Category Archives: Blog

a memory of war from Harry Patch

“We came across a lad from A company. He was ripped open from his shoulder to his waist by shrapnel and lying in a pool of blood. When we got to him, he said: ‘Shoot me’. He was beyond human help and, before we could draw a revolver, he was dead. And the final word he uttered was ‘Mother.’ I remember that lad in particular. It’s an image that has haunted me all my life, seared into my mind.”

notes on the influence of gifs

in response to a call for context around this cool looking pixel stick project, and the influence of animated GIFs:

gifs and persistence experiments with LEDs are both super interesting.


I would riff on
– the longstanding resurgence of pixel art (eboy are my favourites in this category);
– the availability of simple microcontrollers to drive LEDs in projects like the pixel sticks (cf limor’s bike wheel persistence of vision animations for a good solid example);
– the pixel sticks look lovely, and seem to borrow / evolve from camera toss and that great wifi signal visualisation piece;
– it also makes me think of some of the aesthetic in GRL‘s stuff in particular night writer and laser tag.

but you could take the discussion in another direction and talk about the influence of the looping style of gifs (and more recently also vine) in animation (I have a folder of great gif examples I collected for a talk a couple of years ago if you need any). historically, I would include yourthemannowdog (ytmnd) in that evolution, and you can see the cross over to more mainstream works in examples like the recent music video from dizzee rascal or indeed this earlier wiley track.

I think the ‘near-stationary animation format’ that gifs have also encouraged is a different medium again (my favourite in this genre is ‘if we don’t, remember me‘ ), and I would expect this style to keep evolving for a while still as long-form screen artworks and ‘very slow animation’ in ambient visualisations and ‘animated wallpaper’ continue to become more possible with cheaper and more persistent screen technologies (LED screens and eink).

fuck you email, I love you

I wrote something about my relationship to work and the eight hour day for artist Sam Meech, who is currently logging and transcribing to knitting people’s working patterns. The project Punchcard Economy, is part of the upcoming Time & Motion exhibition at FACT in Liverpool.


I’m mostly an academic. It tends to be a role where you don’t have set hours other than the teaching and meetings you have to be at. If you want to do your research or tell people about it, you have to find the time to do that yourself. If you want to apply for funding or make a connection with someone to do something new, you have to find time to write about your intentions too. If you need to plan teaching – what it would be useful or important or exciting to know about a topic – or assess how well people have understood or applied ideas you were exploring with them, you need to work out when to do that too. Most academics I know do parts of this in their own time. They may enjoy the days of marking exam scripts on the sofa more than at the desk, or they may find they can ‘only write away from the distractions of work’.

I’m currently on research leave, which means I don’t have any regular teaching. This takes away the weekly schedule of needing to be in a lecture theatre or seminar room for a particular time. I do occasional guest lectures and workshops at the moment, but those don’t carry the bulk tasks of administering, planning and marking whole cohorts of people studying a large subject. I’m also trying to get back in to doing more art and design work. People sometimes call the making of things as a way of thinking about them ‘practice’ – arts practice, design practice, research-by-practice. This seems a good term to me – because making things is also a good way at getting better at the tools you use, and learning about the subjects you are tackling.

I’m used to this way of ‘flexible’ working. Of taking work home to do. Or doing ‘real thinking’ at the kitchen table or on the sofa at a weekend. I think school homework made me approach work this way. I used to think this was entirely a good thing. I had flexibility to do tasks when I wanted to, to mix my personal and research interests. However, there is something uniquely stressful about homework. It requires you to fold a sense of continuous low-level guilt about tasks still un-done in to your ‘free time’. Homework requires you to consider the evenings, weekends, holidays as potential time slots for work, and to worry about how you, personally, will allocate those tasks. If the work doesn’t get done, the implication is that you, personally, failed to plan correctly. Perhaps your timetable wasn’t good enough, or your todo list too vague, or you put things off for too long.

In the workplace, email is much the same as homework in this respect. It allows us and our managers to hide the complexity of allocating and planning tasks in the personal space of each worker. Email has near infinite capacity to hold un-done tasks. And if they remain un-done, then it is assumed to be a failure of you, personally, to have correctly planned how to deal with those emails. I am interested in the implications of digital connectedness. Email allows me to be more efficient in my work. I can quickly find information, get help, make notes, and so on in a way paper and post encumbered, but our tools for well-being have not kept pace with our tools for task-setting, yet. I think digital technology has had the same effect we see in email, in other aspects of work and life that we haven’t noticed fully yet. We will keep making discoveries about things we do differently, often more quickly, in smaller parts, and the unintended repercussions for other parts of what we do.


