Friday 22 December 2023

Year in Review: 2023

So, the blogging dropped off a bit in the end. Largely, teaching hit: October to December is my heaviest teaching period, but it has been compounded this year by a trip to Sweden, an excellent "Design Beyond Vision" workshop care of Simon Dogger and Boey Wang, and a big grant deadline all in November; and a week's sick leave in December. Blogging is always the thing that has to slide under these circumstances.

Anyway, I am now drawing a line under the year, and downing tools til the New Year, so this seemed like a good to reflect on the year gone by.

Mostly, it has been the year where "things got back to normal". I mean, I guess I travelled internationally for work twice in 2022, compared with three times this year, so it wasn't a big jump, but still, there was also:

1) submitted my first non-review paper since the pandemic;

2) submitted my first two grant applications since the pandemic;

3) took on my first PhD student since the pandemic;

4) attended my first in-person Immersive Cognition Lab meetings since the pandemic;

5) attended my first graduation since the pandemic.

It may not seem like much, but psychologically it's a pretty big deal.

My final two PhD students successfully completed. I finished my Michael Beverley innovation fellowship. We had the second ever in-person itDf meeting (and the first one I had attended), which was great. 

Highlights of the year were World Haptics; a trip to Frinton-on-Sea to brainstorm with Russ Palmer and Riitta Lahtinen; the Tracking People book being published; and the Haptics for Inclusion event in Sweden. We've managed to start interviews on the Touching the Past/Feel the Physics projects, which is exciting, and with a new research fellow in place on itDf I hope we can make a lot of progress in its final year.

I'm hoping to get at least two grant proposals and two papers submitted next year. That's my aim.

We're looking at dusting off the old grip modelling work that got dropped when the pandemic hit. I'd like to get some fundamental haptics studies done. 

I'd also like to do more blog posts that aren't just updates. That would be good.

So I'll leave it there, for now. Merry Christmas, and all the best for the New Year! Here's to 2024!

Saturday 30 September 2023

Month in Review: September 2023

September is always a funny time of year. Teaching is so close that it dominates your time, but you do virtually no actual teaching (and no at all, this year, as teaching starts next week). So my time has been dominated by teaching prep. I try to do as much as I can over the summer, but this is the time when everything needs to be nailed down.
    You have to decide which improvements to your modules will make it in, and which will have to wait. Exams need to be written; the Virtual Learning Environment needs to be brought up to date. PCs in Lecture Theatres need to be checked. Dissertation project proposals need to be made ready 
     Which isn't to say that research takes a back seat completely. There are two grant proposals in the work; two papers; and I've been experimenting with the HapCoil motors from Actronika, and their board, which is a very nice piece of kit.
    I've been experimenting with OpenCV for image segmentation with S├ándor Daranyi of MUSE-IT (on which I am an advisor - he was also part of the SUITCEYES project).
     We had an excellent visit from Graham Pullin, Katie Brown and Fin Tams-Gray from Dundee, our colleagues on ITDF, to talk about potential collaborations. It was particularly valuable to be able to demonstrate the haptic kit we have: it is impossible to describe haptics over a video call.
     And to end on a high note, Hassan Dogar, my PhD student successfully defended his thesis! Congratulations, Hassan! 
    Onwards then, to the 23/24 academic year!

Thursday 31 August 2023

Month in Review: August 2023

August has been a quiet month. Time off to look after kids in school holidays, time for family holiday. No big work trips. Prep for next semester, working on papers and proposals. Nothing spectacular.

Oh, except that the first book I ever co-edited got published. Tracking People: Wearable Technologies in Social and Public Policy came out on the 30th of August, stemming from the Tracking People Network I was part of some years ago. It's been a long journey - not helped by COVID - and tracking people is an issue in constant flux, so it feels like we've been on shifting sands. But here we are! 

I've never been through this process before, so it's been really valuable experience for me - and I've been very glad of Anthea's substantial experience in this area! You can find out more on the Routledge website for the book, linked above! 

Saturday 29 July 2023

Month in Review: July 2023

It's been a pretty exciting month, all told. There has been less teaching, since we have all the exam boards out the way, though resits need to be organised, and there are always some late submissions that need to be dealt with. The month has instead been dominated by: the second ever ITDF in-person meeting (and the first one I attended!); my trip to the Netherlands for World Haptics 2023 in Delft and to visit Bartimeus near Utrecht, and then my trip to Frinton to visit Russ Palmer and Riitta Lahtinen. All of which has been great, though I suspect I will need another month or so to let my brain process all the ideas that have built up in there! 

