All posts made in Nov. 2014:

Stars Wars as a new genre

There's a new teaser trailer for next year's Star Wars movie, which reminds me: There was an opportunity Disney had when they acquired the Star Wars frachise from George Lucas...

A few years back I read Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey. It's a western, and I love westerns as movies (Once Upon a Time in the West has, I reckon, the all time best set-piece of any movie, ever), but I'd never read westerns as books.

And it turns out that Purple Sage is the ur-western. It's all there. The cowboy with the thousand yard stare; the widow in need with an inner strength; the violence; the land. It came out in 1912 and has sold over 100 million copies since. Its popularity defined the genre.

Okay so 1912. The first wagon trail along the Oregon Trail was 1836, the Gold Rush was 1849, the American Civil war was the 1860s, Billy the Kid was born in 1861 and died in 1881, the "cowboy" era of the Wild West was done by the mid 1880s.

I think once of the things that I love about westerns is that they turn the same mythology over and over again. The same characters - Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, Butch Cassidy - with the same biographies, the same geography and the same timeline - this well-known canon provides a background or structure which means that every film and every book adds depth and commentary on everything that has come before.

It amazes me that the time between the end of the era-as-fact and the beginning of the era-as-myth was maybe only 25 or 30 years... one generation.

That's what I was hoping Disney would do with Star Wars. Return of the Jedi came out in 1983; it's been about the same amount of time.

Imagine, imagine if Disney had said: Star Wars isn't a franchise, it's a genre.

The legendary galaxy, a long time ago, far far away, is well understood: What's true is what's in the Holocron continuity database.

Open the Holocron. Show everyone what's in it. Let it become history.

Then let anyone make movies and books that share the Star Wars world. Not like all those other franchises that argue about what's canon and what's not... rise above it, become a new shared set of conventions, formulas, history and myth, just like the western but for the 21st century.

So that's what I wished would happen, but we're getting Episode VII instead and a bunch more movies coming soon, set in a fictional universe the cultural ownership of which will be policed and its geology mined for the untold riches of merchandise, which is how our world works in 2014 so I can't feel disappointed, and I guess that's okay too.

Coffee morning two

tl;dr next hardware coffee morning is Thurs. 4 Dec

So the first coffee morning was fun. That was last week. Who's up for doing it again?

9.30 for a couple hours, Thursday 4th December, the Book Club in Old St.

Same as before... zero structure, people talking to people about products or hardware or burgers or hobbies. Ok so I'm saying that because I want to talk about hobbies.

I've sort of vaguely been saying to people I've met over the last week or so that there's coffee happening, so there might be a few people coming and going.

Or it might be me doing my email on my own and getting steadily over-caffeinated, which I happily do too, and if you see that happening then do come join me.

It would be lovely to see you! Don't be shy.

Filtered for minimal art and mind hacks


This technique of video magnification is stuck in my head a bit. Amplify colour to see heart beat. Amplify movement to see breathing or instability in a mechanical device.

I dunno, I dunno. I'm not sure why I keep thinking about this. What else can it be used for? My imagination goes to Ekman's microexpressions, in 1969 he theorized that facial muscles that expressed seven human emotions also created 'microexpressions' that could reveal concealment, despite the fact that these microexpressions last just 0.04 second.

Most people pick these up intuitively. But could you pipe the video of people's faces through facial recognition software, and magnify deviations from the norm in realtime, and use that to exagerate the face? Augmented reality glasses as a prosthetic for people with low EQ? Is insensitivity to the feelings of others a pathology? This opens a can of worms. The only proper vehicle to explore this is science fiction.


Look, if you're not playing Crossy Road on your iPhone already, you should be. Infinite road-crossing tap-tap game.

When I was a kid, I used to love playing Frogger on whatever home computer I had at the time, I forget which.

One day my little sister took the joystick and just jammed it forwards. No hopping right or left, no pausing for a gap in the traffic or for the log to drift. Just FORWARDS. And of course her little frog went right through the traffic right across the river and right into its home at the top of the screen.

Which ruined Frogger for me. Because then I would start the game and jam the joystick forwards, to see if I could make my frog to do too. Which it wouldn't, it was a fluke, it would die. But I would try, again and again and again.

Crossy Road is great, play Crossy Road. I'm genmon on Game Center.


I've been enjoying @rarabro on Instagram and her minimal photographs with vivid backgrounds. Beautiful colours!

