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.
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. 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