Nerds Need Art

Digital art.
At Ars Electronica in Linz, I was struck by the amazing pieces exhibited, and more so by the Ars Electronica center. It is set very near to a bridge on the Danube river.The Exhibitions archive page uses a schematic of the center to give you an idea of what is curated where.

Ars Electronnica Center Schematics (roughly)

The outdoor space atop the main gallery and before the future lab space seems to tie the old architecture of the church to the futuristic style of the Ars Center. Click on the image below for a larger size, the church is to the left of the future lab stairs.

Ars Electronica - ArsCloud

It is one of those buildings that people either love or hate…I loved it. At night, the LED lights that line the outer glass wall change color. Something like a nocturnal visual surprise every time you glance at it.

Ars Electronica - ArsCloud

The festival itself is something to experience. Since its now over, i would highly recommend visiting the Ars Electronica center to see some of the pieces that formed a benchmark of the festival. Besides, I am convinced that Linz would make a perfect location for any techy, futuristic or even a good action movie. Be it Minority Report 2 or next Bond 007, I can totally vouch for the stunning imagery it would evoke if someone like Daniel Craig would rappel down the Ars Center and straight into a boat on the Danube. (Spielberg, Soderberg, Wachowski brothers and whoever produces 007 – you are welcome :-))

Ahem, pardon my digression. Back to nerds needing art.

This has admittedly been a very busy year for me, and I have to admit that I did not expect it to be. With time, I’ve realized that being in the tech space can sometimes sap your sense of wonder. Or maybe its just me. If you are one of those people who feel mired in tech and sometimes feel like the ‘wow’ factor is gone when you see new innovations…and it elicits a bland ‘hmmm’ reaction and god forbid ‘meh’ – Well you need a healthy dose of art. Attending Ars Electronica helped me marvel again at what artists, architects, performance artists and idea mongers have to share. Below I will share afew of the pieces i particularly enjoyed, and provide some links to blogposts by the other wonderful speakers and friends from the Cloud Symposium.

Quartet is a Web-interactive robotic music installation. The machine you see in the live video feed is housed at an innovative museum in Linz, Austria, ARS Electronic. Seeing the machine live, inches away is an visceral experience that shows the real power of live music… and that robots can be a part of that experience. Visitors at the museum are able to enter melodies from a laptop in the museum for immediate interactivity

You play a short melody on the site then you see the music interpreted onto the machine. Try it…

Since I have a thing for mobile phones (Nokia) I greatly enjoyed the robot controlled by bluetooth.
This is a picture of the phone.

Ars Electronica - ArsCloud

This is the little robot it controls. How fun!

Ars Electronica - ArsCloud

The Anoto pen

This is basically the livescribe pen on steroids. You can write and record audio which is digitized and transferable pdf docs or uploaded online. The steroids bit: The Anoto pen can be used to navigate a map, displaying relevant data on a big screen. For example, if you click on a specific point on the map of Linz, and would like to know the demographics of the region, you can tap on the legend provided on a page to give you stats on number of divorced people between the age of 21 and 45. This was preety cool because it combines maps, tactile input of using a pen and a digital display to add more data.

Ars Electronica - ArsCloud

I got to play the loopscape game with the renowned tech journalist Cyrus Farivar. I really could claim victory, but really…it was a draw.

“loopScape” is an innovative video game for two players that blurs the conventional distinction between good and evil, between “my side” and “the opposition.”

The action does not take place on a flat display but rather on a 360 degree band arrayed around the edge of a ceiling-suspended metal doughnut circumnavigated during play. The object is to shoot down the opponent. But be careful! If a fired missile misses its target, it continues on its trajectory and threatens to strike from behind the game figure that launched it.

This loopscape game is a form of interactive device art, and for some reason, it brought to mind the idea of participatory art. Something that Wambui, Sciculturist and I were discussing at RAMOMA gallery in Nairobi. Check out this ‘Watoto Wa Kwetu’ piece by Wambui. More pics are on this flickr set. I think the loopscape game has participatory qualities just like the Watoto wa kwetu paintings, because both pieces are best experienced with others. There are some observations that Wambui made on the Watoto wa kwetu paintings that I would not have noticed. Do note that the paintings are done by a group of children, and not one artist. So, there is that aspect too.

This is just but a sampling of what was in store at Linz. I havent even touched on the animations. I hope you enjoy the perspectives shared by the others on the Cloud Symposium blog, videos posted there and the following links too.

Kristen Taylor – Mosaics, food and the cloud If you are wondering about her cool dress, its vintage. I had to ask 🙂 I am not much of a beer drinker, so her suggestion to get some Secco (Austrian white sparkling wine) with our dinner was just invaluable.

David Sasaki – An outsider’s guide to Linz Indispensable. His talk about cloud intelligence provided the framework for discussion that day.

I keep digressing from this nerds need art theme, but hopefully i can tie it all together.

In the quest to not lose your sense of wonder, sometimes you need to look inward, be quiet and just think about the bigger picture. To find the creative place. If you’ve ever used the words ‘code is poetry’ ‘Math is elegant’ or ‘no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should’. There is this need to look inward, to find that inner muse and embrace the imagination. I think whenever you need to go to such a place, art can provide that gateway.

The Thinking Chair by Arthur Ganson

Where does inanimate material end and where does life begin? Arthur Ganson lets his “Thinking Chair” straddle the boundary between those two states. Through its movements—which resemble the gait of a human being walking on two legs—the chair exhibits animate traits. Arthur Ganson had the idea that led to this work while taking a walk. Near his studio, there is a small rock outcropping on a trail, which he likes to walk around in slow circles, deep in thought. During this walking meditation, each cycle finds him back in the same physical place but in a slightly different emotional place

A Roof is a Terrible Thing to Waste


A 650 KiloWatt Solar Array Completed in Hawthorne, California: “lithographix solar panels roof photo

Lithographix, Thinksolar, and Pacific Solar Energy
There are many green things you can do with a giant commercial building’s roof. From painting it white to reflect the sun’s rays, to building a green roof, to installing a solar array to generate electricity. Lithographix, a printing company, went for this last option and now has the first commercial solar array in Hawthorne, California.

I can only dream of doing this one day… However, last month during the holidays, my uncles & aunts put together some money for a solar system for Granny C, pics and a more detailed post is forthcoming.

PS: Happy new year, may 2009 be truly brilliant.

Song of the Day: Nairobi by Sauti Sol, featuring Stan. Why? one line…’Nairobi, kuna solar sana! kijijini ni ku poa sana’

TEDAfrica – Registration opens today.

TEDAfrica logo

The TED Africa conference in Capetown South Africa, promises to build on the magic of TED Global 2007. The concept for this years’ conference makes that quite clear.

What if Africa had no borders? What if her boundaries extended as far as those living in the diaspora, or even further? What if you could fly directly from Cape to Cairo, Lagos to Luanda, Bujumbura to Abuja? Or what if you could drive to every city and every town and every village? What if the Internet was a reality for every African? What if you could call the world from atop the Kilimanjaro, or from deep in the forests of the Congo? What if a lingua franca was spoken and understood by every African? What if we could halve the number of poor Africans by 2015, or eradicate poverty altogether someday? What if there was a cure for every disease and the average African could live beyond the age of 33? What if Africa embraced innovative thinking, and in the process, reinvented her future?

I would recommend registering early for this exciting event, and if interested in the African Fellows program, to apply for it as soon as possible. There are 50 fellowships available this year.

Solar tech in the medical field – Salam cardiac surgery center sudan etc.

While at TEDGlobal I met Manuel Toscano, a gentleman who works for Emergency USA. We talked shortly about solar power being a great technology for use in remote areas. He filled me in on a hospital that was designed using the following guiding principles.
-The idea of a “hollow” space and a pavilion-based system;
-The choice of the best possible technology given the context;
-The search for an ethical language for this type of architecture.

The choice of solar power for a hospital in an oil rich country might seem a bit ironic, but there is more to this. The specific details of how the energy produced by the panels is used is particularly interesting.

