Strunk and White Considered Harmful

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice from Strunk & White — fascinating. (Author’s homepage.)

The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants

The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants.

j-star 08, Holotronica, and Pierre/Gondry at onedotzero_adventures in motion at the BFI

Here are some words and some (mainly excellent) music videos for you.

The above is the gorgeous video for the equally beautiful and gentle song “Omstart” by Cornelius. It is one of two things I saw three weeks ago at the British Film Institute which particularly caught my eye/ear. The other is this 1998 video, “Deadly Media” by Hexstatic:

Actually, that’s a lie; several other vids caught my eye/ear to a similar if lesser extent…

I’d gone to London to see Bash, to hear Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie talk about Lost Girls at the V&A, and to go to Bash’s flat-warming party. On Sunday afternoon she had to work, so I was at a loose end and popped along to the National Film Theatre to catch j-star 08, “the latest and most inspiring music videos, motion graphics and shorts from some of japan’s finest moving image-makers and young talent” — part of the onedotzero_adventures in motion event taking place that weekend. I rather like shorts, and music videos, and the Japanese aspect promised an interesting time. While the results were mixed, I wasn’t disappointed.

On the way in, I noticed a “Holotronica” exhibit and, while scoffing at the hubris of an artist claiming to “devise” a term, and while unimpressed by the 3-d aspect of the display, I did rather enjoy the music playing as I walked past: the Hexstatic piece linked above. I thought it was a bit old-fashioned, but good for it — and of course now I see it’s 10 years old, so that makes sense. The use of vocal samples was reminscent of JMJ’s pioneering and wonderfully cheesy yet still compelling Zoolook (the video for which introduced a young me to the lovely word “Djibouti”), and the audio/video link made me think of Lasse Gjertsen’s modern classic Hyperactive.

The j-star show was very enjoyable, though a bit tedious in places. Many of the shorts were too long, and it was very very CGI heavy: only a few pieces weren’t entirely CG, and it often felt like it didn’t add anything, or wasn’t used imaginatively. The Cornelius video above was the standout exception, indeed the best thing in the show — thoughtful, subtle, and making the most of the total possibility of CG without just being a bunch of flashy effects. A number of other vids were just flashy effects (usually to some generic breakbeat music), a few were “in love with the underlying model” (exposing wireframes, etc., which is cute but ultimately empty) and some were cartoonish, and kinda fun but not soooo amusing. On reflection I think my enjoyment was often coloured by the music as well, of course. With that in mind, a few (non-exhaustive) comments…

Three of the pieces which weren’t totally CGI were excellent. Kosai Sekine’s video for Maledict Car by Jemapur used real world footage and imaginative symmetry to very good effect, I thought — and the music was great. K+Me’s Screaming Dance by Leonard de Leonard was very good fun and again had the advantage of a rather stonking tune. Finally, this Nike cosplay ad by Kan Eguchi is classic Japanese madness, and utterly awesome. The other vids with a substantial reality presence were Junji Kojima’s video for You-you-you by Polysics, which I quite enjoyed but didn’t find beautiful, and “Evening Before the Hangover” by Ichiro Sato, (I can’t find it online) of which I wrote “Alien disco, but so what?”. It was a cute joke, but basically dull.

Clear Skies In May by Tetsuo Suzuka was beautiful, imaginative, classical, and beautifully typographical. Well worth a look.

There were two 8-bit nostalgia trips, only one of which I enjoyed. Yosawya San by Tsuyoshi Hirooka & Yohei Ito was great: musically interesting, and a very cute video. Compared to the other (below), it seemed truer to the 8-bit gaming tradition, and with some really imaginative touches, perspective, etc. (Look out for the Go game on the TV screen.) The other, Hideyuki Tanaka’s video for Ram Rider’s hello_8 bit edition seemed more lego than 8-bit (in the video, anyway), and was about 2 minutes too long; I didn’t like the music though, which can’t have helped — although on reflection it was truer to the 8-bit tradition than the other offering, so there you go. Well, there it is: you might enjoy it, but I certainly didn’t.

On the cartoony side, it probably suffices to just mention Usavich – Beware of Dance — the first of three Usavich cartoons, and quite funny (I wrote “Tyres goes disco bunnies”, meaning Tyres from Spaced), but by the third I was really bored of them.

Afterwards, I took a saunter round the BFI, experienced and enjoyed The All-Seeing Eye (The Hardcore Techno Version) by Pierre Bismuth & Michel Gondry, and, wrote on a wall. I can’t remember the details of whose installation this was, but projected onto this wall/whiteboard was a cartoon view of a town, on which we were invited to draw “where you live” using the available coloured pens. I found a suitably rectangular collection of roads and drew a simple commutative diagram encapsulating commutativity of function application, which felt like as a good an explanation of where I live just now than anything else I could think of.

Then I went back to Bash’s and cooked a mighty vegetarian lasagna for the six of us there present.

To conclude: a great day (and weekend!), and one which made me think it might be worth living in London (for a while) after all.

Random beauty/design samizdat

I have know idea where/how she came across this, but Bash sent me a link to some really beautiful images (including the cover of a Lisp book). There’s even some Richard Scarry in there, ftw.

Practical Common Lisp

Practical Common Lisp — free book online [reddit]. One to read along with SICP some time in the next 12 months.

A save point is reached on my journey of musical discovery

We went to Hay-on-Wye today. For those that don’t know, it’s a little town with an abundance of (mainly second hand) bookshops, and the location of an annual literary festival much beloved of the British middle class: Guardian readers/Radio 4 listeners in particular. Today was the last day of the 20th edition (a ha ha ha) of the festival; we popped by but didn’t linger, all the good events being sold out. Instead, we hit the shops.

I’m very proud to say that my prize purchase of the day was not in fact a book (though I bought four), but the album Innervisions by Stevie Wonder, featuring not only what I’m rapidly coming to believe is The Greatest Song Ever Recorded, Higher Ground, but also what is certainly The Song With The Greatest Intro Ever Recorded, namely Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing. Awesome. Just incredibly awesome. Why wasn’t I informed?

I can only conclude that until now, I was not ready, and so the Universe kept Stevie and I apart from each other. I note that Innervision was released in 1973, the same year as Tubular Bells, an album which (along with its successors and others like of its ilk) had a much greater influence on my musical development than the joyous funkfest within which my ears are currently glorying. I wonder if I’d have grown my afro sooner, had things only been different…

While we’re on the topic of shaking your (big) hair, I’m happy to report that Shiko’s Monkey gig on Saturday went well and was a lot of fun. It was crowded (and cramped – we were playing literally on the dancefloor!), people danced (a few, anyway), people appluaded and cheered, and (it was generally agreed) we sounded good and didn’t noticeably screw up. Later there was an impromptu jam on the top floor with three djembes, a shekere and a bell, which was much more raw and at least as enjoyable (as a player) as the “proper” gig. So yeah, a great night. I’m still very much loving the drumming, and loving getting better at it, which I seem to be doing. Woo.

Security Engineering: free to download

Oh, happy day! Ross Anderson‘s classic work “Security Engineering: A Guide To Building Dependable Distributed Systems” is now free to download. Yay!

This might explain why the publishers didn’t send me an inspection copy when I asked them for one about six months ago…

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Last night, I finished reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a tale of the revival of English magic in the early 1800s. It was good – long and good. I was surprised it didn’t end in quite the way I’d been expecting for about the last 600 pages, but I guess that’s no bad thing… :-) There were lots of footnotes, but they didn’t get tedious and she didn’t fall into the Pratchett trap of recursive footnotes, thankfully. Norrell was mainly annoying and boring, which is how he was meant to be – but by the end he’d redeemed himself, mainly by rediscovering his roots, I guess. Strange is the pivot of the book, and towards the end I realised with pleasure that my mental image of him was Hackworth from The Diamond Age. Strong parallels, for sure. (Bash tells me she pictured Hugh Laurie! Possibly Bertie Wooster, in fact! ;-) )

Anyway: definitely recommended, if you enjoy this sort of thing.

Hackers and Painters

Developers have much to learn from Hackers & Painters, a review of Paul Graham‘s book “Hackers and Painters”. Sounds like there’s lots of functional programming evangelism going on here, and it’s interesting to read that Graham asserts:

The programmers you’ll be able to hire to work on a Java project wont be as smart as the ones you could get to work on a project written in Python.

… particularly because I’ve heard that quote before, but it was Haskell that was being bigged up, not Python. All the same, it’s nice to have my status as a cognoscenti reaffirmed in public. ;-)

Lisp in Web-based Applications sees Graham expanding on what makes Lisp great, if you don’t want to buy the book just yet… There’s a particularly interesting bit about using closures to elegantly solve the problem of HTTP’s statelessness. Quote: “by using closures, we could make it look to the user, and to ourselves, as if we were just doing a subroutine call.” I’ve bolded the important bit: all web apps these days make it look to the user like you’re just doing a subroutine call, but to make it look like that to the developer is much more impressive. Sure, there are mechanisms in Java or whatever, but I love this idea of using closures: so much simpler and more elegant. (Here’s a nice explanation of closures, for the unsure.)

Finally, I disagree that “its hard to find successful adults now who don’t claim to have been nerds in high school”. For my whole life the world has seemed to be full of successful ignorant bullies and deceivers, and I don’t really see any signs of that changing. It’s a nice dream for a geek to have, I guess, and I can see how rising to the top during the dotcom bubble would surround you by enough successful nerds that you might think it was even true.

But who cares about the iniquities of the world when we’ve got shiny shinies like Haskell and Python to play with, eh? :-)