Written by Michael Hockenhull, ETHOS Lab manager.
As the almost indian summer of the last couple of weeks transitions into proper cool danish fall, it seems fitting to think back on the summer that passed in ETHOS Lab. Normally the ITU, and by extension the lab, falls quiet during the summer break as everyone is on vacation. This summer was different however. On Monday 11th of July, head of lab Marisa Cohn welcomed 14 participants to the first ever ETHOS Summer Lab. Marisa’s opening remarks made clear that the summer lab, like ETHOS Lab itself, was meant as a time and a space for experimentation. This was indeed the theme of the summer lab, and the following week ended up containing plenty of that.
The participants mostly came from the ITU itself, but brought a variety of projects that they wished to work on. The summer lab was precisely a lab, a place for experimentation, and not a regular summer school. There were no ECTS points awarded and almost no teaching. Instead, participants brought the ideas that were passionate projects, but which they did not have time to work on during the busyness of everyday life: wiring sensors to instrument a cafe, building a predictive data maintenance model, collecting brain data and make it open source, designing a big-data-driven resource for analysing movies, analysing data on the danish housing market and more. There were so many great and interesting ideas, and many of us there wished we could have worked on all of them.
Watch this video to get an impression on one of the activities held during the summer lab: a workshop by Jan Redzisz on the futures of technology. Thanks to Mette Størup for filming, cutting and producing!
In the spirit of the theme, we started every day of the week long summer lab with a small lightning talk on the topic of experimentation. On the Tuesday we were guested by Mads Korsgaard, psychologist and employee of the Digital Social Science Lab, who talked about experimentation as a means to innovation, about flow and about changing things up. On Wednesday, Jacob Wachmann, consultant for ReD Associates came by and talked about doing breaching experiments to see how informants react when taken out of their normal habits. On Thursday, ITU postdoc Pedro Ferreira joined us and explained how one might create experimental research designs to capture ephemeral elements of user behaviour, like he and colleagues had done by developing an app that tracked battery consumption. And finally, on Friday, I had the pleasure of giving a talk about thought experiments, and their role in moving the scientific and philosophical field forward.
And that was just during the mornings of course. During the day the participants worked on their respective projects, some having joined each others, some working alone, but everyone doing so industriously. As ETHOS Lab itself couldn’t fit all of us, we took over the tables on the first floor. There was a great mood of activity as people worked with buzzing arduinos, wrangled data sources online or 3D printed brain-scanning headsets. People would visit each other’s projects and chat about this and that. You can see a condensation of this buzz of activity in the project on arduinos in the video below, made by one of the participants, Mette Størup:
Watch this video to get an impression of the arduino project during the summer lab. Thanks to Mette Størup for filming, cutting and producing!
To break things up, we also had a day of something completely different from the project work, in the form of a workshop day on the Wednesday. Here, guest researcher Jan Redzisz engaged the participants in a speculative game he is developing, to think through the potential futures that the projects they were working on might lead to. This sounds abstract, but Jan has written some great pieces for ETHOS Lab that explains it in much more detail here and here. For our projects, it meant a structured brainstorm with various scenarios to think about and discuss. It was a great way to get more insight into each other’s projects. We also had a workshop on how to do basic operations on a server using a command line interface, and another workshop on trying to create cool looking gifs out of visualisation software such as Gephi and Tableau. You can see the result of one of those, made by participant Michael Berg Nielsen below.
GIF of a ForceAtlas2 spatialisation algorithm being applied to a network in Gephi. By Michael Berg Nielsen.
While the workshops were a lot of fun and a good diversion from the ongoing project work, we also had some real relaxation and social events planned for the summer lab. Maybe going a bit overboard, there was an activity planned almost every afternoon at 18:00 when project work had ended. Movie viewing (suitably, we watched Hackers), Super Smash Bros. Tournament and an outing for a quiz at the bar Farfars in town. On the last evening of the week, following a wrap up and presentation of all the projects to head of lab Rachel Douglas-Jones, who supplied great feedback and concluding remarks, we had dinner and a party at a location in town, which I cannot disclose for reasons of national security. But it was damn fun for everyone involved!
The ETHOS Summer Lab was a week of wild experimentation, both in range and ambition of projects, but also in hosting such a thing. We had never tried it before in the lab, and thanks goes out to Nynne Nikoline Holm and Cæcilie Laursen who helped organise and coordinate. Every day during the week we had delicious lunch which we arranged at long communal table on the platform on the 1st floor in the Atrium. The high spirits at these lunches were in no small part due to the work done by Nynne and Cæcilie. Also thank you to the heads of lab, Marisa and Rachel, for taking time out of their busy calendars to join us and put things in perspective. Finally, belated thanks to all of the participants, who brought lots of geeky passion, and for deciding to spend a week of your summer trying this thing out.
For those who participated and for us in the lab, ETHOS Summer Lab felt like a great success. We have no plans for a Winter Lab, nor have we started planning for next summer. But I’d be very surprised if there won’t be a summer lab or maybe even a school at ETHOS next summer. If you thought the above sounded even remotely fun and interesting, watch this space for more info.