Where do you draw the line?

There’s a fine line between changing from within and being complicit.

Dr Kate Darling, MIT Media Lab researcher and expert in robot ethics, said this in her 27 August Guardian opinion piece on Jeffrey Epstein’s influence on the science world. This comment referred to her relationship with the MIT Media Lab and with literary agency Brockman. There was an all-hands Media Lab meeting on 4 September to internally address their part in all this, read more in the MIT Tech Review. Sounds like the meeting was something… hard to tell. Ended on a thoroughly rotten note.

That line from her article has stuck with me, it’s a succinct way of articulating an ever-present worry. If you’re doing good work at an organisation that is being questionably governed or is doing iffy things, you either A) stick with the org and live with that worry every day or B) step away from it entirely and be free from the worry. In scenario A, in order to feel ok with yourself you do everything you can to make a difference. This is exhausting, and you resent colleagues that aren’t working as hard to fix things. In scenario B, you’re free from this worry but you live in a fresh hell of new worries (missed opportunity, financial stability, unfulfilled potential, etc).

Don’t know where the line is, it shifts constantly and is probably different for every person. Just have to keep it on your mind and keep having the hard conversations. Don’t let it build up, talk little and often, with everyone.

Edit 10.09.19: Deleted a sentence mentioning Darling’s plans to drop Brockman and stay with the Media Lab, from her Guardian article. That may still be the case, but more has come to light so I wouldn’t assume anything. It must be incredibly tough thing to navigate.

Some background and selected projects

I’ve just added a Work & Background page to this site that provides a bit more context for what I do and some selected projects. It’s a WIP, there are some thumbnails I would like to swap out and I’m sure the text will need tweaking. Nice to have a version up at any rate.

I’m really hoping to explore a few new-to-me bits of tech in the near future, particularly related to our books index. SB has been doing some very cool experiments with that recently.

distraction from the distraction

I’ve been ill on and off for three months now. It’s not so bad, I’m not completely out of commission, haven’t had to go to A&E. But it’s bad enough.

It has a weird effect. The symptoms aren’t always there, thank goodness. And I’m getting better at handling it when things go south, I’ve learned how to alleviate pain quickly.

The more difficult element to cope with is the psychological brittleness. The feeling that I cannot rely on myself. I’m reluctant to make plans because I’d rather not make them than break them again. That can get pretty isolating.

It’s particularly weird when it comes to work. If I were working as part of a larger team I’d talk to my manager, or HR. But the only people I answer to are my collaborators and clients. They’re very understanding (it helps a *lot* that I don’t work totally solo), but still. It’s a bit of a weird conversation, one I’ve avoided for the most part.

It will probably be another month until things are “settled”. The powers that be are sorting it out, I think. And I’m staying busy. Practically, I don’t want to fall behind. Emotionally, I need the distraction. Distraction from the larger distraction.

🌈 + beata viscera iridis at the Royal Academy

Rainbows + Beata Viscera Iridis performed by Musarc at the Royal Academy, May 2018

Musarc performed Rainbows + Beata viscera iridis on the Burlington Gardens staircase at the Royal Academy on Saturday 19 May 2018 as part of the RA’s 250 birthday celebrations.

Rainbows is devised by artist Sarah Kate Wilson, and Beata viscera iridis is a simple arrangement of a medieval conductus by myself and architect Toby O’Connor. This is, I believe, the third staging of these pieces together.

A few of the performances at the RA had a lower key than usual. An interesting register to work with, the energy is very different. The clip here includes the introduction and the beginning of the conductus.

Photo by Justine Trickett. Recording courtesy Sam Belinfante.

(‘Amateur’ – one who loves)

Certain quotes lodge themselves in your head. So many of the ones in my head come from the fourth edition of What is a designer by Norman Potter published by Hyphen Press in 2002.

p.23, on design education

The words by which people describe themselves – architect, graphic designer, interior designer, etc. – become curiously more important than the work they actually do. In one respect this is fair, because under modern conditions it may be very difficult to find one word to identify their work, but such words tend to build up irrelevant overtones of meaning which are more useful as a comfort to personal security than as a basis for co-operative enterprise.

p.30, wrapping up his thoughts on design education

All we can do is make good work possible, and be alert to its coming; never fooling ourselves that all good things come easily. To work well is to work with love.

p.57, on recognising the value in nuance

In raising consciousness of these matters, it should be remembered that our civilization sells itself through sensation, preferably with the volume turned up. This is good reason for designers to learn how to speak quietly, and to understand how it is that conversation becomes possible between people and things.

And nearly every point in chapter 18, “Advice for beginners”, and 19, “Questioning design”.

Rehearsing Rainbows

Early last year, Sarah Kate Wilson approached Musarc with a concept for a performance involving coloured mirrors. Around the same time, Toby O’Connor and I were mulling over ways of working with Beata Viscera, a conductus by medieval composer Pérotin. These experiments blended well and in April 2017, Musarc opened and closed the 3rd Do Disturb festival at Palais De Tokyo with Rainbows + Beata viscera iridis. Watch a video documenting Musarc’s various PDT performances on musarc.org. These pieces were performed again as part of MK Gallery’s 2017 CityFest and at Rochester Square’s Open Day on 24 June 2017.

Musarc rehearsing Rainbows

Musarc rehearsing Rainbows + Beata viscera iridis at Central House just before the building was sold by London Met Uni.

Chinese web font research

Did some research on Chinese web font best practices a while back when working on Memory Machine for Tyler Coburn + Asia Art Archive with Luke Gould. It was an interesting challenge. This was my overall takeaway from the research:

  • Self-hosted fonts are out, the font files are prohibitively enormous due to the number of characters
  • The Great Firewall can cause issues with most font services, so no Google Fonts or Typekit
  • If you need to render a mixture of Latin and Chinese characters and want them to use different fonts, the font stack structure and naming is critical (see article by Kendra Schaefer for more info)
  • Bold and italic should never be used for emphasis on Chinese characters since it distorts their meaning

Read more

Tiny pat on the back

The e-newsletters we made for Penguin Classics got a mention in a recent newsletter from The Better Email [✉ ∞]. Made me smile. Here are a few newsletters from the Penguin Random House team that I particularly like.

David Reinfurt on the beginnings of Dexter Sinister

This idea began as a bit of a joke of course, over whiskey in Nicosia late at night we said “Hey, we should run a book store with this stuff.” And like most things that are worth doing, the jokes are worth following through because they’re fun.

David Reinfurt on the beginnings of Dexter Sinister from his 17 March 2009 talk as part of the Walker’s Insights Design Lecture Series. Quote is a paraphrase, see 33:45 for full comment.