The Digital Age of Data Art

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The digital age of data art

By Maxence Grugier as written on
Many artists use as material for art the raw data produced by our societies, seeking innovative means of display or transforming it into a work of art. By blurring boundaries between art and information, data art dispels the myth of the romantic artist while offering a fundamental artistic act in a critical commentary of the digital age in which we live.
An age that is supposedly open and yet increasingly obscure or incomprehensible to non-specialists. By re-appropriating these reams of information, or big data, data artists reintroduce fantasy to an age of increasingly abstract data and concepts.
The objective of data art is to create aesthetic forms and artistic works from the digital nature of the data generated from big data (graphics, simulations, worksheets, statistics, etc.). Any virtual data produced by our environment can be transformed into images, objects or sounds. Data art also presents the underlying links that exist between the ubiquitous algorithms in our lives — figures from databases, raw data, data collected by search engines, calculations and statistics (geographical, political, climatic, financial) and artistic creation.

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Art and information technology are still unfortunately widely perceived as evolving in two conflicting worlds, but a new generation of artists working in the field of electronic media cannot afford to consider the world — and art — in these terms. Using media and IT tools is a creative process that is natural for them (this usually involves information technology: software development; programming; data analysis; algorithms; documentation and meta-data retrieval on the Internet, etc.).
This still-emerging aesthetic trend offers a new interpretation of the increasingly “mathematical” and rationalist world in which we live, re-enchanting the everyday life of homo technologicus. For these artists, this techno-scientific vision only touches the surface of another, much more complex, secret and marvelous world — a world that also speaks volumes, a world of data and information.

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Algorithms and data flow

The world in which we live is almost entirely governed by algorithms. An algorithm is a sequence of computer instructions, applied systematically by a machine, or by software. In the past, an operator instructed a computer and commands were performed. With algorithms, the computer carries out automatic tasks alone, unassisted.
Some algorithms are the syndication’s key participants (subscription to a data flow; for example, RSS flow). They search for information and send it to the user registered on a “syndication feed.” Of course, other algorithms pick up the same data. These programs capture — and therefore propose — content, according to prior choices made by the user (on Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.); these are flow aggregators and big data collectors.
The current quantitative explosion of digital data streams requires new ways for this information to be visualized. The processing of the research, retrieval, storage and analysis of this data is still an emerging sector, but it provides work for evaluation and analysis specialists, as well as for artists. Processing this extremely complex and diversified data is responsible for a brand new economic sector emerging in the field of information technology, along with new forms of artistic creation.

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Data visualization, the first step in data art

Data visualization has become a fundamental discipline as more and more businesses, local councils and public services are forced to invent visually amusing and striking ways to classify dig data generated by the movements in populations, their patterns of consumption, communication and travel, etc.
The first step in the world of data art consists of addressing how to view this data. Amongst the pioneers of this discipline, previously solely scientific and devoted to graphical representations of statistical data, are theorist Edward Tufte, responsible for the creation of sparklines (a concise graphic format developed for insertion in text), and Ben Shneiderman, who invented treemap in 1990.
Amongst the other graphical representation techniques and terminology, there are bar charts, pie charts (better known as Camembert or Donut Chart), scatter graphs, lines, bubbles, heat maps, (mapping of “hotspots”), etc. They all refer to the different ways of making visually attractive and, above all, understandable the reams of data (also called “datascapes”) that shape our everyday lives.
Data visualization, often generating extremely complex graphics, sometimes becomes artistic. Matt Willey, for example, draws inspiration from these forms with At This Rate and 2060 Poster, to show the impact of the economy and human activities on the environment.

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The origins of data art

To give a timeline to the origins of what is today known as data art (also called information art or informatism), reference should be made to the minimalist artist Kynaston McShine and his exhibition “Information,” given at the MoMA in 1970.
By choosing to present the combination of science, informatics and information technology with the most classical forms of art (including performance art, visual art, digital art and conceptual art), McShine proposes a first definition of data art. In the MoMA exhibition catalogue, he wrote: “Increasingly artists use mail, telegrams, telex machines, etc., for transmission of works themselves — photographs, films, documents — or of information about their activity.”
For Kynaston McShine, art and information already formed one single progressive movement, in a period literally “made of information.” Other signs of data art are also apparent amongst pioneers of generative art, an artistic form calling upon computer-generated creation via algorithms and computer language.

