by software artist Scott Draves. You may also follow me on google+ or twitter, buy art, or join me on facebook.

January 31, 2006

Sheep available by manual BitTorrent

The sheep server is now generating and seeding torrents of sheep. Hopefully this will soon be integrated into the clients. In the meantime you can download them manually by installing BitTorrent and then picking a torrent from the list at the bottom of the server status page.

Update: RSS feed.

Note: after you've downloaded them you have to put the mpg files into your cache directory. The client does not search subdirectories of the cache directory, so just putting them under the cache doesn't work. Yes of course an updated client that does all this automatically is coming soon.

Posted by spot at 10:44 AM | Comments (33)

January 29, 2006

Impeach Bush

I grew up in a fairly unpolitical family. We followed current events, but we weren't partisan and I couldn't tell you who my parents voted for, though in retrospect I would guess Democratic. After I left home I was attracted to Libertarianism because of its rational basis, but it was the very theoretical politcs of a student. My attention was on the distant future and both parties seemed equally clueless about the singularity and how to structure society for our entrance.

I never liked Reagan. I liked Clinton because he embodied the socially liberal and fiscally conservative hybrid. But I never gave any money to a presidential race until the last election. Bush appeared threatening and I got pulled in. No longer was it a show race between Republicrats and Demoblicans. This really matters.

Our responsibility as always is to repair our errors. The best way to do that is to impeach Bush now.

The Sunday NYTimes editorial:

Spies, Lies and Wiretaps

A bit over a week ago, President Bush and his men promised to provide the legal, constitutional and moral justifications for the sort of warrantless spying on Americans that has been illegal for nearly 30 years. Instead, we got the familiar mix of political spin, clumsy historical misinformation, contemptuous dismissals of civil liberties concerns, cynical attempts to paint dissents as anti-American and pro-terrorist, and a couple of big, dangerous lies.

The first was that the domestic spying program is carefully aimed only at people who are actively working with Al Qaeda, when actually it has violated the rights of countless innocent Americans. And the second was that the Bush team could have prevented the 9/11 attacks if only they had thought of eavesdropping without a warrant.

Sept. 11 could have been prevented. This is breathtakingly cynical. The nation's guardians did not miss the 9/11 plot because it takes a few hours to get a warrant to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mail messages. They missed the plot because they were not looking. The same officials who now say 9/11 could have been prevented said at the time that no one could possibly have foreseen the attacks. We keep hoping that Mr. Bush will finally lay down the bloody banner of 9/11, but Karl Rove, who emerged from hiding recently to talk about domestic spying, made it clear that will not happen — because the White House thinks it can make Democrats look as though they do not want to defend America. "President Bush believes if Al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why," he told Republican officials. "Some important Democrats clearly disagree."

Mr. Rove knows perfectly well that no Democrat has ever said any such thing — and that nothing prevented American intelligence from listening to a call from Al Qaeda to the United States, or a call from the United States to Al Qaeda, before Sept. 11, 2001, or since. The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act simply required the government to obey the Constitution in doing so. And FISA was amended after 9/11 to make the job much easier.

Only bad guys are spied on. Bush officials have said the surveillance is tightly focused only on contacts between people in this country and Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Vice President Dick Cheney claimed it saved thousands of lives by preventing attacks. But reporting in this paper has shown that the National Security Agency swept up vast quantities of e-mail messages and telephone calls and used computer searches to generate thousands of leads. F.B.I. officials said virtually all of these led to dead ends or to innocent Americans. The biggest fish the administration has claimed so far has been a crackpot who wanted to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch — a case that F.B.I. officials said was not connected to the spying operation anyway.

The spying is legal. The secret program violates the law as currently written. It's that simple. In fact, FISA was enacted in 1978 to avoid just this sort of abuse. It said that the government could not spy on Americans by reading their mail (or now their e-mail) or listening to their telephone conversations without obtaining a warrant from a special court created for this purpose. The court has approved tens of thousands of warrants over the years and rejected a handful.

As amended after 9/11, the law says the government needs probable cause, the constitutional gold standard, to believe the subject of the surveillance works for a foreign power or a terrorist group, or is a lone-wolf terrorist. The attorney general can authorize electronic snooping on his own for 72 hours and seek a warrant later. But that was not good enough for Mr. Bush, who lowered the standard for spying on Americans from "probable cause" to "reasonable belief" and then cast aside the bedrock democratic principle of judicial review.

Just trust us. Mr. Bush made himself the judge of the proper balance between national security and Americans' rights, between the law and presidential power. He wants Americans to accept, on faith, that he is doing it right. But even if the United States had a government based on the good character of elected officials rather than law, Mr. Bush would not have earned that kind of trust. The domestic spying program is part of a well-established pattern: when Mr. Bush doesn't like the rules, he just changes them, as he has done for the detention and treatment of prisoners and has threatened to do in other areas, like the confirmation of his judicial nominees. He has consistently shown a lack of regard for privacy, civil liberties and judicial due process in claiming his sweeping powers. The founders of our country created the system of checks and balances to avert just this sort of imperial arrogance.

The rules needed to be changed. In 2002, a Republican senator — Mike DeWine of Ohio — introduced a bill that would have done just that, by lowering the standard for issuing a warrant from probable cause to "reasonable suspicion" for a "non-United States person." But the Justice Department opposed it, saying the change raised "both significant legal and practical issues" and may have been unconstitutional. Now, the president and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales are telling Americans that reasonable suspicion is a perfectly fine standard for spying on Americans as well as non-Americans — and they are the sole judges of what is reasonable.

So why oppose the DeWine bill? Perhaps because Mr. Bush had already secretly lowered the standard of proof — and dispensed with judges and warrants — for Americans and non-Americans alike, and did not want anyone to know.

War changes everything. Mr. Bush says Congress gave him the authority to do anything he wanted when it authorized the invasion of Afghanistan. There is simply nothing in the record to support this ridiculous argument.

The administration also says that the vote was the start of a war against terrorism and that the spying operation is what Mr. Cheney calls a "wartime measure." That just doesn't hold up. The Constitution does suggest expanded presidential powers in a time of war. But the men who wrote it had in mind wars with a beginning and an end. The war Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney keep trying to sell to Americans goes on forever and excuses everything.

Other presidents did it. Mr. Gonzales, who had the incredible bad taste to begin his defense of the spying operation by talking of those who plunged to their deaths from the flaming twin towers, claimed historic precedent for a president to authorize warrantless surveillance. He mentioned George Washington, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. These precedents have no bearing on the current situation, and Mr. Gonzales's timeline conveniently ended with F.D.R., rather than including Richard Nixon, whose surveillance of antiwar groups and other political opponents inspired FISA in the first place. Like Mr. Nixon, Mr. Bush is waging an unpopular war, and his administration has abused its powers against antiwar groups and even those that are just anti-Republican.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is about to start hearings on the domestic spying. Congress has failed, tragically, on several occasions in the last five years to rein in Mr. Bush and restore the checks and balances that are the genius of American constitutional democracy. It is critical that it not betray the public once again on this score.
Posted by spot at 08:34 PM | Comments (1)

January 27, 2006

Pix from Metamedia

Pix from last friday, taken by metamedia staff. I had a great time, thanks Jair for the invitation and for making it happen.
Posted by spot at 06:11 PM | Comments (0)

Phylogeny of my artwork and my first VJ gig

Almost two years ago this book came out with a section on me and my work (Bomb and Electric Sheep). When it came out I was just happy to be in there. Now rereading this after so long I feel like it really needs clarification. Please excuse that this devolves into reminiscence...
Developed between 1995 and 1997, ... /Bomb /can be aligned with the growing genre of software systems for generating real-time graphics, or just visuals, in conjunction with music; this software has risen out of the cultures of electronic dance music, where visuals are a staple sensory ingredient. Draves uses /Bomb/ and his other graphics software in live performance and cites the rave scene as a contextual influence...
that's mostly true but it seems to make an implication which is really wrong. to clarify: i wrote bomb before i went to anything like a rave or got into electronic music. in my case causation ran the other way: i was invited to my first parties because of my art.

