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Glyndŵr University next stop on professor's 1000-mile techno-ramble around Wales

04 May 2013

Alan Dix
A computing professor who embarked on a 1000-mile journey around Wales to discover the technological needs of ramblers is to share his journey with the public as he passes through Wrexham.

Professor Alan Dix set out from Cardiff along the Offa’s Dyke path three weeks ago on the first leg of a trip which combines his passions for technology and Wales.

Also taking in the Borderlands area and the Wales Coastal Path, Professor Dix is completing a full circuit of Wales armed with several mobile phones, laptops, mini-tablets, a camera, voice recorder, GPS and SPOT device.

He is hoping to better understand issues such as internet connectivity and mobile phone coverage in rural areas, in the hope of eventually improving the situation for people living in remote areas.

Professor Dix, an academic at the University of Birmingham, will be summarising his journey so far in a special lecture at Glyndŵr University on Thursday 9 May from 7pm.

 “I heard a radio report on the opening of the Welsh Coastal Path in May 2012, which mentioned that with the Offa’s Dyke path it formed a complete circuit around Wales,” said Professor Dix, who lives on Tiree, an Inner Hebrides island off the coast of Scotland. “When I heard it I just knew I had to walk it.

“At that point it was a compelling feeling, but as I thought more it became obvious that the project was linked to areas of research which I’ve been doing for more than 20 years.”

His journey so far has taken in Cardiff, Newport, Chepstow, Landogo, Monmouth, Pandy, Hay-on-Wye and Knighton.

Professor Dix says the trip has already highlighted fairly well-known issues around connectivity, as well as providing an opportunity to observe how other walkers use technology.

“Because I’m doing the walk partly as a research project I have a little more technology than the average walker, which means I end up carrying a lot of weight in terms of devices and power supplies – and I’ve become obsessed with battery life,” he added.

“One of the key issues is that even when in a fixed place, access to phone and internet is patchy. Occasionally in unexpected places everything works wonderfully but at other times you feel like the internet, like the buildings, has reverted to the 16th century.

“Dealing with network connections vastly slower and less reliable than those in major cities is, of course, one of the problems for communities as well as walkers. This then compounds existing problems of lack of resources in rural areas, plus often relatively lower incomes and higher proportions of the elderly.

“All of which leads to rural communities being marginalised in an increasingly digital age.”

While enjoying the trip from a personal point of view, Professor Dix is hoping to provide useful material to help improve the situation for rural communities.

“I hope to achieve many things and nothing from the journey,” he adds. “The many things include aims of writing about locality and the thread of paths through them; making connections to enable practical things to help communities, better understanding issues of poor connectivity  and creating data for academic colleagues to use in their own research.”

And the nothing?

“The most exciting things are things I can’t think of – the things I learn from chance encounters on the way, the unexpected and the unplanned,” says Professor Dix.

·        Treading out Technology: theory meets praxis during a thousand mile walk round Wales”, led by Professor Alan Dix, Professor of Computing at the University of Birmingham, starts at 7pm on Thursday 9 May at Glyndŵr University. The event is free and bookings can be made by emailing r.picking@glyndwr.ac.uk

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