Thursday, June 29, 2006

alphaphot review, part two

ou've had the dry statistics about the Alphaphot project - now for the conclusions.

A drawback of using images as drop caps is that my posts all have the first letter missing when read in an RSS feeder. Personally, I don't see that as a big problem. I've set Blogger to send the full post as a feed rather than just the first few words, so people can get the sense of what I've written. Anyway, according to Feedburner, there is still only one person subscribing to the RSS feed from my blog so far and that's me, for test purposes.

On the plus side, I've not come across anyone else doing this, which in a place as big as the web is quite amazing, but then, since it is such a big place, maybe I just haven't found them yet.

Most of the time I refrain from tweaking images in Photoshop other than simple crops and boosting the contrast to compensate for the flaws in my phone's camera. Sometimes I adjust the sharpness and saturation to make the letter clearer, and occasionally I rotate the images slightly.

The big question is: has the Alphaphot project changed the way I take photographs? Well, it has when I'm specifically taking photographs for the project, but I have to remind myself to look for relevant images.

This evening, for example, I was down at the allotment watering plants when a hot air balloon flew low overhead. I realised only as it was floating away that it would have made an excellent letter. On my recent trip to Southport, I brought only one drop cap image, probably because I was busy concentrating on work. The image really stood out for me at the time, though it's hard to see why when looking at it now.

I suppose my conclusion is that it's good to force myself to look at things in a different way, so I will continue with it, but perhaps I need a new project as well. Something brief, perhaps. A theme to work on. Any suggestions, anyone?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

giving back just a little

This bee was lying on the kitchen floor yesterday, seemingly exhausted, possibly because it was a cool day. Lisa gave it some honey on a teaspoon, and eventually it flew away.

Technically, this is a very poor photograph. There was little light in the early evening and I was using a 300mm telephoto lens (on a macro setting) with a maximum aperture of 5.6, so the exposure was 1/6 of a second. I used a tripod, but couldn't find my cable release in time, so there is still some camera shake. I also failed to spot that the camera was still set at a low resolution and small file size from the stopmotion animation workshops a couple of weeks ago. All in all, a poor effort, and I've had to sharpen the image in Photoshop far more than I would like.

The experience has taught me an obvious but valuable photographic lesson - be prepared at all times - but I wanted to share the image despite its flaws.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

old fashioned values

ot that long ago, most houses in Britain didn't have an indoor toilet. This was partly the result of large quantities of low-quality terraced housing built before 1914. Most of this housing stock has now either been extended to include a bathroom or demolished. There have been waves of such demolition, alternating with refurbishment. Sometimes the refurbishement costs more than the resulting housing is worth, and sometimes the destruction of established communities is realised to be a hidden cost.

Justification for the current phase of demolition, at least in Stoke-on-Trent, is that people no longer want terraced housing. They skip over the traditional first rung on the housing ladder and go straight to a modern suburban semi-detached house. This means that it is not worthwhile for owners of the terraced property to invest in the maintenance of their houses so the buildings are left to deteriorate. It is then uneconomic for government intervention to refurbish, and so they are cleared.

Given the ridiculous increase in house prices, however, which are still on the rise in this part of the country at least, it won't be long before first time buyers will wish that there was still that traditional first rung.

None of the above is new or original. What's brought it to mind, though, is the replacement of the bathroom suite in our terraced house this week. The task took twice as long as expected, due to various complications from the age of the house (lathe and plaster walls, old and no-longer-standard floorboards etc).

We were therefore lucky that by some quirk there are two feeds from the mains water supply, so we at least had cold water in the kitchen sink while the work was carried out. Jason the plumber worked well in the adverse conditions, but Lisa decided to clear out the junk stored in the outside toilet and restore it to working order.

The old coat of whitewash is flaking off the walls, and many surprised and probably offended spiders had to move out, but I'm glad that we've had this brief reminder of what life must have been like for many people for many years - no light, no heat, no sink. I'm also glad it's not the middle of winter.

Friday, June 23, 2006

unlikely sculptures

s a bit of light relief after the previous post, how about trying to get your head around some painstakingly intricate carvings? First up, there are the Japanese pencils. How could anyone have the skill and patience to do this?

Secondly, there are the seemingly impossible metal convolutions and infinite loops of Bathseba Grossman. Thankfully, she provides an explanation of the technique, which involves three-dimensional printing.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

if never alive, then not dead

ore4 is showing a series of "taboo-breaking" programmes on death this week, which I have been avoiding. In comparison, the Dead Puppet Show is not macabre at all, though at other times it might be.

The parallels with humans are explicit, but the final connections are in the viewer's mind, not in the images themselves. I suggest that, when given the option, you select 'follow the trail' to see the short version with captions. At the end, you will be able to see all of the images.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

alphaphot review, part one

he Alphaphot project started in November 2005. That was the task I set myself to try to look at things around me in a different way. I also wanted to try a quick and dirty alternative to photography, rather than spend hours adjusting and tweaking images in Photoshop. Now that I've been using the results as drop caps in this blog for over six months, it seems appropriate to review the project.

Thoughts of a review started when I found myself unable to start blog posts with particular words because I didn't have any images of the required letters. It seemed ridiculous to allow the images to dictate the words, and I began to wonder whether the idea had run its course.

I'm sure you won't be interested in the detailed statistics, so here's a quick summary. So far, I have a total of 200 images, of which I have used 85, although occasionally through absent-mindedness and a couple of times through desperation, I have used a few images more than once.

Admittedly, of the unused images, seven are for the letter 'Q" and eight are for 'U' which I have never yet used as initial letters, while I have very few for some of the more common ones, so the distribution is uneven. The most common initial letters in my posts are 'I' and 'T', so recently I've been concentrating on finding more of these.

I'm surprised how easy it can be to see letters in everyday objects, though I still have to make a conscious decision to look for them. I also find that the attitude I need for taking 'proper' photographs automatically excludes the search for letters. There is definitely a limit, however, to what can be found, so remembering to look when visiting new places is now essential if I'm to continue with the Alphaphot project.

(to be continued - perhaps)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


tumble Upon has been expanding recently. I've been using it to look round the Web to see what's been going on while I've been concentrating on other things, and the range of sites it covers seems to have grown enormously in the past few months. It used to offer up same sites over and over again, but now there are very few repetitions.

In amongst all the dross and stuff that I'm not interested in, I've found a couple of intruiging games. Firstly, the telescope game. Initially, the site I found coyly refused to say where the game was from, but after you solve the first fifteen levels, it takes you to the website for Dyson vacuum cleaners where you can download the whole thing and try many more levels.

Secondly, there's a marble in a maze game, but the twist is that you have to manouever several marbles simultaneously to the targets, which means you have to trap some ball in corners so that they don't move while others do.

Finally, there is peculiar Godtower, where you have to interpret cryptic clues to discover passwords. I've been keeping hold of for a while because although there are apparently many levels and hidden levels to this, plus a whole second game, I'm embarassed to say that it took me a long time even to get past the first level. Now on Level 12, I've managed to access some of the preceding levels only through hints provided on message boards elsewhere. Still, it's completely different from anything else around. Can you do any better?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

animation workshops

'm back. The project I've been working on for the last week was organising and running some workshops for pupils at Churchtown Primary School in Southport as part of an Arts Week.

There are thirty pupils in each class, and although the school is far better equipped than many others (with Apple Mac computers rather than PCs - hurrah!), lack of time and space made the workshops particularly difficult. Nevertheless, the pupils were all enthusiastic (verging on boisterous, but that's OK - it was the end of an exciting activity-filled week) as well as polite and well-behaved, and the staff were all welcoming and helpful, so it was a pleasure to work there.

Two Year 3 classes used Comic Life, a programme to create comics from drawings and photographs, and three Year 6 classes used iPhoto and iMovie (two parts of iLife which comes as standard with Mac computers) to create slideshows and stop-motion animation.

I based all of the activities around photographs I'd taken on the envoronment, the theme of the Arts Week, and the pupils seemed suprised that they were my images rather than downloaded from the Internet.

The image of Chloe the cat seemed particularly popular. Many of the younger children added speech bubbles, while a lot of the older ones added transformations that made him look even fatter than he already is. One girl apologised profusely when a transformation between two images got stuck part way through, substituting the top of foxglove for the top of the cat's head.

The only element I failed to get across to the pupils, despite repeating it many times, was how little movement is required between frames of an animation. I'll have to think about how to improve this next time. Still, they all seemed to enjoy it and soon got the grasp of the software, so they should be able to make further attempts another time.

Monday, June 12, 2006

stuff going on

ver the last ten days, it's been too hot to do much more during the day than the absolute essentials, and my evenings are usually spent down at the allotment, watering and weeding. As a result, I've given little thought to this blog recently.

Another reason, however, is that I've been working on something exciting for later on this week, and it's occupied a lot of my thinking time. I'll let you know how I get on, but I'm unlikely to post anything more at least until the weekend.

Thursday, June 08, 2006 links (continued)

mong the sites I wrote about in the previous post, there seems to be a common threshold. If a site can somehow slowly clamber up to having about twenty links to it, then the number of links starts to increase significantly. And how do sites reach that magic number? I don't know - this blog crawled from 0 to 2 after one week then stayed resolutely at that level ever since.

I've tried adding a link at the end of my e-mails (not to everyone - I didn't drag my work e-mails into this), and I've tried leaving comments on other people's blogs (both popular and unknown ones) in the hope that they would reciprocate, like what they saw then add a bookmark.

There are obvious flaws in this approach. I only tagged a few of the blogs I discovered at random and I didn't tell the authors that I had done so. Perhaps it would have encouraged other people if had done so. More fundamentally, perhaps the people I left comments with don't use Is it sufficiently widespread to warrant the drawing of conclusions?

Perhaps the answer is to develop a focus for the blog, so that people interested in that particular focus would consider it worthwhile to make return visits. That focus might be a topic (like the Animation Archive or Puppet Vision) or it might be a style of writing (like little red boat or Johnny B's private secret diary).

But I don't want to change the way I write, just for the possibility of increasing readership, even though that would be encouraging. At least I've got two links, which is two more than one of Scotlands' principal newspapers.

Monday, June 05, 2006

web 2.0 part ix

recently submitted my final (apart from the End of Year show) college assignment, an essay for the Research Techniques module. I'd chosen to adopt an on-going study of the potential implications for designers of Web 2.0.

I've posted about this topic at infrequent intervals (Web 2.0, doing my bit for Web 2.0, the benefits of an RSS feeder, more on RSS, further thoughts on RSS, the good and not-so-good of Web 2.0, becoming a geek, and I'll tag the high road), and, indeed, I included these excerpts from my blog as an appendix to the essay.

If I'd written this post about my conclusions earlier, I could have included it as well, but the assessors may read it anyway if they choose to look at this blog. By voluntarily opening up my blog to them, I'm contributing, in a very small way, to what I see as a future phase of the Web, but that's the subject of another post.

So what did I discover about Web 2.0?

Let's start with For six months, I kept a weekly record (well, most weeks, except towards the end when I became distracted by other assignments) of the number of other people linking to sites I had bookmarked as favourites using - 79 sites in total by the end of the process.

In the vast majority of cases (61), the number of links increased, usually steadily and often by significant amounts every week. The highest percentage increase was the Guardian's Technology site, which jumped from 10 to 66 links, while the highest absolute increase was the Web Developers' Handbook, leaping from 3,483 to 9,337.

17 of the remaining 18 sites stayed at 0. Only 1 site ended the survey with fewer links than at the start, and that was a decrease of only one, though six sites peaked then declined slightly.

This was by no means a statistically valid test, but it would be interesting to do this sort of thing again then run some statistical analysis to see if there is an underlying pattern.

To be continued (possibly).

Sunday, June 04, 2006

brian in bath

nnoyingly, I missed the second part of the recent interview with Brian Eno on BBC Radio 6, both live and on the Web. I managed to remember, however, the recording on Radio 3 of his performance with pianist Joanna MacGregor and Bath Camerata in the Bath Music Festival. You can listen to it on the Web for the next few days.

Brian laughs nervously a lot, and says right at the start of the programme that he doesn't like performing, but it's an interesting mix of pieces, actively defying people to like everything. The two new pieces by Brian weren't to my taste, but the rest were enjoyable, especially the choir.

The live performance of two parts of Music for Airports was particularly intruiging, since it was originally produced by overlaid tape loops of different lengths rather than by musicians. In this version, members of the Bath Camerata were arranged in groups throughout Bath Cathedral, each listening to a CD, and they sang when 'triggered' by their own CD.

The concert ends with a beautiful piece of choral work by Thomas Tallis.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

promises, promises

should learn not to promise that I'll write about something specific here. My previous entry ended with the declaration that I would write about my experience of handling bees, and ever since, I've been struggling with what is probably the hardest post I've tried to compose so far.

I don't understand why I should find it so difficult. It's not as if handling bees was an unpleasant experience - quite the opposite. It wasn't an intensely private or personal experience either.

My only suggestion is that the contrast with the complicated discussion in the classroom, especially the video on rearing queen bees, was so strong that it feels beyond words. Not much use, I know. Sorry. Perhaps when I've more experience of handling bees I'll return to the topic.