Friday, October 31, 2008

Solving the indentation problem I

Two authors have solved the indentation problem. They are Jannetta Steyn and Sharon Dawes. The solutions can be found on their blogs.

Sharon's blog
Jannetta's blog

Many thanks also to the three commenters who suggested workarounds.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

First list of blogs are up

The first list of blogs are now published. They can be found on one of my other blogs.

Some suggestions for overcoming the code display problem

You will all have noticed that my attempts at doing indentation in Java code have failed miserably. My chunk in the book fragments blog does not contain this. If you go to the chunk there are some comments there which you might find useful. Many thanks to those who have suggested workarounds. Let me stress its no big deal not having indents in your blog since you will be delivering an MS Word or OpenOffice document to me. The chunk in your blog is to give everyone an idea of what you are writing about.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thanks for all the emails

Thanks for responding to my email asking about potential second chunk authors. It is now clear that we have enough authors for the 85 chunks; I also have had some more new authors email in. Many thanks for your replies. If you haven't replied then please don't worry. From now on I will just take offers for single chunks. If any second chunks need writing I will put a post on this blog, probably around the end of the year. Huge thanks for the fast response.

Ira Greenberg

Ira Greenberg, the author of the Processing book, has emailed me offering to help. I am still talking to him about his involvement. Needless to say I was really made up that he contacted me and then offered help.

The Internet is amazing: this project is, at best, semi public and within seven days someone outside gets wind of it.

Ira will be in the country next year and I am hoping to ask him to come along to the OU to give us a talk. I am also hoping that I can interest the Milton Keynes Gallery to put on a computer art exhibition with, possibly, some of your efforts being displayed. Watch for more news on both these fronts in the next two months.

Safari and lack of page numbers

Some of you have been consulting Safari and looking at the Greenberg book. One of the problems is that the page numbers are not displayed. This is a link to the table of contents.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I've joined the writing team

I have written one chunk. No more. You will find it at one of my other blogs. I have done it so that you can all get a feeling for the style. I have also documented some of the problems that I encountered when transferring text to Blogger. Remember that the text on Blogger is just for information to other authors. The text that you will send me will be written using MS Word or OpenOffice.

It is worth noting that I have described three programs rather than the one I keep mentioning to you in various emails and pdf documents. There are some topics which would be suited by some smaller programs (the early topics) and there are some suited by a large program; I leave the choice up to you.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Greenberg book for sale as e-book

I've just noticed that the Greenberg book is available as an e-book. One option you can exercise if you are keen to read the book soon is to buy it from this site and use your Waterstones voucher for other books, for example for Christmas presents. The special offer on the site is $38 if you click the Buy as eBook button. This is about £28 so you would make £7!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Podcasts and another reason for doing this project

I should have finished my sample chunk of text by Tuesday and posted it on one of the blogs I maintain. After that I will be doing two things. The first is administering the project--mainly answering questions. The other activity scheduled for the next six months is developing about 30 enhanced podcasts. Essentially these are video lectures using Powerpoint and a technology known as Camtasia Studio. Why am I doing this?

Well, I can see the end of the CD coming. I have around 600 of them in my study, the product of 27 years of buying. They have all been copied to a hard disk (if you are going to do this also use a backup disk, the copying was a numbing experience and I really don't want to repeat it). I now use an MP3 player (the excellent Sony Walkman) and play CDs on my laptop using a relatively inexpensive external sound card and a pair of Bose speakers. I am close to storing all the discs somewhere and emptying my study: I just don't need metal any more. The only reason for having them is vanity: they are a testament to my catholic tastes in music--Mozart sits uneasily next to Abba, for example.

The young do not buy CD players; they use MP3 players and docking stations. I find that the only CD players I see are more than four years old and owned by my generation.

The same will happen to books eventually. I tried out the Sony e-reader the other day. It has its faults: black and white and gray scale and no ability to play dynamic content. However, functionality will get better. In six to eight years time I would not be surprised to see the book in the same state as the CD is now. This whole process will also be accelerated by the increasing cheapness of small light laptops such as the Eee PC (click here for a review).

So I shall be taking your text, your programs and my podcasts and developing what I think might be the book of the future. It will probably be done in OpenOffice which has facilities for inserting applets and other media. Again, as with the book, there will be full author attribution to you all.

When I have done my first podcast I will let you know where it is and how you can download it.

