Tag Archives: creative multimedia teaching

If Da Vinci Lived in the 21st Century

Apologies for the delayed post this week. I am in Italy on vacation and so getting the time to post has been less than easy. The first leg of the trip in Rome there was simply too much to see and do. Thankfully, now that we are taking it easy, I have time to sit down and write this. Everyone was telling my husband and I not to go to Rome in August because it is particularly hot, but the plus side is that all the hotels are extra cheap and there are less tourists than usual. One of the things that fascinated me the most in Rome was seeing a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit near our hotel at Piazza Poppollo.

The da Vinci exhibit got me thinking about a lot of things. I actually picked up a biography about the man which I am still reading through today, and it is immensely fascinating. However, I didn’t need a book about his life to identify da Vinci as a multi-passionate individual, so it was easy for me to understand his interest in many different fields, from science to nature to art. The Ted Talk by Emilie Wapnick (I also linked to it in a previous post) described Leonardo da Vinci perfectly. He kept over seven thousand notes in his journals, jotting down everything from to-do lists to random observations to inventions to drawings of everyday life. If da Vinci got bored with one research project, he switched to another with equal fervor. The man also became fascinated with the most random things, such as the tongue of a woodpecker. This led to many perceiving him as weird.

A photo from the Leonardo da Vinci museum in Rome This picture includes real miniature models of his inventions built with wood.

Society recognizes da Vinci as a genius with insatiable curiousity and incredible talent. The sheer amount of inventions and artworks featured in the exhibit blew me away. Yet a thought kept nagging at the corner of my mind. The more I read about the man, the more I wondered. If da Vinci had been born in the 21st century, would we still regard him as a genius? Would globalization and the internet be a hindrance or a help? Would the world even know his name?

I believe that if da Vinci was born in the 21st century, nobody would have ever known of his genius. While the internet may at first seem a boon to a man like da Vinci, it is also a rabbit hole for endless distraction. We know from descriptions written about him by friends that da Vinci was a distractable man. The man had many inventions tossed aside, such as scuba diving gear that was never usable by an actual diver. Luckily for him, this didn’t mater because there was plenty of other things for da Vinci to learn and discover. There was no need to spend a decade deep diving into a subject like specialists do today. That is because 500 years ago most subjects didn’t have much material to learn yet. After all, fields like medicine, natural science, and psychology were just being defined at that time.

Another image from the exhibit.

There is another reason I believe society would not recognize da Vinci as a genius in the modern day. That is marketing. Combining globalization with the internet means we have a world where everyone is competing for attention. I doubt marketing would have appealed to him. I definetely can’t imagine him devoting time to analzying Google’s search algorithm. Not when there are so many other interesting things to learn and discover. People learn marketing because they want to be seen and discovered. Yet da Vinci was only discovered because he was commissioned by wealthy patrons to make art and invent devices. Because of the money he earned, he could afford to pursue his curiosities. This was mentioned several times in the exhibit. This is what he really wanted.

Obviously there is no way to prove to you for sure if da Vinci would be recognized by society as a genius in the 21st century. The broader point I wanted to make is how much more difficult it is today as a multi passionate individual. Every field today has specialities with sub specialties on top of them, and most of them takes years to master. The only way to master multiple specialties is to become a workaholic, such as Musk who famously stated he works 120 hours a week. That is not sustainable, or healthy. Ultimately, being born as a multi-passionate individual in the 21st century can feel like being dealt a tough hand.

Even the famous Last Supper began disintegrating quickly because da Vinci used an unverified experimental technique.

Still, I like to think we can take some solace in the fact that, even someone as brilliant as da Vinci might have been overlooked in todays information overloaded world. At least for me, when I am feeling insecure, I find it a comforting and reassuring thought.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Pitfalls in Working with a Game Publisher

There are thousands of indie game developers all over the world who make games. But, only a fraction of those developers have any experience working with a game publisher. I was one of those developers when I saw an opportunity to work for a start up that published educational games. I submitted my game portfolio to the company and was accepted shortly after. It was a super exciting moment. I couldn’t wait to start working with a game publisher on a legitimate platform.

