Rescue Geography

Exploring Eastside with mobile technologies

Blog Archive

Click here for the current blog.

View Article  Summer

Luckily it's rubbish so the analysis is progressing.  Slight holdup getting transcripts done and okayed by interviewees, but we should have a full set of spatialised interview data to play with in about a month...  watch this space...
View Article  Hung up on blogging

So, first off, an apology that the blog was down for most of July.  Apparently we have a bandwidth problem which we can resolve by spending more money.  Hmm.  Well, I tried moving the blog over to Blogger (Google's free blogging service) but apparently there's some incompatibility that stops us from easily importing the blog as an RSS feed (or something).  Sigh.

While we were offline, we got the results of the Arts Council bid back.  Unsuccessful, apparently because they weren't convinced by the budgeting. Ho hum. So we have to go to Plan B and have a rather smaller 'Lab' than would have otherwise been the case.  This isn't disastrous as the main intention that James and I have always had is in giving people an opportunity to come and see some of what we've done with the interviews etc., rather than just relying on the website.  It would have been nice to do something a bit more dramatic, but so it goes.

Dan is in Beruit at the moment, struggling with a semi-functional camera, but when he gets back we'll start producing some nice poster-sized prints of the photos he's been taking of our interviewees.  I have some of the contact sheets pinned up above my desk and they look great.

In the meantime James has been travelling Europe on various errands while I've been stuck in the office writing.  I've sent off an article to an academic journal called Environment and Planning B which is all about urban design and computing stuff.  Essentially I was writing about some of the stuff we've been doing with Google Maps - we'll see if the guys who review these articles like it as much as I did.  Certainly it's about the fastest thing I've ever written for proper publication - from first opening a document in MS Word to sending it off in less than 16 days.  I've also been thinking about quite what we might do for a follow-up project in Kidderminster and my office whiteboard is full of diagrams of workflows and so forth.  Ah, science.  I've been getting kind of excited about Assisted GPS as well, but that's a whole other story which I might talk about when the new device I've ordered turns up.

Steph is back from India, but has now escaped the rescue geography world because she got a new job.  For which, of course, we say congrats.  We still miss you though Stephy...
Friday, July 4
View Article  Thinking about October

So one or two bits & bobs this week, mostly relating to the October Laboratory.  Partly, in fact, to agree that it will be called a 'Lab' (LabOne, in fact) after much deliberation on this.  On Wednesday, in a discussion over budgets and exactly what would be exhibited at the lab, Julia mentioned the need for something interactive.  Quite often at galleries/exhibitions etc. people do a post-it-note exercise, where they share their thoughts/feelings/reflections about what they've experienced.  This got me thinking about ways we could do this.  One nice thing to do would be to take the contemporary map of the area which we're going to produce and give people different coloured pushpins and luggage labels.  You write your feelings about a location in the area on a luggage label and tie it to a pushpin (green for an area/building you like, red for one you don't like etc.) to mark the spot on the map.  I spent part of yesterday morning doing an electronic version of this for the website, which is basically a Google Map you can edit.  So anyone can drop a virtual pushpin onto a location and post text, pictures or even video about that area.

Yesterday I was at MADE again, but this time for a meeting with Jonathan Banks, the chief exec of Ixia, which describes itself as a 'public art think tank'.  Jonathan has some really strong views about the role of public art in urban regeneration, lamenting that it is too often an afterthought in the development process - a lazy, bolt-on, tick-box exercise.  We had a really interesting discussion about what the artists' commissions should be if we get the Arts Council money to fund LabOne.  He was very keen on the idea of setting up an interdisciplinary panel, with three or four artists at its heart, that could get together to produce something like an alternative version of the Supplementary Planning Document which will eventually be produced for the Lower Eastside Area.  This is particularly relevant given that the Big Plan for the city is currently being finalised and will likely draw the city centre boundary at the River Rea, thus encompassing a large area of Lower Eastside.

Incidentally I should mention that Richard Clay, one of my colleagues over in the History of Art department, has just pulled in a big grant to work with archivists and curators in the city on the development of Birmingham's suburbs.  I'm going to sit on the steering group for this, in exchange for Richard sitting on the evaluation panel for the Lab.  This is going to be a really exciting project and hopefully will give me a window into good practice for closer collaboration with the museums and arts sector.

View Article  Too much to do and too little sleep

Last week was a bit hectic from my point of view.  While James was busy being buried in exam board duties up at Manchester, I found myself with a whole bunch of things to do.

On Monday Alex started a ten week work placement at the University as part of the EU's Leonardo programme for facilitating lifelong learning.  Alex is from Dresden and is looking for experience of practical applications for GIS.  So I've roped him in to doing some of the GIS work for Rescue Geography.  While he got to work calculating the areas of different types of road network within our study area I went along to a workshop on Reconstruction Heritage organised by Peter Larkham at Birmingham City University.

Peter is an old friend and postwar urban heritage is one of his great passions.  It was an interesting day of papers, with some representatives from English Heritage there - they're the guys who are responsible for organising the listing of historic buildings for preservation.  So there was plenty of time to chat about the virtues of preserving the Central Library building (which the City Council would very much like to knock down) and the way that people value the buildings created in that rush of urban planning in the quarter century after the war.

Rescue Geography got a brief airing as part of a paper jointly presented with Peter Larkham and Julian Lamb (who partly inspired RG in the first place) and seemed to get quite a good reception.  I should, however, mention a great quote someone dug up from Thomas Sharp - one of the key figures in post-war replanning - '...cities have personalities and characters as men have, and the planner must try to match the personality and character of the place he is formulating...' (1946, p9).  I love this idea of cities having personalities and the need to capture what these personalities are when thinking about replanning - it's rescue geography in a nutshell and someone was saying this over 60 years ago.

On Tuesday we had another MADE lunchtime event, which followed on from a lengthy planning meeting.  Dan has started taking some of the portraits of interviewees for the October laboratory, which is cool - real sense that this is starting to come together.  Lorraine Boothroyd from Turner Townsend (consultants who are deeply involved in Birmingham's Big Plan document) and Richard Trengrouse (from the Digbeth Business Association and one of our interviewees) came to the lunch.  We had a good discussion, particularly around James' idea of hotspots and contours of valency which, unfortunately, I've not been able to do any mapping of yet.  Nonetheless, I think I've been better able to explain James' ideas now that we've started doing the analysis and I can see in my own mind the kinds of maps that will result - so we should be able to produce something almost like clusters of meaning.

We also had quite an interesting discussion of Feng Shui and the possibilities of mapping a Feng Shui analysis of Digbeth against more conventional western models of planning.  Given the presence of two Chinese community centres within the area, this seemed like quite an interesting possibility to explore further.

Beyond this, Alex has done a whole load more noise mapping for us, which I'll get up onto the website relatively soon.  Trying to finish off a couple of academic things at the moment (grant applications and papers) now that, all of a sudden, I seem to have a proper amount of working time available.  Thank goodness for the summer break, when work really starts.
View Article  Getting caught up in technoscience

First things first, welcome Steph to the blog - nice to have you here.

I've been feeling guilty lately that James has been doing all the heavy lifting on the blog, particularly writing about the Kidderminster meeting and the analysis, so I should probably say a little bit about what I've been up to.

At the last few presentations we've done, James has talked about the analysis essentially being on two levels - the first being quite schematic, number crunching stuff and the second being the clever textual analysis of meaning etc.  So while he's been working his way through the transcripts coding things, I've been painstakingly fiddling with the GIS.

The first thing I've done is to think about the places where people have walked and try to break this down into categories.  Clearly, when you walk in a city, you can't just wander where you want and you tend to follow linear features of one kind or another - particularly roads.  So I produced a list of the different types of features that appear in Eastside:
1) Primary distributor roads (e.g. Digbeth High Street)
2) Secondary distributor roads (e.g. Fazeley Street)
3) Tertiary distributor roads (i.e. any of the back streets)
4) Canal tow path
5) Paths (i.e. pedestrianised and 'other' areas)
I then looked at the areas where our interviewees have walked and redrew the map of the area, categorising all linear features into these five different types (I've posted a working model of this in the Downloads section of the RG website).

One of the problems of the GPS tracks is that they tend to wander a little bit - if you look up close at any of the tracks on the website, you'll see they often pass through buildings etc. because the accuracy is at best around 6m and, particularly around the viaducts, often quite a bit worse than this.  So I've used the tracks to draw rough 'corrected' tracks, which could then be split into pieces depending on what kind of linear feature they were passing through.  This allowed me to calculate approximate distances walked within each feature type and, again working back through the GPS logs, how long was spent on each piece of the walk.

What's the point of all this?  Well, one of the things we were interested to find out in analysing the walked interview method was whether external environmental factors had an impact on the way people walked.  Do people, for example, avoid noisy roads and, where they have to pass along them, do they walk more quickly?  Well, with all of this data about different road types, times/distances we can work this out.  And the answer is... well, sort of.  There does seem to be a bit of a tendency to spend longer walking the same distance on tertiary roads than primary. But the time/distance ratio is pretty similar for primary roads and secondary and people seem to pass most quickly at all along the canal towpath.  This might be because there's less to stop and look at, but we're going to have to look at James' content analysis data to unpick that a bit more clearly.

The other thing I've been doing is taking the hourly recordings from the University of Birmingham's weather station at the Botanic Gardens in Winterborne - just over a mile and a half away from Eastside.  I've plotted the dry bulb temperature, windspeed and level of precipitation against the length of interview, to see if there's any discernable pattern.  There's nothing especially obvious, though it's reassuring to note that the one occasion where I definitely know it was hammering with rain (Jane's interview with Julia from MADE) is the one occasion where we have rainfall recorded at Winterborne - 0.2mm in the course of an hour, which a meteorology colleague assures me is quite a lot.



So, essentially, a lot of what I've been doing has shown somewhat ambiguous/negative results, but it's good to be generating this kind of data.

This said, however, I do have some concerns that we've ended up doing some rather positivistic science i.e. reducing people to a bunch of statistics.  Particularly as those statistics are coming from the rather big brotherish surveillance technologies of GPS and GIS.  I think the tension between this kind of approach (and the inherent power imbalances it contains) as against the rather more fluffy aims about empowerment that we have in mind for the 'community' side of rescue geography are things that we're going to have to unpick at some point.
Thursday, June 19
View Article  Autumn Lab

I thought I really needed to get on here and attempt to blog particularly as the lads have been so well behaved recently...

