Saturday, 15 July 2017

An impromptu imitation of Edward Lear

How this one came about represents the best of Twitter (yes, I'm aware that Twitter is not always at its best). The gardener and writer Harriet Rycroft tweeted a video showing her attempts to get a fledgling goldcrest out of her hair. I saw it when it was retweeted by Cambridge rare books librarian Emily Dourish. It drew the comment that the adventure was "like something from an Edward Lear limerick". This spurred me to the following, which appears here very slightly altered: 

There was a young Cotswold goldcrest 

Who mistook someone's hair for a nest 

When they said "You belong 

In an Edward Lear song" 

He flew off, that presumptuous goldcrest.

I'm not copying and pasting other people's entire poems into the blog, so follow this link for Harriet's own limerick on the adventure. You might also like her blog post about it, and about garden encounters with wildlife more generally.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A most welcome birthday present

Clare's present for my 60th birthday was to commission a musical setting of one of my poems from Kathryn Rose.  Clare pointed Kathryn in the direction of this Blurtmetry blog, and gave her a free hand in choosing.  The poem Kathryn picked was 'Apology' from 2010.

I blogged 'Apology' after Sue Butler kindly accepted it for her 'Walking with poets' blog at the Benmore Botanic Gardens near Edinburgh.  Thanks to Sue for encouragement in connection with the present post.

The song comes with a CC-BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike) Creative Commons licence.  You may photocopy it, share it, perform it, record it, do pretty well anything you like with it provided that

(i) you attribute its authorship correctly

(ii) you impose no copyright restrictions of your own on anything you make of it.

Here's the score.

And here's Kathryn's recording.

It was quite a thing, opening that on the day.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Bonus thing 24: Behind the scenes

A couple of other participants blogged their own response to Bonus Thing 24.  Not a lot for me to say except that my next learning adventure will be in software skills for librarians.  I'll be following that at home, and I fear the learning curve will be very, very steep.  Wish me luck.

And I will be pushing 'Moore methods' -- the long-term incarnation of the '23 things for research' videos -- to everyone who will listen.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Thing 23: The ultimate research tool

Reflect on and blog about the Ultimate Research Tool. Do you agree with our choice and what role does the tool play in your life? Will you use it differently in the future now you’ve taken this programme and watched the video above?

Absolutely agreed with the choice of the library as the ultimate research tool, though very conscious of falling short myself in the delivery of the service described in Georgina's post.

Also, take some time to reflect and blog about the overall 23 Research Things programme. What were the top things you learned? What Things were you not so convinced by? What tools and concepts will you take forward with you as you move on through your life and career?

The top things I learned -- the ones I will take forward -- will have been the sources of good pictures in Thing 14, Qualtrics as a survey tool from Thing 17, and Zotero for references from Thing 21.  I had better also say, having presented Clare Sansom as the scientist in my life in my blog post for Thing 16, that I was delighted by the pleasure Clare took in Altmetrics as demonstrated by me after Thing 22.

Thing 16 was about citizen science and the democratisation of science.  My post on that point could be described as hopeful but anxious.  Democracy's way of turning itself inside out has been hard not to notice in 2017.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Thing 22: Tracking success

Explore the analytics section of your Twitter account. What sort of things did you find out?

Good question.  I've been at the Twitter Analytics addictively since it appeared, and Georgina's post is valuable for urging me to explore the section more comprehensively.  I can confirm the report by 'Librarian at heart' that tweets generally get more seen and more responded to if they have hashtags and pictures in them.  And, in a subjective impression I haven't statistically confirmed, Twitter Analytics' list of my top tweets seems to have a lot of those other blue things in it -- links and Twitter handles.

The blue/popularity correlation reflects the experience of 'A waterfall of consciousness', that tweets did well when they reworked other tweets or combined subjects. I fear I cannot replicate that post's experience of success by a tweet "that tackled a controversial subject with a negative bent".

But it's gratifying to see that my own top tweets include this one:

Tnx Retford pharmacist, who didn't have my medication in stock so rang Retford's other pharmacists till one had it. Is this standard?

No blue text in that one; the tweet was presumably popular by the pharmacist's merit alone.  Quite right.

Track a URL using TweetReach. Try experimenting using a URL from an existing tweet

I have signed up to TweetReach.  I tracked the fortunes of a couple of hashtags I have tweeted about in the last week, but I can see I would need to be using Twitter more seriously before my use of this service became illuminating.

Add the Altmetric bookmarklet to your browser and test it out on some academic articles (either your own or from someone you know).

Use of this tool requires greater seriousness still.  True, it will tell you how often things have been tweeted, but the things in question have to be, as noted the comment of 'Librarian at heart', of a kind to have a Digital Object Identifier before Altmetric will work.  I got that, but I was slower to twig was that you had to have the article itself on the screen first -- the presence of a DOI wouldn't magically make an abstract or ResearchGate post Altmetricable.

For me, Altmetric would be a thing to recommend to researchers, not one that I'm likely to apply often to publications I have seen.  Like the other tools surveyed in this post, Altmetric will tell you where a publication has been.  It says less about what the publication did when it got there.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

This is the night

This is the night

Later the weight of wood, the darkened sky,

those who will see strange things, those who deride him.

We do not see Jesus enthroned on high.

The picture's clustered soldiers almost hide him.

Blindfold, he singles out no captor's fist.

The childhood-nasty blares from the horn

deafen Jesus. Worn, he does not resist.

This is the night. We must pray for dawn.

'This is the night' is my response to Albrecht Dürer's print The mocking of Christ.  It's my contribution to the '26 prints' project organised jointly by the writers' group 26 Characters and the Eames Fine Art Gallery. The Dürer and my poem are on display in the gallery, along with 25 other prints and 25 other writers' responses to them, until 16 April, and all the works are reproduced in the exhibition guide.

Fuller information about the print is on the site of American dealer Masterworks Fine Art and in the book Albrecht Dürer: woodcuts and woodblocks by Walter L. Strauss (New York: Abaris, 1980), p. 360.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Thing 21: Managing citations

The post behind this assignment sends us to Zotero, ORCID, and Google Scholar.


This round of 23things has taken me further with Zotero than I've been before. In my 2010 post, I wrote that I had attempted to use Zotero a couple of years previously, but been deterred by the facts that "I had to download Zotero machine by machine, and could use it only with Firefox".  For this '23 research things' assignment, done on my home laptop, I've succeeded in embarking on a Zotero library via Chrome, and ventured an in-text citation in Open Office Writer.  By the time you read this, I may have seen how I get on using my workplace computer's Firefox and MS Word.

I expect that my two principal uses of Zotero will be these: 

(i) to keep track of material used in Alumni Festival presentations, as in my abortive experiment of 2008 

(ii) to help any library users in their own explorations of referencing software.


I have set up an ORCID account for myself in the same spirit as Librarian at heart, who signed up for ORCID even "while I may not be publishing papers any time soon", and with similar motivation (cf. (ii) above): "it’s useful to know how ORCID works as the University is trying to persuade everyone to get one, and it’s good to be able to offer advice based on experience when people ask".  And, like ResearchGate,, LinkedIn and some less serious sites, ORCID will be a way of tracking down visitors, donors, and other library users we might lose sight of.

Google Scholar

I have set up a Google Scholar account for myself, again with no prospect of papers any time soon.  I don't intend making it public.  I was glad to find that Google Scholar offered one publication of mine (amongst those by several other people with similar names) for inclusion in my citations list, a gratifying discovery even though the number of its citations stands at zero. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Thing 20: Presenting data

I must admit I've never had a favourite chart of choice, nor can I immediately recall a data presentation either bad or good enough to stick in my memory.  But I have tried out one of the data visualisation tools mentioned in Georgina's post. I went for, the one that had been used by the other participants, following their praise for its ease of use.  It took me a certain amount of trial and error to use it, especially as I didn't see a 'Help' page.  However, I hope you agree I have succeeded in making a Venn diagram of data from my blog post of January 2011, on poetry competitions.

The data concerns my poetic output from 1977 to 2011, as recorded in the card index I've kept since 1994.  Of a total 218 indexed poems, I counted 95 that had been specially written for competitions, 67 that had been published, and 25 that had been both written for competitions and published. Making the Venn diagram required some revisiting of 'O'-level maths, to determine whether the radii of the smaller circles should measure against the large circle in the ratios 95/218 and 67/218, or in ratios of the squares of 95/218 and 67/218, or in the ratios of the square roots of 95/218 and 67/218.  But I think I got there.

I have not used Microsoft Excel's SmartArt facility, but I suppose I had better try it some day, if I'm going to make a habit of Venn diagrams.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Thing 19: Text and data mining

I've seen Georgina's post on this topic.  Its most important advice is likely to be this:

"If you wish to use TDM in your work, we highly recommend that you ensure you are doing so legally and that you contact likeminded folk such as the team at ContentMine to ask for advice."

