Monday, August 3, 2009

Review: Proust and the Squid. Processing: A guide for designers.

"Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists"

In the words of the website

"Processing is an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions."

This is a great book about Processing. Written for non-programmers, it explores the things you can do with Processing. Each section starts with a selection of cool things that artists or designers have made, including many colour pictures of them, then shows you how to use some part of Processing. This is a nice format for practical books on programming environments. It gives you something to be inspired or excited about, then gives you the tools to do it.

Processing is a brilliantly simple programming environment for creating interactive artwork, and this book is a fun and authorative.


"Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain", Maryanne Wolf

I can't remember if it was the intriguing title, or the promised topics of this book that made me pick it up. Unfortunately, I found the book dissapointing. I was hoping to learn, as an aside, about Proust, or the neurology of the squid, in a Steven Pinker style exploration of the science of reading.

The book felt somewhat aimless, and doesn't have a compelling pace. Those interested in the reading difficulties of dyslexics may find it all more interesting. There were of course some areas she explored that I enjoyed, for example, that Socrates was against the written word. Preferring instead the intelectual effort required to remember everything in your head, and be able to deliver it verbally to students. Perhaps for a genius of the ancient world that makes a lot of sense. There wasn't a lot of knowledge to remember back then, at least compared to the mass available today. But Maryanne extends this argument to modern day technology. Kids growing up today are surely exposed to an unimaginably huge quantity of information, and in many different forms. So it's certainly not imbecilic to stop and ask if we are losing something as we move from pen and paper to digital communication.

Personally I don't see the same ground shaking shift in human culture that must have happened as we went from oral to written communication. Shifting to a way to write down facts and information was huge. Changing from ink to digital media is not as huge. In fact, what modern technology really brings to communication of ideas is outside the books remit, since it is all about learning to read.

Still, some interesting ideas in the book, and one to look up if you're interested in this kind of thing.


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