3 Dec 2006


I'm fairly partial to the odd bit of wood carving, but I am in awe of these crayons. Utterly pointless but just yummy.

1 Dec 2006

are we doomed?

I want to confess something. It's my shameful secret.

Sometimes play in first person shooters.
When I'm not playing first person shooters, I'm a pacifist and a feminist.

I used to try and justify it but ('We can't help being shaped by the society in which we live', as the Socialist Workers in College used to say,) now I just realise that we are all walking bundles of contradictions, like an ex of mine who when she wasn't busy being an anarcho-feminist poet had a strange but deep fondness for James Bond movies.

That said, I think the idea of this HalfLife 2 mod is pretty interesting. I found myself reeling off fun facts about alpha radiation to Zach in the car yesterday and realised that I picked them up from the screenshots of this mod.

Now I am almost at the point of wanting to borrow a copy of Halflife 2 just so that I can play the Mod. The problem that I had with single player Halflife was that battling monsters wasn't really engaging enough to drag me fully out of real life (Multiplayer Halflife had a different problem, Zach just kept slaughtering me...)

26 Nov 2006

doing our bit?

Your dog wants you to switch the lights out when you have finished in there.

Check out these rather nice ads from this French energy company.

UI on the OLPC

This is a demo of the user interface that is set to go out on the $100 laptop.

25 Nov 2006

theories and methods

I came across a couple of interesting pieces over the last couple of weeks that I thought I would share. The first thing is the What's In a Number 2006 Edition (320) of This American Life.

"Recently, the British medical journal The Lancet published an study which updated their estimate of the number of Iraqis who've died since the U.S. invasion. With that in mind, we revisit a show we did in 2005 about the earlier study published in Lancet estimating the number of Iraqi deaths. That study was mostly ignored in the U.S. Alex Blumberg revisits the original study and looks at the new one."

Good research, unpalatable results.

Now for bad research and really unpalatable results.

Navajo's have been getting sick for decades, and their sheep have also been getting sick but instead of looking at what the people and sheep might have in common, for years the medical researchers declared it to be a condition which they called "Navajo neuropathy". If they had been less blinkered in their approach they might have discovered eariler that the people and anmals were drinking uranium contaminated water from holes left by uranium mining in the 1950s.

You can read all about it here.

oh yeah, science 'solves' ceramic mystery...

Nice set of Hessian crucibles.
Was it me or does anyone else find the RSC article a bit patronising when it says:

"Successful Hessian manufacturers of the time were cheerfully unaware of the science behind their internationally renowned mixing vessels."

"Cheerfully unaware"? WTF?

23 Nov 2006

how stuff gets made

I'm a sucker for seeing how things get made, so I have been picking my way through this site. It's irritatingly 'gee-whizzy' and at times, but that's not really surprising seeing as it is comming from the National Association of Manufacturers in America, but if you can overlook that, there is lots of good stuff. How they make duct tape ("I got chills") has to be regarded as a classic of it's genre. You will love it, inspite of yourself. Can't you feel the manufacturing vibe?

22 Nov 2006

beta blogger

I have 'upgraded' my blogger, blog because I thought that being able to label my posts would be quite nice. However, the upgrade made the feed go a bit tweeky. It's mostly calmed down now but the post 'Test tiles and Pencil lead' stubbornly refuses to believe that it was created back in the summer and keeps jumping around all over the place.

21 Nov 2006

virtual welsh culture

Nice to see that they are gathering many jewels on the web. I'm not sure how I haven't spotted this before.

19 Nov 2006

everything you ever needed to know about the history of oil but didn't think to ask.

table of elements

A couple of years ago I bought a ceramic bowl from a bootsale. It was orange, *bright orange*, with a rather camp decorative black on white band. The the colour really drew my attention, the bowl looked like it was made in about the 1930s and I knew that in that period uranium oxide was used in some orange glazes. I searched on the net for uranium oxide in glazes and to my delight discovered Theodore Gray's stunning Wooden Table of Elements, and spent may geeky but happy hours on the site.

Now don't think my bowl does use uranium oxide, the colour seems rather redder and more intense than the fiestaware, which leads me to think that it is more likely to be red lead (triplumbic tetroxide). I keep meaning to find someone with a geiger counter just so I can be sure, but you know what a chore it can be locating a geiger counter in rural West Wales...

Either way, we are content to have it on display in the living room away from where we sit, and we will not be serving food out of it.

I mention this just because the makezine blog had a link to Pop Sci's interactive periodic table showcases 93 element samples from the collection of PopSci contributing editor Theodore Gray, who spent four years assembling and photographing them. Very cool.

17 Nov 2006

secure in your identity?

The Guardian ran a rather worrying article about how easy it was to pull personal information off the new RFID passports. I'm now kicking myself for not renewing my passport earlier this year. Just remember folks, if it can me made, it can be copied.

"The Home Office has adopted a very high encryption technology called 3DES - that is, to a military-level data-encryption standard times three. So they are using strong cryptography to prevent conversations between the passport and the reader being eavesdropped, but they are then breaking one of the fundamental principles of encryption by using non-secret information actually published in the passport to create a 'secret key'. That is the equivalent of installing a solid steel front door to your house and then putting the key under the mat."

$100 laptop: First out of the box.

"Negroponte says that the first working models, so-called B machines, will come off the assembly line in November, after which they'll be put through a torture course of testing in five developing countries--Brazil, Argentina, Libya, Thailand, and Nigeria--to see how they hold up. And even if they do work, the task of persuading governments to buy them still remains. Negroponte has made real progress on this front. In October, Libya signed a memorandum of understanding that effectively commits it to buying a million laptops, assuming the B machines pass their tests, and the other four test nations seem nearly as likely to sign up if the machines work as planned. But five million laptops is, by OLPC's self-defined standards, just a start."

Interesting (if a little fawning) article to be found here. Nicholas Negroponte is likened to Andrew Carnegie. Who knew that Carnegie spent more than $60 million of it to build more than 2,800 libraries, including almost 2,000 in the United States and almost 700 in Great Britain?

15 Nov 2006


The webcam on B's laptop is pretty rubbish (the keyboard however is to die for, so no big deal), it doesn't handle motion well at all, though fun is to be had by moving as the shutter gets pressed and laughing at the resultant motion blur. I'm such a big kid.

Light off...

Light on...

Light off...

Light on

Ok, so I tweaked the settings a bit, I have made the image flip so it matches my (mirrored) perception of self. I de-saturated the colour, because it looked like hell. It really is a truly crappy camera, but fun can be had even with the crappiest of tools.

10 Nov 2006

bad attitude

This was a blast from the past.

I found the Processed World Collective's anthology in a Library in Cardiff years ago and was pretty inspired by it. I just re-read an essay on the chemical hazards of chip making. Brilliant, but bloody depressing to realise how hoodwinked we all are by the idea of 'clean industries'.

see-through concrete: post/modern concrete

The screen consists of concrete with embedded optical fibres, arranged as pixels, capable of transmitting natural as well as artificial light. The light-admission points are on the back of the screen where the fibres are positioned. The light, or the picture, will then be displayed in pixels on the front. The light source can be a projector emitting either pictures or film footage.

I am strangely drawn to this. It's the best thing I have seen featuring concrete since the electro-graph over at the Graffiti Research Lab.

I will confess, I have a 'thing' about concrete.

It started when someone gave me a magazine from 1903 in which there was an interview with Edison. I was already slightly facinated/obsessed with Edison at the time, this made it intensify.In the interview he extoled the virtues of the material and predicted that in the future, we would all live in poured concrete houses. This is only mentioned because while I read this, the Turner Prize was on the TV in the background, that year's winner, Rachel Whiteread.

8 Nov 2006

My first email...

I was studying Ceramics in Cardiff and becoming aware that there was a thing out there called the 'Internet'. It was something that was accessable on one admin PC in the college office and no one had email addresses, after all, it was an Art college, what would artists need internet access for?

I was also reading a lot about women and technology, for my dissertation. I was particularly taken by the writings of Matilda Joslyn Gage and Donna Haraway's 'Cyborg Manifesto'. Gage argued that women have been involved in technology since the beginning but that their achivements had been obscured by the men who wrote the history. Haraway used the idea of a Cyborg a human/machine hybid, creature of social reality/fiction, as what I read as a call for feminist engagement with technology rather than just an analysis of it from the margins, 'I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess' resonated with me.

I came across a snippet in a book about Gage being the mother-in-law of L Frank Baum, and her being the one who encouraged him to write the stories, which are echoed here. When I discovered the Patchwork Girl of Oz. I wondered if Scraps creation myth had been an influence on Haraway's construction of her cyborg. After all, the Oz stories were modernist fairy tales and, from my understanding, culturally much more significant in the USA than they were here (I also read that there was a move to ban some of the books from libraries at the height of the cold war hysteria, it was claimed that they were 'unwholesome for young minds').

I had no email, but I had discovered Haraway's email address on a public access PC in Cardiff. One of the women in college with had a boyfriend who worked in IT, and she volunteered his services. I wrote out my question on piece of paper and gave it to her, she gave it to him and the following morning I was presented with a print out of her reply, the substance of which was:

No, The Cyborg had been based primarily on the character of Connie in Marge Piercy's 'Woman on the edge of time', that she had forgotten all about Scraps, but could see what I thought that.

Although I neither typed or clicked on send, it was my first experience of email and I was delighted. I am wary of what seems to be a push towards videoconferencing in education at the moment. I think it's easy to overlook the power for plain text. And, I think that it serves as an object lesson in how institutions are often behind the learning curve. Technology doesn't have to be complex to be empowering.

3 Nov 2006


Yeah, ::groan:: a really groan worthy title blamed entirely on Todd and Syne last night pointing out a wild and "far out" vid on youtube about the formation of a protein with a cast of, ten's, (maybe scores) . It was sweet, I find that being able to casually share moment with a couple of people, thousands of miles away, whose voices I know but who I have never met and wouldn't recognise in the street unless they opened their mouths still blows my mind.

amateur external image dictionary.gif1784, "one who has a taste for (something)," from Fr. amateur "lover of," from O.Fr., from L. amatorem (nom. amator) "lover," from amatus, pp. of amare "to love." Meaning "dabbler" (as opposed to professional) is from 1786.

profession external image dictionary.gifc.1225, "vows taken upon entering a religious order," from O.Fr. profession, from L. professionem (nom. professio) "public declaration," from professus (see profess). Meaning "occupation one professes to be skilled in" is from 1541; meaning "body of persons engaged in some occupation" is from 1610; as a euphemism for "prostitution" (e.g. oldest profession) it is recorded from 1888. Professional (adj.) is first recorded 1747 with sense of "pertaining to a profession;" 1884 as opposite of amateur. As a noun, it is attested from 1811. Professionalism is from 1856.

I have been thinking a lot lately of what it is to be an "enthusiastic amateur" as opposed to being a "professional". I turned my nose up at the idea of amateurs being more than on a par with pros back in the early 90s, but now as I am just about pressing my nose to the glass of my 40s, it makes much more sense now. They are conflicting world views.

No wonder I am getting so grumpy with my job. It' a culture that values a striving for "professionalism", and foreground's word's like "corporate" and "business" and values people for how long they have stuck it out without making waves and what they have done, rather than what they could do, their passion, intelligence or vision. Public service or job?

I found a copy of Virginia Woolfe's book "Three Guineas" (1938) the other week in the garage and it fell open to a quote that I marked over a decade ago."Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes. Any help that we can give you must be different from that you can give yourselves, and perhaps the value of that help may lie in the fact of that difference."

That has to be right up there with the words of Barbara Jo Revelle.

"I make art because it is a way of communicating with other human beings. For me, art making is the best way to express the ideas that form in my brain. I like what Buckminster Fuller said: "You either make money or your make sense." I think art is a good way to make sense."

I make art because I love making art. I practice my art, I'm not perfect or anything. My profession is something I get paid for, that's it. I am not my job. Art is my real work. The purpose of my art is to give people a glimpse of a world seen through different eyes.

2 Nov 2006

Sketchy stuff

When motion capture and rapid prototyping come together, stuff like this happens.

21 Oct 2006

Paint blogging

I have been thinking for a while that blogs could be used pretty effectively to show the process of art in the making. I came across this today on bb, and although I can't say I'm crazy about the subject matter (yeah, go on, call me a humourless feminist and then go watch this.) I think it's really cool to see the the work in the making.

