Thursday, 30 November 2017

How the absolute monarchy in Oman is turning to Twitter to help govern

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A direct line to government. nopporn/Shutterstock
Jyoti Choudrie, University of Hertfordshire
Research conducted by the Dubai School of Government into the Arab Spring of 2010-11 found that mass protests on the ground were often preceded by revolutionary conversations online, and that social media such as Twitter played a central role in shaping the political events. Having studied changes in internet traffic and social media use, they concluded that social media during the Arab Spring played a critical role in “mobilisation, empowerment, shaping opinions, and influencing change”.
In some cases, such as in Dubai, the government used social media to engage citizens and encourage participation in institutional rather than revolutionary change. In other cases, such as in Egypt, governments blocked access to websites used by protesters, or even shut down access to the entire internet.
Following the Arab Spring, citizens of the Persian Gulf state of Oman became aware of Twitter’s potential and decided to adopt it as a platform for addressing social problems, rather than instigating revolutions. For example, unemployment for young people even with degrees is a problem in Oman, as it is in other nations in Europe, and young Omanis took to Twitter to discuss their predicament, gathering around the hashtag that is the Arabic translation of “we need a job”. This tweet was read by Oman’s Sultan, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, who then announced the creation of 25,000 jobs for younger adults.

Oman is one of the most absolutist states in the world, with political power resting almost entirely within the Sultan’s hands. Yet this gave citizens a feeling that was not possible before: that their concerns are matters of importance to the government. Twitter becomes a two-way communication channel for working towards social change, not just a one-way broadcast for promoting celebrities or for delivering government pronouncements.

Now, the civil service in Oman is adopting Twitter as part of its provision of public services. A similar approach has been taken elsewhere, for example the small Spanish town of Jun, where the mayor has put every municipal department on Twitter, encouraging citizens to contact them using that public forum. But in this case the approach has been scaled up to an entire country.

Digital government in Oman

We examined how Twitter was being used in Oman and to what effect. Our research revealed that Omani citizens found Twitter to be “empowering”, as it allows them to identify matters of concern and seek rapid responses and resolutions – something that was a rarity in the past.

One example is refuse collection. Using Twitter, citizens can post photographs of streets where refuse collections have not been made at the stated times, or left at roadsides causing annoyance and unhygienic conditions. In the past, citizens would be left to call or visit local government offices, but any effect this had generally came considerably later than desired, would be handled only if there was a personal connection in the responsible department – or not dealt with at all.

Twitter also allows women to get their issues resolved without visiting government department offices. One survey participant commented:
I think that one of the good things about Twitter is flexibility … our culture does not appreciate women going to government organisations. With Twitter, women can communicate with us without having to leave home. They can complain and put across their feedback or suggestions, and at the same time respect tradition and culture. We are getting more complaints from women than before [using Twitter].
A woman participating in the research agreed that Twitter provided her with the means to communicate with government without having to visit in person, saying that she would be “uncomfortable” doing so as she comes from a conservative background. Other participants said that although Oman’s capital, Muscat, is considered more modern and so cultural practices more loosely adhered to, outside urban areas traditions are very well preserved and women are expected to respect them.

Getting things done

Use of Twitter has led to greater transparency and accountability in public sector departments and swifter resolution of issues, which citizens are happy about. All departmental personnel including heads of department and ministers – not just the government departments themselves – have Twitter accounts available to citizens, offering few places for civil servants to hide or delay acting on a complaint or request.

In order to ensure their government does not drop the ball, Omani citizens post their issues to Twitter. Decision makers, mindful that their responses are publicly monitored, communicate with one another using Whatsapp to expedite the process. Once the matter has been resolved, the citizen offers a message of gratitude, which reflects well on the effectiveness of a department at resolving issues.
How citizens’ reports on Twitter are shared among civil servants on WhatsApp in order to react quickly, with the response shared back on Twitter. Author provided

For public sector government staff, this approach has meant longer and more diligent working hours, but workers felt that, as this has resulted in better quality services and new knowledge and skills, they were happy with the transition. One remarked:
We reply to public tweets or complaints even on holidays or weekends … we can’t delay our responses. We have employees who work 24/7 … Twitter has provided us with a new culture of work that was not there before. Our work and success is apparent to the general public which has led them to post messages of appreciation about what we are doing.
From our discussions with government officials it was apparent that Omani citizens are forward thinking, techno-savvy, and use Twitter to find solutions to their social problems, whether large scale (the unemployment issue) or day-to-day matters (refuse collection). The Omanis feel immense pride in their activities and the government’s responses to their concerns, feeling that Twitter provides them a platform to make themselves heard to the government that was not there before. The government has even established a Department of Social Media in order to ensure this approach continues to meet the citizens’ requirements. And for its part, the government is able to use Twitter to gauge citizens’ views, something difficult to achieve in the past.

The ConversationWhat our study shows is that if digital skills are taught and encouraged and a clear and transparent vision is provided this can lead to a widespread change of attitude, from citizens to policymakers and the media. Whether implemented in a small town or across an entire nation, it’s clear Twitter could be similarly used in other countries, providing a digital delivery of effective and responsive modern public services.

Jyoti Choudrie, Professor of Information Systems, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

A guide to meteor showers – what to look out for and when

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Blink and you’ll miss it – until the next one. Channone Arif/Flickr, CC BY
Mark Gallaway, University of Hertfordshire
It has happened to most of us: walking home late at night under clear skies you catch a glimpse of something bright moving, often from the corner of your eye. You turn to see what it is but it’s gone without a trace. And chances are you will have seen a meteor ending its multi-billion year journey in a burst of light 100km up.

We can see meteors in the night sky all year round, but at certain times of the year we get spectacular shows. Most meteors start their lives trapped in icy comets. Comets are the gritter lorries of the Solar System. When they come close to the sun at about the orbit of Mars, the sunlight begins to melt the comet. As it melts, it frees trapped bits of grit, which follow the comet around the sun in a lazy ellipse until the Earth passes through the trail left by the comet and these little 0.1mm pieces of grit become – for a brief few seconds – a fiery meteor. It is these trails that form the bursts of meteoric activity known as showers that last a few days as the Earth moves through the celestial gritter lorry’s path.
Many meteor showers are named after the point of the sky the meteors appear to come from – the radiant point – so showers that seem to come from the constellation of Gemini are called Geminids, and the Perseids appear to come from the constellation of Perseus and so on. The showers appear that the same time every year as the Earth cross the orbit of the associated comet.

The number of meteors we see per hour depends on many factors. A bright moon will drown them out, if the associated comet has been around the sun recently, the trail of grit will have been refreshed as new grit appears and so we will see more meteors. Also, the time of night is important. After midnight the rotation of the Earth faces the observer increasingly into the stream of the meteor shower until we get to 6am when we are effectively right behind the comet gritter lorry and we get hit by more grit.

For those thinking of venturing out to see nature’s own firework display try to find a site that has clear skies and little or no light pollution, far from a city or a town. Take a chair – old-fashioned deckchairs work a treat as they let you look up without cricking your neck. Be prepared to stay out well after midnight and do not forget to wrap up warm, take a hot drink, a red light torch (to preserve your night vision) and some company. You are unlikely to see anything for the first 20 minutes or so as your eyes adjust to the darkness – but slowly, maybe out of the corner of your eye first, the meteors will become visible.

Meteor shower seasons

The Plough or Big Dipper within the constellation of Ursa Major. SAE1962/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

The meteors hunter’s year begins early with the Quadrantids between December 28 and January 7. The radiant point appears to come just north-east of the Plough (also known as the Big Dipper). The Quadrantids have a very short peak, indicating that the trail is quite compact compared to other showers. It does also have a very variable rate with peak hourly rates of more than 100 being observed some years.

Most of the spring is poor viewing for meteor hunters. Just two main showers, the Lyrids between April 16-25 and Eta Aquarids between April 19 and May 28 put on any show – and not much of one at that. It isn’t until August that the season gets underway with the Perseids, the first meteor shower I saw as a child and still my favourite. With a peak on August 13, but extending several weeks either side, the warm clear summer evening makes spotting the Perseids a pleasurable experience. Hour rates of more than 100 are common and much higher rates have been seen.

