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Conceptual Versus Experimental Artists

Michael Stanier recently interviewed David Galenson on a theory from his book, anesthetist Old Masters and Young Geniuses. The gist is that there are two distinct types of artists: conceptual and experimental. He gives some interesting advice for those who are mastering a craft versus those who are developing a vision.


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Been playing with various techno toys. So far, asthma Twitter and Ekiga, so if you want to either hear my random thoughts or talk to me, you can.



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It’s Business Time

Jenni and I head to India in a week, and I’ve been getting the props ready for my new job as an evangelist for an economic change. I figure one cannot properly schmooze without business cards, and so I’m making some:

William Holcomb

I’m only expecting to give these to people I want to get ahold of me later, which won’t happen a whole lot, so I’m going to fill in my profession du jour on the dotted line. The whole point of this project is to make it so people don’t have to constantly do the same thing just to stave off poverty, so it seems appropriate.

For the back, I made a DoH logo parodying the DoD with the seven projects I’d currently like to do:

DoH Logo

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Hell Is Accidental

There’s only one simple answer: to be true. How to do that though? How can I be true when truth is something that has to be both given and received? It’s nice when the truth can be packaged up into something pretty and nice for everyone, but what about when the truth is simply that mistakes have been made and there are likely no easy solutions?

I want for the world to be a fair place, but it’s not and I don’t know what to do when the truth as I understand it is that chance has conspired to make someone’s life unpleasant. Is it right for me to point that out if I have no interest in doing anything about it?

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My University Education

I’ve been thinking about my job again. I try not to think about my job because I don’t particularly enjoy it, but I have to do it. Even if I was willing to just walk out the door without a diploma (having wasted a year and a half in a really irritating way), I’m not really morally ok with abandoning the obligation I took on by agreeing to do it.

Because I lied and pretended to be more interested than I actually was, Julie made commitments she can’t change. When I got here, I didn’t say, “God’s honest truth, I really want a Ph.D. so I can teach. I don’t love robots, but Vandy’s a good school and hopefully I can learn to love them.” After my first year, I didn’t say, “I just got through doing a shit-ton of work and the vast bulk of it was a waste of my time. I’m mostly convinced this is the wrong place for me.”

I have spent hours and hours of my time learning the intimate details of shit that I really really don’t need to know that well. (It took a week to learn how to derive the ANOVA. I managed to retain it subsequently for all of four days.)

Not that depth isn’t vital for being a scientist. I’m in the process of learning about peer-to-peer cryptographic down to the bare metal. I will have read and written hundreds of pages of detailed descriptions to understand this shit by the time I’m done.

There’s a limit to how much I can learn though, and how much time I have, so what I choose to learn in great detail is important to the quality of my work. My problem with this University is that by and large they told me what was important to learn, and only showed a passing interest in what I thought was important.

That sense of being a professional being able to make adult decisions about what is and isn’t important was rarely encouraged by the University.

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Today we (knowingly) inaugurated our first black President.

Knowing this leaves me feeling good about the world.

Not that I think Obama fixes racism.

He’s one more milestone along a long road toward healing the moral atrocity that was slavery.

Though, I’ll admit a quiet hope that we are approaching a tipping point.

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Running Ragged

Sometimes I just feel mildly irritated about something and I just ramble for a bit to try to figure out what’s going on. This is a ramble.

I’ve been doing a bad job at maintaining anything resembling balance in my life as of late.

I blame my job. Realistically, I suppose I should blame myself since I’m the one in charge of balancing my life.

It really doesn’t feel like my brain is backing me 100% though. I’ll have it all worked out in my head that I’m supposed to go do my job and it just makes me feel tired, irritable and distracted.

I don’t think my natural disposition is to work more than 30 hours a week or so. I like to read and exercise and eat and play on the internet and watch movies and lots of other stuff.

I think I’m still hitting up on that existential sort of question: “when have I done enough?”

I am constantly brimming with ideas on how to change the world, but I can’t seem to escape from it.

God’s honest truth, I developed a bit of a messianic complex during high school.

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Doing Whatever I Want

I’m still contemplating Saint Augustine’s, “Dilige et quod vis fac.” (“If you are loving and diligent, you may do whatever you want.“)

Right now, I want to get high and go for a run. I have a whole bunch of work to do though, specifically work for my adviser. Right before the break, I spent a couple weeks digging into the code I inherited from work over the summer. I probably spent sixty hours or so starting to clean it up and get it ready to support the KSU IED search interface.

That’s all fine and good since I’ve agreed to do this interface as my job. The thing is, once I got back from break my adviser decided that she wasn’t happy with the a decision made in the summer on how to separate the KSU project and another project we’re working on with MIT. So, all my work is thrown out and I am expected to start again.

I don’t like doing this work. The system my adviser is trying to use for a framework across all the projects is a QT-based C++ library designed by one of my labmates. The system isn’t bad by any means, but it’s no marvel of systems design either. The structure and relationships of the components are not well documented, nor is the build process at all straighforward. My job is the computer science equivalent of filing — something requiring time and attention, but without any real challenge or creativeness. Definitely not the sort of work that I enjoy.

So the question is, “when, if I am loving, diligent and doing what I want, will I ever work on this project?”

My answer right now is that being loving and diligent necessarily entails being honest. The traditional wisdom is that sometimes you lie to someone to be loving to them, but I don’t know that is true. I said to my adviser and myself that I would have a certain amount of progress done before our meeting on Tuesday. Keeping my word, I assume, is going to motivate me eventually. I guess I’ll find out after my run. ☺

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‘Puters Is Complimicated

Did you know that computers are actually very complex pieces of machinery? We have built remarkably complex systems for symbolic manipulation, and using these we create ever more interesting pieces of software.

Laypeople frequently assume that because coding is the manipulation of a mechanical process it must be itself a mechanical process. I suppose in some ways it is, much as the sentences you are reading now are governed by mechanical laws.

Matters, order does. Verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs are permitted orders with flexibility. Convoluted structures makes finding errors all the more difficult. Not all that is grammatical is pleasing to the eye.

So, sure, coding is mechanical just like any form of expression. The problem is at least half of programmers do not understand that they are doing something requiring nuance. They see programming as a way to get a computer to do what they want. If it works then that’s all that matters, right?

They don’t consider the time that they spend hunting for errors in the mess they’re created or how difficult it will be to fix what they’re created in the future. They don’t think about the people that have to come along after them and maintain their work.

Every programming class I have ever seen has only focused entirely on a program taking an input and generating an output. So long as it works, it passes. If I ever am in a position to teach a programming class, I’m going to do my best to train my students how to get the job done well.

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Awareness — Renunciation Isn’t The Solution

I’ve been off DeMello for a bit, so I thought I would continue:

Neither Is Renunciation The Solution

Anytime you’re practicing renunciation, you’re deluded. How about that! You’re deluded. What are you renouncing? Anytime you renounce something, you are tied forever to the thing you renounce. There’s a guru in India who says, “Every time a prostitute comes to me, she’s talking about nothing but God. She says I’m sick of this life that I’m living. I want God. But every time a priest comes to me he’s talking about nothing but sex.”

Very well, when you renounce something, you’re stuck to it forever. When you fight something, you’re tied to it forever. As long as you’re fighting it, you are giving it power. You give it as much power as you are using to fight it.

This includes communism and everything else. So you must “receive” your demons, because when you fight them, you empower them. Has nobody ever told you this? When you renounce something, you’re tied to it. The only way to get out of this is to see through it. Don’t renounce it, see through it. Understand its true value and you won’t need to renounce it; it will just drop from your hands.

But of course, if you don’t see that, if you’re hypnotized into thinking that you won’t be happy without this, that, or the other thing, you’re stuck. What we need to do for you is not what so-called spirituality attempts to do — namely, to get you to make sacrifices, to renounce things. That’s useless. You’re still asleep. What we need to do is to help you understand, understand, understand.

If you understood, you’d simply drop the desire for it. This is another way of saying: If you woke up, you’d simply drop the desire for it.

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