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Blog posts from August 2011

Friday Links

It’s Friday, just after 4pm; It must be time for links!

First up –

Eindhoven’s Bart Hess, explores and applies a number of video techniques from time slicing to the utterly captivating, if not slightly nauseating, motion stabilisation.

Stabalise Motion from bart hess on Vimeo.

Jerry’s Map, has been steadily gathering views on Vimeo after 2 years, brought to our attention by @infovore it sensitively tells a story of an extraordinary endeavour which sits between collage and world building.

Jerry’s Map from Jerry Gretzinger on Vimeo.

An altogether different imagining of a world came through from a bldgblog post describing Simone Ferracina’s Theriomorphous Cyborg project, courtesy of Jones.

Alex picked up on this visualisation of the increasing variety of colours in the Crayola palette from 1903-2010 …

… while also scaring us all with a bit of downward scrolling terror (with sound).

There was a little unpacking of Laptops and Looms of which Denise and I attended all, and some respectively last week. It was a 3 day experiment/conference summed up by Paul Miller and decompressed by Rachel Coldicutt. In addition to the talks it was also an amazing chance to visit some parts of the British Industrial Past while discussing it’s potential future.

Happy (Bank Holiday in the UK) Weekend.

What’s in the trough, 2011?

The Gartner Hype Cycle 2011 came out a month or so ago. We like studying the cycle for ’emerging technologies’, even if just to gather other perspectives on the technologies we are working with. Mining the trough of disillusionment is an interesting means of interpreting the near-future of connected products.

Postscapes points out that Big data, Gamification and the Internet of things all debut on the list on their way to the peak of inflated expectations.

In the trough of disillusionment for 2011 are QR codes (antiflage!), Cloud/web platforms, E-book readers, Virtual worlds and Mesh networks. An exciting bunch of things to be building with!

What are the hopeful monsters of 2011?

Week 324

Another Harshad number.

The weather can’t decide if it’s on holiday or not. Some of the studio can. Nick is enjoying some very well earned time away following a stint of work on Uinta and a cracking Friday demo of the latest Weminuche manoeuvres. That leaves Alice and James valiantly coding to great effect. I may even have seen a fist bump as items literally drop off the todo wall.

Work on Barringer is gaining greater momentum as Alex’s beautiful graphic directions are being chosen, Denise’s AIs unpacked, provisional tools commissioned, part numbers accumulated, circuits checked, unboxing explored.

Jones, Kari and Simon are all out from the end of the week. This means there’s a reasonable amount of prepping for the smooth running of the studio in their absence. On the whole though, it’s nice to have a room which isn’t so crowded. It feels like there’s a bit more space for some of the smaller, quicker projects simmering away too: Timo and Jack conspiring with Jones. Timo also keeps hinting that he’s working on a blog post…

Matthew, following on from the high of the cricket result, is continuing to interrogate information architectures, talk with lawyers and accountants, in addition to the ongoing search for a larger studio space.

All. Good. Stuff.

“That wasn’t planned originally…”

45 years ago, Lunar Orbiter 1 took our first picture of home.


…at some point during the Lunar Orbiter 1’s mission, NASA contemplated pointing the spacecraft’s camera at Earth.

“That wasn’t planned originally,” said Williams. “That only came up after the mission was already in operation.”

Williams said that repositioning the satellite was a high risk maneuver. “If you turned the spacecraft maybe it wouldn’t turn back again. You don’t want to mess with a working spacecraft if you don’t have to.”

But there was a debate about whether they should even attempt this at all. In the end, Williams said that NASA decided it wanted the picture, and would not blame anyone if something went wrong during the repositioning maneuver.

So on August 23, the spacecraft successfully took a photo of an earthrise, the blue planet rising above the moon’s horizon.

Image credits: NASA, and thanks to @arielwaldman for pointing the anniversary out…

Friday Links

Last weekend we were looking at a pioneering ’50s Synthesizer that was unearthed in a French barn. The photo above reminded us of Norman McLaren’s early experimental films where he not only scratched the animation directly onto celluloid, but created the soundtrack by scratching the optical track too.

In order to create music on the Oram, a composer painted waveforms directly onto 35mm film strips which were fed into the machine. Inside, photo-electronic cells read the light pattern and interpreted it as sound.

Lovely! It was built by Daphne Oram in 1957, a year before she co-founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Alice Bartlett unearthed this uncanny movie of ‘Swarmanoid’ modular robots that specialise in ‘manipulating objects and climbing, some in moving on the ground and transporting objects, and some in flying and observing the environment from above‘. Amazing to watch these little beings adapt around our human environments. In similar territory, we’re monitoring the development in drone technology, including the ‘Raven‘, a military drone that is somewhat like a model airplane that fits in a backpack. “At its simplest, a Raven acts as a flying pair of binoculars that can look over the next hill”. Fast, cheap and out of control.

Many in the studio have been experimenting with (and like Chris Heathcote giving up on) Tiny Tower with its tiny, AI-driven version of Facebook. James Darling has been experimenting with other forms of software-generated social avatars with Weavrs, discovering that his mutant creation is a bit of an arse. The studio is very much enjoying the astutely-observed impersonation that is Peter Molyneux 2, especially his comments on the rumours of pico-projectors in next-gen consoles.

A recently unearthed Apple patent for “schematic maps” reminded us very strongly of Linedrive research from Siggraph back in 2001 and of course of Walking Papers by Michal Migurski.

Bill Buxton’s collection of 30 years of UIs and devices is great, via @kaeru.

We’re enjoying Charlie Stross on the next 50 years of security, which is actually a brilliant bit of general near-futurism on the security implications of Shannon’s limit, energy, lifelogging, DIY genomics and democracy:

From being an afterthought or a luxury – relevant only to the tiny fraction of people with accounts on time-sharing systems in the 1970s – security is pushed down the pyramid of needs until it’s important to all of us. Because it’s no longer about our property, physical or intellectual, or about authentication: it’s about our actual identity as physical human beings.

From Matt Jones, news that IBM is creating chips based on the human brain, battling the Von Neumann Bottleneck with neurosynaptic chips, where ‘the integrated memory is represented by synapses, computation by neurons and communication by axons‘. This apparently is aimed towards our sensor heavy future:

“If today’s computers are left brained, rational and sequential then cognitive computing is intuitive and right-brained and slow, but the two together can become the future of our civilization’s computing stack.”

Matt Jones also discovered this visual essay about the design of displays in Star Wars films. Dan O’Bannon and Bob Greenberg created realistic computer simulations and displays with traditional rostrum animation methods inspired by Douglas Trumbull, and went on to collaborate with Larry Cuba on vector-based computer graphics.

The highly credible look of these displays went on to influence other simulated computer systems and displays in films like Alien and Blade Runner. These tropes are still clearly visible in cinema today, over 40 years later. An incredible legacy that Dan O’Bannon should be proud of.

Loosely related: the quiet despair of the Starship Enterprise (via Khoi Vinh).

Just as Matt Webb returned from the Worldships conference at the Interplanetary Society, Nick Ludlam discovered that SpaceX has been given permission to start flights up to the International Space Station. Perhaps there is hope in spaceflight yet.

We’re still not sure if we agree with the analysis, but the Meat to Math Ratio is an interesting provocation:

“In a data-driven world, the true measure of any organization, from a regional government to a global conglomerate, is its meat-to-math ratio. This sounds like a cold statement, saying machines are better than people. That’s not the point here: machines are better with people, and companies that can’t augment their employees with data and tools, that cling to antiquated ideas like broadcast, and that can’t turn their data exhaust into insight and innovation, are doomed.”

Via @janchipchase is this $80 Android phone from Huawei, which, although suffering from limited memory and battery-life problems, is apparently selling very well in Kenya. Making the OLPC look less like a failure and more like a mistake in product category.

A cinema-furniture hybrid, this Inception Chair by Vivian Chiu has ‘hand-cut grooves that notch inside each other, securely connecting them together but making it easy to disassemble‘.

Alex Jarvis found this Gorgeous furniture by Rupert Blanchard (via @LukeScheybeler) who only uses “broken, discarded and odd drawers that no longer have a carcass” and sets himself a rule “to only use objects that no longer fulfil the purpose for which they were originally created.

And finally brilliant long-exposure photography from the front of trains, incredible how three-dimensional these images feel.

Week 323

It’s mid-August and BERG’s entire studio is in action. However, this week the main room is almost empty, a third of the studio is off-site in a hotel suite running workshops, two more are hidden away in other parts of the building, working up scripts and new projects. For such a busy week, it feels unusually airy, spacious and studious.

As the week begins, James Darling makes sure the entire studio is aware of the current week number by updating BERG’s internal signage system.

Matt Jones takes charge of the whiteboard during a workshop with project Uinta. Jones has developed a specialist technique for unpeeling post-it notes that makes sure they adhere to surfaces for the duration of the workshop. He does not take kindly to post-it misuse.

Alice Bartlett sits behind a wall designed to shield her work from prying eyes, with only a small square opening for light and conversation. She is writing code for project Weminuche.

Nick Ludlam tidies up post-it notes for the workshop with project Uinta. The concepts involve technology projections for 2013 and the workshop is at the stage where they are discussing shoes for pigeons.

Andy Huntington, just returned from holiday, sets up the Roland milling machine for its week of making components for various prototypes.

Denise Wilton discusses progress in the information architecture around the huge project pinboard for Weminuche and Barringer.

Alex Jarvis sketches out the identity for project Barringer and Weminuche in pencil in his sketchbook before developing designs on-screen.

Jack Schulze and Timo Arnall fight the noise of the milling machine whilst on a teleconference with Stockholm, discussing the outline of new projects.

Joe Malia uses a whiteboard for quick storyboard sketching during the workshop for project Uinta.

Kari Stewart is in the middle of the studio, quietly managing the flow of inputs and outputs.

Matt Webb juggles the facilitation of the workshop on project Uinta while managing his Tiny Tower, in a process that could be described as ‘continuous partial research’.

This week sees regular collaborators Durrell Bishop and Tom Hulbert from Luckybite in the studio, here gathered around prototypes, discussing the next iteration of design work for project Chaco.

Simon Pearson could not be featured due to a sudden bout of fever. We all wish him a speedy recovery!

BERG in Icon #99

We’re happy to report the work of the studio is featured in Icon #99 out this month, with an eight page piece written by deputy editor Will Wiles.


It’s in an issue focussing on Artificial Intelligence that also has a great article by our friend James Bridle on the architecture and psychogeography of server farms…

My favourite thing is the picture of (nearly) all of us on the steps behind the studio…


The cover however, has deployed the latest in anti-theft technology, by featuring three exhausted, stubbly ne’er-do-wells staring out at you…



Friday links

Last time I wrote Friday Links, a few weeks ago, I was suffering from a serious fish finger sandwich lethargy. This memory, which maybe now permenantly entwined with my Friday Links experience, is making me really want a fish finger sandwich again. Luckily, its Friday, and I have a can of Lech Premium. Almost as good.

The first link I’m sharing is a website dedicated to robot art. This came from Timo. When I first saw this, I thought it was going to be a site of art created by robots. Some people think that art cannot be created by robots, that art requires some deeper intellectual thought that can’t (yet) be recreated artificially. I think these people might consider that in this context the robot is just an extension of it’s creator (who is not a robot) and so any art the robot creates is actually the product of the creator.

Anyway, this site isn’t robots doing art, it’s art doing robots:

robot art




Alex supplies our next link, this very lovely project from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

This table has a little “mole” living in it, which moves around and can be hooked up to a depth sensor to interact with people. The video explores the possibility of playing games using the mole to move objects around, and interacting with the mole itself.


Matt Jones sent round the astonishing KinectFusion project, which uses a Kinect to map a room. As well as mapping the room in time with the user moving the Kinect around it, the video also shows what happens when you throw a little particle system into the mix, at round 4.00 there is a really impressive augmented reality ‘explosion’.

Really nice stuff.


Bit more art now, this time from Denise.


Created by environmental design group Eness, MÖBIUS is a sculpture comissioned by the city of Melbourne that was photographed and animated over two weeks in May 2011. The piece consists of 21 green triangles that can be configured into several cyclical patterns creating the optical illusion of motion. This is a really fantastic example of public artwork, as the individuals who interact with the space inevitably become part of the art itself.


MÖBIUS from ENESS on Vimeo.


And thats all my links. Have a good weekend all.

Simon – a much overdue welcome

There’s one person in the studio who hasn’t had a welcome post on the blog, and that’s Simon.

So let’s pretend it’s still the beginning of June: I am super pleased to announce that we have been joined by Simon Pearson!

Simon, aged 27 and three quarters

We’ve never had a dedicated person to run projects before and honestly, nobody in the studio knew what to expect. How would it work? Would it help? Would we get on?

Simon couldn’t be a better fit. On his first day, he brought Haribo in for everyone, and we’re total suckers for that. And at home he’s plumbing electronics into a piano to make light from music, and that’s just brilliant.

Part of his remit at work is to invent a kind of “BERG way” to run projects. Over the last two months he’s been doing that, growing gradually into managing pretty much every project and coaching the rest of us on how to do projects better, and become generally and happily indispensable. I genuinely can’t remember him not being here, which is a sign of how much he’s become part of the studio.

Hello Simon!

Week 322

It’s week 322 here at BERG, and I have been left in charge of weeknotes.

322 has a sort of interesting Wikipedia page, under the “Technology” header it says:

 “The first dependable representation of a horse rider with paired stirrups was found in China in a Jin Dynasty tomb.”

Looking at the page for the number 322, we find that unlike last weeks notably boring entry, 322 is actually quite good. The sort of number you would be pleased to find seated at your table at a wedding. Of course 322 would be too modest to tell you all at once, but as the Wikipedia entry points out:

 “322 is a sphenicnontotientuntouchablehashard number. It is also seen as a Skull and Bones reference of power”

Keeping these facts in mind, what is the everyone up to this week?

Alex and Matt Jones are planning Uinita. This involves conference calls and Alex saying “yeahhhh, brilliant” a lot. Alex is also continuing with Barry work and mending his busted shoulder. As Alex shares bits of Barry design for us all to ponder, I look around Statham, which is papered in drawings and work taking shape, and think how brilliant it is that I get to work here.

Denise is continuing with Barry, steering the project and working through the tiny details of how everything happens with James.

Along with talking through the difficult stuff with Denise,  James is also planning the next Barry sprint with Simon, and continuing to code on Barry. James also has a new pair two new pairs of trousers, which I am very pleased to see.

This week Simon has his project managing fingers in many pies; Chaco, BBC Dimensions 1 and 2, Barry and continuing to roll along the SVK reprint.

Joe is on Suwappu phase 2, and working with Nick on making.

Jack is working on Suwappu and overseeing the continuing work on Barry.

Timo is writing proposals and working on Chaco sketching with Matt Jones.

Matthew Webb is touching many different projects, in the way he does. Guiding the direction of things at a very high level as well as getting down into the decisions about atoms that crop up. He is also doing ‘finances’ which I am unable to explain further, though I suspect it’s paperwork.

Kari is also on the finance admin, apparently the second week of the month is always finance admin heavy. She’s also doing the housework involved with the end of the financial year, which probably means more paperwork.

Nick is working on the technical side of Barry with James and I, as well as starting the technical tippy tappy on Suwappu 2, following Joe’s designs.

And that concludes my very first week notes. What say you, internet? week notes? or weak notes?

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