Finally figured out what my password was and as James and Phil have blogged about all the meetings I thought I would write a bit about the prep work we are doing for the "autumn laboratory" *cringe* this is most definitely a working title and hopefully we will have a better name by the end of Tuesday's meeting!

So I have been cracking the whip and forcing the terrible two to *shock-horror* plan and manage their time... there was some initial resistance as the lab is technically 4 months away, however realising I was leaving in 3weeks (and counting) seemed to convince them it was all for the best.

We managed to have 2 highly productive meetings (albeit one was very impromptu) in the last week and planned out exactly which days we were doing which activities for which groups (Schools, Professionals and Community) inlcuding deciding who else would be giving seminars for the professionals. Possibly completely confused Matt who is from UCL and spending a few weeks at MADE in August on a placement, but he seemed to go away happy in the knowledge he was going to be doing some canal side use surveying, although possibly with a very skewed vision of what working in academia was all about!

I have a list of action points as long as my arm (not that big then...) and they weren't all for me to carry out (yay!)... there are a few nitty gritty contract-styley bits to arrange between the university and MADE and deciding which lucky few get invited to the launch party for the lab/"THE BOOK" as well as constructing invite lists for the different groups who will be attending the lab to ensure we get good numbers.

Otherwise i'm just working on fleshing out the gantt chart and getting highly excited about creating sub tasks and other unrelated things such as urban explorers (www.21dayslater.co.uk); walking algorithms/psychogeography (spending far too much time with geographers it seems!); and use of pervasive media... i'm still buzzing from the pervasive media workshop I went to in Bristol yesterday.

With all this work it must be almost time for me to go to India only 14.75 working days left i calculated, but with the ACE (Arts Council) Bid decision early august, I might be back!!!
Wednesday, June 18
View Article  analysis

**Warning - dull post follows that is purely for my own purposes**

I'm currently playing with the first transcript, trying to come up with a way to record information from it about places that are mentioned and talked about.  The categories are a combination of things that the env psychology literature flagged up as important in terms fo how poeple relate to space and place, stuff that seems obvious to us from a methodological point of view, and some more experimental ways to try and capture local history. At the moment I have the following categories:

Tag

Number of transcript, number of occurrence

Noise level From transcript
Env descriptor Type of area
Box number 10 second chunk
Speech object Thing being spoken of
Type F (factory), C (consumption building - e.g. shop / pub), P(public building - e.g. church, school), D (domestic), R (road), E (environmental feature), I (infrastructure), O (other)
Toponymy G (general - no specific names), D (description using names), S (specific name)
Genesis P (interviewer prompted), U (unprompted)
Presence Y (still there with same use), D (still there with different use), N (not there)
Spatial descriptor How its spatial location is described: R (road), B (building), S (sight), N (no spatial ref)
Location Where the interviewee is in relation to the thing mentioned
Story P (personal), I (impersonal) / b = built form, c = city, p = people
Topic
Preference p (positive), n (negative)
Evaluation p (positive), n (negative)
Place relation d= elsewhere in digbeth, c= city centre, b= birmingham, o=other city)

Sorry about the formatting - that happens when you import excel stuff into web text editors, but you get the picture.  There's plenty of issues - for example, some places are mentioned more than once in the transcript. It's hard to get the balance between quantifiable typology and recording some qualitative aspects of the data.  I have gone for a half-way house, with between 3 and 6 tags for each variable.   I've also numbered the 10 second boxes in the transcripts so as to get a handle on the patterns in which places are mentioned.  It may also make it easier to categorise the overall transcripts in terms of discourse type.

Phil reckons these variables can be mapped quite easily by importing into a GIS, which should produce some interesting results.  It's literally spatialising discourse!  Cool.

Sunday, June 15
View Article  Kiddie

This one almost slipped through the net.  Last week we were invited over to Kidderminster by Ken Harrison, head of their regen team, to discuss the possibility of doing some RG work with them.  Steph came along too, in her role as our official 'handler' and to represent MADE.  Having enjoyed a free lunch in the town hall and been introduced to Matt Barker (his right hand man), Karen Alexander (arts and play officer) and Amanda Hall (conservation), we rather appropriately went out for a walk.

Kiddie seemed to have three main issues.  The closure of many of the large carpet factories located in the town centre seemed to have allowed for relatively low density retail developments to take their place.  As a result, some of the central areas resembled out of town shopping developments, with lots of ground level car parks and no real sense of place.  The second issue appeared to be the inner ring road, which not only acts as a classic concrete collar around the central area, but has broken many of the most attractive historical roads in two.  Perhaps the most distressing example of this is the separation of the beautiful church from the central area.  Finally, Kiddie seems to be a place with something of an identity crisis, with unenviable listings in two recent publications - Chav Towns and Crap Towns - compounding a general sense of malaise. 

Having said that, Ken highlighted a number of opportunities.  The town has a number of rivers running through it that could be opened up.  It also has a very attractive skyline, with the towers associated with the carpet factories slightly reminiscent of Florence and rolling countryside visible all around. Some of the areas in need of regeneration have quite unique histories, and one of these, known as the Horsefair, may be perfect for a rescue geography follow up project.  Traditionally populated by traveller communities, the area is now characterised by high levels of socio-economic deprivation and the familiar set of problems that generally accompany this. 

Plans for the area are only just being considered, and Ken emphasised the need to get the local community involved and enhance the unique heritage of the area... he put it nicely when he said there was a need to reconnect people with the space.  In terms of developing the RG methodology as an applied planning consultation tool, the Horsefair regen could be ideal.  Ken and his team also seemed very keen to collaborate, which means that we could get unprecedented access to actors at all stages of the planning process.  If RG is going to have an impact upon the development process this kind of upstream access is priceless.

We decided in principle that we would use Kiddie as the focus for our son / daughter of RG research proposal to the ESRC.  By that time it was drinks-o-clock, so we went and enjoyed a few bevvies in Ye Olde Seven Stars.

Sunday, 15 June
View Article  Analysis

Last Thursday we met to discuss how exactly we were going to analyse the walking interview data that Jane has managed to gather over the last 8 months.  Lots of ideas have been buzzing around, mostly from the odd chat here and there, but nothing concrete had been decided.  So we decided to brainstorm it, thinking of every possible thing we could analyse, and then work through them to try and discover what would actually be possible and / or desirable to do.  Here's what we came up with...

Things we are attempting for the analysis

 

1)      Time spent talking by interviewee and interviewer as against silence in walking vs. seated interviews (word count as proxy measure)

2)      Scatter plot of general weather (Edgbaston weather data) as against length of interview

3)      Map pauses in movement / rate of movement and pauses in speech

4)      Interactions with third persons – how many, who, where, how long

5)      Time and distance of interview against: gender, age, proxy for familiarity with area, lay vs. expert

6)      Time and distance of interview in noisy environments

7)      Sensory typology against which to measure time / distance

a.       Primary distributor road, secondary distributor road, tertiary road

b.      paths

c.       canals

8)      List environmental prompts

9)      Text analysis of how much the environment acts as a prompt to discuss building or how much interviewer prompt or how much general conversation

10)  Map analysis of extent to which we are

a.       at

b.      en route to (close)

c.       en route from (close)

d.      en route to (far)

e.       en route from (far) … the building/phenomenon being discussed

11)  Can we map this against arbitrarily defined vistas/viewpoints

12)  Place discourse – speech acts revealing: preference (vs) evaluation, scale, hierarchies, informal toponymy

13)  Identification of cognitive clusters across transcripts (intertextual analysis)

Looks simple enough, but there is quite a lot of work in some of these tasks.  We split the work between spatial analysis (anything involving the GIS), which Phil is checking out, and the textual, which I'm working on.

When I started going through the first walking interview transcript two main difficulties became apparent. Firstly, in terms of people mentioning places or buildings, there are some issues with what counts.  So for example, people may mention a factory by name, and then say in passing that there were three others on such and such street.  Technically they are making a spatial reference, but in such a general way that there is little practical worth in counting it.  It is a grey area.

The second issue is how best to organise the analysis.  So, for example, we are starting with an excel spreadsheet that lists each 'place' mentioned in the transcript and then recording various characteristics about how, why and where the place is mentioned.  But boiling down these things into analytical categories is difficult, because it is hard to know how much detail to go into.  For example, is it enough to break places referred to down into buildings, environmental features and roads, or are more categories required? 

As you go along grappling with these questions the actual categories also change, as it become apparent that some of the things we thought would be important aren't, or that one category actually subsumes another.  The thing I have to keep reminding myself of is that this exploratory process of trial and error is exactly what a pilot project like RG is all about - it will take a while to figure out the best way to do things!  Anyway, my first job tomorrow it to plough through the first transcript...

Monday, May 19
View Article  ISIS meeting @ MADE 16th May 2008

This meeting threw up some more interesting people, Nick Bird from ISIS and Pam who is an ethno-botanist.  Pam used to work at the Winterbourne Botanic Gardens, and is working with none other than Jon Sadler on his OPen Air Laboratories (OPAL) project.  Small world. We discussed RG and then ISIS' plans for Warwick Bar, all interspersed with more general comments on regen.  As there were fewer people this time I'll endeavour to group the things people said into distinct topics...

1. Families and long-term viability

ISIS are very concerned to attract families to their developments, as this ensures long term viability of projects.  The problem is that this requires all sorts of infrastructure that developers can't provide in isolation.  The need for good schools is perhaps one of the most intractable, and Pam has been doing some work with them in this vein.  She mentioned the work of Birmingham Futures, who have evidence that young pros would like to stay in the city centre when they have kids.  The need for long term viability is driven financially by the potential for pension funds to invest in developments that are seen as a safe long-term bet.  Assumedly ISIS are keenly aware of this because they are part-owned by the Igloo fund already.

2. The need for distinctive developments

The second key priority for ISIS is to create more distinctive developments.  The more generic developments aren't selling currently, a trend that is exacerbated by the credit crunch.  We actually discussed the kinds of things that would be useful for architects and designers to know about a place, and that RG might be able to deliver.  He was interested in local knowledge, like little stories about what buildings and what aspects of buildings matter, little routes that are used, special places and so forth.  Julia mentioned the development in Manchester that was branded and marketed around a rare water plant that was found on the site.

