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 I’m still in the midst of doing ‘My Digital Life’, which, though a little outdated (it’s the last time it’s running), I’ve found to be interesting and informative, but I had 60 credits left to fill, to complete what will technically be my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!

Once Bitten

I missed a weeks blog entry, mainly because I didn’t have much to say, but also because I got pissed off with the mark of my latest uni assessment, which put me in a bad frame of mind.

My previous Open University assessment came back at 100%. The last one was 82%. Now I will put my hand up, and admit I goofed up slightly when it came to laying out calculations (though taking marks off me because I wrote ‘seconds’ instead of just ‘s’ is a bit much). But a couple of other parts had been marked down for reasons that made me fume. Now, if you’ve ever done (or are doing) a course with the OU, you’ll no how much they beat it into you NOT TO PLAGIARISE! Mention your sources!  Acknowledge your sources! etc etc. So, when I was faced with summarising an article written by someone else, I took those warning sirens to heart, and made sure I acknowledged the author of the article whenever I mentioned his thoughts on something. Unfortunately, apparently, this is considered “reviewing” and article as opposed to “summarising” it, which lost me marks, gained me an admonishment for “not reading the question properly” and promptly made me annoyed. The second kick in the proverbial nuts, was another “you didn’t read the question properly!” Arguably, I had. The trouble was, I had translated the question’s meaning differently to what was apparently being asked, so again, lost marks. Ugh! Anyway, my next assignment comes with another ‘summarise the article’ type question, so I’ll be sure not to mention the author at all (except in the reference) and see what happens. I need to keep my overall percentage grade up as the OU is quite stingy when it comes to their 1st and 2:1 pass rate.

Beyond the aggravation of my assessment, I managed to catch a couple of films at the cinema, namely Kong: Skull Island, and Ghost in the Shell.

Kong: Skull Island

First up was Kong: Skull Island. It was a fairly entertaining film. Samuel L. Jackson’s character was a bit of a cliche in a ‘man’s better than animals’ kind of way, Tom Hiddleston’s was as easy on the eye as always, and it was [spoiler alert] nice that Kong actually survived the end of the film, unlike in King Kong, which had me bawling my eyes out.

The only real problem I had with the film was the ‘bad-guy’ monsters. Now I could suspend belief and believe that the creatures on the island had gone through some collective evolutionary gigantism, giving way to giant oxen, spiders, (unseen) ants, stick-bugs, and of course, apes. However, the monsters seemed completely out of place with everything else. The didn’t conform to a scaled-up creature, or even a prehistoric creature, so they ended up jarring against the backdrop of animal life. The were these two-legged, weird-skulled, things that would have been better-suited to a sci-fi film set on another planet.

Still, overall, it was an entertaining movie, and I’m glad I got to drool over Tom…I mean got to see it 😉

Ghost in the Shell

Prepare to be disappointed. Why? because I really enjoyed this film! I’m going to pass over the whole white-washing thing, as that’s an argument for another day, and (IMHO) not as clear cut when dealing with anime and manga, and just review the film based on the film itself.

Now, many years ago, I watched the original anime. It was cool, but it was also so long ago that I’ve forgotten most of it. I remembered the iconic jump scene, and Batou on his boat, but the story line itself has been lost from memory. So, overall, I went into the film fairly fresh. And you know what, it was a pretty darn good movie. My mate sulked at the end, but I think he’d been caught up in all the negative reviews, and had basically prepped himself to not like the film, and did just that. But I went in with hope, and wasn’t disappointed. The visuals were great, especially the imagining of the futuristic city. The plot was followable, which is something that can be an issue with anime films, whose writers interweave spirituality, visuals, and crazy ideas, to a point where they can overwhelm you. And I remembered I once had a crush on Batou…and now I do again.

The only thing that irked me was that Scarlett Johansson seemed to stomp around in a rather (for want of a better word) butch manner. I don’t recall her being that way as the Black Widow in Marvel, and I don’t recall the Major being all stooped and stompy in the original anime (but like I said, it’s been a while since I saw it), so I’m not sure what was going on there, but it was very distracting

To be honest, I think the white-washing argument pushed critics to instantly write-off this film, and hence turned the viewers against it before they’d even seen it, leading to it bombing in the cinema. This is a shame, as the film itself doesn’t deserve the full force of negativity it received. Very few films are perfect, but this isn’t as crap as the nay-sayers make it out to be, so go see it while you can.

Panic Stations!

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Well these past couple of weeks have been a bit of a freak out. After a stream of application rejections, one suddenly came up golden, leaving me to plan a trip up to Edinburgh, and create an award-winning presentation all in one week. Why is it the jobs I REALLY want, a) accept my application so I have to make a fool of myself at an interview, and b) require me to do a presentation. As if interviews aren’t bad enough for the socially anxious/awkward. It was like the St. Andrews University job all over again, and ho boy, did I die a death there!

Still, for a week I juggled a university TMA assignment with creating a presentation on critiquing the company’s social media account, and what I would do to enhance it. That was all fun and games!