Two months later, around October 20-22, we are treated to the Orionids. Linked to the famous Halley’s comet, the Orionids are not as common as the Perseids, with an hourly rate of only about 20. But the presence of the winter constellation of Orion makes it worth watching, especially if you have brought a small telescope to see the wonder of the Orion Nebula.
Trail visible in an Orionid meteor shower. John Flannery/Flickr, CC BY-SA

November starts with the Taurids. Associated with comet Encke, the Taurids have a relatively low hourly rate, about ten to 15 an hour, but unlike other showers, it appears that the meteors are larger than average, more like pebbles than grit resulting in very bright trails know as fireballs, which are sometimes coloured.
Leonid meteor close up. Ed Sweeney/Flickr, CC BY

A few weeks later the Leonids arrive, peaking around November 17-18. Recently hourly rates have been quite low for the Leonids, at around ten to 20 but occasionally they jump up and showers of 1,000 per hour even 100,000 an hour on rare occasions. As it is difficult to tell when these leaps will occur again, so it is worth keeping an eye on them.

The ConversationThe year ends with the last big shower, the Geminids. One of the most popular with amateur astronomers as the dark, crisp, clear nights lend themselves to meteor watching. The Geminids peak about December 13-14 with a rate of about 200 per hour – a rate that appears to increase every year.
Mark Gallaway, Ogden Fellow, Bayfordbury Observatory, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Things to do during the festive season around the University of Hertfordshire

Most students that attend the University of Hertfordshire are away from home when the festive season starts in November/December (or whenever it starts for you). This can lead to the feeling of being homesick. Coming from Cornwall (a 5-hour drive from Herts!) I know how it feel to miss home during the festive season. As I am in my 3rd year, I have a few tips that can help you feel more festive and less homesick at uni. 

Decorate your room

© Lucey Keast Photography
Having festive decorations up will instantly get you in the festive mood and if you put some up in communal areas in your flat, such as the kitchen, you can spread the festive cheer with flat mates 😊. If you’re on a tight budget you can get some decorations from the Pound Shop (which actually only charges 90p!) in Hatfield town centre. 

Cook a festive meal with your friends

© Lucey Keast Photography
Invite your flat mates to get together and enjoy a festive meal together in your kitchen. Whether you’re a pro-cook and want to cook a turkey or you just want to settle for chicken nuggets it will be a great way to bond. If you focus on buying ‘cheaper’ food from the supermarkets and then split the final price between everyone it can work out cheaper. Just don’t forget the crackers!

Go and look at Christmas lights

© Lucey Keast Photography
You can say close to the University by going to look at the lights in Hatfield town centre or you can go further afield by popping down to London where there are always loads of Christmas lights. If you’re anything like me, you will have childhood memories of driving around looking at lights with your family.

Visit a Christmas market

© Lucey Keast Photography
The University is holding their own Christmas market on Thursday 7 December from 14:00 - 20:00. There will be a giant snow globe that you can take photos in, food and drink stalls, craft stalls and more. The St Albans Christmas Market (which is easy to get to on the bus) is on from Saturday 25 November to Saturday 23 December in the Cathedral grounds. Not only can you get some festive food and drink from a Christmas market, (like mulled wine and mince pies!) you can also stock up on those all-important presents for family and friends.

Go and visit some deer

© Lucey Keast Photography
The University may not be having reindeer at their Christmas market this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see any. If you agree with reindeer at Christmas markets there are many different ones around Hertfordshire happening in November and December. Or you can visit wild deer all over Herefordshire, just make sure you give them their space as they are wild animals.

Take part in Secret Santa

© Lucey Keast Photography
Whether you do this with your friends, flat mates, or course mates, it’s a great way to get into the festive mood (as well as bagging yourself a present!). Make sure you set a maximum spent limit, after all, we are students! Secret Santa is a great way to make everyone feel included this festive season!

I hope everyone has a great festive season whilst at University and if you keep on eye on StudyNet there are always different festive events popping up. For example…
· The Active Students Roller Disco on Saturday 2 December from 17:30 - 20:30
· The University Carol Service on Wednesday 6 December at 13:15 in Prince Edward Hall
· The Gecko Christmas Party on Thursday 7 December from 19:00 - 21:00


Hi, I’m Lucey, a member of the social street team at The University of Hertfordshire. I am a 3rd year studying BA (hons) photography. I usually live in Cornwall, so I have come a long way to the uni but I feel it’s worth it. You’ll usually find me outside, with my camera, enjoying nature. Come say hi if you see me around campus.