Star Wars Identities

The wandering exhibition of Star Wars props, costumes, info and such is right here in Sydney at the moment and it was pretty wizard as they say. Star Wars Identities is on at our own Powerhouse Museum until June, so plenty of time to see all the cool stuff plus have fun creating your own character.

Let's start with that bit then, through a series of 10 choices from your species and mentor to the events that shaped your life you mould a character for yourself in the SW universe. I went with 3 other people and here is a pic of us all standing proudly by our suspect choices at the end:

While that was lotsa fun and gives people another angle to engage with the material, the exhibition itself if full of priceless pieces of Star Wars history. We actually wondered how much some of these things might be worth if they were on the market - the mind boggles. How much would you pay for the original Han Solo frozen in Carbonite???

Along with all of this there were lots of original pieces of story boards, concept art and snippets of information regarding the development of the iconic characters. I love this view of the creative process, iterating on and merging ideas until the characters we know and love come into being.

Anyhow, I really loved it - might go again with other friends even...


Sunday Supanova

Due to other commitments I only enjoyed a single day of the Sydney Supanova this year. As always I had a great time with all the cosplay, seminars, merch shopping and more.

The highlights for me this year were:

The Artist Sketchoff
This is perhaps my favourite thing at Supanova every year actually. Having 4 comic masters up there creating something wondrous in 35 minutes is inspiring in every way. This year the audience voting steered the subject to be drawn to a sexy female Swampthing. Art Adams, Joyce Chin, Cully Hamner and Frank Cho then set about creating their pieces while simultaneously trying to answer questions. We get to see their work unfold in real-time on the big screen - loved it!

Writers Impossible Quests Panel
The discussion topic here was questing and more specifically its use in written fiction. Tamora Pierce, Justin Wooley, Alison Goodman and Stephanie 'Hexsteph' Bendixson were inciteful and fun as they explored the tropes, traditions and good use of quests that inspired them, annoyed them and they used in their own work.
I get alot from these panels in terms of narrative and thinking through how these ideas apply to gaming, esp Tabletop Roleplaying. One great takeaway for me was Juston's anecdote regarding the writers of South Park and how stories should be about 'but therefore' rather than 'and then' - which is hugely telling in a successful quest story. They looked at the male/female logic of quests, profecy, stereotypes and good practice for avoiding various pitfalls. Hexsteph was lots of fun as she brought gaming concepts into things as well which was great.

LOL Figures
Lastly, my merchandise 'accident' was a pair of League of Legends figures to go on the shelf - meet Vi and Nauty:


Live and Streamed RPGs

I (and some gamer friends) went to see the last DragonFriends show for 2015 Monday night and had a blast seeing the live antics of a bunch of comedians playing Dungeons and Dragons. The podcast is a riot of course, but that doesn't quite compare with the hilarity of being there live and seeing how much fun is had by all (as well as the extra bits that are cut from the cast).

I didnt get to see these guys at PAX (was in the DMing session) but they clearly picked up a whole new legion of fans following their live panel there. This is actually a pretty special thing we have going in Sydney and I am looking forward to supporting them in 2016. Visit their site to see the cast and to dive straight in and listen to the podcast adventures with special guests included.

The closest to their show I had seen prior to this live was the Dicestormers live panel which was just as funny and ridiculous, particularly with all the zany input from the audience (pacifism, mankinis, fear of cats and lots of cats). The Dicestormers made good use of Syrinscape (because they make it) which is great, still not as amazing as the live music the DragonFriends bring to their show, but we could use Syrinscape in our games whereas getting a live muse is hard. So, another cool Sydney group that has heaps of video and podcasts of a variety of game systems as well.

This idea of watching other people gaming is starting to flourish, maybe on the back of Twitch and the whole streaming scene, but with these tabletop RPGs we are getting something unique as each set of characters and story is new and different.

In that vain it makes sense to have a set of links here to some of the wonders out there that allow us to see inspiring games play out with celebrities, actors, writers, gamers and people in the right place at the right time (Roll+Luck).
Warning: there are so so so many hours of great stuff hiding behind these otherwise innocent looking links:

Dragonfriends
Dicestormers
Tabletop
Critical Roll 
Aquisitions Incorporated
More D&D Streams
RollPlay
Roll20 vids


PAX AU x 2

Well, it is a truly sad state of affairs when it appears I am writing a single blog post to cover two years of PAX here in Australia. Setting that hopelessness to one side, lets lift the mood - because PAX is wondrous. While I wasnt at the first one here in Oz, the 2014 and recent 2015 shows were simply overflowing with gaming panels, culture, shopping, playing (tabletop and digital), showfloor exhibitions, cosplay, experiences and more.

Seeing the giant halls and theatres filled with people is pretty amazing and the atmosphere of so many fans of gaming in general is superb. There is just so much to see and do that I linked up and split up with friends throughout each day as our preferences tugged us into different events or panels or zones. Here are a few of the things/places that I got the most from:

RPG Panels

I think the very best panel thus far was the RPG+ panel where the dicestormer gang played a short game (Pathfinderish) with heavy audience involvement. The party each had clothes and traits from the crowd as well as facing trials and dangers spewed forth from the theatre. There was much merriment to be had and much learning of RPG goodness.
Related GMing panels were great as well, hearing stories and ideas from a variety of tabletop RPG styles and GMs.

Tabletop

Seeing so so many tables filled with people playing/trying tabletop and card games of all kinds is pretty amazing. I tried my hand at all manner of things from Dead of Winter to Roll for the Galaxy and many in between.
Penny Arcade's Gabe brought some early play of Thornwatch last year which was great to see at the panel and out in the playtest area. An interesting blend of RPG with a GM as well as deckbuilding.

LoL (champs plus art)

The League of Legends world championships coincided with PAX this year, but last year they were huge, loud and overflowing from their area the whole time. In 2014 it was the OCE Championships and Phreak and co were here to commentate and it was superb to see the atmosphere live and get loot.
They also had an artist there the whole time creating a pretty neat Aussie themed image:

RPG Play and Painting

I have tried out quick intro games for both D&D 5E and Pathfinder. The simplified format for both didnt show off any cool mechanics of the systems at all which was disappointing. In fact I am not sure anything mechanically cool happened in the games - though as players we embellished and I enjoyed both games. My little Kineticist in the Pathfinder game didnt do anything with her offensive spells in the whole game - spending turns moving, preparing or just missing. But I had great fun casting light on my toy Owlbear and using fire to help weld shut a floor grate.
Taking a break from all the action and games, I liked taking time to paint a free mini along with tables and tables of other people. Here is my 2014 magey character with the tables from this year:

All the other stuff

I have really enjoyed other panels on writing, design and getting behind the scenes of some of these amazing games. The Cosplay looks incredible and adds a real life to the event (I feel extra guilty for not trying). Getting to try out games, esp the indie ones is great fun as is just hanging, eating and chatting with fun folk for 3 days. Here are friends Evren and Segah doing their part!:

Melbourne

Since PAX is in Melbourne, that means I also got to see the city for the first time. I liked how easy it was to walk around to everything and even though I was working on my masters project this year in spare moments - both times I liked exploring the place and found some cool architecture along the way. Here are a few photos from my phone showing off the place (incl some Pyrite from the museum which looks insane):


Autodesk University

Autodesk software is the cornerstone of many industries whether it be simple old AutoCAD, the might of Revit in the BIM space, their dominance in 3D Modelling with 3ds Max and Maya or their suite of other apps. This was the second year that they have brought their Autodesk University event to Australia and I really enjoyed both days.

Day 1 was all in the big hall with the keynotes and customer stories for all the attendees in one hit. There were several Autodesk speakers mostly covering industry trends and where Autodesk is taking their products to meet the changes and the future. Things kicked off with a lights and dance show where the two dancers' LED suits and batons were all digitally synced and doing pretty cool stuff.

What the presentations really showed me was that there are people doing some amazing things in terms of process for design. Whether it is the kids in the F1 in Schools Challenge or Woods Bagot's Architects generating solutions to complex design problems the theme of the 'future of making things' was pretty strong. The idea that teams are more virtual, that the cloud can give you all the compute you need, that small teams can come together to create things quickly and cleverly are all disruptive.

Apart from the sessions, we had the industry floor which was small but still interesting. Laser scanners, 3D printers and 3d party software to deal with mapping data were all on display along with some exemplars of simulation, art and generation.

Day 2 was split into tracks covering Buildings, Infrastructure, Manufacturing, Media and Entertainment and General. I spent my time in Buildings and Media and Entertainment seeing the power of point cloud data and game engines. Some of the software of note: Momento, Shotgun, Stingray, Showcase, CFD, Recap, Python and SketchbookPro.

A few quotes from the day to do with students and education:
  Nurture a design mindset with students
  Should be training the next generation of designers and architects

I have a bunch of people to follow up with and ideas to think through following the event which is good. Seeing what people are actually able to do with these tools is great for inspiration.

Oh and it was interesting that despite the heavy emphasis on Windows based software there were plenty of Mac about. These people have just become used to running Windows on their Mac - still not exactly sure why really, but that is what I saw.


Supanova Day 1

Now that Sydney Supanova has 3 full days I get to see even more of the fun. Today I only had a few hours there but already had a fun time in the seminar room and the show floor.

First session I attended was a Masterclass by Mark Raats of Lucas Film poster fame. He was talking through his process for working traditionally with markers and pencils etc. While he may use digital creation daily, he showed a real love for more traditional methods.

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Following straight on was another Masterclasss, this time from writer Mike Jones who has a wide portfolio of writing credits now from novels to games and more. I love writer panels, but Mike was awesome preparing a really engaging talk that covered his advice/rules for creating a world. Essentially to build a storyworld before a story. a world that fuels the engine of multiple stories. Starting with rules of the world itself and to get the audience to care, get the audience to worry. World rules should generate problems, create an emotional state - a contract with the audience.

I liked his exploration of the idea of the world and thus narratives being about problems. Problems that are big enough to be experienced from different perspectives, active enough and big enough to never really be solved. These problems should feel intrinsic to the world, not just plonked onto it.

Mike poses this dramatic question for his work and other writers he works with: Will X be able to do Y or else Z? Again he poses this for the world where X can be a city or community or tribe and where Z means dire consequences for all. Mike also talked about the importance of a Storyworld timeline featuring Influences, Decisions and Thresholds (points of no return) for the world.

Maybe I didn't do his talk justice, but believe me it was stellar!

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I did buy a pair of latex swords at the end of the day from Wicked Replicas - Kili's sword and Anduril which are both simply awesome.


Cancon

I Know I know, I still haven't actually done the blog posts for last year's PAXAUS, but that isn't going to stop me from finally posting on the fun time to be had at Canberra's Cancon. Going this year was something of a spur of the moment thing, but the nation's capital makes that pretty simple being a simple/quick drive from Sydney and the accommodation a piece of cake.

I went with Evren and Segah who not only made my time at the con fun, but also our floating around in museums, galleries and the like. I was pretty impressed with the size of Cancon for a 'country location'. There was one huge hall for the more wargamey parts which is where the con began. There was an endless sea of tables sporting various military sim games to Warhammer (Fantasy & 40K) X-Wing and more. It was great to see so much love going into the armies but it was the tables that stood out as a casual observer. The other big hall was where all the board game fun was to be had, it was also packed to the gills showing the success the event is enjoying. Both halls had vendors with plenty of wares and bargains to be had. I was very restrained and just picked up a print copy of FATE Accelerated.

Two of the games we played over the weekend included:
Timeline: we played this all over the place including breakfast - lots of fun.
Red Dragon Inn: clever little game of adventurers enjoying their drinking.

I think if I was a more dedicated wargamer then there is more enjoyment to be had, but saying that there was some cosplay, miniature painting, CCG tournaments and so much more. I was impressed...

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The NASA Deep Space Communications Complex at Canberra I hadn't been to before and it was superb. Not only do we get to see the titanic dishes, but the visitor's centre has experts for us to talk to and displays covering much of NASA's endeavours. There is something cool about seeing a piece of moon rock that was actually brought back by humans.


Creativity by Design

I had a great time at the UNSW S2 Learning & Teaching Forum yesterday. Great mix of Keynote (Shirley Alexander), parallel sessions and the posters. Shirley really kicked things off with a bang, walking us through the great vision she has for UTS and its approach to learning that impacts pretty much all aspects of the uni. She talked about a vision that included all their space (huge redevelopment budget for the campus, but no new lecture theatres), learning styles, value of the on-campus experience, analytics and so much more. You can get a feel for some of the ideas on the UTS Connected Intelligence Centre as well as their Learning 2014 info.
There were a suite of parallel sessions, I was most enthused by Richard Buckland, who just never fails to lightup and inspire a room. This time he was talking specifically about building a community and the positive impact that has on course performance.

As for the posters on show, there were 22 of them set out in the room with their creators there for some conversations inspired by the work. I gave a preview of the Creativity by Design poster done by Dean Utian and myself here in UNSW Built Environment. We were looking at the positive results that come from employing tasks for students that allow for more creativity, in the presentation at one level, but preferably where creativity/design is present in the actual creation of synthesis of the product itself. I really liked the collaboration on this, from Dean and I nutting out the idea, refining the details and all the presentation development - teamwork can be very cool.

In the hall we had our poster with the supporting video playing beneath it which gives examples of the idea both from a hypothetical standpoint and from the Cinematic Space course. We primarily used Photoshop & Premiere to get the drawings, layout and video elements done. I had lotsa fun drawing the 'characters' first but then iterating the poster layout, message, text and impact before we even got to the video. There, creating the hypothetical example, adding the blinks and editing down all the content and extra info was a fun exercise - esp trying to keep it short while allowing enough time to read the important pieces on the day. I am keen to see how it goes down at the Universitas 21 conference later in the month...

Toy and Game Expo

The Toy and Game Expo was a new event for me and I had very little idea what to expect, was hoping for games and it certainly didn't disappoint. I can only imagine that a giant games convention of some sort would be truly amazing but I surprised myself how forward I was about getting in and talking to gamers, playing games and chatting with boardgame developers.

(a few pics of the fun, view from the mez, my outlaws and some of my new xwing set)

Things I tried (have I forgotten something major?):

Monstrous, an Aussie made game that is in final development was great fun. Even without all the final artwork it looks stunning. The creator seemed to enjoy bringing 3 people and explaining things in very short order, in a few minutes we were Greek gods hurling mythical creatures down onto the world battling each other and frightening the humans to worship us more. The game did a great job of imparting that feeling that we were gods looking down on the world, the physical mechanic of actually tossing the cards onto the table enhanced that even more for me. At the end of a quick game where there were lots of wayward monsters I walked away with the most faith gained - VICTORY!
Good stuff Kim Brebach! A really clever game that I hope finds its way to kickstarter very soon. I havent playtested many games before, but I would have bought this game right there and then if it was ready...
(closest thing to a link to the game I can find: Monstrous)

I tried a quick game of Dead Mans Hand a wild west miniatures skirmish game with a nice card mechanic that really sped things up. It looked cool with the nice miniatures and a table decked out like an old town.

I had a really fun game of a light version of the X-Wing miniatures game. I had been meaning to try this for ages, even before x-wing with the WW1 version. I had my single rookie x-wing pilot and the two scary tie fighters just kept coming peppering me with lascannon fire. My little rookie was up to the task though, coming through against all the odds to blow the evil empire out of the skies. The force was with him as I rolled just so so so many dodges on those dice. I had such fun with that little venture that I find myself the owner of the base game and quite a few other bits already.

With Evren, Segah and Joey we played Saboteur and it was a really nice mix of secret roles, quick gameplay and thematic fun. The game was a little awkward, but with all the positive reviews I was hearing for Saboteur 2 - I now seem to own that as well.

Chess, no didnt play any chess, but watching a grandmaster circle his little ring of games playing a slew of people all at once was pretty cool. The Settlers of Catan competition looked a bit too serious actually, so we just peered in for a bit through the glass.

There was a heap of other stuff there for kids and enough shops to make the wallet hurt and as with Supanova, just a great bunch of people all of which like games and hanging with or chatting to other gamers (if they arent playing).


Supanova Sydney 2014

Well another great weekend of Supanova fun for Sydney, while I didnt get to Friday I managed to fill two days with all manner of panels, Q&As, art, creativity and such. Here are 10 memorable things about my time this year, the particular things that made it so cool.

10. Travel and Queues

The trip out to Olympic park was pretty fun actually as I read more of the Moth Saga by Daniel Arenson. The second day I got in very fast as I had the wristband already, but on he Saturday I was in a truly titanic queue as I wound my way around with all the other eager folk (thankfully it wasnt raining). On of the funniest moments is when we are following along in this long queue checking out all the cool cosplay when our line gets to the end of the building and instead of turning around to head back towards the entrance it takes a right and goes up the side - revealing our queue to be even longer than we thought.
For me this was all part of the fun though.

9. Rose & Celebs

Rose McGowan from Charmed was the first session I went in to see after getting inside the packed halls. Brought back fond memories of watching the series with the whole family and that set us on a path of watching series together. While I didnt sign up for photos or signings with any of the celebrities, I did get to at least lay eyes on the likes of Stan Lee, Grant Imahara, Richard Kiel ans so many more.

