13 Germinal 228; Moths add realism to anything.

Sorry, my French Republican calendar is in my office, where I obviously can't go so I'm having to use a crappy website to guestimate the date. I'm spending my days catching up with my reading and enjoying the peace. I guess it's the thing that's sort of still a bit socially unacceptable; I'm totally fine with social isolation and I'm getting so much done. I spent like a year once not talking to anyone and just playing World of Warcraft so a life behind screens is normal. I haven't been using Zoom (mostly because UAL favours Collaborate and Teams which both work perfectly well). It's sort of selfish of me I suppose to enjoy it. There's a lot of bombastic projects and happenings popping up all the time as folks out of their goodwill seize these times to try and make the best of it and us, especially as many are now in places where their futures look bleaker.

My day pretty much looks like; up at 7 for coffee and some morning exercise, sit in office all day reading, making notes, occasionally dropping in for meetings and bits of UAL work, hit the PlayStation around 5 or 6 (I'm playing Control which I suppose deserves more of a space to write up), cook dinner, eat it, watch YouTube, go to bed. It's great. Next week I'm going to start pulling together all the material for my PhD upgrade from the reading catching up I'm doing. This morning I want to re-do all the tags on my extensive Evernote library which has all the papers, articles and notes of the research in. Before I was going for really specific tags like 'Computation and imagination (future)' but then you get like one thing come up. I found Evernote has the ability to cross-reference so I can change that to three separate tags ('Computation', 'imagination' and 'future') and then just select all three for articles that feature all three. I've then got Mark Hansen's Fast Forward to take a crack at.

Channel Recommendation

Lazy Tutorials for lazy people by lazy people; Blender tutorials by Ian Hubert. There's twenty of them, they're each a minute long, they're pretty funny and they show you some neat technical and stylistic tricks in Blender. If you've got some experience in Blender you can probably use these, just pause them on screenshots to see what he's doing, I definitely got new stuff from them. Anyway, whole playlist is here and here's one about moths. 'Model a moth, moths are pure chaos so don't stress too much... But can we teach them to love?' Even if you're not into Blender they're nice ways of showing you what's possible with objectively quite simple techniques.

Love you, bye.

5th Germinal, 228

I'm away from the calendar in the office. I can only say it's the 5th day of Germinal. There's not much to add really. You know what's going on. As you might imagine, we're in a scramble at the moment to make everything work and keep everyone healthy. The Office for Students wants one thing Public Health England another. The left shift key on my keyboard broke and I can't reset the SMC without it, I need to get a proper Mac screwdriver and open it up to manually pull the battery. I caught up on my reading yesterday and I'm spending this morning organising my old essays and texts, including the ones I need to read. I've saved so much money (I used to eat out all the time) that I treated myself to a new Garmin GPS computer but now I feel bad about going out riding. I'm going to go tomorrow. I like social isolation so I'm not doing so bad but I know lots of people are and it sucks. The Disco Elysium soundtrack is on repeat. Be amazing.

Vélar, Ventôse, 228; Reading GANs

Oh I had lots to talk about but to be honest I'm tired an a bit sad so I'll just dump some quick thoughts on a thing and leave you to your week.

Wes sent me this to read which he's featured in of course. It's all good but I was particularly there to read How Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) Changed the Way we Look at the World by Lenka Hámošová. I appreciate a straightforward title and it's also a useful breakdown contextualising machine learning in the story of photographic forgery and propaganda-driven editing. Interestingly, the author also pushes at the idea of over-scepticism, that as well as the possibility for social manipulation through forgery, we may become overly suspicious of images that are in fact, unaltered. In my work on this subject I've drawn many of the same parallels; Stalin, photoshop etc etc but hadn't considered the idea that publics might wholesale distrust visual media as a result of its very production. For some reason I'm minded here of the sharpie issue when Trump altered a map of Hurricane Dorian's path with a Sharpie. Despite the obvious fraud (and Trump's ongoing fractious relationship with Sharpies) there appears to be an implicit notion that a direct connection between the author (Trump) and the artefact (the adapted map) implies truth while a digitally produced image without the hand of an author visibly present could be mistaken.

To be honest, there's not much more to the text than a description of the current state of play in the technology and a call for tools to interpret images produced by GANs. It's easy to speculate on dystopian visions of total distrust and then demand better tools for verification. I'm more interested in the wider social and human effects on visual culture.

Violette, Ventôse, 228; Falling through Earth

Hi. This is a short missive. I know I didn't do one last week but time just ran away with me. My sleep pattern has become incredibly erratic. Some nights I get three or four hours sleep, some times I crash out at like 7pm and just sleep straight through 12 hours. A couple of years ago I tried to train myself to need less sleep and just couldn't; I am an 8 hour sleep person and know that the key to good sleep is regularity. This also means I'm trying to drink less, normally I'm out three or four nights a week and I need to cut that down to a maximum of two or at least not drink every night.

I'm just going to post some links up and ahve done with it this week. I haven't read anything (because of the sleep thing) and you already know about the thing on Friday with natalie at the V&A? I learned about the Royal Game of Ur the other day which I guess is the world's oldest and longest-played game. There's a video from Tom Scott here on how the rules were kind of reverse engineered from correspondence hundreds of years after its first engineering.

Channel Recommendation

I already recommended this so it's not necessarily new but here's Standup Maths showing you how it wold take exactly 42 minutes and 10 seconds to fall through any object with the density of Earth, no matter how far you fell through. So weird.

There are so many good science communication channels out there I wonder what design and art have been doing wrong. I suppose 99% Invisible is about as close as you can get to a genuinely accessible and popular thing but it's still an audio podcast about design and there's something about the production values that I sometimes don't like; it's too shiny. I like Standup Maths and others because it's just someone who's really excited about something talking to other people about ideas. Should I do a design vlog?

I've been assembling a list of axioms I go by. I find I have quite a well self-articulated ruleset on how and why I do things which makes my life quicker because I hate prevaricating and waiting.

Lièvre, Pluviôse, 228; Speculative design is still a thing and Warhammer is great.

What if Our World is Their Heaven?

I got around to pulling together the video from 'What if Our World is Their Heaven?' and uploaded it to Vimeo. I also stuck up some images and the text we used in the brief up on the Haunted Machines site. The whole workshop was based around the 'automated production and dissemination of images'; a phrase which, if you've spoken to me in the last month, you would have heard me use a lot. The talk here introduces some of the key ideas of the area and identifies some existing weak signals and indicators that could be used by the students to kick off their thinking.

Coming up

There's a quite a lot going on this month. Not least of which I'm doing a lot of actual teaching which is why this is a day late. I spent a while trying to pull together a Blender workshop for Eevee on Saturday but really couldn't find a way to make it do what I wanted it to do and do it in a way which was easily teachable. It's definitely really promising but at the moment there's just too many hoops to go through for an 'intro to Blender' class. 

Other than that is a bunch of speculative design stuff. I'm teaching MA Service Design students tomorrow with the old Critical Exploits and thanks to my old friend and colleague Radha Mistry have found myself on the jury for the Core 77 design awards for speculative design. The submission are open now until the end of March I think. It'll be interesting to see what people are playing with in the field. I suppose it's a field now.

On 28th February Natalie and I are presenting at Pre-histories and Futures of Machine Vision, an event put together by Joel McKim. Honestly I'm not 100% on what we're talking about yet but we've titled it 'What if Our World was Their Heaven?' again.

Channel recommendation – Warhammer and climate change

So I suppose the commonality about my viewing habits is I like watching people build things. Not in a Grand Designs way but in a really grounded craft-based way. The algorithm has pushed me recently into miniature painting which is very enjoyable to watch mostly for the remarkable amount of skill involved. Anyway, I came across Goobertown Hobbies and really like it. The guy has a good pace and voice in talking about what he's doing. However, about half way through he completely switches, turns out he's a biochemist and he wants to use his platform to engage people in talking about climate change. He talks in this one about becoming confident in who you are and what you believe – in his case that he likes Warhammer (which he was 'closeted' about for a long time) and is really concerned about the lack of public engagement with climate change. It's just a really lovely, non-aggressive, non-ranty way of calling for openness, honesty and meaningful conversation. Loved it. 

Ok. In the words of Mr Buckles: I love you. BYYYYEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

Buis, Pluviôse, 228; What if everything was ok?

Stuart and Nicolas basically said it was ok to keep using French Republican dates as titles so that's where we are now with this blog. Incidentally I told a colleague that I blogged every week and they made a joke about 2015. 2015 was a good year for music. So. Anyway, whatever. Friday was Brexit day and like a lot of folks I found myself once again feeling the profound hopelessness and despair that we felt in 2016:

Sometimes I have a dream where I'm desperately imploring someone to listen to me and stop and change their ways. I'm not sure who my interlocutor is; I usually see myself in the third-person with my antagonist off-screen. In my dream I'm utterly convinced that they are so incorrect and so misled that if they continue what they are doing it will irreparably damage us both. I start persuading them calmly but they refuse to listen, or ignore me, or continue doing the thing I'm trying to get them to stop and it escalates into shouting, screaming for them to stop but they continue to ignore me, or simply can't hear me. In the end my throat is raw from screaming, my head throbs with rage, my back is bent over and I'm exhausted and crying but they carry on.