the origin of bomb was personal pleasure. since childhood when i first encountered computers, i have written a series of similar programs (abstract generative animation) using various techniques. this was something i did at home alone in the dark and nobody knew about it. but yes later half-way through "bomb" which i started back in 93 or 94, not 95, i discovered that there is a context where people like to watch this: projected at parties. and bomb was further developed in this context. i didn't go to what i would call a rave until 98.

to put this in context of my development as an artist, i got into the Prix Ars in 1993 when i was a grad student at CMU. i had never heard of it, but i showed an early sheep image to my advisor (andy witkin) and he suggested i send it to them, and handed me the brochure. i think he had been in it the year before. i didn't even attend the exhibition, it didn't seem important to me. but it did attract the attention of a professor in the art department, who invited me to present my work in her class. it was the art students who invited me to project at one of their parties. that was my first time as a VJ and it wasn't even really electronic dance music, more like noise, very industrial (see below for more on this).

so "this software has risen out of the culture of electronic dance music" does not apply to my work. my work was adopted by this culture after the fact. neither does my work rise from complex systems theory, or alife theory. i learned of these things in school and quickly learned their techniques to pursue my existing agenda.

my work rises from asking the question "can i wrote a program that entertains or surprises myself"? and yes, since its humble and egocentric beginnings i have found larger purpose for my work and my life.

Here is something i wrote years ago about this.

Technically, the a-life in /Bomb/ resides at the level of graphics algorithms, most of which are cellular automata. Draves uses a handful of preexisting rule sets, including "brain," a more active variant on Conwayùs Game of Life, and "rug," a rule based on averaging of cell neighborhoods. (Incidentally, "brain" and "rug" were invented by CA explorer, sci-fi author, and noted cyberpunk Rudy Rucker.) Dravesùs important innovation here is in how these rule sets interact with each other in time and space.
this isn't right, Whitelaw jumped to a conclusion because i used the same names for my rules as some classic rules. yes my "brain" and "rug" were inspired by the namesakes, but over time they had become quite generalized, to the point of unrecognizability in the "brain".

but yes, the more important innovation was having multiple CA rules interacting with each other. still unique as far as i know.

As in /Bomb, /the most interesting engagement with a-life here is not the technical details of the system. In fact, /Electric Sheep/ currently makes the barest use of artificial life techniques, by labeling the parameter set a genotype and the graphic output a phenotype. While Draves plans to introduce artificial evolution, the system currently generates new sheep at random; users can, however, vote for favorite sheep, thus increasing their longevity in the flock.
this was written a long time ago -- the sheep have done full evolution since 2003.

continuing the story about my first VJ gig:

i remember a few bits clearly: ed um-bucholtz invited me to project bomb in a room at this party. we had heard that the beaux arts ball, the art students party, was pretty wild. i showed up with my friend nick. on the walk over we had an idea, and during setup i coded it up and compiled it in. i'm not sure if i met ed through the lecture or through a mutual reclusive friend (and in my case, artistic mentor), todd kaufman, aka toad.

i'm also not sure exactly when bomb started. i got the vga interface and CA loop from vga_eyecandy by, and performed with it by early 94 (the beaux arts ball is derived from mardi gras). i am pretty sure bomb was in progress when i visited NYC the preceding fall 93. The first entry in the README is version 0.6 in Jan 1995, so maybe that year the Ball was in the fall and it was really 94 not 93.

Posted by spot at 02:19 PM | Comments (0)

Full Text from Whitelaw's Metacreation

from Whitelaw, Mitchell Metacreation Art and Artificial Life (Boston: MIT, 2004) 152-157, full text of the section on me below:

Scott Draves

Brown’s practice is very much concerned with art making and with the Modernist project of investigating the limits and boundaries of that practice, testing and questioning its definition. The drive for a generativity that transcends and supersedes the individual artist is clearly situates this work in the same lineage as Malevich and the Russian avant-garde and of Jack Burnham’s notion of an ultimately autonomous cyborg art. The agenda here is focused on Western visual art and the larger question of art itself.

By contrast, Scott Draves, who like Brown works with Cellular automata and other abstract generative machines, writes, “I’ve never taken a course in art and only recently, in the face of overwhelming evidence, have dared to call myself an artist. So ‘art’ is not my context. I am an outsider in the art world.” 4 The overwhelming evidence here is the recognition that Draves’s work has received within new media art in general and a-life art in particular. His Electric Sheep (2001) shared first prize in the 2001 Life 4.0 competition; Bomb (1995-1997) won third prize at the Prix du Public in Life 2.0 (1999). Yet Draves still describes his primary role as that of a computer programmer and, “metaprogrammer.” The dichotomy here is striking, partly because it indicates two characteristic approaches to a-life art –we could loosely call them modern and postmodern – but also because, despite their radically different contexts, artists such as Brown and Draves share techniques and some fundamental aims.

Developed between 1995 and 1997, Bomb is a generator of animated graphics, or “visual music.” It uses a combination of complex or chaotic algorithms and an open library of preexisting graphics to turn out a dense digital-psychedelic stream of visual stimulus. Bomb can be aligned with the growing genre of software systems for generating real-time graphics, or just visuals, in conjunction with music; this software has risen out of the cultures of electronic dance music, where visuals are a staple sensory ingredient. Draves uses Bomb and his other graphics software in live performance and cites the rave scene as a contextual influence, along with hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs. Like much of Draves’s other work, Bomb is “eyecandy,” though in a serious sense: it is a magnet for visual attention, something that in Draves’s words “ make you stare.” It succeeds in that: boiling, flickering forms, spreading waves of color and texture, streams and sprays of pixels; the visual surface is fundamentally unstable. Iconic images appear and are dissolved or submerged; colors, speeds, and patterns shift abruptly. There is nothing biomorphic here, nothing that resembles life; rather the overall impression is of complex dynamics and patterns, flows, accretions, and erosions. Not life as we imagine it, but perhaps something more protean.

Technically, the a-life in Bomb resides at the level of graphics algorithms, most of which are cellular automata. Draves uses a handful of preexisting rule sets, including “brain,” a more active variant on Conway’s Game of Life, and “rug,” a rule based on averaging of cell neighborhoods. (Incidentally, “brain” and “rug” were invented by CA explorer, sci-fi author, and noted cyberpunk Rudy Rucker.) Draves’s important innovation here is in how these rule sets interact with each other in time and space. Rather than as an isolated world, Draves treats the CA as a real-time dynamic filter, feeding image information into it from a background layer. That information might be static, such as a still image; or dynamic, driven by the computer’s audio input; or complex and chaotic, generated by a second cellular automation or another iterated system. In one of Bomb’s modes the background automation is the Game of Life, although it is rarely recognizable; its characteristic patterns are smeared and elaborated by a dynamic foreground layer running the “rug” rule. As well as this spatial coupling, CAs in Bomb are linked through time. Whether under user control or on autopilot, the system constantly shifts through rule sets and parameters. There is no playing out any single CA world; instead each new algorithm begins with the remains of the last, and each passes on a visual residue to the next. In both spatial and temporal axes, Draves works against the determinism of the CA or any idea of the CA as a formal world; instead they are contingent elements in an unstable visual soup.

Conceptually, for Draves at least, Bomb manifests artificial life in a broader and more expansive sense. He describes Bomb as a whole system, as a “form of artificial life,” and as “living software.” 5 Most tellingly, it is a “visual parasite”: it modifies itself and propagates by engaging the attention and energy of human users and programmers. It is open source (and has been since before the concept was popularized by Linux); anyone can copy and modify its source code, compile the program for different platforms, and build interfaces with other systems. Thus while, like any other formal generative system, any single instance of Bomb may fall short of what Draves recognizes as the ongoing novelty and “creative expansion” of living things, Bomb as an ongoing process is more difficult to delimit.

