COP-26 Art Installation – The Planet’s Case of Abuse

With my alternative Larks&Ravens hat on, I’ve been working with my 2 artist colleagues to create an installation in the old Victorian Courtroom in Brecon to trigger conversation around climate change.

What would happen if the Planet brought a case of abuse to the Court?

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Sizzling & Shaking : 2 new ‘I’ve got an idea’ Fund Awards

In selecting these latest award winners from the many fascinating applications we receive, we’ve again chosen to fund ideas which are DIY based where individuals or groups are building and testing their technical ideas themselves rather than outsourcing the development to a specialist company. This means that we can fund more projects with the limited money we have available as outsourcing software, hardware or content development tends to eat up anyone’s funds fast.

But the main reason is that we know, from our own experience, that building the idea yourself is more fun and the best way of evolving it, gaining new knowledge and skills and learning what works and doesn’t work. Having fun collaborating and experimenting through hands on doing is where the spirit of this particular fund lies.

The Fund is still open until the current pot runs dry.

Portable Solar BBQ

Victor Galadimawa is a Mechanical Engineer with a Masters degree in Thermal Power. His idea is to use optic filters combined with an Infrared emitter to construct a high-power, fast cooking, solar powered barbecue grill which is compact and portable enough to replace the current single use, charcoal grills. The latter have become very popular. They are often left littering the countryside and causing fires and the charcoal they use is often sourced from Africa.

Victor’s idea is that “the total incident solar flux into my solar barbecue grill’s concentrator is first concentrated and then converted into heat in a collector. This heat is then converted by an integrated infrared emitter in the grill assembly into infrared radiation suitable for grilling.”

The benefit of Infrared is that it penetrates the food and heats it more quickly and effectively.

Victor will use his Idea Fund award to purchase environmentally safe and biodegradable components and 100% recyclable materials required for this prototyping phase.

His solar thermal experimentation will be both challenging and fun and we wish Victor every success with his potential product and, hopefully, some great tasting BBQ sausages to enjoy at some point.

Biodegradable, bee friendly, percussion eggs

Christian Blackmore-Wynn is a Design Teacher who also sings and plays in the band The Legendary Snake Snake Snake. As they have no drummer, the band hand out percussion eggs (like the colourful ones you get in primary schools, etc) to the audience who then become the rhythm section of the band. Christian says it works really well as interactive,
audience participation but they are concerned over the number of percussion eggs they give out which end up discarded.

Current percussion eggs are either made of a polymer or wood which has been coated in a varnish and are filled with small metal beads. Neither option is environmentally friendly nor sustainable. They are sold in the hundreds of thousands globally every year to schools, colleges, bands and promotional events. Christian says they are rarely used more than a few times and are not recycled or have any other use. They go into landfill.

Christain will use the award to experiment with creating outer percussion shells from recycled paper and card pulp or from food waste such as orange peel or ground coffee with wildflower seeds mixed into it. He then wants to explore if the important ‘percussion’ noise inside the shape could be be produced by larger wild flower seeds. This will need exploring to discover which combination and size of seeds gives the best and most authentic sound.

Through his job, Christian tries to inspire his students and spark their
creative juices so is keen to involve them where possible in the experimentation and design.

The Idea Fund award will cover the cost of a range of pulp producing equipment, grinders and blenders, moulds of varying shapes and sizes, drying racks, wild seeds, producing test examples. Material research into a range of natural and biodegradable pulps. Research into manufacturing techniques to include tradition mould making but also modern applications such as 3D printing. Making or purchasing a Dehydrator for food peelings and ground coffee. Making or purchasing a hydraulic press machine once a successful mould and process has been established.

We wish Christian, his band and his students every success with this endeavour. It will certainly involve plenty of problem solving, experimentation and fun and hopefully some great new sounds and later maybe wildflowers in unexpected places for the bees.

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Enabling young people with disabilities to make their own music

On Friday, I visited Lee Holder at The Music Works charity in Gloucester. Lee won one of our ‘I’ve got an idea fund‘ awards at the end of last year. His idea is to use 3D printing and one-on-one experimentation to individualise manual interfaces for severely disabled young people to make their own music.

Lee now has a fabulous new sensory studio at Music Works and he showed me (and even better allowed me to try!) a range of different digital interfaces (see some below). Some of these will work for his students as they are. Others will need major or minor resdesigning or repackaging to work effectively for the particular challenges of each of his young collaborators. That is where the customised design and 3D printing will come into its own.

