Machine Seeing

Three readings this week, we have:
Ways of Machine Seeing by Geoff Cox
A Future for Intersectional Black Feminist Technology Studies by Safiya Umoja Noble
How we are teaching computers to understand pictures by Fei Fei Lee

“Drawing on the two readings consider your example in relation to “ways of machine seeing”.


Inspired by Lisa Nakamura’s Keynote speech at this year’s Transmediale Berlin “Call Out, Protest, Speak Back” I will be looking further into the writings of bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins) and her influence on Intersectional thought. Nakamura presentation focuses on VR and how it is being sold by the big tech companies and how it uses black women as users of the media. She points out how this is a superficial and misleading image. This connects with the second of the readings; by Safiya Umoja Noble.

Supershapes formula

Inspired by Johan Gielis, Paul Bourke’s website deals with, among other geometry, supershapes.


see also

Extended to 3d the formula extends as:

Daniel Schiffman excellent youTube on this, here is the code for Processing sketch taken from his gitHub:


Also see Reza Ali’s Website – more supershapes.


to do:

take the code below and convert to a Point Cloud.

// Daniel Shiffman
// Code for:

import peasy.*;

PeasyCam cam;

PVector[ ][ ]  globe;
int total = 75;

float offset = 0;

float m = 0;
float mchange = 0;

void setup() {
size(600, 600, P3D);
cam = new PeasyCam(this, 500);
globe = new PVector[total+1][total+1];

float a = 1;
float b = 1;

float supershape(float theta, float m, float n1, float n2, float n3) {
float t1 = abs((1/a)*cos(m * theta / 4));
t1 = pow(t1, n2);
float t2 = abs((1/b)*sin(m * theta/4));
t2 = pow(t2, n3);
float t3 = t1 + t2;
float r = pow(t3, – 1 / n1);
return r;

void draw() {

m = map(sin(mchange), -1, 1, 0, 7);
mchange += 0.02;

float r = 200;
for (int i = 0; i < total+1; i++) {
float lat = map(i, 0, total, -HALF_PI, HALF_PI);
float r2 = supershape(lat, m, 0.2, 1.7, 1.7);
//float r2 = supershape(lat, 2, 10, 10, 10);
for (int j = 0; j < total+1; j++) {
float lon = map(j, 0, total, -PI, PI);
float r1 = supershape(lon, m, 0.2, 1.7, 1.7);
//float r1 = supershape(lon, 8, 60, 100, 30);
float x = r * r1 * cos(lon) * r2 * cos(lat);
float y = r * r1 * sin(lon) * r2 * cos(lat);
float z = r * r2 * sin(lat);
globe[i][j] = new PVector(x, y, z);

offset += 5;
for (int i = 0; i < total; i++) {
float hu = map(i, 0, total, 0, 255*6);
fill((hu + offset) % 255 , 255, 255);
for (int j = 0; j < total+1; j++) {
PVector v1 = globe[i][j];
vertex(v1.x, v1.y, v1.z);
PVector v2 = globe[i+1][j];
vertex(v2.x, v2.y, v2.z);


An exercise in intimacy

Were asked to pair up and touch each others palms for 3 minutes; 90 seconds with eyes closed, 90 seconds with them open, then write our experiences, taking 10 minutes.

Reflections on bodily contact

My view of Matthew:

The first part was to stare into each others eyes for ten seconds. This felt like ten minutes, in fact, we had to make several attempts at the gazing preliminary as we would either one of us look away or laugh, distracting ourselves. I do not know my opposite number, seen him in class so it was all genuinely difficult and left me feeling surprisingly uncomfortable.

The main feeling, I experienced throughout was pain. I shut my eyes, at first uneasy at the unnatural circumstances of touching a stranger so to speak. We English are so reserved… My hands – so warm, his hands cold from just walking into the classroom. I began to lose all sense of what was normal… the effort of holding up my arms made it feel like I was holding up the other person like in a circus trick, balancing upwards. My fingers compensating and micro-adjusting so the fingertips would not ‘fall off’ the ends of his fingertips, like balancing on a the edge of a precipice, a high wire. Feeling pulses of movement and the heat transferring from my hands into his. Each finger would twitch.

