Swurl, get your act together!

I really, really want Swurl to be something useful. For those who do not know what Swurl is,  is a lifestreaming app that does a beautiful job of displaying all of your internet activity in one place. The timeline view of Swurl is facinating, it really does a great job of visually representing your online life in a pretty calendar. I find myself taking pictures and uploading them, just to make my Swurl look prettier. Not only does Swurl do a good job of displaying your life, but it also discovers your friends in other social networks and keeps a list of them for you to view their activity… zero work is needed on your part.

So what is the problem?

Swurl doesn’t give you a way to take things out of Swurl. Yes there is an RSS feed… but any lifestreaming app has that. What makes Swurl brilliant is not its ability  to aggregate your life… it is Swurl’s ability to make it visually stunning. Swurl provides no mechanism for taking that great visual feast and putting it in your own space. I guess their intension is for you to turn your Swurl into your primary web presence… but for those with established blogs (which is something that is highly likely for their primary audience of early adopters) the idea is laughable. 

I think that in order for Swurl to not get lost in the infinity that is the Internet it needs to provide a way for users to bring their beautful Swurl content into their own spaces, through embed code, or badges… or anything that works really.

Until that day comes though I guess I will have to be happy with links and being the only person who ever really sees my Swurl.

My Swurl: http://andremalan.swurl.com/timeline

Learning tools for 2008/2009… revised!

So my last post was a bit premature. Here are some of the revisons to the plan:

1)  OneNote has failed me. It worked so well in my previous classes, but I am finding it useless at the moment. Why? Well the lectures are carried out differently. In my previous classes the PDFs required a lot of diagrams and annotations… OneNote handled that perfectly. However, at the moment all the PDFs that I get are pretty self-contained, the only thing I need to do is summarize and organize the material in them.

2) So in order to replace OneNote, I am using FreeMind  again. I think the reason that I didn’t enjoy FreeMind when I used it last year was that I didn’t have a system for icons and decoration. Now that I have a system (and another mindmap to remind me what my system is)! I am really enjoying taking notes on FreeMind. Below are some pictures of the start of my maps:

CPSC 344 HCI.1

Here is my “cheatsheet” map telling what all the icons mean (as I come accross a new type of content I just choose and icon and add it to this sheet so that  don’t forget the mapping).


3)I’m probably not going to use the map on my wall, just due to the fact that I have the FreeMInd maps now. I might start printing them though and stick them up!



Fickle… I know. But hey, in order to succeed we need to try new things!

My learning tools for 2008/2009

So I’ve now had a week of classes. It feels great to be learning again after 8 months of solid work. Since I last wrote a similar post to this I have a gained a much better perspective on all the tools out there and know what works for me and what doesn’t. So, here goes my big bad list of learning tools for university:

Microsoft Office OneNote:

I cannot find any note-taking software that comes even close to OneNote’s ability to keep notes for school. The three levels of navigation and ease of printing PDFs straight to OneNote (seeing as almost all professors insist on delivering their notes in PDF and note HTML) puts OneNote ahead of everything else. I would desperately like to use EverNote (because I can use it from more places than my personal computers with OneNote installed), but it doesn’t let me scribble all over course PDFs like OneNote does.

Mind Mapping:

My big mind map
Last year I tried out FreeMind as a means of organizing notes after they were taken. It was great software and worked pretty well, but I just didn’t enjoy using it. I think that the limits of current screen sizes is what makes virtual mind maps so difficult. I just felt like I could never see the full picture and the detail at the same time (which, I believe is something mind maps should let you do). So instead I went lo-tech and have taped a giant white piece of paper to my wall that I will use to map and connect all of my courses on. It is a new experiment, let’s see if it works! I might also resort to using FreeMind again especially for the guest lecturers that are going to be coming in to my Software Engineering Course as there won’t be any predefined lecture notes that I can annotate in OneNote.

To-do lists:

I tried Remember the Milk a few months ago and for some reason it just didn’t stick. I revisited it about three weeks ago and now find it invaluable. The big change I think is that you can embed your to-do lists everywhere! I have my list in my gMail, my iGoogle, my Google Calendar my iPhone and on my desktop. I can send tasks to it using Jott. I find that if my to-do lists are not in my face I forget to look at them. With Remember the Milk I can have a constant reminder.

Remember the milk lets you categorize items, add recurring items (a great one is “pay bills”) and lets you know when things are overdue. Remembering to hand in an assignment, or study for a midterm will be a whole lot easier with Remember the Milk.


Most courses require some degree of memorization. Quizlet is so much better than any other online flashcard app that I have tried. It gained me plenty of marks last year and everyone that I know who uses Quizlet swears by it. It is easy and fun to use. It is collaborative. It has tests. It will soon have an iPhone app. Enough said.

Time Management:

Google Calendar is possibly the greatest tool ever. My life would be incomplete without it. I actually have over 15 calendars in there that I use to organize my life and keep track of the people around me.

Collaborative Projects:

I’m already using Google Apps for my work on the Student Leadership Conference, so I will probably use that (if my team agrees that is) in my Software Engineering and Human-Computer Interfacing projects. I’m still looking for a good collaborative way to do UML diagrams, seeing as how expensive Gliffy has become.

Pen and Paper:

For my Math courses I’m going the old fashioned notebook route. I really don’t see any other way (seeing as I don’t have a tablet PC). Hopefully the big mind map will compliment it nicely though and maybe help to make some connections between the three Math courses that I am taking.

I will monitor the effectiveness of all of these tools and update depending on what works and what doesn’t (or if I find something around the internet that blows one of these out of the water).

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For anybody unlucky enough to not live in Vancouver, here are some photos and a video that I took from English Bay at the 2008 HSBC celebration of light finale. The HSBC celebration of light is a 4 million dollar show that is put on every year at English Bay in Vancouver. It runs over four nights and each night has over half an hour of fireworks. The rest of the pictures can be found on my flickr

Fireworks by you.Fireworks by you.Fireworks by you.Fireworks by you.Fireworks by you.Fireworks by you.Fireworks by you.Fireworks by you.Fireworks by you.Fireworks by you.

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In honour of Dr, Donald Wehrung

Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday I was invited to attend a ceremony to celebrate Don Wehrung’s contribution to the International Student Initiative at UBC. It was an incredible ceremony and all the speakers did a fantastic job of highlighting what a great man Don truly is.

Don is the person who was asked to head the International Student Initiative when it started back in 1996. The goals of the program was to increase the number of international students at UBC. Don has been incredibly successful, around 10 percent of UBC students at the moment being international. One of the most important contributions that Don made (at least as it applies to me) is starting the International Leader of Tomorrow (ILOT) Award . He lobbied the university for money to provide what has become the most generous international scholarship program in Canada. At the ceremony Karen McKellin the Associate Director of the International Student Initiative told the Audience that Don risked his job to provide international scholarships at UBC. Some of the most important people at UBC including the Dean of Arts and VP Academic both told stories of how Don personally fought for funding on a case by case basis for ILOT winners. The dedication, care and selflessness that he has shown concerning less privileged international students is remarkable.

Don’s actions and initiatives have shaped almost every aspect of my life. The staff that he hired and the recruitment program that he developed have directly influenced how I see the university and what I have experienced. Damara Klaassen who came to my school in Ghana and showed me all the pretty pictures that sold me on UBC. Badre Hassani, who on my first day at UBC made me feel so completely at home, taking me into his office, serving me tea and even giving me an international calling card so that I could contact my parents. Karen McKellin who on my third day alone in this strange country/city/campus helped me to transport all of my possessions from one side of campus to the other. All these people, Don’s staff, their kindness and caring created a love and awe for UBC that lingers with me still.

The ILOT award that I was lucky enough to receive has allowed me to come here, to form this great life that I have. At UBC I have found new passions, friends and interests, all of which are incredibly dear to me. Everything that I own, everything that I do, all the relationships that I have made would not have been possible without Don, his staff and their never-ending commitment to my success. I lack the  necessary eloquence to truly describe just how grateful I  am to them for all that I have. That gratitude is there though, in overwhelming amounts for not only me, but also for the many other students that he has helped.

Thank you Don.

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In the Summer Time!

Summer has just started and I am already finding it to be perfectly fantastic.

The first new development of my Summer was moving out of traditional dormitory style residence into Suite style residence… aka… an apartment. I now have a kitchen to cook in (an activity that I really need a lot more practice with), a lounge and bathrooms all to myself and my two roommates instead of an entire floor of 22 people. I also get to share this apartment with the lovely Miss Amy Tipton, one of my favorite people in the whole wide world.

