Technology

The Singularity is near… ?

J├╝rgen Schmidhuber at Singularity Summit 2009 – Compression Progress: The Algorithmic Principle Behind Curiosity and Creativity from Singularity Institute on Vimeo.

Also check out: Formal Theory of Creativity & Fun & Intrinsic Motivation

“Someday computers will be artists. They’ll be able to write amusing and original stories, invent and play games of unsurpassed complexity and inventiveness, tell jokes, and suffer writer’s block.” ~Scott R. Turner

P.S. Notice this is exactly the same kinda thing Feynman was saying in that video I posted last week.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music composition

Describe my unwritten symphony, please?

I haven’t composed in months, and the composing part of my brain is getting really itchy and will need to be scratched soon. Animation Mentor and work are keeping me too busy for such self-indulgence, so before I just jump right into composing a new piece, I’d like to try something new. I’ve been thinking about trying to do this for while, but I guess I was afraid I wouldn’t have the skill. I still probably don’t have the skill, but I’m not afraid anymore!

So… I’ve never written a fully-fledged multi-movement symphony before, and I hope to tackle that. But before I do, I thought it would be tremendous fun to have you, yes you, dear reader, whoever you are, write a brief description of the first movement of the symphony as if it already existed and you were writing a Wikipedia entry on it.

For example, you might say:

Hannifin’s Symphony No 1 begins with a cheery tune on the oboe, reminiscent of a Sherman brothers song. But then thunderous brass enters, the tempo quickens, cymbals clash on every measure, and the orchestra descends into a dark waltz in C minor. The snare drum emerges with strange rhythms, and a dark melody, introduced on the violins, quickly spreads through the orchestra like a dark disease. After 10 minutes of dizzying arpeggios, the movement ends quietly, with the oboe playing its opening theme, but shifted into a minor key, as if whatever joy it had at the beginning has been driven out by darkness.

Or something more or less descriptive. Whatever your imagination can conjure.

The description can be as traditional or as outlandish as you want; anything goes. That’s part of the fun of the challenge! However, I won’t be able to use every piece of every description (if I get more than one). I will create a final description by randomly choosing pieces from each description I can obtain, so the final description is sure to be wild fun. Then I will take on the description as a serious composition assignment, and try to compose to it as strictly as I can. I’m sure I’ll fail some parts (like if you write “the orchestra then descends into an 8-part fugue”), but it will be fun (and perhaps educational) to try!

So, if you have a few moments of spare time, please comment on this post with a description of the first movement of Hannifin’s Symphony No 1 as if it’s already been written. Thank you!

(I’ll end my search for descriptions on March 25, 2011, in about two weeks. I’ll try to do the same thing for a second movement with new descriptions, after uploading the first movement to YouTube.)

By S P Hannifin, ago
My life

Stuff I’m doing

You might be wondering: “gee whiz, I wonder what exactly Sean is up to these days?” If so, I will tell you in this post that I am writing right now.

I’m in week 10 of class 3 of Animation Mentor. It continues to go very well; I’ve learned a ton of stuff this semester. I’ve gotten better at managing my time, but I still find myself pulling very late-nighters or all-nighters the night before assignments are due. But at least I’m not feeling the pressure like I was during the previous classes. I still wish my (almost full-time) part-time job didn’t take up so much time, but I need the $$$ for Animation Mentor tuition (and paying off college loans).

I requested a Leave of Absence for the Animation Mentor Spring 2011 term because I want to watch the trees blossom. But mostly because I want to dedicate as much time as I can to researching and developing my melody generator. My main goal would be to be create and sell an Android app; that has the potential to make some $$$, and Android is Java-based and I’m developing my algorithms in Java anyway, so it would be mostly a matter of getting an Android GUI to work, and figuring out how Android can handle MIDI files (I know it can play them, but can it create them?). I’m not sure if this is something I could accomplish in just 12 weeks, but it’s worth a shot.

Other than that, I’m reading The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card (the first non-Ender novel from him I’ve read), which is quite fun, along with a number of non-fiction books (I tend to just read whatever chapters interest me, because of my limited time).

I’m also continuing to plan out my fantasy novel and working on a couple of new short stories, one likely to be titled The Boy in the Sword (which I’m almost done writing) and the other currently untitled.

Oh, and I rarely preorder stuff on Amazon, but I had to preorder this: The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended Edition) [Blu-ray]. Really looking forward to it.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Philosophy

Does “Race to Nowhere” go anywhere?

