Getting back into blog reading

One early upshot of my temporary Twitter hiatus was to realise how much I was missing picking up on other people’s blog posts. Twitter had become my single notification channel for new posts from people I know as well as discovering new ones.

Having said that I’ve been aware that I have been reading blogs less and relying on the Twitter stream more and I miss spending longer reading what other people are thinking.

So, yesterday I resolved to get back into reading blogs on a regular basis.

Up until about 3 years ago I had a routine based around Google Reader which helped me to subscribe and follow various RSS fields. Most mornings  I would spend 20-30 mins scanning my feeds and picking out the ones that looked more promising. Mostly it was just consuming but occasionally I’d build a blog post of my own around what I’d read.

Google Reader is no more but there is a handy equivalent aptly called Old Reader, basically a clone of the latter.

The changing blogging landscape

I’d imported my feeds into Old Reader ages ago before I got out of the blog reading habit so my first job was to go through and unsubscribe from blogs that were no longer relevant to me (lots of specialist ones about eportfolios for example) or were obviously inactive.

What surprised me was how many blogs that had once been very active hadn’t been posted to in years. Some had even let their domain subscriptions expire. This in itself shouldn’t be that surprising. I’m doing a very different job to what I was doing at Netskills (when I’d last been in the blog-reading habit) and that will be true of most people.

But you could also read it as a result of the way that our use of the social web has changed over the last few years, away from longer form writing to updates on more closed platforms.

People still blog but there seems to be less of culture around the practice, or rather that I’ve let myself lose track of it. Maybe there’s something about the rise of “thread” posting on Twitter indicates that there’s still an appetite for articulating more extended thinking. I have a problem with “threads” as an alternative to blogging but that’ll have to wait for another post.

Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older but I find that I want to take my time over things more these days and engage more deeply. Rekindling my interest in blogs might be a way of doing that. I’ll try it out for a bit and see if I get back into the habit.

So, help me out here. Which blogs do you read on a regular basis? Who’s writing good stuff about TEL?

Please RT. 😉



Passive Defensive – sticking up for the passive voice

At a meeting a few weeks ago a colleague and I were talking about active and passive voice in grammar. When I’ve done training on web writing in the past I’ve always encouraged people to use the active voice where possible as it’s more direct, the meaning requires less “decoding” with it’s “x did y to z” punchiness.

The passive voice, “z had y done to it by x”, sounds more complex and is tainted by weasly political evasiveness of the “mistakes were made” variety.

But increasingly, I feel the need to stick up for the passive voice. I’ve heard blunt advice from some quarters (not my colleague, I should add) that active is a sign of good writing where passive is not. I really don’t think that is the case.

The problem is not the passive voice. The problem is when we use it unthinkingly. Some people use it because they think it sounds more professional. That’s not what it’s for!

The key is to use the passive voice intentionally. I usually default to the active voice if I can but sometimes, only the passive will do.

Where would we be without the passive voice? Try turning these sentences into the active voice to see what I mean:

Rome was not built in a day.

Wisdom is only found in truth.

Libraries are not made, they grow.

See this site for more examples.

The point of voice within a sentence is to draw the attention of the reader to certain things, rather like a photographer frames a shot around a focal point. The passive voice directs attention away from the subject so we focus on the the thing that is being affected or maybe the action itself. You can have ethical reasons for not wanting to identify a subject, it might be more diplomatic, you may not know who or what the subject is or it may just not be important.

And it may just suit the rhythm and flow of the sentence better. That’s a pretty good reason, too.

For more of an explanation, try this post from Grammarly.

They that move in the shadows

My taxi ride on the way to catch the Glasgow train yesterday turned a little surreal.

After a brief chat about the ins and outs of booking taxis using apps, the taxi driver, a chatty but slightly intense man in his fifties, announced he was a member of the Anti Technology League. He didn’t own a computer, he said. Never had. Neither did the rest of his family. He used his mobile only for calls (his refusal to engage with voicemail had led to bailiffs trying to claim a £35 debt to a company after their 13 messages went unanswered. It’s OK. That’s sorted now). He only writes letters when he needs to contact someone officially (twice, so he has a copy).

It was his membership of this Anti Technology League that really interested me. Who are they? What are their demands? What are they going to do? Why have I never heard of them? They’re not really Googleable.

I began to picture a group like the shadowy “Reality or Nothing” terrorists that Dennis Potter invented for Cold Lazarus but the truth turned out to be a little more down to earth. They campaign against any organisation, councils, businesses and so on, that pressure people to use the web to access services. They are compiling a dossier of these organisations and plan to sue them for discrimination. He was very confident of success.

We talked a little about the benefits of social media, privacy, digital literacy and the need to switch off sometimes but it was clear he was resolute.

When he proudly talked about smashing up his mobile phone when he took it back into the Vodafone shop I started to get a little nervous. I had told him what I did for a living. He said he was much happier with the deal he’d been offered by Virgin so the mood lightened.

He also said he was surprised more people hadn’t heard of them.

I wasn’t deliberately trying to be a troll when I asked if they’d considered setting up a website but the joke did fall a little flat.

But ever since then I’ve been thinking about that problem.

How would you create a campaigning organisation, spread your message, recruit members these days if one of your founding principles is based on the rejection of digital technology? It’s entirely possible at the local level or on a small scale but the Anti Technology League seemed to have loftier ambitions than that.