I hate that dream. It hurts. Maybe you have it too? I'm sorry if you do. It probably has some symbolic meaning about insurmountable adversity but like a lot of my dreams I tend to ignore it and pocket it until it later bears a semblance upon life when I can draw on it for learning.

But that dream came to mind on Friday evening while watching the symbols of Brexit happen. I'm always wary of blaming or singling out individuals for things that I personally find to be wrong because people are usually the victims of calamitous events rather than causes. And unless you are a murderer, sexual predator or other nefarious being the chances are that circumstance has as much a part in the situation as free will. But it was hard watching some of the vox-pops with folks celebrating this historic catastrophe and not want to blame them for their choices in our particular calamity: You must have seen the interview; (I generalise from despair, but you get the gist):
'We'll be in control again.'
'Of what?'
'You know, our country.'
'Ok, but what specifically?'
'Our sovereignty.'
'What does that mean for you?'
'Oh, well, control of our own laws.'
'Which laws?'
'All the laws that Europe took away.'
'Ok, which ones?'
'Like...fishing laws. We'll have our own fishing laws.'
'So how will that affect your daily life?'
'Oh, well, it won't but we'll have our own laws.' 
And on and on and on it goes like the greatest Monty Python sketch writ large on the rhetorical path to nowhere. You can't blame folks for deploying words like 'sovereignty' and 'laws' without (as I don't) even really knowing what they mean. They're parroting the Eurosceptic words they've heard since the early-2000s.

So then if we don't blame the folks gathered in Parliament Square to celebrate the ritual sacrifice of fifty years of mutual cooperation, do we blame and scream at the politicians? (you know specifically the ones I mean) I mean, it's good catharsis if you like your throat cut to ribbons but they're just doing politics. Let's imagine a pleasant fiction:

As with our world, the end of the Cold War leads to an end of a clear 'us and them' narrative simultaneous to enormous growth in the economic prosperity of the most wealthy leaving the once exhorted working and lower middle classes behind. Instead of blaming non-white people (War on Terror) or 'the elites' some right-wing think tank (supported by the tabloids, fintech and green tech investment) puts together a cohesive, straight-forward and digestible narrative that lands the blame for social inequality squarely at the feet of exploitative extraction and fossil fuel industries. New politicians like Noris Fohnson and Bigel Jarage campaign and harry – out of political expediency rather than conviction – for an anti-fossil fuel platform in the right wing, swinging MPs – out of political expediency rather than conviction – to call a referendum in 2016 on a carbon neutral economy by 2020. They promise jobs, new industries, growth, wealth for the 'forgotten' and a nationalistic vision of Britain leading the way. 

Sure, it seems unfeasible but you know, the mechanics are broadly the same. And you can't blame politicians for being political. You CAN blame them for shirking any sense of courage or integrity in the face of a opportunism and of knowingly committing the country to a policy path which they fully understand (and most have admitted before this debacle) will lead to a worse outcome for most people. You can go to fucking town on that one.

So anyway I posted a Political Opinion on Instagram on Friday night and braced for the inevitable backlash but instead received some sympathy, kind words and two interesting debates in which I learned something. This continues to support my conviction that Instagram is my favourite (great articles to the contrary aside). Had I done the same on Twitter dot com I would have received the inevitable 'eat rocks and die you fascist' response. This is a symptom I think of how much Twitter's panopticon structure (you can see what everyone else says) rewards collective outrage. On Instagram, where it's direct messages or you have to go out of your way to read what other people have written about another's thing, there's no need to play to the crowd.


This week I started reading Designs For The Pluriverse by Arturo Escobar. I actually stomped through about at third of it in one sitting (practically unheard of with my easily-distracted mind.) It explores the possibility of a design that goes agains the grain of design's inherent destructive tendencies, beginning with Tony Fry's notion of 'the "defuturing effects" of modern design, by which he means design's contribution to the systemic conditions of structured unsustainability that eliminate possible futures.' (p. 16) From here, Escobar points at a fork in the road for design and the future; the first drawn form notions such as participation, conviviality, non-dualistic ontologies and matriarchal ideas. The other; Claudia von Werlholf's 'patriarchal alchemy' based on hierarchies, dominance and control. He then scopes out the territory for a nascent new form of 'critical deisgn' present in emerging areas such as transition movements, Latin American feminism and climate activism.

To be totally honest, I don't understand half of it (the cultural theory half specifically); but in a good way. Sometimes I read things where I struggle with the ideas and terms and give up. There's so many things to read that I refuse to engage with things where the author doesn't at least try to engage an audience beyond their immediate peer group. In this case, Escobar really is trying to engage people exactly like me – a western-educated designer – in shifting my conception of my subject. His writing makes me want to re-read sections to understand where he's going at. I'm apprehensive of getting to several areas of the book – the ontological turn and transition design specifically – both of which I've taken several runs at each and come up only slightly more comprehending but I'm kind of excited to tackle those things through his writing.

However, in a book referencing designers, inevitably to be read by designers (even if he is clear that is not his sole audience), it could use some pictures! Escobar refers to a lot of practices throughout the book and rarely illustrates them through description and never through images. The thread of a thought can easily be lost when he drops the name of, for instance, a co-design practitioner I was unaware of and then doesn't expand on what they do and how or use an image of their work making it hard to interpret them as an example of his theory. I also actually like his tendency to string out lists of adjectives which I know some folk find poor style. I do that. So that makes it feel ok. More conceptually, I also feel that sometimes his ideas border on nostalgia such as at one point lamenting the replacing of the fireplace in the home (a site of community) with the television, or enthusing the value of blood relations and physically-local communities over dispersed technological social networks. Maybe there's more to go into here later in the book but I have a niggling concern that (at least early in the book) he off-handedly discounts the role of media technologies in building new kinds of families and communities that for many folks (perhaps western, yes) are more fulfilling – even safer – than the physically proximate ones. Anyway, I'll write more once I wrap it up. It's intense but I'm enjoying the challenge.

Sorry, no learning or channel recommendations this week. This is long enough for you. I've got them in my notes for next week.

Night, x

Coignée, Pluviôse, 228; Power modes, mind control, ancient games

Oh boy, there’s a lot of self-centred guff in this one. If you're not interested (and who could blame you) I would skip through the 'Power Modes' section but there’s no point pretending we don’t have implicit algorithms that we use to make decisions and structure our behaviour. Maybe not everyone does, maybe some folks are just totally confident and comfortable in themselves and their choices that they don’t try and rationalise them.

Mrs Revell and I bought our first flat over the summer and we've been settling in gradually. While the rest of the place is very designerly and tastefully finished my 'office' (the name of this room is still contentious) is the dumping ground for stuff that has nowhere else to go and old furniture. I'm hoping to get some time over the summer to sort it out but for now this is where I write to you from.


I finished up *New* Program for Graphic Design by David Reinfurt over the tail end of last week while travelling and it was good. There's not much more to say really, if you're into design, design education and design history, read it. I learned lots and found it pretty easy to engage with. So at the weekend I moved onto clearing out some open tabs. The new edition of Continent is right up the Haunted Machines alley and featured great work from Stephen Connor, Nicolas Nova, Suzanne Triester and Peter Moosgard. I also read an article by one of the editors who I hadn't come across before – Anthony Enns on Apocryphal Psychotechnologies. This was an exhaustive history of mind-reading and control devices and the narratives and pseudoscience around them propelled principally by the belief that the mind is a machine and we could read and control it with the right gizmo. 

This provided a very neat segue into Simon Niquille's lates piece for e-flux – Too Much Information. Niquille has a real talent for connecting technical, historical and political ideas around technologies and does a great job here of really hammering the technical trait of believing that 'good enough' simulation means that you can read and control perfectly. Similar to Enns' critique of mind-reading evinced by the brain as an electro-magnetic machine, Niquille describes how the logic of FACS (Facial Action Coding System) – a system used to simulate human emotions on CGI models with a series of 'universal' facial movements – evinced technologists that human emotions could similarly be discretely read from a limited available set:
These applications follow the belief that the face holds the key to truth and reveals thoughts left unspoken. [psychologist Paul] Ekman refers to micro expressions as an “involuntary emotional leakage [that] exposes a person’s true emotions.” In the case of airport screenings, automated facial expression recognition takes on a predictive function by claiming to pick up signals of future intentions. Such expectation echoes the practice of physiognomy, a pseudoscience that originated in antiquity and resurged in Europe during the late Middle Ages to assess a persons character from their outer appearance. 
I would have liked to have seen more critique of the designerly qualities of the machines that Enns' examines, similar to the work that Andrew Friend and Sitraka's 2013 Prophecy Program but I suppose that's not his remit.

