QR codes: a new art form?

Taking into account that us human beings can convert just about anything into art (or art into anything?), it’s no surprise to see the size of the QR code art niche.

From agencies specialising in creative QR codes for commercial and non-commercial purposes:

qr codes from jess3


To artists “painting” with QR codes, as if they were pixels…

qr code art by DataSpaceTime

by DataSpaceTime

Artist Kyle Trowbridge held an exhibition recently of his large and colourful QR code pieces, each of which linked to a message if you scanned it with your phone. Let’s face it, we often snap pictures of art with our phones… Now we can get a message as well!

QR code art by Kyle Trowbridge

by Kyle Trowbridge

Branding artist Yiying Lu is known for, among many other things, incorporating QR codes into her watercolours and sketches…

QR code in art, by Yiying Lu

Yiying Lu

The creativity of these artists and others who are using QR codes as a base or a tool, plus the proliferation of software that lets you create original and scannable squares, leads me to the conclusion that “niche” is probably too small a word. I’d change it to “industry”.

creative qr codes



Those annoying QR codes reach the classroom

I’m not a fan, as you might have gathered, but I concede that they are a concise way of transmitting information. QR codes are those rather clunky splodges of black and white pixels that we see in print ads, on billboards, on packaging. If any of you have ever had a boarding card sent to your mobile, that comes in a QR code. The QR stands for “quick response”, because they are faster than traditional barcodes and contain much more information. A reader (usually an app on your smartphone or tablet camera) scans the code , which then displays information, opens a video, activates an app, opens a gate… The technology is fascinating, and most people find them fun, which may well have something to do with why their use in school classrooms is taking off. But what on earth does a barcode have to do with education? Read on…

using QR codes

Yes, the use of these barcodes in schools presupposes that all the students in the class have a smartphone or tablet. Which, let’s face it, is increasingly the case in the western world. My daughter’s school is still prehistoric in that even today smartphones are not allowed in the class, and not all students are given iPads (Ana is in one of the lucky classes that does use them). More and more forward-thinking education administrators require either or both, and it is only a matter of time when our kids are telling their kids about a time before tablets went everywhere with you. Assuming tablets haven’t by then been replaced by something lighter, faster and easier… But let’s not get off the subject.

I’m not going to go into the technical details of how they work (if you’re interested, this is quite a good article). I do want to look at the creative ways in which they are being used in schools, and why.

learning through QR codes

(image via New to Teaching)

The “why” is threefold:

1) They are convenient. They’re very easy to produce, reproduce, distribute and display. All you need is a qr code generator, and a black and white printer. The QR code generators such as qrstuff.com or qr-code-generator.com are ridiculously simple to use. Type in a url, and hit enter. Some web link shorteners, such as goo.gl , do it automatically – you just add “.qr” onto the end of the code, hit Enter, and there’s your QR.

2) They compress a lot of information into a tiny space. That little splodge can contain text, even code, but is usually used to transmit a web address, quickly. Sure, you could open your phone or tablet browser and type in the url, but why do that when you can point, click, and there you are?

3) They’re quirky, gimmicky and fun. Why would QR codes appeal to students so much? Let’s go back in time here, do you remember when you were little, those books with little cut-out windows on the pages that you had to open to see what was behind them? I loved those books, and so did my kids. Or, the English and American advent calendars at Christmas, with little pictures behind the numbered squares? (The Spanish calendars have chocolates, not images, a different reward structure.) We all loved the satisfaction of “seeking” out the information (opening the flap). Some of my advent calendars while growing up had terrible illustrations, but I loved them anyway, for the thrill of discovery. QR codes give us a similar thrill, and are so much more exciting for the students. Excited students are engaged students.

class using QR codes

(image via Planet Mensing)

Now, for some examples of how QR codes make mundane school activities not-so-mundane, and allow new ways of engaging the students:

Class reading materials can be enhanced with multi-media. QR codes can be included in printed handouts, or can be incorporated into paper textbooks (whose days are probably numbered) through stickers. Sure, you could just write the url up on the blackboard, or print it at the bottom of the page, but what’s the point of including an url in a text if there’s no easy way to access it? QR codes eliminate the frustration of having to type in long strings of letters by taking the students to the website quickly.

You can post the solutions to an exercise in a QR code which you print out and stick on the classroom wall in various places. True, you could just stick up the solution, but a QR code is easier to manage (no formatting required, less printer ink) and can contain an almost unlimited amount of information. And, it’s more fun for the students!

A QR code can quickly take a class to an online poll (such as Twtpoll, Easypolls, PollMaker or SurveyMonkey), to choose the next book, or to rate a documentary, in a much faster and more dynamic way than opening browsers and typing in complicated sequences.

twtpoll example

QR codes can take the students to multiple-choice quizzes, which you can easily create using Socrative, Quizstar, Classmarker or Twtpoll. These have the huge advantage of being automatically graded (more on creating those later), with virtual badges and stars awarded for good marks.

Worksheets can have each problem next to a QR code which leads to a video tutorial. That way the information is delivered in a way similar to a class lecture, but the students can work at their own pace.

QR codes lead to a link, not necessarily to concrete information. You can print a QR code for a web page for a school event, a contest, or a class project, and change the web page as many times as you want without changing the printed code.

Imagine a media-rich school newspaper. Instead of printing miniature versions of art submissions, a QR code takes you to a large, colourful gallery. A QR code at the end of a review of the school play could take you to a video of the event or the after-party. QR codes sprinkles among the articles could take the readers to interesting videos, links on the school website…

You could advertise a class trip with a QR code, which would lead to an online page of information, with links to the destination’s website, other sources, and after the event, photographs, videos, essays, etc.

QR codes can take students to an online “library” of other students’ work on a particular subject. The library can be continually updated, without needing to change the codes. Imagine an artwork that contains a QR code that leads to other artwork… Talk about layering!

I think it would be so much fun to organize a school-wide scavenger hunt via QR codes. Each QR code opens a clue to where the next one is hidden… Not difficult to organize, and it would make the school day much more interesting.

QR codes can make learning more efficient, and more fun. The novelty may soon wear off, but not before a significant positive effect in class participation and engagement. And the technology will no doubt continue to develop and introduce more novelties and efficiencies.

The over-use and mis-use of QR codes in advertising is annoying, that’s true. Click here and here for some head-scratching examples (QR codes on a cupcake??). There’s even a blog called “wtf QR codes”, which definitely produces a chuckle. But for use in schools, I think that they are much more than a gimmick. They’re efficient, and they’re fun, and anything that increases students’ interest and engagement at virtually no cost is definitely worth a try. Could it be that QR codes, generally criticized for being absolutely pointless in the marketing world, are perhaps finding their true calling?

(And it’s definitely not this:)

stupid QR code positioning

Inappropriate positioning on so many levels…






“Dreams in Black”, a very trippy music video, made for the web

This video is ABSOLUTELY amazing! I have no idea how to describe it, other than to say it’s a work of art and a technical feat that left me shaking my head in wonder. Music, animation, graphics, motion… in 360º, in that you control the point of view by moving your mouse (once it becomes the circle thingy), as you race through the sometimes psychedelic and sometimes sinister landscape. Breathtaking.

Dreams in Black


Dreams in Black


Rome - Dreams in Black

(note: it may not work well on all browsers, it was designed for Chrome)

Produced by Chris Milk with help from a Google developer team, with music by Norah Jones, Danger Mouse, Jack White and Danielle Luppi, it is an experiment in interactivity. Not only do you have some control over the image you see on the screen, but you can also add to the graphics with their 3d-modelling software. Film, 2D graphics, 3D graphics and interactive  controls make the user a part of the experience, not just a part of the audience. And for everyone who sees it, the experience will be different. Art “specifically meant for the web” – no doubt it will continue to surprise us.

Some technical stuff on WebGM, if you’re interested:


Reinventing reading

“Go and re-invent reading!” With that, we were off. It was Wednesday, and I was at MediaLab Prado, participating in their first hackathon aimed at re-defining the book in this digital age. Yes, a bookathon. It was done in the bootcamp style: get to work, and get it done on time. There were about 30 of us: editors, writers, graphic designers, web people, illustrators… We were asked to choose an aspect that interested us ­– distribution, design, accessibility, monetisation, participation – and to work on it together with the others who had chosen the same. I was so lucky with my team, great people, very smart and creative, and I think that we came up with a good idea. We all chose “Shared Reading and Annotation”, and our main innovation was an app that brought together readers, regardless of the format, platform, topic or genre. You can see more about the presented ideas (in Spanish) here, here and here.

the Bookathon team

Interestingly enough, I don’t think that anyone actually re-invented reading, or even reinvented the book. Perhaps I’m being too short-term-istic, but I don’t think that’s possible without redefining reading. We did a pretty good job, however, of pushing the boundaries of what’s already out there. All of the final presentations were innovative, creative and most likely viable. My team did its best to re-invent the social side of reading, while others did an excellent job re-inventing book circulation, personalization and presentation.

