Belated Liveblog: eLearning@ed 2016

Last week I was delighted to be part of the team organising the annual eLearning@ed Conference 2016. The event is one of multiple events and activities run by and for the eLearning@ed Forum, a community of learning technologists, academics, and those working with learning technologies across the University of Edinburgh. I have been Convener of the group since last summer so this was my first conference in this role – usually I’m along as a punter. So, this liveblog is a little later than usual as I was rather busy on the day…

Before going into my notes I do also want to say a huge thank you to all who spoke at the event, all who attended, and an extra special thank you to the eLearning@ed Committee and Vlad, our support at IAD. I was really pleased with how the event went – and feedback has been good – and that is a testament to the wonderful community I have the privilege of working with all year round here at Edinburgh.

Note: Although I have had a chance to edit these notes they were taken live so just let me know if you spot any errors and I will be very happy to make any corrections. 

The day opened with a brief introduction from me. Obviously I didn’t blog this but it was a mixture of practical information, enthusiasm for our programme, and an introduction to our first speaker, Melissa Highton:

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Edinburgh Cityscope: Hello World!

Today Nicola Osborne, is blogging the Edinburgh Cityscope: Hello World! event, where the Engaging Edinburgh projects, funded by the AHRC, will be introduced to an invited audience of University and Edinburgh city stakeholders and project partners. These notes are being taken live, so please do let us know if you see any errors or corrections. 

Edinburgh Cityscope – Hello World – Prof. Chris Speed, ECA

Professor Chris Speed is introducing us to the event. Edinburgh is a really unique city in many ways. We are looking at exploring it through data. But our understanding of a city, our representations of the city… give us different understandings of the city. To show a few introductions of the city – clips from Wings of Desire or Lost in Translation – encapsulate that sort of introduction to the city. And that’s what Cityscope is doing today, introducing lots of different ways into the city, different stakeholders views of the city.

We will start by hearing from some of these stakeholders, projects, ways of seeing the city. Sharing their explorations of the city.

Prof Chris Speed introduces the Edinburgh CityScope - Hello World event

Prof Chris Speed introduces the Edinburgh CityScope – Hello World event

Doing data is really important. Doing privacy is very important. Doing social media is important. And we have a whole section of the day to explore, to play, to try some of these ideas. After that hands on part of the day there is the chance to return, to ask questions, etc.

From Edinburgh Cityscope to Edinburgh, Global City of Learning – Prof. Jonathan Silvertown, Biological Sciences and Prof. Karen Forbes, ECA. 

Chris: Edinburgh Cityscope, formerly “Virtual Edinburgh” is an idea I feel privileged to share in with you, a concept of the city as a space of sharing data, of exploring data, and also for gathering data. It means that we can make Edinburgh a Global City of Learning. It is about new tools and approaches. But the idea isn’t entirely new… And we will hear from three projects already doing these sorts of things in their domain: LitLong; MESH; and Curious Edinburgh. Each of those projects have had to independently raise funds, persuade people to get these things built. The hope is that with Cityscope the University will have its own infrastructure, just there for use, for those sorts of projects. And those projects are a taster for what is possible, and data that might be combined.

Prof Karen Forbes talks about the Edinburgh Cityscope project at the Hello World event

Prof Karen Forbes talks about the Edinburgh Cityscope project at the Hello World event

Karen: We see this Edinburgh Cityscope idea of having relevance at every stage, from undergraduate, postgraduate, and staff and researchers. You can see the potential for interdisciplinary work. There is a very particular character to the city, the different layers of architecture, archeology, ideas, culture, and a dense mesh of information that can be explored as data, as archives recalibrate to the geography of the city. We want to make this data available and open access as much as possible. We see it as being something distinctive about being in Edinburgh in the 21st century. It will provide that infrastructure that enables very positively this use and reuse of data. Adding to the student experience in new exciting ways.

We have a large steering committee at the moment and we are excited to see what we can do here. We want representation from all of the colleges, and also from IS and EDINA, and we see that varied contribution as crucial to the project.

The nuts and bolts of Edinburgh Cityscope – Ben Butchart, EDINA

Firstly I’d like to acknowledge the work of my colleagues on this, Richard Goode from IS Apps, and Ruben Gamez, EDINA.

Imagine yourself faced with a professor, new to the University, who wants to turn the city not just into a “City of Learning”, but a “Global City of Learning!”. I think most engineers would run a mile but we’re made of girders at EDINA! So, myself and Nicola Osborne from EDINA were invited onto the steering committee for this project as it started to take shape.

Myself and Richard Goode have been working on the technical scoping of this projects and what they might need, ways to build apps, ways to manage data, and ways to work creatively. The basic idea is that you login to a workbench and have your own components to play with, that give you access to data, documentation, widgets to play with the data in various ways.

Ben Butchart talks about the "nuts and bolts" of Edinburgh CityScope at the Hello World event

Ben Butchart talks about the “nuts and bolts” of Edinburgh CityScope at the Hello World event

Just to give you a very early sneak peak… We aren’t launching anything today, instead this is an idea of what we are working on. So, if you login to your Cityscope workbench you can use Jupyter Notebooks to explore the data, to code your own interpretation, and we are using APIs and queries to bring data in here. For those who don’t want to touch the dode, code you can create your own apps, e.g. in the way you can for COBWEB Citizen Observatory Web project; Curious Edinburgh, who you’ll hear from later, are similarly a form of pre-baked app idea – in that case using WordPress to create a mobile tour app. We are also looking at third party maker tools like AppGyver, which allows you to build your own apps.

In terms of the data we are using GitHub as a repository – a way to manage and version control that data, to make it easily accessible to developers, APIs etc. This isn’t an archive space, it’s about making that data as accessible as possible.

When we first started talking about this project Prof. Ewan Klein talked to me about JupyterHub – these are like wiki pages but they are executable, with support for over 40 languages, allowing you to code and document as you go, using the data science idea of a “coding narrative”. I think computation notebooks like this will be a core skill for graduates of the future. And I think it’s great that Cityscope will provision a Notebooks server as part of this project.

The final component is Mobile Backend as a Service, using Loopback, which enables you to create an API from the outset for every dataset, allowing you to immediately feed data into those Maker Tools.

Now, no engineer’s presentation would be complete without a box and line diagram! If you are a software developer, you’ll love this diagram, full of exciting things! Now we are using Docker, and working on AWS at present, as that allows us to experiment and deploy tools elastically, but it is all set up to allow us to port it across to another space in the future, to host it locally etc.

Using Edinburgh Cityscope to engage the University with the Public – Prof. Lesley McAra, School of Law

The two ambitions we should have: that we put our research and teaching at the service of our communities, working collaboratively to produce meaningful and sustained change; and an ambition for cities, that an Edinburgh degree “is enough” to make them employable and enriched graduates – with the knowledge, mindset, core skills that this sort of project gives space to develop and use.

One of the things we want to try and do is to have 100 student projects, group projects with multidisplinary groups, at UG or PG levels, can actually use Cityscope in academic year 2017/18 where they will utilise data from Cityscope as part of their learning, but also creating and using their own research and feeding into Cityscope or combining with Cityscope data. It offers opportunities for open learning short courses and pathways to higher education (students as tutors). And there is an absolute massive potential for using the Cityscope datasets to show how any interventions within the city of Edinburgh can map and track change, mapping impact, evaluating work within the city.

Prof. Lesley McAra talks about mapping data at the Edinburgh CityScope Hello World event

Prof. Lesley McAra talks about mapping data at the Edinburgh CityScope Hello World event

So, I want to show you a map. I run a longitudinal project on the impact of social deprivation on crime. I have a GIS system that is used in this, and I want to upload my data from that, and combine and update in the future to track changes over time. One of the challenges the city faces as a whole is a dense clustering of areas of social deprivation, and poor outcomes – school exclusions, police reports of violent crime, detention, etc. –  strongly maps to those. And the challenge is finding interventions that actually change that. Working with the Council and other stakeholders to try to make a real difference. There is a strong connection between poverty and poor outcomes and, as a University, I think we should be trying to make that change, seeing what works and changes over time.

Now, a quick quote from Walter Scott – who has a connection with this building (ECCI), as he taught at it when it was the Royal High School:

“The race of mankind would perish did they cease to aid each other. We cannot exist without mutual help. All therefore that need aid have a right to ask it from their fellow-men; and no one who has the power of granting can refuse it without guilt.”

And I would therefore say that no one who has the power of granting funding and support for Edinburgh Cityscope can refuse it without guilt!

Lit Long: Mapping Literary Edinburgh – Prof. James Loxley, Department of English

Edinburgh is a self-conciously literary city. And we wanted to explore beyond the authors, the coffee shops they frequented etc, but we wanted to explore the imagined city, the city of their literature and ideas. And we wanted to bring computational techniques to bear on material we are used to engaging with in a purely human ways.

We identified appropriate texts, checking they were literature rather than, e.g. poetry, and then text mining them in terms of place names. The project was called Palimpsest (2014-15) And that created a resource called LitLong. We have an online location visualiser, a database to search, and an app to take into the wild. Behind that there is a database of 47,000 textual extracts, gathered in under 15 months, and you can explore all of that in our hands on session.

Prof. James Loxley talking about LitLong at the Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World event

Prof. James Loxley talking about LitLong at the Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World event

Since we created this resource we’ve been looking at what else we can do with this resource. And we have been very fortunate to have had funding from the AHRC to take this forward, to explore the use of LitLong with the community, with authors, etc. And we are also working closely with the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust to continue on with this. So come and have a look during the hands on session and hear more about our work.

Mapping Edinburgh’s Social History (MESH) – Prof. Richard Rodger, School of History, Classics and Archeology

I will be talking about a project related to MESH, but to put that in context you need to understand the two key things MESH has been doing as a project: capturing social history data; and creating a rich detailed underlying contemporary map.

During MESH the team have built up Open Street Map to a huge degree of detail – with the majority of the city now mapped within 3metres, in some cases 1metres of accuracy. This is openly available for everyone, benefitting all in the city. That has huge economic value – there are calculations of this impact from the Dutch government to show the real benefits of this level of detail .

So, with this contemporary and historical mapping we can take another data source – like the Scottish Post Office Directories – and track changes over time, for instance locations of butchers in Edinburgh (see image to follow). 

Prof. Richard Rodger talks about the MESH project at the Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World event

Prof. Richard Rodger talks about the MESH project at the Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World event

Now, Lost Edinburgh is a Facebook page which I’m sure many of us know, and love. This site captures the cityscapes of Edinburgh, the lives and history of the city. And over the last three months Wilson Smith, from Lost Edinburgh, has been working with Eric Grosso, the technician here, has been creating rich metadata for Lost Edinburgh information, so that it can used again, and to structure that data in a way that can continue.

