At Code The City our objective is help our local community become literate in both technology and data and to use them to full advantage. We help people, organisations and charities to gain the right skills. We are improving what we do at Code The City, and how we do it: changes which are fundamental to making that vision a reality.
Our work up to now
Over the past five years we’ve run 16 Hack Weekends and, in Spring 2018, we started to host monthly data meet-ups. Both things have been very successful but are not the sum total of our ambitions. To deliver those fully we needed a base from which to operate and to grow.
We’re now set up in the ONE Tech Hub, hosted by ONE Codebase. This has cemented our position as part of the local ecosystem. Since moving in six weeks ago we’ve launched the Young City Coders sessions. Our first one, last week attracted 22 keen young people and there is a waiting list for places. We’ll run those twice a month from now on. We’re really grateful for assitance we have received. Inoapps gave us sponsorship to get these sessions started, and both they and the James Hutton Institute donated used laptops.
The immediate future
In another six weeks or so we’ll start a Tech Tribe. That’s the name we’ve given to a programme to get people, and women in particular, into STEM careers and education. Many of them missed the chance first time round. The Data Lab already sponsor our Data Meet-ups and are now sponsoring these sessions, too.
All this educational activity is reliant on volunteer time. Two of our founders, Ian and Bruce, have now become STEM ambassadors. Part of that was getting PVG checks to allow them to work with children and vulnerable adults. We have a handful of others who are going to go through the same process. But, we want to be resilient, and scale up and so we need more people. If you would like to volunteer and get the appropriate certification, please get in touch.
This week also sees the start of the new Aberdeen Python User Group which kicks off on Wednesday. Python is by many measures the most popular, flexible and growing programming language which is used in data science, astronomy, biology, security, web development…. the list is endless.
Our next Hack Weekend will be in November and will address volunteering and civic engagement. We also hope to run another hack weekend in December just before Christmas.
We are planning a springtime event: the Scottish Open Data Unconference. Details will be announced of these very soon.
A picture takes shape
All this is like a jigsaw puzzle, the picture of which is gradually emerging as we fit the pieces together.
By running coding sessions for youngsters and mums, we are starting to help families better understand the potential of data and technology to transform their lives.
By creating Data and Python Meet-ups we are creating networking opportunities. These raise awareness of the good work that is going on in academia and industry. It exposes employers to graduate talent. We help people to share their skills, experience and expertise and to self-organise.
By running hack events we are helping charities and public sector organisations to make the most of the opportunities of digital and data to transform. We also help the local tech community of coders and developers and others to give something back to worthy causes.
By leading projects such as Aberdeen Air Quality we put the creation of data into people’s hands. This demonstrates the potential of collective endeavour for a common cause. The data is made available openly for anyone to build any new product or service. And it offers up the potential for schools and universities to use that data to better understand the local environment.
By running a national unconference we bring specialists, experts, and a wider network to the city to mix with local practitioners. This facilitates discussions at local, regional and national levels and between data users, publishers and academics at every level.
Our charity values. Your values?
In addition to all of the above, Ian, our founder CEO, is a non-executive director of the UK-wide Community Interest Company, Democracy Club. Its strapline is “Our vision is of a country with the digital foundations to support everyone’s participation in democratic life.” Now, Ian has joined the steering group of Scotland’s Open Government Network. He is also now on the board of Stirling University-led project, Data Commons.
The commitment of our charity and its founders is to create that better world underpinned by data and digital, from the ground up. That means running events of many kinds. empowering people, giving them the skills and knowledge they need.
You can do your bit too: come to meet-ups; share your work; be part of a network; becoming a STEM ambassador; coach and mentor others, put something back.
Last weekend we hosted the second Aberdeen Air Quality hack weekend in recent months. Coming out it there are a number of tasks which we need to work on next. While some of these fall to the community to deliver, there are also significant opportunities for us to work with partners.
While the Air Aberdeen website is better, we still need to apply the styling that was created at the weekend.
We’ve established that the DHT022 chips which we use in the standard Luftdaten device model have challenges in working in our maritime climate. They get saturated and stop reporting meaningful values. There is a fix which is to use BME380 chips in their place. These will continue to give humidity and temperature readings, plus pressure, but due to the different technology used will handle the humidity better. Knowing local humidity is important (see weather data below). So, we need to adapt the design of all new devices to use these chips, and retrofit the existing devices with the new chips.
Placement of new devices
We launched in February with a target of 50 sensors by the end of June and 100 by the end of the year. So far attendees have built 55 devices of which 34 are currently, or have recently been, live. That leaves 21 in people’s hands that are still to be registered and turned on. We’re offering help to those hosts to make them live.
Further, with the generous sponsorship of Converged, Codify, and now IFB we will shortly build 30 more devices, and that will take us to a total of 85. We’ve had an approach by a local company who may be able to sponsor another 40. So, it looks like we will soon exceed the 100 target. Where do we locate these new ones? We need to have a plan to strategically place those around the city where they would be most useful which is where the map, above, comes in.
Community plus council?
We really want to work with the local authority on several aspects of the project. It’s not them versus us. We all gain by working together. There are several areas that we could collaborate on, in addition to the strategic placement of future devices.
For example, we’ve been in discussions with the local authority’s education service with a view to siting a box on every one of the 60 schools in the city. That would take us to about 185 devices – far in excess of the target. Doing that needs funding, and while the technology challenge to get them on the network is trivial, ensuring that the devices survive on the exterior of the buildings might be a challenge.
