Category Archives: New Media

Augmented reality and the future of paper books

I’ve started to think that paper books will be on an ‘endangered species’ list in the not too distant future. Now, it seems researchers at the University of Surrey (UK) may have staved off that scenario according to an August 3, 2022 news item on ScienceDaily,

Augmented reality might allow printed books to make a comeback against the e-book trend, according to researchers from the University of Surrey.

An August 3, 2022 University of Surrey press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the idea and the research in more detail,

Surrey has introduced the third generation (3G) version of its Next Generation Paper (NGP) project, allowing the reader to consume information on the printed paper and screen side by side.  

Dr Radu Sporea, Senior lecturer at the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI), comments: 

“The way we consume literature has changed over time with so many more options than just paper books. Multiple electronic solutions currently exist, including e-readers and smart devices, but no hybrid solution which is sustainable on a commercial scale.  

“Augmented books, or a-books, can be the future of many book genres, from travel and tourism to education. This technology exists to assist the reader in a deeper understanding of the written topic and get more through digital means without ruining the experience of reading a paper book.” 

Power efficiency and pre-printed conductive paper are some of the new features which allow Surrey’s augmented books to now be manufactured on a semi-industrial scale. With no wiring visible to the reader, Surrey’s augmented reality books allow users to trigger digital content with a simple gesture (such as a swipe of a finger or turn of a page), which will then be displayed on a nearby device.  

George Bairaktaris, Postgraduate researcher at the University of Surrey and part of the Next Generation Paper project team, said: 

“The original research was carried out to enrich travel experiences by creating augmented travel guides. This upgraded 3G model allows for the possibility of using augmented books for different areas such as education. In addition, the new model disturbs the reader less by automatically recognising the open page and triggering the multimedia content.” 

“What started as an augmented book project, evolved further into scalable user interfaces. The techniques and knowledge from the project led us into exploring organic materials and printing techniques to fabricate scalable sensors for interfaces beyond the a-book”.

…  

Caption: Next Generation Paper book example Credit: Courtesy of Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Augmented Books: Hybrid Electronics Bring Paper to Life by Georgios Bairaktaris, Brice Le Borgne, Vikram Turkani, Emily Corrigan-Kavanagh, David M. Frohlich, Radu A. Sporea. IEEE Pervasive Computing (early access) PrePrints pp. 1-8, DOI: 10.1109/MPRV.2022.3181440 Published: July 12, 2022

This paper is behind a paywall.

How AI-designed fiction reading lists and self-publishing help nurture far-right and neo-Nazi novelists

Literary theorists Helen Young and Geoff M Boucher, both at Deakin University (Australia), have co-written a fascinating May 29, 2022 essay on The Conversation (and republished on phys.org) analyzing some of the reasons (e.g., novels) for the resurgence in neo-Nazi activity and far-right extremism, Note: Links have been removed,

Far-right extremists pose an increasing risk in Australia and around the world. In 2020, ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] revealed that about 40% of its counter-terrorism work involved the far right.

The recent mass murder in Buffalo, U.S., and the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 are just two examples of many far-right extremist acts of terror.

Far-right extremists have complex and diverse methods for spreading their messages of hate. These can include through social media, video games, wellness culture, interest in medieval European history, and fiction [emphasis mine]. Novels by both extremist and non-extremist authors feature on far-right “reading lists” designed to draw people into their beliefs and normalize hate.

Here’s more about how the books get published and distributed, from the May 29, 2022 essay, Note: Links have been removed,

Publishing houses once refused to print such books, but changes in technology have made traditional publishers less important. With self-publishing and e-books, it is easy for extremists to produce and distribute their fiction.

In this article, we have only given the titles and authors of those books that are already notorious, to avoid publicizing other dangerous hate-filled fictions.

Why would far-right extremists write novels?

Reading fiction is different to reading non-fiction. Fiction offers readers imaginative scenarios that can seem to be truthful, even though they are not fact-based. It can encourage readers to empathize with the emotions, thoughts and ethics of characters, particularly when they recognize those characters as being “like” them.

A novel featuring characters who become radicalized to far-right extremism, or who undertake violent terrorist acts, can help make those things seem justified and normal.

Novels that promote political violence, such as The Turner Diaries, are also ways for extremists to share plans and give readers who hold extreme views ideas about how to commit terrorist acts. …

In the late 20th century, far-right extremists without Pierce’s notoriety [American neo-Nazi William L. Pierce published The Turner Diaries (1978)] found it impossible to get their books published. One complained about this on his blog in 1999, blaming feminists and Jewish people. Just a few years later, print-on-demand and digital self-publishing made it possible to circumvent this difficulty.

The same neo-Nazi self-published what he termed “a lifetime of writing” in the space of a few years in the early 2000s. The company he paid to produce his books—iUniverse.com—helped get them onto the sales lists of major booksellers Barnes and Noble and Amazon in the early 2000s, making a huge difference to how easily they circulated outside extremist circles.

It still produces print-on-demand hard copies, even though the author has died. The same author’s books also circulate in digital versions, including on Google Play and Kindle, making them easily accessible.

Distributing extremist novels digitally

Far-right extremists use social media to spread their beliefs, but other digital platforms are also useful for them.

Seemingly innocent sites that host a wide range of mainstream material, such as Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and the Internet Archive, are open to exploitation. Extremists use them to share, for example, material denying the Holocaust alongside historical Nazi newspapers.

Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing service has been called “a haven for white supremacists” because of how easy it is for them to circulate political tracts there. The far-right extremist who committed the Oslo terrorist attacks in 2011 recommended in his manifesto that his followers use Kindle to to spread his message.

Our research has shown that novels by known far-right extremists have been published and circulated through Kindle as well as other digital self-publishing services.

Ai and its algorithms also play a role, from the May 29, 2022 essay,

Radicalising recommendations

As we researched how novels by known violent extremists circulate, we noticed that the sales algorithms of mainstream platforms were suggesting others that we might also be interested in. Sales algorithms work by recommending items that customers who purchased one book have also viewed or bought.

Those recommendations directed us to an array of novels that, when we investigated them, proved to resonate with far-right ideologies.

A significant number of them were by authors with far-right political views. Some had ties to US militia movements and the gun-obsessed “prepper” subculture. Almost all of the books were self-published as e-books and print-on-demand editions.

Without the marketing and distribution channels of established publishing houses, these books rely on digital circulation for sales, including sale recommendation algorithms.

The trail of sales recommendations led us, with just two clicks, to the novels of mainstream authors. They also led us back again, from mainstream authors’ books to extremist novels. This is deeply troubling. It risks unsuspecting readers being introduced to the ideologies, world-views and sometimes powerful emotional narratives of far-right extremist novels designed to radicalise.

It’s not always easy to tell right away if you’re reading fiction promoting far-right ideologies, from the May 29, 2022 essay,

Recognising far-right messages

Some extremist novels follow the lead of The Turner Diaries and represent the start of a racist, openly genocidal war alongside a call to bring one about. Others are less obvious about their violent messages.

Some are not easily distinguished from mainstream novels – for example, from political thrillers and dystopian adventure stories like those of Tom Clancy or Matthew Reilly – so what is different about them? Openly neo-Nazi authors, like Pierce, often use racist, homophobic and misogynist slurs, but many do not. This may be to help make their books more palatable to general readers, or to avoid digital moderation based on specific words.

Knowing more about far-right extremism can help. Researchers generally say that there are three main things that connect the spectrum of far-right extremist politics: acceptance of social inequality, authoritarianism, and embracing violence as a tool for political change. Willingness to commit or endorse violence is a key factor separating extremism from other radical politics.

It is very unlikely that anyone would become radicalised to violent extremism just by reading novels. Novels can, however, reinforce political messages heard elsewhere (such as on social media) and help make those messages and acts of hate feel justified.

With the growing threat of far-right extremism and deliberate recruitment strategies of extremists targeting unexpected places, it is well worth being informed enough to recognise the hate-filled stories they tell.

I recommend reading the essay as my excerpts don’t do justice to the ideas being presented. As Young and Boucher note, it’s “… unlikely that anyone would become radicalised to violent extremism …” by reading novels but far-right extremists and neo-Nazis write fiction because the tactic works at some level.

Electrotactile rendering device virtualizes the sense of touch

I stumbled across this November 15, 2022 news item on Nanowerk highlighting work on the sense of touch in the virual originally announced in October 2022,

A collaborative research team co-led by City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has developed a wearable tactile rendering system, which can mimic the sensation of touch with high spatial resolution and a rapid response rate. The team demonstrated its application potential in a braille display, adding the sense of touch in the metaverse for functions such as virtual reality shopping and gaming, and potentially facilitating the work of astronauts, deep-sea divers and others who need to wear thick gloves.

Here’s what you’ll need to wear for this virtual tactile experience,

Caption: The new wearable tactile rendering system can mimic touch sensations with high spatial resolution and a rapid response rate. Credit: Robotics X Lab and City University of Hong Kong

An October 20, 2022 City University of Hong Kong (CityU) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into the research,

“We can hear and see our families over a long distance via phones and cameras, but we still cannot feel or hug them. We are physically isolated by space and time, especially during this long-lasting pandemic,” said Dr Yang Zhengbao,Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering of CityU, who co-led the study. “Although there has been great progress in developing sensors that digitally capture tactile features with high resolution and high sensitivity, we still lack a system that can effectively virtualize the sense of touch that can record and playback tactile sensations over space and time.”

In collaboration with Chinese tech giant Tencent’s Robotics X Laboratory, the team developed a novel electrotactile rendering system for displaying various tactile sensations with high spatial resolution and a rapid response rate. Their findings were published in the scientific journal Science Advances under the title “Super-resolution Wearable Electro-tactile Rendering System”.

Limitations in existing techniques

Existing techniques to reproduce tactile stimuli can be broadly classified into two categories: mechanical and electrical stimulation. By applying a localised mechanical force or vibration on the skin, mechanical actuators can elicit stable and continuous tactile sensations. However, they tend to be bulky, limiting the spatial resolution when integrated into a portable or wearable device. Electrotactile stimulators, in contrast, which evoke touch sensations in the skin at the location of the electrode by passing a local electric current though the skin, can be light and flexible while offering higher resolution and a faster response. But most of them rely on high voltage direct-current (DC) pulses (up to hundreds of volts) to penetrate the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin, to stimulate the receptors and nerves, which poses a safety concern. Also, the tactile rendering resolution needed to be improved.

The latest electro-tactile actuator developed by the team is very thin and flexible and can be easily integrated into a finger cot. This fingertip wearable device can display different tactile sensations, such as pressure, vibration, and texture roughness in high fidelity. Instead of using DC pulses, the team developed a high-frequency alternating stimulation strategy and succeeded in lowering the operating voltage under 30 V, ensuring the tactile rendering is safe and comfortable.

They also proposed a novel super-resolution strategy that can render tactile sensation at locations between physical electrodes, instead of only at the electrode locations. This increases the spatial resolution of their stimulators by more than three times (from 25 to 105 points), so the user can feel more realistic tactile perception.

Tactile stimuli with high spatial resolution

“Our new system can elicit tactile stimuli with both high spatial resolution (76 dots/cm2), similar to the density of related receptors in the human skin, and a rapid response rate (4 kHz),” said Mr Lin Weikang, a PhD student at CityU, who made and tested the device.

The team ran different tests to show various application possibilities of this new wearable electrotactile rendering system. For example, they proposed a new Braille strategy that is much easier for people with a visual impairment to learn.

The proposed strategy breaks down the alphabet and numerical digits into individual strokes and order in the same way they are written. By wearing the new electrotactile rendering system on a fingertip, the user can recognise the alphabet presented by feeling the direction and the sequence of the strokes with the fingertip sensor. “This would be particularly useful for people who lose their eye sight later in life, allowing them to continue to read and write using the same alphabetic system they are used to, without the need to learn the whole Braille dot system,” said Dr Yang.

Enabling touch in the metaverse

Second, the new system is well suited for VR/AR [virtual reality/augmented reality] applications and games, adding the sense of touch to the metaverse. The electrodes can be made highly flexible and scalable to cover larger areas, such as the palm. The team demonstrated that a user can virtually sense the texture of clothes in a virtual fashion shop. The user also experiences an itchy sensation in the fingertips when being licked by a VR cat. When stroking a virtual cat’s fur, the user can feel a variance in the roughness as the strokes change direction and speed.

The system can also be useful in transmitting fine tactile details through thick gloves. The team successfully integrated the thin, light electrodes of the electrotactile rendering system into flexible tactile sensors on a safety glove. The tactile sensor array captures the pressure distribution on the exterior of the glove and relays the information to the user in real time through tactile stimulation. In the experiment, the user could quickly and accurately locate a tiny steel washer just 1 mm in radius and 0.44mm thick based on the tactile feedback from the glove with sensors and stimulators. This shows the system’s potential in enabling high-fidelity tactile perception, which is currently unavailable to astronauts, firefighters, deep-sea divers and others who need wear thick protective suits or gloves.

“We expect our technology to benefit a broad spectrum of applications, such as information transmission, surgical training, teleoperation, and multimedia entertainment,” added Dr Yang.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Super-resolution wearable electrotactile rendering system by Weikang Lin, Dongsheng Zhang, Wang Wei Lee, Xuelong Li, Ying Hong, Qiqi Pan, Ruirui Zhang, Guoxiang Peng, Hong Z. Tan, Zhengyou Zhang, Lei Wei, and Zhengbao Yang. Science Advances 9 Sep 2022 Vol 8, Issue 36 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abp8738

This paper is open access.

