Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Second Life

I'm going to be talking a little bit about Second Life (SL) at the next researcher session, on 8th September. Ridvan Ata, who is researching teaching in SL, should also be joining us (I now co-supervise Ridvan with Julia Davies, in the School of Education). On the right you see me in SL (where my name is Sheila Yoshikawa) doing some washing-up.

I've given quite a few talks about SL, so I won't go into too much detail, since if you are interested, you can follow it up afterwards (or even beforehand).

SL is a 3D virtual world, in which you are represented by an avatar. You can sign up for free, but you need a special browser on your computer (also free, but CICS won't support it, so it is only installed in the smaller Departmental lab). If you want to customise your own SL space, though, you need to "rent" land. We have our own island, Infolit iSchool, which is paid up to September 2012.

This is a presentation in which I gave some basics and then talked about educational applications. You need to go to slide 13 to get the introduction to SL (I start by talking about my approach to teaching more generally):

People do all sorts of things in SL: it isn't a game, since it doesn't have a predefined goal or plot (although you can use it e.g. for role playing games). Most of the stuff in SL has been made and sold or given away by other people using SL.
I use SL mainly for:
- Teaching
- Sharing research results
- Organising events
- Attending events
- Collecting research data
- Making contacts
- Shopping
- Doing fashion shoots
- Interior design
- Wandering about and sight seeing.
So this is a mixture of work and play. I have 3000 pictures on my flickr stream which are mostly of SL. For example, this set http://www.flickr.com/photos/23396182@N00/sets/72157624252095321/ documents an ESRC research seminar held last June, and this set http://www.flickr.com/photos/23396182@N00/sets/72157624080186940/with/6056007865/ has pictures of my SL homes
In July I gave a talk at the New Literacies research conference ("New Methods for New Literacies") held in the School of Education about Researching by/with/from Second Life. I thought I would draw on some of that material for the session on 8th September. I produced a short video about ways in which research results can be presented in SL, which I hope to show on 8th September, but I also embed it below.

I have become interested in issues to do with collecting and analysing visual data in SL, and I intend to say a little about this aspect.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Chemoinformatics - some key points (by Ben Allen)

What is Chemoinformatics?


“The application of informatics methods to solve chemical problems”


·         Databases of chemical structures
o   Searching
§  Similarity methods
§  Virtual screening
o   Creating
§  Computational library design
§  Molecular enumeration
§  Combinatorial  chemistry
·         Chemical structures
o   2D
§  Graph theory
o   3D
o   Plus other information
§  Calculated properties
§  Experimental values
·         High throughput screening
·         Databases
o   Can be very large (103-1012 compounds)
o   Often biologically active


·         Pharmaceutical
o   Biggest area of interest/development
·         Agrochemical
·         Food chemistry


·         Computer science
·         Information studies J
·         Bioinformatics

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Notes for discussion on Academic Writing - by Simon Wakeling

In the early 1950s, world renowned (and future Nobel prize-winning) quantum physicist Richard Feynman was invited to attend a cross-disciplinary conference in New York to discuss the "ethics of equality." He writes:

"There was a sociologist who had written a paper for us all to read—something he had written ahead of time. I started to read the damned thing and my eyes were coming out—I couldn't make head nor tail of it […] I had this uneasy feeling of, "I'm not adequate," until finally I said to myself, "I'm going to stop, and read one sentence slowly so I can figure out what the hell it means."
So I stopped at random and read the next sentence very carefully. I can't remember it precisely, but it was very close to this: "The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels." I went back and forth over it and translated. You know what it means? "People read."
Then I went over the next sentence. And I realized that I could translate that one, also. Then it became a kind of empty business. "Sometimes people read. Sometimes people listen to the radio." And so on. But written in such a fancy way that I couldn't understand it at first. And when I finally deciphered it, there was nothing to it."
(Feynman, R. 1985. Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman! London: Vintage, pp. 281-282)

How often do we find ourselves repeating Feynman's experience? Is it a particular problem for the social sciences, or academia in general? How can we ensure we communicate our ideas clearly?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Facts and assumptions

Thanks to both Liz C and to Gibran for their contribution to last month's discussion group.

As is often the case, there was an unplanned synergy between the two sessions.  Gibran talked about his research into online communities.  He began by highlighting a number of oversimplifications that had pervaded the research literature on the subject.  These led to several significant factors being overlooked, with the result that assumptions made on the basis of the research were of dubious validity.

Liz summarized a talk she had attended on the invention of the fact.  The resulting discussion was both fascinating and challenging.  One of the challenges was to define a fact.  (I am now undergoing gender confirmation therapy since my attempt at stating a fact: "I am a man" was firmly challenged). 

Often, unquestioned assumptions can acquire the status of facts - until, of course, someone questions them.  In the course of my research interviews, subjects often refer to facts and I ask them what they mean.  One response is to suggest that, if something is corroborated by a number of sources, it can be treated as a fact.  Recently, when I asked a 6th form student to give an example of corroboration, she told me that she had found what she was looking for on WikiAnswers, Yahoo Answers and Answers.com.

Clearly, there is the risk that errors in one of these sites will be replicated in the others.  Experienced Web users will be aware of such risks and will be more thorough when seeking corroboration than was my student interviewee.  Such informed mistrust is, it now seems, routinely taught to school children.  Those I have spoken to however, profess to have total trust in books (though they rarely use them).

Even in books and journals however, errors can be replicated.  Generations of chemists, for example, were taught the wrong formula for mauveine, the synthetic purple dye produced by William Perkin in 1856.  A structure was published in a handbook of dyestuffs in 1924, and made its way into standard texts, from which  (according to an article in New Scientist in 1993), it carried on being disseminated throughout the literature for another 70 years.

Johnson, J. (1993) Science: The truth about the colour purple. New Scientist. 24 July, 1993