Informatics: pirating books

Today’s most exciting moment (sorry Josh) was a quick brainstorming chat with Kate Ho about pirates. Specifically, talking through the links between Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and certain geographical settings in Edinburgh which inspired it. Very early stage ideas for an Augmented Reality project, but we came up with some interesting points to follow up on at a later date. For some reason The Forum has been very quiet today. I spent most of my time in the office with my headphones on, alternating finishing editing footage I shot with the panoramic camera over the festive season with watching the first batch of the ‘Research in a Nutshell’ videos of researchers in the College of Science & Engineering (including Informatics). Filmed and edited by Siri Rodnes, the researchers explain a piece of their research in about a minute. As of right now there are just under forty videos up, demonstrating an amazing variety of work going on in what I deem ‘crazy but probably important’ things.

Going through the panoramic camera footage, I was particularly amused to see how many time my friends managed to knock the camera over whilst playing UNO, accompanied by a lot of giggling. Going through so much material so quickly in one day (I was checking through the rest of my old footage for formatting consistency) helped bring home to me what I’ve been trying to do with it, and how my ideas have honed down through the experiences of filming different natural scenarios. In the language of my adopted home for this year (aka, the School of Informatics), I suppose what I’ve been R&D’ing with these videos is the idea of multimodal and multi-agent interaction. There is a lot of research in the School which focuses on different knowledge sharing platforms, and investigates the complexities of knowledge exchange: both between groups of people across vast distances through digital interactions, and between machines using various sensory inputs. I’ve been interested to see how different social interactions and grouping come across on the panoramic recording and display equipment, and how this could be used to convey or create a piece of writing. The different digital ‘hook-up’ options such as motion sensors, audio-reactive imagery, spatialised sound, and so forth add an extra layer of excitement to the project: what can I create that is unique to the display options: why should it be displayed on the Puffersphere and not simply projected onto a flat wall? How will my audience engage with the piece? What works in one context and not another? Here’s the last of the batches. You’ll notice that after my viewing of old footage on the Puffersphere before Christmas, I’ve focused in on having between 5 and 6 people round the camera rather than smaller groupings.

Tables (xii)- [coming soon. I hit my Vimeo upload limit for the week…]

I’ll finish with a short book report. My friend Josh lent me his copy of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl last time I saw him, based on what I’d told him about my growing interest in writing a piece based around questions of autonomous machine intelligence and cyborgs (Ada & GIL). Today we met for lunch & I returned it to him, slightly stained with jam. Stylistically, the book was reasonably well written. However, there were huge disparities in the levels of description given to different elements, and I found the plot somewhat tedious. My strong preference for psychologically-motivated rather than action-driven plots means that anything which can be described as a Thriller tends to go over my head. I love that Wikipedia describes the book as ‘biopunk’, and I’m not surprised that it won a fistful of prestigious awards – both as science fiction and as general fiction. The book is set in a post-eco-apocalyptic future where GM food production provides the main economic pulse of the world. Baciagalupi starts a lot of interesting threads – the effect of having a child monarch ruling a politically disturbed region, the autonomy or otherwise of cyborgs, the boundaries of morality, the spread of plagues in the food chain – which aren’t given space to develop. It’s a chunky book as is, and there’s a wealth of ideas which never seem to come to fruition. I’d read a sequel, but probably only by borrowing Josh’s copy rather than rushing out to buy my own.

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