#plumptonmornings – call for testers


OK, as promised a test of a part of the voting platform.  This test will run until Wednesday evening at 6pm.


From any twitter account, tweet the following, precisely in this form:

bid £XX.XX to @PlumptonMorning

…where £XX.XX is the amount you want to bid.

You can then see your bid here – http://plumptonmornings.tumblr.com and/or follow@PlumptonMorning if you want to see confirmation of all bids.

The top bid at 6pm on Wednesday will win one of the Miniature Art Books with accompanying miniature coffee table.


—Original Post—

You must know what #plumptonmornings is about now, surely?

If not, read this, then that, then rejoin.

In short – experimental twitter long tail art auction thing to raise lots of money for UNICEF’s East Africa Famine Appeal.

Over the next 36 hours, we need your help to test some things, before the big launch.

You can help test a definition thing, a bidding thing, or both.

Conceptual thing

Very simply, I’d like you to rate these five example Plumpton Mornings works.

In full, they are:

Individually produced printed works (7″ x 5″, postcard size) featuring six Plumpton Mornings chosen for their vitality, randomised by twitter machinations.

A set of three Plumpton Mornings dice, featuring one Plumpton Morning on each side, crafted to correspond obliquely to the others, making them partially functional for those who know how to interpret them.

Four panels (each 8″ x 8″), where each contains four Plumpton Mornings. Each individual work contains part of a clue to a secret keyword which, if all cracked, will multiply each work by itself.

A miniature art book (1.7″ x 1.5″) featuring 24 Plumpton Mornings. Displayed on a miniature coffee table, naturally.

A calendar based grid work, where a complete time series of the Plumpton Mornings series with meaningful dates for the winning bidder are taken out to, creating ‘holidays’, and a unique version of the base template (24″ x 16″, or poster size)

A wholly unique functioning timepiece, featuring six Plumpton Mornings, and a sound and light display triggered by trains passing through Plumpton, no matter where in the world the piece is installed.

Vote here…

Then, second thing… a bidding test.

This week, we’re going to run a test of the bidding engine, and we’d like people to join in.

Unlike the real auction, there will only be one piece up for grabs, to the winning bid, and that will be for the overall winner.

Plumpton Mornings – Art for Famine Relief

The Plumpton Mornings project, to raise money for UNICEF’s East Africa Famine Appeal, as part of the 50 / 50 project, continues apace.

Read more here, if you don’t know about it.

But in short – it will be a twitter art auction.  You make bids via twitter.  Highest bids get the  loveliest things.

And EVERYONE who bids gets a piece of art.  Although anyone who bids less than a fiver will be outed as CHEAP.

How is it progressing, I hear you cry…

I’ve been getting Plumpton residents involved.  I met Charlie for a chat earlier.  I’ve found out that the station master, Mick, is a very keen photographer.  I smell an in-station exhibition.

Then I’ve been asking friends on twitter to help, by choosing random numbers.

Permutations are a wonderful thing; by simple choosing a set of six pictures, you can create 720 different possible combinations in a standardised six-position housing.

Friends tweeted me a random number between 1 and 720, and that became an iteration.

For each, there’s one version for day, and one version for night, like so:


To house these fine works, I’ve been investigating low-cost art forms as invented by 19th century Viennese Economists.  As you do.

Then I decided to make tiny art books of my favourite shots.

They are beautiful, and tiny.


It occurred, though, that the thing with Art books is that they’re really big normally.

They dominate coffee tables, where they are placed on display for all to see.

These tiny art books wouldn’t do that.  They would be lost under Hello.

So each will ship with its very own tiny coffee table too.


See, much better.

Then finally, just because I’m feeling festive maybe, I though some Christmas Cards might be nice…

All made up, of course, of Plumpton morning photos…


You’ll be able to bid very soon, of course, once those lovely folks at Made By Many finish of the fiendishly complicated twitter art auction engine.

Stay tuned.  And keep an eye on the Plumpton Mornings Tumblr too.




Think to make, make to think

I spent last night designing the third iteration of Smithery business cards. (Moo has 30% off at the moment, so my inbuilt Scottishness accelerated the process).

Each batch contains seven different designs. Whenever possible, rather than just give people a card, I like to ask them to choose between ones. It helps me test what works and what doesn’t, and so I can refine them over time.

For previous batches, I just did them in Photoshop and sent them to Moo. Digital-to-Physical.

This time, I wanted to skip around the line between physical and digital a little more.

So I used an ink stamp of the logo to print up various cards. The way that the imperfections of each stamp create a unique logo iteration is something I liked.


Then I scanned them in, which as an image began to feel a little factory-ish, which was interesting…. a production line of logos…


…and then a little jiggery-pokery in Photoshop again began to give some of the logos more of an organic, or perhaps metallic, feel…


I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out.

I find though whenever I am doing things like this, the more strategic, thinky stuff I’m working on continues to tick away in the back of my head.

Trying to think through difficult problems is somehow made easier by not thinking about them, not directly at any rate.

Today, when I got up and started working again on those problems, they’d become easier to solve.

It’s good to let the brain off the hook, every so often, and let the hands do the running.

That’s an awful mixed metaphor, but maybe you get the idea.

Universal Connectors for 3D printing

Been thinking a little about 3D printing, and the need for universal connectors so that all things should be augmentable by adding bits you print.

So, for instance, you could get a fridge that doesn’t have set shelves, but just space for connectors to slot on.  Then you print out the exact configuration you want.

Unfortunately, I can see a future though where several ‘proprietary systems’ of connectors pop up, and we go through the physical equivalent of the media format wars, the Bluray vs HDD system of things.

Anyway, I found this slideshow from 2008, by JFTesser, of a bench system made exclusively from a universal connector style system.  Lovely.

FRSTEE the snowman, was a jolly happy (datadriven) soul

A lovely thing arrived yesterday in the post – the FRSTEE I ordered for Helen from the folks at RIG London.

Basically, it takes your twitter data, and turns it into your very own Christmas decoration – the number of followers you have refers to the size of the head, the number of buttons on the front represents the years you’ve been on twitter.

It can do this of course because it’s made by a 3D printer.

Cute, yes? Helen loves hers.

Get your tweeting friends and grannies one for Christmas here…FRSTEE


Arduino Diary – Week 4

Brief recap; every Wednesday afternoon, a group of us are mucking about with Arduino, just to stretch understanding of that space, fuel our imaginations with some different approaches, and have fun doing it.  And drink tea, and eat biscuits.

This has been a bit of a busy week; working hard on existing stuff, pitching some new stuff, and looking after the wee fella a bit as Helen felt under the weather.

So I didn’t make it down to Brighton for our Arduino group session.

But I did find time to interview (via email) Julián da Silva Gillig in Argentina.

Julián is the creator of Minibloq which I mentioned last week; it’s a program he’s created which lets you visually piece together the code you need for a vast range of Arduino-type boards… you’ll get the idea from this video:



I’m a massive fan of the idea behind the program, so thought I’d find out a little bit more about it and where it might go next…


JVW: When did you start thinking about solving the problem that Minibloq addresses?

JdSG:  Well, really, in 1995.  I was 18 and was making parallel port interfaces and some elementary sensors to teach robotics in primary (and some secondary) schools.  I don’t remember the details, but I wanted to have a simple graphical software to program those physical devices.  I did not know enough to implement the thing that year.

But I started to work anyway.  Finally, in 1997, I released Minibloques.  It was not open source but was free.  After that, I never stopped thinking about this kind of environment, but I started to work for different companies, and did not have the time to work on it.

This is screenshot of the original Minibloques:


JVW: Why did you start Minibloq?

JdSG:  After some years with regular work (but always trying in my leisure to design something to teach robotics), I finally quit the company where I was working and started a small robotics company with 2 friends.

We were making heavy robots, like this one for example:


We also made an educational building system called Multiplo:


It became evident that we were needing something like Minibloq to compete with other systems for schools, and to grow our (small) market share, so I started personally to design it.

Finally, in 2007, I left the company, and my arrangement with my friends was to keep Multiplo as my own IP.

At the end of that year 2 things happened: First: I knew Lucio and Monica from RobotGroup, so Multiplo became a product of RobotGroup.

Secondly, I got funding from the Argentine governemnt to start working on a generic software framework for robotics (called “XDF”).  Minibloq was part of the XDF.

Multiplo became full Arduino compatible in 2009 (it was already AVR based so it was easy).  As RobotGroup was focusing more and more on schools it became evident that the C/C++ of the Arduino syntax was not positioning well the product to teach to children, or some beginners.

So I accelerated the development of Minibloq.  But I wanted to make it open source, free and compatible with Arduino, Maple and as many boards as possible.  And I needed the Kickstarter support fot that.

There is the “why”: it was a long process.


JVW: Who is it for?  I’m a pretty bad, hacky coder, and something in me just went ‘YES’ when I saw it?  

JdSG:  Children and beginners at the moment.  In the future, it may grow, who knows?


JVW: Don’t take this the wrong way, but Minibloq looks like a game – is that intentional?

JdSG:  Don’t worry!  It’s more or less intentional.  I took a design decision that was to use as less text as possible in the blocks, specially to make it independent from the human (ie: English, Spanish, Japanese…) and from the generated computer language (Minibloq is a generic code generator for imperative and OOP languages).


As I’m not a designer, I looked for open source / free icons.  And based on the icons I found (made by other people, or course), the aesthetics were involving.  Anyway, both the icons, the colours, and other things on the look and feel are customisable in the XML block files.  Future block developers may change the appearance of the program a lot.