Power Modes

Sometimes I think about who we are in different places. If you ask Mrs Revell she’d (probably) say that I mostly like sitting on my own in silence. That’s the kind of ‘resting state’ and then I activate other states for other situations. When I’m in situations where I don’t know anyone or know very few people I seem to have two wildly different states: Either sit-at-the-back, hide in the shadows and crack on with work on the laptop (let’s call this low power mode) or everyone here is interesting, talk to them all, learn about them, soak it up (high power mode). And then I end up thinking – well which one am I really, given no external conditions? I’m not faking being interested in talking to other people or learning about them, their lives and concerns, and we all enjoy the feeling that comes with people giving you their time and attention. Then I’m resentful of the times I don’t make the most of the opportunities to meet new people and learn new things, and sit at the back and hide but also feel safe. 

When I was up in Edinburgh last week I was definitely in high power mode and it was great. I suppose I wonder if there are specific starting conditions or triggers that I can proactively make sure are in place to make sure I get into that mode and make the most of these opportunities. At LCC I’m almost always entirely in that mode but then I already know most people who work in that building and they’re all super interesting so it’s quite comfortable. Anyway, it was fortuitous to listen to David Mitchell on the Adam Buxton podcast while tidying the flat (it’s an old one, I’m playing catch up between bouts of Islamic philosophy) talking about how he deals with small talk as a relatively new parent:
It’s not like I mean to be unfriendly, but I don’t mean to be friendly enough and that is being unfriendly and maybe it’s better that everyone expect me to be unfriendly and then they won’t try and talk to me. Then I can be friendly with my actual friends who know what I’m like and I’m less shy with them and so I will talk to them but I haven’t really got the energy or concentration or courage to be a normal chatty guy. Just generally.
He was referring specifically to small talk at the ‘school gates’ which I suppose I’m unfamiliar with but I am familiar with forced social proximity from other things (cursed ‘networking’ sessions at conferences being a chief culprit or large group meals with people I don’t know) and in those situations the triggers are definitely fired off to go into low power mode. I think when I can’t control, direct or structure the social circumstances I go low power mode: I have to be in that space for a certain amount of time and with a pre-ordained set of people and there’s no control over that. I think I go high power mode when I get to set the rules, chiefly; I can always walk away. There’s much less risk involved if you’re setting at least some of the terms of the social interactions. Mitchell wraps up this line of thought with the specifics of his career:
What I like about being a comedian and performing in general is that there are occasions where you have to be energised and think and in certain situations be chatty – I’m trying to be chatty now. But you sort of know, while doing it, that that’s part of a certain discrete project and the when that project ends you can go back to being unfriendly and morose and quiet. You know, it’s nice to put on an ironed shirt and have a wash but it’s also nice not to have to be just generally ‘clean’
I remember saying to Wes once (when he was spending every day in silence on his own working on his PhD) that I often don’t want to socialise because I spend all day in meetings and talking or teaching and lecturing and being enthusiastic, and energised and trying to bring people along with me with their own ideas and energy and it’s exhausting. So, when I’m not doing that I just like to sit in quiet on my own. I guess it’s a similar thing.

Things I learned this week

  • I learned about the Royal Game of Ur which, when you think about the longevity of games (or even specific artefacts) is kind of remarkable. Invented in the early third millenia in Mesopotamia, spread across most of the Indo-European world and beyond up until late antiquity (500 AD-ish in Europe). I like the way the rules were learned; an astronomer from Babylon wrote a tablet to his Greek friends with a more complex variation on the game from which modern scholars were able to reverse engineer the standard rules. 
  • I really liked this article which is from a few years back but seems a bit ever green. Basically, people can say mean things, not because they're mean but that's just how we build social bonds. I deleted my 'small' (read: private) Twitter account a few years ago because I didn't like how mean it was. I don't like being mean to people who aren't in the room (not to say I can't be mean to people to their face) I didn't really learn anything there but it's a nice articulation of the vicious joy of being mean on the Internet.

