#GoogleGlass for learning: The National Trust experience

A colleague pointed out this post to me, wherein a Google Glass owner tries a visit to Blickling. Of course he was stymied by a lack of a phone signal – which is common across many of our properties, and by a lack of wifi. Putting public wifi into National Trust buildings, to ensure decent connectivity despite thick stone walls in some places (not at Blickling), and then connecting to a network with enough capacity for tens or hundreds of visitors at a time to have responsive access to the web is a challenge for many, or most National Trust places. But it will become more and more urgent as visitors will expect to learn about places in ways that suit them.

Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

Whilst i enjoy the history, the cream tea is an essential part of the experience. Whether you go jam first, layering your cream on top, or cream first (which, just to be clear, is wrong), there’s nothing quite like sitting in a National Trust cafe, fending off the wasps, to let you know that summer is well and truly here.

Blickling Hall

The National Trust is a charity, set up to preserve landscapes and houses of national importance: originally focused on grand, stately homes, now equally likely to preserve the more humble abodes of writers and musicians. As a member, you can enjoy access to hundreds of properties around the UK, assured of a firmly middle class experience and a nice cup of tea at the end of it. I’m a huge fan.

But it was with some trepidation that, having taken delivery of my GoogleGlass a scant four days earlier, i…

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Minecrafting Italy

Last week I set up my first Minecraft server. I’d been discussing how we might build Portus on the University’s Minecraft server, but because we don’t yet have Admin access to that I thought I ought to set one up on one of my own machines to start understanding how it all works. I say “one of my own machines” because I had planned to run it from my University Windows laptop, but I could not get it to work. The idea is that you run it once and it creates a bunch of files, which you then fiddle with before running it properly. But those files didn’t appear on my PC. After some time trying to locate them, or run the .exe file again to create them anew, I gave up and decided to repeat the process on my Mac at home.

There it all seemed to work perfectly. The only challenge on the Mac is creating a script to actually start the server, and then turning it into an executable file. But there is a very simple guide on how to do this on the Minecraft Wiki.

So today I followed Shawn Graham’s advice to have a go at creating the topology of Portus. Well I say I followed it. Obviously I ignored the bit about ignoring a bit of a YouTube “Minecraft School” video about getting Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data via Google Earth. Let me just repeat that: “Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.” Data, from the Space Shuttle! Isn’t that amazing? No? Moving on…

That YouTube Video is a bit out of date you see. and you don’t need to find it from GoogleEarth (or download the SRTM plug-in, which it turns out doesn’t work anymore anyway), the data you need is available here: http://dwtkns.com/srtm/.

When we do this for real, we’ll have the Universiy’s LIDAR data to create the topology, but I wanted to have a go with something relevant. So I used QGIS, the free and open source GIS software, to edit the SRTM data down to an area around the sites of ancient Roman Portus and Ostia.

The area around Fiumicino in SRTM TIFF data, manipulated in QGIS
The area around Fiumicino in SRTM TIFF data, manipulated in QGIS. Is that the Trajanic Basin?

Then, exporting that image as a Bitmap (BMP) file, it was off to WorldPainter, to turn it into a Minecraft world. There’s a bit of trial and error required here, first of all finding an appropriate scale for the translation, both in x and y  axes, and of course in height. WorldPainter tends to want to make the range between see level and the highest point 255 blocks (which I guess is something to do with the shades of grey in the bitmap. Then there is the white space where the sea goes. White indicates the highest points of the the landscape, so the sea could turn into a massive … er… massif, 255 blocks high.

And of course there’s the curiosity of the Trajanic basin. Why is it a mid grey? Neither white like the sea, nor black like the lowest land? After a number of attempts I cheated – took the bitmap into Paint, and made the sea and basin black. After that, and some fiddling with scale, the WorldPainter map started to look something like an actual map:

The WorldPainter Map
The WorldPainter Map

Good enough, I though to try out on the server. I exported them to the desktop and put the files in the relevant folder on the server, then fired up Minecraft proper to take a look. Hmmm more work required I think…

... and I have NO idea where these huge anti gravity squid ponds came from!
I have NO idea where these huge anti gravity squid ponds came from!
The low resolution of the SRTM data does quite cut it at this scale
The low resolution of the SRTM data doesn’t quite cut it at this scale



Playable Cities videos

I wasn’t able to get to the Playable Cities conference (for the second year running – next year, I must try harder), but handily they put a number of the sessions online at http://www.watershed.co.uk/playablecity/conference14/watch-talks/

They are quite quiet for my deaf old ears, I needed to turn them up to full both in the player and on my computer to get them above a whisper. Though they are all of interest, I’ve embedded linked to (the embedding doesn’t work) a couple of my favorites here. Holly Gramazio offers us a history of public play:


Tom Armitage plays with his cities:


Sam Hill uses SMS for his game, to make it as accessible as possible. (Its good to here the same thought we’d had  on making SMS part of our sadly unfunded Eastleigh project). Great stuff with user generated content too:


And finally Simon Johnson talks pervasive games, including Zombie Chase: