August 19, 2014

Where have I been these past 2 years? Helping create this...

Rabbit video chat
One-click togetherness - the world just got flatter.

January 12, 2012

So True...

"People understand static relationships better than dynamic relationships because the latter requires their understanding to change constantly."

Andrew Koenig, Destructors Considered Harmful (Dr. Dobbs, 8 January 2012)

November 09, 2011

Run First, Think Later

"The matter of time is especially worth raising in a biological context, since for organisms making a living in a world 'red in tooth and claw,' timing is of the essence.  The organism's nervous system cannot afford the luxury of taking several days or even several minutes to decide whether and where to flee from a predator. [...] Biologically speaking, a quick and dirty solution is better than a slow and perfect one." (p.50)

Patricia s. Churchland, Christof Koch, Terence J. Sejnowski, "What Is Computational Neuroscience," in Computational Neuroscience pp. 46-55. Edited by Eric L. Schwartz. 1993. MIT Press.

October 27, 2011

Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools

"[...] Through this work we have come to value:
       Individuals and interactions over processes and tools [...]"

Manifesto for Agile Software Development

October 17, 2011

Time in Computers and Neural Networks

"[...] the timing of computers and networks is rigidly coupled to regular cycles of an underlying clock; the wide variation in impulse timings in neuronal systems, often with a strong apparently random component, contrasts markedly with the temporal regimen in these computational devices." (p. 42)

Donald H. Perkel, "Computational Neuroscience: Scope and Structure," in Computational Neuroscience, pp.38-45. Edited by Eric L. Schwartz. 1993. MIT Press.

July 19, 2011

Ethics of Science

"I took a required class about the ethics of science as an undergrad at UCLA, and it was all about who gets the funding."

James Franco, Wired Aug. 2011: Ethics, Shmetics, p.118

September 28, 2010

Science and Perception

"It is very easy to confound what science says about the characteristics of reality and our perception of it."

Peter Gärdenfors, Conceptual Spaces, 2000, p.9.

February 25, 2010

Emily Howell

“The question isn’t whether computers have a soul, but whether humans have a soul.”

David Cope discussing a computer's ability to compose music.

November 20, 2009

My First Prezi

Today I gave my first presentation, at the Workshop for Young French Scientists organized at USC by the Office for Science and Technology of the French Embassy in the US. I was introduced to this new presentation tool at the recent ACM Creativity & Cognition Conference. The zooming presentation model seems very promising, although I still have a lot to learn to fully utilize the medium. The non-powerpointness of the presentation was refreshing and, I believe, appreciated.
Check out the presentation at:

November 11, 2009

Bien Faire et Laisser Braire

"Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self." -- Cyril Connolly

Or like my mother liked to say: "Bien faire et laisser braire" (Do good and let (them) bray).

September 13, 2009

New Book: New Computational Paradigms for Computer Music

New Computational Paradigms for Computer Music, G. Assayag and A. Gerzso Eds., Editions Delatour France / IRCAM, 2009, ISBN 978-2-7521-0054-2.
Check out the flyer (pdf).
I authored the chapter titled "Time and Perception in Music and Computation," pp. 125-146, excerpts of which appeared in this blog earlier this year - see Brain - Time - Music - Computing.

July 30, 2009

An Ant's Life at SIGGRAPH 2009!

An Ant's Life will be one of four projects presented to a panel of distinguished judges in competition for final awards in the SIGGRAPH 2009 Research Challenge competition, during the conference, on August 4, 2009, 1:45-3:00pm, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, LA.

The first person interactive game was collectively designed and prototyped by the 13 students in the Spring session of the course Collaborative Development of Interactive Software Systems (COMP150-CIS) at Tufts University, under the guidance of visiting assistant professor Alexandre R.J. François, who created the course.

The SIGGRAPH 2009 competition challenged participants to "choose a specific animal, or a specific animal's sense, and develop a system that will enable a person to experience the physical or social world as that animal does."

In An Ant's Life, the players experience the world as members of an ant colony, from hatching through successive life phases in and around the nest.

The game's interface maps the ant's dominant senses, namely smell, taste and touch, to a first-person interactive audiovisual display, conveying a localized and qualitative perception of the environment. Textures and colors characterize the tactile and chemical properties of world elements such as terrain, rocks, bits of food and other ants.

The game takes place in a fully accessible and interactive simulation of the colony and its environment, populated by other ants and critters. In order to progress in the game, the player must ensure her immediate well-being, interact with her sister ants, and fulfill the tasks that characterize the roles she undertakes as her life develops.

project participants

Ian Altgilbers, Jessie Berlin, Alissa Cooper, Eric Gustavson, Greg Harris, Matthew Knowles, Huy Ngu, Gregory Scott, Rashmi Singhal, Eric Stewart, Daniel Thayer, Lindsay Verola, Sonny Zhao (students)
Alexandre François (faculty)


Project website:

Course website:

Siggraph 2009:

Research Challenge Results:

April 28, 2009

Time in Computation

This is the last post in the series Brain - Time - Music - Computing.
Previous: Time and the Brain

The notion of computation was explicitly created for use outside of the flow of MWT. Models of computation provide primitives for describing processes in a purely timeless context (computability), or in an artificial and abstract flow of time marked by computational operations (algorithmic complexity). The resulting abstract manifestation of time in computing is enforced as a strong invariant, universally and implicitly relied upon.

This state of affairs has serious implications for the design and use of computing artifacts in MW. Music exists at the confluence of creation, representation and performance, where inherent limitations of time representations in computation become evident. Music systems fall into two broad categories: online or real-time systems, and off-line system. The significance of these categories in the context of interaction is explored in [1]. Henkjan Honing more specifically analyses and classifies the issues related to the representation of time in music computing [2].

Process-oriented systems, which address real-time needs such as sound synthesis or performance (sequencing), adopt either tacit or implicit representations of time. Tacit representations restrict the notion of time to the “now,” the flow of MWT. Implicit representations tie the flow of time in the system to that of MWT in a direct, fixed and inescapable relation. For example, the Max paradigm in its various forms, e.g. Max/MSP and Pure Data, embraces this approach. Composition and editing systems, on the other hand, manipulate static representations of music, with explicit modeling of time relationships in their mathematical abstraction, outside of any flow of time. OpenMusic is a representative member of this category. The dataflow model of OpenMusic maps to the functional programming model, and does not provide for the creation and manipulation of a flow of time in relation to MWT.

These orthogonal representations of time, and the computational models they support, serve their particular needs well. However, the dichotomy they introduce with respect to time representations seems irreversible. Puckette for example denounces the divide between processing and representation paradigms as a major obstacle to creating a comprehensive system for music making [3]. Musical improvisation requires a seamless blend of composition (representation) and real-time performance (processing), the ability to move freely in and out of flows of PT and MWT. The design of a real-time interactive musical improvisation system, such as the multimodal interactive improvisation system MIMI, requires to bridge the representation/processing gap. Past efforts in this area have leveraged existing programming models to produce ad hoc solutions; MIMI benefits from the use of a new computational paradigm that offers a general solution.

The Hermes/dl design language

Hermes/dl adopts an asynchronous concurrent computation model. Its data model distinguishes volatile data, in a flow of time, from persistent data outside of any flow of time. As a result, the language primitives afford the modeling of concurrent flows of time and computation, and of processes that take information in and out of these flows.

Arrangements of language primitives consistently associated with specific functionalities or behavior constitute patterns of the language; they can be used as models or guides for system design. The patterns of primitives and interactions that characterize the transfer of information from a flow of time into persistent form constitute instances of the Aggregator pattern. The patterns of primitives and their interactions that characterize the transfer of information from persistent form into a specific flow of time constitute instances of the Sampler pattern. The next section introduces the Hermes/dl design language in the wider context of the motivations that lead to its creation.

