Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Conference on Virtual Worlds, Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain

I have just returned from Spain, where I contributed to a two-day conference on virtual worlds at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), 16-17 December 2011. The conference was organised under the auspices of the CAMILLE Project in the Department of Applied Linguistics at the Polytechnic University of Valencia within the framework of EUROCALL’s programme of regional events, in collaboration with the Inter-University Institute of Applied Modern Languages, supported by the Vice President for Research at the UPV Ministry of Science and Innovation, with sponsorship by Macmillan ELT.

There were five invited guest speakers: Randall Sadler, Luisa Panichi, Heike Philp, Kristi Jauregi, and myself. The main target audience was local secondary school teachers of English, but a number of research students were also in attendance. Each day of the conference was divided into two parts: presentations by the guest speakers in the morning and hands-on workshops in the afternoon.

This was a remarkable event in three different ways. Firstly, the size of the audience was impressive: around 75 participants. Secondly, it was the first time that I have been able to work in Real Life with such a distinguished a group of experts in the use of virtual worlds in language learning and teaching. Thirdly, this is the first occasion on which I have experienced such a large number of participants in hands-on workshops. The computer lab that was provided for the workshops comprised 50 high-end PCs with excellent graphics cards and a fast connection to the Internet. This meant that, with 75 participants in attendance, some people had to share a computer, but everybody was able to join Second Life and learn the basics. The hands-on workshops were led in turn by one of the guest speakers, with the others circulating amongst the participants and troubleshooting where necessary. We experienced surprisingly few technical hiccups, and Second Life behaved itself very well – with very little lag, even when the participants were gathered together on a shopping spree in the boutique holodeck on EduNation I Island.

I wish to offer my personal congratulations to the UPV team who organised this event, especially Ana Gimeno and Rafael Seiz Ortiz, who took care of all our needs, including transporting us to the excellent tapas restaurants in Valencia!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Google Translate: friend or foe?

Are you a language teacher? If so, what are your views on online translation tools?

Google Translate  is probably the most widely used online translation tool, but there are others that will also do the job. Several are listed in ICT4LT Module 3.5, Section 3 (Machine Translation). Such tools have been the bane of language teachers’ lives ever since they became widely available on the Web. The teacher sets a text to be translated for homework and the students use Google Translate to do the job, thus saving themselves work and driving their teacher mad when they turn in a piece of work that is full of mistakes that reveal clearly that an automatic translation tool has been used. Or the teacher may ask the students to produce an original composition in a foreign language - so they type it out in English and paste it into Google Translate. Again, the output is full of mistakes but often of a different kind, for example the students may be using constructions in English that are way beyond what they would be capable of using in the foreign language. And many mistakes made by Google Translate are made solely because the source text is incorrect. If you write "I should of thought" (yes, it's a common mistake!) instead of  "I should have thought" then Google Translate's output is wrong. But it translates "I should have thought" correctly into German as "ich hätte gedacht". Thinking back to my early experiences with Machine Translation (MT) in the 1980s, I remember a company (Perkins Engines) that used the Weidner MT system first training its employees to write correct, unambiguous English so that the system could handle the texts more easily – in other words, anticipating potential errors that could be made.

