Watch the skies

December 1st, 2014 by Dan

The discovered samples series continues, bringing me back to blog for the first time in SIX MONTHS. Poor show I know, but I have an inkling most of you have made do.

Here’s the best clip I could find from the film in question, giving you a taster of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD’s riveting denouement before cutting rather abruptly into the scene we’re worried about.

And here, Transglobal Underground’s seminal ‘ethno-techno’ anthem Temple Head.

Cel-shaded reality

May 31st, 2014 by Dan

Love this, the concept and the execution.

The kids are alright

May 30th, 2014 by Dan

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Operate an Arduino-controlled robotic arm… manipulate the real world using Minecraft… steer a car with a smartphone… pilot a quadcopter using bananas.

Yes, bananas.

Now see your drawing digitally enhanced by Dan. Take a crash course in coding with Scratch. Program cars to win races, and spaceships to reach home planets, before watching light-sensing robots find route-one along a maze of black masking tape.

Kids Adore Ditch, conceived by James @Monkchips Governor just a couple of weeks ago as a creative solution to the challenge of bring-your-kids-to-work-day, gave a group of thirty or more 5 to 12 year-old youngsters the opportunity to do all this and more.

It took place today yesterday at Shoreditch Village Hall in Hoxton, staffed and supported by the Shoreditch Works team with a cheerfulness and enthusiasm that ought to be the envy of anybody running this sort of shared space.

Following James’ introduction the young delegates were given the chance to get hands-on with all sorts of activities around the unifying theme of ‘robots’.

Here’s a complete rundown:

AR DRONE

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The first thing that strikes most people when they see a quadcopter in action is its phenomenal grace and poise. That’s because the first quadcopter most people see isn’t being piloted by young children cutting their teeth on a banana-based quadcopter guidance system.

This was the undoubted centrepiece of the event, occupying a space in the middle of the room the boundaries of which were under constant renegotiation. If one of the themes of the day was the anthropomorphisation of robots, here was a lively character with an exuberance that could easily be mistaken for egregious expansionism.

Presented by IBM’s Joshua Carr | @josh_schwaa

CODE RALLY

Built on IBM’s WebSphere Application Server Liberty Profile is Code Rally, “a free, open source racing game with a twist – instead of racing around a track using a controller you write an AI (Artificial Intelligence) to race for you!”

Ask a 5-12 year-old boy whether they want to start their race (a) slowly, (b) quickly or (c) aggressively and you’ll only get one answer. As such it was fun to see them consistently outmanoeuvred by typically more reserved female counterparts (who, commendably, matched them at the event in number and enthusiasm).

There was also the opportunity here to drive ‘Liberty Car’, pictured above, using browser-based controls communicating with the car via its very own wi-fi network. This was another of the day’s peripatetic participants, patrolling a large counterpart in the kamikaze shadow of its airborne opposite number.

Presented by IBM’s Rob Parker

ROMILLY’S ROBOTS

It’s easy to feel a bit more enthusiastic about the future once you’ve met Romilly and his robots. They’re cheerful little things that use light sensors to patiently explore pathways of black masking tape, with Romilly their benevolent overlord equally patient in his explanation of exactly why they behave the way they do.

If watching one such robot ‘learn’ the most direct route between two points affords a flush of vicarious pride, it’s difficult not to feel a little cruel when you watch another eagerly set about solving the problem of a continuous line.

Presented by Romilly Cocking | @rareblog | more info

LOST IN SPACE

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“A computer-game which explored Physics concepts such as momentum, gravity, elements and their mass. ‘Lost in Space’ saw students aiding a stranded space craft to reach its home planet by travelling through wormholes.”

One of a number of activities developed for IBM’s 2014 Blue Fusion event, this saw kids teaming up and working together, resulting in all the drama and excitement of Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY with none of the histrionics.

