Recommendation systems still have nothing to recommend them

Amazon’s recommendation system is still dismal. I put a Huawei wi-fi router in my wishlist and Amazon is instantly certain I would love a Bosch IXO Cordless Lithium-Ion Screwdriver. Erm, nope. I will probably purchase the blu-ray of Tomorrowland (gotta get those 20+ minutes of deleted scenes), therefore Amazon’s system thinks I am clamoring to purchase every Hollywood blu-ray movie out there, from zombie crap through American schlock comedies to (blurgh) Jupiter Ascending. Erm, nope. Has anyone yet developed a recommendations system / taste-matching engine that isn’t moronic? I haven’t heard of one, but if you have one then please sell it to Amazon.

Birmingham in 1964

A very fine little 8mm home movie of Birmingham city centre in 1964…

Street photography under threat from the EU

A proposed new European law would effectively remove the right to take and share photos in public places, across the UK and Europe…

“On the “freedom of panorama” principle, such as the right to create and share images and photographs of public buildings, the text cautions that the commercial use of such reproductions should require authorization from the rightholder.”

It’s a result of pressure from a French MEP, predictably (they’re bizarrely sensitive about commercial photographs of the Eiffel Tower), backed by a UK Labour MEP.

Wolverhampton’s Great Exhibitions

“Displaying the Black Country: Wolverhampton’s great exhibitions of 1869 and 1902″. Another article has pictures, such as this of the 1902 Wolverhampton exhibition grounds…


Amateur Creativity

A two-day free symposium on Amateur Creativity is to be held at the School of Theatre, University of Warwick (on the outskirts of Coventry) on 17th – 18th September 2015. It…

“aims to challenge perceptions of amateur creativity and contribute to debates about the cultural significance of the amateur”.

Neil Gaiman on “How Stories Last”

Neil Gaiman takes on a very timely topic, in the week that saw the superb Tomorrowland cruelly tossed aside at the behest of cynical and uncomprehending critics. Gaiman’s “How Stories Last” is a new and lengthy Long Now Foundation talk, followed by a one-to-one discussion with Stewart Brand. Free audio .mp3 (190Mb).

Neil’s talk explores the way stories, myths and tales survive over great lengths of time, such as the 10,000-year span of the Long Now Foundation, and why creating for the future means making works that will endure within the oral tradition.

Sidewalk Labs

Google’s new Sidewalk Labs

“Sidewalk Labs, an urban innovation company that will develop technology at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds, with a focus on improving city life for residents, businesses and governments.”

Director of the Institute for the Creative Economy

Nice job, Director of the Institute for the Creative Economy, Birmingham City University.

Maker Monday

Birmingham City University has a new monthly ‘Maker Monday’ in Birmingham, for young technology innovators…

“Maker Monday draws on the rapid growth of cheap computing such as the Raspberry Pi, prototyping tools such as 3D printing and modern projection techniques such as telepresence.”

Just add bears…

DatumExplorer v01. Digitally scan an entire British woodland, record its complex sounds and acoustics, create a mapped computer simulation, add bears and other extinct animals…


PGP encryption for Facebook

Nice. Zuckerberg is ahead of the looming policy curve, and is now offering PGP encryption for Facebook. Just upload your public key.

The Comic Electric: A Digital Comics Symposium

Alan Moore’s Electricomics project (Digital R&D Fund for the Arts) is to conclude with an academic conference in the UK in October 2015, The Comic Electric: A Digital Comics Symposium. Ah, but can a shiny digi-slab do this


Developing Documentary Photography courses

Developing Documentary Photography courses in Moseley, Birmingham: ‘Researching and Planning your Photographic Projects’, and ‘Editing and Exhibiting Your Photographic Project’. 21st July – 5th October 2015.

“The Researching and Planning Your Photographic Projects course provides participants with the skills to research and analyse the works of others, plan and initiate ready to edit bodies of photographic work with the aim of exhibiting them to an audience in the future. After completing this course you will ready to undertake the editing and exhibiting your photographic projects workshop.”

Surprising ways to improve your eyesight

Interesting New Scientist special supplement (23rd May 2015) on improving one’s sight, “Good looking: 6 surprising ways to improve your eyesight”. The measures suggested, as well as innovative lenses and surgery, include…

* Veggies. No, not carrots. “Trials have shown that people in the early stages of the disease [yellow spots in the eyes of old people] who take supplements of macular pigments [in spinach, red peppers], vitamins C and E, and zinc are 25 per cent less likely to suffer deterioration in their vision.”

* Walking and looking. Simply going for a walk and learning to look out for and spot small details (perhaps the different grass and leaf types, for instance). This is especially good for kids — and doing things like surveying a landscape for details also trains their long-sight, which is increasingly underused due to their intense use of screen media.

* Videogames, especially fast-moving videogame shooter classics, such as (my fave) Unreal Tournament 2004 (ONS-Arctic Stronghold, CTF-Grassy Knoll, DM-Albatross maps). It’s not the eyes that this trains, but the brain… “there is no evidence that any kind of [physical, eye-movement] exercise improves the eye’s focusing powers, which is the cause of most vision problems. But there is evidence that the brain can get better at interpreting the signals it receives from the eyes.”

“Thissen’s a tunky haiver”

A £31,800 Lottery grant

“to enable a group of young people from the Foundation to create a film and online game exploring the history and heritage of the Black Country dialect.”

Hidden Spaces: Subterranean Birmingham

The Birmingham Post, “Hidden Spaces: Subterranean Birmingham”

“My claims [of a lost tunnel] were dismissed as mere legend — they [said that they] would know if such a tunnel existed nearby. But such local knowledge is only true for surface dwellers: a few days later I was walking through the tunnel with an enterprising Police Sergeant.”

“And as far off as Birmingham?”

Conan Doyle Convention in Birmingham on 30th May, £15 tickets still remaining.

* Tom Ue, giving a talk on Professor Challenger.

* Panel: “Exploring Doyle’s Worlds: Sherlock vs Challenger” (Michael R. Brush, Steve Lockley, Jan Edwards, Tom Ue).

* Book Launches: Challenger Unbound (anthology of Challenger adventures), Mycroft & The Necromancer.

* Panel: Steampunk vs Historical Fiction: What did the Victorians Ever Inspire Us To? (Rhys Hughes, S. G. Mullholland).

* ‘Don’t Go Into the Cellar’ presents the 90 minute play: ‘The Singular Exploits of Sherlock Holmes’.

“I should wish nothing better than to have some more of such experiences.” [said Holmes]

“To-day, for example?”

“Yes, to-day, if you like.”

“And as far off as Birmingham?”

“Certainly, if you wish it.”

— from the Sherlock Holmes adventure “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk”, set in Birmingham’s Corporation St.

The rural dimension

A Birmingham Post blogger on “The forgotten rural pieces of the West Midlands”

“A significant rural-urban fringe surrounds “Greater Birmingham” where the wider rural development dimension has been largely forgotten and neglected in policy and decision making.” … “I arranged a seminar with a colleague last week, on the rural West Midlands. This blog highlights my key concerns…”

National preservation network for endangered sounds

A new “national preservation network through ten regional centres of archival excellence” to preserve endangered sounds in the UK. Presumably they’ll all be made ‘public domain’, too.

Above: recording a cock crow.

The Economist on universal income

The costs of a ‘basic universal income’ are concisely outlined of in the latest edition of The Economist. Too expensive, they fear, at least using the Swiss approach. But at the end of the article they point out that Alaska already gives all its citizens $1,900 a year dividend from its oil fund. So might it be possible for the UK to make similar use of some future Shale Gas Wealth Fund, assuming that fracking is successful in the UK? The Economist also suggests that a small basic income (say £1,500) could be made more economically and socially viable if it was given only to those who participate in helping society, by regular volunteering etc. David Cameron may get his Big Society yet.