Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lost Things Found

This was written for an advent calendar, for a dear departed friend, about a slowly departing Father. It's gone from the Internet Archive now, but I was reminded of it by today's reunited bear.

I don't want to lose it again.

From: Kim Plowright
To: Leslie Harpold
i finally thought of one for you. It starts sad and ends happy, just
like a Jimmy Stuart film.
I can do you a photo of the bear, if that will help??
One of my earliest memories is of loosing my favourite teddy bear.
One winter, when I was about 3 years old I was sitting outside the butcher's on Canterbury High Street in my pushchair. My mum was inside.
(The butcher, by the way, was in an Elizabethan half timbered building, and still had sawdust on the floor in those days; it's a 'Thornons' chain chocolate shop these days...)
As two-year-olds tend to do, I dropped Koko, a stuffed Koala bear that my Dad bought for me when I was newborn, over the edge of my pushchair.
(My pushchair, incidentally, was black metal and a kind of deep turquoise vinyl, and smelt of plastic. This is a pretty strong memory, can you tell?)
I cried, loudly. My mum came out to see what was wrong.
Anyway - she saw that I didn't have my bear, and looked around on the ground. No bear. anywhere. Gone. Someone had picked up a teddy bear from next to the puschair of a screaming child, and taken it.
I was inconsolable.
It must have been shortly before christmas, because my Dad decided to replace my Koala with one from Santa, as a lovely surprise. He looked everywhere for a Koala that was identical to the one I'd lost. He scoured toyshops all over Canterbury, and got more and more upset; all of the bears had black scratchy plastic paws, which my bear didn't. He tells me he he was nearly in tears over his failure to find a matching bear; it was one of those 'I will be a good parent' things.
Eventually, on Christmas eve, in desperation, he bought the only Koala he could find. Its nose was brown, which was wrong; so he coloured in the nose with permanent marker pen. Just before he went to wrap it up, he looked at this bear's paws, and though 'I don't like them, they're a bit sharp, not really suitable for a small child; I'll cut them off.'
As he scissored away the paws, he remembered he'd done exactly the same thing with the original bear he's bought. He'd been looking for the wrong bear.
On Christmas morning, I got my Koko back, and I loved him more than anything; I didn't notice the difference. Even now, thirty years later, Koko sits at the end of my bed, and you can just about see the marker pen stripes on his scuffed leather nose.
And Koko reminds me what a wonderful, caring man my Father is, and that he'd go to great, great lengths to make the world just so for me.

And today's bear:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bodies of Learning

I'm going to write a thing, and it's going to be very brief. It might even involve bullet points.

I'm writing it here because it feels longer than a tweet.

Today I'm at an event at the British Library, about how Digital Humanities are changing scholarship, and the work done by British Library Labs.

I've been thinking recently about Data - I'm doing a piece of work for Caper about the uses of open data in the cultural sector. Part of this thinking has been about the old saw of the route from Data to Information to Knowledge to Wisdom.

Tom Armitage talked about this transformation really eloquently at the ODI recently, about how it inflects practice and making of things.

It strikes me that at the moment we're busy on the first two stages of that route. The government and the ODI are championing open data as a way of improving transparency - forcing governmental and societal change by opening up datasets to scrutiny.

The ODI are taking it further - looking at teaching and encouraging the skills of visualisation and interpretation: equipping people with the techniques to turn data in to information - usable stuff that exposes insights and opinions.

Listening to people talk about the importance and difficulty of dealing with huge archives - unknowable quantities of STUFF in books and records and collections and museums and and and and has got me thinking. In particular, a chap whose work involves taking statistically relevant samples of examples from within large library collections - a way of reducing the amount of STUFF you'd need to consume to get an intellectual overview of a field.

We talk about Bodies of Knowledge, Bodies of Learning. The process of working with an archive is one of becoming expert - of incorporating - of *taking in to your body* the quirks and weft and warp of the data.

Scholarship is the process of keeping things in mind - of transferring digital data archives in to a kind of biological working memory, incorporated in graduate students and PDH researchers.

At what point will we be comfortable to allow the machines to store this memory? In the way that books and writing profoundly changed the way the (?) Ancient Greeks thought about the process of creating stories and memory palaces, when will our tipping point come? When the cloud and linked references and annotated assumptions and inferences is *good enough* as an external store of cultural memory.


Just thinking.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A small inkling of a thought

Buzz. There's a LOT of it, isn't there?

Anyway, I had to turn it off. Too many distractions in the wrong place. I suspect I'm getting old.

There was a huge chat in the office about it: mostly revolving around engineering culture at google, and how a monoculture can become dangerous. You'll have read the same thoughts on a hundred other blogs already, I'm sure.

One upshot of the whole storm in a teacup is that I think I may stop automatically blurting all of my twitter updates to facebook. I've noticed my twitter frequency creeping up past one a day, and on twitter that's fine: on facebook, not so much. Besides, facebook has things like people I was at school with, and people whose children I babysat when I was 13, and their expectations are very different from mine in these spaces. So. If you want cormorant reports, you'll have to look elsewhere. I think that might be a tiny venn diagram, though.

Anyway, the point of this wittering. Yes.

I was just poking through google reader. I've been harmlessly sharing things there for a while - very unobtrusive, you really had to go and look for the stuff. So sorry if suddenly my random bookmarks are being thrust upon you. Didn't we learn the problem of push back with windows98? It's no better when the people doing the pushing are marginal aquaintaces, rather than corporate marketing departments, unfortunately.

The thing I noticed, though, was this. There I was, very quickly skim-looking a 'most popular on ffffound' feed, when I noticed that a ffffound post had 23 likes within google reader.

So, love has come strongly to Google. They're trying to out-digg digg, by making a digg that suffuses the whole web (sidewiki, reader, etc) at an object level. They can look at the ffffound pages for the activity there, and supplement that with their own love metrics, all cut with their demographic data. It's another way of understanding what's valuable on the web.

Just like links, back in google's original model.

Which makes me wonder: is the link as a measure of value on the web now dead?

In short, are we in danger of SEOing google to death, and is buzz their response to this?

Shrug. Maybe.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

I should probably apply for this, you know.

I got forwarded a job advert earlier on today, that I had to read twice to understand. I thought I'd rewrite it, for fun. Really, I should just stick my CV on the end of this, and hit reply, but frankly life is to short.

If it sounds like your cup of tea, visit

> JISC ITT: Strategic Content Alliance: Digipedia from Prototype to Pilot Service
> The JISC, on behalf of the Strategic Content Alliance, invites tenders
> to develop the moderated web resource named 'Digipedia' from prototype
> to pilot service.

We need someone to run our trial website properly.

> The Strategic Content Alliance commissioned a prototype moderated wiki
> named 'Digipedia' in early 2009. The prototype aimed to link
> authoritative information resources on the management of the digital
> content life-cycle and produce a plain English narrative which can be
> text mined and provide an innovative browse mechanism to enable
> resource discovery for a broad audience. The primary audience for
> 'Digipedia' is policy makers and practitioners involved in the
> creation of digital content in the public and not-for-profit sectors.

We set up a wiki as a test last year, but haven't shown it to anyone yet.

We want it to be easy to read, and easy for anyone to use when they need to find out the best way of making things for people to look at on computers.

We think our wiki will mostly be used by civil servants and people that work for charites, who need to know the best way to put stuff on the internet.

As anyone can add to the site, we need to check it regularly to make sure no-one's been messing things up for everyone else.

> The aims of the work are to:
> Develop 'Digipedia' from prototype to pilot service, providing the
> user with an easy to use, authorative, up-to-date and insightful view
> on the management of the digital content lifecycle.

> Build up a sustainable community of organisations and individuals
> working towards developing 'good practice' in digital content
> provision at a policy and operational level.

As we didn't show anyone our small test website, we'd like you to you turn it in to a proper website for people to try out. We hope that a lot of people (and companies!) will use it, and like using it.

The website needs to be full of really useful information, stay up to date, and not be full of mistakes. If you make sure it is, we think that people will get involved with it by sharing ideas to make their working lives easier; both when they're coming up with ideas, and making things.

> Develop an effective communications and dissemination plan in order to
> raise awareness, seek contributors to and use of 'Digipedia' amongst
> key stakeholders at a policy and practitioner level.

Once you're happy that the website is working properly, we'd like you to tell people about it, so they know about it and come and use it.

> Develop a business plan for sustainability in consultation with JISC
> and other Strategic Content Alliance partners.

We'd like you to think of ways we can make money from the website, once it's working properly, too. You'll need prove that your suggestions will work to some skeptical people, too.

> Total funding of between £75,000-£85,000 (including VAT, travel and
> subsistence) is available for this work.

We'll pay you quite a lot of money for this, and also pay some of your tax, pay for your travel to work, and for your lunch.