Right now it's not too difficult to spot that Google Translate has been used to produce a text in a foreign language, but a few years ago Google began using a different translation engine that uses a so-called Statistical Machine Translation (SMT) approach. Now Google Translate begins by examining and comparing massive corpora of texts on the Web that have already been translated by human beings. It looks for matches between source and target texts and works out which translations are likely to be the most accurate. This YouTube video, Inside Google Translate, explains how it works. As more and more corpora are added to the Web this means that Google Translate will keep improving until it reaches a point where it will be very difficult to tell that a machine has done the translation. I remember early MT tools translating "How are you?" into German as "Wie sind Sie?" Now Google Translate gets it right: "Wie geht es Ihnen?" You can also click on the words in the translated text to hear how they are pronounced.
So Google Translate is no longer the crude tool that it used to be. Besides using a much more sophisticated and accurate translation engine, it also offers the possibility of interaction. When the translated text appears you can hover your mouse over the text and ask Google Translate to suggest alternative renderings if you don't accept what it offers as the first choice. These may be different vocabulary items, different tenses, different case endings in German, etc. You can also rearrange the word order. Thus you can edit the text until you are satisfied with it – and then you can copy and paste the text into Microsoft Word and edit it further using the inbuilt foreign-language spell checkers, grammar checkers and thesauruses. Having said that, I am in no doubt that most students would just accept what Google Translate offers as the first choice and hope for the best. But a clever student would investigate Google Translate's new features and produce quite an acceptable translation that does not have the obvious hallmarks of being translated by machine. So what is the solution if students cannot be persuaded not to use Google Translate?
  • Do you punish your students for cheating?
  • Do you hand back their work and tell them to do it again without using Google Translate?
  • Or maybe you warn your students that you have already run the text through Google Translate and that if you find any examples  of the same incorrect phrases being used in their work then they will score zero.
  • You could also exploit the mistakes that Google Translate makes by displaying them on a big screen to the whole class and showing your students how ridiculous they are. At the same time you could use the output of Google Translate to raise your students’ linguistic awareness. Ask your students to spot the mistakes and explain why they have been made – e.g. parsing like as a verb rather than a preposition.
But perhaps the time has come to admit defeat and to set different types of tasks for homework. A blog posting by Naomi Ganin Epstein, headed If Google is translating then I’ll start revamping, is worth looking at. She suggests setting a number of different types of assignments for homework that get round the problem of students using Google Translate.

Let’s face it, automatic translation tools have been around for a long time and they are here to stay. The European Commission makes extensive use of so-called Translation Memory (TM) systems. These produce a rough draft of the text to be translated, which is then corrected by professional translators. It can speed up their output by up to 80%. I know of one university that trains its students to use a TM tool known as TRADOS. They can then slot more easily into jobs as professional translators when they graduate. I often use Google Translate in the same way – but only with languages that I know reasonably well.


Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The French Digital Kitchen

I had a very interesting day yesterday, 24 October 2011, at the French Institute (Institut Français), London. I had been invited by Professor Paul Seedhouse, Newcastle University, to give a short presentation on the History of Computer Assisted Language Learning to lead into his presentation on an exciting new interactive approach to language learning, The French Digital Kitchen. The French Digital Kitchen is a situated language learning environment in which a computer in the kitchen communicates with students, instructing them step-by-step in how to cook French cuisine while teaching aspects of French language at the same time, namely the essential vocabulary and grammar that are used in such an environment. The underlying pedagogy is Task-Based Learning (TBL), an established approach to teaching foreign languages whereby learners are prompted by instructions in the target language to carry out specified tasks.

As a first step, the students are presented with the grammar and vocabulary, and then they practise using what they have learned in the kitchen. Utensils and ingredients that are used in the kitchen are all labelled in French, and motion sensors are embedded in the utensils and the containers for the ingredients, which track the students' actions and prompt the kitchen computer to give them spoken instructions for each step in the process of preparing the food. Students can ask for instructions to be repeated or translations into English simply by touching the computer screen. Students work in pairs and are encouraged to communicate with one another in French.

As well as watching the presentations, we were treated to a demonstration of the portable version of the kitchen, with volunteers from the audience following the instructions in French for preparing a delicious clafoutis aux poires, which was then cooked in the French Institute’s kitchen and presented to us at lunchtime – a “tangible and edible product”, as Professor Paul Seedhouse described it.

The project is now being extended, thanks to European Commission funding, to develop materials in English, Spanish, Italian, German and other languages.

Videos demonstrating the project are available on YouTube:

French Digital Kitchen Dissemination Video

The Talking Kitchen that Teaches you French

Further information is available at the Digital Institute website at Newcastle University.