Presented by IBM

ROBOTIC ARM

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Once you’ve turned up with your very own robotic arm, complete with assorted modifications conceived to improve its ability to pick up an object and put it down six inches to the right, it’s kind of job done. That’s the thing about robotic arms. They’re just cool.

Then one of the kids tries to repeat the operation using only the remote camera view. Distance is no object, they could be making essential repairs to the International Space Station. Something goes wrong! OMG, THE BALL DIDN’T LAND IN THE CUP. GRAVITY again, this time histrionics and all.

Presented by Jim Williams | @jimekw | more info

MINECRAFT: PI EDITION

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There seems to be a consensus emerging that Minecraft will hold the same significance for kids today as Lego did for those of us who’ve gone on to fashion careers for ourselves making and breaking the Internet.

Minecraft: Pi Edition is a version of Minecraft designed to work on the Raspberry Pi, harnessing the game’s familiar visual interface to manipulate of the credit-card sized computer and, crucially, anything you care to attach to it. Yup, that’s right, someone go get me that robotic arm.

Presented by Neil C Ford | @neilcford | more info

CODING WITH SCRATCH

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As somebody who distracted myself from an arts degree by teaching myself how to author web pages, it was heartening to hear Linda Sandvik describe distracting herself from an arts degree by teaching herself how to author web pages.

Linda went on to co-found Code Club, a voluntary initiative in the UK aimed at teaching children aged 9 to 11 how to code. It was testimony to her that most of the kids seemed to end the half hour session discovering authoring tool Scratch feeling like they were only just getting started.

Presented by Linda Sandvik | @hyper_linda | more info

DIGITAL DRAWING

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There can’t be a more analogue activity guaranteed to keep a young mind busy than that implied by a pencil and a blank sheet of paper. The twist being that in this instance our artists were able to watch Dan (one of the day’s many distinguished Dans) bring their doodles to digital life. Here’s a selection:

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Presented by Dan

CODEWALKERS

Hakitzu Elite: Robot Hackers pitches itself ‘an epic, robot combat game, where you learn the basics of coding while battling customizable robots’. The work of games developer Kuato Studios, it offers a glimpse of how seamlessly education can now exist alongside entertainment, taking the guiding principles of programming and realising them as spectacular 3D gameplay. But hell, don’t take my word for it, it’s available free on iTunes and Google Play.

Presented by Kuato Studios | @KuatoStudios | more info

* * *

James wrapped up the day with a look at a few familiar robotic faces from the world of film, challenging his audience to divide them into good and bad. Not a trivial undertaking and one entirely devoid of consensus. R2D2 and C3PO were considered problematically argumentative, while the feeling was that the renegade robotic steering wheel in WALL-E was simply misunderstood: “He’s a good robot. He’s just gone haywire.”

Back to reality, and a shock of hands flew up with suggestions for the mischief a robotic vacuum cleaner might get up to. Most of these, perhaps unsurprisingly, involved sucking up something other than domestic detritus: a cat, your feet, your money, ALL your possessions and, on a suitably terminal note, the whole world and everything in it.

If you have a child of 5 to 12 years of age, and they haven’t already had the opportunity to grapple with a robotic arm and/or Asimov’s three laws of robotics, keep an eye on the Kids Adore Ditch homepage ahead of next half-term. I haven’t written up an event like this since Playful 2010 for the simple reason that I haven’t been to an event as fun, friendly and altogether worthwhile since. Not until yesterday.

The birds fly a lot better than we do.

April 11th, 2014 by Dan

I’m a sucker for a black-and-white movie in the afternoon, and THE FIRST OF THE FEW, being as it is out of copyright and available to download in its entirety, is just the ticket:

I’m also a HUGE fan of Public Service Broadcasting. I’d never seen the trailer for ‘Spitire’, but it’s basically just footage from the film cut to its insane machine-gun rhythm. So instead here’s PSB performing it in the corporeal flesh:

It’s been a while since I posted one of these, but for anybody who’d like to check out previous entries:
I am Han Do Jin, Hang Wong’s son.
I want them alive if possible. If not, wasted!
So tell me… just what is it that you want to do?

Poor Cyclops!

March 3rd, 2014 by Dan

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Care of BennyCrime and 9GAG.

London, today.

February 5th, 2014 by Dan

MURPHY

Hollow Talk

February 2nd, 2014 by Dan

The Golden Age of Insect Aviation

January 21st, 2014 by Dan

via my first choice as a travel companion on a one-way mission to Mars, Ms @Jemimah_Knight

Kangchenjunga

January 19th, 2014 by Dan

Been back on the climbing wall for almost a year now, putting in a couple of sessions a week. We’re going to try and get out and about a bit more this year, with one possible destination being the ‘Old Man of Hoy’, featured above in one of the BBC’s first and – at the time – most ambitious outside broadcasts.

SONY DSCFollowing on from enjoying The Epic of Everest (1924) at the BFI last year, climbing pal Seema gifted me a satisfyingly moth-eared 1946 edition of The Kangchenjunga Adventure at Christmas. This is turning out to be a fine read, offering as it does an account of an attempt made in 1930 on the irritable younger sibling of Mounts Everest and K 2. A couple of chapters in, I already have some excerpts worth sharing:

Only those who can afford the time and expense necessary to penetrate the remote fastnesses from which they spring can view the glories of Everest or the Karakorams, but Kangchenjunga is to be seen by anyone who cares to visit the hill town of Darjeeling, or climb one of the lower foot-hills. Thus man is able to turn his tired eyes towards the snows, and reflect that there are still worlds unconquered towards which he can gaze for inspiration and hope. [P13]

Kangchenjunga Adventure - The Proposed Route Up The Great Ice Wall On Kangchenjunga Northwest Face 1930

Kangchenjunga had scored heavily. Two attempts had been repulsed with merciless severity, but it must be confessed that the attempts were of so weak a nature that the great mountain had no need to call in its real weapons of defence: storm and altitude. Serene and untroubled, it had not even attempted to kill its attackers; it had let them kill themselves. [P26]

It is over the graves of former mistakes, and not on the wings of new ideas, that the climber will at length tread the highest summits in the world. [P40]

Mountaineering begets longevity and longevity mountaineering. (Of the late Captain J. P. Farrar having climbed many first-class peaks at the age of seventy-one.) [P41]

And this, which, aside from evoking themes I’ve tried to explore in my own writing, keys strongly into what I find so compelling about the idea of film-making:

Every new thought, or new invention of the mind is adventure. But the highest form of adventure is the blending of the mental with the physical. It may be a mental adventure to sit in a chair and think out some new invention, but the perfect adventure is that in which the measure of achievement is so great that life itself must be risked. A life so risked is not risked uselessly, and sacrifice is not to be measured in terms of lucre.

Mental alertness is dependent on physical virility, and an inscrutable Nature decrees that man shall ever war against the elemental powers of her Universe. If man were to acknowledge defeat, he would descend in the scale of life and sink once more to the animal. But there has been given to him that “something” which is called the “Spirit of Adventure.” It was this spirit that sustained Captain Scott and his companions, and Mallory and Irvine. Even in their last harsh moments the crew of the R. 101 knew that they did not perish uselessly. Mr G. Winthrop wrote, “Will the impulse to adventure – which has coincided so happily for a time with that ‘feeling’ for mountains – die with its opportunity? Or will new outlets be found during yet another stage in our conquest of the elements?” I think they will, when man has conquered the Earth, he will turn his eyes to the stars. [P11-12]

As a parting note, fascinating to discover that one of the first attempts on Kangchenjunga was led, in August 1905, by famed occultist and so-called ‘wickedest man in the world’ Aleister Crowley. All the members of the expedition perished save Crowley, who subsequently explained in correspondence that he had been reluctant to assist one stricken companion on account of the fact that it would have taken him ‘ten minutes to dress’.

#Beardfleck

October 19th, 2013 by Dan

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