8. The Floor

Yes the showroom floor was wonderful, packed with a zillion temptations for your wallet in all directions. I was rather restrained and find myself without any new figurines or cool weapon replicas. I did get a signed sketchbook by Jon Sommariva though (thanks Jon).

7. Blood on Your Hands

I should try and get to more of the novelist panels, this one had 6 fantasy authors all talking about the killing off of main characters and how that can be done well. While I love watching and hearing from the artists at Supanova, writers like these guys are an inspiration in other ways. I loved the session and really liked how they talked about the death of a hero or beloved character should hopefully feel surprising to them as writers so that comes through to the reader.
They were asked lots of questions and I found it interesting how many times Star Wars was referenced (and Stephen King)

6. Catching Friends

I should really try to catch more people as bumping into them accidentally really doesnt work. I did see Sam in a big queue but sought out mighty Marc who was playing in the pinball competitions all weekend (congrats for Sat). I did catchup with Evren and Segah who really pulled it all together with their incredible cosplay effort (I am inspired but even more fearful of the scale of effort needed). Here is Marc with his pinball medal - caught him with a fierce expression (watch out!)

5. So Much Cosplay

The costumes are one of the true delights of the entire event. I probably have a silly smile on my face everywhere I go - marveling at all the cool get-ups people have managed to pull together and then proudly wear. Once day I will find the drive to get something going, but in the meantime here is the wonderful cosplay Segah and Evren pulled off:

4. Artist Alley

I am not sure why more people dont do this, but I love just hanging in Artist Alley watching these comic superstars do their thing. Watching them working on con sketches for people is a real revelation as they go from blank pages through various stages of detail before your eyes. They all seem to be wonderfully friendly people as well, happy to engage with fans of all kinds. This year I spent most of my time watching Alan Davis and Jon Sommariva with a little Paul Ryan and Nicola Scott thrown in.

3. WETA Wonder

Kate Venables from Weta Workshop gave a nice Q&A talk about her work in creating props, weapons, clothes and armour for various characters in the Hobbit series. She was also hanging at the Weta booth with samples and it was fascinating to hear about the sheer scale of operation needed to pull off the films and the craft that goes into every costume element. I wish she would create a costume for me, it would be incredible!
Oh and she was a professional ballet dancer with the NZ Ballet, I am sure my daughter would have asked questions about that!

2. Sexy Lexy

I was apprehensive about seeing the Michael Rosenbaum Q&A as he was surely going to have hair and that is just not right for Lex Luthor. Michael gave one of the best sessions I have ever seen though as he zipped around the audience, created his own interactions and generally livened things up completely. GREAT FUN!

1. Supastar Sketch-Off

Watching the talented artists draw at their tables was one thing, but here we got to see Alan Davis, David Yardin and Paul Ryan each craft an old-school Catwoman in 30 mins as they try to answer questions at the same time. The final results were wonderful, each was very different but all were gorgeous and wonderfully realised in the time. Tips hat!
David used colour copic markers and a paintbrush-like marker over pencil, Paul used ink over pencil and here is a quick shot of Alan Davis' version using pencil for line and shade,


Cosplay

With both Supanova and PAX.Aus on it seems I should finally get my act together and have something cool to wear. I always feel guilty that I havent put the effort into having a costume of some sort. I am tripping myself up with the idea that I would like something that didnt feel like it came out of a showbag. Something that felt like it was real 'clothing' to an extent rather than a flimsy pretend version. A fantasy costume would be pretty cool, drawing from The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Game of Thrones and such - being able to stride out with in Faramir's lighter gear, or Eomer's Horselord armour would be fantastic. Star Wars is perhaps the other area that could work for me, lots of options there.

I seriously doubt my capability to pull off something at the moment, but I do love seeing the success that some people bring to this craft/hobby. Check out Lightning Cosplay (Laura Jansen) as she creates some pretty nice armour pieces using Worbla (thermoplastic). Below are a few pics from her DeviantArt Gallery that show off the kind of quality that I would be proud to don.

I like the variations in armour in this shot of Renly, we see this in the designs throughout GoT, generally light armour with a few pieces of plate over the top - very cool.


COFA Annual 2013

While the COFA website is light-on for content on their big annual show so far, their revitalised campus makes for an impressive stage for all the student work to be displayed. I also didn't run across the digital or film works, if they were screening somewhere on the grounds I missed them - bummer. Anyhow the new gallery spaces and even the studios made for a pretty nifty suite of spaces to explore the various specialisations in art making from a huge set of graduating students.