I was pretty impressed with ArtisanCam when I came across it about a year ago. Back then it was a lot less polished and was in the process of featuring it's second maker. I though there would only be a small number of artists that would be happy to work with a webcam trained on them in their studio. Going back to ArtisanCam now I find that I really prefer the paintblog entry as a model, because though it lacks polish it also lacks a third party mediating and interpreting between the artist and viewer.

Years ago (mid 1990s)I went to a conference in Aberystwyth about the National Electronic Archive for the Crafts (NEVAC) . It was at a point in it's development where it was at a bit of a crossroads. Either it could have gone down the road that it seemed set on, (high quality film interviews with aging craftspeople - rescue documentation in effect, a model doomed to always play 'catch-up') or it could have widened it's remit to include more participation. I had traveled up to the conference with a documentary filmmaker and we had been discussing the fantastic opportunities that digital technology was presenting to democratize the process. We were both on the same page, but sadly the rest of the conference wasn't.

I remember comming away from that conference feeling disappointed how low on the agenda the idea of encouraging participation was, it seemed strangely elitist and at odds with the unerringly down to earth attitudes of most makers. It also seemed to buy into that idea that technology was scary and not something that crafts people should be encouraged to do.

On the upside, I also came away with exceedingly fond memories of a good meal finished off with really fantastic summer pudding with cream, eaten at the table with Marianne de Trey.

14 Oct 2006

How I hacked wikipedia

originally uploaded by utilly.
I read a book the other day about brickmaking in North Wales. As a potter/geek, I was delighted to find reference to hacking in a ceramics history book. The author had already said that without bricks there wouldn't have been steam engines, blast furnaces. It also talked about the role of bricks in the construction of mineshafts.

It all seemed pretty obvious once I had read it, but I had managed to get to the age of 39 with a MA in Ceramics before I realised how little i knew about such an important strand of Ceramics/Industrial/Engineering history.

Then I started thinking about why I didn't know that. My guess is that brickmaking lacked the 'drama' of iron smelting, the mystery of 'mining' and the sheer 'drama' of the steam engine to engineering afectionados. Crafts people would have seen it the crude rough end of the industry (when does something stop being a craft and begin to be an idustry?). As for art, look at the outcry over Carl Andre's pile o'bricks at the Tate. It's still used as a shorthand for the absurdity of modern scultpture.

The amiguity of the place of ceramics in engineering history kind of mirrors the ambiguity of the modern usage of the term hacker. My prefered usage of the term in the computing context is someone skilled. To create multiple hacks of bricks, outdoors in the early brickyards, in a climate prone to rain required skill and patience. Hack too high, and bricks stick or crumble under the weight. Protect too well from the elements and they dry slowly, leave exposed and risk rain damage.

But, the real reason I decided to 'hack' Wikipedia is because I think it's an awsome project and I wanted to look behind the scenes. B's next season of Cast-On is going to have an open source - open knowlege theme. We went back and forth quite a bit on whether to set up our own wiki or whether we should get knitters (and any other crafters that might be listeners) contributing to Wikipedia, but in the end it was a no brainer. We want to encourage knitters to flesh out the knitting stub in Wikipedia, but before we go down that path, we have to 'road test' it.

I am impressed that within 37 minutes of my article on A hack being uploaded, it was 'wikified', tidied up by Catharine Munro , a dedicated idealist, wikipedian and amongst other things... artist and knitter. I have a good feeling about this...

1 Oct 2006

finding fragments

I have been revisiting my past this weekend. I was forced to perform a cull on my 'big box of computer stuff' that lives under the bed. During the process I came across a couple of floppy disks circa 1993. On one desk was unreadable and labeled 'dissertation'(I already new in my heart that I lost the digital copy having tried it out in other PCs and heard the drives go crazy).

The other disk was labeled 'mydis / report'. I am working my way through those files this weekend. A lot of them are corrupt, but there are also a number of intact files, they mostly seem to be notes that never made it into the dissertation. (which I recently dusted off and scanned as a PDF, available here) .The writing is pretty patchy and many of them come to screeching halts or just kind of trail off... but after Graham's recent blog posts about storytelling I found myself re-reading through different eyes.

I will be uploading a few of the fragments to my Wikispace, starting with the tale of two scientists. It's a true tale and one that made me re-evaluate the path my life was taking. It helped me realize that in order to be in any position to comment on or change technology, I really had to engage with it. I do cringe at the earnestness of my angry twentysomething voice, but growing up in Thatcher's Britain I thought I had every reason to be angry. Hothead Paisan had nothing on me...

I have to say that I am *LOVING* my Wikispace. Ok, in some ways it seems a little sad that I am rattling around in a wiki, designed for collaborative working all by myself, but I find that I am using it as a digital equivalent of a notebook, but it has the added advantages of being easily accessible, dead easy to edit and customize, has the facility to export as a HTML site and you can download a zipped backup of the site to your PC at the touch of a button. Fab.

The bonus of the day is that I kind of caught up with Nora O'Baoill (who I had studied with in Cardiff) who was recently awarded The Teaching Award for Special Needs Teacher of the Year in Northern Ireland . I also found a podcast interview with Nora and Joanne Murray about their experiences with ICT and Animation in school in two parts, here and here.

25 Sep 2006

extra extra minty (or, china in china)

One of the real joys of the web this summer has been keeping track of extraminty's flickr stream. Wendy (extraminty) Kewshaw has been visually documenting her stay in China, making china - well, porcelain to be precise.

I was lucky enough to have studied Ceramics in Cardiff with the lovely Wendy in the early 90s and it's just awsome to watch the making of some fantastic pieces with the backdrop of all these images of a rapidly changing China.

It might just be a potter thing, but I am finding it utterly compelling watching the mix of peices in museums and galleries, Wendy's pieces as they go through the various stages of creation and seeing her innovative methods of drawing on clay with stains and petroleum gel and china clay all set to a backdrop of a rapidly changing china. If your bandwidth is up to it, just go there now and see for yourself.

16 Sep 2006

I praise of BB

I love Boing Boing, I think it's one of the most creative and diverse blogs on the net, a happy blend of art, culture and politics. Just in the last couple of days it has brought to my attention a project with an artist in residence working with two doctors at Guys Hospital in London, a $400k hippo dinner service commission, the new Banksy exhibition, crocheted cacti , knitted brains and an excellent lecture by Jason Shultz. It's also closely tied up with the Open Culture movement, EFF and Creative Commons. It's just following that general art tradition of being anti censorship, because we all know from experience there will always be the thorny question of who censors the censors.

