Working from home

An overnight change in worklife

Within the space of a week the routine I have honed for many years was brought to a grinding halt. With hundreds of thousands of people affected, it was not a matter of “should I isolate” but “I am going to isolate, how should I do it productively”. Being productive during this difficult time means not just looking after the emails, but oneself. The mental burden isolation can carry is immense and it should not be underestimated. So here is my battle plan for the next few weeks (and if need be, months).

Separation without the anxiety

One of the biggest issues I grappled with was the separation between work and home. I have always worked outside of my home. Sure, there have been “working from home days” but those were few and far between. Most importantly, there was an end date. I have to admit, I was anxious about bringing my work home. “Will be as productive at home as I am in the office?” I asked. “When does work end and home begin?” I wondered. “If I empty the laundry during the day, am I doing this on my or the company’s time?”. Obviously, I was just working myself up into a frenzy for nothing. In fact, it is highly recommended that you get up from your desk often during the day. Load the washing machine, take the rubbish out, make a cup of tea. 5-10-minute breaks every so often are encouraged. I also found that creating a specific work station was essential to separate my work/home life.

Work station at home

Not having an office, I did take over some of the dining table but it is now my work area. It is not a “one size fits all” situation, individuality is key. It is important for each individual to think about the conditions under which they can be most productive, taking into account workflow and emotional response.

Reading more than just emails

There is no escaping the stark realisation that the emails will not stop. I am, however, going to expand my literary horizons (and indulge in old favourites for comfort). Here is my panacea for the monotony of emails: books.

A collection of books

Since I am not able to travel to France, I will follow Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan on their adventures through Paris. I will people watch through the anthropological writings of Kate Fox and I will “evolve” with Daniel Dennett’s work on consciousness.

Keeping to a schedule

Isolation can be, for a lack of a better word, isolating. On average, we spend more time at work than at home. We have a schedule to follow, meetings and coffee breaks. This is an important pattern to follow. I have always woken up at 6.30am to get to work for 8am. I will still do that, whether it means indulging in a more imaginative breakfast than muesli or fitting in a longer morning jog, I will not stray far from my morning rituals. Speaking of exercise, I am fortunate to live in a remote location so my daily jog involves seeing only the sheep in the fields. I stick to the remoteness of the moors. I am also trying to utilise video-conferencing as much as possible, whether it is in my personal life with friends and family locked down across the world as well as in my worklife.

Yorkshire Games Festival

Yorkshire Games Festival

From the perspective of a former game developer – Baran Usta

As a former developer, and avid gamer, I was very excited to be part of Yorkshire Games Festival, as part of my secondment at the National Science and Media Museum. It is not only because I got to listen to exciting talks given by the professionals working in the game industry, but also because of the training and workshops prepared for the enthusiastic students who are planning to be involved in this industry. The industry is vast, however, and there are various ways to take part. These range from being a designer to being an organizer of an e-sport event. As a former developer who had a chance to observe different stages of publishing a game, from conception to release, I was curious more about how these professionals were going to give talks about their expertise to such a diverse audience and communicate their messages. I have always found that very challenging. What I was looking forward to observing, was how they can convey abstract details and concepts while simultaneously bringing everybody to the same level of understanding. Although the game conference was organized more for the people who are exploring the career options in the industry, there were a lot of activities organized for the high school students to learn developing games using popular game engines. There were also workshops aimed at elementary school students to learn basics of coding. For me, when the content is complex by its nature and the audience is this broad, it is especially difficult to give a good talk. In that sense, it was an incredible experience! I observed how different presenters interact with the audience to convey their message. As a side benefit, I got to play some cool games that are not published yet!

Yorkshire Games Festival 2020 coding workshop for students

The events and activities were organized with three main target groups in mind. The first group were kids who were either visiting the museum with their parents or on a class trip. We attended a session where the kids learned about the basic concepts of space and physics in a very clear and engaging way. It was fascinating to see how the kids were excited about what they learned. Happy to learn, in fact. Especially when they see the applications of the concepts with hands-on experiments, they became a lot more engaged.

Baran Usta playing computer games during Yorkshire Games Festival 2020

Aspiring young students who were interested in the industry or people who are in the early stages of their career and interested in learning more constituted the largest group. As previously mentioned, although the wide range of topics was presented all of the talks were successfully tailored to include everyone in the audience. The presenters really did a fantastic job at engaging the whole audience at any given time. Of course, a level of technological details had to be provided. In this case, they explained the concept in a very concise and simple way making sure that everyone is able to follow the rest of the presentation. Presenting difficult information in an accessible way is important, however, it is not the only piece required to communicate the message; the way they present plays a crucial role as well. For me, it was an educational experience to see how effective humor could be in keeping the audience’s attention. Humor sometimes helped them give the audience some time to digest the information they presented.

Talk “Welcome To Exploring Space” during the Yorkshire Games Festival 2020

The last group contained a number of sessions and workshops for students who enjoy playing games and have interest in the industry but have limited knowledge of game development. Some of the sessions were to teach them basics. There were two stages in these sessions: they had to determine the rules and the gameplay in the first step and implement those using different tools depending on their background in the second. It was interesting to see the different difficulty levels available depending on the student’s background. For example, for the students who are in elementary school, most of the functionality was already implemented and available as code blocks. The students had to put them in the right order to obtain the correct execution whereas the students in high school had to implement some functionality on their own to get a gameplay they had designed.

Students on a class trip during a workshop at the Yorkshire Games Festival 2020

Overall, my secondment at the Yorkshire Games Festival helped gain perspective about all the different communication elements critical in engaging people from diverse backgrounds and ages. Moreover, I figured out these festivals are necessary not only for the audience to learn about new developments but also for the people who are presenting it, especially for the scientist. This is because scientists usually do not have direct access to see people reactions to their work, which I saw can be very motivating. For example, seeing a kid amazed and fascinated after figuring out how sound travels through matter was an incredible experience for me since it also reminded me how I was amazed and still feeling thrilled when I learn more about science. I call this secondment a success.  

Exciting start to 2020

DyViTo would like to wish everyone a great start to 2020. We have several exciting events happening in the first 3 months of 2020.

Ellen De Korte has started her split secondment at the beginning of January. She has started at the University of Delft and she will be traveling to the University of Giessenduring the second half of her secondment. We wish her the best of luck!

Muge Cavdan and Jacob Cheeseman, from the University of Giessen, together with Baran Usta, from University of Delft, will be coming to Bradford at the beginning of February. They will be doing their secondment at the National Museum of Science and Media during their Yorkshire Gaming Festival. The festival is held from 5th until 9th February, with 5 days dedicated to celebrating games culture with workshops, masterclasses and special guests. Muge, Jacob and Baran will be helping with our partners during one of the biggest events in Yorkshire!

If that was not exciting enough, University of Cambridge will be hosting the whole DyViTo project for our Network Meeting and Workshops. As well as exciting talks and lectures from leading scientists int he fields of neuroscience and visual perception, the team in Cambridge is planning team building activities and round table sit-down with members of Downing College.

 

 

DyViTO Workshop 2019 in Cappadocia

We are beyond grateful to Professor Huseyin Boyaci and his team at the University of Bilkent not just for organising an event to host the consortium but for choosing such a fascinating location like Cappadocia.

Fairy chimneys in Cappadocia

Cappadocia holds wonder everywhere you look. From the carved layers of volcanic tufa, shaped by wind and water that are the fairy chimneys to the beautiful fertile lands of the Pigeon Valley, strewn with orchards and grapevines. Wondering up to Uchisar Castle, imposing and dividing in opinion.

Uchisar Castle in Cappadocia

All the while, Mount Erciyes is looming in the distance, a snow covered giant. All this landscape is mixed within a historical region that was a melting pot of cultures and beliefs, from ancient Hatti culture to Romans and Christians.

Mount Erciyes in the background

All DyViTo members are looking forward to learning more about this beautiful and magical region. Although we have a very busy week with some of the best speakers in the field attending hosted at the Argos Hotel, there is always time for tea.

Turkish tea on the terrace of the Argos Hotel

Visual Science of Art Conference 2019

Written by Jacob Cheeseman

As someone who considers himself a scientist first, and an artist second, I came to the Visual Science of Art Conference (VSAC) 2019 with keen interest. The meeting aims to enhance our scientific understanding of how visual artists depict the world, and to further communication between fields that, while traditionally divided within academia, share a passion for seeing.
This year we were gathered in Leuven, Belgium, a city that could well have the perfect balance of culture and functionality. And the opening reception was held at the Stadhuis, an absolutely gorgeous example of 15th-century gothic architecture. Our group was welcomed in this grand hall by no less than the mayor of Leuven, Mohamed Ridouani, whose presence signified how this alliance of art and science has strengthened both communities.

Stadhuis van Leuven

The content of the meeting spanned a range of diverse topics, including the visual perception of material properties, empirical aesthetics, and historical studies of rendering techniques. There was also no shortage of visual art—the work of Maaike Schoorel being a notable example. Working from reference photographs of real scenes, she paints a kind of phantasmic representation of the original image, accentuating only the critical lines and shading that suggest the underlying forms. The effect is to break any photographic constraints on interpretation, and to allow each viewer to project their own imagery onto the canvas.

Maaike Schoorel, Oranje Boterbloemen (Orange Buttercups), oil on canvas, 2011

The work I presented at the conference also deals with visual ambiguity, specifically the kind that depends on how we estimate distances in photographs. In everyday circumstances, our ability to identify surface material properties is effortless and automatic, but occasionally this ability can be challenged, especially when the visual pattern impedes a reliable estimation of distance. This can be seen in aerial photographs of planted fields, which can appear strikingly similar to woven fabric or textile. The pattern of light does not specify which interpretation is correct, and so our interpretations reveal what distances we have learned to associate with such images.

Jacob R. Cheeseman, Hunting for Ambiguity, photograph, 2018

In Jan Koenderink’s latest book, The Way of The Eye, he frames visual perception as a process of continually questioning our interpretations of images. Our first impression of what we are looking at is usually quite convincing, but if we relax our focus, other impressions enter into view. Surrealist painters like Dali seem to possess a supernatural talent for imagining multiple interpretations simultaneously, but how to compose photographs with this property strikes me as a slightly different, and perhaps more difficult task. When I asked Dr. Koenderink how one could compose such images, he suggested that it was a matter of attentional training.

To this end, I once spent a sunny afternoon in Giessen wandering around with my camera, hunting for ambiguous scenes. Although my perception of each scene was stable, by meditating on the question, “What else could this be?”, I began to see hints of possibility. By the end of that day I had hundreds of images, but not a clue whether any of them had captured what I had seen, or whether others would agree with my interpretations. One of my basic goals at VSAC was therefore to discuss this way of seeing with visual artists who play with ambiguity.

My line of questioning went something like this: “How does one compose images with multiple interpretations? While creating visual art, are you trying to reduce disparity between a mental image and a perceived image? Does one interpretation serve as the foundation for subsequent layers?” The answers I received to these questions were also rather ambiguous, which could mean that these are not the right questions, or that I am not ready for the answers. Maybe by the time this discussion resumes at next year’s meeting, I will be.