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Not dead yet....

I just thought I should mention that I'm not dead but, rather, I've had to devote nearly all of my time to my academic/statistical/startup projects for the last year (and for the foreseeable future). I'd love to get back to creative work but my hair is on fire and I must tend to other things. (Sigh...) I did, however, produce a lovely little graphic for an event I have coming up next week, the Utah Data Dive. (And here's the explanation for the assertion "Data is all about love.") Utah Data Dive 2015 - Love Logo (600 x 600)

[And, despite the fact that I spent a fair amount of time learning Illustrator and Photoshop while I was on sabbatical a few years ago, this graphic was created in Tagxedo, Microsoft Word, Preview, and Keynote. (Although the t-shirt did convert it to a proper, Illustrator vector graphic, but this is my original.) Hack, hack, hack....]

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A thing of beauty: Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero - 2014-02-01 02-13 I know this has nothing to do with art but I thought it might never happen in my lifetime: I have reached Inbox Zero. My email inbox – and every other email folder – is COMPLETELY EMPTY. Holy Moses.

Of course, my Evernote account is another thing entirely. It now has 375 items in "Active," 1357 in "Inbox," with another 6244 in other folders that need to be reviewed. Oh, well....

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Dusting off My Saxophone

Zoot the Muppet When I was in junior high school, my parents bought me a lovely alto saxophone and I started playing in the junior high and then high school bands. Mostly it was a lot of honking and such, but I had fun. I tried playing a little more in college but quickly gave up on that. I essentially put my horn away more than 20 years ago.

Then, for Christmas last year, Jacque (you know, my wife) took my horn to a repair person. Over the decades it had become torqued (a natural thing for saxophones to do, what with all the holes on one side) and essentially unplayable. It got completely disassembled, straightened out, tightened up, and made fabulous all over again!

A few months after that, I decided that I needed to take lessons again. And so, on 29 May 2013, at 2:00 PM, I met with David Hall – the same man who resurrected my horn – and recommenced my musical training.

The good news is that I could actually play a little. I could even get a reasonable tone out of it. Woo hoo! And now, I could say much more, but I have to go practice.

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I'm kind of a big deal (in the UVU paper)

I was recently interviewed for my school's student paper, the UVU Review. I even got my face on the front page, so I can see myself looking semi-professorial from the newspaper racks as I walk across campus. Whoopie! (Of course, I'm not actually a statistics professor or a choreographer, but who's to argue...) And still nothing on my office walls since the sabbatical. We'll have to fix that.

(And this post also represents my first experiment in seeing how annoying GIFs can get. Let me know if it's problematic.)

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Impending Dyschronia

That is, time is – once again – about to get very disjointed. What that means is that I have been keeping a list of all the artsy things I've done and events I've attended and people I've discovered but I haven't been posting that information. I'm going to start putting all that information up but it will dated by when it occurred, not by when I wrote it. So stuff will pop up from last October, etc. Should be interesting. But I really want this blog to serve as a comprehensive chronicle of my creative life, so I think it needs to be done.

Here we go....

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Real Social Influence: Machinima and tiltfactor

http://www.tiltfactor.org/machinima-innovations-at-dartmouth

So I'm learning all sorts of things these days. The world, it turns out, is a much bigger and amazing place than I though. (Now, some of you might say "You live in Utah; duh." I'd like to remind you that I spent over half of my life living in cities of several million: Los Angeles, Paris, and New York. So don't gimme no flack.)

Anyhow, I've learned about (a) Machinima, or movies created with video game software, which allows for real-time animation; and (b) tiltfactor.org, a research/game lab at Dartmouth University (and formerly at Hunter College in NYC, where I taught). And then I learned that the two intersect, as seen above.

This led me to a conclusion recently about social influence. I've spent the last 22 years of my life in Psychology (Social Psychology, in particular), where social influence is a big topic of interest and where many people hope to influence people to do good things. (See, for example, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues – better known as SPSSI or "spissy" – which is all about psychological approaches to activism.) My conclusion is this: Psychology – and academic work in general – is probably not a very effective way of influencing people. Almost nobody reads our papers; I remember seeing an unverified factoid on Twitter (here's the link) claiming that the average number of readers per academic article is five, leading one writer to refer to academic research as "write-only articles." (A nice play on "read-only memory," you know.)

No, I think the places where messages get out and possibly make a difference are in the popular media: movies, television, music, and video games. I don't have any data to back this up at the moment, but I'm willing to bet on it. So, what this means, my dear academic colleagues, is that if we want to actually have an influence on what people think, feel, and do, then we probably would do well to follow tiltfactor's example and get started on making movies and video games. Better yet, making movies with video games.

As my son, Quinn, would say: "I'm just sayin'...."

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Bart Discovers Machinima

[Above: Still from From “Dear Fairy” by Tom Jantol aka Madame Zhora. In this short film, Pinocchio wants to be a wooden toy again. See it on YouTube.]

Oh, my, it turns out that there's yet another Brave New World out there. I just found out about "machinima" (a concatenation of "Machine" and "Cinema," as you might have guessed), which is basically movies made with video game software. It's a way to get 3D animation without actually having to be able to animate. Fascinating. While machinima apparently has its roots in first-person shooter games like Doom, where gamers would record the action to show how quickly they could get through a level, people soon found they could write their own scripts and action. The comic series "Red vs. Blue," which uses characters from Halo, is a good example of such adaptation.

On the other hand, as far as I can tell, there are a couple of video games that seem almost created for machinima, the most familiar of which is Second Life. It looks like there are entire (online) film festivals dedicated to Second Life machinima, such as the Ma Machinima International Festival. Also, a quick Google search for "Second Life" Machinima reveals a number of tutorials and videos on how to get started.

But it's even easier in the simulation game The Movies, which really was created for making movies. I even got a (miniscule) book on how to do this called Machinima: How you can use The Movies to produce your own animated films by David Mark. I've installed the game on both of our MacBooks so my son Quinn can hack-and-slash at it on one while I go through my overly-methodical, start-at-the-beginning approach on the other.

Anyhow, it's a fascinating discovery for me. I can't wait to see what I can do with it. I'll let you know.

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Film School Advice for Data Analysts

 

I just finished reading Neil Landau and Matthew Frederick's delightful little book, 101 Things I Learned in Film School. (It's part of an entire series of books that started with Frederick's own 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, of which more will be said at a later date. The other titles address fashion school, culinary school, and business school. I will address these, too, at later dates.) What's most interesting about this book is not that plan on going to film school or working with film as such but that I can see at least some connection between many of the ideas in the book and my own goal of data analysis (believe it or not). The idea is this: when you analyze data, you are telling a story, and stories can be told in ways that are more or less interesting, informative, or effective. Inasmuch as cinema also tells stories, some of the principle carry over. For example:

  • 10: Make Psychology Visual. That is, by changing camera angles and distance, different meanings can be ascribed to a scene. The same is true for designing visualizations (I imagine).
  • 14: Beginning, Middle, End. That is, there is a comfortable narrative structure to a film, and that structure can be repeated at smaller scales. Although visualizations are typically presented as static images, they can still present a form of narrative. This is especially true for those gigantic, long infographics you'll see. And it is certainly true for any video-based visualization (and maybe there should be more of those).
  • 22: Plot is physical events; story is emotional events. Data analysis is more than just presenting bits of information (i.e., the physical events). It is an exercise in meaning-making through the interpretation and application of insights derived from analysis (akin to the "emotional" component of the story).
  • 64: Dig Deeper. "Do fewer things, but do them better." In analysis, rather than presenting as many factoids as possible, it is better to understand the distinctive characteristics of the nature, such as why there are outliers on a particular variable, why a scatterplot is curved instead of straight, and why the wording of two similar questions gives different answers.
  • 93: "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It's very easy and very tempting to add more charts, more variables, more tables, more stuff to an analysis. But people have a limited attention span and the analysis is often understood in a heuristic fashion anyhow, so it's much better to limit oneself to the minimum amount of analysis that will give a valid and useful conclusion.

