Decisions Decisions

The time finally arrived for me to choose my second lot of modules for my Open University degree, something that I’d been waiting excitedly for.

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As you may know, I chose to do the Open Degree, basically to give myself a bit more flexibility in the modules I can choose, and I’m basically doing Information and Computing Technology combined with Creative Writing. Sort of an ICT major, Writing minor kinda deal. I’m still in the midst of doing ‘My Digital Life’, which, though a little outdated (it’s the last time it’s running), I’ve found to be interesting and informative, but I had 60 credits left to fill, to complete what will technically be my first year of study. And so, choices had to be made.

Since beginning this degree, I’ve already known one of the other first year modules I wanted to take, which is ‘English for Academic Purposes Online’, and which’ll be my first languages module. But at 30 credits, this left me having to decide on another 30-pointer, which wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to learn a language, or retail management, or delve into essential mathematics. This left me with two options:

  1. An introductory statistics module.
  2. A module delving into robotics, networking and Linux.

The sensible part of my brain told me to do statistics. After all, I’m a scientist, and if I ever manage to get a science-based job, statistics may well be needed. The other part of my brain said, “But robots!” As I was having trouble deciding, I put some feelers out to my social media followers, asking what they’d do. To be honest, the masses weren’t much help. My Twitter poll got one vote, for robots, and my Facebook post got one comment, again for robots. However, the FB post was the clincher, as they basically said I could do a statistics course anytime, and thinking about it, they’re right. I’m sure if I did a Google search now, I could find any number of free statistics MOOCS online. So, with that in mind, I’ve chosen ‘Technologies in Practice’ as my third first-year module.

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These choices mean I also know what type of degree I’ll end up getting in six year’s time. My second and third years will be split 50:50 between computing and language modules, but my first is going to be split 75:25 between computing and language modules. Meaning the majority of my modules will be science ones, therefore, my final degree will be a BSc. Woo, another science degree!

As an aside, did you know the first year Open University modules don’t count to the final pass mark? I didn’t! I’ve been busting my hump to try and keep my overall grade for TU100 within distinction level, panicking whenever I’ve got a low(ish) mark, only to find I’m stress over nothing. Basically, I just need to get a passing grade to make it to the second year. Still, I guess it shows I’m making an effort, and setting my personal bar high.

But robots! Yay!

Monthly Reads – June 2017

I’ve decided to put my re-read of Harry Potter on hiatus (I’m half way through the Goblet of Fire) and try something. What with seeing Ghost in the Shell a while back, and studying Information Computer Technology with the Open University, I had a hankering to try a Cyberpunk novel.

I’ve never read Cyberpunk before, so didn’t know where to start. Cue a lot of Googling of recommendations and reviews, after which, I decided that Post-Cyberpunk sounded like my kind of trope.

“Whereas cyberpunk is/was a Darker and Edgier riposte to older Science Fiction, intended to portray what might happen if we don’t all destroy ourselves, Post-Cyberpunk is intended to present a less pessimistic and more realistic vision.” tvtropes.org

Actually, Ghost in the Shell is considered Post-Cyberpunk(ish), so that helped affirm my choice. The TVTropes page also had a helpful list of media in this genre, and amongst the books was a title I’d seen elsewhere: Snow Crash.

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“The only relief from the sea of logos is within the well-guarded borders of the Burbclaves. Is it any wonder that most sane folks have forsaken the real world and chosen to live in the computer-generated universe of virtual reality? In a major city, the size of a dozen Manhattans, is a domain of pleasures limited only by the imagination. But now a strange new computer virus called Snow Crash is striking down hackers everywhere, leaving an unlikely young man as humankind’s last best hope.” Amazon

So this is what I’m reading this month. The main character’s name is Hiro Protagonist, which is as daft as you can get, but I’m trying to look past that. I’ve only managed to get a few chapters in so far, but I’m holding myself to reading a chapter a night before bed. It’s been quite entertaining in places so far, so I’m hoping for a good read. I’ll keep you posted as to what I thought of it.

Anyone out there read Snow Crash? If so, what did you think?

No Wonder

When one door slams shut in your face, another opens just a crack. Gotta love air pressure! What I mean by that rather weird sentence is that a couple of days after posting about how Hootsuite had given their free users a punch to the gut, I got an email from Buffer inviting me to try out their business plan for free for a fortnight. S-weet! Unlimited posting here I come! Of course, there’s no way that I’ll be signing up proper to a Business account as 1) I’m not a business, and 2) I’m unemployed, so I’ll have to enjoy it while I can. It’s just nice not having to juggle 4 different scheduling platforms for a couple of weeks.