> The deadline for proposals is 12 noon UK time on 5 February 2010.

Please get back to us tomorrow.

> A full version of the ITT can be found below.

I Think That I attached a file to this email - can you find it?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Negroponte Switch

One day, I'll fess up to myself that this site is dead, and move on and stop feeling guilty for having nothing to write about. Anyway.

I was thinking about the Negroponte switch earlier - the little homily that says something like 'everything that was wired, will be wireless, and everything that was wireless, will be wired'. So phones go from tethered to mobile, etc.

I wonder if there's a comparable rule operating around culture that says something like 'everything that was tangible will become intangible, and vice versa'.

So music - it came on discs of stuff. Now it comes from nowhere - magically into my devices. I'm old fashioned - I still buy CDs, because I rather like browsing in record shops, and hdd crashes have taught me it's nice to have a physical backup around. My livingroom is groaning under the weight of DVDs, CDs... I keep thinking about getting rid of them, but I have an issue with the *potential of not being able to replace the experience*. It's like giving potential knowledge away.

Films are going the same way, and much as it pains me to think it books seem to be next. (it pains me, incidentally, because I love books as objects a very great deal, and once considered a career as a bookbinder.) Cultural objects are evaporating in to the datasphere. Look, here's some art about it.

Relationships, too - the management of relationships at a distance used to be about gifts, letters, little tokens. Now it's about facebook.

The third version of this rule might be memory. Something like 'everything that was forgotten shall be remembered, and everything that was remembered shall be forgotten'.

So- I no longer remember dates, phonenumbers, vast swathes of real data (because it's there in my databases, at the poke of a google - the internet is one huge memory prosthesis come factmachine).

But what does get remembered now is the minutiae of people's lives, and people who would otherwise have drifted away in to the big 'I wonder what happened to..' are brought to mind every day by facebook. There is no ephemeral, any more.

I've been having some interesting discussions with people recently about what this means for grief and bereavement: not the least because of Leslie Harpold's legacy slowly disappearing from the web, but also because of a couple of cases of friends finding out about deaths of people mostly forgotten via facebook. I wonder what our carrying capacity is for our histories to remain present? Is it better that people do just disappear, are forgotten over time - are we giving ourselves an unnecessary burden in maintaining emotional ties?

Is there only so much one can bear in mind?

I'm not sure. Sometimes it feels that way to me (and I often feel as if I would like to quietly retire from facebook, that 'friends' there don't need to know that I'm having fishfingers for breakfast, etc). But I'm an inveterate forgetter of birthdays, and drifter away; I may be different.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Western Digital MyBook Studio failing to mount on OSX Leopard

A very boring title, but this is miraculous.

I have a Western Digital 1TB MyBook Studio external hard drive, with a triple interface: USB, Firewire 800 and eSATA. It's lovely - quite, roomy, and previous WD drives have been very reliable. It's under a year old.

It has all of my last year's work archived on it. A LOT of work.

It suddenly failed to mount on my Mac.

The disk would spin up - I could hear it spinning the disk up (it's v. quiet, mind) - but the cylon lights on the front wouldn't light up, and it wouldn't mount to the desktop. Checking system profiler for Firewire devices only showed an Unknown Device, and a transfer speed of up to 800Mbps.

Disk utility completely failed to see it.

So - I'm sitting here thinking that I'd need to rip out the drive, find an enclosure, void my warranty... you name it.

And then I found this:

Feb 14, 2008
- After posting my question, I got through to a Wd service manager who checked everything out with me and finally suggested I tap the drive sharply on the back since a power button would sometimes stick. I did that and the button must have released since the drive then became bootable, recognizeable and has been working since. Sorry to have been such a bother for so simple a solution; I had tried to work the button but I quess it needed a slap--maybe I do too!


So - I've just unplugged my drive, given it four hard taps with my knuckles on the casing at the back - and bingo. It works again. Yay!

So - how to solve a problem with a Western Digital MyStudio 1TB hard drive failing to mount on a Mac. Worked for me, deserves some google juice.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


There comes a point in any project when you have the day when it all seems a bit too much, deadlines growl at you, things just... don't come together.

The only proper response is slight hysteria, and a brief burst of creative procrastination.

Here is today's.

mildlydiverting Idea - download wikipedia on to a microSD card, and EAT ALL HUMAN KNOWLEDGE as an art piece.

Of course, that goes to Facebook (sorry, I know republishing is crass, I just have different friends in different places).

And then I did the maths.

