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GRAND 2012

These are my conference notes for GRAND 2012. GRAND is a Network of Centres of Excellence working on graphics, animation and new media design. We have an annual meeting.

These notes are being written live so they will have typos and are necessarily limited.

Valerie Steeves: Talking to Parents and Kids About Online Privacy

Steeves gave the opening talk about research she leads on Young Canadians in an Online World. She talked about the shifts in the last decade. 10 years ago industry were all about mining kids information now companies are presenting themselves as privacy protectors.

In 2000 parents were enthusiastic about the internet and they trusted schools and kids. In 2004 parents are frustrated and are fighting with their kids about the use of the internet. The internet is a site of conflict. In 20011 parents are now afraid. Kids now connect through all sorts of points of entry so there is no way to supervise them. The Internet has become a source of fear. It was full of unknown dangers - everyone can see what our kids are doing. Now (some) parents don't trust their kids, they want to spy on them to make sure they act responsibly.

Parents are concerned about what companies are doing with the information they gather on our kids. Tech companies used to he the heroes for parents and we trusted them. Now parents see companies as part of the problem.

Kids used to think the Internet was a privacy space which parents didn't understand. They could explore the world anonymously without their parent's supervision. Privacy from parents, teachers and even friends is important to kids. Kids have developed privacy protective strategies. IM language that is incomprehensible. By 2012 the discourse by kids has changed. They realize now that their interactions are monitored (before they thought the internet was a private space.) They still use the technologies, but they feel they are under surveillance by parents, teachers ...

Older youth felt their parents were naive so they felt they should protect their parents from stuff on the Internet. They did feel they could go to their parents if they got into trouble. "I pretty much handle it on my own, but if something happened they would have my back." The youth appreciated the boundary and trusted parents in the background.

Teachers feel they aren't trusted by the schools so they can't teach. It bothers kids that the schools seem most interested in policing their behaviour, not protecting them. The latest manifestation is bullying. They felt online bullying is much easier to deal with than playground bullying. Online dialogue makes it easier to hold people accountable. For them this is part of life. Going to teachers is not done because with teachers you lose control due to all sorts of regulations. They trust parents to find a graceful way to deal with situations without escalating the issue. Zero-tolerance rules create a situation where students don't trust schools to handle things tactfully. Schools now pathologize activity and escalate things.

Youth feel the cyberbullying stuff is completely overdone. They get it at school over and over. They are frustrated by schools overdoing it.

Now kids are beginning to worry about corporations. How do you block the corporation (like Facebook)? They get benefits from the free sites, but they're noticing all the targeted ads and feeling the spaces are creepy. They feel the fine print in the privacy policies is written to be unreadable. They can't even find out what is being done with their information.

Kids no longer see sites like Facebook as trustworthy. That's interesting and indicates a possible shift in attitude towards corporate sites.

Steeves quoted a girl to the effect that the only safe place left is in the real world.

In response to a question Steeves made an interesting point about how girls perform privacy. The problem is the collapse in boundaries between audiences. If you perform differently in different contexts you run the risk of your audiences realizing.

2-Minute Madness

The Two Minute Madness is an event where each project of GRAND gives a 2-minute . There is a haptic that the presenters will wear that will vibrate when their minutes are up.

