Monthly Archives: September 2013

I knew Wist and I would be fairly geeky on our holiday in Italy, but visiting two Leonardo Da Vinci exhibitions couldn’t have been predicted.

Here’s the summation of the first one…

Firstly – Leonardo and his machines.

This exhibition was full of working examples of LDV’s sketches and inventions.
It was great to see some of them up close, and it was a nice intro to LDVs sketchbooks.
Here’s just some of them…

– The Cam Hammer

– The jack

– The gearshift

– The floodlight

– Ball bearings

– The autolock mechanism

– Arched bridge

– Vertical drill

– Helicoidal-thread screw gearing

– Continuous motion to alternate motion

– Bicycle

– Aerial screw

– Hang glider

– Flapping wing machine

– Flying machine

– Clinometer

– Water skis…

– Column lifter

– Excavating machine

One talented man.

The second exhibition for Leonardo Da Vinci was at Gallerie dell’Accademia.

52 of his drawings were on display. Essentially they were doodles.
But the most impressive doodles I’ve ever seen.
His work with human form was insane.

And perhaps his most famous piece of the work on the human form.
There was a fair bit of horse and battle pictures – amazingly detailed for such throwaway notebook sketches.

And geometry, machines and buildings too…

The shading and light on every picture is incredible. These are particularly impressive.

Amazingly – they also had some initial sketches of The Last Supper at the exhibition.
Truly incredible exhibition.

We headed to the outskirts of Modena to Acetaia di Giorgio – one of the few remaining traditional balsamic vinegar producers in Italy.

We assembled in the garden of the house with several other curious minds and waited for the tour to begin.
The tour started and we climbed several flights of stairs to the side of the house, into the attic.
There, Giovanna talked to us about how balsamic is produced, how to tell if a balsamic vinegar is traditional and about some of the awards that their vinegar has won over the years.

Barrels are organised into batteries. A battery generally consists of between 4-6 normal barrels and 1 mother barrel.

Each battery will produce around 2-4 litres of balsamic vinegar a year.
Not much at all… So they cram the attic with as many batteries as possible.
It also explains why it’s referred to as black gold…
The batteries work in quite a wonderous way.
Each barrel has an open top (covered with a doily) allowing alcohol to evaporate from the vinegar.
The volume in each barrel therefore reduces.
The smallest barrel (number 5) is used to siphon off the vinegar into bottles.
The barrel next to it (number 4) has to top up whatever is taken for bottles, plus whatever has evaporated from number 5.
Barrel number 3 has to top up what has evaporated from number 4 and what has been taken from number 4 to refill number 5.
Barrel number 2 has to top up what has evaporated from number 3, plus what was used to top up barrel number 4.
And then the mother barrel tops up number 2, to account for evaporation and what has been lost to fill up number 3.
The mother barrel is filled up from a different mother barrel entirely.
Only manufacturers of traditional balsamic vinegar can bottle their vinegar in this shaped bottle.
If you receive any vinegar in a different shape, it’s not traditional.
Traditional also seems to be a pretty closed loop now.
Modena City Hall judges every vinegar manufacturer each year – to determine whether they should be a member of the  Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena consortium.
It’s an exclusive club, and for that reason it’s effin’ expensive to buy too!
There was even a nice thank you note from the Obamas displayed near the entrance.
Really well worth the visit if ever you’re in Modena.

Whilst in Modena, we took the time to visit the Ferrari museum.
The museum itself is based on the grounds of Enzo Ferrari’s old house.

It’s had a substantial overhaul in the last few years, and the new museum buildings are quite striking.

Like many of the great people I’ve learnt about in museums over the last few months, Enzo was fanatic about keepings scrapbooks and diaries.
I loved what was written in the cabinet containing his diaries:
“There were references that only he could understand. Phrases, timetables, personal details: Enzo Ferrari’s personal diary guarded a whole world, it was like a king’s treasure chest. An iron will emerges between the lines, the force of an ideal that was never abandoned. And it was no coincidence that, folded between the pages filled with notes, Ferrari kept an Italian flag. Italy was present in every gesture. His native land. And also his deepest motivation.”

Ferrari convinced his own mother to sell their family home to buy several cars, which he converted for racing. In 1929, his company Scuderia Ferrari was born – backed by Alfa Romeo.

Ferrari would often hold his company strategy meetings in his ‘Error museum’ – a room full of parts that had given way during races.

He had the most beautiful fountain pen.

And the coolest glasses in the world.

If I’m honest, most of the museum was a bit too tech-spec heavy for my liking – you really had to know your cars to get into it.
But considering petrolheads must make the pilgrimage from all across the globe to the site, it’s not too surprising really.


A couple of weeks ago I went to my first dConstruct conference.
It’s a brilliant one day event full of clever people talking about new technology and how it will affect people, culture and the world around us.

This year, the theme was Communicating with Machines.
The theme was pretty loose, and most people didn’t actually talk all that much about it – but there was some interesting IoT nuggets.

Here’s a quick synopsis of what I remember from the talks.
They’ll be online shortly I’m sure, so you can listen to all of the really important bits that I’ve forgotten…

First up – AMBER CASE, a cyborg anthropologist. Started Geoloqi.
Defined a Cyborg as ‘anything that attaches external appendages to themselves to deal with new spaces.’
Talked a lot about a really interesting guy called Steve Mann, who started experimenting with wearable technology in the 1980s. (Interestingly, one of the things he pioneered was ‘diminished reality’, not augmented reality, where billboards etc are cancelled out by the technology – and instead display useful things like ‘remember milk’ and ‘your bus is 2 mins late’)

By 1998 he had his tech down to the size of sunglasses.
But creating ‘input’ was always the issue. Increasingly difficult to break away from the mouse.
We’ve gone from solid buttons (blackberry style) to liquid buttons (iPhone style)… Perhaps next, buttons in air? Problems being battery drain and privacy.

She went on to suggest that calm technology might be next in line. Processes that happen in the background, ambient notifications etc. Essentially, there when you need it and not when you don’t.
Geoloqi started to experiment with location based ambient notifications. Leaving messages around the city, which could then be picked up when you were in that area. Messages such as ‘This bridge is 40 years old’ or ‘My mates and I are in class writing you this message.’

Wikipedia has GPS Coordinates on wikipedia – these could even line up to where you are.
‘Don’t Eat That’ – an app that shows location based results on restaurant inspection scores.
Location based tech could work as part of home automation. E.g House could say hello when you arrive. Could let you know hyper-local weather trends (e.g when to head out for a bike ride.) Could let you know when your next bus will arrive.

Interesting testing procedure when developing tech. Rather than pay lots of people to run all over town, instead created a real world Pacman game. People ran all over the city because they WANTED to, and allowed them to test their tech.

And if we have location data, then what about if we correlated that with food data, stress data, who I’m with data, time of day data, productivity data, happiness data, ambient noise data, amount of sleep data etc? The quantified self.

The hardest bit about all of this will be getting platform owners and fragmented data sets to work together. Who will do it? Google? Apple? Microsoft?

The best tech will probably be invisible.
It will also probably help take things that are already invisible, and make them visible. e.g Harvard Happiness Challenge – did experiment where rated happiness every half an hour. Worked out that she wasn’t happy at work. So quit.

All devices should be aiming to make us superhumans.

Luke’s talk was perhaps the slickest animated keynote I’ve ever seen.

He talked about infinite inputs (interesting topic considering Ambers data sets above.)
He talked about how in his lifetime he’s had mouse-mac, clickwheel-iPod and touchscreen-iPhone.
Each time a new imput has come out, there’s been new interactions to learn from a developer point of view.
And it takes AGES to learn again…

Usually you can’t just adapt what you already have (look at the generic desktop calendar widget on a mobile phone vs Google Mobile Flight tracker.’
Or Amazon desktop store, vs Amazon mobile store, vs Amazon Flow (simply take a picture of something you want and it scans through Amazon and finds it for you.)

We’ve had accelerometer inputs, magnetometer inputs and we now have full 9 axis motion and orientation sensing.

Inputs are becoming hugely advanced. Samsung ‘Smart-stay’ used the front facing camera, and checks to see if you’re looking at the screen. If you’re not looking, it pauses whatever is on (e.g Youtube) until you look back.
Google glass even has the beginnings of a bone transducer for sound.

Where next?
Disney Imagineering Touche project? Perhaps.
Capacitive touch sensitive. Objects like a table can suddenly sense whether there’s an arm, or a hand, or two hands, or two arms on it. A doorknob can tell whether it’s been grasped or just touched etc.
So soon everything will be an input.
And what then. Well, we’ll have to start learning a little bit faster!

NICOLE SULLIVAN talked about trolling.
Tenuous link to communicating with machines I think – more communicating via machines – and unfortunately I didn’t make too many notes in this one.

She talked about there being different types of troll: jealous troll, grammar nazi, biased troll and scary troll.

Interestingly she also talked about something Project Implicit, run by Harvard at
Well worth a look.

SIMONE REBAUDENGO was up next, and talked about the Secret Lives of Connected Products.

He used a line I’d heard previously from John Lasseter, about how ‘a products main goal is to be used.’
And suggested perhaps this might mean peer pressure could develop between products.
He then showed his toaster project, which was great.
The toaster handle is very cute.
It’s also extremely competitive – picking its workplace depending upon the number of people there, what the space is like, whether there are any other toasters in the vicinity etc.
The toaster can tweet to try and drum up toasters from the office, or get excited when someone comes close.
It can even decide to leave if it’s not used enough.
It’s quite an interesting concept when a person doesn’t demonstrate their buying power with a product, but instead demonstrates their keeping power.
Essentially Simone was saying that connected products shouldn’t just be connected. Instead we need to start looking at the relationships between connected products. And by doing so, we’ve got a much better chance of making sense of it all.
Lunchtime came around and we got to have a play with some of the things in the foyer.
The Happiness machine (an internet connected printer that prints random happy thoughts from across the internet) and the Noisy Table (a ping pong table that makes sounds and music as it’s played) were great.
And then I popped off to Brighton Pier for some fish and chips.
After lunch, we had the delights of SARAH ANGLISS.
Sarah is a musician – using physical, automated and digital instruments to make her music.
She talked a bit about the Uncanny Valley – an interesting phenomenon that shows as machines etc get closer to looking like humans, we stop being empathetic and start fearing them.
She also talked about how some of us are obsessed with the uncanny – audiophiles are continually chasing musical nirvana, and are always one piece of kit away. They want a perfect copy of what was recorded.
I found it really interesting when she talked about infrasonic sound – tones that are so low that you feel it rather than hear it. Often used in church organs etc – it can often make you feel ‘at one with the music’ and ‘absorbed.’ Fascinating.
I can’t remember exactly why, but she also talked about the Italian Castrati – singers that were castrated before coming of age, to preserve their vocal range. Weirdly it also messed with their hormones and they generally grew to be very tall, very slim and very good looking.
She finished with one of her own compositions – very ethereal.
KEREN ELAZARI talked about hackers and hacking.
She referenced Arthur C Clarkes three laws at the start of her talk.
I love the third one… ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ by Arthur C Clarke.
The second one is equally brilliant: ‘the only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.’
She talked about the Singularity University, which brings people together from all over the globe to use technology for good.
And a little bit about hackers and the hacker manifesto.
MACIEJ CEGLOWSKI was a hilarious speaker.
He talked about fan fiction – one of the main customer bases on his site Pinboard.
It’s a genuinely hilarious talk and well worth searching out.
He stuck up for fans, because they a)  are SO NICE b) fight censorship c) fight for privacy d) never sold out e) transgress  f) improve our culture
And he shared some top tips for developing.
The first of which was ‘Social is not a syrup.’ You can’t just add it on the top.
In fact, it’s not even a noun.
The second was that ‘You shouldn’t make it too easy’. His pet theory is around commenting. If you make it sufficiently difficult to comment, then you only get the people that are actually interested commenting.
The third was ‘Stop futzing with it’. Too true.
And the fourth was ‘Shut up and listen’. When developing Pinboard, he started a google document for potential users to write down any functionality that they’re like to see. In the end… he had a 53 page document. But it allowed him to work out what was most important to people.
DAN WILLIAMS spoke about the ramifications of communicating with machines everywhere.
Particularly vehement about Scenetap – a camera on the door of every club that records venue demographics (num of girls, boys, potential economic class etc.)
He found it shocking because it doesn’t offer an opt-out.
Apple stores are the same – camera as you enter.
In fact cameras are everywhere.
And under the data protection act, you can legally request the video images of yourself.
Which has given birth to the brilliant Manifesto for CCTV Filmakers.
He also spoke about the new recycling bins in the city, which have had an amazing scope creep.
First they were bins, then they were advertising sites, now they actually watch people walking past and can track them all along the street. The annoying bit being of course that they don’t function well as a bin!
Essentially it comes down to how we find ways of explaining with regards to data collection – as currently it’s just not happening.
Finally then, ADAM BUXTON spoke.
He was genuinely hilarious.
He talked about how twitter is like acid – it magnifies your personality.
And talked about his history with technology.
I think it’s worth rooting out the video to watch his presentation – as he used the slides brilliantly as a counterpoint to what he’s saying.
And that’s it. Looking forward to next year!

Back in June, I set out on doing a number of ’24’ challenges.
Of which one was 24 films.

Well it’s not really working without a solid list, so I’ve decided to change slightly and instead work through 24 film classics that I’ve never seen before.

I’m slightly embarassed I’ve gone through life without seeing any of the films below, so hopefully this challenge will put that right.

Here’s that list:

1. American Beauty
2. The Birds
3. The Empire Strikes Back
4. The Fog
5. The Godfather
6. King Kong
7. Up
8. Zorro
9. The Shawshank Redemption
10. Goodfellas
11. Se7en
12. The Usual Suspects
13. Casablanca
14. It’s A Wonderful Life
15. Reservoir Dogs
16. Singin’ In The Rain
17. Some Like It Hot
18. The Graduate
19. The Untouchables
20. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
21. Memento
22. Donnie Darko
23. Fargo
24. A Clockwork Orange

And in between writing the list and getting it online, I’ve already seen two…

1. American Beauty
2. The Birds
3. The Empire Strikes Back
4. The Fog
5. The Godfather
6. King Kong
7. Up
8. Zorro
9. The Shawshank Redemption
10. Goodfellas
11. Se7en
12. The Usual Suspects
13. Casablanca
14. It’s A Wonderful Life
15. Reservoir Dogs
16. Singin’ In The Rain
17. Some Like It Hot
18. The Graduate
19. The Untouchables
20. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
21. Memento
22. Donnie Darko
23. Fargo
24. A Clockwork Orange

It seems a bit futile ‘reviewing’ these films. They’re been reviewed enough already.
So I’ll think of something different to do with them once I’ve watched them.

Soph and I popped along to the Gruffalo exhibition a few weekends ago.
(Yes, there was a child in tow – it wasn’t just us being weird.)

Julia Donaldson’s work was cute, but the thing that I really fell in love with was the work of her illustrators, particularly Axel Scheffler.

Axel’s creative process and his relationship with his editor really interested me.
Here’s a snippet written by him:

I did the initial drawings of the Gruffalo in my sketchbook one afternoon. When I showed them to my editor she said the monster was too scary, so I softened him. At first I gave the mouse clothes, German lederhosen, but I changed that. I found the forest backdrop a bit of a struggle, perhaps because I am a perfections or perhaps because I used up all of my green and brown pens on the trees.

Here’s an early proof from the follow up to the Gruffalo, the Gruffalo’s Child.

And here’s one from Tabby McTat, followed by the finished proof.

I think this letter from his editor is a pretty decent example of how to give feedback to an artist.
Quite interesting.

And again, quite interesting to see the notes and feedback on the front cover of the book Monkey Puzzle.
(Note the switch in order of Axel and Julia’s name from the proof to the final edition…)

A couple of illustrators really stuck out for me.

David Roberts work was brilliantly odd.

Lydia Monks also really stuck out.
I really love her technique – using photographs of real materials to fill certain parts of the image.
I think the ram in particular is a nice touch.

The art of propaganda is not telling lies but rather seeking the truth you require and giving it mixed up with some truths the audience wants to hear. R. Crossman

The word ‘Propaganda’ has its origins in the word propagate – used in reference to the dissemination of beliefs and doctrine in the Catholic church in the 17th century.

When you enter the exhibition, you’re greeted by a 1949 propaganda instructional video.
Some of the techniques mentioned include:

Glittering generalities
Name calling
Card Stacking
Plain folks
and… Band wagon.

Glittering generalities is such a brilliant phrase.

There’s some interesting examples from the wars.
Here’s a book that Germany published in the US in 1915 to discourage America from entering World War 1 on the British side.

Britain had its own propaganda experts.
I’d never heard of Lord Northcliffe before the exhibition, but he owned The Times, The Daily Mail and a number of other papers before and during World War 1.
When you consider this was an age before television, radio or the internet – you can understand the overwhelming power that one man had over public opinion.
He wrote a number of propaganda ‘maxims’ as a guide for the Committee on Enemy Propaganda.
Here’s some of them:
  • Useless material is worse than no material.
  • Undigested material is no material.
  • Overlapping with propaganda in neutral countries, Austria and Turkey, is unavoidable. No energy need be wasted therefore in trying to avoid it. Go to your objective by any route.
  • What can be done by open means must not be done by occult means. What can be done by normal methods must not be done by special agents.
  • Lies are the least effective form of propaganda. The effect of a lie diminishes and the effect of a frank statement increases with the square of the time that has ensued after it has been told.
  • Propaganda that looks like propaganda is third rate propaganda.
  • Never shove your propaganda to a conclusion he can reach unaided.
  • Unless men are very ill or very uncomfortable, they resist fears and welcome hopes. The human mind dismisses fears and accepts and even invents hope with all its strength. Propaganda that merely threatens achieves nothing unless it holds out hopes also.
  • No man will blame himself if there is anyone else to blame. Never blame your propagandee. Blame his Government, blame his leaders. Never blame ‘the German’ or ‘Germany’. Indignation with others is the natural state of man.
  • For the purpose of propaganda in germany at any rate, the German is a brave, honest, orderly, clean, able, good-hearted man, gentle matured and cultured but scandalously misled; he was, in Switzerland, the first republican in Europe; he flourishes in the republics of America; Tacitus witnesses to his virtuous and democratic past; and the Anglo-Saxons, the Franks and Lozbards were all Germanic peoples.

This picture shows Mao as a young man, striding to single-handedly win victory to the 1922 miners’ strike in Anyuan. It’s believed to be the most reproduced painting anywhere in the world, with more than 900 million copies made.

There are a number of interesting propaganda techniques used in the image.
Clouds: the clouds part with the arrival of Mao, suggesting a better, brighter future for China.
Lone figure: Mao is the sole deliverer of revolution.
Clothes: Mao wears plain clothes – implying he’s a man of the people.
Clenched fists: showing Mao’s determination to succeed.
Umbrella: Showing extensive travel in all weathers.

You may know the poster campaign ‘Dig for Victory’ – but it took many forms, including the Potato Pete cartoon.

Amazing to learn that the US army was issued with playing cards featuring prominent members of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
A really nice solution – considering the amount of card games that are probably played whilst waiting for action.

I thought this was also quite an interesting game.
A board game designed to encourage children to drink milk by the Milk Marketing Board, a UK government agency established in 1933 to control milk production and distribution.