Dec 28, 2013

The Art of Video Games Exhibition - Coming to a Museum Near You!

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has an impressive collection, and video games are some of the most recent additions.  The study and preservation of video games as an artistic medium is now a part of the museum's Film and Media Arts Initiative.  The Art of Video Games exhibition took place at the museum in 2012, and set off for a tour of museums around the U.S.  (See below.)

The following video trailer provides a brief overview of some of the video games included in the exhibition:

A few quotes from the Art of Video Games trailer:

"Games are so much more than just code that runs inside of a computer.  You are looking at the output of passion, of love, of art, and the people who create these games." - Chris Melissinos, Curator, The Art of Video Games

"One of the things that is really fun with games is the whole idea of the playful mind…and how can we make games surprise you." - Nolan Bushnell, Founder of Atari

"You don't need technology to create feelings, and love, and fear, and hate, and passion…you need great storytelling." -Jen MacLean, Video game developer

The trailer and photo below are from "Flower", the first video game included in the museum's collection.  Flower was created by Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago (ThatGameCompany).  It is a delightful, stress-reducing game - and one of my favorites.

Credit: Sony Entertainment/Smithsonian American Art Museum, Via NPR

(I first learned about Jenova Chen's work when he was a student at UCS's School of Cinema and Television. At the time, he wrote his MFA thesis on the topic of "Flow in Games", building on psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihali's theory of flow.  Part of his MFA work included the game "Cloud", which was available for free download.  I found the game to be very useful in my worked with teens who were considered "at-risk" or who had special needs.)

MoMA and Video Games
The Smithsonian isn't the only place where video games are curated.  The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has invested in a number of video games, supported by Paola Antonelli, the MoMA's senior curator of architecture and design.  

"The real core issue of interaction design is behavior.  Designers that deal with interaction design behaviors that go to influence the rest of our lives. They're not just limited to our interaction with the screen…" -Paola Antonelli

The following TED-Talk video explains the rationale behind MoMA's video game curation efforts.  It is worth taking the time to watch!

National Tour: The Art of Video Games 

Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York 
(October 25, 2013–January 19, 2014) 

Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York 
(February 15, 2014–May 18, 2014) 
Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio 
(June 19, 2014–September 28, 2014) 
Flint Institute of Arts in Flint, Michigan 
(October 25, 2014–January 18, 2015) 
Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia 
(February 13, 2015–May 10, 2015) 
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tennessee 
(June 6, 2015–September 13, 2015) 
The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami, Florida (October 9, 2015–January 25, 2016) 

Past venues:
Boca Raton Museum of Art in Boca Raton, Florida 
(October 24, 2012–January 13, 2013) 
EMP Museum in Seattle, Washington 
(February 16, 2013–May 13, 2013) 
Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona 
(June 16, 2013—September 29, 2013) 

Here is a description of the original Art of Video Games exhibition:

"The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. It features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers. The exhibition focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for twenty gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3. Eighty games, selected with the help of the public, demonstrate the evolution of the medium. The games are presented through still images and video footage. In addition, the galleries will include video interviews with twenty developers and artists, large prints of in-game screen shots, and historic game consoles. Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels and collector of video games and gaming systems, is the curator of the exhibition..." -Smithsonian American Art Museum

Video Games: Now A Part of American ARt's Collection
Eye Level, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 12/17/13
April Fehling, NPR All Tech Considered, 12/22/13
The Art of Video Games (Exhibit website, Smithsonian American Art Museum)
Book: The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect (Chris Melissinos, Patrick O'Rourke
The art of Video Games Book Cover

Film and Media Arts Initiative, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Games to lift stress away:  Flower, flOw, (and Cloud), from thatgamecompany
Lynn Marentette, Interactive Multimedia Technology Blog, 8/15/09
That Game Company  "Our Mission:  Create timeless interactive entertainment that makes positive change to the human psyche world wide."   Hiring!
Video Games: 14 in the Collection, for Starters
Paola Antonelli, Inside/Out, MoMA PS1Blog
Video Games: Seven More Building Blocks in MoMA's Collection
Paul Galloway, Inside/Out PS1Blog, 6/28/13
'All Hell Broke Loose': Why MoMA Is Exhibiting Tetris and Pac-Man

Dec 2, 2013

It is in our DNA: Chromosome Painting, DNA Music

I hadn't planned on testing my DNA, but on a whim, I ordered a kit from  I downloaded the raw data file of my DNA, thinking that it would be nice to play with some day, and then learned about a free online resource, Gedmatch, that would make it easy to upload my raw DNA file and go exploring.  I'm happy that I did, since the FDA is trying to stop personal genome testing. At the time of this post, and Family Tree DNA were not impacted by this effort. 23andMe was the target, because the company provides customers with information about health risks and possible genetic conditions.

The picture below is segment of a screenshot of the results of chromosome painting, created using the Ad-Mix utilities and "Davidski's" Eurogenes K13 model.  Each color represents a different group of my ancestors, and each chromosome has a different mix. 

I knew I'd get some very colorful results, given the fact that my ancestors came from all over the planet!  

Although I like the interplay of color an pattern of my of my DNA Ad-Mixture results, and think the above section would make a great piece of modern art, I learned this morning about that there is a company, DNA11 that creates personalized DNA art that is suitable for displaying in homes - or offices. DNA 11 was featured in my local paper this morning, recommended DNA art as a great holiday gift for science buffs.

