Changing New Zealand with better information

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about what I can do to change things, what difference I can make in the world.  At heart, I’m a people person. When I look back on my life and think about the change I made in the world, I want to think “I made people’s lives better”. So I’m putting a question from one of my favourite books to myself: “What can I do with the gifts I have?”

What can I do with my creativity, project management skills, information management skills, communication and people skills, research skills, and writing skills to change people’s live’s for the better?    I love information, it has to be something to do with information. Translating information into forms that are useable.  That’s the key problem I see in society right now that I have the best chance of contributing to solving.

There’s more information out there on people’s lives than ever before.  It’s so frustrating that all the answers are probably out there by now, but there is such a volume of data that we can’t see the meaning for the noise.  More data than we can make use of flows around us constantly.  Helping harness data to improve outcomes and make people’s lives better.  A good goal.

The Economist argues that these faster, bigger flows of information are changing the speed at which we perceive time moving:

“There is no doubt that there are far more data coursing round firms than there were just a few years ago. And when you are used to information accumulating in a steady trickle, a sudden flood can feel like a neck-snapping acceleration. Even though the processes about which you know more are not inherently moving faster, seeing them in far greater detail makes it feel as if time is speeding up.

This unsettling sensation is common to most chief executives—a straw poll suggests that they receive 200-400 e-mails a day. Their underlings are deluged with information, too. AT&T now tracks faults on its telecoms networks by monitoring social media for grumpy customers letting off steam online. Big consumer brands are subject to a rolling online plebiscite from their customers. This abundance of information gives firms a cloak of hyperactivity.”

“More information provides firms with an even broader range of time frames over which to exert their transformational powers—to operate second by second, if they so desire.”

“New technologies spread faster than ever, says Andy Bryant, the chairman of Intel; shares in the company change hands every eight months. But to keep up with Moore’s Law—named after Intel’s founder—the firm has to have long investment horizons.”

What does this mean for New Zealand? We have to plan strategically, far into the future, about how and why our data is going to be used, even as we are constantly shifting technologies and ideas in the short term.  Agility in the short term, but on a solid, secure long term base.

I was recently talking to someone about what we need to change in New Zealand to improve outcomes in the health sector.  I believe we need to start by developing trusted, high quality data sets. Jayden McRae is doing great thinking in this space.

I’ve been reading Anthony Townsend’s recent book on Smart Cities: big data, civic hackers and the quest for a new utopia, and I really like his definition of smart cities as “places where information technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects, and even our bodies to address social, economic and environmental problems.” (p. 15)

It upsets me when the cool new technology comes before the people who the technology is FOR. Anthony Townsend is on the same page. I’m a huge advocate of smart technology and the use of software to catalyse change, but to me, every so called ‘technology project’ is actually a ‘people and change project’, enabled by technology. This quote articulates the place of technology in innovation for me:

“Many people have placed their bet on a better future delivered through technology. Not me. I get nervous when I hear people talk about how technology is going to change the world.  I have been around technology enough to know its vast potential, but also its severe limitations. When coarsely applied to complex problems, technology often fails.  What’s much more interesting is how we are going to change our technology to create the kinds of places we want to live in.” (p. 17)

As an information management professional I see myself as a translator and synthesiser of information.  I draw information together, separate the meaning from the noise, sort it into a meaningful pattern that is more than the sum of it’s parts.  organisers – making things easily accessible linking people to the information they need, when they need it.

Creativity fits into it for me, because I see designers as the same –except they’re translating ideas into visual form rather than written form.  I like this quote:

“In the future, designers will become the reference point for policy makers, for anyone wanting to create a link between high-faluting and hard to translate, and reality, and people”. Paola Antonelli,  1hr6mins Objectivity, 2009

Getting scientific with photogravure

Years and years and days worth of effort – that’s how long it’s taken me to submit to the need for a scientific approach to getting good results with photogravure.

Now I’m here.  Multiple test plates for every image, carefully listing and controlling the variables of image exposure time, stochastic screen exposure time, washing time, washing pressure, drying time, drying temperature, not to mention the ink viscosity, transparency, printing pressure, blankets… and I’m documenting EVERYTHING.

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I am finally beginning to get some results I’m happy with… on a reliable basis, in a way where I can understand WHY I got the results I did.  Luxury!

It’s a subtle thing that I’ve learnt over all the years I’ve been making art: that its one thing to fluke an amazing print (or any piece of art), and quite another thing being able to produce an amazing effect deliberately.

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It all comes together! “turn data into things and things into data.”

