Microsoft Face

I learned about Microsoft’s Face at Loraine Clarke‘s Workshop of ‘Trust, AI and Neighbourhood Technology‘ at the MozFest 2018.

The software would profile the user after taking a photograph of her. I tried the software many times on two different terminals. The first time it thought I was 23 years old. Then 26, 27, 32. Luckily, never more than that. In addition to age, it also detected sex, hair colour, wearing glasses and make-up or not. One machine thought I was wearing makeup, and the other didn’t. And my face dimensions changed every time.

Microsoft Face.
Sample reading from Microsoft Face

No one at the workshop thought the software was accurate. And because it’s inaccurate, it could be biased when used. Unfortunately, I seemed to be so used to being profiled by AI or people that it is no longer an alien experience to me (sadly).

The software tried to be playful. Once it ‘guessed’ the user’s age, it’d play a tune that ‘commemorates’ that age. So a lot of these critical issues with profiling people with this AI algorithm are hidden behind the playfulness.

User feedback welcome.
User feedback welcome.

On Microsoft’s website, it also seems that the software is mainly aimed at white users (see e.g., Step 2: Create the PersonGroup in this user document where photographs of white people are used as examples).

Knowing how popular and accessible facial recognition software like Face is these days really worries me. My trust over those selfie photo booths available the theme parks or public places is completely broken. Who knows if the facial recognition algorithms embedded in these photo booths software are profiling me or not. Shall I sacrifice my privacy for exchanging for a fun experience? I guess not.

A DRM-free Day #IDAD

I do not like technology companies placing limits and restrictions on hardware and software I use. Today is the International Day Against DRM (Digital Right Management). I want to challenge myself to have a DRM-free Day.

This could be difficult working in the higher education sector. I don’t watch content on Netflix or Steam, so no problem with being locked down on these two platforms. However, a lot of ebooks and music these days are using DRM to prevent piracy, which is an argument I strongly oppose. “DRM is locking up the market for Amazon, Apple and Kobo“, said Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group.

A lot of devices and software implemented in the higher education sector are unfortunately “protected” by the DRM. For example, I occasionally fail to open DRM-protected PDF files even if I purchased or acquired them legally. I’d have to install the the latest Acrobat Reader in order to view these DRM-enabled PDF files 😦 ‘Fair use’ and ‘ideas sharing’ are out of the picture if DRM is implemented widely (see this article).

Copyright scholars have suggested that DRM was never completely credible as a weapon against professional digital piracy. Michael S. Daubs argues that ‘proponents of DRM in HTML5 essentially legitimises U.S.-centric copyright protections on a global scale and allows the future development of the Web to be dominated by a select group of media institutions‘. There are many other more effective ways of managing the rights of content producers.

For example, some book publishers appreciate DRM-free books: Packt, Leanpub, Manning Publications, OR Books. Creative commons is also rapidly changing the way we produce and consume content and knowledge. Indeed, having DRM-free books also means greater open access to a wide variety of knowledge and result in greater goods.

I hope this blog entry will contribute to a greater awareness of DRM, and lots of alternatives out there to help us continue to develop humanity.


Infrastructuring parkrun

I gave my maiden talk at EMF 2018 at Eastnor Castle. It was a lightning talk, entitled ‘Infrastructuring parkrun‘. Quite a few people at my talk said they’ve heard of parkrun, and four of them went and did the Tewkesbury parkrun on Saturday the 1st of September, the day after my lightning talk. I’m hoping to give this pet / hobby project a bit more structure over the next few months so that I can give a proper talk at the EMF 2020 🙂

Leaving the EMF2018 campsite for the Twekesbury parkrun on Saturday 1st September 2018.
Runners briefing at Twekesbury parkrun on 1st September 2018

Let’s run! (Twekesbury parkrun on 1st September 2018)
Twekesbury parkrun on 1st September 2018


Caution. Runners. Twekesbury parkrun on 1st September 2018.

Beyond The Pedestrians

Dr. Morag Rose and colleagues at the University of Liverpool have put together an interesting interdisciplinary event ‘Beyond the Pedestrians‘ which focused on walking research, practice and culture on 26th July. It was great to meet so many energetic scholars and practitioners from a very diverse backgrounds working on walking or with walking.

Dee Heddon kicked off the event with a keynote on The Walking Library. I’ve also heard many interesting talks including the imaginative walk in video games, walking as performing arts, walking interview method (mobile methods), research on how pedestrians crossing roads, research on mud walking, night walking, and walking-tour pedagogy.

It was an inspiring and productive day. The community researching and practising walking is so vibrant and every delegate there had interesting stories to tell. I’ve learned so much and was really happy to make new contacts there.

Congratulations and a big thank you to Dr Morag Rose who has yet again organised something truly exceptional.

Live reporting from #TAMK2018

It is my fifth visit to the TAMK International Week (23-27 April 2018). This time, I am running a ‘live reporting’ workshop and delivering a talk on ‘artivism and teaching surveillance and privacy’.

Tampere Mediapolis
The entrance of TAMK International Week at the Tampere Mediapolis.

The programme of TAMK International Week 2018

The ‘Live Reporting’ workshop was semi-structured. It covers citizen journalism, live video production and live streaming. On Day One, we explored the concept of ‘being live’ (real-time). We unpacked the concept ‘real-time’ by looking into the definition of ‘reality’ and ‘time’. We played a Twitter Treasure Hunt game to get a grip of ‘real’ ‘time’. We looked into different kinds of live reporting, on the Guardian, on Twitch, Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Periscope, Instagram and Vimeo Live.

Day One of the live reporting workshop

Then, Day Two, we looked into some examples of live production both in TV broadcasting (e.g., NRK’s successful productions) and in live streaming industry (e.g., the South Korean lady who streamed herself feasting). We got our hands dirty starting live streaming). One team used Periscope while the other used Instagram. Students were encouraged when there were interactions and movement on social media.

Day Two at the Live Reporting workshop

After getting some experience, Day Three allowed students to take more control and intervention into the live video making, but talking, narrating and interacting with audience on social media. All the outputs from the three-day workshop can be found on Twitter by searching the hashtag #TAMK2018. The students now have a good understanding of live streaming technologies and strategies for developing content for live streaming.

Day Three at the Live reporting workshop

It has been three pleasant and productive days, working with six students, exploring the production of live video and live streaming. All students said they were camera shy, but they gained confidence by doing the workshop. They now have a better idea of how to appropriate the live streaming technologies for their own needs. Needless to say, I have learned a lot with the students.

Graham Cooper from the University of Lincoln also contributed to this workshop, sharing his experience with live streaming, as well as acting as an interviewee when we played ‘Who is Graham Cooper’. Thanks very much, Graham.

Graham Cooper (University of Lincoln, UK) talking about his new love ‘HQ Trivia’.

Graham Cooper and some workshop participants.

With the workshop ending with a positive note, I will go and prepare my talk on ‘artivism’. And if I have time, I will take a walk to the lake as it’s simply beautiful (and icy).

Data privacy

It could not be more timely to have my piece on data privacy published in THE SCOTSMAN amid the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. It has become a constant struggle for modern days internet users not to be exploited by corporates, governments, and advertisers, and other malicious bodies. As the scale of digitisation grows, dangers and risks in a real society are increasingly reflected on the internet. We can no longer exclude ourselves from what happened in a virtual world as the intermingle of the virtual and the real society intensifies. Like it or not, data literacy is a must-have skill for survival today. The challenge is, data literacy is still very much in its infancy and is being updated everyday (if not every second). How do we keep ourselves constantly updated, informed and up-skilled?

Strava has revealed more information about their ‘Global Heatmap’ feature, which enables “athletes from around the world” to discover new places to be active. As of today, I found a pop-up window advising about the heatmap and the data it reflects before people click to view it:

The heatmap shows ‘heat’ made by aggregated, public activities over the last two years.
The heatmap is updated monthly.
Activity that athletes mark as private is not visible.
Athletes may opt out by updating their privacy settings.
Areas with very little activity may not show any ‘heat.’
Visit the Strava blog to learn more or close this window to explore the heatmap.

While this is helpful, I think more emphasis on data privacy should be placed in the blurb. Users need to know how this feature (and other features or the whole app) concerns their privacy. We need to push digital companies to look into the ‘P’ word (privacy) more.


International Women’s Day 2018

Many of my colleagues and I are currently exercising our right to withdraw our labour following a democratic ballot of UCU members.  This is a national dispute over unjustified attacks on lecturers pensions by Universities UK.

The 2018 International Women’s Day is one of the strike days. I reluctantly declined an invitation to participate in the panel discussion of the award-winning movie ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri‘. This has not been an easy decision. I’d so very much like to endorse this brilliant idea of Katie Skinner (Macrobert’s Film Programme Officer) of examining the film as a feminist text and to look at the way the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns have shaped the awards pool this year. However, as a UCU member, it is pivotal not to break the strike (as suggested by my colleague Dr. Peter Matthews).

