Posts tagged as sore

  • 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

    11 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.

  • Week 41

    29 July 2013

    Weeknotes for Week 41 will be brief, I think, if only because they’re late.

    Lots of little bits this week. My main work for myself this week was pushing ahead on Sore; by the end of the week, I had an end-to-end demo video to send to my collaborator and producer. I like video for this simply because it’s a hardware project; ultimately, there should be no visible computation, so being able to show it working end-to-end without manual intervention is exciting progress. Really satisfying work.

    I did a short internal talk on Wednesday evening for a company, so a few days were spent rejigging it for the specific new audience. That seemed to go down well.

    There was a short piece of work to slowly decommission Concert Club, which has reached the end of its prototype period. It was nice to take the time to wind something down properly: disabling long-running processes, scaling back server resources, leaving it up as an archive. Nothing’s worse than removing a site you worked on from the face of the world, and having to rely on to recover it.

    I had another mentoring session with Michael, the film producer I’m working with through CreateInnovate. Good to catch up, and to see how last month’s session had percolated and come to fruition.

    And, on Tuesday, I spent a day with PAN, working over some of the snaglist on Hello Lamppost and thinking a little about the future.

    I have one of this weeks every couple of months: lots of little fragments, winding some things down, building others up; it feels bitty at the time, but lots of things move on as a result. It’s the kind of week that makes weeknotes really valuable.

  • Week 40

    22 July 2013

    Just before Week 40 began, we’d launched Hello Lampppost. The first week after a project launch is always a hard time to schedule: what problems are going to emerge in production – what are the issues of scale you might not have predicted.

    By and large, though, it was a quiet week on Muncaster: a few minor fixes here and there, some performance tweaks, but, touch wood, no crises, which gave me some space to take it easy after Week 39’s exertions.

    Not too easy, though – the thoughts at the back of my head that had been pushed to the back because of project-launch were now demanding their own space. That led to pushing several ideas forward:

    • noticeable progress on Sore: rigging up all the hardware and proving the CPU doesn’t fall over; building a little “power distribution” board so I can power high current devices and a Raspberry Pi off a single PSU; getting all the necessary libraries in place. This felt like a big leap forward for a single afternoon
    • Hacking together a very early prototype of Watchcroft, a game I’m tinkering with for my own sake. A few hours’ work led to a prototype controller (built out of a Freescale FRDM board pretending to be a HID joystick) and a prototype of the game mechanic in Unity. It’s very much not a game yet, but the thing I hoped would be entertaining is, and I think there’s a game to be made out of it. Not for a while though – I think I’m putting this on hold until late September, when a lot more client work is out of the way.
    • A small piece of maintenance work on Firle: fixing outdate libraries, adding a piece of functionality that’d been needed for a while, and restoring functionality the broke in library updates. This ended up necessitating some time in Browerstack, which is becoing pretty indispensible (and saves me filling up my SSD with VMs).

    So, despite intending to have a quiet, cooling-down week, I ended up doing quite a bit; not as easy to turn my brain off as I’d perhaps hoped, but moved lots of little things forward, and nice to think about other project alongside Hello Lamp Post again. Next week moves into more concerted prototyping/alpha on Sore, and a talk for a client.

  • Week 37

    1 July 2013

    Two main focuses this week: Playable City, which moves ever-closer to launch, and Sore, which is in early development stages.

    The majority of Playable City work focused on two completely new kind of object. Most objects behave in the same way, and follow the same rules. However, we wanted to add some objects that behaved totally differently. One type has something that resembles a “dialogue tree” in it, with a degree of branching; the other is how objects advertising the game – posters, banners, and the objects they’re attached to – behave.

    The latter was a variant of what we already have, and not too complex to rig up; the former was more complex. Once Sam had worked up some example flowcharts of what he thought such dialogue should feel like, I implemented them as simple command-line sketches, printing and receiving input from STDIO. That helped me debug my logic around how I was choosing what piece of content to show next – and meant that once I’d solved the logic, I could port it into the stateful, database-driven Playable City code without also having to decide how it worked.

    I also began thoroughly documenting the processes and logic involved to make them visible to the rest of the team, and to aid decision making. That’s also going to be useful as we try to put together a “burndown” – a canonical list of everything left to do.

    Sore is still very much in development, but a long meeting on Thursday hashed out what it might be better, derisking some parts of it, adding a few new features, and over the weekend I spent a little time pulling together two prototypes: one, of the software that will drive out; the other, of a book it can produce. It’s an unusual project: a creative collaboration, but very much whatever I want it to be, so pushing it to some unusual places. In this case, into materials that are going to be interesting to work with: equal parts software, hardware, and print.

  • Week 33

    3 June 2013

    A short week, thanks to a pleasant and much-needed sunny Bank Holiday Monday.

    This week involved a bunch of travel. Tuesday was a day in Brighton to discuss a potential art commission, currently referred to as Sore. Lots of interesting thoughts and discussion, but I need to sit down and process it offline a bit. So that’s going to be a focus of early Week 34.

    Thursday was a trip to Bristol for the next tests and demonstrations of Hello Lamppost, our Playable City commission.

    A secret: I find playtesting painful.

    It’s a similar pain – but not identical – to user-testing. If you’ve ever stood on the dark side of a two-way mirror, and watched someone stab with a mouse at a product you’ve designed, failing to achieve a task you were sure was straightforward… you’ll have a glimpse of that pain.

    But the element of testing games that I find uniquely painful is what we’re testing for. I’ve watched users fail to complete tasks, which was annoying, because we were designing for utility, for functionality: helping people achieve goals swiftly and simply.

    When I test a game, I’m testing to see if it’s fun. Well, and many other things: is it balanced? Is there a skill curve? Would you come back to it? How do experienced and new players work together?

    At the bottom of that, though, is a summation of all those questions: is it fun? Did it entertain?

    Watching somebody explicitly not have fun with something that’s only purpose is (in one way or another) to entertain – well, that’s more awkward than any transactional website test I’ve done.

    So for the duration of playtests, I’m pretty on edge.

    First tests are always particularly tough – they should be; they indicate what’s going to need work. I’d be worried if they weren’t. And our first test, a few weeks ago, showed up lots of edges and holes.

    Thursday was our second playtest in Bristol, and it was a notable improvement on the first – and satisfying and insightful in its own right. Lots of the rough edges from the first test were sanded away; the new elements of charm were all picked up on; and whilst it may have failed or had obvious holes, they didn’t seem to have the disarming effect of the first test, where players would be jolted out of the experience quite hard.

    Also, the 12-year-olds we tested it with definitely enjoyed it, which was a really positive sign. (As was the enthusiasm of the project sponsors, who saw it later that night).

    A good day, then: all the work of the previous week, and of some of this, paid off, and we’ve got a much clearer sight of the critical path for the final month. And, slowly, I began to get over my hatred of how playtesting makes me feel.

    The week ended with a bit of maintenance work on Concert Club, filing down some rough edges and fixing some bugs that our early users have caught.