Blogs and websites I like to read

I use Google Reader to follow quite a lot of websites, blogs and anything else interesting that squirts out an RSS feed. For the curious, here is a list of my favourites. I’m leaving out the well known things like XKCD, Dilbert, Hack-a-day and so on.

I often find these kinds of sites while browsing around the comment fields of popular websites. It’s fun to click the random links in people’s signatures…

What are your favourite websites to visit? I’m always interested in new things to read.

Processing Sketches: A new part of my website

Twangy String - 1D rippling water
Twangy String - 1D rippling water

I use the Processing language to try out little coding ideas, or to have fun making something that looks pretty, or is amusing. After looking around my computers while tidying up I found several worthy of showing off, and have created a page on my main website to display these sketches.

Each sketch does one thing, and was either created by me to test out an idea, learn something new, or simply to have a bit of fun. After writing out structured database and Windows GUI code it’s nice to sit down with a few half thought out ideas and see what happens. The 1D rippling water was my attempt at copying the ‘water’ from Electroplankton, and the Circles sketch was inspired by Bloom on the iPhone.

I intend on updating the page as I create new sketches.

Another Context Free image

Here’s the result of some more graphical hacking. I quite accidentally discovered the nice patterns caused by rotating a shape around a midpoint. It’s a bit like those overly complicated spyrograph toys we used to have, only without the pens, cogs and irritating scoring pen line where the cog slipped, sending your pen skating across the paper.


I’ve registered on the Context Free website, and since the app itself has a handy upload feature, I can put things on it easily 🙂

More Context Free Art

I have set up a picture gallery on my photos website, as an easy way to show off the images I’m creating. I can’t include the code there as there’s no way to do that, but one of the things my new main website will have is a section for these pictures and their associated code.

Creating these images is really good fun. Usually programming is a process that has a definite aim – I’m going to create a new website, I’m going to make a program to catalogue my music, etc. From that aim the program is structured and then code written. It’s a well documented process. It’s comparable to traditional art, with the artists creating their own interpretations of real world objects or scenes, or through their imagination creating a scene that could be a real place.

There’s another style of art though which is more abstract. The artist being more interested in experimenting with form, colours or whatever else they can think of. Context Free is the programmer equivalent of that. I can sit down and for half an hour mash out some code that draws something pretty. If I don’t like it, I can modify the rules until it looks better. Often it will accidentally produce something I had no intention of creating.

It’s also fast and immediate. The only code I can write is rule definitions that describe how circles and squares are drawn. There are no loops, no variables and no boilerplate setup code.

Context Free – Computer Generated Art

I’ve rediscovered the programmer friendly art ‘package’ known as Context Free, a system that allows pretty and often fractal images to be created from things known as context free grammars. I had a go with this before, but couldn’t quite work out what was going on. This time though, things make more sense.

After a few random pictures, I managed to create the image you see above.

It’s done using surprisingly few lines of code, the magic being in the recursive nature of both the pattern and the code generating it:

startshape trunk

rule trunk {
SQUARE {y 0.2 s 0.1 1}

rule fork {
branch {y 1 x -0.33 r 45}
branch {y 1 x 0.33 r -45}

rule branch {
fork {s 0.7}
SQUARE {s 0.1 1}

I’m going to have a bit of a play with this and see what I can come up with.

Pimp my Macbook

On Friday I ordered a Gelaskin from UrbanRetro. What is a Gelaskin you’re probably thinking? Well, to put it bluntly it’s a giant sticker that is applied to the back of a laptop’s screen. They’re supposedly to protect it from scratches and damage, but their main purpose is to make your laptop look really really cool 🙂

They’re fairly pain free to stick on since the glue on the back is scored with lots of little lines allowing trapped air to escape. The glue doesn’t leave any residue when peeled off should you want to remove your Gelaskin (which would be an absurd thing to do).

When sticking mine on I had to peel the Gelaskin off a few times before it looked straight and wasn’t crinkled in the middle. My advice is to gently stick one edge on, peel off the backing and carefully smooth it over the rest of the lid. Don’t fret if it all goes wrong and the thing needs taking off, just gently start pulling and try to avoid touching the sticky side or letting it stick to itself. The vinyl is a bit stretchy so apply even force over an entire edge rather than just a corner or it might stretch out of shape.

They make them for iPods and normal laptops too, so go buy one 🙂

810 Pages of Processing Goodness

My copy of Processing, Creative Coding and Computational Art has arrived. Now to begin the good old system of learning a programming language by typing out lots of examples and messing with them 🙂

The book contains information on how to write code using Processing, but I think I can safely ignore that part; well until I come across some weird part of Java anyway. I bought it for the ideas and sample code it provides. Being one of those people for whom maths is a confusing and difficult subject I like to see a direct cause and effect when learning new things.

I’ll upload my efforts to my projects area for people to look at and play with.

Macro Photography

I’ve just been playing with my macro lenses and some stuff lying about my house. No doubt the novelty of taking really close up images of things will wear off eventually, but for now it’s a nice diversion from mountains and grass.

I’ve made a new section in my Flickr photostream for these images. Going to have to sort out my own photo hosting, I’ve filled my webhost’s webspace again.