The world is exciting these days.  Two of my big enthusiasms: information management and creativity; come together in a compelling beautiful and headily complex mixture.  I took many, many pages of notes at Fab 8 (held in Wellington!!!) and I just realised that Fab 10 is coming up very soon in Barcelona.

I mean, just listen to this:

“…3D printers are just the tip of the advanced manufacturing iceberg, noting increasing potential for the creation of

– Manufacturing processes for digital fabrication at different length-scales, from molecules to buildings;

– 3-D “assemblers” that can build functional structures in the same way that complex proteins are assembled from amino acids;

– Programmable strands of DNA that can serve as the “glue” for assembling materials and devices at the nanoscale; and more!”

One great advantage that people interested in things digital have over people who love… incunabula, for example, is that digitophiles are much more likely to be distributing their thoughts, videos, conference presentations, images, musings and projects over the web. I’m hopeful that I can get a huge amount out of Fab 10 without leaving my computer!

Here’s Gartner’s 2013 “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies“.  It’s quite interesting to look at where 3D Scanners, Consumer 3D Printing, 3D Bioprinting etc come on this graph. So in 2013, Consumer 3D Printing was right at the peak of inflated expectations … mine included, maybe?!




The more I explore 3D printing, the more I find that the difficulties are in the detail of what I want to do. For example, the organic, freeform type of objects I’d like to make are difficult to achieve in the ‘polygon’ oriented software I can get free access to, while I find the more ‘sculpt’ style software that is designed for more organic style forms very frustrating to work with.  I’m getting there slowly however!

I sent off my second set of files for 3D printing off to imaterialise a few weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to  getting those back soon.

I’m also learning more about the right tools to use for the things I want to do.  Quite a few projects I have in mind are actually more appropriate to do with a laser cutter than with a 3D printer.  Wellington is lucky to have Makerspace, which runs intro sessions for using their exciting tools every thursday night.  I went to the laser cutter intro a few weeks ago, and I’m preparing some files for laser cutting now.  I’m planning to use laser cutting to make etching plates that I can print in a traditional way in the print studio.

This 2011 White House Report on Digital Fabrication is a bit old now, but it has some cool recommendations, including putting a personal manufacturing lab in every school!  Innovation in manufacturing is still a big thing for the Obama administration – the US’s FY2014 budget apparently includes $2.9 billion for advanced manufacturing R&D, including $1 billion to launch a network of up to 15 manufacturing innovation institutes.

Here’s an EU Roadmap for Digital Fabrication.

oh wow how great is this!  The NIH (National Institute of Health in the US) has a 3D Print Exchange, where you can download 3D Print ready bioscientific and biomedical 3D models!! “generate high-quality and scientifically-accurate 3D printable models in only minutes, simply by uploading a file or typing in a database accession code”!!!  Imagine if Statistics NZ had this for societal data…

I also like this quote:

“The creative impulse remains the same whatever tools an artist uses, but it is liberating and exciting to explore a new vocabulary of shapes – part mechanical, part organic – made possible through innovations in technology.”  – Bruce Beasley

Rachel Park wrote this great review of a recent (March 2014) 3D printing conference in Berlin… she’s editor-in-chief of 3DPI, a 3D printing news channel.

Anna Wilhelmi makes 3D printed clothes!


oooh… Lionel T Dean:

“The potential to translate the virtual direct into real-world products still seems magical to me… Combining computer scripted and CAD software I see my designs as living things evolving and mutating, the flora and forna of an alien landscape.”

WOW I love his design work!

Radiolaria, foraminifera, sessile invertebrates and more primordial soup under the sea


The forminiferal ooze!  (Here’s a full illustrated  catalogue of forminiera: )

What are Radiolaria and Foraminifera?

  •  Amoeba-like single-celled microscopic organisms
  • Produce intricate mineral shells or skeletons
  • Live in environments that contain liquid water e.g. in the ocean, inside the body
  • Usually less than 1 mm in size
  • Their structures are made of natural glass
  • Belong to the group “Rhizaria”.

There are three main groups of Rhizaria:[4]

Sessile invertebrates

These are animals without backbones that can be attached to a reef, like corals, barnacles, sponges and aenemones.

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My work is influenced by impressions of these deep sea forms.  The microworld of the sea fascinates me.  I want to invoke natural colours and forms.  I derive inspiration from marine biology, mycology. I love looking intently at the detailed morphology of lichens, fungi and microscopic marine organisms.  The more I look at their detail, the more beautiful they seem.

Here’s some of my recent explorations:

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