Releasing our shut eyes- opening them made the task even harder. Now I had to worry about having to avert my gaze. When our eyes meet I look away, embarrassed. We are conditioned not to threaten each other with this gaze avoidance, I think. If I did this to my dog, he would look away, just the same. I glance round the room, looking at the others to see what they are doing, some relaxed, some in embarrassed discomfort, just like me…I carry on, this seems like it is taking hours, certainly not something I would have chosen to so but at last we are released, I drop my arms in absolute relief.

I wonder what I can take from this; the distortion of time, sensory input magnified with eyes closed.

This was Matthew’s viewpoint:

The contact zone moved. As our palms touched and our fingers aligned we knew this would be a long minute and a half. James’ hands felt large and warm. The pressure created between us was enough to sustain the strain of our extended limbs.

I could sense movement, twitches and some rigidity from James. Personally I was calm. A little apologetic for the coldness of my own hands. Questions started arriving. Was I sweating? Was I moving a lot? I felt like James was doing the moving, still I thought of the relationship between driver and passenger in a car. The driver anticipates.

After thirty or forty seconds my left index finger began to slip. It crept leftwards. Gradually heading for the valley. Would we soon interlock fingers? I didn’t move, curious to as to where this would go. James blinked first and corrected our alignment. The minute game of chicken was over.

When we opened our eyes James would not hold my gaze for more than a few seconds. Our separate selves had bonded for a few minutes there. I continued with the exercise and stared at James. Taking in his face, his eyes, his hair. He is several decades older than I am, I knew this change would happen to me too.


Part two

My viewpoint:

This time we did not touch – we closed our eyes  for 90 seconds then I used my phone to film in time laspse mode, observing my partner through the phone for 90 seconds.

With eyes closed, I was disconnected totally from him. The classroom disappeared, I was in meditative mode; since my practice of over 25 years of meditation, I am conditioned to draw within and I began to watch myself. Again, Gurdjieff watched over me so to speak, I was observing myself, my thoughts passing, music – memories of my days when I was in the ‘work’. Now, John Cale… drifting thoughts swirling, bringing my mind back… but still no appearance of my partner in front of me… until I realised I had a task to be in the room with my opposite number.

The 90 seconds seemed long, but I was comfortable this time, happy to spend another hour if need be.

The daylight returns and my task reappears, I hold my phone up and video Matthew in fast motion – maybe he would like to see it, it did not record any particular blow by blow representation, I wanted to shrink time if I ever came to look at it again. He looks a little uneasy, but I am thankful it was not me being observed. I saw him looking at me looking into my phone, he did not seem to like the idea, neither did I, like a sort of voyeuristic thing, I felt guilt. He was a victim, I was the prison warder forced to observe my prisoner. I was dominant in the exercise, not any better position to be in than the observed subject.

The time passed slower in the observation through the phone sequence, it was not enjoyable. We were back dealing with our intimacy despite giving each other permission to do this, I was glad the second part was over.

And Matthew’s view:

I’m searching for James with my eyes closed. We are no longer connected, only present together. The yellow and orange of my eyelids turns to a muddy green. The hairs on my fingers are bristling. They’re searching for contact. My stomach rumbles and I’m reminded of my hunger. I distract myself with a few bars of a song.

When we open our eyes this second time James has been told to take out his phone and views me through it. I stare dead-eyed into the lens. Knowing this black circle will be the locus of my attention for the next period, I settle in.

I try to move the camera with my stare. That is I’m trying to move the man. I visualise pushing the device away to the side. The phone does start to move, a hand swap indicates that this is fatigue not telekinesis.

James looks away from the camera. I know he doesn’t enjoy this, I find this fun.

How does my face look? Am I locking with his invisible eyes? In the pre-meditation I considered discreetly lifting my hood and pulling the cords tight. Not out of shame or shyness but to make James laugh upon opening his eyes.


Readings; Rose Woodcock and Nishat Awan

Digital Narratives and Witnessing: The Ethics of Engaging with Places at a Distance and Instrumental Vision by Rose Woodcock

We had two reading this week; the common theme was how technology impacts on our perception of the world. In the first, we hear of the ethics of engaging with Places at a distance, in the second reading, with objects ‘closer up’ – in our heads, as part of virtual reality.