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However, before the advent of today’s extremely complex forms of data art, there were works like those by the artist Mark Napier, part of the generative art movement, who produced Black and White, a work based on the stream of information captured by “Carnivore,” a software program developed by the FBI in the 2000s.

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An increasing number of facets of our existence interact with each other through the multiple flow networks forming today’s information landscape. A historical and technological context that inspired Julian Oliver, for example, with Packet Garden, a project depicting our movements on the web portrayed as incredible engineered gardens, and Jason Salavon who, with American Varietal, offers a creative view of American ethnic plurality.

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These intricately linked communication and movements are then assembled in huge databases by the algorithmic machine. This is what, for example, inspired one of the pioneers of data art, Aaron Koblin, with Flight Patterns (2009), a data art classic visualizing air traffic, a material representation of worldwide communication.

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Others, like the German artist Stefan Sagmeister, wish to resume the immaterial and abstract appearance of figures, streams and data recovery program. Move Your Money is a humorous, 3D inflatable metaphor — based on children’s bouncy inflatable castles — to make international monetary flows tangible.

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In a more amusing — and rock ‘n roll — way, with The Long Black Veil, the artist Jeffrey Docherty creates an intangible map of the 1980s Punk and New Wave scene. Love Will Tear Us Apart Again by Peter Crnokrak is a diagram of the emotional impact of the resumption of Joy Division hit Love Will Tear Us Apart in different countries and by different interpreters. With Serendipity in 2014, Kyle McDonald proposes a map connecting people listening to the same piece at the same time on Spotify.

Poetic flows

Creative apps and imagination are considerable in this field. The goal of data art, inspired by very down-to-earth techniques to visualize data, is above all to make the invisible visible. However, by formatting these reams of data, data artists are not content with making legible the mesh of information from which it is formed, they also take a critical look at our society.
By appropriating this intangible flow of data, data artists position themselves as observers and testify to behaviors, inferring details about mankind, the eternal demiurge — whether artists or sociologists, mathematicians or business men — for whom data collection indicates a compulsive need to control their even most abstract environment.

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However, with the evolution of generative graphics and data capture techniques, contemporary data art artists sometimes go beyond criticism to deliver instantly beautiful works of art that speak for themselves… almost.
This is the case with Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar, with We Feel Fine, an exploration of human emotions, or Reynald Drouhin with Internet Protocol City, a generator of “ghost towns” transforming the IP addresses of Internet users into monochrome buildings, when abstract and cold data changes into the pure state of metaphoric beauty.


Leveraging big data to meet enrollment (and revenue) targets: school presidents and leading education thought leaders were asked to forecast trends for the year and into the future

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Leveraging big data to meet enrollment (and revenue) targets

At the beginning of this year, school presidents and leading education thought leaders were asked to forecast trends for the year and into the future. Some of the major concerns were centered around enrollment figures in our colleges and universities. There were some positive trends around technology that will help mitigate the enrollment crisis that our schools face.
Here few of the predictions by the experts for 2015:
On the topic of big data, schools are now able use data for current enrolled students to create models that predict likelihood that future applicants will enroll. These predictive models will identify the characteristics of students that are most likely to enroll which schools can leverage in their marketing and outreach efforts.
The fear or concern by administrators may the perceived cost of implementing technology and infrastructure to capture the data. Fortunately for schools, costs and investments to secure this data is minimal as most of it is already collected during the application and admission process for current students. Scaling infrastructure no longer requires massive investment in hardware as it did in the past.
Today's cloud-based infrastructure is quickly scalable and can be added by even the most budget-constrained organizations through a cost-effective "Pay As You Go" pricing model. Management of the IT platform is easily entrusted to a technical service partner eliminating the need to add IT headcount or resources.
It simply becomes a matter of utilizing the data already on-hand and beginning to mine it for insights that can be leveraged immediately in current or near-term initiatives.
Managed Solution is the premier provider of IT support services and technology recommendations for educational organizations. Founded in 2002, we enjoy a proud tradition of partnering with the IT staff of the many organizations we work with. We can even act as your IT team. For more information on educational technology solutions contact Managed Solution at 800-308-6107 or fill out the contact form.


Azure + Farming: See how technology is being used on the farm to ensure healthier cows thanks to Windows, Azure and the Internet of Things.

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Connected cows help farms keep up with the herd

By Lorence Heikell, Microsoft News Center Staff as written on
Steffen Hake knows the long, gritty hours involved in running a successful dairy farm, a life that can mean climbing out of bed before dawn and working past sundown — but he has an edge that generations of farmers before him never had.
“When I get up in the morning and put on my boots, I don’t go to the stables first,” he says. “I check my PC for alerts about whether any cows are sick, and I’m in the know right away.”
The reason is a modern breakthrough for a traditional industry. SCR Dairy calls its approach “HealthyCow24,” a solution based on the Internet of Things that uses Windows Embedded software and Microsoft Azure cloud technology.
Farmer Steffen Hake and his father, Erwin, use SCR Dairy’s technology on the farm.
This cow-monitoring system gives farmers insights that can boost milk production, smooth the calving process and ensure healthier cows — all while saving time.
And time is important for farmers like Hake, who has worked on his parents’ co-op farm in Wagenfeld-Ströhen, Germany, since 2005 and now manages 240 cows with help from his father and a few other workers. He’s part of a younger, tech-savvy generation that wants to do and experience more, both on and off the farm.
Having “connected” cows through the Israel-based company’s technology means he no longer has to dedicate nearly all of his time to monitoring his prized milk producers.
“If I had told this to someone a couple of years back, they would have thought man, you’re nuts,” Hake says. “But that’s the technology. It works.”
For hundreds of years, the dairy business remained essentially the same. A family would milk its own cows and sell any surplus to neighbors or the local community.
But over the last century, new machines were invented, urban populations exploded and the price of land skyrocketed. These trends and others put pressure on farms of all types to consolidate, specialize and increase production to keep supermarket shelves full.
Today a small farm only needs a few hands to manage dozens or even hundreds of cows, but maintaining a direct connection with each animal is still critical. One big reason why is that dairy cows must constantly be in a cycle of getting pregnant and giving birth in order to produce milk, and there is only a short window for insemination to be successful when a cow goes into heat.
In the past, farmers had far fewer animals and were able to spend hours each day watching their cows for signs, but today, with so many to keep track of, there isn’t always time for such careful monitoring.
That’s where SCR Dairy comes in. The company’s Heatime solution includes necklace tags with motion sensors and microphones that monitor the cows’ activity and rumination levels. Using an application that can run both on-premises or in the cloud, the system alerts farmers of increased activity that often means an animal is in heat or decreased rumination, which can indicate a health problem.
Cows’ activity and rumination levels can reveal valuable information.
“To identify a cow in heat, you need to spend at least 20-30 minutes in the stables per day, four to five times a day,” Hake says. “This time has now been eliminated.”
The system aggregates data from the sensors and conveys it to the farm’s office, and it’s available through a mobile application so farmers have access to data about cows’ heat cycles and health from anywhere at any time. It also allows farmers to make lists, prepare reports, sort cows by category and track each animal’s overall history.
SCR Dairy now has about 4 million tags connected to cows around the world, monitoring their activity and wellbeing 24 hours a day. The data generated from the tags is transferred to management solutions that help farmers make better decisions, as well as providing alerts.
“We have alerted farmers of cows having, for example, a prolonged calving, or a difficult labor, in the middle of the night,” says Matteo Ratti, vice president of SCR’s Cow Intelligence business. “They were able to go out and save the cow. With this technology, farmers get the information they need to manage the herd more efficiently.”
Enabling farmers to be more productive, expand their operations and take better care of their livestock isn’t just good business, according to Ratti— it’s critical to the future of the dairy industry.
“We hear it a lot from the farmers,” he says. “Young farmers are looking for technology solutions to make the work more efficient and more profitable, and they would not go into this business if the technology was not there. They need to be able to be away from the farm and still be connected.”
Running a dairy is hard work, but Hake says he wouldn’t trade it for anything else.
“I like the diversity of my job,” he says. “Riding the tractor, that great machine, that’s fun. Or when one of your cows is sick, and you are able to heal her so she is fully recovered after two days, that’s great motivation to me.”
Over the past two years, he’s realized plenty of ways the technology helps him do more in less time on the farm, which is a big deal for many in the younger generation taking over family farms today.
Hake finds freedom in being able to access all of the information from his smartphone so that he’s no longer tied to a specific location. And now that his family is renting a stable in a neighboring village seven miles away, the ability to monitor the cows remotely has become even more useful.
“We aren’t there very often, so we wouldn’t see when a cow is in heat,” he says. “That’s what makes this technology so helpful. When a cow is in heat or eats less than anticipated because she starts coming down sick, there is a warning indicator for me. And that’s a great thing.”
Lead photo: Steffen Hake, his grandfather, Ernst, and his father, Erwin, on the family’s co-op farm.
Photos by Peer Schmidt/Fokus Werbung und Fotografie
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Emerald Therapeutics wants to make life sciences research as easy as launching a new app. See how running experiments over the cloud is cost-competitive and far more time efficient.

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A Biotech Lab in the Cloud, Backed by Peter Thiel

By Jeff Bercovici, San Francisco bureau chief, Inc. as written on The ECT-1. IMAGE:
Hardly a week goes by in Silicon Valley without someone launching a new food-delivery or ride-sharing app. Meanwhile, we're running out of antibiotics that work. What's going on here? Why is new drug development so comparatively torpid when app development is so torrid?
The founders of Emerald Therapeutics, D.J. Kleinbaum and Brian Frezza, think it comes down to the difficulty of running experiments in the life sciences. A typical new experiment takes a month to set up -- a month during which a scientist with a decade of education might find herself lugging around jugs of reagent or pipetting. And that's when nothing goes wrong.
"There are these major roadblocks to doing research that all involve the energy you have to sink into the lab itself," said Frezza on Tuesday evening, speaking at the opening of the new Emerald Cloud Laboratory in South San Francisco. The ECL is Frezza and Kleinbaum's solution to the friction they believe is holding back progress in their field.
Dubbed ECL-1, because it's intended to be the first of many, the gleaming warehouse-like space is filled with state-of-the-art instruments for DNA sequencing, gas chromatography, nuclear magnetic resonance and other standard types of experiments. It's also filled with robots that prep and carry out the trials, with minimal oversight from human operators. Thanks to the high degree of automation, a team of two or three technicians can carry out up to 50 experiments simultaneously. "It's all about each experiment being 'push a button, walk away,'" Kleinbaum said during a tour of the facility.
The protocols themselves are uploaded to ECL's servers remotely by clients. (Hence the "Cloud" part.) Frezza and Kleinbaum liken the arrangement to Amazon Web Services, which triggered an explosion in the number of new internet startups by removing the need to own one's own servers as a barrier to entry.
Running experiments over the cloud is cost-competitive and far more time efficient; in Emerald's old lab, average setup time was a mere 25 minutes. But it's also superior in terms of standardization and reproducibility, with the environment engineered to control for and measure a host of variables, from ambient air temperature to the length of rubber tubing, that often get overlooked. Capturing so much more data this way gives investigators what Kleinbaum calls "full computational closure," and it's a big part of the ECL's value proposition. "If we're asking people to experiment out of place and out of time, it's not enough to just give them an equivalent experience," he says. "We have to give them a richer experience."
If Kleinbaum and Frezza are sensitive to the needs of researchers, it's because it was in that role that they started Emerald Therapeutics in 2010. Attempting to raise funding for their effort to develop a novel therapy for persistent viral infections, the co-founders, who've been best friends since they grew up together in Philadelphia, were on the verge of giving up and heading back to the east coast when Peter Thiel personally persuaded them to stay in town. A few weeks later, his Founders Fund wrote them their first check. They've raised more than $13 million to date.
Work on their viral cure is ongoing but deep in stealth mode. Frezza says it will be perhaps a year before they're ready to talk about it publicly. Meanwhile, in the next 18 months they plan to invest another $7 million in the ECL, more than doubling the number of different experiments it's capable of carrying out.
Managed Solution is the premier provider of IT support services and technology recommendations in the biotechnology and life science industries.
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Check out What #TheConnectedCow & the #NFL have in common

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All NFL Players Are Getting RFID Chips This Season

Using real-time RFID tracking of NFL players, the Next Gen Stats portion of the NFL app for Xbox One and Windows 10 shows a play in detail. Image: Microsoft
In terms of size, speed, and strength, NFL football players have always been superhuman. This season, they’re all about to become cyborgs, too.
Last year, the NFL tested out Zebra Technologies MotionWorks RFID system in 18 stadiums to track vector data: A player’s speed, distance, and direction traveled during each game in real-time. This season, that wireless tracking technology will be embedded in every NFL player’s shoulder pads, and viewers at home can see all that data come to life in the redesigned NFL 2015 app for Xbox One and Windows 10.
Within the app, there’s a feature called Next Gen Stats that turns each player into an digital avatar for a “Next Gen Replay.” In coordination with a highlight clip posted shortly after it occurs live on the field, Next Gen Replay displays every player’s speed at each moment of a play, lets you toggle between players, and keeps track of the actual yardage a running back has run in a play or in a game.
“We will tie Next Gen Stats into every replay that comes into the Xbox,” says Todd Stevens, Executive Producer at Microsoft. “Replays like a one-yard touchdown run, you don’t really need Next Gen Stats. But some of these plays, like a long pass play, are truly spectacular. We wanted to give them a bit of special sauce.”
To do so, the Next Gen Stats section will also include features that highlight players rather than plays. At launch, which will be in late August, there will be a special section called Afterburner that highlights the speediest players in the NFL over time. More of those player-highlight collections are planned for the future in a section called Top Playmakers.
Tying speed, position, and distance data to 22 separate football players, animating them on a virtual field, and aggregating all their data over time might seem like a process that would take a while to add to each highlight clip. But according to Stevens, as soon as a highlight clip is posted to, the Xbox NFL app will have all that stuff ready to go for each video.
“The only thing that keeps us from having it instantaneous is the human element to cutting the highlight,” Stevens says. “If somebody in Culver City for the NFL has to edit the highlight, as soon as it hits we get it, and we can tie in the data instantaneously. We have all the data as the game is being played. You could see the little position graphics live. There are complications to showing that, but it’s something I think we’ll end up trying to do in the future.”
Along with the video-game-like presentation of real-world plays, there’s an actual gaming aspect to the Next Gen Replay feature. In a mini-game called “NGS Pick’em,” you choose eight to 10 players you think will run the fastest or travel the farthest in a game.
While Next Gen Stats is innovative, a few more features within the new NFL app for Xbox may be even more compelling for big-time fans. You can basically roll your own sports ticker: You select pop-up notifications for specific games, your favorite teams, and two fantasy teams from, CBS, ESPN, and Yahoo. A little alert will pop up from the bottom of the screen to let you know if something notable has happened in tracked games, if someone in your fantasy matchup has scored, or if a new highlight clip from a game is ready. Using the Xbox One’s “Snap” feature, you can then view that clip in a sidebar without interrupting the main game you’re watching on the big screen.
“Our focus was to make this the best gameday experience,” says Stevens. “It’s super-simple to customize and slide in and out of things without missing any of the game. You hit one button and you go into that snap view, another button and I’m back in full screen.”
The new app will be available in late August, just in time for week three of the preseason. The NFL app and the Next Gen Stats features are free to everyone.