10 Print is boring, code fetishist, smary, unbalanced and probably worth a read.
Officially titled some long string of code I won't bother to repeat, the collection, part of MIT's Software Studies series, is made up of small essays surrounding a one-line program that when run on a Commodore 64 produces an infinite random maze.
Hitting on the general topics of mazes, the hardware of the 64, porting the program to other platforms, the nature/history of BASIC, randomness and traversing the maze produced, the book does a fine job of trying to hit this topic from every possible angle. Doesn't hurt that the cover is pretty freaking cool and the nods to the platform itself (64-style font for page numbers, listing chapters like BASIC line numbers, and the emblatic Blue of the 64 system) are also fun, especially, I imagine, if you were learning about those elements for the first time.
The technical discussions, the historical tangents and the play with the program are the goods of the book. Showing the program in various 3D formats using the Processing language, porting it to the Atari and explaining path traversing in BASIC would really on point and carefully walk the line of exploring a technical subject with the aesthetic value of its output.
The writers do a fine job of drilling down technical topics, emerging why subtle details of chip design, BASIC and business decisions have large reprecussions on computer function and expressiveness.
I insulted the book at the beginning of this post, and I should explain it. The book is aware that it's both smart and cool. While I enjoy feeling smart and cool, the subject is actually very interesting on its own and doesn't need attachments of hipness. Unfortunately, a lot of the chapters read like grad student responding to a writing prompt, pulling in complexity and reach as much as possible. While the authors never overreach, there's a lack of what makes good computer enjoyable which is genuine interest and exploration of a machine or language.
There's already so much to say and go into, that reaching far out isn't necessary and is detrimental to the actual work ahead. A discussion on the history of mazes, regularity and randomness in art, while interesting, are essays about those matters that touch on the 10 Print program or use it as a jumping off point simply because that's what the book is about. While this makes the book far richer and posed for general audience acceptance, they clash with the books later more technical chapters and come off as "Look at all the tangents I can go off this small subject."
I don't feel the authors failed in answering the prompt, but unfortunately this isn't about grading. The chapter on grids in art definitely turned me onto to new artists and have enriched my appreciation of organization in art, but they told me nothing new about the core subjects of the book. Essentially, they were out of scope.
But what is on about this book is spot on.
Monday, September 30, 2013