The last year has been so chock full of conferences and festivals my head is still spinning a bit. I wasn’t sure if I was going to attend Eyeo, but I’ve heard nothing but amazing stuff, and it IS local. Last year I remember the price made me balk…I mean OVER $600? Really? Well…this year I’ve learned some interesting lessons, including the fact that this is a bargain for a great conference, and the fact that I didn’t need to pay for hotel or travel it was a downright steal!
To start, yes, it was worth it, a thousand times over. There, that’s out-of-the-way!
Eyeo is NOT a game conference, which is wonderful. I’ve been to nothing but game related events lately, and it was incredibly refreshing being around people focused on where creativity and technology meet. A great way to play in that space is with data, the de facto plaything of Eyeo attendees. It would take far too long to talk about everything I saw, and everyone awesome I talked to, so let’s see if I can condense to my personal highlights.
My absolute favorite talk was from Micah Elizabeth Scott. She spoke over the entire hour without losing a beat about her incredible life as an artist and engineer, driven solely by the fuel of her own curiosity. She has worked for fascinating companies on clever projects, moving to something else as soon as her mind was ready for the next challenge. She’s fearless, whether she realizes this fact or not. How many of us have the guts to leave their day job the moment they aren’t completely engaged? Or are able to engage in their work with such abandon, to the extent that the original project becomes merely the backdrop for a completely different expression of technical creativity?
I identify closely with her unending drive to explore and understand how things work. I’ve also been unsatisfied with only working on software, or hardware, but needing both to properly express the ideas caught in my skull. I think one of the most difficult things to overcome in technical work is the fear of the unknown. Hardware was difficult for me to jump into because I just didn’t know where to begin, and it took a lot of conscious effort to push through the frustration and failure to find satisfaction in making something work. The world tends to train people to fear making mistakes, or learning through error. Micah appears to be missing this fear entirely, of which I am quite jealous.
I have tried to live my life this way, and to an extend I’ve succeeded. My body of work has reflections of the myriad of ways in which I respect Micah and her work, but I can’t help feeling like I’ve allowed myself pride from climbing a hill, where she has scaled a mountain and is still looking up. She doesn’t come off as seeking praise or recognition, just avenues to keep exploring and growing. I keep a personal list of people in this world that if ever possible, I must work with them, and Micah is on that list in bold.
This session was actually the guided play through of an interactive, virtual reality documentary. I tried it myself before the session and was blown away by the incredible use of technology and compelling use of interactive narrative. I believe they have at least 10 hours of recorded interviews, and a huge node cloud relating all the different content allowing for each interactive experience to feel curated, yet unique.
You begin by putting on an Oculus VR headset and headphones. It asks you to turn your head, selecting small circles to quickly teach you the interface and acclimate you to the world. Then you start to move down a rectangular tunnel, outlined with points floating in space that slowly connect and disfigure, insinuating that even they somehow convey information, though you are unable to decipher it. Suddenly from the distance a circle approaches, and when you look at it a questions appears above it. Then another, and another, and finally one last hovering question for you to choose from. After you select a place to begin, which is unique every time, you get a glimpse at the data cloud representing every possible component of the documentary, and after coming to a rest you are immersed into a visualization of some unknown set of data with a voice chiming in over the visual feast. At different point it will transition to a point cloud 3D representation of one of the numerous individuals interviews. These were all recorded using the Microsoft Kinect depth and color camera. The recordings are imperfect and malformed, which only add to the aesthetic of data turned visual. At any point you can look away and find a new question to ask, and after exploring a number of questions the experience finds a place to end, and you find yourself back at the rectangular hall of points.
The real treat was that at the conclusion of the guided session (sans Oculus, projected in old-fashioned 2D) they announced their software as open source right here! Lovely. 🙂
Mike Bostock, the creator of D3.js, gave a great talk showing off the power of visualizing data and algorithms. Not only is it really fun to watch, and beautiful visuals can be generated, but the understanding you can gain from seeing an algorithm in action is startling. He dissected numerous common algorithms, slicing them up in various ways to show how important it is to know the questions you are trying to find an answer to when it comes to how you display a visual representation of what is happening to data. Fascinating!
Roman Verostko’s talk was a real treat. That mans career in visual arts using computers, and especially plotters, was just plain super cool to explore with him.
Claire Evans speaking was pure eloquence. For such an abstract topic reaching endlessly far into the future, she made it all seem so sublimely simple.
There were other wonderful sessions, and some that felt like duds, but they are only half of what’s going on at something like Eyeo.
Attendees of the Microsoft Kinect panel were treated to new Kinect V2 units for our own experimentation, which I’m quite excited about. I’ve worked with the first Kinect on a number of projects, and while fun, the limits were easy to hit.
I ran into part of the Rockwell Group, a create design team in New York that I worked with a few years back while I worked for Clockwork Active Media. So much was done over the phone that getting to meet in person was quite fun! I also had the opportunity to do a Show & Tell of some of my work, including the Choosatron and experiments using Flip-dot boards.
I met so many amazing people that I hope I can keep in touch with. Everyone was friendly, exciting to talk about their work AND your work. I can’t wait until next year!