Monday, 4 August 2014

Letter writing

Dear Sir or Madam,

I found your story 'Meet Nell Pickerell' to be fascinating, but I was dismayed by your use of pronouns. The author writes, 'Nell appears to have been consistent in viewing herself as a man.' Given that consistency, wouldn't it be more correct to refer to him as 'he'? Most style guides, including the AP guide, do say that pronoun use should conform to how the subject views themself. I would like it very much if you could please correct this otherwise excellent article.

Charles Hutchins
London, England

How can a journalist get something so right and so wrong at the same time??

Saturday, 26 July 2014

My Week

I am posting about my week, something I used to do here with more regularity. I'm not sure if this last week has been busier than most, but has involved more modes of transport.

On Saturday, Sonia and I went to a wedding out in the countryside, held at the Bride's family's manor. It was a lovely wedding. They had a live brass band (note to self: try to find a brass band ASAP). At the end of the evening, the later soul and broke up in a screaming fight that threatened black eyes. We stayed in ahotel room in the town near the manor.

On Sunday, we decided to look around for a place to have breakfast that was not a horrible, soulless chain restaurant and that didn't have Muzak. This took a while and we were later than intended back in London, which meant we were in serious danger of missing our skype appointment, so we stopped in an internet cafe near Paddington. The dream of the 90's is alive in a Paddington basement. I was in so many internet cafes just like that in my travels in 2001 and this place was a perfectly preserved specimen of the era. It was fantastic. And the meeting went well. The pracher, Sonia and I formed a todo list of things that needed to happen by the following Sunday. Not one of those things has been done.

Honestly, I don;t really remember Monday at all. I think I put a few things in boxes and then went to Sonia's dad's house.

On Tuesday, Sonia, her dad and I drove to Dover and then took the ferry to Calais. We went to the Carrefour in the outlet mall there and I felt despair. The British experience of France is very different than how Americans tend to approach the place. Sonia's dad went for a swim in the channel. We drove to a village I've forgotten the name of and had crepes and carrefour items. Then we went to Montreuil and checked into the most picturesque hotel I've ever seen. On the inside of the room, none of the walls were at right angles to each other and some sagged in completely different direction. The room was done up entirely in dark wallpaper with roses on it that covered every surface, including the ceiling. I felt somewhat dizzy whenever my eyes were open. We had dinner and then the next day went to The Wine Society and bought enough wine for the London wedding event and loaded it into the car. then we went back to the Carrefour, back for another swim in the sea and back on the ferry.

On thursday morning, I stuffed most of what I own into boxes and in the afternoon, a removals van arrived and took my stuff to Hackney, were it was strewn around the house fairly randomly. So I've moved house, but I have no idea where my socks or underwear are.

On Friday, I brushed up on how to cite things in wikipedia and then went off to the She Must Be Wiki feminist film wikithon at the ICA. I was originally meant to be leading the workshop, but then some volunteers from wikimedia got in touch and sort of assumed control of things, which I was fine with, but, in retrospect, it did set a bit of a tone, of which the implications become more apparent. Anyway, rather than go on about it, I do tend to have a different method of workshop delivery which assumes a higher competence of participants and takes less time, but I certainly have less experience with the wiki project. Uncomfortably, all of the people setting out to add feminist content were women and all of the 'wiki experts' were men. I use the scare quotes because, although the other three men have thousands of edits each, one of the women organising the workshop certainly has more edits than I do. The leader was trying to address the gender inequality of wikipedia, which is very nearly 90% male, by resorting to gender stereotyping, which I did not feel was entirely helpful. Another volunteer mentioned in passing that the project was founded on an 'Objectivist philosophy', which I think better explains the disparity. It's not really surprising that something founded under a pro-sexist, pro-racist, pro-classist philosophy is overwhelmingly staffed by extremely privileged people. The ability of 'axe-wielding feminist mobs' to access the tools does not address the inherent problems in the organisation.

After the edit-a-thon and a panel session, they showed the film She Must Be Seeing Things, which is about a white bisexual filmmaker and her black lesbian partner. It's funny, well-constructed, interesting and, as the introductory speech noted, pre-figures some of the shifts in LGBT culture that came up in the 90s. For example, they're a butch-femme couple, more in line with modern ideas of queerness than the ideals of the 70s. Cross dressing and a certain amount of cross-gender identification is a repeated theme. There is a film within the film, directed by the femme character. The lead character of that film often functions as a stand-in for her partner. That character would certainly be seen as trans* now, but at the time, was seen as a woman who gradually 'forgot her womanhood'. The butch lead also cross dresses and, in a scene that may be resonant for some trans* viewers, wanders transfixed into a dildo shop to inspect the wares. Shelia Jeffries was apparently outraged.

