Category: Art

Painting of an eclipse, originally published in the New York Times

How to paint an eclipse. (Pro tip: Work quickly!) How the military changed food science, with the MRE. Audio recordings from the 1930s and 40s of former slaves, reflecting on their lives during and post-slavery. A short anthropological history of human sleep arrangements. A short history of communist bookstores. Border collies can “fast-map” (infer the name of a new, unfamiliar object) with the acumen of a three-year-old human. A graveyard of software. Datacrunch of the lexical complexity and affective metrics of YA fiction. The problems of, in the digital age, having the last name “Null.


Screenshot of "Ten Bullets", an online browser game. “10 Bullets”, an addictively simple one-button browser game. First-person stories from religious protestors in Charlottesville. How the Internet has changed the work of being a private detective. Blockchain considered as foundational technology, like TCP/IP. (The analogy: TCP/IP -> blockchain as Early email -> bitcoin.) Typely, an online-proofreading tool, is very good at catching my consistent overuse of clichés in first drafts. (Man, if I had a nickel for every time I used a cliché!) What is technology? “How My Instagram Hacker Changed My Life.” Here’s some nifty browser-fu for sorting Chrome tabs. “Fuck”: That’s the title of this academic paper, on the legal implications of the word. So, Amazon’s new “2 minute” delivery system is basically just … an Automat?Turn old ASCII art into nicely-formatted HTML with Retrotext. Dataviz infoporn of Chicago’s tree canopy.


Panel from an old comic book with a finger pressing the "hate ray" button

A surreal collection of hilarious panels from vintage comics. A proposal to make an emoji of an oyster with a pearl. An R2D2 translator. Speaking of which, here’s a budgie that makes R2D2 noises! A study finds that students who lose access to legal marijuana do better in school. (Here’s the original paper itself, entitled “‘High’ Achievers?”.) A small Vermont utility is embracing solar and battery storage. An algorithm that takes a sentence and finds a single word that sounds like like its average sound. Via @boingboing, a lovely typewriter from the 1950s for composing musical scores. Judged by historical mortality rates, nuclear is — by far and away — the safest form of energy. A cool-looking coffee table made from Ikea magazine holders, via Ikeahackers. The best bars in Brooklyn at which to code. Fourteen of Picasso’s self-portraits show the evolution of his style. QZ interviews me about the much-misunderstood Luddites.


A dataviz of

A lovely animated dataviz of all the Citibike rides in NYC in one day. And hey, more Citibike dataviz: Tracking the progress of a single bike, and comparing how different demographics use the cycles. Pictures of women weaving magnetic-core memory for computers in the 1950s. Follow @trumphop, which shows what Trump tweeted on this day, in years past. The guy who made the amazing web-story 17776 explains his inspiration. A good Twitter thread of tech folks talking about how they unplug after work. Electric cars are moving to one-pedal control, and changing the rhythms of driving. How the erosion of job security produced “the quitting economy”. “Why I’m learning Perl 6.”


A photograph of the moon using a game boy camera

Photographing the moon using a Game Boy Camera. The “third thumb”, a kooky experimental prosthetic. “A daughter discovers her a cache of her dead grandfather’s Read It Later bookmarks and wonders about his regrets”: @hondanhon composes brilliant tweet-length story-plots that explore grief and digital memory in the future. A grim chart showing how the US spends more on health care for worse results. Why you shouldn’t interrupt programmers. Find a quiet half-hour to read/behold 17776, an astonishing online story about space, time, and the future of football. (Make sure to see it on a screen bigger than a phone. And thanks to @debcha for pointing it out!)


Art created by a Generative Adversarial Network

Newish styles of art, created by a generative adversarial network. “Is it unethical for me to not tell my employer I’ve automated my job?” Amelia Earhart’s hilariously unsentimental prenuptial letter to her fiance. Scientists created an elevator to help eels pass by a dam; they call it the “eelevator”. Roman concrete that has been submerged for 2,000 years is stronger than when it was first made; unpacking its secrets could be useful for climate adaptation. “Grid defection”: As battery tech gets cheaper, McKinsey predicts many households will instal solar arrays and go partially off-grid within a few years. An ancient cuneiform tablet in which a priestess upbraids her brother for not chipping for groceries. A study finds that texting makes you walk funny.


busts of lenin, one covered in vantablack and one regular bronze
“Vantablack” is the darkest pigment ever made — and there’s a pitched battle between artists over who gets access to it. If you’ve ever wondered hey, where did all the xenon on Earth come from? (and who hasn’t?), here’s your answer: Comets. An exhaustive list of ever lie told by President Trump since he assumed office. An experiment finds that drones can deliver defibrillation equipment to remote areas 4X faster than ambulances. Are casinos legally liable for the compulsive behavior of problem gambers? Why “I was afraid” has become the new and unchallengeable excuse when a police officer kills a black man. A video game that shows what 4D objects would look like passing through a 3D world.


Awesomely nerdy dice

"NYC Cuisine Dice" by Eric Harshbarger

The other day on Twitter, Benjamin Edwards posted a picture of some gorgeous milled-aluminum dice a friend made for him. In response, Eric Berlin pointed us to the work of his friend Eric Harshbarger, who designs insanely cool custom dice.

Above is one of Harshbarger’s creations: A set of dice for New Yorkers who are heading out to eat dinner but are paralyzed by the paradox of choice. The dice are labeled:

Die 1: West Village, Chelsea, EV/Nolita, LES, Soho, Roller’s Choice

Die 2: Italian, Roller’s Choice, Sushi, Mexican, Asian, Ethnic

Heh. Below, an even nerdier concept: Binary dice. I’m going to order a pair of these for my son to bring to his middle-school math class …

Binary dice by Eric Harshbarger

Here’s some deep meta — a die of polyhedral shapes:

Polyhedral die by Eric Harshbarger

And here are some DNA/nucleotide dice — useful for synthetic biologists want to add some randomness when they’re inadvertently creating unstoppable superbugs!

DNA/Nucleotide dice by Eric Harshbarger

Below are perhaps my favorite — a pair of dice Harshbarger created after he posed himself a puzzle: “What is the greatest number of dots that can be removed from a die and it still be determinable what is rolled?”

Behold …

Two-pip dice by Eric Harshbarger

His fuller explanation of how to read these:

  • If the ‘center-side’ pip is face up, then a “6” was rolled, because that is the only number with a dot in that position.
  • If the center-side pip is not visible anywhere on the die, then it must be face-down. Meaning you rolled a “1”.
  • Otherwise, the center-side is on one of the four side faces. In this case, look for the ‘center-center’ pip (which, given its position relative to the center-side pip, must be the “5” face). If that center-center dot is face-up, you’ve rolled a “5”. If it is not visible, you’ve rolled a “2”. If it is also on one of the side faces, then you need to know that the 4-5-6 values are placed counterclockwise about their shared vertex (on Bicycle Dice); with that knowledge you can determine whether a “3” or “4” is face up.

This guy’s a genius. Check out the rest of the dice on his page; the ones here are only the tip of the iceberg.

What I love about Harshbarger’s work is how it leverages humanity’s longstanding fascination with randomness — a force that has long tweaked and teased society’s ideas about logic, reason, the will of God, the arc of life. Over at Aeon, Michael Schulson wrote a terrific essay on the situations where a random choice can be better than a reasoned one, and he opens by noting the peculiar allure of the random:

As moderns, we take it for granted that the best decisions stem from a process of empirical analysis and informed choice, with a clear goal in mind. That kind of decision-making, at least in theory, undergirds the ways that we choose political leaders, play the stock market, and select candidates for schools and jobs. It also shapes the way in which we critique the rituals and superstitions of others. But … [snip]

… As any blackjack dealer or tarot reader might tell you, we have a love for the flip of the card. Why shouldn’t we? Chance has some special properties. It is a swift, consistent, and (unless your chickens all die) relatively cheap decider. Devoid of any guiding mind, it is subject to neither blame nor regret. Inhuman, it can act as a blank surface on which to descry the churning of fate or the work of divine hands. Chance distributes resources and judges disputes with perfect equanimity.


Paintings of computer code

A painting of an Oracle java API

So, I’ve decided that I want paintings of computer code hanging on my wall.

I started thinking about this last week when I saw the image above.

It’s a painting that was introduced by Oracle in a big lawsuit filed against Google. You can read about it in a great piece by Sarah Jeong, but in brief, Oracle sued Google for $9 billion. Why? They claimed Google had violated copyright by illegally using a snippet of Oracle code. Oracle argued that if you wanted to use that code legally — without violating copyright — you needed to transform it somehow, so that you could claim “fair use”. For example, you could take the code and … render it as a painting! To show what this would look like, the Oracle lawyers actually created that painting of the code seen above. (Oracle lost the argument, thankfully, though the larger question around the copyrightability of APIs is still pretty freaky; you can read more in Jeong’s piece.)

Anyway, quite apart from the legal questions at hand, I was quite taken by the idea of … having a painting of computer code hanging on my wall.

We’re surrounded by software all day long, but we don’t actually look at it, ponder it, gaze at it. Plenty of artists these days use computer code to make gorgeous art, of course. And there are many artists who’ve inverted the flow and used digital scenes for traditional art, as with the video-game paintings of my friend James Barnett (one of which I have hanging on my wall.)

But me, I also dig the idea of the code itself being the subject of a traditional art like oil painting: “Still life with Javascript.” Having that stuff hanging on your wall would — maybe? — make the code running our world an ever-so-slightly more concrete thing.

That Oracle “painting” wasn’t very aesthetically interesting; it’s just a screenshot printed on a canvas, I think. So as an experiment to weirdify it, I ran the picture through Waterlogue, an app that takes photos and transforms them into watercolor-style images:

A "waterlogue" version of the Oracle "fair use" API painting

Eerie, eh? Then I went around online and found some other examples of famous pieces of computer code, and used Waterlogue to turn them into paintings.

The results were pretty striking. Here’s a chunk of code from MS-DOS 1.1, from the section where it’s doing a sector write:

A painting of MS-DOS code doing a sector write

Here’s a little piece of the code for the original Wolfenstein game (not sure what this chunk does):

Painting of computer code from Wolfenstein

Here’s a piece of the first version of MacPaint, involved, I think, in calculating the angles of shapes:

Waterlogue 1.2.1 (66) Preset Style = Blotted Format = 6" (Medium) Format Margin = None Format Border = Straight Drawing = Fountain Pen Drawing Weight = Heavy Drawing Detail = Low Paint = Rich Color Paint Lightness = Medium Paint Intensity = Normal Water = Cherenkov Blue Water Edges = Blurry Water Bleed = Minimal Brush = Coarse Detail Brush Focus = Everything Brush Spacing = Wide Paper = Soft Red Paper Texture = Medium Paper Shading = Light Options Faces = Enhance Faces

This is a chunk of Will Crowther’s FORTRAN from the original Colossal Cave:

Waterlogue 1.2.1 (66) Preset Style = Bold Format = 6" (Medium) Format Margin = None Format Border = Straight Drawing = #2 Pencil Drawing Weight = Heavy Drawing Detail = Medium Paint = High Contrast Paint Lightness = Medium Paint Intensity = More Water = Tap Water Water Edges = Blurry Water Bleed = Average Brush = Fine Detail Brush Focus = Everything Brush Spacing = Medium Paper = Watercolor Paper Texture = Medium Paper Shading = Medium Options Faces = Enhance Faces

The top line reads “TOTING(OBJ) = TRUE IF THE OBJ IS BEING CARRIED”, though you can’t really see it when the font is so small. I zoomed in a bit more closely on the top left corner and turned that into a painting of its own …

Closeup of watercolor-ified code from "Colossal Cave"

… which lets you see the actual language and syntax a little more clearly.

I think my conclusion here is that a painting of code would look really cool if the text were a) prettily distorted by the medium (watercolor, in this case; or simulated watercolor anyway), but b) with a font-size big enough that you could still make out the text. So what I’d really like is code painted on a canvas or perhaps seven or eight feet square. Which would be nuts but great!

Has anyone actually heard of artists doing paintings of code? I poked around online and didn’t find any, but it seems like that someone has probably done this …

Update: On Twitter, Simon Carless pointed me to these fantastic posters that Ben Fry made in which he maps out the flow of the source code for several Atari games. And: You can order them as posters! Here’s the one for the game Combat; embiggen it to grasp the detail of the work here …

Ben Fry's illustration of the source code of the Atari game Combat