It was fascinating to experience creating sounds and beats in such different ways .. moving my hands in the air in front of a sensor, pressing and sliding my fingers across different receptive surfaces and manipulating joy sticks. I even tried lying on a specially designed water bed, covering my ears and ‘hearing’ music through the patterns of physical vibration of the water beneath me. The latter is specifically designed for deaf people but people with autism enjoy it too. I certainly would have happily spent an hour or more lying there.

I’m excited that our small fund has enabled Lee to get this experimental project to start happening.

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Is football sustainable well-being consumption in action?

OK, so I confess I am not particularly interested in football and I’m far more Celtic these days than English. But football (or any mass spectator sport) as a joyful, sociable, meaningful ‘consumable’ has got to make us stop and think – even out here on the Celtic fringes!

Rishi Sunak on the BBC 4 ‘Today’ programme yesterday repeated his regular mantra that the UK is a ‘consumption-based economy’ and that the economy must keep growing. (Although Rishi never explains that it’s the particular demand of a capitalist system that the economy must keep growing). In our UK case, that means our consumption levels must keep growing. People must keep buying more goods (regardless of whether they need them) or our economy will stagnate. This also means new jobs must be created which manufacture more stuff or consumers won’t have the necessary employment income to buy the new stuff created and keep the cycle going.

There are hugely damaging aspects of this cycle which our government either doesn’t recognise or maybe can’t or won’t publically acknowledge. Creating jobs for the sole purpose of making more material products: (i) uses up ever more of the planet’s finite resources, (ii) demands ever more energy to do so, (iii) generates ever more waste and (iv) doesn’t even deliver happier, healthier people or improve wealth disparity across society! In fact, our current economy is delivering the reverse in terms of happiness, fulfilment and reducing poverty. There is now plenty of evidence to show that. Simply switching to “greener” products and processes doesn’t fundamentally change this.

But I wonder if the current football euphoria shows us there are alternatives. Studies which The Prospectory (along with many others) have done over the years show that, once our basic needs for shelter, food and health are met, humans have 3 fundamental needs to enjoy happy, meaningful and fulfilled lives.

Stimulation – the buzz we get from novelty, drama, physical sensations or mental or emotional stimulation

Social bonding – the buzz we get from connecting with other people – particularly when we share common experiences, ideas or emotions. We want to feel we belong.

Identity/self worth – the buzz we get from a chance to express our own ideas, identity, skills, creativity and feel that we are valued and have worth.

We explored the consumer psychology of rugby supporters. Analysing their language in talking about their love of the sport showed that the buzz they got came from a complelling combination of these three.

Experiences such as we are currently witnessing with the England football games deliver the feel good hormones (seratonin, adrenaline, oxytocin) into our systems. They enhance our well-being (both physically and mentally) having stimulated us, made us feel fully alive and bonded with others (even those we might not know or have conflicting views with!) and strengthened our feeling of identity and self worth – even though we weren’t the ones performing skilfully on the pitch. If lucky enough to be in the stadium, then we can feel we were the ones who made the critical difference. Indeed, Andy Murray readily acknowledged this by gifting his shirt to a couple of loudly shouting supporters on the front row after a dramatic win at Wimbledon last week.

So, there are consumer experiences which deliver well being and without directly or necessarily consuming more of the world’s diminishing material resources or requiring huge amounts of energy. Sport is just one of many.

If true, and they can deliver such an experience to millions at once by running around a stretch of grass with a ball for 90 minutes, then just maybe those football players are actually worth the ridiculous money we pay them! (Although obviously it would help if the millions they earn was ploughed back into enabling the many to enjoy their own physical or creative activity.)

And back to Rishi Sunak. I have no idea if he is actually a keen football supporter but, in his role as Chancellor, it’s likely his interest is in football success making people happier as happy people will go out and spend their money and buy more stuff. Well Rishi, how about creating a world where everyone’s basic material needs are met and everyone is enabled to enjoy drama, happiness, meaningful activity and social bonding. When you are fed, warm and feel that happy and excited and are busy singing, laughing and hugging people, what else do you want or need?

How could an economy based on delivering happiness and meaning through human activity using only our combined human energy, skill and creativity work? It would be much better for us as humans (whether we are doing it ourselves or enjoying experiencing the activity of others) and might even save the planet.

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Psychology, Art, Irrationality and UBI

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“Earning” a Living?

In 2017, the erstwhile Conservative MP Nick Boles wrote that the main objection to introducing Universal Basic Income (UBI) is not practical but moral. The risk, as he saw it, was “we will all dispense with the idea of earning a living and find true fulfilment in writing poetry, playing music and nurturing plants“. He goes on to claim that “mankind is hard-wired to work. We gain satisfaction from it, it gives us sense of identity, purpose and belonging so we should not be trying to create a world in which most people do not feel the need to work“.

Well, at least his objection to UBI is honest rather than trying to hide his moral objections behind economic feasibility arguments. But the two main problems I have with it are:-

Clearly Boles finds his own work satisfying, giving him a sense of identity, purpose and belonging (as well as a decent salary). Although true for many jobs, Boles assumes this is true of all. At the low paid end, many don’t even “earn a living” if that phrase means paying you enough to meet your and your family’s basic material needs. And many jobs certainly fail to “earn” you a sense of identity and purpose. The worst case is when people have to switch from work which gives them identity, meaning and purpose to work that does not but pays them enough to live on.

And, what about reasonably well paid but so-called “Bullshit jobs” ? As organisations grow, they tend to require more and more people simply to maintain the organisation while an ever decreasing proportion of their workforce directly serve the organisation’s core purpose. As the late David Graeber pointed out, huge swathes of people spend their entire working lives performing tasks they believe to be unnecessary (i.e. it wouldn’t actually matter to the organisation or certainly the wider world if their job didn’t exist). These are often the better paid and educated people in middle management and Graeber argues that such jobs lead to profound moral and spiritual damage.

Conversely, Boles seems to believe that people do not (or cannot?) gain a sense of purpose, identity and belonging from, for example, “writing poetry, playing music or nurturing plants“. His underlying assumption seems to be that, if the work isn’t paid then (a) it’s not actually work, (b) it’s not of moral or personal worth and (c) it isn’t making a positive difference to the world we all live in. What about other work which is unpaid? – looking after your children or an elderly or disabled relative, growing your own food, creating and cooking meals for family or friends, doing voluntary work or running a community activity, event or organisation, helping out your neighbours, listening and talking to others, generating and trying out creative ideas. Every one of these activities, I would argue, earn you a valuable role in society and one which you may well be uniquely skilled or motivated to fulfil. If nothing else, the pandemic has demonstrated how critical such work is to the sustainability of any society.

The fascination for me about UBI is that it recognises the intrinsic worth of every individual, rich or poor, educated or not, healthy or unhealthy and equips them with the basic means to live without scrabbling for any work however unrewarding added to the daily stress of trying to pay the bills. But, it also frees every individual to find and create their own purpose, fulfilment and identity, the motivation they can experience by doing something they enjoy and which makes a tangible difference to the world and others around them.

What, Mr Boles, is the moral problem with that?

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‘I’ve got an idea Fund’ – 3 new awards made

Our ‘I’ve got an idea’ micro fund received over 60 applications in February with a wonderfully eclectic range of ideas. The discovery of so many individuals and small organisations out there with great ideas inspired by their engagement with environmental and social issues is energising.

The ideas ranged wildly from shoe design to hot dogs, from virtual theatre to walking sticks, from clothing to online environmental games, from dentistry to slave trafficking detection, from mental health to sound energy, from nutrition to hair cutting, from cross cultural music to drink-driving education, from bio-based manufacture to autism and on and on. Unfortunately, our funding pot is very small and so we had to make some really tough choices this time around. We’d like to thank everyone who applied and we hope that the many projects we weren’t able to fund find other ways to progress their ideas.

We were drawn to the small ideas which are DIY based where individuals or groups are building and incrementally testing their technical idea themselves rather than outsourcing the development to a specialist company. This also means that we can fund more projects with the limited money we have available as outsourcing software, hardware or content development tends to eat up anyone’s funds fast. But the main reason is that we know, from our own experience, that building the idea yourself is more fun and the best way of evolving it, gaining new knowledge and skills and learning what works and doesn’t work. Having fun collaborating and experimenting through hands on doing is where the spirit of this particular fund lies.

So, we are pleased to announce the following 3 award winners this time around:-

Timerz system for sprint cyclists

Founded by Hannah Escott, an international racing cyclist, the Open Trail charity uses cycling to help disadvantaged and disaffected young people in Kidderminster. Cycling helps develop their self-confidence, resilience and hope for the future. Open Trail has had great success in getting local young people to attend school regularly and to continue with education after their final exams.

Open Trail’s idea is Timerz – the first timing system to be a portable, use at home system for testing sprint time over space. It won’t require setting up timing strips, beams and equipment. Their plan is an easy set-up, low cost option for grass roots racers and athletes looking for high performance on a budget. They have been working on the first prototype.

Building the Timerz prototype

Timerz was inspired by the young people with whom Open Trail work. The young cyclists love to race and explore what makes them go faster. They want to test their theories and measure what makes a difference. The hope is that Timerz will help them test and explore their curiosity, to find graphs and charts exciting and empowering and to learn that STEM isn’t something you do in the classroom but in everyday life. Open Trail want Timerz to demonstrate that you can be a scientist or an engineer even if you don’t get an A in the classroom.

One of their group, a 15 year old with an enthusiasm and proven talent for electronics and programming, has started working on building a prototype Timerz system. The Idea Fund award will enable him to acquire all the parts he needs to get Timerz to a working stage where the other youngsters can enjoy testing and hopefully refining it into an Open Trail product.

We wish the team at Open Trail every success and a lot of electronics and speed testing fun en route.

Air quality sensor pin badge – Perfect Sense AQ

Ava Garnside (14 years) from Leeds is interested in the environment and how her contemporaries can work together to help preserve the planet. In her own words, she wishes to “accelerate our understanding about the action needed to achieve climate ambition and grasp how pollution affects us every day. I believe that science and technology hold the key to achieving ambitious climate goals, helping us to stay healthy and preserving the planet for future generations.”

For Ava it started with a concern about the air pollution on her daily walk to school so she built a device that could attach to her bag or blazer with sensors to collect pollution data. She wants to help more people turn their own environmental data into information for health reasons, instead of being reliant on information shared by the government or other central organisations. Ava has already won several notable awards for her first version of  ‘Perfect Sense AQ’ . Since then, Ava has set up her own social enterprise with the ambition to give everyone an equal chance to become empowered and make health and climate-positive decisions based on analysing their own data.

Our Ideas Fund award will enable Ava to build 6 more ‘Perfect Sense AQ’ sensor devices and work on the challenges of data collection, transmission and presenting the data back to the pin badge wearer in a meaningful way. Each device has sensors to measure particulate matter 2.5 and particulate matter 10, an electronics board, a case and a power supply. She aims for the pin badge to be the smallest, wearable, air quality data collection device on the market as well as cool and fashionable to wear.

She hopes the follow-up user case studies will get more people talking about the difference that ‘Perfect Sense AQ’ makes to their lives – peers walking to school, people with asthma or runners and cyclists in her city of Leeds.

We are delighted to help support Ava in this next stage of her ambitious vision.

Birdsong Live from Cornish woodland

Nichola Andersen and Swenson Kearey live adjacent to SSSI woodland in Cornwall. The area is home to a large variety of birds including owls, buzzards, woodpeckers; blue, coal, great and long tailed tits; nuthatches and finches and many species from the RSPB Red List. They have been getting out of bed and recording the dawn chorus since the Winter’s Solstice.

As dawn gets earlier and earlier, they wanted to find a way to automate the process. Their idea is to develop and install an automated recording and live streaming system using a Raspberry Pi platform in 4 different Cornwall locations. They will start by building and testing everything (including weather proofing!) in their home location followed by the other 3 sites. Obviously, recording birds isn’t a novel idea but a daily record of birdsong recorded continuously over years from several places across a region, published on-line for others to use is novel and requires automation.

Nichola and Swenson’s aim is for their automated recording and streaming system to help people connect with and enjoy the sounds of nature in Cornwall via audio wherever they live. Research is showing that this can be just as effective as actually being outside and birdsong or the sounds of nature can increase happiness and well-being by up to 30%.

But quality data of this kind collected in selected locations over long periods of time is also of interest to academic, wildlife and ecology researchers so the plan is for this to serve as a Citizen Science project.

As their project progresses, we look forward to hearing birdsong from Cornwall as well as learning what the continuously collected data might tell us about bird populations over time.

We plan to reopen the ‘I’ve got an idea Fund’ for a 4th round in July. Updates will appear here.

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Is our Government displaying Healthy Masculinity ?

“Healthy masculinity means NOT using your size, strength, or power to get what you want from others.”

In parliament yesterday, PM Boris Johnson said public reaction to Sarah Everard’s death is “wholly justified” and said “we need cultural change”

Does this include a cultural change from this government’s use of size, strength and power to get what they want? They repeatedly favour a distinctively masculine style of confrontation, threats, law breaking, competitive bluster, cracking down on asylum seekers and now stockpiling nuclear warheads over the alternative of dialogue, open debate, empathy and co-operation.

And, as ever with such behaviour, they fail to recognise its root as deep insecurity not confidence.

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‘I’ve got an Idea’ Fund Award to ‘Sound Gadgets’ project

I’m delighted to announce the 2nd award we have made from our recently established ‘I’ve got an idea’ Micro Fund set up in memory of Peter.

The award is to Lee Holder, the Disability Lead, at The Music Works Charity in Gloucester for his ‘Sound Gadgets’ project.

Lee works with adaptive music technology to provide accessible music making opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. Unfortunately, commercially available equipment is often unable to cater for those with greater disabilities. Lee’s proposed ‘Sound Gadgets’ initiative aims to use a combination of 3D printing and motion, touch, light and distance sensors to prototype bespoke instruments for young people with disabilities to enjoy creating music at home. Their feedback will then enable Lee to make further adaptations and improvements. As well as opening music making to a wider number of people with disabilities, The Music Works hopes ‘Sound Gadgets’ can provide instrument blueprints, code and building information to other organisations in the UK.

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The power of oblique

I enjoy working with my 2 visual artist colleagues precisely because they push me out from the comfortably rational into other ways of doing and knowing.

Together, we’ve been exploring the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI). We generated a list of ‘rational’ questions which underpin the concept of UBI, e.g. “what is a citizen of the UK worth?“, “ what would you do you if you had an independent income?” , “is it one’s social duty to get a job?”, “is art a worthwhile activity?” As the three of us have been working remotely together during lockdowns, we’ve been experimenting with ways to address these questions through drawing.

Much of the power of art is the surprising insight it gives into a familiar topic through its very indirection or obliqueness. For example, “The poet” (writes Rowan Williams) ” is under the discipline of routinely trying to see one thing through another, the language is marked as poetic by such obliqueness“. Similarly, the visual artist Robert Irwin talked about the role of art as “the placing of your attention on the periphery of knowing” .This requires stepping out from (beyond even?) our more familiar rational lines of enquiry.

The technique we’ve developed is to select one of our UBI questions and then blindly pick an everyday object lying around the house. We then each spend some time examining the object – looking at it, feeling it, sometimes tasting or smelling it and then drawing it at the same time as holding the UBI question somewhere in mind. It can feel crazy (especially if someone asks what you are doing!) but the result is always surprising, often entertaining and a great stimulant for further discussion.

Here are a couple of examples of what I (the ‘irrational psychologist’ in the team) generated…….

The question “ what would you do you if you had an independent income?” happened to be twinned with a sellotape dispenser. As I studied and drew the sellotape, I found myself wondering how I’d view what I’d do if I was actually a sellotape dispenser with the financial freedom to explore and use my individual ‘sellotapeness’ in any way I enjoyed, or added value.

A second question “is it one’s social duty to get a job?” happened to be twinned with a tube of allergenic face cream. Again (the rational part of me wondering what the hell I was doing!), I looked at, squeezed and drew the skin cream tube in relation to the question of whether it felt my duty to get a job. I ended up writing new descriptions on the tube.

As someone with life long troubleseome skin, I was really struck by how skin creams are offered again and again as a panacea but they never actual fix the underlying problem but they have to be sold as if they do and you have to act as if you believed it. Is that like bullshit jobs which might provide a wage to live on but leave you spotty, unfulfilled and itchy!

As a psychologist, I’m interested in our own irrational thinking and behaviour (which we rarely recognise) . This exercise turns that on its head – forcing one to approach a rational question in a deliberately irrational or oblique way and finding what that uncovers that you maybe hadn’t thought about before.

My take-away advice – if you are stuck in your thinking, find an irrational artist!

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