Human Behaviour

Posted in art, technology by johnsnavely on June 9, 2009

Last night, I watched Primer (spoiler alert). It’s a great movie stylishly told (as a result of a low budget) whose main plot twist centers around time travel.

One of the major themes of the movie, in the words of the director: “the deconstruction of a relationship because of the introduction of this [the time machines] power”.


The two main characters accidentally discover a time machine. Since the discovery is unexpected, their reactions begin as fairly puerile: how can they make money from time travel? Eventually, they sink into the meat of the story: time travel gives them the ability to rewrite history (history in the sense that events are built up of a series of interpersonal events), not only the lives of others but their own.


I also watched– although it took me a while– Gerald Depardieu’s 400 minute film adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. The movie follows the book pretty faithfully, for better or worse. And features the same sort of melodrama that characterized Dumas’ serialized stories– cliff hanger endings, suicides, elopements, weird drugs, etc. I love it… but I suspect not many people could tolerate the tela novella atmosphere of the whole thing.

However, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books and I’m willing to tolerate just about any version of it. (I’ve got an anime version of the novel from Netflix on its way to my house as I write this.) The book, for those of you who don’t know, is pretty much the mother of all revenge novels, a grand picture painted across exotic locations and lavish settings of the super rich. The major themes are about good and evil and the tension of the Count’s desire for  revenge vs his “true” nature as a good person. This plays out in many small interactions between the Count and people that the audience knows he wishes ill towards. These bits of dramatic irony are the foundation of most of the suspense in the novel.

To put the cherry on top of this smagasborg of everything-I-have-been-reading-wacthing, the last thing I’m currently reading is a book called: The Mathematics of Marriage. From the cover flap:

Divorce rates are at an all-time high. But without a theoretical understanding of the processes related to marital stability and dissolution, it is difficult to design and evaluate new marriage interventions. The Mathematics of Marriage provides the foundation for a scientific theory of marital relations. The book does not rely on metaphors, but develops and applies a mathematical model using difference equations. The work is the fulfillment of the goal to build a mathematical framework for the general system theory of families first suggested by Ludwig Von Bertalanffy in the 1960s.

The book also presents a complete introduction to the mathematics involved in theory building and testing, and details the development of experiments and models. In one “marriage experiment,” for example, the authors explored the effects of lowering or raising a couple’s heart rates. Armed with their mathematical model, they were able to do real experiments to determine which processes were affected by their interventions.

Applying ideas such as phase space, null clines, influence functions, inertia, and uninfluenced and influenced stable steady states (attractors), the authors show how other researchers can use the methods to weigh their own data with positive and negative weights. While the focus is on modeling marriage, the techniques can be applied to other types of psychological phenomena as well.

I’ve just read the first couple chapters. (One of which is an introduction to Diff. Equations, sorely needed since I’ve retained nothing from my math courses [Math 23!] as an undergrad.) The central idea of the book is to build a mathematical model that can be used to predict whether or not a given couple will divorce. Of course, in the later chapters, the methodology is extended to predict factors or “treatments” that might prevent divorce between couples. In addition, the later chapters describe how the model might apply to a more general set of relationships between people: any “couple”. Any two people involved in conversation.

This spawned a few ideas in my head.

One: Why can’t I have this model and it’s predictions running real time across all of my conversations? Every conversation could be metric-ed and improved on to facilitate things things like meetings.

Two: Could this software be used to analyze fictional dialogue? (Maybe something Moretti-esque?) Or maybe it could have a more significant impact on the creative process of writing dialog?


Lost in Translation

Posted in art, programming, projects, technology by johnsnavely on May 21, 2009

MonaTweeta II, originally uploaded by Quasimondo.

Skitch delicioused me this project, which I think is pretty cool. Basically, the challenge was to compress an image into a 140 tweet. The image description describes the process in more detail:

Preliminary result of a little competition with the goal to write an image encoder/decoder that allows to send an image in a tweet. The image on the left is what I currently manage to send in 140 characters via twitter.

This is the tweet for the image:
圑嘌婂搒孵怤實恄幖戰怴搝愩娻屗奊唀唭嚟帧啜徠山峔巰喜圂嗊埯廇嗕患嚵幇墥彫壛嶂壋悟声喿墰廚埽崙嫖嘵奰恛嬂啷婕媸姴嚥娐嗪嫤圣峈嬻尤囮愰啴屽嶍屽嶰寂喿 嶐唥帑尸庠啞彐啯廂喪帄嗆怠嗙开唅恰唦慼啥憛幮悐喆悠喚忐嗳惐唔戠啹媊婼捐啸抃岖嗅怲幀嗈拀唹坭嵄彠喺悠單囏庰抂唋岰媮岬夣宐彋媀恦啼彐壔姩宔嬀

I am using chinese characters here since in UTF-8 encoding they allow me to send 210 bytes of data in 140 chars. In theory I could use the whole character code range from 0x0000-0xffff, but there are several control chars among them which probably could not be sent properly. With some tweaking and testing it would be possible to use at least 1 or 2 more bits which would allow to sneak 17 or 35 more bytes into a tweet, but the whole encoding would be way more nasty and the tweets would contain chars that have no font representation.

Besides this char hack there are a few other tricks at work in the encoding. I will reveal them over time. For now I just mention the difficulties involved here:

A typical RGB color needs 24 bits which is 3 bytes. This means if you just stored raw colors you could send 70 colors. Unfortunately you couldn’t send anything else. At least that would allow you to send a 7×10 pixel matrix.

The worst way to store one full x/y coordinate would be 2 times 4 bytes, which is 26 coordinates in one tweet. That’s 8 triangles. Obviously you have to do some concessions with the precision here. 2 bytes per number maybe? Gives you 52 points or 17 triangles. Unfortunately those come without color info.

What I like about this project, other than the fact that you can send an image (albeit a pretty lo-res one) via twitter, is the unintentional text that’s generated from the compression. In this case the compression has to stay in the realm of text and therefore is still “readable”. In the comments for the image, one fan of this project has translated the Chinese characters that encode the mona lisa:

The whip is war
that easily comes
framing a wild mountain.

Hello, you in the closet,
singing–posing carved peaks
of sound understanding.

Upon a kitchen altar
visit a prostitute–
an ugly woman saint–
who decoys.

lonesome mountain valley,
your treasury: a dumb corpse and
funeral car, idle choke open.

exactly what you would call nervous.
Well, do not suggest recalcitrance
those who donated sad.

The smell of a rugged frame
strikes cement block once.

Where you?a
Cape. Cylinder. Cry.

It’s nice to see digital art that has multiple readings which are dependent on the medium itself. We still use the words “images” and “text” when we’re talking about the digital analogs of real world media.

But maybe they are qualitatively different?

Hikiko Moiré

Posted in architecture, art by johnsnavely on May 13, 2009

I’ve been fooling around with 3d studio max recently and vray displacement maps. I made a movie.

(Probably, better quality on youtube HQ)



And a couple of “archtectural” collages with gynoids stolen from Hajime Sorayama (NSFW!), an artist who I admire. He’s a little soft core, but I think his work is striking.



It’s been pretty fun and I’d like to make some more. One problem I’ve run into is how to extract geometry from the displacement map rendering. Basically, the mesh is calculated at render time. (All I’ve modelled in these images is a sphere, cube, and plane.) So the mesh is there, but I can’t export it. If anyone knows how to get it into a .3ds or obj file, please let me know.

Différance Engine

Posted in art, personal, projects by johnsnavely on April 26, 2009

Had an “art” idea:


Take Derrida’s Différance lecture and run it through google translate, translating from French to English and back again. Repeat until the translations remain unchanged. Voila!



Click on this image for the poster sized version.

Recycled Part III

Posted in architecture, art, projects by johnsnavely on March 10, 2009

More recycling! Two old pieces of work are going to be shown.

First a drawing from my thesis will be in Visionary Drawing Building, a collection of architectural drawings edited by Max Goldfarb. The book will be on display at Mass Moca, on March 21 as part of Matt Bua’s installation at Kidspace Gallery.


Secondly, a poster I worked on with Shirley Shen for Volume Magazine will be shown at Colophon2009. It’s a mad lib for architects to get them thinking about all the activities they could be doing. I wrote a simple script in flash to layout verbs and nouns from an xml file.


I feel really honored to have my work still out there. Thanks to both Max and Volume Magazine.

Now, I need to start making some new stuff…

Twenty Four Seven

Posted in art, web by johnsnavely on February 3, 2009

A couple of years ago my friends Sam Adrian and Dan showed me some video art by one of their fellow RISD grads, Ryan Trecartin. It was pretty awesome stuff, very strange. Last night, I opened the Sunday NYTimes arts section on the front page there were a bunch of images from the videos. There was an article on Mr. Trecartin’s work and process, and an announcement of some new pieces, which I checked out on YouTube. I’m still thinking about his newer stuff, but here’s a few videos that I think fit together.

My favorite video from Trecartin is this one (Tommy Chat!):

When I saw this years ago, my first thought was Shaye Saint John’s stuff. (The backwards hands get me every time):

I’m not sure of the history but I think they might owe something to Jacob’s work:

They all seem to revel in the excessive banality that characterizes the internet. With their manic, hyperactive style, I remember my initial feelings were mostly annoyance. (Which is a way of saying that they get under your skin– a good thing.) And the videos have this wierd incessant force, conversations are assembled with parts that you sort of recognize but they lack enough context to place. After the feeling of being annoyed subsided a bit, I’m just sort of happy with their uncanny accuracy. For anyone who has spent some time on the internet, the experience of watching the videos is eerily familiar.

Back to the Future

Posted in art, fashion by johnsnavely on January 21, 2009

These illustrations by Mattias Adolfsson are lovely! Baroque Starwars = awesome.

The Deathstar (now my wallpaper) and Stormtrooper are my favorites.

More here.

Soft Hands

Posted in architecture, art, hobbies, music by johnsnavely on January 16, 2009

I thought I’d post this video of a multitouch music interface. (That you can build for under $50).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

It’s related to the previous post, but since I haven’t had time to work on my side project, I can’t show you how…. yet.

The Other Side

Posted in art, books, personal, projects, thesis by johnsnavely on January 2, 2009

I’ve been working on more of these Gilgamesh things. I thought before I would print them, I could publish them online somewheres. But it would be nice to have something more artsy (ahem) than a photo gallery.

Luckily, I found this great little AS3 library for making “books” with flex.

Here’s one book I made with my thesis (5mb…wait for it) warts and all!


It’s pretty depressing to see how many mistakes I’ve made… archived forever in MIT’s stacks. Double ugz.

Like Snake

Posted in art, videogames by johnsnavely on December 30, 2008

Ok. Sorry to overpost. But this struck my fancy. It’s game (soon to be iphone app) that allows you to wrap twine around a wooden sculpture.

It’s called Zen Bondage.

You can even upload your own 3d models to wrap! Anyone remember that passage in Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide where Wang-Mu, compelled by the voices of the gods, counts lines in the wood-grain of her floor?