I got a bit rage filled today at the following post on Twitter and it’s worth thinking a little more about why I had such a strong reaction to it. Apart from the fact that I am deeply offended by the idea that a fridge can run my life better than I can, there was something more…
Anyone who follows my Twitter feed will have seen amongst the random detritus quite a few posts about art or craft of varying sorts. I have quite wide ranging and eclectic tastes but one of my abiding interests is the Arts and Crafts movement – both the aesthetics and the politics. If you find yourself in Edinburgh during August this year I might therefore recommend that you visit one of the following free events that happen as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe:
In 1993 I dragged my then boyfriend along to an exhibition of work by an Irish born arts and crafts artist Phoebe Anna Traquair at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. I wasn’t well enough off to afford the exhibition catalogue, but a year later I was working for the city tourist board and in a cupboard were some old exhibition posters, including one for the Phoebe Traquair exhibition and I was able to save it from the bins. That poster graced various walls over the years, including my little flat and a couple of workplaces.
In around 1995 or 1996 I think I went to a cabaret evening at what was Cafe Grafitti – a club held in an old church on Mansfield Place, on the edge of the Edinburgh New Town. It was very badly lit, but I remember seeing glimpses of enormous gilded Phoebe Traquair murals high up on the walls. There was a lot of candlelight for atmosphere and of course indoor smoking, because this was still the 1990s. I saw performers from Cirque du Soleil dance on a ribbon strung from 60 feet up in the chancel, and it took my breath away.
In 2000 I went to visit the Song School at St Mary’s Cathedral as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to see their Phoebe Traquair murals. After the tour we were pointed towards a modest exhibition stand with photos of more incredibly beautiful murals, in heartbreakingly poor condition. A couple of volunteers from the Friends of Mansfield Place Church charity were waiting nearby, ready to explain the precarious position the building and it’s murals had been in. I sympathised, and never told them about that night in Cafe Graffitti when I might have contributed to the cigarette smoke in the air.
Thankfully with assistance from the City Council the building had just been purchased by the Mansfield Traquair Trust, and they were about to embark upon a multi-million pound project to restore the fabric of the building and convert it into an events and office space fit for modern use, followed by another multi-million pound project to conserve and restore the murals. The tenants for the building once complete would be SCVO – the umbrella organisation for the third sector in Scotland. The Friends were seeking volunteers to join and help prepare for the re-opening of the building. I was hooked. I still remember being given a tour by torchlight of the building just before work started. Again there were the tantalising glimpses of the murals up high, though this time they were mostly covered in protective panels to protect them from the imminent building work.
It will be 17 years this August since I joined the Friends, and I have served on their committee for most of that time. Each year I register our entry for the Festival Fringe and help my colleagues prepare to guide yet more visitors around this building that we all love so much. It’s now nearly 9 years since I was invited to join the Board of Trustees of the Mansfield Traquair Trust, and I am pleased to say I have also now managed to save up enough pennies to buy my own copy of the 1993 exhibition catalogue.
If you find yourself at a loose end in August, do visit. I promise it will take your breath away, and if you’re lucky, I may be your tour guide at Mansfield Traquair.
I had a holiday recently, and some parts of it really were actually a holiday. Each year I take a bit of time off-grid in the French countryside. No TV, no wi-fi. Right out in farming country where I have as much connectivity as I can get with a smartphone (normally a weak 3G signal from the driveway).
Most years I spend a good portion of my time knocking an acre of garden into shape, but thanks to some brutal measures I took last year, there was less that absolutely needed doing this year.
I decided that as well as some light gardening duties (and the hunt for the mystery septic tank – which is a whole *other* story) I would make a concerted effort to indulge myself in things I find myself having less time for than I’d like. I’d already loaded up on reading material via a visit to Lighthouse Books before I went, and I had my trusty notebook and pencil for writing (I am decidedly old school in my writing – this blogging thing is another concerted effort to try something different). However I thought my patchy connectivity was probably still good enough that that I’d also try complete the DS106 Daily Create each day I was away. I was interested in how far I could get working within the constraint of only using a smartphone (I have some pretty long-standing skills with Photoshop and the like on a full-fat computer). The first hurdle I hit was that I needed a couple of additional apps within the first few days and I didn’t have a good enough signal to download them. Cue a visit to the local village where there is a more reliable signal. Conveniently there is also a most excellent family boulangerie et patisserie. Oops.
(This is a “religieuse” – and I love these so much I taught myself to make them a few years ago)
During June there was a #30dayTDC challenge running and within the first few days of holiday I was having so much fun that I decided to backtrack and try complete the whole month. A few things contributed to the fun and because there is literally NOTHING more fun than a list, here is what they were:
Other people. The feedback, likes and tweets from others doing the challenges were lovely, particularly from those who are hardcore devotees. So welcoming. The infamous Talky Tina appeared too. She is lovely and not at all a word I am not supposed to use. Being lovely she also offered a special badge for everyone who completed the full 30 days of challenges. Challenge accepted!
The challenges. Not only were the challenges fun to do, but many of them asked us to explore online tools or sites that I hadn’t encountered before.
Different but related perspectives. Being on holiday my days were less structured. Having the challenge to do each day was strangely grounding. Also having made a concerted effort to indulge myself in creativity of many kinds (photo exhibitions, giant automata, gardening, crafting, cooking, writing) I found they fit well and I could use things I was already creating.
My staple apps for photo-editing (beyond the built in editing) have been Snapseed and PS Express, but through this challenge I’ve expanded my toolkit of apps. I’ve tried quite a few different things and whittled back down to the following list. Photoshop Mix and Pixlr are pretty much the core of what I have come to rely on, with others mixed in as required.
Photoshop Mix – cutout / blend / layout. Great support for layers.
Pixlr – effects and text overlay on images
Photo Lab – massive range of filter effects including the ones I used the ‘cartoon’ myself.
Comic Life – making comic strips. I’ve also found this useful for quick assembly of photo montages where I don’t want a template.
5SGif – making / editing animated GIFs – often used in conjunction with Photoshop Mix.
Skitch – quick and simple drawing on photos
Brushes Redux – freehand drawing, plus ability to import photos and draw on. Good support for layers.
SketchBook – simple drawing tools. In time I suspect I might end up using Brushes Redux instead, but the simplicity of this works well for me now.
In the end I did manage to complete the #30dayTDC. Some are feeble, some are ropey and some I am quite pleased with. Since I returned home and to work it’s been harder to keep doing them, but I’m going to continue to try for a couple a week, just to keep my hand in.
Quite a lot of my job these days involves doing things to enable other people – securing funding for things, socialising ideas, helping people talk to each other. Other people seem to do a lot more of the fun stuff and I spend a lot of time doing paperwork.
Some days though I have a few moments to look around and it’s quite humbling and pretty awesome.
Yesterday I went looking for a colleague and bumped into Karoline, who is working as a summer intern. Karoline is a Pyschology student and was part of the procurement team that helped choose our new lecture recording system. The experience of asking vendors to directly answer questions from a student requires it’s own seperate blog post, but suffice to say that Karoline so impressed us all with her commitment and enthusiasm that we offered her a summer internship to work with us on the rollout of lecture recording. It was inconceivable not to really – she is truly one of the team. One of the things she is working on is a series of videos offering different perspectives on recording lectures. The first is from her giving a student view.
The video was recorded by another talented colleague – Andy Todd – using some of the DIY Film School kit that we bought last year. Karoline told me yesterday how she’d now used the kit to film one of her lecturers and was now going to learn to edit video and make a similar piece from the academic perspective. I can see in our media repository that she’s done it already. And it’s good. Really good.
I also spent time yesterday down at Kings Buildings talking with colleagues about plans for Ada Lovelace Day 2017. Our School of Chemistry are very interested in taking a lead on the day, in no small part thanks to Dr Michael Seery (all round good egg whom we have infected with Wikipedia madness). Myself, Ewan and Stewart spent time with Michael and a group of really inspiring post-grad students discussing ideas for talks and activities for the day, and how we go about preparing for a Wikipedia edithathon. That was yesterday afternoon. Ewan has forwarded me on an email from one of them today brimming with ideas and enthusiasm and offering more than we could ask for.
Today I spent some rare and precious time doing fun stuff – a Wikidata workshop with Lea Lacroix that Ewan had organised. I got a chance to hang out for a short while with Lorna, Phil and Sara and talk about the potential for using Wikidata to explore a variety of digital literacy issues and concepts. I spent some more time learning to write SPARQL queries and visualise the data, and have made notes on how we might run our own Wikidata training sessions.
I could write more about how I was looking in our media repository and saw some of the work that another student intern has been doing to better curate the content in there (because in our first year our University community have uploaded over 16,000 videos!!!). Or I could talk about how I caught the tail end of one of my team giving a presentation at the end of a leadership course they did and their answers to the questions asked made me feel humble and privileged all over again to work with great people. But I think I’m gushing now, so I’ll stop.
I’ve got several half formed posts lurking on this topic and since they never seem to reach the light of day I’m going to just dash this one out now. I’m sure other smarter people than me have already thought about this and I am as ever late to the party or have it totally backwards and wrong. Such is life.
I may also come back and revise this as it feels a bit ropey still.
Thought: Why does so much of what I read assume that the next generation of digital learning environments will still be provided by educational institutions to students?
I’ve been convinced by the arguments for student owned and operated domains for some time (and I will make this part of our edtech service portfolio at work if it kills me!) and when I spotted this tweet by my lovely colleague in Paris from the EUNIS conference I couldn’t help think this was a missing component in the model that SURFnet were experimenting with. It seemed pretty obvious to me that there should be easy to operate end points of some description to allow students to integrate their stuff where they want / need to.
Students are already working elsewhere. They’ve already built their own NGDLE as-needed. Without us. Granted they’re not working in their own spaces and there’s a ton we could do in terms of helping people make smart choices about privacy, data and ethics, but the core point remains. (1)
So whilst I think that the loose, federated eco-system of tools that NDGLE reports all suggest is probably the way forward, I also think a conceptual model for the NGDLE must recognise whatever the heck students want to use, integrated / not integrated / not visible at all. We need a big blob on the diagram marked “stuff students do that we don’t know about” and we need to be okay with that. We need to say we positively promote that if we are at all sincere about supporting digital literacies.
If we provide institutional solutions like Office365 maybe we should think twice about whether we really need to integrate them? To what extent will bringing tools into more formal / integrated / tracked systems just shift activity out into other spaces anyway?
We should strip back our ambitions and scale, and consider what elements it’s really important that institutions do provide, and consider the extent to which our drive for frictionless integration in the NGDLE is really about usability or where it’s actually about surveillance.
(1) there’s a whole other post in here about developing this kind of data-savvy literacy.
Trigger warning: This post contains heartfelt love for publically funded libraries and evidence of the wonderful things in their collections (maps, lots of maps), available to use under open licenses because they belong to all of us. If this upsets you don’t read on. Also you are dead inside.
I lived in the heart of Edinburgh for 10 years and my happy home during these years was my flat in the Southside. I love that flat. It was the first place that was truly mine, and I had the privilege of sharing it with some of the best human beings I have ever known (I’m looking at you J & P). There are many many stories bound up in that place.
I love the quirky, strange and odd, and one of the things that appealled about my little flat was that it was in one of those weird Edinburgh streets – the kind that they put on the taxi-driver exam – the kind that no delivery driver can find. It was barely a street at all. One tenement block and a small community hall, with a strange tarmac area in front with a flower bed. 12 flats in the stair and 1 main door flat in total. It was a good mix of residents and people passing through too – enough that it felt like there was some community.
I’d wondered in the past about the etymology of the street name – Spittalfield Crescent – and whether it ever had been a larger street. I knew that the tenement block was built around 1880, and that Nelson Hall Community Centre next door was built in the early 20th century. I also know that Spitalfields in London is thought to derive it’s name from a nearby hospital, and so I wondered if the same might be true here (the Deaconess Hospital being just up the road).
There has been some great work done in Edinburgh improving the quality and detail in Open Street Map, so here’s a snapshot of how things look today. Spittalfield Crescent is that little weird street on the right had side, joining St Leonard’s to Bernard Terrace.
Stepping back a bit, here’s Bernard Terrace, Montague Street, and Rankeillor Street. All in a row. Take note of these streets – and Parkside Street – you’ll need them on the older maps.
The National Library of Scotland has done incredible work digisting their map collections and so I was able to cycle right back in time and see if I can work out how the street came to be, and where the name came from. The map below from 1817 shows that the road now called Dalkeith Road was called Spittle Field. I love the detail in this map, the fields and trees are simply beautiful. Mr Batchelor’s Pepperment Distillery sounds good too. At this stage this is pretty much the southern end of the city centre.
Skip forward to 1821 and we have Montague Street being built to the south of “Rankillor Street”. Mr Batchelor still cranking out the Pepperment.
Both of the Kirkwood maps provide quite rich information about land use and ownership. Jumping forward again to 1826 we switch over to the maps being made to support the postal service in Edinburgh. Montague Street has vanished (it’s still there – honest) and “Spittle Field” has contracted to “Spittlefield”. No Pepperment Distillery
Back to the more beautiful map making (would you look at the hatching in those fields). and we have Montague Street back again (mostly – bit messy where it joins St Leonard’s / Spittle Field – this is important – we will see this again). Looking down Spittle Field, there’s a clutch of buildings scattered along the road.
By 1836 the road name “Spittle Fields” is gone, and the Innocent Railway has arrived at Parkside. Rankiellour Street is still having an ongoing spelling crisis.
Things stay pretty much the same for a few years now (or the map-makers can’t be bothered – difficult to tell). Then the Ordnance Survey arrives in 1853. This map is so fine and detailed – it’s a bit difficult to read – I’ve provided another zoomed in view below – but you should see it for real to appreciate it for yourself (you can do this, because this is our National Library and they make these things available online for the nation – have I mentioned this already?).
Jumping forward again to 1864 we have “Rankeilor Street” still not entirely sure how it’s spelled. The railway depot has expanded, and the Park Brewery has appeared, opened in 1860 by Thomas and James Usher. Their father was Andrew Usher, famous for whisky, Pear Tree House and the Usher Hall. Lutton Place, way to the south of Montague Street has been half built now too.
Hop, skip and jump forwards just a few years to 1867 and we have Bernard Terrace appearing. Like Montague Street it’s not fully formed – a sort of half street with a random collection of buildings at the end.
Just there on the end of the block, again not really fully formed. Barely a street at all. You can see the path from the back of the block out into the shared walled garden at the back of the block too. It’s still like that today.
And now in 1893 the street has a marked name. 57 years after “Spittle Field” dropped off the maps the name has clung on to a single tenement block. Rankeillor Street also seems to have calmed down and settled into a form of letters which persists to this day.
The final acts in this story are the building of Nelson Hall in 1913 and finally in the mid 1930’s the joining up of St Leonard’s and Bernard Terrace.
Nelson Hall was shuttered and unused for all the time that I lived there. It was apparently part of the legacy of the Nelsons printing firm (Wikipedia article too). Look back at the Ordnance Survey map from 1877 and you can see a printing works at Hope Park. Shortly after in 1878 the works burned to the ground and the firm rebuilt at Parkside. Nelson Hall was built with the legacy of Thomas Nelson II as a place “to which persons of the working class and others can go to sit, read, write, converse and otherwise occupy themselves”. At the time John Buchan was a partner in the firm, and a year later in 1914 dedicated the Thirty Nine Steps to Thomas Nelson III.
And I thought I got to know the place pretty well when I lived there…
Sometimes convincing our colleagues to engage can be hard. Stereotypes about the factual accuracy of Wikipedia, or concerns about the risks that come with working in the open can be difficult to counter. We spend a lot of time supporting our colleagues to engage in light-touch ways that help build confidence and interest.
Sometimes though we talk about Wikipedia with colleagues and they quickly get as passionate and engaged as we are. That happened again this week, when Ewan went to visit our colleague in Chemistry, Dr Michael Seery. A conversation about women in Chemistry, some ideas about Ada Lovelace Day 2017 and some attractive Histropedia timelines went down very well. Later that evening I spotted the Twitter thread below.
This is what can happen if you are exposed to a Wikimedian in Residence…
* Only around 16% of biographies on Wikipedia are of women. This is a form of systemic bias and you should read more about the Wiki Women in Red project who do excellent work in this space.
I was chuffed to discover today that English Wikipedia’s main page features a link to sociologist, feminist, and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights Mary Susan McIntosh. It’s always great to see women featured on Wikipedia’s main page, which is viewed by around 4 million people, but I confess to being doubly pleased because I created the article on Mary at a recent editathon to mark International Women’s Day here at the University of Edinburgh. This editathon was facilitated by Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence here at the University, and Ewan was also instrumental in nominating Mary to appear on the main page.
Wikipedia 11 May 2017
Only last week I had been complaining on twitter about the lack of gender balance on English Wikipedia’s main page which happened to feature 18 named men but only 4 named women that particular day. The main page changes on a daily basis but you can see the edition from 4th May on archive.org here.
Main page of English @Wikipedia today features 18 named men and 4 named women. This is why initiatives like @WikiWomenInRed are so important
Of course this is not particularly surprising; Wikipedia has a well known problem with gender imbalance, only 16% of biographical entries on the English Wikipedia are of women, and the main page is a pretty accurate reflection of this imbalance. The Wikimedia Foundation and the various Wikimedia chapters around the world, including Wikimedia UK, are well aware of this problem and are attempting to address it through a range of projects and initiatives. WikiProject Women in Red raises awareness of this issue and aims to turn red links blue, by creating new biographical articles about women who are referenced on Wikipedia but who do not have their own pages. And here at the University of Edinburgh, one of the objectives of our Wikimedian in Residence is to encourage more women to get involved with editing Wikimedia. Ewan regularly runs editathons focused on addressing the coverage of articles about women in general and Scottish women in particular.
Before I went along to the International Women’s Day editathon, I confess knew nothing about Mary Susan McIntosh, I picked her name at random from a list of “Women in Red” because she sounded interesting. It didn’t take me long to realise what a hugely significant and influential woman Mary was. In addition to being one of the early members of the UK Gay Liberation Front, and sitting on the committee that lowered the homosexual age of consent in the UK from 21 to 18, Mary published important research arguing that homosexuality should be regarded as a social construct, rather than a psychiatric or clinical pathology. Mary’s paper The Homosexual Role helped to shape the concept of social constructionism, later developed by Michel Foucault. Mary’s contribution to shaping this important philosophical construct has of course been largely overlooked. My Wikipedia article barely scrapes the surface of Mary’s life and academic career and her important contribution to social theory and political activism. I hope to do a bit more work on Mary’s Wikipedia page sometime in the future but it would be great if there are any philosophers, sociologists or critical theorists out there that could help with editing to ensure that Mary gets the recognition she deserves.
I’ve finally made a start on drafting my CMALT Portfolio, and in the interests of open practice I’m going to attempt to write and present the whole thing here on my blog. If you look up on the nav bar you’ll see a new page, CMALT Portfolio, where I’ll be building up my portfolio over the coming weeks. I’ve just drafted the first two sections of Core Area 1: Operational Issues and I’ll be adding more sections shortly I hope. I’d love to have some feedback on my portfolio so if you’ve got any thoughts, comments or guidance I’d be very grateful indeed. I’d also be very interested to know if anyone else has created their portfolio as an exercise in open practice, and if so, how they found the experience.
The session will feature a public reading of texts dedicated to Bassel Khartabil, loved and celebrated Internet volunteer who was detained in Syria in 2012, demanding his immediate release and reflecting on the love and the costs of free culture.
“Bassel Khartabil, loved and celebrated Internet volunteer was detained in Syria on March 15, 2012. His name was deleted from the Adra Prison’s register, where he was detained, on 3 October 2015, and there has been no information about his current status or whereabouts since.
Seeing Bassel paying a high price for his love and participation in free culture, many of his friends and fellow free culture activists have reflected on their own fates, actions, and choices. As part of the #freebassel campaign, 44 activists, artists, designers, developers, researchers, and writers involved with free knowledge movements wrote and compiled more than 50 original contributions in the book “Cost of Freedom”. The contributions include paintings, poems, personal reflections, critical observations, polemical pieces, and theoretical treatises.
Many contributions by Bassel’s friends and family, including his wife Noura Safadi, create a collective memory of Bassel and urge for his immediate release to his normal life and freedom. Other contributions by free culture advocates such as Lorna Campbell, Lawrence Lessig, and Jon Phillips offer personal reflections about the experience of working within free culture.”