Will do.  My own post, like those of other participants, has to be short for want of experience.  I have not had occasion to use data-mining in my own work, but I now know that any research query that sounds as though data mining would help towards the answer is a matter for ContentMine.

Meanwhile, I suppose I get a frisson of what data mining is like when I dabble in Google Books' Ngram Viewer.  This enables the user to search vast numbers of books for the occurrence of phrases.  By it I have satisfied my idle curiosity as to the frequency of use of the locution "And Oh!" (it seems to have peaked in 1842 and then slowly declined), and the relative frequency of the phrases "railway station" and "train station" (the latter overtook the former in 1994, and peaked in 2000; they now seem to be rapidly converging again).  But I am not an expert user of this site, and I increased my knowledge of it around 150% in the past hour, revisiting it for this post.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Thing 18: Research data management (RDM)

This is where I hit the '23 research things' hard stuff.  Research data management is an area where I have clearly more to learn than things like Twitter.  I draw comfort from other participants' blogs, in which similar confessions are made.

I'd better start by copying out those four types of data that Georgina names in the post under that link above:

- Observational – so data captured in real-time that is usually irreplaceable and can include anything from survey data to images of someone’s brain. 

- Experimental – this can be data from lab work which can be reproducible such as gene sequences. 

- Simulation – this can be data generated from test models where the models themselves are sometimes more important than the results, such as climate or economic models. 

- Derived or compiled data – this is data that is reproducible and can include 3D models, text and data mining, and compiled databases.

A waterfall of consciousness notes that data management begins with "personal diaries, work e-mails, holiday snapshots and, even, home videos".  Emboldened by that, let me tell how I have managed data at such a level.

Personal diaries.  Mine go back, in an unbroken series, to 1 January 1969.  I keep them all together, in a reasonably consistent compromise between size and chronological order, and I usually have no difficulty finding a particular year.  I say "usually" because my latest search of them failed.  The unfound years are presumably buried on my desk somewhere, and maybe it's time for a spring-clean.

Work emails.  For these I have many folders.  When I answer an email, I incorporate the incoming email into my reply, save that thread, and delete the incoming email.  This works, though not as well as it used to, by reason of the sheer volume of email to deal with.

Word documents and spreadsheets.  In the days when my Word documents were mostly letters, naming them was an easy matter of applying the date, written yymmdd, plus a sequential number for letters written on that date, and the file type extension ("17021201.doc").  An adaptation of that applies to things that fit into a regular sequence ("170212minutes.doc").  But I'm a bit indecisive with other files, leaving the form of the date and the relative position of date and content liable to variation ("170212members.xls", "Events Feb 2017.doc").  I need to get a grip.

Money statements.  Domestic money statements I've got more or less under control.  They're still on paper, for the most part, and I shred them after set intervals (three months for those relating to food and cash withdrawals, two years for those relating to utilities, six years for all others).  Bank statements and similar I keep in separate files for each account; bills &c from other organisations I keep in an A/Z sequence by organisation, and within each organisation in reverse chronological order.  All this is a consequence of reading Taming the paper tiger at home by Barbara Hemphill, which I'll have read ca 2002.

Poetic output.  This I keep track of using a card-index system I devised in 1994.  The card fronts show poem title, number of lines, and year of composition; the backs show where I've submitted the poem and when, and the outcome of the submission.  While a poem's being considered by an editor or competition adjudicator, I flag the card with a yellow sticker. If an unpublished poem is between submissions, I flag the card with a blue sticker.  If I'm lucky enough to have the poem published, or placed in a competition, I mark the card front with a diagonal red line and the place of this success.  And all this information is necessary.  Poetry competitions often have rules about number of lines, and about the ineligibility of poems that have been already published.

So all the above attempts at data management are creaking, and the paper-based ones will have to be replaced with electronic equivalents sooner or later.  The poetry card index might be worth replacing with a database -- something I've had some training in, but never actually made.  An alternative might be to mark the information among the properties of the file, but I can see two disadvantages to that: the risk of information loss between file versions, and the amount of digging that would need to be done in order to get at the information.

Further research needed.  What a thing for Love Your Data Week!

Monday, 6 February 2017

Thing 17: Survey tools (ii)

An update on what I posted on 8 January.

