Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

Searching for the VR Ballroom

It’s been a very busy 12 months or so since my last posting.  As well as all the usual teaching activities, I’ve been involved with the launch of the Digital Humanities Research Centre here at Chester.  I’m working on a couple of funding proposals with colleagues in the DHRC, of which more later (we hope!), and have at last started to find a more definite post-Ph.D. direction for my own research activities, in collaboration with colleagues in the Department of Computer Science.  Digital Humanities is definitely starting to look like my natural research home, even though it has been a long and winding road to get there, so my first presentation for the CS department seminar series was on how I came to be ‘The Accidental Digital Humanist‘.

I’m currently deep into this summer’s research activities.  I’ll be presenting a paper at the ICTM World Conference at Limerick in July, and have just had a poster paper accepted for the Cyberworlds 2017 International Conference at Chester in September.  Both of them refer to initial work on a virtual reality reconstruction of one of the River Park Ballroom, which was an important music venue in Chester in the mid-20th century, but was demolished in the 1960s and replaced by an office building.  My colleague Lee Beever has used images, data and music from my dance bands research to create an initial 3D impression of the ballroom.  It’s very early days, and the reconstruction lacks colour and animation at the moment; these are things which in different ways will take more time, money and effort than we have had available so far to add, but the ability to see (and hear) the ballroom from different angles is already there.  I’m looking forward to doing more work on this in the future.

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Arduino Days II – The Return of the Solder

DIY-Lamp

I first dabbled in Arduino-based electronics last Spring, and had a lot of fun doing my first soldering in years putting together an Arduino Gamer kit.  My regular work (and Ph.D.) then took over for a few months, but then a few things conspired to get me back on the physical computing path.  A programming course I took last summer used traffic lights as the basis of all its examples, and I realised the potential of this apparently simple idea to be extended into very complex but still educationally useful examples.  Later in the year, I found out that there were a number of batches of Arduinos, Raspberry Pis and similar kits around the faculty, most of which weren’t being used at the time.  I also had some conversations with researchers from other departments about using small microprocessors such as the Arduino for tasks such as air quality monitoring.  (There is a ready-made kit for this purpose called the Air Quality Egg.  I want one!)  So, before Christmas, I got a group of like-minded people from around the faculty together to start to think of ways to make use of the kits we already had, but weren’t making much use of.  One of the outcomes was a plan to produce a set of Arduino-powered traffic lights for the CompSci Conference – an internal conference held each year in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Chester, where I work.

The conference took place today, and my DIY traffic lights got to strut their stuff in among many far more erudite presentations on games design and advanced subtitling techniques; a slightly intimidating experience in some ways, but useful nonetheless; I’ve learned (or re-learned) a tremendous amount about electronics and microprocessors, and also about programming for the Arduino, and the advantages and limitations it has as a hardware platform.  (My colleague Andrew Muncey created three programs of increasing complexity for the demonstration.)  I’ve also made a large number of contacts around the faculty and the university – from Electrical & Electronic Engineering to teacher education – and we have plans afoot to use Arduinos and similar kits in STEM outreach sessions for schools and college students both at Thornton Science Park and elsewhere.  Finally, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the traffic control room at Cheshire West and Chester council, to learn how traffic control systems function in the wild.  This was a fascinating experience in itself, and I’m sure will form the basis for good collaborations in the future.

 

Arduino Days

My first degree was a Joint Honours B.Sc. in Music & Physics.  The music part has remained a serious hobby, and provided the raw material for my Ph.D study, but the physics has always been the basis of how I earn my living.  I’m therefore enthusiastic about the trend for ‘physical computing’, which involves messing about with resistors and soldering irons as well as coding.  It’s great to get back, literally, to the nuts and bolts of the hardware.

I’ve therefore been spending a chunk of this weekend assembling an Arduino DIY Gamer kit; a very enjoyable process, especially if like me you enjoy both physics and crafts.  You do have to read the instructions carefully though!  I thought I had, but discovered too late that I’d fixed the IR transmitter in at the wrong angle, and it proved impossible to remove without breaking something.  (This won’t stop the kit as a whole from working, but might make multi-player gaming via IR a bit flaky.)  I also managed to fix the battery terminals in the wrong way around!  Fortunately they were easier to get out again than the IR TX, and fitted back in after a bit of filing and resoldering.  The kit is now working, and after a couple of tries I’ve also got the Arduino IDE downloaded onto my Mac, and talking to the Gamer.  Next stop, Space Invaders!