Posts tagged me

A sign of the times: It had been over a year since the last time I used film. So yesterday I loaded some Fuji 400 I had in the fridge into my old EM (it has a shutter that sounds and feels like a heavy slap in the face, but alas, my favourite camera — the Electro — took a nasty blow to the lens and is stuck on infinity). I went to the street and got to do what I seem to do best (because I’m a coward who doesn’t photograph people): silly planimetric street typologies.

I like to make cool things

Today I had the last presentation of the first year of my Master’s degree in Multimedia. Therefore, for the next couple of months, I want to do nothing, hear nothing, read nothing in which acronyms are an essential part of communication. But still, I did learn quite a lot in the last ten months, and go the chance to work in cool stuff. The major highlights:

The first major work we were challenged to do was an e-book prototype. Me and my collegues Diana Carvalho, Eduardo Massa and Vitor Dioniso did A Cor, an e-book actually based on my documentary Words and Thoughts in RGB. We were asked to consider a futuristic e-book reader, therefore the e-book (which was actually put together the pretty common Adobe Acrobat) has some functionality still not found in current readers, such as color and the assumption there’s a touchscreen. You can actually download the e-book (it’s in portuguese, though — 10MB), but I advise you to actually open it with Acrobat Reader instead of the unbloated susbtitute you love, because the interesting things (draggable surfaces, pop-up, tiered text) only work there. We also intended this as a demonstration of a product concept I believe in: very cheap, short e-books about very specific subjects, the readable/interactive equivalent of the microdocumentaries.

Change Your Habits Today, done with Diana Carvalho and Eduardo Massa, was our answer when asked for an “interactive video” in which real and unreal footage are merged. Above you can see the non-interactive (here for HD), linearized video which I shot with my good friend Ana Margarida Carvalho. The final work, which is Heavy, has multiple layers of interactive Flash content my group colleagues added, so in a way this video doubles as its own ‘website’.

In the second semester I found myself another workgroup. Along with Juarez Braga, Manuel Almeida, Mariana Figueiredo and Marta Leal I did a mobile application called POC (don’t ask), which is an event-based social network. The kicker is that our app offers no way to chat or send messages to your buddies — you wanna talk with someone, you go attend the same event (in our prototype events consisted only of musical gigs). Of course, in order to prevent POC from being a robust stalker tool, you actually have many privacy choices. But we sure had some fun discussing the outrageous ways a social network could work.

Finally, today we had our last presentation. Keeping the same group that did POC, we were supposed to come up with an interactive installation, and so, after weeks of brainstorming, we came up with a display for the Faculty of Engineering Museum’s archives, which contain 19th century educational models in a closed climate-controlled room. In order for visitors to be able to ‘see’ the objects kept there, we made a touchscreen browser which controls a rear projection display with all the information about the selected item. Today’s presentation was about the concept though, and the display isn’t actually there (yet). We hadn’t an actual touchscreen controller (we had to do with a laptop and a mouse), and had to improvise the rear projection screen with sheets of paper. But still it went well as a demonstration of something that can be very easily and relatively cheaply be implemented in similar places.

Looking in retrospect, all this is hardly cutting-edge. I think that’s beside the point. There’s often a pressure to do with the most recent technology, that’s true, but I believe sometimes true innovation gets lost in that process. While I think a C64 Twitter client might be taking it a little too far, I think most innovation comes from the hacking of well-established technologies (just think of the low quality of games released for fresh new consoles), else it’s all eye candy and little use.

Another useless trick

Actually, this is how I feel sometimes — perforated.

On with the Processing saga. One of the things I’m interested is in live video manipulation and EyeToy-like interaction with the computer. So the other day I went to buy a cheapo webcam so that I could do my experiments without risking an accidental punch at my Canon HD camera, besides keeping a cleaner desk. I entered an electronics store, picked up the ten euro camera that didn’t look like a total piece of shit (the images it generates, however, are the glorious crap-o-vision you expect — which is nice), and went to the cashier. Just as I was going to pay I realized that here was a nerdy, badly shaven creature about to buy a webcam. “Hm, quit the mid-90s prejudices and cybersex superstitions”, I thought. “People constantly buy webcams, right? This electronics store sells at least a dozen different models, so there’s as much demand for webcams as for, say, mice and keyboards. Besides, most laptops have incorporated webcams, and people have all kinds of uses for them… It’s just that I can’t think about anything else right now!” I paid for the camera, and the guy at the cash register winks at me. The fucker.

Anyway, I did buy my blob brightness and positioning sensor to get some work done. I’m trying to see if I can come up with a gesture-based interface for something we’re doing at my Master’s, but in the meantime I got to get my Processing confidence level high enough. As a first exercise, I did some eye candy: an application that converts brightness data to depth data. That’s not much, but I’m still learning my way around the JMyron computer vision library, which looks like the fastest shortcut to where I want to be. Since Processing web applets apparently can’t access people’s cameras (which is a good thing, I suppose), you can’t see my experiment online, instead you’ll have to download a compiled application to try it. Both the Windows and the Mac versions require, I believe, Java on your computer, and the latter version is untested, so I’d love to hear from you if it works. There are quite a few options I added to that program, press ‘H’ to see the instructions. Enjoy!

