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June 11th, 2013 by Patrick

Eyeo 2013 pt II – Genius edition

The brilliant speakers at Eyeo Festival 2013 closing
This second post on my Eyeo impressions is likely to be even more scattered and fragmentary than the first, but here it is.

June 8th, 2013 by Patrick

Observations on Eyeo and the psyche of a creative technologist

Amit Pitaru talking about Sonic Wire Sculptor

I’m lucky to be in Minneapolis right now for the brilliant Eyeo Festival full of great art/tech/data vis people. I was here in 2011 for the first Eyeo and that experience set my expectations way high for this year’s festival. So far I am not disappointed. The insight, enthusiasm and character radiating from the stages are as exciting as the variety and openness of the attendees.

March 16th, 2013 by Patrick

Snippets – interesting interfaces & impressive images

Here’s a clutch of links to creative tech stuff I’ve stumbled onto recently. If you like these, please do to subscribe to receive a semi-regular email of this stuff.

Eon Surf is the latest work by Dev Harlan, an artist who’s doing some amazing stuff with projection mapping in a gallery context. For bonus points he is using the incredible Touch Designer software which is created right here in Toronto.

Overscan is an interesting looking installation by Sosolimited that automatically remixes live TV. Using images and closed caption feeds as raw materials in ingenious ways.

Touch Circuits is the latest interactive exhibit by amazing local shop Aesthetec. They’re using the great Makey Makey to convert some very unusual objects into computer interfaces. You can check it out in person at the TIFF Kids Digiplayspace which runs until April 21st and includes work by many great interactive artists. 
[photo by ericrosenbaum]

MYO is a yet-to-be-released armband that detects the electrical signals given off by your muscles and acts as camera-free gestural input. The MYO team are based in Waterloo and we’re going to hear a lot more about them if this thing achieves its promise.

January 28th, 2013 by Patrick

Snippets of creative tech – bike barometer, firefly/skateboard, smart objects

Here’s the online version of my regular newsletter of interesting creative tech things upon which I have stumbled. You can subscribe here.

The Bicycle Barometer is a neat melding of public data into a directly useful form. Richard Pope created this read-out to inform his daily decision on whether to ride or take the subway to work. Behind the scenes a micro-controller weighs various factors from data feeds on local weather and transit status and boils them down into a single judgement on today’s best travel option. /via O’Reilly Radar.

Firefly is a beautiful no-budget film of a glowing skateboard’s progress through nightime Brno in the Czech Republic. All those amazing aerial shots are captured by a remote controlled multicopter. [bonus link: if you prefer your drone videos less arty and more sinister you might like this predator drone mounted 1.8 gigapixel camera).

Berg London recently documented a fascinating exploration they did for Google. The focus was on adding intelligence to placeholder physical objects using computer vision and projection mapping. I was particularly taken by the analogy of the “$700 lightbulb” for considering the ubiquitous computing power to come.

January 14th, 2013 by Patrick

Snippets of creative tech – vol.1

As an experiment this the new year I am going to send out occasional newsletters containing a handful of links I find interesting. I will likely continue to publish these here on my blog, but please do subscribe though if you’d like to receive this automatically every couple of weeks.

Thanks to Leila for her kind nudging for me to finally get around to doing this.

Census Dotmap

(a) This is a piece of Brandon Martin-Anderson’s Census Dotmap. The map is a pure coalescence of the homes of individual humans reported in the census. One person one dot, that is all you see. Even the visible swirls of the Appalachian Mountains, all people.

(b) Spaceteam is a game. A free one that runs on iOS machines. If you can imagine enjoying urgently shouting absurd instructions at friends or loved ones (while they do the same to you) then give it a try. “Toggle the synthcage!”. “I’m toggling it. Please lower your copernicus crane to four.”

Lunar Trails

(c) Lunar Trails by Seb Lee-Delisle. Seb hooked up the classic arcade game Lunar Lander to a wall-marking robot. The robot illustrates each player’s path through the game. This is the very nice result.

October 25th, 2012 by Patrick

RFID enabled data-viz project

A fun project I worked on with Anthea Foyer for the Centre for Faculty Development at U of T/Saint Mike’s. Moving RFID tokens round on an internally glowing table causes the dataviz of the facility’s history to rearrange on the big screen.

Read some additional background to the project over here.

May 15th, 2012 by Patrick

Recently Possible Pt2 – Smart Public Screens

Last post I talked about designing with the recently possible. This is a mode of creating I love. Constantly watching what technology and ingenuity are making possible and filtering those new potentials through design constraints to build interesting new stuff.

That’s all a little on the abstract side though. So I’m going to try to lay out some concrete examples. Here’s just one sketch looking at Internet connected screens installed in public spaces.

What’s the tech?

