Trivium

28sep2008

Who’s your favorite architect? What’s your favorite building?

Reading these two questions on a now dead architecture blog made me stuble, and I had to think for a few minutes to decide.

My favourite building is the Case Study House #22, aka Stahl House, designed by Pierre Koenig (details, PDF).

Its design—the simplicity, the minimalism, the constraint in materials—keep stunning me, and notice how perfectly it fits into the environment (it has to, the location made it tricky to build anything there). Just imagine the look of LA at night! (You don’t have to, see picture 3 in above PDF.) I’d settle there in an instant. I think it was seeing this house (just in the book) that sparked my interest in contemporary architecture.

So much for the building, who’s my favourite architect? Pierre Koenig surely ranks high, but after careful consideration Mies van der Rohe wins. I’m not a big fan of his skyscapers (actually skyscapers in general), but his houses—especially the Farnsworth House—are truly timeless and just awesome. The structure and arrangement are perfect.

25sep2008

24sep2008

Who watches the watchmen? Thoughts like these arise when you meet a bunch of hung-over policemen in the subway at dawn.

One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief
that one’s work is terribly important.
— Bertrand Russell

23sep2008

22sep2008

Been to the exhibit Female Trouble at the Pinakothek der Moderne yesterday. Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Because learning to paint requires an expensive education they couldn’t afford. (There are some, though.) In contrast, learning to photograph is (technically) easy, and that’s why exhibit focused on video art and photography—some even before 1900. Consider Virginia Oldoini, Countess di Castiglione who even dared to depict her bare feet.

I’d like to show you another old photo—a photo-montage, actually—of a woman with cat-like muzzle. I was unable to find it in spite of hour-long googling. There supposedly is a connection between women, cats, and anarchy. Isn’t that exciting?

Also, they had some impressive photographs of and by Cindy Sherman there.

Other works of notice were the dual channel video Ever is All Over by Pipilotti Rist (which is a visual word play on Redhot Poker and Fireplace Poker) and Valie Export’s Tapp- und Tastkino.

A woman in liquor production
Owns a still of exquisite construction.
  The alcohol boils
  Through magnetic coils.
She says that it’s “proof by induction.”

Dilemma of the forgotten charger.

Either you really forgot to take your mobile charger with you, and soon can’t phone at all until you are back home, or you just lost it, and can’t even phone when you’re back home. (So why can’t these chargers work via USB?)

21sep2008

I shall define: Urbanism, n.: the art of putting ugliness into the heart of the citizens.

Every town alive of a certain size is ugly and dirty (excepting possibly Singapore, where they have death penalty for chewing bubble gum; but is that alive?). It has to be, and already follows from the entropy of all these masses sticking around at the same place.

They always were ugly, and full of dirt. Towns were the origins of every serious epidemic plague.

The real art, however, is making the people that live there accept it. Buildings, streets, sculptures: everything decays. The colorful and pure coating of a house will be ragged and dirty tomorrow. The glaring steel girder of a bridge will, decomposed by salt water, corrode into a dirty brown. The final rendering of a subway station will blister and lumps will fall of.

So why paint walls? Why polish steel? Why plaster the station?

And they stopped doing it, for it was a futile fight against entropy anyway.

20sep2008

Did you ever wonder why URLs look like they do?

With a bit of common sense, I found it not to hard to find reasonable explanations of it. Please note that all of this is speculation, but I hope it’s right because it’s just the way to go (please write me if you can contribute).

Remember, back before the invention of the web, there were no URLs at all. FTP sites were shared as free-text and transferred to the command-line client using copy and paste (at most). Then, you had to go to the directory you wanted and issue a fetch.

TimBL’s genius idea now was to find a way to address everything on the Internet, and he didn’t want to limit it to the web, but as well allow to address FTP, GopherSpace and some even more obscure systems that were in use back then.

Consider this URL:

http://foo.org/bar/baz?aleph=1&beta=2

Since URLs were meant to be uniform, there had to be a way to determine the protocol to use, and the protocol had to be separated from the host name in some way: a colon is the common way to say “this is that”, and that’s why it is http:.

foo.org, of course, existed long before. DNS was invented in 1983, and was a reasonable thing to build on. However, it was often criticized for being “the wrong way ‘round”, with most-significant part of the hierarchy last (the top-level domain org). Having a Unix background, Tim decided to keep the path hierarchy like in Unix, and that’s why it is /bar/baz. It works well for FTP, too.