I can't think of any other site on the net which would dish me up such a diverse dollop of creativity, and yet this site is banned in work becuse it gets black-listed because it's categorised as being a 'proxy avoidance' site in the new bluecoat content filter.

'Proxy avoidance' is becoming an issues in the US in schools and institutions in part because of what can only be described as a 'moral panic' about social networking. Instead of trying to figure out what is so compelling with sites like MySpace, Bebo and Facebook for teenagers and teach them to how to be safe and responsible global networked citizens, in America, they are just trying to ban access to social networking sites, on pain of withdrawal of federal funding.

The Deletion of Online Preditors Act (DOPA) is making it's way through the legislative process in the US as I write. I hope that this is a bandwagon that the UK doesn't just jump on. Probably the best analysis that I have read on this so far comes from AoC NILTA and can be found here.

I hope that the UK doesn't try and follow the USA's lead and try and through the baby out with the bathwater while blinded by the latest moral panic.

12 Sep 2006

MySpace for things?

A while ago I came across her Draft Craft Manifesto and was impressed enough to pass it on to B who riffed off it in her second cast-on show. For some reason it popped back in my mind a couple of days ago and I googled Ulla-Maaria Mutanen and found a link on her blog to Thinglink. It peeked my interest, but I didn't entirely 'get' it.

Then I found a video on Google and decided to give it a whirl for some of my paintings. So.if you want to know anything about Thing:093UWW, Thing:645BJT, or even Thing:546ZCW (or any other of my registered things, you can because they now all have their own little homepages.

What's the point? Well, until there is a way of searching for 'Things' on Google, not a lot. I can't see myself putting a sticker on the back of the paintings, (I'm more your permanent marker kind of grrl) but the idea of having a product code that refers to searchable data on the internet is pretty cool. I think it would be a good way into getting makers into the idea of being producers and not consumers on the internet. The interface is dead easy, though it is reliant of the user having a flickr account set up first.

That said, I think it would be a good 'gateway' web app. Although I am an enthusiastic advocate of Elgg, it is harder to explain it to people in education who aren't really familiar with the ideas of social networking on the internet. The kids all understand MySpace, but we are busy having a moral panic and blocking that out of educational networks without unpicking what is so useful or appealing about them. The format of Thinglink is: "here is the thing I made, here is some text about the thing I made and here are some tags relating to the thing I made..." its a lot less controversial as a format. But still a good tool to reflect on the making of objects.

Gah, now I keep of IKEA... I can just imagine an exhibition with an internet console and a handy supply of paper dockets and half sized pencils and work, with product codes, it's strangely appealing...

8 Sep 2006

a load of...

... pollocks.

There is nothing like a few weeks ofhelpdesk duty to reduce me to a scribbling wreck.

30 Aug 2006

Blame TED for my new obsession with scribbling.

I discovered the TEDTalks last weekend and listened to a few of them. Very thought provoking, really worth a listen if you get the chance. I am working my way through the the audio files but I noticed that there are a couple on there that are video only. So, it being lunchtime, and having brought in a packed lunch on a pretty grey day, I settled in to watch Ze Frank. Towards the end of his set hse taled about some of the playthings on his website. The scribbler is just great. Go scribble.

23 Aug 2006

Hand and brain candy

While I am on the subject of candy, these hikaru dorodango really took my fancy. I want to make one now. One of the links on the site lead to an article about the shiny mud balls and Professor Kayo who has done much work with small children and balls of mud. The article concludes by saying:

In the field of developmental psychology up to now, play that developed children's imagination and creativity, such as role playing and drawing, was deemed important. But Professor Kayo is searching for whether developmental psychology has overlooked something very important: the experimentation children undertake in everyday activities like eating, getting dressed, and sleeping. He feels that making shiny mud balls is a good way of searching for the essence of children's play. Kayo believes that the answers lie within the hearts of children, and he continues to visit the preschool once a week.

To me, it's just soooo obvious that if you give a child a lump of to play with before they reach the age where they associate 'mud' with 'dirty', they are really going to engage with the material. It's an elemental act of alchemy, base mud becomes something shiny and precious.

I suspect that children don't have the monopoly on the answers for this, potters and other crafters may well have something useful to contribute to the field of developmental psychology. I think we all have an elemental urge to make things. We are all creators. The biblical creation myth says:

"And The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7)

And while I am not a fan of the bible in general, the logic of 'god creating man in own image = we are all makers' doesn't suck. Maybe making these things is the ultimate 'god game' as you become the creator of worlds....

In the mean time, I found some more detailed instructions on how to make the balls here
and here are some more mud balls that their proud owners uploaded to flickr.

I think that some of my weekend may well be devoted to literally 'playing with mud'.

Eye candy

I think there is something magical about early colour photography. I was really very taken with this exhibit over at the Library of Congress. Ok, I know the photo that I chose is probably the least colourful of the bunch, but hey, he worked in a carbon plant so somehow it just appealed.

Also on the eye candy theme, you will find a mixed bag of delights here.

1 Aug 2006

Moving home

Custard seems to have died again so I guess now is as good a time as any to move my site and blog over to my shiny new domain at, www.beyondutility.co.uk. There may be some disruption and broken links in the blog for a little while as I change some links and find the missing pictures. Any problems, let me know.

26 Jul 2006

Thinking outside the barrel

I had thought that bio-diesel or even plain old veg oil might have been our best hope for breaking out of our 'oil addiction' but then having watched this and I am feeling persuaded that ethanol is the direction that we need to be going in. If you have a spare hour, I really would urge you to spend some time watching Vinod Khosla give a lecture on Ethanol at Google. The content more than makes up for the sometimes less than sparkling delivery.

I have been doing a lot of reading up on biofuels lately, the thing that kicked it off was the discovery that Rudolph Diesel's invention of an engine that could run on peanut oil was partly as a result of his belief that for Artisans to survive in the face of steam powered industry, they needed something that would help level the playing field.

In a 1912 speech, Rudolf Diesel said "the use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today, but such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal-tar products of the present time." It appeared that he then died in mysterious circumstances shortly afterward... weirdly reminicent of the fate of Agustine le Prince, the man who might have invented moving pictures.

In the few online biographies that I have found about Mr Diesel, I noticed that he has been characterized as a social theorist and a connoisseur of the fine arts and an internationalist , sadly there don't seem to be any of his writings available online in English. That's a pity, there is a bunch of Tesla's writings here, and I found them to give a facinating insight into a really radical thinker who just seemed so out of his time and who has been largely overshadowed by "The Edison Publicity Machine". Of course some of the stuff is pretty barking, but we can't 'hit it out of the park' every time.

Anyway, I am on leave and I have clay waiting to be wedged up in the garage so I will try and annotate a few more of my recently aquired 'energy' tagged del.icio.us bookmarks.

5 Jul 2006

Test tiles and pencil lead.

It has been a long time since I have pottered with any seriousness, but I am now starting to make some test tiles. A couple of months ago, I scored a roll of plastic. I'm not sure what it's called but its that cling-film-on-steroids stuff that is used to attach stuff to pallets. A couple of weeks ago I scored a rather large plaster batt from the art college in Carmarthen.

With these simple tools, I was back in the business of being able to create sizeable clay slabs basically by chucking great gobs of wet clay at the plaster batt, smoothing it down and then covering it up with the plastic.

I wasn't sure what shapes I was going to start making when I went to the garage. I had been playing with the idea of carbon, silicon and either being my base elements, I like that there are 3 of them rather than the traditional 4 or 5. Wait, did I just say 5? I did, I stumbled upon this page that talked about Platonic Solids . I liked the idea so much that I printed off the pdf files of the shapes.

What was I thinking? It had to be the cube... well, the square... well, you know me, it has to be lots of little squares, test tiles I guess, maybe I am constructing the building blocks of a larger piece.

We were in Cumbria last week as B was out audio hunting at Woolfest for her fabulous podcast , and once we were finished looking/recording interviews B and I had an inspirational visit to the pencil museum in Keswick.

Oh how we snickered when we went past it the first time. Fancy having a museum devoted to the humble pencil, that really peaked our curiosity. It was only a matter of time...

Well who knew that the process the Nicholas Jacques Conte devised in 1795, which is in use today basically means that our pencil leads are a mix of graphite and ball clay, fired to 1000 degrees C. Pencil leads are bisque fired! They are ceramic...

Within days of this discovery, I had spoken to the technical department in the pencil factory had agreed to send me a wadge of the unfired graphite/ball clay mix and some graphite to experiment with. The usual slip mix that I use for decoration is a 50/50 ball/china clay mix. The ball clay has a very small roundish particle shape that means it's sticky when wet. The china clay has larger, flatter particles which help to counteract the stickyness of the ball clay. I can't wait to see what properties the addition of graphite gives the slip.

I did a quick google on graphite decorated ceramics and two things of note came up. Firstly it was the pottery of the Gumelnita civilization from about 4000BC. Early balkan (Bulgarian?) ceramics... we all know about my facination with the Balkans don't we? The other thing of note that came up on the search was the potters of Mata Ortiz who re-invented traditional pottery in the 1970s. Apart from the dazzling skill and absolute eye candyness of these potters is that it's a great example of craft being used as a tool of economic development.

Another thing that I was wondering about was the conductive properties of this graphite mix used as slip. I was looking at "electro-grafs" , from the Graffiti Research Lab a while back and thought they were facinating... just thinking...

19 Jun 2006

Some nice free software for Windows.

I have not tried to compile an absolutely extensive list of absolutely everything. I have tried to be selective.
I have used many of these programs on a regular basis, although, some of them I have just found but I do intend to use.
I suppose the bias on this list is towards creative and communications software, because that reflects my own bias.
Many of the programs are open source but by not all of them, quite a few are free for personal use versions of commercial software.

Web Browser

Firefox - Tabbed browsing from the ashes of Mozilla.
Opera - Now free.


Thunderbird - Mail client from the ashes of Mozilla.

RSS Reader

RSS Owl - RSS feed aggregator.


Filezilla - FTP Client and server.

HTML editor

Nvu - Another program from the ashes of Mozilla.

"LAMP" for Windows

Xampp - Linux, Apache. MySQL, PHP - web development environment.



Office tools

Open office - Office suite.
Dia - Diagram maker.
Open workbench - Project type program.
Free mind - Mind mapping software.


Acrobat Reader - Free but bloated from Acrobat.
Foxit Reader - Small, fast and free.
PDF creator (makes PDF's. Open office also allows export as PDFs).


Win Gimp - Image editing.
Picasa - Image viewer.
Inkscape - Vector drawing.
Qcad - Computer Aided Design.
Scribus - Desktop Publishing (currently first Beta for Windows).

3d graphics

Blender - Cross platform 3d modeling.
Avimator - Avatar animation editor.

Moving image

Jahshaka - Promising, but not yet very polished.
Democracy - Video catcher and player (developing into an internet TV platform).
Video Lan - DVD player


Audacity - sound editor
Lame - mp3 codec (needed by Audacity to save projects as mp3s).
Juice - Pod catcher
CDex - Rip your CDs to MP3
Winamp - Many people are very fond of this player.

Misc Utilities

7zip - Like winzip, but free.
RealVNC - By the people who brought you VNC.
Spybot: Search and Destroy - Searches and destroys spyware.
AdAware Personal - Another Spyware search and destroyer.
AVG Free - Free Virus checker.
ClamWin - Free Open Source virus checker.
Kerio Personal Firewall - My free firewall of choice.
Net Stumbler - Find out what's in the ether.
Belarc Advisor - Find out what's on your PC.

10 Jun 2006

More art sites

This one has been hanging around in as a draft for too long. I found the site , onethousand paintings from a link on Digg that pointed to a really cool gizmo that displayed websites as graphs. When I first got there, the paintings were starting around the $90 mark. I think the next day an entry for the onethousand paintings site turned up on boing boing. I checked back to see how the traffic from BB was affecting the prices, they werestarting at around $130. Now as I finally get around to blogging it, I see they are between the $200 - £600 mark. The formula he uses for pricing means that lower numbers are more valuable. But, early buyers get the bargains. So, if you feel the urge for a nice blue number, you had better get in there quick.

Value = 1000 - number.

Initial discount: 90%.
Current discount: 40%.
The discount will decrease by an absolute 10% for every 100 paintings sold.
Min. price: $40.

