Weblog | Archives for August 2004
Past posts.
Generative Architecture

The book An Evolutionary Architecture by John Frazer is available for free online.

The book investigates the fundamental form-generating processes in architecture, considering architecture as a form of artificial life, and proposing a genetic representation in a form of DNA-like code-script, which can then be subject to developmental and evolutionary processes in response to the user and the environment. The aim of an evolutionary architecture is to achieve in the built environment the symbiotic behaviour and metabolic balance found in the natural environment. To do so, it operates like an organism, in a direct analogy with the underlying design process of nature.

la fee verte

Friday night, I met my girlfriend and her parents at St. Louis' horse track, Fairmount Park. I didn't bet, but my girlfriend did; she yelled at the horses like a New Yorker. It was awesome.

Saturday night, I was up late drinking absinthe and looking through my friend's photos from St. Petersburg, Russia. Absinthe isn't hallucinogenic really, but it does taste like licorice.

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

I finally visited the new CAMSTL building yesterday. The building itself was amazing. The outside form is striking, and the organisation inside doesn't impose on the hosted works. Wolfgang Puck's TEMPT cafe is inside, too.

The art itself was unimpressive. We saw: a burnt out car, an array of vintage stools mounted sideways to a wall, a video loop of driving through St. Louis, and a few scattered mixed-media pieces. Amy and I needed only fifteen minutes the view the exhibits. For a third of that, we were doing shadow puppets against the video loop projection.

The mixed media pieces were especially lacking. I'm not educated in visual arts, but I'm disappointed by what I see as confusion between presenting minimalistic pieces and exhibiting artists' studies. I love seeing the experiments, mechanics, and processes behind visual art, but "an examination of texture" or "an exploration of form and color" really aren't worth gallery space to me. Studies and experiments are for learning, and preparation for a complete work.

Down the street, we found the remains of a church. The stone walls were still standing, with ivy growing through the missing stained-glass windows. Tranquil ruins in the middle of the city.

Data Growing

My Colorcell passed away a few days ago, and it has me thinking about evolving solutions on the web.

Colorcell illustrates how natural selection can be used to solve problems. A population of possible solutions is created, each is scored, and the best are bred and copied to create the next generation. The same approach is used to evolve algorithms (genetic programming), design objects (generative design), and solve other problems.

In most cases, the scoring is done automatically by a computer using a "fitness function." For example, when evolving a good algorithm, the fitness function would use speed and correctness to assign a score. Or, when evolving an aircraft design, the fitness function might combine measurements from a physics simulation of each design. For these kinds of problems, the criteria for a good solution are easy to determine and the fitness function can be performed by a computer.

Colorcell shows how such a process might be applied to problems where a fitness function can't be written. How can a computer judge what makes a good song, painting, or color scheme? In these cases of aesthetic problems, the fitness function can be performed by people instead of a computer.

How do you get people to participate? Make the process invisible. An example, using Amazon:

Most Amazon product pages show a "Customers who bought this _____ also bought:" list. It's a great idea for a feature, when it works. Other times, you'll be buying a movie and Amazon will guess that you also need underwear. The logic is that buying two items together implies that the items are related.

Imagine that Amazon decides to take a leap, and use genetic programming to solve the problem. The process would be:

  1. Create a population of computer programs that use a given item, sales data, and product descriptions to output a list of related items.
  2. When a page is viewed, use a random member of the population.
  3. If a user views an item in the list, give the program one point.
  4. If a user buys an item in the list, give the program two points.
  5. Kill low scorers, breed and mutate high scorers, and return to step 2.

Users would be working to improve the feature.

As opposed data mining, where companies make use of users' information, this approach (data growing?) makes use of users' interactions. Something to look out for in the future.

"Let's go get Sushi and, and not pay."

My quality of life has doubled with the acquisition of the 80's most perfect creation: the Repo Man soundtrack. Great tracks by Black Flag, Plugz, Circle Jerks, and best of all, "Pablo Picasso" by the Burning Sensations.

Go to your video store's cult classics section, pass up the misplaced Kevin Smith flicks, and get this movie. If you've already seen it, check out:

Repo Man script
"Well you'd better not be. I don't want any commies in my car. No Christians either."

Thoughts from writer and director Alex Cox
"Repoing people's cars and hating alien ideologies were only the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg itself was the maniac culture which had elected so-called "leaders" named Reagan and Thatcher, who were prepared to sacrifice everything — all life on earth — to a gamble based on the longevity of the Soviet military, and the whims of their corporate masters."

Repo Man FAQ
"The picture of the aliens has been described by the filmmakers as being 'condoms filled with water, with grass skirts'. "


Natural Nuclear Reactors
""This extraordinary event occurred 1.8 eons (1.8 billion years) ago at a place now called Oklo in Gabon, Africa, and was discovered quite by accident."

Yucca Mountain Project
"It came as a great surprise to most, therefore, when, in 1972, French physicist Francis Perrin declared that nature had beaten humans to the punch by creating the world’s first nuclear reactors. Indeed, he argued, nature had a two-billion-year head start. Fifteen natural fission reactors have been found in three different ore deposits at the Oklo mine in Gabon, West Africa."

Data is Nature

In addition to a striking collection of graphic works, Transphormetic has a great weblog on generative art, data vis, and other graphics topics. Simply the best generative art weblog I've seen.

Via Transphormetic: JJAM, a site listing simple Java code for common fractals and geometry. The site is in German, but code is a universal language. Useful stuff for beginning Processing users.

The Perseids Are Coming

The annual Perseids meteor shower occurs Wednesday night, as the Earth moves through the debris of the Swift-Tuttle comet. The moon won't rise until 2:30 AM in North America, so viewing conditions will be great. Unfortunately, the shower will peak during the afternoon. I'll still be looking.

The shower is also called "The Tears of St. Lawrence," since he was burned alive by the Romans on Aug. 10. As the legend goes, he yelled out to the Romans, "I am already roasted on one side and, if thou wouldst have me well cooked, it is time to turn me on the other."

National Geographic, NASA, Space.com

DIY Everything

Craftster is an online community for hipster craft tutorials: thrift store suit messanger bag, Monopoly money notepad, plush monsters. Something to read between issues of ReadyMade.


The Aesthetics of Noise

"It is worth noting in particular that the word 'noise' comes from Greek nausea, referring not only to the roaring sea, but also to seasickness, and that the German Geräusch is derived from rauschen (the sound of the wind), related to Rausch (ecstasy, intoxication), thus pointing towards some of the aesthetic, bodily effects of noise in music."

"Information society is verging on noise society, a state in which the information, meant to convey knowledge, ends up losing the ability to speak at all. Our culture becomes taciturn without being silent, moving towards a noisy muteness."

Sushi Picnic

Sunday was relaxing. Beth and I made sushi for a picnic in the park. We found a shady spot by the lake, next to a pine tree. 75°F in August is a miracle in St. Louis.

A hummingbird darted among the branches and around us, inspecting. She painted her nails and read to me from Word of Mouth. I laid facing the sky until my inner monologue disintegrated.

Doing nothing just in time.


On Saturday, I worked on chopping down a tree. It was refreshing.

I'd spend the previous frustrating week configuring the company webserver to use SSL. "./apachectl stop, ./apachectl start, ./apachectl stop..." The tools in my daily life are computer languages, software packages, and machines. Tools are things to be configured; there are countless layers seperating my effort from the result.

We actually had a chainsaw to use on the tree; no one tried to explain why an axe would be better.

I suppose that sometimes, we all want to do away with the interface.

Green Chicago

Mayor Daley’s Green Crusade, Metropolis Magazine
"The most remarkable aspect of Daley’s consciousness-raising green crusade is that, after stumbling into it, he has committed major resources to developing a holistic approach to greening the city. Nothing illustrates this better than the Chicago Center for Green Technology (CCGT), the first and only municipal building in the United States to be awarded LEED Platinum status by the U.S. Green Building Council. (Only six buildings in the entire world have achieved this ranking, all but one in the United States.)"

Building the Greenest City in America, Newtopia News
"But being a Green city isn't just about how many parks you have. It's about the relationship of the environment to the city and the people, about interconnected social and environmental policies, and leadership from designers, planners, scientists, politicians, civic organizations, and cultural figures, who are all helping Chicago move from a wasteful industrial model, to one of sustainability."

(via Metafilter)


Jared Tarbell's new piece Offspring is "a visualization of the pair bonding process of a theoretical robot colony." Very nice.

Prints of his work are available, and at very reasonable prices too. I'd love to do something like this in the future, if I produce something that would work in print.

Slow Down

This weekend: hours of Aqua Teen and a great afternoon at the Missouri Botanical Gardens with Miss 8, a Jupiter Jazz show, bonfire until sunrise, pizza picnic and volleyball, and saw Anchorman (awesome) and The Village (awesome, until the entire audience guessed the gimmick).

Last weekend: a Paul Oakenfold show, a trip to Chicago's beautiful Millennium Park, Beth's best friend's vegan luau with music from Egnaro (plus a Weezer cover). Pat's grandmother took a jello shot, and a little boy rocked out with him by the mic.

I got a new laptop: a tiny Sony Vaio. An inch thick, under four pounds, widescreen, 1.6 gHz, CD-RW/DVD drive, 60 gig hard drive, integrated WiFi. I absolutely love it.