Also, we’ve asked but had no response to our request to co-locate one of our devices on a roadside monitoring station which would allow us to check the correlation between the outputs of the two. We need to pursue that again.
Comparing our data suggests that we can more than fill in gaps in the local council’s data. The map of the central part of Aberdeen in the image above, shows all of the six official sensors (green) and 12 of the 24 community sensors that we have in the city (in red). You can also see great gaps where there are no sensors which again shows the need for strategic placement of the new ones.
We’ve calculated that with a hundred sensors we’d have 84,096,000 data observations per year for the city, all as open data. The local authority, with six sensors each publishing three items of data hourly, have 157,680 readings per annum – which is 0.18% of the community readings (and if we reach 185 devices then ACC’s data is about 0.10% or 1/1000th of the community data) and the latter of course, besides being properly open-licensed, has much greater granularity and geographic spread.
We need to ensure that we gather historic and new weather data and use that to check if adjustments are needed to PM values. Given that the one-person team who was going to work on this at CTC16 disappeared, we need to first set up that weather data gathering, then apply some algorithms to adjust the data when needed, then make that data available.
Engagement with Academia
We need to get the two local universities aboard, particularly on the data science work. We have some academics and post-grads who attend our events, but how do we get the data used in classes and projects? How do we attract more students to work with us? And , again we need to get schools to only hosting the devices but the pupils using the data to understand their local environment?
The cool stuff
Finally, we when we have the data collected, cleaned, and curated, and APIs in place (from the green up through orange to red layers below) we can start to build some cool things (the blue layers).
These might include, but are not limited to:
data science-driven predictive models of forecast AQ in local areas,
public health alerts,
mobile apps to guide you where it is safe to walk, cycle, jog or suggest cleaner routes to school for children,
logging AQ over time and measuring changes,
correlating local AQ with admissions to hospital of cases of COPD and other health conditions
inform debate and the formulation of local government strategy and policy.
As we saw at CTC16, we could also provide the basis for people to innovate using the data. One great example was the hacked LED table-top lamp which changes colour depending on the AQ outside. Others want to develop personalised dashboards.
Join us on 8th and 9th June for a diverse hack weekend as we work together to identify Air Quality issues and fix them.
According to the last air quality report for Aberdeen, we have some of the worst air in Scotland. Even though we live on the coast, and generally have a nice breeze, we still have bad air days. Particulate matter is so small that we can’t see the risks: clear air does not mean clean air. This leads to health issues for some of us, and our families. It also affects how busy the health services are too.
There are some official monitors available for the city, but they don’t have widespread coverage. This means you are unlikely to be able to check the air quality around your house, your child’s school, your cycle commute or where you go running. With your help we would like to change that.
Clean Air Aberdeen sprang from our February Code the City co-design event focusing on air quality. We built some sensors, developed some analytics, and explored how to take this work further. At the end the participants wanted this to continue through an ad-hoc organisation aimed at monitoring air quality in Aberdeen as written up here. The data from every sensor is published as open data which can be used to create new products and services.
As before, we’ll follow our usual co-design approach to gather interesting ideas of projects, and form mixed ability teams from attending students, professionals, developers, and designers to work on ideas over the weekend.
Activities will probably include
Building sensor kits each day
Gathering weather data
Improve monitoring of devices
Use data science to create predictive models
Match open health data with areas of poor AQ
Creating alerts (hitting triggers)
Test for exceeding daily limits etc
Hosting of data for re-use
Governance activity (Saturday)
Better understanding of device limitations (sensitivity, fog, …)
Discussion of any known issues/bugs (getting people to install units once built)
Comms and promotion
Designing UK network meetup for other city projects
And did we mention food? We’ll have great catering from social enterprise The Bread Maker, thanks to sponsorship by Forty Two Studio.
We hope you will join us and encourage friends and colleagues to get involved.
Please don’t delay as the event is only two weeks away.
Update: A write-up of this event which took place on 16-17th February 2019 is available on this page.
How much do you care about the quality of the air you breathe as you walk to work or university, take the kids to school, cycle or jog, or open your bedroom window?
How good is the air you are breathing? How do you know? What are the levels of particulates (PM2.5 or PM10) and why is this important?
When do these levels go up or down? What does that mean?
Who warns you? Where do they get their data, and how good is it?
Where do you get information, or alerts that you can trust?
We aim to sort this in Aberdeen
Partnering with community groups, Aberdeen University and 57 North Hacklab, we are working on a longterm project to build and deploy community-built, and hosted, sensors for PM2.5 and PM10. We aim to have fifty of these in place in the next few months, across Aberdeen. You can see some early ones in place and generating data here.
The first significant milestone of this will be the community workshop we are holding on 16-17 February 2019. If you want to be part of it, you can get a ticket here. But, be quick; they are going quickly.
There are loads of things you can do if you attend.
For a small cost, you can come along and build your own sensor with someone to help you, and take it home to plug into your home wifi. It will then contribute data for your part of the city.
But we will be doing much more than that.
Working with the data
If you have experience in data science or data analysis, or if you want to work with those who do, there are loads of options to work with the data from existing and future sensors.
Allow historical reading to be analysed against the official government sensors for comparison
Use the data; wind speed, humidity… to build live maps of readings to identify sources of emissions.
Compensate readings from sensors against factors which affect pollution levels to attempt to understand the emissions of pollutants in a given area.