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.