Hello, close and distant friends. This is Hello From Duncan - a newsletter I send every ten days with some bits and bobs about what I’ve been working on and what I’ve found interesting. As always, you’re getting this email because you signed up for it, and you can unsubscribe at any time with the link in the footer.
This is quite a chunky edition, because I’ve been busy. You would think that would mean a shorter email but being busy means lots of things to write about, so here we are. I feel like I have a lot of plates spinning at the moment. But nothing has crashed to the ground yet, so let’s hope that continues. On with the show.
On 5 June, for the launch of my data sonification podcast Loud Numbers, we’re putting together a sonification festival - bringing together the sonification community to go beyond talks like “what is sonification?” and dig into some of the more interesting aspects of the artform.
It’s going to be a very simple event - a few hours of talks with a short break in the middle, all broadcast free to the world on YouTube. That means we don’t have to worry about finances (no-one is buying tickets), or complicated registration or events portals. It’s just a video stream.
I was very pleasantly surprised by how many people applied to speak. Then I was less happy because I had to turn away loads of great people, including some of sonification’s big names. But I think we’ve managed to put together a fantastic lineup - with a huge diversity of people speaking on a huge diversity of topics. And presuming it’s a success I’m hoping we might put on a second event later in the year, too.
If you want to attend, you’ll want to mark 4pm to 9pm London time on 5 June on your calendar. Oh, and be sure you’re registered for the Loud Numbers newsletter so that you get sent the watch link on the day.
Since January, when I joined the climate change charity Possible, I’ve been working on the Car Free Megacities campaign - which aims to rid London, Paris and New York of the the dangers, pollution and emissions caused by mass private car ownership.
We’ve just launched a dedicated website for the campaign, and a big part of it is the Car Free Megacities Data Dashboard - a collection of statistics showing the different cities’ progress towards that goal. It was very much a team effort, with most of the data analysis completed by the Active Travel Academy at the University of Westminster, and much of the site content and design put together by the amazing comms team at Possible. I just did the visualizations, and a little analysis work. You should go check it out, it’s availble in both French and English.
I’m really proud of what we achieved together, and I’ve written up a short blog post that gives a little peek behind the scenes at the tech and tools I used. If you want to know more, or if you’d like me to build something similar for your organization, then just hit reply to this email and we’ll take it from there.
A little under a year ago, I wrote in this very newsletter about a 1977 book on architecture, urban design and improving the liveability of communities, called A Pattern Language, by architect and design theorist Christopher Alexander. It’s available online in its entirety.
I really love the format of the book. It states a “pattern”, it states a good solution to that pattern, and then it links to other related entries. This is the “pattern language” from the title, as applied to urban design. But there are other pattern languages too, in software development, teaching, systems architecture and more. Fun fact: Alexander’s book was a major influence on the creation of WikiWikiWeb, the first wiki, which subsequently influnced Wikipedia and then basically the entire world.
Anyway, I picked up a new book the other day, on a recommendation from Oliver Holms (who writes the excellent Art & Attention newsletter). It’s called Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers, and it’s very good. But more importantly, I was delighted to discover that it’s a pattern language! It states a pattern (in this case, a problem often encountered by electronic musicians), it states a solution, and it links to other articles as appropriate. I love this format - it’s wonderfully practical, and applicable to so many things.
Adding to the to-do list for my upcoming membership offering: a pattern language for data visualization.
My Eurorack modular synth adventures continue. I’ve almost finished filling my case, so I’m planning to remove my semi-modular Lifeforms SV-1b into an external housing to free up a little more room. Recent acquisitions I love include øchd, Control and Weather Drones. On Twitter, you’ll find a whole thread of two-minute videos of noodling (scroll up).
The more I dig, though, the more I find very silly things that I love. Like a module from an organisation called micro research that creates distortion by pumping electrical signals through a box of soil. It sounds surprisingly good, perfect for those mosscore bangers. I want one.
Some of you may know that copyright is enforced on YouTube (and many other platforms) through a process colloquially referred to as ‘DMCA takekdowns’. DMCA stands for the “digital millennium copyright act”, and it’s a piece of US legislation that requires platforms to take down content when they’re notified by a rights holder that it violates their copyright.
But there’s a problem - the volume of content is so large that this process is largely automated, and mistakes happen surprisingly often where companies don’t actually own the content that they’re claiming. This is a major issue, because the process is weighted heavily in favour of the claimant. Even if the person whose video has been taken down files an immediate counterclaim, the claimant gets 30 days to decide whether they want to withdraw their copyright claim and allow the video back online. (It’s sometimes also used to silence critics, but that’s another story.)
