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September 1st, 2011 by Patrick

Digital Crafting

Today I came across the (provocatively named) group Technology Will Save Us. They’re launching a physical space in East London designed to allow people to connect to technology as something they can be designed and shaped by ordinary people. In their own words:

Bethany says: ‘I believe technology plays a huge role in all of our lives and we know so little about how to fix it, how to make things with it and how to be more creative with it’. Daniel further explains, ‘We see a more creative world where people can get the skills and support to be more resourceful with technology and begin to solve their own problems and invent new uses – become producers not just consumers of technology’.

This is an idea I’m super-excited about. Much of my professional life is made possible because of an incredible upheaval in technology. This upheaval has seen really powerful technologies becoming accessible to hobbyists and enthusiasts where they used to be exclusively the domain of boffins with huge budgets. Think of laser cutting, microcontrollers, 3D printing, mobile computing, wearable electronics… The list continues on and on and on and we’re only seeing the first steps in experimentation what becomes possible in this world.

On the same theme I’m reminded of a great Ignite presentation by Mark Argo from Aesthetec in Toronto. He talks about the possibility for a near future world where you can visit a local craftsperson who customises gadgets to you personal, one-off requirements. I highly recommend the video, it’s just 6 minutes long and a fun watch.

There’s a fascinating thread here, of taking the newly affordable and accessible technology and placing it in a storefront  where all kinds of people can approach and understand the exciting stuff that’s possible. Turning the tech that’s now the domain of nerds into a solution for real people’s needs. This reminds me also of the great 826 Valencia in San Francisco where a pirate supply store (no kidding) fronts an exciting (and free) creative literacy tutoring space for kids.

So, if anyone’s got a storefront open in Toronto and wondering what to do with it…

August 22nd, 2011 by Patrick

Eyeo Festival

Back at the end of June I went to the Eyeo Festival in Minneapolis. It was brilliant! I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of cohesive description of my experience. No luck so far but I can’t let another month roll without at least noting the experience.

The festival featured an almost overwhelming line-up of people who I admire for doing very cool stuff. They mostly fell into two rough categories of data viz folks and (much tougher to describe) art/installation/physical computing/robotics/interactive spaces people.

The speakers were great but it was the crowd that made the event for me (there was really no distinction between speakers and crowd which was great). The space was peopled with ~400 people who really love this stuff (whatever this stuff is exactly) and were excited to talk about it. I struck up great conversations with wind data scientists, geneticists, hospital IT guys, artists, ad agency people and I’m not really the striking up conversation type. It was so easy at Eyeo though because almost without exception everyone there really wanted to be there.

That’s it really. I was there and it was great. It really helped re-excite me about the future of the kind of stuff Media Lab Toronto is experimenting with and was just a whole lot of fun.

Some random notes over here.

May 5th, 2011 by Patrick

Report from Ubicomp Done Small, Cheap, Simple at FITC 2011


Here’s another summary of a session I liveblogged at this year’s FITC, Ubicomp Done Small, Cheap, Simple by Joshua Noble who’s currently studying at Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design in Denmark.

Joshua introduced his talk by saying that “Building interactive spaces and devices that communicate with spaces is not really all that difficult.” and explained his interest in this area came from having lived in many different places with the realisations that “many of us aren’t too connected to our streets and buildings and I’m curious what we as technologists can make these things more meaningful and real”. Keep reading →

May 4th, 2011 by Patrick

Report from Narratives in New Spaces at FITC 2011

I was lucky enough to be invited to the FITC conference here in Toronto as a live blogger. Something I quickly learned about live blogging is that you don’t actually get much chance to absorb what’s going on as you’re too busy trying to capture it. So I thought I’d try digesting some of the what I heard and making more thoughtful posts out of it. Here’s the first:

Narratives in New Spaces described as “a panel that will explore how technology is acting as a catalyst to richer, immersive stories in both art and commercial spaces.” The panel was moderated by Dave Girolami and featured Steve Di Lorenzo, Tali Krakowsky and Theo Watson – all of whom work on some very cool interactive/immersive stuff. Keep reading →

April 18th, 2011 by Patrick

Digital/Mechanical Twitter Feed

This is a super-rough hardware sketch of what a mechanical Twitter feed might look like. I’ve been playing with ideas around combining digital projection with mechanical motion and this is a prototype to test some of the ideas. Keep reading →

April 6th, 2011 by Patrick

Creative Technology: MyVoice Communication App

As part of my exploration of what it means to be a Creative Technologist I’ll be looking at examples that I consider great products of Creative Technology.

I came across a new mobile app, MyVoice, today (via Siobhan O’Flynn). The app is designed to help people with health problems that impede verbal communication to ‘speak’ more easily.

One group this is aimed at is stroke victims who have reduced command of speech. A use that particularly struck me as my Great Aunt Peg, one of the kindest and sharpest people I’ve known, suffered a stroke which hit her speech hard. She was still as sharp and funny as ever after her stroke but for her to speak her thoughts was a huge struggle. Keep reading →

April 5th, 2011 by Patrick

What’s Good and What’s Commercial in Tangible Interactive Work

More and more I’m recognising a tension in the type of work I do. The tension is between the interactive, physical, spatial work I think is ‘best’ and the work that’s commercially supportable (often by the advertising and marketing industries). Sometimes the two coincide, with the best work being commercial work too, but often they don’t. Why?

For me the best tangible interactive work is centred on the person experiencing it (I’ll use the term user despite its problems). The best work creates a strong, direct connection with the user. Maybe the work allows the user to create something interesting or express themselves or simply to have an novel and enjoyable experience. Keep reading →

March 22nd, 2011 by Patrick

Patrick Dinnen, Creative Technologist

For years I’ve struggled when trying to describe what exactly it is that I do. My work with Media Lab Toronto over the past five or so years pulls from many areas. I write computer code but I’m not a coder. I connect to online media but I’m (thankfully) not a social media guru. I draw from the world of art but I’m not an artist. I use electronics and mechanics but I’m not an engineer. So what exactly am I?

It seems that Creative Technologist may be the best yet description of what I do. Mark Avnet puts it this way:

Creative Technologists understand the business of advertising, marketing, and branding, take a creative, strategic and people-centric view of how to connect people and brands, and understand the kinds of mediating technologies that can best be used to make those engaging experiences where the connection happens.

In the last year or two the Creative Technologist role seems to be gaining currency particularly in the advertising world with its drive to convey messages in new and novel ways. Keep reading →

March 4th, 2011 by Patrick

TEDxWaterloo Tower of Tweets with Christie MicroTiles

I was pleased to be asked to create a custom Twitter wall for TEDxWaterloo (one of many independent spin-offs of the famous TED conference and the biggest of all I gather).

As an extra fun challenge I had the opportunity of creating for a stack of Christie MicroTiles – a very cool display technology that provides bright, flat images in infinitely reconfigurable modules. Using this display tech was a first for me and brought some interesting challenges. For example I had to figure out a way to display tweets that was legible, novel and fit with the brand while designing for a display four times taller than it was wide.

The end result used the TEDxWaterloo branding and a metaphor of rotating 3D blocks. The Twitter stream for the event was pulled in live and displayed on the tower as a stack of five graphical blocks that rotated as new messages came in. Distinctly no-professional video of the sack in action over on Vimeo and come more photos on Flickr.

January 19th, 2011 by Patrick

Research collaboration with OCAD

Will Alsop's 'flying table top' at OCAD

OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) received funding through a Federal grant undertake research towards the commercialisation of research projects in collaboration with private sector partners. Media Lab Toronto is fortunate to be one of the dozen partner companies selected.

OCADU’s President, Sara Diamond, described the project thus:

OCADU is a proud incubator of student innovation and commercially viable faculty research. We have demonstrable links to the SME sector. By bringing this talent together with the help of FedDev Ontario, we are fostering the creation of innovative products and services in the fields of mobile, health, environmental and digital technologies.

The exact shape of the research is still evolving. But I’m confident it will bring interesting results.

Creative Commons licensed Photo of Will Alsop designed OCAD ‘table top’ by Mandeep Flora