Sunday, 30 June 2013

Lost Voices

(the squeamish might want to avoid this half of the post)

I was thinking of this room the entire time. 
So, this week I did something I've never done before.  I underwent surgery.  Having never really gone through the process of being cut up by the NHS, I thought things would be a lot more complex than they actually were - turn up at a set time, throw some details at a computer and go find a waiting room.  Then a person calls your name, you go into another waiting room, then another person calls your name, and you finally go into a small room with a chair and who I assumed were two friendly looking medical types, are ushered into said chair and talked at for a few minutes.  A consent form is signed, and then the surgeon asks "Have you got any questions?".  "Is this real?" I muttered inaudibly, as the transition from watching Judge Judy on TV while waiting, to being in a room reminiscent to one from the opening of Half Life Two had caught me slightly off guard.  What I should have asked is: "What are your names?", as I'm pretty sure  the two strangers who proceeded to operate never really identified themselves. 

The procedure itself was nothing major or serious, but it did involve three injections of a local anaesthetic.  I'm sitting there, with one half of my tongue being held in place by the assistant, and a big needle coming towards the other side, and the surgeon suggests "you can close your eyes, if you want".  I opted to stare at the massive needle that inflicted an almost disappointingly small amount of pain.

A few minutes later the inability to feel anything kicks in, and then everything becomes a bit routine.
I just sit there and watch, detached, as tongue holding, scalpel cutting, blood flowing,  gauze soaking and four stitches (the surgeon seemed to be enjoying his needlecraft a little too much) all floated past.

Ten minutes later, everything was finished, and I walked out fine.  Done. Nothing to worry about.  May as well go into work.  An hour later, on a bus five minutes away from work, the anaesthetic wore off.


Now, if I'd thought for a second about what had happened in the hospital, it was obvious that it was going to hurt...
I'm now recovering at my parents.  They live near a field.
Needless to say, I've since spent quite a while living with a very sensitive, slowly shrinking, golf-ball in my mouth.  This has meant no talking, no solid foods, and some rather interesting shopping receipts.
In retrospect, I should have bought soup, lots of soup.
A while ago I started watching The Voice UK, Season 2.  It finished last week, and the obvious winner didn't win!  This is probably more a statement of the kind of person likely to phone in to vote for a TV singing competition than it is about any level of talent.  Regardless, I am somewhat irritated by this obvious miscarriage of justice, and am therefore resolved to never watch another season of The Voice UK again.

Having said that, since The Voice has ended I have been watching quite a few of Leah's performance videos on YouTube.  One striking thing about her videos is the rather high number of views that they have, and watching the numbers change between my ridiculous number of repeat plays of "I Will Survive" showed what I was doing was insignificant compared to the rest of the internet.  One wonders if these is the same for all of the show's finalists.

So, for a bit of fun, during a (quite literally thanks to my oral incapacitation) quiet afternoon I decided to spend some time messing about and looking into this.  A nice excuse to do some programming with a couple of web technologies that I'd been meaning to play with.

So, below is a screenshot (click to go to the real thing) of what I came up with.  For each of the four artists, you have their performances (roughly in order), and the number of views on their respective YouTube videos as of 12:00 today.    

Click to see the web-version
My conclusion: people who watch YouTube videos don't like making phone calls.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

City Layers

Drawing Lines

My growing interest with graphics and communication has recently started meandering towards drawing as a hobby/pastime. I guess this is somewhat unsurprising given the proliferation of tablet-based drawings appearing on this blog.  In addition to the digital artworks, I am also scratching pens into a couple of sketchbooks (which is proving a nice excuse to sit in Holland Park during the intermittent sun that London seems to be enjoying at the moment).

One of the things I'm finding it hard to draw is lines.  Or, more precisely not drawing lines where there are no lines.   I've realized that I find it very easy to see objects, and to draw my model of what they are, instead of what they actually are.  So, practice, practice, practice - but what to practice on?

Ever watched the video to Adele's Rolling In The Deep?  In the middle of it there's a huge paper "city" (ice-white cuboids and dodecahedrons), that rather symbolically gets burned to a crisp by some sparklers.  What's particularly interesting about such a construction is that the edges aren't marked by heavy lines, but by dramatic changes in light and shade caused by shadow and sharp changes in angle of reflected light.