[1] Alexandre R.J. Francois and Elaine Chew. An architectural framework for interactive music systems. In Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, Paris, France, June 2006.
[2] Henkjan Honing. Issues in the representation of time and structure in music. Contemporary Music Review, 9:221–239, 1993.
[3] Miller S. Puckette. A divide between ‘compositional’ and ‘performative’ aspects of Pd. In Proceedings of the First International Pd Convention, Graz, Austria, 2004.

April 18, 2009

Time and the Brain

This is part 4 of 5 in the series Brain - Time - Music - Computing.
Previous: Time and Perception
Next: Time in Computation

If the flow of MWT is immutable, the human brain hardly perceives it as such. Gooddy, in his book Time and the Nervous System [3], distinguishes between Personal Time (PT) and Government Time (GT). The former marks the flow of time (MWT) as perceived by the individual brain; the latter refers to the passage of time as measured by a collectively recognized reference clock, from the brain’s perspective an external synchronization device to MWT. Alteration in the perception of time, of the flow of one’s PT, occur within the perceiving agent’s mind.

Fraisse emphasizes the necessity to separate the perception of duration, which takes place in the psychological present, and the estimation of duration which “takes place when memory is used either to associate a moment in the past with a moment in the present or to link two past event” [2]. Memory frees the mind from the continuous, irreversible flow of MWT. The mind can manipulate memories, events taken out of MWT, and place them in flows of time, that extend in the past and future (including the flow of MWT). Gooddy captures this ability in his observation that “the [human] brain is the place or mechanism or medium by which time is converted into space and space into time.”

Musical tasks constantly engage the ability of the brain to move information in and out of the flows of times (going back and forth between time and space): memorizing a piece of music, performing it from memory, writing a piece of music as a score, performing a piece of music from a score. A musical notation system affords spatial representation of the perception of time through music; a performance is the re-creation of this perception from its spatial representation. The goal of a music notation system that effectively supports total communication between the composer and the performer remains elusive. Technology relatively recently afforded exact recording and recreation of performances. But a recording only captures one single, permanently frozen, physical manifestation of the musical material, with no place for re-creation or re-interpretation. The recording is super-naturally faithful to the performance, but does not explicitly encode, nor allows the full recovery of, the full depth of intent of the source material. Furthermore, the exactness of the reproduction is not necessarily a significant, or desirable, feature from the listener’s point of view. The human brain is approximate; memory is event-based and selective. Each experience, each performance are different, and bring the prospect of renewed excitement to the listening brain. Successive re-experiences of a recording only remain interesting to a listener as long as she herself keeps changing from the experience.

Considerations about the nature and meaning of notation extend to the performing arts, such as dance and theater, and beyond. The thinking brain in MW finds itself in a constant struggle between the desire to stop time and the necessity to live (and experience) in the present. Bamberger has studied extensively the evolution of the spatialization (notation) of temporal patterns (rhythms) during child development. She reflects [1]:
We necessarily experience the world in and through time. How and why, then, do we step off these temporal action paths to selectively and purposefully interrupt, stop, and contain the natural passage of continuous actions/events?

How do we transform the elusiveness of actions that take place continuously through time, into representations that hold still to be looked at and upon which to reflect?

Perhaps the very notion of complexity lies in engaging the resilient paradoxes that emerge when we confront the implications of our static, discrete symbolic conventions with our immediate experience of always “going on.”
The ability to control the flow of one’s PT allows the brain to take temporal experiences out of the immutable flow of MWT, contemplate or otherwise manipulate these experiences outside of MWT, and later re-create them in the flow of MWT. This ability enables individuals to adapt, learn, generalize, create. Without it, symbolic thought would be impossible, or at least completely detached from, and therefore irrelevant to, life in MW.

[1] Jeanne Bamberger. Evolving meanings: Revisiting Luria and Vygotsky. In G. O. Mazur, editor, Thirty Year Commemoration to the Life of A. R. Luria. Semenenko Foundation, New York, 2008.
[2] Paul Fraisse. Perception and estimation of time. Annual Review of Psychology, 35:1–36, 1984.
[3] William Gooddy. Time and the Nervous System. Praeger Pub, 1988.