Archive for the 'Article' Category

The Mysterious Heaton Shoe Tree

March 2, 2009
An inexplicably shoe-covered tree in Heaton, Newcastle

An inexplicably shoe-covered tree in Heaton, Newcastle

I was wandering through Armstrong Park in Newcastle the other day, when I came upon an unusual sight. In a small clearing there were three or four trees, each littered with hundreds of pairs of shoes.

A small board in front of the trees, placed there by the council, raised more questions than it answered. It seems that nobody knows how it got started, or what exactly the point is.

I stopped and gawped for a couple of minutes, along with a few passers-by, before capturing a couple of washed out snaps with my iPhone’s camera.

When I got home I did some research and found that there are 26 of these trees in the US alone, and unknown numbers all around the world.

Is it the same madman who travels the planet, planting the seeds of this odd ritual, I wondered, or is there some distant evolutionary reason for this odd behaviour?

I also found that there’s a novel in which the Heaton Shoe Tree(s) plays a central character. It’s called The Taxi Driver’s Daughter, and it was written by the late Julia Darling, who Robyn Hitchcock mentioned was a close friend when I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago.

The tree – and the coincidence – is all weird enough, but the oddest thing of all is that I wore through a pair of shoes last week, and now I want to throw them in the tree…

I still have no idea how it got started, but at least I understand how it keeps going.


Ghost bikes a haunting tribute

November 7, 2008

dsc_0007The number of cyclists on the road has exploded in the last few years. Soaring fuel costs, exorbitant public transport prices, the expanding congestion charge and increasing worries about the state of both our own bodies and the environment have all played a part. Few would argue that getting to work under your own steam is a bad thing, perhaps except the unlucky few that never complete their journey. Accidents with cars, buses and lorries invariably see the rider come off worse, and are sadly regular enough to warrant little media attention.

Some cyclists are trying to highlight these accidents, though, by placing ghost bikes at the scene of fatalities. Read the rest of this entry »

Machine Making – Free Drugs and Communication?

December 2, 2006

Research into self-replicating rapid prototyping machines could create a production singularity, after which free objects, communication and medicine could be the norm.

Rapid Prototyping

The Industrial Age centralised the production, increased the quantity, and homogenized the design of manufactured goods. Traditional arts and crafts techniques dwindled to niche markets, and factories creating hundreds of thousands of identical items a day became the norm. Products became significantly more complex, and now it would be impossible for consumers to make most common household items themselves.

However, a paradigm shift may be on the way in the form of cheap rapid prototyping machines for the home. Cheap because you don’t have to buy one, your neighbor can ‘breed’ you one via self-replication.

The designers behind these machines have a formidable but admirable goal; to democratise the production of household goods. The Rep-Rap project at Bath University vocalises this goal with its slogan, “Wealth without money.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Data Mining and Intrusion Detection

February 24, 2006

Topic: Data Mining and Intrusion Detection
Author: Matthew Sparkes
Date: April, 2005

I propose to conduct research into the topic of data mining and it’s specific use in the field of detecting network intrusions. I will then create a literature survey of approximately 3,500 words surveying the different approaches to this concept, and the current state of the art.

To come as soon as I format it into HTML from LaTeX!

Most Sampled Beat Ever – The Amen Break

February 22, 2006

One day, a drummer sat down and played the Amen Break; a simple and short loop. It was part of The Winstons B Side track, Amen My Brother. This song, more specifically that short loop, was to go on to become the most popular sample ever. This video shows how ubiquitous the break has become, and tells it’s fascinating story.

It describes it’s use in early Hip Hop such as NWA’s Straight Outta Compton, and the part it played in various different genres, sometimes even creating them. I love the way that the video describes it use by people such as Aphex Twin, as:

“tweaking the arrangements beyond the point of dancability and syncopation, and into a realm of pure fetishisation and self-indulgence”

It’s amazing how this one recording has gone on to be used in so many thousands of songs, and indeed spawn whole genres, and whole musical movements.

Did anyone ever pay for it’s use though? Richard Spencer from The Winstons, who owned the copyright to the break, didn’t seem to care. The video suggests he didn’t see potential in these heavily sampled tracks, but maybe he was just cool with it in a creative commons kind of way.

Finally, the break has been sullied by commercialism, with heavy use in advertising, and with some companies actually selling it in compilations of beats, under copyright.