The other great part about summer is that you just get to do more of the stuff that you should be doing during the year. I’ve got to spend a lot of time with so many friends that I never had time to hang out with while advising in Place Vanier.

Rock Climbing

I’ve been rock climbing and reading and watching movies (MacKenzie left me a great list of must watch movies that I am slowly making my way through). Being able to read for pleasure again is something that I am particularly happy about. I went to the second hand bookstore and bought an armful of books that I will soon add to my LibraryThing.

My Summer work term at OLT is also kicking into gear. All the students for this term have been hired and we are in the process of finalizing what everyone will be working on. I think my main focus will be on using WordPress Mu as a content management system… so expect some cool hacks and plugins to be written as a result. It is so exciting to think that when I start school again in the summer that there will be a number of UBC web services out there that I have helped to create.

Opening the Irving K. Barber Learning Center

A few weeks ago, I was asked by Julie Mitchel if I would be able to speak at the opening of the Irving K. Barber Learning Center. She wanted me to give a student’s perspective of what the Learning Center means to the students of UBC. I accepted, not really understanding what I was getting myself into. As the weeks went by subsequent meetings with Julie made me see that the ceremony was a lot more important than I ever could have imagined. For a great description of what the ceremony was actually about, Phillip Jeffrey wrote an excellent post here. I am still unable to express just how terrifying it was to speak after people like Professor Stephen Toope and Gordon Campbell. It went off pretty well though and I think my speech was well received. Pictures of the event (courtesy of Philip Jeffrey) can be found here. A video of it can also be found here (I talk right at the end).

It was an amazing experience and I feel so honored to have been a part of it.

Facebook Tip… make your profile more presentable

So after Looking at Mackenzie and Ciara’s Facebook profiles I saw that they both look much better than most people’s. The reason being that instead of having comma denominated lists like “Interests: running, swimming, hiking, hockey…” they put them in an actual list form like so:






Ciara even adds breaks using dashes. I did the same and now my profile is no longer a jumbled mess… yay!

In fact it looks so good I’ll just include it on my about page on this site.

Getting the creepy out of Facebook

Facebook ModelThis was supposed to be a long and intense post, blending many different discussions that I’ve had over the past week, but I don’t have time and since I just got my new WordPress site, I need to write! (I’ll get the rest of it up some other time).

Here is the Jist of it:

I have spoken to so many people who tell me that “Facebook is creepy”. One of the biggest taboos here is to say “oh, I saw it on your mini-feed”. People get all weirded out as if they didn’t know that one of the key reasons of Facebook’s success is the fact that it is so good at distributing your information to those who know you.
Jocelyn and Ciara... Ballas
Jocelyn and Ciara (my resident Facebook experts) were lamenting that fact with me and we came up with the idea that maybe the problem is just the language that has evolved around Facebook. We put information on Facebook for people to see. We have complete control over who can see that information. It’s like creating a poster about yourself. It isn’t creepy looking at someone’s poster. Jocelyn and Ciara came up with some alternative names. They suggested something like “exploring” or “learning”. I think of it as “researching your personal social network”. Someone reading your profile is a good thing… it helps them to know you better. Someone reading your wall-to-wall with someone else is also a good thing. It’s flattering. Someone cares enough to read about you. If there is something that you don’t want people to read about you… you shouldn’t publish it and if you have to tell somebody something private… that’s what private messages are for.

Time to be a mentor

I am technically a “mentor” for the UBC Blog Squad. Although I haven’t done much mentoring. In fact they pretty much school me in dedication and writing ability. Many of them have written some absolutely fantastic stuff.

So here goes, my attempt at a bit of helping out:

I’ve noticed that many of you haven’t changed your blogroll yet (although I see that Genevieve has added a bunch of things to her one). Your blogroll can really complement your blog, by telling people at a glance what you are interested in. It shows people what you are reading and gives background for your own writing. It also doesn’t have to simply be one long list. If you go to the “blogroll” tab in WordPress you will see that you can add categories.
You can then add specific blogs to each category. Here is a quick example of what this would look like:

There is also a link at the bottom of the “add to blogroll” section that you can drag into your browser so that when you see a site that you really like you can add it to your blogroll very quickly.

P.S. My actual blogroll is a terrible example. Seeing as I am not using WordPress at the moment changing it is a lot harder for me to do than for all of you!