ArtSci Salon hosts Basic Necessities—connectivity and cultural creativity in Cuba, a talk on Oct 3, 4:30-6:00 pm ET at York University

It’s like the flood gates have opened and I am being inundated with event notices. The latest is from Toronto’s (Canada) ArtSci Salon (again). From a September 21, 2022 notice (received via email),

Basic Necessities
Connectivity and cultural creativity in Cuba

A public lecture by Nestor Siré
With online participation by Steffen Köhn

Join me in welcoming Nestor Siré.
Nestor Siré is a multimedia artist based in Cuba. His projects and collaborations explore unofficial methods for circulating information and goods, such as alternative forms of economic production, and phenomena resulting from social creativity and recycling, piracy, as well as a-legal activities benefitting from loopholes. Siré will discuss some of his recent creative works in the Cuban context.
His “Paquete Semanal” is an offline digital media circulation system based on in person file sharing to provide a solution to connectivity and infrastructure failure in Cuba. “Basic Necessities”, a recent collaboration with Steffen Köhln, portraits the dynamics of the informal economy in Cuba as it unfolds in Telegram groups and analyses the eclectic and creative uses of product photography within this digital context.
Köhln will join him in conversation via zoom.

October 3, 2022
4:30-6:00 pm [ET]
Room YH 245
Glendon Campus [York University]
2275 Bayview Ave
North York,
ON M4N 3M6
Directions

Nestor Siré
(*1988), lives and works in Havana, Cuba.
www.nestorsire.com
Nestor Siré’s artistic practice intervenes directly in social contexts in order to analyze specific cultural phenomena, often engaging with the particular idiosyncrasies of digital culture in the Cuban context.
His works have been shown in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Havana), Queens Museum (New York), Rhizome (New York), New Museum (New York), Hong-Gah Museum (Taipei), Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Mexico City), Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Santa Fe (Argentina), The Photographers’ Gallery (London), among other places. He has participated in events such as the Manifesta 13 Biennial (France), Gwangju Biennale (South Korea), Curitiba Biennial (Brazil), the Havana Biennial (Cuba) and the Asunción International Biennale (Paraguay), the Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Cuba and the Oberhausen International Festival of Short Film (Germany).

Steffen Köhn
(*1980), lives and works in Berlin.
www.steffenkoehn.com

Steffen Köhn is a filmmaker, anthropologist and video artist who uses ethnography to understand contemporary sociotechnical landscapes. For his video and installation works he engages in local collaborations with gig workers, software developers, or science fiction writers to explore viable alternatives to current distributions of technological access and arrangements of power.
His works have been shown at the Academy of the Arts Berlin, Kunsthaus Graz, Vienna Art Week, Hong Gah Museum Taipei, Lulea Biennial, The Photographers’ Gallery and the ethnographic museums of Copenhagen and Dresden. His films have been screened (among others) at the Berlinale, Rotterdam International Film Festival, and the Word Film Festival Montreal.

I tried to find out if this event will be webcast or streamed but was unsuccessful. You can check the ArtSci Salon website, perhaps they’ll post something closer to the event date.

IHEX and a call for papers

IHEX has nothing to do with high tech witches (sigh … mildly disappointing), it is the abbreviation for “Intelligent interfaces and Human factors in EXtended environments” and I got a June 29, 2022 announcement or call for papers via email,

International Workshop on Intelligent interfaces and Human factors in EXtended environments (IHEX) – SITIS 2022 16th international conference on Signal Image Technology & Internet based Systems, Dijon, France, October 19-21, 2022

Dear Colleagues,
It is with great pleasure that we would like to invite you to send a contribution to the International Workshop on Intelligent interfaces and Human factors in EXtended environments (IHEX) at SITIS 2022 16th international conference on Signal Image Technology & Internet based Systems (Conference website: https://www.sitis-conference.org).

The workshop is about new approaches for designing and implementing intelligent eXtended Reality systems. Please find the call for papers below and forward it to colleagues who might be interested in contributing to the workshop.
For any questions and information, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Best Regards,
Giuseppe Caggianese

CFP [Call for papers]
———-
eXtended Reality is becoming more and more widespread; going beyond entertainment and cultural heritage fruition purposes, these technologies offer new challenges and opportunities also in educational, industrial and healthcare domains. The research community in this field deals with technological and human factors issues, presenting theoretical and methodological proposals for perception, tracking, interaction and visualization. Increasing attention is observed towards the use of machine learning and AI methodologies to perform data analysis and reasoning, manage a multimodal interaction, and ensure an adaptation to users’ needs and preferences. The workshop is aimed at investigating new approaches for the design and implementation of intelligent eXtended Reality systems. It intends to provide a forum to share and discuss not only technological and design advances but also ethical concerns about the implications of these technologies on changing social interactions, information access and experiences.

Topics for the workshop include, but are not limited to:

 – Intelligent User Interfaces in eXtended environments
 – Computational Interaction for XR
 – Quality and User Experience in XR
 – Cognitive Models for XR
 – Semantic Computing in environments
 – XR-based serious games
 – Virtual Agents in eXtended environments
 – Adaptive Interfaces
 – Visual Reasoning
 – Content Modelling
 – Responsible Design of eXtended Environments
 – XR systems for Human Augmentation
 – AI methodologies applied to XR
 – ML approaches in XR
 – Ethical concerns in XR

VENUE
———-
University of Burgundy main campus, Dijon, France, October 19-21, 2022

WORKSHOP CO-CHAIRS
———————————–
Agnese Augello, Institute for high performance computing and networking, National Research Council, Italy
Giuseppe Caggianese, Institute for high performance computing and networking, National Research Council, Italy
Boriana Koleva, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom

PROGRAM COMMITTEE
———————————-
Agnese Augello, Institute for high performance computing and networking, National Research Council, Italy
Giuseppe Caggianese, Institute for high performance computing and networking, National Research Council, Italy
Giuseppe Chiazzese, Institute for Educational Technology, National Research Council, Italy
Dimitri Darzentas, Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland
Martin Flintham, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
Ignazio Infantino, Institute for high performance computing and networking, National Research Council, Italy
Boriana Koleva, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
Emel Küpçü, Xtinge Technology Inc., Turkey
Effie Lai-Chong Law, Durham University, United Kingdom
Pietro Neroni, Institute for high performance computing and networking, National Research Council, Italy

SUBMISSION AND DECISIONS
——————————————-
Each submission should be at most 8 pages in total including bibliography and well-marked appendices and must follow the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] double columns publication format.

You can download the IEEE conference templates – Latex and MS Word A4 – at the following URL: https://www.ieee.org/conferences/publishing/templates.html
Paper submission will only be online via SITIS 2022 submission site:
https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=sitis2022

Submissions will be peer-reviewed by at least two peer reviewers. Papers will be evaluated based on relevance, significance, impact, originality, technical soundness, and quality of presentation.
At least one author should attend the conference to present an accepted paper.

IMPORTANT DATES
—————————-
Paper Submission      July 15, 2022
Acceptance/Reject Notification.     September 9, 2022
Camera-ready       September 16, 2022
Author Registration    September 16, 2022

CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS
——————————————–
All papers accepted for presentation at the main tracks and workshops will be included in the conference proceedings, which will be published by IEEE Computer Society and referenced in IEEE Xplore Digital Library, Scopus, DBLP and major indexes.

REGISTRATION
———————–
At least one author of each accepted paper must register for the conference and present the work. A single registration allows attending both track and workshop sessions.

CONTACTS
—————-
For any questions, please contact us via email.

Agnese Augello agnese.augello@icar.cnr.it
Giuseppe Caggianese giuseppe.caggianese@icar.cnr.it
Boriana Koleva  B.Koleva@nottingham.ac.uk

Good luck!

Art/Sci exhibit in Toronto, Canada: “These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees” June 22 – July 16, 2022

A “These are a few of Our Favourite Bees” upcoming exhibitions notice on the Campbell House Museum website (also received via email as a June 4, 2022 ArtSci Salon announcement) features a month long exhibit being co-presented with the Canadian Music Centre in Toronto,

Exhibition
Campbell House Museum
June 22 – July 16, 2022
160 Queen Street W.

Opening event
Campbell House,
Saturday July 2,
2 – 4 p.m. [ET]

Artists’ Talk & Webcast
The Canadian Music Centre,
20 St. Joseph Street Toronto
Thursday, July 7
7:30 – 9 p.m. [ET]
(doors open 7 pm)

These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees investigates wild, native bees and their ecology through playful dioramas, video, audio, relief print and poetry. Inspired by lambe lambe – South American miniature puppet stages for a single viewer – four distinct dioramas convey surreal yet enlightening worlds where bees lounge in cozy environs, animals watch educational films [emphasis mine] and ethereal sounds animate bowls of berries (having been pollinated by their diverse bee visitors). Displays reminiscent of natural history museums invite close inspection, revealing minutiae of these tiny, diverse animals, our native bees. From thumb-sized to extremely tiny, fuzzy to hairless, black, yellow, red or emerald green, each native bee tells a story while her actions create the fruits of pollination, reflecting the perpetual dance of animals, plants and planet. With a special appearance by Toronto’s official bee, the jewelled green sweat bee, Agapostemon virescens!

These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees Collective are: Sarah Peebles, Ele Willoughby, Rob Cruickshank & Stephen Humphrey

 The Works

These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees

Sarah Peebles, Ele Willoughby, Rob Cruickshank & Stephen Humphrey

Single-viewer box theatres, dioramas, sculpture, textile art, macro video, audio transducers, poetry, insect specimens, relief print, objects, electronics, colour-coded DNA barcodes.

Bees represented: rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis); jewelled green sweat bee (Agapostemon virescens); masked sweat bee (Hylaeus annulatus); leafcutter bee (Megachile relativa)

In the Landscape

Ele Willoughby & Sarah Peebles

paper, relief print, video projection, audio, audio cable, mixed media

Bee specimens & bee barcodes generously provided by Laurence Packer – Packer Lab, York University; Scott MacIvor – BUGS Lab, U-T [University of Toronto] Scarborough; Sam Droege – USGS [US Geological Survey]; Barcode of Life Data Systems; Antonia Guidotti, Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum

In addition to watching television, animals have been known to interact with touchscreen computers as mentioned in my June 24, 2016 posting, “Animal technology: a touchscreen for your dog, sonar lunch orders for dolphins, and more.”

The “These are a few of Our Favourite Bees” upcoming exhibitions notice features this artist statement for a third piece, “Without A Bee, It Would Not Be” by Tracey Lawko,

In May, my crabapple tree blooms. In August, I pick the ripe crabapples. In September, I make jelly. Then I have breakfast. This would not be without a bee.

It could not be without a bee. The fruit and vegetables I enjoy eating, as well as the roses I admire as centrepieces, all depend on pollination.

Our native pollinators and their habitat are threatened.  Insect populations are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide use, disease and climate change. 75% of flowering plants rely on pollinators to set seed and we humans get one-third of our food from flowering plants.

I invite you to enter this beautiful dining room and consider the importance of pollinators to the enjoyment of your next meal.

Bio

Tracey Lawko employs contemporary textile techniques to showcase changes in our environment. Building on a base of traditional hand-embroidery, free-motion longarm stitching and a love of drawing, her representational work is detailed and “drawn with thread”. Her nature studies draw attention to our native pollinators as she observes them around her studio in the Niagara Escarpment. Many are stitched using a centuries-old, three-dimensional technique called “Stumpwork”.

Tracey’s extensive exhibition history includes solo exhibitions at leading commercial galleries and public museums. Her work has been selected for major North American and International exhibitions, including the Concours International des Mini-Textiles, Musée Jean Lurçat, France, and is held in the permanent collection of the US National Quilt Museum and in private collections in North America and Europe.

Bzzz!

Tree music

Hidden Life Radio livestreams music generated from trees (their biodata, that is). Kristin Toussaint in her August 3, 2021 article for Fast Company describes the ‘radio station’, Note: Links have been removed,

Outside of a library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an over-80-year-old copper beech tree is making music.

As the tree photosynthesizes and absorbs and evaporates water, a solar-powered sensor attached to a leaf measures the micro voltage of all that invisible activity. Sound designer and musician Skooby Laposky assigned a key and note range to those changes in this electric activity, turning the tree’s everyday biological processes into an ethereal song.

That music is available on Hidden Life Radio, an art project by Laposky, with assistance from the Cambridge Department of Public Works Urban Forestry, and funded in part by a grant from the Cambridge Arts Council. Hidden Life Radio also features the musical sounds of two other Cambridge trees: a honey locust and a red oak, both located outside of other Cambridge library branches. The sensors on these trees are solar-powered biodata sonification kits, a technology that has allowed people to turn all sorts of plant activity into music.

… Laposky has created a musical voice for these disappearing trees, and he hopes people tune into Hidden Life Radio and spend time listening to them over time. The music they produce occurs in real time, affected by the weather and whatever the tree is currently doing. Some days they might be silent, especially when there’s been several days without rain, and they’re dehydrated; Laposky is working on adding an archive that includes weather information, so people can go back and hear what the trees sound like on different days, under different conditions. The radio will play 24 hours a day until November, when the leaves will drop—a “natural cycle for the project to end,” Laposky says, “when there aren’t any leaves to connect to anymore.”