Flagon, Pluviôse, 228: Donkeys and baskets

Hi, sorry I don't have much for you this week. I was away at the weekend and I haven't really sat down and thought about much at all for the past seven days. Tom Armitage (he also has a blog) sent me an article about Disco Elysium which begins with a quote form one of the developer's (ZA/UM) founders on their name:
"It just looks hella cool, that slash there. It looks like the technical name of something that definitely exists and weighs eight tonnes."
As Tom said in his email: 'ZA/UM appear to be more rock and roll than I can conceive.' I guess in my own janky, inappropriate way I try to be a bit rock and roll. Maybe we could all try being more rock and roll.


I have the videos and images from What if Our World is Their Heaven to sort out and write up. This was the workshop slash studio that Natalie Kane and I ran with MA Graphic Media Design at London College of Communication. We looked at the cultural and political dimensions of 'automated image production and dissemination.' This is slightly selfish as I'm trying to kick off a research project at LCC on the same theme but it proved fruitful; the students really got on with it and pulled out a dizzying array of interesting projects and practices.

Anyway, I'm off to Edinburgh in 30 mins to do an event on speculative design at Edinburgh Napier's Creative Informatics Lab. I'm still not sure exactly what to talk about. The easy version would just be to go on about some work I've done but I don't know if people are interested in that. Then on Friday afternoon I'm back in London for the 'Designing for Alternative Futures' event at the Design Museum. Just check out the lineup on that. What a corker.

Things I Learnt This Week

This week I did make sure to note some things I learnt. 
  • I learnt what a freakshake was from a menu in a cafe in Bakewell. They are...  alarming. 
  • I learnt the etymological origins of the gay slang 'Twink' which is connected to the confectionary. I honestly didn't know. When you think about it, it's kind of obvious. 
  • Finally, in the podcast at the moment we're doing Sufi mysticism and Nasreddin came up who I learnt about from Slavs and Tartars a while back but h regaled the story of the basket and the donkey which tickles me (and because I can't find the original I paraphrase here):

    Everyday Nasreddin rode his donkey into the town and every day the customs officer inspected the donkey and Nasreddin's empty basket and found nothing Years later the customs officer – now retired – ran into Nasreddin in the market and asked him; 'I've retired now, you can tell me, what were you smuggling?

    'Donkeys and baskets.'

Night x

Chat, Nivose, 228; Time has Eaten Me Again but Maybe Some of This Content will Satisfy You.

Is knowledge always a product of its technical constraints? Donald Knuth’s precise mathematical description of the letter ‘S’ owes its existence to the switch to papyrus and wax that enabled early Latin scribes to make curved shapes. Without that switch from carving stones to marking paper; no s, no Knuth on mathematics of typography. So what knowledge was lost because some arbitrary technical decision or necessity was bypassed? You see, I was doing really well at finding time to read articles and do bits of writing in the morning until the first week back at my real job, now I am back to being exhausted and frenetic, unable to concentrate on a single thing.

Common Design Studio

I’ve spoken to some folks about this but I suppose since we got some money it’s worth going a bit public. With my colleague Eva Verhoeven, I’m going to be working on a big design education project this year – Common Design Studio. This is a follow-up to the Global Design Studio that itself was a follow up to Interact, an exchange programme between LCC and some Australian counterparts. Global Design Studio was an online project with 60 students from three institutions around the world all working together for ten days. We wrote up the results of Global Design Studio into a paper and identified that one of the missed opportunities of online projects like this is that they could be done cheaper by maximising the use of resources where they were plentiful and giving more access to others where they weren’t and that they have the possibility to connect folks who may not normally have access to the institution. As a result the Common Design Studio is a proposal for a completely free, open online design learning project run out of LCC that anyone with a phone can join. This makes it sound deceptively simple but there are already hurdles.

Because the project is committed to transparency and freedom we are documenting everything online totally openly. I’m currently using a Trello board for this purpose which you can get to here. It contains all the important documents and will be populated with meeting notes and discussions as the project evolves. I’m not sure if it’s the most suitable thing but it allows for anyone to drop in and check it out which is what we’re aiming for. If you want to help out or have any ideas or references please also shoot them over.


I decided I don’t like Vanished Kingdoms and stopped reading it. I like my history with a bit of allegory and, frankly, a bit of narrative and the thing was getting quite a slog to read through, for instance in the case of Aragon, over a thousand years of names of Kings and what they did. Also, I didn’t realise when picking it up (despite being on the cover) that it focuses exclusively on European history which I’m already pretty au fait with and I was hoping to learn more about places I didn’t know so much about.

