Real-world wireframes: sculpture from Louise Wilson


Another find from the Contemporary Craft Festival: the beautiful and eerie everyday objects turned into wireframes by Louise Wilson, whose pieces were as much fun to look at and handle in person as you'd imagine from these photos. They were surprisingly robust, too.

Read the rest

Improbable, beautiful ceramic teapots


Spotted at the Contemporary Craft Fair, the amazing teapots of Rylatt of Wales: improbably shaped ceramics with metallic, dark glazes. I wheedled my wife into getting me one for my upcoming birthday, and it is destined to be a favorite and a source of joy around my office.

Read the rest

Solidwool: Mid-century modern chairs made from wool-based fiberglass


Solidwool is a company from Devon, England that mixes traditional Devon wool with bioresins to make a wool-based, fiberglass-like composite that can be use in furniture construction. I've just seen some of their midcentury modern Hembury Chairs at the Contemporary Craft Fair in Bovey-Tracey, and they're really beautiful, swirling with abstract fibers and pleasingly smooth and solid. They're finely built, comfortable, and extremely handsome.

Hembury Chair

London property bubble entombs a thousand digger-machines


London's property bubble has got people energetically expanding their property, digging out sub-basements -- and the insane bubblenomics of London housebuilding are such that it's cheaper to just bury the digger and abandon it than to retrieve it. London's accumulating a substrate of entombed earthmoving machinery.

Read the rest

NSA facial recognition: combining national ID cards, Internet intercepts, and commercial facial databases for millions of people

A newly released set of slides from the Snowden leaks reveals that the NSA is harvesting millions of facial images from the Web for use in facial recognition algorithms through a program called "Identity Intelligence." James Risen and Laura Poitras's NYT piece shows that the NSA is linking these facial images with other biometrics, identity data, and "behavioral" data including "travel, financial, behaviors, social network."

The NSA's goal -- in which it has been moderately successful -- is to match images from disparate databases, including databases of intercepted videoconferences (in February 2014, another Snowden publication revealed that NSA partner GCHQ had intercepted millions of Yahoo video chat stills), images captured by airports of fliers, and hacked national identity card databases from other countries. According to the article, the NSA is trying to hack the national ID card databases of "Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran."

This news is likely to be rhetorically useful to campaigners against national ID cards in countries like the UK, where the issue has been hotly debated for years (my own Member of Parliament, Meg Hillier, was the architect of one such programme, and she, along with other advocates for national ID cards, dismissed fears of this sort of use as paranoid ravings).

The development of the's NSA facial recognition technology has been accompanied by a mounting imperative to hack into, or otherwise gain access to, other databases of facial images. For example, the NSA buys facial images from Google's Pittpatt division, while another program scours mass email interceptions for images that appear to be passport photos.

An interesting coda to the piece is that the NSA has developed the capability to infer location by comparing scenery in terrestrial photos to satellite images, which sounds like a pretty gnarly computer-vision problem.

Read the rest

The English Method: UK taught modern torture to Brazil's dictators


Brazil's 21-year military dictatorship was a torturing, brutal regime -- among their victims was the current president, Dilma Rousseff. At first, the generals tortured by flogging and shocks, but British officials taught them to torture without leaving marks, helping the regime to rehabilitate its international human rights image. The techniques the UK taught to Brazil's torturers were developed for Malay rebels and perfected on Northern Irish Republicans, and these techniques came to be known as "The English Method."

Other governments -- Germany, France, Panama, and, of course, the USA -- also trained Brazil's torturers, but the UK methods were the best. British agents travelled to Brazil to train the torturers personally. More details of the British "foreign aid" program are coming to light as the UK government finally succumbs to the rule of law and releases files from the National Archives at Kew, a move that has been steadfastly refused for obvious reasons.

One document that's come to light is a letter from then-British Ambassador, David Hunt, called "Torture in Brazil," which praises the Brazilian regime for cleaning up its appearance of brutality by "taking a leaf out of the British book."

Read the rest

Visual gags in comedies: US vs UK

Tony Zhou created this fantastic, 7-minute critique of the visual style of comedy in US films, as compared with UK films (especially the films of Edgar "Shaun of the Dead" Wright). Zhou makes a compelling case for the superiority of British sight-gags and visual comedy -- and the fundamental laziness of US directors in their use of visuals to get a laugh.