I am conscious that space here is limited, and I need to get start getting some none "Month in Review" posts up, so I'll try to get some more detailed posts on these topics slotted in around them! Anyway, here are the month's highlights:

1) ITDF Meeting: The ITDF Project is 3 and a half years old, with just seventeen months left at the time of writing. But COVID (which hit in the third month of the project) meant that we've really largely worked online. There was a face-to-face meeting in December 2021 (but I had teaching commitments and couldn't go); we tried to organise another in July 2022 but the record-breaking heat wave meant it was moved online; so this was actually the first in-person full group meeting I had attended since the kick-off meeting in January 2020 (which was before any of the researchers were recruited onto the project). Anyway, an excellent couple of days - it makes a real difference being in person, and we had some great discussions on Posthumanism and design; some excellent activities and discussion as part of filmaker Sarah Brown's ALT-TEXT session; and even the Work Package reporting was much more lively than usual. Above all, it was great to see all those who were able to attend in person! We must do more of these in the time that remains...

2) World Haptics 2023: This was my first World Haptics Conference, and my first conference post-COVID. It took place in Delft, and was absolutely huge. Over 400 attendees, with a day of workshops followed by three days of talks and Demos. There were some excellent presentations, particularly the three keynote speakers. Professor Tamar Makin from Cambridge University presented some fascinating work on the brain and prosthetic use, particularly by looking at how people learned to use the Third Thumb Prosthetic by Dani Clode; Professor Hiroyuki Shinoda from the University of Tokyo, who gave a fascinating talk about mid-air haptics and whether this will be the next frontier of haptics; and Professor Hong Z. Tan from Purdue University, who gave an interesting presentation about the challenges of doing psychophysics in a commercial environment, reflecting on her substantial consulting experience and work at Google. Highlights from the rest of the conference were the hands on-demos (a pretty critical part of anything related to haptics), both academic and commercial: I finally got the chance to try force feedback in haptic gloves courtesy of the SenseGlove team; fulfil my long held ambition to experience the Ultraleap (it's... interesting and I don't mean that in a negative way - it's just intrinsically so different to what I've experienced in other haptics that it takes a bit of getting used to); I got to try the bhaptic TactSuit (which I liked enough to buy one as soon as I got back - it basically contains a grid similar to the one we used in SUITCEYES, but the vest is very nicely engineered, and the Haptic Design tools are really useful); and to explore more hands-on uses of Actronika's HapCoil motors (which I liked a lot, but I've already got twenty-two them, plus a Skinetic vest). I also got to run my own demo, which was great - it's at least doubled the number of people we've tested the Haptic Sleeve with, and it's thrown up some really interesting insights, that I must explore further. It was also great to get to see a number of familiar faces from my time at the Brocher Workshop (Ben Cherrier-Ward, Lili Golmohammadi and India Morrison were all there) and SUITCEYES (Astrid Kappers and Myrthe Plaisier); to fulfil my long-held ambition to accost Ad Spiers of Imperial College about how much I like his shape-changing interfaces; and to meet Lucia Seminara whose TACTA initiative is of particular interest to those of us on the ITDF Project. There is much to say on all this, so hopefully one or more blog posts will come out of it! 

The Haptic Sleeve Demo, Ready for Action!

3) Visit to Bartimeus: Bartimeus are a Dutch expertise centre for people with Dual Sensory Impairments, particularly, but not exclusively those with learning difficulties. Mijkje Worm runs the DeafBlind International Technology Network, of which I am a member, and it was through her that I had arranged to meet several of her colleagues. They very kindly spare a whole day for me, to talk about their FabLab and their experiences with Haptic Communication and to show me their facilities. It was a great day, really informative for me, and I look forward to following up with them.

4) Visit to Russ and Riitta:  Russ Palmer and Riitta Lahtinen are two of our mentors on the ITDF project, and as I write this, I am sat in Clacton-on-Sea, having come down to visit them (in nearby Frinton-on-Sea) to talk Social Haptics, demonstrate various bits of kit, and talk about our upcoming contribution to the special issue of the British Medical Journal - Medical Humanities that is being organised through ITDF. It's been a very productive weekend - we got to put the TactSuit and HapCoils to good use, and my knowledge of Haptices and Haptemes has greatly expanded. It's always a pleasure to meet them, and at the moment my head barely feels like it can contain the volume of new ideas swimming around in there.

