Day at the museum

January 23, 2008 at 11:14 am | Posted in artsy, harvard, life | Leave a comment
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Mountains, Streams, Sun, Moon (1972) Untitled (1973) Rugged Hills of North America (1989)
The Sackler Museum on campus has an interesting exhibition up right now (which, unfortunately, ends in 4 days). The title of the exhibit is “Tradition Redefined,” an appropriate but rather flat description for what are essentially paintings that defy categorization. A note on the wall of the exhibit explains:

In their inscriptions, older artists note their determined adherence to traditions of expression that go unappreciated in their present surroundings. Younger artists, who have lived and worked for most of their lives in transition between cultural spheres, exhibit a more detached, even ironic view of their place in the world. Past definitions of ethnic or geopolitical identity yield their influence to technology, art markets, and globalization. The customary division between two schools–Chinese and foreign–no longer holds.

The paintings are Chinese not just in the trivial sense of having been made by Chinese artists, but also in the way they make conspicuous use of Chinese artistic techniques, all the while displaying the distinctly non-traditional (read: Western) styles that have made their influence in post-Cultural Revolution China. Of course, whether the results are really a “redefinition” of traditional aesthetics is a matter of debate. All the paintings clearly combine Asian and Western influences, but not all of them use the combination as a way to achieve something novel or meaningful in itself. Continue Reading Day at the museum…

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?


January 17, 2008 at 3:00 am | Posted in blogging, computers, humor, silly nonsense | Leave a comment
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You know it when it happens. Something struck you while you were surfing the internet. You wanted to jot down a couple of thoughts, just post a few sentences before going to bed. But now it’s 3AM and you’re looking for evidence in the New York Times archives, trying to support your argument so you can weigh in on some debate on someone’s blog from 2 years ago. What happened to studying for finals? Why are you writing in such detail about something so completely unrelated to what you claim to be interested in at school? Why are you still UP?

It’s unclear.

Maybe you want attention. Maybe you’re a world-class procrastinator. Maybe you have some horrible, life-threatening disease. Or maybe you’re just really, really passionate about the moral dilemma of doctor-assisted suicide.

Do you remember what’s going to be on the test tomorrow? Do you remember the last time you saw the sun? Do you remember what your girlfriend (ex-girlfriend, as the case may be) looks like? And yes, it’s cheating to check Facebook.

Get a grip! Put on a jacket and go outside. Smell that? That’s air. Go to the library, where you can study without distractions. Take out some paper. Jot down notes. Start writing:


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!

Vector Portraits, Z & L

December 23, 2007 at 11:00 pm | Posted in artsy, design | Leave a comment
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Six Movies

December 21, 2007 at 11:39 pm | Posted in movies, rambling | 1 Comment
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No Country for Old Men — Interesting, i.e. enigmatic, but also a little dry and not in a humorous way (I’m not talking about the desert scenes either). The Coen Brothers are definitely going for dark, deadly, and deep, but I think they forgot wit along the way. Most people who saw this liked it, but I wonder if that’s just a testament to how well the trailer selected for the demographic most likely to enjoy the film. I’d go see Fargo first. Then the Big Lebowski. Then O Brother Where Art Thou. Then I’d use the money you have left to get a good book and a cup of coffee. Unless you plan to use it to see Atonement (below), in which case you should probably see this instead.

Atonement — Epic, emotional, long. If that sounds exciting, then go see this movie. If you are an aspiring film-maker and want to observe a veritable portfolio of tear-jerking and soul-wrenching techniques put to good use, see this movie. If you consume movies like they’re drugs and have built up so much tolerance to vicarious emotional trauma that every new trip to the theater is just an exercise in delaying withdrawal symptoms, you’ll get more bang for your buck somewhere else (i.e. go see No Country for Old Men).

I am Legend — I get a lot of crap for saying that 28 Days Later is one of my favorite movies, but there’s something to be said for impressive panoramas of empty postmodern landscapes and vaguely applied (but not blatantly wrong) scientific principles. The subtext was also a neat little commentary on human nature. Take that description of 28 days later, change “impressive” to “obviously fake and computer generated” and “not blatantly wrong” to “blatantly wrong,” and you have I am Legend. Oh, and the subtext this time is a thinly veiled plug for blind spiritual faith, because it turns out that although doing science fair experiments in your basement to find a cure for zombie virus is the most effective way to save mankind, it isn’t such a hot idea if you want to save your family.

Welcome to the Doll House — Proof that having roommates with quirky taste in films can sometimes pay off. The main character in this movie reminds me of Mouchette, a girl in the Robert Bresson film of the same name whose sole purpose in the plot, it seems, is to get shit on by fate. Without being excessively existential, this movie plays out a similar theme in exaggerated American 80’s suburbia. Ugly girl gets made fun of, ugly girl’s family hates her, ugly girl gets in all sorts of strange shenanigans, etc. A little painful to watch, but strangely enthralling.

Amores Perros — I’m already a big fan of the Magnolia-Traffic-Crash-Babel genre, so the minute I saw the set-up at the beginning of this movie — non-linear chronology, independent storylines announced by dramatic intertitles — I knew it had a lot to live up to. Most of these movies tend to flop a little unelegantly under the weight of their themes, and some times they’re so ambitious that they sink altogether (*cough*Babel*cough). Amores Perros was simple, coherent, and the acting was scorchingly good. A recent favorite.

Strangers on a Train — The only other Hitchcock film I’ve seen before this one is The Birds, and I guess I understand why he’s called the “Master of Suspense.” My enjoyment of most movies (not to mention that of my friends with whom I watch movies) has been ruined ever since I took an introductory course in film studies last year. That’s why I’m thankful we have directors like Hitchcock who make films like this that are begging to be analyzed to death. I can’t even name all the socio-literary discussions you can have over this movie, starting right at the first scene, a homoerotic moment in a train between, you guessed it, strangers. Then, it’s chest-clutching, stroke-inducing suspense right through 2 hours of man vs. man and man vs. himself archetypal conflict, to an ending that is way too exciting to have taken place on a merry go round. So, if high school English class discussions were the one thing that really made you feel alive, then this is the perfect movie for you.

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