TIME Music

VIDEO: Artist Who Puked on Lady Gaga at SXSW Defends Her Craft

She's "Got Milk" — and she's not shy about using it

British artist Millie Brown, who is perhaps now best known for puking on Lady Gaga at her SXSW performance, has repeatedly defended her work since making headlines last week.

Most notably, singer Demi Lovato tweeted a statement that criticized the pair’s performance as an act that glamorized eating disorders. Although Brown didn’t respond to Lovato directly, she made her own sentiments clear in a tweet the following day:

https://twitter.com/Millie_Brown/status/444899596154585089

Brown vomited green soy milk on Gaga, but she told Elle she actually prefers to use the color blue. When she vomits onto canvases, Brown said, the pieces sell for as much as $20,000.

Watch up top.

TIME

Injured SXSW Fan Treated To Private Hospital Room Show

A teen fan wasn't able to go see one of her favorite bands, after being injured in an accident, so the band came to her instead

Live performances don’t get much more heartfelt and intimate than this.

Members of the band Jared & The Mill played a set Saturday afternoon in the hospital room of one of their fans, 18-year-old Mason Endres, who was injured in a car accident at SXSW on Thursday. Because of the accident, Endres wasn’t able to attend the performance of the band, so the band decided to pay her a special visit.

“We played the songs she wanted to hear,” the band’s singer, Jared Kolesar, 23, told Mashable. “It was a very heavy feeling in the room because of everything she has been through — heavy and inspiring.Her parents were really emotional. She’s just as much our friend as she is our fan.”

Mason said in an interview that she plans to get Jared & The Mill lyrics tattooed on her when she’s well.

“I think the pure excitement of everything has gotten me through today,” Mason said Saturday. “I felt better than I ever imagined I thought I would feel in a hospital.”

TIME movies

SXSW 2014: Austin’s Silver Screen Winners

Nicolas Cage in David Gordon Green’s Joe.
Nicolas Cage in David Gordon Green’s Joe. Roadside Attractions

These 10 movies made SXSW spectacular this year

There’s something adventurous about South by Southwest. For a few days out of the year, everyone’s a media cowboy (or cowgirl) — and best of all is SXSW Film, where cinematic icons share paper towels with ambitious filmmakers over the strongest plates of BBQ they’ll ever slurp up in North America. Anything can happen in Austin: standing side by side at the urinal with Ethan Hawke, taking selfies with Mindy Kaling, or creeping out to a scary Mark Duplass on-screen as he sips beer in the row behind. You might even catch an in-person glimpse of the ever-elusive Grumpy Cat.

This year’s crop of films brought a consistent blend of veterans who all have ties to the Republic: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood was a 12-year homage to Texas, while David Gordon Green’s Joe put a rusty fork in the state’s underbelly; Jon Favreau turned the lens on Austin’s food scene in Chef and Wes Anderson made a triumphant return with The Grand Budapest Hotel.

In that regard, South by Southwest 2014 was a success — especially in maintaining the illusion that it’s still the small independent festival just north of the border. Here are 10 examples why.

10. Starry Eyes

Director: Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch

Starring: Alexandra Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Fabianne Therese, Noah Segan, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy, Marc Senter, Maria Olsen, and Lou Dezseran

What’s the deal? If David Lynch and David Cronenberg came together to craft a gory, psychological mindbender, it might be Starry Eyes. The 98-minute film follows a young and hungry actress in Hollywood (Essoe) who is willing to do just about anything to make it as a marquee star. The story itself is disjointed in its mythos, but that’s also what makes the scares all the more terrifying — especially when the grotesque transformations begin. Think: Brundlefly.

You’ll dig if you… currently subscribe to the new class of horror, especially someone like The House of the Devil director Ti West, who is deft at combining tropes both dusty and new.

09. The Infinite Man

Director: Hugh Sullivan

Starring: Josh McConville, Hannah Marshall, and Alex Dimitriades

What’s the deal? Scientists and mathematicians should unite for this Australian export, which turns quantum mechanics and oddball physics into a cinematic jigsaw puzzle. Sullivan’s strange tale of a romantic genius (McConville) who travels back in time to save his relationship is hilarious, anxious, and passionately inventive. On the surface, it’s a minimal presentation — one setting, three actors — but one of the most complex takes on time travel given its Escher-like nature. There’s no doubt that Dr. Emmett Brown would go all Scanners in this crisis.