I just saw a little news segment for a new documentary on education problems called Race to Nowhere. So I checked out its website.

I can’t comment on the film itself, because I haven’t seen it. And, to be totally honest, it doesn’t look entirely worth seeing; I’m not sure I’d learn much from it. From the promotional videos on the website, and what I just saw about it on the news, its main message seems to be: “Look, we’ve got a pretty serious and undeniable problem here. Students are suffering needlessly.”

Um, yeah. Great observation. Is this really surprising news?

Well, it’s a step, at least. You can’t address the problem if you don’t see the problem, and apparently a lot of people don’t. And the problem isn’t that students aren’t achieving enough, aren’t doing well enough on their tests, aren’t doing better at math than the Asians. The problem is that they’re suffering needlessly. Right?

It’s a step, but it’s still not the holy grail of the problem with schools. The main problem is, as I’ve stated before, the memorization of the material itself is useless. Until parents, educators, and students realize this, the problem will remain. You can put a band-aid on the wound by collectively lowering academic standards to create less stress, but the wound’s not going to heal until you have concrete answers for what your goals are with education (and not just the vague “I want to get into a good college so I can get a good job so I can be happy”). That is, you have to know why you are learning specific material. You can’t be taking a course simply for the credit. If you do that, the actual content is meaningless. That it can be horribly stressful is just a side effect. It’s like doing a documentary on how uncomfortable hospital outfits are instead of looking at the disease.

So… yes, school causes lots of stress, boo-hoo, it’s so hard. Get to the point. Take that final step of logic.

From what I can see from Race to Nowhere, it doesn’t get to the point. It might not necessarily be wrong or bad, but it looks incomplete.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Writing

Don’t start stories with memories

(Disclaimer: The following statements are just my own personal opinions.)

One of my fiction writing pet peeves, which I see mostly in works from novice authors (that is, I can’t remember seeing it in something actually published), is starting a story with a character doing something boring and remembering the necessary backstory for the sake of exposition. I can understand why writers might be naturally inclined to do it: it introduces the main character, exposes the necessary backstory, and shows how the character feels about or has reacted to the backstory, all in one fell swoop. (That said, I’ve never done this myself; I’ve always been weary of this sort of opening. Even with my childhood stories.)

The reason this annoys me: it’s boring and unrealistic.

Why is it boring? Remembering something is just such a non-action. It’s all internal, so when I’m reading the start of such a scene, I have to imagine something really boring before getting to the interesting part. Even if it’s just a few sentences, it’s boring and unneeded. Why not just cut to the chase?

Why is it unrealistic? Because real people very rarely just sit there and go through entire backstories in their heads. At least I don’t.

I wonder if some writers believe they can easily develop a character in this way. I’d argue: no, you can’t. One essential ingredient in getting to know a character is time. Obviously the character still has to make interesting and believable decisions, but I’m not going to care about a new character’s decisions or emotions on the first page. If you want me to feel something for the character as a reader, save it for later in the story, after I’ve gotten to know the character. Making something really dramatic happen to the character on the first page might still be interesting and might encourage me to keep reading, but it’s unlikely to make me actually care. So if you want me to care, save it.

The solution is simple: start the story with the backstory. Don’t make it a memory. Just start the story with the important events that happened first. Don’t be afraid to make big time jumps during the backstory or afterwards. It’s better to skip boring parts than to keep them just for the sake of time unity. In fact, if it’s a bit long and complicated, you can make the opening backstory very fairy-tale like, with much direct telling instead of elaborate dramatization. That can work nicely. Although the way Tolkein did it in The Lord of the Rings was a bit too informative for me; the shortened backstory they gave in the film was better.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Philosophy

Meaningless dream

I had a weird moment in a strange dream last night. It was a half-lucid dream. I knew I was dreaming, but I didn’t have any conscious control over the world.

There was an old woman in the dream, and I asked her: “If you’re dreaming, and you know it’s a dream, what does it mean?” And she thought for a moment, then said: “Nothing.”

Then I asked: “What about if you don’t know it’s a dream? Then what does it mean?” And she responded: “Everything.”

It’s kind of a paradox, isn’t it? If her words are true, then they shouldn’t mean anything, because I knew I was dreaming. But if they’re meaningless, then she was telling the truth, which means it wasn’t meaningless.

Earlier in the dream, I was discussing existentialism with two other guys who I thought were smarter than me. Then I realized that when you’re discussing existentialism with figments of your imagination, you usually have the upper hand.

By S P Hannifin, ago