Wednesday, December 24, 2008

As serious as your life

Morris Dancing is rad and awesome and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.

(I also rather like the fact that this places Four Tet firmly in the tradition of English Folk Whimsy, running straight up from the Victorians via The Wicker Man. It's exactly the thing in his music I like so much. Yes.)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Life Drawing

Life Drawing
Originally uploaded by MildlyDiverting
I finally have something to post about.

I went to a life class - my first for a good ten years.

I can still draw.

This is a very very happy thing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Interesting storm in an internet marketing teacup

kung fu grippe - The Loopt SMS Mess

I mean, it's another one of those 'web service behaves like a jerk, all of the right thinking folk on the internet get in a tizz and write blogposts ticking them off' kind of things. See also plaxo, back in the mists of time, and the more recent flickr/myxer brouhaha. It reminded me, however, of a little fauxpas I encountered on Facebook recently.

A friend of mine does various bits of ad-hoc PA work for individuals around the place; she's a virtual PA, and very good at what she does.

One of her clients is obviously setting up a new small business, and is offering free events to drum up business. All good so far, and perfectly sound marketing practice.

So, my friend let a group of us know, via facebook, that there was an opportunity to attend a free event. It wasn't my thing, so I didn't respond. Fair enough - this was contact between two friends.

The point it became problematic for me was the third group message that came in to my email, via facebook. Now, I obviously have an opt in relationship with Facebook, so the email is to be expected. And I have a friendly relationship with the person initiating the messages on facebook, which wouldn't be conventionally governed by direct marketing guidelines.

What happens, in short, when my friend starts using a personal distribution list, through a third-party service, to promote a commercial venture belonging to a client she is contracted to?

There are a few problems caused by this scenario. Firstly, it places strain on my friendship with the individual; it's only a minor social faux pas, of course, we've all made them, but nonetheless there is some social harm done there. Secondly, whilst the first message has a positive effect on the brand being (sincerely, I should add) promoted, the third message does enough damage to send the brand in to a kind of negative marketing equity. There's the damage this situation does to Facebook, too; it becomes 'that place that's full of poorly targeted but well meaning marketing messages sent out by people who don't know any better'. And finally, there are potential legal implications around Facebook's Terms and Conditions, Direct Marketing rules, and data protection issues. Yes, I can opt in to recieving info and messages from my friends, but what happens when those friends become amateur direct marketers?

Social marketing is about to enter a messy, painful adolesence.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Gizmodo v. the Truth

Science: NASA Scientists Make Magnetic Fields Visible, Beautiful

This is an appalling write up from Gizmodo.

The film in question was made by an experimental art / animation duo on the ACE International Fellowship for Art and Space Science at UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab in June, 2005. Not, as Gizmodo says, by NASA scientists.

Here's the site of the animation duo, who are pretty fantastic.

The film - 'Magnetic Movie' - was co-commissioned by Channel 4 and the Arts Council, under the 'Animate! Projects' banner, that's consistently produced some of the most interesting animation in the UK over the last 15 years or so.

Magnetic Movie from Semiconductor on Vimeo.

They work, from what I understand, using the open source visualisation language, Processing, and have contributed to Casey Reas' book on Processing. Not bad, for artists, really. It's not all paint and gitaines, these days.

I'm most depressed by the peanut gallery in the comments who are distressed that it's 'fake'. Well, yes, but no more so than any other diagram or visualisation in any science text book, frankly. It's a way of making the invisible visible.

See more of Semiconductor's excellent work on their site.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Roots of Breakdance (Run DMC - It's Like That)

(Edit - hmn, YouTube doesn't seem to be passing the notes around that blog post)

I've been rooting around on YouTube looking at dances, inspired by Tom's marvellous post about Belgian Jump Style. If he doesn't bash a talk together about the cultural hand-me-down chains in dance culture, I may have to.

It's something about everything old being new again, or maybe everything new being old again. It's satisfying, anyway.

Plenty more little gems on my YouTube playlist. Sadly a lot of stuff seems to have vanished. Must remember to download and preserve!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Note About Email Validation

Lurpak are running a compo to win a breadmaker. Whoop de do. Anyway, being the person who opened the new butter at work, I thought I'd enter the code on the site for a giggle.