The promo pic used for the COFA Annual by Kyle M Morgan is just one of a heap of their pieces and there were many other fun things showing a big range in ideas and approaches. I think my favourite set was the one in the middle below (oops didn't record the artist's name - Gah), anyhow they used a variety of different lollies like jaffas, marsh mallows, milk bottles, raspberry drops etc to create these quite amazing pieces that are wonderfully textural.

There were so many fascinating things I highly recommend people get down to COFA and take some time to explore all the fun before it is gone!

EDIT: COFA Annual 2013 site is now alive so you can check out the work.


The LuminoCity Show

This year's LuminoCity end of your Graduation Exhibition and event show for the Built Environment here at UNSW was on campus and it is still amazing to see what our building can be when creative people put their minds to it. Our piece of the university has fully transformed into floor upon floor of exhibitions featuring the graduation projects from all the main degree programs. The design and project work is great to see, mix that in with special events and a wonderful light and dance show and it really is a celebration of all those years of work by the students.

Here are a few pics I took from last night - keep an eye on the LuminoCity Gallery page for more.

One more big night of fun tonight for anyone who hasnt seen it all yet.


LuminoCity 2013 Day 1

The big Graduand Exhibition and end-of-year event for UNSW Built Environment has begun - LuminoCity2013. This year we have transformed the main building where all these staff and students work at their creative jobs. The Red Centre is the main-base for the Faculty and its lobby and studio spaces have become vast gallery spaces to show off the student's work over 2 full weeks of exhibitions and related events.

I encourage people to come and see things, check the site for the specifics of what is on when. The building has never looked so good, with the lighting show, the dancers, the visitors and all the exhibits. The photos below I took as the Masters of Architecture event was getting started, I can here it ramping up from my office and the full light show will have to wait until the sun goes down a little more...


MOOCiness

The hype and excitement around MOOCs in education is fascinating to watch (esp from the inside). The disruption that this type of education is set to bring to tertiary level education is very marked. With analogies being bandied around like Wikipedia and Encyclopedias, Amazon and Books, iTunes and Music stores. All significant transformations in those industries with winners and losers and generally a 'better' experience for the consumers/customers.

UNSW has signed on with Coursera as their partner for entering the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) game and will launch courses on the platform in 2014. The idea that MOOCs might be a silly fad or just all hot-air looks pretty silly when you see the calibre of the institutions kicking off this movement. When you have course offerings from MIT, Princeton, Stanford followed by a host more you know this isnt just playing.

This also isn't something that will come sometime in the future, when Georgia Tech announced its $7K Masters program last week the changes are already here. I really enjoyed the MOOC forum at the Park Hyatt where Sean Gallagher and Geoff Garret hosted a panel with Daphne Koller, Fred Hilmer and Andrew Stevens titled "What MOOCs mean for universities - revolution or evolution?". Andrew Stevens (Managing Director of IBM Australia and New Zealand) was certainly saying this change will be so fast that evolution by individual universities isn't going to be fast enough. The forum covered quality, business models, value propositions and much more.

Without going into a long post on my thoughts regarding MOOCs (even though I see the disruption for tertiary education being massive) - I and several collegues here have enrolled in the Videogames and Learning MOOC that is starting in early October and will be a nice way to see a modern MOOC in action as well as get a feel for the Coursera platform.

Here is a rough list of some of the larger or more interesting MOOC aggregators/services:

One think I liked most from the forum was hearing Coursera founder Daphne Koller say things like "we have uncovered a deep hunger for education". Newslink for the UNSW and Coursera signing.


Adobe, MOOCS and Our Identity

Yesterday proved to be fascinating in a range of ways for me, lets see if I can pick out a few things from the notes I took on the Galaxy Note 8 and then sum up.

Adobe Create Now Roadshow

The travelling Adobe event is generally pretty entertaining as we get product 'evangelists' showing us the bigger and smaller bits that have been added to various products across the suite of apps that is now the Creative Cloud. Quite some time was spent on the benefits of CC still, dispelling myths and generally trying to get us enthusiastic about the file sharing etc. There was lots of attention given to the integration of Behance into the lineup for promoting and sharing work done with all these groovy apps (a closer look another day).
The biggest trend in what Adobe showed us was HTML5 and CSS3 doing a double act where so many of the software packages now generate code for use on the web or devices supporting these technologies. So we saw creation of CSS from Illustrator and Photoshop, SVG support, responsive design apps, code inspection, multi-device testing, non-flash animation, app integration to workflows and more.