So why try to reinvent reading? Because change is inevitable. Reading, and what we read, has changed a staggering amount over the last few years, and will continue to do so. We can wait for others to provoke the changes, nudge them along. Or we can get involved. I know which I think sounds more fun.

As I’ve said before, the book isn’t going anywhere. Uncannily and coincidentally, the Economist magazine this week published a special report on The Future of the Book. The online version is very clever, it’s online but with the format and look of an antique paperback (if you choose the “book” option in the upper menu bar – if you want to, you can read it as a normal web page, but trust me, that’s not nearly as much fun). Even the “pages” are slightly yellowed and stained, and you could have a lot of fun just playing with the page-folding graphics. Even if you don’t want to read it, take a look for the art.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Books are not just “tree flakes encased in dead cow”, as a scholar once wryly put it. They are a technology in their own right, one developed and used for the refinement and advancement of thought. And this technology is a powerful, long-lived and adaptable one.” – The Economist, “The Future of the Book” 11/10/14

The key word there is “adaptable”. The book isn’t going anywhere, but siblings and cousins are springing up which give new reading experiences. Book formats will change, distribution will become easier, costs will come down and creativity will never cease to surprise us. I wrote about Olia Lialina’s online story concept last week – we will see more literary work created exclusively for the internet.

future book formats

image from Naxos

The report gets across the message that the demise of the book has long been foretold, yet the book has always proved resilient. The paper book has managed to compete very effectively against the cool, technological digital version: it has very good resolution, it’s as easy or even easier to handle, and it certainly has longer battery life. And human beings generally choose simple, even after playing with complicated for a while. The digital version does let you highlight and change font size and swipe with your finger (I love doing that), but it’s main advantage has been wiped out with the significant increase in cost over the past couple of years. We bought our daughter a Kindle last year, thinking that it would save us money on books (she goes through a staggering amount). It turns out that the digital versions are not very much cheaper. True, you do save on shipping costs, and you get the books faster, but you can’t lend them to a friend very easily.

You can, however, comment and annotate more easily online, which is frustrating for us offline readers. My favourite news and general journalism web sites are Quartz and Medium, for their ease of annotation, in which you comment on specific paragraphs. I would love to be able to engage with other readers about what so-and-so really meant here, where does this statistic come from, don’t you think that this dialogue sounds a bit like the speech in such-and-such? Us paper readers can’t do that.

But, what if we could snap a photograph of what we were reading with our mobile phone, and it would automatically recognize the text and show us, and let us join, web-based annotations from other readers on that same paragraph? Reading offline would no longer leave us out of the conversation. We don’t need access to the entire digital copy of what we’re reading to be able to connect with others. Just the part we want to talk about.

And it’s very possible that the book industry may go the way of the music industry in that, when you buy a physical CD on Amazon, you get the MP3 download for free. You buy the physical book, either in Amazon or in a bookstore (yes! They do still exist!), and you automatically get the MP3 download for free. Maybe books will be printed with QR codes for a one-time download?

That was the gist of the idea that we presented in the Bookathon. Technologically complex, with possible copyright issues and a complicated usability map, but the idea of enhancing the social aspect of reading is a good one. GoodReads is great, but it’s not immediate, it’s not like discussing what you’re reading with your friends, or finding someone who loves the same books that you do. You can communicate and share through GoodReads, but you can’t socialize, it’s still a bit “lonely”.

To quote from the Economist report again:

“Being able to study printed material at the same time as others studied it and to exchange ideas about it sparked the Reformation; it was central to the Enlightenment and the rise of science. No army has accomplished more than printed textbooks have; no prince or priest has mattered as much as “On the Origin of Species”; no coercion has changed the hearts and minds of men and women as much as the first folio of Shakespeare’s plays.