So, beyond revisiting a bunch of design research for the PhD (Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, Cross’ Designerly Ways of Thinking, Frayling’s Research in Art and Design and Design Research Through Practice) I started to read A *New* Program for Graphic Design from David Reinfurt which so far has been brilliant. It's basically a book version of the lecture series and exercises he gives his students but all really well illustrated and paced. Because it's verbatim from a lecture it also has a conversational quality that makes it really engaging. I often thought that I should just write down my talks rather than try to be a smart writer and this one is winning me over. It's broken into three sections; Typography, Gestalt and Interface and these give a super interesting overview of histories and futures of design, computation, social change and psychology.

I also read On Nonscalability by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing recommended by Anab Jain. It gives a remarkably accessible history of the scalability project and its eclipsing of the possibilities of diversity. Tsing draws a logical equivalence between the idea of the ‘pixel’ and something she calls the ‘nonsocial landscape elements’ or, ‘nonsoels.’ These are discrete units that allow for scalability. In her example, slaves from Africa and sugarcane clones. I read Tsing’s book a year or two ago and this paper helpfully includes a short version of that as an example of nonscalability.

Channel Recommendation

I can't stop thinking about how good Disco Elysium was. I can't and won't play it again but a lot of the soundtrack is on YouTube. It was all done by British Sea Power and has a wonderful horrifying melancholy to it. There's very little spoken dialogue in the game so the music sticks with you most.

Marbre, Nivôse, 228: How do you know if you produced knowledge?

Sometimes it’s hard to think big when your weekly ambition is just to read all your emails. I tweaked the design of this thing again. Blogger's current favourite thing is not saving HTML changes so I have to edit offline then 'restore' the HTML. It’s been a few weeks since the last post and now we’re in a glorious new Gregorian decade so this is a long one, sorry.

There’s still a lot of these 'decade/year in review' things going out on the social networks where folks list what they consider to be achievements over the period. I won't be doing one, I feel pretty divided about them. It feels vainglorious, boastful and my internal logic suggests that getting things done is in and of itself the validation rather than having other people acknowledge that you did it. On the other hand, it’s been really nice reading all the incredible things that people have been up to in the face of what to many has been years of adversity and struggle. I don’t know. If you know me well you know that I feel ‘sticky’ about talking about my own work. I don’t like it because a) if it was any good it would speak for itself b) if it’s not good then it’s not worth talking about and I’m just taking up airspace from people doing good work which is why (barring one attempt) I never do these year/decade in review things. Anyway, moving on from thoughts that will inevitably land me in trouble on twitter dot com forward slash replies…

Upcoming: Reciprocal Studio - What if Our World is Their Heaven?

Today Natalie and I are starting teaching one of the Reciprocal Studios for MA Graphic Media Design at LCC as Haunted Machines. These are small, short and directed specialist briefs run by creative practitioners that the students can sign up to. We’ve decided to run it about automated image production and the imagination, inspired heavily by the work of Joel McKim but using Carl Di Salvo’s strategies for designerly responses. We’ll do our best to document outcomes and process as we go on the Irish microblog and Instagram (there’s no Haunted Machines Instagram, you just have to follow us as individuals).

How do you know if you produced knowledge?

I’m putting together the ‘methodology’ bit of my PhD. 'Methodology' is such a vague word but I’m summoning the courage to look at the work I’ve been doing the last three years and ask why I did it that way. At some point I decided that speculative and critical design wasn’t doing what I wanted intellectually as far as furthering discourse goes. But I’m forced to consider why I chose to switch into a more artistic approach as in Augury, Finite State Fantasia and Charismatic Megapigment. I’m pretty comfortable describing and arguing about how it’s still ‘designerly;’ I’m always considering legibility of communication, the audience’s needs and experiences and using technical strategies to steer thoughts and behaviours. And in terms of 'research for design' I subscribe to the idea that we learn from doing and I can talk more authoritatively about, for example, machine learning, by actually making something that plays around with machine learning than speculating on it at some intellectual and technical distance.

