Saturday, February 26, 2011

Internet Marketing User Experience Idea

This guy could set up a button in his flash video which records the timestamp, to find out which part of his incredibly long spiel makes the sale.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

iPad Synth Jam: iTablaPro vs Mugician

via @synthtopia

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bridges & Chasms (Acting & Hacking)

I got two hours of sleep last Thursday night. Acting classes ran until 11pm or maybe midnight, and afterwards a group of us went out drinking and dancing. Conversations went late. One conversation concerned how weird I am. Actually, come to think of it, two conversations concerned how weird I am, and those are only the ones I know about, and remember. Conversations often seem to address this topic, which I don't fully understand - I think it's the world which is odd - but I didn't mind, because it was interesting.

The particular category of weirdness which fell under a microscope that evening, or at least the one I want to talk about here, involved bridging the chasm between programming and acting. Whether I'm in the midst of a career transition or setting up two parallel careers, what I'm doing is unusual. Picture the Venn diagram of my major interests: acting, music, and programming. Music is the slut in this threesome, in that even though you don't find that many actors who are also programmers, it's common to find programmers who are also musicians, and likewise with actors who are also musicians.

Programming actually confers one interesting advantage in acting, which is that I find it very natural to analyze fluid processes and reduce them to structured techniques. That's the core of making good miniapps to streamline business processes, and it's closely related to the workflow refining of any good yak-shaver. But disadvantages exist too, and are much more obvious. You pay a cost in your range, spontaneity, and ability to read people after interacting with machines all day, filtering most human communication through machines, and, in the case of workplace ticketing systems, further filtering machine-filtered human communications through an additional stage of automated bearaucracy.

Consequently I've decided to lean a little more heavily, as an actor, on the beneficial legacies of my years as a programming. The technical vantage point has limited benefits, but potentially very useful ones. Acting is not like martial arts or classical music, where a strict adherence to technique pays enormous dividends, but particular skills like accents (for example) can benefit tremendously from a technical approach. But as a Rubyist, and a former Perl hacker, I tend to more unstructured forms of coding than average, and programming also trains you in another, more powerful meta-skill, the construction of systems.

I've already used this meta-skill to go from a chaotic lifestyle to a much more disciplined and organized one, which enabled me to do some exciting things, including launching my own micro-businesses and losing 80 pounds in six months, and I've blogged before about some of the quasi-programmatic systems design involved. Another useful skill: self-promotion online, which I became almost pathologically good at a few years ago.

With that in mind, it's fair to say that programming can set you up with meta-skills which would enhance a career in any field - assuming of course that you can bounce back from the habit of spending all your time plugged into a screen, and assuming also that you can handle giving up the many luxuries this career affords, in exchange for broadened horizons and new opportunities. I'm tempted to say that this is a good way to choose a career, especially for young people starting out. Ask yourself what meta-skills you could bring to a new career if you tired of your first career. If the answer is an interesting cluster, you've probably got something good enough to start with.

By the way, if you're young and you want to be an actor, this is also a terrific way to deal with objections from your parents, or indeed your own self-doubt. Self-expression, self-promotion, and the ability to read people are useful meta-skills for nearly anything.

Your Opinions Please! Archaeopteryx Kickstarter?

Hey bloggowebs, what do you think about me doing a Kickstarter to raise funds to focus on banging out a banging Archaeopteryx book in record time?

The current idea I'm working with is a project that takes a whole damn year to write. I so don't want to wait that long. I'd much rather just go all out and write the whole thing in a couple months. I only need to cover rent, acting classes, food, and some similar basic costs to pull that off, and if I get enough money, I can expand it into a big multi-hour video course which goes into greater detail and really walks you through every step, plus makes it easier for you to get started with your own hacks, and possibly even goes into detail about your options in other languages, especially Node.js in JavaScript and Echo Nest in Python.

What I'm thinking of here is basically Greg Brown's Ruby Mendicant project, with breakbeats, and a music-hacker equivalent to Michael Hartl's Rails Tutorial videos (which is a 20-hour video course, really detailed). I think this is probably the way to go - so much cooler than taking a whole damn year just to write a simple book. Ping me (@gilesgoatboy on Twitter, and tell me what you think.

Hacker Newspaper Down; Volunteers Wanted

Hacker News changed its RSS feed and the URL which used to return the top 20 stories is currently returning 81. This basically makes Hpricot shit its pants, although I'm sure part of the problem is the "quick and dirty hack" nature of the code. If you're interested in fixing it, the problem is probably just one literal hard-coded value, the URL to hit which returns the top 20 stories. I don't know if this is a temporary problem or a permanent one, and I don't care. Hacker News banned this domain, banned me from commenting, never actually said anything about it to me beforehand, have done weird things with their RSS feed before - the last time it took Hacker Newspaper down, the URL for the top 20 stories was returning 2MB of RSS - but most importantly of all, to me, it's hit a tipping point of unreadable dullness where it's not usually even worth the effort to load a web page any more, let alone the effort to debug the unpredictable, borderline incompetent RSS foibles of a NIH Web framework nobody else uses, except for a site which banned me, provides no API, and who I can safely therefore assume doesn't appreciate the effort.

As a chip-on-my-shoulder aside, Jim Weirich defeated Paul Graham's grand Arc Challenge with Ruby he'd written several years prior.

Anyway, my point is, fuck this shit. I know there are a lot of people who read Hacker Newspaper and thank me for it, and the Hacker News community produces staggering numbers of mashups, so if any of you want to fix it, it's open source and it's on GitHub. The version on the live server is somewhat diverged, but not in any way that matters for the purpose of debugging this, and I'll happily clean up the branches if necessary. I just don't have time to deal with this right now.

The last few times this happened, I added a quick workaround, or I just waited a day or two and Hacker News solved the problem at their end. This time, the problem is probably just one hard-coded literal value in a Python script. You don't even have to read Python to figure it out. You could also just have the Ruby check the RSS dump's file size, or maybe chop it up into more digestible pieces before using Hpricot.

If nobody steps up to fix it, I'll probably get around to it eventually, but it definitely won't be in the next couple days.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

Need Tech Reviewers For A Proposed Book On Archaeopteryx

Tentative title is Teaching The Robots To Sing: Creating Algorithmic Music With Ruby. Will include some new material on melodies, some very revised material on harmonies, some music theory (basic theory, jazz theory, and theory based on Detroit techno), plus existing widely-publicized material on lambdas, drum and bass, etc., and just enough probabilistic AI to cause a little mischief.

Not entirely sure what kind of commitment I need from you; all I'm sure of at this point is review of the proposed outline. Presumably, I'll need testers and reviewers for the book itself as well. I won't be able to reply until Sunday - sorry! - but e-mail me if interested.