Nishat Awan describes how we in the developed world have a distorted view of our surroundings, particularly of distant locations. He proposes that this has been brought upon to a large extent by the technologies of social media and also with the warfare technology of drones. He describes vividly his own direct experience of a locality of Gwadar, Pakistan and how it presents itself through the lens of digital media. Gwadar, his example mediates as a place, through the term power topologies [1], where notion of distance is removed. The remote sensing of places, digital maps and even connections with people over great distances, best put: “Topology in this context highlights the intensive nature of the world that such technologies create because as power reaches across space it is not so much traversing across a fixed space and time, as it is composing its own space–time.”

In addition, he points out how little critical engagement there is with the ways in which they mediate our engagement with place. He expands this, using an urgent example of localities in crisis, as humanitarian or war, or both. Haiti, for example, where humanitarian aid can be accelerated through tech without the need to get too caught up in the crisis itself, thus keeping the aid agencies out of harm’s way. One side effect of this is to create the false impression of the distant locality is in constant crisis.

He recalls as to how a crisis is communicated; Michael Buerk reporting the Ethiopian crisis for the BBC in 1982 – his report on the news gave us an immediate emotional response. This was perhaps the best and one early example of how aid is stimulated, now with digital media, it is central to the methodology of calling for help, the example used by Awan was the virtual reality film of a girl in  Za’atri refugee camp, Jordan shot in 2015; Clouds over Sidra, presented to the World Economic forum in Davos. This presents the story in a different way; “There is an authenticity and immediacy associated with such images, but at the same time they are easily exploited, misinterpreted, and hijacked by powerful actors”

Dronestream, an artwork by James Bridle (Tate) uses publicly available Google Earth to show the after effects of drone strikes. Quote: “the politics of witnessing takes another twist. When difficult stories are being told by distant others, then the testimony of presence is suddenly rendered ineffective.”

We hear another example of how technology has changed, through citizen reporting; Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat, “tracking of missiles from Russia to parts of Ukraine under Russian control and of proving through this practice of tracking and location that a Russian-made missile was responsible for bringing down Malaysian Airways Flight MH17”… “what happens to the witness when the claims that are being made do not come from the testimony of individuals but are made through combining multiple narratives? Where do you locate the political subject in such an account and does it matter that witnessing can no longer be attributed to just one person? Are the multiple volunteers that contribute to Bellingcat the authors of this work or is it the various people from social media whose information has been used to piece together an account, or is it in actuality the figure of Higgins and his organization?”

These examples (and others in the paper) describe how spatial analysis with investigative journalism engage with places that are in conflict, where it is difficult to spend time in the field, however this perhaps oversimplifies the events that took place, despite their authenticity. The three emergent practices combine spatial analysis with investigative journalism to engage with places that are in conflict, where it is difficult to spend time in the field

They only tell part of the story; they lack the testimony of people on the ground, other types of seeing, as a feminist geopolitical viewpoint.

He describes at length the history of his chosen locality, Gwadar province, detailing its history and culminating in an earthquake disaster killing 800 people, largely ignored by the international media, how social media has played the greater part in healing from the disaster. However, this has not been without its down-side; ‘dirty linen’ has been aired as well.

Digital technologies have transformed how we engage with distant places, but these techniques have also come with their limitations, particularly with regard to witnessing events. However, the earthquake in Gwadar has shown how social media can ameliorate matters, where the broader lens of the international media misses it.

The second reading, Instrumental Vision by Rose Woodcock deals with another aspect of perceptual change through technology. She examines the ‘practice’ of vision and consider on what basis can vison have its own ‘materiality. She ask many questions; what comes first, pictures or the capacity to see things pictorially?

Woodcock describes the work of Gibson, a perceptual psychologist who worked on an instructional film for AAF Fighter pilots. He found that film was a far more effective means of training than any training manual- to “develop a theory of what a motion picture shot could do that nothing else could Gibson’s emphasis on how the animated display gives the observer a sense of “continuous covariation in time” and particularly, how it inserted the observer’s own view-point at the centre of the flow of images, is more like a description of a virtual reality display than of conventional cinema.”