Great concept, really playing around with the concept of numerical values and, I have to say, flawless internet marketing. Over half of the paintings have now been sold, good on him.

Another interactive art site just came to my attention, I was just trolling through Brenda's podcast comments for cast-on and someone gave the site a mention. It's called Inspire Me Thursday, I think this is a brilliant example of people getting together and using the tools of the web to create communities of interest. Wordpress is (apparently, according to Brenda, who runs a wordpress blog), pretty easy to set up. Flickr is a breeze, especially for newbs. The only problem I have found with flickr, is my inability to tear myself away from it once I get there... gah, just one more tag to search on while I'm here...

26 May 2006

Vancouver School

I just noticed today that my favorite Canadian novelist and artist, Douglas Coupland has a new book out. I little bit more browsing turned up this, and this. Nice work, I would have loved to have gone to the installation, I can almost smell the gum, wood and chalk.

24 May 2006

Ok, so now a summary of what I am trying to get off the ground in Carmarthenshire.

The Proposal

The aim is to provide creative, dynamic, integrated and innovative approach to ICT Support and Training for education in Carmarthenshire.

The proposal is ambitious, and comprises of three complementary, overlapping strands.


The Infrastructure and Technology support portal. The purpose of this is not to replace Amdro but compliment it by providing a “one stop shop” for ICT Support in Schools, by fulfilling both resource (software downloads, hints and tips, information on software and licensing) and service desk functions (helpdesk, procurement, book training or give advice).


A pilot scheme to implement a safe and supported social networking/virtual learning environment (VLE) in which users of the system can create and develop non geographical communities. It is proposed that the system be based on Elgg an open source VLE but also provide opportunities to use and evaluate the pedagogical usefulness of Blogs, Wikis, Forums, Podcasts, , RSS , Tagging, Social Bookmarking, VOIP and Chat Environments and Social Software in general.

You are here

An artist led project which is aims to provide a creative and meaningful learning context and give experience to learners of utilising a wide range of Web 2.0 tools. Teachers are also learners, and as such also have a range of learning styles and relationships to ICT. This theme echoes the Curriculum Cymreig and borrows from Common Ground’s concept of “Parish mapping”. The primary display space for this project will be an aggregation of multimedia items, drawn from the participant’s blogs and accessible to all users of the sandbox where the project will be hosted. Content creators will be encouraged to make the work available on the web.

“Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds!”
Alexander Graham Bell

10 May 2006

I'm instructable!

Over here, look! I finally dug out some old pics of me rolling a slab in college and thought that I might as well have a go at the instructable process of documenting a project. Not bad, though the network slowness meant that I had multiple copies of some of the steps that needed to be weeded out. I wouldn't have minded a spoll chocker either... minor gripes though. I would have felt much more motivated to document my work in CDT when I was in school if I had to put together something like this.

2 May 2006

So that last one got me thinking...

If crafts people are considered practicing of their craft. And teaching pedagogy is often referred to as practice, is teaching a craft? I think it shares many aspects of craft. Both are practical skills, not something mastered from a book.

I had considered Craft being analogous to Engineering but my thinking on that is changing. Engineering = practical application of Science and Craft= practical application of Art.

I was never happy with this model though, it seemed pretty clunky, and I have never been able to get behind any real difference between Scientific Enquiry or Artistic Enquiry, The differences of perception between the two are cultural/historical. I think this works better.

I think there is a real danger with ignoring the lessons that we can glean from Craft. A boldness to investigate how a thing is made, to get ones hands dirty, the patience to create, the ability to take pride in a job well done and to accept failure as a part of the process and not to give up because of it.

The Head v Heart dichotomy is historical and cultural (Knowledge v Feeling, Logic v Intuition). Aristotle inclines to see images as coming from one side of the opposition: people make them because of their wish for knowledge. Plato suspects them from coming from the other: people make them to indulge their desires - vain desires, from his point of view. (Julian Bell - What is Painting (1999)Thames and Hudson ISBN 0-500-28101-7).

My art and craft practice has always been almost a by-product of my search for knowledge, I would say that Plato's view holds the upper hand.

I like Tesla's attitude where he credits progress to the artists and rails against rigid teaching methods.

There is another feature which affords us still more satisfaction and enjoyment, and which is of still more universal interest, chiefly because of its bearing upon the welfare of mankind. Gentlemen, there is an influence which is getting strong and stronger day by day, which shows itself more and more in all departments of human activity, and influence most fruitful and beneficial —the influence of the artist. It was a happy day for the mass of humanity when the artist felt the desire of becoming a physician, an electrician, an engineer or mechanician or —a mathematician or a financier; for it was he who wrought all these wonders and grandeur we are witnessing. It was he who abolished that small, pedantic, narrow-grooved school teaching which made of an aspiring student a galley-slave, and he who allowed freedom in the choice of subject of study according to one's pleasure and inclination, and so facilitated development.
(Tesla 1897)

28 Apr 2006

TPCK - NGfL - separated at birth?

Thanks to the Narrator for putting me onto this. (I really liked your 18th April 2006 entry BTW. But then I am an aquward cuss who liked to upset the Art/Craft debate in Ceramics by insisting that they were ignoring Ceramics as a Technology)

Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK)

In Shulman’s words, this intersection contains within it, “the most regularly taught topics in one’s subject area, the most useful forms of representation of those ideas, the most powerful analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, and demonstrations - in a word, the ways of representing and formulating the subject that make it comprehensible to others” (Shulman, 1986, p. 9)

Pasted from <http://tpck.pbwiki.com/Pedagogical%20Content%20Knowledge%20(PCK)>

Technological Content Knowledge (TCK)

Teachers need to know not just the subject matter they teach, but also the manner in which the subject matter can be changed by the application of technology.

Pasted from <http://tpck.pbwiki.com/Technological%20Content%20Knowledge%20(TCK)>

Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK)

Pedagogical technology knowledge is knowledge of the existence, components and capabilities of various technologies as they are used in teaching and learning settings, and conversely, knowing how teaching might change as the result of using particular technologies. This might include an understanding that a range of tools exist for a particular task, the ability to choose a tool based on its fitness, strategies for using the tool’s affordances, and knowledge of pedagogical strategies and the ability to apply those strategies for use of technologies.

Pasted from <http://tpck.pbwiki.com/Technological%20Pedagogical%20Knowledge%20(TPK)>

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK)

Technological pedagogical content knowledge is an emergent form of knowledge that goes beyond all three components (content, pedagogy and technology). This knowledge would be different from knowledge of a disciplinary expert, or a technology expert and also from the general pedagogical knowledge shared by teachers across disciplines. TPCK is the basis of good teaching with technology, and requires an understanding of the representation of concepts using technologies; pedagogical techniques that utilize technologies in constructive ways to teach content; knowledge of what makes concepts difficult or easy to learn and how technology can help redress some of the problems students face; knowledge of students’ prior knowledge and theories of epistemology; and how technologies can be utilized to build on existing knowledge and to develop new or strengthen old epistemologies.

Thus our model of technology integration in teaching and learning argues that developing good content requires a thoughtful interweaving all three key sources of knowledge — technology, pedagogy and content. The core of our argument is that there is no single technological solution that applies for every teacher, every course, or every view of teaching. Quality teaching requires developing a nuanced understanding of the complex relationships between technology, content and pedagogy, and utilizing this understanding to develop appropriate, context specific strategies and representations. Productive technology integration in teaching needs to consider all three issues not in isolation, but rather in the complex relationships in the system defined by the three key elements.


We argue that viewing any of these components in isolation from the others represents a real disservice to good teaching.

Pasted from <http://tpck.pbwiki.com/Technological%20Pedagogical%20Content%20Knowledge%20(TPCK)>

26 Apr 2006

Enquire - Map 3

This third map focusses more on what the 'you are here' art project might include.
I see it as being pretty informal in it's approach, possibly a one day workshop to sow the seeds of confidence, get an idea of everyones baselines skills and attitudes and set up a blog etc. From there on in, I would see the project as being mostly remotley conducted, but with optional half day workshops in schools perhaps on INSET days.

Those are my initial thoughts. Any comments?

Enquire - Map 2

This map is looking more at the functions that Enquire might fulfill.

Again, I am actively soliciting comments here.

Enquire - Map 1

These next three posts are going to contain links to 3 mind maps that I have been developing. They are very much works in progress, an attempt to try and work out where we are, what we appear to want, how things might look, and what might be useful tools for teachers in a more wholistic way than we have traditionaly been.

I don't think there is anything controversial here. The only thing that may appear to some as being a little 'left field' is the idea of an art project having such a prominant role in an ICT context.

It's a bit rough and ready, being a first draft, but it's here and I invite your comments.

24 Apr 2006

the idea (part 4 - Enquire)

I needed a name for the first part of the Idea, and so I chose "Enquire" as a big tip of the hat to Tim Berners Lee (Chapter 1 page 1- Weaving the web -1999) and because the first webpage I ever made was using lines from a copy of Enquire Within Upon Everything that I had found in Hay on Wye.

"When I first began tinkering with a software program that even gave rise to the idea of the World Wide Web, I named it Enquire, short for Enquire Within upon Everything, a musty old book of Victorian advice I noticed as a child in my parents house outside London. With it's title suggestive of magic, the book served as a portal to a world of Information, everything from how to remove clothing stains to tips on investing money. Not a per analogy for the Web, but a primitive starting point.

What that first bit of enquire code led me to was something much larger, a vision encompassing the decentralized, organic, growth of ideas, technology and society. The vision I have for the Web is about anything being potentially connected to anything. It is a vision that provides us with a new freedom, and allows us to grow faster than we ever could when we were fettered by the hierarchical classification systems into which we bound our selves(?). It leaves the entirety of our previous ways of working as just one tool among many. It leaves our previous fears for the future as one set among many. And it brings the workings of society(?) closer to the workings of our minds."

the idea (part 3 - context)

ICT in schools in Carmarthenshire used to be the responsibility of the Education Department. Last year it transfered to the Resource Department. No real changes have yet been made, recommendations have been made, but funding appears to be an issue.. things grind on at an "Local Authority" pace. And after three years and one month I am still on a temporary contract with slowly ebbing patience.

A while ago I read a BECTA document called Connecting Schools, Networking People 2002. In the introduction there is a diagram of the ICT National Strategy. There are three interlinked circles, a sort of venn diagram of concepts, Infrastructure, Practice and Content. There is no overlap in the centre. This immediately struck me as wrong. Surely it would make sense in a 'connected context' to have an area of overlap in the middle of thse three interlinked concepts?

the idea (part 2 - the elephant in the room)

Before I go any further with this idea, I am going to do something deeply unfashionable and quote some feminist academics because I view the world through a feminist lens and to not bring gender into this would feel a bit like ignoring the elephant that is stood in the middle of the room that everyone else is studiously not commenting on.

I dug out one of my notebooks from 1995 yesterday for and rediscovered this quote from the preface of Mapping the Moral Domain (Gilligan et al 1988)
"Children had been asked to write essays on how to improve their city.

To the boys improving the city meant urban renewal as we generally concive it: more parks, new buildings, renovations, better streets, more lighting.

Girls however wrote about improving the city in a way the reporter found surprising. They suggested strengthening relationships between people:responding to people in need and taking action to help them."

Wheras boys viewed it as an somthing that could be solved by upgrading the infrastructure, girls were viewing it in terms of relationshipis and connectedness. This appears to be quite a significant disconnect in the two world views.

This reminded me of Du Bois writing about the concept of "double conciousness" in 1983 and "the way women inhabit the world - they are part of society, but never quite of it. Women see and think in terms of culture yet have always have another consciousness, another potental language" I have been reminded of that quote so many times over the last few years while working as a woman in ICT.

the idea (part 1 - the background)

So, for a while now I have been formulating 'the idea'. It's not really one idea but a bunch of ideas that I think could be used to improve the way we teach ICT in schools. During the last 3 years my job has taken me to every primary school in Carmarthenshire, under the auspices of my role of 'Broadband Officer'.

Two things that I have really noticed during that time are that. I rarely come across a primary school teacher who sounds confident about using a computer for anything other than wordprocessing or email. The majority of these unconfident-with-technology teachers are women. I think that this is a problem. I think we need to take action to change this state of affairs.

