Nanowork installation

The big day! Installation was afoot at Cranfield University, our little electronic babies would be put in their proper homes.

This is the place where the 'energy harvester' goes. The one where as you step on a pressure pad, the lights go up and drop down when you step off.

The guys from the MDes course, Andy, Donnagh, Veronica and Andy did a great job setting up the stand.

Andy proves that the energy harvester works beautifully while Nicolas observes nervously.

the placement of the proximity lights. Beautifully fitted.

This is the back of the energy harvester, the LED strips sat perfectly on the frame.

Testing the energy harvester. Even with my meager weight they seemed to function fine.

The proximity sensors and lights.

And from the back.

The stand.

Proximity sensors.

Perhaps the best thing about Cranfield University is they have their own airstrip, apparently the third busiest airport in the country.

Nanowork 2

With a heavy deadline looming, the Nanotech team (myself and Nicolas Marechal) held an all night soldering/programming session. Chinese food and bottles of Becks made me feel like it was Wall Street in 1988.

The second part of our project (after the proximity sensors) was finished up and proven to be fully working. This functions much the same way as the proximity part but instead of proximity sensors, pressure pads are used. As someone moves on the pressure pad, more lights turn on and if no-one steps on it they drop down. There's only two of these though.


This is a brief breakdown of the proximity sensor stuff for the nano project for the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The proto-board (of which I hand soldered 4) which is used to control 3 1 watt LED's at a time.

The Arduino with it's beautiful wiring.

All 4 sets of 3 lights strung out and finished and working. Well not actually working, they're not plugged in.

The finished bits at the bottom, proto-board, Arduino and the little black guys on stalks are the proximity sensors.

The idea behind this is that the poximity sensors will trigger the three lights when someone gets close, there's four sets of these. Not only this but for super enviro-efficiency, the lighting systems are paired up for power. 6 lights, and 2 Arduinos run off one 12V 3.5A supply.

Nano tests

Our model for the RAE project works. Reproduce this x 4.


A 60 rpm (revolutions per minute) motor drives the entire mechanism. It rotates once every second. The following pulley rotates once every 5 seconds (1:5 ratio). The next rotates once every 60 seconds or 1 minute. Then 5 minutes, 1 hour, 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, and 1 decade. The decade wheel carries the load of the large arc. The large arc rotates once every century. The final ratio between the 60 rpm motor and the large arc is approximately 1:31.6 billion.

Each wheel is marked with a black nut to highlight a position that could be tracked over time. Along the arc, 100 lines mark the divisions of each passing year. When the clock finally reaches the end of a 100 year cycle, the arc falls off its track onto the floor.

I recently had to write a self-reflective essay for the end of my degree. They asked me what inspired me and I said that pretty much the only thing was humanity's ceaseless ability to produce wasteful, expensive, totally pointless and useless crap born of jealousy, greed and the simple desire to do something, anything that just makes your head spin and your jaw drag along the ground. The kind of thing that when you see it you just have to phone everyone to tell them about it in case it's existence was just something you dreamt about. This thing is staggering, just incredible.

Many, many thanks to James Allen for bringing it to my attention.
The original article is here.


Photos from box construction

Update. Silly word.

Photos from construction of the blocks for the box.

The wooden box that they'll slot in, make very satisfying noises.

Exhibit 3, some exciting circuitry/micro-controller wizardry.

And some resistors all tagged according to their readings on the micro-controllers. Each one has a different resistance and it's this that's being used to check which block is in which slot based on the returning current.

City of Skyscrapers

City Of Glass on what is hopefully, it's final incarnation.

The interface has been massively improved to make it faster and simpler. The colours are more realistic. I managed to use a formula to ensure that the words in the boxes were the most contrasted with the colour of that cell. It also no longer linearly disseminates each cell but does it en masse.

Here's a kind of vision of how I hope it could one day be displayed. For most impact itowuld obviously have to have the presence of a skyscraper.

Or perhaps more ideally, on an actual skyscraper.

What's the big idea?

This is a very rough sketch of the overall idea for the Oulipo project. A box that acts a a physical interface controls the mathematical input for the bisquares that are then used to output a story. This is pretty much the very first sketchy design.

Preface to George Perec's Life; A User's Manual

I always find this something of an inspiration when creating things.

The eye follows the paths that have
been laid down for it in the work
(Paul Klee, Padagogisches Skizzenbuch)

To begin with, the art of jigsaw puzzles seems of little substance, easily exhausted, wholly dealt with by a basic introduction to Gestalt: the perceived object – we may be dealing with a perceptual act, the acquisition of a skill, a physiological system, or, as in the present case, a wooden jigsaw puzzle – is not a sum of elements to be distinguished from each other and analyzed discretely, but a pattern, that is to say a form, a structure: the element’s existence does not precede the existence of the whole, it comes neither before nor after it, for the parts do not determine the pattern, but the pattern determines the parts: knowledge of the pattern and of its laws, of the set and its structure, could not possibly be derived from discrete knowledge of the elements that compose it. That means that you can look at a piece of a puzzle for three whole days, you can believe that you know all there is to know about its colouring and shape, and be no
further on than when you started. The only thing that counts is the ability to link this piece to other pieces, and in that sense the art of the jigsaw puzzle has something in common with the art of go. The pieces are readable, take on a sense, only when assembled; in isolation, a puzzle piece means nothing – just an impossible question, an opaque challenge. But as soon as you have succeeded, after minutes of trial and error, or after a prodigious half-second flash of inspiration, in fitting it into one of its neighbours, the piece disappears, ceases to exist as a piece. The intense difficulty preceding this link-up = which the English word puzzle indicates so well – not only loses its raison d’ĂȘtre, it seems never to have had any reason, so obvious does the solution appear. The two pieces so miraculously conjoined are henceforth one, which in its turn will be a source of error, hesitation, dismay, and expectation.

The role of the puzzle-maker is hard to define. in most cases- and in particular in all cardboard jigsaws – the puzzles are machine-made, and the lines of cutting are entirely arbitrary: a blanking die, set up once and for all, cuts the sheets of cardboard along identical lines every time. But such jigsaws are eschewed by the true puzzle-lover, not just because they are made of cardboard instead of wood, nor because the solutions are printed on the boxes they come in, but because this type of cut destroys the specific nature of jigsaw puzzles. Contrary to a widely and firmly held belief, it does not really matter whether the initial image is easy (or something taken to be easy – a genre scene in the style of Vermeer, for example, or a colour photograph of an Austrian castle) or difficult (a Jackson Pollock, a Pissarro, or the poor paradox of a blank puzzle). It’s not the subject of the pictures, or the painter’s technique, which makes a puzzle
more or less difficult, but the greater or lesser subtlety of the way it has been cut; and an arbitrary cutting pattern will necessarily produce an arbitrary degree of difficulty, ranging from the extreme of easiness – for edge pieces, patches of light, well-defined objects, lines, transitions – to the tiresome awkwardness of all the other pieces (cloudless skies, sand, meadow, ploughed land, shaded areas, etc.).

Pieces in puzzles of this kind come in classes of which the best-known are

the little chaps

the double crosses

and the crossbars

and once the edges have been put together, the detail pieces put in place – the very light, almost whitish yellow fringe on the carpet on the table holding a lectern with an open book, the rich edging of the mirror, the lute, the woman’s red dress – and the bulk of the background pieces parceled out according to their shade of grey, brown, white, or sky blue, then solving the puzzle consists simply of trying all the plausible combinations one by one.

The art of jigsaw puzzling begins with wooden puzzles cut by hand, whose maker undertakes to ask himself all the questions the player will have to solve, and instead of allowing chance to cover his tracks, aims to place it with cunning, trickery and subterfuge. All the elements occurring in the image to be reassembled – this armchair covered in gold brocade, that three-pointed black hat with its rather ruined black plume, or that silver-braided bright yellow livery – serve by design as points of departure for trails that lead to false information. The organized, coherent, structured signifying space of the picture is cut up not only into inert, formless elements, carrying false information; two fragments of cornice made to fit each other perfectly when they belong in fact to two quite separate sections of the ceiling, the belt buckle of a uniform which turns out in extremis to be a metal clasp holding the chandelier, several almost identically cut
pieces belonging, for one part, to a dwarf orange tree placed on a mantelpiece and, for the other part, to its scarcely attenuated reflection in a mirror, are classic examples of the types of traps puzzle-lovers come across.

From this, one can make a deduction which is quite certainly the ultimate truth of jigsaw puzzles: despite appearances, puzzling is not a solitary game: every move the puzzler makes, the puzzle-maker has made before; every piece the puzzler picks up, and picks up again, and studies and strokes, every combination he tries, and tries a second time, every blunder and every insight, each hope and each discouragement have all been designed, calculated, and decided by the other.

Demetri Martin's Palindrome.

I posted this a while ago on my main blog but this is Demetri Martin's 224 word palindrome Damnit I'm Mad, which is a poem that always fascinated me as well as fitting into the idea of Oulipo constraint based writing.

Dammit I’m mad.
Evil is a deed as I live.
God, am I reviled? I rise, my bed on a sun, I melt.
To be not one man emanating is sad. I piss.
Alas, it is so late. Who stops to help?
Man, it is hot. I’m in it. I tell.
I am not a devil. I level “Mad Dog”.
Ah, say burning is, as a deified gulp,
In my halo of a mired rum tin.
I erase many men. Oh, to be man, a sin.
Is evil in a clam? In a trap?
No. It is open. On it I was stuck.
Rats peed on hope. Elsewhere dips a web.
Be still if I fill its ebb.
Ew, a spider… eh?
We sleep. Oh no!
Deep, stark cuts saw it in one position.
Part animal, can I live? Sin is a name.
Both, one… my names are in it.
Murder? I’m a fool.
A hymn I plug, deified as a sign in ruby ash,
A Goddam level I lived at.
On mail let it in. I’m it.
Oh, sit in ample hot spots. Oh wet!
A loss it is alas (sip). I’d assign it a name.
Name not one bottle minus an ode by me:
“Sir, I deliver. I’m a dog”
Evil is a deed as I live.
Dammit I’m mad.

Exercises in Graphic Novels

Exercises in Style was written by Raymond Queneau after years of writing the same inconsequential story of a confrontation on a bus and a chance second encounter in different styles. From blurbs to police reports, removing certain letters, and using only onomatopoeia, he ended up with 99 of them.

Matt Madden, inspired by Queneau, did the same thing with graphic novels. Taking the same inconsequential story and illustrating it in 99 different styles, from newspaper humour, to film noir, to monologue, to switching round the images.

(edit: I was recently asked to take part in a film work of the same nature, curse Vimeo's lack of email updates as I would have done it. 28/04/11)

Raymond Queneau starts it all off...

Raymond Queneau famously kicked off the Oulipo with his Hundred Thousand Billion Poems. This set of ten sonnets had each of it's 14 lines divided up such that there were 100,000,000,000,000 different possible poems. Each line has the same rhyming scheme and the same rhyming sounds so they can be arranged in any combination. Pretty groovy.

You can find a link to an interactive, online and exciting version here. Each possible combination even has a serial number. This is an exciting way to use the internet to completely destoy the romance of a beautiful piece of well-considered and written work.

Three books relating to the Oulipo

Inspired Oulipo;

Raymond Roussell's Locus Solus takes it's name from the Latin for lost souls and is basically a series of descriptions of the inventions and experiments of a genius named Canterel, who leads a tour of his estate, called Locus Solus. The original was in French so the translation at times can be a little difficult to gain context with but it's basically a series of intricately detailed, surreal descriptions. From a hot air balloon that reacts exactly to sunlight to make a mosaic out of teeth, to a cat that races sea horses round a giant tank while an opera singer dances and discusses politics with an apparently living head, to the re-enactment of scenes from the lives of the dead. Played by the character's re-animated cadavers. I had to read it very slowly as it's easy to lose track. It follows a very French style of the time of describing a situation (or in this case invention or experiment) then how and why it works, then how that came about, and the story behind it. Rather than a more English style of revealing motives, methods then results.

Vital Oulipo:

Linking Locus Solus to the last book is the rather clever A Void by George Perec. The point of this novel is it's written entirely without the letter 'e' (or 'a' in the original French), making it a Lipogram. It's easy just to read through it scanning for the erstwhile vowel. But this is entirely the wrong method. Perec wrote it as if the letter itself never existed, rather than just excluding it. You almost have to forget about the errant 'e's in order to get into it. The plot basically follows a group of friends searching for their missing companion, Anton Vowel, who himself was onto the idea that something was missing, the thing he dubbed 'A Void'. It's written similarly to Locus Solus, with a similar storytelling-method but manages to cut away the huge amount of detail that saturated Roussell's work. And it actually has a plot, Meyer-lovers..

Inspired by the Oulipo:

The third, also a lipogram, is Ella Minnow Pea. This one was written in English originally so it's easy to fly through. Despite the misleading subtitle of "A Novel Without Letters", the entire novel is in fact written in letters, being the correspondence of a handful of key characters on the island of Nollop, a small island community that worships the man responsible for the pangram "The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog". As the letters of the pangram, quasi-immortalised on a statue dedicated to Nevin Nollop begin to fall, the island's leaders ban each missing letter from the English language, with severe penalties if a banned letter is spoken or written. As the book continues, more and more letters fall from the statue until we are left with L, M, N, O and P and the correspondence of the characters within the book is reduced to these letters. Very enjoyable and quite light-hearted but a clever writing exercise and a witty satire.

Work inspired by Oulipean rules.

Here's some work that people have done that were inspired by Oulipean rules.

Tauba Auerbach's alphabetised bible.

Also Rory Macbeth who did the same thing but by word, not letter.

And Kitty Clark's Moebius Strip Story and
Dipping Duck Orchestra.