It was obviously possible in the pre-digital world, but are we at a point now when trying to do that without recourse to the web is nigh on impossible?

Or maybe it’s because I’m now so fully enclosed in the technology bubble I lack the imagination to see how it would work.

I might fire up the app, book another taxi and see if I can continue the conversation.

A week in the life

What I’ve been up to

  • Catching up with my colleagues in Jisc R&D in Bristol. Got sight of their vision for HE in 2020-2030  – now you can too!
  • 6 monthly review. All seems to be going well. Good to catch up with Steve B.
  • Met up with some other Subject Specialist colleagues, Marc Dobson, Janette Hillicks and Caroline Ingram. Started to explore possible areas of crossover work but it was just good to see them. Home working is fine but it’s important to connect with people face to face. Hope we can make it a regular thing.
  • I’ve started paying attention to Instagram again. Filling the hole that my current Facebook abstinence is creating.

What I noticed

  • VR and AR are bloody everywhere at the moment! We’re getting an increasing number of questions from institutions about AR in particular. They’re technologies I’m ambivalent about and I really should get some thoughts down here.
  • This article about how an adherence to Bloom’s taxonomy is affecting fieldwork skills in Biology was interesting.

What I enjoyed

  • You know you’re into a book when you really have to stop yourself from crying while sat reading in a restaurant by yourself. Thanks for that Kate Atkinson!
  • Finally watched Locke. It’s the Tom Hardy in a car film that isn’t Mad Max. It’s basically just him as a mellifluous Welshman taking a series of increasingly fraught and personal hands-free calls but it’s utterly absorbing.
  • One more ep of Happy Valley to go. I’m going to miss it. 
  • Played the fiddle as part of a scratch band/orchestra thing on Sunday. I’m usually playing bass but this gave me a real buzz. Energising.

What could have gone better

  • Time management – never a strong suit for me but it’s starting to mean I’m not dealing with big picture stuff.
  • I’ve got a blog post sitting in draft about what uses of tech are worth paying attention to and which are just fluff. I just can’t find the right angle. It’s doing my head in!
  • Could only manage 20 mins on the exercise bike in the hotel I was staying in on Monday.


  • I’m likely to start blogging from a more worky perspective shortly. Looking forward to it.


Week 1 of home working

The sun is setting on my first full week in my new job as a Subject Matter Expert for Jisc. This is the first time in 10 years I’ve been home based. It didn’t enjoy the experience last time around so with that at the back of my mind and the fact that I’m starting a new role in a new team in a new directorate I’ve been anxious to make a good go of it and spend time reflecting on the experience.

Importantly, I’ve enjoyed it this week but here are a few other things that struck me:

Creating space is important

My homeworking arrangements aren’t ideal at the moment. I’m installed on a table in our unheated conservatory which will be lovely in July. In January, not so much.

It is, however, the only space in the house that I can work in without getting everyone else’s way and can shut the door on when I finish for the day. We’re considering extending into our attic, something we were going to do in the medium term but getting this job has spurred us on to thing about more urgently.

Psychological space is important as well. I’m trying to create a hard boundary between work and personal time. When I shut down at the end of the day the work phone goes off as well and my emails don’t come through to my personal phone. I’m also learning to subdivide my work time, making myself uncontactable when I want to get my head down. Hope I can be disciplined with myself about that.

Connect as much as possible

Being a technology company we have a plethora of tools for staying in touch with colleagues; things like Lync, Yammer, Horizon, Skype and so on. We’re still working out the best way of using these but I’ve been in pretty regular contact with Scott Hibberson, my counterpart, and the small sub team we’re part of. Many of us are new to home working, more used to a social office situation, so being able to see people’s faces has not only been a good opportunity to exchange info, but also just as a reminder that you’re not alone and that other people are finding their way too.

I’ve always been a bit nervous using the phone or Skyping people but I’ve just had to get on with it this week, otherwise the work wouldn’t have got done. It’s actually been quite energising.

Face to face is good too

Halfway through the week I had to pop down to London to pick up some of my homeworking kit. During the trip I bumped into a few colleagues from Netskills, two of whom also work for Jisc now. I was genuinely thrilled to see them and it made what could have been a dull couple of train journeys pass much quicker. There’s also been a couple of coffee sessions at home with colleagues, a trip to the Jisc office in Newcastle and a lunch with a few friends before one of them moves down to Bath.

I’m a natural introvert but that doesn’t mean I’m a recluse. Meeting up with people is an important way of staying in touch with reality for me.

Offices are serendipitous spaces

I’ve been in the Newcastle office today, just to get the lie of the land, see what the space is like and meet up with Chris Young, the new training manager.  That was all good and useful but it was also the accidental stuff that was interesting. Gemma Elliot is the new Marketing Support Officer for Jisc, having previously worked for Jisc infoNet,and is based in the Newcastle Office. I was talking about something with Chris that she overheard and was able to throw in a few really important bits of information that were both helpful and opened up some interesting new areas to think about.

Not something that would have happened easily if I’d been connecting with Chris from home.

That’s not to say that I think home working is a problem, just that working from a range of places can lead to accidentally useful interactions.


  • I need to have a backup plan for powercuts.
  • I estimate I’ve spent just short of an hour working out how to turn off all the notifications across my new devices to stop the small orchestra of beeps and whistles whenever someone in my contact list breathes. 😉
  • My wireless headset’s range get me to the kettle but not the fridge. Seriously thinking of giving up milk in my tea.