Screens + tiny computers that can drive them are getting cheaper and rapidly cheaper. According to DisplaySearch, who track such things, the average price of a 32-inch LCD screen went from $725 in 2008 to below $300 and falling at the end of 2011. The cost of computing power that can drive those screens has fallen even more sharply. Perhaps the most dramatic example is Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized computer that can connect to the ‘net and drive a hi def screen which costs just $35.

What are we doing with this tech?

So far the people catching onto the opportunity seem to be advertising types. Not even the smart advertising types judging by their efforts. The formula seems to be to take some same-old-same-old ads and give them front and centre priority on the screen. Then to justify their public location (your office elevator or a subway platform say) they paste on an after thought’s worth of news and public service information. I’m pretty sure we can do better.

What could we do?

Taking advantage of the dynamism of Internet based media and the specific geographic locations of these types of screens I think we could do a lot. For example…

Keep reading →

May 8th, 2012 by Patrick

The Art of the Recently Possible

Chris Heathcote describes himself as a designer whose medium is the recently possible. That’s a pretty exciting thing to be during our explosion of digital technology which throws out an awful lot of recently possible. See Chris’s slides and notes from a talk at the Do Lectures for insight into what this means.

This wealth of the recently possible to experiment and play with is really exciting to me. It brings the potential for doing some pretty amazing new things with interactive technology. Things that a few years ago would have been impossible without gigantic budgets and pools of PHDs working for you.

My personal fascination is where this recently possible technology juts out into the physical world. Say with a $300 remote control aerial photography drone or Arduino, an open-source electronics platform that allows people to automate their chicken coop or a create a self-playing drum.

I plan to explore some of these recently possibles and what they might mean over a series of posts here in the coming weeks.

November 18th, 2011 by Patrick

FITC Screens

Earlier this week I was at Screens, a Toronto conference by FITC billed as “one of the only events in the world designed for developers of all platforms of screen content.”. I followed my usual conference technique of seeking out the off beat and out of the ordinary. That approach led me to the audience of a Ben Fry presentation at an FITC conference in 2007. That was my first exposure to Processing coding and the surrounding community of people doing creative things with tech which sent me off on my current trajectory.

Screens provided several great sessions in the hard to define creative tech vein that excites me. Greg Hermanovic and Markus Heckmann of Derivative gave a presentation on projection mapping flavoured work built with their incredible Touch Designer tool building tool.

Touch Designer is beyond my capabilities to clearly describe. But you can see it in action in some great projects to get a sense. Dev Harlan creates sculptural objects and augments them with mesmerising layers of light and shape.

Alva Noto used Touch Designer to create great visuals as part of his live show, Unitxt, where the interface used to control the visuals and the projected visuals themselves are the same thing.

Another fun presentation was from Peter Nitsch of Teehan+Lax on the first 6 months of their +labs project to explore and frame the “physical internet” within the lab. The labs have a three person team mandated to do pure exploration (no client work). The goal is to help the agency staff and clients understand what’s possible in the exciting world of proliferating modular and powerful technologies.

+labs are doing some cool things with RFID, NFC and AR and many other technological acronyms searching for the creative applications they deserve.

These presentations and a few other signals boosted sense of optimism I’ve been nurturing for a while. It’s about something happening in an unnamed and ill-defined endeavour to use technology in human-focused, physical and creative ways to do things we don’t yet understand. Or from a more cynical angle, quoting the agency Trapeze, “”digital”, for the foreseeable future, will be stuck between the nobility of innovation and the banality of advertising”. I’m hoping for a reasonable ratio of nobility to banality.

If you liked this you might also like:

October 31st, 2011 by Patrick

Analog Defender

The Peripherals Initiative was a Toronto experiment to see what happens when you put together indie game creators and hardware hackers and give them a parts budget, organisational support and a brief to create something new that mixes video gaming and hardware hacking in an interesting way.

I teamed up with Alexander Martin (AKA Droqen), a great local indie game creator. Right from the start (just a couple of months ago) we were fixated on doing something fun using an analog control panel with buttons and knobs and jacks that click and clack in a satisfyingly non-touchscreen kind of way.

What we built was new take on a Space Invaders style game where you control a little ship on its mission to blast through waves of hideous alien baddies. All of the player’s control is through a custom console with screens, switches, patch cables and knobs. There are lots more photos over here.

As with any genuinely new project we had to blast through waves of baddies of our own (“how the hell can we make this work?”, “why did I ever agree give up sanity and sleep for this?”, “which one of the 700 models of rotary switch in this catalogue do we need?). The results more than paid for those stresses though. We are really pleased with what we created and, most importantly, people who played Analog Defender seemed to enjoy and appreciate it.

So, from our point of view, the experiment’s results were positive. We ended up with a cool thing that we created and people enjoy (and that’s pretty much my reason for doing this stuff). On top of the immediate tangible result of the things that were built I expect the new connections between the Toronto game and hardware hacker communities will spin in interesting directions in the future.