BIT-101 Lab, One Month In

Jan 31 2017

Screenshot from 2017-01-30 21-11-22

So… that went pretty well. One full month of posts done. I wasn’t sure how long I’d last before we started seeing gaps in the lineup. But this is easier than I was expecting. Turns out, I have a lot of ideas. To be honest, and to possibly spoil some illusion, I’m actually a bit ahead of the game. Some days I have more than one idea, or I come up with one or two iterations to something I just did. If so, I just go ahead and bang out whatever is in my mind and postdate it. This also takes the stress off having to come up with something brand new every single day. While generally not a problem, some days I might be really busy, or exhausted, or even sick. Having a buffer on those days is really helpful.

My biggest realization on this whole exercise is how many cool sketches I’ve been able to come up with and how easy it is in general. There are various pieces of advice, exercises, motivational sayings, etc. that say if you force yourself do do something every day for so many days… something magical will happen. Or something. For all the new-age, pop-psychology, “one weird trick” dubiousness of those things, there does seem to be something there.

Although it feels like creativity should be something that needs to flow naturally from some unseen source, it can very definitely be forced, or at least jump started. Force yourself to create something every day and suddenly you’ll have more ideas than you can document, much less act on.

To be fair, some of these ideas are revisitations of things I did years ago in the Flash-based lab. But I think I’m taking them in new and interesting directions, and probably have a better presentation of them as well. Even so, all that stuff was at more than 11 years ago. Some of it going on 16 years ago. There may be new viewers who were not even born when some of this came out originally.

A lot of the things I’m exploring is stuff I originally posted on Art From Code. The source for that stuff was never released. And in fact, most of it is long gone. So I find myself reverse engineering my own past work in a lot of cases. “How the HELL did I do that???” One was baffling me for many days, till I finally dug up a source file hidden away in DropBox. Sad that it had to go that way, but happy I found it.

I’ve also done a lot of work on the site interface as well. I got it pretty near where I want it at this point, though there are a few improvements that need to be added. And it will still evolve over time. But I was really happy with the tags searching, thumbnail index, the sorting and sizing of thumbnails, the saving of preferences and the history / clear history feature in the calendar. Most of that is way beyond what I originally had planned on day one. A lot of it still needs to be cleaned up, but I’m happy with the functionality anyway.

Screenshot from 2017-01-30 21-11-36

I also did a lot of work on the daily page templates. Initially, as I changed some aspect of how it worked, I’d have to go through all of the previous days and edit them all to keep the past days in line. Now, most of the daily UI – beyond the experiment code itself – is done via a UI script. So when I want to change how the daily UI looks, I just change the script and all the days update when they load. That saved me hours already. I toyed with the idea of having a single index that gets a query param of the date it needs to load. That could work, but I’m sticking with individual HTML files for each experiment. This allows me to load individual libraries for one experiment, such as Perlin noise or something else, without having to use some kind of module loader. Or I can make some one off changes or customization to a single day’s experiment, without jumping through hoops.

One last aspect I wanted to mention. This goes back to the creativity aspect. A few years back I did a talk at a few conferences, which I think was also entitled “Art from Code”. In it, I went a bit into left-brain / right-brain theory. I mentioned that while there is a biological basis for the left/right stuff, new age pop psychology has taken the whole theory way beyond reality. However, I did acknowledge that there are different modes of coding, some of them conducive to creativity, some less so.

For example, say you have some creative idea and an concept of how you want to code it. You open up an editor and… create an HTML file, give it a name, figure out where to save it on your disk, give it a head, title, body, import some libraries, add a canvas to the stage, maybe some CSS, add the main JavaScript file to the HTML, create that file, get a reference to the canvas, get the context… now, what was that idea you had? It’s probably gone.

Basically all that analytical, naming, organizing, structuring activity pulls you right out of the cool idea mode you were in. Blame it on brain hemispheres, or don’t. It happens. This is perhaps one reason why the Processing language is so popular among creative coders. You launch processing, you start typing, you hit “run”. BAM!