With that metadata and the tools available in MESH that enriches Lost Edinburgh as a resource, and that content enriches our understanding of the city. There are many other types of datasets which we can use via a geocoding tool that will allow us to explore and combine data sets. And we now have a powerful tool for historical analysis.

Curious Edinburgh – Dr Niki Vermeulen & Dr Bill Jenkins, School of Social & Political Science

Niki: Curious Edinburgh is a project creating a website and app, which allows you to explore the history of science in Edinburgh. And this tour is based on a real tour which used to be given once a year by Professor John Henry’s. We are making that into a web and phone resource so you can take that tour any time.

Niki Vermeulan speaks about Curious Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World event

Niki Vermeulan speaks about Curious Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World event

Bill: I’m just going to give you a quick preview of the content, which explores historical sites and well-known figures, such as John Hutton. Some content is taken from John Henry’s tour, but some also comes from our work in partnership with the National Museums of Scotland, Surgeons’ Hall Museums, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, etc. I’m also going to play a clip of the video we have included, shot the last time John Henry gave his tour in 2014. (Clips were shown, pages viewed. You can explore these

Bill H. Jenkins speaks about Curious Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World event

Bill H. Jenkins speaks about Curious Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World event

Niki: So our hope is to take this forward with more tours, more histories to explore. We see opportunities here for future tours around: geology (content already ready!), physics (content almost ready), medicine, public health, biotechnology, engineering, beer brewing, philosophy, sociology, architecture, etc.

And with that Chris Speed hands us over the the hands on part of the day… The blog will continue when we return for the plenary later this afternoon. 

The Curious Edinburgh team show their website and app to Principal Tim O'Shea at the CityScope Hello World event

The Curious Edinburgh team show their website and app to Principal Tim O’Shea at the CityScope Hello World event

The MESH project share their work with Lost Edinburgh at Edinburgh CityScope - Hello World

The MESH project share their work with Lost Edinburgh at Edinburgh CityScope – Hello World

The LitLong team show their most recent work at Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World

The LitLong team show their most recent work at Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World

Hands on Google Cardboard visualisation session at Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World

Hands on Google Cardboard visualisation session at Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World

The EDINA Geo team show how data can be mapped using a range of tools at Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World

The EDINA Geo team show how data can be mapped using a range of tools at Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World

The Cityscope development team show off early prototypes and off the shelf tools at the Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World event

The Cityscope development team show off early prototypes and off the shelf tools at the Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World event

And we are back.

Discussion session

Chris: So, we want to wrap up with some discussion of what we need, where are the gaps, where is the potential?

Sally Kerr, Edinburgh City Council: We (Edinburgh City Council) have loads of council data and resources. We have problems we want to solve, data to better understand. We should be working together to take this forward, it has use for your research, and we want to work in partnership, to work collaboratively, to see what can be done with our data. Come and ask us!

Chris: What’s been good or useful today?

Patricia Erskine, UoE: I think it’s brilliant to have all these partners here and it would be fantastic to have follow up to today, about data that’s available, about how to take this forward.

Jonathan: Yes. Right now we have been working on the foundations of this project, we want to move to the work Lesley McAra was talking about, the proof of concept at scale with 100 projects (2017/18). The next step after that will be the all singing, all dancing, version of this, the one open to all. And indeed I’d like to thank the Principal and Information Services for their funding and support for the project so far, and for the year ahead. We then need to think about what is next.

Chris: What about other apps and ideas?

Participants engage with the various tools and discussions at Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World

Participants engage with the various tools and discussions at Edinburgh Cityscope Hello World

Ewan Klein, Informatics: I’m curious about how Cityscope intersects with the MESH project – Open Street Map is an infrastructure that supports comparison of data and information.

Ben: There is potential to combine data in some forms. So, with Cityscope for iOS it makes sense to use the Apple Maps kit, the default. At EDINA, we tend to point to our own mapping or OSM servers. For Cityscope there is the potential for anyone to launch their own app server, moving from tile to vector tile maps – add your own cartography and styling. I’ll be really interest in context of MESH to look at vector tile technology for students and users to clone that data sets and select relevant features, that can be used in notebooks, cartography tools, CSS styling. That is the conversation we just need to get talking and scope specific projects. There is so much we could do, that it’s the challenge of focusing on what is most important or highest profile.

Richard Rodger, HCA: I think we need to understand how far this is an outward looking project, and how much this is inward looking. We have to plan on the basis of that understanding. And we have to test drive it with real users. The imagination is important at this stage, and that dialogue with Edinburgh citizens is central and crucial to that.

Tim O’Shea, Principal UoE: I think clarity of ambition with regards to community and ambition would be useful. The community is probably anyone who has access to a computer or mobile phone; what data is relevant and in scope; and then the third part relates to the App Inventor project I saw on MIT – which is quite a restrictive tool on restrictive data – so just how ambitious are you being in terms of what can be combined and built. For anyone coming to Edinburgh to build any app they want on the city, that’s very ambitious, perhaps too ambitious. But having clarity for those three areas is important.

Jonathan: We are being pretty ambitious right now, towards the higher end of that spectrum. We have been trying out AppGyver, which is based upon the Ionic framework that is also used by MIT, and we are trying AppGyver at the moment, but paying a hefty fee to do that right now. By the time we are ready to open to the world I think there will be an open source equivalent to create many more things – because ideally we do want anyone to do anything with our data, with OSM data, etc.

Ben B: We’ve already done some innovation where being able to use a blog, allows you to make an app. There are already some tools we have, can use, have trialled that use simple and familiar tools. Another approach is the AppGyver type tools – it’s impressive as functionality.

Peter Burnhill, EDINA: Our approach, generally with mobile work, has been to enable paths to make an app, to create what they need. Richard talked about openness, but sometimes there is necessity for restrictions because of privacy or licensing and one needs to address that, and the challenges there. These are real things to confront.

Sally K: At the Council we are trying to think about digital innovation – and thinking beyond “there’s an app for that” and instead focusing on the problems that need solving, and tool sets to try stuff out, to see what works and indeed what doesn’t. Apps won’t be here for ever, we have to think about future proofing. You need to think about scaling and future proofing, and offering more for 3 years, for 5 years.

Jonathan: Indeed, and that’s part of why Cityscope is an infrastructure. You need a safe place for data, tools to manipulate that data, and that top layer for creating and using data – which is where we are using some third party and initial ideas there.

Tim O’Shea: I think it may not be possible to be future proof but the closest we can be is being ahead of other people – and that’s what Edinburgh University is good at doing. There’s some fabulous work here already, but that’s what we need to do here, to keep ahead of others’.

Jonathan: And Edinburgh is in a unique position here, we have a rich history to draw upon here.

Richard R: And that spatial aspect is absolutely central to all of these ideas, that data, the issues that Sally is raising. And the quality of the underlying mapping is crucial.

Chris: We have to be aware that people move at different paces – some of what is happening now seems to reflect what we could do with iPhone 3S – so we have to anticipate that, what is coming and what will be important.

Ewan K: I think if students are collecting data then we need to think about the use and reuse of data – how that is licensed etc. There is a position that all citizen data must be open data, and I think that has some merit. But also it’s not clear how we best support students in collecting, storing and sharing data that is not open.

Ben B: I wanted to come back to Sally’s comment that mobile apps aren’t necessarily the key things in the future. It’s easy to build an app that won’t be used. But there is the idea of using bots that lets you use existing app, to bring back a relevant data set. That means less friction, and again that’s something we’d like to explore.

Eric Grosso: We need our systems to be sustainable and robust, where databases and services can be hosted, so we can make this space for experimentation and more geospatial projects like this.

Chris: I suspect there is a way to think about sharing data, combining data and building connections.

Jonathan Silvertown and Chris Speed lead discussions after the hands on session at Edinburgh Cityscope - Hello World

Jonathan Silvertown and Chris Speed lead discussions after the hands on session at Edinburgh Cityscope – Hello World

Thank you so much for this. We have our website,, and that’s another way to explore and continue. And do email and tweet us your ideas and input.

And with that we move into the wine reception for the AHRC Engaging Edinburgh projects, and the close to the event. Thanks to all who have joined us in person, on the blog, or on Twitter. We welcome your comments and ideas on the Engaging Edinburgh projects, or indeed on CityScope – which we will pass onto our colleagues there. Do leave comments below, tweet the projects or CityScope (@embracityscope).

View images from the event here:

Edinburgh Apps Final Pitch Event

This afternoon I’m at the EdinburghApps Final Pitch event, being held at the University of Edinburgh Informatics Forum. As usual for my liveblogs, all comments and edits are very much welcomed.

EdinburghApps, is a programme of events organised by Edinburgh City Council (with various partners) to generate ideas and technology projects addressing key social challenges. This year’s Edinburgh Apps event has been themed around health and social care (which have recently been brought together in Scotland under the Public Bodies Joint Working Bill for Health and Social Care Integration).

The event has run across several weeks, starting with an Inception weekend (on 6th & 7th Feb, which I blogged some of here), then a midway catch up/progress day (held on 27th Feb – you may have seen me tweet from this), and culminating in today’s final pitch event, at which we’ll hear from previous winners, as well as this year’s teams. The challenges they have been addressing around health and social care challenges fall under five headings (click to see a poster outlining the challenge):

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EdinburghApps Event LiveBlog

This afternoon I’ve popped in to see the presentations from this weekend’s EdinburghApps event, being held at the University of Edinburgh Informatics Forum. As usual for my liveblogs, all comments and edits are very much welcomed. 

EdinburghApps, which also ran in 2014, is a programme of events organised by Edinburgh City Council (with various partners) and generating ideas and technology projects to address key social challenges. This year’s events are themed around health and social care (which have recently been brought together in Scotland under the Public Bodies Joint Working Bill for Health and Social Care Integration).

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to be part of the full weekend but this presentation session will involve participants presenting the projects they have been coming up with, addressing health and social care challenges around five themes (click to see a poster outlining the challenge):

And so, over to the various teams (whose names I don’t have but who I’m quite sure the EdinburghApps team will be highlighting on their blog in the coming weeks!)…

Meet Up and Eat Up

This is Ella, an International Student at UoE. Meets people at events but wants to grow her network. She sees a poster for a “Meet Up and Eat Up” event, advertising food and drinks events for students to get together. She creates a profile, including allergies/preferences. She chooses whether to attend or host a meal. She picks a meal to attend, selects a course to bring, and shares what she will bring. She hits select and books a place at the meal…

So on the night of the meal everyone brings a course… (cue some adorable demonstration). And there is discussion, sharing of recipes (facilitated by the app), sharing of images, hashtags etc… Ratings within the app (also adorably demonstrated).

