Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Is it all so tangled that nothing is objective?

A realization that was building in me for months just snapped into a sentence.

I like "Atom Heart Mother Suite" mainly because I have positive emotions and memories Anchored to it.

In terms I didn't have until lately, it means that the song that I consider to be the most genius work of music I've ever heard is associated in my mind with pleasant emotions that I felt when I first heard it and hearing it triggers those emotions to be felt again. "Anchor" is an NLP term for such binding of something physical (like a gesture or song) to emotions that triggers those emotions when that thing happens.

In the last few months, whenever I listened to it, I consciously started to recall memories of pleasant times from my two years in Mexico, where I first heard it.

Two other songs that I like very much, the opening and ending songs of the Anime series Honey & Clover, are also liked manly because of an Anchor: Whenever I listen to them, the series runs through my head (the half that I've watched) which touches me very deeply, adding a lot of weight to the emotion caused by the music itself. Honey & Clover is the most beautiful series I've watched, in the sense in which poetry is beautiful, or a woman's smile, or a touch. Curiously, my favorite scene invokes feelings in me that I recognized as Anchoring from the first time I saw it - it always reminded me of myself and my life in some way, though I still can't figure out what exactly... I guess it sums up a whole period of a few years in my life.

So if so many things that invoke deep emotion in me are just Anchors to experiences of my own, does objective artistic beauty exist at all?

I'm not talking about objective beauty like that which an elegant math theorem, or a proof thereof, possesses. I mean "objective" to a group, say mammals, or humans, or israelis, or israeli geeks.

Is artistic beauty mainly something that triggers memories of good emotions and makes you re-experience them?

If so, then as an artist,
How can I create something beautiful?

This question could be rephrased to "How can I create something that predictably triggers deep emotions in people?"

I can create such art based on my knowledge of these people on the emotional level.

For example, this is art that would trigger emotions in most living creatures I've interacted with:

Picture © Jenny Rollo
Eyes are perhaps the most universal means of communication between living creatures on Earth. Cobras, butterflies, certain flowers - they all use eye-like designs to convey things. This art affects me, my neighbor, my Palestinian "enemy" and my cat.

Some art would trigger emotions in most human English speakers:

Warm hand scrubs cold water from my skin
Music of falling water combining with songs of birds
In this green haven, in the warm heaven of your embrace

Some art would trigger emotions in most of my good friends:

Hey people,
Remember the graduation ceremony last year? All the screams, sweat, bad lighting? Me trying to convince Philip to put on a graduate's silly cardboard hat? The Mayor of Netanya mentioning me twice in her speech, pronouncing my name wrong in a different way each time?
Remember Raz's birthday, where I got to spend my first time with Rain since we decided to date? How stupid I must've looked, kissing her like a three-years-old playing forbidden games in kindergarden.
Remember AnimeCon? Michal dressed more like a stripper than a schoolgirl, which drove Hadas crazy... I still think she was the closest to an actual Anime schoolgirl in the whole room. Only H and M stayed to hear me embarrass myself in public by making mistakes in explicit gay japanese lyrics I've spent the whole day memorizing... I lately discovered that H gave me one of the words wrong, so my mistake wasn't my fault.
Where are we? Is it my fault? Who's is it?
We used (well, me) to pride in cutting the crap.
People, let's cut the crap. There's no reason for this. Let's just get back together in a huge marshmallow. Vayafa Sha'a Achat Kodem.

Art could be created for any pre-chosen group that shares some emotional Anchors - be they genetic, imprinted, conditioned or learned. The artist taps into his knowledge of those Anchors and invokes them with his art.

A surprising consequence of this is that the thinner the crowd, the more emotional Anchors they share - and thus, the more inventory the artist has.

So an artist that decides to create art for generations to come has less to work with than one creating art for his own generation - which has less to work with than one creating art for his own subculture.

Art targeted at a smaller group can be better than art targeted at a large group!

That explains why nobody ever liked my favorite pieces of art as much as I do.

They are always non-popular art that some other people don't understand at all and others claim to be nice, but only for me are the closest I get to the divine. Pink Floyd's AHMS, Mindless Self Indulgence, Taboo Plus's lyrics, Honey & Clover, the Illuminatus! trilogy... All of them spoke to me personal with such power that I could never understand how other people didn't feel them.

