• Maker World magazine

    I’m pleased to announce that The Literary Operator was featured in issue 1 of Maker World magazine – alongside lots of other great connected objects and technological art projects. Thanks especially to Kirsten for the excellent interview – despite being featured in a magazine about Maker Culture, it was a delight to spend so long talking about Queneau, the Oulipo, and the artistic ambitions of the project.

  • Week 49

    28 September 2013

    Week 49 saw the launch of The Literary Operator, previously known as Sore around these parts. I’ve written about the project previously, but since then, it’s been displayed at Brighton Digital Late. It was really pleasing to see just how people engaged with it; some, fascinated by how it might work; some curious or frustrated by its quality of prose; some, still marvelling at its Spooky Action At A Distance. It cranked out prose all night, and made a lot of people smile.

    Other than my trip to Brighton, I spent some time talking to PAN about a few issues around Hello Lamp Post going forward, and also set up a small piece of content-oriented work that’s known as Housedon. To finish the week: a few days off, hacking away on a personal project and seeing the sights in Edinburgh.

  • The Literary Operator

    23 September 2013

    I’m excited to announce a new piece of work, previously known here as Sore: a collaboration with the author Jeff Noon, entitled The Literary Operator.

    Commissioned by Lighthouse for Brighton Digital Festival, the work interprets and remixes Spore #50 – one of Noon’s microscopic short stories, known as Spores – and manifests it as a functional object; our literary operator.

    After the Babel Towers attack, lo-fi operators worked the edges of the language, forging new phrases from the fragments of literature. They filled boxes with word shards in the hope of recreating lost stories.

    From Jeff’s original text, we slowly poked and explored the idea, ending up with this object; a working device, that takes books and attempts to generate more of them. It touches on Jeff’s work around remixing text – which he’s written about in Ghost on the B-Side – and some of my esoteric toys that explore generative prose, such as Markov Chocolates and its cousins. It is an object that is both entirely fictional, and entirely real. Not “design fiction”; just fiction.

    It was an exciting project to build – lots of new territory to explore, materials to shape – and great to collaborate with Jeff, an author I’ve enjoyed for many, many years.

    Find out more at the dedicated website for the Literary Operator.

  • Week 48

    23 September 2013

    Three main focuses for Week 48.

    Firstly, bringing Sore into land. This week, that meant sourcing a few last elements for the installation, and working on a short film to promote the project. So a week of ordering books, composing music, and stitching a short film together. That’ll be out very shortly.

    I also spent a day wrapping up Muncaster: decommissioning various services we no longer needed, and then spending the rest of the day analysing some data from the project. Nothing vastly complex, but useful to get a better picture of how people played with Hello Lamp Post, and also to be able to express more stories about the project to our partners.

    And, finally, on Thursday, a short lunch about a brief piece of design work, now known as Hegdon: a few days of interaction design in the coming weeks, which will be a nice workout and change of pace

    Week 48. Week 49 next: time to launch new work.

  • Week 46

    9 September 2013

    Somewhat late weeknotes this week, owing to various travel and engagements.

    Week 46 was largely focused on getting Sore to launch, and putting the final touches on a talk.

    For the first part, that meant lots of what was called cutting and sticking at primary school – only this time I was armed with spraymount, mount-cutters, and a scalpel. Lots of edges to the installation to finish off. Also, a small amount of product photography, which necessitated rigging up the off-camera lighting around my dining table and trying to document the artefact itself.

    This was so that the project could be previewed at Improving Reality, where it was decloaked as The Literary Operator: an art installation made as a collaboration with the writer Jeff Noon. Lighthouse have a brief page about it, and I hope to share more about it very shortly.

    The reason I’ve not got a post about the Literary Operator this second is because of various travel: Brighton on Thursday/Friday (where I also stayed for dConstruct, which tickled some new thoughts in my head, and led to many lovely conversations with chums and the like), and I’m now writing this on a hotel bed in Norway. I’m in Oslo for Webdagene, where I’ll be delivering a talk called The Material World. You’ll be able to see it live on Tueday 10th September on the Webdagene website – 1215 BST, if you’re interested.

    Week 46 was primarily about bringing both the Literary Operator and The Material World into land. The latter will be delivered on 10th September; the former will have its official launch at Brighton Digital Late on the 26th, at the Brighton Museum. Week 47 is spent in Norway, and come Week 48, I should be back in the world, bringing the Literary Operator’s installation to life.

  • A quick note to say I’ll be in Brighton for a couple of days: firstly, decloaking Sore as a preview at Improving Reality; then, attending dConstruct in the audience. If you’re at both and want to say hello, you’d be very welcome to.

  • Week 45

    2 September 2013

    A short week, owing to the summer Bank Holiday on Monday.

    I’m pretty firm about doing everything in my power, as a freelancer, to take bank holidays and the like. Yes, it’s a Monday like any other. But it’s also time when many of my friends are off, and it’s good to be in sync with the rest of the world. And they have value for yourself, as well; not just enforced time off, but a space to see what your brain looks like outside work. Michael Lopp touched on this in his excellent post about the nature of work this week:

    This is why vacations are essential. They hold up the mirror and show how much energy you’re spending simply to achieve baseline steady state in your day.

    It’s useful to be reminded where my head is. It turns out that the answer is: running a little hot. Work progresses well, but right now it tends to involve a million tiny tasks. Those tasks are often completed quickly, but they weigh heavy until they are. There’s a high cost of motion at the moment, but it comes down as I tick things off – and lists are helping a lot.

