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.