Every so often you discover that some programmers are cool.

I don’t mean in the really skilled (can write a million euro application in 10 lines of code) but actually cool.

For example Luis be Bethencourt Guimerá one of the presenters at OSSBarcamp. No only is he a talented coder and software designer (who worked on the forthcoming Ubuntu release), but he also wrote his own VJ software (being released in the Jaunty Jackalope release of Ubuntu Studio) and digital DJ software, complete with intuitive interface, to help his gigging around the world.

That is cool! I’ll cover more on this later.

This OSS Barcamp was less like most other Barcamps I’ve been to in that the schedule was locked down in advance. It made an interesting change, but it didn’t stave off everyone’s technical difficulties.

OSS Barcamp has its worthy side too. Éibhear Ó hAnluain took the opportunity of a number of skilled and focused minds to look at “How to present a political party’s FLOSS-friendly IT policy to the electorate” or rather, what are the benefits to the country for using free and open source software. What I loved about this talk was actually Enrico Zini and the impact that open source software had on the Italian political scene and its civil service.

The lightening talks were fun, I missed part of James Larkin‘s “Intro to CSS Frameworks”, but there should be a video of his talk (and I’m sure he’ll release his slides). One other thing which stood out is the effort to translate or localize Ubuntu to Irish. If you are a native speaker, talk to them.

I’m also fascinated by the formation of TÓG, hackerspaces in Dublin. In the same way that co-working has benefits, I can see similar benefits with co-hacking. And folks, this is the old style of hacking as in making things work, work beter, or creating something new out of other products. Not cracking which is breaking in to things. Think more of an organised “voiding your warranty”.

Due to the lighting talks I ended up missing David Coallier‘s “Get Ready for web 3.0 talk”

Now, back to Luis.

First off watch this video.

Some RSS readers may need to click through to see the video

Looks pretty good. Not too fancy and suits the song.

Now just think that this video was created with

  • one $160.00 disposable pocket video camera
  • one batch of Free Software, most of which is in Studio Ubuntu
  • two hours of shooting
  • four hours of production

Cheap? And good looking too.

And then there is “Big Buck Bunny” created by the open source Blender tool. Now it took a long time to put together, but the Peach Movie Project Team include tutorials on how they did it.

Just remember kids; software is an art as well as a science. And artist in one field tends to have skills in other fileds.

Take care, and enjoy the short movie below,

Some RSS readers may need to click through to see the video

Thanks to Laura Czajkowski and Jaime Hemmett for putting the whole day together.

Will Knott

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27 Mar 2009

on the buttons

Author: will | Filed under: Barcamp, cloud computing, engineering, mashup, software, technology

If you are looking for me tomorrow, I’ll be at the OSS Bar Camp in Kevin Street, Dublin (with my badge bag, makes me easy to spot I suppose)

The way we interact with technology changes from year to year (and on occasion, something comes along and changes an interface overnight, like TwitterFone). Given that one of the creators of Twitterfone, namely Pat Phelan, posed the question “Have we over innovated?“, its surprising.

The wheel was invented circa 4000 BC, and has become one of the world's most famous, and most useful technologies.  This wheel is on display in The National Museum of Iran, in Tehran.Image via Wikipedia

The answer is no. I think that Robin Blandford, Damien Mulley and Alexia Golez all agree that we have more innovating to do. Part of the perceived problem is that the innovators produce something for the general person; but the general person doesn’t want it. The bleeding edge early adopters might love it, but not their less technology loving friends and relatives. The early innovations tend to be the “engineering model” with a few unfinished features, bugs and complicated instructions. A remote control which has an individual button for every function the device can do is not the most user friendly of interfaces. The early adopters will flock to it and understand it. But if it isn’t obvious and fast and easy to use, I know my Mum will hate it, and the chances are that the device won’t survive to a second model. Its an innovators dilemma.