Bits I liked most...
Photoshop smart sharpen, noise removal and web output. Illustrator new kerning tool (gorgeous). Premiere stabilisation and smart masking and rotoscoping. Web responsive design and CSS integration across many tools. There were some stunning video samples shown, gorgeous filming and postwork in the video tools.

Bits I didnt like so much...
Almost everything was Apple-centric (Mac and iPad) with the other platforms feeling very down-trodden. Even when they briefly showed a Surface Pro running Illustrator it was in the vain of 'look how quirky this is and our software can run on it'. Without being silly, they could easily have approached the Surface Pro as a mobile Cintiq tablet and a really exciting development in the use of their software with the real stylus and the real apps. But that isnt what they did because it wasnt Apple kit...
Same goes for the mobile app space where it was all about IOS with only passing reference to the other platforms except when they mentioned open standards like HTML5 and CSS3. They even gave a backhanded slap to powerpoint even though they were using keynote for the presentation.
Lots of attention on responsive design which used the horizontal pixel count as the measure of site break points - I am still confused how this might work with higher-res tiny devices but am happy to be convinced.

MOOC Forum

The What MOOCs mean for Universities - Revolution or Evolution forum and panel discussion last night saw Geoff Garret (Dean, ASB, UNSW) moderate a panel consisting of Daphne Koller (co-founder of Coursera), Fred Hilmer (VC, UNSW) and Andrew Stevens (Managing Director, IBM AU NZ) on all things MOOCy.
Again I took some digital notes, my favourite quotes from the night were both from Daphne who said "The lecture is an extremely outdated mechanism" and "we have uncovered a deep hunger for education".
Themes around the transformative nature of MOOCs for education as a whole were strong, esp from Andrew whose potent examples hopefully pushed home just how disruptive this change is going to be. The analogy of Amazon was used a few times showing how the old model of book stores, publishing and even hard-copies has been blown away. The music sales industry was another popular example with iTunes etc. The comment was made that it is easier to see the coming impact of these large changes in other industries than your own and that the change will be big, transformative.
Andrew said quite plainly that Universities cannot see this as an evolution, that evolution will be too slow to keep up with the revolution that this change will bring. Is this change really going to be this big, or might it be more of an expansion/enrichment thing??

Some more snippets:
There are winners and losers when a new technology enters and industry.
Data from all the participants being used to improve quality - moreso than unis do today.
Is this change going to be like other 'winner takes all' transformations.
Access, Quality and Revenue models discussed openly.
Using typing verification as a digital verification of who is completing tasks.
Coursera now has 1.25 million students and growing.
Completion rates for people who intended to complete or paid are high (70% and 88%)
Lots of Uncertainty (Fred said this alot)
Universities need to identify their value proposition - community engagement as well.
Research Teaching Nexus - what do MOOCs mean in this space.
MOOCs are an early phase of a larger transformation in education.
Newer students now expecting digital means as the primary mode of interaction.
Current demographics - career enhancement, mind enhancement.

So with UNSW joining Coursera that will mean a good platform to launch forward into MOOCland.
Was good to see people in attendance from USyd, TAFE and a host of business and industry reps.

This is a most exciting time in our industry = good sentiment.

I wonder if a possible future is that students will sign up for degrees or education with providers that broker univeristy courses for them, package them up into degrees even. Could you get a Bachelor of Commerce or Architecture from Coursera that includes accredited components from universities around the world and that are recognised by local bodies...

Our Identity Thinking

One key idea that I am trying to formulate in my mind that resonated with both these events was around our individual identities and particularly our online ones. Here at UNSW, as with most organisations, provide local identities and attached services for members, in this case staff and students. What I am thinking through is how these identities really should work in relation to an existing identity that people have. Can people have their identities and then link up relationships with work, study and other service providers instead...

