The focus of my work is now over at Media Lab Toronto doing fun interactive, physical, installation based work. Check it out if a giant field of sound reactive balloon lights or a Christmas tree made of laser cut TVs and projected digital content sounds interesting.
A little off topic – but it’s Blog Action day and this year’s topic is Climate Change.
I’m going to point to Tim O’Reilly’s post on the subject because his happened to be the blog that reminded me it was blog action day and he’s a smart guy who’s opinion I respect.
Back in January, I wrote a blog post summarizing my position on climate change. Entitled Pascal’s Wager and Climate Change, the post makes the argument that even if you’re a skeptic about climate change or humanity’s role in causing it, the risks of ignoring the issue are great, and the benefits from addressing it are significant even if scientists are completely wrong about the causes
I don’t have a lot to add. Beyond voicing my agreement. My reading of the evidence is that human caused global climate change is real and serious. I think it is one of the biggest problems facing us as people. Right now we’re nowhere near getting our response right. It needs a huge, concerted effort to address the underlying problems of energy usage and sources. I’m behind those changes, and I hope our governments get behind them too before it is really to late.
Augmented reality type apps are what all the cool geeks are doing it seems. I mean the apps that use a video camera to recognise certain symbols (aka fiducials) and then overlay additional virtual content. Like this prototype I built.
I think there’s real space for interesting apps here. The technology has been getting better and more accesible for a while. One remaining constraint though is that the markers came in very computery designs and there wasn’t much you could do to get around that. The software systems depended on very formula-based symbols, which might be great for computer vision but didn’t leave much aesthetic control with the creator.
Things are changing for the better though on that front too. As this article explains the d-touch marker recognition system is now much more flexible in terms of the markers it will recognise. For example the speech bubble image here is recognisable to the system, a big improvement from the more typical amoeba style blob shown above it.
I’m going to play with some prototype ideas I have for using this new system, so hopefully will be able to kick out some stuff soon.
Geeky d-touch setup details
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Over the last year or so I’ve been shifting the focus of my work from mostly web based projects to… well, ummmm… to something difficult to define but exciting. Now exciting is great, but difficult to define has some obvious problems. Not least that it’s rather tough to sell services you have trouble defining.
Broadly I call myself as a technologist. I enjoy knowing what tech is out there, what’s newly possible or affordable and using technology to get things done. That’s still pretty broad though, there’s an awful lot of technology and possible applications in the world after all.
So I’m working on figuring out my niche. Defining what I do (and for who and why).
One thing I am sure of: my best work happens when working on interesting problems with smart people. So then, the route forward is obvious: find more interesting problems and work on them with smart people.
Interestingness being subjective, I’ll outline some of the problems I’ve worked on recently that I’d count as interesting:
Luminato 2008 Light Play – Working with KPMB Architects to design and develop sound reactive system for the huge outdoor installation they created. [more details]
Installation for Toronto the Good party 2009 – the brief was to create an interactive, party friendly installation that emphasised Toronto’s history. The solution was a bicycle controlled video tour of the city streets. [more details]
Grandparent/Grandchild communications appliance – starting from scratch to design a relationship specific communications device based around simple sharing of photos and voice messages. [more details]
If you have an interesting problem, or just feel like a chat, please drop me a line.
One of my pseudo-resolutions for 2009 is to better document and publicise the stuff I work on. This is a great example of that. The concept for a iPhone geolocated game that Jefferson Wright and I created (in an intense weekend) during the CFC Interactive Arts and Entertainment program.
We came up with this nearly a year ago (April 2008), and I think it contains some pretty neat ideas. I just wish that we documented it online then rather than now – when it feels a little less cutting edge, because this stuff really exists now.
Monday night was party night for the Toronto geek crowd, at the #HoHoTO party. Read about it or watch an awesome video about how it all came together. It was a great event put together by a very cool bunch of volunteers, with 25k was raised for the local foodbank.
This was a great chance for me to roll out the TXTris wall version 2 which I’ve been working on.
I customised the projection to be all software and it ran on two huge screens at the Mod Club for a large chunk of the party. I plugged into Twitter as the content source, so people at the party could senda twet and see it tumble down the screens in real(ish) time.
I’m working on an update to the TXTris projection system. You can read about the original and details on how it works. The gist is that it’s a txt message projection system that is ‘aware’ of physical obstacles placed in front of the projection screen.
This new version uses JBox2d, a open source code library for doing in game physics. I’m using it to provide much more realistic behaviour from the text. Now it slides, bounces, flips and falls in a realistic way.
There’s a grainy video after the jump showing how this looks working against my computer monitor. The final will be a projection at wall size.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend 5 months as a resident in the Canadian Film Centre’s New Media Lab programme. This was an opportunity to learn from a great faculty of ‘new media’ experts and then to spend time working within a team to develop a prototype project.
Our team, Angella Mackey; Deiren Masterson; Jeff Wright and myself, found common ground in an interest in using technology to strengthen human relationships at a distance.
Over an intensive 10 week production period we designed and built the Gaku you see here (in fact we built a pair). Gaku is a stand-alone device for use by grandparents and grandchildren to communicate, sharing photos and recorded messages.
Special thanks are due to Howard Suissa of Suissa Computers who helped up take our design for a wood encased, physically controlled computing device and make it a reality.
We’ve had a great response when we show the prototypes and we’re currently looking at options for moving forward beyond the prototype stage.
Here’s a visualization of the results of Canada’s recent election I’ve been working on.
The idea is to present the results in a way that allows you to explore in interesting ways. The data presented is pretty straightforward, with a group of coloured blobs representing the votes for each candidate in a riding.
I added one extra feature, a black ring that shows the votes for candidates other than the winner in each riding. This seemed particularly relevant for this election, where less than 38% of the popular vote went to the Conservatives yet they get to form the government.
You can explore the results:
- as an image (non interactive, but quick)
- through an applet (may not work on all browsers. I’m working on it)
- or as a downloadable application Windows, Mac or Linux
If you have suggestions, thoughts or what have you feel free to leave a comment or get in touch.
I’ve been thinking about technology art projects and installations a lot recently, what makes for a good experience and what falls flat. This is what I’ve come up with, there are just too many pixels.
Of course pixels are wonderful things. They make digital data (also great) into something we can see and understand. So what’s my problem? The problem, I think, lies in the ubiquity of pixels which has led us to become very difficult to impress with things pixel based. At least that’s my working theory.
I formed this idea while exploring Toronto’s Nuit Blanche at 6am Sunday morning, which may say something about the strength of my idea. Two installations I saw that early morning illustrated this pixel problem.
On the surface the two pieces, Overflow by Michel de Broin and Purified by Fire by Matthew Suib, have many similarities. They’re both about elemental forces, water and fire, and the both centre around the windows of an otherwise ordinary building. However my experience of the two was very different, I stood quietly and watched the waterfall in Overflow for several minutes but only glanced at the projected flames of Purified for a few seconds before moving on.
Of course these reactions are only mine and there may be many factors to explain why one piece really resonated with me while the second didn’t. But I think it’s that pixel thing, the flames were nicely rendered and well projected but they were still just pixels and not really fire. The stream of water falling from a second story window was real though, and I think it was the physical reality that made this piece work for me.
I plan on putting this theory to the test in a few projects I’m working on. Hopefully more to come soon.