Flickr trials and tribulations

Jun 4, 2007 | Flickr, Theory

By accident I happened to notice a new detail on my Flickr account page last night, a sentence just below the top title: “Your account has been reviewed as safe by Flickr staff.” A link to a Flickr FAQ provides more information (more on FlickrBlog.) It turns out the reviewing is related to the NIPSA system and the system of “Safesearch” and content filtering Flickr has implemented to replace it. The stated intention of this system is to make sure images on Flickr are “suitable for a global, public audience”.

Now, being “reviewed as safe” sounds like good a good thing, so I thought I’d go one step further and mark all my non-photographic images as such. Flickr calls this “moderating your photostream”. One of the side effects seems to be that all my non-photographic images are no longer available in public searches. You can observe it by searching for the title “Randbox”. It won’t show any results, meaning that my RandBox images are now NIPSA’ed. They can still be found via my photostream, but not through searching. Any non-photo images that were in Flickr’s Explore are no longer there.

For artists and designers using Flickr to document and share their work, this development means that their non-photographic images are now second-class citizens. If Flickr goes any further in censoring non-photographic images, it would make Flickr unattractive for sharing anything beyond holiday snaps. I honestly don’t understand what they are hoping to gain by this strategy, as non-photographic images don’t present any problems unless there is a copyright violation. Nor do I understand why screenshots or CGI images would be unsuitable for a public audience.

If you have a Flickr account, you can see your review status for yourself. Individual users can set their “SafeSearch” setting to include non-photographic images, but by default it is set to exclude them. The setting is so obscure that I doubt any non-experts will ever see it.

Visuals at Lovebytes07

May 27, 2007 | Flickr, Processing / Java, Sound

I just did some new live visuals for a performance with Alexander Rishaug. Alexander’s music tends towards the ambient, with rich textures and large soundscapes that develop slowly in time. Check out his Myspace for sound samples and bio. Alexander was the producer of the Generator.x concert tour for Rikskonsertene and was also responsible for hooking me up with Phonophani, so we have some good history together.


Flickr: Digital fabrication group

May 1, 2007 | Flickr, Theory

I just created a new Flickr group called Digital fabrication. It’s intended for images and discussion related to digital fabrication techniques (rapid prototyping, stereolithography, laser cutting etc). There are already about 50 pictures, so far Sascha Pohflepp has added some interesting examples from the Royal College of Art, Timo Arnall has added some RP-produced characters and Realfakewatches have some interesting uses of laser cutting.

Feel free to join and add your own!

Two Flickr gripes: Black thumbnails, private photos

Mar 27, 2007 | Flickr

As great as I think Flickr is, I still wish they would fix or add two things:

1. Black thumbnails: Whenever I upload an image bigger than maybe 4000 x 4000 pixels Flickr is unable to generate a thumbnail, and the picture appears as a black square except when viewed in its original size (see this example.) It’s in the Flickr FAQ, so it’s a well-known issue.

I realize that Flickr is primarily a photo site and that most users will be uploading images in the 5-10 megapixel range, but I really wish they would fix this.

2. Toggle private photos in photostream: I wish there was an option to not show my non-public photos when I browse my own photostream. I regularly upload images that I want to have easy access to but which are not intended for public viewing. Often these are batches of up to 30-50 images. After uploading a private batch I have to click through pages of private images to get to the public ones.

I know I can just sign out to see my photostream as other users would see it. But that seems kind of, well, stupid. A simple option to filter by privacy setting would be a great help to any Flickr power user.

Always save some sugar for last: Flickr recently introduced a nice new feature called Collections, which tackles the issue of having a lot of sets. Collections allow users to organize their photo sets so that related sets can be grouped together. Have a look at my Collections for an example.

Collections get a mosaic of images as icons, which can be randomly generated or painstakingly hand-selected. There is also a new option to choose the layout for your photostream to display collections rather than sets in the right-hand column. This is the first time users get any say in the layout of their Flickr “home pages”, it would be interesting to see if more customization features get added in the future.

I only wish there was an option to simply have single images as collection icons. The new photo mosaics give a decent impression of the contents of a collection, but they can look a bit messy and not as attractive as a single good image.

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aTileSaver samples

Mar 25, 2007 | Code, Flickr, Processing / Java

I’ve uploaded some demo images generated with the aTileSaver class to my Flickr account. They show images at reduced size and at 100%. Make sure to look at the original sizes for the full effect.

As should be expected, OpenGL doesn’t give quite the crispness that a raytracer or similar production tool might yield, but the sheer resolution should be enough to compensate. I have uploaded a 6400 x 6400 pixel JPG (RandBox 0023) as an example, but annoyingly Flickr isn’t able to create a thumbnail for it because of the large size. Go directly to the original size for a closeup view.


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Flickr stats: Group Trackr

Mar 20, 2007 | Flickr, Web dev

Forgot one Flickr stats tool: Group Trackr. It tracks membership numbers and pictures posted over time. It doesn’t need the massive amount of requests that would be needed to do the same for a user’s photostream. The results can be posted as a static image on web sites etc.

Here is the Processing Flickr group:

Graph with growth statistics for Flickr group: Processing

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Flickr tools

Mar 19, 2007 | Flickr, Theory, Web dev

I’ve been monkeying around with Flickr tools. I’ve even been getting my hands dirty with phpFlickr, a library that implements the API in classic friendly PHP style.

The API is powerful and well thought out, but can also be frustrating. Multiple HTTP requests are needed to get certain pieces of information. I’m sure there are good reasons, saving bandwidth being the main one. I do wish there was more statistics functionality. As it stands there are only views, favorite and comment counts, with no history of activity.

Getting the view count requires authentication, which is slightly tricky but doable. More annoyingly, Flickr only yields the view count when using , which gives detailed info on single images one at the time. The more light-weight would have been more convenient. One might wonder if Flickr wants to discourage stats applications.

Some tools for an easy Flickr life:

  • phpFlickr is a slick and transparent PHP implementation of the API. There’s little to simplify the basic API, but it lends itself easily to adding some Flickr magic to any web application.
  • FlickrAide is interesting but experimental. It provides statistics, information about contacts and other details that can’t be seen so easily from Flickr. It’s a little unstable, and probably heavy-handed on its interactions with Flickr. But it gives an idea of what could be done with statistics etc. PC only.
  • Portable Flicka is a good backup tool, particularly if you have more than 1000 images in your account. I tend to backup high-res images on Flickr for easy retrieval, this makes it even easier. PC only.
  • Flickr Leech is a web interface for wallowing in Flickr’s “interestingness”. Not for people who are already showing signs of Flickr addiction, but good for avoiding flicking through sets page by page.

More can be found on The Great Flickr Tools Collection.

Club Transmediale: Illuminations 1.1

Feb 1, 2007 | Flickr, News, Processing / Java

Illuminations 1.1 is a new version of the Illuminations piece I created for the AV.06 festival in Newcastle. It has only been shown once, and so it seemed like a good starting point when Jan Rohlf from Club Transmediale asked me to do the graphics for the festival’s printed materials.

First I tweaked the system, changing the color scheme and modifying parameter presets. Then I used Processing’s PDF output to generate one hundred vector originals for free use by the festival designers (Tine Gundelach & Chrish Klose). Daniel Shiffman’s Moviemaker library was used to generate prerendered videos for use on monitors.

Finally the system was updated for realtime projection using a dual-screen setup (2048×768 resolution, OpenGL). The projection setup at Maria am Ostbahnhof is impressive, featuring 12 projectors covering the entire main hall. The piece was shown running for two nights, except when the performing acts had their own video.

See more documentation on Unlekker (including animation) and Flickr.

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Rome, feeds and un-Digg-able RSS

Nov 4, 2006 | Flickr, Open source, Processing / Java, Software, Web dev

I’m currently writing a monster application doing indexing of feeds from blogs,, Flickr, Digg etc. It’s been a bit of a learning curve, but using the excellent and comprehensive Rome library has made it a great deal easier than it might otherwise have been. Rome handles Atom feeds as well as the various confusing RSS variants.

Making sense of feeds is often tricky, as different publishers can use various tags in different ways, or even add their own by introducing custom namespaces. The use of namespaces (which Rome supports through a plugin system) is a promising way of adding custom information, but not without its problems.

Having completed indexing of Flickr, and plain vanilla feeds, I turned to Digg feeds. Imagine my surprise to find out that not only is their advertised namespace ( in fact offline, but they don’t even use it properly in their main RSS feeds. correctly specifies xmlns:digg=””, but specifies xmlns:digg=”docs/diggrss/”. And that just happens to be their main RSS feed. I know it seems niggling to complain, but it messes with the Module I’ve written to handle their tags and seems a tad careless. Oh well, guess I’ll just skip that feed.

More information about Rome, Digg etc:

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Oldskool sketches

Sep 15, 2006 | Flickr


Oldskool: Sketches 1994-1998)

I just posted a sequence of old sketches to Flickr, ranging from 1994 to 1998 and showing some of my earliest computational work. Actually, since I never drew or worked visually in any other non-computational way after age 12, it is also some of my earliest visual work of any kind.

While some of the images are deeply mired in the techno aesthetic I was so taken with at that time (after all, I had just turned 20 and these were the 1990’s), others point to the beginning of a generative approach. Some of the basic ideas about form and structure expressed in these pieces are still with me today (see Kugelstudie or Illuminations for proof).

These are some of my favorites:

You can still see these pieces on my Evolutionzone web site as part of the historical section, but that design was done in 1996 and is painful to look at now. Seeing the images on their own in the pristine Flickr interface makes me look at them in a different way. It still feels a bit vulnerable to expose them to public viewing like this, but I figure it’s not a bad thing.

The 3D images were rendered in POV-Ray, my first ever visual tool.

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