Blogging

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I was on yard duty on Tuesday and a Year 3 student came up to me.

"I saw you on the internet last night."

I smiled. "That's not hard. I have plenty of stuff on the internet. How did you find me?"

"I typed in the school's name and your name came up in Google."

Writing in this blog means I think about the potential readers scattered around the globe who might find my posts interesting or useful. But I forget about the people closer to home who might also be also reading - parents, students, even my teacher colleagues. My reputation as an educator goes beyond my words and actions within the school environment.

Reputation is a funny thing. At my previous school, I had developed a reputation as one of the better teachers in the school. I taught the older kids - the Year Sixes and Sevens who other teachers openly shied away from teaching. I had parents who requested that their child be placed in my class, that I keep their child for an additional year and the vibe I got back in general from the parent community was one of respect. Students were happy when they found that I was to be their teacher, and saw that the opportunities that Lindsay, my team teaching partner, and I offered meant they would be in a challenging and interesting classroom. I had eased into that position over the previous eight years after moving back to Adelaide from country South Australia.

But I didn't start at the upper primary level. I arrived as a young country teacher and was given a Year 4/5 class in a squashed up space in the middle of an open space unit. I had no reputation to speak of at my new school. But it didn't seem to matter that much back in 1995. After all, I wasn't teaching the big kids. So, after a few years, the reputation built up and I slotted into the Year 6/7 arena comfortably with content parents and engaged students. Reputation was what smoothed the path in 2001 towards Lindsay's and my most innovative and ambitious two years teaching together. We moved into the old library at the school which was a strange building and not built for two traditional classes at all.  We had the Year 6/7 classes and we had this weird space that had a large teaching area, a former librarian's office and a low ceilinged area for the bags. Upstairs was a L shaped area which could squeeze in a class for instruction - just. We had to design how our classes would interact, what the various nooks and spaces could be used for and challenge the students with the notion of how a primary school classroom could operate. But our reputation meant that no parents queried our approach or the suitability of the space for learning.

But when I won my current job and moved into a Year 6/7 class with a new offsider, I forgot that my reputation didn't automatically travel with me. The parents were suspicious of ideas and programs that a year earlier had been been given a supportive tick of approval by a different community. I had forgotten that over a long period of time in a school, students develop a strong notion of who you are, what you will and won't tolerate, what your expectations are like and that forges together into a reputation that goes some way to dictating how they respond to you when they come under your care. And I also forgot that adolescents are a tough audience to crack. They like reputation because they have some sense of how they will be treated, the sort of learning that will be valued. But you have no worthwhile reputation when you are new to the school and most importantly, new to them. Younger kids are less judgmental and more easily enthused.

But the silver lining in my first year as a coordinator was that I did have another aspect to my role in the school. I was "the computer guy", the teacher who would come into their classroom and help their teacher get logged on, or show them some new ways to use their computers or interactive whiteboards. Now, it is just as important that my reputation with my colleagues is solid, that they trust that my ideas for using technology in their classrooms, with their students. As I encourage them to make their way online, my reputation is built on the posts I write, how respectfully I describe my interactions with them to the wider connections of the online educator network, how tactfully I re-tell anecdotes from the classroom and as well, the connections I recommend that they make. The choices I make matter.

That means your reputation is important, too. Because as my little friend on the play equipment pointed out, it's easy to find me on the internet. Some of you guys are even easier to find - and your reputation spreads wider, too.

Or put more simply, two Excel graphs that show where people who are reading this blog are from and where bloggers I've got in my Google Reader are from, in rough terms.
Generated from my Clustr Map stats as of November 2010.

Generated from my Clustr Map stats as of November 2010.

Spread of locations of bloggers whom I'm currently subscribed to in my Google Reader.

Spread of locations of bloggers whom I'm currently subscribed to in my Google Reader.

Both should be taken with a substantial grain of salt. The first only measures visitors to my actual blog page - there isn't any way I know of knowing who my subscribers via RSS. The second is everyone in my Reader as it stands right now. It hasn't been cleaned out in ages and there are quite a few people that haven't posted in a long, long while.

What does this tell me? Well, I show my monolingual tendencies by sticking to English only blogs. It's not that I don't want to broaden my scope but am unsure of where to look to get away from over populating my Reader with a few dominant countries. Still, I wonder what other people's graphs might look like. Is this a reasonable way to gain a global picture of education and learning? Would my Twitter graph look different?

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I am now into my sixth year of writing here on this blog. I don't write here as often as I would like but it still gets me writing much more often than I did pre-2005. I think the last time I wrote as much was back in teacher's college. My lecturer, Mem Fox, got us all to keep a journal. Not one that she would read but one she wanted us to use with regularity, to get into the habit of writing, to start to hear my own voice coming through the writing. I really got into it back then. When I was stuck for things to write about, I wrote out the lyrics of songs that I felt were speaking to me at the time. When I got married and moved back to Adelaide, I found that journal again when we moved into our house. I read some of it but the rawness and the angst was too much for me and I threw it into the rubbish bin. A bit of a shame but it goes to show that the compulsion to write is a hard one to shake.

The other day, one of my colleagues admitted to me that he hates writing. My first reaction was to think that it was odd that he ended up being a teacher, considering that reports need to be written, students need to be taught how to write and you can't land a job without a written application. I suppose that I'm lucky in that regard - I enjoy writing. It's not a hardship - it is fun.

I often read about the "edublogosphere" - the name used to describe this swarming mass of educators who've discovered the power of writing and sharing online. It does feel like that there are much less than six degrees of separation between many of us but it's a bit like looking up at the night sky and thinking that I can see all the stars that exist. My Google Reader only captures a selective sample of collective wisdom and finding a new blogger with the same love of writing is a real spark. New is a relative word here - someone new to me may have been blogging as long as I have, with their own ecosystem of networked commenters and subscribers well before I lucked into their writing.

John Spencer is a writer I can relate to. He's more a writer than a blogger and I'm part way through his book, Teaching Unmasked. I found him via Michael Doyle, who I found via Clay Burell, who ... well,  I can't even remember how I connected with Clay any more. John is an honest, open breath of fresh air and he touches on ideas that resonate with the part of me that is a still a classroom teacher. And the writing .... well, it makes me nod my head in agreement ¹, it makes me cringe when the story holds up a mirror to my own practice ² and then a nugget of new insight will burrow back into the recesses of my brain and make a cameo appearance in my consciousness at a totally unforseen but entirely appropriate moment ³.

¹ It's not that students are tired of learning at the end of the year.  It's that they're tired of school.

² I ripped into students who made mistakes or who were acting "lazy" when in fact they were scared or confused or bored.  But the good news is that there's a solution.  Apologize.  Humbly admit that you've been a hardass and watch how people respond.

³ On an intellectual level, I wonder if I hold on too tightly to ideas.

So if you haven't added a new voice to your Reader, and you're longing to hear from someone who doesn't just focus on the highlights, who isn't obsessed with redesigning education from the ground up except for in his own classroom and can say things better than I can, head over to John's blog. Don't say I sent you because apart from a couple of comments, he won't have a clue who I am.

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Dear Tim, Angelita, Megan, Matt, Sherine and Alexa,

During the last month you guys have all dropped me flattering emails, telling me how much you love Open Educator and how this is one of the greatest edtech blogs going around. It's nice when readers reach out to make contact and I've done the same myself when I wanted to say something that wasn't really right for the comments section of a blog.

Your sincerity is touching:

I had come across your site before and when I had this offer come about, I knew I wanted to get in touch with you.

I recently discovered your blog, and I must say that yours has caught my attention.

However, it doesn't take you guys long to cut to the real reason for your unexpected correspondence:

… hoping is that you can perhaps post a blog about (insert generic reference to Online Education) or if we could be featured in some way, any way.

... if you would be interested in a guest post opportunity on your blog. I just ask for a link back to my blog in the by-line.

Coincidentally, we recently published an article entitled (insert generic reference to Online Education) that I believe would draw considerable interest from your readers. If you are interested in sharing with them, then feel free to do so. Here's the link for your convenience.

I currently have a press release related to education and teacher reform that could possibly develop into a piece for your website.