The 2021 season is over but you can find an archive of Hidden Life Radio livestreams here. Or, if you happen to be reading this page sometime after January 2022, you can try your luck and click here at Hidden Life Radio livestreams but remember, even if the project has started up again, the tree may not be making music when you check in. So, if you don’t hear anything the first time, try again.

Want to create your own biodata sonification project?

Toussaint’s article sent me on a search for more and I found a website where you can get biodata sonification kits. Sam Cusumano’s electricity for progress website offers lessons, as well as, kits and more.

Sophie Haigney’s February 21, 2020 article for NPR ([US] National Public Radio) highlights other plant music and more ways to tune in to and create it. (h/t Kristin Toussaint)

SFU’s Philippe Pasquier speaks at “The rise of Creative AI and its ethics” online event on Tuesday, January 11, 2022 at 6 am PST

Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Metacreation Lab for Creative AI (artificial intelligence) in Vancouver, Canada, has just sent me (via email) a January 2022 newsletter, which you can find here. There are a two items I found of special interest.

Max Planck Centre for Humans and Machines Seminars

From the January 2022 newsletter,

Max Planck Institute Seminar – The rise of Creative AI & its ethics
January 11, 2022 at 15:00 pm [sic] CET | 6:00 am PST

Next Monday [sic], Philippe Pasquier, director of the Metacreation Labn will
be providing a seminar titled “The rise of Creative AI & its ethics”
[Tuesday, January 11, 2022] at the Max Planck Institute’s Centre for Humans and
Machine [sic].

The Centre for Humans and Machines invites interested attendees to
our public seminars, which feature scientists from our institute and
experts from all over the world. Their seminars usually take 1 hour and
provide an opportunity to meet the speaker afterwards.

The seminar is openly accessible to the public via Webex Access, and
will be a great opportunity to connect with colleagues and friends of
the Lab on European and East Coast time. For more information and the
link, head to the Centre for Humans and Machines’ Seminars page linked
below.

Max Planck Institute – Upcoming Events

The Centre’s seminar description offers an abstract for the talk and a profile of Philippe Pasquier,

Creative AI is the subfield of artificial intelligence concerned with the partial or complete automation of creative tasks. In turn, creative tasks are those for which the notion of optimality is ill-defined. Unlike car driving, chess moves, jeopardy answers or literal translations, creative tasks are more subjective in nature. Creative AI approaches have been proposed and evaluated in virtually every creative domain: design, visual art, music, poetry, cooking, … These algorithms most often perform at human-competitive or superhuman levels for their precise task. Two main use of these algorithms have emerged that have implications on workflows reminiscent of the industrial revolution:

– Augmentation (a.k.a, computer-assisted creativity or co-creativity): a human operator interacts with the algorithm, often in the context of already existing creative software.

– Automation (computational creativity): the creative task is performed entirely by the algorithms without human intervention in the generation process.

Both usages will have deep implications for education and work in creative fields. Away from the fear of strong – sentient – AI, taking over the world: What are the implications of these ongoing developments for students, educators and professionals? How will Creative AI transform the way we create, as well as what we create?

Philippe Pasquier is a professor at Simon Fraser University’s School for Interactive Arts and Technology, where he directs the Metacreation Lab for Creative AI since 2008. Philippe leads a research-creation program centred around generative systems for creative tasks. As such, he is a scientist specialized in artificial intelligence, a multidisciplinary media artist, an educator, and a community builder. His contributions range from theoretical research on generative systems, computational creativity, multi-agent systems, machine learning, affective computing, and evaluation methodologies. This work is applied in the creative software industry as well as through artistic practice in computer music, interactive and generative art.

Interpreting soundscapes

Folks at the Metacreation Lab have made available an interactive search engine for sounds, from the January 2022 newsletter,

Audio Metaphor is an interactive search engine that transforms users’ queries into soundscapes interpreting them.  Using state of the art algorithms for sound retrieval, segmentation, background and foreground classification, AuMe offers a way to explore the vast open source library of sounds available on the  freesound.org online community through natural language and its semantic, symbolic, and metaphorical expressions. 

We’re excited to see Audio Metaphor included  among many other innovative projects on Freesound Labs, a directory of projects, hacks, apps, research and other initiatives that use content from Freesound or use the Freesound API. Take a minute to check out the variety of projects applying creative coding, machine learning, and many other techniques towards the exploration of sound and music creation, generative music, and soundscape composition in diverse forms an interfaces.