Solar panel: free healthcare, free energy
The average temperature in the Sudan is 29°C, and in the hottest months it can reach 45°C. In order to cool down the hospital, a number of measures were taken during construction. In addition to this, air conditioners were installed after the building was constructed. In the first case, a series of insulating techniques were used. The external walls for example are 58 cm thick and contain an insulating cavity that prevents the building from heating up. The use of traditional cooling systems would have implied high levels of electrical energy or fossil fuel consumption (the needs in terms of volumes of air to be cooled down are hefty: 28,000 m3). In a country rich in oil resources, EMERGENCY has sought out alternative sources of clean energy: the sun. Nine containers left Italy for Khartoum with 300 solar panels, bringing to the country an almost unknown technology, and one that is very seldom used in Europe. Today a plant that contains 288 solar collecting items (for an equivalent of 900 m2, or the area of 10 houses) produces 3,600 KW- as much as burning 355 kg of gas â?? without producing one gram of CO2. Each collecting item is made up of a number of copper tubes that contain water; these are themselves placed in insulated glass tubes that allow the water inside the copper tubes to heat up. The water transfers the accumulated heat to an insulated 50 m3 tank that keeps the water between 80-90°C. The heat is then cooled down to 7°C in two “chilling” machines. Solar power thus allows the center to produce cold air without discharging any particles into the atmosphere, and limits the use of electric power to water circulation pumps. Two regular boilers have also been installed in case the solar power is not sufficient to run the two “chilling” machines. The cold water is used to lower the levels of heat in the rooms that need to be chilled for medical or other purposes. The machines used for this last part of the cooling circuit are called UATs (Units of Air Treatment). There are 8, each one designed for a specific area of the hospital (CPR, surgery, administration, etc). The UATs draw air from outside and “force” it into a 7°C tube that cools it down. A second system of tubes subsequently transports the cool air to various hospital rooms according to need.

In short, the surgery center is kept cool using a combination of the water from the Nile and the Solar panels. For more detail on the design guidelines of the salam center please click here [pdf]. (Thank you Manuel).

It is becoming increasingly clear that solar tech is flexible enough to allow for innovation in any field. Another example of solar being especially useful in the medical field is the ‘Hospital in a box’ invention by Dr. Seyi Oyesola, a TED Global Speaker and innovator.
Hospital in a box by Dr. Oyesola.
Jason Pontin of TR summarized his invention as

It was a simple, portable (well, 150-pound), resilient set of medical devices that makes surgery possible even in the worst parts of the world. The hospital in a box has anesthetic equipment, a defibrillator, a burn unit, plaster-making tools, surgical tools, and an operating table.

In my post on tales of invention, i noted that the ‘Hospital in a box’ can be charged using a truck battery or a solar panel.

Note: TED fellows Dr. Chikwe Iheakweazu and Dr. Ike Anya from Nigeria started the blog ‘Nigeria Health Watch’ to discuss and bring to the fore health care issues in Nigeria and Africa in general. Do visit them and subscribe to their feed if you are in the medical field and want to be in the loop.

Back to architecture: This ted talk from Cameron Sinclair is very inspiring.

TED Global Day 2 – Emergent Design

I am attempting the live-blog thing, but i do have to point your mice to the Long haired king of live blogging events ‘My Heart is in Accra’

Fractals, Design and Africa

!! Indeed !!

Design cornrows using transformational geometry. Click here.
Ron Eglash spoke on looking at fractals in African architecture and design. For non comp sci people, fractals make for some of the most beautiful designs. For African geeks, egm and mathematicians, get the book.
TED Global 2007 feels like a seminal moment in Africa.

Russell Southwood: Balancing Act Africa
Looking at cities and ‘real news’ about Africa, he sees an affluent Africa emerging. A picture of modern looking Abuja and cultural expression in Nollywood.

Favourite quote – “What is an Ipod? Its a hard disk with hot pants.”

Chris Anderson to African designers “Please do not copy the west”. I like that. Could we have the kenyan rappers heed his  call please?