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.