I want to tell you about Betascape, but before I do, I must make a confession.
I decided to go to Betascape, “a multi-day experience designed to bring artists and technologists together to Learn and Connect to Create,” the very first time I read about it. I even offered to volunteer, and I listed Betascape in this blog as a coming event. Once Bill read about it, he wanted to go, too. So I registered us both. I forgot that volunteers receive a free registration. Then I kind of forgot about the whole volunteering thing. Until last week, when I started getting emails asking for volunteers for specific times of day — always reminding people that they could get in free in exchange for volunteering. Since I had already paid for my registration, and since Bill was coming with me now, I kind of ignored those pleas. When Bill and I arrived to pick up our registration materials, the people at the desk immediately noted that they had TWO badges for me: an attendee badge and a volunteer badge. I had to sheepishly admit that I had offered to volunteer way back, but had never followed up. Cue confusion, embarrassment, guilt, regret.
So, I owe you Betascape folks an apology. I was wrong to offer to volunteer then not go through with it. I promise to do better next year.
So, about Betascape. It was so cool. We only went on Saturday because people who have just moved into their houses can’t leave the disarray for two entire days (I’m sure it would breed!). But Saturday was a blast. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, and I enjoyed meeting so many smart and creative people. First we attended a lecture on “Using Gadgets to Change Our Stories” by Lee Boot, a professor at UMBC. This guy has his hand in a lot of initiatives, trying to promote personal and social change. Like Chip Heath and Dan Heath of Switch fame, Boot recognizes that the marketing world has unlocked the secret to influencing social norms. His projects focus on creating “socially disruptive stories.” One thing that Boot mentioned that sort of blew my mind: leveraging art, and its inherent ambiguity, as a means to get your message across. As a performance improvement specialist (and a writer), my goal is always to make the message as crystal clear as possible. Ambiguity is my enemy and must be eradicated from all communication in order to ensure the success of the communication. Boot pointed out that because human beings are not strictly rational, clarity is not always enough, and sometimes not even productive. Whoah.
After Dr. Boot, we listed to Marty McGuire from Thingiverse talk about all the cool things people are making with their Makerbot 3-D printers. Most of McGuire’s lecture consisted of photos of creations designed by people in the Thingiverse community and the many, many (many!) mash-ups that put two or more designs together to create something entirely new. You may have seen them on the Colbert Report, where they did a lot with Steven Colbert’s image. Although the machine can only print a single small-ish object at a time, people have been able to design interlocking components in order to build much larger objects (e.g., a model battleship for your mantelpiece, or a table top cathedral).
Central to McGuire’s entire presentation was what he called “a culture of sharing.” These designs are all licensed under Creative Commons, requiring attribution but not prior approval for use. That wide availability makes these mashups possible while also making them available for further manipulation, resulting successive mashup generations.
Just before this lecture started, Bill pointed out the similarity of 3-D printing to knitting: someone designs a pattern that can be used by other people to create objects based on that pattern. That’s knitting, babe! I liked the analogy. But during the Makerbot demonstration, I noticed that the plastic they feed into the machine to create the object looks like a long hank of plastic string.
String. Hhhmmm. What else uses string? Why, I do believe that the craft of knitting typically relies on the use of string! So I had a brainstorm. Someone needs to design a 3-D pattern for a single knit stitch, and make it interlocking. Then you can print a bunch of knit stitches out on your Makerbot and fit them all together to create a 3-d printed knit fabric! (Muggles in the audience are wondering about now why in the world someone would waste their time on that; Knitters are contemplating the possibilities.)
After a very filling lunch of Korean barbecue, I felt an intense need to get a bit of exercise. So we walked down to Mount Vernon to check out the Baltimore Book Festival. I remember attending the first Baltimore Book Festival in the 1990s, when we lived in Mount Vernon. So it was fun to walk through our old neighborhood and see what had changed (no more Brass Elephant, no more Gampy’s, a big huge building that didn’t used to be there) and what hadn’t (Mount Vernon Market, Never On Sunday, Mount Vernon Stable and Saloon). There’s still a fortune teller working from the ground floor of my old apartment building.
The Book Festival was as you’d expect. Books, beer, bands. (Plus kids, dogs, food, and historical reenactors.) Bill met Scott B. Pruden and bought his latest novel (Immaculate Deception), which Pruden signed for us. We caught the country blues stylings of Red Sammy, featuring a guy in pink socks who plays a metal guitar thing called a “resonator guitar.” They were really good and we bought their CD.
Then we hustled back up to Station North to catch some more Betascape. I caught a workshop called “Symphonic Stitch,” in which the audience members all knit with needles hooked up to an amplifier to create a strange chorus of clicks and pops and whooshes. Laure Drogoul, the workshop leader, said she specifically was trying to create a sound reminiscent of an EKG and that when she used these needles with her knitting circle, the knitters would eventually fall into sync with each other, creating one mega-beat that Laure postulates is also correlated with the rhythms of the knitters’ heartbeats. The whole thing reminded me somewhat of Charles Ives’ Universe Symphony. When Drogoul mentioned she was considering assigning bird sounds to each needle, I also thought of Olivier Messiaen’s birdsong compositions. Cool, cool stuff.
In all, I think Betascape was a grand success and the Betascape Planning Committee is to be commended for their hard work. I’m excited about the possibilities of bringing art and technology together to do new things and reach new people. Now that I’ve had my first Betascape experience, I have a better idea what to expect and how to plan my time next year—including some time volunteering!