Prix Ars Electronica


Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Tracks and Traces

Sirikit Amann, Gerlinde Lang, Christopher Lindinger, Günther Nimmerfall, Rainer Zendron

The works submitted to the category u19 – freestyle computing in 2007 were remarkable in that they have oriented themselves on the topics and methods of 2006: last year’s Golden Nica (Abenteuer Arbeitsweg by Krmpf Krmpf Studios) seems to have triggered or reinforced a boom in animation and, in particular, stop motion. We saw star warriors invading strange lands, spaceships exploring the immensity of the universe, submarines searching for signs of life in the Mariana Trench, and stuffed animals celebrating weddings. We also had oblique glimpses of the creative will of young people – many of whom were under the age of twelve.

Another trend observed in the recent was even more pronounced in 2007: u19 entrants are getting younger and younger. Seventy-three percent of this year’s entrants were under the age of fourteen. On the one hand, this is a very welcome, if not in many ways anticipated, development: ever since computers made their way into primary schools and became part of daily routines, we have hoped that kids would master the tools required for implementing their ideas. And that’s exactly what has happened. In addition, more detailed knowledge of computers is now being acquired in secondary schools. Consequently, a generation is emerging who have been honing their new-media-skills continuously since kindergarten.

On the other hand, this development also presents the jury with new challenges:

Which works have been conceived by the children themselves and which initiated by parents and teachers?

Should the efforts of the entire group be evaluated or the results of its individual members?

Is it the children’s proficiency in using tools or their ideas – whether thought through to the end or not – that make entrants under ten so special? How do the many entries by kids under fourteen measure up to those by kids over fourteen? Is it still acceptable to compare their works or has u19 as a category already split into two parallel strands?

What new media skills can be expected from the different age groups and where does “freestyle computing” start?

Now how does the jury go about dealing with such questions? Structurally, our work and decisions have been facilitated in recent years by two new non-cash prizes established to accommodate the tendency of ever younger entrants: one non-cash prize goes to an exemplary work by an entrant under 10; the other, to a work by an entrant between 11 and 14.

Nevertheless, the jury debated different approaches. Did we want to single out and promote trends, even though there was the potential “danger” that young people would interpret this as indicative of the direction they should take next year? Or were we looking for the tip of the iceberg and those little nerds whose works are so extraordinary that potential u19 participants may consider not submitting anything at all, because they think they “could never do anything similar” and feel in no way encouraged to think laterally?

Once again we mastered the problem posed by this dilemma. We found the little nerds who strike us with awe yet inspire others to try their hand, too.

The non-cash prize for entrants under 10 has been awarded to Alexander Grasser, Leonhard Hauptfeld and Chen Wang for their Python Tutorial. Together they produced several different tutorials for Python, a software programming language. In several short videos, made with the aid of the Screencast software, Chen demonstrates how Python can be used to define a function with Rurple, Lexi uses Python in combination with Easygui, and Leo tells us more about the help function with regards to a button box. All together, a perfect lesson in e-learning.

The non-cash prize for entrants between 11 and 14 goes this year to a jump’n’run game entitled Rolling Stone. Thirteen-year-old Maik Groß used Toonshading to program comic-book environments that have little in common with commercial models and figures, but a style all their own. Another reason this project was selected for an award was the fact that although computer games have become an important part of media culture and are played by many young people, be it via the Internet, game console or mobile phone, very few users think up games themselves and actually implement them.

It is often an entrant’s playful approach and seemingly boundless fantasy that inspires awe. Yet despite such entertaining qualities, beneath it all there is a serious exploration of the many facets of the new media. And even though the young entrants are still experimenting with different tools – e.g. with combinations from graphic programs and presentation software, with web applications modified to their own needs, with Flash animations and robotics applications – two catchwords can be associated with the entries of the over-14-year-olds: Web 2.0 and social software. It has become impossible to imagine the websites of the under 19s without innovations like Wikis, blogs, YouTube, flickr and other file-sharing networks.

The Golden Nica 2007 merges many of these elements in its conception and implementation. A group of students from the HTL Mössingerstraße in Klagenfurt developed a system called VoIP Wiki, which connects an open-source VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) network via an Asterisk Gateway Interface (AGI) with a Wiki system. The advantage for users is that with a VoIP they can access both static and dynamic information (e.g. weather data) of a Wiki system. Interaction with the system occurs via speech output and key input, using a phone connection. A speech synthesis program converts the information in a text into spoken language. Contents are saved in a specially defined format; this ensures that the data is presented as intended by the person originally providing it. Data can also be added, edited, read or deleted by the user via a web interface. This application not only uses modern technologies but has also been developed in collaboration with the Carinthian Association for the Blind, whose members require a simple mobile interface to access information quickly. Another fascinating aspect of this work is how different needs and expertise interact. What’s more, the project is not just gathering dust, but already in operation.

The two Awards of Distinction for the category u19 – freestyle computing go to works in the fields of programming a complex game engine and 3D animation.

This year’s first Award of Distinction goes to 18-year-old Manuel Eder for the animation incline – Neigung nach Existenz. It shows the various stations of Kaya, a 3D figure, who on a stroll through Salzburg quickly absorbs impressions of the real world. Kaya has been equipped with some basic patterns of human conduct that help to make her mission as nice as possible. The backdrops were all shot in the real world, while the 3D figure was inserted, animated and rendered afterwards. To achieve clean compositing and proper shading, shooting details, e.g. camera height and lens settings, had to be harmonized with those of the “digital camera”.

The second Award of Distinction goes to Flying Bytes by programmers Christof Sirk and Josef Koller from the HTL Kaindorf / Sulm. This 3D computer flying game in real time is based on CornerStone, their self-programmed opensource 3D engine developed in C#. It is a class library with some 140 classes and 90,000 lines of code. The engine also includes documentary material, tutorials, and demos for individual topics. By the way, Flying Bytes is potentially addictive and a barrel of fun!

The Ten Honorary Mentions

The ten Honorary Mentions reflect the breadth of this year’s entries. At first glance what is noticeable is that, on the one hand, nature as a topic plays an important role and, on the other, many entrants see the web as a presentation platform. Yet either way, contents are a megamix of different technologies. E-learning, creative environments, user-oriented applications with the corresponding hard- and software, witty animations or off-the-wall features can all be found among this year’s Honorary Mentions. Though despite our enthusiasm for the great range of ideas, one question came up again this year: Why isn’t the mobile phone used as a tool for new environments? Is it still used only for phoning and sending text and multimedia messages to the obligatory party sites, and not more? Aren’t people creating games? Or shooting films, and then editing them together? Or, or, or…? Maybe next year?!

More creatures live in two handfuls of earth than human beings on our planet. The girls and boys of the Hauptschule 3, Spittal /Drau examined part of our environment – “the soil under our feet” – and created a homepage on this topic using a content management system. Unter unseren Füßen provides lots of information and many activities for participation.

Sounds of Water is a project realized by the Georg-von-Peuerbach High School in cooperation with various institutions in Linz. Sounds and noises of water, the main ingredients of the project, were recorded by the pupils of class 1C and then processed digitally, whereby the emphasis being on working creatively and autonomously. WikiMap Linz served as an online documentation, presentation and communication platform for the project.

With the poster series we talk about nature, the HAK Lambach promoted biology, physics and chemistry as school subjects in an attempt to show that even the natural sciences can be instructed in a fun way. And this was why the motifs for each subject were created with a dose of irony and delight in experimenting.

GPS-Ortungssystem Cowfinder is a graduation project by Alexander Kastler, Josef Meingassner, Christoph Bichler and Michael Wilhelm at the HTL Braunau. The point of departure for the project was the fact that mountain farmers who want to drive their cows down from alpine meadows in the fall often face the problem of first having to find their cows. This project remedied the situation using a GPS system and a client application created by the students.

Twelve-year-old Julius Lugmayr built a machine with which he can transform happy moments into light: Fog Painting is the name of this invention. A light ray, movies in which he captures happy moments and a system of mirrors come together to produce a light painting in a column filled with smoke. Depending on the movie, the color and form of these light images change; and along with them, their moods.

Stephan Hamberger’s CreARTive Flash Experiments – abbreviated CFE – is a website where those interested in art and technology can connect with each other. Different experiments enable users to produce little artworks with images, texts and a webcam. These new artworks, which are made using users’ images and texts, can be reused by others to generate additional images – a playful approach that creates a new kind of community.

The short video Jedi Training, a joint effort by the brothers Lorenz (18) and Max Hammel (16), gives a bizarre presentation of the skills every Jedi should have.

For their graduation project, four students from the HAK Steyr created KLAC-KS Kinder lernen am Computer – Das Kindergartenspiel, a computer learning program for kindergarten kids who are about to begin school.

In Lighttracker by Lukas Huber, Patrick Schubert and Yasad Rabady, distinctive optical elements are made visible via the “circuitous route” of audio analysis, and then converted into signals. The project’s strength lies in its unusual approach to solving an image-recognition task.

Mein Kleiner Grüner Kaktus was made by a group of students, Victoria Hohensinner, Tobias Mattner, Irene Szankowsky, Nela Pichl, all from Vienna. Funny and finely animated, this short film tells the story of a lost dog and an unwanted cactus.

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