The Dawesome Digest #16 — tales of dataviz, IoT and interactive installations from Brendan Dawes
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The Dawesome Digest Issue No. 16
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Fermata

Visualising the ebb and flow of a building 
Give things a name. That's what I always say to people when they're first figuring out the form of a project. Give it a name so you can have conversations about it. So when Bruntwood got in touch and very kindly asked me to be the first artist featured on their new 28 screen display at Neo, their newly refurbished Manchester co-working space, I looked at the space, thought about the context and was reminded of both musical notation and a book by Nicholson Baker.

The name Fermata is a musical term meaning a note should be held longer than its normal duration. I really liked this idea in respect of the people passing through the foyer of a building — holding for longer the usual transient moments — and having them influence the artwork, leaving their mark on the canvas. I used a Kinect camera to detect people walking through the foyer, capturing the colour of the clothes, using that to create particles in the same colour that would launch themselves across the screen. In addition to the people I added a few other real-time data feeds to further influence the work. The energy of the building was used to create an undulating almost fabric like terrain, coloured by the current energy usage of the building. The greater the energy usage the more intense the fabric flowed, the redder it appeared. The weather influenced the speed of the particles on screen – the more windy it was outside the greater these people-triggered particles moved. Finally, tweets about Neo or Manchester appeared as spiky spheres, punctuating the fabric as people tweeted.

Following a great launch night at Neo, Fermata was on display for three months.
 
Read more about Fermata

S&P Global Platts Visualisation

360 wrap-around projection visualising the journey of over 3000 oil tankers
Much of the work I've been doing this year seems to have involved large screens or projections of some kind, which was something new for me. I love doing things I've never done before. Weirdly I've never done any kind of data viz stuff using maps of any kind, so when Brand Culture got in touch to ask me to create some 8K formatted animated sequences for a 360 degree wrap-around projection, using oil tanker data, it was a great opportunity to learn some new things.

To create this work I made a bespoke piece of software that allowed me to build discrete sequences from the data, from the flow of the ships, to typographic displays of over 3000 ports. In the course of playing with ideas I realised that I didn't actually need to show a traditional world map, as the ports themselves created an impression of the world for me which had the nice effect of communicating just how many ports there are in the world.

I think my favourite discovery was one that came about as a mistake. I was figuring out how to get the ships to avoid the land masses so they could navigate correctly from their start location to their final destination, when early on in that process I just did a version as the crow-flies with ships going over the land, which is obviously stupid. Yet when I showed this to the client, visually showing these crow-flies connections, they loved it, saying they had never seen their data shown like that before. Even though it was technically wrong — ships don't travel over land — it still conveyed areas of high traffic and created a lovely abstract series of images that then went on to become the poster-child for the event, appearing on official invites. I think often times we can get so wrapped up in trying to do things in a very exact manner, yet if you allow for beautiful mistakes to rise to the top they can often reveal new insights and thinking.

The finished piece was a one minute long sequence shown inside a specially constructed igloo were the sequence wrapped around the visitors to the London Oil Forum at the Mayfair hotel in London.
 
See a HD version of the complete sequence

Every Year a Sound, Every Sound a Shape

Marking the 20th anniversary of award winning sound design studio
People often ask me how I get the work that I do. Whilst it's important to be putting yourself out there, putting things into the world you believe deserve to exist I think my main advice is don't be a dick. The people you meet, no matter how fleetingly may one day come to you and ask you to make something for them. They won't do that if on the first meeting you've been an idiot. Don't get me wrong, there's been many times I've been more than grumpy or fired off a badly worded email when I should have given it five minutes, but on the whole I try and not take myself too seriously and try and nurture new professional relationships the best way I know how.

A few years ago Lee Davies from fab graphic design agency Peter and Paul asked me to write a little thing for a prospectus they were designing for Sheffield Hallam University which I was only too glad to do. Fast-forward a few years later and Lee gets in touch again, only this time it was to talk about if I was interested in working with them to create some visuals for Factory Studios, the multi-award winning sound design studio in London. Factory's work over the years has been fantastic so I of course said yes.

The commission was to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Factory and my task was to create twenty visuals for twenty sounds, one per year to appear as static graphics in an online timeline. Often times though the actual process of making this stuff can turn out to be as interesting as the final thing. In this case, because these structures were made in real-time by analysing the supplied sounds, with every single bit of sonic data making an impact on the canvas, we ended up using these videos of the build process as well as the final static versions. 
 
