EYEO 2016 Wrap-Up

My first (but hopefully not last) eyeo is in the books, and my brain is kinda full of wonderful things. Actually, more like it’s so full the wonderful things are leaking out my ears. Rather than try to sum it all up, I’m just going to provide a list of links to things I found intersting, and hope you do, too.

Day 1: Keynote

Nicky Case explored emergent systems, how normal people (with the best of intentions) do bad things (or just let bad things happen), and how we self-segregrate even if we don’t mind being (mostly) surrounded by neighbors with a different skin color.

©2016 Vi Hart & Nicky Case

While you wait for eyeo to publish the talks, I highly recommend Nicky’s Open Vis Conference presentation from earlier this year, HOW TO SIMULATE THE UNIVERSE IN 134 EASY STEPS, which covers similar territory.

Finally: *applause*

Ignite Talks

Even at the best of times 10 5-minute talks in a row are going to go by fast—they go by much faster when your own 5-minute talk is right in the middle of them. The first set went by in a blur because I was nervous, the last few because I was coming down from being on stage. So my memories of these are (unfortunately) a bit hazy.

Mandy Mandelstein & Ivaylo Getov, of Luxloop, shared how two film-makers created Overheard—an experience based entirely on audio.

Rose Shuman described Question Box, who have installed call boxes to link people in need with people who can help them.

Sands Fish taught us what you can learn by going beyond the CSV file, and all he had for this insight to do was dig through dozens of trash cans. Lots more fantastic work in his portfolio.

Megan Smith is cycling the Trans-Canada highway with the help of Google Street View. Apparently it’s disconcerting when you fall from an overpass onto the roadway below. Also fascinating: Google’s algorithms to blur people’s faces don’t work so well on bearded hitchhikers.

Photograph ©2016 Megan Smith

Heather Krause reminded us that data can be biased. She also gave a shoutout to Kennedy Elliot’s talk at OpenVis Conf 2016: Everything We Know about How Humans Interpret Graphicsand only one of those studies included participants from outside Europe or North America!

I talked about satellites and perception and Earth.

Laurie Frick’s husband is a good sleeper. How do we know? Because she measured his sleep patterns and made art with the data. “Perhaps seeing the abstract patterns and rhythms of your own data is a short-cut to mindfulness” was the quote of the night, I think.

De Angela Duff Records are cool. Record stores are cool (did you realize there was a record store/hair salon right around the corner from the Walker?). If you don’t buy records (or CDs), your favorite record stores (like New York City’s Other Music) will go out of business.

Now what should I do with all those CDs I don’t have room for any more?

Carin Fishel continued the personal theme by recording data from a few years of dating—and visualizing the results. Key takeaways: information overload isn’t all that romantic (score one for the mysterious stranger), and just about half the time no one even cares enough to end it.

Natalie Sun closed out the evening by sharing her response to a cancer diagnosis: write down her internal monologue, and then post it. On the Internet. For everyone in the entire world to read.

Whew. That was just day one.

Day 2

Jen Christiansen spoke about the evolution of digital technology at Scientific American, and set current changes in the context of the magazine adapting to new design and printing technologies over the previous 170 (!) years. Of particular interest to Jen is the intersection between analog and digital—for example the first computer graphics printed in Scientific American were reproduced from photographs of screens, since the technology didn’t exist to print directly from the original digital files. Another important insight was that the earliest entirely-digital illustrations were primitive compared to their hand-drawn predecessors.

Photo courtesy NASA JPL.

I also loved the various re-drawings of line pulsar line plots recorded by the Arecibo radio telescope, famously printed on the cover of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, and (of course) JPL scientists’ color-by-numbers rendition of the first up-close picture of the surface of another planet.

In case you think SA has fully transitioned into the digital future, consider this: how do they currently represent interactive technologies and virtual reality?

Paolo Ciuccarelli reflected on educating a generation of influential designers at Density Design, and outlined his vision of data poetics: using visualization to elicit an emotional response, rather than a dispassionate display of numeric values.

Although I’m supportive of that idea, and data art more broadly, it did raise a question: If the objective is emotional impact, does a visualizer still need to represent the underlying data accurately? This was brought to mind by a video Paolo played that purported to show HIV infection rates in Italy (which I can’t find, unfortunately). Red dye in water represented healthy people, and purple dye represented infected people—over time, more drops of purple dye were added, but the amount of red dye remained constant. Yes, this underscored the rapid spread of HIV, but left the impression that the number of infected individuals far outstripped those who remained healthy.

Screenshot of Terror Interactive, by Data Looks Dope.

