A Slight Return…

Posted by PH on January 15, 2017
Miscellaneous / 1 Comment

No blog posts for over a year. Why? Many reasons operating on several different levels but, in brief:

  1. Twelve months, verily, I have been in A Bad Place. The grisly detail of my personal life is not the sort of thing I’m going to share/offload in a public space such as a blog. Mine was never designed for this sort of confessional and, frankly, the very idea of it appalls me.
  2. Rethinking what blogs are for (or, at least, what my blog is for). I’m not sure anymore that documenting/curating one’s life is that useful or interesting. I know why we do it—to try and make sense of all the information we’re drowning in—but, really, life’s too short either to do it yourself or consume someone else doing it.
  3. Facebook. I don’t like Facebook. It’s ugly, clunky, and somewhat sinister in the way that much modern tech is. I’m not even sure I understand how it works fully. BUT it fulfils a function: it’s like a blog but much quicker and with superior networking functionality built-in. It’s a conversational tool for those who are separated in time and distance. Many of the activities I used to put on this blog I now commit to Facebook. [I don’t think I’m alone in this: there are at least three people I know whose blogging activities have declined in inverse proportion to their Facebook activities.]
  4. Some really good things have been happening! Amidst all the carnage some changes needed to be made: they all need time. Blogging is, like, 54th on the list.

So: there will be more posts here, but probably slowed to a trickle…

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Street Food Cardiff

Posted by PH on October 05, 2014
Miscellaneous, Visual Culture / No Comments

Last night we experienced the opening night of Street Food Cardiff‘s new venture: a “popup” food venue in The Depot. According to WalesOnline:

…it’s a brand new concept in dining, promising to work with the best food vendors, chefs and cooks from Wales to create an independent food court and weekend warehouse dining experience.

What this means in reality is a deserted warehouse decked out with furniture made from old pallets, cable drums, and logs; dead tree boughs stuck upright into yet more cable drums; fairy lights and bare neon tubes; “street art”; and the food vendors selling from a variety of trailers, converted garden sheds, and recycled bar furniture.



There were a couple of teething problems. Come 9:30pm the whole place was filling up with smoke and the warehouse’s roller-shutter doors had to be raised a foot or so, which doesn’t bode well for the winter months. And perhaps more seriously, the benches started collapsing with the result that a couple of guys started circulating armed with wood struts and an electric screwdriver. Oh yeah: and the art needs to be a lot better.


As you can see from the poster above, the food on offer was somewhat one-dimensional: lots and lots of fried meat. More consideration needs to be taken to get a good balance: we thought a vegetarian option (other than the obligatory veggie pizza) and a decent coffee were the essential items missing here tonight.


Proof of the pudding though: we had a really good time. The food was good, the music selection hugely enjoyable (a deal-killer otherwise), and it was all very atmospheric.


Part pop-festival, part post-apocalyptic township, part fashion runway—think Mad Max or Fallout III or one of William Gibson’s gomi-built dystopias—eating out on a Saturday night has just acquired a shambling, barely coherent, but very friendly alter-ego. Promising: let’s hope they develop it intelligently.

[Thanks to Alison and Pete for the heads-up.]

[Update 09.10.14: according to The Guardian, it looks like everyone’s at it. Ho hum…]


Shawn Achor

Posted by PH on July 22, 2013
Miscellaneous / No Comments

[Via The G-Man]



Doug Engelbart 1925-2013

Posted by PH on July 20, 2013
Miscellaneous / No Comments


Douglas Carl Engelbart is one of those people who should by now have become a household name, one of the pioneers of the computing revolution that we take for granted. I am saddened to learn of his death. Decent obituaries here and here. This from the latter:

In December 1968, however, he set the computing world on fire with a remarkable demonstration before more than a thousand of the world’s leading computer scientists at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco, one of a series of national conferences in the computer field that had been held since the early 1950s. Dr. Engelbart was developing a raft of revolutionary interactive computer technologies and chose the conference as the proper moment to unveil them.

For the event, he sat on stage in front of a mouse, a keyboard and other controls and projected the computer display onto a 22-foot-high video screen behind him. In little more than an hour, he showed how a networked, interactive computing system would allow information to be shared rapidly among collaborating scientists. He demonstrated how a mouse, which he invented just four years earlier, could be used to control a computer. He demonstrated text editing, video conferencing, hypertext and windowing.



An Oscar Is Surely Forthcoming

Posted by PH on June 29, 2013
Miscellaneous / No Comments


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La Coupole

Posted by PH on March 31, 2013
Miscellaneous / No Comments

Walked in the freezing cold from Odéon down to the Boulevard du Montparnasse for the end-of-conference “banquet” last night at La Coupole. Tragically we were in the downstairs ballroom rather than the brasserie itself. Food mediocre but the company very good: had long and involving conversations with Joshua Parker (Dept. of English and American Studies, Salzburg), Brian Richardson (Professor of English, Maryland), and Golnaz Shams (PhD student, Freiburg).




Brian Sawyer RIP

Posted by PH on January 09, 2012
Miscellaneous / No Comments


Top geezer.


Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011

Posted by PH on October 09, 2011
Miscellaneous / 3 Comments


Nobody who is vaguely interested in technology can have failed to note the passing—on October 5th—of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. There have been many moving and insightful tributes in the press and across the WWW. It is not my intention here to add to that great outpouring: I never knew the guy and I’m not sure I have anything interesting or original to add to the story of Apple Computer. But I’ve got to say something: I’ve been using Macs as my main information-processing tools since 1991, and in any one year I may spend hundreds of hours sat in front of one. The quality of that interaction is something I both depend upon and enjoy. I owe the man… Nothing more than a few thoughts:

Firstly, we should surely recognize the tragedy of a man who has died so prematurely. Steve Jobs was almost exactly the same age as I am – in fact he was born about ten weeks before me – and I don’t feel old at all. With our rich diets and the supporting framework of modern medicine our life expectancies are stretching into the 90s. Dying in your mid-50s may have been a “good innings” in the Middle Ages, but it certainly isn’t nowadays.

Secondly, amongst the reams of text generated since his death Steve Jobs has been called many, many things, not least amongst them “visionary”, “genius”, “revolutionary”, “pioneer”, etc. All of which may or may not be be true: it’s very difficult to tell. The quality of the discourse in our current media ecology is such that hyperbole and lurid exaggeration are the norm: everyone’s shouting, everything’s turned up to 11. An overpaid pimply teenager who plays football for a living is a “hero”, the talent-shy showroom dummy who wins a hideously reactionary TV reality show is lauded as a “superstar”. The language we use is wearing dangerously thin.
What I can be sure of though—because I’m sitting here using one, directly experiencing it—is that the products that Apple design and produce are the best that money can buy. The man responsible for this is Steve Jobs. His long-term commitment to producing objects to the very highest standard means that for those of us who care about such things—those of us in other words who recognize that the tools we use directly impact upon the quality of work we ourselves produce—have somewhere to go. Apple Computer may be Big Business, but it is a business that has the quality of its products at the very core of its strategy. Apple products, on the whole, are so much better than everyone else’s it’s actually pretty embarrassing. A world without Apple would be a cheap and tawdry place indeed.

Thirdly, and following on from the above, it is gratifying that the whole Mac versus PC debate is finally dead and buried. Whether you view it technologically, conceptually, or financially Apple has blown the competition out of the water. The man responsible for this is Steve Jobs.
[As a footnote to this, an observation of mine: the Mac versus PC debate was always a lop-sided argument. Although I don’t have any actually data to back this up, it seems pretty obvious that everyone who uses a Mac can also use a PC pretty well. The reverse is not true. Even many so-called “IT specialists”—particularly those working in the corporate and public-sectors—have never used a Mac in their life. On other words, most people on the PC side of the fence, even the techies, haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about, and most of their views on Macs are simply mulch regurgitated from the media.]

Goodbye Steve Jobs. You leave the world a better place. I don’t think we realize how much we’re going to miss you.



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Abnormal Service

Posted by PH on March 19, 2011
Miscellaneous / No Comments

Apologies for the extended gaps between posts. This is not a result of indolence or indifference, but due to my reaching the final stages of writing up my PhD thesis. At the moment it’s just eating up all my time and, perhaps more importantly, colonizing my entire head space.


Chris Crawford: Masterclass On Interactivity

About three weeks ago now—yeah, I know, but I’ve been busy—Chris Crawford delivered a ‘Masterclass On Interactivity’ at Swansea Metropolitan University.

Chris began with a light-hearted look back at the history of computing and, simultaneously, back over his career. Whilst offering a gentle introduction to the presentation and a chance to get to know him, the opening section did make on major point: that interactivity is what defines modern computing and, by extension, new media in general. The computer is an interaction machine.

Chris Crawford's home-made first "laptop."

Chris Crawford's home-made first "laptop."

Eastern Front 1941

Eastern Front 1941

Having set out his stall Chris went on to discuss the concept of interactivity. Firstly he said that the best example of interactivity—to which all machine interactions strive—was a human conversation: real-time, using all our senses, pure improvisation. From this observation he derives what I think is the best definition of interactivity I’ve come across: interactivity occurs when computer and user alternately listen, think, and speak.

The quality of the interaction is defined by the weakest element in that chain. For example, modern computer games are very good at ‘speaking to us’—they look fabulous and they sound fabulous—but they’re not so good at thinking: very often the characters or the basic game AI is actually pretty dumb. Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 2 is a perfect example.

Computers are also not very good at ‘listening’ to us. Interaction with a computer is usually limited to a surprisingly small range of gestures and actions: pointing, clicking, dragging, etc.. Whilst multi-touch and gestural interfaces are widening that vocabulary, it remains very limited compared to what is possible with natural language. Chris suggested a Linguistic User Interface as being the future, in turn paving the way for the social aspects of interaction (and, by extension, the social aspects of gaming, evolving into what he calls “interactive storytelling”).

Only Four Mental Modules?

Only Four Mental Modules?

Although computers are good at ‘thinking’, Chris argued that the main limitation of computing was that it currently only used a small number of the “mental modules” we possess, the main ones being spatial reasoning, hand/eye coordination, resource management, and problem-solving. Crucially, our all-important social reasoning module was not challenged at all.

Star Wars considered as a social network.

Star Wars considered as a social network.

Pacman considered as a socal network

Pacman considered as a social network

Summing up the first half of the presentation, Chris suggested that our current generation of computer games have developed as far as they can go, and that a separate industry will emerge exploiting the social aspect of the technologies.


After lunch Chris began by talking about the human predilection for talking about experience in terms of things rather than as a system of processes (nouns rather than verbs, data rather than algorithms). Interactivity is communication through process. He went on to talk about interactive storytelling environments where each use generated a new narrative instance, as opposed to our current paradigm where stories are fixed within a medium (novels, comics, films, TV programmes). Chris argued that these interactive stories—hypernarratives—would never achieve the polish of the story fixed within its medium, but that they would have much greater emotional impact because of their personal, individually generated, meaning.

For the final section of the afternoon, Chris talked about what the requirements were for the designer of these new interactive storytelling environments. This was Chris at his most overtly evangelical, throwing wide the doors of learning and revealing an endless landscape for exploration and discovery. Using Erasmus as an example, he very cleverly and humorously showed how little information there was on the Internet compared to that encoded in books. He showed how you could use equations that describe natural processes to model human interaction (for example, human attraction and repulsion convincingly modeled using spring compression equations). He tried to get as to look at the processes underlying the world we live in, not its surface features.

All This Goes In Here

All This Goes In Here

Thing vs Process

Thing vs Process

Inevitably I have only offered a very brief overview of the contents of Chris’s Masterclass On Interactivity. The presentation was funny, inspirational, thought-provoking, and very, very, smart. Despite speaking for about 5 hours there was barely a moment that was less than engaging, and the whole audience was gripped throughout. As much as anything else, it was a masterclass on giving a presentation.

Thanks Chris. A privilege.

Chris Crawford Links



Eastern Front: A Narrative History


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