when virtual becomes real

Just read Adam Greenfield’s blog entry “Reality bites“. He describes how a design he produced for a friend’s new restaurant became a solid metal sign within days. Despite knowing about recent rapid fabrication techniques, actually seeing these processes in action for his own design was still shocking.

I too am still amazed at the relative ease that ideas can be turned into reality. In a presentation “As we may print” at the 2003 Interaction Design for Children, Michael Eisenberg described how he and his co-workers at University Colorado were using laser cutters to enable children to design their own 3D designs in card or even thin plywood. More recently at the National Centre for Product Design and Development Research in Cardiff, I saw 3D metal printers. I was aware of 3D printers working in various gels and foams, but did not realise it was possible to create parts in titanium and steel, simply printed from 3D CAD designs. Chasing one of Adam’s links I found instructions to make your own 3D printer on the MIT site … however, this constructs your designs in pasta paste not metal!

One of the arguments we are making about our FireFly technology is that it will change lighting from being a matter of engineering and electronics, to a digital medium where the focus moves form hardware to software. While FireFly allows more flexible 2D and 3D arrangements than other technologies we are aware of, it is certainly not alone in making this transformation in lighting. Last week I was talking to Art Lights London and they are planning some large installations using Barco’s LED lighting arrays. Soon anything that you can point on your computer screen you will also be able to paint in light from your own Christmas tree to London Bridge.

Although it sometimes seems that technology is simply fuelling war and environmental catastrophe, it is a joy to still glimpse these occasional moments of magic.

puzzle with pictures

As it was new Years Day and it was too wet to go shift earth in the garden I thought I’d play a bit with Professor Alan’s puzzle square. I’ve had a ‘make your own’ version for years, but you had to chop an image into bits give them special names, etc. Now it works much more easily with any image (try it yourself). This are a couple I made with my own photos:

needs Javascript   needs Javascript

The key is that it is I am now using the CSS clip property which allows you to show selected parts of an image (or in fact any HTML element). This was made a little more complicated due to the fact that the W3C pages for clip give running examples for every other kind of visual effect … but not clip! Googling was a nightmare as it turns up page after page in forums saying “I can’t get clip to work”!

Happily I found seifi.org (a blog that looks like a really great web resource) and a post on Creating Thumbnails Using the CSS Clip Property. This was full of meticulously laid out examples … Mojo Seifi, you are a star!

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paying the tax

tax collectors get a bad press, but we have just got to the end of filling in our annual tax returns online and is an amazingly trouble free process … I can still remember when it was paper forms and 2 days before the final deadline we’d discover we needed extra green pages for this thing or other. Now-a-days you just fill in the boxes on the web form, if you haven’t got the figures it just remembers it all for later, then at the end you press the button and it works out everything. And even better, they said they owed me £80 🙂

If only every online service was as good. A short while ago we tried to open a savings account with the Northern Rock and gave up as the applet-based system they use is not compatable with Apple Macs … other banks seem to be able to use SSL for security and browser-independent HTML, so why not them! Suffice to say we went elsewhere.

Even worse was an experience early last year. I’d given a seminar at another university and submitted an expense claim. The university sent me payment advice as an email, but it displayed oddly when I viewed it and got a high spamassassin rating. A bit of digging and I found that the high spam rating was due to the fact that there was not a closing body tag in the HTML. I was going to mail the university IT support and then saw that the company who supplied the software, Albany Software, was named in the email and decided to mail them directly to avoid embarassing them to their client.

So I went to their web site … but it didn’t display properly in Firefox, I tried Safari … even worse! Eventually I got their ‘support’ contact email by using view source and mailed them, mentioning both the broken HTML in the email and the broken website.

The reply from their ‘support’ email:

“Try using Microsoft Internet Explorer. Though Firefox is vastely superior, most websites/applications are only compatible with Internet Explorer.”

Who said the days of the old sys admins had gone!

The happy end to the last story is that I just revisited their site, they have at last got it working cross browser … well I guess better late than never.

Anyway thumbs up for Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, even if others need to catch up a little.