3. Use of emotional mapping

This is the stuff that Phil talks about in the last entry on the blog, where we sorted Steph out with a crude emotional sensor and let her loose in Eastside with a GPS.  The specifics have been covered, but it is worth noting how ISIS responded to the possibilities.  Nick could see the utility of being able to turn qualitative data into quantitative, and it was felt that if enough walks could be amalgamated to identify places that are generally liked or disliked then it would be a powerful tool to use to persuade planners to do things.  He mentioned the need to persuade them to spruce up Fazeley St.

4. Consultation over Warwick Bar

OK so this was where we first got an idea of what exactly it might be that we might do for these people.  They want to consult key stakeholders about Warwick Bar, both in general and in terms of the specific creative industry needs that the development might meet.  We now have a list of people who we need to do walking interviews with.  We discussed whether we would need to be more prescriptive about the interviewing process (e.g. confine them to Warwick Bar, tell them to focus on one or two topics), but it was felt that it would be more interesting and revealing if we stuck to the original format, and MADE followed up our work with more focused sedentary interviews.

5. Health and waterways

ISIS seemed quite interested in the idea of doing some research on how people use waterways recreationally, both on the water, and by the water on towpaths.  This started as a concern with the ways in whcih Warwick Bar is used, and developed into a discussion about the possibility of a more general nationwide research project.  in terms of Warwick Bar, Nick mentioned that Birmingham is Britain's 'canal city'.  Recreation and waterways also keys into a load of government research priorities - sustainable transport and climate change, fitness and obesity.  ISIS have projects in Manchester that they would be keen to get us involved with too.

There are a number of angles that could be taken on this research, ranging from description of usage to identifying motivations for use, to design issues that may be used to encourage use.  Then there are the different user categories, ranging from cyclists and joggers to fishermen and canal boaters.  Myself and Phil had a very brief chat afterwards about the possible ways to package the research.  A CASE studentship springs to mind, but I felt a more heavyweight project may be possible.  Either way, ISIS would be a great partner given the topic.  Note to self - email nick sketching some possibilities...

6.What to do for the Lab if we get no funding!

In general, do less for a shorter period of time! I need to talk to Dan about the portraits.  Julia rightly commented that these are potentailly very important, as they are like 'a personal invite' to participate further. She also mooted the idea of forming an artists group to liaise with the architects after the lab.  It was also suggested that Pam could provide photos of 'urban nature' from around Eastside to project at the lab, and she suggested that we could get groups of kids value mapping around Eastside.

As an aside, the book seemed to go down quite well, which has got to be a good sign too...

Saturday, May 17
View Article  How do you feel about it?

Busy on the technology front this week.

When we had the lunchtime meeting with MADE that James has blogged about, I mentioned a project that the World Bank have been funding in the Congo.  Essentially locals are given ruggedised handheld computers with a very simple interface whereby they can record the location of certain areas which they value in different ways.  The data gathered can then be used to inform activities in the area by outsiders (particularly logging).

I mentioned this to Julia because it occured to me that we could do something similar for the Eastside Laboratory, setting up some PDAs so that participants can go out and do some simple mapping without having to be taught how to use GIS software.

Steph from MADE had already put me onto Mediascapes and I've been playing with it a little bit.  It has the advantage of not taking up a lot of memory and being free to download and install - it even works with mobile phones if you've got a particularly flash one.  So, having spent the weekend finishing off my marking, I settled down earlier this week to play with the software.

Basically you can write your own 'mediascapes' which people then download and 'play' on their own devices.  You need a little bit of knowledge of scripting using Java which, frankly, I don't have, but figured out enough to get something basic working.  Essentially I had a little map on the screen of the Eastside area and a little man walks around the map as you walk around following you using GPS.  I programmed the mediascape to record all the GPS locations and also record every time you press the up or down button on your handheld computer.  Up and down could be used to stand for anything that you want people to record (happy/sad, safe/scared, interested/bored), but I decided to try out 'like/dislike'.

So on Thursday James & I went down to Eastside because we were hooking up with Steph who is project managing us at MADE.  We dragged Steph out of the office - since she put me onto the Mediascapes software in the first place - and made her our guineapig logging the areas she likes and dislikes in Eastside.  This map is the result of her walk around the area.



It's quite an interesting exercise, though if you only have one person doing it, it becomes a bit arbitrary.  What is it that has made one area particularly likeable and another not.  I took the log file from the Mediascape and put it into my GIS over lunch and got Steph to discuss why she'd logged in certain ways in certain areas.  Which is fair enough, but as James pointed out, it would be kinda interesting to get, say, a hundred people to do this and then you could start to identify broader patterns of likes and dislikes (or whatever else you asked people to record).

Certainly Steph reported that it was a very easy exercise to undertake.  In fact she was doing it as we were walking along talking about the project and also stopping every now and again taking decibel readings to add to our background noise map.  It would certainly be an interesting thing to do with groups wandering around.

We subsequently had another meeting with Ken Mossman and also Nick Bird from ISIS on Friday morning and showed them this exercise.  As Ken pointed out, there are issues about precisely what people are looking at when they log a particular feeling, but there are ways around this.  One could use a helmet mounted camera to record video footage of where a participant was looking, or even use a device with an inbuilt camera to ask people to take pictures of things they like/don't like.  Still, it's an interesting principle to have established and it will be quite nice to do something more with this.
Thursday, May 15
View Article  Lunch @ MADE on 1st May

**warning: long post coming up**

Those nice people at MADE set up a lunchtime meeting for us to showcase Rescue Geography to practitioners across the region. Just for the record, and because I will undoubtedly lose the piece of paper with people's names on, the people there were:

David Tittle

MADE

Ian Shepherd

D5 Architects

James Evans

Manchester University

Julia Ellis

MADE

Ken Harrison

Wyre Forest District Council

Ken Mossman

ISIS

Mark Kennedy

Turner & Townsend

Pamela Smith

Botanical Connections

Phil Jones

Birmingham University

Richard Trengrouse

Digbeth Business Association

Stephanie Basher

MADE

Vey Straker

Herefordshire Rural Media

We started off meeting people (or in the parlance of modern times, 'networking'), which was interesting as I started chatting to Ken Mossman who is project managing ISIS' involvement with the Warwick bar site.  As usual when you talk to people at the sharp end you get a different perspective on things, and he was very open and honest about their plans for the area.  Much thought had been put into how to move existing industry out of the area to free it up for development, and they appeared to have decided the overall types of uses that they want in the area.  The specifics seemed very much up for grabs at this stage, with plans for actual buildings and streetscapes out to tender with architects at the moment.

As well as reminding me what a complicated and multi-staged process development is, this also indicated that there are still many things in the redevelopment that are 'up for grabs' as it were.

Julia then gave a brief intro about MADE and their involvement in / hopes for the project, followed by me and phil doing our usual double act, accompanied by the obligatory powerpoint.  Lots of pictures, clear messages about what the project is, and a plea for help in determining what kinds of analysis we should do and how we should present it in order for it to be of any use to the development process.

The talk went down fairly well and I'll try and summarise most of the feedback here, in no particular order than that in which people spoke (I have collated all their comments into one paragraph)...

Joe: liked the way we focused on the experiential element of space, and stated the need to incorporate perceived meanings into the planning system, although he echoed our question about how to make it actually feed into the process...  'regeneration should reinforce rather than obliterate meaning'...nice...  He also noted that Michael Parkinson's report on Digbeth which included a range of people's views and memories didn't appear to be being used by Urban Initiatives in their Big Plan for Birmingham.  Could RG be brought into dialogue with the Big Plan or other methodologies?

Julia: can the technology make this a generally applicable methodology?  She also felt that the visual outputs might make more of an impact and last longer than a 'normal' public consultation, and that the lab in September could keep the work 'alive' in this sense.  Really interesting point - she thought that the walking interviews were empowering, as they allow the participant to take control (cf community mapping and local authorities).  The overall experiential focus also ties into ideas of 'cultural' sustainability' which is starting to become a priority, as even AWM begin to focus on regional identity.

Vey: the rural media company she works for have remit to empower community through different media, so even though it's rural there is a clear relevance...  She liked RG as a way to get buy-in from a community, but felt that it needed to look at the future as well as the past (which is a good point), and explore why people like certain spaces.  She told us a little about the Hereford regeneration of the Edgar St. grid, which is a massive area, and expressed some interest in pursuing RG as a possible part of their involvement in the scheme. She also felt that the next stage really needed to consider what exactly about the work is most important in terms of using it for real world applications.

Ken M: noted the problem of timing in terms of when it would feed into a development process - danger of being either too early or too late.  In terms of the bigger picture, he noted the link between identity and productivity within the quality of life agenda, and suggested that any way to evidence this would be attractive to local authorities putting together Local Development Frameworks and developers more generally.  His take-home message also related to how to use RG to inform design and help get planning permissions.  He also suggested a session with their architects and possibly AWM, which would be v. useful.

Ken H: liked the deeper approach, and noted that RG could be used in places that had been 'damaged' (by 60s architecture etc which seemed fairly well received despite Phil's protests), and that these places perhaps need rescuing.  Ken also told us about the current consultation occurring in Kidderminster, and we informally arranged to head over there for a walking tour to discuss possible ways in which RG might be used in this consultation process.

Ian: noted the need to capture uniqueness in order to understand what makes a place successful.  He also liked the idea of overlaying tracklogs to find where people tend to stop and use space.  RG as a way to build up a multi-layered appreciation of space that avoids flattening all meaning.  He sounded a note of caution, saying that it would be hard to measure the success of the method, which would be crucial to potential end users.

David: reflected on the actual process from a consultation point of view, and suggested that RG needed to incorporate more dialogue between different groups.  For example, he suggested lay and expert knowledges, inter-generational dialogue, male and female, car-user vs. pedestrian and so on.  This opens up a whole range of possibilities.  In terms of representivity he also suggested an online consultation stage to allow other interested parties to make their views heard.  He also made a point about the interpretation of distinctiveness being rather subjective, although it is widely recognised a central to the re-making of place.

So it was all very positive and as usual there are many leads to follow up, but I have run out of steam now as far as this blog is concerned, so will perhaps reflect a little more after our next meeting @ MADE.... which is..... tomorrow morning! 

Expect an update soon (ish).

Thursday, May 1
View Article  A mini milestone!

Saturday saw the achievement of (drum-roll, please) the 10th walking interview, which was what we were aiming for (along with the seated and 'double' interviews).  In fact, it was a really pleasant day, with 2 interviews recorded within a few hours.  I had my doubts about whether the equipment would be up to recording 2 consecutive GPS traces (I worry less about the audio despite the early disaster), but all is quiet at the technical end of the corridor (i.e. Phil's office) so here's hoping.... 

Now we just need another 3 people to do 'double' interviews (along with 2 who 'owe' me a walking interview - 1 is already arranged) and 7 seated interviews.  If you, dear reader, know anyone who could help, it's not too late - and coffee is included.

Progress is also being made on the transcripts.  As an early birthday present (or something), Phil bought me a natty piece of kit that means I can play the audio files on the lap-top, controlling the 'play' function with a foot pedal.  It's the same as Jon has been using to transcribe - it means you can type and listen at the same time.  It also means that transcribing and checking can happen a lot quicker as Jon and I don't have to keep swapping the equipment between us.  Plus, I can do it at home in relative peace and quiet - particularly important in the last couple of weeks as they have been resurfacing the car park outside.  So, to those of you who have been interviewed: I hope to be in touch soon.  Keep checking your in-box (or snail-mail in a couple of cases) for the transcript, then please check it and return it (or comments) to me.

Thanks to all for your help so far.... x

Thursday, April 24
View Article  Rescue Geography on tour

It's not quite true to say that I'm just back from Boston as I got into Heathrow at 5am on Monday, but today is certainly the first day where I've had
a) some free time
b) sufficient freedom from jetlag/a cold
to actually sit and update the blog.

The annual conference of the Association of American Geographers is quite a big deal in the academic geography scene, about five thousand or so people herded into a large hotel (or three hotels in this year's case) for four days.  There are papers being presented from 8am to 6pm every day, with keynote talks going on 'til 9pm.  If you actually tried to go to all of this you'd go totally stir crazy, so the longer you've been doing the job, the more time to spend hooking up with people, having informal meetings and drinking a lot (a lot) of coffee.

James & I were giving two papers - he presented our 'rhythm' film, which comes from another project, and I talked about rescue geography.  My paper was part of Chris Perkins' Subversive Cartographies session, which ran for most of Thursday afternoon.  Loads of really great papers and a packed room - loads of people having to stand/sit on the floor in the first session.  Stand outs for me: Denis Wood's 'Lynch Debord' (biggest 'in' joke of the conference); Bill Cartwright doing stuff on Web 2.0 mapping as part of environmental protests in Australia, where he came out against the lack of emotion shown in the end products as compared with hand drawn materials; James Craine & Stuart Aitken talking about their project to undermine the corporatisation of universities through a dis-orientation map for freshers. 

Rescue Geog went down well, bunch of really supportive comments/questions afterwards.  Interesting chat with Chris Perkins, session organiser and colleague of James at Manchester, which made me feel a bit less guilty about using Google maps - apparently the Open Street Map people have started working with the Ordnance Survey on some things, so even the most subversive sometimes get sucked in by 'the man' it seems.  (I'm sure OSM people would heavily take me to task on this.)  We were also asked whether we'd be interested in contributing to a special issue of a journal as a result of the session - basically a bunch of people working on the same kind of topic all write articles which come out at the same time in an academic magazine.  This would be quite a nice way of establishing rescue geog within the broader community of cartographers - something which would be new to myself and James as neither of us really consider ourselves to be map scholars by trade.

But, anyway, a good time was had by all.  I guess I should probably stop here and upload the latest interview track Jane has produced, cos she was busy working while James & I were swanning around Boston.

Oh and the Arts Council application with MADE is almost ready to go - Julia is doing last minute tweaks to the budget then we can send it off.  Exciting times, even if I have been a bit distracted this week by helping a PhD applicant finish off his application for funds from the ESRC.  He wants to use walking interviews (surprise, surprise given that I'm involved) to explore spaces of exclusion in the city, using 18-29 year old Muslim men as his case study.  This would be a really cool project and fits into the broader rescue geog philosophy, so fingers crossed he gets the funds.
Friday, April 11
View Article  Spreading the word

Hah, so much for 'public' geography - far too long since I last posted anything.  In fairness, I've been mostly marking, but other exciting things have been going on as well.

Let's take things in some kind of order.  Monday last week James, Jane & I went down to the Peripatetic Practices workshop organised by  Jennie Middleton and Hannah Macpherson at UCL.  This was a really cool event with a slightly daft title - it was all about walking methods.  Met a bunch of interesting people working on similar (and entirely dissimilar) things with a walking theme.  Plus we were restricted to ten minute papers, which meant no one had a chance to be boring, the curse of any gathering of academics.  Jane got a chance to hook up with a lot of the people she'd emailed before Christmas when putting together the review paper which will be coming out in the journal Geography Compass shortly.  Stand out papers for me were: Kathryn King from Islington Council, talking about a walking guidebook they'd produced to target 20-40something professional women;  Katrina Brown from the Macauley Institute in Aberdeen talking about their work on right-to-roam in Scotland (using very cool helmet-mounted video cameras); and Andrew Clarke from Leeds, who's got even more money out of the ESRC than we have to do a really fantastic piece of ethnography using walked interviews.

Anyway, rescue geography seemed to go down pretty well, though as ever I think some of the mapping technology intimidates people a little.  On Wednesday I was at Birmingham City University (formerly UCE) which is based over in Perry Barr at the invitation of my friend Peter Larkham.  An interesting audience because they're more practice-focussed with a number of people coming at things from a planning point of view.  So there were lots of interesting questions about the potential broader applications of the technique.  A certain amount of healthy cynicism too, with the suggestion that planners wouldn't be particularly interested, although developers might well be.

On which subject, our discussions with MADE have progressed really well.  Steph and I have been playing with the Mscapes software developed down at Bristol - we'll definitely put something together with this for the end-of-project exhibition.  That exhibition is now the subject of an application to the Arts Council which we're leading, though MADE are, let's be honest, doing most of the work.  Not only is this designed to pay for a two week 'laboratory' demonstrating the techniques to stakeholder groups, but also to launch a series of commissions to artists to respond to Eastside and the rescue geography project more generally.  This would also pay for some of Dan Burwood's photographic work that has been developing alongside what we've been doing.

So exciting times of late.  James and I are off to the Association of American Geographers Conference in Boston next week - we'll spread the word to another continent!  When I get back I have to steer the Arts Council bid through our Finance Department.  The good news is that our new Head of School is keen - he does a lot of bids to bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of his role with the Lapworth Geological Museum, which is his baby in many ways.  So it's all good.  Will report on AAG when James & I get back.
Wednesday, March 19
View Article  Long time, no blog...

I was never able to keep a diary going longer than 6 weeks, so it's no surprise that I haven't blogged for ages.  But don't worry, 'walk 'n talk-ers', work has been progressing.  Not as fast as I would have liked (Phil and James, too, no doubt), but progress has been made.  Things did take a little while to pick up after Christmas, but eventually some really helpful people got to know about our project and have been encouraging friends and relations to join in.

So, the tally stands at:

Walking interviews - 7 done; 1 arranged.

Sedentary interview - 3 done.

Doubles - 5 completed; 1 to finish (but this does include one walking interview where the PDA failed).

Counting on my fingers tells me that is 17 people interviewed, plus I have 3 more people to contact after Easter.  (I don't actually have 17 fingers - I had to take my socks off.)

In other news, I have been receiving a steady stream of interview transcipts from Jon, who is doing a good job of this essential, but slightly tedious task!  I am now trying to find time to listen to the recording while checking the transcript for accuracy, trying to remember what was said in the bits we can't hear very well and assessing the noise level.  I then go through them a second time to 'smoothe' them slightly - i.e. take out some of the 'ums' and 'errs'.  This is potentially controversial as we are trying to reflect what people say about the area.  On the other hand, things that make sense verbally look very strange written down, and without hearing the inflection in the voice, meaning may be changed.  Also, it seems that few of us (and I was horrified to discover that I am very much included in this, given that talking is one of the key requirements of my job!) can speak in proper sentences!!  While the interviews are always fine at the time, all the 'ums' and repetitions while people think of the right word makes following the thread of the conversation difficult - not to mention rather boring.  Transcripts are then sent to the interviewee to ensure that they are a correct reflection of what was said - and it also gives the respondent a chance to take out any comments that may have slipped out inadvertently.  It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes if we feel comfortable with  someone (and I hope you all feel happy being interviewed by me!) we forget that the recorder is running....  Anyway, once I get the OK from the interviewee, I select some of the stories to go on the website, and Phil does something technical which attaches the text to the GPS location et viola! - it appears on the website.  Look out after Easter for more....

Well, it keeps me out of mischief.

So, as Easter approaches, I wonder 'where did the time go?'  Well, actually, no.  I really think - 'yippee, holiday!'  Happy Easter, all - I'll be back in a couple of weeks.... xxx

Sunday, March 2
View Article  Technological breakthrough

Well, I was snowed under with marking for most of February (just finished the last of the first batch this morning - more coming in on Friday) and I was frustrated because something which almost worked wasn't quite working.

I've been trying to find a way of getting the transcripts up on the website in such a way that you could follow the conversation around as the walk was undertaken.  The first step was to attach the transcripts (which our transcriber Jon has broken into 10 second chunks) to the GPS points recorded during the walk (every 10 seconds).  I did this by putting each 10 seconds of text into a cell in Microsoft Excel, along with a number from 0-3 which Jane has generated for each ten seconds to indicate the level of background noise on the recording (buses going by being 3).  In ArcGIS I joined the Excel tables to the GPS logs and then exported these to KML using a script called Export to KML which is produced by the City of Portland Bureau of Planning.  This allowed me to use the text from the transcript as the KML Feature Label - as well as use the background noise number to refer to one of a series of little picture files I created to represent increased volume.

All this I'd done before and the logs look fine in Google Earth or on the Google Maps site, both of which automatically generate a table of contents based on the Feature Label for each point.  I wanted, however, to have this table of contents embedded on the Rescue Geography website.  This apparently simple thing has taken me absolutely ages to figure out and I have to acknowledge Mike Williams, who has an excellent tutorial on using Google Maps code.  He has also written a very, very clever little piece of script called EGeoXML which allows you to do all kinds of things to take data from your KML files and present it on your website in a variety of ways.

The upshot of all this (yes, I know, it's tedious, but it's a field diary of the developing method) is that for Blair Kesseler's interview (which Jane did back in October) we now have the full transcript with a numbered table which allows you to click and have balloons open on the map in the order of the text - following the conversation.  We also have a series of edited highlights on his main page, with a drop down box (again generated using EGeoXML) allowing you to jump to the stories Blair told about different locations.

While I'm here I should probably say something about CP's question to James mentioned in his last post.  KML is now a fairly standard format for exchanging geographic data on the web.  Anyone who wants to can take our KML files and do other things with them - you're only limited by your expertise in understanding the (basic) programming language underneath them, rather than whether you have access to GIS software like ArcGIS.  While there are other ways of getting this lovely data onto the web, Google do make it very easy for the amateur dabbler in code such as myself.  I will confess that I am uncomfortable about using Google for all of this stuff for a number of reasons:
i) they are an evil multinational
ii) the free map service could be withdrawn at any time
iii) questions of futureproofing - the site currently uses the latest version of KML and Google Maps, but will this code be supported by whatever the successor applications are in, say, ten years time.

There are, unfortunately, practicalities.  We don't have an ArcIMS server to run all this stuff directly from my GIS to the web.  Even if we did, the license to run Ordnance Survey data (i.e. to indicate where the streets are) on ArcIMS is utterly extortionate.  It's also not very shareable.  So KML is definitely the way forward.  But why use Google and not one of user-generated map sites?

Essentially while I'm pretty good at this kind of stuff, I'm incredibly dependent on people like Mike Williams posting stuff on the web explaining how to write/use the code and, for the moment at least, the vast majority of people who know about these things are writing about KML as it relates to Google.  I may one day figure out how to live a Google-free existence, but for the moment it's a bit like having a car - I cycle as much as possible and someday I may get rid of the car, but it's awfully handy having one when you want to go to the shops...
Monday, February 25
View Article  Manchester seminar

Rescue geography hit the University of Manchester today, with a repeat of last month's seminar for my new (ish now) colleagues.  Again I was slightly hesitant presenting something which is very much a 'work in progress', and again there were people in the audience who list GIS amongst their primary research interests (yikes). 

But again the response was really positive, with another set of highly thoughtful comments at the end for us to muse upon.  I'm going to list them here so that they are recorded somewhere other than my own wetware...

KW suggested that the tension between lived and planned space in the sustainability process was akin to that between use value and exchange value... prompting some interesting thoughts about how the notion of sustainability might be positioned within wider academic debates.  This resonated with what Sunand Prashed had said about sustainability needing to be the balance between modernity and tradition last week...  Another paper idea to chuck on the back-burner...

He also mentioned Jane Jacobs work on forensic geographies, where she recovers artefacts from a condemned Glaswegian tower block, which really reminded me of the paper I saw a few years ago where a New York artist was trying to capture the sense of place attached to a condemned tenement block.  Wish I could remember their name...

CP asked a whole series of questions... luckily for me none of them were technical GIS questions!  Must buy him a drink sometime...  The one I didn't answer was why we were using Google, an evil multinational company, for something that we want to be public... well I guess the answer is that the public all use Google, so to reach them we must too... there are definitely more issues to go into here though.

NC asked why we didn;t just use maps and draw where we went on them, which made me realise that time is as important as space in terms of this project.  We need to know where AND when people say things.  Also, despite the teething problems with the equipment, once you get these tracklogged transcripts there are so many things that you can do with them.

MJ pointed out that walking interviews might actually confine or tie the conversation to the surrounding environment, which was something I hadn't considered.

BR and JB (and some others) raised the question about sampling and representativeness, and how this may be a problem if we start feeding 'results' into planning processes.

BR also suggested using the same route for respondents, which would allow for greater comparability.  We had considered this, but decided against it, I guess because it would preclude exploration of memories and personal attachments.  It did make me think that there are effectively two levels of environmental prompts: there are the purely functional / practical, like noise levels, and then there are the highly subjective, like attachments to place.  The project will definitely work on the first level, but how much rigour we can bring to our analysis of the second level is less certain.

The only bad thing was that I seemed to go on for longer this time... Hope I'm not turning into a bore... no really... it keeps me awake at night... perhaps I need help...

Tuesday, February 12
View Article  Seminar@ Kingston

So the seminar went really well.  Silvia Gullino, the lovely person who had invited me down to speak to them, had organised a really great event, with lunch and a range of people in the audience, including sociologists, GISers, planners and students.  Everyone was really friendly and I have to say I got a really good vibe from everyone at the C-SCAIPE research centre there.

So, how did the paper go down?  Well I have to say I don't think I've ever had a more positive response to a paper.  People seemed genuinely enthused, and had lots of great ideas for how we could proceed with analysis.  What's more, Silvia had advertised the talk on various email lists, and I have had about 5 enquiries subsequently asking for copies of our submitted paper (from overseas as well as UK).

Jane has started a contact list in a 'friends of the project' style, and this also seems to be a great idea as we can act as a bit of a hub for this work.  Will be nice to meet some of these people at the peripatetic workshop as well, especially with one eye on the follow up 'Son of Rescue Goegs' project...

Anyway, all this has confirmed my suspicion that walking methods are rapidly becoming falvour of the month.  When I find the piece of paper that I scribbled down people's suggestions on I'll post them here as well...

Well I haven't found that piece of paper, but i have remembered one particularly interesting suggestion.  This was a planner who suggested that developers might be more interested in this sort of thing than planners, as showing sensitivity to a community and an area may give them a competitive advantage in winning tenders for certain parts of developments, like those on lower eastside which are supposed to be creative, sensitive and so on... interesting idea, target develpers instead of planners.  After all, people are always saying that they are the ones with all the power...

Saturday, January 19
View Article  You can tell it's term time...

You can tell it's term time in Birmingham, while University of Manchester are in the middle of their exam period.  I have been somewhat frantic over the last couple of weeks while James has been largely sitting at home playing with Facebook and generally being able to get through the day without running between teaching and endless meetings with students.

The meeting with MADE prompted me to finally get around to upgrading the website, which I'd built with HTML as it was written circa 1994 - functional but not exactly pretty.  The web design software I'd ordered in September turned up toward the end of last term and I only got around to learning how to use it a few weeks ago.  Anyway, I sat down last weekend and moved everything into a new template and even spent some time learning XML in order to create a database to work underneath the interview page.  Very dull, but I was pretty pleased with myself.  At least our web presence is a little more professional looking now.

Warning, this next bit gets very techie.

Faffing around with HTML (page layout code), XML (database code), KML (mapping code) and other computery things has brought me back to thinking about solving the problem of presenting the interview transcripts.  (Yes, I know, they're still not on the website, in spite of many promises!)  I woke in the middle of the night last week thinking I can do this by creating HTML tags in Microsoft Excel (which is where we've got the transcript text, broken into 10 second chunks to match the GPS log), then using ArcGIS to connect the HTML text and the GPS points and export it as a series of formatted text balloons in a Google Map. Then I could set up an animation to run through each balloon in turn to allow people to 'listen' to the transcript in its location. Yes, my dreamscape is filled with such excitement.

Well, it turns out I'm not quite right about this because of the way I've been exporting the GIS data into the Google Earth KML format.  The script I've been using doesn't cope well with HTML tags as it tries to rewrite them into a different format to work with KML and doesn't quite manage this.  So I think I'm going to have to consult with friend, colleague and GIS-genius Lee Chapman to see if he can tell me how to write scripts in Visual Basic to run in ArcGIS.  This scares me quite a lot...

Less techie stuff now.

Anyway, what I have managed to achieve this week is to create a new map (available on the Downloads page of the site) which allows you to click on locations within Eastside and hear a minute worth of ambient sounds recorded at that location.  I did the recording this Thursday, which was a beautiful crisp, cool winter day with no rain.  I wanted to get workday sounds, hence why I cycled madly into town on a weekday in an unexpected gap between two meetings.  I'll confess that I haven't made a fantastic job of the recordings - slowly working out how to use the new audio recorder.  Most of the recordings were too quiet and I had to artificially amplify them (which has made some of the quieter ones a bit 'fizzy'), hence I may go and do them again at some point.  Still, the stereo microphone works really nicely - it's quite eerie listening to them with headphones on, because they do give a really strong sense of space.

The next thing to do is something similar but with a first edition Ordnance Survey map and pop up balloons with historic photos from the Central Library.  But that's not going to happen just yet.  I haven't actually had a day off in the last two weeks and I really, really need some sleep.  I'm going to get some teaching stuff ready for Monday now, then go to the cinema and probably doze off...
Wednesday, January 16
View Article  Seminar

Realised last night that i am supposed to be presenting a research seminar on the project in two weeks time.  When i say 'realised' what i mean is that the organiser emailed me asking for a title and an abstract.  mind duly focused.

Working on it today has made me realise what a great project this is... we've got photos, stories, techno-toys, art, labs, videos, walking tours, anecdotes, a strong acadeic rationale, and at least two exciting topics to address.

Rock on.

I'm just hoping now that the bunch of planners i'm presenting to will like it.  The 'discussant' for the seminar is a hardcore stats guy - works on the census, say no more.  There's no results, and i'm no GISer.  Hopefully the pictures will fly, and the mobile methods theory will lend credibility.  Will post in a couple of weeks to describe how it all goes...

j

Wednesday, January 16
View Article  MADE meeting

We had a great meeting with some very nice people at MADE last Friday.  To continue this blog's general obsession with the weather, it was a very unpleasant day... rain, wind, cold, a full house of fetidness.  I had wet feet by the afternoon as we were trying to film outside for part of the morning.  Could have picked a better day.  We may have to relocate to LA for the next shoot... But I digress...

MADE are a regional version os CABE - into sustainable cities, quality design, community involvement and the such.  We've come across lots of their previous work, using artists of various types to uncover hidden aspects of cities and towns.  Anyway, they have a really nice office in an old canal masters house in the middle of Eastside, and we had a meeting with Julia and Stef to talk about how they might be able to help us with the project.  Stef made me a nice cup of spiced apple tea. 

