Sunday, 26 April 2009

Mashup, and #FailWifiAccess, at Sunderland University

I went to the JISC RSC Northern conference on Virtual Worlds last week to schmooze, meet some academic developers, and deliver the keynote presentation. It was a hugely enjoyable event (apart from one massive problem I'll mention below). The conference was well organised, the people were all friendly, the catering (apart from the instant coffee - urgh) was good. And the location was excellent; I had reservations about going to Sunderland, but it turned out to be very nice. A big beach opposite the hotel, trees, green, and a lot of blazing sunshine. Sort of like the south of France, but with somewhat different accents.

As ever, social media was to the fore. Most of the speakers were on twitter and twittering before, during and after the conference. There were three conference tags which added to the fun :-) and Kathryn Trinder set up a service to pull together various content based around the most-used tag. Or you can just read the tweets associated with the event.

My presentation was the last in a roadshow I'd been doing for the Virtual World Watch project-service. It was presenting an overview of virtual world (especially Second Life) activity in UK Higher and Further education, though it ended up being more about the issues that confront actual and wannabee academic developers:

So, I had various slides up and the presentation, which was the opening keynote went well. The only time I slightly messed up was when I had a screenshot up of a particular chemical reaction, the tuberculosis bacteria undergoing a sugar chemical change. I had the slide up, and I could remember the twitter name, @graymills, of the person who had created the Second Life structure. But I couldn't remember his real name (Peter Miller) #KeynoteMemoryFail.

Big laugh, and a few pictures taken. One of which was, using the magic of iPhone technology, put up onto Twitpic, the picture feature associated with Twitter, and linked to a tweet.

Kate chipped in with a tweet on my memory fail as well:

@graymills /me tuts, @joe_librarian just forgot your name #ItsGrimUpNorth #rscn09 10:46 AM Apr 21st from TwitterFox

Here's the neat bit. Peter (or @graymills):


1. took the picture from twitpic

2. added a speech bubble caption

3. embedded it within a screenshot of the associated tweets

4. then embedded a screenshot of all of that into an installation in Second Life

5. then got his avatar to stand in front of it

6. then took a screenshot of all of that

7. then put it online:

@graymills in distress

... then 8. blogged about it.

For elegance, Kathryn finished off by twitpic-ing the blog posting.

Neat. And if none of this posting made any sense at all to you, then heck are you going to have an increasingly isolated and puzzled time in the coming decade :-)

Oh, the one big massive failing at the conference.

No wifi.

At a UK conference, in 2009, about an emerging Internet technology, and where for example nearly all the speakers were twitterers and/or Second Life users. So, without a dongle on a laptop, or a mobile phone, online access was difficult the whole day.

I found this bizarre. Even more bizarre is at the start of the conference when someone stood up and said that there would be no wifi access due to the, and I kid you not, "security problems with unknown laptops". Eh? Don't they have, like, firewalls and things like that in Sunderland. How come, like, every other university manage this - except Sunderland? We were baffled.

I emailed someone at the RSC centre about this after the event. As several speakers at the event noticed, some staff have a very open attitude to sharing emails in JISC RSC Northern, so they won't mind being quoted. The reply back said:


The IT Services at this university can be very difficult and uncompromising. The other significant problem was that we couldn't stream the keynotes into SL when this was supposed to be a doddle.


I also got an unexpected, and rather odd, email from the person who'd made the "security problems with unknown laptops" excuse, a few days later as my email had been forwarded to him. I'll give him this; he was bluntly honest and admitted that what he said was, let's just say a load of porkies, as:


... I had to deliver the scripted party line as an employee of the University of Sunderland. My team were exceedingly, more than Mr Kipling I might add, pissed off with the lack of support from the School of Computing. The whole conference was down to them and the frustrations they experienced in the run-up were legion.


And, from what I observed, he may have been right. The other JISC RSC staff were indeed working their butts off, as the saying goes, before and during the conference so all credit to them.

The lack of wifi was compounded by the speakers being put up in the very nice Marriott hotel the night before. Nice except for the fact that if we wanted wifi, we'd have to pay £15 per 24 hours to have it in our rooms and £15 per 24 hours to use it downstairs. Which is insane. And even galling when, on the way to the conference to present the next day, we had to pass the Best Western hotel with a big "Free Wifi" banner outside. It turned out that the Marriott had an arrangement with the university, so this was the hotel that the centre had to put the speakers in. Which was not good when it's the night before your presentation (on Second Life), you're a speaker, and you want to check online stuff or go into Second Life.

It's a shame about the lack of wifi at the hotel and the conference. And bizarre, considering the year and the nature of the event. Kinda like turning up to flying school and finding that instead of real planes outside you have to mess with Airfix models and make "Zoooom!" noises all day. It seems to be little fault of the RSC, and knocks down my personal rating for this conference from 8.5 out of 10, to 5 out of 10.