Mobile Arch: About This Site

Mobile Arch is designed to keep you up-to-date with the future of archaeology: Mobile Technology. Mobile technology is an all-encompassing term that includes an array of mobile devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, Blackberry, ect..

This site is designed for the professional, the amateur, or even the collector (who desires to contextualize their findings). Mobile Arch will explore the present and latest applications (pun intended) of mobile devices and mobile applications.

With the integration of GPS, high-megapixel cameras, and 3G/4G accessibility, Mobile Technology is the future of archaeology, and using this site, I will show you how and why through personal field-testing/lab-testing, news updates, and applicational brainstorming.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Google eBooks and the Future of Peer Review

      A few days ago, Google launched its ebook platform “Google eBooks.”  And while the rest of the world is asking ‘who will win the ebook war, Amazon or Google?,’ an archaeologist must wonder ‘what exactly should the archaeological community be asking?’

     For those in the field who have already familiarized themselves with the abundance of ebook literature in the Kindle store, you might already be aware of the lack of archaeological literature, or any scientific literature (or social science) for that matter.  But that does not seem to be the case for the recently released Google eBookstore.  With the versatility, publishing flexibilities (publisher controlled/formatted/created), and tight DRM control, publishers are quickly jumping onboard with Google, significantly more so than Amazon.  But other than more Archaeological ebook content, what might the future point to with Google eBooks and the archaeological community?

     Well, for both Google and Amazon [although my confidence is in Google for this one], the battle of the ebook will win the support of both the academic and the professional with the adoption of peer review journals.  Peer review/academic journal eBooks will surely gain momentum in the next few years as Google or Amazon realizes the market.  Imagine, subscriptions to entire journals, or selected individual papers, downloaded straight to your device.  And while this can be done so through simply obtaining PDF versions of papers/journals, the formatting, bookmarking, and annotation (promised in next Google ebook update, already available on Kindle) is what peer review and education within the field needs.  Not to mention it is often difficult to find papers/journals at reasonable prices if you are not affiliated with a subscribing institution/organization or your institution does not subscribe to much of the archaeological literature (most often the case).

     As I said, sorry Amazon but I have confidence in Google with this one.  Why?  Look at Google Scholar, they are already significantly ahead of the game if you ask me.  After all, how did Google eBooks start?..... content from Google Books.

Take this a step further and support a platform to replace the centuries-old static peer review system of paper, response paper, paper, and so on.  After all, once published to bounded paper, your content is likely already outdated in many ways.  Lets see a moderated digital system of semi-instant peer review, blog-like if you will….. 

Although this [moderated digital peer-review] does not appear to be a reality anytime soon, this might be one of the many directions the digital age is taking the field.  But what can be said with a little bit of confidence is that once peer review publishers begin offering their journals/papers in eBook formatting, the bounded journal’s days will be limited.  Why? No printing costs, what more could you ask for when a large portion of your membership revenue goes straight to printing journals?  Talk about money spent elsewhere in support of archaeology. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Note-Taking: Digitizing an Archaeological Pastime

     If there’s one thing that archaeologists have done since Thomas Jefferson put a test trench in the Rapidan mound, it’s note-taking.  The fact of the matter is archaeologists take notes and a lot of them.  Whether it be in the field, in the lab, in class, or at a lecture, archaeologists enjoy the security of having notes on paper … invincible and everlasting paper… right? 

     Archaeology is getting to the point where paper is becoming more and more obsolete (eyes role ….).  But despite the track record of the poor attempts of paperless archaeology in the past 5 years, as of now, technology in the past year has made rolling eyes focus on mobile technology.  Highlighted in Apple’s Pompeii case study in which “piles of paper were replaced with a single 1.5-pound device,” quite possibly the greatest value mobile technology has to the archaeologist is its revolutionary note-taking capabilities.

