New magneticNorth web site

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Great to see magneticNorth’s new website live. Brendan gave me a sneak peek of it yesterday and I love it.

The navigation is very playful and intuitive. Actually it is intuitive because it is playful. You basically scribble a doodle and this makes a mask into which a piece from their portfolio opens. You can then click on that item to view more info about the work or simply make another scribble to look at a new piece. The navigation across the top is a history that you can move back and forth through or reset.

What is nice about the whole thing is that you just don’t have worry about doing anything ‘right’. You can scribble any shape and you can scribble over the top of other scribbles and everything automagically sorts itself out.

Go and have a play yourself and tell me what you think.

[UPDATE: Quite some debate started about this, which I’m very happy to be part of. I wrote a long response, which is almost a post in itself, but decided to leave it in the comments.]

Chrome Experiments

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Josh Nimoy has made a version of his (unpleasantly named) Ball Droppings piece for Google’s Chrome Experiments site. Simple and addictive, you basically draw lines and adjust the dropping rate to set the balls in bouncy, musical motion. The Javascript version doesn’t work in Safari (sigh), but Firefox on the Mac does the job.

The whole Chrome Experiments site is worth poking around – there are some nice interactive toys there. Casey Reas’ Twitch is a fun set of little challenges that move from browser window to browser window:

Twitch.png

Christoph Résigné’s Amiga Workbench Emulator is ridiculous, but very well done too.

Browser Ball is a ball that you can throw around different browser windows. Its author, Mark Mahoney asks, “If I tell you it’s less lame than it sounds, will you give it a shot?” It is, indeed, less lame than it sounds and strangely compelling (though it send my CPU crazy).

There are plenty more of these little experiments with the technology. It will be great to see if Google Chrome is actually any good once it comes to the Mac (I haven’t tried it in BootCamp yet), but many of these experiments work in other browsers.

Exploring these ideas will, no doubt, lead to some interesting applications, but they’re fun in their own right too, so take them in that spirit. The comments say it all:

By Bill the non computer geek on April 01, 2009
Saw the demo. So just what does this do? I see a ball bouncing to different windows……so?

By sam on April 29, 2009
you shouldnt be here

(Thanks to Rachel for the heads up).

The Carbon Footprint of Spam

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(Photo credit: net_efekt)

My brother, Matt, just mailed me this report on the Carbon Footprint of Spam. It makes pretty shocking reading and made me re-think Iain’s idea for paid e-mail (just don’t make it like Stansted airport).

Here are the main findings from the study:

  • An estimated worldwide total of 62 trillion spam emails were sent in 2008
  • Globally, annual spam energy use totals 33 billion kilowatt-hours (KWh), or 33 terawatt hours (TWh). That’s equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes in the United States, with the same GHG emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using two billion United States gallons of gasoline
  • Spam filtering saves 135 TWh of electricity per year. That’s like taking 13 million cars off the road
  • If every inbox were protected by a state-of-the- art spam filter, organizations and individuals could reduce today’s spam energy by approximately 75 percent or 25 TWh per year. That’s equivalent to taking 2.3 million cars off the road
  • The average GHG emission associated with a single spam message is 0.3 grams of CO2. That’s like driving three feet (one meter) in equivalent emissions, but when multiplied by the annual volume of spam, it’s like driving around the Earth 1.6 million times
  • A year’s email at a typical medium-size business uses 50,000 KWh; more than one fifth of that annual use can be associated with spam
  • Filtering spam is beneficial, but fighting spam at the source is even better. When McColo, a major source of online spam, was taken offline in late 2008, the energy saved in the ensuing lull — before spammers rebuilt their sending capacity — equated to taking 2.2 million cars off the road
  • Much of the energy consumption associated with spam (52 percent) comes from end-users deleting spam and searching for legitimate email (false positives). Spam filtering accounts for just 16 percent of spam-related energy use

On the positive side, think of the boom in penis enlarger sales, which is what we clearly need in these harsh economic times.

