“Why can’t monkeys talk?”: A fascinating romp through the science of this question. (Monkey pic above via emifauk.) The science of clickbait (via Boing Boing). Behold “Inkwell”, a lovely new set of hand-drawn fonts. An essay on the phenomenon of 90s computer shows (with a cameo by me!) What new types of problems could you solve with a quantum computer? The brutal physics behind why jellyfish stings hurt so damn much.
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!)
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.
“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.
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 …
Here’s some deep meta — a die of polyhedral shapes:
And here are some DNA/nucleotide dice — useful for synthetic biologists want to add some randomness when they’re inadvertently creating unstoppable superbugs!
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?”
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.
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.)
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:
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:
Here’s a little piece of the code for the original Wolfenstein game (not sure what this chunk does):
Here’s a piece of the first version of MacPaint, involved, I think, in calculating the angles of shapes:
This is a chunk of Will Crowther’s FORTRAN from the original Colossal Cave:
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 …
… 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 …