Monday, November 02, 2009

Rainy City Stories - Saradice Pity

A while back, my friend Christina showed me her submission to Rainy City Stories, an online 'writers’ map of Manchester' containing poetry and prose inspired by the city. I liked what I saw on the site, so sifted through my old bits and bobs and found this sing-songy, light-hearted jibe at the crowds on Market Street I wrote one afternoon. Inexplicably, the good people at Rainy City Stories saw fit to publish it.
About the site:

This site gathers up a wide experience of living in, remembering and imagining the great city of Manchester. It uses a map of the city to organise stories linked to particular places. If you click on a place marked by the little cloud icon, you will be able to read a piece of writing associated with that spot. Anyone can submit writing to the site.

Everyone’s secret map of Manchester is different, with each street bearing its own real or imagined history. This is a slightly mad attempt to plot and cross-reference these interior topographies. Our map contains within its depths an unwieldy and kaleidoscopic collection of documents that is constantly growing and changing, much like the city itself.

These stories come in different shapes and sizes. Some people give us a scrap of personal history, writing about something that actually happened. Other stories are completely made up. Others take the form of a poem that aims to capture the elusive quality of a place, or alight on a location as its starting point.

The quality on the site is good, I'm honoured and grateful--especially for overlooking the naff word play in the title. I hope you enjoy it.

See the full map of Manchester.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Very Short Story on Twitter

One fellow (I assume it's a bloke from the avatar) exploring more unusual uses for the Twitter medium is @VeryShortStory

Each of his tweets is a self-contained story, usually in the form of a set-up, followed by a twist. They are uniformly clever and often both sad and funny in equal measures.

If you want to write your own very short story on Twitter, follow your story with the hashtag #vss, that way people can search for it. That's exactly what I did a couple of months ago:

The silver harmony of angel-song soaks His kingdom, gentles the ears of the good and the wise. Please, God, when will it stop? #vss (@josephalford)

I'll probably write more in the future; it's a good exercise if nothing else. I'm also thinking of using this particular one in a sound-art project soon--watch this space. In the meantime, I felt urged to share @VeryShortStory's splendid work.
If you're on Twitter, follow him.

P.S.: I also enjoy the tweets of @trapphic, who writes humorous sci-fi VSSes. Go follow him too. If you know of anyone else doing similar stuff, share them in the comments.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Overdraft: Haiku For Humans

As a little aside, while watching TV and wasting time on Twitter one recent evening, I was asked to guest on 'Haiku for Humans', a blog by Will Scott. In HfH, Will writes a haiku every day about every day life. You can read my entry, titled 'Overdraft', here:


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Final Year Project: Volunteers required!

[Update] This project has finished. Thanks to everyone who took part. You're all wonderful.

[Update] It seems my fears were correct. The app only seems to work on about half of machines. I don't know why this is, but to those for whom it didn't work, thank you for trying anyway!

I intended the first post on this blog to be an introduction, but I've neither the time nor the gumption to do a proper one, so I'll just get down to brass tacks.

My name is Joseph Alford and I am currently, among other things, a final year student studying a BSc in Audio, Video & Broadcast Technologies at the University of Salford. For my final year project, I am developing an audio-based menu system for the blind and visually-impaired. In order to test the efficiency and to narrow down some of the variables of the system, I have created an application and need volunteers to test it.

To take part, you will need...

  • A PC with Microsoft Windows operating system and 256 Mb RAM *
  • Direct X and .NET Framework run-time components installed **
  • A pair of headphones & the ability to adjust the volume
  • About 15 to 20 minutes
* The application has been tested on XP and Vista

** The download itself it just over 3 MB. If these components on not installed on your machine, however, they will need to be installed from Microsoft and might take some time to download and install. I have included the web-installer applications for these in the zip file.

NB: The program, once unzipped, runs straight out of the folder; it does not install itself in Windows. It is unfortunately still very buggy--of the three machines I've tried it on, it failed completely on one. While every care has been taken, I cannot legally or monetarily accept liability for any loss, damage or zombie attacks which occur as a result of using this application. Please leave a comment on this blog if you have any trouble, though I can't promise to get back to you.

[Link removed]

(Thanks to Nemmo at for hosting it for me.)

Thank you ever so much for taking time to help out a lowly student! Once you have finished, email the results file to me at [email removed].

Below is a copy of the instructions, please take time to read them carefully, either here or on the instructions page of the application, before you take the test; in particular you might want to check the eligibility requirements at the end before you download.


Audio Menu System Testing Application – Instructions:

Please read these instructions carefully before taking part.

This application tests the effectiveness of a new design for an audio-based menu system for the blind and visually-impaired.

This menu is for TV listings: first you are presented with all the available channels (here the five UK terrestrial channels are available). Once you select a channel, you are presented with all the available programmes from that channel to select from.

The test requires the use of headphones or earphones; if you have speakers, please turn them off.

Each menu item is presented as an synthetic voice audio clip. The menu system uses 'peripheral hearing'. The currently selected item plays back loudest and in the centre, while the other menu items play back quieter and off-centre, as if they were further away. They are virtually distributed in a circle, stretching away from you.

Pressing the spacebar will trigger a kind of sonar. The currently selected audio clip will playback first. After a short delay, another clip will play. The sonar will trigger each one in turn―left, right, left, right―until it goes all the way around the circle and back. You can retrigger the sonar at any time.

To bring a different item into focus, navigate using the left and right cursor keys; this rotates the circle one item at a time. Use the cursor keys to bring the item you want to the front, so it plays loudest and in the centre.

Pressing the cursor up or enter key will select a channel, moving you up a level. Pressing up or enter again after navigating to a programme will select that programme. Pressing cursor down or backspace will cancel, move you down a level.

For each task, you will be given the name of a programme and the channel it resides on; you must navigate to and select the correct programme to proceed.

The time it takes to complete each task will be recorded, and you will be asked to email the results to me at the end (my email address is given then). This is not a test of skill! Take as much time as you need. Some of the features of the system vary randomly between test runs; whether you find it difficult or easy will likely depend on these variables.

The first task will not be timed or recorded, giving you an opportunity to adjust the volume and become comfortable with navigating the menu. Please make sure you are comfortable before proceeding to the timed tasks.

If you find a task impossible―this may happen if audio clips are played back too quickly and/or too close together―closing the window will cancel the task. Please send the results at the end anyway; that you could not complete the task is still useful information!

The results will be used in my university dissertation. Testing is anonymous: each set of results, once collated, is only identifiable by a randomly generated ID number. I will not keep your email address without permission nor pass it on to anyone.

Please do not take the test more than once per person!

Due to the university's Health and Safety and Ethical policies, and requirements for consistency in testing, you are only eligible for testing if...

・ You are wearing headphones and have the ability to change the volume.
・ You are 18 or over.
・ You are fluent in English.

You are NOT eligible if...

・ You have taken the test before.
・ You are registered disabled (including blindness and visual impairment*) or have any known disability or learning/communication difficulties.
・ You are under the influence of alcohol or any medication which could alter your reactions.
・ You are pregnant.
・ You are currently a patient or member of any clinical population, or are caring for a member of a clinical population.
・ You are currently under custody or any form of detention, or engaged in an illegal activity.

[* Though this application tests a design for the blind and visually-impaired, the ethical policy for testing at university requires I not use any registered disabled test subjects.]

By checking the box below you confirm you are eligible and have agreed to participate in this study. Participation is voluntary. There is no reward or compensation for participation, monetary or otherwise. You may end your participation in the study at any time.