Now, I like to be able to sort my email - I like to treat newsletters, lists and personal mail differently. It's a necessity when you get around a hundred emails a day. A really smart way of doing this is with labels in gmail - by using you can 'presort' mail in to the relevant label.

The format of that email address is absolutely in line with the RFC standards for email - see, for instance.

It's surprising how very few sites accept the + sign as a valid character, however. I'd estimate 1 in 20 on a good day, with the wind behind me.

I wouldn't mind so much, but it's useful to work out if company X has sold on your email address. If, when signing up for a service, you format your email address as All mail sent to that address ends up in your main inbox, but premarked and filed as from sevicename Then, should spam start appearing addressed to that specific address, you can be fairly sure that servicename is the culprit.

Anway, I wish more people were aware of this tip, and that more developers implemented validation properly. That's all.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Reminder - Book your tickets for Open Tech 2008 - 5th July in London.

Open Tech 2008 - 5th July in London.

I'm going to be talking about Rembrandt, P0rn and Robot Monkeys. I will also be shaking like a leaf with terror. Come and support me, or come and laugh at the comedy fat girl, it's all good.

Here's the detail:

Open Tech 2008
sponsored by BT Osmosoft

Saturday July 5th - ULU, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HY

Open Tech 2008, from UKUUG and friends, is an informal
one-day conference about technology, society and low-
carbon living, featuring Open Source ways of working and
technologies that anyone can have a go at.

You can pre-register your ticket now at
to allow you to jump the queue and pay your fiver on the door.
The last two times we did this, we sold out in advance, so you
are strongly advised to pre-register.

With 3 concurrent sessions, The line-up features:
* Open Rights Group - 2 years, 344 days on
* mySociety - launch, and other goodies
* Overthrowing Government on a Budget, Keeping Track of
the CIA's Rendition Flights, Tracking Arms Dealers
with Python and Bits of String
* Ben Laurie and friends on network security
* Danny O'Brien's Living on the Edge
* AMEE, and Open Source Solar Heating
* Saving money and reducing carbon through Green IT
* Getting people involved with online media

Totalling 60 talks across 3 sessions covering 9 hours, there's
plenty in the programme for everyone including Rembrandt, Pr0n and
Robot Monkeys, and all that's just in one session!

The full schedule is at

You can pre-register your ticket now at
to allow you to jump the queue and pay your fiver on the door.
The last two times we did this, we sold out in advance, so you
are strongly advised to pre-register.

* Further information *

Sign up for your tickets online, and tick the box to hear from us, or
just send an email to join uf

(your address will only be used to contact you about OpenTech and
will not be passed onto third parties).

- or you can email if you've any other questions.

We're also looking for volunteers to help out on the day.
In return for free early entry and our eternal gratitude,
we're in need of a few people to show up a bit earlier
and help us set the venue up. If you're interested, or
have random other questions, email us on

Open Tech 2008

Saturday July 5th - ULU, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HY

Final programme may be subject to alteration. Thanks for reading!

Ben, Etienne, Emily and Sam
your friendly OpenTech 2008 organisers

Friday, June 06, 2008

In which Orange need to get their acceptable use policy sorted.

So earlier on today I sent round a glowing email about the World's first internet balloon race. I'm looking at widgets for my company at the moment, and I'm really interested in games that use the whole internet as a canvas. Here's (roughly) the text of the email I sent to my co-workers

Subject: Possibly the best use of widgets I've seen

It's an internet balloon race

Things that are good:

I found it because a site I visited had a tiny balloon bobbing in the bottom corner - the experience design is really delightful.

The 'add the widgets to your site' is seamless, and allows you to add to a huge number of sites without leaving the main area. It looks like they've outsourced some of that to a company that specialize in distribution and measurement of widgets:

The widget acts as a way for you to track your participation - so it's your interface to the game, but also displays your participation to others.

There are two parts to the participation element - so you can race a balloon, and add it to your blog etc, but you can also sign up your site to 'host' balloons for the race. I'm imagining this involves nice flash overlays of floating balloons like the one that led me to the site

So the widgets connect each player to their balloon, which could be anywhere across loads of signed up sites - driving traffic across partner sites. It's fun for the players, useful for the hosts, and spreads the message for orange.

This is only the third thing I've seen (other than MOO's Treasure Hunt) that uses the 'whole web as a canvas' - the other is PMOG , which requires the download of browser plugins.

Also, balloons! on the internet! Brilliant!

Bad things - the whole of the sign up site is build in flash. Why? Why?

And now I have another bad thing to add to my list. Here's an email from Orange:

Hi Kim,

We've taken a look at your balloon and we're sorry but we can't let it take part in the race.

It may be because the name or message contains some naughtiness.

To win a luxury holiday for you and your mates in Ibiza you can create another balloon at

The wording on my balloon that they have rejected is this:

"Hello, I'm Antonin. I might be a corporate shill for a dull mobile phone behemoth, but look, I am also a balloon. A Balloon. On the Internet. That's great!"

This is a fairly close representation of how I feel about the site. It's advertising, and I'm not a huge fan of advertising. It's potentially a little intrusive if you suddenly find your regular spots on the internet are being 'flash mobbed' by balloons. But, the thing is, it's such a good and original idea that I actually signed up, and embedded a widget over yonder, and on my Facebook page. I add very very few applications on facebook, so this should be a major triumph for their marketing department - they've involved a hard-to-reach demographic right off.


The instructions about naming the balloon say

'Write a nice message to get spectators to cheer you on'.

And then underneath the text field, they say 'We'll need to check your message before we put it up on the site, so nothing rude.'

There aren't any terms in the Ts&Cs that I can see which refer to what Orange may consider to be acceptable content, other than 'All Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions' There's isn't anything to say 'Orange may reject your entry, and you won't be able to re-enter.' It's just 'we need to check it'.

And there's no definition of rude. My message certainly isn't obscene. It's possibly a little cheeky, but really, is pointing out that the balloon is advertising for a brand that offensive?

At the very least, they need to clarify their community/acceptable use guidelines, and include some wording along the lines of 'messages that we feel might in any way damage our brand will be rejected. And if we do reject them, there will be NO obvious way to go back and edit the offending message, so you've blown your chance to enter.'

I think Orange may need to have a think about their approach to user involvement with their brand. If you give your brand to people in a game situation, they will play with it. They will sometimes play with it in ways that don't quite tally with your expectations. You need to allow them to do this, or you will loose the good will they build up through play.

For reference - my previous relationship with the brand: I was with Orange for around 9 years, and gave them up last year because they had no decent roaming data plans, and I'd won an N95.

This is what you want, not what you'll get.

AA Driving School: Learn to drive - Get prices and book lessons - The AA

I've just stumbled across the most comical piece of usability fail on the AA site. They have a question on their 'get a quote' page that's designed, obviously, to measure the success of their various forms of advertising. The idea is simple - joe-learner-driver comes along, selects where they heard about the AA from, and the marketing department get some useful metrics.

Except, the marketing department has supplied a list of their internal categories of advertising, broken down to a minutely detailed level. It's the information they want out of the form, of course, but it's not a list that makes sense to have on the site.

It's very very long indeed, and really, how am I as a customer meant to know about whether I saw their 'Latest Mailer', or their 'October 07 Mailer' - version one, or the second version, labeled exactly the same way two pops lower down the list?

I can't imagine that they're getting any useful information out of this form at all. I suggest their client side coders go round to their marketing team, and point and laugh.

Here, for posterities sake, is the list. I wonder what a 'DIT advert NE' is?

How did you hear about the AA?
BOGOF offer
AA Member
AA Staff
Adi News
Self sourced pupil
Internet - site
Affinity Partner
Internet -
Seen car
Saw car in the area
Driving Instructor Magazine
Driving Magazine
Email campaign
Friends and family
Franchise Sales
Internet Advert
IAM Magazine
IGI Scheme
Magazine Advert
Direct Mail
Latest Mailer
MSA Magazine
Newspaper Advert
Student offer
Returning Franchise
ADI recommendation
Recommended (Not IGI)
Roadshow lead
School/College Uni visit
Search engine
Recruitment website
Internet Enquiry
Yellow Pages.
Signature Leads
Preregistration Outbound
Daily Mirror Jun 07
Franchise Sales Jun 06
Franchise Sales Jun 06
September 07 Mailer
AAdvance Leads
Outbound Directory
September 07 Mailer
October 07 Mailer
Freshers Fair
October 07 Mailer
DIT advert BEP
DIT advert NEP
DIT advert LM
DIT advert CEN
DIT advert YEP
DIT advert SE
DIT advert BT
DIT advert NE
DIT advert SE
DIR advert ES
DIT advert SWE
DIT advert EDP
DIT advert METRO
DIT advert EEN
DIT advert MET
TIC 08

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

TLA Variants

Chat Slang and Acronyms used in chat rooms, IM, and email

Public Service Announcement to three of my email contacts (one of whom is my Mother):

LOL does not stand for 'Lots of Love'. It stands for 'Laughing Out Loud'.

It looks really strange when you sign off your emails with LOL (name). Why are you laughing? Are you not taking the email seriously? Do you find me funny, like a clown?

Understand that you may inadvertently upset someone by using the acronym to stand for Lots of Love; they may not read it in the same way you do.

Sidenote: I wonder if this is a common change in usage for people who are relative newcomers to the internet? eg, if you're a pre-2000 denizen, it will always be Laugh, but post 2000, Love is the more common interpretation.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

In which a lifetime of License Fees are accounted for in 30 minutes

ArtWorks Scotland - Alison Watt: A Painter's Eye

I'm sold on the iPlayer, to the point of having tears in my eyes.

Clicking around (and what a terrible interface it is for browsing) I noticed an arts programme destined for broadcast only in Scotland. Except, there it was on iPlayer, too - 30 minutes of television about my absolute favourite painter, Alison Watt.

I saw her work for the first time when I found a catalogue to one of her early shows in a second hand book-shop. She's a figurative painter, mostly, although tending towards abstraction of a kind these days. The work I fell for was portraits of women; drawn from art history, a little Ingres, really; very still, very beautiful, chalky and calm. I still love them, and would give anything to own one, to be able to look at it every day as the light changed, to live with it as it unfolded.

And here, here is 30 minutes of Proper Arts Television; just long, still shots of the paintings, and then the artist herself - her, there, talking - I'd never seen her before. She's so engaged with her work, she talks passionately about painting, about how it involves you, how you fall for images. The pacing reminds me of the old Modern Times documentaries; there's breathing space for the viewer to take in the pictures here.

I'm so happy to have found this; to have been reminded why I love images, and why I love television, and why I love the internet; to be reminded of why my career has travelled the odd direction it has.

Thank you, BBC Scotland, and thank you Alison Watt. There is so much happiness and beauty here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Other First Conference

russell davies: an incomplete list of interesting speakers

As Russell points out, I'm not giving my Art / Robots / HCI /Porn and stuff talk at Interesting. Instead, at the moment (and it may change if I have a little panic about the subject) I am going to be delivering the following little chat:

"This Talk May Suck: The Cultural History of the Vacuum Cleaner"

It is more interesting than it appears.

Statistically Comparative Fight Club

How Many Five Year Olds Could You Take in a Fight?

In my case, 28. The same number as Alice.

Tom can only take 18. Cherie managed 26.

Now, taking children as a baseline, theoretically, what we thus have is a measure of likelihood of each of us beating the other in a fight. Alice and I are an even match, obviously - her high kicks would be countered by my naturally low centre of gravity, I presume.

Tom and I would be closer to a foregone conclusion. What would the maths be? If we fought 28+18 rounds, would I win 28 and he 18? That would mean I'd have a 28/(28+18)*100 percent chance of winning - or 60.869%. 3:2 odds, isn't that? My ability to use small children as a weapon would be an advantage here, I think.

I'd have a very slim advantage over Cherie - 51.852% - fairly even odds, I think. I'm not sure about that, actually, as I think she'd kick my 'ass' - permissable due to her being American. Only an Englishman would kick my arse, of course.