So, Ella shares her meal, she shares the recipe in the app…

The Meet Up and Eat Up team demonstrate their app idea.

The Meet Up and Eat Up team demonstrate their app idea.


Q) Just marketed to students or other lonely people?

A) Mainly at students, and international students in particular as we think they are particularly looking for those connections, especially around holidays. But we’d want more mixing there, might put it into freshers week packs, introductory stuff…We might need to also arrange some initial meals to make this less intimidating… maybe even a Freshers week(s) event – there are five universities in town so opportunity to have mixing across those groups of students.

Game of Walks

Our challenge was to encourage walking to school so our audience was children, parents but also schools. We have turned our challenge into Game of Walks…

So, we’d find some maps of good walks to schools, routes that are longer but also safe… And along the route there would be sensors and, as you walk past, an image – appropriate to a theme in the curriculum – would appear on the pavement… So the kid will be a team and looks for an image appropriate for their team (e.g. sharks vs jellyfish).

Now, when we tested this out we discovered that kids cheat! And may try to rescan/gather the same thing. So it will randomly change to avoid that. And each week the theme will change…

So, there is also a tech angle here… We would have a wide field sensor – to trigger the device – and a narrow field sensor would enable the capturing of the thing on the walk… So that’s arduino operated. And you’d have 3D printed templates for the shape you need – which kids could print at school – so you’d just need a wee garden ornament type thing to trigger it. And once a week the kids would gather that data and see who won…


The Game of Walks team demo their idea for gamified school walks.

The Game of Walks team demo their idea for gamified school walks.



Q1) How expensive will these be?

A1) Tried to pick sensors and devices that are cheap and cheerful. Arduino nanos are very inexpensive. LEDs probably more expensive… But keep it cheap, so if vandalised or stolen you can either repair or deal with loss.

Q2) How would you select the locations for the sensors… ?

A2) We thought we’d get parents and schools to select those… Encourage longer routes… The device will have that badge until collected… If lots of kids in the same place there’ll be a constant procession which could be tricky… Want, in a zone around the school, where you’d have smaller groups this would trigger.

Q3) Who programmes the Arduino

A3) Lots of schools teach Arduino, so could get the kids involved in this too, also the shapes, the data collection and users. And you will have footfall data as part of that capture which would also be interesting… Maybe get kids involved in potentially moving the sensors to new places because of lots/not enough footfall…

Comment) I think that’s exciting, getting the kids involved in that way…

Team Big Data

Note: this is almost certainly not their name, but they didn’t share their team name in their presentation.

So, I’m a user for our system… My mum has just recovered from cancer and I’m quite concerned about my own risk… So my friend suggested a new app to find out more… So I enter my data… And, based on a bigger data set my risks are calculated. And as a user I’m presented with an option for more information and tips on how to change… The database/system offers a suggestion of how to improve his practice… And maybe you reject some suggestions, so receive alternative ideas… And the app reminds you… In case you forget to cut back on your sausages… And based on those triggers and reminders you might update your personal data and risk… And the user is asked for feedback – and hopefully improves what they do…

Team Big Data demo their idea for an app nudging good health and personal care through an app and big data risk/suggestion database.

Team Big Data demo their idea for an app nudging good health and personal care through an app and big data risk/suggestion database.


Q1) What stuff is going to be worked on… What would be held?

A1) We did a demonstration with a computer sharing all of your data in one place… It’s currently in lots of different places… We did a few simple designs that holds all the data of the users… Not trying to be the big brothers… We presented the user experience… But not so much the behind the scenes stuff…

Q2) How does the app know about the beer count? (part of the demo)

A2) We demonstrated this as an app but it could be a website, or something else… You can perhaps get that data based on purchase history etc. The user doesn’t have to do anything extra here, its using existing data in different places. Also people often share this stuff on Facebook.

Comment) You have tackled a really difficult problem… You’ve made a good start on this… It’s such a massive behavioural change to do…

Comment) Many people are happy to volunteer data already…

Q3) How do you convince Tesco to share data with this app?

A3) I think you’d need to have an agreement between NHS and Tesco… For a new form of membership where you opt into that sharing of data.

Comment) Might be a way to encourage people to sign up for a ClubCard, if there was a benefit for accuracy and advice in the app.

A3) Maybe also there are discounts that

Comment) Maybe bank cards is a better way to do that. So there may be a way to join up with those organisations looking at being able to link up with some of these…

A3) This idea isn’t any kind of competition… Might give you ideas about data access…

Comment) I was just wanting to raise the issue that if you were working with, e.g. Tesco, you’d need to also get data from other large and small companies and working with one company may put others off working for you – incentivising users to, e.g. get a ClubCard, isn’t going to incentivise, say, Sainsbury’s to work with you with the data they hold. There are also data protection issues here that are too complex/big to get into.

Simply SMS

Note: this is a charming father/son team including our youngest participant, a boy named Archie who seems to be around 9 or 10 years old (and is clearly a bit of a star).