  • Samuel E Trosow presented on DIGILAB - digital labour. He played a clip from Digital Domain Media Group about student labour working for free and how great that was.
  • Lyn Bartram HCTSL - sustainable architecture and lifestyle factors. They looking at energy use awareness.
  • HLTHSM was presented by Roy Eagleson that is looking at serious games and simulations for health.
  • Abby Goodrum from NEWS is about tools for analysis of news. What happens when news disappears.
  • Luanne Freund of NGAIA (Next Generation Information Appliances) - looking at moving beyond generic search to domain specific systems.
  • Sid Fels SHRDSP (Shared Displays Environments) at looking at shared tabletops, screens, and audio. They are looking at contexts and how sharing takes place. Lastly they are looking at tailoring content for sharing.
  • Wolfgane Stuerzlinger, ENCAD - simulating uses of space. They are also looking at different design histories.
  • Sheelagh Carpendale AESTHVIS are looking at aesthetics and visualization. They are looking at philosophical issues and empirical issues. They are looking at aesthetic traditions. How can different aesthetic traditions be used to express.
  • Regan Mandryk AFEVAL - they are looking at affective evaluation.
  • Stephen Brooks - VIRTPRESS - Enhanced Virtual Presence and Performance. He showed slides of some interesting virtual presence technologies.
  • Karon MacLean talked about AMBAID which is about choosing the right modality for the job. She showed some cool devices for emotional sensing. They are responsible for the haptic notification system.
  • Lynn Hughes from PlayPR showed highlights and talked about exchange between nodes.
  • Robert Biddle from PRIVNM is about usable privacy and security. We don't have Bentham's prison, but a panopticon in the mall and cineplex.
  • Michael Terry, PERUI, examines new types of UIs. They have a project that rearranges interfaces.
  • Diane Gromala, CPRM, is confronting pain and using immersive VR for chronic pain.
  • Duane Szafron, BELEIVE is about more believable gaming characters. They are looking at non-facial emotion display. They are developing ideation tools. How is believability expressed? Can tools be put in designer's hands that make games more believable?
  • Cristina Conati from DIGITAL talked about serious games. They have a Design Cards project. They are developing knowledge and methods for design of serious games.
  • Catherine Middleton of DINS (Digital Infrastructure) is looking at access to infrastructure and how people use them. They are looking at policy.
  • Carl Gutwin, HSCEG, looking at high-speed coordination in electronic games. Can we get something like what happens in a soccer game.
  • Deborah Fels from INCLUDE presented a choir. Great use of 100 bottles of beer song to tell us about what they do.
  • Gerald Penn, SIMUL, looking at communication in simulation and training. They are looking at people who dont' get simulations.
  • Eleni Stroulia of MEOW talked about the tools we have for reporting and learning about ourselves.
  • Bruce Gooch - NEUROGAM - using games to help with neurological disorders.
  • Nicholas Graham - GAMFIT is looking at how gaming can help with fitness.
  • Robert Woodbury of GRNCTY - greenest city conversations. A project of two communities, building media and testing them, to see if they can have an impact on sustainability.
  • Martin Mueller, MCSIG, looking at Monte Carlo Simulations.
  • Brian Wyvill, PROMO - procedural modelling - a great guitar performance.
  • Michiel van de Panne, MOTION, modelling human motion. They have cool projects on studying motion including a robot that follows speed (ice) skaters.
  • Alexandra Fedorova, PLATFORM, they are trying to get systems to use less energy.
  • Barry Wellman of NAVEL studies the network itself. They want to document the projects. One thing that seems to make a difference is two cultures. NSERC and SSRHC people don't work together that much. They are looking at motives.
  • CAPSIM was presented by Alla Sheffer; they are generating virtual replicas of real world through capture and simulation.


The Mashups are GRAND's version of panels where we bring together people from different disciplines and sectors. I am part of a mashup on Ludic engagement as "real" research. Here is the description:

"It is now cheaper to just try something than to sit around and try to figure out whether to try something. The compass has replaced the map." (Joichi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab in the NY Times.)
PlayPR is an example of a GRAND project where a very significant part of the activity is practice-based, and prototypes and play testing are central rather than peripheral to research outcomes and activities. What role can interactivity and ludic engagement play alongside more traditional approaches to research in the context of GRAND? What is the appeal and what are the potential benefits, for research and teaching, of a research model in which design and interactivity are central.

This panel brought together people from design, arts, and the digital humanities. In the arts they take making for granted, but in the humanities there is a bias against things. Lynn Hughes asked what those of us who are in the arts and humanities are doing in a group like GRAND that has a high tech focus and commercial focus? We had a great discussion afterwards about the object and traditions of interpretation.

Robert Forget

At the end of the day we celebrated the career of Robert Forget who produced a number of innovative films for the National Film Board. The event was a Digital Media Pioneer Award ceremony.

Tom Perlmutter, Chairperson and Government Film Commissioner of the National Film Board of Canada spoke about Forget's global impact.

Perlmutter mentioned how, for the first weeks of the app store in Canada, the NFB app was at the top. The NFB has been a global leader in innovations in digital media. He mentioned Bla Bla for which Forget was a pioneer. Kellogg Booth talked about the importance of recognizing and celebrating the pioneers.

Then they showed a history of NFB films that used computers starting with La Faim/Hunger (1975) - the first computer generated film from the NFB. It was nominated for an Oscar and is still remarkable.

Transitions (1986) was the first 3D film for Imax. It was developed for EXPO 86. Urgence/Emergency of 1988 used scanning extensively. If only made pioneering use of key frames.

The Mirrors of Time (1990) used new internal software for animation comparable to what Disney had.

Robert Forget then experimented with computer distribution. CinéRobothèque, for example, was a place where people could watch films fetched by a robot at personal viewing stations.

L'anniversaire (1989) celebrated 50 years of innovative film making. It has a toy story feel to it.

After the presentation on Robert Forget we had a very nice reception. Many of us were struck by how GRAND is that it brings together people from very different disciplines. Will it stay that way, or will we default to teams that are disciplinary? Does it take too much work to bridge disciplines.

Thursday, May 4th

Early on we some project meetings. I went to one about the Forum that we use to report. It was interesting to hear what the frustrations were by those who have to read the reports.

Game Design Super Battle: Intuition vs. Analytics

Jason Della Rocca moderated a game designers panel with panelists Clint Hocking (Lucas Arts) & Caryl Shaw (Callaway Digital Arts). The issue was whether you design by analytics (the new casual game model) or by your design intuitions (the traditional approach.)

Clint presented under the title of "click nothing: design from a long time ago." He showed a Rembrandt’s Aristotle (analytics) looking at the bust of Homer (intuition) and other examples of the tension being presented as useful. He thinks it is a myth. The reality is a dialogue between both. His process goes from intuition to prototypes to analytics (and iterate on that.) He made the argument that analytical techniques works better for designing functional objects (the potato peeler) while intuition is better at aesthetic objects (the potato.)

