I recently got a tweet from a Processing student asking me if I could tell a little bit about myself.
So this is my little Vita, with a focus on how I got into Processing and Computational Craft…
When I was a kid I spend a lot of time on my own, because my dad was busy being a mathematician and my mom was busy with self-realization following some kind of late 1970s hippie movement.
I grew up playing a lot with LEGO: I could sit for hours building things, that my older brother would then destroy with great pleasure within seconds.
Another childhood toy that I loved very much were slotted cards. Those are basically playing cards with slots on the sides, that can be arranged into all kinds of architectural structures. I recently found out that this toy was created by Charles and Ray Eames, the work of whom I only learned to admire much later.
My parents' style of education was really very anti-authoritarian. I loved to find out things for my self, and even as a grown-up I am mostly self-taught. When I went to school, I was very excited about all the things you could learn, but the teachers got often very angry about the kind of questions I asked.
School can be a little bit boring at times, but I somehow managed to survive spending most of the time drawing doodles on the borders of my notebooks.
I started to like the doodling, and once I finished school, I thought I'd like to become a graphic designer. I created a portfolio with drawings of couples engaging in Tantra-like activities on different types of gymnastic apparatus, such as parallel bars, still rings and the pommel horse. The second part of the portfolio were computer graphics that I had created in Corel Draw.
My application was rejected based on the explanation that my drawings were “adolescent daubery” and that computer drawings are rubbish by definition because you can't see if their creator has any real talent.
Since this didn't work out as planned, I decided to study Media-Technology carried by the hope to somehow conciliate my passions for graphic design and computers. I was very much influenced by Artificial Intelligence and was obsessed by the idea of creating imagery and decorative arts with the computer.
One thing that I did in school with an early version of Corel-Draw was an ornamental Border-Generator. I was – and still am – deeply impressed by the beauty featured in «The Grammar of Ornament» by Owen Jones.
I also created what I called the «Text und Bild Explorer» or simply the «TUBE» – a web page, that would generate drawings using Postscript. The Interface would let you change parameters using menus and a server-side perl-script replaced variables inside the postscript code, rendered it to PDF, and displayed the result in the browser.
You have to know that Postscript is really a fully fledged computer language that is used inside printers and has been a great inspiration to the Processing language. But even though Ben Fry and Chris Reas released the first Version of Processing as early as 2001, I really only got into Processing about 8 years later…
In 1999 I realized that Media-Technology was all about Tech, and not as much about human perception as I would have liked. So I also picked up studying Cognitive Science.
I was very fascinated by harnessing natural processes, such as evolution and neural computation for computational design. I created a plugin for a 3D modeling system, that would enable automatic and interactive breeding of transformations for 3D shapes. My biggest inspiration was the thesis of Christian Jacob and the work of Peter Bentley on Evolutionary Design. Both have since published excellent books on those topics, which I highly recommend.
While studying Cognitive Science, I somehow stumbled upon a course on machine knitting with home knitting machines. Suddenly I realized that there was a possibility to create evolutionary design, that would be available in a world outside the computer, a world that could be accessible to people like my grand-mother, and not just computer-geeks like me.
Then in 2002, I started using Cellular Automata to create patterns on my knitting machine. I presented them at the first «New Kind of Science» workshop in Boston, a workshop that was held by Stephen Wolfram, to promote his idea of a New Kind of Science, based on his book.
To me Wolfram's Book was really just an endless source of knitting patterns, and In my mind a world of Knitting Automata unfolded. I started to wonder if I was alone with my crafty obsession, and started «k2g2» an online community for Knitting Knerds and Geek Girls.
K2g2 turned into a wiki with a craftopedia and a video blog of its own. But even though a couple of people contributed over time, it never really took off, the way I always hoped it would.
In the meantime I was dreaming of a platform allowing people to evolve their own clothes and patterns, using modules that would transform simple patterns into ever more and more complex ones. I knew that those modules had to be programmable using some kind of language that was easily accessible to designers. And this was when I discovered Processing.
I first tried Processing in 2009 and discovered, that even though it is loaded with all the ugliness and awkwardness that is known as «Java», it is really good at keeping the ugly parts hidden away.
I got sucked into the Processing cosmos and found a new home in the OpenProcessing community. I uploaded a couple of sketches and got amazing feedback. People seemed to like what I did, and this felt really good.
When I joined the OpenProcessing community there was a tiny sketch competition that was about getting as much as possible out of 200 chars of code. This was really a good way, to get to know Processing inside out. I loved the spirit; it was both competitive and cooperative at the same time.
But I also love to create sketches that are almost application-like. Little universes, that let the user explore a complex parameter space, using only the mouse and the keyboard. In the beginning I expected the lack of a user interface with buttons and menus to be a show stopper, but I think it really helps to keep the sketch focused, keeping everything clean and simple.
When I began to use Processing, I started the «bit.craft» blog. The original idea was to create little experiments in computational craft, publish them on OpenProcessing, and then write about those on this very blog.
I must admit that I got side-tracked by all kinds of projects, both private and professional. And there was not too much feedback on this blog either, apart from the usual spam-bots. So if there is anyone out there, who cares about computational craft:
Please drop me a line in the comments, and I will promise to share my crafty experiments with all of you!