When my sister came to visit me in my second year at NYUâs Interactive Telecommunication Program (ITP), she described it as "kind of like Hogwarts, but with computers." I've always thought that was a pretty good description of the place. There's a lot of magic, and now, there seems to be a bit more polish and sophistication to the projects as well. Itâs hard to say whether the development tools are getting better, or humans are just getting smarter. Either way, Iâm not complaining â there were a larger percentage of really engaging projects, fewer video mirrors, and no shortage of things that cause you to have to grab your mind and twist it back into place.
Many of the real standout projects involved cellphones. ITP has set up an server that makes it possible for students to develop the kind of phone trees you run into when you call the bank, except much more interesting. Students are using the phones as a sort of offloaded universal UI device. In many cases, two people can dial in to a central number and can then compete against each other up on a screen using their respective phones as controllers. The best example of this was the Megaphone 3000 by Christopher Kairalla and Jury Hahn- a series of very short, playable, Nintendo-like games that can be played up on a remote screen by two people holding phones. Another project which took a similar tack was Speed Dial by Christopher Paretti, in which users yell into their phones to control the speed of two toy slot-racing cars zooming around a track. What I really liked about all these projects was their intuitive maximization of the phone as an interface: key tones, microphone levels, and text-input all figured in to the interactions.
I was also impressed by Urban Sonar by Kati London, Sai Sriskandarajah, and Kate Hartman. This is essentially the kind of proximity sensors that higher-end cars have attached to a human. All the data is fed over a cellphone via bluetooth to a central computer. I'd love to check back and see what kind of data they come back with in a few months.
It was hard not to be charmed by Ben Brown's Network Topology Twister. Ben had put a number of sensors on the ground and built a central unit to specify a hidden connection pattern between them. Users had to step on the sensors and in many cases hold hands to reveal the hidden network topology. If I ever teach kids about how networks work, I want Ben's toy.
I also liked Zach Eveland and Kati London's Spooky Action, a client which permits shared control of the mouse between two networked computers. It's projects like this that just by shaking up a UI convention slightly make you realize how wedded you are to the way you expect computers to work. As you are navigating away, a force pulls the cursor away from you, and you have to fight a bit (or negotiate with the person at the other terminal) to get your mouse back.
frog's own, Dmetrie Tyler, had one of the quietest pieces in the show, but also one of the most striking. Dmetrie's Hypothetical Drawings About the End of the World presented panoramic towers of algorithmic drawings. The scrolls have a very hand-done quality and complexity that reminds me a lot of Mark Lombardi's work. These in particular displayed the results of web queries concerning the apocalypse.
If you missed out, definitely put the Spring show on your calendar. A lot of New York frogs are ITP graduates, and it's always a good place to catch a raw glimpse of the brightly flashing future.