E-Scribe : a programmer’s blog

About Me

PBX I'm Paul Bissex. I build web applications using open source software, especially Django. Started my career doing graphic design for newspapers and magazines in the '90s. Then wrote tech commentary and reviews for Wired, Salon, Chicago Tribune, and others you never heard of. Then I built operations software at a photography school. Then I helped big media serve 40 million pages a day. Then I worked on a translation services API doing millions of dollars of business. Now I'm building the core platform of a global startup accelerator. Feel free to email me.


I co-wrote "Python Web Development with Django". It was the first book to cover the long-awaited Django 1.0. Published by Addison-Wesley and still in print!


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Aesthetics and computation

This evening, the Western Mass. Developers Group was treated to a talk by Ben Fry of Processing fame. It was excellent and inspiring. Having not much prior exposure to Processing or his work, I left hungry for more. (The title of this post is taken from the name of the group at the MIT Media Lab where Fry did his PhD work.)

I liked the graphical-REPL flavor of his live demos. Surprisingly, the feeling reminded me of being a kid flipping through Alan Kay's article about the Xerox Alto in Scientific American 30 years ago.

He gave a fun tour of creations by Processing users, with various highlights along the way including magazine cover art, a Superbowl ad, a scene from Minority Report, and the work by Robert Hodgin that was picked up by Apple for the iTunes 8 visualizer. Along the way he was concientious about giving his co-conspirator Casey Reas (not in attendance) his share of the credit.

Turnout was good, by our small-town standards: a full room, 25 people or so. Many had come out of the woodwork from local colleges (notably Smith and UMass). O'Reilly gave us a few copies of his book, which we had a drawing for at the end.

I found his work to be a heady mix of technical acuity, aesthetic commitment, and pragmatism. And I liked his dry sense of humor -- jokes that many non-technical audiences probably wouldn't have even known were jokes.

His work is especially interesting to me because I've straddled the design/enginering line most of my professional life.

At the end I asked him about this cross-disciplinary world of his, and whether he had observations about qualities that were good predictors of success. He thought for a moment. His answer, which included mention of a Harvard class he taught to a mix of art/literature/CS/etc. majors, began with one clear word: "Curiosity."

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009
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Comment from Alexander Kahn , later that day

He gave a talk at Smith College last year that was superb. Really impressive stuff. Have you seen John Resig's port of Processing to JavaScript, called Process.js? Here's the link: http://processingjs.org/

Comment from Paul , later that day

Yes -- in fact, it was first in a list of Processing ports-and-the-like that he showed during his talk! I understand better now what Resig left out of the port (3D, for example) but it's still a very impressive piece of work.

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