I read the article “Hackers and Painters” by Paul Graham a few weeks ago, and it gave me a pretty interesting outlook on computer programming. I used to think “hacking” was a very precise, calculated endeavor, as opposed to writing or the visual arts. But having read Graham’s piece, and now having done some programming myself, I see how organic the process is. It’s fun! It’s creative!
Looking at my refined code in the context of all we’ve learned this week, I’m not sure my fireworks was the best program for demonstrating my knowledge of the material. In its current state, Fireworks is essentially a drawing program (really a “stamping program”) which means there are no animated elements, or lines of code that need to be looped over and over. This means that I was only able to modulate the program in a very basic way.
I’ve been thinking about my Stupid Pet Trick, but I’m still a little torn about what to do. Actually, I’m a little bummed I went so ambitious the first week, because I think my farmer-in-a-boat puzzle game would be an awesome SPT. Oh well, c’est la vie. Instead, I now get to go bigger and better!
At the moment I have a few ideas floating around in my head. First, I want to make a puzzle. I’m thinking a combination lock that requires the use of various sensors to open. Something with the classical Greek elements. So there would be four keys to solving the puzzle: an earth key, a fire key, a water key, and a wind key. The Earth Key would be a weight sensor. You put a stone on the sensor, and it lights up part of the board. The Fire Key would be a light sensor. You’d have to light a match and hold it in front of the light sensor to illuminate another part of the board. The water key would be a pressure sensor. there would be a little dish, and when you fill it with water, it lights up the board. I’ll need a special air sensor for the Wind Key, so that when you blow into it, it lights up the last part of the board.
I’ll need a display panel with lots of LEDs, all various colors. I’m thinking red for fire, green for earth, blue for water, white for wind.
For a Stupid Pet Trick like this, I’m going to need to buy a lot of stuff, and make it look REALLY nice. But once I calibrate all the sensors and program the cool LED effects I want to accomplish, it should be a fairly straight-forward device.
Sweet! This was so much fun. I decided to make my soundscape an attack ad warning people about the dangers of egg consumption. Conscripting my wife to excoriate one of her favorite foods was hilariously amusing, but probably only to me. The music loops come from Garage Band. The voiceover was recorded in Garage Band. The sound effects (and my VO) come from the Zoom recorder and shotgun microphone. All sound effects are original. Lesson learned: Cooking bacon with a directional mic tucked under your arm is no easy task.
I brought everything together in Audacity. I found this program very hard to use compared to Final Cut, but with practice I’m sure I could learn the hotkeys just as well. My primary reason for choosing Audacity over ProTools was geography. I was home most of the weekend, not at school, so my dongle access was limited. Well, Audacity was worth the price I paid.
Here’s my soundscape:
This week I worked with on an idea for a firework launcher — a program that would allow you to shoot fireworks from your mouse that would fly into the sky and detonate in a burst of moving color as the projectiles reached their apex. My project proved a bit too ambitious for my current skill level, but I made good progress towards my goal.
Spider-man. What little boy wouldn’t want to be him? A nerd, a social reject, incapable of talking to girls, Peter Parker managed to turn his whole life around when bitten by a radioactive spider, imbuing him with super strength, super reflexes, and after the tragic death of his Uncle Ben, a super sense of civic responsibility. Spider-man went on to save the world countless times, marry a supermodel, and become one of the most iconic creations in the history of comics, in the highest echelon with Superman and Batman.
But the most alluring aspect of Spider-man is his web shooters.
I strolled around my neighborhood today on my way to class and took pictures of all the sensors I saw. I was a little confused by the wording in the assignment. Did the sensors have to interface with something digital, or no? The knob of a garden hose works just like a potentiometer, adjusting the flow of water.
While the garden hose is an analog input, the button of a water fountain is more like a digital input.
Many of the sensors I saw were cameras. It’s a little disheartening to realize how many cameras there are in my neighborhood. In the case of a dark alley near my building, it’s nice to know that the police are monitoring a potentially dangerous place 24/7.
But I’m not sure how I feel about a camera pointed right at my front door, monitoring every time I enter and leave. Not cool, Big Bro.
Some sensors are right under our noses, like my doorbell, buzzer, and elevator call button.
This week we studied analog inputs on the Arduino. The lab taught us how to install a potentiometer and create a fader dial. Very cool. Here are my results.
And then, to get creative, I started playing around with lots of LEDs and an FSR pressure sensor. The end result was a strength-o-meter, where more LEDs light up depending on how hard you squeeze.
This was a challenge, but with a little help from my Prof during office hours, I was able to figure it out. It was much simpler to fix than I thought it would be.
As a flourish, I added delays between the digital output LOW commands, so that the strength-o-meter would have a sense of descending motion as the lights went out. Intuiting how to code this was the highlight of my week. A triumph!
As a writer and filmmaker, my attitude towards copyright and plagiarism is simple. Keep your paws off my intellectual property you damned, dirty ape!
The truth is, no one wants people to steal their ideas and profit from them. Granted, in most creative industries this happens on a regular basis, and in all industries employers steal the ideas of their subordinates. But still, why should a novel or an album be given less respect as a commodity than a vacuum cleaner, a car, or a big pile of money? Artists work hard, and in this economy, it’s not easy to make a living. They should be compensated for their hard work, which consumers enjoy and take for granted.
On the other hand, I work hard, and after a long day at work, I like to curl up and watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones. But in this economy, I can’t afford HBO. So what am I supposed to do? Deny myself a pop culture milestone? I’m sure you can guess what I do instead.
Each of the three essays we were asked to read for class raises separate issues about the nature of intellectual property. In the New York Times piece, record companies were portrayed as greedy giants, on the verge of extinction, who were trying to deny brilliant recording artists the right to sell their own music. It seems pretty obvious that the record company’s argument is nonsense, and that if they can still afford the lobbyists, they will undoubtedly get Congress to change the copyright laws so that the record companies can continue to hold the rights to hit albums by artists like Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.
The Jonathan Lethem piece examines where ideas come from, and who owns the rights to words. The point he makes is that there are no new ideas, so why adhere to copyright at all? His most compelling argument is that if you are the creator of something as omnipresent as Mickey Mouse or Coca-Cola, you sacrifice your right to claim exclusive right to those ideas. With just the slightest bit of wiggling, this idea drops like a loose tooth. How do you define “omnipresent?” What about Harry Potter? Steamboat Willy was almost a century ago, but J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard is less than 15. And yet, who doesn’t know Harry Potter? Does Ms. Rowling sacrifice her rights to HP simply because of her success? The law says that obvious parody is acceptable, and a vibrant “fan fiction” community goes unchecked, but if one of those fan fiction authors profited from her writing, wouldn’t Scholastic’s lawyers get involved? Lethem grants the readers of his article the right to use his work, but even with the author’s okay, I doubt his publisher would be so magnanimous.
The last piece, from Harper’s Bazaar, is divided into two parts. First, the account of a painter who appropriated a famous photo for one of her paintings, and her hassle with the lawyers of the woman who took the original photograph. The second account is that of the photographer, and although she is cordial and says she only wishes to provide context, you can sort of tell that she is pissed that the painter radically changed the meaning of the original image and doesn’t think she did anything wrong. Normally, I would say that as long as the person appropriating the creative material isn’t profiting, distribution and alteration to create new artistic works is fine (otherwise, every library would be taken to court). But in this case, I have to put on my artist hat and come down on the side of the photographer. Some rabble rousing artist can claim that taking a Mickey Mouse doll and smearing it with human feces is art, or perhaps, a protest against the oppressive nature of Disney’s corporate arm. Artists view their creative works like parents view children. I love my novel like a daughter. More than a daughter, because my novel never stole my car or maxed out my credit card. If that same rabble rousing artist smeared human feces all over your daughter, and said it was art, how would you react?
The big problem, and the reason we may never resolve this issue totally, is that pesky thing we call The First Amendment. If we restrict the rights of artists to defame other artists, the same is true for corporate criminals and corrupt politicians. And if we lose our ability to speak truth to power, what good is it to listen to the music?
Kojo and I ran around Washington Square Park and the East Village grabbing noises. We did a few tests, including a variety of footstep sound effects, and testing the range on the shotgun mic.
The highlight of the recording session was the drumming of two street musicians we found in the park. After assuring them that we would not put their music up on iTunes, they granted us about a minute of awesome drumming.
It is still astounding how much better the shotgun mic sounds compared to the internal Zoom microphone. I don’t want to use an internal camera mic ever again!