Posted: April 21st, 2009 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Just returned from Asheville, NC, after a warm invigorating weekend in the mountains. I was there for HATCH – a first-time gathering of creative minds from many areas, such as Music, Film, Journalism, Photography, Fashion, Architecture and Design & Technology. I was invited by HATCH to be a mentor on the Design & Technology program at the festival, together with Joe Wilcox (Toy Inventor at IDEO), Evan Twyford (Industrial Designer at NASA), Scott Pagano (Motion Artist), Nick Hiatt (3D Artist) and Robb Pope (VJ). We were all together in a panel last Saturday, on the topic of innovation. The panel was well conducted by Sean McDonald with plenty of pertinent questions from the audience. The next day I had a chance to give an individual talk on the topic of Network Visualization and it was great to catch up with many people interested in the topic. Overall the festival was a success, mostly due to its small, casual and friendly atmosphere. If the organizers are able to maintain this small scale in future editions, it will certainly be a thriving event for many years to come.

What surprised me most about Asheville was not the warmth of the weather or the people, or even the beautiful mountain scenery, but its stronghold art & design community. I met great people doing outstanding work with a strong determination to leave a mark, change the status quo, and expressing a deep concern on sustainability and environmental practices. Asheville felt a bit like Austin (Texas), a small liberal bastion in a predominantly red state, where tolerant and broadminded views are felt in every corner. In Asheville’s case, due to the presence of the NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (the world’s largest active archive of weather data) in their downtown area, people seem to be even more aware of environmental issues, which also explains the strong concentration of professionals interested in alternative ways of visualizing meteorological geo-based data.

One of the people driving this battle is David McConville, a brilliant researcher who has dedicated the past six years to an extraordinary geodome visual analysis technology part of The Elumenati. On my very first morning in Asheville, I went with some of the mentors of the Design & Technology program and other HATCH organizers to David’s studio, where we sat inside his 15-foot inflatable dome and watched in astonishment the technology they have put in place, as we swiftly crossed the Milky Way, across millions of years of cosmic evolution, driven by David’s captivating narrative.

I also had a chance to meet Andrew Jones from the Sustainability Institute, who is conducting a series of relevant research projects involving data visualization to empower users with environmental awareness. I was also impressed with the amount of work, dedication and innovation that has been put in place by Sean McDonald and the remaining Jute Networks team, in the creation of an immensely powerful network analysis tool. I’ve definitely brought home the insightful conversations I had with many great minds in Asheville, particularly David McConville and Sean McDonald. It was also great to meet many other participants and organizers of the festival, who created a really unique experience.