Ideas in dreams

May 17th, 2022

Every once in a while I get a really great idea in a dream. Or at least I think I do. I suspect you have had similar experiences.

Invariably when I wake up from such an experience, I say to myself “Wow, that was a really great idea!” And then my next thought is “If only I could remember what it was.”

Which leads to the obvious question: Do we actually have great ideas in our dreams, or do we merely experience the illusion of having great ideas?

Maybe the emotion associated with having a great idea is a specific thing in itself. It’s possible that this particular emotion is what is getting triggered, and what we are remembering when we awake.

Come to think of it, that’s a much more plausible explanation. Although a lot less fun.


May 16th, 2022

Just finished bingeing all eight seasons of Psych. Amazing TV show, which began with a wonderful conceit and then proceeded to executed it flawlessly.

Bingeing a series over a short period of time allows you to see it in a different light. Episodes seen back to back read less like a series of weekly offerings and more like a novel.

And that makes it easier to see how the writers are thinking. A show can be entertaining week to week, but it’s the long term character arcs, the evolving relationships — platonic or otherwise — that truly hold an audience’s interest.

Which is not really surprising. What we humans really care about, at the end of the day, is the relationships between our fellow humans.


May 15th, 2022

Today I was in an airport that I have visited many times in the last two years. For some reason, everything seemed strange and nearly uncanny.

Then I realized what the difference was: I could see people’s faces!

It felt good. I hope it lasts.

One-to-one correspondence

May 14th, 2022

I have been building some VR rooms that correspond one-to-one with actual physical rooms in my life. Being in these VR spaces is an interesting experience.

When I am in the VR version of these rooms, it makes me think of the physical room world. And now when I am in the physical room, it makes me think of the virtual one that I created.

What is interesting about this is that the rules are very different in VR and in real life. In VR I can walk through walls, float up to the ceiling, teleport from one side of the room to the other.

But of course the real world is vastly richer in visual detail and in so many other ways. For all of its many magical possibilities, I don’t think the virtual could ever replace the physical.

Yet these virtual worlds can certainly help us to think about our wonderful physical world in new ways. And that’s pretty awesome.

Kinesthetic reality

May 13th, 2022

I attended a fascinating on-line discussion today about the relationship between human perception and objective reality. The gist of it was that because we humans all share the same powers and limitations of perception, we collectively construct a reality that makes sense to us.

The significance of this is that our collectively created reality corresponds to some objective reality outside of us, but it is not a one-to-one mapping. What we see, hear, feel, taste and smell allows us to detect a particular slice of the world around us.

We call this shared perceptual space “reality”, but it is in fact a sort of reflection of our collective human nature. For example, we don’t generally think about the many things a dog can smell but we cannot, or the colors of the spectrum that are visible to a bee but not to any human.

We think of water as a freely flowing liquid, whereas to an amoeba it is a nearly rigid sludge. And the way we think of the nearest path from here to there is very different from how a bird would think about it.

Our very language reflects our shared kinesthetic reality, with words like “higher” and “lower”, “hot” and “cold”, “strong” and “weak”, taking on metaphorical meanings that we apply to phenomena which are completely non-physical.

I don’t think any of this is a problem. It’s perfectly ok that we live in a collectively constructed reality that does not quite correspond to the physical world around us.

I just think it’s just something we should try not to forget.


May 12th, 2022

Elon Musk says that he will lift the ban on you-know-who when he assumes control of Twitter. Which suggests to me not that Musk is claiming to be a Drumpf enthusiast, but rather that he is claiming to be a free-speech absolutist.

The results are not going to be kind to Twitter. Once that platform ceases to be moderated, it will very likely quickly descend into a cesspool of unchecked vituperation and hate speech.

From a business perspective, this will not be good for Musk. Some other large company will push a properly moderated alternative that is not so polluted, and people will abandon Twitter, flocking in droves to the saner new place.

But what if Elon Musk is not interested in a positive business outcome? What if he has larger fish to fry?

Because of this move, he is quite likely to become a de facto ally of our former President, which would give the latter a boost to be elected for a second and final term in 2024. Which in turn might then pave the way for a different goal — deciding the outcome of the 2028 U.S. Elections.

Even if Twitter hemorrhages money, Musk will be controlling the conversation for the next six years. After which he would be in a good position to install his Republican candidate of choice into the Oval Office.

I really hope that I am wrong about this.

Widget Wednesdays #19

May 11th, 2022

This week I am going to something different for Widget Wednesdays. I am going to describe my favorite “simplest computer program”.

When somebody tells me that they could never learn how to program, this is the program that I scribble down on a napkin for them. Some of you might be familiar with this — it’s quite beautiful.

Most of us learned about the Fibonacci sequence when we were kids. It describes so many things in nature, from the shape of flower petals to how populations grow.

The principle is very simple. Starting with the numbers 0 and 1, you just keep adding the last two numbers to get the next one:

    0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, …

Nicely enough, a program to compute the nth number in the series looks like this:

fibonacci(n) is
    if n < 2
        then n
        fibonacci(n-2) + fibonacci(n-1)

No matter how math-phobic you think you are, that is a very easy computer program to understand. And it contains many of the core ideas in computer programming — functions, variables, conditionals, arithmetic, and even recursion.

Which makes me hopeful for the whole process of teaching programming. As an ancient Chinese proverb never said: “A program of a thousand lines begins with a single step.”

Births but not deaths

May 10th, 2022

On many days I read the Wikipedia to learn what interesting things happened on that day in history. When I do that, I always find myself reading carefully through the births, to find out who was born on that particular day of the year.

But I never even glance at the deaths. I guess I am simply not interested in knowing when people have left this Earth.

I am reminded of this because I met with a physical therapist today who asked me various questions about my health. At some point she asked me something that prompted me to reply “My plan is to live forever.”

A short silence followed. I broke the silence by saying “So far, it’s working.”

That got a laugh, but I am not sure I was entirely joking. I suspect there may be a connection between that conversation and my Wikipedia reading habits.

Reviewing old posts

May 9th, 2022

In about five days I am supposed to hand in a draft of an article about the future of extended reality. So I’ve been going back over my blog posts to gather material.

It’s really weird to do that en masse, going back month after month, reading whatever I had posted each day. It’s kind of like being in a time machine that is rushing rapidly backward.

There were particular thoughts I had in response to various world events which I would not have now. For example, my initial reaction to the pandemic was based on the same flawed information everyone else was getting.

In a way, it’s kind of like that hypothetical scenario where you have a chance to meet yourself at various times in your life. There’s actually a great Heinlein story about that, called By His Bootstraps, which I fondly remember reading as a teenager. I highly recommend it.

Private conversations in public

May 8th, 2022

There are some social paradigms that we simply take for granted, because they have been around for so long. When I was a kid, if you wanted to meet a friend in the park on Sunday afternoon, you had to go to the park. There was no option of sending a text message to change your plans. Such a thing would be unthinkable to people from a younger generation.

To me the most interesting aspect of this is the fact that I never thought that anything was missing. I wasn’t thinking about a time in the future when I would have some new capability. It seemed perfectly reasonable that I would need to show up at the park, without the option of changing plans.

In the future, there will be new capabilities that we will simply take for granted which we’re not even thinking about now, because they are not yet possible. For example, when we are all wearing those augmented reality specs, you and I will be able to have a private conversation in a public place. We will both be able to see and hear things that no one around us will be able to see or hear.

This will be taken for granted as a normal part of social communication. People from a younger generation will find it difficult to believe that anybody could have ever got along without it