Inventing for Mobile


A while back (2010) I posted two articles:
Inventing for the Internet the Early Years 1995-2005
Inventing for the Internet Part 2 – A Message is a Medium
which detailed inventing for the Web and its various sub genres like e-mail,  chat and social media.

For the last 15 years I have also been inventing for mobile.  There are a couple aspects to mobile that are different than the traditional Web on stations – or even laptops:

1. LOCATION – mobile can be anywhere
2. SIZE – mobile is portable and fits in the hand
3. TILT – mobile has tilt interface

There are also newer interfaces that stations have and mobile does too like multitouch, camera and soon, translation.  I created tools to assist in modeling these before they were available.  (


One of the first apps I designed for Mobile was PhoneSays in 2000.  This app would give you a list of things that you had to do based on theme – like Party, Lineup, Spy, etc.  You had to do these things wherever you happened to play the game.  So it was the mix of instructions in some unknown location – that juxtaposition that made the game interesting.  Imagine being told to hop when in a line, etc.  Sort of had a dare type feel to it.

During the early 2000’s I prototyped a number of apps relating to notes in space, communication for drivers, etc.  I co-developed many useful ideas like taxi hailing, restaurant locators, etc. as I worked with students in Interactive Multimedia – Multimedia Pioneering Classes.  These were the types of useful apps the students would always think of first along with everyone else in the world.  To be inventive, you can’t always take your first idea – that often will be everyone else’s first idea.


It was not until the advent of the “Smart Phone” that I launched apps.  The apps below are not all my apps – you can see all the apps in the Dan Zen Museum Explore Section.  Note that all the mobile apps are their name followed by .mobi as top level extenstion (rather than .com for instance).


Touchy is the mobile game where players try to touch each other’s screens without letting their own be touched.  To get an idea of what happens when the game is played see Touchy.TV where hosts Kayla and Alex commentate on game play in night clubs, conferences, living rooms, etc.  Touchy is a social game that was created with a cause in mind – the game allows us to look up from that little device and get physical again – with an excuse!

I also vowed to keep marketing Touchy as opposed to moving on to new things.  Hence, the work on Touchy.TV and the Touchy Facebook page with the Touchy Duel app that lets you challenge your friends to a game of Touchy.  Touchy made it on to Dragon’s Den on TV- a show where entrepreneurs demonstrate their wares before a panel of investors.

WAVY 2011

Wavy is a rather obvious one that makes use of the tilt technology.  It acts like a Theremin to change the pitch of sound depending on tilt.

HANGY 2012

“Express yourself with Hangy! Put the Hangy app on a wearable device and give greets to people as you walk by, promote a cause at a conference, or just let your schoolmates know you are grouchy! The possibilities are endless as you can use your own pictures or phrases as well.”  Hangy is also fairly obvious but nobody is doing it – they are all waiting for electronic fibres for screens in clothing, etc.  They are missing an obvious opportunity.

TILTY 2013

Tilty is the physical mobile game for two or more players where you try to make other players tilt their device. Imagine bumping with Beckham… grappling with Gosling… catching Emma Stone in your web of wondrous moves or playing Tilty at a Great Gatsby Party!”  Tilty is the follow-up game to Touchy.  I think it is a better game and wish I started with it…  instead of going after the device, players keep their device out of the way and level while they physically jostle one another.  This is an invention on par with Jousting and Fencing.


Put your tablet into a helmet and view the world through your camera. We will show you how! Then use Trippy to overlay effects like inverted colors, kaleidoscopes, etc.  Another obvious one – mediated reality has advantages over virtual reality like the Oculus Rift.  Mediated reality lets you partake in the real world.  I used a shoebox and a bicycle helmet put together with velcro in one hour to create a $200,000 helmet from 1995 – and yet nobody is doing it.


“Control your friends or let them control you. Droner is a free multiuser mobile app that lets you send over 150 drone-voice message to your friend. Best to play in the same room so you can see the results.” Droner harkens back to the Phone Says idea but yet is different.  It is like a dare game or just to get the feeling of control and being controlled – both have their thrill.  The game makes use of Robin – the Flash Feathers Multiuser Server I developed in the early 2000’s.



Mysterious Invention!

Well… perhaps not a traditional invention but rather creation. I have made a half dozen mysteries of the type that can be played with booklets at a mystery party night. As I was preparing the Dan Zen Museum, I came across the planning for these mysteries and thought I would share some diagrams to give the idea of what creating mysteries like this was like. It is a lot of fun.

RoseAnne and Dan Zen and Painting

RoseAnne and Dan Zen and Painting


Lady With Brooch – Beatnik Art-Theft Mystery

Kula Pu Idol – Hawaiian Bungalow Mystery

Violet Vale – Fortune Teller’s Ball

Baron Digbody’s Castle – What happened to the old Servants?

Hungarian Hunting Lodge – of Dr. Tine

Moustache Mysteries

Moustache Mysteries



STEP 1 – Usually you pick a theme based on a period, a location a happening or an existing story. For instance, I wanted a mystery for Halloween so picked a Castle scenario. I like Steampunk so I could do one in that theme. I have done Beatnik times, the Twenties a few times, a Hawaiian theme, a few gypsy/fortune teller themes, etc.

STEP 2 – Plan a situation. Why are people here and what makes it unique. This can help provide a grounding for the next step – figuring out the mystery although sometimes you might figure the mystery first. A situation for instance is the Fortune Teller’s Ball where a group of gypsies, palm readers, etc. are meeting. Or it could be a treasure hunt at the Hungarian Hunting Lodge or the hiring of new servants and Baron Digbody’s castle.


Mystery Making

Diagrams connecting mystery clues and characters

Mystery Making

Diagram showing mystery creation pages


STEP 3 – Figure out a mystery based on something that relates to the theme. On occasion you may have a mystery in mind and then match the theme to the mystery. The mystery often revolves around motive – a hidden desire of the character – or a covering up of a mistake. Mysteries can be other than murder too – there are thefts, romance, secrets, etc. The mystery should be unexpected – have a twist or be twisted – no point in making an obvious mystery. It is a lot of work to make a mystery so spend time – days even weeks making sure that you have a unique twist.

STEP 4 – Work out the character occupations or past times that will balance the mystery. We need a chauffeur or a mystic or a professor, etc. There will probably be from 8 to 12 characters with the 8 being necessary and the extra 4 being a repeat of the knowledge so that the number playing the mystery is somewhat flexible.

STEP 5 – Sort out what clues the various characters have. Try to make at least 2 characters have a single clue for redundancy. Plan on somewhere around 3 or 4 main clues needed to solve. Add a few partial clues. And create a half dozen red herrings – or clues that are irrelevant or incorrect. The best red herrings are ones that can be logically ignored. It is very annoying if there is no way to tell if a clue is correct. For example, there are four servants missing and the chauffeur is seen loading four big bags into the trunk. Well, the chauffeur is one of the “missing” servants so despite this sounding suspicious, the bags most likely are holding something aside from servants.

Mystery game invite list

Mystery game invite list

STEP 6 – Give names and traits to the characters with a few quotes as to how they talk, write in some clues and hints as to what they should observe and how secretive they might be. Have fun with the character names – double identities are fun too! Make sure you point out other people that the character knows and give them a little background reminder on each. Print these out in booklets.

STEP 7 – Plan general information and clues that people will see when they come to the party. I have made paintings, poetry, news articles, etc. giving background information. Also plan on final information that gets revealed when the mystery is over – often this is a summary of what happened that can be read after people have guessed who did it or what happened.

Sample Mystery Text for Two Characters

Sample Mystery Text for Two Characters

Sample Mystery Booklets

Sample Mystery Booklets

Baron Digbody’s Castle is a fantastic mystery – I set up instructions and all the booklets you can PURCHASE for a fraction of the cost of a boxed mystery from a store.  Try it out or get the package just to see what it is like and make your own mystery!



Making mysteries have been one of my most rewarding experiences. I have converted a few of the mysteries to online games. Here is a list of my mysteries at


Little Creations

As an Inventor, I sometimes refer to the term loosely to also include creations. For instance, I invent songs – well… new chord structures and intertwined melodies or perhaps better, vaguely new forms of music such as psychapela with finger lip instruments. Food concoctions are another example – like Maple Syrup on Cheese heated in the Microwave, etc.

There is always room for invention within everyday activities.  I have found that over the years, creativity has readily been applied in the making of holiday cards.  Indeed these are my earliest memories of creating.

I used to make birthday and holiday cards for relatives and friends.  These often included the groovy fonts of the 70’s – hand drawn of course.  They moved into the mechanical with little pop-ups and sliders.  I marveled at the one with several hidden pages and indeed used it for a number of occasions including an early Open House for Sheridan Interactive Media – then there was the Spring Open House where the invite was a paper spring that would spring open as delivered.  Relevance of message to mechanics is important.

As the digital age came to be, my cards moved into the digital world.  This is sort of neat too because they can be given to many people – and I still have access to them – I am sorry that all my earlier cards are gone but hope they made people happy.  I have even lost track of some of my digital cards, I find old ones every once in a while.  Here are some examples that I have located (all are with Flash):

heart snowflake

Interactive Snowflake
You Move my Heart
Easter Egg Hunt
Op Art Holiday Cards
Snowball Parallax
Happy Holiday (not pictured here)
Personal Holiday Cards (not pictured here)

easter 5287355212_37241748bf surprise

Inventing and Making


We have creation and consumption.  This generally relates to out and in.  If it is going out we create – if it is going in we consume.  Creation can be broken down into two parts – the idea (invention) and the materialization (product or service).  Invention is the idea as long as it is new and useful.  There is also creativity in terms of imagination – which may or may not be new or useful – this also encompasses aspects of visual art and storytelling.

As an inventor I do a lot of creation.  I also try and make my inventions and I try to share the ideas so that other people can make the inventions.

There is a Maker Movement. People make things.  There has always been a DIY movement or a Craft culture.  Here people share ideas about how to make things themselves.  They are creators.

I certainly support the Maker Movement but not everyone in the movement invents.  They are one step closer than consumers.  As they build they modify which is a form of invention – some say the only form (but only on a prosaic level).  I encourage makers to take one more step and start a fresh – with no plans and no idea of what they will make and make something completely new – invent.


Dan Zen Talk – Creativity and New Forms of Mobile Games

Dan Zen will give a talk at the Arnie Student Pub on December 5th 2011 at 6:30 as the keynote to the Software Hamilton DemoCamp 4.

The talk will go over using Hierarchies as a creative framework. So rather than approaching the subject philosophically, it will be a more practical guide with an explanation of terms and isomorphisms of hierarchies.

The talk will include a set of 20 hand illustrated and colored examples with similar style to the poster except done in black with white.

Dan Zen will connect everyone at the event physically and use this experience to explore creating new forms of mobile games and apps.

For more information and to register for free…


Inventing with Improvements

Some people say there is nothing new under the sun.  Well… patents are given only to new things.  They also can’t be obvious and there are various other limitations but regardless, it has to be new.

Many inventions are improvements.  Due to all hierarchies being part of a single hierarchy, everything is based on prior creation.  But perhaps when you can say a “better” this or that, then you are more obviously dealing with an improvement.  Still, while improvements are important, they might be considered a lesser form of invention in my mind anyway.

This invention is a better broom based on the comfort or familiarity of a hockey stick.

The other thing to note here is that it took probably 10 minutes to make.  So you can do this too if you want.  And you can do things like this if you want!  Stop just going out and consuming and consuming.  Make what you need from what you already have.


The Near Future – Nano Technology, Cold Fusion, Genetics, Molecular Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Brain Communication, Mediated Reality and Social Networking Converge

We have a number of technologies all converging to make for an exciting 2020.

Do you feel left out because these technologies are beyond your expertise? Well, the world needs you! The people working on these technologies need help in figuring out what to do with them. We as a society have a duty to prepare for them so advances are excepted in a positive way rather than rejected or misused.

Education of course helps – you can read articles about or published by the people with expertise. An easy place to start is Kurtzweil’s newsletter for instance: But more so than reading, it really helps to do!  When you “do” you get more involved – it means more, you become passionate and make a difference.  So read a little – but then get started on your own thoughts and build your beliefs.

A first step towards inventing is storytelling

Storytelling does not mean only writing a novel.  Just short stories are fine!  I have found them a wonderful way to explore ideas because as you write, you have to stretch your imagination.

Below is an example of ideas produced through storytelling.  I teach Interactive Multimedia so this is a way that I prepare for things that might come in the future.  Indeed, some ideas are ones that I can build – at least from a software side.  This story was originally told through an invention called Snipisode – please read Inventing for the Web Part 2 for the philosophy behind Snipisode.  Part 2 of the Cosbian Chronicles is available there. It moves into Genetic Research – an important area to get involved with philosophically.

Cosbian Chronicles

  • Cosbian’s dad could count things without counting, apparently from years of computer data manipulation.  You try – just intuit your class or office headcount.  Well, Cosbian wore a computer – tucked in his canary yellow glasses.
  • Canary yellow IBR Glasses – Intuit Building Reflex glasses map shapes and motion to help the wearer predict the very near future.  Perfect for blading at break neck speed in rush hour – perfect for the job at Crisis Courier.
  • Crisis Courier employs a network of the best bladers to get NDIs between city spires fast! NDIs (Non Digital Information), as everyone knows, is the hackless form of communication for extra sensitive situations.
  • Crisis has the patents on BiBlades – roller blades that in a hop, split down the middle, swing up and pivot to rest against the lower legs leaving the blader in their boots.  Then it’s just a hop, pop and go!
  • “Crisis for Crisis!” emotes the news vibe into the public’s decompactor ‘plants. “The third Crisis courier to be taken down loses package and stocks dive – a fault in the BiBlade auto-tilt sensors say Social Safety Agents (SSA).
  • “fault, my ass-cream!” curses Cosbian… “hack is the track – we can’t snap these cracks on our ‘ware packs” [our anti-virus can’t keep up with the virus] “Folks’ spokes broke ala some remote bloke” [evil is afoot]
  • Tires untangle before the eyes of Cosbian as the IBRs extrapolate streams of future motion – the auto-tilts max as he splits a pair of parked pods.  Dodging peds he pics his way past cafes —- PIZOWWWWW! —- “What the FlicK!!”
  • CLOPTOOOG! The blade-retract inituated: a high speed nightmare!  Chaos forms in the Canary Goggles and gives way to urgent arrows directing a boot thrust and Cosbian sails in a slow motion arc turning his head to the standers.
  • in the whirling crowd the goggles grope face after face. Alpha-ya-bet! A hacktenna, with fading break-beam ripples. Springing from her seat, her finger grapple points at the package – Cosbian twirls and catches a pole…
  • five times around Cosbian dissipates speed and sees his assailant turn into the shady cafe.  He identalocks her and reboots his blades. ‘Round the block he races and scans the plague of peds – a ped two blocks ahead blinks red.
  • consuming live streetview, Cosbian parallelizes and heads off his assailant.  As she flits down the path he zoomviews her lips and transcodes her message at syllable 90 proof. Two clandestines later he is before the viral vishnu.
  • Cosbian activates his googles’ emergency SSA feed streaming live to the hive and his facial recog tacks a man from a van extending hand to the vishnu.  POSITIVE: Archibald Crown – CEO of Crown Antivirus. Crisis uses Crown.
  • The SSA decorates Cosbian for revealing that the antivirus company was making viruses to keep people buying new protection!  The SSA vlog destroys Crown’s market value and social justice reigns again!  Long live the scandal!
  • but what was in the packages?  For whom was Crown working?  Tune in next time for the case of the… zzzt zzzt

PART 2 of the Cosbian Chronicles can be found on SNIPISODE.

A little farther in the future…

I am doing a series called SOUP MAKERS that explores what a NanoTech culture would be like.  Again, getting involved in what this life will be like will help us get there in a more positive way.  We prepare for growth, we open our minds to change.  Part 2 of Soup Makers is available at Snipisode.

Soup Makers

  • I am a soup maker – I tweez random parts into a bowl and hope for life…
  • The corporate world is building shock-hardening armor clothing for the clumsy, stick-on-command glues for the mischievous and color-controlled paint for the undecided.
  • I started off following the rules making nanoprog-sculpures for entertainment – goodbye holograms!
  • The prime rule: all nanotech must be created in sanctioned domes to avoid roguebots. The domes have protective measures that are constantly being improved as technology advances.
  • So that is where I learned to tweez – two years looking through the flexmag glass of a Nanorg Corp dome. If I moved my hand a millimeter the movement would be millionthed to a nanometer.
  • I work at a desk dome and feed nanopatterns to the techs at the room domes who replicate the nanodes to make programmable rope. Rope and string – remote controlled or voice activated. Nano threads are outlawed – too slicey!
  • Nano Hackers – Nackers, unwind the threads of the programmable rope and sell them on the blank market – but there are worse things out there than thread!
  • Even the Nackers work in domes – early nano-plague movies did a good job! The Nackers alter nano products for subversive ends – although it is a all matter of view point. I was a Nacker until I realized there was something missing…
  • Life – life evolves from chaos. Surely the hardest part is the start – and what if we help that along.
  • Recalling the Unjunk movement of Dan Zen, the creator of the computer virus that turned everyone’s garbage can into a portal to the world’s largest hodgepodge of files, I secretly did the same with our company’s micro incinerators.
  • My desk dome holds 4 times the volume of the earth in the nano world so there is plenty of room to hide things – like a year’s worth of supposedly incinerated nano parts.
  • Life – take some input, check memory with conditionals, apply a dash of emotional randomness and spit out the output! Self awareness… ah… certainly probable with molecular computing.
  • My hidden lands are filled with unjunk yards – rejectoids, dupes, worn-outs, perplexicons and menastics. I monitor and wait for them to evolve. Soup. Soup with a meta broth of patterns and AI – oracles and visions.
  • Here she comes… Avid Zag – of the Simulated Nano Authority and daughter of the famous AI programmer. Her group is touring the facilities.
  • The Simulated Nano Authority analyze a wide range scenarios for the World Government’s Nano Advisory Board.
  • Strange… one of my meta AI has detected a quantum tunneling mole in the exact center of the base of the dome. I have my guesses but I need to confirm: “Excuse me, Avid – do you have a moment”.
  • I disconnect an atom smasher and redirect its shoot into an ionizing sprinkler. A fog erupts throughout the dome. Avid jacks in, minds some parameters and sure enough – a simulation of the exact situation is running.
  • Avid says that the simulations are sent to her through Nanorg Corp – they must be monitoring everyone’s domes!
  • I remember hacker grumblings of stolen ideas making it to market… “Hey – that was my levitating disk compo!” I always though it was coincidence or idle boasting.
  • Avid and I organize a social fest and at a synchronized time around the world all participants tweez a gyro-auger into their domes.
  • Phhht! The data goes out at Nanorg and the nano world has its freedom for now.

PART 2 of Soup Makers can be found on SNIPISODE.

Even farther into the future…

The Meta Mystery – a story that explores artificial intelligence at molecular computing speeds as well as anti-gravity and alternative forms of life at small sizes.  Meta Mystery is being told using Zen Mix, a vlogging tool I created to help people tell stories quickly.  Try it out!

With nano technology, quantum computing, and AI we are heading towards life in digital substrates.  We are somewhat preparing ourselves with social media and virtual worlds (ala second life and wow) and mediated reality – goggles that mediate reality in combination with constant connectivity.  We are working with brain control and scanning.  Cloning is around the corner – all converging.  Perhaps if we can get that cold fusion going… we can spend less time worrying about our natural environment and more time thinking about future environments – what does it mean to be real.  We will explore that in the next post on digital substrates.


Inventing for the Internet Part 2 – A Message is a Medium

The post title plays with Marshal McLuhan’s most famous line – the medium is the message. A medium is something that sits between – hot, cold and medium.  A spiritual medium sits between the living and the dead.  Clay is a medium as it sits between the creator and the creation. BUT any context is also a medium as it sits between the creator and the content. Context is what describes a node (content is what is in a node – see nodism).  An idea is a medium, we can work within it. Even a word is a medium.  So… as soon as you get the message, it is a medium.   We can also say that there is no such thing as content, it is all context.  So the only thing that could be a message is the medium itself.  I still find it easier to think of a message as being a new medium to work in.  Because there is only NOW – the time when content becomes context and the medium and the message are one in the same no matter which way you look at it.  The node is now and that is reality.

CHATNAP – 2006

ChatNap - Chat Game by Dan Zen

Chat was huge in the mid 2000’s.  Chat is a medium.  So… what kind of tools and games can we make for this medium that relate to the medium?  Well… I often found it annoying when someone said that they were online but then did not answer.  Was it just me?  Probably they were away getting a snack, etc.  ChatNap was invented – if you think you have caught your friend away from their chat here is what you do:

1. Go to ChatNap and it will create a URL that you paste into the chat.

2. If your friend clicks on it within 5 minutes, you lose and if not, you win.

ChatNap was to be followed up with ChatChit – the game where you insert stock phrases into your chat and if your friend catches you you lose a point but if they were wrong, you win a point.  This would encourage people to chat a little more profoundly.  Using games as a “Trojan Horse” for personal or cultural advancement is one of the most rewarding aspects of inventing.

ZEN MIX – 2006

Zen Mix - Interactive Mixing Tool

With all the people posting to YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.TV, and other hosting sites, there was the issue of talking heads with perhaps less compelling visuals than your average TV and movie footage.

Zen Mix lets users put any Web video on top of any Web picture and apply cool blend modes.  Not only that, but you can mix interactive works in the same way – any Flash swf files with video, picture or more swfs.  You can even mix Zen Mixes with Zen Mixes.

There is a simple linear interface that leads the user through the mixing process.

The tool worked well – but there was one problem.  Distribution.  The mixes could not be loaded on to YouTube or the others and that is where the people are.  Oh well.  The tool was one of the first tools – if not the first tool specifically invented for vloggers – or Video Bloggers.  It was certainly handy for content creation – see where it was used for features such as:

TAPOLL – 2006

Tapoll - voting and predicting tool

Tapoll is the Web 2.0 site that lets you predict as you vote on a topic.  This inventive step adds a whole new dimension to polls – it is quite shocking that it had not been done before considering the power of the combination to show social opinion.

The site is Web 2.0 due to the mashup available.  To help you choose a topic for the poll, common information sites Digg, YouTube, Flickr, Amazon and Delicious were accessed based on poll keywords.  You could then include the outside article as a reference image and link for your poll.  An inventive e-mail administration access was provided to avoid user name and password requirements.

FOCUSO – 2007

Focuso - Out of Focus Photographic Art

Fell in love with Bokeh – that out of focus stuff in the background of pictures with a depth of field.  So… just started shooting Bokeh only and called it Focuso.   It works really well for backgrounds in my other art such as psychedelic dancing as exercise posts.  Focuso is an art form in its own right – much like impressionist painting.  The purpose is to capture the light, the form, the mood of the picture.  Focus Out – abstracts the details, simplifies (a prime design guideline) and makes subjects more timeless.  Thousands of Focuso pictures have been taken as found here:


Comment Right - Comment Activism

After posting hundreds of blog posts it was determined that comments were hard to come by.  So, CommentRight was invented to try and prompt people to leave comments.  Alas, it did not seem to work ;-).  Perhaps the messages were just a little too esoteric.

PARTY – 2007

Facebook Party by Agency Zen

Building communities is hard.  Social platforms like Facebook now give the content creators an easier way to involve our friends and new friends.  No separate login, no e-mails for communication… Yay!  Party is the first Dan Zen (Agency Zen) feature to make use of the platform.  Here, all your friends are shown at a party.  They have a popularity based on a secret formula of wall posts, friends, etc.  They talk to you based on their interests and links go off to Amazon.  You can choose backgrounds and at some point, this was going to be yet another platform – a party platform where you could chat, sponsors would wonder throughout and take backgrounds and product placement, etc. It would be made more interactive with you getting to choose who falls down drunk or wears the lampshade, etc.


A Million Clouds - Environmental Game

A Million Clouds is an environmental game where you just fly around in the clouds.  But your flying is not free – in a chilling realization… there are only a million clouds and after 5 minutes or so of flying, you fill up your pack by sucking in a cloud.  I also launched other environmental initiatives like Ban Van and Car Curling, etc. – you can visit them through Zenvironment at

Stick Aliens 2008

Stick Aliens and Facebook

Stick Aliens was in response to the series of “what kind of ________ are you?” that was prevalent in the first wave of Facebook apps.  It features a unique property assignment tool called the oracle.  You would drag any of the circles around to apply a percentage of that quality.

Group Games 2008

Group Games on Facebook

Group games is a way to “hack” facebook or turn available social tools into games themselves without need for programming.  It might help to have some graphic design and or story telling skills but even without you can make games.  For instance, Nano Race is set up so that the group who gets the most members is winning.  Light roll playing through wall posts help encourage entrants.  This is very similar to Blimp Races on Dan Zen which ran three times from 1998-2002.  Other metrics for scoring might be the number of photos posted or how many comments.

Flash Feathers 2008-2009

Flash Feathers Advanced Open Source Interfaces for Flash

Flash Feathers is a series of open source advanced interface packages for Adobe Flash:

  • ROBIN – multiuser chat and realtime game classes with Flash and PHP
  • FALCON – easy data transfer between Flash and server scripts
  • HUMMINGBIRD – parallax effect with mouse movement for 3D menus
  • GOOSE – multitouch emulator and processor with just Flash and Browsers
  • PENGUIN – tilt emulator and processor for tilt and translation apps
  • WOODPECKER – sound frequency and wave animation for MP3 and FLV
  • OSTRICH – motion capture so a cursor follows your Web cam motion
  • DODO – blob detection to provide blobs anywhere there is Web cam motion

If you do not have the interfaces that you want, sometimes you have to make them:

  • Flash Feathers consists of 10 packages with 40 classes, 1000 lines of comments, 5000 lines of code and 30 examples.
  • The classes are consistently organized in the reverse domain format of creator Dan Zen with all the Flash Feathers in three main packages – com.danzen.interfaces, com.danzen.effects, com.danzen.utilities. Readme instructions are provided to help designers and developers install these correctly in their class path.
  • There are 9 integrated supporting blogs currently with 12 videos, 20 pages, 30 posts, 300 comments, 4000 downloads and 50,000 views.

Snipisode 2010

Snipisode - Facebook Storytelling Application

Needless to say… people are on Facebook.  So why not tell stories there?  Snipisode is the storytelling application that lets you snip up your story into status lines and automatically schedule the status lines daily.  Then people can comment on the status lines perhaps branching the story – but at any time they can click the More Story link to see the post in context.  This could be used for poetry, education – or just fun daily things like jokes.  This type of tool opens up more invention – for instance, it got me thinking of nano-technology and futuristic stories again.

Touchy 2010

Touchy - Mobile Mediated Game for iPhone, etc.

I have been inventing games for mobile for 10 years now starting with PhoneSays, a mobile mediated game where you have to do what the phone says.  The juxtaposition of virtual and reality make this game dynamic and always different – assuming you move around!

Touchy is a more recent mobile game where players try to touch each other’s screens without letting their own be touched.  To get an idea of what happens when the game is played see Touchy.TV where hosts Kayla and Alex commentate on game play in night clubs, conferences, living rooms, etc.  Touchy is a social game that was created with a cause in mind – the game allows us to look up from that little device and get physical again – with an excuse!

I also vowed this summer to keep marketing Touchy as opposed to moving on to new things.  Hence, the work on Touchy.TV and the Touchy Facebook page with the Touchy Duel app that lets you challenge your friends to a game of Touchy.  Still to come are Android versions – and any phone with Flash versions as this was developed initially for the iPhone.  Also a system to let purchasers get a free code for a friend – through Touchy Sidekick.


So… that takes us through the last five years.  Although, truthfully, much of the inventive energy has been spent on four or five sketchbooks of Nodism and Recreational Ravine work not represented here.

Inventing for the Web still involves the same principles it did over 10 years ago – we have people, we have distribution, we have computing.  Now it also involves mobile – so invent for location.  Try and invent for what is unique about the medium.  All the best.

Inventing for the Internet the Early Years 1995-2005

Inventing for the Internet

Here is a look at inventing for the Internet written in 2005 looking back over the ten year period from 1995 up to 2005. In general, the focus was on making new use of the medium:

  1. People can interact to make content not just view content
  2. People can communicate with each other
  3. There is a computer for mediation – enforcing rules of a game or environment
  4. Production and distribution of virtual objects are free

Other inventive focus was the relation between story and game play. Sometimes a story would suggest game play but usually a relevant story was created for a given game play.

