Tuesday, August 19, 2008

ISEA Conference 2008

During the Malaysia trip I came to know about this conference on Electronic Arts and this year it was being hosted in Singapore. My visa was still valid and so I decided to drop in. The conference was scheduled from 25-30 July but I could manage to reach only on 27th just in time to attend the last Keynote of the conference by Prof. Lawrence Lessig, the father of the Creative Commons project.

He talked about creativity, culture, technology & law and the complex probabilities of their interactions. Apart from the concepts he had to share I was astounded by his style of presentation where his slides (with just one word on each!) just flow with his speech and emphasize what he is talking about. The way he captivated the audience was really worth an experience!

I found a couple of his talks hosted on the web. He talks about the same topics in his fascinating style which is sighted in best examples of presenting.

The conference was distributed across a bunch of venues. The best I thought was ADM, NTU. I really liked its ambience.

All throughout the week there were a LOT of researchers, artists & designers who shard there work in 30 minute talks. But at a time there were at least 5-7 talks happening and the toughest thing to do all throughout the conference was to opt one of them to attend.

There were a lot of interesting talks but I cannot go in details of those. But unlike other conferences, there were a lot of exhibitions apart from the talks. I was able to check out the ISEA juried exhibition apart from the partner exhibitions: Experimenta Play ++, Lucid Fields, Cloudland & Relocations.

The ISEA juried exhibition was curated at the National Museum of Singapore. A stupefying white structure that basked in sunlight...

..but in night it changed colour every 30 seconds! And each looked equally beautiful!

So coming back to exhibitions..some of the exhibits really amused me. There were a bunch of interesting exhibits at ADM based on touch interactions.

There was one which generated music from the positions of your feet. Infact the music you hear in above videos is actually coming from this artwork which was exhibited just nearby.

Some of the partner exhibitions also had some appealing exhibits.

The Shy Picture by Narinda Reeders & David MacLeod.

A playful installation disguised as a photoframe...it amused everybody so much that they repeatedly played with it for a while before moving on..

Another interesting one at Experimenta Play++ was Immersion by Angela Barnett, Andrew Buchanan, Darren Ballingall, Chris MacKellar & Christian Rubino.

Projection of an underwater scene on the floor which invited the onlookers to get immersed in the world down below the surface...

Charmed by Priscilla Bracks, Gavin Sade & Matt Dwyer.

I could not shoot the video but you can watch it here.

Where in the world am I? by Dominik Bastianello was the most interesting one I found at Lucid Fields. It was an interesting take on the Theory of Relativity..

Another one was Kubic's Cube by Pablo Ventura.

A performative Installation with Kubic acting as a dance-machine, a cubist kinetic sculpture and an instrument of rhythmic movement. It was huge and while interacting with it to an extent felt like I am standing near a Transformer.

There were some other research projects also exhibited at ADM.

This one was for children to learn name of objects, how they are spelt and how they look...it was like a virtual interactive encyclopedia to play with!!

In the ISEA juried exhibition the most amazing I thought was Quartet. One has to just stand and move his hands like a conductor of an orchestra..the motions were detected and the instrument were played by machines..pretty neat execution I must say.

It was quit an inspiring experience to see for real and interact with some amazing artworks...and meeting so many interesting people...especially after finishing master's of Interaction Design and knowing that there are a many stimulating things to look forward to.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kuala Lumpur

Jugaad at the Petronas Towers
It was not a typical saturday morning. First of all I do not usually get up at 6.30 am in the morning after sleeping at 4 am. Second of all I was not in a place where I normally am and last but not least the plan for the day was not to lazy around as I usually do.

It was my last day of the three day visit to Malaysia and the earlier two had been really busy with work. Though there had been some good times in past two days, I had not actually done what people do when they visit Malaysia..tourism. So that was precisely my plan for the day. I had read online about the passes for Petronas Towers being distributed only in the morning. So I had made an effort to make an early start in spite of a late friday night out.

I could see the twin towers approaching. I had left the KL tower out of my plans for the day as I had recently been up the Seoul tower. Though I could see them approaching, they were still a long way off. The clock read 8:30 am. Since there was some time I started ruminating over the proceedings of the trip..it had been a nice trip but nothing really exciting to blog about.

Of course my going to be workplace was awesome!

The chubby mascot of Digi Telecommunications welcomes everyone to the mise-en-scène

A beautiful Waterfall in the premises with overlooking Canteen on third floor

Fresh [& Real!!] flowers adorned most of the ambiance

Every wall has at least one interesting piece of art on it

It was good in every way it can be...

And apart from work I also had made a new friend! The joy of meeting a compatriot in an alien land is indescribable..but Akshay was not only from India but also from my home town Nagpur and a typical 'Nagpuri Tapori'...just like me! And it turned out that we went to same school and college in Nagpur..a year apart. It makes me wonder how life keeps the timing of its revelations..we had not met each other for 10-15 years and now we were meeting thousands of miles away from our hometown. He had been in Kuala Lumpur for last two years and obliged to take me around the town. Nightlife in KL was a little bit of surprise for me considering the conservative Muslim society I presumed it to be.

The Petronas Towers looked stunning in the dark.

But still I had a feeling that nothing special had happened. Amongst the thoughts I didn't realize when I arrived at the bottom of the 85+ storied edifice. The pass distribution counter was somewhere in the basement I had read. I hurried inside as I saw the clock reading 8:45 am. The counters opened at 9 am and everyone had cautioned about being in the queue around half an hour before that for surety of getting a pass. I asked another person who seemed to be in hurry as me, for the whereabouts of the basement. And he said even he was looking for it. We found the stairs down and introduced ourselves while heading towards them. His name was Angel, a Spanish young fellow who was in Singapore for a month and was taking his time out on weekends to travel around in this part of the world. But as we descended, a big surprise awaited us. There was no room left for any more people.

And as we hit the floor we were welcomed by a board that disdainfully read "SORRY. No more tickets available for the day."

Life stunned with another timing of it's revelations!

Ah come on! I was surely not that late! And I saw a lot of people disappointed like me. Some of us might not get another chance in life to be here again! Angel echoed the same sentiments. Even he had a flight to catch in the evening like me. Dejected, we stood there sharing the grief with other latecomers. The excitement I was rooting for, on the trip, seemed to be evading me. Wait a minute! My eternal optimism kicked in."I cannot give up so easily!" I thought to myself. And I started looking for alternatives with determination.

A tape separated the ones in the queue from the latecomers. The volunteers on the other side of it at least had a regard in their speech in contrast to the scorn hinted by the separator. They clarified that the passes are being distributed since 8:30 am and people have been in queue since 7 am! They give away 1500 passes for the day and each person in the queue can get maximum upto 6. When one stands in queue one is handed over a chit stating number of tickets one wants. When the sum of all the numbers on the chits add upto 1500 they stop people from standing in the queue. The passes are for different slots starting 9:15 am, then 9:30 and so on till 6:30 pm. I was hearing intently to all the information to find a loophole in the system and make my way in. But so far no good.

I made an attempt to get permission to be at the end of the queue..just to try my luck. What if some group takes a pass less than it had told before, what if someone doesn't turn up as expected, what if someone changes one's plan. I tried to persuade her with lots of what ifs but arguments based on improbability are apparently not convincing. She said she cannot allow me to be in queue...not even at a distance after it ended!

But still I decided to wait for a while and lookout for some ray of hope. By this time, it was also clear that I had got something to write about. My instincts to find a work around were slowly awakening..what my friends refer to as my 'Jugaadu' skills. It was the time to put them to test. So I decided I won't let it go easily without managing to go up the Petronas Towers that day. And the hunt began...

I stood there astutely observing happenings around me. Angel was astonished at my optimism in the hopeless situation. But I convinced him to stick around if he really wanted to get the passes. [I refer to them as passes instead of tickets because they are given away free!]

Just then I saw a couple of Europeans leaving the queue. Oooh!..something seemed to be coming up. I followed them and inquired. They told that they were getting passes for 4 o'clock and they had to catch a flight at the same time. They had to be out of there at the most by 2. So they were leaving..sad for them but I was happy! One of my what if's was coming out to be true!!

Excited, I went back to the volunteer and told her what just happened. She smiled..and said "Sorry Sir, but I cannot help you till the queue is over." And just as I was about to argue more I realised that it is no use standing at the end of the queue. Because then I would get a pass for the last slot at 6:30 pm. It was no use for me as I had to catch a flight at 7 pm. I felt for a while what the Europeans might have left feeling. But I was not going to give up easily. So I changed the tone and asked the volunteer what could be done as clearly the number was going to be less than 1500 as some had left..and maybe some others will too for some or the other reason. She answered patiently that the only way of getting a pass for an earlier slot was some friend of mine in the queue would get one for me. Ding Ding Ding! I had hit the jackpot.

Now the only thing left was to make friendship with complete strangers and convince them to get extra passes. I discussed with Angel what I had just found out and we decided to pool our talents. He knew four languages: Spanish, Portuguese, English & French. And I was pretty good at three: English, Hindi & Marathi [I knew I was not going to go anywhere with my skills ;)]. So we started to look for probable targets. As we discussed strategies it came out that we should be talking to people who have margin to take more passes. So even though its easy to make friends with a group but they would already be taking 5-6 passes. So we had to look for people who were going to take 2-3 passes only. Now the only difficulty was the distance created by the tape between those in the queue and all others.

Meanwhile I also noticed people going at the other end of the tape..not to be in queue but to a souvenir shop whose entrance was pretty much behind the queue. That was a good reason to get upclose with people in the queue. And so we crossed the tape sighting the reason to go to the souvenir store. I usually don't believe in boundaries but it felt awesome to be at the other side of the rope! We just made a quick entrance and exit to the store, just not to raise any suspicions. Then we started our search for potential friends. Angel talked to a group of French students as I tried to start up a conversation with a British couple. All we had to do was to convince them to get extra passes as if it was not much for them. We told them to ask far more passes than they had told before while getting the chit for the queue siting the reason that we were their friends and were not reachable in the morning. Both of us were successful in convincing the people we talked to. We could not believe it. The British couple I talked to, Len & Jane, agreed so easily that I was pretty sure they were just trying to cut me out. So I waited outside the rope till they got to the counter and made sure I was there at the counter when they asked for more passes just to be sure that they actually did ask and if they did, to avoid any suspicion/queries from the authorities. And when they said there are passes available for 3:30 I felt vainglorious.

Got it!!
I now came to know why it is called ticket and not a pass. It was surely not for free!!
But I still could not believe that I had managed to get myself one!

I felt a boost in my confidence levels as my 'Jugaad' seemed to work in unfamiliar places and conditions as well. We offered Len & Jane to buy them the breakfast, it was 9:40 now and they had been in queue since early morning but they refused. So Angel and I went ahead for a bite and decide for the plans till 3:30.
We hung around the shopping mall on the bottom four floors of the tower...

...and then decided to go around to Petaling street for some culture shopping.
There was a sense of surrealism to everything for a while...

The graphics on buses responded to vehicles on the road..

Randomly walking pedestrians seemed to be equally distant..

But nothing beat the feeling of rubbing the 'ticket'...in face of the haughty board!

Angel had something else to finish so we parted from Petaling street and decided to meet directly at the towers around 3:15. I reached on time but he did not. So he came in the next slot. Len & Jane were there so we had a little chat. They have been traveling for almost 10 months around the world and there year long itinerary was going to end with the last 6 weeks in India. I promised them to return the favor in someway when they are in India.

There was a brief presentation about Petronas and the making of the towers and then the lift took us to 45th floor in about 45 seconds. Some of the views from the bridge...

On the Petronas Bridge

Jane, Me & Len

When we were about to leave the bunch of people from next slot came in. Angel was there too. So we could take the picture of all four of us.

Angel, Len, Jane & Me
Four wandering souls..not sure if they will get another chance in life to meet up again.

The amazing experience left me feeling as high as the bridge on the Petronas Towers!

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