I guess the not-so-ordinary life I've led gave me the emotional connections needed to fully appreciate them, to fully feel them in me. And it would explain why I appreciate so many genres of music and art, compared to most people who pick favorites.

That also explains why pop music tends to be so empty - it's about lowest common denominator, but not in the marketing meaning I thought it had, but in the emotional meaning. It needs to target all members of a society, and thus can only tap emotional Anchors shared by most members of the society. That gives the artist very little to work with, beyond genetic Anchors. I must add that artists who do succeed to great great art that is pop are twice-genius.

This is just a 2AM idea with a 4:30AM presentation. There is much to iron out here. In fact, chances are that it's already been said. But still, this has a lot to speak for it.

What is your favorite song? Book? Movie? Painting? Can you find a strong emotional memory that each one makes you re-experience?

Aur Saraf

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A lesson in clean website design

No ego.

No ego.

A good example: http://www.iiiiiiii.com/
Warning: Auto playing audio.

A bad example: http://www.scribd.com/
Warning: YouTube clone where 2chan clone would suffice.

Speaking of 2chan: there seems to be a misconception with western web designers that login screens (and thus, registration screens) are essential. Well:

Registration sucks. Login sucks!

Please give me this:


4chan FAQ entry on tripcodes

And not this:

digg register, very simple for a western registration form

I'm yet to see an application not involving money where registration is essential.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Practice what you preach

http://www.creopolis.com/ got me thinking today.

It is the website of a usability consultancy specializing, between other things, in flash. It is written in flash. It is also one of the least usable sites I've ever seen.
Curious to see how many in the Human Computer Interface industry practice what they preach, I decided to randomly sample sites of usability consultancies and see how many of them do.

The sites were chosen at random from two huge lists found in sites of usability organizations by googling.

Here goes:

http://www.amber-light.co.uk/ - An average modern business website. Some of the fonts too small in my opinion, and half of the large image on the top is clickable, which I'd never have guessed. Non-standard link color with no real justification. Writing is concise, which is great, although I'd try to put some kind of pitcher on what HCI is in the main page, not only a click away. I must give it to them on the "Are you here to..." - it's a great thing to do and the execution is also great. They wrote the things people look for, not the dry headlines that come up first when you think what to put on your site:
  • Understand our approach
  • Prove return on investment for our services
  • See our team
  • Find our offices
  • Cut the jargon: HCI, UCD, Usability etc
That's the one thing they have which is really characteristic of HCI centered thinking, and I like it. I don't agree with choosing to use a drop down menu, but that is a design choice that is completely legit.

http://www.theusabilitycompany.com/ - Their main page attacked me. So much content crammed in a small font. Wait up! Who are you? What do I want from you? I cannot figure that out in a look, and I also can't figure out how to figure it out. And the menu didn't render well in Firefox.

http://www.usermatics.co.uk/ - First page is an empty gate. About page has four paragraphs. The only relevant and interesting one is paragraph 3, and it's unreadable because of an image in the background. The portfolio has relatively boring clients at the top and the interesting ones (banks, telecom company, the EU) are buried after the scroll mark. Orange of testimonies made my roommate scream. Literally. And I tired of reading the first one halfway through. Orange on white just doesn't work for text that's supposed to be read. They sure didn't complicate things, I must give them that. Very simple. But no mercy on my eyes.

http://www.acumentum.com/ - I had to increase my font size twice to be able to read comfortably. I won't say more - if I was a potential client, I'd not increase font size but instead close the tab and move on.

http://www.eagerbeavermedia.com/ - At first I thought that they have a nice web page. It took me a while to realize that there is a menu system. The fonts were a wee too small. What is it that people have about cramming data? There's also some overlap in the enu system (about->services; services->overview) so as a user I don't know where to find what I'm looking for. But in general the site is ok, once you notice that there is a menu system.

None of the sites really impressed me. Remember, though, that this is an arbitrary sample and says nothing rigorous, and that ranting is far easier than designing something that works.

Still, this is my rant about my favorite industry.

How would YOU design a website for an HCI consultancy?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The story of Ruby and how it has blown my mind

In the days of Old, the Great Monolithic Machines created the Field of Computing, where Programmers served them as farmers and took care of the land.

The first Programmers found that they have difficulty communicating with the Machines, who only spoke Hex, a language Programmers weren't designed to pronounce and think in.

