I visited BVE2014 ExCeL London last week. It was my first time visiting this broadcast and production technology exhibition. The three-day event featured a lot of panel discussion and talks about both technical aspects of media production and also content making.
It was eye opening to see so many cutting-edge products, services and technologies for taking content from conception to consumption. Camera manufacturers made the exhibition like a motor show – see below for the photographs of the turning motorbike camera display.
Aerial filming drones have become popular.
Screens are no longer confined by black-box monitors; screens can be everywhere – through projection. And Through projection, one can also manipulate the light and interact with the objects on the ‘screen’ – as seen in the film ‘Minority Report‘. Moving objects on an intangible, touchless screen is no longer just sci-fi; it has become a reality, as Coolux‘s Pandoras Box, a media and show control system, shows (distributed by tmb in the UK).
The Production Theatre attracted the most of the audience, especially when it was about how to secure funding and how to build network. Look – there was no way into the theatre – it’s packed!
The talk by the executive producer and the camerawoman Justine Evans of BBC documentary Wild Burma was fascinating. They shared the experience of going to Burma to film this documentary in collaboration with a group of scientists. The socio-environmental, political and scientific impacts this documentary makes are immense – both locally as well as internationally. The production team has discovered new habitats of the elephants, and the black market selling animal parts (controlled by some Chinese warlords).
I had also seen good-quality movies at the 4K Theatre. But as many of us are aware, technologies can shape the future of content, but having a good idea, engrossing storyline is more important than making 4K films. Often, the budget endowed will dictate what equipments one has access to. And a good film does not need 4K; 2K or HD would do. While 4K is new to me, people are already talking about 8K.
Covering everything from camera accessories, film locations finding services (there’s one at Hampshire), to 360 workflow solutions, BVE offered the chance to gain hands-on experience and insight to inspire creativity, support business and help shape the future of content. The Skills Zones, for example, was great for junior media professionals (to learn to compose their portfolios and their CVs). I think this is a fieldtrip I can arrange for my students next year.
I have encountered quite a few students with autistic spectrum conditions in the UK HE. They were all male with Asperger Syndrome. This could be because the courses I have taught were predominately attractive to males. While I have helped many students, I have to admit that I have not had a formal training about how to support people with autistic spectrum conditions until yesterday. It could not be more timely to learn more about asperger syndrome given the recent news about the murder of Andrew Young who had Asperger’s syndrome.
The instructor, Sarah, from Hendrickx Associates told us that, usually, people with Asperger Syndrome have poorer short-term memory (but excellent long-term memory), slower information processing, slow at responding to intuitive conversation. They don’t know much about social cues, and they usually lack bigger picture, flexibility. They are not good at adapting to changes; they tend like to apply rules, seek certainty, need parameters, something that can help them predict outcomes / consequences. They need to know what happens next.
Knowing this piece of information is really helpful. Now I understand why some of my students struggled with team work. Usually it was not because they themselves could not complete their tasks on time; it was more like they could not cope with the changes during the course of the project. For example, if some team members’ circumstances changed and the whole project needed to be re-focused and re-planned, they could not adapt that quickly. In other words, students with Asperger Syndrome would struggle with ‘agile management’, when everything was up in the air and needed to be managed in an agile manner.
Sarah also told us that people with Asperger Syndrome tend to take things literally. They are not great team players because their lack of empathy (what the instructor called ‘the theory of mind’. It’s hard for them to compromise and negotiate. They could appear to be selfish because they don’t know much about others and about social rules. They don’t have ability to put self in someone else’s position. It’s hard for them to understand that others may have their own thoughts and feelings and we need to see perspectives of others. They usually like to predict and infer behaviours. Sometimes they could be seen as ‘selfish’ or ‘unempathic’, or lack of ‘remorse’. They are practical; top priority is to solve the problem, not being emotional. If someone is crying, they would give them a tissue, instead of a hug. As a result, it was hard for them to understand why some people could not complete their tasks on time.
