Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

Cyberworlds in Chester

Hot on the heels of my visit to Limerick in the summer came another academic conference that was much closer to home, as it was hosted by my own department (Computer Science) at the University of Chester.  This was the Cyberworlds 2017 conference, which was organised by my colleagues Prof. Nigel John & Dr. Serban Pop, in collaboration with Dr. Alexei Sourin from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore).  Academics arrived in Chester from all over the world to share the results of their latest research, make new contacts, and renew old ones.  Many research students and members of staff in the department were pressed into service to help with the never-ending list of tasks that are required to make a conference happen; my own contributions included shepherding delegates on and off of buses between Chester city centre and Thornton Science Park, chopping up large amounts of cheese, and arranging for two guitarists to provide some evening entertainment.  I also collaborated with department lecturer Lee Beever and research student Peter Butcher to submit a poster for the conference, based on data gathered for my Ph.D. thesis, which happily was accepted.  I must admit I didn’t realise until rather close to the deadline that a short paper was required as well as the poster, which led to a few days of rather concentrated and intense work, but it was very satisfying to see the results in the final conference proceedings.  Within a week of the conference finishing we were welcoming this year’s new intake of Level 4 students.  Whatever else it may be, my job certainly isn’t boring!

Poster for Cyberworlds 2017

‘Traversing social networks in the virtual dance hall: visualising history in VR’

 

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I went to a conference in Limerick…

I went to a conference in Limerick

To hear about matters academic

There were talks about dancing

And songs quite entrancing

But writing it up is no pic-er-nic!

I’m now on my way back from the ICTM Conference at the University of Limerick, and I know for a fact that I’m not the only academic who should know better to have committed the experience to five-line verse, proving in the process that we really ought to stick to what we know about.  (It’s irresistible, somehow.)  Limerick is an interesting and attractive city, and well worth a visit.  The university is on a large and very scenic campus at the edge of the city.  The campus straddles the river Shannon, and includes several substantial bridges, including the ‘bridge of life’ – a winding footbridge whose end can’t be seen from its beginning.  It’s functional and philosophical at the same time.

Bridge of Life

Part of the Bridge of Life at the University of Limerick

My real reason for being in Limerick was to present a paper as part of a panel with two colleagues from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario; Margaret Walker and Gordon Smith.  Our panel was called “Imagined Borders and Unexpected Intersections:  Exploring Musical Legacies in Three Communities”.  Margaret and Gordon reported on work they have been doing on various aspects of multicultural music-making in Kingston, Ontario and in Nova Scotia.  You can find more information about their work here and here. My presentation – Field Hollers, Foxtrots and Fire Watching – summarised my Ph.D work on dance bands in Chester and North Wales, and outlined my future research plans, relating to 3D virtual reality presentation of historical information.

As well as taking part in the panel presentation, I also attended other talks on (for instance) the physics of Spanish bagpipes, computer-based movement analysis of Tango Argentino, and the transmission of music traditions in Uganda, and made contacts with people working in related fields all over the world.  All of these gave me ideas and sources which I expect will be useful in my own work in future.  Travelling to an overseas conference is hard work (even once you’ve been accepted, and found funding), but very worthwhile.

 

 

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.

Just Imagine…Imaginary Numbers in the Real World

 

'Just Imagine' fridge magnet

The ‘Just Imagine…’ fridge magnet, complete with sinusoid, key constants, and a very confused looking sheep. The connections were revealed in the course of the day’s workshop. © University of Chester, 2016

Back in the depths of last winter, I started investigating ways that I might bring together some of my colleagues in Performing Arts – the department where I did my Ph.D. – and the Faculty of Science and Engineering, where I teach.  It took a while, but the idea is now starting to bear fruit.  We began with a workshop for A-level maths and science students on Imaginary Numbers, which took place at Thornton Science Park a couple of weeks ago.

