Welcome back to Vi Hart weekly, where I try to brain–dump my brain–thoughts for the week. This week we’ve got noticing patterns, soviet sci fi, beer, games, AR, haptics, and more?
1. New Brain Toy of the Week
Inspired by Sol LeWitt’s PhotoGrids, a book in which he takes pictures of grids all over the world (echoing his other art), I’ve started taking pictures of patterns and mathy things and grids and things, and also collecting other examples of people becoming close to a pattern and then collecting it as they notice it in the world (Pareidolia, The Witness, etc). I’m a meta-collector of pattern collections, because once I became sensitized to their existence, I’ve started seeing pattern collections everywhere.
2. The state of the Vi Hart
Things are coming together at my new job at HARC. It is awesome to be able to actually get up in the morning thinking about my actual work, and getting straight to that actual work, and having my actual work be the thing I think about when I’m trying to sleep at night, rather than a pile of other bullshit. I realized yesterday that for the first time in years, I don’t feel burnt out. It is a really good feeling.
I’ll post more about my new research group another time!
3. What’s up at eleVR
This week, Andrea posted about a project she did last year, laser cutting some parts to convert a Wearality headset setup into an AR device. I had some footage from October 2015 of when she first hacked it together, and edited that along with some new footage of the thing adding some AR sculptures to a physical exhibit (above).
I’ve also been working on our virtual Sol LeWitt forgery, and posted almost a week ago on techniques for collision in VR.
4. Sci Fi Book of the Week: Roadside Picnic
Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, is a 1971 Soviet “rediscovered classic”. As a big fan of scifi, classics, and Russian lit, this was an obvious “yes” for me, and I got pretty much what I expected: an enjoyable quick read with a couple compelling takeaways. It strikes me as a spiritual predecessor to one of my favourite recent scifi series, Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2014) and its sequels. If you’re into scifi about mysterious creepy Zones, with a little bit of social criticism and the occasional very unsympathetic main character, these books.
5. Paper of the Week: “What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory” by Philip Galanter
Suggested by Evelyn Eastmond, related to my work generating Sol LeWitt wall drawings in VR. A good overview of how complexity theory is applicable to generative art, and I have a feeling it’s going to come in handy as a reference in the future.
6. Beer of the Week: Groovalistic by Shady Oak
It’s got that fun funky flavor that would taste unwise in anything but a fermented beverage. It’s heavily hopped in a way that makes it taste more like beer rather than more like hops, rare in a West Coast beer these days. Brett and hops are combined perfectly to create something that tastes like one consistent funk, rather than a pile of hops and a pile of yeast thrown haphazardly together. Strong flavor but not a novelty.
7. Game of the Week: Kingdom: New Lands
I’ve been playing a little more of this than is probably wise. I just love this side-scrolling strategic tower defense, with its pixel arts, atmospheric music, and the sense of desperation and regret as simple mistakes cause slow inevitable permadeath. I love my terrible constantly-out-of-breath horse, and bear, and unicorn that shits gold. I love trying to optimize and correct for shortages, without over-correcting or causing oscillations in the system.
8. Thesis of the Week: Margaret Minsky’s Computational Haptics
A 1995 haptics classic, back when computers could do anything. A good read, with lots of still-relevant ideas, plus other interesting bits such as that Ping Pong balls are useful as an object with the most “haptic neutrality” (and that they are in fact made with cellulose, not plastic).
I was moved to read it after talking with Emily Eifler about the idea of imaginary materials, things that could be simulated once we have good haptics technology that use combinations of sensations that would not exist in real materials. I thought: “probably Margaret already wrote about this 20 years ago”. Indeed, she talks about simulating materials with negative friction/viscosity, which apparently got interpreted as being slippery, with more research needed (see section 1.6).
In the same section, she calls for a “World Haptics Library,” saying:
During the course of my thesis research I touched many materials with a heightened introspective stance. When I found the limitations of simulation confounding, I went to my own fabric closet to feel cloth, to my garage to feel sandpaper, outdoors to feel stones and shells. I was creating and returning to my own library of materials for inspiration, to re-familiarize myself with the wide range of sensation and the evocative associations available from simple classes of materials.
Another example for my collection of people collecting things they have become sensitized to noticing!