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Reflections on Wuthering Bytes

A week or so ago I went to the Wuthering Bytes conference in Hebden Bridge. The event had a maker/hacker/thinker angle I was keen to snoop into, to find out what people were up to in this strange world that seems to have blossomed whilst I wasn't looking.

The presentations began with Prof. Danielle George, who I heard being interview on Radio 4 on the way in to work about her work with radio engineering... from looking deep into space, to controlling jet engines to monitoring field moisture levels for effective agriculture.

Next up Stephen Jagger, gave us an amusing history of an audio engineering company, making microphones and mixer desks for the BBC. My favourite part was about the white lie they told to get their biggest gig. 

Leila Johnston, in unbelievable shoes, shared her work with Hack Circus, a publication that tackles a "geek" subject, but strangley, before it is published always mutates into an art event, and focal point for "community outsiders". 

Towards the end, Leila started drifting into startup self mode, which I loved... including nuggets such as "PUT YOURSELF OUT OF CONTEXT" ... and "USE WHAT YOU HAVE GOT NOT WHAT YOU WISH YOU HAD". I found these messages strangely profound. The mantras kept coming, "BE SUSPICIOUS OF ALL DELAYS".

Jeremy Ruston, the inventor of TiddlyWiki, was a hoot. Like Will Self in voice and laconic langour ( get me trying to use big words Will Self stylee) , he shared a sort hippy take on the last few decades of computing I liked. "NOT EVERYBODY IS LIKE US". ... and "TECHNOLOGY IS CUNNING MADE CONCRETE".

I liked his schtick, the title of his presentation was "Hackability as a Human Right", and he explained how part of the power of "the hack" is that the cost of failure, both in emotional and fiscal terms is minor. You may lose some time and effort, but that's all and when "the hack" works it can be beautiful and flourish. And, to "not hack" is an abdication of "what matters".

Good schtick.

Christine Farion, "the bag lady" demoed her anxiety reducing handbag that shows when the right RFID tagged items are in it and shared some of the history of attempts to use technology to be an aid to our everyday lives. Her research has taken her down the road of ever simpler designs, to the point where they sort of just work the way you'd expect they would. She finished with the line "EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE - I JUST DON'T KNOW HOW RIGHT NOW".

David Hayward shared his journey through and beyond the world of making video games. There seemed to be a route emerging whereby people aim to be part of big (and literally very bad) industries, get battered whilst making a life and then find more artistic and event-oriented careers.

David shared video games that just didn't make sense revealing a sub culture of people who don't care about shoot 'em ups or driving games, and whose shaping cultural influences weren't Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

He gets asked "What's your business model?" a lot.

Jennifer Crawford shared battle stories of working with victorian printing machines, and cracking out startup ideas and approaches. So, using the old hot metal typesetting slugs, they now emboss moleskine notebooks, or they utilize Etsy to make prints etc.

But again, they're actually taking an old 2 tonne typesetting machine out on the road as an event/experience. Catch them at the next Ideal Home show apparently.

I reckon they'll get asked about their business model too.

David Mills is a guy who can take a rolled up and stuck together parchment scroll, and using a CT scanner take "slices" through the photo, measure the thickness of the ink. The clever bit is using software to take these spirals, flip them around and thus be able to ACTUALLY READ THE WRITING ON THE SCROLL. Incredible. You may have seen this on the BBC a while ago.

He also X rays his lunch every day and posts it on Twitter.

From I CAN MAKE, Chris Thorpe shared their educational 3D printing projects, but most interestingly defined the difference between hackers or makers or geeks or whatever you want to call them, and NORMALS. I loved their print a working Tower Bridge project, which they run as a lesson IN Tower Bridge. I loved how they created lesson plans and not just 3D models and had a philosophy of "DISRUPT TEDIUM". 

The day ended with Eva Pascoe, who I didn't know I knew ( of ). She was behind Cyberia, the internet cafes way back in prehistoric times. 

I liked it when she spoke of the important of Trust, got everyone to get their phone out, mentioning privacy and Facebook then told everyone to pass their phone to the person beside them and let them have a rummage around. Ha! 

Eva had battle scars from the Cookie wars and sang songs of how the commercial world defeated the engineers,  and lamented how everyone seems to "be resigned to it".  She continues to work fighting for who gets access to data, and is contributing to a World Magna Carta / Bill of Rights for the internet world. 


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