Tuesday, 29 April 2014

My thoughts on the Pechu Kucha presentation style BEFORE the HEA STEM Conference

This week I'm attending the HEA STEM Conference 2014.

+Paul Harper  and I will be presenting some work we undertook with +Louise Orpin and +Noel-Ann Bradshaw (the title of the talk is 'Operational research ambassadors in schools' but that's for another time).

All of the presenters have been given strict constraints to use the 'Pechu Kucha' style.

This involves using 20 slides that are set on a timer so that every slide is shown for 20 seconds with no control from the speaker. (All slides have had to be sent to the organisers quite a while ago and will be ran from a central computer.)

I am writing this post before the conference so perhaps my opinion will change but at present: I don't like it.

There are obvious benefits to using this style:
  • It's something different;
  • It will be fast paced;
  • It is easy to control (I have heard that this format was chosen because multiple talks overran in past conferences).
I'm sure I'm missing other good points (feel free to add them in the comments).

Here comes my negative points:

From a technical point of view it's a shame to not be trusted

We had a virtual meeting yesterday where +Noel-Ann Bradshaw suggested something that really should have been on our slides but we cannot modify them.

Forcing everyone to use a given content delivering format is not appropriate.

This is an education conference with talks entitled: 'Dancing statistics - communicating statistical ideas to non-mathematical students' and 'iLectures - designing and developing interactive lectures using cloud-based broadcasting solutions'. These talks sound like they will be discussing various innovative content delivery formats. There is (in my opinion) no single best content delivery format but usually an ok content-audience-speaker triplet.

Why should everyone have to use the same format? (For some Pechu Kechu might be great but for others it might be terrible).

This is enforcing a lecture style delivery with a disconnection between audience and speaker

I try my best to make my presentations (and lectures) as interactive as possible. I encourage interruptions and if we (the audience and I) go down a particular lane that isn't what I had planned: that's often just fine!

There is time planned for questions at the end of the session but what if I want to ask the audience a question or if I welcomed a discussion midway through the presentation? Without being able to carefully ensure that this fits in the 20 second per slide constraint this is something that I simply won't be able to use.

Why am I here?

When my frustrations with the format first began I thought that perhaps Paul and I should simply screencast our talk which would enable us to edit it carefully and have the 6 minutes and 40 seconds perfectly cut to a high standard. Thus, when it was our turn to 'talk' we could simply press play and sit back.

Sadly this is not an option as everything is being run from a central computer through PowerPoint. In essence though, there is no point in us being here apart from taking the potential questions towards the end of the entire session (by which time the audience as a whole will have completely disconnected from our talk).

Looking forward to the conference

I suppose this post stems from the fact that I'm a spoilt only child and don't like being told what to do. I think that I'm just unsure about everyone having to use the same thing (whatever that thing may be). We are all different with different presentation skills and styles. We should be 'allowed' to express ourselves.

Ultimately I am very much looking forward to the conference and also am (despite what this post might indicate) optimistic about trying a different delivery format. I will try and write a reflective post after the conference: it would be awesome if I'm completely incorrect and Pechu Kechu is actually a great initiative from the organisers (who I'm sure have worked extremely hard to put on what will be a great conference).

I have spoken to Paul about this but in no way mean to bring my co-authors in to this rant: this is my personal opinion :)

Finally, so that there's something nice to look at here is a picture of Machu Picchu (from wikipedia) as that's what I've been calling Pechu Kucha for the past month or so as I've not been able to remember it's correct name:

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Thinking about moving my blog...

Over the Christmas break I moved my website that sat on a Google sites page to my own server and did this mainly to learn Django. I'm now really happy with my personal site (modulo css which I'll fix when I have time) and like the workflow involved with updating the underlying database and the templates taking care of everything (a lot of my students in particular have commented on the ease of access to teaching resources on there).

I'm thinking of moving this blog over there too.

The way I see it there are good points and bad points to this.

