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Place as Noplace, and 3D, and Geometry

Paul Ford used a machine to define the way shadows fell, and thus to fool eyes into believing that something existed which did not.

An exact representation of place and time in an unmoored grid.

I meant to say that this is an image I made entirely from math two years ago. I like to think about the way you can use computers to create experiences - to create images like this one, or sounds. The way you do it is by creating lists of instructions and relating those instructions to one another. The end result in not a program but an artifact - a picture, some music, sometimes a story.

To make the image above I wrote a program that wrote another program; that program defined the transparency of the glass and the rainbow spread of the dots in the middle, and the image was compiled by the POV renderer to what you see. I've done similar things with sounds. I wrote a program that cut up my voice and pasted it back a thousands different random ways. I wrote a program that took all the images on my hard drive and made collages from them, and pasted in bits of text from random emails. The result was strange and evocative to me, uninteresting to anyone else.

That process would yield a separate essay. I was going to call that piece “Mining My Own Data” and release the software that collaged the images. I've been thinking about it for over a year, now. I never find the time, etc.

When I started this I wanted to be infernally positive. It was supposed to emerge from the stable and strong center of my being where the technical and creative harmonize. I was going to be jocular and make moderately difficult concepts accessible.

It was supposed to introduce the ideas inherent in algorithmic languages for creating aesthetic experiences. It was going to explore the way that breaking down sound, or form, or light into lists of lists of lists - the way that alters your perception of the world, the way you begin to see sound and understand why the entire room vibrates when a given bass note plays, the way that the science and the abstraction provides their own methods of understanding.

I've wanted to write about these things for four years, but for some reason I never do. And now that I scheduled it, and sat down to do it, I find myself feeling furious before the screen. I don't know why. I just can't spin a meta-narrative about the pleasures of creative algorithms. I know when I get this way that somehow I am not getting what I need. I know that I feel pushed over lately - by what? By myself? All of my friends are as supportive as they can be, as I allow them to be.

I sat down with a big bag of pretzels yesterday and stood up with an empty bag. I didn't taste one of them. Food is like my aluminum hat to keep away the space signals. Without the comfort of starch everything begins to glow and my mind begins to spin and spin and spin.

There are two ways this can go from here:

1.

I hate you! HATE you! ALL OF YOU! I'm going to go write advertising for a living and keep all my money and time for me, me, me. I am 18 and my name is Paul and no one loves me.

I hate you! HATE you! ALL OF YOU! I'm going to go write advertising for a living and keep all my money and time for me, me, me. I am 18 and my name is Paul and no one loves me.

I walked everywhere tonight and saw a man who kept cats in his car, a huge glass bottle filled with seahorses, roast ducks spinning in a window, and over it all two massive beams of light shining upwards to commemmorate the deaths of September 11. I hated the idea of this memorial, but there it was and it was effective and strong and strange; it was New York City, huge and unexpected, light hammering the clouds. Six months ago I was sitting in Savyon, Israel, trying to decide whether I should live in Tel Aviv for a year and work full-time to simulate the human brain in a computer.

I will go to the clearing at the hairpin turn in Alfred, New York and dig a shallow hole in the exact outline of my body, about 8 inches deep, and lie in it, half my body in the ground, half facing the sky, and wait to take root.

When I was 16 my life was genuinely bad, and my problems were real problems, not problems of privilege. Every morning in the summer a heron landed in the stagnant pond outside my window, and I lived for that vision, the moment when everything was on fire from the rising sun and this great bird was cast in orange profile, perched with its wings folded across the short road.

I choose number 2. I will write my essay on algorithmically constructed aesthetic artifacts another time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.

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Recent

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