This expanded composite notion of creative artificial life is taken much further in Draves’s latest project, Electric Sheep. 6 Electric Sheep is a distributed screen-saver that “realizes the collective dream of sleeping computers from all over the Internet.” The architecture of the system was inspired by SETI@home, a popular experiment in distributed computing that uses the spare processor power of thousands of Internet-connected computers to scour radio telescope data for messages extraterrestrial life. In Electric Sheep, client machines compute frames in abstract, algorithmically generated animations, the sheep of the title. When a client computer goes to sleep, it begins displaying (“dreaming”) sheep already downloaded and stored locally; at the same time it contacts the server and joins in the computation of new sheep, rendering frames and uploading them back to the central server. Periodically, a new sheep is completed and distributed to the clients. Hundreds of clients might participate in this shared “dream” at any one time.

All of which would be for nothing, of course, except for the beauty of the sheep themselves, which are what Draves calls “fractal flames,” forms generated by the nonlinear mathematics of iterated function systems. On the screen they are luminous, twisting, elastic shapes, abstract tangles and loops of glowing filaments. Their motion is generated through smooth changes in the parameters of the flame algorithms; each individual sheep is a seamless loop, generated by plotting a circular path through that parameter space. The system also generates transitions between sheep in the same way, so that in the screen-saver the individuals merge into a continuous graphic flow, a path through a network of linked collective dreams.

As in Bomb, the most interesting engagement with a-life here is not the technical details of the system. In fact, Electric Sheep currently makes the barest use of artificial life techniques, by labeling the parameter set a genotype and the graphic output a phenotype. While Draves plans to introduce artificial evolution, the system currently generates new sheep at random; users can, however, vote for favorite sheep, thus increasing their longevity in the flock. Once again, the striking feature here is Draves’s creation of an open system on human participation and energy; he calls it an “attention vortex.”7 The contributions of individual clients are identified on a central server, developing a sense of personal stake in the system. A bulletin board system fosters communication among communities of users and developers; the project is open source, so clients appear on new platforms, increasing the user base and the life of the system. Draves imagines the totality as “ an evolving ecology of agents, codes and protocols.”

Posted by spot at 01:15 PM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2006

Word for the Day: Anamnesis

Anamnesis /an·am·nee'·sis/ (Greek:αναμνησις; literally "loss of forgetfullness") 1. a patient's medical history. 2. remembrance, recollection. 2. Plato's theory that the eternal soul is the source of all knowledge, and that learning is really "unforgetting" what was lost by the shock of incarnation. 4. in church, the part of the Eucharist where the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus are remembered.

from wikipedia and R Crumb on PK Dick. And yes, it started with boing boing.

Posted by spot at 04:13 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2006

FLAM3 2.7b4 released

FLAM3 2.7b4 released, again mostly erik's work. Download here. the changelog:
unlimited number of xforms per flame. new variations cylinder and perspective. rename rename de_max_filter to estimator, de_min_filter to estimator_minimum, de_alpha to estimator_curve, and jitters to temporal_samples.
Posted by spot at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2006

Metamedia Cooperation II

On Friday January 20th I will present my latest work at MetaMedia Cooperation II at the University of Oregon. Expect to see a nearly-final version of Dreams in High Definition projected on the big screen...
Posted by spot at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2006

The Electric Sheep Company

The Electric Sheep Company just came on my radar. According to their web page:
Three-dimensional online worlds are moving away from entertainment-only content and towards something much bigger - a powerful platform for interactive content akin to a 3-dimensional version of the World Wide Web. The Electric Sheep Company seeks innovative solutions that combine technology and community to help continue this trend.
They are workng in Second Life initially.
Posted by spot at 02:28 AM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2006

Khronos Projector

The Khronos Projector allows one to alter the playback time of video on a per-pixel basis by physically warping the screen.
The Khronos projector unties time and space in a pre-recorded movie sequence, opening the door for an infinite number of interactive visualizations. Using the Khronos projector, event's causality become relative to the spatial path we decide to walk on the image, allowing for a multiple interpretation of the recorded facts. In this sense, the Khronos projector can be seen as an exploratory interface that transforms a movie sequence into a spatio-temporal sculpture for people to explore at their own pace and will.
Many more similar projects are cataloged by Golan Levin.
Posted by spot at 01:57 PM | Comments (0)