Fingers

This post originally appeared on the FTMF.info planning blog.

What does the word ‘digital’ mean to you?

dig·it·al /?d?d??tl/ adv

  1. of or pertaining to a digit or finger
  2. resembling a digit or finger
  3. manipulated with a finger or the fingertips: a digital switch
  4. displaying a readout in digital form: a digital speedometer
  5. having digits or digitlike parts
  6. of, pertaining to, or using data in the form of numerical digits
  7. Computers. involving or using numerical digits expressed in a scale of notation to represent discretely all variables occurring in a problem
  8. of, pertaining to, or using numerical calculations
  9. available in electronic form; readable and manipulable by computer

So digital means either ‘relating to  fingers’, or ‘relating to computers’, right?

My argument: fingers are, by definition, the most digital part of our body. We touch, type, gesture and manipulate our environment (real or virtual) through the interfaces that surround us: a shiny black screen, a keyboard, or even through thin air.

And that’s what digital means to me: the ability to effect a change in the world through the lightest of touch – powered by technology, thought, and action. More on these themes later in the week, but for now I’ll leave you with an illustration – unleash your fingers:

Ingreedy: Cake Technology

Ingreedy are a start-up with a novel product idea: selling glass jars filled with just the right ingredients to make tasty baked goods at home.

The central idea is smart: outsourcing production to the customer adds value, making for an interactive post-purchase experience where there would otherwise be none, while the nice packaging helps too.

Ingreedy Chocolate Fudge Brownie

Ingreedy Logo
Ingreedy’s Logo

Ingreedy co-founder Samuel Cox classes himself as a maker of things and has done all sorts of cool things. His interests “wrap around inventing new and diverse approaches to the way we use, play and explore creative & interactive technology” – although in this instance, the technology is cake.

But rather than being an inert jar of cereals,  I think Ingreedy Jars represent the culture of Makerdom: those increasingly vocal hobbyists who are using the web to share their tips, tricks, hacks and designs.

Etsy is a good example of the kind of commerce that the web has enabled for the crafts market, while Instructables provides ‘recipes’ for people make useful stuff themselves. Rules of production are shifting further with costs of 3D printers coming down, and the likes of Makerbot taking on a high-street presence. I think Ingreedy takes elements from each of these, and makes them accessible through their choice of medium.

Ingreedy Jars are available in four different mixtures: Rocky Road; Brownies; Chocolate Chip Shortbread and Oaty Raisin Cookies, costing £12.00 each. Orders placed in November will ship in time for Xmas.

Sun, Sand & Selective Laser Sintering

It’s the Summer. It’s an extremely hot day here in London, the hottest day of 2011, in fact. So it’s with just the tiniest stretch of the imagination that I could be right there in the desert watching Markus Kayser at work on his next great experiment.

He’s built his own solar-powered 3D printer out of a large panel of magnifying glass and a computer-guided motorised panel, the raw material being the desert’s primary natural resource: sand.

With his design, he is able to create a focused laser beam that melts sand, so that it cools and hardens in a design of his choosing. In effect, he is ‘growing’ his designs right out of the sand. It’s really, really impressive:

Markus describes the process on the project’s website:

Silicia sand when heated to melting point and allowed to cool solidifies as glass. This process of converting a powdery substance via a heating process into a solid form is known as sintering and has in recent years become a central process in design prototyping known as 3D printing or SLS (selective laser sintering).

These 3D printers use laser technology to create very precise 3D objects from a variety of powdered plastics, resins and metals – the objects being the exact physical counterparts of the computer-drawn 3D designs inputted by the designer.

By using the sun’s rays instead of a laser and sand instead of resins, I had the basis of an entirely new solar-powered machine and production process for making glass objects that taps into the abundant supplies of sun and sand to be found in the deserts of the world.

Markus with his Solar Sinter
Markus with his Solar Sinter

Sintering is a natural process, commonly occuring products being Fulgurites, which are glass tubes that form deep in the sand when lightning strikes in the desert. Each have a unique quality: colour; shape; consistency and location, which together with their ‘atmospheric origins’ they’ve become quite collectible artefacts.

My take is that Markus’s device will allow command over the sun to grow one’s own kind of ‘artisanal fulgurites’, quite a powerful idea, and undoubtedly a great use of technology that harnesses our most abundant natural resources in a really cool way. Nice one!

The Weird Inner World of the 3D Fractal

This post is about one of the really cool things that happens when maths I don’t understand and technologies I don’t understand get together to make something awesome. Let us begin:

A typical fractal, made using the Mandelbrot set.


A fractal is a conceptual object that reveals further details about its shape ad infinitum, upon ever-closer inspection of it’s fabric. Think of the trunk of a tree sprouting branches, which in turn split off into smaller branches, which themselves yield twigs etc and you won’t go far wrong. In fact, fractals typically look like this thing to the right.

These infinitely complex shapes are ‘created’ by instructing graphics software to render the result of a simple mathematics formula. Until now, the result has been a 2D image – there’s no depth, shadow, perspective, or light sourcing. It is a truly abstract mathematical shape.

But since your home computer became powerful enough to do proper image rendering stuff, home hobbyists have begun to innovate on these formulae. For the first time, three dimensional fractals are able to be created with relative ease.

I can’t go into the maths, because you know, I’m not a total geek, but I do want to show you how beautiful some of these shapes are. Let’s run through some examples:


This is what you get by multiplying phi and theta by two.


More like a classic fractal with 0.5*pi to theta and 1*pi to phi.


This time multiplying angle phi by two, but not theta.




But we’re still looking at these things from outside. The really cool bit is when you start to zoom in. So let’s look at some of the high quality renders from the archives of Daniel White at his highly eclectic Skytopia, where I first learned of this phenomenon.

Make sure you click around on some of these thumbnails, yeah?!

If you’re anything like me, you’d be pretty excited at the idea of being able to create both beauty and complexity from something as simple as a few lines of code, and to then be able to explore your creation from every angle.

Then again, if you’re anything like me, you’d feel a bit frustrated that you’ll probably never be able to make something that awesome yourself. So let’s marvel at the wonder of Daniel’s creation as he takes us deep ‘Into the Heart of the Mandelbulb’.

Your comments, please!

Into the Heart of the Mandelbulb