Switch to full screen. Click here. Enjoy.
Colour Clouds is a processing.js animation. Randomly generated painters follow a random walk algorithm to draw colourful, cloud-like forms on a black sky. From 50 to 200 painters start from 1 to 5 lines. Each starting line is assigned one of a number of colour palettes. The number of painters, the number and slope of the starting lines, and the colours change with each run of the animation. If you find beauty, or think you see shapes forming, it’s because you are human and cannot help but find meaning in quasi-random processes.
Watch it here. Be patient, let it grow: consider this part of the “slow web”*. Left-click to restart, right-click to capture an image.
Long, boring, autobiographical version**
Some years ago, in what seems like a different life, I taught whatever they asked me to teach at the Centre for Life Long Learning in St. Thomas, and Aylmer, Ontario: a period of precarious but rewarding employment.
One of the courses I taught was Grade 11 Intro to Data Processing (DPT 3G, I think). We used a programming language called Turing*** and an accompanying textbook to explore the basics of computer programming. I am qualified to teach K-6 and Senior English, so it was… a challenge, both for me and for my students, most of whom were adults who had never completed high school.
The textbook included an exercise in writing what I now might call a simple "walker": it made an animated asterisk bounce on the screen in a random way that the authors compared to Brownian motion. I have always been interested in randomness and wanted to play with this, so I remade it with a graphical screenmode, drawing with pixels instead of asterisks, leaving behind a trail, and eventually added conditions so that if the pixel runs off the edge it starts over with a new colour. The results would look something like this:
Fast forward to the aughts (oughts?) and I’m working as a librarian at U Windsor, when one day I come across Processing. Over the years, I had long lamented the loss of Turing and my colour clouds routine. Turing was DOS based, for one thing, and also required the presence of a hidden file (proto-DRM, I guess). Although I had kept my files for over a decade, I no longer had any way to make them work. The first thing I did in Processing was recreate this project. And enhance it. And watch it run over and over. Enhance it some more, introducing opacity, colour palettes, irregular startup configurations, multiple walkers, fatal collisions… Until finally I have this thing I think is beautiful. Because random can be beautiful. And it’s mostly random. Don’t forget to watch in full screen mode!
* Is there such a thing?
** Like you, I’m tired of autobiography on the web. But I couldn't help it.
*** Turing was written by computer science educators specifically for use in Ontario schools. Wikipedia seems to think it’s still in use in schools. Because everything is on the internet, you can get it here.