So, it may be a bit of a stretch, but that's actually what I had in mind when I was reading this fine book and the other ones in the series. Inspiration is everywhere.

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Getting It All on Video

I'm planning on creating a whole bunch of things on my computer that can't be adequately represented with screenshots. (I will, however, still include those as often as possible.) As such, I thought it would be nice to upload some small videos so my professors could see what I'm up to. I already have a YouTube channel at youtube.com/bartonpoulson but that functions primarily for my statistics tutorials (which are doing very nicely, thank you) and I didn't want to mix these up with those.

At first I thought I'd try posting my artsy videos on the extra artsy Vimeo service. But then everything got very, very complicated. Vimeo wanted money, they wanted me to wait 30 minutes to see my 30 second clip, and so on. Then I thought I would try WordPress' own service, VideoPress. But that, too, looked like it would be expensive and cumbersome.

Then I found out that I could simply embed the URLs from YouTube. Quick, easy, and free. As Yul Brenner, as Pharoah, was wont to say: "So let it be written, so let it be done."

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Finally Launchpad Makes Sense

So when Steve Jobs gave a preview of Lion (AKA Mac OS X 10.7) he talked all about how they were bringing features from the iPhone "back to the Mac." One of these was the icon screen, which on the Mac is called Launchpad. All I can remember is that when I first installed Lion and looked at Launchpad, it was an irretrievable mess, so I tried to forget that it existed.

Then, I decided to do a total wipe of my hard drive and start all over. (This was motivated by the fact that sometimes my computer would get stuck and just hang on processes that shouldn't have been a problem.) But this time I installed my apps very selectively and in order. I then cleaned up Launchpad as things came in. And now, it's so lovely and wonderful that I just can't stand it!

Also, I had to deal with my desire to categorize everything. In this case, I tried organizing the games (which I basically never play) in several ways, until finally I decided that they didn't have to get categorized at all but could just have their own pages and be in alphabetical order. Ahhhhh....

Anyhow, I'm so happy with it I thought I'd post a few pictures.

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Kulture with a Kapital "K"

So Grandma Jacque gave my two girls (Zoë, 9, and Talia, 7) a bottle of glow-in-the-dark nail polish. It turns out that my wife, Jacque (>9), put some on, too. (Picture above is for representational purposes only; not her real nails.) The best part, though, is that Zoë apparently ran around in the dark with just two fingers in front of her mouth singing "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth..." Performance art at its best!

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Back to School, Spring 2012 Edition

[Above: Happy Russian mining students displaying their school pride. The sign translates roughly to "We don't need no stinkin' Rose Bowl." Or something like that.]

Whee! School started again today at the University of Utah. I'm taking two regular classes: Intro to Video Games (for real — you can see the syllabus right here at introtovideogames.com) and the Arts Technology Capstone course.

I've already had to start working on the video game class, where we were told to get cracking on Psychonauts (I have it on my Mac), Katamari Damacy (a very bizarre Japanese game that I have on my iPhone), and some version of Super Mario Bros. (my son Quinn has the brand new Super Mario 3D Land on his Nintendo 3DS, which he might let me play, but just in case I just ordered Super Mario Galaxy for our according-to-my-teacher-not-a-real-console Wii; it'll be here Thursday and I'll get right on it).

As for the Capstone course, I can't say too much yet but it looks like it will be serious art and I'm very excited about that!

Otherwise, I'll be doing four independent study courses: the first on Processing, the second on Arduino, the third on Max/MSP, and the fourth on the related Jitter. I'll have more to say very soon.

That's all for now. Nice to be back.

