“Real Artists Ship”

Colin Johnson’s blog

Archive for October, 2010

National Self-storage

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Liked the categorisation that Google maps places on this building:

National Archives of Scotland. Category: Self-storage


Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Make up your own political joke here…

Access up to Conservative club (turn left)

The Ultimate Practical Coursework

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Yesterday I was walking home across campus when I came upon the ultimate in practical coursework exercises.

Outdoor Shelters

(Apologies for the low picture quality.) The Kent School of Architecture has an annual exercise where students have to design and build an overnight shelter, and then stay in it overnight.

This has both an immediate educational function, as well as bonding a cohort together. There are other examples. Years ago I shared a flat with a music student, and on day one of the course they went to the intro talk, expecting a generic blah about the course content and so on; instead, a professor said to them “in two weeks time there will be a fully-staged performance of West Side Story on this very stage. And, you will be responsible for every aspect of the performance: acting, singing, playing in the orchestra, designing and building the sets and costumes, …”. What a brilliant introduction to the course!

What is the analogy in other subjects? I am thinking about how we could reform our undergraduate computer science course right now, and it would be wonderful if we could come up with something as inspiring as this for our students.

Niche Marketing

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Brilliant example of the kind of long tail marketing that could only be possible due to the internet: a site that provides the service of translating a short phrase into Latin, for use on tattoos. “For US$30.00 we offer what we believe is the only comprehensive Latin translation tattoo service available.” Kinda like the old joke that if you pick three words at random you have an internet business opportunity.

Latin Tattoo page

Double Meaning

Friday, October 29th, 2010

In the college dining room, there used to be a sign saying “all of the vegetables that we serve are fresh”—a positive, healthy message. At some point, someone must have complained that frozen peas or similar were being served, as the sign was changed to the much less positive “most of the vegetables that we serve are fresh”.

Inspiration (1)

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Idea for an artwork: do a careful study of the history of a website and present it in the form of a hardback book in the style of an archaeological study.

The Unbelievable Effectiveness of Public Services (1)

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Imagine first-class mail being pitched as a new idea on Dragon’s Den.

You pick up letters locally for delivery across the country; sensible, something a lot of customers need. And you deliver them the next day; a good, if potentially expensive, service. How does collection get arranged: do you book a slot online for it to be collected, or take it to a central location in your local city or market town? No, you just put it in a box, and we will make one of these available in every settlement of significant size in the country. Okay…but what about the staff needed to collect and charge for the letters? How do you pay for them to be near to the boxes? Or perhaps people need to pay online and then they print-out an e-ticket that they attach to the letter? No, what, you just sell stamps in small shops around the country. Good idea, but getting but-in from lots of small businesses could be challenging.

Sounds like a good idea, well thought through. What is your price point? Ten pounds per letter? Five pounds? Two pounds; but what about the infrastructure costs? What…41p…? That’s ludicrous. I’m out.

Modulo Arithmetic Fail

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

What you see is what you get

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Something that I talked to many people about over the years is their sense of how “dense” (in terms of urban buildup) the country is. This is a subject that can readily spill out into hard political argument—for example, a favoured tactic of those who oppose immigration is to argue that the country is “full” and that there is physically no room for more building. This doesn’t seem to me to be the case at all.

One idea that seems to have promise in explaining this is considering the effect of different forms of transport on people’s perception of their environment. I usually travel by train, and this gives me a certain perspective on the density of the environment. For example, leaving from an inner London train station on an inter-city train I am out of the built up area in around 15 minutes. For most other cities, this time period is around 5 minutes. Furthermore, mainline trains rarely go close to smaller villages. As a result, a journey like London to Edinburgh is 4½ hours of essential rurality; 15 minutes to leave London, then a few periods of 5-10 minutes in the outskirts of a city. Overall, the majority of the journey is spent in open country.

Contrast this with a car or coach journey. It can easily take a road vehicle an hour to get out of London, and many other cities take 20-30 minutes to get in or out of. This makes a huge difference to the perception of people as to how much land those cities occupy. If have your journey is taken up with getting into and out of cities, then you could easily imagine that the country is very dense and urban.

I would argue that my country-centric view from the train is more accurate, as can be seen by studying a map. Despite the UK being a very built-up country, the only map page that looks predominantly urban is that displaying London. Most of the rest show towns and cities sitting in a predominantly green, rural context.

There is an interesting study to be done to see if this is borne out across a large sample; could we correlate people’s estimates of the density of the country against their predominant modes of transport?

That Luxury Feeling…

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Here is an interesting difference between B2C and B2B marketing. In the B2C arena, it is common to label products with “upmarket” labels, even if they are fairly cheap, to give the impression that you are getting a lot for your money. This fails if transferred over to B2B marketing, because the purchase usually has to be approved by someone who doesn’t get to see the full context.

Two examples. I was recently booking a hotel room (in a place clearly marketing itself in its strapline as a “business hotel”), and the lowest-grade choice was described as a Premier room. The second example is a supplier of education robotics products: a fairly basic kit, containing just about enough stuff to get a project working, is called the “deluxe” set (hey, the ’70s are calling and want their marketing strategy back). In both of these cases they are setting themselves up for a fall; I have to go through the embarrassment of putting in a purchase order or expenses claim, and potentially get a snarky note back from the Dean asking if I could manage with a basic room or whatever.

No Nothing

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

No crocs, no segways, no flipflops…

sign from Barcelona Airport: no crocs, no segways, no flipflops

From the escalator at Barcelona Airport; there is a little bit of explanation, because the security guards at the airport ride Segways, which is more-or-less the only time I’ve seen them being used for real.

Don’t Panic

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

A sign from the gents loos at St. Pancras.

"During an emergency: Mime, Body-pop, do 'The Robot'."

Interestingly, it has been there for several weeks. It presumably looks official enough that anyone cleaning the area doesn’t notice that it isn’t an “official” sign.

The Two Cultures (1)

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

In a recent Guardian article, Bonnie Greer suggests that Kurt Gödel “had shown the world years before that nothing can be 100% proven” (“Me and Sister Carmela”, 20th September). In fact, what he showed was the subtly different notion that not 100% of true statements (of a particular, broad class of mathematical statements) can be proven.

This is not just a pedantic factual correction. Frequently, mathematicians (and practitioners of other rigorous reasoning systems) are attacked in the media for their arrogance. This is often characterised as an assumption that “everything” can be shown to be true or false with 100% certainty. By contrast, only specific types of statements are amenable to mathematical methods; furthermore, even within that domain, not everything will be provable!

In particular, the elision of words used in some specific technical way (“proven”, “statement”) to imply that these narrow technical results magically mean something about the day-to-day meaning of these words is ubiquitous. It is not the mathematicians who are at fault in such situations, as they are precise about the narrowness of the applicability of their results.

It could be argued that it is the practitioners of the literary arts that are guilty of the arrogant over-reach that mathematicians are frequently blamed for: consider the slapdash use of metaphor to extend the reach of statements, overinterpretation of the meaning of technical notions based on mere co-incidence of words, and drawn out discussions that amount to little more than extended puns. This is ultimately destructive to both the understanding of science and literature and to attempts to create a meaningful dialogue between the disciplines.

Advertising Opportunities (1)

Monday, October 11th, 2010

I am surprised that there is almost no advertising in airport luggage collection areas. It would seem to be one area where there are millions of people standing around, doing almost nothing, for multiple minutes at once.

Variations on Folk Sayings (8)

Monday, October 11th, 2010

An equal-opportunities twofer special:

“People who live below glass ceilings should throw stones.”

“People who live above glass ceilings should throw stones.”

Honesty in Naming

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

I rather like the honesty of the name of this room:
"Funny Shaped Room"