Informatics: maps & masterclasses

Back again to the starting-to-become-familiar spaces of the Forum. Most of this morning was spent talking to Jon about plans for masterclasses with researchers in the School. Roughly speaking we’ve identified three areas of interest:

1)    Titles of academic papers.

2)    100 word statements for RAE/REF

3)    Overviews of grant proposals.

The next step is to marry these areas into a clear, useful plan that benefits both the researchers and my plans for this residency. Ideas on the table include Hero Quests, reversing impact statements to reflect the personal autobiography of the researcher, and assessing whether or not bad puns enhance or reduce the perceived quality of research. Caught up in the excitement of Pathway to Impact statements and whether or not it might be possible to persuade PhD students to re-create an episode of 24 in the Forum, we ran a little over time, which meant I had the pleasure of seeing Keith Edwards again – he kindly leant me some recording equipment a couple of years ago when I was conducting interviews as part of my PhD.

In a random segue, Keith was talking about plants which grow with words embedded into them. I’ve just managed to track down the product in question – Can Of Words – and, as Keith suspected, sadly they’re not genetically modified to spontaneously produce poetry, they’re laser tattooed seeds. Then it was back to see Katie Jeffrey to talk about office space. From last week’s temporary office on Level 3 I’ve quite literally gone up in the world, and am now in a shared office on Level 5. I now feel the need to invest in a pot plant, coffee mug, and some kind of poster: there’s a slightly unnerving similarity with moving into undergraduate accommodation.

During my lunchbreak I went for a wander round the newly refurbished National Museum of Scotland with my friend Ian. I have a retro-nostalgia habit, so we went to see the vinyl players. The collection includes one of the Braun SK55 Mono radiograms from the 1950s, which Ian informs me has been cited as a huge influence by Jonathan Ive. I was tickled by the nickname earned by the model’s clear, plastic cover: Snow White’s coffin. The human need to tie objects with stories is really fascinating for me; casual referencing like this leads to a whole new level of emotional investment with products and their use. It also gives socially integrated narratives (fairytales being a prime example) yet another textual layer of significance which writers can draw on. In the age of the Internet of Things and augmented reality the possibility for this kind of interaction to expand to a point where the flood of information exceeds our ability to fully take it in on any meaningful level (and as a result re-shape our ideas), I wonder if these kind of playful links may become lost.

We also found a display of vintage typewriters (the equivalent to pornography for most of the writers I know), and briefly visited the display on early computers where I was charmed to discover that one of the first computers (LEO) was developed by Lyons tearooms. In the Level 3 Animal Senses gallery we found a PufferSphere®: during the next year I’m hoping to film some panoramic narratives for display on the PufferSphere® in Inspace, so it was interesting for me to see how the museum was using the potential of the spherical display system and how people chose to interact with it. While the unit was a stunning addition to the refurbishment, I was slightly disappointed that the same material was being displayed in repeat around the sphere- three spliced-together sections as far as I could tell – set on a slowly rotating basis, presumably supposed to evoke the turning of the Earth. What was useful, however, was seeing the innate desire people had to touch it, even though it wasn’t set to react to touch. There’s something about the curve of the surface and its presence within a site that is very compelling.

Back in my new office (hello 5.38!) I had a little time to read-up on some ideas and start doodling thoughts of how they could be developed. Then I met with Mark Wright to find out about his work on the Bloomsbury Machine and other projects. Mark holds a joint fellowship between the School of Informatics and the Edinburgh College of Art, and has been researching (amongst other things) the potential for iterative impact between technology and culture. He has been working with panoramic film and the PufferSphere®, and it was great to be shown how the spheres have been used and to see some short clips of people watching them. As I’d seen in the museum, the desire to touch the sphere ran across the board and Mark was able to give me an idea of how that interaction could be used – plenty of food for thought for how I want to shape and present my narratives. He also gave me an introduction into the spatialised interpretation of James Joyce’s Ulysses which had led to the Bloomsbury Machine, and talked me through some of the other projects he has been working on, such as Spellbinder and an auto-dereliction augmented reality project.

It feels as though today has rushed by very quickly – lots to take-in, very little time to process. Which translates as very little time to write, really. I suppose something these blog posts allow me to do (aside from document the residency itself) is lay everything down for me to refer back to, rather like an extension of my notebooks. Rather like creating a map backwards, for use in navigating the past. That’s the function of the written word as a whole: putting our thoughts into recognisable patterns to share with future selves of other people. I’ve read a little around the subject of the written word as a form of musical notation and always thought that was a beautiful way of expressing it, but a bridge between time and space (or a map to navigate that bridge) is another way of looking at it. That’s one strong difference between digital and print media: the ability to update or augment something.

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