Art from code - Generator.x
Generator.x is a conference and exhibition examining the current role of software and generative strategies in art and design. [Read more...]
Tag: open-source

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Soda was one of the original interaction design companies that really walked the walk. Instead of talking about the future, they were making it all the way back in 1996. Originally focused on technology and art with more than a slight architectural interest, they created a number of installations exploring robotics and unconventional interfaces. See 2743, Corrupted Nature and C20 Screen for examples of this activity.

More recently, Soda’s Journey presents the viewer with an oh-so-subtle journey through artworks owned by the National Art Collections Fund. An advanced algorithm identifies similar structures in two different images, so that zooming in on a small area of the first image gradually reveals the second. The result is a hypnotic never-ending fractal zoom. When Casson Mann Designers were asked to create an exhibit on Energy for the Science Museum, they worked with Soda to develop the concept and behaviour of the 40 meter long LED screen that is the Energy Ring (see the video).

Soda’s biggest claim to fame is without doubt the SodaConstructor. Launched in 2000 as a personal experiment (Ed Burton wanted to learn Java), it quickly exploded and within months was receiving more than a quarter of a million visits per week. Since then, several improved versions have been launched and the SodaConstructor community has grown immensely. Some very exciting SodaConstructor projects are in the pipeline, more about that in a separate post.

Pure resarch is central to Soda. Alongside commercial work they have received and worked on numerous research grants. Their research is then fed back into the commercial work, or made available to the design and engineering communities. SodaConstructor and Moovl have received considerable interest and support from NESTA, with exciting future developments still to come. These tools have then been used in schools from kids at primary level up to engineering graduates.

Soda’s work is analytical, minimal and of high technical quality. Their projects always retain a purity of form and function, without unnecessary showiness or designer flourishes. Instead of scoring points for trendiness, Soda’s work is the real deal. Producing a high-quality mix of science, design and art projects that actually work, they remain a leading light in an interaction design industry filled with funky demos and non-functional prototypes.


An interesting link just came down Tom Carden's feed, by way of mflux posting it on

The Art in Computer Programming is an article by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas, both veteran programmers with views on how programming practices can be improved. At the core of the article is the assertion that programming can be seen as an art form, and that approaches from painting etc. can be gainfully used to improve the process of coding.

Comparing programming to art is not new. Donald Knuth’s monolithic series The Art of Computer Programming establishes the connection quite firmly, even if he uses art as a measure of quality rather than as a description of an aesthetic / critical practice. Paul Graham also seizes on the analogy to painters in his book Hackers & Painters.

Apart from some slightly distasteful analogies involving military scenarios of “hitting your target”, Hunt and Thomas have some interesting points that will be recognizable to experienced coders and newbies alike. The challenge of the blank canvas and writer’s block is familiar, as is the issue of when to stop. On these points the article gives clear and useful suggestions. The issue of “Satisfying the Sponsor” is all-important to software engineers and designers, but perhaps less critical to artists.

For another interesting take on how to program, read this quote from an interview with Bram Cohen in Wired 13.01. Cohen is the genius behind the notorious yet much admired BitTorrent filesharing protocol:

“Bram will just pace around the house all day long, back and forth, in and out of the kitchen. Then he’ll suddenly go to his computer and the code just comes pouring out. And you can see by the lines on the screen that it’s clean,” Jenna says. “It’s clean code.” She pats her husband affectionately on the head: “My sweet little autistic nerd boy.” (Cohen in fact has Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the mild end of the autism spectrum that gives him almost superhuman powers of concentration but can make it difficult for him to relate to other people.)

Final quote: “[premature] optimization is the root of all evil.” The author of this famous quote is the afore-mentioned Donald Knuth. It was mentioned in a post over on Vogon Poetry (again found through Tom C.) The post summarizes a talk by Cal Henderson on the building of Flickr, interesting reading as it describes how to create a scalable web application almost exclusively from Open Source software.


The concept of the artist software work camp is spreading. Piksel in Bergen has been a hit with the live visuals performers and developers, now the French city of Poitiers is host to Make Art 2006 later this month. The event is organized by the Goto 10 collective, who describe Make Art as a “festival dedicated to the integration of “free and open source” software in electronic art”.

This is an event for and by people who make stuff as well as talk about it, so expect a hands-on approach. The schedule includes a Pure Data workshop, an exhibition and a program of lectures and software presentations. Most of the tools presented tend towards applications in sound or community building.

Now what is needed is for someone to organize an open source work camp for the visual people, rallying the Processing, VVVV and Open Source Flash communities. Any takers?


It seems the Open Source community celebrated too soon when the State of Massachusetts declared that they would go with OpenDocument (see previous post). After the recent announcement by the Redmond giant that it will submit Microsoft Office Open XML to ECMA for standardization, Massachusetts officials have lauded Microsoft's "progress". They now say that they expect Open XML to meet their standards for open formats.

For a political analysis of the issue, check out this article on ZD Net. Ars Technica has another review of the issue while Groklaw has a breakdown of the technical differences between OpenDocument and Open XML.


Lately I have been using 2.0 for my word processing and spreadsheet needs. Initially, I decided to try it to boost my self-esteem as a supporter of Open Source, in much the same way I can fool myself about the damage my frequent flying does to the environment as long as I recycle all my beer bottles. But then I found it to open faster and be just as effective as Microsoft Office for my basic clerical tasks. It’s not perfect, but I’m sticking to it for now, slowly migrating my work flow from MS Office.

Like web browsers and email readers, office software is an important test case for Open Source, simply because this is software that most people need to use every day. Public and private organizations that have tried to migrate to open platforms have frequently been scared off by the lack of basic productivity software. Bureaucrats are not geeks. So when the French tax agency switches to Linux and, it’s not because they love Open Source. They do it because it’s cheaper and better for them.

Read the rest of this entry »

OpenStreetMap: London poster

OpenStreetMap: A0 poster of London

The good people over OpenStreetMap continue their quest for free cartography. Collaborating with bike courier service eCourier, they’re rapidly filling in the gaps of their London map.

Tom Carden and Steve Coast recently produced an attractive OpenStreetMap of London as an A0 poster. They also put online a MPEG movie showing GPS traces being made by couriers travelling around the city.

Lovely stuff, really. If you have GPS data to contribute, you can do so by using their OpenStreetMap editing tool.

(via Tom Carden)


Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia has announced, an Open Source initiative to highlight their involvement in OS projects. In September Nokia joined the Eclipse Foundation with a specific aim to provide tools for J2ME development to the Eclipse development tool, easing deployment of Java code on handheld platforms. (For those who can’t wait, there’s always Mobile Processing.)

It’s interesting to see that Nokia, whose image so far has been closed and proprietary, is now trying to open up in this way. Corporations like IBM have a longer history of Open Source work, while online services like Google and Flickr have been exemplary in opening their systems from the beginning. It remains to be seen how “open” things will really get, though. I’m sure some people over at Macromedia are a just a tad concerned over the explosion of Open Source Flash initiatives


Interesting article over on OSFlash: How to structure and set up a Flash project without using the Flash IDE. Since OSFlash was last blogged here the Open Source Flash community has matured quite a bit, with literally dozens of new initiatives springing up.


The Piksel05 festival / workshop for “Free, Libre and Open Source Audiovisual Software and Art” is having its kickoff party right about now. Subtitled “Collective Code” and lasting until 23 October, the festival will feature artists from different countries gathering to do present art and software, perform sound and images live, doing workshops and getting up to mischief with code. The Piksel home page is now a blog, which presumably will have continous updates throughout the coming week.

This year there will also be an exhibition at Rogaland Kunstsenter, entitled NO FUN! - games and the gaming experience. The exhibition is curated by Isabelle Arvers and Gisle Frøysland, and will open Wednesday 19 October. The show is a collaboration with PixelACHE 2006.

Piksel is organized by Bergen Electronic Art Centre (BEK), of which Gisle Frøysland is Director of Visual Arts. Gisle spoke at the Generator.x conference to present Piksel and Open Source perspectives on software. The Bergen scene is known for its amazing energy and optimism, where artists seem to support each other’s projects in a way that is not often seen in major cities. With the Piksel project it has also become a nexus for the Open Source movement.

Johnvey Hwang: direc.tor

Johnvey Hwang: Direc.tor

At the Generator.x conference, Susanne Jaschko commented on the idea of true literacy in digital media as being unobtainable for most people. After giving several lectures where I’ve presented this aim given it has struck me that it is maybe too lofty or not even desirable for most people. But a demand for smarter and more open software should be fair enough.

Johnvey Hwang’s Direc.tor is an excellent example of new ways of interaction between software and data. It is a pure Javascript frontend for the much-loved social bookmarking service. It runs entirely within your browser without downloading any external data, giving a nice GUI feel to the well-structured but intentionally old-school So what’s so revolutionary about that? Well, the kicker is that due to the open nature of, Hwang is able to extend its functionality without owning the data involved or even asking for permission to do something with it.

In the commercial software and web-world, this would be a big no-no. Imagine a similar frontend for Amazon that stripped their campaign offers, recommendations and market-friendly fluff. The creator of such a tool would be served with a cease-and-desist in no time. Amazon owns not just its own information, but its right to present it in a certain way. Now any enterprising capitalist would argue that this practice is only fair, since it’s a dog-eat-dog world. And to be honest, a frontend that allowed you to browse books on Amazon but to buy them at a cheaper site hardly seems very fair. But there are plenty of other instances where an open, user-oriented data structure like that of would make a lot of sense.

I’m not an Open Source / FLOSS hardliner, but every time I start up Internet Explorer these days I shiver at the primitivity of the application. Compared to Firefox, it’s a closed and stupid tool. In Firefox I have about ten different plugins installed, giving me plenty of new functions, none of them cosmetic. This blog runs on [WordPress-], where writing and using plugins is also delightfully easy.

Many web veterans are skeptical to the new AJAX paradigm for web applications. In a world dominated by hype and post-dotcom cynicism that shouldn’t surprise anyone. But the concept of interoperating networks of information services and user-pluggable software sure is sexy.