Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Fun" is part of "Functional"

        It's been a really interesting...week?  I dunno, to be honest, time has completely disappeared, which is a good thing.  I've always had some interesting thoughts about time, but that's for another blog post, or maybe a good smokeout.  Given the kind of work I'm doing now, a little bit of the ol' green might not be a bad idea, but we'll save that as a last resort.

        As I think i've probably mentioned to some folks, one of the things I'm working on now, or at least was supposed to be working on, is "new" interaction ideas, natural/new user interfaces, and all kinds of other buzzwords that add up to "do what nintendo and apple did, but better".  No pressure.  I'm going to be honest with everyone, i'm NOT an incredibly brilliant, innovative, or creative person, but i think i know what i like, which i feel like could be an asset in this space.  This all sort of hit home a little while ago while i was prototyping some tech for an interaction demo to showcase a...pretty freakin cool bit of technology my co-workers Stan and Sterling have been grinding on for a bit.  Here's a short demo:

        Apologies for the lame-o compression, it's been a while since i've been a video producing guy man, something i intend to change, and by that i mean change that i haven't been producing videos, not that i'm a guy man.  Aaaaaanyway...So here's the thing, I found myself just playing with this demo for...minutes at a time, seriously.  And by playing i mean, putting my mouse on one of the fireflies and watching it light up.  How crazy is that??  It's funny though, i'm reminded of a story Mom used to tell me about how Dad would take me to the arcade when i was a wee bern and sit me on the pinball glass while he would play.  Apparently, i would paw at the glass trying to get to all the shiny-movey things.  While i have no memory of this, i feel like it probably affected me pretty deeply (and relevantly!).

        Fast forward to about a week ago, my co-worker Chris showed me this video from The Creators Project (which I'm so going to next year), which really got me thinking.  Unlike me, Memo Akten actually is a brilliant, innovative, creative individual, and i could watch his stuff forever.  Seriously, TRY and shut this off once you start watching it, you won't be able to...

        This got me thinking a few things, in no particular order or connectivity:
  • Complexity from simplicity is beauty
  • Chronological doesn't mean linear
  • I need to start small
  • "Fun" is part of functional
  • Graphics programming can make things that aren't games
  • In digital world, data is just numbers, and numbers make pictures
        Now, the last two points, i imagine you're all going "well duh", but here's the thing.  I'm VERY new to all this.  For all i've been around graphics programming and interaction design, i have to retrain myself to think of things not as game tools or game concepts.  I understand that the delta between "game" and "interactive experience" from a high level isn't that great, but at the same time, there are things you wouldn't do in a game, presentation-wise, that i feel like is probably permissible in other spaces.

        So i decided to start small and visualize an obvious and relevant known: Tweets!  More specifically, mentions.  I wanted to especially get away from linear representations and just think of mentions as a big data cloud.  How would i display and navigate said cloud?  I grabbed Tweepy and pygame and started messing around with some different ideas.  Everything here is WIP, not even anywhere close to being a solid idea, for now i'm just playing around.

Iter 0: Branching off from the most recent mention, age denoted by line color.

Iter 1: Main mentions represented by orbits, age denoted by distance from center. Related tweets branch off of each mention.

Iter 2: Same as 1, related tweets represented radially.

        This is fun, but you know, I'm not nearly as drawn into this as I am from the fireflies for some reason, even after running it on some touch-enabled hardware.

        But that's the thing, I can figure that out.  Like i said, in this space, i'm a BABY.  I need to really just immerse myself in all this stuff, the way I did when I was a game developer.  Taking a bit of my own advice, I'm going to go back to square one and start small.  Taking a page from Memo Akten, I'm going to visualize some simple data-over-time sets just to get my head more into that space.  Taking another page from Memo Akten, i'm going to start with simple functions.  Maybe I'll use a cosine though, just to be slightly different, hehe...Stay Tuned.  I feel like i'm finally hitting a bit of a stride here, like I finally gave myself permission to work on this stuff.  It's funny, it's been such a big mandate for our group, but i've felt was too much not like work to be working on.  Ah least i'm changing before it's too late.

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