EDINA Mobile Development Strategy

The technology strategy document (linked below) is intended to complement the work of EDINA’s Mobile Internet project. That project is, in part, designed to help generate a ‘mobile strategy’ for EDINA through a process of research, development, reflection and synthesis. This document then will undergo substantial revision as the Mobile Internet project progresses, and will constitute an expression of the deepening understanding within EDINA of ‘mobile’ as a strategic technology issue. To ensure that EDINA:
• can and does respond proactively to the challenges presented by the growing significance of ‘mobile’
• is equipped and well-positioned to exploit opportunities indicated by this new paradigm
• is positively recognised by significant stakeholders (Jisc, University of Edinburgh) as a centre of expertise in the development and delivery of mobile service

– EDINA mobile development strategy_revision_3

EDINA Geoforum 2014

I attended EDINA’s Geoforum 2014, described as:

… a free all day event aimed at lecturers, researchers and support staff who promote and support the use of geo-services at their institution.

I came along primarily to learn more about the services that my own organisation, EDINA, provides in this space.

These are my notes from the day – I had to dip in and out of parts of the day to deal with other things so my notes are quite selective – my aim is to give a flavour of the day. For a more complete account, I recommend the impressively comprehensive ‘live blog’ post written by my colleague Nicola Osborne

Opening Keynote

Peter Gibbs
The opening keynote was delivered by Peter Gibbs, BBC and Met Office forecaster and presenter, and proved to be an absorbing introduction to the various data services used in weather modelling and prediction, with a focus on hydrological aspects.

The Pitt Review, which was launched to examine the the flooding events in the UK in 2007, concluded that the Met Office and the Environment Agency should work more closely together. One outcome of this recommendation was the establishment of the Flood Forecasting Centre in Exeter. This has developed a new expertise, that of hydro-meteorology.

Peter suggested that one might think that weather forecasting ought to be simple. After all, we have well understood laws of physics and thermodynamics, and if the modelling and measurement is up to scratch then forecasting should be straightforward. Of course it isn’t that simple. Chaos is the enemy of weather forecasting. Small variants in inputs to the data model may have an effect which multiplies over time.

This is mitigated by an approach called Ensemble forecasting, where the same same model is run many times over, with slight changes to the inputs at each iteration.

Peter talked about some of the methods used to collect data. For example, nearly all commercial aircraft are instrumented to automatically collected temperature, air-pressure and wind-speed data and to share this through a satellite network. This is valuable – but it does mean that this data collection is concentrated over the developed world, and in the northern hemisphere, where the majority of commercial air-traffic is found.

Data collected can vary in quality and quantity in other ways. For example, some image data is collected using a series of satellites in orbit over the equator. This means that the resolution of images of equatorial regions is superior to that of images of locations in higher latitudes. The quantity of data available for processing is huge, with processing and modelling meteorological data requiring super computers. The Met Office has been at the forefront of this kind of activity for some time, with the US having fallen way behind due to lack of funding. In response to the challenge of the quantity of data to be processed, a unified model is now typically used for modelling at every level – so both global and localised data can be used to inform the same models, and one model can be ‘nested’ inside another.

There was plenty more of interest in Peter’s talk – I recommend a look at the slides.

Geoservices Support

Carole Blackwood, EDINA

Carole gave an informative account of recent developments with EDINA’s ‘geoservices’ and a preview of up and coming new features.

EDINA has adopted the approach of working through user-stories to plan feature development for Digimap, classifying potential new feature developments as things which must, should or could be done.

User support for Digimap is excellent, with a variety of learning and teaching resources having been developed by the team and made publicly available. Some of these resources are designed to be re-usable, so that teaching staff in Digimap‘s subscribing institutions can take these materials and tailor them for their own students’ needs. Screen-casts, showing how to use various parts of the Digimap suite of services, have been recorded and published on Youtube. For those who need closer support, there is even a real-time chat with the Digimap team’ function. In addition to all the online support, Carole explained how the *Digimap team “like to get out and about”, delivering training and support workshops to users (this prompted a comment from a delegate about how “completely fantastic” the tailored workshop from EDINA staff was for her masters students).

Up-and-coming events which EDINA’s Geoservices Team are either delivering or attending

Carole’s slides are available on Slideshare

Field Trip GB

Addy Pope, EDINA
Fieldtriup GB
Addy led an exercise which saw a 20-30 delegates all using a recent innovation from EDINA – a smart-phone application called Fieldtrip GB to go out in to ‘the field’ (i.e. the street outside!), to collect images of and metadata about graffiti. This worked well as an introduction to Fieldtrip GB, which is a free tool designed to allow users to design forms which they can then use to collect data against high quality maps. Map caching means that the app can even be used off-line.

EDINA believes that this app is unique in the sense that it:

  • allows the flexible and user-configurable collection of data
  • works off-line
  • has good quality mapping
  • is free to download and use!

Currently the maps used in Fieldtrip GB are restricted to the UK – however the next version will be able to use Open Street Map as an alternative offering global coverage.

EDINA makes the source code to Fieldtrip GB freely available on its GitHub space

Summing up

Unfortunately, I had to leave the event shortly before the end so I missed the conclusion. Although I joined the organisation a few months ago, such is the depth and range of activities at EDINA that I’m still learning about them. This event was an excellent opportunity to learn more about EDINA’s geoservices.

To find out more about EDINA’s geoservices, visit the EDINA website’s ‘Maps & Data’ page.

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BL Labs and AHRC Digital Transformations

BL Labs LogoLast week I attended an event, organised by BL Labs working with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, at the British Library’s Centre for Conservation. The event, described as a showcase event for British Library Labs and AHRC Digital Transformations, consisted of a packed series of presentations – I won’t describe them all (and I missed Bill Thompson’s talk anyway) but will, instead, pull out some snippets which interested me in particular.

BL Labs

In introducing the event, Caroline Brazier (Director, Scholarship and Collections at the British Library) described the purpose of BL Labs as being an investigation into what happens when the British Library’s large digital collections are brought together with enquiring minds in pursuit of digital scholarship.

Later on, Mahendra Mahey (a former colleague of mine) who manages the BL Labs project added some details – the BL Labs is a two-year Mellon-funded project to conduct research and development “both with and across” the British Library’s digital collections. It does not do any digitisation, only working with existing digital collections. BL Labs has worked with a variety of people already, from those who were winners in a competition designed to solicit new ideas, to others who have simply turned up with an interest in working with the data. BL Labs is very interested in figuring out how the British Library can work with digital scholars and in pursuing this, also aims to discover new approaches to digital scholarship.

An interesting aspect to BL Labs has been their approach to selecting which of the 600+ digital collections they would work with. Limited resources meant that it would have been impractical to try to support people working with any and all of these. The criteria used to filter these to a more manageable subset were, in order:

  • if the collection was copyright-cleared or not
  • whether or not the collection was or had been curated (the project team felt the need to understand how the collection had been formed/developed)
  • the state of available metadata for the collection
  • the accessibility of the collection

Mahendra emphasised two important lessons that the BL Labs team have learned as a result of their activities:

  • the importance of getting the curators of the collections involved in the BL Labs competition and events in order to properly understand and present the data
  • the importance of releasing the data as early as possible since, as researchers start to engage with the data their research questions tend to change.

Later on Adam Farquhar (Head of Digital Scholarship at the BL) emphasised how the BL now has Digital Curators.

An aspiration of the BL Labs team is to develop a’top-level’ gateway to BL digital collections at http://data.bl.uk, but this does not yet exist.

Mahendra’s colleague, Ben O’Steen (Technical Lead at BL Labs) briefly demonstrated his innovative Mechanical Curator. Some years ago, Microsoft partnered with the BL to digitise 65,000 books. The majority of this collection is from the late 19th century, and the data is now public domain. The Mechanical Curator extracts “small illustrations and ornamentations” from these books and publishes them on a blog, creating a collection of often overlooked resources. You can read more about how this works on the BL’s Digital Scholarship blog.

Scholarship driving the development of new tools

Biblical concordance Professor Andrew Prescott gave a interesting talk on how arts and humanities are being transformed through digital scholarship. He used the example of a “biblical concordance” from the fourteenth century – essentially an early example of an index allowing one to look up terms and find occurrences of them throughout the text (apparently this innovation helped drive the adoption of numbered ‘verses’ in the bible). The point that Andrew illustrated is that this represented an enormous advance in scholarship. He invited us to consider how we ought to characterise such intellectual output, describing it as:

an enormous scholarly achievement in itself, but seen as a tool – wide ranging in its impact, but difficult to pin down.

Andrew went on to suggest that as the humanities and arts embrace digital scholarship, we should anticipate and encourage the development of new tools and approaches. He contrasted the sort of approaches taken to studying a letter from Gladstone to Disraeli, with the available archive of email messages – some 200 million of them – in the George W Bush Presidential Library. According to Andrew, there is no longer an easily identifiable set of methods that one might apply to scholarship in the digital humanities and arts: there is an increasing variety of formats, other disciplines are being introduced, and techniques are now ad hoc. He also pointed to a stronger connection to “practice-led” research, especially in the arts.

Andrew’s presentation was illustrated with plenty of interesting projects. I’ll briefly note a few (those which piqued my interest) here:

Andrew’s slides are available on Slideshare.

The Digital Panopticon

Sharon Howard (University of Sheffield) introduced this new 4 year international project which will examine the global impact of London punishments between 1780 and 1925. Using Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon as a neat metaphor for the project, Sharon described how two systems of punishment were run concurrently in this period: criminals could expect to be sentenced to transportation for seven years to life, or they could face a shorter incarceration in a London gaol. The Digital Panopticon will create a digital laboratory for investigating “power and human response”, using criminal records.

Sharon quoted Michel Foucault, who said:

The Panopticon may even provide an apparatus for supervising its own mechanisms…

I’m not quite sure what this will mean in practice, but I am intrigued by the idea of applying the all-seeing, monitoring eye of the Panopticon to human behaviour in this way, using historic data rather than real-time surveillance.


It was interesting to see how the British Library is experimenting with digital curation. I have been aware of the growing interest and momentum in the so called digital humanities for some time. The projects described at the showcase event illustrated the range, extent and potential of the exploitation of structured data in digital scholarship in the humanities and arts. I think the significant message for me would be that data changes scholarship very directly – that as data becomes available, so the research questions themselves are changed.

Thanks to Mahendra, Ben and the rest of the BL staff who helped put on an interesting event.

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Joining EDINA

I’m delighted to announce that I will be joining EDINA in August as Head of Technology Strategy and Planning

I have long admired EDINA, having had several opportunities to collaborate with them in the past few years. EDINA is a powerhouse of technical service delivery and innovation, and has carved out an enviable national and international reputation in several fields. I’m excited to be joining this successful and innovative organisation, and am looking forward to what I have no doubt will be a challenging role.

Rather than moving to Edinburgh, I’ll be based in a Bristol office, but I expect to be visiting the mothership on a frequent basis.

The past year at UKOLN has been a difficult one for all of us there. Like me, many of my colleagues have found new positions, while others are actively searching for opportunities. Although UKOLN is greatly diminished by the loss of many talented and committed staff, the deep expertise and knowledge remains with them individually, and I hope that I may be able to collaborate with some in future. I have benefitted enormously from six years of association and collaboration with such colleagues. I would like to thank them for their support, and to wish them well for the future, wherever that may be.

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