05 October 2015
Week 152 saw my return to the studio after a week off, which was an excellent tonic after a busy August.
I spent much of the fortnight building a standalone environment for Selworthy. It was initially configured for an internal environment provided by one of its end-users, but my client wanted their own install to be able to demonstrate it and use it themselves.
I did this with Ansible. It’s a tool I didn’t know well at the beginning of the fortnight, but by the end, it had already proved its value several times over.
Ansible is a tool to help provision servers. It allows me to write small rules to describe the configuration of a server component, that will be idempotent – I can run them as many times as I’d like, and they either bring the server up to that configuration, or do nothing.
To begin with, it felt quite slow: prodding at syntax until the behaviour I want has been applied. I built the environment by building and destroying servers repeatedly, continuing to test that it’d work from a standing start. And each time I do that, the fact that all previous steps just work immediately becomes a huge advantage.
The other advantage is that Selworthy actually consists of two separate application – the main application, and a media-encoding tool – which have fairly similar system requirements. I built the Ansible playbooks for the media encoder first – which took a bit under a week of work. Then, however, it took about an hour to provision the main application server – because so much of the work had already been done and could be reapplied. It’s useful to be able to provision boxes so fast, and I’m definitely going to be continuing to use Ansible on future projects. The value isn’t just in the repeatability: it’s also in the ease of sharing it with other potential developers – guaranteeing that they can build the same environments as you. I’m not a great sysadmin, and it’s never going to be the main focus of my work, but the more controlled the environment I’m deploying to, the more confident I can be in it – and that’s a huge advantage.
By the end of the work, I could build the entire environment for Scribe in about ten minutes, from a single command, and then deploy each application to it in another single command. I was pretty pleased with that.
Around that work, I fitted a variety of other small pieces of work. I had an excellent chat with Holly Gramazio over coffee one morning, where she told me how Now Play This had gone, and we had a long conversation about the curation of games. It’s always valuable as a freelancer to be able to chat to colleagues, especially those at the edges of some of the spaces I work in, and Holly’s always a delight to talk with; nice to get out of the software for a morning, and hear about other friends’ successes.
I spent an afternoon at the Polyphonic Playground Lab, watching how musicians worked with the playground, and thinking about ways to potentially involve a much wider audience as part of the project. It was also a good opportunity to think about the intersection of music, sound and interaction design, which I’m thinking about a lot at the moment. That overlapped with the TouchOSC controller for Panoramical that I built the weekend before, as a small personal piece of tinkering.
Finally, I spent some time chatting with Richard about bringing Twinklr into land. We’ve got a plan of how to do that, which should fit around our life in the next few weeks, and an idea of where we’d like to take it next. As part of that exploration, I kicked off an attempt to rebuild it in Unity. As ever when porting code from something you know well to something less well, it can feel painfully slow at times, and as a result, I’ve only got code for drawing staves at the moment – but it’s a beginning, and something to build on. I’ve been thinking about a Unity build simply to make it easier to iterate on the real-time aspects of the code, and especially to consider more complex interactions that will become harder and harder to write in the browser.
Oh – and I took the opportunity, nearly six months on, to finally write up Rubato, another project Richard and I worked on together. As usual, project write-ups are always slower than I anticipate (and I still carve out a fair chunk of time for them), but I’m pleased with how that turned out.
28 February 2015
Tuesday saw the second performance of Rubato, at the Apple Store on Regent Street. Not quite the same acoustic as St John on Bethnal Green, but it was still a cracking performance. This time around, the animated words were also projected onto a pair of large screens in the front of the audience; though this occasionally removed some of the intimacy, it meant it was possible to take in the live performers whilst also seeing the words – something that the audience earlier in the month mentioned they’d have liked. So it was more useful information about how the project worked, and we had some lovely feedback from the audience members.
Otherwise, though, I’ve been running around the country for Periton: to Newcastle and Cambridge, to several locations throughout London and, on Saturday, up to Cardiff. I’m writing these weeknotes on the train back; it’s been a tiring week of travel and lots of talking. We’ve got lots of strong material from a variety of different voices and I’m looking forward to how everything will come together over the coming weeks. More in due course, but probably worth explaining: Periton is a radio programme.
And as ever: the usual sprinkling of meetings and phone calls to fill out the week. One phone call in particular helped me understand a lot of the parameters for Walbury which I’ll be starting work on next week – a short piece of specification and exploration.
23 February 2015
Week 123 was really short owing to holidays and family events. Still, a few significant things happened!
We started recording on Periton this week; one session in Week 123, with the majority of Week 124 also going to be spent on recording. A decent start, though, and I’m hoping I’m going to relax more into it as we do more sessions and interviews.
I helped Richard confirm Rubato was in shape for next week’s gig: Richard’s playing at the Apple Store on Regent Street, London, the evening of 24th February. Do come along if you’d like to see Rubato in action, and to hear some fantastic music!
And finally, over at my own personal site, I wrote a bit about connected objects. Or rather: I wrote about a passage in Philip K Dick’s Ubik that’s been doing the rounds, and tried to unpack the relationship between connected objects and the financial structures they’re made within:
Joe Chip clearly lives in a connected future. We know his homeopape machine talks to some kind of network, requesting news in a particular tone and fabricating it for him.
We know that the devices that make up his conapt know about his credit rating, and hence can refuse to work without either a line of credit or cash money.
The question really is: why does the apartment and its devices know about his credit rating? Why should it matter?
That’s it for Week 123; as I write, I’m on the East Coast mainline to kick off recording for Periton in week 124. More about that next week.
15 February 2015
Quick weeknotes for a short week:
- Periton moves ahead, with some planning, research, and wrestling with booking travel. Plans are coming together, and real work starts next week.
- One last bugfix on Rubato/Burton – an issue around Internet Explorer’s handling of negative margin. I seem to have spent about ten years of my professional life wrestling with Internet Explorer’s esoteric handling of the CSS spec, and that doesn’t look like it’s changing any time soon. As ever, Browserstack proved itself invaluable.
- Continued tinkering with Elasticsearch. I’m playing around with it on a few little experiments, following my experience of it on Swarmize. I’m continuing to learn things: the best way to map and structure data to support aggregation, the simplest way to spit data out. It’s a tool I’m finding increasingly valuable not as a search tool, but a data exploration tool.
- Continued pipeline work: not super-aggressive, but a few new leads on potential small projects upcoming.
Week 123 will be short as well: family events and long weekends taking up a few of the days.
09 February 2015
Week 121 saw the launch (or first performance) of Rubato, in Richard’s gig at St John’s on Bethnal Green.
I inevitably find live events nervewracking; there’s so much that’s out of your hands. Perhaps I protest too much – by the time we had the gig, my work was done, while Richard still had to perform eight songs. It all went very well: everything worked fine over 3G/4G data, on a very wide range of devices – but more to the point, the experience came out wonderfully. It was a great venue, and the intimate stories, told through a very personal device whilst the church filled with Richard’s guitar and the string quartet was remarkably atmospheric. We had loads of positive feedback from the audience; many of them found it very powerful. It all managed to deliver what we hoped it might, and I think Richard was very pleased. He’s performing again with Rubato at the Apple Store on Regent Street on the 24th of February, so do come if you’d like.
Periton moves ahead apace; I spent Wednesday having a great chat and discussion with the researcher/producer on it, and we’ve begun to line up interviews already; I’m also beginning to think about how I prepare for it, because it’s not a kind of work I’m very used to.
I had a few meetings with a team at Good, Form and Spectacle, discussing our pitch for NESTA’s Cultural Open Data Challenge. I think the pitch we came too was good – now we’ll just have to see how the whole thing pans out.
And, to cap it all, there were some leads on a few projects, and one short piece of work for next week, all of which keeps the pipeline flowing a little, so the January nerves are beginning to abate a little. Good; onwards.