Back to the drawing board on the calculations, then.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Thing I've Kind of Made

Rujirushi Greeting Cards

Greeting Cards £12.99
Buy this on

We launched a new bit of work on MOO last week: a huge expansion of the 'Ready Made' pack area of the site. Ready Made lets you buy a pack of MOO Products without having to upload your own images. You get a really lovely variety of designs by our MOO designers - there's some amazing stuff in there. The Rujirushi cards above are by a Japanese animator, and are the most lovely green imaginable.

The cool thing - and I can't really take credit for it as my idea - is that if you buy a pack of cards, and photograph them, when you upload them to flickr you can grab a special MOO tag that will make your photo automagically appear on the right page on MOO.

It's cute. Try it.

Props to memespring, c0ntax and symphonicknot who actually did all the work. And to my awesome designers. (UPDATE: Shit! Forgot pixellent, because she sits behind me! Bad! Sorry!)

BBC profanity lists - WhatDoTheyKnow

BBC profanity lists - WhatDoTheyKnow

Sadly, my friend Richard's FOI attempt to get the BBC to release a canonical list of naughty words has hit a glitch 'because the BBC and the other public service
broadcasters are covered by the Act only in respect of information held for purposes “other than
those of journalism, art or literature” '.


Also, it's really rather rude to add (sic) after the mis-spellings of the original correspondant, don't you think?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Speaking in Tongues

Free English Esperanto web translation

M'estimable chum Anno pointed me at this. M'other estimable chum Roo pointed out that Lojban was surely meant to be the internet equivalent.

But no, of course: the internet equivalent is LOLCat, having taken over from Klingon sometime last year.

Which makes me wonder...

Has anyone written a Klingon to LOLCat translator yet?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

My First Conference

Open Tech 2008 - 5th July in London.

I'm giving a talk at this year's OpenTech 2008, on July 5th, in London's sunny London. It's the first time I've ever stuck my head over the parapet of the conference circuit, and I'm both excited and utterly terrifying. (Edit: uh, I mean terrified. Although, uh, yes, both.)

I'll be talking about art history - the starting point for the talk is a painting by Rembrandt, and going on to talk about technology and embodiment: how our physical bodies relate to our machines, tools and the internet. I'm going to look particularly silly, as I'm on at 10.30am, a time of the morning when my brain doesn't work, and also sharing a bill with UBER BRAIN and offical world's cleverest person, Matt Webb.

The synopsis of my talk is roughly this:

* Who was Dr Von Tulp, and what can Rembrandt’s painting of him tell us about human-computer interaction?
* How is a week without the internet like loosing a leg?
* Why are the heady rushes of computer games and pornography the most compelling things on the internet?

We’re beginning to use machines as bodily prostheses almost without noticing. Touch interfaces, motion control, virtual worlds, mobile connectivity – all give us a delicious illusion of power over the physical.

We all know the man-machine stereotypes from countless Hollywood movies, but what should we geeks, tinkerers and creative technologists remember about the way our real-world bodies intersect with the imaginary spaces of computing and the internet as we shape the future of embodied interaction?

All these questions – and more! - glossed over as I attempt to draw lessons from art history, robotics and interface design in to one quick presentation – and all without sounding like a mad early 90s technohippy.

Register to hear me make a tit of myself at

If you're interested in the subject matter, my research links are appearing at

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Behance Explained

enough_words.gif (GIF Image, 967x1535 pixels)

I thought this worth linking to.

The Behance network explains their service first in words, and then as a diagram. It's a really elegant way of explaining a site's value proposition to a potential user - especially when that potential user is a designer or artist.

Mind you, not very googlable, but there you go.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

50 years of the Radiophonic Workshop.

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | BBC old masters of new sounds

A brilliant little piece revisiting the Maida Vale studios, with Mark Ayres - a man who rescued a huge quantity of Radiophonic tapes from being skipped by the BBC when the unit was disbanded.

Mark has probably done more for preserving the history of electronic music in the UK than anyone else, and he deserves all credit for that.

Also, he let me have a go in his Dalek when I was five.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Evil Thoughts about Anti SEO

I'm very bored of SEO spam friendings on Twitter, such as this Ass Hat.

Which got me thinking - I'd like to set up a spam blog somwhere that took the links from these SEO feeds, and republished them using keywords like 'shit' 'illegal' 'very poor service' 'rubbish' and for that matter, 'ass hat'.

I'd find that really really satisfying.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

RSS aggregation as a friend filter

Just a quick thought before I forget it.

So - a lot of services allow you to grab all of your RSS feeds from all over the shop, and republish them in a central aggregated feed.

The resultant feed - of bookmarks, tweets, flickr pics, LastFM music, blogposts, yada yada - is noisy. REALLY noisy. In fact, unless you know someone really well, it's just too much information and you drown in it.

But there are some people for whom that much information is good, and comforting. I'd keep an eye on everything my other half was up to, for instance - not for stalking reasons, or because I want to surveil him, but because it's nice to know whats going through his head - it's his presence when he's not around - as Leisa would say, it's Ambient Intimacy.

But other people - no, I really don't want to know their every move - I'd like perhaps a once a month update of key items.

So a social aggregator with degree-of-intimacy - where you can pick and choose elements of a person's behaviour to subscribe to. This should couple with a few smart bits at the back which would desubscribe or deemphasise sections of a person's feed according to your consumption behaviour. Not reading all of Friend X's long screeds, but most of their tweets? Eventually the long screeds will drop off your updates.

Facebook maybe goes part way towards this, but it really doesn't understand the shades of grey and changeability of social ties.

Fluidity, and smartness, and the understanding that friendship ebbs and flows.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


An idle thought

I've noticed in the last few days that the frequency of @replies on twitter amongst my small circle of friends has increased dramatically.

@replies were always interesting as they grew out of the natural behaviour of the community, and were only later included as a full feature of the system.

I'm wondering if the high crossover between friends and use of twitter as SXSW as an organising tool might be due to this. It would be an interesting stat to track - changes in the 'flocculence' of the site as replies cluster around events with large groups of active users. It might be an interesting visualisation exercise, particularly if it were possible to map cel location to incidences of flocculence.

Were I able to write scripts to extract the data, and map it against dopplr co-incidences, I would.

But I can't, so someone else is welcome to the idea.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Nitrate Pirate

Nitrate Pirate
Originally uploaded by MildlyDiverting

Pirate Mona

I've just found the negatives to my favourite pictures of my grandmother.

They're Nitrate, and badly damaged.

Does anyone know a Nitrate film preservation expert?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On
Originally uploaded by I like
I have a copy of the iconic 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster framed on my wall at home. I found it via a post on flickr, and bought it over the internet from Barter Books Gift Shop a couple of years ago.

I find it slightly sad that other places are now taking much of the credit (and presumably the income) for its rediscovery. You can't stop things going viral, I suppose. At least Barter books link to some proper contextual academic information.

Can I suggest buying from Barter Books, and thus support 'the British Library of second hand bookshops'? I'd also point out that a poster from Barter Books is a LOT cheaper than some of the other options...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

World of WarCraftCraft

Checking my personal email this morning, I found a thread from my Warcraft chums in our guild, about the appeal of the game. I will paraphrase here, this being a good starting point for the complete waste of time that follows.

Hactar: So, an idle question: When you hit lvl 70, do you keep earning XP?

Tikker: and, do you keep doing quests? what do you do after 70?

Jonalock: You don't earn any more XP, no, but the XP you would earn from completing quests gets turned into extra gold instead. You'll have a bunch of solo quests to keep doing when you hit 70, for which you get more money and sometimes better equipment as quest rewards. Further progression comes from doing instances to get better equipment which then lets you do harder instances to get better equipment which lets you do raids (instances for more than 5 people, typically 10 or 25) to get better equipment which lets you do harder raids to get better equipment which lets you ... And there goes your life.

Tikker: when you put it like that it sounds so.....futile....