Caryl Shaw talked about analytics and social or mobile games. She worked on SIMS and SPORE and was interested in what users wanted. Metrics can provide information about user behavior quickly, but not solutions. It tells you there is a problem - intuition is needed to come up with possible solutions. You want to know if users are frustrated. You then have to iterate. Metrics go for "reach" (how well are you reaching customers?). "Retention" tells you how much you retain users. "Engagement" is whether people are having fun. Are customers having fun. It was interesting what she suggested you can measure to tell fun - for example, level distribution (how much . "Revenue" - Are we making money? It isn't fun, but you have to worry about it.

Social mobile games can be changed in real time to reflect analytics. You get feedback and you can change the game. Thus analytics are used differently in social/mobile than in console games. At the same time, you need to make changes gradually so you don't alienate users already invested in the game. She ended talking about A/B Testing where you give people two choices (red button vs blue button.) This can be misused and give false answers (what if purple is actually the better button.)

There was an interesting conversation about what comes first an intuition about what is fun or analytics. Do designers design for analytics. Clint felt a designer should know before analytics whether a game is fun. You should, as an experienced designers, have ways of telling if what you are doing is fun. I'm intrigued by the question of what is fun.

Jason asked if designers coming from big box teams find it hard to transition to social games. Clint pointed out that big box teams are getting bigger and bigger. The comradery of teams is getting lost in really big teams. Clint went further to say that the industry is splitting and developers go into the context they are interested in. Caryl talked about working for 5 stressful years at SPORE and wanting to try something new and faster. In big box there is no room to experiment and fail. In mobile you can fail and learn.

Bart Simon asked the difference between what people do and what they think about what they do. He talked about how analytics are used in the politics of design when developers are arguing over design. Both of the designers felt that experienced game designers trust their intuitions and are trusted. It didn't sound like designers are being bullied by analytics.

There was an interesting discussion about how game designers (like other artists) are developing works that actually change how we see the world and therefore change our intuitions. Neither intuitions and analytics

The discussion shifted to ethical issues. There is obviously a tension between the need to make money and the desire to make art. Analytics seems associated with making money (at the expense of the art.) The suggestion in some of the questions was that analytics can easily slip into unscrupulous data gathering that infringes on privacy.

I asked about how analytics themselves are assessed. Analytics from flurry, contagion, and other companies are themselves products that designers have to choose from (or spend money themselves building instrumentation.) Caryl gave a great answer about how she decides on the level of analytics:

  • One approach is to gather everything, store it, and then probe the data when you have questions.
  • Another approach is to build instrumentation (as it is called) in for just what you need.
  • She talked about how game developers don't want to write analytical engines, they want to write games. She tries to keep the instrumentation down.
  • She also tries to respect privacy.

Jason asked the panelists what questions they would like us to answer. They felt they don't have the time to think about the big questions like,

  • What are the ethical implications of game design?
  • How do games transform culture?

Jason Della Rocca has a nice blog with lots of photos at

Mashup on Pain, Ability, and Strain

Paula Gardner from OCAD organized a fascinating mashup on Pain, Ability and Strain. Karon MacLean talked about the work they are doing at UBC and issues of putting youth under stress (in order to research how to relieve stress.) Geoffrey Shea of OCAD talked about helping artists with different abilities express themselves. Diane Gromala at SFU is part of a larger team that crosses domains. Some of what they do is knowledge translation. They are working on social media to help with chronic pain. Socializing is hard to do with chronic pain. They are using at immersive virtual reality to deal with anxieties about movement. Mark Nazemi is looking at what sorts of music are effective (affective) at relieving chronic pain. If people with chronic pain have hypersensitive nervous systems, how can we use sound to . Paula Gardner and her grad student are looking at mindfulness (meditation) to help with pain. Deb Fels of the inclusive design centre at Ryerson talked about how to make methods accessible (which they are not)? Another issue they work with is how to find enough people to work with.

Paula talked about collaborating across distance. Someone mentioned version control systems providing useful collaboration tools.

Ken Perlin, Closing Plenary Speaker

Ken Perlin from NYU was our closing keynote. His talk was to open his notebook by showing a bunch of small Java applets. He started with his Ice Cube. He is fascinated with procedural textures. At a certain point in the talk he was bothered by the web page he was showing from so he hacked the HTML. "We use programming to do whatever they want." He described how he tries out ideas (like a spiral escalator) through programming.

At the end he showed an app that was Pride and Prejudice which mapped the text (as if it was asteroids.) He then showed a version where he could edit the code live. I can't find that version, but it gives me ideas.

As with any project a lot of the discussions between sessions revolve around the network itself. What works? what doesn't? How can the reporting be improved? One thing that stands out for me is how research projects are continually inventing management structures. This is in the nature of projects - they start and stop and each need a custom management structure. In a permanent unit you learn the management system once and then you use it over and over. You aren't making a structure, using it for a year and then making another.



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