You’ll dig if you… actually understood Shane Carruth’s smartsy Primer back in 2004.

08. Creep

Director: Patrick Brice

Starring: Mark Duplass, Patrick Brice

What’s the deal? In this “found footage” thriller, one man (Brice) takes up a Craigslist offer to film a stranger (Duplass) for a whole day at some remote cabin for $1,000. Of course, things get weird. What separates this Blumhouse production from, well, any other Blumhouse production is Duplass. For over a year, the mumblecore auteur and his fellow co-star and director pieced together this film from an eight-page treatment, relying solely on improv and multiple takes. What makes for a spontaneous and unnerving piece of filmmaking also serves as an apt commentary on the pitfalls of trust in a modern society.

You’ll dig if you… have both The Puffy Chair and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in your Netflix queue.

07. The Mend

Director: John Magary

Starring: Josh Lucas, Stephen Plunkett, Lucy Owen, Mickey Sumner, Cory Nichols, Sekou Laidlow, Louisa Krause, Sarah Steele, Leo Fitzpatrick, and Austin Pendleton

What’s the deal? Two brothers — one a drifter (Lucas), the other a straight-laced yuppie (Plunett) — reunite in Harlem just as their respective relationships boil over. It’s a visceral account of fractured brotherhood, supported by uncanny chemistry between Lucas and Plunkett, who humorously riff on each other with ease and humility. Magary also twists the knobs on reality here and there, driving deep into the psychosis of loss and anxiety. The erratic score by Judd Greenstein and Michi Wiancko should also please any classical scholar.

You’ll dig if you… have ever felt the need to punch and hug your sibling at the same time.

06. Chef

Director: Jon Favreau

Starring: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Sedaris, Emjay Anthony, and Robert Downey, Jr.

What’s the deal? A critically-acclaimed Los Angeles chef (Favreau) refuses to compromise his creativity for his restaurant’s stubborn owner (Hoffman) and, instead, ventures into the thriving market of food trucks. Amidst this career change, he also struggles with his young son, who just wants to be a part of his father’s life. What makes Chef cook is Favreau’s passion for the story and industry, as evidenced by the film’s scope (e.g. a road trip nationwide) and his legit connections (e.g. Franklin’s BBQ owner Aaron Franklin). It’s also a nice retreat to Favreau’s past small-screen work a la Made and Swingers, an area that serves him well.

You’ll dig if you… prefer kimchi to ketchup. And also, if you enjoy a solid Robert Downey, Jr. cameo every once and awhile.

05. No No: A Dockumentary

Director: Jeffrey Radice

Starring: N/A

What’s the deal? Odds are you’ve heard about Dock Ellis’s historic 1970 no-hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates — y’know, the summer game he was tripping out on LSD? What you likely don’t know was how vital the man’s career was to sports history. Director Jeffrey Radice uses that strange nugget of baseball trivia and throws a curve ball at moviegoers by dissecting racism, drug abuse, and charity in modern American sports. Although rather lengthy for a documentary, the film’s emotionally-charged interviews elicit enough tears, laughs, and gasps to avoid feeling the need for a 7th inning stretch. Hearing the late Ellis breakdown as he reads an old letter by Jackie Robinson is a rare human moment captured on film.

You’ll dig if you… already swept through ESPN’s 30 for 30 series months ago.

04. Boyhood

Director: Richard Linklater

Starring: Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, and Lorelei Linklater

What’s the deal? Twelve years go by in the blink of an eye. That’s the idea behind Linklater’s latest effort, which captures the life of a young Texas boy (Coltrane) through childhood all the way up until his first day at college. The alternative filmmaker began production on the ambitious project way back in 2002 and finally wrapped last year. What you see on-screen is a remarkable experiment that’s almost jarring in its composition, setting a new precedent for how filmgoers might experience nostalgia on film. How Linklater managed to make it to the finish line with all parties involved is an awe-inspiring feat in itself. It’s only icing on the 18-year-old’s birthday cake that the film’s damn good, too.

You’ll dig if you… prefer your Hawke directed and written by longtime collaborator Linklater (see: Before Sunrise, Tape, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight).

03. Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

Director: Mike Myers

Starring: Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper, Michael Douglas, Emeril Lagasse, Tom Arnold, and Anne Murray

What’s the deal? Hollywood goldmine Shep Gordon finally gets the spotlight he’s shied away from for years in Myers’s directorial debut. Thank God: It’s a story that runs circles around recent non-fiction heroes like The Wolf of Wall Street‘s Jordan Belfort or American Hustle‘s Melvin Weinberg, focusing on real stories told by real people. After all, the man was responsible for Alice Cooper, the idea of a “celebrity chef,” and essentially every artist worth buying on vinyl. The way Myers stitches together the interviews, the smudgy B-roll, and the explicitly-corny reenactments makes the story all that more believable and enlightening.

You’ll dig if you… found the balcony contracting of Entourage deeply fascinating.

02. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and Owen Wilson

What’s the deal? Anderson returns to top form, going bigger and bolder in his followup to 2012′s Moonrise Kingdom. While plenty of his trademark twee lingers throughout, The Grand Budapest Hotel packs a farcical edge that recalls the stronger works of O. Henry or even Monty Python. Inspired by the writings of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, the film follows one German concierge (Fiennes) who must team up with his young new bellhop (Revolori) to prove his innocence in a recent murder. Not since, maybe, Gene Hackman’s ingenious portrayal of Royal Tenenbaum has there been a better performance in Anderson’s pictures than Fiennes’. His wit and emasculating rapport have a strict reservation for next year’s awards season.

You’ll dig if you… plan to renew your subscription to Wes Anderson, enjoy a great cameo or two, and/or yearn for a grand adventure in a different time and place.

01. Joe

Director: David Gordon Green

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan

What’s the deal? What’s not to love about Joe? Another rare turn for Green, an honest-to-God performance by Cage, and further proof that Sheridan is one of the most important young talents in Hollywood make this adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel of friendship, violence, and redemption in the Dirty South an unforgettable watch. Cage’s titular hero is a simple character with simple problems, surrounded by complex relationships. Watching them unfold and resolve over the film’s 117 minutes is a nail biter, sure, but the anxiety’s warranted. Cage pays homage to a brand of masculinity that’s as dated as his character’s beat up truck and as brutal as his loyal pitbull. It’s a rare look for Cage, though if Hollywood fodder like Season of the Witch or Ghost Rider 2 has left you nauseous around the Academy Award-winner, consider this your reboot.

You’ll dig if you… sought out Prince Avalanche and Snow Angels and not the other way around.

TIME Television

Late-Night Highlight: Lady Gaga Wears Coffee Filter Dress on Kimmel

Surprisingly, the coffee filters are not edible

Lady Gaga is at SXSW, and she really wants to be… comfortable? That’s what she told Jimmy Kimmel at the Austin taping of his show last night when asked about her outfit: a coffee filter dress.

“She did not bring the meat dress or the giant egg,” Kimmel joked. “She didn’t want to be turned into a 3 a.m. breakfast taco.”

Perhaps the coffee filters are a tribute to all her late nights at SXSW, where she’s been catching as many musical performances as she can — the singer says what she misses most about her pre-celebrity days is being able to listen to live music in bars unnoticed.

TIME Pop

Lady Gaga’s Friend Vomited On Her and It Was Art, Obviously

Not the same as when you got puked on at a Gaga concert

Lady Gaga wasn’t the only person who got puked on at SXSW Thursday night — but she’s probably the only one who did it on purpose.

Gaga’s friend and “vomit artist” Millie Brown puked green soymilk all over the Pop Queen while she played “Swine.” (Some particularly lucky concertgoers got to watch her chug the soymilk before she retched it onto Gaga.) Later, she puked black bile onto Gaga while they scissored on an airborne mechanical bull.

Brown has been called the “Jackson Pollock” of vomit.

This art piece was brought to you by Doritos, who probably should have known what they were getting themselves into.

TIME big data

Google’s Flu Project Shows the Failings of Big Data

Google flu trends
GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images

A new study shows that using big data to predict the future isn't as easy as it looks—and that raises questions about how Internet companies gather and use information

Big data: as buzzwords go, it’s inescapable. Gigantic corporations like SAS and IBM tout their big data analytics, while experts promise that big data—our exponentially growing ability to collect and analyze information about anything at all—will transform everything from business to sports to cooking. Big data was—no surprise—one of the major themes coming out of this month’s SXSW Interactive conference. It’s inescapable.

One of the most conspicuous examples of big data in action is Google’s data-aggregating tool Google Flu Trends (GFT). The program is designed to provide real-time monitoring of flu cases around the world based on Google searches that match terms for flu-related activity. Here’s how Google explains it:

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries are added together. We compared our query counts with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in different countries and regions around the world.

Seems like a perfect use of the 500 million plus Google searches made each day. There’s a reason GFT became the symbol of big data in action, in books like Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schonberger’s Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think. But there’s just one problem: as a new article in Science shows, when you compare its results to the real world, GFT doesn’t really work.

GFT overestimated the prevalence of flu in the 2012-2013 and 2011-2012 seasons by more than 50%. From August 2011 to September 2013, GFT over-predicted the prevalence of the flu in 100 out 108 weeks. During the peak flu season last winter, GFT would have had us believe that 11% of the U.S. had influenza, nearly double the CDC numbers of 6%. If you wanted to project current flu prevalence, you would have done much better basing your models off of 3-week-old data on cases from the CDC than you would have been using GFT’s sophisticated big data methods. “It’s a Dewey beats Truman moment for big data,” says David Lazer, a professor of computer science and politics at Northeastern University and one of the authors of the Science article.

Just as the editors of the Chicago Tribune believed it could predict the winner of the close 1948 Presidential election—they were wrong—Google believed that its big data methods alone were capable of producing a more accurate picture of real-time flu trends than old methods of prediction from past data. That’s a form of “automated arrogance,” or big data hubris, and it can be seen in a lot of the hype around big data today. Just because companies like Google can amass an astounding amount of information about the world doesn’t mean they’re always capable of processing that information to produce an accurate picture of what’s going on—especially if turns out they’re gathering the wrong information. Not only did the search terms picked by GFT often not reflect incidences of actual illness—thus repeatedly overestimating just how sick the American public was—it also completely missed unexpected events like the nonseasonal 2009 H1N1-A flu pandemic. “A number of associations in the model were really problematic,” says Lazer. “It was doomed to fail.”

Nor did help that GFT was dependent on Google’s top-secret and always changing search algorithm. Google modifies its search algorithm to provide more accurate results, but also to increase advertising revenue. Recommended searches, based on what other users have searched, can throw off the results for flu trends. While GFT assumes that the relative search volume for different flu terms is based in reality—the more of us are sick, the more of us will search for info about flu as we sniffle above our keyboards—in fact Google itself alters search behavior through that ever-shifting algorithim. If the data isn’t reflecting the world, how can it predict what will happen?

GFT and other big data methods can be useful, but only if they’re paired with what the Science researchers call “small data”—traditional forms of information collection. Put the two together, and you can get an excellent model of the world as it actually is. Of course, if big data is really just one tool of many, not an all-purpose path to omniscience, that would puncture the hype just a bit. You won’t get a SXSW panel with that kind of modesty.

A bigger concern, though, is that much of the data being gathered in “big data”—and the formulas used to analyze it—is controlled by private companies that can be positively opaque. Google has never made the search terms used in GFT public, and there’s no way for researchers to replicate how GFT works. There’s Google Correlate, which allows anyone to find search patterns that purport to map real-life trends, but as the Science researchers wryly note: “Clicking the link titled ‘match the pattern of actual flu actvity (this is how we built Google Flu Trends!)’ will not, ironically, produce a replication of the GFT search terms.” Even in the academic papers on GFT written by Google researchers, there’s no clear contact information, other than a generic Google email address. (Academic papers almost always contain direct contact information for lead authors.)

At its best, science is an open, cooperative and cumulative effort. If companies like Google keep their big data to themselves, they’ll miss out on the chance to improve their models, and make big data worthy of the hype. “To harness the research community, they need to be more transparent,” says Lazer. “The models for collaboration around big data haven’t been built.” It’s scary enough to think that private companies are gathering endless amounts of data on us. It’d be even worse if the conclusions they reach from that data aren’t even right.

TIME SXSW

Two Killed, Dozens Injured as Car Barrels Through Barricade at SXSW

Authorities in Austin, Texas, say a drunk driver was evading police early Tuesday when the car barreled into a temporary barricade for people gathered near the popular downtown nightclub The Mohawk, leaving two people dead and dozens injured

Updated 8:29 PM EST

The carefree, congenial attitude synonymous with Austin’s South By Southwest (SXSW) music and media festival took a tragic turn when two people were killed and dozens injured just after midnight Thursday near a strip of music venues in the Texas capital.

Austin authorities said that a drunk driver was evading police when he barreled his car through a temporary barricade and plowed into a crowd of fans outside the popular The Mohawk nightclub in downtown. Prior to the accident, he had been driving the wrong way down a one way street.

Austin police have reportedly taken the driver, who they identified as Rashad Charjuan Owens, into custody, and Austin Police chief Art Acevedo says that he faces two charges of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault. The names of the deceased and injured have yet to be officially released.

“We had a large crowd,” Acevedo said. “I just thank God that a lot of the folks had already been pushed on the sidewalk or this could have been a lot worse.” The crowd was waiting in line for a performance by rapper Tyler the Creator. The rapper tweeted a sad face emoticon early Thursday morning.

“It looked like something out of a movie,” Russ Barone told CNN. “A few people lying on the street … with their friends around them trying to get them up, trying to get them back to life. Hopefully, they are.”

Some witnesses posted videos on YouTube, although Acevedo is encouraging them to turn them into police rather than putting them on the internet.

This post was updated with the suspect’s name.

[AP]

TIME Music

VIDEO: Watch Coldplay Debut New Song “Always In My Head” at SXSW

Coldplay's Ghost Stories will be released on May 19th

There are a lot of good reason to avoid South By Southwest (lines, crowds, lines). Those stalwart enough to brave the lines and crowds and crowded lines and were able to get into Coldplay’s concert last night, they were rewarded with a sneak peek at the band’s upcoming sixth album, Ghost Stories.

Radio.com reports that Coldplay played four new songs during their 11-song hit-laden set, which kicked off the first night of the inaugural iTunes Festival within-a-festival at SXSW. They’ve released the audio for “Magic”, and a video for “Midnight,” but fan’s will have to wait to hear the other new track, “Another’s Arms”.

Ghost Stories will be released on May 19th on Parlophone.

MORE: SXSW 2014: 17 Bands To Watch, Even if You Don’t Go to the Music Festival

MORE: Who Cares What Lykke Li Is Made Of When Her Music Is This Good?

TIME Technologizer

6 Things I Judged and Liked at This Year’s SXSW Accelerator

SXSW Accelerator
Ryan Allis, CEO of Connect, pitches at the SXSW Accelerator as emcees Harry McCracken and Maria Thomas observe Marie Domingo

I spent last Saturday serving as a co-emcee for the SXSW Accelerator, an event-within-the-event at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, devoted to identifying and helping very early-stage tech companies. My work involved spending seven hours in one hotel conference room, watching pitches from a total of 16 startups, facilitating questions from a panel of venture-capitalist judges and generally making sure that the proceedings stayed on schedule.

Whenever I described that task to other SXSW attendees — many of whom had devoted their Saturday to roaming between interesting panels, interspersed with breaks for barbecue and beer — they expressed their sympathies. Actually, it was a lot of fun, and I was surprised by how quickly it went. That’s in part because companies got only two minutes apiece to pitch their products — a daunting challenge, but one which should be easier, not harder, for the best ideas. (If you can’t coherently explain something new in 120 seconds or less, it’s unlikely to capture the imagination of consumers.)

The Acclerator was a competition, with prizes such as cash, free web hosting and tickets to next year’s SXSW, and the 16 companies in the sessions I participated in were among 48 contenders. Based on voting by the judges and emcees, 18 of the 48 went to a second round on Sunday. Nine of those companies won either their category or a special award.

Herewith, a half-dozen of the companies in my portion of the Accelerator that tickled my fancy. A couple of them went on to become overall winners for the entire event; others didn’t survive the initial round of judging. But they stood out as things I’d like to use — and I’ve already installed some of them on my devices.

Artiphon

Artiphon. No single startup stood out as being the best of the bunch. But the most fascinating one, at least to me? That’s easy: It was Artiphon, which is working on an entirely new sort of musical instrument that can be played like a guitar, a violin or a drumset — or like no other instrument that has ever existed. Did I mention that you stick your iPhone into it? The device is beautifully hand-crafted out of wood, which helps explain its $799 price. (The company plans to produce a more mass-market version eventually.)

Samba. This went on to be one of the winners among all 48 companies that participated in this year’s accelerator. It’s an iPhone video messaging app with a twist: When you send a video you’ve created to someone, the app uses the phone’s front-facing camera to capture the recipient’s reaction, then sends it back to you. You can see the emotion you provoked, be it romanticky swooning or hearty laughter.

Waygo. This was another of the competition’s ultimate winners. You point your iPhone at a sign, menu or other written item in Chinese, and it translates it into English on the fly. Other languages are coming — Japanese is next — and you don’t need to have a data connection, which is vital for an app you might be using during international travel. The idea is not new (Word Lens did something similar in 2010) but the implementation looks slick.

Connect

Connect. Yet another iPhone app. This one weaves together your acquaintances from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and other sources into a sort of uber-address book. It’s free unless you want to sync contacts from LinkedIn, which costs $2.99. Conceptually, the app also overlaps a bit with proximity-based social apps such as Highlight, since it uses check-ins from other services to figure out where your friends are and plot them on a map.

Felt. This one’s for the iPad, and aims to reinvent hand-written greeting cards for the digital age. You pick a design and then hand-write your sentiment — and the recipient’s address — on the tablet’s screen. For $3.99, Felt then prints everything out and sends it via snail mail. You can do stuff like write a year’s worth of birthday greetings to various people in one sitting, then schedule them to be automatically sent out in time for each person’s special day as it arrives.

Omlet. A startup called MobiSocial, cofounded by a Stanford professor, is behind this one, and it’s actually two ideas. One is a chat client for iOS and Android that looks fine but unexceptional. But beneath its surface is technology for doing social networking in which your stuff gets stored somewhere under your control — such as a Dropbox or Box account — rather than on servers where a social-networking company can make money off it. MobiSocial is working with companies such as Asus to build this intriguing capability into third-party apps.

TIME Technologizer

Inventables Launches Easel, a Free Web App for Designing Real-World Physical Stuff

Easel
Inventable's Easel design service and a Shapeoko desktop CNC milling machine Inventables

Draw it in your browser, then manufacture it on your desktop.

There’s a revolution going on in manufacturing — one that lets everyday folks use tabletop-sized devices to produce the sorts of products that would have once required a factory. And though most of the excitement concerns the machinery that makes this possible, the software matters just as much. After all, you can’t make something until you’ve designed it. And 3D design software has traditionally been pricey and catered to pros, not the rest of us.

At the SXSW Interactive in Austin this morning, Zach Kaplan, CEO of Inventables, an online store for desktop-manufacturing products, formally unveiled something intended to make designing less daunting. It’s called Easel, and it’s a free, browser-based service that lets you design objects that can be manufactured either with your own equipment or by a service bureau. Easel users can also share their creations with the rest of the community.

Kaplan says that Easel is aimed both at amateurs and at professionals. (The pros might want to use it to prototype products they’ll eventually mass-produce.) It’s free — Inventables sees it as a way to expand the audience of people who will want to buy equipment and supplies.

Easel isn’t designed for use with a 3D printer, a device that produces a physical object by layering a material such as plastic over and over and over until the desired creation takes shape. Instead, it works with CNC milling machines such as the $650 Shapeoko. You create a 2D shape, then Easel extrudes it into a 3D object that can be cut out of wood, metal or another material.

Basically, the range of shapes you can produce is more limited than with a 3D printer, but you can make them out of classier stuff, opening up the possibility of producing beautiful products in small batches.

Among the examples Inventables is playing up, each made in part or entirely with CNC milled parts:

Though there’s already plenty of interest in 3D printing and related subjects, Kaplan says that the revolution is just beginning. He compares the current situation to the first era of personal computing, before the IBM PC came along: “We’re in the 1977-1980 timeframe, the early timeframe of digital manufacturing.” And he thinks that technology is poised to enable the creation of millions of products that wouldn’t otherwise exist, just as desktop publishing democratized the book industry.

Easel is currently in a closed beta test as Inventables smoothes out any kinks and makes sure it works well in multiple browsers. You can sign up for early access at Easel.com.

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