So this is an app to help people with cognitive impairments to engage and communicate with the younger generation. Maybe a teen, Billy Boy, wants to help out his Grandad, who has had a stroke… So Grandad has an app, and Billy Boy has a reciprocal App. They have slightly different versions.. And they can exchange pictograms… Billy Boy can prompt Grandad to brush their teeth, or do other things to keep in touch and check in… Grandad can ask Billy Boy how he’s doing…

The Simply SMS team demo their idea for an app connecting lonely people across generations through pictogram messages.

The Simply SMS team demo their idea for an app connecting lonely people across generations through pictogram messages.


Q1) How do you get this working over SMS?

A1) Would actually be messaging system, which could use words as well as pictures… Perhaps as time goes on you could change it so different people with different cognitive impairments could use it – e.g. number of stars so you could indicate how well you were eating. Also there would be some messaging between, say, carer, homehelp, relatives etc. So that all of those engaged in care can share updates, e.g. that Grandad has been taken to hospital…

Q2) What do you want to do next?

A2) We were looking at Meteor that lets you chain server, iPhone and Android apps together and they have a really nice chat room style system, for public or private chat rooms. So we would look to create plugins for that for pictograms and the right sort of mix of public and private messages. And bring together people involved based on the care package that person has.

Q3) Can this be done so that Billy Boyd can use his existing messaging apps could tie into that?

A3) It may be that there are ways to do that. Often there are things to integrate things together… Tools to post to multiple sites at once, so could maybe use that…

Q4) Could you compare our big data approach to yours?

A4) This isn’t really big data. The intelligence isn’t really in the application, it’s in the people who are involved in the care and using the apps who have the intelligence.

Q5) Do you think people would be able to learn these sorts of pictograms?

A5) We’d have to see… But there are some simple things you can do – like the stars. But people retiring now include those used to working with technology… So pensioners are getting more adept at these things. People will adopt new technology.

Q5) Have you heard of a thing called Talking Mats. It’s a communication tool for people with dementia using pictures. Would be good to look into that, and how that could fit together.

A5) There are lots of things out there… Doing parts of this. And part of this idea is about getting teenagers involved too.

Q6) How about animated gifs?

A6) Lots of the development would be about what people actually need to know… Have a friend who calls to check her ageing relative has had a shave, or what they did today.

Comment) One nice next step might be to test out that pictogram language, see if they find that works, including teenagers and older people…

A) Debating what a bank or a school or shop might look like, for instance…

Closing Comments – Keira (We Are Snook) and Sally Kerr (Edinburgh City Council)

Keira: We have so many new ideas, and we started yesterday with our challenges but nothing else. Obviously a two day hack has its limitations… It’s not the way to get things perfect. But we have the opportunity now to come together again in a few weeks time (27th Feb)

Sally: So our next event is here (University of Edinburgh Informatics Forum) as well, on Saturday 27th February. Then after that midway event there will be pitch session on Sunday 13th March. We’ll contact you all, share information on the blog, get challenge owners on the blog… And get you to the next stage.

Keira (We Are Snook): So I’m going to hand out a wee plan for the next few weeks so that you can get your ideas ready, the milestones for your journey, who the key actors are, who will do what. You should have left team outlines to me, and forms that will help us share your ideas with others too. And we’d welcome your feedback on the event as well. And finally I have one of our Snook plywood phones for Archie (our very youngest participant at around 10) for prototyping lots of app ideas!

And with that, the day was done – although conversations continued over coffee and KitKats. A really interesting set of ideas though, and I’m told there is another team who will be along at the next sessions but weren’t able to make the show and tell today. I would recommend keeping an eye on the EdinburghApps website or @EdinburghApps on Twitter for more updates. I’ll certainly be eager to find out if we (my colleagues at EDINA and I) can offer any technical help as some of these ideas progress further. 

Related links


LitLong App launched as Palimpsest and LitLong feature in Edit

We are delighted to announce the launch of the LitLong iOS app, put together by the Palimpsest project team of researchers and literary scholars at University of St Andrews, EDINA, and University of Edinburgh.

The LitLong:Edinburgh mobile app allows you to use your iOS device to explore Edinburgh’s literary past, and it is free to download and use. Click on any of the download links in this post, or search the App Store for “Litlong” and, once you have downloaded a copy to your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad you can then use the app, as you move around Edinburgh, to discover how your location has been represented in literature.

Image of the LitLong app on an iPhone

The app shows you text extracts of books that mention place-names in Edinburgh. These extracts are shown with the title, author and year of the book, and can be found either by exploring books that are nearest to your current location, or by browsing the map and selecting pins to see how far that place is from you, and what texts are mentioned there.

The app contains over 47,000 extracts from 550 books across 1,600 locations in the city – so you are never going to be far from a relevant and interesting literary extract in Edinburgh! What better way could there be to explore the first ever UNESCO World City of Literature!

Download the app here:

More details about the app and LitLong can be found here: 

We welcome all of your comments and feedback on the LitLong app. Please do leave us comments here, tweet us @litlong or get in touch with the team. We would also love you to leave comments and ratings in the App Store, as this will help other potential LitLong App users to understand if this is the right app for them.

You can read more about the app on the St Andrews SACHI blog, in a post from David Harris-Birtill, who built the LitLong app: LitLong App now available to download from iTunes.

Meanwhile, the Palimpsest Project and LitLong have recently been featured in the Edinburgh University alumni magazine, edit, with their article “Literature with Latitude“. In addition to a great write up of the project, the piece also includes this video shot at the press launch on the day of the Lit Long Launch event. Keep an eye out for James Loxley as well as long-dead literary greats Walter Scott and Margaret Oliphant:

Click here to view the embedded video.

