Leeds Creative Labs — Hepworth Edition

29 May 2015

I wrote this post for the Leeds Creative Labs — Hepworth Edition where it was published. I‘m also posting it here for archiving.

Here‘s a picture of our excellent team: Steve Manthorp, Louise Atkinson, Joanne Armitage (and me taking the picture).


We roved far and wide in previous meetings, leapfrogging from one idea to the next, careful not to kill anything with even the whiff of goodness. But with the deadline just over a month away, the next two meetings at the School of Music in Leeds were time to focus. As it turned out, four strands emerged quite naturally, each around a certain aspect of the object, its place in the world and its relationship to the gallery and the audience.

  1. The iterative object is about encouraging people to re-work and re-use works of art, to “fork” them (in web parlance) and do their own thing with the original artworks as the basis. Monkey Jesus cropped up. Cecilia Gimenez’s attempt to restore a fresco by Elias Garcia Martinez was derided at first but has become an attraction in itself. What would happen if we provided people with a framework to encourage this kind of behaviour with Hepworth’s sculptures?
  2. The venerated object pokes at barriers – physical and otherwise – which can placed between the viewer and a work of art. Consider an object encased in glass which becomes gradually more opaque as more people look at it. Or even one which would be destroyed if viewed too many times. Taking things to extremes helps to highlight how things are at the moment, to understand the current situation and try to change it. The practical ways we could make this happen – such as electrochromic glass and Sonte glass – also made interesting discussions.
  3. The decontextualised object is crammed with hyped technology such as 3D printing and computer vision, but at heart it’s about trying to bring some of the qualities and affordances of the web to our physical interactions with works of art. Most good gallery and museum websites have ways to explore the collection, placing an artwork in context of its metadata such as artist, country, date, materials, period, etc. Lots of people are already scanning works of art. What would it be like if people could handle 3D prints of works of art and be presented with relevant information projected around it?
  4. The unrealised object plumbs the depths of the Hepworth archives for sketches, notes and other fragments which the artist did not make into sculptures. What if we could bring those works off the page and into the world?

Hepworth Creative ideas

These ideas started to hang together quite nicely. In each case we picked up on stuff which is already happening and tried to create a framework which would encourage that behaviour and help people present it back to the world. The idea of “open source” kept cropping up as a model for collaboration and co-creating. Perhaps an even better one is “view source”. Being able to view source on a HTML page is a vital part of seeing how a webpage is constructed, copy and pasting it and using it yourself. This approach seem to be at the heart of each of our explorations – what would the ability to “view source” look like for sculpture, what behaviours would it encourage, would they be worthwhile? Come along to the Hepworth on 4th June to find out.

Web APIs — Learning lunch at Hacks/Hackers MCR

16 May 2015

hackshackers web apis lunch

We tried something different this time. Inspired by a journalist called Noah Veltman, we put on a HacksHackers Manchester “learning lunch”. We hope it will be a way for people to learn about and discuss important topics for journalism in the 21st century.

The first one was on the subject of web APIs. An API (Application Programming Interface) is a way of getting information out of a system without having to know all the details about how the system works. Everything from Twitter to Yelp to Google Spreadsheets has an API and we looked at:

  • the basics of how web APIs work
  • why you might want to use them
  • how you can use them without doing any programming
  • Popular APIs

We booked some tables at Ziferblat on Edge Street in the Northern Quarter, a venue which charges 5p a minute per person. It includes superfast Wi-Fi, unlimited free coffee, tea, soft drinks, waters, cakes, biscuits, toast, savoury snacks and cereals. It was a good session.

Here’s the slides from the talk.


Here’s a list of web APIs that don’t need authentication making them easier to mess around with.

Hack the election at Hacks/Hackers MCR

29 March 2015

Hack the Election

The fourth Hacks/Hackers Manchester was about the general election. How can we make the upcoming general election more interesting to young people and encourage them to use their vote? Can we use games, apps and other tools to engage them in the democratic process or just to make it more fun?

Here are my notes from the event.

First up was Beth Ashton, Social Media Editor at MEN, who outlined how for the newsroom had come since the last election. She also talked about some of the planned coverage including the Manchester Manifesto, an online poll on local and national issues which had over 5,000 respondents.

Next up was Francis Irving, CEO Scraperwiki. He’s a programmer and activist who has built what he referred to as “disruptive, civic tools” such as YourNextMP and ElectionLeaflets.org.

He went through various points from Agitprop Àgogo, a set of posts by Tony Bowden, mySociety‘s “international agitator” outlining mistakes and opportunities in civic technology. It’s a great site and well worth exploring in depth. Here’s a few that stood out:

To end we had Dan Hett, a games developer and livecoder who works at the BBC. He gave an excellent talk on his approach to work:

  • Restrictions are good. Not having much time or money can be to your advantage.
  • If it’s stupid but it works, it’s definitely not stupid.
  • The only valid test is other people. Get it working quickly then iterate.
  • Stay focused. Remember your objective. Don’t get too attached.
  • Choose your weapon wisely. Use what your know.

A great evening with much to mull over. Thanks to all the speakers.

Maps — Lightening talk at Hacks/Hackers MCR

09 December 2014

I did a quick introduction to digital maps at Hacks/Hackers Manchester in November. Here’s the instructions and links for reference.


A quick and simple process for getting the latitude and longitude for a column of addresses.

  1. New Google spreadsheet – Columns: Location, lat, lon
  2. Tools->Script Editor
  3. “Create new project”
  4. “Blank Project”
  5. Paste in this script – https://gist.github.com/robertocarroll/a819e8b625d73068bc15
  6. Publish->Deploy as Web App
  7. Spreadsheet -> select rows -> Macros-> Geocode Selected Cells Worldwide
  8. Each address should now have co-ordinates


Geojson is a good format for the data. It is flexible and allows you to add your own data to the structure. It’s quite easy to read, but it can be inefficient with large data sets and polygons (consider Topojson if project can work with modern browsers <IE8)

To export:

  1. Tools -> Script Editor
  2. “Create new project”
  3. “Blank Project”
  4. Paste in this script -https://raw.githubusercontent.com/mapbox/geo-googledocs/master/MapBox.js
  5. Publish->Deploy as Web App
  6. Spreadsheet -> select rows -> Geo -> Export


  1. Try using http://geojson.io
  2. Cut and paste the geojson data exported above into the text window.
  3. Your points will appear on the map
  4. Table view is good to see and scan your data
  5. Use Github pages – free hosting and version control. Update the data using http://geojson.io
  6. Lots of ways to customise how the map looks and behaves, eg Tilemill (no programming skill required) or Mapbox JavaScript API (you need to know some JavaScript)


Data sources

Interesting examples

Digital maps tend to follow certain formats, but these examples show different and interesting approaches:

Filtered #2

22 July 2014

Here’s a medley of curious threads we have pulled into our browsers this week.

  1. Una found a kind of a morbid one but fascinating article about what happens to your online identity after you die.
  2. She also discovered the world’s first light art museum, the digital art renaissance and redesigned parking sign. Yes, finally!
  3. Rob’s discovered Longplayer, a one thousand year long musical composition. The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill made it through parliament in the UK despite lots of people (myself included) writing to their MPs. Ho hum. We’ll have to find other ways to defend our rights to privacy, such as this online privacy pack courtesy of Reset The Net.
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