Here are the comments about inventing features for the Internet in the early years. Many of these ideas would have relevance being redone in today’s social media aware world – because we were socially aware in the past but perhaps did not quite have the platforms and sharing systems worked out.

Inventions for 2005 – 2010 will be the focus of the next posting.

Enjoy – Dan Zen.



Moustache Mysteries is a series of Shockwave interactive mysteries. The first, Lady With Brooch, was delayed in its launching as a distributor was sought.

A year later, Microsoft was developing an early portal campaign and paying content providers. It was making “shows” that would happen at certain times. Dan Zen had already done that with Gorgolon, realizing that for a multiuser game, scheduling the game to boost participation makes sense. Dan Zen had also provided daily inventions and danisms that changed every day to entice return visits.

With these techniques already innovated, Dan Zen adjusted the mystery to last for a certain period of time then say “come back tomorrow” and approached Microsoft. Unfortunately, Microsoft decided that there was not enough money to pay content providers. A trend that only worsened over the years as content providers eventually had to pay portals like MSN to get on their site.

The first of the Moustache Mysteries was built while working on the McLuhan CD ROM.

Four tools were built to populate the mystery with characters, clues, rooms, and hundreds of statements. The mystery has over 3,000 lines of code including a 12 level nesting of conditionals. Within this nesting are calls out to functions that determine which statements are passed depending on secret keeping capabilities, who is in the room, odds, etc.

Lady With Brooch, was played offline at mystery parties with booklets.

The parties were very successful and four more would come – The Kula Pu Idol, The Violet Vale, The Hungarian Hunt and Baron Digbody’s Castle.




The award winning Southam/Voyager CDROM on Canadian Media Guru, Marshal McLuhan, featured a set of interactive tools by Dan Zen unparalleled to date and perhaps since.

A highlight bar followed the lines in the transcript as audio and video played. You could click any line in the transcript and the audio or video would synchronize. There was a video show library that would let you see all the videos together and navigation was provided to you jump to the video in context. There were customizable bookmarks that were exportable and importable so teachers and students could share marks. A notepad allowed you to save text notes or paste in text from the disc and again the notes could be exported and imported. All these and more were on floating panels which were collapsible and controlled either with hot key or with a tool bar menu.

The disc also featured interactive games and artscapes to emphasize key theories of McLuhan. A set of Vocal snips of McLuhan were used to indicate wrong answers to the amusement of many.

The Web site provided a CD ROM feel by downloading all the pages in one big grid page. Then the name anchor was used to jump both vertically and horizontally between “pages”. Unfortunately, when Internet Explorer came along, it did not jump horizontally and browser testing was required to display a modified site.




Dan Zen attended the Macromedia Conference (dressed in Guru robes with name card hanging on a flower lei) in San Francisco when Shockwave was first publicly demonstrated. Right after, Word Warp, was put online. Word Warp is a tile dragging anagram game. This was perhaps the first online content to make use of dragging. This was well before JavaScript and even animated gifs were relatively new.




The first online interactive crossword was created by Dan Zen and a license sold to Websters (for a CD ROM) for $14,000.

At the time, the limit to the number of layers in Director was forty, yet, there were hundreds of squares that needed to be controlled. Dan Zen applied a unique way of tiling or stamping the squares by discretely moving one single layer and setting the trace function to leave a trail. The crossword could read in external text files and dynamically adjust to display the clues, the numbers, and the tiles. Hints and solutions were provided. As you moved around the crossword the appropriate clue would be highlighted and conversely, as you clicked a clue the crossword would highlight.




In 1996 Dan Zen prototyped a series of interactive advertising games available to view at Hypno. Dan Zen coined the term Interactive Advertising and did a Web Crawler search. The term was nonexistent.

Samples included the Dial-a-Dell game – long before Dell sold computers online and people ordered by phone. The slogan was “See how fast you can Dial Dell and that’s how fast you can get a great computer” You would then punch in Dell’s telephone number onto an interactive phone and your time would be recorded. Dan Zen had all the technicians remembering Dell’s telephone number!

The EGOscope let you inflate EGO Entertainment’s logo and patch it as it sprung holes. Turning the advertiser’s message and brand into content is the key. This type of relevance is often missing even in today’s campaigns.




The Dens are set in the Great Wall of China and represent early atmospheric forums / blogs. You can no longer create public dens but they are still active and act like a legacy to this time of communication online.

Note the subscription feature (the bat icon), a feature still used today in forums but invented by Dan Zen – although it is unknown if other subscription systems predated them.

The Den technology was also later used for communal story telling in the Blimp Race series where people hurled curses at other blimps and planned their strategies. And in Shrink Ray where players were shrunk and stuck in a bottle. And as forums for games like RichDeck, Motogami and of course the Billionaire’s Den in Password Paradox. The Hand Game was a collaborative effort that used the technology.




For an offline marketing campaign, Dan Zen collected hundreds of lake stones and stamped on them. These were distributed around campuses, streets, shops, homes, etc. Online ads in Shift Magazine site said, “whenever you see a stone, think Dan Zen”. This type of association can lead to fairly long-term life.

Samples can be seen here.

When distributing a bucket of stones around Sheridan College, it was discovered that the Sheridan pathways are lined with these types of stones. The distribution was halted as it would appear that someone had just gone around stamping their stones. Ten years later, Dan Zen teaches at Sheridan in the Interactive Multimedia program.



DAN ZEN 1996 TO 1998

The Dan Zen site officially launched with a launch party. To see the online invitation, click here.

The site featured an animated gif intro that explained the metaphor of the site. The intro was based on a coincidence where a simple psychology-type test yielded the same pattern as the Dan Zen signature.

The elements of the test were used as the main sections – creative (content), self (about Dan Zen), philosophy (about the games) and materialism (purchase).

The games were for sale through an early secure server in two ways – for home play and for site play. The home play offered set content like ten lists of items to anagram. The site play offered updateable content so the Webmaster could change what words were in a list to anagram. It was soon determined that charging money for community type games like Salamander and Gorgolon would not work. Up-sells were provided, etc. but in the online world where so many alternatives are free, sales were hard to come by.

In 1998 Dan Zen took the site down to focus all interests on one game at a time.




The Tower of Babel is an embodiment of the idea that ideas can come from unusual combinations of words. A story, metaphor or reason was created as to when one might come across these words.

The result was that people would whisper words that have never been said and the words are captured by the wind and taken to the tower of babel.

The feature is self modifying as you can vote on which words you like and which ones you do not like. The words people vote for most rise to the top and the others sink into the ground and are no longer shown. Over ten thousand words have been whispered into the tower.

Utopia was created based on the combination, “Sasquatch Seeds”, found in the Tower of Babel.

Teaching at Sheridan, Dan Zen uses the power of combinations in creative exercises and has also made an offline game called STRETCH that plays with this concept.




YesUmNo is a voting game where you click on the logo to vote yes, um or no. Polls or voting is one of the most basic forms of communication.

Many find the collapsing menu to be odd and the interface is a little exploratory. But it can be played – just type in a question and then everyone takes turns clicking their opinion and finally hit the equals sign to tally the votes.

This game harkens to board games played with family or friends. To accommodate multiple players around the computer, multiple mouses are envisioned. The mouses plug into a hub which then goes to the regular mouse port. The person moving the mouse has control until the mouse is stationary and then the next person to move gets control.

The hub would of course take the form of Swiss Cheese with the holes being where the cords plug in. Mind you, infrared would probably make more sense.

An off-line version of YesUmNo has been made with three pouches in an apron. Beads, buttons or pennies are used as the voting chips at a party. This version is depicted by the Kirputnik Cam




Salamander was first played as an offline game where a number of Dan Zen’s 80 hats and various accessories were dispersed around the house. Under each was a clue and party goers went around trying to match their clues to player’s disguises.

The online game works well because it just keeps going. As soon as the Salamander is caught, he slips away and the park builds again. The Salamander has been caught 230 times with over 11,000 players.

The online game also provides for light role playing and multiuser feel.

Strategies are available to catch the Salamander – two hints: watch the dots and sit on the stones.




Chains was a communal publishing game where people would pay $10 to write a commentary on what the previous person had written on various topics. Then once 100 people had completed the chain, they would get to read it.

An interesting concept and perhaps should be moved into the realm of a free game.

Here are the categories:


A. Is it better to float down stream?

B. Does the sleep of reason produce monsters?

C. What is beyond an echo?

D. Is a game better when it portrays real life?


A. Why are you late?

B. Did you do that?

C. You dress like a slob.

D. You were going 60 over the speed limit.


A. The land of Fallovia has many graves which relentlessly remind Jade of her mortality.

B. Sheldon shoved the envelope in front of his crooked boss at the annual meeting.


A. Metaphorically kill three birds with one stone

B. The big blue thing was in the small red thing

C. The forth lever was finally pulled first

D. The moustache is lost, adjust your wrist band




Ah, such visions of grandeur for this one. The game you can only play once. It would be like a signature, like a personality test that you can share with others and it would represent you. Laboratories filled with people in futuristic white where Gycopos were carved into sculptures that would be passed down generations were imagined…

In practice, who knows. Perhaps some people found the test interesting. Try it yourself at GYCOPO.




Telepathy is a intriguing spin on a newsletter. In a sense, communication from Dan Zen to the receivers seems not unlike telepathy at a distance. Thoughts are distributed so easily.

The wording is all written as if the receiver is thinking to themselves that they are sensing telepathy and all of a sudden the message arrives in their head.

Some people most likely sign up for Telepathy not knowing exactly what will happen. This has been quite a successful way to market the newsletter with over 25,000 subscribers.

It has been a delight designing HTML Telepathy but with the advent of spam filters, it has unfortunately become impractical and we have reverted to plain text.

Some of the early Telepathy messages can be seen here: Telepathy




Web Ouija makes use of an interesting property in Shockwave – the Macromedia Director plugin. That is, the mouse can be tracked even when not over the application. So it can be tracked around the rest of the Browser window and even on the desktop. For instance, you can hover over your garbage can and Web Ouija will always give you the same message.

People can make their own lists of links and put Web Ouija on their page somewhere and their visitors will be able to roll over the links and have the Web Ouija profess its wisdom.

The wisdom is of course provided for by the Webmaster but the answer is provided by the mysterious forces of randomness.




Teleporters were invented before JavaScript (although now use JavaScript). Using early Shockwave, they quite probably were the first example of roll-through technology on the Web.

Roll-through technology is when as you rollover something, it takes you through to another page. Like a “click-through” but a “roll-through”.

This is inherently patentable technology as the prior art points away from it being successful. Nobody in their right mind would expect this interface fiasco to be useful.

But, done with the right message, it is quite a plausible means of advertising. Picture an ad for a vacuum cleaner or a magnetic personality or a black hole, etc. Match the message to the technology and you have relevance.




Perhaps one of Dan Zen’s most elaborate games, Gorgolon is a sci-fi role playing spot-the-artificial-intelligence group-writing adventure. Here is the background in a nutshell:

The planet was experiencing polar melting and had to come to terms with living under water. They set up computer systems to determine the best way to start anew. Origin 5 was chosen which said to mine a vast pool of glass between the ocean floor and the molten core and live in glass bubbles. They were to run connected air towers up and down and heat the up tower with the furnaces to create circulation and create a large gorgle sound – welcome to Gorgolon.

This turns out well and there is more story in the help section. But, every day at 12 noon, a fire ivy, nurtured by static charge, grows up the towers to the surface where it discharges and causes a static storm which garbles signals between saucer fliers and Origin 5. The fliers, must identify which signal is Origin 5 or else their saucer will crash.

The game can be joined at any time (see the help section to become a Gorgolonian) and you will report to Origin 5 to help it monitor the progress of the civilization by answering a series of questions. It turns out that the leaders of the game get to read all the answers to the questions as a reward for their valor. There are over 5,000 lines of communal sci-fi from over 1,000 Gorgolonians.

But, the actual game play happens at 12 noon where anyone that is flying a saucer gets to see multiple channels. For a period of two minutes, they can talk to the others and try to pick which other channel is Origin 5 or the artificial intelligence as opposed to another player.

The game is a Turing test. But a complex environment has been woven around it. An environment that was inspired by a Dan Zen Space Rock concept album (with Thee Gnostics). Two apparently different concepts were brought together and a story was told as to how they relate. This is the same technique for creativity that is discussed in the Tower of Babel.




One of Dan Zen’s most successful game was Blimp Races. In the first race, people created their own blimps and then e-mailed friends to join their blimps. The blimp with the most people wins the race. The first race had about 700 people all having fun and cursing other blimps in the forums. Subsequent runs had thousands of players.

Six degrees of separation were explored as who people invited and where they came from were displayed. In the second race, two years later, it really exploded when invites went into Silicon Valley and reached out to India, Hawaii, the Netherlands, etc.

The third race two years later was more difficult as distrust in e-mail had grown to a maximum. People were being overwhelmed by spam and just not in the mood to click links in e-mail. This situation may have gotten better with spam filters and it might be worth a try to hold race four.

The race was almost sold and set to run on the large Bell/Sympatico portal but a change in management and a reduction of original content resulted in a no-go.




Prediction Train lets you make predictions in different categories and vote on whether you think other predictions will come true. You can track when votes were made as the predicted date approaches. This potentially would give an indication of the social climate.

Some interesting things have occurred – Dan Zen predicted Bill Gates would step down as head of Microsoft and in a sense he did.

The game is self-modifying in that viewers can vote to remove certain predictions.




Grim Reaper’s Age Guesser is the most popular game on Dan Zen primarily because Dan Zen has had the number one entry for Grim Reaper in Google.

You answer 13 questions and the Grim Reaper will guess your age. To see how the answer was determined, you submit your real age and it will show you.

Each question has a calculation that determines an age. If the question gets within five years of the actual age then its factor goes up by one else it goes down by one. In the end, the total guess is made by adding up all the answers multiplied by the factors and dividing by the total number of factors.

For a while, after being listed in Yahooligans for kids, the only question that worked well for ages under 13 was “when did you last climb a tree?” This question ended up with a factor of thousands. Things have balanced out a little since then.

Over 10,000 people have had their age guessed and the Grim Reaper guessed 5% correctly, 35% within three years and over half within 5 years.




In 1998, after a couple years of trying to sell games, Dan Zen decided to take them all away and concentrate on one game at a time.

Utopia, an erotic mystery, was the first game.

A five hundred dollar prize was offered for the first person to solve the mystery. And people were to line up for a month to get ready.

The first two days were free if you invited 10 or more friends. Thousands of people lined up and only a handful paid.

It is quite difficult to make money with original online entertainment content.

The mystery predated the most influential television movement of the day by several years.




Spirogram was the second feature (after Utopia) to be singled out on Dan Zen. It claimed that you could quadruple your visitors by adding a Spirogram to your site.

Spirogram lets you send spiral encoded messages and send them to people who then come to the site to decode the messages.

Although the campaign was targeted the Web masters to pay for a Spirogram, Dan Zen visitors could also use the Spirogram on Dan Zen and many have.




Itching was the Dan Zen poster and Web campaign run in anticipation for the Dan Zen relaunch. Concentration of marketing on one product at a time did not seem to make a difference when it came to paying for games so Dan Zen brought back all the games for free with a shareware model of donations to the world’s tallest hat.

Itching, a pun on the I Ching, featured Dan Zen’s friends and the public itching. The slogan was “This person is itching to play Dan Zen”.

The site gave some descriptions of the games and featured a random person itching each time.




After a running the Itching campaign, the Dan Zen Board of Games was launched. All the games were made free and people could donate to see the World’s Tallest Hat.

The board metaphor provided a front cover (see samples here) and then a main menu with each game represented as a square on the game board. There was one person who at a quick glance perhaps thought the site was a game on its own as opposed to multiple games but this feedback was not taken seriously.

Many of Dan Zen games could be board games with the addition of computing power and omniavailability.

Early JavaScript was used to change a message image as the different game squares were rolled over. Secondary pages provided common top navigation with cross promotional links. Ads from the Blah Blah network, now UGO were served to some success.

As features were added, the Teleporter squares were added or taken away to keep a balance. The board eventually was becoming too large and a redesign led to The Pagoda of Games.

It should be noted that the original hopes for the Board interface was a motion graphics site where the visitor’s mouse would part clouds to reveal a map below. The map would be quite large and have pictorial representations of the games, hidden Easter eggs, etc. Unfortunately, Flash 3 did not have the power to do this and the experiments led to the scope interface for UTOPIA which was then reduced to a custom cursor for visualization reasons.




In making the Dan Zen games free, Dan Zen turned to a donation model and as a reward for donating, let people see the Tallest Hat in the World. The results were less than satisfying so additional incentive was added in the next relaunch – the Pagoda of Games.




One of Dan Zen’s most successful game was Blimp Races. In the first race, people created their own blimps and then e-mailed friends to join their blimps. The blimp with the most people is winning the race. The first race had about 700 people all having fun and cursing other blimps in the forums. Subsequent runs had thousands of players.

Six degrees of separation were explored as who people invited and where they came from were displayed. In the second race, two years later, it really exploded when invites went into silicon valley and reached out to India, Hawaii, the Netherlands, etc.

The third race two years later was more difficult as distrust in e-mail had grown to a maximum. People were being overwhelmed by spam and just not in the mood to click links in e-mail. This situation may have gotten better with spam filters and it might be worth a try to hold race four.

The race was almost sold and set to run on the large Bell/Sympatico portal but a change in management and a reduction of original content resulted in a no go.




Hip Cats was originally going to be a work of artificial intelligence called e-male. E-male was an idea floating around for some time. It would let you construct a person with various visual components and characteristics.

In the end, the community and creative writing aspects were deemed more important than the visual aspects so default visual people were used. Also, the name e-male left out a gender.

As Dan Zen explored the modifications of characteristics, it became interesting to see various translations of the same text into different moods or genres of speech. Playing with the slang or vernacular of various movements an idea was born. Why not let what the people are saying be translated into Beatnik, Psychedelia, Goth, Urban, Cyberpunk, Surf, etc.

In general these were all fairly hip environments and miraculously, was not taken.

To avoid excessive download the new technology of DHTML was used to only load the text that changed as questions were asked and answers given. This technology is a combination of iframes, layers and JavaScript which each browser handled differently leading to 1,200 lines of different code for each.

Perl is used for the backend to keep track of logins, question and answer creations, mood translations, ratings, who hangs out with whom, who dates whom, messages, purchases, personal translation moods, various buzz postings in multiple categories, Hip Cat Top Ten letters, different templates, etc.

Translations and linguistics were extensively researched along with histories, music, books and films of the genres. These works can be purchased through an affiliation with Amazon.

Of the thousands of Hip Cats, there are indeed some very interesting ones but also very many lame ones some of which have dropped off the scene as they are rated more than five times with less than a fifty percent average.

If you would like to have a Hip Cat Scene (templated) then please look up our ambassador, Sador Ambas.




The most addictive game on earth – well, for some people. Password Paradox lets you guess people’s passwords as you attempt to gain access to a secret worth a Billion Dollars!

Hundreds of players have guessed the 21 passwords and entered the Billionaire’s Den – some arriving there dozens of times.

The game is self modifying – the passwords are different each time a new Billionaire succeeds. See if you can surmise how it is done.




Shrink Ray came at the dawn of Web mail and was a very interesting viral marketing game.

You arrived at the first screen asking you to fill in some information to play. If you did, you got shrunk! As you were shrinking you had time to e-mail your friends and tell them how to avoid the trap in which you were caught – in this case, your message would tell them to not fill anything in – only press submit.

Soon, people started passing the first test, and they were taken to a barnacle registry page with six panels. The panels were set up to register barnacles – barnacles are Dan Zen’s helpers. Each step of the way, if the player did things out of order or chose the wrong option, they would be shrunk and would have the last minute opportunity to send a message to friends telling them not to do what they had just done.

All the shrunken people got to talk in a bottle which ended up with over 3,000 posts. Click the link for more of the story and some screen shots although the site is no longer active.




The second of Dan Zen’s fully interactive mysteries, The Kula Pu Idol mystery was launched as people were looking forward to summer vacations. Set in the Hawaiian bungalow of Princess Lava Lava Yo, the mystery features a dozen characters most of whom seem to have alternate identities.

You play the pool keeper and have stumbled on an auction for the Kula Pu Idol. Although it seems more like a party to you, there are a lot of mysterious things going on underneath.

Best of luck and if you enjoy the mystery, please let others know and let us know too! We hope one day that the mysteries will be made into movies – then at least they will be solved 😉

We played this mystery a couple times at parties where everyone had booklets and it was pretty incredible.




Hypno is a site which features information on Dan Zen marketing campaigns before the Pagoda Interface. It was created for the Board interface.

Of note are the Dan Zen stones, the urban posters and stickers and the interactive advertising section. There are some summaries of viral marketing games too. Many of the features were created from first principles and were quite unique for their time and in some cases unique even to date.




It is always nice to get feedback on the features. Dan Zen has a review page and a survey page and these have elicited some feedback. But it was not until the Dan Zen Garden came along that we caught a good look at the effect of the site. In this difficult world of trying to make money on original content, or even just having people enjoy original content, it is very rewarding to have thousands of people describe themselves and their experiences. Many are very complimentary, and many show that there is a diverse and engaged populous.




Baron Digbody’s Castle is the third Moustache Mysteries interactive mystery produced. This one includes the booklets to play the mystery offline with friends. It is ideal for Halloween time and indeed was played several times with great success.

Perhaps Dan Zen’s favourite mystery, it features a cast of crazy characters and a twisty plot.

Still to come is the Violet Vale – a fortune teller’s ball mystery and The Hungarian Hunting Lodge – treasure hunters mystery.

You play Gloves, one of the Chauffeurs vying for a position at the castle. The opening mini-game of driving a car along a twisty road to get to the castle will give you an indication of your driving skills ;-). This also works lightly into the plot.

Please contact us if you are stuck and we can help guide you through.




Save Earth is a massively complex game with a simple pattern matching skill game at its core. The story and the data tracking however are quite extensive.

The site is set in 2020 and features some loosely projected technologies. We probably will not have screens or perhaps even text by then so the predictions are not particularly serious.

There is a part 2 of the game for when the over one million patterns are mapped and the invisible sphere surrounding Earth is shattered. It looks like we are about 11% of the way there but there certainly have been some dedicated pilots with several flying hundreds of times and tagging thousands of patterns!




Quite an interesting game, Spy-mail lets you send messages to people and if you do not protect the message or forget to protect the message, then other players can spy on it.

Even before we launched Spy-mail, we sent a Spy-mail message to the president of GameSpy, the very large multi-user gaming site who happened to have the URL We made them a branded site and asked if they would be interested in using it. After a while, we spied on the topic and sure enough, there was a message from another employee back to the president that was unprotected. We got to read the initial message from the president saying “what do you think about this…” then “well, we already have our upcoming gaming network mail…”

Do a spy on Agent Dan Zen and you will find a number of interesting uses of Spy-mail.

Given the right codes, Spy-mail also acts as a full fledged Web-mail account – not bad for a few months of partial programming.




One of Dan Zen’s most successful game was Blimp Races. In the first race, people created their own blimps and then e-mailed friends to join their blimps. The blimp with the most people is winning the race. The first race had about 700 people all having fun and cursing other blimps in the forums. Subsequent runs had thousands of players.

Six degrees of separation were explored as who people invited and where they came from were displayed. In the second race, two years later, it really exploded when invites went into silicon valley and reached out to India, Hawaii, the Netherlands, etc.

The third race two years later was more difficult as distrust in e-mail had grown to a maximum. People were being overwhelmed by spam and just not in the mood to click links in e-mail. This situation may have gotten better with spam filters and it might be worth a try to hold race four.

The race was almost sold and set to run on the large Bell/Sympatico portal but a change in management and a reduction of original content resulted in a no go.




Opartica is Dan Zen’s first Flash feature after five years of using Director. Flash 3 was looked at but it did not have a powerful enough programming language. This changed with Flash 4 and ever since, Dan Zen has built games in Flash.

Opartica is an Web application that lets you overlap op art shapes and spin them, move them and change colors. You can save the collages in a portfolio and exchange them with others.
A version of Opartica was built for Austin Powers but it was not used: Austin Powers Golden Ball.

Opartica was well accepted by the VJ community and has been projected on a number of bands and dances. It is hoped that stores wanting to advertise to the dance culture would request their logos to be put in the center of Opartica. If you have interest in this, please contact us.

Opartica still remains one of the strongest examples of using interactive multimedia to let people create content not just navigate through content – a prime directive of the Sheridan Interactive Multimedia Program.




After a few years of the Board interface, we started to get… board. It was also fairly full. We created the Pagoda of Games, a Flash interface with lots of motion, to lead people into a pagoda of games and present them with moving menus representing motion through rooms in the pagoda. This allowed the Dan Zen games to be categorized.

The Pagoda also offered a different approach to making money where if people donated to Dan Zen then they would let everyone in line into Dan Zen. So it was an appeal to help others with their donation as well as Dan Zen. This did increase donations by 100%. But unfortunately 100% of a little is still a a little ;-).

The pagoda has lasted three years and filled up nicely as expected. So it was time to redesign and along came the Dan Zen Deck of Creations.




The Kirputnik Cam was a prototype interface for Dan Zen and then launched as the first feature of the Pagoda of Games interface. It provides a bumpy ride through the Dan Zen workshop viewing imaginary representations of Dan Zen games through a Web cam mounted on the Webmaster robot, Kirputnik.

The interface features movement and zoom and also introduces random bumps along the way.

The drawings are of Dan Zen online games and gadgets as well as some offline inventions. As you roll over the features, Kirputnik describes them but eventually Kirputnik runs into some technical difficulties which you can overcome by pressing a button. Have fun.




Rich Deck is the Dan Zen card game where you buy and sell zany companies and make millions of Deck Dollars.

Rich Deck is a full Web application equivalent in complexity to large sites like e-bay. If you own a company, you make money from people buying franchises. If you have a franchise, you make money by e-mailing friends and having them accept the card. Different bonuses are given to different franchise owners for logging in, for players accepting the card logging in, for every 100 players logging in, for every week you own the franchise, etc. The technology is Flash – PHP – MySQL

Rich Deck was the prototype for Zen Deck. So with small modifications, Zen Deck was built. Zen Deck is a “card viewer” and works well as a portfolio tool or site interface.

Several other games along these lines are being considered – Spy Deck is one of them where you use agents to get at people’s secrets. In this case a group of people would start a Spy Deck game and play it amongst themselves.




One of the series of Zen tools created, Zen Play lets you store a series of Web pages and play them back as a slide show at various speeds. It provides a slim frame up top to let you pause or advance through the pages.

Zen Play is a nice simple way to show work, a business presentation, etc. where your content is on different Web pages. It is also easy for the public to use to cycle through your presentation.

Dan Zen has used Zen Play each year in Open House presentations for the Sheridan Interactive Multimedia program.




Zen Motto is an attempt to pierce the physical world. One of the most viewed yet empty spaces in our society is the border around the computer monitor. Zen Motto is set up so that you can print a motivational motto and tape it on your monitor.

You can use an existing motto or submit your own. The mottos are two words which often leads to multiple interpretations in a Zen sense. Almost 3% of the views have led to a printing. Perhaps you should try it!

Zen Motto also showcases the Flash grid component for sortable tabular data. It makes use of a full e-mail publishing system where people’s mottos are submitted, an e-mail is sent to the editor who can accept, modify or decline at which point the motto is processed and may show up on the site.




MotoGami is a set of motion games including ChooFu, ConGon, KiteKilt and InfiZoom. It is hoped to add more in the future.

Motion games tend to use dynamic animations, hit tests, dragging, etc. Often the simple game play can be embellished with a fun story. For example, jumping or ducking objects turned into ChooFu where you practice Kung Fu on top of a train avoiding the smoke puffs to keep your guy clean. Or a spotlight that gets smaller each time you find and click something with it becomes a search light for cons as you try and capture them after a jail break.

Dan Zen generally tries to make “mind games” with storytelling and community as opposed to frivolous motion games, but it in this case, it was fun to let loose.




Changing Mail lets you change e-mail you have sent even after it is received and read! This is an example of inventing an application for a specific technological feature. New opportunities can be explored here. Aside from rather mischievous endeavors, you can look at a one e-mail and it will always tell you the current weather – or a new joke or what your kids or parents are doing.



Tilator lets you tile various pictures. There was an early version used for geometrical tiling and a fuller version used for tiling themed pictures in a variety of ways.

This second tool was a result of experiments for a new Dan Zen interface after the Pagoda of Games. Dan Zen always wanted to make a map interface where you could look through swirling clouds and follow the map to the various games. The swirling effect, or as far as worked out, is part of Tilator.

As it turned out, the experiments and further thinking led to a new interface involving trees and blossoms and will most likely launch when the Deck of Creations becomes old.




One of the most useful Dan Zen tools, Zen Picture shows pictures in a unique and efficient way. It slides horizontal pictures horizontally and vertical pictures vertically without a break. Zen Picture also lets you apply captions which with the continuous feel of movement, lends well to story telling. We have an upcoming version where sound can be added overall or to specific pictures.

It has been called “a very civilized way to view pictures” and said that “Zen Picture has made me interested in using pictures to tell stories and finding connections between pictures”. This, we believe, differentiates Zen Picture from tradition picture viewers.

It is our hope to have photographers use the tool and post their presentations in the public area.

You can download a Zen Picture zip file with all you need to make Zen Picture work. Currently, Dan Zen has made about fifty Zen Picture presentations and has gotten quite good at using the tools efficiently.




Zen Deck was created when building Rich Deck as a generic card viewer. Whenever you build a feature you can often make a tool so other people can build the same type of feature. Zen Deck was modified quite heavily for Rich Deck but the core still stayed generic. Zen Deck is used for the current main interface for Dan Zen.

Other samples of the tool can be found here: Flash Deck and Flash Goddess

Zen Deck reads in an XML configuration and data file. It is fairly customizable in terms of colors and content. The layout and functionality is rigid. You can download the zip file with all you need to set up a Zen Deck feature of your own. See the “About” link in Zen Deck for the download link.




Zen Dots is the time line tool that you are using right now. It lets you efficiently view a timeline and associated data. As the viewer, you can expand or contract the scale of the timeline and drag the timeline to view various event descriptions. As the creator, you can set the dates, the colors, and the descriptions which are HTML.

Download the zip file for all you need to create your own timelines. It uses an XML configuration and data file. Alternatively, the tool, less the HTML output field, is available as a Flash component so you can use the timeline slider as an interface to control different types of descriptions.


Timing with a 10 Second Song – Inventing Systems Part 2

In the last fairly lengthy article we looked at inventing a system which took research and therefore time to create.  How about a system that we can invent and use with very little research or time.  Surprisingly, it is about time!

Those of you who are computer users… or indeed perhaps any kind of user or just someone with an inquiring mind have probably waited for something – or wondered how long something takes.  To provide for this need there is, at its base,  counting – and then things that were created to count in time like clocks,  watches and then down another level are stop watches, timers and then even more specific… egg timers, etc.  We then compare everything to seconds (or whatever).

But… these are physical systems.  How about mental systems – or ones where we use our brain (in the teachings of Nodism, the brain and thought is physical – but that stretches the current expectations of the word Physical).

So here is a system for timing things that you can use without a physical device.  Take ten seconds of a song and repeat it and count the repetitions.   It helps to have a chorus that is ten seconds long – most songs are around there – so it is not that hard.  This is not an exact count but it lets you get in the several minutes with +- 10 seconds.  This is perfect for me to count how long pages are taking to load for instance when doing preliminary usability or some impromptu market research (usually about as far as I get ;-)).

Oh darn – I guess this is not my invention!  I just remembered that Hudson Hawk movie – they timed things using whole songs (a bit different) during their burglaries.  That’s funny – I remember people calling it a musical.  Maybe they did not quite understand the system at play.

Inventing systems is important to free up more time – time to invent more – to free up more time…  so somebody can smell the flowers.

PEV – Personal Energy Value in Environmental Calculations

Inventing Ways to Help us Understand – Part 1

We should factor in our time with respect to energy calculations.  For instance: our time should be a factor when we are riding a bike to work rather than driving.  Another example is if we turn off our computer and then later have to wait two minutes to turn it on.  We might even examine our past-times like what is it costing to do that Sudoko! (Yikes… not to put a damper on our relax time!)

The proposition is that we require energy to live and that we waste this energy by wasting our time.  So we need an amount that we can attribute to our personal energy.  We call this:

PEV = Personal Energy Value

It is comprised of three parts:

  • Sustenance Energy (Electricity, Gas, Food)
  • Environmental Solution Energy (Originate, Promote, Influence)
  • Cultural Worth Energy (Creation vs Consumption)

Before going into details of PEV – let us look at turning off and on the computer as an example.  It might be that we can do something else while we wait for the computer to come on but I suspect that the majority of us just sit there in a daze or worse yet, grumble that we are having to wait!


Imagine that it takes a minute to start the computer and that the computer uses 50W (Watts) in sleep mode.  I am on my computer about 6 hours a day and might go to and from my computer 10 times.

By not turning off the computer each time we have:
18h * 50W = 900Wh = .9 kWh per day
By the way, a 40W bulb running all day is roughly 1 kWh.
If it takes 5000W to support my existence at my current lifestyle
I am waiting 10 minutes a day so this takes:
5000W * 10/60 = 833Wh = .8 kWh per day
See PEV Standard Unit below for where we got 5000W

So there is almost a direct trade off with these calculations.  A compromise I suppose would be to turn the computer off at night.


Here is where I got the 5000W to keep me going. It might be a little backwards but I used a footprint calculator to get yearly CO2.  These calculators factor in a series of things but I just chose Electricity, Gas and Food leaving out travel and consumer purchases. I then used a conversion chart to get kWh:

Electricity (yearly from CO2 calculator)

1 kWh = 0.537 kg CO2 (conversion)
2.5 tonnes CO2 * 1000 kg per tonne / 0.537 kg CO2 per kWh
= 4655.5 kWh / year
= 18.2 kWh / day
= 758 Watts

Gas (yearly from CO2 calculator)

1 kWh = 0.185 kg CO2 (conversion)
3.5 tonnes CO2 * 1000 kg per tonne / 0.185 kg CO2 per kWh
= 18919 kWh / year
= 73.9 kWh / day
= 3079 Watts

Food (yearly from CO2 calculator)

1 kWh = 0.268 kg CO2 (conversion)
2.0 tonnes CO2 * 1000 kg per tonne / 0.268 kg CO2 per kWh
= 7463 kWh / year
= 29.2 kWh / day
= 1215 Watts

Adding up the Watts above, an average person might use:

= 120 kWh / day
= 5 kWh / hour
= 5000 Watts
= 50 100 Watt bulbs

Hmmm… maybe – I need some verification of these calculations and it will vary per person.  But it would be good to know and really this article is about moving towards calculations like these as opposed to providing hard and fast numbers.

We will call this amount our PEV Standard Unit

PEV SU = 5000 Watts

But my life must be worth something more than just the energy to keep me going!


You can, in a sense, add more environmental importance to your time if you spend time originating and or promoting environmental solutions.  Perhaps what matters most is whether are you influencing people – in a positive way ;-).

How this factors in is quite difficult to tell so we can almost treat this as an incentive for your consciousness.  But I think the incentive will work in the positive in the end as long as you are honest about it.

So we add this to our PEV as follows:

add 0.1 times the PEV SU for each item that applies to you:

  • research and apply environmental solutions
  • lead by example through environmental solutions
  • encourage friends and family to be conscious
  • attend talks about environmental solutions
  • blog about environmental solutions
  • originate environmental solutions
  • give talks about environmental solutions
  • rally for environmental causes
  • donate to environmental causes
  • create or manage environmental policy

Multiply this number by percentage perceived success in influencing others

I can check about six of these with an influence of 50%

.6 for the checks and .5 for the influence:
My PEV = 5000 W (original) + .6 * 5000 W * .5 = 6500 W


If we are wasting our time, is this a detriment to culture?  It is obviously impossible to be exact here but again, our time is worth something.  This simple calculation is perhaps a token.  Of course, we should be careful in valuing our individual self above the needs of our environment. But, without culture, there would be less motivation for saving the world.  So if you contribute then you encourage people to want to find and implement solutions.

What percentage of your waking time do you create versus consume? Call this the cultural factor. Multiply half the PEV SU x Cultural Factor and add it to the PEV.

My PEV = 6500 W + .8 (Cultural Factor) * 5000 W / 2 = 8500 W


Now my computer calculation becomes:

If I have 8500 W of Personal Energy (PEV) and
I am waiting 10 minutes a day for my computer then this is worth:
8500W * 10/60 = 1417Wh = 1.4 kWh per day

This is more than .9 kWh per day if I turn off and on the computer so I should leave my computer on. If we leave off the Cultural Worth, then this is 1.1 kWh per day and is still worth it to leave the computer on (turning off at night is good though).

We have a few levels of calculations here but certainly for a few – the calculations are direct – for others, they are less direct.  It does take energy to support us so at least factor the PEV Standard Unit into your calculations.  You are welcome to try and determine your own “Standard Unit” or a better average standard unit – let us know.  I would argue that the other two factors to personal energy – that of Environmental Influence and Cultural Worth should also be considered.

If you work on a Sudoko for half an hour that is taking the following:

5000W * 30/60 = 2.5 kWh just using the PEV SU.
This would be 4.3 kWh using the extended PEV for me.

To put this in perspective:

.01 kWh – a charger per day
.5 hWh – shipping food to person per day
.5 kWh – computer standby all day

1 kWh – running a 40W light bulb all day
1 kWh – to drive 1 km (100 km in electric car)
3 kWh – our body uses per day
4 kWh – computer active all day

This article uses “back of the envelope” calculations.  The point really is that if done correctly, this system can lead to better understanding the choices and better answers! By no means am I trying to dispute that caring for the environment is wrong – we might be trying to help but without full data, we could be making the wrong decisions.

For example, the chart below shows car driving being favoured over biking when taking into consideration the feeding of the cyclist to address their energy usage. Click the chart to try the calculations.  One thing to look for is that I changed the selection from a smaller person, increased the speed of the cyclist and adjusted to better mpg on the car.   You might argue that there is the environmental cost of manufacturing the car but there are calculations that show this cost to be negligible over the life of the car.  You might say, what about pollution… this calculation takes pollution into account.  The calculation really is only part of the suggested PEV – and even just part of the PEV SU.  There is an issue here in that the PEV does not take into account activeness or non activeness.  That could be improved on.


Further reading and partial references…

Extension through Connection with Lego as an Example

The picture below shows Lego pieces – a pretty well closed system by design – with various traditional connectors like suction cups, wires, strings, rings, pins and glues.

Lego Connectors

Click here to see the picture with Orbit Zoom

With the addition of a ring you can easily add Lego to clothing – something I have been doing for years.  Then you can wear your creations on belt loops, etc.  As a matter of fact, for that, just put a slit in your sleeve and you can snap Lego through the slit to make cool arm designs.  This works anywhere and I’ve done some cool designs with it on pockets, etc.

Kids should love this – going to school with their creations, sharing them, etc.

Long live connections – one of the most important aspect of inventing and Nodism – the philosophy of connections.  Long live Lego!

Dan Zen

From Dream to Do… from Wonder to Work

I was wondering if by tossing a bunch of native wild flower seeds into a swampy area flowers would grow.  Well… wondering is an indication perhaps that you should do.  Often we often forget to connect the two.

They are the two mindsets of the idea and the build.  Ideally, I would build all my ideas – but I have found that is probably not going to happen.  So I have resorted to at least sharing ideas.  The first step in sharing is working on ways to make sharing more efficient or successful.  This blog is one of those ways.

As you might have realized, thinking of an idea usually takes less time than building it.  So an important role, is the editing role.  You don’t want to just build or do any idea because you may have a better one next.  That is of course a dangerous trap too as you never build or do anything.  You can ask people what they think of ideas.  Or you can just wing it and go on your own judgment or desires.

Take a look back at your ideas.  If you find that you have not been acting on them then try acting on one or two before continuing with new ones.  Dreams (ideas, desires and wishes) are precious – don’t let them all slip away!

On the other hand, if you are so busy that you forget to dream or do not have time to dream then slow down and take several hours even a few times over the next week and come up with some new ideas – especially if all you have been doing are things that are not your dream ;-).

Monitor the balance and adjust accordingly.

Speaking your Ideas for Clarity, Continuity and Completion

Here is a recording about talking out loud and indeed recording what you are saying to gain a certain organization to your thoughts.  While organized, you lose flexibility to bounce around like we often do in our head.  But inventing is half bouncing around and half organizing.  So if you are scattered, talking out loud can help you focus.

The link takes you to YaSeeSay – it was this recording that prompted YaSeeSay to be built.  It took a week of massive puzzle solving.  See the post in Interactive Multimedia that proposes programming is an environmentally friendly puzzle – one where the brain power is used for an outcome that helps society beyond just keeping brains healthy.

– 08 –

Inventing in the Environmental Age


A friend of mine and I wanted to sit down and figure out what age we are in. Has the “Information Age” passed? Has the “Space Age” been put on hold?

So just today, it came to me – this is or should be the Environmental Age. I was all excited and asked a few friends and they had not specifically heard the phrase. I came home and found about 11,000 entries in Google with the quotes on (how I determine originality).

  • Information Age: 9 million Google results
  • Space Age: 3 million
  • Atomic Age: 360,000 (Surprisingly small)
  • Environmental Age: 11,000

This also finds the words with punctuation between which is not usually the same. But the phrase Environmental Age has definitely been used for instance in the 1989 book, “The New Environmental Age”. This also implies that there was an old environmental age – the Hippie movement probably. So while I did independently come up with this illuminating proposal, I guess I did not invent it.

Having said that, I do not get the sense that people in general have realized that this is or should be the Environmental Age. This post is to encourage and recommend that we officially all agree that this is the Environmental Age.

We have a better chance of there being an Environmental Age if we are to declare an Environmental Age. Much like it helps to call yourself an Inventor if you wish to invent. This is one of the first tips of inventing. Introduce yourself as an inventor and you become an inventor. Let us label this the Environmental Age and it will come to be the Environmental Age. A combination of positive thinking and a goal or mission statement – a focus!

Please pass this along. We are in the ENVIRONMENTAL AGE


I was just at a Design Open House and was happy to see many design incorporating environmental consideration. Indeed, designers will have a major role if not the biggest role in turning our products, services, luxuries, necessities, etc. sustainable or even beneficial to the Earth. Architects, Designers, Engineers, anybody who decides how things are made will have a big impact. Governments setting regulations will rely on these bodies for initial guidelines.

Aside from how things are made (design) influence on our environment will come from what is being made. Here is where inventors step in and come up with new ideas. This splitting of design and invention is not quite fair on designers – as much of what they do is inventive. Given a necessity, they invent solutions and design them. But often, what to make – the invention proper, is already established and designers work on aesthetics, materials and ergonomics and there is room for invention in the choices and the decisions certainly affect the environment.

Digression – read at own risk:

Is invention independent of design? Looking at the single hierarchy of Nodism, design is generally the working out of an embodiment. Traversing down a branch from a parent node. The parent node being the invention. But the parent node is itself going to be a child node of another parent. So in a sense, becomes the design of its parent. Invention happened to provide context. Design concerns the forging of the content. This is circular in that when you forge content, it creates context – hence you would also be inventing. So… perhaps the answer is not in the structure of nodism but in the actual semantic value of the nodes themselves. ie. if it is a value relating to aesthetics then it is design but if it is a value relating to its utility then it falls under invention. Anyway… somewhat of a digression. Digression is good when thinking and inventing but it is polite though to return to the point…

This can be exemplified by taking modes of travel for instance. We can redesign current modes (cars for instance) or come up with new ones (teleportation). coming up with a unique mode is hard – and even then, I did not invent teleportation – as a matter of fact, until there is a useful working model, nobody has invented it. In trying to think of unique modes of transportation I have arrived at things like a gondola, jet pack, auger, conveyor, segway, catapult – all these are existing potential embodiments. But luckily, invention can can be found in improvements. For instance:

  • A pogo stick with compressed gas boost triggered at the handle (compression builds up as you land).
  • A portable gondola the size and weight of an umbrella with bumpers (maybe only works downhill).
  • Moving sidewalks that are powered by the riders like a skateboard.

Some say that improvements are all we have left. There is the fabled “basic patent”. An inventor’s equivalent to a paradigm shift.

Improvements can come by completely phasing something out. One might wish to phase out cars all together and rely solely on public transport. But we as a culture, at times need freedom – not at the expense of the environment – but still it would be better if we could redesign the car (as we already have for years…)

Shifting to electric allows us to separate the energy source from the vehicle. There are many ways to create electricity – it is a carrier not a source. So we can use solar, wind, wave, thermal, nuclear, even gas (but we should not). The size of the car too needs to be revisited certainly in America. There is an issue of safety during impact and in visibility. It is a bit of a catch 22 there where if cars were small we could see better but until they are small we can’t. There is also the fact that trucks are around. This might require separate roads for trucks perhaps. We see futuristic cars like shells made of fiberglass – which should be made from some sort of semi-cured sap and recycled fibers.

How we use cars should change too. For instance, we should not drive cars where we live but rather plan living areas of about 100 houses with pathways and gardens and leave our cars in garages surrounding our living areas. We could have carts for taking larger items between our cars and houses. Or perhaps provide some sort of conveyor system. Imagine your existing survey where the roads are gardens and paths and imagine the community and feeling of safety for children. Please see the Sage Project for an artistic rendering 😉

One problem is that once we get somewhere – say going from Hamilton to Toronto… we want to then go all over the place and who knows where in Toronto and do not feel that public transit will get us there. So we drive from Hamilton to Toronto when we would have liked to take the train. Well, a solution would be to park a car in Toronto and one in Hamilton. Then commute between cars. This sounds a bit crazy due to parking prices in Toronto for one reason. Having two cars for another…

But what if we do like Holland does with bikes. If we had light weight communal cars maybe a cheap rental or honor program would work – or maybe government subsidized free parking of a certain environmentally friendly cheap vehicle would allow for two cars – one at each destination. Drive your little cheap electric Zenn car to the terminal and plug it in. Take a train to Toronto, get in your second little cheap electric Zenn car that is at a terminal there or a rental and take it from there. Ideally you would not have to take this commute at all and instead would live where you work.

Use ingenuity and inventiveness to aid in all areas of environmental design. For instance, if it nags you to drain your bathtub or shower to have all that water go unused back down to the sea then think about a solution. Hmmm… I then am going to go outside and use a hose to water my garden… hmmm. Do you see the answer. See if you can build it – make an alternative drain that drains into your garden. If you can’t build it then post the idea so that others might try.


The whole concept of consumerism needs to be redesigned.

We should try and be consumers of ideas rather than products.

Then we can make things from the ideas using local resources and recycled resources even recycled within our own dwellings. As in… start repairing again! Start sewing and crafting again. I can’t tell you how many toys I have made from cardboard tubes and boxes and some tape. These outlast store bought toys by years. There is meaning in them, ownership, pride, history, love. The same goes for art, furnishings and clothes, meals, etc.

Sharing could work for us. We do not all need a lawn mower. As a matter of fact, in general we should just outlaw grass cutting and introduce mosses, etc. But for now… sharing is good. We can share ladders, tools, etc. and curb our purchasing of seldom used items.

Buying local produce and bringing reusable containers. Companies need to reduce shipping and packaging. Go to perhaps online marketing rather than relying on cardboard for display. Maybe OLED displays in stores rather than on packaging. Start making and selling things that are helpful to nature. Make games out of tree planting, put solar panels on everything. Make battery chargers to go on exercise machines and bicycles. And of course, make as many things as possible recyclable and from recycled products. Give to second hand stores and go to second hand stores.

Government programs might be put in place to help start alternative second hand stores. Ones that are creating new fashions from previously worn clothes or creating art and accessories out of scrap, etc.

So… just some current thoughts on inventing in the Environmental Age. If you have read this far, please it would be encouraging to let me know that you have and perhaps leave a comment with some ideas of your own or feedback on some of these ideas. Do not be shy! Thanks.

Inventing with Nesting and Nodism

Nodism is a philosophy of nesting and exploration of hierarchy with respect to our learnings in the information age with such systems as:

  • XML – extensible markup language – the standard way we share information (organized data)
  • OOP – object oriented programming – the current way very logical people model the world to make games and simulations.

The term hierarchy is sometimes considered cold because of the popular management structure – going back to feudal systems and food chains. It might also seem rigid with respect to the wonderful free world of association being the Web.

But… the Web sits on a hierarchy – that being our files in folders. Not only that, but Nodism talks of a single hierarchy where items are placed in many different places of the hierarchy. So it goes against the data in one place of relational database talk – it however explains the Web and you can turn any Web (or Network or Grid) into a hierarchy as pictured here:

Nodism - web to hierarchy example

Each item, N, for instance a bike, has its properties such as color=red, location=driveway, and wheels=true. To turn that into a hierarchy, you just duplicate the item and dangle it from its properties. Now the bike is organized under things that are red, mine or in driveways.

The value of this is that we can get at an item in a number of different ways. These different ways represent context. A specific way along a branch is a sort.

Here are some terms that mean or use hierarchy:

  • Life:
    • grouping
    • categorizing
    • classifying
  • Navigation:
    • folders
    • directory
  • Format:
    • nesting
    • tabbing
    • indenting
  • Structure:
    • tree
    • hierarchy
  • Coding:
    • Multidimensional Array
    • XML Nodes
    • OOP Objects

These are all ways to organize data or thoughts. With Nodism, we can also study how language uses hierarchy. There is certainly a nesting with a document, a section, a paragraph, a sentence, a word, a letter. But also within sentences, how each word relates can be placed in a hierarchy.

I like a red bike

Under bikes, we have bikes that are liked and bikes that are not liked. Of those, some are red or green or blue, etc. And then another branch of the hierarchy has bikes that are green or red or blue and each node has ones that are liked and not liked. Or we have things that are red and of those there are bikes and trucks and flowers, etc. So this sentence is really a branch in a hierarchy.

It is at this level that we start to see practical uses of hierarchy for invention. The patent system is based on hierarchical claims of broader claims encompassing or nesting more specific embodiments.

All you need to do is look at each part in your invention and ask yourself are there any siblings (alternatives) for each little part. Once you do that you start to explore embodiments. It also gives you a sense of breadth. And can give you a clue to a parent so you can classify your invention. You look up one level and be able to see that your invention works across all these embodiments. This is the act of META or generational thought. It is thinking outside the box – out of the node that you started in – broadening your scope, generalizing, etc.

We start with the problem that pillows slip off the end of a couch that has wooden arms. I have an idea. We put velcro on the wood and on the pillow. That in itself is an agregate and not really an invention. And Velcro is a trademark for a hook and eye faster. But let us continue.

Break down the idea into its words (non-nouns optional):

  • Pillow
  • Velcro
  • Couch

Now, lets start with Velcro. What alternatives are there?

wrap – hmm… I like wrap – it sounds soft and flexible

And Pillow

magazine holder
cup holder
remote control holder

hmmm… you say you yourself, maybe I should make my fastener hold more than just a pillow. Look at all these handy things I can keep on the couch.

Then you look at couch…


dentist chair
reclining chair
lawn chair
car seat
bycicle seat


Etc. So by examining siblings we explore the embodiments of our invention. We see that it is not important to have a couch or pillow specifically. We might make a decision to go for a more generic fastener that is a fabric. And then we look at ways it might fasten. And who knows, we invent the bungee cord.

At the final stage of exploring siblings is the realization of the parent. The couch is a base – perhaps a base with an arm rest. The pillow is an item – perhaps an item of necessity (kind of a tough one). And then Velcro is a fastener. So a fastener to attach an item to a base. You might not be able to invent this broadly, but you want to invent as broadly as possible.

Rather than listing siblings, we can take a short-cut by saying META. Going up or outside. In any idea or any situation, you can just say meta to yourself and all of a sudden, you are not just concerned about the health of a tree but of a forest and then of the province, etc. Usually broader can be more important. But at the same time, it is harder to affect change at broader levels. Sometimes it is in the specific embodiments that we need to concentrate. This is the idea of a milimeter of change. Little steps leading to big change. In that regard we are doing the reverse of meta, we are focusing. So meta is focus out (focuso) and ento maybe – is focus in.

Cellphone Umbrella – Umcella

Cellphone Umbrella - Umcella

Click through to see larger size pictures on flickr (original photo by  Masahiro Hayata).

Well, I guess a picture is telling 1000 words on this one. To the word’s defence… I bet I can think of more than a thousand pictures about one word.

This idea came to me as I was walking in the light rain and seeing people on cellphones. I thought it would be neat if their little antennas could sprout umbrellas. Who cares about the hair… protect the equipment.

It might be possible to sell umbrellas with little slip-ons for the antenna. It would certainly be fun to try 😉 Let me know if you are interested in going into production.

Make it Yourself – Waxpaper Snowflake Holiday Cards

Watch the mix on how to make

I have never bought a card – not one Christmas card, not one birthday card… If you want to invent, I would recommend that you do the same. What a perfect opportunity for a little creativity.

You might say, “but I do not have time to make cards”. Well… you can either not give out so many (and hook up with someone who will handle the general card sending) or you can apply inventive means to the production. Of course digital production makes it fairly easy but this post explores an example of a physical production – well human scale physical production (we should always hesitate when we suggest that a computer is not physical).

This Zen Mix mini-mash shows the simple production of Snowflake cards – 50 snowflake cards in about 20 minutes. I handed them out to students and staff at the College and let them float softly down at their desks. It was very beautiful to see their smiles of wonder.

Just cut squares of everyday wax paper and fold them diagonally then in half a few times, twist the center point and twist the outer point and open them up! Each one is different and you can experiment with the types of folds and twists to add even more variety. They are very pretty when you hold them up to the light.

Snowflakes aside… cards can be made from anything – I like old wallpaper or wrappings, but wood or stone and a the dremel can be fun, tubes are very interesting to write on. Always keep tubes around and you can saw them to make smaller tubes if necessary. Cards on long strips of paper are exciting… try carefully burning the edges of your cards for a lost look, you get the idea.

Happy Holiday Going With the Flow…

Happy Holiday Animated Christmas Balls

I usually do not like going with the flow – even though I write psychedelic lyrics like “floating down the river”. I prefer a vision and then stick with it. I was just looking back through a sketch book and was very satisfied to see sketches of tools such as Zen Pan and Node Notes (two yet to be released features) and they have been built to be exactly like the sketches.

There are times however when some things may not work out quite how planned or better yet, something better comes up during prototyping. We should not turn a blind eye – sometimes, you can use the prototyping phase as a creative phase – most of the time though, to be sure… it is during the thinking phase with hands clasped behind thet head or in the sketching phase on paper that you maximize your creativity due to the flexibility of thought – or the eraser 😉

In constructing an online holiday message with animated Christmas balls to the multimedia industry, students and friends I came across a couple of almost accidental adjustments that formed the final product. Here is a summary of how the message was created.

    It started with the picture – a focuso shot of Christmas balls in a window display during a flickr photoclub night walk. When I saw the results I thought, hmmm… that would make a good backdrop to a card. Focuso once again acts as a catalyst for creation- see the “Dan Zen Gives Pecha Kucha Talk on Focuso at FITO, Toronto Flash User Group” post.
    I have been building a tool that will let anyone on the Web place animations that move to the frequency of sound such as from an mp3 over top of any picture or video. This uses the compute spectrum in Flash. A very simple example of compute spectrum is here. The interactive tool is partially complete but I have realized that I was really building Zen Mix II. So I have put the tool on hold as I organize Zen Mix II – it has been sketched out. I can now access YouTube videos directly in Flash with just the video page url so that will be reason in itself to make a version II – unfortunately, Zen Mix is in ActionScript 2 and ActionScript 3 is needed for YouTube access. So… I thought I would put the animations to sound over top of the Christmas balls for the holiday message.
    I needed some music – although here is a slight twist – I would use voice rather than music to trigger the compute spectrum. I think there is a wide open field with respect to using sounds and voice as opposed to music in visualization and am planning on exploring these spaces one day with Zen Sound a tool that you can place sounds and mix them in space along with some other interesting features. For voice work, I have just started using Ableton Live and have started in on a piece that uses only vocals as psychedelic sound effects and delayed forever looping and stuff. I am planning on embedding thoughts of Nodism on some of them and may work with Future Girl Madeline Zen on some of these. In Ableton, I recorded 9 tracks of different Happy Holiday voices. Unfortunately, it was a test recording and I was not even paying attention but I thought they sounded okay so I started mixing. I was getting roughly what I wanted – sort of like a round of these voices but with individual ones to start so that individual Christmas balls would light up. And then I found this eternal delay that was amazing! This was the accident. I did not have to do anything, it seemed to know what I wanted and the voices became a round almost magically.
    There are the displacement map experiments I have been doing such as mentioned in the “Light Show for Christmas Psychedelic Band” post. I wanted to displace the picture of the Christmas balls with sonic ripples coming from the balls themselves. This would look cool but would possibly lack relevance as balls do not usually vibe like this. I got the displacement working with the Christmas balls but was sort of not liking it very much initially because it was too jittery and not fluid like the light show. So I went into the code and reduced the speed at which the spectrum was calculated using a simple modulus and then applied a tween to the size of the animation and things smoothened out – but it was so strange. I had happened to set width and then set the height based on the width and scale and this caused a feedback in the tween that made the width and height of the circle go wider and higher like a mouth talking rather than a uniform radius. That coupled by the semi-bothersome issue of the compute spectrum being smaller until the normalization I programmed in picks up and hence the animated wobbling circle starts smaller inside the Christmas balls, led me to one conclusion – accident two – use the animation as a mouth. This has more relevance to the “music” and looked cute on the Christmas ball. Eyes followed and it was fun to include them in the spectrum animation rather than outside because eyes move when you sing. There are times when this automated animation looks very realistic – certainly as realistic as a muppet 😉 So in the end, displacement was not used – maybe next time.

Enjoy the creation – if you have read this far, thank you for your interest – and please say hello in the comments.

Exploration Leads to Invention – An Hour With Inventor Dan Zen


Exploration is an important part of inventing. It helps to have things or places to explore. You can explore the same things or places over again if you are exploring with a different context.

In this video series, an hour’s exploration through the workshop is captured. The context is roughly that I am trying to mend a favourite pair of pants. So this is an exploration of what material could be used to turn the pants into a more personal design.

During the exploration, I am open to new thoughts – meta or generational thoughts that might indeed lead to more important ideas. There is always the pull between inventing and making. I want to make the modifications to the pants, but other ideas arrive. The act of filming is also meta as I realize that what I am filming is becoming a summary or history of various other inventions. I play this out a bit and in combination with branching to other inventions, I do not end up completing the pants. But I have explored materials and came up with some good ideas for future construction.

Here are the minivids in Zen Mix format merely for uniformity. There are 53 along with descriptions of salient points. You can also watch them all at once in a mash. The early ones are a little dark which is okay because it looks like I could use a shave….

Mash of all mixes (61 Minutes)

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All to often we worry about keeping our clothes clean. Yet, it is nice if what we are doing or have been doing is reflected in our attire or in how people see us. I like getting a bit of wax on my clothes – it reminds me of time in candle light. A few burs from the woods hanging on is a way to keep in touch with the experience. So, the act of wiping your hands on your pants is not the end of the world – it saves on electricity and paper towels in some cases as well.

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The study of clothes care through the ages might lead to interesting commentary on society. I think of blacksmiths and artists who wear clothes that reflect their work. The grime of the mechanic, the dust of a cowboy. These days, we seem to wash our clothes a lot and dirt or texture is discouraged. This attitude has environmental impact. In general I do not wash my clothes and I survive in the normal everyday life without any difficulty. So if this is so, could you not wash too? We would save energy that goes into washing.

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Clothes can be hung up or put over a chair and air out. I have sweaters and shirts that I have never washed yet have worn hundreds of times. I have work pants that are five or six years old that I have never washed. I never dry clean my jackets.

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Yup… that gets aired out too and after a while I might put a couple pairs in the wash but primarily because I feel guilty that I never have anything in the wash and that might be perceived as yucky. I am sure that is going through your mind right now.

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Wear layers to separate body contact from outer contact. Rotate wearing. Store clothes laid out beside the bed. Sleep in your clothes.

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I can wear socks 20 or 30 times without any problem. They do not smell. So I think I am lucky that my feet do not smell. But there may be many of you out there whose feet do not smell either. Well then you do not have to wash your socks all the time. Again, take them off, let them air out and you will be okay.

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What happens is that as things wear out you patch them or fix them. I am proud that my shoes were fixed with a bolt and I have gotten an extra year out of them. Pants can get paint stains or rips. These add character and can be mended to add further character.

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It is when clothes need mending that you know you like that article of clothing. You have worn it a lot, it is you! Now you have an opportunity to use some creativity to patch it. Take some other fabric that you like and work it in. Eventually those pants will become an art piece. Now you may not wear them to work perhaps but give them a chance. And certainly do not throw them away. At least keep them for fabric. Make bags out of them etc. At this point, I have decided to patch the pants and I go down to the workshop to look for material. It may be that I use an old pair of pants in the operation.

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I pop into the workshop and there is stuff everywhere. I clean it about once a year. But all this stuff acts as items to explore and explore again with respect to different context. Is there a possible space theme or circuit board theme… I consider medallions to hang on the pants, etc.

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A fabric bag is a handy thing to have around to tuck old fabrics and shirts and pants, etc into. I have made pouches, wrappings, costumes, etc. of fabrics. Here I see a mesh but not the type I like and realized that I like rope meshes like old hammocks. We all have gone through the rope hammock that breaks after three years. Well keep it around. I found a great loop on the end of rope that if I were to sew it into the pants it would make a great loop to dangle things on. This type of urban invention could become a fad. I have worked through many options called lupey. Lupey involves marketing to perhaps the most looked at free space for marketing. Stuff that hangs from belt loops. A finding of this string hammock loop can lead to Lupey being realized at least in prototype. And also the idea behind many of my inventions is that people can make things themselves – rather than mass produce.

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Having raw materials to make things is important when inventing and prototyping. This does not mean that you go out to a big box store and buy expensive craft wares. Just start noticing things. Packaging is often great to collect. Wallpapers, foils, carboards, Styrofoam, cartons, cans, jars, old clothes, purses, etc.

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Bags, pouches and purses are easy to make from shirts and pants. I made bum bags out of pant bottoms cut out and folded in half. They had belt loops at the top so I could just run my belt through them to fasten them to my pants. It looked cool and carried lots of stuff. Here I visualize that the front pocket area of a shirt would make a good bag with the arm folded into it like a liner. The strap can be made of a strip of the shirt. This is something that you can do with a shirt that no longer fits or is ripped.

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Technique for making a strap with a fringe. Certain materials fray really well and can lead to interesting looking design.

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I ran into this wig that was made of mismatch socks. I used to wear black suits as a patent agent and this was from that time. It is amazing how many mismatch socks one can manage to find. These were careful analyzed

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Further discussion on the riveting topic of mismatch socks.

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In hunting for a box of computer straps, I found a shirt full of burs. I have been saving this shirt because they are amazing burs. They are the micro burs that do not hurt and you can squeeze them and they still work – they are like fleas! I want to cultivate these and put them on pads for cleaning and velcro-like applications. I have been enthralled with these for a good number of years and I can’t imagine why it took so long for the invention of Velcro. So I am hoping to plant these seeds in the garden for further experiment.

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I have enough old computers of my own to keep me happy with respect to harvesting them for materials. But on any given week, the dump has hundreds of computers and that is one source of amazing materials. The drives have super powerful magnets in them – can you believe that! There are wires and circuit boards, fans, metal, etc.

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You can glue Lego to pieces and pieces to Lego. You can make art, jewelry, lampshades and all sorts of things.

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Metal shavings from a mill make great sci-fi decor, river stones are amazing for carving into with Dremel and making stacking games, etc. keyboards have these great rubber nub spring things and all sorts of different insides – each one I opened was different and most have really cool simple beautiful green circuit boards. Computer straps look good frayed.

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Here is one of the cyber stones in my collection available for viewing at

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If you mend something or reuse something then you are extending its life with you. This can bring comfort. It also is environmentally friendly. I have had the same ladder ever since I have had a ladder. I have ties to the ladder, the paint stains are from our toil. The step broke and if felt good to spend a few hours mending it and I feel good every time I step on it. My dad’s ties from the 70s and some that I have collected are just pinned over a bamboo stick to act as a room divider like love beads. This has been a fascinating part of our home for many years and I never tire of it. I think of my dad every time I see them.

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Cyber stones, light shows, old macs that you just plug in and press a button and instantly the computer is on and ready to use. And they still work years later. Old bikes with propellers on them.

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Every year we put up a dragon in the red hedge. This is an example of relevance and has been very popular with the neighbors. We are known as the house with the red dragon. I have a set of walking sticks in the corner that remind me of many walks. They are kind of rustic and I do art pieces with them like make miniature tree houses. Some examples are to come or visit

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Every other Halloween we put up a spooky shadow puppet show with the garage door opened and covered with a white sheet. We use cardboard cut-outs and a bright light behind. The kids sit in the driveway and watch. The stories have been neat. There is a little girl and all these monsters take turns scaring her and then all of them at once. At which point, the girls hair flips down and turns into a cape and her face is revealed to be a demon! In a second, the monsters scare a poor little teddy bear only later to reveal that its six jagged arms come popping out and it is a huge spider!!!

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Some from old chesterfields that were going to be used for luxurious towels. Sheets for backdrops, Seventies drapes, scarves signed by Donovan, and Harris Tweed bags or pouches made from old suit jackets would be very cool!

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Coat hangers are the most accessible, best wire that you can bend by hand. They are amazing. Always be on the lookout for more! Egg Cartons too are easily stacked – I have been for years and one day they will come in handy. They already have for various decorations and sound proofing. I used a scarf and pinned it on its side in a square shape around the garage light. It makes for a very nice shade. It could be round too I suppose. Check it out!

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Here we use scarves to block the garage light from blinding the neighbors.

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I have been making light shows for years – see but now I am making organic looking light shows that respond to music on the computer – see for an example.

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I have a pair of old welding goggles and I cut the extra strength off to give a sort of mad inventor looking pair of goggles. I had lost them and just found them in a basket of things in the house that were destined for the garage. This kind of system where you have a main living space and a procedure to cull or circulate to a creation space is often productive. It is important to have a workshop or a studio or at least a study where creation can happen.

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Here is the resting place of puppet, MOD, and the Snout of Snood. I have a few more episodes of the Snout of Snood to drum up. This mock intro leads to a philosophical owl that asks why instead of who.

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Here is another modified windchime – windchimes are easy to make and even easier to modify. Every windchime that I have had that breaks, I fix it in a unique way. It is much more fun that way! In the background here is a painting that I painted and then found that I liked it better upside down. This lead to three or four pictures that I drew or painted and displayed upside down.

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This is a bike with a large emerald (glass) jewel set on the front. It is actually a bracelet that I mounted on an old watch band – actually, it is an old door knob of all things! I have a matching silver dome bracelet – about the same size and I wear them and tell people that they are sun dials. They believe me too and really, they probably would work as such. You point north and the refraction in the facets or reflection on the dome tells you the time. This is Madeline’s old bike which matched Elliot’s old bike with the large grey propeller on front.

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Zero One has two faces filled with cool parts. The parts are stuck in this foam that was cured with a sealant of some sort so it will not crumble. If you can ever find that stuff it is amazing!!! I made Elliot’s Bionicle costume with it and he has made art pieces out of by stabbing in popsicle sticks cracked in the vice – what fun! Zero One has huge magnetic ears that collected money out at an art charity puppet ball that he was made for along with Mod.

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Another tree house – there are 18 of these around – see This one is a glass house on top of a tall patterned tree with a bending top and seed beaded ladder.

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I like custom signs – they are always exciting to me and combat the official signs. Here is the Zen Corners prototype sign. We have a Z corner in front of our house which I am hoping to brand Zen Corners. I have some subversive alternative ideas for that too. One day…

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This scene is on the way upstairs where we pass a tree house – they are very skinny so fit in corners where other art does not – that is handy. Then we pan across the living room to the tin man made of tin. If you collect a box of silver stuff, this type of thing becomes quite easy to make. This was a few hours – maybe an evening of piecing together found objects. If you need a start, go to the Amity and spend $10 of kitchen utensils and pans. Or collect old ones from garage sales or family storages.

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Kids have few concerns about the difficulty of creating. As far as they know, anything can be built and just to let them have that feeling a bit longer… well… anything has been built. And when it is not built, it can be drawn or at least told in a story. Here Santa has created two doll houses from old drawers.

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Designing houses is fun and a doll house is a great place to try out your sliding pole you always wanted. And how would that meditation room look? Hang little medallions. Try an old slide viewer as a TV…

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Here we picked out six aspects of magical lands – camels, fruit, stars, jewels, baskets and of course flying carpets! All made from beads that run on coat hanger tracks mounted in wood and put up like a shelf. The thief is getting away in the basket! Hey, stop that camel from eating the fruit!

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A rolling caravan made from a basket with hanging beads, carpet, fortune telling table and working sink with tap that captures rain water from the roof. Perfect for the bad hat Pepito and Madeline to escape in.

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Well, I suppose the title is fairly descriptive. These are little things that are made that have outlasted many of the bought toys – there is just a special connection to things that are home made. They save money and resources, are unique and inspire further creativity. Smelling tea to go to sleep easier was an interesting solution.

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Of all the gifts that you can make, a Kaleidoscope is the most rewarding. Take three mirrors cut with a glass cutter to fit in an equilateral triangle or at least go for an isosceles to fit inside a cardboard tube with perhaps foam wedges to keep the mirrors from moving. Try fabric tubes for instance. Cut a couple plastic disks from a CD case with a Dremel grinder for instance and fit them into the end of a cardboard cowl with spacer cardboard leaving a half inch gap. Fill the gap between them with buttons, wires, rings, tidily winks, marbles, etc. This is the fun part, designing what goes in there. Frost the inner side of the outer plastic disk with wax paper for instance and fit the cowl onto the end of the mirror tube. Variations are possible depending on material at hand.

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Drawings let you express all sorts of creativity. In the last five years, I must have drawn twenty different rooms with various decor, secret passage ways and futuristic designs. Towers are fun to imagine.

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If you are in the position of being asked for a mystery a day cumulating in a football game with a mystery a quarter, then you are probably being fairy stretched thin. Although I did like the lying girl being caught going to the football game with another guy because she was seen on the big screen. Anyway, a box of Nancy Drews might be just what you need! Thanks Kim! Also in this clip you can spot the loaf of bread I made Madeline out of a block of wood. It is sanded into a loaf shape and one slice is cut that can stay on by Velcro and then be sliced. She loved helping sand.

