CREATe Early Career Research Camp, May 2017


On the 4th and 5th of May 2017 I joined a group of other PhD students and Early Career Researchers for a day and a half of networking, discussion of interdisciplinary working, and research proposals at the CREATe Early Career Research Camp. The participants were a mixture of scholars from law, policy, economics, GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums), creative industries, cultural studies, computer science, and social science (and one vaguely lapsed psychologist). It was held at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow which is a great space for all sorts of meetings and collaborations.

After lunch on the first day, and an introduction to the two days, we rearranged the room into two rows and proceeded to ‘speed network’ with the rest of the participants. We had three minutes to introduce ourselves and our research interests, and discuss ways in which we could work together; this was the overall aim of the event – to find a group of around 5 people and come up with an 8-minute proposal for a collaboration. The winning proposal would win £1000 to carry out their ideas. From the networking and various chats throughout the day, I ended up in a group of 5 of us, all from different areas, but all interested in juxtapositions between the motivations of both creators and consumers.

Following the speed networking, the first panel session looked at ‘making interdisciplinary research work’. Each panelist took a turn to describe their own experiences with interdisciplinary research over their long and varied careers. It was nice to hear a lot said that very much coincides with my own limited experiences; the focus of many of the speakers on the importance of curiosity was also great to hear as I certainly don’t lack that. One of my main ‘problems’ over the years has been wanting to learn ALL THE THINGS. That’s probably why I’ve always been naturally drawn to working in different disciplines. The other major point that struck me was the discussion of language – how the same word can mean completely different things to different disciplines, or how commonplace words in one field may leave someone in another field completely stumped. It reminded me of a lot of my time in both Horizon and my internship at UEA and it’s a really important skill to learn, to be able to talk to people from varied fields.

2017-05-04 16.19.43

Chris Buccafusco speaks about Innovation and Intellectual Property

The other session on the first day was a presentation by Chris Buccafusco from Cardoza Law School about studying the creative process. I loved this session as it involved applying psychological experimentation and behavioural economics to studying the creativity. This included looking at innovation, IP, payment motivations, and a real live experiment (that worked)! The day ended with a meal at a brewery, the Drygate Brewing Company. It’s always good to catch up with people I have known through CREATe for the last 4 and a half years.

The second day began with a morning of panels: How to be an effective networker; Combining research techniques effectively; and Academics and the policy process. Once again it was great to hear from experienced academics and take away useful tidbits for my future career, research, and life. As much as I hate forced networking, it is an important skill, as is the combination of methods from different disciplines to mutual benefit, so I found the morning useful to my thought processes.

After this, all the proposal teams went away to discuss ideas and to come up with our 8 minute presentations. We enjoyed this part so much that we plan to keep in touch and advance our idea further. I think we came up with a really interesting idea with important connotations, and we managed to incorporate all of our different skills and viewpoints. The pitches took place at 3pm and were for the most part highly entertaining. The ultimate winner was definitely worthy, having come up with a new area of online creativity to study. I look forward to seeing what they do with their prize.

By the end of the event I was completely exhausted (having also been to Oxford, Vienna, the Yorkshire Dales, and Winchester in the previous three weeks for various reasons and fun times) but it was definitely worthwhile. The trains back to Nottingham were an absolute nightmare, with the most uncomfortable, jolty, bruise-inducing train I have ever been on. Not a great end to three brilliant weeks, and the insane amount of sleep I got that night and the next day was most welcome.


TRILCon 2017


2017-05-02 15.39.16


On the 3rd May 2017, members of the UnBias project including myself attended the 4th Winchester Conference on Trust, Risk, Information and the Law at the University of Winchester in Hampshire. The event brought together legal and technology scholars, industry practitioners, and policy makers, to discuss the overarching theme of “Artificial and De-Personalised Decision-Making: Machine-Learning, AI and Drones”. With keynotes from Professor Katie Atkinson (Professor of Computer Science at the University of Liverpool) and John McNamara (Senior Inventor and Innovation Centre Technologist Lead at IBM), the day involved a broad range of talks from various viewpoints. And with the day starting with a detailed discussion of baseball from a machine learning perspective (the Popov v Hayashi case of ball ownership!), and including an IoT space probe resembling BB-8, it was a very interesting and entertaining day.

An excellent summary (including mention of our project) of one of the major issures covered throughout the day can be found by Michael Cross in the Law Gazette, so I will just add a summary of the events I attended.

The first session we attended was on Artificial intelligence, decision-making, and the protection of human interests. First Kieron O’Hara discussed why it is so difficult to agree about privacy (what it is, who it effects, how important it is etc.) and provided some suggestions as to how to unify consideration of the concept from different disciplines and viewpoints. This was followed by Marion Oswald introducing a framework for assessing algorithmic tools which was developed in collaboration with Durham police – ALGO-CARE. I didn’t write down what the acronym stands for but it seemed like an interesting way to consider the development and use of tools in order that the decision-making remains in the hands of the human rather than the machine.

filter bubble 2

Filter bubble

The second morning session we chose was on ‘Data power and its regulation’, which started with a very interesting take on the Facebook news feed from a critical theory angle by Niall Doherty. It was nice to see him use one of the images we used in our sessions with young people to explain the filter bubble, but a lot of the deeper theory went straight over my head. This was followed by Reuben Binns discussing third party tracking on the web and in apps, another interesting topic for our work with young people in UnBias.

After one of the best buffet lunches that I have ever had at a conference, and being introduced to a space probe, we ran a workshop for the UnBias project. Providing a series of questions to consider trust, transparency and bias in systems used for legal decision-making (for example to predict reoffending), we split the participants into two groups and had some very interesting discussions, before presenting some of the results from our studies to date. Things they were asked to think about included the potential consequences of using algorithms in such decision making; whether humans or algorithms are more prone to bias; the issue of transparency versus the proprietary argument given by companies; and how to assess and ‘police’ fairness. We were particularly interested in how to make transparency meaningful, as simply making code open-source or releasing such details to the user is not necessarily very meaningful.

The day ended with a panel discussion and audience participation summing up our thoughts on the day, what we had learnt, and questions that have been raised. Overall, it was a worthwhile and interesting day. Also, Winchester is ridiculously lovely and I very much would like to go back. I was able to go down the day before and have a little explore. I saw the Round Table that my granddad’s coffee table is based on, which was quite moving, and the whole town is full of amazing old buildings and statues.

2017-05-02 15.37.38

Naked guy on a horse. As you do.

2017-02-02 09.01.00

Making good use of the Round Table.


It’ll Probably Be Fine.

round table

My coffee table is much smaller than this.

Having just recovered from two stomach bugs (thanks, Ellie!), I am about to embark on a mental few weeks in which I am in my office for two days out of a possible thirteen working days (twenty actual days), going to five different places including abroad. It’ll probably be fine. It will most definitely be fun. But I’m fully anticipating complete exhaustion by the end.

First. Easter. It all starts off pretty nicely, with a friend coming over tomorrow for board games, food, and wine. Then my mum arrives on Saturday with my aunt and uncle and we will all go for a lovely lunch; mum is staying until Monday so I will cook up an Easter storm on Sunday.

Second. Oxford. On Tuesday I’m heading to Oxford to present at a seminar on Wednesday. Looking forward to spending some time in my favourite city among museums and architecture and other such joys.

Then. The week after I will be in Vienna for two nights, probably spending my days sitting in a cafe and working on my thesis among more museums and architecture (and wine).

That Friday, the day after we get back, we are going to the Yorkshire Dales for the bank holiday weekend, staying with a large group of friends and colleagues in a bunkhouse, where no doubt much wine/whisky/rum/etc will be consumed and various walks will be completed.

Then. We get back from Yorkshire on Monday lunchtime-ish and on Tuesday morning I am heading straight down to Winchester to attend and help run a workshop on Wednesday at the 4th Winchester Conference on Trust, Risk, Information, and the Law. Going early means I will get to see Arthur’s round table in the Great Hall (above), which I have a replica of as a coffee table, left to me by my granddad and much loved my whole life.

From Winchester I will fly to Glasgow to attend the CREATe Early Career Research Camp, before getting the train back on Friday night. I also have a paper and an abstract to submit in this time.

I fully intend to blog about all of these things (particularly the three work trips) after they happen, so watch this space. If you want to. I mean, I’m not going to force you.


Copyright and online artists

Content-sharing service

Chainsawsuit by Kris Straub. Image source.

I was recently contacted by the lovely people at Justis One, a legal research database and resource site, who were interested in a paper I published in May in the online journal First Monday called “How relevant is copyright to online artists? A qualitative study of understandings, coping strategies, and possible solutions“.

As a result a blog post ‘interview’ has now been published over on their site. I’m really please they found the paper and were interested enough to get in touch, and I hope it will lead to others looking into this important issue. In the meantime, you can read the article here.

I drew a Venn Diagram…

Websites used for webcomics

…It includes all of the websites that were identified by the respondents to my very first questionnaire for my thesis. It’s really hard to read because the writing has to be so small, so whilst I was planning on putting it in my thesis it may end up banished to the Appendices. I am quite pleased with it as it gives a much better idea of how people get their webcomics fix than writing about it which has become very convoluted and confusing.

