The 280-Year-Old Algorithm Inside Google Trips

This is an amazingly straightforward article about the power of computational thinking with massive data sets.
The 280-Year-Old Algorithm Inside Google Trips –

The why of t-shirts

This is a great two-point encapsulation of a point Techdirt has been making for a number of years. That the opportunity presented itself in such an interesting way is yet another reason to read Techdirt. I don’t believe that they set out to be the news but they certainly generate their fair share of stories simply by being so strongly who they are. I recently received one of their earlier shirts highlighting copyright removals of region restricted content on YouTube that I very much enjoy. So if this type of thing appeals to you please buy responsibly.

At the very least, it actually gives us a platform to make our point: if he really wants to do so, he can absolutely go and make those cheap $5 shirts. But they won’t sell. Why? This is the whole point we’ve been trying to make all this time. The reason people buy shirts from us is because (1) they like the shirts and (2) they want to support Techdirt.

My Clown Backstory

  • I was born between the first & second World Wars.
  • I sold newspapers for my family but was fired when I created too many paper hats.
  • My soul occasionally rises and falls with the sounds of the ocean which carried my grandfather to this country from Bologna.
  • I don’t touch knives on account of the missing pinky finger on my left hand.
  • I didn’t lose the finger because of a knife… though that seems like the most likely scenario.
  • Fictionally, I lost my pinky finger while chasing a balloon across a farm field. Damn Windmill!
  • I stopped believing in the truth when my father gave up clowning and became a tax collector.
  • When I sit on the curb my large legs press my knees up next to my chin. From this position they more easily create a tunnel into which the water from passing cars can more efficiently be directed into my face.
  • When Nixon was elected I sat on the floor and didn’t get up until I was arrested for blocking the overpass of the freeway.
  • When Lincoln was shot and killed I wasn’t alive… but I laughed heartily at the illustrations.

[Troy, I found this and had to share it here. This is a great memory.]

I’m Done

The Goodbye Letter

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears: I’ve finally built up the resolve and made a decision that has been a very long time coming: I’m done.

I’ve long considered Facebook to be not much more useful than a self-updating Rolodex (and it is only good at that due to the hard work of all of us), but I’m perturbed enough by news this time around that I’m done. An article at Forbes [10] alerted me to something that is very sadly not surprising.

Ever since getting into F/LOSS [7] and free culture [8] I’ve had the steady nagging of conscience to contend with whenever I logged into Facebook. I’ve decided to part with that nagging feeling and embrace something closer to the ideals I’ve been developing over time. Facebook hasn’t been consistent with my view of the world for a long time and by continuing to use the service I am complicit in an act I fundamentally disagree with. The only reason I stayed so long was because of all of you. Perhaps some of you stayed in part because of me. I’m not willing to be your excuse anymore. That’s not what a friend would do.

The line must be drawn somewhere. I should have drawn the line long ago. I’m not enthralled about having companies market in my name to my friends without my knowledge. Our friendships are too important for me to allow others to lie to you on my behalf. So is my name.

So too is my face. [9]

I’m sure most of you have felt this way at one time or another while using this “service.” Most people I’ve spoken with are generally aware of what Facebook has been doing. They hear — often via traditional news media outlets — about growing concern over this or that policy or change in terms of service that raises a question about privacy, ethics, and/or trust. Normally people go to tweak what little they can in their privacy settings and carry on in the slowly boiling pot until the next temperature increase. We quickly learn to accept this erosion of privacy over time (and it has been very quick [5]).

So I’m not going to wait for the next round of terms of service changes [1], of scary interpretations [2], of additional violations I didn’t ask for [3], or for the next round of privacy setting tweaks via a handy guide from the EFF to make Facebook temporarily palatable again [4]. I’m done.

And you know what? I’m really happy about it, and I know I’ll be even happier about it tomorrow. I don’t even feel like I was particularly addicted to Facebook, but it certainly had some sort of hold on me. I’m happy to be letting go and moving on. At any rate, I’m more active in other communities and I’ll leave you with some contact info should you want to see what I’m up to or contact me in the future (or send me non-Facebook contact info for yourself):

If you choose to stay, I won’t feel bad. I might be a little sad though. I chose to stay for a long time. Maybe you’ll be ready the next time something adversely changes (and it will). I would ask that you ask yourself a question right now: where is the line? Write it down, put a date on it, and use it to remind yourself of where you felt the line was today. Your future self would then have a choice to make. If you move the line, then keep a record of how often you do that (I know I moved the line a lot in the past years).