So they created Assembly, a code language in which each word mapped directly to a word in Hex, but which was easier to pronounce.

Since they still found it hard to think in the unnatural patterns of Hex, which Assembly preserved, they created Algol languages, which allowed them to call sequences of words by names and later use those names to refer to the sequences, thus allowing to map to Hex patterns and words of their own language, English.

But one group of rebel Programmers decided that it is not enough. Instead of translating their thoughts to the concepts of the Machines, they decided to force the Machines to adapt themselves to their servants, and thus they created the language LISP. LISP was different from Algol: it allowed endless abstraction, and to allow that, forced the Machines to adapt to it. While Algolites served the Machines, the Machines served LISPers and not the other way.

As those LISPers were considered very intelligent for this hack, their language was used mainly in attempts to introduce the concept of intelligence to Machines, and died gradually when future Programmers came to the realization that Machines are just stupid and gradually gave up.

Their legacy spread into many different families, like the Functional family or the Object Oriented family, while Algolites founded the Machine Oriented family that over most of the Field - because they had numbers on their side.

When I learned programming, it was accepted truth that Programming means serving the Machines, and although with time the bonds weakened, Programmers were still bound by the Tyrannous Syntax and Static Typing that were Algol's Legacy.

Nobody joined the LISP heirs because by now English has evolved and LISP and its successors sounded like Ancient English, that nobody wanted to learn, and because, well, like all rebels, they became so conservative in their later days that it was irritating. Today they seem like an ancient cult, preserving secrets long forgotten by using codes and rituals nobody understands.

And then came an evolution in the LISP camp: Matz, who spoke not English but the rune language Japanese, reminded the world that LISP was created so that Machines will serve Programmers, and here are Programmers once again serving Machines.

And he formed a new camp of rebels, dedicated to creating a new language who's essence is making Programmers' lives the most happy possible by having the Machines serve them to the greatest extent possible.

In the West, where most Programmers dwelled, Andi and Dave, two Programmers, spread the word of this new language, called Ruby, simply because they wanted a happy life, and whytheluckystiff, a Prophet, a Preacher and a Madman, spread freaky cartoons and epic poems in this language (written under the influence of drugs, some speculate), all with the intention of using Ruby to show the Programmers what absolute Freedom is.

Dave and Andi spread the call to Pick Axes up and fight, while _why's cryptic message to "follow the foxes with the chunky bacon" reached for all those who had doubts in the Algol way of doing things.

When I first stumbled upon the propoganda of _why I was another Programmer serving the Machines. By installing Ruby, I suddenly broke free of the oppressing chains of the Machines, I found that there is a whole world outside where Programmers live free and what I previously regarded as "the world" was a huge array of Programmers that served the Machines unknowingly.

Ruby was such a shock to me as a Programmer that it I cannot dream of describing it fully. Let me illustrate:
After a few days with Ruby installed I was found opening my eyes in the chair in front of my Machine, breathless, sleepless, but all I cared for, it seemed, was the new art:

"This is incredible. I know Kung Fu!"

class << self
def kungfoo code
code.split("\n").sort_by{rand}.each{|bone| print bone.chomp.split(//).sort_by{rand} << "\n"}
def enlighten
print eval <<KOAN
q = "q = %s\nputs q %% q.inspect"
puts q % q.inspect

self.kungfoo <<ALGOLITECHAINS
begin procedure p(a); string a;
begin outstring(1,a):
outsymbol(1,``'',1); outstring(1,a);
outsymbol(1,``'',2); outstring(1,`) end')
p (`begin procedure p(a); string a;
begin outstring(1,a):
outsymbol(1,``'',1); outstring(1,a);
outsymbol(1,``'',2); outstring(1,`) end')
p(') end

print "I've beaten the machine black and blue!\n\n"


That is the story of the beginning of the Ruby Rebellion and how I got involved in it.

It is the ongoing story of how Programmers at last have the cycles to make Machines work for them , instead of working for Machines.

I don't know how this is going to end, but I know how it began, and this is what I came here to tell.

Ruby is here to show you, fellow Programmers, a world where Machines do not rule you. A world without rules and controls. A world... where everything is possible.

Where you'll go from here... Is a choice I leave for you.

But do consider http://tryruby.hobix.com/