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You can check out fashion by Madel put together in a Zen Picture presentation at and then fashion. And by the way, that was not my clipboard. Here I found the discovery that she stored all her shirts, dresses, pants and shoes in order. That happens quite often with Madeline – she pays more attention to pattern than anyone I know – except maybe me. The more you recognize patterns, the easier inventing becomes. Patterns are also a form of siblings which lead to alternative embodiments or indeed generational thought.

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Inventing with alternatives. Here we see a magnetic scene which leads to very powerful thoughts of creating a magnetic climbing game on circuit boards.

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Specifying the design for a climbing game in a circuit board land. Again just a plan for others to make the game themselves by opening up an old computer. Mount the mother board so it is standing up. Then make two climbers (robots, men, etc) that are tethered together with a thread or a thin wire – for instance a stripped copper computer wire. The climbers are magnetic and in theory you could attach the wire so it can be lengthened or shortened – or maybe just make a few different sizes. These then have to start at the bottom and work their way up the board by sticking on metal parts of the board. It is like a maze. I made up a game similar with suction cups traversing a room on things that are smooth.

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Here we look through a tray of smaller computer parts. This tray has come in so handy from needing little screws to decorations for jewelry and art. Is it not so filled with yummy things! Here relevance and scale are considered as I try and look for a hero to go scaling the circuit board world.

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Magnets are in rare supply in our house because the tooth fairy hands out magnets instead of money. And lenses and magnifying glasses to the other. This clip also discusses the concept of stretch where we wonder what relevance a magnet or a disk on the bathroom tiles might take. Could we make a game with it – would it work as an amusement. I can’t tell you how many times I have played little games with tiles so perhaps there is an opportunity. Do not just look at something and say that it does not belong. Ask yourself what would make it belong. Stretch your mind.

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Quick prototyping through testing material can help mold an invention. Here we test how much of a circuit board is magnetic and predict that it might make the game too hard if rely solely on magnetic connection. Having said that, Elliot and I returned to discus the magnetic circuit climbing game and we tried two magnets, one on back and one on front and you can easily make the one magnet move with the other which makes it seem alive. You could play some sort of attacking game or indeed any type of role playing game – like dolls for nerds. We could mount the circuit board as a floor and move robot / nano / cyber characters around to act out stories. With further testing jumpers were considered and that led to the idea of Lego which is further explored in the next video.

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The concept of attaching Lego to circuits and old computer parts to build up a cyber world. Perhaps this gives Lego too much well… credit. Any fasteners would work but Lego is so common and is a pretty good size and seems to go well with the plastics of the computer parts. It might be handy to have micro Lego around which would be so cute. We have seen big Lego blocks take off – what about smaller Lego blocks. We have jumpers, pins, cables, screws to hold together the circuit world but if we were playing in this world we would want something more adaptive perhaps. Gluing Lego mounts would work but there might be alternatives.

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Well, after a whirl-wind tour of the workshop in search of material for pant repair, a number of ideas were racked up. I was in pretty good shape to put the camera down and get building. As I went to put the camera down, this maze was spotted by the computer. I am planning on scanning it in and then making a system where any maze can be scanned in and actually played on the computer say in a flash application. So you just point the application to a maze picture and it will display it and let you drag a little ball though the maze but not over the lines. This of course is a dream of any maze maker and I have been making mazes for as long as I can remember. It is a great thing to get kids to do!

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If you draw a structure with some sort of repetition and then make a maze around that structure you will find the maze takes on a nice organized look and it stretches your maze making skill or perhaps makes it easier to make the maze harder to solve. It does so because you have to work your way around the restraints of repetitive design. Here we have a circular outer restraint and then a number of pretty well symmetrical dashes and alternating circle hubs.

Quirk – the Quirk Principle of Invention


The word quirk or to be quirky is inspirational. Keep it in mind although some might say that you’ve got it naturally or you don’t have it. There may be some truth in this – if you have little aptitude for the unusual, the odd, the zany – then inventing amusements may not be for you.

So quirky is perhaps a style although it can also define the invention. Form and function and how they relate are at play here. And in general, form vs function is what design is all about. You can have quirk in the packaging or the name of the invention – things that are more form related. But you can also have quirk in the idea itself.

Take the Jack in the Box pictured in this article. This elevates the aspect of surprise. Perhaps it is not the most inventive of products but one important part of invention can be that it points away from the prior art. After years of seeing jack in the boxes pop out the top, this one falls through the bottom. Much easier to build ;-). Relevance is continued by making it the feet of the jack.

Something to watch out for is that quirk is like a lure. If you make it too odd, it is perhaps not believable or people do not understand it and your invention can be ignored. I generally like to blame all my failures on the invention being too zany. I suspect though that this is not the case – marketing is what is needed to educate or entice the public to accept the invention.

When a quirky product, whether in form or function, makes it big – it usually really makes it big. This may be because it is generally more unique. It could be that people are proud that they get the concept – or the gimmick. Web 2.0 is somewhat based on stylistic gimmicks. Pet Rocks, well… I’ll let you make the list – and see if you can be the next harbinger of quirk.

Inventing Words

making up words figmentalisticanarianismists

Inventing words is relatively simple as you do not need to actually make anything. We’ve already discussed making concepts by combining unrelated words in the post: Utopia, an Erotic Mystery – Used to Exemplify the Stretch Technique of Creativity and Invention. Inventing words is a little different and often comes up in the realm of trademarks. Trademarks are usually used for the name of a product of service.

I was a Patent Agent and Trademarks were along side so I have a little training on them. They should be suggestive but not descriptive. So you do not name your white staple invention, white staples. You would trademark it as Stealth – so we have Stealth brand staples. Now that is not making up a word but many people do for trademarks. Styrofoam, Kleenex. Kleenex suggests clean.

When making Web games or sites, sometimes you get a chance to make up words. Here are a few that I have made up:

  • Gorgolon – an underwater civilization where the bubbles in their filtration system make a “gorgle”.
  • Opartica – an online art maker
  • Infizoom, Congon, Kitekilt, Choofu are combinations of shortened words for Motogami or motion games
  • Gycopo is an acronym word for game you can only play once
  • YesUmNo again a combination word for a voting game where you actually use the word as interface to vote yes, maybe (um) or no.
  • Tilator – is a word plus an ending for a tiling tool.

Endings can be fun – we had an art movement called the Figmentalisticanarianismists. That reminds me, aside from names of things there are also words like traditional words where you are naming a concept:

  • Nodism – is the philosophy of connection or nodes and in particular for a single hierarchy
  • Focuso – the art of shooting photographs out of focus

There are words being invented all the time to cover our evolving experiences. There are a number of sites that foster this invention like wordspy. Some of these catch on better than others and the concept of memes is certainly related – memes also being a fairly newly invented word.

So have fun thinking of a word or two – often, as an Inventor, you need a name for your product or service or thought. If you have any words you would like to share, please leave a comment! I am currently inventing a technique to encourage more comments and will launch that here soon.

Snout of Snood Part 2


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Here we reach our arm bravely once again into the Snout of Snood! What magical things will we find and will they lead to any invention? Of note here is the interesting construction of the rocketship.  The bug is also of neat compact construction – not invented by me…

Click here for the seond item – the Rocket

Click here for the third item -the Bug

Click here for the Mash to date

Note: on any mash (more than one mix) you can roll over the Zen Mix logo and use the little arrows to go from one mix to the next.

Food Inventing – Banana Bacon Sandwich

Well… that old saying, “necessity breeds invention” works wonders in the kitchen. When you scour your cupboards and turn the fridge upside down for some sort of meal. When I said turn the fridge upside down… that is really my head so I can see the bottom of the shelves to hunt for ingredients.

Let’s not move too quickly here… a little diversion never hurts the inventor…

What would help us be able to see into our busy fridge? Past the yogurt containers (half the times filled with other things – more room for invention or just perhaps labeling) the ketchup bottles, etc. to the very back of the shelves. Well… looking under the shelves helps. But there are often non-descript bottle bottoms staring back at me. Maybe labels on the bottom of bottles. Sounds a touch extreme – but cute…

If only we could see around the sides. A-ha! Mirrors on the inside sides of the fridge. How hard could that be? I’ll be prototyping that soon!

But for now, back to the task at hand… inventing food.

Say you are out of bread and out of wraps. But you feel like a bacon sandwich – which I do kind of but I don’t because I have been a vegetarian for a year and half. But this next sketch book example is from a while back. Probably not the best idea to propagate but oh well – it gets across the point. So you are out of bread and want a bacon sandwich…

Click here to see the sketch in Zen Pan

Here is a simple – which is often a good idea when it comes to inventing – solution that was most delicious and I suppose sort of healthy – as healthy as anything can be with bacon.

Sometimes I get a calling. The calling of alliteration. If things go well in word they can entice people to use them or try them so… we have a Banana Bacon Sandwich! Sounds nice and easy. And boy did they go together well. Perfect size, perfect combination of consistencies, pleasant flavor – really quick to make and a delightfully original finger food sensation.

The Snout of Snood


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Mod, channeling Dan Zen, introduces the Snout of Snood in this spur of the moment production. There will follow a series of discussions about what is in the Snout of Snood – or perhaps Snood. The discussions will feature impromptu invention based on the item or at least discussion about invention with the item as a starting point.

Click here for the introduction

Click here for the first item – massager?

Click here for the Mash

Note: on any mash (more than one mix) you can roll over the Zen Mix logo and use the little arrows to go from one mix to the next.

Vision of the Future

I have been expecting OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) to come along pretty soon to make OLED walls for instance where the whole wall is a “screen”. They are in phones and on shirts now. But I just had a vision with the help of the Focuso work I have been doing…

In naming a series of Focuso pictures I imagined them as everyday objects but with OLED on them to make them glow and seem interesting. Now, OLED will bring us information too but it can be just used as a light – and will probably replace our lights at least general room and space lighting lights in the next five years.

Coins 2020

Coins 2020

In naming or associating or connecting, I am inventing – it kind of came by accident initially – but by watching out for invention… I realized, hey – cool!

So.. you can see the pictures with their titles and see if you too have a vision. I am running the contest too – the pictures can be seen in part here and eventually in full here:

But the vision is more important than the contest – please come and visit.

And, take the TAPOLL predict-a-poll on the issue to see what area you think OLED will affect most (just the expected locations here) – it is posted on the Tapoll Tech Blog:

Inventions Before Your Eyes!

Inventions often happen in situ – or they relate to things right where you are. This is probably because invention is often fulfilling a need. So if you happen to need something, you just invent the solution.

The invention featured once you click through the Sketch Book icon below is an example of an idea to solve a direct need – that of squeezing toothpaste. It came to me in the bathroom as preparing to brush my teeth.


Click here to see the sketch in Zen Pan

Because I invent a lot of things while relaxing in the bathtub… I have a number of bathtub inventions. These I will feature in future Sketch Book posts.

I used to write down inventions in the car and many of them would relate to the road or driving, etc. So if you want to invent in a certain area, it helps to be in that area to gain focus and recognize possibilities.

Inventing for your location is not always necessary. Our minds of course can project our thinking into distant scenarios – even into the realms of fantasy and future. One thing that helps is a sketch book. A sketch book and a bunch of Mirado pencils could be the best buy you ever make!

Over the next while, I’ll be posting sketches from my sketch books along with tips with respect to creating using a sketch book.

Utopia, an Erotic Mystery – Used to Exemplify the Stretch Technique of Creativity and Invention

Utopia – the erotic mystery set in… well, Utopia, is another example of a principle I call STRETCH – taking unrelated concepts or even words and finding some reason for them to be connected. Back in my psychedelic partying times, we used to play fit the facts (remember that one Gaven?). We’d find reason to fit a few different facts. It is a great exercise for creative story telling. And indeed, this post is directed at creativity which is and important aspect of invention.

In the last post, Gorgolon was mentioned. Gorgolon is the result of the combination of a “spot the artificial intelligence” game (a Turing test) and a poem about an underwater civilization written for the space rock band, Thee Gnostics. This combination stretched the creativity and a story was born as was a number of theoretical inventions – if you read the story. Inventions are still ongoing as people play Gorgolon and make up games and stories to fit the facts of the environment. Players are being STRETCHED and the results of their thoughts are seen by the winners of the game.

Getting back to Utopia, I had written four other mysteries for Moustache Mysteries and was wanting to write another. To do so, I made use of the Tower of Babel – a Dan Zen feature where people whisper unrelated words (nonsense) into the wind and the words are taken to the tower. Here, viewers can vote on how interesting the combinations are by using the radio buttons that construe the walls of the tower and then pressing the god button up top. The more interesting posts rise to the top and the less interesting ones fall to disappear into the ground.

I happened to whisper the phrase, “Sasquatch Seeds” into the tower. I was quite intrigued by this phrase as to what it might mean. And in combination with my conviction that I have seen the Hamilton Hairy wandering the escarpment of Hamilton and stopping to read poetry to some Swedish tourists… I STRETCHED and came up with a connection. (Connection is by the way a very closely related concept to stretch and connections have long been understood as a foreshadowing to invention).

SPOILER TO THE UTOPIA MYSTERY… So what does “Sasquatch Seeds” mean? Well, the Sasquatch, like a Loch Ness Monster, is in part a tourist attraction. A seed is birth. So we have the birth of a tourist attraction. In the Utopia mystery of 1998, over 4,000 people lined up to solve the mystery. They viewed the mystery through scopes. They thought the line up was completely unrelated but it was not. What they were lining up for was a reality show. They were watching six characters, hypnotized into thinking they were in Utopia and placed in a Utopian land of sustenance. Utopia pre-dated Reality Shows by two years. At least in America.

Does the ad for Utopia pictured above take on a little more meaning now? Here are some of the other ads and posters:

Utopia Promo 2 | Promo 3 | Promo 4 | Promo 5 | Promo 6

Dan Zen

Woken by Invention

This is my favorite way to get up and happily it happens often. I love sleeping and perhaps more so, dozing. And dozing is an easy time to invent. Your mind wanders from one thing to another – often surreally (do you like that one?). Sometimes I feel like I would slumber forever… but then comes that idea for which I have to get up and write down!

My idea this morning was that it would be cool to take screenshots of Dan Zen code in related fonts and post the pictures on flickr. I did this for the Canadian New Media Awards and I wonder if that is why I won. It looks kind of cool! The code below is from Gorgolon, the underwater civilization multiuser sci-fi game from 1995. The game and more particular, the story to match the games I consider one of my greatest inventions. You can read about it here: Dan Zen Blog on Gorgolon

programming code as a picture