Poetry, music, and color

March 5, 2008 at 3:08 pm | Posted in artsy, computers, design, literature, music, programming, school | Leave a comment
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[poem visualizer, designed by me]

One in the morning isn’t always the best time to embark on programming projects of indeterminate length and scope. I learned that last night when, after having spent most of the afternoon and evening on a take-home midterm for my visualization class, I was beset with the dilemma of the extra credit problem. “Design your own poetry visualization,” along the lines of Poetry on the Road. This is a series of graphic designs commissioned each year by the Internationales Literaturfestival Bremen, designed by a team of professional graphic artists led by Boris Müller. The two things that immediately struck me about these graphics were 1) their juxtaposition of visual complexity and conceptual simplicity, and 2) their obvious requirement of a vastly greater number of hours — and sheer programming virtuosity — than the 24 hour maximum allotted for my midterm.

I must’ve been struck with temporary amnesia, or just had an acute attack of masochism, because I promptly forgot about the 3 problem sets that I had been saving up my sleep-hours for later in the week, and proceeded to bang away at Processing (coolest programming language ever) for the next 3 hours. The result, humble by the standards of any legitimate computer artist — but hopefully not of my exam grader — is this, a grid of colored squares representing “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot. I chose the poem mainly because it was long enough to really show patterns in my algorithm, but not so long as to crash the program. (although I would like to run Paradise Lost or The Iliad through, just for kicks.)
Continue Reading Poetry, music, and color…



February 26, 2008 at 12:23 am | Posted in artsy, books, computers, design, geeky, internet, school | 3 Comments
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Community of Variation
[via Context Free Art Gallery and Community of Variation]

For a computer science assignment last week I wrote a program with a friend in Scheme that generates sentences using context-free grammar. By specifying a few basic rules for parts of speech and including a simple word list, you can get some remarkably coherent results — coherent, that is, in a strictly grammatical, minimalist sense. There’s actually no attention paid to the meaning of the words used, or to their relationship with each other, a consequence of the grammar being “context-free.” We had a few laughs using our program to generate bogus math proofs, but instead of puzzling you with a slew of inside jokes and insomnia-induced geekiness, I’ll point your way to a much more impressive — not to mention amusing — application of the same algorithm, this time used to generate an entire scientific paper. You can even put your own name down as an author! Here’s an example passage:

We question the need for digital-to-analog converters. It should be noted that we allow DHCP to harness homogeneous epistemologies without the evaluation of evolutionary programming [2], [12], [14]. Contrarily, the lookaside buffer might not be the panacea that end-users expected. However, this method is never considered confusing. Our approach turns the knowledge-base communication sledgehammer into a scalpel.
[Stribling et. al (PDF)]

Not too bad for randomly generated babble, is it? Continue Reading Context-free…

Made for me

February 9, 2008 at 3:01 am | Posted in design, harvard, internet, programming, rambling, school, science | Leave a comment
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[via flight404]

I love shopping week at the beginning of every semester, because it is a time of beautiful leisure and carefree distraction.

Okay, so I skip class for a couple days. But consider this–other, much more ambitious students will go to 20 classes that they don’t end up taking. And guess what? I also end up not taking those same 20 classes! I’ve effectively simulated Ivy-league-grade ambition by sitting in my room and surfing YouTube, and nobody is the wiser. A pareto-efficient transaction of sorts, between myself and The Man. (Maybe you question the correctness of my econ verbiage here. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I never sat in on any econ classes.)

Ah! But even without me once having to go outside, that perfect someone or something (but actually some thing) still strikes me like a thunderbolt between the eyes. Continue Reading Made for me…

Harvard UC: 2. Evil and injustice: 0.

October 4, 2007 at 2:15 pm | Posted in arguments, crimson, harvard, humor, news, school | 1 Comment
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If it seems like the CrimsonReading debacle has cooled down in the wake of class-shopping week, fret no more. Looks like another opportunity has come up for the Harvard Undergraduate Council to stick it to the man. An out-of-touch, grouchy man, that is, one hired by our friend Drew Faust last month to cut his administrative teeth serving as the new Dean of Harvard College. So far, the only thing he’s managed to cut are his own legs from beneath him. Faust should be pleased. Even Larry Summers wasn’t principled enough to alienate the entire student body in his first two weeks on the job.

The facts of the matter aren’t exactly earthshaking. The college has decided it would no longer allow the UC to give out party grants, or small sums of money to fund weekend social activities organized by students. We are all complaining, of course, because we have been spoiled by the grants into ignoring the fact that no other school pays for their students to have parties. On the other hand, no other school has as inherently anemic of a social scene either, or as humorless of an administration. Our Nobel laureates are not our only world-record holders here.

Even if you weren’t bothered by the fact that you now have to pay for your own booze, you’d probably find the particular tone of the announcement perplexing. In a surprise letter directed to the UC two days ago, Dean Pilbeam displays the light-hearted charm for which he must have been hired:

the UC Party Grant program is inherently flawed, and must be ended immediately. From this date forward no further funds can be dispersed for private parties, including any that may have already been approved for forthcoming dates.

The letter that follows is a lecture on the dangers of alcohol abuse and an admonition to the UC for not having cracked down on recipients of party grants who drank with their underage friends. Thanks Papa Dean, before we read your letter we all just thought vodka made us smarter.

Of course, what the Crimson does not report on, and which I now know from my top-secret sources, is that after writing the letter, Dean Pilbeam went to the UC meeting and tried to bottle-feed VC Matt Sundquist. Upon realizing that Matt, like the rest of the student body, was not in fact 3 years old, the Dean returned to his office in confusion, mustered up all of the tact that he has acquired over the years, and began to work on his next letter to the students. We eagerly await his much-needed guidance on behaving safely, especially those of us not fortunate enough to attend more scrupulously policed venues such as final clubs.

In the meantime, the UC has voted unanimously to continue disbursing party funds in defiance of the administration’s policies. Not even the (much more meaningful) Harvard College Book Information System proposal got this much support. Just goes to show that alcohol withdrawal can be a wonderful stimulus to progressive campus politics. Why don’t we invite the Dean over for a few drinks this weekend, and congratulate him on a job well done? Just don’t forget to apply for a party grant first.

It’s that time of year again!

October 1, 2007 at 11:05 pm | Posted in artsy, news, rambling, school | Leave a comment
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Yeah you know what time it is — the leaves have turned all those romantic colors in a Bob Ross painting (dab a little of that happy yellow ochre here…yeah, just dab it); the study cards have all been turned in and you are starting to ignore the first 400-page reading of the semester; the balmy 80-degree days have given way to the pleasant-and-not-yet-unbearable New England chill, and you can no longer feel your toes while wearing flip-flops; the brain-eating amoebas have completed their summer reign of terror (that is the most emailed story on the Boston Globe); and the narcissists are back at ego-stroking academy (another gem from the aforementioned paragon of journalistic excellence — Harvard folks should check out the photo slideshow); the sun no longer lights your dinner table from across the dining hall in beams of golden dusk, and instead the creeping unease of pre-seasonal affective disorder is interfering with your concentration and has lulled you into fits of procrastination writing to an imaginary audience.

Yes, it’s, um, autumn.

What I learned in Computer Science 50

September 28, 2007 at 12:54 pm | Posted in geeky, programming, school | Leave a comment

Click on the image below to see the animation. (Unfortunately WordPress does not allow embedding of Java applets.)

Scratch Project

This was made on Scratch, a programming language for kids developed at the MIT Media Lab. For our first problem set we were allowed to make any game, animation, or any interactive mini-program. I was unfortunately zoning out and doodling during the entire lecture.

The Harvard Cooperative Monopoly

September 26, 2007 at 3:22 pm | Posted in books, news, opinion, school | 6 Comments

textbooks.jpgMore brouhaha brewing at everybody’s favorite campus bookstore, the Harvard Coop, the latest confrontation involving members of the Harvard Undergraduate Council and some friends from the Cambridge police department. More eyes are watching this time, since boingboing has linked to both this Crimson story and an earlier incident as well (boingboing link for that is here).

This all started last year, when a few guys decided to found an online textbook comparison-shopping website called crimsonreading.org for Harvard classes. The website eventually partnered up with the Harvard Undergraduate Council (UC), but failed to garner any sort of support from the administration, nor the permission of the Coop to access the ISBN numbers of all the textbooks in the store. These ISBN number are crucial to providing the right books for each course, because they are unique to the each edition and printing. Usually these numbers are solicited from professors directly via phone or email, or for a small minority classes, they are available online from the course syllabus after classes have begun. The painstaking process of getting these numbers quickly before each semester is both the reason the Coop is so protective of its book list, and also the reason that it has been able to levy unnecessarily high mark-ups on books without suffering from significant competition. Very simply, there is no other place to get the right books for a course, and even students who care about saving money often have no choice but to buy from the Coop.

One alternative that has been available to students is to order books online. Continue Reading The Harvard Cooperative Monopoly…

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