Maybe you guys are all genuine and think that it would be a real boost to this humble blog for your content or service to be featured. However, even though I don't offer a lot here to the wider education community, what I do offer here is genuine and is of my own creation. I can never know for sure but I think my readers subscribe because they value this blog as a place to get my unique viewpoint, to read my raw and sometimes naive reflections and hopefully turn up a nugget of insight that informs or provokes further thought and reflection. I am indebted to my commenters who, with the exception of Mr. Nike-shoes and Ms. Realty-investments, are all educators who respond selflessly to add to the conversation.

So, to perfectly clear, in case you have a unique article, service or link that you think would be indispensable for my readers and think that we actual edubloggers can't ascertain when we are all being bombarded with the same stuff in our in-box, ....

... don't bother.

P.S. Perhaps you guys would be better off developing more of those fancy infographics that everyone seems to be in love with of late. They stand a better chance than trying to get me to plug your wares.

I'm a bit weak when it comes to putting forward an opinion or wading into a debate. I get easily intimidated by people who speak and write with high levels of self-assurance and it is easier to be the fence sitter. That's OK - there are plenty of lurkers all over the internet who benefit from other people's bravado and expertise in equal measures but in my case recently I dropped a hint and let others pitch into the issue. Confused? Let me explain.

The other week I posted about my views on the PLN acronym and received a comment and link from Lisa Neilsen over at the Innovative Educator. I had never crossed with her before and was pleasantly surprised to discover her work showing me that there are plenty of edubloggers out there with many times the subscribers I have that I'm not aware of. I could launch back into the PLN / Networked Learning semantics that I subjected Lisa to in her comments section but that's not my point here. After my awareness was raised I subscribed to her blog and a few days read her post Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards Too.

Regular readers here will know that I've written a reasonable number of angsty posts on this designed-for-education technology over the past few years, and that posts like this are impossible for me to ignore. I'm like a swinging voter in an election on this issue. Reading Lisa's post sent my brain back to my personally disappointing experiences at the National IWB Conference last year, and conjured up a mental image of having someone like her with her passion and persuasive skills square off with her tech tools against a skilled and equally passionate IWB advocate. In my head, Chris Betcher came to mind. A duo duelling double keynote would be a gutsy alternative to someone just blindly pontificating the wonders of the IWB - but I wasn't the one with any guts to put this idea out here on my blog. So I slyly expunged the idea from my brain out on Twitter with this tweet, thinking that no one would care or even notice it.

But once you release even something as small as that onto the web, it takes on its own life, able to be picked up and re-shaped into whatever the next reader wants. So Peter Kent, probably one of the foremost experts on IWB pedagogy in Australia, picked up my tweet and decided it was worth his while wading into Lisa's territory and engaging in a professional conversation which he has now described as: Just posted a outline of what is the best #IWB debate I have been involved with http://tiny.cc/3sjed

I have a lot of respect for Peter and his groundbreaking work at Richardson Primary. He has graciously travelled to Adelaide to speak to our staff when we started our IWB program and always been willing to engage in dialogue with me online as well. So, while I felt that Lisa's post were excellent and made a lot of sense, I am glad that Peter chose (in his own tweeted words) to put his head into the lion's mouth and add a series of well written comments in response to Lisa's posts. It makes for an interesting pathway through Lisa's posts - Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards Too, IWBs are Not the Stars. They’re the Overpaid Extras with A Great Agent, Getting Smart about the Real No’s No’s of Teaching with IWBs - A Photo Compilation and Got Money for a Really Expensive Set of Training Wheels? I’ve Got An IWB to Sell Ya. Peter's comments are in various spots but he posts in his own space on the The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution Ning - The IWB debate - where do you stand?

What I really like about Peter's responses (and I suspect that Lisa likes it too) is how he draws things back to defining high quality teaching and how unless you have that in a classroom then it doesn't matter what the tech debate does. Whether you like it or not, the way we have schools set up at present, what happens in the classroom is dictated by the teacher. Even if the students are all involved in self directed learning with a great deal of choice, that has been enabled by the teacher in charge of that classroom. The same goes for the use of technology within that classroom as well - if the teacher cannot easily bend the technology to achieve learning outcomes that he or she has identified as being crucial for his or her students, then they are hardly likely use it, are they?

So, in some ways, I got my intellectual showdown but in some ways, this interaction between two high level educators is a better deal online than it would be in the confines of a conference. I laid out some virtual breadcrumbs and it snowballed. I've learnt a heap from both Peter and Lisa.

