This weekend we’ve been at the Field Studies Council’s Margham Discovery Centre, on the hills overlooking Port Talbot steelworks. The Enhancing Fieldwork Learning project kindly invited us to demonstrate ERA technology to key UK fieldwork education practitioners alongside an engaging 2-day programme of presentations, discussions and traditional Welsh weather.
On July 7th, the ERA team and our Plymouth University GEES collaborators John Maskell, Paul Lunt, Jason Truscott, Matt Sharples and Alison Stokes demonstrated the use of remote learning with ERA technology at the Devon Great Consols site. A minibus load of delegates from both the GEES Subject Centre 10th Anniversary Conference and the GEES Early Career Lecturers Workshop were shown a remote investigation of the site, delivered by John Maskall and Paul Lunt, with Matt Sharples as camera operator.
At the end of June, we conducted some experiments to evaluate the performance of ERA-assisted fieldwork compared to the same fieldwork task being performed by students visiting the site directly. Four groups of students volunteers visited Devon Great Consols to perform an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) task related to a fictional plan to exploit metals available in the waste heaps on the site, left over from its time as an arsenic extraction plant in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Here’s a 2 minute video we produced for our field trials in Plymouth as an introduction to the ERA project.
Following the release of the new 9.10 ‘Karmic Koala’ version of Ubuntu, we installed it on one of the Asus 901s, trying out a new configuration of all ext4 disk partitions and no swap partition. Discovering that the ‘Netbook Remix’ (UNR) release of the operating system now could only use the mobile phone look-alike interface and had the Desktop-Switcher package removed, we followed forum advice and tried the full Ubuntu 9.10 release instead. Having disabled the ‘wobbly windows’ graphics enhancements in Gnome, Ubuntu 9.10 was no trouble on the Asus 901 – all the devices worked from the start, dialogue and menu boxes fitted in the available screen area by default. One of the main reasons for trying Ubuntu 9.10 was to experiment with an early desire of ERA to use the bluetooth audio headsets commonly available for mobile phones instead of wired mic-and-headphones devices. With our Ubuntu 9.04 UNR installations we couldn’t get this to work, despite spending a frustrating day or two in early July with the latest software then available. At that time, improved bluetooth interaction with beta Pulseaudio releases and experimental device control with Blueman were not integrated into Ubuntu releases, but promised to make bluetooth audio as simple under Ubuntu as it is on a mobile phone.
A much cheaper solution for IP video than the Axis Q7401, the Edimax IC-3010WG network camera is only £80 from use-IP.co.uk. For your money, you get a white plastic camera with a choice of wired or wifi network connections with a maximum resolution of 640×480 at 30fps. Video streams are available in either M-JPEG or MPEG-4, with a built-in microphone and 3.5mm audio-output jack. The lens is fixed focal length and autofocus down to about 25-30cm, there is a reverse-SMA connector for the supplied wifi antenna on top of the unit and a 1/4″W standard camera tripod thread unusually placed on the back. Continue reading
Yesterday was our first opportunity to take the brand new Axis Q7401 video encoder for a test drive. It’s a well engineered and rugged unit which takes composite video and turns it into an M-JPEG or h.264 MPEG-4 stream. The Q7401 can be powered by either 12v DC or PoE, has an SDHC slot for recording video straight to flash memory, audio inputs and outputs, a serial interface for remotely controlling camera movements and an I/O connector for (e.g) plugging in sensors, or switching lights and buzzers. Continue reading
Last Wednesday we did some testing of our Asterisk MeetMe setup, at dekspc medialab in London. Setting up the Asterisk server on the local wired LAN and assembling an assortment of 6 SIP clients, using Ekiga on both Windows and Linux platforms, and a Mac running the SIP client Telephone. Each client registered with Asterisk as users era1 -> era9 and dialled ‘1234’ for the MeetMe conference room. Continue reading