Unfortunately, my experience working with the company was less than ideal. Perhaps there were some warnings early on, but I did not know what signs to look for. Also, the company seemed eager to share information with me about how to complete the project successfully. They set up a video call with me and e-mailed me the PowerPoint that illustrated the requirements needed. They immediately gave me access to the platform where other developers submitted their games so I could get some inspiration for what game I should make.

I immediately noticed many of the games submitted through the platform were very simple. This made sense, because there was a requirement to complete the game in three months. Still, I felt pretty confident I could make a game that was more interesting. There was a clear incentive for making the games more engaging. Developers were paid by the percentage of users who play their game.

What I didn’t realize, and what wasn’t made clear to me, is that the game I built had to work seamlessly on an internet browser on older iPads. This was the reason that the games I saw on the education platform were so basic. Unfortunately, during my on-boarding the technical aspects of just how simple my game needed to be were not discussed. I had no idea that I could not have a three dimensional game where you could move a character around an environment with arrow keys because the iPads running Chrome could not handle rendering at that frame rate.

It can be difficult to export a game to an iPad or the web by itself, but both at the same time? VERY DIFFICULT

It was a huge blow to my motivation and excitement about game development when the testers reviewed my game. They said that it was unplayable on the required platforms. It was also a shock because I had been using the testing platform provided by the company many times. Before I submitted the game I played through it on the testing platform religiously. It seemed very counter-intuitive for the company to provide a testing framework if “passing” the test didn’t actually mean it would run on the final system.

I attempted to re-factor my game by reducing the complexity. For starters, compressing the graphics and simplifying the 3D models in the environment. After another round of testing I realized that there was no way my game would work within a web browser on an iPad without making huge changes. I had only a few weeks left at this point.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t create a build of the game and run it on an iPad myself. The problem was that the game had to connect to the companies proprietary API’s, and those API’s were only designed to run on the companies domain where the testing platform was. To make matters worse, their API also didn’t run on an iPad — only a computer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRVqZ58EcP8&feature=youtu.be
A brief video preview of my game, Grand Canyon Adventure.

In retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if the company was trying to take advantage of eager indie developers. The kind who are too new to know how to distinguish a sketchy arrangement from a legitimate one. I was one of those developers, who trusted that the information I needed to succeed would be provided to me. Maybe it was disorganization and mismanagement on the part of the company that made the technical requirements unclear. Regardless, the result was the same.

I wanted to share this story because I’m sure there are other indie developers out there looking for contracts to prove their capacity and get their work seen by more people. It’s an admirable goal, and far be it from me to discourage any indies from doing that. However, its important to be aware that many companies take advantage of indies eagerness to get professional experience. I wish I had done more research and asked more questions before diving into making the game. Hopefully this post will help those of you reading to be aware of some of the pitfalls. Especially in cases where you are working with a publisher that has very specific rules about the types of games that they accept.

It was not a lack of motivation or excitement about making the game on my part. I read through the rules, visited the forums, and took time to explore the platform the company used. Sadly, I had pretty much completed the game before I learned it would not be publishable on the platform..

Spending three months on a game that ended up not returning any profit is bad enough. Whats worse is the bad taste is still there an entire year later. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if I signed a contract for a year. I know this has happened to other developers. It is my sincere belief that the industry needs to do a whole lot better. Especially in terms of making the technical limitations transparent, without taking advantage of indie developers passion.

My itch.io page for Grand Canyon Adventure

Even though my game didn’t get accepted while working with the game publisher, I decided to publish my game publicly on itch.io instead. After all, it is a shame to work on something and have it sit unseen on my hard drive. It’s an educational game for middle school students where you navigate a boat through the rapids of the grand canyon. You earn points by collecting gems and answering questions about erosion.

Are you an indie developer? Have you had any bad experiences working with a game publisher, on educational games or otherwise? I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @nadyaprimak where I talk more about game development, art, technology, and more.

How to Make a Poetry Bot

A while ago I published a post about how I used Spell, a machine learning framework that allows you to train your models faster without the pain of dependency management on your machine, to implement a style transfer. I’ve continued to use Spell, and have expanded into exploring other training models. In this post I’m going to show you how to make a poetry bot.

Today I wanted to write about making your own text bot with Spell. I’ve always been a huge fan of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. I know some find her work a bit morbid, but her poetry has spoken to me throughout many years and I continue to marvel at how someone who rarely left her home could have such incredible insight into the human condition, the natural world, and the realities of life and death.

A portrait of Emily Dickinson, the famous reclusive poet

Since Spell conveniently had a video tutorial for creating a bot trained on lyrics from DOOM, I figured I could apply this quite easily to Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

Surprisingly for me, the hardest part was not the training but the web scraping component. I started out with the Node.js tutorial for web scraping and then poked around some documentation for puppeteer. I also looked at cheerio to figure out how I could get the scraper to press the “next” button. This was necessary for when it reached the end of the results on a page.

At first I decided to scrape poets.org, which only had 5 pages of poetry by Emily Dickinson. It seemed like a paltry amount, and I knew Emily Dickinson had been very prolific. So, I did some searching online to find a better source. Although a bit more difficult to scrape, poemhunter.com ended up being a better source. It had 31 pages of poetry by Emily Dickinson. Jackpot!

I used NodeJS for scraping a website with all of Emily Dickinson’s poems

I did run into some issues at this point, with lots of errors about the socket hanging up that I thought was crashing the scraper. It was hard to deduce exactly what was the cause, but by modifying my file writing function to add each poem to the file one by one instead of appending each poem to an increasingly long string and writing the file at the end, I still got the data back that I was expecting.

All of Emily Dickinson’s poems were added to the same text file. This made it easier for the LSTM training model to process the data. Once the model was created, I downloaded it back to my machine and created a small web app with ML5. The app uses the model to generate new poetry, with an adjustable variable called “temperature”. The variable allows you to change the amount of randomness you see in the generated text. As opposed to the AI drawing purely from the poetry data in the file.

Here is a brief sample of output from the bot, for your reading pleasure:


Birds at the Corn— The Sun— With Men Orchard with Me— The Bone at House— The Bonnet Day— The Milly strain of He can the March— And then I star me— And Death— A Dread His Eyes the Sun— And then the Sun too Day the Birds— The Room To only still— And I too see the Soul That Desert face of Sun— The Man As House He stand— And stand to the Soul a Bee— And then the Soul as Beauty

If you’re interested in creating your own text bot with Spell, check out this video tutorial which I used:

Hopefully now you have a good idea of how to make a poetry bot! Of course if you’re having any trouble and want to see my code, I have it up on github here.

Is a Game Development Degree Worth it?

The other day I read a fantastic write-up by Australian game development professor Brendan Keogh titled “Are games art school? How to teach game development when there are no jobs”. Basically, it boils down to a discussion about whether or not a game development degree is worth it. It was actually a written version of his presentation from his talk at GDC this year, but since the video of the talk is only accessible with a subscription, he was kind enough to make a version that anyone can read.

It’s probably one of the best articles I have read about getting a game development education and what being a game developer really means. Brendan talks about how game students come in with a misconception about how the program is meant to prepare them to get a job in the AAA game industry. The problem with that, of course, is that there are waaaaay more game development students than there are jobs in the industry.

GDC, the official game developers conference in San Francisco where Brendan gave the talk originally

I have to agree with Brendan on this point, because even in the United States where we have the vast majority of studios, there are whole swaths of the country where game development jobs are almost nonexistent. That even includes metropolitan cities like DC, where the only major studio is Bethesda, but there are at least two graduate programs that I know of offered nearby, and a lot more in the surrounding states.

The thing is, I have a bit of personal experience with the graduate programs in the area. I actually enrolled in a class at one of them, and though I met many lovely people there, at the end of the day I just didn’t feel like the return on investment was worth it for the amount of money I spent. Of course I was in a unique situation, coming from a programming background, having also already made games on my own.

American University has a graduate program and game lab in Washington, DC, but few students end up in the AAA industry

That’s the part that is trickiest, which Brendan also brings up in his article. “The students I’ve seen have the most successes as game developers—be that finding any job or be that getting some form of recognition for the games they make—are the students who act like they’re already game developers. Because they are. You don’t need a degree to be game developer. I would tell this to students regularly.” That is what I feel like I knew intuitively, perhaps because my bachelors degree was in Visual Arts, and Brendan also spends a lot of time comparing game development studies to art school.