Explore AuMe and other FreeSound Labs projects    

The Audio Metaphor (AuMe) webpage on the Metacreation Lab website has a few more details about the search engine,

Audio Metaphor (AuMe) is a research project aimed at designing new methodologies and tools for sound design and composition practices in film, games, and sound art. Through this project, we have identified the processes involved in working with audio recordings in creative environments, addressing these in our research by implementing computational systems that can assist human operations.

We have successfully developed Audio Metaphor for the retrieval of audio file recommendations from natural language texts, and even used phrases generated automatically from Twitter to sonify the current state of Web 2.0. Another significant achievement of the project has been in the segmentation and classification of environmental audio with composition-specific categories, which were then applied in a generative system approach. This allows users to generate sound design simply by entering textual prompts.

As we direct Audio Metaphor further toward perception and cognition, we will continue to contribute to the music information retrieval field through environmental audio classification and segmentation. The project will continue to be instrumental in the design and implementation of new tools for sound designers and artists.

See more information on the website audiometaphor.ca.

As for Freesound Labs, you can find them here.

‘Find the Birds’ mobile game has a British Columbia (Canada) location

Adam Dhalla in a January 5, 2022 posting on the Nature Conservancy Canada blog announced a new location for a ‘Find the Birds’ game,

Since its launch six months ago …, with an initial Arizona simulated birding location, Find the Birds (a free educational mobile game about birds and conservation) now has over 7,000 players in 46 countries on six continents. In the game, players explore realistic habitats, find and take virtual photos of accurately animated local bird species and complete conservation quests. Thanks in a large part to the creative team at Thought Generation Society (the non-profit game production organization I’m working with), Find the Birds is a Canadian-made success story.

Going back nine months to an April 9, 2021 posting and the first ‘Find the Birds’ announcement by Adam Dhalla for the Nature Conservancy Canada blog,

It is not a stretch to say that our planet is in dire need of more conservationists, and environmentally minded people in general. Birds and birdwatching are gateways to introducing conservation and science to a new generation.

… it seems as though younger generations are often unaware of the amazing world in their backyard. They don’t hear the birdsong emanating from the trees during the morning chorus. …

This problem inspired my dad and me to come up with the original concept for Find the Birds, a free educational mobile game about birds and conservation. I was 10 at the time, and I discovered that I was usually the only kid out birdwatching. So we thought, why not bring the birds to them via the digital technology they are already immersed in?

Find the Birds reflects on the birding and conservation experience. Players travel the globe as an animated character on their smartphone or tablet and explore real-life, picturesque environments, finding different bird species. The unique element of this game is its attention to detail; everything in the game is based on science. …

Here’s a trailer for the game featuring its first location, Arizona,

Now back to Dhalla’s January 5, 2022 posting for more about the latest iteration of the game and other doings (Note: Links have been removed),

Recently, the British Columbia location was added, which features Sawmill Lake in the Okanagan Valley, Tofino on the coast and a journey in the Pacific Ocean. Some of the local bird species included are Steller’s jays (BC’s provincial bird), black oystercatchers and western meadowlarks. Conservation quests include placing nest boxes for northern saw-whet owls and cleaning up beach litter.

I’ve always loved Steller’s jays! We get a lot of them in our backyard. It’s far lesser known bird than blue jay, so I wanted to give them some attention. That’s the terrific thing about being the co-creator of the game: I get to help choose the species, the quests — everything! So all the birds in the BC locations are some of my favourites.

The black oystercatcher is another underappreciated species. I’ve seen them along the coasts of BC, where they are relatively common. …

To gauge the game’s impact on conservation education, I recently conducted an online player survey. Of the 101 players who completed the survey, 71 per cent were in the 8–15 age group, which means I am reaching my peers. But 21 per cent were late teens and adults, so the game’s appeal is not limited to children. Fifty-one per cent were male and 49 per cent female: this equality is encouraging, as most games in general have a much smaller percentage of female players.

And the game is helping people connect with nature! Ninety-eight per cent of players said the game increased their appreciation of birds. …

As a result of the game’s reputation and the above data, I was invited to present my findings at the 2022 International Ornithological Congress. So, I will be traveling to Durban, South Africa, next August to spread the word on reaching and teaching a new generation of birders, ornithologists and conservationists. …

You can find the game here at FindtheBirds.com and you can find Thought Generation here.

For the curious, here’s a black oystercatcher caught in the act,

Black oystercatcher (Photo by Tracey Chen, CC BY-NC 4.0) [downloaded from https://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/blog/find-the-birds-british-columbia.html#.YdcjWSaIapr]