Author Archives: http://ammienoot.com

Wanderings with a Wikimedian⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It being a lovely evening this evening, I convinced Ewan McAndrew, our Wikimedian, to walk to the station with me, taking a circuitous route to snap some photos for the Wiki Loves Monuments competition. Last we checked, we were getting properly humped by our UK cousins in the image upload stakes. Given that we are rubbish at football, rugby, weather, and healthy eating we need to have some sort of win for our national pride. Also we live in a city with UNESCO World Heritage status, so there must be the odd good shot or two out there.

Typically as soon as we stepped out of our office building the sun slid behind the clouds and then slowly sank down below the rooflines. Curses. Nevertheless, we persevered.

In our short 40 minutes we discovered many treats: a beautiful mosaic over the door of an otherwise unremarkable bank; an art deco style telephone exchange; St Cuthbert’s Cooperative Society; and our final destination – Gardner’s Cresent – a late Georgian Street, cast adrift from the rest of the New Town and now sandwiched in on all sides by a ram-jam mix of other architecture.

Gardner’s Crescent was built in 1822, on land feued by William Gardner, to a design by architects R & R Dickson. The crescent is an “unbroken arc of fifty-two bays” with a pretty little communal garden seperating it from Rosebank Cottages on the other side of the street. The gardens were refurbished and re-planted as a community space after a local campaign to return them to their pre-WW2 state (the railings were removed for smelting in WW2). J.K. Rowling apparently rented a small flat here for a short time and found it depressing.

Prior to William Gardner’s ownership, the land was owned from 1722 by the Society and Fraternity of Gardeners and a large building called Gardener’s Hall stood on the land. The Free Gardeners were a form of mutual aid and insurance society, quite strongly influence by Freemasonry. The first lodge was formed in 1676 in Haddington and the last lodge in Dunfermline closed in the mid 1980s.

A rare treat this evening to take a slow meandering route to the station and look a little more closely at this fine city.

Hacker head on⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 1 minute

The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

(The Principles of Universal Design)

In reading a little more about Universal Design I have learned that there are 7 Principals (first drafted in 1997):

Principle 1: Equitable Use
Principle 2: Flexibility in Use
Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use
Principle 4: Perceptible Information
Principle 5: Tolerance for Error
Principle 6: Low Physical Effort
Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Each principal is broken down into 4 or 5 key points and one in particular leapt out at me.

5d. Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

At the same time as reading about this I have been reading Tijmen Schep’s lovely book “Design my Privacy”. He has 8 principals in his book including:

2. Think like a hacker. Many pitfalls can be avoided by better anticipating and concepting options for abuse.

Many of the big-data gathering social network platforms have had significant investment to make them as usual as possible by as many people as possible. These platforms are explicitly designed to encourage unconscious action when vigilance is actually just what is needed.

We need to get our hacker heads on.

Sack of lies⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 1 minute

I shared a picture today on Twitter that I took last year in the Victoria and Albert Musuem of Childhood in London. Prompted to do a little more research this evening I discovered I was plain wrong on 2 counts:

  1. not 1970s – 1968
  2. not plastic – giant paper bags

Today is a weard day⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 1 minute

Today I acquired a new role* (along with the names that others already call me, some of which I am sure are unprintable). I am now officially a Data Steward. In my institution this is defined as follows:

The Data Steward is responsible for maintaining the security of their dataset; setting access requirements for the data; documenting the data made available to other services, and establishing processes to ensure the quality of the data. They have a duty to ensure that restricted and confidential data is managed securely and appropriately, that the data is made available only to those people and systems that need access, and that access is provided in keeping with legislation and the University’s internal policies. If the data includes any personal data, they are also responsible for completing a Data Protection Impact Assessment.

Thanks to a lot of hardwork from our Enterprise Architecture team I am now one of a network of Data Stewards across our institution and we also have a catalogue of all of our key data sources.

Yesterday Amy Collier’s article Digital Sanctuary: Protection and Refuge on the Web? was published in EDUCAUSE Review. I would like to think that this hard work on the part of my colleagues to whip us into shape takes us some way towards the principles that Amy lays out.

 

 

* This is one of those special roles that we all do as part of our existing jobs. Rewards are the warm fuzzies that come with being responsible with our student and staff data.

This week in Creepy Internet Sh1t⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This week Twitter’s creepy-a$$ed algorithms have spotted me tuning into a bit of InfoSec chit-chat on the train, and nerding it up with colleagues who care about student online presence and the like. As a result the algorithmic sewer pipe has spewed out a particularly good selection of scary internet sh1t. For your delectation and enjoyment – here’s a small selection of the ickiest stuff I saw this week:

Facebook Figured Out My Family Secrets, And It Won’t Tell Me How

A heart-warming story of family reunion that leaves the reader (and the author) with a distinctly queasy feeling.

Fama.io

I’m sure that faving this tweet has already marked my cards. This blog post is no doubt the tipping point in terms of behavioural markers.

Any hope that age might save me goes out the window when I look at how old Twitter thinks I am. 20’s and 30’s slap bang in the middle of that. Plus all the pictures of booze in my feed.

