Here’s a presentation I gave at the end of last year at a Creative Skills Cornwall meeting at Falmouth University. I introduced the problems of a growing producer/consumer digital divide – the need for more public discourse in the politics of technology and how free software, codeclub, livecoding, algorithmic weaving and sonic bikes can indicate other relationships we can have with technology.
The talk went down really well, but the slides are a little minimal so it might not be super clear what it was all about based just on them :)
During the summer I’ve been working with the Swarm Knowledge Hub at Cornwall’s Duchy College. We’ve been building an android application that forms part of a scheme to highlight the value of organic fertilisers compared to costly and unsustainable synthetic fertilisers.
The core of the software is a calculator based on tables provided by DEFRA (the UK government’s Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs) which provides the quantities of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium nutrients provided by different types of manure spread on different types of soils.
Farmers are required to supply records of the fertiliser they use to DEFRA, so the program also allows you to input your fields and record the levels of nutrients spread on each one separately. You can then export the data as a csv file over email.
We are planning a workshop with local farmers in the coming weeks, which I’m really interested to be part of. To me this is an extension of the groworld project providing a connection to an additional, important group – the people who actually grow the food we eat.
The majority of the code was written in Scheme which meant a lot of it could be rapidly prototyped (I’ll be blogging more about this soon) and the source can be found on github here.
It’s not often that you get to go to the first edition of a festival or conference, but last week was the first ever Fascinate Conference, in Falmouth – a varied collection of artists, performers, musicians and experimenters with technology, some from far away on their first visit to Cornwall, others were local – both researchers from Falmouth University, as well as artists picking up inspiration.
For me the keynote presentations provided some powerful concepts, Atau Tanaka, opening the event presented an thought provoking timeline in terms of his extensive performance experience. Moving from laptop computers, to mobile computing, and onwards to “post-computers”, including Beagle Boards and Raspberry Pi – as more hackable, extendible and open than more restricted mobile platforms but providing largely the same needs.
Another idea running through a moving presentation from Seth Honnor regarded the 4 degree climate change ‘elephant in the room’. While it represents such a huge un-graspable problem, he points out that everything we do needs to take it into account. It doesn’t necessarily need to be centre stage, but it has to be there – as a background future reality. If we do this we can start to build up the necessary imagination that’s going to be needed in the future.
My presence at the conference was somewhat fragmentary (I had other duties to attend to) sadly missing many of the workshops, presentations and performances – it was however a chance for me to perform for the first time in Cornwall, as well as get to see first hand some of the research that’s happening in Falmouth. The event itself was just the right size, and while at times slightly chaotic and problematic in terms of gender representation – they are things that take time to get right, and it’s freshness and interdisciplinary nature was very welcome indeed. Looking forward to next year’s event!
Update: Since writing this post, the organisers have contacted me to clarify that considerable effort was put into gender representation for the conference, there was a good balance on other presentation tracks and in terms of the keynotes it was more a case of unfortunate last minute changes and other unavoidable factors.
Jaye Louis Douce, Ruth Ross-Macdonald and I took to the ramps of Mount Hawke skate park in deepest darkest Cornwall to test the prototype tracker/projection mapper (now know as ‘The Cyber-Dog system‘) in it’s intended environment for the first time. Mount Hawke consists of 20,000 square feet of ramps of all shapes and sizes, an inspiring place for thinking about projections and tracing the flowing movements of skaters and BMX riders.
Finding a good place to mount the projector was the first problem, it was difficult to get it far enough away to cover more than a partial area of our chosen test ramp – even with some creative duct tape application. Meanwhile the Kinect camera was happily tracking the entire ramp, so we’ll be able to fix this by replacing my old battered projector with a better model in a more suitable location.
The next challenge is calibrating the projection mapping to align it with what the camera is looking at. As they are in different places this is quite fiddly and time consuming to get right, some improvements to the fluxus script will make it faster. Here is Jaye testing it once we had it lined up:
Next it was time to recruit some BMX test pilots to give it a go:
At higher speed it needs a bit of linear interpolation to ‘connect the dots’, as the visualisation is running at 60fps while the tracking is more like 20fps:
This test proved the fundamental idea, and opens up lots of possibilities, different types of visualisations, recording/replaying paths over time as well as the possibility of identifying individual skaters or BMX riders with computer vision. One great advantage this setup has is once it’s running it will work all the time, with no need for continuous calibration (as with RGB cameras) or the use of any additional tracking devices.
Yesterday was the first test of the full DORIS marine mapping system I’m developing with Amber Teacher and David Hodgson at Exeter University. We went out on a fishing boat from Mylor harbour for a 5 hour trip along the Cornish coast. It’s a quiet season for lobsters at the moment, so this was an opportunity to practice the sampling without too much pressure. Researcher Charlie Ellis was working with Hannah Knott, who work with the National Lobster Hatchery and need to take photos of hundreds of lobsters and combine them with samples of their genetic material.
By going out on the boats they get accurate GPS positioning in order to determine detailed population structures, and can sample lobsters that are small or with eggs and need to be returned to the sea as well as the ones the fishermen take back to shore to be sold. Each photograph consists of a cunning visual information system of positioning objects to indicate sex, whether they are for return or removal and a ruler for scale.
Our first public test for the The swamp that was, a bicycle opera takes place next weekend, so I’ve been working on the on-bike software and getting more experience with the BeagleBoard while Kaffe builds up the sound pieces. In order to test the software, I’ve made a local map I can play with:
Each coloured zone represents a different audio sample. We are also experimenting with direction, panning each sound depending on your direction and that of the sound source. For example it’s possible to set a sound to come from the north, which pans it to the left if you are heading in an easterly direction and the reverse. Using this test map, I can run the system on battery while out walking the dog: