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From useit.com by Jakob Nielsen:

Uncovering navigation shouldn’t be a major task: Make it permanently visible on the page. Small children like minesweeping (passing the mouse around the screen to see what’s hidden), but teenagers don’t like it, and adults hate it.

magic

      I don’t like having to work to find things I want on the web. If I go to a retailer’s website, I want to see the products and get a price. Those two pieces of information should practically hit me in the face. But that doesn’t contradict the notion that everyone likes a surprise. Utilized skillfully at the appropriate time, a violation of expectation can delight and endear the child within. Or really annoy the adult without.

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Turns out, Google’s charts making service allows for some pretty inspired work. The following is basically a line chart with some math geekery:

chart art

      I’m always trying to be a better communicator, and visual aids can be very helpful. If you happen to be one of the one of the 99.99999% or so of the people without fancy chart making tools and even the thought of having to draw a straight line has you a little intimidated (thank you downgrading-of-art-education-in-the-public-system), perhaps Google Chart Tool is a good, free, and open way to produce clear, useful, information visuals. Or art. Of course, I’m sure there is a greater number of people who are more intimidated by funny computer code than pen and ink. But it’s not all just code. Also, perhaps the tool is an easily accessible way to give some computery stuff a try and see some instant results.

      As cool (and minimal, really) as all the art stuff is, I’m just trying to get to know the API better (link to Google Chart API Docs here). So rather than dive head first into some visual display of quantitative analysis, I had some fun comparing the Dallas Cowboys and everybody’s hero, Manny Pacquiao (disclaimer: only sports fans will really get this chart):

chart

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New posts on this blog are a rarity. Quite frankly, I lead a fairly quiet and uneventful life of puzzles and Chamomile tea. Also, as it turns out, meticulously crafting new additions to this space usually feels like an act of a disproportionate effort-to-results ratio. So although this blog actually is lovingly maintained, it changes quite infrequently. But, just in case anyone looks at this blog with any kind of frequency, I’d like to note there are a couple of new additions to this website.

      Please take a look at the sidebar to the right. pointing-hand

      If you would take a look, you will notice that there is a link to my work. Not far below that, there is a feed of observations (called “An Observation”) pulled from another blog that I maintain as kind of a personal journal. This alternate blog has much more frequent contributions consisting of some observations I make about life in general. Thanks for checking in!

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Another toy. Yes! Yet again, the label says it’s not for 2 year olds (the nephew is 27 months now) but labels are for jars and Bands. Not for a couple of crazy cats like us. (Note: you do have to be vigilant when using this with younger kids. Some of the pieces are small enough to swallow, but they are also large enough to keep track of). Even if he’s too young to use the toy by himself, at least he can point to things he wants to try (a safe introduction to experimentation) and be entertained by the results (if there are any).

      Snap Circuits® by Elenco (a Chicago based company we really need to support) is a take on one of those circuit making toys. The magic of Snap Circuits® is that snaps (like the ones on your shirt) are used to connect the various connectors, motors, resistors, lights, switches, and whistle chips. Perfect for little hands with developing motor skills.

snap circuits together

some of the parts

      I suppose I could mention here all we now know about development of cognitive ability through diverse mediums, advantages of tactile experiences, and all that. And I love all that stuff. But mostly, this toy is just plain sweet. It’s got all those colours, it’s easy to use (you can see everthing that’s going on unlike the sets where you just push pins into slots), and can be a thousand different things (the box says 100 creations, but that’s probably when they stopped counting). The spiro-graph-y thing we built was a particular hit. As was the helicopter, of course (flying, chaotic, potentially destructive). It even has a photo-resistor which ended up in a kind of a light theremin when paired with a flashlight.

      I only bought the set entitled Snap Circuits Jr®, which is the most basic self contained set you can buy. You can purchase add-ons like motion sensors, solar panels, and programmable micro-controllers (uses BASIC for all you geeks out there). You can also buy upgrade kits when you exhibit buyer’s remorse for not doing the right thing and shelling out the for the deluxe models. So here’s what elevates Elenco to the next level of toy/consumer goods companies. The combined cost of the basic set and the upgrade kit is about two dollars more than the deluxe set. Or to put it another way: they’re not going to hose you citizen, even though they could. In fact, I’d think they might even take a loss after the extra packaging and shipping on the upgrade kits. Still, the cost of entry is low thanks to the basic set, and you don’t have to debate the cost to get into these things too much because upgrading later is about the same cost as doing it right the first time. My advice: if you can afford it, do it right the first time like the song says.

      So here they are in grainy, poor resolution, noisy action.


      That last one is for the budding circuit bending synth-poppers. I even added a lightbulb for the music visualization artists. And for the future pilots/astronauts:


      I should also note that I first saw these things at a Radioshack somewhere in the States. Then on a recent visit to Seattle, I stumbled into Magic Mouse Toys in Pioneer Square and ran into these again. Two hours later, I left empty handed (but with a planned return visit the next day. But that’s another post) and another must-go place in any Seattle visit.

Addendum Nov. 15, 2010:

Snap Circuits Jr. can be had in Vancouver. Saw it in the Chapters book store Downtown at the corner of Robson and Granville for $29.95.