The internet is a new and exciting space that shouldn’t be taken over and closed off by bad actors with ill intentions. Don’t say that this is not your department [11], because all of us have a duty to make this world a better place. I haven’t believed that of Facebook for a long time. Connect the dots a little. Think Aaron. [12]

If you’d like to join me, I’ve posted some instructions below (cobbled from various sources). The following are the steps I’ve taken to rid myself of Facebook.

General instructions can be found here [6]:

  1. Write goodbye message to everyone (and be a good friend and assist them in leaving with you).
  2. Archive account backup:
  3. Extended archive account backup:
  4. Disable 3rd party logins/apps (to ensure you don’t log in via another app):
  5. Disable auto-login to Facebook (check w/ your browser, phone, tablet, etc).
  6. Log date you delete Facebook: __________________
  7. Log length of time before official deletion: __________________
  8. Log the date of freedom: _______________
  9. After hitting “delete,” add the following lines to your /etc/hosts file.

# Block Facebook IPv4
# Block Facebook IPv6

Thanks for listening and considering.

[1]: April 28, 2010 –
[2]: April 28, 2010 –
[3]: January 29, 2013 –
[4]:January 18, 2013 –

The Problem with Music

Two years ago I threw some money at an idea. The idea was big: raise $11,000 to hire an orchestra to record some music. The music was in the public domain — Mozart, Beethoven, etc. — but recordings of it were not. So, if you were able to read the public domain sheet music and produce the sounds from instruments with your own hands then you were free to hear the public domain music. If you weren’t, well, you weren’t able to hear those sounds unencumbered by copyright. You couldn’t use those sounds for your art, your life, or your business without the possibility of legal action being taken against you.

The Relationship

If you’ve read this blog in the past you’re aware of my thoughts on copyright and how those thoughts emerged from my use of GNU/Linux and other free–as in freedom–software. You see, there’s this thing called DRM that makes it hard for people to do things with their files (like listen to a song on another player, or read an e-book on another device). These things should be easy, it is the 21st century after all. But it isn’t.

The Author’s Guild has fought to prevent e-readers from digitally speaking aloud the text (for blind readers) in the name of copyright, claiming that the out-loud reading is a derivative work. DRM has a hand in all of this.

The 21st century has yet to live up to its promise (and its reality) in part due to copyright laws. The idea that there was a way to support the public domain, spread art, and inspire the public was too good to pass up. I donated what little I had and waited.

Giving the Public Domain to the Public

It turns out others, at least 1200+, supported this idea too. It obliterated its $11,000 funding goal and raised nearly $70,000. Now, two years later, that music has finally been released.

I’ve never looked forward to hearing music so much in my life. Cheers to the composers! Cheers to the Czech National Symphony Orchestra! Cheers to Musopen! And cheers to you! Do whatever you want with it because, well, you can. (And that obligates you a little bit, doesn’t it?)

The Music

Beethoven – Coriolan Overture
Beethoven – Egmont Overture Op. 84
Beethoven – Symphony No 3 Eroica
Borodin – In The Steppes Of Central Asia
Brahms – Symphony No 1 in C Major
Brahms – Symphony No 2 in D major
Brahms – Symphony No 3
Brahms – Symphony No 4 in E minor
Brahms – Tragic Overture
Bach – Goldberg Variations
Grieg – Peer Gynt
Mendelssohn – Hebrides
Mendelssohn – Italian Symphony
Mendelssohn – Scottish Symphony
Mozart – Magic Flute Overture
Mozart – Marriage Of Figaro
Mozart – Symphony No 40 in G Minor
Rimsky Korsakov – Russian Overture
Schubert – The Piano Sonatas
Smetana – Vltava
Tchaikovsky – Symphony Pathetique

String Quartets:
Beethoven String Quartet in B flat Major Op 18
Borodin String Quartet No 1
Borodin String Quartet No 2
Dvorak – American in F major
Dvorak Quartet in F Major Op 51
Haydn Quartet in D Major Op.64
Mendelssohn Quartet in F Minor Op 80
Mozart Quartet D Minor K421
Mozart Quartet in C Major K 465
Suk – Meditation

Download and Use

Exercises from the #2510’s Project

If you’re not already aware of my #2510s project I’ll give you a brief recap: I wrote 25 ten-minute plays over the summer of 2011 and released them on the web. Each of 20 of the 25 plays were rewritten using some exercises I’d been developing and testing over the past couple of years. Some were successful for me, some weren’t, but I’ll leave the final evaluation up to the reader.

At any rate, I’ve finally finished putting all of those exercises into a digestible form. If you’d like to see them, click here.

The exercises are arranged in the order I used them for the #2510s project (day by day, week by week). There are 20 exercises based on four broad areas: visual art, music, acting/directing, and dance.

I hope you’ll find it worth your time to take a peek. Feel free to try them out on your own work as well. They’re fairly rigid in their current form (they dictate a certain number of steps from which you are not supposed to deviate) but feel free to experiment with them.

The “translation” from other mediums to playwriting isn’t a 1 to 1 type of situation (as you’ll discover if you take a look). Also, I’ve tried to give these exercises as broad an audience as possible, so often the “translation” is often reductive or somewhat abstract. If you have a particular knowledge in one of these areas you an certainly use it to your advantage and increase the complexity &/or specificity of the exercise. But if you don’t have special knowledge in an area have no fear: I’ve tried to make each approachable and employable with little expert knowledge.

At any rate, head on over. Let me know what you think. Enjoy.

The #2510s Project

So I started a little project. I use the term “little” because that is how it appears to most outside observers. To me it is far larger than a “little” project. I can count the days and hours spent on the creation of the final product itself. None of that, however, involves the time spent leading up to creating the work. The yellow brick road began long before I started piecing together any of the disparate ideas that would ultimately allow such a project to form in my mind. At any rate, I started a “little” project.

This little project is, at its core, twenty-five ten-minute plays. That’s the creative end product. I spent five weeks writing one play each weekday. Each play was, then, written in under 24 hours. There is also a meaningful separation between each week of scripts because I was also testing out playwriting exercises I’d devised as such:

  • Monday: Write an “Original” 10 Minute Play
  • Tuesday: Modify “Monday Script” with Playwriting Exercise.
  • Wednesday: Modify “Monday Script” with Playwriting Exercise.
  • Thursday: Modify “Monday Script” with Playwriting Exercise.
  • Friday: Modify “Monday Script” with Playwriting Exercise.

This became the flow of my life for five weeks. Each week, then, is a curious set of material that is ultimately very strongly related with itself. So, in essence, there are five groupings of related plays.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “You wrote the same play five times? *psssh!* BORING!” My answer might surprise you: You’re not entirely wrong. This could be very boring indeed (and, for some of the modifications, it’s a defensible position to take). However, before you jump to that conclusion entirely, I’d like to point you to three of the “Week One” scripts (that, as of this writing, are already posted on the website). I’m providing links below for each of the PDF files. Even a cursory glance at each of the plays will reveal how striking the differences were within the first week of scripts.

The variations and modifications do not, in fact, have to be boring or remarkably similar. In fact, 1.0 and 1.1 are probably the most similar of any of the scripts in “Week One,” and it is this wide variety of material that was particularly interesting to me. How much can a script change? How much might it possibly improve? How quickly can these changes occur?

However, it is a lot of reading (sorry). I say as much (upfront) on the project’s website. Playwriting is not an internet friendly medium, even in the ten-minute play form. (And it really doesn’t help the cause that playwriting is an unfinished art form to begin with — productions transform the written part into a whole). This week has shown me just how “internet unfriendly” playwriting truly is:

A very (very very) modest amount of interest was generated on Day #1 of the project — *New!* *Shiny!* — but as you can see from the graph above, that tapered off very very quickly. (And, of course, not every person who visited the site downloaded one of the scripts… and not everyone who downloaded a script actually read it… and on and on.) Does this make me cry? No. Is it disappointing? Sure. I wish more people would see the work for a number of reasons. That’s not entirely up to me though. I’ve worked on this stuff and put it out there. I have to rely on others to extend its reach for me. Perhaps that other is you.

One of the reasons I release my works under a free culture license is because I truly believe that it is congruent with the present. Despite governmental movements indicating otherwise, lobbying money swaying against it, and decaying business models crying out that they are, in fact, acting on behalf of “the artists” and their “best interests,” I believe we’re swinging in the other direction. I believe we are firmly moving towards something more open, more accessible, more shared, and with more rights for the end user. Maybe it will take a while, but can’t you feel the momentum?

At any rate, the below graph (via the thought-provoking indicates my ultimate hope for these works (in terms of their use and exposure). I’m not saying that “they’re good” (that’s up to you), and I’m certainly not expecting them to become “classics” (they probably aren’t), but for right now they might just be worth reading, seeing, using, remixing, or otherwise benefiting from in some way. Again, though, that’s up to you. At any rate, I’m just waiting for the up-swing. If you enjoy a play: share it and/or do something with it. I couldn’t really ask for anything more wonderful — more current — than that.


The Skills I Happened Upon

The Inspiration

Pop marketing guru extraordinaire Seth Godin had a marvelous post recently. It was titled Time for a workflow audit, but the relatively short tidbit inside sparked a moment of self-reflection on my part. By the way, if you’re not following Seth’s daily tidbits of advice you should be (and you should use RSS).

If you’re asking yourself “What is RSS?” or you’ve just returned from Google to find that I’ve caught you not knowing don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. This is perfectly normal. No one can know everything.

If you’re a little older than me and thinking that the younger generation has this innate knowledge and understanding of existing technologies you can rest easy: they don’t. I’ve been around plenty of my peers (and those more than a decade younger) who waste time day in and day out because they’re not aware of existing tools, functions, or programs that could do those repetitive tasks for them. They unknowingly do it the hard way. I say again: you are not alone.

The Hobby

While my degrees are almost exclusively in the Arts (specifically theatre), I’ve long had a side hobby of technology. I’ve blogged about this hobby before (most notably in my post Why I Choose Creative Commons BY-SA). This technology hobby initially grew out of interest in automating repetitive tasks along with a fascination with the complex randomization that computers could perform. Perhaps more generally, it has always been about ensuring that the tools I use are fast, effective and productive. The other (more negative) way to put it is that I spend gobs of time trying out every tool under the sun in order to find the best one for any given task. I wrote one example recently concerning my minimalist writing environment.

The Fool’s Errand

Productivity can be an end in and of itself though. You can be so focused on being “productive” that you forget to actually do anything. Merlin Mann sarcastically attacks the minimalist trend in a very funny (and, for those of us who have been trapped by such snake oil in the past, heartbreaking) video. The point being that an entire market has emerged to sell the product of being productive in the digital age. This varied industry probably decreases productivity overall, despite occasional moments of insight. How could such an industry emerge? It’s easy: we deal with incalculable and inescapable information every day. More troubling, it’s always with us on our computers, phones, and other devices. It is, clearly, a problem. Technology causes this problem and, paradoxically, technology can be utilized to solve it.

The Bad Businessman

The interesting thing about Seth’s post was that it was from a different perspective than my own. His perspective revered and found value in skills and knowledge I happen to possess. I don’t often value my own skills or knowledge. Seth’s post, however, reminded me of how often I end up getting asked about how to do some task (which is to me rather mundane) and being heralded genuinely as the savior of the moment (or day, or year, et cetera). The person I help is extremely grateful to have received help, they’ve learned something (if they were paying attention and interested in learning), and I’ve done my part to make the world a better place.

Further, it occurs to me that I’ve been “hired” before to do similar things: introduce a professor to blogging (particularly the site setup), guest lecture for a graduate arts administration class about how to effectively use Microsoft’s Excel for whatever task they could imagine, recommend digital time-saving techniques for my own students doing work for other courses, and a host of other examples.

As a teacher, I have a profound belief that everyone can learn. This belief leads me to diminish my own particular skills (whether innate or acquired) in favor of assuming that everyone generally has (or can have) the same skill sets and interests I do. Seth’s post reminded me that other people (maybe even you) find skills I possess valuable. These are the skills I happened upon, not through formal training, but through a genuine interest and desire. They are skills I live every day.

Worth Something

These are the skills that make my peers stare over my shoulder in confusion as  I quickly go about my daily work on a computer at lightening speed. These are also the skills that make watching most other computer users go about their work a frustrating experience for me (especially if I’m waiting on them for something). These are skills that are worth something. So, I second Mr. Godin’s call to find a geek, sit them next to you, and ask them how you can work better. I, however, second it from the other side. As such, I’m open for business.

The Revision Decision

To revise, or not to revise, that is the Question

Last semester I penned a play called The Decision and asked for comments from a variety of sources (including in the comments of this website). The comments did not flood in. One of the difficulties of crowdsourcing something like dramaturgy with lengthy material (even as short as my ten-minute play) is that a play is too long. The concept of crowdsourcing almost requires something that can be consumed in one quick gulp.

Plays, however, are never really short enough to fit into that criteria. It doesn’t help that my plays are in PDF format instead of the quick to open HTML or TXT, but I really like the clean format that LaTeX gives me with the Sides class. I’ve also found Vim to be an ideal writing environment. For all the talk of distraction-free writing environments on productivity blogs nothing really compares to the simplicity of Vim (after, of course, you’ve learned the commands). Here’s my distraction-free writing environment:

At any rate, the comments did not come. While many people downloaded the play I don’t imagine that all of them read it. I also don’t imagine that all those who did read it had a particularly strong reaction to it (at least not strong enough to tell me what they thought). As luck would have it, however, my show is being produced. That means people have to translate those words from that “distraction-free” environment into the bodies of living actors, the reality of a physical space, and (eventually) into something an audience would pay to see (read: not my computer screen). These people must have an opinion.

