• "Experience designers love a bit of Saarinen: “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” That’s what’s wrong here, an RFID card is not considered within the context of a wallet, containing multiple competing RF field creating information and ID objects, and this new, electric wallet isn’t considered within the larger system of shops and the invisible RF world." Companies don't design for seams – and, as Chris points out, when they do, it's for seams between all their own products.
  • "As amazing as it was to find the disk, the file was corrupt and couldn’t be read; all attempts to view the now 20 year old animation failed. It was part one of a science fiction saga titled “Porth” that our friend Cory had made by stretching the animation tool to the absolute limits. To say the least it was worth putting some effort into saving this file." Data archaeology.
  • "We made a commitment to real choreography. I basically drew a line in the sand and said, “If this interface is going to be great, and we're going to make a dance game that's gonna be transformative, you have to be able to dance 'Crank That' by Soulja Boy.” That’s the bar for a good interface."
  • "I went forward with this theme; what if movies we were all familiar with were made a different slice of time? Who would be in it? Who would direct it?" These are marvellous, not just for the art, but for the casting and direction calls. Friedkin's "Terminator"; Peckinpah's "Wolverine"; John Ford's "Drive" starring James Dean. Perfect.

Markov Chocolates: A New Diversion

17 January 2012

A new year, and a new toy to begin it.

This all began when Tom started tweeting the prose from the back of a chocolate box.

Tt tweets

One look at that and, having gagged a little on the truly purple prose, there was only one obvious continuation: a machine to churn out chocolate descriptions infinitely.

Which was as good a time as any to play with Markov chains. Wikipedia will explain in more detail, but if you’ve never encountered them, a very rough explanation is: Markov chains are systems that model what the next item in a list will be based on the previous ones. The more previous items you have, the better it can predict the next thing.

They’re often used in toy text generators. You give them source text to seed them, randomly pick a word from the source text, and then start choosing what should come next. What’s nice about this is with nothing other than a piece of maths, and a tight corpus, we can produce things that usually read like English without having to teach a computer something as complex as grammar. Of course, sometimes you get grammatical-yet-nonsensical English out, but that’s hardly in a problem in our case.

So I took the full prose from the back of Tom’s chocolates (Thornton’s Premium selection, for reference), some Markov text-generation code from an illuminating installment of Rubyquiz, and fiddled for a bit.

A short piece of work later and I had Markov Chocolates.


Roughly once every four hours (but it varies), you’ll get a fresh, tasty new Markov Chocolate in your Twitter feed. It’s another of my daft toys, but it still makes me chuckle. I’m thinking of expanding the corpus soon, and I hear the Markov coroporation are keen to branch out into new product lines. For now, you can get your chocolate fix here.

  • "Molesworth sa on the contry the most beatiful form in art is a Ronald Searle GURL from St Trinian’s in a tunick with black suspenders and armed with a hockey stick to beat the daylites out of another gurl or maybe just a teacher chortle chortle." Economist obituaries are always worthwhile, but this Ronald Searle one is marvellous

Raymond Chandler on the value of copying

13 January 2012

This has stuck with me for much of the end of last year. I copied it out to email it to someone, and thought it worth keeping.

Raymond Chandler writing to Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason, 5th May 1939:

“When we were talking about the old Action Detective magazine I forgot to tell you that I learned to write a novelette on one of yours about a man named Rex Kane, who was an alter ego of Ed Jenkins and got mixed up with some flowery dame in a hilltop house in Hollywood who was running an anti-blackmail organization. You wouldn’t remember. It’s probably in your file No. 54276-84. The idea, probably not at all original to me, was so good that I tried to work it out on another tyro later on, but he couldn’t see the point of putting the effort into something he knew he couldn’t sell, preferring to put the effort into nineteen things he thought he could sell and couldn’t. I simply made an extremely detailed synopsis of your story and from that rewrote it and then compared what I had with yours, and then went back and rewrote it some more, and so on. It looked pretty good. Incidentally, I found out that the trickiest part of your technique was the ability to put over situations which verged on the implausible but which in the reading seemed quite real. I hope you understand I mean this as a compliment. I have never even come near to doing it myself. Dumas had this quality in very strong degree. Also Dickens. It’s probably the fundamental of all rapid work, because naturally rapid work has a large measure of improvisation, and to make an improvised scene seem inevitable is quite a trick.

And here I am at 2:40am writing about technique, in spite of a strong convinction that the moment a man begins to talk about technique, that’s proof he is fresh out of ideas.”

from The Chandler Paper: Selected Letters and Non Fiction 1909-1959

Machines showing us mind; entertainment derived from the machine showing us non-mind

12 January 2012

Adam Gopnik’s “How The Internet Gets Inside Us“, in last year’s New Yorker, is a remarkable read. This leapt out:

…at any given moment, our most complicated machine will be taken as a model of human intelligence, and whatever media kids favor will be identified as the cause of our stupidity. When there were automatic looms, the mind was like an automatic loom; and, since young people in the loom period liked novels, it was the cheap novel that was degrading our minds. When there were telephone exchanges, the mind was like a telephone exchange, and, in the same period, since the nickelodeon reigned, moving pictures were making us dumb. When mainframe computers arrived and television was what kids liked, the mind was like a mainframe and television was the engine of our idiocy. Some machine is always showing us Mind; some entertainment derived from the machine is always showing us Non-Mind.

…but really, the whole thing is half an hour well spent.

  • "If school programming languages that serve children best end up looking quite a bit different from conventional programming languages, maybe it’s actually the conventions that need changing." Several good points from Alex, and some good points about breaking away from equating "computational" with "procedural".

Links & notes for this month