Monthly Archives: July 2014

Tribeca Hacks StoryMatter Hackathon at CERN

Team3 on the balcony at CERN

In March 2014, I was over the moon to be selected to take part in the Tribeca Hacks and CERN’s StoryMatter Hackathon, at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. It’s really hard to write about this amazing experience in a short blog post, which is why it’s taken so long to write, but I’ve had a go!

Watch this amazing documentary of our week at CERN – it gives me goosebumps!

After taking the CERN shuttlebus to the familiar sight of CERN reception at Meyrin, I can’t put into words how excited I was to be back at CERN, and then sitting in the Geneva afternoon sunshine and meeting the steady stream of other attendees arriving. I stayed in Building 38, one of the three buildings at CERN, which offer different kinds of visitor accommodation. Building 38 is the on site-hostel which is comfortable and next door to the main restaurant which is large and has lots of different food options for the discerning CERN employee or visitor.

It's a beautiful sunny day at CERN

On the evening of our arrival, we all met for dinner in the main restaurant building and found our teams. Each of the 7 teams had 6 members that included: 1 x blackbox, 1 x storyteller, 1 x scientist, 1 x designer and 2 x technologists. It was really exciting to meet my team, which we later named Team 3, in the flesh after spending a week or so chatting about our ideas on Google Hangout and exchanging emails. My team consisted of Ivaylo Getov (Blackbox, from NYC, USA), Jason Wishnow (Storyteller from NYC, USA), Jasmine Idun Lyman (Designer from Gothenburg, Sweden), Kyle Gustafson (Scientist from Lausanne, Switzerland) and Julian Maciejewski (Technologist from Warsaw, Poland) and me, another technologist from London, UK. As we were quite an opinionated bunch with much experience of developing and managing our own projects and creativity, it took a bit of time to brainstorm through the set of ideas that we’d each percolated over on the week or so on the run up to coming to CERN and agree on an idea to pursue.

Idealab

Welcome talk

We had a beautiful week at CERN weather-wise and awoke every morning to the sight of sunshine bouncing off the surrounding Alps and Jura mountains. On our first morning (and the rest) we were up very early (I got up at 5 or 6am every day) and were taken to the CERN Idealab, which would be our base for the coming week. Organisers: Opeyemi Olukemi, Manager, TFI Digital Initiatives, Amelie Leenhardt, Program Coordinator, TFI Digital Initiatives and Neal David Hartman, Artistic Director of CineGlobe Film Festival, led the introductions and outline of the week ahead. Our mission was to investigate new ways of telling science stories in a non-linear fashion, using technology, and our challenges were to come up with a prototype and/or a video to outline and document our projects to show at the end of the week at the prestigious CineGlobe Science Film Festival, held in the Globe at CERN, plus to strengthen connections between the disciplines of storytelling, technology, design and science, hence having a cross-disciplinary team.

Rummaging through CERN bins for parts

Amazingly, we were allowed to rummage in a couple of skips of electronics to look for inspiration for our projects, we had so much fun finding odd devices, bits of old interfaces and computer boards!

Prof John Ellis talk on CERN

On our first day we were wonderfully honoured to be given a talk on the history and work of CERN by Professor John Ellis, including an introduction to how the LHC works, particle physics and supersymmetry, he patiently answered lots of questions from us too. We were also very admiring of his Standard Model equation tank-top!

Last minute hacking

Our team decided to make an app telling the story of dark matter, our prototype uses interview clips that we recorded on site with Professor Martin Pohl, Director of the Nuclear and Particle Physics Department at the University of Geneva, and Team Leader on the AMS (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) project. The AMS is a particle detector bolted onto the International Space Station and is looking for evidence of antimatter and dark matter as it orbits the Earth.

Team³ late Sunday night hacking

Taken from our blurb, this reflects what we were interested in creating:
“Axion invites a player to immerse themselves in a unique audiovisual world and reflect on their journey. By allowing a player to discover the thoughts and statements of these scientists, we hope to draw a parallel between the visual poetry and the scientific language, illuminating a creative and expressive side of the discussion that is often not showcased, or that most people outside the scientific community do not hear. We want to leave the viewer not with answers, but with a sense that it is acceptable to be uncertain – realizing that the method of science is not the ultimate source of answers, but rather a way to ask questions.”

It's a BillT!

On day three, we had some special visitors who had come to hear about the StoryMatter Hackathon – it was none other than Bill Thompson, Gareth Mitchell and Colin Grant of BBC World Service technology programme Click Radio, they made a lovely radio programme about the StoryMatter Hackathon and interviewed us about our project. Another special visitor was David Reid from BBC Click TV programme, who made a film about the CineGlobe festival including coverage of the development of our apps at the Hackathon.

Team3 being interviewed for BBC World ServiceClick

Our team worked long hours and had little sleep during the week as we figured out what we would make and how. We constructed our non-linear app, which we called Axion (a hypothetical elementary particle) by taking an XBOX Kinect strapped onto a camera into the depths of the tunnels under the buildings of CERN to film and turn images of the tunnels into a mesh construct, which the user of the app would navigate around to find interview clips from Professor Pohl. We made sound recordings from around CERN to be used in the soundtrack and searched for inspiring images from outer and inner space. My contribution was an sensing e-textiles device which was used to navigate around the mesh tunnels in the app and we called The Oracle!

During our week at CERN, it was Paolo’s birthday, he didn’t think anyone knew, but we put on a surprise birthday party for him, with caek, music and bubbles – it was wonderful and a very touching way to celebrate our new friend’s special day!

Birthday party for Paulo

Visiting ATLAS at CERN

Our stay was full of amazing highlights and another was a tour of ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus) http://home.web.cern.ch/about/experiments/atlas, which is one of the seven experiments attached to the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator. We took a lift 100 meters underneath CERN’s Meyrin Campus to visit 7000-tonne ATLAS. As well as listening in awe to our guide and taking many photos, we also (with the permission of the guide) wore some of Jasmine’s knitted gas-masks and did a quick bit of filming for a film she was making back in Sweden. The knitted gas-masks gave a fun and surreal feel to our trip; they certainly amused the rest of our StoryMatter tour party!

Visiting ATLAS at CERN

Opeyemi and Amelie set us tasks for every day of the week, including setting our milestones and actions to enable us to stay focussed on our projects. Everyone worked so hard on their prototypes that the presentation evening at CineGlobe came all too soon, during the late afternoon we took our prototypes over to the CERN Globe and set them up and rehearsed among ourselves our presentations to do on stage to the 200+ attendees. We had a brilliant evening of presenting and a lovely cocktail event after where the attendees came round and partook in demos and chatted to the teams.

Pretty CERN Globe at night

Finally presenting our hacks at CineGlobe Festival

Afterwards we had a raucous party in the Idealab with trays of lasagne, pizza, beers, wine and more. The dancing went on all night and into the morning. I only had a few hours sleep before it was time to get up and pack to leave, I was very sad to leave CERN and it was heart wrenching to say goodbye to everyone. I had the most brilliant week, with the most talented and wonderful new friends, which was amazingly well organised by Opeyemi, Amelie and Neal, plus with the help of brilliant CERN staff and students too numerous to mention, who helped us locate tools, interviewees, beg and borrow kit and info. If I had the opportunity I would go back to CERN without hesitation and have keeping an eye out for jobs and other creative opportunities.

StoryMatter hack party

I have a ton of photos here if you’d like to see more of the antics we got up to!

Route Marie Curie at CERN

Finally presenting our hacks at CineGlobe Festival

Team3 are still developing our Axion app in our spare time and keeping in touch across 1000s of miles around the globe via Google Hangout and email. We are now using a NeuroSky MindWave EEG headset to allow the user to navigate the tunnels and interviews of our app. We have also interviewed more scientists to broaden the range of the stories about dark matter. We’ve also been applying for development grants and sponsorship to help us develop Axion. In April, Ivaylo and Jason took Axion to the Tribeca Interactive Festival, in New York, to demonstrate and allow attendees to experience it.