After the film, I went to a birthday party at a pub in Tooting, which is in south west London. My new house is in the North East, so it was kind of a journey. House parties are a relatively rare thing in London, as most people want to entertain in pubs. A lot of people don't have much space. Pubs don't have annoyed housemates lurking about. You don't have to clean up a pub before inviting people around to it. Anyway, it was a fun party.

Tomorrow, I'm going to move some furniture, do some things on the todo list, and got to trans pride in Brighton.


Apropos of nothing in particular, I'd like to offer some random advice:

  • If what you're saying is actually a long plea to explain how you're a good guy or deserve a cookie, maybe stop talking.
  • Don't apologise for the actions of your ancestors. Nobody cares about how you great grandfather was sexist or racist and it really is quite easy to see how you're trying to deflect attention from yourself and your own poor actions.
  • If you don't identify as a feminist or a feminist ally, try to find somebody who does to come to feminist events in your stead.

Monday, 21 July 2014

This is a test

The revolution has not actually been cancelled, but I am curious about using other people's photos without asking... 'Liberating' them, if you will. So, this is actually part of the revolution, maybe? Assuming revolutions conform to the API's TOS, so I guess facebook is running my revolution now. Anyway, check out my invite for a general strike...

What I've learned from this exercise:

  • You can't sign up to instagram without putting their app on your smart device, so no losers with cameras that are just cameras.

  • If you want to grab somebody's picture (somebody much cooler than me because they have a smart phone and I don't), click on the '...' button in the lower right corner, click on embed, copy the embed code, paste into your blog post.

  • This embed code does not seem to support ALT text and so is completely shit on disability issues, so only use this if you're happy with parts of your website being inaccessible to people using screen readers.

  • Facebook really cares very deeply about your copyright and gives access to anyone and gives them loads of control over their content and how it is shared. ... ha ha ha. Yeah, won't be getting an account here ever.

By the way, for all my lynx readers, the image above is a page of some 50's style line drawings plus text in fancy fonts, including the phrase 'Sorry, the Revolution has been cancelled'

Friday, 18 July 2014

Review: Digital Revolution

I went to see the Digital Revolution exhibition at the Barbican yesterday. It was much better than I expected. This exhibition includes part of Google's DevArt initiative. That framework is unusual for arts projects funding because it requires the use of Google APIs and thus is problematic in terms of controlling artists. Also, things I've read have implied it to be a sort of anti-historical move, as if Google invented the idea of doing arts with a computer

The exhibition, therefore, provides a solid historical grounding in the history of computer creativity. Many historical digital arts projects are displayed. Some of them running on emulation, but many running on the original machines they were designed for. Thus I learned about an art movement called the Algorists, who's ideas live on in the Algorave movement. Much of art works were interactive, thus giving visitors a chance to interact with old hardware and software platforms as much as the artwork. For example, there was a piece of web art that was running on an early version of Netscape Navigator, on a period machine.

This is where the exhibition lost focus. Unsatisfied with showing a record of historical projects on historical machines, they went further to amass a collection of old digital stuff, more suited to the Science Museum. So next to an iPad showing Conway's Game of life, there was a completely unrelated early computer. Across from the Algorist was a Linn Drum in a glass case, with some headphones playing a song by the Human League that used this drum machine (which created some cacophony, discussed below).

The historical computers included working versions of several home game computers, so kids could get their first taste of Super Mario Brothers on 8 bit. Near that was a NeXT cube running the web browser written for it. This part of the exhibit was apparently calculated to make me feel old. Just to reinforce that, I will now complain about the loudness.

The room itself had a lot of projection displays and loud sounds that seemed to lack context. They were seemingly played through the entire room and would turn out to be linked to one of the displays in the middle. A short excerpt from some display somewhere and then on to the next loud thing. So the projections might show Super Mario or something else and then a blast of the Human League, all in an effect full of sound and fury, but with very fuzzy signification.

Other parts were blatantly corporate. The huge installation explaining how they did the animation and lighting for the film Gravity was interesting, but, again, perhaps better suited to the Science Museum.

The new artworks did tend to be quite good and were, thankfully, mostly not in the room of old computers and flashing lights. One piece was birds made up of upcycled mobile phones, with bird heads on the phone's colour displays. There was an (even louder) pop music video experience which used the hollow face illusion on a projector screen, which was stunning when experienced for short periods. (Alas, that I did not take notes on titles and artists and this information appears not to be on their website.)

Next along was an installation using Kinect, which was strikingly well constructed. Users had to assume the arms over head kinect pose. However, rather than being an annoying pre-requisite to further interaction, the piece used the starting position of an essential element of verticality which began with the hands. In the final bit of it, hands upwards dramatically opened to wings upwards.

All of the new art in the first section was interesting and a lot of it was fun (Shelly Knotts burst our laughing at one point) and some of it, such as the kinect piece were inspired.

There are also interactive installations in the free parts of the building, for example a video game that tracks where you're looking to control which way the player's actions were executing. A kinect-using robotic petting zoo was enigmatic. The robots were definitely interacting, but with what? The small display screens up top suggested that the robot's gaze was not looking where you might expect (or that the kinects were aimed poorly, but let's be generous).

The second part of the exhibition was a cage full of modern computers running indie games. I didn't have time to hang around in a cage trying out a lot of games. Many modern games are really complex and beautiful and take hours to figure out what the potentials of the environment really are, so I'm not sure about this format, but I have a feeling a similar format is used at industry events.

The third and final part was interactive laser beams in a fog-machine-filled room deep in the basement. After I got over making quiet jokes about sharks with laserbeams (which took longer than it should in an adult), the piece was fun and the interactivity well-designed.

Standard tickets are £12.50, which seems steep, especially considering the amount of corporate branding all over the signs and website. If Google is going to pay for art that's designed to promote themselves, then they should actually pay for it. Steep ticket prices also do nothing to ameliorate the digital divide, nor do displays encouraging people to download apps to their smartphones. I've programmed (as in curated) smartphone based art in the past, at the Network Music Festival and I'm not against it in general, it just seemed off in this context. To be fair, in pieces that were driven by apps, the Barbican had installed tablets running the app, so us smartphoneless riffraff could still use the piece. However, in a time of austerity, I feel public institutions such as the Barbican should be making an effort to encourage open access, especially for something that is intended to be the next major cultural/export product from the UK. The exhibition is clearly intended to promote this and recruit people into the field, so I feel the high price is an impediment to the (obviously, blatantly) commercial goals of the project.

Is it worth the price? I don't know, but it's a lot easier to get to than ZKM in Kalrsruhe or the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Musical interface Design - experience oriented frameworks

Why define frameworks? It's established practice in Human computer Interaction. Because it is useful for designing. they propose heuristics or interaction dimensions.

Existing frameworks have little use in practice. Also 'interactive installations are often missing (i don't understand this). Things are very complex and often arbitrary.

He's showing some cool instruments/installations and aksing us to consider the player's experience.

their framework is Musical INterface for User Experience Tracking - MINUET

focuses on player experience. it is a design process unfolding time. includes DMIs and interactive installations. (by which they mean they consider installations and notjust instruments)

Design goal: purpose of interactions. Design specification: how to fill objectives.

Design goals are about a high-level user story. Lie a playful experience, or to stimulate creativity, education etc.

Goals can be about people, activities or contexts.

contexts: musical style, physical environment, social environment.

case study: hexagon

An educational interface to train musical perception

they wanted to make it easy to master the iterface ut have a high ceiling for the educational bit.

It's for tonal music....

speeding through the last slides


Maraije (sp) wants to know about player, participant and audience as three user types on a scale. More or less informed participants. she also wants to know about presentation, to teach people how to use the instrument or environment.

Interesting points!

the prospects for eye-contolled musical performance

Instrument controlled only by rotation of eyeballs!

He's only found 6 examples of eyeball music.

Eye trackers shine an IR light on your eyeball and then look for a reflection vector with a camera. Callibrate by having users look at spots on a display.

eyes move to look at objects in peripheral vision. Eyes jump fast.

Data is error-prone. Eyes need visual targets. Only 4 movements per second with eyes.

Eyes can only move to focus. So an eyeball piece needs visual targets.

Audiences have nothing to see with eyeball instruments. Also, eyeball trackers are super expensive.

People have built eyeball instruments for computer musicians or for people with disabilities.

He is showing us documentation of 6 existing pieces.

"It's sad to see a person [who] is severely disabled" says the presenter, and yet nobody in the documentation looks sad at all....


Q: Many of the nime performances were designed for people with disability.