 

MADE Header

 

They were really clued up on the creative / artistic / community engagement side of things, while also being embedded in networks with planners and regeneration bods.  Both of these things were of great interest to us.

The main things to come out of the discussion were that they could help make our end of project event much more than just a one-off thing.  They have two large function rooms on the ground floor, and offered them to us to for the event, which is wicked as we hadn't found anywhere suitable.  The rooms are just the right size - about 15'*20'.

Julia suggested that we don't call it an end of project event, but an 'Eastside Laboratory', where we get lots of different groups of people to come in and engage with the project's outputs.  She suggested getting the local community in, but also hosting a day for planners and local regen bods to try and get some of the work to feed into policy and masterplannig for the area.  We liked that idea.  This also made me think about the possibility of getting some follow up funding based around the idea of knowledge transfer...  MADE were really into making it policy relevant in some way, so this seemed like a good idea all round.

She also suggested that the lab could run for two weeks to a month, and we could get school kids in too.  This would also help them fulfill their educational remit.  They also mentioned maybe 'branding' the event for us... god knows... we need some help with our brand...

Funding was also discussed, with reference to the event itslef, and how to facilitate turning some of our outputs into forms of art. Julia suggested that an Arts Council bid between us and them, with three of four named artists including briefs of what work they would do might be a goer.  It would also be useful to orient this towards making art relevant to the community and policy makers.  She said she might be able to make a few calls and see whether the Arts council people would be receptive to such a suggestion....  Beyond that, it appeared that both the project and MADE might have enough odds and sods floating around in various budgets to make the event happen anyway.

The timing would be critical - in order to prepare as fully as possible, but still fall within the project timeframe, we settled on middle of sept 2008.  so we need to put boot to ass in order to get these funding apps in by Easter.  Must speak to Dan about it, he wrote us something that would be appropriate for the arts council bid a few months ago - need to find out whether he has done anything with it yet.

The details of what exactly to do in the lab were discussed, although no firm decisions were made.  Consensus was that it needs to involve ICT, and be interactive, although this would mean that tehcnical support would have to be available.  It would also need to 'be done right' in order to have a positive impact.

Stef mentioned something called mediascapes:

http://www.mscapers.com/home
 
Their description of a mediscape reads as follows:
"A mediascape is a collection of media fragments associated with
positions in space. You experience the media fragments as you walk
around the space." http://www.mscapers.com/home
 
the software can be used on a GPS handheld device as far as we can ascertain, and we were all excited about the possibilities of using some of our outputs in this way... further investigation needed though.

Anyway, it was only an hour and a half, but we covered a lot of ground.  We were singing from the same hymnsheet (as it were) and it really felt like we had something to offer them and vice versa.  if only all meetings were as pleasant and productive. Stef even offered to introduce Jane to some of the hidden parts of digbeth.  cool.

then it was back out into the rain...

Friday, January 11
View Article  Happy New (Rainy) Year

Welcome back everyone - and especially the bold interviewee who came out with me this morning on a (shortened) walk around the Warwick Bar area!  The monsoon-type rain made us think twice, but as it seemed to be easing we went out anyway. 

Yes, it was wet - it turns out that my expensive raincoat doesn't withstand Midlands monsoons at all! - but two interesting points were noted:

1) We do need weather like this in order to assess if it has an effect on walking interviews!!  We went, but I am assured that it was a shorter walk than if it had been dry.

2) It was really peaceful once we left the main roads - after a couple of weeks of peace and quiet chez Jane, I was really noticing the heavy traffic in the centre of the city.  However, once we got into smaller streets and along the canal, it was really quiet, with the rain damping down the traffic noise and keeping most (sensible) pedestrians at home.

Wednesday, December 19
View Article  Christmas message from Jane

A big THANK YOU to all of the people who have helped out with 'Rescue Geography' so far - academics who have shared papers, presentations and words of encouragement, people at Central Library who have helped with finding old photos, Dan who is hopefully taking lots of new photos, people who have helped to 'spread the word' about the project and, above all, the interviewees who have told me fascinating stories about the past, present and future of Digbeth/ Deritend/ Eastside.

A very Merry Christmas to you all!!

Wednesday, December 19
View Article  The end of a busy term

It's extremely good having Jane working full time on this project, because I keep seeming to get bogged down in other things and forgetting about it.  Lots and lots of student-related things, which is a bit frightening as this is supposed to have been the term where I have very little teaching and so can get on with research stuff.  So I'm absolutely not looking forward to coming back in the new year.

But enough of my woes.  The GPS failure was my fault as I'd left the charger in my desk drawer (which is full of bits of electronica both useful and massively obsolete) and forgotten to give it to Jane.  But it does reiterate the point that this is a right pain to sort out at times as there are so many things to keep charged / switch on when walking. 

I have been playing with shading the paths on the website maps to give a sense of direction being walked, which I think works quite well - I particularly like the pale to dark blue which seems to fit nicely with the underlying colours of the google maps.  Cartographic experimentation, it's a bit like proper geography!

Going to simplify things a bit in the new year as the tablet PC has proved not to be particularly useful in terms of a prompt.  In fairness it was always a bit of a stretch to see whether people would be interested in watching their progress around the map in 'real time' (or with a minute or so delay between screen refreshes).  But we've proved that this is something that could be done in principle - particularly if the person running the interview is pretty happy faffing about with GIS.  Something to be expanded on in a future project probably.  It gave an opportunity to rethink how we use technology in the field at least.  Nonetheless I'm sure Jane will be delighted at not having to heft around a heavy computer on her walks.

Other piece of good news was that the ambient noise recorder has finally turned up (only three months after it was ordered!) so James & I are going to go out in the new year and sample some of the sounds of Eastside as they currently exist.  Doubtless I'll connect these to a google map in some fashion (ah, the joys of google mapping) and James has talked about persuading a friend of his to connect these into some dance beats, a bit like the Birmingham Frequencies project by Biosphere and Higher Intelligence Agency.

In the meantime, however, I'm going to fiddle with some more of next term's lectures and contemplate my stack of Xmas marking.  Joy to the world, good will to wo/men etc.

Wednesday, December 19
View Article  Up-update

I have just finished the last interview before the holidays, so the final tally of interviews in the first third of the project is:

Walking interviews - 4 completed, 1 arranged (as before)

Traditional, sedentary interviews - 1

'Double' interviews (sedentary, then walking) - 2 completed, 1 in progress, 1 to be arranged

So that's 10 people  , another 20 to find   !!!

Monday, December 17
View Article  Update

It's been a while since there was an update on this page, so sorry if you have been trying to follow our progress - it's actually been quite good recently!  I've managed six interviews in the last couple of weeks and would be out now if the battery in the GPS 'bleeper' hadn't failed this morning.

After the last appeal for more women to come forward and talk to me, I've interviewed ... one!  But have arranged to speak to another in the new year.  So, the current interview situation is:

Walking interviews - 4 completed, 1 arranged

Traditional, sedentary interviews - 0 (given the choice between these and walking interviews, no-one wants to do these - well, they don't capture the imagination quite the same, do they!), but I'm hoping to arrange one soon

'Double' interviews (sedentary, then walking) - 1 completed, 2 in progress, 1 to be arranged

So, that's 9 (or possibly 10) respondents out of the hoped-for 30!  Not bad, but it does mean that there will be more of a sense of urgency when we all come back after Christmas.

Anyone hoping for a hint of the likely results will be disappointed, though.  I am currently veering between having complete confidence in the improved results that come from a walking interview and being absolutely impressed by the thoroughness of the sedentary interviewees.  In true academic style, the answer so far is - 'more work needs to be done'!!  (Never mind the PhD, it's coming up with answers like this that prove your credentials!!).  I can report, though, that so far all the interviews have been really, really different.  I have heard views from people who look at the area through artistic eyes, through having spent childhoods and teenage years there and through having worked with disadvantaged people.  Many stories have had happy associations, a few have highlighted how the area has been/ can be a place of fear - sometimes it's difficult to imagine the infinite variety of meanings that a place has!  This is perhaps not very surprising, but certainly makes 'data gathering' (doesn't that sound a poor turn of phrase, given the rich variety of stories I have actually been recording!) an absolute pleasure.  Analysis may well be another matter, but I am really looking forward to getting the corrected transcripts back in order to see what is really going on, rather than replying on my (fading) impressions of the interviews.

On the technology side, everything has acted up at some point, but has mostly been well-behaved (especially when switched on, charged up, etc).  As the maps on the interview pages show, the GPS signal has been a bit inaccurate.  It gives the impression of us walking straight through (or maybe over!) buildings and magically jumping from street to street, especially in the northern corner of Digbeth.  Maybe it's something to do with the power of the Bullring, atmospherics in outer space, or a lack of power left in the GPS unit.  We'll see on the next walk....

Tuesday, November 27
View Article  Men doing all the talking

I've just arranged my fifth interview and noticed that only men have been volunteering to be interviewed!  While they have all been very interesting, this is surely not going to give us a very balanced view of Digbeth and Deritend.

Or is it? 

Are these areas 'for men'? 

Don't you ladies visit anywhere here? 

I know some of you do because I've seen you working in cafes and other businesses and providing support services.  So, come on girls, tell me what you think about the places and spaces of Digbeth/ Deritend/ Eastside.

As the only girl on this project, I'd really like to talk to you.

Don't let the Spice Girls' message be in vain - let's see a bit of 'Girl Power'!

Wednesday, November 14
View Article  Chips!

Of course, some chips would have cheered us up while we were walking round Eastside in the rain, preferably from Deritend fish & chips because:

1) they're nice; and

2) the chip shop is half way up the hill, so you get some exercise which means you are allowed a few chips!

Can't lose!

Wednesday, 14 November
View Article  Yes, rain - and other woes...

Oh dear....

It all started so well.

A really interesting interview with a respondent who spoke clearly, made fascinating observations and was thoughtful about his own place in Eastside. 

Our aim of assessing walking interviews was also given a boost, as it appeared to me that the beginning and end of the interview 'proper' were even more blurred than usual.  I usually chat to interviewees while setting up the equipment (although that used to mean a tape recorder - this project really has Equipment!), and we usually chat afterwards.  Frequently, this is when the really good observations are made!!  However, with a 'normal' interview there is a kind of formal ending, usually with me giving the respondent a chance to ask questions or make any other comments.  In this case, though, the whole interview had been more of a chat and before we reached the end of the walk, my respondent was asking me questions about the project and my own academic background - something that usually happens 'afterwards', off-tape.  Does this prove the increased informality of the walking interview - and, therefore, its value where informality is particularly useful?  Or is it a one-off, dependent on the character of this one interviewee????

Yes, very interesting!

But...

It rained!  And we discovered that bad weather doesn't put off all respondents!

And...

(Future employers look away now!)  The audio recording failed!!  Yes, I confess, I hate anything more technical than a tape recorder, and my relationship with them has been fraught on occasion!  It may have been the rain, gremlins in the machinery- or, more probably, I didn't turn it on properly.  Still, this interviewee did want to be anonymous , although probably not to the extent of silence....

So, learning points: 

1) just looking at the weather forecast isn't enough - sometimes it is correct and you have to act on it!

2) double-check everything.... 

Tuesday, November 13
View Article  Rain
Jane has just gone off to do another interview, this being the first that she's had to do while it's been raining.  I feel vaguely guilty sitting in my nice warm office.  Hey ho, the joys of being in charge...
Wednesday, November 7
View Article  A geek in his element

Jane's quite right, I have been busy playing with techno things.

The website has been given a bit of a facelift, now that we actually have some research materials collected to put on it.  It's still quite basic in terms of its underlying structure and appearance, but that doesn't much matter - at least it's a bit clearer to navigate now.

One of the philosophical things underpinning this project is the commitment to making the data publicly available/sharable.  This has traditionally been a bit tricky with GIS (mapping) data, but there are a number of tools out there now which make things a lot easier.  Hence on the webpage now in the 'interviews' section you can have a look at maps showing where Jane walked with the participants, based on the sat nav (GPS) tracks recorded at the time.  At some point relatively soon we'll start adding extracts from the transcripts as well - Jane's just checking over the great work that one of the Department's postgrads has done in transcribing interviews recorded in a noisy urban environment.  Incidentally, a bit of fiddling with the output levels from the mics and it has to be said that we've managed to get some amazingly high quality recordings - even with buses blasting past on Heath Mill Lane.

The maps on the webpage are based on Google Maps.  Okay, here's the geeky bit (well, this is supposed to be a record of how we actually do the research).  First I took the GPS tracks into ArcGIS - the hardcore mapping software we're using.  Then I converted the 'point' files, where the GPS records the location every 10 seconds, and made them into polylines - basically joining the dots.  These I exported as KML files - this is a file format used to exchange spatial data on the web, it's a bit like HTML in that it's a text file with a series of codes in it indicating, for example, where to put a dot on a map.  You can open KML files directly into Google Earth, but I wanted to try and embed some maps into the web page I'm making for each interview we do.  If you make KML files (and many cheap sat nav boxes can record location tracks as KML for you to download onto your computer) you can open them within Google Maps (go to Google and click 'maps').  If you put those KML files on your website, you can get Google to generate some HTML code that you can put in your own webpages which will embed the map into your page.

Simple.

Well, okay, not hugely simple.  It's a bit of a faff, but it means you can share all kinds of spatial data with people who don't have sophisticated GIS software themselves and without having to spend tens of thousands of pounds on specialist GIS web servers and licences to use Ordnance Survey data - you just put your data on top of Google's maps.

So that's what I was up to this afternoon.  Most of the days when you end the day thinking "I've earned my money today" you've been doing something really tedious.  It's nice when you've been doing something interesting and still get that feeling.

Oh and we've put links up to photos we've got from our interviewees that are being hosted on Flickr if you want to have a look.  That's the strange thing about the web these days, you don't really need a lot of storage space yourself - you can make use of other sites and simply link all the data together.  Which is kind of what Web 2.0 is really about.

Monday, November 5
View Article  Another day, another interview...

Yes, even though it was Saturday, a researcher's work is never done - well, that's not quite true, but this sounds more interesting!

Another fascinating walking interview discovering new streets and old histories.  One place I have visited is St Basil's in Heath Mill Lane.  (Soap box alert!) NB, make sure you support St. Basil's Big Sleep Out/ Sleep In (I particularly like the 'Sleep In' for those of us who have a choice about such things and like our beds) on November 30th!  In talking to people who have become homeless or reading the Big Issue, I am often struck by how easy it is to lose one's home, so help prevent youth homelessness by supporting St Basil's. (Down off the soap box and back to the interview!)

As I was saying, another fascinating walk round in (fortunately) unremarkable weather and some amazingly quiet streets - away from the main roads and the Gigbeth events.  I learnt about 'Dirty Deritend' not necessarily being a derogitory comment, more a factual observation, given the animals, etc.  Also, while most of the stories told related to within a lifetime, right at the end we talked about the Civil War history of Birmingham.  Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it isn't there....

I still need people to talk to - not all have to do a walk.  I would like to do some 'normal' interviews, too, just sitting down (perhaps with a coffee - milk, half a sugar, please).  So if you have been following the blog or seen the leaflets and have ANY link with Eastside (living, working, now, in the past) do get in touch.

Tuesday, October 30
View Article  And we're off...

Yes, the inaugural walking interview has been conducted!  Hooray!! 

The sun was shining, it was dry and not too windy or cold.  This isn't just the British obsession with the weather, it may turn out to be significant in getting people to walk and talk with us - stay tuned for the final verdict in a couple of months time....

The talking bit was really interesting.  This is why I wanted to join this project - to find out people's stories and histories.  What this building used to be, why it is special to someone, what happened here.  My mind is still putting together the stories and places.

Then, an unexpected thing happened (although that says more about me separating work and personal lives) - we stopped to talk to someone else.  An old photograph had been promised, as my interviewee had links with the building now occupied by someone else.  It was a really interesting few minutes for all of us, plus it demonstrates perfectly the community that some say doesn't exist in Eastside.  No community?  Well, I saw some today!

In fact two unexpected things happened - the other was the photographs that I was given.  We have permission to use them in our project so I expect they will appear hereabouts before long (but that's technical, so I'm not doing it!).  Those photos, plus the links with our photographer friend, Dan, and the archives at Birmingham Central Library look really promising for this project being an important local record.

One complaint, though - the bag with the equipment in is really heavy!  I hope our project has a budget for massage or physiotherapy....  On the other hand, I really didn't notice it when we were actually doing the walking and talking - testament to how interesting it was.

Finally, are walking interviews worth doing?  On the evidence of one interview - yes!  I think that we followed a route that had been thought out beforehand, but still there was an occasion when we looked at a building "while we are here", so we did see things that were prompted by our being out and about.

Sadly, tomorrow's interview has been cancelled for now because of illness, but if anyone reading this thinks it looks like fun - it is!  Get in touch, we still need people to talk to us.

Now, Phil's got all the techno-stuff to play with, so time for coffee. 

Where's that footstool gone?

Friday, October 26
View Article  The rise of the green leaflet

Yes, I see them in my sleep - those green leaflets saying "WANTED: Tales, stories and histories about Digbeth, Deritend and Eastside!" Many of them are now loitering around the said areas, in cafes, pubs and, hopefully, in homes.  Electronic versions are also circulating in the ether. 

And - joy! - a couple of offers of help have come in!  Two interviews have been arranged for next week and I'm waiting for another couple to get back to me, so its not-quite-panic-stations-but-slightly-stressing.  Will the technology work?  Will we be able to hear the recording?  Will people turn up?  If they do, will they speak?  Well, yes, apart from the techno bits, I've done this before - people do usually turn up (eventually) and even the shy ones end up talking.  After all, this is the best bit of the research process - actually meeting people - and I promise that it is fun for the interviewees, too.  It's not often that people really do want you to talk about yourself, is it!

So, if you have read the leaflet, come and take one of us on a guided walk around Eastside.  We only need another 28 people!  It'll be fun - and good exercise.

Tuesday, October 23
View Article  It's not all quiet on the Western Front

Busy couple of weeks.  I'm going over to the newly rebranded Birmingham City University (formerly UCE Birmingham) tomorrow to give a talk about the project and one or two other bits 'n pieces.  An opportunity to spread the word a bit, especially among those who are more actively connected in to planning practice than ivory tower geographers.

We had an interesting meeting last week with Pete James from Birmingham Central Library.  He's library's Head of Photographs and a friend of Dan Burwood who we've hooked up with for potential collaboration.  Hopefully we'll be able to get a joint project going linking some of Dan's ideas for a project relating to community portraits along with some of the historical material that Pete can give us access to, combining these with the stories we're hoping to get from our interviewees.

On that subject, Jane's put together our project flier which we've been distributing, partly thanks to the Eastside Community Group and partly with myself and James having a quiet afternoon wandering around local pubs and leaving fliers on the bar.  It's a hard life sometimes.  Jane is hoping to hook up with a guy from the St Basil's Centre, a big homeless charity which is based out of a former church on Heath Mill Lane, deep within our study area.  So things are moving along.  Of course then comes the difficult task of deciding quite how the recording should be transcribed with all kinds of techie decisions about how to link the transcript to the GPS tracks.  Which, naturally, I'm immensely looking forward to, given my status as resident geek.
Thursday, October 4
View Article  my first time...

blogging, that is. 

As Co-Investigator on this project, and having been suitably shamed into action by my co-workers enthusiasm for this blogging malarkey, I though it was about time something went on here from me.  To be fair I have just moved jobs to uni of Manc, and the task of setting up and running a new Masters course in a completely new dept has eaten up the time somewhat.

So first impressions of how the project is going: 

there's lots of potential for collaboration with other people working in, on and around Eastside.  My long time friend Dan is a photographer who is working on social aspects of community in the area and has produced some amazing shots of 'life' as it unfolds in the pubs and streets of Digbeth.  Having known Dan for ages and really loving his work the potential of working together is exciting.

playing with all this technical equipment is going to raise a helluva lot of practical issues... as the others have been noting, even something as simple as recording outside, whether it is ambient noise or voices, is fraught with difficulties.  The issues raised by 10 mins in the quad at birmingham uni last week with a noise-meter could probably provide enough material for a 'how to' methods paper. (NB, no ones's saying that this would be an interesting paper. but it would be a paper nevertheless, and I'm sure there was something in the proposal about methods;)

Finally, now i have a mere 3 hours a day to kill on the train i have been able to do some reading around the new 'mobilities paradigm' and the associated field of 'mobile methodologies' within the social sciences.  I was initially excited by the possibilities of using the project to explore nomadic ethics (a la Braidotti), and the difference that moving makes to people's experience of space.  The literature I have read so far has totally underwhelmed me, as it does the classic geography trick of identifying yet another 'overlooked' object of study (in this case, mobile communities) and then applying all the same conceptual approaches to them.  nothing really new there from what i can see.... and yes I am a whinging git... we'll read some more and see whether it really does lead anywhere other than the emporer's new clothes.

so there you have it my first ever blog.  I have crumbled and joined the blogging generation.  before you know it there'll be pictures and everything.

