Whither halfblog.net?

Visitors to this blog may notice that the domain is now foomandoonian.wordpress.com and not halfblog.net as they were expecting (and as advertised in the banner above).

halfblog.net

The glory days

Quite simply, I don’t blog here that much any more, so when it came time to renew my WordPress.com Premium package, I decided to save the $99. For now at least. As I write this on the 21st of October my Premium subscription is still active, though technically it expired on the 20th.

This also means that my fancy custom CSS tweaks will disappear. I think WP.com are pretty good at handling redirects, so inbound links should be unaffected. In addition I’ve turned WordAds back on because (despite a gradual decline as my blogging slowed down) this site still gets a healthy amount of traffic to some key posts.

halfblog.net traffic stats

My plan — for those who care — is to eventually revamp my geoff.at blog and import the content from here into that. But that’s a big project and I don’t have the time or inclination right now. In addition, I’m more actively blogging at Rapid Notes. If I ever decide to pay for WordPress Premium again, I’ll probably put the money into that blog. It’s quite likely therefore that halfblog.net is dead, in name at least. It’s been a good run!

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Geo-writing: ‘A Boat called Calamity’

This year as a part of the Brighton Digital Festival I was pestered encouraged to participate in the Geo-writing project.

Geo-Writing invited you to grab writing prompts based on your location, wherever you were in the world! Centred around Brighton – where there were a higher intensity of prompts – but then rippling outwards, the prompts based on your location could be worked on straight away or emailed to yourself to work on at leisure. Authors used these prompts to write a fragment of a story, and submit to become part of a multi-authored ill-fitting story patchwork created during the Brighton Digital Festival. Sometimes, the same prompt was twisted through various viewpoints, other times characters and motifs featured in more than one tale.

My entry is written in the style of an Argus story and inspired by a prompt I found near West Pier: “A speedboat named Calamity crunches out on the pebbles.” The story also works as a loose prequel to these six Geo-writing stories by Clarissa about a Kemptown overrun by zombies known as ‘Blighters’.

West Pier

“Two taken to hospital after speedboat runs ashore”

The Argus, Monday 1 September 2014

TWO MEN have been taken to hospital after their speedboat ran ashore on the beach in front of the West Pier.

Emergency services were called to the scene shortly after 5am by Brenda Cobb, 48, who witnessed the incident. Mrs Cobb said that the boat appeared to be out of control as it ran onto the shore at high speed.

“When I went down to help I thought they were both dead at first. They weren’t moving and looked like they’d been out there a while” said Mrs Cobb. “So I called an ambulance. I didn’t think I could possibly help them.”

While it is unknown what caused the accident, it is possible that the occupants were in difficulty before they ran ashore. Mrs Cobb said that they looked unwell, but wasn’t sure if they were sick or simply injured and confused.

She said: “One of the blighters bit me! While I was on the phone I heard one of them moving about so I went over to to tell him that help was on the way. He just looked at me funny for a moment, then suddenly lunged forward and bit me on the arm. He broke the skin, but it’s fine. It gave me quite a shock though.”

The men have not yet been identified. The Argus has discovered that their vessel, an Oceanmaster 660 named ‘Calamity’, is not currently on the UK Ship Register.

Both men were taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

More as we know it.

Brighton Digital Festival

All next month will be my first Brighton Digital Festival. Today I’ve been looking through all of the events, and wow is there ever a lot happening! I created a list of the ones that interested me the most and I’m blogging it here because why not?

Brighton Digital Festival

Events that span much of the month are listed first, followed by events that take place over just one or two days. Some of these overlap, but I’m going to try and attend and get involved as much as I can this year. If by chance you’re reading this plan to go along to one of these too, say hi!

Ongoing / multiple day events

Mind of the City

  • 1–30 Sept, 3:38pm
  • Place TBC (possibly multiple locations)
  • A data visualisation tracking all the social media across the city, exhibited in public spaces.
  • @imaginebrighton #ImBrighton
  • http://imaginebrighton.com/

The New Digital Archaeologists

  • 2–9 Sept 10am–5.30pm (weekends 11am–6pm)
  • Brighton Media Centre, 15–17 Middle Street BN1 1AL
  • Visitors are invited to explore new/alternative approaches to handling our own digital remains and experience the work of a future Digital Archaeologist.

