@HeritageJam 2015 diary 2 – MLA

Hmmmm, looks like I might have found myself on two online teams for Heritage Jam 2015. The first looks like being more story based, the second more technological. Were I more stupid I’d try and get the two teams working together, but the scope of the second team’s project seems perfect for the time available, and layering story on top would kick it into the realm of impossibility. Also though I know I have one conspirator on the story project, another who expressed an interest has since been silent, so it may not be a team as much as a duo!

I have a teleconference with the second team this afternoon, so beforehand I’m pulling together a few links I’ve seen recently about the challenge we have set ourselves: Mobile Location Analytics.

All the rage in the world of retail, this is technology that tracks mobile devices around shops and malls (shopping centres), to learn about how the people those devices are attached to, move around the space. A bit creepy, eh? The key thing is that this information is anonymised. The point is not to learn about the behavior of particular individuals, but rather to understand how the spaces work – how long do shoppers have to wait at the tills for example.

(It’s worth pointing out that there are creepier applications. One company, for example, offers to tell brands whether individuals go into their shops after being served an advert for the brand, which implies somewhat less anonymity.)

The (mostly American) companies that provide the anonymised analytics services have grouped together as the Future of Privacy Forum, to agree and promote ethical guidelines for the technology and run a customer facing website that allows users to opt out of tracking.

Most of the systems rely on extant wi-fi networks to do the job, as this white paper from Cisco explains. But of course many museums don’t currently have wi-fi throughout their galleries, so the opportunity to use established services, even the free Euclid Express, is limited.

So we’ve got an idea about using Heritage Jam as an opportunity to hack a cheap, open source solution for museums, without extant Wi-Fi, wanting to track their visitors around their collections. We’ve got a location that wants to try this out, too. One of the challenges (and luckily the one which I think, being a noninexpert-technologist, I’ll be most useful on) will be working out how we make visitors aware of, and (hopefully) comfortable with, the study and/or give them the opportunity to opt out.

If it works, it might even form the basis for a more responsive museum environment, as I described when I was last at York. But we’ll leave that idea until Heritage Jam 2016!

If there’s one thing you do in September…

…  visit Lightscape at Houghton Hall (Norfolk)

Why? Houghton Hall is a place like many of those the National Trust looks after, but still family-owned and managed. David, the current Marquess of Cholmondeley, is, like generations before him, a patron of the arts. Houghton Hall gives us a glimpse of some National Trust places might look like, if patronage and collecting had continued up to the present day. The gardens are a place of surprise and delight, with contemporary sculptures including a Richard Long (above) and, from Jeppe Hein, Waterflame, a burning fountain. But of special interest this year is a retrospective of works by James Turrell, including two permanent commissions for the Houghton Hall landscape. Turrell’s deceptively simple works are incredibly powerful, and you’ll likely never again have a chance to see so many together in the same place.

But it’s not just the art, the service is exemplary. And for the late night openings on Fridays and Saturdays, there’s a pop-up café, in keeping with spirit of place, that we can all learn from.

Yes it’s a little bit out of the way for those of us who don’t live in Norfolk, but make a weekend of it, it is worth it.  


@HeritageJam 2015 diary, 1: Frustration

I woke up this morning with the day planned out in my head.

I was doing to listen to everything I could find by a composer I hardly knew on Apple Music, while digging out a bunch of index cards and a marker pen. I was going to, in script-writing terms, “break” my story. I had a ghost of a graph in my head, and very specific ideas about a running time (45 minutes max, if you are interested). I had all sorts of story elements buzzing around too: a moment of disorientation as with waking from (or falling into) a dream; a conversation with a “genius loci”; a revelation which may have been a moment of self-realization (“am I … a slave?”); too many more to list. But I had only the vaguest idea which ideas I should use, and what order they should do in.

I knew there WAS an order, or that one would become apparent, because order is what turns events into kernels and facts into narrative. I wasn’t even sure how many narratives I’d find, but I wasn’t worried about that. I could discard or include as many as I wanted. What I needed to do was move events around on my dining room table (or the floor) and see what emerged. Maybe take some photos, or maybe if things went really well, transcribe everything into Scapple.

