Algorithmic Artwork

Earlier this year I began creating programmatic artwork using matplotlib. I was interested in making art using the most powerful tool I knew of: code.

So far the results have been better than I ever expected. All sorts of wild ideas and experiments are possible. The medium could easily supply challenges for centuries.

Quilt 8

I’ve recently switched from matplotlib to Processing. Matplotlib was simply not designed to generate images at the sizes I need. Processing handles the work naturally. It also has capabilities for 3D and animation, both of which I would like to explore at some point.

I’ve also started using Quil, a Clojure wrapper for Processing (which is Java). Lisps lend themselves very well to the kinds of crazy code that generative artwork can require.

Continuity 2

Finally, I’ve created a website to display my artwork and a few writings on algorithmic artwork. If you’re interested in the work I’ve shown here, I hope you’ll check it out.

You Should Downvote Contrarian Anecdotes

In discussions on the findings of a piece of research, a handful of contrarian anecdotes always pop up. A commenter notes how their personal experience contradicts the findings, bringing a bit of real life into the discussion. You, the reader, (being thoughtful and open-minded) add these anecdotes to your compilation of thoughts on the subject. You probably feel, at least subconsciously, like you have a more balanced, insightful view of the topic. Unfortunately, your view is not at all balanced, from a purely rational perspective. The anecdote carries a grossly exaggerated weight in your mind. If you are a conscientious reader, ignoring these anecdotes and downvoting them where necessary is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy, rational discussion.

Anecdotal evidence has been shown to have a greater influence on opinion than it logically deserves, most visibly when the anecdote conflicts with the reader’s opinion and when the reader is not highly analytical, even if the anecdotes are accompanying statistical evidence. Though the anecdotes may not totally sway you, they can easily leave you with the sense that the research findings aren’t as conclusive as they claim to be.

For example, if a close friend goes on and on about how the Ford he bought was a piece of crap, detailing how the transmission failed at 30k miles and the rear-view mirror fell off, you’ll be wary about buying a Ford in the future, even if Consumer Reports rates them highly. Your friend’s anecdote is a true story, certainly, but it’s bad evidence for several reasons: it’s subject to confirmation bias, the availability heuristic, and the data ultimately has a sample size of 1.

Contrarian anecdotes like these are particularly common in medical discussions, even in fairly rational communities like HN. I find this particularly insidious (though the commenters mean no harm), because it can ultimately sway readers from taking advantage of statistically backed evidence for or against medical cures. Most topics aren’t as serious as medicine, but the type of harm done is the same, only on a lesser scale.

In the absence of strong evidence, especially in new or uncommon areas, anecdotes may be the best thing you can get. But in the presence of statistical evidence, don’t tolerate contrarian anecdotes, and don’t make them yourself, knowing the exaggerated impact they can have. If you want to advance sound knowledge within the community, it might feel mean, but do your duty, and downvote those anecdotes.

EDIT: There’s also a good discussion on Hacker News