Bouef, Vendemiaire, 228

Bonjour, I missed last week didn't I. I got up to a bunch of things this week. Managed to slip the first draft of a chapter on fiction, imagination and smart machines in just in time which is great. I write a lot about writing on here (and will probably do so again today) but I find myself cramming at the deadline, doing pretty well and wondering what would happen if I actually paced myself.

Which reminds me of the fact that I'm currently restructuring the enormous block of text that currently constitutes the insane ramblings and have finished thoughts of a PhD thesis. I made myself a target of 8 hours a week and so far I'm sticking to it. It is no way structurally or argumentatively sound and is basically 60,000 words of polemics. My transactional, strategic mindset is really struggling to comprehend or develop a structure or even how intellectual arguments work. Consequently, I'm returning to the advice which I give students; that reading makes us better writers and am trying to read a lot more. I've become much more disciplined at staying away from the YouTubes.

I gave a talk yesterday at Arup, who I used to work for, which was just a general scope of things I'm interested in and I find this quite a useful process in figuring out what a PhD might be about, but even then, it's still all incomprehensible rambling to me. I find myself looking for answers and some surety in the whole thing but the catch with 'reflexivity' is that every conversation of an intellectual nature we have just makes things more confusing. Is all this writing about writing just prevaricating?

I have to get back to more transactional things; books to balance, meetings to set up, documents to complete. I have an hour of time right now so I want to make the most of it.

I'll send better words next week, promise.

Pomme de Terre, Vendemiaire, 228 (Happy new year!)

The way I write these is that I keep an open note in which I write the beginning of sentences or ideas or just bullet points to then follow up on later. Toward the end of the last (academic) year I got in a good habit of taking half an hour first thing in the morning to expand on some of them so that by each Wednesday I generally had a good amount of information together ready to tidy up and post.

Since it’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted (for which I have no good excuse) there is an inordinate amount of half-formed ideas and auto-corrected scribblings below here in my notes which I’m loathe to drag up for risk of just retreading things that seemed important weeks ago. I suppose that’s what blogs are in a way, a repository for things that only occasionally retain importance beyond the immediate.

Charismatic Megapigment



If you’ve been following me on any of the social channels over the summer you will have seen the work I’ve been doing with Wesley Goatley and Charley Peters on a new collaborative project. Charismatic Megapigment is currently on exhibition at London College of Communication as part of Emergence for the London Design Festival. The project, which I describe in short-hand as ‘a robot reading a painting’ features a roving camera and screen that compare small sections of Charley’s paintings and drawing nearest-neighbour matches from a database of 102,000 images related to ‘green’ and all it’s implicit connotations. There’s more information on the project page here.

I have to say that it was easily one of the most pleasing and natural collaborations ever. Mine and Wesley’s practice has been explored through several collaborative projects and we tend to have an easy relationship with points of conflict only on important questions of outcome and form rather than on responsibility or authorship which can plague many poor working relationships. We tend to quickly divide up tasks based on how much we need to learn to get to where we need to be and work relatively independently, coming together regularly to update each other. With Charley we also fell into an easy collaboration mostly because the role of our expertise were so easily divisible; Charley to produce the painting, Wes and I to produce the machine. Consequently, I imagined most of the frictions might emerge from methodological differences: Charley is a formalist who produces beautiful images from an expert and innate sense of form, colour and shape while Wes and I are critical practitioners who privilege reason and rationale when we consider our aesthetic decisions.

However, these imagined frictions never materialised which is a great sign of respect and admiration for alternative forms of practice which is what these type of things should be about. Equally, while Instagramming the process I found a supportive and insight full group of co-practitioners eager to offer advice and insight. One of those projects that makes you feel good about what you’re doing rather than like a bad person for talking about what you love.

At some point I will be doing a proper write up for the PhD. This may in fact help me get back into that process. Like many others before me I have an enormous document and workload in my peripheral vision that I’ve committed to spending eight hours a week working on. Opening it up on Monday I struggled for forty-five minutes to find an entry point to this block of text I produced a year ago, like trying to storm a crumbling but heterogenous fortress.

I also imagined I might find the time to document the technical process of Charismatic Megapigment in some detail so that others might find it useful as I found the blog posts and wikis of others useful in my own production and technical development. However I’ve since forgotten most of it and don’t think I’d do as good a job. If you’re interested in pursuing something similar I worked most of it from this kit and using these tutorials. Thanks to their authors.

What else

Aside from Charismatic Megapigment, I moved house and have spent some time playing Assassins Creed Odyssey. We have to agree that the Assassins’s Creed series is ludicrous and stupid. Frankly it’s also rather poorly designed. The mechanics haven’t ever really changed and in fact the game feels so bloated with bolt-on features that it’s very hard sometime to enjoy the core principles: sneaking around, exploring and well, assassinating. The fetch-questing gamification of this latest one is getting very close to putting the nail in the coffin for me. In the post-Red-Dead-2 world (which admittedly I never finished) it seems lazy to just cash in on a franchise re-hashing the same mechanics with added feature-loading. However, the draw is in the scale, beauty and most importantly the history. I’m sure you know I’m a history buff and Assassin’s Creed games with their historical settings are a good place to learn about new bits of history, even if you have to spend some time unpicking the apocrypha. However, the good folks at Ubisoft seem to have stripped out the history entirely for this one. With Origins (the previous one) they removed the encyclopaedia bit of the games which I assume I was the only person to look at and read. However, they kept a ‘historical tour’ mode which retained some of the features. With this one, there’s no contextualisation whatsoever. So as you meet characters like Herodotus, Sophocles and Pericles expecting some meta-exposition on their lives, you get nothing. Worse still, as you meet other characters who you’ve never heard of, you wonder if they are in fact significant figures. Consequently for every ten minutes I play I spend thirty minutes on Wikipedia.

Anyway, this frustration is tempered by returning to read some Borges. I’m writing a chapter for a book on smart things and design and with my co-author, Kristina Andersen, we were talking about precedents for ‘smart things’ in fiction and I finally decided to crack the spine on the US edition of the collected Borges Fictions I’ve had sat around for years. I’ve read all of Borges’ fictions over the years but it’s a pleasure to indulge in the pithy, humorous and fantastical world of his stories all in one go, particularly having since learned a lot more about the history of Argentina and South America through the Revolutions podcast.

Channel Recommendation

Probably because of all the geometry I was looking up for Charismatic Megapigment, the algorithm steered me towards maths over the summer and I found this great channel; 3Blue1Brown which explores some complex and not so complex mathematical things. The one that got me into it was this explanation of one of the International Mathematics Olympiad’s most apparently simple but difficult issues. Enjoy.



There are some notes that remain worth exploring. Some thoughts on this year’s Ars Electronica and some other events I’ve been to but I will leave them for later. Ciao. x

Chalémie, Messidor, 227

I spoke at the #UALPlatform on Networked Making last week. It was a really nice event and I got to meet some new people and catch up with some folks I've known a little while. I spoke about the models of the world that the university and the subject have and how they interact awkwardly and maybe poorly respond to each other sometimes. I made a short video to sum up the hypothesis which people enjoyed.
The slides from my talk and some of the others are up here and you can check those out.