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FrankenMac

So, it's not really anything to do with my sabbatical, per se, but it is a significant accomplishment. Several months ago my daughter Talia spilled bubble juice onto the keyboard of my wife Jacque's white MacBook. Since then, the kids would come down and steal my external keyboard whenever they wanted to play Pirates Online or PBS Kids. The local repair store wanted over $250 to fix it (ouch!), so, in the best Do-It-Yourself spirit, I eventually bought a replacement keyboard from China, some tiny screwdrivers from Radio Shack, and watched a few videos on YouTube to figure out how to do this myself. (Delayed tie-in to sabbatical: I'm going to work with Arduinos this semester so it's time for me to get handy. This was a nice warm up exercise.)

So, my son Quinn and I spent about an hour and a half to do what could be done in 10 minutes by someone who knows what they're doing and, given the not-quite-perfect replacement parts, the fit's a little off, but — wonder of wonders — it works again! It resembles Frankenstein's own Macbook now, but at least I can keep my spiffy external keyboard all to myself.

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The Lego Bible (Literally)

I just came across this and had to post it because (a) it's hilarious; and (b) I thinks it's of real pedagogical value. This is the short version: The Reverend Brendan Powell Smith (although the "Reverend" part is apparently an ironic appellation) has spent about 10 years creating nearly 5000 scenes from the Bible with Legos. Here's a scene from the Garden of Eden:

Excellent! And here's a part of the Table of Contents:

I also like the "Adult Content" warning he has at the bottom of the page. (And I understand that, yes, in fact, the work is not entirely safe for kids.)

And you'll be glad to know that he has a book out! (Several, actually, but this one is most germane):

So, there you have it. Make of it what you will but you have to give three cheers for Legos in literature!

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And now for some obsessive behavior...

I thought that given that I had recently posted that Apple was the only company that cared about design (quoting Dieter Rams), and, well, because I can, I might do a little inventory of all the Macs that I have owned. I got my very first Mac (and very first computer!) in 1992 and it was a lovely little Classic II with 4 MB of RAM and and 80 MB hard drive (both of which were twice as much as the base version). It came with a SuperDrive (which, at that point, meant it could read 1.4 MB floppy disks and Windows formatted disks) and ran the very new System 7. This little Mac got me through seven years of graduate school. I still have it and it still works, although it makes a bizarre whooshing sound. The coolest thing is that it was able to do text-to-speech, so I had it read my dissertation data files out loud to me while I checked the paper forms. Excellent!

I also had two Apple StyleWriter printers (a I and and II, which were actually very pretty). And the Internet was a very new thing to regular people back in 1992; you could actually buy a Yellow Pages about 1" thick that listed every website. I had to buy a giant external modem that ran at 9.6 kb/s, 2400 baud. (Talk about painfully slow....) I may have actually used AppleLink but I know I used AOL for a little while and then switched to Apple's extra fancy eWorld (although I eventually let that go, too).

Next, in 1998, was a reconditioned, first-generation, Bondi Blue iMac, complete with the circular, "hockey puck" mouse (for which we had to buy an oblong cover so we could tell which way was up). Also, Steve Jobs decided floppies were dead, so there was only a CD-ROM drive. As such, we had to by an external, USB-driven floppy disk drive from Imation for what seemed an enormous amount of money. (We also bought a see-through Iomega Zip drive to sync with the next computer.)

After that, in 1999, I got an actual job where they actually bought me computers! My first professional Mac was a beige G3 PowerPC tower with a built-in Zip drive (thank you, BYU):

A couple of years later we inherited my sister's iMac, a purple one with a slot-loading DVD drive, so we had two Macs on the desks at home. (Sadly, the Classic II was temporarily demoted to the closet.)

BYU then offered to get me a laptop, during my last year there, and this was the only time that I had a Windows PC in my possession. It was a dark, dark time. I think it looked something like this (but I can't be sure — I've tried hard to put the whole thing out of my mind):

But then I got a job at lovely UVU, which has enthusiastically supported my Mac-centric way of being. My first Mac there was a titanium PowerBook. As far as I was concerned, that thing was so cool they might as well have made it out of solid diamond.

It was also when I moved to UVU that my Classic II came out of the closet and moved, along with the purple iMac, to the top of my filing cabinet at work. (Both of them still function.)

A few years later, UVU gave me a similar, aluminum PowerBook:

Around this time we got a nice, white MacBook for my wife, Jacque, to keep upstairs with us (as the two iMacs were in the basement office):

Then I traded in early for a smaller, 13" MacBook (which works better on the bus, where it really is on your lap). This was during the 10 month period that the non-Pro MacBook wasn't white but was aluminum. (Look closely and you'll see there is no "Pro" on the bottom of the bezel.)

Then, when we moved from our house in Draper up to the Avenues in Salt Lake City, we gave away our Bondi Blue iMac (shed a tear or two...). Most recently, UVU replaced my non-Pro MacBook with a Pro 13" (and they were kind enough to put an aftermarket 1 TB hard drive in it!). This is the one I have today:

And while we still have the white MacBook at home, it got bubble juice spilled on the keyboard (I'm waiting for a new top case from China so I can try fixing this) and, as it has only 1.5 GB of RAM, it can't run Lion and, consequently, can't use iCloud to sync our calendars and contacts. So, its days as a parental computer may be limited (but the kids will no doubt continue to play PBS Kids and Pirates Online with it, junking it up with all sorts of downloaded cruft). Jacque is actually the more technically spiffy of us at the exact moment, having a shiny new iPad 2 to essentially replace the white MacBook:

Also, Jacque and I have lovely new black and white iPhones (the 4S with Siri):

And, of course, there have been the iPods: A 30 GB third-generation (which died), a 60 GB fourth-generation iPod Photo (which we still use), a pink, 16 GB fifth-generation iPod Nano for Jacque, a first-gen Shuffle, a second-gen Shuffle, and a fourth-gen Shuffle (which the three kids use; no buttonless third-gen for us, thank you very much), and a first-gen iPod Touch. (Unfortunately I killed the screen on that one by dropping it in the water; however, it now lives permanently plugged into the iPod connector in our Honda Pilot, which lets us control it with the Navigation screen. Thank you, Honda, for making this a less-than-total disaster.)

And, as long as I'm being completely compulsive, a Mighty Mouse, two Magic Mice, and a wired keyboard.

And there you have it. We love our Apples and they love us. Thank you, Steve.

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Gone Legit

One Dollar Bill Well, sort of. But as of today I decided to act like a grown-up and give WordPress my money to make this lovely blog eponymous (or something like that). That is, no longer will it be known as bartdoesart.wordpress.com but now it will go by the much more glamorous and professional bartdoesart.com. Adjust your cyberworld orbits accordingly.

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Art and the Psychological Scientist

I gave a talk yesterday to the Cognition and Neural Science PhD students in the Psychology Department at the University of Utah. My title was “Art and the Psychological Scientist” (PDF available here). I talked about data art, information visualization, and Processing, among other things. It was very nice to finally connect with the Psych department there. (I am, after all, a psychology professor.) A few of the students are developing a course on art and psychology and I’m excited to see what comes of that. (And, Martin, that’s why I left class after the quiz; I had to get ready!)

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The Unbearable Non-Lightness of the Kindle Fire

So I just got my brand-spanking-new Kindle Fire in the mail today and you know what? That thing is the heaviest 14.6 ounces you’ll ever hold. It feels like it’s made of solid lead. What’s odd is that it objectively weighs less than my wife’s iPad 2 (which is about 30 ounces with its cover) but, subjectively, it feels twice as heavy. As a portable e-reader, it’s a complete fail. I’ve already ordered a regular Kindle Touch, which should be here next week. It weighs 7.5 ounces. That I can handle. Then the Fire’s going back. I didn’t even really get around to trying all the other stuff the Fire does — ‘cause, you know, my fingers broke holding it.

Ay yi yi….

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Playing "Spot the Typos"

For those of you who may be getting posts on Facebook every time I update a post, it must look like I have some kind of revolving door, given the number of times I have to edit my posts after they go up. Not very professional; I'll try to do better. Then again, as the above picture makes clear, my problems could be much, much worse.

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