The number of women in IT professions is falling, much of this is caused by the culture and image of the technology as being gendered and that gender being male. This culture and images is not going to change on it's own, and having childrens first 'official' experience of ICT in a educational context being from a teacher (of either gender), unconfident in the use of ICT is likely to re-enforce the image of ICT being 'difficult'. It also widens the skills gap between teachers who are currently being trained to use ICT in project based learning contexts and teachers who may have, some years back, been given training on office programs and a couple of sessions more recently on Interactive Whiteboards. We need to find a way of narrowing that gap.

Back when I studied for my Masters Degree in 1993, I read Seymour Papert and Sherry Turkle paper on Episimological Pluralism. In it they wrote:

The computer is an expressive medium that different people can make their own in their own way. But people who want to approach the computer in a "noncanonical" style are rarely given the opportunity to do so. They are discouraged by the dominant computer culture, eloquently expressed in the ideology of the Harvard course. Like Lisa and Robin, they can pass a course or pass a test. They are not computer phobic, they don't need to stay away because of fear or panic. But they are computer reticent. They want to stay away, because the computer has come to symbolize an alien way of thinking. They learn to get by. And they learn to keep a certain distance. One of its symptoms is the language with which they neutralize the computer as they deny the possibility of using it creatively. Recall how Lisa dismissed it as "just a tool."

Looking back on it, I suppose that was one of those life changing paragraphs. I had been more than 'computer reticent' when I had been in college. I did start using an Amiga and a paint program in my final year however and found it to be a useful tool, but, but more than that, a surprisingly fun tool to use. My discovery that computers could have such things as 'spelling checkers' spurred me to seek out further computer training after the degree course.

My time on a formal computer training course in Cardiff ITeC was the most miserable learning experience I have ever undergone. That experience was still pretty fresh when I went on to MA course in Ceramics, and in the spirit of postmodern enquiry, I made it my mission to deconstruct my experiences with technology and examine the relationships between Craft, Technology and Art. That work has been ongoing since then. In 1995 Papert put the idea of a $20
0 "high performance networked portable educationally oriented computational devices" just over 10 years on the $100 laptop seems creeps towards production. This speech from 1999 about Diversity in Learning is very reminicent of another thinker whose work is gaining influence in education is Howard Gardner and his work on Multiple Intelligences.

Although there is some debate as to the actual number of intelligences that can be identified (currently about 8.5) it is largely irrelevent as the crux of his work is that everyone has a differing set of intelligences and that because, of this people learn differently. To teach a group effectively requires that the teaching style encompasses different learning styles. This suggests that his theory is now gaining wider acceptance as it is widely quoted in A Curriculum of opportunity: Developing potential into performance.

I know from my own experience that I had a positive learning experience with computers when I used the Amiga to try out different designs and colour schemes for my studio practice and that I had a thoroughly dis-empowering and grim learning experience at the training agency when I was given an entirely context free tasks to carry out. If I had experienced the negative learning experience first then I think that it would have been highly unlikely that I would have opted for a career in ICT support. Because of the contrast between the two experiences, I have since felt driven to find a better way of teaching ICT to adults who are 'computer reticent' by using a more creative approach and finding a way of implementing this.

Note to self (seeing as I keep misplacing these links):
Useful Welsh Education Links: ESTYN, BECTA andACCAC/WAG.

20 Apr 2006

no IDea

I think I am due to get a new Passport next year, but I think I will get one sooner rather than later because of this ruddy ID card nonsense. It makes me mad as a box of cats that the government is persisting with this crap and even madder that the British people seem to think it a "good idea" and that there appears to be no political opposition to it other than the house of Lords and a small campaign.

And while we are on the subject of freedoms, Lawrence Lessig, a Director of the EFF and Law Professor at Stanford has a great site that is worth checking out if you have even the remotest intrest in copyright issues. The audio of the lecture on 'Free Culture' was outstanding, but sadly it seems unavailable today, byt at least there is a transcript available.

17 Apr 2006

separated at birth

Amos Latteier's 500lb Potato Battery and Anthony Gormley's Field.

14 Apr 2006

a good friday

It's a beautiful spring day here, so we took the dogs down the local beach, Amroth. B wanted to take photos of the 'minis' (The Dave and Gary Dolls). The tide was out so we walked right to the Marros end of the beach. I have a little tip for you all. If you ever find yourself on Amroth beach, don't try walking across the brown slippery rocks in the top right hand corner of the beach. they are REALLY SLIPPERY. It wasn't at all dignified.

I found this on Digg today and thought it pretty interesting, though my jury is out over just how much fun some of the serious games would be. This demo of a multi-input touch screen is really worth checking out. And finally, I came across this crochet reef yesterday. It is stunning, but pretty sobering to read that the Great Barrier Reef may be dead in 30 years.

29 Mar 2006

in progress

I think there paintings may be finished, but I'm not sure. They might just hang around for a bit in this state for a time untill I feel inspired to finish them off with words like the recent, 'carbon, silicon, ether' set of brown signs. (I will probably post pictures of them too soon.)

3 Mar 2006

brick music

Woman's Hour on Thursday had the most bizzare story. It was an interview with a woman who played bricks as a musical instrument (Yes, bricks, big old lumps of fired clay). She talked very earnestly about the different sounds thnat bricks could make, (and demonstrated them enthusiasticaly), whether it is better to use old bricks or risk the unpredictibility of new bricks, how she *aquired* bricks (usually knicked from building sites by the sound of it, well what a shocker!) and the problems of transporting briks to gigs when one doesn't own a car.

I was still chuckling over the image of this woman struggilng around London weighed down with her mighty cast of bricks when the story then took a turn for the *beyond weird* when she started telling us how she performs in a duo with her partner who plays the dictaiton machine.

1 Mar 2006

st david's day in carmarthen

I love Carmarthen. Today, in celebration of St David's day there was a bit of a *do* on in town. There was a food fayre in St Peter's hall (local food for local people) and a *thing* on in Guildhall square.

I couldn't really get a handle on quite what was going on, there were some blokes dressed as monks with a very large banner (one of whom was clearly wearing jeans under his robes - how authentic). The mayor was there in his 'mayorial splendour' but he looked a little sour, as if it were all a little lower than his mayoral dignity. There were balloons. Many balloons, crafted into the forms of giant daffodils with a bewildering red bases. And then, there were the dancers on the stage, six young women in fishet tights and tails performing 'All that Jazz' from Chicago, despite the snow.