A: Ok

Dimensionality and appropriation in digital music instrument design

Musicans play instruments in unexpected ways. SO they decided to build something and see what people did with it.

appropriation is a process in which a performer develops a working relationship with the instrument. This is exploitation or subversion of the design features of a technology (ie turntablism)

Appropriation is related to style. Appropriation is a very different way of working with something.

How does the design of the instrument effect style and appropriation?

they gave 10 musicians a highly constrained instruments to see if they got style diversity. They made a box with a speaker in it with a position and pressure speaker. the mapped timbre to pressure and pitch to movement. And a control group with only pitch.

People did some unexpected things, like tapping the box, putting the hand over the speaker and licking the sensor (ewww)

The users developed unconventional techniques because of and in spite of constraints

One desgree of freedom had more hidden affordances. The two agrees of freedom had only 2 additional variations and no additional affordances.

Users of the 1 degree of freedom group described it as a richer and more complex device which they had not fully explored. Users of the more complex instrument felt they had explored all options and were upset about pitch range.

The presenter beleives there is a cognitive bandwidth for appropriation. More built options limit exploration of hidden affordances.

This was a very information-rich presentation of a really interesting study.


Q: Is pitch so dominant that it skews everything? What if you did an instrument that did just timbre?

A: Nobody complained about loudness.

Q: If participants were all musicians, did their primary instrument effect their performance?

A: Some participants were NIMErs, others were acoustic players. They're studying whether backgrounds effected perofrmance style.

Constraining movement for DMI .....something....

Someone is playing a sort of a squeeze box that is electronic, so you can spin the end of it. Plus it has accelerometers. It's kind of demo-y, but there's potential there.

This comes from a movement-based design approach. They came up with the movement first. Design for actions.

Movement-based designed need not use the whole body. It need not be kinecty, non-touch. The material has a physicality.

Now we see a slide with tiny tiny words. It's about LMA, which is Laban Movement Analysis. For doing a taxonomy of movements. They want to make expressive movement not just for dancers.

Observe movement, explore movement, devise movement, design to support the designed movement. (is this how traditional instrument makes work??)

the analysed a violinist and a no-input mixer. they made a shape change graph. There is a movement called 'carving' which he liked. The squeeze box uses the movement and is called 'the twister'

They gave the prototype to a user study and told them to try moving it (with no sound). Everybody did the carving movement. People asked for buttons and accelerometers (really??)

the demo video was an artistic commission, specifically meant to be demo-y (obvs)


Laban theory is about 'effort theory' about the body. Did the instruments offer resistance?

They looked at interface stiffness, but decided not to focus on it. Effort describes movement dynamics, but is personal to performers.

From Shapes to Bodies: Design for Manufacturing in the Prosthetic Instruments

the Prosthetic Instruments are a family of wearable instruments designed for use by dancers in a professional context. The instruments go on tour without the creators.

the piece was called 'Les Gestes' and was a tour in Canada. Instrument designers and composers were from McGill. The choreography and dancing was form a professional dance company in Montreal. Van Grimde Corps Secret.

there were a fuckton of people involved in the production. Lighting gesigners, costume designers, etc all had a stake in instrument design.

One of these instruments was in a concert here and was great. It looks like part of a costume.

The three instruments are called spine, ribs and visors. They are hypothetical extensions to the body. Extra limbs for your body. Dancers wear them in performance. They are removable in this context.

Ribs and Visors are extremely similar. They are touch sensitive. The spine has vertebrae connected by pvc tubing and a PET-G rod.

Professional artistic considerations - durability, usability. backups required. limiting funding and timeframes. small scale manufacturing. How are these stored and transported? what about batteries? Is there anything that needs special consideration or explanation (how to reboot).

Collaboration requires iterative design and tweaking.

Bill Buxton talks of 'artist spec', the most demanding standard of design. People have spent year developing a technique and your tool needs to fit in that technique.


  • Why mix acrylic and pvc?

    There is a lot of stress on the instruments, so they use tough materials.

  • Can you talk about the dancer's experiences?

    The dancers did not seek technical knowledge, but they wanted to know how to experience and interact with it. They had preferences for certain instruments.

Fan Mail

found this in my inbox this morning

I suggest you take down that noise seriously sucks and is pretty much good for NOTHING but giving someone a head ache!!!

I would put it’s “usefulness” at the same level as Yoko Ono sounds… USELESS !

a musician with respect for real music

the subject is: 'Noise ? yep... pure sh*t.' which, coincidentally, is the title of my next album