I said then I'd created a survey, using Google Forms, on the subject of superhero powers.  It has drawn a single response, which is obviously not an adequate statistical sample.  100% of respondents named telekinesis as the superpower they hadn't got, and television as the source of their hearing about it; they were disappointed not to have this power, had aspired to it, and, for the story behind their aspiration, gave the following statement:

"Moving equipment would be a gesture away! Computers would be instantly fixed because I willed it to happen."

Let us press on to Georgina's recommended application, Qualtrics.  This is now live for me, and I've had a go at creating a survey using it. It's a spoof, I admit, and neither an illuminating survey nor particularly funny, but had me exploring large areas of Qualtrics that I shall be able to evaluate properly as I use them, or not, in creating surveys in earnest for the Haddon. They will be no worse for this dash of prior Qualtrics experience.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Thing 17: Survey tools (i)

This post is an interim progress report.  I have, as Georgina bids us, applied for a Qualtrics account; I have made a survey using Google Forms while waiting for Qualtrics to arrive, and tweeted links to said survey.  Later, I will do a 'Thing 17: Survey tools (ii)' post, reporting on how I find Qualtrics and what answers, if any, my Google Forms survey has drawn.

The survey takes its cue from the 2017 Libraries at Cambridge conference. Registrants at the conference were invited to indicate what their superhero powers were, and a few did.  But the conference included much -- a panel discussion and a well-received keynote address -- on the theme of failure.  My survey asks respondents about superpowers they don't have.

Reading the posts of other '23 research things' participants has been most instructive, particularly Luther's notes about the limitations of surveying as a technique and the usefulness of other methods. He is quite right to note the ease with which spurious survey returns can be created; conversely, a toxic situation can be inflamed by insinuations that some survey returns are bogus, even if the insinuations have no basis in fact.  Luther's reference to 'grounded theory' took me on to unfamiliar territory, and I look forward to exploring this further.  Trying to relate it to my my own experience, I suppose it was something like grounded theorizing when I examined the free-text responses to a Haddon Library user survey, and when I asked library users informally why they thought a particular teaching session had had zero take-up.  In both cases I was trying to see if any patterns emerged.

Of these things, more when Qualtrics is in.  And any superpower survey responses.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Thing 16: Crowdsourcing and citizen science


Georgina's post for this Thing has led me to re-familiarise myself with Kickstarter and Patreon, on both of which I have responded to appeals in recent years.  So far as I can tell, the main difference between the two sites is reflected in their names: Kickstarter enables contributions to get projects started, Patreon enables long-term support.  Composer Kathryn Rose has released some good music, and music in progress, via Patreon, and interesting accounts on her blog and Twitter stream about how the site impinges on the creative process and her business model.

I can see I'd do well to follow more on both sites.

"Do you have an idea for a project that could be crowdfunded?" asks the post.  Sorry, no.  I am intrigued to read the caveats from A Waterfall of Consciousness and Library Spiel about the risk that crowdfunded projects may repel friends and regular funders, especially noting that in Library Spiel's case this caveat is evidently based on experience.  Here's an idea that I did have at one time; it has now run out of steam, and crowdfunding is not sought.  I had better admit that my own kin never thought much of the project.

Citizen science

"What do you think about the democratisation of research and science through citizen science projects?"

It's probably a good idea.  Here's an article my science-journalist wife wrote about developments in this area some four years ago.  Note that the article doesn't present citizen science as an irreversible triumph: in 2013, chemistry was less keen on the idea.  Despite the successful application of citizen-science practice in some chemical research, the question was "Should chemistry join the gang?" and reservations were quoted from some chemists.  I don't know if it's significant that Zooniverse's current project list includes no reference to chemistry.

Related to both chemistry and citizen science is another movement drawn to my attention by Clare: that of the expert patient.  A flagship for this movement is Patientslikeme.  New research mentioned on this site on the day I write, 1 January 2017, includes developments in clinical trials, new ways of indicating levels of pain, and improvements in patients' self-management and self-efficacy.

The question uses the word 'democratisation'.  Democratisation is the benefit that citizen science confers.  Research abc writes that "Hopefully more people appreciating this process will increase public confidence in scientific statements."  

That's better than an unquestioning acceptance of what experts say.  And better than a generic distrust of experts.

I suppose citizen science stands up better against sociopaths and demagogues than those other states.  But I bet a determined troublemaker could spoil even citizen science.