Blockbusters: how Rutherford Chang became the second best Tetris player in the world

The Guardian has a story about Blockbusters: how Rutherford Chang became the second best Tetris player in the world. Chang is an artist who has been playing Tetris over and over and filming it. His hundreds of thousands of games can be viewed on YouTube here.

How is this art? I suspect it is in the way he plays with repetition. Another project, Alphabetized Newspaper, takes all the words in stories on the cover of The New York Times and rearranges them in alphabetical order created a sort of sorted word list. (Click image and explore.)



He also did this with video of NBC nightly news, which produces a bizarre effect. Imagine all the very short clips of people saying “and” in a row.

I am struck by how he has humanly recreated what an algorithm could do.


AMICO dissolved


I just discovered (about 9 years after the fact) that The Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO) was dissolved in 2005. For a while AMICO seemed to be one of the major art historical image banks for teaching and research. Now they are gone, though they have kept a web site for archival purposes (see screenshot of entry web page above.)

I have written before about digital centres that have closed down, AMICO isn’t an example of a centre, but it was an important project which is now gone. I can’t find any discussion about the dissolution, but will look. In general, I think we need to learn from the passing of projects.

Waging Culture: Comparison of 2007 to 2012

The agYU (Art Gallery of York University) has posted a summary comparison of how much artists made in 2007 and in 2012. See Out There – Waging Culture: Snapshot comparison of 2007 to 2012 results. There hasn’t been a lot of change in the bottom line for artists (they still don’t make much.) What is depressing is how little the average arts practicioner makes from their practice. The mean for 2012 is $2,300 a year (after expenses.) Most artists are surviving from art-related income. Even then, the 2012 mean for practice and art-related income is $21,490.

In a different blog entry on Methodology in Short they talk about the purpose of the Waging Culture survey,

There are some significant issues with using Census data in researching visual artists. As the Census accounts only for the “main” occupation of an individual, those artists who hold day-jobs are not counted as artists, and thus a significant set of artists simply disappear into the need for simplicity in defining occupation. In addition, there is no breakdown of the various source of incomes for those who are identified as artists. In both instances, these lapses can and do lead to significant misunderstandings of the socio-economic health of artists. For example, while the median income of artists in the 2007 study was $20,000, this included income from all sources. Income from studio practice alone, however, was negative $556.

We need to talk about TED by Benjamin Bratton

The Guardian has reprinted the trasnscript of Benjamin Bratton’s We need to talk about TED talk that is critical of TED. He looks at each of the three terms in T.E.D. (Technology, Entertainment, Design) and here is paraphrase of some of his points:

  • TED talks conceptualize the future, but tend to oversimplify it.
  • TED wants to be about imagining the future, but it tends to promote placebo politics and technology.
  • We are told that change is accelerating, but while that may be true of technology, it isn’t true of politics and culture.
  • TED talks have too much faith in technology. Another futurism is possible.
  • Capitalism is presented as being about rocket ships and nanomedicine. It is actually about Walmart jobs, McMansions and government spying.

He ends by talking about design. He argues that it shouldn’t be about innovation, but about innoculation. Design is presented in TED as the heroic solving a puzzles that will magically fix everything. Instead he argues for design as slogging through the hard stuff – understanding the politics and cultural issues.

He ends by summarizing why he feels TED is not just a distraction, but harmful. He believes TED misdirects our attention by charming us with the entertaining simple solutions while avoiding the messy, chaotic, complex issues that can’t be solved by technology.

I sometimes wonder if Humanities Computing didn’t serve a similar purpose in the humanities. Is it a form of comic (technological) relief from the brutal truths we confront in the humanities … especially the suspicion that we make no difference when we do confront racism, sexism, surveillance, politics and technohype. Why not relax and play a bit with the other?

Pentametron: With algorithms subtle and discrete

Scott send me a link to the Pentametron: With algorithms subtle and discrete / I seek iambic writings to retweet. This site creates iambic pentameter poems from tweets by looking at the rythm of words. It then tries to find ryhming last words to create a AABB rhyming scheme. You can see an article about it on Gawker titled, Weird Internets: The Amazing Found-on-Twitter Sonnets of Pentametron.

The Never-Before-Told Story of the World’s First Computer Art

The Atlantic has a story about The Never-Before-Told Story of the World’s First Computer Art (It’s a Sexy Dame). The image (see above) was apparently created by an IBM programmer for the SAGE system and was used as a diagnostic.

According to Tipton, the program that displayed the pin-up image was a diagnostic that tested data flow between the two SAGE computers on site (referred to as the A and B computers). At the end of every shift, as one computer was about to go offline and switch over to the other, the active machine would begin transferring flight and intercept data to the standby machine so there could be a seamless switch over.

Two switching consoles on site were used to handle this process. After running the diagnostic, Tipton describes, if the pin-up displayed correctly on the screen, then data was being transferred between the A and B computers correctly. If the image displayed improperly, then the technicians immediately knew there was a problem.

This reminds me of the story of Lena and the use of her image. Why were so many early images drawn from porn? Does this say something about the male culture of computing in those years that it was cool/acceptable to use pin up pictures when you needed a graphic image?

Thanks to @manovich for this.

InSight: Visualizing Health Humanities

The GRAND group has a work being exhibited at the InSight: Visualizing Health Humanities show that starts tonight. We used Unity to create a FPS (First Person Shooter) type of game for medical communication. The game, called CatHETR, lets players move through a ward dealing with communicative situations. This project was supported by the GRAND Network of Centres of Excellence.

Google Art Project

An article in the New York Times led me to the Google Art Project. This project doesn’t feel like a Google project, perhaps because it uses an off-black background and the interface is complex. The project brings together art work and virtual tours of many of the worlds important museums (but not all.0 You can browse by collection, artist (by first name), artworks, and user galleries. You can change the language of the interface (and it seems to change even when you don’t want it to in certain circumstances.) When viewing a gallery you can get a wall of paintings or a street view virtual tour of the gallery. Above you see the “Museum View” of a room in the Uffizi with a barrier around a Filippino Lippi that is being treated for a woodworm infestation! In the Museum View you can pan around and move up to paintings much as you would in Google Maps in Street View. On the left is a floor plan that you can also use.
This site reminds me of what was one of the best multimedia CD-ROMs ever, the Musee d’Orsay: Virtual Visit. This used QuickTime VR to provide a virtual tour. It had the sliding walls of art. It also had special guides and some nice comparison tools that let you get a sense of the size of a work of art. The Google Art Project feels loosely copied from this right down to the colour scheme. It will be interesting to see if the Google Art Project subsumes individual museum sites or consortia like the Art Museum Image Consortium (Amico.)

I find it interesting how Google is developing specialized interfaces for more and more domains. The other day I was Googling for movies in Edmonton and found myself on a movies – Google Search page that arranges information conveniently. The standard search interface is adapting.

How Star Trek artists imagined the iPad… 23 years ago

How Star Trek artists imagined the iPad… 23 years ago is an article in Ars Technica about the design of the iconic Star Trek interfaces from those of PADDs (Personal Access Display Devices) to the touch screens used on the bridge. It turns out that one of the reasons for the flat touch screen interfaces was that they were cheap (compared to panels with lots of switches as contemporary spacecraft had.)

What could be simpler to make than a flat surface with no knobs, buttons, switches, or other details? Okuda designed a user interface dominated large type and sweeping, curved rectangles. The style was first employed in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home for the Enterprise-A, and came to be referred to as “okudagrams.” The graphics could be created on transparent colored sheets very cheaply, though as ST:TNG progressed, control panels increasingly used video panels or added post-production animations.