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What attracted me most to study the kind of work I get to do is the ability to make ideas happen. It sounds pretty trite when said that way but it’s true. You can be walking down the street or looking at some picture and start going down the path of, “I wonder what it would look like if…”

      So, trying to keep that hope alive, I spent an evening putting the below together.

Get Adobe Flash player

      While making the above, I actually saw some details that I hadn’t noticed but picked up while try to recreate it. The most glaring detail (don’t know how I didn’t notice it before) is that the men in the painting are arranged in a grid pattern. When I translated it over to an animated version, I felt a random pattern looked better to me. So that’s what I did. Hey, it’s my bastardization of a classic. Also in the original artist’s spirit of irreverence and incongruity, I paired it with the only piece of music that makes sense (Canada’s gift to great novelty songs).

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Reddish orange hand, no go.

      As someone I know (can I call him a friend? street acquaintance?) said, “White man says it’s all good.”

      I’m sure the colours just worked out that way (white can be a symbol for “go” and you can’t use green as not to confuse the drivers). But nice observation.

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This might be old news to some, but Sita Sings The Blues is a feature length animated movie by Nina Paley based around an ancient Indian legend. Definitely worth a watch and a it’s a free download in glorious HD.

      The movie and animation are good enough that the interest in this project could stop there. But there’s more. Despite the relatively (it’s no Avatar) enormous personal cost of producing the movie, it was actually done on an insanely low budget and was a labour of love rather than art for profit. The final kicker is that the project was made with, and is available as, open source material. With a few exceptions, all the third party materials Nina Paley used are available for free to folk just like you and me (archive.org was a popular source for this material. It also has a nice library of the old Superman cartoons).

      Of even more interest for me is that all her source files are almost entirely Flash (.fla) files available for free download at archive.org with a CC Share Alike license. So I downloaded a few files and saw what I could do with them through ActionScript. The jump below will take you to an animation where Sita’s mouth should move when you speak into a microphone. I suggest you keep a little distance from the mic, and even then you’ll probably need to play around with the mic settings.

My take on Sita.

My take on Sita.

Download my source files here.

      I can post the pertinent parts of the code if anyone requests, otherwise, just give me a shout if you have any questions.

Note: Nina’s Flash source files are generally a little hard to work with in terms of a programming environment. It’s all timeline animations and the assets aren’t necessarily crafted to be easily targeted for programming purposes. It’s nothing but hand-made love.

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Alright, so the expo poster project is a funded, organized, publicized, artistic effort by Jeremy Shaw titled Something’s Happening Here.

      Here they were again, in a different location.

      Since it did catch my attention, I figured I better do some research and have at least a rough idea of what I’m talking about. Since, you know, a Google search only takes a few seconds. So here it is. And here. This thread is now closed.

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This one is about a toy. Hopefully, many more posts about toys will follow, and thanks to my 20 month old nephew, Max, there will be many more toys to post about, hopefully. So I got him a new toy. The package says 6+ but he’s pretty advanced. Here is a non-artist’s rendering of the little guy.

a non-artist's rendering of Max.

a non-artist's rendering of Max.

      I didn’t get the mouth quite right but he really does look a bit like that.

      I think these pictures of Tarata’s Balancing Act from New Zealand are pretty self explanatory.

Tarata's Balancing Act Monkeys in action

Tarata's Balancing Act Apes in action

      Kind of awesome. Exercises all sorts of brain and hand parts that don’t get enough work. And if you need more proof of that, maybe their genius copywriter can convince you:

From the package (all misplaced capitalization are exactly as is on the package):

“Playing the Balancing Act provides the Enjoyment of a Challenge and the Satisfaction of Success.

Making use of every day talents you are introduced to the Natural Law of Gravity, Leverage, Balance Point, Fulcrums, Friction, Weight and Dimension.

Along with the Development of Personal Skills including Patience, Perseverance, Problem Solving, Colour, Shape and Spatial Awareness and Hand eye Coordination, this simple toy is invaluable for Individual and Collective Creativity and Fun!”

      So good that I had to get a set for myself.

      The apes are the better set, not just because they have fewer nooks and crannies which makes their configurations more challenging and imaginative. More that the idea of stacking apes appeals more to my sense of logic. I mean, monkeys stack. They are quite agile and acrobatic creatures. That’s what they do. I’ve never seen dinosaurs pile on top of each other.

      So the apes are the set to get, except maybe for this guy:

Um, not sure about this guy...

Um, not sure about this guy...

      I’m sure his stance is incidental and I’m reading way too much into it.

ADDENDUM (May 29, 2010):

If you would like to know where to get the Tarata Balancing Act in the Vancouver area, that would be Kites On Clouds in Gastown. More than just kites, it’s a fine place to spend some time.

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Again with the posters The first set of Expo Posters.

      Same place, about a month later. Though I haven’t walked by there in probably a month, so who knows, maybe someone is lovingly changing the installation every morning. Good work though. So enigmatic. So guerilla. Although one weird thing to consider is: where are they getting the posters? I’d think that they are rare or at least kind of expensive to print out.

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