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Blog posts from March 2012

Friday links

It’s Friday, and this is being hastily penned after a particularly good Friday Demos, so here we go!

Alice linked to this explanation of Sim City’s new simulation engine.

Alex has been having fun with Flixel, and sent us all this image.

Denise sent us all a link to this, simply saying “The sound of the Internet. Lovely piece by Giles”.

I sent a link through to yet another amazing Boston Dynamics robot in the making.

Matt Jones linked to a PBS article which details where News Corp makes its money, which also ties in nicely with the recent Panorama documentary on Pay TV hacking in the UK.

Where does News Corp generate its money?

We’re wrapping things up in the studio after an impromptu Youtube party, and are off for a well deserved pint. Have a good weekend!

Week 355

It’s a relatively quiet week, with a number of people out of the studio either engaged on client work, or simply working remotely. Those of us here have continued to bask in the sunshine streaming though our gigantic roof windows.

Andy has been chasing suppliers, partners and manufacturers, as well as working with me on joining up computer code with actual electrons in wires. I’ve cryptically written the phrase “COCO POPS” next to his name in my notebook, but what that means is anyone’s guess. Tuesday feels like such a long time ago.

Alex, James and Alice have all been splitting their efforts between Chuska and Little Printer. Within LP, Alex is working on website and packaging designs, James is bringing the website designs to life, and Alice is implementing interfaces that will enable us to maintain all the aspects of BERG Cloud in good order.

Helen is balancing the straight-forward world of tax payments with the exciting, nondeterministic world of predicting when invoices get paid, allowing us to avert problems before they’ve even happened.

Denise is also working on LP packaging, as well as some super secret design work which she’ll reveal at a later point in time.

Timo is working on project Silverton from an undisclosed location deep in the Italian countryside, and his occasional instagrams are making us all very jealous.

Matt Jones, Matt Webb and Joe are out of the studio, working on the newly initiated project Sinawava, and Simon and Vanessa have been writing proposals for future studio work. Good future grist for our studio mill.

Lastly, I’ve been writing cryptographic hashing functions, and enjoying a tiny lemon meringue pie sold by our favorite purveyor of caffeinated beverages, Giddy Up Coffee. If you find yourself in the Old Street area of London, I highly recommend them!

Walk the Marianas Trench!

Hearty congratulations to James Cameron on reaching the bottom of the ocean at the Marianas Trench.

If you’re not a millionaire film director with cutting-edge tech, then you can still experience the extreme distance he travelled with the site we developed with the BBC,

The walk from our studio

Enter your postcode and get an idea of how far the bottom of the Marianas Trench is from where you live… or even better, calculate a route to take a walk that’s the same distance as James Cameron travelled in his submersible!

In other Marianas Trench news… A Canadian band that goes by that name has a lead guitarist named Matt Webb…

Thursday Links

I am going for a bike ride in Kent tomorrow, so this is the state of my inbox as of the end of Thursday.

Timo shares “Warriors of the Net” -a video from the 1990’s that I am pretty sure I watched in an ICT lesson at school. It is probably the root cause of my deep seated fear of sysadmin, and anything lower down the TCP/IP stack than the application layer. Leave that stuff to the neck beards, I say. I do wish BERG videos had more gravel toned voice overs though.

It also has this natty website:

Timo also shared Robin Sloan’s Fish. I had to borrow an iPhone to experience this, but it was well worth it. A lovely and thought provoking thing.

Stamen’s maps were also all over the web this week. Most impressive is the watercolour view, but I also really like the toner view.

Timo (again) shared this video from Nature and MIT about seeing round corners with lazers.

Denise shared these brilliant stereographic drawings:

Denise also shared this story about an author who has written software to automate writing sports reports. This is both pretty impressive AND gives me a great idea for Friday Links…

Week 354

Happy equinox! As the summer approaches and the sun appears more each day, patches of light are cast down through the skylights into the studio. Currently the light illuminates just the north wall and the table, meaning I was able to bask in it during our weekly meeting.

Following the requisite discussion of what the number 354 means, including some eye-rolling from me about how much time Mathematicians seem to spend finding and naming patterns in numbers that are seemingly of zero consequence, we proceed with what everyone is up to this week.

James, Alex and I are working on Chuska, a four week run at a short brief with sketches in code, and a lab notes style approach to working. We are also continuing work on Little Printer and BERG Cloud.

Matthew is focussing on business development.

Nick is writing software for Little Printer. I’m not sure I can be any more informative than that or the Infosec police will come for me in the night.