Then this socially anxious bundle of nerves headed north for a stress-filled visit to my favourite city in the UK.

First came train problems. A signal failure down the line meant my connection in Llandudno was delayed by 10 minutes. I had a second connection at Warrington Bank Quay, with, you guessed it, a 10 minute gap between arrival and departure. I don’t know how the driver and conductor managed it, but he made up six minutes, giving me enough time to arrive and pee before my next train. Phew!

The weather was dry, but clearly cold, as the snow-capped mountains en route attested to.

It's a wee bit cold in Scotland 🏔⛄🌨 #scenery #scotland #snow #mountains #snowymountains #snowy #cold

A post shared by Kate Llewellin (@kllewellin_cetologist) on

The evening saw me at the Holiday Inn, eating hummus sandwiches using a chocolate wrapper as a plate, while I caught up with my social media stuff, and occasionally reviewing my presentation. That was until the power suddenly went out at 8:45. What was even more fun that the hotel’s water supply seems to be reliant on electric, so I had no drinkable water either. Defeated, I went to bed early. Was woken at 5am by the one light I’d accidentally left on suddenly springing to life. 8 hours it had taken them! The water took a little longer to recover. Brown’s okay only if it’s hot chocolate or coffee. Still, at least the radiator wasn’t reliant on electric, and I stayed toasty, while outside it hit zero. And as I lay in bed, the gibbons in the zoo next door began their eerie dawn chorus. Kinda like this….

The interview happened. I’ve had worse (*cough* *St Andrews* *cough*). Could’ve done a whole load better. Did learn one thing, and that was the zoo had a power cut too, so I doubt I’ll be able to get a refund for my shitty night.

So now it’s a waiting game for the next week until I hear back that I haven’t got it.

Novel update:

Manuscript

That’s a whole load of paper!

After giving my manuscript the once over with the spellchecker and grammar checker, I’ve finally printed it out for its first read through. Ah, the first read through…when you’ve realised everything you’ve written sounds like crap! The joys and self-doubts of being a writer!

 

Info Overload

First came power cuts, then came more power cuts, the came internet outages. How I managed to get anything done is beyond me, yet I did. Did two weeks worth of uni work in one week, got my first TMA back (mark much better than expected; phew!), did a couple of job applications, and finished my initial grammar and spell check of my 3rd novel’s manuscript. Living in rural Wales ain’t gonna slow this brain down!

Mind you, my brain’s got a lot to attend to. Remember how I was so excited at rediscovering RSS feeds and Feedly? Well, I still like them, but jeeze, talk about info overload. The 20 per day slots (10 per day (when auto-scheduling) in Hootsuite, 10 max in Buffer) I usually struggle to fill have been filled and then some, thanks to the wealth of articles I’m collating. My posts now stretch several days ahead. Great if I have a day off, but it’s going to get to a point where I’m so ahead of myself, the posts will be scheduling when they’re old news. Either I need to pray for a slow news day, or failing that, at some point I’ll have to do a purge, and double up my Hootsuite schedule to clear the backlog. The internet giveth, and the internet bloweth away.

Hootsuite Hiccup

When you’ve been using an app regularly, and for a long time, you don’t so much get complacent with using it, rather, you get used to its quirks, finding a way around these quirks to a point that it becomes part of your day-to-day routine. You get so used to doing this that you never question whether these quirks are, in fact, still quirks. This was me and Hootsuite.

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I’ve been using Hootsuite for donkey’s years to schedule social media posts, and overall, it’s a good app to use. Sure, it doesn’t work 100% of the time. Sometimes it doesn’t pick up the text and imagery from a link, meaning I have to add them by hand. Sometimes it tells me it failed to post a scheduled tweet, when in fact it has. But I can deal with these minor irritations.

The problem I had is that when I started using it way back when, it couldn’t do media tweets. You had the option of adding a picture to the tweet, but these images didn’t appear in Twitter’s news feed, rather, another url was added to your tweet, and for someone to see the image, they had to click through to another site. This was not ideal. However, a fellow twitter user suggested I use buffer for media tweets. It turned out that was a good option, and so whenever I needed to add pictures to a tweet, I used buffer instead. It was a bit more time consuming, but not by much, and so I spent the years separating out my post stream through the two apps.

That was until I had an epiphany the other day. I was creating a plain text tweet, then I second guessed myself, and wondered if I should add a picture to it. This meant having to create the tweet again in buffer. Then a dim bulb went off in my head. Do Hootsuite use media tweets in their feed? They certainly seemed the kind of brand that would. I headed over to their stream, and yes, every tweet I looked at had a picture attached to it. It seemed to me rather a daft notion that Hootsuite would be using a third-party app to add pictures to their tweets. Which begged the question: did images added to tweets in Hootsuite show in the twitter feed now? I did a test tweet, and the answer was a resounding yes. Media tweets now work in Hootsuite! How long ago that function was added is beyond me, but it goes to show there’s plenty still to learn when it comes to social media.

