Posts Tagged ‘ Phenomenology

Pokémon Go Home – Why Pokémon is not what the heritage sector really needs

Gently I edged toward the beast. It had 4 long semi-transparent wings, the same length as its tube-like body. The body was iridescent in the light, changing colour through blue to green.  Its face was incredibly ugly… a mixture of large bug-like eyes on the side of its head and a gaping mouth filled with prehistoric fangs. It fluttered its wings gently in the breeze, as it cleaned itself by rubbing its long spindly white legs all over its body. I reached down quietly in readiness to capture it, brought my phone up to look through the camera feed. Just as I was about to swipe the screen it got alarmed, its wings became a blur of movement and it took off – flitting away out of sight. I attempted to chase it – but it was gone in a blink of an eye. Another two years would pass before my friend and I got another tip-off about the location of the quasi-mythical beast.

I could be talking about my hunt for the Yanma, the large dragonfly, famous for being able to see in all directions at once and having such extreme wing-speed that it can shatter glass. Except of course I am not talking about my hunt for a Pokémon – I am talking about the day I went out with a very good friend of mine hunting in the Fens for the white-legged damselfly. We didn’t manage to capture a picture of it that day, but we did briefly see it alight on a leaf, which was more than good enough.

White-legged Damselfly by Philipp Weigell

White-legged Damselfly by Philipp Weigell (picture taken by Philipp Weigell) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pokémon Go fever has been sweeping seemingly everyone in the last couple of weeks. It has been hailed as a saviour to stop idle kids sitting in front of their computer screens, the herald of mass-adoption of mainstream Augmented Reality, and the re-invigorator of an interest in heritage and museum sites.

As someone who has done quite a bit of research on AR and heritage, I would like to wade into the discussion here and question a few things. To go someway toward mitigating the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man who doesn’t understand ‘kids today’ (too late!) –  I would like to point out that I have 3 boys of my own, play all sorts of different games on both smartphone and computer and I once even bought a girlfriend a pair of Pikachu pyjamas. I understand the nostalgic call of Pokémon, the excitement of the treasure hunt and the lure of the screen over the real world.

Pokémon Go as an AR revolution

First I would like to tackle the pedantic bit. Pokémon Go is not really an AR game. The AR element of it (overlaying the Pokémon onto your video feed) is (as someone else has already said) the most basic of AR possible. So much so that it can’t really be called AR at all. There is no interaction with or reading of the real surroundings, the Pokémon don’t hide behind the cooker or pop out from behind the Museum gates. You could be standing in your toilet or at the edge of the Grand Canyon and the Pokémon would still be badly superimposed, via a simple geo-location, onto the video feed. Even the Snapchat AR which superimposes silly things on people’s faces is more AR – as at least it is doing some kind of recognition of the real world (in that case facial recognition).

Calling Pokémon Go an AR revolution is doing a disservice to the potential and power of AR for integrating with the real world. AR has so much more potential than this. Pokémon Go is a locative game, not true AR.

Pokémon Go gets kids outdoors

What’s not to like about this? Even a cynical old git like me surely can’t complain about kids (and adults) getting away from their screens and going outside. Except, of course, they are not getting away from their screens. In fact it is probably worse – by taking the screen outside and searching for Pokémon through it they are not even really taking part in the outside world. The outside world is being entirely mediated through the screen – a small rectangular box guides your every movement. The alternate reality provided by the smartphone is so beguiling that there are people falling in canals, crashing into police cars and even plummeting off the edge of cliffs whilst playing the game. Clearly even though they are outside, they are oblivious to the world around them.

Do we really live in a world where kids can’t be bothered to get off the sofa and go outside without taking a screen or a game with them? What kind of world is this? What is it going to become if the next generation take this as normal? Why is it that hunting for a Squirtle is seen as the utmost of cool – but following a tip-off about the location of a Spoonbill or standing on the end of train platform hunting trains is seen as the ultimate in nerdiness?

I’m not sure I can really see the logic. I guess that Pokémon Go is the epitome of easy and quick satisfaction. Sure you may have to travel a little, to get to a place to capture the computer-generated critter – but when you arrive you don’t have to wait and watch and hope that you glimpse a sight of it. You don’t have to be silent and scan the sky with your binoculars and be PATIENT. If someone has said that the Charmander is there, it is pretty much guaranteed that if you go to those Lat Long coordinates you will find it. Bird-watching is not the same. You can go back to the same hide for days and days and perhaps not spot what you are looking for. It may even be there, but you might not have done quite enough research to differentiate the colour of the wing flash. It is not quick or easy, and because of that it is surely more ultimately satisfying.

Pokémon Go brings all the kids to the (Archaeological) Yard

This then brings me to the final point – Pokémon Go as a way to get people more engaged with heritage sites. We have seen this before, museums and heritage sites jumping on trendy locative game bandwagons to get more people to come to their sites (Andy Dufton and I wrote about this with Foursquare a few years ago). I think it may be a little early to say whether or not this is really going to be a big thing. We will need to see stats on the increases in ticket sales to show that the Pokéhunters are not just going to the museum car park. And if they are paying the ticket price and entering the site, how much are they actually engaging with the archaeology?

Charmanders in the BM

Terry Brock is also hopeful about this:

Terry Brock

As Andrew Reinhard’s archaeogaming foray shows, there is the potential for providing extra contextual information at the ‘cultural’ Pokéstops. However a quick look at his example of the Pokéstop at his local Washington memorial shows only the information that is on the plaque of the monument itself – but then you would have to look away from your screen to read that.

Route of Washington’s March monument (taken from the Archaeogaming blog by Andrew Reinhard) – https://archaeogaming.com/2016/07/09/pokemon-go-archaeogaming/

So let us stand back a little and think about what all this means. I’ve concentrated recently on creating ways for people to use Augmented Reality to engage with, explore and understand heritage sites (take a browse around my website to see some examples). The key for me is that by someone visiting the site physically they can engage both their body AND their mind simultaneously. The AR I use is exclusively made to facilitate this, to show hidden elements of the site, to waft unexpected smells to make you THINK about the space in different ways, to play sounds that have some kind of relevance to what happened in that location in the past.

A visit to an archaeological site by a Pokéhunter is the antithesis of this. When a Pokéhunter arrives at a site (drawn by the lure of a rich Pokéstop) they are in the classic state of Cartesian disconnect. Their body may be there, but their mind is far away, thinking of the next Pokéstop or the phone notification that just came through from their mate about a rare [insert rare Pokémon name here] up the road.

You only have to look at this tweet to see the effects of this:

https://twitter.com/ohmycrayon/status/751778120647180288

This girl is at STONEHENGE, for crying out loud. Instead of taking an interest in how the stones were put up, how they fit into the surrounding landscape, what actually happened in and around them, and, crucially, how the experience of actually being there makes her feel – she is chasing an Eevee. She herself admits her attention is “so divided right now”. If this is happening at one of Britain’s most iconic and engaging monuments – what does it mean for other heritage sites? This girl’s mind is clearly not in the same place as her body. She is engaged in two separate realities, linked only by coordinates on a Google Map. Using Pokémon Go to get bums on seats and through the ticket barriers might be good for sales, but at what cost? If it really takes a Squirtle to get our youth (and adults) to go to a heritage site, then we are doing something very wrong.

What about the Real World?

I’m sorry this post has been rather despairing. I am getting increasingly sad for the state of the world, where people go head over heels hunting virtual creatures, while the real incredible biodiversity is ignored, built over and marginalised. Instead of re-wilding the world with animals, insects, plants and birds we are enchanted by the opposite: introducing the computer and virtual creatures into our diminishing natural and cultural spaces. How can it be that I am in the minority for being bewitched by the hunt for the white-legged damselfly, a beautiful, crazy, prehistoric looking creature – while the vast majority of people are instead happy to jump in their cars, park in the car park of the local baptist church and stare into their phones flicking imaginary red balls at imaginary creatures?

I haven’t even touched on the inevitable monetisation of all this, how long will it be until the big museums have to pay Niantic loads of money to host an incredibly rare Pokéstop and the smaller sites (that are actually crying out for visitors) will be priced out of the Pokémarket?

If you really can’t get your kids (or yourself) out to a heritage site without gamifying it by chasing animals, why not go and find that pair of peregrine falcons roosting in the local church steeple? Or go newt-hunting in your local historic ponds? Perhaps try to spot a red kite above the prehistoric landscape of Dartmoor? You could even use this map of rare bird sightings around the country to plan a day out birding and visiting nearby heritage sites.

But please please please – leave your smartphone behind.

CAAUK 2016 – Embodied GIS and applied Multi-Sensory Archaeology

I recently attended the CAAUK 2016 meeting in Leicester, a great couple of days with a few really interesting papers.

As usual, the rather excellent Dougs Rocks-Macqueen was on hand to record the talks. His videos can be found here – he records all sorts of diverse archaeological conferences, so it is well worth clicking the subscribe button on his account.