There is also another reason for doing this project. I have managed academics for a long time and I have two principles that I use in my day-to-day management that can be applied anywhere. The first is that I always expect more from someone than they expect from themselves. This almost always works out. I think that we all have a natural diffidence about what we are capable of doing and this often shows at work. The second principle is to allow failure. If I expect more from my colleagues I have to give them the lifeline of believing that failure will occur and is a natural consequence of my approach to their working life.

So, this project involves my applying this principle to myself. Managing 85 authors and then editing the result of their work so that it forms a coherent whole is mightily ambitious. One of my colleagues told me that it is the closest that he has ever come to a bibliographic Titanic (he is also one of the two Walton Hall OU academics writing so he's joined the crew and is on the lookout for the icebergs).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Follower problem solved

You can now follow all my blogs. My thanks to James Gray who provided the solution. He also told me how to switch to GMT time. Mind you the old time did give the impression that I worked long hours. Another collection of book tokens will be going out today.

Following my blogs

A useful thing to do is to follow my blogs using the Blogger Follow facility. This displays a summary of each blog on your blog. This can be done by accessing the dashboard page and clicking the add button at the end of the page. One or two of you have reported some problems with two of my blogs but it seems to work OK for following this blog. This is the main blog that you should access and I will post any changes to the other blogs here. I will explore this problem further over the weekend and will let you know if there is a solution. Warning: although I am a professor of computing I am not too technically good (reader sighs, directs face to sky and says 'academics'). If any of you have a solution please email me one.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My blogs

Just a reminder that not only do I maintain this blog but also two others. The first contains details of chunks and FAQs etc. I will be updating this soon with some early allocations. The second one just contains a template for your text.

Update European authors

Another twenty offers came in today from undergraduates. The only problem so far is that we have some authors from mainland Europe where Waterstones are not particularly active. We are giving them a choice of land shipping from the OU or buying the Greenberg book from Safari. The list of authors include ALs, students--both undergraduate and postgraduate-and academic staff from the OU (2).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book Availability

There will be a three to four week delay in getting the book. My apologies. It should matter little as I am assuming that you will all be getting used to the Blogger system and becoming familiar with the Processing IDE in the next four weeks. The deadline for your 2500 word text is April 2009 so it shouldn't delay you much!
  • There's a good introduction to Processing (taken from Chapter 2 of the Greenberg book), click here
  • There are a number of code examples that can be found by clicking here.
  • There are also three tutorials. Click here to access them.
The Processing web site is a good source for further links.

Progress Oct 22nd

The volunteers for this project are beginning to come in: both students and ALs. I made the mistake of saying in my Sesame article that we were looking for students. In truth anyone with a knowledge of Java would do. This coming week I will be:

  • Processing the offers of help.
  • Writing a sample 2.5 k of words, probably of a section around 20-30.
  • Developing some podcasts. I have recently bought some glitzy podcast equipment for my department and am keen to use it.
The last activity is important: although the project is focussed on the development of a book there are a number of other end-products. These are:
  • An online book incorporating text, computer art and podcasts.
  • A series of computer programs which can be used for illustrative purposes.
  • An e-learning course.

So far, few problems. The only one that I had not anticipated was that a number of mainland Europe students are keen to get involved. The book token that we are sending out is for Waterstones. I am not sure that Waterstones cover mainland Europe so I am offering these students two options:

  • We buy the book and ship it by parcel post
  • They buy it and we send them the money.

That’s all for now. I will be updating this blog on a near weekly basis.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I am a professor at the Open University. This is the largest government-supported university in the United Kingdom. It differs from other universities in that its students (over a million) study with us from their home. If you are interested in this unique British institution then click here.

During the summer I read a lot about Web 2.0 and became convinced that there might be some mileage in asking our students to help develop materials for teaching. I set up two projects: the first is the mass book writing project that this blog covers and the other is a course in e-learning. This course has an end assessment which asks the students to deliver 15 hours of e-learning materials. The material for the course has been developed and we hope to release it early in 2010 (The OU timescales are quite long!).

The book writing project involves OU students, and anyone else who wants to volunteer, writing a book about the Java-based computer-art system known as Processing.

A student who wants to contribute 2500 words to the project will carry out the following tasks:

  • Email an offer to write to the OU.
  • We will send them a voucher that will buy them a copy of a recently published book by Greenberg.
  • They will then read the first 3 chapters of the book.
  • We will give them access to a blog which contains a specification of 85 chunks of text about 2500 words in length.
  • The student will then write it and also develop two sample computer programs
  • The student will then send the final text and the two programs to the OU.
We will edit the text and produce a sample book from a self-publisher and then attempt to interest a mainstream publisher to take the book.