Sunday, April 29, 2012

Against Ego

When I was a raver, I knew DJs with egos. As a programmer, I know programmers with egos. As an actor, I've met actors with egos.

I worked for a movie star for a while. Didn't see a lot of ego. The two most successful DJs I knew were two of the least ego-driven. I think this holds for programmers as well.

I suspect ego inhibits success. I can certainly think of a few counter-examples, but it's possible each of these people would be even more successful with their egos out of the way.

All of this is a bit awkward for me as I'm a guy with a big ego. I'm sure these problems only plague lesser people, however, so I'm only blogging this for your instruction. Please curb your egos, and keep them in check, lest they ruffle my greatness.

On "Brogrammer" Hate


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Vegan FTW

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

Live-Coding Strobe Light: Work In Progress

Aeons ago, at the dawn of time, a teenage Giles saw a band called Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine play in Chicago. It mostly looked like this.



But the video doesn't really convey how intense it is to mosh in a strobe-light environment. It's an adrenaline rush, not just because of the loud music and the flashing lights, but also the obvious, senseless physical danger.

Even when you're not flailing your limbs wildly in a crowd full of others doing the same, in near-total darkness punctuated by intermittent snapshots of the spasmodic crowd, great lighting still makes a difference for live music.



So, like any good hacker musician, I'm looking into controlling lights with open source software.

Pro lighting uses a protocol called DMX; it's kind of like MIDI, except that it's text-based. Open source libraries for it exist in CoffeeScript, Ruby, and a few other languages. I've picked up a DMX-controllable strobe light, with a range of 1 to 15 flashes per second, and if I get that working, extending the same or similar functionality to DMX lasers should be more or less trivial. When it comes to connecting the lights to your computer, this box looks like it's winning the popularity contest, so I've got one on the way.

More news as events warrant.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Simple Defense Of Formulaic Television

Buffy The Vampire Slayer is by all accounts one of the best-written shows in the history of TV. My favorite episode: Hush, which has almost no dialogue. Joss Whedon heard dismissive praise for his dialogue, got mad, and decided to demonstrate the difference between good dialogue and good writing with a near-silent episode featuring voice-stealing demons. Like any successful TV show, Buffy had a standard episodic formula, and everything else in the episode adhered to the formula. As usual, there's awkward romance, a final battle just minutes before the end of the show, and Buffy asking Giles questions. There just isn't any dialogue. The episode works beautifully without it.



Where Buffy is a show about a vampire slayer, Supernatural is a show about a pair of demon hunters. It too has a house formula, which basically consists of ongoing interpersonal tensions and a predictable rhythm of story events. Supernatural features several episodes like Hush; the best is Changing Channels. In Changing Channels, a trickster god traps the demon hunters in a series of ridiculous universes based on a sitcom, a hospital soap opera, a cheesy cop show, and a Japanese game show, complete with a ball-punching machine which punishes contestants who answer questions incorrectly.



The most formulaic show I watch, by a landslide, is Castle, a light-hearted detective show (or as they're known in Los Angeles, a police procedural). You could set a clock by its formula; in fact, I just about do. I mostly watch TV on my Apple TV, and sometimes when I'm watching Castle, and the plot's complex enough that I'm not sure who the murderer is, if the protagonists think they've caught the murderer, I check the time on the video file to find out if it's the real killer or another red herring.

Like these other shows, Castle has a wildly variant episode. It's set mostly in 1947. As with these other shows, the variant episode sticks precisely to the show's formula, unfolding a crime investigation, with the same mistaken accusations of murder occuring at exactly the same moments as they occur in every other episode, with the same romantic tension between the two leads, but with the formula's key pieces split evenly across eras. You can find the killer in 1947 or 2012, it really doesn't matter; what does matter is that you find the killer at approximately 43 minutes into the show.



The X-Files did the same thing with their time-travel episode, and also did something similar in a vampire episode, where they kept to the usual rhythm but turned the story into a comical, supernatural version of the Rashomon thing, where every character's version of what happened is different.



A few years ago I watched a DVD of Joss Whedon speaking on screenwriting. He took time to praise formula and genre. A lot of people decry TV as formulaic, but I think Whedon's praise was dead on. In all these shows, rigid adherence to formula allowed the writers to change elements which you wouldn't expect a TV writer to be able to change. Castle and X-Files changed the characters and the setting, Supernatural briefly became every other genre (and changed the opening credits to fit), and Buffy threw out dialogue.

(Actually, like X-Files and Supernatural, Buffy did this more than once.)

All of these shows function as popcorn entertainment. None of them have pretensions to high art. But each of these episodes is a very successful artistic experiment, and none of them would have succeeded without adhering to their respective formulas.

Friday, April 20, 2012

History Of Weed

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Trance And Reggae

This track is an old favorite of mine - a hard trance banger that turns into reggae with no warning at all. Total party rocker track which suddenly becomes a mindbender and then jumps right into being loud, dumb fun.



Been reminded of it recently because I'm in dubstep and trance production classes. The obvious link between the two is techno, but with all that reverb and all those off-beat bass hits, trance has a lot more in common with reggae than I would have thought.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Holopac

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Awesome Web Business: justanswer.com

Yesterday I bought this car, a 1982 Mercedes-Benz 380 SEC:



It's pretty sweet, and it's aged unusually well -- the seller said his father was the original owner -- but no 30-year-old car will be perfect, and I discovered an imperfection early this afternoon, when I couldn't find the parking brake release lever.

I started googling and came across justanswer.com a few times. The first time, I thought it looked like a spammy SEO trap with no actual content, but the second time I gave it a look and discovered some useful answers, along with an "ask a question" button. By the time I realized I had to pay for an answer, I was willing to give it a shot. You pay a $1 deposit to initiate the process, and then they pipe your question to possible answerers. I had an experienced Mercedes mechanic in live chat in no time, and he told me where to look for the release lever.

Unfortunately, it wasn't there. For some insane reason, somebody had actually removed it.

My new-found mechanic supplied me with a diagram of the parking brake release mechanism, and I ran back into my apartment for my tools. It only took five Phillips screws to take off the lower driver's-side dashboard, and a few more seconds to find the internal release lever which the dashboard release lever normally pulls on. So I just pulled the internal release lever myself and released the parking brake.

Best of all, I've got 3G internet on my iPad through Verizon, so the entire process was completely seamless in terms of my experience. I worried that I might have to go inside to use the chat room, since many sites would have implemented that functionality in Flash, but justanswer.com was smart enough to implement it in HTML and JavaScript. The whole experience was pretty much exactly like the concept in Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age of digital "books" linked to outsourced workers in faraway countries, except without the unpleasant overtones of class division and indentured servitude. (Yes, I was a privileged white guy repairing his Mercedes via iPad, but I took the dashboard apart myself, after all -- something which none of the Neo-Victorians in Snow Crash would have ever done.)

justanswer.com totally made my day. I thought I was going to have to call a mechanic out just to start my car, and instead I had the problem solved almost instantly for $15. All in all, I have to say, this is an absolutely terrific web site, and a great counter-example to the weirder success stories out there. When you look at Facebook buying Instagram for $1B, or Google trying to buy Groupon for $4B, the web can seem a bit senseless and deranged. It's nice to remember that you can also build a business online by supplying an incredibly useful service to people.

Um, Whoops

Everybody in startup-land was excited as balls when the JOBS act (which allows crowdfunding startups) passed.

Turns out it's got some riders that are so completely fucked they boggle the mind.

Grimes

This is Grimes:



This is why I like Grimes:

Claire Boucher... often known by her alias and project Grimes, is a Canadian-born artist, musician, and music video director.

In 2009, Boucher and her then-boyfriend from Tennessee constructed a 20-foot houseboat, named the "Velvet Glove Cast in Iron," with the intention to sail it down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans. The cargo included chickens, a typewriter, 20 pounds of potatoes and a gifted copy of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Boucher and her companion adopted the names "Varuschka" and "Zelda Xox" for the trip. Due to engine trouble and subsequent harassment from the Minnesota police, the journey was cut short and the houseboat and chickens were impounded.


It takes a special kind of woman to land a chicken in jail.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Nord Drum

I haven't found any good videos for this in English yet, but the important thing is the drum box. Virtual analog drum synth. Very powerful little machine for the price point, and (unlike otherwise similar boxes from Korg) it supports drum trigger inputs, making it very friendly for actual drummers.

By the way, if you speak Swedish, I'd love to read a translation of the demonstration guy's explanations.


Sorry Scotland, you know I love you, it's just so easy

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nero

Might be late to this one, but if you like Sleigh Bells and Skrillex, you're going to be in a pretty good mood when you hear this.

Sunday, April 1, 2012