The reason he compares the two is because, like art school, students of these disciplines often end up having to pave their own way to a career. In fact, I found it quite interesting that he compared artists with game developers, because it ties into another post I wrote a little while ago about Nathalie Lawhead and her work which bridges the gap between art and games. The skills art and game students acquire can transfer to a number of different industries. For example, a game development student might end up working as a web developer, or a project manager, or a journalist.

Bethesda is the only AAA studio in the entire DC metropolitan area

Thing is, I already had to pave my way to a career after my bachelors degree. I decided I was going to be a web developer, so I spent two years working for my Alma mater in the art media lab while teaching myself JavaScript and building a portfolio. Having paved my way once, I am not as keen on paving my way a second time. Or at least, if I must pave my way, I would prefer to do it without sinking further into debt.

Ultimately, I decided it doesn’t make sense for me to pursue a graduate degree in game design and development. Reading Brendan’s article reinforced my decision. That is because it reminded me that if you make games, you are already a game developer. The degree will not make you more of one. That being said, I really liked how Brendan talked about his approach in teaching a game development program. If I lived in Australia, I might have considered taking his class.

Preview of some of Brendan Keogh’s games on itch.io

Getting students should be focused on making games early, and often. They should be looking at games that aren’t AAA quality but rather those made by indies all over the world. This shifts the perspective of what game development really is and what types of people make games. His article inspired me to stop being a perfectionist and focus on making simple things and releasing them. He also convinced me that the worth of a game development degree is (probably) not equal to the cost. That is, if you are not in great financial straits.

That is the true path to success in the game industry — start making games now. The more you make, the better you get. And the more chances you have of being recognized for what you do. Of course you will fail sometimes. Your game might even be a bit trashy, but that’s part of the process and how you grow. Oftentimes people wait until they are motivated to start a project. But, the sad truth is that if you wait for motivation it might never come. The truth is that action comes first, then motivation, which leads to more action. It is a cycle, but the first step is to make a game.

This blog post is both a reflection and response to the write up by Brendan. Still, I felt like I only touched the surface. If you are still want to learn more, I highly recommend reading it. He gets into all the nitty gritty details, with statistics and everything. You won’t regret it. Or check out his games on itch.io.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

How to Transfer an Art Style to Any Image

Machine learning and artificial intelligence have been on my radar for years now, but more as a concept and “thing I should know about.” I didn’t feel that I had the free time or skills to dig into it. However, my attitude about machine learning has changed in the past few months. I have seen new and easier tools become accessible to the public. In this post I will walk you through how to transfer an art style to any image using some of these tools.

One such tool is called Spell. Last week I spent days trying to set up Tensorflow on my laptop. The hardest part was getting the correct dependencies to run a style transfer algorithm. Transferring the style of an artist I admire to my photography seemed like one of the coolest things I could do, and I was determined. That determination wavered after traversing several levels of dependency hell. Eventually I realized that my machine could take days or weeks to train on a single artwork. That was when I decided to outsource. The tedium and frustration of dependency management as well as the expense/speed of the GPU was going to be handled by Spell.

An example of style transfer from Priyanka Mandikal’s blog

What’s great about Spell is it is absolutely free to sign up, and when you run commands they run remotely on Spell’s many CPU’s and GPU’s so you don’t have to keep your machine on for days at a time. They do charge you when you use their GPU’s, but the prices are very reasonable, and you are only charged for the time that the GPU was actually training your model (the one I paid for was $0.90 per hour, and training the model took 8 hours). They have good documentation and a very user friendly design, just to sweeten the deal.

Spell also had wonderful tutorials, one which actually included the Style Transfer training that I had been trying to execute. See it for yourself here.

The Scream by Edvard Munch

After some debate I decided to train my model on one of Edvard Munch‘s paintings (no, not The Scream, even though it’s a great one). Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as cool as I hoped. I think this might be because I did not adjust he parameters for color or abstraction. Still, it was an exciting moment when I finally got the style transfer to work. I am even more excited to keep experimenting with it.

If you are interested in experimenting with AI and Machine Learning yourself, I highly recommend trying out Spell. Now you can show your friends how to transfer an art style to any image and play around with your own!

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Building a VR Game: My Top 5 Tips

About a year ago, I released my game Nightcrawler VR Bowling on Steam. It was shortly before Steam got rid of their Greenlight program, and VR games had the privilege of skipping the voting process because Steam was looking to get more VR games on their platform. Building a VR game won’t be easy, but with these tips you can have a smoother start and learn a little bit faster.

Putting a game on Steam was something that was on my bucket list, so by no means do I insist that step is necessary, but it does help to learn how the process works and what sorts of information game developers have access to. I do plan on releasing a more impressive game on Steam eventually, but for the immediate future I’m making Nightcrawler VR Bowling free, so anybody can try it out if they want to.

I learned a lot from making this game, and wanted to share some of the pitfalls and strategies and helped me make Nightcrawler VR Bowling a reality.

A screenshot from “Box Shooter” the game which I converted to VR

Take a simple 3D game and convert it to VR before starting.

In my case, I took a game I made in a class on Coursera called “Box Shooter” (the link will take you to the game) where you are placed in an arena full of multicolored moving blocks and you shoot different colored boxes for points. By converting it to VR instead of starting on a game from scratch, I was able to think about the specific VR challenges in terms of user interface and input separately from all of the other game design challenges that were independent from VR. It also gave me a quick win that helped fuel my drive to keep going.

A screenshot from one of the input utility example games

Use a game engine that already has VR kits and input utilities, and test them out

This one may seem obvious, but especially if you haven’t made any other games previously you may not know about these tools. Unity has a TON of great VR kits and input utilities to get you started, which include examples for you to play around with. Make sure you open those examples in your VR headset and try them out before getting started on your game.

Beat Saber, a very popular game, actually has relatively simple interactions… just hit the squared with your sword

Keep your controls and interactions simple.

Your first VR game is not going to blow anyone’s mind (unless they’ve never put a VR headset on before). The best way to gain experience and not to give up halfway is to make a simulator game. In my case, I decided to simulate a game of bowling. It’s easy to get super excited about VR and come up with a pie-in-the-sky idea but you will almost certainly either become too intimidated and give up altogether or end up settling for something that you’re not at all satisfied with. If a simulator seems boring, try to think of how you might put a twist on it. In my case, I created a surreal environment for the bowling experience. You will be much happier with yourself and your game if you actually attain the goals you set.

Yes, you will probably look like an idiot while playtesting. No, that should not faze you.

Get comfortable inside the VR environment

You will be playtesting your game a lot. If you’re not sick of playtesting by the time your game is finished you’re doing something wrong. There is no such thing as too much playtesting. That being said, you should get comfortable inside the VR environment before you start playtesting, because some things will feel unnatural at first just by virtue of being in VR. It also helps to get other people that have played in VR to play your game, but obviously you cannot ask your friends to play your game hundreds of times. Yes, you will probably end up playing your own game hundreds of times. After all, every time you make a change, you gotta put that headset on and check and make sure the game is working like it’s supposed to. Make sure your headset fits or you will have one hell of a headache by the time you’re done!

VR simulator games like “Job Simulator” are a lot of fun and great to take inspiration from.

Take inspiration from what’s out there

This tip should be taken with the “keep it simple, stupid” principle in mind. You might be inspired by VR games which were made by a team of professionals. That is cool, but you are not going to make that game (if you do, please message me and I will send you cookies). There are tons of awesome VR simulator games and other games that might sound simple or even boring but are actually tons of fun to play. Taking a look at other games will also help you see what is (and isn’t) possible.

Okay, that’s all the tips I’ve got for now! Another thing you can try is joining a game jam, something I write about in this post here. Think I left anything out?

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Net Art Resources | Why I Miss the Early Internet

Following up from my article “Why I Miss the Nineties Internet” here are some useful resources if you’re interested in getting involved with creative coding in the net art space or want to take a look at some old school websites for yourself.

https://archive.org/web/

The Wayback Machine allows you to search URL’s from the past and see screenshots of old websites. It’s an impressive archive.

http://oldweb.today

Similiar to the Wayback Machine but appears to retain some interactivity as opposed to simply a screenshot of an old webpage. Actually simulates the browser window.

https://www.webdesignmuseum.org

Web Design Museum has screenshots of many of the early versions of major corporate sites like Paypal, Netflix, and Apple.. but it also has tons of lesser known websites that really show the range of design experimentation that was happening in the 90’s and early 2000’s. It’s a great source of inspiration for artists who want to draw on that sense of old internet nostalgia.

