5 Dec 2000

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5 Dec 2000

My week

CISCO {Thursday/Friday}
Last week I completed the Cisco Semester 4 end-of-unit exams, and I've been studying up on the Semester 3 and 4 practicals. The end-of-unit test for Semester 4 was really scaring as it is an invidulated on-line exam which has 60 multiple exams. For an instructor, you must get more that 80% or you've got to retake the exam (and the pass rate goes up each time). The thought of failing is my main worry, and it takes a lot of courage to actually press the button after completing the questions. I got a bit of a fright at first, though, as the first few questions related to material from previous semesters, and not for the one that I had studied for. Luckily the ones after this were all ones I had studies for, so I felt more at home. It's a lesson for anyone writing multiple choice exams that they should really design the test so that the first few questions are relatively easy, so that the student feels more confident after initally starting the test. I've seen so many students who read the first question, and run with fright. I always try to make the first question the one that the student would find the easiest.

"Most people are fools, most authority is maligant, God does not exist, and everything is wrong"

The four guiding maxims of Ted Nelson

It is a real strength of the Academy that it proves practical trainining in setting-up and configuring LANs and WANs. There are few areas of Computing eduation which allow this level of practical study. It's amazing how much more stimulating the programming and setup of routers which simulate a WAN, than it is to write a Visual Basic programming which adds two numbers together and tell you that the answer is less than 10.

The Semester 3 labs were extremely good and mainly involved setting up virtual LANs using switches. In a VLAN, workstations connect to the same switch, but the LAN that they connect to is set-up in software. One of the labs involved communicating between two workstations which were connected to the same VLAN, and then reconfiguring the switch so that they could not communicate. For increased security and easy of setup, which does not have physical boundaries, switches and VLANs are the future.

Currently we have over 40 students enrolled on the CISCO Academy, and each of the Cisco Instructors take classes each week. My class includes mainly Honours students in Software Engineering and Multimedia. We also run an evening class on a Wednesday for commercial companies from 6:30pm until 9pm. The commerical class did their presentations this week (Wednesday, St. Margarets Hall, 6 December 2000), and made an excellent job of them. As a lecturer it is often easy to forget how difficult formal presentations are, but everyone made a real effort, and it was totally appreciated by all the instructors who attended. Next week will be a revision week, which will be followed, the week after, with the final Semester 1 exam. So, fingers crossed.

School Review {Wednesday}
We (the School of Computing) had a 'mock' subject review this week. It's basically an event where the School prepares lots of documents about how things are done, and then a whole lot of important people read them, and try and pick holes in them. This is fine, but sometimes you get the feeling that the people who are reading the documents never really get the chance to really see what's really going on, as they don't really have the time. Maybe I'm just a bit biased, but if I wanted to review a product I would go down to the product line and test the product, over many weeks and speak to the people who were using the product and who actually made it. Anyone can promise the world in words, and they can even show the mechanisms that test for things, but, in education, it's tends to be form filling that matters. To me, the things that matters for students are: good notes, clear and well-defined teaching schedule, good support (which quickly responds to questions and problems), a motivated teaching staff, and lecturers who know their subject area well. A whole lot of filled-in forms, and moderated forms, can never replace these.

WWW development {All week}
I've been trying to update my WWW page, so that it supports the module that I've been involved with. The subject I've been teaching are NOS and CNDS. The CNDS subject, in its current form has been running for two years and we've managed to develop it into a teaching pack, with all the required supporting materials. Unfortunately this is the first year that the NOS subject has run so I'm just try to develop it so that it properly uses WWW-based material.

It's strange after working on books for so long to use colour to enhance images. This, I think is one of the real strengths of the WWW. Thus I've updated the layout of the assigments and diagrams for CNDS and NOS so that they use colour better. If you're interested the PNG files are: SuperJANET, EastMAN and Napier NOS.

Oh, and along with this, I've added my academic diary (as you can see!).

Projects {All week}
My BEng (Hons) project students all seem to be progressing well, and I managed, over the week, to include some details of their projects. The projects range from Mobile Agents to E-Commerce development using Components.

NOS Teaching {Monday}
This week we covered the last unit of the NOS syllubus, which is an introduction to NT, UNIX and NDS. The lecture was rather dry, so I must make a note to revise it for next year so that it is a bit more interesting. Next week we will cover the fundamentals of NDS. In the lab, I set a short practical in setting up TCP/IP and NetBEUI (workgroup) communications over a LAN. Everyone completed it within the time limit. The big problem that I have with this class is that it has grown from 15 students to over 50 students, which make it difficult to schedule practicals, as I can only really run then in groups of 2/3 for just 15 minutes each. I think next year that I'll run the practicals over a whole day, and give access to the Cisco Academy lab.

To many to talk about, but one important one outlined the architecture for the Napier next over the coming years. It will be based on NT/UNIX as the previous NDS/NT system didn't work. The School of Computing will be moving to another campus over the next year, so we want the network to work well, especially after all the problem we've had with the student network this year.

Ted Nelson was the genius who, in 1960, published 'As We May Think', which was basically a description of a global document system which was based on the hypertext principle. Tim Bernes-Lee at CERN was one of many people who were inspired by his ideas, and actually went on to develop the first prototype of the WWW.

Ted Nelson

Module specification for Intranet/WWW server {Thursday}
One of the tasks that I quickly completed was to define the specification for a module on a new School of Computing WWW server (http://www.soc.napier.ac.uk), which will eventually replace the existing WWW server (http://www.dcs.napier.ac.uk). The design I used was based on the teaching pack specification for many of our Level 3/4 modules. This includes Unit Notes, Teachers Notes, Presentation Slides, Module Organiser, and so on. I've tried to put most of the material on the CNDS site, if you're interested. I think the teaching pack idea is the best way to move from tradional teaching methods, to a flexiable, distance learning approach, as it is based on using paper based notes, tutorials, and practicals, which can then be easily ported onto the WWW. In the past I have seen that methods which do not use hand-outs, and go straight for a multi-media solution do not work, as they do not have the depth of coverage that is required at a degree level (as too much content in a multimedia presentation can look cluttered, and loose focus).

New PhD/MPhil student {Thursday}
This week we registered a new MPhil/PhD student, who will be funded by a Tansazian organisation. The student's reserch area will be related to security. At Napier a research student cannot normally register directly for an PhD, and must initially register for an MPhil/PhD. After around 12-18 months, the research team decide the expected target degree.

Thesis Panel Chair {Friday}
At Napier, a research student has a Director of Studies, and a Second Supervisor, who guide their research activities. The student also has a Thesis Panel Chair who takes a pastoral role for the research. I had an interesting meeting with one of the Research students with whom I'm a Thesis Panel Chair. His research relates to Soundscapes, which I think, and don't quote me on this, that they involve everything that from the audio properties to the perception of the sound. It's all very interesting, and make a nice change from agents and networking. An important element of the Thesis Panel Chair is that the person must be able to distance themselves from the subject of the reserch, but in this case it is so interesting that I might find it difficult.

Paper publishing
One of my researchers published a paper in a conference in Limerick. This week we were informed that it was to be published in as a proceedings. This is great news, as he passed his PhD Viva last week, with a miniminal of changes.

I'm looking forward to Christmas, for my family, and also so that I can get back to book writing again.

Current Favs.


WWW pages should never have garish design, especially with horrible picture as the background. Have a look at the funny Chewin' The Fat page. It's excellent.

Chewin' The Fat

Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity, Jakob Neilson.
This is still my favouriate book and was a real motivational force for me. I first bought it before a trip to Limerick, for a Summer School. I read it from cover to cover on the trip over and back from Ireland, and it really moviated me. I felt that I was really reading work from someone who was a world-expert and who really understood where WWW development is going, and how it will be used in the future.

Music CD:

White Ladder, David Gray.
A beautiful and original CD, which stimulates the mind. I never really thought that a Soft Cell song could sound so good (Say Hello, Wave Goodbye). I think that David Gray is the new Bob Dylan. Oh, and, of course, it's got Babalyon on it.


'Working hard, every day.
Never knowing how time slips away.
I don't care if the sun don't shine;
and the rain come pouring down on me and mine.
Cause our kind of love, never seems to get old.
It's better than silver and gold

Silver and Gold, Neil Young

Silver and Gold, Neil Young.
What can I say about this song? It's a real love song written by someone who is still in love with their partner after all the years they've been together.



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