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