Thank you, both of you. I think I owe you both a few well thought comments back on your pieces of cyber-turf - when I finally decide what my actual position is. But hey, the beauty of networked learning is that I don't ever need to come to a final conclusion on an issue as my views can continually morph as new factors and counter viewpoints are aired across social media platforms.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/goincase/4648508454/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/goincase/4648508454/

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When I first started reading blogs, I used Bloglines as my aggregator. I still have my account with the feeds I had set up at the point of abandonment still piling up until I occasionally purge the lot. Over time, I switched to Google Reader which was a lot neater and easier to manage. There was one feature from Bloglines that was really cool that I wish was possible in Reader (unless I am mistaken) involving the ability to view other subscribers' feed lists. I found so many good blogs via this FOAF style method.bloglinessub1

bloglinesub2

bwilkofffeedsI could see how other educators (like Ben Wilkoff above) were setting up their own feeds, how they named their folders and even when they had first subscribed to my own blog. Of course, now I have no idea whether these subscribers even check their Bloglines any more. And I can't peek into their Google Reader set up in the same way.

Google Reader allows me to share posts that I like and think that my smaller group of Followers might find useful. But this is different from the way I set up and access my feeds. Here's a quick look:

feedfoldersThese are my folders for my 151 (currently) feeds. The Must Reads is meant to be my first stop but when I'm pressed for time, I'll often go straight to the Edtech Gurus (terrible title, I know) folder and read Stephen Downes and Tom Hoffman because both are succinct and to the point. The Must Reads folder needs dedicated time to peruse fully. I'll open it now:

mustreads

These are my most trusted sources. Back in the Bloglines days, I always liked how Will Richardson would rename his feeds solely to the blogger's name and I still copy follow that idea. There are a couple in there who haven't posted in a long time and it is always a challenge to find which neck of the net Alex Hayes is posting from but this is a pretty stable group. That's not to say that I don't find must read material in other blogs (the other 132 feeds) but I feel guilty if I don't read these guys in detail. It goes to show that I tend to read people more than ideas. There are very few non-educational feeds in my Reader, which is a weakness but I do think I draw from a very wide range of educators in very diverse sectors and situations. I read very few group or corporation blogs.

I will probably play around with this arrangement in the near future and I'm constantly adding new feeds that take my fancy. I need to redefine the folders a bit better. Putting someone like Ken Burgin into the Peers folder isn't quite the right fit but putting him on his own in a Hospitality/eLearning folder doesn't quite work either. Does anyone have an approach to their Google Reader that they would like to share?

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It feels like ages since I've blogged and even longer since I've blogged anything worthwhile. Of course, the longer I leave writing here, the more the self doubt sets in and makes me wonder if I have anything worthy of pushing out to say. So, the counteractive cure to that is put up a grandiose title and have a bit of at length pontification about the current state of play in the edtech world.

I'm sick of Windows' complete vulnerability to trojans, worms and other nasties especially when I'm trying to get mid year reports written on my school XP laptop. Files don't play nice across platforms so doing it all on my favourite MacBook Pro wasn't really an option. Interestingly, I can plug in a USB flashdrive into the Mac and see all these weirdly named folders (Kalba, Doda, Gravity etc.) that I just know shouldn't be there but the Mac won't let me delete them. Plug it back into the XP laptop and they become invisible but the crazy stuff happens then. I have found that I can plug in, see and delete these nasties in my son's Ubuntu netbook. Another win for Open Source, I suppose.

I got another invitation in my inbox to be on one of those Top 100 Edublogs lists that seem to be all the rage. What disinterests me is how many policy, corporate and cause based blogs keep making those lists. I'm only interested in reading edubloggers who write for themselves, that are identifiable individuals with clear personalities and quirks - now that's a list I'd be honoured to be on. I find it hard to take sites that call themselves onlinedegrees or onlinembas seriously, especially when the internet is a great conduit for learners who don't want to follow a traditional credentialling process. Give me an empassioned teacher breaking free of the confines of their classroom over some politically driven ISTE-style bandwagon hopper. Jose sums it up better than I can anyway.