Helpfully the Fama.io homepage lists their partners, so that we all know who the shady companies with dubious hiring practices are.

Alexa goes to college: Amazon and Arizona State putting 1,600 Echo Dots in dorm rooms

Well, we all had conniptions about this one. What’s wonderful about is the way it takes surveillance capitalism and pushes it just that one nudge further along. Be spied on! Also work for Amazon for free! Still get a massive pile of University debt at the end! Yay!

CovertBand: Activity Information Leakage using Music

“We demonstrate how a smartphone and portable speaker playing music with embedded, inaudible signals can track multiple individuals’ locations and activities both within a room and through barriers in 2D space. We achieve this by transforming a smartphone into an active sonar system that emits a combination of a sonar pulse and music and listens to the reactions of humans in the environment.”

Read the rest of this paper. Then flush your smartphone down the loo and never let that b1tch Alexa in your house.

Eternime – or how I can annoy people on the internet even after I’m gone

“We want to preserve for eternity the memories, ideas, creations and stories of billions of people. Think of it like a library that has people instead of books, or an interactive history of the current and future generations.

An invaluable treasure for humanity.”

Which kind of library is that then? The free-to-use public kind? Yeah. Thought not.

All this internet-of-shit snarking has worn me out. Time for some shopping…

Update: After scribbling this up I read this blog post. It’s worthy of inclusion.

Negative emotions influence how we move the computer mouse

A lie detector by any other name is still a lie detector.

 

Mortuary Chapel⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Earlier this week I dashed across town in my lunch break to see some murals being photographed.

Here’s a piece that I wrote in September last year for a poster about the Mortuary Chapel murals. The photos below are my own, and a bit rubbish. Shortly we hope to have a new set of CC licensed photos.

…a piece of illumination enlarged

Phoebe Anna Traquair painted three significant mural schemes within Edinburgh. The first of these, a decoration for the mortuary chapel of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, remains the least well known and least accessible.

In April of 1885 Traquair was approached by the Edinburgh Social Union and asked if she would decorate a converted coalhouse on the original hospital site at Lauriston Lane, now to be used as a mortuary chapel. The building was small, only 3 metres by 4 metres, but the hospital ladies committee hoped that it could become “a suitable place where the bodies can be left reverently and lovingly for the parents before the burials”. As a mother of three children herself, Traquair was happy to accept the commission.

The decorations were completed in 1886 and strongly reflect themes of motherhood. In a time when as many as 8% of children did not live to see their first birthday, Traquair aimed to offer comfort and support to grieving parents through her decoration scheme. In style she draws on interpretations of mediaeval illuminated manuscripts and Byzantine art, and a review in the Scottish Art Review in 1889 refers to the murals as “A piece of illumination enlarged”.

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In 1891 the Sick Children’s hospital moved to a new site at Rillbank in Sciennes and the little chapel was abandoned. Then, thanks to a petition led by Traquair herself, in 1894 some of the murals were successfully transported to a new purpose-built mortuary chapel. Although the old hospital site had been acquired by the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh the murals were at serious risk of slow destruction as the chapel was no longer being used, and it was felt that the risks of moving them were no worse that leaving them in place. There were significant technical and logistical difficulties; indeed some of the panels were moved and installed still attached to the bricks of the old building.

As the new mortuary was larger than the original, panels from the first scheme were repaired, surrounded with fresh plaster, and the spaces filled with an enlarged decoration scheme. Although the two schemes are united by their use of colour, the second scheme deliberately uses a simpler and more childlike manner.

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The mortuary chapel remains in use within the Sick Children’s Hospital to this day, and the building now has a Category A heritage listing reflecting its importance. Curtains were first installed in the 1970s so that the murals can be covered when required, as the religious themes reflected in the images are not always appropriate.

“…in some ways I shall never
do better or maybe as well”

In a published 1899 interview Phoebe Traquair considered this to be her ‘finest piece of work’, and the murals are the sole survivor of around 20 commissions instigated by the Edinburgh Social Union. However, this mural scheme painted across two sites in two separate decades again faces an uncertain future. With the relocation of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children to a new building at Little France in 2018, the existing site at Sciennes will be put up for sale as a commercial development opportunity in late 2016.

Preserving pomaceous fruits⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I read a short excerpt from Katherine Mansfield’s journals today, along with her short story “Bliss”. Pears and pear trees feature in both.

“They were so bright, canary yellow – and small. And the peel was so thin and the pips jet – jet black.”

It’s hard to grow pears outdoors this far north. Our growing season is too short; our winds are too sharp; our nights are too cold. I’ve tried, and only ever managed to produce a single, small, hard, bitter fruit.

I’ve been thinking again this week about my maternal grandparents. They were young adults in the 1930s and 40s and like all of that generation, their lives were affected by WW2. I remember after my grandfather died in 2002, helping my mother to empty the bureau in the dining room of his house (now in the dining room of my house). Amongst lists and other administrative debris we found letters between my grandparents written during the war. I sat and read a few at the time and they contained deep affection and quite ordinary wishes – to be home, to go dancing together, to simply have each other’s company. Pedestrian on the one hand, but striking on the other in that war puts even the most pedestrian wishes out of reach. I have a vague memory of my grandfather, or maybe it was my mother, telling me about signing up when war broke out. He was a young man working for Barclay’s bank and he and some of his fellow employees were advised by an older colleague that they should sign up quickly. Not a rush of patriotic fervour but a dose of brutal pragmatism left over from the last war; sign up and choose where you go – don’t wait to be conscripted. I believe my grandfather joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, a non fighting arm of the military.

My grandmother died when I was very young and when she was also young (11 and 68). Her third round with cancer. I was very close to her and it’s her I take after most in my family. My siblings are both over 6 foot tall and bean poles, my sister has inherited my mother’s way with numbers. By comparison I am the family oompah-loompah – 5’5″ on a good day – with a decidedly suspicious bent towards the humanities and a slightly evil sense of humour. I was sent for solo holidays to balmy Kent from the age of about 7 and learned to knit, sew, play Canasta and other card games. Most of the card games involving bluffing and my grandmother was superb. When she was dying I was given the choice to see her and spent a week in and out of Guy’s Hospital in London with my mother instead of being at school.

My grandfather died suddenly and peacefully at 82 and I helped my mother organise his wake. Afterwards I started to empty and clean his kitchen cabinets and the wardrobe in the spare room. The memory of war remained strong for many of his generation and I know a number of older members of my family hoarded sugar until the day they died. Many kilos of sugar, kilos of dried fruit, litres of malt vinegar were stashed away. He died in October and the Bramley apple and the pear tree in the garden were both laden with fruit. It was a shame to see all the fruit going to waste, particularly the pears that I can’t grow. I stripped the pear tree and using some of the apples for bulk along with the dried fruit, made jars and jars of pear chutney. The last thing I learned in that house was how to make preserves. The preserving pan came north with me filled with jars of “Funeral chutney”.

Self indulgence⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 1 minute

My social media and news feeds are full of angry white racists.

3 good things:

1. Calling it like it is:

2. Remembering the origins of this time of year:

In 1947, after the devastation of World War II, the founding vision was to reunite people through great art and “provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit”. In these historic early moments, people overcame the post-war darkness, division and austerity in a blooming of Festival Spirit.

(http://70years.eif.co.uk/)

“The International Festival would focus on common ground, on undisputed greatness and in so doing would make itself a safe place to come together. This was most symbolically achieved with the reuniting of Jewish conductor Bruno Walter with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.”

(https://www.eif.co.uk/70th-anniversary)

3. Positive challenges from our students:

“LiberatEd is an initiative created by Edinburgh University Students’ Association and led by Black and Minority Ethnic (BME), Disabled, LGBT+ and Women students from across the University, aimed at challenging the academic establishment to become more diverse, more inclusive, and more critical of historically dominant narratives.”

(https://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/representation/campaigns/academic/liberated/)

…and another thing

After promising to be restrainted, I have no restraint.⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.” (Charles Mackay – Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds)

I write you from the eye of the storm. It’s festival season again in Edinburgh. If you’ve never been here in August it’s hard to describe. Our city is transformed into a palace of wonder and delight. Every pub is simultaneously an art gallery / comedy venue / popup flophouse. Kitchen cupboards are rented as theatres. For one month streetfood doesn’t mean 2 seagulls fighting over a chip. Comedy stars flock to Edinburgh like competitive sheep shearers to the Golden Shears. A garden square in the heart of the New Town magically turns into a world-class book festival. We illuminate the city, and everyone thinks it’s totally reasonable to go see Jane Austen improv in a giant upside down inflatable cow-shaped theatre.

Locals are marked out by their scowls, tutting, and general frustration with not being able to walk anywhere in the city at speed. Don’t talk about flyers.

Every year it seems too overwhelming. Every year I promise myself some restraint. Not to overcommit. It’s going well this year. If by “well” you mean totally bat-shit-crazy like a cat in a field of nip.

Kicked off with Rachel Hosker at the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. Topping up tonight with Nicola Osborne, also at #CODI.

TomorrowJulia Hobsbawn at Book Festival, Zinnie Harris’ Rhinoceros at the Lyceum. Pop in and see Mrs Asquith-Lamb and her giant pop up book. Maybe catch Andrew O’Neill instead of eating dinner.

Sunday – day of rest. Teju Cole at Book Festival, followed by Rachel McCrum and Miriam Nash.

I can’t even find the energy to type what’s happening in the following 2 weeks.

Oops.

These things I saw and these things are fine⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 1 minute

A post of good things in this moment.

Making more preserves with the fruit from my garden.
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Making food to share with friends.
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Playing games.
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A gift from New England. Mediocre cheddar – for “Murder, she wrote” association. Jessica Fletcher remains a heroine of myself and Mrs Asquith Lamb.
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Being with my best boy.
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Howling at the moon.
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