Archive for March, 2008

A Future of Architecture

March 28, 2008

Tonight I attended a lecture on “Algorithmic Architecture” by Kostas Terzidis at Taliesin West. Terzidis, a Harvard professor and former software engineer, is interested in the intersection of architecture and technology—mainly the role that computers play in automating much of the design aspects of architecture.

He spent much of his lecture philosophizing about this crossroads we find ourselves approaching. In contradictory fashion, he opined that there is nothing new, only recycled ideas and forgotten truths, while arguing that computers have enabled us to realize designs that were impossible just decades ago. That increase reliance on computer power has divorced us from the practice of architecture while bubbling over the inevitable supplanting of the creative process. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly different from some of the incoherent rhapsodies of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The idea of automating the creative process intrigued me greatly though. At first, I was troubled by the mechanization of design. On the surface, it seems to obviate the individualistic architect, the creator of greatness. But upon pondering it more, I think that there’s no reason why the stamp of the architect has to go away.

The future of architecture as programming is one where a program is written that takes all the variables and constraints of the architectural problem and devises thousands of buildings that solve it. Site topography, materials, budget, number of rooms, central plant, and so on are just inputs to be considered. While this seemingly diminishes the role of the architect, I think it could easily maintain his part.

Perhaps each programmer qua architect would codify his aesthetic sense in different ways or assign different weights to the various considerations. In so doing, the designs his program generates might look all of a same piece and his particular theme shines through. His job, then, becomes one of practiced selection of the best design combination.

It’s going to be awhile before such a transformation of the trade takes place due to the massive increase in computing power necessary to effect it. But it seems inevitable and inexorable.


Bill Goes Capsule

March 27, 2008

With credit to Diana Hsieh for the inspiration, here’s some quick reviews of movies I’ve recently watched:

  • Bee Movie (Netflix): dreadful. We didn’t watch the whole thing, which is exactly what we set out to do in order to make sure it was appropriate for our daughters. It’s not, but only because it is so mind-numbing that we wouldn’t inflict it upon them.
  • The Browning Version (Netflix): excellent! Michael Redgrave gives an exemplary performance. I’m a fan of Rattigan’s work, so I must locate the play version of this.
  • Real Women Have Curves (Netflix): passable fare about the struggle between what you want and what others want for you.
  • Persuasion (Netflix): I’m a sucker for Jane Austen and this was a great production. I like the plot and theme immensely.
  • Enchanted (Netflix): Amy Adams is wonderful in this clever film. The songs, though improbable, are catchy. My girls loved it from the get-go and I can’t say that I blame them. Not at all schmaltzy, it offers a more sane version of the princess mania that’s raging right now.
  • The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (Netflix): 70s camp and utterly ludicrous. I honestly can’t remember why I added this to my queue.
  • Premonition (Netflix): a little confusing and I’m pretty sure that it’s internally inconsistent as well. I fell asleep a couple times during it but woke up enough to catch the deeply unsatisfying ending. Sorry, but I’m not a big fan of fatalism.
  • Eight Below (Netflix): I’ll admit it—I added this to my queue because it was a drama with Jason Biggs. I wanted to see whether he could pull it off. Not particularly, but he’s supporting cast. Eight sled dogs are left to fend for themselves in Antarctica when a huge storm hits. Their sled guy feels really bad about it. Several months later, they are rescued. This one rates an “enh.”
  • Control Room (Netflix): documentary about Al-Jazeera and the second Iraq war. I thought it let the network off too easily; they are clearly fomenting anti-American sentiment.
  • Scotland, PA (Netflix): Christopher Walken is great, but I’m a little tired of Shakespearean adaptations set in modern times. This time, it’s Hamlet set in a 70s burger joint. Uh yeah. Maura Tierney is lovely, but a little hard to bear in this one.
  • In the Heat of the Night (Netflix): good look at Southern racism. Poitier seems a little wooden in this role as a northern homicide detective drafted into the investigation of a murder in Mississippi. I’m happy to have finally seen “They call me Mr. Tibbs!” in context.
  • One, Two, Three (Netflix): a real groaner. They pulled out all the stereotypes for this one. Cagney plays a fast-talking Coca-Cola executive in Berlin. Horst Buchholz, magnificent in a later movie, is horrible as a card-carrying East German Communist.
  • The Name of the Rose (Netflix): exciting enough medieval thriller set in a monastery. Monks are dying and only Sean Connery has the guts to claim that it might not be demonic possession to blame. Great if you’re into asceticism, which I am not.
  • Payback (Netflix): I avoided this Mel Gibson flick when it came out, but I was surprisingly captivated by its twists and turns. Nothing here but dark fun.
  • District B13 (Netflix): notable only because a) it stars David Belle, creator of parkour and b) it’s a French action film. If you like Jackie Chan movies for the action, you stand a good chance of being able to sit through this.
  • GoodFellas (Netflix): gritty, hard-to-watch mob movie. There’s really no point to the film other than maybe anti-recruitment for the mafia. Good if you like mob movies, which I sometimes do.
  • Fido (Netflix): I absolutely adore the alternate universe posited by this movie—nuclear war has created millions of zombies and an inventor has developed a collar that renders them obedient (as in not out to eat your gray matter). These newly-useful zombies become free labor for those who survived. Fido, in this case, is the companion to a lonely boy. It’s thinly-veiled social commentary but the premise is novel.
  • The Ref (Netflix): I can’t stand Denis Leary. I decided to give him one last chance on this one, but he blew it. Leary stars as a burglar who holds a dysfunctional family hostage and becomes their mediator and therapist. Oh, and he makes snide, facile comments non-stop.
  • Saving Private Ryan (Netflix): I avoided this movie in reaction to the hype and fawning. I deeply regret it. It suffers the same fate as nearly every Spielberg movie, but damn if this isn’t the best-looking war movie I’ve ever seen. Glory runs a close second.
  • The Prince and Me (Netflix): prosaic comedy about a girl who falls in love with a guy who turns out to be royalty. It follows all the standard sequences and revelations, but it’s cute and worth it if you want something light and fluffy.
  • After Innocence (Netflix): documentary about people serving life sentences exonerated by DNA evidence. It changed my mind about capital punishment. No, really. Like I was on the fence about the matter before watching it and wholeheartedly against it afterwards. The problem with capital punishment is that there’s no restitution if you’re wrong. And the death penalty then becomes murder.

I’ll try to make the next installment considerably shorter. If you’re a Netflix customer and want to be my friend, I’m game.

The Shotgun Approach to Recommendations

March 27, 2008

Netflix recommendation

I went to Netflix just now to rate a movie I watched. On the front page, the image at right greeted me.

You may or may not know, but Netflix is offering a $1 million prize for a 10% improvement in its recommendation algorithm. I honestly don’t know if the recommendation at right is what they’re trying to improve but if it is then 10% better shouldn’t be too difficult.

I mean, because I liked a documentary about capital punishment, a 80s puppet children’s show, and my children liked an insipid phonics teaching program they think that I’d really dig a pseudo-martial arts exercise video. Sorry, but WTF?!

They just completed a big ol’ upgrade but I think they missed a spot. Yeah, over there. See that recommendation engine-sized dark spot over there. There you go, you’ve found it.

My Contribution

March 4, 2008

I’ve finally contributed something original to the Internet. I’ve chronicled many interesting things over at Found on the Web and I always felt like I needed to make something that others would use, get a kick out of, and then blog themselves. At last I’ve done it!

I call it the Meme Obfuscation Machine, which I just now noticed can be shortened to MOM—which I will not do. I had a spare domain that I’ve been paying for since 2003 ( so I decided to donate it to the cause.

I created it Friday, February 29th. I’ve been intrigued by the phenomenon known as the Rick Roll for a couple of weeks now but on Friday it struck me that at some point it’s just too obvious that you’re being Rick Rolled. I remembered the serpentine redirects they used to use in the Slashdot community to land people at Goatse and suddenly it all just clicked.

It took me an hour to get all the necessary mod_rewrite rules down pat and then another hour to write up the Web site and hand-rolled feeds. The basic idea is that you craft a URL to suit your mark. For example, if your friend is a woodworking enthusiast (and who isn’t), send him a link to He’ll gleefully click it and find himself on the business end of a Rick Astley.

I decided to make Rick Roll the default behavior for now so that any extension not already mapped (.aspx for Goatse, .jsp for Just Google It) would go to the campy video. But if you want the link to work forever, use “.php” or leave off the extension since those will be future proofed. Future meme additions will take up undefined extensions.

I hope this serves you well. Either way, I had a blast making it.