Archive for the 'simplicity' Category

Squares versus Triangles

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Marvin Minsky once told me Triangles are smarter than Squares (and they are). It made total sense to me. Do you need an explanation?



Today is my father’s birthday. Feliz cumpleaños! (Dedicado a mi papá).

Human Interference Project

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

As a continuation of mi recent exploration of Western-European Participatory Rule-based Art Systems, I just contributed with a drawing to the Human Interference Project, a tribute to Jean Tinguely’s Métamatics organized by the Métamatic Research Initiative.

As the project website describes, the drawings should be created based on these rules:

 Use a white A4 sheet and a ballpoint pen.
 Draw a closed shape on the paper.
 Repeat the shape inside the original shape until there is no space left at its centre.
 Repeat the shape outside the original shape until it touches one side of the paper.
 Choose the distance so that you can make at least 50 iterations on the paper.
 Try to repeat each iteration in exactly the same way.
 Sign the drawing in its upper right corner in landscape format.

Note the semantic difference between “based” and “following” when you substitute the former with the latter. It is the difference between suggestion and command, and in this case it gives the participants a lot of room for interpretation. Most participants——myself included——chose to draw around the original shape both inside and outside. But that makes it hard——if not impossible——to keep the further iterations faithful to the original shape. Even though it is easier to draw instances of the same shape if you don’t have to wrap them around the original, only two participants have chosen to do that so far, and it is interesting that both of them used triangles.

I explored a number of options before submitting my choice. I wanted to do something that featured some behavior I believed had some degree of originality, but I also wanted to stay away from formal intricacies or technical conundrums. I decided to look for ambiguity in the idea of “closed shape” not by finding a tricky way to define “closed” but by finding a simple way to make the idea of “interior” relatively unclear. By drawing a line with a few self-intersections I produced enough ambiguity to have a some choices about the interior of the shape. The number eight for example, is it a circle with a twist or is it two circles tangent to each other? From a two dimensional point of view, it can be either one, and the choice you make about which one it is will inform the way you choose to repeat it. I drew the original shape one way, but a minute later I preferred to pretend I drew it differently.

Undef Print

Friday, July 1st, 2011

This afternoon I accidentally found myself submitting tiny snippets of Javascript code to UndefPrint, and watching my submissions transform into prints almost instantly on a live video stream. The video showed a window to the street on the right side, and moving arms holding beer bottles on the left. In the center of the frame, a printer was drawing every submission on an interminable roll of paper. It was 8:30 PM in Berlin when I started looking. It was getting dark, and I stuck around until their clock hit midnight. I think it was 3:00 PM here in California. Ubiquity—to be present in several places at the same time—feels priceless. It even inspired me to write something in this journal for the first time in months ^_^

This exercise in Telematics and participation is just one out of many—Amodal Suspension by Ralfael Lozano-Hemmer and Absolut Quartet by Jeff Lieberman & Dan Paluska immediately come to mind—but it stands out in a particular way that is relevant to some of the work we were doing back in the PLW a few years ago. UndefPrint is only open to participants that can write code. The general public is excluded. At least a bit of knowledge of Javascript and computer science is required to get anything out of UndefPrint. The idea that code is a mode of expression in a way similar to simple speech, doodling, or any other gesture that can be performed in public is not new, but it is an important one, because it puts code next to activities that come naturally to most humans—like speech or hitting on a keyboard to produce sounds—even when coding doesn’t come naturally for anybody. Perhaps in the future we will be able to speak code—and math—the way we can sort out objects in a crowded room. One can only hope.

Here is the code that draws the pattern in the image above, the fifth in my series of submissions:

for (i=0;i<=pWidth();i++){
  for (j=0;j<=pHeight();j++){

And, some fooling around with triangular patterns:

Did I ever mention how much I like simple nested for-loops?

PLW: The end

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Like lost humans in the planet of the apes, Kyle and I were the only ones left to witness the end of the PLW.

drawing online

Friday, September 7th, 2007

warning: tinyDoodle only runs on safari and firefox


I’ve just deployed a simple web application called tinyDoodle. It is a javascript based public canvas where people can draw at the same time from any computer. I made it to open a space for people to chat with drawings, or to facilitate a place where somebody else could come up from nowhere and screw up your drawing. Every stroke made in the canvas is stored as a different object in a database, along with enough information to let me playback any portion of the drawing process at a given time. This idea is half inspired by John’s own oneline, and illustrated how much easier to make and interactive a similar project can be when made with current technologies, roughly eight years after John deployed his oneline project. As with other interactive drawing scripts I have made, tinyDoodle is based on the html canvas tag, and for this reason it is only supported by firefox and safari. Sorry about that.

I also took some time to research over the web and look for other drawing systems that use web resources to engage users in drawing based social interactions. I was surprised to find a ton, some of them very similar in spirit and implementation to the tinyDoodle canvas and other ones I have been involved with. The following are the ones I chose to describe and display [I must mention my selection parameters are completely arbitrary]:

Oneline (1997-1999):
By Maeda. A pioneering Java based system, this one is sadly not online anymore, but it is the first one of this kind I’ve known of. John’s website provides detailed information on how it used to work. The illustration shows a collection of drawings displayed over the same surface.


This one is very fun. Drawball is a collective anonymous canvas implemented with flash. It has an interesting interface that zooms in and out the surface of the drawing, and keeps track of the portion you’re looking at by identifying it’s location with a URL. It also features an ink counter that keeps track of the ink you’ve used, and gives you ink if you keep the drawball page open in your browser. It also updates itself continually, so you can see others drawing in your spot while you draw, just like in tinyDoodle. The following illustration shows a sequence where Takashi and I were drawing our corresponding graffiti tags at the same time.


BennetonPlay Flipbook:
The online collaboration model is a total trend these days, and several corporations have started social sites based on creative activities like drawing. Benneton’s Flipbook is a very successful example that provides a tool for making animations, user accounts, and a rating system that lets the most popular animations emerge from the collective pool of animations. Benneton claims they have 89,761 in there, and some of them are pretty good. Benetton also has a doodle community site, which features drawing canvases where you can chat with your friends using drawings, just like in, um, tinyDoodle. As most other social network applications supported by corporations, both of Benneton’s systems are user centric, and request visitors to create an account before they can use them.


By the PLW. In Openstudio, the drawing tool and the social network are put together with a simple open economy. Unlike different social sites where you get to choose who are your friends, Openstudio keeps track of your relations with others by looking at the history of your transactions, connecting you to the people you’ve had bought from, sold to, or those that chose to show your art in their own galleries.


This one is funny, because it turns out to be related with openstudio and with an entry I wrote in this journal some time ago about the shepherd, in which it seems I was completely clueless about where the shepherd comes from. I don’t understand exactly how it works, but I think it is hooked up to so anyone could draw sheep and get payed for it. The collection of sheep is displayed online where you can buy prints. Of sheep.


Tiny Icon Factory:
The tiny Icon Factory is an anonymous online repository for tiny icons. 168047 so far. By Brent Fitzgerald and yours truly.


Zewall emulates graffiti. It gives you pictures of walls of metro trains to paint on. It is kinda contradictory that you have to give away your email address before you can paint, becuase it takes away the whole point of graffiti and anonymous vandalism.


Created by Javascript mastermind and browser commander Takashi, Modster is a html canvas (safari and firefox only) user based exquisite corpse web application. You start by drawing the top of the drawing and invite someone else (from within the system) to do the next part. The point of exquisite corpses is that the people in turn can’t see what people made before them, leading to a fresh result of surreal, fresh, and dislocated images.


… and tinyDoodle:
After all this, tinyDoodle doesn’t seem like much of a contribution to the world of online social drawings, except it joins Modster and Rafael Robayna’s painter example as an effort to find more natural ways to embed creative applications into the browser space, using drawing as an example to explore new ways to deal with digital interpretations of time, and how it can affect the interaction with process and data. Time and user actions make parts of the drawing disappear into the database limbo as each stroke grows older, illustrating a path to find meaningful relations between the ever changing information multiverse, and the ways we choose to represent it.

In the end, all of these tools are all nothing more than social toys and explorations. Even though I consider play as one of the most important human activities, I’d like to see the act of drawing incorporated to interactive technologies as a common place in daily life, just as typing and clicking are today.


Simplicity at the Cape

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007


Eat your media

Friday, January 19th, 2007

…before your media eats you.


Cannibal Boy was created as the mascot for the PLW Cannibals. The PLW Cannibals are Kate, Kyle, guest cannibal Meg from the real world, and me. We teamed up to participate in a 24 hour build-a-prototype competition called prototype-a-thon that takes place every year during january in the Media Lab. The theme this time was about media and food. After a long night of think, design and code, we came up with eyeTaste, a computer vision augmented set of glasses that keeps track of what you eat, tries to control your habits by sending messages to an embedded display on the surface of the glasses, and loads data to a log of what you eat in a social networking web application, where you can examine your stats and correlate them with those of your friends. It’s Just another example of intrusive technology. During the competition, we were only beat by Brent’s team with their foodstckr project, and Takashi’s and Amber’s team with WeCook. Overall, PLW dominated the prototype-a-thon.

The website:

Callibrating the vision system:


Snapshot of Kate using the prototype glasses on an apple during the competiton: