Life of Data

Today, we demystified ‘The Secret Life of a Weather Datum‘, a project funded by the AHRC. This end-of-project event was not only for disseminating our research findings and sharing our experiences (how we collected, processed the data, and how we designed and developed the website), but also for soliciting feedback from the participants. It also featured interesting talks from our research subjects – Joan Arthur from the Old Weather project, and Danny Antrobus from Open Data Sheffield who’s currently working with the local council to realise Air Quality+ Better with Data, and an enlightening and engaging panel discussion featuring Helen Kennedy, Andrew Prescott and Danny Antrobus.

I have been privileged to be part of the project team led by the magnificent Jo Bates – it has been a great intellectual journey exploring weather data power and data networks.

More footage of the day can be found on Twitter #lifeofdata @lifeofdata

Breakout discussion
Breakout discussion

Breakout discussion
Breakout discussion

BVE2015

This year I took BA (Hons) Media and Communications students to ExCel London for the BVE2015 expo. It was a great opportunity for them to observe current trends in the industry, network with media professionals, and getting hands-on experience and training with cutting edge hardware and software.

Most of the talks I attended on Tuesday the 24th of February were on convergent media, which are relevant to what I am teaching this term – ‘Media Convergence’. The tactics that BBC EastEnders used for audience engagement – ‘Who Killed Lucy Beale‘ – had gained much attention and appraisal. It was also indicated that we’ll see many more live broadcast shows (factual, sport, lifestyle etc.) in the future to engage audience at a deeper level embracing social media. It was also suggested that there will also be many more short-form snappy content because the short(er) attention span that audiences have theses days (thanks to social media websites such as YouTube and vimeo). However, does this really mean the death of the long-form? After all, we all indulge ourselves in binge watching from time to time. Guess it’s all to do with what content, what message you want the audience to receive.

I also attended the brilliant talk given by Ben Lunt, titled “When worlds collide: The future of broadcast and digital, and how we tell stories now“.  Instead of understanding the future media landscape from a technological perspective commonly applied, he used the history of cinema to suggest how time will change the way new media languages are developed and embraced by media / broadcast / creative industries. He suggests that the media landscape is stabilising, but still in transition (After all, this is a technological-driven industry and new technologies are constantly being advanced at the moment). Ben proposed that to successfully produce transmedia, our familiarity and fluency with the analogue need to be married with the flexibility and the immediacy of the digital.

We had seen interesting ice sculpturing show, live demo of multi-screen broadcast of live sport events, and lots of fancy new hardware for filming, editing and broadcast.

My students have also blogged about their experience to this massive trade show. Definitely look forward to BVE 2016, the larger than ever London Entertainment Week 2016.

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Live Ice Sculpturing Show
Live Ice Sculpturing Show
Live Ice Sculpturing Show
Live Ice Sculpturing Show
Live Ice Sculpturing Show
Live Ice Sculpturing Show
Live Ice Sculpturing Show
Live Ice Sculpturing Show
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Would love to have a GoPro camera
Would love to have a GoPro camera
Live demo of how to edit and broadcast li
Live demo of how to edit and broadcast li
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Student Publication Association #SPAsoutheast

Had a good time participating in the Student Publication Association’s South East Regional Conference at the University of Hertfordshire today. SPA was founded to provide similar kind of support that SRA gives to students.

I was impressed by the dedication of student journalists and the quality of the student newspapers being produced. For example, Hertfordshire Students’ Union’s student media group, Trident Media, which is run by students, for students, has covered good and serious news content in UniVerse and good shows for Crush Radio, the first student radio station in the UK.

In addition to introducing UCA’s MA Journalism and MA Media Communications courses, I sat in the talks given by very driven young talents, including @brendaisarebel from Student Beans tackling the killer question of going viral, @Duarte_RV talking about data journalism, and @lauragrb sharing her experience as a freelancer. I have also learned the kind of help the university student journalists need – e.g., improve their understanding of media law and regulations, networking, peer review and feedback on their work, working with graphic designers or with digital graphic software. I feel inclined to offering my support to these highly-driven and hard-working media professionals. To begin with, I’d welcome people to attend the lectures on media business models and media law (see details). Needless to say, I’d spread the words and encourage our UCA students to get involved.

Laura Garcia sharing her freelancing experience at #spasoutheast regional conference at http://hertfordshire.su/
Laura Garcia sharing her freelancing experience at #spasoutheast regional conference at http://hertfordshire.su/

Eyes on the prizes - tweeting to win the bottles of wine
Eyes on the prizes – tweeting to win the bottles of wine

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Writing at Farnham Castle

On this beautiful day, my colleague Dr. Craig Jordan-Baker led UCA‘s BA creative Writing students to Farnham Castle for some writing exercises. I tagged along just to enjoy part of the fun of outdoor learning.

Delivering a writing session at Farnham Castle is not for leisure (of course not!). The idea was to engage students in histories and local geographies so that they can sharpen their observational skills and deepen the connections with the objects and sites that they write about or create more interesting characters. The history they know and the objects they find will inform their thoughts, imagination, creativity and performance.

Craig kicked off by introducing the history of Farnham castle, which has been appropriated by different people or organisations for different purposes over the past centuries since it was founded in 1138 by Bishop Henry of Blois. Looking at the shell keep of Farnham Castle, one would discover different building materials (stones, bricks) and masonry techniques used to construct, fortify and repair the wall. These stones are not dead objects; they are evidences of what happened in the past and awaiting for good storytellers to narrate the histories.

To open up one’s imagination, Craig invited the students to see, feel, sniff, touch, hear what was happening in the surroundings. For example, the fallen leaves on the ground gave different textures; different types of evergreen shrubs (they are not just ‘trees'; they have names and varieties – “cypresses”). Trees also have origins and myths attached to them: Ginko, for example, is also known as “the maidenhair tree” when it was imported from Far East.

After the tour came the exercises. To get the students to know the place better, and to learn new vocabularies and apply them, Craig designed an ‘adjective bingo’ game where the students need to explore, feel, snuffle around in order to find something within the grounds that fits the specified adjectives (e.g., brittle, malleable, viscous, squelchy, maculate, keen, scabrous, warm and soft) to describe the things found that fits the adjective. When all the boxes are filled, shout ‘BINGO!’

The second exercise required the students to design characters based on the history of Farnham Castle and/or the local environment.

Lastly, the session finished with a party game (courtiers-assassins) (aka ‘the werewolves‘).

We walked, sensed, observed, learned, felt and wrote. After this enjoyable day out, this erection that I now see almost everyday has a new educational and social meaning to me.

Dr. Craig Jordan-Baker introduced the programme of the day
Dr. Craig Jordan-Baker introduced the programme of the day
Students being briefed of the writing session
Students being briefed of the writing session
Into the Keep
Into the Keep
Listening to the stories of masonry
Listening to the stories of masonry
Can you see the differences between these stones?
Can you see the differences between these stones?
Look at the beautiful Farnham park.
Look at the beautiful Farnham park.

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Law of Superposition - deeper layers of sediment or archaeological strata will naturally be older than the layers above them (in the absence of unusual, disruptive, activity, such as earthquakes). Archaeologists carry out 'relative dating' method by organizing layers or objects in order from "oldest" to "most recent."
Law of Superposition –
deeper layers of sediment or archaeological strata will naturally be older than the layers above them (in the absence of unusual, disruptive, activity, such as earthquakes). Archaeologists carry out ‘relative dating’ method by organizing layers or objects in order from “oldest” to “most recent.”
This is not an ordinary window. It's an arrowslit where the archer would have stood.
This is not an ordinary window. It’s an arrowslit where the archer would have stood.
Getting inspired.
Getting inspired!

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History of an object: From an agricultural tool to a weapon
History of an object: From an agricultural tool to a weapon

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Touch it and feel the texture. Is it squelchy? Maculate? Scabrous?
Touch it and feel the texture. Is it squelchy? Maculate? Scabrous?
We are not texting. We are looking up the new vocabularies on our smart phones.
We are not texting. We are looking up the new vocabularies on our smart phones.

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Puppet Human

Last term I did a joint-lecture on maps and mapping with Rosie Gunn for her 2nd-year students in BA (Hons) Digital Films and Screen Arts and my 1st-year in BA (Hons) Media and Communications. The idea was that through some theoretical concepts (e.g., maps as texts, maps as political artefacts, psychogeography), the students can explore different meanings of maps and/or create different types of maps.

Yesterday, the DFSA students exhibited their works at the James Hockey Gallery with 10 pieces of interesting new media arts, featuring genetic music, an interactive brain, animated graffiti, a psychogeographic documentary, a video surveiling crikets, a sound installation subverting ‘laughs’, and the live performance ‘Puppet Human‘ by Rob Adams, who spent 24 hours in the gallery interacting with / being played by online audiences on twitch.tv, responding to their commands to move around a live-sized square board. When I saw Adams yesterday 7pm, he was shaving his hairs. He also cut his trousers.

image-maps-journeying

When I saw Rob Adams today on midday, he was excited to see people as he hadn’t seen anyone for more than 3 hours, and was merely waiting for instructions given to him on screen. He talked about being lonely, bored, and his thought on ‘uncertainty’ – uncertainty only affects you when you think of it. If you are doing things, you seem to forget about uncertainty. He appreciated freedom even more after doing this project, something that was stripped of him over this 24-hour performance. Watching him on Twitch.tv also reminded me of Terri Senft‘s CamGirls. There are so many elements one can explore his project from the lens of ‘new media studies': interaction, interactivity, playing vs. being played (who is playing whom? after all, Adams designed this game / show and we were all lured in to play him), power, liveness, temporality, embodiment, emotions.

In fact, not only the live performance from Adams, all the art works exhibited there are perfect examples for understanding ‘media convergence’ and Manovich’s ‘The Language of New Media’. There are common design patterns, shared forms and elements of which these art works are consisted. They are in line with the emergent convention of new media art (algorithmic arts, interactive arts, video installations).

NESTA has just shared their prediction for 2015, where they forecast 1) Digital art gets up close and personal 2) Crafts get a 21st century makeover 3) Programming a new generation of digital makers. All these three trends highlight the importance of understanding the role of new media and different “languages” and “grammars” of new media. The success of the exhibition ‘Innovation and Interference: Maps and Journeying’ has just confirmed that the courses we offer here at UCA provides great opportunities for achieving this because UCA is a specialist university focusing on creative arts. And that, is definitely our USP in this competitive higher education market.

Hats off to Rosie Gunn, her course team, the gallery curator Richard Hylton and his team of specialist technicians, and the exhibiting students upmost.

Life of Fry

The life Stephen Fry, who has just wedded Elliott Spencer, is no short of surprises. And telling the story of his life is by no means an easy task. So when my first-year UG students at UCA Farnham delivered their #YourFry project work, based on the content released for open re-interpretation, re-mixing and re-use, I was so proud of them.

The process of tackling this brief had not been smooth. The biggest challenge was to get students understand what the brief was about – the output has to be of the nature of ‘transmedia’, reusing and repurposing the content released by the publisher Penguin Random House to deconstruct and repurpose the words and themes from Stephen’s last two books.

To help them, several skills workshops were organised, including a character design workshop led by Shekhar Bhttacharjee (Associate Faculty, Toy & Game Design, NID PG Campus, Gandhinagar), filming and video editing workshops.

The outcomes were brilliant, based on all the new and vibrant media one could think of these days, and for different audiences. Three students submitted their videos for this competition, and they were so encouraged by the feedback from Fry himself and the publisher.

I do hope the students found the process rewarding and fun. No doubt they will come up with different ideas when they progress to the second or third years. However, the ability of addressing briefs can only be developed over time. What I’d like them to learn from working on such kind of briefs is the ability to analyse a brief, to come up with an idea that is feasible based on available skills, knowledge, resources, and deliver it in time. These are basic project management skills – delivering a project in time and under budget. So, the more briefs they do, the more familiar they are going to be with the process, and the less fears they are going to have.

Our press officer Tim Pilgrim has written up a good article on this. You may also find some first-class work here.