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April 14, 2017 - Comments Off on Dave Fletcher and The Mechanism Cover Story in The Silicon Review

Dave Fletcher and The Mechanism Cover Story in The Silicon Review

Photo ©Annabel Clark

Dave Fletcher, Founder and Executive Director of The Mechanism was interviewed for the Cover Story in the latest issue of The Silicon Review.

Some highlights:

“Over the past 16-plus years, we’ve seen significant changes in the visual design/development sector and the clients we serve. Business (r)evolutions are occurring at a much faster rate than in the past, especially in technology. Deliberate and unintentional disruptions to the way businesses communicate with their chosen audience have ushered forth new ways of thinking about the direction and definition of branding in the digital age.”

“In many ways, these disruptions are a good thing,” says Dave.“For example, entrepreneurs, previously adverse to launching a new idea or service, are becoming increasingly unencumbered by many of the early financial risks included with a product launch. If an idea is remarkable and surrounded by a modicum of social media outreach and localized enthusiasm, the audience will not only help to fund a useful product or service, they will evangelize it to their personal social networks. This is the Kickstarter model – an upending of the business mindset – where anyone can present an idea to the marketplace, extricated by corporate interests or expectations. Brand “fans” are rebuilding the markets by themselves, not just the corporations anymore.”

Photo ©Annabel Clark

Fletcher on The Mechanism's experience:

"Our experience is a differentiator which strengthens our ability to predict changes in the diversified, evolving business ecosystem. We closely follow futurist interpretations because we are engaged with its endless possibilities to enhance and help the planet and society at large. Also, our ability to work directly with any type of corporate entity or personality comes with our collective experience and fearlessness to take on any project that presents itself. I prefer to build relationships for the long-haul. Executives always move on to new endeavors and projects and have built a comfortability level directly with either me or my colleagues. These very intimate relationships, forged through trust, have served us well."

Fletcher on the challenges in the industry

"One of our crucial jobs as digital creative consultants is to help company leadership and their marketing teams understand as much as they can about the human beings they are reaching out to with their brand identity. No matter the size of our client engagement, their audience is always the gauge and the most important thing to focus on. First, we need to know what the audience wants and expects, and not what the leadership expects. It is a tough pill to swallow at times, because when you are working with large companies, there tend to be large egos involved at the top. There is nothing wrong with that, of course. It is definitely a large part of how they achieved success in the first place. Once we understand their audience fully, we can then examine industry trends and data, understand the CEO’s vision and investigate all of the things that are a part the brand or company. By looking at the audience first, we tend to find very useful information."

Read the entire article at http://thesiliconreview.com/magazines/we-deliver-enabling-and-transformative-design-solutions-to-businesses-organizations-and-individuals-seeking-to-benefit-from-it-the-mechanism/

Published by: Sharon Terry in The Design Mechanism, The Thinking Mechanism

July 25, 2016 - No Comments!

Dave Fletcher: The Power of Digital Design and Strategy for Affectionate Human Interactions

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Our founder, Dave Fletcher was interviewed for CIO Outlook.

Read the entire interview, right here: http://bit.ly/CIOoutlook

Check out some highlights here:

"We will soon live with systems that interpolate Big Data seamlessly - by plugging directly into an artificial or ambient intelligence to manage your life, curate your interests, drive a vehicle, keep track of your day to day travels and never force you to remove yourself from an existing experience to use a website to research what the Network will already know you’re looking for. The next generation will be the “Mighty Untethered”, ubiquitously connected to the cloud. You and your friends and colleagues interests will be part of the system, and as they change, so will your personal experience to match your tastes. Diseases, dangers, economies and civilizations will be repaired on a global scale due to mass shared information and the artificial intelligence to be gained from it."

Read the entire interview, right here: http://bit.ly/CIOoutlook

July 21, 2016 - No Comments!

Highlights of an interview with Dave Fletcher in CTO/CFO Magazine

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The Founder of The Mechanism, Dave Fletcher, was interviewed in the recent issue of CTO/CFO Magazine about the company, their work and what surprised him over the past 16 years of running a company.

Read the entire interview, conducted by Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine right here: http://bit.ly/CTOCFOinterview

Here are some highlights:

CEOCFO: Mr. Fletcher, front and center on your site is “We use technology to develop authentic and affectionate interactions between human beings.” What does that mean day-to-day? What are you doing at The Mechanism?

Mr. Fletcher: I founded the company in 2001, and have worked in the digital design field since 1996. One thing I discovered early on is that many digital agencies were focused purely on technology and programmatic solutions, and less so on developing human-focused, branded interactions. After all, whether it’s an app, a website or another hybrid interface, ultimately, there’s a human being on the other side looking to build a relevant, enduring relationship with a brand or product. Since my background is in brand identity development, I still maintain an interest and enjoy working with tactile experiences and understanding what it means to interact with something; whether it is a brand or an experience. Therefore, The Mechanism strives to create affection for our client’s brands by injecting organic, fluid and meaningful interactions into the digital solutions that we are creating.


CEOCFO: When you are developing a concept for a client what might you take into consideration that less experienced people do not realize is important?

Mr. Fletcher: The number one thing I explain to our clients is that no matter the size -- their audience is always the gauge – the most important thing to focus on. What does your audience want? What does your audience expect? Not, what do "you" expect. It is a tough pill to swallow at times. This is because when you are working with large companies, there tends to be large egos involved at the top. There is nothing wrong with that, because I believe that it is definitely a part of how they achieved success. However, I also believe that one of the most important things is to help company leadership (and their marketing teams) understand as much as they can about the people they are reaching out to with their brand identity. What do they expect? Where else do they go online? What are some of the apps they use? In knowing this, it helps us pull it back to a second tier, which is, “Let us look at what else is going on in your industry by examining trends and data, and let us look at all of those things that are a part of who you are as a brand or company.” By looking at the audience first, we tend to find serviceable information.


CEOCFO: On your website it indicates you do select projects on the basis of their challenges and opportunities. Do you know pretty quickly when you are first talking with someone if the project is right for you? How do you know?

Mr. Fletcher: We look at projects that have a meaningful impact. I know that sounds like kind of a bogus response, but we really like working with clients that are either doing good for other people, helping people succeed, or helping people enjoy their lives or their work lives. It is funny, because when you focus on positivity, if someone contacts you and has a well funded, but personal project that may not have a positive impact on a larger scale, it is easier to turn them away. In rare cases, we will look at a project on the basis of what the long-term ramifications are. When we worked with Flight of the Concords, for example, we enjoyed the music, and they were nice guys. Over the years, we have gotten a lot of interest for potential employees and interns from that client. Was it a financial windfall because we worked with them? Absolutely not. But that's ok, because from a business standpoint it was something that helped us to build reputation. Therefore, occasionally projects will come along that are reputation builders and not the most financially fantastic.


Read the entire interview, conducted by Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine right here: http://bit.ly/CTOCFOinterview

August 12, 2014 - Comments Off on Finding Design Inspiration with The Mechanism Founder – Talkback Tuesday

Finding Design Inspiration with The Mechanism Founder – Talkback Tuesday

"Talkback Tuesdays" is an original weekly installment where a team member of The Mechanism is asked one question pertaining to digital design, inspiration, and experience. The Q&A will be featured here on The Mechanism Blog as well as on The Mechanism's Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, every Tuesday. Feel free to offer up your 2¢ in the comments.

This week The Mechanism Founder, and all around design-guru, Dave Fletcher, discusses why his photography is one of the first places he turns for design inspiration.

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Where do you find design inspiration?

Since around 1996, I’ve been taking an abundance of digital photographs from my travels to conferences, events and holidays. Simply being able to look into my treasure trove of images has helped me out of an occasional creative jam. From a photo, I generally can find a color palette or typographic element that ignites something new, or a visual that sparks a memory and triggers another. Before you know it, I’m well on my way to a fusion of ideas without having to do too much thinking. It just flows. Everything we do is connected in a very cosmic (and occasionally “comic”) sense, so the invaluable inspiration gleaned from a photograph I took in New Orleans in 2003, could trigger ideas for a logo or visual metaphor completely unrelated to the original photographic resource.