I had the unpleasant experience of going through all this the other day, when LinkedIn Learning fraudulently claimed content in my Dataplotter video. I suspect that they did this because I’d given an acquaintance permission to use a chunk of my video in a course they make for LinkedIn Learning. My theory is that LIL then made the wild assumption that everything in that video was theirs, and so when YouTube’s bots discovered that my video matched some of their video, it was my video - which had been online about a year at this point - which was taken down.
To their credit, LinkedIn Learning withdrew the claim pretty quickly - but only after I’d contacted their customer support, reached out to my acquaintance who used the video, filed a counter-claim through YouTube, and raised a stink about it on Twitter.
What you should take away from this, is the knowledge that large companies can and frequently do automatically remove content from YouTube and other websites that match something that they wrongly believe that they own. And there’s often little recourse for the person who actually does own that content. When a large company asks for permission to use your content, I recommend getting an active assurance that they will not fraudulently claim to own it in the future - and a clear explanation of how they avoid that from happening.
Finally, if you care about this stuff, then I’d also recommend making a donation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation or the Open Rights Group. There aren’t many organizations fighting to defend the rights of individuals online against corporate overreach, but those two do a great job.
There’s a nice essay in Real Life magazine, by Kyle Paoletta, on meteorology, weather apps, feeling climate change, and the visual art it inspires. Here’s a snippet:
On March 26th of this year, what if every weather app had showcased videos of cherry trees blossoming in Kyoto, overlaid with text saying it was the earliest bloom in 1,200 years? What if every daily forecast in the states that lie along the Colorado River this spring was paired with live footage of the reservoir at Lake Mead, which is approaching the low ebb at which cuts to water use become mandatory? Would any of this help the user feel climate change on the personal level that might make them respond to the crisis accordingly, or would it just be more data that is easily pocketed and ignored once they were out in the world, enjoying some sunshine?
There’s a new Andrew WK album on the way! The first single, I’m in Heaven, is on Spotify now. It… sounds like Andrew WK. Which is only a good thing. The b-side, Babalon, is somehow even better and sounds surprisingly like Muse.
Another nice bit of advice from Brian Eno’s diary, A Year With Swollen Appendices. He recommends letting decisions about whether to do something or not pile up (as much as is practical), and then sitting down and working through them all at once. That way your time feels more precious, and you can more effectively compare different projects.
Quick life update. As I think I’ve previously mentioned, my partner got a job at Oatly at the beginning of the year which is based down in the south of Sweden, in Skåne. Right now she’s mostly working from home, but when things start opening up again we’ll be moving down south.
So we’ve been looking for apartments. As some of you might know, finding a rental apartment in Sweden - especially in a big city - can be very, very hard. There’s a queuing system, which is objectively fair (people with the most queue days get first priority). In practice, though, it’s a total nightmare when you need to move somewhere new. In Gothenburg, you need to queue for about eight or nine years to get a first-hand rental contract, which means most people live in grey-market second-hand lets, and end up moving three or four times in the first couple of years until they find somewhere stable.
All this basically rules Malmö out of the equation. So we’ve been looking in Lund and Helsingborg - the two other major towns in the region. Lund is a big university town, which means it’s also pretty tough to find apartments. But Helsingborg is easier - and over the weekend we were invited to view an apartment there (which will be available from August). So we masked up, bought a train ticket, and went down to check it out.
Perhaps it’s because we visited on a sunny, spring day, but Helsingborg seems a really cool town. It was founded in 1085, and it’s just over the water from Denmark and the world-class Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. It has a nice mix of Swedish and Danish architecture, a seafront and a lot of pedestrianised streets and squares - in fact, I was impressed by how car-free it felt in general. The apartment is well located - about 15 minutes’ walk from the station - and larger than our current place. So we told the agent that we’d be willing to take it.
First thing Monday morning, the agent confirms that it’s ours, with the contract arriving at some point this week once they’ve done a credit check. So I guess we’re moving to Helsingborg? It’s kinda crazy how fast housing stuff moves in Sweden once you do find a place. Move-in date is in August.
So begins the boxing up of everything we own…
Finally, fans of small furry creatures will definitely want to keep an eye on my dog Laika’s Instagram account this week. You have been warned.