Finally presenting our hacks at CineGlobe Festival

Finally presenting our hacks at CineGlobe Festival

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Quantified Self Europe 2014: Emotive Wearables Breakout Session

Quantified Self Europe pre-party

It was great to visit Amsterdam again and see friends at the 3rd Quantified Self Europe Conference, previously I have spoken at the conference on Sensing Wearables, in 2011 and Visualising Physiological Data, in 2013.

There were two very prominent topics being discussed at Quantified Self Europe 2014, firstly around the quantifying of grief and secondly on privacy and surveillance. These are two very contrasting and provocative areas for attendees to contemplate, but also very important to all, for they’re very personal areas we can’t avoid having a viewpoint on. Rather than me try to summarise a few of the talks, if you’d like to find out more about the excellent presentations and discussions at the conference, search for ‘QSEU14’ or ‘europe’ on the Quantified Self website where many of the sessions have write-ups, photos and video documentation.

My contribution to the conference was to lead a Breakout Session on Emotive Wearables and demonstrated my EEG Visualising Pendant. Breakout Sessions are intended for audience participation and I wanted to use this one-hour session to get feedback on my pendant for its next iteration and also find out what people’s opinions were on emotive wearables generally.

I’ve been making wearable technology for six years and have been a PhD student investigating wearables for three years; during this time I’ve found wearable technology is such a massive field that I have needed to find my own terms to describe the areas I work in, and focus on in my research. Two subsets that I have defined terms for are, responsive wearables: which includes garments, jewellery and accessories that respond to the wearer’s environment, interactivity with technology or physiological signals taken from sensor data worn on or around the body, and emotive wearables: which describes garments, jewellery and accessories that amplify, broadcast and visualise physiological data that is associated with non-verbal communication, for example, the emotions and moods of the wearer. In my PhD research I am looking at whether such wearable devices can used to express non-verbal communication and I wanted to find out what Quantified Self Europe attendees opinions and attitudes would be to such technology, as many attendees are super-users of personal tracking technology and are also developing it.

Demo-ing EEG Visualising Pendant

My EEG Visualising Pendant is an example of my practice that I would describe as an emotive wearable, because it amplifies and broadcasts physiological data of the wearer and may provoke a response from those around the wearer. The pendant visualises the brainwave attention and meditation data of the wearer simultaneously (using data from a Bluetooth NeuroSky MindWave headset), via an LED (Light Emitting Diode) matrix, allowing others to make assumptions and interpretations from the visualisations. For example, whether the person wearing the pendant is paying attention or concentrating on what is going on around them, or is relaxed and not concentrating.

After I demonstrated the EEG Visualising Pendant, I invited attendees of my Breakout Session to participate in a discussion and paper survey about attitudes to emotive wearables and in particular feedback on the pendant. We had a mixed gender session of various ages and we had a great discussion, which covered areas such as, who would wear this device and other devices that also amplified one’s physiological data. We discussed the appropriateness of such personal technology and also thought in depth about privacy and the ramifications of devices that upload such data to cloud websites for processing, plus the positive and the possible negative aspects of data collection. Other issues we discussed included design and aesthetics of prominent devices on the body and where we would be comfortable wearing them.

I am still transcribing the audio from the session and analysing the paper surveys that were completed, overall the feedback was very positive. The data I have gathered will feed into the next iteration of the EEG Visualising Pendant prototype and future devices. It will also feed into my PhD research. Since the Quantified Self Europe Conference, I have run the same focus group three more times with women interested in wearable technology, in London. I will update my blog with my findings from the focus groups and surveys in due course, plus of course information on the EEG Visualising Pendant’s next iteration as it progresses.