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|Phillip Fayers - IT Psychology|
For four years now I've been running Introduction to Computing sessions for Psychology undergraduates and this year something happened that I did not expect - no one was accessing Facebook during the class.
The class is a very simple introduction to a few important things they need to know about the campus network. The students find a PC and login, once they are all settled I talk for a while, then the students work through some very simple examples.
In 2007 we saw how big Facebook had become for students. I finished talking, they started working on examples and Facebook started popping up on screens all over the lab with people exchanging, verbally, the names of various groups that they were joining.
In 2008 they sat down, logged in and started Explorer. When I started the talking 90% or more of the screens in the room were showing the same layout of screen with that telltale Facebook blue colour scheme.
In 2009 there was no sign of Facebook what so ever. With 6 of us wandering around helping out we didn't spot a single Facebook page all session.
I think there are a few factors, and I don't think it is because Facebook is waning in popularity is one (we've got another year or two before that happens).
1) INSRV get internet access for the halls of residence working for students very quickly. By the time they get to my intro class in the middle of week 0 they've probably been online for 3 or 4 days so the Facebook surge is dealt with.
2) All the students are carrying smart phones. Psychology isn't usually the subject that technophiles choose but there were a large number of smartphones in evidence at the class, N97's, Blackberries, G1s, G2s and so on but, and here lies another mystery, I didn't spot a single iPhone all day.
Storage is a big issue in IT, and it continues to grow.
To look at it one way it grows by around a factor of 2 every 12-24 months as manufacturers increase the capacity of the hard disks that they sell. Those factors of 2 pile up pretty quickly (there's a good lecture on exponential growth over on Youtube, given by Dr Albert Barlett). I started working at the university back in 1989. The Physics and Astronomy department had just installed two of the highest capacity hard disks that were generally available at the time, a pair of 8" diameter CDC Sabre drives which held 1GB each. 20 years later the highest capacity hard drives you can buy are 3.5" in diameter and hold 2,000GB (roughly 2TB). In the same physical space that the 2 CDCs occupied you could install a Sun Thumper system with 48 hard disks for 96TB of storage - and that Thumper will only cost double what the 2 Sabres did.
One problem with storage is that the speed at which you access the storage hasn't increased at the same rate as the capacity. One solution is to use lots of disks at the same time but a better solution is to move to solid state storage or flash memory; to build large scale computer storage out of the same stuff that you find in USB sticks and mobile phones. Rather than go into detail on the benefits I'll point you at a video of an expert speaking on the subject, the expert being Andreas Bechtolsheim who spoke at a recent MySQL conference.
With the advent of cheaper solid state storage there are going to be big changes in the IT world, and a redifinition of the issues facing people managing storage. Storage engineers live in interesting times and I don't envy the staff here at Cardiff currently involved in a storage review for the whole institution.
How "open" should we be with information, knowledge and discussion?
There has been an interesting confluence of events at work that have led me to think about that question and this will be the first of a series of posts exploring various aspects.
I work as the IT Manager for the School of Psychology. The staff in the School know a lot about data protection and related issues, about when data needs to be secure and about limiting access to certain data to only those who need to know. When you are involved with research that can collect private personal data from adults and children you need to be very aware of all the issues, the ethical considerations and the law.
However, the School tries to be open with information that isn't private. The School has, like most university departments, a well defined committee structure with a range of committees meeting regularly to make vital decisions about the running of the School. These committees make their minutes available to staff in the School with only minor exceptions for reserved business that deals with private or sensitive matters.
The School takes a default position of information being open and available.
Making information freely available in this way can cause problems
with people misinterpreting comments or drawing the wrong conclusions.
There is also the issue of what should constitute reserved business and just how reserved it should be and the problem of encouraging open debate in an environment where you know other people will be able to read what you have said. It isn't always easy being open.
Even given the difficulties involved the default open position shouldn't surprise anyone. We are in a university after all.
The driving force of the university is research, the quest for and the development of new knowledge and skills. The natural outcome of this research is education, passing on the knowledge and skills to those who come to learn. You can't carry out either research or education without the open sharing of information, that's what its all about.
Being open with information can be difficult but I believe the people who work at Cardiff University aren't here because they aspired to work somewhere where everything was simple.
University staff thrive on the difficult; difficult is interesting.
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