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.
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.
2018 has been a really busy year for us. Here are all the things that we delivered.
Open Data Camp
We hosted UK Open Data Camp’s first ever visit North of the border in November. Over a hundred people travelled to Aberdeen for two days of unconferencing where there were 44 sessions run on a variety of data-related topics. Some people went for an Aberdeen version of the Joy Diversion walk around old Aberdeen, and others discovered the pleasure of logging Open Benches. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and there were loads of write-ups.
Code the City Hack Weekends
We had two great Code The City Events: CTC13 – Hacking our Relationship with Alcohol, and CTC14 – Archaeology. Both were well attended and produced some very interesting results. The first saw us tackling some interesting real-world problems, helping people to overcome problems, and build a machine learning model to predict whether a beer can design would be more likely to be perceived as alcoholic or not. A report of the weekend is being written as an academic paper for a forthcoming health conference!
The second weekend saw us scanning and creating 3D renders of six real skeletons with mobile phones. We also began to create a 3D model of the church in which the dig took place, and generate data from written logs to populate that.
Well done to all who participated. We got some great feedback on each event.
Wearing our ODI hats, we launched the new monthly Data Meetups in April – and managed to squeeze in nine of them this year. These are really well attended, and saw over 300 people in total coming out on a Tuesday night to hear speakers from across the country on a diverse range of data topics. These ranged from Creating a Data Culture in your business, to public Open Data; from the data of Scottish Football to the use of blockchain in Oil and Gas; and from the use of IoT in Agriculture to extracting data from photos published on Flickr in order to assist conservation.
We’ve also been lobbying the Scottish Government and the city council on Open Data, as Ian has been writing on our sister site. That is starting to bear fruit. Aberdeen City Council have soft-launched a new open data platform, and are recruiting a manager for their open data work. While this is good, it is not as impressive as Dundee and Perth‘s new platforms, yet. The Scottish Cities Alliance are recruiting a new programme manager, and Ian has been invited to be part of a round table discussion on the way forward for Open Data hosted by the Scottish Government next February. It sounds like things will start to move in the right direction in 2019!
Ian and Andrew have worked with ODI HQ to run two local workshops, contributing to two national pieces of research: the first on the effects of Peer to Peer markets on accommodation, and a second on what barriers there are to the better use of Ordnance Survey data and services.
Here’s to an equally successful 2019! Have a great festive break folks!
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.
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.
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. This process has been described 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
During Codethecity 13, a project arose around the clarity of labelling of alcohol, initiated following a presentation from @wayne_gault about alcohol labelling and marketing.
Quickly the focus of discussion moved to craft beer, and the rising importance of graphic design in the branding and positioning of the various craft breweries, often using cartoon and other colourful illustrative styles. In a competitive market with many new entrants it’s no surprise that some corners are being cut. Sometimes through a lack of awareness of the issue, sometimes not so much.
Sending one particularly colourful can to the Google Vision API was telling. Google identified it as a “Yellow, Aluminium Can, of Soft Drink”. You can try the vision API yourself here.
The team working on this issue came up with the idea of creating a new version of reCaptcha. Rather than clicking on all the store fronts, or vehicles, you would click on all the beers, or all the energy drinks.
This would both raise awareness of the issue, and provide a data set to demonstrate the level of confusion around specific labels. If the ‘spongebob’ beer in the mockup below is regularly identified as an energy drink, perhaps the labelling falls short of the standard.
How this could be useful
The Portman Group publishes the Code of Practice for the naming, packaging and promotion of alcoholic drinks. An ultimate goal of the CANtcha team was to use data generated from the app to add weight to submissions to the Portman Group where packaging falls short of the Code.
Some early (and far from rigorous given the timescales) testing showed that enough of the alcohol was being misidentified that an issue likely exists.
Even though this was a very brief, short lived prototype – I’ll never look at a beer in the same way again
I subscribe to a craft beer delivery service. It sends me a case every now and then with enough interesting beer from around the world to keep my ‘bottle of hipster a week’ habit going.
A case just arrived.
Now that I’m aware of the Portman rules, I couldn’t help wonder what CANtcha would make of a couple of them:
I suspect both of these might fall short on one or more counts. I also love both of them. The Google API mentioned above identifies one as beer, and the other as an energy drink. It’s likely obvious which is which.
Neither is identified as a can of coffee, surprisingly.
At Code The City we are always looking for opportunities to work with volunteers.
We recognise that this not only helps us to delivery on our charity’s aims, but also helps the volunteers themselves.
We’ve just published an overview of the opportunities, with a new volunteer form, and mention of the upcoming ‘I volunteered at Codethecity’ t-shirts. Guaranteed to be the must have fashion item of 2018.
So if you’d like to help us at upcoming hack weekends, please check out that page and fill out the form.