Anyway, I like it, and I thought some people might be interested in it, and I didn’t want it to go to waste, so enjoy!

The questions that lead to these websites asked what people used to access or post either a) webcomics b) additional content related to a specific webcomic or c) additional content related to webcomics in general. I had 209 responses to the whole questionnaire including 92 creators. It was done in 2013.

Horizon CDT Conference Paper

As a requirement for one of my modules as I study for my PhD, I need to write up a reflection on a paper that I presented at a conference. This is a paper that I presented a year ago. I may do a similar thing for the paper that I will have published in May.

Dowthwaite, L., Houghton, R.J., and Mortier, R. Fame or Function? How webcomic artists choose where to share. Contemporary Issues in Ergonomics and Human Factors 2015, Taylor and Francis (2015), 355-362.

The paper was presented at Ergonomics and Human Factors 2015 which was held in Daventry between the 13th and 16th of April. It is the annual international conference of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF).


Online social networks are complex systems that can be variously construed as websites, platforms and communities but relatively rarely are they considered from the perspective of a goal-directed user. A mixed methods study consisting of questionnaires and in-depth interviews was carried out in order to examine the use of social networking within the online cartoonist community. We consider this subset of users, who rely on the use of social networking for specific work-related activities, because they form a group of motivated innovators who explore the uses and abuses of different services in terms of both feature set and community. A complex picture emerges of the strategic combination and interplay between platforms to co-optimise function and reach.

Motivation for the paper

The paper was based on the first and second studies that I carried out for my PhD. It was carried out in order to examine the use of social networking within the webcomics industry, before going on to research ways in which creators of webcomics made money. The first study was an online questionnaire to both readers and creators, which allowed me to confirm and expand upon my knowledge of the community. The second study was a series of interviews with creators and I was able to delve deeper into several areas to find the focus of my future research. The outcome from the questionnaire that almost everyone used three main social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr) led me to look further at what people said about those sites in the interviews. The creators turned out to have interesting ways of dealing with their online work, and so combining the two studies allowed me to form an interesting paper about social media for a relatively rare perspective.

Preparation of the Paper

The paper was interesting to write because it was not just a straightforward description of a single study, but a combination of two which had to be presented coherently. My co-authors, my PhD supervisors, were extremely helpful and offered valuable feedback on my writing. I was lucky enough not to have too many corrections to make after the paper was accepted, and the whole process went very smoothly.

Reception at the conference

The presentation was part of a session on Mobile Technologies, and was twenty-minutes long with time for questions afterwards. The questions tended to focus on discussion of wider points rather than clarifying the content of the paper. There were particularly good questions from one or two people who were interested in how creators actually were able to make money from their work.

This was a very positive experience for me because I was confident in what I was talking about, and because I was reassured from the questions that people were interested in my research, especially the aspects that I was most excited about. I was also told that it was interesting to hear about a topic which people knew almost nothing about.

Further steps within the PhD

The studies related to this paper allowed me to plan further studies and helped me to begin to clarify a direction for my research. The interviews discussed in the paper in particular gave me some wider avenues to explore, and the interest that I received about the money-making aspects of the industry encouraged me to continue with my main interests.

Discussions that I had at the conference also helped me to start to form the outline of my thesis. The studies from the paper will each make up a chapter: Chapters 6 and 7 which focus on community building. They lead well into two further studies which will become chapters on the use of crowdfunding, and the motivations of backers to crowdfund.

I aten’t dead

Happy New Year and suchlike! I just wanted to reassure everyone that I am still here and still running this blog and intend to update it soon with all sorts of fun and interesting comics and research related things!

I have returned from my wonderful internship at UEA, and my super-fun, too-short-and-gone-too-fast Christmas in Cornwall, and am back at my desk in Human Factors at Nottingham. I will be spending the next few days sorting out what I need to do in order to get on and write this thesis thingy I have been hearing rumours about, and collating my internship data into a document.


I now have an expiry date.

I have approximately 8 million things for Comics in the Wild (Three. I have three things), and also want to keep this blog up-to-date with my thesis (hereafter, the T-word) progress. I want to do a write-up of my time in Norwich too as the people there were awesome and I learnt a lot.

I plan to use the first week of each month to get on top of chores at home (and work) so that may well be when the longer posts appear.

Oh, and did you see that new Space film? Good, innit?


Granny Weatherwax, source of the title of this entry. (Terry Pratchett)