Deciding that "I want one of those", I headed out to my local CASS shop.  Now, it turns out I've moved to about 10 minutes walking distance from one of these shops, and I have a horrible feeling that my bank balance is going to suffer for it.  I should do more crafty things, and the number of ideas that such a shop spawns makes me want to buy most of it.  Lucky that I went in there with a set project in mind!

So, some white card, a polystyrene base, a knife set, uhu glue and a few hours later, I have my own mini white city.  It's not perfect, but it is really interesting. In particular, the shadows caused by the different structures and multiple light sources really change the scene quite dramatically.  I expect I'll be putting some sketches of this up over the next few weeks.  I also have half a mind to wire it up internally with some LEDs for more weird effects.

On the subject of white worlds, I've also been playing "The Unfinished Swan" on PS3 (trailer video left, which is somewhat representative of the gameplay).  The game has an interesting set of mechanics - centered around you throwing balls of liquid into the world, which affect it in different ways.  For example in the first level, black ink turns things black.  This may seem slightly redundant, but for the first level, the entire world initially a shadeless white. No shadow, no imperfection, no way to see where on earth you are going.  It's only through the motion and occlusion of your created black ink-splotches that you can recover a sense of form, of depth and of shape of the world around you.

If you have a spare couple of hours, I hugely recommend this game, it's very pretty and very entertaining.

And to end, I have also been having fun seeing lines instead of limbs.  A friend has been keeping a photo-a-day blog, one of my favourite pics of his is a particularly moody night shot of a netball game.  I took a few minutes to reinterpret the photo on the tablet.

Sunday, 16 June 2013


Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!

Rather unexpectedly, I found myself in Southend-On-Sea.  It was something to do with a local families trip that a friend was helping to organize.  Regardless, £10 and a small 90 minute coach trip for sticks of rock, arcades, a theme park and a pier? Yes please!

I find there is something incredibly calming about the sea.  Well, at least a calm sea, stretching out to the horizon (or, at least in the case of Southend - nearly to the horizon).  A mass of water, rippling away.  Sea and sky meeting in an arched line of blue.

The pier there is a monster.  Over a mile long, it has its own train going up and down it to take those sightseeing, fishing, lobster-potting or lifeboating from one end to another.  In order to fundraise, there is an adopt-a-plank scheme.  For a regular donation, you can have your name on a plaque on the wall, and I assume, your plank will write to you quaterly to tell you of what it's been up to.  Most likely it'll be complaining about the weather, like a good British plank.  I assume your informational letters will come with photos similar to that on the left, to let you know how your plank is getting on.

Back on slightly dryer land, and away from things made of wood, there is a fair amount to do in Southend.  There's a theme park, Adventure Island, which can swallow an unlimited amount of money in a very short space of time if you're not careful.  Soft-toy side stalls intermixed with rides are a great amount of fun.  I did go on the big rollercoaster, Rage (the big yellow thing, right) - which was a hilarious 90 second shot of pure adrenaline.  Adventure mini-golf was also good fun, if not very tactical by the end of 18 holes of interestingly decorated (but otherwise fairly vanilla) putting.

I did snap a few shots from my phone while going round Southend.  On the pier I took a few.  Once I'd got them into Google Plus' photo collection, I discovered that some deep magic on a Google server had stitched three of the photos together automatically without my intervention.  It's not perfect, but I was quite impressed by the effect of the result!

 I didn't even ask for this picture, Google's Picasa Web Albums auto-magic stitch just made it appear!

I tried to take a shot going the other way, from land out over the pier.  However the M&S coffee shop window  I  took it out of caused a huge amount of reflection in the picture, and it looked pretty gloomy (the clouds had started to set in by that point).  So in a recent effort to be more arty, I had a got at it with my graphics tablet - the end result, I think, isn't too bad. 

My bleak photo of the view back taken through the window of an M&S coffees hop didn't work out so well.
Lucky I've been playing with a tablet, so I photo-edited it a bit to make it more cheeful.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Two Trees

The weekend has run away from me, and my phone is being unhelpful by deciding it doesn't want to wirelessly sync photos from the seaside with the interwebs.  Manual intervention, phone disassembly and boxes of electronic kit may need to be dived through to find the right wire to get photos from the microsd card to the computer.  I'm sure I'm overcomplicating this somehow...

Anyways, in the interim, enjoy another graphics tablet experimental doodle.