Andy is doing an awful lot, all Little Printer related. Chasing colour sheets to send to China, technical files for certification (Little Printer has some exams to sit), paper testing, spending time looking at Gantt charts with Simon, quotes, bombs, stepper motors.

Timo is rezzing concepts with Joe for Silverton. They are sat on the sofa right now chuckling and looking at gadgets that might be real things or might be models, I can’t tell from here. Timo is also completing some video sketches, and continuing his quest for the sales Steak Knife set.

Simon is massaging the starts of some projects and then ends of others. He is also managing Little Printer and our time around that.

Helen has finished a record stint of cake buying. There have been four birthdays in four weeks, each requiring a cake. This week she is helping Simon with POs and NDAs and setting up various profiles and passwords for our new team member.

Denise is doing a little project with Matt Jones, working with Tim on some Uinta stuff and managing all of the enquiries and comments we get from the many people whose attention Little Printer has grabbed.

Matt Jones is overseeing Chuska, working with Denise, doing some bits and pieces on Silverton and some preparation for Sinawava.

So that’s week 354.

Sunday links: CNC bots, parallel lines and Terry Wogan

From Nick, piccolo, the tiny CNC bot:

Piccolo the tiny CNC-bot from diatom studio on Vimeo.

From Denise, Dog Ear, a new publication on a bookmark by Fallon:

Dog Ear, by Fallon

From Alex, Synchromy – an animation by Norman McLaren from 1971 created by using an optical film printer:

From Timo, Intersections in the age of driverless cars. This gave me the willies.

Matt Jones shared this picture of a Hydroelectricity Plant, which reminded me of John Glen-era Bond movies:

Hydroelectricity Plant

James, like the rest of us, really like the new design of Fix My Street, especially the way it scales for different sizes of devices. Check out what needs doing near our studio.

From Jack, reaDIYmate – build an internet-connected thing in 10 minutes:

Shouts to @alruii for sharing Terry Wogan’s Secret Pirate Radio, brainchild of the marvellous Peter Serafinowicz:

Foxes and owls

Some more lovely character sketches by Denise for our Lamotte project, following on from her bears, sloths and rabbits…

More lovely character sketches by Denise

Week 353

It’s 4:55pm on Wednesday, and this is my most frequent type of view on Week 353 – the week calendar. Most of what we’re up to is here. With all the minutiae removed, I wonder if it’s possible to guess who is who?

It just so happens that a number of client projects have recently finished or are wrapping up at the moment, at much the same time, and several new ones are kicking off. The processes around getting everything in place to start & finish are numerous and I’m running through my checklists to make sure everything is set up correctly. Helen’s been doing similar, arranging travel and keeping the finances in check.

Matt Jones, Timo and Joe are all involved in a kick-off workshop for Silverton this week and our clients are here with us. Today we can just about hear animated conversation coming from our meeting room. It’s the first time we’ve run a workshop in our new studio space, which we’ve well and truly settled into now. Matt Webb has been involved in this a bit too, alongside writing proposals for upcoming projects, making decisions about Little Printer and bringing delicious curry to the studio for lunch.

Alex has been furthering the packaging design for Little Printer, as well as producing assets for the next iteration of the remote site ready to be built. He’s also going to be leading a new project, Chuska, in the coming weeks with Alice and James, who are also working on publications and infrastructure for Little Printer and BERG Cloud. They’ve also been out and about filming with Timo for Lamotte, and making toast at 5pm, which makes the whole studio a bit peckish.

Denise has been drawing owls and foxes for Lamotte (for Timo, who will be making them fly) and generally steering the design and content of Little Printer.

When Andy isn’t strong-arming the studio into drinking coffee or eating doughnuts, he’s overseeing the tooling and production of the various parts that go into the physical Little Printer, tweaking electronics, ordering parts and lining up all the hoops we’ll be jumping through en-route to announcing pre-orders. He’s also been shouting numbers and letters that I don’t fully understand across the studio to Nick who’s been working fervently on immediate tweaks to the lower-level software on Little Printer, and working with Phil on the remaining functionality we want to implement.

Jack and Kari are both missed, although occasionally pictures of tiny humans who look a little like them are sent around the studio.

Last but not least, please let it be known that the number 353 is a double sexy prime – that is, the numbers which are six away on either side (347 and 359) are also primes. Ooh-err.

