• The case studies on this website were getting a little stale. No more! I’ve just published lots of new case studies of individual projects over the past three years.

    The big headline that I’m most keen to talk about is a long, detailed writeup of my work on CaptionHub - a project I worked on for 3.5 years, known in this feed as Selworthy. CaptionHub is an online tool for collaboratively captioning and subtitling video. I served as technical lead and pathfinder, taking the initial idea - the “what if?” - to a prototype and beyond into a shipping product, whilst the team grew and the product acquired clients. The write-up is detailed not just because of the length time I worked on the project, but because of the way the product changed as it developed and grew in scale. It’s a project that shows the breadth of my capabilities well, and the finished product is something I’m very proud of.

    But there’s lots more in there too. Highlights include: an open source tool for musicians; teaching on the Hyper Island MA; building a digital musicbox; creating a Twitter bot for an installation at the Wellcome Collection.

    The write-ups all include extended thought on process, and, of course, link back to the relevant weeknotes that I wrote during the process.

    You can find out more at the updated projects list.

    I’m currently looking for new projects to work on: technical leadership, early stage exploration, communication of ideas, are all areas I’m keen to continue in. Topic areas I’m particularly interested in include building tools for creatives and professionals, the bridge between the physical and digital, and audio and video. I’ve written more about my capabilities here.

  • I’m running a course called Designing Circuit Boards in central London in October.

    Maybe you’ve looked at a tangle of jumper wires on a breadboard and wondered how to take your electronics project beyond that point. Perhaps you’ve got an installation made out of lots of Arduinos, shields, and breakout boards and you’d like to make it more reliable and easier to reproduce. Or if you’ve got a prototype on your desk that you’d like to take the first stages of manufacturing: this masterclass will give you the tools to embark on that process.

    Over four evening sessions (about 90-120 minutes each), we’ll take a project on a breadboard and learn how to design and fabricate a two-layer printed circuit board for it. This is a pragmatic course: it doesn’t presume any knowledge of CAD software, or any formal electronics training. We’ll be learning techniques and approaches, not just how to drive a piece of software.

    The course is what I’d call intermediate-level. Some very basic experience of electronics – perhaps some tinkering with microcontroller projects (eg Arduino) on breadboards – is about the level of experience you need to enter. Maybe you’ve made complete projects or installations out of such technology. But I’m assuming that most people will have no experience of circuit board design.

    We’ll be using Autodesk EAGLE as our primary tool, because it’s cross-platform, well-supported by the maker community, and free for our purposes.

    You can find out more and sign up at the Somerset House website.

    And if you’ve got any questions, you can email me.

  • I’m going to be in Berlin between the 3rd and 8th November. I’m attending Ableton’s Loop – purely as an attendee, to put my brain in a new context. I’d been wanting to go for a few years but circumstances conspired against me, and it felt especially relevant given this year’s work on instrument-building. I’m mainly at the conference, but I’ve also got some time for both sightseeing and saying hello.

    So if you’re at Loop, or interested in saying hello regardless, drop me a line, there might be something to do; I’ve a bit of time on Thursday, Monday and Tuesday.

  • New Work: Empathy Deck

    19 September 2016

    Edeck

    Empathy Deck is an art project by Erica Scourti, commissioned by the Wellcome Collection for their Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond exhibition. It’s also the project I’ve been referring to as Holmfell. I worked on building the software behind the Empathy Deck with Erica over the summer.

    To quote the official about page:

    Empathy Deck is a live Twitter bot that responds to your tweets with unique digital cards, combining image and text.

    Inspired by the language of divination card systems like tarot, the bot uses five years’ worth of the artist’s personal diaries intercut with texts from a range of therapeutic and self-help literatures. The texts are accompanied by symbols drawn from the artist’s photo archive, in an echo of the contemporary pictographic language of emoticons.

    Somewhere between an overly enthusiastic new friend who responds to every tweet with a ‘me-too!’ anecdote of their own and an ever-ready advice dispenser, the bot attempts an empathic response based on similar experiences. It raises questions about the automation of intangible human qualities like empathy, friendship and care, in a world in which online interactions are increasingly replacing mental health and care services.

    I’m very pleased with how the bot turned out; seeing people’s responses to it is really buoying – they’re engaging with it, both what it says but also its somewhat unusual nature. It looks like no other bot I’ve seen, which I’m pleased with – it’s recognisable across a room. It’s also probably the most sophisticated bot I’ve written; I don’t want to focus too much on how it works at the moment, but suffice to say, it mainly focuses on generating prose through recombination rather than through statistics. Oh, and sometimes it makes rhyming couplets.

    There’ll no doubt be a project page forthcoming, but for now, I wanted to announce it more formally. Working with Erica was a great pleasure – and likewise the Wellcome, who were unreservedly enthusiastic about this strange, almost-living software we made.