‘flexible’ working and the guilt of undone tasks

full screen live typing

I wanted a second screen full of text, live updating with each typed character in one of the many windows open on a transcriber’s laptop. Mirroring the two screens is not an ideal option as any changes in focus or use of other apps will show up on the display screen, as will the mouse, etc.

The solution was to install a plugin for sublime text (2) called bufferscroll. Sublime already allows you to open a ‘File > New View into File’ so that you can have the same file open in two windows. bufferscroll goes a step further, letting you sync the cursor position between the two windows. A typewriter mode keeps both windows scrolling with the written text. The second window can then me moved across to a second screen in non-mirror mode. On my old (snow leopard) mac, putting the window in to full screen view in sublime leaves the other screen to be used for typing and swapping to other applications smoothly. In newer macs (lion, etc) an extra sublime option and restart is needed to force this ‘simple’ full screen and not cover the laptop with a dark grey pattern.

sublime settings:

 "font_size": 34.0,
 "use_simple_full_screen": true

bufferscroll settings:

 "version": 7,
 /* this allow to sync the scroll of the clones of a view */
 "synch_scroll" : true,
/* The line you work with is automatically the vertical center of the screen. */
 "typewriter_scrolling": true

backposeI would argue that the current broadly open and unregulated naming regulations for .uk domain names is the best approach and that any attempt to restrict offensive words in domain names is undesirable in principle and unworkable in practice. Of particular note:

– It is difficult to define what is ‘offensive’ as language is a ‘living system’ and cultural norms shift meanings and context.

– Offensive words are often transient slang. They also retain their potency through use. This makes compiling and maintaining a list of banned words difficult or impossible.

– The history of attempts at filtering offensive language have largely proven easy to work around.

– Offensive words are often contained within concatenated inoffensive sentences. As domain names are often formed of more than one word joined together, this makes a ban on offensive words extra damaging in the additional inoffensive sentences it blocks.

– Domain names appear online when people write them in to html, social media or other forms of communication and offline when printed or written down. In this respect they are much like any other written text. To propose a restriction on words within domain names without a restriction on written words in general will have little effect on their use.

-Publishing a list of banned offensive words is as accessible as the full list of .uk domains to those who might be offended.

see also:

teaching rocks to sing

I’ve been toying for a few years in sketches with what a playlist should look like. It used to be an album cover, a square design that was retried from a shelf and taken to a player, or a cassette, decorated and owned with layers of patina. I remember a friend who had connected a barcode scanner up to their stereo so that they could start a cd playing (from the copy on their digital library) by scanning the barcode – giving the cd cases continued significance and making use of existing social gestures for selecting music to play.

Now that playlists are digital, a web link or usb flash disk seems like an insubstantial and transitory alternative. I would like to load playlists of music in to objects that are meaningful. These can then be given as gifts, kept on show on the coffee table or mantelpiece, or stored like a cabinet of curiosities. Objects could be created for the task, embedded with rfid tags like skylanders, but for me it would be better if I could teach *any* object my playlist.


Sensing any handheld-sized object, whether it is a seashell, a toy car, a broken cup, a rock, a personal 3D printed shape, and so on, would require a whole palate of sensors to have a chance of being robust. Place the object in a box or on a pedestal and we could imagine using computer vision for contour, pattern and colour sensing, and maybe weighing the object too.

I chatted about this idea with participants at the Making Digital Physical CX workshop. One suggestion that grew from our discussion was the idea of teaching objects a playlist should happen in real-time. This was how cassette mixtapes used to be constructed and it meant they retained significance through the time and effort invested in making them.

Another dimension to using arbitrary objects is that more than one person might ‘overwrite’ mass produced objects. All starbucks cups look the same, so the mix you taught your cup yesterday might be Beiber by now. This creates an impetus to seek out unique objects, or at least to modify them to make them unique. It also suggests a gesture of 3D printing for sharing a mix, or teaching your secret club decoder ring a secret club theme tune.


image sniffing in open wifi networks

response to a question about sniffing images out of thin air:



packet sniffing on open networks (no password) on unencrypted traffic (no https) is easy enough with the carnivore processing library, but re-assembling the individual files from the packets you collect is a little more involved.

etherpeg used to do this. and the wonderful Chris Lightfoot made a linux version called driftnet that did this too.

just googling for etherpeg now I came across this:

not tried it, but it seems like it could pull out images easily enough.

see also airpwn which uses two wifi cards in one computer to go a step further and replace images (in their case with goatse).

there’s another project which talked about replacing the text of news stories in cafes using the same principle:

protect yourself slightly from sniffing with https everywhere from the excellent EFF.