      When I first purchased my iPad, this was the first thing I had to try out.  And to my disappointment, the preloaded “Notes” app was without a doubt the worst app Apple has ever made.  But that’s where our third-party developers come in…

      After doing a little research, I quickly turned to Evernote.  Evernote is a free cloud-based note-taking app in which the user can take text, audio (limited to 20 min.), and picture (iPhone/iPod touch 4th gen only) notes.  Although typical of your standard note-taking app, the beauty of Evernote comes with its cloud-syncing capabilities/accessibility.  Yet if you’re an archaeologist the beauty comes with this, coupled with the fact that all of your notes are geo-reference to the spot in which the note was taken.  What more could you ask?  So far I have used this in the field, in the lab, and in lectures flawlessly.  I now have the capability to search for those notes in lists, in assigned notebooks, or even as points on a map.  Did I mention the desktop version (Mac and PC) is free as well?  What this means is that you can access/take all of your notes on any device with Evernote anywhere and anytime.  Your notes are always with you (if you have a smartphone or carry around your iPad).  The only limitation thus far, which one MUST know before using, is that because this is all cloud-based, you must have a WiFi or 3G connection to access the service and your notes.  But hey, type your notes in another app (even the crappy preloaded Notes app) and copy/past when you have service.  And to you skeptics, I can assure you … the cloud is a much safer place for your notes than papers in a cabinet.  

      The next note-taking app that I have been using for a while now is SoundNote (formerly SoundPaper).  Have you ever been to a lecture and stopped paying attention, dozed off, or just completely missed a key point?  Soundnote is for you.  SoundNote is a different type of note taking app, a type that would be very popular in the classroom, the lecture hall, and for oral histories.  Soundnote records an audio file (no length limitations) through the built-in mic, while you take notes, and in turn, references the point in which you type each individual word to the audio file at the time in which the word was typed.  What this allows the user to do, is go back to your text notes, touch a word, which starts the audio file 5 seconds before that word was typed.  Pretty incredible right?  One also has the option to export both the audio and text either via email or from itunes.  Sounds great for lectures and conferences, right?  I recently used this at a lecture, coming out with great notes referenced into a recording of the talk.

     I would highly recommend both of these apps.  I am currently testing out Field Assets, TerraGo, and several other apps in the field.  Look out for more field-testing reviews soon. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mobile Technology and the Citizen Archaeologist

     In the exciting field of Museum Studies!.... a term often gets thrown around in the literature, yet rarely see the light of day in real world application (sound familiar?).  Coinciding with the wide-scale adoption of several prominent forms of social media in the past few years, the term "Citizen Curator" has emerged to describe a new paradigm in the "diffusion of cultural heritage" (another phrase that keeps popping up).  A "Citizen Curator" has been loosely defined, but here is my attempt to synthesis was has been so far: 1.) the emergence of two-way communication in museum settings as oppose to the conventional one-way; 2.) related to definition '1,' the active participation and contribution of the citizen in the research and interpretative process; and 3.) the access and contribution to impromptu information/data (historical in this case) either through stationary web-sites or location-based cloud servers.
      As you can probably tell, this term and its associated ideas are largely technology driven.  That being said, what better consumer technology is there with web-data accessibility, location-awareness (GPS), and with supported access to almost all forms of electronic media? .........  Yes, mobile technology.

      Now how might that apply to archaeology (other than a museum setting)?  Easy, everyone has a cellphone... and within a few years, most of those phones will have the capabilities of the 'super-smartphones' of today (iPhone, Droid, Blackberry, ect.).  Metal detectors, collectors, or just your average "arrowhead" hunters are no exception, they also have cellphones ....  (And face-it, these hobbies will never end.)    Could this be the thing that bridges the gaping hole in the "it's complicated" relationship between archaeologists and their frustrating foes?  Could there be a middle-ground?

       Well let's think about, above all else what is the bare-minimum that archaeologists would like to see from these activities? ... Yep, a little bit of context.  And quite frankly, with the wide-scale adoption of geotagging photos, location-based Tweets and Facebook statuses, and the plethora of location-based apps out there; adopting these methods would be a piece of cake.  A similar concept already exists across the Atlantic:  The Portable Antiquities Scheme.  [Please visit this site now or when you finish this post, a very innovative concept.]  So there you go, take the concept of this site (contextualizing the finds of metal-detectors, collectors, ect.) and go one step further to offering the ability to log exact coordinates, information, photos, ect. from the field as items are found. And wow, want to know where to start in survey work or look for parallel finds?  ... There you go.