Tonematrix

Inspired by the Tenori-On, Andre Michelle put together Tonematrix. Each square creates a wave force that spreads across the grid (I don’t think that affects the sound though).

It reminds me quite a bit of a piece Andy Allenson made at Antirom years ago that was a multi-user grid sequencer. The smart thing about it was that you could adjust the grid cell amounts to produce complex polyrhythms. It was done in Director and I can’t find it online anymore unfortunately, but it was very compelling. I was always amazed that he got it working over the network too – around 10 years ago now.

I am glad to see sound finally getting some attention in Flash (now that pixels have arrived too). The work Andre has been doing is amazing, but I’d really like to see it being used for more unique, unusual and playful experiments rather than reproducing vintage sequencers and synthesisers (that’s what Reason is for, right?). Somehow that seems to be a missed opportunity – Tonematrix is a more interesting direction.

More on Andre’s blog.

(Thanks to Matt Delprado for the heads up).

IDEO Play with VR

Regular readers will know I’m pretty cynical about VR and I’ve never been much of a fan of the CAVE system. The last time I used one at iCinema I was treated to an interface that looked like it was designed in 1989 and a headache from the glasses.

The above video is from IDEO’s trip to WATG’s labs, where they have an iCube set up. It’s pretty entertaining to see Dave lose his balance as he stands on the edges of virtual walls and it’s clearly working on a fairly immersive level in a way I have never experienced in any VR that I have tried. The reason, usually, is that the equipment and the environment are so imposing that you can’t really ever engage your willing suspension of disbelief and immerse yourself. That’s the irony of immersive VR systems.

I think part of the reason this is working well here is because WATG are hospitality architects, so they know a thing or two about making compelling environments and have some decent 3D chops. The landscape Dave is wandering around in looks at least as good as Unreal Tournament 2003 instead of Manic Miner.

It also helps that the headset is rather smaller these days, though the joystick device that the woman guiding him uses looks like a cordless power drill. It’s hard to tell what this would really be like when the novelty wears off.

I can see it’s use in terms of an architectural projects and, maybe, a product design, but I’m still wary that you would get much of a real feel for either of those things from the VR version. VR still feels like a technology waiting for a use rather than a useful technology. (Check out the beginning of this video where she’s standing lost and forlorn inside a Windows desktop – this would be my nightmare).

One last thing, I wish IDEO wouldn’t tag it “serious play” as if they need to justify using the word play. I know they use it to reference Tim Brown’s talk, but play is play and it’s a legitimate as anything else.

WiiSpray


WiiSpray Teaser from Martin Lihs on Vimeo.



WiiSpray is Wiimote hack and piece of work by Martin Lihs – a student of my ex-colleagues over at the media faculty at the Bauhaus.

I like the addition of stencil usage – it takes it beyond the obvious paint program idea and you can also collaborate with other people (via the interwebs potentially). This part of the explanation is key:

“The actual hardware tool of the artist – the spraying can – remains constant in its shape and function and is a catalyst for this software supporting innovative computer interaction. The self-explanatory program requires no previous knowledge or reference of a user’s manual.”

(Via Daring Fireball, which probably means you have all seen it already. Sigh).

Baker Tweet. Another hot pun from Poke.

The good chaps and chapettes at Poke love a pun, but they love a hot bun even more. So they have created Baker Tweet, a simple way for bakers to tell the world that something is fresh out of the oven.

It’s a mix of Arduino components that hooks into a Django CMS system. The nice part about it is the simple, chunky metal dial and a single button – perfect for floury, gloved hands.

The baker can update the items on the dial via the CMS (or via iPhone, no less) and then turn the dial to update, hit the button and it pulls in the latest items, so it’s also futureproof. In a working day though, the baker just turns the dial to “Fresh Buns” and everyone who is subscribe to the bakery’s Twitter feed goes off for a bun feed.

The first one is installed in the Albion Café – follow them at @albionsoven.

Despite the puns, it’s certainly no half-baked idea and shows that Poke’s creativity shows no signs of going stale.