Augmented reality and the “Barely Game”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of play lately. Nothing linear or even cohesive; just ponderings and lots of what-ifery. Yet I took a couple of my thoughts and sent them off to a developer friend of mine, suggesting that we even consider building an augmented reality game for the iPhone platform.

We quickly realized we had neither the time nor the resources such an effort would require, but it created a good thought exercise for me in terms of play via the iPhone. That is, we touch things and take actions through such games—rolling balls, landing planes, etc.—but as adults, we rarely actively pretend. And pretending is crucial to immersive gameplay in any sort of augmented reality situation.

So then. How can AR be used through devices like the iPhone to create situations that require pretending as an active component of gameplay? How must good narratives and solid storytelling be constructed for such games? I have lots of questions in my mind about these things. Of course I have no answers, but I think Russell Davies has some great ideas—notably that of the Barely Game—from his recent talk at Playful.

posted 11/30/09 at 2:30pm to Uncategorized · 1 reply · permalink

Project Diana


What would you shoot if I asked you to take a photograph of “summer”?

That’s a question I posed last June, when I solicited 12 random Twitter followers to participate in a photography assignment called “Project Diana”1

The premise was simple enough: I would load a plastic “toy” camera with a roll of color 120 film (12 exposures), put it in a box with simple camera instructions, a Field Notes pad and pen, and prepaid pre-addressed labels. I’d send the camera off to the first contributor, they would shoot their photo, write a description of it in the notebook, and then re-box the camera and mail it off to the next participant. By the end of summer, I’d have the camera back, process the photos, and see what came out.

I chose a toy camera for a lot of reasons, primarily because there was no way I was going to put anything more expensive in the mail, lest it get lost or accidentally broken. But mostly I picked it for ease of use, and also because I love the lo-fi look it produces. I figured that over the 12 exposures, the quality of the photos would average out; no matter how carefully (or poorly) framed or lit each shot was, they would all produce the consistently hazy and dreamy look that is the signature of Lomography.

The Holga camera used is particularly known for its quirks — light leaks, poor film transport, etc. And though all of the people involved were nervous to some degree about “getting it right”, I was in fact hoping to get some strange results and mistakes. Sure enough, two of the photos taken resulted in a double-exposure. The two folks who shot those frames might not be tickled with the result, but I am giddy about it. The resulting photo shows both a carnival ferris wheel and a summer-sized serving of gelato. Outstanding. Lomography at its best.

When I finally got the box back from the last participant a couple of weeks ago2 and processed the film and read all of the notes, I expected to have something profound come out of it. Something that would generate a larger story and a poignant message. But I didn’t find such a thing. What I found was that the project itself was the point. It started out simply for fun, and that’s how it ended. A tiny creative effort between twelve people around the United States who had mostly never met. They all had fun doing it, and I had a blast as well. I was thrilled just getting the box back in the mail—to have put a camera in a pristine box in June, and have it come back to me on a cold November day, banged and dented and enlarged by obscene amounts of packing tape and layers of labels—and seeing that inside the little box was the same camera I’d sent away, only now it was full of the analog creativity of people I knew only digitally. That in and of itself was the biggest joy for me. To be able to share the results now is simply the proverbial cherry on top.

So, having said all of that, please take some time to go look at the photographs on Flickr. These shots show the summer of 2009, from the viewpoints of twelve great people all over the country, shot on one continuous piece of film.

  1. I originally planned to use a Diana F+ camera for the project, but at the last moment I realized I had a valuable and unfinished roll of film inside of it. I substituted a Holga 120CFN camera instead, yet the name of the project remained the same.
  2. The project took much longer to complete than I’d hoped—I wanted to get the camera back sometime in August, but looking at it now, November is a good time to look back at photos of summer. There is enough distance from the shots themselves to make them interesting on their own, and as a set.
posted 11/24/09 at 1:28pm to Photography · 7 replies · permalink


amazon screenshot

Really, Amazon? Really?

posted 11/13/09 at 10:28am to WTF? · 1 reply · permalink

PR-to-English translation of the announcement of new NYS license plates


New York State Commissioner of Motor Vehicles and Chair of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee David J. Swarts today unveiled the “Empire Gold” license plate which will be issued to most vehicles registered in the state beginning in April, 2010.

Our committee spent eight months trying to come up with something that looked like “work”, and the only thing we agreed on was this ugly-ass license plate. You know, the same one we got rid of 20 years ago.

