Hogtown Consulting

technology for experience

Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Look over there

Light Play balloon installationThe 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.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

December 30th, 2010 at 10:12 am

no comments

Problems Wanted

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.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

August 12th, 2009 at 2:25 pm

no comments

Too Many Pixels

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.

Photo credits: pgleonard and basic_sounds

Written by Patrick Dinnen

October 6th, 2008 at 4:33 pm

no comments

Bell Canada stomps on network neutrality

At root the idea of net neutrality is that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who provide our connections to the Internet should not discriminate against data traffic based on it’s origin, type or destination. Net neutrality may seem like an arcane concept, but it is an extremely important cornerstone of maintaining the huge potential of the Internet as a place for innovation and change.

Bell Canada unfortunately don’t seem attached to the idea of net neutrality. Bell Sympatico, the ISP arm of Bell, recently started throttling certain types of Internet data that it’s customers use. In PR speak this is referred as “traffic shaping”, in human speak “slowing down”.

As an example of what this means, lets say you are a Bell Sympatico customer who wants to download a copy of the CBC show Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister that was officially released by the Ceeb last week via the peer-to-peer technology BitTorrent. You might find the download speeds rather pokey at 30kB/s or less (not much better than in the old days of dial-up Internet). That’s only one tenth of the 300kB/s plus speed that you might expect under ideal circumstances based on the technical specifications of the connection for which you pay Bell $40-50 each month. That gap between actual and ideal download speeds is caused by Bell deliberately blocking your download, to “protect” their network from excessive use.

Not only are Bell applying this throttling to their own customers, but they are also now throttling access on the parts of the network that they rent to third-part Internet Service Providers. So as a consumer you can’t even turn to a more enlightened ISP to avoid this throttling, as the chances are they rent their network from Bell. This is a blow to the idea of market competition and consumer choice that is the very reason that Bell is required by law to rent out access to its valuable “last mile” network.

There are many, many reasons that this is an important issue and one where Bell seems to be firmly in the wrong. Here’s what it boils down to for me though: it has become increasingly clear that the Internet presents a huge opportunity for change, growth and development in many areas of life from culture to business. For one of Canada’s tiny handful of major ISPs to arbitrarily decide what can and cannot flow across the Internet to Canadians is hugely damaging to the openness and non-discrimination that is essential to the way the Internet works. If Bell have a problem with the capacity of their networks to provide the access their customers want, as they argue, then they need to invest and improve not clampdown on legitimate network use.

Read more from: WirelessNorth.ca, Michael Geist, Mark Kuznicki, public sector unions and many, many others.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

March 30th, 2008 at 8:51 am

1 comment

New Media fun (and learning)

Starting on March 10 (mucho soon now) I will be joining the Interactive Arts and Entertainment rogram at the Canadian Film Centre.

The five month long program is divided into two main components: an instructional component and a self-directed production component. The two and a half month instructional component consists of 10 weeklong instructor facilitated modules covering the following main themes collaborative creativity, interactive narrative, new media forms, and business development.

This was a fairly last minute opportunity, but seemed like one I didn’t want to miss. I’m looking forward to having 5 months dedicated to learning about this area, one I’ve been growing more and more interested in over the last couple of years. So things are likely to be quiet on the Hogtown side of things for a while, though I am still doing some client work my time is obviously going to be limited.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

February 27th, 2008 at 10:48 am

1 comment

On ingenuity

Wooden 'map' and every third floor elevator planI’ve been thinking a bit about ingenuity this week, which my mac dictionary tells be means ‘he quality of being clever, original, and inventive’. I have in mind collecting some examples of ingenuity as a blog topic and an inspiration.

Here are two I stumbled across at Tecznotes blog while researching Modest Maps which was used to build the Oakland Crimespotting map, both ingenious bits of tech in themselves.

Wooden maps carved by the Ammassalik of east Greenland
The image to the left above is of one of these wooden maps. Bill Buxton describes these ‘maps’ in hi book Sketching User Experiences.

…shows the coastline, including fjords, mountains, and places where one can portage and land a kayak. Such maps can be used inside mittens, thereby keeping the hands warm; they float if they fall in the water; they will withstand a 10 metre drop test; and there is no battery to go dead at a crucial moment.

Also they’re beautiful. Not much I can add to that, I just loved this bit of low-tech genius.

More from Tecznotes on this.

Federal building in San Francisco

This one is a piece of ingenuity to combat a thoroughly modern problem. We all work in office buildings and we’re getting fat, generally speaking. To work against that problem the new Federal building has elevators that only stop on every third floor.

The elevators only stop on every 3rd floor, “to improve worker health by nudging them to use stairways – and also create crossroads where employees run onto each other, since each three-story segment includes a lobby with art and a viewing platform.”

More from Tecznotes on this.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

August 21st, 2007 at 3:03 pm

no comments

Shelfari, an apology and a plea for sensible user interfaces

First of all an apology, when signing up to a new book-centred social networking site (Shelfari) I accidentally caused an email invite to the site to go out to everyone in my email address book. For christ’s sake, I’m supposed to be an Internet professional no? Not a bloody spammer or an idiot, at least that’s not what my business card says. So by sincere and very embarrassed apologies to everyone who got that email.

So that’s the apology part. The user interface part is to the point: please think about the outcomes of the design decisions you make when building a web app (or anything else for that matter).

In this case bad judgment on my part and poor UI (User Interface) design on Shelfari’s part lead to the presumable irritation of the hundreds of people in my address book who got this email invitation in error and my burning (but hopefully short-lived) embarrassment at letting this happen. But you don’t make converts to your social networking web app thingie by causing intense embarrassment, unless your app is masochist.com perhaps.

There’s another whole post in here about how to effectively share information about who you are and who you know online. OpenID and FOAF are just a couple of projects looking at solving parts of this problem effectively. I just hope someone gets there soon, like yesterday would be ideal.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

August 2nd, 2007 at 4:20 pm

no comments

The web is cool

It may be a little late to be news, but the web *is* cool. I write his mostly because as someone constantly entwined in the web it can be easy to forget it.

In fact, I think I may have written this post before. But still, it *is* cool whet the web allows us to do. This weekend I fly off to Paris for a fast tour of a few major European countries. This morning, to prep for the trip, I was able to get train times for a Paris transfer, find detailed mapping of a hotel in a small Swiss town and stay in contact with a friend from Yorkshire who’s birthday was today. All that between working on a couple of deadlines.

Now this stuff is pretty common place to anyone reading this. But I don’t think it’s a bad idea to stop and realise what we have and what potential is still there in communications technology. We’ve all heard the various stats about the 67% (or 94 or 78 or whatever) of the worlds population that haven’t made a phone call. What would that number be like for people who don’t have access to Google maps yet?

All this by way of saying that I’m going offline for a couple of weeks. When I get back I’m going to try to spend some time doing good stuff of my own, not totally get caught up in paying the mortgage (though that’s important too). I may not be able to get those 98% of people good Ajax powered map access, but something.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

July 6th, 2007 at 9:57 pm

no comments

On CaseCamp and the perils of 301 redirects to your Google Traffic

BMW present at CaseCamp Here’s the techie bit, bear with me this starts to make sense (perhaps) in a minute.

If you’re considering moving a website from an established domain name (let’s say www.oldsite.net) to a new domain (perhaps www.rebrandedsite.com) be very careful. Google will tell you that using a 301 redirect is the way to go. However I made this apparently trivial change for a nameless client recently and they lost a major chunk of their Google traffic, like -60% traffic for over a month and still counting (though I think there is an upswing now). My advice, stick with the old domain if at all possible, Google ranking is hard to get and easy to miss.

Why do I mention this? Two reasons, 1) hopefully this tip will help others avoid my mistake and 2) I’m about to make a complaint about in-authenticity and it seemed like a a little honesty about my own mistakes up front might help me slip past hypocrisy here.

This week I attended my first CaseCamp, CaseCamp Toronto 5. Over all it was a pretty good event, hat tip to Eli for his hard work getting this new Camp going.

Perhaps my reaction to CaseCamp is a factor of having been spoiled by all the cool *Camp events in Toronto over the last couple of years. But it seems to me that authenticity is one of the central tenets that makes the Camp scene a successful one. It’s real people talking to real people on topics they care and know about.

CaseCamp 5 had a decent share of authenticity, for example Chris Matthews presented on Specialized Riders Club and he came across as really caring about bike riders, the site and the company he works for (probably in that order) and was happy to answer questions.

Other presentations seemed… well, less than authentic. BMW (that’s them in the photo, they had suit-wearing as an initial hurdle to acceptance) presented on their… well actually I couldn’t tell you what they presented on. They presented a corporate buzz soaked, bullet heavy, content challenged something-or-other that contained the phrase “our experiential matrix contains joy at the centre”. No kidding.

So that’s a long and rather snarky way of saying that I think authenticity is important, at Camps, in life, in online media, even in advertising BMWs. I’m not sure I can convince the BMW marketing guys of that, but I’ll try to keep it in mind myself.

[Photo by Tom Purves, used under a CC licence.]

Written by Patrick Dinnen

June 14th, 2007 at 5:25 pm

no comments

Interaction Camp

Yesterday was InteractionCamp Toronto BarCamp centred around user experience and design.

I was a little brain-frazzled (after moving home this week) to get the premium BarCamp experience, only attending half the session slots and ducking out for part of the day. But still I had a good time.

The BarCamp experience is I think even more subjective than an dinosaur-conference, never has ‘you get out what you put in’ been truer. I would have liked to do a session around physical computing (the interface of computing power, physical things and electronic sensors in interesting ways) but didn’t have the expertise, or at least the prep time that would need.

I did have a bunch of good conversations. Which is central to a good BarCamp expereience. 3D game engines used for modeling the real world, tools to use in some AJAX development I’m doing (JQuery was reliably recommended) and Microsoft as a force for good or evil, or something else. Not a bad selection.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

June 3rd, 2007 at 11:44 am

no comments