TECH

Prisons To Dinosaurs: The Seven Things I Enjoyed Creating With Technology Most In 2014

22/12/2014 13:44 GMT | Updated 22/12/2014 14:59 GMT

Here at HuffPost Tech we have written a lot about technology in 2014. We've reviewed phones, tablets and laptops, compared specs and price points, and done all the other stuff you might expect a tech website to do.

But we may as well be honest - that's not the stuff that's really fun.

The best part of playing with tech for a living is literally that - play. Creating things, making weird projects and finding new bits and pieces to put together in unusual or fun ways.

That's tech at its best - enabling everyone, whether they work with computers or just have a 3D printer stashed in the back room - to make something ridiculous and maybe pointless, just because they can.

For me, as Tech Editor here at HuffPost, that opportunity is never far away. So to celebrate the year not for the gadgets it gave us, but for the specific moments of inspiration it gave me, here are the seven things I enjoyed making most with tech in 2014.

1. Drawing So Many Dinosaurs.

I've always loved drawing and sketching with techy tablets and pens, and this year was the best I can remember for new bits and pieces to do that with. In fact, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (disclaimer: they currently sponsor us, but this post is not sponsored) was my favourite gadget of the year for that reason. It managed to combine a beautiful form factor and screen with truly ace pen performance.

That said, without programs like Clip Studio Paint and (yes) Photoshop, the tablet would not be nearly so impressive. That's the software that really motivated me to create drawings this year - though they almost all ended up being of dinosaurs. Psychologists, answers on a postcard.

It wasn't all Microsoft though. Paper by 53's Pencil was our favourite actual stylus of the year, and their new Mix social platform is a great place to learn to draw, share ideas and generally have fun playing around with creativity. Paper by 53 is iPad only, and it helped that this year's iPad was really good too - if a bit dull.



2. Playing With Lego (Like An Adult)

I have always loved creating stuff with Lego, and the addition this year of the architecture studio to the Danish toy brand's line-up was something of a revelation. Its pure white and 'glass' bricks and respectful focus on architecture as a discipline as well as an art means that the structures you build with it have a different tone - just as fun, but serious and considered.

I also loved photographing Lego this year, which I did with my trusty Fuji X10 and a homemade lightbox, which I used with Philips Hue lights to get the right effects.

That said, I also built the Lego Tower Bridge and Parisian Cafe this year, and while they were very much build-by-instructions sets they too were delightful. Less creative? Maybe. But ridiculously good fun.



3. 3D Printing (At Last)

Somehow, the Cel Robox is the first 3D printer I've actually tried to use on my own, outside of the clasping hands of PR agents or demonstration employees.

And the good news is that this dual-nozzle, high-speed printer is actually incredibly easy to operate. You essentially drag and drop objects downloaded from the web and the printer gets to work. The included Automaker software makes that process foolproof, and while the objects take a while to print they are generally high quality (though with the imperfections typical of 3D printing that you can see above).

This object, when cleaned up, is a scale model of the heads on Easter Island. It now sites pride of place on my desk at work. I made this object. It didn't exist before, then I pressed print and 45 minutes later it did. No, it wasn't perfect. But it's mine. Look for our full review of the Robox in the new year.



4. My Very Own Prison

Prison Architect is an early-access video game that lets you design, build and operate a prison. It's astonishingly addictive and fun, and the end of 2014 has been dominated for me by my attempts to create the perfect functioning detention centre. I love each of my failed designs as much as any drawing or 3D print-out, and while I may have recently travelled down a prison design rabbit hole (I am fixated with building a maze-like perfect system with 150 guards for one single, doomed prisoner) I am sure I'll be creating stuff with it well into 2015.



5. My Own (Fake) Record Label

Music has always been a hobby, but this year I decided with the help of apps like Garageband, Beatwave, Reason and Figure to put my creativity to the test and make a series of fake bands, each with fake SoundCloud pages, and a fake record label, just for the hell of it. The result was lots of terrible music, a few personal gems, and a lot of strange, confusing fun.

Beatwave in particular has been a great creative highlight of 2014. This generative drum machine-style music app for the iPad is an excellent way to get started with music even if you've never picked up an instrument. Read our full review here.



6. My First Novel

You don't want to know about the novel I wrote this year. What's important is the tech I used to do it. Enter Scrivener, one of those amazing apps that seems to exist in a vacuum, maintained by small-scale geniuses until you need it and then - suddenly - it pops into existence and saves your life.

This app lets you build a manuscript in small steps, linking little documents together into one easily editable whole. As anyone who has ever tried to write anything of length in Word knows, that's a real breakthrough if the app is simple and reliable enough to work. Luckily Scrivener is. You can sync it with Dropbox and run it on Mac or PC too. With my laptop in my bag, I've been able to write an 80,000 word book in half hour chunks before work and during lunch. That's all thanks to technology.



7. This Picture

This photo was taken on my old Fuji X10. But that's not important. What's important is that I was looking into Panasonic's Smart Mirror at the time - a prototype device that can take your image and apply makeup live so you can see what you look like before you actually put it on. No, you can't buy one (yet) but it was some of the most oddly creative and unexpected fun I had with tech all year.