“The Batman Effect”, Bird Oscillators, and The Robot Dog of Pompeii

I bring you the finest reading in my weekly Linkfest

Clive Thompson
8 min readApr 20, 2022


Transformation de carrés concentriques (ref. 76A) (1976), by Vera Molnár, which looks like a line drawing of nested concentric squares, except that several chunks of the lines are jagged and run into the other lines
Transformation de carrés concentriques (ref. 76A) (1976), by Vera Molnár

1) 🖋️ Behold the work of Vera Molnár, computational-art pioneer from the 1960s

As a child, Vera Molnár loved to draw very abstract, spare patterns. She eventually developed a set of algorithmic rules to govern how to draw them by hand.

When she finally got her hands on a computer in the 60s, she translated those rulesets to computer code, and became an avante-garde pioneer in digital art. As Artnet writes …

In 1968, Molnár gained access to a computer owned by the Sorbonne after applying to the dean three times. Computers were reserved for scientific computing at the time. Having taught herself Fortran, she began feeding in instructions on a punch card. This arduous process is known as blind computing, since the user has to wait hours or days to see the results drawn out by a mechanical plotter. In her “Interruptions,” from this time, the lines in a grid are rotated or erased at random to create an animated and unpredictable composition. These experiments provoked her peers, whom she remembered as being “scandalized! — I had dehumanized art.”

Quite the opposite! She’d added a fantastic new human dimension to computers. When you look at the gorgeous riot of art produced by folks wielding P5 and Processinggo check out OpenProcessing for a look-see — you are seeing our contemporary flowering of a movement Molnár helped kickstart, over fifty years ago.

2) 🪐 It’s time to study Uranus

Image of NASA from the Chandra X-ray Observatory

Yes, I am aware of the double entendre of that headline; merely saying the name of our solar system’s seventh planet out loud is enough to send someone near you into giggles. When it comes to Uranus, we are all twelve years old.

Yet it is definitely worth a closer look, as Marina Koren argues in this persuasive essay. That’s because Uranus is an ice giant, a type of planet that is extremely common in our galaxy, but about which we…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net