May 08, 2005
prototyping ambient displays on Tiger
Tiger is proving an effective prototyping environment for ambient displays. Andrew has noted the use of Dashboard, which I'm going to play with next) but I've been using Quartz Composer.
It has some nice features that make it easy - reads RSS feeds for data input, works full screen, and can be used as a screensaver. An iMac or old iBook sitting in the corner can therefore easily be used as an ambient display.
The main disadvantage is that it's 2D (the display at least), with a fixed angle of viewing. It can, however, make sound, change colour, and distract you when it needs to. They feature one quality which the most glanceable ambient displays use - they pump photons (or not, when appropriate - the iMac features a light sensor that dims its breathing sleep LED when in the dark).
There were three things I wanted to prototype - copies of Ambient Devices' Orb and Dashboard, and a version of the networked emoticon device (mixed with a hint of glancing). I'm halfway through the orb and the emoticon, but I've got a version of the dashboard working.
At the moment, it just reads slightly modified RSS feeds from my weather service. RSS truly is the universal data pipe for the Internet.
My only problem is rendering simple primitive objects - like a straight line or a sphere. Maybe I'm missing something, but the main generators seem to be for complex objects, like plasma, 3d line grids, and, errr, teapots. The needles on the graphs are actually made out of a hundred lines or so, which is why it's pretty heavy on the processing. If anyone knows how to draw a simple 2d line, let me know.
The Quartz Composer file is here if anyone wants to play or hack or use it as a screensaver (Tiger users only). Note the RSS feeds are slightly modified URLs from standard, but it shouldn't be too hard to work out if you want to change cities.
Note the math isn't proper - I'm not doing any trigonometry. The great thing with this is that we can test to see if linear, log or any other movements are noticed and needed.
Update: just remembered that Quartz Composer can take video as an input - so you can use an iSight to project your displays in space!
Now we can all do virtual reality infographics a la Peter Snow.
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