In case anyone is interested, I have embedded the video of my talk below – where I discuss the Embodied GIS, using examples from my previous research including Voices Recognition and the Dead Man’s Nose.

Guest Blog on ASOR

I have just submitted a guest blog post on the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) blog for their ongoing special series on Archaeology in the Digital Age. It’s an introduction to Augmented Reality for Archaeology and also includes some sneak peeks of the results of some of my own AR fieldwork on Bodmin Moor. The original post can be found at http://asorblog.org/?p=4707.

Learning by Doing – Archaeometallurgy

This post will be a little off my normal topics, in that there will no augmented reality and no computers (although I did make some nice 3D models that I’ll link to later). It is about technology, but mostly about prehistoric technology.

I have spent the last four days on a prehistoric metallurgy weekend, run by Fergus Milton and Dr. Simon Timberlake at Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire. The aim of the course was to introduce us to the basics of prehistoric metallurgy and then teach us the practical skills so that we could take the process all the way from breaking the ore to casting an axe. I decided to take part in the course, not because I am focusing on the techniques of Bronze Age metallurgy, but because the site that I am looking at on Bodmin Moor was very likely to have been created to work the nearby tin sources and I wanted to know how they would have done it and what it would have felt like. I have read quite a bit around the subject, and have a good idea of the steps involved, but it wasn’t enough. As with all of my work, I am interested in the human experience of a landscape or an activity and find it is necessary to get my hands dirty to see and feel what smelting is like – something you can’t get from just reading about it.

The course was quite archaeology focused, and being at Butser Ancient Farm meant there was also a large element of experimentation – rather than just demonstration. We were encouraged to try out different ideas and set up experiments based on our own research aims. The best part for me was that we made every part of the furnace and refractories (tuyeres, crucibles, collecting pots, etc.) ourselves – we even hand-stitched our own bellows.

bellows

Hand-stitched leather bellows

Drying out the refractories

Drying out the refractories

After making our refractories we set to digging the furnaces, my group decided to dig a bank furnace and a bowl furnace. As can be seen from this 3D model the bank furnace is unsurprisingly dug down into a bank of earth with a horizontal passage dug into the shaft to hold the tuyere and bellows.

In contrast, the bowl furnace is a simple bowl dug out of the ground lined with a thin layer of clay, with a slightly sloping passage to hold the bellows and tuyere.

In order to fire the furnaces up, all that is needed is a small fire in the bottom of the furnace which is slowly covered with charcoal until the furnace is entirely full. Obviously the bellows need to be continually pumped to get some oxygen into the fire under the charcoal.

Bowl furnace in action

Bowl furnace in action

The ore is prepared for smelting using a beneficiation mortar (in our case we used a granite mortar which was probably originally used for grinding flour). Essentially it is as easy as smashing a few rocks and then grinding them down to powder using a stone hammer. This, perhaps weirdly, is the part of the process I was most interested in. I believe that the Bronze Age inhabitants of Leskernick Hill were collected and crushing cassiterite (tin-stone) on-site and I wanted to see how hard it was to do and how long it would take. Simon had some streamed Cornish cassiterite with him and so I got to have a go at crushing it to fine powder. It was remarkably easy and took very little time and effort to go from the rock itself to the powder ready for smelting. The mortar we were using had smooth sides and so the tinstone kept skating up the sides and escaping onto the floor, but perhaps this might have been prevented if we were using a mortar with straighter sides.

As can be seen from the 3D model above, once the ore was crushed we loaded it into a hand-made crucible, ready for smelting. This crucible was filled with a mixture of cassiterite dust and malachite (copper-bearing ore) dust in an attempt to co-smelt them creating a ‘one-step bronze’. The mortar is stained green in this case from crushing up the malachite. Unfortunately on this experiment the hand-made crucible cracked in the furnace and so the one-step bronze leaked out and we eventually found it at the bottom of the furnace. We had also put a layer of crushed malachite directly into the furnace, which smelted away nicely and mingled with the leaked bronze to create a big lump of slightly tinned copper.

A lovely lump of smelted copper (with a tiny bit of tin)

A lovely lump of smelted copper (with a tiny bit of tin)

Working my way through the entire process of metallurgy (minus the mining/collecting of the ore or the making of the charcoal) made me appreciate actually how surprisingly easy the whole thing is – and equally what rather unremarkable archaeological remains it produces. This is especially true of our bowl furnace, which when burnt out looked almost exactly like a hearth, complete with burnt ceramic material that one could easily mistake for simple prehistoric pottery. It makes me wonder how many smelting sites may have been misidentified as hearths. After this weekend I would happy to build a small furnace in my back garden and smelt some copper, and I wonder if the smelting furnaces of the Bronze Age were similar, small bowl furnaces in or around the family home.

We undertook a total of 5 smelts and a couple of castings over the weekend, with varying levels of success. Even with the professionals there (Simon and Fergus) things did not always go to plan (crucibles broke, furnaces didn’t heat up enough, molten metal was spilled on the ground) but this, for me, was the key to the whole experience. While the entire process was much easier than I had first imagined, there was still effort involved in smelting a relatively small amount of metal. These mistakes and accidents would have happened in antiquity as well and so even when a whole smelt of tin vapourised to nothing due to the furnace being too hot, I didn’t really regret the 2 hours spent bellowing and in fact felt a little closer to the frustration that might have been felt by the inhabitants of Bronze Age Leskernick Hill. Although I know the chemistry behind the smelting process (just about!) I was dumbstruck by the magical process of turning rock to metal. We literally sprinkling crushed malachite into the furnace and covered it with charcoal, heated it and then found a lump of copper at the bottom of the furnace. It was quite a powerful experience, and one I am sure would not have been lost on the early prehistoric smelters.

This whole weekend has made me realise that just as it is important to walk the hills of Bodmin Moor in order to really get a feeling for what it is like to inhabit the place, it is equally important to build a furnace, crush ore and smelt it to metal in order to find out what it is like to inhabit the activities as well. Of course experimental archaeologists have been doing this for years, but just one weekend of it has already changed the way I am thinking about some of my evidence and will almost certainly have a big influence on at least one chapter of my PhD.

Archaeology, GIS and Smell (and Arduinos)

I have had quite few requests for a continuation of my how-to series, for getting GIS data into an augmented reality environment and for creating an embodied GIS. I promise I will get back to the how-tos very soon, but first I wanted to share something else that I have been experimenting with.

Most augmented reality applications currently on the market concentrate on visual cues for the AR experience, overlaying things on a video feed, etc. There are not a lot that I have found that create or play with smells – and yet smell is one of the most emotive senses. In the presentation of archaeology this has been long known and the infamous and varied smells of the Jorvik Centre are a classic example of smell helping to create a scene. The main reason for this lack of experimentation with smells is presumably the delivery device. AR is quite easy to achieve now within the visual realm mainly because every smartphone has a video screen and camera. However, not every phone has a smell chamber – never mind one that can create the raft of different smells that would be needed to augment an archaeological experience. As a first stab at rectifying this, then, I present the Dead Man’s Nose:

The Dead Men's Nose

The Dead Man’s Nose

The Dead Man’s Nose (DMN) is a very early prototype of a smell delivery device that wafts certain smells gently into your nose based on your location. The hardware is built using an Arduino microcontroller and some cheap computer parts along with any scent of your choice. The software is a very simple webserver that can be accessed via WiFi and ‘fire off’ smells via the webserver’s querystring. This means that it can easily be fired by Unity3D (or any other software that can access a webpage) – so it fits very nicely into my embodied GIS setup.

How does it work?

This little ‘maker hack’ takes it inspiration from projects such as ‘My TV Stinks‘, ‘The Smell of Success‘ and Mint Foundry’s ‘Olly‘. Essentially, I followed the instructions for building an Olly (without the 3D housing) and instead of using an Ethernet shield for the Arduino – I connected it to a WiFi shield and from there joined it to an ad-hoc WiFi network created by my Macbook. With the Macbook, iPad and the DMN on the same network it is very easy to send a message to the DMN from within the Unity gaming engine. As the iPad running the Unity application knows where I am in the world (see the previous blog) it means that I can fire off smells according to coordinates (or areas) defined in a GIS layer. Therefore, if I have an accurate ‘smellscape’ modeled in GIS, I can deploy that smellscape into the real world and augment the smells in the same way that I can augment the visual elements of the GIS data.  The code is very simple for both ends, I am just using the a slightly adjusted sample WiFi shield code on the Arduino end and a small script on the Unity end that pings the webserver when the ‘player’ moves into a certain place on the landscape. When the webserver is pinged, it starts the fan and that wafts the smell around. From a relatively simple setup, it provides the possibility of a very rich experience when using the embodied GIS.

