Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Facebook makes change that everyone likes

Saturday, 11 January, 2014

Social media giant Facebook has rolled out a change to how its newsfeed and sharing system works and, in a surprising development, users actually seem to like it. Several “share this if you like the Facebook changes” memes have popped up and spread widely across the social network. Bloggers are generally very positive in their comments about the change, and it’s hard to find anyone saying anything negative.

“I really like it,” says tech blogger Howard Freeman. “The UI change is clean and intuitive, it’s easier to find the stuff you want to see, and it just plain looks nicer. I’m seeing exactly what I want in the newsfeed, and my posts are being shared with exactly who I want to see them. I was skeptical at first, but they’ve really nailed it this time.”

Privacy groups went over the changes with a fine tooth comb. “We expected to see ridiculous opt-out changes that seriously impacted your ability to control who sees information about you,” says EFF spokesperson Wendy Smith. “Instead they made changes that even the most casual users were well-informed about and realised were exactly what they wanted. More control, more options, and it’s trivially easy to adjust the settings – although honestly, they’ve automatically changed to a setting which is exactly what every user wanted. It’s a big win for everyone who uses Facebook.”

Facebook programmer Cody Williams was taken aback by the response when the changes were rolled out this week. “We expected people to rant against these changes, start boycotts, and all that sort of stuff. I like the changes myself, but I can see that changing what people are comfortable with can cause some difficulties. I thought users would complain about the way all the controls moved around, the completely different menu system, the comment system, and the new graphic design. However, reaction seems to be good – everyone I’ve heard from appreciates the same improvements that I do.”

Even hard-core tech critic Samantha Bourne struggled to find anything to criticise in the changes. “Look, I think that thin line under the new menu bar is just a shade too blue. That’s all I have to say. Excuse me, I need to share something with my Facebook contacts.”

Book roundup

Saturday, 28 December, 2013

I’ve just finished reading The Music Instinct by Philip Ball. This is one of those books that immediately makes me think that it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I learnt more about music by reading this one book than I probably knew just before I began.

I’ve never known much about music theory. I learnt to read music at school, but never became competent at playing any instrument, or gained any of the theoretical underpinnings of how music works. I have basically just been an uneducated listener. I never really understood why scales work the way they do; why there are tones and semitones. I didn’t understand chords or chord progressions or the principles of accompaniment, or of tension and resolution in musical composition. After reading The Music Instinct, for the first time in my life I feel as though a veil has been lifted from my eyes and I can, for the first time ever, see some of the underlying structure and theory behind music.

It’s more than just music theory too. There are chapters on how music elicits emotions, the psychology and cultural biases of how we interpret what we hear, and what, if anything, music might mean in some sense. It cites many psychological studies which reveal astounding and surprising things about how we perceive music. Every chapter and paragraph was full of fascinating information. I am going to keep a copy of this book handy in the future, and will no doubt refer to it again and again. I highly recommend it.

And speaking of book recommendations, I want to share some other books which I have enjoyed reading recently – and ask any of you reading this to recommend some to me. I will pre-empt some of this by saying that for this purpose I am really only interested in non-fiction. I’m interested in most subjects: history, geography, science, sport, music, travel…

My list:

  • Venice: Pure City, Peter Ackroyd. A wonderful picture of Venice and its history, which made my trip there last year immeasurably richer and more enjoyable.
  • The History of England, Volume 1: Foundation, Peter Ackroyd. I bought this after enjoying the above book by the same author, and found it a fascinating telling of the history of England up to the rise of the Tudor dynasty. I recently got the second volume and it’s next on my to-read list.
  • Leviathan, or The Whale, Philip Hoare. Everything you ever wanted to know about whales and more, told in a compelling style. We all love these creatures, and this book explores that fascination.
  • On the Map, Simon Garfield. A series of vignettes about various maps through history, interspersed with information about how maps are made, what they tell us, and what makes them so fascinating.
  • Ingenious Pursuits, Lisa Jardine. The story of the scientific revolution – basically a history of science around the 17th century, covering names like Newton, Halley, Hooke, Boyle, Cassini, Huygens, Leeuwenhoek.
  • Atlantic, Simon Winchester. Tales of the first ocean that western civilisation encountered, how it was explored, crossed, yet remained untamed, including its roles in commerce, migration, and war.

Band Practice

Wednesday, 18 December, 2013

I was at my last drum lesson for the year last night, and I mentioned that I was trying to get the guys together for some more band practice over the Christmas/New Year period. In a year and a half we’ve so far only managed to actually get together as a group and play songs twice, which is pretty miserable – though understandable given most of them are busy parents with young kids and so on.

My teacher suggested that I could try joining the music school’s adult band program. They actually have two different programs: they match you up with other people who play different instruments according to your tastes in music, then they either give you a set list of about ten songs to learn, or they let you pick your own songs. You attend a roughly 2-hour practice session at the school once a week for some number of weeks, which is attended by a teacher who helps everyone with the songs. And then at the end they book you into a pub to play an actual gig!

My teacher said at the stage I am at with my drumming, I am definitely ready for this, and it will improve my drumming enormously. He says I really need to start playing with other people to develop that part of my experience. I’m going to consider it for a while and try to get my friends organised enough to do some more regular practice together. If that turns out to be too difficult, then I may go for the music school program…

Stay tuned.