Jonalock: On the plus side there'll be an expansion out soonish raising the level cap to 80 and with a huge number of new solo quests and the like .. (and which will also overnight make all your hard-won uber-gear entirely useless - green is the new purple!)

Kieth: you see this is the point I lose the will to live...why are we playing this again?

Tikker: cos it releases crack from a keyboard while you play as a reward.

Kieth: finger ingested rock...that's it, I forgot

Crystaltips: I feel like framing this thread.

Now, I have this ongoing problem with Alice (Crystaltips) telling me to do things: I just unthinkingly obey. Dunno why, I just do. She used to use it to get me to bring her Lattes in meetings, the cow.

So, the framing the thread comment kicked me in to action. How do you frame a thread and make it nice to look at? And specifically, how do you do it for someone like Alice, whose favourite thing is slightly rubbish game-based crafts?

You turn it in to cross-stitch, obviously.

So - first, let's find some imagery. I wanted something Horde-y, obviously, so I checked out the official Blizzard fan site kit.

World of Warcraft Europe -> Fan Site Kit

Lovely avatars, but not quite what I was after. So, copyright infringement time! What happens if you type 'Horde' in to Google Image Search?

Horde Shield

Aha, that will do nicely. Many thanks to the Horde Army guild site, from whom I've ripped this off (sorry guys!). Incidentally, that's one of the best put-together guild sites I've seen - they even have their own resources database. Go Horde Army!

Next step: some kind of slogan. I love antique samplers, with their folk-artsy cross-stitch writing, and I don't see why a Horde embroidery should be any different. I think a simple guild name - in angle brackets, of course - with a quote from the discussion should do. And what's that on my hard drive? A copy of Fritz Quadrata, the Warcraft tooltip font? How did that get there? Surely that's in violation of lots of copyright rules?*

To Photoshop, comrades!

Horde  Shield with Guild Name unassigned variable and the slogan Finger-Ingested Crack
Nice design, eh?

The next thing is to convert it in to a sewing pattern. I've found a few sites that offer image to embroidery pattern conversion in my web-peregrinations, and the two best are coincidentally, free to use online.

MicroRevolt are an excellent organisation that protest at the use of sweatshop labour by making protest quilts to send to the CEO of Nike. They deserve your support.

They also have an excellent little tool for converting pictures to patterns on their site, called KnitPro. It produces simple-looking patterns, but doesn't reduce the number of colours in the image.

Running our design (and a brightened up version) through Knit Pro gives us our first four patterns

A good alternative to KnitPro is it spits out more complex-looking patterns, but reduces the colours in the image for you to simplify it, gives you a chart of yarns on the front, and makes the pattern easier to follow. I don't think it sends blankets to corporations with questionable ethical records, though.

  • Cross-Stitch Pattern 5 - guild name, dark colours, stitch count 18, 8 inches wide, 12 colours, 27,000 stitches apx.

  • Cross-Stitch Pattern 6 - guild name, bright colours, stitch count 18, 8 inches wide, 13 colours, 27,000 stitches apx.

So, there you go. Horde Guild Quote embroidery patterns.

Things I discovered during this process:

  • Running dull colours through either of the pattern makers above will make them muddier. Work with your image first to brighten it up a lot.

  • With KnitPro, as it doesn't do colour reduction, you might want to save your design as a gif or a png with a reduced colour palette. If you're really clever, you can use the 'Save for Web/Devices' option in photoshop to select a good palette of colours for your thread.

  • Using a tool like 'posterise' in photoshop to simplify the image doesn't seem to help with the output much.
  • KnitPro barfs on some png files, and renders white as black. I think this is something to do with differences between the way png8 and png24 handle transparency, but I may be wrong.

  • None of the pattern makers I tried handled the text well: even with antialiasing and at a larger pixel size (stitch-pitch?) it looks a bit rubbish. You can live with that, and keep the font recognizable as the WoW font, or you could use a tool like's Caption Maker or the Subversive Cross-stitch Magic Robot.

If you want to know how to actually do the embroidery - and I'm not going to, because 27,000 stitches would play merry hell with my RSI, there's an excellent primer on game related embroidery at Kotaku by Maggie Greene, that takes you through the process step by step.

To finish, a couple of interesting bits:

Radical Cross Stitch
Subversive Cross Stitch Kits

And some context: information from the Brooklyn Museum Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art that goes part way to explaining why alt-crafting is a political act.

* NB: I actually care a lot about copyright violation, and feel tremendously guilty about the unlicensed fonts I own. In particular, I *really* *really* want to buy a copy of House Industry's Neutraface, because it is beautiful, but really, $249? For something I will use maybe twice in personal projects, and maybe on a weblog? If you price your content out of your market, you're just encouraging piracy. See also: legal copies of Photoshop.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Charlie's Diary: Youth of today

Charlie's Diary: Youth of today

This is worth reading. I was going to post a comment, but realised it was a bit on the long side, so I should probably spin it off here.

I think Charlie Stross' gedankenexperiment really illustrates the speed of change of technology in our society, and the fact that post 30s, we tend to settle in to some kind of happy equilibrium, just keeping up with the essentials. I wonder if that's something to do with the average age of parenthood? Anyway.

I wanted to offer back a long view on this - that it's not just the change for the youth, it's the change in the span of a single human life that is now quite incredible.

When I was little - around 7 or 8 - I had a recording of Bach on a cassette. My grandfather was babysitting me one evening, and my player (a flat one with buttons along the front and a flip up lid) chewed up the tape. (Recorded Music playing with moving parts - how quaint!)

My grandfather came to find out why i was crying, and himself cried because he couldn't help; he just didn't understand the problem, or how to fix it.

Now, he was born in 1896, and died in 1986. So, in his lifetime, he saw
The Motor Car become comoditised
Powered human flight
Mechanised Warfare
Recorded music as a comodity
Commoditised photography
Comodditised Paperbacks
The Supermarket
Cinema in every town
The Telephone
Transatlantic voice communication
Space Flight, man on the moon
The Welfare State
Nuclear Weapons
The computer
The home computer
Home Video
Car Phones
Credit Cards
ATM Machines

It's quite a list. Is change going to be so palpable to this generation? Is change accelerating? Is it just the C20th that will see such a radical shift, or was this accelerating speed of change set in train from the moment of the industrial revolution? How will society adapt to this speed of change? What will it do to people? Is there an upper limit on the human capacity to assimilate change?

I don't have answers to this, but I think it bears thinking about.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Employee Benefits for Peer to Peer businesses?

Etsy's First Five Years

Etsy just raised a startling ammount of investment, which makes me very happy. They do so much right.

There's a very interesting post on their site about what their intentions are. This in particular caught my eye
It is immensely important to me that all Etsy workers are paid a good salary, provided with full benefits (medical, dental, vision) by the company. Many companies, far too many companies, underpay their employees, don't make workers employees at all ("permalancers" and "permatemp" are the new words for this), and provide few if any benefits. (We also know that many of the sellers on Etsy lack access to such benefits as health insurance, and we want to work to change this.)

Emphasis mine, there.

That's a game changer. A community marketplace that also acts as a kind of international, distributed trade union come employee benefit scheme? Visionary stuff.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Epigrams through the Ether

/blows dust off the top of her blog, and waits for the valves to warm up

Twitter / oscarwilde

The other day, I was sitting in Monmouth Coffee in Borough Market. They do very fine 'macaroons' - actually, coconut pyramids.

They also do a startling line in braying middle class idiots, like what I am.

Anyway, a conversation between two actresses was so tooth-grindingly comic, I twittered it. It set me off thinking about the uses of twitter, and why I prefer the mundane, silly and epigrammatic posts over the 'I've updated my blog, here's the URL' or the '@someblokewhoknowsaboutmacs yes, saint steves shiny robot turds are amazing' tweets that pop up from my contacts. One of my favourite people there is David, who posts rarely, but beautifully.

To cut a long story short, it got me thinking, and inspired partly by Matt's Presence Machine, I have decided to give Oscar Wilde a life on twitter. Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young is the perfect work to consume via twitter - it's shallow, vain and a tiny bit self obsessed. Also, it comes in nice short lines, which are (I hope) mostly under 140 characters.

    That's all, really...