  • This coming Saturday – the 31st January, 2016 – I’ll be in conversation at the Whitechapel Gallery with James Bridle and Georgina Voss about Systems Literacy. It’s a topic on I’ve spoken a few times, through the lens of design, games, and play, and I’m looking forward to our conversation:

    Artist James Bridle brings together speakers across disciplines to discuss the theme of systems literacy, the emerging literacy of the 21st Century: namely the understanding that we inhabit a complex, dynamic world of constantly-shifting relationships, made explicit but not always explained by our technologies.

    In the context of the exhibition Electronic Superhighway 2016-1966, which features Bridle’s work, the conversation explores how the ability to see, understand and navigate these systems and the related technology is key to artistic, social and political work in an electronic world.

    Tickets are available from the Whitechapel Gallery.

  • Twinklr itself

    I’m pleased to announce Richard Birkin and I have been selected as part of the mv.works 2015-2016 cohort. We’ve received funding to work until April 2016 on a new iteration of Twinklr – our physical/digital music box.

    We’re going to spend the time iterating on the hardware, software, and enclosure, adding functionality and hopefully making the build more repeatable. Along the way, we’ll be documenting our progress, and exploring the opportunities the object – the instrument – affords.

    We’re really excited – this news comes just as we wrap up the first phase of exploratory work. It’s a hugely exciting opportunity – the space to design an instrument for performance and composition, to build an object to create with, and to develop this idea that’s been percolating slowly. Of course, we’ll share all our progress along the way. It’s going to be good.

  • I’ve been going on a bit about a project called Periton, which seems to have involved train travel, interviews, and recording things. That’s because Periton is a radio programme: a thirty minute documentary, called Future Speak about just what all the fuss about learning to code is, and what the value of programming is to society. Is it just about making more Java developers? Or is it about more than that?

    Look closely and you’ll see that computer code is written all over our offices, our homes and now in our classrooms too.

    The recent Lords’ Digital Skills report says the UK’s digital potential is at a make or break point, with a skills gap to be plugged and a generation gap to be bridged.

    As technologist Tom Armitage argues, there’s also a leap of the imagination to be made, to conceive of the wider benefits of reading, writing, and even thinking in code.

    Future Speak was first broadcast on Tuesday 14th April; it’s repeated at 9pm on Monday 20th April, and is available now at the BBC website. (It’s also Documentary of the week, so should shortly be available for download in podcast form).

    Documentaries are hard work, and they’re a team effort: massive thanks to all at Sparklab, particularly Kirsty McQuire who produced the programme. (What ‘producer’ means on a documentary like this is, if you don’t know: doing all the location recording, background interviews, booking studios, editing, pulling the script together, spending a long while discussing things with me and talking me out of bad ideas, and generally being very patient with a first-time presenter.) Thanks also to David Cook who originally suggested the idea many months ago.

  • The V&A Spelunker

    6 January 2015

    At the end of 2014, I spent a short while working with George Oates of Good, Form & Spectacle on what we’ve called the V&A Spelunker.

    We sat down to explore a dataset of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s entire collection. The very first stages of that exploration were just getting the data into a malleable form – first into our own database, and then onto web pages as what got called Big Dumb Lists.

    From there, though, we started to twist the collection around and explore it from all angles – letting you pivot the collection around objects form a single place, or made of a single material.

    That means you can look at all the Jumpers in the collection, or everything from Staffordshire (mainly ceramics, as you might expect), or everything by Sir John Soane.

    And of course, it’s all very, very clickable; we’ve spent lots of time just exploring and excitingly sending each other links with the latest esoteric or interesting thing we’ve found.

    George has written more on the V&A’s Digital Media blog. She describes what came to happen as we explored:

    In some ways, the spelunker isn’t particularly about the objects in the collection — although they’re lovely and interesting — it now seems much more about the shape of the catalogue itself. You eventually end up looking at individual things, but, the experience is mainly about tumbling across connections and fossicking about in dark corners.

    Exploring that idea of the shape of the catalogue further, we built a visual exploration of the dataset, to see if particular stories about the shape of the catalogue might leap out when we stacked a few things up together – namely, setting when objects were acquired against when they are from, and how complete their data is. You quickly begin to see objects acquired at the same time, or from the same collection.

    This is very much a sketch that we’ve made public – it is not optimised in so many ways. But it’s a useful piece of thinking and as George says, is already teasing out more questions than answers – and that absolutely felt worth sharing.

    Do read George’s post. I’m going to be writing a bit more on the Good, Form & Spectacle Work Diary about the process of building the Spelunker later this week. It’s the sort of material exploration I really enjoy, and it’s interesting to see the avenues for further ideas opening up every time you tilt the data around a little.