View the Factory animations

The Ex-Hibition Printers

Mini connected printers print messages to people's ex's for Bravo TV channel
You might remember that last year I created an installation for Airbnb at the Sundance Film Festival, were visitors to the Airbnb Haus shared stories via text message through a series of tiny connected printers I built. Well a few months ago Civic Entertainment who commissioned me for that work got in touch again and asked me to create something similar for an event they were creating for Bravo, the reality TV broadcaster.

Now it's easy for me to sit here and write up these projects giving the impression that they all worked exactly as expected and everything was just wonderful. But that wouldn't be the whole truth and sometimes I make work that I am less than pleased with. This was one of those projects.

The brief was to create eight printers to promote the show A Night with My ex – not something I was familiar with before working on this project. The idea was people would tweet with the hashtag #messagetomyex to tell their ex something or other which would then get printed out at the venue, underneath the shadow of the Flatiron building in New York. 

An important part of my little printer system is the physical button that sits on top. It invites people in and says "hello - see what happens if you press me". It's an interaction which has a physical reward, namely a random message from a random stranger. Take that button away and you kill a little bit of the magic. And so when I was asked to remove that button and just have the printers print at timed intervals I shared my concerns as forcefully as I could, but it was to no avail, much to my disappointment.

When I got to New York, technical difficulties involving the Wi-Fi which I had to hack around by leaving my iPhone on-site for two days just added to the disappointment I felt with this project. In the end, sure there were printers printing messages but I hate it when I feel I could have done way better than I did. Sometimes not everything goes to plan and you just have to take these things on the chin and try and learn from them. 
 
Read more about the Bravo project


Keynote at IXDA Annual Conference New York

Celebrating the beautiful inconvenience of things

That was my second trip to New York this year. The first was to give a keynote at the IXDA annual conference in February. It was a real thrill when Josh Clark from Big Medium, who was helping to organise this year's event, asked me to be one of the speakers. It got even better and way more daunting when I realised I was down to give an end of day keynote. As the days led up to the event I was trying to find my theme for the talk. In the end it was inspired by the Plastic Player device I recently made. When using this I was reminded of the joy of the inconvenience of real things and our interactions with them. My talk was a celebration of these moments through the things I've made over the years which you can now watch online if that sounds like your type of thing.
Watch the talk online

Whilst Out Walking I Chanced on Some Data

Environmental data realised as physical organic shapes
Over the years I've regularly explored the idea of data you can hold in your hands, so you can not only see it but feel it. Most recently David Hunter from Ravensbourne College asked if I would be interested in participating in a book visualising environmental data that he and his students had collected over one year. When I started to explore the data I was reminded of the shells of horse chestnut seeds, with their beautiful spherical, textured forms, but was intrigued about the idea of creating a data object that was then put back into the very environment the data came from. Maybe they could be strewn around, waiting for people to pick them up, like they had come from nature itself. Imagine if across the ground you saw many of these spiky objects meaning that pollution was bad that day. Think about this in respect of self forming machines rather than 3D printing and you can see what I was trying to get it.

For this incarnation I used a wood based PLA to 3D print these forms I had generated through the datasets, and then used a wood stain to give then a nice organic look. I'm looking forward to playing around with this idea a lot more in the future.

Geek Corner

For those are who interested in these type of things, here's some of the code related stuff I've been using lately in my work.

AP Sync is a great library I've just been using that will easily sync variables from Arduino to Processing or vice-versa. I've used it on a touch screen I've built for a soon to be released piece of work and it worked without a hitch, controlling the Processing piece of work simply and elegantly.

Want to control lots of LEDs simply and effectively? Then the Fadecandy system is what you need. Using this system you can easily transfer what's going on in your software on screen to up to 10,000 LEDs! 

I've recently updated The Dawesome Toolkit for Processing. One of the new additions I use all the time is the ability to log things to a file. It's really handy when you're trying to debug an app you've made or just using it to keep tabs on what's going on in your app.


Work-in-progress

I'm currently in the latter stages of finishing off probably one of my biggest installations to date involving hundreds of LEDs, custom made circuits and bespoke fabricated cubes, all covered in fabric and controlled with real-time data, for Price Waterhouse Coopers in their London Data Lab. I'll have more details on this in the next issue.

Input

Some things that have piqued my interest since the last issue.

Experimental Music Notation

Posters for Olivetti

Archivio Grafica Italiana

Bret Victor - The Humane Representation of Thought

Taste is not Relative

Datasets for Machine Learning

Les Couleurs: Keyboard of Colour 1931

MIT Shape Shifting Hardware

Music for Programming

Monotype Font Subscription Service

Santiago Ramón y Cajal's Beautiful Drawings of the Brain

Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and letting me clog-up your inbox again. Any sharing on the Twitters or wherever is greatly appreciated. Happy making.
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