Monday, 25 July 2011! Useful "curation" tool

I have recently begun using! It's a useful tool that enables you to set up Web pages that gather together links on a specific topic. provides a facility for you to "curate" information on your topics by trawling the Web and finding links that you may wish to add to your topic pages. The links are then laid out attractively like the page of a magazine:

I have set up two pages:

Computer Assisted Language Learning

Virtual World Language Learning

And I follow other people's pages on related topics. As well as being useful for setting up permanent resources, could be used by students for creating one-off magazines.

QR codes in education: Why all the fuss?

The Web is abuzz at the moment with blogs on using QR codes in education. I am not going to give a detailed explanation of what a QR code is if you don’t already know. Suffice it to say that it’s a bit like a barcode but looks different and has a wider range of uses. The Wikipedia article on QR codes gives a good summary of their historical development and how they have been used, particularly in industry. These are examples of a QR code and a barcode that I generated:

QR code of the ICT4LT website. Generated by

Barcode containing information about Graham Davies’s gender, age, weight, height, location
 and value in US$! Generated by

Although QR codes have been around for some time, namely since 1994, it is only recently that they have attracted the attention of educators. Joe Dale’s blog posting (21 July 2011), for example, outlines some of their potential uses in teaching foreign languages. Joe describes using QR codes to:

• launch an mp3 file,
• play a video,
• visit a website and answer comprehension questions,
• engage in a treasure hunt,
• answer questions set by the teacher using QR code voting.

I have to confess that so far I am not too excited by the current interest in using QR codes in education. It’s not a new idea. Back in the 1980s I attended a seminar in Denmark at which Peter Looms of Danmarks Radio demonstrated how a barcode reader could be used to locate resources for language learners on an interactive videodisc and how teachers could create their own lessons by photocopying, cutting and pasting previously prepared barcodes to create activities for students. The barcode reader was used to jump to a particular frame or segment on the videodisc, not unlike the way in which a URL or QR code is now used to jump to a particular website or part of a website. See:

Pinfold C., Fox R. & Looms P. (1994) “Barcoding a Japanese language videodisc for secondary schools”. In McBeath C. & Atkinson R. (eds.) Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January 1994: 436–442. Available at

Using barcodes in education did not catch on. CD-ROMs and DVDs replaced interactive videodiscs and the advent of the Web in 1993 brought about radical changes in storing and accessing educational resources.

The main problem with QR codes is that you need a device and an application that can read and interpret them – in the same way that you need an appropriately programmed barcode reader to read and interpret barcodes. The difference is that devices and applications that can read and interpret QR codes (I use my iPhone and the Qrafter application) are in common use by the general public. But pointing an iPhone at a QR code image – and you may need more than one shot to read it – waiting for your phone to boot up a Web browser and then render the page to which it is pointing seems to need a lot of additional time and effort. And if you wish to create your own QR codes you need to know how use another application. Maybe I am just getting old, cynical and unimaginative. I have been playing around with technology in education since I began using language labs in 1965 – which were not as wonderful as they were cracked up to be – and now I have to see a real need for the use of technology with evidence that it saves teachers time and produces better learning results.

However, I have found a good use for QR codes. My wife Sally was watching one of her favourite cookery programmes on BBC TV last week. I was half-watching with her, but I am mainly interested in the results of cooking and not the process itself. My eyes lit up, however, when the TV chef began cooking a smoked haddock pilaf that looked particularly tasty. Sally thought she would like to try it and wondered where she could get the recipe. At that moment I spotted a QR code flash up, all too briefly, in the corner of the TV screen. As we were watching the programme on our Sky+ Box I was able to rewind and freeze the screen so that I could point my iPhone at the QR code. Bingo! It worked first time and sent me to Using Qrafter on my iPhone, I emailed the URL link to Sally so that she was able to click on it in her email application on her computer and display and print the recipe. We enjoyed an excellent pilaf the following evening. Now that’s what I call a sensible use of technology!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Languages ICT website to close on 25 July 2011

The Languages ICT website, which was set up and maintained by CILT and ALL, is due to close on 25 July 2011. The announcement of its closure appears on the Languages ICT homepage. If there are materials at the site that you find useful grab them while you can! There are many PDF and video files that can be downloaded.