We welcomed about 20 students and their teachers from local schools for a full day of varied activities on the theme of Imaginary Numbers.  This included the sort of thing you might expect at Thornton Science Park , including a session in the Electrical and Electronic Engineering lab looking at the relationship between sinusoidal waves, complex numbers, and sound.  (The TWSU DIY Synth proved to be particularly popular there!)  The thing which really made the day different, and I believe also really helped to make it both enjoyable and engaging, was the contribution in the morning from Ed Morris and Phil Goss, two University of Chester graduates who now run a theatre company called 2Engage.  They do a lot of educational theatre work, and I believed they could help us to present the challenging topic of complex numbers in a less threatening way, and also give students a perspective they might not get elsewhere.

I think it’s fair to say the plan worked.  Between us we designed a couple of comic sketches, with associated activities, designed to put complex numbers into historical perspective, and also give a background to the two common notations for complex numbers (i.e., polar and cartesian).  Students found themselves wearing sheep masks for the former, and directing one another around masking-tape grids on the floor for the latter.  They also laughed quite a lot – fortunately in more or less the places where we’d hoped they would – and took home a custom-made fridge magnet each, to remind them of both the day and the principles we’d worked on understanding together.  Feedback for the day was excellent from all concerned, and I’m really looking forward to doing more sessions along similar lines in the future.  In the meantime, I heartily recommend 2Engage to anyone out there looking for educational theatre, and certainly not just on scientific topics.  They did an excellent job.


Update: January 2018 – Angela and I produced a poster based on this session, which was presented at the Higher Education Academy STEM Conference at Newcastle University.

JustImagine-HEA-STEM-2018-v4

 

 

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.

 

Throwing Sheep in the Bandroom

First slide of conference presentation

Throwing Sheep in the Bandroom

The YouTube version of the presentation I gave at the Conference on the Arts in Society last month is now available:- ‘Throwing Sheep in the Bandroom’.

You can also find a brief introduction to the book which inspired the title on YouTube:- ‘Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom’ .

There’s a fleeting mention in my presentation of undergraduate studies on modern-day Chester music scenes.  This work was done by Michael Greaney, who was a dissertation student of mine in 2011-12.  You can find a taste of what he produced at YouTube – Chester Music Scenes

Conferring in Liverpool

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, reflected in the entrance to the conference venue at John Moores University

Liverpool John Moores University was the venue for an International Conference on the Arts in Society last month.  I went along to give a presentation on my Ph.D research work on live music in Chester.  My own research is interdisciplinary with a vengeance, so I found the wide range of presentation topics at the conference very interesting.  I learned all sorts of fascinating things about film editing conventions, tile design in Turkey, the creative industries in rural Australia and contemporary art networks in China, and met some interesting people in the process as well.  (You can download the full conference programme here.)

Part of the deal with this conference was an opportunity to upload the material I presented to the conference YouTube channel. This was excellent practice in reducing years of research and thousands of words of text to less than 15 minutes of speech, plus images.  It also gave me extra practice in remembering how to use GarageBand and iMovie to combine slides and narration.  This is something I do about once every 18 months, which is just long enough to forget the tricks and shortcuts and have to learn them all again from scratch.  I was also reminded (again) of the wisdom of the saying ‘If all else fails, read the instructions’; my first ‘finished’ presentation was slightly more than twice the prescribed length and in the wrong format!  The extremely concise and to the point fifteen-minute version is now ready instead.  (I’ll post a link to it here once it’s uploaded.)

Since the conference I’ve had a short holiday, and done a lot more writing-up for my thesis.  It’s been very pleasant to discover just how much material for my draft chapter on ‘The Chester Jazz and Dance Band Scene in Context’ I could extract straight from presentations I’ve given at conferences and seminars, including this one.  Lots more prodding and polishing will be needed before the chapters are up to thesis standard, but it’s definitely starting to look like it’s all been worth it.

We haven’t seen sky this colour round here recently!

A breath of fresh air outside the conference venue