R.I.P. Leo – 8.30AM, 22.3.2008

Double Leo

Our cat, Leo, who travelled with us all the way from Australia, died this morning having struggled with FIV (the feline version of HIV) for the last year.

For those of you who have never had a pet, this will probably sound ridiculously sentimental. Others will know how much they are loved and treated as much as one of the family as any human. And how heart-wrenching it is when they pass away.

Leo adopted us when we moved into our house in Sydney, having been abandoned by the previous neighbours, and quickly found his way into our hearts. I grew up with cats in the house and have known many, but rarely one with such character and never one that was so sociable. He was never aloof and always wanted to be around people. always sitting on our desks whilst we worked or on the sofa with us in the evening always chatty and purring. He even softened the hearts of even the most die-hard, anti-cat dog lovers.

He was truly one of a kind. For us he has been like a child over the past seven years. We both numb at the loss and sitting here swollen-eyed from all the tears. In some small way I hope that this little post secures his place and memory in the world.

Lastly, thank you to all the people who have cuddled him and looked after him whilst we were away. You all know what a lovely fella he was.

[tags]leo, rip[/tags]

20,000 Processing Particles

I’ve played with Processing a fair bit over the years, but never really got stuck into anything solid – most of my time has been spent fixing up my students’ projects!

Over the break I’ve been playing with some other ideas, working through the very good book by Casey Reas and Ben Fry, Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists. It’s probably one of the best books I’ve ever read in terms of introducing and explaining how to code for people without a computer science background.

Inspired by Robert Hodgin’s wonderful Processing work I thought I’d have another crack at particles as they seem to be all the rage at the moment. The particle creation part is easy, but getting them to interact with decent physics was getting too much for my mathematically challenged brain. Thankfully I came across the Traer Physics Engine by Jeffrey Traer Bernstein, which handles a lot of that maths for you.

My “Hello World!” code for any platform tends to be a bouncing ball (or an array of them) because it covers most of the structures – if…then, variables, arrays, etc.

So I started building and engine that has a bunch of particles that are all attracted to each other, but more attracted to a single one which is following a target invisible bouncing ball around the screen. (It would make more sense to collapse the particles into the ball code, but at the moment I’m just plugging stuff together.)

It’s very simple at the moment – just an ellipse as the graphic with some trails going on. The above is a version that rendered out in non-realtime with 20,000 particles. I like the way they seem to rope together and struggle to break free. Sometimes there’s a kind of breakaway flare.

There’s also a bit of gravity going on, which drags everything down. Any particles that go off the bottom of the screen are simply recycled up the top (you’ll see this in the initial explosion). A interesting upshot of this is that sometimes the tail of the flare/rope falls off the bottom and those particles make a break for it from the top.

You can play with a 2,000 particle version of it here (and view the source code)..

There are also a couple of other versions on Vimeo.

[tags]processing, particles, generative, video, vimeo[/tags]

Break-time at Playpen

Chocolate Milk Fight by imnotpolish

I’m going to take a few days off for a break, so I probably won’t be blogging for a couple of weeks. But stay tuned, there is much more to come as well as some more podcasts.

I’ll also be doing an online presentation for the AWARD Craft Interactive programme on the 27th August. It’ll be recorded and posted somewhere on Operator 11 for your amusement.

So, go play on a swing, drink some milk, have a chocolate milk fight (above) or do something educational like watching a cow milking demonstrations.

(Thanks to imnotpolish for the photo and amusing Flickr name).

Interview on WorldChanging

World Changing

A quick pointer to an interview about the Creative Waves VIP Project with Rick Bennett and I on the very excellent WorldChanging.com.

If you’ve been wondering what it’s all about and why it might be interesting to take part, then have a read.

Thanks to Regine for writing it too.

p.s. If you haven’t bought the WorldChanging book, go and do it right now. It has everything you need to live with a smaller environmental footprint. It’s the stiletto heel of life.

Goodbye Lilian

My lovely Grandma

It’s not been an easy year for deaths in the family.

Although I rarely post personal things on my blog, for some reason – at least to me – it feels like way of honouring someone passing away. My Grandma, Lilian Dines, made it to 97 – which is an amazing age for anyone to manage – but died this afternoon.

Goodbye Grandma and thanks for all the coconut pyramids. You were loved dearly and were the perfect Gran.

Macbook or Macbook Pro?

Macbook  or  Macbook Pro

I’m about to upgrade machines and it’s time to go Macbook or Macbook Pro (the 15″). It wouldn’t be a primary design machine, so the screen resolution is not so much of an issue, nor is the speed difference (though see question 2 below).

What I want to know is:

  1. What the keyboard feels like on either of them. I write a lot and it makes a big difference to me (and I get occasional RSI). Is the Macbook’s weird flat-button keyboard nice to use or awkward?

  2. The other thing is, perhaps, playing some PC games on the laptop via Bootcamp. I know the Pro has a better graphics card but has anyone had much of a go with that on a Macbook?

  3. Is that glossy screen annoying on the Macbook? I notice you can have the option of changing it on the Pro.

I know there is a lot of opinion out there in Googleland, but frankly it’s too tedious to sift through. I’ve read the benchmarks and reviews, I’m more interested in personal experiences. I know many of you have probably been using either of these machines for some time and love or hate them.

Please step forth and comment

Low tech accidents

Whilst looking through some old archives of work (and also the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive) I re-found a gif that I made for my very first polaine.com website. I remember wanting to create something quite different and I rendered this out (of After Effects of all things) by accident.

Not Artificial Life

I put it on my homepage and everyone always assumed it was some kind of artificial life thing I had carefully coded. Actually I think it was some blurry squares that got munged when the gif was created. I still like it though, and it’s a good example of simple accidents turning out interesting results.

Re-imagining Higher Education

Recently I have been giving much thought to the structure and issues that most of us in Higher Education have been struggling with for several years. There are three areas of thought that come together when re-imagining education, particularly within Art and Design education. The theory of the Long Tail, the Play Ethic and Cradle to Cradle sustainability. Each of these requires a radical turn-around in current ways of thinking. Tweaking the edges won’t do.

What if we thought about education the same way we thought about our other precious resources or the same way that we think about the changing face of the media? The full post after the jump is quite long, but covers a lot of thought. If you would prefer to read off-line, you can download a PDF version (with references) here.

Continue reading “Re-imagining Higher Education”

The Play Ethic and Sustainability

For a very long time now (since 2005 in fact), Pat Kane’s book, The Play Ethic has been on my Amazon Wishlist (hint, hint) along with several other books on Play for my PhD research into interactivity and play.

The Play Ethic by Pat Kane   Cradle to Cradle - by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

Having persuaded my brother that I really like books as birthday presents he sent me three at once, two of which were co-incidentally The Play Ethic and Cradle to Cradle: Re-making the way we make things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (those two are the links to Amazon’s catalogue by the way – I couldn’t recommend two purchases more). This led me to read them back-to-back and I realised what a set of connections there are between the two ways of thinking.

Kane’s Play-Ethic is a fascinating and well-researched literature review, Protestant work-ethic critique and manifesto for a new way of thinking and living. Cradle to Cradle is equally so – a manifesto for a new way of thinking and living as well as a rejection of the past 250 years or so of the industrial society. Both require an enormous about-turn in thinking as the only possible way to combat the ever growing stresses and strains on society and the planet. Both speak of abundance – Kane in terms of the ‘player’ always finding joy and energy in life (and work when need be) and McDonough and Braungart in terms of thinking like nature. They use the example of a cherry tree which produces more blossoms and fruit that it ‘needs’ but that contributes more to local ecosystem than it uses.

Wase = Food = Sustainability.

It’s exactly this sustainability which is also required from our working (read: waking) lives. The current trend towards ever-increasing work hours and less ‘play time’ is unstainable and we’re already seeing the cracks in the system and experiences them personally. I know that ‘downtime’ (and by that I don’t just mean leisure time) is crucial to allowing the space to create connections between ideas and come up with new ones. In short, ‘creativity’ – to invoke that over-used word.

The drive for ‘efficiency’ (a product of the Industrial Revolution) that McDonough and Braungart speak against would have that downtime labeled as ‘inefficient’. They describe the difference between eco-efficient systems (things that are ‘less bad’) and eco-effective (things that actually add to their environment positively – think cars that clean the air as you drive, buildings that generate more energy than they use or products that benefit the environment when you throw them away). An ‘efficient’ cherry tree would have just one blossom and one fruit (that of course would hopefully turn into another tree). There’s not much fun or play in that for starters, nor would the resources used to grow the tree be very well returned to the local environment.

Now think of the ‘efficiencies’ of the modern workplace – do more with less. Work harder, make it cheaper, make it more efficient. Never mind the quality. I’m sure the stresses that places on people are quite well know to most of you. Yet think of a time (maybe not in paid work) when you worked on something because you really loved doing it, because you felt nurtured and fulfilled. For a start it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ in the way that we have come to know it (i.e., stuff we don’t like doing and that people have to pay us off to do). It feels more like play and it has a whole load of positive knock-on effects in your life, society and culture that efficiency rubs out. Basically it’s a sustainable way of living your life instead of one that sucks all your energy dry and spits you out the other end of the factory.

Both books have made me radically re-think the shape and (dis)organization of my own institution, in what shape universities might be in five, ten or fifty years and re-thinking education (in particular design education). I also found it inspiring that the two areas I’m interested and involved in (play and interactivity, sustainable design and ethics ) have so many connections. I’ll post more about that soon.