Remember, when HTTP/0.9 was state of the art, there was only GET. (Actually, the initial design shows up some other methods.)

However, Tim quickly discovered serving static data all day was boring: there had to be a way to, for example, make a search page.

And there was. Hands up, who remembers <ISINDEX>? Add this older-than-the-stones tag to your HTML and the browser will automatically place a text box and a button to allow you to call a search script.

How is the data transferred? Having only GET, the data has to go into the URL. Which character would you use to delimit the path and the query? Indeed, a question mark.

Now, <ISINDEX> directly specifies the query string, so in the beginning, it was more common to see URLs like http://goo.org/search?meaning+of+life Later, when forms were added, there had to be a way to specify field names (what could be more logical than = for this purpose? Maybe :…), and a way to separate multiple fields (& sounded like a good idea, but tells enough about the state of SGML parsing back in the old days).

Whitespace in URLs were a problem! How can you know it is over? CGI defines + to surrogate space, but then, how do you transmit a +? Obviously, URL escaping had to be %69%6e%76%65%6e%74%65%64. This is where things got ugly… for example, you really can’t tell if an URL escaped string already had been escaped. Big fun. Why percent encoding? Probably because the percent sign was not used yet?

Finally, I admit, I have a problem. I can’t figure at all why there is a // between the hostname and schema. I suppose it was meant for something special (e.g. some URI/URNs don’t have it), but what is it good for HTTP URLs? Update 17mar2009: tbl doesn’t know himself.

But up to that, I think the design of URLs was perfectly reasonable, wasn’t it?

20sep2008

Welcome to Trivium, my new blog that aims to merge the best parts of a tumblelog and a “classic” blog full of editorial, essayish content (which is not that classic at all, but this will be the topic of a later post).

The topics discussed here will be various, and there are several influences I cannot hide: among them undeniably the way of posting commented links and papers like John Baez, This weeks finds in mathematical physics, the slashed lists of Things Magazine and Matt Webb’s recent, titleless Interconnected. kottke.org and daringfireball.net shall be mentioned as well.

Some notes on the making of: The general design took—as usual—embarrassingly long, on and off I’ve been working onthinking about this thing since late 2007 and even already had a full, text-heavy and scholary design ready about two months ago, back(?) when minimalism was hype.

Now, I’ve essentially scrapped that, replaced the look in little more than a week, and this time decided to go for a dense, simple, but not ultraminimalist (there are different font sizes, for example, and there is a header graphic) design with advanced and possibly rare typographical features: I heavily use inline-styling even for elements which are usually rendered as blocks, body text is tightly set at a constant line-width, the page stays in rhythm.

Posts don’t have titles, instead they are identified by date, rendered in a custom format that I prefer for international readability and clarity: another step back to the real roots of blogging. Inline titles can be used to seperate longer parts of an essay and provide more structure.

The blog software has been completely written from scratch and punctuates the minimalism: It is less than 200 lines of Ruby and merely depends on three small and proven libraries (BlueCloth, RubyPants and a templating engine written by me), as well as good old text munging—it will be released in near future as it may be useful for others. [18nov2008: There it is.]

Staying with proven technology, the site is fully statically rendered while only changed pages are recreated on each update. Nice URLs are provided by cleanurl.lua and lighttpd—but, if I didn’t tell you, no-one would notice the site essentially runs on technology existant back in the nineties.

To help writing about mathematics (which I hope to do more in the future, now that I’m studying maths), I made it trivial (hah) to write formulas, both i^n\cdot{}l_i\cdot{}n^e and

\hat{a}\breve{s}\over{}b\tilde{l}o\sqrt[c]{ks}.
\eqno{(1)}

This is made possible by preprocessing BlueCloth with a troff(1) like language. The formulæ are rendered using mathtex on the server side for highest quality.

The site is built on standards using a backward-compatible, sensible subset of HTML 5, and modern, but semantically unobtrusive CSS (try it with lynx, w3m or links). It should look fine in every modern browser. Navigation is possible due to rel= links. For subscription, an Atom 1.0 feed is provided. The HTML implements hAtom, but nothing supports hAtom.

There are no comments, and there wont be—this has been discussed everywhere. You are free and welcome to contribute by mail or with your own means of publishing—send a tweet if you want to show me.

Also, there won’t be guaranteed updates every day anymore (solely due to my lack of time), but I’ll try hard to update the site several times a week and share with you some things you’ll hopefully find interesting.

Have a good time.

18sep2008

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