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The Dawesome Digest
News from Brendan Dawes
Issue 22 / March 2019

The Art of Cybersecurity

A few months ago McMillan — a B2B agency in Ottawa — got in touch with me to ask if I'd be interested in working with Trend Micro to create a new data born piece of art around cybersecurity data, for a big conference in San Francisco at the beginning of March.

Over the following few months I began to look at the data and formulate the idea. This wasn't meant to be a data visualisation that revealed some great insight but rather something beautiful born from normally scary data. To that end I thought it still needed a narrative — a deeper layer than just something pretty.

I decided to base the piece on three separate parts — the threats themselves, the system that blocks the threats and the creativity that is allowed to blossom because these threats have been blocked. This piece was meant to be celebratory rather than scary, so me it was important to show the reason these threats are being blocked, so we can make the things we want to make or simply do the things we want to do be that a business getting a PowerPoint together or simply being able to send that photo to a loved one.

To put this together I turned to Houdini — a new (to me) piece of software used in the special effects and film industry. I'd seen some of my contemporaries beginning to use Houdini and so over Christmas I began to learn it, spending any spare time to understand how it works and more importantly, how to bring in data and how to write code using Vex — Houdini's scripting language. It was a lot of fun learning this stuff, but now I had to put it to commercial use.

My starting point was the shape of the system itself. I didn't want a traditional network of lines, but rather something more organic and interesting to look at. Looking at the data I could see that various industries were specified such as banking, retail, media etc. Using that I decided to make a shape for each industry, which would represent the system itself. To create these unique shapes I employed the use of an MD5 hash algorithm — something that is in itself used in security systems. Using a little piece of code I wrote, I could use this technique to create shapes from simply the name of industry. I then applied to the shape a mix of mesh styles to make it more interesting, which also suggested a network, or at least some kind of intelligent design.

The threats themselves were shown as simple black obelisk style forms, that would start out black then become nullified as the system dealt with the threats.

The creativity was shown as beautiful coloured stands — the exact opposite of the threats, that flowed through the spaces left by the system, flowing past and around the threats. Both the threats and the strands were all dictated by metrics in the data, and the flow itself was governed by the particle movement through the space.

One of the biggest learnings was the render times when rendering out 4K video at 24 frames per second. To render these in a timely manner I used a cloud rendering service called Gridmarkets, which allowed me to have a 30 machine setup so that I could render out 30 frames at the same time as opposed to the one on my iMac Pro. You do however need to account for the cost of a service like this as it soon racks up.

The final result was a series of five images, rendered as high resolution prints together with a one minute long 4K animation of the whole narrative which was used in various ways at the event in California.

Kennedy Gets Updated

When iOS 12 came out, Kennedy — my app for capturing the now — would crash whenever you went to make or edit a note. It took me ages to get around to releasing an update to fix it, but about a week ago, spurred on by a tweet, I blew the dust off the code and fixed the bug.

I was just about to send it the App Store for review when the weather API I was using finally shut down — another major part of the app. So over the next few days I put in place a new weather API, thanks to Open Weather, and replaced the photo editor Kennedy used, which, yes, had also been killed. After all this, Kennedy was fixed up and 1.5.4 was released on 8th March.

I still use and love this app — I now have six years of memories in there. I'm also happy to say that it has a small band of loyal users who equally love it, which makes it all worthwhile. These days it earns me enough money to maybe buy a sandwich a few times a week — not even a fancy one — but I still like that Kennedy is out there and lives to see another day. Next up I'm half-way through adding Spotify integration.

New Adventures

I had the honor of speaking at the return of New Adventures in Nottingham and it was a really wonderful experience. The vibe throughout the day was one of optimism and Simon and Geri did an incredible job of making this a very special event.

All the talks were brilliant, though I think I'll remember Ethan Marcott's closing talk for a while. He spoke about the need for responsibility within design and how design and the web is a powerful tool not just for good but also for evil if used in the wrong hands. It really left me looking through a different lens than my usual one, which for me is what these conferences should do. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.


Some things that have peaked my interest since the last issue:

Slow Looking at Art

Keybr - great online touch typing tutor  

The Machine Stops — Oliver Sacks on his fears for the future

What makes John Coltrane's Giant Steps so groundbreaking?

Notch — create realtime generative graphics

The first things I install on a new Mac

Le Corbusier's Colour Keyboards

Nice collection of 3D scanned artworks all free to use

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