Blogging as reflective practice
You are reading a blog that started off about art practice-based research charting
the journey of doing a phd. It explores alternative ways of using hand held devices
to create print-based interactive artworks using graphical tagging such as QR-codes.
Art, design, technology and craft were the main themes in writing. But life gets in the
way, and over this journey the story takes unexpected happy twists along the paths
of having a baby, going on a UK Digital Economy Sandpit, meeting fanstastic people,
and subsequent group success in funding for a large multidisciplinary research
project called TOTeM.
I've been in the throes of writing up my phd thesis, hence no blog posts for a while. Also I've had a nasty virus for 3 months that had me in hospital twice, going through 5 courses of antibiotics & inspiring my other half to often sneak into the sick room and poke me when I was asleep to make sure I hadn't died. Despite the illness, I still managed to keep the ball rolling and in total only lost a month in my schedule. So since I had planned to hand in 3 months early, I'm still doing well. I'm hoping to hand in the whole thesis over the summer and we've even submitted the official forms to registry with a viva date late in September - no turning back now!
Have been writing the 1st draft of my thesis and am at 50,000 words so doing quite well (as long as they’re not rubbish), considering an art practice PhD is usually a minimum of 25 – 30,000 words. Still to go is tidying up my contextual review chapters; actually working out what it is that I am saying is my new contribution to knowledge is – getting this right is hard!!! ; and writing up clearly exactly what my findings, conclusion & future work are. I’ve just lost 2 weeks due to a horror ear infection, so am in the process of clawing them back. In that process, I’ve mapped out the context of my Phd research in terms of areas, and thought it might be good to post it up here.
Each of the rings in the illustration shows themes and how important they are to my PhD with the outer ring of less importance than the inner. The outer knowledge areas, not contained in the rings are boundary areas where my Phd research crosses over into, but are not actually areas central to its aims and objectives. They are, however areas, which other research projects in which I am involved in, are more central to.
Just stumbled upon the Internet of Things, Top 100 Thinkers on the Postscapes Internet of Things website, and have just discovered that they rate the TOTeM team at number 68 in the Top 100 thinkers. Nice to know that people like us. I was surprised to see Rhizome at 89, who I have always had huge respect for, but maybe that's because it is more art and less specifically aimed at IoT.
Today the TOTeM team and Oxfam launched their collaboration Shelflife. It will be rolled out in 10 Oxfam shops around Manchester. Oxfam's press release:
Ever wished an object could tell its story? That’s the idea behind Oxfam’s unique pilot scheme, Oxfam Shelflife, launching on 27 February in 10 Oxfam shops across Manchester. The Oxfam Shelflife app uses QR codes to enable the public to discover the stories behind Oxfam’s donated, ethical and Unwrapped products, and even share their own stories for the items they donate.
The project is the latest innovation from Oxfam which promotes sustainability by encouraging people to look beyond disposable consumerism. The stories behind vintage and second-hand items are all part of their desirability. At the moment these stories can be lost when an item is acquired by a new owner but Oxfam Shelflife enables the stories to stay with the items in a more long-lasting way.
Oxfam’s Sarah Farquhar, Head of Retail Brand said: “Every item has a story to tell and Oxfam Shelflife enables people to share these stories. We’ve found that items with an interesting story behind them are instantly more appealing to our customers so we hope Oxfam Shelflife will encourage people to love items for longer. This commitment to sustainability is an important part of what Oxfam shops bring to the high street.”
The scheme allows donors to ‘tag’ a QR code to their donated object, using the free Oxfam Shelflife app on their iPhone and share the story behind the item for the next owner to discover. Shoppers who visit the participating Oxfam stores can then scan the QR code on the item, via the app, which will take them to the unique story behind the object. Usually QR codes direct users to a website or URL but the Oxfam Shelflife app enables users to engage and interact with the technology, taking QR codes on to a new level.
The concept behind Oxfam Shelflife is based on an original idea developed by the Tales of Things initiative (TOTeM: Tales of Things and Electronic Memory), a collaboration between five British universities: University College London, The University of Edinburgh/Edinburgh College of Art, Brunel University, the University of Dundee and the University of Salford. The TOTeM initiative was funded by a £1.4m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Dr Chris Speed from the Edinburgh College of Art and part of the TOTeM team said: “Oxfam Shelflife has the potential to transform shops from places of consumption into places of stories and reflection. Shopping is no longer about buying things from unknown people in unknown places, instead the Oxfam Shelflife app will allow people to ‘write’ their stories on to products and help prevent them heading for the landfill.”
To find out more about the Oxfam Shelflife project and find a participating shop visit http://shelflife.oxfam.org.uk/how_it_works/
Its been a long time in the making and Chris Speed tells blog.
Opps! Tis already February and I’ve not even written a new year’s post! Well no time for that now! Things have been busy, busy, busy, hence not writing. From last September till the middle of January this year, I have basically been travelling (Turkey, Australia and America) with a total of 6 weeks at home in the UK during that time. That on top of the phd, TOTeM (& trying to toilet train a 2 y.o.) has meant there has been very little time for writing blog posts – too busy living life to write about it.
Highlights since my last post have been spending a good amount of time in La Jolla, San Diego in a house owned by an artist and being inspired by her paintings and fantastic book collection (thanks to a friends’ house-sitting job, while said artist was in Paris for Christmas). It was also great being THERE, so close to La Jolla branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego where we saw the Spencer Finch installation. We also went to the downtown location where I really got an understanding for what American artists of the 1960’s were talking about with the quality of light in the exhibition Phenomenal: California, Art, Light, Space, Surface. I was also mighty impressed with Jennifer Steinkamp’s Marie Curie – it was fantastic being in that space with the installation all around!
Another highlight has been on this side of the Atlantic. I was chosen to be part of EPSRC’s Communities and culture Network plus. Forty of us met up for a workshop at (yet another!) De Vere’s Country house to nut out some of the important issues around culture and communities in the context of the Digital Economy. It was a really interesting day and I met some really inspiring people, and I’ll be looking forward to more events as part of the network.
Aside from that I’ve mainly had my nose to the grindstone juggling the needs of my phd with the interesting stuff which I’ve been doing for TOTeM, and raising a toddler in the process. I’m in the write-up stage of my phd and desperately trying to get a first draft done by the end of March, but I have my doubts. Our house has turned into a rather dusty pigsty, my toddler has gone back to nappies and my other half is trying his best to keep us all going, but it is hard to watch him struggling to do everything. I just keep plugging on at it, knowing that soon it will come to an end. Even though this bit is hard and I there are days when I would rather not write, there is a part of me that is enjoying, though it is tricky, the post-rationalising, untangling of what I have done to get the results I now have.
In early November the TOTeM Research Project Team submitted an application to the "Telling Tales of Engagement" Competition 2011. The competition was aimed at capturing the impact that our digital economy research is having. Three prizes of £10,000 were available to support researchers to write about the stories of impact and how we had engaged in interesting ways to a wide audience. And we won one of the three prizes! We’re going to use the money to fund an exhibition of TOTeM’s work, which will take place next summer, possibly in Glasgow or Manchester.
Back in late September in the brief window that I was in the UK between coming back from ISEA in Turkey and going away to Australia for IMPACT, I received an email from the one of people associated with CHI saying she had seen my and Chris Speed’s TOTeM paper at ISEA and would I be able to submit a paper for CHI?
CHI is one of the top ranking conferences in the world for Human Computer Interaction and anyone worth their salt knows this one is a good one to present at. It is also very very VERY hard to get into, and the review process is very strict, so being asked to submit a paper doesn't mean it will actually get in. Still, to be noticed by the folk at CHI was a compliment. For non- tecchies it is a little on the dry side and rather geeky, but it does get you marvellous REF brownie points! For 2012 they have Digital Arts strand, so it has the potential to be a little more stimulating to arts based research.
So when I was asked to submit a paper I was rather chuffed. The problem was the deadline was 2 days away and at very moment (the risks of checking email on my iphone) I was actually packing to catch a plane with my 2 year old to Australia the very next day. My headspace was in toddler clothing, what toys to take and weight restrictions, not HCI, explaining my research and word counts.
I emailed back explaining the situation, saying the best I could do was submit my ISEA paper, formatted for their requirements. I was told this would be OK, because if the paper did get accepted I would have until January to make changes and by then it would be a different paper. So I changed the title and submitted, knowing that it was a total wild card (to be honest I didn’t even read it when I submitted), and we would be damn lucky to get in.
We got the reviews of the paper a couple of days ago, and I wasn’t surprised that it didn't get a very high ranking, but I was surprised that it wasn’t out and out rejected. One reviewer actually gave it a 4 (out of possible 5), which was balanced out by one who gave it a 1.5, and the 3rd review was somewhere in the middle. I think if it had been accepted in its current state I would have been rather disappointed in CHI and begin to doubt their credibility.
The reviews, I feel, are actually really useful, and one reviewer actually took the time to list some really good online resources. The whole process is great for me to focus on disseminating my research and being able to clarify it to wider audiences. We have to write a rebuttal (5,000 word character count limit, including carriage returns) and actually I am looking forward to this, even if it is due at the end of this week and I am currently in bed with a nasty bout of the flu. This will give me the opportunity to write I guess, more of a proposal for what I would really like to present at CHI, still on the same research, but done much better than throwing them a second-hand paper at the last minute from another conference. Their recommendations in my opinion seem fair and would definitely strengthen our paper, so I am quite happy to have been given the opportunity to go through the rebuttal process, even if we don’t get any further.
Since I do sit between quite a few disciplines, I didn’t really have a clear understanding of CHI’s rebuttal process, or the way in which they review and score papers, so I did a bit of research and came up with some useful blog posts:
David Karger is a CHI reviewer and his article on “Do we need three reviewers for every paper”? was quite helpful in understanding how they score papers, how many submissions they get and the general acceptance rates.
Gene Golovchinsky’s blog post on “Writing a CHI Rebuttal” is excellent.
Bryn Marie Evans' post on “Tips for dealing with CHI rebuttals” is also very useful.
As it turns out we didn't get our paper into CHI, but we didn't really think we would anyway, and I must confess I was rather relieved. It would have been a whole lot of extra work I didn't really have the time for. But it has been great to go through the process so we are armed and prepared for next time when we make a more serious attempt at it. : )
Last night I took part in the pecha-kucha event 20:20 that I had been invited to present at for the Dundee Science Festival. There I talked about what we’ve been up to on the TOTeM project. Chris Speed, our Edinburgh College of Art Co-Investigator was also there, so we focused on different parts of the project. His was a fun piece on the notion f Posssions and the work TOTeM have been doing with Oxfam, while I showed what we’ve been up to tagging artists works here in the UK and also working with a remote First Nations community in the North West Territories of Canada. Overall it was a fun evening, chatting with some really interesting people from Culture Lab in Newcastle. It was also good to catch up with old comrades from the original Digital Economy Sandpit that was the birth of TOTeM and other exciting projects such as Digital Sensoria and VoiceYourView