Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Monolith Monograph: The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey

A young filmmaker dives deeply in five parts into the technical and artistic innards of his (and one of my) favorite movies. One wishes that he spoke a little slower and left some breathing room in his edits but it is an earnest, meticulous, and illuminating effort. The engineering alone that went into 2001 is awe-inspiring. Did Kubrick sleep during the two years it took to make?

Via Channel CinemaTyler

A pitch by any other name?: Jupyter’s narratives

The IPython Notebook has evolved into the Jupyter project. This free, open-source hook into many different programming languages simplifies some types of software experimentation. Jupyter’s advocates have attracted some generous institutional and foundational funding to develop the tool. The project has posted its winning proposal touting it as the “Engine of Collaborative Data Science” and ramming home the “computational narrative” as the means. Authors write notebooks with embedded data and code for a variety of audiences and interested readers can run computations for themselves.

It isn’t clear how this will work for complex algorithms that require a lot of computing power. Notebooks can be static presentations in those cases but then they have no advantage over a conventional report. The current Notebook doesn’t have the tools for real software development or algorithm analysis. Savvy users recommend not relying on them beyond certain limits. Variable inspection, debugging, and change control are all on the roadmap for the new JupyterLab and the project’s claims can’t be addressed until we see how well these work. Every addition will require screen space which will mean less space for the data and visualizations. It might in time be as convenient as the current (not-free) Matlab User Interface but it will take work to get there.

Yes, this is the funded scope and if it existed, they would be proposing something else. The Principal Investigators agree that other Notebook interfaces have been around for a long time but imply that cost and proprietary architectures have been the principal roadblocks to their impact. The Notebook metaphor itself is left alone and that’s puzzling. There should be plenty of data (ha!) on how prior interfaces have or have not revolutionized the areas they claimed they were going to revolutionize. The proposal does devote detail to the enabling technologies, the support of large companies, and the future constituency.

But, it is the word ‘narrative’ gets my hackles up. It sounds disturbingly similar to ‘pitch’ and the pitch culture is dangerous. People can be led down a bad path any number of ways – yellow journalism, Powerpoint, or just outright demagoguery. Groups can lie just as well as individuals and Notebooks, like vaunted social media, can just as easily be co-opted for b.s. Data-driven decisionmaking is resurgent yet cyclical. It ebbs when the data don’t match the preconceptions – the internal narratives – of the ones with the money. We may, as a society, have gone past failsafe in handing over control to the unworthy.

JupyterLab: Building Blocks for Interactive Computing | SciPy 2016 | Brian Granger

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“Stuff Happened Anyway”: Paula Scher on design

Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica subtly did more than examine the ubiquitous font. Most of us would like to be designers in the same way we’d like to be athletes or musicians and we’re interested in those who do it well. Hustwit tapped into that need and let several prominent figures from that world have free rein to discuss what they see and how they see it. Elegant Paula Scher and twitchy Erik Spiekermann come off well, others sound like prats best avoided.

Scher has looked at information design and presentation with the artist’s eye, quite different from, say, an Edward Tufte. Her perspective, driven by artistic and marketing concerns, are at once intriguing and disturbing. She stretches and distorts to make larger points such as claiming that Helvetica was the font of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. It’s not a literal accusation, only that it is the kind of calming gloss that corporations and governments use to disguise their little murders. But, she also cops to fabricating the data she’s (re)presenting to make her point. I admire a lot of her work; it is bold, brash, and political. I don’t know whether I would enjoy living, working, or studying in something so shouty. Nevertheless, I’ve got my autosearches configured to let me know if she’s ever speaking within a couple of hours of LA.

Several of her other lectures are on the web and worth a look. Scher sounds like the canonical good seatmate on a long flight. I doubt she travels coach, though.

Hustwit’s films Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized. are available for affordable digital download from his website, $5.99/ea.

Paula Scher y la tipografía

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Paula Scher: Do What You've Never Done Before

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Paula Scher – New York Design

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ARTIST SERIES: Paula Scher from Hillman Curtis on Vimeo.

American perceptions of cricket

I actually like the test-match version of the game having been taught the fundamentals by my father. But, it is true that most Americans are bewildered by it.

What playing cricket looks like to Americans

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My father thought very highly of Sir Garry Sobers, the great all-rounder from the West Indies. Here’s famous fast bowler Dennis Lillee learning not to taunt Happy Fun Ball.

Gary Sobers vs Denis Lillee, one of the greatest cricket battles

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Take a Leap: Frasier Crane on the 29th of February

Twenty years ago, Dr. Frasier Crane urged his listeners, family, and friends to use February 29th as a “free day” to take chances.  It didn’t end well.  Here’s the famous clip of Crane trying to sing his “signature piece” for a PBS Pledge Drive.

Context and (over?)analysis at The Onion’s AV Club.

Frasier sings buttons and bows

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Hit the road Jacques: Virtual walking tour of Switzerland


Screenshot via

It’s about 130km (~80 miles) from Thusis to Tirano and the Canton of Graubünden and the Rhaetian Railway have come up with a pip of a way to see it. Hikers walked it while wearing hi-def video cameras and the jaunts are available for the clicking. No joke, this is an algorithm and a treadmill away from a holodeck. Visit (or click on the image), select any one of ten starting points and let the friendly ibex take you through some breathtaking scenery. All the virtues of travel without the hellish slog through the modern travel industry.  The website is exquisite, in and of itself.

Setting the standard: The music of William Herschel

A lot is made these days about composer/conductors. It is quite interesting how these paragons do such miserable jobs at both yet still collect handsome checks.

On the other hand, here is some music by William Herschel. Born in (now) Germany, studied music, soldiered, fled to England, built telescopes, inferred infrared radiation and Uranus, made other pioneering discoveries many with his sister Caroline, played the organ professionally, while composing over two hundred pieces of music. He even had a space telescope named after him.

Take that ya overpaid patzers.

Here’s his Symphony No. 14, conducted by Matthias Bamert.

William Herschel – Symphony No.14 in D-major (1762)

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Yes, that Matthias Bamert.

Zwölftonwerbung – Twelve tone commercial

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