The Creators Series: Gabrielle and Yasushi

Sit down in your room and look around. Many things around you might be programmed by someone. I don’t say everyone should learn the basics of coding, but it’s fun to think about how things are made.

Coding can be the hidden ingredient behind creating a magical masterpiece, such as Moshi Moshi (the Conversation Cloud).

In this post, I interviewed Gabrielle Odowichuk and Yasushi Harada to learn more about their backgrounds in coding and how they used their skills to help bring Moshi Moshi to life.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (What do you want to tell? Where are you from? Where are you going? We'd love to hear anything about you that you'd like to share!)

G: My name's Gabby, I grew up in Fort St. John, a small town in Northern BC. After high school I moved to Victoria, BC, where I studied engineering - I specialized in signal processing and music technology, and wrote my master's thesis on the use of human motion to control sound.

Now I work as an electronics engineer for a local company called Limbic Media. We do industrial engineering contract work, and we also create interactive art installations and audio-reactive lighting products. It's a neat place to work!

Where I am going, I'm slowly working towards becoming an old master. I want to create things that are masterful and spectacular. 

Y: I’m a programmer and visual artist based in Vancouver, but I am originally from Japan. I used to focus on design and development for websites, but lately have gotten involved in some installation projects and VJ-ing. Regarding tools, I mostly use open source software/framework such as Processing, openFrameworks, three.js, PureData, Arduino, and so on. I’m interested in open source communities and cultural difference, which I enjoy when collaborating with people from various ethnic backgrounds, here, in Canada.

2. What is Conversation Cloud and what gave you the inspiration to start it?

G: MoshiMoshi (the conversation cloud) is the brain-child of our friend Ben Cooper. I think it's originally from a dream he had.

The way I understand The Conversation Cloud is that it is very symbolic. The cloud is the collective - the web. Speaking into the tin can is the act of contributing to the web, listening to the tin can is the act of accessing the web.

I think everyone on the team has this goal of creating magical experiences. Interactive art is great because it excites a child-like sense of wonder.

For my part I'm also inspired by the technical demands. Thousands of addressable LEDs, 6 channels of audio in/out, processing that audio in a way that is meaningful, and programming the lights in a way that is beautiful; it's a neat and challenging problem.

Y: It’s an installation with Ben Z Cooper, Gabrielle Odowichuk, Grant Harris, Daniel McLaren, Derek Gaw and Adam Barlev. Let me quote our description for Vancouver Mini Maker Faire this year:  "Moshimoshi is an interactive light installation in which a geometric cloud encourages interaction between guests of the Faire by reacting to their voices. The installation consists of a white cloud made up of corrugated plastic shapes suspended above the ground. A web of strings connects eight tin can phones to the cloud, each mounted on a stand of a different height so visitors of all ages can join the conversation. Whispers gathered from the participants trigger colourful splashes of light in the shapes above.” The installation was built for the event, but still growing. Basically, this was originally Ben’s idea that the rest of us helped make happen.

3. How is coding/technology used in your creative process?

G: I guess they are used like a set of tools. I'll have an idea of what I want something to be, and then I have to use tools to make that happen.

Y: Not really, actually. I just use code to convert my thoughts to visuals. When I was in my late teens, I thought, “I want to be a visual artist,” but I gave it up then since I sucked at drawing or painting. After many years, I realized I could make cool visuals with code, so I have been trying my best to achieve my dream, since then. Sometimes I try to reproduce what I see in real life. I enjoy the gap between what I imagined and what I made, since even if I try to make it exactly the same, the results could end up far, far away from where I started.

 photo moshimoshi_zpse6b29af7.jpgPhoto by Ben Z.Cooper

4. Gabrielle, have you faced any challenges or barriers working in technology based on your gender? And Yasushi, being a male working in tech, do you have any thoughts on this subject?

G: My gender is a factor in my career, and I wish it was less so.  

Blatant and overt inequities have improved hugely in this part of the world, but subconscious micro-inequities are still common and can be quite damaging. Thoughts that go unsaid often go unchecked, so I think it will take some time for this type of sexism to disappear.   

Y: I thought I would introduce this article by Stacey Mulcahy. I think it ‘s worth reading for anyone.

5. Why should everyone learn the basics of coding?

G: Basic code literacy for everyone - I don't think it's required but certainly can't hurt. Anyone interested should go for it! It's fun and useful!

Y: Sit down in your room and look around. Many things around you might be programmed by someone. I don’t say everyone should learn the basics of coding, but it’s fun to think about how things are made. To understand the world, it’s not a bad idea to see how things work. I sometimes feel as if I’m in a game world, and that helps.

6. What do you think is the biggest misconception about coding?

G: This idea that it's really hard, or you have to be a genius to get it, or "I'm just not good at it".  

I remember one time watching a documentary about Robert Moog and he was talking about how he could see how electricity moved through his synthesizer circuit boards did just by looking at it. I thought that he must be a genius and that I would never be able to do that until I designed a PCB myself. It's not some magic unattainable thing, it's just learning.

Y: Although I guess many people think coding is difficult, it’s not as hard as you think. Having a computer, you can start coding for free and there are tons of tutorials online. It could be a good hobby with little cost. I even stopped smoking in order to have more time to code, so it might be nice for your health.

7. Do you have any advice for aspiring coders wanting to get involved in tech?

G: Start by working on a project that interests you. Ask lots of questions. Don't let other people's insecurities get you down. Work hard. Be kind.

Y: I’m afraid I don’t have particular words for tech people, but I would like to share 3 things from Tezuka Osamu, a Japanese legendary manga artist, whom I grew up reading, along with many other Manga artists:
• Be a good observer. Try whatever you are interested in. Stay hungry.
• Keep the most shocking incident that you had, or you will have in your mind, for your entire life. Don’t forget it, and it will help you, for sure.
• Treat your life with care.

written by: Sim Tatla