Books read in electronic form will boast the same power and some new ones to boot. The printed book is an excellent means of channelling information from writer to reader; the e-book can send information back as well. Teachers will be able to learn of a pupil’s progress and questions; publishers will be able to see which books are gulped down, which sipped slowly. Already readers can see what other readers have thought worthy of note, and seek out like-minded people for further discussion of what they have read. The private joys of the book will remain; new public pleasures are there to be added.” – The Economist, “The Future of the Book” 11/10/14

I especially love the last phrase, which sums up what we tried to do in the Bookathon: “The private joys of the book will remain; new public pleasures are there to be added.” There is a book for everyone, and few physical objects have as much power to entertain, transport and even change us. Books take us inward, we discover things about ourselves, our past, our future, our world, that we may want to share with others. In this new sharing and social economy, a traditionally private activity is of course going to become more public. In sharing our reading experiences, we help to shape the reading to come.

Books will evolve online and off, and the definition of what counts as one will expand; the sense of the book as a fundamental channel of culture, flowing from past to future, will endure. – The Economist, “The Future of the Book” 11/10/14


— x —

If you want to go deeper into what the future of books looks like (and why wouldn’t you?), I recommend:

The future of books: the next chapter

Sprint Beyond the Book: the future of reading

– the blog of The Future of the Book (started in 2004!!)

And if you want to see even more articles, take a look at my Flipboard magazine “Books and Reading:

Books and Reading on FlipboardThis is my first Storify attempt, on the bookathon, in Spanish (Storify’s surprisingly fun!):

Storify bookathon


Mobile phones vs. Ebola – it’s more than you think

With Ebola on the front page of almost every newspaper these days, I wanted to take a look at the role that communication technology can play in fighting the disease. It turns out that the biggest impact is surprising. You’re probably thinking that it can help track outbreaks, communicate between affected areas and get useful preventive information into everyone’s hands. And, yes, it can, and that’s so important. But the real life-saving potential is not that.

With laboratories around the world scrambling to find a vaccine (a cure would be really good, too, but let’s stick with vaccines for now), one important aspect is being overlooked by most of us. Let’s say that a vaccine is developed, and I’m sure that it will be. How do we get it to the affected areas? Most of them are in rural Africa, and while it’s possible to get there, obviously, it’s not that easy. Or fast, which is important, not only because of the staggering number of daily deaths, but also because vaccines deteriorate rapidly with time, and they need to be kept cold. Rural Africa is not awash with refrigerators, or power sources to make them work. The “cold chain”, the temperature-controlled distribution of vaccines, is an essential part of disease control. Without it, a large percentage of the vaccines, even if they get to their intended destination, are useless.

ebola vaccine testing

Enter: communication technology. The main technological advance in sub-Saharan Africa over the past couple of years has been the spread of the use of mobile phones. Cellphone towers are springing up like mushrooms: approximately 70% of sub-Saharan Africa has mobile phone coverage, and the percentage is expected to increase rapidly. Cell towers have a usually reliable power supply, often from the telecom companies’ generators rather than the sometimes frail state infrastructure. And because the telecom companies reasonably expect growth in demand, the generators usually have excess capacity.

Energize the Chain was set up in 2010 by a Philadelphia-based team of doctors and researchers to develop a chain of cell phone generator-powered refrigeration sites, especially for vaccines. So far they have 110 working sites in Zimbabwe, with 100 more planned for this year, and it is only a matter of (hopefully not very much) time before the network spreads throughout the developing world. The technology is not without difficulties: often cell phone towers are built on high ground for better reception, which makes them hard to get to. But the idea and the process is a huge step forward in preventing disease. As well as saving lives, an improvement in disease prevention would be a significant boost to the economic development of a region, which in turn would make it easier to prevent diseases, which would help economic development, and so on. The good that this could do in the world…

Energize the Chain technologyEbola is the problem making the headlines today, but it’s not the only danger. Pneumonia, tuberculosis and measles kill tens of millions of people every year, much of which could be prevented with a more efficient cold chain. Communication technology is affecting virtually all sectors through improved information collection and delivery. That is fairly obvious. Piggybacking on this technology to solve a vaccine delivery problem, that’s creative. Energize the Chain has come up with an ingenious solution to a frightening situation, that will help everyone. Because as the headlines remind us every day, disease control really is becoming everyone’s problem.

Digital storytelling: My boyfriend came back from the war

I’m liking the idea of posting a short note about technology + art or technology + creativity on Sundays. It seems like the perfect day for not being practical, right? Let’s see how it goes…

I’ve been doing some research on net art narratives, and I’m finding some surprising stuff. This strange but moving example by Russian artist and film critic Olia Lialina called “My boyfriend came back from the war” was done almost 20 years ago, in 1996. I’m trying to grasp a mindset that could produce something like this, back then. It’s quite amazing, a multi-layered story that’s complex and simple at the same time. Open up the web and click on images, words, whatever, and you join a disjointed conversation about hope, stress, love and betrayal. I say “join” rather than “witness” because you direct the pace and order of the dialogue, which makes it feel as if you are participating. Web 2.0, before it’s time. 

Internet art by Olia Lialina

My boyfriend came back from the war, by Olia Lialina (click to go to the interactive page)

Olia was one of the first to talk about “medium specific” art: not art or stories that are shown on the internet, but art and stories that are made for the internet. Adapting isn’t enough. We need to try things that have never been possible to do before. And this was way before the word “disruption” was everywhere.

Its simplicity and “clunkiness” (compared to the slick productions of today) give it a nostalgic feel, that in the current retro-mad culture seems almost modern. Vintage internet? Is that really a thing? Yes, and in this case it shows us that almost 20 years ago can still be surprising and relevant today.

The future of books: the next chapter

I’m currently reading a novel on an iPad for the first time. (Jane Eyre, since you asked, can you believe that I managed to get all the way through school and university without ever having read it? I didn’t think that it sounded like my kind of thing at all, but it turns out I’m loving it, which shows that perhaps I could work on being a bit more open-minded. But I digress.).

As I’ve said before, I like e-reading for non-fiction, because you can highlight and search easily. But, on the whole, and definitely for pleasure reading, I prefer paper. I’m not saying that e-books don’t have advantages. In this particular case, one big advantage is that Jane Eyre was free on the Project Gutenberg. However, for choice, give me heft and texture and bookmarks that I can never find when I want to mark my place and put the book down.


That said, the development of new ways of enjoying books on tablets is fascinating. The genre of fiction is broadening, the boundaries of what we know as reading are becoming blurred, and the definition of what is a book is not as clear as it used to be.

This video from IDEO labs shows three different ways of enjoying and sharing books on connected devices. These ideas are conceptual, as far as I know the apps were never actually distributed, but they are worth looking at and thinking about as we re-think the role of books and information in our lives.

Nelson helps us to put a book in context, by showing us references to the work, revealing the sources, and showing us the impact it has had on the work of others or even on social media. It suggests related reading, and has the potential to deepen our engagement with the book through highlighting the parts that others found interesting or controversial. Could that make us more superficial readers, dependent on being “fed” ideas and relevant concepts to think about? Perhaps. Or it could help us to see things that we wouldn’t see otherwise, to engage more deeply with some of the book’s ideas through the chance to discuss them with others. These others will probably have a different view, which would end up broadening ours. For me, the aspect of this idea with the most potential is the placing of a book in a larger context, making it easier to see its cultural impact. We no longer see the book as just a case for its content.

Copeland is innovative not so much for its book sharing function (although bear in mind the video was made four years ago, before Goodreads became Goodreads), but more for the community. The idea is you share your reading preferences with your work colleagues, you see what they are reading, the company can make you feel special by downloading your favourite books for the virtual library. Reading is an activity we usually undertake in isolation. It’s just you and your book. This idea stretches a book’s “usefulness”, turning it into a social conduit, an opener of relationships and a deepener of conversations. Are we really that interested in sharing our reading preferences with our colleagues? Do we really want them to know the real us? Do we really think that their “public” reading lists show the real them? Probably not, but no-one said that we had to share everything on social media, nor that we had to take others’ public confessions as the whole truth. However, sharing some of our tastes is an opportunity for connection, for bonding and for making friends. My 12-year-old daughter said to me the other day: “When I see someone reading a book that I liked, it’s like the book is introducing us.” Reading is a personal experience, and a book is interpreted differently by each reader. But a book can also be a social tool, and sharing can broaden our understanding and our interests. Again, we no longer see the book as just a case for its content.

the future of books

Alice is perhaps the most creatively “disruptive” idea of the three. The book becomes interactive. You become part of the action. It’s not about getting your name inserted in key scenes, it’s about making those scenes happen. Content gets unlocked if you complete a challenge, such as finding a location (a beacon at that location opens previously invisible sections), or sending messages to certain characters in the book. As the narrator puts it, “the reader co-develops the story, and gains access to secret events, character back stories and new chapters.” Hyperlinks add detail and texture (much like WIRED’s tablet versions, seriously cool), and, quoting again from the narrator, “a non-linear narrative emerges, allowing the readers to immerse themselves in the story from multiple angles.” It does sound a bit video game-ish (see The Stanley Parable), but that doesn’t mean that it’s not art. An interactive book shifts the idea of reading from absorption to creation, and creates a new type of mental experience. The book no longer has boundaries, and we don’t know where the story will take us. Our expectations shift, and our objectives. And, you guessed it, we no longer see the book as just a case for its content.

the future of books and reading

But are these ideas “The Future of the Book”, as IDEO’s title suggests? Maybe. Probably. But by no means exclusively. The future of the book is a diverse spectrum of formats. “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan (published in 2010, the same year of the IDEO video, coincidentally) includes a short story told in PowerPoint. Poetry is appearing on Twitter. Comic books can have motion effects. And who knows what’s around the corner? TeamLabs, a Madrid-based “learning laboratory”, and Bubok, Europe’s largest independent self-publishing web, are hosting a “bookathon” in Madrid next week called “Reinventing Digital Reading”, a day-long brainstorming session to dissect and reconstruct what a book is supposed to be. Serious brainpower coming up with new ways to read? Sounds interesting.

As Nicholas Carr points out in “Stop What You’re Doing and Read This”, reading is beneficial and enjoyable precisely because we have no input, we are not “called upon” to interact, rather just to let ourselves absorb and be absorbed.

“It is only when we leave behind the incessant busyness of our lives in society that we open ourselves to literature’s transformative emotional power. That doesn’t mean that reading is anti-social. The central subject of literature is society, and when we lose ourselves in a book we often receive an education in the subtleties and vagaries of human relations. Several studies have shown that reading tends to make us more empathetic, more alert to the inner lives of others. The reader withdraws in order to connect more deeply.”

We will always cherish books that make us feel and think, as well as books that instruct and entertain. There is scope for book to evolve, and for traditional and new formats to co-exist, without encroaching on each other’s territory. The book as we know it isn’t going anywhere, there are enough ardent fans in all generations and walks of life to make sure of that. But it will have to share our mindspace with other forms of absorbing information and of entertainment. We’re not seeing the destruction of the book, we’re seeing the birth of a new form of art, a hybrid reading/watching/creating experience. Welcome to the party, I say. Let’s see what you’ve got.
— x —

If you want to see even more articles about the Future of Books, take a look at my Flipboard magazine “Books and Reading“:

books and reading





View my Flipboard Magazine.

Micropoetry, microliterature, big creativity

Have you heard of the new genre of creativity called micropoetry? Tweet-sized poetry. Really. Not just haikus, they are a form of micro-poetry, yes, but not all micropoetry is haiku. There are some beautiful examples of twitter poetry that don’t follow a specific structure.

Twitter poetry

by @Boiarski, via Twitter

If poetry is about saying much with little, isn’t Twitter an ideal medium? The 140 character limit forces us to synthesize our non-poetic thoughts into non-rambling, coherent phrases, and that is one of the main reasons the platform has become so important in how we digest our information. The limitation does make us think more concisely and sometimes more creatively. So it makes sense that artists would embrace it, precisely because of the character limit.


by NightsLost, via Twitter Micropoetry Society (@pssms)

Micropoetry as a genre is gaining traction, with festivals, contests, societies and readings. It even is beginning to spawn sub-genres, such as romantic, nostalgic, or “erotic” micro-poetry:

erotic twitter poetry

by BloodMoon, via Twitter @Red_Sekhmet

The biggest impact is the spreading of the concept. With poetry deliverable to our Twitter feeds on an almost hourly basis, we are more exposed to the power of words to create images and feelings. This can only deepen our respect for the art form, as well as giving us a small escape during the average day. Poetry has the power to take us out of our immediate surroundings, to places in our mind that can provide an energising refuge from daily stress. Capturing our ideas and condensing them into bite-size prose is also therapeutic, giving us distance from a situation and providing a creative outlet. A little bit of beauty on a regular, easy-to-access basis sounds good to me.


by AntennaGirl, via micropoetry.com

Where can you see examples of micropoetry? (This list is by no means exhaustive, there are lots of good sources out there):

A really surprising, new, sometimes confusing but often charming poetry genre is Captcha poetry. Yes, poetry made up of the garbled security words you get on some sign-ins.  An example by Heather Moore, taken from her blog Skinny LaMinx (some of the comments on the post are lovely!):

security poetry

by Heather Moore, skinnylaminx.com

It’s not only poems that can lend themselves to the character limitations. Stories, too, or rather, micro-stories. Difficult, but possible. Here is a tweet-sized story, by none other than Ernest Hemingway. Very sad. Very moving. Very short.