This is another example of a useful site being abandoned as a result of the lack of available funding. We have seen this happening many times, especially since the current government took over. Having said that, websites that depend on national government or EC funding are often short-lived. Once the funding period comes to an end they are unable to sustain themselves, so they get out of date and are finally abandoned. Teachers TV is a typical example, although the videos can now be streamed from other sites where they are archived: and

When the ICT4LT website was initiated with EC funding in 1999-2000, it was made available in four languages: English, Italian, Finnish and Swedish. After the funding period came to an end it was sustained as a labour of love by the five original partners, but the Italian, Finnish and Swedish versions were not kept up to date and have now been abandoned. I took the decision to take over the English-language version and to keep it going. It requires quite a bit of work as links keep changing or disappearing and new developments in ICT take place every day. Nevertheless, the site is reasonably up-to-date and includes information on ICT developments that have taken place since the funding period came to a close, e.g. blogging, podcasting, Web 2.0 applications and virtual worlds. Income from a few discreetly placed advertisements more than covers the costs of paying for the broadband connection and Web space is donated free of charge by my daughter Siân, who is a graphic designer / Web designer. So there are ways and means of keeping a project going. The site receives an average of 12,000 to 13,000 visits per month – “real” visits, not visits from bots and search engines:

So what happens to dead sites? Sometimes their resources are archived on new or existing sites, but there is a huge Web archive, also known as the Wayback Machine, that keeps records of earlier versions of websites. It is not 100% complete, but I have often found it useful in tracking down resources that I thought had disappeared into oblivion.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Have PLNs been over-hyped? A reaction to Gavin Dudeney's blog

I was interested to read Gavin Dudeney's posting to his That'SLife blog, 18 March 2011. It’s headed On PLNs. In his posting Gavin asks whether Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) have been over-hyped. The essence  is summed up in his opening paragraph:

"I think all this ‘PLN’ business is seriously over-hyped and overrated and most people are kidding themselves about just how much they get out of theirs, just how many of their PLN would be friends and mentors ‘in real life’, and just, well, just how real it all is."

I posted a response, agreeing on the whole with what Gavin had said, especially this extract from his posting:

“Here’s what I know (and I must stress this is a personal post – your mileage may vary)… My best friends are all, with one or two exceptions, people I have first met face-to-face and then continued to contact online due to distance or whatever. I also know that, like most people, I have an optimum number of friends, and that number is very small. I see these people when I can, and I get more out of two hours in their company than I could ever in a few weeks with them online in Twitter.”

So true! I get more out of chatting to half a dozen friends at my local pub on a Saturday night than I do out of a whole week of browsing the Web. Twitter is OK for picking up links and for occasional bits of information, but on the whole I find it confusing. Turn your head for a couple of hours and the interesting threads you were following have got lost in a mass of idle chit-chat. I deliberately avoid accepting lots of new friends on Twitter or Facebook. I can’t handle large numbers of friends or followers, and I don’t want to anyway. Facebook is my fun area. It embraces my family and real friends, and a few people I have met at conferences. Don’t expect too much serious stuff from me on Facebook. Most of my postings have nothing to do with my professional life.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that life online is becoming stressful. I often read about people worrying about keeping up with new developments. They are never away from their laptops, iPhones or iPads. I recently read a posting from a young woman who was horrified to find that she had been charged $30 a day for using her iPhone while spending a holiday at her parents’ home (which is in a different country from the one in which she works). Her parents’ home did not have wifi, so she chose to pay the roaming charges in case she missed something important. There’s another solution: switch off your phone while you are on holiday.

Some years ago, when I was still in full employment, I came back from a short holiday to find 500 messages sitting in my email in-folder. In a fit of pique I just trashed the lot without reading a single message. On reflection, I felt a bit guilty and also apprehensive about this, wondering if I might have missed something important. But my act of vandalism appeared to make no difference to my life. People who really needed a reply to the messages that they had sent me contacted me again. A friend of mine did the same thing recently, dumping all the messages that arrived by email into a trash folder while she was on a skiing holiday. I think her experience was much the same as mine.

