A great day out at the Digital Revolution exhibition (Barbican Centre, London, August 2014)


Earlier this week I went to the Barbican Centre (in London) with my daughter to see the current exhibition “Digital Revolution”.

I had looked at the website but I still was not sure what I was really going to find.  The thing that I was interested in most of all was DevArt, which is billed as “a celebration of art made with code” (unsurprisingly in association with Google) .

When you first walk in you have a concise history of computers, games consoles and some early music equipment,  and it makes you wonder if this is going to be the focus of the whole event.  However, as you progress through the various areas one thing that really comes across is that this is an art exhibition – the fact that the tools used are digital is largely irrelevant, but at the same time the defining aspect of the pieces.  These works are art – interactive, involving, breath-taking, fun.

Of all the parts of the exhibition, the only aspect that was a disappointment was DevArt.  Here the pieces were interactive but several did not live up to expectations – the effects did not work as well as hoped or some of the interactive software was too complex and it was not clear what you had to do.  We did not experience this anywhere else.

Below are some videos I shot as we were going around.  Taking pictures was not possible as the darkness in most areas made the images from my phone go far too grainy – besides, still pictures would not do this exhibition justice.  Most things here move.  Video is the way to go.  Hopefully the clips will give you the desire to see more and go to the exhibition itself if you can.  It is excellent value for money and definitely one for children too.

Here are some highlights:

Sound & Vision has many interesting items, in particular a look at some special effects from the films Gravity and Inception…


… and a full-on audio-visual experience from will-i.am:


State of Play, with its main feature The Treachery of Sanctuary (three large white screens that take your movement and add some avian magic) is one of the standout installations:


Finally, this is probably my favourite.  “Marshmallow Laser Feast Forest” is not in the main building but a five-to-ten minute walk down the road; even so, do not miss this.  You enter a dark room.  It is filled at intervals with many long black vertical tubes from the top of which shoot green laser beams.  You walk through the “forest” tapping the “trees” as you go, each pole giving off a musical note that slowly fades.  Brush a number of trees and you experience a gentle musical dissonance.  If you ever fancied yourself as a ringer of small bells this is right up your street.




Humans Need Not Apply…

This great video explains who is at threat from automation in the workplace.  Watch it and, like me, try to think what you can do about it…

See also:

• Spare Cycles: Article: Better Than Human (Wired)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “The Second Machine Age” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini Review: Race Against The Machine

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future

• Spare Cycles: Article: Migrant Workers in China Face Competition from Robots (Technology Review)

• BuzzMachine.com: The jobless future

• Douglas Rushkoff : Are Jobs Obsolete?

• Wired: Raging Bulls: How Wall Street Got Addicted to Light-Speed Trading

Spare Cycles turns seven…


A little late but…

This lovingly crafted blog is celebrating its seventh birthday.   A beer (or seven) is cooling in the fridge to toast the reaching of a milestone.  Happy birthday!

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns six…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns five…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns four…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns three…

PaperLater: First Impressions

I had heard of Newspaper Club because they came in to the Guardian (my workplace) a while back to talk about what they do – they are a service that allows you to design and print your own newspaper.  I stumbled across PaperLater – Newspaper Club’s new service – last week and signed up for an invitation to the beta programme.

PaperLater lets you send them links to web articles and turn them into a single copy of your own personal newspaper.  Their software automatically does the layout and decides how many pages each article will take up. Your newspaper can be up to a maximum of 24 pages and each issue costs £5 inc p&p.  They deliver in the UK (only) via Royal Mail and it took 5 days for me to get my copy (including a weekend, otherwise it would have come through sooner).

Here are some observations:

  • the newspaper is tabloid size, think the Sun / Mirror
  • the paper it is printed on is whiter and thicker than, say, the Guardian (the other newspaper I have to hand)
  • the text looks like the same size as in the Guardian, but it is more widely spaced so is easier to read
  • the print quality is good
  • the layout of the articles is basic but clean – it will normally take the web article’s first or main picture and use that in the layout
  • there is the odd gap on some pages where the text doesn’t quite fill up the page – this looks a bit strange but can’t really be helped.  I don’t know if it would fill up the remainder of a page if it had another short article that would fit in the gap as I have chosen to print only a few longer pieces rather than many shorter ones
  • some articles include text content that doesn’t appear in the main text of the article – for example, captions to pictures that feature in the web article but not in the printed version.  I guess that this will improve over time as their software matures, and I suppose that it is better to include the content rather than miss out something that people expect to see there.

This would be good if you want to read long-form content from the web but do not feel comfortable getting your phone / tablet / laptop out in a public place.  It is ideal if you are a frequent flyer as there is no chance that the authorities will confuse it for something more explosive or if you are a holiday-maker and don’t fancy getting sand in the Lightning port of your iPhone.  No-one is likely to pinch it when you are in the swimming pool, although if the articles you printed are particularly good then you never know…

Overall, it is hugely impressive that this is actually possible now.  Some of my articles were very long so the prospect of reading them on a screen of any size was daunting – this is much more convenient.  I will definitely be doing this again and could see it becoming something I do monthly if there is enough content to include.



Mini review: “Berlin Game” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)


I rarely read a book twice – let alone review it twice – but this popped up on Audible out of the blue and I could not resist.  Berlin Game was the first book I read in the espionage genre and led me to read the majority of Len Deighton’s books.

That was over a decade ago now and it was with some trepidation that I started listening.  What if the book is not as good as I remembered?  What if I found that the book has dated or that it does not compare with books I have read since?

No such problems here, I’m pleased to say.  I loved being back in Bernard Samson’s company.

In relation to the narration: the narrator is the same person who also did the recent “Spy with no name”/”Harry Palmer” novels.  He does a very good job, handles accents and place names well.  It was a little jarring at first as it did not sound like the Bernard Samson voice I had in my head when reading the books the first time round, but that soon went away.

The good news is that the remainder of the trilogy is also coming out in audio format.  Mexico Set is due out in October 2014 and London Match is out in December.  From what I remember, Mexico Set is even better than Berlin Game, so I can’t wait…

HMS Ocelot – submarine visit at The Historic Dockyard, Chatham, Kent


An excellent visit to The Historic Dockyard the other day.  I go there every once in a while but had never checked out their submarine HMS Ocelot.  Only managed to do the short tour – I’ll try to get on the longer tour next time so I can have more of a look around. (Check out the astounding Google Tour of the sub so you can see what to expect – puts my pics to shame).  I’ll also explore the other two historic warships whilst I’m there.

Mini review: “Fatherland” by Robert Harris (audiobook version)



Pretty much a perfect thriller.  An excellent fusion of fact and fiction.


• Spare Cycles:  Mini review: “An Officer and a Spy” by Robert Harris (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Review: Pompeii (audiobook)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: Imperium – the audiobook

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: Lustrum – the audiobook