With my rantings over Hootsuite, I forgot to mention that I went and saw Guardian’s of the Galaxy the other week. Great film! I’m not sure about the inclusion of PacMan in the final boss battle, but other than that, it gets good marks all round. The dialogue was quick and funny, there was plenty of action…and oh, Yondu!

The next movie-going debate in my household revolves around Wonder Woman. To be honest, I just can’t find the motivation to go see this. The DC Cinematic Universe, for me, has been one loooong and daaaaaaaark disappointment. I didn’t even bother going and seeing Batman vs Superman. And from what I hear, I think I dodged a bullet. The whole franchise seems turgid at best. Actually, I’ve not seen a Batman on the big screen since Batman Begins. I caught The Dark Night on TV…and pretty much prayed for my own death because it was so long and dull. The Dark Night Rises wasn’t that much better, and in all honesty, the only good thing about it was the Robin that never got to be: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

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Typical maximum lighting level in a DC film

From the trailers I’ve seen, Wonder Woman’s lighting isn’t much better. Again, it’s the good ol’ dark, bleak lighting that plagues the other DC films. Something that’s in serious need of a vaccine. Then there’s Gal Gadot’s accent. I’ve mentioned before that I’m more than happy to hear accents on a film, but not at the expensive of not being able to understand what’s being said, such was the case of Marion Cotillard’s last line in Assasin’s Creed that no one seems to have caught. And quite frankly, she could have done with subtitles for the majority of the movie, despite speaking English. Unsurprisingly, I worry that Gal Gadot’s accent may also cause problems. And to be honest, from what I’ve seen of the trailers, her delivery seems stilted at best, which doesn’t bode well if I have to sit through near two hours of her performance.

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With all this, I have to say, my drive to see Wonder Woman is negligible. There’s an undercurrent of, “you should go see this movie, because woman power!”, and that I’m somehow failing the sisterhood if I don’t go see it, but I don’t want to have to sit through two hours of ‘meh’ just to prove I support female leads. Yes, some people have been raving the film, but then, people raved about Heath Ledger’s performance in Batman, and I found it forgettable (no disrespect to someone gone too young too soon). I guess I’m just not a DC fan, or rather, a DC Cinematic Universe fan. Will I be going to the cinema to see it? No. Will I watch it on TV in a couple of year’s time? Probably.

Well, I’m sure my thoughts have just p-o’d a lot of people, so I’m off to go vote for a better country. Ciao!

Game Over Hootsuite

It was a great relationship while it lasted. Sure, we had our ups and downs. Sometimes they couldn’t be relied upon to do what they were supposed to do, but on the whole, they were there when I needed them.

Not anymore!

Yep, my love affair with Hootsuite has come to a screeching halt. Last week, with no warning at all, they changed their free plan, subsequently screwing over a lot of people, me included.

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For the uninitiated, Hootsuite’s free plan allowed you to auto-schedule up to 10 posts per profile per day. More if you manually scheduled them. But now they’ve well and truly throttled their scheduling ability, again, without warning, to a maximum of 10 posts total, across all profiles. Meaning if I schedule 10 Twitter posts, I can’t then schedule anything for Facebook. Personally, I think this is an underhanded and somewhat dumb move.

Of course, the reasoning behind this will be money money money. By limiting the number of posts, they’ll be looking to force people’s hands into signing up for their paid accounts. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will go quite the way they plan. Sure, some less social media savvy people might cave because it’s the only platform they know, but for others, like me (small businesses, charities, low/unwaged) this will probably get us looking for better options/deals elsewhere, even perhaps a paid one. And guess what? we’ll find them!

I use Buffer for free as well. I am limited to 10 posts at any one time, but this is per profile (as Hootsuite used to be). I can schedule 10 post on Twitter and 10 posts on Facebook. Any surplus can then be added to Facebook’s inbuilt scheduler, or to Tweetdeck. Sidenote: Yes Tweetdeck is crap functionality wise, but it’s free (and likely to remain so), so hey! For some, this bit of extra faffing around with multiple schedulers may not even be an issue if they only post a couple of times a day.

