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Category Archives: creativity

This is an excerpt from a dream (possibly a nightmare) I had last night.

What if we added a citywide chromakey feature to Limerick City. Chromakey is commonly known as green-screen or blue-screen, a technique widely used by photographers and moviemakers to modify a scene, mixing real and virtual (make-uppy) visuals. We could paint every ugly and derelict building with the selected colour; ugly-looking people, cats, dogs, cars, etc., would be ordered to be dressed or painted with the same colour. Then, the likes of RTE can superimpose whatever virtual landscape they want to support their message when making programs about Limerick. On a good day, we may add some visuals form Limerick 2030 (when the whole place is converted to a large shopping mall along the river Shannon, with a few rich and beautiful people strolling along). On a bad day, add some visuals from some battle zone or shot’m-up game. Or we can have virtual graffiti. Or just leave the undesired stuff blank.

That would leave room for re-branding.

I was delighted to follow the developments today in Limerick, culminating in the resignation of the CEO from Limerick City of Culture 2014. One down, a few more to go, before there may be a possibility to build a board and a structure that can actually see a successful year of City of Culture through. A proper board only needs one bean counter. I doesn’t need any Gombeen-men (or women). It needs people who are experienced culture workers, with roots in Limerick and with a global outlook.

A good working board should be able to multiply the State contribution of €6 million, raising funds from other sources, if the successful delivery so requires. A real board should be transparent, making a year-long experience of high impact possible.

It was a public meeting, following the resignations of the artistic director of Limerick City of Culture 2014, Karl Wallace and two of his co-workers.

Many of us at the meeting requested that the board of Limerick City of Culture 2014 take their responsibility and step down, or at least, that the CEO steps down. Over the past few days, all the bad headlines in media have been caused by the Board – not the culture workers or people of Limerick.

The honest questions from culture workers and members of the public were met with political platitudes, such as Pat Cox’s statement that Karl Wallace’s resignation “was only a bump in the road”. Cox also claimed that the board, altruistically, “works for free”. I think we need to see the full accounts and ledgers of Limerick National City of Culture 2014 Ltd if we were to believe that statement. From where are the €120,000 coming, to pay the CEO?

Limerick National City Of Culture 2014 Ltd (Company Registration Number: 533149) was set up on Tuesday the 24th of September 2013 in Limerick. The company’s current directors Conn Murray and Tom Gilligan have been the directors of 16 other Irish companies between them, 2 of which are now closed.

This is the first year of IT Tralee’s Masters programme in Creative Media. Seven brave and highly motivated students showcased their projects in the Kerry County Museum – a great venue for this activity. The quality of the exhibits was extremely high.

It is wonderful to see how the creative academic programmes have evolved at IT Tralee over the past ten years. From an early start with undergraduate multimedia to today’s fully-fledged and hyper-creative Masters programme. I have had the opportunity to follow the academic staff at Tralee for several years, as many of them came to UL for their own degrees.  They have now improved and appropriated what they learnt into a very strong curriculum. The Masters course in Tralee is focusing on content creation and production. The location, region and culture in County Kerry lends itself well for providing rich contexts to build on.

The expo runs until the 20th of June 2013 and I strongly recommend you go and experience the exhibition.

Still from Thomas G. Dineen’s STRUCTURE video

SAMSUNGWall of exhibits from Patrick Tobin’s Collaborative Design.


Listening stations for Lea Parker-Bond’s The Blow-ins

Short video clip of Shane Murphy’s video-wall FLOW

Now in the second year, we’re building the design@UL exhibition in Limerick City with a selection of our students’ design work. It’s quite an interesting experience when faculty from computer science, architecture, civil engineering, aeronautical engineering, etc., come together and talk about how to design and exhibition. You would imagine that we’re all singing form the same hymn sheet, but as design can be so many different things, the creative cacophony can be almost overwhelming at times. I think it’s an excellent interdisciplinary exercise and as we learn to work together, new ideas emerge and are negotiated.
This year, the exhibition opens on Tuesday evening, the 28th of May at 18:00 and runs until Saturday the 1st of June. Admission is free, so please call in and have a look, talk to the students and enjoy the creativity.


Today, while running around the UL campus for final year project demonstrations, the light fantastic stopped me in the stairwell. Last year, I saw it the 6th of March. Seeing a full spectrum slowly moving across a floor or a wall, and trying to figure out where the perfect angles and refractory indices are (in this case a window in the UL’s Engineering Research Building) still fascinates me.

light fantastic rainbow spectrum

Let’s hope the sunshine continues and that spring eventually decides to stay.