Credit:  DNAll

Looking at picture of my painted chromosomes, I was reminded of waveforms, and remembered reading something about DNA music. After a quick search, I came across the Your DNA Song website. Your DNA Song is a company that provides customers with a DNA testing kit , using a sample of saliva, that is processed by a lab, and then bio-sequenced to generate music.  To hear it, take a look at the video - a nice rendition of Chromosome #1, by Stuart Mitchell.

Be forewarned. The Your DNA Song website suggests that the protein translation of your DNA, set to music tuned to 432 Hz, has healing powers.  Yes, it sounds very New Age, but there is a story behind it.  Composers of classical music used this tuning, but in 1939, the standards were changed to A=440 Hz. There is an interesting story behind the change, and a controversy still exists. 

If you don't want to shell out money to hear your personal DNA patterns sing, you might like the DyNAMixers on the Your DNA Song website.  Created by the musician Stuart Mitchell, the mixers provide a nice way of experimenting and remixing music based on DNA and proteins.  The screenshot below gives you an idea of what you'll find if you play with the DyNAMixers on the site
Credit: Your DNA Song

F.D.A. Orders Genetic Testing Firm to Stop Selling DNA Analysis Service
Andrew Pollack, New York Times, 11/25/13
AncestryDNA Test
Family Tree DNA
Eurogenes Genetic Ancestry Project;  Eurogenes Blog
Davidski Polako
Ondrizek's Chromosome Painting...and our beautiful DNA
Tina Hoggat, 4Culture Blog, 7/2/12
Gifts for the wcience whiz
DNA11 Images Gallery
Go Inside The World's First LAb That Turns DNA Into Custom Art
Dina Spector, Business Insider, 6/12/13
Gedmatch: a DNA geek's dream site
Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist, 8/12/12
John Roach, National Geographic News, 10/21/05
Michael Zev Gordon, The Guardian, 6/24/10
Proportion in Musical Scales (Sacred Geometry website)
Return of the 432hz: Mozart/Cold Play/Radiohead/The Doors
AltoEgo Blog 7/16/13  (scroll down for examples of familiar music in 432 Hz)

Dec 1, 2013

Usability in the Era of HealthCare.Gov

It is hard not to be frustrated at all of the glitches that have surfaced during the recent deployment of the US government's website.   Since the website was planned to play an integral role in making "Obamacare" a reality for a large segment of U.S. citizens, I assumed that strict attention to details would have been followed, from the initial conceptualization of the site until it was "ready" for the world.  

I was wrong. 

Maybe there was a miscommunication between the folks at CGI Federal, the company contracted to work on the website, and the project team, I don't know...

My guess is that there weren't enough people knowledgable about usability and user-centered design on the planning teams from the start.  Whatever the case, it seems like someone forgot to check the US government's very own Usability.Gov "Improving the User Experience" website!   


The wealth of information on the Usability.Gov  website been available for years - online, in books, and taught in a number of IT-related courses.  Usability is not limited to ease-of-navigation principles for websites and software user interfaces - a common mis-perception. It is an important component of user-centered software engineering and design, and more.  

In the following video, featured in the User-Centered Design (UCD) section of the Usability.Gov website,  it is noted that "at least 50% of a programmers' time during a project is spent doing rework that is avoidable."   Citing a 2005 study by IEEE, the narrator explains that the three top reasons for tech projects to fail are poorly defined requirements, poor communications, and stakeholder politics.   

So true for the website!

Was the Healthcare.Gov website doomed to fail, given all of the confusion and controversy surrounding the Affordable HealthCare Act from the start? 


So how can things be prevented?

If this is a topic that interests you - even if you aren't a developer, take the time to soak in some of the information from the Usability.Gov website to learn more about user-centered design, usability, and ways to prevent costly mistakes.  

If you are a computer science, software engineering, or preparing for a career that intersects with technology development or implementation in some way, plan to take a course or two that covers topics such as Human-Computer Interaction (HCI),  Human Factors, and User-Centered Design (UCD). 

Consider joining professional organizations, interest groups, or meet-ups if you are already working in the tech world, but lacking in up-to-date knowledge and skills in this area. 

Places to start:

ACM SIGCHI  - Association for Computing Machinery, Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction
Usability Professional's Association
IXDA - Interaction Design Association
HFES: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
IEDO's Human-Centered Design Toolkit

Why Obama's launch was doomed to fail
Adrianne Jeffried, The Verge, 10/8/13
How we're working to improve  (Health Insurance Blog) contractors testify they warned of glitch risk before launch
Hari Sreenivasen, PBS Newshour Transcript
Health Care Site Rushing to Make Fixes by Sunday
Sharon LaFraniere, Eric Lipton and Ian Austen, NYT, 11/29/13
Software, Design Defects Cripple Health-Care Website
Christopher Weaver, Shira Ovide and Louise Radnofsky, WSJ, 10/6/13
Meet CGI Federal, the company behind the botched launch of
Lydia DePillis, 10/16/13
CGI Federal
Why Software Fails: We waste billions of dollars each year on entirely preventable mistakes
Robert N. Charette, IEEE Spectrum, 9/2/2005
The ROI of User Experience with Dr. Susan Weinschenk (Video 1/27/11)
Aquilent Proudly Supports "Re-Boot" to Further User Experience Best Practices"  Business Wire, 7/18/13Aquilent
Digital Government (