Kim Plowright Idea - download wikipedia on to a microSD card, and EAT ALL HUMAN KNOWLEDGE as an art piece.
3 hours ago via Twitter

Jen Bolton, Alison Breadon and Lee Warren Magician like this.

Brian Lok Olsen

can you fit wiki on just one microSD. Perhaps a layer cake with microSD's and cream

Kim Plowright
SO - you can get 16gb on a MicroSd.

From Wikipedia's statistics for the English version of wikipedia:

Content pages 3,040,693
Pages (All pages in the wiki, including talk pages, redirects, etc.) 18,062,483

So there are 21103176 pages, of which content makes up (we'll exclude pictures and multimedia for the sake of argument) apx 14.4%

The most recent complete compressed database dump is 2.8 Terabytes - 2867 Gb, as there are 1024 G to a T. 14.4% of that is about 412GB, requiring me to eat 16 microSD Cards. I need to do some research in to the components within an SD card: do they contain circuitboards? Would they break apart during digestion? Is there a dioxin or a mercury load involved, and would 16 cards be enough to significantly damage my health?

All of these questions remain moot.

However, that 2.8gb dump also includes all HTML, and ALL revisions on the pages. I'm only interested in eating the current state of human knowledge: I don't need pretty formatting, or edit wars about Richard Dawkins.

You can actually download a data dump (compressed) from that contains just current snapshots of page articles. This download is 5gb approximately....

So, we could just eat one micro SD card, with a substantial cost saving (£10.59 for 8gb rather than £34.95 for 16gb), and hopefully less long term health risks.

Next decision: how to document this process.

Right, back to steering the oil tanker with a toothpick, and herding the Schrodinger's Cats.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Rhonda Forever 2003-2009

Rhonda Forever 2003-2009

This is the most lovely 3d drawing tool. The haptics of it are just fantstic. Makes me want to actually... DO for once.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reading Dematerials

My Library on Google Books

A few years ago I spent a good few hours scanning the barcodes of my (huge) collection of books, cds, dvds etc using a lovely little bit of software called Delicious Library. It's smart: it uses your built in webcam as a barcode reader, and grabs cover images from Amazon. It also told me interesting things - for instance, I own six books whose second hand value is currently over £100. Alas, even under current circumstances I think I could only bear to part with one of those.

The drawback of the software, however, is that it seems to be very much tied in to a desktop paradigm: something I've noticed is fairly common with Mac apps. The latest version has a 'publish to web' option which spits out rather over-designed HTML. It's a database: what I'd like is a way of syncing a list of identifiers with services that are already out there: listal, LibraryThing perhaps. Both of those sites got fed a long list of ISBNS, or a hacky XML file a while ago, and show a frozen snapshot of my library in time.

I wonder if Google Books 'My Library' might be impetus to get this sorted. Syncing a list of ISBNs shouldn't be too hard, and an API is out there already, and there are some lovely tools coming from the team that help dematerialise physical objects and spread them on the web.

I'd love an application that sat on my phone, let me add books to my local library with the phonecam, synced to my desktop application then updated the various sites where I've stored information over time. As more books go online within the Google Books site, suddenly I have a way of searching across the big, physical knowledge backup system I've been carting around and building upon since I was 5.

I don't think I could ever get to a point where I'm able to box up my books and leave them in storage: I'm too in love with them as physical objects; they're too totemic. But as physical authentication tokens for locked online data stores, they're also pretty interesting. If you could access a digital version of a text only through holding the physical object up for recognition... Hmn.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Ugly and neglected fragments (Phil Gyford’s website)

Just skim reading this post on the vernacular by Phil.

I was thinking, on the bus, the other day, about the history of the move from telephones being that of addressing a space, to addressing a person. A land line number connects you with a house or building, in which space the person you want to address may or may not be coincident. Mobiles untethered the phonenumber from a place, and associated it with an individual. You call someone's number, someone's phone, with no overlay of serendipity beyond can they hoik it out of their handbag in time.

I found myself wondering - will the history of the homepage be like this, too? A move from an addressable piece of web real-estate, that may contain the recent activity of an individual; towards a model where a person leaves data trails, a stream, that isn't bound to a certain digital location, or instatiation, but is remade wherever the reader happens to aggregate it. Will the layout of a homepage be superseded by a bunch of feeds - from twitter, flickr... wherever. Are we just a sum of activity rather than publishers?

Anyway, it was a half formed thought. I suspect I may just be talking about 'everyware'.