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WAISfest 2014

Thu 31st July 2014

The last weekend of July 2014 was dominated by WAISfest, the research festival held by my research group WAIS. This year I was heavily involved in organising the event, after we managed to convince the academics to relinquish organisational control to the people of the lab, who make up more than three-quarters of the participants of WAISfest. I decided to blog about the event as a way of capturing the essence of the event, for future members of WAIS.

Day 1

Kick Off

WAISfest pitch coffee At 9.30am on Thursday, fuelled by pastries and coffee, 55 or so members of WAIS arrived in a lecture theatre to kick off WAISfest. Our new head of group, Luc Moreau, gave an introduction to the idea of WAISfest and a thanks to the organisers and for everyone for taking part. Then I sped through a reminder of the schedule, pointing out when I expected people to meet back up, when the social events were, and when the opportunities for free food were 🙂 There were a record 11 themes this year, more than any previous year. Their titles were:

Charlie pitching Implicitly-crowdsourced sensing

Checking the pulse (Thur 2pm)

After I returned from lunch, I spent about quarter of an hour buzzing round all the groups I could find to see how they were getting on. Unfortunately a lot of them had disappeared for a late lunch. Visualising Impact – I had a chat with Will about the impact tracker his company has built, and whether it could be used to track WAISfest. It was a little bit late to be asking the question, now the event had already started, but he did give me access to the system, so I intend to test whether I can capture interesting information in it, with scope to get everyone to use it next time. Coffee Room – there were remnants of 2 groups in the coffee room. The crowdsourcing open data group had mostly headed off to manually gather some data, but I did find their plans on the whiteboard. The other group were the printing receipts for transactions where you exchange data for a product. At the time, they were having some issues because their thermal printer hadn’t been delivered yet and they couldn’t source one locally, but they were coming up with some novel solutions, such as printing to a web-connected thermal printer and watching on the web-cam! Linking accessibility data – seemed engrossed, so I didn’t bother them too much. They seemed to have a lot of data to be working with, so were busy! Location-aware narrative – this group seem to do well every WAISfest, and everyone looked busy doing something. I believe they’re heading out to build a narrative of the Southampton City Walls tomorrow, which should be exciting: field trip! Model Internet – working hard as well. They had calculated that actually modelling packets moving around even a small corner of the Internet would be way too intensive, so have rescoped to simulate traffic levels at various parts of the Internet, which should make the task more manageable. Recognising sites from afar – my group, so I know how we were going! We had gathered screenshots for the 50 most visited sites in the UK, to were discussing the effect of shrinking them and a protocol for doing an in-person experiment (can people recognise the sites on a screen from different distances). I didn’t really get a chance to checkup on the groups again because I was working on my theme, but I’ll do another summary after the Friday lunchtime status update.

Boardgames (social)

Thursday evening consisted of an opportunity to play some boardgames, an event organised by Jonny. There were about a dozen people there, so we split into 2 groups. I think the other group played Once Upon a Time and War on Terror. Charlie, Matt, Jonny and I played Robinson Crusoe, which was interesting, though difficult. It’s a collaborative game (I like these a lot), but gruellingly hard. The premise is that all the players have been shipwrecked on an island, and you have to take various actions to survive (by getting food and shelter). We played one of the 6 scenarios (purportedly the easiest!), which required us to collect enough wood to build a big fire, and survive long enough for a ship to sail past (which was actually fixed at round 12). We lost because one of our players “died” in round 7, because the weather had turned inclement and we didn’t have enough food and shelter to help us through. It felt as if the game was balanced a little on the difficult side, but it may also be that the amount of randomness (there is a lot of dice-rolling, as well as a lot of shuffled decks of cards to draw from) means that it’s only possible to win unless you get perfect dice-rolls. Nevertheless, it was intriguing enough to make me want to play it again and get closer to winning 🙂 WAISfest lunchtime update

Day 2

Quite a quiet day. I was busy running an experiment, so didn’t get a chance to float around the groups too much. We did have a lunch and status update session, which seemed to go quite well. We videoed it:


Sunday of WAISfest weekend saw the annual WAIS barbecue! Stalwarts and contemporary members of the lab, along with their families, joined together to eat, drink and play. BBQ pit and people Chris' gazebo BBQ pit and people This year our venue was the BBQ pit between South Hill and Hartley Grove halls, which has a huge open, grassy area proividing us plenty of room for frisbee and football. With the addition of Chris’ gazebo and a couple of picnic blankets and camping chairs we had the perfect environment for a WAIS BBQ!

Charlie, Jon and Phil at the BBQ Disposable BBQs Smoky BBQ

Disaster almost struck, when it turned out that BBQ pit did not have a shelf for charcoal. Luckily, before the ravenous hordes started tucking into raw meat, Chris produced a portable BBQ and Mike sped off to B&Q to pick up 12 disposable barbecues for £24 (bargain)! Before too long, the frisbee pitch was filled with smoke and the smell of chargrilled food 🙂 Under the gazebo Salads on table Chillin' on the grass While the BBQ situation was being resolved, Yvonne, Pla and Priyanka handmade a fabulous selection of salads to accompany the meat. These were all amazing, so we must heartily thank these three for the delicious salad! WAIS BBQ: The End

Day 3

Narrative: almost done! Model Internet: almost done! Alan Walks Wales: almost done! The final day of WAISfest had a similar feel to the second day, with maybe a soupçon of panic, as the 4pm wrap-up deadline approached. Just after lunch, I managed to do a short visit to all the groups I could find, to remind them about the wrap up. Everyone seemed reasonably calm though many reported there were things they didn’t have time to finish. MOOC Observatory: almost done! Almost empty coffee room Linking people: almost done! The wrap up was run fairly ruthlessly, with 5 minutes per group (getting warnings at 2 minutes to go and 30 seconds to go). Each group reported back their successes and findings, as well as their experiences of attempting their task and how they might continue this work in the future.

COMING SOON: In another blog post, I will post videos of the wrap ups with a little summary of each.Whiteboard walls Internet graph

Immediately after the wrap up finished, everyone headed back over to the Building 32 Coffee Room for pizza and an opportunity to discuss each other’s results (as there was no time for questions between presentations)! Lots of talking went on here, and everyone seemed in good spirits, so I think overall WAISfest did a good job of letting our researchers work on something a little different and engage in conversation with some new people. In my mind at least, that’s a success!

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