Download 3Dwebcam: Windows | MacOS X.

Object oriented

Processing — Bounce

During the last couple of weeks I’ve been learning Processing, another tool in my Master’s degree’s utility belt. My workgroup is supposed to deliver a big project in one month and Processing will be our programming language of choice. I’ve meant to learn it for a long time, but there’s nothing like real need to get me to actually do something. So I bought my first programming book in nearly a decade — Daniel Shiffman’s Learning Processing (which besides being a good manual I found a very fine primer on computer programming) — and got on with it.

You can see the results of my first half-decent experiments → here, and I’ll be adding more as I go on. Be careful though — I did some experimenting with (annoying) sound too. All things Processing are actually Java, so there’s a slight chance you might need to install Java on your computer. Enjoy!

I spent some time rebuilding my portfolio website from scratch and by hand (meaning: Notepad — plusplus, to be precise), because the old site was at the same advanced (1990s) technology — think D-HTML — and absolutely ridiculous — think pop-up windows. I hope you enjoy the brand new iteration. Tips: 1. while browsing, move the pointer to the area where the image is to automatically enter a ‘theatre mode’ which hides the menu and centers the subject image; 2. you can also use the left and right arrow keys to navigate between pages.

The site is probably totally broken in some browsers, but worked fine in Webkit (Chrome/Safari) and Firefox 3, and also tested well in IE7 and IE8 (although somewhat uglier — rounded corners do a world of difference). So please, feel free to complain if something looks off — unless you’re using IE5 or something like that. And enjoy!

Later they had sex™, and the Durex® condoms were reliable.

Work Buy Consume Die, which I wrote ten years ago.

Neat tweaks

As anyone wiling to examine the source HTML of this weblog would know, my webdesign techniques are what people in 1999 would call the cutting edge. For instance, I still use a couple of table tags, because I can’t see where’s the cardinal sin in that, besides being a lot easier to make grids and to center stuff in tables. This is not what you call design correctness in this decade, but who cares — it’s my site and I design it as I please — just for Lynx even, were I in a retro-cyberpunk mood.

Anyway, since I started my master’s degree in multimedia, I’ve felt an increasing curiosity about new webdesign tricks, and I’ve spent some of my free time catching to the stuff I missed due to my cinematic adventures of the last eight years, therefore trying to relearn some Javascript in the time I would be playing Sudoku.

So here’s a neat trick for this weblog: I built from scratch some keyboard navigation! The left and right arrow keys skip through posts, Page Up and Page Down skip through dates. Tested successfully in Firefox, Chrome/Safari, and IE8! Enjoy.

Rest in Peace, Geocities

Yahoo will close Geocities later this year. For those who don’t know (because damn — I’ve got colleagues who were in elementary school by the time I first went to college and got on the internet), Geocities was the free web hosting service when I first bought a 33.6 kbps modem and got on the Internet in 1997, a time synonymous with browsing the web with Netscape Navigator running on Windows 95, comparing searches between giants Yahoo and Altavista, and expressing yourself with personal homepages, probably hosted at Geocities.

I had my first personal page — which included a small bio, a couple of movie reviews and some pictures of my town Porto (scanned at a friend’s, using his handheld scanner!) — hosted at the two megabytes of server space my ISP kindly provided at an address I’ll never forget — — which was an unbelieveably short URL in those days. Since the space was short I signed up for a Geocities account which provided me an extra megabyte of web-presence, which I used for some sort of porfolio website (showing some bad art made up with Corel Draw! and Paint Shop Pro, which in pure 90s style displayed very liberal use of effects and filters).

In typical cyberpunkish fashion, Geocities’ URLs had plenty of metaphor — it’s a cybercity, ain’t it? — therefore you couldn’t choose your desired URL, instead you would pick from a selection of e-street addresses, or whatever, so my Geocities URL was something impossible to remember — — it seems somehow I got myself an address intended for sports webpages.

Anyway, that’s all ancient web history now. Since then we’ve seen people thinking selling pets online would be a good idea leading to the dotcom bust, John Barger starting a different kind of personal webpage, starting the weblogging trend and the not-so-sad demise of those “Welcome to Ed’s Personal Homepage, here’s a picture of my cat” sites, the rise of web apps and social websites and the laptop-at-the-coffeehouse crowd, people no longer lonely and unproductive in their rooms, but lonely and unproductive in public spaces.

Through all this, it seems, Geocities continued to exist. In fact, I recently found out a friend’s website still existed — and I hope you’ll forgive me when I say it is indeed the quintessential Geocities webpage (which, at least, is a lot more interesting than finding the same Blogger template for the thousandth time). So I hope Yahoo doesn’t knock the whole thing offline when the closing time comes, but freezes it instead. It is a very important artifact of early web history.

In a very strange way, Geocities will be missed.