Notes on videophones in film

(It’s good at the beginning of projects to research what’s come before, and Joe is pretty spectacular at finding references and explaining what’s interesting about each one. He’s done this for a few projects now, but we’ve never made his research public. Last year Joe put together a set of appearances of videophones in film. It’s a lovely collection, and it was a stimulating way to think around the subject! So I asked him to share it here. -Matt W)

Metropolis (1927)

Features wall-mounted analogue videophone. Joh Fredersen appears to use four separate dials to arrive at the correct frequency for the call. Two assign the correct call location and two smaller ones provide fine video tuning. He then picks up a phone receiver with one hand and uses the other to tap a rhythm on a panel that is relayed to the other phone and displayed as flashes of light to attract attention.

Transatlantic Tunnel (1935)

Features two very different pieces of industrial design at either end of the call.

This device displays similarities to the form of a TV set…

And this one has been designed to appear more like furniture. The screen is low down in a self-contained wooden unit designed a seated caller.

Out of the Unknown (1965)

User’s own image is reflected back to them until a connection is made. Possibly to confirm that the camera is working correctly. The hexagonal screen is an extension of a mobile chair.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A public booth containing a large phone unit. The system communicates that it is in a ‘ready’ state through the screen. A call is made by entering a number into the type-pad and a connection established on pickup

Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)

We see five or six openly shared phones and connected screens sitting on a desk in the White House.

It is apparent that a single video feed can be broadcast to multiple screens in parallel, as below, or exclusively to a single one.

Space: 1999 (1975-1977)

The monotone blue phone screen has been designed into the very architecture of the craft.

And here requiring a key to connect.

Blade Runner (1982)

An outdoor, public phone service. Network information is displayed on screen implying that it is subject to change. When Deckard begins to dial a ‘transmitting’ notification appears. The cost of the call is shown when the receiver line is closed.

The screen is used as a canvas, covered in scrawled messages. A cross indicates the optimal position for viewer’s head.

Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Marty McFly is contacted by Needles his coworker. The video feed features personal information about the person in view, favourite drinks and hobbies.

Real-time message input can be expressed as video overlays.

Or push print-outs.

When not in use the screen displays a Van Gogh self portrait.

The Jetsons (1962-1988)

Videophones throughout the series. Rather than command desk space they lower from the ceiling when required. They appear to come with either a handset or microphone.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Circular screen set into a square frame emerging from a pillar unit.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

Shows a AT&T VideoPhone 2500 prototype with space for hand written addresses. When the video feed is lost the system defaults to a voice exchange through the handset.

Star Trek Nemesis (2002)

Pop-up screen set into the desk. Appears when call is received. Only visible when required.

The Rock (1996)

One way video stream displayed on multiple, wall inset screens.

The Simpsons: Lisa’s Wedding (1995)

A “Picturephone” uses a rotary dial to make calls. A camera housed in the device is distinctly visible in a trapezium above the screen. Set in the future, the device seems to be a new invention that Marge isn’t quite used to yet, as she visibly crosses her fingers guaranteeing that Homer will behave at the forthcoming wedding.

Moon (2009)

Ruggedised video phone for use in zero gravity. No function available for hiding outgoing video stream is evident as Sam Bell uses his hand to cover the camera.

And finally… the super cut of all of them

Watch the videophones supercut on Vimeo.

Week 352

There is a general sense of curiosity held by the people who work in this room.

It’s evident through the sheer volume of web links exchanged each week.
Some of these fall away quickly but others gather such traction that they live on for days as a sort of rolling cultural Katamari Demacy.

Tracing lines back through these threads imparts individual preoccupations and quietly reveals the collective interests of the studio.

So, here are a few things that people have been up to and what’s captured their attention in week 352.

Andy has been chasing up sizeable quantities of power adapters and continued to receive ‘proof of life’ for atoms in constellations of his design. You can read more about this intriguing image at:

He also sent around the output of a collaboration between visuals artists Memo Akten and Quayola.

These animations are described on as ‘a study of the relationship between the human body and movement’ rendered through abstract 3d forms. This prompted a discussion about the visual queues required to convey a sense of human movement. Matthew discussed the conflicts and payoffs between 2d and 3d. And Timo highlighted the capacity for the simple lines and dots of ‘motion capture’ to create hugely characterful movements. “There’s a magic about seeing human movement in the simplest of forms, like this.” (examples below).

Denise spent time designing characters for a forthcoming animation that plays a part in a project for Uinta. And readying an exciting proposal for a potential client.

She forwarded this little poem to the group:

And the beautiful Clouds project by Amsterdam based Berndnaut Smilde. This sparked some conversational speculation on the possibility of channeling this into the design of consumer electronics.

Then, of course, the inevitable question of whether we could keep a cloud as a studio pet cropped up. It’s yet to be answered.

James, the impenetrable logic dynamo and fashion maverick, has spent the week sculpting code and sharing some splendidly weird links.

First up, this animated gif of a chirpy chap spotted in a couple of eggs, which I looked at for way too long.

He also suggested that if Jack were to design an album sleeve it might look something link this:

Timo prepared the Silverton workshop for next Tuesday and managed to find time to write an excellent blog post with Nick entitled: ‘Swiping Through Cinema, Touching Through Glass’. (Read it here:
He’s also been filming and editing for Uinta and Chaco projects with Oran.

He shared this NASA image from the March 6. A “Multiple-wavelength View of X5.4 Solar Flare”.

And also this slice of optical motion capture processing (mentioned above)

Helen spent the week coordinating with different parties to ensure ongoing organisational legitimacy and defend the studio against exposure to fire or other catastrophes.

Alice, the Little Printer whisperer, has managed to convince the the device to send and receive picture messages. I now have My Little Pony and Power Puff Girls receipts on my desk.
Her other major triumph this week has been to discover an image of Rihanna throwing up ribbons. On loop.

Nick can usually be found lurking in the Linux mines. Or Tooting.
He sent around a link to the ‘Freescale Mechatronics Robot’ coupled with the message, “Anyone fancy a walking development board? Now with added ‘face’.”

And a project by Fay McCaul concerned with “….embedding reflective material into cotton yarn and using fibre optics and iridescent acrylic to create unconventional materials” (more info: Fay McCaul.)

Jones stands upon stilts, like a shepherd of the Landes, extending his field of vision for a string of sales meetings, workshops and presentations.

He’s also been very active on the mailing list.

The new iPad app from

A PhD research project making AI that can design, evaluate and develop entire video-games.

Spacewalking helmet, fully loaded: 3 videocams, old lights and new LEDs, plus nose pad to clear ears inside.

From a tweet by chris hadfield!/Cmdr_Hadfield/status/177375221437833216

Wearable projector makes any surface interactive by Hrvoje Benko of Microsoft Research.

And evidence of tool use in bears.

Alex spent much of the week fusing artistry with pragmatism to find fitting ways to present the LP systems architecture to the user.
He’s also been hyperactive on the studio mailing list, in a very good way.

Starting with ‘Fresh Guacamole’ in which the director, PES, ‘transforms familiar objects into fresh guacamole’.

The stunning stunts of Jorian Ponomareff.

He also pointed out a post by Stephen Wolfram on his attitude towards the quantified self.

“One day I’m sure everyone will routinely collect all sorts of data about themselves. But because I’ve been interested in data for a very long time, I started doing this long ago. I actually assumed lots of other people were doing it too, but apparently they were not. And so now I have what is probably one of the world’s largest collections of personal data.”

A new supermarket scanner that recognises food by it’s colour and shape, no barcodes needed.

LEGO Space Shuttle Launched Into The Stratosphere.

And finally the latest DARPA robot named ‘Cheetah’ sets speed record for legged robots.

Simon is the gravity to which all projects are subject. Involved in everything to some degree.

This week he described the similarities and differences between Channel 4’s new service …,-4seven

and the BERG project Shownar:

He also showed everyone the Dollar Shave Club website which features one of the finest corporate videos I’ve seen in recent memory (which admittedly doesn’t say much, but it is very good).

Webb distinguishes scale from perspective in a series of sales and logistical meetings. He and Jones presented the outcome of the Kletting project to Uinta and he generally mans the helm of this good ship.

In response to Andy’s post about ‘Form’ he wrote this: “A 2d animation can do anything at all. When you watch this …”

“It mimics a 3d scene, like a live-action movie, but it’s not 3d: it’s constructed to look awesome to the viewer. Micky’s ears exist outside the 3d world, they exist entirely for the viewer and the screen, you can’t even imagine what they might look like to anyone else in the frame, they transcend the world of the cartoon.”

“But when you watch a Pixar movie – a 2d render of a 3d scene – or this thing, the magic of the moving screen is replaced by a view into a world which has to obey the physics of the 3d. Its potential is somehow made smaller. It exists independently from me, and so somehow there’s less room for it to explode into magic.”

In other dispatches, he notified people of the Microsoft holoreflector project to which Alex pointed out that the typing position is under and behind the display. It was agreed that this is Odd! Neat!

And excitedly sent around the Sim City announce trailer:

Finally, I have been feeling somewhat under the weather and a tad delirious. But you’ve probably noticed that.

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