John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
An ingenious little program makes your city look like The Matrix.
Here's something to get all ლ(ಠ益ಠლ) about: A nerdheap of artist/programmers found a way to transform Google's Street View photos into wild, blipping ASCII paintings. Is this how my old i386 saw the world?
The group works for the experimental Labs arm of Teehan+Lax, a Toronto-based marketing firm, and crafted the technology as a way to let painters "draw" with animated computer code. (You can see a video about the process below.) Explaining why they cared to link hoary, oil-based art with the clean craft of coding, they say:
For many of us that have grown up with computers, text-mode art represents something deeper than nostalgia. It is an artform manifested from technological constraints, inspired by the same hacker ethos that build the early machines used to produce and view it. Fundamentally, it is both an expression and prisoner of the system it inhabits. This latest experiment attempts to free ASCII art from the confines of the screen and enable it to exist in physical space – with light and paint.
As a nifty feature, the programmers made their OpenGL effort compatible with WebGL, which is used by Google Maps. The result is a side project called "ASCII Street View." You might have to update your browser for it to work; it seemed to function best with me on Chrome. (Here's the group's open Frameworks add-on.) But it's well worth fiddling with until functional. The major cities of the world rendered in blinking computer characters is a truly freaky sight to behold. As Mark Wilson at Co.DESIGN put it, the images share "both the look and the same origins-of-the-Internet, hacker overtones seen in The Matrix."
The above ectoplasm-colored scene is from the edges of Vatican City, looking inward. While I'm upset that I can't post the ASCII version of my all-time favorite Street View photo (some days it seems like Google is run by lawyers), here are a couple more shots beginning with Seattle's Space Needle:
Neo visits San Francisco:
Looking up in Manhattan. Anybody recognize the Broadway show advertised on that billboard?
Inside the White House:
And here's a short film describing how this program can squeeze inside a painter's box: