Psychedelic lights yield to Web-driven imagination

April 19, 2004


Old Town's Pipers Alley at 210 W. North, once filled with mind-expanding head shops, psychedelic lights and black-light posters, now houses "The Imagination Environment," an 8-by-4-foot technology performance art exhibit.

It features an array of nine flat-screen monitors mounted behind a plexiglas shield. The center screen plays a continuous feed of Fox News. Taking the news reader's words from the closed-caption feed, the exhibit connects to Internet search engines. Pictorial search results are visualized in real time on the remaining screens. The display can be truly mind blowing.

"Because it uses search engines, sometimes the images are on point. Sometimes they are enlightening. Sometimes they are just bizarre," says Kris Hammond, director of Northwestern University's Intelligent Information Laboratory, which created the exhibit along with Second City and Northwestern's Program in Network Arts.

"We can use technology to surprise and entertain," says Kelly Leonard, Second City executive producer, whose new revue, "Show Title Deemed Indecent by FCC," takes on censorship.

Leonard likens "The Imagination Environment" to Second City's improvisation process: "It spits out pop culture. It is searching for the most popular images that go with the words. That's what we do on stage when we create our shows. The times when our scenes work the best is when they take an unexpected turn. That's what makes improv comedy so interesting."

Adds Hammond, "People become transfixed. When people first look, they think it's random. Then they realize it's being guided by what the reporter is saying. They go, 'Wow!' It's an amplifier. It takes you into a machine's notion of the world based on what we've created on the Web."

Northwestern graduate student David Shamma designed the exhibit. It's worth a look.

Jellifish's riff on Chicago

Robb Hendrickson, founder of Oakbrook Terrace-based Jellifish Inc., a manufacturer of high-tech guitar accessories, has his eye on the $1.5 billion guitar-products market. Using Chicago-based high-tech manufacturing techniques, Hendrickson hopes to transform the industry and enable guitar players to create richer sounds.

His Jellifish product replaces a traditional guitar pick, issuing more melodious tones through the welding of small metal strands that wave across the guitar strings.

"We're using very high-tolerance injection molding and two Nd:YAG lasers for the welding, fusion and cutting of the sub-assembly," says Hendrickson. "Chicago has a unique array of advanced manufacturing technologies available on an outsourced basis."

Hendrickson drew positive feedback from a standing-room-only crowd at last week's Monday Morning Meeting, sponsored by the Illinois Coalition, ARCH Development Partners and the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center.

The monthly sessions, moderated by Tom Churchwell, ARCH Development's managing partner, offer entrepreneurs a platform for feedback. Other presenters came from Dan Schramm, president, Topiary Communications, a local knowledge-management software company, and Krishna Jayaraman, CEO of Genomics USA Inc., which develops DNA and protein microarray technologies.

Can CEOs and CIOs coexist?

Corporate technology marriage counseling is on the agenda Wednesday at the Mid-America Club. Longtime rental-car-industry CEO William Plamondon, who led Budget Rent a Car, Alamo Rent a Car and National Car Rental, joins Dick Smith, his CIO, to talk relationships.

"What the CIO wants is the most direct linkage to the business," says Plamondon, who advocates CIOs reporting to CEOs.

CIOs are major corporate spenders who don't always deliver the results they promise. Sparks often fly in these relationships, just like many marriages. Gartner senior program director Henry May plays the therapist role. The program is organized by the Society for Information Management.

Bits & bytes

Chicago's zuChem raised $500,000 in Series A financing from the Biotechnology Research and Development Corp., ARCH Development Partners and a number of angel investors.

Merrill Lynch created a 26-company nanotech index. It includes four Chicago companies: Amcol International (Nanocor), Nanophase, BioSante Pharma, and Cabot Microelectronics.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners