Not Ninjas, Just Programmers

  var ninja = {
    sneakAround: function() {...},
    strikeFromShadows: function() {...},
    writeStableWebApp: function() {...}

Terms like JavaScript ninja or JavaScript wizard tend to make me uneasy. They suggest a set of priorities in programming that I would argue are counterproductive. To begin discussing why, let’s refer to some definitions:

  • ninja [nin-juh], noun: a member of a feudal Japanese society of mercenary agents, highly trained in martial arts and stealth (ninjutsu) who were hired for covert purposes ranging from espionage to sabotage and assassination.
  • wizard [wiz-erd], noun: a person who practices magic; magician or sorcerer.

I wouldn’t consider any of the qualities implied here as important, or even attractive, in software development. Why would anyone want code to be stealthy? Or covert? Or magic? Glorifying these qualities betrays an attitude that shifts focus away from the software we build to the cleverness of the code that’s used to build it. Exploiting syntactic idiosyncrasies in novel ways or displaying one’s knowledge of the esoteric details of a language takes priority over creating robust, maintainable applications. It’s programming as performance, rather than programming as craft.

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From Web to WebGL: A Guide for Web Developers Entering the Third Dimension

WebGL is an interesting technology in that its community has brought together developers from highly disparate backgrounds. On the one hand, there are 3D graphics programmers who know the GPU architecture, the math, the algorithms, and who previously wrote their software in close-to-the-metal languages like C or C++, generally with OpenGL or D3D as the graphics API. For them, the path to WebGL involves learning the idiosyncrasies and limitations of JavaScript, as well as the best practices of working with the Web as a platform. On the other hand, there are those, like me, with a background in web development who want to use WebGL to build their sites or web applications. I should be clear here that I’m not referring to web developers who just want to get a bit of 3D into their web sites, as can be done with the myriad libraries and frameworks currently available. Rather, I’m referring to those who want to understand and use WebGL at a deep level. This, I would argue, is a far more difficult path than that taken by the graphics programmers and involves developing an understanding of the following three major areas involved in WebGL programming:

  • The WebGL API: The programming model and how it models the GPU
  • 3D Mathematics: Primarily linear algebra and 3D geometry
  • 3D Algorithms: The various techniques used to produce images and optimize their rendering

Continue reading From Web to WebGL: A Guide for Web Developers Entering the Third Dimension

Constructors Are Bad For JavaScript

JavaScript is a language that has always been at odds with itself. It derives its core strength from a simple, flexible object model that allows code reuse through direct object-to-object prototypal inheritance, and a powerful execution model based on functions that are simply executable objects. Unfortunately, there are many aspects of the language that obscure this powerful core. It is well-known that JavaScript originally wanted to look like other popular languages built on fundamentally different philosophies, and this trend in its history has lead to constructs in the language that actively work against its natural flow.

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Intimate Distance: The Photography of Thien V

Originally posted at

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“I’m in the business of translating what cannot be translated: being and its silence.” – Charles Simic

The Student Strike inspired an effervescence of creative works and artistic expression. The ubiquitous nature of the music, the posters, the interventions, the literature suggests that the arts played a central role in galvanizing the movement. But what exactly is the relationship between art and the politics of the moment? It’s easy to say that art is important to politics or to society in general, but how often do we actually explore what that means? Is the role of art to offer abstracted symbols of the movement, such as the carré rouge or the casseroles, around which to rally? Or is its role rhetorical, to convince its audience of the validity of a particular position? Although these two artistic modalities are important parts of a social movement, I believe the role art has to play can potentially be much deeper. Alain Badiou has written that “Art is pedagogical because it produces truths and because education (save in its oppressive or perverted expressions) has never meant anything but this: to arrange the forms of knowledge in such a way that some truth may come to pierce a hole in them.” By this understanding, art is a naturally destabilising force, puncturing the status quo and established modes of thought, and allowing us to see the potential on the other side. And it is through this action, I believe, that art is inherently political, and that it is political in a way that only art can be.

Continue reading Intimate Distance: The Photography of Thien V