Art criticism needs the basics

I’m neither a fan of westerns nor Charles Bronson. So how is it that Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time In the West is quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever seen? It is incredible. The opening sequence alone is worth the price of admission. If you have not seen it, carve out bout three hours and watch it. Ask yourself how a three-hour movie can be so austere in its story-telling.

Ask yourself, because I certainly can’t tell you. And that’s a problem.

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Image Credits: Film Still / Once Upon a Time in the West

The D3js Label Trilogy

Most of my use of D3 has been in scientific visualization, and scientists do love their labels. Since that’s become a particular specialty of mine, that’s what I wrote about when Safari Books Online invited me to be guest blogger. Here are links to my three posts on labels:

Creating a Right-Click Contextual Popup with D3

I’m not a big fan of taking things over from the browser, but just in case you have to, here’s how to override the standard context-menu behavior to provide more data about your visualization. Included: how to make sure the browser’s context menu still shows everyplace else.

Solving D3 Label Placement with Constraint Relaxing

When data points get close together, labels start to collide. Here we discuss using basic mathematical collision detection to adjust the placement of labels predictably and efficiently. Well, more efficiently than trying to introduce a physics simulation.

How to Create HTML Labels in SVG Using D3

Sometimes your labels need to be dressed up a bit. Text in SVG can do it, but SVG relies on you doing most of the placement. Instead, leverage the power of your browser’s layout engine in your labels by inserting HTML into your SVG. (Sadly, this technique does not work in IE yet.)

So there you are. Get labeling!

Image Credits: Flickr / adad

Happy St. Patty’s

Yeah, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be spelled. Right? I mean, according to this rather bossy website. But “Patty” appears to be in common use among both the ignorant proletariat and the mainstream media. Does anyone know what the Chicago Manual of Style says?

Honestly, though, this is a holiday where everyone celebrates the Irish by getting everything wrong about the Irish wrong and drinking offensive drinks. So why worry about the spelling? I mean, correcting the spelling would set a horrible trend.

Image Credits: Flickr / William Murphy

Commentary on a closet door

I’m back home after a week in San Francisco topped by a red-eye flight out of the place. But I wanted to get this down before I forgot about it.

The closet door at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis played a little trick on me every day I was there. See those door knobs? They don’t turn. You just pull on them to open the door. But they look like they turn.

So every time I opened the closet, my brain did this weird routine:

I need to get in the closet. Hey, why is my closet door locked? Oh, that’s right, you can’t turn these knobs.

There’s a moral in there about defying user expectations, but I am too tired to figure it out right know.

Image Credits: Thudfactor

Pour some sugar on me

I’m excited because I finally myself a bass. Since I don’t know how to play, I’m learning using a video game called Rocksmith 2014. If you think of it as Guitar Hero with a real guitar, you won’t be far off. Anyway, Rocksmith tells me I can now play the bassline to Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” But I’ve also learned the lyrics. And the lyrics are even more bizarre than I thought.

Listen! red light, yellow light, green-a-light go!
Crazy little woman in a one man show
Mirror queen, mannequin, rhythm of love
Sweet dream, saccharine, loosen up

Saccharine. That’s the word I’ve been failing to understand for twenty-six years. According to the Leppard “saccharine” and “mannequin” both rhyme with “queen” and “dream.” Mannakeeeeen. Sacchareeeeen.


We get dosed twice:

You got the peaches, I got the cream.
Sweet to taste, saccharine.

Even after abusing the pronunciation of the word they still only get a slant rhyme with “cream.” Since they shout-chant the words, though, you barely notice. Until I read the lyrics go by on Rocksmith, I thought this lyric was:

You got the peaches, I got the cream.
Sweet potatoes, certainly!

… which I thought was a really weird double-entendre, especially for a bunch of English guys. Maybe they were just hung up on the Cracker Barrel waitress or something. But no. The lyricist is either referring to himself or his lady-friend as “saccharine,” and in either case he’s doing a bad sales job. Do they know “saccharine” is an insult?

Nevertheless, this song has endured for a quarter century. It is as old now as “Duke of Earl” was when “Pour Some Sugar” was released. Sample lyrics:

Duke duke duke
Duke of Earl duke duke
Duke of Earl duke duke
Duke of Earl duke duke

So I don’t want to hear any nonsense about the devolution of song lyrics, thank you very much.

I think the staying power of the song — besides Rick Allen’s amazing one-armed drum performance — is in this screamed lyric:

Do you take sugar? One lump or two?

I don’t have a clue what they are trying to say. But boy do they sell it.

Image Credits: Flickr / Renée Suen


A late-80′s post-apocalyptic thinker from the director of Tron, starring Mark “Going to Toshi Station” Hamill and Bill “Game Over, Man” Paxton. British actor Bob Peck treats this like a real movie (damn, that guy can act). Robbie Coltrane and Ben Kingsley also have small parts. But the real star is the bizarre dragonfly-shaped Edgley Optica.

The movie was more interesting than it had any right to be, but it still leaves a slightly woody Pinocchio aftertaste.

Image Credits: Nigel Ish / Wikimedia

Use Me

I keep forgetting how great this Bill Withers song is, so here’s a video of him performing it live.

Bill Withers is a West Virginia native from Slab Fork — near Beckley. Here’s an interview with him:

Trapped by Television

It’s no Transformers: Rise of the Fallen, but this fun little movie from 1936 has a lot going for it: great accents, dodgy dames, and even a tough named “Rocky.” It’s Trapped by Television, the story of a starving-but-brilliant inventor and shady business deals, with just a hint of murder.

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Image Credits: Columbia Pictures / Still from "Trapped by Television"