But then why is this artistic, installation-style approach of Augury, Charismatic Megapigment and Finite State Fantasia effective at engaging audiences. Some of the speculative design work I’ve done is quite measurable – it went into policy papers, was presented at the Hour of Commons etc. So why does weird-tech-art feel better. I put it out on Irish microblog Twitter dot com and got some nice responses when I asked if anyone knew of ways of measuring the impact of critical practice. A couple of folks got back in touch saying that it’s about how things influence the zeitgeist, enter the canon or start to steer conversation. I think this is perhaps the right lead so Ill head down that rabbit hole for a while. I got some good links to things as well which I’ve listed here:
I also figure I should chuck in Matt Malpass' Critical Design in Context and Carl Di Salvo's Design and the Construction of Publics as brilliant sources. Steph suggested that impact/change assumes a testable hypothesis which I can see a problem with when it comes to critical creative practice, but these projects are in some way hypothesised. For instance, to take Augury, a hypothesis might be; 'Can we have a different type of conversation about machine learning if we talk about it as a semi-occult thing in the context of thousands of years of occult practice?' How then, can I test that hypothesis; of course standing in the gallery led to conversations, and it got a little traction in articles and blogs, but does that change the cultural assimilation of machine learning?

It's much easier to blog about this stuff than write it up academically, that's for sure.


I made some slow progress on Voyager over the break. Now that the Arduino knows where Voyager is relative to its position on Earth, the next stage is getting the Arduino to know where north is so it can make sure it’s pointing the right way. To do this I’m going to attach a BNO055 to the arm of the sign so that it will know what way it’s facing and at what angle it is. This is most important for when it first turns on and perhaps running occasional checks for drift.

Of course there’s always a little problem. In the image you can see the BNO055 using pins A4 and A5 for I2C communication with the Arduino Uno. I’d assumed that it would be the same pins on the Rev 2 (which I thought was just an Uno with a WiFi chip) but no, it actually has two special pins near the top of the digital pins for I2C stuff. So that was a few wasted hours trying to figure that out. The second problem is calibration. This takes a long time and requires moving the board around every time it turns on. Luckily Bohle Bots is a library that actually stores the calibration to the Arduino’s memory once done. Now that's all done I need to actually start making the thing so I can figure out where all the components will go and begin working on the motors. That's probably a little way off though, there's a lot of other things to do first. 

Things I learned this week:

  • I’m at the bit of the philosophy podcast about Jewish Andalusian ethics which is really good. I just heard all about Bahya Ibn Paquda (1050-112) who wrote the ‘Duties of The Heart’ which was a curiously accessible book on Aristotelean ethics in the context of the revealed Jewish texts. 
  • My commuter bike has a Sturmey-Archer coaster brake hub on it which hasn’t been shifting properly for the last few months. I finally decided to give it a look over and discovered that the cable just wasn’t moving in the housing. Easy enough to replace but along the way I learned that brake and gear cables are teflon-coated. So that was new. Not important, but new.
  • I went out for the first ride of the year at the weekend, intending to do the 80 mile loop from my place to Box Hill and back. What i learned was it was very cold. Which was fine once I got going. However, for some reason, the bolts holding the cleats on my right shoe protrude a little too far into the shoe and were literally conducting cold into my toes so they were numb for 41.9 miles. Again, not super interesting but true. I need to put some spacers on that little guy. 

Channel Game Recommendation

Amazingly, I haven't been on the YouTubes much over Christmas so don't have a new channel recommendation. I finished up playing This War of Mine and I don’t think I’ll go back for a second game. The game focuses on a group of survivors in a war-torn city and involves a mix of scavenging, crafting and occasionally fighting. It was really good at the beginning but a bit like with other resource management games, the middle-end is pretty repetitive. Once you’ve got your shelter set up and have all your crafting gear it’s mostly just a rinse and repeat job to manufacture and trade stuff. Also, the game is quite long for that amount of repetitiveness. So, on the recommendation of the Internet and Wes I went in to buy Disco Elysium for my Christmas game and HOLY SHIT what. a. game. 

I genuinely struggle to think of an indie story-driven RPG I’ve been so engaged with. It’s a small but super-rich world, everything appears to have meaning and connection, the writing is wonderful, the gameplay is tense and the world is weird af. You play an alcoholic, amnesiac detective in a surreal China Mieville-esque fictional city where you’re trying to figure out who killed a man who’s been hanged behind your hotel and also who the hell you are any why you tried to drink yourself to death. The character development works on different parts of your ‘self.’ Things like logic, rhetoric, drama, composure, electro-chemistry, empathy, reaction speed etc. What’s more, these different parts are also characters in the story, intervening in conversations to talk with you or bicker with each other, meaning that you most often fail to trust your self in the way that you make decisions. It’s a bleak, funny, horrifying, surreal and wonderful game which I can’t recommend enough. It's probably about 30 hours all in to get the full experience, so if you've got a couple of evenings, get on it. Amazing.