To help the students with Asperger Syndrome with team work, it is important to let them have routines and a defined role. They like schedules – just like the young character by the name of Errol in the BBC comedy ‘Uncle‘ who has OCD and seems to be on the autistic spectrum. They can role learning, learn different tutors, they need advance warning – allowing them to prepare. Making things visual and making things concrete will help them (verbal communication is too changeable and abstract to them). When everything is black and white on paper, they know it’s concrete and it’s the rule / instruction. They can trust what you say then. But here comes another problem – a role defined or a routine establish in the beginning of the project will not stay the same over the course of the project. Often, we need to multi-task – in a student team of four developing a computer video game, the team members may play various different roles. For example, a programmer may also need to do a bit game design or project manage. It is difficult for the students with Asperger Syndrome to grasp the idea of ‘agile management’. They are easily overloaded and suffer anxiety and stress.
We usually assume that a room full of colours would reflect the creative arts and media environment the best, but the instructor pointed out that this kind of room is the most unfriendly one to people with Asperger Syndrome because they don’t like any unexpected sensory (may it be noise, touch, taste, smell, movement). So a room with less distractions, less stimulus (less colourful, less bright) is good. The fashionable ‘open plan’ office, increasingly popular in a design studio or co-working environment, is not friendly to people with ASD.
Despite having poorer short term memory, they have excellent memory for facts (great long term memory). So being a tutor, we need to make a student with ASD realise they are a big fish in a small fish bowl. Their specialist knowledge will earn respect from mates, and become their strength.
If they forgot something, it’s not deliberate. They are easily overloaded, smaller capacity, and usually poorer short term memory.
The sessions also leave us with lots of questions. For example, where do students with ASD socialise (if canteen is too noisy for them, where can they go and relax)? Whether male students with ASD behave different from the female?
I think it’s invaluable when the instructor pointed out to me that what I called ‘they’ is not a totalitarian ‘they’. Every individual student is unique; they have different needs and have different conditions. I should never think that there is one single solution for ‘them’. But it’s good to be mindful of these possible conditions.
I wondered how Asperger Syndrome is diagnosed? Feels like a lot of people living in modern urban environments suffering from anxiety and stress could fit into the description of ASD as well. Perhaps, we are all a little bit autistic. Perhaps, we are all a little bit mental. Perhaps, we are all a little bit mad. It’s all about being mindful about the surroundings, how we manage, deal with these conditions. I’d definitely recommend fellow course leaders to attend such trainings in the future.
How ‘theory’ should be taught in art schools is a much discussed topic ever since I joined the University for the Creative Arts. At UCA, regular CTX (Contextual Studies) group meetings are organised for tutors to exchange knowledge, share experiences, discuss issues emerging from teaching and learning cultural theories across the University. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “Contextual Studies”, basically it’s about contextualising historical and critical studies in arts subjects (such as fashion design, photography, film production, craft etc.). It forms an important part of arts and design education as it helps developing students’s research, analytic, conceptual and deductive skills.
A symposium I attended recently, co-organised by UCA and RCA and taking place at ICA (are you getting confused yet about so many -CA acronyms? I am!), dedicated to this very topic of the future of ‘theory’ in Arts and Design Schools?
In the morning session chaired by UCA’s Dr. Roni Brown, Steve Smith (Westminster), Judith Brocklehurst (IoE, University of London) and Mirko Nikolic (Westminster) proposed some interesting concepts to capture the dualism of body-mind / practice-theory. For example, Steve Smith considers “theory as art work”; developing theory is as if creating a piece of art work. But a question from the audience challenged this perhaps idealised analogy: does every practitioner want to theorise or is every practitioner capable of developing theory alongside their practice. Perhaps practice-based research is an over-hyped or over-sold concept? I suggested, upon my joining in the debate, that theorising or conceptualising is not an easy task for even a theorist, and a critical distance and an efficient communication channel are required to allow reflection, constructive dialogue and collaboration between theorists and practitioners.
The debate became more heated in the afternoon as the controversial question ‘should universities award ‘practice-based PhD’ was under discussion. Peter Osborne (Kingston) shared some acute observation about current arts and design education (especially on the concept ‘transdisciplinarity’). He pointed out several inconsistencies in the delivery and the rationale. Here’s just one issue he talked about:
Transdisciplinarity would be hard to achieve if there is no specialism. Arts are considered as transcendental and cross-discipline (e.g., sociology of arts, psychology of arts, history of arts, philosophy of arts etc.) because artists have specialist skills. Theory simply does not fit in arts and design education at the moment. The generic character of contemporary arts is that amongst other things the contextual is also constitutive. They are not in a sense necessary; they are constitutive in the actual sense. But the naming of art institutions or courses seems to suggest theory is contextual, supplementary to study practice. When questioned if he was trying to police the boundary, he said:
“The function of a PhD by practice will mean there’s no artist in art schools. I think that’s very serious. I think that’s a totality. Art schools in the last 50 years at least are not training ‘academic painters’. Exemplary of practice cannot be reduced to a rule that’s teach-able. So what do you teach when teaching arts? My view is that you should never teach arts. You can help people to produce arts, put them in certain relation with arts, but if you try to teach it, it’s kind of over. I think it’s kind of what’s happened. There’s dual-structuralism. But why practice has to take this form of (PhD)?”
Julie Louise Bacon also spoke of the need of re-inventing art pedagogy so that arts education is not normalised. Having completed one herself, Bacon is all for ‘practice-based PhD’. But, she thought currently there is too much emphasis on ‘practice-based PhD’ as a certificate, rather than on what ‘practice-based PhD’ really is about – “embodiment of thinking processes”, about “embodied knowledge”, “epistemology of bodies”.
“[Practice-based PhD] is a test, it’s a dialogue, a contract between an individual, the institution and the field. It’s not just about the certificate. I think it’s wrong-headed to place the emphasis on the certificate. I
think it’s far too reductive.”
The discussion has become really profound: the question about theory-arts has been turned into a body-mind question. Think about this: from Greek philosophers to modern days arts school educators, we are pondering the same question: how body and mind can be united as one. How about getting students to play ‘chess boxing‘? Surely that would be enlightening?
I walked out of ICA and into the busy London. Inevitably, I took some tourist photographs (see below). Did the drive for clicking the camera shutter reflect any intellectual thoughts in my mind at that moment? Only partially, I think.
Manchester Girls Geek first Tea Party in 2014 was an Appy New Year event at TeckHub Manchester. Sarah Lawrey demonstrated how to use AppShed, a web-based, drag-and-drop environment for building apps (so no programming skills are really needed, though an idea of how apps work would be helpful).
The event was well-attended (tickets sold out!) – about 30 enthusiasts were there, and the majority of them were girls and women, as expected. Participants have built ‘My Face’ featuring fav make-up colours of a face, ‘Camera Photography Tips app’, ‘Fish app’ with different types of fishes.
There are many tutorials available on the internet for example this Welcome introductory YouTube video. Also, if you need some icons for your apps, there is iconarchive.com While there are lots of resources and tools on the Internet, the key ingredient for a killer app is a creative idea.
As usual, tea and coffee and home-baked cakes (including fresh apples and apple-pear pie (for it’s an Appy event!), chocolate beetroot brownie) were provided and had kept everyone hacking away.
The event has, yet again, been fun – thanks to all the volunteers and foremostly Katie Steckles who made this possible. Way to go.
My argument was: maps are not just a technical instrument (for navigation, visualisation, organisation of data), political statement or pieces of art, maps also are (and have always been) social products, co-constructed by people with different skills, knowledge and interests. Given the latter, maps are embodiment of our everyday activities, linking and representing time, space, contexts, emotions, ideologies. I used a photograph taken at the railway stations at Farnham and Alton to show how OpenStreetMap has started to have an impact on our daily life: The maps about the local areas are based on OpenStreetMap available under the CC BY-SA licence (and contain some Ordnance Survey data). The slides for my presentation ‘partcipatory cartography and OpenStreetMap’ can be found here.
The highlight of the day was to learn those innovative and creative projects my fellow presenters have undertaken, and engaged in some interesting conversations.
The Contours project presented by Fabio Lattanzi Antinori showed the soundscaping project he did (in collaboration with Bare Conductive + and Alicja Pytlewska) using conductive ink / paint to sense human touches. This immersive artwork features interactive tapestries reacting to the movements and the presence of the audience. This can be extended to fashion design. Indeed, that could be a step forward for perceptive media if the clothes we wear can sense our emotions and moods. What if it goes this way: the suit, made of conductive materials, will sense our emotions, and then feed the data directly back to other technologies worn or embedded in our bodies and intravenously inject the media (music, video clips, radio, tv programmes) to our brain. Do we really want this?
The research on the users of Polymetros by Ben Bengler was also interesting. But the project that really stood out for me was Gabriele Dini and David Hedberg‘s Colony (data manifestation). The idea for this installation emerged from RCA’s Dataspace programme. Dini and Hedberg connected the straw-made honeycombs to Arduino, which was monitoring social media data (e.g., Tweets) and other transactional open data (e.g., data from the Transport of London, commuter numbers, passenger journeys information).
The connection between natural food products and urban habitat was hugely interesting and visually beautiful. It also gave me the idea how if we deepened the connection between animals or insects’s behaviours to real-time data in urban environments to demonstrate the environmental impacts of human activities? For example, there are anecdotal accounts of sheeps being disturbed by wind turbines. Perhaps we can approach energy companies and get some data from them (e.g., wind turbines operation hours, noise level when wind turbines are in operation), and do an Arduino project to visualise these anecdotal accounts of domestic animals being adversely affected. Just for fun.
Here are some photos taken at the event. Look forward to the next one.
It has been a challenging yet fulfilling 2013 especially with my move from the University of Salford to the University for the Creative Arts at Farnham. Some projects have come / are coming to an end (e.g., the FEM2Map project led by the Cartography Research Group at the Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation at the Vienna University of Technology, the HEA-funded game archive for learning and teaching, audience research collaboration with composers, and strategies for developing a geo social network via Maxamundo). And new projects are also starting: the re-use of materials in the Animation archive at UCA, the AHRC-funded Big Weather Data project led by the magnificent Dr. Jo Bates, and the EU COST Action ENERGIC research visit to TU-Wien for the secondary data analysis of the FEM2Map project.
It has also been an inspiring and creative 2013 – with festivals, events and conferences such as the 8th International Digital Curation Conference, the TAMK International Week, the first ever Rails Girls Galway event, OHM2013, the State of the Map 2013, By Design or By Disaster at Bolzano, FLOSSIE 2013, V&A Game Jam, stimulating the mind, the heart and the soul. I was also privileged to be a member of the grand jury of the 2013 European Youth Awards. Each entry featured creative, innovative, sustainable and generally awesome digital content. Evaluating these projects certainly has been an inspiring process for myself. I deeply agree with fabulous Denise Vernon – ‘Age becomes a pleasure when new minds and new creativity never allows you to stand still and keeps refreshing… there’s so much to learn and the process never stops.’
My heartfelt thanks go to my dearest family, friends and colleagues who have given me strength, support, pleasure and fun over the past year. Life would be dull without you all! Let’s hope 2014 brings us projects that excite and fulfil, friends and communities that allow us to build and develop, friendship that asks little and gives much, and lots of love and joy.
Happy new year, everyone!
V&A’s first game jam, which took place on 23-24 November 2013.
The challenge was to create a game around the theme of “Hidden Stories” using content, themes and inspiration from V&A’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. Six objects were chosen to give participants an idea of what there is in the galleries and for inspiration: the Luck of Edenhall, Reliquary of St Sebastian, Zeus-Sabazios, The panel of the Last Judgement / The transfiguration, Casket, Leonardo da Vinci, Forster Codex. We were also reminded of the general accessibility code that we needed to follow: 1) keep controls as simple as possible 2) give players as much time as they need to read text 3) ensure important elements are easy to see 4) avoid communicating important information by colour alone 5) avoid communicating important information by sound alone.
Having reviewed the instruction and the list of objects, my temporary team quickly decided to design a tower defence game with medieval soldiers as main characters and swords and arrows as weapons (based on their experiences of games like Kingdom Rush). Frustrated by not being able to draw or develop 3D models or programme for a platform game, I decided I’d do something simple (and achievable). I have just learned about twine, an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories at FLOSSIE2013, so I decided to try it out.
This choice-based, narrative-centred, CYOA-like hypertext game, released under the GNU Free Documentation License, is about a university student called Anna and her mythical encounter with Da Vinci’s enigmatic mirror writing. It was inspired by V&A’s collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s Foster Codex, Wikipedia content about Leonardo da Vinci, and other materials housed at the V&A. It addresses the Museum’s accessibility policy as well because it is text-based, and uses standard wiki technologies. It is easy to play, and friendly to people with visual impairments. Being non-proprietary, people can easily modify or extend the game.