While I've been looking at how one might go about setting up, fund and implementing a 1:1 laptop program, David Truss has introduced a new concept that really resonates - the BYO laptop program. Not sure how it would fly in Australian government schools with the bureaucratic need to cover liability but it is worth considering. And I'm beginning to warm to the idea of iPads in the classroom, especially in the younger years.

Meh.. not really much to say. But it's a start. I'll see what gets my brain churning next.

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I've got Leigh Blackall's retrospective screencast paused at the half way mark and I'm mulling over a few of his points. I've also been at a meeting together of the partner schools in my own system's Learning Technologies Project where we've been tossing around ways to ensure that what we've discovered in our documented journey over the last two years is able to used by DECS to ensure that learning enabled by technology is valued and integrated into the work that we do. I'll connect back to some of my thoughts about that meeting as I go and I'll add the preface that I'm thinking about Leigh's ideas and today's discussion from a very personal, what's-my-role-in-this-all point of view.

Leigh speaks about consciously avoiding using the institution's tools in order to take his learning and his network connections wherever he goes. His institution happens to be the University of Canberra, mine happens to be DECS but you could substitute any over-arching body that funds and directs your daily work in education. His first example is email and how being locked into the institution's email system compromises portability. People who use that system invest in it and when they move on, it is hard to take all of that built up digital history with them. The institution owns your email. The institution owns resources and initiatives developed by you whilst on their time or their domain. So, in a sense, my institution owns the professional me. But exactly how much? Where are the boundaries?

In the words of my principal, I am a user (of technology for learning!). When I go online and read blogs, leave comments, publish posts, respond in forums, create and share resources, I do so for my own learning first, and as an extension of my profession second. I want to be a better educator so naturally the lines between when I am doing something for my own personal betterment and when it can be beneficial for those who work alongside of me within my institution become somewhat hazy. I use tools that I sometimes bring back into my classroom. But I always start with the selfish premise of how can this tool / community / node / resource benefit me? In my mind, I strongly feel that this is my own stuff. My blog is my own content. My presentations that I develop for the audience reading here is my own content that I believe that I can share as I see fit. But it isn't totally clear cut. Because on that Slideshare account mixed in with my Blogging As Professional Learning and my OpenEducatorPLE, content created for an audience beyond my institution, are slideshows like iwb+literacy and my Blogging@School which were developed as part of my paid employment. Who owns what there?

I use GMail as a personal email account. I have an sa.edu.au account for school. Occasionally, I communicate with people about school related matters on my GMail. Does it matter? Is it a case of either an institution owning my email or a giant corporation?

And things get even blurrier when it comes to my students. When Leigh mentions students in his screencast, he is talking about adult learners for whom the barriers to use of free-ranging social media for learning are much lower. It makes perfect sense for them to want the portability of their own online spaces of their own choosing as they could (potentially) move between courses or even institutions. I work with primary school students. They have an email account for as long as they are students at my school. They leave - that account is retired and they no longer have access. We use Edublogs as a blogging platform and the process comes down to decisions that are grappled with at a local level as these blogs are hosted beyond the jurisdiction of the institution. The student leaves primary school and then what happens to the blog they have worked on for two years? I've tried to treat their blog to be their content as much as possible while still maintaining that duty of care via my role as administrator of all student blogs, through my moderation of comments and exerting of my teacherly authority in the maintenance of certain standards and purposes. So their ownership is not as pure as it would be in the higher education world. So my obligations handed down to me from my institution become a method for control of the use of an outside tool, even one hosted on the open web.

To wind this up (and you'll note that despite my promise in the first paragraph, I have not linked any of this back to today's meeting; that might the subject for another post) Leigh talks about operating as an autonomous independent from the institution. I concur, but it is not easy. We find that our ideals are constantly compromised by reality and that what I pursue as a private citizen is inevitably intertwined with my professional goals. It is hard to see where one ends and the other begins.

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I work three days a week in a primary classroom. So, theoretically, I am in a good position for putting edtech and Web 2.0 idealism into a realistic roadtest situation. I don't stand behind podiums at conferences berating and exhorting the masses to bring their classroom into the digital world. I don't have influential push (or pull) within my own system - and I'm not sure what I'd be suggesting even if I did. But I have invested an enormous amount of my life over the past four years into this networked learning thing. If anything, I have a lot of digital runs on the board. Heh, the Geoffrey Boycott ¹ of edublogging. That could be me.

