Hogtown Consulting

technology for experience

Huge Balloon Project

I’m eyeball deep in a great project to build an interactive system for 250 5ft, colour LED lit balloons right now. I’m collaborating with David MacAllum and Gabe Sawhney and we’re working with an awesome installation by KPMB for the Luminato festival.

update post-event: We, Media Lab Toronto, worked on sound reactive lighting effects that ran at various points throughout the week. We were given special billing along with the Silent Rave event (slightly odd, given the sound reactive nature of our setup). Gabe built on the control system I had put together in Processing and came up with a really elegant system for controlling the lighting colours and rhythm by hand. The night was earily silent (as billed) but loads of fun. Raju Mudhar from The Star described it like this:

“With the choreographed lighting from the balloons in the square, it did feel a bit like an outdoor club. But more than that, it was spontaneous and fun. People shared earphones with those that didn’t have. Every festival in town could use more of these types of moments.”

You can read more at Media Lab Toronto and see photos of the setup, silent rave and some rainy shots.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

June 4th, 2008 at 4:04 pm

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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

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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

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The all knowing table

Actually it isn’t an all knowing table, but I have been working on a prototype table interface that can recognise objects and respond to them.

The project is based on the Reactivision software. Which takes care of recognising a specific set of amoeba looking symbols and reporting their position.

The underlying tech is fairly simple, though getting it right (or at least close) turned out to be a pretty big job. The surface itself is a perspex sheet with a sheet of filter applied, so it can hold a projected image. Underneath the screen is a camera, to recognise the objects placed on it, and a projector, to display the interface. There is also an infrared light source and the camera is filtered to allow in IR only, so it isn’t confused by the light from the projector.

The interface is certainly only a fraction of what is possible with this system. The majority of my time went into the physical setup and I wanted to get something done, so this is a quick hack in Processing.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

February 4th, 2008 at 6:43 pm

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Media Lab Toronto appears

TXTris installation I’m tired, but excited, after what might be called the ‘launch’ of Media Lab Toronto.

MLT is an idea, or really a bunch of ideas, and some people (Dory Kornfeld, Michael Pereira, Gabe Sawhney and I so far). The ideas tend to revolve around new media, technology and art (with some knitting and laser beams tossed in).

Tonight we became somewhat tangible with our first installation, TXTris, at CaseCamp6 in Toronto. TXTris is an interactive, SMS controlled installation that mixes computer generated with the staunchly DIY physical. You can read more over at Media Lab Toronto’s blog.

There is no shortage of ideas for cool thins we can build, assuming we can find a way to balance this with paying for roofs over our heads (maybe even have it help with that). Tangible table top interface, non-screen projections, LED stuff, the list runs on. Keep watching.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

November 21st, 2007 at 12:32 am

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Ontario election data visualisation, or Processing is fun

Ontario 2003 election visualisationOctober 10th was election day here in Ontario, and gave me the opportunity I was looking for to dive into a Processing project.

Processing is an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions… [It] is developed by artists and designers as an alternative to proprietary software tools in the same domain.

The plan was to put together a data visualisation to explore the votes data intuitively, not just the same old percentages and charts. I think I had some success and it was definitely a good way to dive into Processing, even though it took about 500% longer than I anticipated spending. I’m actually using the 2003 election data here, but plan to update once the complete 2007 results are downloadable.

You can play with the online tools, see what you think. Comments, questions, offers all welcome. Leave a comment or email me.

Written by Patrick Dinnen

October 24th, 2007 at 11:18 am

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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

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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

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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

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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

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