CTC14 Archaeology Weekend – write up

We held our CTC14 Archaeology weekend, which was sponsored by Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service, on the weekend of 15 and 16 September 2018.
All code, and some data and documentation which were created over the weekend has been published on Github repos. 

Background

Throughout 2006 an archaeological dig of the East Kirk of the St Nicholas Church was conducted by a team led by the archaeology service of Aberdeen City Council. You can read more of the history here. A large number of skeletal remains and other artefacts were recovered. Written records were created in the form of plans, and log books, and some of these were drawn, then scanned, and a MS Access 2 Database was also created.

Since the end of the dig, some post-excavation analysis of skeletal remains, and other artefacts, has been conducted, but this is far from complete due to a lack of funds.

Saturday – getting started

Following an introduction from Ali Cameron, the dig director, challenges were identified,  ideas for tackling those identified, and teams formed around those.

The teams, and their projects, created a pipeline; one feeding the other.

Below we introduce the teams. Each of these will shortly be linked to individual blog posts for each team.

The Teams

Team Scoliosis

They had two aims:

  • to re-label photos and bringing them together for the ‘skelelocator’ team,
  • to lay out skeletons and explore options for 3D scanning using mobile apps and cameras with photos offloaded to laptops for processing.

Team Skelocator

Working from CSV files (derived from an Access 2 MDB file), JPEG diagrams, Corel Photopaint files and even using original hand-draw plans and log books, this team aimed to create a complete set of data of all excavated remains, allowing these to be plotted in 3D space using X, Y and Z coordinates.

Team Skeleton Bridge

This team set out to create a  schema and mesh diagram which would use the data from team skelocator in a format which the unity burials could use.

Team Unity Burials

The members of this team wanted to create a 3D model of the church interior in Unity, and to place skeletal remains accurately in the 3D space, moving from block models to accurate ones. Their initial focus was on setting up the deployment of their basics to GitHub and to speak to the other teams about what the formats of data they could work with in order to move this along faster

Team PR and Marketing

This team was looking at stories that would help drive any fundraising later, and exploring what data might be possible for visualisations.

Saturday 5pm update

The second round of updates at 5pm on Saturday saw each team make progress.

Team Scoliosis

They were using Qlone for scanning from mobile phones and found it takes only a few minutes per bone – this is also the app recommend for this by Historic Scotland. However, they are blocked by the size of the paper grid that is needed under the object being scanned. An A3 sheet is not quite big enough for larger bones. Another group found it took 20 minutes with laptop to produce low res version from camera photos, and all tried pushing completed models to Sketchfab site.

Team Skelocator

They explored raw files to see what could be extracted with different tools looking at exif data and whether this could be supplemented with data from the dig books if necessary.

Team Skeleton Bridge

It appeared that there was no need for this team as Skelocator could output neutral format files, with agreed content, directly to team Unity Burials. So the team disbanded and members were absorbed into other teams.

Team Unity Burials

They were experimenting with how they can manipulate data from one app to another to provide reference points for when they do have the skeletons to place in the model, and how they might show the metadata of each skeleton too.

Team PR and Marketing

This team were exploring how to use the Microsoft ML libraries to build a chatbot that would use FAQ information about the dig to answer questions.

Sunday morning

The Sunday had teams coming together from 9:30-10:30 and most people returned which was good. We saw an update around noon.

Team Scoliosis

The team used Qlone to scan more bones with mobiles. They discovered the resolution was high enough, even on smaller ones, to be able to notice things which hadn’t previously been noticed such as what appear to be sword cuts to a rib bone (white marks) on a person who was known to have been stabbed in the head.

This highlights the importance of scanning the bodies while they are available before re-internment at a later date. The larger scans with Qlone were found to be too big for detail as you had to stand further away and thus lost resolution.

Team Skelocator

They are now using the Python library Sloth to bring the images to life by extracting text from them and putting this into a JSON file. They also found this enabled a way to position each of the skeletons by marking their locations on the image and then creating a grid for reference from a known fixed location, which could also be used by the unity burial team.

Team Unity Burials

One member worked out a convoluted, but workable, process to get images into Unity from other file formats, while another team member worked on a UI for the public to navigate the model.

Team PR and Marketing (aka skeleton)

They started a chatbot, but found it needs to have its data in a better format, and are starting to work with with cleaning up a list of skeletons for using with dc.js visualisations, as well as a webpage for holding the data from the other teams.

Final presentations on Sunday afternoon – 4pm

Team Scoliosis

Everything is being brought together in Sketchfab so that all models can be found.

https://sketchfab.com/models/6edc98b057c740b5a66d34276ee261da/embed St Nicholas Kirk Skeleton SK820 Skull by Moira Blackmore on Sketchfab

They are exploring how to combine smaller models to create bigger ones by exporting them into another app. They discovered the limits of scaling the grid in Qlone to get the best resolution with devices, and how to use photos and a laptop to get a scan of whole skeleton using the right background cloth.

Team Skelocator

They further pulled data from processed photos with x,y,z locations from a superimposed grid that could be automated with human double-checking to make up for the lack of GPS being available for their tools in 2006, as it is now. This can then be handed to unity burials.

Team Unity Burials

One member found more ways to bring in scanned data from team scoliosis, while the other improved upon the UI for the VR version and demoed the basic model to people with the VR headset.

Team PR and Marketing (aka skeleton)

They updated their google doc spreadsheet and pulled it into the pages at GitHub.io so that it could be queried for skeleton info and finished adding the basic visualisations of this data with dc.js while the skelebot was improved with some personality, but wasn’t as useful as it was hoped it would be.

Take-aways from the weekend

  1. We saw how well cross-functional teams worked as there was usually someone around during the event who could help with something, and that within each team people were able to bring diverse experience to help with issues. This was most apparent during the ‘round ups’ of team effort when people heard what others were doing or trying to do.
  2. We learned that skeletons hundreds of years old, and paper records of 12 years ago ensured durability of information, while a two year old tech gadget from Google was found to be useless after it updated itself as google had stopped the project, so its built in two-camera scanner couldn’t be used. Similarly file formats which were common at the time of the dig, just 12 years ago, were challenging to access.
  3. We also found that these ‘strongly themed’ events work well for participation. We had 28 attendees on Saturday and 25 on Sunday.

Hack and Co-design Events

Harnessing the collective intelligence of crowds can take many forms, and a common version in the tech community is the gathering where people come together to put together potential solutions. This can take many forms, from ‘jams’ in the design community, to the co-design and hack events that we’ll talk about here.

20171125_121721

There is more to this than bringing the right people together. There are the goals of the event. What should the outcome be for the event? How should the event be facilitated? What’s the schedule for the event? The organisers also need to consider where and when the event will be held, as well as how the event should be funded, and if food and other refreshments are to be provided. Then there’s the recruiting participants, and then deciding at various times whether you have/don’t have enough people signed up and what you might do about that to recruit more attendees. Then even when the event has started the issues don’t stop as you need to manage contingencies on the go if people don’t turn up, or the heating disappears for your February event in a cold, snowy climate. Organising events is a non-stop rollercoaster of thrills and spills.

Hackathons, co-design events, what’s the difference?

If this is a collection of whoever comes, then this is a hackathon, or hack event. This generally leads to similar participants on the teams with little diversity. Sometimes these are run for computing students by other computing students with prizes provided by industry as a way to engage students. Sometimes it’s a group exploring what’s possible with the given tech.

If there is consideration given to ensuring a diverse balance between stakeholders (people from organisations involved, and the people who will use the system), who can help define and clarify the challenges, and the community of designers, developers, and tech folks, who are wanting to help prototype solutions, then this is a co-design event. At CodeTheCity we strive to ensure we organise and facilitate co-design events, as we’ll explain below, because these provide a better outcome for everyone.

At a hackathon ideas are proposed and solutions thrown together by the developers based on their assumptions, and interests. This often ignores the human element of the challenge, and the resulting hack remains unvalidated by the community, which is supposed to use this potential solution. Often this looks like ‘a database to gather all local events so you always know what’s going on’. The team then spend lots of time detailing the structure of the database, and the library to use for the interface. This ignores the main social challenges with this potential solution: How will people know it’s there? Who will put new things in, and update changes? Who will weed out incorrect, or duplicate information? More importantly perhaps, this ignores whether this is the challenge facing people trying to work out what to do this coming weekend. It might be a solution looking for a problem. It might be a solution to the wrong challenge as it hasn’t been validated by the people who are proposing the challenge.

Hack events can be fun and exciting, but doesn’t usually lead to solutions that live beyond the event. We have done these for fun as we sought to balance our serious events with more light-hearted ones at Christmas time where people brought their own challenges for the weekend, or we explored a new type of technology such as chatbots. The results have all sat there unused, unless it was a hack started by someone before the event.

A CTC Workshop
CTC Workshop

We use the phrase co-design to express the idea that it is a collective, or communal process to design a potential solution to a specific challenge offered by the stakeholders. We want to include most of the relevant stakeholders in seeking to develop a solution on how we might address their challenge. We want to validate our assumptions about the challenge posed by the stakeholders as we co-create a solution with our participants. We want to find out how people currently decide what to do at the weekend as a starting point, and build on these ideas to determine what a better solution would include, and then explore a number of different ways in which we might achieve this goal.

Then, and only then, do we start to develop a prototype. We seek to spend more time exploring the challenge space before diving into a potential solution. We give in to our curiosity to explore the challenge more, and to generate a number of possible options, which can be evaluated to see which one offers the ‘best’ potential given what we know at the time. I’ve described this process elsewhere if you want to know more about how to ‘diverge’ and ‘converge’ for creativity.

The goal in all of this is to build potentially workable solutions to challenges so that the stakeholders can see which of the potential options they had is the most viable. A co-design event helps to clarify the unknowns around potential solutions so that knowledge is advanced. Now the stakeholder knows that one idea needs further thought, another could work, and that what looked like it might be a great idea, was really an illusion. All of this for a weekend of food, drink and fun. Not a bad exchange really.

The participants come for other reasons. The have a chance to work on real challenges with new people. They have an opportunity to stretch their abilities and gain new skills. The food and drink are nice, but they’re not the real reason people come. They come to see friends, make new ones, and to help make the world a better place thanks to their hard work over a weekend.

As organisers we enjoy helping facilitate the finding of solutions to the challenges brought to our attendees by our stakeholders. We enjoy seeing the diverse group of people come together from developers, designers and our stakeholders. It’s especially pleasing when we see some of these apps and ideas making their way into the world. We also enjoy seeing repeat attendees developing their skills and friendships over time too.

If you think a co-design event would benefit your organisation, or if you are struggling with intractable problems and think that a fresh approach could help, then get in touch via an email to bruce@codethecity.org