So, to celebrate this year’s international women’s day, I’d like to make a blog entry to commemorate the brilliant women I have met during the strike. Giving some of their best at Tuesday’s ‘Teach Out’ at the Smith Art Gallery and Museum were:

Prof. Kirstein Rummery who talked about gender inequality in academia,

Prof. Carron Shankland who introduced the first computer programmer Ada Lovelace,

Dr. Sarah Wilson who drew on C. Wright Mills to question the moral symbols, sacred emblems, legal formulae upheld by the authority to justify their rule over higher education institutions.

There are also bright young ladies who spoke at the Teach-Out to endorse their lecturers’ decision to strike. Even at the picket line, I was entertained by the intellectual conversation with Dr Melanie Lovatt about sociological imagination of the future.

While it has been difficult to refrain myself doing the usual academic work, I have cherished this opportunity to observe the comradeship and solidarity amongst the UCU members, and the key role that female academics play in the ongoing strike.

Proud to be a woman. Happy International Women’s Day.

Any corroding evil

Dr. Michele Aaron shared the outcomes from her AHRC funded project ‘Digital Technology and Human Vulnerability: Towards an Ethical Praxis’ at our research seminar today. Dr Aaron showed some clips from the films made by patients at the John Taylor Hospice. Nothing is more moving than seeing authentic, honest accounts of dying people. The range of creativity and content in these films demonstrated different attitudes towards life (and death). Participating in this film-making project also appeared to give the patients a sense of direction, and a sense of agency, allowing them to leave a legacy. Film-making, a creative and performance-based method, has been employed as a method for engagement, for empowering patients, and for collecting evidence of embodied experiences.

Our colleague Steve Chinn followed Dr Aaron’s emotionally charged presentation with an informational and insightful talk on the ‘representations of cancer in popular culture’. He addressed many critical issues that I have not thought of before: for example, Breaking bad‘s failure of portraying a cancer patient truthfully; Obama’s overly frequent use of the word ‘cancer’ as a metaphor; the overly frequent use of military action metaphors in ‘fighting’ against cancers in the mass media, which are also absorbed and prevalent in everyday conversations. All these minor things upset many cancer patients (or people who are terminally ill) because dealing with cancers is not easy. Steve also shared his ‘accidental conversations’ with oncologists about treating patients. The painting ‘Three Oncologists’ by Ken Currie at the National Galleries of Scotland vividly revealed how little we know about cancers.

Indeed, not only do we know very little about cancers, we also seldom talk about them (or death or dying) in our society. It is like a taboo. Film-making kind of allows people to express their voices on these difficult topics. While the videos from the “Life: Moving” project are engrossing, I could not help thinking of the recent saga with Logan Paul’s suicide forest video and those who chose to broadcast / live streamed how they committed suicide on the internet. Is it just a generational difference (how digital natives voice their views on death and dying on the internet where they were endowed with)? Or is it to do with how digital technologies shape our ways of living / dying? About the extent to which young people see and show their on-screen selves, their instinct of putting everything (personal) online?

The encounter with these videos has been profound. See below.

Every thing every time

Dan Hett wrote on Facebook today:

Did you know: the ‘every thing, every time’ signs have written almost 80,000 poems about the city. see one for yourself at Manchester Central Library until Aug 9th.

Every thing, every time‘ is a data poetry project, in which Dan is involved, in collaboration with artist Naho Matsuda. Commissioned by CityVerve in partnership with FutureEverything, Naho Matsuda created a computer programme that processes the live data from numerous sources in a ‘smart city’ (e.g., real-time weather data, transport data, air pollution data, event data), giving it a set of rules for shaping and presenting each line of the never ending and ever changing poem on split-flap display.

There had been some issues with these installations across Manchester. For example, it was ported that the Hulme Community one was powered down last week (though someone joked that it could have been a concept poem a la John Cage). Nevertheless, these digital poems did make the city more charming, telling stories and describing what’s happening in a smart city, making the invisible visible. As people at Manchester get on with their everyday events and interact with each other, more data are being generated and processed, contributing to the writing of poetry.

Data aesthetics goes hand in hand with critical data studies, one of my current research interests. I’m interested in data art not only because it is a critical reflection and creative response to societal and political phenomenon. Art, as we have seen in recent years, has become a powerful language for communicating research outcomes. I am interested in data art also from the perspective of critical data studies: how we can tell stories in smart cities and in what language? Why do the available data streams seem so neutral: weather, transport, traffic. Are they really neutral? What about other data sources? Why are they not available? The basic question about what we have and what we have not is quite profound; it raises all sorts of data (in)equality questions and power issues.

Who would have thought that the data poetry approach could be made so sociological?

Info and more poems at:

And it’s featured in Click.