So, I feel that my personal benefit has been enormous. I connect with a wide array of educators who feed me a daily diet of inspiration, insight and practical resources. I have become more aware of how education systems work in various parts of the world. I've had the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting people that I've come across in my lifetime - some I've conversed with on Skype and in Elluminate and Adobe Connect or just the comments sections of blogs. My network connections have given me opportunity to present about my experiences at conferences and online events, and I've learned about connectivism, social media, gained a more balanced view about cybersafety issues and heard about Illich, Gatto and Postman for the first time.

I couldn't give up my Network now - it gives too much to me.

But I work in a role where I'm meant to be bringing the "good oil" to teachers, helping them to get their feet wet in technology use and showing them how the web can transform student learning. It is a role that sets me up as some sort of "expert" which can be a problem in a couple of ways.

Firstly, Darren Kuropatwa points out in his reference to neophytes that "Experts have a different aura about them. That aura of expertise is intimidating for neophytes." His basic premise is that any message that an educator with "expert" status might try to seed with his or her own colleagues will be perceived to be unattainable and beyond their reach. So all of my efforts to highlight how easy digital tools are and how empowering technology can be via workshops, team teaching and other training could actually be unproductive.

Dean Groom also talks about the burbclave effect - where teachers don't have to go and become innovative users of technology because if they have one connected educator on staff, they just have to wait until it is brought to them. It's the effect when staff say they can't use their IWB until they've had some training, where they wait for a list of good numeracy websites to be emailed to them (or given to them on a printed piece of A4) or wait until they are given release time for planning before they will even look at something like the ISTE Standards.

Ironically that while someone like me may well be viewed as somewhat of a local expert, the educators I connect to and learn from leave me feeling very neophytic indeed. When I measure myself globally, my local credentials shrink down to small proportions.

The building of your own social media network is such a personal journey that it is a very difficult beast to describe in such a way that non-web-savvy educators see the point. It's why I won't ever bother offering a Web 2.o / PLN / using social media to learn presentation or workshop ever again. I'll guarantee that no-one has ever been turned onto blogging based on anything I've ever said or wrote - its value is intrinsically linked to the individual's needs. If a teacher is not interested in exploring the internet on his or her own time, then they are never going to see where this could take them or how it could impact their classroom.

Which brings me to my next point. Many of us edubloggers assume that what we learn online is directly transferable into our classrooms. We also assume that if more educators did what we did (read, write, link, share, create) then we would end up with these amazing transformed classrooms. So, we spend time preaching the benefit of social media tools even though there is no one simple recipe, even though this networked learning thing is intensely personal and damn near impossible to replicate.

I keep wondering if the time spent to become proficient in the online world (note I wrote proficient, not expert!) is worth the investment in potentially transformed pedagogy in the classroom. I have spent many hours online, eschewing television and other possible hobbies, and I know that many, many of my colleagues are not prepared to invest the same amounts of time into this medium. I know that my investment is worthwhile - for me. But I struggle to see how social media can transform the primary school classroom. There are so many compromises that need to be made in the name of online safety and duty of care, barriers in terms of computer access and the pressure of the traditional curriculum that I can see why so many teachers wait to be told what to do in terms of technology use, rather than take the risks involved with being an innovator.

I think my next step is examine my own classroom practice to see what has changed in my approach since becoming connected back in 2005. I suspect that the process is so gradual that I may find it difficult to recall my former practice with any accuracy. And if I, the enthused educator playing with connected technologies in my spare time, can take so long to work out what can translate into today's classroom, what hope does a less enthusiastic teacher have of bridging the gap of digital possibilities?

Just thinking, that's all.

walk2web

¹. The metaphoric comparison may be lost on any non-Commonwealth non-cricket playing readers. Geoffrey Boycott's career was characterised by lengthy stints at the batting crease, accumulating runs at an extremely slow rate often to the frustration of both the opposition and his team mates. Certainly not as talented as others in his era, his dogged style meant that he hung around for a long time in a somewhat selfish manner.
2. The really cool visualisation of links out from my blog comes from walk2web.