Going Mobile

Last week Areti and I ventured out in the rock art countryside armed with technology. We were prepared to do battle with five mobile phone handsets (one for each major network provider) and a GPS to record phone signal at key locations. Beyond our control however, was the weather.

I met Areti just after 7am in Newcastle. I almost didn’t spot her, the rain was battering down on the car windows so heavily. ‘Dawn’ was a bit of a misnomer, it changed slowly from black to muddy grey. Being optimistic we continued undaunted and arrived in Lordenshaws at a reasonable hour.

We couldn’t see the top of the hill for mist and rain (I’ve since been reliably informed by both Kate and Aron that this is normal ‘rock art weather’). Still, we got out the mobiles and began filling in a form I’d created to document the signals. At each place, I’d suggested that we attempt to:

  • Note the signal strength of the phones
  • Send a text from each phone
  • Receive a text on each phone
  • Make a call
  • Receive a call

As for the phones themselves, they were a motley crew: my own Samsung Genio Touch, my very, very old Nokia, Areti’s state of the art HTC Desire running Android, a borrowed older HTC Hero also running Android, and Areti’s old Sony Ericsson phone. Between them they covered:

  • O2
  • Vodafone
  • 3
  • T-Mobile
  • Orange

These are the main carriers, and in fact T-Mobile and Orange customers can now use each other’s networks. Other networks like Virgin and Tesco use one of the above 5 networks for their signal.

So, back to Lordenshaws. We checked the signal from the car and decided that was enough for now. It was too miserable to venture any further. So we drove to Wooler instead, and after a fortifying cup of tea, went to Dod Law (at Wooler Golf Club) to check the rock art and phone signal there. I’m pleased to report that the weather there was much better – dry and bright.

Interestingly, all networks had really strong signals at Dod Law, except in the car park, where O2 struggled terribly. In fact, this was to be a recurring theme during the day, at the car parks/entrance to the sites, phone signal was by far the worst. This was indeed the case at Weetwood Moor. Signal was quite patchy for all the networks near the road and the lower part of the site. Once at the main 3A panel and beyond however, they all had relatively stable signal and were able to send and receive texts and calls.

Finally, we made our way back to Lordenshaw, where the weather wasn’t much better than first thing in the morning. But this time we got out of the car. At the main rock it was truly miserable – cold, windy and wet. But as we were leaving to go up to the hill fort the light changed rapidly, bathing Rothbury in a golden glow, laid out before us. It cheered my flagging spirits in any case, and we managed to get round the rest of the site before dark (although it was a close call!).

Again, at Lordenshaws, signal was present for all networks, though it was a little patchy here and there. But as an overall conclusion, there is indeed scope for utilising mobile phone technology and, crucially, we should be able to make use of some signal on site. Hooray!

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RAMP in Rothbury 2

Slightly later than promised, here is the post for our second workshop in Rothbury from Saturday 18th.

Against all odds, the weather remained fine, a bit windy but sunny nonetheless as we headed out to Lordenshaws again.

Another successful workshop with a great set of participants, each workshop we’ve run has had a good mix of people and this was no different. I’ve really enjoyed both preparing and running the workshops. It’s been really lovely to finally meet all the people I’ve been bombarding with emails for the past few months!

If you were there, then many thanks for coming along. If you’d like to leave a comment or thought about the project, rock art, or workshop please do so.

Now for the tricky bit (on my part anyway), going through all the discussions and conversations to reflect and discover what we can learn and apply about visiting rock art to RAMP! Watch this space…


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RAMP in Rothbury 1

Today we held our first workshop in Rothbury. Despite my sunny presence, the weather wasn’t as good as last week, but the sun did eventually come out, and it stayed dry. I was struck by how drastically the sun and light affects what you can see on the rock. Five of us were standing at the Horseshoe Rock at Lordenshaws, with Kate pointing out some of the cup marks. Suddenly the sun appeared and the rock was bathed in brilliant light, and lots of the markings which I hadn’t noticed were cast into relief.

A big thank you to everyone who came along, we hope you enjoyed the day. If you were there today, and would like to leave us a comment or thought please do so!


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Our first design workshop

We ran our first RAMP design workshop today in Wooler. It was a great day – the sun shone, we saw lots of rock art and met lots of interesting people.

Exploring Rock Art on Weetwood Moor

Thanks to everyone who came along, your thoughts and insights are much appreciated!

If you were there, why not leave a comment and tell us what you thought about the day, the project and any reflections you have about rock art.

Looking forward to the next two workshops in Rothbury on Friday 17th and Sat 18th. Let’s hope the weather is as kind to us again!


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Cragside – A belated post

On Monday 2nd August, which seems some time ago now, we (Kate, Dan & I) made our way, via lots of rock art, to the National Trust’s Cragside House. Our trip was not simply a nice detour (sadly we didn’t manage to see inside the house, as it is closed on Mondays) but to explore their latest visitor tours.

Matthew Prodger from Black Ridge Technologies along with Andrew Sawyer from the National Trust met us to show us the Armstrong and Talking Trees trail. The trails use BlackRidge’s SecondSight Viewer software, which runs on Sony PSPs with cameras fitted to them and some Nokia SmartPhones. Once the viewer software is loaded, you can download the specific ‘Experience Pack’ you need, in this case the Armstrong and Talking Trees trails. Armed with your PSP or Nokia phone, you are then free to follow the trail! Because all the content is loaded onto the device, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a mobile phone signal.

The trail is marked with special signs which you look at through the camera on the phone or PSP. The software recognises the marker and launches the appropriate media content. This could be an audio file, video clip or 3D augmented reality character. To get a feel for what it’s like take a look at this video on SecondSight’s website.

The main thing I liked about this was the simplicity of using the PSP when the software is running. You don’t have to press any buttons, or scroll through any menus. Just point at the marker and wait for the content. I say wait, but that was the other really nice thing about it, you don’t have to wait. The content launched virtually immediately with no noticeable lag. On the phone there was a bit more of a delay but it still provided a perfectly acceptable and usable experience.

We played around with different sets of marker codes and the PSPs in the office before heading out into the decidedly grey afternoon to take at look at the codes in the wild. They were set up temporarily (Cragside House is the National Trust’s pilot trial for this technology) using matte laminated paper attached to a simple wooden plinth for the Talking Trees trail. We crowded round, holding our PSPs and aiming them at the code.

I suppose that’s one of the downsides of this technology, only one person at a time can realistically get physical access to the code at one time. With video and audio it’s not too much of an issue, once the footage is playing you can walk away from the marker code and it continues to play (at the moment functionality in controlling this is limited – no pause/rewind functions). Yet with the 3D avatars, you have to keep the camera focussed on the marker code. As far as I know, there is no getting away from this technically, the angle of the camera to the marker dictates which view of the 3D object you can see. A potential problem arises if you imagine a group of school kids all trying to see the code at the one time. There are obviously ways round this (for example, staggering the groups so that some children view the tour in a different order, that is, reducing the amount of poeple trying to access the content at any one time), but it is something that has to be managed.

Whilst I’m on the slightly critical tack, let me just say, that for this project to be a substantial success at Cragside House (which I think could be entirely possible), visitors need to have a way to access the tours onsite, rather than simply downloading beforehand. As Matthew told me, the key challenge they face at the moment with this project, is raising awareness of it. How do people find it? If they could hire PSPs with the material preloaded from the ticket office then I’m sure lots of folk would try it out. Admittedly, this is simply a trial scheme but I think it’s something the National Trust should seriously consider.

But enough about Cragside, what did we learn from the day that we can apply to the Rock Art Mobile Project? Primarily for me, the anticipated but unpleasant fact that mobile signal is non-existent for some networks, meaning that whatever technical solution we develop cannot rely on signal. This means that preloaded content is needed, either from a website pre-visit or downloaded on site, probably via BlueTooth or wifi.

Ah well, back to the research then. Let’s see now, Bluetooth transmitters…

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Twitter Round Up

So my confession for the day is that I’m actually one of those. Shock horror, I’m not really a blogger, I’m a tweeter. Here’s some of the project tweets that caught my eye during the last few days:

SMS triggered light sculpture: http://bit.ly/a4bFDd

RT @tinkerkid: list of mobile phone art/music/publicspace projects from early ’00’s comp. by @golan: http://bit.ly/bO5lNT#mtogo #SImobile

RT @museummedia: Digitising cultural heritage – A study day at the #BritishMuseum http://bit.ly/ckNcKA

RT @guardiantech: Why Facebook can’t afford to screw up its location feature http://bit.ly/9MCPO3

Re web vs native apps: RT @nealstimler: See my reply to @barnaclebarnes comments http://bit.ly/bGTESo#simobile #mobile #si20 #mtogo

Calling all iPhone users! Can you run Java ME apps on iOS? Had a google but can only find old results saying no…

RT @juncanoo: Why ignore on mobile OS in favor of others? Cross OS platforms enable you to reach broad audiences http://bit.ly/cYcBLg #mtogo

RT @NancyProctor: Great comments from on ‘web app v. native app’ for @Smithsonianhttp://bit.ly/aosgmX #si20#simobile #mtogo

RT @NancyProctor: #mobile project with Tallahassee Wildlife Center includes pre- & post-visit analysis http://bit.ly/bEp38Z #mtogo #simobile

RT @mcrartgallery:Our QR code based interpretation of 20 artworks around the city is live.Look out for these: http://tweetphoto.com/38239729

RT @gerel: Moscow QR Code Treasure Hunt – http://bit.ly/abbdhB

RT @QRcode: PercentMobile says:”63% of Phones can install a QR Code Reader App”

BBC News – Virus writers hit Google Android phones http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-10928070

BBC News – Smartphone security put on test http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-10912376

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Britain’s smallest rock art?

Just spotted an interesting rock art-icle in the Megalithic Portal News Bulletin (see Fenstanton Cursus): a very tiny (Britain’s smallest?) example of rock art has been found on a small slab at the bottom of a quarry in Cambridgeshire, reported in the Telegraph last week. Judging from the picture in the report the tiny concentric cup-and-ring motifs measure just a few cms across – about the size of the fingernail of the person holding the slab! Rock art is very scarce in the south of England – there are certainly no recorded examples on outcrops or boulders, and I’m not even aware of any other ‘portable’ examples in Cambridgeshire. The possibility that the pattern has a natural origin (e.g. a fossil) has apparently been ruled out. Christopher Evans from Cambridge University’s Archaeological Unit firmly believes it is nothing more than ‘a doodle’ made by bored Neolithic people with time on their hands…What do you think?

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