The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

More cowbell on the millimeter wave of space

You will either find the following totally horrifying and end up screaming and running from the Internet, or this is totally Teh Amazing™ (in an ironic way) and will search out more.

You have been warned.

Oh, and don't worry, it's all Safe For Work™.

More than iron, more than lead, more than gold I need electricity. I need it more than I need lamb or pork or lettuce or cucumber. I need it for my dreams.

Racter, from its book The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed

Racter is a computer program and is credited with writing the book The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed. You could also buy a version of Racter back in the mid-80s, although it's questionable if you could generate a book from that version of the program.

Basically, Racter is a “generative” program; something that generates its output semi-randomly. There are rules guiding the output, but the rules themselves are selected at random. Give it a wide enough selection of rules plus a discriminating eye, yes, it could probably generate a book.

Bill and Diane traveled tree studded highways to the home, the house of Helene. This was in America, the birthplace of Bill, the point-of-origin of Diane, the motherland of Helene. The highways were like lanes or roads in the country, they were bush lined and hedge lined. Bill and Diane were talking of their anxiety because Helene knew and understood their perpetual conflict with her, they knew that she wanted to kill them because of her own ambiguities, her intractable commitments abut her own passion. Helene was a person of commerce and Bill and Diane were people of art. This darkly is difficult, it feverishly is hard to possess commerce and art together. They would eat lamb and cucumbers and sing of commerce and art, and their singing would both belittle and enrage them. That would be in the house of Helene where they would both breakfast together. When Bill and Diane had traveled to the house of Helene they said to her, “We are perpetually sick or ill when we chant of art with you, Helene, we will now talk of our joy when we think of lamb.” “I will not sing of commerce,” sang Helene, “but I will talk now only of cucumbers. We will not revile or belittle each other or madden or inflame ourselves.” They ate their lamb and cucumbers and then Bill and Diane traveled away.

Racter, from its book The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed

Some may find fault with using a computer to “write” a book, but really, it's just another tool to help with creativity. Thomas Easton used a computer program to help generate the following poem:

Love Song for Lonely Aliens

Weak with angonies of unstroked ego,
He loved physics,
Embraced its texts,
Cupped hands around the meshwork domes
Of vast antennae,
Roared erectly into orbit,
And screamed his coming
On the millimeter waves
Of space.

In his own words:

I conceive of the creative mond as having two components: the popcorn mind and the critical mind. The former generates random combinations of whatever words, ideas and images happen to be in a sort of mental focus (along with the peripheral material, which is why the popcorn mind can surpriseus). The critical mind then discards as garbage the vast bulk of what the popcorn mind produces and edits, twists and elaborates the remainder to form poems.

The intermediate result is ungrammatical, nonsensical, ridiculous garbage … but not always. Among the many lines of garbage there always lie a few lines to which one responds. They make sense—or seem to. They beg one to tweak them a little. A pair of them insists that one make up a third line. They stimulate one to think of other links that cna accompany them. A little editing, interpolation, elaboration and—viol´—a poem.

So, his program generates a ton of garbage, but within that stream of nonsense are a few gems to be pulled out and used. But it's just a tool (at the time he wrote that, he used this method to produce 110 poems, of which 32 were published, a ratio he said that would turn many professional poets green with envy).

Now, a few weeks ago, Bunny stumbled across a commercial for Microsoft's Songsmith (link via Duncan) and was horrified by the concept. I however, didn't see what was so horrifying with it. Yes, the commercial is horrible, but the concept?

I don't think so. It's just another creative tool (which in itself has been a months long conversation between us, and is related to talent, but that's another topic for another time) that yes, can be abused.

Ooooh boy can it be abused.

It's apparently the “in thing” to take a popular song (say, Van Halen's “Running With The Devil”), isolate the vocals, and have Songsmith generate the music (link via Jason Kottke).

Good, bad, or ugly, I find these totally Teh Amazing™, mainly because of the novelty of it all (Songsmith matched Billy Idol's “White Wedding” with Bluegrass, for instance)—the unexpected juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated elements (which is the basis of humor, don't you know?).

Bunny is horrified by it all and ran from the house, screaming “The horror! The horror!”

But perhaps, if Microsoft added more cowbell

Obligatory Picture

[The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades]

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