Maybe examples will help. Adobe flaunted their Creative Cloud file syncing, settings syncing, Behance portfolios and more that are tied to your AdobeID. Alas when you start talking about CC-Teams or CC-Enterprise these features start failing as the user is no longer themselves but an organisation's version of you. Yes, Adobe can weave some manual magic to link things if you need them to - but that isnt the point. What should this model really be like - how can I stay being ME, but gain a relationship with a company through these services...
Should Universities actually provide students with email, or should students just provide the uni with the email account they already have? When email was new and shiny it made sense for unis to provide it, does it still? Is it more complex for staff, do we need that separation of work, other work, home, public, something? Not sure myself, but if we think about the MOOC example - will we end up just wanting a Coursera identity and not a UNSW or Stanford etc one?
If we think about me having ALL my files safely in the cloud somewhere, how should that be done? Do I have my media files in Creative Cloud, my documents in Office365, my email attachments in GMail, my photos in Flickr and my music in iTunes or is there a way to consolidate? Then as soon as I have another identity with an employer or an educator I get even more places and identities - zoinks.

On that note I think I will go and try out some other note taking thingoes...


Martin Tamke from CITA talk

Interesting talk at UNSW BE tonight by Martin Tamke from CITA (Centre for IT and Architecture) a research centre at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture.

He talked through a suite of their projects undertaken by staff and PhD candidates around the interface between material and the digital. Their research is all about exploring techniques that can then be applied to the design of space and structures even if their product is more art or prototype. Their process often involves digital simulation and generation followed by a build that is then scanned or analysed to validate the original computer model. We all liked this feedback loop where the digital generates the physical which then informs the digital. There is a dedication to the material in their work, bringing a 'craft-like' aesthetic to highly complex digitally informed geometries.

This is the more thought through, if wordy and very academic sounding way that they describe the Centre right there on the front of their website:

CITA is an innovative research environment exploring the emergent intersections between architecture and digital technologies. Identifying core research questions into how space and technology can be probed, CITA seeks to investigate how the current forming of a digital culture impacts on architectural thinking and practice.
CITA examines how architecture is influenced by new digital design- and production tools as well as the digital practices that are informing our societies culturally, socially and technologically. Using design and practice based research methods; the aim is to explore the conceptualisation, design and realisation of working prototypes. CITA consolidates new collaborations with interdisciplinary partners from the fields of computer graphics, human computer interaction, robotics, artificial intelligence as well as the practice based fields of furniture design, fashion and textiles, industrial design, film, dance and interactive arts.
By examining technology transfers between high-innovative industries, that stand on front edge in the development of new digitalised designs- and production tools, it's our goal to create synergy between the subject's contemporary reality and its future perspective.

Martin ran through some of CITA's projects - here are a few pics to encourage you to swing over and check out their work. I hope they put up images of their new stuff soon, keep an eye on their FB page as well as it has some extra nice stuff.


GDC2013 Goodness

Here are a few vids showing off some of the stunning CG tech that is coming our way as shown at the GDC 2013 Conference. We get a dose of the goodness from game and engine developers that will make the next suite of titles and available tech even more droolworthy for us. I am still impressed with what we can do in realtime these days (plus in days soon to come).


Dance and a Junkpile

Yesterday I was treated with being able to watch 2 sessions/classes at the Isobel Anderson Awards. The event brings dancers at various stages of the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) classical ballet curriculum together to show their stuff. The format takes students at the same grade, the classes I saw were for those that had passed their Intermediate Foundation exams. What was remarkable was how the girls (and a few boys) could learn on the fly in class new routine after routine. The teacher/instructor would just build a short dance on the fly molding it to the music and adding variations to relatively set moves all of which had French names of course. I was just in awe of how the dancers could pick up, remember and then perform with gret skill and class in such a tiny space of time --- insert stunned expression here ---
The finals are on Sunday where they also perform a rehearsed routine (Good luck Alicia and Morena from the Dance Spot for then, but big congrats to all the performers, I am still amazed)

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After posting yesterday on the zany complexity of Mattias Adolfsson's Sketches, it seems super relevant to post this image that Grant Imahara took on vacation of perhaps the grooviest junkpile in existence (ok salvage yard).

[Salvage yard photo by Grant Imahara via Twitter]

TableTop Day

With the announcement of Geek&Sundry's International TableTop Day (March 30th) it is time to prep for the fun and games. It is interesting to have an event like this that is mostly about people coming together to enjoy a hobby under the banner of an event spawned from a hugely popular show. Now to work out what we should run on the day - tempted to fire up a Star Wars: Edge of the Empire tabletop RPG game - though if I muster lots of people maybe we just fill a big room with all manner of different board games all going at once. There are other places of course, the EYECON RPG Convention is on a this time and hosting an event already (quick work guys).