The blog of my talk from the Design Futures meetup is still doing the rounds which is cool. It seems to have struck a resonance with people which makes me feel like it was a worthwhile thing to do so I'll try and keep writing up talks even though I have less and less to do with speculative design. Despite that less and lessness I did an interview with old friends at speculative.edu following on from the talk. It's a tricky tihng to talk about because I don't really have strong feelings about speculative design either way, I just find it concerning how strong other people's feelings are about it. I guess that's why I don't come across as particularly serious. Some quotes:
there’s the reasonable critique that the canon of Speculative Design ends up in galleries or on post-it notes. That seems pretty accurate. I would struggle to come up with more than a dozen speculative projects that weren’t either laundering corporate irresponsibility through the medium of post-it notes or inaccessible gallery work. 
As for reclaiming it … I don’t know, why bother? It broadened the capabilities of design, it brought new relationships and tools and perhaps that’s enough. There are so many other interesting emerging practices out there that deserve attention. You wouldn’t remake Fawlty Towers, would you?
I've been getting more and more chat correspondence from folks via email and I think that's really cool. Please send me emails of things you're into or just about random little project, it's nice.

Learnings

On Saturday/Sunday I did the Dunwich Dynamo, riding 120 miles overnight form London to the Suffolk coast. I put the whole thing up on Strava and Instagram where most of my bike content is. I documented some of mine and my riding buddy's learnings of that specific process so you can check them out there.

This week I also learned:
  1. Quite a lot about 'change management' from a training session I did on Monday, the Kubler Ross model is what people sometimes call the 'seven stages of...' thing. Not sure whether these models reduce complex phenomena or whether phenomena emerge from them. I've totally stopped being skeptical about these types of training things now, I almost always find them super useful and revealing. It's kind of cool to be standoffish about them but they're good opportunities for doing better. 
  2. Learnt quite a lot about connectivism from the #UALPlatform including a new physical activity for actually drawing strings together like a giant investigative wall chart. 
  3. I don't know if this was new or whether I had forgotten it but cats' meows and purrs are noises they've evolved specifically for humans. They don't miaow or purr at other cats. 

Something, Messidor, 227 (Microblogging and the self)

I didn’t blog last week. The last two weeks were a kind of perfect maelstrom of stuff and an endless domino rally of deadlines. I’m working from home today because there are no meetings and it is fascinating how much work I just got done in 2.5 hours which would normally take me the whole day in my office. So, I had time to think about what I’ve been thinking about and write about it here. It's also the reason why this post is dated 'something' since I'm not at my desk and don't have my French republic calendar to hand.

Well-known Irish-based microblogging website Twitter dot com.

I was thinking about Twitter dot com yesterday. I know it’s a bit prosaic to have divided feelings about Twitter but I do. There’s different aspects to the way my personality engages here:
  1. The player. The bit of me that is fully neuro-chemically bought into the content-creation-reward function of Twitter. The bit of it that is gamified like an RPG. You’re encouraged to grind away for likes and retweets and gain experience points as your followers. As a gamer this taps deeply into something that’s hard-wired in my elastic brain and I’m deeply and anxiously aware of in both online interaction and in my dangerous habit of slipping into gaming binges to get a kick.
  2. The networker. The bit that reminds you what Twitter was for, why you signed up and what you got out of it; where you’re connected with interesting people or ideas. This is the bit that is optimistic every time I open Tweetdeck that someone might have done a; ‘Hey Tobias, you might like this’ or ‘you should meet this person.’ This is also the bit where I get people IRL come up to me saying ‘I saw that thing you tweeted, thanks’ and I think that it’s worth it if it’s useful to people. I know it’s corny but I genuinely believe the connections I made on Twitter in the early 2010s were responsible for getting my career started. However this is all held back by…
  3. The doomsayer. This is the bit, that every time in a moment of idleness I open Tweetdeck growls ‘there is no joy to be found here.’ And it's right usually. It’s been years since anything on twitter made me joyful or laugh in a way that would have not been possible otherwise. On average its instrumental: I post what I’m up to, I share what some other people are up to and it’s like a bulletin board in a supermarket with no-one really engaging meaningfully. At worst it’s just a non-consensual hazing which by coincidence of being there you’re obligated to be grateful for. That and (and maybe it’s just my curation of my timeline) it’s anxiety-inducing stories of horror foretelling of the collapse of civilisation. In which case I’m divided again, because I don’t want to be complicit in turning away from knowing how others are suffering in the world.
So there’s kind of two reward functions: one is the nasty, neurochemical one that I’d happily be rid of but can’t, a bit like nicotine. The other is the one I get from being, learning or sharing something useful. I guess that’s what I enjoy in the media I consume, learning useful things.

There’s no right answer. Every time a new platform pops up and folks start to migrate I kind of wonder if we haven't damaged online discourse to the point where it's irretrievable regardless of where it is. I’ve found my approach to Instagram much better and fulfilling. I can share events and activities which is part of being in practice but I also put up bits of my life. Documenting a lot of what I thought might be boring and unrelatable bicycle activities seems to have got a good response, I had emails or comments from folks who said they were learning stuff about mechanics or maintenance and that’s great. If it’s useful and I can share some of the stuff I’ve learned or figured out that’s cool. Anyway, I'd appreciate any thoughts you might have as someone who is on the Internet. How do you reconcile all of this stuff?

This reminds me tangentially of a really great quote that Kristina Andersen introduced me to from The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente:
First, you build the machine, then it tells you what it’s for. A machine is only a kind of magnet for attracting Use. That’s why we say things are Useful – because they are all full of the Use that chose them to perform itself. (Valente 2013)
I should read more children's books.

Learning stuff

Since I’m increasingly valuing learning simple things and it gives me a much richer sense of progress and self-growth than followers or likes, I’ve decided to keep a note and make a section on things I’ve learned each week. These aren’t necessarily useful yet but I've found everything ends up being useful at some point. I don’t know, it might be nice to share?
  1. On Google maps, the short description for Starbucks is ‘Seattle-based coffeehouse chain known for its signature roasts, light bites and WiFi availability.’ which I find cute.
  2. Despite being deep into French revolutionary history for a while (see titles of all recent posts) it was only this week that I connected Jacques-Louis David’s famous ‘Death of Marat’ (1793) (right) with the Jean-Paul Marat. I had a real ‘oooohhhhh that Marat’ moment when the connection was made thanks to some untraceable prompt which was nice.
  3. The length of sprocket teeth on bicycle parts have no real standards, despite the widths being pretty well standardised. They’re just a sort of best guess by the manufacturer. If you get your combination of parts wrong you can end up with a really noisy drive because the teeth stay in the gaps in the chain as the chain releases form the cog, essentially trying to continue pulling the chain with it. This is the source of the Bad Noises my new bike has been making and quite frustrating as there’s little guidance, just guesswork and it creates quite a bit of resistance.

Channel recommendation

Here’s a real quick (and bicycle related one). Since I’m sinewy and whippet-like it turns out I’m actually a real good climber as I’ve found from training round Richmond Park and doing Box Hill in Surrey the other weekend. Sprinting is bit harder than trudging up hill so I looked round for info and found this cool little series from State Bicycle Company. It’s a kind of interview format where they interview pro riders (usually with a good sense of humour) while riding fixed uphill. There’s a lot of speculation on the Tour de France in the later ones, some of which is… prescient. Anyway, I like them, enjoy.



Have a great week!

Echalote, Messidor, 227

Sorry. Nothing this week. It's just paperwork and reporting.

Seigle, Mesidor, 227

There's too much on and I haven't had time to gather my thoughts. The exhibition for the design school at LCC opens this evening. It's the first time I haven't been directly involved and that makes me a bit sad. I'm an artist; I like to work with my hands and I get precious little opportunity to do so. It may well be for the best because the show looks incredible, it seems to get better every year so perhaps I should continue to withdraw from getting involved. I won't get to spend much time at the opening unfortunately. I've got a Big Thing first thing tomorrow morning that I've been preparing for all week (and still feel unprepared for) so I need a clear, sober head and a good night's sleep.

If you've been following me on the socials you might have noticed a lot more bicycle-related content. That's largely because I remembered that it used to be my great passion before I diverted too much into video games. Consequently I decided to refresh this passion by going on a bunch of long rides and documenting them and then blowing out on a new bike which I'm going to spend the weekend building. This means I've been watching bike films again so here's a quick:

Channel recommendation

Phil Gaimon used to be a professional cyclist and then retired but didn't turn out to be very good at retirement so now he has a YouTube channel where he talks about the bits of cycling and cycling culture that are fun and not ultra competitive. He has a dry sense of humour and an inquisitive mind which are basically my favourite two qualities in a person. Enjoy.



Instagrammin

I've been playing around with Instagram for documentation of things and getting more comfortable with showing bits of my life like the bike stuff. I used to find the need to update everyone about what you're doing intrusive and unwarranted but I guess we all have free will and I've learnt a lot by watching and listening to how other people do stuff so perhaps there's something to be learnt for others. Restarting this blog was a product of that. Perhaps this is more of me missing the front line of design and education.

Mostly it's resulted in some good conversations with people, there's always some 'friends' who'll be a bit obstinate for the sake of it but that's why we play around with things I suppose.

Right, back to the exhibition.

Caille-lait, Prarial, 227 (Playing with Eevee)

Once again there's been a bunch of stuff I haven't been able to articulate with the time I have to get these things smashed out. I read somewhere that the Internet is a river, we can't hold on to things, so maybe it's time to close the tabs and move on.

decline.online

I made an exhibition version of decline.online which wasn't too arduous and it's off to the Sovereign Nature exhibition in Berlin next week. I won't be able to be there myself but there's a great lineup of people involved so I'm pretty happy to be put alongside them. I managed to fix a bunch of stuff at the weekend but I'm struggling to deal with the lateral visualisation. There's enough data now that if it's compressed on a screen, the red line becomes a mess while I've discovered that some browsers don't like the side-scrolling and also that may not even be apparent. Anyway, that's a problem for next time.

LCC Degree Show

Next week is the LCC Degree Shows opening again. It's the first time ever that I haven't spent June up ladders covered in dust and paint and I miss being able to get hands-on with building the shows and fixing problems. However, it's going to be great. There's more info available here, let me know if you're coming and I'll see if I can give you a tour. 


Eevee


I spent almost the whole weekend messing around with Eevee, which is Blender's new render engine, currently in beta and building the above quick animation. The big change is the real-time rendering. There's no wait time to see rendered results so it behaves a little more like Unreal or something. The tradeoff is having to bake up the lights in advance. I also recorded a breakdown video:


Some observations:

  • The real time rendering speeds up the process of putting together materials that look great. You don't have to keep flitting back and forth between a render and the viewer and waiting for it. You can also (once baked) tweak the lights as you go to check it under different conditions. (I'm doing this around the 1min mark with the marble)
  • There are a bunch of quality-of-life UI tweaks which have long been the bug-bear of the Blender world including (shock-horror) the ability to set up with left click to select! There's also quick menus that appear around the mouse. For instance 'z' used to switch between wireframe and solid view modes. Now it gives you quick select options of wireframe, solid, materials or rendered which is so much quicker. 
  • Some of the simulation stuff is still twitchy. By far and away (and most of it isn't included in the breakdown) hair particles took the most time. There were just a bunch of inexplicable glitches, either due to my mistakes or the nature of a beta that made it really hard to get right. I ended up having to stack multiple particle systems to get dense enough looking hair that didn't glitch. 
  • Shadows in the render looks a bit rubbish, particularly where the focal length blurs and around the grass. There is a new setting for shadow resolution which I don't fully understand which may be at fault. 
  • Generally speaking little has been changed formally since cycles so most of the skills are transferrable. The biggest change to everyday stuff is the need to bake lighting with light probes. Light probes are in Unity too and are basically similar to domains that you get in smoke or liquid simulation - they define an area that light can effect. I can imagine on bigger projects with more complex lights this will cause me problems. BUT, no more fireflies!
Anyway, that's it. Signing off. 

Sureau, Prarial, 227

It's been a good week of learning more things. At the tail end of last week I was over in Lapland for Cumulus. This is a big global gathering of design educators from around the world and I was there to present a paper with my colleague Eva Verhoeven about Global Design Studio, which is a big online design project we ran last year and want to run again this year. So part of the reason to go was to connect with some other institutions that might want to partner. Being in those events is a reminder of the enormous privilege we have in being able to travel freely and just talk about the things we do. Standing at the arctic circle, listening to the sound of military jets, chatting with a reindeer with Christmas jingles in the background gives you a profound sense of scale. The other thing that I'm reminded of at these things is the incredible regard with which the work we do is held, it's humbling to discover that people really do watch what's going on at UAL and LCC and in our courses and want to get involved.

decline.online in exhibition

I've put together an exhibition version of decline.online. It was actually much simpler than I expected and once again Jonny was a real help. That's going out for an exhibition called 'Sovereign Nature' in Berlin on 19 June. At some point I'll sit down and look into adding some more sources. It's already started breaking as sites are updated and the scraper stops working which is why I stopped doing it last time. 

YouTube still got it

I don't have a channel this week but I found this cool little project via the Imperica newsletter. Astronaut is a randomly ordered stream of clips from videos uploaded to YouTube with filenames like 'DSC0001' or 'IMG0003' that were uploaded in the last week and have almost zero views. Weird and cool as hell.

I meant to put much more in here but I've got a twenty minute window to get this done.

Serpolet, Prarial, 227

Not a huge amount of stuff since last week. These bank holidays just keep coming. I got the application in I've been working on and feel pretty confident about it so that was a nice thing to do. I'm off to Finland tomorrow for Cumulus conference. It's a day long trip each way and we're only spending one day on the ground, so it's kind of nuts.

That is all I'm saying today.

Triefle, Prairial, 227

Learning things

This week has been a bunch of learning experiences, both from mistakes and from things I just hadn't had time to engage with. Despite the enormous arrogance I like to portray I actually really like learning things so I'm always grateful when folks take time out to tell me things I hadn't thought about or when I can make the time to go engage in new ideas.

I went down to the Shades of Noir event at Camberwell last week which was really exciting. The history of the different campaigns to increase diversity in staffing and increase opportunities for non-white students at UAL was something that I had been tangentially aware of as an operational matter but hearing about the thirty-five year history of these projects and the energy of the folks involved was great. The event was to celebrate the creation of fifty-five new positions across the university aimed specifically at broadening the diversity of our staff. Please go check them out.

I still hate writing

I managed to get a big piece of writing for a Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy done this week which is a goddamn relief. I’m pretty open about my dislike for writing. I don’t much enjoy the process and sort of dread committing to writing things. However, I’m a vegetables before meat kind of guy so I spent my Sunday chucking out just shy of 6000 words into an application. Once I’m in the flow of it, it’s actually quite easy (though still not as enjoyable as say a day-long Civ VI bender or watching Lord of The Rings back-to-back). My writing approach is similar to how I mentally romanticise smithing to be, which is largely drawn from YouTube videos:

  1. I start with just throwing out a bunch of words in relation to the topic, just completely off the top of my head. 
  2. After around 1000 words, subsections start to appear and I’ll reorder the paragraphs and put in temporary headings that indicate what should go in each subsection. 
  3. I’ll then iterate over each of these subsections, adding, deleting and removing to get the right ideas in the right subsections (usually three because three is neat and I’m a neat person). I’m still a dedicated GCSE history student so each paragraph follows the PEE model (Point, Evidence, Explanation) and I’ll try and get each subsection to around the same length.
  4. I top and tail this with a loose introduction and conclusion which usually say what the text will be about and then reflects on what it was just about. 
  5. Then it’s just repeated rapid iteration to look for any obvious gaps, cut down on word count (I always aim to go over and trim back) and make sure spellings, references and styling are consistent. 

I had a Skype with a co-author for an upcoming chapter yesterday so I guess I'm a sucker for punishment.

Ride w/ me

The other week, on a whim I resurrected my keirin bike which had sort of been languishing in our bedroom despite being my pride and joy for many years and doing hundreds of miles with me. God what a joy to ride! The last year or two I've been cruising around on a soft steel mid-50s path bike with a three-speed internal hub (which is deeply practical, comfortable, hard-wearing, fast when I need it and I get to wear normal shoes). Riding something that's a tenth of the weight and built entirely to go five hundred miles an hour is a great feeling. 

Anyway, I bombed around Battersea yesterday (which showed me how much stamina I've lost since I used to do sixty mile rides twice a month) but have no-one to ride with! I sort of lost contact with my old riding buddies so if you're in London, ride a bit recklessly on a track bike and want to hang out please let me know.

Bike tube

Which leads me on to a channel recommendation. Terry Barentsen has a channel of great bike vids. There's a series where he just rides with folks around their home city; no music, no bullshit just following a rider around while they occasionally talk to themselves. This is a great one with Mexican professional cyclist Ana Puga.



Civette, Floreal, 227

I got to do some nice things this week and give out some good news which is a good way of feeling a bit better. Once again I don't have a huge amount to say but I made myself the obligation to write something down every week so here I am doing it. I have quite a writing debt at the moment, even after submitting the book manuscript.

This week I'm trying to finish a six-thousand-word application which very few people will read and which is curiously personal. I have to write about my experience in academia/teaching in a very reflective way and how it's contributed to my sense of a teaching philosophy. Articulating things you've never had to articulate before is quite revealing, these misty boundaries that have been hidden by the fog of war are explained in quite an out-of-body, God's-eye-view way that makes them feel like a distant memory. I have an episodic sense of self anyway so in a way it's quite comfortable.

In Supra Systems Studio we're working on a big project that I'm really excited about. The idea is to try out the notion of the 'demonstration' that we've been thinking about - creating work that brings some attention to an idea but is also replicable and usable by others. I'm waiting for the headspace to really get into it and really get building it.

This evening I'm at Camberwell for the Academic Futures event. We're creating some new jobs in the programme as part of a new fund aimed at broadening representation in academia so please come along if you're interested in coming to teach or research with us.


Orache, Floreal, 227

The bank holidays we're having are messing with my sense of timing. This morning I determinedly headed over to the community centre to vote thinking it was Thursday 23rd May.

Part of these extended weekends we're blessed/cursed with is that I've been binging on podcasts and probably listened to about twenty hours of history this weekend which is obviously fascinating but also has a strange Hitchcock zoom effect. The histories I listen to tend to be driven by the personal narratives of the people at the centre of the story and their decisions.

I go in phases with podcasts and at the moment I'm not so into the heavily edited and well produced ones like 99% Invisible or Pod Save America. History podcasts tend to be of the 'one person in their bedroom' genre like Hardcore History and Revolutions. Dan Carlin's Hardcore History was a new one for me - he has a gruff, hyperbolic style which sounds a bit like a shock jock so it's one of those things that took me a couple of listens to get in pace with but it is excellent. He also is a little more analytical (although, in a self-admitted conservative interpretation) than Mike Duncan's stuff. He tends to come from the perspective of; 'Why did this thing happen? Who were the people and what was the context and ideas that enabled it?'

He also made a point in the one on Persia (which was excellent) about all this history we just don't know and probably never will. He coined a phrase that's been rattling around my head since - 'History is the story of what you did to or with the Greeks.' In the story of Persia, most of what we know comes from the exaggerated hero myth of Alexander the Great. He argues that there's good evidence to suggest that to the Persians, the Greeks were nothing more than a bothersome little province rather than this great, pre-destined empire. We also have only one contemporary source for Alexander the Great which is a brief inscription on a temple, almost everything else was valorised in the Roman re-tellings.

I know it's obvious but we don't really know what was going on for most of the human population for enormous tracts of time and only have these brief windows where bits were decided to be plucked out and quasi-mythologised as part of European political projects. I need to spend more time on the Eastern histories, there's a podcast on China that I started a while back but I struggled with but I'm going to give it another go.

decline.online
I've been approached about exhibiting the project in a few weeks in a great sounding exhibition but I'm faced with this perennial problem of how you exhibit a website. I think that it might be a good idea to develop a static, streaming version of it rather than an interactive one, which at least would be a fun new challenge so that's something to look forward to.

Voyager's done an interesting thing. I didn't think about it before but Voyager's distance is sinusoidal because of Earth's orbit. So from when I started collecting data Voyager was actually getting closer to Earth rather than further away. This meant I spent ages thinking the data was wrong and trying to fix it. It's now moving away again so the line has ticked up.


Sainfoin, Floreal, 227

I'm back from holiday after a few days driving around Lake Como and cavorting in Venice for my friend's birthday. I'm not very good at switching mindsets so it took me about three days to get into a relaxed groove and three days before leaving I started thinking about work again. So there was about forty-five minutes in the middle where I was relaxed.

Five Problems
Last week I posted a writeup of the talk I gave at the Speculative Futures meetup in London. Loads of folks read and shared which is great and no-one (at least publicly or to me) expressed outrage at the thoughtlessness of my polemics. It sort of refreshes my faith in the version of Twitter we had where it was fun and supportive before the vicious McCarthyist version we have now. It's funny that in a week it had almost as many reads as my original Critical Exploits writeup from six years ago.

Six years ago feels a Hitchcock zoom away. I suppose it demonstrates some sort of consistency in thought that I've kept it going that long and that the practice has expanded and grown so much since - sometimes for the better, sometimes not. I'm delivering Critical Exploits this afternoon to some students in fact and it always elicits a fun discussion.

It's a conversation I'm keen to continue and something I'm exploring actively in my PhD (when I have time) so having feedback from folks was super useful and I'm always grateful for links to other texts or examples of projects that I can measure my ideas against so please keep them coming.

decline.online


decline.online is cooked and on the table! I've just uploaded and launched a working version (2.2) and I'm really happy with it. I made a last minute decision last night to do some redesigning and remove the black border that was sitting over everything before. There were a couple of other more technical and conceptual things that I've been working through and will have to continuously evolve as it grows:

  • Dealing with the growing data set is going to be the most pressing problem. The background scraper runs every four hours which means it will rapidly start to become quite heavy. I've implemented a fixed-width visualisation for the line charts so that they scroll left to go back in time but I'll have to keep an eye on how that feels as the amount of data grows. I played around with a click-to-zoom feature so that you could click on a text line and it would zoom to show you the whole historical record but I couldn't get it running right. 
  • I put in some static sources – links to PDFs, maps and so on that are interesting but not necessarily scrape-able. There's much more of these than scrape-able data sets so I need to be careful to not go overboard with these and stick with the idea of building a historical record that can be visualised in single data points. 
  • I've tested in Chrome and Safari on various screens but who knows what type of problems will occur as people start to play with it. 
  • I also need data sources. I've got a list of things to investigate and see what I can do but I want more from other people. If there are things you'd like to see or data sources you know of let me know and I'll run them into an update for version three if I can. 
Building this again was a whole learning process and I got to grips with some things I've never done before, particularly working with Python for web-scraping (comparatively easy) and using d3 (often very frustrating.) As it keeps growing I'll try and make the most of the opportunity to keep learning new things. Send links, send feedback

That's it
Like I say I was on holiday so this week I'm catching up with paperwork and finishing off a little project for Haunted Machines which might launch soon and I can tell you about then. I'm going to be at the Graphic Design Educator's Network event next Wednesday at the RCA. It'll be interesting to see what the movers and shakers of graphics are thinking about. 

Love you. x

Five Problems with Speculative Design (Pensee, Germinal, 227)

You won't believe these five reasons why speculative design can't save the world

I gave this talk back at the Speculative Futures meet-up in London and it was super interesting. I’ve been teaching and on/off practicing some form of speculative design for years and have settled into an understanding of its limitations. I believe it is an useful research tool, but like any tool it can be used to help and maintain or to exploit and destroy. I’m always a bit vexed by the messiah-like reverence it can be treated with especially by the recent breathlessness it's being dragged up with in UX and design thinking circles. So when I was asked to talk about it at a meet-up aimed at sharing it amongst young professionals I decided to try and articulate some of my concerns about the overstepping of these limitations.

As a caveat, the audience were really great and very engaged in a discussion we had at the end with myself and the other presenter, J-Paul Neeley who was a bit more upbeat but equally wary. Also as another caveat, this talk is riddled with generalisations and broadsides which further confirm my unsubstantive polemical approach towards serious, nuanced discourse.

As another caveat, the audience were amazing the organisers perfect and J-Paul was a goddamn powerhouse of changing my mind, I hope he publishes his talk too.

Anyway, our story begins…
In around 2013 I asked ‘What if? Then what?’ I had been through Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art a few years previously but was seeing the difficulty of speculative design moving beyond the academy or the gallery. It seemed that here was a useful technique but it was struggling to translate provocation to meaningful change. I was practicing and studying in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis when that particular world of design was seized by the opportunity that the seemingly inevitable collapse of capitalism presented.

However, the last few years have seen speculative design proliferate in a different way, as part of the mainstream of the business of design - as service to profit and narrow definitions of 'good' and consequently reinforcing the very thing it was conceived of to critique. I’m going to deliver my worries about this trend in the form of five conceits or provocations that sort of flow off one another. They could probably use more thought tbh.
Speculative design seems, in its popular form, has lost its critical dimension. Perhaps my most major criticism is the appropriation of speculative design by the charlatan science of ‘design thinking’ and its deployment as a tool largely used for whitewashing corporate ambition and adding a patina of ‘design research’ to make a convincing argument. I’ve been part of these projects and have seen hundreds of them. Like any fad, the knock-offs quickly follow behind. However, this appropriation has meant that speculative design per-se is divorced from its critical origins. Rather than critiquing and antagonising the underlying institutions and structures that are complicit in the rampant social exploitation, irresponsibility and complacency that threatens the existence of societies, the species and the planet, speculative design used to make them ‘better.’
Speculative design traces its origins to critical design and the broad corpus of critical practice across the social sciences, art and architecture. For me this critical practice elicits an antagonistic confrontation with social exploitation, irresponsibility or complacency in the same way as a good artwork, film or song might. This corpus can most easily be traced to the often-referenced radical movements of the late 1960’s who provided an anathema to the central-planning modernism of most mainstream practice.

Superstudio were one of the most renowned of these practices and their principle, Adolfo Natalini, laid out the critical responsibility of creative practice in a lecture where he said…
Superstudio produced provocative future images of an homogenous global society and the world of it as a way of highlighting the complicity of design culture in the social divisions that were present in the everyday experience of people. They suggested design had a responsibility to challenge, not to serve. Though this approach was biting and is referenced in creative institutes the world over, it was largely inaccessible; design for designers. For most it had no tangible effect and it didn’t connect with policy or social in any tangible way. It became an intellectual practice that created discussion but failed to spill over into the wider political discourse. Dunne and Raby, in their formulation of critical design addressed this issue explicitly:
It's fair to say that the range of projects which have connected more meaningfully and tangibly with publics and policy is greater than in the mid-20th century. There are some great projects that have had distinct effect on policy and informed public discourse. Unfortunately, in doing so, another problem in the speculative design thesis is brought to light.
What I mean here is that speculative design if often used for either dystopia generation or as ways of reinforcing, or, at best, mildly incrementing on current social conditions. There appears to be an unquestioned subtext that the European social democratic notion of 'progress' is preferable and speculative designs are cautionary tales about straying from this path rather than genuinely exploring alternatives.
This has been significantly better explored in the work of Luiza Prado and Pedro Oliveira, Dr. Ahmed Ansari and the work of the Decolonising Design group amongst others. Discussion between practitioners and theorists in the comments attached on Burton Nitta’s Republic of Salivation project on Design and Violence is illuminating. Here, commentators pointed out the unquestioned political positioning of privilege when designers could work on projects about speculating on starvation while actual starvation was happening and as a seeming glamorisation and cautionary tale about change. A kind of speculative disaster tourism.
Questioning the politics of speculative design as a practice or method is useful because it acknowledges that at least it is a field that has a politics or acknowledges that designers are political actors, which other fields of design are often reluctant to do for fear of becoming activist. Here in Dunne and Raby’s A/B Manifesto we can use the right-hand column to interpret principles of critical (and speculative, if you like) design but what’s more important is the act of comparison itself; the idea that there is a position to be taken when practicing design that needs to be acknowledged. This is something that mainstream design is often reluctant to do.
The manifesto also suggests a questioning of what design is for, what the values of ‘good’ or ‘better’ are when we use these tools for ‘improvement.’ Is ‘better’ more profit? More engagement? More experience? Or is ‘better’ less engagement? Would it actually be better for a person to engage less with your service – to stream less music, to watch less television, to access less information? When using speculative design to ‘improve’ services or products the implicit belief is usually that ‘better’ is equivalent to ‘more.’ Consequently speculative design simply serves to reinforce existing design tendencies rather than question them.
Puling away form the individual design of a product or service its worth questioning how speculative design, as a subset of human-centred design or user experience is most often geared toward the interface of the individual and the organisation – the products and devices that people use rather than the systemic inequalities that inform these designs.
For example, Google and Microsoft in particular produce a good range of speculative design but also fund climate change denial. Design thinkers can cash in all the post-it notes they can get their hands on in an effort to ‘improve’ the products or ‘better’ the user experience but the market imperative of these companies is to maintain a status quo reliant on the exploitation of fossil fuels. Good speculative design in this context would be antagonising these systemic problems rather than targeting the user, which I’ll return to later. Speculative design in the mainstream has largely retreated form these larger questions, not entirely of its own fault; Microsoft and Google would be reluctant to pay the invoices of designers telling them they are destroying the planet.
This is a problem beyond speculative design perhaps and more a problem of design per se, in particular that of human-centred design. In this individualistic mindset, responsibility is the burden of the individual, given under the premise of ‘autonomy.’ This has the effect of atomising collective or social responsibility into information-rich individual bubbles where it’s imperative on the individual to improve themselves at the behest of the organisations making technology.
Think of basically every app ever made. Every app geared toward ‘improvement’ is about changing the lifestyle of the individual in order to conform to the worldview of the organisation producing the app. This precludes a dialogue about why that company are funding climate change denial because, by design, you are at fault for the world’s problems and you need to change. When speculative design is deployed to improve these types of interactions it invariably light-touches on the way the information is delivered or the type of interactions by which it is received. It never attempts to reignite a sense of collective responsibly for change or the spiritual necessity of Earthly survival.
The argument most often used in counter to this idea that, essentially, speculative design is not deployed critically or antagonistically to a point where it has meaningful effect is that of trickle-down. This is the idea that speculative design will influence decision makers and students of design toward more conscientious practices and wider critical consideration. My concern is that this just simply isn’t good enough. We don’t have the time for trickle-down effects or incremental improvement of exploitative organisations.
We don't have a good speculative design for planetary-change. The operating model of the business-design pipeline is exploiting the planet at one end and users at the other. The idea that these might in fact be the same thing would mean admitting that an operational focus on individual users and discrete time windows was ineffective design. And large sprawling change over massive time windows and shifting human/non-human interactions does not conform to the way in which revenue is reported. Again, this isn't the fault of speculative design; designers need to eat. But, under these conditions we can't to look at it as a catch-all solution for planetary collapse.
The idea that there is genuine investment in trickle-down, incremental improvement is not justification enough for light-touch or non-critical practice. And speculative design is toothless as long as the ultra-rich and leading organisations secure themselves against what they admit is an almost inevitable climate and social collapse. There is no more a genuine investment in incremental improvement through design than there is through legislation. Speculative design has failed to achieve the meaningful tools for change that we once hoped for and has instead been co-opted as a white-washing exercise for tech companies who fund climate change denial and buy high-altitude property to escape rising sea levels.

-

I'm away next week so no blog from me unless it's a terrible week and I am so bored that I want to brave blogger's mobile interface. Ha! no.
Tx

Ruche, Germinal, 227

I’m currently engaged in a fellowship application which I keep being encouraged to make and I reckon I can get but the process seems to have been made Darwinian difficult. There’s obviously an element of ensuring rigour but at the same time, if you want people to do it, make it an easier process.

Decline online is basically done

Well, as per last week, it turns out I can run python from my server. Once I’ve updated python and installed all the modules which sounds simple right oh my god let me tell you about trying to install pip. I’m on a shared server and their version of Python doesn’t include pip or any of the other things I need so I have to install my own local version. But even a local install of Python won’t include pip. And without pip I can’t install anything. Including pip. The solution was simple, suggested the host's notes, install Python as normal and just include the flag ‘--with-ensurepip=install’ But. I'm a proud man and I outright refused to take ten minutes out of my day to reinstall and so instead spent hours trying to get round the lack of root access to sudo install, uploading packages, scraping archives, wget’ing the hell out of my keyboard. Eventually. Eventually. Eventually. I gave up and reinstalled including the flag. Easy peasy. Look, life’s a learning curve.
TLDR:

  1. I wanted to do something my way
  2. That thing was prevented by sensible security
  3. I was obstinate that my way was how we were going to do it
  4. I lost


Look at him!

Anyway it works. I had actual tears in my eyes watching my little script run over SSH. So that’s fixed. Actually, it was quite a week after that. I pulled a couple of all-nighters and Decline Online is basically finished and ready to roll out. I followed this example to get some visualisations rolling with quite a bit of tweaking and adapting. The next major problem was trying to dynamically scale the data so that everything fitted in the same canvas. For example, sea level changes may be in the range of -5 to +5 while oil prices are in the range of 1000-1200 so getting them literally on the same page was a bit of a problem. Lucky for me Jonny Thaw here at LCC in the Creative Technology Lab solved the problem in like ten minutes with some JS wizardry after I'd poured a couple of hours into it. I'm eternally grateful to him for fixing that as well as explaining some core concepts to me that really helped.

So I've currently got the Python script churning away grabbing data. I'll come back to the front end in a week or two and see how it handles a larger set of data and if it looks good then I'll put it out there and hope that people find it interesting. I'm still always on the look out for new,  interesting data sets which will be the next thing to fix up after launching.


Writing Sucks

I met with my PhD supervisor last week and we looked over a huge manuscript that I’d pulled together over the summer. There’s about three PhDs in there and I’ve got a lot of work to do to get it into something more manageable, but then my theory on everything is always that it’s more rewarding to overstretch and come back then just to go as far as you need to.  He said my writing was really nice and he enjoyed reading it which was great but then I thought more about why I don't enjoy writing.

Having spent a lot of the week doing quite technical activities I realised I get the same kick from them as I do from playing the video games I like (RPGs and city builders generally). There’s a kick in seeing incremental progress towards a larger goal that’s very much present in coding, RPGs and city builders/strategy games. In both working on a bit of code and those games there’s sense of making progress, that I’m trying to achieve something and I’m getting closer all the time and each success is genuinely joyful. Getting the python script to run perfectly on the server was a very similar feeling to what I had when I beat the cleric beast in Bloodborne.


Pictured: me iterating a function over a JSON array. 

Writing doesn’t hold that same thrill because there’s nothing concrete about it. There’s no markers of like ‘ok that works, what’s next.’ Writing doesn’t ‘work’ at all, in fact. There’s no teleology (big word, probably used wrong) to it. So there’s no thrill to it for me. You finish it, it goes to someone they go ‘yeah, great, thanks’ maybe they give you money, maybe they don’t and that’s it. You never get to compile, deploy and test it to see how it behaves and whether it achieves what you want. In fact, the objectives, for me of writing are often pretty vague. It just needs to be done so I do it rather than wanting a specific outcome.

It’s not like I’m bad at it. I’m pretty good (maybe not on here) but when I put my mind to it I can pull together a pretty good sentence. Nowhere near Will Self level but certainly better than someone mashing the keyboard in the YouTube comments thread. I need to find a way to enjoy it, I have a lot of it to do.

Channel Recommendations 

I don’t have a YouTube recommendation for you because I fell into a YouTube hole of influencer videos as a consequence of clearing my cache for Decline Online. I watched like three of them trying to get the point of what was going on, it was mostly teens talking about the things they owned or something someone said. YouTube do have all of Charley Boorman and Ewan MacGregor’s Long Way Round on there which I watched last week. That’s still a really fun series.

Tomorrow

I'm going to Milan. I'm around for about 48 hours so let me know if you want to hang out or catch up, I've got a bit of an itinerary but I'm always flexible, you know that. Alright, ciao.

Hêtre, Germinal, 227

Well, it’s still quiet. My calendar is perversely empty. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that in case you want me to do something.

Supra Systems and the Cerebral
We had a good meeting of Supra Systems Studio last Thursday where we spent some time trying to figure out what we were about and why. We’ve got a larger group project coming up that we want to use as a demonstration of the studio’s potential and it was great to get just a load of super sharp people in a room together to hash out a plan, some ideas and a direction. It’s also great to have a whole day of intellectual discussion.

Paradoxically, the more time I spend in academia, the less time I spend in academic pursuits. Everyone has the usual complaints about the emails and meetings but I don’t actually mind the operational stuff, I actually really enjoy it. There’s a pleasure in feeling an institution, a subject and an attitude move forward and a privilege in having the opportunity to be part of steering it and that leads to a quiet appreciation the value of what might otherwise be quite prosaic activities. However, I do miss more cerebral work sometimes and it can be hard to jump out of the mindset of strategy and operations into intellectual discussion. I suppose it’s about keeping all these things in balance. That’s another reasons for redoing Ongoing Collapse, it gives me something technical to tinker with and keep those muscles active as well.

Anyway, the studio has some stuff coming up but we’re also at a point where big steps need to be taken to ensure its public and institutional legitimacy beyond than the fantastic excitement that was present at launch.

Decline online 
I haven’t changed much online decline.online (added a clock and tidied up some styling errors I found while playing with it (the perils of working on a 4k screen)) this week because of having to get a load of stuff done on the book. I got some time on Wednesday night to get the scraping script and JSON FTP uploading setup.

I’ve been playing with Python in recent projects and I really never want to touch PHP ever again so I have a new pipeline which is running a python script with Beautiful Soup (on my computer at the moment) which scrapes and compiles into a JSON file then uploads that via FTP. It works really well and is much less finicky than PHP.

I have several things to figure out now (hopefully tonight):

  • Can I run this python on my server? (Tips and help would really be appreciated here.)
  • At the moment it prints out direct to JSON, however that's going to eventually cause issues as the data set grows. 
  • So can I also set it up to send to an SQL database as a backup?
I also need to get into the grind of scraping all the sources, so if you have any I can add, please let me know. 

Book
Speaking of the cerebral, we submitted the draft manuscript yesterday! I spend most of the weekend at it and we made a big push in the last few days to go over and over it and get all the styling and references sorted. 

It’s quite a different writing process to normal. Because we’re aiming at an audience who are designers or students of design we’re not assuming have much of a reading of critical practice. This means that we’re starting at the core stuff and by the time you’re getting into full flow you hit the word count wall. So, more nuanced ideas sometimes have to get cut to accommodate the core stuff. After re-re-re-reading each chapter I sort of sit there and go ‘Is this good?’ But then I (or one of the people I talk to almost every day) wrote it. So, is it just that I’m so used to it that it strikes me as not that interesting? Reminds me of looking back on old bits of work and thinking ‘Hey, this is pretty cool, why did I hate it so much at the time?’ Or every time someone says they like a project and I’m like ‘really?’ in a high-pitched squeal of disbelief. (This is often taken offensively as people think I’m belittling them. I’m not. I’m sorry.)

Upcoming
I’ve got a meeting with my PhD supervisor (the lovely Matt Ward) tomorrow where I’m looking forward to thinking through what’s next. I feel like I’ve got a large chunk of it done, maybe a quarter(?) But then maybe I’m wrong. At LCC there’s loads of organisation to do, planning for next academic year has already started and I’ve got a massive team I’m working with at the moment. There’s a lot of moving parts but I’m thinking they’ll all line up well enough. There's also still two jobs we're recruiting for so please get in touch if you want to talk about them. (Senior Lecturer, Digital Experience and Motion Design and Course Leader, BA Graphic Media Design)

Oh, I’m going to be in Milan on 10th-12th April for [accent and hand gestures] Salone. It would be lovely to see anyone who wants to hang out. 

I’m going back to Italy after that but I’m not telling you where or when because it’s my holiday with Mrs Revell. Leave us alone.

Bette, Germinal, 227

Is it worth saying what you actually think more? I try to be honest (situation allowing) and sometimes that gets me in trouble and sometimes it doesn't. But then I'm a white man and that gives me the privilege in most places. I also find it a good way out when I can't read the room very well. Just a hard reset button. I'm tired after driving home at the weekend through the night. I know very well that I need at least seven hours sleep a night and any romanticism about being able to pull of four hours sleep is long gone. I stick to my hard rule of waking up at the same time every day but I'm not very good at going to sleep on time which creates a sleep deficit. Anyway...

It's alive!

As promised last week I'm going to bring back the Ongoing Collapse. It's a good project and people seem to like it so it's probably worth doing. Well, stage one is done so the easy bits are out of the way I guess. Renewing the hosting (ongoingcollapse.com) proved tricky since I don’t know where it is. Over the last few years the hosting has been bounced around to various folks and though I still own the domain I didn't have the patience to go around hunting down whoever is supposed to be hosting it at the moment (clue there is nothing at the domain). I was going to go for collapse.club but for some reason it won't assign the domain properly so instead I got the extremely catchy decline.online.

You can go over there right now to have a look at the holding page if you like. The key stylings are done and some super basic d3 is implemented to just basically draw that red line across the canvas, but it all resizes nicely and should work on mobile too. In fact it looks even cooler on mobile.

Anyway the core of it's done, it's up, styling's done. So next stage is going to be really hard and it's going to mean re-building all the scraping and archiving. I'm not sure how to do that. Last time I used a PHP scraper being pushed by a CRON job into an SQL database every day. It works ok as a storage and retrieval method but the scraper was bad and any time someone re-styled their page it lost all the data and glitched out. I'm going to look back over the code from the last iteration and see what's salvageable but I'm up for suggestions of better approaches.

After that is implementing the visualisations. I never got that far in the last iteration, I want to set it so that if your mouse hovers (or thumb clicks) on a particular bit of data in the text then that graph is either highlighted or appears. Again, I've got d3 in the build and ready to go so that's just a case of playing around with some examples to find something that works.

Blogging regular

I set a recurring reminder to post a blog every Wednesday and have set up a note to just write things down in and then form them up into a post. This is supposed to be on Wednesdays but tomorrow is packed and I thought I'd do it today. 

Term's over so it's the strange twilight of the university where everyone gradually goes off on holiday and very few of us are left in the building. It means there's some breathing room so I trudged through all my emails today to pick up anything I might have missed. There's some new projects coming up soon and I'm trying to figure out a mental calendar of the next six months and how everything's going to fit in. 

Channelling

Another YouTube recommendation. Girlfriend Reviews. Basically it's someone reviewing what it's like to live her boyfriend who plays video games. It's very funny and has resulted in me an Santo saying 'hol up a minit!' around the flat a lot which is a good indication of strong cultural impression. Most of them are about video games and derivations thereof but this one for the Star Wars: A New Hope came out the other week and it made me snigger a lot so I'm sharing it with you. 


Equinox (Plantoir, Ventose, 227)

Bring out your dead.
I ended up talking about blogging a lot recently. It seems it just won’t die. Some students I was supervising said they really enjoyed my blog and I was kind of shocked. I just use it to update people on what I’m up to rather than anything intellectual and then I was speaking to Nicolas Nova about it and the value of writing etc. All of this stuff is like canon for creatives and academics but it don’t make it fun. As I’ve said before I don’t particularly enjoy reading or writing. I always see a value in it and get myself in a good flow but I don’t ever relish it. I like video games and YouTube. Maybe I can share a channel I’ve been watching a lot recently with each blog? Ok new feature.

*Interruption* Channel Recommendation
I was holed up ill a few weeks ago and the recommendation algorithm started pushing up car restoration things. i don’t mind admitting that I like cars, I think some are really beautiful objects and they’re mechanically interesting. This was after a stint of videos on the science of Formula 1 which were fucking fascinating. Anyway, I found this guy - B is for Build - who restores and modifies cars in his garage and I just really like him. He has a positive attitude, doesn’t show off or make a big fuss, does some really good evaluating of the problems he’s facing, how he’s making decisions about stuff and considering what he wants to achieve. It feels very much like being in a design project, with him discussing his process with us and reflecting on the lessons he’s learning. Plus you get to learn about different bits of a car and how it all fits together. It’s not demanding and the time lapses make me sleepy which is a bonus when you’re sick. So check it out if it sounds interesting, I’d recommend watching the playlists as you can see a whole build evolve.



*resuming*
So anyway, I’ve decided to keep a record of thoughts and things as the week goes by and then try and publish at least once a month and maybe no-one reads it but then it stops things I would just say to myself in the kitchen disappearing into the ether.

It’s also hard to know what to say on here and Twitter dot com. I’m in positions where I’m responsible for a lot of plans and people’s work and it’s not that there’s much that’s secret but it’s either only relevant to a handful of people or it’s just a bit sensitive and I like keeping people’s confidence.

Bring back the dead.
I’ve decided to bring back Ongoing Collapse. I decided a while ago when I got the domain notification and people keep mentioning it or asking what happened to it. What happened was that it was really badly built when I didn’t know what I was doing (I still don’t) and used some dodgy CRON to PHP scraper to SQL database to browser pipeline which hardly ever worked and was completely unmanageable. Anyway, the maintenance got to be too much and I flogged off to some other folks who passed it around like a vintage car that needs twice its value in repairs and it ended up back in my lap.

So this morning I was thinking in the shower about how I’m going to rebuild the interface with gnarly D3 or P5 stuff and build a custom API (so that others can use it if they want) and hope for the best. I’ll try and document as I go as I don’t really know what I’m doing and my Stack Overflow profile is already trash. I was kind of inspired by hanging out with Joana Moll a bit recently (she’s great) and remembering what it was like when we all just used to make little browser-based experiments. I can’t promise a deadline as there’s a couple coming up and I reckon theres a solid week of work to do but maybe by the end of April it’s up and running again.

What I need from you is new references to bits of data - doesn’t matter whether they’re APIs, websites, whatever, anything I can scrape and any tips you might have on building good working APIs. As with the old Ongoing Collapse I really want it to keep rolling. Last time people sent in bits of data they wanted to see and I did my best to find them. Any tips on a good pipeline to scrape data, keep an ongoing record of it (say, daily) and then publish that to a browser would be A+.

Book
I don’t know if I told you, I’m co-authoring a book with some colleagues. We’ve been doing it since 2015(!) and are in the final stretch. One of my co-authors had a bebe which gives us some deadline leniency but I’ve spent a lot of this week going over chapters. It’s actually pretty good. I always have that thing when I do any project that I hate it at first and then you look back and it’s like ‘you know what, that was pretty good.’ So yeah, it’s pretty good. Just hope the editor agrees.

Impakt videos
Impakt, who as you know are my favourite media arts organisation, have published videos from the mini-festival held at the beginning of March. I did a talk for them about interfaces which was bringing a couple of things together. I did a summary of how future interfaces are shown in science fiction, pivoting into the magic and Haunted Machines stuff and then drawing them together with Harry Potter and how magic is visualised in that. It was one of those talks where things that you’ve been working with for a while kind of come together quite neatly. Anyway, check it out.



I also moderated a panel which was quite interesting. It began with a performance from Marianna Maruyama which was brilliant. Well worth watching, really funny and clever. I definitely want to get her involved in some future things. And I met Veronika from Ars Electronica who I’ve emailed with a bunch of times and never met, she was lovely. Impakt just has a real knack for finding funny, interesting and good-humoured people. I love those guys.



What else
I’m driving up to see my parents this weekend which is cheaper and easier than train travel and it feels like a cop out but the last few weeks have been a bit of a drag and me and Santo need to have a mini (and quite sedate) adventure. I haven’t had a drink fifty-two days today (and consequently no cigarettes or late-night taxi rides). It got to a point before Christmas where I was just looking forward to drinking every day and spending crazy money on food, alcohol, cigarettes, taxis. I’m not going to bang on about it but I’m pretty cheery that I just cold-turkey'd something that I knew was just going to balloon into a bigger problem and was at the root of a lot of other things I was unhappy with like being cranky all the time, getting bad sleep, eating like shit, never exercising and spending too much money.

Oh yeah
I also decided to do a render each week. No promises. I used to do digital sketches which are a bit more intensive to set up whole animations but an image is probably manageable. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I make up weird settings and try and imagine what they’d be like. One of them is the inside of a hemisphere that’s a desert and I try to imagine the horizon to go to sleep. So I thought I’d try and actually visualise it.

Set up as two spheres, one inside the other, one as light source one as surface, flip the normals so the surfaces face in and then subdivide. Three times seems to work, more than that was getting strange striations in the texture.

Ok I can't get it to work in time today. making the texture work at that scale crashes Blender. No render today! Good start!

February 2019

Yeah, I know it's been ages. There's a bunch of stuff I've been up to and have coming up and I keep a note of it all but that note (despite being digital) is pretty illegible and disorganised. I've been ill for almost two weeks and it's made me really lethargic and slow but I had to do something so I deciphered what I could and wrote it here.

I recently started using the website twitter dot com again. I spent probably more than a year just disappointed by it and just very occasionally posted about things I was up to. If the Comic Heist Caper known as civilisation had a complaints box it would look like twitter dot com. It has gained the quality of small arms trading in recent times with folk sniping at each other or loading up on vanity and righteousness. I remember being miffed by all the folks making a point of quitting when twitter dot com refused to block Alex Jones et al. as if leaving a shithole stops the shithole existing. But there are good things there, interesting things; I get most of my climate science from it and do like seeing what others are up to but that all comes with a measure of self-direction in culling petulance from it. I still don't know what Instagram is for.

Recent
Teaching's been on effective hold of recent. Since September I've been acting in Programme Director roles around LCC which is an exciting new set of challenges. It also does strange things to not have routines. I used to orientate myself around teaching sessions but now everything's a bit more chaotic and you'll most often see me running from room to room scrolling through my calendar trying to figure out where I'm meant to be.

At the tail end of last year I organised a pretty ambitious workshop with ModUAL which involved students from our Interact exchange with universities in Melbourne and Copenhagen. Twenty students from each institution worked together on a brief for ten days, meeting online for two hours every morning (UK time). This was a continuation of the exchange aimed at opening up opportunities for those who might no otherwise be able to afford them while at the same time presenting a case for subject-orientated online delivery. I've embedded the video below and I'm writing up a paper with Eva Verhoeven for presentation at this year's Cumulus.



I gave a lecture in Dusseldorf at 'Technological Flesh' hosted by Choy Ka Fai. It was a neat little event which brought together some tech stuff with neurology and dance. One of those events where you learn something from everyone else. I'm not sure if they made a video or anything but if there's one around I'll put it up.

I uploaded a few recent things to the website. Z33 shipped me over a copy of Studio Time which was finally published by Black Dog. You can buy a copy at the link there and there's an extract and some images here. I'm not a huge fan of reading or writing but it does seem to end up being useful.

Wes knocked together a video of our most recent collaborative project (yes, we're already working on some more) to show people for new projects. Honestly, I'm not sure that we'll get round to re-doing it and improving it so might as well put it up here. I've done a brief writeup of the project on the site here and at some point I will get round to doing a technical writeup about the process. It was one of the most technically challenging projects we've done, involving several computers and half a dozen different software packages all speaking to each other.



Also, here's the video from the launch of Supra Systems Studio.




Coming Up
I'm speaking with J Paul Neely at the Speculative Futures London Meetup on 19th February. I gave them fair warning that I don't have much to say on speculative design that hasn't already been said. I certainly don't support the way its used in white washing technological fetishism dressed up in 'design thinking.' I'll probably try and re-ground it in the political ambitions of critical practice.

Earlier the same day I'm doing an online seminar 'Teaching Complexity' which is about complexity. And teaching. Honestly, it's quite interesting, there's something at the intersection of critical practice, technology and knowledge that universities aren't very good at comprehending and delivering and I like talking about this stuff if it helps others to get interested.

That's it. See you later.