5) Graduations: Finally, for the first time in four years I got to attend our Graduation Ceremony (after several years being cancelled due to COVID, and once the University resumed holding them last year, I got COVIDd couldn't attend!). Anyway, I love graduations - partly because I get to swan around in doctoral robes, but largely because it's great to celebrate our students' success and give them a big send-off. 

So what I'm saying is, it's been a busy month, but a fruitful one. This posts long enough, so I'm off to have a lie down, and if anything especially exciting happens in the last two days of the month, it'll just have to be written up in August.

Friday 30 June 2023

Months in Review: May & June 2023

 Yeah, I know. I should have posted a review for May at the latest in early June. But you know how it is: I was on holiday, then I had a workshop, then it was exam boards and the next thing you know it's the end of June. C'est la vie, I guess, but I'd better upload this today (30th June at time of writing), or it's going to be the end of July.

So, what have I been up to these last two months? 

  1. Submitted that full proposal, gave my pitch and… got rejected. So, first submission in four years and first rejection in four years. Such is academic life. Still, it was a really helpful process which got me thinking about things in more detail, which is good, and the feedback was largely positive. So, at least it moved my thinking forwards.

  1. And I've been on the other side of the equation, as I interviewed five candidates to replace my former Research Fellow Shaq on ITDF. It's times like this when I wish I had five posts to give out, but alas, I have just the one. 

  1. Finished those two theses. As of today, both have been submitted.

  1. Marked dissertations, compiled marks for my module, compiled samples of coursework for our external examiner, attended exam board.

  1. Did my final Michael Beverley Innovation Fellowship sessions, including giving my final presentation. The course has been great, and I shall miss our sessions together. Hopefully, though, this isn't the end of my involvement with the programme, and our cohort will keep in touch.

  1. Copy edited and proofread the Tracking People collection that Anthea Hucklesby and I have been editing. I think, as of today, that's all finished. It's been a really good process: I've never done anything like this before, so having Anthea's guidance has been really valuable.

  1. Speaking of Anthea, I was down in Birmingham to help her run a workshop for a new Wearables network she is putting together at Birmingham University. I’m not part of the network, but she asked me down to run a version of the Ultimate Tracking Device exercise I did for the Tracking People Network. It was a great day, and I got to meet lots of interesting people doing interesting work on wearables!

  1. Speaking of Birmingham, I took the opportunity to drop in to Birmingham City University  while I was in town to meet up with my former SUITCEYES colleague, Arthur Thiell. Arthur and I have been working together for three and a half years now, and this was the first time we’ve met face-to-face, so that was very nice!

  1. Went on a shopping spree: bought a Skinetic Vest (for ITDF) and an HSD Mk II prototyping kit (for the MBIF) from Actronika and (feeling inspired by Myrthe and Astrid's work when we went to Eindhoven I'm February) a Swell Form Maker for Feel the Physics. Exciting times ahead!

  1. Been doing more work for Feel the Physics, which has been affected by staff illness, but I think we are on course to steer it in over the course of the next month. I’ve been sorting out the response to our ethics review, and experimenting with the Swell Form Maker.

  2. Had a really good two-day joint workshop between Leeds Centre for Disability Studies, ITDF and the MuseIT Horizon Europe project.A very thought provoking day, which featured a contribution form Graham Pullin, which was very exciting; and 

  1. My Undergraduate project team, who have been working on Haptic Navigation did an excellent job, and got the ultrawide band network up and running in the foyer of Mechanical Engineering. They did such a good job that I’m paying two of them to do a  few weeks work tidying it up into a more usable form for Michael Beverley Fellowship.

Next month? Well, World Haptics in Delft looms large, and I have arranged to visit Bartimeus while I am out there to talk Haptic Navigation. We have two days of in-person ITDF workshop: my first in-person full-team ITDF workshop since January 2020, since I couldn’t make  the one in Dundee in 2021, and the one in Sheffield in 2022 was cancelled due to the heat wave. Let’s hope this one goes ahead… at least the temperature is looking reasonable… for now! I have a thesis to read for examination;  a Workshop proposal for ASSETS (which is being led by Arthur Thiell); a trip to visit Russ Palmer and Riitta Lahtinen for ITDF; and we need to get testing started for Feel the Physics. And preparing for the next teaching cycle. 