A Field Test

The first thing to do was to find the smells to actually augment using the Dead Man’s Nose. It turns out there are a lot of different places to buy scents, but luckily in this case archaeologists came to the rescue – an article in the excellent Summer 2012 edition of Love Archaeology e-zine pointed me to the website of Dale Air who have over 300 aromas ranging from the mundane (Crusty Bread) to the completely weird (Dragon’s Breath). I purchased a set of samples (Barbeque, Dirty Linen, Woodsmoke, Farmyard, among others) and was ready to go. I was quite surprised, but they do actually smell pretty much as described, especially the Dirty Linen.

As I was just experimenting, the housing for the DMN was very simple (a cardboard box) and there was only one choice of smell and that was sellotaped to the outside of the box…

The Dead Man's Nose, in a box with a BBQ scent attached

The Dead Man’s Nose, in a box with a BBQ scent attached

The prototype was then loaded into a bag (in this case a simple camera bag), which was slung around my neck. I popped the top of the BBQ scent open and then whenever the fan started whirring the sweet, slightly acrid smell of Barbequing meat was gently wafted to my nostrils.

The Dead Man's Nose in a nosebag, ready to go

The Dead Man’s Nose in a nosebag, ready to go

Using my embodied GIS of the roundhouses on Leskernick Hill, Bodmin Moor, I set the DMN to fire off a smell of lovely Barbeque whenever I got within 20m of a roundhouse. I set the fan to run slowly at first and get faster as I got closer to the ‘source’ of the smell. The DMN performed admirably, as I walked within range of the houses I heard the tell-tale whirr of the fan and the next moment I had the lovely scent of cooking ribs. Future models will allow for more than one smell at a time (I just need a couple more computer fans) and also a better housing, a bit of 3D printing is in order!

Now I can use the iPad to view the roundhouses overlaid onto the video feed, plug in my headphones and hear 3D sounds that get louder or quieter depending on where I am in the settlement and also I can augment different smells as I walk around. Not only can I walk around the modern day Bronze Age landscape and see the augmented roundhouses, hear the Bronze Age sheep in the distance, I can also smell the fires burning and the dinner cooking as I get closer to the village….

If there is interest I can put together a how-to for creating the system, but for now I am going to carry on experimenting with it – to refine the delivery and the housing and to clean up the code a little bit.

TAG 2010

This weekend was the Annual Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference in Bristol. TAG is a great conference with many wide-ranging topics discussed, and has a tradition of being a platform from which a number of theories that may be conventionally considered ‘out-there’ are presented. It is also treated as the UK archaeological communities’ unofficial Christmas party. This year didn’t disappoint!

I was asked to contribute a paper to the CASPAR session on my work with Augmented Reality. The session was a mixture of papers concerning web-based approaches to archaeology, archaeology in television and radio and also virtual reality. As it was TAG I decided to inject quite a bit of theory into my paper, discussing the use of Turner’s Arc of Intentionality <image> to aid in analysing both real and virtual experiences. I attempted to explain how it is possible to use the Arc of Intentionality to get us a little closer to Husserl’s original ideas of phenomenology. That is, pulling apart an experience and analysing the individual parts.

The Arc of Intentionality (after Turner 2007)

One of the massive strengths of Augmented Reality in my mind is the simple fact of using the real world as a canvas – and only augmenting in a small amount of virtual objects, just the ones that you need. In a full Virtual Reality experience it is necessary to create the entire world as well – which leads to many many decisions about the experience, that we may not have enough information (or indeed desire) to make. Turner’s AoI then allows us to look at the augmented experience, acknowledge the parts of the virtual objects that ‘don’t quite feel right’ and either discard this part of the experience as unimportant and not something we are interested in – or to refine that particular element to get it closer to feeling like an authentic experience. After I delivered my paper a member of the audience pointed out that actually we may not even want the virtual objects to ‘feel right’ in every way. This is an excellent point and again fits nicely with Husserl’s ideas. If we are just interested in the impact of Hadrian’s Wall (for instance) as a barrier across the landscape – the perfect reconstruction of the mortar isn’t that important – what is important is the fact that you can’t see through it or over it. We need to take the parts of the experience we are interested in and concentrate just on them – rather than getting lost in the details.

I’m not sure I had quite enough time to go enough into the theory to get my point across properly, and I certainly don’t have enough room here but I recently submitted a paper that goes into a lot more detail on this subject, its currently being peer-reviewed, so fingers-crossed they will accept it!

Finally, a nice thing was that my live example of a simple marker-based AR project still seemed to produce the ‘wow’ factor. I guess this shows that AR is still relatively unknown (at least among archaeologists!) – it will be interesting to see where it all goes over the next year.

I have reproduced my slideshow below – and if you want to see the AR example, just print out this marker on a piece of A4 paper and point it at your webcam.

Slideshare: