Category Archives: my projects

Are you in a happy place?

On Friday I got round to doing something I’d been thinking of for a long while. I added location detection to my conversational psychogeography tool. Like the Is Brum Happy? system it takes the latest tweets around a location and rates emotionally sensitive words against a database to give scores for the happiness or emotional wellbeing of the place. If you’re using a HTML 5 browser (you probably are) you can let it reveal your location to the script (it’s not saved anywhere) and it will tell you if where you are (and a mile radius around) is happy right now.

Give it a go.

Still Walking

On the first day of April Danny Smith and I delivered a walking tour of the ‘back end’ of Birmingham city centre as part of the Still Walking festival. Ben Waddington the genius behind the festival asked for something that played with the city’s memes and myths, so that’s what we tried to do.


(photo by Simon Brettell)

As a result perhaps of the date not everyone was sure how true all of it was, but I can assure you the nuclear comms bunker with a billiard room is really there.

Exit strategy

Around ten years ago I started Birmingham: It’s Not Shit, the reasons are well documented and it’s been an interesting, useful and, at times, fun ride. It’s certainly changed the path of my life, let me meet interesting people and do interesting things. But it’s never been intended to make money, I think of it as part hobby part community service—and at the moment I haven’t got the time, money, or energy for either of those. So this is what I’ve said on the site:

[blockquote]Seriously, for a few reasons (time to keep updated, money, energy, the increasingly commercial “hyperlocal” landscape) I’m struggling to keep the site updated and I don’t really want it to slip away. I’ve looked into handing it over to someone to run for free out of the goodness of their hearts like I have for 10 years (in May), but no-one suitably likely to keep the spirit with the time and skills to has presented themselves. I’ve never run the site for gain or wanted praise, so it would have to be someone very motivated to keep that up. So, I figure that someone who thinks there’s money here (and there could be if if you worked it, I do get offers) might be able to keep it vibrant. [/blockquote]

There’s a reason in the money thing—I think that people who have made an investment are more likely to have the time and motivation. And those two things are really what you need here;  you could in theory make money out of a site like this if you wanted to, but it would take work.

So it’s for sale.

Twitizen Kane

Yesterday, I tried the Twitpanto method on “the greatest film ever made”. As part of  ‘Yarn presents Five Stories High’ at Flatpack Festival, I re-interpreted around ten minutes of Citizen Kane. It was a tight deadline, so plans to do something really different fell behind just writing a script and getting together a few ‘actors’ I could trust.

In a live setting I was interested in how the audience would understand the language of the Twitter feed just being projected on the wall. I hoped to get heckles and confusing stuff too.

The script, is here. We got ‘moved on’ (for reasons of time I suspect) just before the bit about the principles, which I thought was the crux of it. Never mind.

I’m not sure everyone got what was going on but this quick review from another participant means that at least someone did:

[blockquote]“obviously, members of the audience start tweeting using the hashtag, and it was just hilarious. And silent, and awkward, but in a brilliant way.”[/blockquote]

The weekend’s other Flatpack activity for me was to chair a Q&A with Lawrence (ex of Felt etc), that was both more conventional and a little better received I think. Great fun, and really nice to meet a musical hero.

Touching cloth

On Friday, as part of Flatpack Festival, there’ll be a screening of Lawrence of Belgravia: the documentary about the Felt, Denim and Go Kart Mozart frontman (nay, genius). The blurb goes thusly:

“Lawrence is one of those legends that very few people have heard of. Hellbent on stardom from an early age he jettisoned his surname and formed Felt, an 80s indie band with enigmatic allure, enormous influence (on Pulp and Belle and Sebastian, amongst others) and negligible sales. Later came Denim and then Go Kart Mozart, but fame never quite arrived. Rather than a talking-heads rehash of the whole story, Paul Kelly (Finisterre) has crafted a tender, bleak, funny portrait of the man himself now, a labour of love which accumulated over several years. This screening is a homecoming gig of sorts – Lawrence used to live over the road from the Midlands Arts Centre – and both subject and director will be here to talk about the film.”

I’ll be hosting the Q&A afterwards, and am listening to the Felt back catalogue and reading this book as I type. Tickets are, at the moment, still available.

NewsJack — writing comedy quickly

I like to think I’m an amusing writer, and that I can think quickly. Doing a radio show for a couple of years I think demonstrated that, and I’ve tried my hand at stand-up comedy. But until recently, apart from the odd Twitter witticism  I’d not really tried writing topical comedy. BBC Radio Four Extra’s NewsJack is one of the few radio shows that has an open submissions policy, meaning that anyone can send in jokes and sketches and maybe get on and then get paid for them. I’ve had a few near misses that made it to the recording but not the edit, as they’re topical they’re disposable really so I wouldn’t share them. But this one from this week has a little bit of longevity so I thought I’d pop it up here. Hope it makes you chuckle.

NewsJack the Jung Ones

Why I’m about to spend two weeks in a car in the name of art

I write, you know, it’s sort of the core of loads of stuff I do—writing is a founding block of good social web engagement which is where I get most of my living from. It’s also part of teaching or training in a way, you need to be able to construct narratives and find the right words. Journalism, or at least the writing of words to order for publication, is fun too. But the writing that’s most rewarding is where you get to have an idea, and then run with the bugger until it’s done.

Listening to all six hundred and ninety eight Elvis Presley songs in order in one sitting was one of those, but Dirty Bristow was sort of like that on a grand scale, and not just me writing.

When you look around there seems to be a straight choice for writers: the web and freedom (but no guaranteed audience or context) or whatever publication will have you and whatever rules they apply. Not that rules are bad: it’s not just the subject/audience/word count stuff that’s the problem, it’s the context and the pressure of it. Want to discuss South American literature and pop-culture in the same breath? You’ll be too worried that not everyone will get it, waste the word count explaining things and end up with something without the élan you wanted.

So we invented a magazine with as few rules and pressures as possible, it seems (artistically at least) to work. That sorted what’s the next challenge?

Piers.

Or to be specific, nostalgia for a lost and fictional time and piers are a good knob to hang this particular type upon.

Danny Smith, with whom I’d managed to hold out against the advice and make the magazine, said there was something in a book visiting all of the pleasure piers in Britain. He didn’t know how many there were, how long that would take, but it sounded good. I said yes, and then basically a lot of people said ‘no’. Or rather they said “don’t do it”, “I’m not coming”, “that’s stupid”, “why?” or most devastatingly of all for Dan “you’re wasting your life” (his mum).

But we’re going to do it anyway. We’ve researched a bit, and know where they are. We’ve press-ganged a driver—I say so my creative stance isn’t diluted, my friend says “so your drinking isn’t interrupted” and she’s possibly half right. But it’s more so I don’t have to worry so much.

I love new places, but find that travel can be a trial, even if arriving is a pleasure.

I get nervous: sit on a train, is it the right train? Is it working? Have I go the right ticket?  What if it doesn’t stop at the right place? What if it breaks down, what if… No, I can’t relax. Not til all decisions have been taken off me—which is sort of why I can cope a lot more easily with the regimented walk/don’t walk watch-the-screens travel by air. I mean, they’re actively trying to make sure you don’t get on the wrong plane—and the consequences of a break-down are a little more final than having to spend the night on Crewe Station.

So if I don’t have to think, and the worst thing that can happen is that I die, I’m good.

I don’t have a point or an allegory for the journey, certainly not one as deeply thought out and involving the A-Team as m’colleague Mr Smith has. Nor am I thinking about group dynamics in a wider sense than I don’t really want to have a row with either of them. I’m not looking for conflict or hardship: the last thing I want is for this tale to turn into one of struggle, of dirty sleeping conditions or danger. We might find some, but I’m more interested in the ghosts of the past.

There’s something we’ve lost culturally, it’s like a love that’s gone and hurts. The empty past leaves you constantly hungry around the heart: it’s true to call it an ache but there are sharp pains too. There’ll be explosions of emptiness, like going over a humpbacked bridge too fast.

Inspirationally, for me the trip is a mirror world version of Drummond and Manning’s Bad Wisdom series. In that two differing writers travel to the unknown, testing themselves and their sanity—we’re hunting the familiar in a county that is changing faster than we can cope with. Except that instead of two independently wealthy ex-pop stars, we’re two people without two pots to rub together; having spent what little spare we had on the magazine itself.

People have been kind, we’ve had offers of support and places to kip as well as a surprisingly quick race to the (low admittedly) Crowdfunding target. Thanks everybody.

If you want to check out something similar, there’s the much smaller scale trip we did around Birmingham’s pubs Concrete and Cocktails that you can download for nowt.

More details of how to help or get involved in this madness are here: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/investment/pier-review-a-book-about-a-journey-to-the-outcrops-of-a-dying-culture-311

Twitter – @Pierreview
Facebook – Facebook.com/PierReview

Map of Birmingham— Inebriance Survey

Pub Map.pdf (1 page)

Map of Birmingham: Inebriance Survey 2011 PDF

Now that is what I call a map. Every pub in Birmingham as available from the Open Street Map XAPI (on 6/1/11), for use as a navigational aid.

Plotted as a mapless map with Maperitive, and text tided up in Illustrator, no data was added or removed (except for duplicate of ‘The Tennis Courts’ in Perry Barr, which is plotted twice on OSM).

Prints  available , although you’re free to open, download, and explore the PDF.

Data and icon from and © Open Street Map under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 licence and as such the PDF/image here is too.

How Christmassy are you feeling?

The Christmas-o-meter bounder

Just a little fun seasonal project I’ve made with the layout and design help of Gavin Wray.

It works very much like my other sentiment analysis tools, but with a sprinkling of Santa’s magic. Santa’s magic in this instance being that any tweets with the words ‘Christmas’ or ‘Xmas’ in them are weighted doubly—that is the scores are counted twice for the purpose of producing the mean score.

So, try the Christmas-o-meter and see how Christmassy you’re feeling.