Thursday, April 22, 2010

Misc Ramblings

Wow. It's been a while since I've posted anything. I don't think I've gone this long without a blog post since I started. Maybe towards the end of writing the books I might have, but not otherwise. Anyway, let me catch you up on a few things while I eat my lunch.

I've got a few tutorials that have been simmering, but finding time to write them down has been hard. Programming is a feast-or-famine business, and thanks to the crazy success of the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, things seem to be very much in feast mode lately. Not that I'm complaining - it's far better than the alternative - but when you spend twelve or more hours at your desk writing code most every day, it's hard to motivate yourself to write a tutorial about writing code in your spare time. I think I might be getting a breather here pretty soon, so I'll try and get some new iPad related tutorials out and hopefully another OpenGL ES one at some point.

Rumor Mill

Let's see, what else is going on in the world? There was a rumor that Apple's looking at buying ARM, ARM shares soared, then ARM came out and said flat out it wasn't true, and their stock stopped soaring. Call me cynical, but I still think it's a possibility. It'd be a great match and a great strategic move for Apple. Apple has the cash. If they bought ARM and a graphics chip maker like NVidia, they'd have total control of the entire A4 SOC except for the mass production side of things, and I'm sure that would be desirable to Apple. They love control.

ARM is a mobile and embedded powerhouse. Apple would get control and a big sledgehammer over many of their competitors. At first blush it seems like it might hurt Apple's relationship with Intel but, actually, it would be great for Intel, because it would drive a lot of Apple's mobile competitors exclusively to Intel's Atom chipset.

I have no idea if it'll happen, or if there was ever any validity to the rumor in the first place, but it "feels" like a good move for Apple if they could pull it off and it "feels" like something they would do. They've got to have plans for some of that cash they're stockpiling. If not, well, feel free to call me, Steve… I'll be glad to hold onto some of it for you.


I have a number of friends and acquaintances who are game designers, and there's been quite a buzz lately over Roger Ebert's recent statement that games can never be art. I, of course, disagree with his statement. In fact, I find it almost laughable. Of course games can be art. I mean, I'm not a big gamer, but I've played enough for that to be obvious to me. Roger Ebert, by his own admission, hasn't. He's judging based on YouTube videos, screenshots, and people's descriptions.

But it's hard to see how many games wouldn't qualify as art. Saying otherwise is saying that the whole is somehow less than the sum of the parts. Sculpting (digital modeling is just another form of sculpting), painting (digital is just another medium), writing narrative and dialogue - these are all things that are widely considered art. How can you put those things together into a package and have something that can never be art?

Now, I like Roger Ebert's writing. I don't agree with his tastes in movies all that often, but I like the way he writes. When I read his reviews of movies, I generally know enough to know if I'm going to like it or not even when I disagree with his assessment. He generally communicates well. This post isn't like that. It's rambling and self-contradictory. It's post-hoc rationalization for an opinion he already held. There is no exploration. Most of his "logic" could just as easily be applied to any commercial artistic endeavor, like movies. The rest of his logic is basically nonsense.

But here's the thing: So what? The question of "what is art" is completely unanswerable in any way other than a completely subjective and personal one. To Roger Ebert games aren't art. To me and especially to people who love games, they clearly can be and often are. It's okay for us not to all agree on this particular subject. It really is. It clearly wasn't meant as an insult, just as a statement of opinion on an inherently subjective topic.

There are many things that are widely considered art that I, personally, don't consider art. To me, a lot of 20th century art simply isn't. Most of the work by, for example, Jackson Pollock and Isamu Noguchi simply do not match my personal, subjective definition of art. To me, they're silly, but not in a Monty Python, intentionally silly way. It's silly stuff that takes itself way too seriously. These works don't convey or communicate or show us anything. They evoke no emotion, recall no events, inspire nothing. In my mind, they take no talent¹ to produce and the world is no better for their creation.

Yet, the vast, vast majority of people (very possibly including you), and nearly all soi-disant experts on art disagree with my assessment in these cases, and that fact doesn't influence my opinion in the slightest. I suspect Roger Ebert is no more likely to be swayed on the subject of games as art than I am about a lot of 20th century art, no matter how impassioned or well-reasoned the response.