It’s a good thing Moritz Stefaner spoke after lunch, since the dishes prepared during his data cuisine workshops looked mouthwatering. Food, of course, offers entirely new dimensions to encode data, my favorite being spices representing ethnic diversity in Finland:

Spiced Foreigners Between Pasta, by Symeon Delikaris-Manias

Echoing Paolo, Marek Tuszynski is interested in using design, data, and technology to effect change. After opening with surreally sublime (sublimely surreal?) attempt by a call-center employee to prove they weren’t a robot, he described The White Room, an appropriation of Apple’s Genius Bar by the Tactical Technology Collective. Instead of providing tech support, White Room workers show how mobile phones and computers collect immense amounts of data, and provide advice on minimizing your digital shadow.

Darius Kazemi Spoke about bots, noise, and the ghost in the machine. Check out Glitch Logos, Two Headlines, and the Sorting Bot, which features a sophisticated algorithm to assign followers to Hogwarts houses (Slytherin, in case you’re curious). I also love this quote, and wish more developers understood it: “The command line prompt is not for 99% of humanity (but I live in it).”

Paola Antonelli touched on one of the recurring themes that emerged at eyeo, the exploration of intersections: science and design, analog and digital, work and play, games and fine art (she added the video game collection to the MoMA!).

Other possible quantum states of cats. Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Cats Suggested by the Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō
The White T-Shirt Collection, by Slow and Steady Wins the Race.

Anil Dash simply killed it. He somehow managed to weave together Prince, the immigration of South Asians to the United States (the only group to have U.S. citizenship revoked), the migration of black Americans from the rural South to the urban North, and intellectual property law.

“if u don’t own your masters, then your masters own u.”

Downtown Minneapolis (shown in 1953 and 2014) was encircled by interstate highways at the expense of dense urban neighborhoods. University of Oklahoma Institute for Quality Communities.

Day 3

Hannah Perner-Wilson not only creates electronic clothing, she teaches “contemporary craft techniques,” invents tools to help her make clothing, and holds workshops on how to make the tools to make the clothes.

The ohmHook. Kobakant/Plusea.

Patricio Gonzalez Vivo related his journey from Buenos Aires to New York, and from clinical psychologist to programmer and data artist. Along the way he made this glorious interactive topographic map and wrote The Book of Shaders.

Random City: Shaders applied to a 3D model of New York. Patricio Gonzalez Vivo.

I’m envious of Adrian Segal’s ability to make abstract climate data concrete. From a month of San Francisco Bay tidal data, to measurements of snow water equivalent in the Sierra Nevada, and daily maps of the Rim Fire burn scar, her sculptures are amazing.

Tidal Datum, Adrian Segal.

Charlie Loyd used Century-old full-color photographs from the hinterlands of the Russian Empire, a photo of Buzz Aldrin hanging out in the hatch of the Gemini XII capsule, and the phenomenal Glittering Blue to help answer the question “What does the Earth look like from Space?”

“The point of looking at Earth is that it’s Earth, it’s Beautiful, it’s Home.” –Charlie Loyd. Data from Himawari 8/JAXA.

And then, because human perception makes that an inherently subjective question, he called an astronaut (Chris Hadfield, veteran of seveel Space Shuttle Flights and a trip International Space Station) to get an answer first-hand. Some insights: the landscape is moving so fast that if you look away for a minute you’ll be over another state (or country), the surface of the Earth appears less blue when you’re looking directly down than it does obliquely (out an airplane window, for example (which is interesting, because Piers Sellers—an astronaut I had the good fortune to meet a few times—told me that Earth did appear bright blue, describing it as blindingly bright blue)), and that the Space Station is lit up by the Earth, takes on the hue of terrain below.

“The commonality of the human experience outweighs the little frictions.” —Chris Hadfield

Wednesday wrapped up with a triple bill: Rachel Binx, Michael Chang, and Jesse Kriss. Rachel showed off some great tools to export vector map tiles to SVG, custom t-shirts for map lovers, and her beautiful California coastline ring.

“When you give to the Internet, the Internet gives back.” —Rachel Binx.

Michael extended some of eyeo’s emerging themes—bots and procedural code—with algorithmically generated cyberpunk factions and video-game cityscapes.

A procedurally generated cyberpunk skyline. Courtesy Michael Chang.

Jesse elucidated his ideas on humane design—“the idea that it’s not about what you can build, but what’s appropriate to build given the context.” hopefully he left some of those principles behind when he left NASA JPL.

This makes me want to buy a Sequential Circuits Prophet 6.

Day 4

It’s amazing how early 10:30 a.m. feels when you stay up late talking with fascinating people.

Ben Fry somehow manages to simultaneously lead the design firm Fathom, teach an information design course at MIT (check out the course resources for a phenomenal list of readings on design), develop the Processing language (and P5.js, which brings the capabilities of Processing back to the browser), and give last-minute talks at eyeo. He spoke about the challenges of designing complex, animated visualizations for clients with evolving needs, and showed off the amazing work of his students, included this interactive map by Raphael Schaad.

