Posts tagged design

Life Magazine’s gallery of thirty dumb inventions is so funny my instinct would be to repost every single photo here. I settled for Goodyear’s illuminated tires (1961), which I am in fact amazed didn’t catch on — I’m sure many people would love to pimp their rides with those. It’s interesting to note two inventor heroes of mine — Hugo Gernsback (the first television broadcaster and sci-fi pioneer) and Clive Sinclair (of the ZX Spectrum fame) — are present in this infamous list, as apparently both had some kind of miniature TV fetish in the 1960s (still, I wish to know in which way is cellphone television smarter than Sinclair’s miniature television set).

And another thing: what’s the story with all those smoking accessories? A tiny umbrellla for cigarettes? Serial cigarette apparatuses? Come on!

Over at Boing Boing there’s an interesting post about how most people prefer cars with ‘angry faces’. This is, in fact, something that has bothered me for a while. Even though some people, such as your humble narrator, just drive some car (meaning: it was given to me so I hadn’t much of a choice), I think more often than not a car’s design offers a pretty good image of the person driving it. There is, for instance, a pretty interesting essay by Nick Perry on his book Hyperreality and Global Culture on why the BMW 635CSi is evil.

From an European standpoint, Audi and Seat are the main offenders in exploiting the ‘evil look’, and I’d say three-quarters of the time some bastard is pushing close behind me in the motorway, he’s driving one of those. Those cars may have the airbags and the intelligent braking systems, but are actually designed for unsafe driving. Remember the Honda CRX? One really good machine — shame that the place to see one is the junkyard, and it’ll be severely beaten.

Of course, there are also the ‘sensible’ Toyotas and whatnot whose drivers will cut you off only to drive very slowly — the single road event that makes me step out of the car in the next light and beat the guy who did it with a large stick — so unsafe driving is obviously not something only people with angry-eyed cars do. But as they probably say, the headlights offer a look inside the driver’s soul…

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.

Alan Clarke’s Olympic posters proposals. It’s funny people (including me) find them reminiscent of Otl Aicher’s Munich 72 posters, even though we find they were actually quite different when we actually look at them. Given the strangeness of the 2012 games’ logo, perhaps Aicher’s psychedelia would be a more fitting choice.

Alex Cornell’s design proposals for a hypothetical Wes Anderson Film Festival. Style emulation isn’t normally my cup of tea, and the visual aesthetics of Wes Anderson’s films isn’t that hard to copy (think bold Futura, a mix of complementary pastel colors, and orthogonal framing — which Cornell didn’t even use). But still there’s something absolutely compelling about this series. (via Johanna Reed)

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!

I had a couple of Capsela kits when I was a kid (which explains a lot, I know), so this is the kind of things that tickles the geekiest and most obessive part of me:

Siftables, developed at the MIT Media Lab, are little bricks with little monochrome screens and a little wifi you can put together to literally build applications. How sci-fi! I wonder how many years until you can buy these at Toys’R’Us.

On the other hand you can buy the littleBits easy electronic kits right now, but it’s like comparing a MITS Altair against a ZX Spectrum. I’ll pass the Altair and wait for the Speccy.