JVW:  What would you like to see Minibloq achieve in the future?

JdSG:  Right now, the most immediate goal is to build a user community, as big as possible.  Regarding the software itself, there are some short term goals, and an extensive long-term roadmap.

But once the sources become released, and if there is an active user community, I think there can appear new things that I just not imagine now.

The more important short-term objectives are to have it running natively in Mac OS X and in Linux, the complete internationalization (with translations to many languages) and the necessary improvements to let users to add their own blocks and hardware.

Some friends are helping with the Linux and Mac OS X versions, and a lot of people from different countries offered to translate the soft once the internationalization subsystem becomes ready.

After these goals, there are a lot of things to improve, and to be added, and I don’t know where this should go…


JVW: Thank you very much, Julián

I think Minibloq is a fascinating project, for many reasons…

On the grander scale, it encapsulates the way in which small groups and individuals can start creating and sharing ideas across many borders and timezones, creating versions from previously open materials, and then opening up what they create for others to build upon.

And at a more precise level, it’s looking to take physical computing and putting it in the hands of people who have an idea (or at least interest in exploring what they could do), and creating a programming shortcut so they don’t have to be able to read and write code.

This sort of shift, as it starts happening in lots of smaller pockets of culture like this, is vaguely similar to when reading and writing stopped being the preserve of the priests and monks, and started to be something that ordinary people tried.

And we all know how that turned out.
Please follow Julián on twitter here, and the Minibloq blog here, and help him grow the community by taking part.


Douglas Rushkoff on Internet, Economies & Making

I’ve been trying to find a space to watch this for a while (thanks to Tom Miskin for the heads up), and found myself with a clear head and forty-five minutes this morning.

It’s Douglas Rushkoff speaking at Etsy’s Berlin event in September.

Watch live streaming video from etsy at livestream.com


It’s really worth a watch, hugely thought provoking about many areas.  A lot of the ideas are from his book, ‘Program or be Programmed”, which I’ve just ordered too.

But even before the book arrives, I now have a whole new swathe of cards to add in to the gargantuan pile of ideas which my Gently Blogging project has become…

Arduino Diary – Week 3

Brief recap; every Wednesday afternoon, a group of us are mucking about with Arduino, just to stretch understanding of that space, fuel our imaginations with some different approaches, and have fun doing it.  And drink tea, and eat biscuits.

My current project; make a device that allows me to set a level, hit a button, and send a signal to a feed which I can then turn into…

…well, maybe tweets, maybe auto-profile picture setting, maybe something else.

I’d better get it working first.

Lots to do this week; get the bar graph LED and switch working on the same board, in the same block of code, and get it to send information to the mac based on what the settings were.

But first things first… superfluos aesthetic tinkering.  Turning the dial up and down wasn’t fulfilling enough, it needed a touch more something.  Like a Gibson Les Paul guitar knob, maybe:

From a practical perspective, it’s got the 1-10 scale, and from the emotional feeling of turning it, it simply reminds me of playing guitar (which I don’t do nearly enough, nowadays).

After a good few hours, I had something cracked… all of the above working on the same board, and the switch affecting the flow of data from the analogue knob and, most gratifyingly, the system sending that information back to the mac.

You can see the output on the graph on the screen here:

But, crucially, it isn’t doing what I exactly want it to… the data flow from the analogue knob is constant and the switch interrupts that flow.  I want the switch to send, once, whatever the setting level is.

Which means the physical build is right, but the coding is wrong.


My ‘lego coding approach’ (find the block of stuff you need from elsewhere, patch it in) isn’t refined enough for this.  I spend a couple of hours tweaking things line-by-line, but to no avail.

So before next week, I might look at trying to run Minibloq on the mac (it’s Windows only, but there are ways around that); it’s a program that builds the code for you, if you just assemble the board visually on the screen, and tell it what you want it to do. It’s in beta at the moment, so probably worth a play.

Let’s see where that gets me.


The home-made Hallowe’en costume


I made a Hallowe’en costume for James today; he’s just two, so it’s the first time he’s been able to wear one and run around. We asked him what he wanted to be, and ‘robot’ was the answer. That’s my boy.

Anyway, this afternoon, off we went to a great local kids Hallowe’en party. Ham sandwiches and chocolate cupcakes were the order of the day.

I thought it was a little strange that all the other kids were dressed in costumes that were bought, not made. That used to be half the fun of dressing up when we were young making the costume with your mum and dad.

It’s just another example I guess of the convenience economy… Everything’s a time-saving service. We can create it for you, wholesale. Supermarkets and high street stores are rife with kids costumes, all designed to be just right. The perfect little vampire, witch or cat.

But for me the point of dressing kids up is not that costumes are quick to buy, easy to fit, perfect to look at.

As one of the rules from David Malki’s “Maker’s Bill of Rights” states, surely “The Effort Itself Is The Reward”..?