New blog


I have moved to a new URL – please go there for current and new content!


I resurrected this blog in 2012, when I began my studies at the HighWire Doctoral Training Centre, at Lancaster University. I used it relatively frequently up until the end of the summer 2013. Since then a lot has happened. My beloved sister Emma tragically died, taking her own life, something that I see as ‘dying from an illness’ – that illness was bipolar disorder. That rocked me to my core, I’d never had anything of that scale to deal with. One of my responses was to create a website in her honour, with various contributions coming from all kinds of people. You can access that site at

Also, you may want to look at Emma’s PhD thesis, which was concerned with mental health issues. If you have been touched by bipolar, or related illnesses, please read appendix one of her thesis, which addresses the experience of living with an affliction like bipolar. With the knowledge that Emma’s life ended by her own hand, the reading of this appendix is all the more poignant.

Although the loss of Emma has been, and continues to be, in the forefront of my mind, I am attempting to move on and continue with my work at the HighWire centre. Part of that is continuing to blog about issues of, and related to, my PhD studies. Rather than continue this blog, I’ve elected to start a new on, on a subdomain. The new blog will reside at

So, as far as I can tell. This is for this blog. It lasted 8 years: well done! To new beginnings.

Idea for a PhD

I’m quite tied up finishing the Masters in Research (MRes) at HighWire, before moving on to the PhD proper in September. I’m not sure… because there are issues with it… but I think I had an epiphany last night while lying in bed, an idea of how to organise my PhD arrived in my mind. This is good timing, particularly as I have to write a PhD proposal in the next few days, in order to meet the requirements of the MRes programme.

So, what was it? Well, it’s complicated. I’m actually using this post as a place-holder, to remind myself of the specifics of the idea, and I’ll fill in the blanks later. Broadly speaking, my idea is to:

  1. Define a broad area of interest (I’ll probably choose mass behavior change for a more sustainable future)
  2. Conduct lots of miniature experiments that will emerge throughout the length of the PhD exploring the area (each experiment will be distinct and unique, and will be arrived at using alternative design thinking)
  3. Document the entire process, probably using film

The aim of working like this is threefold. First, I want to do some exploratory innovative work that can help towards a real world, tangible, problem. Second, I’d like to operate quite freely, and do many small experiments, that may appear to be disparate, and individually not worthy of a PhD project. Third, I want to understand whether this method is a worthwhile way of working, and to communicate that.

I think it could work….. remains to be seen.



What’s in a number?

One of my tutors – Dr. Paul Ralph – from this year’s HighWire MRes course just posted something to his public Facebook page, which I feel the need to share. It has a deep resonance to my recent Communities of Impact piece of work, and also with my current thread of work (which will conclude in around 2 months time). Have a look at Paul’s comment here, I’d describe it as tactful, but cutting, and extremely relevant if you’re doing research in an academic institution.

Quick values questionnaire

As part of the preliminary exploration for my HighWire MRes work I’m asking for responses to a quick questionnaire exploring values. If you can spare 5 minutes I’d really appreciate you spending the time to complete the questionnaire. If you leave your email address I will contact you in due course so you can access virtual or physical manifestations of your results.

You can access the questionnaire here.

Thanks in advance!

PS the questionnaire is worded from the male perspective, this will be changed in due course, for now please accept my apologies!

Dogma: murderous or misunderstood?

I think I’ve been boring and frustrating my old friend, and current domiciliary companion, Fred Baker, with all my talk of religion, spirituality, and how I want to reinvent it for my PhD studies. It’s really good to have a counterpoint, although I do wish I were doing slightly better at convincing Fred that there is some benefit in the research I am conducting. I guess this is the nature of exploratory research though: how will I ever know until its been done! Fred emailed me a link to this article by A C Grayling – Dogma will always lead to murder in the end, scepticism is the only answer – a couple of days ago, I’ve just read it, and thought I would comment a little. I, for the most part, agree with what Grayling says.. but I’d like to add some commentary, as it’s really relevant to the line of research I’m currently embarked upon. Firstly, there is the journalistic caveat. The headline, including “Dogma will always lead to murder”, is just that.. a headline. I’m fairly sure that Grayling isn’t suggesting that the very notion of Dogma is murderous or genocidal, and if he is, he fails to explain why. A more structural criticism of Grayling’s comment however, is the logically one-sided nature of the argument. The rhetorically one-sidedness I can forgive, but there are a couple of issues where I thought that Grayling was doing a disservice to egalitarianism.

Religious apologists are eager to point to the charitable and artistic outcomes of religion either as a palliation or an excuse, but non-religious people do charitable and artistic things, too, and it is hard to detach them from the kindness and creativity, respectively, that are a natural endowment of most human beings no matter what they believe

The main crux of the article is how horrendous religiously motivated violence is. For instance the awful events in Woolwhich last week. The quote above points out that “religious apologists” talk about the good things that religious people do, and fail to acknowledge the good things irreligious people do. The screaming omission is the amount of violence carried out by irreligious people.

Image grab from Independent Article by AC Grayling

I know Grayling is writing to comment, and it seems evident he wants to be provocative based on the title. I also think the piece is beautifully written, with powerful rhetoric. But from where I am (an atheist exploring the potential to use the structure of religion, and the essence of spirituality for good) this discourse is wholly unhelpful. It polarises. It angers those with faith, and it gives an unjustified sense of correctness and confidence to those with anti-faith sentiments.

Dogma is a tricky one. I don’t believe in a god, or an afterlife, and ever since I was a little kid I’ve been smugly confident in the paradoxical belief that there is no such thing as a fact. Isn’t it possible to dogmatically believe in entropy, infinity, milky tea, or smiling? Maybe I’m missing a point.. but wouldn’t it even be possible to have a dogmatic faith in atheism? Or, perhaps a way of putting it on slightly stronger grounding, couldn’t dogma, or even religion, explain a belief system that put absolute faith in evidence-based decisions or discourse? I think so.

I do however entirely agree with the sentiments in Grayling’s piece (even if I slightly disapprove of how he articulates them). I abhor violence. But more importantly when that violence is motivated by revenge, and justified by mythology, it is even more abhorrent. Finally, I agree whole heartedly with Grayling’s conclusion: scepticism, critical thinking, asking for evidence are powerful things, and I believe we should all engage with and be taught to do them profusely. If we did, then maybe, as Grayling puts it, “in a generation or two, what happened on a Woolwich street might become close to impossible.”

Faith and false starts

I’m going to try and keep a little blog of what I get up to this summer, partly because I’m sure that having notes on my process will help in the writing up, come the Autumn. I had something of a false start. I’d been well committed to doing my ‘summer project’ (for the HighWire MRes, effectively a masters dissertation) on the strand of research that’s taken up most of 2013 for me: Research Impact. I’ve done various pieces of work on that thread, culminating with my work on Communities of Impact.

One of the requirements for the summer project is that we have a ‘live’ (real world) stakeholder: the research impact project was perfect for this because Lancaster University’s marketing team had expressed their interest in being that stakeholder. Furthermore I’d managed get Professor Jon Whittle onboard to supervise me for this project (having a supervisor is another requirement). Sadly I had a massive crisis of ‘faith’ (the reason for the quotes will become clear shortly) with the project after the initial meeting between me, the stakeholders, and Jon. I won’t go into the detail, but the biggest issues were (1) that I and Jon had had a slight mis-communication about our expectations for the project and (2) my passion for research impact is grounded in extremely deep rooted issues: something that I doubt I’d be able to get to grips with over the summer months alone. So there was a change of direction.

The direction came from something I wrote a very quick blog about a few weeks ago: virtual religions, cyber faith, digital spirituality- these are all candidates for what to call it (I haven’t decided on one yet). So… just some quick notes on what I want to do, why, and how I plan on doing it. All of which are subject to change over the next few weeks!

I’m going to build a conceptual or theoretical model of what think a religion is. There is no hard and fast definition, a few Google searches will reveal that… but I’m going to build a model based upon a synthesis of various resources. You could think of this part as ‘religion as formula‘.

Once I have this model in place, I’ll build a software application that allows anyone to enter their own ‘values’ into the model (or formula), and thus create their own personal religion. The software will also allow some form of practice (or you could call it worship) to take place, again as per any individual’s own design.

The reason I want to do this, is that I have a hypothesis that some of the things that make up a religion are really good. I’m not sure what they are, but I think they’re good. Personally speaking I’m an atheist, had some exposure to the sceptics movement, and witness something of a stigma towards religion in general. Maybe, by deconstructing the essence of it, then allowing it to be reconstructed in the vision of an individual, rather than a religious institution, a new way to access the benefits of a spiritual/religious life may emerge.

We’ll see……

Dr Lynne Blair has provisionally agreed to supervise me on this work, and our initial meeting was really positive: so I’m very happy to have found somebody interested in this realm. I don’t however, not currently anyway, have a stakeholder agreed (or group of people). Any ideas?


Cyber faith?

My previous blog post was discussing ‘digital death’ while thinking on that subject my mind began to wander, and envisioned a way of having cyber faith. Virtual religion if you will. And, I think it’s relevant to this series of blogs. I’ve actually dabbled with something in this area before, with my Prayer 2.0 project, but what I’m thinking about now I reckon is rather more useful, and interesting.

I’d like to set up a kind of framework where anyone can create a DIY faith. Festivals, rules, belief systems…. all of these would be constructed through some kind of computer interface. Potentially the framework could be linked into systems operating in the realm of ubicomp and the internet of things. You could pick and choose elements of major religions, and weave in your own customs.

think that the majority of the (global) population actually lives somewhere between atheism and gnosticism (I’m not backing this up with any research…. unfortunately I don’t have time!). I also believe that human beings have a tendency to want ‘something more’ in their life.. some kind of spiritual element. Maybe cyberfaith is one way that this can happen. *needs further exploration*

Spesh To’ics: Week {minus some} – An end on some stuff

I one titled a tune I made ‘an end on some stuff’.. and since this is an ending it sprung to mind. The tune ended up being called Interlude to get stuff…. what the ‘stuff’ is, is up to you. It’s an instrumental piece, but here are some concluding words reflecting on my special topics experience.

In the beginning, whirlpools came
In the whirlpools, no two bubbles were the same
Out of
In rage
Some sage said “hey Joe”
“What do you know, Joe?”

I thought, who cares?

This shouldn’t be flippant
And it…. isn’t
(Supposed to be)

But the point is.. reflecting on everything…. the most difficult thing was
Remembering oneself
Remembering others

Each of those lines do mean something… I’m not going to elaborate as I’d like it to , but they’ll serve as a reminder. Special topics has been great. I’m so glad that I’ve explored the area I did (although I’m also itching to further explore some of the ideas I had in week 1!) And in fact, my masters dissertation will be on a related subject I’m fairly sure. As for the PhD itself… still not sure! :o)


Spesh To’ics: Writing doesn’t wrong

So… I’ve been immersed in the actual writing of my special topics piece: Communities of Impact. This has been some time coming, and until today has been a very daunting task. The piece only has to be 4000 words long, although that’s longer than anything else I’ve written in some time. Also  it’s the first piece of work on the HighWire programme that has involved an extended period of research (first of many I hope!)

The reason for the reflective log though is quite simple: it is good to remember the cathartic value of writing! As soon as I started actually getting words down I re-discovered something I’ve noted before, it’s almost like its relieving pressure, and its also a fantastic process for actually ideating. The latter is occasionally an issue…. as you end up having to rewrite to take account of new ideas, but other than the time consumption element of this it isn’t too much of a problem.

Note to self: writing… it isn’t that bad, and you don’t have to know all the answers before beginning.

Reflections on (cyber) sustainability

I watched the film Age of Stupid last night which documents the precarious position that, due to climate change, we are in. I recommend it, it’s a good watch (if a little in your face). Franny Armstrong is behind the film, and part of why I watched it is that I’m going to a seminar she is presenting on Saturday.

Anyhow. The reason for the blog post isn’t really related to the film, or to Franny… but watching the film made me remember this piece that I wrote, Reflections on sustainability and cyber sustainability – Can’t we just do something? Today? The piece may not make a great deal of sense when read alone – you really had to attend the lectures that it was in response to (the lectures were presented by Stuart Walker, and Bran Knowles- see here, here, and here) – but nonetheless I’ve added it to my archive of outputs generated from the HighWire MRes year.

Don’t forget to feed the cats

When I was a child a man called Charlie lived in the tiny cottage next door to my family home. He died when I was still quite young, but I remember him and his house vividly. The cottage really was tiny, and inside I had the feeling of being in some fantastical place. It felt very other worldly. Charlie shared the cottage with three cats, one of which we ended up taking care of after Charlie died. Charlie’s greatest fear was that he’d die alone at home, and that his cats would have him for dinner! It’s as a memorial to Charlie that I titled this blog Don’t forget to feed the cats. By the way, Charlie died at hospital in the end.

An image of Charlie's Cottage as it is today (screen grab from Google Street View)

An image of Charlie’s Cottage as it is today (screen grab from Google Street View)

At the start of the special topics module I made a list of fleeting ideas that I’d had and was considering pursuing as my topic. One of these I described as after death, digital legacies – and it’s something I’m still very curious about. The question is how do you deal with digital assets, when somebody dies? There is of course lots of debate around what denotes an ‘asset’, and a multitude of different ways of applying legal frameworks in different ways (which varies greatly depending on where you are, and what the nature of the ‘asset’ is).

Governments debate about legislation, most recently there is an ongoing debate about the ‘right to be forgotten’. An interesting story emerged this week with regard to 17-year-old Paris Brown (employed by the police) had Tweeted inappropriate material earlier in her teens. The BBC ask – quite legitimately if you ask me – could the right to be forgotten help? But, back to death… currently most online services only refer to what happens on the event of a users death in their terms of service and privacy documents. In Facebook’s terms and conditions, you grant them a license to use your content indefinitely, but these days they do cooperate when users die by memorialising pages (which is a handy thing: 2.89m Facebook users were predicted to die in 2012). In 2004/5 the mother of a dead marine took Yahoo to court (and won) in order to gain access to his email account (this was inconsistent with the Yahoo terms of service). These are just a few examples; things get more complicated if consider blogs you might run, web email accounts, online currencies, access to banking, maybe even what happens to your Bitcoin estate after you die! Despite all the confusion, at least death itself is relatively clear cut.

Demonstrating that these kind of issues are becoming more important to both users and service providers, Google yesterday announced their Inactive Account Manager – quickly referred to as the Google Death Manager – which is designed to allow you to decide what to do with your data that Google holds, in the event that your account becomes inactive. It’s pretty neat, allowing you to chose individual services, a list of people to inform (each of whom are confirmed via text messages), and even the ability to set up an email auto responder.

As more and more of the digital services we all use move to the cloud, and those services become interconnected, the issue becomes increasingly complex. My follow HighWire-er Barney Craggs has recently written some interesting blogs about the grey area between big data and personal data which I recommend reading, a particularly neat idea Barney talks about is smart data. When referring to smart data, Barney describes it as:

the gathering of only that data which is truly needed to fulfil the purpose, data which is held only for as long as is needed..

Because managing your data, and maybe even ‘deleting’ yourself from the internet, is quite a difficult thing to achieve and this seems particularly pertinent when considering what happens to data after its creator, or owner, or custodian.. ceases to be alive. I think Barney’s ideas are relevant not only to data per-se, but also to services. We can assume most online services do involve an element of data, but they also have an inherent meaning, related to whatever the service is. This makes considering how you want a service to deal with your death a more involved affair than simply considering the data that lies behind a service alone.

Although this landscape is not a steady one, with legislation almost certain to go through several evolutions in the coming years, and service providers constantly tweaking their terms of service and approaches, I believe we have the technology available to begin to implement a kind of digital rights protocol that could provide a framework for services to comply with their users posthumous desires. Digital lockers or safes do exist, and can go someway to dealing with this, but in their current state they are not a holistic solution.

While thinking about this I arrived at a vision is of an internet ‘death authority’ (DA) that any person, and any service, can register themselves with. The DA would have two core functions, firstly to have an ‘notification’ mechanism for recording whether somebody is alive or not, and secondly to be a repository for holding instructions relating to what participating services should do in the event of a death. For the notification mechanism an API would have to be accessible so that the relevant authorities could plug into it. In the UK this could be an electronic link from the General Register Office. When somebody dies, the GRO connects to the DA’s API and the records are updated to show that the subject has passed away, allowing the second part of the system to swing into action.

The second part of the is the harder to imagine, but I’m sure a workable standard could be developed, with existing technologies, that would be fit for purpose. The way I imagine it working, you’d need to be able to update settings on a service to reflect what you want to happen to your data, on that service, when you die. The settings would have to be updated on the service itself but a record of your elected settings would also have to be viewable at the DA – so you can see all of your choices in a single place. So the API to facilitate this system would just need to have a way of describing what settings were chosen on any given site, and then communicate those choices back to the DA.

When the inevitable (for all of us!) happens, the each online service related to the deceased would be informed by the DA of the sad news. Each service would then be able to update their data as per your wishes, whether that be deleting everything, memorialising your facebook page, or posting a beyond the grave Tweet to say so long and thanks for all the fish. Feasibly the DA would be accessible by your probate lawyer who will, to some extent, be aware of what online services you used, and what your wishes were with regard to each one (this would also serve as a tool to monitor whether you wishes were actually being carried out).

Obviously this would only work in regions where deaths are routinely registered, and for people who sign up to the DA, and for services that subscribe. This may seem an unlikely proposition, but as our lives are even more entwined with online services I think it will become increasingly relevant for all of our tomorrows, and is something that could be well addressed today. I hope it is addressed, because I for one want to be able to plan for my digital demise with confidence, transparently, and without having to spend my life reading terms of service small print.

PS Selina Ellis Gray, also a HighWire PhD candidate, is doing some really interesting work in this area, specifically looking at bereavement and how it manifests itself digitally, check it out.

Spesh To’ics Week(s) 5-10(ish): Awkward talk

At the start of the special topics module I had no inkling of what kind of space I’d like to work in, in fact I had a list of disperate ideas (that indeed I spoke about at our initial presentation). From that initial session, during which I was pointed toward the work of Eugene Garfield, the terrain of my inquiry has emerged gradually, with some moments of great realisation within it. Along the way I’ve discussed my thinking with my peers, with lecturers from other taught HighWire courses, with the module leaders for special topics, and with anyone else who would care to listen to me! Alongside the less formal discussions I also attended workshops and had some one-to-one meetings as part of the ‘official’ special topics support offered. I guess as a whole, this could be considered my community of practice.

I want to reflect on this because, interestingly, some of the conversations have been bordering on confrontational and certainly came to occupy space on the edge of my comfort zone. I think it’s probably to do with my chosen subject, and in particular – in the early part of the studies on the module anyway – my naivety about it. I realise that occupying a space that involves contention isn’t at all unique, in fact it is probably desired in order to be truly innovative, but I’ve been intrigued about the range of feedback I’ve had on this piece of work, which I’ve perceived as being unusually strong – the whole way through the module. While the strength of opinion about my ideas has been consistent throughout, the depth of my knowledge has continued to grow. I’d say I have a fairly good handle on these ideas now (I’ve written various blogs on the subject, as well as a dummy grant proposal, actual grant proposal and literature review).

So what to make of this, why bother writing a reflective log about it? Well there are two angles that interest me. Firstly I guess the reason for a significant interest is that I’m working with something that is directly relevant to all of my peers and all of our mentors; it’s no secret that in this realm we pretty much live or die my the success of, or the lack of, our publications. This interesting piece in the Essex Student Journal gives an interesting introduction to why publication is so important. What was really interesting though was that there seemed to be a strange distribution of how strongly worded peoples opinions were. Generally speaking, students are intrigued and encouraging. Professional academics are much less positive, although having extended conversations, after a time seem to become more positive about my desire to explore this area. Some academics have been extremely anti, and made me feel like they would rather that I didn’t pursue this line of study. All of these are of course according to my subjective viewpoint, they’re also moving targets. What is really interesting, however, is that in the early stages of my inquiry I was as I already mentioned, very naive. I didn’t have the confidence (or knowledge) to stand up for my thoughts, and hence felt slightly ‘battered’ by some of these conversations, at the time at least. Looking back at those kinds of conversations, if I were to have them now I think I could stand up for myself properly. I think my initial hunches were actually quite good. So on reflection, I think although being respectful of ones mentors is of absolute importance, having the confidence to challenge them and enough self-belief to stick to a your own trajectory. That.. that…. that is a valuable thing, and I think it worked for me on this occasion.

Not missing a mouse and why it makes me angry

So I got burgled recently, which sucked. I was actually just settling down to watch some terrible sci-fi featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger with Daniel Kershaw, when I was informed that my house had been broken into. Now cutting a long story short this was a horrible experience, both scary and incredibly inconvenient. Thankfully most of the data that was on the stolen computers was backed up on the cloud, and alike, but its still quite awful to have you space invaded, not to mention the material loss. Thankfully insurance covered replacement items, although in the overall it ended up costing me about £500 to cover excesses, etc. The key thing that needed replacing for me was a laptop computer.

For the first time in my life I opted to get an Apple Macbook. I’ve actually been quite actively talking down Macs for a long time, let alone contemplating owning one. I don’t like the company’s approach (to be honest it’s hard to like the approach of any of the big tech/computing companies) to restricting upgrades and designed-obsolescence. Plus the price of the hardware has always been a big turn off. Also I’ve always been a Windows user, I know the Microsoft OS very well, feel comfortable with it and the software that runs on it. What made me decide to get one now isn’t that interesting.. but is largely because the vast majority of my peers at HighWire (and the academic staff too actually) use Macs. It’s not (just) because I just wanted to be part of the club either but there are also some rather more noble/practical reasons for why this is useful: mainly that its easy to compare notes on different softwares that may be required in the line of duty (think reference managers etc). Other factors are relevant too: that fact that Macbooks generally have a decent battery life (as compared most other laptops) is a consideration when working in the way – so far as I can tell anyway – most HighWire PhD students do (unpredictably, all over the place, flexibly – as I write this I’m sat in Fuel Cafe). Finally the high-resolution (retina) screen really does improve my workflow: text documents are so much easier to read, and I have a wealth of screen real-estate to play with (happily handles two apps side-by-side).

Working on a laptop in Fuel

Working on a laptop in Fuel

The thing that spurred me to blog about this, however, is to mention to track pad on Apple Macbooks. It is, to be quite frank, vastly better than any other track pad I’ve ever used before. In the past I’ve always had to use a mouse for anything but the simplest of tasks because otherwise my workflow would be disrupted so much by the terribly bad trackpads that pervade on non-Apple laptops. So, still only a few weeks into owning the Macbook, I’m quite shocked to think that not only do I not require a mouse any more – I actually prefer working without one! I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so in love with a bit of technology as I am this computer, and the biggest single reason for this is the trackpad. I’m not going to go into laborious detail as to why I think this is the case, but as far as I can tell, the salient points are:

  1. Quality hardware
  2. Not too big, not too small
  3. Sensitive and accurate
  4. Excellent integration with the OS (via gestures)
  5. (whatever it is they’ve done to make it) Intuitive to use

I’m sure there are many reasons why it’s such a good piece of kit, and so central to the Macbook experience… but that’s not the point. My point here is: why is the Macbook trackpad (apparently) unique?

My hypothesis is that there are plenty of patents around and about that protect the sort of hardware (and probably software) features that make the Apple trackpad so good, thus ensuring that others are unable to use similarly well designed systems. I wonder whether this is because others can’t afford the licence fees that Apple would want to charge? Or maybe, because trackpads aren’t ‘essential’ (as per standards-essential patents) so maybe Apple can hold everyone else to ransom, refusing them the option of using the patent? Basically the root of my enquiry is to ask the question why is it that nobody else can get trackpads right? I’m all for protecting intellectual property, but I’m also all for the idea of encouraging innovation – something that I think the patent system was originally intended to do. For whatever reason it isn’t working in this instance as there seems precious little that even comes close to comparing to the efficiency of working with an Apple trackpad. I’m no expert and I may be wrong, so I’ll phrase it as a question: is the patent system just protecting Apple’s (apparently unique) ability to sell hardware at impressive profit margins? (and meanwhile preventing anyone else from making a decent trackpad!)

So… I’m really happy to have this Macbook: in a round about way the burglars did me favour, as I probably would never have willingly ‘converted’ to Apple without having the opportunity to get a brand new machine. The OS is really better than I knew, and it only took a little while to get used to it (after nearly two decades of working with Windows). So far I haven’t had any issues with software not being available for MacOS (at least not where there hasn’t been an appropriate alternative). The trackpad is amazing, and has transformed my mobile working. However, the lack of competitors for the trackpad (in particular) makes me somewhat depressed. I’m yet to see a compelling argument for why the kind of patents granted to the likes of Apple, Google, Samsung etc, on very generic hardware concepts are beneficial in terms of innovation. It’s even worse for software. I wish every trackpad in the world could be as good as this one, and I think if everybody using trackpads used one of these.. you’d be able to measure the effect via global productivity within weeks!!! (:-P maybe a slight exaggeration)

Patent Wars, from Business Week (

To slightly balance my disdain for Apple’s use of the patent system, I have another brief story. I was at a talk by Clive Grinyer, a designer working for Cisco. The presentation was part of the HighWire ‘Digital Futures’ series, so most of the people in the room were PhD candidates. Clive noted that every single laptop in the room was an Apple-designed machine. Initially I thought he would say something negative about this fact, however on the contrary he wanted to say that he thought this was encouraging.

Macs - Finishing off some work on our 'Deep Dive' project - showing off 4 Apple Laptops.

Macs – Finishing off some work on our ‘Deep Dive’ project – showing off 4 Apple Laptops.

The reason Clive saw it as encouraging, is that it indicated that all of us in the room were appreciative of an integrated approach to design (whether we knew it or not). Clive was arguing the importance of multi/cross/or maybe ‘post’ disciplinary working. So, not just coders talking to designers, but coders that appreciate design, and can have a realistic conversation with a manufacturing manager, taking into account what the manufacturing manager is telling them about supply chains while also being able to converse with the marketing department about branding….. and so on. Apple work in an integrated way, and the result is products designed holistically and integrated into the whole corporate ecosystem, and, into the consumer ecosystem…. and that… I guess… is why despite being ubiquitous Apple products remain so attractive, sell so well and as a result Apple have a (correct at time of writing) 137 billion USD cash pile. Well done Apple! Clive took pleasure in seeing that ‘we’ (HighWire PhD candidates) had ‘voted with our cash’ and collectively all appreciated the value in this integrated approach, and hence the room only had Apple computers in it. Well done us. But I do hope, maybe sooner rather than later, that a room full of PhD candidates in the future might have slightly more diverse tastes in their hardware, resulting from a better use of our intellectual property legislation.

Contrast Making it Tasty

So with food… if you mix up hot and cold, or crispy and smooth, or sweet and sour: you tend to get good results. The same exists with innovation. The same exists with creative thinking and outputs. Latest example 3d printed music (and that works on several different levels). Check it out:

Using Crowd Wisdom to Annotate the Web

Since January I’ve been intensively researching in the space around citation practices in academia as part of the HighWire MRes ‘Special Topics’ module: I’m really intrigued by it all. As is often the way with these things I’ve probably gone about it the wrong way, with an idea of a solution (I was thinking about applications of linked/semantic data…), before properly understanding the problem. Thankfully, to learn this kind of thing is why I’m doing an MRes.

I’m actually consciously trying to resist being consumed by my obsession with this topic, yet at the same time trying to master my own feeling of completeness as regards my knowledge of the subject. Part of the issue is that most (not all) of the academics I’ve spoken to about my concerns to do with citation practices react quickly and deeply, suggesting that this is ‘the way things are’, inherently political, unbounded… and generally a difficult area to work in. They’re probably right, but it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go there. I’ve already written a 2000 word literature review titled ‘Impact Metrics: Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics‘, and a mock EPSRC funding proposal ‘Expressing Research Output Through Linked Data‘ on these subjects, so I won’t elaborate here… however my thinking in this area did lead me to think about annotation as a method by which to make various practices on the web more transparent, and potentially a way of mitigating the Matthew effect.

The Matthew effect suggests that ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer’. It applies in academia too: a highly cited paper is far more likely to grow its citations quicker than a paper that has no citations. Thompson Reuters actually run a ‘Highly Cited’ service, on their front page they state:

“Once achieved, the highly cited designation is retained. With each new list, we add highly cited individuals, departments and laboratories to this elite community.”

I don’t want to appear objectionable, but, it is quite a scary proposition. They’re saying that once they (Thompson Reuters) have awarded this accolade, it is enshrined forever.. thus the ‘elite’ community is created. This touches on my issues with impact measures per se. It is impossible to explain the nuances of a lot of literature, knowledge, or learning, and to express why or how it is valuable by way of a number. The content of academic literature (excepting tables, figures, etc) is qualitative. Regardless of the field there’s a qualitative element. So why don’t we discuss it qualitative terms? Plain English…! “This is relevant because….” or “I disagree because…”

I don’t think we should ignore statistically based metrics. I don’t think we should ignore citation counts. I do think that being highly cited (whether or not Thompson Reuters invite you into their club) is usually a great thing, helping both authors and researchers that need to access relevant literature. However we’re missing out on the subjective. And the subjective has value. Even worse, if we’re counting citations and making a judgement on them, we assume that they’re quite an objective thing: which is a total fallacy. Why one paper receives citations and another one doesn’t could be for any reason, right through to being friends with somebody, to typeface, to an artefact of the indexing process, or simply because of the keywords chosen to describe the paper.

I had a really great lecture from Wolfgang Emmerich, although the lecture was really about agile software development methods used at Wolfgang’s company Zuehlke, we tested out the wisdom of the crowd. Wolfgang had each of us guess the weight of a motocycle. We revealed our first guesses, discussed, then re-guessed. We took the mean of the second guesses, and the ‘crowd’ (only about 10 of us) was within 5% of the correct weight. Pretty impressive I thought.

So… I postulate that the wisdom of the crowd, combined with an open annotation system, could be a massively important tool for adding extra value to things like, for example, citations. On an exploratory punt at working with Mendeley to further explore this through my summer project I was pointed toward by William Gunn (head of Academic Outreach at Mendeley). are developing an open annotation system, relying on crowd-sourced and reputation based data… to annotate everything…… After watching this short video (below) I had one of those terrible yet affirming moments. The thought running through my head was “Again?!?! Again!!!? Why does every idea I have, seem to have already been had by somebody infinitely more able to deliver on it than myself.” I had had this idea before, but kind of wrote it off as being ‘too big’, eventually sanitising it down so much that I was just thinking about annotating citations. As it is, the ambition embodied by the project I think potentially has the power to transform the web. It’s also a reminder to me to ignore those authority figures that suggest that maybe the area of interest is ‘too big’ or ‘too political’ or ‘just the way things are’ – sometimes you’ve got to throw caution to the wind, just like Mario Capecchi did. 

Spesh To’ics: Presents for all

The special topics module has three marked components:

I did the presentation today, so I thought it makes sense to write some reflection about it. Firstly, I don’t think it went that well! It certainly wasn’t a complete failure, but at the same time I would have preferred things to go better.

This, is pretty much unrelated, but was a video I used in a presentation while studying Interactive Arts… I needed to sum up how the last few months had been, so I simply put all of the images I’d taken during that period into a very fast video that showed them all in chronological order. It uses an early ‘prototype’ version of the Joe Galen track Interlude to get stuff.

I was actually quite pleased with the slides I put together to support the presentation, and therefore the planned structure of my talk. I used a metaphor of various periods in history to relate to the ‘narrative’ I tried to put together: I thought it was quite neat. I also thought the content I included, and references, were the most relevant and would contextualise the research questions that concluded the presentation. 

Unfortunately I was stung by two quite fundamental issues. Firstly, and I knew this before I started, my talk was too long. I needed about 12 minutes to get through everything and the allotted time was only 10 minutes. This resulted the zero-hour decision to skip out some of the early information I intended to talk about. Secondly I hadn’t memorised my ‘script’ and I hadn’t printed the notes, so I was left to read them off my computer screen. Sadly this meant that I was in a rather unnatural position: if this were a stage show it wouldn’t have gotten good reviews. A final basic/schoolboy error was that I used my new Macbook to give the presentation, I had underestimated quite how small the text would be (due to the insanely high resolution): I could hardly read the notes!

In the end I totally failed to present the final slides, so didn’t have chance to actually explain the direction I want to take the research in, in any detail. I was quite upset that I didn’t manage to get that in, as this was really the only ‘new’ part to the presentation. I did manage to refer to some of the missing content in the questions at the end of the talk, but not in the same manner that I’d liked, and also the link to my narrative structure was missing.

So.. these are my take aways:

  • Be conservative with timing
  • Print notes
  • Test with the ‘live’ kit (to avoid the tiny-text problem)
  • Learn your script

But…. like I said….. it could’ve been a whole lot worse, so not all bad. There isn’t that much information on the slides themselves (it was supposed to be contained in the talk) but here they are anyway!

Spesh To’ics Week {unsure}; The revelations of research

Well, in hindsight, I’m quite impressed with myself that I managed to do a weekly blog for four weeks running. It’s been…. *goes to check dates*… precisely one month since I last did a special topics reflective blog. I was insistant that I’d do it regularly.. and, well, although there’s been a several-week break, I don’t think that this is a bad thing on this occasion! Between my last update and now I’ve had conflicting priorities. A few assignments. A few distractions. A deep dive week. All the while however I’ve been thinking about this piece of work, and my area of research for special topics. The one annoyance, and something that in terms of reflective practice might be useful, is that I haven’t managed to do as much reading as I’d liked to have done. Fortunately, however, the deadline has been extended for the written piece for special topics, so that means more time for reading (and procrastination).

I’ve become so excited about this topic that I’ve been thinking ahead and envisaging continuing the research for my HighWire summer project (the summer project runs or somewhere in the region of three months, and the expected outcome is a paper, or other artefact). In support of that I met with Jon Whittle and Matthew Rowe at Lancaster’s InfoLab21 to discuss. It was quite an enlightening discussion. Firstly I realised I still hadn’t narrowed my thinking to anything specific enough to begin a “proper” project around and secondly, I was pointed in the direction of some really interesting work by Matthew.

altmetrics was the most significant thing Matthew pointed me toward, a movement started a couple of years ago. Their work hinges around a manifesto, and broadly speaking this movement encompasses all of what I’ve been thinking about. The very fact they’ve termed it a manifesto is indicative of the size of the problem. A “normal” paper wouldn’t manage to communicate the problem that is trying to be addressed. So those behind the altmetrics movement, and I, are both hinting that a wholesale change is necessary to resolve the engrained issues in the way “impact” is measured, not to mention a whole host of inter-related complications of this. While it’s always reassuring to find somebody has had the same kind of thoughts as yourself, it’s also daunting and worrying to understand quite how large the scale of the issue is. Going down the altmetrics rabbit hole, there is no sigh of the depth abating. There’s a lot of stuff down there, mostly juicy, the occasional dropping. The occasional juicy dropping.

I think this is all part of the Science 2.0 movement, in some way or other. What is it with me and tending toward “2.0” stuff? My project Prayer 2.0, my undergraduate dissertation (Web 2.0: Web as canvas), and one of my recent assignments for HighWire (Do we need Smartphone 2.0?). I dunno. Maybe I just tend toward buzzwords. I hope not though.


Spesh To’ics Week 4; The well-being of innovative thinking

I had a great chat with Dr Maria Angela Ferrario a few days ago (Marie is a researcher at Catalyst) – inspiring this blog. It was one of those chats where we went in and out of all kinds of areas, and with a 3-day-long 30th birthday celebration having happened between then and now, I’m struggling to recall exactly what I was thinking when I had the epiphanylike moment. I think it was to do with the effect that forcing (or attempting to force) creative (or innovative?) thinking can have on one’s well-being.

I just tried typing a few key words into various search engines and came up with a few interesting-looking papers. This one, published by NESTA, is particularly interesting and makes some good observations, although its main conclusion is certainly along the lines of needs more investigation.

The reason for my interest is a personal one. I’ve been feeling increasingly rundown in the last few weeks, and while it’s possible I have an underlying health problem (I’ll go to the doctor if it persists) I actually think it’s more likely that my energy has been sapped by a combination of constant creative thinking, and an unrelenting calendar of social events (oftentimes low on sleeping, high on consumption). Obviously I could try to minimise the social stuff, but I’m not sure that would help at all (as it would simply open up even more time to think about being innovative).

Most reflective methods suggest (variations on the theme of) figuring out what happened, deciding what went well, and what has not gone so well. Since Christmas, I’ve had some ideas that have really excited me. They’ve come ‘from nowhere’. I’ve innovated: created them. Of course in hindsight – reflecting on the epiphanies – this isn’t the case. I think all innovation comes in increments, even if those increments happening over time lead to an atomised radical innovative ‘black swan’ moment. The constancy of that incremental thinking is sapping, and seemingly unrelenting. So the thinking has gone well, the ideation, coming up with ideas. The effect on me has not been so good. So the conclusion: find a way of mitigating this. What that mitigation can be, I’m not sure yet, but I’ll think on it (which, ironically, might well contribute to the problem, in the short term anyway).

The talk with Marie.. well that has stimulated a whole new branch to my thinking around special topics, maybe that’ll contribute to my run-down feeling.. but… maybe it’ll result in a great outcome for special topics, which could lead onto a great summer project, an entirely new – and exciting – direction for my PhD. Who knows. But what I’m sure of is that I need to figure out a way of managing these thought processes so I can think sustainably. Hmmm……. ideas?

Cloud computing and big/open data: tools for cosmic data Aikido?

It isn’t by chance that me and Rob Potts (colleague, and new friend, and universal tool for metamorphosing the everyday) have referenced each others’ blogs this week. It will continue, I hope. We are in fact attempting to instigate a general cross-referencing of the blogs that our HighWire cohort have to write for various modules this term in order to stimulate some innovation

The title of this post is a shout out to Rob’s blog Sustain and Release. Read that post and you might see what I mean about him being a universal tool for (occasionally in)coherent metamorphosis of the everyday into visual, spoken and cognitive metaphor (has he infected me?!). Rob says, in regards to sustainability:

Is this a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation?’ What is the smart way to proceed? Perhaps now we need to begin to work with matter, cosmic Aikido.

Professor Gordon Blair presented a lecture on cloud computing to us today. It didn’t contain anything I wasn’t, at least a little, aware of before.. however in the inimitable way that any good presenter can, Gordon’s lecture did make me think about these things in detail – something that is happening consistently in my time at Lancaster.

So back to the Aikido and cloud computing. Cloud computing isn’t a distinct thing. It is Google Apps,  it’s Dropbox, it’s Amazon EC2, it’s BitTorrent, it’s iCloud, it’s the data centres that startups and corporate giants use to harbor their data.

There is no hard and fast definition, and the list above could be a very long one, but in essence, cloud computing is a whole host of overlapping technologies. This is very well demonstrated in this image taken from Cloud computing: state-of-the-art and research challenges (Qi Zhang, Lu Cheng, Raouf Boutaba 2010), via Gordon Blair.

Cloud Computing Architecture

Cloud Computing Architecture

End users see the different levels as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Software as a Service (SaaS). The diagram shows the kinds of resources related to each of these layers, and the examples on the right show real world examples of each one. IaaS generally refers to quite raw, ‘low’ level stuff (such as simply having a virtual machine running Ubuntu, or Windows 8, that you have access to via ‘the cloud’). PaaS takes it up a level, maybe you will have access to a programming framework, or a database. You don’t really have to care how it works, but you know you can access it for your own means. Lastly SaaS is the kinds of things that I use everyday, Dropbox, Facebook, Google Apps: user-facing applications. Sometimes you might find that a SaaS is built atop one or both the two layers below it.

Cloud computing is great. It’s very clever, and with the bandwidth available these days, and the hyper-connectivity that in its own right is an intriguing area of study. With it I can happily go to the University campus knowing the papers that I need to read are stored in Mendeley’s online repository, my music is in Google Music, any other documents I need are accessible from Dropbox, and that if i have an innovative startup idea today, I can easily get the computing power needed to support it online – without huge outlay – by tomorrow, and that that solution will be scaleable. It’s incredible.

There is of course the hidden cost. It’s hard to find a reliable figure for this, but you could argue, legitimately, that searching Google twice (incidentally, for each hyperlink in this document I’ve searched Google at least once…) uses the same amount of energy as boiling a kettle. It isn’t fair, I don’t think, to make that comparison directly. However what is undeniably true is that the energy involved in running cloud based services, and the infrastructure that supports them, is magnificently huge. As an evangelist for general movement towards sustainability, and a leading expert in distributed computer systems this actually puts Gordon in a sticky place I would say; I don’t envy him on that front. I am aware of sustainability issues, and increasing care about them (and I want to do something about them) but… fortunately I’m not an expert in distributed systems! Conversely it’s a damn good job that some of the eminent experts in this field appreciate sustainability.

In the same session Gordon covered some issues related to big data and open data. I actually abhor the term big data, as it happens, based on its inherent ambiguity – but no matter. Cloud computing is one of the factors that has enabled big data to splurge across the world, and as a result big data has become a significant area of study (and – excuse me – a big business).

Big data, I think, should be respected and watched. The respect because it can harness great power for, potentially for both good and evil. Watched to make sure that this power is controlled equitably. It scares me to think how much information Google hold on me. It scares me to think how much money our personal data is worth to corporations. It scares me to think that if my DNA or health records become part of this big data craze and comes to be in the hands of corporations concerned with profiting from it. But at the same time the quirky correlations between Google search results and things like house prices or influenza outbreaks, if they continue to emerge and sustain, have huge potential for good in the world (those are just two examples of how people can utilise Google’s big data, there are many other vendors, types and examples). Another interesting story of how scary big data is comes from Malte Spitz. Spitz wondered one day exactly what data his mobile phone company was collecting about him, after a lengthy legal battle he finally received a file that contained 35,830 lines of coded data. From this data you can virtually relive Spitz’s life over an extended period. I really recommend this TED talk, delivered by Spitz, where he sums it up beautifully.

Cloud computing and big data (and indeed the Internet as a whole) share their thirst for energy, and there are no signs of this appetite abating. I find when talking to colleagues that some find it incredibly easy to become ‘anti’ quite quickly when thinking about this. The mixture of the gloomy global outlook when considering sustainability along with the bitterness derived by most when considering issues of privacy and trust related to big data is a heady mix, that can make those concerned with it appear reactionary. Conversely others that, I think quite pragmatically, conclude that big data (and sustainability issues) are with us to stay, oftentimes become equally vocal, and it isn’t difficult to find confusing theories that lead a logical observer toward a head-in-the-sand approach to the dilemmas here (on account of a how entangled the issues are). A third camp, and that is where I see myself, are optimistic that the benefits of big data can be realised while the issues of trust and privacy issues are dealt with sensibly. Apart from revolutionists, I haven’t heard any convincing argument as to how we could realistically dispense of these innovations now that we have them.

The final part of this cosmic data Aikido jigsaw is open data. Open data is an equally broad topic as big data, so I won’t go into any detail, but broadly speaking it means data that are publicly available. You could say that open data are to information, what the open source movement is to software applications. Like open source some see it as a tool or a model that fits into current paradigms, others see it as an entirely different philosophy. I think it has the potential to be both. One example of an open data project is OpenStreetMap, a global map that is made for people, by people, and is owned by people. New York City has a large repository of data that covers everything from wireless hotspots in the city (the most frequently viewed, via the open data portal) through to after school programmes, privately owned public spaces, fiscal stimulus data, and refuse collection tonnages. Another example of open data at work was after the large 2010 earthquake in Haiti the OpenStreetMap data for Port-au-Prince was taken from being virtually nonexistent, to some of the richest cartographic data that’s ever existed. This data was used by aid organisations and health agencies to great effect. In NYC you can view crime statistics on an interactive map, and maybe plan a safer route home, or decide where to live accordingly. It’s early days for open data, but so far some of the applications really have had impact, and are almost heartwarming to my mind.

It’s a difficult thing to imagine, but I really believe that if all of the elements of the system could be modeled to demonstrate that the utility and methods behind cloud computing can deliver the benefits of open and big data in a scaleable and sustainable way. Apart from a hell of a lot of work and ingenuity, it would require a ‘global’ cooperation. If you take global to mean whatever system you’re looking at, rather than ‘planet-wide’, then I think this really could be a reality in the not-so-distant future.

So what am I thinking? A hella distributed computer system. These distributed systems (some of which could be termed cloud computing) are really powerful. A system where every device would contribute its spare processing power and storage to the cloud, whether it be a phone, tablet, laptop, super computer, or a whole a datacentre. All data would be owned by everybody, so forcing a collective responsibility towards how much of it there is, and how it is used. To metaphoricalise it: imagine the world had a single well for drinking water. Nobody in their right mind would use it all up too quickly, neither would they treat it irresponsibly and contaminate it. Indeed if anybody tried to do either of those things, then everybody else would try to stop them. Interestingly the way I’m imagining this system, it could pretty much alleviate the privacy/trust issues associated with big data. You see, I think the best way to incentivise generators of big data to only generate, to only store data they need, and also to ensure that it is treated sensitively, is to store it in an entirely open cloud.

I realise having gotten to the end of this constructed idea of cloud-based cosmic data Aikido, that it is a little Utopian. Maybe a lot. However, there isn’t really anything to suggest that the idea couldn’t work on a relatively local level (look at Diaspora and BitTorrent), before being scaled up. Each increment of the network size would represent a net (pun?) ‘saving’, and a further step towards generating and using data responsibly.

Going a few steps further down the technological discovery line you can imagine how the Utopian vision described above could be supported by ubiquitous computing. It would be a challenge to quantify, but I dare say that if you added up all the spare processing and storage capacity that exists within the incredibly pervasive computer power in the world (including all the processes not only in phones, but in refrigerators, cars, escalators, boilers, routers, etc) – then you could maybe replace a large amount of the energy-gobbling (and expensive) data centres that power the (current incarnation of) the cloud and big data. On another note imagine that the way we store data could be disrupted by storing it inside DNAliving storage devices could be the answer to the practical problem of how to store seemingly infinite data (however, of course, this raises a whole myriad of ethical and trust concerns in its own right). It’s all possible though.

The European Union recently announced a €1 billion research project around large-scale brain simulations. I’m fascinated by it, and ever so slightly scared too. Depending on the outcome, maybe ubiquitous computing could become a vehicle for hosting a large scale virtual brain in a distributed manner. I think maybe I’ve watched too much Ghost in the Shell.

Put briefly, I love the things you can do with cloud computing, big data, and open data. I’m also aware that there are impacts. Computing is ubiquitous, but we’ve got to that stage without much thought for how to sustain it, or how to get the most out of it. Maybe it isn’t practicable, but, I’d like to think that there is a way in which all of these arenas are linked could be put to use and lean on each others’ strong points, while containing the negative connotations related to how we see them now.

Spesh To’ics Week 3; Confronted by volume

Well this week has been a week of procrastination for me. No greatly detailed research for Special Topics has taken place. Actually most weeks are procrasto-weeks for me, in reality. Maybe that has some benefit, but maybe that’s a different subject than the one I should be writing about! I think my ‘dinosaur brain’ (a term I’m told my sister’s boss uses.. I can’t find any references to it on the web, but I do like it!) has been working away in the background though, and is bearing some fruit.

I’m confounded by the complexity and depth of knowledge in general. It’s one of those things that when observed from a macro level is as tantalising as it is terrifying. I guess this is something that I’ll have to consolidate into my thinking and accept, particularly given my chosen area of research, which I suppose you can broadly just define as ‘the academic method’ (something that I do believe to be something of a nonsense, in the same way I believe the ‘scientific method’ is a tad nonsensical).

My reflective nugget for today is: reading is good. But also that not reading is good. I’m not sure if this is a general thing in certain ‘types’ of person, or if it is something that’s quite localised to myself. I’m pretty good at gobbling up a large volume of information all at once, but only if it is delivered in more aural or visual ways. Textual information I find hard to digest quickly. For academic purposes this is a problem, because the point of the academic study I’m currently embarked upon is to discover new things, to be innovative, to ‘create’ knowledge or wisdom. So being able to consume knowledge conveyed in lectures, videos, sound bites is one thing… but the vast majority of the knowledge that I need is trapped up inside PDFs. Not only that, but PDFs that have to be teased out of their (oh so large, and generally – in my experience – devoid of any usability for fledgling researchers like me) repositories and (if your eyes are anything like mine) generally printed on copious amounts of oh-so-cheap but oh-so-expensive paper (not to mention oh-so-easy-to-run-out toner, print credit or inkjet cartridges).

I’m finding some incredibly intriguing stuff though.

Patrick pointed me in the direction of Eugene Garfield – founder of the Institute for Scientific information. Some of Garfields early work describing the indexes he had set up, how to develop them, and how they might develop in the future (starting in the 1950s) seem to touch upon some of my own concerns with the established norms that exist today. This is something of an uncomfortable discovery: the thought that went into Garfield’s early work has not meant that we’re doing things any ‘better’. We’re just doing it on a much larger scale, and much quicker, but for my mind almost exactly the same processes are taking place, and I don’t like them!

A couple of notes from what I’ve been reading this evening. In Citation Indexes for Science (1983) Garfield says:

“… then in the future every author ought to be required to include the serial number of each item he referred to, so as to facilitate not only the compilation of citation indexes but also other operations such as requests for reprints”

Does this happen? Maybe a bit, but not in the most ‘usable’ way, not when compared to proper linked data. In my mind we could apply some wiki principles to how that could take place.. I’ve procured my friend Cormac’s thesis (Edit this space: participation and expansive learning in developing Wikiversity) to see if I can find some synergy with that.

From the same paper Garfield noted:

It also becomes quite obvious that many references to Selye’s paper were general and contribute little or nothing to the readers’ enlightenment…

A practice that is pervasive, still. And indeed something I can confess to having done myself, and I have been told is normal, and, something that I’ve been advised to do by academics in order to play the gameNow if there’s a game, intend on playing it as well as I can.. however going ahead willfully in a manner that involves doing things wrong on purpose seems ridiculous. There’s an obvious need, value, and dependency on citing earlier work. In the preface to another paper that Garfield contributed to Joshua Lederberg of Stanford University mentions that “A cumulative index to all of science would, of course, be a large undertaking but of course no larger than the problem to which it is addressed.” In the actual paper that was being prefaced in the previous quote, the writers concede that “For economic and editorial reasons [trying to make a comprehensive index] was not practical in these experiments“.

Oh, and here’s a photo of Eugene Garfield! (hot linked, I hope that that doesn’t contravene copyright – does it? – and also that the link stays up!)


It’s starting to become clear to me that this topic that I’m studying isn’t at all new. In fact, in spite of the contemporary abundance of computing power, appetite for open information, and ever-growing number of journals, articles, conferences, and scholars.. we’ve far from fixed the problem, or changed the nature of it. Rather it has grown exponentially, and somehow persists. The Observer reported last week that the Council for the Defense of British Universities published an open letter to government positing that the intention to make all publicly funded research freely is “attack on academic freedoms”. Now I don’t want to immediately disagree for David Attenborough, David Starkey, Richard Dawkins or Alan Bennett. But I think they’re shortsighted. I hope the government are not.

“Hotpants vs Knockout Mouse” feat. Quad Bumlines (Sustainability Remix)

Imagine that planet Earth were a corporation with shareholders, how would investors be feeling? What would go in the annual report? It all comes down to exactly what it is the shareholders are interested in. One would usually assume that the corporation is interested in revenue, profit, capital gains of one sort or another; return on investment. So how is Earth Corp doing? Well it depends what you measure.

Could global human population represent “profit”?

Shows how dramatically human population has grown in last 200 years

Human Population

If global human population is the measure of success, then Earth Corp is doing pretty darn well.

But what else could we measure, that could be analogous to profit? Let’s be a little less abstract about how this corporation is measuring its success, and say that Earth Corp is measured by the Gross World Product, how much all of the economies in the world are worth. In that case you get something a bit like this:

Graph showing gross world product over last 80 years

Gross World Product

Also, not bad at all. The time frames on the two graphs are completely different, so don’t make a direct comparison, but the point is they’re both going up steeply. Population and economic output are growing.

In fact, there are very few measures that don’t fit with this trend of the graph goes up dramatically during the time of modernity.

 Try out global temperatures, you get the same pattern:

Global Temperature

Global Temperature

I’m sure most people are aware that if you overlay carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere with this graph, they are very well correlated.

But maybe Earth Corp has some understanding of Corporate Social Responsibility, so the board are ensuring that they’re trying to move their activities to be in accord with the concepts included in the triple bottom line (TBL). TBL is akin to “full cost accounting”, and the idea is to incorporate several factors into a single measure of success, specifically economic, societal, and environmental factors. In fact the graphs above, could conceivably relate to the triple bottom line. So how do we interpret those graphs in relation to the TBL. Well… I guess the rise in economy means more wealth, which is good. The rise in population means that society must be working on some level, and maybe that health is improving, so that’s good too. And from where I sit, the increase in global temperatures, and correlation to CO2 output, is probably a bad thing.

So so far I’ve just pointed out some obvious facts. What I’m interested in is making sustainability tangible. How can we become more sustainable? Looking at each of those graphs, the one big question that occurs to me is how long can that go on like that?

Stuart Walker, speaking to me and a my cohort at Lancaster University, introduced me to the triple, and then quadruple bottom line only very recently (so admittedly, it’s something I’m still getting my own head around). The extra element added to the trio to arrive at the quadruple, is a spiritual element (also known as the personal element). I was surprised how much of an accord this had with me: I’m an atheist. However I do think there’s a place for spiritual understanding in the world (anyone who has a tension with being a spiritual atheist should probably consider exactly what spiritual means, or how it is meant) and actually where this idea of the triple or quad bottom line is concerned, it is essential in order to give the other factors some sort of context.

Another of the revelations that Stuart imbued was related to how the economic factor plays out in these models. In it’s pure form, the TBL is just an spectrum for measurement, that includes several factors. Great. However if you look at how it is implemented, used, how the world actually works.. then 9 out of 10 times the economic factor is an “end not a means” (quoting Stuart). The big point here is to view the triad of society, environment, and personal as the ends, and the economic factor as the means. Value beyond money, I suppose. I mean, who cares how much money you have, if there is no society or environment for you to personally enjoy it in. It is a fantastic idea, but sadly at the moment seems a bit Utopian.

Stuart concludes his lecture series with;

A more holistic approach…. From a knowledge economy based on what we can do, to a wisdom economy based on what we should do..

Stuart tentatively lays the foundations for some answers to the big questions like “is it possible to live in the world in a sustainable way?” (and similar) but purposefully doesn’t begin to address them directly. And who can blame him; our unsustainable way of living, isn’t something you can solve with a discrete solution, it is a wicked problem, and the unsustainable traits of modernity are so deeply ingrained it seems almost impossible to imagine a world where we’ve moved forward.

It’s one thing to talk about possible innovations that might help, but for now I’ll avoid that (I’ve got some ideas.. but they can wait for a future blog). What I want to talk about is the nature of innovation. How does innovation relate to risk? How do established norms relate to innovations? What strategic position is best to adopt when faced with a wicked problem? (in particular this wicked problem)

In order to answer this there are a few points I want to join together: the un-understood behavior of Kingfish, a reference to innovative heated hot-pants (the counterpoint to which is the maverick personality responsible for “knockout mice” and gene therapy), mentioning the complexity involved in figuring out the carbon footprint of the BBC… and then using those four points to ask, what is it those calling for innovation actually want?

First, the Kingfish. I only know about the Kingfish because I watched a recent episode of Africa on the BBC, presented by David Attenborough. The interesting thing about the Kingfish is that, despite being solitary hunting animals, they swim upstream once a year, in a large group, and then spontaneously begin circling round and round in the water. The Kingfish don’t spawn there, they don’t mate there, they don’t die they, and they aren’t from there. There’s no explanation for the behavior. Attenborough called them pilgrims. If these fish were people, deciding to go there, then you might say they had a cognitive bias, which in the words of Paul Ralph is a “systematic deviation from normal judgement”. Something that you do, because it’s the way its always been done.

Kingfish circling (screen grab from BBC's Africa)

Kingfish circling (screen grab from BBC’s Africa)\

Second, the “hot” pants. The pants in question are designed to keep cyclists’ muscles warm in the time between the warm-up finishing, and the race starting. The pants were part of the “marginal gains” programme that the British cycling team developed in the years preceding the Olympics. Matt Parker, head of the programme, realised that the pants would give the Brits a tiny advantage. There were no end of these tiny advances, each a little innovation in its own right. Another marginal gain was the practice of applying alcohol to the wheel rims (reducing dirt, and friction). None of these advances will redefine cycling though, in fact in sporting events this kind of practice either becomes standard (i.e. everybody does it) or gets banned. So in some way, it is a temporary gain.

My third point centres around Mario Capecchi’s “knockout mice”. Capecchi won a nobel prize for his work on the mice. I can’t confess to fully understand the process, but the context here is how and where he got the funding to do the work. When Capecchi said what he wanted to do, those funding the project told him they respected his work, and his talents, didn’t trust that his research would work – it was just so far out. So radical. Nobody believed he could do it. They did want to invest in the man though, so they said sure you can have the money, but please just do something boring, something sensible, something that is ‘doable’, something that will definitely work. Capecchi said fine, took the money, and did the mouse research anyway. He totally ignored the wishes of the funding body. The knockout mouse, as it happens, is the foundation for all gene therapy. It is invaluable work. And the body that funded the work were, retrospectively, grateful for Capecchi’s decision to ignore them! A maverick person was required in order to stimulate radical innovation, which in turn, may well see radical change in society as the cutting edge work founded in the knockout mouse begins to filter through to practical applications.

My fourth point is about bundles and complexity, in this case characterised  by how the BBC are trying to quantify their sustainability credentials. If you consume television media, have you ever considered what it’s environmental impact is? Have you ever wondered what the “best” way to consume content is? I have, but only so far as whether I listen to the sound through my hi-fi system, or use the TV speakers. If you’re the BBC and you’re trying to figure it out, it gets rather more complex. How many people watch via the digital terrestrial network)? How many watch online? Out of either group who records the programme, and who is actually watching it? How many people are sat in front of the TV? How big is the screen it’s connected to? This is all before you start to think about the resources that go into actually making the programme to start with.. For the BBC to figure out a method, which in turn will figure out a value, for a specific viewing of a specific programme. That’s tricky. For information, there is some relationship between distribution method (IP via iPlayer vs radio via digital terrestrial network) and number of viewers. If there is a single viewer, it would be most efficient to only distribute via IP. However if there are, for example, 10,000,000 viewers 90% of which are watching via radio, then those watching via IP will be consuming far more energy than those watching via radio. Probably… it’s complicated! The BBC have employed Janet West to look at these issues.

So how are these things related? Well, firstly they’re all to do with the BBC (the British Cycling/Capecchi examples came from Tim Harford’s new podcast).. but that’s more to do with chance than anything. Harford was making the point that although the marginal gains programme meant that the British cycling team was far more successful than any other in the Olympic velodrome, that fundamentally the marginal gains are quite boring. Boring, but easy to get funding for. Easy to convince people it’s the right thing. In fact the English Rugby Football has poached the man behind the marginal gains for their own needs. In a sense you might say this sort of innovation is fine on its own, but it won’t bring about a paradigm shift. On the other hand, the sort of “radical” innovation that Mario Copecchi brought about with his knockout mice is much riskier. Radical innovation will (yes, definitely, will) completely fail a lot of the time, but.. when it works, you get major advances. Marginal gains vs major advances… who is the winner? Well…

We need to stop being Kingfish. We can’t just continue doing things in the way characterised by modernity, congested with cognitive biases that are predicated on the fact that ‘this is the way its always been done’. We need to shake things up and get radical. At the same time however we need to be accepting of that fact that marginal gains do bring about advances. Understand that risky research will arrive at massively significant outcomes (but maybe only 1% of the time), less risky research will arrive a marginal improvement, but quite frequently. We need to spread our bets.

Lastly. What is it we’re trying to achieve? It is fine to be aware of our (complete lack of) sustainable living, but are you prepared to act? Are you happy to go through your life, along with the masses, living out marginal gains that will ultimately have negligible effect? (recycling your waste, doing a car share, using toilet paper from renewable sources) Or are you driven to radically innovate, shout your cause (whatever side of the argument you’re on) from the rooftops, and take a chance on being the fly in unsustainability’s ointment? What would you be willing to change, to live sustainably?

I don’t think it’s an easy one to answer.


How to fix “Error 2908”

I’ve been struggling for the last 3 weeks with this “Error 2908” issue. Now I’m quite technically minded, and have worked in computer support, so I’ve been very frustrated that I couldn’t get to the bottom of it. It seems quite clear that the issue is something related to the .NET framework (I’m running a Windows 7 PC by the way), and probably would be something in the registry.. but after no end of different proposed solutions, and no end of attempts I had nothing.

Finally, I decided to just remove all mentions of the .NET framework from my Add/Remove programs panel. That has fixed it! I’m sure I’ll have to reinstall the framework at some point, that’s fine, but if you’re suffering from this “Error 2908” issue, I strongly recommend trying to remove it as your first port of call.

What technology will have the biggest impact on our lives in the near future, and why?

The New Scientist are hosting a competition to answer the question:

What technology will have the biggest impact on our lives in the near future, and why?

This is exactly the sort of questions (exactly the sort of Wicked Problems) that HighWire students are attempting to address, so I dived in and gave an answer. I believe the potential is there, although given the 100 word limit I’m seeing this more as a practice in abstract writing than anything else! I did a couple of entries, first, 3D printing:

The 3D printing revolution will be as significant for the world, as the web and mass internet access continues to be. 3D printing is post-modernity: the first significant step towards a sustainable world. 3D printing will disrupt the long established norms of modernity and finally allow a sustainable, but modern, world to emerge from concepts such as the quadruple bottom line. What has the power to make people care about where, and how sustainably, their goods are manufactured? What can facilitate practical modular design? What will make near-perfectly efficient use of global resources and disrupt dependency on shipping? 3D printing.

.. and second.. The semantic web:

How to use energy sustainably? The complexity of the question is baffling. How can we differentiate energy intensive practices from energy neutral ones? The problem is exacerbated when links of activity join up into supply chains: with so many links, how can we understand where the bottlenecks are? Lack of understanding breeds apathy. Linked data and the semantic web will exploit human effort to describe energy relationships in the world we inhabit, thus enabling number crunchers to understand the complexity of the relationships at hand. Armed with meaningful information, we can effect change. Linked data can power the energy revolution.

Spesh To’ics Week 2; Deciding on a theme

Well I’m still bitterly working my way through the assignment on software engineering. I guess not so bitterly actually though. Having spoken with the horse, and taken words directly from its mouth – life is much simpler. I worked for about 16 hours yesterday, and figuratively speaking broke the back of the report, even leaving time to contemplate my special topic towards the end of the day; a topic that I was to present today! Despite one of my peers saying to me, immediately afterwards – “well… I see you were making it up on the spot” –  I thought it went well though. I wasn’t making it up on the spot, although I’d done scant reading or proper research before getting up and speaking.

The three doctors in the room – Patrick Stacey, Keith Cheverst and Martyn Evans – all seemed relatively positive about the concept, unformed as it was, so that’s a pleasant surprise. I think coming up with an idea, and articulating why I think that’s interesting is one of my strengths. At the same time I’m very aware that the counterpoint to that is one of my most fundamental weaknesses: the trouble I have with taking the ideas and putting the flesh on them. I’m not knowledgeable enough about knowledge to do it intuitively, and I’m not experienced in the techniques required to develop that knowledge, put the argument together cohesively, and then deliver it. I know that it’s within my ability, that isn’t the problem… it’s more an issue of frustration and maybe laziness. This is in fact why I ended up choosing this topic to pursue in ‘Special Topics’.

I haven’t mentioned the topic! So… now would seem like the right time.

Well, it isn’t very honed yet, but I hope I can frame it in a meaningful way…

Referencing, when producing academic and/or scholarly ‘stuff’. That’s the general area. Specifically, there are two things that I think deserve some research, and they also upset me and annoy me (both good motivational factors). Firstly, access to journals (for both readers, and writers, but I’m focussing just on the readers really..) is, in my view, ridiculous. Asked rhetorically… these are my questions: Why are articles so expensive? Why do Universities only subscribe to some of the available journals? Why is it that I know the paper I want is there, but I can’t access it? Why isn’t all scholarly data in the public domain? Okay. So that’s the first issue. The second one is that of referencing. Again, rhetorically asked, these are my questions: Why is referencing, for want of a better term, such a ‘ball-ache’ to do? Why hasn’t anybody done anything to distinguish honourable citations from those that are really included in papers to further somebody’s careers somehow? Most importantly, most significantly, why isn’t the data that describes the relationships between papers (who has cited who, and why)…. why isn’t that data available? Could the principles of the semantic web and linked data be applied to this problem?

So those are the two issues I’m concerned with.. which are, admittedly, massive. Where to go from here is the problem.

To be reflective for a moment, I have mixed feelings about this ‘new’ area that I’ve become enticed by. I’m really excited… probably the most passionate I’ve been about anything since starting the HighWire programme. However, it’s yet another distracting idea to be concerned with. I’m not sure how I feel about that, is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? Will this phenomenon of constantly being distracted by something new lead into a problem. I don’t know. But for the time being I’m riding the wave, and trying to soak up the excitement of it, plus who knows, maybe I’ll end up fixing both of those problems. Unlikely, but I think there’s value in the dream.

Spesh To’ics Week 1, incorporating meta-stress, buoyancy, being reunited, divergent thinking

I find my self,
Back here again,
In pressure to the core (of emotion, work, and more),
Called it ‘meta stress’,
A serious test,
Like collapse,
A moreish emotion,
And sure enough,
That’s the pain of a concrete bucket,
In the head of a man,
I’m happy to be back here,
I’m happy that it’s hard,
I’m happy that I’m stressed,
But I can’t believe I said that,
Special topics? Special topics!
While grappling with the aforementioned stress,
While sorting through a, frankly, torturous assignment on,
And a nonsense data set,
But special topics..? Special topics!
Sounds like fun,
I feel like I’m floating (just),
Buoyed by inspiring academics,
Buoyed by my growing lists,
Buoyed by my happy-to-be-backy,
Thoughts akimbo,
Divergent thinking

So! A poem to start. I’m inspired by Mari on that one, to be honest. What I’m trying to say is… this whole “being a HighWire student” thing, it’s still sinking in. I’m still trying to harness any degree of plasticity still left in my aging brain, and learn the tricks of the trade required to be a (good?) PhD student. I am stressed, to the core. I’m not that happy with my personal life, but there’s little to do about it at the time being, and, if anything, I’m seeing the stress as a good thing as regards my personal life. Distractions are always good. This cognitive compromise, alongside some achievements on the previous terms projects (and a couple of personal projects), finally allied with the inspirational seminars delivered from various academics already this term (and I’m only 3 days in) – that brings the buoyancy.

I’m excited about the idea of the “special topics” module, mainly because for the first time I will – alone – be able to determine my own direction. I’m not a control freak, but I do have serious issues with (things that I perceive to be) futile. So, hopefully, I can avoid that.. which I hope will give me more motivation, more excitement, and better outcomes.

(back to stress, just need to get these other assignments out of the way)

And now, the divergent thinking part. I currently have these ideas to work with (for all, assume ‘something in the field of’):

  • After death, digital legacies
  • Dynamic television, film, or other media, that can reform itself according to the viewers’ use of secondary screen-based media (so a TV programme that realises when you’re checking Facebook and automatically reformats itself accordingly, seamlessly)
  • Sonification as story telling, maybe in healthcare
  • Preserving digital formats (so, what if the ‘original’ version of Hamlet was in a Word Perfect file, but all machines that can run Word Perfect are no longer working… is that a problem?)
  • Can music be an aid at different stages of ideation? What changes how effective it could/can be?
  • A better model for academic referencing; the “semantic web” for academic literature
  • The importance of seed content (as mentioned by Keith), demonstrable in various iterations of my antimatable project
  • Is there space for distance learning (or tele-teaching) to be the preferred method of teaching, in some scenarios? What are the barriers to that, and what would be the potential advantages?
  • …. hard to sum up, but, multi-dimensional sketchnoting on e-ink tables, with the ablity to 3D print the results for physical review (sculpture meets analogue note taking)
  • Is now the time for consumers to power a revolution moving towards modular consumer electronics?

Busy times

Gosh! It’s nearly half way though this term at HighWire. Things are going fast. I went to Switzerland two weeks ago to play a gig, which was great fun, but with that over now the HighWire work is progressing ever faster. My two projects (one solo, one group) are well under way, one of which involves the doll. Hopefully post somereal content here at some point, but currently work is in progress.

Galen’s first trip to a pub

Galen is my Makie Doll, made by the fantastic MakieLab. I’m not really at liberty to say too much about what I’m doing with them/him at the moment, but rest assured I’ll update as soon as I can. In the mean time, the following photographs document mine and Galen’s first night out together. We went to Yorkshire House in Lancaster with a cohort of sociology post graduate students. Afterwards he made me go to Revolution with him, where he made one enemy (this girl did not like him), and a few friends (he was taken to the bar inside somebody’s clothing, and then somehow made his way into the girls loo! Quite an outing for a 1-day-old).


He liked Guiness


.. in fact he managed to drink a lot of it given his size


I want him to make is own mistakes in life, so I let him try a cigarette (despite my insistance that he didn’t smoke). Turns out he doesn’t like it. The irony is that given his lack of respiratory system, smoking would probably do him minimal harm!


One of the social scientists was encouraging him to behave badly!


The warm glow of Galen’s first taste of alcohol in full effect


The cold reality of being a drunk (doll) hit home quite soon though


Accidents happen! Galen’s arm fell off!


Passed out.


I’m back

So, I last updated this blog way back in 2009, just as I was finishing my course at Manchester Metropolitan University, studying Interactive Arts. In the intermediate time I’ve been around, doing stuff, but haven’t really felt the need to use this blog. It is titled “joesart” which is maybe part of it, I haven’t really done any “art” for a while. I did do quite a few bits after I finished University, but it never made it on here. I setup the web presence for a publically funded project called Living Positive (website now offlien), and I exhibited “Animatable” a few times (I’ll add pages with links about it soon), that has now progressed into being a wholly different kind of offering, more about that later. Finally I did manage to have a solo exhibition, that rehashed a few ideas and introduced some new ones, all around the theme of feedback. I also released my album, did a Swiss tour as Joe Galen, and worked for the NHS for 2 years…. (this is a link to “Joseph Lindley” on LinkedIn – me!)

ANYWAY, why am I updating now? Well, I’ve just started a PhD on the HighWire programme at Lancaster University. Rather than start afresh, I thought I’d follow on from where I left off on this blog. It’s exciting times.

Watch this space :o)

MMU Degree Show

So the degree show finally closed its doors today: leaving me one extremely tired, yet elated, human being. The response to my piece was fantastic, and it was down to everyone who contributed their thoughts and doodles that it went so well. I took around 13,000 photographs over the last week, which were all included in the piece at some point or another – they’ll be posted here very soon. I’m going to exhibit the same piece at the Printworks in Manchester during July, so if you missed the degree show, come along. More info on that soon.

So. The other reason for this post is to explain the website, and provide links for people.

For Joe Galen the musician, Creaked Records, my music site, and Myspace.

For Joe Galen the artist, you’re in the right place, but unfortunately the place isn’t right! This website was originally my journal, and has slowly evolved into what it is today – a mess. Here’s some links to my favourite bits though: HDR photographs, baker’s yeast sonification, some videos.

If you want to email me… please use this form!

Cutting Room Experiment; My Entry

I’ve entered this interesting competition; it’s asking for concepts for 12 flash mobbing events, to be held in Manchester in July.  My idea is for all of the attendants to take photographs simultaneously on their mobile phones, and then blutooth them to a central hub to be displayed on a big screen. Vote for me here.

Baker’s Yeast Sonification

I’m currently completely wound up in stressing about my degree show – which is on the 19th June here, for anyone who wants to come (it’s entirely public) – but managed to fit in an entry to this competition. The task was to sonify the coding sequence of a gene taken from Baker’s Yeast. Very interesting. Unfortunately some sort of technical problem means that my entry hasn’t appeared on their website yet :-/ I’ve made two versions. One is less manipulated, the second used extra processing of MIDI signals to modulate parameters – feat. jiggerypokery by Fred Baker.

Version 1

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Version 2  (feat. Jiggerypokery by Fred)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Here’s my desription of concept;

This piece explores the intricate thought that is required to comprehend how such simple representation – using the letters A, T, G & C as symbols – can actually contain the instructions for life, any life, to exist (even something as humble as Baker’s yeast). Taking the coding sequence as an independent entity, I’m trying to expose the inherent simplicity, but use sonic aesthetics to be suggestive about implicative complexity

.. and method;

I recorded myself speaking A, T, G & C. Then I wrote a simple program to send MIDI messages corresponding to the coding sequence, into Ableton Live, where the sequence was recorded- forming the core of the piece.

Post production involved manipulation of the pitch and timing of the sequenced samples. An additional percussion track and effects sends add depth. Plogue Bidule was used to manipulate MIDI signals which modulate parameters in Ableton Live.

The meter quickens throughout the length of the piece, building to a crescendo at the end.

This is the coding sequence that I used;


Sonification is really exciting. Hope you enjoy it.

Baker Tilly Competition

I won! I found out quite a while ago actually. My pitch for the HDR photographs did the trick and I was selected. I actually installed my finished images at the Baker Tilly offices lastweek, and they seem very happy with them. I elected to install 3 images (see below).

My work  is sharing a room with Rachel Louise Evans’ work (below) – her work is constructed from 18,000 paper clips..!

Rachel & Nigel

EASA HQ (Moonfish) Competition

I entered and was shortlisted (but didn’t win) this competition to design a paint job for the iconic ‘Moonfish’ building. It’s being rebranded / launched as the HQ for the European Architecture Students Assembly 2010 (which is in Manchester). The winner was announced last Friday, and was Nicos Yaitros from Cyprus; a well deserved winner with a great design. My entry proposed using perspective and illusions to try and make the building disappear, see below (click for a larger version). 


Web as canvas: The evolution of the world wide web as a creative forum

This is an essay that I wrote last year for University. Though I don’t think it’s bad – it could certainly be improved. It should still be of some use / relevance. I really found writing it made me get my head round the concepts I was writing about, and although I understood them all already, it really brought them into focus. Anyway, it’s here; Web as Canvas.

Twitter Updates for 2009-04-12

  • @casualeveryday ever fix your computer playing music randomly? Mine is doing it! Was it some weird female vocal thing? #
  • @casualeveryday thanks for heads up. I really thought I’d gone mad when it started, had no idea where it was coming from. cheers again. in reply to casualeveryday #
  • @Kate_Butler – don’t worry, my laptop is playing music on its own! #
  • think i have hay fever, twitter seems to confirm others do too… so maybe i do. Suppose that is preferred to a full on cold #

Twitter Updates for 2009-04-12

  • @casualeveryday ever fix your computer playing music randomly? Mine is doing it! Was it some weird female vocal thing? #
  • @casualeveryday thanks for heads up. I really thought I’d gone mad when it started, had no idea where it was coming from. cheers again. in reply to casualeveryday #
  • @Kate_Butler – don’t worry, my laptop is playing music on its own! #
  • think i have hay fever, twitter seems to confirm others do too… so maybe i do. Suppose that is preferred to a full on cold #

Artful Data

I’ve considered making a kind of data to sound generator. Rather like Cornelia Solfrank’s Net Art generator, but like a sound art generator. This is a different approach, that I was led to by browsing Max Tundra’s brilliantly crazy website.

Daniel Cummerow has made various MIDI files (musical arrangements) that are generated by tapping into various areas of mathmatics. He’s producing the sound of maths. A fantastic idea. It also explains – to some extent – the multi-timbral soundscapes that Max Tundra produces.

Listen to an example of Daniel’s work, using Pascal’s Triangle. This is a MIDI file, most media players should be able to play it OK. Read about MIDI here.

I figured this was a cool example of how data meets art meets data.

Twitter Updates for 2009-03-15

  • @Kate_Butler Dan Bridgewood-Hill is….. – and music editor of Blank now I think! in reply to Kate_Butler #
  • @zimmyis maybe we could take turns Zimmy? If you like. Though maybe not, I can’t promise to get up in time. Hmmm. I’m useless! #
  • is researching Twitter for the top secret Project 11. What are the pros and cons? Contrast with facebook & other networks. #
  • I like it that the Mac I’m using has two mouse buttons! #
  • The afternoon play on radio 4 is excellent today, something about carbon change. So entertainig, and pertinent. #

Advertising Standards Authority

I decided to compain to the ASA the other day. I’d seen an advert for nicotine patches, saying that nicotine was  ‘theraputic’. Made me laugh, and vaguely angry. I do wish I wasn’t addicted to nicotine… maybe addicted is a little strong. Wish I didn’t have a nicotine habit.

Anyway; here’s the response.

Dear Mr Lindley

Re: Your complaint about NiQuitin advertising

Thank you for your recent complaint about a TV ad for this product.

I understand you object to the term ‘therapeutic nicotine’ because Wikipedia says therapeutic means the attempted remediation of a health problem, which you feel does not apply.  We have reviewed the ad but on this occasion, we will not be taking further action.

When assessing complaints about TV ads, we have to consider how viewers are likely to interpret the claims.  In this case we think that viewers are likely to understand that nicotine is highly addictive and is the element within cigarettes that makes giving up smoking very difficult.   While your definition of therapeutic may be correct, we note that it also has the meaning of being “soothing” or “conducive to well-being”.

We have reviewed the ad and note it does not claim to cure nicotine addiction but rather by providing a controlled supply of nicotine, the product is able to calm the symptoms of withdrawal and so allow the person to concentrate on something other than their craving for cigarette.  On this basis, because we think that people are likely to understand that the claims are made in the context of an ad for an anti-smoking product, we don’t think that this ad is likely to harm consumers or mislead them to their detriment.

I am sorry that we are unable to investigate your complaint further, but thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Yours sincerely,

Karen Harms

Complaints Executive

Twitter Updates for 2009-03-08

Data Sonification

I’ve been thinking about Sonification (has a definition on Wikipedia, even if it isn’t a real word) of data for sometime. My first experiment used this blog. A hidden iFrame on the main page opened a page on a web server running off my laptop. These requests were then converted to audio and played out of the laptop’s speaker. I’m interested in the concept of listening to data all together, and in particular web / internet data is especially intriguing. Similarly I’ve recently become inspired by autonomous art works, things that do their own thing without intervention, and even better than that they do something entirely unpredictable.

My research has progressed, and now rather than using a simple PC speaker my software outputs MIDI information. That can then be interpreted by all means of other software, or even hardware synthesisers to actually turn the data into sound. Also I’ve stopped using this blog as the data source, I’ve actually obtained a months worth of web server log data. This has given me about 7 million records to use as my data set. Due to the way the software processes data the amount of time that it would take to “play” is equal to the amount of time that data took to collect. So, the months worth of data I’m using currently would actually take 1 month to listen to. Here’s a few excerpts from my current set up.

Example 1

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Example 2

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Example 3

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Example 4

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The “rules” that the software adheres to are as follows.

  • MIDI note is determined by an addition of each segment of the clients IP address, which is then divided by 8. The reasoning behind this is that there are 128 possible MIDI notes. The sum of IP address segments has 1024 different possibilities. 1024 / 8 is 128; so this calculation will always provide a valid MIDI note.
  • Length of note is determined by looking at the length of time in between web requests. This means in busy periods the software produces lots and lots of notes, whereas at quiet times (in the middle of the night) very few notes are played.

In time I’d like to further develop the system, exploring using other things as parameters with which to modulate aspects of the synthesis. One idea is to look at the geographical location of the client and then alter the sound accordingly in some way. This could work very well with a multiple speaker set up. Also plugging the system into the live log data would be really exciting.

A further development would introduce a visual element to the software. Illuminating variou screen sections according to IP address processing, like the audio. I haven’t looked into that as yet though..! It would probably mean transferring the MIDI processing code from VB into Processing; no bad thing me thinks.

Baker Tilly Comp

I’m going to pitch some HDR photographs to Chartered Accountants Baker Tilly. The concept is to show Manchester financial architecture, new and old, in stunning HDR.

I visited the site of Baker Tilly’s offices last week to get a feel for the place, it’s around Hardman Square in Manchester. I only managed to take 2 shots before being moved along by a security guard. It was still useful to get some test shots and have a look at the site. These aren’t actually HDR, but are “pseudo-HDR” generated from single RAW files.

Twitter Updates for 2009-03-01

  • c’mon google, sort out Gmail. Twitter is excellent for finding out about things like this…. I actualyl just logged onto gmail, but v slow #
  • i’ve made minimal. like it like that. also vimeo is ruling my roost at the mo, youtube seems smelly in comparison #
  • @robdunne what ru on with these days? augmented reality thing sounds intriguing; and what you doing with folly?-if u dont mind me asking! :) #

Twitter Updates for 2009-02-22

  • Applied to school of sound’s international symposium in London this spring. Fingers X’d; #
  • Underachievers at Saki bar in Rusholme, maybe a good place to show stuff….. #
  • having my 352nd final cigarette and coffee :o( #
  • Playing with Processing – the programming language – it is amazing! Trying to make a dynamic bluetooth powered animation system…. :D #
  • Underachievers at Saki bar for a film night, was pretty rubbish. Viv’s videos were great though.. #
  • setup for caiti’s lost things project, check it out #
  • idea; Create a bluetooth virtual gallery, for arts viewable on mobile phone. #
  • another processing idea; use Wii remote to animate… #
  • starting to use Vimeo instead of YouTube – such an attractive interface! And high quality to boot. #
  • ..another Processing idea (related to Frankie & Wyndward’s idea); output binary stream from an analogue input #
  • People following you, in order to then spam, is a very bad idea. Go do some blog spam. #

BtAnim: Processing Animator + Bluetooth V1

I’ve spent a couple of days this week working with Processing – a programming environment designed for artists and designers. I’ve found it surprisingly fun. It happens very rarely with software, that you just identify with it straight away. It happened with me and Ableton Live, and that has culminated in my album.

Anyway. I’ve managed to create something – currently extremely unimaginatively titled BtAnim. As with a lot of my work it is really just a framework for something else to happen. How it works is this;

To begin with BtAnim just displays the starting image on the screen. Anyone who sees it can add their own frame to the animation, by taking a photo on their mobile phone and bluetoothing it to the computer. If you watch the video example here, you will see that as time goes on, more frames are added (although the video is just from my own testing) just as they will be when people are contributing their own images.  That’s it.

I thought it would work really well in a public place like a shop window or something.

Technically it is my usual mish-mash of hacking together some code in Processing, using BlueSoleil for the bluetooth component and PHP to monitor incoming files. Watch this space.

Cube Competition Entry

I’ve entered this photograph into a competition that Cube are running.

I’m doubtful whether the image will win – but apparently all of the submited images will be shown, and I think it would work well as part of a collection like that.

Wheelie and Wheels

Wheelie and Wheels

Keeping Busy

I need to keep busy over the Christmas break from University. Although the year is normally split into 3 segments, this year (the final one) is basically split in half. And I’m at the halfway point. So I need to keep up with making things, writing things and formulating what I’m going to do at the end of the year. Here’s a few things that I want to get on with.

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Distributed Video Feedback

Feedback is an immensely interesting subject with many philosophical facets and a massive array of applications.

I’d like to set up a feedback loop that is distributed among remote locations. For it to work I’ll need to have two computers, each equipped with a camera and an internet connection. The screen on computer 1, will show the live video feed (streamed through the net) from computer 2. The screen on computer 2, will show the live video from computer 1. The cameras attached to both computers would point at the screens.

Adding some kind of moving subject infront of either camera would possibly produce more interesting results.

It would be ideal to increase the number of computers in the chain. The more distributed (and global) the better. Degredation of quality, however, would probably ruin the image after a few iterations – though maybe it would actually create something really good.

Web Server Art

If you run a website, or put a web server online, it shouldn’t take long before you start getting hits. Most of the hits are from automated bots, but still you get them. Following on from my previous post, I thought it might be interesting to have a custom web server that produced sound directly from the HTTP requests that it got; whilst still delivering the HTML content to the requestor.


– Update, I’ve just hacked together a webserver that will make my laptop beep everytime there is a hit on it. So- if you’re reading this then make my PC beep by clicking here.

Sound As Data & Data As Sound

I’m going to explore the audification of data. It would be fantastic if I can get ‘inside’ a data set by audifying it. Daniel Cummerow’s work with algorithmic music is really fantastic and revealing, and working with mathematics is attractive.  I may take maths as the starting point – its easy to transform maths into sound, they go hand in hand – but ultimately it would be nice to have some kind of more Universal generator that can take in any database and with minimal interference produce a sound work.

One possible approach would be to use web activity as the data source.

How about a website that produces a tone. The frequency of the tone could be denoted by the number of visitors – or some other factor that is effected by the visitation. Java.. Get Sam to help!

ASUS P5N-E SLI Slow Boot Problem

Just thought I’d post this incase anyone else has the same problem but can’t identify what to do to fix it. I came back to my PC today, having turned it off earlier. It appeared as if the computer was still on (despite me having shut it down) but wouldn’t respond. The same problem may happen under other circumstances also.

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Twitter Updates for 2008-12-07

  • posting from address bar seems an odd thing to do, but maybe it works..? #
  • wrestling with random numbers, mysql function RAND() seems to have saved me :o) #
  • i’m fuzzy headed #
  • fixed a load of stuff behind the scence of prayer 2.0 – done some clever coding, always cheers me up :o) #

Textual Twitter T’ing

I’ve just returned from a trip to London, with mixed fortunes. I didn’t do quite what I wanted, but I’ve come back inspired. Its culminated with my mind being full of art stuff that I want to do – at some point. Twitter is going to be my starting point, as a dataset to work with. Anyhow. This is the story.

I failed to go to a party at Lo Recordings, which Leo invited me to, which was annoying. As it happened I made it to Old Street, and was waiting for a bus there, when my mobile phone died. It took with it the address I was going to, the contact numbers of the people there and any chance of finding the place. So I took the tube back to Fulham where I was staying. Effectively making a 2 hour round trip to nowhere. Making matters worse the travelling between Fulham (West) and Central & East made it impossible for me to go and see the first ever Starting Teeth gig – which was another annoyance.

On the plus side, I briefly met both members of Starting Teeth and Nathan Fake in some bar on Brick Lane. And indeed, it was the first time I’d ever been to Brick Lane so that was cool too….

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What would it be like to visit “Bowie World”?

This in reference to a Second Life project that I’m working on with a team from University, Clicks & Links (Second Places) and various others. This is a textual visualisation aid of what it would be like to visit this place, though I’m going to write it as if it were real, not second life. I’ve not written a “story” for quite a while, so this should be interesting….

I arrived. Suddenly and surely; all at the same time. I was definitely in “a different place”. All I could see was sky, like filming the desert with a fish-eye lens, sky and clouds rolling away forever and then into nothing. I looked down. There it was. Down. It was all down. I was on a tiny platform in the sky. Like a diving board into the abyss. Should I jump? I took a look over the edge.

It was far off, and obscured by clouds, but I could definitely make out an eye looking back at me through the clouding hundreds of feet below. Its a strange feeling when you arrive somewhere and straight away you are being watched. “Fortune favors the brave” or so they say. Despite my lack of bravery I have a love of proverbs; so I set off down toward this starring eye. Is it Sauron? Have I been transported to Middle Earth?

As I got closer it became more clear. The eye didn’t come from Tolkien’s prose and neither was it alone. Hundreds of eyes  were peering at me through the clouds, each one blinking to itself with an air of smugness. Continuing closer and I could see that the eyes were the strange surface of a planet-like sphere floating bizarrely above the ground. A strange asteroid that stopped inches short of disaster. Only what kind of asteroid’s surface is covered in eyes? After a while the creepy blinking became almost inviting.

Although obviously human in form, each eye had its own strange character, an uneasy strangeness of colour and angles. Up close I caught a glimpse at the pupil of these organic forms it was obvious this was not a natural thing; I caught sight of artifacts and objects underneath the surface of this eye-planet. Bright lights. Words maybe. I could have seen a person but I wasn’t sure.

Joseph Galen, For Triangles

Joseph Galen is a moniker for my solo recording project.

It’s done. I’m going to finally admit that its done. It’s like coming out of a tunnel, but the tunnel was always in my mind, and has been about 2 years long. I’m talking about the recording of my album, which is going to be titled For Triangles. The whole thing has been a massive learning experience, ranging from developing my song writing, music production skills & muscianship right through to just being able to comprehend when something is ‘finished’.

The recording has been quite a journey, taking me through 4 different houses, 5 guitars, 3 keyboards, 25 ups, 72 downs, 1052 words, 3 sound cards, 2 computers, 2 microphones, approximately 312 eggs and about 752 days off.

But I’m nearly there now and with it comes a certain apprehension. It is the knowing that I’ll have to free my songs and let them live their own existences. No longer can I be the over-protective father that I have been up until now.

In July I wrote this on my music website, with the firm intention that it would be finished by August. Even having realised how over protective I was being, I couldn’t stop, so it’s taken until now to actually approach finishing.

Anyhow. It’s great. I’m proud, satisfied, excited and looking forward to sharing the songs with anyone and everyone. It also means that I can re-open my mind for other creative business, which is no bad thing. Since my final University year started I’ve spent virtually all my time finishing the record and writing my dissertation. Next to no time has been spent actually working on my artistic practise, and I’ve missed it.

Data Art

After various discussions, one with my tutor Jane Brake and one with superfly superstar Sam Jeffers, I’ve begun trying to further formalise my understanding of the implications of data. Specifically the data that generated by my digital artworks. Most of my practise so far has been fairly ‘happy go lucky’ in a lot of ways. Mostly I’ve been interested in creating things purely for the sake of creating them – and I’m more than happy to stand by that point of view. Even if one’s creative output doesn’t broach a political subject, or doesn’t directly evoke an intense emotionally reponse in the audience, it does not intrinsically diminish its value. However, what I’ve finally realised, is that better understanding of some of the constructs that I’m working with – the Web, the network effect, data, and people – will allow me to produce “better” work. At the very least, it can’t hurt!

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The State of Me

I’m having mixed fortunes with my various projects. The disposable camera that I put in a geocache in Platt Fields Park was almost full, after being there for some months; however recently I’ve been told that the cache has been ‘muggled’ (geocaching terminology) and stolen. A pain in the arse. However my ‘memory bugs‘ are going strong, at least the ones that I’ve distributed using the geocaching community are. The ones that I just released ‘wild’ went missing pretty quickly; so whoever you are, enjoy the free memory sticks.

I had aimed to re-launch Photobombing over the summer, but found myself bogged down with trying to finish the recording for my album (to meet a deadline for Creaked Records), so Photobombing has been delayed again. However I’ve reformulated quite what I want to achieve with it. Now I’m going to operate it just like a pyramid scheme; I will send a number of photographs to people that I know. With each one I will ask them to take a new photograph incorporating the original. This new image will go onto the website, and will be geotagged to show how it has travelled. Then I want the person to send the original photograph onto someone else and repeat the process. Eventually I should end up with a site that tracks the progress of these photographs in an ever expanding network, with photographic evidence the whole way a long. Why? Why not?

Prayer 2.0 is going brilliantly, I’ve ‘advertised’ the site on the web, and combined with the existing user base the site has become quite vibrant; with some extremely varied content. I’m mulling over the next stage, what to do with all of the messages; a book maybe?

Otherwise, I’ve “launched” (or more realistically, ‘tested’) The 100 Portraits; a concept where I distribute 100 photographic portraits of a person, each with a question on the back, to complete strangers and ideally at random. The aim is that the strangers will answer the questions, based on the image that they see. I tested it with the first year Interactive Arts students, by asking their tutor to hand them out. So far I’m only approaching 30 portraits that have answers, but take a look here.

Also I’m 99% done with the recording of my album, so fingers X’d we’re on for a 2009 release. Thanks Leo :o)

Also its my birthday next week. So happy 25th me!

Osama Loves..

“Global dialogue” as an American Osama said;

This was made for TV I guess, hence the Channel 4 link. Essentially, muslims called “Osama” are asked to provide a photo or video showing something that they love. I think it’s showing – well it is showing – “500 faces of Islam”. The diversity, the interest, the warmth and the difference between global citizens. Linked by their name and by their religion. Bloomin’ brilliant interactive art, IMO.

You must look.

Memory Bugs Are Off!

I launched some memory sticks into the wild, using the Geocaching network as a medium. This weekend they’ve both been dropped into new caches by Geocachers. Thanks people.. keep it going! :o)

One of them has gone about 5 miles, towards Stockport. The other is about 25 miles away in Cheshire. Hurray!

Also my geocaches are getting a fair bit of attention, I’ve had about 4 or 5 visits to them over the weekend. Apparently one of them is a bit spartan, so I need to visit it and reload it with some goodies.

WordPress Update

I just upgraded this website to run on WordPress 2.5 – and very swanky it is too! I was quite daunted to start off with, but safe in the knowledge I’d backed up my files & database, I forged ahead anyway. I Googled for “upgrade to wordpress 2.5” or some-such which came up with a few sites scattered around the web. Including, strangely, a link to a Moveable Type article – I seem to have stumbled upon some kind of political debacle between the Moveable Type crew and the WordPress crew. Something I know very little about!

Anyhow, for people that haven’t been enticed by that offer of gossip, the only thing I was going to say was this; there are loads of guides people have posted on how to upgrade around, but the guide on the WordPress codex did the job fine for me. My only heart stopping moment was when I thought that all of my Ultimate Tag Warrior tags had not been imported (and maybe had gone for good). Thankfully there is an Import function built in, and that was sorted quickly.

On first impressions the WordPress 2.5 changes are good, they all seem to make sense. I like it, whether Moveable Type is better or not! I don’t like the Async-Uploader that does not work.

Apart from that still good though.

Silvia Ziranek

I wonder if that is a real name.

Silvia Ziranek did one of the first Tuesday Talks that I attended at the Cornerhouse. Although one of the reasons it has taken until now to write a review is my inherent procrastination the other is that her lecture challenged me, to say the least.

I think of all of the Tuesday Talks, this was probably the least like a lecture, and the most similar to an artwork in its own right. Fortunately (I think) for Ziranek, the way in which she works allowed her to deliver her lecture’s contents by the same means that she performs or delivers some of her work.

Pink Shoes

Poster for a show at the Tate Modern.

She uses complicated puns, references, re-references and strange interconnectedness to explore the complexity and intrigue of whatever subject she might be commenting on or exploring through her work. In the case of this “lecture” she was mainly talking about herself and some of her previous projects. Strangely I think it worked really well like this. It has some parallel which how I want to deliver my 5 minute video presentation for University, I intend on making the video something of interest in its own right, as well as its worth for supplementing my other work. Getting back to the subject…

It would be easy for me to wash over Ziranek’s work as nothing more than a quirky and crazy brand of performance art. I think that was probably the overriding factor in my initial judgement of her. Maybe thats why writing this has taken me 6 months. I needed to arrive at a judgement that was more notable, more interesting, I needed to say something.


Ziranek image from the Cornerhouse Website.

So, what to say? Well I think I was right to think that her work is a quirky and crazy brand of performance art – but then what brand of performance art isn’t crazy – but I was wrong to say it was nothing more. Personally I really appreciate wordplay and the quirks we all live with in our own language (and that others live with in their language). But wordplay was not the essence of Ziranek’s work, it was merely part of the medium with which she delivered it.

The crux of her work, what it means, what its about, the point of it, the reason that it exists, the reason that people appreciate it. I can’t write that down, you will have to experience it. And I think that is the point. If you happen upon Silvia Ziranek at work, or if you deliberately went to see her, there is something for everyone, she touches on things common to all of us, she thrives on using her observational skills and comedic wisdom to engage her audience. She’ll make you smile, shake your head in dismay, question your judgement and possible think that you should walk out.

I had great fun though.

ps Ziranek used a kind of intervention at the start of this lecture, she had placed tiny tubes of paper glue on all of the seats in the room. Caiti has exhausted our glue supply and we’re now using that. Thanks silvia.

Lamination for the Nation

I bought myself a laminator from the ubiquitous I’m not completely sure why, but I’m sure it will spurn some sort of creativity, and potentially usefulness!

One thing that it will definitely come in handy for is printing of things for geocaches. They have a tendancy to get wet and ruin. Also I could laminate instructions for Blogcrossing-type things, so that it is a bit more clear what is actually going on.

** I just had a brainwave. Mars bars go far. **

Lamination 1

So far, I’ve laminated some tissues that are soiled with snot and blood (see the photograph). The bodily fluids are due to a cold and a nosebleed (which is because of the cold!). It was Caiti’s idea, our latest collaboration :o)

April Work Plan

I think I’ve managed to recover from my February Plan. I was feeling very down-trodden at that point. Things seem to be just about in-hand. I even managed to do a few things that weren’t on my list, I made a video “Ups & Downs” (or I might call it “The Ups & Downs of Life” – I’m not sure) and I’ve actually managed to do some good music. Track count for album is going up. Also I’ve been experimenting with HDR photography.

Chorlton waterpark in HDR

Chorlton Waterpark in HDR.

Looking back to Febuary’s plan, this has been the progress:

  • Prayer 2.0. I’ve fixed all the major technical problems with Prayer 2.0 and I’ve redeveloped the code so that it is almost “modular”. I’m planning on having various other websites (, which will be part of the Prayer 2.0 system. They will look and feel like separate websites, but will all actually be doing the same thing. I’m playing around with the idea anyway.
  • Photobombing. I applied for funding to travel the UK, and take Photobombing on tour. I failed. On the plus side I think I’ve arrived at the technical solution for Photobombing, after extensive research into different possibilities. I think I can do everything that I need to using WordPress (like this website), Gallery2 (gallery software….) and various other plugins for both systems; a Google Maps plugin for geotagging and WPG2 to integrate the two systems together. Hurrah!
  • Second Life Project. Clicks and Links’ Designer is working on a first prototype!
  • Feedback w/Zimmy. We did a few test runs of running the video feed into a computer, then digitally manipulating the image before projecting it. We were attempting to use a hand-based movement sensitive controller to allow the viewer to change the image just my moving their hands (in free space). The desired result would be lovely-looking fractal-like images. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out, but I think the problem is simply a computer-power one. I need a faster laptop. Other than that it worked great. I’m going to suggest to Zimmy that he applies to have his work projected onto the side of Urbis as part of the Diesel Wall 2008 (crappy advertising, but cool at the same time).
  • Phase Loops. I didn’t take this very far, but I got quite a good effect simply looping several 2 seconds samples of Branka saying “This is my mind” and having them slowly work their way out of phase. I played this to my year group, but lost confidence and skipped out about 2 minutes… silly.
  • MMU Wiki. The Wiki, is no longer a Wiki. But it is up and running! I’ve decided to run a Joomla system, rather than a Wiki. I spent several weeks researching different user-based systems, starting out with Wikis, but ending on more traditional CMS.

So I think all that is just about going okay, though there is still a long way to go. I’d really like to have my collaborations with Branka and Zimmy go further, but I also don’t want to “gatecrash” their projects, as well as being slightly preoccupied with my own things. The MMU site is probably the most daunting and difficult to pull off, and it also has little value to my practise, so I’m going to try and not get too worried about that. Second Life seems to be taking care of itself and as far as my web projects go I just have just do it. Thanks Nike, you corporate horribles.

So my current plans are;

  • Journal. This is my journal, my journal is this! Deadline is 21st April, so I have to make sure its finished off and contains everything it should. In reality I don’t think it will, but still, I can but try. Last year I was marked down because Gary thought that I didn’t have any lecture notes in my Journal. They were there! The problem was that they were actually photographs of my physical lecture notes, and he couldn’t read them. Doh! This year I’ve hardly been to any lectures, so at least that won’t be a problem!
  • Uni Video. We’ve been told to do a 5 minute video, to aid our end-of-year presentations. That is due one week after the Journal, so I must crack on with that. I have a good idea of how I’m going to make it, so once again its just a matter of doing it.
  • Music. Continue my music exploits, as ever. I got news that my record label has just recieved a 20,000 Swiss Franc grant for business development, which can’t be bad!
  • HDR. I’m having loads of fun, and getting good results with HDR, so I’m going to continue that.
  • Lines. My “Ups & Downs” video I think is a good concept, and I want to explore that further. Although both this and HDR imagery are completely outside of my “user-generated” remit, I think fingers in pies and all that.
  • Photobombing. The time is nigh. Almost…. get it all ready then go!
  • Film Concepts. I have at least three good ideas that I want to make a start at filming. They can all be on-going things.
  • Geocaching. Although my Blogcrossings seem to have gone dead, I’ve launched some more using Geocaching (and travel bugs) as a way to make it work. I’m having great fun with it, let the caching continue. I currently have about 15 tupperware boxes around the house, all set and ready to go. Manchester is going to be cache crazy.

Waterpark Trees

Waterpark Trees (again in HDR)
As well as these individual areas of work I’ve come to realise that I need to make my work a little more cohesive. I’m going to develop my mission statement, maybe even individual mission statements for individual projects. Simply put, I need to be able to say where I’m at with each thing, if asked.

Is teen pregnancy funny?

Juno is about a cool and collected, yet geeky, teenager. Juno’s best friend is a decidedly more geeky, but charisma-heavy character called Bleeker (Michael Cera, Arrested Development). At the start of the film Juno quickly finds out that she is pregnant to Bleeker. Initially Juno plans to have an abortion – and with the suitably amusing scene at the abortion clinic out of the way – she quickly realises that an abortion is not for her. She decided that adoption may be the way forward, and quickly finds a couple she likes the sound of in the classified ads.

Juno Film Poster

The tirade of consequences weave an intricate tale. Despite a kind of inevitability that ensues throughout (you almost know the end right from the start) it engages, amuses and ultimately gratifies the soul. I can appreciate a different point of view, some would be marred by the fact that at the core of this is a teenage pregnancy, some would find the use of music and deliberately overworked cosmetics tacky, certainly some peoples sense of humor might not be matched to the comic elements. However for me all of these things were actually spot on.

Before watching Juno I was a little apprehensive; I thought that it may be too serious. I was concerned that the severity of the issues at hand would not be offset enough by the skill of the writing and cinematography. I was wrong, definitely wrong. It works fantastically. The sound track, the writing, the performances; it works. Funnily enough looking back I think it works because of the severity of the issues. Seeing how the dialog and the lead actress work through the issues of teenage pregnancy really brings an amazing warmth to the film and also I feel it actually allows the movie to address the issues but without being nauseatingly depressing.

So, in this case at least, teen pregnancy is funny. This is the best film that I didn’t watch in 2007. Unfortunately that not only means that I didn’t watch many good films last year, but it also means that a high standard has been set for 2008, and I’m finding it increasing difficult to enjoy anything else I watch!

I loved Juno’s Dad’s nick name for her, Junebug.

My HDR Pics

I’ve been researching and experimenting with various ways of taking high dynamic range images, this the result of my research so far. Also serves as an opportunity to test the gallery functionality in this version of WordPress!

There are plenty of glitches still in the pictures, but I’m making some progress.

Geocaching Memory Bugs

I’ve already released USB memory sticks loose into the wild – as it were. I called those BlogCrossing. Each BlogCrossing is a self-contained WordPress blog (like this one) and the idea is that each person that has the memory stick in their possession should make some sort of contribution, in the form of a blog post.


Geocaching with Caiti and Demelza. We found this Knight travel bug just by the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, I took him to Manchester.

I saw it as the inverse of blogging, rather than being written by an individual and available to the masses this blog is written by many people but can only be read by a single person at one time.

Recently I’ve become more and more enamored with geocaching – via – and I thought combining the traveling memory stick concept with geocaching would work great. For those who don’t know, geocaching is (according to the ever-present Wikipedia):

Geocaching is an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called “geocaches” or “caches”) anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook and “treasure,” usually toys or trinkets of little value.

Geocaching websites offer things called Travel Bugs. These are generally metal dog-tags that you can purchase for a small fee. Each one has a unique identification number on it and they can be attached to anything you like. These items can be tracked via

So the idea is that people take my USB memory sticks from place to place and contribute items of digital media along the way. In the long-run I will create online (and maybe offline) exhibitions of the generated content.

In the short term, I’ve created my own geocaches as starting places for the memory sticks. The memory sticks themselves will be taken away, but the geocaches will remain.

Links to the relevant pages on

In due course I’ll post any further info about the geocache’d memory sticks here.

Mother Strikes Again

My Mum is always giving me funny ideas to work on, little bits of inspiration, just her take on things I think.

I saw her recently and she said she saw this packaging in a shop and “thought of you” kind of thing.

Stoned Apricots

The funny thing is that Stoned Apricots are the ones with stones in, not out. Odd, but sense I suppose. The others would be stoneless.

Hypercondria Movie

While “researching” my Hollyoaks concept I came across a similar idea, but simply supplementing Hollyoaks for Hypercondria.

Again, like the soap operas, I suffer from this terribly. Horrendously in fact. And so do many of my peers. I think it will work well!

I think the Hypercondria, Hollyoaks and Commuters are all good ideas. Maybe the three could become one longer film?


Recently Chinese artist Feng Feng (pictured) made a return visit to our University after some of our tutors visited China last year.

Photo of Feng Feng

It was a really nice change to get a completely different approach to leading a lecture and its delivery. I was the first time I’ve attended a lecture that was conducted in its entirety in a foreign language. I think that added to the lecture in a strange way, it definitely made me concentrate a little more.

The mans charisma flowed like a river, something which I guess helps you achieve anything. Except scaring someone maybe.

I found that Professor Feng certainly spoke about his own work in a different way to what I’m used to; he seemed completely free from worry about how his work was perceived. It seemed like he was of the opinion ‘my work is what it is, and who am I to tell anyone any different’, rather than a more dictatorial approach that I’m used to.

I can’t say how much I appreciate this – even if it is not reflected in my own practice.

Feng Feng also instantiated a collaborative piece of work for our University around concepts to do with the human body and although this sounded great, I’ve ended up not being involved in it. Mainly through being preoccupied with other stuff.

I did come up witha couple of ideas that would have worked though. The first revolved around an incident between me and my girlfriend when we were at the Benicassim festival in Spain. At about 3 o’clock in the morning, after having rammed a falafel and a tortilla down us and still nursing the bottle of cheap Spanish liquor that we’d smuggled past the entry guards (they don’t do it by halves in Spain, they had guns!) I went in for a rather-too-exuberant kiss. The end result of this was that I lost a small section of my front tooth! Despite Caiti’s less-than-perfect dental health I came out the looser, and I suppose I’ll have the reminder all of my life (until dentures are a neccessity at least).

My other concept was to make some observations about how bodys work. What do you need to put in? I thought it would be interesting to account for all of the calories that I consume, and how each of those came into being. I’m really interested in quite how much entery I personally consume, and how much all of us consume. The concept is no more developed than that however.

This is an extract of his statement, from his website.

We have a history once grand but not forgotten. Time washes away the insignificant pieces and also permanently marks the milestones. A pat romance, the memories worshipped with deep passion as the colors of the past fade. The storms and lightening of history leave us their marks of divine madness and violence. Let us stand back and observe it, grasp it and sense it …the magnificence, power and charm, dignity and mystery…

Incidentally I used the word “instantiated”. I’m not sure if its correct, but I liked it. According to it means:

To represent (an abstract concept) by a concrete or tangible example

Just a warning…. :o)

Not Wicked

I’ve charged myself with setting up a Wiki site for Interactive Arts at MMU. For sometime the course has had a forum online but in the last two years its usage has bottomed out and it is rarely used by anybody, which has rendered it basically useless.

Initially – spurred on by my own admiration for Wikipedia in particular, but also the hundreds of other Wikis that I use day-to-day for all manner of things – it seemed that setting up a Wiki for all the Interactive Arts students/staff/graduates to use would be a great idea. I got to the point of having the Wiki up, installed, and running before I actually asked myself the question Why a Wiki?

What does using Wiki software offer that the forum doesn’t? Of course it offers complete flexibility, it puts control of the structure and content of the website into the hands of its users, probably the most valuable single resource of the whole world wide web is the archetypal Wiki (I mean Wikipedia), as far as browser-based content management for the masses goes Wikis are almost “in vogue”. But, apart from being a useful buzz word and fashionable, artists generally don’t want those features unique to Wikis. Sure we like the idea, but when it comes down to it we’re just like other most other end users; we just want it to work. Although by no means impossible to learn, the skills required to effectively setup and use Wiki software probably have a prohibitively steep learning curve for the purposes of Interactive Arts.

But why doesn’t the forum work? I suppose one aspect is that it isn’t very exciting. Also the particular forum that is installed is a fairly dated one, no fancy AJAX programming. Its all a bit clunky. I think the main issue is that there needs to be someone in house looking after any such web system and actively stimulating people to use it, that could either be by adding useful content or providing some kind of other incentive for using it.

I’m extremely challenged by these questions! In my commercial career, systems analysis was something I did, however there was always a clear brief of requirements- something that is lacking here. Maybe the best way forward would be to ask for one to be written and then work from that?

Jameson Promo Gig

Urgh. The morning after. I won’t be going near Jameson in a while!

I attended a Jameson Whisky promo event at the new Trof bar yesterday – I think they’re simply calling it “The Deaf Institute”. There’s apparently been some “hoo-har” about the name of the place. Somewhat shamelessly Trof management wanted to call the place “Deaf & Dumb” and have only changed their mind after some considerably pressure.

The venue and bar looks great. Its been decked out in an amazing pattern wallpaper and big friendly furniture and the music area is really cool. I’m not sure if it is permanent or not but there’s quite a cool seating area at the back.

Anyway the reason I wanted to blog it was not to review the bar as such, but to mention one of the support acts, Florence & The Machine. She was really good fun – and actually I have no idea what to write about her, so check out her MySpace :o)

Also I met a photographer, and was going to become flickr-friends with her. I wanted to show her my HDR efforts. Can’t remember her name, Shiarlene or something….. Argh.

Geocaching Manchester

I laid my first ever geocache yesterday in Platt Fields park, Manchester. Hurray!

Geocaching is a kind of game, where “cachers” hide small containers which contain a logbook and a prize of some description. Anyone can go and hunt the cache – and take the prize – by logging onto the geocaching website ( and obtaining the latitude and longitude of any given cache. Using a GPS device you can then (easily) find the cache. You must always replace anything you take from the cache with something else.

I discovered the concept last summer, but haven’t done a great deal of it. I have found 3 or 4 other caches around Manchester.

The one I laid is in Platt Fields Park and contains a disposable camera. The idea is that everyone who finds it take a photograph of themselves. I will then develop the pictures and them here, and also on the cache’s page on the geocaching website.

Hollyoaks Film Idea

I’m quite a sucker for TV soap operas. At the time of writing my only two serious addictions are Neighbours and Hollyoaks. One of the strangest things when dealing with a soap addiction is the oddity that normally the lower the quality the more enjoyment that is derived from it.

I massively relish the abysmal acting, scripting writing and production. Without the poor elements it would be much more unpleasant to watch these programmes.

I’ve spotted various members of the Hollyoaks cast in my lifetime. The first was a sighting of “Sol” (Paul Danan, star of Celebrity Love Island) in Liverpool Airport. I also saw a bloke who played a rapist at the weekly comedy showcase, Mirth on Monday, at Iguana Bar in Chorlton. After some thought I figured that I actually know a lot of people at at some point or other have seen a member of the Hollyoaks cast in-the-flesh.

For sometime I’ve actively been asking people if they’ve had any encounters with the sub-celebrities that make up the Hollyoaks cast, and sure enough, loads of people have seen them. Each report usually comes with some kind of amusing story as an accompaniment.

I’d like to make a movie using Hollyoaks as a starting point. My plan is to interview people (friends and strangers) asking them if they’ve ever seen a Hollyoaker. I’ve never tried anything like that before, but I reckon it could work out great. It also fits within my self-set remit of working with (to use the technology phrase) “user generated content”.

Cosy Cosilli

Whilst writing I’m listening to Happy Snail by an artist called Cosy Cosili, also on Creaked Records (my record label). Its really quite funny, the album is about a snail, also called Cosy Cosilli. Although word-less, the music certainly makes me think of snail-based things. Its great! You can listen to it on

Izod Records

I’m currently working with my friend Toby Izod – in fact he is the oldest friend I have! – his aim is to set up some kind of record label. Quite a challenge indeed. It is in its very early stages but I think its a promising concept.

I think the idea comes around Toby’s hardware and recording know-how, he’s a wonder with electronics and especially vintage recording equipment.

Homemade is best

Toby’s mixing desk

Who knows exactly where it will take us, but I’m looking forward to it. Its also nice just to make contact with an old friend.

Video Lines

I made this. It is a prototype for the full 20 minute version, which also has sound (this does not). I showed the 20 minute version at University on a large screen. I was amazed we got through the whole thing without any requests to stop it.

Branka told me that it made her sick for three weeks, with the only cure being hopi ear candles. Shit!

The idea came whist in the bath, like all the best ones do. I was reading an old edition of Artists News magazine,  something that I decided to sign up to this time last year. At the time I was riding high on a wave, having completed the technical work for my Autotalk project. I figured I could use the AN resource to find out about possible out-of-University shows and so on. 12 months later none of my good intentions have come true. Although I did apply for a comission through AN that I think I only narrowly missed out on.

Anyhow, the inspiration for this idea was just a photograph of a painting. I don’t know why but it made my jump to how I could make the video below. I got out of the bath and announced to my girlfriend and her girlfriend “I’m going to make some Art”. And I did.

This is just a prototype, and pretty lame on its own. However, it has definitely lead me somewhere productive.

HDR Photography

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It is a set of techniques for allowing a higher range of values between the lightest and darkest areas of a digital image. The results can be truly breathtaking, here are some examples from Wikipedia.

The practical details involved with achieving these effects I’m not sure of yet, I literally just stumbled over the technique, but I’m going to do some research into it.