The true irony of this dilemma is that its caused by a mixtre of a lack of communication, and too much. After all, some innovations were things that the users didn’t know that they wanted. An “unknown unknowns” sort of thing. This is a want, which is so convenient that it rapidly becomes a need. Sometimes this is generational (e.g. mobile phone uptake), sometimes this just swoops in out of the blue and everyone joins in (grandparents and grandchildren on the Wii). But sometimes they are consigned to the “ideas before their time” bin. Being able to “vote out” unnecessary parts of the solution, means that the idea has less of a problem.

The other type of solutions is the “What if?” caused by the “Why not?”. The “Why doesn’t this exist yet?” type problems. Which is usually what is thought about when people talk about a lack of innovation. The slow incremental kind where the steps seems obvious only after the product comes to market. And these steps are being sped up due to communication.

Now an idea or observation can become a idle tweet, which sparks another’s blog post, which sparks a small blog storm, which sparks a business plan, which sparks a gathering of minds and ideas, which sparks improved ideas and a flurry of research work, which (might) spark a business plan but is more likely to spark a business start-up first. And each step in an itteration of the idea, refining the initial notion with practicalities and possibilities. Due to the wonder of social networking at it’s finest, this allows people who know brightsparks to become involved in an interesting idea and produce something. Because ideas are easy, but the skills to do something specialised are, well, specialised, and few people have them. But knowing someone who knows someone who might be able to help you is a practical possibility due to the sped up communication of social networks. Then your idea moves from notion to production.

But you have to produce something which enables others to know some of your ideas. You have to give in order to get. You have to spend time or talent to get attention. To get communication. And you have to join the conversations, otherwise you are considered the unwelcome gatecrasher that will be ignored. But if that gatecrasher helps out, then he or she is no longer an unwelcome gatecrasher, but a welcomed guest. And this new guest may point out that part of the solution yo are trying to make already exists, so there is no need to reinvent that wheel (or how to avoid being sued by that wheel’s inventor).

Open source projects and wikipedia works this way. Individuals who may never physically meet work on a project in their spare time. And it works for businesses, where one entrepreneur meets another on line, or a third party brings them together virtually and then physically. Perinatal ideas get defined through this virtual iteration and idea refinement so that not only is a full bodied idea born, but the creation process creates a bit of interest in the idea itself. Enough interest, and there might be interested funders.

Can we over-innovate? Only if we are willing to accept it as (science) fiction, but science fiction frequently sparks the research to become science fact. Is innovation over? Not as long as others can spark ideas and collaboration. As for a visual representation of this collaboration, see the video below.

take care,
Will Knott

16 Apr 2008

Head mastered

Author: will | Filed under: code, creativity, mixing, music, programming, video

I like listening to thing I shouldn’t. Sometimes I get things for “overheard” posts (which I really ought to do more of) and sometimes I hear interesting things. Like Bernie Goldbach talking to his students about the work of Flight 404, who is also known as Robert Hodgin.

Processing (programming language)Image via Wikipedia

As well as the ubiquitous day-job, he also spends time playing/working with Processing. Processing is an open source, multi-platform programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions. It is used by students, artists, designers, researchers, and hobbyists for learning, prototyping, and production. It is also a visualization programming language. One for creating images. However it uses Java as its base, so it might be correctly described as a programming extension library (Processing code can be exported as Java) and IDE for Java.

I know, another programming language library. Ho-hum. However this one is, well, bloody beautiful. Take a look at what you can do with it (I’d advise using full screen).


Solar, with lyrics. from flight404 on Vimeo

The language is designed for work like this. I’d love to see it mixed with a physics engine. Robert goes through the details of how he created the above demo and it seems a little intensive, but fun. Given that unless things change I might be back at programming school soon, now is probably not the time to start a new language (or is it exactly the right time?). I would love to play with this visualization method on a couple of mashups. I’m thinking about music, but I can see it working on time related information such as relative population sizes or economic data.

What can I say, my mind moves in odd places sometimes.

take care,
Will