The greatest political force in our time

September 28th, 2016

Only Donald Trump
Could get so many people
To vote Democrat

So here’s a question

September 27th, 2016

So here’s a question: Just how weird and off-message and defensive would Donald Trump have needed to be before his supporters felt that he had “lost” the debate?

There were so many topics in his campaign’s playbook he could have used to attack Hillary Clinton on, and he used pretty much none of them. Instead, he let her make the debate a referendum on him, time and again. There were so many moments when he simply lost the thread. Here are just a few.

When reminded of his various on-the-record “climate change is a hoax” statements, he claimed he’d never said them. When asked why he had continued to publicly tout the “birther” conspiracy between 2012 and 2016, he just replied that no one was caring much about it. Do you understand that answer? Does anybody?

When called by Clinton on all the nasty things he has publicly said about women, he didn’t deny it — he just defended himself by claiming those statements were all about Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, um, really???

He also seemed sincerely unaware of NATO’s decades-long history of antiterrorism programs. His assertion that NATO only started doing something about terrorism after he’d personally suggested it was so outright nutty that it was almost charming.

And just when I figured things couldn’t get weirder, Trump started brazenly touting his new hotel, right in the middle of the debate. You can’t make this stuff up.

So I wonder, what would Donald Trump have needed to do for his supporters to think he had lost? Literally pull down his pants?

How they decide who won the debate

September 26th, 2016

I watched this evening’s presidential debate at our lab. I was joined by several students.

It was hard for me to properly assess the outcome, since at this point I can’t be anything close to objective. I saw what looked to me like one candidate calmly giving detailed and informed answers to questions of policy, while the other candidate seemed to just be reciting the same few slogans over and over. But your mileage may vary.

After the debate had ended, we spent some time discussing it. At some point an undergrad asked me how they decide the winner.

I told him that it was easy: “Fox News will announce the winner. Also, the New York Times will announce the winner. But they won’t announce the same winner.”

Day off

September 25th, 2016

I generally work all the time. It’s not that I have a work ethic, more that I like what I do. Especially the programming part, prototyping, experimenting, or just noodling around in the code to make something look better.

But today I did something very rare: I took the day off. Completely. No coding, no administrativia, nada. I read the newspaper, solved a crossword puzzle, relaxed, took a nap, saw an episode of Gotham, cooked some food, but absolutely nothing even vaguely responsible.

I don’t think I need to do that very often, and I probably wouldn’t even enjoy it if I did it too often. But every once in a while it feels great!

Learning a new word

September 24th, 2016

I had never heard the term “shitposting” until yesterday. Those of you who are familiar with the virtual reality scene, and are even vaguely following politics, will know why I find this word so dispiriting.

Yes, we can disagree with one another, and we can argue with each other on the merits. What you believe to be true will not, as a rule, match up to what I believe to be true.

But to use jackboot tactics to squash meaningful discussion — to borrow a playbook right out of a 1932 National Socialist playbook — that’s just disgusting.

It was difficult for me to learn that this sort of thing is being supported by somebody I had thought of as one of us. I tend to believe, perhaps naively, that people on the cutting edge of what is possible are above fascist tactics. That they are about fostering conversation, rather than squashing it before it can begin.

I won’t say who this post is about. Those who know, will know. I will just say that I am terribly disappointed, and very sad.

November 9, 2016

September 23rd, 2016

Who’ll escape before
Canada builds the wall and
Makes us pay for it?

Living in the future

September 22nd, 2016

I was on a panel today with some really smart and impressive co-panelists. What we all had in common was that for the last several years we have each been completely immersed in the questions surrounding the potential of virtual and mixed reality.

We’ve all been living and breathing it, creating projects, trying one thing and then the other. And always with an eye on where things might be going next, and what might be possible when the next generation of hardware arrives, or the hardware that will arrive three or five years from now.