Friday, 18 February 2011

ICT Links into Languages Conference, 12-13 February 2011

There has been a buzz of excitement following the ICT Links into Languages Conference (ILILC) that took place at the University of Southampton over the weekend 12-13 February 2011. This is clear from the activities on Twitter and in various blogs and wikis that are managed by teachers of modern foreign languages. I was not at the conference in person but I followed the text chat in the CovertitLive window embedded in the ILILC wiki and I watched the streaming videos of Joe Dale's and Rachel Hawkes' presentations. Even at a distance it was clear to me that this was going to be a memorable occasion. All credit is due to Joe Dale, who played the main role in setting up this event. See Joe Dale's blog for further information and links.

One of the questions raised by Chris Fuller and Alex Blagona is how the buzz of this conference can be sustained. It’s not an easy question to answer, and I’ve thought long and hard about it. Keeping the buzz going and, above all, convincing the unconvinced that ICT can play an important role in language learning and teaching are not easy tasks. I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s been a long, uphill struggle. Maybe we can learn from the past.

When I first got into ICT in the late 1970s I was regarded by my colleagues as the departmental freak. Their attitudes changed, when my CILT publication on Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) appeared in 1982, the first of a string of CILT publications on this topic that appeared from the 1980s onwards. Looking at the titles on my bookshelves I can see my own publications and several others, spanning the period from 1982 to 2001:

Davies G. & Higgins J. (1982) Computers, language and language learning, CILT.

Davies G. & Higgins J. (1985) Using computers in language learning: a teacher's guide, CILT.

Atkinson T. (1992) Hands off. It's my go! IT in the languages classroom, CILT in association with NCET.

Hagen S. (ed.) (1993) Using technology in language learning, City Technology Colleges Trust in association with CILT.

Hewer S. (1997) Text manipulation: computer-based activities to improve knowledge and use of the target language, CILT.

Atkinson T. (1998) WWW: the Internet, CILT.

Atkinson T. (ed.) (2001) Reflections on ICT, CILT.

Thinking back, I recall the 1980s and 1990s as a period of great optimism and enthusiasm - quite different from today in many respects. The first major conference on ICT and language learning and teaching was organised by CILT in association with the Council for Educational Technology (CET) at Queen Mary College’s Halls of Residence way back in 1981. In the following years CILT organised a series of annual conferences that took place at St Martin’s College, Lancaster. Each one generated a buzz, and overall they probably had a considerable impact.

In 1985 the National Centre for Computer Assisted Language Learning (NCCALL) was set up at Ealing College with the aid of central government funding. Its brief was to address the needs of language teachers in FE, but in practice it addressed all sectors of education. I was proud to be the Director of NCCALL, which received visits from around 400 language teachers per year during its existence. Most were participants in our regular courses, but we also had a steady stream of individual visitors from the UK and all over the world. NCCALL worked in close collaboration with the Computers in Teaching Initiative Centre for Modern Languages (CTICML) at the University of Hull, which was set up in 1989 to address the needs of the HE sector. Both centres had a considerable impact on spreading the word about ICT in language learning and teaching, but the funding did not last for ever. NCCALL was closed down in 1990 and the CTICML was closed down in 2002.

BECTA’s predecessors (the CET, MESU and NCET) were also active in the early days of CALL. The CET (Council for Educational Technology) collaborated with CILT in setting up the first major CALL conference in 1981, and a number of important publications followed. I can see the following on my bookshelves:

Learning languages with technology, NCET/MESU, 1988.

The videocassette, Granville in the modern languages classroom (about the Granville simulation, written for the BBC Microcomputer), NCET/MESU, 1988.

Accent on IT, NCET, 1997.

Then there was the NOF initiative, 1999-2003. The NOF initiative was one of the most extensive ICT in-service training initiatives ever undertaken. Funded with £230 million worth of National Lottery money, the initiative aimed to enable thousands of teachers in all subject areas to make effective use of ICT. A nominal sum of £450 was allocated to each full-time teacher in publicly maintained schools. NOF was not a roaring success, however. The main problem was that most of the training was delivered by agencies specialising in ICT training in general rather than subject-specific ICT training – and they were highly criticised. Those agencies, e.g. CILT, that delivered subject-specific training were more successful and highly praised by teachers who took part in their courses. See what I have written about NOF in my article on ICT and MFL in the National Curriculum.

And then CILT set up the Languages ICT site in collaboration with ALL, but this now appears to be a dead site, with the homepage dated April 2009.

A lot of money has been spent on promoting ICT and some of it has been well spent - see the examples above - but who is spending the money now? Not the current UK government, certainly. I hope the impact of ILILC is maintained, but I don't think it will be easy. The key problems are a lack of continuity and a lack of funding, and there is no focal point to which language teachers can turn for advice. I do, however, try to keep the ICT4LT site updated as a labour of love. It’s still going strong, 12 years after it was set up with the aid of EC funding. It’s a struggle keeping it going as so many innovations appear each week, but the average daily visitor count of 1000+ gives me encouragement.

EUROCALL, founded in 1986, is also still going strong. The 2011 EUROCALL conference will take place in Nottingham, 31 August to 3 September, and one of the sub-themes is The use of new technologies for language teaching in schools. Will you be there?

Finally, take a look at my EUROCALL 2010 keynote, Where have we been, where are we now, and where are we going? Can we learn from the past? How can the buzz be sustained?

Saturday, 8 January 2011

My life online

I have been using electronic communication for many years, dating back to my first encounter with email back in 1985. Around the same time I was able to access the French Minitel system. Getting online to send emails and accessing Minitel in those days was a cumbersome process that involved using a dial-up modem linked to a BBC Microcomputer, but it worked. I was able to communicate by email with a group of colleagues with whom I was working on a project and to display authentic Minitel pages to our students of French. The big breakthrough came after my college joined the JANET network, and in 1993 I was able to send my proposal for a conference keynote presentation to the University of Victoria, Canada, by email. My proposal was accepted by email and all the subsequent correspondence with the University of Victoria took place by email. Not a single piece of paper was posted in either direction.

I began using the Web in 1994. It required the use of a dial-up modem and it was S-L-O-W. Pages took an eternity to download, and I often switched off the display of images to speed things up. But it was fascinating - all that information at one’s fingertips, although it was only a tiny fraction of what is available now, and sound and video did not exist in the early days of the Web.

How things have changed. I am now retired and I spend a lot of time online - but mainly for leisure and pleasure. I am so glad that I am no longer under pressure to keep up to date like many of my younger colleagues. My computer is my window on the world. This is how I spend my day:

I begin my day by checking my email. Thank to my efficient ISP I get very little spam. Most spam is blocked before it reaches my computer, so I never see it, and the odd spam email that sneaks through is trapped by my MailWasher Pro filter. If an email requires a reply that I can deal with in less than a minute I answer it immediately. Emails relating to my business partnership and consultancy work take priority, and anything that requires a longer reply or research goes into my pending box until I find time to deal with it.

My next task is to look at the 30+ discussion lists, blogs, wikis, Nings and fora that I follow. Thanks to RSS and Google Reader this does not take long. I skim quickly through the subject lines and read only those contributions that look interesting - which is usually a small fraction of the total. I reply to one or two if I have anything useful to say.

I then take a quick look at my Twitter account. I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter. On the one hand I love the way in which Twitter’s 140-character limit forces people to be succinct, but I hate the flood of messages piling up one after another, often with no easily discernible threads. If people keep bombarding Twitter with stuff that is of no interest to me then I just unfollow them - and I protect my tweets in order to cut down spam. I do, however, find Twitter useful. I pick up many new interesting Web links and announcements via Twitter, especially via the #mfltwitterati and #flteach hashtags.

