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…

Updates for the new semester

February 6, 2008 at 1:34 am | Posted in flickr, geeky, life, travel | Leave a comment
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The “I’ll blog this” moment has been coming up quite a bit lately; if only it were remotely matched in frequency by the “I’ll sit down and write” moments. Too bad those are usually displaced by “I’ll sleep and do my homework in the morning” moments, followed by “shit I woke up later than I expected, and the sun is setting” moments.

Enough of that. The latest news, at least for the moment:

Finals ended. Backcountry skiing/winter hiking in White Mountains for a week. Outdoors, no computers, cold, fresh, sublime. Many blog-worthy thoughts. No amount of actual writing accomplished. Which leads me to…

Flickr photos have been updated, for the first time in years. Mostly mountains, a lot of rocks and snow, and a few fleeting glimpses of a beautiful European summer.

Obsession with webcomics continues. Besides my daily dose of computer-science-in-joke-riddled sentimentality (xkcd), I’ve been reading a new favorite (Questionable Content). Fewer stick figures, less philosophising. More jokes about sex.

Roommate blog back up, now under a new name. Mostly obscure in-jokes, with a smattering of strange insights and some ridiculous poetry. Most of it written by our freshman selves.

That’s it for the moment. Check out my links on the sidebar for more distractions.

80 Million Tiny Images

January 17, 2008 at 3:48 pm | Posted in computers, geeky, programming | Leave a comment
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Tiny Images Screenshot

Thanks to C.J. for sending me the following, incredibly cool link: 80 Million Tiny Images. It’s a mosaic of millions of online images corresponding to nouns in the English language, and the spatial arrangement of the images in the mosaic reflects their semantic relationship to each other–i.e. closer images represent words that are closer in meaning. From the page (which also contains a link to the research paper):

Each of the tiles in the mosaic is an arithmetic average of images relating to one of 53,463 nouns. The images for each word were obtained using Google’s Image Search and other engines. A total of 7,527,697 images were used, each tile being the average of 140 images. The average reveals the dominant visual characteristics of each word. For some, the average turns out to be a recognizable image; for others the average is a colored blob. The list of nouns was obtained from Wordnet, a database compiled by lexicographers which records the semantic relationship between words. Using this database, we extract a tree-structured semantic hierarchy which we use to arrange tiles within the poster. We tessellate the poster using the hierarchy so that the proximity of two tiles is given by their semantic distance.

The most interesting thing about the result is the remarkable degree of color agreement that they achieve. Despite the fact that each tile is the average of several photos of the same thing, the end result is often surprisingly recognizable, and close-by tiles tend to have the same color scheme. The overall mosaic, rather than appearing as a wash of meaningless color noise, has some fairly uniform blobs on it because of the semantic association of images. The one they give on the website (composed of 7.5 million images, it seems–not 8 million) almost looks like a hunched over figure of a person. I wonder what the full 80 million images put together looks like.

The real question is, when can I get this as a wall poster to put up in my room?

The internet isn’t about frames and ugly 2-page personal websites anymore

January 16, 2008 at 2:46 pm | Posted in blogging, computers, geeky, internet, opinion, social | 2 Comments
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The fact that this realization still strikes me profound after a few days can only indicate 2 things: 1) that I think too much about the internet, and 2) that my thoughts about the internet are at least 2 years behind everyone else’s. But since we’re on the subject, I might as well share some writings I’ve found by those who don’t suffer from my propensity for lagging behind the times.

Tim O’Reilly, head of O’Reilly Media and one of the most influential figures on the development of the web in the last decade, has the following to say about a certain “collective intelligence” taking hold on the internet:

If an essential part of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence, turning the web into a kind of global brain, the blogosphere is the equivalent of constant mental chatter in the forebrain, the voice we hear in all of our heads. It may not reflect the deep structure of the brain, which is often unconscious, but is instead the equivalent of conscious thought. And as a reflection of conscious thought and attention, the blogosphere has begun to have a powerful effect.

First, because search engines use link structure to help predict useful pages, bloggers, as the most prolific and timely linkers, have a disproportionate role in shaping search engine results. Second, because the blogging community is so highly self-referential, bloggers paying attention to other bloggers magnifies their visibility and power. The “echo chamber” that critics decry is also an amplifier (Link to article here).

“Web 2.0” is the buzzword for what I’ve been trying to place my finger on for the last month–that snazzy, interactive, smooth dynamic feeling of the web as exemplified by sites like flickr, wikipedia, and pretty much everything google has ever made (gmail and google maps being the most well-known ones). Apparently there’s been a conference every year since 2004 to explore how this “new Web” can be made even cooler.

While strictly speaking, Web 2.0 refers to a set of technical innovations and business models, these components are deeply connected with a paradigm of collectivist, highly self-referential content that must also enter into discussion. Continue Reading The internet isn’t about frames and ugly 2-page personal websites anymore…

Worse Than Heroin

January 15, 2008 at 2:19 am | Posted in blogging, design, geeky, internet, music, procrastination | Leave a comment
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My internet addiction has recently gotten much worse, but probably because in the last month or so I’ve discovered more useful and profoundly interesting sites than in the past 10 years of websurfing put together. Some of this may be from having glued my eyes to a screen for 12 hours yesterday working on my Computer Science 50 final, but I can’t help but feel as if I just woke up from a long nap and realized that the Internet isn’t about shitty frames interfaces and 2-page personal sites anymore. Here are some of my favorite new discoveries (which probably aren’t new by any other sense of the word — I just take a while to react to things as trendy as computers):

Hype Machine. Basically a way to sample any song you ever wanted to hear about (and even a lot that you never did). Sooooo good. This is where I first got into dirty electro rock pop, by recommendation from a long-lost friend I found on Facebook (appropriately enough). Now I can’t get enough.

Lolcats. And apparently loldogs too, as of a few days ago. Probably impossible to explain–you’ll just have to see for yourself.

Design blogs (, N.Design Studio, My desperate procrastination-cum-rediscovery of “art” (i.e. doodling on sketchpads and trying to impress friends with likenesses of trees) earlier this semester has morphed into something horrible and grotesque. It’s worse than a heroin addiction and almost as expensive (okay, so a trip to Utrecht won’t set you back as much as fetching some Blue Magic, but I haven’t even gotten into painting yet…). It’s mutated through a “silly Illustrator drawing” phase, to a “silly real-life drawing” phase, culminating in a “passive amazement at other people’s much more talented drawings on Illustrator” phase. The weird appeal of drawing is easiest to explain to a 4th grader and probably most difficult to anyone who has gotten themselves into any sort of real profession, especially one that involves a lot of following orders and deadlines.

Webcomics, and comic-like ridiculous internet memes. (xkcd, dinosaur comics, gapingvoid) Alright, XKCD has been ruining my GPA for months already, but it was only recently when I looked over a list of participants at ROFLCon this year that I realized I was missing out on so much more. XKCD is still the classic for me, an extremely relatable (to me, which means it won’t be for most of the rest of the human population, unless you enjoy reading this blog) blend of math/science/computer geekdom with the sort of high school sentimentality that you never really manage to purge from your thoughts. Think that’s weird? You probably don’t want to go down the list. None of these comics are conventional, and some verge on the downright Dada (see white ninja for an example of how no amount of nothingness can be made into humor).

Good old personal blogs (a friend, an artist/fellow student, a bunch of funny fellow students, a funny random blogger, another designer). They’re just getting more and more powerful. Yeah, I know, people have been raving about the amazingness of personal publishing, viral blog posts, etc. for years, but I guess it never really struck me how remarkable this was until now. I used to trawl through blogspot or wordpress for ages and not find anything I liked enough to return to…now that I’ve gotten a point of entry to the world of the “serious blogger” (red flag: it’s hosted on <artsyobscurename>.com as opposed to the plain vanilla <user> accounts), following their blogrolls is taking me places I’ve never gone before in my life, for example to the eye surgeon, to get my poor eyeballs replaced.

I apologize if this post has ruined your productivity for the rest of your life. No but seriously, I do need to rest these eyes. By reading this incredibly interesting article about internet memes, that is!

What I’m learning about time management skills

December 4, 2007 at 11:58 pm | Posted in artsy, design, geeky, humor, life | Leave a comment
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Illustrator > Homework.


Why I will never become a professional t-shirt designer

December 3, 2007 at 11:06 pm | Posted in design, geeky, humor, music, silly nonsense | 2 Comments

My designs simply have too much mass appeal.

Actual Size:


What is my design philosophy? If you can understand it without going on Wikipedia, then it’s probably trite and uninteresting.



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