Thursday, 17 September 2015

Modelling William Hayley's relationships

First baby steps

Inspired – and emboldened – by having battled my way through Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist, I decided to try applying what I've learned from the book to modelling William Hayley's relationships.

I started with a blank A3 page and my trusty Muji mechanical pencil, and got as far as this –

First attempt at modelling Hayley's relationships. HasMaster and hasMistress will be replaced by hasEmployer. And hasInBed (well, it was a first attempt) will be replaced by hasMistress.

– before realising
  1. I needed a different term for "mistress". HasMistress could be used to describe both William Hayley's relationship with Mary Cockerell, the mother of his child, but also the relationship Mary Cockerell had with Eliza, Hayley's wife: Mary was, for some of the time, Eliza's maid. (I'll now be using hasEmployer for the servant->master/mistress relationship, and hasMistress for sexual relationships. Not yet sure what I'll call the inverse relathionship, though, but would welcome suggestions in the comments or via Twitter).
  2. before starting this process, I needed to list all the people Hayley had relationships with, and then select those who were most significant.

Urk. Is this really a good use of my time?

So, worrying that this might all be a colossal waste of time, I trawled through the 1,858 relevant records in my database, identifying 375 individuals with whom Hayley mentioned contact, along with a number whose work or reputations influence his work or behaviour. Then I picked 87 out of the 375 whose relationship with him felt significant enough to model.

There's a second page, too…
The highlights mark friend and/or family relationships, the ticks signify predominantly work relationships, although some of these are debatable. For instance, I've ticked Dr Nathaniel Cotton but although he and Hayley didn't have a lot contact over time, their interests and relationships had several significan overlaps.

My next step will be to take that list of 87 people, and further explore the nature of their relationships with William Hayley and each other. This will involve thinking about what makes a relationship significant – endurance, impact,  and how I signal the different kinds of significant relationships. Please send large sheets of paper, coloured pens and caffeine.

Impact on the narrative journey

Even this first, hesitant, part of the process has prompted me to think in more depth about the overall reader journey:
  • How many of Hayley's friends, relatives and other contacts do readers need to know about?
  • How much do they need to know about them?
  • How – and when – will they find out about them?
  • How and where do readers fit into Hayley's network?
This sparked another, related, question about communicating content. What do I do about those topics Hayley wouldn't want to raise? Or, at least, that he wouldn't want to raise with just anybody?

For instance, from the sheer number of mentions money gets throughout his memoirs and letters, managing his finances, limiting expenditure, and bringing in enough to support his household, were clearly major preoccupations, and cast light on what life would have been like for him and his dependents. But he's unlikely to raise the subject of his own volition.

So how do I build that into the narrative?

Two ways spring to mind
  • cover financial matters in my commentary
  • have Hayley write personalised accounts to certain readers - which will require a form asking people about their work/status
I'll explore both options. But probably not for a couple of weeks as next week I'll be bodyboarding in the south of France. There will, undoubtedly, be embarrassing photos…

Incidentally, another good thing that's happened as a result of embarking on this, has been contact, through Twitter, with artist China Blue, who's been working on social "connectome" paintings highlighting "the odd and interesting connections that we do and don't know about peoples lives", focusing on artists and artistic genres.

Yep. An excellent use of my time.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Blast Theory's Karen

The life coach from hell (or Brighton)

There are two types of life coach. Those that have led full and/or successful lives, overcome adversity and amassed a bunch of wisdom that they transmit, gently, to their clients, and the others. Karen, played to terrific effect by Claire Cage in Blast Theory's app, is one of the latter.

Designed to demonstrate how much information about ourselves we reveal to commercial interests and others who collect and use our data, Karen is, um, a blast.

During each episode – these are made available once or twice a day over ten days – she asks us questions, most of which are derived from psychological assessment tools. These 'coaching sessions, are interwoven with a story – a forking path narrative – the course of which is, I think, influenced by our answers. Not sure about that: will need to have another play and answer differently to be sure. The events may be the same, the difference may be the part we play in them.

Our answers do, however, contribute directly to the psychological profile/assessment that's available to buy for £2.99 once the app/story has run its course. More on this later.

Within a day or two (the events unfold over 10 days in realtime) Karen abandons her initially professional demeanour, as seen in this introductory video…

… and descend into oversharing and neediness. Increasingly, she implicates us in the messiness of her life and her complex relationship with a man called Dave (played by Chris Jared), who turns out to be more than her flatmate.

Compelling mini-soap

Karen makes for a very successful mini-soap. It's compelling and the excellent scripting, performances, filmed-on-a-smartphone feel, choice of locations and set design render it genuinely immersive and compelling. By day nine, Karen had invaded my dream life, and not in a good way.

The story trajectory feels natural and I felt drawn into some form of 'relationship' with the character: although the suspension of disbelief was enjoyably partial, meaning that I didn't feel I needed to be kind to Karen – or feel guilty when I wasn't. And - given that over half of the people who, to date, have "been measured on this scale" (I'm quoting from my data report) disrespected Karen's privacy – I don't think I'm alone in responding like that. The other possible conclusion is that the majority of us are potential secret police informants. As an article in Der Speigl suggests that about 18% of the population of Rostock occasionally acted as informants to the Stasi, it looks like my initial hypothesis might be closer to the truth (phew).

Controlling behaviour

The questions Karen (and occasionally Dave) ask feel relevant and, often, appropriately inappropriate. Only one tripped me up. I was asked to move a slider on a scale to indicate how far my "significant other" was "in control" or "cared for". I misunderstood. Assuming that "in control" meant in control of their own life, I moved the slider to that end of the scale. Karen's response, made it clear that the question was, in fact, exploring where the power lay within the relationship. Not sure what that misconception says about me and the data report didn't tell me.

Information & privacy

"Rest assured," says the intro to the data report
"others are using your data with greater sophistication and colder intent. Hopefully Karen highlights some of the queasy feelings that highly personalised and mildly intrusive data collection can trigger."
It didn't have that effect on me, because – contrary to my report which claimed I have "an external locus of control"  – I felt in control of my answers to Karen's questions. And, to be honest, I feel sufficiently in control of how much I reveal about myself and my life online in general. This is partly, because, however flawed it is, however much I dislike the current government, I live in a liberal democracy, where the worst that's likely to happen to me is that a) I embarrass myself and b) someone tries to sell me something that I don't want (happens all the time) or c) that I've just bought (also happens all the time).

Also – and, according to my data report, like the majority of those who've used/played with the app – I am an open person. I don't believe that someone who knows about me knows, or has power over, me. My story is the lizard tail I leave behind.

Matt Adams from Blast Theory talks to Tech Times about Karen

There's also a fascinating video on Blast Theory's website where Matt Adams explains how Karen uses interactivity.

Karen is made by Blast Theory in collaboration with National Theatre Wales, Dr Kelly Page and the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham. It was co-commissioned by The Space.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist: Chapter 16

In this, the last chapter of Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist, the authors riff briefly on the history and context of data modeling for the web: how the processes and practices build on the "heritage of of knowledge modeling languages", but do so in an environment that "is so revolutionary that it is often compared in cultural significance to the invention of the printing press".
"The Semantic Web is the application of advanced technologies that have been used in the context of artificial intelligence, expert systems and business rules execution in the context of a World Wide Web of information. The Semantic Web… isn't on the web; it is the Web"
Where it's different from anything that precedes it is the way it brings "information from many sources … to one's fingertips". But then a library does that. Or, arguably, an encyclopaedia. What really differentiates the Web is that it brings the information a) sorted and b) on demand.

The reason that OWL seems – and is – pretty "primitive" compared "to the knowledge representation systems that were developed in the context of expert systems" is not entirely because it's at a much earlier stage of development, but because of what people want from the web: "typically people don't want machines to behave like experts, they want to have access to information so they can exhibit expert performance at just the right time." Hmmm… True for search engines: don't know about you, but I definitely want a satnav, for instance, to behave like an expert…

Where the Semantic Web goes "one step further" than the Web, is that while the "Web is effective at bringing any single resource" to our attention, "if the information the user needs is not represented in a single place, the job of integration rests with the user." However, the Semantic Web "uses expert system technology to gather information so an individual can have integrated access to the web of information." The Semantic Web, in other words, makes the connections for the user. Unlike a satnav app, it doesn't tell the user what to do with them.

So, the fact that OWL is comparatively primitive "is appropriate for a Web language", because "a primitive knowledge modeling language can yield impressive results when it uses information sources from around the world." Its power is in how it accesses and assimilates the huge amounts of content available across the web – and in how it enables newly available content to be added to the mix as and when it's added to the Web. Data models "on the Semantic Web play the role of the intermediaries that describe the relationships among information from various sources". And the web ontology language tools covered in this book "provide the framework for the pieces an engineer can use to build a model with dynamic behaviour … and … provide mechanisms for specifying how information flows through the model" and how different bits of information relate to each other.

Or as one, much more technically adept friend put it: it's conceptually difficult because you're modeling information about information. And that, in itself, is tough to get your head round.

So what have I learned from this book?

It's difficult to say at this stage, because, aside from using it for the design of my new MOO Cards

This makes more sense when you know the job title on the reverse is "Person"
 … I've yet to put anything I've read into practice.

  1. over the next few weeks, I'm going to try and model the relationships between as many as possible of the people who appear in the zoeography
  2. there's a helpful "Frequently asked questions" section at the end of the book that directs readers to specific pages with instructions on specific issues
I'll report back later. Not sure exactly when: next week I'm planning to write about Blast Theory's Karen. And after that, I'm hoping to have more progress to report on the technical and design development of the zoeography.

In the meantime, if you've been reading this – thank you very much for doing so.
If this is your first visit, my journey through Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist started here.