    My main focus in week 45 is Sore. I went down to Brighton on Wednesday to demonstrate it, which went very well, and opened up discussion about its final exhibition. It also set up the work for the rest of the week – bits of work on the public website, and more materials to be acquired for the installation.

    I note this week that Watershed have released their own film about Hello Lamppost; it’s a nice summary of the project, and some of our thinking behind it. (It also contains the only handheld tracking shot of me hammering at code to date. Yes, I really do hit the keyboard that hard, as any former office mates will tell you.)

    Next week sees continued progress on Sore, which I’ll be giving an early preview of at Improving Reality. I’ll also be down in Brighton for dConstruct, so if you’re around and want to talk, do say hi.

  • Week 44

    24 August 2013

    Most of the week was taken up with finishing writing – and then finessing – The Material World, the talk I’ve been writing. On Friday night, I delivered a somewhat truncated version of it at LDNIA, which seemed to go down well – a relief.

    The full 45-minute version of it will be at Webdagene in Oslo next month, and I should have a full text of it online shortly after, if you aren’t able to attend.

    One thing that was pleasing to note was that even though the LDNIA version was a bit of a ‘radio edit’, the questions that people asked touched on the section of the talk I left out. That was a good sign for the final version – but also meant we could continue the dialogue in some interesting directions. Thanks to Andrew, Martin and Matthew for inviting me to speak.

    Writing’s always a very intensive process for me, so the rest of the week was spent on some more restful admin tasks. But I also found time to continue some work on Sore: acquiring the last few materials for the installation and preparing them, as well as small tweaks to the code. Next week I’ll be taking it to Brighton to demonstrate to my collaborators and commissioners.

    I also chatted about some interesting new ideas or business proposals.

    One, a discussion with a designer about integrating a particular kind of technology into his work; I’m not expert enough to implement it, but well aware of its limitations, so we discussed some ways to constrain the technological demands and give him a better space to design within. It was a super-interesting conversation, and I look forward to hearing more about it.

    The other was a more straight new business enquiry; not something, in the end, I could take up, but interesting nontheless, and hopefully there’ll be other ways to work with that organisation. My contact there apologised for ‘phoning me up out of the blue’ – but, as I pointed out, this is just how new business works – and as a freelancer, I like to be phoned up out of the blue with an idea or enquiry. Even if I can’t always take it, it might lead to other work in the future – so is always valuable. I’m pretty much tied up til the end of September, but looking for work thereafter, so if you’re interested in the sort of thing I do – do get in touch. And if you aren’t quite sure what I do: email anyway! It’d be good to hear from you.

  • Week 43

    17 August 2013

    Two main focuses for week 43.

    Firstly, Sore. This week focused on packaging Sore up into its final chassis. That had two distinct phases.

    On Monday, I built the final electronics board for it. This took the two boards I’d been prototyping with – one for breaking out high-current power to both a pair of wires and micro-USB, and one handling all the IO – and consolidate them onto a single board, with carefuly layout and breaking out lots of things to headers, so that they’re easily removable. I’ve learned my lesson before about hard-wiring too much.

    Then, on Tuesday, I started drilling the front-panel to the plans I’d made in Illustrator. I’ve said it before: boxes will chew you up. Cutting plastic feels very final – there’s no way to revert to an old commit, so to speak. So the day was spent carefully measuring, drilling, cutting and filing – and hopefully not disturbing my studio-mates too much.

    It took about as long as I’d expected, but at the end of the day, we had real progress: a sealed unit, which works simply by plugging it into the mains and flicking the switch on the front. Sore has gone from a tangle of cables, components and software on my desk, to a thing. Soon, I’ll be able to talk about what that thing is.

    The rest of the week took a different talk: working on a new talk, which I’ll be delivering at Webdagene, and also in prototype form next week at LDNIA.

    The writing process is often particularly hard work. The output is usually good, but making new things – and making them well – is always painful, and I spent much of the week pushing the words through the garlic press of my brain and onto the page. Once they’re on the page, I can manipulate and structure and edit, but until then, there’s nothing else to do. So that was my focus: get the draft out. It took a while to build up velocity, but appeared to be taking shape towards the end of the week, leaving the beginning of next week to hone it into a performable, visual talk.

    I should note: I write my talks longhand, pretty much. It sounds like a lot of work, but I find it helps me structure them much better, not to mention stopping me running away with myself, telling punchlines too early, and so forth. Structure’s really important to me, when it comes to writing, and longhand makes it much easier to structure plot beats. My secret weapon when it comes to structure is a lot of blank playing cards.

    Anyhow: soldering, drilling, writing this week; equal parts mental and manual effort. Pretty satisfying.

  • Week 42

    10 August 2013

    A short week, what with returning from holiday.

    Almost all my attention was focused onto Sore. A good meeting occurred in the middle of the week to discuss the commission, working out a few details of how to present the work, which really helped to give it some more shape.

    Otherwise, I’ve been ordering the final components, planning out how to drill and cut the hardware, working out final component layouts and continuing to chip away at the code; Tuesday saw a key part of the infrastructure get sussed, and by Friday, I had some nice new text-generation routines working.

    I’m pleased with where it is, though I’m beginning to have to bring it in to land shortly. But that’s for next week. As it was: good to slowly get back on top of things.