       Some of you might be thinking that this is unethical or a terrible idea and will only promote more looting and the destruction of more sites.  But I would actually argue the opposite.  One could argue that you have a greater sensitivity to archaeological material once you have been educated about the importance of context, as The Portable Antiquities Scheme has proven and accomplished.  And you also have to face reality, in areas rich with history, you will never put an end the the citizens' passion for the past; but through the interactivity and inclusiveness of the proposed "Citizen Archaeologist." you do have the opportunity to contextualize that passion.

        Whether you ever comment on blogs or not, please consider leaving a comment on this post.  I will be actively pursing the ideas outlined above and would love some hard criticism (good or bad).  Please let me know what you think about this emerging possibility.      

Image References: (PhoneAdmin 2010); (Nighthawking 2009)  

Monday, October 18, 2010

Digging Numbers: MS Excel (Documents 2 Go) on the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch

       For the past few weeks I have decided not to bring my laptop to work with me, just my iPad (WiFi + 3G) and my Camera.  And today I feel as if I have passed the point of novelty to the skeptical co-worker and into the 'wow-factor.'  With the task of processing a site excavated in 1972 (talk about a back-log...), I immediately rummaged through my drawer of clich├ęs and quickly realized .... "there's an app for that."  And Documents 2 Go is that app.  

        I've had Documents 2 Go for quite a while (pre-iPad), and until today, had largely used it to simply store and view MS Office documents (.doc, .xls, .ppt) on my Apple mobile device, which at the time was an iPod Touch.  Today I used the app to create an Excel spreadsheet of a bag-by-bag inventory for 125 bags of historic and prehistoric artifacts.  The interface is largely the same as the desktop version, but lacking the analytical/statistical power of functions/formulas (but hey, this was just an inventory for later analytical work).  And making most archaeologists who use Excel happy, the functionality of copy, cut, & paste (and mass copy/paste) are flawless in the mobile version.  One other plus is one that I noticed after about 5 bags, and was something that I have also found favorable in the field: because the iPad has no movable parts/no major exposed openings, with your cover on, one does not have to mind dirty hands when typing (the dirt wipes right off). 

         After finishing in an amount of time comparable to using the desktop Excel, with Documents 2 Go, I simply emailed the file directly from the app to my Gmail email address (which in itself is a cloud server, automatically saving it as a Google doc).   

 Breiefly put Documents 2 Go allows the user to:

• EDIT, CREATE & VIEW Word, Excel & PowerPoint files (including Office 2007/2008/2010)
• View PDF, iWork & other files
• iPad/iPhone 4/iOS 4: Send & receive attachments using the device's built-in Mail app 
• iPhone/iPod touch WITHOUT iOS 4: Send & receive attachments 
• Access, use & sync files stored in Google Docs, Dropbox,, iDisk & SugarSync
• Includes desktop app (Win & Mac) with 2-way file sync (WIFI required)  

And while this is not a Microsoft application, it certainly is the best 3rd-party app for creating, viewing, and editing MS Office documents on a mobile device.  I would highly recommend Docs 2 Go for any archaeologist or other field researcher working with quantitative data. 

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Review of the iPad's GPS

      As you probably know from finding your way to this blog, most online discussions regarding the iPad GPS are long-winded with unnecessary technical details.  Therefore, I will try and keep this short and sweet, giving you everything you need to know about the iPad GPS.

      First and foremost, the iPad (WiFi-only) does not have a GPS chip, and therefore your location information, and subsequent use of this information, is largely governed by your proximity to WiFi access (and only gives the location of the WiFi access point, not your device).  The iPad (WiFi + 3G) model has a built-in assisted GPS chip.  This means that with this model you have full GPS capabilities, with or without WiFi and/or 3G coverage.  The term "assisted GPS" simply means that the internal GPS has the capability to use a combination of WiFi, 3G Coverage, and GPS to triangulate your location faster, with less battery power, and with a greater degree of accuracy in poor overhead/overcast situations.  This is a very valuable tool when one is typically restricted by tree cover (but still not as accurate as clear conditions).

     That being said, I have used the iPad's GPS both with and without WiFi/3G and have seen little difference.  In both cases (with cellular data/WiFi turned off and while assisted by 3G/WiFi coverage) I was able to reach a maximum of a 5 meter accuracy.  I was also able to reach this level of accuracy in both clear and overcast weather situations.

     Briefly put, the fact that the iPad (WiFi + 3G model) has an internal GPS chip and the WiFi-only model does not, brings up an extremely important consideration in choosing which iPad model to buy.  I would highly recommend spending the extra money to get the 3G model, given that spatial information is arguably one of the most valuable features for any field researcher.  Overall, I am very pleased with the iPad's GPS and even more-so with its response time to reach a 5 meter accuracy.    

Image Reference: (GIS Development 2006)

   - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Digging Deeper into Apple's Case Study: Pompeii Archaeologists

       As I post the first entry on this Blog, my exploration of the applications of mobile technology with archaeology could not come at a better time.  If you have found your way to this blog, either through curiosity in the subject or a search engine return, you probably came across Apple's recent case study on the Archaeologists of Pompeii.  And for those of you that are familiar with this case study, I would guess that a third of you continued on to the Apple Store site to cringe at prices, another third forwarded it on to colleagues and friends with an envious "if only" message, and the last third skimmed through the story in skepticism.

       As I personally read through the story for the first time, I slowly began to realize that Apple had reported on some of the less impressive applications of the iPad, and with only half the story at that.  Utilizing some of the more basic apps such as Pages and iDraw, archaeologists at Pompeii quickly realized the longterm and economical benefits of a near-paperless excavation.  Personally, I would recommend iDraw for recording, producing annotated drawings, and annotated photographs.  Pages is a decent app, but personally for this function, I would recommend recording in a cloud-based service like Evernote, simply due to the fact that you have your notes syncing to the cloud as you are writing them.  And if you take away something from the blog, please let it be the benefits of using online/offline cloud-storage.  Your notes are always with you wherever you are and backed up in the cloud (safer than anywhere else).  

      Two of the more advanced apps used in the excavation included OmniGraffle and FMtouch. Briefly put, OmniGraffle offers an excellent utility for creating Harris-Matrices in the field, and FMtouch allows the user to access, edit, and add data to a FileMaker (version 7 or greater) database.  Stepping back into analog reality for second, these two applications seem great for survey work, but I have to ask, is synchronized data entry from the field practical past survey work, or simply risky?  I acknowledge the practicality in drawing and note taking from the field and do so myself on my iPad in the field, but should we start processing artifacts before we get them cleaned and labeled?  That being said, I could see some utility  in inventorying material as it is coming out of the ground    and into the bags (as a double-check for in-lab processing).                                

       Some current limitations that were not mentioned in Apple's Case Study that I have learned from personal experience with my iPad in the field, as well as a conversation with one of the Pompeii archaeologists, include: 

1.) Outdoor screen visibility/glare (even with anti-glare protective screens, you must work in shade or shade your
     device with cover)
2.) Outdoor Overheating (again, on sunny days you will need to work in shade of shade your iPad with a cover)
2.) Precision drawing (you need a stylus for creating archaeological-quality drawings)
3.) Protection (for any outdoor use I would recommend the Otterbox Defender Series)
4.) Wireless Service (AT&T does not have the best 3G coverage, make sure you note whether you can work 
     offline with sync/cloud/data apps and sync when you get service)
5.) Image recording, the iPad in its current version does not have a camera (you will need to either purchase the 
     Camera Connection Kit, or wirelessly use an iPhone or iPod Touch (4th Gen.) in conjunction with the Camera 
     A /Camera B apps.

        All in all, the iPad is an amazing device and invaluable to data collection in the field, or any setting for that matter.  I have been out in the field using my iPad, in conjunction with the camera connection kit (and my DSLR), for the past few weeks and have received results that have surpassed all of my expectations.  I have been primarily been using the device for mapping, survey, and automatically attaching photographs, voice notes, and coordinates to my data (I will review this use later).  

       I would recommend the iPad to any field scientist or historian, looking for a simple and relatively inexpensive all-encompassing device to use in the field.  And although the Apple Case Study at Pompeii might seem surreal, trust me, they're telling the truth: the "iPad was practically custom built for our [archaeologists] needs."

 Image Reference: (Apple 2010)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad