I often tell people that you need both a left brain and a right brain to be a software designer: a left brain to analyze and understand, a right brain to dream and wonder. The EyeO Festival which Thao and I just attended in Minneapolis, was food for our right brains.
EyeO is about the intersection of art and code: generative artists (who use data and algorithms to produce works of art), art installations (which often require sophisticated coding), and those who see coding itself as an art form. It is not so much about knowledge transfer as it about building a community, meeting world-class data artists and hearing their back stories.
I attended fourteen talks in all and saw many wonders.
The JPL crew controlling the Mars rover use Microsoft HoloLens goggles to create an augmented reality, allowing scientists in remote locations to stand together on the surface of the planet. Each person sees their own desk, chair and monitor sitting in a crater with the rover just a few feet away. As their eyes scan the area, little dots of light show where each person is looking; when they use their mouse to teleport to a nearby ridge, others see their avatars walk to the new location. They can even walk around the rover and point to where it should go next.
The design team at nervo.us (she’s a biologist, he’s a physicist) is interested in how complex forms arise in nature from cells growing at different rates. Using their own custom software, they create spectacular simulations and turn these into 3-D printed art objects. One of their most stunning creations is a kinematics dress, made supple using thousands of tiny interlocking plastic hinges perfectly fitted to the laser-scanned image of a customer’s body. With scary-hard math, they generalize a moving body from a single scan, compute not just how the dress will look but how it will hang and twirl, and even prefold it so that it will fit in today’s small 3-D printers.
Perhaps the most jaw-dropping demonstration was a sneak preview of “Connected Worlds,” an installation that will be opening soon at the New York Hall of Science. Three years in the making, it creates a Star Trek style holodeck with a 50-foot waterfall and six distinct biomes populated by whimsical plants and animals. Children move physical logs to redirect virtual water into the various biomes; if they make the right decisions wonderful trees will grow and attract ever more magical animals. The team at Design I/O described technical challenges and lessons learned, some of which might be applicable to future AppsLab motion-tracking projects.
One of the topics I found most stimulating was new and improved coding languages. I have used Processing, a language developed specifically for artists, to create some of the interactive visualizations we show in our cloud lab. It was a thrill to meet and talk with Processing’s co-inventors and hear their plans for new evolutions of the language, including P5.js, Processing.py, and the upcoming Processing 3.0.
But the most interesting talk about languages was by a guy named Ramsey Nassar. Ramsey is an uber-coder who creates new computer languages for fun. He argues that most coders are stuck using alienating, frustrating, brittle languages created decades ago for a world that no longer exists. He wants to create languages that facilitate “post-human creativity,” new forms of creativity not possible before computers. Some of his languages, like god.js (which makes code look like biblical text) and Emojinal (made completely out of emoji), are just for fun. Others, like Alb (the first entirely Arabic coding language), Arcadia (for Unity 3D VR game development), Zajal (inspired by Processing), and Rejoice (a stack language based on Joy), are practical and mind-expanding. I plan to talk more about why coding languages should matter to designers in a future blog post.
As with any conference there were countless small discoveries, too many to report in full. Here are just a few…
Amanda Cox of the New York Times talked about making data more relatable by using geocoding to default the initial view of a large geographical dataset to the user’s own locale. Another interesting technique was having users guess what a plotted curve would look like by drawing it before showing the actual curve.
One clever flourish I noticed was the use of tiny single-value pie charts placed beneath each year in the X axis of a time-driven line chart to add an extra dimension of data about each year without distracting from the main point of the chart.
Sprint, the telephone company, started out as a railroad company that used their existing right of way to plant cell towers. Sprint stands for Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony.
Reza Ali is an amazing generative artist who turns data and music into images, animations, and tangible objects. One of his secret weapons is ofxPro. Check out his music videos for the band OK Go.
Into LED arrays and Raspberry Pi? Check out Fadecandy.
Timescape is a visualization-based storytelling platform, currently in beta. Looks interesting.
How long does it take the New York Times team to create world-class infographics? As long as you have plus one half hour.
What kind of music do coding language nerds listen to? The Lisps of course!
My right brain is full now. Time to dream!