Or, in other words: Get over it. Don't waste your time arguing with someone who isn't going to be swayed and probably won't even bother to argue back. Saying something isn't art isn't saying it has no value. That's the way we often interpret it, but we're being too sensitive when we do. If you create, and people like what you create, who cares if there's somebody out there that doesn't like or care about it? You can't please everybody. Most books on Amazon with five-star ratings also have some one-star ratings (including mine). What appeals to one person will revolt another. Such is life, and you'll be happier if you don't rely too much on external validation of your work.


Well, Apple is clearly on its death bed once again. The iPad, as many pundits predicted, has been a miserable failure, and sales of iPhones and iPod Touches have stalled as they fail to compete with the flood of innovative new Android and Palm phones that have come out this year.

Okay, maybe that's not entirely true.

Whatever your personal feelings about Apple, they're on quite a roll. It's a great time to be a programmer with iPhone SDK experience. We've got to be getting close to a hundred million iPhone OS devices sold - last I knew, there were over 85 million. That's a huge potential market. We've now exceeded or, at least, are getting very close to the installed base of Mac OS computers, even taking the phenomenal recent growth in Mac sales into account.

Well, that's all I have for now. I'll hopefully be back to technical posts in the not-too-distant future.

1- That's not to say these men didn't have talent, just that much of their work product didn't require it. Isamu Noguch's earlier works, such as his Undine, are absolutely phenomenal.


Nom DePlume said...

You certainly don't have anything to apologize for- your readers are glad for the gifts of time that you put into your blog.

It's certainly a personal preference, but I like narrowly focused blogs- not posting anything when you don't have anything to say is much better than filling a blog with off topic or poorly conceived ramblings.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Feel free to ignore any posts you don't feel like reading, but to be perfectly honest, I write more for me than for my readers, so you'll have to put up with the occasional "ill-conceived" and "off-topic" rambling post.

Software development, when done right, is about more than code, so what I consider "on-topic" here is considerably wider than just tutorials and code samples.

Vargo said...

Always happy to see a post from you even when I vehemently disagree.

Regarding Ebert's comments, I was disappointed by them, but only because I was expecting some sort of attempt at an objective justification for why video games "can never be art" (since, after all, "never" is a strong word), or else an admission that it was merely his subjective opinion, based on what he thinks qualifies as art. But we got neither. But as you implied, thankfully there are no authorities on what constitutes art.

As for Apple's success, I'd really like to create a blog/website that just documents people's predictions and the actual results. I take a certain guilty pleasure in seeing the over-confident claims of people being soundly refuted.

Jeff LaMarche said...


I understand why people are upset about Ebert's post. I must admit that it really surprises me, because it's not really consistent with other things he's written.

Clearly, Ebert has a blind spot here, just as we probably all do. He's not going to change, so it helps nobody to get upset or argue with what is essentially a silly opinion about something that really doesn't matter. "Art" is just a word. Whether it applies doesn't change the value of the thing you are trying to apply it to except in the mind of very superficial people.

As for Apple's successes, I think John Gruber's claim chowder does a pretty good job of reminding us of the silliest of the wrong predictions, but a website devoted to it would be cool.

Matthew Frederick said...

Probably much like Ebert is about videogames, I too used to feel that Jackson Pollack's big spatter canvases weren't art, were just someone effectively taking advantage of the fact that the definition of art was in flux and someone became convinced what he was doing was art.

That is, until one day about 10 years ago. I was visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC with my daughter. She was in her teens and had about 3x the energy I had, so at one point I told her to go ahead and explore that gallery over there, I'm going to sit on this bench for a few minutes.

Sitting across from me was a huge Pollack. I glanced and it and those same thoughts came up, and frankly I was utterly unimpressed. However, after about 5 minutes or so something strange happened: I could suddenly see depth in the painting. And motion. And before you knew it, emotion, and powerful emotion at that.

I was totally surprised. It was like something in my brain popped open and a whole new way of seeing things emerged. And really, that's probably what effectively happened; I made connections that I'd never made before.

Ebert might well experience the same thing if he actually played videogames for a while. And you, Jeff, just might find the same thing happen with a Pollack painting, if you accidentally run into the opportunity the way I did. Who knows? :)

K. A. Barber said...

The funny thing is that the tech post don't get as many comments. I think its because we are too busy trying out the tip or knowledge tidbit from the post to comment. The non tech post are fun because we all love a good disagreement. Lots of comments on those because of human nature.

Thanks for both.

As far a Ebert goes. I usually agree with him but he is out of his lane when it comes to interactive media. Still love him though.