progress report 2

We’re over three-quarters of the way through 2016: A Creative Year, and it’s been a long time since my last progress report so here goes:

In March, I increased my working hours so I’ve less time and energy to devote to creative activities.

I recently spent a weekend sorting through the accumulation of stuff in my garden office. It was desperately in need of a clean, but in doing so I found a lot of stuff that I’ve never used so it was time to send it somewhere it could be utilised. I found it hard to get rid of things like sketch pads and paint brushes, that I’d acquired in the hope of achieving some creative dreams, and it was an effort to remind myself that getting rid of them isn’t the same as abandoning those dreams.  Anyway the space is more usable now, even if I’ve still to set up all the equipment again, so that’s a benefit.


In May, I took part in the Duxford Saturday Workshop’s members’ concert. It was an enjoyable day, with several hundred people of all ages performing in their groups, so the primary school corridors were full of people waiting their turn, practicing nervously. The mixed abilities ukulele group played Brain Damage from Dark Side of the  Moon. I’d been careful to practice in good time to warm my fingers up but unfortunately the knuckles of my left hand locked as they sometimes do, so I could only pretend to play along, which was frustrating.

Shortly after the concert, I started attending weekly music therapy sessions at Anglia Ruskin University through Cambridgeshire Music.  This is a fantastic safe environment to explore and experiment, so I’ve tried playing guitar, saxophone, piano accordion, and piano, sometimes solo but sometimes Susan accompanies me on guitar or piano. She’s very talented and can improvise effectively around whatever sounds I’m producing.

As a result of her patience and encouragement I finally bought a guitar, an electro-acoustic Washburn which I practice on at every opportunity. I particularly enjoy it when Susan and I make music together.

With the onset of the new school year, the Duxford Saturday workshops resumed, and adjustments to the timetable meant that I was able to join the beginners’  guitar group as well as return to the mixed abilities ukulele group.

The structure provided by weekly music therapy sessions and Saturday workshops  provides very helpful encouragement to practice, though I find that I’m neglecting the ukulele in favour of the guitar.


I’ve sketched a few times at lunchtime at work. It’s been pleasant but during the summer I spent too long sitting in the direct sun, and fainted on my return to the office.  no painting


I’ve still to complete the god’s view labyrinth sketch but I’ve devoted a lot of time trying to develop a path-following algorithm. I’m tempted to hard-code the sketch by running it once and saving the co-ordinates for the ‘people’ to follow, but that would lose the ability to pick randomly from a set of vector paths representing different labyrinths, so I’m loathe to take that route.


In what I now think of as ‘my ‘other’ job, I’ve been training other people on setting up websites using WordPress, but it’s not creative.


I’ve made several After Dark photography expeditions, exploring the streets of Cambridge city centre at night, which reminds me: I’ve still to post the shots from what I call the Dark Rain expedition.

I still haven’t done any light painting, and I have several other projects I want to try but I’ll keep those to myself for now. Off-camera flash offers a lot of interesting potential.

Friday, October 21st, 2016 coding, creativity, music, photography No Comments

progress report

We’re over half-way through February, so it seems high time for a progress report on 2016: a creative year, so I’ll take a brief look at each area:

Ukulele, guitar

I’ve attended all four sessions of the Duxford community music group in the first half of the spring term, and the list of pieces to practice has grown each week. During this current half-term break, I’m concentrating on Frere Jaques, Everything Stops For Tea, Messing About on the River, 12 Bar Blues, and Brain Damage (yes, the Pink Floyd track from Dark Side of the Moon). It’s good to have a variety of numbers to focus on, but this has distracted me from  following the programme of exercises in Ukulele Aerobics by Johnson Chad.

On a more practical and slightly more public note, I’ve accepted an offer from one of the volunteers in the Cambourne Timebank scheme to help me develop my ukulele and guitar playing. We’ve provisionally arranged to hold our first session one evening this week.


The nights are still long so it’s a good time of year for low-light photography, but, although it’s been a relatively mild winter so far, I find it too cold to go out taking photographs without a specific event to reach, so I keep postponing my tentatively-planned expeditions. I got as far as buying two small torches for light painting but haven’t used them yet. Instead, I’ve read two of my photography books on using off-camera flash guns: Studio Lighting Unplugged by Rod and Robin Deutschman and Speedliter’s Handbook by Syl Arena. Yes, I know that reading about something isn’t the same as actually doing it, but I’ve hardly used my flash gun and feel very unprepared to start using this versatile piece of equipment without a lot of guided practice and experiment.


I seem to be bombarded with ideas for coding projects. Everywhere I go, I want to create a code version. The latest two ideas are: a drawing programme with a kaleidoscope feature, based on an exhibit at the Camera Obscura World of Illusions in Edinburgh that Mandy and I visited last week. Mandy found it very therapeutic, so a browser-based sketch written in p5.js seemed a perfect way to create one for her.

The second recent idea is a representation of a visual metaphor used in The Brain with Brian Eagleman, a documentary series currently showing on BBC. The metaphor was to illustrate the impact of multiple minute differences, and consisted of a box with several rows of mousetraps, each primed with a table tennis ball. Brian dropped another table tennis ball into the box which triggered a mousetrap into releasing its ball which then flew up then landed on another trap which then released its ball. Within seconds the box was full of colliding balls all landing on traps and releasing yet more balls. It seemed a perfect opportunity for some OOPs coding, but I’m daunted by the idea of trying to simulate the physics of spinning balls. This calls for a simplification.

Drawing and painting

No activity to report.


I’ve offered to help Laura, the organiser of Cambourne Timebank to set up a website for the scheme, and to illustrate the scheme by taking photographs and editing a video of activities.

In conclusion, I have achieved little finished output for the first seven weeks of 2016, but I have plenty of material to work on in the coming weeks. To keep myself on track, I need a thorough review and overhaul of my Trello board dedicated to 2016: a creative year.


Saturday, February 20th, 2016 coding, creativity, music, photography 2 Comments

a creative year

I’m giving 2016 a theme: a creative year. My focus for the year is to: develop creative skills.

I’n recent months, I’ve posted the results of my night photography expeditions, and I plan to continue these, branching into experiments with light painting.  In addition to photography, I’m keen to extend my ukulele playing, and I’ve arranged to start in a community music workshop that meets on Saturday mornings in Duxford. I’m also looking at other creative skills: drawing, painting and coding.

Prompted by a post on the Trello blog, I’ve created a Trello board for specific goals and tasks to help me focus on developing these creative skills.

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Thursday, January 7th, 2016 coding, creativity, drawing, music, photography 1 Comment

skynet is alive and well and living in digitopolis

In a more or less arbitrary way, I decided to create something, only to discover that someone had beaten me to what I thought was my idea, which just goes to show that creation should come from itself not an independent self-conscious decision. Recently I’ve been lulling myself to sleep at night by mentally listing homophones. It’s an almost infinite list, so it’s not the best aid to relaxation. I toyed with a diversion into word play, and tried to link it to the idea of digital natives, which got me wondering where digital natives live, and voila, we have the city of digitopolis.

First, I made a brief, unhelpful excursion into the etymology of digitalis then a further Google search led me to The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Digitopolis, it turns out, is one of the capital cities in the Kingdom of Wisdom, and is where the one of the rulers, the Mathemagician lives. Why have I never heard of this modern classic, far less read it?

Alternative names for the residence of digital natives include Numeropolis, apparently used by Juster in early drafts and Digital City, resonant of some futuristic space opera, but in practice this turns out to be a much more prosaic project in Teeside. Cyber city is apparently a cyberpunk anime and that leads us into the territory of Chiba City and Neuromancer. But it turns out I’m already there.

I recently started using Chrome in addition to Safari, and installed extensions for Sidekick and Kifi. Twitter has started sending me discover messages, which I turned off, but it feels like I’ve crossed an event horizon.  StumbleUpon was an early attempt at a curated web but it never lived up to my expectations. Now it seems that the web is curated either by an Artificial Intelligence or a hive mind of real people.

But at least I found The Phantom Tollbooth using only Google.

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 artificial intelligence, creativity, web No Comments

sudden burst of activity

I’ve not done much creatively for several months, but just recently I’ve had a surge of interest. Playing Martian Fluxx encouraged me to start designing a version based on Star Wars, not just substituting one set of text and graphics with another but altering the mechanics in an appropriate way.

I’ve also resumed reading about genetic algorithms, and arranged for online tuition sessions with Ollie Glass to help me use them in Processing. The tutoring was due to start last night, but had to be postponed  for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, at Ollie’s suggestion, I’ve summarised my understanding of evolution in plain English then expressed it as a flowchart. I can glimpse the structure of a Processing sketch, but I’ve still to grasp some of the bigger hows and whys.

Thirdly, I’ve been exploring some elementary Arduino projects, and ordered parts for a touch screen controller, taken from Practical Arduino, which I might link initially to the virtual colour mixer example on the Arduino website. Yes, I know that touchscreens are no longer exotic, but I’m intrigued by the possibilities. I can imagine using the touch screen controller to adjust a genetic algorithm project, perhaps even intervening wirelessly as simple robots attempt to pass on their learning to future generations.

Alternatively, the touch screen could be a remote controller for a stop motion camera…

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Saturday, May 8th, 2010 coding, creativity, games No Comments

Back to the drawing board (again)

Normally I’m not keen on blogging about my work, but today has been encouraging in all sorts of different ways. Not only is this the first time I’ve posted on here for a long time, but it’s also the first time for several weeks that I’ve posted on the Leave No Trace blog.

But it’s wider than just blogging. Early this afternoon I felt inspired to get some paints out and be messy (though that will have to wait until the weekend), and decided on a particular technique that I want to explore.

Later on, I went to a meeting at the university where I discussed Bridget Woods‘ life drawing and saw some amazing stop-motion animation models which were inspiring, and afterwards went to a meeting with local digital artists which was also stimulating.

I hadn’t been sure about going back to the life drawing class but now I’ve decided that I will, though I need to be careful to get out of the rut I was finding myself in towards the end of last term. Perhaps Bridget Woods’ book would be a starting point.

Thursday, January 14th, 2010 creativity, drawing No Comments

Dave Brian’s super. Dave Brian can do anything

My hero is at work again, releasing an application called Trope in the iTunes App Store.

I missed him on the recent South Bank Show programme about Coldplay, but for some reason, the South Bank Show isn’t available on ITVPlayer, so I can’t watch it now or providce a link to it. Grr.


Thursday, September 24th, 2009 creativity No Comments

strangers on a train

It turns out that, despite the lull between festivals, culture continues in Edinburgh. We went to four blog-worthy art exhibitions and events in the National Gallery complex alone, and these will probably be the subject of future posts, but before writing about those, I want to recount a conversation I had on the train coming south.

I normally avoid conversing with strangers, but I felt drawn to the young lady opposite me. She was working away at a laptop and I didn’t want to disturb her, but she was repeatedly distracted by some boisterous lads further down the carriage and she commented twice to me on their youthful exuberance. After a while, she gave up her attempts to work and we started to chat. Initially we talked of food and cooking, so I recommended Nigel Slater’s books, but the conversation soon turned to creativity.

She appears to be where I was a few years ago, in an unfulfilling and stressful job, with half-forgotten ambitions to do something more interesting and creative. I recommended The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, as I often seem to, and she seemed intrigued. Indeed, she went as far as to say that we had been destined to meet. The conversation ostensibly revolved around my proselytising, but in fact, I got a lot out of it too. It reminded me of what I’ve frequently claimed is important to me, and although I don’t yet feel ready to immerse myself in drawing and painting, the idea seems closer and more realistic.


Sunday, July 12th, 2009 creativity No Comments