Lebesgue measure

September 15th, 2019

I spent most of the day today with my brother. One of the things he and I share is a deep love of mathematics.

There was a point over coffee during the afternoon when we were in excited discussion about various mathematical topics. To me, the best part was when we were talking about the theory of Lebesgue measure.

Henri Lebesgue was a french mathematician who, while still in his twenties, wrote one of the most important Ph.D. dissertations in the history of mathematics. He basically created, for the first time ever, a truly general foundation for answering the question “What is the actual size of a shape — even an incredibly weird and gnarly looking shape?”

Being able to provide a good answer to this question touches on pretty much every scientific field, including biology, chemistry, physics, robotics, statistics. His insights pretty much opened the floodgates of early twentieth century math, ushering in a whole string of exciting intellectual discoveries by many brilliant people.

The way Lebesgue approaches and develops a proof of his theory is one of the most beautiful things in all of mathematics. Alas, I am not sure there is a good way for me to properly share his thinking within the limits of a blog post.

But I can definitely share a measure of my excitement.

Calm before the storm

September 14th, 2019

i took today off.
now all is calm. tomorrow
will bring new storm clouds.

Zom Com Rom Dram Qualm

September 13th, 2019

I just finished binging the fifth and last season of iZombie. Even though it was a show about zombies, it wasn’t really scary, since the central character was an extremely sympathetic (and often quite funny) zombie.

Which was a nice twist. I can’t say I thought the show was high art, but I appreciated it immensely as social and political satire with very witty dialog.

Alas, iZombie is now over, and will be no more. I, for one, will miss it. After all, it’s not every day you get to see a truly superior Zom Com Rom Dram*.

Then again, one day somebody might try to bring it back from the dead, the way other beloved shows have been brought back, like Lost in Space, Get Smart, Dynasty, MacGyver, Knight Rider and Charlie’s Angels.

Just think, some day we may get to see a zombie version of iZombie. Now that would be truly scary.


* Zombie Comedy Romance Drama

Stranger than Fiction

September 12th, 2019

Suppose you woke up one day and realized that you had been transported to an absurdist parody of reality. This is a common trope in cinema. Many films, including Back to the Future, Groundhog Day, Pleasantville, Stranger than Fiction, Idiocracy and Isn’t it Romantic, to name just a few among many, start with this very premise.

Of course these are merely movies. As much as we might find them entertaining or thought provoking, we understand that they are only fiction.

In real life we expect things to be at least a little bit sane. Which is why I was caught off guard by Sharpiegate.

Our elected political leader is doubling down on a lie so utterly petty and ridiculous, so head slappingly stupid, that it could not possibly be part of any sane reality. As though we had suddenly discovered that our elected leader was Derek Zoolander.

Suppose you made a film in which somebody was transported into a fictional world where such idiotic things actually happen. People might find your story genuinely funny.

But that’s because at the end of your movie, the credits would roll and the audience would be able to go back to a sane reality. Unfortunately, we all seem to still be trapped inside this movie.

Could somebody please wake up the projectionist?

No sweat

September 11th, 2019

I was attending a technical conference yesterday in which one of the speakers was talking about the human brain. He pointed out that the only actual physical result of brain activity is muscle movement.

Lots of activity goes on within our brain itself, he noted. But when all is said and done, none of that cogitation is transmitted out into the world, except through the action of our body’s muscles.

When I heard this, I turned to the person sitting next to me and said “Just thinking about that makes me break out in a sweat.”

Existential future reality question

September 10th, 2019

when technology
shifts reality, will we
know the world has changed?


September 9th, 2019

Today I am just going to refer you to a blog post I created on the Future Reality Lab blog. In a self-referential twist, that post refers to posts here on my personal blog.

Warning: If you are not careful, you may end up in an infinite blog loop.

Should that be called an infinite bloop?

The glorious immersiveness of the ordinary

September 8th, 2019

Yesterday, invited a dinner party in London, I decided to walk. The first part of my several hour walk followed the river, along the Thames Walk.

But then I turned inland, and found myself far away from the tourist parts. I passed by the sorts of shops, markets and casual hangouts you see in real life, far from the somewhat constructed fantasy of London that tourists often see.

I can best describe it as the London equivalent of neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Equivalent, but definitely not the same.

For example, at one point on my journey I encountered a gray fox. We both stopped, the fox looked at me, I looked at the fox, and then we each went on our way. As far as I know, there are no gray foxes in Brooklyn.

There is something about the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life that sets it apart, that gives it a special place in our experience. No matter how advanced virtual reality becomes, I don’t think we will ever want to give up on the simple quotidian pleasures of picking up something at the market or sharing a beer down at the local pub.

And that’s a very good thing. We should never take for granted the wonderful and glorious immersiveness of the ordinary.

Commercial VR storytelling outside the home, part 2

September 7th, 2019

Yesterday I presented an argument that commercial VR storytelling must start outside the home, because it’s the only real way for that market to grow. Today I’m going to discuss the nature of the product that will evolve for that platform.

First of all, when you have lots of people in a physically shared space, putting them into solitary experiences is a non-starter. People who go out for the evening expect the thrill of a crowd.

Yet most existing VR storytelling content is essentially “a movie for an audience of one”. All of the aesthetic decisions have been made with the idea of focusing on a single viewer in one location. Which means that most of that existing content won’t work for a crowd.

So what is a good way to present VR narratives for multiple people? First and foremost, audience members need to be aware of each other.

Think about it — every single experience that people have when they go out for the evening involves awareness of other people in the experience. This is true for theater, concerts, bars, restaurants, museums, galleries (the list goes on).

This reiterates the theme that people who go out for the evening are seeking the primordial tribal campfire. Their instinct is not to wander out into the wilderness, but rather to merge with the tribe.

In VR, what form might this mutual awareness take? I’ll talk about that next time.

Why commercial VR storytelling needs to start outside the home

September 6th, 2019

Today I attended a panel in which a number of people from the VR industry talked about the future of consumer level VR storytelling. And I found the focus confusing.

The problem was that most of the industry people on the panel kept talking about the home market. And that just didn’t make much sense to me.

In order to serve VR storytelling to people in the home, you need those homes to have good VR headsets. And other than people who play computer games, pretty much nobody has a good VR headset at home.

Meanwhile, there is a large opportunity here that is being missed. People will always like to get out of the house on a Friday or Saturday night, which for millions of people used to mean going out to the movies.

But these days, lots of people feel silly paying to watch a movie in the theater. After all, they are already paying streaming services to see perfectly good movies at home.

The only notable exception to this trend are the big effects films, like the Marvel and Star Wars franchises. Going to the opening of one of those films is still an “event”.

So why not fill the need of people to get out of the house by creating new sorts of experiences in shared VR? I’m not talking about experiences for one person, but rather experiences that are truly shared by large audiences, somewhat the way audiences of today share an experience of a movie or a play or a concert.

This is not going to happen by trying to convince people to buy VR headsets. When an entertainment technology is still new and relatively expensive, people are much more likely to go out to a venue to experience it, rather than pay capital equipment costs for a home experience they don’t yet know much about.

After all, it took quite a few years from the time cinema became truly shared (when the Lumiere brothers started popularizing projected film) to when television began its cultural ascendency.

Early moviegoers went out of the house. Only later did movies arrive within the house.

At the end of the day, young people still need to leave the safety of the cave from time to time and gather together in the larger space of the tribal campfire. This is something they have been doing for well over a hundred thousand years.

And they do this for one very important reason: They are hoping to get lucky. That’s what keeps the human race from dying out.

And that’s why the first commercially successful VR narrative experiences will be outside the home. Technologies may change over time, but human nature never does.