Masterclass: Playing with Data in the Ubiquitous Commons

Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico were the guest hosts of the day-long Masterclass on the 3 June 2015 on Playing with Data in the Ubiquitous Commons. Salvatore and Oriana’s research is wide-ranging and varied, typically focussing on the interactions between technology, design, art, and society. The morning session led with an introduction to the challenges and opportunities presented by the Ubiquitous Commons, and the questions that data analytics can help answer.
IMG_20150515_102748The afternoon session delved into Salvatore and Oriana’s open source Human Ecosystems software, with instruction on what the tools could do and how to set them up. Human Ecosystems allows collecting real-time data from social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Starting from either a set of topic keywords or a specific geographic area, publicly-visible data can be harvested, processed via linguistic and sentiment analysis tools, and ingested for visualisation and further offline analysis.

As with our previous Masterclass session on Mobile Data Hacking we welcomed attendees from many backgrounds with a diverse range of interests, including students and professionals from IT, advertising, art, and the public sector.

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Masterclass: Born-digital data in the humanities

Jane Winters led a discussion on a distinctive arts and humanities understanding of the potential of born-digital information, i.e. information such as websites or tweets created digitally and without an analogue form. Born-digital information refers here to historical reports in web archives, social media comments and reports on contemporary events, textual reports as well as multimedia items such as images and videos and finally also data tracked through the Internet of Things. Most of the work in the domain of born-digital information has up to now been the domain of computing research concerned with the conditions and use of born digital data; applied mathematics and statistics developing new kinds of modelling that helps describe quantifiable trends and properties of born-digital information as well as social sciences research using social and other new media to indirectly crowd-source opinions, sentiments, etc.

We wanted to investigate whether there can be a genuine humanities on born-digital data and how its corresponding methods that can take into account the critical traditions of humanities scholarship. It is urgent to develop these as the first significant archives and collections are currently released. Also, in history we need to deal with the emergence of born-datafied collections that cannot be dealt with anymore with traditional methods alone. Big data debates have taught us that digitisation is often not enough. In order to make digital use of objects they need to be datafied. The question is then how datafied collections enter humanties research, because beyond all interest in computational models that digital humanities have demonstrated to be useful, our foremost interest is how by connecting the dots in an infinite born-digital archive of contemporary and historical records we can develop a story out of material and develop a narrative. James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, summarizes the situation as following: “Whether or not we have a facility with numbers, we are good at asking questions and analyzing evidence that by its nature generates many variables at once. (…) we look for stories—for ways of synthesizing diverse strands into narrative themes (…).” (http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2012/1203/)

Masterclass: Hacking the Mobile Ecosystem

On the 15 May 2015, over 20 participants turned up for the Our Data, Ourselves Master Class on Android phone application hacking. The class began with an introduction to the project from Giles Greenway, who presented his work on mobile app data mining and introduced guest expert speaker, security researcher Darren Martyn. Throughout the morning’s hands-on session, Darren led the participants through the process of using the Android application development kit (ADK) via a virtual machine, downloading Android application package (.apk) files, and examining their contents.

IMG_20150515_102747Participants were then each given unlocked Android phones and instructed on how to put them into “developer mode”, enabling them to connect to the development tools on their laptops. Using the Wireshark network analysis tool, they were then able to view detailed information about exactly what each application was doing when it accessed the internet, and to tell whether or not a given app “phoned home” when it might not otherwise be expected to. A variety of popular and not-so-popular apps were examined, including Instagram, WhatsApp, Buscountdown, and ad-supported games such as Maze.

Attendees came from a wide range of backgrounds. Approximately half had prior experience with the Android app ecosystem, and roughly half were students at King’s. Among the students in attendance, only two studied computer science, with the remaining hailing from Digital Culture and Society (DCS) and Digital Asset and Media Management (DAMM). Among the non-students, many had come along due to an interest in Big Data and data analysis.