PyData 2014- “You give me data, I give you art”

Here’s my talk from PyData earlier this year – “You give me data, I give you art”

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Cockeyed

As I mentioned previously, I recently fell off my bicycle, onto my head. This had a number of negative effects, a broken arm and a severe concussion amongst them. Though by far the most troubling (and currently persisting) injury has been to my Trochlear Nerve. I’d never heard of it before, and I suspect neither have you, but it is a nerve which travels from the back of the brainstem to control some of the muscles of the eye.


trochlear nerve

It’s long and thin and easily damaged by a blow to the head. It’s the only nerve which comes out of the back of the brainstem, an evolutionary ‘feature’ which can be traced back to the first vertebrates about 525 million years ago. A ‘feature’ which is fine if you’re a fish, but less so if you’re a large-brained, bipedal primate, who likes to ride a bicycle.

The practical result is that my eyes no longer converge properly, producing a form of double vision known as tortional diplopia.

It has a non-medical name as well.


definition

The first definition is pretty accurate, both eyes are awry, tilted, misaligned. The second is a bit less flattering and better describes my post-concussive state, rather than the effect on my vision. The etymology of the word is unclear, though one can understand how someone with their eyes pointing outwards (in extreme cases of trochlear nerve damage) may look like a cockerel. Perhaps it’s the association of a blow to the head with the confusion of concussion which leads to the second definition. Spinning, non-aligned eyeballs certainly feature heavily in the lexicon of cartoons, a visual shorthand for the effect of being struck in the head.


micky90

In practice it means the information being delivered by my eyes together is unusable.

Basically, this:

becomes this:

So, I’ve taken to wearing an eyepatch, which, aside from granting me licence to become a pirate, introduces a number of practical difficulties.


In the land of the blind...
In the land of the blind…

Firstly, it significantly reduces my field of vision from nearly 180 degrees, down to about 90.


FOV
Normal Vision
FOV_patched
With eyepatch

This means my daughter, who is frequently at my side, has become invisible. It’s only since blocking one eye that I’ve become aware of how often I glance down to check on her.

We are training each other to swap sides.

I am also experimenting with a pair of ‘broken hipster’ glasses, with one lens painted black. They’re quite effective, but I’ve yet to wear them outside the house.


broken_hipster

Obviously, the biggest problem with losing the use of an eye is the loss of depth perception. In the last few weeks, I’ve certainly bumped into a few things, and mis-judged the distance when pouring a glass of wine, but my mistakes are becoming less frequent.

The real difficulty lies with the accurate alignment of objects at the <1cm range - fine motor control problems like threading a needle, or painting a picture...


last_mm
the last millimetre

The last few millimetres between brush and canvas are crucial, misjudge it and you end up with a splodge where you wanted a delicate line.

I’m re-training myself as a (hopefully temporarily) one-eyed painter. It’s forcing me to slow down, to consider that interface between paint and canvas a little more carefully, to read the sensation through my fingers as much as my eye.

It’s early days, but I’ve tried a couple of canvases, and strangely, I’m quite pleased with both the process and the results. I’ll keep you posted.

The prognosis of the condition is irritatingly vague – ‘most people spontaneously recover within about 10 months’, so hopefully it will resolve, but in the meantime I must be patient and enjoy looking at the world with a fresh eye.

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@factbot1

The internet is a massive repository of information, from the profound to the mundane. Far too much stuff for a single human to handle, so we prefer to get our facts chosen for us, by newspapers, experts or friends. Increasingly these facts are supplied via social media, such as twitter or Facebook.

Whilst we carefully choose the people we follow and tend to imbue their updates with a degree of authority, we inevitably find ourselves coming across Clickbait stories purely created to ‘drive traffic’.

Often these snippets of information are passed, uncritically, across the network, because they are entertaining, or provocative, or (more dangerously) support our world view. But this process of passing facts around is open to abuse, where ‘facts’ are fabricated, and uncritically passed on.

The legitimacy of information is dependent on the trustworthiness of the source, but often this is unclear, and often overpowered by a compelling image.


I created @factbot1 as an experiment in manipulating the information space of social media. It algorithmically generates ‘facts’ and marries them with a suitable image and posts them on twitter every 4 hours.

Many of these ‘facts’ are patently absurd:



Though some are borderline believable, and therefore operate an interesting space of uncited plausibility:



There is a battle between the ‘shareability’ of information and it’s ‘truth’ – we need to engage our critical faculties alongside our desire to be ‘liked’ and our general addiction to the internet

Of course, telling lies on the internet is as old as the internet itself, yet it’s astonishing how often we see urban legends doing the rounds, as if no one had even heard of snopes.com. The image is a particularly pernicious (and therefore fascinating) tool for making a convincing lie, a picture being worth ‘a thousand words’ and all…

So please Follow @factbot1 on twitter, and if you see it post a fact you like the sound of, please help my experiment by passing it on.

UPDATE I’ve written some more about @factbot1 over at Imperica.

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In the land of the blind… (2014)

Three weeks ago I crashed my bicycle. I was knocked unconscious for half an hour, broke my shoulder, etc etc. Most troubling is an injury to the nerves controlling my right eye. Apparently the prognosis is ‘most people’ ‘spontaneously recover’ ‘within six months’ – which is some comfort, but not quite a certainty.

In the meantime, I’m wearing an eyepatch, which is quite an impediment for a normally-binocular visual artist.

Still at least I’m alive.

This tiny canvas (20cm x 20cm) is the result of my first attempt at picking up a brush since the accident. It’s a ‘selfie’ (as I believe the youngsters call them). I’m calling it “In the land of the blind…”

In the land of the blind...

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New Year’s Switch

Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband recently released their ‘New Year’s messages’ full of platitude and hollow promise. I could see little to discern them, (though Cameron’s straight to camera style lends itself more to audiovisual abuse), and though I’ve covered the interchangeability of contemporary politicians before, I still wanted to see their words tumble out of each other’s mouths, just to see what it would look like.

So I enlisted the help of the wonderful Echonest API to first splice them along loosely musical lines, then created an algorithmically generated video remix based up the musical similarities of their voices.

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