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Archive for the ‘Making & building’ Category

Actually make that time lapse photography with Instalapse, Hipstacase, Gorillapod, a large Velux window, a 30m extension cable and several volumes of the 1955 edition Chambers’s Encyclopedia.

Sophisticated time lapse photography rig.

Instalapse first.

Instalapse is an iPhone app that makes time lapse photography pretty darn easy actually. You set the interval between shots, set the number of shots (the app tells you what length of video you will generate for a given number of shots), frame your image area and press start. At the end of the shooting sequence you press a button to render the still frame shots into a movie. Then you can save, share, export etc at your leisure. It really is that simple.

And, despite some negative reviews in the App Store to the effect that the app kept crashing when rendering longer movies, I’ve had no problems whatsoever thus far. (Touches wood).

Obviously you need to keep the iPhone still whilst it takes its shots. The film below condenses about 75 minutes of cloud “action” into 23 seconds via roughly 575 shots at 8 second intervals.

Enter the Hipstacase.

Not only is the Hipstacase cool (IMHO). It is also functional in that it comes with a tripod adaptor that fits into a hidden slot on the case.

Hipstacase & Gorillapod

(Read this for the brilliant customer service encounter I had with the guys at Hipstamart – the analogue commercial end of the Hipstamatic franchise.)

As featured in the above shot, the Hipstacase allows the iPhone to be attached to the ultra-useful, prehensile piece of kit called the  Gorillapod. Awesome.

So now we’re rigged.

Here is the fruits of these labours. The skies over Fife. Brought to you by a great mobile device, a clever app, a cool case, the Action Man (with gripping hands) of the tripod world, some dusty books and a big window at the top of our stairs.

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Crowdlistr is a simple, smart idea that adds value to Twitter users who are interested in community. It allows you to open your Twitter lists such that, rather than self-curating, other users can add themselves. It facilitates a crowd-sourced approach to creating a Twitter list.

You create a list in Twitter, then sign into Crowdlistr using Twitter OAuth, click a button to open the list(s) of your choice and you’re done. Crowdlistr gives you a bespoke URL for that list, at which other people can add themselves with a single click.

Crowdlistr was conceived and executed by Yahel Carmon, a smart guy who can code and who was nice enough to answer my questions about his creation.

I stumbled upon Crowdlistr on behalf of the EdTwinge crew.

(EdTwinge is a crowd-sourced, Twitter-based, Edinburgh Festival Fringe review service – click for a fuller explanation of the service and the maths behind it.)

We’re gradually revving things up ready for this year’s Fringe, and part of this is generating a Twitter list of acts and performers at the 2011 festival.

I wondered whether it would be possible to open our list up to allow the acts to add themselves, rather than us having to conduct laborious searches.

Enter Crowdlistr via Google (Crowdlistr is the number three return at the time of writing).

I created a list of 2011 Fringe acts (pre-populated with 70 known acts) and then opened it up via Crowdlistr. And, for about ten days (at the time of writing) I’ve promoted the list in tweets from the EdTwinge Twitter account and via a link in the bio.

So far about 40 acts have added themselves to the list, of whom 14 have also subscribed to follow it, as can be seen from the grab of the Crowdlistr dashboard below.

Two things struck me about the early progress.

Firstly, all the crowd-sourced additions to the list are genuine Fringe acts. No bogus additions. No spammers.

Secondly, if you compare (already) this year’s open list with last year’s closed lists, there appears to be a clear correlation between adding yourself to a list and a propensity to subsequently subscribe to that list. A much higher proportion of this year’s list members are subscribers. (And remember that I had pre-populated the list with 70 acts, so 14 out of 40 people have added themselves and subscribed).

I decided to “reach out” to Crowdlistr’s creator, Yahel Carmon, and put these points to him to see if EdTwinge’s experiences had been shared by others. And he was kind enough to respond and share the insights below.

We’ve had a gratifyingly spam-free experience of Crowdlistr thus far. Has our positive experience been share by others?

Contrary to my original concerns, spammers adding themselves to lists has yet to present itself as a problem. I had always planned on adding spam protection features (options for requiring approval, captchas, follower minimums, etc.), but the need never came up. I think there are 2 reasons for that. First, a lot of spambots are automated, and the process of Twitter OAuth authentication for a user adding themselves to a list via CrowdListr cannot be done by a bot. Second, I don’t display any central directories of ‘open’ twitter lists that would make such an effort worthwhile — all promotion is done by list owners, so even if a spammer were looking to exploit it, it would be too diffuse to be worthwhile. There is, of course, a bit of spam protection built-in to Twitter: if you block an account, they’re not only removed from any list you own, but they cannot re-add themselves.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there seems to be a positive correlation between people adding themselves to a list and then also subscribing to it. Again is that an experience that has been shared by other users?

As far as people adding themselves to lists and then following them, yes, that has in fact been the case. From casual observation, I’d say about half of people who add themselves to a list proceed to follow it. This is, by the way, totally unprompted; the site doesn’t give any prompt for people to follow the list. (It would, however, be trivial to make this a quick-one-click follow for them after they’ve added themselves to the list; I may in fact add this feature.)
Crowdlistr’s usage has been picked up by exactly the types of groups I built it for: communities looking for easy ways to self-organize on twitter. I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic of the ability of hashtags to create lasting community amongst a group on twitter; they’re occasionally great for transient events, but there’s often so much noise around which hashtag people use. If you were tweeting at Monkey Conference 2011, regardless of how prominently the organizers display the ‘official hashtag’, tweets will be diffuse amongst #monkeyconf, #monkeyconf11, #monkeyconf2011, #monkey2011, #monkey11, #mc11, #mc2011, etc. People should be able to opt into joining a community’s conversation, and that be the end of their effort; obviously, the attendees of #monkeyconf are going to keep tweeting about monkeys even after the conference ends; why not create a way for people to easily keep tabs on that conversation?
That’s an interesting point to end on. The relative merits of hashtags and lists in terms of sustaining a community on Twitter. If you have any thoughts on this, feel free to share in a comment.

For me, this spam-free dabble with Crowdlistr, and the conversation with Yahel has once again demonstrated the ability of social channels to restore your faith in human nature.

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Scriberia sketch of John Willshire's Firestarters presentation

Process increasingly gets in the way of problem solving.

Thus spake John Willshire, Chief Innovation Officer at PHD, at last night’s excellent Firestarters event. The event was generously hosted by Google and masterfully curated by Neil Perkin.

John will no doubt post his slides in due course, and I’ll link to them from here when he does, but several of his points really struck a chord.

To paraphrase…

1) Process is a crutch

Piss-poor photo-journalism

Process is reassuring because it’s a thing you can see and buy.

But whilst process might help to make bad ideas good, it also tends to make great ideas good too.

Process breeds homogeneous mediocrity.

(Thus spake John Willshire).

2) Process is a broken crutch

The dynamism and interconnectedness of today’s technology and communication channels means that a silo-based, division of labour approach to process doesn’t work any more.

We should be more agricultural (generalist) than industrial (specialist) in our approach, behaviour, culture, organisation, recruitment and training.

(Thus spake John Willshire).

3) Process is anti-collaborative and counter-productive.

Crap photography again, but this got a lot of knowing laughs.

Everyone has their own proprietary, trademarked planning and creativity process to sell.

Everyone’s proprietary, trademarked planning and creativity process is better than everyone else’s.

It’s a farce that we’ve all seen played out at first hand.

I’ve felt the encouragement (pressure) from above to package, productise and hence monetise intellectual property, when experience, intuition and a base desire to just do great work tells you that a one-size-fits-all solution is no solution at all.

Modern problems demand intellect rather than pre-packaged intellectual property.

(Thus spake me).

(Inspired by a thus-spaking John Willshire).

This is why a lot of start-ups do really well coming out of the blocks. Enlightened, like-minded clients can buy direct access to experienced intellect (in its fullest diagonal thinking, t-shaped sense) in an entrepreneurial environment, before it gets sucked into a larger-company, productising, monetising, intellectual property mindset.

It’s also why my favourite creative brief format is a blank sheet of paper that allows the experienced practitioner to frame a challenge and hint at possible solutions in a bespoke, problem-specific way.

The problem with that approach is that less experienced practitioners need to be able to write briefs too. That’s when some structure, some brief writing process is useful.

But, as John spake thusly last night…

Process is a great place to start your education but a shitty place to stop.

Agencies and clients need to move on from this shitty, process-driven place at which they’ve (we’ve) stopped.

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Paper prototype

My daughter built a helicopter yesterday.

Her sisters were variously texting, Facebooking, Wii-ing, watching crap TV, bickering and begrudgingly walking the dog.

But she, aged six, took it upon herself to turn a cereal packet and some yogurt pots into a VTOL plaything.

She decided to build shit.

As in #buildshit.

I was presented with said helicopter when I got home last night. And I could not have been more proud.

As a parent I want my kids to explore and experiment as much as possible to discover for themselves where their talents lie.

So as an ideas-junkie and employee of a creative industry I am torn between huge displays of enthusiasm and encouragement, and a fear of imposing personal bias, whenever one of my offspring does something “creative”.

Last night I erred on the side of enthusiasm and encouragement as she described in detail (and I’m not exaggerating here) her initial vision, the practical challenges faced as she moved from idea to execution, how she adapted her approach to overcome these challenges, and how she “user-tested” her work in progress with various Playmobil characters and Happy Meal toys to ensure that they would fit in the cockpit.

Alas, the picture above wasn’t the first in a series of rapid, paper prototype iterations.

Not because she is averse to the principle of failing to learn.

But because, in her view, the first model was entirely fit for purpose.

So she built it and launched it.

(I think you “launch” a helicopter rather than “ship” it.)

And, given that she experienced no significant bugs herself – certainly nothing that acted as a barrier to fun play – and that no significant bugs were reported by her “beta-testing” sisters or parents, she shifted seamlessly from builder mode to user mode.

Agile, lean, spontaneous and joyful.

Job done.

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