Here is how I see the bad points:

  • It'll be 'hard': blogger just takes care of everything for me.
  • I have a modest number of readers and it would be a shame to 'lose' them.
  • Disqus.com comments are great but I'm a huge +Google+ fan and like the interaction I get on comments with the +Blogger / G+ thing.
Here is how I see the good points:
  • It'll be 'hard': I have a slight addiction to putting myself out of my comfort zone so learning how to set up my own RSS feed (which in practice should take 20 minutes of googling) would be good fun. A part from that it will actually be very easy.
  • I'll have more control: I've had issues with +MathJax not playing nice with +Blogger so if it's all on my server I won't have these problems.
  • I'll prefer the workflow: at the moment I write my posts in markdown, pandoc them and then copy the html and fix it in +Blogger. With my own site, posting will be a simple git push away...
On reflection I think the only real bad side would be through potential loss of interaction / engagement but I also think that by simple sharing on Twitter and G+ not much would be lost.

Perhaps I'm wrong, if anyone has moved their blog and could offer me some advice that would be great. Also, how important is the RSS feed nowadays (personally most of the blogs I read get pushed to me by social networks and/or Google Now - I wonder how many people wouldn't have read this if it hadn't gotten to them via RSS)?

Friday, 4 April 2014

A list of stuff for my student to look at before getting down to some Sage development

+James Campbell will be working with me this Summer on a project aimed at developing game theoretical stuff in to +Sage Mathematical Software System. James just emailed me asking for a list of stuff he could/should read up on before he starts. I thought more knowledgeable people than me might be able to contribute so I've lazily copied my email to him here: 

------------ email ------------


- git
- sage development (tickets, documentation etc... This is something I don't know much about myself so read about it on the Safe site and watch videos on youtube there are a bunch of them)
- cython (http://cython.org/ - watch this intro to Sage lecture by +William Steinhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fI4NlMfGHC0 that's the first lecture in a class he's currently giving you also could watch the rest)
- C (to help with cython - you don't necessarily need to be an expert I think)
Test driven development: (watch all this and you will know what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5859017B018F03F4)
- ssh and *nix (so that you're comfortable to jump on to one of my machines if necessary - depending on time we might also get you to tweak the Cardiff server)
- matplotlib (the python library that Sage uses to plot stuff, good to know it from a python pov so as to be able to get Sage to make it do what we want - we might or might not use this)
- How Sage plots graphs (graph theory graphs like I used for this: http://goo.gl/KHGYk7 - we might or might not need this)

Game Theory:

We'll talk about this but 1 of the above (easy to code: 30 minutes of work) will be a gentle appetiser to the 'piece de resistance': normal form games,

- Normal form games (first 6 chapters of http://www.vincent-knight.com/teaching/gametheory/)
- The lrs algorithm (there is an implementation of this written in c that we either want to re-write to get working in Sage so you'll need to understand it or get Sage to talk to it / use it, I know Sage kind of has this as an optional library but I'm not entirely sure how to 'get at it' http://cgm.cs.mcgill.ca/~avis/C/lrs.html)
- Polytopes, you want to be comfortable-ish with the vocabulary around polytopes to be able to understand the lrs algorithm a bit. 


- In general I'd say don't spend much money on Python books. Like most OSS stuff there's an awesome amount of stuff online. Take a look at: http://pythonbooks.revolunet.com/ (a list of free Python books). There are various exceptions to this rule though.

- With regards to Sage I don't think you need a book for this project (as it's about building stuff for Sage so mainly reading about the development process and watching youtube videos is the way to go), I have a kindle copy of http://goo.gl/q9s9da, it's not bad but really everything is online. If you haven't already take a look at http://sagemath.org/help.html and join the relevant discussion groups on there.

- With regards to Game Theory there's a reading list on my website (all that follow are linked to on there). Webb's book is a gentle introduction, Algorithmic Game Theory is great and more about what you will be looking at. Finally there's a newish book by Maschler which looks really nice but I've not had time to work through it yet. In general my course site should suffice (reading/working through those books could take you years) with regards to what you need to know for game theory and I am certainly not asking you to spend money on a book. If there's a book (GT or code) that you really think would be useful let's talk.


James is a pretty good coder with a good knowledge of a git based workflow already as his first year project (during which he actually learnt to code) has led his group to develop: http://thefightclub.herokuapp.com/ which is also on github (if you've made your way this far, please click on that and waste a minute or 2 of your life).

If there's anything missing from this list please add it to the comments :)

I'm looking forward to this project.