I’m at the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin Texas for a few days. It’s a huge event made up of talks, workshops, films and lots of other stuff to see. I’m going to a number of the talks, and I thought I’d try and post some of my notes online here.
The first of these is the opening keynote, given Bre Pettis, the founder of MakerBot, which produces a cheap 3D printer, and of Thingverse, an online forum for sharing 3D models that can be printed out with these kinds of printers.
Questions for Bre were posted to Twitter under #AskPettis.
To be honest, other than describing 3D printing as “The Next Industrial Revolution” and saying that “Creativity is now accessible in the world of things”, Bre’s talk was a little shallow and vision-free. He didn’t really paint a big picture of the changes that 3D printing will bring to society, commerce etc, but instead showed lots of little examples of things that people had made, mostly with the MakerBot printer.
FWIW, he was wearing a jacket by Sruli Recht, produced using 3D printing and laser cut wood. It reminded me an awful lot of the wooden textile produced by Elise Strozyk at Central St. Martin’s in 2009. I’m not sure which part of this, if any, was 3D printed.
Here are a bunch of the examples Bre gave of things made with Makerbot:
Markerbots are starting to show up in schools (there’s an interesting thread at SXSW about how kids are embracing digital creativity – drawing, coding, electronics etc., despite the feeling that school curricula fail to keep up with the times).
Other examples include someone who created the part to fix an espresso machine, a guy who created shoe inserts to make his daughter tall enough to go on some fairground rides, and another person who replaced expensive piano parts with 3D printed version.
Bre presented a prototype of the “MakerBot Digitizer” for the first time. This is basically a rotating platform that uses two lasers and webcam to scan 3D parts so that they can be reproduced using the printer. Bre described this process as "…like when Flynne gets scanned into Tron", and a way of “building out a "3D ecosystem". He admitted that the technology has been around for 25 years, but requires a lot of post-processing, the implication being that the secret sauce for the Digitizer is the software, which must make it easier to create closed meshes that can actually be printed.
Bre also mentioned the MakerBot partnership with Autocad. In the “Create” tent at SXSW they are teaching people to use Autocads “123D Creature” iPad app to make monsters, then printing them out on the spot using a row of Makerbots.
The exhibition opened in April, but I only just had a chance to see it in August when I travelled North to Yorkshire for a spot of camping. It’s a great exhibition, with a lot of old bits of technology leading to more contemporary content. A timeline made of glass, embedded in the floor, runs all the way through the gallery, counting off the years next to examples of technology of the time. At the end of the timeline is a glass exhibition case, with our prototypes in them under the banner “Into the Future”. Really nice to see them put to good use.
My phone shots from the CSM show this year, in their cool new King’s Cross building. Most of these are from the Textile Futures program, which was, as usual, really thought provoking.
Project from the TEXTILES FUTURES MA students. I’ve managed to link these mysterious looking shots to their project pages up on the course homepage. They’ve been pretty smart, and made dedicated project pages for each, which hopefully they’ll keep alive now that the students have graduated.
This year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are titled “Size Matters”. Presented by Dr Mark Miodownik, they’re an exploration of materials science looking at facts like “How can hamsters survive falling from an airplane? How can hair keep you warm in the cold and cool in the heat?” and so on. Aimed at kids from 11 to 17, they’ll be broadcast on BB4 on the 28th, 29th and 30th of December from 8pm. Definitely one to watch for the budding scientist. Good for adults, too, actually. And something I’m very happy to see us sponsor.
Videos have just been posted for the six student presentations from this year’s Microsoft Design Expo. This is an international competition we’ve run for a decade, inviting various design colleges to do projects to a brief that we set. They pick their best student team and send them to Redmond to present their work at the Faculty Summit.
This is the third year that I’ve been a coordinator for a school in the UK. The firsttwo were with Dundee University, and because we try and mix up the schools regularly, this year I picked Central Saint Martins to participate. Slightly radically, we’ve been working with the Textile Futures course. This is an amazing department, combining technology with the craft of surfaces. Their work was really challenging and conceptual, and quite unlike anything that Microsoft employees tend to get exposed to. Well done to Natsai Chieza and Amy Congdon (from the team Social Pica) for inspiring the audience, and presenting so well. And well done to all the students on the course for some beautifully compelling work.
Here are the shots from our two crits (in March and May). They’re very random and anonymous, as was my photography, but compelling.
On the 10th of April I helped host a workshop session at this years Computer Human Interaction conference (known by the shorthand “CHI”) in Atlanta, Georgia, with Mike Massimi (who really did the bulk of the work), Dave Kirk and Will Odom. I’m a little late getting this out, but I thought I’d write up some thoughts about the experience, as well as use this blog post as a place to write up the notes from my breakout session during the day, which was on “artefacts”.
Workshops are run before the conference proper begins, and are a chance for groups of like minded people to get together to discuss and learn more about a topic area. Our topic was “Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) at the End of Life”.
The term HCI is getting a little outdated in this context, really. It’s a term used in our industry as shorthand for “people using technology”, although it sounds way more geeky than that. What the 11 of us who met were primarily interested in was how technology is being used, or might be used, during the difficult period towards the end of a persons life and after.
Mike Massimi’s original call for participation gives you a good sense of the themes in more detail, and the position papers we received from participants show the variety of work going on in this area. These are all downloadable from the site and worth a closer look. For example, some of the participants had studied activity on social networking sites such as Facebook after someone in a community had passed away. Others looked at how technology might make decision making easier for those approaching the end of their lives. A few papers dealt with the use of digital media in this space, from creating personal chronicles of a life, to photographing people after they had passed away. My own interest was through the work I’ve been doing on Technology Heirlooms, looking at the process of passing digital things on at the end of life.