And what if I suddenly decide, “Hmm, maybe I should get a paid account for some extra functionality,”? Well, even then Hootsuite won’t be (shouldn’t be) the go-to account. At pretty much half the price of Hootsuite’s basic ‘Professional’ plan, Buffer’s basic ‘Awesome’ plan would be the way to go (Buffer = $10 per month (with a 15% saving if you pay annually!), Hootsuite = $19 per month).

Okay, so Hootsuite’s paid plan gives you 500 posts per month, whereas Buffer only gives you 100, but as far as I can tell, with Buffer that’s 100 posts per profile, whereas Hootsuite’s 500 will be divided across profiles. So if you use just Twitter and Facebook, that’ll be 250 each per month. If you throw in Linkedin say. With Buffer, you’ll still get 100 posts for that too, but with Hootsuite, you’ll be reduced to 166 posts per profile. As you can see, the more profiles you have, the better deal Buffer becomes compared to Hootsuite. And let’s face it, chances are, both plans probably provide way more slots than actually needed with their basic plans, especially for small organisations, or independent users like me.

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Sorry Hootsuite, you’re now nothing more than a turkey!

Novel Update

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Well, I have finally managed my first readthrough of my 3rd novel’s typescript, so now comes more typing. I’ve done a few edits here and there when time allowed, but with the reading part out the way, the process kicks up a notch as I focus all my attention on adding, subtracting, moving, and fretting over passages. It will be the first of around six re-writes, possibly more, but with each one becoming less a ‘slash and burn’ job, and more a ‘tweak here and there’ job.

Quite frankly, the whole editing business of writing sucks. You get to a point where you start hating the very thing you gave birth to, and begin second-guessing everything you’ve written. But for me, it sucks in a different way.

I like to read. I like adding to my reading goal list in Goodreads (didn’t do one this year, unsurprisingly). I like being able to show the world that yes, unlike President Trumpf, I read….and enjoy reading. I am a bookworm, loud and proud! Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to put that I’ve read my typescript for the umpteenth time. No, I may not be reading someone else’s novel, but I sure as hell #amreading.

Monthly Reads – May 2017

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To be honest, I find it hard to moment to read these days. I have my uni course, my novel editing, my volunteer work, and my fitness stuff, and it all eats into my time. This will be the first in, what I hope will be, a regular update on what I’ve been reading. And with any luck, it’ll galvanise me into reading more…. Even if that just means X-men comics.

So I’ve been on a bit of a Manga kick lately. I guess watching the Ghost in the Shell film piqued my interest again (and not just in Manga, but in Japanese culture in general, but that’s possibly a story for another day). I’ve watched anime before, but never read Manga, as I had no idea where to start, and I didn’t want to read something rubbish and be put off the genre. So I did a bit of digging, and the title that kept popping up was ‘Death Note’.

The general synopsis of the book is this:

Light Yagami, a genius high school student, discovers the “Death Note”, dropped on Earth by the Shinigami Ryuk out of boredom. The notebook allows the owner to kill anyone whose name is written in it, as long as the writer has seen the person’s face. Light plans to use the book to free the world from criminals, and then rule over it as a god. His killings catch the attention of Interpol, and the world-famous detective “L”. L creates a small task force from the local police (including Light’s detective father) to help discover who the killer is. And so begins a game of cat and mouse between Light and L.

Death Note started off as Manga, and has been made into an anime series, a live-action series, several live-action films, video games, and is now being bastardised for American audiences on Netflix. Considering the time spent by various quarters into adapting it into different media formats, I figured this was the one to go for. That, and I only ever found good reviews about it. Therefore, I went and bought the first volume and got to reading.

The ‘books’ are collections of several chapters, each originally printed as standalones, and serialised in a Manga magazine. Each volume contains about 12 of these chapters, and run out about 200 pages. The interesting thing about this series is that the layout of the books follows the original Japanese format, meaning that it’s set out back to front, to be read right to left. As someone who’s used to reading her comics the ‘normal’ western way, it was a bit disjointing at first, but after a few pages, I got into it. And the story itself? Well, I bought and read the first volume in late April. It’s now mid-May, and I’ve finished reading the second volume. So it’s pretty safe to say the story has me hooked. Looks like the Death Note series is going to be part of my monthly comic purchase, alongside my Essential X-Men, for a while, especially as there are 12 volumes to get through.

So if you’re looking to delve into Manga, and aren’t sure where to start, I can wholly recommend picking up Death Note.

Media-Rich Tweets = Engagement?

