Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Reading group

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

We have a reading group in our lab. The goal is to present research results by others elsewhere that can inform the work in our own team.

I’m really appreciating the energy of this process. Rather than always looking inward, the reading group helps us to understand that everything we do is part of a larger world of like-minded folks.

Holding a regular reading group makes it easier to see that research, at its core, is not a competition, but a grand cooperative venture. Every researcher everywhere is contributing to the larger goal.

At core, this is a good way of teaching gratitude and generosity. And that’s a very good thing.

The song that makes you cry

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

Have you ever had such a powerful reaction to a song that it made you cry? I don’t mean tears born of sadness, but tears born of overwhelming emotion.

Each of us may have a secret cache of songs, secret even to ourselves. These are songs we have not heard or even thought about for a long time, perhaps for many years.

But when we finally hear that song, it can act as a kind of time machine, suddenly transporting us back to another time, to an earlier version of our self. And when that happens, the outpouring of emotional feeling can be so powerful that we unexpectedly find ourselves in tears.

This is not a bad thing.

The worst days

Monday, September 20th, 2021

The worst days are not the ones when everything goes wrong. The worst days are the ones when the difference between what goes right and what goes wrong is incomprehensibly large.

Today’s super power

Sunday, September 19th, 2021

There are all sorts of super powers in movies and comic books, but most of them are not very practical. So here’s a practical one.

Suppose you could easily measure things. You could just look at a room or a piece of furniture and know exactly how big it is. Or pick up an object and know its exact weight.

It would be like having perfect pitch, but for everything — color, proportion, time, velocity, you name it. To me, that would be a lot more useful than being able to put on a colorful cape and fly through the air.

So that’s my super power for today. If you could make up a new kind of super power, what would you choose?

Objective versus subjective experience

Saturday, September 18th, 2021

There have been many excellent comments in response to my recent posts about “programming as storytelling”. I am starting to see a pattern form in peoples’ thoughts.

There seems to be a split between “we are getting the information across about the history of a programming process” and “we are conveying the feeling of the experience.” Github, for example, is great at the former, and totally fails at the latter.

There is an inherent drama in coding. Sometimes you have spectacular successes, and other times you experience spectacular fails.

The difference between those two extremes of experience is highly instructive (and can be very entertaining). But that subjective information is rarely conveyed in a useable way.

I’d like to figure out how we can fix that.

Connecting levels of engagement

Friday, September 17th, 2021

As I create new course materials for my students this semester, I realize that when I aim to teach computer graphics, I am also aiming to teach other things as well.

Primary among those other things is showing them how to connect the levels of engagement, from the most technical to the most conceptual.

There are people who self-identify as consumers, others as artists or designers, still others as technical artists, and so on, all the way to people who will tell you “I build the circuits that go into your computers”. Between these levels, there tend to be cultural barriers.

Even the language used by different people can make it more difficult to communicate across levels. If you’ve ever tried to talk to a doctor about a medical condition, you might know exactly what I mean.

So I realize that one of the things I try to do is to show students how to transcend those barriers, by making it easy to connect the dots and build working bridges from “artist” or “designer” to “graphics programmer” to “systems programmer”. I want to empower them to move freely between those levels, and to create connections between different ways of thinking that empower all sorts of users and creators.

That isn’t easy to do, but I think it’s worth it.

Programming as storytelling made easy

Thursday, September 16th, 2021

Yesterday I talked about coding as a narrative. Not just implementing something, but also making that process transparent to others through good storytelling.

An excellent comment on my post mentioned Quilez’s “Painting a Selfie Girl, with Maths” video. Like many people, I have been very inspired by that video.

One problem is that it’s a heroic effort, with a one-off result. Quilez is supremely talented, and was also willing to put in the immense work required to produce this beautiful cultural artifact.

What I am hoping for is lower hanging fruit. How can we empower other programmers to share their stories, without asking them to create an entire system on their own?

I would like to help make “programming as storytelling” into something that is easy to learn and to use. The goal would be not so much “Hey, I managed to do this”, as it would be “Hey, you can do this.”

Programming as storytelling

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

When I create something using computer graphics programming, I often wander from one thing to another. First I will try a little of this, and then, depending on the outcome, I will try a little of that.

This process could be captured in a number of different ways. For example, I could keep a video running, showing the screen at all times.

Or I could capture the input somehow — perhaps the literal keystrokes that I type — so that the exact journey from start to finish can be recreated later.

I suspect though that the ideal would be something more literary. I should be able to annotate the process as I go, jotting notes down when needed between changes to say “here is my thinking as I go from here to there”.

That could be done in a video, but not very well. What I really want is a system that will let me go back later and edit those annotations. The end result should be a sort of interactively explorable documentary of the process of creation.

I don’t know of anything out there that does that well. Maybe I will just have to build it.


Tuesday, September 14th, 2021

Because there is so much information to convey in the course I am teaching, I have started pre-recording some of the lectures for my students. It is a very rewarding process, but I find that it takes vastly more prep work than live lectures.

The reason is that I don’t feel comfortable just vamping for a pre-recorded lecture. Rather, I feel compelled to build out the course notes very carefully, so that there are always visuals and structure that the students can follow when they review the material later.

In some ways this creates a much richer experience for the students. Essentially they are getting a kind of in-depth living textbook.

It’s probably worth the extra effort, because the end result is a higher quality set of instruction materials that also can benefit students well into the future. I just wish it weren’t so much work to do!


Monday, September 13th, 2021

There is a deeper world than this.

If only I could find the darned thing…