Swiss peaks, in four languages. Raphael Shaad.

Next up, Gene Kogan, who gave an overview of machine learning techniques—from an algorithmically remixed version of Bohemian Rhapsody to style transfer (maybe texture transfer is a better term) from notable artists to video—and demoed some hot-off-the-press algorithms. All of which are featured on Machine Learning for Artists.

Style Transfer. Gene Kogan.

If nothing else, the VR Panel including James George, Alexander Porter, Winslow Porter, and Milica Zec ensured there’s an Oculus or Vive headset in my (near) future. I’m eager to check out Giant (although I probably won’t go as far as getting a butt-kicker chair (wait—that’s really what they’re called?)) and Clouds.

Lynn Cherny cranked the bots to 11 with automated poetry, automated flowers, automated castles, and automated (mostly poisonous) cocktails.

Random Flowers. Clay Heaton.

She likened the process of generating poems with code to feeding a slot machine quarters, addictively pushing a button to see what turns up next. Of course, pushing that button may also erase a poem for good, like smudged text on a postcard.

A few more things I liked: Peonage, a visualization in support of close reading; VIA, 48 translations of the first line of Dante’s Inferno; and this observation from @bunhae:

Perhaps uniquely appropriate for a conference about intersections and confluences, Sara Hendren explored the role of impresarios, facilitators, (radical) generalists, and translators. One standout example was Engineering at Home, simple, custom-made, inexpensive, effective, single-purpose solutions designed by a heart attack survivor with reduced use of har hands. I also loved this example of dual-use technology:

Multi-use ramp for skateboards & wheelchairs. Sara Hendren.

Finally: “Court ambiguity, walk toward inequality, and above all yield to heartbreak.”

Kyle McDonald is a fellow survivor of RPI, and an artist working “at the intersection of machine intelligence and human intelligence.” He started off with an intriguing piece by his new bride, Lauren McCarthy, who let mechanical turkers dictate her actions on a series of dates:

He then described a series of his own works, including Exhausting a Crowd, a 12-hour video of Piccadilly Circus, captioned by virtual passers-by and inspired by Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris (which in turn reminded me of The Age of Missing Information by Bill McKibben).

Terrapattern is a new collaborative work with Golan Levin, David Newbury, Irene Alvarado, Aman Tiwari, and Manzil Zaheer based on similar-image search technology and image tiles from Google Maps’ satellite view (which might be aerial photography). I’m fond of bridges in Pittsburgh and cemeteries in Detroit. (Self-promotional PSA: a little company called Planet has some data that may be useful for this some day soon).

I was also struck by Automatic Sample Layout, in which Kyle grouped drum samples by their sonic signatures. It’s amazing.

Things I Missed

Apparently it’s a thing at Eyeo that choosing between sessions is like choosing your favorite pet: it’s impossible. Here’s a few things I wish I had seen. (Searching #EYEO2016 on Twitter is helpful here!)

Luke DuBois performed live on stage with a guitar and Max/MSP, which was dissapointing because my interest in experimental & electronic music is how I ended up doing data visualization in the first place.

Somehow I managed to miss not one but two talks by artists who have done amazing work appropriating satellite images. Jenny Odell assembled similar objects from Google Satellite View into collages in Satellite Collections, while Josh Beagley (working with Daniel Alarcon) pinpointed the locations of migrant deaths along the U.S./Mexico border in Fatal Migrations.

Ships, Jenny Odell (left). Fatal Migrations, Josh Beagley & Daniel Alarcon (right).

Tega Brain inverted Adrian Segal’s work by turning art into data (and there was something about dirty t-shirts and dating by smell.)

Studies of the Jacaranda, the Cowslip Orchid, the Texan Blue Bonnett and the Sturt’s Desert Pea for the period from 2002–2013. Keeping Time, by Tega Brain.

Lastly (but not leastly) Kawandeep Virdee presented his meditative, process-driven drawings, which are both algorithmic and organic—merging the analog and the digital and alluding to Jen’s SciAm talk.

Vertical lines, stacked in columns. Kawandeep Virdee.

p.s. If you’re in Minneapolis/St. Paul & are in search of a nice dinner, The Salt Cellar has an interesting menu with some foraged elements. If you’re thirsty, I highly recommend Marvel Bar, featuring an inventive cocktail menu with ingredients like olive oil, soy sauce, and maple water (not all in one drink, if you got a little worried there.) Cheers!

p.p.s Here are a few other takes on the festival. Eyeo 2016: People, Politics & Speculation, by Nick Inzucchi; What stuck: My takeaways from Eyeo 2016 by Daniel Lapidus and EYEO 2016: Observations on Toolmaking by Nick Arner