“For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”

3d printing of food… Um, delicious?

I love cooking. There, I said it. I love pottering around in the kitchen, chopping, stirring, adding, tasting… So you can understand that I find it hard to get my head around the idea of food, yes, the edible kind, emerging from a printer. But it’s possible. It’s happening. And it’s disconcerting and exciting at the same time. Let me tell you more:

3d printing of food basically consists of organic mush being extruded through a nozzle in pre-determined shapes. That’s the basic version. The not-so-basic version includes an artfully manipulated balance of textures and flavours that produce food objects almost too beautiful to eat. Now, the result may not be delicious, or it may be the most surprising thing we’ve eaten in a long time, who knows? It may not be pretty, or it may be the most amazing confection ever to grace a plate. These are early days yet, and already the possibilities are eye-opening and mouth-watering.

Let’s start with the eye-candy part. A few weeks ago I showed you some examples of 3d-printed sugar decorations:

3d printed candies

Here are a few more to whet your appetite:

3d printed sugar decorations

image from 3DSystems

3d sugar printers

image from 3DSystems

And now for printing healthier parts of the menu… You can do amazing things with mashed potato:

3d printed food

re-imagined fish and chips, image from Natural Machines

You can also make funky things like shaped quiches, nuggets, burgers…

3d printing of healthy food

images from Natural Machines

The top pasta company Barilla is developing a 3d printer to produce creative pasta shapes, and is crowdsourcing the shape development through a contest open to the public:

3d printed pasta

image from Dezeen, a prototype, not real pasta

And for a healthy between-meal snack, some 3d-printed fruit:

3d printed fruit

image from dovetailed.co

Then there are the practical uses. The German company Biozoon has been working with 3d printing to develop tasty food for old peoples’ homes, food that doesn’t require chewing but that has texture, taste, and looks, well, not so awful. Imagine what that can do for morale not to mention nutrition.

3d printed food

image from Biozoon

And think about the possibilities for space travel. No more packing in bulky supplies whose uniform texture and taste end up causing psychological damage. NASA has commissioned the development of a printer that can produce pizzas that don’t look too bad. It has to be better than sipping mush through a straw.

Even the US military is doing their own research into the possibility of printing food with what they find on the terrain, or with adding supplements to 3d-printed edibles according to the type of mission.

The eco-evangelists and technology advocates are excited about the elimination of food waste. With no chopping, slicing, peeling or boning, less is thrown away. Nutritionists get worked up about the ease with which individual dietary requirements can be satisfied. Personalized nutrition for each member of the family sounds efficient, although perhaps a bit… boring?

3d food printer from TNO

image from tno.nl

The technology is still in its infancy, and since it can improve the quality of life for the elderly and people in extreme situations, such as space or the desert, the push to expand the possibilities and bring down the cost and weight is very exciting. Personally, I’m more interested in the culinary boundaries that can be broken, and the novelty of the new combinations, textures and shapes that the food artists can come up with.

It is becoming possible to experiment with this at home. Natural Machines (based here in Spain!) is developing the Foodini, a countertop printer which should hit the market at about $1200. Their web assures us that “Foodini manages the difficult and time-consuming parts of food preparation that often discourage people from creating homemade food.” However, the Foodini doesn’t actually cook the food. You do that, and you fill the capsules, with which the Foodini will print amazing shapes.

3d food printer

image of the Foodini, from Natural Machines

I think the artistic side of 3d food printing is fascinating, and throughout history we have loved to play with our food. So let’s get creative with this new technology and push the aesthetic and sensory limits of what we eat. But only on special occasions, please. Personally, I do not want to live in a world which has lost the joy of pottering about in the kitchen, producing with your own hands food that family and friends enjoy. The social aspect of sharing pleasurable experiences is part of what makes our civilization so inter-connected and productive. Let’s tinker, experiment and move the boundaries of what we can do. But let’s not lose sight of what makes life worth living.

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For more on 3d printing, check out my Flipboard magazine “3d printing”:

flipboard 3dprinting