So part of my flow is a templating system and some creation scripts, as well as the various libraries I’m using. Say I have an idea for something I want to publish on June 12 (no, I’m not that far ahead of myself yet). I just type in the console:

mkdaily.sh 170612

and the HTML and JavaScript files are created and ready to start typing code into. I’ve been using JetBrain’s WebStorm, which has a built in terminal window, so it’s always ready. Say I like what I did on the 12th and I want to iterate it a bit on the 13th. Rather than copy the two files and manually edit them, I type

cpdaily.sh 170612 170613

and it copies the original experiment into the new one, changing the date, links, etc. I just need to iterate the code, update the description, etc. Both of these scripts, as well as the templates, are there in the repo if you want to get a better idea how that works. And yeah, they guard against overwriting existing files if I type in the wrong input. Anyway, all that has been hugely useful in keeping me in creative mode, and away from housekeeping and setup work when I have a good idea.

In summary, I’m on a roll and don’t seem to be slowing down. I’m certain I’ll bat 1000 again for February. Then we’ll see how March goes.

4 responses so far

BIT-101 Lab Comments

Jan 06 2017

So I think I found a pretty good system for allowing people to comment on stuff in the lab. Commenter Erik pointed me to this post:

http://ivanzuzak.info/2011/02/18/github-hosted-comments-for-github-hosted-blogs.html

TL;DR – Create a github issue for each sketch. Link to that from the sketch. People can comment on the issue. Brilliantly simple. I made the system a bit simpler than described in that article. I’m not pulling in the comments to the sketch page, just linking to it.

I actually had set up Disqus to open up in a overlay div. It worked fine, but I wasn’t super happy with it. It was like, the site is here, the content is here, the source code is here, and the comments are … way over here on this other unrelated site.

With the github solution, the site is here, the content is here, the source code is here and right along in the same package are the comments.

It’s a bit more work for me. I have to create the sketch, then create the issue, add the sketch url to the issue, and add the issue url to the sketch. The template I have for sketches handles most of the boilerplate because everything is indexed to the sketch date in the format YYMMDD. But the issue url will be sequentially numbered, so the issue will need to be created and then the url added to the sketch html. Not a big deal. But the Disqus method was 100% automated. 🙂

Anyway, hopefully this will allow a decent way for people to comment, discuss, ask questions, etc.

4 responses so far

BIT-101 Lab Source Link and … comments?

Jan 05 2017

sourcelink

One of the key aspects of the lab has always been that it’s open source. The code is not particularly written in a manner conducive to education. It’s often the result of me hacking around until I find something that looks good. At that point, it’s done. No heavy duty refactoring, cleaning up, commenting. You get what is there, and if you can figure out what I’m doing, great. If not, feel free to ask, and maybe I’ll try to explain. Maybe not. I might have forgotten what the code does myself.

Anyway. I was looking at the flow. You see something in the lab you like, you have to take note of its number, somehow navigate to the github site, go into the dailies directory and find the js file with that number. Or, maybe you’ve cloned the repo. You can pull any updates and navigate to that spot on your file system.

But hey, that source file just lives at a standard url right? Why not give the nice viewers a link to click on? So there you go. Right up in the description box, there’s a “source” link that’ll take you right to where the code for that particular experiment lives.

I’m also trying to figure out a way to enable comments or discussions. Ideas I’ve had so far:

1. Disqus. I got it working easily enough, but the UI is not going to work out. I want each experiment to be full screen with only the home link and info box. I could make an additional link or button that opens up the Disqus UI in some kind of popup, but I wasn’t really liking where that was going.

2. A forum. That’s a possibility, but kind of a heavyweight one. I’ve run forums before. Not sure I really want to get back into that. And forcing people to make forum accounts and profiles, etc. Not into it.

3. Github wiki. I’m just not familiar with that. Could work out. One wiki page per experiment. Open to anyone editing. Open to abuse, I guess. Anyone have any experience with this?

Any other suggestions? I think a github-based solution would be great. Surprisingly there’s no straight up comment feature in github that I can see. There are issues and pull requests, sure. But is there something where you can just comment on a file or folder?

9 responses so far

BIT-101 Lab Visual Index

Jan 04 2017

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 9.28.46 AM

I just ticked off another feature on the BIT-101 Lab list. A visual index.

Back in the old Flash Lab the only way to find a specific experiment you wanted to look at again was to click through, one by one, trying to remember the approximate date and targeting items around that. I wanted to avoid that pain. The first thing I did was to add tags and the ability to search by tags. This should help a lot. But I think this visual index will help even more. You can just scroll until you see something that looks like the thing you want to check out, and click away. It will also be good for discovery, I think.

At any rate, I think it looks pretty cool. I test-populated it with about 15 future experiments and it really starts to look great when there are lots of images in the list. I can’t wait to see it grow.

No responses yet

Beautiful Geometry

Jan 03 2017

20170101_145351

This weekend I was in a book store (remember those) and ran across this book – Beautiful Geometry.

A few minutes of looking at it, and I was on my way to the register to buy it.

Each chapter takes on a specific, interesting mathematical / geometric principle and takes a couple of pages to explore it. There’s a bit of history, some formulas, some images and diagrams and some practical uses.

20170103_102824-01

The very first chapter, on Thales’ Theorem gave me an immediate realization on how I could solve a problem from Euclidea. Actually I had solved that problem, but had no clue how. Seeing and understanding Thales’ Theorem gave me instant understanding of how to solve the problem. I opened the app and solved it without a hitch.

20170103_102847-01

I’ve gone through a few other chapters. Great stuff. I’ve worked a couple into future experiments in the BIT-101 Lab. I’m sure this book will fuel several more pieces there.

20170101_145446

Note, this is NOT a coding book. There isn’t even really more than a passing reference to computers here. But it explains the concepts and formulas well, so you shouldn’t have much trouble applying the concepts to code.

20170103_102951-01

Available on Amazon here: Beautiful Geometry

I got the hardcover, as that’s what was in the store and once I picked it up, I had to take it home. But you could get it much cheaper as a paperback or Kindle version.

No responses yet

Euclidea

Jan 02 2017

I’m a math nerd. I’ve actually never had any real professional math training. I just like studying mathematical concepts and figuring out formulas. In particular, I like any math that can be graphically visualized. If it can be animated, all the better. Computers and math and graphics and animation – that’s the stuff right there. If you’re in the UK, :s/math/maths/g

Recently I ran across an Android app called Euclidea. And soon discovered that while naturally there is an iOS app, there is also a web site that has all the same content.

Screenshot from 2017-01-02 11-30-27

Basically, there are 120 problems, or levels. In each level you need to construct some geometric form, place a point or line or form an angle that fulfills some criteria. The initial tools you have are a straight edge and a compass. As you figure out different techniques, those get added as shortcut tools. For example, using only a compass and a straight edge, you can form a line that bisects a given line segment. When you figure that out, you are given the perpendicular bisector tool that does that in a single step.

Screenshot from 2017-01-02 11-29-09

While simply solving a given level is OK, there are also goals to meet, such as solving it in a minimum number of steps. It gets a bit complex, but each problem has an L-score and an E-score. E is the number of Euclidean constructions. This would be a line drawn with the straight edge or a circle drawn with the compass. L is the number of “lines” drawn using any of the complex tools you discover. For example, using the perpendicular bisector tool would count as one L as you use that tool one time. But it counts as three Es, as it takes drawing two circles and a line.

Some of the problems – even on the higher levels – are fairly easy and straightforward. A few had me completely stumped and I had to resort to searching for an answer. Most of them I can solve, often within the L goal, but usually have a much harder time with the E goal. There’s even an active Quora community dedicated to the best solutions to the various problems. Fun stuff.

The Android app is free, but you have to solve a certain number of problems on lower levels with the correct L and E scores to unlock later levels. Or just pay to unlock everything. I paid.

One response so far

Back to Basics

Jan 01 2017

TL;DR: Go here: https://bit101.github.io/lab/

Long time readers of this blog may recall what existed here before “blogging” was a thing – the BIT-101 Lab.

Back in the late 90’s / early 2000’s there were a bunch of people running Flash “experiment” sites. Basically, each day they would post some kind of visual, animated and/or interactive Flash piece, often open sourced. Josh Davis’s Praystation, Jared Tarbell’s Levitated, Robert Hodgin’s Flight 404 were some of my favorites. In August 2001 I decided to blatantly copy them… I mean… jump on that bandwagon. My site at the time was called “KP Web Design”. Sigh. I started doing some experiments and decided I needed a better domain, so I came up with bit-101 and moved all the experimental stuff over there. It went live on September 11, 2001. Yes, THAT September 11th. So nobody really noticed it for a while. But over the next four years I posted just shy of 700 open source Flash experiments that explored all kinds of neat techniques. The site won an award (FlashForward 2003 – Best Experimental Site) and really pretty much launched my career.

In 2003 I started this blog. And by 2005 the lab was retired. I blogged heavily for several years, but in the last few years, not so much. I’ve had other interesting projects over the years, but nothing was quite as exciting as those lab days. Recently Zach Lieberman posted about his 2016 project of posting a sketch each day (sketch/experiment, same concept). It inspired me to get back to basics.

Of course, I would not be doing Flash anymore. I haven’t opened that program on my own volition in several years. (I did need to use it to examine or fix a few things for work a few times.) My weapon of choice these days is HTML5 Canvas and JavaScript.

I’ve spent the last week or so creating a site and a workflow. All the source will be posted on github at https://github.com/bit101/lab. And the site uses github pages – https://bit101.github.io/lab/. So literally, the site IS the source IS the site.

I have template files and a script to create a new daily sketch / experiment based on the templates. This goes into a dev folder where I can work on it. When I’m ready to release it, I move it to the dailies folder, update the index.json file, add, commit and push. This updates the source and publishes the new file to the site. Because the site IS the source… etc.

One thing you’ll see in there is the use of a couple of libraries, bitlib and QuickSettings. You might be familiar with the latter. But the bitlib library is something I’ve been working on quietly for a while. It’s really just for my own use. It’s not something that I want to promote and convince other people to use and then have to wind up supporting. It’s just a compilation of the functions that I wind up using over and over. It’ll grow and change over time. Feel free to use it as much as you want – at your own risk. I make no claims for it’s production-readiness.

The site code is pretty rough. Again, I banged it all out over the last week in my spare time. But I’m quite proud of the calendar UI I created from scratch. And the tag searching and indexing. It’s even responsive and stuff. I have plans to take a screen shot of each experiment and present a visual index as well. And I’m thinking about ways to automate that index / tag generation portion. But it all seems pretty good right now for starters.

Anyway, I’m pretty excited about this. I know that on day one, there’s not a whole lot to be excited about from your end, but hopefully as the calendar fills up, it will become a fun place to visit and play with and learn from.

10 responses so far

QuickSettings Version 3.0 released

Nov 11 2016

I just pushed QuickSettings Version 3: https://github.com/bit101/quicksettings/releases/tag/3.0

I’m really happy with the changes in this version. I use QuickSettings myself all the time, so most of the changes stem very much from personal experience – seeing my own pain points and addressing them. The key motivation for changes in this release was making the library easier to use.

One of the annoyances I noticed was in getting values from a panel – you had to know what kind of control you were querying and use the correct get method, i.e. getRangeValue(title) or getColor(title) or getText(title). And the same for setting values. Since the panel knows what kind of control it is setting or getting via the title, there was no reason to force the user to specify it. So all that is gone. All controls can be set or get with setValue(title, value) and getValue(title).

Since all controls now used the same interface for getting and setting values, this allowed me to vastly simplify the getValuesAsJSON method, returning an object or JSON string of all the values in a panel. It also allowed me to easily create a corresponding setValuesFromJSON method. Since both of these methods utilize the same JSON format, you can grab the values at one point and reset the panel using that same object. The Reset Demo (source) shows one example of how to use that. You could also use this technique to create multiple presets for panels.

Having a single format to get and set all panel values opened up a solution for another situation that annoyed me. In working on some experimental piece, I’d create a panel, and adjust various values in it, and then need to change the code. When I re-ran the application, the panel was of course back to its original state. And I’d have to go adjust the values again. The solution is saveInLocalStorage(name). When you call this method on a panel, it immediately looks for an item in localStorage with the given name. If it finds one, it uses setValuesFromJSON to reset the panel to the values found there. It then listens for any changes that occur to any values in the panel and immediately saves them to local storage under the same name. This means that the next time you start the app, the panel will initialize with the same values it ended with in the last session. Check the Local Storage Demo (source) to see this in actions.

I’ve also been paying a lot of attention to the size of the library, trying to keep it as small as possible. This includes removing any code that is not vital to the project. So there were some removals in 3.0:

I noticed a while ago that setInfo and setHTML were almost exact duplicate methods. So I just made setInfo into an alias for setHTML. In version 3.0, setInfo is gone altogether.

A big removal was the parse method. This would take a JSON object and generate an entire panel from it. The idea being that you could build a panel declaratively with JSON rather than writing JavaScript code. I personally wound up never using this method and never heard from anyone who did. It was complex and took up a big chunk of the source code. So it is gone. If people really miss it, I’ll consider recreating it as a separate module.

Finally, I removed the whole snap-to-grid functionality. I found, personally, that I wasn’t moving panels around that often anyway, and when I did, I didn’t really care if they snapped to any kind of grid. It was a neat feature, but not essential.

Between the simplification resulting from the new get/set methods and the removal of the items mentioned, I was able to cut about 4k off the library size, making the minimized library about 20.5k.

Of course, these changes may break some existing apps. Hopefully not too badly. And I think the added simplicity and functionality is worth it.

One thing not as visible is that I’ve also started unit testing the library. This was long overdue. When I started changing the set/get methods, I saw that I was going to need to do a ton of manual testing on each and every control to make sure that I wasn’t breaking anything. Forget that. It’s all automated now. All the set and get methods are thoroughly and automatically tested now. In addition to making sure that the new functionality worked correctly, this testing also unearthed several pre-existing issues that I probably never would have noticed. Those are now fixed too. All the tests are checked into the repo, so if anyone wants to add additional tests in there, I’ll happily pull them in. I mainly concentrated on the value functions, but there’s a lot more in the library that needs to be added to testing.

No responses yet

Backtrack Time – Coding Math

Oct 19 2016

So, a few days ago, I announced that all future Coding Math episodes would be released on egghead.io.

The first one was released there, and it turns out that this arrangement is not going to work out the way I hoped it would. Let me say at the outset that there is no problem between myself and the company. I’ll continue to produce egghead.io-specific videos for them. But I thought that moving the Coding Math stuff over there would be a simple matter of uploading it and publishing it there. And that’s not the case. Naturally, egghead.io has a brand and certain standards and style guidelines necessary for keeping consistency when dealing with so many different instructors. Actually, it’s not so much of a “style” as a stripped-down, “just the facts” concept, which is great. I wholeheartedly agree with that concept. But the Coding Math videos, as-is, break too many rules and would have to undergo surgery on a video-by-video basis in order to fit in to that universe. Also note that egghead.io was not refusing to publish them. They were very accommodating, even offering help in terms of manpower to do that editing.

In the end though, after a night and day of soul-searching, I have decided to keep the Coding Math “brand”, such as it is, independent. This decision makes absolutely no sense financially. I’m walking away from lots of easy money. But Coding Math has always been more of a labor of love than a money-making operation. So for better or worse, the channel will now live on as-is, YouTube only, Patreon supported, assuming not too many of you have jumped ship.

On a related note, I would like to do more in the sphere of teaching. I’d like to gauge the interest in a live “Coding Math” or “Making Things Move” course. A one- or two-day, in-person course held somewhere in the Boston area. If successful, maybe occasional road shows. Or possibly a live on-line course, or (though I despise the term) “webinar”. Are these things that people would be interested in? What would such a course be worth to you? If anyone has any experience, resources or contacts in any of those areas, let me know.

5 responses so far

Coding Math and egghead.io

Oct 16 2016

I’m happy to announce that Coding Math videos will now be available on egghead.io.

Since I started making videos, it has been a great source of joy for me. I love teaching, whether it is writing, speaking or making videos. It’s very fulfilling to spend time learning a subject and then be able to distill that subject down into simple enough terms that others can understand it and actually USE it. And the tons of positive comments I have received on the videos have totally defied my previous views of what YouTube comment sections were supposed to look like. I don’t answer all of them, but I do read every single one and it’s always a nice pick-me-up to get one of your great comments.

