alexandtheweb / blog

Summer of seemingly arbitrary pursuits

Summer cracks on at pace. I thought I’d stop and have a think about what it is exactly I’ve been getting up to.

Pursuing higher aims obliquely is something I seem to do naturally. But I’m also aware that doing so often makes it look like I’m simply flailing about. Well, perhaps I am. I’ve been keen for distractions.

A few highlights from the past month follow below.

Organising.

BBC Archives Fieldtrip

At the end of June, I helped navigate 18 Brighton geeks and enthusiasts across London to the BBC Archives in Perivale, where we met our gracious host, Mr. Bill Thompson. Some months previous, Bill had kindly agreed to take us on a tour of the shiny new archive facilities.

While there we marvelled at the climate-controlled vaults where BBC’s carefully curated back catalogue is stored (including part of John Peel’s LP collection); and watched as giant tape robots meticulously transcribed decades of recorded history into a digital format. And we heard from Bill about some of the inventive mashups being created from the archival content already digitized and about Bill’s efforts to bring awareness about the possibilities of the newly created data stores to the wider public.

Naturally, we also had our obligatory Dalek encounter.

UX Brighton – Mobile User Testing Edition

Danny and I held July’s edition of UX Brighton at Fabrica Gallery, where two fantastic speakers, Walt and Raj, covered the practicalities of running user testing sessions on handheld devices. We had a full house and quite a few new faces, including many students. I was a bit daunted by the prospect of being the newbie half of the organising team, but managing the event turned out to be a blast and we’re already scheming the next one.

Big thanks Walt and Raj for their time and effort; and to Laurence Hill, Fabrica’s head of audiences and communication, for letting a bunch of UX types roam amidst the (very beautiful) exhibit of Annemarie Sullivan’s work.

Learning.

Consciousness Expo

On 30th of June, just prior to kicking off an annual academic conference, Sussex University’s Sackler Centre held a public open day about the latest research into consciousness. We went along to play with the exhibits (a fun-filled array of brain computer interfaces, optical illusions and Turing tests) and to say hello to Kate, Sackler’s lovely artist in residence. Later that weekend, we had a chance to trial Kate’s new work, a magical, one-on-one experience centered around one’s heartbeat, sense of presence and body autonomy. It proved very moving and unexpectedly therapeutic.

Future UI

I’ve started a little Tumblr blog of projects, products and prototypes that propose new interaction modes – or attempt to broaden existing ones. Not quite sure what its purpose is yet – possibly merely to satisfy my hoarder’s instinct.

Summer reads

I’ve chewed through a few novels and a couple of UX books, but the gem of my summer reading has been Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. A fundamental text on the absurdities of human thinking.

THE Project

Once the slow, rising tide of cynicsm about my topic of choice reached its ebb, I decided to abandon the idea of writing my masters dissertation on slacktivism. I’ll be changing focus entirely, most likely to tablet apps designed for autistic children.

All this being said, I’m still not sure what all of this is adding up to. I suppose the true highlight of my summer so far has been the concerted effort on my part to see more of the people I genuinely like and admire. I’m very lucky that those whose intellect sparkles more brightly than my own can tolerate my company.