A Day In The Smithy

20150612171707I was Blacksmith for a day last Friday, thanks for a generous and spot-on present from the good wife, and thanks to excellent one-on-one tuition by Jo “The Iron” Fry in the beautiful setting of Standalone Farm in Letchworth Garden City.

Jo knows exactly the right balance between explaining and letting students try out. He’s been an excellent teacher for the day, never letting me alone or feeling lost, never letting me feel supervised or put under stress. The perfect way to experience bright orange hot iron, a forge, hammer, anvil and a good old ping ping ping.

Banging a piece of hot iron into shape is a very satisfying thing, but I suppose my highlight of the day was the cutting of hot steel with hammer and chisel. All in all very satisfying.

The creations made during my first ever eight hours of being a blacksmith are of course of questionable beauty and limited usefulness, but heck! I had fun and would happily repeat the experience. Who knows. Maybe one day, I might even have space for my own little forge.

My Painting Hero

DSC_0509.JPGFor once we managed to view the John Singer Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London before the last day, and I am very glad that we did. Even though, or maybe because we had to book a ticket for timed entry (we chose 14:00), there was no queuing and a very relaxed atmosphere.

And every one of his paintings well worth a good look, and another one.

I like his loose stroke for the out-of-focus parts, the background and the frilly bits of the sitters clothes, and I adore his confidence with tonal painting. Just superb.

Go and see the Singer Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery if you are in London.

New Toys


Meet my new toys. We finally made it to the Late Turner exhibition at Tate Britain, and at least one good outcome is that I felt a strong urge to get new watercolours. Are they not lovely?
I think they are.

A Blinkenlight

DSC_0215I call it Ein Blinkenlight For 1000 Thoroughly Modern Monkeys, 448 LEDs and One Great Bard, and it is ready!

My Blinkenlight plays on the philosophical question whether 1000 monkeys using 1000 typewriters eventually produce the works of William Shakespeare, given enough time. My 1000 monkeys are thoroughly modern monkeys: they exist in form of a digital emulation, programmed into a Raspberry Pi mini-computer, and they use a predictive texting system rather than classic typewriters. Their output is shown on a display made from 448 LEDs.

The predictive texting system is trained with one or more of the works of the great bard.

The monkeys begin with a randomly selected word out of all the words in the training vocabulary. The next word is randomly chosen, but with a probability matching the word distribution in the original work. For example, king may follow my with a probability of 40%, sword may follow my with a probability of 30%, land and dog with 20% and 10%, respectively. Juliet may never appear after my, not in Hamlet. Punctuation and capitalization follow a similar principle of random selection to match the distribution in the training material.

This process is repeated over and over, producing an intriguingly Shakespearean-esque but nonsensical series of words.

This Google+ post has a little video attached, demonstrating the blinkenlight working with both Hamlet Prince of Denmark and Romeo And Juliet.

Image Prohibited

img-prohibitedWe went to the Tate Britain’s current exhibition of British Folk Art.  I could have told you how we liked it, and that we thought it was, while quite a small exhibition, still well worth going. I could have told you how we generally like Tate Britain’s permanent and special exhibitions, and we could have accompanied these words with a nice little smartphone shot of one of the exhibits, just good enough to make you want to go and see for yourself.

It’s just too annoying that they don’t allow photography. No flash photography – fine. No professional photography – fine. No commercial use of photos taken, no tripods within the exhibition, no extra lighting – all fine. But a little handheld pocket digital camera or a smartphone snapping away for personal memories or sharing (and advertising) on social media?

No, no photography whatsoever.

As if they own the place, or the exhibits.

Focal Points

arty-farty-01We had a good conversation about what constitutes art, and related subjects.

To take the thought experiment beyond the thought, I present Focal Points.

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Nina Katchadourian

DSCF0594Have you seen Nina Katchadourian’s self-portraits in the style of the flemish masters?

If you have not, you should take a look at her gorgeous photos. It’s a brilliant idea, and the best way to block an in-flight lavatory ever: http://www.ninakatchadourian.com/photography/sa-flemish.php.

(Google image search also produces a nice mish-mash, with a few lovely surprises thrown into the mix. Right here.)

Fascinatingly, the good wife took the photo on the left in Lausanne, with striking similarity to Nina’s work. The poster advertises the Coup De Sac! exhibition in Lausanne (http://www.mudac.ch/exhibitions/currently-showing/coup-de-sac/).


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Public Art

DSCF0262Ahh, such a lovely piece of art: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23041236

I love it when public installations are more than just weird things to look at. I love it when public art is accessible, fun, thought provoking, making people do things. Leandro Erlich’s gravity-defying house is just a wonderful example of that. [other pics of his work]

The giant black balls outside the London Assembly are primitive in comparison, but also not without effect. (Picture here shows the inside of the London Assembly – also a work of art.)

The big installations in the Tate Modern’s turbine hall can have that effect, first and foremost with the brilliant weather project.

Some while ago, a nice telescope was installed right through the planet such that people at both ends, which ended on London’s Southbank and somewhere in New York (if memory serves me right) could look at each other, wave, or otherwise visually interact.


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Tick-Tock Goes Live

tick-tockFirst and foremost, let me acknowledge that I took somebody else’s idea for this little craft project. I am thus crediting Florian Jenett for the creative idea. Hat tip, with thanks, Florian! Take a look at Florian’s own implementation of this – he calls it One Perfect Cube.

So, basically, you have three clocks, arranged and aligned such that the hands form a 3D projection of a cube once every 12 hours at approximately 10:10 (if you’d take the bottom clock for local time). It’s a perfect cube in Florian’s case, and a less than perfect one in my case, but it works!

I never understood how Florian’s works got into the exhibition on processing.org. Clearly it’s neither 2D or 3D software animation, and neither is mine, but what the heck. Both the processing.org exhibition and Florian’s piece are very intriguing and inspiring.

The frame in the top half of the picture shows the piece a-ticking, while the bottom frame of the picture on the left shows the works in standby. They were kicked into life by simultaneous action by three lovely ladies. The Tick Tock Chicks pulled the trigger to set the batteries running and clocks a-ticking at 22:10 on February 26th, 2013.


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Indicator for Greatness

DSC_1174I lost count of how many times I watched Apollo 13 or the Space Cowboys. When the audio system fails, I can provide words, sound effects and music to the Local Hero or The Commitments without fail, and quotes from When Harry Met Sally make frequent appearances in our daily routine.

I watched many other movies only once. Most, because they weren’t that great, but some were viewed only once because they are so great. I often think I should really watch one of these again, but somehow never quite get the nerve together:

Roberto Benigni’s brilliant Life is Beautiful.

Clint Eastwood’s heart breaking Million Dollar Baby.

Even Danny DeVito’s War of the Roses left a permanent mark.

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Amalgamation Update

baby-lottieJust a little note to say that the Amalgamator has been updated with its third-generation algorithm. It’s a surprisingly tough challenge, but I am well pleased with the current engine.

Error-free amalgamation of the demo text with an overall ratio of 0.76, compared to the previous algorithm, which reached an overall ratio of 0.84 on the same text (and not without errors in the general case) – I am well pleased.

The Amalgamation site is right here.

Amalgamation ‘r’ Us

baby-lottieNow here’s is something that kept me both excited and busy for quite some while. It is no wonder that I am both very excited and pleased, therefore, to announce the beta release of the Amalgamation Project.

The Amalgamator Project is a little digital visual arts project of mine, and it goes like this:

Consider a versatile greetings card, containing all the greetings, congratulations and condolences you’d ever want to send. The words are listed such that by crossing out the unwanted words (or circling, or highlighting, the desired ones), all the original greetings, congratulations and condolences can be created.

The picture shows one of these cards with crossed-out unwanted words. We made this “by hand,” and discovered that the manual process is highly error-prone and brain-wrecking. You will alwaysbe expected to do the crossing-out or highlighting by hand, make no mistake. But the merging of messages into one jumble of words “by hand” is quite an effort.

I am pleased to announce the first release of a software solution. The amalgamation algorithm takes your greetings and get-well messages, your thank you notes and condolences, or any other message you’d want to convey in any language you can type on your computer, and amalgamates these messages into a jumble of words of the quality described above.

This first version of the algorithm has a known inefficiency, but it doesn’t appear to cause severe errors. I think of this release as a starting point only, but since it cost me quite some sweat to reach this point, well, I’m pleased.

The Amalgamation site is right here.

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