That’s was the plan. It didn’t work out. Moments before I got an email from my prospective teammate saying what a great idea it was, I got an email from the stakeholders I really need approval from, saying that approval wasn’t forthcoming.

So, I need another idea, and I’ve been thinking what that might be. Yesterday afternoon, after the theme was announced, I was bouncing off the walls. The theme was almost too good  – there were too many possibilities. I was buzzing with them – I couldn’t sit down. I had to find things to do, like washing up, or bringing the washing in, to calm my brain down. When the idea finally came, it seemed so obvious, so perfect, I couldn’t quite work out why I hadn’t thought of it first.

But this morning has been very different. The energy has been sucked out. Everything I think of, every other idea I had yesterday, comes up wanting against what I really want to do, but can’t. Yesterday afternoon was full of possibilities, this morning has been full of barriers.

So I need to get out. Get some fresh air, some inspiration. One of the ideas I had this morning and haven’t fully rejected, is trying to something based around Basing House. The thing is, I’ve never been there. Its one of those places that so local I never visit it, because I always could next week. So this is just the impetus I need to actually go and check it out, see if it inspires me…

Guess what?

Closed on Fridays.

I’ve signed up for #HeritageJam

The theme for Heritage Jam 2015 was announced today, and booking opened. The theme is Museums and Collections, which is so far up my street, its on my front step, knocking on the door!

So I signed up for the In Person element at University of York (maybe showing too much eagerness, I think I may have been the first). And while I’ve not yet signed up for the On-line element (which runs until the eve of the York event, 24th September), I do have a great idea for it.

I can’t share that idea yet, until I’ve checked a couple of things out. But if those things do check out OK I’ll share more later. 😉

By the way if you want to sign up, you have until the 24th August, which isn’t what I said in my earlier post.

Mapping four different emotional models

I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this, or indeed if I’m going anywhere at all, but I wanted the give it a try.

Yesterday’s post, about Panksepp and the deep instinctive play emotion network in rats (and other mammals and maybe even birds), and taking my kids to see Inside Out a couple of weeks ago (if you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it – not as strong as Toy Story, Wall-E or Up) made me want to cross reference his list with Paul Ekman’s list of universal expressions. On his commercial site, Ekman currently seems to be claiming credit for Inside Out, which I guess is why Disgust features as a character. (Damn, now I want to put little pictures of each character in the table as well – which is all the evidence that I must stop mucking about with it and tidy our dining room/study for our approaching guests.)

So I’ve spent most of the day re-reading bits of Panksepp, Ekman, Lazarro and Sylvester and seeing if each of the models lines up to tell me anything interesting. Along the way I’ve made some other notes. For example  – contentment, relief and satisfaction seem like pretty deepseated emotions that should figure, or have equivalents, in Panksepp’s schema. Where should they go? Are they simply Homeostatic? or are they part of the SEEKING network? Also, a number of things that Lazarro calls “emotions” seem really out of place in this table, are the emotions at all? Or are they behaviours? That said what she calls Schadenfreude, really does seem to fit in the Panksepp’s emotional model – though he doesn’t use that word, he does describe the affect as part of “the dark side of human laughter.” Oh, and I need to see in Panksepp has anything to say about flow.

In conclusion I’m not sure if all this work does tell me anything interesting, but you can see the results below and I’m going to sleep on it (after I’ve tidied the dining room).

A table mapping out different “emotion” models (work very much in progress)

Neuroscience >> Psychology >> Games Triggers
Panksepp Ekman Lazarro Sylvester Notes
SEEKING Excitement? Excitement (S, P)

Curiosity (E)

RAGE Anger Frustration (H)


CARE Love, Generosity(P) Character arc


PLAY Amusement Amusement (P)
Homeostatic affects Eg HUNGER THIRST
Sensory affects Disgust

Sensory pleasure

Visceral (S)? Eg DISGUST
Emotional control Mediate (S)?


Schadenfreude (P)? (Play)

Secondary process
Social emotions  




Pride in achievement


Social bonding (P)


Embarrass (P)


Fiero (H), Naches (P)

Gratitude (P)

Ridicule (P)

Learn (S)?

Envy (P)







Tertiary process



Pleasure from work(S) ?(flow)?

Boredom (H)

Wonder (E)


Relax (S)

Elevation (P)

Inspiration (P)





Tickling Rats

At the stage reached by the age of three, and after ages four, five and six, play will be necessary. These are games which nature herself suggests at that age; children readily invent these for themselves when  left in one another’s company.

Plato, The Laws VII, 794

When you tickle a rat, it makes 50-kHz ultrasonic sounds or “chirps”. We know this because scientist Jaak Panksepp has tickled a lot of rats. Panksepp is a neurobiologist who, with psychotherapist Lucy Biven, wrote my holiday reading, The Archaeology of Mind. Panksepp doesn’t just tickle rats for fun. He is engaged in serious research. He noticed that rats make the same 50-kHz noise when they play among themselves, especially when that play is characterised by “pins” (think wrestling-style pins) and dorsal contact – the rough-and-tumble play that Panskepp is careful not to call play-fighting. (He is concerned that people misinterpret play as a form of aggression, and that parents may be causing developmental harm when they discourage the more boisterous forms of rough -and-tumble play.) That said, even rats’ rough-and-tumble play can sometimes turn into fighting. When rats actually fight, they make a lower 22-kHz ultrasonic sound and “when this happens, playful signs-the frantic hopping, darting and pouncing – immediately stop.”

So, after two years of observation (and tickling) the team proved that the 50-kHz ultrasonic chirps are rat laughter, and the 22-kHz sounds are “complaints.” His thesis is that all mammals share seven instinctive emotions, even if different species’ higher brain  functions can be very different. He labels the seven core emotions thus:

  • RAGE
  • FEAR
  • LUST
  • CARE
  • PLAY

“It is hard to define play,” he says “but you know it when you see it. Perhaps the best general definition has recently (2005) been suggested by Gordon Burghardt, consisting of five criteria:

  1. The adaptive functions of play are not fully evident at the time play occurs;
  2. play is a spontaneous activity, done for its own sake, because it is fun (pleasurable);
  3. play is an exaggerated and incomplete form of adult activities;
  4. play exhibits many repetitive activities, done with abundant variations, unlike serious behaviors that are not as flexible; and
  5. animals must be well fed, comfortable, and healthy for play or occur, and all stressors reduce play.”

Panksepp illustrates this last point with a personal anecdote “if a laboratory researcher has a pet cat at home and he is not careful to change his clothes before going to work, we will have a difficult time studying the play of rats because the odor of cats intrinsically scares rats, and fearful rats simply do not play.”

But why do we and other mammals share this instinctive play emotion? Well, as he says in his TED talk (below) science doesn’t answer the question why, it only answers “how.” But he does have some ideas about how play helps “the young to learn nonsocial physical skills like hunting, foraging and so on. It is also surely important for acquiring many social capacities, especially nascent aggressive, courting, sexual and in some species competitive and perhaps even parenting skills. It may be an essential force for the construction of the many higher functions of our social brains. Playful activities may help young animals learn to identify individuals with whom they can develop cooperative relationships and know who to avoid […] In short, the brain’s PLAY networks may help stitch individuals into the stratified social fabric that will be the staging ground for their lives.”

Though he doesn’t spend much ink on the higher brain function aspects of adult, human, play (games, sports etc) he does draw a comparison between the rough-and-tumble play he studies and the teasing repartee or word-play that can be observed in older humans.

All in all its been a very satisfying read, and I want to read more, especially his chapter on learning and memory. But for this post I’ll leave you with his TED talk which is an effective summary his 50 year career, and benefits it may be producing in the treatment of depression.