Newstweek

Newstweek

  • 3–28 Sept, everyday, 11am–6pm
  • Lighthouse, 28 Kensington Street BN2 9SF
  • An installation that invites visitors to set their own news agendas. Hidden within an innocuous plug socket is a device that acts as a virtual router, allowing users to access and edit national news websites being viewed through the local WiFi network. For the duration of the festival, Lighthouse’s gallery space will be transformed into a ‘News Fixing Bureau’ where visitors can surreptitiously satirise, spin or subvert the news being read by those nearby.
  • http://www.lighthouse.org.uk/programme/newstweek-fact-fixing-bureau

The New Sublime

  • 6, 7, 10–14, 17–21, 24–27 Sept (Wed-Sat) 11am–5pm
  • Phoenix Brighton, 10 – 14 Waterloo Pl. BN2 9NB
  • An exhibition and series of discussions exploring the new ways in which artists who use digital technology are engaging with the viewer’s attention. This is a thorny subject because technology catches our attention in a particular way. When viewing this kind of work we may be initially fascinated and involved, but eventually slightly bored. This may describe our relationship to technology in general.
  • http://www.phoenixbrighton.org/

Remix the Museum

  • 9–28 Sept at Brighton Museum & Gallery
  • 10am–5pm, closed Mondays
  • The Brighton Youth Film Festival teams up with animator Dave Packer and a team of young creators as they present a visual remix of the museum’s collections.

Six Stories

  • 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28 Sept, 9:30am–4:30pm
  • St John’s Centre and Cafe, Palmeira Square, Hove BN3 2FL
  • A video installation presenting older people talking about their memories and thoughts on life and death.

Project: OggBots!

  • 20, 21, 27 Sept 2014
  • Various start times/locations
  • A huge city wide treasure hunt to solve the mystery of the alien, ‘OggBots’.
  • @makerclubuk #oggbothunt

Geo-Writing

  • All month, 24/7

    Become part of the communal writing event, with characters and events criss-crossing across the city, multiply described in a jarring, storytelling mosaic.

  • @geowriting #geowriting
  • http://www.geo-writing.com/

One-off events →

USS Pioneer: These are the voyages of a LightWave starship model I released…

In 2007 I made my own Star Trek starship in LightWave 3D. I’d made a few others before, but this one became a labour of love. The USS Pioneer had a lot of little details, some subtle textures and a fairly elaborate lighting rig designed to make renders look good. The ship was intended to be an earlier-era version of the Constellation class starship.

When it was finished I released it1 for others to use. Then I forgot about it! This is my own rendering of the ship from that time:

USS Pioneer

I also made a video rendering2 showing off the animated textures and shuttlebay doors (the model includes a shuttlebay interior).


Seven years later…

Last night I was Googling my username, as you do, and I saw an image I hadn’t seen before:

A Light in the Darkness by Rob Caswell (April 2012)

A Light in the Darkness by RobCaswell

Someone liked my ship enough to make a nice rendering of it! The comments are amusing too. Not all are complementary as the 4-nacelle configuration divides opinion amongst Treknologists, and as someone put it: “My, what big nacelles she has!”. Later still Rob quips “When you turn the speed dial all the way, it goes to ‘Warp 11′.”

The big engines were quite deliberate. I imagined this ship as a fast response vessel of some kind, but looking at it again I would probably make them a bit smaller. But for every person who didn’t like the concept for its imagined technical rule breaking, there is someone who likes the design. In fact, there seems to be a few big fans of it.

Then I carried on looking to see if there were any more images of my ship out there. Turns out that Rob Caswell had made quite a few…

See more cool USS Pioneer renderings →

Does Internet advertising work at all?

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson asks a dangerous question: Does Internet advertising work at all? My gut answer is that it can’t be terribly effective. Thompson sums up my personal instinct about advertising perfectly: “We seek information, so we’re more likely to trust it; marketing seeks us, so we’re more likely to distrust it.”1

Also, online advertising is plagued with problems like misleading stats reporting and the ‘I-was-gonna-buy-it-anyway bias’:

Let’s say I want to buy a pair of glasses. I live in New York, where people like Warby Parker. I’ve shopped for glasses at Warby Parker’s website. Facebook knows both of these things. So no surprise that today I saw a Warby Parker sponsored post on my News Feed.

Now, let’s say I buy glasses from Warby Parker tomorrow. What can we logically conclude? That Facebook successfully converted a sale? Or that the many factors Facebook considered before showing me that ad—e.g.: what my friends like and my past shopping behavior—are the same factors that might persuade anybody to buy a pair of glasses long before they signed into Facebook?

Maybe Facebook has mastered the art of using advertising to convert sales. Or maybe it’s mastered the art of finding people who were going to buy certain items anyway and showing them ads after they already made their decision. My bet is that the answer is (a) somewhere in the middle and (b) devilishly hard to accurately measure.

Nothing in this article was surprising, but it did make me wonder if this might be the most effective way to fight to get our online privacy back? In other words, rather than fighting Google or Facebook et al, why not reveal how ineffective the kind of crappy advertising that has made those companies some of the biggest in the world really is? If that money falls away, so will these corporate surveillance industries.


Dat footnote

  1. However, I do think that ‘brand awareness’ is a powerful side effect of good advertising, but this is hard to achieve with text ads or even flashing banners and annoying popovers.

SAEM S7: I found my ideal iPhone 5s case

SAEM S7 iPhone case The best case I found for my iPhone 4 was a simple snap case design from Incase. It had that soft rubberised plastic and left the top and the bottom of the phone almost completely exposed, which looked really nice. While I like to use a case, I don’t like it to be particularly bulky.

When I bought my 5s I just went for Apple’s own case, which I do like a lot. However it’s tricky to take out, which I do fairly often.

Later I saw the ‘Incase Pro Snap Case’ for the 5s and bought one, only to be very disappointed. It feels very cheap, with sharp edges and for some reason it has a larger than necessary hole for the camera. I think they designed it that way to show off the detail which judgmental strangers will be looking for that proves you’re not some schlub using last year’s model. I just think it looks ugly. The worst aspect of this new case though is that the top creeps further up the back, meaning you have to hook your finger over the case to hit the power button. Yeah I know, #firstworldproblems, but it annoyed me enough that I went back to the Apple case.

The SAEM S7 iPhone 5/5s case

Today I found this rather snazzy case made by SAEM:

Yup, it has a small 8GB USB memory card in the back. I’m honestly not entirely sure what I want to use that for, but it’s cool nonetheless. That in itself is a novelty that I could have passed up, but at £20 this case doesn’t cost any more than the other extortinate cases without a USB drive! (Having said that, they seem to have a SRP of £35 on the manufacturer’s site, and I spotted them for even more on Amazon.)

Mostly though I’m happy that I’ve found a case that looks as nice as the old Incase thing I liked so much. Of course, I’ve only had this on my phone for a matter of hours so it may fall apart, scratch the phone, set my flat on fire or something over time, but my initial impressions are very positive.

If you happen to be in Brighton, you can get this case from Zoingimage for £20. They had them in black and white and for the 4/4s and 5/5s iPhone models.

What I want from Netflix

Netflix If Netflix is going to be the future of television, they need to try harder.

This was originally posted on Medium on the 27th of February 2014. I’ve posted it here, on my primary blog, a week later for posterity.

Josh Lee wrote a post elsewhere on Medium titled What I want from Netflix. He asked for offline viewing, the ability to hide certain genres, movie playlists to subscribe to (and presumably the ability to create these playlists), a ‘binge mode’ that would skip opening titles, the return of The Cosby Show and he doesn’t much care for SNL.

I’m not going to respond to any of those suggestions in particular, but I want to see much, much more from Netflix.

Continue reading

My pet monster, by Steven Kraan

Steven Kraan (aka @drawing_daily) has been drawing monsters for people everyone who follows him, and he’s created probably thousands by this point. I followed him a couple of months ago and today I got my pet monster:

I think it looks great! If you want one he’s planning to stop after he reaches 4,444 followers (as I write this he’s at 4,404 followers).

Continue reading

The internet’s plans for that thing you created

Here’s an example of something I will never understand. A Twitter account called @wallstreetwoif posted this (the ‘i’ in woif is styled in uppercase, as you do) shared this:

And @picpedant (who you should go and follow now) pointed out that this is a copy of a Doghouse Diaries original, with the credit cut off and the captions reformatted:

Doghouse Diaries - Plans

It also looks like it’s been photocopied a few times, had some extra outlines put on. The ponytail on the stick figure has also been removed and the second frame now has a border at the end, weakening the point made in the strip somewhat.

The thing I don’t understand is why any of this?

Why take the effort to remove someone’s credit? Why make their work look like shit? Why edit it to change the meaning? Why share it without giving a thought to who created it?

I find it all very strange.

wales dot tumblr dot com

In 2009 I obtained the tumblr URL wales.tumblr.com and created a site called the ‘Official Tumblelog of Wales’. Here I would post links to irreverent and amusing news stories, curious photographs, memes, odd clippings from the past, pop culture and anything a little offbeat.

“A man who buried a female colleague’s body on farmland put the location of the shallow grave in the “favourites” list on his sat nav, a court has heard”
Grave listed in accused’s sat nav, BBC News

I ran out of steam about two years later after 108 posts. Two years after that, at the end of 2013, I left Wales.

Lately however I’ve noticed a curious uptake in activity around the blog. It’s getting on average one or two new followers per day, and a similar amount of reblogs and likes. As I write this there are 456 followers.

The URL wales.tumblr.com is a good one and it seems a shame to let a blog stagnate when it could be growing instead, therefore I’m hoping someone who find this post will offer to take it over (either via my secret contact page, on Twitter or by leaving a comment below). I’m not going to ask for a resume or anything, but I’m only going to hand it over to someone who clearly gets Tumblr and doesn’t just want the URL for some marketing nonsense.

If that’s you, please get in touch!

UPDATE: I found a taker, so wales.tumblr.com is now under new management!

Some more pictures →

Flight test

I went up for a flight yesterday in a small two-seater plane. We flew over parts of Cornwall and Devon, starting in Saltash then heading over, Millbrook, Plymouth, by Rame Head and down the coast to Looe and back.

This was filmed on my iPhone 5S, which didn’t handle all the vibrations very well. It was edited together quickly in Final Cut Pro X to a tune called ‘Golden Days’ from YouTube’s free audio library.

I posted these pictures on Instagram.

Zom-B-Girls: Back these zombie pin-up playing cards on Kickstarter

ZOM-B-GIRLS screenshot I’ve backed seven Kickstarter projects at this point, and have been really happy with the experience. I keep an eye on the campaigns running out of Cardiff, but until now I haven’t found anything that I wanted to back.

So, if you like poker, pin-up girls and zombies — and you want to support some local artists — then you should back Zom-B-Girls too!

We believe many will love a unique deck incorporating humour, playful sexiness and of course that current staple of pop culture, the ever lovin’ Zombie! Just because humanity has perished from this alternate post apocalyptic zombie world doesn’t mean they have to miss out on cute girls when they play cards! And neither should you.

There’s another 7 days to go, and at this time the creators have raised almost half of their £4,500 goal. They’ve added a bunch more tiers too, so now you can get multiple decks, a calendar and desktop wallpapers. You only need to pledge £5 to get a deck (if the campaign meets its goal) but if you pledge in the higher tiers you can actually appear in the deck as either a zombie or a survivor!

That link again: “ZOM-B-GIRLS” Zombies Pin-Up Playing Cards

ZOM-B-GIRLS pack design

UPDATE 2013.09.04: With 36 hours to go this project was stalled at <50% funded, and has just been cancelled. I just received a backer update from Timothy Thomas saying that he has lost contact with artist Robert Elsmore who has moved to Canada. He promises that there will be a second campaign in the future with new artists.

The apps that Apple really does not want you to use

The Telegraph’s Richard Gray has compiled a list of ten apps that Apple does not want you to use. In my view, half of these apps are dumb gimmicks that any curated app store wouldn’t want: A game where you throw your phone as high as you can; titillation apps featuring ‘interactive’ girls in bikinis; an app that did literally nothing except cost $1,000.

However, some of the other rejected apps represent far more serious acts of censorship and monopolistic behaviour on the part of Apple, like the Wikileaks app that let users read the Iraq war logs, or Scratch, an MIT project to help teach children programming. I thought it would be worthwhile to compile a more serious list of apps banned by Apple.

Sweatshop HD

These are the apps that Apple really does not want you to use →

Idea for a read-it-later browser extension

Read it later services are nothing new, with Instapaper and Pocket being the two leaders of this particular niche. Apple’s Safari browser even has a built-in ‘Reading List’ feature.

My personal read-it-later strategy is to (1) drag pages I want to read later into a special folder on my bookmarks bar and (2) proceed to forget about them entirely1. The idea outlined in this blog post develops stage 1 in the hopes of turning stage 2 into actually reading articles when I have time for them.

The idea →

Google has a terrible 404 page

Google's 404 robot On the face of it Google has a perfectly decent 404 page. There’s a cute little robot illustration and an amusing page title (‘Error 404 (Not Found)!!1′). Also on the positive side, the page is very light, using only 11 lines of code and two small images.

However, there is absolutely no functionality beyond the Google logo being a link back to the home page. What I think Google should do instead →

Why people online don’t read to the end

Farhad Manjoo has written a condescending article for Slate about how we have short attention spans online:

You Won't Finish This Article

I’m going to keep this brief, because you’re not going to stick around for long. I’ve already lost a bunch of you. For every 161 people who landed on this page, about 61 of you—38 percent—are already gone. You “bounced” in Web traffic jargon, meaning you spent no time “engaging” with this page at all.

I better get on with it. So here’s the story: Only a small number of you are reading all the way through articles on the Web. I’ve long suspected this, because so many smart-alecks jump in to the comments to make points that get mentioned later in the piece. But now I’ve got proof.

You Won’t Finish This Article – slate.com

The article fails to mention sites – like Slate – that arbitrarily split articles into multiple pages. I have to imagine that a huge percentage drop off after page one, which would have had a massive impact on the findings (whether secondary pages were included or ignored in the stats!) so it’s odd not to mention it.

(The big spike at 100% on the ‘percent of article content viewed’ chart is for photo stories – most visitors will scroll through an entire photo essay.)

It’s also worth pointing out that Slate’s multi-page article design actively encourages readers to leave a comment before reading the whole article by effectively placing them in the middle of the article.

Sites are partly to blame for making their own content the least interesting thing on the page

The blame for the flighty behaviour of readers can also be at least partly attributed to design choices made by Slate and similar blogs. In addition to the main navigation, the top of the page is overloaded with calls to action to other stories, Facebook, videos to watch, distracting ads etc. Later in the article Manjoo complains that people share an article before reading it, but the sharing icons are right there at the start of the article.

Meanwhile, the Slate article itself is visually unappealing. The photograph at the top is both unnecessary and entirely uninteresting while the article is small text, thankfully broken up by colourful charts.

Of course, people are fickle and easily distracted, including myself. I follow many links only to decide when I arrive that I’m not that interested. Perhaps as readers we should be more disciplined – some of these uninteresting stories we click on are important – but these sites are partly to blame too for making their own precious content the least interesting thing on the page.

First look at the new WordPress dashboard

From today WordPress.com users can get a working preview the look and feel of the next admin interface.

New WordPress admin design

Preview the Future Design of the WordPress Dashboard

We’ve drawn new icons, increased contrast and font size, and generally modernized the design from top to bottom. We’re still working on it, but you can preview it starting today! To step into the future, head over to Users → Personal Settings in your blog’s dashboard and check “Enable experimental admin design (MP6),” then Save Changes.

It looks very nice, but so far it’s just a cosmetic change. I reminds me a little of services like Squarespace and Virb, so I fear there’s a slight danger of WordPress losing its character.

Designers and developers can get involved on the Make WordPress UI blog.