Drum progress

Tuesday, 12 November, 2013

Tonight at my drumming lesson my teacher said, “Okay, it’s time to work on your weaknesses.”

Normally he’s very encouraging and tells me I’m doing great – to the point where I’ve started to take it with a slight grain of salt as I know there are things I need to improve on. So it was quite a change this time.

My weaknesses are practising in time with a metronome, and transitions between grooves and fills, and grooves and other grooves.

I’ve tried practising with a metronome, but I find I just can’t stay in time to the clicks. I can play along with a song and keep perfect time. But when it’s just a metronome I drift all over the place and can’t home in on keeping beat with the clicks. I don’t understand why I find this so difficult – it must be some cognitive thing where I can’t process the solitary clicking noise into my beating time. My teacher suggested I start with a fairly slow beat – something I can easily keep pace with – and just let myself drift around with it, and keep going, not worrying too much about trying to stay on the pulse of the metronome. He thinks after a while I’ll naturally drift into time with it and start keeping an even beat in time with the clicks.

And to practice keeping a groove with fills for whole songs, I am to play along with random songs, and just try to keep the beat for the whole song, throwing in whatever fills I feel like when it feels like the song needs one. Don’t worry about copying the song’s drumming exactly, just do whatever I want as long as I stay in time throughout. That should be fun, at least, not like metronome work!

Skink!

Thursday, 29 August, 2013

241/365 Eastern Water SkinkI’ve had a couple of good days for spotting wildlife. I saw this fellow sunning himself on a rock as I was walking home from work today, just 50 metres or so from where I saw the brushturkeys yesterday.

This is an Eastern water skink (Eulamprus quoyii). It was maybe 40 centimetres long. I managed to poke my camera fairly close before it scooted away.

Brushturkey!

Wednesday, 28 August, 2013

Australian brushturkeyFollowing up my urban bird post of the other day, I was astonished this morning to come across a pair of Australian brushturkeys while walking to the station to catch the train to work. I know these birds are around the city, but I’ve never seen some so close before, nor so close to my home.

They’re very territorial, so I’ll probably see them again in the future if they’ve moved into the area. At this time of year they’re probably either building compost mounds to incubate their eggs, or already looking after a clutch of eggs or chicks somewhere nearby.

Drumming vs Differential Equations

Saturday, 20 July, 2013

Apple recently announced the release of Logic Pro X, an updated version of their audio processing software. There’s a discussion thread on MacRumors.com about it. It comes with a new feature called Drummer, which is essentially a drumming machine component, described as a “virtual session drummer”. Several of the comments mentioned this and wondered how good it would be compared to a real drummer.

Cue the inevitable drummer jokes. Some people, while having a good laugh, also expressed the opinion that drumming is actually quite demanding and how they genuinely respect drummers. Then there was this comment:

I agree, drumming is a really hard job, up there with solving complex differential equations, simulating weather, image processing, managing data for millions of users…

Clearly sarcastic, but I couldn’t help finding it hilarious. Since I do image processing and solving differential equations for my day job, and have been taking weekly drumming lessons for over a year now. And I can tell you, in no uncertain terms, that drumming is more difficult than solving differential equations and image processing. I can tell you how the vibrational modes of a drum head are governed by an orthogonal basis of Bessel functions, but I’m still having trouble not swinging my sixteenth note syncopated snares in a straight 4/4 rhythm, or doing consistent 32nd note double strikes with my left hand. :-)

ND400 filter

Sunday, 7 July, 2013

I recently got an ND400 neutral density filter for my lenses. This is an almost black filter that cuts the available light by a factor of 400. It looks black, and lets through only the barest amount of light, like welding goggles. With it, you can take really long exposures when there’s too much light to do so otherwise. This is useful for things like ocean scenes, when you want the waves to blur out into a misty ambience. It’s best around sunrise or sunset, but I went out today in the middle of the day to test it out. Here are a couple of the results.

188/365 Ocean meets land

Rock shelf mist

CiSRA Puzzle Competition 2013

Thursday, 4 July, 2013

In 2007 a group of my work friends and I organised the first CiSRA Puzzle Competition as a means of promoting our company to clever people who might want to come work for us. It was a success and we’ve repeated it every year. And now, we have just opened the 7th annual competition for team registration! The first puzzles are released on 22 July. If you enjoy puzzles and brain-benders, check it out.

Photo challenge

Sunday, 9 June, 2013

Photo challenge: out of the cameraYesterday when I went out to take photos of the sunrise, I arranged to meet my friend Andrew at the beach, since he’s keen on photography too. We shot various things with our cameras, wandering around and taking photos from different places. At one point Andrew suggested we set up our tripods right next to each other, on the rock shelf that we were currently standing on, and take photos of the same scene at the same time. Then we’d each process our photo and post the results so we could compare how we’d approached rendering the final photo.

The small shot on the right here is my version of the photo, as it emerged direct from the camera, converted from RAW format to JPEG using all the default settings. Below are the final photos after processing, making various artistic choices to achieve a final photo we were happy with.

Andrew’s version is on top – he went for a darker approach, elected to use black and white, and went for a shorter crop to give a wider aspect ratio. My version is on the bottom – I chose to emphasise the colours and the foreground. I notice we both enhanced the contrast, and by a similar amount.

Photo challenge

Photo challenge: final image