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 atcuriousedinburgh.org)

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, edinburghcityscope.org, 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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eurovision_nicola/sets/72157668257121685/

Engaging with Lit Long: Edinburgh

lit long screen shot‘Lit Long: Edinburgh’ is a database of literature set in Edinburgh and the complementary suite of visualisation tools that emerged from The Palimpsest: Literary Edinburgh project. The project was funded by the AHRC’s Digital Transformations in the Arts and Humanities – Big Data scheme, and was a collaborative effort between literature and informatics scholars at the University of Edinburgh, researchers in Human-Computer interaction at the University of St Andrews, and the team at EDINA. The ‘Lit Long: Edinburgh’ site and tools launched in 2015, and includes an interactive map through which to explore literary imaginings of various locations around the city, dedicated maps highlighting Edinburgh in the works of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, a mobile application to guide users through the city’s literature in situ, and a database search interface.

Edinburgh has a well known literary history, which is visible to us every day through books, maps, monuments, walking tours, and the many sites that commemorate the lives of the city’s famous authors. Our research team wanted to expand our understanding of this history by digging into the literature itself, exploring how representations of the city have helped shape our imaginative view of Edinburgh, and how both well known and lesser known authors have themselves imagined Edinburgh over time.

Using machine-reading tools developed by our informatics team, we searched tens of thousands of books contained in the world’s largest digital databases of literature in English for mentions of Edinburgh and Edinburgh place names. Drawing on the results, we created a database of about 550 books published across three centuries that use Edinburgh as a setting. We have also included one original piece of short fiction – the winner of a writing competition we held, asking local authors to engage with Edinburgh’s literary history and re-imagine the city. Within the books in our database, there are over 47,000 mentions of Edinburgh locations, all of which we have placed on an interactive map of the city.

During the Cultural Engagement phase of the project (2016), we have undertaken a number of activities to encourage further public engagement with ‘Lit Long: Edinburgh’, including a Writers’ Workshop, a writing competition, several schools workshops, and an art competition. We have also been researching potential for further development of our desktop and mobile applications, and have been working together with the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust and a team of PhD students in Information Visualisation to explore potential for installing the Lit Long maps and tools at key locations throughout the city.

Welcome to Engaging Edinburgh

Welcome to the Engaging Edinburgh blog, bringing together updates from the three Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Cultural Engagement projects currently taking place across Edinburgh:

  • LitLong (PI, James Loxley; Cultural Engagement Fellows, Tara Thomson and Victoria Anker)
  • MESH: Lost Edinburgh (PI, Richard Rodger; Cultural Engagement Fellow, Wilson Smith; David McLean; Eric Grosso)
  • Curious Edinburgh (PI, Niki Vermeulan; Cultural Engagement Fellow, Bill Jenkins)

The projects are taking place over three months, from February 2016, until the end of April 2016, with each cultural engagement fellow working with specific communities to develop new resources or engagement opportunities for existing research projects.

Follow this blog for occasional progress updates and highlights from the projects work to date.


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: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/litlong-edinburgh/id1004433531?mt=8

More details about the app and LitLong can be found here: http://litlong.org/navigating-with-litlong/download-our-app/ 

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.