Category: Programming

Picture of Mcdonald's Pikachu McFlurry

“Would You Eat A Pokemon McFlurry That Looks Like Pikachu’s Swirled Corpse?” Why we need to reboot the web culture of “view source”: My latest Wired column. (And here’s Sam Arbesman reflecting on the same thing from the Commodore-64 80s — including some lovely BASIC programs his father wrote for him.) How to attach a camera to a humpback whale. The EFF ranks online services by how well they protect your privacy. If you spent tons of time on social media, you’re exposed to an ideological wider array of news sources. The advent of easily-faked video. I am a sucker for all scientific research that suggests you should DRINK MOAR COFFEE


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!)


Cover of fake O'Reilly book I generated, called "Incomprehensible Javascript"

Generate your own O’Reilly book cover. Picking up guys on Tinder using lines generated by a neural net. Palm cockatoos play the drums much like …. humans. (The study; video of a bird drumming right here!) The child of “Tay”: A new Microsoft chatbot says the Qur’an is “very violent”. A hidden underwater forest, 10,000 years old, is discovered! “Jaywalking while black.” Behold the booze requirements for 16th-century performers of mystery plays. What exactly is consciousness good for? Gorgeous library artwork made of bookends.


A projector that runs an Android interface on any surface. An anonymous programmer automates her/his job, and wonders: Should I tell my boss? The science of how to smile without looking like a creep. People with better memory appear to get bored more quickly. Why Intel’s updates to its chips increasingly involve new layers of complex microcode, or … “Why Hardware Is The New Software”. When you change your behavior because you’re worried about getting good ratings/likes/approval online, that’s “Social Cooling”. (Last two links via @gnat’s excellent “Four Short Links”.)


Artists rendering of Macrauchenia patachonica by museum of natural history
Scientists finally figure out the genetic tree of a “very weird mammal” that vanished 10,000 years ago: It’s part of the horse family. “Those whose past is legible will be exhorted to repeat it.” Behold the “Encounter Editor”, Chris Crawford’s tool — 25 years in the making — for scripting interactive stories. “Quibits” are quantum bits that can represent two states, 1 and 0, at the same time; but now we have “qudits”, which can represent ten. How to replace yourself with a very small shell script. Behold “Brogrammer”, a theme for the Sublime text editor.


Drawing of a computer logic loop by John von Neumann in a 1947 manual
Above, a logic loop drawn by John von Neumann in his 1947 manual on how to program an “electronic computing instrument”. Why are ticks so prevalent in 2017? Because of the ecological domino effects of a 2015 surge in acorns. Gripping photos of food from the famine surrounding a vanishing Lake Chad. A study of Google searches suggests that Americans are way more racist than they generally admit; it also finds an ominous surge in searches for DIY home abortions. “Neural networks for hackers”, a cool new MOOC by @sknthla. How Russia has been using Ukraine as a testbed for cyberattacks. And … a maglev elevator that can move both vertically and horizontally!


A map of the Internet from 1969

A map of the Internet from 1969. Some thoughts on the 10X coder. “Braitenberg’s Law” notes that it’s easy to understand a complex robot or piece of code if you wrote it; if someone else did, it’s insanely hard. “Taking turns is a primary expression of justice”: An essay on the moral dimensions of phys ed, from 1922. Meet the Girl Scouts who are earning cybersecurity badges. Why Grenfell Tower burned. My favorite piece of 19th-century punctuation is the “colash”, a colon followed by a m-dash, like this … “:—”. My New York Times Magazine feature on computational thinking and “The Minecraft Generation” from a year ago; and a podcast with me talking about it.


Alexander Graham Bell's tetrahedral kites
Behold Alexander Graham Bell’s gorgeous tetrahedral kites! Wait, wait — they just pushed out a software update for Google Glass? (Guess I should dust mine off: I wore them for three months back in 2013 for a story in the New York Times Magazine.) “Floating nests of fire ants” is the creepiest thing I’ve read about today. Parametric fonts, from Google. “What was your childhood pet?”: A fiendish and elegant way to steal the answers to someone’s security questions. Thomas Edison was one of the earliest engineers to refer to a “bug” when high-tech equipment was malfunctioning. (Earlier yet, Shakespeare seems to have used “bug” to mean a troublesome person.) Reading someone else’s code isn’t like reading literature; it’s like naturalism, observing a strange creature in the wild and trying to figure out its habits. Why Uber’s problems stem from the cult of the founder in Silicon Valley. A Inuit man tells you the proper way to build an igloo. omg someone please stop me from playing this game, I’m supposed to be writing a book.


Randy Gibson, the composer of “The Four Pillars Appearing From the Equal D Under Resonating Apparitions of the Eternal Process in the Midwinter Starfield,” at his home studio in Brooklyn.
Three hours of music played with a single note — “D”, in seven octaves — is weirdly mesmerizing; I’ve been listening to it while I write my book. (Composer picture above from The New York Times; player above has the album.) A startup that makes paper out of … stone.Before he was shot, Philando Castile was buried in “a mountain of fines”; this is a good NPR investigation of how racism and poverty are worsened by endless niggling fines. Spooky action at great distances: Chinese scientists appear to have successfully entangled two particles that were 1,200 km apart. Cell.js is an intriguing new way to create web apps, with each element containing its own “self driving” DOM. Tarot cards aren’t as old as you might think; they’re an invention of occult-obsessed Paris in 1781.


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