Hopscotch – programming on the iPad for kids

Hopscotch iPad App

Hopscotch is a new programming language/environment iPad for kids. I don’t have my iPad here right now, but I’m looking forward to having a go on this. It is probably too advanced for my four year-old daughter still (I’ll have to see how necessary being able to read or write is), but it looks perfect for school-age children. The quote from a child on the website sums it up nicely:

“I like it because it’s fun and you can make the characters do whatever you want and play it like a movie.” – Audrey, age 8

You can make interactive things too, I’m sure.

(Via Jeroen)

Antirom Tops the Digital Archeology Leaderboard


I’m totally late blogging about this, but I was very happy and proud to see antirom top the votes of the Digital Archeology project leaderboard while the project ran at Internet Week NYC back in June. So, officially we “won”, but since you can still vote for projects, our old friends from K10k are now topping the list.

I take my hat off to Jim Boulton, Deputy Managing Director of Story Worldwide in the UK who had the idea to put the project on and to all the people who helped make it happen. As Story Worldwide’s website reports:

“[Jim was] concerned that the evidence of this explosion of creativity may be consigned to digital oblivion, set out to harvest and recover landmark websites from the web’s short history and present them in a exhibition “Digital Archaeology”, within Internet Week. Jim, curator of the show, has persuaded a network of digital pioneers to hunt in their attics for the coded jewels that can be seen no more on the web, and generously share them for the show. Some needed restoration to bring the screens back to life.”

There is a great archive of photos on the project’s Facebook page. Apart from it being a cool trip down memory lane for many of us in terms of the projects and people, it was great to see them dig up the old machines for them to run on. It always saddened me that I couldn’t really show my students that early work anymore and, like Jim, I think it’s important to be aware of your heritage. Imagine if filmmakers couldn’t look back into the archives or writers only had John Grisham to read as inspiration.

Here’s a video of Tom Roope talking about the history of antirom. I don’t remember there being quite so much Japanese porn in there though. I think Tom’s fantasy is running wild. (There was some porn, though, but cunningly disguised):

The Art of Isolated Thousands

Bicycle Built for Two Thousand from Aaron on Vimeo.

Information used to be scarce, held by the rich and powerful and carefully guarded. Now we have and overwhelming amount of the stuff and each leave huge trails of it wherever we go, online and offline. It is no wonder that Data Visualisation has become such a rich area for the blending of designers, artists, programmers and number fetishists. These days there are enormous datasets, often with open APIs to mine.

Aaron Koblin’s project, Flight Patterns gained a lot of attention for its beautiful, ghostly patterns of flights in and out of the USA built from FAA flight data as did his work on the Radiohead House of Cards “video”.

But what do you do when you want to create a large data set all of your own? I went back to Koblin’s site for a lecture I am writing and was thrilled to discover a whole set of new projects in which he has crowdsourced input from thousands of people using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform.

The above video is from A Bicycle Built for Two Thousand – a collaboration with Daniel Massey – in which over 2,000 people were asked to record themselves emulating a tiny snippet of audio sung by a computer from the famous song.

sheep market.gif

For The Sheep Market, 10,000 participants were asked to “draw a sheep, facing left”. But my favourite is Ten Thousand Cents, which has also been around the web quite a bit. For Ten Thousand Cents, 10,000 people were paid one cent to draw 1/10,000th of an image of a $100 bill.


Like The Sheep Market it uses a custom drawing tool that records the drawing process, which is played back as you explore the images. It reminds me a of Andy Deck’s Glyphiti project, which has been around for some time now, except that in the all the Mechanical Turk instances, none of the participants had any idea of the end goal. This, for me, is where the magic lies.

There is something quite powerful about the idea of thousands of people creating a work of art in tiny, unrelated chunks, unaware of what they are contributing to. Quite apart from the end result, it provides an engaging commentary on our networked society both in terms of online connections and the global economy and sustainability.

And the sheep are hilarious.

Chrome Experiments


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:


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).

Night of the Living Maps


Apart from last night’s making of history it was a night of interactive maps gone wild.

The BBC’s virtual studio 3D environment was replete with sounds of steel shutters opening and closing as the graphics changed, which gave me flashbacks of The Day Today. Wired have a good selection of other overblown 3D madness. (Can’t believe Wired Gadgets Lab used the term ‘gee-whiz Tech’).

CNN (above) went for multi-touch action with John King zooming in and out of detail and pulling up man-on-the-street video clips. The strange, meta-media, thing here was that the cameras then zoomed into the clip playing on the multitouch screen rather than cutting directly to it. King would then get rid of a clip by tossing it off of the top of the screen. King was keen to show off – quote of the evening: “I want to show you a new feature of the map – let me hit Hispanics here…”

I couldn’t face watching CNN’s ‘Situation Room’ coverage long enough to see if it went wrong (I mean, come on, Situation Room? Pricks.).

Kottke has a gathered a selection of online election maps and it’s a good lesson in information design styles. NetLab’s Kazys Varnelis and Leah Meisterlin have written an in-depth piece on Adobe’s Think Tank site about this shift into intelligent maps and what it means for designers.

“The choice of what to show and how to show not only impacts appearance, it can reframe arguments.”

Of course, maps always have been about framing and re-framing.

The online U.S. Election 2008 map I found clearest and most insightful is from The New York Times.


The Exit Polls Map is particularly good, especially when you set it to size the bars according to size of the electorate revealing just how much minority and female votes had a massive impact. Sliding through the years is enlightening too.

Naturally this trend has brought some good parody too – see Stephen Spielberg Presents John King and a Saturday Night Live skit.

[UPDATE: The Onion just posted How to Understand the Election Map]

But none of them beat Alan Partridge trying to explain the ’94 World Cup system on The Day Today:

An Audience of Mirrors

Audience is a new installation from rAndom International, with software by Chris O’Shea, for the Deloitte Ignite Festival at the Royal Opera House. 64 mirrors are places in a ‘crowd’ and programmed to behave with different ‘human’ characteristics.

It’s a witty reversal of the normal roles of art and audience although obviously still in the vein of camera-based interactives (and following on from interactive mirror works by people like Danny Rozin. But for me the two most interesting things are how simple movements can make the mirrors seem quite alive and sentient as well as how people try to “work out” or “trick” the system.

Check out the guy in the pink t-shirt who ends up performing for the other onlookers in the video above. It’s always fascinating to see how physical interactives can make people do all sorts of things they would otherwise not consider doing in a public space.

Why is so much New Media Art so shit?

I’ve been pondering this question a lot recently whilst writing my PhD stuff recently (it covers this area a lot).

Fortunately the Near Future Laboratory explain why with their Top 15 criteria that define “interactive” or “new media” art. It’s worryingly spot on, which makes me suspect the writers have made a few of these themselves.

I’ve been guilty of some of these and my students have definitely been guilty of all of them. What’s worse is that I’ve seen plenty of multi-thousand dollar grants go towards much of that crap too. (I’m just jealous of course – I want someone to fund my lame ideas to the hilt too).

In answer to my own question, I think it’s because it takes itself and the medium too seriously. That makes any kind of art shit in my book.

(Thank Nik)

Interactive Dangerous Australians

Let’s face it, all Australians are dangerous on the sports field, but the the Australian Museum has a new interactive installation called Dangerous Australians that allows you to interact (safely) with Australia’s deadliest top ten creatures. The saltwater crocodile, funnel web spider, box jelly fish, brown snake are among them. Via the six-metre long interactive table you can explore what happens if you encounter them and what should you do to survive.

The installation was created by Lightwell under the technical direction of ex-COFA and ex-Fabrican Dave Towey. The whole thing is running under OS X and coded in Cocoa/Objective-C++ with a bunch of open source libraries including Ogre3D, OpenFrameworks and OpenCV (computer vision for the tracking).

Thanks to the Objective C++ it looks like it runs extremely fluidly and fast. For me, it’s interesting to see how the interactors act and react. The children use really quick jabs at the ‘buttons’, as if they’re trying to test the interface and its affordances. But the bit I love most of all is how the person with their hand in the ‘water’ snaps it away in reflex to the Great White Shark that suddenly appears (around 0:50 in the video).

More images and details on Lightwell’s page – and take a look at their other work whilst your at it.

LED Toilet Door Mix-Up Signs, Denmark

Those crazy Danes.

(Image stolen from djaphrael)

Amusing project over at Halfmachine which involved making toilet door signs from LEDs in a club.

Of course, they can be programmed, so they switched them around based on how many times the door was opened in order to facilitate a bit of social connection. It works too, judging by the video.

Playful, social, simple. I like it. I suspect people spent some time trying to work out the system too, which all adds to it.

[tags]LED, halfmachine, Denmark, toilets, signage, interactive[/tags]