gadgets


Chuck Jones draws attention to a story on the Apple website that explains how iPads are used for research at Pompeii. “Dr. Steven Ellis … credits the introduction of six iPad devices at Pompeii with helping his team solve one of the most difficult problems of archaeological fieldwork: how to efficiently and accurately record the complex information they encounter in the trenches.” I looked up the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia (PARP:PS) of the University of Cincinnati: “Through the full range of archaeological inquiry – archaeological excavations, structural and artefactual analyses, and geophysical surveys – we are revealing the dynamic structural and social history of an entire Pompeian neighborhood.” On the Apple site, points out that “[a]lthough portable computers offer a paperless solution, field archaeologists rarely use them in the trenches because their size, input limitations, battery life, and sensitivity to dirt and heat make them impractical in the harsh conditions of a dig.”

The idea of using iPad to collect the massive data the project would generate came from Ellis’s University of Cincinnati colleague John Wallrodt, an expert on digital databases for archaeological projects. Wallrodt had looked unsuccessfully into using various tablet devices for field research, but when iPad was introduced in January 2010, he knew at once that it was right for their project. Says Wallrodt, “Perfectly portable, with no moving parts, a Multi-Touch screen, and a battery that lasts the whole workday, iPad was practically custom built for our needs.” Adds Ellis: “It was the ability to enter so many disparate kinds of information, recording everything from architectural elements to fish scales and bones to the actual sequences of events. That my team could both type and draw on the screen, and also examine all previously entered data, made it an ideal single-device solution.”

Beyond the scope of his project, Ellis sees iPad as revolutionizing the 300-year-old discipline of archaeological fieldwork. “A generation ago computers made it possible for scholars to move away from just looking at pretty pictures on walls and work with massive amounts of information and data. It was a huge leap forward. Using iPad to conduct our excavations is the next one. And I’m really proud to be a part of it.”

A brief note. I’ve recently joined the UC Berkeley School of Information and now run the Information and Service Design Program (warning: web-site is a draft!). It is an exciting place and tremendously challenging, but offers some wonderful opportunities to learn much and expand efforts toward better data sharing and communication in archaeology. I’ll be blogging more as I learn more about good “service” design and technologies and organizational.

I also recently wrote a short article for iCommons, an international access to knowledge organization affiliated with Creative Commons. The article is about traditional knowledge and the Access to Knowledge movement. It looks at the clash of viewpoints between some indigenous peoples intellectual property rights advocates and advocates of the Digital Commons. But it also looks at how these interests can find some common ground on issues of education, development, and activism, especially when it comes to free and open source software and community building tools.

Now that I have all these new “I” organizations in my life (I School, iCommons), I feel that maybe it’s time for an iPhone, to start exploring mobile and location based services (see discussion by my colleague, Erik Wilde) and to put another “I” in my life. Unfortunately the iPhone comes with i-crappy contract restrictions and costs lots of i-money.

So, I’m looking eagerly forward to this new gizmo, Open Moko, as a very capable alternative. It’s a wholly open mobile communications platform. Seems like it could be incredibly useful for archaeologists in the field, sending up observations in real time.

I’m familiarizing myself with the new terrain of the UC Berkeley School of Information (iSchool), and I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Erik Wilde, a member of the iSchool faculty with heavy XML research interests.

Anyway, Erik has a new iPhone, the little device which has sent Apple share-prices way up. He showed me the iPhone and how it connects to the web, plus some exciting ideas for new services that can piped into it. It feels like living in the future.

We also talked about what near continuous mobile web connectivity can give you in terms of social networking and geo-referenced data. One thing we’ve mused about is location awareness of the iPhone. It doesn’t have a GPS in it, but you can usually get some geo-location information through the IP addresses of the phone’s Internet connection and a website like this, which relates IP addresses to geographic locations. It might be fun to use the phones as a “friendar” (friend radar) to alert you when you’re near an acquaintance. Sounds fun, except Erik pointed out some obvious privacy issues. This type of thing would obviously be useful for tourists who visit places and augment their reality with web-based information of where they are. Geo-tagging web content should be an obvious concern for archaeologists and museum people who want to interact with the public.

Erik tried all this out, with the iPhone using both the local campus Wifi network and with the AT&T cellular network and an IP address geo-lookup service on the web. The AT&T network resolved to be in London (AT&T knows where his phone is, but doesn’t make it public), but the UC Berkeley network correctly resolved to be in Berkeley.  Some wireless networks will provide better geo-location than others, so interesting geo-location enabled services would work better in some places than others. Who knows, maybe enough networks are sufficiently “geo-localizable” to make building services for iPhone-like devices worthwhile.