Reas & Fry: Processing … 2d Ed > vs < 1st Ed [ review ]

Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists, 2d Ed.

TL;DR: Reas & Fry 1st edition told the reader about what Processing can do and encouraging reader to try it & learn from their experiments. 2d edition introduces readers to Processing in a user-friendly way – the book has become a ‘teacher’.


1) The second edition reads like a college textbook. Reas & Fry have defined their audience, and are clearly writing for it.

Concepts are brought to an intelligent, creative, new-to-coding reader with holistic detail. The denser text gives beginners a better sense of ‘net’ as they experiment (the text can catch them). Experienced coders will find rewards of nuanced language discussing processes in the richer text.

This allows faster learning through bookwork with less ‘running into walls’ experimenting. This point may represent a culture shift. Teaching concepts and ideas with a stronger ‘narrative’ can create a text-based authority of ‘shoulds’* vs. the user’s earned authority of experiential learning.

2) Content is presented with a ‘narrative through line’ – it is clearly organized in ‘arcs’ of chapters that loosely link and build. This differs from 1st ed, which felt more like “ok here’s some of this, and some of that, go try it out & see what you get!”.

3) Large communities of people have been working with Processing. Certain working arcs have developed; people tend to code in particular directions. Perhaps this influenced the interlinking of concepts inside the book. Reas & Fry provide jumping off points with page numbers to other parts of the text – – as if they put internal links in the book.

The 2d edition is, in that respect, more holographic and unified as a text. The 1st edition now feels like an extension of the online reference, a big index or dictionary of terms and functions that I use in response to my own curiosity or problem-solving. The 2d edition is narratively cohesive in multiple ways, delivering the ‘whole user approach’ to a beginning creative coder very well.

4) content differences:

3D has shifted from appendix to ‘main content’; rearrangement of content and ‘synthesis’ chapters brings a more easily-digestible ‘narrative’ to content; new artists & artwork.

Vertex & Array both got a lot of ‘explain’ love; so did Function – concepts that I’ve seen beginners get stuck on. Also, all of the discussions of ‘how to code well’ have become comprehensive.

Sound seems to have disappeared. I think PureData has won sound. Most of that is done via external libraries but there isn’t even an entry for ‘sound’ in the Index or in Topics.

Certain details of Processing’s functionality have disappeared – i.e. the discussion of image manipulations that mirror photoshop blend modes. The image processing section of the 2d edition’s text is concerned with functionality unique to Processing.

Additionally, image processing instruction arrives much later in the text (p. 529) so the ‘beginning reader’s’ comprehension of what’s happening is going to be very different than if the beginning reader is perusing the 1st edition and looking at images on p. 95, where they introduced ‘how to manage data files w/processing sketches’  discussion in a little pile-on.

*authority of ‘shoulds’ : the obsession with ‘doing it right’ becoming a block for creativity & discussion of concepts driving the work

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Author’s note: I spent 5 years working as a computer trainer [hardware/software] so, parsing the texts used to teach ppl how to use software/hardware is kindof my thing.

kickstart my chapbook : no experiences

You’ve heard of kickstarter, right? It is popularly known as a funding source for films, for software development, for funding gadgets. Erin Watson used it to fund something different. She used Kickstarter to publish a poetry chapbook.

The work arrived in response to her experience reading @Horse_ebooks on twitter. Jotting down favored sentence fragments from the twitter feed, she built poems around them line by line, “allowing the @Horse_ebooks style of uncanny abstraction to creep into these poems”, as she wrote in the author’s note.

Words splayed
Like sick things, yawning in disregard
along a chasm

I’m no stranger to the @Horse_ebooks twitter phenomenon; several of my friends on twitter are enamored of it. The lovely fragments of language-idea floats past as retweets every few days. Of course she wrote poems from this oracle, as she calls it. The best kind of tweets are potent seeds for the others reading that content. Twitter is the medium for poets, the best way to dispose of unused lines of poetry in public.

She named the chapbook “no experiences”. For me, this is clear. The poems are created via slow accumulation of language, testing one word after another. Ms Watson’s poems become word mobiles to read, consider, read again. The shorter poems dense with reference become rich toffees to chew and savor.

That fatal flaw,
the earnest flame
that’s blistering my feet.

The language-aggregates consciously created from the experience of other language, the tweets Ms Watson collected from twitter. These are not the plainsong of story, the authentic voice emerging to manage the deep emotion provoked by the harder expereinces made by living (though at least one poem points to the capacaty for poetry to perform that function). These woody little structures are the joy of a tasteable, touchable language, a writer making for the joy of making in response to some abstract synchronicity of language-based experience.

Sized to fit your hand with ASCII art re-making the @Horse_ebooks twitter avatar. Buy in person for $10 at Uncharted Books, Logan Square, Chicago IL. Also see  Book designed and typeset by Nick Disabato in Chicago, IL. Printed by Scout Books in Portland, OR. Funded by you on Kickstarter.

Local Film : Blanc De Blanc

Local director Lucas McNelly and his team took a two-week filmmaking challenge and created an intimate poem of a film. I’d love to tell you the story; this would, of course, ruin the viewing experience for you. An unlikely love story between Jude (Rachel Shaw), a young ER nurse working at UPMC Shadyside, and Dave (Jason Kirsch), a stranger without a past who synchronicity brings into her life.

Pittsburgh is the third party in the relationship. The informal visual intimacy we Pittsburghers experience day to day in our neighborhoods are echoed in shots of Shadyside, downtown, the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Cinematographer David Eger captures Pittsburgh’s neighborhoody depth of field in precisely-framed, close, yet relaxed shots.


blanc de blanc : still

Blanc de Blanc is a rare thing, a nesting-box film that succeeds. Its about love stories and process of relationship itself as much as it is the narrative that unfolds in Jude’s life. I’m glad I had the opportunity to watch it privately, to test it as hard as any one tests a suitor.

I found Jude’s lack of tests for Dave an exquisitely unbelievable aspect of the plot. My unbelief is, I think, precisely the point – exactly what I needed for the larger functions of the film to become clear. Within the narrative, the love story unfolds with very real moments of struggle and intimacy.

Jude argues with her belief in the possibility of the relationship in a way that is very real, I think, in our own couplings and uncouplings. It is our belief in the very possibility of it that gives any relationship its legs. Lose that belief, and lose the relationship.

Depth of field again … highly detailed moments contrast with the larger visual & poetic structure making an extraordinary piece of work, regardless of production time. McNelly establishes Dave’s character through a short series of images, a brief set of details that open the film. There is exactly enough there for us to struggle with the ambiguity of him – the ambiguity allows a lover’s projections of character; the ambiguity provides fuel for the audience to argue with Jude and Dave’s choices in the way we would argue with our partners; the ambiguity found in poetry.


blanc de blanc : still

Very well-acted – watching the actors dissolve into the story was a pleasure. Their work resonates with ordinary life in just the right way. My only quibble : sound design. I’d love it if the musical presence took a back seat. Perhaps the constant audio presence is meant to create the sense of closeness that the characters are enduring in their shared environment. Perhaps it points to the persistent unreality of their relationship. The music felt too close to the dialogue. I wanted a little more room, the music pushed a little farther back. Give the visuals a little space. But, that’s just my aesthetic talking.

McNelly’s been getting a fair amount of attention for the quality of the work here, particularly given the brief production time. I’ll forego the pile of links and instead send you to the horse’s mouth –

I certainly hope he’s able to line up some of the non-traditional screenings in town to support the film. At an hour and seventeen minutes, its at tightly-edited piece worthy of a few opening short films and a lot of audience.

Keep an eye on where this one goes. Its a gem.