I then take a quick look at my Facebook account. I use Facebook mainly to keep in touch with my family and friends worldwide, but many of my Facebook followers don’t seem to realise this. They follow me expecting pearls of academic wisdom, but mostly I post personal messages, links to amusing YouTube videos and photos that are of interest only to my family and friends. I find that my Facebook friends are more likely to engage in communication than my Twitter friends. This is probably because most of my Facebook friends are people whom I know personally, but I think it also has something to do with the interface of Facebook, which makes two-way communication easier. In addition I belong to several closed groups (e.g. EUROCALL) on Facebook, where the information exchanged is viewed only by members of each group, i.e. it's quite separate from the information that is broadcast to my family and friends. I use the groups mainly for educational purposes and for keeping myself informed about specific topics in which I have a personal interest.

I also have accounts on Flickr, YouTube and LinkedIn. I have posted a few videos that I have made to my YouTube account and a small collection of photos to my Flickr account, but I only do this occasionally. I use LinkedIn to build up a list of professional contacts. I thought it might be useful in picking up offers of consultancy work, but so far I have not had a single offer.

By this time it’s mid-morning and time for coffee. I take a break for half an hour walking around most of the time. I do this at regular intervals during the day. I used to suffer from back problems, which my doctor diagnosed as the result of sitting at the computer for long intervals without a break. In 2006, following major surgery, I was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT often follows surgery and it is also associated with sitting in the cramped conditions of long-haul flights. But DVT can also be triggered just by sitting for too long. Yes, sitting for too long at a computer is not good for your health. See this story: Computer game teenager gets DVT.

After my coffee break I update the two websites and the Ning that I maintain: Camsoft (my business and personal site), the ICT4LT website and the joint EUROCALL/CALICO Virtual Worlds SIG Ning. Mainly this involves adding new links and information that I have picked up via email, Twitter or Facebook. Once a week I use Xenu Link Sleuth to check my websites for broken links.

Time for lunch and an afternoon walk with our greyhound, Brett. I walk at least a mile every day. We are fortunate to live very close to beautiful National Trust woodland and common land, so this is an enjoyable part of the day. When I get home I usually have a nap for half and hour, and three times a week I go for an afternoon swim in our local Holiday Inn pool.

At around 5pm-6pm I pop into Second Life. This is a good time as my American colleague, Randall Sadler, is usually up and about and I often engage in text chat or voice chat with him - and other colleagues - at the CALICO/EUROCALL HQ. I can also access Second Life via my iPhone, using the Pocket Metaverse app, but only for locating friends and engaging in text chat with them; it’s not (yet) in 3D.

Around 7pm I usually shut down my computer. The evening is for relaxation: a couple of drinks, listening to music and a long and leisurely dinner, followed by viewing TV. Most of the music we listen to now is relayed from iTunes on a laptop in our lounge to my ancient (1994) but powerful Kenwood hifi system, using a small transmitter device - a wonderful blend of old and new technologies. The Sky+ Box that we bought a couple of years ago has totally changed the way in which we watch TV. Most of the broadcasts that we watch, apart from the news, have been recorded on the Sky+ Box’s hard disk, which can store 40 hours of recordings. It’s a very efficient and easy-to-use system, and I can even program the box remotely from my computer or iPhone.

I usually sit with my iPhone by my side while watching TV. I find a couple of iPhone apps particularly useful: namely Google and the International Movie Database (IMDb), and I occasionally use the Twitter or Facebook apps on my iPhone. My memory is not so good as it used to be. For example, while watching Elizabeth: The Golden Age neither my wife Sally nor I could not remember in which way Elizabeth was related to Mary Queen of Scots. Google gave us the answer - they were cousins. We often forget the names of actors too, but the IMDb can quickly provide us with this information. All I have to do is search for the name of the film and call up a complete cast list, a summary of the plot and selected reviews.

Well, that’s about it. How do you spend your life online?