From the category archives:



February 1, 2010

in Storytelling,Tools,Video

Whenever I sense that I’m getting too tangled up in a specific process, or overly attached to a particular tool or way of thinking, I often find myself muttering: “My pen! My pen!”

I just recently found the sketch that inspired that little tactic of re-centering, after not seeing it for years:


The BBC goes behind the scenes of Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings project as it was projected on the surface of the Sydney Opera House:

There is also a profile of the project, with some technical details about how it was put together, on Apple’s website:

“77 Million Paintings” continues to evolve. “We’ve been discussing the idea of using natural selection in the next project,” says Taylor. “When users see a combination of images they like, they’ll be able to hit a button and the computer will remember it. Likewise, the user will be able to kill certain combinations. At the end of a very long period of time, you’ll have a handful of images that have survived the selection process. Then the program will stop. Everyone’s choices will be different.”


“Software options proliferate extremely easily, too easily in fact, because too many options create tools that can’t ever be used intuitively. Intuitive actions confine the detail work to a dedicated part of the brain, leaving the rest of one’s mind free to respond with attention and sensitivity to the changing texture of the moment. With tools, we crave intimacy. This appetite for emotional resonance explains why users – when given a choice – prefer deep rapport over endless options. You can’t have a relationship with a device whose limits are unknown to you, because without limits it keeps becoming something else.”

– Brian Eno, Wired Magazine (January 1999)


David Lynch, on wee media formats:


Ge Wang has assembled MoPho — a mobile phone orchestra — at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (aka CCRMA).

As a fan of drones, I’m keen on the possibilities demonstrated in the ensemble piece Drone In/Drone Out. (It’s a Quicktime video, so you’ll have to click through to see it. Thanks for the link, Ge!)

More information:


Pen in Hand

April 23, 2009

in Senses,Tools

A reason to walk away from the keyboard and the cell phone:


“Still this childish fascination with my handwriting…To think that I always have this sensuous potentiality glowing within my fingers!”

– Susan Sontag, from Reborn


In the midst of our virtual-instrument-on-laptop era, it’s so refreshing to see and hear new physical and tangible sound-making devices.

On Sunday, NPR profiled Ranjit Bhatnagar, who made a new instrument every day in February:

“For a long time,” Bhatnagar says, “I thought that there was no place for me in music because I have no formal training. I found that there’s a space for experimenting, for making my own music. I really want to encourage everybody to get out there, make some instruments, make some sounds. Maybe what they make will be beautiful, maybe it’s not, [but] you should enjoy it either way.”

Here’s a video of him cranking his Möbius music box:

I like the koto-esque bend built in to this one:

And a motor moving beads against the head of a drum:

More images and videos on Flickr and Thing-a-day.


On the March 2nd episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart made Dan Schorr seem young and hip, and the always-brilliant Samantha Bee introduced us to “Gruntr”:

Er…did Rick Sanchez say “Boom!” at the start of that clip?

Is that how Edward R. Murrow made transitions?


Paul Graham is many things — a writer, computer programmer and language designer, a painter, a venture capitalist. Among other contributions, he suggested the mathematical model used by most email systems to filter spam.

Etherpad is a collaborative, web-based text editing tool. It can also reproduce every change you’ve made to a document. Think of it as infinite undo, an animation that reveals the process of editing, played back frame by frame.

Combining the two:

Watch Paul Graham write a summary of his 13 tips for startup companies — from keystroke #1 to #5465.

[There's no way to embed this one, so you have to click on the link to view it.]


Decoding Emily

February 4, 2009

in History,Poetry,Tools,Words

Emily Dickinson’s poems can seem inscrutable at times, even after multiple readings. A modern dictionary can help with words like periphrasis and pinnace, but what about those more esoteric words and people? What (or who) are Jessamines? Who’s Dollie? Who’s Carlo?

A few days ago, while I was trying to determine precisely what Dickinson might have meant by the word “haply”, Google revealed a new source: the Emily Dickinson Lexicon. It’s online and searchable:

The Emily Dickinson Lexicon is a dictionary of alphabetized headword entries for all of the words in Emily Dickinson’s collected poems (Johnson 1955 and Franklin 1998 editions). The scope of the Dickinson lexicon is comprehensive. A team of lexicographers and reviewers has examined almost 100,000 individual word occurrences to create approximately 9,275 headword entries. The EDL includes proper nouns, person names, and place names that are not usually listed in general dictionaries of the English language. Because high-frequency function words such as a, of, and the are important for Dickinson studies, the EDL includes basic definitions for 168 words that were omitted from Rosenbaum’s concordance (xi) with their 38,235 occurrences.

It is a work-in-progress, but it’s certainly complete and polished enough for the casual reader.

The Jessamines? Dollie? Carlo? They are all there.

Also available: a digitization of the last edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language that Noah Webster made before his death — the same edition that Edward Dickinson bought for the family library in 1844.


Tech publisher Tim O’Reilly has been talking a lot about work that matters in the past year. Yesterday, he proposed some starting principles for determining what that work might be:

  1. Work on something that matters to you more than money.
  2. Create more value than you capture.
  3. Take the long view.

Tim fills in all the details in his article.

Two excerpts:

“We need to build an economy in which the important things are paid for in self-sustaining ways rather than as charities to be funded out of the goodness of our hearts.”

And paraphrasing Rilke:

“What we fight with is so small, and when we win, it makes us small. What we want is to be defeated, decisively, by successively greater things.”


After watching his TED lecture:

I’ve been thinking about John Maeda’s Laws for Simplicity.

They are more tips than laws, actually.  For example:

Law 3: Savings in time feel like simplicity.

Though Maeda works in technology and design, these could work for other fields.

And here’s a thought experiment: substitute clarity for simplicity, and read through the list again.


Susie Bright shares a trick for making new year’s resolutions.

(Her reveal is in the comments.)



November 26, 2008

in Sound,Tools

Tod Machover on the future of musical instruments:

“Imagine if [Guitar Hero] were truly expressive, truly personal, truly creative. The wonderful thing about Guitar Hero is that it opens up the door for everybody to be not just a passive listener but a real active participant in music,” Machover says. “I think that is the future of music: music that is a collaboration between what we traditionally think of as composers and performers and the audience.”


The future of sculpture?

October 31, 2008

in Tools

Treehugger on the falling price of 3-dimensional printers.