I’ve read a great deal about sparking inspiration from simply changing your typical path. We are all creatures of habit, and once we lock into a routine, we are easily able to drown out everything around us. We shut down our minds and put our bodies on a kind of “auto-pilot” to get from the train to the office, or our house to the grocery store. However, if you consciously break a habit or routine and try a different route to your destination, you’ll be forced to experience new things and to pay closer attention to your surroundings.

dino-2

In 2005, I was keynoting an AIGA event in Jacksonville, Florida. Part of my daily ride to my destination involved passing an old, overrun Goony Golf mini-golf course. There was a spectacular and decrepit roadside dinosaur in front, clearly visible from the highway, that I simply had to photograph. During my keynote, I showed the audience the dinosaur in one of my slides, and only a few locals recognized it. After I mentioned that I took it not more than a mile away, they were a bit taken aback. This group of highly creative individuals had become so accustomed to passing the dinosaur in their daily routine that they no longer even saw this majestic beast deteriorating right in front of their eyes. Years later I learned that a few of the attendees had taken it upon themselves to save the roadside dinosaur from further deterioration by repairing him and moving him to a safer location.

They just needed to have their eyes opened to their own surroundings to be inspired. It was immensely gratifying to be part of this. It galvanized the lesson that inspiration can be found directly under our noses, and sometimes we just need to be nudged a little bit in one direction or another to actually see it.

June 27, 2014 - Comments Off on Ace in the Hole?

Ace in the Hole?

Ace in The Hole R3

How do we recognize boundless creativity in our midst. In our friends or in ourselves.

"Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a Good Looking Corpse".  I'm not sure who said it first, was it Fonzie referring to James Dean? Humphrey Bogart in the film "Knock On Any Door"? Or proto-liberated Mrs. Irene Luce in her famous 1920 divorce case, as she claimed to have "No use for a husband" she intended to "Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse".

No matter. As I was reading a story about the life and death of Alexander Calderwood in the latest edition of Fast Company (July/August 2014 - Note, he actually died November 14th, 2013) -  I was struck by the fact that I had crossed paths with Alex and his work many times since the early 1990's, however, I had not consciously pieced together that he was the central character and developer of so many experiences I had enjoyed over the years - until now.  Shame on me.

While Alex is most often acknowledged as the visionary energy behind the Ace Hotel chain, he was actually a creative juggernaut respective of many really cool ventures and mediums across a variety of platforms.

Our two degrees of separation began during my early visits to Seattle in the mid-1990's when I discovered Rudy's Barbershop. One of the first "old-man" barber shop joints to resurface as a stylized reinvention of the past, well before what we now think of as commonplace. But it was of course much more. It was cultivated as "community" before THAT term was also overworked. It was a place where you could get a $10 cut...and if you were in the mood, a tattoo and strong coffee. Again before excellent coffee and interesting ink were ubiquitous. Or.. you could just sit there, read a magazine and listen to chatter all day- and never buy anything. It was in fact a living art project. A space to share an experience.

Later I solidified my mock-friendship with mister Calderwood when I stayed at the original Ace Hotel in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. This was in 2000, just a year after it had opened. Again, at the time I had no real idea about the impresario and his friends who had created this neat and inexpensive experience, I just liked it. It was Euro-style cool, simple and functional. The main entrance's doorway was obscure and the place itself was nested on the second floor of an old cannery I believe. And oh, in my bedroom...there was funky artwork by some guy named Shepard Fairey. Who knew.

(I have since moved to NYC and enjoy the oyster bar at the Ace Hotel here in the Flatiron District- regularly).

Alexander Calderwood had many more projects going on well before these, during, and after. All were event, environment or experience oriented. All were interconnected by approaching life and creation with a "what would I enjoy or find useful" mentality. The centrality of his work was human interaction and always logical....with a little WOW.

After time all of this time-traveling, revisiting Mister C's accomplishments, reading about his too soon demise, and finally putting a name to his role in my "feeling groovy" for 20-years,  I had to ask... At what point do we recognize the natural creativity infused in our fellow beings, friends, family, and experiences and REALLY acknowledge it?

Was Calderwood an intentional "cultural engineer", "cultural clairvoyant"? or was it just creative use of nervous energy. I personally love the friends I have who can't shut the F--- up when they riff on an idea. I encourage and cherish them. (Mike H. in Seattle, this goes out to you). Don't put your kids on Ritalin I say, ask them WHY they are restless and bored instead. Let them jabber on and spill out some creative experiential ideas.  Perhaps someone down the road will identify them as "a conceptual genius". Please resist the urge to dampen their energy for convince sake or because the Doctor recommend it. Question authority don't mindlessly Obey.  (Thanks Shepard).

Be curious. Don't just drink in your surroundings. Sure enjoy....but find out how it happened. Why it's there for you to enjoy. Who did this? Why? What is the subtext of this thing I'm involved in....and recognize the patterns in life that you are drawn to.  There's something in that. Patterns repeat themselves. Patterns are often beautiful.

I think about how late I recognized Shepard Fairey's work, not until he became an institution just before the Obama poster.  I laugh about the event that Banksy pulled off last year at Central Park. Having a street vendor try and sell his stencil art on a Saturday afternoon to very little success. Because passers by where not paying attention they missed the chance to purchase a very valuable Banksy artwork for something like $15 bucks a pop.

Developing creative experiences is something we talk about a lot here in The Mechanism's bungalow high above W. 37th. We try to understand the interconnectedness of all things we endeavor to design. We enjoy pulling the threads out of the larger tapestry to understand how beauty happens in our everyday. The world we are spinning on now has almost NO degrees of separation where human experience is involved. We share globally like never before in our short history. Making sense of, and developing experiences for the greater good - there's something in that.

I only want to suggest that we remember to learn from the people and things you admire. Famous or not, take a moment to recognize just why it is that you respect them. Deconstruct and meditate on those attributes.

Alexander Calderwood died while he still had a lot to do. He died from addiction. His close friends stand by his genius and love of human interaction. The article in Fast Company said something like - "creativity has a dangerous side". If you're lucky. I think some of the most interesting people I've admired just can't express everything they wish, fast enough. And so it goes.  He lived fast, he died younger than me, I'm not sure how good looking he was as a corpse, but overall he was a handsome soul. Look up Alex's history and work, and imagine how much more YOU can do to express yourself for a better world.

May 27, 2014 - Comments Off on R.I.P. Massimo Vignelli

R.I.P. Massimo Vignelli

massimo

A designer has just left us with an amazing legacy of creativity and clarity. The great Massimo Vignelli (January 10, 1931 – May 27, 2014) has died at the age of 83.

The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design. – Massimo Vignelli

A massively influential designer and one of the last true great creative thinkers, I had the good fortune to have a brief correspondence with Mr. Vignelli back in 2002. I was putting together a presentation entitled "Good Examples of Bad Design", to be delivered at the HOW Design Conference in Orlando. He reached out to me, presumably out of curiosity and delight in the subject matter. He told me quite simply, that he was looking forward to my presentation. It meant the world to me and I've cherished this memory even as the archived bits of the conversation have faded from my hard drive.

Michael Bierut from Pentagram produced a short video about Massimo's approach to book design. In a world that is quickly becoming digital, it's worth watching to learn (and hear) a few insights from one of the masters. The creative world was a much better place with him in it.

Massimo Vignelli Makes Books from Pentagram on Vimeo.

Also, to catch up on the legacy of Mr. Vignelli - check out this link.

Published by: davefletcher in The Design Mechanism
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April 29, 2014 - Comments Off on Meeting Milton

Meeting Milton

Meeting Milton art R2sAt the end 2013..... before this final season of Mad Men was in the can, I had the unexpected and most extraordinary opportunity to MEET Milton Glaser. Not only to meet the demiurge of 20th-century eclecticism in communications design, but to actually hang out in his studio space and chat with the man. This is that same comfortable and time-worn space in which Mr. Glaser has, for over 40 years, created some of the most memorable and thoughtful artwork, poster design, identity programs, campaigns and so much more.

His clients, those seeking meaning in their marketing efforts, comprise a diverse range of enterprise from film, music, theater and publishing, to cultural, civic and institutional entities. They came to Mister Glaser for something remarkable, some insight that would flick on a light switch for almost everyone who encountered his work.

Do I sound like a giddy schoolboy? That's fine. I came for the same thing. Something remarkable. Some insight that would reaffirm why we designers love to create.

I graduated from my design program during the mid-1980's when Milton already had attained mythological status. This was the era when post-modernism and deconstructionist sensibilities were part of a standard discourse. The notion of articulating expressions of the hand-drawn could instill value and meaning by adding a layer of subtext to anything from an annual report to a poster about AIDS awareness.

I have to wonder, as I work in a predominantly digital realm, are we still as invested in the subtext of meaning in crafting a deeper message? A deeper experience? Can we be digital and deep?

And so I had an audience with someone who in my book, may as well be the 5th Beatle. Or perhaps a better analogy would be....the Gautama Buddha of creative thinking and brand design.

As I walked across 32nd Street, my hands were clammy and my heart raced. I rehearsed one or two of what I thought where intelligent observations or questions about Mr. Glaser's place in design history.  But how did I even get here? Who am I to have this opportunity? The afternoon was orchestrated by a former teaching colleague of mine. I had taught at the SUNY College at Buffalo NY for some ten years before I came to NYC To be a Mad Man once again. I sort of strong-armed my way into the event when I heard Milton Glaser had agreed to chat with a small group of students. And so here I was a crass commercial digital Mad Man, posing as an intellectual once again. Hoping no one will notice that I was torn, as most of us are, between both meaning and money.

Walking up to the building, I was delighted by the thoughtful phrase etched in the glass transom above the outside front door. "Art is work". A simple true statement.  This was going to be good.

We waited for Milton in an area that felt like the small kitchen in an old grade school. The afternoon's autumnal sunlight warming the yellow wood trim on the window sills. Artifacts of Milton's tremendously productive career on the shelving all around the room.

There was a large wooden dinner table from the 1960's with not enough seats around it for the nine of us, and so I chose to stand. While we waited some twenty minutes for Milton to join us, the other professors and the small group of college students chatted excitedly and rehearsed their questions with each other. I, the self-invited interloper, remained on the quiet side, rehearsing my little question in my head. Partly because I wanted to get it right, partly because I didn't want to share my thoughts ahead of time. I preferred to sound cool and casual.

And so Milton joined us. He beams kindness and understanding as he sits at the head of this well-worn table. "What can I possibly do for you all today"?  The question was directed at me. I realized I was mistaken as the leader since I was the only one standing in the group. I had to explain that Professor Pete Bella had put this together and these were his students. I was simply too far away from the closest chair when the music stopped, and so here I stood.

The first thing one notices as he speaks, is that Milton is extremely articulate and thereby quite economic in his use of words. There is not one syllable wasted on trifle and I imagine each of us around the table was thinking "I wish I were more like that - thoughtful and direct". I realized that he says so much with imagery and artistry in his daily life, that his understanding of those things around us and those things we are talking about, comes from a deeper reflection on life that is constant like a Zen Master. That his internal perspective is well considered, calm, and calming.

We were poised and ready.  Professor Bella asked Mr. Glaser to share with us what he thought the future held for young designers. I asked my well rehearsed "off the cuff" question, about his push against the cool aesthetics of Mid-Century Modernism by introducing a New Eclecticism that infused humor and ornamentation into the culture of corporate design.

What we got instead was a lovely story. 
Milton shared something that he saw on PBS the night before. (Suck-up that I am, I happened to have seen much of this show as well, and so I locked eyes with my buddy Milton and added my small comments of agreement- desperate to be liked by the man).

The story was about a blind horse and a goat. They had a most unlikely and loving relationship wherein the goat would take the Horse's rope-tether in his mouth every morning and lead the horse to both food and water. They sat in the sun together. They communicated.  When the horse eventually died, he was buried under a tree on the hillside where the goat and horse spent much of their time. After the horses passing, that goat would walk alone everyday, all the way to the spot where the horse was buried and just sit there.... all day.

It is a beautiful story I have shortened here. Milton shared that with us....and as he finished he held his right hand over his heart. He paused, filled with the love and meaning of that relationship. He was overwhelmed. He smiled a slow smile and gave us time to share that feeling.

We all took in that moment. Whether you had seen the PBS show or not, everyone in that room was moved.  In that short opening Milton conveyed so much meaning and clarity without being didactic or obvious. That is his gift. Milton Glaser has an ability to design, create, and communicate, while maintaining the human in humanity.

We did eventually speak more directly about design process and its place in our culture. Milton was also very clear about his distaste for advertising and marketing as a pure form of propaganda. He was adamantly against using our powers to persuade the unsuspecting individual to purchase things they don't need. To manufacture desire where there was none. He spoke of the political ramifications of the power of good design.  Advertising, whose job was to sell dreams and create desire can be used for good...or for profit....or possibly both.

I know it sounds obvious, but as we basked in that radiant intellect, we realized that we each have the power to speak to the human condition.

As I left that day, saying good-bye to my good friends, Professors Stan Friesen and Pete Bella, and my new friend Milton Glaser, I was still giddy. I carry that with me everyday. (that and a selfie of me n Milton) - And I thank Milton for the conscious appreciation and new energy.

