Monday, October 26, 2009

Ignite Waterloo is ready to go with first event

There’s a lot of great stuff going on in Waterloo Region. Something that I’ve been working on for some time with a group of like-minded co-consprators is Ignite Waterloo, a local version of a global movement that presents events at which people have five minutes and twenty slides to make a presentation on just about any topic. The results are engaging, funny, enlightening, and help to build connections in local communities and across the world.

Planning and preparations have been going on for many weeks now, and it’s been a great experience to see the group come together. The first Ignite Waterloo Event is on November 25 at the Children’s Museum in Kitchener. There are 16 talks scheduled for this night, as well as a cupcake decorating contest that anyone can participate in. There will be food and drink on hand, and a chance to talk with the presenters and with anyone else who shows up for what promises to me a fun evening. I’m even doing a presentation myself on this first night.

Tickets are available today, and are free. If you’re interested in attending, get your tickets soon, as space is limited.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Co-op students at Primal Fusion

As I’ve mentioned often in this blog, I work at Primal Fusion. We’re doing some pretty cool stuff, some of which you can see in our alpha products. We have a committed group of folks in the shop, and we’re not afraid to take on tough problems. That’s not to say that we aren’t always open to getting help and hearing fresh ideas. One of the strategies that we employ in that regard is to hire students through the University of Waterloo’s co-op program.

As we approach the mid-way point of the current work term, it feels like a good time to reflect on what Primal Fusion gets from co-op, as well as on what students get from spending time at Primal Fusion.

We’re a still a small startup, and we can’t afford to waste resources. We need everyone who works here to contribute, and that includes our co-op students and interns. On the research and development side, that means we look for smart and engaged students to help us solve big problems for our products, not just take on side projects.

In exchange, our students get to do work that makes a valuable impact on real products. In some cases, the work that they do gets released in a product during the course of the work term. That’s quick validation of a job well done.

Are you a student looking for a fast-paced and challenging work term? Primal Fusion may be the place for you.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

iPhone as infinite music generator

Many years ago I discovered Brian Eno’s ambient music through vinyl LP releases like Discreet Music, Music for Airports, and others. The generative aspects of these pieces were appealing to me, and I found the results to be quite beautiful. The only weakness in the pieces, for me, was the limitation of appearing on vinyl albums in short segments. I wanted the pieces to play uninterupted for much longer.

In the mid-eighties, the introduction of the compact disc provided an option that supported longer playing times, and Eno took advantage of that with Thursday Afternoon, a CD-specific version of music he had composed for a video project. That was a CD that I repeatedly played for hours at a stretch while I worked on various design projects. (More recently, the videos from the series have been released on DVD.)

Skipping ahead to the current millennium, last year Eno collaborated with Peter Chilvers to create Bloom, an iPhone app that provides an essentially infinite number of possibilities for ambient pieces. Bloom relies on the computer at the heart of the iPhone to generate music based on minimal input from the user/creator/listener. The results are wonderful, though I did notice that Bloom runs the battery down more quickly than simply listening to Thursday Afternoon does, for obvious reasons. Bloom feels like the ultimate realization of the promise of Eno’s earlier ambient pieces, and has the great advantage of working on a mobile device. As an aside, I think Bloom was the second app that I bought for my iPhone.

Recently I discovered that there was an update to Bloom available. I downloaded it right away, and discovered a few enhancements to the app. More intriguingly were the links to two new apps with a similar heritage: Trope, by Eno and Chilvers again, and Air, by Chilvers and Sandra O’Neil. I’ve bought both, as they are ridiculously inexpensive, and am slowly working my way through them.

What is that I find so striking about these apps? First, as I’ve already written, they seem to deliver on what has in the past felt to me like the unrealized potential of Eno’s generative music. Second, they play to the gestural strengths of the iPhone user experience to deliver a simple application that anyone can use to make music in collaboration with the creators of the apps. Finally, the simple update to Bloom provided a great way to let me know about the newly available Trope and Air.

A lot has been written in recent years, by more thoughtful observers than me, on the state of the music industry and its struggles with new technologies. These three apps feel to me like one way to address a new technology head on and create something new and vital in the process.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Learn about personas at the next UX Group meeting

This month’s UX Group of Waterloo Region meeting is on Thursday October 15 and features a special treat. My Primal Fusion colleague Robert Barlow-Busch will be doing a presentation on personas. Bob will draw upon his own ‘stories from the trenches’ to help you to understand how to get the best from this product design tool. Come on out and enjoy the learning opportunity, and meet other folks in Waterloo Region’s thriving UX community.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thanks for Oktoberfest

Well, it's that time of year again here in Kitchener-Waterloo. Oktoberfest is a long-running Bavarian festival that celebrates the region’s German heritage. While beer is certainly a well-known part of that heritage and the festival, there’s much more to celebrate than fine German lagers. I have to confess, though, that it wasn’t until I had kids that I took in more events and enjoyed the celebration. My family and I enjoyed two of those events over this Thanksgiving weekend.

Saturday morning was the Oktoberfest Pancake Breakfast at the public square in Uptown Waterloo. The volunteers and organizers do a terrific job preparing and serving breakfast for hundreds of people in a fast and efficient way. My sons and I made sure to drop off our contributions to the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

Monday morning we took in the Oktoberfest parade. We’re particularly lucky because the parade route passes by only a block from our home. My kids look forward to this every year, even when there’s rain pouring down. Happily, this year’s edition was free of rain, if more than a little chilly.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Primal Fusion sponsors Cory Doctorow at the Quantum To Cosmos Festival

I mentioned the Quantum To Cosmos Festival some time ago when it was first announced. I’m lucky enough to have secured tickets to a few events and I’m looking forward to taking them in.

More exciting for me is the news that Primal Fusion is sponsoring one of the events. Cory Doctorow will be speaking on Thursday October 22 at 4:00pm on the subject Copyright versus Universal Access to All Human Knowledge and Groups Without Cost: the state of play in the global copyfight.

We’re so excited at Primal Fusion, in fact, that our founder Peter Sweeney’s most recent blog post, Want to Build a Better Internet? Stop Searching for Solutions, takes a cue from an article that Doctorow wrote earlier in the summer. Have a look, and then let Pete know what you think. Is he on to something big? Is he way off-base? Is he somewhere else?

If you’re not able to get to Doctorow’s festival presentation in person, keep in mind that Q2C will be streaming events live over the Internet. Check it out and set aside some time to drink from the metaphorical cup of learning offered by Quantum to Cosmos.