It all sounds very morbid, but actually wasn’t. I think we had a very thoughtful, thought-provoking and insightful day, with some great discussion and some practical next steps. We spent quite a bit of time doing introductions, and giving each participant time to explain their work. It’s always great to hear first hand accounts of motivations and outcomes.
Then after lunch we did a classic post-it note exercise, developing a grouping the different themes we had picked up during the day. We found 4 themes that emerged:
The Temporal – about the process before, during and after bereavement. Something we called the “Narrative of Dying”.
Identity, Ethics and Social Networks – around issues of online identity. How control of someone’s online identity comes about after their death and the ethics of then managing someone else’s online presences.
The Ethics of Research Practice – dealing specifically with how researchers should do their work sensitively in this domain.
Artefacts – around issues of dealing with “stuff” before and after bereavement.
ARTEFACTS. PROS AND CONS.
I joined the group (consisting of Angela Riechers, Jim Kosem and Daniela Petrelli) that took on the last of these topics, on Artefacts. We really felt like this was an issue of the tension between digital and physical things, that somehow we didn’t understand what we might be losing as heirlooms shift from being ‘real’ to ‘virtual’. We decided to use the time listing out the positives of each.
There was a suspicion in our group that our relationship and sentimentality towards physical things was a generational thing. That new generations, who spent more time with the digital than the physical, wouldn’t feel the same bias as some of us towards the physical.
There was also a sense that physical things were losing their value, as they become transient and temporary holders of digital content. An example of this kind of object is a mobile phone, which is typically replaced every 14 months.
An interesting outcome of these lists are that the positives of one form of artefact are inevitably a negative for the other. And in many cases the reverse of a positive of one artefact type was a positive of the other. So, for example, the ‘uniqueness’ of a physical thing was seen as a positive – the fact that there’s only one of each physical thing makes it somehow more precious. So somehow the fact that digital things are easy to copy and therefore can’t be considered unique cheapens them. At the same time, the fact that a digital thing can be so easily duplicated is also a positive. It makes a digital thing shareable amongst family members, for example, with no arguments over ownership.
So here is the list of positive attributes of physical things:
Physical things are unique.
Physical things are precious.
Physical things have a “smell” – subtle qualities of being physical.
Physical (particularly old) things have an aesthetic that comes with time.
Physical things have to be curated because they take up real space. You can’t keep a limitless number. They force decision making.
Therefore, physical things have been ‘selected’, which makes them more meaningful.
Physical things have stories associated with them about their physicality.
Physical things get a patina through their knocks that also tell their story.
Books exemplify a special example of the physical. They have attributes that it’s hard for the digital to match (such as browsability, portability)
Physical things can be personalised and changed.
And here’s the positive attributes of digital things:
Digital things do not take up space – there’s no cost associated with keeping them and they are very portable.
We can have a serendipitous relationship with digital things that can be delightful. I can put all 60 gigabytes of my music collection on random, for example, and find songs I haven’t listened to in decades.
Digital things can have rich interactions, motion etc.
Digital things can be easily duplicated and shared.
Digital things do not crumble.
Digital things can be augmented with metadata – objects can carry their stories, for example.
And a few things we found that both shared:
Both physical and digital things need to be maintained to make sure they persist.
Both digital and physical things make us guilty if we don’t sort them out.
We feel delight when we randomly come across lost or forgotten things, whether they are digital or physical.
Both need curating, but for different reason. For physical things we need to decide what to keep in order to keep our environments sane. For digital things we curate to make special, in order to elevate the “best” for sharing for example.
This feels like a useful list, for me at least, as we continue to think about the digital and physical forms that we reminisce with through the things we keep. Relevant to the Technology Heirlooms work, anyway.
I’d forgotten about this video from last year’s Innovation Day event at Microsoft Research in Cambridge (so this was from about April 2009). It shows the V1 of Timecard, which was a non-working proof of concept that came before the working version I described recently. The comments about the goals behind the project still apply, even if the object itself has changed quite a bit.
Michael McClary has put together a write-up of a Microsoft event in London that I was lucky enough to participate in a few weeks ago. Focussed on showing off some of the cooler things coming up from us, it showcased to a UK audience first hand a lot of the announcements made at MIX 2010, including stuff about the Windows Phone, as well as giving some of our partners in the UK a place to showcase their work. Michael gives a great overview of everything that was shown on the day. Worth a read.
I felt a little out of place with my stuff about bereavement and heirlooms, but it seemed to go down well. I guess my role in this sort of session is to get the audience thinking about something quite outside of their own space, or the key topics of the day, before they get down to more “serious” business.
The location of the event was stunning, at the top of the CenterPoint tower in the centre of London. Here’s a few shots.
Looking out across the roof of the British Museum (left) and straight down Oxford Street (right):
The sun starting to set across London. I particularly like the brightly lit greenhouse on a rooftop in the centre of the second shot:
Channel 9 took video of our booth at TechFest 2010. It looks like they posted it over a week ago, so it slipped by me. TechFest is the annual Microsoft Research show-and-tell event that takes place in Redmond in the US. All the teams get a booth. This year we really went to town, dressing the booth in some very cool curtains/wallpaper designed by John Helmes. You’ll see him introduce our Family Archive/Memory Maker system in the first half of the video, which has changed radically since we showed a first version a year ago. The new system has a much broader story, with tagging, timeline visualizations and the creation of objects like digital scrapbooks.
In the second half of the video I’ll go on (some more) about Technology Heirlooms, and show some of the demos I posted shots of last week.
Kudos to Xiang Cao who was just off camera and so didn’t get featured in the video, but was the third Musketeer manning the booth for three days.