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So I’ve been doing a bit of an experiment on Twitter recently. People talk readily about how using media-rich tweets improves engagement, there are blog posts and infographics devoted to the topic, and as someone who dwells in social media, I’m all for upping engagement. However, I wouldn’t be a scientist if I didn’t test the theory myself before adopting the practice. After all, if it doesn’t work for me, what would be the point in devoting time to doing it? Therefore, in the middle of April, I decided to up my posting of media-rich tweets and see what, if anything, would happen.

To do this I used Hootsuite and my marine science-based Twitter account. I mentioned a while back that I’d only just realised you could attach images through Hootsuite, and it seemed the appropriate time to make use of the feature. Usually, I would use Buffer for media tweets, but as I’m limited to just 10 posts with the free account, I opted to use Hootsuite. I’m still limited to 10 tweets a day (if I just autoschedule posts), but not in total, so any extra tweets rolled simply over to the next day. That meant I had Buffer free to retweet other people’s media tweets. So, overall, my number of tweets per day didn’t increase much, the tweet types just switched platforms.

As for images, well, I’d usually included an image with a tweet if the article in question had a nice image of a marine mammal, but for my test, any news article I came across that had a nice looking image included, or was one that I could attach a CC00 image to, I made into a media tweet. So queue pictures of fish, coral reefs, and journal diagrams. I didn’t use any icky pictures, such as stranded dead dolphins. Those articles I just scheduled as is, and if a thumbnail popped up in my feed with the image, then so be it. Then I just tweeted away….

Come the end of April, I downloaded the analytics from Twitter, picking the date range so the 12th was in the middle, and had a butchers at the figures. And what did they tell me?

Well, first off, Twitter gives you a load of graphs on its Analytics page, but as someone who’s a bit knew to the whole analytics game, I have no idea if I’m reading them correctly. The first is the big impressions graph….

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Here, like the other graphs, I’ve marked the 12th in red. Now I’m assuming ‘impressions’ just means ‘people who’ve seen the tweet’. So the more something’s been retweeted, the more people who will have seen it. From a glance, it does seem that after the 12th my impression level went up, but this could also be due to the fact that I had a couple of tweets retweeted by people who had big followings themselves, thereby bumping up my figures. But then there’s the question: if they hadn’t been media tweets, would they have still been retweeted? Either way, as they were media tweets, I’ll take it.

Twitter also provides a number of smaller graphs….

For the most part, they don’t really help prove the hypothesis that media-rich equals more engagement, with the possible exception of the ‘Likes’ and ‘Retweets’ graphs, which do seem to show a slight increase in interactions with my posts. ‘Link clicks’ and ‘Replies’ don’t really show an increase in interactions. ‘Engagement rate’ is just all over the shop, and I can’t figure out if it shows an improvement or not.

However, Twitter analytics also allows you to download the data so you can export it into Excel (or your spreadsheet program of choice). The data was a bit tiresome to trawl through, but for the sake of science, I persevered. I did some averaging out, and this is what I got (see table below). Again, I’m making an assumption as to what ‘Impressions’ and ‘Engagements’ mean, and I have no idea how ‘Engagement Rate’ is calculated, but that being said, there does appear to be a noticeable increase across the board after I upped my media tweets. Now, whether that increase is statistically significant is something I can’t be bothered to work out.

Impressions How many people see tweet?
Mean 25th March-11th April 112.230320699708
Mean 12th April-30th April 146.84487534626
Engagements Likes, retweets, link clicks per tweet?
Mean 25th March-11th April 1.57725947521866
Mean 12th April-30th April 2.29362880886427
Engagement Rate ?
Mean 25th March-11th April 0.011296937684149
Mean 12th April-30th April 0.013246888306627
Overall average 0.012296841341414

I even did a graph for daily Engagement Rate….

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 Overall average engagement rate = blue line. Average engagement rate for 25th March – 11th April = purple line. Average engagement rate for 12 April – 30th April = green line

Now, I’m not sure why my engagement rate graph came out different to twitter’s, but it does help show that there was an increase after I upped my media tweets.

So, what can we surmise from all this? My little experiment may have lasted only 18 days, but even so, it does seem the general consensus was correct; more media-rich tweets leads to increased engagement.

Therefore, I shall continue doing what I’m doing. And if you were in two minds as to whether to do the same to improve your own Twitter account, hopefully my results have helped you make a decision.