With the emergence of wonderful audio apps such as Audioboo, it has become a challenge to record outdoors without the rumbling from wind hitting the microphone.
If you get some nice fluffy textile (see my note DIY Wind-jammer for Zoom H1), you can use a similar, but even simpler approach.
Cut textile
Cut a piece of the fluffy textile about 2 centimeters wider than your phone and about twice the length of the “base” of the phone.
Fold and stitch
Fold the textile with the fluffy side in and sew/stitch along the short sides.

turn inside-out, attach to phone
Turn the textile inside-out (so it gets the fluffy side out!)
Put it on your phone and record.

Happy Recording!

Last week, I had to buy some heavy-duty extension leads and some other electrical bits and pieces to get our exhibition Design@UL working in the former Franciscan church in Limerick City. The prices were high in the local shop and when I inspected the gear, it was Made in China.

Last year, when I was in Germany on an artistic expedition, having to do similar purchases, it was half the price and the gear was Made in Germany. That’s both interesting and alarming, and probably explains a lot if you think about it.

Ballpoint pen Made in Germany

We need to change this!

Will there be a day in a not so distant future when I can walk into a shop in Ireland and most of the basic stuff is actually made here, Made in Ireland, by real people in a real economy?
In the meantime, we would all be better off if the stuff we buy is made in Europe.

When I was growing up, I really enjoyed learning by experimenting with all kinds of things. I also learnt a lot from various educational science kits that sympathetic parents bought, probably trying to facilitate my interests (or hoping to contain the interests on the safe side of science and technology). There were all kinds of exciting kits, ranging from The Little Electrician, to the Chemistry kit, to the Nuclear Energy exploration kit….

In addition to this, it was really fun to combine the kits with Lego, Meccano and bits and pieces from broken things found in the basement.
Back in the 1960s, it was also possible, as a kid, to walk in to the local pharmacy and buy all kinds of interesting stuff (e.g. HCL, HNO3, H2SO4, NH3, more or less the whole chemical alphabet….). You could also get a good variety of electronic components in all radio shops.

Later in life, I have always tried to choose stuff with open-ended educational value when buying (or making!) birthday gifts to young people. Sadly, the possibility to send anything interesting abroad by post has recently been made almost impossible.

The Irish postal service An Post now demand that you fill out an Aviation Security Declaration when sending a larger letter or small parcel. As far as I have googled this, it’s a fairly recent thing (February 2012?). Perhaps it’s the UK that have forced Ireland into this, as most of the stuff posted in Ireland with destinations in Europe pass through the UK, and with the Olympics and other silly antics around the corner, they are really paranoid about everything.

This leaves me with the only option, to post the most dangerous of all things: books. Books may contain ideas that may change the world.

It is a real mystery that a lot of people think that touch screen and multi-touch technology is a novelty. Touch screens have a long history, see for example Bill Buxton‘s extensive research on this topic.
In my own work, I stumbled into touch screen research around 1984, while speculating about possibilities to optically interconnect VLSI circuits through optically transmissive substrates. As my own lab did not have the facilities to try out some of the ideas on a micro-scale, we fiddled with normal sized opto-components and circuits, assuming that the principles would scale down if we ever managed to get a budget to pursue this radical idea.
We never found any funding for the VLSI optical interconnects, but we continued to explore the possibilities with the experimental setup, which resulted in the largest touch screens in the world at the time.

Early touch screen prototype, 1986

We were very lucky to get in contact with the local transport company in Gothenburg who gave us an order for three prototype systems. This, in turn, led to contacts with Swedish Rail, via KNM electronics, and a full deployment of our touch technology at all railway stations in Sweden.

One of the first full-scale touch screen for public transport info. 1988

One of the STINS systems, developed for Swedish Rail. 1989.

As my own interest was and remain to make new prototypes, I refocused on making slightly smaller devices that would fit around normal computer screens, CRTs. We succeeded in designing such a smaller system, more lightweight and less expensive.

The VENTRI prototype. A General Purpose Portable Communicator with a touch screen. 1992

This led to explorations of how touch technology may be used by users with different forms of physical disability. We participated in the EU initiative TIDE – Technological Initiative for Disabled and Elderly. In this European collaboration we came to work together with Speech Technology Ltd and Circuits Test and Systems Ltd  at Trinity College in Dublin. The collaboration resulted in a pretty amazing prototype of a General Purpose Portable Communicator targeted at users who could not speak and with various degrees of physical and cognitive impairment. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find funding for any volume production and marketing of the device.

Touch screen for London Underground passenger info. 1993.

Later, I came in contact with Multimedia Technologies Ireland (MTI) in Plassey Technological Park in Limerick and Trinity College in Dublin. Together with MTI, we developed two prototypes of a system for interactive passenger information for London Underground.

My smallest touch screen prototype. Handheld. 1994.

I also started to fiddle with a really small device, a handheld unit. I made one single prototype and tried to show it, in confidence, to a few of the larger manufacturers. The one and only prototype disappeared during one of these excursions and I only have one single photo left of it, from around 1994.

Looks familiar, doesn’t it?