In the comments of this seagull over a blue/purple gradient, @rarabro explains her method... which apps she uses and what she looks for. Interesting! Something to copy.


A quick shout out to the Mind Hacks blog... Mind Hacks was a book I wrote with Tom Stafford back in 2004. Since then, the blog has taken a life of its own.

Vaughan Bell was a lead contributor to the book, but has become the powerhouse of the blog. Between Vaughan and Tom, they've written 2.2 million words and just celebrated the blog's 10th birthday. On its most popular day, the blog had 100,000 unique readers -- two times the sales of the book ever, in a single day.

Last week, Vaughan and Tom received the British Pyschological Society's Public Engagement and Media Award, the first time a blog has won this.

I'm in awe of what they've achieved.

Last week I went to Mind Hacks - Live! that the guys put together to celebrate the blog's birthday. I think my highlight was Vaughan's and Neuroskeptic's live dramatic reading of the love scene from Susan Greenfield's 2121 which is - as Vaughan described it - a dark future where there is too much internet.

You should follow Vaughan on Twitter.

Hardware coffee morning one

Last Thursday's hardware-ish coffee morning was fun. Lovely to spend time with Tom, Charles and David, Daniel, Alex, Dan, Basil, and Ben. Thank you for coming!

Although... Too Many Dudes. Something to fix for next time.

Here's a pic of our sign to alert people that this was a Coffee Morning With Intent.

And Ben is part of Knyttan which does on-demand knitted jumpers on industrial knitting machines. Here he is wearing the test pattern, which had a lot of fans.

So, what happened? We sat round a table and people chatted with people. Zero structure, except for 5 minutes for everyone to say their names and what they're doing at moment (arcade machines, newspapers, jumpers, just interested). Plus coffee. I think everyone left at about 11. I'm not sure what everyone else discussed but I had a chat about telescopes and another about what a "minimum viable product" is in hardware, and also I found out about a hardware/making cluster at Somerset House, all of which was very enjoyable.

Conclusions. I like coffee and I like mornings and I liked chatting with everyone. There will be another! Probably next week. I'll let you know.

Filtered on 23 November


Get Your Kicks on the Route G6.

The Economist (from 2012) on China's growing network of expressways, and the culture of driving it's kicking off. Everything from service stations with rubbish shops, to the Beijing-Tibet Expressway: several thousand kilometers from Beijing, across China, then a climb up onto the Tibetian plateau itself.

You need oxygen cannisters for the altitude sickness on the drive.


Piccolo is a pocket-sized, open source drawing robot. Attach a pen and make it draw.

See also Mirobot, which is bigger and Wi-Fi connected too.


Christmas in Yiwu by Dan W. Over the summer, Dan travelled across China and by container ship following the electronics supply chain... this piece is about his visit to a vast commodity market.

I expected to find bizarre oddities but the products were all familiar. I'd seen them in pound shops and market stalls already.


In the bridges between Districts I would sometimes see counterfeit money in various currencies being sold off a blanket on the floor.

Incredible. Where shit comes from. It all reads like something Bruce Sterling might write.


I currently have my nose deep in Mike Brearley's The Art of Captaincy which is ostensibly about how to captain a cricket team, but is really all about the psychology of groups (Brearley became a psychoanalyst after retiring from cricket).

But also in the book is the concisest description of what class means in Britain.

Until 1954, every captain of England was an amateur; that is, he was not paid to play cricket. (The Latin root imples that amateurs played because of love of the game, rather than for anything so base as money.) Before the War, and for some time afterwards, the distinction was secure. Amateurs had different changing-rooms, stayed in better hotels, and emerged on to the playing area through separate gates. They stated when they were able to play, which explans why a cricketer of G.O. Allen's stature played only 146 matches for Middlesex in a career spanning twenty-six seasons. Their names were represented differently on score-cards, either as 'Mr' or with 'Esq.', or with the initials before rather than after their surnames. In 1950 Fred Titmus played his first game at Lord's. It was a fine Saturday, with a good crowd. An announcement came over the loudspeaker: 'Ladies and gentlemen, a correction to your scorecards: For "F.J. Titmus" read "Titmus, F.J.".'

[...] By no means all the amateurs in cricket were High Tories in background or style. They had simply gone on from school to Oxbridge, been good at cricket, and followed a natural route into the first-class game. (Indeed, until 1981 the Wisden 'Births and Deaths' list marked out those of us who played for Oxford or Cambridge as 'Mr'.)

That's a lot of what you need to know about this country, right there.

Filtered on 19 November


New to me: It turns out cricket standardised on six balls per over relatively recently. Test cricket used to use four balls, eight per over was used in the 1974 Ashes... it's been six since 1979/80.

I'm always curious about the things and institutions we take for granted now, and how they started.

The Football Association was founded in 1863. The Scout movement in 1907.

Or the Psychoanalytic Society in 1902 and the Macy conference (cybernetics) in 1954. Different trajectories.

The Civil Service - the 447,000 strong organisation of apolitical bureaucrats instilled with public service values that runs the UK - the Civil Service was originally created for a private company, East India Company, that trained its previously-amateur adminstrators to run its operations in India and prevent its leaders from running amok.

And somehow the East Indian Company didn't disappear but in the process of becoming Empire, flipped inside-out and now it is the state?

The founding report in 1853 gave the service its core values of integrity, propriety, objectivity and appointment on merit, able to transfer its loyalty and expertise from one elected government to the next -- and took its inspiration from what had already been done by the Chinese.

The Northcote-Trevelyan Report!


Wildcard is a new iPhone app that embodies an emerging user interface: Cards.

Cards are single units of content or functionality, presented in a concise visual format that resembles a real world playing card or postcard.

Twitter is made out of cards, once tweets become actionable (perhaps with a 'Buy Now' button).

Most of my inbox is cards, or notifications of changes to cards. Accept a Linkedin invitation. Add a recommended book to a basket. Take a meeting.

I've got some history with this, so I buy the cards paradigm.


Denim Breaker Club, from the always-interesting Hiut.


So there's this:

You are going to break our selvedge jeans in for our customers. You will have to agree to not wash them for 6 months. You will have to agree to update what you get up to in them on HistoryTag. And before you get them sent to you have pay a small deposit, which we will refund on their safe return. When we get them back, we will expertly wash them. And then we will sell these beautiful jeans. You will have 20% of the sale.

And there's this:

Will this reduce the carbon footprint of a jean? What will ownership look like in the future? Does trust still matter?

Good grief these folks are good. I'm watching closely, what an incredible petri dish for the future of products.


I've always thought of GPS as being like a bunch of satellites that broadcasts the grid of very fine graph paper across the whole world. Then we can see the grid and count our way across it.

Andrei Derevianko is mining 15 years of historic GPS data to look for anomalies.

It turns out the universe might have fracture lines across it, folds along which the mass of an electron is different from the norm. If these lines exist, the solar system would pass over them as it orbits round the galactic core; it would take 170 seconds for the anomaly to move across the GPS network.

That's what Derevianko is looking for.

Hardware coffee morning

tl;dr let's hang out this Thurs. and chat hardware

I think it was the week before last, I had just got back from holiday, and I had three meetings with hardware startups, all wanting to talk through what they were doing, and each at a different stage. Some of what we were talking about was startup stuff - like, what to do first - and some was technical (what code should run where?) - and most of it was, you know, let's just chat through this.

It was fun for me for a couple of reasons. First because there is a hardware boom in London and that's exciting. There are some great hardware-focused meetups, and some good semi-private communities, but I find the chitter-chatter especially enjoyable. The second reason is that, with Berg gradually taking less of my time, I find myself (a) wanting to lend a hand, even in a small way, to people getting going with products and hardware etc; and (b) missing hanging round smart people with that particular bent and learning from them.

I guess that's one of the things I love about hardware and the Internet of Things and all that nonsense. You can go from embedded software to supply chain via character design in a single conversation, and that appeals to my Attention Gadabout Disorder.

So what I'm saying is, we should see more of each other.

Coffee mornings

I'm inspired by Russell Davies' coffee mornings that he did for a year or two back in 2006/7. A regular spot, an open door, and a good crowd. Let's do it!

9.30am till whenever, Thursday 20th, The Book Club.

(3 days from now.)

I'm a bit of a morning person, sorry about that.

No agenda except coffee and hanging out. But if you're into hardware (making or manufacture), Internet of Things, knitting, shops, China, sending stuff through the post, so on and so forth, please feel particularly welcome. Tom's coming along, it'd be lovely to see you too. If it's fun we'll do it again.

Filtered on 14 November


All Cameras are Police Cameras by James Bridle, the first of a series of reports from The Nor, an investigation into paranoia, electromagnetism, and infrastructure.

All about the Third London Wall, one made not out of stone or checkpoints but bits, electrons and radio waves.

Full of good meaty stuff like this: Surveillance images are all "before" images, in the sense of "before and after". The "after" might be anything [...]

But - I don't know - something about power and whatever-comes-after-matter. Paranoia too, that's a fucking massive looming ocean that we can't even tell we're in. I'm glad James is looking, I hope he can see it and tell us.


Two images on Twitter I liked.

Second most common languages in the 30-something London boroughs, being: Punjabi, Gujurati, Polish, Turkish, Urdu, Spanish, Portugeuse, Arabic, Bengali, French, Tamil, Nepalese, and Lithuanian. Why I love London.

That comet we [humanity] just landed on, 30 light minutes away, called either comet 67P or Churyumov-Gerasimenko... here's the comet comped over a city. It's either really big or really small, I'm not sure which.

I was just trying to describe why I liked this so much. Frontiers. Because we should be mining the Moon and populating the Asteroid Belt.

The Little Prince.

China called its Moon rover Jade Rabbit which sadly didn't rove as much as hoped. When its battery died, the announcement was made in the voice of Jade Rabbit itself: Although I should've gone to bed this morning, my masters discovered something abnormal with my mechanical control system ... Nevertheless, I'm aware that I might not survive this lunar night.


I'm thinking a bunch about how to best help startups. Paul Miller and Jessica Stacey wrote Good Incubation, a report on how to incubate specifically social ventures. (Paul runs Bethnal Green Ventures, a London startup accelerator that focuses on social good and has done everything from 3D printed prosthetics for kids, to a smartphone with an ethical supply chain.)

Conventionally a startup's progress is measured by revenue, traction, funding, etc.

Part II of the report puts forward a way of seeing startups by their primary challenge, and therefore how they can be most helpfully supported.

There are five archetypes:

  • Team Formers
  • Proposition Seekers
  • Customer Hunters
  • Model Clarifiers
  • Scalers

For each, the report points out its needs and common pitfalls.


Toba Boca, genius makers of smartphone toys for kids, have released a gentle, gorgeous woodland snowglobe called Toca Nature.

It doesn't persist, you re-make your world each time you play. You don't raise and lower the land, you make lakes for beavers and mountains for wolves. You make little discoveries. You don't look up at the sky, you look into the forest.

I've always been taken by the Wood Between the Worlds in the Narnia books. A transitional forest outside time and space, in the gaps between the eleven worlds. A quiet woodland pond for each world, step into it and--



Maybe I should be adopting Michael Sippey's low-pressure philosophy for 'filtered': I used to blog; I haven't in a while. I miss it. So this is trying something new, without the daily pressure of a capital B Blog, or the content pressure of a the capital E Essay. Start a new draft post on Monday, dump things in it over the week, rewrite and cull along the way, what’s left gets published on Friday. Let’s see how long I keep this up.

Low-pressure filtering? Cold brew blogging.

It's a philosophy that seems to be working.


Long read on The Knowledge from the New York Times Style magazine. the Knowledge is the examination taken by black cab drivers in London... deep knowledge of 25,000 streets and everything on them.

Fascinating how revision works and how the test works. Revision: A series of 320 runs across central London that you rehearse by crossing on a motorbike and taking notes. The test: Verbal, over many months, increasing in complexity and frequency. There is no such thing as "failing" the Knowledge. You can either quit, or persevere and pass.


An Interview with Stanley Kubrick by Joseph Gelmis, 1969. I referenced Kubrick and 2001 a ton at my Web Directions talk (video online soon apparently). Two favourite quotes:

Actually, film operates on a level much closer to music and to painting than to the printed word, and, of course, movies present the opportunity to convey complex concepts and abstractions without the traditional reliance on words. I think that 2001, like music, succeeds in short-circuiting the rigid surface cultural blocks that shackle our consciousness to narrowly limited areas of experience and is able to cut directly through to areas of emotional comprehension.


One of the things we were trying to convey in this part of the film is the reality of a world populated -- as ours soon will be -- by machine entities who have as much, or more, intelligence as human beings, and who have the same emotional potentialities in their personalities as human beings. We wanted to stimulate people to think what it would be like to share a planet with such creatures.


A Ranking of All 118 Sweaters Seen on Twin Peaks.


Slideshow here.

Tap tap

Hello. Hello? Is this thing on?

I was at a conference last week and the closing speaker, Tobias, ended his presentation by saying I'm Sorry instead of Thank You.

I liked that. I'm sorry. Hello.