no control over the schools as Melinda Tilley complains then I fail to see how turning them into academies will make any difference whatsoever.

Today is the start of the Summer Reading Challenge, a libraries initiative to get children and adults reading. I don’t have the data (yet) but I bet anyone a pound that the 80 schools targeted by their new scheme are also the areas where there is poor participation for the Summer Reading Challenge.

 I have already put myself up to the local school to volunteer to help kids with reading but I doubt the local school is one of those that are failing because we fantastic levels of participation in the reading challenge, punching well above our weight compared to other libraries, a great credit to our library manager and assistant. As I have previously said though, I will volunteer to help make the service better,but  I won't volunteer to replace staff that in our library are performing a fantastic job.

The Oxford mail story on the new reading scheme:
The Blog on the Melinda Tilley interview:

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Go Compare!

OCC have posted the job application for the volunteer coordinator. The salary is £34,549-£37,206 per year.  Below are the word counts:

Nine pages and 2393 words per unpaid volunteer and six pages and 1208 words for the 34-36k coordinator. The job spec for the community libraries co-ordinator is so choc full of meaningless jargon it almost makes my brain bleed. Here is a wordle thing for both with the volunteer role on the left and the jargon rich coordinator on the right:

OCC still don't have the answer to how many volunteers are required. Calculations done by the friends groups earlier and one I did come out anywhere between 500-1000 to cover the cut hours. The volunteers who have to do all the work are not getting any expenses unlike all the other council volunteers and the friends groups will have to fund the CRB checks. The council will pay for all the volunteers to receive health and safety/fire marshal etc training which OCC claim is only going to cost £19.75 per volunteer per year, which is clearly nonsense. Since the councillor in Surrey recently admitted their scheme doesn’t save money and the Oxfordshire County Council scheme clearly doesn’t either you wonder why they are still going ahead with this nonsense. I'm going to volunteer for the library coordinators job instead as it is clearly the role that requires less skill and training and I won't have to put up with the meaningless management speak.

Link to the OCC volunteer coordinator:

Link to the volunteer job spec:

Ministry for Murdoch and library closures to be abolished?

Perkins the cat, no doubt tipped off by the Downing Street cat Larry reports that the DCMS is to close after the corporate circle jerk that is the Olympics finishes. Considering the conduct of the two ministers Hunt and Vaizey I personally feel this is no great loss. Since Hunt is clearly minister for Murdoch and Vaizey's refusal to enforce the 1964 act, which has caused great damage to the library network up and down the land. If Perkin's mole (cat) is correct then there must be a plan to put the responsibility for the act (it has to be a minister, its in the act) to another minister in another department. The main contenders appear to be the department for communities and local government or the department for education.

The DCLG seems the most natural fit but I think this option would be a disaster for libraries, the current localism push by government wants to give more power to local councils. I don't think the power will be exercised correctly, with proper consultation or with a democratic mandate by local councils. Councils seemingly go out of there way to ignore the wishes of taxpayers and until these little fiefdoms have been reformed properly then I don't want to see them given any extra power. 

I hope therefore the responsibility for the act passes to education and this is replicated down to the local councils in their budgets. This would mean the library budget would be part of the ring fenced schools budget and the councils cannot cut libraries in their ideological, short sighted and misguided cuts.

It leaves the question of how does the government best serve the interests of Murdoch since his department is being abolished?

The link to Perkin's blog:

Local "democracy" in action over libraries decisions in Oxon: 

"I want all policy decisions to pass through the group before being made public, not as with the library fiasco where one person was making the decisions, talking to the press and then expecting the group to agree with what had been announced.
“This has happened several times over recent years."