For further reading, Zhou recommends David Bordwell's Funny Framings as well as the hilarious Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal video.

(via Kottke)

South London hackspace urgently seeks home


Tom writes, "We're a fledgling makerspace in London (60 members and growing), born from the notion that 'London Hackspace is fantastic but it's a pain to get to from South of the River.' We bootstrapped ourselves in a disused shop earlier this year, have grown quickly and had a second home lined up in a University space for the summer. That deal fell through at the last minute and now we've got just 1 month to find somewhere else. We've got the cash and the income, we just can't find the space! Please help us get the word out. We plan to be London's 2nd biggest community workshop and can't face having our momentum dashed on the cliffs of London's property market."

UK Home Office's terrorist detection checklist


Snapped yesterday at the Mykonos, Greece airport: the UK Home Office's terrorist detection checklist for spotting existential threats to the human race before they can board. It's grimly fun to imagine the brutal false-positives this inane document must generate. My favourite (for sufficiently perverse definitions of "favourite") is a refugee who's just attained citizenship, but now has to rush away to attend the funeral of a brutalized relative.

Did GCHQ reveal secrets about computer insecurity when it exorcised the Snowden leaks from the Guardian's laptops?


When Prime Minister David Cameron ordered two GCHQ spooks to go the the Guardian's offices and ritually exorcise two laptops that had held copies of the Snowden leaks, we assumed it was just spook-lunacy; but Privacy International thinks that if you look at which components the spies targeted for destruction, there are hints about ways that spies can control computer hardware.

Read the rest

Brandalists replace 365 outdoor ads in 10 UK cities with hand-printed works of art

Last week, in a coordinated attack by guerrilla artists across the UK, 365 outdoor ads were replaced by hand-printed works of art. It was a project of Brandalism, and they hit 10 cities, using hi-viz vests and steely nerves as camouflage while they did their work.

Read the rest

Mat Ricardo playing Dorchester this Sat

Mat Ricardo writes, "After a sold-out London West End run of my one man show 'Showman,' earlier this year, I'm spending most of the rest of 2014 touring around the world; I've managed to squeeze in only one UK date, and its this coming Saturday, at the lovely Dorchester Arts Centre. It's a great intimate venue, exactly the kind of space where my stuff works best, and I'm really looking forward to it.

"I'll be heading to Germany, Italy, Belgium, Australia, Canada and Finland - ridiculous, and obviously I'm very excited that people seem to be really getting into what I do! And if that's not enough, I've also got the hilarious Sarah Benetto as a special guest. It's going to be a hell of a night - Stories! Danger! Stupid tricks! Come!"

Jo Walton's "My Real Children": infinitely wise, sad and uplifting novel

An ambitious and nuanced story that left Cory Doctorow in tears, the new novel from award-winner Jo Walton is about an elderly woman who remembers two lives.

Read the rest

Hack Circus, Brighton: fantasy technology and everyday magic

F writes, "The third Hack Circus event will take place in Brighton on June 14th and the theme this time is Access All Areas. The event will feature former social engineer Nick Drage sharing true stories of breaking into computers, banks, offices and even airports. Artist Sinead McDonald will 3D print the audience's brainwaves live, and transport historian Dr Ralph Harrington will talk about the cultural and military impact of the humble bulldozer. Sci-fi author Chris Farnell will question scientist Alexandra Pohl about a laser-deflecting forcefield that she has helped develop, in theory at least, at the University of Leicester. Hack Circus is a magazine and event series founded by Leila Johnston, creator of parody gamebook Enemy of Chaos and popular geek podcast Shift Run Stop. It's being developed during her residency at Lighthouse Arts in Brighton. Arts organisations are embracing the creative in creative technology! The third issue of the magazine will be launched at the event."

London property bubble examined


Tim Harford, my favourite skeptical and eminently readable economist, asks the question: Is London experiencing a housing bubble? He is hesitant to be definitive on this, but makes a very good case for the idea that London housing prices are inflated and heading for a crash.

Read the rest