“The bold colors of the new license plate reflect New York’s force and its resilience,” said Commissioner Swarts. “These new plates, in the official colors of the State of New York, will help maintain highway safety, reduce the number of unregistered and uninsured vehicles on our roads, and generate $129 million in General Fund revenue over two years, which will help address the State’s financial crisis.”

We could probably help the budget crisis by reinstating a more progressive tax structure and reducing graft, inefficiency, and corruption. Or we could just nickel and dime you schmucks for $129 million, because even though it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $12 billion deficit, it still looks like we’re “doing something”.

State Police Superintendent Harry J. Corbitt said, “License plates are a fundamental tool of law enforcement that has been enhanced in recent years through a variety of technologies that improve their readability, especially under low light conditions. The State Police has worked cooperatively with DMV to ensure that the new plates will continue to serve the law enforcement community effectively.”

Oooh, they’re shiny! And reflective!

“This project will benefit law enforcement efforts, and therefore enhance public safety, in several ways,” said Denise E. O’Donnell, Deputy Secretary for Public Safety and Commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. “For instance, nearly 300 police agencies in New York State are currently deploying approximately 500 computerized license plate readers (LPRs) that enable authorities to quickly identify vehicles that have been stolen or used in a crime. These new plates will ensure that the LPRs are as effective as possible.”

Oh my god, we are laughing so hard that you people let us get away with buying all this crap.

DMV will begin issuing the new plates for registration renewals that expire in May 2010. Customers renewing their vehicle registrations in person in a DMV office, over the phone, by mail or through the Internet, will receive their new Empire Gold plates in the mail. Customers completing an original over-the-counter registration transaction will receive their plates immediately. [ . . . ] A plate fee of $25.00 will be added to the registration renewal fee. Single plate registrations (e.g. motorcycles) will be charged a plate fee of $12.50. Motorists registered in the Passenger (PAS), Commercial (COM), Motorcycle (MOT) or Trailer (TRL) registration classes will have the option to keep their current plate number/letter combination. Those with vehicles registered in other classes may also have this option. The registration renewal invitation will tell motorists if this option is available. Those choosing to keep their current plate number/letter combination on the new Empire Gold plate will be required to pay a $20.00 fee. Those motorists holding a personalized plate will automatically be re-issued the same number/letter combination on their new plate. Because they currently pay an annual personalized plate fee, they will not be required to pay the $20.00 fee. Most plates with the New York skyline banner across the top of the plate will begin to be replaced by the new Empire Gold plate in April. Custom picture plates will be replaced at a later date. The DMV will also be electronically sharing updated plate number information with EZ-Pass so that motorists who participate in that program will not have to do so.

We’re making the entire process as obtuse as possible so that we can smack you with additional fees and fines when you inevitably fuck it up the first time. Good luck!

posted 11/10/09 at 3:40pm to Local, Politics, The stupid, it burns, WTF? · 0 replies · permalink

On reading for pleasure

This morning someone asked what novel I’d read most recently. I told them.

“Wow, I never imagined you’d read something like that,” they said almost in horror, as though I’d just admitted to a world-class sommelier that I drink Lambrusco straight from the bottle.

I love really good literature, obviously. But I don’t have a lot of time for leisure reading, and when I do, I don’t necessarily reach for a Cormac McCarthy or Kazuo Ishiguro.

I don’t choose books that I think will impress friends or colleagues or strangers in a café.

I don’t care if you gasp when I admit I didn’t like a certain “classic” novel by default simply because it is a classic.

I don’t care if you turn your nose up at me because I’m not reading whatever sneering deconstructionist tome you’re slogging through—dripping with semiotic snobbery and hoary lit crit nonsense—and pretending you’re enjoying it.

Basically I want to read a fucking story.

I want to read about places I haven’t seen, full of people I’ve never met, involved in something fascinating and perhaps just a tad over the threshold of plausibility.

I want to read about people doing things. If most of the verbs in the book are variations of thought or said or felt, forget it.

Give me some characters with faults. Give them important, wonderful things. And then yank them away. Let me see the wind knocked out of them so I can watch them react and see what they’re made of. What do they do?

If I find a work of fiction that gives me that, I’ll likely read it, no matter what lasting literary “value” it may have or the cachet it displays when I pull it out of my bag.

posted 11/5/09 at 3:53pm to Books, Writing · 1 reply · permalink