However, it’s still lacking a bit in functionality. If you put, say, a news article link in buffer, the different pictures within that article show up, allowing you to pick the image you want to add. Not so with Hootsuite. You have to save the picture to your computer first, then upload it. A bit more of a laborious process. Therefore, I don’t think Hootsuite will surpass buffer as my go to app for media tweets, but it’s good to know if I run out of slots on my free buffer account, I can turn to Hootsuite to create more.

Speaking of ICT, my Open University work is still heading on full steam. I handed in my first TMA assessment, and promptly had a nightmare about failing it. Great, education anxiety-filled dreams again! It’s bad enough I still get nightmares about having not done my end of year coursework for my MSc that I completed, ohhhh, nearly 14 years ago. Still, I had some good OU news this past week. My pencil case that I won has finally arrived. And about frigging time too!

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Malfoy is going to tell his father about this

RSS Romance

So this week was another below average hours study week for my university course, and I did just over 10 hours. However, this week was an introduction week to HTML, CSS, and RSS. HTML and CSS I’ve done before, via Codecademy (a site with free programming courses), so although the introductory theory was new to me in places, using it was not, and marking up text was not a new and scary undertaking.

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It was the RSS section that came as a bit of a revelation. Now, I have dabbled in RSS before; MANY years ago. I forget the program I used for it, but I have a feeling it’s now defunct. For those who don’t know, many online news sources provide RSS feeds of their articles. They tend to be found via the orange wi-fi-like symbol above. Whenever a news article is added, the RSS feed gets updated through the use of XML (a kind of organisation-specific html). Then, using a News Reader, you can gather theses different feeds together in one place, sort them into different topics, and use them to keep track of recent news and articles. Back when I was using RSS feeds for the first time, not many outlets used them. it took a lot of Googling to find relevant RSS feeds, and in the end, I gave up using them. These days, most respected outlets provide RSS feeds, or so I found out via this weeks study, and with that revelation, I’ve fallen back in love with RSS feeds.

For part of the in-module assessment, I had to use a News Reader, and add the BBC’s technology RSS feed to it. I went with Feedly, as this seems to be the top Reader out there. It was a short and simple task, but raised the question: What other RSS feeds are there out there, and would they be useful to me? Turns out, it’s a lot, and yes.

So why are RSS feeds important to me? As someone who maintains several social media sites for herself (both for her marine biologist persona, and her sci-fi novelist persona) as well as one for the marine charity MARINElife, and sources articles for the Aquarium Welfare Association, being able to hunt for suitable news stories effectively is important. Up to now, I’d basically been using Google’s personalised news sections, and searching which articles had been added within the past 24 hours. This, of course, was a bit limited, as well as laborious. Now, using Feedly, I can grab the RSS feeds from appropriate sites, including several scientific journal sites, and quickly run my eye over them for any new posts. I can even add my personalised news sections from Google. Once done, I can mark the articles off as read, and they won’t show up again in my feed. A total time saver!

This, along with the prevalence of RSS feeds from sites, makes for many more post options. Some sites break their feeds down into topics. Some sites even allow you to create an advanced search, and then save the results as an RSS feed. Both of which making for a more relevant feed in News Reader. I spent a fun few days scouring websites for their feeds, and plugging them into Feedly….

So now I have a new quiver in my bow with regards to social media strategy and content curation. See, the Open University teaches you stuff.

This week I do my first proper assessment; a dreaded TMA. Fingers crossed that I get a good mark.

I put a call in about my OU pencil case. It hasn’t even been sent yet *frowny face*.

Cattywampus Scheduling

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I did my first Open University test over the weekend. I was extremely nervous, despite it only being a practice test and not contributing anything to my final grade. It marked the moment where I’d find out whether I’d been studying effectively, and whether my brain still had the capacity to retain knowledge. I spent two hours re-reading my notes, then bit the bullet. The test turned out to be 20 questions long, and covered material I had yet to study (which seems a daft way to organise things), but despite that, I got 92%. This, after days of worrying over my studying ability, came as a supreme relief. It also went to show that my previous dabbling in html coding and web page design will come in useful, as some of the questions were based on that, and we haven’t even delved into those subjects yet.

Now, as I mentioned, the timing of these tests is a bit off in my opinion. This first test is supposed to cover all the material in the first block (the OU sets out its modules in blocks). There are six sections to this first block. The test was due to be taken after I had studied two. The next test, which will cover block two (if I’ve read the blurb right) is scheduled to be taken before the second block even starts. Huh? This seems a bit cart-before-horse in terms of scheduling things.

However, as these tests are not marked, and are available to take until the very end of the module, if indeed the second test is covering material in the second block, I’ll wait to take it at the end of the block. Likewise future tests. Otherwise I’m just setting myself up for failure.

Also, my earlier worries over how long I was taking to study have been mollified a bit. This second week has seen me putting in around 17 hours, so I guess the first section was just pretty simple.

My OU pencil case that I won still hasn’t arrived. Oh, and I sent off my first job application of the year. Which was soon followed by my first job application rejection of the year. Happy days!