Weeks 3 and 4

Feb 5, 2010 19:05 · 778 words · 4 minute read 1

This has actually turned out to be a biweek note, because I didn’t get around to posting anything last Friday.

Last week was mainly a quick trip to London - partly to chase down a few potential opportunities, and partly as a chance to behave more like a tourist than an inmate.

The Victoria & Albert Museum is running the Decode: Digital Design Sensations exhibition which is something I’d been wanting to see. From the exhibition microsite:

“Decode looks at three current themes within digital design: Code shows how computer code, whether bespoke and tailored, or hacked and shared, has become a new design tool; Interactivity presents works that respond to our physical presence; Network charts or reworks the traces we leave behind.”

I’m not convinced it managed to reach those aims. The interactive exhibits were pretty good in the main - some fell firmly into the “draw something on a screen” category, but a couple seemed to have the ability to make people stop and think. Weave Mirror uses a camera to capture visitors, then displays a low fidelity image of them on a grid of rotating rings that are shaded from light to dark. The resolution is only 32 x 24, but I was surprised by how recognisable the results were, and how you “fill in” detail to recognise yourself.

Videogrid displays a grid of individual 1 second clips captured by a camera pointing at the passers-by - what fascinated me was how within the expected mosaic of people waving frantically at themselves, there were a few who would stand still, or embrace, or look away from the camera. The effect was to create little oases of calm in the middle of the blur of activity.

The ‘code’ exhibits were something of a let-down for me - the problem is that the standard of everyday computer generated imagery is so high, it renders the impact of the artworks at the level of “wow, another iTunes visualisation”. There were a couple which felt more like “my first Processing sketch” puffed up by catalogue-worthy statements of intent.

And on the whole, the ‘network’ section seemed to either rehash old ideas that work best on the screen of a laptop - We Feel Fine, or Flight Patterns - or simply didn’t work. There were a number of exhibits that were broken or had crashed - in one case with a Windows error dialogue displayed prominently. Or perhaps that was a statement in itself?

However, the rest of the Museum more than made up for the Decode letdown - much of it has been redone since I last had a chance to just wander around. The new medieval galleries are overwhelming with the sheer volume of exhibits, but it’s the smaller, more tucked-away galleries where the real gems lie. I hadn’t seen the jewellery or silver collections before, both of which are displayed to real effect.

This week was divided in the middle by the Sheffield Social Media surgery, and Geekup. There were more surgeons than were needed this time around, so it was a chance to chat to some very interesting individuals about wider stuff. Then after 12 months of trying, I finally managed to make it to a Sheffield Geekup, and was talked into doing a presentation. I find it difficult to think of a topic when faced with that kind of audience - there’s not much I can really tell a Geekup crowd about technology - so instead I went for a “what you can do with it” angle and did 15 mins on “Mad Things To Do With Twitter”. Some of those were mine - River Thames and the Shipping Forecast - while the others were things like the twittering bridges. People laughed more than I’d expected, which I’m going to assume was because it went reasonably well - whenever I speak in public, I always end up doing it in a haze of adrenalin which makes it impossible to remember afterwards if it was successful or whether I died on my feet.

And inbetween everything else, I’ve been plugging away at Objective-C and the iPhone SDK to put together an app for Wordr. It’s taking far, far longer than I’d ever have anticipated, but the learning curve is fairly steep and seems to be best handled by my subconscious trying to make sense of things while I’m sleeping or walking the dog and so on. The basics are in place, so now comes the stage of trying to embed oAuth authentication into it so that it will use Twitter to log into the Wordr site itself. Which should take care of most of next week…