http://rhizome.org/program/

Rhizome is a hub for digital artists who work with the web. It was founded by Mark Tribe when artists were just beginning to experiment online and has an impressive archive. There are tons of creative coders featured on this website who combine art and technology in unique and fascinating ways.

http://networkcultures.org/blog/publication/no-12-variant-analyses-interrogations-of-new-media-art-and-culture-patrick-lichty/

I had the pleasure of meeting Patrick Lichty in person when I was in college. Lichty has been practicing with digital media long before I was born and wrote these insightful essays on how digital art has evolved from the very early days.

http://www.teleportacia.org/war/

A classic piece of net art “My Boyfriend Came Back From The War” was made back in 1996 by Russian artist Olia Lilinia.

https://ristar.itch.io/secret-little-haven

Made by Victoria Dominowski, this is another game that draws on nineties internet nostalgia, but focused more on the AOL chatroom aesthetic. Even the name “safe little haven” reminds me of how I felt about my computer back then.

I hope you find these net art resources useful! Are you inspired to make an experimental game? What do you think of the internet of the nineties? Do you have a favorite artwork or game among those which I shared? Any ideas of your own about how to improve the internet and make it a better place? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Why I Miss the Early Internet: Part 2

This is a continuation of “Why I Miss the Early Internet: Part 1”.

What can we do to revive the experimental attitude that prevailed in the nineties internet? We can do is form our own community of web experimenters who draw upon the nineties internet for inspiration. There are artists today who leverage our nostalgia for the nineties internet and create experimental games and other media which bring back that sense of wonder and mystery that used to be all over the internet. Artists who capture magical moments where you stumble upon something that resonates with you completely unexpectedly, like an explorer in the wilderness. My personal favorite artist who makes work like this is Nathalie Lawhead.

You can find most of her work, which has been described both as art and as experimental games, at her itch.io page. Much of Nathalie’s work draws on the psychedelic, strange, and surprising aspects of the early internet. Her color palette is bright and minimalist, her characters cartoonish and bizarre. In some of her work, like “Everything is going to be OK,” Nathalie evokes the feeling of an nineties desktop computer display, with the low resolution application icons and abstract background.

A screenshot from Nathalie Lawhead’s game “Everything is going to be OK”

As you click on each application you are presented with little vignettes that are very personal to Nathalie’s life. The nineties internet aesthetic fits the subject matter perfectly, because it is fragmented, sometimes difficult to understand, and demands the full attention of the user. It is both mysterious and fascinating, and rewards users who take the time to explore the interface for hidden secrets, taking on the explorer mentality I mentioned earlier.

I don’t want to describe Nathalie’s work in too much detail because she does it better herself than I ever could, and she has plenty of content describing her work, both on her blog and on youtube. If you have any interest at all in making experimental games or interactive experiences, I highly recommend checking out her stuff.

Another screenshot from “Everything is going to be OK”

Hopefully by now it makes sense why learning about the early internet is not just for historians and nerds. Artists like Nathalie and others draw upon the nostalgia and use it to create fantastic experiences that are both unique and compelling. I hope this article motivates people to explore more digital content that draws upon old internet tropes.

If you’re interested in creating your own net art or experimental games and looking for some additional resources, check out my follow up article.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Why I Miss the Early Internet: Part 1

I was born in 1991 so I feel like I got the tail-end of the wondrous, strange, and experimental world of the early internet. Yet even though I was a kid and even though the internet is a lot more accessible now than it used to be, I still long for the days of the nineties internet. It really felt like the wild wild west back then, with each new website I encountered like finding a unicorn while out on a stroll. I think even the inaccessibility made it feel like a more magical place. Let me explain why.

It wasn’t so simple as just turning on your computer and clicking on your browser icon. Maybe it was also because I was just a kid, but I imagined that awful dial-up tone as the sound of the data traveling thousands of miles and connecting to other computers in far-away places.

The most popular browser of the nineties was not the most glamorous

I visualized how the data would travel into the telephone and across all the poles I would see outside when my parents drove me to school, like a squirrel racing across the wires. At the time I really believed it to be a kind of magic, that if I broke apart the computer I would uncover some kind of little fairy behind the screen.

In some ways today’s internet is better, of course. The field of user experience did not even exist in the nineties, and there were no standards defining what made a site easy to use. Even worse, there were no screen reader tools or really any tools that allowed people with disabilities to use the internet.

A homepage for a game developer from 1996

Yet I think something was lost with the new era of user research and user experience, along with all of the CSS frameworks like Bootstrap which homogenized the web design landscape. These days most websites look very similiar, and people are afraid of straying from the popular styles. I think this is a bit tragic, because there is a lot less experimentation, almost like people have given up creating anything new on the web.

For artists I think the modern internet is especially challenging. Everyone is scrambling to share their work on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and that’s only the popular social websites. When you start factoring in blogs and portfolio sites and other creative communities the numbers become staggering. Creative types just getting started in their career have a hard time getting noticed unless they carve out a very specific niche for themselves. The problem with niches, just like the problem with the current homogenized web design of the modern web, is that it also takes away room for experimentation.

Geocities was a popular platform in the time period, with lots of moving images, background music, and general psychedelic vibes.

Sometimes I like to ask myself theoretical questions about where the internet might be today if things had gone differently. What would happen if Google was only one of several popular search engines? What if the internet had gone a totally different direction, or remained the domain of early adopters and academics rather than becoming a mainstream commodity? What would an internet that was not dominated by corporate entities look like? What would an internet made for digital artists look like?

While technically from 2001 and almost impossible to read, this website illustrates just how experimental people used to be on the web.

Of course, all of this might seem terribly pointless to ponder. Sure, you might be thinking again, it’s interesting to consider these questions, but what can we do with this information now? We cannot turn back the clock on all of the UX research nor can we persuade corporations to stop offering their services online. Most of us rightly wouldn’t want that to happen even if it was an option, because accessibility for disabled folks and shopping online are things that we appreciate.

This is Part 1 of a two part blog series. Check out Part 2 here where I talk about artist Nathalie Lawhead and how she leverages the nineties internet aesthetic today.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Creative Coding Resources | When Artists Write Code

This is a follow up to my article reviewing the exhibit at Artechouse DC.

If you’re interested in popular creative coding tools like Processing I suspect the artists behind the Artechouse DC exhibit used, you should absolutely check out some of the links below.

While I certainly can’t guarantee that learning Processing will ever get you selected to exhibit at Artechouse, you will come away with a better understanding of how some of these art exhibits are formed. There’s also tools like Arduino which I am sure were involved at some point.

https://processing.org/

The main Processing website. Lots of examples, documentation, and tutorials for getting started with Processing, even if you’re new to code. Processing uses a very simple language based on Python that is quite easy to learn. There are also examples that allow artists to experiment with to start creating generative art quite quickly.

https://www.openprocessing.org/

A community for Processing developers, where its super easy to share your work and create a portfolio. If you’re looking for inspiration or source code to experiment with to see what sort of changes happen, this is a good place to go.

http://learningprocessing.com/examples/

Tons of examples of Processing in action, with code snippets alongside the result. All the exercises and examples are accessible online for free, with the code displayed alongside. There are also comments in the examples explaining parts of the code. It’s easy enough to copy and paste it into your IDE and make changes if you want to experiment more.

https://openframeworks.cc/

Open Frameworks is a open sourced, C++ based toolkit for creative coding. As they say in the about section, “Our intended audience are folks using computers for creative, artistic expression, and who would like low level access to the data inside of media in order manipulate, analyze or explore.” Might be a little harder to get started if you don’t have any coding background, however.

https://www.sergioalbiac.com/

One of my personal favorite Processing artists, who also experiments with artificial intelligence and machine learning to create amazing images. Although he sometimes uses Processing experiments to inspire his paintings versus the other way around, I find looking at his work always inspires me.

https://www.arduino.cc/en/Main/Products

Arduino boards are often used in tandem with Processing, because they allow for users to actually interact with the art. They are like miniature computers that can be setup with whatever inputs and outputs your project needs.

Did you find any of the above links helpful? Did you think the cherry blossom exhibit was better? Are you already exhibiting in spaces like Artechouse, or hope to in the future? I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences with tools like Processing and Arduino, and what you think of where the world of creative expression with technology is going. Leave your comments below!