To the audience we must have sounded a little weird, talking about the future, about things that do not yet exist out there in the world, as though they were everyday realities. But that’s the thing: They will be everyday realities, for better or worse, which means that somebody needs to be thinking about them now.

Sometimes it can feel a little odd talking to people about things that do not yet quite exist. It’s comforting to meet other people who are also living in the future.

What Trump is really promising

September 21st, 2016

For quite a while I didn’t quite get it about Donald Trump. I wondered why he is going out his way to say nutty things during this Presidential race — insulting everyone from parents of slain soldiers to U.S. generals to babies, making up weird statistics out of whole cloth and then immediately reversing himself, embracing torture, claiming Vladimir Putin as a role model, that ostentatiously insane “Mexican Wall” thing — the list is incredibly long. And every day he adds to it.

But now I finally get it, thanks to his recent “Birther” announcement. As you know, since he goaded Barack Obama into producing a long form birth certificate back in 2011, Donald Trump has continued the charade, claiming in numerous TV interviews and public statements that the birth certificate might be a fraud.

So when he now announces, straight-faced, that he never said the things that he obviously said on record — and that it’s easy for the Press to show everyone that he said on record, just by rolling the videotapes — it can only mean one thing. Trump is telling the Press: “You are all my bitch.”

What we are seeing now is a raw undisguised flexing of power. And clearly it’s working. Sure, Colbert and Seth Meyers can skewer him all they want, but it doesn’t matter. The very point of Trump’s message is that he can lie bare-faced straight into the TV cameras, in a pointedly obvious way, and it won’t hurt him.

So here we have a candidate for President who is running nearly even in the polls with only one real message: I am an unstoppable strongman, and my power is absolute.

The world has had a few of those before within this past century. I can’t say it has ever turned out well.

Working in groups

September 20th, 2016

I structured this evening’s class into two halves. In the first hour I showed them some software tools, and some demos that illustrate what can be done with those tools. In a way, I was just dangling possibilities in front of them, to get their own minds working.

Then, for the second hour, I asked them to organize into small groups, and to define their own project based on what they now knew to be possible. At the moment I am happily listening to the students as they work out designs, concepts, plans and schemes. I am very confident that some of them will come up with exciting directions that I would never have thought of.

It’s a balancing act, of course. You can’t just tell students to form into groups. You need to give them an exciting and worthwhile direction to aim toward. And you need to be careful about how you judge their work. For example, I’ve learned from experience that I must be scrupulously fair when assessing the presentation of each group. No playing favorites!

But once all that has been taken care of, you need to trust them. Sometimes the best thing a teacher can do for his students is to know when it is time to get out of their way. Students who are trusted to fly will find their wings.

Right of transcendence

September 19th, 2016

When we look back through history, there are certain individuals who stand out. William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Virginia Woolf, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — these are among a pantheon of individuals who have, each in their way, had a positive impact on the culture of future generations.

It is now well known that genetics is mostly random, and inheritance a crap shoot. Any child born into the world might grow up to be a luminary who can positively influence the course of history and culture, if given a chance. This possibility is a sort of human birthright, which might called a “right of transcendence”.

But of course that last part is key: “if given a chance.” There is a tendency in many modern societies to systematically exclude entire groups of people, based on nonsense. This person happens to be a Jew or Muslim, that one a woman, another one has some irrelevent characteristic such as skin color, or eye shape, or sexual preference.

Unless you are a complete idiot, or are ideologically willing yourself to impersonate a complete idiot, you know that those are all smoke screens. And they are astonishingly damaging smoke screens. Somewhere, a child who was born with the genetic predisposition to be a great writer, or inventor, or philosopher, or healer, is being denied reasonable health care, or has been thrown in prison because he happened to be in the wrong place for somebody with his skin color, or is part of an entire community of children whose IQs have been lowered by lead poisoning.

I think any society that cares about its own future should recognize the right of individuals to be protected in childhood from being thrown onto the ash heap of history, and to make sure that each child is given a fair chance to become the next great contributor to his or her culture.

Is that asking too much?