If you have any comments about the app, the project, or would like to find out more about future events and plans connected to the Palimpsest project and LitLong resources, please do get in touch with the project team.


Meeting the Author

The literary city of Edinburgh has its own, distinctive and well known, psychological profile. The relations between its various districts reveal it, as does the array of prospects with which the inhabitant or visitor is so often greeted. Stuart Kelly, in his book Scott-Land, has put it well:

The poet Hugh MacDiarmid referred to Edinburgh as a ‘mad god’s dream’. It exemplified antisyzygy, his preferred creative term, meaning a ‘zigzag of contradictions’… The Edinburgh I walk through each day is part Piranesi, part Peter Greenaway. I can’t tire of its soaring bridges that never cross water, its Tetris blocks of Gothic tenements framed in classical Palladian arches, its tug-of-war between secret vennels and stately locked doors.

Edinburgh’s centre is riven, bifurcated: on one hand, the vertiginous, overlapping, haphazard, medieval Old Town, and on the other, the geometric, unfolded, planned, neoclassical New Town.

This profile gives the city something like its own mental world, its own personality – a complicated one, naturally enough, perhaps even one in need of analysis or treatment, but a clear character. It’s almost like you can know the place as you know a person.


But at the same time the city has been imagined and rewritten by so many writers who have loomed almost as large in their readers’ minds as their books – Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Spark, Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, to name only some of the most prominent. These strong authorial personalities have drawn our attention, too, and coloured our sense of the city they animate in their writing. Part of the point of Palimpsest is to allow us to explore and compare the cityscapes of individual writers, as well as the way in which literary works cultivate the personality of the city as a whole.

So how good would it be if you could somehow come face to face with one of the most influential of these formative authors, whose depictions of the city established a precedent and example against which all their successors are measured? Well, a fantastic collaboration between Palimpsest, the UNESCO World City of Literature Trust and Artemis Scotland allowed us to try this experiment out before an enthusiastic audience at the Reading the City event, part of last month’s Edinburgh International Book Festival.

IMG_4616-800x600   Image of Sir Walther Scott's participant badge at the Book Festival

After reading some evocative extracts from works set in Edinburgh, James Robertson, one of the finest chroniclers of contemporary Scotland, had the chance to put a series of searching questions to Sir Walter Scott – who had unexpectedly returned from the beyond to mark the bicentenary of the publication of Waverley in 1814. Their exchange took in topics including the Edinburgh of Scott’s life and times, the nature of his celebrity, and (with a little poetic or historical licence) his views on the monument erected in his honour and the current debate around Scotland’s constitutional future. It was great to witness this interaction across two centuries of literary history, made all the more intriguing by the knowledge that James Robertson undertook a PhD on Scott some years ago!

Image of James Robertson interviewing "Sir Walter Scott" at the Reading the City Event.

James Robertson interviews “Sir Walter Scott” at the Reading the City Event.

Sir Walter enjoyed his time in Edinburgh so much that he’ll be returning to meet more of the city’s inhabitants and visitors at the Playfair Library in the University’s Old College during Edinburgh’s Doors Open Days on 27 and 28 September. And this time he’ll be accompanied by another of Scotland’s fine complement of nineteenth century authors, so make sure you don’t miss the chance to come face to face with a couple of the authors of this most literary of cities.

Sir Walter also took time out of his busy festival schedule to give Summerhall TV an exclusive interview on his take on modern Scotland and the upcoming Scottish Referendum:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Related resources

Telling Stories with Maps

But she said, sitting on the bus going up Shaftesbury Avenue, she felt herself everywhere; not ‘here, here, here’; and she tapped the back of the seat; but everywhere. She waved her hand, going up Shaftesbury Avenue.  She was all that.

How then to map that? Mrs Dalloway’s words reflect the fact that in literary narratives the sense of where one is may seem to have little to do with physical geography. While Virginia Woolf herself argued against attempting to physically locate a place an author mentions in a novel, since she believed that ‘[a] writer’s country is a territory within his own brain’, our project is based on the idea that the act of mentioning real-world place-names is in itself significant.[1] Woolf’s own liberal use of real-world place-names, albeit used with license, undermines her claims and indicate the broader basis of literary tradition and places in the world that provide a graspable structure to the reader of a literary work. Indeed, at least in terms of the significance of places the passage in Mrs Dalloway concurs, for it continues:  ‘So that to know her, or any one, one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places.’[2]

Hestia image

At the Hestia 2 Project symposium, Telling stories with maps, we found ourselves surrounded by scholars from diverse disciplines (including archaeology, history, political ecology, geography, philology, and international law) who were encountering similar theoretical and technological issues and questions concerning exactly what one is doing when one attempts to map qualitative narratives. Considerations of what is lost in translation from narrative to map or map to narrative form recurred throughout the day. Nonetheless, as Øyvind Eide stressed, such media differences can be productive, as long as the limits of the media are acknowledged.

There are also limits caused by availability of media platforms. Agnieszka Leszczynski and Sarah Elwood explored the ways in which hegemonic narratives of spaces and places are being contested through the wider accessibility of GIS media platforms; although in closing Leszczynski noted that nonetheless the majority of such platforms were still being created by tall, white, alpha males. Akiyoshi Suzuki explored the ways in which in Haruki Murakami’s works the dead, the lost and the forgotten are evoked as underlying human relations, for example, the circuitous walk taken by Naoko and Watanabe in Norwegian Wood follows the edges of where the land meets the water in ancient maps of Japan and passes through places relating to spirits of the dead.

Ian Gregory tackled the issue of the unmentioned places in works on the Lake District, by creating maps that make visible when places are mentioned only contingently in order to represent an otherwise indistinctly identified place or path, for example, by showing the likely path taken (from x to y) or place only indirectly mentioned (near x). Their use of the Edinburgh Geoparser to study place-name collocations is confirming the opposing nature of notions of the beautiful and the sublime in Romantic sentiment, since the places to which such epithets are applied do not tend to coincide in the text and, therefore, on the map.

This relates to the question asked of us after our presentation: whether we were not concerned that we would simply be reifying existing concepts of literary Edinburgh. In fact, as we explained, part of the aim of our project is that by uncovering thousands of works that have sunk into obscurity and by tracing the narratives told of place-names in Edinburgh across time we will be able to reflect on existing critical paradigms, such as the dual nature of Edinburgh and its literature, with its old and new town, its anglification and the demotic, and its enlightenment and the repression of the religious reformation. Uta Hinrichs on our visualisation team presented some of the ways in which we hope to bring the texts to life and provide multiple perspectives on the city and its literature (on which more to follow). For the aim of Palimpsest is to provide a new means to reflect on, excavate, and – indeed – celebrate the sedimentary processes which have given our city its literary shape.

– Miranda Anderson and James Loxley

Update: A version of this post can also be read at the Hestia project blog.

[1] Virginia Woolf. 1986. Literary geography. In The Essays of Virginia Woolf. Ed. A. McNeillie. Vol. I. London: Hogarth Press, 35.

[2] Virginia Woolf. Mrs Dalloway, 129.

Naming things

The Palimpsest project aims to put literature on the map. To do that, it has to find the places in text where places are named – the textual locations of spatial locations. So, in addressing the challenges, we’ve naturally been thinking about the relationships between places and names.

One particular issue we’ve discussed is how to describe a specific, rather special quality we’re looking for in literary books and chapters. For example, we want to find all and only the passages of text that are obviously about Edinburgh, and places within it. Effectively, we’re looking for texts that have a suitable density of spatial location names. For want of a better term, we’ve been calling this property “Edinburghiness�. But while this mouthful might work so long as we only want to apply our methods to the City of Edinburgh, it doesn’t generalise (to Dublin, or San Francisco, or wherever).

After some discussion, we’ve decided to go with the term “locospecific�, to denote the quality of a text which seems to be “about� a specific place, and so “locospecificity� is the property we aim to measure in candidate texts in the collections we’re analysing. In case you think this is a neologism, the term has actually been used before, with the meaning we want, by Peter Barry in his 2000 book “Contemporary British Poetry and the City�.

While on the subject of names, we’ve also been thinking about names for papers describing our project, and names for the app that we will release to let people explore literature on the map. So far, our favourite paper title is “Lat Long Lit Lingâ€� – latitude and longitude for literary linguistics. And our favourite name for an app is “Biblioscopeâ€� – a device for seeing books in a new way. But maybe “LitLongâ€� would link it back to the paper. Either way, we welcome alternative suggestions from all our readers. Because names do matter.

– Jon Oberlander

Places as Portals

Looking out at seascapes and hill ranges, a castle perched on a rocky outcrop leads down through labyrinthine closes and wynds to orderly Georgian squares and gardens. Wandering in this city, suddenly you may find yourself on a street that tunnels under another street above, while buildings pass upward across the horizontal levels of the city. Such disorientating alternations of heights and depths, Coleridge on first viewing described as ‘a section of a wasp’s nest’, and as like ‘a city looked at in the polish’d back of a Brobdignag Spoon, held lengthways – so enormously stretched-up are the Houses!’ Edinburgh’s distinctive cityscape has formed over the centuries a literary panorama of equally complex and intricate layers.

What’s in a name? Waverley, the Canongate, the long-gone Tolbooth and Luckenbooths, the New Town: each place name is a portal that calls forth layers of accumulated meaning, as every further reference draws on and diverges from its established coordinates in the fictional and historical works of our literary panorama. Our project is developing methods and resources in order to geo-reference place names in literary works, such as streets or buildings, local areas, or vernacular terms (e.g. “Auld Toon”). We will then examine the contexts and associations around these place names. We will provide an interactive website that will enable other people to explore the dimensions of literary Edinburgh through geo-located extracts of literary works dating from the early modern period to the twentieth century, either while traversing the city streets or from afar via a virtual representation of the city.

Palimpsest is an AHRC-funded project, which involves a collaboration between literary scholars, computer scientists working on text mining, and information visualisation scholars. Our name for the project, Palimpsest, evokes the multi-layered poetic, remembered and imagined city that we aim to reveal. There will also be a number of guest blogs and events along the way that will call on the creative impulses of today’s inhabitants or visitors of the city, with writing and storytelling competitions on ‘The Burgh’. To follow our story of discovering the city’s literary panorama, you need only find your way back here and watch as it materializes before you.

– Miranda Anderson and James Loxley

Edenburck in Schottl map (1631) © National Library of Scotland (