Archive for February, 2011

Collaborative animated painting

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Today’s experiment is a collaborative animated painting program. This the most basic kind of animation — painting images one frame at a time — in this case to create a one minute long animation, at 10 frames per second.

The important thing is that anyone who visits the applet page can simultaneously collaborate to build the animation. I have no idea what you’re going to collectively create, but I’m very curious to find out.

As usual, you access the program by clicking on the image below:



The precipice

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

      (a response to seeing friends in crisis)

There are wounds that never heal
And fires within that burn the soul
We stand alone before the night
And keep our stories locked inside

I saw a man within a room
Thinking back on all he’d lost
He came upon a memory
And then he had to turn away

All those secrets they had shared
Except the ones they’d kept inside
She thought she knew him like herself
But he was never there at all

There are wounds that never heal
And fires within that burn the soul
We stand upon the precipice
And keep our stories locked inside

Electric train set

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

While he was working on Citizen Kane, Orson Welles called RKO studios “the biggest electric train set a boy ever had.”

But getting a bigger electric train set is a challenge as well as a blessing. As Spiderman’s uncle said “With great power comes great responsibility”. After years of building Java applets that were the same every time you ran them, I realize that this new direction I’ve been going in — procedural worlds that are continually changed in all sorts of ways by the people who play with them — adds up to a vastly bigger train set. In a way it’s as big as the Web itself, since you never know who is going to come along and do something amazing and unexpected with your little toy train pieces.

The challenge is to figure out ways to unleash all of that creative power. I’m probably going to make all sorts of mistakes as I try out various things, and I hope you will all bear with me. In any case, I’m sure it’s going to be an interesting ride!!

The tyranny of flexibility

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

I was having a conversation today with a friend about the possibilities of an eccescopic future. He was in the middle of describing the possibilities that are emerging as technology allows us to be ever more aware of the world around us — like the friend in town for just one day who happens to be in a cafe around the corner, or the rare book we’ve been looking for that just happens to be in a used book store one street over.

As our portable information devices increase in power, we will become used to being alerted to such happy accidents; they will come to seem normal. My friend was very enthusiastic about these possibilities.

But as he was speaking, a phrase popped into my head: “The tyranny of flexibility”. For even as technology allows our day-to-day options to grow, life has a way of incorporating that very flexibility to create some unpleasant surprises.

For example, there was a time — until about fifteen years ago — when you could make a plan to meet a friend at a coffee shop, and you knew, with great certainty, that you would see that friend. But then cellphones came into popular use, and it became possible to cancel plans at a moment’s notice. As people learned they could opportunistically juggle their various social possibilities, a certain civility seemed to become lost.

I’m not saying that the cellphone is bad, only that it was not the coming of a kind of Utopia that people living in an earlier era might have imagined it to be.

Similarly, once everyone knows that you are sitting in that cafe during your one day in town, new kinds of social obligations will emerge. And knowing that there is a store just one block out of your way that carries something your friend or spouse has been looking for might obligate you to take the detour to pick it up on your way home.

I’m not saying these particular things will happen. Frankly, I don’t know what will happen. But I do know that technological progress never actually leads to Utopia — it just leads to different day-to-day realities. We always end up being stuck with ourselves and with each other, in all of our particular, prickly, fascinating and sometimes exasperating humanness.

Collaborating with you (part 3)

Monday, February 14th, 2011

OK, here is the next iteration of community authored pattern worlds. I was very impressed with how quickly people jumped in and filled the space with fascinating patterns, and so I’ve expanded the size of the space. In this next version there are 24 separate worlds you can choose to contribute to.

Also, I’ve enhanced the pattern language. Now the objects in the world start to have state — which you can see as changing colors.

Still no music, but we’re getting there. :-)



Collaborating with you (part 2)

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

This is the second step (with many steps left to come) in enabling a shared world that can be created collaboratively by everyone. When you click on the image below, you will be linked to an applet that lets you create patterns in collaboration with whomever else happens to be on that page at the moment.

I really don’t know how this one will turn out, but I’m eager to see what everyone ends up making!



How many dimensions?

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

A number of the things I’ve been showing here recently come in two flavors — two dimensional and three dimensional. For example, I first showed the springy ball/stick model in two dimensions, and then quickly moved it to three dimensions (which seemed to make it richer).

I wonder what effect this would have on other things, like fractal Koch snowflakes, or musical candy button machines. It’s not clear that everything would benefit from that third dimension. Certain things might actually have a natural affinity for two. In those cases, adding depth might break some important symmetry, or only add confusion.

It seems like an interesting way to think about any particular thing: Some things might really want to live in only one dimension — others really require four or even more (which can be really problematic if you’re trying to look at them). It seems like a useful question to ask, whether you are talking about music or a snowflake: For any given object or idea, how many dimensions does it want to have?

The dominant seventh chord

Friday, February 11th, 2011

A famous opera critic once said “The only two elements essential for grand opera are sex and the dominant seventh chord.” Which makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

I confess I am completely fascinated by the dominant seventh chord. Without that seventh, the dominant chord is pretty wimpy. For example, when you play a G chord on the piano (G B D) there is only a mild feeling that the chord “wants” to go to a C chord (C E G).

But if you play a G dominant seventh chord — by adding the F, to get (G B D F) — then the sense that the chord “wants” to go to the C chord increases enormously. Why is this? What is causing the supercharging effect when you add that F note?

I wonder whether it’s because the C chord is pretty much defined by that E note in the middle. Each of the notes of the G chord create a pull toward one of the notes of the C chord, but the effect is only mild:

G → G
B → C
D →E

But once you add that F note, suddenly two notes are both pulling toward the E:

G → G
B → C
D → E
F → E

And that extra force creates a sense of inevitability. Suddenly the G dominant seventh chord wants to transition to the C, with a real sense of urgency.

I’m convinced its all about those two notes (the D and the F) both wanting to go to the E. Call it a hunch.

Noisy molecules

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

I met with Lee Tremblay today and we had a great conversation about how to make the molecules do more of the proper physics. One thing turned out to be really easy to add — adding heat into the mix. I just stuck in the code while he and I were talking.

I added my noise function to simulate the way the atoms of molecules jitter due to thermal energy. This matters because atoms that are jittering are more likely to end up in different configurations. That’s one reason you heat things up when you’re trying to get chemicals to react with each other.

Besides, when you make them jitter, the molecules look really great. :-)


You can see the springy molecules with a fancy new temperature control knob by clicking here.

A journey of a single step

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Yesterday’s post was my first attempt to enable readers to participate — beyond mere comments — in a blog. And I’ve realized I have a lot to learn.

In particular, this was my first foray into “server-friendly” java applets. It worked, in a fashion, but only in a fashion. The possibilities that arise from creating a “shared space” are so rich that more experiments are called for.

As the Buddhists’s say (or should, if they don’t): “A journey of a single step begins with a thousand miles.” It was good just to take that single step. More tomorrow.