At the same time, making videos takes a lot of time and energy. I usually think over the script in my head – often on long walks with my dog – for a couple of days. Then I try to come up with good, simple code examples. This is key, in my opinion. It’s where a lot of other educators and authors fall down, I think. The example needs to be realistic enough that you can see how you could use that in a real project. But at the same time, you don’t want a full fledged application with all kinds of other junk that’s obscuring the one principle you are trying to teach. I remember seeing a tutorial for parsing XML some years ago, that went on for ages on pixel-level details on how to build the UI for displaying the XML. Utterly irrelevant. The code examples usually take me from one to a few hours. Then I start writing the script explaining the concepts and going through the code. That’s generally a couple of hours minimum. Screencasting all of the code and any diagramming, gathering other graphics and screenshots, etc. is another hour or two. Recording the audio is pretty quick. I do it in one take and just back up and start talking again if I make a mistake. Editing the audio for a 10-15 minute video takes around an hour. Then, putting it all together – making all the audio match up to all the video, all the cuts and transitions, etc. can be anywhere from 2-4 hours. So we’re usually talking a minimum of around 8 hours for the full production of a 10 minute video. Maybe twice that for a more complex one.

So, while the praise and thanks are nice, it would also be good to get remunerated for that time somewhat. My approach to this so far has been through my Patreon campaign. Many of you have contributed to Patreon, and I am grateful beyond words at the fact that you have gone ahead and given money that you didn’t have to give to support my efforts. Thank you all who have donated. Seriously.

However, while Patreon is a great service, it is more suited for some types of content than others. A lot of podcast producers use it to great success. In those cases, it makes a ton of sense. Most traditional podcasts are fairly topical – they talk about current events and happenings. A few weeks later, an individual episode has lost 90% of its value. However, in the case of the videos I’m producing, they’ll all continue to have the same value as the day they were produced – at least for some years, until JavaScript itself becomes obsolete. Even then, the principles will still be usable.

As it stands, I make about $90 to $100 from Patreon each time I release a Coding Math video. Given the time I put into them, that’s somewhere close to minimum wage. If, a week AFTER I release a video, that video goes viral and 100,000 people watch it, I will get… $0. If that video continues to get thousands of hits per week for the next 5 years, I will get … $0. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the Patreon contributions, but it’s really not the best system for this type of content.

There’s also Youtube ad revenue. This does reflect ongoing views, but with almost 15,000 subscribers, this results in an average of about $20 a month. Not really worth discussing.

Enter egghead.io

I’ve also been making videos for egghead.io. I’ve kept these quite separate. So far they’ve been series on specific subjects. The egghead.io platform is great – both for customers and instructors. If you are a web development professional, it’s possibly the best resource to stay up to date on current technologies. For something like $199 a year, you get an amazing wealth of ongoing, current, as well as archived material. egghead.io also has a library of free videos. As an egghead.io instructor, I continue to earn revenue on older videos, as long as they are still being watched. And unlike YouTube, it’s actually a significant amount.

So it’s been a struggle for me on which to concentrate on. I love creating the Coding Math series and letting people learn for free, but also like doing the egghead.io specific videos that earn me money. Fortunately, there is a way to combine both.

Coding Math videos will now be published first on egghead.io. The will be released for free, and will remain free for anyone to watch, any time, ever. Just like on YouTube. But I’m sure you’ll rest much easier knowing that I’m being well compensated! 🙂

Here’s the first one:

https://egghead.io/lessons/javascript-dot-product-in-javascript

As for the future, I’ll slowly be adding the back catalog of Coding Math episodes to egghead.io. I won’t be removing them from YouTube though. They’ll stay right there. New episodes will premiere on egghead.io, and probably eventually go up on YouTube at some point. I’m not entirely sure on how I will schedule that. Since I will now be paid for the content through egghead.io, I will no longer be publishing through Patreon. Once again, though, I thank all of you who have contributed there. It just wouldn’t feel right to “double dip” that way. Finally, I will continue to do paid series for egghead.io. I recently finished an intermediate series on coding WebGL in JavaScript, as a follow up to the beginner series I did earlier. This should be published there soon.

And as I said earlier, if you like the free stuff you see on egghead.io, I highly recommend signing up. Maybe get your company to get a subscription.

One response so far

Older posts »