I can say with confidence that everything is OK in the design world. 
Horses and Goats not only get along, but live and love in harmony.

And YES it is OK to feel deeply and design digitally.

Published by: michaelanthony in Non-Profits, The Design Mechanism
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December 17, 2012 - Comments Off on Merry Mistletoe

Merry Mistletoe

Hanukkah may now be over but there's still Christmas to look forward to! So hide the menorah and break out the Christmas tree---see I grew up with both holidays. While such a practice can lead to some strange gift-giving situations, the joy of celebration and family was never diminished by this time-share arrangement. We all celebrate these special events differently. Such traditions are comforting in their familiarity, so much so in fact that not following them often leads to an unsatisfying holiday experience. And while tradition may be known for stifling change, it also provides the basis for much of our thought and action. It is one of those fundamental common threads that allow us to relate with one another, helping our creations to be understood by others. In other words, the very foundations of inspiration.

This past week our very own Dave took some time to create this lovely sweater pattern for the Mechanism's holiday season. Enjoy.

This past week our very own Dave took some time to create this lovely sweater pattern for the Mechanism's holiday season. Enjoy.

All artists are intimately familiar with tradition. One of the most common tools available to any creative is to take the traditional and subvert, reuse, and remix it. This is often the procedure I try and follow in creating this very blog. Art movements from the Medieval to the Pop, Christ to Campbell, have loved exploring traditional themes and symbols. There are few places that have seen conflicts of tradition greater than those of Latin America where ancient and complex native cultures came into violent conflict with the alien influences of Europe. Chilean artist INTI integrates many of his region's traditional patterns and themes into his massive graffiti pieces.

"SACROSUDAKA" Acrilico.INTI WhiteWallBeirut 2012

The Christmas tradition is quite unique, at least in America, in that almost everyone is familiar with it even if they don't celebrate the holiday itself. Not only have huge corporations been built around Noel, but strange and fun observances such as Secret Santa and now apparently Christmas GIFs have grown from it as well. One though has always baffled me: the Advent Calendar. The joy of counting down to that magical day with sub-par chocolates stored in a calendar shaped container baffles me. However I can most definitely get behind this slick reinterpretation of the ritual by Shape Design Studio in Manchester. In this beautiful site, the crummy candies are substituted for scrumptious morsels of design. The only thing that baffles me is the strange order of the dates.

Shape Christmas

Finally, while you might want these guys on your team if there ever truly was a war on Christmas, the video holiday card below by Jacques Khouri is simply too charming to skip. His New Year's resolution is to be more colorful, what's yours?

The Sketching Mechanism is a series of weekly posts, published on Mondays, containing the artistic musings of Mobile Designer/Developer Ben Chirlin from our Monday morning meeting at the NY Creative Bunker as well as his inspiring artistic finds of the week.

July 26, 2012 - Comments Off on The Many Eyes of the Internet

The Many Eyes of the Internet

Scary Smash

Another month, another Google Tech Talk. I first have to gratuitously thank Google for these great free talks. The quality and variety of speakers is truly astounding. This month's talk was The Distributed Camera: Modeling the World from Online Photos , where speaker Noah Snavely went over the work he and his team have done at Cornell involving 3D reconstruction of scenes using crowd-sourced photos. The project will be quite familiar to anyone who saw the TED talk on Microsoft's Photosynth awhile back. However, being a technical talk, Snavely roughed out how his team's feature recognition algorithm worked.

In effect, the idea is to grab hundreds to thousands of photos from sites like Flickr of a single landmark. An algorithm then defines features within each photo that are unique using a keypoint detector technology called SIFT. Each photo is then compared to every other photo for similar features. Now that the feature points have been matches between photo, the algorithm can begin solving for the camera position and angle computing the 3D point from the 2D projection provided in each photo.

The algorithm does not use any camera GPS or time data since both can be quite inaccurate depending on the conditions under which the photo was taken (bad GPS signal, indoors v. outdoors, etc.). The output of all this hard work is a 3D point cloud where each camera is shown as a small pyramid representing the camera position and angle (if you want more technical details on the algorithm see Snavely's paper here).

Venice

One can easily see the benefit of such technologies. If you watch the TED talk on Photosynth you'll see how it can allow for a Google Maps-like zoom of landmarks by using the multitude of different photos taken by people for different angles and levels of detail. Moreover it gives a fairly accurate 3D model of a building. Such a model can be used for many tasks. For instance imagine automatically updating street views, associating new photos with existing models, or even annotation. However, the system isn't quite perfect.

How could such a model cover the uninteresting and banal parts of cities when the number of photos is small to nonexistent? Snavely's solution was to turn the task of generating this data into a crowd-sourced game as has proven so successful in recent projects (think FoldIt). The inaugural competition between the University of Washington and Cornell led to a narrow Cornell victory--after they discovered how to game the system by taking extreme closeups of buildings generating extra 3D, and thereby in-game, points. There are also other sorts of data one could potentially pull including satellite imagery, blueprints, and more.

Another major weakness is inherent to the algorithm itself; since the computer simply compares similar features, any building with symmetry can lead to egregious errors. For example, given a dome with eight-fold symmetry the algorithm can mistakenly think each of the eight sides is the same, duplicating and rotating all the camera positions and points about the dome! Such a short coming can be overcome by giving the algorithm a basic understanding of symmetry making matching less greedy, possibly by comparing multiple features in each photo to see if an angle is different or not.

Lastly the algorithm is slow, O(n2m2), where n is the number of photos and m is the average number of features per photo, by my estimates (though I haven't computed big-O in years so don't take my word for it). Snavely admitted that even using up to 300 machines, it can take them days to process a couple thousand of photos.

The talk was incredibly interesting and informative. Such technologies leverage crowd-sourcing as a natural extension of our new data-infused world. As the amount of data out there continues to go beyond our abilities to sort it into meaningful models such automated systems will become increasingly important. I'd like to thank Google and Snavely again for giving us a peak into this fascinating future.

June 20, 2012 - Comments Off on Google Tech Talk: Continuous Integration

Google Tech Talk: Continuous Integration

Yesterday Angela and I left work a bit early to attend Google's latest tech talk in their NYC office on 15th Street. The topic was "Tools for Continuous Integration at Google Scale." Firstly, if you live in NYC and are reading this blog you should definitely try to attend these events hosted via Meetup. They always have great speakers in their lovely office cafeteria and the fellow attendees are always good for a bit of networking. You can see past talks (and I hope this one soon) here.

We here at the Mechanism are always looking to improve our development pipeline, especially when it comes to version control. Seeing how Google handles these problems was simply mind-blowing. John Micco walked through the overall setup at Google which allows their multitude of engineers to collaborate on projects easily with subversion, testing and deployment all bundled onto a master branch. Their model consumes huge amounts of resources, mainly due to the tests run on each submit as well as a live dependency list which determines which tests need to be run for every submit. This allows the system to promise a 90 minute return on every submit.

While Micco could share how the tool was setup, he had no idea how it was being used by individual teams. For example, some teams such as Google+ have extremely high turnover and submit rates, deploying a product update every few weeks! Others, such as the Google Core team take much longer and release less often for obvious reasons. Likewise, some teams force all changes to be tested locally before being sent to the network while others have no restrictions at all. This is the product of Google's team independence philosophy.

Obviously such a continuous integration system isn't suitable for every company. In fact only those with many engineers and dynamic product necessitate such tools. Yet there are many benefits that small companies can likewise exploit. For Google, the biggest plus of this system is the ability to see exactly who broke what so there's no need to untangle who's bad commit broke the code. This emerges from Google's desire to, in Micco's words, avoid "tribalization" of knowledge in the company while still allowing teams to act freely. This is key for any company and is a tenant of coding culture in general. Code should be clear and concise such that any other developer can easily figure out how its working and how to fix it. If only a small tribe of people (or even an individual) knows how to fix something easily, it hurts the company as a whole in the long run as that group changes or leaves.

Micco was keen to point out that all the Google teams using the system loved it and have become more and more addicted to it. Even the mention of the system going down for maintenance is met with horror. Yet there is a fundamental problem to such a system: as the number of users, tests and commits increases over time, the computing resources required escalate exponentially such that keeping ahead of demand is impossible! Yet now the engineers are hooked so Micco posed this problem: how do we optimize resource utilization while still being able to provide a quick turnaround?

Beyond optimizing expensive operations such as testing and dependency mapping, Micco's simplest suggestion was also the most likely: to impose quotas on development teams--then avoid the rationing meeting.