Directors, and Dramaturgs, and Designers! Oh, my!

These wonderful people are tasked with something incredibly difficult. They are tasked with translating my 2-D writing into a 3-D production. If the writer is alive (Me = Alive / Shakespeare = Dead) and they are available (or it is the first production of the play) they are typically consulted as more of a collaborator during the production phase than our dear friend Shakespeare is these days.

One result of this collaboration happened recently when some of the production team graciously met to discuss my play. They came up with a series of statements and questions about my play that they shared with me. This is extremely helpful. Part of why I am interested in crowdsourcing the dramaturgical function for my plays is that I like ideas. I’m not the smartest person in the room, even if I am fairly intelligent, because we’re all smarter together. Together we come to better decisions and ideas than we do apart.

The list of questions they asked of me (and statements they made about the work) really help me see the play from a different perspective. I’m able to figure out what is working and what is not working. Oftentimes my wonderful production team helped identify why something wasn’t working (or was confusing). This is even more helpful.

The process also forced me to describe what I’m doing in non-playscript format. You can no longer hide behind the metaphoric language of a play or the suggestive stage directions — you have to explain yourself concretely. It turns out that this is an important step as it solidifies your goals and refocuses your selective eye. To that end, I wrote another draft.

The Words They Are a-Changin’

Of course it’s more than just words that change. Since plays are composed of “just words,” yet are able to elicit emotional responses, physical environments, and human actions, more than words change in even the smallest changes for a new draft.

I’m not going to get into the various changes here. I will, however, note two things that stand out to me in this draft.

  1. The idea of stopping the world with your finger.
    1. Once in reference to a small globe to find a new place to live (or possibly run away to).
    2. Finally in relation to the passage of time — the spinning of the actual earth.
  2. Mathematical skill, terms, and metaphors.

If you’re interested in locating the differences between Draft #1 and Draft #2 those concepts are the main ones that I’m aware of (because writers do not know everything about what they write).

The Drafts

These are both under the unfortunate All Rights Reserved until after the production. Then they will be released cc by-sa. Enjoy — and I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

Draft #1: TheDecision
Draft #2: TheDecision(draft2)

Creative Commons Confusion

"Obscurity" By Nina Paley

Recently I received a question from a former student and friend that highlights the confusion concerning copyright law and the various types of Creative Commons licenses. I wrote about the Creative Commons license I choose to use in a previous post but I wanted to tackle this question in its own post as I think it is deserving. As her e-mail didn’t come with a CC license at the bottom I asked and received permission to reprint her question here:

Would you care if I used a monologue out of The Constellation Minuet? I saw it at LUTAF last year and remembered really liking it. Let me know if you’re not comfortable with it, I won’t use it. Just thought I would ask you first! ~Erin Hardy

I replied quickly with the following (in part):

As for using the work as a monologue: Yes you can. I’ve already given the okay in the license. (But thanks for asking/letting me know).

I use the cc-by-sa license which essentially says “please attribute my work to me, perform/remix/adapt it, and if you create something new with my art please do unto others as I have done unto you.” You can read the actual license here, but this confusion is a preventative force for the dissemination of my work on what is otherwise a great system (the internet) for exchange of content and ideas.

Let me be clear: I want you to use my work. Please use my work as an audition piece if you like it. Please include my work in your collection of short plays if you think it fits. Please print off 20 copies for your high school English class and analyse the language (and send me thoughts for what I might think about improving). Please e-mail my work to that person it reminded you of. Please create a scenic design for that play of mine you like (or lighting, or sound, or use it for a class, etc…). Please produce my work and take pictures and upload them somewhere (even a video).

I used to be confused about this license. I used to be cynical (Conan may help you see the light). I used to think that these licenses were merely traps. I used to think that these people offering something for “free” just wanted me to contact them with a link to how I used it in order to sue me (or some other nonsense). This isn’t a trap. I didn’t write these plays for them to sit in a drawer unused and unread forever: I wrote them to share them.

You don’t have to let me know if you’ve done, are doing, or will do my work. I would love to hear about it though. Send me an e-mail, post in the comments  on the play’s page, or do something else that is wonderful. I’m honored that you’d think of using my work. Please do.