Never a dull moment, eh? 

Thursday 4 May 2023

Month in Review: April 2023

The end of the month comes around quickly. It hardly feels like any time since I was writing up the summary for March! Time has gone so quickly, in fact, that having drafted this post, I completely forgot to post it at the end of April, so here it is arriving in May…

What have I been up to this (well, last) month? 

  1. Largely, I have been working on my full proposal following my shortlisted Expression of Interest. Meeting with potential partners, considering different costings… there's a lot going on, but it's good to be nailing down the details. Even if the grant doesn't come off, it at least moves my thinking forwards!

  1. Submitted a demo proposal to World Haptics based on work we've been on ITDF. It's in Delft, so it seems like a good opportunity to attend, and get some feedback on the demo!

  1. Still working my way through those two PhD Theses.

  1. Developing my technical skills. I've successfully got direct i2c reading working on the RPi Pico W. I'm trying to be more disciplined in my use of Git and GitHub to manage my files, so I'm trying to learn how to use them properly.

  1. Attending more workshops. I've attended another Michael Beverley Innovation Fellowship days; a Research Culture Workshop; and a workshop from the Wellcome Trust about their new funding strategy. That's just the in-person ones!

  1. More prep for next month's workshop that we are organising through MuseIT and itDf.

  1. Starting to prepare an abstract for an itDf edited collection that needs to go in next month…

  1. Got permission to set up an Ultra-Wideband Network in our foyer for navigation testing. And thanks to an undergraduate project team, we've managed to get it up and running.

Plus another ethics review, and reviewing a conference paper. Next month, I'll be copy editing a collection of papers from the Tracking People work I did with Anthea Hucklesby a few years back, which is a new experience of me! Plus abstracts for the itDf collection are due, plus that itDf/MuseIT workshop we've been looking at will take place; and the second round of the proposal will go in. A lot of things are going to be coming to fruition! I suspect May will be busy…

Friday 31 March 2023

Month in Review: March 2023

There's a phrase that I often turn over in my mind: "doing much, but getting little done". I can't remember where I got it from - and Google hasn't been able to furnish me with an answer - or whether I made it up myself. But when I started thinking back over this month, I couldn't really point to anything that I'd really done.

Looking at my timesheets, I've objectively worked more hours in March than February and I've objectively had significantly less marking and teaching. And yet, whereas February saw an exciting trip to the Netherlands, and an expression of interest submitted, I'm not sure I can point to anything I've finished in March. At first thought that's a little depressing: there's always the trap of getting busy without being productive.

But I think some of it's a matter of perspective. Or rather, granularity. I've done much, and even if I haven't finished much, I've progressed a variety of things:

  1. PhD Theses. I have two students coming up to submission, and so I've been reading through two PhD theses and providing detailed comments. I was reading both theses at the start of the month, and I'm still reading them both at the end of the month. But I have read five chapters between them, which puts me about a third of the way through.

  1. Developing my technical skills. I've been starting to play around with the Raspberry Pi Pico W, as an alternative microcontroller to the Arduino, to use it in future prototypes. That's been fun. I've also been working on controlling i2c devices without using intermediary libraries (like Adafruit). It's fairly straightforward and something I've been meaning to do for a while. Of course, to show for it, I have much learning, but no new prototype.

  1. Attending workshops. I've attended two Michael Beverley Innovation Fellowship days; a Workshop for putting in a Research Council hub bid; and a Deadfblind International Technology network meeting that discussed issues and ideas. All great experiences, but none create tangible outputs… yet!

  1. Attended meetings and made some connections for an upcoming workshop in May (watch this space).

  1. Supported an application for funding for a workshop to be delivered by a colleague (again, watch this space!).

  1. Collected some natty prototypes from Duke Makes for the Feel the Physics project and did some rudimentary prototyping.

I've also done my first ethics review in three and a half years. That's been good.  And reviewed a paper for journal. And my Expression of Interest was shortlisted, so it's now time to write a full proposal! 

So, in terms of concrete achievements and drawing a line under things, this hasn't been much of a month. In terms of keeping plates spinning until they're needed… well, it looks rather better. Let's see if some of these can pay off next month…