You're reading the archives for March 2011

HSBC archive visit

RIG visit to the HSBC archives

We were lucky enough to be invited to view the HSBC archives the other day. A fascinating treasure trove of stuff from 1776 onwards.

1776

There’s some wonderful stuff in there.

Lovely letters

Gorgeous lettering.

There's a monkey in the bank

Monkey business is good business.

Computers

Inevitably hilarious pictures of computers from not that long ago.

L1140776.JPG

Newspaper!

RIG visit to the HSBC archives

Tates Improved Arithmometer

Tates Improved Arithmometer

And lots of other wonderfully fascinating stuff. Loads more picture here.

The HSBC archives are open to the public by appointment only. We’re interested in archiving. Makes us wonder what other archives large corporation hold. Are they open to the public? Are they online? Anyone know?

Week Links!

Right then. It’s my turn. Actually it was my turn three weeks ago, and I’ve not been forgiven for missing it. RIG exudes an image of calm and relaxation, but inside it’s a pressure cooker of stress and fear.

Anyway.

I spent a bit too long playing Rock Paper Scissors against a weak AI. Specifically, an AI that’s been designed to optimise its game by analysing the patterns from over 200,000 previous moves. James and I really liked the way you can ‘turn over’ the computer player to see how it’s thinking. It’s a great example of how to explain how algorithms work. As we weave AI into more and more things we own and use, we’re going to need more of this.

I’ve been overly interested in Bitcoin (the wiki is more useful), a virtual P2P currency. It’s like a currency, but backed by solutions to computationally difficult problems, rather than gold. It’s a crypto-currency. It’s P2P because there’s no central point of trading or distribution – it’s like BitTorrent. Which all sounds fanciful, until you discover that yesterday the Bitcoin market was worth $4.8 million, and $0.14 million was traded in 3100 transactions. The video on the home page explains it quite well. And then you can watch the markets. Interesting. Maybe.

I loved the aesthetic of this series of photos by Stephan Tillmans, called Luminant Point Arrays.

They show tube televisions in the moment they are switched off. The television picture breaks down and creates a structure of light.

Aaron Straup-Cope, of our friends at Stamen, whose Prettymaps you may have seen recently, has produced more magic with Polymaps and OpenStreetMaps. Airport City is a map of airport runways and motorway on and off ramps. He explains it best.

Paris (2011-03-12)

And Aaron’s Prettymaps also adorn the cover of this custom guidebook made by Blaine Cook for last week’s SXSW 2011. Inspired by and similar to James’ bespoke guidebooks from SXSW 2010, but Blaine generated it dynamically, using wkhtmltopdf. He tells me the code will be released on Github soon.

Notebook and coffee

But most importantly it’s Phil’s birthday today. Happy Birthday Phil! We’re off for Mexican. Have a nice weekend.

Week Links: Scarves, Broadbend, and My Little Pony

Hello, James here. It’s almost-weekly RIGnotes time!

Alex won the week, obviously, with the launch of her marvellous Curious Scarves. She also wrote a great post about why they cost the amount they do: thoughts on the cost of making things.

This is is important; it crosses over into a lot of what we do, from making newspapers to printing books on demand to bespoke electronics. Physical things have more weight in the world, and new technologies make these things ever more doable, obtainable: the internet as cornucopia machine. Anything that can be automated can be hooked up to the internet and opened to the public, whether it’s flat-pack furniture or clothing.

But there’s always a trade-off. And people are hooked up to the network too: both digital freelancers and digital sweatshops. What we choose to make, how we make it, and what we’re willing to pay for it, have real consequences. The network is real, it has weight in the world too.

Anyway, it’s not Summer yet. In fact it’s still pretty chilly. You should probably buy a scarf.

This is Ben, a couple of years ago apparently. Russell and Ben have been in the office a lot this week, which has been nice. The only thing I know they’ve done is set up a ladder for Words With Friends. Important stuff, although I’m sure there was more.

Ben blogged a bunch of really beautiful hand-drawn type as part of this post on fonts and Fairtrade Fortnight. I’m always really struck by this stuff when I’m abroad, whether it’s hand-lettered shopfronts in Africa, or beautifully decorated trucks and taxis in the Indian subcontinent. Here are some favourites from Mauritius, Mexico and India – and there’s a whole set of Cuban billboards.

Ah, I feel warmer already.

Russell announced Interesting 2011, which sounds mad, but I bet it will be awesome fun:

Boring, Playful and The Story are all now much better ‘people talking about stuff’ events than Interesting. Better curation. Better organisation. Better names. And I don’t want to organise something similar but not as good.

So, this year it’s going to be more about activities than talks. And it’s going to be divided into sections run by different people.

And there’s going to be another Radio Roundabout – next week! Friday! (Tom promises he’ll update the homepage. He promised he’d do RIGnotes last week too.)

Russell also did a whole series of posts on interfaces and screens, all accompanied by lovely pictures. You probably follow Russell anyway, but seriously: multi image projector pop, screen inflation and beautiful buttons are eye candy. And then there’s this, which we won’t talk about again:

Russell wanted me to mention Instaprint, which is very nice. It prints your Instagram pictures using that Zink stuff we’ve mentioned before. I love Instagram: it’s a service that sits at another level of attention: not as intense as Twitter, not as serious as Flickr. It fits its medium, the iPhone, perfectly. Instagram pictures look rubbish on the web, or uploaded to Flickr, but the filters are very well chosen to make rubbish photos look good in your hand. But most importantly, it’s the first service friends of mine who aren’t web geeks have used socially outside Facebook (“a swimming pool on an ocean liner”). I hate Facebook, so it’s really nice hanging out with them there.

Tom and Phil have been knee-deep in code all week, it would appear, with all the associated coding frowns and coding air punches that accompany that. This is the meat, but it’s hard to talk about. So I won’t. But you know: they’re the best. Phil did sneak out an awesome post on Trailers As Movies which you should go read now.

In friends-of-RIG news, We Are Words And Pictures announced Paper Science 4, which looks even more awesome than the previous 3, if such a thing is possible. Adrian Hon’s A History of the Future in 100 Objects got funded and will be marvellous. BERG’s SVK project decloaked in Wired.

I’ve mostly been writing stories for bots, which I’ll talk about another time. And finding out about a New York City lamppost mystery, the Quaid Conspiracy and Chinese “officialdom” novels.

My favourite thing this week was You Are Listening To Los Angeles. Ambient audio overlaid on LA police scanners. Dreamy, sussurating… the sound of a city as a whole organism. We did a hyped up version of that sort of audiomashing on Wednesday in the office for the shuttle landing, combining this audio feed with this one. It was fun. And while I’m talking about audio, I’m going to tell you again to subscribe to Love+Radio, the best podcast in town, and I will not stop telling you until you do.

That’s enough of my rambling. Beer O’clock. Have a lovely weekend.

Curious Scarves

Clay Shirky once said: “Anyone who’s predicting the decline of big cities has already met their spouse.” and Nassim Nicholas Taleb finds “living in big cities invaluable because you increase the odds of serendipitous encounters – you gain exposure to the envelope of serendipity.”

I’ve been wondering about life in the big smoke and the cultures of serendipity that are unique to London. I’ve also been fascinated by English behaviour in the public sphere. The multitudes of fashion subcultures are tools that people really use to increase awareness of each other without having to say a word. Speaking to strangers in public is awkward at the best of times, so dating and flirting becomes a very different game, especially when it’s been this cold for months now (what with hiding under 3 layers of clothing, feeling grumpy because the sun sets at 5, and trying not to lose it in the Underground). That public sphere is seldom connected to the rich and strange landscapes of digital experiences we have through places like Facebook or online dating sites (with exceptions).

A few months ago, Damaris and I started thinking about how to bridge the two. Clothing as a first step to encourage conversation between 2 people with something in common and also clothing for comfort and warmth.

Months later, I’m proud to introduce Curious Scarves, unisex scarves that allow you to share you relationship status with the world.

You have the choice of 3 patterns that signal “looking for men”, “looking for women” and “looking for both”. They come in 2 sizes, a cravat type and the all-encompassing-wrap-around-twice type.

Soon you’ll be able to order them with a bespoke tag with a word of your choice embroidered on it. Something pithy, smart or your twitter username perhaps?

The pattern is inspired by the game of noughts and crosses, an easy visual system to use that only makes sense if you know what it refers to. It’s not screaming out your availability, it’s keeping things subtle.

We are collaborating with Alexandra Jarup, a graduate of the London College of Fashion to machine-knit them on demand. Slow-fabbing if you will. Tom built the website of course.

This is very much an experiment in the role of fashion and the public sphere. I’m curious to see which models are more popular, which designs, which colours. Having dealt with the world of technology for the past 5 years, this is a very different sort of project and I’m very excited. I hope you like them.