This is evans, blogging off.

Thursday, October 4
View Article  Maximegalon Institute of Slowly and Painfully Working Out the Surprisingly Obvious (MISPWOSO)

In one of the Hitch Hikers' books Douglas Adams noted the tendency among scientists to spend millions of research money and time to prove stuff that everybody already knew anyway.  And it's a staple of the Today Programme to have a chuckle at whatever the latest madness is from some American research team.

Today I feel like I've done something to join these proud ranks.  Jane & I went out with a decibel meter and recorded the noise levels at various points around Eastside.  By no means was this a comprehensive survey (we'll doubtless have to spend several days filling in the gaps), but it was enough to test the principle.  The idea was to create a contour map - like you might do for hills, but shading it in according to noise levels rather than height.

As part of the ArcGIS mapping software there's a tool called Spatial Analyst which will create contours automatically from point data - I used an Inverse Distance Weighted model.  Don't ask me what this means, because I honestly don't know.  But it produces some pretty maps, like this one:

The pinker colours show higher noise levels.  Shock horror, the High Street and area around the bus mall by Moor Street Station are noisier than wandering along the canal.  Bet you never saw that one coming.  Will have to go and survey all the cross streets along the southern side of the railway tracks - Heath Mill Lane where we walked is particularly noisy because of the buses, but others won't be.

Still, I'm feeling happier now that we're doing some of the fieldwork we told the ESRC we'd undertake.  Particularly happy that Jane is getting on with making contacts.  My head is back in teaching at the moment now that the kids are back for a new term.  Spent the last few days writing a lecture about feminist research epistemologies for the second years.  I bet they'll be as happy to hear about it as I was to write it.  Still this department has 8 female teaching staff compared to 48 men - somebody needs to say something about gender inequalities and I guess it'll be me.


Wednesday, October 3
View Article  Finding my way round...

Much as I love the office-based part of research (especially on a rainy day like today!), it was a real treat to get out yesterday and start meeting people!  Two important things came out of my foray into Eastside:

1)  I managed to find my way to a specific place!  Don't laugh - lots of geographers are very bad at this.  Being a rural geographer originally, I have no problem with good old OS maps in remote countryside, but maps of urban areas are often really hard to follow especially if you're on foot.  One-way streets and other things useful for drivers aren't as important as whether you can get through the end of a dead end street, where the foot bridge is or where - exactly - you can cross the park.

2) I was reminded how easy it is to slip into 'dualisms' - where something is either 'this' or 'that'.  I visited two people yesterday - one who works in and with the community and one who works in one of the newer buildings in Eastside.  It's so tempting to think that these buildings, which may have replaced historic, loved places are frequented by people who couldn't care less, but, of course, this is completely wrong.  The person I visited is very interested in, and takes care to support, local businesses and services.  She is as passionate about the local community as the rest of us.

Anyway, the search for people to interview has begun....

Thursday, September 27
View Article  Ever more tests
Part of the problem, of course, is that the equipment is essential to have some kind of rigorous test of the method.  We did some more tests with the tablet - pretty good reception around the part of Eastside around near FoE where we did a test walk.  Except, of course, for the dratted viaducts.  The new GPS seems a lot better at picking up the signal and recalculating though, which means the tracks don't wander as much after you emerge from the other side.

We also did some tests on the radio mics.  Hmm.  I pinned it to my flappy raincoat and all you can hear on the recording is FLAP FLAP FLAP with my voice indistinctly registering underneath.  Hey ho, this is why you do tests I suppose.  We'll definitely need to use the second mic to record Jane's prompts which means we'll definitely need the dual channel recorder which, you guessed it, hasn't turned up yet.

With Jane away for a couple of days I've been doing teaching-related things.  Joy to the world, good will to freshers' etc.

Tuesday, September 25
View Article  There is some work going on!

Can I just say that plenty of work is going on?!!  As someone new to the project, (and who didn't even know that much of this kit even existed!) there has been a lot of reading and learning to do.  In case Phil is giving the impression that this is just a project about playing with techno-toys, I have been catching up with the literature about getting 'out there' to talk to people, the use of computer technology 'in the 'field' and putting people back into GIS.  Hopefully, I can read something interesting soon....  (Didn't mean it, Phil!)  Other things to follow up are about the study area itself - hello to Digbeth and Deritend - and community type studies.  It's great to see that what we are doing has hardly been touched on before.

You may gather that I like the people-based stuff more, but I have to admit that walking round with the computer and GPS thingy yesterday was very interesting, and I'm really looking forward to going out and getting on with the real work of walking and talking.... 

Monday, September 24
View Article  Now we're getting somewhere
Finally, the laptop is here.  This is a good thing for the filing cabinet in my office, which received a few more dents on Friday in my frustration at the computer salesman saying "it'll be with you Friday" and being somewhat nonplussed when I pointed out that it was already Friday.  Ho hum.

It's not a massively exciting computer, but it can be taken out in the rain without fizzling into uselessness, and this is the main thing.  Jane left me setting it up today and I spent a happy couple of hours (yes, I really am that sad) fiddling with various disks getting it to run ArcGIS, which is a piece of pretty hefty mapping software that we're going to be using for some of the field mapping and analysis.

We went out this afternoon for a quick test run.  Again, I was really impressed with the accuracy of the little GPS box we've got which connects to the laptop via bluetooth.  And Jane got the excitement of watching the arrow move around the map as we walked.  Lucky Jane.
 

Jane's got a meeting set up with a friend of Cosmic (i.e. James, the other researcher on this), who has done some cool photographic projects on Eastside.  All part of the process of getting into the community networks down there.  It finally starts to feel like we're actually going to get somewhere with the project.  Which, inevitably, means that
something else will go horribly wrong now...
Thursday, September 20
View Article  Agghhhrrrr
Anger, frustration, irritation.  Aggghhhhrrrr.

Still waiting for the computer to turn up.  I won't name the supplier, but they are messing us about.  A lot.  Yesterday I was promised delivery today.  Today I'm promised delivery tomorrow.  We gave them the cash over a week ago.  Not impressed.

Plus all the other bits of kit we're trying to buy are stuck in an in-tray in Finance and I've had to beg on bended knee a highly stressed clerk to put them to the top of the pile for processing tomorrow.  She's being heroic over the whole thing, but I'm still left without any of the stuff

Week three is almost over and we haven't even started yet.  I could cry.  Most human geography doesn't really need any equipment and so normally we're spared this kind of thing.  I have much more sympathy with the physical scientists now, pulling their (receding) hair out over stuff not turning up, or breaking down, or simply going awol.  Whose stupid idea was it to do a gadget-laden project... oh, yeah, right.
Tuesday, September 18
View Article  Getting Started

And with only a minimum of swearing I've managed to get the project blog set up.  The idea of keeping such a blog came out of discussions in the Public Geographies Working Group over the last couple of years, where we talked about alternative writing styles and alternative ways of publishing ('public blographies', hmm).  Let's face it, only about 8 people in the world ever read your carefully crafted articles in the Journal of Obscure Studies, not least because they cost about £30 a time to download unless you happen to work for an institution that pays for a subscription.  Not exactly opening up university research to the outside world.

So the blog is here partly because of the philosophy of public geography, but it's also here to act as a field diary.  The Rescue Geography project is basically experimental - we're trying out a variety of new techniques for recording interviews in the field with people walking around familiar spaces to tell their stories about those spaces.  Various researchers have done talking-and-walking interviews before, but no one has really rigorously examined the usefulness of the technique and what methods/equipment will produce the best results.

We're now in week three of the project, which gives some indication of how disorganised I've been in terms of setting up this blog.  I was hoping to get the new 'public' website (i.e. one that isn't hosted on the University's server) up and running by now, but I'm still waiting for the new software I've ordered to turn up...

Which is one of the main points of contention, in that for various Finance-related reasons (far too tedious to go into here), we're still waiting for almost all of the equipment to actually get here.  But we do have Jane here, which is great.  She's going to be doing most of the work and I'm feeling guilty that we can't yet get her started on the fieldwork because none of the kit has arrived.

We have done some equipment tests.  Before the project started I was playing around with an Itronix hardtablet PC, but the screen visibility is a bit rubbish in daylight, the inbuilt GPS is a bit temperamental and, frankly, it weighs more than the moon.  Good if you want to hammer in nails, not so great if you want to wander around with it for extended periods.  For the project we've decided to go with a lightweight Panasonic Toughbook and a separate bluetooth GPS device.  Okay, this is where it gets incredibly geeky, this little box is basically a ceramic aerial, a GPS decoder and a little radio signal which connects it to a computer.  It uses SiRFStar III circuitry, which seems to be about as good as 'navigation grade' GPS gets.  Plus I like saying 'SiRFStar III' because it fills me with an overwhelming sense of importance - yes, probably some kind of masculinist discourse of technophilia.

The plan is to animate the GPS tracks in ArcGIS - which is basically a piece of commercial mapping software - and attach these animations to the records of people speaking whilst walking.  But we're still working out quite how we're going to do this and the extent to which we'll be using Google Earth and Google Maps to make these records publicly available.  This experimentation is kind of the point of this project really.

I've had a play at creating an animation,

using my bike ride home as an example.  It's a bit creepy watching the blob slow down slightly as I've hit an uphill bit.  Obviously this isn't real time, but I don't think anyone needs to sit through 20 minutes of a track moving very slowly across a map.  I've been thinking, actually, about getting cyclists to record their GPS tracks home, whilst narrating the route - inspired by work that Kye Askins, Duncan Fuller and others up at Northumbria Uni have been doing.  But, like so many of my good ideas, who knows if I'll actually get the time to do anything about it.