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.