Feb 2021 @ NYU-ITP

NYU-ITP Brooklyn Research 2021 Statement - John Henry Thompson Bio:

Computer scientist, artist, and educator John Henry Thompson​ explores the relationship between technology and creative expression. Mr. Thompson studied studio art at the New York Student Art League and the Boston Museum School. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Visual Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1983. After graduating, he continued at MIT as a technical instructor and developed an early color pre-press design system for the Visible Language Workshop, which is now part of the MIT Media Lab. Mr. Thompson then became a project lead at Lucasfilm on the EditDroid project, an early nonlinear editing system. In this period he created art​ using 3D graphics, video disc, and real-time video processing.

In 1987, Mr. Thompson’s interest in both art and technology led him to Macromedia (formerly MacroMind). At Macromedia he contributed to the development of a number of products, including: The VideoWorks Accelerator, VideoWorks II, MediaMaker, Action, and Macromedia Director.​ For Macromedia Director, a multimedia authoring product, he invented the Lingo programming language and XObjects, which were key in making interactive multimedia accessible to creative professionals from non-engineering backgrounds.

In the overlapping time frame from 1988 to 1997 Mr. Thompson was a professor at New York University Tisch School of the Art’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (NYU-ITP). He created and taught a series of courses: "Introduction to Computational Media", "Animation on Macintosh Computer", "Advanced Computational Media”, "Interactive Video", and "The Lingo Workshop." The common theme for these courses was creative expression using the latest technology available. He continued teaching creative coding workshops in Philadelphia PA and Jamaica, West Indies into the 2000’s.

John Henry Thompson presently splits his time between EP Visual Design, in Pennsylvania, and NYU-ITP. As a partner at EP Visual Design, he is a member of a small team that harnesses the latest technologies and techniques to create rich media websites, custom applications, and content management systems. Mr. Thompson returned to NYU-ITP in 2020 as a visiting scholar​ to continue his exploration of technology and creative expression. He re-joined the faculty in the fall of 2020 as an Adjunct Instructor to teach an updated version of “Introduction to Computational Media”.

Proposed Research and Projects at ITP/IMA:

I, John Henry Thompson, propose to research the following topics during the Spring/Summer of 2021 at NYU/ITP:

#1. New Models for Teaching Coding

What are new models for teaching creative coding using open source technology? How can we enhance existing creative coding platforms to better serve today’s amateur and professional creatives, and reach new audiences? Creative coding involves using computer programming across multiple disciplines to make learning more rooted in everyday experiences. Free online creative coding platforms such as scratch.mit.edukhanacademy.org, and p5js.org​ have successfully lowered the barrier to learning in this mode. Learning to code is an essential part of the experience provided by these platforms. I will explore ways that the fundamentals of coding (variables, control flow, functions, recursion, objects, and classes) can be integrated into thoughtfully structured teaching plans that promote open ended learning and experimentation.

#2: DICE - A Garden of Interactive Delights 2.0

The learning cycle: We create something of interest, play with it, share it with others. Through this process we continuously reflect on the impact of our creation, and from this reflection we continue a new cycle of Imagining, Creating, Playing, Sharing and Reflecting. I’ve created DICE - a platform for exploring art, learning, and computer science. I’ve played with it over several years, creating a series of real time video effects. I’m entering the “sharing” phase of the DICE concept. Using DICE I will create interactive art installations for display at NYU-ITP Brooklyn. This activity will invite the community to experience the art and explore code used to create it. I will extend core effects of DICE from native code to run in the browser so it can be a ubiquitous, free and open platform.

#3: Covid-19 Impact Project *

When this global pandemic began in early 2020 my partner and I experienced the global impact mainly through the daily statistics tracking its spread. The pandemic rapidly spread, New York City and other cities around the globe shut down, and the data on daily and cumulative deaths became increasingly grim. Looking deeper into the numbers these questions came to us: How can we begin to mourn and memorialize those who we have lost in the midst of this pandemic? How can we assess the pandemic’s impact on families and the communities of the deceased? How can we create effective and lasting institutions which work with and for all of us equally?

We are forming a team to design and build a crowdsourcing platform for the general public to contribute ideas, share personal stories, memorialize loved ones, and examine statistics related to our collective COVID-19 experience. We invite creatives, designers, artists, activists and journalists to brainstorm and collaborate with us to develop a visually compelling digital memorial that will give face and voice to those lost to COVID-19. Our collective efforts will aid in:

Fall 2020 @ NYU-ITP

Jan 2020 NYU-ITP Visiting Scholar

Beginning Jan 2020, I accepted a position at NYU-ITP as a visiting scholar.
In March 2020 the covid19 pandemic hit and I had to adjust.
I still hope to work on these projects during my sequester in the Flatlands of Brooklyn.

NYU-ITP Brooklyn Research Statement - John Henry Thompson

As technology continues to expand into every aspect of our lives several questions arise: How do we make the best use of it? How do we deal with the pitfalls? Will the leading and more commercially successful trends in technological innovation erode human creativity or augment it? I aim to augment human creativity with technology and empower others to see themselves and the world in new ways. During my return to NYU-ITP my work will focus on these themes: Social Media, Digital Legacy, Creative Learning, and Creative Expression.

Social Media

Popular social media sites such as Facebook/Instagram make it easy for us to share personal media and data with our social network. However, we are beginning to increasingly question the hidden costs and even dangers of a seemingly “free” platform . In July of 2019 Facebook was slapped with the largest fine in the history of the Federal Trade Commission - a record $5 billion for privacy breaches which may have affected a US Presidential election. Let’s imagine that in response to this criminal act, some may choose to boycott Facebook, leave the site and delete their media and data. Others may choose to export their media and data and host it elsewhere. What are the alternatives? Are there other architectures that are both secure and more open that Facebook? Facebook is a closed system - taking advantage of the open web but locking users in and making it difficult for those outside the system to share links.

I have created a suite of scripts to take social media and data from a Facebook account and render it on a more open site such as github. In my time at ITP I hope continue to refine these scripts, make them usable by others and popularize their use.

Digital Legacy

The early authoring application Adobe Director (formerly from a company called Macromedia) was popular in the 1990’s and 2000’s for creating a variety of interactive content for CD-ROM and the web. However, the Adobe corporation retired the application in 2017 effectively killing access to early digital content for current and future computers. Even if someone had the time and resources to build an equivalent Director Player, without access to the original source code this task is extremely difficult, if not impossible. In spite of this, there is a small team of developers lead by Mr. Eugene Sandulenko in The Netherlands who are building on the open source game engine scummvm.org to bring Director content back to life. Although I have a personal interest and connection with Director content, the idea of reviving content and games from earlier systems is not unique to Director. Teenagers these days are scouring Ebay to find early games on other platforms such as Nintendo and there is a robust market for reselling refurbished games and consoles.

Can the Adobe corporation be persuaded to open source a subset of the Director source code to help revive the rich digital legacy of content created in the early years of interactive media? In particular, open sourcing for Lingo, the coding language I invented, would help this effort immensely. What are the legal ramifications and risks of sharing my memories of the Lingo software architecture? What early interactive media content is driving this dedicated group of developers in The Netherlands to spend so much of their time and energy on what could be an impossible task? What lessons can current digital artists learn from this experience? Is there an argument for software companies opening the source for platforms that they phase out? Much like in the pharmaceutical world where, once off patent, drugs are open internationally for generic manufacture?

Creative Learning

Inspired by Seymour Papert’s “The Children's Machine” and my personal experience making coding accessible to creative professions in the 1990’s, I have aspired to bring coding skills to the high school population. In short 3-4 week workshops I have taught coding using scratch.mit.edu and other free online resources. I have found that due to the short time frame, it is difficult for these workshops to have an enduring impact. While at ITP I aim to research other approaches and expand on my prior efforts to longer time formats and earlier grades, with a particular emphasis on exposing creative coding to African-American youth and other demographic groups that remain underrepresented in the tech world.

Creative Expression

Prompted by the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s interest in my early interactive digital art I decided to revive DICE, my creative software. I started developing DICE in the early 2000’s following my departure from Macromedia. My early ambition for DICE was to develop a palette of video effects and object detection and use it in a series of interactive art installations. I also hoped to create DICE as an open source platform for others to use and extend. Restarting development in 2017 I shifted the primary platform from MacOS desktop to iOS mobile devices. I have built out the DICE platform to process video locally, and share low bandwidth video and sensor data with a network of devices running the DICE app. DICE is based on parseplatform.org, an open source communication platform, and mongodb.com, an open source object database. With DICE now feature complete, I plan to create an interactive art series for trial installation at ITP. With feedback from the ITP community I plan to refine the installations and incorporate physical computing.