She concludes that immersive stereoscopic VR is uniquely empowered to instantiate the lit environment, since it alone, as a system of visual representation, can array surfaces in three-dimensions; and it can illuminate itself. Virtual imaging technology is thus well fashioned as a fine tool for the creation, not of pictorial illusionistic space, but three-dimensional, corporeal “actual” space. She goes on to describe Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, how the artist conveys the sense of space from 2D in oils with the use of reflective light, perspective and foreshort

“Realism” as opposed to “realness” thus marks a definitive difference between pictorial and real-world perception respectively. This difference is epistemological, rather than a matter of degree (for example, of detail or resolution), and corresponds to the way assumptions about what vision is for, find expression and manifest differentially within the enterprises of pictorial representation and the design of virtual worlds.


[1] Allen, J. 2011. Topological twists: Power’s shifting geographies. Dialogues in Human Geography 1 (3): 283–98.

Walkthrough of Google Arts and Culture App

I used my Samsung Galaxy tablet to install Google’s Arts and Culture App.

Having mixed feelings about Google, I try not to use their services too much. This app however, did suprise me, despite the initial impression of art hangings in the hallways of an expensive hotel sor a modern hospitals; anodydne, avoiding any uncessesary or embarrasing subjects that cater for  well heeled international tourists or a bored business traveller who has already read the in-flight magazine twice already.

Digging deeper, it offered me the promise of notifications (weekly) – I had to trade in my privacy again, offering my location and almost certainly logging the items I choose to look at.

Lets get some of the screenshots as I  installed and ventured into the app:

The iconic Classic Greek with its cartoon, dumbed down aspect of the Golden mean, now reduced to a fast food logo.

1 million downloads! In Play Store, 3.8 approval rating from 17,862 people. Classified under Education – similar apps are all Google apps! Not very good classification in the Play store and quite a few negative comments. 3,713 one star and 10,271 five star.

“pretty disappointed because of the region lock and lack of proper communication about it. Have been checking every day hoping it would be unlocked, hopoefully soon. Also it would be cool if you could save articles you like to go back and download photos like so many other art/history museum archives are letting you do now days (sic).”

“region locking a feature like that makes no damn sense… “ etc

Looks like you need a VPN…

Also, what about taking screenshots, like I did??

`however, I was viewing features on art in Japan and the US…


The red greek temple logo shows collections you can open and visit in the app, the orange dots are venues with opening times and a Google map.

Allow Google to track your location??

Collections are grouped under subject or theme..

Zoom into a Google – approved artist

Who decides what to put there? Is this paid for by the exhibitior/curator, if it is how does this allow smaller more innovative galleries to show themselves. All very “gallery-system”

Korean artist, good, I have found some new material..

English heritage, very counter culture!

Fodder for the tourists…

I liked the experimental section, this already exists on anothe Google site. Good material buried under ‘tourist’. This was lumped in with the English Heritage material.

The nice feature I found in this app was that certain galleries provide a Google street view style walk through of the gallery interior, For example, the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum:

The Japanese text was in Kanji. Naturally Google offer G. translate…

Walk round the gallery…

and every nook and cranny

Intended audience, mostly visitors to a country – London has 52 collections located on the App’s Google map. This is a useful resource. However, as a means of exploring and researching foreign collections, it is somewhat limited.

The fairly mainstream and ‘establishment;’ slant does not go far enough to push any boundaries in the creative arts but it is not really desgned to do this. It is a glorified guide book.

In terms of ANT – the app will definitely inform the interested art hunter and perhaps alter their approach to exploring the gallery world. In turn another effect of the non human network effect is to facilitate sharing a users likes and islikes, like in so many other apps.

I am uncertain as to the extent that the app will alter its presentation to each user, as like in all apps, the internal workings are hidden. If the app knows the exact identity of each user then it would be more practical to achieve.

As to what the metadata generated might be used for, it is uncertain; there is no obligation to reveal your identity as such, requiring a password to enter etc. I am in no doubt that Google knows enough about you to identify you as you as a user almost certainly have provided login information identifying you with other sister Google apps.

The fairly mainstream and ‘establishment;’ slant does not go far enough to push any boundaries in the creative arts but it is not really designed to do this. It is a glorified guide book.

A few hidden treats offer the oportunity to roam around some of the collections, perhaps more could be provided.

The opportunity to share ‘liked’ items persists throughout, this is perhaps the only networked aspect of the app. The subject matter is not conducive to extend in this way much.

A couple more locations, first Thailand – the imagery really is repulsive, sorry!

I wonder how well these would sell at the Frieze? Art collectors? Oligarchs?

Another feature, zoom!

One of the few featured collections shown on the App in London, I love visiting here…

Moma, good

Select by timeline

The walkthrough method

We are asked to think on the following:

– What is the walkthrough method?

– What is the methodology of the walkthrough method?

– How would you carry out the walkthrough method?


We were introduced to the paper The walkthrough method: An approach to the study of apps by Ben Light, Jean Burgess and Stefanie Duguay [1].


The study of Apps and their sociocultural and economic effects is proposed and a formal methodology is described in this paper.


The environment of expected use and technical walkthrough are part of what is termed the Critical Technocultural Discourse Analysis (CTDA)  and includes forensically examining firstly, the environment of expected use.  This includes identifying the app’s vision, its operating model and its governance. The walkthrough process is to build a foundational corpus of data, starting with examining the app’s intended purpose, its cultural embedded meanings and to step through all the processes involved in registering the user to the app (if required). Further to this, the technical walkthrough would incorporate a data gathering procedure, not only registration but also everyday use of the app and how a user would go about leaving the app, closing an account if it has been opened and so on.

The walkthrough method uses interpretive techniques; Science and Technology Studies (STS) and cultural studies as a lens for app analysis. The walkthrough method as we use it is grounded in the principles of Actor-Network Theory (ANT), as a specific aspect of STS.

Within ANT, there are Intermediaries and Mediators – which in turn can be human or non-human. The intermediaries pass on meaning unchanged through a network of relations, while the mediators may transform meaning. An example in an app might take some information and suggest related things.. the example given in the paper was a dating app, having gathered certain like/dislikes – may suggest further likes to the user’s profile.

The way the app presents itself, its menu structure (in more playful apps this may frequently change) – the size of buttons, graphics, physical interaction gestures (e.g. swipe in Tinder), these all go towards a transformative action by the non-human mediator to affect change in the user.

What happens when the app is running (when removed from the user’s screen – or even, when machine is switched off)?

What happens when a user subverts the app by using it for a ‘non-intended’ use?

Consideration of affordances – again, is the app presenting itself to bias the user in their reactions?

What extra features/ changes occur over extended periods of use, not apparent in the initial walkthrough?

I am not clear on how best I would go about using the walkthrough method.

  1. The paper seems very anglo-centric, is it limited in its use? For example, how would this work in Japanese culture?
  2. Theory is presented well but the practice of the methods described need fleshing out




[1] The walkthrough method: An approach to the study of apps DOI: 10.1177/1461444816675438

The Nonhuman Turn

The reading was Grusin, Richard. “Introduction”. In The nonhuman turn. University of Minnesota Press, 2015 and Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “Crisis, crisis, crisis; or, the temporality of networks.” The nonhuman turn (2015): 139-166.

Until now, I had not lifted the covers of any writings until this term and the course on Computational Arts-based research and theory. This week is no easier, we have been given two texts to read and summarise. The introduction by Grusin lays out the central theme of this collection of plenary addresses from the 2012 Nonhuman Turn in 21st Century Studies conference, The Nonhuman Turn. Grusin points to the meaning of the word ‘turn’ and how it is used in the context of non-human situations. The nonhuman is not restricted simply to machines but also to ‘animals, plants, organisms, climatic systems, technologies, or ecosystems’. He goes on to describe speculative realism; the first conference was held at Goldsmiths in 2007, when the group of speakers challenged the post-Kantian correlationism philosophy, as speculative realism, defining itself ‘loosely in its stance of metaphysical realism’ and working to overturn anthropocentrism, privilege of the human over non-human. Speculative realism favouring distinct forms of realism against dominant forms of idealism in so much of contemporary philosophy. He describes how technology has accelerated pace and intensity of academic discourse the ‘turn’ and noting that in 2012 it was estimated that 51% of internet traffic was non-human.

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun in her presentation argues that crisis both exceeds and is structurally necessary to networks. She contrasts the medium of television, citing catastrophe as central to commercial TV programming, whereas new media as a ‘crisis machine’. She examines the many ways how new media has affected us, how, they, as crises, cut across our rules, even creating new norms. Many problems arise from the sheer speed of telecommunications, ‘undermining the need for scholarly contemplation. ‘Crisis structures new media temporality’.